The “Open Minded” Fallacy and How It’s Used to Attack Islam

Having an “open mind” is not a virtue in and of itself. An open mind is only valuable in the situation where one does not have knowledge of the truth or in the situation where there is more than one valid opinion.

But we have some Muslims now extolling an absolute notion of open-mindedness. This is because they are borrowing from and are influenced by (usually unknowingly) the kind of western philosophical skepticism of Socrates, Descartes, and perhaps European postmodernists as well, who question the very possibility of truth and knowledge.

This has resulted in these poor, confused individuals questioning the basic, necessarily known fundamentals of deen that have never been questioned by any Muslim before. And if this fact is pointed out to them, they defend themselves by appealing to their open-mindedness. “We’re not closed-minded, blind followers like you!” they exclaim.

More subtly, they question matters where there does exist scholarly disagreement, but they take that disagreement as carte blanche to suggest and even advance whatever baseless view their nafs has called them to. And if this is pointed out to them and they are told that the scholarly disagreement in question was based on differences in usul, etc., and that they should not take this as an invitation to radically reinterpret or discard established rulings, they fall back on their “virtuous” open-mindedness and their interlocutors’ “blameworthy” closed-mindedness and call it a day.

In any case, once one arrives at the truth, there is no virtue in constantly questioning it. Anyone can raise a question or stir doubt. The existence of such questions does not take anything away from the weight of the truth.

Predictably, some will call this dogmatism. They will point out that a scientific mind should always question and should always hold all beliefs in perpetual doubt. In fact, this is why western science, they claim, has been so successful compared to theology, and specifically Islamic scholarship, where notions like taqlid hinder free thought and keep the “gates of ijtihad” firmly yet illegitimately shut. We need to bring that epistemic virtue of perpetual doubt into our understanding of Islam, they claim.

But this is also ignorant. Western science by no stretch of the imagination holds all belief in doubt (despite what some old-school Popperians might erroneously claim). All systems of knowledge take certain propositions for granted, certain unquestioned axioms. Sometimes those axioms might not be explicitly articulated, but they’re still there and they constitute the foundation (or the glue) which holds all the other points of knowledge in place.

Furthermore, the very notion of doubt is functionally meaningless without the notion of certainty. Not everything can be held in doubt at the same time.

For example, those who are prone to skepticism and incessant questioning that they, for some stupid reason, mistake for intellectualism nonetheless ask their questions using language. That use of language presupposes knowledge of grammar, syntax, vocabulary, the existence of others being asked the question, their ability to understand it, and a countless number of other assumptions that are taken for granted. If all that was also held in doubt, thought and ratiocination itself could not proceed.

What should be the basis of all knowledge and epistemology is the ultimate truth and the grounding for all knowledge which is Allah and His Message through the Messenger ﷺ. The doubts, confusion, and baseless speculation of others cannot dislodge this capstone of our awareness and understanding of the universe and our place in it.

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I doubt that we should keep an open mind. We should also keep an open mind about nothing can travel faster than speed of light and 2 + 2 may be 5.