Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Worldview of Islam: An Introduction

1. Defining the Islamic Worldview
From the perspective of Islam, a 'worldview' is not merely the mind's view of the physical world and of man's historical, social, political, and cultural involvement in it. The worldview of Islam is not based upon philosophical speculation formulated mainly from observation of the data sensible experience, of what is visible to the eye; nor it is restricted to the world of sensible experience, the world of created things. Islam does not concede to the dichotomy of the sacred and the profane; the worldview of Islam encompasses both al-dunya and al-akhirah, in which the dunya-aspect must be related in profound and inseparable way to the akhirah-aspect, in which the akhirah-aspect has the ultimate and final significance. The dunya-aspect is seen as preparation for the akhirah-aspect without thereby implying any attitude of neglect or being unmindful of the dunya-aspect. What is meant by 'worldview' according to the perspective of Islam, is then the vision of reality and truth that appears before the mind's eye revealing what existence is all about; for it is the world of experience in its totality that Islam is projecting.
(Syed Muhammad Naquib al-Attas, Prolegomena to the Metaphysics of Islam [Kuala Lumpur: ISTAC, 1995],1)

2. The Character of Islamic Worldview
The Islamic vision of reality and truth, which is metaphysical survey of the visible as well as the invisible worlds, including the perspective if life as a whole, is not a worldview that is formed merely by gathering together of various cultural objects, values, and phenomena into artificial coherence. Nor is it one that is formed gradually through a historical and development process a philosophical speculation and scientific discovery, which must of necessity be left vague and open-ended for future change and alteration in line with paradigms that change in correspondence with changing circumstances. It is not a worldview that undergoes a dialectical process of transformation repeated through the ages, from thesis to antitheses then synthesis, with elements of each of these stages in the process being assimilated into the other, such as a worldview based upon a system of thought that was originally god-centered, and is now world-centered and perhaps shifting again to form a new thesis in the dialectical process. Such a worldview changes in line with ideological ages and characterized by a predominance of the influence of particular and opposing systems of thought advocating different interpretations of worldview and value systems like that which have occurred and will continue to occur in the history of cultural, religious and intellectual tradition of the West. There have not been in the history of the cultural, religious, and intellectual tradition of Islam distinct ages characterized by a preponderance of a system of thought based upon materialism or idealism, supported by attendant methodological approaches and positions such as empiricism, rationalism, realism, nominalism, pragmatism,positivismm, logical positivism, and criticism, oscillating between centuries and emerging one after another right down to our time. The representatives of Islamic thought-theologians, philosophers, metaphysicians- have all and individually applied various methods in their investigations without preponderating on any one particular method. They combined in their investigations, and at the same time in their persons, the empirical and the rational, the deductive and the inductive methods and affirmed no dichotomy between the subjective and the objective, so that they all affected what I would call the tawhid method of knowledge. Nor have there been in Islam historical periods that can be characterized as 'classical,' then 'medieval,' then 'modern'; and now purportedly shifting again to 'post-modern'; nor critical events between the medieval and the modern experienced as a 'renaissance' and an 'enlightenment.' Proponents of shifts in systems of thought involving changes in the fundamental elements of the worldview and value system may say that all forms of cultures must experience such shifts; otherwise in the process of interaction with changing circumstances they exhaust themselves and become uncreative and petrified. But this is true only in the experience and consciousness of civilizations whose system of thought and value have been derived from cultural and philosophical elements aided by the science of their times. Islam is not a form of culture, and its system of value derived from it are not merely derived from cultural and philosophical elements aided by science, but one whose original source is Revelation, confirmed by religion, and affirmed by intellectual and intuitive principles. Islam ascribes to itself the truth of being a truly revealed religion, perfected from the very beginning, requiring no historical explanation and evaluation in terms of the place it occupied and the role it played within a process of development. All the essentials of the religion: the name, the faith and practice, the rituals, and the creed and system of belief were given by Revelation an interpreted and demonstrated by the Prophet in his words and model actions, not from cultural tradition which necessarily must flow in the stream of historicism. The religion of Islam was conscious of its own identity from the time of revelation. When it appeared on the stage of world history Islam was already 'mature,' needing no process of 'growing up' to maturity. Revealed religion can only be that which knows itself from the very beginning; and that self-knowledge comes from the Revelation itself, not from history. The so-called 'development' in the religious traditions of mankind cannot be applied to Islam, for what is assumed to be a developmental process is, in the case of Islam, only a process of interpretation and elaboration, which must, of necessity, occur in alternating generations of believers of different nations, and which refer back to the unchanging Source.
(Prolegomena, 2-4)

3. The Fundamental Elements of the Islamic Worldview
The worldview of Islam is characterized by an authenticity and finality that points to what is ultimate, and it projects a view of reality and truth that encompasses existence and life altogether in total perspective whose fundamental elements are permanently established. These are, to mention the most salient ones, the nature of God; of Revelation (i.e. the Qur'an); of His creation; of man and the psychology of the human soul: of knowledge; of religion; of freedom; of values and virtues; of happiness- all of which, together with the key terms and concepts that they unfold, have profound bearing upon our ideas about change, development, and progress. These fundamental elements act as integrating principles that place all our system of meaning and standards of life and values in coherent order as a unified system forming the worldview and the supreme principle of true reality that is articulated by these fundamental elements is focused on knowledge of the nature of God as revealed in the Qur'an.
(Prolegomena, 4-5)

a. The Nature of God
b. The Nature of Revelation- The Qur'an
c. The Nature of Revealed Religion- Islam
d. The Nature of the World (dunya)
e. The Nature of Man (insan)
f. The Nature of Knowledge ('ilm)
g. The Nature of Adab
h. The Nature of Happiness (sa'adah)
i. The True Meaning of Change, Development, and Progress
j. Concluding Remarks



1) A worldview is what the mind sees if it has eyes.
Imagine having ‘eyes’ on the mind. What would it see?

If the mind has eyes then it would see what it considers to be true and what it considers to be real. Or in other words, what really exists out there.

Let’s try this out. Take a look at a tree outside your window. What do you think your mind would see?

If you are just saying: “This is a tree. It has roots, a trunk, and branches that extends out into the sky”, then there is something wrong with your mind. It is because if you are a Muslim, your mind should not be seeing a tree as just a tree in its physical form. A tree does not exist on its own-; its existence owes to Allah. A tree is therefore not just a tree in its physical form; a tree is a sign of Allah’s Existence and Omnipotence!

Then you may ask yourself: Why did you see the tree as only a tree? That’s because you have restricted your mind’s vision to the world of sensible experience. This would mean that something exists only if it can be seen, heard and experienced by your other senses; it also means that something is true and real only if it is in conformity with what you have perceived with your senses. But this is not the way your mind’s eye should see if you are a Muslim who has understood Islam in its totality.

The Muslim mind has its own unique way of looking at things. As such, it has its own vision of what is true, and what is real, and what really exists out there.

2) Seeing from a Western mind
Because of our interactions with the dominant Western world and our Western-influenced education, we begin to confuse ourselves by seeing in our minds what the Western man see in their minds. In the words of Prof Al-Attas himself:
“It is most significant to us that these problems are caused due to the introduction of Western ways of thinking and judging and believing emulated by some Muslim scholars and intellectuals who have been unduly influenced by the West and overawed by its scientific and technological achievements.” (Islam and Secularism, pg 13)
If we examine Western civilization history, which went through different eras, notably the rejection of the Christian religion, we would be able to understand better what the Western man see in their minds and their set of criteria underlining their perception of what is true, what is real, and what exists out there. And it is also important to point out that Islam has different experiences from that experienced by the Western man.
Hence, our task now is to examine how a Muslim should think, judge and believe and at the same time isolating those non-Islamic elements which has tampered the vision of our minds, mainly, the secular Western worldview.

3) The worldview of Islam encompasses of both this world and the Hereafter
Opposed to the secular man’s vision of the world which sees only the physical sensible world as one that is true and real and that the Hereafter are fantasies or dreams of primitive man because it cannot be proven by the five senses, a Muslim should see that both this world and the Hereafter are both true and real. In fact, the Muslim mind should see this physical world as a temporary place of rest in preparation for the everlasting Hereafter. This, however, does not imply that this world should be neglected or shunned, or that we should just stop working and concentrate on performing worship; it only means we should not be too attached to this physical world and be aware that our final destination lies in the Hereafter.

4) The worldview of Islam rejects dualism
Opposed to the secular man’s way of seeing and knowing things, which has the habit of classifying things as opposites that are in conflict with one another (dualism), and then subsequently compromising, by adopting elements from both sides, the worldview of Islam is not formed out of this dialectical process. In fact, Muslims in the past, despite their classification of things, did not treat them as opposites of one another. They have been able to successfully combine the different methods of achieving knowledge of things.
In contrast, in the West there was once a time when the Western world believed that something is true and real only if it corresponds to facts that can be sensed by our sensory perceptions (empiricism). At the same time, there were those who believed that something is true and real only if it can be logically and rationally demonstrated by the mind (rationalism). There were conflicts between the two, each believing in their own criteria of truth and reality. Eventually they decided to harmonise their thoughts into an artificial coherence having elements of both sides as demonstrated in modern and post-modern thought (logical positivism). As such, the secular worldview is a product of the historical and developmental processes experienced by the West.

This also means that the criteria of what is true and what is real will always continue to change and evolve according to what suits them best at that point of time. This search for a final identity will continue until the end of time.

5) The worldview of Islam transcends time
Opposed to the evolutionary processes in Western thought, Islam is already perfect, matured and modern at the time of its revelation, always relevant for all ages. It did not go through historical periods, for instance, from the Dark Age to the Renaissance and then to the Modern era like the West did. This is because the worldview of Islam does not borrow its elements from culture, philosophy and science; its elements are based on Revelation which is final in nature. Because Islam already knows of its identity from the very beginning, this means that there is no need for Islam to develop and change as how the West is. In fact, change and development in Islam is only a process of understanding the message of the Qur’an and the Sunnah better.

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