A non-Muslim academic established an Islamic center in Oxford. The following lines present an interview with Dr. David George Browning in which he gives information about the center and the surrounding circumstances.
Dr. David George Browning is one of the founders of Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies [see: http://www.oxcis.ac.uk/] and famous for being the "second man" behind establishing Muslim and Christian schools together against the idea of the clash of civilizations.
Dr. Browning stated that his interest in Islam started in 1981 following a conversation with a Muslim Indian colleague, Dr. Farhan Ahmed Nizami, a lecturer of history at Oxford University. Dr. Nizami drew Dr. Browning’s attention to the fact that there is a mutual lack of understanding between Islam and the West. He also highlighted the importance of dialogue and the possible danger of enforcing the misunderstanding in the future.
This marked the beginning of the idea of establishing an Islamic academic institution in Oxford. The center was established in 1985.
The center is concerned with research related to foreign relationships, economic development, history, education, and many other issues.
The center also organizes an annual program for British Muslim youth where 25-30 young people who have leadership qualifications in the different fields of business, journalism, law, academics…etc gather from all over the U.K.
The program provides them a good chance to meet and create a network This, Dr. Browning believes, is extremely important both on the national and international levels.
He stated that the center has three main activities; namely teaching, research, and publishing. He declared that the center is currently working on two main research projects. The first is to be published by Oxford and it is a study on Muslim intellectuals and the social history of Muslims in southern Asia. The second, however, is a research on Islamic funding and it is expected to be a global view of the international economy.
Dr. Browning added that the British government frequently demands special research, like the one being executed nowadays on Muslim emigrants’ accommodation needs in the U.K.
As for periodicals, the center issues an international periodical entitled Journal of Islamic Study, which has been in publication since 1990. The editor is Dr. Farhan Nizami himself. The center also issues a series of biographies of distinguished Islamic leadership in Islamic history.
Dr. Browning noted that the center organizes an annual conference where leadership of different backgrounds meet at a round table and discuss one of the suggested subjects on the relationships between the West and Muslim societies.
The first conference of this kind was held in 1994 following a lecture delivered by Prince William under the title Islam and the West, in which the prince called for dialogue.
With regard to the main challenges that’s faced the center’s establishment, Dr. Browning stated that it was not easy to obtain authorization from the city of Oxford for the new building. He said that while the majority of people believed in the idea, a small minority refused it, believing that an Islamic center will be unusual in the city. "This small group of opponents," stated Dr. Browning, "attempted everything to prevent the authorizations to build the new building, and used the media to spread negative propaganda against Islam and Muslims."
Malaysia, Turkey, and Iran have expressed considerable support for the project in terms of the interior design of the new building. Kuwait contributed to the library, Oman offered the dinning hall, and Saudi Arabic offered remarkable support. Yemen, however, offered the best stones used in Islamic buildings as donation.
Dr. Browning declared the media does not present the real image of Islam. However, he argued that Muslims are responsible too, adding that they should cooperate with each others. They should themselves have the ability to engage in dialogue before initiating a dialogue with the West.
When asked to express his opinion on the two repeated terms in the Western media "political Islam and fundamentalist," Dr. Browing said that many terms are not used in their exact meaning, hinting that the West was the first to use the term fundamentalist to refer to group of Christians in the Bible who literally follow the biblical text in a fundamentalist manner. The term was then used to refer to Muslims. "We invented the term to refer to totally different issue to describe fundamentalism and the lack of tolerance, and the use of this term to describe Muslims does not help the dialogue. I do not use this word," declared Dr. Browning, continuing "I also do not use the term ’political Islam." Dr. Browning believes that Islam has no specific nationality or identity; "Islam is Islam," he stated.
He highlighted the misunderstanding of Islam and the discrimination against it. He finally expressed his hope that the center will always be open for Muslims and non-Muslims alike.