Rethinking Knowledge


Knowledge is undeniably one of the most important constituents in civilizations whether it is Greek, Confucian, Western or Islamic.  Looking through the prism of civilizational discourse, knowledge has been given a sacrosanct place in the emblem of these narratives. Reading through the Greek texts via Islamic epistemological roots of knowledge into modern positivist construction of knowledge creates a sarcastic feeling of something being wrong with the modern construct of knowledge.  Incessantly, the foundational question to be asked is the reason for knowledge? What are the objectives of knowledge? Do we really appreciate knowledge in modern times as we used to objectify in the traditional societies?

A journey into the philosophical texts of Plato, Socrates permeates a feeling of sincere quest for the pursuit of the higher being – higher form of wisdom — which Hossein Nasr would call philosophica sacra. “Islam is a religion based upon knowledge, and a denial of the possibility and objectivity of knowledge would involve the destruction of the fundamental basis upon which not only the religion, but all the sciences are rooted”. It is quite important to see that knowledge is an individual pursuit to know, recognize and quench the apocryphal thirst for the sacred. In the Islamic tradition also, we witness the same construct gains precedence in the discourse on knowledge. Syed Naquib al Attas would define it as “adab” the re-orientation of Self in line with the sacred, nourishing oneself with the values of Islam.

Every tradition has given sacred sacrosanct sanctity to knowledge within its own epistemological and ontological pretext. What we experience in the post-enlightened western world is the deontologization of knowledge from its sacred epistemological roots. The modern epistemological glasses see everything from material perspective, and that it has reduced the study of the phenomenal world as an end in itself. Certainly this has brought material benefits, but it is accompanied by an uncontrollable and insatiable propensity to destroy nature itself. Al-Attas maintains a firm critique that to study and use nature without a higher spiritual end has brought mankind to the state of thinking that men are gods or His co-partners. “Devoid of real purpose, the pursuit of knowledge becomes a deviation from the truth, which necessarily puts into question the validity of such knowledge. [Islam and Secularism, p.36] Hamza Yusuf in one of his lectures stresses and exemplifies the boredom and materialistic underpinnings of western education which has altogether deconstructed the fabric of education making it more scientific and less meaningful for satiating the thirst of human souls across territorial boundaries.

The divorce of “Sacred” form of knowledge on the verge of modernity has dismantled the roots of theocentric construct of knowledge in the most brimming religio-sacred societies. Experiencing the paradigm shift in the knowledge structure has devoid human beings from the essence of knowledge. Living in the ossified, confused and occupied territory derailed my definitions of concepts and limited their scope within the walls of my limited intellectual exposure. In Kashmir, there is only one predominant model imposed and painted in our mind, from the day, we start to exert our intellect.

Paradoxically, it is “my aim in life” which actually is the extension of “modern nihilistic self-centered subjective materialism”.  We are experiencing the same crisis, where knowledge is divorced from the sacred in this globalized capitalist world. Being myself a student gives me a first-hand experience of how knowledge and education is being received in Kashmir. The main aim of Education as we discussed above was to connect you with the sacred, make you a better human being, and permeate the scent of joy and happiness within your socio-cultural environment. On the contrary, we see a materialistically nihilistic mentality popping up in our society devoid of any sacred and conscious underpinnings of knowledge which creates a serious ethical vacuum in our society. How relevant is the saying of Prophet Muhammad (saas) who said, “One of the signs of the end of times is when people study other than the sake of God”.

The author is a doctoral candidate at Shah-i-Hamadan Institute of Islamic Studies, University of Kashmir and can be mailed at


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