Islamization of Knowledge

Islamization of Knowledge in Indonesia


• Traditional Islam: Eclectic Islam (NU)

Islam came to Indonesia through trade, in the form of mysticism. It became an eclectic religion, in which various traditions were blended into a unique form. This form has grown and passed into generations and formed the Sunnite majority of Indonesian people (with Ash’arite and Shafi’ite persuasion) and later was crystallized politically and socially into Nahdhat al-‘Ulama’ (NU), representing the traditional Islam. It is against this traditional Islam as background, that most of  the Islamic reforms were launched, and should be understood.


• Islamic Reform I: Salafi/Wahabi Movement (Muhammadiyyah & Persis)

This traditional Islam has developed over generation, utterly unchallenged. However, under the influences of Wahabi-Salafi movements in Saudi Arabia in the eighteen century, many Indonesia Muslim scholars (‘ulama’) started to question the authenticity of Traditional Islam. They accused it as contained and practiced a number of heresies (bid’ah) and called for a religious reform in the form of purification, that is, “Back to the Origin: the Qur’an and Hadith” by ignoring the very rich and long-standing scientific, intellectual and mystical traditions of Islam. This movement has been crystallized into Muhammadiyyah and PERSIS.

• Islamic Reform II: Abduhism (Harun’s Neo-Mu’tazilism)

In early seventies Prof. Harun Nasution came back to Indonesia from Egypt and McGill, Canada, with a new understanding of Islam. Traditional Islam was accused to have caused Islamic decline and backwardness, since it has upheld fatalistic and anti-rational theological system: Ash’arism. To answer it, he launched a second Islamic reform, especially in educational domain, by proposing a new theology that he borrowed from Abduh, Mu’tazilism, especially in two aspects: rationalism and freedom. Islam asks us to use reason (‘aql). Islam doesn’t contradict the reason. It is with reason we will achieve rational and scientific sciences, and it was with the freedon of choice or free will as thought by Mu’tazilah that we will get progress in life. Later, this reform has created the so called Harun’s Neo-Mu’tazilism.

• Islamic Reform III: Rahmanism: (Nurcholish’s Neo-Modernism)
The third wave of Islamic reform came from those who studied under Prof. Fazlur Rahman of Chicago in early eighties. Again, reacted to the Traditional Islam as background, these students of Fazlur Rahman, known later as Neo-Modernists, criticized the Traditional Islam as having been carried away too far by foreign (non-Muslim) traditions, be it Hellenistic, Hindu-Buddhist or Zoroastrian, that have swing the empirical-scientific spirit of Islam into metaphysical one that caused the decline of scientific enterprise in the Islamic world and obscured the real understanding of Islamic doctrines. According to them, we need a fresh interpretation of Islam, by deducting directly from original sources, the Qur’an and hadith and doing away as much as possible from long traditions adopted by Traditional Islam that has distracted the real understanding and spirit of Islam, which is very modern.


Before dealing with the issue of Islamization, it is important to have some ideas about current trends of Islamic thought and movement that in a way contributed to our understanding of Islamization of knowledge in Indonesia.

• Fundamentalist Islam (Dewan Dakwah, Hizb al-Tahrir, Jama’ah Islamiyyah)

This group originally came from Traditional Islam, with Salafi’s tendency. For them Islam is simple, so it is no use to make it complicated by introducing philosophical and mystical materials. In interpreting religion, they tend to be literal. This group is more political (than intellectual) in their orientation. But they are influential among certain people because of their powerful rhetoric, and persuasion, especially when they reacted so strongly to the Westernization both in politics and culture and to the westernized people who supported modernity. Certain groups, such as Dewan Da’wah, Hizb al-Tahrir, and Jama’ah Islamiyyah might be considered as representative of the Fundamentalist Islam

• Islam Liberal (JIL, ICRP)

Other current trend in Islamic thought is so-called Islam Liberal. This group is actually another reform to the Traditional Islam from within. We can call them “young NU,” since most of their members come from NU background. They criticize the Traditional Islam to be passive and uncritical to their intellectual heritage. We need, according to them, to interpret, even if necessary to criticize, our frozen tradition in entirely new way. Using the methodological weapon (deconstructive, hermeneutic and semiotic approaches, as adopted by the contemporary Arab thinkers, as Hasan Hanafi, Mohammed Arkoun, al-Jabiri, Nasr Abu Zayd), they criticize the Islamic heritage (turath) by way of deconstructing it, without having a deep and comprehensive understanding. They criticize religious tradition and authority to be formidable hindrance to our true understanding of Islam. They actively engage in responding to certain contemporary issues, such human right, feminism, tolerance, and plurality and some controversial religious issues, such as cross-religon and homosexual marriages, having more than one session for hajj rites, and so on. It is represented by: J.I.L (Jaringan Islam Liberal) and ICRP (Indonesian Conference on Religion and Peace).

• Shi’ite Contribution: Bringing in the Islamic Tradition (ICAS and ICC)

Although not  directly concerned with the Islamization of Knowledge in Indonesia, the presence of Shi’ism in Indonesia, especially through ICAS (Islamic College for Advanced Studies) and ICC (Islamic Cultural Center) Iranian sponsored cultural and educational institutions, is very significant in giving the idea of how the Islamic intellectual tradition has been preserved and developed in Islamic world. By introducing syllabus and lecturers brought directly from Iran, Indonesian people, especially students, can “taste” and engage directly in the living tradition of Islamic philosophy as practiced by Muslim philosophers throughout history. The students don’t have to go to Iran, the capital of Islamic philosophy, in order to know and practice the doctrines of the philosophers and the scientific methods they employed. These institutions have brought the living Islamic tradition into the heartland of this country, and contributing to a direct and comprehensive understanding of the nature of knowledge and the Islamization of it.



• Islamizaton of knowledge has been understood in different ways due to the differences in concepts and practices by its proponents. Nevertheless, they share the essential belief, that  knowledge (especially modern science)  needs to be islamized. There are at least 3 schools of thought of the Islamization of knowledge that should be addressed briefly before we talk directly our main topic.

• Schools of Thought of Islamization

  • Naquib Alatas: ISTAC

We are not really certain, who is the first to formulate or use the term “Islamization of knowledge.” But t is sure that Prof. Naquib Alatas has his own theory of Islamization of knowledge. For him the Islamization is “the liberation of man from magical, mythological, animistic, national culture tradition opposed to Islam, and then from secular control over his reason and his language. To  implement it, Islamization of knowledge should undergo two processes; 1. De-westernization, that is, the isolation of key elements and concepts that make up Western culture and civilization from every branch of present-day knowledge. 2. Islamization: the infusion of  Islamic elements and key concepts in every branch of relevant present day knowledge. This concept of Islamization of knowledge was realized in an academic institution called ISTAC (International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civlization).

  • Isma’il Farouqi: IIIT

Isma'il Raji al-Farouqi (d. 1986) also has his own understanding of the Islamization of knowledge. For him, Islamization of knowledge is an effort to redirect knowledge, by providing a new definition, re-organize data, rethink the method of thinking and co-relate the data, and re-evaluate conclusions, Then to re-project the goals in such a way so that these disciplines will enrich the Islamic horizon and give benefits to the Islamic ideals. To implement his ideas, he formulates 12 steps: (1) the mastery of modern sciences and its categories, (2) the survey of these disciplines, (3) the mastery f Islamic science: anthology, (4) the mastery of Islamic scientific heritage: analysis, (5) determining the specifically Islamic relevance to the scientific disciplines, (6) reexamining critically the modern scientific disciplines, (7) critically re-evaluating the Islamic heritage, (8) the survey on the problems faced by Muslim ummah, (9) the survey on the problems faced by mankind, (10) Creative analysis and synthesis, (11) putting back modern-scintific disciplines into Islamic framework in the form of textbooks and (12) the distribution of the Islamized science. To put his ideas and program into actions, Isma'il Farouqi founded the International institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT). as we know it now.

  • Sayyed Hossen Nasr: Osman Bakar-IAIS (???)

Another great thnker that contrbutes to the idea of Islaamization of knowledge is Prof. Sayyed Hossein Nasr. For him he islamizaton of knowledge  can mean “the reassertion of the immutable principles of Islam and their application to methods and fields of knowledge claimed by modern, Western education and learning. But this authentic and contemporary Islamic education will not shun these disciplines, nor would it surrender to the modern theories. Rather, it would conquer these domain and make them its own. According to him, knowledge cannot be separated from sacred science, since everything known always has a profound religious character, for every type of knowledge is created by God. Prof. Nasr;s ideas are spread widely through his works and the works of his devout disciple and close friend, Prof. Osman Bakar of Malaysia. So far as  know, there is no specific institution that accommodates or tries to implement Nasr's ideas into real agenda and action. Is it the International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies (IAIS) of Malaysia?  am not sure.

• Types of Islamization of Knowledge in Indonesia

It is crucial to mention that in Indonesia the idea of Islamzation of knowledge is not really understood and duly appreciated, since all Islamic reforms, as descried above, are in favor of modern science Science is needed by modern Muslims as an important condition for making progress and modernization. Science for most of them, science is universal,objective, value free, and even for some “Islamic.” The Islamization of science is not necessary as science is already Islamic. It is against this background that the discourse f Islamization of science, (together with its progress and also problems, resistance and obstacle) be understood.

  • Integration of Science and Religion (UIN JAKARTA)

The success of Prof. Harun Nasuton's reform has been so great, that we can say the all IAN/UIN come under his influence. Harun was very optimistic about science, He has no problem whatsoever with accepting science, It is beyond his imagination that science, which is universal, neutral, should be Islamized, critically examined, or  criticized. This view is clearly reflected in UIN's vew on Islamization of knowledge. The term they used to describe it is the Integration of science and religion. They called their integration as an open and “dialogical” integration, implying the “critical” acceptance of any science, including secular sciences. For them science is basically universal, objective and rational. There is no theological barrier whatsoever to accept the so-called secular science. They don't use the term Islamization of knowledge, as this term, according to the, tends to be exclusive.  It is, therefore, contrary to the inclusive attitude that they want to adopt. This type of Islmization is represented by UIN (State Islamic University) Jakarta.

  • Dewesternization (INSIST & UNISULA)

Another type of the Islamization of knowledge is called “De-westernization and de-secularization. The “De-westernization” is obviously taken by its proponents from Prof. Naquib Alatas' ideas. For them, Islamization of knowledge should begin with “de-westernization” in the sense of the isolation of key elements and concepts that make up Western culture and civilization, from every branch of present-day knowledge.” In their Journal, “Islamia,” they present their severe critics on the Western sciences, as being secular. For them, science is never neutral or value-free. It is always ideologically charged. After this, the infuse the Islamic elements/values and key concepts in every branch of relevant present day knowledge, that they call Islamization. For them it is very important to build a correct world-view, that will illuminate all agenda of the Islamization and its implementation into practice. In Indonesia this type of Islamization is represented by two insttutions: (1) in the form of a research Insittution, i.e. INSIST (Institute for the Study of Islamic Thought and Civilization) Jakarta, and (2) in the form of a formal education institution: UNIISULA (Universitas Sultan Agung) Semarang.

  • “Ayatisasi”: Islamic Justification of Modern Science (UIN Malang, IPB and MoRA)

The most popular form of Islammization of knowledge is, however, the so-called “Ayatisasi Ilmu” or Islamic justification of modern science. They firmly believe that modern science fully accords with Islamic doctrines. What we should do, according to them, is not so much to criticize it, but to support or justify it by quoting certain relevant Qur'anic verses or hadiths. By doing this they want to show that Islam, far from being anti-science, is actually for science. Many books have been written with this approaches in many fields, such as biology, mathematics, physics, etc., and many institutions have adopted this type of Islamization of knowledge, including UIN Malang, IPB, ITB and even the Ministry of religious Affar (MoRA).

  • Scientification of Islam (Kontowjoyo)

There are some other concepts of Islamization of knowledge, although not really pupolar and there is no institutuion to develop its their concepts. One of this is the so-called Scientification of Islam (Mengilmukan Islam). According to iits proponent, Prof. Kuntowjoyo, the term Islamization of knowledge is “reactive,” and thus apologetic, while “Scientification of Islam” is “proactive” implying the acceptance of other party's achievement.” For him, it is the iintention of the subject that should be Islamized, not the scence itself. Scientifcation of Islam, ivolving the objectvicaton. It calls for turning normative postulate of religion into a scientific theory. Religious norms, as human experience, should be constructed as science.


• Islamization of Knowledge (Redefined): Epistemological Integration

Until this point, we can say that in Indnesia, there has been no serious investigation and
attempt to Islamize knowledge (or modern science) in the real sense of the word, but by two thinkers, Hidayat Nataatmadja and Mulyadhi Kartanegara. Hdayat Nataatmadja was a rare genius who committed wholly to his ideas and has written a number of very important works related to the Islamization of science. However, his works suffer from serious obscurities and controversy, so only few who understand his ideas, and obiuosly no institution so far i knew, has ever been founded to support his ideas. Prof. Mulyadhi Kartanegara has made attempts in many of his works to deal seriously and redefine the concept of Islamization of knowledge in his own way. There are several points to be addressed:

  • The word Islam in Islamization should not be taken literal meaning. It simply means that scientific theory or  discovery that is produced cannot contradict the essential principles or doctrines of Islam.
  • Islamization of knowled should be taken into epistemological level, not simply justfication.
  • Islamization of knowledge is necessary, since many scientific theories blatantly contradict the Islamic prinnciples.
  • This Islamization is made possible by the fact that science can never be totally objective.
  • Islamization of knowledge is just one form of the so-called naturalization of knowledge: the attempt by Muslims to adapt foreign science into its own paradigm of world-view.
  • Islamization of knowledge can take form of integration, that includes the integration of reality, the integration of religious and natural sciences, the integrations of scientific objects, sources, and methods.

Mulyadhi's ideas has been implemented into two academic institutions: CIPSI (Center for Islamic-philosophical Studies and Information) and CIE (center for Islamic Epistemology).

• The implementation of Islamization of knowledge: Research Center: CIPSI

Accroding to Mulyadhi, the Islamization of knowledge cannot in any way effective on in the level of discourse. Therefore, he founded CIPSI to bring his ideas into reality.
CIPSI wants to build a new scientific tradition more suitable to Islamic tenets, based on Islamic heritage. To achieve this goal, CIPSI has conducted several steps:

  •  collecting as many as possible Islamic great works (from classic to modern) especially in the fields of philosophy, science, theology and mysticism.
  • Translating the masterpieces of great Muslim scholars, such as Rasa'il Ikhwan al-Shafa' and al-Syifa; into bahasa Indonesia, as to provide Muslims in Indonesia and southeast Asia, who cannot read Arabic, with original works of great Muslim scholars.
  • Sorting some important works in specific area, as to provide readings for certain discipline such as psychology and physics from original Islamic works from classical period to the modern one.
  • Collaborating with other institutions in introducing Islamic materials into the textbooks that are used in high schools of universities.

• Curriculum Reform: CIPSI & UNI

The Islamization of knowledge will not bring good fruits without the Islamizaton of education. Threfore CIPSI has collaborated with the faculty of usuluddin and philosophy, UIN Jakarta to have the so-called “curriculum reform.” UIN has opened several “secular” (non-religious) faculties using and borrowing exactly the same curricula as used in the public or “secular” university. The Curriculum reform manages to answer a big question “what  are the significant differences  in studying “science”  in the Islamic universities and secular universities? To implement this agenda, we --CIPSI and the faculty of Ushuluddin and Philosophy—have planed the following programs:

 to create our own scientific outlook.
 to create our own educational system
 to have our own science currculum

To materialize the first point we will conduct several workshops:
 critical studies on western science
 critical studies on Islamic science
 Islamc scentific theories
 Islamic scientifc methods

to materialize the second ppoint, we will conduct three workshops:
 philosophy of education
 psychology of education
 theories of education

to materialize the third point, we conduct workshop and research:
 frame of curriculum
 research of existing curriculum on science
 writing 4 introductory books.
 developing our own curriculum

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