A man speaks into a microphone while standing at a podium. The screen on the podium sits in the foreground, and the background is a green curtain.
Panelists speak at a symposium on Islamic Thought and Civilization in Rackham Theatre Monday night. Ashley Gray/Daily. Buy this photo.

The Muslim Coalition held the Ann Arbor campus’ first Allama Muhammad Iqbal Symposium on Islamic Thought and Civilization at Rackham Amphitheater Monday evening. Four panelists spoke at the event on how Islamic revivalist movements in the past century have been shaped by anti-colonial responses to colonial undertakings and trauma.

The panelist speakers included Dr. Murad Idris, an associate professor in the LSA Political Science Department, Mufti Abdul Rahman Waheed — a scholar, jurist, teacher, Khateeb and Da’ieeDr. Rose Wellman, an associate professor in anthropology and associate director for the Center for Arab American Studies at U-M Dearborn, and Ahmad Deeb, who has lectured at the University and the University of Toledo. 

LSA sophomore Bilal Irfan, LSA student government president and organizer of the event, told The Michigan Daily after the event that he was inspired to bring the panel to the University of Michigan after attending a similar event at the U-M Flint campus.

“It was really great to be able to see representation based on a symposium series that had to do with Islamic law and civilization,” Irfan said. “I thought that was really intriguing. And so I wanted to bring something like that to (the Ann Arbor) campus and then hopefully start something that can be exported outside of the U-M community as well.”

Irfan collaborated with the Muslim Coalition and the Global Islamic Studies Center at the U-M International Institute to plan the event. The Muslim Coalition is a union of Muslim students and student organizations serving to represent their interests within the U-M community. Irfan spoke more about working with the coalition in an interview with The Daily. 

“We’ve been working within the Muslim Coalition and we started partnering with the Global Islamic Studies Center,” Irfan said. “They’ve generously supported putting on this program … We reached out to different student (organizations), as well as reaching out to a couple of different institutes to bring in their speakers.”

LSA junior Humza Irfan opened the event by reciting the poem “Lab Pe Aati Hai Dua” (informally known as “Bachche Ki Dua”) and of the last few verses of a section of the Qur’an titled “Surah Hashr.” 

Idris focused his discussion on the relationship between the academic studies of anti-colonial thought and Islamic political thought. He said these two ideas are thought of as completely separate subjects and differ from the thinking of Muslim intellectuals in the 20th century. Idris specifically discussed the impact that great Islamic thinkers, like Sayyid Qutb, had on discourse around colonialism and the ideas today’s academia associates with non-Muslim anti-colonial discourses.

“Reading a thinker like Qutb in relation to these discourses challenges us to scrutinize where Islam fits in modern structures of knowledge production: what themes and ideas are readily associated with which thinkers, groups, or periods, and who’s allowed to have theorized what,” Idris said.

Humza Irfan told The Daily after the event that the organizers and participants of the event wanted to advocate for the importance of applying cultural relativism, or evaluating people’s beliefs from the perspective of their culture, when approaching any type of civilization.

“What we were trying to do is to open people’s eyes that Islamic civilization isn’t like other civilizations because it has its own way of thinking and has fundamental differences,” Humza Irfan said. “We need to understand that we can live with those fundamental differences and understand what cultural relativism is. It’s important to recognize civilizations for their own distinct frameworks.”

LSA sophomore Maria Wajahat, LSA student government vice president and a member of the Muslim Coalition, told The Daily after the event that they attended to learn more about anti-colonial responses from the wide array of speakers. 

“The event at U-M flint was talking about an anti-colonial response with Islamophobia and Islamic Revivalism,” Wajahat said. “I didn’t get to go to that event, (but) I heard a lot of good things from a lot of my classmates that did go, so I wanted to come to this one and listen to all of the speakers.”

Deeb said he hopes the event will allow for more lasting and powerful conversations regarding Islamic thought and conceptions of Islamic civilization within the U-M student body.

“I hope for more critical thinking and more platforms like this to begin having honest conversations about the state of affairs of (the Islamic) community and the historical developments of our Muslim civilization,” Deeb said.

Humza Irfan also discussed the impact he wishes the event will have on U-M students in an interview with The Daily. He said he hopes people will start to use the frameworks and paradigms discussed at the event to look past the labels of people who grew up in different settings. 

“The impact really aligns with the values of the University in that we want a diverse array of thought promoted in our departments,” Humza Irfan said. “We need to accept when there’s a fundamental difference. But then the question is, ‘Where are we going to draw the line of what difference can be tolerated and what cannot,’ and that’s why we have these discussions to facilitate this type of conversation. Opening people’s eyes, opening people’s minds is exactly what we’re trying to do.”

Correction 2/10: This article has been updated to reflect the correct name of the event and the membership of the Muslim Coalition. A quote from Maria Wajahat has also been updated.

Daily Staff Reporter Jamie Kim can be reached at jamiehk@umich.edu.