Islamization of Knowledge

Some Factors which Promote and Restrict Islamization in America

Let me begin with a brief explicatory statement about the word ‘Islamization.’ I use this term here in reference to a two-stage process. The first stage is conversion to Islam,’ and the second is the reinforcement, strengthening or deepening of Islam in the individual. Of course, most Muslims in the world are born into a Muslim family, and thus they do not pass through the first stage, or so it would seem. But many of them do have social, intellectual and spiritual experiences which are the essence of the second stage of Islamization. An example of this would be the effects of the international phenomenon called “the resurgence of Islam”.

Toward Islamic Anthropology: Introduction

A. The Science of Anthropology

This study is speculatory and concerns a difficult and complex subject. Its task is made more difficult as it defends a metaphysical position, advances an ideological argument and serves a moral cause. It will, therefore, remain an incomplete part of an on-going process in the debate on key issues in contemporary Muslim society.

Toward Islamic Anthropology: Anthropological Fieldwork

The work of the anthropologist is to study other cultures. Through them he learns to understand his own culture, and equally important, himself. He remains essentially a seeker. In the distant village and among strange people he comes face to face ith himself - a chilling prospect. In that encounter is reflected his true self. His writing too reflects the encounter. The Pukhtuns say, "What we see in ourselves, we see in the world." Perhaps anthropologists would do well to keep the Pukhto proverb in mind.

Progress in the natural sciences often involves setting up experimental situations in the laboratory, and then seeing whether what happens confirms or disproves hypotheses previously formulated. Social scientists cannot usually test their hypotheses about human institutions in quite this way. Their laboratory is society itself, and where a researcher is dealing with human beings, other considerations besides the desire for knowledge, such as the subject's general well-being, legal and moral standards, and the national interest must have primacy. For this reason it is rarely feasible in social science to set up experimental situations on the natural science model. It is even less feasible to arrange that such situations are repeated under conditions which are for all practical purposes identical, as natural scientists do. The human experience is unique and not transferable to the chemist's experimental laboratory.

Toward Islamic Anthropology: Theoretical Frames in Western Anthropology

If it is virtually nonexistent in the Muslim world, anthropology in the West is in a state of general theoretical stagnation. Alarmist titles such as "Crisis of British Anthropology" (Banaji 1970) and "The Future of Social Anthropology: Disintegration or Metamorphosis?" (Needham 1970) reflect this. Apart from extending or varying the classical theoretical themes, contemporary anthropology has produced no major recent work. In addition, an acute sense of crisis accentuated by real problems – the shrinking job market, disappearing "primitive" groups, the emergence of "native anthropologists" - troubles the discipline. In particular the confidence of Western anthropology appears to be shaken by the emergence of the "native anthropologist". A leading Western anthropologist of Columbia University notes, "Akbar Ahmed's critique (1976) is also launched, although in a different sense, from within, since he represents one of those specters that haunts the anthropologist, a native of the society being studied" (Vincent 1978:185). Following is a brief summary of the major theoretical framework of Western anthropology.

Toward Islamic Anthropology: The Orientalist Anthropologist

Edward Said's Orientalism is a powerful indictment of the subject and its practitioners. He states explicitly the prejudices and tendentious arguments of the Orientalists. It is also altogether too passionate and angry an argument. Because of the power and passion, the more down-to-earth simpler weaknesses of Orientalist scholarship are left out. For instance, rather than accusing Bernard Lewis of mental exhaustion, moral bankruptcy etc., I would have, as an anthropologist, pointed out some of the conceptual weaknesses in his study. His categories of tribe and peasant in society are seriously at fault (Lewis 1966). The one is often employed for the other. This to an anthropologist is not a minor slip.

Toward Islamic Anthropology: Islamic Anthropology

A. The Problem of Definition

It would appear from the previous section that anthropology is, if not a child, a creation of the West and more specifically Western imperialism. This is not so. The work of Ibn Khaldun is reflected - with theoretical frame and supporting data - in that of some of the most influential contemporary Western theorists including Karl Marx, Max Weber, Vilfredo Pareto and Ernest Gellner. Weber's typology of leadership, Pareto's circulation of elites, and Gellner's pendulum swing theory of Muslim society betray the influence of Ibn Khaldun. It is indeed a tragedy that the science of sociology or anthropology did not develop after Ibn Khaldun. And Ibn Khaldun was not alone. There were al Biruni, Ibn Battuta and al Mas'udi, to name a few.

Toward Islamic Anthropology: Conclusion

A. Recommendations

Muslims cannot dismiss Western - or more correctly non-Muslim - scholarship out of hand. They must come to terms with it. For instance, anyone reading about the Pukhtun will probably come to them through Caroe. The inaccuracies will thus be perpetuated. The inaccuracies extend even to the name "Pathan" for "Pukhtun" or "Pushtun", a name invented and now confirmed for that tribal group. If Muslims are to object to such scholarship, they can only do so by creating their own alternative scholarship rather than by verbally berating Western scholarship.

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