The Epistemological Structure: Five Circles

The first circle is the central circle. It represents the heart or the core of Islamic civilization, and is also considered the power behind the activity and the continuation of Islamic civilization. It is also the core of all other circles.

This circle represents the creed of Islam, based on the Qur’an and the traditions of the Prophet Muḥammad (sunna). Islamic law (sharīa) is represented in this core that affects all circles in Islamic civilization, not unlike a supreme constitution that influences all aspects of a civilization. This inner circle is distinguished by a number of characteristics. It is holy and absolute; it is perfect, comprehensive, and applicable in all times and places. It is not a subject of human effort to add or modify or eliminate any part of it, but it is a perfect subject of human understanding, reasoning, and reflection, as man strives to form interpretations and make judgments in this life. The Qur’an strongly encourages such efforts.

The second circle is next to the core creed. It is here that we find the Qur’anic and ḥadith sciences, jurisprudence (fiqh), and the foundation and principles of jurisprudence (uṣūl al-fiqh), in addition to what is related to jurisprudence in the form of Islamic literature in the collection of Islamic legal judgments. Also in this circle are interpretations of the Qur’an, understandings of the traditions of the prophet, and the science of recitation of the Qur’an. This circle includes the rules for self-purification (sufism) and the science (based on the Qur’an and sunna) of interpreting dreams. The second circle is concerned with problems and difficulties in all aspects of Islamic culture: religious, social, political, and economic.

The third circle represents the sciences and studies that Muslims consider important, such as Arabic and philology. These subjects are critical to man’s efforts to prove the superiority of the meaning and linguistic structure of the Qur’anic language. We also find here the study of syntax and the semantics of Arabic, in addition to Arabic and Islamic literature. The third circle includes history, genealogy, law, administration, and the organization of the social and economic life of Muslims, in addition to arts in general and particularly calligraphy.

The fourth circle represents mathematics, physical sciences, astronomy, geometry, medicine, pharmacy, agriculture, engineering, and architecture. Although it is far from the core, the fourth circle serves the core (that directs man to understand the laws of the universe) by proving the existence of the creator, the acts of creation, and ultimately His greatness.

Finally, the fifth circle represents theology, philosophy, ways of practicing mysticism (sufi orders), Islamic sects, non-Islamic sects, and knowledge that is translated or transferred from other cultures. Here we find ideas and views that challenge the core itself, such as skepticism, interpretation, and arguments. In this circle we also find non-Abrahamic religions and controversies among religious groups. This circle sometimes provides support to the core, but it may also present challenges that result from the instability of its nature; it becomes particularly active when the influence of the core is weakened and other nations and groups activate themselves in such a way that the intellectual influence of this circle becomes more noticeable socially and politically.