“Isma’il Faruqi is a good case of the modern intellectual who is a believer and provides a good example for thinking about what it means to be a ‘believing intellectual’ in the modern era,” said Georgetown University’s history professor John Voll who presented the Annual Isma’il Faruqi Lecture at IIIT on August 26 to an audience of over 80 scholars, activists and community leaders.
Speaking on “The Challenge of the Believing Intellectual: Religion and Modernity,” Professor Voll, who is also associated with the Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, reviewed how an understanding of what it means to be an intellectual has evolved over time.
“In the past, an intellectual could not be committed to anything, any faith or any cause; he would have to be above any commitment to be objective, or be secular in a sense. Times have changed and now it is possible to speak of being an intellectual and yet be committed to a faith or a cause, as Ismai’l Faruqi certainly was. That is why now we can speak of a believing intellectual, an intellectual who can examine issues from a unique perspective. “
Professor Voll opined that one of the most frequent conceptual mistakes made in discussing Islam and the West in the modern era was the identification of “the West” with “modernity.” This mistake has a significant impact on the way people view the processes of modernization in the Islamic world as well as on the way people interpret the relationships between Islam and the West in the contemporary era. Modernity is simply a phase of world history, a “set of processes that brought an end to the traditional lifestyles of medieval civilizations.” There can be and there are several “modernities”, each in a different cultural or civilizational environment, such as in Muslim societies. The techniques and infrastructure of change give modernity its unique character, according to Professor Voll. This understanding of modernity and modernization is the only way that we can maintain good relations between Islam and the modern West.