1.0 Introduction
In the name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful
Islam puts a very high priority on knowledge. Seeking knowledge has been made compulsory to
all Muslims. The first revelation to Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) that was “IQRA” was
actually on the importance of seeking
knowledge. Islam as a religion has its own theory of
knowledge which is different from other religions or ideology. Thus, this lesson will bring to you
discussion on the theory of knowledge (epistemology) in Islam.
2.0 Learning Outcomes
By the end of lesson, the students should able to:
2.1 Explain the meaning of knowledge & Its Division
2.2 Identify the sources of knowledge
2.3 Explain the different levels of recipients of knowledge
2.3 Explain the different types of knowledge
3.0 List of Topics
3.1 The Meaning of Epistemology/Knowledge
3.2 The Division of Knowledge
3.3 The Sources of Knowledge
3.4 The Hierarchy of Recipients of Knowledge
3.5 The Types of Knowledge
4.0 Terminologies
4.1 Epistemology
Theory of knowledge
4.2 Revelation
Something that came from Allah SWT to His messengers
4.3 Mujahadah
The one who strives to attain the pleasure of Allah SWT
5.0 Topics
5.1 The Meaning and Concept of Islamic Epistemology (Knowledge)
Have you ever heard the word ‘epistemology’? If you haven’t, let’s look and understand
the meaning of epistemology. The word is derived from a Greek word, “episteme” which
means knowledge and “logos” which means theory or study. Thus, epistemology means
the theory of knowledge. This theory discusses the origin of knowledge, classification of
knowledge as well as human experience, the nature, source and limits of human
knowledge, the concept of truth, belief and knowledge.
Then, what is knowledge (‘ilm) from Islamic point of view? Literally it means to know
(Arabic word is "‘alima"), to be aware of, and to be familiar or acquainted with. Knowledge
is a simple term means a thing that a person knows or a fact, information, or a skill and
understanding which can be acquired through experience. Technically, ‘ilm refers to the
realization of something according to its true nature. According to Syed Naquib al-Attas,
‘ilm is the reaching of a meaning within a human being. What does it mean? It means,
knowledge is the human understanding which is based on revelation, observation,
research, test, experience and others. In western world view, the element of “revelation”
is excluded from the definition of epistemology.
Islamic epistemology reflects the reality of life. Thus, it is not philosophical in nature but
also a response to all the matters relating to human life, family, society and nation that
includes the life in this world and the Hereafter. The theory puts boundaries or limitations
on what a Muslim should know, what can be known and what are beyond his knowledge.
Can you list down what a Muslim should know, what can be known and what are beyond
his knowledge? Discuss with your friends.
5.2 Division of Knowledge
Do you know the division of knowledge in Islam? In general, knowledge is divided into
two divisions. They are:
a) Revealed (naqli) Knowledge
It refers to knowledge founded in Al-Quran and Al-hadith.
b) Worldly (‘aqli) Knowledge
It refers to knowledge which is gained for the worldly purpose such as
Can you list down what kind of knowledge can be categorized revealed and worldly
5.3 The Sources of Knowledge
In Islam, we must believe that all knowledge belongs to Allah SWT, be it the revealed or
worldly knowledge. The source of all human knowledge is Allah (s.w.t.). Man has the
potential to know but he cannot know everything, only Allah can, so He is the Allknowing. Allah has given man knowledge of things through revelation (messages, the
final message being the Qur’an), Ilham (Divine inspiration), intuition (sudden inner
conviction), intelligence (using man’s brain), and the senses (instinct).
a) Revelation (‫)وحي‬
It is the source of all knowledge in which it comes from Allah SWT to His
messengers. His messengers then delivered the knowledge to mankind. The
revelations are the source of knowledge pertaining divinity, aqidah, shari’ah, ahklaq,
ibadah, stories and others. The revelations were sent to His messengers in many
True Dream (‫)الرؤيا الصالحة‬
Rasulullah (peace be upon him) once had received revelation in a true
dream in which he saw something like the light at the break of dawn coming
towards him. It is narrated by al-Bukhari and Muslim from Aishah R.A.
To the Heart of Messengers
Angel Jibril a.s putting revelation in the Prophet’s heart without others
noticed the coming of the angel. It can only be heard like a bell ringing.
(iii) Angel Jibril a.s appears in the form of a human being
The angel used to came to Prophet Muhammad SAW in the form of human
being and talked to the Prophet SAW. Umar al-Khattab R.A had reported
that one day, while they sat together with Rasulullah SAW, suddenly a man
all in white whom nobody recognized, approached Rasulullah SAW, sat in
front Rasulullah SAW until his knees touched the Prophets’s SAW knees,
then he put his hands on the Prophet’s SAW thigh, then asked about Iman
Islam and Ihsan. Do you know the hadith?
(iv) Direct from Allah SWT to His Messengers
This happened to Prophet Muhammad SAW and Musa A.S. in which Allah
SWT talked to the prophets behind veil (hijab). For example, Rasulullah
SAW received the command to perform the five daily prayers through this
(v) Angel Jibril a.s came in its original and can be seen
Ity happened twice to Rasullah SAW. The first was in Hira’ Cave and the
second was at Sidratul Muntaha while the angel accompanied the Prophet
Saw during the journey of ‘Isra’ Mi’raj. This is recorded on Surah al-Najm,
verse 13-15.
b) Ilham (Divine inspiration)
Ilham in the context of the discussion of the source of knowledge in Islam is different
with the common understanding of the people. By the way, what is inspiration?
Inspiration is an emotional perception that comes straight from the heart. Ilham is
given by Allah SWT to those who are very close to Him and put much effort in ibadah
and mujahadah. Kashf is one type of inspiration. Kashf is the ability to see or know
something that other people cannot do unless by learning”. This type of inspiration is
normally given by Allah SWT to His servants who are pure both soul and body and
keep themself away from doing something forbidden by Allah SWT. It is something
supernatural that comes unconsciously from the human heart. Allah SWT honoured
them for their effort of getting closer to Allah SWT.
c) Intuition (sudden inner conviction)
Intuition is an inspiration from the active mind, thought and soul which moves from
the start until the end, unconsciously and without a medium. Intuition is receiving
input and ideas without knowing exactly how and where you got them from. You
simply know it is not from yourself. Like creativity, intuitive inspiration often happens
when someone virtually fuses in an activity and highly focused on the respective
activity in a state of joy and fulfillment. In other words, intuition is the fast sudden
observation towards an event or reality without external stimulus or logical reason.
d) Intelligence (using man’s brain)
Mind is a special gift from Allah SWT to human beings that makes them different with
animals. Through the active exercise of the mind, we can attain intelligence. By using
the mind, a person will try to find knowledge from the abundant of the universe by
contemplating the sunnatullah (the natural laws set by Allah SWT). There are
abundant of knowledge in the sunnatullah that can be discovered by human being
through the exercise of an active and healthy mind. Among the examples are:
(i) Fire: It has the character of burning something
(ii) A specific wood or leaf has the properties to cure a particular disease
A medical practitioner will put his effort to know and conduct research to find
out a cure or medicine for a particular illness
(iii) The air space
Scientists have put many efforts to understand the phenomena on the air
space, the planets and so on.
e) Senses (instinct)
This is the lowest form of the source of knowledge in the hierarchy. A normal human
being is normally has five senses i.e sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch. The five
senses are very useful in receiving information and knowledge. The information
received will be transmitted to the mind to be interpreted. Hearing and sight are the
two senses that can take much information and knowledge. Allah SWT had
mentioned many times in the Holy Quran. For example in Surah al-Isra: 36. Thus, no
wonder if the hearing and sight will be questioned in the Hereafter.
Find out the following:
a) Hadith that discusses Islam, Iman and Ihsan. Write down its the text and its meaning.
Then, try to understand the meaning
b) Quranic verse of Surah al-Isra, verse 36. Write it down and try to understand the
The Hierarchy of Recipients of Knowledge
Do we receive knowledge other than from Allah SWT? Of course not, is it right?
Everyone receives knowledge from Allah SWT, be it Muslim or non-Muslims or even
those who do not believe in the existence of God. This is the fact that all Muslims must
believe in. However, the recipients of knowledge are different between one group and
another. There is a hierarchy of the knowledge recipients as illustrated in the chart below:
The Knowledge Giver
Prophets and Messengers,
who received the revelations
Those who are gifted men, who have reached
great intimacy with Allah) receive ilham
(inspiration = know things others don’t)
Ulama’ and
Those given knowledge and given
wisdom and understanding. They are
the scholars and intellectual.
The Public
The civiliants. Those received
knowledge imparted by the early
prophets and messengers, Awliya’,
Ulama’ and Hukama’.
a) Can you list down as many as names of the following awliya’ that you know.
Then, write a brief background of each of them.
b) Can you identify the differences between Hukama’and ‘Ulama’?
5.5 Type of Knowledge
From the discussion above, can you identify the types of knowledge? In general,
knowledge in Islam is divided into three types i.e Revealed Knowledge, Inspirational
Knowledge and Empirical Knowledge.
Revealed Knowledge
This knowledge is based on revelations such as the Quran and Hadith. It is also
known as shari’ah, naqli or religious knowledge. All Muslims are compulsory to learn
this knowledge. It is the first knowledge that must be learnt by all Muslims. It is the
knowledge about Islamic teachings.
Inspirational Knowledge
This knowledge needs not to be learnt. It does not require the use of mind to think
and learn. It is different with revelation that was revealed to messengers of Allah
SWT but similar in the sense that the knowledge goes directly to the human heart
without learning. It is given by Allah SWT directly to a chosen or selected group of
people who have great intimacy with Allah SWT. This group of people always do
mujahadah and performing ibadah to get very close to Allah SWT. Among the type
knowledge under this category is kashf (‫ )كشف‬and ladunni (‫)لدني‬.
Empirical Knowledge
It is knowledge that based on facts and is attained through human physical senses. It
includes science, geography, astronomy, mathematics and others. The basis of this
type of knowledge is the ability to think, conduct analysis and make conclusions on
facts which are gathered. Even though the human can use their minds to think,
analyze and make conclusion on certain facts, it must not contradicting the Islamic
teachings. It means, when defining facts or findings, we must always relate them with
the existence of Allah SWT. That is why, Islam does not recognize the ‘Theory of
Evolution” of Darwinisme that claims human was originated from ape because it is
clearly stated in the Holy Quran that Allah SWT is the one who created man from the
soil. Empirical knowledge, be how great its findings, if against the Islamic teachings is
rejected by Islam and not considered as knowledge. In fact, it is categorized as
blameworthy knowledge.
By the way, what is blameworthy knowledge? It is the knowledge of something that is
harmful to one’s self and to others (knowledge on how to commit the perfect murder,
how to steal, how to produce drugs, how to practice black magic, etc). Such
knowledge is not only a sin to be learnt (by study or practice) but also forbidden to
taught to others.
a) List down the type of knowledge under revealed knowledge.
b) Describe in general what kind of knowledge can be attained from the revealed
c) What is ladunni knowledge? Is there any different with kashf?
d) List down ten examples of blameworthy knowledge?
6.0 Lesson Summary
From the discussion above, we know that epistemology is the theory of knowledge that
discusses about the sources of knowledge, its classifications and also human
experience. Islam puts a very great importance on seeking knowledge in which it has
made it compulsory to all Muslims with the priority given to the seeking of the revealed.
Beside the revealed knowledge, Islam also gives a great emphasis on the use of mind to
attain knowledge by observing the sunnatullah (natural phenomena) as long as the
findings from the observation do not against the Islamic teachings. Any findings that
contradicting the Islamic teachings are not considered as knowledge.
7.0 Self Assessment
1. Literally knowledge means to __________
A. believe
B. accept
C. know
D. achieve
Answer: C
2. Technically, ‘ilm can be understood as _________
A. a fact
B. an experience
C. a skill
D. beneficial information
Answer: A
3. The first source of knowledge is ___________
A. revelation
B. intuition
C. Ilham
D. intelligence
Answer: A
4. The lowest receiver of knowledge is _____________
A. prophet
B messenger
C. scholar, expert
D. the average man and woman
Answer: D
5. Which one of these statements correctly shows that knowledge is achieved through
Getting a new idea after observation
The prophet received revelation from God
The messenger knew what was going to happened
Getting high scores after doing a lot of reading and research
Answer: D
6. Intuition is different from revelation because it ___________
A comes from Allah
B needs an active mind
C requires a lot of earnest practice
D requires the observation of five senses
Answer: C
7. Which one of the following is CORRECT?
A man reads a lot of novels
A man sees the prophet in a dream
A man gets information from what he sees
A man got the best ideas while he is in the toilet
Answer: C
Based on the hierarchy of receivers of knowledge in Islam, the public can
upgrade their level by ___________
having dream
reciting al-Qur’an
doing meditation at the secret place
acquiring information and education
Answer: D
10. Empirical knowledge is different from gifted knowledge because it __________
A is gained by nature
B is revealed by Allah
C is received through dreams
D requires man’s effort of learning
Answer: D
11 Which one of the followings is correct?
Methods of acquiring knowledge
Having dreams
Reading and doing research
Receiving ilham from the prophet
Receiving information through meditation
Answer: B
Revelation in a form of ilham is revealed to _________
messengers of Allah
Answer: D
13 Hukama’ and ulama' share the similarity in the sense that they are __________
gaining information through angel JInril a.s
acquiring knowledge from the public
receiving knowledge through dreams
acquiring knowledge through learning
Answer: D