EPISTEMOLOGY OF ISLAM, Definition and Area of Concern
I was invited to attend a meeting organized by International Institute on Islamic Thought on July 23rd, 2010. The institute is well recognized in Moslem world and has a Central Office in USA. I would not miss such an invitation, moreover it was held in Jakarta with an interesting topics, i.e. Epistemology of Islam. I was encouraged to express my opinion on such a subject and made a paper to be presented and discussed by the participants. The following is the principles I understand about the topic.
Islam and Definition of Epistemology
Epistemology is a jargon in philosophy and applied usually for discussion on science. Islam is not science, it is more than science. Ones may discuss epistemology related to Islam in very strict and limited purposes.
Islam is “Principles and Way of Life revealed by Creator (God) to Man, the Creation, for the sake of Man’s benefit in terms of the successful life of Individual and Social”. Islam is far broader than science which is defined as “Methods of Approach to the Empirical World, a world susceptible to human Observation”. Islam covers human understandings in both empirical and non-empirical worlds, by vertical (revealed) and horizontal (acquired) information.
If epistemology is meant as one of component of Body of Knowledge then it may be applicable to Islam. As it is usually implied, the components of philosophy of science consist of three areas, i.e. Ontology, Epistemology, and Paradigm. Ontology is discussion on Reality itself (object of study), Paradigm related to the frame of knowledge, and Epistemology is discussion on historical background, nature, and boundaries of body of knowledge. Such an area of epistemology might still be applied to Islam.
Area of Concern
1. Historical Background of Islam is related to the quality of faith of the people. Allah SWT, as it is indicated from history of mankind, raised a Prophet when the faith of man drops into an ebb level. Muhammad SAW was raised to be a Messenger when the faith of people is dropped into paganism including believe against ‘tauhid’ (believe only ‘One Mighty God’) and the society is destroyed by moral decadence.
The difference of Islam and previous Messengers teachings is laid upon the area of knowledge covered by the teachings and the successors of the Messengers. Islamic teachings forwarded by Muhammad SAW does not only cover principles on ritual and moral conduct but include also how people must manage a society, in terms of treating national life. The mission of Muhammad SAW as the last Messenger will also be laid upon the hand of ‘Olama’, not a new Messenger anymore.
2. The nature and character of Islam is also clear. Islam leaves the faith upon the free choice of individual, but once the faith has been adopted Islamic principles teach against infidelity. The reference system in Islam is also defined, i.e. Qur’an, Hadits, Scientific findings, ‘Musyawarah’/ Ijma’.
3. The scope or area boundary of Islam has also been clearly stated, namely Islam is universal and eternal, not only directed to a particular community and not limited to a certain time frame. The substance of Islamic teachings also covers all dimension of human life, include personal, family, and society/national life, not only related to ritual, personal, and moral obligation. Islamic teachings are for the benefit of man, in terms of leading to successful life individually here and hereafter, and successful societal life in terms of welfare, harmony, and peace. Islam is certainly teachings for the benefit of mankind. Islam is “rahmatan lil ‘alamin” if the teachings applied in human life accordingly.
Unfortunately, the meeting was ‘indifferent’ about the subject. It is some kind of brainstorming to be followed up by further discussion in still coming forums. There is even some mix up between Epistemology of Islam and Islamic Epistemology in Science. I have written an article related to the later one (see article ‘When Scientific Findings ….’).
Indonesia, mid August 2010