By Dr. Mohammad Ghitreef, New Age Islam
18 August 2022
Main Thrust of Religion, Per Se, Is the Moral Purification of Human Society and Inculcation of Higher Human Values in It
1. Muslim educationists and theorists, Naqib Al-Attas, based in Malaysia, came up with the concept of Islamisation of knowledge.
2. It seems that the stalwarts of Islamisation of knowledge have some grudge and reservations toward modern social sciences and natural science as well!
3. Idea of the Islamisation of knowledge is based on the premise that Islam instructs us on everything and informs us of every facet of life.
The occasion was an international conference on Islamic Economy: Challenges Ahead, held in 2012, I believe, by the Institute of Objective Studies in New Delhi. The inaugural session was presided over by an economist, the late Dr. Ausaf Ahmad, and Professor Mohammad Umer Chapra, the recipient of the Faysal Award, gave the keynote address. "There is no need to term it an Islamic Economy; it may simply be called an Interest-free Economy, said Arab economist Dr. Munzir Qahaf in his speech. Because the term "Islamic Economy" is a misnomer and may be misleading to the world audience." As a conference organizing committee member, I was also there, and his idea immediately struck me.
In the twentieth century, one of the tallest Muslim educationists and theorists, Naqib Al-Attas, based in Malaysia, came up with the concept of Islamisation of knowledge. In fact, he thinks that secularism and secularization are the biggest challenges Muslims face in the twentieth century. And knowledge being the biggest and most formidable tool in the hands of Westerners, it becomes imperative to give Muslims an alternative theory of knowledge. First, Al-Attas wrote a critique of Secularism and Islam. Which is otherwise a seminal work in this regard, and has been translated into several languages: Turkish, Arabic, Persian, Malay, and Urdu. I have also read this book, and notwithstanding an appreciation of his critical approach, I could not subscribe to his fundamental ideas on Secularism and Islam. Yet here, I do not intend to discuss or examine this book. Instead, here I would like to briefly discuss the Islamisation of knowledge.
In this context, I mentioned Secularism and Islam as a point of reference. Al-Attas put forward this idea to open a detailed discussion on it, yet for unknown reasons, he could not pursue this project ahead. Then a Palestinian Arab American scholar Ismail Raji Al-faruqi picked the simple idea and promoted it. At least, that is what Al-Attas claims. Anyway, in due course of time, Raji Al-Faruqi with the help of some of his fellow Arab scholars developed the idea and built upon it a whole movement. It is known in Muslim academic circles as the Islamisation of knowledge basing at the International Institution of Islamic Thought Washington DC and has several branches in the UK, Malaysia, Turkey, Pakistan, and India.
This movement was launched decades ago. Thousands of books, booklets, and research papers have been published on the theme and its related subjects. International conferences, seminars, and symposia have been held, and many resources have been expended. What is the end consequence of all these enormous efforts when one considers the recent past in this context is the question that arises in retrospect?
Decades have been passed on this superb call to Islamisation of knowledge, yet we see no good result of all this in Muslim societies. So far as a new anticipated renaissance of knowledge is concerned in these societies, there is no progress. No palpable promotion in natural and social sciences is to be seen. Somewhat strangely, an ignoble treatment and sheer negligence towards these sciences are perceived and demonstrated everywhere on the part of Islamists and from those who bear the flag of Islamisation of knowledge.
It seems that the stalwarts of Islamisation of knowledge have some grudge and reservations toward modern social sciences and natural science as well! Or else they should have given a damn attention to them. Muslim religionists of different hues and colours have a deep animosity towards secular knowledge. Their writings are mostly anti-science, anti-scientific temper, and anti-rationality in general. This explains the lack of interest in Muslim societies towards scientific subjects and an apathy toward knowledge producing mind-set.
The main thrust of religion, per se, is the moral purification of human society and inculcation of higher human values in it. Of course, there are certain rules and regulations religion gives to regulate society. Islam gives, for that matter, general rules and basic ideas, and considering them to be fair enough, it leaves it up to the human mind and intellect to invent all necessary details and particularities of life. That is why the concept of all-encompassing and incomprehensible religion promoted by Islamists, seems problematic to me.
One of the problems with this concept of religion is that the captive man searches blindly for religious answers to all of the world's problems and the questions of culture and civilization. While religious teachings, most of which are not divine but a result of human interpretations. He resides in the dome of parochial, religious dogmas. Secondly, this concept is also against the religion itself because the Messenger of Allah (PBUH) has clearly said:
"you people know better about your mundane issues and affairs." (انتم اعلم باموردنیاکم (Therefore, to try to find a solution to everything in religion in its strict sense is also against this clear hadith.
In fact, in this Hadees, the prophet referred to a case of palm pollinating prevalent in Arabia, particularly among the farmers of dates. Once he had suggested to his Companions, who were palm farmers, not to pollinate, which they followed wholeheartedly, but the result turned out to be wrong. They mentioned this matter to him, then he commented on the situation and said what is mentioned above.
In fact, the Idea of the Islamisation of knowledge is based on the premise that Islam instructs us on everything and informs us of every facet of life. And because modern knowledge is thought to promote irreligiosity, at least in the eyes of religious Muslims, it needs to be corrected and transformed to adhere to religious truths. Islamisation of knowledge is therefore essential for Muslims. Hence, this concept of Islamisation of knowledge is justified for them.
Islamisation of knowledge was a slogan that attracted a strong initial reaction and had an immense impact. It drew a lot of brilliant minds from Muslim societies who supported the notion and its consequences. For instance, renowned futurologist Ziauddin Sardar, a thinker of Pakistani descent, endorsed the notion and proposed the concept of Islamic Science as an add-on. However, Sardar has now abandoned this utopian notion after recognizing his folly.
The Aligarh school of Islamization of Science quickly emerged due to the spread of the idea. Now this school is also reflecting on its imagination and taking an introspective approach to evaluating what it accomplished and what it lost in the past.
I now have some important queries pertaining to the theme. Is it necessary for Muslims to live in a segregated and secluded environment? Why do we want to call everything Islamic? Such as Islamic Science, Islamic Finance, Islamic Economics, Islamic markets, Islamic attire, Islamic food, Islamic cities, and even an Islamic bomb.
Are we foreigners and aliens on this planet? Does Islam demand that we do this? Does the history of Islam sustain this isolation and alienation? Did Muslims attempt this back then, when Islam was at the pinnacle of its cultural advancement and political hegemony? If not, why do they require it now? The prophet and his persecuted little community of believers did not change their place of worship from Kaaba to some other spot during their 13-year long stay in Makkah amid the pagan Makkan Arabs on the excuse that Kaaba being housing 360 stoned Deities became polluted. What is an acceptable explanation?
It's important to remember that the natural sciences, the humanities, and civilizational advancements all belong to the humanity as a whole. Beginning in Greece, wherein science and philosophy initially developed. Arabs, Indians, and Egyptians all made major contributions to and took part in this human legacy. It was actually the Arabs who most significantly contributed to the growth of modern science and Western culture, as acknowledged by European academics. Why should a community be so hostile to science that it seeks to have its own distinct ideas from others in every sector and painfully fails? Scientific and civilized sciences are the shared capital of everyone. So why need an Islamization of knowledge at all?
A regular columnist for New Age Islam, Dr. Mohammad Ghitreef is a Research Associate with the Centre for Promotion of Educational and Cultural Advancement of Muslims of India, AMU Aligarh.
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