What knowledge should man pay attention to

Man has been overwhelmed by the present-day information explosion, so much so that he has little time to do what is really important to him as a human being.

ESTHER Dyson, who wrote A Design for Living in the Digital Age, specialises in analysing the impact of emerging digital technologies and digital markets on societies.

However, even this most powerful woman of the computing sciences (as some have called her) was uncomfortably overwhelmed by the present-day information explosion, as there are just too many resources and documents which may be referred to on any subject.

“We have too many choices too much of the time,” this so-called intellectual of computer analysts once reported. “What should I be paying attention to? We are getting a diet of empty information calories that is over processed, over sugared, and too bite-sized. While appealing, it leads to a lack of commitment and satisfaction and ultimately makes you less happy.”

Dyson’s remark is not unrelated to another scholarly analysis, by psychology professor Barry Schwartz in his book The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less.

While affluent individuals in affluent modern societies may have too many choices of almost everything, ironically those very same individuals also have too little time to do what is really important to them as human beings.

According to the worldview of Islam, there is a reminder that as an individual human being, one’s sojourn on earth is indeed momentary. The very fact that there is no time for him to waste in fundamental and important matters is compounded by the fact that there is also a limit to his capacity and faculties.

That is exactly why revealed Religion is indispensable in order to educate humanity, to safeguard their spirituality, and to liberate their intellect from doubt concerning the ultimate things (akhirah) as far as the final reality of the life of this world and the ultimate reality of the Hereafter are concerned.

It is exactly this framework which organises information in accordance with a comprehensible worldview of Islam.

History has recorded that when Islamic polity expanded in the 7th Century, there were also spectacular epistemological challenges, to align new data collected from other civilizations, cultures and sciences.

An analysis of the encyclopaedic work, Ithaf al-Sadah al-Muttaqin by Murtada al-Zabidi (d. 1205) makes it clear that the Islamic political conquest of the Byzantine Empire, Mesopotamia and Persia during the 630s was simultaneous with the elaboration concerning the epistemological foundations of religious tenets (i‘tiqad) by erudite scholars such as Abu Thawr al-Kalbi, Dawud ibn Ali, al-Husayn al-Karabisi and al-Harith al-Muhasibi.

At the same time, according to al-Zabidi, in answer to the legal dimensions concerning the tremendous challenges, there was also an elaboration of the fundamental law (shari‘ah) and jurisprudence (fiqh zahir) by the savants of Syria (‘ubbad ahl al-Shamm), as with the principles of business transaction (mu‘amalat) by scholars led by Sufyan al-Thawri and Abu Hanifah.

Last, but far from least, there was also elaborations concerning the basics of ethics and mysticism by Sahl al-Tustari, Abd al-Rahim ibn Yahya al-Armawi al-Aswad of Syria, Malik ibn Dinar, Farqad al-Sabkhi, ‘Abd al-Wahid ibn Zayd, and sages of Basrah (nussak Basrah) like al-Hasan al-Basri.

In the next instalment of our article, we will revisit this fundamental framework of Islamic sciences and education, drawing our cue from the regnant formulations of Abu Talib al-Makki (d. 996) and al-Ghazzali (d. 1111).

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