Islamization of Knowledge Reflections on Priorities

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Mohammad Nejatullah Siddiqi

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Abstract

The assumptions on which the Islamization of knowledge project was linked to the movement for restoration of Islam to a position of leadership and dominance in contemporary society may not have all been correct. Knowledge creation and beneficial use of new knowledge are two distinct though complementary processes. Each has its own requirement. Morality rooted in spirituality is decisive in ensuring that new knowledge is used beneficially. But creation of new knowledge requires freedoms of thought and discussion, encouragement of creativity and innovation, and toleration of dissent and diversity. It requires a mindset that can entertain ambiguity, one that does not hasten to discard potential spoilers of legacies long established as sacred ‒ requirements which the sponsors of the Islamization of knowledge project might have failed to give due weight. The project can be revived only by recognizing the primacy of expanding knowledge over the necessity of ensuring proper use of knowledge. It is in the nature of the first, expansion of knowledge (by creating new knowledge) that is universal. Differences of faith or moral vision, so important in the context of the second stage (putting knowledge to good use) need not stand in the way of cooperation and collaboration in the first stage. Have the sponsors of the Islamization project neglected this truth? What could be worse: have they abdicated the first step in their eagerness to do justice to the second? This paper concludes by inviting Islamization enthusiasts to join the rest of humanity in expanding knowledge, while simultaneously working for creating universal awareness of what makes use of knowledge beneficial and prevents the fatal error of allowing laissez-faire in the use of knowledge. I also argue that conceiving of knowledge as a tool for power and hegemony can be frustrating if not outright destructive. Last but not the least, we cannot know all that needs be known and, no less important, not everything is known with the same degree of certainty. Humility requires we recognize our limits. Ambiguity and a degree of uncertainty is built into the human situation. It cannot be wished away. Having adopted a humble stance, the way forward is to share the quest of knowledge and its proper use with all and everyone.

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