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ISLAMIC EDUCATION AND REINTEGRATION OF SCIENCES: Developing Models in the Age of Global Competition
Oleh: Azyumardi Azra
Professor of history & Director, Graduate School
Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University, Jakarta, Indonesia

“In the early centuries of Islamic civilization the broadest possible learning was widely supported by orthodox Muslim precepts. However, in time, an opposing doctrinal trend gained strength. Not only the limitation but also the “dangers” of knowledge were increasingly described by religious authorities…Limits to the scope of permissible learning eventually came to be defined by religious scholars, and philosophical and scientific investigation came under increasing attack” (Turner 1995:18).

The Noble Prize Winner for Physics, Mohammed Abdus Salam, rightly maintains that there is almost no question that among all civilizations in the present time on this planet, science is weakest in the lands of Islam. In his opinion, the danger of this weakness cannot be underestimated since the survival of a society depends directly on its strength in science and technology in the condition of the present age. Therefore, Muslim societies have a little chance to survive in the very competitive age of globalization unless they seriously address this grave problem.
The weaknesses of science in the Muslim world as whole can be seen in a number of rough indicators that are available since the 1980s when many Muslim countries began to modernize their economy. By and large, up until today, Muslim countries are classified as ‘third world countries’; only few of them can be included among developing countries, let alone ‘developed’ and ‘advanced’ countries.
Most of Muslim countries are producers of raw materials such as oil, natural gas, rubber, palm oil, food grain, cotton, and sugar cane. The nature of the economy in most Muslim countries is, therefore, basically extractive or agricultural. Manufacturing that can produce a great deal of added values is only a minor part of the total economy of most Muslim countries.
There is little doubt that advanced scientific methods are badly needed for oil and natural gas extraction, mining and agriculture; and these do create a lot of demand for learning and developing innovation and new techniques. But up until today, the technology for extraction and further processing are continuously imported from non-Muslim countries. The case is also the same with agriculture; Muslim countries are lagged in research and development of agriculture and agribusiness compared to such country as Thailand, for instance. In short, the overall importance of science to increase production and added values in the Muslim world is peripheral, and incentives for indigenous growth are small and insignificant.
The fact that scientific research and development are very weak in most of Muslim countries related to another sorry reality; that is, the science as an institution has not existed in an encouraging manner in most of the Islamic world. While in the West and other countries, institutions of science continue to flourish in response to the era of globalization, in most Muslim countries their growth is much slower. In most of the Muslim countries, compared with the rest of the world, the number of research institutions in science is very much lower; the budget spend in scientific programs is almost insignificant; the size of the scientific community and the productivity of the scientists are also considerably lower.
Some of these weaknesses have a lot to do with the state of education in the Muslim world. Scientific research and development and, therefore the growth and decay of science as an institution in society, are inescapably connected with education. In general, education in most Muslim countries is dominated by social sciences and humanities; the number of faculties, departments and programs in science is relatively limited. Worse still, in the teaching processes, rote learning tends to dominate not only in social sciences and humanities, but also in science teaching. It is clear that to a significant degree, the survival of rote learning in educational institutions of contemporary Muslim world shows that many Muslims still believe that knowledge is something to be acquired rather than discovered and developed; therefore, the attitude of mind is passive and receptive rather than creative and inquisitive. Furthermore, all knowledge comes to be viewed as unchangeable and all books tend to be memorized or even venerated.

Past Legacy and Muslim Responses
The fact that Muslim countries in general are very much behind in the fields of science is indeed an historical irony. There is no need to dwell on the great and significant contribution of Muslim scientists to human civilization in the medieval period. One can draw an inexhaustible list of Muslim scientists who were hailed not only from the Arab region, but also from Bukhara, Khurasan, Andalusia and many other regions; they wrote their works not only in religious sciences (al-`ulum al-diniyyah), but also on various branches of rational and empirical sciences.
Commenting on the achievement of Muslim scientists, George Sarton in his famous work, Introduction to the History of Science, says that it will suffice to evoke a few glorious names without contemporary equivalents in the West: Jabr ibn Hayyan, al-Kindi, al-Khawarizmi, al-Farghani, al-Razi, Thabit ibn al-Qurra, al-Battani, al-Farabi, al-Mas`udi, al-Biruni, Ibn Sina, Ibn al-Haytham and many others; a magnificent array of names, which it would not be difficult to extend. Sarton concludes, “if any one tells you that the Middle Ages were scientifically sterile, just quote these men to him, all of whom flourished within relatively short period, between 750 to 1100”.
With regards to the achievements of these Muslim scientists, the irony of the backwardness of the Muslim world today is even bitter. In the midst of rapid progress of modern and contemporary science, many Muslims maintain their suspicion towards science. In many quarters of the Islamic world, science still seems to be regarded as an intellectual and empirical exercises alien to and incompatible with Islam. This unfortunate perception and attitude have of course been inherited by the Muslim world since the 12th century at least, during which period the opposition against science grew rapidly among the fuqaha’ (jurists) and mutakallimun (theologians) who were generally regarded as the true representatives of Islamic orthodoxy.
There are many instances of suspicions among many orthodox scholars towards rational and empirical sciences. Ibrahim Musa (d. 1398), a leading Andalusian scholar, for instance, came to the conclusion that the average orthodox theologian regarded that only those sciences as worthwhile that were necessary to, or useful for, religious practice (`ibadah). All other sciences were without value and would only lead Muslims away from the straight path. A more prominent scholar, Ibn Taymiyyah, believed that `ilm refers only to knowledge that derives from the Prophet; he regards everything else either as useless or no science at all, even though it might be called by name.
The opposition of the Muslim orthodoxy to rational and empirical sciences, in the end created a seemingly unbridgeable gap between the so-called “religious sciences” derived from the “signs” of the Qur’an (“al-ayat al-Qur’aniyyah”) on the one hand, and “non-religious sciences” derived from the “signs of being” (al-ayat al-kawniyyah) on the other. This kind of division and dichotomy can be observed in educational institutions in many parts of the Muslim world today. This dichotomy of sciences is undoubtedly also responsible for the backwardness of science and technology in the Muslim world.
There has been continuing debates among Muslim scholars and leaders on these issues and on how to respond to the ever increasing progress of sciences among other nations and countries. Faced with a fundamental crisis and only too manifest continued decline of the Muslim world, three distinct responses have emerged from within Islamic civilization in the colonial and post-colonial periods. To borrow the characterizations of Eqbal Ahmad, elaborated further by Pervez Hoodbhoy, they are: restorationist, reconstructionist, and pragmatist responses. The latest two groups are, I would argue, basically have similar position. These categories can provide a useful analytical framework within which one can examine the problems and possibilities of developing a science-oriented society in the Muslim world.
The restorationist response seeks to idealized version of the past, and locates all failures, defeats and backwardness of Muslims to their deviation from the true path, that is genuine and pristine Islam in the period of the Prophet and his companions (sahabah, or the salafs). This group of Muslims basically opposes the foundations and appearance of modern, secular, scientific thought and methods. One of the most articulate spokespersons on matters of science and modernity is Maryam Jameelah, a Jewish convert to Islam. In her opinion all pursuits of science and modernism are identical with idolatry; modern science is guided by no moral value, but naked materialism and arrogance. The whole branch of knowledge and its application is contaminated by the same evil. Science and technology are totally dependent upon the set of ideals and values cherished by its members, in the case of modern sciences is the West. She concludes that “if the roots of the tree are rotten, the tree is rotten; therefore all its fruits are rotten”.
Another prominent leader of this group and even much more influential is Abu al-A`la al-Mawdudi, the leader of Jama`at-i-Islami of Pakistan. He bitterly criticizes modern sciences that have been produced by the West. He maintains that geography, physics, chemistry, biology, zoology, geology, and economics are taught in modern education system without reference to God and the Prophet Muhammad. Therefore they become a source of Muslims’ straying from the truth. He argues that reflection on the nature of modern education immediately reveals some contradiction with the nature of Islamic education. He concludes that “you teach them science which is devoid of reason and slave of the senses”.
The second group, the reconstructionist as well as the pragmatist stand in the opposite side of the restorationist. Their position is essentially to reinterpret certain teachings of Islam in order to reconcile the demands of modern civilization with Islam. This group argues that Islam in the period of the Prophet and his companions was revolutionary, progressive and rational. Muslims’ backwardness in later period of Muslim history was a direct result of superstitious beliefs and rejection of reason in favor of blind obedience to old and archaic tradition.
One representative of this group was Sayyid Ahmad Khan (1817-1898) who proposes that since the Qur’an was the word of God and since scientific truths were manifestly correct, then any contradiction between religion and science could only be apparent and not real. Criticizing Muslims’ tendency to read old religious books while ignoring scientific ones, Ahmad Khan suggests that Muslims should adopt modern sciences in order for them to resolve their problems.
Another prominent thinker of the constructionist and pragmatist groups was Jamal al-Din al-Afghani (1838-1897). He was of course a bitter enemy of Western colonialism, but there is no doubt that he was also enchanted with the power of modern science that he regarded as the secret of the strength of the Western world. In a lecture in Calcutta in 1882, al-Afghani says that if someone looks into the question of Muslims’ inability to confront the West, then he will see that science rules the world. There was, is, and will be no ruler in the world but science; the benefits of science are immeasurable. Al-Afghani furthermore believes that Islam brought with it a spirit of scientific inquiry. He argues that the first Muslims had no science, but thanks to Islam, a philosophic spirit arose among them. This was why they acquired in a short time all the sciences with particular subjects that they translated from the Syriac, Persian, and Greek into the Arabic language.

Islamic Education and Reintegration of Sciences
This paper basically argues that in order for Muslims to able to compete in the age of globalization, there should be an adoption of new paradigm of Islamic education. In that context, it is good to quote Nasr who persuasively argued that sciences in Islam are based on the idea of transcendent unity, which is the heart of Islamic revelation. In fact, the aim of all the Islamic sciences is to show the unity and interrelatedness of all that exists. So that, in contemplating the unity of the cosmos, human being may be led to the unity of the Divine Principle. That is why Muslim scientists believe that rational and empirical knowledge will lead naturally to the affirmation of the Divine Unity.
With regards to that argument, the unifying perspective of Islam has never allowed various forms of knowledge to be cultivated independently each other. There is, however, hierarchy of knowledge in which every form of knowledge from that of material substances to the highest metaphysics is organically interrelated. The rise of sciences in Islamic civilization and their later development is inconceivable without the ever present spirit of the Islamic revelation; and the manner this revelation has moulded the minds, actions, and surroundings of Muslims scientists and civilizations responsible for the creation and cultivation of the sciences.
Again, sciences came into being among Muslim scientists from a wedding between the spirit that originated from the Qur’anic revelation and the existing sciences of various civilizations which the Muslims inherited. This is particularly true in regard to the kawniyyah (nature) sciences from the Greek, Chaldean, Persian, Indian and Chinese. However, in the process of transmission of the sciences, Muslim scientists transmuted them through spiritual power of Islam into a new substance, at once different from and continous with what had existed before. The international and cosmopolitan nature of the Islamic civilization, derived from the universal character of the Islamic revelation, enabled it to create the first science of a truly international nature in human history. Muslim scientists united these sciences into a new corpus of sciences, which was to grow over the centuries and became part and parcel of Islamic civilization.
As far as sciences are concerned, the present challenges of Islamic education are two-folds. Firstly, sciences that have been separated from spiritual and ethical values and, therefore, to some extent are harmful even for the future of human being and the universe. Through various levels of Islamic education, this kind of sciences should be reconciled with religious and spiritual values, so that they can bring the utmost benefit for human being and all universe (rahmah li al-‘alamin). Secondly, the marginality of (general) sciences vis-à-vis the so-called “religious sciences”. The challenge of Islamic education here is to bring general sciences into mainstream of Islamic perspective of `ilm as a whole. The reconciliation and reintegration between the two groups of sciences—the sciences that derived from the ayat al-Qur’aniyyah and those derived from the ayat kawniyyah—means the return to the transcendent unity of all knowledge.
The cultivation of integrated sciences in the Muslim world is clearly dependent on an educational system than allows the transmission and implantation of knowledge in all its forms in an integrated and holistic manner. Islamic educational system should emphasize all of the religious sciences, but at the same time it also includes all other forms of knowledge and sciences.
In that context, it is relevant to cite the model developed by Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University of Jakarta which devotes itself to integration of sciences mentioned above. This integration is based on faith, knowledge and good deeds. The paradigm of scientific integration is the basis for the development of the university, so that it can contribute significantly to the progress of the nation.

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*Azyumardi Azra is Professor of history and Director of Graduate School, Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University, Jakarta, Indonesia (January 2007-on); and was Deputy for Social Welfare at the Office of Vice-President of the Republic of Indonesia (April 2007-October 20, 2009).
He was rector of Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University for two terms (1998-2002 and 2002-2006). He earned his MA, MPhil and PhD degrees in history from Columbia University (1992) with the dissertation “The Transmission of Islamic Reformism to Indonesia: Networks of Middle Eastern and Malay-Indonesian `Ulama’ in the 17th and 18th Centuries”. In May 2005 he was awarded Doctoral Degree Honoris Causa in Humane Letters from Carroll College, Montana, USA.
He is also a Honorary Professorial Fellow, University of Melbourne, Australia (2004-9); a member of Board of Trustees, International Islamic University, Islamabad, Pakistan (2004-9); and a member of Academic Development Committee, Aga Khan International University-Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations (AKU-ISMC), London (2006-8).
He has been involved as a member of selection committees for research awards, such as SEASREP (Southeast Asia Studies Research Exchange Program (The Nippon Foundation & The Asia Center, Tokyo, 1998-9). He is also a member of Advisory/Management Board of Asian Research Foundation (ARF), Bangkok (2005-now); Asian Scholarship Foundation (ASF), Bangkok (2007-9); The Habibie Centre Scholarship (Jakarta, 2005-on); Asian Public Intellectual Fellowship Program, The Nippon Foundation, Tokyo (2007-now); and Indonesian International Education Foundation (IIEF, Jakarta 2007-on).He is Indonesian National Research Council (DRN, 2004-now); and also a life-time member of Indonesian Academy of Sciences (AIPI).
In addition, he is a member of advisory board of a number of international institutions such as the Multi-Faith Centre (MFC), Griffith University, Brisbane, Australia (2005-09); the US Institute of Global Ethics and Religion (2004-on); Center for the Study of Contemporary Islam (CSCI), University of Melbourne, Melbourne (2005-09); Centre for Islamic Law and Society, University of Melbourne (2008-on); the UN Democracy Fund/UNDEF, New York (2006-08); LibforAll (2006-on). He is also member of the Tripartite Forum [governments, UN offices and Civil Society organizations] for Interfaith Cooperation for Peace, Development and Human Dignity, launched at the UN in New York on March 24, 2006; member of the Board of International IDEA (Institute for Democracy an Electoral Assistance, Stockholm 2007-on); member of Board of Governors, Bali Democracy Forum (BDF)/Institute for Peace and Democracy (IPD), Jakarta/Bali, 2008-on); and member of Council of Faith, World Economic Forum, Davos (2008-now).
He is editor-in-chief, Studia Islamika: Indonesian Journal for Islamic Studies (1994-on); advisory board of Journal of Qur’anic Studies (SOAS, London, 2005-on), Journal of Usuluddin (Universiti Malaya, Kuala Lumpur, 2005 on); Australian Journal of Asian Law (2008-on); Journal of Islamic Advanced Studies (Kuala Lumpur, 2008-on); and Journal of Royal Asiatic Society (JRAS, London 2009-on).
He has been international visiting fellow at Oxford University, University of Philippines, New York University, Columbia University, University of Melbourne and many others. He regularly presented papers on various topics at national and international conferences.
He has published 21 books; numerous chapters in internationally edited books; his latest books are The Origins of Islamic Reformism in Southeast Asia, Crows Nest, Australia: Asian Studies Association of Australia and Allen & Unwin; Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press; Leiden: KITLV Press, 2004; Dari Harvard hingga Makkah, Jakarta: Republika, 2005; Indonesia, Islam and Democracy, Jakarta & Singapore: ICIP & Equinox, 2006; Islam in the Indonesian World: An Account of Institutional Development, Bandung: Mizan International, 2007; and contributing editor (with Wayne Hudson), Islam beyond Conflict: Indonesian Islam and Western Political Theory, London: Ashgate, 2008.
He is also co-chair of United Kingdom-Indonesia Muslim Advisory Council, formed at the end of 2006 by British PM Tony Blair and Indonesian Presiden Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono; since May 2007.
In conjunction with the commemoration of Indonesian independence (August 17, 1945), on August 15, 2005, he was awarded by Indonesian government the ‘Bintang Maha Putra Utama’ [lit, the Star of the Greatest Son of the Soil], the highest star for Indonesia civilian, for his outstanding contribution to development of moderate Islam in the country. Early that year, in conjunction with its 50th year anniversary, The Asia Foundation (TAF) also awarded him for his outstanding contribution to the modernization of Islamic education in Indonesia.

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