Islamization of Knowledge

Some Remarks on the Islamic and the Secular Paradigms of Knowledge

By the time secularist thought had succeeded, at an intellectual level, in challenging the authority of the Church, its roots had already taken firm hold in western soil. Later, when western political and economic systems began to prevail throughout the world, it was only natural that secularism, as the driving force behind these systems, should gain ascendency worldwide. In time, and with varying degrees of success, the paradigm of positivism gradually displaced traditional and religious modes of thinking, with the result that generations of third world thinkers grew up convinced that the only way to “progress” and reform their societies was the way of the secular West. Moreover, since the experience of the West was that it began to progress politically, economically, and intellectually only after the influence of the Church had been marginalized, people in the colonies believed that they would have to marginalize the influence of their particular religions in order to achieve a similar degree of progress. Under the terms of the new paradigm, turning to religion for solutions to contemporary issues is an absurdity, for religion is viewed as something from humanity’s formative years, from a “dark” age of superstition and myth whose time has now passed. As such, religion has no relevance to the present, and all attempts to revive it are doomed to failure and are a waste of time.

Many have supposed that it is possible to accept the western model of a secular paradigm while maintaining religious practices and beliefs. They reason that such an acceptance has no negative impact upon their daily lives so long as it does not destroy their places of worship or curtail their right to religious freedom. Thus, there remains hardly a contemporary community that has not fallen under the sway of this paradigm. Moreover, it is this paradigm that has had the greatest influence on the way different peoples perceive life, the universe, and the role of humanity as well as providing them with an alternative set of beliefs (if needed) and suggesting answers to the ultimate questions.

Throughout this century and most of the last, Muslims have taken it upon themselves to reconcile the western vision of life, humanity, and the universe with their own, or to reconcile the Islamic vision of the same with the precepts of the western vision. As a result, many practicing Muslims have inclined toward rationalizing whatever appears to challenge their constructs in this regard or to contradict their concepts of the universal nature of positivism and the secular paradigm. Thus we have seen some equating the jinn with microbes, or angels with electrons, or prophets with geniuses! To such apologists, Islam touches only the “spiritual” life of its followers and thus may be considered another link in the rusty chain of “religions.” For such “thinkers,” the concepts of shura and khilafah correspond with western ideals of democracy and republicanism, while socialism and social justice are represented by Zakah!

In short, the crisis of the Muslim mind and the absence of intellectual creativity or an ijtihad mentality have stymied the development of a contemporary Islamic paradigm of knowledge. Rather, the entire matter has been ignored, with the result that the distinguishing features of such a paradigm have yet to be identified. Moreover, in the Muslim world there are two streams of education. The first stream, which produces the Muslim world’s technical experts, scientists, social scientists, intellectuals, and makers of public opinion, is based on and functions completely within the secular positivist paradigm. The second stream, perhaps more akin to a backwater, is the religious education stream. However, the sources of this stream owe more to tradition than to any understanding of the parameters of a truly Islamic paradigm of knowledge. For centuries, this stream of education has been able to do no more than repeat itself, by offering the same commentary on the same texts in the same disciplines of fiqh, usul, hadith, and tafsir.

The Islamization of knowledge undertaking seeks to develop an Islamic paradigm of knowledge that will serve as an alternative to the secular positivist paradigm that presently dominates the arts and sciences. Such an alternative combines Islamic and universalistic perspectives; addresses the intellectual and conceptual problems of all humanity, not just of Muslims; and includes a tawhid-based reconstruction of the concepts of life, humanity, and the universe. What, then, is this Islamic paradigm of knowledge, and what are its basic components?

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