Rethinking Knowledge

Mehraj-u-Din

Knowledge is undeniably one of the most important constituents in civilizations whether it is Greek or Islamic and Confucian or Western.  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 vis-a-vis modern positivist Durkhiemian 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?

Reading through 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 on 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 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 collective 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 things as mere things, and that it has reduced the study of the phenomenal world to an end in itself. Certainly this has brought material benefits, however 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 clean sweep of “traditional” form of knowledge on the verge of modernity has dismantled the roots of sacred constructs 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 survivingly limited intellectual exposure. In my native land called Kashmir, there are only two worldviews being imprinted in our mind, from the day, we try to open the wings of intellect. One is “my aim in life” and “education means materialistic highhandedness”, we are experiencing the same crisis, where knowledge is divorced from the sacred. Being myself a student and still travelling on the pursuit of knowledge gives me a first hand experience of how knowledge and education is being received in Kashmir. My experience of Kashmir University from half a decade, proves me right. 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 across the sea. On the contrary, we see a Las-Vegasian mentality popping up in the current generation devoid of any sacred and “consciousness” from the spirit of knowledge. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said, “One of the signs of end of times is that 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 bhat.mehraj7@gmail.com

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