Islamization of Knowledge

The Islamization of Knowledge: Yesterday and Today

Within the Islamization of Knowledge school, the idea of the Islamization of Knowledge has always been understood as an intellectual and methodological outlook rather than as an academic field, a specialization, an ideology, or a new sect. Thus, the school has sought to view issues of knowledge and methodology from the perspectives of reform, inquiry, and self-discovery without any preconceptions, doctrinal or temporal constraints, or limitations on its intellectual horizons. The school 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 say that the Islamization of Knowledge is not to be understood as a set of axioms, a rigid ideology, or a religious movement. Rather, in order to comprehend the full meaning of the term, it must be viewed as designating a methodology for dealing with knowledge and its sources or as an intellectual outlook in its beginning stages.

An ongoing critique and the attempt to derive particulars from the general are essential to the process of development. The initial articulation of the Islamization of Knowledge undertaking and the workplan was therefore produced in general terms. At that early stage, the focus was on presenting a criticism of both traditional Muslim and western methodologies and then introducing the Islamization of Knowledge and explaining its significance.

The first edition of the Islamization of Knowledge pointed out the principles essential to any attempt to fashion an Islamic paradigm of knowledge based on the Islamic worldview and its unique constitutive concepts and factors. It also addressed, briefly, the intellectual aspect of the Islamization of Knowledge. The main focus, however, was on the practical aspects of producing textbooks for use in teaching the social sciences, as this was considered the first priority at a time when the Muslim world was losing its best minds to the West and the western cultural and intellectual invasion.

Accordingly, twelve steps were identified as the basis from which the preparation of introductory social science texts might proceed. The workplan and the principles elaborated in the first edition of the Islamization of Knowledge were met with a great deal of enthusiasm, as these represented a novel intellectual endeavor. There was wide acceptance for the new ideas, and many scholars were quick to endorse them.

Indeed, the popularity and appeal of the Islamization of Knowledge were such that several academic institutions immediately attempted to give practical form to its concepts. Some people, however, were unable to discern the essential methodological issues in the Islamization of Knowledge, perhaps due to the pragmatic manner in which Islamization was first articulated. As a result, they considered it little more than a naive attempt to replace knowledge with knowledge that had somehow been Islamized.

In addition to such critics, there were those who sought to ridicule the effort and those who were in the habit of interpreting everything they read in terms of their own preconceived notions. Some people went so far as to view the undertaking as an attempt by Islamic fundamentalists to somehow transform culture and the world of ideas into tools for the attainment of political power. Undoubtedly, it was this view that led some people to consider the Islamization of Knowledge as an ideological, as opposed to an epistemological or a methodological, discourse.

Likewise, those captivated by contemporary western knowledge and its supposed generation of scientifically objective and universally applicable products assumed that the Islamization of Knowledge was symptomatic of a state of conscious or unconscious denial of the “other.” To them, the Islamization of Knowledge undertaking reflected an attitude of self-affirmation through the attempted characterization of everything of significance as Islamic. Some saw it as a manifestation of the Islamists’ desire to control everything in the state and society, including secular knowledge or the social sciences and humanities in particular, by making scholarship and academics their exclusive domain and stripping from the Marxists, leftists, and secularists in the Arab and the Islamic worlds their right to practice their scholarship or, at the very least, to speak with authority on anything having to do with Islam or Muslim society. In reality, however, such ideas never occurred to any of those involved in the beginning of the Islamization of Knowledge undertaking. In fact, no mention of any of these matters has been made in any of the school’s literature.

The Islamization of Knowledge school is not blind to the fact that it may take decades before the methodological and epistemological issues involved in this proposition are clarified in a definitive manner. Indeed, such matters cannot be outlined in a declaration of principles, a press release, or a party manifesto. Instead, they should be understood as landmarks on the road to the sort of learning that will assist the reform of the Muslim mind in such a way that the Muslim world can address its own crisis of thought and participate actively in the attempt to deal with the crises of thought affecting the rest of the world. Moreover, those involved in the Islamization of Knowledge realize that intellectual undertakings, especially at this level, represent the most difficult and complex activity of any society and that their fruits may not be seen for decades or even generations. Even then, they rarely come to an end, for knowledge is limitless and Allah’s creation is greater . . . and for every learned person there is one who is more learned. As the essence of knowledge and its foundation is method, in the general sense of the term, the message of Islam is said to be a complete way of life rather than a specific set of guidelines, except for those very few fundamentals that are unchanging and unaffected by the differences of time and place.’

The scholars of our school of thought do not seek to provide a strictly inclusive and exclusive definition in the classical manner when they speak of the Islamization of Knowledge. Rather, this process is spoken of in general terms only and, in fact, should be understood as a loose designation calculated to convey the general sense of the undertaking and its priorities.

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