Brain powerCultural awareness in KM

Case study of cultural differences in KM: Islamic Knowledge Management (IKM) (part 1)

This article is part of an ongoing series of articles on cultural awareness in KM.

In a two-part series of articles earlier this year, I argue for the appropriate consideration of cultural differences in knowledge management (KM). One of the issues that I raised in the series is the need for knowledge managers to consider the potential for the existence of different cultural understandings in regard to the meaning of terms such as “knowledge” and “knowledge management”.

A Google Scholar search reveals that at present there’s a concerning paucity of research addressing this issue, but the handful of papers that have been written show that there are indeed cultural differences in the way in which “knowledge” and “knowledge management” are conceptualized. Almost all of these papers explore Islamic Knowledge Management (IKM), providing a useful case study.

One of the first of these papers to have been published is a 2011 study1 by Associate Professor Muhamadul Bakir Hj. Yaakub of the International Islamic University Malaysia titled “Islamic conceptualisation of knowledge management”.

The origin and nature of knowledge in Islam

In the “Islamic conceptualisation of knowledge management” study, Yaakub alerts that the way in which knowledge is classified by a society will determine the ways in which that society uses knowledge. This means that it is vitally important for knowledge managers to understand the differences in how knowledge is classified across societies.

Yaakub then goes on to explain how knowledge is conceptualized from an Islamic point of view:

In Islam, as stated in the Quran … the definition of knowledge is not confined to only epistemological concerns but also includes ethical truthfulness and other dimensions of objectivities …

Islam is a religion of knowledge … all Muslim regard knowledge as God-given to Mankind to be used as a point of reference and guidance for every theoretical endeavors to elaborate an Islamic paradigm …

knowledge is the root of culture and culture is the fruit of knowledge …

Knowledge of what is morally good for Man and knowledge of what is materially useful for him are two different kinds of knowledge. The former is the prerogative of religion, the product of revelation; the latter is the privilege of science, the product of inductive intellect which … is made self-conscious by the recurrent appeal of the Quran to reason and experience. Since the knowledge of what is materially useful is as essential for Man as the knowledge of what is morally good, he needs both science and religion for steering through life in this world. What he needs is not science without religion, but science structured by religion. Conversely, what he requires is not religion without science and philosophy, but religion given intellectual content, wherever possible, by science as well as philosophy …

Muslims believe that knowledge originates from God and then is transferred to Mankind by various channels such as revelation, sense perception, reason and intuition as affirmed by Muslim epistemologists. This … in turn implies that both induction from observation and deductive reasoning are valid methods of knowledge acquisition. In other words, knowledge is an existing phenomenon that Man has to explore and investigate. Once knowledge is known to a person, it becomes information to him, in which it becomes a science after it is applied by him and taught to others.

This leads to a different functional model for IKM compared to KM, as shown in Figures 1 and 2.

KM Functional Model
Figure 1. KM Functional Model; M = Man; BK = Body Knowledge; TK = Type; MK = Methodology; AK = Application; UK = Users; OK = Output; KG = Knowledge Growth; KU = Understanding; SM = Successful Manager (source: Yaakub 2011).
IKM Functional Model
Figure 2. IKM Functional Model; G = God; KS = Knowledge Source; BK = Body
Knowledge; TK = Types; MK = Methodology; AK = Application; UK = Users; OK  = Output; KG = Knowledge Growth; KU = Knowledge Understanding; VC = Vicegerent
(source: Yaakub 2011).

I was able to gain an introductory insight into how scientific and religious knowledge come together in Islamic culture when I participated in the 23rd Annual Conference of the Special Libraries Association / Arabian Gulf Chapter in Bahrain in 2017 (as shown in the header image for this article). The conference was hosted under the auspices of Isa Cultural Centre, which is a national centre for cultural, religious, and scientific learning affiliated with the Royal Court in the Kingdom of Bahrain (Figure 3).

Isa Cultural Centre Bahrain
Figure 3. Isa Cultural Centre, a national centre for cultural, religious, and scientific learning affiliated with the Royal Court in the Kingdom of Bahrain (author supplied, licensed for reuse under CC BY 4.0).

Isa Cultural Centre includes the National Library, National Archives, Historical Documentation Centre, E-library, Children’s Library, and a Cultural, Scientific and Artistic Affairs Department. The goals of Isa Cultural Centre are to:

  • Provide and conserve books and publications in various fields of knowledge and culture
  • Organize cultural activities and scientific events
  • Preserve Arab and Islamic culture, and promote historical heritage and culture of the Kingdom of Bahrain
  • Establish a dialogue between cultures and civilizations
  • Encourage and support intellectual and cultural creativity at a national level.

Principles of IKM application

From his “Islamic conceptualisation of knowledge management” study, Yaakub identifies some holistic principles of IKM application:

  • IKM conceptualization as drafted in this study is an attempt toward knowledge realization from an Islamic perspective
  • IKM users have an optimistic view upon knowledge existence, its boundaries, categories and types. Consequently, they deal with knowledge as part and parcel of their life activities and routine
  • IKM users should not have to choose between knowing a little about a lot or a lot about a little. They should be able to concentrate mostly on what they need to know and when it is needed to identify any related additional condition in which it requires another inspection of the environment designed for its usage. On this basis, Quranic verses have been revealed in staged process and not in one whole package
  • Besides self-satisfaction as an important factor of managing knowledge, IKM also focuses on users’ safety. In this context, … [using] the term ‘Precautionary Principle’ … emphasizes on the limitation of human knowledge in realizing the unseen phenomena of the existence. This is among the factuality of Mankind, that he will remain narrow or short minded, forgetful and even careless some times by which his nature intuitively knows whether he is able in managing his own knowledge well or otherwise and leads him to achieving the status of vicegerent of God successfully
  • Mankind is always facing problem after problem in all stages of his life. For this reason, he searches for solution and evaluation as an integrated approach and up-to-date investigation in achieving comprehensive problem solving. In this regard, … [it is argued that there are] the needs of considering the intergenerational equity in consuming and depleting our contemporary resources by identifying the most effective KM’s modeling framework.

Implementing IKM

Yaakub concludes his paper by advising that “IKM is very fundamental for a Muslim manager in achieving his managerial function, progress and productivities”, and that the need for IKM is paramount to ensure:

  • Inclusion of all types of knowledge, including abstract or revelation knowledge reflected in conformities within the modeling process
  • Defining a modeling process that comprehensively covers the reservoir issues humanistic in nature while leading to “fit-for-purpose” results in a defined time space and span
  • Storing knowledge generated force during the modeling process to ensure adequate and efficient model adoption and adjustment to suit specific workflow.

Next part (part 2): The second part of this two-part article series reviews three further papers discussing the implications of Islamic Knowledge Management (IKM) for human capital development, the Muslim education system, and Islamic Moderation.

Header image: The 23rd Annual Conference of the Special Libraries Association / Arabian Gulf Chapter in Bahrain, where I was able to gain an introductory insight into Islamic Knowledge Management (IKM).


  1. Yaakub, M.B.H.. (2011). Islamic conceptualisation of knowledge management. American Journal of Economics and Business Administration, 3(2), 363-369.
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Also published on Medium.

Bruce Boyes

Bruce Boyes ( is a knowledge management (KM), environmental management, and education professional with over 30 years of experience in Australia and China. His work has received high-level acclaim and been recognised through a number of significant awards. He is currently a PhD candidate in the Knowledge, Technology and Innovation Group at Wageningen University and Research, and holds a Master of Environmental Management with Distinction. He is also the editor, lead writer, and a director of the award-winning RealKM Magazine (, and teaches in the Beijing Foreign Studies University (BFSU) Certified High-school Program (CHP).

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