The contemporary period challenges all religions: advances in technology, developments in knowledge, and shifting boundaries and contexts result in the questioning of entrenched and sometimes pre-conceived ideas. The objective of this project is to highlight some of these unthought issues, in the expectation that in the near future such issues will become pertinent and discussed within Islamic communities and in the Scottish and British contexts.
Examples of previously taboo subjects, or topics that were not discussed, or were unthought, include constructs of gender, denominational conflict and Muslim sectarianism. Some of these issues – such as spaces for female-only worship, and relations between and among Muslims – are surfacing with increasing frequency in the West. With Muslims becoming an increasingly vocal and significant community within Scotland it is imperative that these issues are understood and addressed and that fora be established to communicate these understandings with and to the broader public.
This project is designed specifically to bring together leading academics in Scotland who investigate issues related to Islam, charities involved in work relating to Islamic communities, and representatives of devotional groups. This coverage, going beyond a simple academic approach, enables us not simply to theorize problems, but to investigate and understand practical realities. Those invited are experts in the specific fields that we believe will be areas of greatest interest in future years within the British context. Some of these issues are on the threshold of becoming major issues in the social and political realms, while others have been simmering for a substantial amount of time and flare up on a regular basis. The aim is to be as inclusive as possible, so that all voices are heard and a genuinely open and frank discussion can ensue.
The impact of Islam in the UK is not limited to London alone. Muslim communities in Scotland are scattered among the major urban areas and also remote locations in the Scottish islands. The issues that we plan to discuss affect all Muslims (and non-Muslims) throughout Scotland. All too frequently issues related to Islam appear in the media, whether terror attempts at Glasgow airport, immolation of wives or daughters, gender imbalance, discrimination based on entrenched ideas about the ideal forms and representations of women and men, immigration, parallel lives, or some other issue that has the power to divide opinion. Issues related to Islam are urgent, whether these be seen as cultural issues emanating originally from outside the UK, or whether considered as inherently “Islamic”. Scottish universities, with members of staff who are recognised experts in various aspects of Islamic studies, provide an excellent resource to address and understand such controversial and burning themes. Our proposed network will provide a firm basis for future collaborative efforts to promote greater religious and cultural awareness within Scotland.
The idea of the ‘unthought in Islam’ (a term popularised in Islamic academic circles by Mohamed Arkoun) also encompasses an effort to capture Muslim views on the similarly very topical issue of intra-Islamic sectarianism, specifically the views and experiences of the Shi`a as a minority within a larger Muslim minority in the UK generally, and Scotland in particular. In the UK, some 2.7% of the population is Muslim. Of the UK’s 1500 mosques, some 66 are Shi`a. Muslims comprise approximately .9% of the Scottish population, the largest concentration being in Glasgow. The exact percentage of this population that adhere to the tenets of the Twelver Shi`i faith is not known. Scotland’s Shia are not at all unaware of the Sunni-Shi`a tensions across the Middle East, South Asia and Southeast Asia and that have so dominated the headlines at least since the Iraqi invasion of 2003, and even more recently with the rise of ‘Islamic State’ in Syria and Iraq. Indeed, sectarian attacks on the region’s Shia even featured in a debate in the Scottish Parliament on 28 May 2013.
The Unthought in Islam is generously funded by the Royal Society of Edinburgh’s Research Networks in the Arts and Humanities scheme.
The Primary Investigator (PI) for this project is Dr Lloyd Ridgeon (Reader in Islamic Studies, the University of Glasgow http://www.gla.ac.uk/schools/critical/staff/lloydridgeon/ ) and the secondary investigator is Professor Andrew Newman (Personal Chair in Islamic Studes and Persian, the University of Edinburgh http://www.ed.ac.uk/profile/andrew-j-newman ).
The project includes the holding of two events, one at Glasgow University (2016) and another at Edinburgh University (2017). Dr Ridgeon will take the lead in managing the Glasgow event and Professor Newman will manage the Edinburgh event.