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There are no completely neutral studies of Islamic education. Though centuries old, Islamic learning evokes reactions as varied as pride or scorn, hope or suspicion, tolerance or belligerence. Some see Islamic educational institutions as the both the preserve of virtue and the cutting edge of civilization; others see them as a both a threat to freedom and a fountain of extremism.

Approaches to Islamic education are therefore controversial among both Muslims and non-Muslims. In response to globalization, members of both camps turn to various degrees of separatism or integration. Separatists maintain that Muslim and secular educations are fundamentally in competition. Integrationists maintain that Muslim education can cooperate with secular society, and vice-versa. Though these two categories are not comprehensive, they may prove a useful way of looking at the spectrum of Islamic and secular responses to the question of education.

In the end, however, both tend to fall short of reality when taken to an extreme. Integrationists, while aware of the very real diversity within Islam, often fail to see the historical and doctrinal issues that really do divide some Islamic and Western traditions. Separatists, while painfully aware of those differences between Islamic and Western education, usually fail to grasp the complexity of belief and practice among Muslims. By dividing the world into a bipolar conflict between “Islam” and “the West,” separatists tend to undermine possibilities for common ground and cooperation.

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