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Islamization of knowledge

The Islamization of knowledge is a huge, multi-generation, global program to synthesize classical ethical traditions in Islam with the best of modern thought. Its end product would be entirely new ijma ("consensus") among the learned on an appropriate fiqh ("jurisprudence") and a scientific method that did not violate Islamic ethical norms.

It was first proposed by the Palestinian philosopher Ismail Al-Faruqi, in 1982, in response to what he called "the malaise of the ummah" (faithful). He argued that by using tools, categories, concepts and modes of analysis that originated wholly in the secular West (like Marxism), there was a disconnect between the ecological and social reality of Muslim nations, and worse, a total inability to respect or even notice violations of ethics of Islam itself. In his view, clashes between traditionalist ulama and reformers seeking to revive Muslim society with modern science and professional categories, were inevitable without the strong ethical constraints that applied to methods of early Muslim philosophy. He proposed therefore to revive those methods, restore ijtihad and integrate scientific method within Islamic limits.

A body of modern knowledge that had been so 'Islamized' would not offend the traditionalists, since it would place ethics before knowledge or curiosity or power, and provide for curtailment of scientific or professional activities that offended those ethics.

However, if it were sufficiently broad and integrative to support inquiry across all vital fields including medicine, agriculture, ecology, and technology, it would provide ampl opportunity for a modern professional class to mentally and economically liberate the Muslim societies. They would ally with, not fight with, the ulema.

Al-Faruqi died in 1986, but his program has already had a profound effect, especially on Islamic economics, which operates under traditional zero-interest, participatory labor-capital structures, and supports stronger community control of land (as in the traditional practices of haram and hima, the equivalent of the modern watershed protection and wilderness reserve laws). These practices were already well on the way to revival before Al-Faruqi's work, however. Islamic banks remain a relatively minor force in world finance.

There are also debates on Islamic science and what it would mean to do science in a way that reflects the ethical teachings of Islam, and accept direction from the ijma on the priorities of such research.

Al-Faruqi's analysis, called the "Islamization of Knowledge: General Principles and Workplan" remains the primary source for this program. Nasr's work on the congruence between classical Islam and the modern ecology movement is thought by some to be even more fundamental, and to suggest parallels between the ethical constraints that secular activists seek to place on science and technology, and the ethical constraints that Islam sought to place on philosophy and politics. An Islamic ecology would then converge with economics and put Islamic pillars under a form of ecological economics, with religious authority backing up sustainable development. This would be a significant first step towards Al-Faruqi's overall program.

Critics argue that there are vast differences between the kind of ethics that are applied in, say, the modern labour movement or the anti-globalization movement, and those that would be applied by any believer in the literal interpretation of the Qur'an. Thus, any cooperation of modern ethical reformers and those seeking guidance from classical Islam would be doomed from the start.

There are, however, lively debates regarding Islamic feminism and ethics of technology wherein secular concerns (like vanity, consumerism, competing for attention, technological one-upmanship, runaway technologies) seem to often echo the terms of reference of a classical critique:

Catholic theology was well integrated with scientific knowledge from the time of Aquinas to the time of Galileo, and that too was a deliberate program. Critics suggest that this also demonstrates the futility of trying to inhibit scientific research with reference to any religious fundamentalism.

But, that doesn't stop clerics from trying; In modern times, John Paul II has also called at times for restraining the sciences to work strictly within a Christian ethical framework, and respect the boundaries between what is known by faith versus reason - his "Fides et Ratio" and "Gospel of Life" make some points in common with Al-Faruqi, calling likewise for strong ethical limits and a curtailment of curiosity or "knowledge for knowledge's sake".

See also: ethics in science, ijma, fiqh, ijtihad, Early Muslim philosophy, Islamic philosophy