The following is the transcript of the reply Dr Zaini Uthman gave in response to my disappointment of IIUM’s curriculum. Throughout the years, I always find myself reading it over and over again when I needed to find my niyyah. May his words be of benefit to you as well, insyaAllah.
Welcome to the life of a student! You are about to learn something that some people have concluded wrongly and the path of learning is to find that out. You must get rid of this attitude or this idea that somebody must tell me the right thing, no no no no, nobody’s gonna tell you the right thing! A teacher will only show you the right path and sometimes the right path is also telling you, “This is the wrong path!”. Ok? So your task is actually to uncover new knowledge, this is the task.
In IIUM, I am not saying that it’s the wrong place. This is the problem that we’re facing today. We Muslims, our academics, many of us are basically amateurish Muslims. Many of our lecturers, in IIUM, UKM, UM, all of us, are amateur Muslims. You know, we love Islam, but do we know Islam?
Hell, no. You know it now. Am I right?
So these classes are not to contradict IIUM, it is to complement IIUM! You know its shortcomings. Your parents have shortcomings, you don’t say “Dad, I’m not happy with you. You’re not a good father because your knowledge of the Qur’an is not half-full.” You live with it, right? So you live with IIUM as we live with UKM, as we live with…
You know, when I was studying in America, I was not happy because I don’t have what you have. You have Islamic Worldview, you have Islamic Revealed Knowledge, you have Ethics in IIU. I did this on my own. I learnt Arabic on my own, read Al-Attas on my own, discovering dictionaries, trying to make sense of the difficult words this man is saying.
So, welcome to the world of learning and scholarship. Get rid of this spoon-fed or you know, “Give me something” [attitude], no no no no… You have to learn. And know where things are lacking – that is the path of learning.
In order for you to become knowledgeable, you must really know what WISE is talking about, and we cannot give you everything, it’s all about your individual effort later on. How many of you would then be willing to study the Arabic Language and go deeper into it and really connect things?
People ask me, I say “Look I learn Arabic for 10 years and all of that in America, never here, never in Middle East… I’ve not been to Middle East to learn Arabic, I’ve been to Middle East to do something else but not to learn. I’m not a graduate of any Madrasah or anything like that. I’m just a simple Malay student who graduated from High School then went to the US to study Physics and Astronomy. But I pick up Arabic, met Al-Attas, read his words…”
So, in other words, what you learn in universities, is not going to make who you are, right, it is this thing, people that you associate with. So, that’s why, I’m glad that you came, and perhaps many more will come, and do not think that the university is the only place to learn. Likewise, I read on my own, met Fazlur Rahman on my own, met al-Attas on my own, eventually I studied with them, so… that’s how it is.
Sometimes, sometimes you’re given the knowledge, you can get at the right thing without even meeting the man or the person. Just like when we read great words of the past. That’s why Al-Attas always reminded us when we were students at the old ISTAC, he said, “When you read books of the great ‘ulama of the past, don’t look at them as books but think of it as if they are teaching you, in person.” So don’t be quick to condemn them, don’t be quick to judge them. But learn from them first. Then when you come to the age of maturity in learning and knowledge, then it is the time for you to disagree with them, but in a very informed and knowledgeable way.
IIUM is a very good place for people to know their differences, and I hope insyaAllah it’ll be come better…
[Dr. Zaini Othman 02/04/11]