Innovation and technology the Quranic way

Rizal Faisal

Discussions on Islam’s historical innovation and technology as well as Al-Quran as the source of innovative thinking and applied innovation and technology were highlighted during the recent Sixth Islamic Governance Symposium.

Organised by the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS), Universiti Brunei Darussalam (UBD) with the collaboration of the Sultan Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien Centre for Islamic Studies (SOASCIS), the symposium saw over 200 people attend and featured a number of invited speakers.

One of the speakers was PhD candidate in Islamic Governance at the IPS, UBD, Muhammed Shaahid Cassim from South Africa who spoke on Quranic social innovation.

“Humanity faces a plethora of extraordinary challenges. In recent times, such challenges have been widely exacerbated and compounded by the effects of disease, war and unscrupulous ideas,” Cassim said.

He added that the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the mass dislocation of civilian populations and increasingly aggressive forms of technocapitalism are but a few examples. “The resultant scale of negative disruption to faith, life, intellect, progeny and wealth increasingly highlights the urgent need for effective, compassionate, equitable and just solutions. One successful method used to discover beneficial solutions is social innovation.”

He explained that social innovation involves developing “new ideas that work to meet pressing unmet needs and improve people’s lives and capacities to solve their problems”. (Mulgan, et al 2006)

The roundtable discussion. PHOTO: RIZAL FAISAL

“As such, it is a fundamental requisite of the Islamic lebenswelt (life world). In fact, serving the other – especially the weak, the poor, the orphan and the needy – is the default universal Quranic narrative. Ergo, achieving the Maqasid, as strategic objectives in an Islamic system of governance, requires social innovation. This raises the question, what drives Human Agency to be more socially innovative?”

His presentation explored some of the drivers of social innovation in Al-Quran and introduced a Quranic model for developing a social innovation mindset.

Meanwhile, Assistant Professor in Advanced Material Innovations at the Centre for Advanced Material and Energy Sciences, UBD Dr Lim Ren Chong discussed the culture of technological creativity in the Islamic world during the first Islamic golden age.

“The Islamic world in the period between 133AH and 655AH (750AD-1258AD) is marked by rapid technological advancements stemming from the ability of its community to preserve, adapt and build on already existing ideas and techniques assimilated from others,” said Dr Lim. “There was a culture highly creative in its approach to drive technological progress, which in turn, led to valuable innovations and accumulation of vast wealth. More importantly, these innovations were valuable in assisting the community to achieve different Maqasid.”

He noted that among others, leadership, stable rule of law, common trade rules, effective administration and strong institutions are some of the ingredients needed to give rise to a culture of technological creativity for these innovations to flourish.

“However, one ingredient often under-appreciated lies in the deployment of information, rather than in the generation of new knowledge and understanding,” he said. “New knowledge or understanding codified as information in journal articles and book chapters is only useful when it is efficiently deployed and delivered to the community, so that the information can be immediately acted upon.”

“There were many agents at work with regard to the deployment and production of information during this period, of which, the role of non-Muslim members within the community cannot be underestimated,” he added.

Another to feature was Director of SOASCIS, Senior Professor of Islamic Governance at the IPS and Consultant Professor at the Institute for Leadership, Innovation and Advancement (ILIA), UBD, Professor Amin Abdul Aziz.

Addressing ‘Islam: Between Tradition and Innovation’, Professor Amin underlined that a common misconception about Islam is that, like all religions, it is an impediment to societal ‘progress’.

“Yet, the historical reality shows that Islam, with its emphasis on the Prophetic Tradition, is actually the motivation for societal innovation,” said Professor Amin.

His paper analysed three of Islam’s civilisationally most accomplished societies by tracing their rise and fall to explore the claim that Islam is indeed the impetus for creating an innovative society, thereby adding further credence to the viability of Islamic developmental approaches.

“This endeavour adopts a qualitative approach by employing the IGC Matrix to detail the underlying premises of the Islamic civilisation – a composite of Tauhidic societal expressions and communities.”

“The historical societies of Baghdad, Mughal and Timbuktu are examined according to the IGC Matrix’s four criteria of analysis, which involves looking at their underlying theological premises, the coherence of their premises and processes, the values of those societies upheld and the socio-political structures that enabled scientific and intellectual efflorescence,” Professor Amin added.

He also said that the details of the four criteria are then compared to elicit the common denominators stimulating their civilisational thrusts.

“The result is that the Islamic systems of governance applied in Baghdad, Mughal and Timbuktu encouraged an inspired application of the Tauhidic and Prophetic Tradition, thus engendering civilisational creativity and innovation,” he shared.

Another speaker was Muhammad Adil Iqbal from Pakistan, who is a PhD candidate in Islamic Civilisation and Contemporary Issues at the SOASCIS, UBD. He discussed the issues that surround ‘The challenges of the Industrial Revolution 4.0 in an Islamic System of Governance’.

“Technological advancements brought by the Fourth Industrial Revolution are a testimony of human achievement and progress,” said Muhammad Adil. “Advancements in artificial intelligence, machine learning, robotic process automation and many more hold great promise of creating opportunities and access to knowledge. These technological innovations will revolutionise the nature of economic development, the rate of industrialisation and the methods of production processes as well as enhance living standards in Muslim countries as well.”

He added, however, that as various writers and scholars as well as world leaders have pointed out, this globalisation of the Fourth Industrial Revolution appears destined to bring many challenges, transformations and even instabilities for societies and governments all over the world, including Muslim ones, in particular, affecting Muslim cultural, religious and political aspects of life.

“These challenges offer a very delicate future situation for Muslim societies and governments and calls for well-planned preparations without comprising the basic tenants of Islam. This descriptive and conceptual study is an academic and scholarly effort, which intends to highlight and analyse issues germinating from the interaction of Muslim societies and governments with emerging technological change, the Fourth Industrial Revolution, riding on the ongoing wave of globalisation,” he added.

The symposium also saw Senior Economic Officer, Strategic Planning Unit, Ministry of Energy, Hajah Norsarizah binti Haji Sarbini present on ‘Innovative Solutions: Strategic Planning Framework Model Aligned with the Maqasid of the Syariah’.

She discussed efforts in the integration of the Maqasid of the Syariah into the organisation’s strategic planning framework model as a foundation for a holistic collaborative framework for policy making and strategic planning exercises.

“The framework model aims to operationalise the Islamic Governance Concept Matrix, emphasising the Tauhidic component. The proposed framework model also attempts to define and incorporate the national concepts of a Zikir Nation, Vision 2035 and Malay Islamic Monarchy (MIB), ultimately producing a relatable framework, whilst putting these concepts into a clearer perspective at their respective levels,” Norsarizah said.

She added that eventually, “the framework aims to promote our work as a self-governing process, where one seeks work as an act of worship and simultaneously underlining the need to have an environment conducive for the worship of Allah the Almighty with a Zikir Nation as the end goal”.

Another to speak was Senior Plant Pathologist at the Department of Agriculture and Agrifood Noor Azri bin Mohammad Noor, who is also the Head of Agricultural District Development Division, Department of Agriculture and Agrifood, Ministry of Primary Resources and Tourism.

Noor Azri presented a paper titled ‘Agricultural Innovation and Technology in Brunei Darussalam’, and said that agricultural activities have been one of our ancestors’ ways of life in sustaining the economy.

“Brunei Darussalam’s agricultural sectors in both crops and livestock are being managed by local entrepreneurs, some of whom have begun to mechanise their farming operations without simply relying on conventional and labour intensive methods. With the directive of the ministry, the entrepreneurs are now more exposed to advanced farming methods and are beginning to accept new modern technologies, in order to increase productivity and reduce production costs, yet still attaining high yields within a limited space of land provided,” he said.

Noor Azri added that Brunei’s economy progresses, in terms of the preservation and promotion of wealth, by utilising the latest agricultural technologies, currently widely used, and more societal members are interested in adapting them even for backyard or domestic farming.

Guest speaker Dr Salman Khan, Assistant Professor at the Department of Electrical Engineering and Principal Investigator in Artificial Intelligence (AI) in Healthcare at the National Centre of AI at the University of Engineering and Technology Peshawar, Pakistan, spoke on the ‘Digital Health Technologies and AI in the Islamic World: Embracing the Evolution in Healthcare’.

He said that the field of AI is impacting almost every sector, including healthcare, where AI makes sense of the large volumes of medical data through efficient algorithms, thus transforming healthcare systems.

“But, has the Muslim world been up to date with the advancements in healthcare?” asked Dr Salman. “This detailed study presents the importance of adopting and adapting to the new technologies in the field of medicine, taking into consideration that Muslim scientists were, in fact, pioneers in the field, carving new medical techniques.”

He added that the significance of AI in healthcare systems is also supported by various issues in Muslim societies related to cross-gender patient-doctor interactions, lack of resources, inefficient healthcare systems and poor socio-economic status. “This study concludes with examples of research studies being carried out in the fields of cardiology, haemotology, radiology and cancer care, where algorithms and systems are developed that enable physicians to perform their job with more ease and a higher precision.”

In addition, a paper titled ‘Developing an Islamic Governance STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) Orientation: Reflections from the Sakhikamva Experience’ was presented by guest speaker, Fatima Jakoet, who is a 10-year practitioner and founder of the Sakhikamva Foundation in South Africa, a not-for-profit organisation established to enhance STEM orientation and education at the grassroots level.

Using an Islamic governance lens, she traced the history of the organisation, highlighting the progression of its mission, challenges experienced along the way, key points of its evolution in its history and the issues facing the foundation in light of the skills needed for 21st Century applications.

Fatima’s paper paid special attention to the work done with Muslim youth, along with an exploration of the role of factors such as intention, mindfulness and directedness on the development of skills at the grassroots level. Her paper concluded with thoughts on the importance of integration of Quranic knowledge with STEM education, to reclaim leadership in a technology driven world and, possibly more critically, the development of a Quranic orientation towards science and technology forward.