Kholoud Al-Ajarma (University of Edinburgh, UK)
Ismail Fajrie Alatas (New York University, USA)
Gary R. Bunt (University of Wales Trinity Saint David, UK)
Martin Slama (Austrian Academy of Sciences, Austria)
Muhammad Al-Marakeby (Universitas Islam Internasional Indonesia, Indonesia)
Muslims acknowledge the absence of a single religious authority in Islam. In this regard, each Muslim has the right to pick a particular Imam or religious elite and trust them as possessing religious authority. This also has proved --borrowing Messick’s term-- the polyvocal character of Islam (1988). The existing and growing intellectual disputes and discourses in all Islamic disciplines even accentuate the absence.
Emphasizing different tones and contexts, Redfield’s dichotomy of great and little traditions (1956), as well Asad’s concept of discursive tradition (1986) more or less have justified the territory stratification of religious authority between the center and the periphery. Those who are associated with the movement of Islamisation of knowledge-based within IIIT in Virginia, have even misused both concepts to draw attention to the role of religious elites in the motherland of Islam as the only religious authority.
They wittingly or unwittingly neglect the important role of local religious elites who have reliable proficiency in interpreting Islam. In this context, we would like to argue that we need to appreciate local interpretations and practices of Islam offered by local religious elites and Muslim communities anywhere. We would argue that we need to acknowledge the plural religious authorities within Muslim societies. Although Gilsenan once provoked that Islam is “what Muslims everywhere say it is” (1982), This cannot be done, however, by implying the absence of religious authority at all.
Drawing on these criticisms, it is timely important to highlight the significance of the decentralization of Islam and Islamic studies. This colloquium generally would acknowledge the strong presence of religious authority within Muslim societies. In addition, this colloquium attempts to overturn scholarly barricades in recent discourse within contemporary Islamic studies and shapes renewed approaches toward a vigorous alternative approach and understanding of the discipline, one that includes religious studies and other sociopolitically infused fields of inquiry. This colloquium is also trying to map the route of Islamic studies and propose innovative approaches to theoretical and methodological frameworks that have traditionally subjugated the field.