Tradition and Modernity: The Indigenous Muslim Epistemology

OpinionTradition and Modernity: The Indigenous Muslim Epistemology

By Nadir Ali

A tradition is, in essence, a set of deeply ingrained beliefs or practices that have been passed down through the generations within a society and have deep symbolic meanings or special significance that can be traced back to antiquity. The institutionalized precepts, practices, and beliefs that make up these cultural legacies are frequently cemented. The idea of tradition also encompasses more than just conventional boundaries because it permeates many different fields including politics, philosophy, religion, and the arts. Contrary to dogmatic beliefs or theories, it is increasingly seen as a fluid and malleable phenomenon that embraces diversity and encourages innovation and evolution.

Additionally, the concept of tradition encompasses a wide range of ideals and ideas essential to a complex culture such as social norms, cultural practices, religious observances, and interpersonal relationships, among others. Such customs are deeply ingrained in a society’s fabric and have a long social history. However, in the modern world, the unstoppable march of scientific and technological advancements has presented a formidable challenge to age-old customs.

On the other hand, modernity also refers to a historical era marked by the appearance of socio-cultural standards, viewpoints, and behaviors that grew in popularity during the Renaissance. It necessitates challenging and, at times, rejecting conventional norms. Individualism, freedom, and equality are the defining characteristics of modernity, which has brought about a constant flux of beliefs and concepts in daily life.

Therefore, a progressive mindset, an openness to change, and a willingness to reinvent oneself are all aspects of modernity that go beyond the simple adoption of cutting-edge technology. This existential paradigm encompasses religious observance as well as the development of cultural and civilizational elements. Adopting a firm religious path while encouraging creativity and borrowing from others has been a guiding principle since the beginning of Islam and its developing civilization. This strategy demonstrated the fervor, enthusiasm, wisdom, and maturity of the Muslim community, adding to their superiority in terms of culture and civilization.

Thus, the opposite of this tenet—that is, unreservedly clinging to worldly, and possibly insignificant, customs and traditions without discernment, regardless of their origin while irresponsibly challenging established religious matters—has significantly contributed to the dramatic cultural and civilizational decline of Muslims. The fact that they are currently unable to assert themselves and make significant advancements in civilization on their own terms is a major barrier to their resurgence.

Meanwhile, the consensus among Muslim philosophers is that knowledge is attainable and refers to the intellect’s understanding of the ethereal forms, the pure essences, or the universals that underlie the very nature of phenomena. They contend that the intellect’s profound understanding of these universals is the only way for humans to experience true happiness. It must be emphasized that in order to understand immaterial forms, the human intellect primarily depends on the senses.

Furthermore, some philosophers including Ibn Rushd and occasionally Ibn Sina assert that after the senses have shed their corporeal characteristics with the help of the celestial realm, it is the material forms themselves that the intellect perceives. The prevailing theory, as expressed by al-Farabi and Ibn Sina, seems to be that the material forms only serve as a vehicle for the immaterial forms, which are then granted by the divine realm. They also claim that, in rare circumstances, the divine world graciously bestows immaterial forms directly upon human intellect without using the senses as an intermediary.

Regardless of their different perspectives on what constitutes happiness, these philosophers all share a common concern: achieving it. They are all in agreement that knowledge acquisition is the only way to find such happiness. In light of this, epistemology—the theory of knowledge—emerges as their primary focus, and it is heavily emphasized in their treatises on logic and psychology. Their intellectual interests converged on epistemology, which is primarily concerned with the investigation of the viability, nature, and origins of knowledge. They attempted to clarify the nature of knowledge and its origin in a progressive manner that started with logic and ended with metaphysics and, in some cases, mysticism.

Tradition and Modernity: The Indigenous Muslim Epistemology
By Nadir Ali

Nadir Ali holds a bachelor’s degree in Strategic and Nuclear Studies from the National Defense University, Islamabad. He has written for Modern Diplomacy, Pakistan Today, Pakistan Observer, and numerous other publishers. He tweets at @hafiznadirali7 and can be reached at




The views and opinions expressed in this article/Opinion/Comment are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the DND Thought Center and Dispatch News Desk (DND). Assumptions made within the analysis are not reflective of the position of the DND Thought Center and Dispatch News Desk News Agency.

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