Overgeneralization and Its Dangers in Understanding Islam

In Western philosophy early to mid 20th century, a group of philosophers argued that the discipline of philosophy is prone to overgeneralize, i.e., to take a principle that applies in one or two instances and generalize that principle as if it applies to everything.

Sometimes Muslims have this tendency too. For example, we know the importance of niyya (نیّة). We know that a person’s internal state can differ from his external appearance, for better or worse. We know that we cannot judge a person’s internal condition, etc. But for some reason, some Muslims overgeneralize these notions and make illegitimate conclusions about the physical aspects of practicing Islam, e.g., growing the beard, wearing hijab, or even ritual prayer itself, and claim that these are just secondary concerns at best since all that matters is what’s on the inside. What?! How did they come to that conclusion? Whoever said that all that matters is on the inside or even that what is on the inside unconditionally overrides any external manifestation of Islamic devotion?

The Islamic intellectual tradition is all about precise definitions and careful application of principles within their specific scope. When people make strange claims about Islam in this day and age, it is more likely than not because they are sloppy with their use of terms or they misapply or overgeneralize otherwise legitimate principles to serve their own agendas.


In Western philosophy early to mid 20th century, a group of philosophers argued that the discipline of philosophy is…

Posted by Daniel Haqiqatjou on Thursday, March 24, 2016

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