Knowledge and Power
Majority, if not all, of us may concur that by and large the political scenario in Malaysia during the past four decades has never been calm for more than five years. Somewhat unprecedented and shocking however was the recent leak of a scandalous video, with its related confession and political repercussions. Whatever the purpose of the disclosure is, it is clear that whoever was initially in possession of such confidential knowledge was also in possession of power and influence over those involved in the scandal.
Politics aside, and as the adage has it, knowledge is power. One’s power over the object which one knows depends primarily on the extent and depth of one’s knowledge of it. The more complete and perfect one’s knowledge is, the more dominant and rooted becomes one’s power. However, no human being, let alone the other creatures, is omniscient; hence, none of them is omnipotent. In fact, to the real believers among Muslims, Allah alone is All-Knowing and All-Powerful .
The power arising from knowledge very much pertains to the secret of the known previously covered up and kept hidden but later exposed wide to the person in possession of the knowledge. As such, the process and outcome related to knowledge are almost always described in words which convey the ideas of “removal of the veil or cover” or “rendering something clear” such as kashf, inkishāf, tajallī, discovery, disclosure, unveiling, revelation, and the like. Depending on the nature and reality of the secret revealed, anyone who gets to know about a secret has indeed been endowed with some power over the owner of the secret.
Yet, too often neglected along with the revealing of such secret and the emerging power that accompanies such revelation, are the ensuing trust and responsibility to not only have just attitude but also take just action towards the secret and the original owner of the secret. For true believers, such trust and responsibility is indeed the essence of ethics and morality regarding which anyone getting to know the secret shall be held accountable on the Day of Judgement and Retribution (yawm al-din; yawm al-hisab). Bearing this in mind, it may thus be better on some occasions that certain secrets are left forever hidden and one’s ignorance of them is more preferable, if not obligatory.
Lamentably, for far too long already, politics has been held to be the arts of gaining power over others and once successful, of remaining in power. With such a predominant outlook, seldom are power and mastery emphasised as matters that pertain first and foremost to one’s self. In fact, often has self-knowledge been considered by many of us to be easy, trivial or already fully taken care of. Is this really the case? Is it true that the multilayer veil which encloses and covers our self’s innermost secrets is quality-wise easy to uncover and hence our self something easy to govern? If so, why does each of us from time to time experience moments of regret over what should have been undertaken at a prior reasonable moment but unfortunately not done? We, for instance, consciously pronounced words that are not supposed to be which we later regret. If indeed we are powerful enough to manage ourselves at all times—including our will, tongues and mouths, how could such regrets occur later in life? We also, too often, take a particular action in all consciousness but which when eventually looked back on is in reality hardly reasonable!
In the intellectual and ethical tradition of Islam, self-knowledge as well as self-mastery is paramount. In fact, one’s self-knowledge should manifest itself in practical and operational form in one’s self-control culminating thus in one’s moral integrity and just personality, which in the aforementioned tradition is held to be the basis and root of economics and politics, the two disciplines of study pertaining to man as social beings and members of a community. The importance of this knowledge is increasingly evident in the midst of the hustle and bustle and desire by various parties to seize or defend power over others.
The tension and dilemma pertaining to one’s own self as aforesaid clearly implies that even within ourselves, there are infightings, as if two souls are struggling to dominate each other. The outcomes of such infightings are too numerous to outline but suffice it to say that generally they can be manifested in behaviours and outward actions, be they right or wrong, or they can be concealed within the self as acts of the heart, be they good or evil. Hence it is the main mission of the Prophets and Messengers as well as those genuine scholars who inherit the formers’ mandate to guide human beings in their selves’ endless, inner struggle of making the right choices as well as living a good life that leads to the ultimate well-being and happiness. In fact, as stressed by the last in the line of the Messengers of Allah, Muhammad (p.b.u.h.): “Verily I am sent to complete and perfect noble character (makarim al-akhlaq)!”