By Abdulhamid A. Abusulayman
The Islamization of knowledge may be a way out of the epistemological borders of the West for Muslims to establish the authenticity of their civilization once again. It is hoped that an experimental project being conducted in Malaysia will yield good results for the fulfilment of the Islamization of knowledge.
The Islamization of Knowledge is a project that concerns knowledge, learning, and education. It originated and developed in the minds and consciences of a group of Muslims who were aware of the spirit and cultural power that lay behind the greatness of Islamic civilization, and knew the role they themselves could play in elevating human civilization as a whole to new horizons.
Characterized by a high measure of sophistication, wisdom, and proficiency from the scholarly and professional experience of its members, the group knew how effective Islamic values had been in securing the Ummah an eminent position in human history and how this had served as a starting point for other nations that later developed their cultures and achieved their aims.
Advocating and strongly believing in the Islamization of Knowledge, the group envisioned the combining of the disciplines of Islamic history and culture with both contemporary culture and science, in other words, a remarkably intellectual integration of knowledge fusing the disciplines of revealed knowledge and those of human and technological sciences.
The integration of knowledge advocated by the group is reflected in the early writings of some of its members, in works such as The Islamic Theory of Economics: Philosophy and Contemporary Means (1960), and in the group’s efforts to establish a major Islamic cultural society, the Muslim Students Association in the USA in 1963. This particular association grew and became a nucleus for important Islamic institutions sponsored by the Islamization of Knowledge movement, the most important (from an intellectual perspective), being the Association of Muslim Social Scientists in the United States and Canada (established in 1972), the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT, 1981), and the Child Development Foundation (1999).
The rationale of the Islamization of Knowledge is the conviction that the Ummah’s crisis and performance deficiencies lie first and foremost in the distortions that have plagued Islamic thought, disrupting its unity of knowledge, and transforming it into a stagnant textual body of knowledge. These distortions in turn also marginalized the role of human knowledge within the structure and performance of Islamic thought. They destroyed the seeds of human disciplines, which had started to sprout in the secondary origins of the principles and concepts of Islamic jurisprudence. The result was the decline of the Ummah’s institutions, unity, and ruling regimes. Moreover, religious discourse came to develop an intimidating character, which, with the widespread phenomenon of intellectual impotence and political despotism, pushed the Ummah into a passive role, causing it to lose its creative, cultural energy, and suffer humiliation and backwardness. We know a reluctant and scared person does not make any effort beyond the minimum required, whereas generosity, dedication, and creativity are characteristics of a willing and warm-hearted person.
The Islamization of Knowledge is a plan to reformulate Islamic thought, using as its starting point Islamic beliefs and Islam’s humanitarian, global, and civilizational principles based on tawhid and deputation. The plan aims at recapturing the positive, comprehensive Islamic vision, with a view to reforming the approach to education, built on an indissoluble integration of divine and human knowledge. The plan addresses the reality of human life on earth with the aim of realizing the purposes of Islamic Law - namely, conciliation and welfare — and observes the principles of reason and the divine laws of the universe. It thus provides the necessary tools to purify and refine Islamic culture and remove the distortions, and the superstition, charlatanism, impurities, and illusions that have infiltrated it. Ultimately, it will provide sound educational and cultural inputs to reform the mental and psychological constitution of Muslim individuals and of the Ummah and raise generations endowed with strength, ability, and productivity.
The IIIT regards its basic task as to alert intellectuals and educators, regardless of their specializations and orientations, to the nature of the crisis and aspects of educational reform. This will consequently allow them to also shoulder their responsibility in cultural reforms and development, work towards the improvement and validation of educational curricula, and the stimulation of the Ummah’s potential energy so that its progress may be improved.
Towards this end, the IIIT has cooperated with the Muslim intellectual elites throughout the world in joint efforts that have provided Muslim thinkers and scholars with platforms for dialog and significant scholastic contribution. The Institute’s efforts have led to the establishment of centres and institutions, the organisation of conferences and symposia, and the publication of books and periodicals in Arabic, English, and other languages spoken both in the Muslim world and elsewhere. It has also sponsored joint activities with all concerned with the question of intellectual and educational reform.
All this represents a hope, a promise, and a serious issue of great significance, offered for academic and scholarly discussion, to explore and apply in the reconstruction of the Ummah’s thought and its civilizational foundations. This is one of the most important foundations for the creation of conditions necessary for the awakening of the Ummah, to activate its potential energy, and to carry out its civilizational enterprise in the service of humanity.
THE ISLAMIZATION OF KNOWLEDGE EXPERIMENT AT THE INTERNATIONAL ISLAMIC UNIVERSITY OF MALAYSIA (IIUM)
In 1956, Malaysia became an independent country and started to feel its way toward building itself as a new state. The Malaysian leadership recognized the role Islam could play in stimulating the energy potential of its Muslim population and, influenced by the First Conference on Islamic Education, held in Makkah in 1977, founded the International Islamic University (IIUM) in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in 1984 after an international agreement with the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC). The IIUM, which has since grown from strength to strength, was meant to be part of a system of international Islamic universities, as envisioned by the OIC, to focus, within their overall curricula, on Islamic culture.
Malaysia’s leaders recognized the nature of the constructive, civilizational, and reformative thought contributed by the IIIT which held one of its international conferences, on the Islamization of Knowledge and Reform of the Cognitive System, in Kuala Lumpur in 1984. Anwar Ibrahim, the Malaysian Minister of Education at the time, had had a close relationship with the Institute since the time he served as a member of the General Secretariat of the World Assembly of Muslim Youth in Riyadh. Therefore, in 1988, he invited the IIIT to support the fledgling university, with a 1,000 number student population. The Ministry requested the Institute to second one of its members to put the concepts of the Islamization of Knowledge into a university educational plan that would serve Islam and support the reform and development efforts in Malaysia.
The Institute, represented by one of its thinkers with experience in organization and university education, took charge of the University between 1988—1999, during which time both its physical and academic construction were completed. The curricula of its colleges covered all the disciplines of Islamic studies and human sciences, in addition to architecture, engineering, and medicine. The university had two campuses, as well as an additional campus for preparatory courses in Arabic and English. It also offered complementary courses for those students whose educational systems failed in some aspects to meet their needs and the University’s requirements, such as students from the former Soviet Union and students of general education who had only had eleven years of pre-college schooling.
BODY AND SOUL
The planning of the two campuses – the main in Kuala Lumpur and the medical campus in Kuantan, consisting of the School of Medicine and the Faculty of Science – was carefully thought out and designed to express, both ideologically and physically, concepts of the Islamization of Knowledge and its premises. These concepts and foundations are particularly embodied in the Kuala Lumpur campus, the construction of which was completed in 2006, excluding certain affiliate facilities and services.
The University today has an enrolment of some 15,000 students, and its achievements are not merely a matter of creation and innovation in curricula and programs. It is, in its own right, one of the most elegant campuses in the world, expressed in the structure and beauty of its Islamic architecture and efficiency of performance in the best of Islamic values.
The mosque is situated in the middle of the campus and represents its spiritual centre, with student and staff traffic continuously flowing around its walls in all directions. It is an important arena for cultural and spiritual activities. The grounds of the campus and the way its facilities have been designed to connect with each other provide a spirit of cultural and social intimacy. Moreover, the locations of the student hostels and recreational and sports facilities carefully observe Islamic criteria, ensuring, in addition to performance efficiency, the privacy and freedom of each of the two sexes. The objective has always been to uphold Islamic standards of morality in the relations between the sexes and to respond to all their psychological, social, cultural, recreational, and sports needs in the best manner.
DISCIPLINES OF ISLAMIC REVEALED KNOWLEDGE AND THE HUMAN SCIENCES
The core of the IIUM system has always been its academic and educational curriculum. The syllabus embodies the goals of the Islamization of Knowledge, having been developed to remedy intellectual and methodological distortions, to build a mechanism for cultural refinement, and rebuilding the new generations of this Ummah, both psychologically and educationally.
The most important task on the agenda of the IIUM administration was to confront the distortion of knowledge and methodology and to recruit alternative, educated work groups, characterized by unity of thought, knowledge and thoroughness of approach. The most important field for this alternative academic approach was that of Islamic studies and the humanities.
To achieve this, the Faculty of Islamic Revealed Knowledge and the Human Sciences was established. The largest college, it comprised all specializations in Islamic studies and the social and human sciences. For professional reasons, the disciplines of economics, administrative studies, and law were excluded, although their syllabi were to have the same purpose and objectives.
The cornerstone of the academic system of this college – aspiring to realize the goal of the unity of Islamic knowledge, the reform of methods of thought, and the training of alternative educated groups of leaders and professionals — was the development of a double-major, credit-hour system.
Under this double-major system, every student specializing in Islamic studies had to choose a cognate major in one of the human sciences. Likewise, any student majoring in the humanities had to have Islamic studies as a cognate major. Students who were willing to study for one additional year could fulfil the requirements of a second bachelor’s degree in the cognate major. The university encouraged this option. These students would finally have two university degrees, one in Islamic studies and the other in the social science subject that they had originally chosen as a cognate major.
This duality of knowledge and specialization is a system which provides students with not only a wide scope of knowledge, complementary in orientation and tools, and a superior comprehension of the dimensions of spiritual, ethical, and social life, it also trains them in particular (the analogy method in Islamic study) and general (the methods of the social sciences) methodological complementarity with various study tools of these methods. This is a very important methodological element in the integrated cultivation of student mentality and of future performance skills.
This system of study serves to expand the students’ intellectual capabilities to include the general, social aspects (social studies) in addition to the personal and spiritual aspect (religious and ethical studies). With these expanded capabilities, students acquire the intellectual tools to interact with the soul and the psychological and cognitive spirit of the Ummah. In addition, the dual system opens the door to a wider range of employment for students. Consequently, the skills of these young people are utilized and their dignity is safeguarded, particularly in countries which have Muslim minorities, or in poor Muslim countries where employment opportunities are scarce, especially in religious services.
With a degree in social sciences — coupled with a mastery of the English language (the language of instruction of technical courses), and Arabic, (the language of instruction in religious subjects) – graduates have the ability to work in any appropriate civil field they wish. They are qualified for employment in the civil service, in the teaching profession, or in private business. They do not have to enter, as often is the case with Islamic studies graduates from some Islamic universities, a profession which does not suit their abilities and training. Graduates qualified in both Islamic and social studies have, by any standard, a more thorough knowledge and a wider range of thinking, comprehension, performance, and efficiency than others.
Under this system, the University admits graduates from one of the major universities into its postgraduate programs if they meet its requirements, which call for a good background in the subjects of revealed knowledge, as well as any field of human science in which the student has majored.
For example, students who want to study any of the disciplines of Islamic Law at M.A. or Ph.D. level have the chance to do so after completing the requirements of that discipline. These include mastering Arabic and completing the required number of basic courses in Islamic studies. On the other hand, if the applicants are graduates of a department of Islamic studies, they have to meet the basic requirements of a social studies subject and English, in addition to Arabic, which they are supposed to have already mastered.
Although the International Institute of Islamic Thought had offered this idea to some universities in the Muslim world, they later abandoned the system and reverted to the single-major system in their postgraduate Islamic studies. The reason was that these universities could not develop a good program of social studies or effective courses of Arabic for non-native speakers. However, by reducing the period of study, they gave quantity a greater importance over quality.
The system at IIUM has been successful for several reasons. Most important is the large number of graduates of the University itself, with Islamic and social studies majors, who seek admission into postgraduate studies at the University.
In addition, the IIUM has developed its program of Arabic for non-native speakers into a series of courses that ranks as the best in that field. Moreover, graduates of other universities are highly interested in being admitted to the IIUM’s postgraduate program. The fact that mastering Arabic and English is a prerequisite for their admission makes those who know only one or neither of the two languages work hard in their home countries to catch up with or join the University preparatory program at their own expense. Thus, the IIUM does not have a shortage of applicants for its postgraduate programs. In fact, the demand is higher than it can accommodate. This allows those programs, with the integration of knowledge and the methods of investigation and research they offer, to fill the intellectual arena with people who have experience and knowledge covering the various disciplines of natural and human sciences from an Islamic perspective based on the principles, values, and purposes of Islam.
The development of course assignments in each discipline, taught from an Islamic perspective, has been regularly monitored. These courses cover the whole syllabus that students of the same level study at secular universities, with the addition of a critical Islamic evaluation and a survey of any Islamic viewpoints that have materialized in the field in question. With this approach, the Islamic perspective suddenly has a voice, is elevated in its own right, and provides a considerable academic contribution which enriches the educational disciplines. It is envisaged that with time, this enrichment will prove its validity and credibility. It will grow in various fields to make a real contribution, serving the Ummah’s interests in cognitive development. The quality of graduates that would emerge, whether in their performance levels or their achievement, will also offer Islamic perspectives in intellectual and scientific spheres.
Several academic courses and fields of study that relate to the Ummah’s concerns, needs, and perspective have been designed. These are courses in religion, philosophy, law, the humanities, economics, and administration. They are listed in the University Bulletin for undergraduate and postgraduate studies as part of the curricula of various colleges and departments.
In this context, one can mention Western Studies, in particular, which began as a part specialization and gradually developed into a major subject. It is now a department that offers a conceptually accurate and perceptive study of Western history, thought, and culture. The graduates of this department are specialists that help the Muslim mentality to understand the West itself, as well as its cultural and human contributions and transgressions. This can be useful in dialog and interaction with the West. It contributes to the fulfilment of Islamic reform aspirations and to the development of relations with the West. These ought to be based on active and constructive cooperation that overcomes grievances, grudges, and acts of aggression that are encouraged by the backwardness, weakness, and division of the Muslim World. The Ummah’s interaction with the achievements of modern civilization and societies can thus be based on objective understanding and methodological foundations. The Muslim mind can then confront this civilization as a system that has its own characteristics, foundations, and purposes, with the understanding that interaction with it is aimed at positive, mutual, and fertile cooperation, for the good of the human race and its global civilization.
In physics, engineering, and similar fields, the Islamization of Knowledge does not deal with scientific facts per se, but as to how these are put to use for the service of humanity. Differences and variations, however, come from the methods used in dealing with, utilizing, and benefiting from, these facts and laws. This includes the ethical standards observed in using them, whether for progress or destruction, for seeking benefit or causing harm. All these things are concerns of the Islamic faith, covered by its culture, science philosophy, and ethics of research and professional practice. In this regard, there are different schools of thought, attitudes, purposes, and cultures. The Islamic perspective functions to ameliorate and guide, distinguishing good from evil, benefit from harm, and humanitarian concerns from barbaric actions, and restoring the spirituality and nobility of life and its purposes.
Another aspect that relates to natural sciences and their study is an awareness of the history and contributions of the Ummah. This is in order to establish historical justice and free it from the Western bias, and to enhance self-confidence among Muslims with scientific knowledge. This can serve as a stimulation to resume the process and as a means to learn the lessons of how the progress in the past was impeded, how the way was lost, and how the Muslim mind deviated from its seriousness and objectivity into a world of illusion, superstition, and backwardness.
What is important in formulating the mechanism of the Islamization of Knowledge approach is the concept of program development. This means continuity and persistent application of effort to achieve civilizational ends. It is a continuing process of development and urgency that enriches thought and culture and meets the needs and conditions of live, developing societies. This process starts from firm ethical points and leads to benign and explicit ends and achievements.
The development of the content and quality of study courses, based on the principles of the Islamization of Knowledge, never stops. It gains momentum with continual revision in light of the experience gained and the interaction with the needs of the Ummah and of society. By supporting the ever renewing cognitive store of students and expanding their horizons, the University equips them with potential educational and psychological abilities that make many corporations and government agencies seek to employ only IIUM graduates. These graduates are characterized by competence, high moral standards, seriousness, education, skills, and potential. Many officials and visitors from other Muslim countries request the IIUM to help them train students in order to acquire graduates of equally outstanding quality and high competence, both educationally and professionally.
To have scientific and technological workforces in great numbers should not be an aim in itself. Instead, we should prepare these workforces to serve the Ummah, meet its needs, and help fulfil its reformative and civilizational aspirations. This includes mastering their specializations with great proficiency, being productive and serious, and having the sense of responsibility that encourages better performance. The reform of education, the refinement of culture, and the pedagogical education of parents are some of the most important areas of the Islamic civilizational reform. The International Institute of Islamic Thought has been working to offer a model and an experiment that embodies its concepts and principles and which proves its validity through a successful release of the potential for young Muslims, the activation of their latent abilities, and proving the excellence of their performance. The International Islamic University in Malaysia has served as an experiment for the revitalization of higher education in the service of the Ummah. It is hoped that under the current conditions in South-East Asia, the University will thrive in its mission and serve as a model for other efforts to serve the Ummah with the revitalization of higher education and the reform of its foundations.
When this is achieved, higher education can, with Allah’s permission, exploit the potentials of the Ummah and stimulate its leadership and educational and professional workforces to serve human civilization and guide its progress.