June 14, 2012 By Fazlur Rahman

Islamization of Knowledge: A Response

The subject addressed here is obviously not new to the readership. It has been discussed, written about and, I think, debated in this journal and elsewhere for some time. My aim in the following pages is to give this subject a perspective based upon my own experiences in both Islamic and Western learning.

I. Ilm (Knowledge)

`Ilm (knowledge) is, of course, fundamentally important for man. When Allah (SWT) created `Adam (AS), He gave him al-ilm. So, in the case of man, `ilm is as important as wujud (existence) . If man had only wujud and no ilm, he would be of little consequence. The Quran tells us that when Allah (SWT) wanted to create ‘Adam (AS), He informed the angels. They, however, did not like the idea. They responded: “Why are You creating this creature on the earth who will sow mischief therein and shed blood? We are here, praising Your Holiness, and exalting Your Glory.” In His reply, Allah (SWT) did not deny the charges that the angels brought against ‘Adam (AS), but simply said: “I know what you do not know.” Then, after creating ‘Adam (AS), Allah (SWT) brought the angels and ‘Adam (AS) face to face, and asked the angels: “Tell me the names of these things?” It was a test: the original primordial test. The angels replied: “Glory be to You! We do not know; we know what You have told us; we do not know anything else.” ‘Adam (AS), however, in whom God had put the capacity for creative knowledge, was able to name these things. Thus, man, Adam (AS), possesses a great capacity for knowledge. Neither angels, nor any other creature have this capacity.

But there is another side to this picture. Because of this capacity, i.e., because of the aql (intellect , reason) that Allah (SWT) has deposited in man, he can discover knowledge and can go on discovering knowledge, as he has done through the ages. Along with this iIm, man also possesses a sense of responsibility. If we give a sword to a child, he may harm himself unless he possesses a sense of responsibility to accompany his possession of the instrument. The Quran repeatedly states that man has not yet developed a fully adequate sense of responsibility. His cognitive faculties are great, but his faculty of the moral sense of responsibility fails most of the time. This is the meaning I derive from the Quran when it says, towards the end of Surath Al Ahzab, (The Confederates):

We offered Our trust to the heavens and the earth and the mountains (i .e. , the entire creation) , but they refused to bear it and were
frightened of it – but man bore it: he is unjust and foolhardy. (33:72)

We see then, that while `ilm is there, the sense of responsibility fails. Most of the time when a crucial test comes, man is unable to discharge this trust. Again, in an earlier Sarah in the Quran, it says:

Nay? Man has not as yet fulfilled what Allah (SWT) had (primordially) commanded him (80:23)

It is because of this s discrepancy between the power of knowledge which man has, and his failure to live up to the moral responsibility arising from that knowledge, that this problem needs to be addressed. The question to be posed then, is: how to make man responsible? This
is the basic problem that those of us, who entertain this subject, Islamisation of Knowledge, have in mind. The feeling is that the modern world has been developed and structured upon knowledge which cannot be considered Islamic. Actually, what we should be saying is that the modern world has misused knowledge; that there is nothing wrong with knowledge, but that it has simply been misused. The atom was split” by scientists of the West but before they ever thought of making electricity from the discovery or to put its uses to other things beneficial, they made the Atom bomb. Now, having made the bombs and having piled them up high, these scientists now frantically seek ways and means to go back and undo them. Likewise, as man has begun to travel in space, his problems on earth remain ever intractable. In sum, while the presence of the desire for novelty and discovery of someffling new is ever present, the urge to solve problems ethically does not keep pace.
The Quran uses the word al 1lm and its derivatives (`allama, ya’lamn, alim) very often. Frequently it opposes this al-Im with what it calls zann conjectural.” The Makkans, the opponents of the Quran, are portrayed as simply working with  Zann-they have no sure knowledge (al `i1m)~ This sure knowledge (al `iIm) is the one given to the Prophet (SAAS) through wahy. Such is absolutely and unconditionally al `ilm. Of course, the Qur`an uses al-Ilm in speaking about various other kinds of knowledge. It says, for example, that Allah (SWT) taught Dawud (AS) how to make coats of mail (Sann-Labusin) and that is also al-ilm. Even a thing like magic, sihr, which the Quran condemns, is called `ilm. Harut and Marut used to teach sihr to people according to the Qur`an. That is also a certain kind of ilm. although it is bad, i.e., its practice and use are bad. Those people misused sihr, and thereby separated husbands from their wives. Still it is a kind of ilm. Anything that exposes something new to the mind is `ilm. It is not the `ilm that is bad, it is the misuse or abuse of it that is bad.

2. Modern Systems of Thought


The modern West has constructed all kinds of systems: philosophical, theological, sociological and scientific. There is much in it that the Quran
will accept as its own, while no doubt, there is much that the Quran will reject as well. Let me give one example. The very famous and influential German philosopher Kant developed a system of philosophy which has been extraordinarily influential since the l8th century. Kant says that the absolutely good thing in the world is good will; that is, the desire to do something good, to help someone. This good will` or iradha is the absolutely good thing, because, he says, that when one tries to execute his  iradha in the outside world, he has to face all kinds of impediments and meet with all kinds of problems or `awaiq. So what one is able to do or achieve in the outside world cannot be as good as the will” that is in one`s mind. I am quite sure that Islam will not accept this proposition because Islam teaches and orients man to change things in the world, in the outside world, and for this end, good will is, of course, absolutely necessary. Even if this good will cannot be realized completely in the world, whatever is realizable is good. And it is better than just the good will. This is, I believe, the Islamic position. Let us recall a hadith (a tradition): The Prophet (SAAS) said that real and true 1man (belief) is that a person, who, when he sees something wrong, changes it with his hands; if he cannot change it with his hands, then he must speak out; and, if he cannot speak out about it, he must dislike it with his heart; but that is the weakest form of Iman. Now for Kant, this will is absolutely good. Views and theories abound in Western literature in all the fields of knowledge. However, I must also acknowledge that there is an abundance of this kind in the Islamic tradition as well.

In a khutbah “speech”, given in Chicago, I said that from within the Islamic tradition I could pick out several systems, or several religions. if you like, which will have nothing to do with Islam, with the Quran or the Sunnah of the Prophet (SAAS). Yet, they all form what we call the Islamic tradition. Ibn Taimiyyah (BAA) reports a statement by the second century Syrian jurist, Al Awzai (RAA), a younger contemporary of Abu Hanifah (RAA). According to this report, Al Awzai said that anyone who takes the legislation of alcohol from the Kufans, the legalization of Muthah “”temporary marriage” from certain Makkan fuqha’, the legalization of drugs from other Makkan fluqaha and , the legalization of music from the Madinans, he has collected all the evil that he can. All these opinions are there in the Islamic Fiqh. As Islam expanded, geographically and intellectually, all kinds of new elements became part of the Islamic tradition. But there are a large number of these traditions which have nothing to do with, indeed, which are contrary to the  Quran.

As I have just said, `ilm, in itself is good. It is its misuse or abuse that makes it bad. But this decision of misuse does not depend on knowledge itself. It depends on moral priorities. Certainly moral decisions yield priorities. If one has atomic power, he should make electricity or isotopes from it for the good of humankind. But if, instead, he makes atomic bombs, that is his decision ‘ to misuse this knowledge.

3. Early Islamic History and Traditions

In early Islamic history, in the third century (after Hijrah) and even before there were many ideas and practices that entered into Islam from Iran. When Muslim Arabs conquered the neighboring countries, they found highly sophisticated Iranian and Byzantine cultures with their traditional attitudes ideas and practices. Of course, both these empires had exhausted themselves militarily and morally. As a result, the morally fresh and virile power that Islam brought made short work of them. Byzantium, in particular, possessed a great deal of learning: philosophy, science, medicine and literature, etc. The Muslims translated these disciplines into Arabic on a large and systematic scale. They made a decision, however, that they would translate Greek science, philosophy and medicine, but not Greek literature. The reason for this was
that Greek literature was full of stories about gods and goddesses. This literature included the great literary and poetic works of Homer and Hesiod, but the Muslims refused to translate them. This was a moral and a religious decision to allow all the Greek science, philosophy and medicine to come into Islam particularly the last; but not the Greek legends of gods and goddesses that filled Greek literature and popular religion.

Not long after philosophy entered into Islam, a man of the caliber of Ibn Sina constructed a philosophic system. Ibn Sina, after Aristotle, was the first thinker to create a comprehensive philosophic system that aimed at explaining everything in the universe including human life in all its aspects. He profoundly influenced both the Muslim and the Western intellectual traditions. He was a systematic thinker; however some of the ideas that he expressed disturbed many Islamic theologians, al Mutakallimun, particularly on subjects bordering between religion and philosophy. Ibn Sina undoubtedly tried to synthesize Greek philosophy with Islam. He remained, of course, basically faithful to the Greek tradition, but he made every effort, unlike al Farabi before him, to accommodate the demands of religion. But, precisely because he had done this, he was attacked by at Ghazali (R) who wrote a book titled Tahafut al-falasifah (The Incoherence of Philosophers) which actually meant the Tahafut (Incoherence) of Ibn Sina, wherein he condemned certain very important propositions of Ibn Sina from what he saw contrary to the Islamic perspective. This was an attempt to sift what al Ghazali thought to be Islamic from what he thought to be unlslamic. Later Ibn Rushd replied
to al Ghazali in a book titled Tahafut al Tahafut (The Incoherence of Incoherence) and so the dispute continued.

Meanwhile, the Muslim theologians, the mutakallimun, had started much earlier the formulation of the Islamic creed and a theology to defend that creed. Their speculations revolved around such questions as whether man was free or not; whether man has the qudrah (power) to act or not; and, whether the qadar of Allah (SWT) had pre-written everything or not. These questions have been discussed for centuries. When the philosophic impact came upon this Kalam tradition, however, we note, after al Ghazali, another great scholar, Fakr al Din al Razi (RA) . The achievement of al Razi in the field of kalam is precisely this: while al Ghazali had criticized certain propositions of the philosophers like the eternity of the world (that the world was not created in time), al Razi, following the philosophical system of Ibn Sina, produced a Kalam-system in answer to that system. This was a kalaamic answer to a philosophical system: the philosophers discuss problems of wujud and Adam and their characteristics; so does al Razi. Every problem that the philosophers discuss, theologians also discuss. This was, I believe, al Razi’s
tremendous achievement in ilm al Kalam, namely, to produce a comprehensive KaIam- system in answer to the philosophical system.
But al Razi did this as an Ash’ari. He believed in the proposition that man has no power to act before he acts. In other words, he has no power
to raise his arm before he actually raises it. This is called al qudrah al hadithah. When he actually raises his arm, Allah (SWT) creates a temporary power in him to produce that act and then that power becomes non-existent. Likewise, fire has no power to burn a piece of cotton; when it is put in contiguity with a piece of cotton, it is Allah (SWT) who creates in the fire a temporary power to burn the cotton. This fire according to this proposition neither has the power to burn the cotton before, nor afterwards. This is the Ash’ari doctrine. We may accept it; we may reject it; we may criticize it. Nevertheless, the Ash’ari deny causation. Al Ghazali elaborates it at length. Another characteristic of Ash`arism is that of atomism (al Juz alladhi la yathajazza) : according to which the world is all made up of atoms. These atoms are brought together in a certain way, structured in a certain way, so that living beings like us come into existence. Then when a person dies, that atomic structure falls apart. Something of that atomic structure, however, remains and then Allah ( SWT) , on the Day of Judgment will re-create that body around that nucleus. This is the Ash`ari doctrine of resurrection.

The philosophers of course criticize it and reject it. I am not concerned. at this moment , with what we are to accept or to reject. My point is that the question of atomism became so important, that al Baqillani, a great early disciple of the Ash’ari school, recommended that every Muslim, just as he/she believes in Allah (SWT) , the Books, the Rusul , the Angels, and the Last Day, must also believe in atomism. Al Baqillani recommended this because he thought it was so basic, so important, that Muslims ought to legislate that every Muslim believe in atomism. Muslims have said all of these things and held all of these views above. But, let us ask this question: what is therein that is fully Islamic and what is therein that is less Islamic and what is therein that is unlslamic? Certainly, we are very much concerned with the West because we find ourselves in a situation where we confront the West. But, we must also ask: Can we confront the West and declare what knowledge is good
and what is bad and what is appropriate and what is not appropriate without knowing ourselves?

4. Need for Re-examination and Analysis

The first task, I submit to you, indeed the urgent task, is to re-examine the Islamic tradition itself. I would rather call it the Muslim tradition, which contains of course, many Islamic things, many unlslamic things and many that may be on the borderline. This is extremely important. Is ibn `Arabi reflective of the Qur’an? How far is Fakhr al Din al Razi’s Ash`arism in conformity with the Qur’an? How far is al Ghazali’s teaching in conformity with the Quran? We know al Ghazali was a great man. He had been an illustrious professor in Baghdad, rolling in gold and glory, when he suddenly resigned his chair of theology and law, and imposed exile upon himself. He became for a time a Sufi, spending many years in Masjids (mosques) and zawiyahs (small mosques, prayer room). He wrote brilliant and incisive books where he downgraded theology and law vis-a-vis spiritualism. Later of course, he rediscovered law and he wrote a very important book, Kitab al-Mustafa on jurisprudence.

If we want to understand Islam from al- Ghazali, how do we go about it? Was the teaching of theology and law the first phase? Was his second
phase more or less Islamic? How about his third phase? He has written a spiritual autobiography titled Al Munqidh min al dalaI (the Deliverance From Error) in which he tells us that when he became disenchanted with professorship, theology, and law he found before himself four paths from among which he had to choose. The first was the path of the mutakallimutn. the second was the path of the philosophers, the third was the path of the Ismailis (al Batiniyyah), and finally, there was the path of the Sufi. Al Ghazali goes on to say that the Sufis are undoubtedly the best. He said that they have the purest hearts, their actions are motivated with sincerity, and, compared to the rest of the three, there is no doubt that they are the model of piety for humanity. Hence, al Ghazali chose the Sufi path. Ibn Taymiyyah, commenting upon al Ghazali’s statement, says that it is absolutely correct, that from among these four paths, the path of the Sufi’s is undoubtedly the best, and that despite the fact that there are extremist Sufi groups of all sorts espousing strange views and practices, on the whole, the Sufis are very pious
people, God-fearing, and genuine Muslims. But then, Ibn Taymiyyah goes on to say that there is another path, a fifth path, and that is the path of the Qur’an and the Prophet (SAAS). He noted that al Ghazali had not thought of this path. Huwa kana qalil al ilm bihi-‘ (and his knowledge of this path was also not much). Ibn Taymiyyah, in my opinion, is thus correct.

We have in al Ghazali a truly great Islamic personality, who in youth, blooms forth into a brilliant scholar of Islam; who attains the highest point
in intellectual and worldly success and then resigns in the midst of his glory and takes to the Sufi path. Ibn Taymiyyah rejects al Ghazali’s approach to Islam, saying it led him afar from the Qur’an and the Prophet (SAAS). Al Ghazali, among his numerous works, has written a book called Jawhir al Quran, (The Pearls of Quran). He wrote this book while still a Sufi. It is, in its own way, a great work, full of originality, subtle meanings and fine spiritual points. The question, however, is whether he is faithful to the Quran and whether this work reflects the Quranic teaching. The Quran has come to give us a guidance. In the first instance, it guided the activity of the Prophet (SAAS) and too, it gives us guidance at whatever juncture we are. But if we compare al Ghazali’s Jawahir al Quran with the Quranic teaching, I doubt that one can come up with the conclusion that this is a book which represents the Quran. It represents an entirely individual piety, (taqwa) which is totally silent on the community and on the role of Islam in the world. Let me now come to the more contemporary situation. When a student from the Muslim world comes to the West, he or she may become enamored by Weber or Durkheim or Kant and he or she may want to study one or more of these thinkers. This is fine. These men, in their own right, were great; they have written about the problems of pure thought called philosophy and they have written about human societies, both ancient and contemporary. Similarly, many of us may be enamored by Islamic personalities and say that if we want the truth, nothing compares with Abu-Hamid al Ghazali, Imam Fakhr al-Din al Razi Ibn Sina or Ibn `Arabi Or Muhammad Iqbal. In all such cases, we are beating about the bush; these are the attitudes and actions of confused people who do not know what to
do or wither to go. For some, Jalal al Din al Rumi is great. All of these are undoubtedly great men. But if we want guidance, we possess a Book,
which we claim Allah (SWT) sent verbatim to his Prophet (SAAS) and which actually produced guidance and concrete results in terms of rescuing people from the abyss of the Jahiliyyah, (The State of Ignorance). It gave them guidance and gave them taqwa. It made them capable of not only conquering and governing other territories, but also enabled them to guide others. We claim that this book is miraculous. Why do we then not go to that Book?
I would say `iIm is all good. Sihr (magic), on the other hand, is bad. but only because it is inherently misused. Why, for example, would anyone
want to learn sihr unless he wants to use it? Sihr very use is its misuse. Nevertheless, sihr is ilm; it has reality. Of course, the Qur’an does not imply, I think, that sihr can change the jawahir al-ashya  (the substance of things) . I think, according to the Quran, that sihr influences the psychology of people. When the opponents of Musa (AS) in Pharaoh’s court, threw their sticks, the Quran says “sahara a`yun al nas” (they cast a magical spell on the eyes of the people), but nothing really changed. Also in the verse about Harut and Marut, in Surat al Baqarah (the Heifer), those who learnt sihr separated man from wife by psychological manipulation. Sihr, then, does have a psychological reality. Although it does not change the substance of things it does change psychological attitudes.

5. Conclusion
So far as the problem under consideration( Islamisation of Knowledge) is concerned, I, therefore conclude, that we must not get enamored over making maps and charts of how to go about creating Islamic knowledge. Let us invest our time, energy and money in the creation, not of propositions, but minds. Let us recall that Aristotle, the Greek philosopher, was the first thinker to formulate logic.  He formulated the theory of syllogism, the kubra (major Premise) and the sughra (the minor premise) and then the conclusion. He believed that this is how people think; that people conceive in their minds the major premise and then the minor premise, and then draw the conclusion. Absolutely nothing of this sort happens in actual reality. Human thought does not behave syllogistically; human thought has its own mode of operation.
We still do not know what the nature of human thought process is. Most of the time we do not even know what we want to know unless we are doing some mechanical work. To tell the truth, knowledge is extremely mysterious. Normally, people think knowledge is very easily attained; that one knows what one wants to know and thus attains the knowledge. This is not at all the case. One cannot map knowledge; it is created by Allah (SWT) in the human mind. One can train people for knowledge and then hope for the best. My plea, therefore, is that we create thinkers, those who have the capacity to think constructively and positively. We cannot lay down rules for them to think . As I have pointed out in the case of Kant; one can certainly criticize and reject propositions that seem to us incompatible with Islamic principles.
Also, in the case of Western social science, in sociology, anthropology and psychology, etc. , one can always do that. But one can and must also do that with the Muslims thinkers of the past.

I have then submitted that unless we have examined our tradition very well. in the light of the Quran, we cannot proceed further with Islamic thought. This is because we must have certain criteria to go by and the criteria must obviously come initially from the Quran. First. we must examine our own Islamic tradition in the light of these criteria and principles and then critically study the body of knowledge created by modernity. We must also remember that knowledge in Islam exists in order to enable us to act to change the current events in the world. The Quran is an action-oriented book. par excellence. We have to seriously cultivate this procedure and first judge our own tradition as to what is right and what is wrong. Then we must judge the Western tradition. There is no mechanical way of doing this. I cannot sit down and undertake to Islamize Durkheim and Weber; I cannot sit down and mechanically judge what Durkheim said about primitive societies. Or what Weber says about this or that form of societies, or what Weber says about this or that form of government. Of course, one can say that certain
things are right and that others are wrong but this would not amount to creative knowledge. This would be a mechanical kind of analysis at best. The stage of creative knowledge will come only when we are imbued with the attitude that the Quran wants to inculcate in us. Then we will be able to appreciate and also sit in judgment on both our own tradition and the Western tradition. Even then, however. judgment and criticism is not the end but only the first step in the discovery of new knowledge, which is the true goal of an Islamic intellectual.

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