Contemporary Muslim Response to the Challenge of Knowledge: Separating the Grain from the Chaff

By Dr. Usman Bugaje

 Abstract

This article stems from a concern that the popular perception of the Islamization of knowledge currently in vogue appears to be a gross oversimplification of a much more complex and arduous process and could, therefore, delay rather than hasten the intellectual recovery of the Muslim Ummah. The article attemps to trace the genesis of the problem and then examines some of the Islamization ideas of the IIIT against a background of the ideas of some pioneering scholars. The thrust of the article’s argument is that while there is a case for the Islamization of knowledge, the grains appear to be jumbled with much chaff and there is an urgent need to separate the chaff from the grain and put the whole challenge into perspective. This, it argues is a process which requires the best minds of the Ummah.

Introduction

Some of the issues that may need immediate attention in this respect are also examined, hoping thereby to provoke the thoughts of others and generate a fruitful debate. Introduction Some 15 years ago a Muslim professor of education gave a lecture on the ways of evaluating learning to a class in an Islamic university. At the end of the lecture, the professor asked the class, which had all along been listening attentively, if they wished to ask any questions about the lecture. The first, which turned out to be the only, question asked was whether what the professor had just taught them was halal or haram? The poor professor must have found the question depressing in itself, but this, however, is the least of our worries. Admittedly, students of Islamic universities, at least the one in question, are not usually the brightest, for the best are apt to attend secular (or shall we call them non-Islamic) universities, but this is not the point here. Rather, the point here is the encounter between two frames of mind, one nurtured in an Islamic system of education, or what has remained of it, and the other nurtured in the ever pervading Western system of education. The encounter itself is not the problem, but rather what it reveals and indeed what it conceals. It immediately reveals the gulf that exists between these two frames of mind, a gulf which threatens to make any discussion a dialogue of the deaf. But it also conceals Muslim inadequacy in both their own intellectual tradition as in the ubiquitous Western tradition. This encounter actually conceals more than it reveals, but our immediate interest is the gulf this dichotomy has created, the intellectual degeneration it has occasioned and the challenge it poses.

The root of the problem can be traced back a few centuries. Indeed it may all have started with the expulsion of the Muslims from Spain some five centuries ago. We need not debate here whether this expulsion, in 1492, was the cause or the consequence of the problem. Those who believe that it was the consequence, may wish to push the problem half a century earlier when the Renaissance movement first began. Whichever point is taken, it will suffice, for our purpose, to say that from that point onwards Muslims began an intellectual retreat from which they have never returned. It is true the Ottoman Caliphate rose to greatness thereafter and so spread Islam into Europe. Similarly, other states and polities, like the Mughal Empire in India and the Sokoto Caliphate in Hausaland also rose to produce towering scholars. But this scholarship was no longer all-encompassing nor was it the pace setter it used to be, so the fact still remains that expulsion from Spain marked the beginning of an intellectual decline from which the Muslims never recovered. Having quit the frontiers of knowledge, Muslims were gradually reduced from being producers of knowledge to being consumers of knowledge. Having absconded from the cutting edge of history, they receded from their position as makers of history to victims of history, where they have since remained. The invasion of Egypt by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1798 represented a significant milestone in this degeneration. In an intellectual encounter at al-Azhar, the French scientists appeared to have had no difficulty in impressing and dumfounding scholars at the great al-Azhar with their scientific displays. Though the Shaykhs of al-Azhar put up a very brave face and Shaykh al-Bakri, very confident in his Islamic faith, even challenged the conjurers, or so he thought they were, this singular act nevertheless shook the Muslim intellectual establishment leaving far reaching consequences in its trail. For al-Jabarti, the Egyptian historian, after visiting, like many of his contemporaries, the Institute set up by Napoleon, with its extensive library and scientific equipment, he wrote a long account of his visit and did not hide his astonishment, concluding his description with the words, “things which minds like ours cannot comprehend”.(1) Perhaps not in so many words, but the gulf, the degeneration and the challenge are all evident.

The significance of the French invasion, which as we know signalled many successive such invasions, was in bringing all these to the fore. It was an encounter between an intellectual tradition that had long rested on its oars and another which having taken its cue and borrowed a lot from the former, had taken the wind out of the former’s sails and overtaken it. This in itself is natural and presents us with no more difficulty than life itself, after all this is what in a way the Islamic intellectual tradition did to others before it. The problem, however, lies in the fact that while the Islamic intellectual tradition developed largely because of and in tune with its religion, the Western intellectual tradition could only do so in spite of and often in defiance of its own religion. The fact that it had to rebel against its own religious tradition to survive and thrive, created a basis for and gave vent to a dichotomy between the religious and the secular, the sacred and the profane, in which the latter seeks to curtail and dominate the former. This tragic development found its way into the Muslim world through a combination of coercion and persuasion. Muhammad Ali who came to power in Egypt not long after the French left, began the policy of sending students to study in the universities of France, a policy which Constantinople (Istanbul) had also began. This was to be continued by generations of Egyptian and Ottoman rulers. This paved the way for the Western system of education with its secular frame of reference, and which gradually, if imperceptibly, supplanted and undermined the Islamic system of education and social morality.

By the late nineteenth century, the dichotomy had taken root in Egypt, and while the scope and vision of Azhar was diminishing in both depth and breadth, the influence of Western trained scholars was growing. Muhammad Abduh had cause to criticise the ulama’ “for their negative attitude towards the modern sciences in spite of the fact that such knowledge had been taught in Moslem madarasahs in the past”.(2) But he also dismissed the Egyptian products of Western education, saying that “these are even more misguided”.(3) The Egyptian government itself was busy replacing the Azhar shaykhs in both the schools as well as the courts with these products of Western education referred to as the Effendi. As one Western scholar sympathetically argued, “the Shaikh-judges … could be charged with inefficiency and backwardness, with inadaptability to the new social conditions and lack of understanding of the new spirit which was gradually permeating conditions through contact with Europeans. The effendi”, the writer continues, “in spite of his lack of training, was more polished and adaptable and quicker witted than his shaikh colleagues”.(4) In 1892, when Muhammad Shibli Nu’mani, from the Indo-pak sub-continent, visited Cairo, he shared his concerns about this situation with Muhammad Abduh. From his report, he seems to have left dissatisfied with what the Dar al-Ulum in Cairo could offer and certainly unimpressed by the effendis of Egypt.(5) Since then this dilemma has occupied one generation after another and remained unresolved. Grappling With the Problem I Muhammad Iqbal, the great thinker and poet, was one towering figure of his generation, who relished reflecting on the flight of the Ummah. He addressed, in prose and poetry, the decline of the Ummah, but his greatest worry and the thing that occupied most of his attention was the intellectual decline. “During the last five hundred years” Iqbal observed, “religious thought in Islam has been practically stationary. There was a time when European thought received inspiration from the world of Islam. The most remarkable phenomenon of modern history, however, is the enormous rapidity with which the world of Islam is spiritually moving towards the West. There is nothing wrong in this movement”, Iqbal believed, “for European culture, on its intellectual side, is only a further development of some of the most important phases of the culture of Islam. Our only fear”, he cautioned, “is that the dazzling exterior of European culture may arrest our movement and we may fail to reach the true inwardness of that culture.”(6) He attempted to reconcile reason and revelation, physics and metaphysics in a way that went beyond al-Ghazali, and in so doing tried to develop an epistemology which would enable Muslims to come to grips with this dichotomy. He argues for example, “No doubt the immediate purpose of the Qur’an in this reflective observation of nature is to awaken in man the consciousness of that of which nature is regarded a symbol …..It is our reflective contact with the temporal flux of things which trains us for an intellectual vision of the non-temporal …. The Qur’an opens our eyes to the great facts of change, through the appreciation and control of which alone it is possible to build a durable civilization.”(7) He further argues: “Indeed, in view of its function, religion stands in greater need of a rational foundation of its ultimate principles than even the dogmas of science. Science may ignore a rational metaphysics; indeed it has ignored it so far. Religion can hardly afford to ignore the search for a reconciliation of the oppositions of experience and a justification of the environment in which humanity finds itself. … But to rationalize faith is not to admit the superiority of philosophy over religion. Philosophy, no doubt, has jurisdiction to judge religion, but what is to be judged is of such a nature that it will not submit to the jurisdiction of philosophy except on its own terms”.(8) “Religion is not physics or chemistry seeking an explanation of the nature in terms of causation; it really aims at interpreting a totally different region of human experience – religious experience – the data of which cannot be reduced to the data of any other science. Infact it must be said in justice to religion that it insisted on the necessity of concrete experience in religious life long before science learnt to do so. The conflict between the two is due not to the fact that one is, and the other is not, based on concrete experience. Both seek concrete experience as a point of departure.”(9) Iqbal’s approach was unconventional and many of his contemporaries may have been uncomfortable about his characteristic boldness, which naturally attracted some criticism. Fazlur Rahman’s worry was not however in Iqbal’s approach but in its content. While admitting that Iqbal’s was the only systematic attempt at a coherent body of metaphysical thought informed by the Qur’an and that Iqbal had certain basic and rare insights into the nature of Islam as an attitude to life, Fazlur Rahman, however, felt that his work “cannot be said to be based on Qur’anic teaching: the structural elements of its thought are too contemporary to be an adequate basis for an ongoing Islamic metaphysical endeavor”.(10) Well, Iqbal’s work like all other human works are not unassailable. Iqbal himself may have looked forward to other minds who could continue to address the issue further and had occasion to complain that the Ummah was not producing minds who “by divine gift or by experience, possess a keen perception of the spirit and destiny of Islam, along with an equally keen perception of the trend of modern history.”(11) The significance of Iqbal’s contributions lie not only in the fact that he gave fresh insight to a perennial problem but also, and more profoundly, because he began a systematic diagnosis, that he began the construction of an epistemology that attempted to abolish a dichotomy which had defied solution. Another scholar who seems to share much with Iqbal is Seyyed Hossein Nasr. Nasr may not be as unique to his generation as Iqbal was, but he is certainly a cut above many of his fellow Muslim scholars. He has spent the best part of the last half a century waging a solo campaign against Western scientism and humanism as well as against Muslim apathy and complacency. Nasr lives in an age of Islamic movements, but he has chosen to live above their immediate agendas maintaining his long term vision beyond the little principalities the movements seem obsessed with, albeit at great cost. Nasr, a leading authority in Sufism and the philosophy of science, is today, perhaps, the most prolific Muslim scholar around. A great majority of his works revolve around the theme of the dichotomy between the sacred and the profane and the crisis this has generated, or as he would say, the plight of modern man. But in dealing with this very important issue the thrust of Nasr’s contribution has been to restore a unified epistemology in which both physics and metaphysics will not only compliment each other but also, and most importantly, lead to the ultimate reality which is at once absolute and infinite. In his words: “The sensualist and empirical epistemology, which has dominated the horizon of Western man in the modern period, has succeeded in reducing reality to the world experienced by the external senses, hence limiting the meaning of reality and removing the concept of ‘reality’ as a category pertaining to God. The consequences of this change in the very meaning of reality has been nothing less than catastrophic, ….” The most catastrophic effect being on the self, as he continues to argue, “In a society in which the lower self is allowed to fall by its own weight, in which the Ultimate Self and the way to attain it are forgotten, in which there is no higher principle than the individual self, there cannot but be the highest degree of conflict between limited egos which will claim for themselves absolute rights, usually in conflict with the claims of other egos – rights which belong to the self alone. In such a situation, even the spiritual virtue of charity become[s] sheer sentimentality.”(12)

Grappling With the Problem II

Thoroughly grounded in both the Islamic as well as the Western intellectual tradition, Nasr has always, as he continues to do, made the most severe criticisms against Western epistemology, criticism which cannot be ignored. He continues to warn the West not against refusing Islam but against resisting and opposing the sacred and the consequences of the spiritual crisis that this generates, as of the toll this will take, not on the West alone, but on the whole of humanity. He also cautions the East in general and Muslims in particular against blindly copying the West especially in this era of rapid industrialisation and calls for discernment. “If this discernment is not used”, Nasr warns, ‘Oriental societies will continue to eat the bread crumbs and the refuse left from the banquet table and possibly the “last supper” of the industrialised world’.(13) Nasr’s solution seem to lie in a two pronged attack in which both the Islamic as well as Western epistemology have to be thoroughly revised and restored so that the balance between the sacred and the mundane can be achieved. The significance of Nasr’s efforts lies in the fact that he operates on the frontiers of knowledge and not from the rear and he cannot therefore be ignored by the experts. It is also significant that Nasr’s concern reaches out for humanity as a whole, rather than just Muslim Ummah alone. This may look too ecumenical for some, but it does allows him not only a larger audience but re-establishes Islam’s concern for humanity and, therefore, corrects an impression that contemporary Muslim parochialism has created. His criticism of the West is not because they do not apply Islam but because they pose a danger to the whole of humanity, in echoing this concern Nasr unfolds an aspect of Islam’s message which has been buried in the debris of Muslim past, an aspect which is crucial if Islam is to be a hope for humanity.

Syed Muhammad Naquib al-Attas is one very interesting contemporary scholar in more ways than one. He has spent the best part of his life time addressing this problem of dichotomy in knowledge. A philosopher, a linguist with a strong Sufi vision and taste, al-Attas has provided an unusual insight into what he will prefer to call westernisation and which to him is the source of secularisation. One of the gravest consequences of secularisation, and the root of our problems as Muslims today, Al-Attas believes, is the loss of Adab, what Nasr calls desacrilisation of knowledge. “The chief characteristic symptoms of loss of Adab within the community”, al-Attas believes, “is the process of levelling.” By levelling he means “the levelling of every one, in the mind and the attitude, to the same level of the leveller. This mental and attitudinal process, which impinges upon action, is perpetrated through the encouragement of false leaders who wish to demolish legitimate authority and valid hierarchy so that they and their like might thrive. This Jahili streak of individualism, of immanent arrogance and obstinacy, as he calls it, led what he calls the Modernist and Reformers of our times, including those who masquerade as Ulama’, to censure “the great ulama of the past and men of spiritual discernment who contributed so much to the knowledge of Islam”. Al-Attas is not saying that the ulama should not be criticised, rather, as he put, “No doubt it is possible to concede that the critics of the great and learned were in the past at least themselves great and learned in their own way, but it is a mistake to put them together on the same level – the more so to place the lesser above the greater in rank as happens in the estimation of our age of greater confusion.”(14)

The solution al-Attas proposes, rather predictably, is a return to what he keeps referring to as adab, but this is not adab as it is widely understood today. Rather, this is an adab which with the Islamization of a large part of the world during the Abbasids period, “was further evolved to extend itself beyond Arab literature and culture to include the human sciences and disciplines of other Muslim peoples, notably the Persians, and even to draw into its ambit the literatures, sciences and philosophies of other civilisations such as the Indian and Greek”. But then as al-Attas admits, “during the Abbasi period also, the restriction of the Islamised meaning of adab, which was in the process of unfolding itself, had begun – no doubt due, among other causes, to the urbanity that prevailed, and the attendant officialdom and bureaucracy”.(15) This may mean that the concept of adab itself, has to first be Islamised. It is under the ambience of this reislamised adab, as it were, that the Islamization of knowledge is to be undertaken. Al-Attas then proceeded to argue that “since in Islam the purpose of seeking knowledge is ultimately to become a good man, as we have described, and not a good citizen of a secular state, the system of education in Islam must reflect man and not the state.” Since the university represents the highest level of learning, designed to reflect the universal, true to his Sufi background, al-Attas believes the university must be a reflection of not just any man but the Universal Perfect Man (al-Insan al-Kamil), which in Islam is realised “only in the sacred person of the holy prophet”.(16) With man at the centre, al-Attas suggested the familiar dual categorisation of fard ayn and fard kifaya and a matching schemata of man, knowledge and the university.(17) While the religious sciences constitute the fard Ayn, the rational intellectual and philosophical sciences constitute the fard kifaya. It is this latter category that apparently needs to be Islamised, each branch, al-Attas insists, “must be imbued with Islamic elements and key concepts …this process constitutes its Islamization”.(18)

Grappling With the Problem III

 Fazlur Rahman is another scholar who cannot be ignored, even though he has not been at the forefront of the debate as his colleagues above, preferring, it seems, to be a detached observer taking liberty to differ with others on a subject which he has always taken to heart. Fazlur Rahman spent a good part of his career addressing the issue of revitalising or rethinking Islamic thoughts very much in the way Iqbal attempted. He seemed to have believed that there was no other short cut and any such efforts are simply escapists, but he was still nonetheless ready to examine them. In his view, all the efforts from the time of Abduh to date fall into two categories. “One approach is to accept modern secular education as it has developed generally speaking in the West and to attempt to “Islamize” it – that is, to inform it with certain key concepts of Islam.” The other approach, combining a variety of developments, “can be summed up by saying that they all represent an effort to combine and integrate the modern branches of learning with the old ones. … The most important of these experiments are undoubtedly those of al-Azhar of Egypt and the new system of Islamic education introduced in Turkey since the late 1940s.”(19)

In examining both these approaches, Fazlur Rahman did not quarrel so much with the principle as with the methods so far adopted and the results so far realised. In respect of the Islamization of knowledge for example, he says, this can only be really fulfilled if and when “Muslims effectively perform the intellectual task of elaborating an Islamic metaphysics on the basis of the Qur’an”. For, as he argues: “An overall world view of Islam has to be first, if provisionally, attempted if various specific fields of intellectual endeavor are to cohere as informed by Islam”. For the sake of clarity, metaphysics, for him, “is the unity of knowledge and the meaning and orientation this unity gives to life”. To further illustrate his point, he pointed to how Ash’arite theology, wayward as he believes it was, was able to permeate, with remarkably efficiency, intellectual disciplines of Islam, like law, Sufism and even the outlook on history. But today, he observes, while there is no dearth of conferences and books on “Islam and this” and “Islam and that”, which he admitted occasionally contain valuable insights and ingenuity, these feverish activities, as he calls them, are often apologetic and don’t add up to much.(20)

As for the other approach, one of integration, this too, has not worked according to Rahman, “because of the largely mechanical character of instruction and because of juxtaposing the old with the new”. This, for him, is primarily because the whole process of integration has been caught up in a vicious circle: unless adequate teachers are available with minds already integrated and creative, instructions will remain mechanical and sterile, even when the students are good; but on the other hand such teachers cannot be produced on a sufficient scale unless an integrated curriculum is made available. This vicious circle Fazlur Rahman argues, “can be broken only at the first point – if there comes in to being some first-class minds who can interpret the old in terms of the new as regards substance and turn the new into the service of the old as regards ideals. This, then, must be followed by the writing of text books on theology, ethics and so forth.”(21) This vicious circle is further compounded by the peculiar relationship between religion and politics and the pitiable subjugation of the former to the latter. This pernicious phenomena of secularism, as he calls it, brought the secularist to power, who, alienated from Islam, “becomes all the more confirmed in his cynicism about men of religion, the dislocation between their aims and their claims, even though secularism itself may be a child of incurable cynicism about man’s real nature.”(22)

There are of course a number of other scholars who have made significant contributions and who are still doing so on this subject: scholars like Adullahi Smith, a historian of the Sokoto Caliphate; Khurshid Ahmad, Nejattullahi Siddique and Umar Chapra in the field of Islamic economics; Ahmad Ibrahim Umar, Abdul Karim Souroush both in epistemology and the philosophy of science, the relatively younger but promising others like Pervez Manzoor, Ziauddin Sardar and Abdulwahab el-Affendi, who have and still are producing plethora of writing on the subject among others. But since this is not a survey, much less an exhaustive one, we need not detain ourselves further, especially when we shall have cause to refer to some of these efforts in due course. It will suffice for now to say that the four we have examined thus far, with others in their trail, appear to be the pioneers of the current drive for Islamization of knowledge. It may also be said that so far not much has been produce which substantially supersedes the works of these prominent figures. Most of the thoughts and ideas of these pioneers especially in respect of what is popularly called today the Islamization of Knowledge, perhaps with the exception of Seyyed Hossein Nasr, are not as widespread as the works of the latter generation of scholars. It is the IIIT however which recently really popularised the idea, taking it far and wide, not only through its conferences held in many corners of the Muslim world, but also by the numerous writings it has generated on the subject. They have done this essentially by moving the subject from academic circles, where it is discussed in the privacy of ivory towers, to the popular arena thus pushing it on the agenda of the various Islamic groups and movements. It is necessary, therefore, to examine the ideas of the IIIT on this subject.

The Approach of the IIIT

The International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT) has in the last one and a half decade or so held several conferences and published a corpus of material on the Islamization of knowledge.(23) This has not only popularised the subject and recruited more people than ever before but it has also raised great hopes and expectations. But for the purpose of our analysis, one of this publications Islamization of knowledge: General Principles and Work Plan is perhaps the most important.(24) Couched in eloquent prose, the book makes for easy and pleasant reading. It is very easy to share the concerns it raises but not the diagnosis, much less the conclusions. The work does not appear to have been informed by the earlier attempts of Iqbal, Nasr, Attas and Fazlur Rahman, and the attempt to identify what it constantly refers to as the ‘malaise’, tends to be more descriptive than analytical. The introduction on page xiii says that “ the plan formulated by the Institute to tackle the crisis of thought in the Muslim world has been based on the conviction that the crisis involves two dimensions: the intellectual thought processes and the estrangement between the Ummah and its legacy”. Chapter One which addresses the problem and tries to identify the malaise of the Ummah, has three sections: A, the Malaise of the Ummah, which is hardly one page and largely a catalogue of complaints of an Ummah which “numbers over a billion people; that its territories are among the most vast and the richest; and that its potential in human, material and geopolitical [resourses] are the greatest …”.(25) Section B commences on the following page, and addresses ‘Major effects of the Malaise’ and contains a few paragraphs each on ‘Political Character’, ‘Economic Character’, and ‘Cultural Character’. The last section entitled the ‘Core of the Crisis: the Malaise of Thought and Methodology’, similarly has a few paragraphs on each of the issues addressed, ‘The Present State of Education in the Muslim World’ and ‘Lack of Clear Vision’. Here again it seems to be comprised of more complaints: “the colonialists devised a well thought out and well-planned strategy … National independence gave the secularist educational system its greatest boost … today students are cynical lethargic and mistrust all leaders”.(26) Under the entry on ‘lack of vision’ it observes, “that teachers in Muslim universities do not possess the vision of Islam and, therefore, are not driven by its cause is certainly the greatest calamity of Muslim education”.(27) Perhaps, and even after agreeing with all the observations, one will still ask what then is the problem? Admittedly, later in the work there are numerous references to intellectual crisis and methodological problems, but again it is difficult to pin down the problem, or even the crisis much less its core. But failure to pin down the problem is not as dangerous as mistaking the symptoms for the disease. The danger of mistaking symptoms for the disease are too well known and the risks too great to be ignored.

Even if the disease has been established and defined, we still need to go further and deeper to establish its aetiology if we are to succeed at combating it, this is particularly so with diseases which have over the years become deeply conceited and chronic. But here again the attempt does not go deep enough. Mention is made of the Tartar invasion and the Crusaders (p. 23) but then we are suddenly returned to the contemporary period of Kamal Attartuk, (p. 24) a jump of centuries, all of which are crucial in the aetiology of the malaise. True, the major ulama’, particularly the fuqaha, are mentioned but again there doesn’t appear to be any attempt to capture the complex atmosphere under which these methodologies were developed and the intellectual challenges and methodological problems they had to contend with. It thus leaves us uncertain and ill-informed about the genesis of the malaise we wish to remedy.

While the complaints tend to blame the West and some veiled enemies of Islam for all the woes of the Muslim Ummah, the attempts to assure Muslim readers of the capacity of the Ummah to tackle this crisis often, if unwittingly, tend instead to idealise the Ummah. This tacit and perhaps unconscious idealising is further worsened by an apparent reluctance to look at the weaknesses of the Ummah especially those that are likely to pose serious obstacles to any attempt at recovery. The dangers here are perhaps fairly obvious. Idealising tends to conceal weaknesses that need to be considered for the purpose of recovery; it also engenders oversimplification of the task ahead and make people complacent in procuring provisions or to rest on their oars too early, having been oblivious of the gravity of the task and having underestimated the journey. It also tends to raise high and early expectations giving room for early disappointment.

Chapter Five of the work plan, entitled, ‘Agenda of the Institute’, after listing an eight point agenda, proceeds to expound on the stages of the agenda under seven headings. In an earlier paper produced by him at 1982 conference, Faruqi presented the same idea under Section V, ‘The Work Plan’; there, however, five objectives were itemised and 12 steps identified.(28) The latter makes for easier reading while the former is far less precise and rather cumbersome. The first objective in the work plan, for example reads “to create awareness in the Ummah of the crisis of ideas. This involves enlightening the Ummah about the place and methodology of the crisis of Islamic thought in the perspective of its cultural and civilisational existence.” The first objective in Faruqi’s paper reads, “to master the modern disciplines.” Similarly the steps as expounded in both documents, even when they make easy reading, will nevertheless leave the reader wondering what precisely is intended or how exactly it is to be carried out. The steps (whether seven or 12) taken together, from the mastery of modern disciplines to the mastery of Islamic legacy, then a critique of both and a recommendation for the rewriting of modern disciplines along Islamic lines which are then disseminated through the writing of textbooks, reads very much like a dream. Mastering the Islamic legacy may be easy to understand, but how do we really master the modern disciplines? The document does not elaborate upon this, but the impression one gets is that it is as easy as going to a university ( a Western one I suppose) to obtain a doctorate, but certainly this is not mastery of the discipline. So where does the mastery begin? This looks like a gross oversimplification of a very arduous and tedious process which may spread over half a century or so, for before one can hope to master a subject one has to first walk ones way to the frontiers of the discipline. This requires such levels of seriousness, dedication and resources that are simply not on the ground for now.

In setting out the “agenda objectives” the Work Plan has the sagacity to appreciate that “its success does not exclusively depend on the efforts of the Institute” and has therefore invited “every sincere Muslim, indeed, all concerned Islamic organisations struggling to re-establish Islamic order and civilisation” to partake in this “plan for Islamising Knowledge; for reforming the contemporary mode of Islamic thought; for reviving its methodology; and for restoring its dynamic originality, creativity and ability”.(29) Some Muslim individuals and institutions have since responded. A university in Nigeria, for example, recruited a substantial number of graduate assistants for the purpose, but it is difficult to see how someone just grappling to understand the subject itself, much less master it, could Islamise it. Where the Islamization of the disciplines has begun, it has already gone to the ridiculous level of Islamising the English language. One is not sure why English has been chosen for Islamization or how that is going to be done or which language will follow next, perhaps English, French, then German, Russian, Chinese …? It is amazing how the obvious link between language and society can be so recklessly ignored. Even al-Attas who feels very strongly about languages will not encourage this futility, for he knows only too well that language is nothing but an expression of the culture and world view of a people. As he once observed, “language, thought and reason are closely interconnected and are indeed interdependent in projecting to man his world view or vision of reality”.(30) The IIIT cannot be held responsible for what people make of their objectives; Taha Jabir, a, if not the, leading figure, makes this very clear in a recent paper.(31) But the significance of this paper, which appears to be an update to the Work Plan, is in clarifying the contemporaneous and experimental nature of the scheme, stripping it of what ever finality some may have inferred on it. The Islamization of knowledge school, as he calls it, “is keenly aware of the workings of time on ideas as they pass from stage to stage and mature, and is therefore the first to point out that the “Islamization of knowledge” is not to be understood as a set of axioms, or a rigid ideology or a religious movement”.(32) In fact, he went further by inviting people to make contributions that can enrich this idea. One cannot agree more, but it is by criticism that ideas are enriched and not by praise. In fact it seems necessary to re-examine the whole idea of the Islamization of knowledge not only to separate the chaff from the grain, as it were, but also to put the challenge in perspective. It is in this light, that a few issues are being raised below, for what they are worth.

The Challenge in Perspective

 1. Delineation of the Problem

There doesn’t seem to be any problem in agreeing that the Muslim Ummah has a problem, some would say, a very serious one indeed. But there seems to be a problem in pinning it down. Even when we agree that the intellectual crisis is the at the root of the problem and therefore the most important and the most pressing consideration, it seems difficult to agree on the solutions. The Islamization of knowledge is at best one solution among others and for it, or any other solution for that matter, to survive, it has to face the scrutiny of all and sundry, adjusting and evolving, and eventually standing the test of time. In this matter the criticisms are more important than the praises. Praise, it should be pointed out, is particularly dangerous, especially when it comes too early, not only because it gives an idea of early victory and tends to make people rest on their laurels, but also because it sends the mind to sleep. So one should rather look at the problems associated with the Islamization of knowledge, and there are quite a number:

i. The very expression ‘Islamization of knowledge’, raises a number of questions. One can dismiss as cynical the suggestion that it portrays Islam as some kind of detergent that can be sprinkled, as it were, to cleanse knowledge of whatever impurities are thought to have soiled it. But it is certainly confusing for many of us whose limited reading suggests that all knowledge is from Allah, and that it is the intention of the seeker and the ultimate use it is put to, that makes it Islamic or otherwise. With this rather elementary frame of mind one starts wondering if it is knowledge that needs Islamization or the approach and utilisation of knowledge. In any case, knowledge, whether of religion or of nature is nothing more than the data we perceive as we interact with the texts of religion and the text of nature. Muslims, at least, believe that nature is a gift from God, very much like religion, it also comes as a text containing a message. Taha Jabir has simplified the matter when he beautifully explained the idea of two books, one of religion and the other of nature, and the necessity of reading both before we can claim to understand the universe we live in.(33) But while these books are divine, their interpretation and therefore understanding, as Souroush will say, is human and therefore fret with human infallibility. So it seems the best we can do is to Islamise our approach to knowledge, which then shifts our focus from knowledge as such to epistemology.

ii. Of the materials produced on the Islamization of knowledge, it has not been sufficiently demonstrated how exactly this knowledge is to be Islamised. Key concepts are said to be introduced into the disciplines, but it has not been shown how these key concepts will make chemistry different from what it is today, or indeed how sociology or history is going to be different. Admittedly, key Islamic concepts have been introduced into economics and a whole new discipline of Islamic economics is emerging, but even here there remain problems to be resolved.(34) But does that mean we could have an Islamic chemistry as a discipline? How different is it going to be from the chemistry we know? Does the problem we have with chemistry come from chemistry itself or from the chemist? Since chemistry is what the chemists make it to be, the problem is more likely to come from the chemists themselves. In all probability the problem emanates from the mind of the chemist, informed as it is by what Nasr calls a sensualist empirical epistemology. Similarly, the mind of the social scientist is informed and directed by modern humanism as usually understood and associated with the secularising tendencies of the Renaissance. The idea of humanism, as Nasr succinctly puts it, “means ultimately the substituting the “Kingdom of Man” for the ‘Kingdom of God” and making terrestrial man the ultimate and final arbiter and judge of truth and himself the reality which is of highest value.”(35) The problem, it seems, lies not so much with knowledge as knowledge as with the process or the philosophical assumptions that underlines its acquisition and use. Epistemology seems, therefore, to be the problem rather than knowledge as such. The expression ‘Islamization of Knowledge’ could, therefore be misleading in this respect.

iii. Sometimes one cannot help asking how can the Muslims Islamise what they don’t have? Today Muslims are no longer producers of knowledge (even of Islamic religious knowledge), they are only consumers, poor ones at that. The Islamization of knowledge can, therefore, create the impression that all Muslims need really do is to Islamise knowledge that others produce and not produce it themselves, as if the world of knowledge was going to wait for them. Knowledge like time is constantly on the move and waits for no one, in fact with the information explosion, knowledge seems to be moving faster than time itself. Elementary as some of these observations may seem, they appear to have engendered a frightening complacency for which the Islamization of knowledge is becoming an alibi. It tends to cheapen the challenge, lower the gaze, and make Muslims content with “Islamising knowledge”, rather than walking their way to the frontiers, where they once were and excelling as they once did.

iv. In redefining or delineating the problem, perhaps Muslims should go back and try to understand the challenge they are trying to respond to. Many will have no difficulty in agreeing that the greatest challenge the Muslim Ummah is facing today is the challenge of knowledge. We are living in a world where knowledge is the greatest capital. It may have actually been so all along. But today, more than ever before, the battle for survival and control is a battle of the brain and as Muslims ought to know, in a battle of the brain nothing will do but the brain. For the purpose of clarity, this is a challenge of knowledge, in the articulate words of al-Attas, “not as against ignorance; but knowledge as conceived and disseminated throughout the world by Western civilisation; knowledge whose nature has become problematic because it has lost its true purpose due to being unjustly conceived, and it has brought about chaos in man’s life instead of, and rather than justice; knowledge which pretends to be real but which is productive of confusion and scepticism, which has elevated doubt and conjecture to the ‘scientific’ rank in methodology and which regards doubt as an eminently valid epistemological tool in the pursuit of truth; knowledge which has, for the first time in history, brought chaos to the Three Kingdoms of Nature; the animal, vegetal and mineral.”(36)

v. Thus the problem at hand is not so much with knowledge as such but the epistemology. Though the sacred-secular dichotomy lies at the roots of epistemological problems, the solution does not end with the taming of the secular to recognise and appreciate the sacred, that, it would appear, is rather where the search for the solution begins. This is not only because, as Fazlur Rahman alluded, what is required is a coherent system which unites the two, a job he said Iqbal had began, but which requires much more work. But also and perhaps more fundamentally because sacred epistemology itself has its problems which must not be ignored. Stagnation in Islamic jurisprudence, fiqh, was nothing but the result of the stagnation of sacred epistemology which, Souroush believes was in turn because of the stagnation of “related disciplines, such as theology and history and the non-existence of some the decisive disciplines, such as sociology and the like”.(37) In addressing sacred epistemology, perhaps needless to add, Muslims must give a fresh and hard look at the assumptions of old, especially regarding the ash‘ariyya and mu’tazila positions, and be prepared to be even more charitable than previous generations, if only because the benefit of hindsight has allowed us to see the prejudices, partialities and political favouritism that went in to the debate and eventually determined its results. What is at hand is not a black and white, cut and dried issue but a complex phenomena. Souroush may have dramatised it when he said “Rationality, prejudice, egoism, truthseeking, obliviousness, greed, fallibility, partiality, complacency, easy going, acquisitiveness, and the like all have their due share in the science of religion and all influence it in one way or another. True, the revelation is Divine, but what about the interpretation of the revelation?” Put in his other words, what Souroush is saying is that “despite the firm belief of individual believers in their own interpretation of revelation, the caravan of knowledge, inspired with all kinds of complexities and contraries is breaking its way ahead, feeding on the controversies, competitions and cooperations of its members, irrespective of their individual desires and faiths. Our lot” he rested his submission, “is nothing but hope”. This, it must be added, is the hope of Rumi when he said “Naught but hope is possible”.(38) We don’t have to agree with Souroush, in any case, that is not the point in citing him here, the point rather, is to give us a glimpse of the ideas and the minds we shall have to put up with in our efforts to address the challenge of knowledge.

2. The Role of History

Muslims hardly need to be reminded of the significance of history, if only because the Qur’an is replete with it. The Islamization of knowledge being attempted now is in a way what was successfully and remarkably accomplished some ten centuries ago. Even though the context has changed, the issues appear to be the same and the principles are likely to remain the same. It is necessary, therefore, to have recourse to that history if only to avoid the mistakes of the past. Indeed, there are a lot of lessons to be learnt and George Makdisi has captured a number of these in his well researched work, ‘The Rise of Colleges’.(39) This is not the place to recall all these important details, especially when they have been so eloquently put by far more competent minds. But three issues may have to be mentioned even if briefly:

i. While the surge of intellectual activities in the 10th century was triggered by the great influx of the well known translation of Greek works, especially in philosophy and medicine, done during the reign of al-Ma’mun, the activities were sustained by individual scholars, supported by independent waqf and spurred by an atmosphere of scholarship.(40) The craving to learn and the desire to share knowledge combined to sustain a lively intellectual atmosphere which culminated into the formalisation of inaugural lectures in which any subject under the sun was possible. These lectures were often disputations on different subject matters. In 1055, for example, the Imam al-Haramain al-Juwaini, disputed in Baghdad with Abu Ishaq ash-Shirazi and then with Abu Nasr b. as-Sabbagh. “Ibn ‘Aqil, then 16 years of age cited as one of the subjects of disputation Juwaini’s theory of divine knowledge, denying God’s knowledge of the particulars, limiting it to the universal.”(41) In this way the Muslim world took the rest of the world by storm dominating the scene for the next five centuries. Three elements appeared to have been very crucial in this astonishing enterprise: the individual scholar, the waqf institution, and an intellectual freedom which made it possible for scholars to allow their minds full rein. Such disputations provided constant stimulation and presented a constant challenge to the mind, which having been frequently spurred had to marshal and develop its wit and rise to greater intellectual heights. This way great Muslim minds developed and excelled and naturally influenced the world around them.

ii. It is these great minds and their works that actually triggered the Renaissance, though once it took off it, rather naturally, imbibed the conflicts in its milieu and acquired a momentum of its own. Acknowledging this influence, and quoting other sources, Makdisi wrote: “The rise of universities was occasioned by a great revival of learning between 1100 and 1200, during which time, ‘there came an influx of new knowledge into Western Europe, partly through Italy and Sicily, but chiefly through the Arab scholars of Spain’. This influx of new knowledge has been described by Western scholarship. It has been detailed in a long list of books dealing mostly with philosophy and science that have been translated from the Arabic into Latin, so that it is generally agreed that Arabic scholarship made its contribution to the ‘great revival of learning’. Makdisi has tried with great success to capture the picture of a scholar from the then Muslim world visiting one of the emerging universities of the West. Far from feeling out of place both the visitor and his hosts will be as comfortable as fish in water.(42) Makdisi has also produced excerpts that vividly conveyed the influence and attraction of the Arabic language among the emerging Western scholars of the time. Understandably so, for it replaced the Greek and Latin as the language of scholarship, so a good knowledge of Arabic became a measure of one’s learning, perhaps in a way that knowledge of English or other European languages are today.(43) Such astonishing influence could not have been exerted if these Muslims scholars were operating from the rear, consuming rather than producing knowledge. This is not to say Muslims cannot rise intellectually to be on a par or even excel others, rather they cannot do it while operating from the rear, when they cannot impress, much less influence anybody.

iii. It is important to reflect on some of the internal factors which suffocated learning or clipped intellectual wings and hemmed in the minds of the scholars. Accounts may differ in their detail but most agree that the first casualty was intellectual freedom and the total independence of the scholar. As political authority deteriorated they began to feel insecure and scholars became drawn into conflicts so loosing their independence. Views that could not prove their worth on the intellectual Platform began to take refuge with the court, often insinuating the curtailment of opposing views. Makdisi has brought some of these incidences to light as also an extract of Max van Berchem’s treatise which contains even more detail. “Thanks to the universal role of faqih” observed Berchem, “Sunnism spread into all levels of society. It causes a new spirit to be born, fatal to freedom of conscience, to all seeds of independence, but very useful to the sovereigns”.(44) It is tempting to dismiss this observation but the facts on the ground do not allow it. If it was not true then, it is certainly true today and here lies the relevance of history. Ziauddin Sardar may have had this in mind when he insisted that an Islamic university must be a normative Institution and proceeded to explain, for the avoidance of doubt: “A normative, goal seeking institution is not a ‘politicised’ institution that take sides with this or that political stance. It does not tilt as the universities in the post-Reformation Europe were expected to tilt towards Protestantism or towards Catholicism, or during the time of war they had to tilt against the enemy and all his works … Or as the universities of the Muslim world and in the West do nowadays, adopt a conservative garb under the conservative board of trustees or of a conservative government is in power ….. A normative academy owes its loyalty only to norms and values that shape its outlooks and goals.”(45) A tall order perhaps, but this is what makes the history even more relevant.

3. The Role of Attitude

Muslims today have, perhaps, one of the lowest literacy rates. Those who are literate among them have the poorest reading culture. Very little publishing activity takes place in the world of Islam today, but the quality, or lack of it as it were, of publications is certainly more disturbing than the quantity. This is certainly ironical for a people whose first word of revelation was the command to read! This negative attitude to reading, an obvious symptom of intellectual decadence, is particularly peculiar to this generation and contrasts sharply with the period when the Ummah produced great minds. When al-Razi in defending himself of an accusation of some intellectual deficiency reported that he wrote some two hundred works or when Ibn Sina informed us that he read all the books available in his time on a particular subject he wanted to master or that he had access to a library and read all the books in the library,(46) Muslims may find all this as strange as science fiction. It is thus easy to agree with Ziauddin Sardar when he says that: “Being a Muslim intellectual is a lonely and tough business. Half of the time, half of your audience do not know what you are talking about; the reminder of the time they are busy undermining everything you stand for and write about”.(47) Mernissi’s research experience was not any better as she discovered that, “What is most striking about museums in Islamic countries, whether in Lahore, Dakar, or Rabat, is the amount of dust on the meagre number of works one finds, and the monastic silence surrounding the few custodians on duty. You almost feel the need”, she continues, “to apologise for disturbing them, and the incredible number of bureaucratic steps required to make a photocopy or buy a reproduction makes you to want to leave empty-handed and go home to fantasize quietly about the past”.(48) Unfortunately it is not only in the museums that dust accumulates, even science and engineering laboratories in many Muslim countries are full of dust. Someone shocked at the sight asked a lecturer how they manage to teach science in the circumstances, and the lecturer retorted that they no longer teach science, they only teach the history of science.

“Since June 1990 the Saudis have signed arms contract with the Pentagon to the tune of $ 30 billion, “roughly equal to the amount spent by the American military on major weapons systems this year”.(49) And yet the country could not defend itself in the Gulf War and had to call in the Americans. “Among the nine largest purchases of arms in the world in 1983, four were Arab states: Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Libya, and Egypt. What the officials of this states ignore is that the age of fetishism is over, and importing military hardware increases dependence. Power comes from the cultivation of the scientific spirit and participatory democracy”.(50) One would add an annual defence budget is more than enough to finance several defence industries with all the research and personnel development that goes with it. It may be worth noting that after defence, the highest budgetary allocation often goes to the ministry of sports and not education. A country that executed a war for eight years without having to borrow, has, barely five years after that war, amassed a foreign debt of $30 billion with nothing to show for it.(51) One could go on, the list of these follies that underline contemporary Muslim, individual and collective attitudes, seems endless. Suffice it to say that with attitudes like these the Muslim world needs no enemies.

But by far the most devastating of attitudes is the Muslim phobia for ideas. It is perhaps not difficult to understand why monarchs, life presidents or some military dictators would want to get books and magazines censored or the movements in or out of certain people with certain ideas blocked. But it is especially difficult to understand why scholars should fear ideas. It is amazing how nearly a millennium after the fall of Baghdad, people are still being suspected of being mu‘tazilis, perhaps never in the history of humanity has a paranoia been so resilient. To this has now been added the salafi and Sufi labels and the study of aqidah, whatever that means, has been elevated to levels unprecedented in the history of Islam. All manner of institutions have now sprouted to protect this imaginary pet, books have been banned and students of some Islamic universities are literally under constant surveillance lest they read or listen to something that may affect their aqidah. The problem, to be sure, is not so much the obsession with aqidah as the morbid fear of anything new and the futility of it all in the days of CDROM and the Internet. Fazlur Rahman, after his nearly exhaustive analysis, concluded that the only way out of the vicious circle the Ummah appear to be caught in is the creation of first class minds, which he quickly added, cannot be produced at will, but could be generated by creating the necessary conditions that could nurture these minds.(52) An atmosphere where minds are insulated from ideas, intimidated to conformity, and denied opportunities to allow their thoughts full rein, is certainly not the place to grow first class minds. It rather provides a fertile soil for the growth of mediocrity, which too often masks as piety, leaving sycophancy as the only means to curry the favour of officials who are too content with their achievements to believe otherwise.

4. The Role of Institutions

The role of waqf Institutions in the development of educational institutions in the early history of Islam has been adequately dealt with by numerous works among them that of Makdisi. Even in the West it has been virtually the same story, understandably so, for a lot of the impetus for development came from the then Muslim world.(53) These works have obviated the need to dwell on the subject and leaves us with only two fairly obvious points to make. Now that they have all but disappeared, ways of resuscitating these must form a component of this drive to respond to the challenge of knowledge. In reviving them, care must be taken to avoid the partisanship which characterised the waqfs of old or even the more dangerous contemporary partisanship of madhhab, Sufi, Salafi or such frivolous creations of the idle, if pious, minds of today.

But there is another role of another institution which we ought not be oblivious of. Like Nasr argued, the science of today does not stand on pure scientific fact alone it has a whole army behind it.(54) The secular epistemology which has created it and under which it thrives has also created a range of institutions that reinforce and protect it and occasionally enforce it. In the rather more blunt words of Abdullahi Smith: “The reason why the new tradition of learning which these (Western) institutions represent, in spite of the way in which they run counter to the grain of human intellectual history … are so often unquestionably accepted … is no doubt a function of the enormous material power … whatever we may say about the moral basis of the human governments of the industrialised world of Western Europe and North America, there is no doubt at all about its colossal power …”.(55) This is not to suggest that Muslims should raise an army to protect their epistemology, in fact it is to suggest that they should dispense with having any. Ziauddin Sardar, when discussing his idea (or is it dream?) of an Islamic university seems to summarise the point, when he says: “Unlike the western university, which despite being guided in all its endeavours by values which are deliberately hidden, swept under the carpet so that they may not be noticed, an Islamic university boldly states the values and norms which shape its goals and academic work. This is not just a much more honest stance, it is also a less dangerous one”.(56) Ideas, at least we now know, can be far more powerful than sheer physical power, as the collapse of the Berlin wall amply demonstrated.

5. The Link Between the Islamization of Knowledge and the Islamization of Society There seems to be some kind of cold war between Muslim scholars and Muslim activists. After conceding that Muslim activists, members of contemporary Islamic movements, have helped in stemming the tide of secularism in Muslim countries, Fazlur Rahman, for example, believes that, that was all they have to offer Islam. The greatest weakness of neo-revivalism, as he calls the phenomena of Islamic movements, “and the greatest disservice it has done to Islam, is an almost lack of positive effective Islamic thinking and scholarship within its ranks, its intellectual bankruptcy, and its substitution of cliché mongering for serious intellectual endeavor.” “It has often contended,” he proceeded to say, “with a real point, that the learning of the conservative traditional Ulema, instead of turning Muslims towards the Qur’an has turned them away from it. But its own way of turning to the Qur’an has been no more than … picking upon certain selected issues whereby it could crown itself by distinguishing Muslims from the rest of the world, particularly from the West.”(57) Seyyed Hossein Nasr rarely expresses his reservations and when he has to it comes in some veiled reference but nevertheless strong enough to reveal some anguish. In the preface to his ‘Knowledge and the Sacred’, which were collections of lectures made soon after the Revolution in Iran, he could not hide his brush with the revolutionaries, as he related that, “When the invitation to deliver [the] Gifford lecture first reached us, we were living in the shades of the southern slopes of the majestic Alborz Mountains. Little did we imagine then that the text of the lectures themselves would be written not in the proximity of those exalted peaks but in sight of the green forests and blue seas of the eastern coast of the United States. But man lives in the spirit and not in space and time so that despite all the unbelievable dislocations and turmoil in our personal life during this period, including the loss of our library and the preliminary notes for this work, what appears in the following pages has grown out of the seed originally conceived when we accepted to deliver the lectures.”(58)

Similarly the activists have always held Muslim scholars with some disdain, looking down at their commitment and belittling their seemingly futile research. Even the IIIT, which was started by people who were first known more for their activism than their scholarship, were felt by some activists to have started the Islamization of knowledge as an alibi for not getting involved in political activism. This claim may be difficult to substantiate, at least from the documents of the IIIT, but that it could be made at all is significant enough. In a recently published interview with Taha Jabir, some of the questions asked betray this feeling that because the IIIT concentrates on thoughts it suggests therefore that it sees no value in the activities of Islamic movements.(59) An appreciation of the inextricable link between the Islamization of knowledge and the Islamization of society seems to have been lost, even as many Muslim mujaddids who brought radical changes in their respective societies were first and foremost scholars. It needs also to be appreciated that accessing power is not as difficult as staying in power. Ideas and creativity is what allows systems to last and not prowess. This has been amply demonstrated by Muslim history and is particularly so today. For identification and delineation of the problem and the synthesis of ideas are the domains of the intellectuals. In the words of al- Attas, “to lack of intellectuals is to lack leadership in the following areas of thinking: (1) the posing of the problems; (2) the definition of the problems; (3) the analysis of the problems; and (4) the solution of the problems. Even the posing of the problem is itself an intellectual problem. A society without effective intellectuals will not be in a position to raise problems.”(60) As Zia would argue, “Intellectuals are the only group in any society which systematically and continuously, in sharp contrast to the specialist and the professional, try to see things in wider perspectives, in terms of their interrelations, interactions and totality. This is why intellectuals have been at the forefront of new synthesis and thought. Most of the major changes and reforms in western civilisation, for example, have been brought about by the intellectuals … And what better evidence of [the] importance of intellectuals and their powerful influences can one give than by simply pointing out [how] the Soviet Union rules in the name of a single intellectual, Karl Marx, who spent most of his time in libraries …”.(61) But in this same example, we equally find evidence of the co-operation of scholars and activists before reforms can be realised or ideas actualised. The complimentarity of the scholars and the activists hardly needs any further emphasis in an enterprise where none can do without the other and only both can do.

Concluding Remarks

Undoubtedly there is a strong case for the Islamization of knowledge. But whether the expression Islamization of knowledge is the appropriate term for what is needed to be done or not, is something that needs to be revisited and re-examined in the light of some of the reservations raised. This is to avoid an oversimplification which may engender naiveté, complacency and mediocrity, so that instead of facing the challenges squarely, the Ummah may end up escaping them. But even more importantly, the problem needs to be defined more precisely; we should be able to identify precisely the problem for which Islamization is the solution. Having defined the problem, the direction must also be mapped out clearly, for, as it has been said, if one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favourable.

Once the problem is pinned down and the direction charted out, it should be easier to begin the journey, long and arduous as it is bound to be. The issues raised here may not themselves be important, what is important is the response they may elicit. Indeed some of these little thoughts have been bared precisely to provoke the thoughts and perhaps the fury of greater minds, who in responding will take the Ummah, along with the rest of humanity, to greater intellectual heights. Needless to say, the Ummah needs these greater minds today more than ever before, and perhaps the best way to access them is to keep our doors open, especially for non-conformist and the not so pious, we may well discover that we have more to learn from them than we thought.

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Published in: on July 29, 2013 at 04:41  Leave a Comment  
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