3rd Distinguished Lectureship in Islamic Civilization
The 3rd Distinguished Lectureship in Islamic Civilization, CUHK, was held on 7-10 March 2019 with Prof. Jonathan Brown of Georgetown University, USA, as the Speaker. Prof. Brown holds two offices in the university: firstly, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Chair of Islamic Civilization, Associate Professor, School of Foreign Service; secondly, Director, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding.
Prof. Brown is a world-renowned scholar of Islam, often invited to speak in different countries. His scholarship covers a wide range of interests, with Islamic Law and Hadith Studies being the most prominent areas. Apart from his positions in Georgetown University, he has been the Editor in Chief of Oxford Encyclopedia of Islam & Law since 2009. He has authored numerous books and articles, many of which are critically acclaimed by academic circles.
During the 3rd Distinguished Lectureship in Islamic Civilization, Prof. Brown spoke on three occasions. The first was the Research Seminar titled “Abolition of Slavery in Islam”. In it, he shared his research on slavery in Islam, which is also the theme of his upcoming book. He talked about how Islam viewed slavery and how Muslims argued for abolishing it. Given that slavery is viewed as the antithesis of liberty, the subject remains to be very controversial in the West where freedom is the basic modern value. Indeed the global history of slavery and abolition is told as one of a Western awakening to freedom and then a Western crusade to end slavery worldwide. By explicating the Muslim arguments for abolishing slavery, however, Prof. Brown successfully challenged this Western narrative.
The second was the Academic Lecture titled “The Logic of Islamic Law and Its Transformation in Modernity”. In the beginning of the lecture, Prof. Brown explained the basic concepts in Islamic law and how the system had functioned for centuries prior to modernity. Then he detailed how the system had changed since the nineteenth century when Muslim societies had begun to come under European colonial domination. This highly thought-provoking lecture was followed by a vibrant Q&A session when inspiring questions were raised one after another.
Given that Islamic Law or Sharia is frequently mentioned by the media in all sorts of contexts, Prof. Brown’s lecture is very helpful in dispelling the confusion that exists among the public about its concepts. It is no wonder that the lecture attracted a diverse audience, comprising students and academics of different disciplines, both from CUHK and other local universities, as well as members of the public.
The last was the Public Lecture titled “Human Rights: Islamic and Western Perspectives”, which was delivered at Masjid Ammar in Wanchai instead of the CUHK campus. Prof. Brown approached the topic of human rights from a comparative perspective between Islam and the West. Through the examples he provided from history, Islam emerged as a champion of human dignity and freedom, sometimes even surpassing the West in this role. The Honorable Justice Bokhary joined the talk as a discussant and shared his view on the subject. As in the lecture on Islamic Law, the Q&A session showed that the topic of human rights was of great interest to the audience which numbered about a hundred. It is noted particularly in this public lecture that the general lack of knowledge about Islam in Hong Kong society allows for some stereotypes to preclude important dialogue and discussion on issues related with Islam.
Apart from these three occasions, Prof. Brown also met with Muslim students on campus. During this informal session he talked to them not so much as a scholar of Islam but as a Muslim living in the West. The students,mostly international,took the opportunity to seek his advice on how to respond to certain misconceptions of Islam they face in Hong Kong.
The Distinguished Lectureship in Islamic Civilization is a biennial event organized by the Centre for the Study of Islamic Culture, CUHK, providing opportunities for distinguished scholars of Islamic Studies around the world to share their profound knowledge in this field with the local academic and Muslim communities as well as members of the public. Previous speakers included Prof. Farhan A. Nizami (2015), Director, Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies, University of Oxford, UK, and Prof.Recep Şentürk (2017), President, Ibn Khaldun University, Istanbul, Turkey.