RSIA-01 Islamic Approach to Knowledge

This is the 1st & 2nd section of a DRAFT of Chapter 1 of a proposed new textbook on Real Statistics: An Islamic Approach — This Chapter introduces an Islamic Approach to knowledge, and how this differs from the Western approach. I would like to get feedback and comments from readers in order to create a final version of this for textbook. Readers can add comments directly on the SHARED Google Document: ISM01main. Or they can add comments below this post. Note that Hyperlinks connect to additional material which is NOT part of this lecture — if some material from those references should be included here, readers can add remarks to this effect. Also, you can add comments on the 90m You-Tube Video Lecture which corresponds to this chapter:

Sections 1&2 are given below. Sections 3&4 are given in the next post – RSIA01b Value of Knowledge – which also provides links to a shorter Alternative Introductory Video lecture of 42m

Section 1: Introduction

I seek refuge in Allah from the outcast Shaitan, and begin with His Name Allah, who is also Rahman and Rahim:

7:172 When thy Lord drew forth from the Children of Adam – from their loins – their descendants, and made them testify concerning themselves, (saying): “Am I not your Lord (who cherishes and sustains you)?”- They said: “Yea! We do testify!” (This), lest ye should say on the Day of Judgment: “Of this we were never mindful”:

Allah T’aala created all of us, and made us recognize Him as our Lord, prior to sending us to this world. The object of our life on this Earth is to live with full awareness and recognition of our Creator. All useful knowledge is a means to this end. The prophet Mohammad SAW delivered to us the message of Allah, which is both complete and perfect.

5:3 This day have I perfected your religion for you, completed My favour upon you, and have chosen for you Islam as your religion.

According to a prophecy of our Prophet Mohammad s.a.w., the Deen of Islam came as a stranger, and it will become a stranger. Over the past few centuries, Muslims as a whole have moved far from the Deen in their individual and collective lives. The rise to global power of the West has led to spread of many types of ideas and philosophies very much in conflict with the central message of Islam. Central to Western secular thought is the idea that certain realms of knowledge fall outside the scope of religion. Because the West has taken the lead in many realms of knowledge, Muslims have been forced to study, adopt and accept these western ideas. The project of Islamization of knowledge is an attempt to acquire the useful aspects of western advances in knowledge, while removing the harmful secular and atheistic components. This has been difficult to do because many ideas conflicting with Islamic views are buried within foundational assumptions of Western knowledge and not openly stated or discussed. Nonetheless, it is an issue of high priority because how Muslim youth are trained will have a big impact on our future. Current methods of training borrowed from the West are highly unsuitable, for many reasons discussed in “An Islamic Worldview: An Essential Component of an Islamic Education”. At the same time, we cannot afford to bypass or ignore Western contributions to the stock of human knowledge. Finding a suitable way to accomplish both objectives is our goal.

This textbook is part of the project of Islamization of Knowledge. We will study statistics in a way that is in accordance with Islamic teachings. Islamic views on knowledge, as well as the methodology for teaching and learning, differ radically from Western views.  One of the central ideas of Western secular thinking is that knowledge can be compartmentalized – some areas of knowledge (like science, mathematics, etc.) have no relation to religion. We will show that Islam sheds light on all areas of knowledge.  We will show how radically our perspectives on the subject change when the contents are assimilated into a meaningful framework defined by Islam.  These differences will be illustrated concretely in the course of these lectures on introductory statistics for Muslims.

We will start by studying the process of teaching and learning. The prophet Mohammad s.a.w. was sent as a teacher, and Islam has a vast collection of important principles about how to teach and learn. The widely imitated Western approach to education carries no hints of these principles, which are characteristics of an Islamic education. We will only be able to review a few essential elements of these principles in this first lecture.

In this lecture, we will establish that Islam has its own unique approach to knowledge, both for teachers and for students. This approach is radically different from the approach currently being followed in the West, and being blindly imitated in the East. Unfortunately, because Muslims have been content to imitate, this has created an impression that Muslims do not have their own approach. It is essential to counteract this. This is the primary goal of this first lecture.

The Prophet Mohammad S.A.W. was sent as a teacher. He was the best of teachers. Learning the principles of teaching and studying from him leads to the best approaches to teaching and learning. We will distill some principles from these Islamic modes of education and exposit them here.

Section 2:  Knowledge is Among the Greatest Gifts of God.

2:269 He granteth wisdom to whom He pleaseth; and he to whom wisdom is granted receiveth indeed a benefit overflowing; but none will grasp the Message but men of understanding.

The first words of the revelation are powerfully infused with the message of the importance of knowledge:

Q96:1- 5 READ in the name of thy Sustainer, who has- created man out of a germ-cell. Read – for thy Sustainer is the Most Bountiful One who has taught [man] the use of the pen – taught man what he did not know!

Reading & writing are mention thrice in this short passage. Reference is made to the mysteries of creation of man, about which the discoverer of DNA, Francis Crick said:”An honest man, armed with all the knowledge available to us now, could only state that in some sense, the origin of life appears at the moment to be almost a miracle.” – Francis Crick, Nobel Prize winner, “Life Itself: Its Origin and Nature”, 1981 (p. 88)

The bounty of the Lord is mentioned as being teaching man to read and write and giving him knowledge of that which he did not know. This first message is reinforced by many other verses of the Quran and Hadeeth giving central importance to knowledge.

Aboo al-Dardaa said: `Listen. I have heard rasoolullaah sallal-laahu `alayhi wa sallam saying, “Allah ta`aalaa makes the way to jannah easy for one who traverses some distance to seek knowledge. Angels spread their wings under his feet, and all things in the skies and earth (even the fish in the water) ask Allah for his forgiveness. The superiority of a person possessing knowledge over a person doing worship is as the superiority of the moon over the stars. The `ulamaa are the inheritors of rasoolullaah sallal-laahu `alayhi wa sallam. The legacy of the anbiyaa `alayhis-salaam is neither gold nor silver. Their legacy is knowledge. A person who acquires knowledge acquires a great wealth.“‘”

In particular, we must approach knowledge as a means of spiritual advancement, inner transformation, and a means for changing the world around us. It is not a way to earn a living, nor is it “human capital,” a way to increase our value as a means of producing material goods. {see PP1: The First Principle of Pedagogy }

End of Sections 1&2 (with Full Video lecture of 90m); Next Post has Sections 3&4  – RSIA01b Value of Knowledge – which also provides links to a shorter Alternative Introductory Video lecture of 42m

This entry was posted in Education, Islamic Knowledge, methodology, Real Statistics by Asad Zaman. Bookmark the permalink.

About Asad Zaman

BS Math MIT (1974), Ph.D. Econ Stanford (1978)] has taught at leading universities like Columbia, U. Penn., Johns Hopkins and Cal. Tech. Currently he is Vice Chancellor of Pakistan Institute of Development Economics. His textbook Statistical Foundations of Econometric Techniques (Academic Press, NY, 1996) is widely used in advanced graduate courses. His research on Islamic economics is widely cited, and has been highly influential in shaping the field. His publications in top ranked journals like Annals of Statistics, Journal of Econometrics, Econometric Theory, Journal of Labor Economics, etc. have more than a thousand citations as per Google Scholar.

14 thoughts on “RSIA-01 Islamic Approach to Knowledge

  1. Keeping in perspective what Allah (SWT) says in Surah Al-Qasas (Verse 77), I suggest a re-wording of the last paragraph to something like:

    “We must approach knowledge with a primary goal of spiritual advancement, inner transformation and a means of changing the world around us for the better. At the same time, seeking knowledge to gain a livelihood and to make our personal situation better is permissible, as long as our primary objective is not compromised. As Allah(SWT) says in the Quran (28:77):

    But seek, with that (wealth) which Allah has bestowed on you, the home of the Hereafter, and forget not your portion of legal enjoyment in this world, and do good as Allah has been good to you, and seek not mischief in the land. Verily, Allah likes not the Mufsidun (those who commit great crimes and sins, oppressors, tyrants, mischief-makers, corrupts).”

  2. This issue is FAR MORE COMPLEX than it appears on the surface. I will try to provide a detailed response some time later when I have more time. For the moment, I would like to make TWO points – POINT ONE: This ayat is ADDRESSED to QAROON — does it make sense to tell Qaroon that he should not FORGET to enjoy this world? If this does not make sense, then perhaps the meaning of the ayat is different from what it appears on surface. POINT TWO – It is clear from many ayat and ahadeeth that we are not supposed to SELL the ayat of Allah or our knowledge for money. Based on this there has always been a problem about providing suitable justifications for payments to Ulema for teaching Deen. The standard FIX for this is to SEPARATE worldly knowledge from religious knowledge — worldly knowledge is FUN – TRADE SKILL — not knowledge, in which case there is no harm in seeking it for making a living. But, if I DENY existence of secular knowledge, and consider all knowledge as part of deen, then this creates a problem about whether or not we are allowed to seek such knowledge to make money. There is a THIRD POINT also – in an atmosphere where the GOAL of life is pursuit of money, is it permissible to allow this to go without question?

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  6. Sir, with due respect I am sharing a very short review and two comments here.
    This section of first chapter for a subject like statistics is well structured and seems promising. I really enjoyed to read how you have linked the basic concept of knowledge and its importance for mankind. It is understandable that we are facing a big challenge that neither we can completely bypass the western knowledge nor we can adopt it due to its harmful outcomes. So there is need for the alternative Islamic approach in all streams of knowledge we pursue. At two points I feel the need for some details.
    1. In the second last paragraph of the section 1, it is clear that we are blindly imitating the western approach with an impression that Muslims have no alternative approach. Here this thing is very clear in my mind that the alternate Islamic approach is perfected for us and better than what we are following (for several reasons) because I have already read most of your writings. But I think we can have some brief yet strong argument here for those who are reading only this text and may have not followed the other materials.
    2. In the last paragraph of section 2, concept about knowledge is a means to spiritual advancement not a means to earn and be a human capital is very difficult to convey and convince the learners and even the teachers. I think it is major point where we accept the compartmentalization of knowledge by believing that we have to acquire some knowledge for spiritual development and inner transformation and learn some other skills to make the earnings. This can be used as a turning point for the learners and needs more discussion may be in form of some separate writing that can be referred in this chapter’s footnote.

  7. Here are the responses to some discussion questions in our Whats app group on these sections by honorable Dr. Asad Zaman.
    Q1. When we come to the objective of Islamization of knowledge,How we differentiate which parts of western education is good & bad?

    Response: Useful knowledge enters the heart — it teaches us how to LIVE, not how to earn, it teaches us how to make spiritual progress in our journey to God. ALL of Western knowledge is harmful because it ignores the essential – it teaches us how to become a human resource and to make money. It does not teach us how to be a better person. SOME of Western Knowledge CAN BE converted into useful knowledge by USING it for SERVICE of mankind, instead of for personal benefits.
    Q2. (from section 1.) How will we be able to differentiate that knowledge is useless until or unless we learn it. As Dr Asad zaman himself learned and recognized the deception by western knowledge?

    Response: There is too much knowledge around, and students will have to learn too much garbage to see for themselves what is useful or not. So it is better to use and INVERSION methodology, which I have discussed in one of my posts. This means starting from the APPLICATION and then learning theory which helps us to solve, or understand, the real world application. At least then the theory will be USABLE (most theories have NO APPLICATION to real world, and therefore are useless). But the question is good that it is not so easy to find out if something is useful or useless.

    Q3. If learning principles of Islamic education is a first step to as a part of courses. Is not it a matter of personal integrity that how you take Islamic teachings to accomplish your goals!.

    Response: Yes – Islamic teachings is ALWAYS personal — it is directed to the HEARTS of human beings, not to mass production of labor commodity. It does not teach FISH to FLY.

    Q4. Can we challenge rules of educational system by taking such initiatives?

    Response: We have to challenge a system which is designed to turn out standardized robots for jobs. Yes I am working on reform of the educational system – lots of inertia – lots of people with fixed ideas – but many people are interested. Science progresses one funeral at a time. The real hope lies with the younger generation.

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