Why Should An Islamic Studies Student Study the Classical Islamic Sciences?

Abdüssamet Sarıkaya – Research Assistant, Department of Islamic Studies Refresh the Page

    While the Quran is the fundamental source on which the Islamic scholarly tradition is built, it is not the only source. In the face of the many challenges and problems that emerged in the early period after the birth of Islam, a limited number of traditions and accounts had to be consulted. In order to address these new challenges, the nascent Islamic community had to determine how these traditions applied to the situations at hand. As part of this endeavor, the Quran, the prophetic traditions, and traditions from the Companions of the Prophet (s.a.w) were transmitted to future generations as the sources of religion. Despite this transmission effort, these sources remained fragmented, and they were not systematic enough to address new issues. To remedy this, various scholarly disciplines emerged in order to verify, systematize, and consolidate the accumulated material. While each field developed its own particular methodology, the disciplines worked in cooperation with each other and formed a coherent whole, which soon evolved into a highly complex and sophisticated scholarly tradition. Dominated by the fields of theology, law, Sufism, hadith, and exegesis, the classical Islamic disciplines evolved in response to the demands of the period and took their respective programs of inquiry to the farthest points possible.

    We have started this article with this short summary of the formation of the classical Islamic scholarly tradition because we believe that a close knowledge of how the classical Islamic disciplines were born and how they developed over time can provide inspiration and guidance for addressing today’s problems. In this spirit, Ibn Haldun states that the past is more similar to the future than water is to water.

    Knowledge comes to us through accumulation; in other words, it has unbreakable ties to the past. An academic who does not have a clear picture in his/her mind of the historical trajectory of the various fields of knowledge and their connections to each other is bound to have trouble relating his own ideas to the social realities of the modern period. We would do well to remember that a scholar writing in the classical period would not only have an impressive command of all the Islamic disciplines of his time and those before him, but he would also be closely acquainted with the pre-Islamic intellectual heritage.

    In conclusion, it should be clear that classical Islamic disciplines are not an alternative to the modern academic field of Islamic Studies, but rather a complement to it. For this reason, it is evident that no student of modern Islamic Studies can engage in scholarship without establishing a secure connection to the intellectual heritage on which his field naturally rests. The works and authors that students encounter during their studies at the Islamic Studies department – from law to theology, from Sufism to history of religions – belong almost entirely to the classical period. In order to properly read and understand these works, situate them within their historical contexts, and utilize them to produce solutions to the problems encountered by the Islamic societies in the modern period, it is incumbent to systematically study the classical Islamic disciplines. For this reason, each student should develop an intimate knowledge of classical Arabic, in order to understand classical texts, and of logic, in order to comfortably work with the categories of knowledge, concepts, and propositions. They should also acquaint themselves with the fundamental texts of classical Islamic scholarship and read at least a couple of primary sources from each discipline. It is in this regard that the Süleymaniye Program would prove highly fruitful and rewarding to Islamic Studies students in particular, and students from all departments in general, granting them access to this venerable and deep-rooted tradition.