Knowledge Integration: A Path to Community Empowerment
The current reality of human life has been expressed in many descriptors, all pointing out to the necessities of having relevant establishments which could put in place suitable measures in equipping individuals to effectively deal with situations encountered. The increasingly challenging life among individuals requires them to possess certain types of knowledge, master relevant skills, and develop appropriate abilities in order to respond to life issues or societal demands they face.
On the side of the coin, there have been an increasing number of education institutions, established to equip people with values-added competencies. Among them are what appear to be operating as faith-based academic institutions, including Islamic universities or Higher Religious Education and Training Institutions (HiRETI). In most places, HiRETIs adopt the integration agenda in that their focus has been mainly on nurturing holistic individuals who aspire to gain knowledge, skills, and abilities that lead them to serving the world, and helping the society to attain well-being in this world and hereafter. In delivering this function, the institutions:
a. design academic curricula which adopt an approach that links Islamic studies knowledge with other knowledge, highlighting or emphasising the humanity perspectives for Islamic studies specialisation.
b. design academic curricula that relate non-Islamic studies subjects (e.g. humanities) with Islamic knowledge and principles, focusing on didactically-sound and religious-based perspectives of the subjects.
c. implement teaching and learning methods which position a good connect between any subjects with religious aspects, including in the learning materials, assessment processes and other learning activities.
d. incorporate philosophical, logical, psychological, sociological, historical, and legal approaches in the training of Islamic-studies students.
e. develop analytical and critical skills among scholars and students in the teaching and learning processes as well as research outcomes.
The above paragraphs suggest that individuals could be empowered to lead good life if given the required knowledge as well as relevant skills. If sufficiently given, individuals would be able to attain balanced life or well-being, including that of in the hereafter. Such is the objective of education at HiRETI, which main orientation reflects the integration of knowledge agenda that underscores:
a. the essentiality of nurturing holistic individuals who are capable of recognising the importance of certain knowledge and linking it with principles in other domains of knowledge especially the religious knowledge, hence producing values-added ideas which lead to holistic explanation or solutions to the issues under investigation.
b. the publication of comprehensive knowledge literature entailing the documentation of invaluable literature based on the work of students and academics. The work on integrated teaching and research should benefit the community of academia working on integration of knowledge; community of practitioners; policy makers, and the public at large.
c. the development of strategic mechanisms to support the implementation of the agenda, encompassing the initiatives to:
i. assess the extent to which there exists the right understanding among academics and students on the concept of, and need for, integration of knowledge.
ii. emphasise on the right nature of integrated approach in research and teaching, by deliberating its process to bring about meaning to the studied subject matters; substantiating its utility in the society; and making it beneficially applicable to the society.
iii. develop awareness among workers of integration (i.e scholars, academics and students) that integration is not without any real purposes. Integration is not conducted merely for meeting the institutional requirement but adopted due to the objective of making knowledge genuinely beneficial to its stakeholders.
With regard to the scholars or academia, there should be a certain set of common attributes they subscribe to and implement in the process of integration of knowledge. Scholars, instructors and students should have the ability and passion to
a. be highly ready to accept, participate, support and advocate the concept of integration of acquired knowledge (e.g humanities, social sciences, economy) with Islamic studies (e.g Fiqh, Hadis, Quran studies); and to not feel or cause inconveniences to its implementation.
b. develop sound language proficiency, in that language should be treated as a tool to understand and communicate the available knowledge resources from Islamic heritage or other sources.
c. widen knowledge sources, in that the study of languages should not be viewed as fulfilling the core requirement of an academic programme but a competency set that enables students (and researchers) to widen their knowledge, access wider scope of information and discover unexplored sources of knowledge. As such, the teaching of other than English and Arabic languages (e.g Hebrew etc) should be provided or strengthened in order to enable students to access the many readily available comprehensive knowledge but unexplorable due to language incompetence.
The Way Forward
Given the above thought, HiRETI leaders should give attention to developing the ways moving forward which should take into account the following observations;
a. The importance of emphasising the necessities of integrating knowledge. This is justified by the need to provide comprehensive perspectives of knowledge and link them to the principles covered in any body of other knowledge, especially Islamic knowledge. Furthermore, a knowledge and principle will not be bringing any meaning, let alone informing solution to certain issues, if not blended, contextualised, or integrated with other knowledge, data, policy or information.
b. The need for adequate focus is given to conducting comparative studies on religions and other subjects in the discipline under investigation, including the subjects under humanities. The outcomes of these projects should be to nurture positive co-existence or harmonious relationships across all beneficiaries of knowledge. Scholars of different backgrounds and zeitgeist should be studied by the current students so as to identify the points which address the ways they derive their method of sourcing knowledge, learning the subjects explored or established, the values upheld, and the solutions or applications introduced.
c. The essentiality to conduct research in humanities areas by integrating them with Islamic knowledge and principles; and that the methods of sourcing knowledge should encompass both the empirical and divine approaches. Likewise should be the case for research conducted on Islamic studies subjects, in that the subject matter and the methods are to be related and integrated with humanities areas. This should happen across all levels of research, by students and academics. Academic leaders at HiRETI should facilitate the process of levelling up the integration agenda at research activities.
d. The essentiality to develop collective effort in embarking on the agenda, requiring coordinated, sincere, generous and goal-oriented collaboration among academics and institutions. Given the different strength and uniqueness an academic or institution possesses, it is only a smart move if prudent engagement could be established among the community of academia throughout many institutions at local and international levels, but mindful of the different culture and nature of the participating community.
e. The essentiality of developing academic leaders to champion integration agenda. There should be scholars who could lead integration projects, i.e to set direction, inspire others, generate funds, gather resources and guide the community of academia on the ways to embark on the Integration agenda. This could be done through a structured leadership training programme that specifically focuses on equipping identified academics with leadership competencies so that they can lead others on the agenda. Institutions with this project must not only assign or expect the attainment of Islamization goals without facilitating the process to implement it.
f. The importance of having appropriate mechanisms to deal with:
i. the lack of understanding or the absence of true ideas on the nature and structure of the integration process.
ii. the presence of academics and students who are not ready to be involved, let alone lead or initiate, teaching or research projects which adopt integrated approaches.
iii. the high level of disconnect between the domain of knowledge taught or studied, despite their involvement in University education process; or them being hired to work on integration of knowledge agenda.
iv. the lack of coordinated interventions to roll out the proper integration process. In many cases, academics and students are expected to be highly involved in the integration agenda, though little effort has been put in place to guide them on the ways to implement or support the agenda.
g. The need to give attention and provide supports to students and academics to share their process of adopting integrated methods in:
i. deriving knowledge from divine sources and Islamic heritage; and at the same time generating knowledge using empirical approach, contributive of availing literature on integrated epistemology.
ii. presenting the blended or contextualised knowledge and principles, hence providing alternative explanation on the existing knowledge vis a vis the contemporary life issues, styles, and direction. This contributes to producing literature that address or highlight the integrated ontology of knowledge.
iii. positioning the need to be ethical knowledge workers among students and researchers, in that teaching and learning are remarkable processes that prepare individuals to have the right, needed, true, and useful knowledge, information, belief, data, facts and figure which would lead to the development of knowledgeable and God-conscious individuals. Adequate focus should be given to developing the right values when dealing with knowledge, knowledge workers, and knowledge outcome, contributing to the literature of axiology of knowledge.
iv. sharing the findings on the newly derived knowledge from the divine sources or relevantised principles to the contemporary scenarios in order to inform the development of policies, solutions, and practices. The integrated epistemology, ontology and axiology of knowledge would be able to lead to the availability of practical interventions among researchers, practitioners, and policy makers to manage the contemporary psycho-socio-spiritual issues. This is to nurture the development of individuals who benefit from the knowledge for their well being in this world and the hereafter. Literature of such orientation is needed to address the integrated teleology of knowledge.
Shukran Abd Rahman is professor of Industrial and Organisational Psychology at AbdulHamid AbuSulayman Kulliyyah of Islamic Revealed Knowledge and Human Sciences.
The above is the recapitulation from the Conference on the Teaching of the Humanities in Institution of Higher Religious Studies: Realities and Prospects, organised by Dar Al-Hadith Al-Hassaniah Institute, Qarawiyin University, Rabat, Kingdom of Morrocco, 16-17 May 2023.
Topics: Higher Education, Social Change, Ummah (Community) Values: Education, Knowledge, Spirituality