English Literary Studies An Islamic Perspective and Method

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Jay Willoughby



On January 15, 2014, Md. Mahmudul Hasan, assistant professor in the Department
of English Language and Literature at the International Islamic University
Malaysia, addressed an audience at the IIIT headquarters in Herndon,
VA. He spoke on how Muslims have tended to associate English studies with
western value systems, secularism, and anti-Islamic practices.
He opened his talk with some background information. He was educated
at a madrassa and then chose to study western (English) literature, much to
his father’s disappointment – he firmly believed that his son, whom he had
always envisaged as an Islamic scholar, would come out of the university as
a secularist, an atheist, or an agnostic. Although this may not be the case today,
at his father’s time people could actually see their university-enrolled children
undergo some changes or adopt the various western lifestyles uncritically at
the expense of their traditional Islamic upbringing.
Reflecting further on the context that had given rise to this attitude, Hasan
pointed out the tendency at that time, and based solidly upon the Subcontinent’s
colonial experience, to associate English literature studies with both
colonialism and western Christendom. In response to this, contemporary
scholars of postcolonial studies employ the twin strategies of abrogation and
appropriation to dismantle the original intent behind introducing English literary
studies and, simultaneously, to create platforms of self-assertion and resistance.
Those who support the Islamization of English literary studies
propose a similar approach to English literature in order to counterbalance the
un-Islamic cultural influences as well as to present the Islamic worldviews in
relation to the life-worlds that these literary texts are reputed to promote.
He said that many Muslims find it difficult to reconcile “Islam” and “English
literature,” for how can there be any relationship between them? This is
not as illogical as it may seem, however, for the British introduced English
literature into the Subcontinent long before they introduced it into the United
Kingdom itself. It was offered in the former in 1830, but only ninety years
later in the latter. In fact, according to Hasan, the subject itself has a colonial
background, for it, along with Christian missionary activity, was designed to ...

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