How the Western vs Islamic Knowledge Dichotomy Affects the North by Anas Yazid

By anas | 05 December 2016 | 10 Comments

While I try to stay away from writing anything that has to do with politics and religion, I have decided to make an exception after attending the last Friday sermon. During the sermon, the Imam went on to talk at length about the Federal Government’s N-Power Programme, he did not just criticize it but literary quoted several parts of the constitution and ignorantly made several statements that were simply incorrect e.g. according to him "the Federal Character Commission is responsible for employment in Nigeria, and all employment by the Federal Government requires approval from the National Assembly". For me and many people like me, it was a huge embarrassment sitting and listening through out the sermon and not having the power to do anything about it. As far as I am concerned, what the Imam did was as reckless and dangerous as someone quoting sources from religious scripts without knowledge, didn't that  gave rise to Boko Haram?

I realized that this kind of mess, we, in the North have found ourselves in could be traced to how we are sharply divided into 3 groups in terms of education. The first group consists of people that are well educated in the so called “Western Education” by going through conventional school system and later working as say Lawyers, Engineers, Accountants, Doctors etc. The second group consist of people that are well educated in the so called “Islamic Education” by going through what you might call unconventional school system and perhaps finishing in places like Madina, Egypt or Sudan, to later serve as religious teachers in mosques and Islamiyyas. The last group consist of people that have neither but blindly flow whatever any of the 2 groups say.

So for know lets forget about the last group and concentrate on the first two groups, as they are responsible for whatever actions the masses take and get to decide what becomes of the society. Now if each group will stick what he or she knows then there may be less problems in the society. For example how many times do you observe people with little knowledge in Islam arguing to the teeth on certain Islamic issues and not a single one of them could quote any source to back his argument. The same goes to most people that teach Islamic knowledge, take the case of the Imam given above, quoting something he had absolutely no knowledge of. If he had gone to Law School he would not have made that catastrophic mistake.

So what is the problem and how do we fix it, as far as my observation goes, I think the problem lies in the fact that we treat the two forms of knowledge as mutually exclusive i.e Western Knowledge (Ilimin Zamani in Hausa) and Islamic Knowledge (Ilimin Addini in Hausa). This division to me is extremely dangerous and could destroy the very society we live in without even realizing it. Unfortunately religious scholars in the North promote this ideology more often for reasons unclear. May be their thinking is to motivate people to study Islamic knowledge more, without realizing they are actually doing more harm than good, or perhaps their reason is to feel good about themselves by condemning what they don't have, or perhaps it is just out of sheer ignorance. I confirmed this hypothesis, when I attended a lecture by a well renowned Islamic scholar in Kano, during which he insisted that knowledge is divided in to two  viz. The one that will benefit a person in the hereafter a.k.a Islamic Knowledge and the one that benefits a person in this world a.k.a Western Knowledge. Again this didn't make a single sense to me, as I know both forms of knowledge could benefit a person both in this world and the hereafter. Now, as long as we do not end this dichotomy and treat all forms of knowledge as equally important, we will continue to perpetually stay in this quagmire. As far as I am concerned the first verse of the Quran revealed says “Read" and no one is yet to convince me that it means read and learn only one form of knowledge, it must apply to any form of knowledge. Just like no one could convince me that some knowledge is from God while some is not, all knowledge is from Him and Him alone, and everyone is expected to seek it. How you use it determines whether you are a good person or not but not the acquisition of one of its form or the other.

So how do I propose we fix this? I could only suggest two approaches to solving this problem, firstly we need to change how we categorize knowledge as the current method does not work and creates more division than unity, more resentment than tolerance, more ignorance than awareness and definitely more destruction than progress. The idea that knowledge is divided into two in a kind of black and white way does not only retard the learning process but also slows down the advancement of the thinking of our society. Once we change this perception, the society as a whole would seek solutions to its every day problems in more holistic, organized and methodical manner, instead of what you have today, one group of the society pushing the  responsibility to the other. What I am suggesting is seeing knowledge as a spectrum changing from black to white instead. On one end you have knowledge that does not change for example you cannot have another Quran, you cannot change the pillars of Islam, or you cannot change the fundamental laws of physics, etc. Now as you shift away from this end some of this knowledge may actually change but with a lot of control on how, for example while the interpretations of some verses of the Quran will never ever change some are actually bound to change and we have seen several instances of that. You will reach the other end of the spectrum where everything is bound to change with absolutely no control for instance stem cells, sources of energy etc. However, while acquiring the entire spectrum of knowledge is important as a whole, one is free to be slightly skewed to the left or to the right. This categorization opens up new perspectives of looking at things and present new opportunities for further research and study in all fields.

The second approach is to fix the already created mess by neutralizing the sharp divide between the two groups mentioned above. This could be achieved if we try to identify the very basic mandatory knowledge for each group in the society, and develop crash courses and structured curricula for each group. So for example, lets say the basic knowledge a person that has “western education” needs is perhaps the first two chapters of the Quran with correct interpretations, 40 Hadith of Nawawi and Fundamentals of Fiqh, fine lets concentrate on that and target achieving 90% conversion of that target people. On the other hand those people in the society that are considered well versed in “Islamic education” may need basic understanding of science, governance, global politics, psychology and human geography, lets see if we can achieve 90% conversion of this audience. Do this and you will see a better functioning society. Of course if someone from any of the groups wishes to go deeper that should be absolutely encouraged, but the bottom line is everyone should seek knowledge whatever form it is, as long as your intention is good, it might actually be your way to salvation.


Another suggestion is that an Imam does thorough research before presenting a sermon- the Imam you referred to should have sought the opinion of those who know and read about the topic more thoroughly before misrepresenting facts to the congregation.

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