Islamization of Knowledge

Islamic Perspectives on Theory Building in the Social Sciences

The issue of the relevance of Islam to modem "scientific" thinking is flanked on both sides by extreme positions. On further investigation, however, these positions turn out to reflect certain misconceptions only, perpetuated by certain structural and personal factors that lend themselves readily to systematic analysis and, hopefully, correction. On the one hand, we have legions of Muslim social scientists who still flinch at hearing of attempts to integrate divine revelation with science. Many of them would find the title of this paper problematic, if not outright self-contradictory. What does Islam, or any other religion for that matter, have to do with science or with theory building, they would ask.

This response should hardly be unexpected, considering the type of academic and professional indoctrination that we all have gone through. The scientific establishment, with its overriding positivist - empiricist leanings, has long adopted and encouraged an attitude-or more correctly a "faith'' - of separation between science and religion. Consider, for example, the following statement by no less an authority than the National Academy of Sciences in the United States, in 1981:

  • Religion and science are separate and mutually exclusive realms of human thought, presentation of which in the same context leads to misunderstanding of both scientific theory and religious belief. (Sperry 1988, 608-9)

This terse statement is representative of the attitudes of those who adhere to the old paradigm, seemingly totally oblivious of the fundamental criticisms leveled from all directions at that type of outmoded view of science.

On the other hand, we have those Muslim scientists already active in the Islamic science movement who may find the content of the paper objectionable because it does not depart enough from the Western model of science. Islamic, for them, is synonymous with originality and uniqueness. Islamic science is expected to detach itself from all those man-made formulations. We have very little to learn from the contemporary materialist, Western-minded, positivist-empiricist ridden model of science. Any convergence with that inherently defective model, even inadvertently, would harm our pure Islamic version of the truth, they would insist.

Despite the disparity between these two positions, they both have one element in common: a failure to see the innate "wholeness" rather than parochialism of any true search for the truth. Truth, according to general Islamic principles, is the judge of humanity. Individuals do not judge truth. Those who modestly and sincerely search for the truth shall be guided to it by God. The first group of objectors should remember that verified knowledge, if that is what science ultimately is, is only another activity pursued by the Muslim scientist that should be guided by the same Islamic values guiding his/her entire life. Divine revelation should be his/her main some of knowledge, particularly when we deal with the "unseen," which we cannot ignore when we study humanity. The second group should remember that Islam is a guidance for all people. Creating artificial borders that separate rather than integrate does not serve humanity nor the cause of Islam.

Mainly for the benefit of the first group, the first part of this paper is devoted to a detailed critique of the traditional model of science. The roots of its positivist-empiricist biases are methodically uncovered. It is argued that the schism between modem science and religious beliefs is unnecessary, artificial, ideologically inspired, and that it resulted from particular historical and geographical events. Our hope is that this expose might help those social scientists who received their professional socialization within the prevalent Western paradigm to see the scientific method as it is-nothing more than one possible way of knowing the world and one with many shortcomings and flaws that need urgent correction.

We will show that the "traditional" view of science and of the scientific method, which the social sciences inherited from the natural sciences, did in fact thwart efforts to understand humanity and to improve the human condition. We will also show how its positivist-empiricist biases have contributed immensely to the noted poverty of the social sciences by dismissing as non-scientific, or even as non-sense, any reference to the spiritual-religious aspects of the human being.

In the second part of the paper we suggest an alternative scheme, informed by the Islamic paradigm, that seeks to integrate the empirical and the nonempirical aspects of humanity into a unified system of explanation for human behavior. Theory building, from that vantage point, is explored with an emphasis on the utilization of revelation: the Qur'an and verified hadith as a major source for plausible hypotheses. This is not a naive or Simplistic attempt to superimpose religiously derived concepts over the social sciences without proof, but a deliberate attempt to use the rich insights derived from these transcendent sources after subjecting propositions derived from them to stringent verification. The new model does not allow for unwanted dogmatism or unwarranted xenophobia, which a priori reject anything that comes from non-Muslims. Verification is achieved via the good old mechanisms for self-correction of the traditional model of science--testing and falsification, but with a different twist!

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