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TRADITIONAL ISLAM as understood by the vast majority of ulama' of the Ahli Sunnah wal Jama'ah











  • We can envisage man as being at once endowed with the faculties of the heart and the potentialities of the intellect and the development of both determines the personality of the total man and the quality of the inner and outer life which emerges forth from the educational process involved.

  • The development of the intellect can be seen in the educational process which develops the rational faculty (the ‘aql) seen as the ray from the total Intellect which touches the human subject making him capable of  conceiving of the absolute and the relative, the necessary and the  contingent, the substance and the the form, the kernel and the outer shell, quality and quantity, the beginning and the end of things. This determines the blessedness and the meaning of existence and life and also the final ends for the human subject.

  • The development of the heart (the qalb of the Qur’an and the Islamic Tradition) determines the success of the educational process leading to the emergence of the human spiritual core   characterized by clarity and breadth of spiritual vision, the purity of character and the realization of the virtues, the life of spiritual and devotional collectedness freeing the human subject from the woes of mental feverishness and agitation, and hence leading the development of the total man characterized by serenity of spirit and clarity of perception.

  • This message is clear from the statement of the Qur'an to the effect: "Verily We have apportioned for the Hell Fire many from among the jinn and mankind, they have hearts (qulub, the plural of qalb) but they do not understand, they have ears but they do not hear, they have eyes but they do not see, they are like cattle, (in fact) they are worse in misguidance".  

  • This is envisaged clearly in the Islamic tradition from the saying of the Prophet of Islam - peace and blessings be upon him - “Verily there is in man  a lump of flesh, if it is sound, then the whole person (al-jasad) is sound, if it is unsound, the  whole person is unsound, verily it is the heart”. This heart refers to the spiritual and intellectual core of the human personality the development of which results in the proper and balanced development of the total human personality.

  • The empowerment of the heart in this tradition is seen in the process of imparting the total fundamental truth contained in the Islamic testimony meaning “There is  no deity except Allah (the Absolute), and Muhammad is the envoy of Allah”. The first statement refers to all truths about the Absolute, the second about the Prophet, and also by extension about the whole cosmic manifestation in so far as the prophet symbolizes the total cosmic manifestation.

  • From this fundamental and saving truth taught  and hence realized man will be able to see all other relative and contingent truths in the balanced perspective, therefore placing him on the Divine Axis, freeing him from dissipation and spiritual and intellectual rebellion against his own pristine primordial nature in which God has moulded him.

  • From this realization, the rational and quantitative sciences and all the branches of arts taught will be placed  in an integrating focus in the epistemology leading to the wholesome development of the deep hearted man of pure faith, and virtues, the intellectual man of action struggling for the salvation of himself and his nation and community - in fact for the whole of mankind, seeing that the fundamental and saving truth is meant for all mankind.

  • The combination of knowledge as integral to human right actions is clear from the prayer taught by the Prophet - peace and blessings be upon him - when he says: ”O Lord,  show us the truth as truth and make us put it into practice, and show us the false as false and make us avoid it”. Hence knowledge is not merely known but to be made a part of the practice  in the human personality.

  • This  combination of profound faith and purity of morals, masterly grasp and understanding of the sciences and the arts - to the suitable level of the person concerned - together with the expertise of the seasoned worker, will prepare the citizen of the nation and the world for facing life challenges of the millennium - together with globalization, God willing. This is our collective vocation in education - even more in the tertiary level, since error at this level spells far-reaching negative consequences for our national cultural and intellectual development.

  • In short, the educational ideal is such that it actualizes in the individual the intellectual, moral, spiritual and physical potentialities in helping to develop our culture and civilization in accordance with our world-view, epistemology and axiology, based on our belief in God, and that we are capable of maintaining this identity and we play our role in determining the directions of the globalization process, God willing.

  • Hence, when we come to the university at the undergraduate level this ideal must be clearly focused in exposing the students  to their subjects of study. They must be trained to be men of faith and strong morality and character, and they must be educated to be committed to the idealism of gaining strong mastery of their subjects, together with the necessary expertise in the subjects concerned.

  • The more advanced levels of education and research in the arts and the sciences prepare the specialists for their various fields necessary for the advancement of civilization, the total welfare of man, and the survival of our cultural and civilizational identity in this age of globalization and borderless world.


Ibn Khaldun (rh) on the functions of  the crafts, writing and thinking:

In relation to the  functions of writing, thinking and experience in the process of moulding the development of the human substance, we find the statements of Ibn Khaldun rh in the “al-Muqaddimah” enlightening; he says:

We have already mentioned in the book that the rational soul (the thinking and rational aspect of the soul) exists in man only potentially. Its transformation from potentiality into actuality is effected first by new sciences and perceptions derived from the sensibilia, and then by the latter acquisition (of knowledge) through the speculative power. Eventually it becomes to be actual perception and pure intellect. Thus it becomes a spiritual essence, and its existence then reaches perfection.

Therefore it is necessary that each kind of learning and speculation should provide (the rational soul) with additional intelligence. Now, the crafts and the habit of (the crafts) always lead to the obtainment of scientific norms, which result from the habit. Therefore any experience provides intelligence. The habits of the crafts provide intelligence.  Perfect sedentary culture provides intelligence because it is a conglomerate of crafts characterized by concern for the (domestic) economy, contact with one’s fellow men, attainment of education through mixing with (one’s fellow men), and also administration of religious matters and understanding the ways and conditions governing them. All these (factors) are norms (of how to do things) which, properly arranged, constitutes scientific disciplines. Thus, an increase in intelligence results from them.

In this respect writing is the most useful craft because, in contrast to the (other) crafts, it deals with matters of theoretical, scientific interest. This is explained through (the circumstance) that writing involves a transition from the forms of the written letters to the verbal expressions in the imagination, and from the verbal expression in the imagination to the concepts (underlying them), which are in the soul. The writer, thus, goes from one indication to another, as long as he is wrapped up in writing, and the soul become used to the constant (repetition of the process).  Thus it acquires the habit of going over from the indications to the things meant by them. This is what is meant by intellectual speculation, by means of which the knowledge (hitherto) unknown sciences is provided. As the result of being accustomed to the process of going (over from the indications to the things indicated by them) people acquire the habit of intellection, which constitutes an increase in intelligence and provides an additional insight into affairs and a shrewd understanding of them … 

Concerning the position of man and the importance of his faculty of thought Ibn Khaldun says:

It should be known that God distinguished man from all the other animals by an ability to think which he made the beginning of human perfection and the end of man’s noble superiority over existing things.

This comes about as follows: Perception-that is consciousness, on the part of the person who perceives, in his essence of things that are outside his essence - is something peculiar to living beings to the exclusion of all other being: and existing things. Living beings may obtain consciousness of things  that are outside their essence through the external  senses God has given them, that is, the senses of hearing, vision, smell, taste, and touch. Man has this advantage over the other beings that he may perceive things that he may perceive things outside his essence through his ability to think, which is something beyond his senses. It is the result of (special) powers placed in the cavities in his brain. With the help of these powers man takes the pictures of the sensibilia, applies his mind to them, and thus abstracts from them other pictures. The ability to think is the occupation with pictures that are beyond sense perception, and the application of the mind to them for analysis and synthesis. This is what is meant by the word af’idah “hearts” in the Qur’an. "He gave you hearing and vision and hearts" (Al Qur'an Surah 16: Ayat 78). Af’idah is the plural of fu’ad. It means here the ability to think.

In his view the ability to think has its degrees.  Concerning these degrees he states:

The ability to think has several degrees. The first degree is man’s intellectual understanding of the things that exist in the outside world in a natural or arbitrary order, so that he may try to arrange them with the help of his own power.  This kind of thinking mostly consists of perceptions. It is the discerning intellect, with the help of which man obtains the things that are useful for him and his livelihood, and repels the things that are harmful to him.

The second degree is the ability to think which provides man with the ideas and the behaviour needed in dealing with his fellow men and in leading them. It mostly conveys apperceptions, which are obtained one by one through experience, until they have become really useful. This is called the experimental intellect.

The third degree is the ability to think which provides the knowledge, or hypothetical knowledge, of an object beyond sense perception without any particular activity (going with it).  This is the speculative intellect. It consists of both perceptions and apperceptions. They are arranged according to a special order, following special conditions, and thus provide some other knowledge of the same kind, that is, either perceptive or apperceptive.  Then they are again combined with something else, and again provide some other knowledge.  The end of the process is to be provided with the perception of existence as it is, with its various genera, differences, reasons, and causes. By thinking about these things, (man) achieves perfection in his reality and becomes pure intellect and perceptive soul. This is the meaning of human reality.

Then he goes on to explain that the world of things that come into being as the result of action, materialize through thinking.  He says:

It should be known that the world of existent things comprises pure essences, such as the elements, the things resulting from their influence, and the three things that come into being from the elements, namely minerals, plants, and animals.  All these things are connected with divine power.

It also comprises actions proceeding from living beings that happen through their intentions, and are connected with the that God  has given them. Some of their actions are well arranged and orderly. Such are human actions.  Others are not well arranged and orderly.  They are the actions of living beings other than man.

This is because thinking perceives the order that exists among the things that come into being either by nature or through arbitrary arrangement. When it intends to create something, it must understand the reason or cause of that thing, or the conditions governing it, for the sake of the order that exists among things that come into being. (Reason, cause, conditions) are, in general, the principles of that particular thing, since it is secondary to them, and it is not possible to arrange for something that comes earlier to come later, or for something that comes  earlier to come late or for something that comes later to come earlier.  Such a principle must have another principle to which its own existence is posterior.  This (regression) may go on in an ascending order (from principle to principle), or it may come to an end.

Now, when man, in his thinking, has reached the last principle on two, three, or more levels, and starts the action that will bring the (planned) thing into existence he will start with the last principle that has been reached by his thinking. Thus, (that last principle) will be the beginning of action. He, then, will follow things up to the last element in the causal chain that has been the starting point of his thinking activity.

Then he illustrates this thinking procedure leading to purposive action by giving the example of a person building a shelter for himself.  He says: 

For instance, if a man thinks of bringing into existence a roof to shelter him, he will progress in his mind (from the roof) to the wall supporting the roof, and then to the foundation upon which the wall stands. Here, his thinking will end, and he will then start to work on the foundation, then (go on to) the wall, then (to) the roof, with which his action will end. This is what is meant by the saying:

“The beginning of action is the end of thinking, and the beginning of thinking is the end of action.”

Thus, human action in the outside world materializes only through thinking about  the order of things, since things are based upon each other. After (he has finished thinking) he starts doing things. His thinking starts with the last thing that comes last in the causal chain and is done last. His action starts with the first  thing in the causal chain, which thinking reaches last. Once this order is taken into consideration, human actions proceed in a well-arranged manner.

Then he goes on to explain the actions of animals which are not ordered because they have no thinking capacity to perceive the order of things, perceiving only with the senses without the connecting link of thought. Hence they are subordinate to human actions (hence they are aubjugated by mankind). Ibn Khaldun says:

Now the things that come into being that are of consequence in the world of existent things are those that are orderly. Those that are not orderly are secondary to them.  The actions of animals, therefore, are subordinate to (orderly human actions). (Consequently, their services are forcibly utilized by man. Thus, human actions control the (whole) world of things that come into being and all it contains. Everything is subservient to man and works for him. This is what is meant by the “appointing of a representative” mentioned in the Qur’an:” I am appointing a representative on earth”. (Surah AlBaqarah: Ayat 30). (Hence, nations of orderly actions can dominate other nations not so orderly, societies with orderly actions can dominate those which are not so orderly and so on (El-Muhammady).

He then goes on to explain further the eminence of man because of the thinking faculty.  He states:

The ability to think is the quality of man by which human beings are distinguished from other living beings.  The degree to which a human being is able to establish an orderly causal chain determines the degree of humanity. Some people are able to establish a causal nexus for two or three levels. Some are not able to go beyond that. Others may reach five or six. Their humanity, consequently, is higher. For instance, some chess players are able to perceive (in advance) three or five moves the order of which is arbitrary. Others are unable to do that, because their mind is not good enough for it. This example is not quite to the point, because (the knowledge of) chess is a habit, whereas the knowledge of causal chain is something natural.  However, it is an example the student may use to gain an intellectual understanding of the basic facts mentioned here.  (Rosenthal tr. II.406, 411 ff).

After this he goes on to explain how experimental intellect is developed in social and civilizational life, followed by the rise of religious and rational sciences in Islam.

This spirit of intellectual inquiry as a part of religious has led to the emergence of the mosque-universities, the madrasas, the nizamiyas, and so on, which became the forerunners of the universities of Europe. By reason of this spirit of inquiry there emerged men of learning in the arts and the sciences like Ibn Sina, al-Biruni, al-Ghazali, Ibn Rushd, Umsar Khayyam, al-Idrisi, ar-Razi, and many others whose works had been studied by Europeans.

It is natural that the impetus to thinking given by the revelation of the Quran and the tradition of the Prophet led to the emergence of the intellectual culture of Islam, which further led to the rise of the Renaissance of Europe.


The influence of Islam on Western intellectual culture:

In connection with the subject of the relationship between Islam and the West -especially with reference to the emergence of intellectual culture of Europe initiated with the profound aid of Islam-- the HRH The Prince of Wales has accurately portrayed the situation:

    We have underestimated the importance of 800 years of Islamic Society and Culture in Spain between the 8th and the 15th centuries. The contribution of Muslim Spain to the preservation of classical learning during the Dark Ages, and to the first flowering of the Renaissance, has long been recognized. But Islamic Spain was much more than a mere larder where Hellenic knowledge was kept for later consumption by the emerging modern world. Not only did Muslim Spain gather and preserve the intellectual content of ancient Greek and Roman civilization, and made a vital contribution of its own in so many fields of human endeavour - in science, astronomy, mathematics, algebra (itself an Arabic word), law, history, medicine, pharmacology, optics, agriculture, architecture, theology, music.

Averroes and Avenzoor, like their counterparts Avicenna and Rhazes in the East, contributed to the study and practice of medicine in ways from which Europe benefited for centuries afterwards.

Islam nurtured and preserved the quest of learning. In the words of (Prophet’s) tradition “the ink of the scholar is more sacred than the blood of the martyr”.  Cordoba in the 10th century was by far the most civilized city of Europe.  We know of lending libraries in Spain at the time of King Alfred was making terrible blunders with the culinary arts in this country. It is said that the 400,000 volumes of its ruler’s library amounted to more books than all the rest of Europe put together. That was made possible because the Muslim World acquired from China the  skill of making paper more than four hundred years before the rest of non-Muslim Europe .many of the traits on which Europe prides itself came to it from Muslim Spain. Diplomacy, free trade, open borders, the techniques of academic research, of anthropology, etiquette, fashion, alternative medicine, hospitals, all came from this great city of cities. Medieval Islam was a religion of remarkable tolerance for its time, allowing Jews and Christians to practice their inherited beliefs, and setting an example which was not, unfortunately, copied for many centuries in the West. The surprise, ladies and gentlemen,  is the extent to which Islam has been a part of Europe for so long, first in Spain, then in the Balkans, and the extent to which it has contributed so much towards the civilization which we  all often think of, wrongly,  as entirely Western. Islam is part of our past and present, in all fields of human endeavour. It has helped to create modern Europe.  It is part of our own inheritance, not a thing apart. (

In connection with the contribution of Islam to the Renaissance - and hence to the modern world - it is stated:

It is well to recall that Islam not only caused Islamic civilization to develop but also enabled the European Renaissance to take root and grow. The time when Islam was most strongly established was also the time when art, culture and literature flourished, whether in Spain or, later under the Ottomans, the Safavids, and the Mughals, Christian Europe was enveloped in darkness until Islam came to the Iberian Peninsula. For centuries Islam fed Greek, Sanskrit, and Chinese ideas into Europe. Slowly and steadily Europe began to absorb those ideas. In England, France, Germany, and Italy society began to explore literature and art with a new perspective; thus the seeds of the Renaissance were sown … 

(Akbar S. Ahmad, “Living Islam”, p. 15. In

The influence of Islamic intellectual culture on Europe is very much emphasized by Dr Hans Koechler in his paper entitled “Muslim Christian Ties in Europe: Past, Present, and Future” (September, 1996 in Kuala Lumpur). He says eloquently and cogently:

It is a historical fact that the shaping of a genuine European intellectual life in the Middle Ages was the result of the flourishing Islamic civilization in Spain.  During five centuries – from the eighth to the thirteenth century exactly - the history of world civilization was that of Islam. In comparison to the Christian civilization of Europe at that time, Islamic civilization was much more refined and enlightened. Over a crucial period of roughly two hundred years Europe’s encounter with Islamic civilization enabled it to develop its skills in all scholarly and scientific fields, particularly those of philosophy, medicine, astronomy, chemistry and mathematics. It is one of the greatest achievements of Muslim scholars in the Middle Ages to have preserved the treasures of ancient Greek philosophy and science for posterity. Christian scholars only came to know about the concepts of Aristotelian metaphysics through the Arab philosophers in Spain and their translators and commentaries. The Arab philosopher Ibn Rushd (Averroes), born in Cordoba in 1126, exercised the biggest influence through his commentary on Aristotle. The Arab school (Universities) in Cordoba, Seville, Granada, Valencia, Toledo attracted great number of Christian scholars.  Great Christian thinkers of that time, such as Albertus Magnus, Roger Bacon, Thomas Aquinas, William of Ockham, Gerbert of Aurillac, later to become Pope Sylvester II , to mention only a few, developed their intellectual skills in those centres of learning”. (

Concerning further intellectual influence of Islam on Europe, especially in studies and research relating to medicine, he writes:

The “Great Library of Europe” in Toledo (in Islamic times) -where in 1130 a school of translation was founded- attracted students and researchers from all over Europe. Arab-Islamic medical science had an enormous impact on the development of the medical discipline in Europe. The first professors of medicine at the newly established European universities in the 12th century were all former students of Arab scholars. The basic work of the most famous medical scholar, Ibn Sina (Avicenna), al-Qanun (Canon medicinae) was taught in all major European faculties of medicine over six centuries. As late as 1587 King Henry III of France established a chair for Arabic language at the College Royal in order to promote medical research in France….

Concerning developments in other fields he writes:

Similar influences on the development of scientific methods can be traced in the fields of mathematics, astronomy, chemistry, architecture, music and industrial techniques. The Arab astronomer al-Battani (Albatenius, 858-929) authoritatively disproved the Ptolemaic dogma of heliocentrism long before Copernicus published his famous treatise De revolutionibus orbium coelestium in the 16th century. The Roman period of European art was deeply indebted to Islamic architecture particularly in Spain. Without going  into further detail one can rightly state that the Islamic civilization – that flourished in the South of Europe until the late 12th century and its universal achievements even surpassed the earlier contribution of the Roman Empire to the development of civilization - awakened Europe from its “dogmatic sleep” in the Middle Ages and thus prepared an early European Renaissance in the sense of an enlightened, rational, non-dogmatic world vision.

Then he goes on to explain the unfortunate prejudiced attitude of Europe towards Islam and Muslims which makes objective intellectual and civilizational dialogue difficult, in spite of what has happened throughout the centuries.

Before concluding this brief talk, as a student of Islam and Islamic thought, I humbly would like to submit the following for our collective consideration as Muslims and as citizens on Malaysia in this Malay World; and this has been mentioned many times on several occasions:

  • One, the primacy of the Islamic Sunni world-view and epistemology which must be kept in mind and understood up to the relevant degree as an intellectual perimeter for structuring of thought.

  • Two, among Muslims, the primacy of the Sunni theological framework which should be upheld in the Malay World, for spiritual and theological stability and authenticity, keeping in mind all the relevant developments necessary for contemporary intellectual and theological guidance.

  • Three, in matters pertaining to the Islamic Sacred law-the Shari’ah - the Shafi’I Sunni school is upheld, together with the necessary additions of legal decisions made pertaining to contemporary issues.

  • Four, in matters pertaining to Islamic spirituality and ethics, the Ghazali corpus should be the source for guidance, together with the necessary additions made by reason of the demands due to changes in culture and thought.

  • Finally, the “Muqaddimah” of Ibn Khaldun should be utilized in matters for cultural and civilizational empowerment, together with additions made whenever necessary because of developments in contemporary culture and thought.  

From all the above it is clear that intellectual culture must be fostered to the maximum degree at all costs - of course without losing sight of the integral nature of knowledge combining with high degree of spiritual awareness and moral excellence - beginning with the schools and then reaching its zenith in the university.  It is here, if we understand Ibn Khaldun correctly, that humanity reaches the peak of its intellectual and human perfection, for humanity is perfected through the perfection of the intellectual function. This is done not only for extrinsic reasons for survival and development in the conventional sense, but also for the intrinsic reason due to the demands of the nature of man and the prerequisite for his blessedness and meaningful existence. And this can succeed only - Allah willing - with synergistic cooperation of those concerned: the teachers, students, administrators, funders, the government, and in fact the whole nation.

Wallahu a’lam.




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