Knowledge, Language, Thought, and the Civilization of Islam: Essays in Honor of Syed Muhammad Naquib al-Attas is a collection of essays by some scholars from around the world in a voluminous work as a present to Syed Muhammad Naquib al-Attas on his 78th birthday, 5th November 2009. All the twenty-two articles in this volume reflect the broad and comprehensive interest of Syed Muhamad Naquib al-Attas which he has discussed in many of his writings, seminars, lectures and intense private discussions. The editorial has broadly categorized the chapters into interrelated categories of Knowledge, Language, Thought and the Civilization of Islam which are also reflective of the courses offered at the International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilization (ISTAC) when al-Attas was its director.
Again, as a reflection of the same, some chapters are comparative while others are strictly dealing with the Islamic or other intellectual traditions.
Wan Daud’s article in the first chapter deals with al-Attas’ theoretical and practical contributions as a thinker and reformer which are echoed by many contributions here, and by others, who genuinely understand al-Attas’ powerful and creative intellectual and institutional reforms for modern Islamic thought and civilization. Wan Daud’s article here should be read in conjunction with what he has written in his voluminous work, The Educational Philosophy and Practice of Syed Muhammad Naquib al-Attas (1998).
‘In Re-Islamising the World’, Ali Allawi starts with a brief but thoughtful analysis of modernizing attempts of some Muslim reformers especially concerning the Arabic language in the Arab world and of de-arabizing of script in other parts of the Muslim world with the exception of Pakistan and Iran.
In the third chapter, Omar Jah discusses the place of al-balāgh, which he translates as communication in the worldview of Islam especially as articulated in the educational philosophy of al-Attas. He emphasizes that al-Attas’ profound articulation of the worldview of Islam serves as a valuable contribution to modern Muslims in grappling with the challenges posed by the secular materialistic worldview originated in Western culture and civilization.
In the following chapter, ‘Shifts of Language and Turns in Worldview’, Ahmad Kazemi Moussavi also tackles the importance of language in the articulation and projection of a worldview which is one of the most central themes in al-Attas’ educational philosophy.
Yusef Waghid’s article in the fifth chapter, ‘Reflections on al-Attas’ Conception of the Islamic University: Implications For Academic Freedom, Institutions Autonomy and Philosophy of Education in South Africa’ examines the possibility of al-Attas’ idea of the university to clarify the meaning and practice of academic freedom, institutional autonomy and philosophy of education in the South African university system.
In ‘The Negotiation of Modernity through Tradition in Contemporary Muslim Intellectual Discourse: The Neo-Ghazzalian, Attasian Perspective’, Afifi al-Akiti and Hisham Hellyer argue that al-Attas, by offering a masterly intellectual challenge of the philosophical bases of modernity from within an authoritative understanding of Islamic intellectual tradition, has fulfilled a farḍu kifayah obligation, without which all Muslims would be held accountable for not proving sufficient intellectual guidance in dealing with the profound religious and philosophical challenges of modernity.
Bilal Kuşpinar in the seventh chapter discusses ‘Illuminativc Knowledge in Mawlana Rumi’. Starting with a discussion of the nature of mankind occupying a position between animals and angels according to Rumi, Kuşpinar then moves into the latter’s conception of human intelligence: the particular and acquired intelligence which is sensible and cognitive; and the universal, divinely bestowed and more superior, intelligence.
In the following chapter, Alparslan Açikgenç presents the Kantian approach in order to interpret al-Ghazzali from the perspective of the present-day philosophy, yielding interesting results. He asserts that while al-Ghazzali is able to develop a philosophical conception of man based on his conception of the classical psychology but his analysis of Kant’s epistemology of human nature will lead to the denial of the possibility of traditional psychology.
Next, in the ninth chapter, Ferid Muhiç makes an emphatic assessment of al-Attas’ philosophical contributions especially in the light of the contemporary global need for vigorous and just multiculturalism without necessarily adopting cultural or axiological relativism. He points out that al-Attas’ body of works is a “monumental and systematic engagement in the best meaning of this word”.
In Chapter Ten, ‘Prolegomena to the West and East: Kant and Ibn Khaldun’ Ernest Wolf-Gazo analyses each respective thinkers’ important work, the Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics of Emmanuel Kant, and the Muqaddimah of Ibn Khaldun.
Marietta Stepanyants in the following chapter treats the subject of the ‘Challenges for Education in the Age of Globalization’ wherein she argues for a differentiated multicultural approach in education including the teaching of philosophy.
Chapter Twelve by Teoman Durah is entitled ‘Evolution: The Epitome of the Emerging Contemporaneous Global Civilization’. Herein he explains that the term evolution was first a biological one, and towards the end of the nineteenth century, evolution had, according to its ardent supporters, outgrown its original status as a scientific hypothesis into a theory, and took on wider conceptual meanings which were the end product of the secularization process in European thought since the sixteenth century.
Paul Lettinck’s article on ‘Science in Adab Literature: Astronomy and Meteorology in al-Tīfāshī’s Faṣl al-Khitāb‘, follows earlier works of A. I. Sabra and D. Gutas, and clarifies further the mistaken notion among scholars such as Gustav von Griinebaum that the importance of happiness in the afterlife (al-ākhirah) in the Muslim worldview does not necessarily marginalize scientific activity as merely a pragmatic worldly matter, but also as an intellectual pleasure and as a recognition of the beautiful order and arrangement of God’s creation.
What is narrated by Lettinck is confirmed further in chapter fourteen by Hans Daiber in his study on the intellectual climate and exchange of ideas in the court of Maʾmūn Ibn Maʾmūn, at his court in the period of 1009-1017 CE in Khwārazm. In ‘Science Connecting Scholars and Cultures in Khwārazm’ we have here again a beautiful example of scientific cooperation and exchange of texts and ideas between scholars of different persuasion such as the Abū Sahl al-Masihi and Abū l-Khayr Ibn Suwār Ibn al-Khammār who were translators and commentators of Greek works, including Aristotle, the poet Abū l-Husayn al-Suhaylī, the encyclopaedic Ibn Sīnā and Abū Sahl al-Masīhī, medical expert and Nestorian Christian Abū l-Khayr Ibn al-Khammār, his own nephew Abū Naṣr Ibn ‘Irāq and Abū Rayḥān al-Bīrūnī.
In the following chapter, Mehmet Ipşirli ‘In Some Remarks on the Wakf Institutions in the Ottoman Empire’, traces the development of the waqf institution—a very central religious, economic and social institution in the entire history of Islam, and a significant part of the larger process of Islamization—from the dawn of the Seljukid reign until and under the Ottoman rule.
Murat Çizakça in Chapter Sixteen, ‘Islamic Capitalism and The West’ reminds us that many aspects of Western capitalism were much earlier discovered and successfully practised by Muslims such as favouring merchants, property rights, free trade, a market economy, legitimate profits and capital accumulation.
In his essay in chapter seventeen, ‘Al-Attas’ Concept of Happiness: A Reflection on The Contemporary Meaning of Development’, economist Amer Roubaie explains some fundamental inadequacies in the modern secular conception of development and contrasts this with the concept of human development from the perspective of Islam.
Ismail Marcinskowski in his ‘Thai-Iranian Relations in History: A Glance at the Persian Community in the Ayutthaya Kingdom’ attempts to show that Persia’s cultural and trade relations With Southeast Asia started during the pre-Islamic period through official diplomatic relations between the two regions were traceable from the beginning of the 16th century when the Safavids were dominant (1501-1722).
The longest contribution in Knowledge, Language, Thought, and the Civilization of Islam: Essays in Honor of Syed Muhammad Naquib al-Attas is found in chapter nineteen by Vladimir Braginsky. In his essay ‘The Name and the Unnamed: On the Extent of Hamzah Fansuri’s Fame in the Malay Indonesian World (Notes and Materials)’, Braginsky emphasizes that al-Attas’ innovative work on Hamzah Fansuri has radically transformed the view of the role of Islam in the Malay world particularly with regard to the positive influence of the Sufi metaphysical ideas which were greatly influenced through the writings, teachings and the intellectual and spiritual image of Hamzah Fansuri.
In the following chapter, ‘Sufism and Architectural Art in the Malay World’, Salleh Yaapar underlines the role of the Sufis in what al-Attas calls “the intensification” of the process of Islamization of the Malay world by inculcating its comprehensive metaphysical worldview with its cosmological, ontological, spiritual-psychological and ethical doctrines that permeate all key aspects of Malay thought and culture including the field of architecture and other artistic expressions.
Tatiana Denisova makes a very illuminating contribution in her article, ‘About One Name Mentioned in Tuhfat al-Nafis‘. The Tuhfat al-Nafis is a Malay historical chronicle written in 1866-1870 by the famous Malay scholar and aristocrat from Riau-Johor, Raja Ali Haji.
In the final chapter of Knowledge, Language, Thought, and the Civilization of Islam: Essays in Honor of Syed Muhammad Naquib al-Attas, ‘The Reaffirmation of the Correct Date of the Terengganu Inscription’ Muhammad Zainiy Uthman and Azlan Hashim reaffirm the date of the Terengganu Inscription that was corrected by Professor al-Attas thirty-eight years ago in his small monograph entitled The Correct Date of the Tarangganu Inscription. The authors of the article ran the date of al-Attas and the dates of others against a computer program.