The Loss of Adab and the Fall of the Muslim World – Sayyid Naquib al-Attas

Posted on September 25, 2010 by

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The modern era has witnessed three significant developments that have created unprecedented challenges to the Muslim community: (1) public education, mass media, and mass literacy, (2) the disintegration of Islamic polities, and (3) the formation of learning institutes based on Western concepts, values, and processes. The first development has resulted in the masses acquiring access to classical Islamic texts without possessing the tools and skills to understand them properly. The second development has resulted in the loss of state patronage of Islamic institutions of learning. The third development has resulted in the intelligentsia of Muslim societies adopting Western and secular models.

The result of these three developments is a dissonance in Muslim spiritual development and intellectual unity. In this excerpt from “Islam and Secularism”, Sayyid Naquib al-Attas explains how the rise of injustice and oppression in Muslim societies is a result of a loss of wisdom which he traces to the loss of knowledge. In his work, the remedy he proposes to this problem is the Islamization of knowledge.

Sayyid Muhammad al-Naquib bin Ali al-Attas (born September 5, 1931) is a prominent contemporary Muslim philosopher and thinker from Malaysia. He is the author of twenty-seven authoritative works on various aspects of Islamic thought and civilization, particularly on Sufism, cosmology, metaphysics, philosophy and Malay language and literature. (Source)

The Loss of Adab

By Sayyid Naquib al-Attas

“As to the internal causes of the dilemma in which we find ourselves, the basic problems can – it seems to me – be reduced to a single evident crisis which I would simply call the loss of adab. I am here referring to the loss of discipline – the discipline of body, mind, and soul; the discipline that assures the recognition and acknowledgement of one’s proper place in relation to one’s self, society and Community; the recognition and acknowledgement of one’s proper place in relation to one’s physical intellectual, and spiritual capacities and potentials; the recognition and acknowledgement of the fact that knowledge and being are ordered hierarchically. Since adab refers to recognition and acknowledgement of the right and proper place, station, and condition in life and to self discipline in positive and willing participation in enacting one’s role in accordance with that recognition and acknowledgement, its occurrence in one and in society as a whole reflects the condition of justice. Loss of adab implies loss of justice, which in turn betrays confusion in knowledge. In respect of the society and community, the confusion in knowledge of Islam and the Islamic world view creates the condition which enables false leaders to emerge and to thrive causing the condition of injustice. They emerge and to thrive, causing the condition of injustice. They perpetuate this condition since it ensures the continued emergence of leaders like them to replace them after they are gone perpetuating their domination over the affairs of the Community. Thus to put it briefly in their proper order, our present general dilemma is caused by:

  1. Confusion and error in knowledge, creating the condition for:
  2. The loss of adab within the Community. The condition arising out of (1) and (2) is:
  3. The rise of leaders who are not qualified for valid leadership of the Muslim Community, who do not possess the high moral, intellectual and spiritual standards required for Islamic leadership who perpetuate the condition in (1) above and ensure the continued control of the affairs of the Community by leaders like them who dominate in all fields.

All the above roots of our general dilemma are interdependent and operates in a vicious circle. But the chief cause is confusion and error in knowledge, and in order to break this vicious circle and remedy this grave problem, we must first come to grips with the problem of loss of adab, since no true knowledge can be instilled without the precondition of adab in the one who seeks it and to whom it is imparted.”

(p 99-100 “Islam, Secularism and the Philosophy of the Future” by Syed Muhammad Naquib al-Attas)

Further Reading:

Al-Attas’ Concept of Ta‘dib as True and Comprehensive Education in Islam – Wan Mohd Nor Wan Daud

Applying the Prophetic Sunna to the Modern World – Interview with Sayyid Naquib Al-Attas – Lastprophet.info

The Concept of Religion by Sayyid Naquib al-Attas

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