Lecture to 1st year medical students on 22nd September 2000 by Professor Omar Hasan Kasule Sr.


1.0 BASIC TERMINOLOGY/CONCEPTS, mustalahat/mafahiim  asasiyyat: 

A. Quranic Terminology For Knowledge:

B. Qur'anic Terms For Lack/Absence Of Knowledge:

C. Characterization Of Knowledge

D. Theory Of Knowledge

E. Probability And Relativity Of Knowledge


2.0 HISTORY OF HUMAN KNOWLEDGE, tarikh al ma’rifat al insaniyat

A. Adam And The First Human Knowledge

B. Development Of Language

C. Development Of Writing

D. Knowledge From Revelation

E. Development Of Empirical Knowledge


3.0 SOURCES OF KNOWLEDGE, masadir al ma’arifat:

A. General Concepts

B. Revelation As A Source Of Knowledge

C. Empirical Observation As A Source Of Knowledge

D. Intellect As A Source Of Knowledge

E. Other Sources Of Knowledge


4.0 CLASSIFICATION OF KNOWLEDGE, tasnif al ma’arifat

A. Concept And Purposes Of Classification

B. On The Basis Of Innate And Acquired

C. On The Basis Of Source, Masdar

D. On The Basis Of Learning And Use

E. On The Basis Of Nature And Content


5.0 LIMITATIONS OF HUMAN KNOWLEDGE, mahdudiyat al marifat

A. Innate Limitations, Huduud Dhaatiyyat

B. The Unseen, Ghaib

C. The Past And The Future

D. Changes And Transitions

E. Retention Of Knowledge


1.0 BASIC CONCEPTS, mustalahat/mafahiim  asasiyyat: 


Knowledge and information: The term ‘ilm is used in the Qur’an to refer to knowledge. It is also used to mean information or informing (p. 822 2:60, 2:65, 7:160, 11:79, 12:73, 13:89, 24:41, 46:4, 49:13, 60:10, 66:3).


Various types of knowledge: The term 'ilm is used to refer to various types of knowledge. Knowledge about human life (p 822 15:26, 5:28, 23:12-14, 39:6, 71:18, 75:4, 75:36-39, 76:1-3, 77:20-22, 86:5-7, 96:2). Knowledge about animal life (p 822-823 5:3, 6:38, 16:5, 16:6-9, 16:66, 16:68-69, 16:79-80, 24:41, 24:45, 27:16-22, 36:72-73, 67:19, 88:17). Knowledge about the earth (p 824-825 2:36, 7:74, 13:41, 15:19-20, 16:15, 16:65, 16:81, 21:31, 21:44, 22:5, 27:60-61, 27:88, 36:33-36, 39:5, 86:12). Knowledge about the seas and oceans (p 829 10:22, 16:14, 25:53, 27:61, 36:41, 55:19-20, 55:22, 55:24, 69:11, 81:6, 82:3). Knowledge about astronomy (p 833 2;22, 2:29, 6:96-97, 6:125, 13:2, 14:33, 15:16-18, 16:16, 17:44, 21:30, 21:32-33, 22:65, 23:17, 23:86, 31:10, 36:37-40, 37:5-10, 41:11, 41:12, 41:53, 42:29, 51:7, 51:47, 53:1, 55:5, 55:29, 55:33, 55:35, 55:37, 56:75, 65:12, 67:3-5, 71:15-16, 77:8-9, 78:12-13, 79:27-29, 81:1-2, 82:1-2, 86:1-3, 86:11). Knowledge about agriculture (p. 528 6:141, 12:47, 13:4, 14:37, 16:11, 18:32, 26:148, 32:27, 39:21, 44:26, 48:29, 50:9, 56:63-64, 80:24-31). Knowledge about mathematical quantities (p 786 2:80, 2:184-185, 2:203, 3:24, 9:36-37, 10:5, 17:12, 18:11, 18:22, 23:112, 72:24, 72:28). Knowledge about counting (p 785 14:34, 16:18, 19:84, 19:94, 22:47, 23:113). Knowledge about addition (p. 524-525 2;196, 6:143-144, 7:142, 18:25, 38:23-24). Knowledge about multiplication (p. p 525 2:261, 8:65). Knowledge about subtraction (p. 525 29:14). Knowledge about division (p. 525 2:237, 4:8, 15:44, 43:32, 51:4, 54:28). Knowledge of the last day, 'Ilm al sa'at, is only with Allah (p. p 25 6:31, 6:40, 7:187, 12:107, 15:85, 16:77, 18:21, 18:35-36, 19:75, 20:15, 21:49, 22:1, 22:7, 22:55, 25:11, 30:12, 30:14, 30:55, 31:34, 33:63, 34:3, 40:46, 40:59, 41:47, 41:50, 42:17-18, 43:61, 43:66, 43:85, 45:27, 45:32, 47:18, 54:1, 54:46, 79:42).


Most important type of knowledge: The most important knowledge is knowledge of the attributes of Allah, ma'arifat al laah (p. 828 2:194, 2:196, 2:209, 2:231, 2:233, 2:235, 2:244, 2:260, 2:267, 5:34, 5:98, 8:24-25, 9:2, 9;36, 9;123, 47:19, 57:17).



Ma'arifat: The term ma’rifat is also translated as knowledge. It is knowledge of a lesser degree of certainty than ‘ilm. The term ma’arifat is preferred in most discussions of human knowledge because of the uncertainty of human knowledge.


Hikmat: Hikmat is a higher level of knowledge that interpretes and uses factual information within a moral context. Hikmat is above 'ilm. The Qur'an has described hikmat as knowledge and understanding (p 344 2:12, 2:151, 2:230, 2:251, 2:269, 3:48, 3:81, 3:164, 4:54, 4:113, 5:110, 16:125, 17:39, 31:12, 33:34, 39:20, 43:63, 54:5, 62:2).


Basiirat: basiirat is a divinely guided use of the senses such that their perceptions are correct (p. 198  6:104, 12:108, 20:96, 22:46, 75:14).


Ra'ay: Ra’ay is opinion based on rational considerations; it may be right or it may be wrong (p. 462 11:27).


Dhann: Dhann is a term used to refer to conjecture ie knowledge that is not certain. The Qur’an condemns both paying attention to or following dhann (p. 766-767 2:78, 3:154, 4:157, 6:116, 6:148, 10:36, 10:66, 17:52, 28:38-39, 38:27, 41:22-23, 45:24, 45:32, 53:23, 53:28, 84:14).


Yaqeen: Certainty, yaqeen, is the opposite of dhann (p 1334 4;157, 45:32).


Tadhkirat: Remembrance or reminder, tadhkirat (p 229 20:3, 56:73, 69:12, 69:48, 73:19, 74:49, 74:54, 75:29, 80:11).


Shu'uur: shu’ur is perception, (p. 632-633 2:9, 2:12, 2:154, 3:69, 6:26, 6:109, 6:123, 7:95, 12:51, 12:108, 16:21, 16:26, 16:45, 18:19, 23:56, 26:113, 26:203, 27:18, 27:50, 27:65, 28:9, 28:11, 29:53, 39:25, 39:55, 43:66, 49:2).


Lubb: Intelligence/undersanding, lubb (p 170-171 2:179, 2:197, 2:269, 3:7, 5:100, 12:111, 13:19-24, 14:52, 38:29, 38:43, 39:9, 39:17-18, 39:21, 40:54, 65:10). 


Nabaa: Information/data, nabaa (p. 1193 2:31, 2;33, 6:143)


Burhan: Proof or evidence, burhan. (p 190-1 2:111),


Haqq: Correct or valid knowledge is the truth.




Jahl: Ignorance, jahl,  is used in the Qur’an as the antonym of knowledge, ‘ilm. Ignorance can be simple when the person knows he does not know. It is compounded if the ignorant person is not aware of his ignorance. The term jahl has been used to refer to a state of ignorance with respect to specific information or explanation (p 309 2:273, 4:77, 6:54, 12:89, 16:119, 49:6). This state of ignorance could be temporary ending with the acquisition of the missing information or explanation. The term has also been used as an attribute of a person who may have some moral reason for ignorance (p. 309 2:67, 6:35, 7:199, 10:89, 11;46-47, 12:33, 2:63, 28:55, 33:33). The extreme form of ignorance is represented by rejection of Allah, kufr ( p 309 2:22, 3:154, 5:50, 5:104, 6:100, 6:108, 6:111, 6:140, 6:144, 6:148, 7:28, 7:138, 11:29, 16:56, 16:75, 19:43, 21:24, 22:3, 22:71, 27:55, 27:84, 30:39, 39:29, 39:64, 40:42, 46:23, 48:26, 53:27-30, 53:33-35).




The Qur'an has talked about the supreme position of knowledge (p 832 2:12, 2:145, 2:247, 12:55, 44:32). Knowledge is the basis for leadership (p. 832 2:247, 12:55). Those who know are a grade higher than those who do not know (p 832 39:95, 58:11).



The Qur'an refers to knowledge as good thing or a virtue (p. 832 4:83, 39:9, 58:11).



Knowledge, 'ilm, is of various degrees. Knowledge that is certain with no doubts and ehich represents finality, 'Ilm al yaqeen (p. 836 2:260, 5:113, 20:135, 24:25, 25:42, 28:75, 37:158, 54:26, 68:17, 72:24, 78:4-5, 81:14, 82:5, 102:3-5). Knowledge that is empirical but is of lesser degree than 'ilm al yaqeen since it is based on observation by human senses that are not perfect,  'ayn al yaqeen (p 1334 102:7). The truth behind reality, haqq al yaqeen (p 1334 56:95, 69:51). Some argue that the term ‘ilm should be used for ‘ilm al yaqeen only.



The Qur’an has used the term ‘ilm correlated with other concepts to show the inter-dependence. Knowledge is closely related to iman (p 823 2:282, 3:7, 3:18, 4:162, 6:97, 7:32, 9:11, 10:5, 10:101, 16:27, 16:75, 16:101, 17:107, 22:54, 27:52, 27:61, 28:80, 29:8, 29:43, 29:64, 30:22, 30:30, 30:56, 31:25, 34:6, 35:28, 39:29, 39:52, 41:3, 44:39, 4:3-6, 4:26, 58:11, 96:1-5), intellect  al 'ilm wa al ‘aql (p 834 4:43, 29:43), the heart, al ilm wa al qalb (p. 834 9:93, 30:59), understanding Allah's signs, al ilm wa ayat al llaah (p 54 6:37, 6:97, 7:32, 9:11, 10:5, 27:52, 29:49, 30:22), and consciousness of Allah, al ilm wa al taqwah (p 834 2:194, 2:196, 2:203, 2:223, 2:731, 2:233, 2:282, 9:36). History has recorded many intellectual crises, azmat ’aqliyyat, whenever humans failed to use their intellectual faculties well.



In many verses the Qur’an made the case for evidence-based knowledge, hujjiyat al burhan, and always challenges those who make claims or allegations to produce their evidence (p 190 2:111, 3:93, 14:10-11, 24:4, 27:64, 28:75, 52:38). The story of Ibrahim (2:260) illustrates the significance of evidence-based empirical knowledge. Ibrahim knew and believed from revealed knowledge that Allah resurrects the dead. He, however, asked Allah to show him how the dead were resurrected not out of weak faith but because being human be could understand and internalise knowledge that comes from empirical observation. Allah ordered him to carry out an experiment and to observe the phenomenon of resurrection for himself. Thus empirical knowledge extended and reaffirmed revealed knowledge.



The question ‘where in the body is the seat of knowledge?’ is unanswerable. Both the intellect, ‘aql, and the heart, qalb, are candidates. Modern medical science points more to the brain. The heart could not be excluded because the Qur’an did mention it many times. Our scientific knowledge today can not shed any more light on this matter.



Human knowledge is potentially wide and is continuously expanding, si'at al ilm (p 832 12:76, 18:109, 20:114, 31:27). The limit of knowledge is with Allah. An individual or community can only know a little bit of the knowledge and must have the humility to know and acknowledge that there is a lot that is not known. There is a difference in knowledge (quantity and quality) among humans as individuals and as communities. Some humans know more than others. Many do not know (p. 829-830 2;26, 2:14, 2:151, 6:38, 7:62, 7:131, 8:34, 10:55, 12:21, 12:40, 12:68, 12:86, 13:43, 18:65-82, 26:197, 34:28, 34:36, 36:26-27, 39:9, 42:18, 43:86, 47:16, 58:11). The Qur'an describes some individuals as possessing very deep knowledge, al rasikhuun fi al ilm (p 508 3:7, 4:162).



Any human knowledge is public property. It is a sin to hide or try to monopolise it (p 829 2:146, 2:159-160, 2:174, 3;187, 4:37, 6:20, 7:169, 12:51, 12;81). Knowledge is not property, mal, that can be traded. It is a common property of all and those who have it must disseminate it to others. Payments made to teachers and researchers are not in exchange for the knowledge they have; they are for the purposes of maintaining them and their families so that they may concentrate on researc and teaching.


DEVIATION FROM KNOWLEDGE, mukhalafat al ilm:

Knowledge is always the source of strength and leadership if used well and with good intentions.  The Qur'an severely condemns deviation from the truth represented by knowledge (p. 831-832  2:75, 2:77-78, 2:80, 2:89, 2:101, 2:113, 2:120, 2:145-147, 2:188, 3:19, 3:71, 3:75, 3:78, 6:20-21, 8:29, 10:93, 13:37, 16:83, 23:69, 30:29, 42:14, 45:9, 45:17, 45:23-24, 58:14, 61:5). The Qur'an urges getting knowledge instead of following blindly (p 834 5:104; p 244 2:170, 5:104, 7:28, 21:52-54, 26:74-77, 26:136-137, 31:21, 34:43, 37:69-71, 38:7, 43:22-24). The Qur'an also makes it obligatory to follow where there is knowledge, wujuub ittibai al ilm (p 835 2:22, 2:168-169, 2:184, 2:28, 3:61, 3:66, 3:71, 3:135, 4:157, 5:83, 6:148, 7:28, 9:41, 10:68, 10:89, 13:37, 16:43, 16:95, 17:36, 17:102, 19:43, 21:7, 23:84-89, 24:33, 29:16, 43:20, 45:18, 53:28, 56:62, 61:11, 62:9). 



Knowledge is not confined to humans. Angels and jinns have knowledge. Living animals also have some forms of knowledge. We have no textual or scientific evidence for existence of knowledge in plants or micro-organisms. Our thinking is that knowledge does not exist in plants or micro-organisms because they lack purposive and pre-meditated action. Purposive action is found only in humans and animals.




Epistemology is the science of knowledge, ‘ilm al ‘ilm. It is the study of the origin, nature, and methods of knowledge. The aim of epistemological studies is truth, yaqeen.



Defining an Islamic epistemology, nadhariyyat ma’rifiyyat Islamiyyat,is the biggest challenge facing Muslim intellectuals. Such an epistemology must be Qur’ an-based and within the tauhidi paradigm. It must have fixed parameters from the Qur’an  and sunnat and many variable parameters to take into account varying spatio-temporal circumstances. Knowledge from revelation or empirical observation could be misunderstood if the human intellect is biased away from objectivity. Objectivity is defined by the Qur'anic term, istiqamat, which implies staying on the path of truth and not being swayed by whims and desires.  Istiqamat comes only next to iman, as the Prophet said 'qul amantu bi al laahi thumma istaqim'. Modern epistemological thought has posed two concepts that Muslim scholars have not addressed properly yet: relativity and probability.




The concept of relativity has caused much confusion both in social and natural sciences. What needs to be emphasized is that some knowledge and some facts are absolute and do not change by time or space. Other facts change when the frame of reference changes, nisbiyat al haqiqat. Relativity refers to this change of facts with the change of the reference frame. Thus for complete description of a physical fact, the frame used must be defined. The Qur'an mentioned the relativity of time when it mentioned that a day infront of Allah is equivalent to 1000 (32:4-5) or 50,000 (70:4) years in the human reckoning of time. The problem facing contemporary western epistemology is that nothing is fixed or is absolute. Everything is relative and changeable. In such a flux there is no meaning to the concept of truth. The Islamic position is that there are some established truths that do not change with time or place.



The concept of probability concretizes the limitations of human senses. Knowledge based on human senses in approximate. The aim of scientific research is to increase the probability of truth but can not reach perfect truth. No scientific fact is absolutely right or correct. Each has a calculable probability of being correct. The higher this probability, the nearer it is to the truth. The probabilistic nature of knowledge arises out of limitations of human observation and interpretation of physical phenomena. The challenge to Muslim intellectuals is to relate the concept of probability to the concept of grades of knowledge mentioned in the Qur'an: 'ilm al yaqeen, 'ayn al yaqeen, and haqq al yaqeen.


2.0 HISTORY OF HUMAN KNOWLEDGE, tarikh al ma’rifat al insaniyat


Adam was the first human in recorded history to have acquired knowledge through an active process. He learned the names of things so that he might classify and identify them; most knowledge however complex starts with naming and classification. The historical record is silent about what happened in terms of knowledge and scientific development after Adam. The archeological record however shows that humans in various habitats made progress in learning scientific concepts as well as developing simple technology such as use of fire, making and using tools, building durable homes, animal husbandry, and agriculture. Progress was slow and was mostly by trial and error. Technological development was fastest when humans lived together in large communities where they could interact, learn from one another, and share their creative endeavors. Big spurts in the growth of human technological knowledge always coincided with discovery of new forms of energy in the following succession: fire, animal muscles, wind, hydro, explosives, steam, internal combustion engine, electricity, and nuclear energy. Technology has led and determined the growth of all other disciplines of human knowledge by bringing about major changes of social organisation. Social and human sciences have developed in response to challenges posed by technology.



Development of language was also closely related to growth and sophistication of human knowledge. Language provided verbal symbols that could represent concepts or objects. The human intellect could then manipulate these symbols in description, analysis, or synthesis. Natural language developed incrementally over time with its words changing meaning and significance as well as picking up more than one meaning. It is thus not very exact and has been an impediment to scientific thought and communication. Mathematical language on the other hand is exact and precise. Mathematics starting in its simplest form, counting and use of numerals, enabled humans to understand magnitudes and to put objects or concepts in some form of logical order. Mathematics has propelled scientific growth by providing an exact communication medium. It has enabled scientists advance their conceptual and abstract thinking to very high levels of sophistication.



When early humans settled down in communities they needed a means of efficient communication and record keeping. Various civilisations experimented independently with various forms of writing. At the beginning a picture told the whole story. Then a picture was used to depict just one word as in modern mandarin. A later stage of development was using a letter to represent a sound. Both the Arabic and the Roman alphabets are of this type. Use of a combination of consonants and vowels provided an infinite permutation of words and sounds. Development of writing was a major step in the growth of knowledge because it enabled preservation and transmission of knowledge. Over most of recorded human history only a very tiny proportion of the population could read or write. There were only 17 literate persons in Makka at the start of the Prophet's mission. Reading and writing in Arabia at that time were considered such an important asset that Badr prisoners of war were let free if each could teach 10 Muslims the art of reading and writing. Elites of societies have always wanted to control access to knowledge and information by limiting reading and writing to a few people. The elite that monopolised literacy could thus easily control the ignorant masses. The modern industrialised nation-states are doing the opposite with the same aim. Literacy is encouraged and schooling is made compulsory because the operation of the industrial economy requires a literate worker and consumer able to get the information that the elite want him to get. That information is a means of control.



Throughout human history knowledge has been acquired by revelation, through the agency of prophets, or by empirical observation and experimentation. Prophets were basically teachers who transmitted knowledge (p. 834 2:129, 2:151, 3:164). Knowledge of the unseen, ‘ilm al ghaib, is through revelation. Knowledge of the seen, ‘ilm al shahadat, is acquired by direct interaction with the physical environment. Both methods of acquiring knowledge require the use of human intellect, ‘aql. It is a mistake to try getting a particular type of knowledge from the wrong source. Empirical knowledge is primarily from observation.




The history of modern science disciplines is very brief. Europeans and their descendants in the Americas, Australasia, and other parts of the world dominate science and technology today because of the head-start that their forefathers gave them during the European renaissance. This domination may make some people forget that modern science and technology is a common heritage of all humans and that all people contributed to its growth. The Babylonians observed stars with no attempt at analysing and synthesising the phenomena they saw. The ancient Egyptians also had many developments in astronomy, mathematics, and medicine. The Greeks studied Egyptian and Babylonian mathematics and medicine. They tried to find theoretical explanations for phenomena but loathed experimentation. Romans used some of the Greek science and made additions but mostly practical ones. With the decline of the Greek and Roman civilisations science was forgotten in Europe but it had a new beginning in the then ascendant Muslim world. Muslims used knowledge from the Greeks, improved it, and made new discoveries of their own.



Starting in the 1500s Europeans rediscovered Greek science largely by learning from Muslims who had preserved and developed this knowledge. This led to renaissance in Europe and the rise of western Europe to being a world power. Many theoretical and conceptual break-throughs were realised during and after the renaissance. Galileo Galilei, Johannes Kepler, Isaac Newton discovered many new physical laws. The industrial revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries was an application of the newly discovered scientific knowledge. The 20th century also witnessed many theoretical break-throughs. Albert Einstein showed that mass and energy were interchangeable and that time and distance were relative. Werner Eisenberg proposed the uncertainty principle ie that you can not know both the location and speed of an object accurately at the same time.



There have been periods in human history when humans deviated from the correct ways of getting knowledge and therefore lived in ignorance. Superstition and rejection of revelation denied access to ‘ilm al ghaib. Neglect of empirical observation and experimentation led to deficiency of empirical knowledge. Failure to use their intellect properly deprived humans of full understanding of revealed and empirical knowledge.



Rapid growth of the corpus of human knowledge in the past 150 years is several-fold the growth of knowledge since the start of  recorded human history. This momentum is likely to continue into the next century. It could slow down or stop altogether when human mistakes, social or physical, lead to destruction or drastic change of the ecosystem and human social organisation as we know them today. History is full of examples of previous civilisations that attained a high degree of scientific and social sophistication only to fail and fall later. Islam can provide the philosophical context in which knowledge and civilisation can grow and avoid the calamities that befell previous generations.


3.0 SOURCES OF KNOWLEDGE, masadir al ma’arifat:



It is a cardinal principle of Islam that all knowledge is from Allah (p 826-827 2:31-32, 2:151, 2:239, 2:251, 2:282, 3:48, 4:113, 5:4, 5:97, 5;110, 6:91, 6:114, 7:52, 11:14, 11:49, 12:6, 12;21-22, 12:37, 12:68, 12:101, 16:78, 18:65, 20:114, 21:74, 21:79, 26:132, 27:15, 28:14, 53:5, 55:1-4). Humans can get it in a passive way from revelations or in an active way by empirical observation and experimentation. Whatever knowledge they get is ultimately from Allah.



Humans have some knowledge even before birth for example the knowledge of the creator. A human baby has limited in-born knowledge that is mostly needed for the intuitive and instinctive biological functions needed for survival at that tender age. Most human knowledge is learned. The learning can take place at the level of the individual or the community. The learning can be the result of observation or the result of teaching (p. 820 3:79, 6:105, 6:156, 7:16, 34:44, 68:37). Humans learn from transmitted knowledge or experience, 'ilm naqli. They can also learn from their own empirical experience and the interpretation or understanding of that experience, 'ilm 'aqli. Transmitted knowledge can be from revelation or from past history and experience. A lot of knowledge about social interaction is learned passively.



Seeking to know is an inner human need that satisfies human curiosity. It is demanded by Allah when He orders humans to get knowledge of essential things (p. 825 2:194, 2:196, 2:203, 2:209, 2:228, 2:231, 2:233, 2:235, 2;244, 2:267, 5:34, 5:92, 5:98, 8:24-25, 8:28, 8:40, 9;2, 9:36, 9:122, 9;123, 10:101, 16:43, 30:8, 47:19, 49:7, 51:21, 57:17, 57:20, 96:1-4). Revelation, wahy, inference, ‘aql, and empirical observation of the universe, kaun, are major sources of acquired knowledge accepted by believers. Humans throughout history have quenched their thirst for knowledge from all the three sources. In terms of quantity, empirical knowledge, ‘ilm tajriibi, comes first. In terms of quality revealed knowledge, ‘ilm al wahy, comes first. There is close interaction and inter-dependence between revelation, inference, and empirical observation. ‘Aql is needed to understand wahy and reach conclusions from empirical observations. Wahy protects ‘aql from mistakes and provides it with information about the unseen. ‘Aql can not, unaided, fully understand the empirical world.



Allah has endowed some humans with the ability to study and get knowledge from its primary sources, dirasat al 'ilm. Most people, however, do not get knowledge directly from its sources. They have to follow others who have the knowledge, taqlid.  The process of taqlid has both positive and negative aspects. For those unable to get knowledge, following is required, mashuru 'iyat al taqlid. They however can not follow blindly. They must ascertain that those they follow have correct knowledge from the valid and primary sources.




Every man or woman is obliged to get the minimum essential knowledge to be able to live and follow the dictates of the diin, al ma'alum fi al ddiin bi al dharurat.




Revelation is true, relevant and essential knowledge. In addition to providing facts, it also provides a methodology that can be used by other sources of knowledge.



Knowledge by revelation reaches humans only through prophets and messengers (p 1299 42:91; p. 827 2:31, 2:120, 2:129, 2:145, 2:151, 3:48, 3:61, 3:164, 4:113, 5:110, 12:21, 12:22, 12:37, 12:68, 12:86, 12:96, 12:101, 19:43, 21:74, 21:79, 21:80, 27:15-16, 27:47, 28:14, 62:2). Ordinary humans can not receive revealed knowledge on their own. 



Knowledge of the past and the future is best obtained from revelation because empirical observation is limited in the time dimension. Humans can extrapolate from existing knowledge to predict the future but can never be sure.



Archeology for example is an empirical observation of the past but is limited because with time the artifacts become changed and distorted. Even if not distorted they may not be interpreted correctly. The new discipline of futuristic studies relies on extrapolation from present-day trends. Its results can not be conclusive.



Allah gave humans senses to enable them get empirical knowledge from their environment (p 836 16:78, 17:36, 96:3-4). The concept of causality, sababiyyat, underlies most knowledge obtained by empirical observation. Simply stated this concept asserts that there is a material cause for every physical event that a human observes. He may be or not be aware of the cause but can not deny its existence.




Intellect, ‘aql, distinguishes humans from other living things on earth. It enables them to understand and correctly interpret the sensory perceptions of the signs of Allah in the universe and thus leads to stronger iman and taqwah. Intellect is so important that its misuse or under-use, ta’atwil al ‘aql, are severely condemned by the Qur’an  (p 818 2:44, 2:44, 2:86, 2:170-171, 3:65, 5:58, 5:103, 6:32, 7:169, 7:179, 8:22, 10:16, 10:100, 11:51, 12:109, 21:10, 21:68, 22:46, 26:44, 28:60, 29:63, 36:62, 39:43). Intellect is not in itself a primary source of knowledge. It is a tool that enables humans to generate deeper knowledge and understanding from the primary sources: revelation and empirical observation. 'Aql can be looked at as a series of intellectual processes that Allah has endowed the human with. The Qur’an has used several terms to describe intellectual processes: dirayat, fahm, idrak, tafakkur, tadabbur, and tafaqquh.


The most often referred to intellectual process is that of thinking, tafakkur. It is noteworthy that the Qur'an mentions thinking with a form of empirical observation using the human senses. Thinking can be by looking, nadhar (p. 241 17:48, 22:15, 25:9, 27:27, 27:33, 27:41, 37:102, 27:59, 59:18, 74:21. Humans are ordered to look at the cosmos (p. 241 3:191, 7:185, 10:101, 29:20, 30:50, 50:6-7, 80:24, 88:17-20), and at themselves (p. 242 86:5, 30:8). Humans are ordered to think about the Qur'an, al tafakkur fi al Qur'an (p 929 4:82, 6:50, 7:4-6, 16:44, 17:45-46, 38:29, 47:24), about creation, al tafakkur fi al khalq (p. 399 2:164, 3;190-191, 6:99, 7:54, 7:185, 10:67, 10:101, 13:2-4, 16:10-17, 16:65-70, 21:30-33, 23:80-89, 26:24-28, 27:59-64, 28:71-73, 29:19-20, 30:20-25, 30:48-50, 31:10-11, 41:53, 42:28-29, 45:3-5, 51:20-21, 79:27-33, 80:24-32, 86:5-7, 88:17-20), and about the signs of Allah, al tafakkut fi al ayat (p 53-54 2;219, 2:266, 3:191, 10:24, 13:3, 16:11, 16:69, 30;8, 38:29, 39:42, 45:13). Understanding, faham (p. 909 21:79), is part of the thinking process. The thinking process can be extended backward in time by thinking about history and the lessons garnered from it, al 'ibrat min al tarikh (p 217-221 3:137, 6:6, 6:42-45, 7:4-5,7:94-95, 7:96-103, 8:52-54, 9:67-70, 10:13-14, 11:100-102, 11:120, 12:111, 14:9, 15:10-13, 16:26, 16:36, 16:63, 17:17, 18:32-44, 18:59, 19:74, 19:98, 20:128, 21;11-15, 22:45-46, 22:48, 24:34, 25:38-40, 27:69, 28:58, 29:38-40, 30:9-10, 32:26, 35:44, 36:30-31, 37:71-73, 38:3, 39:25-26, 40:5, 40:21-22, 40:82-85, 41:13, 44:6-8, 44:37, 46:27, 47:10, 47:13, 50:36-37, 54:4-5, 53:50-55, 54:51, 64:5-6, 65:8-9, 67:18, 69:4-12). 



Basic analytical intellectual processes can be deductive or inductive. They are used either in parallel or in sequence depending on the problem being tackled. Careful study of the Qur’an shows the predominance of the inductive methods.



In a neutral/natural state of fitrat the human intellect in enough to lead to guidance. It can lead to misguidance if there are corrupting influences in the environment or in the individual. Correct knowledge is the truth, haqq. Human observation and interpretation can be biased away from this truth by human desires/inclinations, hiwa al nafs (P 129 2;120, 2:145, 4:135, 5:48-49, 5:77, 6:56, 6:150, 13:37, 38:26, 42:15, 45:18, 79:40).




There is lack of unanimity on the following as additional sources of knowledge: al laduniy', ilham, hadas, instinct, jabillat, and firasat. The controversy is not whether they are sources of knowledge but whether they are sources independent of the three mentioned before. The Qur'an mentioned 'ilm laduniyy as knowledge directly from Allah (p. 834 18:65). Ilham is inspiration of knowledge into a person. Some revelations to prophets were by inspiration; they would just find that they knew something. The rest of the revelations were through the normal senses of hearing and sight. It also seems that humans before birth receive knowledge about right and wrong by inspiration, alhamaha fujuraja wa taqwaaha (91:8). Hadas is intuitive knowledge. It is most likely part of empirical knowledge that is stored in the human subconscious and is retrieved and used on given occasions.  Humans and animals have instictive knowledge at birth. For example nobody teaches a newborn how to suck at the mother's breast. Animals rely more on instinctive knowledge than do humans. Humans have less need for instinct because of their highly developed cerebral cortex that has more flexibility in facing and solving problems. Geomancy ,firaasat, is a discredited science today. It assumes ability of a human to adduce knowledge by incomplete observation for example looking at a person’s face and deducing what type of character he has or what experiences he has gone through. This is an unscientific approach that could lead to wrong or even dangerous conclusions. There is no empirical proof of its validity as a source of knowledge. There is however divine intervention in human observation that is acknowledged by the Qur’an. Allah can give a gift to believers to see in a phenomenon more than others can see, firasat al mu’umin. This is a sort of divinely guided empirical observation and not telling the unseen from limited empirical observation.



Magic & sorcery, sihr; astrology, tanjiim; foretelling, kahanat & tatayur; and other forms of superstition are not sources of true knowledge. They may lead to correct and verifiable facts but only by chance and coincidence. They most often lead to wrong and misguiding facts. Sihr is severely forbidden (KS 274-275). It is considered one of the major sins, kabair. He who indulges in it commits shirk. Astrology was also forbidden (KS 143). The Prophet went to the extent of saying that the astrologer is a liar even if his predictions turn out to be true.


Magic: The Qur'an uses the term sihr to refer to both magic and sorcery. Magic refers to use of tricks to create visual or other types of illusions. The uninitiated may be misled into believing in the existence of supernatural power because of the illusions (p 566 15:15, 7:116). The Qur'an tells us that unbelievers rejected messengers and called them magicians (p 566 7:109, 10:2, 20:63, 25:8, 40:24, 43:30, 43:30, 43:49, 51:39, 51:52). Some prophets were accused of being under the spell of magic (p 566 17:47, 17;101). The revelations and messages or the prophets were also rejected as magic (p. 566 5:110, 6:7, 7:132, 10:76-77, 11:7, 20:57-58, 21:3, 26:34-38, 27:13, 28:36, 34:43, 37:15, 38:4, 46:7, 54:2, 61:6, 74:24). Pharaon asked his magicians to demonstrate their magical prowess against Musa (p 566 7;112-113, 7:116, 10:79-81, 20:66, 26:40-41, 26:46, 26:49). Musa was given power by Allah to counter the magic (p 566 20:69-73).  The Qur'an made it clear that magic was not effective (p. 566 26:46, 28:48, 52:15).


Sorcery: The term sihr is also used by the Qur'an to refer to sorcery or the so-called black magic. It involves use of magical tricks with additional psychological conditioning that can lead to real psychological effects in people who believe that they are victims of sorcery; there are no effects on those who do not believe the superstition. The Qur'an tells the story of 2 angels Harut and Marut who were sent to teach sorcery in the town of Babila (2;102). What they taught was harmful and its psychological effects could lead to the separation of spouses. The Qur'an made it clear that sorcery was dangerous knowledge. The question may be validly asked why Allah sent angels to teach something that was so dangerous. Interpreters of the Qur'an explain that at that time there were many people who pretended to be prophets and they used magic and sorcery to deceive and convince people. It was therefore necessary that people be shown magic and sorcery so that they may be able to distinguish them from the true miracles of the prophets.


Astrology: is the magical forerunner of the modern science of astronomy. Astrologers pretend to predict events in a person's life by studying the movement of stars. Kahanat & tatayur: These are forms of fortelling. The prophet was accused of being kahin but the Qur'an cleared him (p. 1035 52:29, 69:42). Tatayur was mentioned in the Qur'an (p. 755 7:131, 17:13, 27:47, 36:18-19).


3.0 CLASSIFICATION OF KNOWLEDGE, tasnif al marifat


Knowledge can classified in different ways. Cross-classifications are possible. Below are given several criteria of classification that can be used. We can not say that one is better than the other. What matters is the purpose behind the classification



Innate knowledge is inborn. Acquired knowledge is acquired post-natally. Knowledge of good and bad is innate in humans however they can be confused. That is why acquired knowledge is needed to guide them in the gray areas. Acquired knowledge can be from revelation or from empirical observation. The two sources of acquired knowledge reinforce the innate knowledge as well as reinforce each other. A good example is the prohibition of riba. A human should innately know that earning interest from the poor or those in distress is injustice. This is because there is gain without any effort. Those who take the loans with interest have no other alternative. However this sense of injustice may not be clear to many. The revelation comes to point it out the injustice of riba reinforcing the innate knowledge. Empirical observation of the inherent injustice between lenders and borrowers, whether as individuals, companies, or countries, again reinforces the appreciation of the sense of injustice in riba transactions. 




Classically, knowledge was classified as 'aqli which includes empirical observation and rational reasoning and naqli which is revelation. This classification is confusing. 'Aql is involved in both revealed and empirical knowledge. Both revealed and empirical knowledge can be naqli in the sense that they can be transmitted passively. We will therefore adopt the classification of transmitted knowledge, naqli, and non-transmitted knowledge, ghair naqli. The former includes both empirical and revealed knowledge. The latter is only revealed knowledge.



Knowledge can be classified as knowledge of the seen, ‘ilm al shahadat, and knowledge of the unseen, ‘ilm al ghaib. Humans know only the seen. They do not know the unseen (p. 879 5:109, 5:116, 6:50, 7:118, 11:31, 12:81, 19:78, 27:65, 52:41, 53:35, 68:47). Neither do the jinn know the unseen (p. p 879 34:14). The unseen can be absolute, ghaib mutlaq, or relative, ghaib nisbi. Humans can not in any way know ghaib mutlaq except through revelation. Ghaib nisbi is something that is knowable by humans by taking certain measures. For example the contents of a closed box are unseen by a human but when the box is opened, the contents can become known. It is however shirk for a human to claim with certainty and affirmatively to know the contents of a closed box if he has no evidence through the senses. The Qur'an has given examples of ghaib mutlaq as knowledge of the ruh, ilm a ruh (p. 878 17:85), knowledge of the last day, ilm al sa'a (p. 878 6:31, 7:187-188, 12:107, 16:77, 20:15, 21:109, 22:55, 27:65-66, 31:34, 33:63, 34:3, 41:47, 42:17, 43:66, 43:85, 47:18, 72:25-26, 79:42-44) and knowledge of the time of death, ajal al mawt (p 879 31:34). Any knowledge related to empirical observation can be ghaib nisbi.




It is obligatory for women and men to get knowledge, talab al ilm faridhat. This obligation differs for different types of knowledge. Some knowledge is cosnidered collective obligation, fard kifayat. Other knowledge is considered individual obligation, fard ‘ain. Fard kifayat includes knowledge of the basics of aqidat, tauhid, taharat, salat, and other obligatory acts of ibadat. It is also obligatory to have knowledge of any other specialised activity before undertaking it for example a person intending to marry must know the regulations pertaining to marriage.  Fard 'ain refers to Islamic sciences, human sciences, and technological sciences needed to run the community well. If a sufficient number of people in the community acquire these sciences, the obligation falls from the rest.



Knowledge can be useful, nafiu. There is no concept of knowledge that is not useful but is harmless. Knowledge that has no immediate or foreseeable use if considered harmful, dhaar. Sorcery is for example harmful knowledge. All correct knowledge is useful. However even useful knowledge can turn harmful is not used properly.



Knowledge can be basic or applied. The distinction is sometimes more theoretical than real. For example the science of usul al fiqh is a basic science whereas fiqh itself is an applied science. There are however many situations in fiqh that are of theoretical or hypothetical interest and have no foreseeable use.




Some scholars make a distinction between sharei’ & non-sharei’ sciences. Shariah disciplines are said to be superior to all other disciplines. A distinction is also sometimes made between sciences of the world, ‘uluum al duniyat, and ‘sciences of the hereafter, ‘uluum al ddin. We find these distinctions to be irrelevant.



Most branches of knowledge are legal and are encouraged. For example study of the Qur’an, medicine, and science are legal pursuits. On the other hand study of sorcery is illegal because the knowledge is harmful. Between these two clear extremes are disciplines that are good or bad depending on how their knowledge is used. Study of the chemistry of ethanol is legal if it will be used for industrial purposes. It will rapidly become illegal if it will be used to make beer and other alcoholic drinks.



We have already discussed the three grades of ‘ilm al  yaqeen, haqq al yaqeen, and ‘ayn al yaqeen



Sciences can be divided into the biological & physical. Biological sciences study living things: animals, plants, and micro-organisms. Physical sciences study inanimate things: the earth, water and the seas, astronomy, mathematics, agriculture.

Some disciplines are methodological without a coherent and substansive subject matter for example epidemiology, mathematics, and usul al fiqh. Other disciplines are substantive for example fiqh, and clinical medicine.


5.0 LIMITATIONS OF HUMAN KNOWLEDGE, mahdudiyat al marifat al bashariyyat

A. INNATE LIMITATIONS, huduud dhaatiyyat

The Qur'an in many verses has reminded humans that their knowledge in all spheres and disciplines of knowledge is limited (p. 827 2:13, 2:16, 2:232, 3:66, 5:116, 6:50, 7:38, 7:182, 7:187, 7:188, 8:50, 9:101, 11:49, 12:44, 16:8, 16:70, 16:74, 17:85, 18:22, 22:5, 24:19, 30:7, 30:56, 32:17, 36:36, 38:88, 39:49, 48:25, 48:27, 68:44). Allah allows humans to know some things and not others. Humans do not normally reach the full capacity of knowledge because of other limitations. One of these limitations is failure to exert themselves to the maximum in the search for knowledge.



Human senses can be easily deceived. Human vision is limited p 197 2:7, 6:103, 15:15, 36:9, 36:66, 45:23, 47:23, 53:17, 56:85, 69:38-39). Human senses of hearing, smelling, tasting are relatively insensitive and some animals have more acute senses.



Human intellect has limitations in interpreting correct sensory perceptions. There are basic limitations in the neurochemical functions in the brain. Humans also have a limited data-base of prior knowledge to be able to interpret all new knowledge correctly.


B. THE UNSEEN, ghaib


Humans cannot know the unseen, ghaib. The unseen can be absolute or relative. The absolute, ghaib mutlaq,  such as the day of death, ajal, is known only by Allah. Humans have no access to ghaib mutlaq except through revelations. The relative, ghaib nisbi, can be known by some people in favorable time and space cirsumstances and not others or can be known if special and appropriate instrumentation is used. The whole purpose of scientific research is to roll back the field of ghaib nisbi. Ghaib nisbi can be contemporaneous, al zaman al hadhir,  ie things that exist at the moment but which are unknown (p. 879 4:34, 8:30, 12:52). Ghaib nisbi may be in past or historical events, al zaman al madhi (p 879 3:44, 11:49, 12:102, 18:26, 30:2). Ghaib nisbi can be in the future, al zaman al mustaqbali (p. 879 10:20, 30:2-4, 72:26-27).    



Humans can operate in limited time frames. The past and the future are unknowable with certainty. Both are part of the unseen, ‘aalam al ghaib. The only true and valid source of knowledge about the past is revelation.




Humans operate in a limited speed frame at both the conceptual and sensory levels. Ideas can not be digested and processed if they are generated too slowly or too quickly. Humans cannot visually perceive very slow or very rapid events. Very slow events like the revolution of the earth or its rotation are perceived as if they are not happening.



Modern physics has discovered that matter and energy are interchangeable. One form of matter can change into another form just as one form or energy can change into another.



Human memory is limited. Knowledge acquired decays or may be lost altogether. Humans would have been more knowledgeable if they had perfect memory.



 ‘aql, fikr, ilm, marifat, ghaib



What do you understand by the term ‘knowledge is power’; is it always true?

What is the difference between knowledge and information?

What instinctive knowledge does a child have on birth?

How do you define intutition; how reliable is it as a source of knowledge

What do you know about extra-sensory perception; is it a reality or an illusion?

Define tadabbur and explain how it is used in the knowledge process

What does understanding (faham) imply? Is knowledge possible without understanding?

What does the term ‘fiqh’ mean in Qur’anic usage?

What do you understand by intellect? How does human intellect function?

What is thinking? Is it necessary for knowledge?

What is meant by evidence-based knowledge?

What is meant by experiential knowledge?

Define the terms burhan, hujja, and daliil. How do they differ in Qur’anic usage?

What is the antonym of knowledge; explain how you reach that conclusion

List as many ways as you can in which human differs from animal knowledge

Look up verses in which the following synonyms of knowledge are used: yaqeen, shu’ur, idraak,

tasawwur, hifdh, tadhkirat. What does each mean exactly

Describe how Allah’s knowledge differs from that of humans

What does the Qur’anic term dhann mean?

Professor Omar Hasan Kasule Sr. September 2000