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Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought, The Royal

By:
Joseph A. Kéchichian
Source:
The Oxford Encyclopedia of Islam and Politics What is This? Provides in-depth coverage of the political dimensions of Islam and the Muslim world through thematic examination of the major topic areas of political science as they relate to the Muslim world.

Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought, The Royal

The Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought is an independent non-governmental institute headquartered in Amman, Jordan, whose ultimate purpose is to serve Islam and humanity at large.

Established in 1980 under the name of “The Royal Academy for Islamic Civilization Research (Aal al-Bayt Institute)” by the late Hussein bin Talal in the aftermath of the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran and the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, the objectives of the institute are to serve Jordan, Arabs, Muslims, and mankind in general.

Well attuned to Western intellectual currents, the Jordanian monarch concluded that Muslim scholars needed to respond to exceedingly negative images of Muslims, especially as the American hostage crisis in Iran filled the airwaves. At the time, King Hussein and his advisors believed that Muslims ought to promote awareness of Islam and Islamic thought, to correct misconceptions about the faith, and, equally important, to highlight the many Islamic intellectual contributions to human civilization. Over the years, and because of the impact of the Iranian Revolution, the institute supported various activities that deepened dialogue between the various schools of Islamic jurisprudence. Members hoped that such cooperation would enhance moderation and tolerance, foster the encounter of Muslim scholars, strengthen intellectual links, and produce relevant academic products to promote peace and harmony among world civilizations.

These efforts gained additional urgency after the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, when Francis Fukuyama penned his 1992 The End of History and the Last Man study, which was followed a year later by an equally problematic book by political scientist Samuel P. Huntington, who advanced a Clash of Civilizations theory that concluded with the startling notion that cultural and religious identities would henceforth be the primary sources of conflict in the post-Cold War world.

King Hussein's successor, Abdullah bin Hussein, maintained the Hashemite monarchy's support of the organization although the individual who carried the burden of work associated with the institute was the former Heir Apparent Prince Hassan bin Talal. Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad presided over the academy since 2000 as the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Royal Aal al-Bayt in his capacity as the Jordanian monarch's Personal Envoy and Special Advisor. He was assisted by a Vice-Chairman, the Jordanian Minister of Waqf and Islamic Affairs, Abdul Fattah Salah. Other members of the board included the Jordanian Minister of Education, Ibrahim Badran, the Jordanian Chief Sharīʿah Justice, Ahmad Hlayyil, the Grand Mufti of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, Shaykh Abdul Kareem al-Khasawneh, the President of Aal al-Bayt University, Nabil Shawaqfeh, and the Grand Mufti of the Jordanian Armed Forces, Brigadier General Yahya Al-Btoush. Financially supported by Jordan, the institute conducted its activities under Law no. 32 (2007), known as the “Law of the Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought.”

Admittedly, the institute gained valuable exposure after 138 Muslim scholars from around the world delivered an answer to Pope Benedict XVI in the aftermath of the Roman Catholic Pontiff's 13 September 2006 Regensburg address titled “Faith, Reason and the University—Memories and Reflections.” In his lecture, delivered in his native German, the pope quoted an unfavorable remark about Islam made in the fourteenth century by Manuel II Palaiologos, a Byzantine emperor. The remarks sparked international reactions and controversy, reflecting a poor understanding of Islam and, more importantly, of significant ties that united Islam and Christianity. In the spirit of open intellectual exchanges and mutual understandings, Muslim scholars spoke with one voice about the true teachings of Islam, focusing on “Love in the Qurʾān.” A similar effort husbanded by institute scholars was the November 2004 “Amman Message,” which sought to declare what Islam is and what it is not, what actions represent it and what actions do not. Abdullah II wished to encourage Muslims to recognize the validity of all eight legal schools of Sunni, Shiah, and Ibadi Islam; of traditional Islamic theology (Asharism); of Islamic Mysticism (Sufism), and of true Salafi thought. The effort focused on how to forbid takfir (declarations of apostasy) between Muslims, and what preconditions needed to be fulfilled to issue fatwas, precisely to prevent ignorant and illegitimate edicts in the name of Islam. Ultimately, the institute hoped to “clarify to the modern world the true nature of Islam and the nature of true Islam.”

Bibliography

  • A Common Word Dossier.” Islamica Magazine, Issue 21, February 2009. Provides a complete discussion of Aal al-Bayt-sponsored dialogue between Christian and Muslim religious scholars, available at acommonword.com/en/a-common-word/11-new-fruits-of-a-common-word/ 251-a-common-word-dossier.html.
  • The Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought maintains a multilingual web page on its activities, including recent publications, at www.aalalbayt.org/en/news.html.
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