Worldview and the Theory of Knowledge: An Islamic Perspective
by: Dr. Saeid Sobhani
Dr. Saeid Sobhani was born into a senior clerical family in the holy city of Qom in 1963. He completed his high school education while being spiritually trained under the guidance of his father Grand Ayatollah Ja’far Sobhani.
For two decades from 1982 to 2002, he attended the lectures of eminent scholars of Qom and mastered such disciplines as Arabic literature, logic, Islamic philosophy, exegesis of the
Qur’an, the theological schools of thought (milal wa niḥal), the science of narrators and narrations (ʾilm al – rijāl and al – dirāyah), theology (kalām), Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh), and the principles of jurisprudence (uṣūl al-fiqh).
He received his advanced seminary training under three senior Ayatollahs. He was a student of Grand Ayatollah Abdollah Javadi Amoli and attended his discourses on exegetical
sciences and philosophy. He received his advanced training in jurisprudence under the late Grand Ayatollah Mirza Javād Tabrīzī. Simultaneously he also attended classes offered by his
father on uṣūl al-fiqh and theology. These three erudite scholars have played the most important role in shaping his system of thought. In addition to pursuing his advanced training, he also
taught in the most prominent universities and seminaries of Iran. Having been immersed in the ocean of spirituality and knowledge of the holy city of Qom for two decades, Sobhani
moved to the U.K. in 2002 to serve as a resident ‘ālim as well as to pursue his advanced academic training in a Western context.
He received his M.A. in Inter-Faith Relations from the University of Glasgow and his Ph.D. in Philosophy of Religion from the University of Edinburgh.
His two-decade-long sojourn in the West has further amplified his understanding of Western academic tradition as well as Occidental cultural currents. He is currently serving as a senior
lecturer at the Islamic College and Hawza ‘Ilmiyya of England in London.
He has published a number of articles and books (in English, Farsi, and Arabic) on a wide array of subjects including theology, philosophy, jurisprudence, principles of jurisprudence, exegesis of the Qur’an, history, science of narrators and fundamentals of belief.
His publications include Rijal Studies: an Introduction (2023), Religious Diversity in Contemporary Shi‘i Thought (2022), and Nayl al-Watar min Qa‘idah la Darar (The Jurisprudential Maxim of No Harm, 1999).
Epistemology (the theory of knowledge) is a branch of philosophy that studies the nature, origin, scope, and methods of cognition as well as the validity of knowledge propositions. It is a new branch of knowledge that has attracted the attention of scholars in intellectual science and can be considered as the key to all branches of human knowledge. The theory of knowledge indicates the value of all the philosophical thoughts of human beings and we cannot assess the value of any philosophical or scientific school unless it clearly settles the problems of epistemology.
The theory of knowledge has a long history. The most important issues of epistemology, such as the possibility of cognition, the skeptics’ and relativists’ views, and the means of gaining knowledge, originated in ancient Greece and were discussed in the following epochs. Even though epistemological arguments are mostly old, epistemology did not emerge as an independent discipline long ago.
In the history of philosophy, the majority of philosophers have paid attention to epistemological issues. These issues have been discussed under different rubrics in Islamic philosophical books and constitute a valuable heritage in modern epistemology. Fortunately, many epistemological arguments have been shaped into an independent branch of knowledge these days, and Allamah Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Tabataba’i is a leading thinker in this field.
Just as the differences between ideologies are rooted in worldviews, the variation in worldviews originates in epistemological differences. If a school of thought rejects intellect and the heart (qalb) as sources of knowledge and is content with sense and experiment, it would create a limited worldview. This is why epistemology tops the list of books dealing with principles of religious beliefs.
The present book, which has been written as an English textbook in Islamic epistemology for the first time, tries to deal with epistemic issues as the root cause of variations in worldviews and ideologies. The book explains difficult philosophical discussions in lucid language and is useful for those who are interested in a deep understanding of epistemological issues. An important feature of this book is its comparative treatment of Western and Muslim philosophers’ views.
In conclusion, I would like to thank the author, Dr. Saeid Sobhani, and the publication team and wish the best for all of them.
Seyed Hashem Moosavi
Director of Contemporary Thought Press (CTP)
The contemporary world is faced with different and contradicting ideologies. Some of these ideologies may have caused bitter divisions in society, class divisions, and possibly war and bloodshed throughout history. The question that always comes to mind is: what is the reason for the difference in ideologies? Why does one group defend a particular ideology while another
does the group support another ideology?
The answer is that the differences between ideologies are due to differences in worldviews. In other words, differences in worldviews lead to differences in ideologies. A worldview is an interpretation and analysis of existence, the world, man, society, and history. Ideologies then, are the offspring of worldviews.
This begs further questions: why are there different worldviews? Where do the differences in worldviews come from? Why does one group follow a materialistic worldview and the other group a theistic worldview?
The answer to these questions can be attributed to the point that these two groups have different understandings of the world. In other words, epistemological issues give rise to different worldviews.
This is why epistemological issues become particularly important and demonstrate that the root cause of differences in worldviews and, consequently, ideologies, are epistemological issues.
Furthermore, human beings have different attitudes towards the world of creation based on which they form their beliefs and convictions. These perspectives can be divided into three categories. Some people study the world solely from the perspective of modern empirical science and establish their worldviews accordingly. Another group considers experimentation as an inadequate tool for acquiring knowledge of the world and thus attempts to reach the truth about the world through intellect and wisdom. The third group does not regard intellect and experimentation as sufficient tools; instead, they try to appreciate the reality of the world via the tool of revelation.
The sum of the beliefs and insights of each group forms their “worldview”. Truth and its cognition have been important preoccupations of man throughout the course of human history. There are many significant questions about reality that have engaged the minds of thinkers from the past. Some of them are as follows:
- Is there an independent reality beyond the human mind?
- If so, can that reality be conceived?
- If so, can we describe it to others?
- If we suppose that man can gain an understanding of the reality of the world, by what tools can he acquire that reality?
- How efficient is each of these tools?
- What are the sources of cognition?
- What are the criteria for distinguishing true cognition from false cognition?
- What obstacles can prevent man from correctly acquiring the truths of the world and thus lead him astray?
On one hand, a worldview forms the basis of man’s intellectual thoughts, whereas his actions and behaviour, known as an ideology, are derived from his beliefs. On the other hand, our worldview is also dependent on our views on “cognition”. Therefore, it is necessary to examine the different worldviews and identify their strengths and weaknesses. The issue of
“cognition” and the various relevant theories must also be carefully considered.
This book is compiled under the title of “Worldview and the Theory of Knowledge” to undertake this important task. An attempt has been made to present the views of the Qur’an and narrations on the aforementioned topics in a structured and logical manner. Moreover, this humble work tries to examine the perspectives of other schools of thought and analyses them. Hence, this book consists of two parts. In the first part, it deals with the issues of worldview and ideology and their relationship, whilst the second part addresses the issues of epistemology.
I would like to finish this introduction with an interesting comment by Wilfred Cantwell Smith (1916- 2000). He says, “We are not so fond as to imagine that our treatment of the issue here raised is adequate”, but we want to highlight the significance of these issues. It is true that not every book can reveal the “authors’ aspirations”. However, I hope that this work provides
intellectually acceptable answers. I do not claim that this book will fulfill all the expectations; however, I hope it will pave the way for further research.
I sincerely pray that all readers of this book are blessed with a greater understanding of the realities discussed here.