Methodology is the means of formulating the principles that determine the guidelines for various sciences. Or, in other words, it is the system of practices and procedures that, when applied to a specific branch of knowledge, will result in furthering the particulars of that knowledge. The concept of studying methodology is not new. In fact, some trace it back to Plato and Aristotle, who gave it special consideration. Its study has developed to such an extent that it has now become a science in and of itself under the formal title of "methodology." Its content has also become intertwined with the philosophy of the sciences themselves.
Methodology in the West
We can say with certainty that the ideological and civilizational development that affected the West throughout history left profound traces on the essence of methodology. The domination of the Catholic church and its representatives over the methods of scientific research placed limits on rational thinking and confined it within the strictures of church doctrine on the concepts and principles that explained nature and human behavior.
In those centuries, man was not the master of the universe. Furthermore, human thought not only depended upon religious teachings but was actually subject to it. Knowledge was in no way dependent on the soundness of methodology. On the contrary; it was measured by God's pleasure and acceptance, since He was understood to provide knowledge and reason with legitimacy. Of course it was the church which, throughout this period, actually expressed divine pleasure and acceptance on behalf of God. In this manner, the church became the only source for the discovery of nature's secrets, and Christian dogma became the only criteria for distinguishing between scientific fact and fiction.
Subsequent to the Renaissance in the second half of the fifteenth century, however, an ideological revolution took place, freeing Europe of the religious shackles restraining reason and experimentation.
Yet this liberation proceeded slowly, despite the burgeoning independence of scientific inquiry in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, for European scientists continued to be influenced by the last vestiges of church authority. As evidence of this we may note that Descartes, one of the first to call for the separation of mind and matter, concluded that the scientific method could not be relied upon unless approved by God. We can also see that this religious tendency was prevalent in the works of Newton and Lebnitz.
A more radical reaction emerged to this historic event, one that affected the methods, philosophies, and ideas prevalent in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Philosophers and scientists were so impressed by the success of Descartes' experimental method that they immersed themselves in it and followed it almost exclusively. But eventually, they became more moderate in its application, and some actually rejected it or at least considered it less than ideal for every scientific situation.
Thus the methodology of Kant, which incorporated the experimental method with "tangible idealism," began to develop. This was followed by Eddington's methodology of "the relativity of mass." Recently, we have begun to read in the works of such contemporary philosophers as Fromm, Capra, and Sourkin of a new opinion that sees no escape for methodology from the consideration of revelation as a source of knowledge, along with reason and experimentation.
At the same time, this methodology started to shy away from using the traditional analytic approach, which concludes that knowledge of characteristics and behavior cannot be achieved except through studying the integral parts of the whole. It also decided that this "whole" must be an influencing factor on the characteristics of the part in both the study of matter and behavior. This is the most important feature of the contemporary methodology: matter is studied as a mass that cannot be partitioned from energy and, likewise, humanity must be studied as an integral unit consisting of matter, reason, and spirit, a unit in which no single aspect can be separated from the other two.
Since its inception, Islamic methodology has followed a very different path from that of western methodology. Islamic methodology began in a fully liberal scientific atmosphere that was distinct from Aristotle's positivism and void of the church's mandate. Reflection was free of any constraints, with the exception of certain general principles or self-evident axioms that are indispensable to logical thought. Many of these axioms are taken from the teachings and directives of the Qur'an. Accordingly, Islamic thought began unhindered by religious or clerical restrictions that would have prevented it from understanding the secrets of nature, discovering the laws of its motion, and studying the conduct and behavior of human beings in Society. In fact, Islam urged individuals to reflect upon the universe and uncover its secrets. It also included the main elements upon which Islamic methodology is based.
This methodology developed into a formal science during the second hijri century. It was not inspired by a struggle for the freedom of thought, but by the requirements of a fast-growing scientific renaissance and a strong desire to acquire additional knowledge. Islamic methodology adopted the Qur'anic approach of reflection and contemplation. Indeed, law derived from the Qur'an was based on the jurists' understanding of both underlying reasons and circumstantial contexts. The example of the Prophet, moreover, opened the way for researchers, allowing ijtihad (creative self-exertion to derive laws from legitimate sources) and assigning rewards to those who undertook it, regardless of whether or not their conclusions were correct.
It was natural that the science of usul or Islamic methodology should consider the Qur'an, the Sunnah, and ijtihad to be legitimate sources of tashri' (the formation and application of religious law). This is because methodology, by definition, is a means and not an end. However, the means must be related to the end, otherwise the former would not lead to the latter. The implication here is that as long as the concept of knowledge is associated by Muslims with faith and with the Shari'ah, it is inevitable that the path of knowledge for a Muslim will be subject to these and to all that is associated with them.
In order to prove this, it is enough to say that western methodology always followed the prevalent scientific method in every stage of its civilization. Methodology was Catholic during the Middle Ages, Cartesian after the Renaissance, and liberal and Marxist during the present era. Inasmuch as humanity changes its ideals, it changes its methodologies as well. So, in reality, ideals are what shape the objectives of "science" in its various forms. For that reason, Cartesian methodology, and the methodologies that followed it, became the means that led to the understanding of the sciences of nature and human behavior. These constituted the entire "science" with which Westerners were preoccupied in order to achieve the utmost satisfaction of their materialistic needs: the largest portion of material power, the greatest material luxury, and the maximum possible fulfillment of sensual desires. There is no doubt that the current methodology would change if the ideals of the time changed and the optimum purpose of life became other than "material and tangible"-something higher and more eternal, something that is inclusive of material while controlling it.
As the goal of the Muslim is the worship of God and the implementation of His Shari'ah, it follows that Islamic methodology must be the collective precepts that regulate the means and research leading to the knowledge of all Shari'ah laws relevant to social conduct and activity in society. We may describe this methodology as constituting principles derived from the Islamic ideal, or what we call shirah-principles that determine the subject of every behavioral science, the kind of regulations that control it, and the structure that must be available to build its disciplinary framework.
From this comprehensive description, we see that we must know the ideals that determine a Muslim's goals and that we must extract, from within the parameters of these ideals, the general theory of the science to be discussed. Finally, we must invent the means required for applying the specific scientific theory. To reach these goals, we need to use scientific methods, which, collectively, are known as Islamic methodology.
Historically, Islamic methodology, or the science of usul al fiqh, remained dynamic and vital from its inception during the Umayyad period until the end of the Golden Age in al Andalus (Muslim Spain), for methodology advanced alongside civilization. In Baghdad, Muslims produced Qiyas mursal (analogy) and, in al Andalus,, istiqra (induction) and istinbat (deduction) were discussed. Muslim thinkers were not preoccupied by the Cartesian partial outlook, because fiqh comprised both ibadas (religious rituals conceming an individual's relationship with God) and mu'amalat (transactional disciplines concerning an individual's relationship with society). In fact, scholars of religion consider certain material transactions to be among the pillars of Islam. Ibn Sina, Ibn Rushd, and other Muslim scholars were able to incorporate Greek philosophy into their own Shari'ah-based theories. Consequently, they created their own methodology, which was developed largely at Cordoba.
However, by the eighth hijri century, as the Muslim community changed its ideal to one of material enjoyment and began to abandon such necessary constituents of civilization as acquiring knowledge and upholding moral values, Islamic methodology began to stagnate.