Descriptive Statistics: An Islamic Approach

About fifteen years ago, teaching a conventional statistics course, I started thinking about how I could teach it in a way that it would be an act of worship. How to teach the course so that the ink of the students would be rewarded like the blood of the martyrs? Since the worth of all actions depends on the intentions, I had to change my intentions, and also get the students to change their intentions, about the purpose of education. Similarly, I had to worry about whether this knowledge was useful knowledge, which the Prophet SAW had sought, or useless knowledge, from which he had sought protection? How could we tell the difference? Many details of the long journey that began with these simple questions are provided in my post on My Journey from Theory to Reality.

To cut a long story short, I am now in process of creating an online course entitled “Descriptive Statistics: An Islamic Approach” or DSIA. The present version can be called the Third Generation of the Course. This course represents a revolutionary approach to statistics, which build up the entire field from the ground up on new foundations. In particular, this course develops statistics as a branch of rhetoric, a way to carry out arguments with numbers. This is different from the conventional approach, which takes statistics to be the analysis of data sets, taking the numbers out of the real-world context from which they originate. The course attempts to focus on four questions not considered within conventional statistics courses:

  1. What is the purpose of the statistical analysis?
  2. What is the meaning of the numbers being used?
  3. How were these numbers computed?
  4. What will be the impact of this analysis on the real world?

Taking these questions into consideration dramatically changes the substance of the course, and the skills which we need to teach the students (and the teachers, who are not accustomed to thinking about these questions in context of a statistical analysis.) It is my hope that this course can revolutionize the teaching of statistics in the Islamic world. By the Grace of God, I have recently joined Al-Nafi, an online educational platform, designed to bring world class education at minimal prices to the Islamic world. This has been founded by visionaries motivated by the goals of serving mankind, and not by profits. This gives me the golden opportunity to spread these methods using online education to a far broader audience than would be possible by any other method.

Below, I provide links to the four parts of the first lecture of this course, which explains why an Islamic approach to an apparently neutral and objective subject like statistics is necessary. It also explains the distinguishing features of such an approach. Subsequent lectures examine how this approach applies to statistical analysis – I will provide links and summaries of these later.

  1. Introduction to DSIA. It seems paradoxical to take an Islamic approach to an apparently objective subject – facts are facts. This lecture explains that statistics are deceptive. They create an illusion of objectivity while carrying hidden values. Exposing these value judgments and using Islamic values to replace them creates an Islamic approach to the subject. Shortlink:
  2. Purpose: Heart of an Islamic Approach: What are our intentions in learning statistics? Can this knowledge help us in achieving our life-goals? Can this knowledge be of service to mankind? These questions, never raised in conventional courses, are central to an Islamic approach.
  3. Eastern and Western Knowledge: During the early 20th Century knowledge was re-defined to exclude the heart and soul as sources of knowledge, leaving only the brains and eyes. This was a tremendous loss, as the vast part of the heritage of mankind was lost, and eventually became excluded from College Curricula. Thus, students no longer learn the “Know Thyself” is the beginning of wisdom, and that “A life un-examined is not worth living”. To enable useful knowledge to enter the hearts of students, we must radically change our approach to teaching.
  4. Islamic Pedagogical Principles: The worth of all actions comes from the intentions. Intentions to seek fame, to argue with others, to establish superiority, are all prohibited. Instead, a seeker of knowledge must make the intention to serve mankind out of the love of Allah. The right attitude towards knowledge is the subject of a vast Islamic literature, briefly summarized in this lecture.

These four posts contain 15m videos, and about 1000 words of writeup, and constitute the first lecture of the course.  This first lecture is purely about general issues related to the Islamic approach, and not about statistics as such. Later, I will provide summaries of subsequent lectures which deal with specific statistics issues.

Date posted: May 16, 2020
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