Muslims (and people in general) nowadays don’t have a clue on how to understand, evaluate, and respond to an argument. That’s why the level of discourse is so low in our communities, at the masjid, at the MSA/ISOC, on social media, on TV in the Muslim world, and so on. Instead of responding to the logical merit, validity, and soundness of a position or argument, we respond emotionally by resorting to name-calling, favoritism, and other forms of petty bickering, which have more to do with ego than with truth.

This is doubly shameful for Muslims because the Islamic sciences heavily emphasize logic (mantiq) and clarity in defining and employing terms. This is not just in the field of kalam, but in every discipline: tafsir, fiqh, usul al-fiqh, aqida, hadith, tasawwuf. Would any of these fields exist in their robust form and survive through the generations for hundreds of years without the disciplining force of logical and rational consistency?

Just think about the achievements of our scholars, think about the schools of thought. In fiqh, we have the four Sunni schools. How can ANY complex, sophisticated system of thought maintain its basic logical structure, its basic terminology, its basic ontology for centuries, involving millions of scholars and students and thousands of texts, commentaries, super-commentaries, spanning across hundreds of cultures and geographic regions across the globe? This is a monumental intellectual achievement, one of the greatest in all of human history, by the Blessing of Allah. Certainly nothing in modern Western thought has had this consistency, longevity, and geographic reach.

What is especially disappointing for us is that many Muslims today are suspicious of the concept of logical and rational consistency, as if these are foreign notions that will corrupt the purity of their faith. And, in one very specific sense, they are right — we should be very wary of introducing a kind of modernist philosophical approach to our understanding of faith or admixing scientific speculation into our interpretation of revelation, etc. In fact, I try to point out these breaches in my writing. But none of this has anything to do with the notion of rational consistency.

Rational consistency is simply the basis on which two people can have a meaningful conversation. Without rational consistency, how can you know that the words you are using to communicate a point are understood the way you intend them by the party you are trying to communicate with? And how do you know if you are understanding the words communicated to you were intended to carry that meaning?

All conversations happen in context of a shared language, but implicit to any language or system of thought are values and rules of engagement. Just like cities and institutions need core values and principles in order to be organized and successful, so do languages and systems of thought. If you want to participate and converse in context of a system of thought, say, the Maliki madhhab, you need to know the rules of engagement, otherwise you will just be speaking gibberish, no one will understand you, you will be confused, and all discourse breaks down. This is the meaning of Imam Shafi`i’s famous statement, “I debated a scholar and beat him. Then I debated a layman and that layman beat me.” The layman doesn’t speak the same language, doesn’t employ the right terms, in short, doesn’t play by the rules.

So yes, rationality is central to the Islamic sciences and central to our faith. Without consistency in language, how are we to understand revelation? (By the way, this is also why modern Muslim reformist movements are so deeply irrational — they believe it is possible to understand the language of revelation by cutting themselves off from all the context, linguistic nuance, and methodological principle, in a word, from all the rules of the game. May Allah guide these people out of stupidity.)

As for practical tips, take the time to learn the technical definitions of a “valid argument,” a “sound argument,” and some of the most common logical fallacies. These are universal features of all mature human discourse and knowing them will breed the beginnings of clarity of thought that we so desperately need in these dark times.

Islam and RationalismMuslims (and people in general) nowadays don't have a clue on how to understand, evaluate, and…

Posted by Daniel Haqiqatjou on Thursday, March 3, 2016

Daniel Haqiqatjou

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