On the eve of a celebration of Black Consciousness in South Africa, the 25th anniversary of Steve Biko’s death, Dr Farid Panjwani, Director of Centre for Research and Evaluation in Muslim Education (CREME), who had recently presided over the launch of the Agha Khan Centre for Islamic Studies at UCL’s Institute for Education – with HRH the Prince of Wales in attendance – introduced our Communiversity cast of characters.
Aneeqa Malik, an innerpreneur, originally from Pakistan, presented herself as a Sufi patching the divide between finance/enterprise and spirituality – and Akhuwat as an alternative model of the Economics of Soulidarity (Mawakhat). Dr Father Anselm Adodo introduced himself as a Benedictine monk, an eco-entrepreneur, and a public intellectual from Nigeria, who is establishing a communiversity in Edo state. Tony Bradley presented himself as a reverend, an artist and an intellectual from Liverpool, who is developing the new discipline of Semiotic Economics. Ronnie Samanyanga, co-founder of integral worlds, saw himself as a “spirit medium”, in his originally Zimbabwean context, mediating between our different worlds, south and east, north and west.
The evening proceeded as Aneeqa setting the scene, takes on our university to communiversity shared story further. In fact, as she, and Ronnie Lessem, initially described, in 9th century Morocco the first university was born, soon to be followed in the neighbouring region by Buyt-al-Hikmah – the House of Wisdom, in which scholars, libraries, and groups of translators flourished, drawn from Egypt and Persia, Greece and India, a veritable intellectual community representing many worlds. A century later in Cairo, and thereafter in Bologna, a universitas movement came into being, when students of theology and philosophy, law and medicine, grouped together, selected appropriate faculty, and communally pursued their learningful way, a kind of shared intellectual pilgrimage, between fellow travelers so to speak.
And then in the dark, or not so dark, middle ages, there was a dramatic turn, over the course of nine or so, Arab and European, and then American centuries. Communities locally turned to religion and globally to the arts and the sciences, and yet institutionally, in ongoing university guise they were whittled away.
Thereafter, the rise of the individual – the eminent, individual professor on high came to rule the hierarchical roost, and the anonymous student, at the bottom of the intellectual pyramid, thereby took his/her lowly place, duly submitting to the academic power structure. Analogously, one might have said, at least up till now, in the academic if not also the economic realms, the “west” ruled over the “rest”. But the time had come for a change.
And where better to start than with a meeting of hearts and minds in between an established London University based educational institute in the heartlands of the Anglo-Saxon west, and a new Communiversity upstart, representing the rest, encompassing, in Adodo’s Benedictine terms, the Four Pax’s : Communitas, Spiritus, Scientia and Economica. Or in Bradley’s integral terms, grounded in community, emerging through spirit, navigating through science, and effecting economically : releasing the communal, cultural, technological and economic GENE-ius of a society.
What about the role of the spirit medium then, the mediating forces that would serve to bring these four worlds together – the spiritual and the material, natural-kind and human kind?
Historically, in the Muslim Golden Age, the time of Buyt-al-Hikmah, the Arabs played the role of intermediaries, interpreters, translators, bringing together Africa, Asia and Europe, if not yet America, at the very cross-roads of civilisation, in Baghdad. And then came, in the modern era, the rise of the west to eclipse the rest. In the place of Al Ahzar and Timbuktoo Oxbridge and the Ivy League, overshadowing the rest.
Yet now, as Adodo proclaimed, it is the time of all Four Pax’s, community and pligrimium, academy and laboratory, which is where Panjwani steps into his mediating role, rediscovering the time of Buyt-al-Hikmah. His Institute was the Academy, the Muslim School was the Laboratory, and we altogether, from Africa and Europe, from MENA and Asia, needed to combine forces, linking the material and the spiritual, (wo)man and nature, and, above all, reconstituting education in the process, so that it served, as one of our Nigerian colleagues intimated, to uplift our individual and societal, communal and institutional souls.
And so an idea was born, straddling Zimbabwe and Nigeria, Jordan and Pakistan, London and Liverpool, academe would re-ground itself in community, engaging in a latter day pilgrimage, transforming our schools from latter day factories into laboratories for research and learning. Islamic Studies would reconnect back to the Golden Age, and connect forward to Mawakhat – Brotherhood – in the spirit of the very Harmony that brought the Prince of Wales to Agha Khan and Agha Kahn to UCL, and Panjwani to Malik and to Beacon Books, onto The Idea of the Communiversity.
The evening was rounded off with Aneeqa Malik, now acting as the Managing Partner of TCA (Trans4m Communiversity Asscoiates), formally announcing the launch of TCA, a global entity, already operating in other parts of the world, now having it’s base in the UK.
Trans4m Communiversity Associates (TCA) is an innovative new global venture that combines the best of co-creative consultancy, with an analytical edge that aids in transforming local societies/communities through a reGENErative process facilitation.
The idea of the Communiversity has arisen out of the increasing recognition that Western ‘Mode 1’ universities are failing to meet the needs of many local communities, not only in the so-called ‘developing world’ but, also, in the ‘left-behind developed world’. Much of the current serious disaffection with contemporary economic structures, politics, and society stems from a feeling, amongst many, that they are unable to participate in the wealth-creating and sharing aspects of society, which give others their sense of meaning. The resultant estrangement gives rise to social problems of mental illness, isolation – even amongst young professionals – rejection of democratic and authoritative institutions and can, at its extreme, lead to increasing levels of suicide and street violence. Whilst the Communiversity is unable to address all these issues, it is one tool among many, which can assist in connecting people, communities and cultures to a model of collaborative learning that helps to make sense of who we are and what we can contribute.
With it’s 4-tiered process facilitation from Membership to Co-creation level, TCA works with learning communities around the world, whilst our board members Prof Ronnie Lessem & Fr (Dr) Anselm Adodo, assist doctoral students with their research-to-innovate project-based PhD / PHD (Process of Holistic Development), leading on to developing their own research academies, eventually joining a full co-creative journey to form their own communiversities around the world.