November 2022: Dr. Hisham Moharram on the Academic (and research) realities in the agricultural disciplines
My experiences in the undergraduate and post-graduate phases of my academic career were in US institutions, so the lack of a religious slant in the pedagogy was not surprising. However, my Ph.D. was at Texas A&M University which is in the ‘Bible Belt’ of the US. There was a definite Christian tone to the instructors at the College of Agriculture at Texas A&M University – but it was carefully camouflaged (probably to avert lawsuits). After a 2 year post-doc in genetic engineering, I went to Egypt in the hope of settling there and I joined the Ministry of Agriculture (Ag Research Center) for one year before switching to the Ministry of Scientific Research for the next 3 years. At both institutions the secular tone was undisputed. My colleagues found an Islamically observant US-trained researcher in their midst highly unusual and my superiors literally ‘laughed’ at my Quranic references with respect to the awe-eliciting wonders of the field of plant biology and genetics. Upon returning to the US in 2002, I joined Rutgers University as a post-doc for the next 4 years where I again found a purely secular approach in the department I joined. I only found the freedom to practice my expertise from the Islamic perspective when I started in the private sector as the founder of Good Tree Farm. The name reflects verses 24-25 in Surat Ibrahim. Over the years, I have also understood from colleagues in other academic and research institutions around the Muslim world that the same attitude I found in Egypt through my personal experience is also found in their countries. So my perception at this point is that the sense of cultural/political defeat in the inner consciousness of most Muslim nations (as a result of colonialism and the impact of the post-colonial secular regimes that have ruled from then till now) is so deep that there is no desire to resist and teach from an Islamic lens. The political disposition across all levels of management of academic and research institutions is vehemently anti-Islamic, probably for fear that the secular political regimes could be threatened if the populations they rule were to gain stronger Islamic convictions. The only avenue I still see viable at this point is through private sector organizations or institutions. And Allah SWT knows best.