The anti-rational nature of Islam

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You can’t argue rationally with a devout Muslim.  Islam is very long on rhetoric (bluster) but very short on logical reasoning.  Why?

In the eleventh century and a little after, there was a great theological argument in Islam between two schools.  The first was the Mu’tazilites, who were influenced by Greek philosophy and the value it placed upon reason.  They attributed to Allah and his creation a quality of reason, so that by study and through science one could derive laws of nature.   (This is of course the path the West went down.)

The opposing school was the Ash’arites, led by al-Ghazali (died 1111 AD).  These argued for the complete EXTIRPATION OF PHILOSOPHY because they said it was blasphemous to believe that, through reason, one could deduce predictable qualities and behaviours of Allah’s creation.  This amounted to placing limits on the exercise at all times of Allah’s Will.  Now cop this:  they argued that nothing exists or happens because of any quality inherent in it – whenever a brick falls it is not according to the “law of gravity”, but only and always because it was ALLAH’S WILL.

The Ash’arites eventually won the argument within Sunni Islam.

They asserted that there were no laws of nature, Allah was subject to no constraints, and the application of human reason was blasphemy.   So – they junked any logical connection between cause and effect, and rejected scientific method and philosophic inquiry. 

Therefore Islam had no mediaeval scholasticism, no Renaissance, no Reformation, and certainly no Enlightenment.    (The emergence of Wahhabism and then Salafism from the 18th century onwards took Islam backwards, not forwards.)

REJECTION OF MODERNITY became a “root of Muslim rage” as the West prevailed economically.   And why wouldn’t it, if the Islamic world rejected science, critical thinking, and innovation?

A second great theological argument was between reason and traditional faith.   The Mu’tazilites had said reason must be primary:  it was able to know morality; Allah’s goodness and justice required reason;  and it was necessary to believe in free will.   They believed that Allah was subject to his own justice and could not act outside of it:  he could not be corrupt.  (This is similar to the Judeo-Christian concept of God as being holy and just, and incapable of being other.)

The Ash’arites argued that this was blasphemy as it imposed a constraint upon Allah, for whom nothing was obligatory.   He was pure Will, unpredictable, unknowable.  He has reason, but is not reason.  Allah was not mercy, but “the merciful, the compassionate” only when he wanted to be.   They further claimed that innovation in theology is a heresy and OPPOSED ALL CRITICAL EVALUATION OF ISLAM.

The conservative, antirationalist Ash’arites prevailed in the 11th century and thereafter have constituted the mainstream of Islam.

Around 1000 AD a majority of Sunni scholars closed the gates of ijtihad – independent critical thought.  They decreed that in future, all matters would be decided by reference only to established  precedents in Islamic law laid down by four imams who founded the four Sunni legal schools  – al-Shafi’i (767-820), Abu Hanifa (699-767), Ahmad ibn Hanbal (780-855) and Malik ibn Anas (c.715-796).   That is why in Islam there is not theology, but rather jurisprudence (fiqh).  Critical evaluation, or theology, became and is still regarded as heresy.

In Christian theology, the “Wesleyan Quadrilateral” posits four sources of Christian doctrine:  (1) scripture, (2) church tradition, (3) REASON, and (4) personal experience.  This concept is totally alien to Islam.

Some extracts from The Reliance of the Traveller (classic Shafi’i manual of Sharia):

“a4.2   As for the basic obligation of Islam, and what relates to tenets of faith, it is adequate for one to believe in everything brought by the Messenger of Allah … and to credit it with absolute conviction free of any doubt. …What befits the common people and vast majority of those learning or possessing Sacred Knowledge is to refrain from discussing the subtleties of scholastic theology, lest corruption difficult to eliminate find its way into their basic religious convictions. Rather, it is fitter for them to confine themselves to contentment with the above mentioned absolute certainly. Our Imam Shafi’i (Allah Most High have mercy on him) went to the greatest possible lengths in asserting that engaging in scholastic theology is forbidden.

“a5.1 …What is communally obligatory, namely the attainment of those Sacred Sciences which people cannot do without in practicing their religion, [is] such as memorizing the Koran and hadith…

“a7.2  Unlawful knowledge includes: …

(2) philosophy;  …

(5) the sciences of the materialists,

(6) and anything that is a means to create doubts (n: in eternal truths) …”

Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.

5 COMMENTS

      • Hi David, Yes, definitely. My big thing: get the ideas out as far and wide as possible. And as I’m sure you are ethical (as per your concern in another piece), I know you will attribute (and you even mention attributing). Please let me know if/when you post.

        • I have posted a new article Islam’s Achilles heel – know the weakness and target it, and attributed most of the content to you.

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