An Interview with Dr. Muhammed Volkan Stodolsky: on faith, knowledge and the Islamic scholarly tradition

Dr. Stodolsky has a PhD from the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago as well as ijazahs from Arab, Turkish, and Indian ʿUlamāʾ. He currently teaches ‘Aqidah at Usul Academy.

Picture credits

How has your faith and career been influenced by traditional Islamic education?
 
Traditional Islamic education has been the greatest blessing of my life. It has given me a moral compass and allowed me to understand the physical and metaphysical worlds with the light of divine knowledge. To receive prophetic knowledge from an unbroken chain of ulama that goes all the way back to the Final Prophet (SAW), where we know the name of every scholar in that chain is such an amazing thing, the like of which exists in no human civilization. It is an extraordinary blessing. Having seen both orientalists and ulama, I noticed how little orientalists knew about Islam and how biased they were. I understood that Islam must be learned from and taught only by ulama and those under their supervision.  
 
What are the Islamic disciplines that have had a particular imprint on you, and why?
 
Fiqh (Islamic law) taught me how to worship Allah taala correctly and how Muslims should interact with each other.
 
Hadith taught me how noble our Prophet was and how crucial it is that we follow and listen to him (SAW) and benefit from his divine knowledge.
 
Kalam taught me Islamic epistemology and the limits of our reasoning and how Allah taala is beyond our understanding and imagination.
 
The discipline that left the greatest imprint on me has been tasawwuf (Sufism). When I read great Sufis, such as Imam Ghazali, I see how all the Islamic disciplines come together with sincerity. Reading Imam Ghazali and other Sufis ulama has changed my life.
 
Can you give a an example of a personal experience in which you combined the Islamic scholarly tradition with contemporary issues?
 
In the modern practice of medicine, for many physicians profit has become more important than doing no harm and curing their patients. To such an extant that in the US and elsewhere they changed the definition of death for utilitarian purposes and some Muslims started imitating them. Alhamdulillah, I wrote articles and gave presentations on Islamic bioethics to state that Islamic bioethics should be based on revelation rather than imitation of non-Muslims.
 
How do you envision the future of education in the Islamic scholarly tradition?  What are the gaps and challenges the Muslim community needs to tackle in this area?
 
In most Muslim societies there is a bifurcation and separation between those who pursue divine knowledge and those who pursue modern sciences. This separation has to be bridged. Those who pursue modern sciences often have little or no divine knowledge, as a result of which their horizons are confined to imitating non-Muslims. For Muslim civilization to thrive again, this needs to change. We need to have educational institutions that integrate divine knowledge and knowledge of this world.