The educational system of a civilization is the bloodline which gives birth to great creative minds, intellects and epoch making ideas which shape the universal standard of knowledge. Those who generate and offer to the humanity the universal standard of knowledge proving its superiority over others lead the humanity. Allah (SWT) has aptly stated this general principle in the Qur‟an (39: 9) saying, “Those who are knowledgeable and those who are not, are they equal? Indeed, only the people of wisdom can recognise this”. It is this truth that the Islamic civilization started with fourteen and a quarter century ago. The very initial dictates of the civilization, the 96th surah of the Qur‟an (Surat al-„Alaq), contain certain fundamental concepts regarding knowledge: Iqra‟ (reading), Khalaq (creating), „Ilm (knowledge), „Allama (teaching), „Allama bi al-Qalam (writing), „Allama ma lam `yalam (transmission of knowledge). Furthermore, the superiority of the “all knowing” (the Lord) is clearly established over the un- knowledgeable agent (human being). And finally, a total reorientation of the source of knowledge and its purpose is explicit in the message.
The entire Islamic civilization that subsequently developed following the first revelation contained superiority in knowledge and understanding, a culture of knowledge creation advancing challenging discourses and ideas, offered path- breaking solutions to universal philosophical riddles, generated noble systems for social, political, legal and economic life, and advanced scientific breakthroughs in all branches of knowledge. An intensive and engaging culture of knowledge creation, contestation and dissemination of knowledge was the very backbone of the civilization rested on intellectual proliferation and endless habit of writing, producing numerous volumes. Naturally, the great Muslim cities such as Baghdad, Bukhara, Cairo and Cordova, and educational institutions and personalities there, became the global centres of learning of the day. The Islamic civilization surpassed other existing civilizations due to its superiority of knowledge, its creative cultivation, and its purposive universal mission for the humanity. However, over time, the Muslim Ummah lost its knowledge culture, its creative zeal and its purposive mission. It succumbed to the dominance and superiority of the modern Western civilization.
The modern Western civilization has its purposive flaws in terms of the meaning and purpose of human life, creation of knowledge and its purpose, and its worldview. The most fundamental of it is separating man from his Creator either negating the latter altogether or isolating the presence and role of the creator (if any) from the practical personal and socio-political life of man. The separation of Church and State or temporal and spiritual is the hallmark of the modern Western civilization in which true knowledge relies solely on human intellect. As such, “truth” and “knowledge” have become subjective to human material utilitarian values. The humanity, therefore, is at a loss in terms of its meaning, role and purpose.
Islam emphatically claims that it contains the absolute universal truth; therefore, it can guide the humanity to the right direction. However, such a role of Islam depends not on Divine interference but on human performance. As Allah (SWT) says in the Qur‟an (13:11): “Surely, Allah does not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves”. This performance depends on Muslims‟ depth, quality, extensiveness and superiority in knowledge which is sorely lacking in the Muslim world. The educational condition of the Muslims in the Muslim world as inheritors of once mighty Islamic civilization is extremely deplorable in terms of mere literacy, quality of education, scholarship and intellectual creativity. Yet, the Ummah is entrusted with propagation and upholding the universal truth fostering and maintaining a cordial relationship between man and the creator. However, unless the Ummah is intellectually capable and creative, its universal mission remains undelivered.
Thus far, a number of points become clear. Firstly, knowledge and its superiority are essential for a civilization to grow, sustain and offer guidance to the humanity. Secondly, the humanity today under the dominance of the modern Western civilization has lost its purposive mission due to the secular materialistic worldview. And thirdly, the Muslim Ummah entrusted to guide the humanity lacks the essential quality equipped with proper knowledge, education, creativity and scholarship. Then the question is how the Muslim Ummah can perform its universal mission?
Believing in the ever-powerful spirit of Islam, a group of enlightened contemporary Muslim scholars have employed their constructive thoughts to redress the dilapidated state of Muslim education. These Muslim scholars have identified that the very enterprise of knowledge has become corrupt in the first place by its being divorced from the Divine source and relying on human
rationality alone. On the other hand, the existing corpus of Islamic knowledge is inadequate and inefficient to offer alternative to the dominant body of knowledge the modern Western civilization has produced. So those scholars have come up with a noble and challenging idea called Islamization of Knowledge (IOK). The idea having its modern origin in the 1970s became conceptually rich and operational by 1980s. Instrumental to the idea and its operationalization are leading scholars such as Ismail Raji al-Faruqi, Syed Ali Ashraf, Syed Naquib al- Attas, Muhammad Kamal Hassan and Abdul Hamid A. AbySulayman, and institutions such as the Association of Muslim Social Scientists (AMSS), and The International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT), USA with the help of various Muslim countries such as Bangladesh, Malaysia, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. The basic idea behind Islamization of Knowledge is: firstly, reorienting the enterprise of knowledge in general from secular to the Divine worldview; secondly, rectifying the modern secular body of knowledge with Islamic teachings; thirdly, reforming the educational system in the Muslim world to produce an integrated system in combination with Islamic teachings and modern scientific progress; and finally, producing a complete set of Islamic knowledge in all branches of education as an alternative to the secular one. Moreover, IOK at the individual level requires two parallel developments simultaneously – Islamization as understood in the four points listed earlier, and developing an Islamic personality accordingly. The project and process is a continuous one which deserves periodic evaluations.