Islamic education is built on the edifice of sound epistemology, the strand of philosophy, which deals with the nature of knowledge and how we know what we do.
It is one of the great advantages of Islamic civilization that we build on certain foundations. In order to research this matter further, for the first time in 1977, Islamic scholars from around the world met in a conference convened by King AbdulAziz University and held in Makkah.
The resulting proceedings entitled Aims and Objectives of Islamic Education remain as pertinent now as they were then and offer a glimpse into the depth of discourse that is required to take forward an education system founded on Islam. One of the key points that came from the conference was the need to frame western academic discourse in a fashion consistent with Islamic epistemological norms.
What this means is that all sciences should be viewed through the prism of Islamic theology. It is the contention of the author of this article that one of the key reasons why Islamic civilization rose to the grand heights it did was due to the ability of past scholars in fields as diverse as medicine and geology to do just that. This idea removes the dichotomy of secular and religious and in its place provides a theoretical framework for inquiry based on a unified Islamic worldview.
This is actually very difficult to reify, since it is a discourse which must by necessity begin at the level of the principle and the idea, something the great scholars of the Principles of Islamic Jurisprudence, the usuliyuun, of past times would be comfortable dealing with. It requires, at least at the paradigm formation level, an in-depth knowledge of both the occident and the orient, something that, as we see with current discourses in the field of Islamic banking, is difficult to find.
As academics and scholars here work on the reform of education it is vital that this perspective is taken into consideration, that the underlying questions of what we know, how we know it and why are all built into any future curricula.
This is in line with one of the recommendations of the 1977 conference which stated that “A Muslim educational system must articulate Islam’s perception of the individual, society and the physical cosmos in its relation to the creator, Allah, the Almighty.” This is easier said than done but what in essence it entails is the integration of the divine with the worldly to create harmony in the soul and excellence of the mind.
It is noted with interest that many publications from the Institute of Education (INSTED) and the International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilization (ISTAC) at the International Islamic University in Malaysia do just that and act as a fine model for academics seeking to understand how to create such a model.
n Arfan Ismail has a Ph.D, in Applied Linguistics. This article is exclusive to the Arab News.