Self and Knowledge

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M. A. Muqtedar Khan



The contempomy intellectual revival of Muslim societies proposes a
profound but problematic relationship between identity and epistemology,
and between self and knowledge. I propose to elucidate this relationship
and its implications by making a fundamental distinction between self and
identity, and showing how there can be many identities but only one self. I
begin by inquiring into the meaning of identity symbols such as “Islam” or
“Muslim” prior to knowledge. For example, what is the meaning and relationship
between identity and knowledge in Islamization of knowledge or
Islamic Philosophy? In both types of knowledge, identity is prior to knowledge
in an epistemological, as well as an ontological sense.
Ontologically we are suggesting that the existence of Islamic psychology
or Islamic philosophy is contingent on the being of an agency such as Islam
or Muslims. Epistemologically we are arguing that Islam includes a theory
of knowledge, and Islamic principles constitute paradigmatic values from
which Islamic psychology or Islamic philosophy can be derived. Cleqly,
the prefix Islamic gives an identity to knowledge. In other words, there are
certain truth claims which derive their legitimacy not because their truth is
self-evident or rationally deducible or empirically verifiable, but because
they satisfy certain criteria which establishes their identity as Islamic.
The issue of criteria that determine what constitutes knowledge (epistemology)
is indeed crucial. The first thing that needs to be resolved is
whether these criteria are universally intelligible or are functions of culturehdentity
and value systems. I would like to posit that in the realms of
socially meaningful practices it is possible to have relativistic criteria for
determining the validity of social truths. Knowledge about answers to questions
such as Is polygyny or homosexuality acceptable? or Are religious
rights more important than economic rights? may be determined based on
criteria that are located within the corpus of tradition and ethos of a given
cultural milieu This is accomodation of cultural p l d s m . But in the
realms of science and philosophy, reasoning and empirical evidence alone ...

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