Oktober 25, 2010

Knowledge which is Beneficial to Man

Senior/ Fellow Director,
Centre for Science and Environment Studies

To meet various intellectual and educational challenges, discerning Muslims need to differentiate between knowledge that Islam seeks to nurture, and that which is inconsequential.

THAT information and knowledge have been regarded as being extremely important in today’s modern, secular life seems obvious, with such widely employed terms and catchphrases as “empowering people through ICT”, “knowledge management”, “learning society”, “k-economy”, “knowledge workers”, etc.

The promulgations have been so effective that no one at present can deny their importance without putting one’s sanity at risk.

It is also a well-established fact that ’ilm (ilmu in Malay) ranks high in the world view of Islam and plays a central role in the value system, such as world view projects.

However, since the term has been loosely translated and generally understood as “knowledge”, many who live in the present-day world may well presume that knowledge as understood and disseminated by its modern secular advocates bears no fundamental difference from that which is highly regarded in Islam.

Yet, if one were to analyse how knowledge relates to other key elements in the mindset or the fundamental conceptual scheme or the main framework of understanding – that Islam seeks to nurture, one will eventually realise that there are basic differences which no amount of superficia or at best secondary, similarities can help remove.

Such differences are striking when one considers, for instance, whether there is knowledge that is beneficial and that which is not; and were there such categories of knowledge, what criteria would then be used to so decide.

To Muslims, at least, there surely is beneficial knowledge and knowledge which is harmful, for Prophet Muhammad was reported to have prayed to Allah for beneficial knowledge (’ilm nafi’), just as he was reported to have sought Allah’s protection from knowledge that does not benefit (’ilm la yanfa’).

Nonetheless, to further discriminate on this, one cannot but consider what, and who, man is.

For man is indeed the very subject involved and the benefits meant surely pertain to him whether as an individual or as a member of any human community.

Some questions one needs to ponder:

Is man as a being purely material, with such mental states and acts as “consciousness” and “thinking” being at best only epiphenomenal?

Or is man a mysterious union of both body and spirit with the latter constituent being more everlasting and, therefore, more real?

What kind of relation does knowledge have with man conceived of as such?

Is there knowledge which nourishes the body in contrast to that which enriches the spirit?

And if there are indeed two categories of knowledge, what is the relationship between the one that gives life to the body and that which enlivens the spirit?

Suppose that “spirit” does exist, is it essentially different from the entity which is denoted by such terms as “soul”, “mind”, “intelligence”, “intellect”, and “reason”?

Or are such terms synonymous? If they are not, what relationship does each have with the others? And which has a more immediate link to knowledge? Or does to each a different type of knowledge pertain?

Such were some of the pertinent questions Muslim scholars in the past asked, and sought to answer, when they attempted to systematically examine beneficial vis-a-vis non-beneficial knowledge.

For instance, it was related that the great jurist Imam al-Shafi’i once concluded: “Knowledge is of two kinds: the science of fiqh (literally: thorough and profound grasp of a matter) pertaining to religious matters and the discipline of medicine pertaining to bodily matters (al-`ilm `ilman: `ilm al-fiqh li al-adyan wa `ilm al-tibb li al-abdan).”

The famous ibn Sina (known in Europe as Avicenna) had compiled two great works: al-Shifa’, on the various lofty dimensions of thought and intellect, and al-Qanun, on the various branches of medicine and health sciences.

It is quite interesting to note, as duly emphasised by Professor Mehdi Mohaghegh from Iran that rather than naming the former work al-Qanun, which certainly bears ethico-legal connotations and on the surface befits it better, ibn Sina had wittingly titled it al-Shifa’ (cure or remedy), which is literally more suitable for his latter work.

Such a practice, as Mohaghegh aptly remarked, simply demonstrates that this great scholar, just like numerous other eminent figures before and after him in the long religious, intellectual and scientific tradition of Islam, did realise the importance of, as well as the intimate relation between, both fields in ensuring man’s well-being and balanced development, one pertaining to the intangible soul and sublime thoughts, and the other relating to the material body and good, healthy practices.

It is of utmost importance, therefore, that discerning Muslims of today take due cognisance of the aforementioned understanding of beneficial knowledge and try to reformulate it within their contemporary context to meet the various intellectual and educational challenges confronting them.

Oktober 19, 2010

Knowledge with Purpose

Fellow, Centre for Shariah, Law and Political Studies, IKIM

Nobody can be a proper Muslim without knowledge and understanding, and that knowledge must be sought and disseminated with correct intention.

KNOWLEDGE and action are two fundamental elements making up the conceptual structure of Islam. Islam is a conscious and willing submission to God. It is a submission that is made “knowingly” and “freely”, without any compulsion. As such, the submission is not possible without knowledge.

Islam does not concede to a dichotomy between knowledge and action, or between theory and practice. The term “Islam” also describes an act, i.e., the act of submission. It means Islam does not simply happen to someone; it comes into being from one’s volition. And volition also does not arise without knowledge.

The action of every Muslim is subject to the rules of the syariah, correctly understood as the path to salvation prescribed by God through His Messenger.

“Islam” is also the name of a particular religion, and that means the above-mentioned submission is not subjective or formless; it is the submission which is made willingly and consciously according to the way prescribed by the religion called Islam.

Since nobody can be a proper Muslim without knowledge and understanding, knowledge-seeking becomes the first and foremost obligation of every Muslim, male and female.

Islam teaches that knowledge must be sought and disseminated with correct intention, to seek Divine Pleasure and Guidance. Studying religious sciences need not necessarily be a religious deed because the aim of the seeker could be worldly, and when that is the case the whole effort becomes blameworthy.

The following is al-Ghazali’s reminder to all knowledge-seekers: “If in your quest for knowledge your aim is to gain something for yourself and to surpass your fellows, to attract men’s attention to yourself and to amass this-worldly vanities, then you are on the way to bring your religion to nothing and destroy yourself, to sell your eternal life for this present one; your bargain is dead loss, your trading without profit.”

To have a correct and sincere intention is indeed not a simple matter. It entails knowledge of the nature of ultimate reality, and a definite commitment to a particular way of life in conformity with that knowledge.

Every research activity is carried out within a certain framework that is based on certain assumptions and aligned with some purposes. The credibility of the finding depends upon the validity of the assumptions and the soundness of the purposes, which means – upon verification – one would finally come to the conclusion either they conform or not to what is regarded as ultimately real and true.

If the researcher concentrates solely on the immediate objective of research (i.e., limited to knowing the nature of a particular object of knowledge as it is) to the extent of being heedless to the ultimate aim of knowing (which is the culmination of all other purposes, transcending immediate concerns and needs) his research will lead him nowhere.

The purpose of knowing ultimately is the purpose of existence itself. Without the knowledge of the purpose of knowing, knowledge and sciences may only serve secular aims and objectives, where no amount of research can satisfy man, because the knowledge gained from it does not give him any clue as to the meaning and purpose of his life, which is ultimately the foundation of his actions and behaviour, including knowledge-seeking itself.

Therefore Islam makes distinction between knowledge that is useful and that which is not.

Knowledge is useful and worthwhile in so far as it is related to the most basic problem of life, namely, the problem of human identity and destiny. This is the most basic problem because the answer to it is what everybody seeks to know, and without it this life becomes meaningless.

The answer, therefore, should be final, free from doubt and possibility of error because life is too short and unexpectable, and we cannot take the risk of living our life based on an answer that is subject to revision and correction.

This knowledge is also known as the knowledge of the reality of things. To this kind of knowledge certainty is a necessary condition, and by that we mean: (i) the object of knowledge is disclosed to the knower in such a way that no doubt remains along with it; and (ii) no possibility of error or illusion accompanies it; the mind cannot even entertain such a supposition.

Certainty, to quote Syed Muhammad Naquib al-Attas, is the permanent state of the soul having to do with the knowledge of permanent realities. It would not be attained and experienced if the justification for believing ‘A’, for example, contains the possibility of error.

Is it possible to attain certainty? Can man, with all the potentialities that he owns, ever attain certainty?

A Muslim will definitely answer in the affirmative. He is taught that realities of things are firmly established and that objective knowledge about them is possible and verifiable. If certainty is impossible then knowledge is also impossible, and if knowledge is impossible accountability and justice would also be impossible.

The knowledge of the nature of the ultimate realities is knowledge that does not change with the change of time and nations. It is knowledge about what is real and true about existence in general. It is what every thinking human being would want to know about his self, and about the world around him.

He would like to know, for example, whether God exists or not, and if He does what His name is and what His Attributes are. What he holds as an answer to this question will determine the way he is going to live his life. This kind of knowledge will have a significant implication on one’s life because it is ultimately the basis of one’s ethical judgement and action, hence, no error or doubt should be tolerated.

There must be certain implication to life for example, in believing that God does not exist, or that He does yet He does not possess knowledge or power. Uncertainty about this matter is a tragedy because how would one make decision in such a state of mind?

We cannot tolerate erroneous belief because every belief has got its practical consequence. There is nothing that can be categorised as “purely practical”, if what is meant by that an activity that has nothing to do with any theory, assumption, or belief.

All the horrors committed during World War II were based upon a certain theory, assumption, or belief; the Japanese believed that their emperor was a living god, and the Nazis in the supremacy of their nation over other nations.

Julai 11, 2010

One-Day Colloquium On Islam And Secularism and Special Keynote Address by the Honorable Prof Dr Syed Muhammad Naquib Al-Attas

AN INVITATION: "For People Who Reflect"



Special Keynote Address by the Honorable Prof Dr Syed Muhammad Naquib Al-Attas

Saturday, 24 July 2010

"This book was originally dedicated to the emergent Muslim, for whose hearing and understanding it was indeed meant, in the hope that they would intelligently prepared, when their times come, to weather with discernment the pestilential winds of secularization and with courage to create necessary changes in the realm of our thinking that is still floundering in the sea of bewilderment and self-doubt."
- Prof. Dr. Syed. Muhammad Naquib al-Attas (1993)

Syed Muhammad Naquib al-Attas is an internationally renowned Muslim thinker, philosopher and educationist from Malaysia. He is thoroughly rooted in the traditional Islamic sciences in a manner that allows him to competently bring that tradition to bear incisively and constructively on modernity. One major positive result of his close enagagement with the secularizing spirit of modernity is his original idea of ‘Islamization of Knowledge’ imbuing his philosophy and practice of education which leads first to the Dewesternization and then Islamization of the mind, body and soul and its salvific effects on the personal and collective life of Muslims as well as on others, including the natural environment.

According to Professor al-Attas, the process of Islamization is the revivification of the Worldview of Islam within the hearts and intellects of Muslims in the context of close, constructive engagement with the West, and the corresponding cognitive and practical ordering of their physical and spiritual experience of existence in accordance with it. Professor Al-Attas’s conception of Islamization and his exposition of the Worldview of Islam, as explicated in his many important works, are universally recognised to be most articulate, authentic, coherent and comprehensive.

Clearly, Islamization is fundamentally an educational and intellectual program of the most profound order, requiring the long- term combined efforts of authoritative, farsighted and committed scholars, intellectuals, ‘ulama’, researchers, teachers and students, including policy makers, who share a common vision of its goals and methods. The mission of Islamization obviously has its social, cultural, intellectual, economic, political and legal implications, but these are to be realized over the long term by many conscientious individuals thoroughly imbued with adab in their thinking and acting, and in their private and public conduct. For the crisis of Muslims today is basically the intellectual and spiritual crisis of identity due to their loss of true knowledge (‘ilm) and of right action (adab). Therefore the way forward out of the crisis for Muslims is self-knowledge, self-understanding, self-definition and self-reformation, spiritually, intellectually and socially, both at the level of the individual and at the level of the communal.

In this regard, HAKIM is most honored and happy to organize this one day colloquium on Islam & Secularism, the influential book in which al-Attas systemically synthesized his ideas on Dewesternization, Islamization, Education in the context of close engagement with the hegemonic, secularizing tendencies of modern, Western thought. The colloquium will discuss four main themes of that book through presentations by four of Professor al-Attas’s foremost students, and will culminate in a keynote address on the “Dewesternization of Knowledge” by Professor al-Attas himself. In conjunction with the colloquium, HAKIM is also officially announcing and launching its structured educational program for the general public called “Readings in the Worldview of Islam Program” (RWIP).

RWIP consists of a series of certificate courses on various salient aspects of the Worldview of Islam as expounded in Professor Syed Muhammad Naquib al-Attas’s many important works. These courses are intended for people who have been exposed to Professor al-Attas’s teachings through various talks, seminars and workshops, but who would now want to acquire a deeper, transformative understanding by enrolling in a series of formal educational courses which allow for closer intellectual interaction between teachers and students. The teachers selected to conduct the courses in the RWIP are from among the pioneering graduates of The International Institute of Islamic Thought & Civilization (ISTAC) who have themselves devoted many years of their life to the intellectual and moral guidance of Professor al-Attas himself, ISTAC’s Founder and first Director. Each certificate course is based on a work by Professor al-Attas, such as Islam and Secularism or The Concept of Education in Islam, with the pedagogic approach centered on reading, discussing and understanding the text with a view toward working out in thought and in act its transformative, operational implications.

It is hoped that by enrolling in the RWIP, students will acquire a profound, comprehensive understanding of the Islamic Tradition such that they can thereby be competent to bring the tradition to bear incisively and constructively on their present engagement with the multifarious challenges of the modern world. ***

B. Registration & Officiation

1. Arrival of Participants, Speakers & Guests
8.00 am - 9.00 am (registration, breakfast & networking)

2. Officiating Ceremony
9.00 am - 9.10 am (welcoming address by HAKIM’s Chairman, Dr. Farid Shahran)
9.10 am - 9.30 am (officiating address and launching of RWIP by Dr. Syed ‘Ali Tawfiq al-Attas)

C. Paper Presentations

The Recovery of Adab: Islamic Education in Action
by Professor Dr. Wan Mohd Nor Wan Daud
Senior Fellow, ATMA

9.30 am - 10.30 am (presentation)
10.30 am -11.00 am (discussion)
11.00am - 11.30 am (refreshments & networking)


Dewesternizing & Islamizing the Sciences:
Operationalizing the Neo-Ghazalian, Attasian Vision
by Dr. Adi Setia
Senior Fellow, HAKIM

11.30 am -12.30 noon (presentation)
12.30 noon -1.00 pm (discussion)
1.00 pm - 1.30 pm (lunch & networking)
1.30 pm - 2.00 pm (Zuhr Solat)


The Concept & Experience of Religion in Islam:
Bringing Modernity into the Ambit of Tradition
by Dr. Syamsuddin Arif

Department of General Studies, IIUM
2.00 pm - 3.00 pm (presentation)
3.00 pm - 3.30 pm (discussion)

Islamization in History: The Case of the Malay Archipelago
by Associate Professor Dr. Muhammad Zainiy Uthman
Department of General Studies, IIUM

3.30 pm - 4.30 pm (presentation)
4.30 pm - 5.00 pm (discussion)
5.00 pm - 5.30 pm(refreshments & networking)
5.30 pm - 6.00 pm (‘Asr Solat)
6.00 pm - 8.00 pm (networking, Rest & Maghrib Solat)
8.00 pm - 8.30 pm (dinner & networking)

D. Special Keynote Address

The Dewesternization of Knowledge
by Professor Dr. Syed Muhammad Naquib al-Attas
Founder & First Director,
International Institute of Islamic Thought & Civilization (ISTAC)

8.30 pm - 10.00 pm (address)
10.00 pm -11.00 pm (Q/A session)
11.00 pm - 11.30 pm (refreshments & networking)
11.30 pm - 12.00 pm (adjournment & networking)

Jun 07, 2010

Islam & Secularism: A Reading and Discussion Course

A discussion on the book widely regarded as one of the great books in the Muslim world by one of the most creative and original Muslim thinker in the contemporary Muslim world. The author deals with fundamental problems faced by contemporary Muslims and provides real solutions.

The discussion will elucidate many key terms and concepts in each chapter of the book beginning with al-Atttas’s analysis of ‘The Contemporary Western Christian Background’ (Chapter I), followed by his analysis of the concepts of ‘secular’, ‘secularization’, and ‘secularism’ (Chapter II), the portentous set of ideas that have changed the world. Chapter IV of the book entitled ‘Islam:

The Concept of Religion and the Foundation of Ethics and Morality’ is where he analyses the meaning of Islam as derived from selected verses of the Quran. He contends that the contemporary Muslim ‘dilemma’ can be alleviated with his proposal for “dewesternization of knowledge” or, the “islamization of contemporary knowledge”, an original concept conceived and elucidated by him but has since been adulterated as ‘Islamization of Knowledge’.

An appendix entitled, ‘On Islamization: The Case of the Malay-Indonesian Archipelago’ brings the book to a close. This book has been translated into most of the major languages of the Muslim world, such as Turkish, Arabic, Urdu, Indonesian, Bosnian, and Persian, the main ideas of which were originally contained in his Malay book Risalah untuk Kaum Muslimin.


1) The discussion will be held on weekly basis, on every Friday night, 8-11pm.

Date/day :
11hb Jun 2010 / Friday
Time :
8.00 pm - 10.30 pm
Shafi'e Conference Room, IRKH Building, IIUM, Gombak

2) This event is organized by Himpunan Keilmuan Muda (HAKIM) and Curiosity Institute (CI).

3) The speaker is Assoc. Prof. Dr Muhammad Zainiy Uthman. He completed his Ph.D under the supervision of Prof. Syed Muhammad Naquib al–Attas in 1997 and worked at ISTAC from 1991 – 2002.


Academic Qualifications:

● B.A - Physics-Astronomy, University of Wisconsin-Madison (1986)
● M.A - Islamic Thought, University of Chicago (1990)
● Ph. D - Islamic Thought, ISTAC (1997)

Areas of Specialization & Interest:

● Tasawwuf, Philosophy and Theology
● Malay manuscripts and Rare Books.
● Special high level academic library curator

Februari 20, 2010

The Concept of Religion by Sayyid Naquib al-Attas

The Concept of Religion

By Sayyid Naquib al-Attas

Syed Muhammad al Naquib bin Ali al-Attas (born September 5, 1931) is a prominent contemporary Muslim philosopher and thinker from Malaysia. He is one of the few contemporary scholars who is thoroughly rooted in the traditional Islamic sciences and who is equally competent in theology, philosophy, metaphysics, history, and literature. He is considered to be the pioneer in proposing the idea of Islamization of knowledge. Al-Attas’ philosophy and methodology of education have one goal: Islamization of the mind, body and soul and its effects on the personal and collective life on Muslims as well as others, including the spiritual and physical non-human environment. He is the author of twenty-seven authoritative works on various aspects of Islamic thought and civilization, particularly on Sufism, cosmology, metaphysics, philosophy and Malay language and literature. (Wikipedia)


“The concept couched in the term din, which is generally understood to mean religion, is not the same as the concept religion as interpreted and understood throughout Western religious history. When we speak of Islam and refer to it in English as a ‘religion’, we mean and understand by it the din40, in which all the basic connotations inherent in the term din are conceived as gathered into a single unity of coherent meaning as reflected in the Holy Qur’an and in the Arabic language to which it belongs.


The word din derived from the Arabic root DYN has many primary significations which although seemingly contrary to one another are yet all conceptually interconnected, so that the ultimate meaning derived from them all presents itself as a clarified unity of the whole. By ‘the whole’ I mean that which is described as the Religion of Islam, which contains within itself all the relevant possibilities of meaning inherent in the concept of din. Since we are dealing with an Islamic concept which is translated into a living reality intimately and profoundly lived in human experience, the apparent contrariness in its basic meanings is indeed not due to vagueness; it is, rather, due to the contrariness inherent in human nature itself, which they faithfully reflect. And their power to reflect human nature faithfully is itself clear demonstration of their lucidity and veracity and authenticity in conveying truth.


The primary signification of the term din can be reduced to four: (1) indebtedness; (2)submissiveness; (3) judicious power; (4) natural inclination or tendency. In what presently follows, I shall attempt to explain them briefly and place them in their relevant contexts, drawing forth the coherent ultimate meaning intended, which denotes the faith, beliefs and practices and teachings adhered to by the Muslims individually and collectively as a Community and manifesting itself altogether as an objective whole as the Religion called Islam.


The verb dana which derives from din conveys the meaning of being indebted, including various other meanings connected with debts, some of them contraries. In the state in which one finds oneself being in debt – that is to say, a da’in – it follows that one subjects oneself, in the sense of yielding and obeying, to law and ordinances governing debts, and also, in a way, to the creditor, who is likewise designated as a da’in41. There is also conveyed in the situation described the fact that one in debt is under obligation, or dayn. Being in debt and under obligation naturally involves judgement: daynunah, and conviction: idanah, as the case may be. All the above significations including their contraries inherent in dana are practicable possibilities only in organized societies involved in commercial life in towns and cities, denoted by mudun or mada’in. A town or city, a madinah, has a judge, ruler, or governor – a dayyan. Thus already here, in the various applications of the verb dana alone, we see rising before our mind’s eye a picture of civilized life; of societal life of law and order and justice and authority42. It is, conceptually at least, connected intimately with another verb maddana43 which means: to build or to found cities: to civilize, to refine and to humanize; from which is derived another term: tamaddun, meaning civilization and refinement in social culture. Thus we derive from the primary signification of being in a state of debt other correlated significations, such as: to abase oneself, to serve (a master), to become enslaved; and from another such signification of judge, ruler, and governor is derived meanings which denote the becoming mighty, powerful and strong; a master, oneelevated in rank, and glorious; and yet further, the meanings: judgement, requital orreckoning (at some appointed time). Now the very notion of law and order and justice and authority and social cultural refinement inherent in all these significations derived from the concept din must surely presuppose the existence of a mode ormanner of acting consistent with what is reflected in the law, the order, the justice, the authority and social cultural refinement – a mode or manner of acting, or a state of being considered as normal in relation to them; so that this state of being is a state that is customary or habitual. From here, then, we can see the logic behind the derivation of the other primary signification of the concept din as custom, habit, disposition, ornatural tendency. At this juncture it becomes increasingly clear that the concept of dinin its most basic form indeed reflects in true testimony the natural tendency of man to form societies and obey laws and seek just government. The idea of a kingdom, acosmopolis, inherent in the concept din that rises before our vision is most important in helping us attain a more profound understanding of it, and needs to be reiterated here, for we shall have recourse to it again when we deal with the religious and spiritual aspects of man’s existential experience.


40 In this chapter my interpretation of the basic connotations inherent in the term din is based on Ibn Manzur’s standard classic, the Lisan al-’Arab (Beyrouth, 1968, 15V.), hereafter cited as LA. For what is stated in this page and the next, see vol. 13:166, col. 2-171, col.2.

41 Da’in refers both to debtor as well as creditor, and this apparent contrariness in meaning can indeed be resolved if we transpose both these meanings to refer to the two natures of man, that is, the rational soul and the animal or carnal soul. See below pp. 63-66.

42 It is I think extremely important to discern both the intimate and profoundly significant connection between the concept of din and that of madinah which derives from it, and the role of the Believers individually in relation to the former and collectively in relation to the latter. Considerable relevance must be seen in the significance of the change of the name of the town once known as Yathrib to al-Madinah: the City – or more precisely, Madinatu’l -Nabiy: the City of the Prophet – which occurred soon after the Holy Prophet (may God bless and give him Peace!) made his historic Flight (hijrah) and settled there. The first Community of Believers was formed there at the time, and it was that Flight that marked the New Era in the history of mankind. We must see the fact that al- Madinah was so called and named because it was there that true dinbecame realized for mankind. There the Believers enslaved themselves under the authority and jurisdiction of the Holy Prophet (may God bless and give him Peace!), itsdayyan; there the realization of the debt to God took definite form, and the approved manner and method of its repayment began to unfold. The City of the Prophet signified the Place where true din was enacted under his authority and jurisdiction. We may further see that the City became, for the Community, the epitome of the socio-political order of Islam; and for the individual Believer it became, by analogy, the symbol of the Believer’s body and physical being in which the rational soul, in emulation of him who may God bless and give Peace!, exercises authority and just government. For further relevant interpretations, see below, pp. 50-59; 60-66; 67-74; 79-80; 81-87; 89-90.