Islamization of Knowledge

An Early Crescent: The Future of Knowledge and the Environment in Islam

An Early Crescent is about the exciting and greatly anticipated emergence of ideas which will inaugurate the rededication and renewal of Muslim effort and spirituality. It is about the process of intellectually taking charge of the environment and the discourse dominated by the West. There are two dimensions to this process of taking charge. One is the Islamization of Knowledge, and entails mastering the dominant idiom and then, from a position of strength and confidence, creating a uniquely Islamic paradigm in the field of knowledge. The second dimension recognizes that “discourse” is not just academic knowledge, but that discourse and knowledge are also inextricably tied into the environments and ecologies surrounding the Islamic community.

The book is structured between the overview of Anwar Ibrahim and the epilogue of Abdullah Omar Naseef, two people deeply involved in contemporary politics, thinking, and policy making. Between this are writings about two dimensions of the process of taking charge of the dominant discourse, with the first part considering the Islamization of Knowledge and the epistemological characterization of the contemporary discourse, dominated as it is by the West, and the second part dealing with the way the dominant discourse configures the environment and ecology surrounding everyone in general, and the way it constrains the ummah specifically.

Ziauddin Sardar‘s critique of the Islamization work plan centers around its veneer of positivism and the concommitant reification of the disciplines. Certainly there are overtones of positive theory building in the work plan, but it must also be remembered that the work plan is not designed to be revolutionary as much as corrective, and that it is aimed not so much at intellectuals as at students through the production of textbooks. And textbooks are certainly examples of knowledge-production. But no one who reads the
impassioned prose of al Faruqi can imagine that here is a man who would simply pass an Islamic wand over the disciplines to Islamize them. On the contrary, his descriptions of contemporary Muslim alienation imply that we must strive to gain autonomy and distance from Western disciplines.

The work plan was not designed to be the final word on the disciplines, for it produces textbooks, not horizon-expanding works. As the horizon expander par excellence writes about the Western Thought Project: “It is important to distinguish between two levels in planning the project: the pedagogic level focusing on mastering the modem disciplines and producing authoritative textbooks to meet the educational needs of Muslim institutions [which was the work plan’s objective]. . . . The other level focuses on the broader intellectual and cultural dimensions of the Western Heritage and assumes the educational goal within this broader perspective” (Abul-Fadl, IIIT).

Because the Islamization of Knowledge took its lead from the already established field of Islamic economics, another problem crept in. The assumption was that as with Islamic economics, “Western disciplines, with the addition and subtraction of a few values and principles, could be radically transformed and Islamized” (p. 39). Sardar’s group has made the valid point that in the case of Islamic economics, we are still homo economicus and not homo islamicus (cf. Asaria). This is probably due mostly to the pressure emerging nation-states exerted on Islamic economics. Interested less in justice than in maintaining a neocolonial status quo (with an Islamic veneer), leaders of nation-states asked for and received a system of economics which had more to do with socialism or capitalism than with Islam.

Parvez Manzoor’s essay is a delight to read. He has drawn very poignant images of the Muslim intellectual, who is necessarily the person who must sell higher soul for a seat at the table with the other intellectuals. But the Muslim intellectual must end the debilitating fascination with the West and begin a process of genuine rediscovery. This rediscovery is to be driven by a balance between or “dual allegiance” to transcendence and immanence.

This is necessary to avoid the trap of historicism, which would see history itself as a great evil. Thus, while the West talks of an emancipation in history, the Indian tradition talks of emancipation from history. The Muslim has no such options, and must take charge once again of the world in order to fulfill the sacred duty of enjoining good and rejecting evil.

Manzoor’s dismissal of Sufism (whatever that means) is that “though Sufism has undoubtedly enriched Islamic culture in a number of ways, the philosophy and psychology of the self which is its special contribution to Islamic thought is not amenable to the growth of social and political knowledge” (p. 68). Sufism’s preoccupation with the eternity of the self devalorizes the problem of society and history, if it does not render it totally superfluous, he remarks. Manzoor of course acknowledges that “the actual historical Sufi practice . . . is often in dire contradiction to the Sufi theory” (p. 81). Given this admission of tremendous diversity of “Sufi“ thought, perhaps this is an ideal time to rethink Sufism in light of the impossibility of reconciling the belief that Sufis are apolitical with the Sanusiyah and the turuq  in Central Asia, along with many other examples. Manzoor concludes that Sufism cannot contribute to devising concrete policy options at the level of the state or even at that of civil society. Perhaps it is the nation-state, and not the Sufi vision, which is the problem?

DMC Firewall is developed by Dean Marshall Consultancy Ltd