Thursday, August 21, 2008

On Seeking Right Knowledge: Are we?

On Seeking Right Knowledge
Ir. Ahmad Jais bin Alias Fellow IKIM 12/08/2008 The Star

My previous article which appeared in this column dealt with the importance of preparing our graduates with the skills to acquire knowledge. The main reason why it is important, is to ensure their readiness and ability for a lifelong journey in the search for knowledge. The ocean of knowledge is there for graduates to explore, and they should not think that their quest for knowledge ends once they graduate or have left the university.

Suppose now graduates would like to embark on a journey to acquire knowledge, the questions now are; what kind of knowledge is of paramount importance? Isn't what they have been taught in school and university adequate? What is ‘Right Knowledge' in relation to them?

The answers may be different, dependant upon which angle one is looking at. From the industrialists or commercial profit-based employers, they may emphasize practical knowledge or skills. Potential employees should possess a certain command of industrial-based competency to join the workforce. Thus, graduates with strong technological and hands-on ability will have a better chance to secure employment.

Today, we find many life-long education and training providers or centres offering the ‘industry-based competency' certification programmes. In fact, they are limiting knowledge to only practical and applied knowledge. Therefore it is normal for us to hear complaints and grievances from employers concerning the apparent contradiction between skills and practical knowledge, and values and ethics at the workplace.

According to Prof. Alparslan Acikgenc from Fatih University, Turkey in his speech delivered at IKIM last month, practical knowledge is the lowest level in the hierarchy of knowledge. Practical knowledge and skills merely reflect a demonstration of the ability to transform scientific knowledge into practical application. In general, practical knowledge is not concerned with the proper understanding of the theoretical which led to invention, but only focuses on the practicality and usability of design and invention in solving real life problems. Those with this ability are called practitioners, inventors or specialists.

The next level of knowledge is the scientific knowledge. This level requires a considerable mastery of the theories, principles and empirical evidences in the field of science. To acquire this knowledge, one has to follow certain rules. A certain amount of logic and reason is a pre-requisite for the mastery of scientific knowledge. Those with this ability are called scientists, theorists, philosophers or intellectuals.

However, scientific knowledge is not absolute, since sciences are concerned with relative truth. Science evolved with the ability of mankind to explore, understand and interpret creation and nature surrounding them. Scientific discoveries of the past could be superseded by current findings and new evidence. What is right at one particular time, may be proven erroneous in future. Thus, scientific knowledge is not always reliable.

Therefore, in the search for truth and right knowledge, we need to further in the hierarchy of knowledge i.e. to the level of illumined and revealed knowledge, respectively. Revealed knowledge is the highest in the pyramid of knowledge, and is considered to reflect Absolute Truth, since it is from Allah, the All-Knowing. One of His attributes is al-‘Alim. Hence ‘Ilm (Truth) is revealed from God to His prophets. The prophets convey and teach it to mankind, as a guide for their lives. The Quran is the Final Revelation.

To be able to understand and appreciate revealed knowledge, we require interpretation, exegesis and illumination from the scholars. True scholars help us to understand the meanings contained in the verses of the Quran, and the Prophetic traditions. Scholars also guide us in understanding the teachings of Islam and to educate us to be civilized. People of a civil society will gradually developed a civilization. Therefore, a civilization reflects the state of achieving ‘right knowledge' namely Revealed Knowledge, Illuminated Knowledge, Scientific Knowledge and Applied Knowledge (in the order of importance).

Is our educational system moving in the right direction?

Question for us to think and reflect. What should we do? How to do it?

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