Islam and higher order thinking

In religious tradition, there is a strong connection between knowledge and way signs.

THE Malaysia Education Blue-print 2013–2025 has made it clear that the Ministry of Education is serious about equipping students with higher-order thinking skills.

In so doing, emphasis has been placed on subjects of scientific and technological nature.

Unfortunately, while one can easily find such emphasis being clearly stated regarding subjects of that nature, one cannot do so in regard to subjects of religious and ethical nature.

The aforementioned ambiguity, if not utter neglect, also applies to such subjects dealing with Islam as are expected to be covered under Islamic education.

Hence, serious and thinking Muslims might ponder: what does Islam have to do with scientific subjects which require such thinking skills?

Or, perhaps, what do such subjects requiring such skills have to do with Islam?

Yet, to properly address the above question(s) requires that they at least understand three inter-related items as delineated in the religious, intellectual, and scientific tradition of Islam: the nature of knowledge; the World-of-Nature as the object-of-knowledge; and thinking as an important channel of knowledge.

The term ‘ilm (Malay: ilmu), the most commonly used term in Arabic referring to knowledge, stems from a root comprising three letters, ‘ayn-lam-mim, giving rise to ‘alam whose basic meaning is that of ‘alamah (Malay: alamat), meaning “way sign” or “a trace (or a mark) by which something is known.”

The relation between knowledge (‘ilm) and way sign (‘alam) is particularly telling given the Arabian context in which the Quran was revealed.

In the desert especially, knowledge of way signs guides one on one’s travels and in the execution of one’s daily tasks.

In addition, ‘ayn-lam-mim is also the root for another widely used term, ‘alam (Malay: alam), which refers to the entire universe comprising not only all that is around us, but also whatever is in us, which can be studied and known.

by Dr Mohd Zaidi Ismail.

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