Monday, 20 October 2008

Different Approaches of Islamization of Knowledge

(Below is an excerpt from my paper 'Islamization of Knowledge: Current Development and Future Trends' presented in a Seminar on Philosophy of Science in 2001)

To indulge on the issue of the origin and originator of the Islamization concept is to indulge into a meaningless argument which reaches to no end. It is meaningless because it does not serve any great significance. Sufficient to say, the idea, or in this case the movement, was given the limelight it deserves in 1982 with the publication of the book Islamization of Knowledge: General Principles and Work Plan, written by Isma’il al Faruqi. This work provoked critical responses from scholars, both Western and Muslims, and has resulted in a series of conferences, research, books, and to a large extent the formation of the first international Islamic university in Malaysia.

Not everyone however, shared al Faruqi’s approach towards Islamization. Agreements varied and this ultimately resulted into several other approaches. Christopher Furlow, from the Department Anthropology, University of Florida, in his article ‘The Islamization of Knowledge: Philosophy, Legitimation, and Politics’, published in the journal Social Epistemology (Vol.10, 3, 1996) has categorized these different approaches into three major groups: modernization, indigenization and nativization. The following are summaries of each approach.

1. Modernization

The advocates of this modernist approach hold that "science is value free, neutral and objective." Any values that surround science are "primarily personal in nature and therefore do not effect the content of science." Knowledge is considered universal. What makes it different or in this case Islamic or un-Islamic is the application. Application in this case covers both intention and action. Two major figures in this approach are physicists Muhammad Abdus Salam and Jamal Mimoumi. Both view modern science as a Graeco-Islamic legacy and state that "natural sciences are as Islamic as nature could be." There is no need then to Islamize science and knowledge. Knowledge should be pursued no matter from where or whom the source is. Knowledge is Islamic or Islamized if and when it is used in the path of Allah and towards the betterment of mankind.

2. Indigenization

The indigenists’ goal is "the production of knowledge relevant to the specific problems of Islamic countries." While they argue that Western philosophy should not be adopted in its totality in an Islamic education system, they are none-the-less unwilling to discard the whole enterprise altogether. The goal then is an integration of Western sciences and Islamic revealed knowledge. For this to be achieved, the Muslim world will have to produce scholars who are endowed with both Western modern disciplines and Islamic revealed knowledge. This is the approach championed by the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT), and the Association of Muslim Social Scientists (AMSS). And among its major proponents are almarhum Isma'il al Faruqi, Sheikh Waqar Husaini and Sheikh Taha Jabir al-Alwani. How this integration is to be achieved is firmly outlined in the 12 steps of the Islamization of Knowledge Work Plan of al Faruqi.

3. Nativization

If the modernists argue science should be approached as it is, and for the indigenists, an integration of Western modern sciences and Islamic revealed knowledge and heritage, the nativists propose the creation of a completely new Islamic science. For them, Islamic science should not be an adaptation of the modernist model of science, rather it is a new and different science that must be built upon the foundations of Islamic epistemology. Two main models of this approach are the Ijmali’s model, led by Ziauddin Sardar, Parvez Manzoor and Munawar Anees, and the model of Seyyed Hoessein Nasr. The Ijmalis' ultimate aim is to apply universal Islamic concepts to contemporary situation "... and (to) address the issues of modern Islamic civilization from within its own worldview." For Hoessein Nasr, the goal of this new Islamic science is "the demonstration of the interrelatedness of all things." And to achieve this, knowledge should be pursued from a Tawhidic perspective whose pre requisites include total rejection of Western philosophy and science.


musty12 said...

Enjoyed reading this blog. I think what matters when we deal with science is the ethical framework which surrounds the endeavour. Science should never be divorced from ethics but be regulated by the latter. Even hardcore evolutionists such as Dawkins believe this. Now, the question then falls on what ethical system is to be employed. Is there only one ethical framework out there in the world? Is that Islam? It would be a traversty for ethics if it was allocated to the domain of one ideology. Ethics is vibrant, dynamic and inclusive. No one ethical system is absolute and and all ethical systems should engage with each other in the spirit of human discourse to arrive at the best possible course to take with regards to science. Peace.

Zaki Samsudin said...

Dear Musty12,

Thank you for your kind remarks.

Islam is the ethical framework that all Muslim scientists should adhere to. But definitely is not the only one. Other religious-cultural traditions have their own set of values, most of which are commonly shared amongst all religions, and they ought to shape the worldview and ethical framework of their respective followers.

At the same time, on the dynamism of ethics, I agree totally that all ethical systems should constantly engage. Different times in history pose different challenges. Hence, ethical systems should evolve in tandem with these changes in the overall environment. As such, I think it is quite possible to describe an individual's ethical standards as Islamic-utilitarian, or Islamic-hedonism etc, despite of the fact that some people may cynically view such connections as a 'philosophical impossibility'.

Thank you.