Islamization of Knowledge

The Quest for an Islamic Methodology: The Islamization of Knowledge Project in Its Second Decade

The Islamization of knowledge is one of the dominant themes that continue to preoccupy contemporary Muslim intellectuals. Since Ismail al Faruqi presented this thesis little over a decade ago, numerous papers, monographs, and books have been written on the subject. This paper attempts to examine the progress of the project of Islamization in the last decade by outlining the general framework of Islamization and examining the work of its proponents and critics. Modifications aimed at overcoming the difficulties inherent in the original plan are then proposed.

I argue that the project of Islamization is still in its premethodological stage. This is due partially to the limitations of the original work plan, which does not take into account some important logistical and psychological factors. I therefore propose a slightly modified strategy in which the emphasis is placed on a critical examination of method and techniques developed in both the classical Muslim and the modem Western scientific traditions.


Islamization Framework

Any study concerned with analyzing writings on methodology in the context of the Islamization of knowledge has to start from the two essays written by al Faruqi (IIIT 1987). In this monograph, he singled out two factors as being responsible for the present condition of the ummah-conditions he termed the "malaise of the ummah"-namely, the current secular-religious duality of education systems in Muslim societies and the lack of a clear vision with which to guide and direct Muslim action. The rejuvenation of the ummah, he argued, is contingent on the integration of the Islamic and the secular sciences-in a word, on ending duality in education:

  • The task confronting the ummah in the fifteenth century Hijtah is that of solving the problem of education. There can be no hope of a genuine revival of the ummah unless the educational system is revamped and its faults corrected. Indeed, what is needed is for the system to be formed anew. The present dualism in Muslim education, its┬ábifurcation into an Islamic and secular system must be removed and abolished once and for all. The two systems must be united and integrated (IIIT 1987,9).

According to al Faruqi, this desired integration of education is the task of academicians well-versed in the modem disciplines and the Islamic legacy (ibid., 14). This integration of knowledge, the concrete manifestation of which is the production of university-level textbooks containing "Islamized knowledge, is the essence of what he called the Islamization of knowledge. "Islamizing Knowledge," he wrote, "[is] in concrete terms, to Islamize the disciplines, or better, to produce university level textbooks recasting some twenty disciplines in accordance with the Islamic vision" (ibid.).

The task of integration is not an eclectic mixing of classical Islamic and modern Western knowledge. It is rather a systematic reorientation and restructuring of the entire field of human knowledge in accordance with a new set of criteria and categories derived from and based on the Islamic worldview (ibid., 15) Al Faruqi, turning to the specific question of methodology, pointed to the inadequacy of the traditional methods of ijtihad. This inadequacy reveals itself in two diametrically opposed tendencies. The first tendency is to restrict the field of ijtihad to legalistic reasoning, thus subsuming modem problems under legal categories and thereby reducing a mujtahid to a faqih (jurist), and reducing science to legal science. The other tendency is to eliminate all rational criteria and standards by adopting "a purely intuitive and esoteric methodology" (ibid., 19) A sought-after methodology should avoid the excesses of these two approaches. In other words, it should avoid restricting reasoning to the extent that modem problems confronting Muslim scholarship are placed outside the realm of scientific research and should not, at the same time, allow the admission of fiction and superstition into the realm of true knowledge (ibid.).

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