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The Ummatics Institute Inaugural Conference

Conference speakers sitting and talking in the pavillion with Turkish Mosque on the horizon.

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The Ummatics Institute’s inaugural 3-day conference was held June 13-15 in Istanbul, Türkiye. It attracted a diverse array of Ummatic-minded people, both of academic and non-academic backgrounds. The 27 paper presenters were affiliated with universities from all over the world including the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Egypt, Sweden, Germany, the United States, the United Arab Emirates, and Türkiye. The paper topics presented at the conference ranged from conceptualizations of the Umma to ideas related to Khilafah and Islamic political theory to visions of an Islamic governance system for the modern world.

 

Day 1: June 13, 2023

The opening day of the conference began at 6:00pm with a general welcome from the Ummatics Symposium Coordinator, Dr. Joseph J. Kaminski, which was then followed by the Ummatics Institute’s founder and Chief Research Officer, Dr. Ovamir Anjum’s keynote address. Dr. Kaminski first introduced himself to the audience and then went on to explain how the conference was initially conceptualized and eventually organized. Following Dr. Kaminski’s introduction, Dr. Anjum discussed the rationale behind this ambitious global project and spoke in greater detail about the meaning of Ummatics. The conference was moderated by Research Operations Manager and Ummatics Lead Editor, Dr. Uthman Badar.

 

Day 2: June 14, 2023

 

Panel 1- Conceptualizing the Umma

The first paper of this panel was presented by Abdurrahman Nur (Istanbul University). His informative paper ‘Envisioning a consultative Umma: An Introduction to Namik Kemal’s Constitutional Imaginary’ explored the intellectual work of the prominent late Ottoman era reformer Namik Kemal. Kemal wrote extensively on politics, law and society in Islam in order to better understand the concept of Umma and its functions. Stressing the value of consultation or shūrā, Dr. Nur proposed the creation of an ‘Ummatic Consultative Council’. 

Michael Kaplan (George Washington University) presented the second paper titled, ‘The Ummatic Subject: Rethinking the Relationships between Umma, Nation and Self’. Drawing conclusions from his extensive ethnographic research on English speaking globalized Muslim men, he argued that the individual Muslim’s experience with ‘Islam’s globality’ remains entangled within the hegemonic national order and is not necessarily in tension with the notion of ethnonationality. He concludes that ‘umma’ becomes experienced in and through the ethnonational state, so that what may appear to be contending structuring units—’the umma’ and ‘the nation-state’—instead dialectically interact with each other and eventually become mutually constitutive of each other.

Dr. Ahmed Ali Salem (Zayed University) then presented his paper ‘The Umma and the Caliphate: Al Afghani’s and Reda’s Conceptualization of Muslim political Unity’ which discussed the notion of Umma in the works of late 19th/early 20th century thinkers like Jamaluddin al-Afghani and Rashid Rida as well as more contemporary intellectuals like Mona Abul-Fadl. The paper also explored the role that Muslim transnational organizations such as the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT) play in cultivating the idea of a Muslim Umma today.

Dr. Rezart Beka (Georgetown University) presented the final paper of the panel titled ‘The Reconceptualization of the Ummah and Ummatic Action in Abdullah bin Bayyah’s Discourse’. His insightful and original study explored the anti-Ummatic aspects of the prominent contemporary Sufi scholar, Abdullah bin Bayyah’s jurisprudence and his theorization of the aftermath of the Arab spring. Examining Bin Bayyah’s newly formulated jurisprudence of peace, Dr. Beka contends that it legitimizes the separation of religion and politics (secularism) and ultimately validates the present nation-state driven world order.

 

Panel 2- Islamic Political Theory:Past, Present, Future

Panel 2 was chaired by Dr. Andrew March (University of Massachusetts–Amherst) 

The first paper of the second panel was presented by Abdelrahman Rashdan (Georgia State University) and was titled ‘Ahl al-Hall wa-al-’Aqd: Between Classic Islamic Thought and Contemporary Application.’ He explored the shortcomings of democracy as practiced today and offers Islamic alternatives that can operate within the current nation-state model. He laid out the meaning of Ahl al Hall wa-al-Aqd, explaining it as those people who are influential and are community leaders. His main argument was that by strengthening and integrating the Ahl al Hall wa-al-Aqd into a functioning democracy, Muslims will be better served within existing Muslim societies, thereby opening the pathway for Ummatic political unity.

The next presentation was offered by Sheikh Jaffer Ladak (Islamic College, London) on his paper titled ‘The Principle of Freedom of Movement from the Framework of the Qur’an, Sunnah and Twelver Shi’i Jurisprudence’. In his spirited presentation, he drew from the Qur’an, Sunnah and fatawa’s of Shi’i Islamic scholar Ayatollah Syed Mohammed Taqi al-Modarresi to articulate an Islamic vision of the principle of freedom of movement. The main argument was that all Muslim lands are one and that freedom of movement is sacrosanct in Islam; it is an inalienable right given by God to man.

Riad Alarian (Georgetown University) explored the implications of living through a period of ontological breakdown in the context of Muslim life after 1924 in his paper, ‘Real Pasts, Possible Futures: Islam’s Secular Beginnings and the End of an Ontological Tradition’. Borrowing from Jarrett Zigon’s notion of ‘Ontological Traditions’ (defined as the normative ways of being according to which the narrative and imaginative possibilities of the real pasts and possible futures are connected), Alarian argued that the challenge faced by the last Shaykh al Islam of the Ottoman empire, Mustafa Sabri, and the leader of the Crow nation, Plenty Coups, was the annihilation of their respective ontological traditions. He concluded that Sabri’s call for the return of the caliphate, like contemporary activism intended to reestablish it, reflects a desire to, in his words, ‘fasten Islam to a normative ontological tradition in order to empower Muslims’.

Ahmed Elbohy’s (American University of Cairo) ‘A Modern Caliphate: Towards Political Ummatic Unity’, presented a novel vision of transnational Ummatic unity under a single Imam or leader transcending the boundaries of modern nation-state. He offered a schematic of the various institutions, bodies, and their respective functions that would be necessary within a modern Caliphate. The main aim of the Caliphate according to Elbohy was ensuring the preservation of faith, good governance, just economic redistribution, security and properly enforcing Sharia and justice. The author rejects following the EU decentralized federalist model and instead insists that the leader of the Caliphate ought to be conceived of as the head of a single Muslim state formed by uniting the existing Muslim majority states into one.

Anwār Omeish’s (University of Chicago) ‘Secrets of the Sharia: Law and the Ends of the Imamate in Al Juwayni’s, Ghiyāth al Umam’ was the final paper of the second panel. She argues that most contemporary academic interpretations on Al Juwayni’s al-Ghiyāthī are not based on a holistic understanding of the complete book. Scholars instead tend to only focus on one aspect of it while virtually ignoring the others. In her presentation, Omeish offered a comprehensive analysis of Juwayni’s important work taking into account all of the various parts of the seminal Sunni scholar’s text together. She suggests that only a holistic reading of Juwayni’s work does it justice and properly reveals its true force and significance.

 

Panel 3- Imagining Beyond the Nation-State

Panel 3 was chaired by Dr. Joseph J. Kaminski (International University of Sarajevo) 

The first paper of this panel was presented by Dr. Sümeyye Sakarya (Ankara University) and was titled ‘Beyond the Nationa-al: Relationality as a way towards an Ummatic reading?’. Her paper aimed to develop a relational method to read Ummatic politics by mobilizing Kemalism and Islamism as family resemblance concepts in order to fill a gap in transnational studies when it comes to post-caliphate Muslim experiences. Sarakaya contends that the existing literature primarily speaks of the transnational Muslim experience during the abolishment of the Caliphate but has little to say about their experiences after. She contends that a relativist approach is the most apt way to analyze the post-caliphate construction of national identities in Turkey, Senegal and Bangladesh.

Ahmet Okumuş’s (Fatih Sultan Mehmet Vakuf University) paper titled ‘Moral Theology Against the State: MacIntyre and Hallaq’ engages with the search for a post-statist socio-moral vision with religious underpinnings in the works of Alasdair MacIntyre and Wael Hallaq. Whereas MacIntyre tries to articulate a post-statist communitarian conception of ‘politics-as-practice’ relying on a Christian (Thomistic-Aristotelian) tradition, Hallaq tries to demonstrate the impossibility of state by emphasizing the incommensurable character of a belief in a revealed moral law (Sharia) underlying Islamic normativity, on the one hand, and modern understanding of state sovereignty, on the other. He points that there is a growing interest in theological understanding of the state structure, thereby reorienting the question and role of morality in political theory to the forefront. Okumuş concludes that studying the state from Christian and Islamic theological perspective has resulted in a ‘counter-state’ position that is very critical of the state as an entity.

Dr. Hossam El din’s (Karabuk University) ‘Transcending the Nation State: Application of the Umma to the needs of the Refugees’ contends that the weaknesses and dehumanizing aspect of secular Nation-states has been one of the most tragic aspects of modernity for the Ummah. He points out in his paper that the majority of global refugees today are Muslims, underscoring the significance of the refugee issue for the Ummatic discourse and praxis. He proposed two alternative visions for mitigating the problem of alienation that refugees today face; His first vision involves humanizing the paradigm of secular nation state with what he calls ‘Umma principles’, while his second vision is more radical, calling for an altogether alternative paradigm for  the Ummah which is responsible for providing and assimilating refugees and transcending the existing nation state structures.

The final paper presentation of the third panel was presented by Dr. Feyzullah Yilmaz (Sabahattin Zaim University). His paper “Thinking beyond the Nation-State: ‘The established narrative’ and alternative political visions in Iqbal literature” as title suggests, problematizes what he terms as the ‘established narratives’ regarding the thoughts of poet and philosopher Allama Iqbal. He argues that the dominance of nation-state-centric readings on the literature of Muslim thinkers should be challenged in order for alternative interpretations and political visions of such thinkers to be developed. He goes on to discuss some recent studies in Iqbal literature that challenge the dominant state centric narrative and presents alternative political visions they develop from Iqbal’s writings. In his presentation, Dr. Feyzullah also opines that associating Iqbal’s name with Pakistan makes an objective study about the thinker difficult.

 

Panel 4- Ummatic Psychology in trying times

Panel 4 was chaired by Dr. Katrin A. Jomaa of University (University of Rhode Island).

The first paper presenter in this panel was Dr. Haldun Karahanli (Ibn Haldun University). His paper, ‘Ummatics of Hope: Transcending the Traumas of the (Post) Colonial Nation State in the Muslim World’ discussed the necessity of collective hope in fostering the development of future Ummatic work. Highlighting the relevance of psychology, which he argues is underlooked, Karahanli emphasized that psychology is ‘pre-political’ which means that there in an inherent psychological dimension to Ummatic discourse and this discourse must be underwritten with optimism and hope for a better future before any serious political formulations can manifest themselves into proper practice. He was very critical of ‘Learned Helplessness’ among Muslims, contending that this has impeded our ability to recognize and capitalize on the existing opportunities that currently exist for the Ummah.

Dr. Ashwak Hauter (University of California– Santa Cruz) presented a paper titled, ‘Yemen and ‘Afiya in the face of the Umma’, that discussed the psycho-spiritual impact of geopolitics and war on the Yemeni diaspora. ‘Afiya (psychological, physical, and spiritual wellbeing) entails a reform of the body, but also the political, economic, and spiritual dimensions of the  community or umma. She maintains that before we build institutions to bridge or connect the global Umma, Muslims must trust and enter into what she called ‘rational exchange’ within their own immediate communities. In other words, she is championing for a bottom-up approach for Ummatics.

Dr. Fadi Zatari (Sabahattin Zaim University) and Tareq Sharawi (Institute for Religious and Socio-Political) studies also had a paper that focused on the idea of hope and the Ummah. Their paper titled, ‘Hope and Optimism as pillars for building and sustaining civilizations: Islamic and western perspectives’ draws from the writings of Abu al-Hasan al Māwardi and Albert Schweitzer on hope and optimism. Quoting Māwardi, the authors contended that optimism and hope are essential to ensure the development of healthy nations. More importantly however, hope and optimism are essential ingredients in forging global Ummatic solidarity. Their paper emphasized the necessity of optimistic attitudes for Muslims to revitalize Islamic civilization and foster Ummatic solidarity.

Rozena Raja’s (Columbia University) paper titled ‘A healing centered approach to Ummatic Leadership Development’ focused on the healing aspect of leadership and drew from the work of Shawn Ginwright, who argued that healing contrary to what most people think, is in fact, political. In her presentation, she claimed that Ummatic leadership ought not replicate dominant (Islamophobic) discourses. She argued for Ummatic leadership to  prioritize building capacities to mitigate the conditions that create trauma.

 

Khātira by Shaykh Dr. Yasir Qādhi

Dr. Yasir Qadhi gave a short but inspiring Khatira at the end of the 2nd day reiterating the importance of strengthening our Imān and connection with the divine. While acknowledging the relevance of Political unity initiatives and intellectual endeavors, he stressed the need to work on individual piety or taqwa to attain success in both worlds.

 

Day 3: 15 June 2023

 

Panel 5- Navigating the prevailing world order

The panel was chaired by Dr. Heba Raouf Ezzat (Ibn Haldun University).

Dr. Hafsa Kanjwal (Lafayette College) and Ahmed bin Qasim’s (affiliation?) paper, ‘International Law, Human Rights, and State-Centric Dependencies: Views from Occupied Kashmir’ reflected upon the complex dynamics thay Kashmiris have had to wrestle with under occupation. Their paper focused on the writings of three political thinkers: Qasim Fakhtoo, Syed Ali Jeelani and Maqbool Bhat. The presenters argued that despite their different ideologies, all three thinkers envisioned Pakistan beyond the identity of a nation-state. They saw Pakistan as a state that was created to protect all Muslims and their struggles for liberation. In this regard, the authors argued that the people of Kashmir’s aspiration to merge with Pakistan was primarily rooted in their belief that doing so would give them more geopolitical leverage in the current world order. 

In her captivating presentation on “Criminalizing the Caliphate: Transforming remembrance into resistance”, Ilham Ibrahim (Ibn Haldun University) argued that from the time of the Caliphate’s abolishment in 1924 and the global war on terror since 9/11, the very act of remembering, and indeed imagining, the caliphate as a potential political configuration in the Islamicate world has been and continues to be criminalized. She pointed out in her presentation that attempts at political unification in the Islamicate world based on existing structures is itself considered regressive and medieval despite the fact that other nation-states regularly form alliances and other transnational cooperatives based on their shared liberal ethos.

Using quantitative statistical methods, Mujtaba Isani (Quaid-i-Azam University) offered an empirical, data-driven analysis of Muslim attitudes towards existing secular Muslim multinational organizations. The paper titled ‘Attitudes towards Regional and International Organizations in the Muslim world’ discussed the negative perceptions that many Muslims have towards organizations like Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), League of Arab States (LAS), and Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Basing his arguments on survey data produced by Arab Barometer and World Values Survey, Isani argued that the failure of these Muslim organizations to unify the Muslim Ummah in political, social or economic terms largely accounts for the negative perceptions that most Muslims have of them.

Hamdija Begovic’s (Örebro University) paper titled ‘From Ummatic Muslims to State-Centered Bosniacs: The case of the Muslims of Bosnia’ discussed the predicament Bosnian leaders faced during Bosnia and Herzegovina’s liberation and state formation period in which they were driven away from an Ummatic Muslim identity to one based on modern ethnic identification of ‘Bosniaks’. Begovic reassessed the typology of the Bosniak national renaissance or Preporod to reevaluate whether or not this transformation to a secular identity really represented a true Preporod. The paper also discusses Bosnian hero Alija Izetbegovic’s mobilization for Bosnian statehood in light of the writings of Bosnian sociologist Sacir Filandra, who identified the movement tied to Izetbegovic as the third phase of Bosnian national renaissance.

 

Panel 6- Ummatic epistemics

The session was moderated by Dr. Irfan Ahmed (Ibn Haldun University). 

The first paper of this panel was presented by Muhammad Shah Shahjahan (Virginia Tech University).  Drawing from the international Communist paradigm of Abani Mukherji, Shahjahan provided a rich narrative about the anti colonial struggle of Kerala Muslims in what was known as the Māppila rebellion and the subsequent establishment of the kingdom known as Malayala Rajyam (interpreted as a caliphate or sultanate). He reasoned that it was the feeling of loss as a discursive construct that mobilized anti colonial rebellion in Malabar in an Ummatic form while also explaining how the caliphate movement in India can be understood as a phenomenon attached to the ontology of caliphate in Turkey.

Dr. Fahed Masalkhi’s (University of Wisconsin–Madison) paper titled ‘Should there be an Ummatic language?’ generated much discussion, especially resonating with the non-academics among the audience. Underlining the importance of language as a tool for communication and influence along with the centrality of the Qur’an for the Muslim Umma, Masalkhi argued that Qur’anic Arabic rather than modern standard Arabic, should be the Ummatic language. He said an Ummatic language is necessary for attaining the objectives of the Ummatic vision. He concluded his presentation by proposing an Ummatic institution to develop courses on Qur’anic Arabic to raise a generation of Muslims better connected to the Qur’an and the global Umma.

Farhan Anshary (Newcastle University) and Mohammed Al Ani’s (McMaster University) ‘Re-imagining social theory: An Ummatizing perspective’ argued that Ummatization ought to be conceptualized as making explicit the ways various social phenomena relate to the Ummah. In this regard, they opine the necessity of combining the relevant aspects from secular scholarship as well as those grounded in Islamic epistemologies. The necessity of such a new paradigm and approach is due to the acknowledgement of inadequacy of the Ummatic perspective in existing social theories.

Dr. Joseph J. Kaminski (International University of Sarajevo) and Dr. Usaama al-Azaami’s (Oxford University) paper titled, ‘Is Muslim deep difference an obstacle to political unity?’ challenged the secular essentialism that dominates discussions surrounding public reason and deep difference.  They argued that the supposedly just and fair liberal ideologies have in fact become a source for injustice and inequality for millions of Muslims today. Liberalism rather than adequately accommodating difference of opinion has proven to be a source of intolerance. They defended the argument that a discursive approach to deep difference and public reason derived from Islamic values is the best way to mitigate potentially volatile deep differences of opinion in Muslim-majority societies.

 

Dr. Ovamir Anjum’s session with sisters

Dr. Ovamir Anjum hosted a special session for sister’s between panels during the lunch recess. During this special closed session, he explained the idea and mission of the Ummatics Institute in colloquial language, highlighting the prevalence of Ummatic sentiment among the Umma especially among those who are the most vulnerable and oppressed who feel abandoned by the nation state. It is the internalized Ummatic sentiment and feeling of transnational brother/sisterhood that makes the weak and oppressed turn to other Muslims for help knowing well that they can empathize with their plight since no Muslim is completely free from oppression and inequality in the modern world today.

 

Distinguished scholarly panels

The closing distinguished scholarly panel discussions were one of the highlights from the conference. They were broken down into two panels and featured participant discussion as well as audience engagement. The distinguished panelists included:

Dr. Heba Raouf

Dr. Irfan Ahmed

Dr. Mohammad Fadel

Dr. Ovamir Anjum

Dr. Andrew March

Dr. Katrin Jomaa

Each panelist first offered their own observations and comments on what transpired during the conference. The comments were mostly positive and constructive. The panelists all expressed enthusiasm that such a project has finally come to fruition and they all agreed that it is essential for the Ummatics Institute to continue building its core membership base via continued in-person workshops and online events. The panelist observations and comments were followed by a lively public question and answer section that allowed everyone in the audience to offer their own recommendations regarding what direction the Ummatics Institute ought to consider moving in going forward. Most of the audience comments were related to the importance of connecting theory to practice, recognizing that good theory leads to good practices.

 

Khātira by Imam Tom Facchine

Imam Tom Facchine closed the conference with an inspirational 15 minute Khātira. He began by briefly noting how happy he was about the Ummatics project, noting the necessity of such initiatives in a world increasingly driven by materialism and nation-state excesses. He then went on to remind the audience of the importance of self-purification in both deeds and intentions since this is the best path to success. Furthermore, he commented on the value of seeking knowledge from scholars with genuine Islamic knowledge and virtue; the re-sanctification of knowledge should be at the forefront of our aims as an Ummah.

 

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