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Muslim Epistemology : An Analytical Appraisal of Islamization of Knowledge PDF Print E-mail

Muhammad Amin

Muslim epistemology means Islamic theory of knowledge or the Islamic concept of knowledge. It discusses nature of knowledge, its sources, objectives and scope, its types and branches, which branch of knowledge is useful and should be acquired, which one is harmful and should better be avoided, what is possible to know, and what is simply not possible to know, how can knowledge be acquired etc.

The discussion of epistemology is not merely theoretical as it has a close bearing on human thought and behavior in individuals and the society at large. Epistemology, in fact, is the product of the worldview of a society (its concept of man, the universe and the deity).The concept of knowledge in a society gives birth to different disciplines and branches of knowledge, educational philosophy and institutional infra-structure. Education plays a key role in the character building of individuals who in turn make up the society and develop a civilization.

The importance of epistemology should be evident from the fact that the Noble Quran provides detailed guidance in this regard, and the subject also gets high priority in the Ahadith. For instance, Imam Bukhari, in his Sahih, has set the chapter on Ilm (knowledge) immediately after the Book of Revelation and the Book on Iman, and it is an exhaustive study spread over sixteen chapters. Similarly, Muslim ulema and scholars, theologians, thinkers and the Sufis (mystics) have attached great importance to knowledge and discussed it at length. (2) Accordingly, Imam Ibne Abdul Barr, Syed Ali Hajveri, Ibne Sina, Imam Ghazali, Ibne Rushd, Ibne Khuldoon, Ibne Arabi, Ibne Taimiyah, Mullah Sadrah, Shah Wali Ullah, Shah Ismail Shaheed, and in the recent past Allama Muhammad Iqbal, Maulana Syed Abul Ala Maudoodi, and Dr. Rafi Uddin have made valuable contribution in this field. (3)


Muslim history also bears witness to the fact that the Islamic ideology of life brought about all embracing spiritual, moral and conceptual development of the Muslims during the period of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) and his companions,  and the Muslims made remarkable advancement in every sphere of knowledge, religious, as well as secular including social sciences, technology and natural sciences. However, after about one thousand year, deviation of the Muslims from their worldview coupled with the absence of a proper system of education and Tarbiyah, internal dissention and various other factors weakened the Muslim world and they became slaves of the strong Western nations. The awakened sections in the Muslim society continued their resistance against the oppressive forces and were finally successful in throwing away the yoke of slavery within a century or two. But as is always the case, the oppressive forces don’t occupy lands only, they also enslave minds and hearts of the oppressed nations. Accordingly, after invading the Muslim states, the Western Imperialism wound up the educational system of the Muslims, replacing it with their own based on the Western worldview and epistemology. This strategy enable them to create a class of the local Muslims which were Muslim in name but practically loved the Western values and culture in all respects. (4)

Consequently, when the turn of events forced the Western nations to concede political freedom to the Muslims, they were successful in handing over power to the class which had been captivated by the glamour of Western thought and civilization. The net result was that the Western concept of life and knowledge remained acceptable in those liberated Muslim states and the educational system introduced by the colonial rules continued except with some cursory changes made under the pressure of religious groups and the general public. The Ulema who had succeeded in preserving the religious education to some extent by establishing Madrasas (religious schools) during the colonial rule did not realize their responsibilities in the newly liberated set up and stuck to their old education system which had no room for secular knowledge and disciplines. This was the overall situation for the last three quarters of a century although some Muslim thinkers advocated that an educational system founded on the Western worldview and epistemology did not provide solution to the problems of the Muslim world, and that the Muslims should evolve their own educational system based on the Islamic worldview and epistemology. The writings of Allama Muhammad Iqbal, Syed Abul Ala Maudoodi and Dr. Rafi Uddin in the recent past, especially in the Indian subcontinent, established this point.

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