A Cambridge University-led project which investigated what it means to be a Muslim living in modern Britain has won high praise from the Government as a model for future research in the same field.
"Contextualising Islam in Britain", which published its findings in October 2009, is singled out by the House of Commons Department of Communities and Local Government (CLG) Select Committee in a report evaluating the Government's policies to tackle extremism in the UK.
The nine-month research project was hosted by Cambridge's Centre of Islamic Studies, in association with the Universities of exeter and Westminster. It was funded by the Department, but remained completely independent of any Government involvement.
Scholars, academics and activists representing a diverse spectrum of views from Muslim communities in the UK took part in discussions about Islam in modern Britain, contributing to a final report which covers issues including secularism, democracy, Shariah law, human rights and citizenship.
The intent is that this report, which remains available for free at http://www.cis.com. ac.uk/CIBP.html, will act as the basis for a wider discussion with other Muslim leaders and communities in the UK. In time, it is hoped that this will lead to the development of a virtual "House of Wisdom", providing space for discussion among both Muslims and non-Muslims on how Islam should function in the UK and contribute to wider society.
Commenting on the initiative, the authors of the Select Committee report, published on March 30, describe Contextualising Islam in Britain as a model for the way forward", adding: "This is precisely the kind of exercise - self-managed and independent of Government - which will retain credibility in the Muslim community."
Professor Yasir Suleiman, Director of the Centre of Islamic Studies, which was established in May 2008, said: "This is a significant expression of confidence. It's extremely gratifying to know that the Centre has been established so quickly as a source of independent and reliable research and public outreach.
The comments coincide with the start of a new partnership between the Centre and Azhar University in Cairo, which is aimed at the graduates of Muslim Colleges in both the UK and Egypt.
The two institutions will run a 12-week course designed to encourage participants to think critically about Islamic ideas and values, understand the major achievements of Muslim thought and develop an awareness of how Muslims respond to the challenges of modernity.
Through lectures, tutorials, seminars and workshops, as well as personal studies and assignments, the students will cover topics such as Muslim approaches to ethics and the law, state and citizenship, inter-religious relations and the true meaning of "Jihad". Three weeks of the course will be spent in Cambridge, with the first cohort arriving in June 2010.
This weekend also saw a major conference hosted by the Centre of Islamic Studies on Language, Conflict and Security. The event brought together academics, policy-makers and field officers.
It aimed to cover a wide range of issues, explaining, for example, how political conflicts can affect the idioms in which we speak, the terminology we use, the languages we choose to learn or are encouraged to study, and those which we prefer to ignore. The role of language as a bridge between societies in conflict and as an instrument of war was also to be considered, with reference to conflicts in the Middle East in particular.
In addition, participants were expected to examine the extent to which heightened awareness of national security can impact on the way in which we write, speak, translate foreign languages or attempt to access knowledge and information.
Professor Suleiman added: "This is the first conference to try to link language to security through conflict. It brings together academics and field officers to discuss and debate the increasing securitisation of language in many parts of the world. In a post 9/11 world, Arabic will be a major focus of interest."
General information about the HRH Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Centre of Islamic Studies at the University of Cambridge can be found at: http://www.cis.cam.ac.uk/index.html.