Question: What is the meaning behind the name “Civilisations”?
Sheikh Ridhwan: The word “Civilisations” is important because, for me, it is the meaning of “Ummah” in the Quranic paradigm. And the idea of Ummah is quite central to our Quranic worldview.
When the Quran refers to “Al-Ummam” it is sometimes translated as “Nations” or “a People” but if you really think about it, the best translation would be “Civilisations”. This is because a Nation/a People usually refers to a body of people at a certain time, however, the Ummah of Rasullalah (s.a.w) is not a static point in time. Rather, it exists from the time of the Sahaba to our time; it has a historical dimension. Therefore, I think the best definition for “Ummah” in the English language would be “Civilisations”.
People always argue about the definitions of everything, but one of the definitions of “Civilisation”, according to social scientists, is that it refers to the largest cultural grouping you can belong to. Your Civilisation provides your worldview, and you cannot belong to two different civilisations at the same time. For British Muslims like us, this forces us to think about whether we belong to Islamic or Western Civilisation. In some ways we occupy the borderlands- definitions always have fuzzy edges, especially in the social sciences. Can we belong to both? Can we be both Western and Islamic at the same time? My contention is that we cannot, simply by the definition of Civilisation agreed upon. For example, within the Islamic Civilisation we have certain attitudes and beliefs towards things like gender and homosexuality. Western Civilisation have their own attitudes, beliefs and values towards such issues, and there is no way the two can be reconciled, in my opinion. Therefore, the concept of Civilisations has a lot of importance in relation to the three courses we teach.