IN AN interview after the closing ceremony for the 4th Sultan Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien Centre for Islamic Studies International Conference (SICON), Professor Tan Sri Dr Mohd Kamal Hassan emphasised the role that Muslims in Southeast Asia must play in the rejuvenation of Islamic civilisation globally, as well as the crucial need to observe Islamic ethics and etiquette or adab in critical discourse.
“I must emphasise the value of ‘adab’, in the quest and thirst for knowledge,” the Eminent Visiting Professor said. “Respect your elders and legitimate authorities. Even if you disagree with them, there is ‘adab’ and ethics in disagreement in Islam which must be observed.”
Professor Tan Sri Kamal, who is an Eminent Visiting Professor at UBD’s SOASCIS, and the author of Voice of Islamic Moderation from the Malay World, also cautioned young scholars on the need for critical thought when engaging with social media.
“Social media has relativised absolutes,” he said, which is why young scholars of Islam must be particularly wary of seeking knowledge through such channels.
“Seeking knowledge from authorities and ulama is very important. Legitimate ‘ulama’ are competent, qualified, not just in terms of academic degrees, but in having the right kind of knowledge and wisdom.”
The Professor stressed the distinction between knowledge, information and wisdom, by quoting modernist poet TS Eliot, “Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?”
In expanding on this, Professor Tan Sri Kamal, who held the position of Rector at the International Islamic University of Malaysia from 1999 to 2006, noted that while critical thinking is fundamental in the search for knowledge, young scholars must be aware that “knowledge is not value-free – it’s loaded with ideological perspectives, some of which are not in harmony with the Islamic worldview.”
An Islamic approach to critical discourse, Professor Tan Sri Kamal said, under the ‘wasatiyyah’ or moderation principle, would be of value to both Muslims and non-Muslims, balancing rational approaches with divine revelational wisdom.
This approach, he said, would appeal to believers of all the major faiths. “This is because the fitrah of Man, the intrinsic inclination of Man, is to recognise a Creator.” This inclination, he said, is programmed into the human psyche, and therefore this critical approach would appeal to all believers, who already balance between the heart, the intellect, and the demands of faith.
Additionally, the Eminent Visiting Professor, who is an alum of both the University of Malaya and Columbia University in New York, said scholars must learn that the intellectual heritage of Islam distinguishes between perennial values, and non-permanent values that are rooted in language, race, and societal norms.
It is this intellectual heritage, he said, which make it possible to derive the best of the knowledge from the East and the West, without falling prey to the imbalance of ideologically loaded scholarship, including notions of excessive individualism and utilitarianism which are the root of moral turbulence.