Study Questions for Understanding Works of Syed Muhammad Naquib al-Attas – Adi Setia

The following questions are taken from a midterm examination of an ethics course taught by Professor Adi Setia at the International Islamic University, Malaysia. They provide a useful companion to the books of Syed Muhammad Naquib al-Attas and have been cr0ss-posted here for those who wish to explore a deeper study of the ideas of Syed Muhammad Naquib al-Attas.


Part 1: Textual Understanding

This part tests your comprehension of selected sentences/passages from Professor al-Attas’s text, “Islam: The Concept of Religion and the Foundations of Ethics and Morality.” Give concise answers with one or two concrete, real-life examples to illustrate your point, and support your point by relevant quotations from Professor al-Attas’s text.

1. What is the nature of man’s indebtedness to God and how it is related to gratitude?

2. How does Professor al-Attas understand the verse “Verily man is in loss (khusr)…”?

3. What is the meaning of “real submission” and how is it related to ibadah, ikhtiyar and sense of purpose in life?

4. Explain the meaning of the statement: “The trust (amanah) refers to responsibility and freedom of the self to do justice to itself.”

5. How do man attain to freedom, and what is the difference between real freedom and pseudo-freedom?

6. What do change, development and progress refer to according to the Islamic viewpoint, and constrast it with the western secular viewpoint?

7. What is the physical and spiritual significance of trade (bartering, buying and selling)?

8. Why is the external structure or pattern of Muslim society not divided by the gap of generations such as we find prevalent in Western society?

9. How do individuals in Islamic society establish their identity and establish their ultimate destiny, and thus ariive at a correct understanding and experience of true happiness?

10. “Knowledge is not neutral, and can indeed be infused with a nature and content which masquerades as knowledge.” Elaborate on this statement.

Part 2: Intellectual Quiz

This part tests your creative, critical and analytical understanding certain key ethical ideas and concepts discussed so far in class. Again, give concise answers with at least one personal real-life examples.

1. Can an educated person be “ignorant”?

2. How do you differentiate between “normal” and “abnormal” conduct?

3. Clarify the statement: “Progress has meaning only when the goal is clear.”

4. What do you mean when you say, “I trust you”?

5. What is “responsibility”?

Part 3: Research Assignment

This part is to encourage to research into ethical issues so that you can clarify them and articulate your own stand in regard thereof. Choose only one research topic, preferably the one most related to your academic major. Write up your findings in essay form in not more than two or three pages.

1. Write a short critical, ethical analysis of the mainstream, western definition of economics as “the science that studies the allocation of scarce resources to meet unlimited human wants.”

2. Write a short critical essay to explore to what extent the University’s slogan “Garden of Knowledge and Virtue” is an accurate or inaccurate description of the reality of campus life.

3. The purpose of law is to serve justice. Write a short critical essay to highlight aspects of the Malaysian legal system and/or administration that fail to serve justice. Provide at least three real-life cases in point, and if possible provide solutions.

4. Write a short ethical critique of the concept of “economic growth,” from both the Islamic and Western perspectives.

5. Write a short ethical critique of the notion of “knowledge economy,” from both the Islamic and Western perspectives.

6. Write a short ethical critique of the proposition that the Government should be “pro business,” from both the Islamic and Western perspectives.

7. Write a short ethical critique of the use of children in commercial advertisements, from both the Islamic and Western perspectives.

8. Write a short ethical critique of western style “sex education,” from both the Islamic and Western perspectives.

9. Write a short ethical critique of long distance learning by means of information and computer technology, from both the Islamic and Western perspectives.

10. Write a short ethical critique of mobile phone companies’ advertisements that promote a lifestyle of endless chatter (“bual tanpa had”), from both the Islamic and Western perspectives.

11. Do a library and/or internet research on the concept and practice of “green architecture” and evaluate it from both the Islamic and western ethical viewpoints.

12. Do a library and/or internet research on the concept and practice of “green engineering” and “green chemistry” evaluate them from both the Islamic and western ethical viewpoints.

13. Do a library and/or internet research on the concept and practice of “organic agriculture” and evaluate it from both the Islamic and western ethical viewpoints.

14. Write a short essay exploring the extent to which “change, development and progress” in Malaysia or China or Dubai conforms or not conform to the Islamic understanding of “change, development and progress” as outlined by Professor al-Attas.

15. Malaysian law does not generally grants legal recognition for the customary land rights of the Orang Asli and the indigenous peoples of Sabah and Sarawak. Explore this issue from both the Islamic and secular ethico-legal perspectives.

16. Among the five fundamental objectives of the Shari‘ah (Maqasid al-Shari‘ah), the objective of preservation of wealth (hifz al-mal) is placed last in fifth place. Why is that?

17. Do a library and/or internet research on the theme of “Islam & Ecology” or “Islam & the Environment” or “Animals in Islam,” and then write a short summary of the Islamic ethical attitude towards nature, and thereby determine to what extent this attitude is or is not reflected at IIUM campus.

18. Do a ethical analysis of the meaning of CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) from both the Islamic and secular perspectives, and evaluate to what extent Malaysian do or do not realise in practce the principle of CSR.

19. Analyze and explore the concept of “intellectual integrity” from both the Islamic and secular perspectives, and evaluate to what extent this concept is or is not realized in practice at IIUM.

20. Do a library and/or internet research to determine to what extent Confucian ethics is or is not compatible with Islamic ethics.

21. Do a library and/or internet research to determine to what extent utilitarian ethics is or is not compatible with Islamic ethics.

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"Whoever guides someone to goodness will have a similar reward"-- The Prophet (Peace and Blessings Be Upon Him)