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An Early Islamic Debate on Faith and Reason Is Worth Examining

Discussion in 'Religious News' started by sun rise, Oct 5, 2022.

  1. sun rise

    sun rise Śvāna Dharma
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    @firedragon - I'd appreciate your insights on this piece. The piece itself appears to reveal more aspects to Islam than I had known about.

    An Early Islamic Debate on Faith and Reason Is Worth Examining

    There is, however, something ironic about the times of the salaf that both their purported revivalists as well as many other contemporary Muslims seem to ignore: It was a time of richer diversity within Islam. For a start, there were more schools of jurisprudence than those that are well-known today — initiated by such scholars as al-Awzai (d. 774), al-Thawri (d. 778) and al-Zahiri (d. 883), all of which either died out naturally or merged with other schools. Others, such as the school initiated by Ibn Karram (d. 868), ended up on the losing side in violent inter-sectarian struggles. Moreover, both Sunni and Shiite traditions were less strictly defined, with more theological fluidity between them and what they would later reject as “heresies.”

    This is most evident with regard to the Mutazila, the first school to develop “kalam” (Islamic theology). Today, most Sunni sources count this among the early “heresies” within the faith, rejected by the followers of their one and only true path. Little do they realize that many of the earliest Hanafis — the largest Sunni school to date — were in fact Mutazilites, and the latter’s thinking left important traces on mainstream Sunni thought, such as an uneasiness with anthropomorphism (the attribution of human traits) with respect to God.

    The key aspect of Mutazila thought is well-known, though, both among Muslims and in Western sources: their “rationalism.” But there are misunderstandings about what this means. Conservative Sunni Muslims, in particular, are often scandalized by the idea that fallible human reason could be valued much beside infallible divine revelation: “as if revelation is from God,” as the Turkish theologian Hüseyin Kansu puts it, “and reason is from the infidels.”

    For the Mutazila, however, both revelation and reason were from God — as independent paths to the same ethical truths. And the exact meaning of this duality needs to be better grasped, for it is relevant to some of the heated debates about religion, law and ethics that take place in the Muslim world today.
    ...
    This effort for a rationally consistent “dawa” (call) explains all the doctrines of the Mutazila that more dogmatic Muslims found unnecessarily complicated, if not outrageously heretical.

    For example, the Mutazila opposed the popular belief in predestination, or “qadar,” instead arguing that God had given human beings complete freedom and power in their acts. For otherwise, they realized, they could not defend God’s justice — a pivotal principle in their system — in rewarding or punishing people for their deeds. (They had also seen how the doctrine of predestination was used by the despotic rulers of the Umayyad dynasty, which dominated the Islamic Empire from 661 to 750, to instill unquestioning obedience to themselves.)

    Another doctrine of the Mutazila which many Muslims have found baffling was that the Quran was God’s “created” word — instead of preexisting with God Himself since eternity. The reason was their realization that an “uncreated Quran” would vindicate the Christian doctrine of “uncreated Christ” — as the Christian theologian John of Damascus (d. 749) had intelligently argued. (Because Christ, too, was “word of God,” according to none other than the Quran.)

    In other words, by defining the Quran as “created,” the Mutazila were not devaluing the Quran. Instead, they were trying to guard the core teaching of the Quran, which is God’s absolute unity.
    ...
    So, apparently, the Mutazilites were not wrong in everything. This does not mean they were right in everything, either. But they represented an important intellectual effort in early Islam in reconciling Islamic faith and law with universal human reason and ethics. At a time when such a reconciliation is even more urgently needed, some of their ideas may be worth reconsidering.
    ...
     
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  2. Augustus

    Augustus the Unreasonable

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    This isn't as such "wrong", but would probably be more accurate to say "what later became Sunni and Shiite..."

    There was 'more fluidity' because they didn't really exist in the way we understand them yet.
     
  3. firedragon

    firedragon Veteran Member

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    @sun rise

    This guy is wrong in some things he says. I don't mean to say he is doing it on purpose. Maybe his words are not representing how I think. If you want I will tell you why he or she is wrong.

    I think I know who this is but not too sure.
     
  4. sun rise

    sun rise Śvāna Dharma
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    I'm interested in where you think his reasoning/history goes wrong. Is his history of Mutazila accurate? What about their ideas? What are the "some things"? His conclusion was not dogmatic about some of their ideas may be worth reconsidering. Do you agree or not with that?

    My knowledge of Islam is the weakest among the world's greatest religions and some of the ideas in that article paint a more complex view of Islam than I was aware of.
     
  5. firedragon

    firedragon Veteran Member

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    Sure brother.

    In Islamic studies, there are two types. One is to go to a standard university and study up to a Phd. When you do a Phd and you pick a topic for a thesis, you make your own. You basically do your own research. And a lot of times, this research is research mining. They quote and reinvent other people's researches. It's a fantastic endeavour, but it could also restrict your scope because you are not taught the breath of sources available to us. No disrespect intended.

    The other way is to study the traditional way where you are taught all the sources available. For example, an Alim is basically a scholar. A master of knowledge if I may. He is taught lets say Bukhari's ahadith from cover to cover from isnad, criticism, etc etc to language. He is generally taught all the traditions from cover to cover like that. It's very painstaking. No part time business. The difference between an academic Phd and an Alim is that the Alim could also be found to be dogmatic because his research is not absolutely independent. So both of these streams have their merits and weaknesses.

    This Alim guy would if he has time go on to study to be a Mufti which is a fikh study. An Alim could never claim to know Fikh. He actually does in reality because he taught the traditions but he does not claim to be a fikh guy because he knows the depth of a Mufti. A Phd will never in his life go through that level of education. Intense study of all the so called "madhabs" and their views and how they agree and disagree etc.

    The person who wrote this article seems obviously to be a Phd or something. Which is good in many ways, but could also not be deep enough. Not necessarily, but is paved to be. I don't know if I am explaining properly. Hope you can understand what I am saying.

    Let me give an example. You have heard of Ibn Kathir's tafsir. Correct? In academia Ibn Kathir's tafsir is considered important. A high level tafsir. Very highly recognised. You will see all the anti islamic polemicists quoting Ibn Kathir as if he is God himself. But you see, in traditional Islamic studies Ibn Kathir's tafsir is considered like an advanced level students work in school. Do you understand? It's not special like people normally talk about. And the Tafsirs people study in traditional studies are so complicated they are not even translated into English. No way. They go into Fusha Atthuraath which is the linguistic study of the Qur'anic arabic and rhetoric. Most of the studies are done with books that has never ever been translated to any language whatsoever. You will not find them on the internet.

    The Mutazilites are a very well known irrational group who made the claim that any person in the world who does a single sin can never see salvation. They were one of the very specifically defined sects. To claim that they invented theology is absurd. There were other sects as well. Do you think they didnt discuss theology? Also, Kalam does not mean theology. Kalam means someones claim. The association of Kalam to Theology is a very late idea. Centuries after the 7th century. It is even later than the so called fikh schools of Shafi, hanbali, hanafi, maliki etc. So the idea is very superficial. Mutazilites did not bring up theology. And atthawry this writer speaks of was a very well known madhrasathul medina. So he is a maliki though he was earlier. Just the name was not given. A lot of people think he had a fikh school of thought. It's absurd. He was a Fikh guru from the tradition of madhrasathul medina. So he was a maliki. This thought is shallow brother. Because the person does not know Fikh he is speaking like this.

    But I must say he or she is highly educated but in western academic studies. So his education is from sources are very late.

    Some Sunni's began a slurring campaign against people who disagreed with authority. People like Abdul Wahhab. He was the real guy who turned Muatazila into some kind of super rational sect. It was used as a slur against people who did not adhere to Wahhab's political sectarian movement. He followed Ibn Thaimeeyahs thoughts. Or he used them for the political movement. Prior to that there was nothing like "the mutazilites were rational". It's absurd.

    The Muatazilites believed in consequentianalism. This was not a question of tenets, it was philosophical discourse. And do you know who made it famous that the Muatazilites believed the Qur'an was created and all of these things? It was Wahhabism that did this. They used it as slur against anyone who politically defied them. AND they were using Ibn Thaimeeyas name for it. Do you understand? It is like learning about a friend from their enemy. It is true that early post Muhammedan philosophical discourse was varying and very vast. Kalam came to be associated with theology was after scholars like Mathuridhi. I mean after they were dead. 12th century. Not early.
     
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  6. firedragon

    firedragon Veteran Member

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    Sorry I had to respond so quickly. I may have e made many language mistakes. I am careless like that sometimes.
     
  7. sun rise

    sun rise Śvāna Dharma
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    Having studied for two PhDs (which I never finished for various reasons) and have a wife who works in a music field along with having a music degree, I understand your comment about "research mining". That is common in musicology where people often look at various sources and write dissertations as you described. My wife has noted from time-to-time how so-and-so ignored this or that source material. In different words, she lauds those who know the material from A to Z and are acknowledged experts in the field.

    You reminded me that I should always at least look at someone's biography when they are writing on religious topics. The author of this piece's biographical sketch from wikipedia called into question for me the depth and breath of his knowledge.

    So thanks.
     
  8. firedragon

    firedragon Veteran Member

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    Don't take me wrong Sun Rise. The author of that piece could be a highly educated person. No disrespect intended.

    And mind you, speaking of Phd's and what not, I was specifically referring to Islamic studies. Specifically the subject relevant to the OP.

    By the way. So your wife has a degree in music? Wow. You lucky guy.
     
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