"When speaking about scientific research on Islamic Studies, contributions should be sought from a variety of methodologies and critical epistemological postures resulting in the promotion, endorsement and acceptance of differing views. Rather than operating within one paradigm of thought, we must insist on the necessity to emancipate Islamic thought from its inherited dogmatic, theological and legalist frames. The university’s role and responsibility in this endeavour is to address social and political issues to study global trends in an effort to contribute to a ‘culture of peace’ rather than a ‘clash of cultures and civilizations’ as predicted by Samuel Huntington in The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (Simon & Schuster, 1996; Touchstone, 1998). We can demonstrate this through a practical case study of the Mediterranean region. The thesis developed by previous historians has identified four distinct time frames in this area:

  1. The Roman Empire – Roman imperial expansion has been presented as the phase of Pax Romana or Mare Nostrum by a European-centred historiography (e.g., Henri Pirenne Mahomet and Charlemagne).


  2. Emergence and expansion of Islam from 610 to 750 CE resulted in a political, cultural and religious rupture between an Islamic and Christian division of the Mediterranean area. Since the thirteenth century, this division has had positive cultural and intellectual impacts on the rise of a European hegemony.


  3. The 15th Century saw the resurgence of Christianity in the Mediterranean, with the expansion of European influence and success of the Reconquista in Spain which ended in 1492 when Muslims and Jews were expelled from Granada. So began the era of the continued rise of European colonial hegemony up until 1945. The Ottoman state (1453-1924) tried to limit European expansion in the Mediterranean area, but it soon became the ‘sick man of Europe’ under the pressures of imperial, capitalist Europe.


  4. The 20th Century and in particular the period after World War II, saw a deepening of this rupture with decolonisation and the formation of independent nationalist states manipulated through the Cold War from 1945 to 1989.



The Mediterranean region in the 11th centurysource: Ta‘lim Primary 5: Everyday Life in Fatimid Times

There is a need to teach an objective, critical history at universities throughout the world. Typically, East-South history is taught in departments of Orientalism or Near Eastern Studies totally separated from European History, just as Islam is taught apart from Judaism and Christianity in departments of Religious Studies. Similarly, Arab philosophy is not taught in most Philosophy departments of universities in Europe. This practice is ideological and unscientific, supporting an old theological and ideological frame of perception and interpretation of the intellectual and cultural traditions of the Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Greek and Roman civilisations of the Mediterranean.

Since the 15th century, the growing rupture between Islam and Christianity in the region has had an impact on Jewish, Christian and Muslim philosophy as well as intellectual and cultural thought in the West. To go some way towards healing this rupture, there needs to be attempts at mutual comprehension and a spirit of tolerance – a process which is dependent on the way in which Islam is taught in schools and institutions of learning and the representation of Islamic intellectual and cultural thought in curricula for schools and universities.

Instead of accepting inherited ideological ruptures presented as ‘national identities’ by the official discourses of Nation States, institutions such as the new Institute of Arabic and Islamic Studies at Exeter could initiate a research programme with historical and anthropological underpinnings correlating the interaction of these forces with historical evolutions in the region while understanding that the Mediterranean is one space which is shared and disputed at the same time. This should be a collaborative venture including institutions of learning worldwide and specifically those based in Mediterranean countries. By highlighting a shared history, and understanding the interplay of traditions and cultures from the past, academics can begin to impact on current and future thinking and contribute to a Pax Universalis, a ‘culture of universality’ rather than conflicting cultures based on imagined identities.