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Loss of Adab

On loss of adab, an abridgement from the Introduction of Syed Muhammad Naquib al-Attas's Aims and Objectives of Islamic Education, at the First World Conference on Islamic Education held at Mecca in 1977.

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 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 operate 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.

Thus, for sublime example, God Himself commands that the Holy Quran, the Fountain of all true knowledge, cannot even be touched in approach save through the prescribed adab or ritual purity.

Knowledge must be approached reverently and in humility, and it cannot be possessed simply as if it were there available to everyone irrespective of intention and purpose and capacity. Where knowledge of Islam and the Islamic world-view is concerned, it is based on authority.

Since Islam is already established in perfection from the very beginning, requiring no further developmental change nor evolution towards perfection, we say again that adequate knowledge about Islam is always possible for all Muslims.

There can be no relativism in the historical interpretation of Islam, so that knowledge about it is either right or wrong, or true or false, where wrong and false means contradiction with the already established and clear truth, and right and true means conformity with it. Confusion about such truth means simply ignorance of it, and this is due not to any inherent vagueness or ambiguity on the part of that truth.

The interpretation and clarification of knowledge about Islam and the Islamic world-view is accomplished by authority, and legitimate authority recognizes and acknowledges a hierarchy of authorities culminating in the Holy Prophet, upon whom be Peace.

It is incumbent upon us to have proper attitude towards legitimate authority, and that is reverence, love, respect, humility and intelligent trust in the veracity of the knowledge interpreted and clarified by such authority.

Reverence, love, respect, humility and intelligent trust can be realized in one only when one recognizes and acknowledges the fact that there is a hierarchy in the human order and in authority within that hierarchy in the matter of intelligence, spiritual knowledge and virtue.

In respect of the human order in society, we do not in the least mean by 'hierarchy' that semblance of it wherein oppression and exploitation and domination are legitimized as if they were an established principle ordained by God.

The fact that hierarchical disorders have prevailed in human society does not mean that hierarchy in the human order is not valid, for there is, in point of fact, legitimate hierarchy in the order of creation, and this is the Divine Order pervading all Creation and manifesting the occurrence of justice.

God is the Just, and He fashions and deploys all Creation in justice.

In order that mankind generally might recognize and acknowledge the just order, He has bestowed upon His Prophets, Messengers and men of piety and spiritual discernment, the wisdom and knowledge of it so that they in turn might convey it to mankind who ought to conform with it as individuals and as a society.

And this conformity with that order is the occurrence of adab; the resulting condition of that conformity is justice.

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