0712-Research Priorities on Epistemology and Thought

Concept paper written for a series of intellectual seminars in South East Asia in the year 2008 by Dr Omar Hasan Kasule MB ChB (MUK), MPH (Harvard), DrPH (Harvard) Professor of Epidemiology and Islamic Medicine at Universiti Brunei Darussalam and Visiting Professor of Epidemiology at Universiti Malaya 


1.1 The problems

The paper starts from the assertion that 2 internal factors, a knowledge crisis and a thought crisis, are major causes of ummatic weakness. These 2 factors combine to lead to ummatic malaise manifesting in the religious, social, political, economic, technological, and military dimensions. The knowledge crisis can be resolved by reforming education systems and even more important reforming the epistemology methodology of research in the various disciplines of knowledge so that it conforms to the paradigms of tauhid and objectivity, istiqamat. The disciplines to be covered are: education (pedagogy and andragogy), social sciences and humanities (sociology, anthropology, psychology, political science, historiography, literature etc), natural sciences and technology (medical and health disciplines, engineering, architecture, economics, etc). The thought crisis will be resolved by research that identifies and defines problems of the society and then proposed solutions based on the bird-eye view frame-work of the higher purposes of the Law, maqasid al shari’at. Efforts must be made to involve the ulama in the reform process because they retain a lot of influence and are emerging as the sole legitimate leaders of the ummat after failure of the westernized elite that controls government in most Muslim countries. Ulama can be prepared to shoulder their responsibilities in social reform by addressing issues of reforming traditional Islamic education and equipping the ulama with modern leadership, management, and communication skills.


1.2 The imediate tasks

On the practical level, academic seminars need to be held in many places and involving all Muslim intellectuals to discuss the 2 crises. Two types of seminars can be held. General seminars 1-day will introduce the problem and motivate the intellectuals to make contributions. Specialized 1-day seminars will bring together 3-5 specialists in each discipline at a time to present fully written papers on given topics followed by deep and serious discussion after which the authors can revise the papers and have them published online for wide and immediate access with printed versions being made available later. Books and articles written on epistemology and thought in other parts of the world can be made accessible by local intellectuals writing reviews that incorporate commentaries that reflect local problems. These reviews can also be published online for wider access. Special workshops will have to be held for the ulama addressing issues of reform in the traditional Islamic education system as well as leadership, management, and communication skills. A measure of success will be the number of seminars held and the total number of online publications.




The most important manifestation of the knowledge crisis is dichotomy in the education system: traditional Islamic vs. imported European. Integration of the 2 systems has failed. Secularization of education eliminated the moral dimension and violated the aim of Islamic education to produce an integrated and perfect individual, insan kaamil. The ummatic malaise due to the knowledge crisis that started with the fall of the khilafat rashidah when the authentic ‘ulama were marginalized. Society became ‘secularized’ because the rulers were in one valley and the scholars in another valley. This dichotomy between the sources of Islamic guidance and the political leadership of society eventually led to and nurtured the knowledge crisis we have today.



Educational and knowledge reform are a pre requisite for tajdid because tajdiid = idea + action. The vision of the knowledge strategy is an upright balanced person who understands the creator, knows his place, his roles, his rights, and his responsibilities in the cosmic order. The mission of the knowledge strategy is conceptual transformation of the education system from kindergarten to post graduate studies to reflect tauhid, positive moral values, objectivity, universality, and serving the larger causes of humanity.



Modern research is based on the empirical method that unfortunately has Euro-centric biases. There is no contradiction among sources of knowledge: wahy, ‘aql, and kaun. The Qur’anic provides guiding principles for knowledge and building civilization. Muslims taught the empirical methodology to Europeans in the 15th and 6th centuries but forgot it during the era of decline. It is now coming back to them in a new context that reflects the European and not the Islamic world view. Muslims accept the empirical methods but reject concepts added by Europeans that reflect the European and the Muslim world view. A tauhidi universal, objective and unbiased methodology must replace the Euro-centric and philosophically biased context but not the practical experimental methods. The precepts of tauhidi science are: unity of knowledge, comprehensiveness; causality as the basis for human action, limitation of human knowledge, constant and fixed natural laws, harmony between the seen and the unseen, 3 sources of knowledge (wahy, aql, & empirical observation; khilafat; moral accountability; creation and existence have a purpose, truth is both absolute and relative, human free will is the basis of accountability, and tawakkul.



Reform has to start with reforming the epistemology, methodology, and corpus of knowledge of each discipline. It must be pro-active, academic, methodological, objective, and practical. Its vision is objective, universal, and beneficial knowledge in the context of a harmonious interaction of humans with their physical, social, and spiritual environment. Its practical mission is transformation of the paradigms, methodologies, and uses of disciplines of knowledge to conform to tauhid. Its immediate goals are: (a) de-Europeanizing paradigms of existing disciplines to change them from parochiality to universal objectivity, (b) reconstruction of the paradigms using Islamic universal guidelines, (c) re-classifying disciplines to reflect universal tauhidi values, (d) reforming research methodology to become objective, purposeful, and comprehensive (e) growth of knowledge by research, and (f) inculcating morally correct application of knowledge. The Qur’an gives general principles that establish objectivity and protect against biased research methodology. It creates a world-view that encourages research to extend the frontiers of knowledge and its use for the benefit of the whole universe. Scientists are encouraged to work within these Qur’anic parameters to expand the frontiers of knowledge through research, basic and applied.



The first step is a good grounding in Islamic methodological sciences of of usul al fiqh,  ulum al Qur’an, ulum al hadith, and 'uluum al llughat. This is followed by reading the Qur’an and sunnat with understanding of the changing time-space dimensions. This is followed by clarification of basic epistemological issues and relations: wahy and aql, ghaib and shahada, ‘ilm and iman. This is followed by an Islamic critique of basic paradigms, basic assumptions, and basic concepts of various disciplines using criteria of Islamic methodology and Islamic epistemology. Islamic reviews of existing text-books and teaching materials are then undertaken to identify deviations from the tauhidi episteme and the Islamic methodology. The initial output of the islamization process will be Islamic introductions to disciplines, muqaddimat al ‘uluum, establishing basic Islamic principles and paradigms that determine and regulate the methodology, content, and teaching of disciplines. This parallels Ibn Khaldun’s Introduction to History, muqaddimat presented generalizing and methodological concepts on historical events. Publication and testing of new text-books and other teaching materials is a necessary step towards reform by putting into the hands of teachers and students reformed material. Developing applied knowledge in science and technology from basic knowledge will be the last stage of the reform process. This is because in the end it is science and technology that actually lead to changes in society.




Thought failure in the ummah could manifests as intellectual stagnation, syncretism, lack of vision, superficiality, rituality, esoterism, sterile argumentation, and use of un-Islamic intellectual tools. Intellectual stagnation is suppression of the freedom of thought, closure of ijtihad, blind following, taqlid, and fanaticism for a madh’hab. Syncretism, talfiq, is juxtaposition of ideas that are incompatible without attempting to analyse them critically to arrive at a synthesis or favor one of them, tarjiih. There is lack of vision as a guide vision for the present and the future, ru'uyat mustaqbaliyyat. Superficiality, satahiyyat, is concern with minor inconsequential issues. False outward manifestations of religious rituals, shakliyaat, with a dead core is common. Esoteric sects, al firaq al batiniyyat, claim to have secret agendas or knowledge exposed to a select few and are a cause of social disruption. Sterile arguments, jadal, lead to no purpose or goal of practical utility. Intellectual analysis using un-islamic terminology and concepts compounds the intellectual confusion.



Thought failure is responsible for the following issues that started in the past and are not yet resolved up to today. These issues are still causes of controversy when they should not be. The role of human free will, qadriyyat, versus that of pre-determination, al jabriyah, in human actions is still not fully understood. Acceptance of repentance, taubah, or faith, iman,  for persons who commit major sins is still being debated when the texts are clear on it. Discussions of the essence of Allah, dhaat al llaah, and attributes of Allah, sifaat al llaah, are still leading many astray when it is clear that human intellect can not grasp the nature of Allah and should not be engaged in such an endeavor. Many still do not understand the scope of knowledge through reason, ‘aql, and that of transmitted knowledge, naql, as well as the relation between the two. There are still many who do not understand pre-determination, qadar, and causality, sababiyyat, and how they interact in human actions.



Thought failure is also responsible for the following major contemporary intellectual issues still unresolved. The woman; her nature, role, rights, and responsibilities; are still being debated. Plurality of opinion and practice is a cause of unnecessary controversy. Leadership, imamat, its qualifications, selection, roles, and scope of responsibility are not fully defined. Shura is presented as theoretical concept but its practical application is not properly worked out. Application of Islamic teachings to today’s realities: economy, education, politics, and  international relations is still being discussed.



Problems of thought in the past were mainly centered on misunderstanding ‘aqidat. Fortunately most of these ‘aqidat issues were either resolved or are no longer a major cause of controversy being discussed in a marginal way. Few Muslim intellectuals today are aware of qadriyyat, jabriyyat, maturdiyyat,  ‘ash’ariyyat, ittihadiyyat,  hululiyat, jahmiyyat, kilaabiyyat, druze, khawarij, mu’utazilat, ruwandiyyat, baatiniyyat, dahriyyah, & marji’at. The persisting problems arise from a narrow and literal understanding of the shari’at and differences on fiqh have divided the ummat in the recent past on many issues. If the cause is fiqh the solution will also be found in fiqh. We need to relook at society from a general bird eye view using the higher purposes of the Law, maqasid al shari’at then we will be able to make some progress. The shari’at was revealed to fulfill 5 higher purposes: religion, hifdh al ddiin; life, hifdh al nafs; progency, hifdh al nasl; intellect, hifdh al ‘aql; and resources, hifdh al maal.



The methodology of teaching and learning in the traditional Islamic system has not changed over the past centuries and in some cases has become worse by being narrow minded and too bound to specific schools of thought. Weaknesses of the system manifest as weaknesses of ulama who are not equipped to play their full role in social reform. Ulama of the traditional system may not understand the contemporary world or the world of the next century. They are divided between the conservative who live in isolation and do not engage or interact with the European civilization and the activist who actively critique the European system and defend the Islamic alternative. The conservative traditional group have facilitated and helped europeanization of their Muslim societies in two ways. They have failed to understand the failures of the European societal model to be able to warn the ummat of the inherent dangers. They have contributed to painting a negative image of Islam by appearing to be backward, living in the past and being narrow-minded. The activist ulama have criticized the European civilization without proposing a practical and viable Islamic alternative. There is therefore a need to reexamine the traditional Islamic educational system and find ways of modernizing it without losing its essences

Ulama as natural leaders of the ummat generally do not have leadership and management skills and this reduces their effectiveness. They need to be equipped with these skills in order to play their roles properly. A lot of well-intentioned projects falter and fail for lack of the necessary leadership and managerial skills. The performance gap between potential and actual performance due deficiency of practical leadership and management skills can be covered by on the job training. Training is an investment in people, the most valuable organizational resource, and has a very high future pay-off in terms of better performance, productivity, and growth. Rapid advances in technology make skills obsolete and necessitate continuous retraining to maintain effectiveness. Training is needed for all skills. The mission of skill training program is to close the performance gap. Its philosophy of STP is training trainers, teaching practical skills, and repetitive continuous training to ensure continuing improvement in performance  

ŠProfessor Omar Hasan Kasule, Sr. December 2007