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The Islamization of English Literary Studies: A Postcolonial Approach PDF Print E-mail

Md. Mahmudul Hasan

Abstract

In today’s world where the former colonized are reshaping their relation with the colonizer, the concept of decolonizing or indigenizing education is widely discussed in postcolonial studies. Decolonizing/indigenizing education counters the western systems of knowledge’s hegemony over those of non-western systems of thought and requires the development of a new approach to education that keeps in view the indigenous societies’ socio-cultural and religious values and  traditions. The Islamization of Knowledge undertaking maintains a similar approach, but additionally requires an Islamic perspective on knowledge.  Among all western disciplines, English literature is arguably the most culturally charged and carries western value-laden ideas. This reality points to the need to look at it from Islamic perspectives. Based on this theoretical concept, this study seeks to establish the urgency and feasibility of Islamizing English (British) literary studies.

 

Introduction

The contemporary education system all over the world is largely based on western ethos, values, and intellectual traditions and retains powerful, quaint remnants of multilayered colonial paternalism. The more recognizable territorial, political, and economic aspects of colonial conquest and domination are less visible in today’s world, as imperial ideology and its influence on non-western countries have taken subtler detours in the postcolonial world of diverse cultural settings. This is a result of the overarching influence of western thought and culture – modernity – that was imposed upon non-western societies and subsequently widened and deepened its reach, especially during the colonial period. Edward Said Rightly regards imperialism as “an educational movement.” In order to perpetuate what is now widely known as cultural imperialism or a state of cultural dependency and domination, the colonial establishment laid the utmost emphasis on the education system of colonized countries, as Thomas Babington Maculay (1800-59), the exponent of British colonialism’s cultural hegemony stated in Parliament on February2, 1835:

I have traveled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief. Such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such caliber, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage, and, therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self esteem, their native culture, and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation.

Under this ideological premise characterized by haughtiness and “personal obduracy,” the colonizers introduced a western education model that the former colonized still faithfully follow. Ironically, after decolonization the education system of colonial days not only remained but has expanded, a development that has, in turn, facilitated what Said calls a “relationship of historical dependence and subordination.” As a result, the influence of colonial education is hugely palpable in the former colonies and is thriving without necessitating the need for the colonizers’ physical presence. While western influences are unmistakably evident in almost all modern disciplines, (English) literature along with anthropology, history, and philosophy, is thought to be the most obvious one that continues to promote Eurocentric and colonialist values. Therefore, a critical look at English literary studies from an Islamic, postcolonial perspective is needed.

Based on archival research, this paper sets out clearly the colonial genesis of English literature in order to establish an urgency to look at the subject Islamically as well as postcolonially. In this study, I assess the need and feasibility of Islamizing English literature and argue that such an undertaking is very much in keeping with the understanding of Islam and the literary tradition. In this regard, I also refute the usual argument that attempts to define literature as simply a reflection and enjoyment of beauty by excluding elements of truth and ethical concerns, and hence there is no need to locate its relevance to any higher moral code such as Islam. In order to foreground my discussion, I will describe the colonial provenance of English literature and the culturally charged circumstances of its introduction into Muslim societies…click for full paper in pdf