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Exploring Islamic Theory of Knowledge (Absar Ahmad)

Exploring Islamic Theory of Knowledge (Absar Ahmad)

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Published by msharif10
Absar Ahmad (born 1945) is a distinguished Pakistani philosopher. He is a brother of Dr. Israr Ahmad.[1] He was born in Hisar, Haryana, (India).

Ahmad took a B.A. (Hons) and M.A. degree in philosophy from Karachi University,[2] and then went to the United Kingdom for further studies in philosophy. He obtained his M.Phil. degree from the University of Reading (Berkshire) and a Ph.D. degree from the University of London. Coming back to Pakistan, Ahmad began to teach philosophy at the philosophy department of University of the Punjab Lahore. He has been chairperson of the philosophy department twice. He is currently teaching as a visiting at IBIT(Institute of Business and Information Technology) Department.[3] Besides he has been the visiting professor at IAS[4](Institute of Administrative Sciences )University of the Punjab for teaching Islamic Philosophy. Also, he has been visiting professor at universities in Uganda, USA and Pakistan. In addition to academic preoccupations he is honorary director of Quran Academy Lahore.

Ahmad was trained in the tradition of analytic philosophy. Despite this he is an admirer of idealistic metaphysics and believes in the ancient concept of philosophy that combines knowledge with practice. In epistemology he is inclined towards rationalism but he does not ignore the limitations of reason following al-Ghazali. He asserts the primacy of faith to gain the knowledge of something. He vindicates the placement of the foundation of modern Muslim philosophy on al-Ghazali's thought rather than on Ibn-Rushd's. Moreover, he has made great contributions in philosophy of mind, philosophy of religion, moral philosophy and Islamic philosophy. He also given the EXPLORING ISLAMIC THEORY OF KNOWLEDGE[5]

Ahmad, an Iqbal professor, has contributed to different national and international journals of philosophy. His main publications are: The Concept of Mind in Contemporary Philosophy, Kant and Kierkegaard: A Comparative Study, Knowledge Morality Nexus and a book on moral philosophy in Urdu.
Absar Ahmad (born 1945) is a distinguished Pakistani philosopher. He is a brother of Dr. Israr Ahmad.[1] He was born in Hisar, Haryana, (India).

Ahmad took a B.A. (Hons) and M.A. degree in philosophy from Karachi University,[2] and then went to the United Kingdom for further studies in philosophy. He obtained his M.Phil. degree from the University of Reading (Berkshire) and a Ph.D. degree from the University of London. Coming back to Pakistan, Ahmad began to teach philosophy at the philosophy department of University of the Punjab Lahore. He has been chairperson of the philosophy department twice. He is currently teaching as a visiting at IBIT(Institute of Business and Information Technology) Department.[3] Besides he has been the visiting professor at IAS[4](Institute of Administrative Sciences )University of the Punjab for teaching Islamic Philosophy. Also, he has been visiting professor at universities in Uganda, USA and Pakistan. In addition to academic preoccupations he is honorary director of Quran Academy Lahore.

Ahmad was trained in the tradition of analytic philosophy. Despite this he is an admirer of idealistic metaphysics and believes in the ancient concept of philosophy that combines knowledge with practice. In epistemology he is inclined towards rationalism but he does not ignore the limitations of reason following al-Ghazali. He asserts the primacy of faith to gain the knowledge of something. He vindicates the placement of the foundation of modern Muslim philosophy on al-Ghazali's thought rather than on Ibn-Rushd's. Moreover, he has made great contributions in philosophy of mind, philosophy of religion, moral philosophy and Islamic philosophy. He also given the EXPLORING ISLAMIC THEORY OF KNOWLEDGE[5]

Ahmad, an Iqbal professor, has contributed to different national and international journals of philosophy. His main publications are: The Concept of Mind in Contemporary Philosophy, Kant and Kierkegaard: A Comparative Study, Knowledge Morality Nexus and a book on moral philosophy in Urdu.

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Exploring Islamic Theory of Knowledge
 
Dr. Absar Ahmad
 
In order to lay bare the structure of the Islamic theory of knowledge it is imperativethat we turn our attention to the Holy Book ‘Al-Quran´ the fountain head and bed-rock of Islamic doctrinal belief and faith. In so doing we should also adhere to themost essential rule phrased very aptly by late Fazlur Rehman thus: "What is requiredis a willingness to get into the Quran itself rather than to go around it indulging inwhat must be distortions of the Quran at worst and trivialities at best".1
 
 At the outset, let me say a few things which must be appreciated positively by anyscholar studying Islam and its doctrines. About the character of the Quran one thingis abundantly clear. It neither is nor purports to be a book of philosophy or metaphysics. It calls itself "Guidance for mankind" (hudan-lil-nas) and demands thatpeople live by its commands. Islam has, as its central task, the construction of asocial order on viable ethical basis. It is a practical remedy for the multiple ailmentsof humanity and a recipe for how man may transcend his banalities to create apositive human brotherhood. In order, therefore, to derive a theory of epistemologyfrom it, a determination of its teachings into a cohesive enough unity is required.Islam is a divinely revealed monotheistic religion: it is a complete way of life-ideologyor Deen. As such, its epistemology is deeply enmeshed in its over-all metaphysicalview of reality and being. In the present paper I shall mainly concentrate on theconcept and nature of knowledge in the Quranic scheme of things and the sourcesof veridical knowledge. My interest in the subject grew by reading a paper on thisvery theme contributed by Professor B.H.Siddique which was published by theinternational institute of Islamic thought at Islamabad.2
 
Professor B. H. Siddiqui´s seminal writing entitled "knowledge: An IslamicPerspective" is quite impressive in its scope and a commendable attempt at puttingin bold relief the variegated strands of the authentic Islamic theory of knowledge.The first two subsections of his essay dilate on the cultural value of knowledge inIslam and its general intellectual temper. The firstayat in the order of the Quranicrevelation, ‘Read in the name of thy Lord who createth´ (96:1) with its categoricalinjunction to read lays an undeniable emphasis on that capacity of man which theCreator has endowed him with as pre-eminently human. The raison d´etre of man,the ‘why´ of his being cannot but be to understand and learn, and for that purposethe providence has equipped man with
 
(1) Nur-i-Fitrat, i.e an inherent light of nature(2) senses for observation(3) reason for deduction and ratiocination(4) provided him with guidance revealed through the Prophet. The objectof knowledge can only be primarily the world within and the world without andultimately the Really Real, the Creator of all existence. The Quran beholds in the
 
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knowledge of God alone the end and telos of life. Among the numerous sources of knowledge just mentioned, perhaps the first calls for some elaboration and I thinkthat professor Siddiqui did not pay full attention to it when he wrote, "knowledge, asthe root of culture, is not given to man at birth" (p.2) On the contrary, verse 50of Surah Ta-Ha states:
 
Our lord is He who gave into everything its nature and constitution, and then guidedit aright". (20:50)
 
 According to this Quranic verse, our Lord has given everything its inner structure,equipped it with its means of attaining perfection, and then guided it towards its realgoal. While it is an open question whether an explicit and systematically worked outIslamic epistemology exists, it is undeniable that various epistemological issueshave been discussed in the Quran and explicated by Muslim philosophers with anorientation different from that of Western epistemology. Today attempts are beingmade to understand the basic epistemological issues in terms of that orientation.This is a valuable effort that deserves our interest and encouragement. However, itcan be fruitful only if the practice or rigorous analysis is kept up, with close attentionto the precise definitions of the various concepts involved.
 
In the Islamic theory of knowledge, the term used for knowledge in Arabic is‘ilm, which, as Rosenthal has justifiably pointed out, has a much wider connotationthan its synonyms in English and other Western languages. ‘knowledge´ falls shortof expressing all the aspects of ‘ilm. knowledge in the Western world meansinformation about something, divine or corporeal, while ‘ilm is an all-embracing termcovering theory, action and education. Rosenthal, highlighting the importance of thisterm in Muslim civilization and Islam, says that it gives them a distinctive shape.
 
In fact there is no concept that has been operative as a determinant of the Muslimcivilization in all its aspects to the same extent as ‘ilm. This holds good even for themost powerful among the terms of Muslim religious life such as, for instance,tawhid "recognition of the oneness of God," ad-din, "the true religion," andmany others that are used constantly and emphatically. None of them equals ‘ilm indepth of meaning and wide incidence of use. There is no branch of Muslimintellectual life, of Muslim religious and political life, and of the daily life of theaverage Muslim that remains untouched by the all-pervasive attitude toward"knowledge" as something of supreme value for Muslim being. ‘Ilm is Islam, even if the theologians have been hesitant to accept the technical correctness of thisequation. The very fact of their passionate discussion of the concept attests to itsfundamental importance for Islam.3
 
It may be said that Islam is the path of "knowledge". No other religion or ideologyhas so much emphasized the importance of ‘ilm. In the Qur´an the word ‘alim hasoccurred in 140 places, while al-’ilm in 27. In all, the total number of verses in which‘ilm or its derivatives and associated words are used is 704. The aids of knowledgesuch as book, pen, ink etc. amount to almost the same number. Qalam occurs in two
 
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places, al-kitab in 230 verses, among which al-kitab for al-Qur´an occurs in 81verses. Other words associated with writing occur in 319 verses. It is important tonote that pen and book are essential to the acquisition of knowledge. The Islamicrevelation started with the word iqra´ (‘read!´ or ‘recite!´).
 
 According to the Qur´an, the first teaching class for Adam started soon after hiscreation and Adam was taught ‘all the Names´ (allama Adan al-asmaha kullaha). Allah is the first teacher and the absolute guide of humanity. This knowledge was notimparted to even the Angels.
 
The idea of ilm distinguishes the world-view of Islam from all other outlooks ndideologies: no other world-view makes the pursuit of knowledge an individual andsocial obligation and gives enquiry the same moral and religious significance asworship. Ilm, therefore, serves as the hallmark of Muslim culture and civilisation. Inthe history of Muslim civilisation, the concept of ilm permeated deep into all strata of society and manifested itself in all intellectual endeavours. No other civilisation inhistory has embraced the notion of ‘knowledge´ with such passion and pursued itwith such vigour.
 
To translate ilm as ‘knowledge´ is to do violence, even though it be unintentional, tothis sublime and multi-dimensional concept. It certainly contains the elements of what we understand today as knowledge. But it also contains the components of what is traditionally described as ‘wisdom´. But this is by no means the end of thestory Perhaps, we can best under-stand the notion with reference to other conceptsof the Qur´an to which it is intricately linked. This ilm also has some connotationof ibadah (worship); that is, the pursuit of ilm is a form of worship.Similarly, ilm incorporates the Qur´anic notion of khilafah (trusteeship of man): thus,men (and women) seek ilm as trustees of God for if ilm is sought outside thisframework it will violate the fundamental Islamic notion of tawheed. And, the meansby which ilm is acquired and the final use to which it is put both by the individual andsociety are both subject to accountability: the Qur´anic concept of akhrah(theHereafter) envelopes ilm to ensure its moral and social relevance. These few of themany, many dimensions of ilmillustrate the complex and sophisticated nature of thenotion.
 
The synthesis of a whole array of principles and notions into a single, unifiedconcept of ilm is one of the basic features of the world-view of Islam. It was thisuniversal synthesis that demolished the artificial boundaries of the so-called religiousand secular knowledge. And it was this universal synthesis which ensured that for aMuslim, knowledge was not an isolated, abstract act or thought; it was at the veryroot of his/her being and world-view. It is not surprising then that ilm had so muchsignificance for early Muslims, that countless Muslim thinkers were so occupied withthe exposition of the concept. Their conceptualisation of ilm is perhaps bestmanifested in the attempted definitions of ilm of which there seems to be no dearth.The seemingly insatiable quest of these scholars to define ilm in all its shapes andforms was inspired by the belief that ilmwas nothing more than a mainifestation

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