Prof. Mohamad Abdalla
Professor Mohamad Abdalla is one of Australia’s most respected Muslim academic and religious leaders. He is a Professor in Islamic Studies and Founding Director of the Centre for Islamic Thought and Education (CITE) at the University of South Australia.
In 2006 he established Islamic studies as a discipline at Griffith University when he founded the Griffith University Islamic Research Unit (GIRU). From 2006-2008 he was the Founding Director of GIRU where he attracted local and international seed funding to train and graduate a new cohort of PhD scholars familiar with the Australian and Islamic contexts. He has supervised more than 10 PhD candidates, six have already graduates and the first 2 PhD graduates attained academic excellence for their PhD dissertations and one of those attained the Chancellor’s Award for Academic excellence.
In 2008 Prof Abdalla and colleagues from the University of Melbourne and the University of Western Sydney were successful in winning $8 Million Commonwealth Government funding for the establishment of the National Centre of Excellence for Islamic Studies (NCEIS), a consortium between these three universities. From 2008 until 2016 he was the Director of the Queensland node of the National Centre of Excellence for Islamic Studies (GU Node).
Over the years he has established and taught a number of university courses including: Great Empires of Islamic Civilisations; Islamic Law in a Changing World; Introduction to Sharia; and Islam and the Making of Europe. His research focuses on Islam in Australia, Islamic thought and Islamic civilisation and its interaction with the West. He has published widely in Islamic studies with the Griffith Law Review, Routledge; Palgrave Macmillan; Journal of Muslim Mental Health; Edward Elgar; Journal of Sociology; and the Australian Journalism Review.
Prof Abdalla served on multiple boards and organisations including: the Chairperson of the Queensland Government Muslim Community Reference Group (MCRG), Vice-president and spokesperson for the Australian National Imams Council (ANIC); the Queensland Cultural Diversity Roundtable for the Office of the Hon. Glen Elmes MP, Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and Multicultural Affairs and Minister Assisting the Premier; and Vice-President of the office of Al-Azhar University in Sydney. He has also served as the resident Imam of the Kuraby Mosque in Brisbane for many years.
Professor Abdalla is a regular guest lecturer on Islamic issues in various national and international universities; a frequent Islamic affairs commentator in the Australian media; and a scholar-in-residence at the Hawaii Islamic Centre since 2002. He has delivered hundreds of presentations at conferences and high profile events. In 2008, Dr Abdalla was one of 1000 Australians selected to join Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s 2020 Summit, aimed at harnessing the best ideas for building a modern Australia ready for the challenges of the 21st century. He was also guest of the Australian Ambassador to the USA in 2008, to formalise the relationship between Australian and American Muslim leaders and to engage them in a long-term relationship of cooperation and understanding. He was the first Australian Muslim scholar to deliver the Friday congregational sermon on the question of justice, at the United States Capitol building, Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C. Recently, Dr Abdalla was invited on a three days diplomatic visit to Brunei Darussalam by the then Australian High Commissioner to deliver high profile lectures on Islam in Australia.
Since the tragic events of 11 September 2001, and subsequent to the burning of his mosque at Kuraby, Brisbane, Australia, Professor Abdalla has worked tirelessly to establish open and respectful dialogue between people of diverse faith traditions and persuasions. After 9/11, he led a successful reconciliation strategy between Australian Muslims and the wider community that led to building bridges of understanding. In 2007 his efforts were profiled in a page-long article in The Courier Mail titled “Building Bridges between Cultures”, written by Suzanna Clarke, who subsequently won a Queensland Media Award for this article. Dr Abdalla was a panelist on the ABC TV program Q&A discussing ‘Love and Faith.’ His passionate, articulate and dignified views were met with wide positive response from the wider Australian community. In 2015 he was selected by QLD religious leaders to respond to the keynote speech of the Dalai Lama delivered at the St John’s cathedral in Brisbane, and attended by about 1000 people.
Prof Abdalla has received numerous civic awards for his community activism including: the 2015 Lord Mayor’s Australia Day Achievement Award, the 2013 Ambassador of Peace Award; Islamic Council of Queensland Community Service Award (2013); Community Leadership Award (2014); the Australian Muslim Man of the Year Award (2008); and a finalist in the Pride of Australia Award (2010).
He has just accepted a professorial appointment with the University of South Australia to lead the Centre for Islamic Thought and Education (CITE), set to become one of the largest research concentrations in Islamic studies in Australasia. The new Centre will bring together researchers specialising in Islamic psychology, ethics and business, leadership and management, finance and education.
Professor Abdalla is married with one child, and currently resides in Australia, where he has been a citizen for 30 years. He is fluent in English and Arabic.
Universalism, Innovation and Cognisance: Seeking Inspiration from Bait al-Hikma
As the early Islamic civilisation encountered the works of ancient civilisations such as the Greeks they intelligently absorbed, appropriated, translated and added to it. The conflicting worldviews between the Islamic and ‘other’ civilisations were not seen as a hindrance but catalysis for creating an intellectual legacy that at once was innovative and at the same time true to the Islamic spirit. At the heart of this ‘Islamic’ spirit was an awareness that knowledge is meant to lead to cognisance of the Creator (ma’rifa) and the benefit of humankind. This attitude, coupled with significant financial support, led to the creation of a unique intellectual legacy that was characterised by universalism, innovation and an awareness of the ultimate purpose of knowledge and its varied institutions. Its universalism encouraged intellectual from diverse religious and ethics backgrounds to work collectively and supported by an Islamic hegemony. Its innovation was witnessed in their ability and willingness to challenge exiting theories and results inherited from the likes of Ptolemy and Galen. But the brilliance of this intellectual tradition was its ability to create a synthesis between the so-called ‘secular’ and ‘sacred’ traditions in ways that led to the ma’rifa of the Creator. This keynote address will examine this legacy giving some examples from the classical period and modern period to draw lessons for exiting educational models in the Islamic world.