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Islamization of Social Sciences: A Literature Review

时间:2010-04-07  来源:华研通讯第5-6期  SEE Hoon Peow 点击:

Since the 1977 International Conference on Islamic Education in Makkah, we have witnessed tremendous efforts among Muslim scholars to engage in a movement call the Islamization of Knowledge. According to Ragab (1999), it is almost self evident that the Islamization of social sciences, for a number of epistemological and methodological reasons, is the heart of this intellectual movement. In a discussion of this movement, it is best to provide a review of the efforts in the Islamization of the social sciences.

This review will consider three relevant books and eleven articles written by Muslim social scientists. It is acknowledged that this list is anything but exhaustive. Nevertheless, these works are representative of the various positions Muslim social scientists take in the Islamization of their discipline and in the epistemological and methodological strategies they adopt to engage in the Islamizing process.

We may group the positions and strategies adopted by Muslim social scientists into a few categories in an attempt to better understand their works. Basically, the categories reflect the attitudes toward "Western Social Sciences" 1 and associated strategies that are adopted.

On one extreme are writers such as Davies (1988) who are critical of "Western Anthropology", to the extent of almost regarding it as irrelevant for the Muslims. They then advocate a reconstruction of an "Islamic Anthropology" based on Islamic consonance, concepts and context. Davies accepts only some of the terminologies of "Western Anthropology" out of convenience, and proposes "ilm ul umran " as an alternative to "Western Anthropology". On the other extreme, there are writers such as Achoui (undated) who are sympathetic towards "Western" social sciences, and accept that these social sciences are more pluralistic than many Muslim scholars think. In between are such Muslim scholars as Farooqui (2002) and Ragab (1992; 1996a; 1996b; 1996c; 1997; 1999) who are critical of certain Western traditions. They usually argue for an integration of the social sciences with certain Islamic traditions. But in terms of how this may be done, the scholars differ in their strategies. There are other writers who totally miss the point of the Islamization movement and advocate positions and strategies that fall short of the professionalism of the social scientist.

Almost all the writers approach their subject in the following way: criticize the Western tradition; explore the relevant Islamic parameters, and provide a strategy, methodology and epistemology of either an integration of the two perspectives or a reconstruction of the disciplines. We will review the literature according to these aspects.

Criticisms of "Western" Social Sciences

The criticisms are usually focused on two major issues, namely, the over reliance on sensory and empirical data and the exclusion of revelation (namely the Qur'an) for social scientific research; and that social science is never neutral but a biased social construct loaded with Western values and interests.

According to Farooqui (2002: 3), Sociology according to Comte adopts the scientific method to study social phenomena in a manner that is similar to the study of natural phenomena. Relying solely on sensory knowledge and ignoring the fact that human existence is moulded by the meaning which people understand social realities; the social scientists are only able to provide an incomplete knowledge of social phenomena. At the same time the incomplete knowledge is also the consequence of the fact that the social scientists do not bother to study the epistemological and ontological aspects of physical (or social) phenomena because they are considered difficult, problematic or irrelevant (Farooqui, 2002: 6-8).

Ragab (1992 and 1996c) on the other hand, concentrates on criticising the positivist/empiricist tradition of social sciences. This tradition has resulted only in recognizing the existence of "matter" and to view "materialism" as part and parcel of the scientific method itself, leading consequently to the formulation of a "mechanical" view of the cosmos. This has also resulted in the almost total exclusion of the "spiritual" and religious dimensions of human society. In other words, social science will only provide an incomplete understanding of humankind. Farooqui (2002: 8) calls the social reality projected by the Western social sciences "matter-oriented reality" and not "spirit or God-oriented reality".

However, Achoui (undated: 23) points out that the positivist/empiricist tradition in social sciences is but one tradition in social sciences that is "atheistic". He criticizes some Muslim scholars for their ignorance of other traditions in social sciences that are not atheistic which should be acceptable to Muslims. He also takes to task some Muslim scholars' criticisms of the West that are marred with emotionalism and reductionism. These criticisms may be strong, yet one would agree after reading works such as Muslehuddin's (1999) Sociology and Islam: A Comparative Study of Islam and Its Social System . Muslehuddin's book is divided into two parts in which he criticizes Western sociology and then presents the Islamic social system. Yet his criticism of Sociology reveals evidence of misinterpreting the subject. His main criticisms are mainly directed against outdated sociological theories such as Comte and Spenser's theories which are mainly of historical interest to beginners of Sociology.

Farooqui (2002: 3) recognizes that Max Weber appreciated the complexity of social phenomena that individuals attach meaning to them. "He (Weber) observed that Sociology should study and analyse the meaning in order to comprehend the true nature of social action" (Farooqui, 2002: 3). Ragab (1996c) points out those new developments in science have resulted in the search for alternative paradigms and methodologies in social sciences, such as hermeneutics and phenomenology. In particular, he finds Sorokin's "Integral theory of truth and reality do provide us with the most promising epistemological grounding for an effective answer to the questions posed by the critique of the positivist/empiricist tradition. It not only adequately helps effectively free us from the straitjacket of the positivist/empiricist tradition, but also allows us to transcend the historical/political blunders of the church/science conflict" (Ragab, 1996c: 11). Whether his faith in Sorokin's theory will pay off remains to be seen, but he is right to point out that the positivist/empiricist tradition in social sciences was a revolt against the domination of the church in the politics of knowledge creation. Therefore the positivist/empiricist tradition in its extreme is necessarily anti-religion that is not acceptable to people of faith, unless it is effectively revamped.

Davies (1988) in her elegantly written book Knowing One Another: Shaping an Islamic Anthropology argues that social sciences in general and anthropology in particular are never neutral and value free but are biased social constructs loaded with Western values and interests. She points out that concepts such as "otherness" and "primitive" in anthropology are ethnocentric and based on Western values. The concept of "otherness" implies a distinction between the Westerners, including the colonizers and missionaries, and the people they study. The "knowing" is always a one-way traffic. The concept of "primitive" implies that the West is advance and superior. The whole enterprise of anthropology is meant to serve the interest of the West, hence the study only observes what the pay master wants to know. A discipline developed under such biased premises is meaningless to Muslims who believe in mutual dialogue.

To the criticism voiced by Davies, Achoui (undated: 30) felt that the source of the problems lies not with the social sciences per se but with the "self-ego centrism", inclinations or ideologies of individual social scientists, or the organizations for which they work and which need to cater for special strategies and requirements. However, one has to be cautious that the Islamization of Knowledge movement itself can also be criticized as serving the needs of dominant political powers (Noor, 2003; Horstmann, 2004).

Islamic Parameters Social Life and Social Sciences

The literature on the Islamization of social sciences often agree that social sciences have to "integrate" with the Islamic parameters of social life or else to be reconstructed in the Islamic parameters of social life.

It is difficult for non-Muslims to judge the validity of the various expositions of the Islamic parameters of social life and concepts. However, among the concepts, that tawhid (unity) seems to be the most important one. Islam does not accept separation of different spheres or "truth" or "knowledge".

What is more important here is how the Islamic parameters of social life can be used to reconstruct social sciences or to integrate with social sciences; and the implications of such reconstruction and integration. This is where Muslim scholars differ.

Farooqui (2002: 41-44) gives a good summary of the approaches to the Islamization of sociology (social sciences). First is the "Reconstructionist approach". According to this approach, social sciences should critically analyse and be liberated from Western influence. Then they should be "reconstructed by deconstructing the then current trends within Islamic social thinking and Western sociological (social scientific) ideas" (Farooqui, 2002: 42). While Farooqui still accepts some Western sociological ideas, Davies (1988: 113-172) is advocating a scheme that is based totally on Islamic concepts. She said in her own words that "we maintain that the aim of Islamic anthropology should be understanding the nature, conditions, meaning and implications of consonance in the study of all mankind in their communal existence" (Davies, 1988: 113). Besides proposing a conceptual scheme, she did not make clear how this might be done.

Another important aspect of the Islamic anthropology according to Davies is that it is concerned with the study all mankind as ummah . "We seek to explore how community functions as a system that facilitates the harmonious embodiment of moral values as a constructive environment for right action, or hinder of deforms the purposive intent of moral values within a way of life and therefore impairs the ability or opportunity for right action" (Davies, 1988: 129) Therefore, Islamic anthropology is necessarily normative, in service to the ultimate goal God set for mankind, in short, teleological. This is an important point that runs throughout her book.

Some of the implications of this Islamic anthropology are: there will not be any more distinction between advanced, modern and primitive societies; nor any distinction between sociology and anthropology. Indeed, the term "primitive" has long been abandoned by anthropologists. The separation between anthropology and sociology has also been narrowed through the years. What arouses curiosity is how she can apply the concept of ummah on both Muslim and non-Muslim communities alike and study them as if they are one ummah , when in fact Muslim scholars have lamented that Muslim communities have been misunderstood and their distinctive characters ignored. On this there was no mention in her book. What remains similar between Western anthropology and Islamic anthropology is the term anthropology, yet in each case it connotes totally different meanings. The term seems to be used out of convenience!

One hopes that the new Islamic anthropology is a mutual process and a dialogue between those who study and the studied, between Islamic anthropology and Western anthropology, and to offer an opportunity for the anthropologists to reflect upon their own society and culture (in this case Muslims communities and Islamic culture), rather than a one way process (Davies, 1988: 6-7). Its approach and scope too will be free from xenophobia. If the adoption of this reconstructionist approach implies a total disregard for the achievements of the West, the exercise may run the risk of being counter-productive.

The second approach, according to Farooqui (2002: 43) "was developed by the 'office of Preliminary Societies of the Encyclopedia of Islamic Sciences' and characterized as 'fighati's New Sociology'". According to this approach, sociology (social sciences) should discover divine rules to follow the divine path, attain excellence and seek God's pleasure. "The methodology, according to the group, is to find out the rules of social life based on 'normative laws', 'prescriptive laws' and 'descriptive laws.' These laws are found in traditional jurisprudence from which we can deduce divine laws and consider them the basis of knowledge and social administration". Farooqui (2002: 20) advocates the acceptance of the traditional Islamic three levels of knowledge in sociology. These are: (1) knowledge by inference, (2) knowledge by perception and (3) knowledge by intuition. As to how intuition, which is "an immediate certainty of the heart", can be scientific is not clear. This approach may be guilty of "propagating the domination of the science of jurisprudence's methodologies over social sciences, which is a methodology that is more suited to deal with theoretical texts and forms" (Achoui, undated: 24). It may also confuse the distinction between social philosophy and social sciences. Social philosophy (the science of jurisprudence) is designed to make divine rules or ethical principles clear and to deduct rules from them, "it was not designed to explain social phenomena and causal relationships, nor to find the rules which control these phenomena. It is therefore unjust to ask the science of jurisprudence to bear a burden that it cannot take" (Achoui, undated:18). We must not confuse "how things ought to be" with "how things really are".

The third approach, which is taken by most independent sociologists, is to study the social thoughts in the works of Muslim social thinkers (Farooqui, 2002: 43). There is evidently widespread interests in the works of Muslim social thinkers such as Ibn Khadun and Shah Wali Allah Al-Dehlawi. Forooqui (2003) himself is interested in the work of Shah Wali Allah.

We may now return to the original approach or strategy for Islamization of social science advocated by Ismail Al Faruqi, which Ragab (1992; 1996a; 1996b; 1996c; 1997; 1999) defends strongly in a series of articles. This approach may be the most acceptable to social scientists, though some Muslim scholars may find that it is not sufficiently "Islamic".

According to Ragab (1999: 41-49) the Islamization process involves two phases, namely, integral theorizing and validation through research and practice, and conceptualized in terms of the "dialectical relationship between theory and research". The interplay of these phases is important as they cover both the foundation and the application of Islamic social sciences.

In phase one the aim is to formulate an integral theoretical framework to guide the application later. This involves critical, systematic and thorough review of relevant social science literature and relevant Islamic material. The intention is to seek to build an integral theoretical framework. This is not a high level, all inclusive theory; rather it is more of a model that can be validated by research.

In phase two some hypotheses are formulated from the integral theoretical framework and to test the hypotheses using acceptable analytical methodologies such as statistical analysis, comparison and interpretation. Hypotheses that are confirmed will yield new and validated observations. If the hypotheses are rejected, the entire process may be repeated until valid conclusions are arrived at.

According to Ragab (1999: 46-47), "these formulations can hardly be seen to be true a priori . The fact that they are based on verses from the Qur'an and valid Hadiths does not render them sacred, for the simple reason that we normally do not base our integral theorizing on a single verse from the Qur'an or one valid Hadith with a define meaning". On the other hand, by using this method one is studying the unseen through focusing on the interaction between the non-empirical with the empirical. "This may mean honing some of our current methods and techniques to make them sensitive enough to be able detect these 'inner signals'" (Ragab, 1999: 48).

Ragab (1992; 1996c) demonstrates how this method works in theory building. He also demonstrates how it will work in practice by applying it to the study of psychosocial problems (Ragab, 1997). He admits that this method is not as revolutionary as it seems, as these are normal social sciences methods that have been modified (Ragab, 1996b). Although he is critical of Weber in his article on Islam and development, the method he proposes is essentially Weberian (Ragab, 1980). His theoretical framework can be understood as the ideal type in the Weberian context 2 . In fact, it is evident in the Islamization of social sciences literature that Muslim scholars are relatively less critical of Weber than Durkheim and his "gang". The complains against Weber about his study on Islam and development is more on his "poor reading" about Islam and Muslim communities than the method he uses. Adopting the modified Weberian method seems to be one of the wisest moves for Islamic scholarship in social sciences to gain acceptance from both Muslims and social scientists at large. Otherwise, Islamic scholarship might be compelled to follow the path shown by Davies (1988) and to struggle to keep up with the West. Adopting an "integration stand" will ensure that Islamic scholarship in social sciences enjoys the best of the Islamic and Western worlds.


The enterprise of Islamization of knowledge in the social sciences is indeed still at its infancy. Whether Muslim scholars take the reconstructionist path or the integrationist path, the journey is certainly going to be very long. The journey will face many obstacles, of which the two biggest are conservatism and xenophobia. The current political atmosphere between Muslim countries and the West is also far from conducive. As Setia (2005: 1) observes:

after three decades or so of Islamization, my feeling is that their work need to be further explicated in terms that can provide practical direction to scientists not exposed to the history and philosophy of Islamic and modern science. One thing that all parties in the debate have realized is that the Islamization of the sciences has to be far more substantial than merely citing the relevant Qur'anic verses and Hadith, for the real intellectual challenge lies in articulating the religious textual relevance in conceptual terms rich enough to determine the content and direction of actual empirical scientific research.


1. Whether social sciences may be considered "Western" or "Islamic" is a subject of debate itself.
2. So does Davis (1988, 11-26).


1. Achoui, M. (undated). Social Sciences and religion: what is the relationship? Occasional Paper , Department of Psychology, International Islamic University Malaysia.
2. Davies, M. W. 1988. Knowing One Another: Shaping An Islamic Anthropology , London and New York: Mansell Publishing Limited.
3. Farooqui, J. 2002. Towards An Islamic Sociology , Kuala Lumpur: International Islamic University Malaysia.
4. ----- 2003. Sociological thought of Shah Wali Allah Al-Dehlawi, The Islamic Quarterly , Vol. XLVII, No. 3.
5. Horstmann, A. 2004. Mapping the terrain: politics and culture of Islamization of knowledge in Malaysia, Kyoto Review , issue 4.
6. Muslehuddin, M. 1999. Sociology and Islam: A Comparative Study of Islam and Its Social System , Kuala Lumpur: Islamic Book Trust.
7. Noor, F. A. 2003. Review of Mona Abaza, Debates on Islam and Knowledge in Malaysia and Egypt: Shifting Worlds , H-Net Reviews.
8. Ragab, I. A. 1980. Islam and development. The Islamization of Social Sciences: English Papers.
9. ----- 1992. Islamic perspectives on theory-building in the Social Sciences. Paper submitted to the 21st Annual Conference, Association of Muslim Social Scientists, East 10. Lansing, Michigan, Oct 30-Nov 1, 1992; Jumada Alwal 3-5, 1413.
11. ----- 1996a. On the nature and scope of the Islamization process: towards conceptual clarification. The Islamization of Social Sciences: English Papers.
12. ----- 1996b. Creative engagement of "modern" Social Science scholarship: a significant component of the Islamization of Knowledge effort. Paper Submitted to the Workshop on Islamization of Knowledge, Organized by the Kulliyah of Islamic Revealed Knowledge and Human Sciences, in Port Dickson, Negeri Sembilan, Malaysia, June 7-11, 1996.
13. ----- 1996c. Towards a new paradigm for Social Science research. Paper submitted to the Fourth International Social Sciences Methodology Conference, University of Essex, Colchester, UK, July 1-5, 1996.
14. ----- 1997. Dealing with psychosocial problems: application of the Islamization of Social Science methodology. Paper submitted to the Second Integration Workshop, organized by the Kulliyah of Islamic Revealed Knowledge and Human Sciences, Sept 1997. (revised).
15. ----- 1999. On the methodology of Islamizing the Social Sciences, Intellectual Discourse , 7 (1): 27-52.
16. Setia, A. 2005. Islamic Science as a scientific research program: conceptual and pragmatic issues, Islam & Science , Summer. QYQ/is13/ai_n13826894.

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