Paper written for 8th International Conference of the World Assembly of Muslim Youth “ Muslim Youth and Contemporary Challenges”  held in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia September 1997 By Prof Dr Omar Hasan Kasule, Sr.;  MB ChB, MPH, DrPH (Harvard); Deputy Dean for Research and Post-Graduate Programs, Kulliyah of Medicine International Islamic University, PO Box 70 Jalan Sultan PJ Malaysia 46700 Fax (603) 757 7970


This paper asserts that the ummat is experiencing an educational and knowledge crisis that manifests as existence of parallel education systems: the traditional Islamic and the imported European. It analyses the background to the crisis, studies previous attempts at integration, and proposes a new knowledge strategy that starts with putting disciplines of knowledge in an Islamic context (ta’asil al marifat) followed by organisational and curricular changes at all levels of education from the kindergarten to the university.


ARABIC KEY TERMS: azmat  taliim - azmat al marifat - azmat al ‘ilm -izdiwajiyat al taliim-’ilmaniyat al taliim


ENGLISH KEY TERMS: dichotomy of knowledge-duality of knowledge, secularization of knowledge-education crisis-educational problems-intellectual crisis




The educational crisis manifests in 3 ways: (a) Deficient Quantity: inadequate, impaired or distorted knowledge (b) Duality: incoherent and contradictory sources of knowledge (c) Irrelevance: inability to resolve current problems.


Problem of quantity: There is Pervasive ignorance of uluum al diin and uluum al dunia. Religious illiteracy, ummiyyat diiniyyat, and alphabetical illiteracy are common in many countries. Illiteracy is felt more acutely as a problem in the Muslim world because Islam is a religion of knowledge and Muslims should have done better.


Problem of duality: There is a dichotomy in the education system: traditional Islamic vs. imported European, ulum al diin vs ulum al dunia. There are competing and contradictory world-views. Some Muslim students study at foreign schools in Muslim lands and others are sent overseas for studies. Other Muslim students study at traditional Islamic institutions in their countries or overseas. Graduates of the 2 systems speak different languages and use different terminologies. Graduates of the western system may not know Islam or its heritage and have little self-confidence in their Islamic identity. Graduates of the traditional system may not understand the contemporary world. The consequence of this duality is confusion in the minds of students and intellectual schizophrenia of the elite and society's leadership.


Integration efforts: Integration of the 2 systems has failed or has been difficult in several countries. The experience of integration of the 2 systems at university level by introduction of western disciplines at traditional universities like Azhar has been difficult. Integration of the 2 systems at university level by introduction of traditional disciplines at new universities like the International Islamic universities in Islamabad and Kuala Lumpur is being attempted with much difficulty and the results will be evaluated in due course. Integration of the 2 systems at the school level has many obstacles in front of it. The experience of Islamic schools in US and UK is so far of limited success because basic intellectual and conceptual issues were not worked out to enable development of complete curricula and writing text books reflecting Islamic paradigms; these universities and schools are a continuing manifestation of duality occurring in the same building.




Knowledge and intellectual weakness is the most significant manifestation of ummat's decadence. Human history started with knowledge when Allah taught Adam names of things. The Islamic civilisation started with 'iqra' and was essentially a revolution in knowledge and ideas. Knowledge enables understanding and resolution of existing problems. Knowledge enables anticipation and solution of future problems.


Intellect must be able to analyse and solve problems. Intellect must have a correct knowledge base if it is to produce useful ideas and thoughts. Intellectual failure either results into new problems in society or renders the society incapable of solving its existing problems


The knowledge and thought crises interact in a synergistic way to lead to ummatic malaise. Thought failure is a direct result of the crisis in knowledge. The starting point is knowledge. Knowledge (ilm) is basis for ijtihad, thought, and the rest of intellectual operations. Knowledge leads to thoughts. Thoughts lead to action. If the knowledge is wrong or deficient, the actions will be defective.


The crisis in thought worsens the crisis in knowledge. Clear thought of leaders leads to successful research that generates correct knowledge. Confused thought leads to wrong or misleading knowledge. Lack of clarity of ideas leads to failure in using available knowledge correctly.


The crisis in both knowledge and intellect lead to ummatic malaise. Knowledge deficiency leads to intellectual failure. Intellectual crisis leads to ummatic failure.


The intellectual crisis of the ummat is worsened by copying and using poorly digested alien ideas and concepts. Use of analytic tools that are not relevant or suitable to the Islamic intellectual heritage or contemporary social realities. 


Thought failure in the ummah could manifest in the following ways: (a) suppression of the freedom of thought. closure of ijtihad. Blind following (taqlid) and fanaticism for madh'hab (c) Syncretism (talfiq) (d) lack of vision (e) superficiality (satahiyyat) and concern with minor inconsequential issues (f) outward manifestations of religious rituals with dead core (g) esoteric sects (al firaq al batiniyyat) (h) sterile arguments (jadal) (I) intellectual analysis using un-islamic terminology and concepts.


Thought failure is responsible for the following issues that started in the past and are not yet resolved up to today r are still causes of controversy when they should not be: (a) free will versus al jabriyah (b) taubah and iman for person who commits a major sin (c) Nature (dhaat) and attributes (sifaat) of Allah (d) ‘aql and naql.(e) pre-determination qadar and causality (sababiyyat).


The thought failure is also responsible for the following major contemporary intellectual issues still unresolved: (a) woman (nature, role, rights, responsibilities) (b) plurality of opinion and practice (c) leadership/imamah (selection and roles) (d) shura and practical application (e) application of Islamic teachings to today's realities (economy - education - politics - international relations).


Among practical manifestations of the ummatic malaise in the 15th century are: deficient ibadat, action deficiency, political weakness, economic dependency, military weakness, dependence in science and technology, and erosion of the Islamic identity in life-style.





The causes of the contemporary malaise have a historical origin and that some solutions will have to be sought in history.


The generation of the Prophet (pbuh) was the best generation. The best teacher met the best students. Companions had excellent knowledge and understanding. The momentum of the first generation continued in the era of the khulafah al rashidin and the next 2 centuries. Intellectual progress up to the third century was due to this early momentum. The so-called golden era of Muslim learning coexisted with the seeds of decay. Those seeds eventually became the phenomena of intellectual and knowledge failure that have been described. There is a lag time between reasons for decay and the actual collapse


Seeds of the current crisis appeared towards the end of the khilafat rashidat. The rapid geographical and demographic expansion of the ummat (12-40 AH) occurred without sufficient time to teach, train and educate the leaders and the masses. As a consequence there was a decrease in the proportion of knowledgeable people. The newly Islamized groups retained many of their old ideas and concepts. New citizens with little knowledge or understanding changed the basic character of the state.


Major problems started in era of Othman. Othman’s words were prophesy: ‘If they kill me, they will never unite and will not be able to fight an enemy together’. The Jewish convert Abdullah bin Saba played a leading role. He exaggerated in Ali until he declared that Allah entered into Ali and that Ali was the rightful khalifat. He spread his fitnah in Basra, Kufa, Syria, and Egypt. For the first time Muslims fought Muslims. Texts of the Qur’an and seerah were used in disputes by T’awil to support partisan points of view. The Old asabiyyat jahiliyyat returned. Fighting over leadership started.


New social and political forces overthrew the khilafat rashidat and the ideals it represented were distorted or abolished. Opposition by scholars and thinkers to the new political and social order was defeated by force of arms. Then the authentic ‘ulama and opinion leaders who remained faithful to the ideals of Islam were marginalised and persecuted. Abu Hanifa (d. 150AH) died in prison. Al Shafei (d. 204 AH) was brought to Baghdad in shackles from Yaman and then fled to Cairo with his life. Malik ibn Anas (d. 175 AH) was beaten until his hand was paralyzed. Ahmad ibn Hanbal (d. 241 AH) was beaten until his shoes overflowed with blood). Sterile arguments (Jadal) in the basics of religion appeared. New groups were formed: mu’tazilah, shia, khawarij, jabriyyah, marjiyah, asharites, philosphers, and sufis. These phenomena of confusion and weakness have continued to act until today.


Schism and isolation between the intellectual leadership on one hand and the political and social leadership on the other hand appeared. The political and social leadership could not benefit from the intellectual guidance of the scholars. The scholars had no contact with the decision-making machinery that controlled society and were thus denied the opportunity to study and analyse societal problems from that angle. Military regimes that followed started the process of secularisation of the Muslim state. These soldier-rulers held political power in the office of the sultan while the khalifat was left to be a powerless figure-head and a source of religious legitimacy for the regime. Corrupt scholars, ulamau al sultan, who supported the new political order appeared. A lot of intellectual corruption ensued


Ulama were isolated from centers of influence in society with no political or social roles. They worked on the fringes to preserve ulum al Qur'an, ulum al aqida, ulum al lugha and ulum al sharia. Other ulama developed natural sciences like medicine, physics, chemistry by translating Greek knowledge and adding on it. These disciplined were not seen by the new political order as a threat. They were on the other hand encouraged. Socially dynamic and politically sensitive fields like politics, sociology, and economics were neglected. This was due to ulama not being involved in the field or for fear of persecution by the political leadership


Intellectual stagnation (starting 3rd century AH): The period of intellectual confusion was characterised by jadal. The companions and tabi’un had hated jadal in religion. With the opening of the door to jadal, several groups such as mutakalimun, philosophers, sufis and others emerged. Closure of the door of ijtihad became necessary to preserve the basics of religion from onslaught of hellenic and other philosophies. Intellectual failure and stagnation started. Widespread ignorance and illiteracy became common.


There were factors from outside the ummat that have contributed to its decline and its malaise. It is an unrealistic mistake to blame all the ummat’s ills on its external enemies. Internal factors are more important. Ignoring them is shirking responsibility and hence failure to accept mistakes and correct them. Internal factors prepare the way for external factors to operate.


Abassids depended on the Persians in building their state. Persian ideas therefore spread. Persians had used Greek logic in their religion and this reinforced Greek philosophy.


Indian religion and philosophy had their impact. There was continuous exchange by means of trade between Arabia and India.


The hellenic influence was felt during the Abassid era. Abassid rulers wanted knowledge of any kind and any origin. Weakness of attachment to Islam helped acceptance of Greek ideas. Reasons for adopting Greek leaning: (a) the need to defend Islam using Greek logic (b) Greek logic was very precise and attractive. (c) Attempts to reconcile Islam and philosophy. Farabi tried to reconcile philosophy and religion by resorting to ta’awil. Ibn Sina and Farabi tried to explain religion in the form of philosophy.


Byzantine Christian Influences had impact on the following: (a) providing details on tafsir of Qur’anic stories (b) encouragement of fabrication of hadith (c) introducing the idea that God can manifest in a person.


Jewish influences are discernible in the following: (a) folk-stories (Israiliyat), (b) fabrication of hadith,(c) Attempting to identify resemblances (tashbiih) between Allah and humans, (d) tafsir of Quranic stories using details from jewish folk-lore (e) confusion about jabr and ikhtiar (f)


The tatar started the secularization of the Muslim society by institutionalizing the separation between the political and religious leaderships.


Medieval Europe had its influence through the crusaders. Crusades were in the period 489-690 AH. Contact with crusaders resulted in a 2-way flow of ideas. Europeans who came for the crusades faced a more developed Muslim world. They were civilised by contact with Muslims. Europe learned the letter and not the spirit of Muslim knowledge.


Europe in the colonial era had a decisive impact on the ummat. Comprehensive military, political, economic, and cultural invasion started with Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt. He came with an army and a culture. Europeans in the colonial era faced a backward Muslim world. They imposed a new education system and a European epistemology that inculcated the following negative concepts: (a) refusal of the unseen (ghaib) (b) exclusive use of empiricism even in matters beyond its scope (c) doubt religion (d) refusal of morality. Secularism is the most powerful tool of westernization. It was imposed on the Muslim word by imperialism. Some Muslims mistakenly thought that being westernized and adopting secularism will be a tool to be used in getting rid of colonial rule.


Europe in the post-colonial era continued to have an impact on the ummat. Installation of puppet rulers as agents of westernization. Ideas of secularism and nationalism




This section discusses evidence to prove that reform and revival of the ummat will occur through educational and knowledge reform


Tajdid is  a recurring phenomenon in the ummat and is a sign of its health and dynamism. It is a basic characteristic of the ummat that periods of reform/revival alternate with periods of decay and return to jahiliyyat. At least one mujaddid appears every 100 years.


Tajdid requires knowledge, ideas and action related by the following mathematical equation: tajdid = idea + action. Action without knowledge and guiding ideas will not lead to true change. Ideas without action are not change at all


Tajdid requires a reform in knowledge to provide ideas and motivation on which to build. Islam ushered in a new revolution in the world that started with a change in both the methodology and content of knowledge. It came as a change in overall view/context (tasawwur). It re-established the principles of causality in both the physical and social arenas; these principles and laws had been forgotten during the times of superstition and worship of idols. It reiterated that causality was based on immutable laws of Allah in creation (sunan Allah fi al kawn). It called upon humans to derive some of their knowledge from empirical observation of both their contemporary universe and the historical experience of communities that came before and were destroyed because of unbelief. Islam emphasized objective and not subjective observation and judgment (hiwa al nafs). It also changed the way knowledge was acquired and was used.


All successful societal reform starts with change in knowledge. Human history started with teaching names of things to Adam. The mission of all prophets started as a change in knowledge and understanding; a revolution in knowledge. Successful Islamic reform/tajdid movements in the past 14 centuries started by scholars and involved educating then mobilising the masses


Correct knowledge leads to the ideal society. The ideal society can not be created without a knowledge base. That knowledge base must be correct, relevant, and useful. The social reformers must have an intellectual vision of reformed society. The physical picture of the new reformed society must be constructed intellectually before it physically exists.  If the vision is not clear, the reform will fail. It is very difficult to construct the vision as you go along.


The following is a partial listing of reform movements in Islamic history. One distinguishing characteristic of the successful ones is that they were led by scholars and involved change and promotion of knowledge and understanding.


Revival movements in the early period (until 10th century) were led by Omar ibn Abdul Aziz, Hujjat al Islam Abdul Hamid al Ghazzali (d. 505 Ah), Sheikh al Islam Taqiyu al Din Ahmad ibn Taymiyyah (d. 661 Ah), and Sheikh Abdul Qadir al Jilani (d. 605 AH).


Revival movements in the recent period (11th and 13th centuries) were led by: Imaam Muhammad ibn Abdul Wahhab (d. 1206 AH) in the Arabian peninsula, Imaam Muhammad al Sanussi  in  Libya, Amir Abdulqadir in Algeria, Sheikh Othman dan Fodio West Africa, Shah Waliullah al Dahlawi (d. 1175 AH) in India, and Imaam Ahmad Muhammad al Mahdi (d.  AH) in the Sudan.


Revival movements in modern period (14th and 15th centuries) were led by: Jamaluddin al Afghani (d. 1314AH), Sheikh Muhammad Abdo (d. 1323 AH), Rashid Ridha (d. 1353 AH), Imaam Hasan al Banna, Badee Zaman Nursi in the Middle-East, Shibli Numani (d. 1333 AH), Muhammad Iqbal (d. 1938 AD), Maulana Abu A'la al Maududi (d. 1399 AH) in the Indo-Pakistani peninsula, Shaikh Abdul Hamid ibn Badees in Algeria.


Movements that succeeded in creating a permanent impact had the following characteristics: (a) scholarly leadership (b) revival of knowledge and its spread of knowledge to the masses (c) getting the masses to gain a new understanding of their social reality which leads to changes in attitudes and behaviours of the masses (d) mobilisation/organisation of the masses (e) change of social systems, and (f) establishing new political/social institutions (g) continuity.


Many reform movements failed. Reasons for failures of the reform movements include: (a) personalising movement which leads to personality cult (b) dealing with symptoms and not the root problems (c) reactive and not pro-active strategies (d) tarbiyyat and mobilisation with no strategy (e) tribal/ethnic/nationalistic basis (f) loss of vision and sense of direction and becoming a sect, or order dedicated to a founder.


The experiences of the past can not be transplanted to today without modification. We can learn the following from them: (a) Reasons for success (b) Reasons for failure (c) Methodology and not tactics







Today is watershed in history of ummat. The ummat is witnessing the dawn of a new era, an era of change from weakness to strength. Muslims have recognised, identified, described, and analysed the weaknesses of the past. There is a determination to correct past deficiencies. Resources are being mobilised to achieve fixed goals. Aspiration and planning for a better future vision are in high gear.


Muslims realise that nothing can be achieved without strength and power. Strength is both spiritual and material. Material strength consists of: knowledge, science, technology, organisation, and management. Spiritual strength lies in the return to the eternal guidance of the Qur’an. The contemporary spiritual revival is not unique to Islam; other faiths are also experiencing a revival. The secular alternative is losing credibility in many parts of the world. Only the Muslim world has a credible ideological and practical alternative


The ummat is experiencing an all-out effort of total Islamisation of society. There is an unstoppable momentum towards Islamisation of all aspects of society: thought and knowledge, Political systems, Legal systems, Economic systems, Education systems, and Social systems.


The Muslim ummat is a potential economic and political bloc. The Rabat-Jakarta geo-political axis comprises of more than 60 states. The political potential of the ummat is not yet realized.


Rabat-Jakarta demographic and economic axis has a big population. Muslims are 25% of humanity and increasing. Allah blessed Muslims with rich natural resources in their lands. There is generally unity of ideology and culture in the Muslim world. This unity is more real among the peoples than governments. Muslims are now experiencing growing self-confidence, and self-assertion. All these augur well for the future.


The contemporary tajdid movement has a lot of strengths but also has basic deficiencies that must be corrected if it is to succeed. Attempts to reform have so far not benefited from deep enough intellectual analysis. The movements are more reactive than they are pro-active; pro-activity requires more intellectual preparation.


There is an internal crisis within the ummat that is a remaining obstacle: the educational and knowledge crisis. Real and permanent change must be from the bottom. The bottom is weak . A weak bottom leads to weak top. A weak top has no inner ability to lead a revival. The bottom can only be mobilised and strengthened through knowledge. The top requires knowledge to create a vision and plan for its realisation. Reform movements unguided by correct knowledge and understanding will falter and fail or will be deviated from their paths.


Social change requires change in attitudes, values, convictions and behaviours of a critical mass of the population. Attitudes, values, convictions, and behaviours are determined by the knowledge base. Good knowledge will lead to positive changes. Bad or inadequate knowledge will lead to negative changes. Societal changes without underlying change in knowledge and thought will be temporary and will soon lose sense of direction. In the past knowledge change and transmission could occur in the informal sector. Today knowledge is transmitted by the formal school system. Efforts to change or reform knowledge must translate into efforts at reforming the school system


Knowledge alone is not enough.  Action is needed to put knowledge to good use. Action without knowledge leads to disaster. Those in dynamic action acquire even more knowledge from field experience and are better placed to spear-head intellectual growth.


The vision of the knowledge strategy is an upright balanced person who Understands Creator, Knows his place, his roles, his rights, and his responsibilities in the cosmic order. He participates actively and positively in building society (socially, culturally, and technologically). He understands that development activities that find a just equilibrium between material and spiritual, control of nature and preservation of the environment, technology and humanity


The mission of the knowledge strategy is conceptual transformation of the school system from kindergarten to post graduate studies to reflect tauhid, positive moral values, objectivity, universality, and serving the larger causes of humanity.


The goals of conceptual transformation of knowledge are (a) to Identify and eliminate parochial aspects of the basic paradigms of the disciplines of knowledge and  reconstruct paradigms on basis of objectivity and universality (b) define objective research methodology for development of new knowledge (c)  Guide use of knowledge for the good of humanity and the environment


The goals of practical reform of the education system are: (a) to abolish duality of education systems in Muslim world (b) develop school curricula (c) develop, test and publish teaching material (d) expand access of masses to knowledge through formal and informal school institutions.


The desired system of knowledge will have the following characteristics: (a) Everybody must have access to knowledge without discrimination based on gender or social class (b) Learning must be free/affordable and continuous (c) Personal relation must exist between teacher and student so that morals are transmitted at the same time as knowledge (d) Privately or community-owned schools are the ideal; government should play only a facilitatory and/or regulatory role (e) Quality will come from quantity . Mass education in the start; improve as you go along.


The following are possible barriers to proposed education system: (a) The western secular system is well entrenched and has vested economic, political, and military interests (b)  stakeholders who will lose privileges when society is reformed (c) misunderstanding of the process.


It is a mistake to start building institutions before minimum theoretical guidelines are in place. It is also a mistake to wait until all the theory is worked out before action starts. Theory development and practical application must go hand in hand.


The school (kindergarten to 12th year of education) is passing through a moral as well as an academic crisis both locally and internationally. The behaviour of children is worsening. Academic achievement is falling. What is needed is to redefine an Islamic school that should set itself the objective of imparting Islamic education.


Islamic education sets itself the goal of guiding a child to an Islamic personality, character, and behaviour. The ultimate objective is taqwa. Children are born pure in fitra. The way they are educated and brought up determines whether they will be good or bad. The scope of an Islamic school is wide and includes Faith, Intellectual, Moral, social, and  Practical skills. Learning in such a school should be Qur’an-based learning. This means not only teaching the Qur’an but teaching everything else from a Qur’anic perspective including inculcating iman, understanding, and practice of religion. The teaching of the Qur’an should emphasise  tadabbur, reasoning,  substantiation, observation of the world and critical analysis.


The school is a socialising agent. It is a laboratory for Islamization of the total society. It should exemplify the adab of the teacher: kindness, sincere advice to the student, humility, being a good example and role model, knowing the characteristics of each student and dealing with him or her as an individual. It should also inculcate the adab of the student: ikhlas, respect for teacher, and applying what is learned.


The school curriculum must be designed with care. It should emphasise the following: (a) relation between the pupil and the creator, other people and the environment (b) iman  (c) complementality (body & soul, individual & society, practical & applied (d) based on knowledge (e) continuous throughout life and not only in the school (f) growth and development (g) Equilibrium and harmony (tawazun-wastiyyah-i’itidaal) (h) It should aim at Preparing the student for ibadat and ‘amal salih.


Besides human experience, the sources of Islamic education should be: (a) Qur’an (b) sunnat (c) Opinions of sahaba (d) Ijma (e) qiyas (f) istihsan (g) istislah (h) istisbab and (i) urf.


The methodology of instruction must have the following characteristics: (a) gradualism (tadarruj) (b) Reality/realism (waqi’iyyat) (c) positive attitude to human nature (fitra) (d) balance (tawazun). All subjects must drive home the basic thrust of Islam.


Curricular subjects to be included in the school curriculum are: (1) Qur'an (2) Qur'anic language (3) other languages (4) Islamic studies (tauhid/aqida, fiqh, tahadhib and tarbiyyah , moral and social etiquette, seerah )  (5) science (6) mathematics (7) history (8) geography (9) arts and crafts. Liberal arts (music, drama, and painting) should be islamized. Islamic art forms should also considered as alternatives: calligraphy, non-representative painting, tajwiid) (10)


Extra-curricular activities should be encouraged such as: essay competitions, art competitions, drama, trips, excursions, camps, songs, sports)


The objectives of the university should be to produce leaders of Islamization. It should extend the frontiers of knowledge by research. Universities must be active partners in societal development by researching and involvement in science and technology.





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Professor Omar Hasan Kasule September 1997