University of Notre Dame | October 18, 2018
On a large patio overlooking verdant hills outside Kathmandu, Nepal, Professor Ebrahim Moosa sits surrounded by an unlikely group. Before him are Muslim scholars from both Pakistan and India — typically unfriendly nations — mixed with a small contingent of female, largely Christian Notre Dame undergraduates.
They’ve all gathered here, in a religious and politically neutral location. They are part of Moosa’s Madrasa Discourses project, a revolutionary concept that brings together scholars from traditional Islamic schools known as madrasas to enhance and improve the curricula taught at these institutions. Because madrasas were, for many centuries, attached to mosques, these Muslim seminaries historically teach classical religious texts and concepts while omitting subjects like history, politics, economics, modern science or alternate ways to imagine theology, fearing it may conflict with orthodox teachings. Moosa explains that in ignoring these modern subjects, Islamic thought is disconnected from the social realities of contemporary Muslim life. Madrasa graduates would be better equipped if they had the skills and knowledge to address the modern, multifaith and multicultural world where they live and teach. This desire to fill the gap between traditional teachings and the modern world has drawn hundreds of students from across the world to inquire about Moosa’s program.
“What we have done, to some extent, is started the conversation. But the debate has been happening on the Indian subcontinent and elsewhere for over 100 years that we need a theological curriculum for the changed world in which Muslims live,” says Moosa, a professor of Islamic studies in the Keough School of Global Affairs and the Department of History. “We’ve managed to get a group of people together who are not only talking about curriculum change but are implementing changes in their lived practice. This program empowers them how to think in a different way and bring about change on the ground.”
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