Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Islamic Method of Acquiring Knowledge

The following is a chapter from the book 'The Way of thinking' by Hasan Abdullah, soon to be published by Revival Publications.

The Islamic Method of Acquiring Knowledge

The method by which the Muslim acquires knowledge and thought is critical in determining the impact of the Islamic thoughts upon the individual. If the method of acquiring knowledge was correct and based upon research, profound thinking, and analysis as Allah (swt) ordered, then it will produce effective results. And such a person will turn into an ideological person who thinks in a distinct manner. Allah (swt) orders the human being to think about many aspects of His Creation in a profound and enlightened manner:

إِنَّ فِي خَلْقِ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ وَاخْتِلَافِ اللَّيْلِ وَالنَّهَارِ لَآَيَاتٍ لِأُولِي الْأَلْبَابِ

"Verily! In the creation of the heavens and the earth, and in the alternation of night and day, there are indeed signs for men of understanding." [TMQ 3:190]

أَفَلَا يَتَدَبَّرُونَ الْقُرْآَنَ وَلَوْ كَانَ مِنْ عِنْدِ غَيْرِ اللَّهِ لَوَجَدُوا فِيهِ اخْتِلَافًا كَثِيرًا

"Do they not then consider the Qur’an carefully? Had it been from other than Allah, they would surely have found within it many contradictions." [TMQ 4:82]

أَفَرَأَيْتُمُ الْمَاءَ الَّذِي تَشْرَبُونَ (68) أَأَنْتُمْ أَنْزَلْتُمُوهُ مِنَ الْمُزْنِ أَمْ نَحْنُ الْمُنْزِلُونَ (69)

"Tell Me! The water that you drink — is it you who causes it to come down from the rain clouds, or are We the Cause for it to come down?" [TMQ 56:68-69]

خُلِقَ مِنْ مَاءٍ دَافِقٍ (6) يَخْرُجُ مِنْ بَيْنِ الصُّلْبِ وَالتَّرَائِبِ (7)

"He is created from a fluid poured forth — proceeding from between the back bone and the ribs." [TMQ 86:6-7]

أَفَلَا يَنْظُرُونَ إِلَى الْإِبِلِ كَيْفَ خُلِقَتْ (17) وَإِلَى السَّمَاءِ كَيْفَ رُفِعَتْ (18) وَإِلَى الْجِبَالِ كَيْفَ نُصِبَتْ (19) وَإِلَى الْأَرْضِ كَيْفَ سُطِحَتْ (20)

"Do they not look at the camels, how they are created? And at the heaven, how it is raised? And at the mountains, how they are rooted and fixed firm? And at the earth, how it is spread out?" [TMQ 88:17-20]

In all of these ayahs, Allah directs the human being to think and analyze in order to build the Aqeedah of Islam within him through a definite conviction.

Thus, the method that Islam encourages in pursuing knowledge is based upon the intellect and entails thinking, research, and analysis. It is not built upon blind faith, emotional belief, or submission without any discussion. Such methods will not produce a dynamic Iman (belief) and cannot serve either as a foundation for a point of view of life or as a foundation to build other thoughts upon. A person who adopts Islam through these methods will remain a hostage to the concepts that he carried from his previous background. Although such a person may turn to Islam in a limited scope for such aspects as his Ibadat (worship), he will continue in his thinking to refer to other concepts. He will constantly shift between a superficial Iman that is not built upon a correct thinking process and indulging in discussion without a specific frame of mind, which will lead him either to diverging or straying from Islam altogether.

And he will not escape this spiral except by either compromising between what he adopted from Islam and whatever erroneous concepts he already possesses in order to bridge the gap, or by separating Islam from his thinking by restricting Islam to his rituals and thinking in a secular or pragmatic manner. Or by deciding not to think at all except in his livelihood in order to save himself from diverting. All of these options are incorrect and, in reality, will not get the person out of this spiral. Eventually, this cycle with drain the person’s power, particularly his intellectual capacity, which is the most valuable possession of man in this life. Such an endless spiral results from an incorrect method of adopting Islam and acquiring knowledge.
How Muslims Study Islam Today

Examining Muslims today shows that the Muslims acquire Islam through three principle methods:

The Scholastic or Academic Method

This method emphasizes delivering Islam as a curriculum in a scholastic format in which information, and not concepts and thoughts, is the substance. The student-teacher relationship is the approach of this method, and giving instructions constitutes its style. If the student graduates, he will resemble a book that carries information and spits it out, and Islam would consist of nothing more than information dictated to him. Such a person would repeat quotations from scholars and their works without any critical thinking or consideration to the evidences and arguments simply because he cannot do so. His capability would be confined to relaying the information that was handed to him just as a database would download information when programmed to do so.

Studying Islam in this erroneous method will produce neither a thinker based on Islam nor a mujtahid (scholar). But will produce human textbooks, whom the extent of their contributions will be limited to copying the works of others and writing some commentaries on them. Such a method could be useful in studying an information-based discipline such as geography or history. However, it cannot be taken as a method of studying the Aqeedah and the thoughts because the Islamic Aqeedah and its thoughts must be acquired intellectually through a dynamic process of relating the thoughts to the situation until they become firmly-rooted thoughts. And not just theoretical information carried by the person like the words on the pages of a book.

The Emotional Method

The essence of this method entails bringing stories and preaching Islamic personalities. It depends on the emotional approach and not the thinking process in order to push a person to function. Because this approach realizes that emotions by their intrinsic nature can get out of control, it depends on programming the individual in a specific way. The individual who acquires Islam through this method will start learning that discipline and obedience towards the shaykhs and the mas’ooleen is a part of Islam.

This method is, relatively speaking, a new method because it was influenced by the psychological-based sciences that came with disciplines such as psychology, sociology, and education. This approach does not regard man, life and the universe as the subject of thinking and research but instead places the human psyche and its development as the ultimate objective. The scope of thinking and research remains restricted to the psyche of the individual through promoting its positive aspects and treating its negative aspects. Also, it connects such individuals with the mas’ooleen and the shaykhs emotionally in the same manner that a person is connected with his father or therapist. As a result, those who acquired Islam in this way are attached to certain personalities whom they regard as holy and follow as examples without any thinking.

Such a method does not produce intellectuals, thinkers, or mujtahids, nor does it claim to produce them. It could be used in dealing with the young children or with those who do not think and therefore look forward to those who would think on their behalf and relieve them of the burden of thinking. This approach could also apply to those who do not think and are seeking a group of people to associate with in order to enjoy the social environment and activities that this group or tribe provides them, such as friendship, visits, and collective activities involving ibadat, trips, and sports. Therefore, this method cannot initiate the revival of the Ummah, nor can it provide the Ummah with the thought and the awareness needed for such a revival.

The Sufi Method

This approach is influenced by the notion that the human being consists of two components – the spirit and the material aspect – that are mutually antagonistic. Thus, the human being has a spiritual momentum that must be elevated, and the only way to do so is to deprive the body of its physical needs. This process continues until the person attains a level where he merges with God and he sees God in himself. From the vantage point of this method, Islam and its rules as mere signs and symbols guiding the person in his path towards God. The value of these rules and symbols lay in comprehending their concealed or hidden meanings, what the Sufis call the "Haqiqah" or the reality. This "Haqiqah" is distinct from what they refer to as the apparent meaning, which they use to denote the Shariah.

Sufism upholds the idea of Fatalism in which everything is predestined and man has no will of his own. Thus, the Sufis claim that a person must surrender to his situation and cannot change it. Furthermore, Sufism encourages the human being to live in seclusion and give the natural phenomena in the universe a metaphysical interpretation. The Sufis also encourage passiveness, total surrender to the reality, and being careless about the reality because, according to their claim, these qualities characterize the one who suppresses himself, his desires, and his physical inclinations. These qualities are needed for the one who wants to conceal his mind because they constitute the first step towards evanescence and merging into God’s entity.

Some people who either failed in the life or who just look to the Deen as an escape from the current situation may use this approach as an outlet of contentment or solace. This is an extremely dangerous approach because it kills the awareness and the thinking in the Ummah and propagates passiveness and total surrender to the status quo without any attempt to change it.

To be continued...

Hasan Abdullah

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