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Khan is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Adrian College in Michigan.
He is a Visiting Fellow at Brookings Institution and a Fellow of the
Institute for Social Policy and Understanding.
For a comprehensive resume
click here: Resume
Diversity in Islam
American Muslims in Public Policy
Muslims in America: Roadmap for
American Muslims: Bridging Faith
THE ROLE OF SOCIAL
SCIENTISTS IN MUSLIM SOCIETIES
article was published in the May 2004 issue of Islamic Horizon
basis for happiness in this world and the next is Knowledge
The Importance of Social Sciences
is no doubt in my mind that the diminishing Muslim vision of knowledge and
the knowledgeable is singularly responsible for the decline of creativity,
dynamism, vitality and power of the Islamic civilization. Today, without
doubt, the Muslim world lags behind all other civilizations in its
production and consumption of knowledge. Today most Muslims think of
knowledge as that limited to the familiarity with medieval Muslim
understanding of law and jurisprudence. Scholars are only those who
“memorize” Quran and the traditions and are familiar with pedagogical
and epistemological tools developed a thousand years ago. It is therefore
not surprising that under the intellectual leadership of this class of
scholars the Ummah has gone from
one low to another lower low.
One area of knowledge that has been deeply neglected by Muslims is the arena of social sciences. Except for the Islamization of Knowledge project and the American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences, both initiatives launched by American Muslims in early 1980s, there has been very little attempt by Muslims to indegenize social sciences. Social sciences, unlike Islamic sciences, which are essentially normative paradigms, have an empirical focus. Social sciences are more interested in understanding and describing the world as it is rather than on postulating on how it ought to be. Without being prejudicial about what is more important, we must realize that while medieval Islamic sciences do provide a view of how the world ought to be a thousand years ago they do not equip our jurist-scholars with the training and tools necessary to understand the world as it is. Ulema’s discourses on how the world ought to be become meaningless and therefore ineffective because they are not grounded in contemporary realities. Very simply, if you do not understand where you are, even if you know where you have to go, you will go no where.
you need social sciences to understand where you are and put religious
knowledge of where to go to effective use.
To put it bluntly, without social sciences, traditional Islamic
sciences are useless.
in the creation of the heavens and the earth,
Quran also exhorts Muslims to undertake empirical study in Surah Al
Travel through the earth and see
countries such as Japan, India and China have developed indegenized social
scientists who use advanced analytical and research skills in the interest
of their nations and provide the necessary information to make effective
policy. The progress and growth and development of these nations are
indicative of the success of their social scientists. The Muslim world,
which often looks to “the Ulema”
to ask all questions such as is it halal to eat gummy bears or if
one can one marry two sisters simultaneously, and is it ok to join the WTO
and is democracy a good idea, remains strikingly underdeveloped.
While the Ulema are
“trained” to answer the first two questions, contemporary reality is
outside their domain.
success of non-Muslims and the failure of Muslims in worldly matters can
be explained only through the knowledge deficit that plagues the Muslim
community. The Quran once again is so clear on this issue:
Allah will raise up
to (suitable) ranks (and degrees) those of you who believe and who have
been granted knowledge. [Quran
I cannot comment on the faith of anyone, I can understand that Allah has
raised the West and the Far East to great heights and honor purely because
of their commitment to freedom of thought and knowledge. The best
universities and the most productive work in knowledge accumulation is
taking place in the West and the Far East. Actually everywhere except in
the Muslim World.
Social scientists must not only be consulted but also encouraged to research, speak and write freely on the most important and pressing issues such as external and internal security, geopolitics, globalization, inter-faith politics, economics, social and public policy and short and long term planning. Other issues that they can enrich are normative discussions based on empirical experience of institutions and polities that are best suited for our times. Social sciences are now very diverse, very complex and very advanced. They deal with issues all across the board and their findings impact policy at all levels.
sciences that were developed – remember they were developed by human
beings not revealed by God – were quite advanced for their time and help
vitalize the Islamic world and make it a dominant and thriving
civilization. However they have enjoyed little development in over a
thousand years. In Islamic Madrassahs syllabi have not been revised in
over 200 years! All good social scientists revise their curriculum every
time they teach their courses. While Islamic sciences have languished,
social sciences have advanced. While the former remains a dead tradition
the latter is alive and growing.
Social sciences have also added Islamic studies to their realm and have developed a more nuanced, more sophisticated and even empowering vision of Islam by critiquing and building upon traditional Islamic sciences. Today it is easy to find Muslim social and humanities scholars who are also trained in traditions methods, who now empowered by new epistemologies and are doing wonderful research that if the Ummah were to embrace would resuscitate the community.
the knowledge to revive and develop the Islamic Ummah is available. It is
time the community recognizes that the for centuries we have failed to
become leaders of humanity and fulfill our mandate as Allah’s
vicegerents on earth (Quran 2:30) is because we have surrendered our
vision, our faith and our reason to deadwood.
Power is a function of knowledge.
Are those equal, those who know and those who do not know?
Ummah is powerless because those who they consider as knowledgeable
have failed for over 500 years to provide us with an empowering vision.
Muslims now live in times where the basic objectives and even values of
the community are questioned. It is time American Muslim social scientists
stepped up to the plate and addressed some of these issues. The community
needs new vision and new direction. In academic journals and conferences
Muslim social scientists have provided sophisticated analysis of our
condition and also enlightening pathways for a better and more secure
future for all. It is now up
to the community leaders to connect the output of these scholars with the
direction of the community.
by nature are isolationists. They need seclusion to think, research and
write. It is not fair to expect them to come forward, some do like yours
truly, but the community must also seek them and seek their guidance .
future belongs to those who have thought the deepest about it.
M. A. Muqtedar Khan is Director of International Studies and Chair, Political Science Department at Adrian College. He is a non-resident fellow at the Brookings Institution. He is the author of American Muslims: Bridging Faith and Freedom (2002) and Jihad for Jerusalem: Identity and Strategy in International Politics (2004). He writes and maintains www.ijtihad.org.
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