What are the sources of our knowledge?

What are the sources of our knowledge?

Prof. Jaafar Sheikh Idris  

                  Our knowledge has two main sources: The world and revelation. I must repeat here that these are sources from which we obtain knowledge and ate not to be confused with our senses and our minds which are our means for obtaining knowledge from those sources. The world, as a source of knowledge, can be divided into the following subsources:  

1.The natural or physical world.

2.Our internal states; pain, pleasure, envy, etc.

3.Human beings, as physical objects, as informants, etc.

4.Dreams: As Muslims, we have no doubt about the fact that some dreams come true and that as such they are sources of knowledge, but since we human beings - excepting God‘s Prophets - can never be sure about the truth of our dreams, we cannot take them as independent sources of objective knowledge neither in the field of religion nor in that of the world, but we may benefit from them personally.

5.Minds: The mind has three functions.

a. it is a means for aquiring knowledge.

b. it is also a store of knowledge.

c. but is as well a secondary source of knowledge, [4] and it is inthis respect that we are considering it here now. The main types of knowledge which come to us independently of the external world, but are confirmed by our knowledge of it and of revealedknowledge, is based upon the fact that there is only one God and that Healone is worthy of being worshipped. This is the essence of ourfitru (originalnature), but it is also the basis of our religion; hence Islam is called the religionof human nature.Besides this nucleus of ourfitm we have other forms of a priori knowledgewhich are consistent with it and which confirm it. These include the lawsof thought, basic moral values, and aesthetic values.The fact that these latter three are considered Islamically to be (I priori,can be seen in the fact that the Qur’an assumes that the people it is addressingare thinking moral beings in possession of aesthetic taste, and hence it condemnsany of them who shows signs of intentional deviation from the requirementsof these natural endowments. But the Qur’anic teachings whichare based on these natural endowments, help, in their turn, to strengthen anddevelop them. Hence being a good Muslim consists, among other things, inbeing thoughtful, morally upright, and aestfietically refined. What is a scientific method? A scientific method would be that which links our means of acquiringknowledge (the mind and the senses) to the sources of our knowledge (theworld and revelation). The nature of the method depends therefore on thesource and perhaps also on the nature of the knowledge to be obtained fromthat source. Thus if I claim to have discovered a fact in the physical world,I must be able to show others a way, either of observing that fact, or of deducingits truth from the truth of other well known facts; that is because these arethe only ways by which we ordinary folk can discover physical facts. But ifI say that it is obligatory on a Muslim to do thus and so, then I must be ableto support my claim by Qur’anic or Prophetic texts, or show that it can bededuced from such texts. I must also be able to show that my understandingof the text is a correct one, that, in case of Prophetic traditions, they are authenticand, if my argument was based on a deduction from texts, that I have followedthe right procedure.Just as there are scientific ways of ascertaining the truth of our claimsto knowledge of nature or society, there are ways of ascertaining the truthof religious knowledge. Scientific method is not therefore confined to the socalledempirical procedures followed by the natural or social scientists. Thisis as it should be, if our claim is true that the Qur’an is the word of Allah(SWT) and that Muhammad (SAAS) is His Prophet, because given this belief,eligious knowledge has objective sources, and hence there must be objectiveways of obtaining it from those sources. It is of paramount importance foreveryone interested in the Islamization of the social sciences or in the relationshipbetween Islam and the natural sciences, to be aware of these proceduresif he wants to be sure that what he attributes to Islam is valid or most

probably so.


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