THE new principal of the Al-Maktoum Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies in Dundee today marked his appointment with a call for Islamic Studies to be made relevant to the needs of a multicultural society – and expressed alarm at the gulf in understanding on issues of Islam in Scotland.
“The study of Islam and Muslims needs to be centralised into the schools and higher education curricula and taught in ways that meet the demands of our multicultural society,” said Professor Malory Nye, who has been acting principal for the past 12 months.
“The studies should not be taught in isolation or in an insular atmosphere as that would merely continue to peddle the ‘us and them’ attitudes that need to disappear once and for all. All communities should work together to build mutual understanding, respect, and common ground – it is not ‘them and us’, it is ‘us and us’.
“It is clearly the case that most British non-Muslims – and that includes many people in Scotland – do not understand what makes Muslims ‘tick’ so it is important for more people to find out. Education is the key for this.”
Professor Nye, who was born in Wales and educated both in Edinburgh and London, joined the Institute in 2003 as Professor in Multiculturalism before promotion to the post as Depute Principal for Academic Affairs a year later.
He said the Institute’s promotion of “intelligent debate and understanding of Islam and the role of Muslims in the contemporary world” had sparked a considerable momentum within UK higher education for the development of the subject area.
“In the study of Islam and Muslims, there really is no place to hide,” said Professor Nye. “Much of what is debated by academics in university seminars and classrooms also crops up in daily debates in the media, in the streets, pubs and living rooms.
“Understanding Islam matters, even if it sometimes appears that no one understands.
“Multiculturalism is not about separatism, ghettoisation or balkanisation. It is, instead, a recognition of both diversity and the need for common ground, mutual respect, and cultural engagement.”
Professor Nye said he was looking to boost student numbers and develop a new range of initiatives for the Institute during his time in office.
“Our aim is to continue educating the next generation of scholars, nationally and internationally, in the study of Islam and Muslims to face the challenges and opportunities of a diverse and multicultural 21st century. We focus on diverse thinking for today’s world.”
The Institute has a graduation roll of 64 from over 20 different countries across the world in its first six-years’ existence. It has also hosted over 200 female students from the United Arab Emirates through summer schools and short academic programmes.
Professor Nye, who is the author of a number of books on multiculturalism, religion and religious minorities in the UK and has taught at Stirling University and King’s College London, also praised his predecessor, the Institute’s founding principal, Professor Abd al-Fattah El-Awaisi.
He said Professor El-Awaisi’s efforts in establishing this unique, research-led HE establishment had been “unstinting, selfless and invaluable”.
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