Criticizing the view of contemporary muslims about the method of thinking about theologycal problems

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In old and modern time in our own times ,among muslisms and non –Muslims there were people who considered these discussions improper from the viewpoint of reason or canon or both certain group claims that this kind of analysis and inference does not agree with the spirit of IsIam and that the Muslims initiated into such kind of speculations under the influence of Greek philosophy and not as a result any inspiration or guidance effused from the Qur’an. they say that if the Muslims had adhered closely to the Qur’anic teachings they would not have entangled themselves with these tortuous debates. For the same reason, They view with suspicion the authenticity of such speculations found in the Nahj al- balaghah and their ascription to Imam Ali (a).

Dimensions of opposition to the ratianal tendencies in old and new times
In the second and third centuries a group of people opposed such kind of discussion and questioned their legitimacy, raising doctrinal objections. They insisted that it is obligatory for Muslims to be satisfied with the literal and commonly understood meaning of the words of the Qur’an. and regarded every kind of inquiry into the meaning of the Qur’an as an innovation (bid’ah) in religion. for instance, if someone inquired about the meaning of the Qur’anic verse.الرحمن علی العرش استوی “The All –compassionate sat Himself upon Throne” [20:5] he was confronted by the displeasure of those who regarded such questions as not only improper but distasteful. He would be told: الکیفیة مجهولة و السوال بدعه “ The exact meaning is unknown and questioning is heresy.”

During the 3rd/ 9th century, this group, which later came to be called Ash’arites, overwhelmed the Mu’tazilites, who considered such speculations to be within the bounds of legitimacy. This victory of the Ash’arites delivered a severe blow to the intellectual life of IsIam. The Akhbaris, who were a shi’i school which flourished during the period between the 10th /16th and the 14th /20th centuries –and particularly during the 10th/ 16th and 11th /17th centuries –followed the Asha’irah in their ideas and beliefs. They raised doctrinal objections against ratiocination. Now we shall proceed to discuss the objections raised from a rationalist point of view.

As a result of the triumph of the empirical and experimental method over the deductive approach in Europe, especially in the physical sciences, the view began to prevail that rational speculation was unreliable not only in the physical sciences but also in all scientific disciplines philosophy. The result of it was that the problems of theology were viewed with doubt suspicion, because they lay beyond the domain of experimental and empirical observation.

Opposition of some liberal – minded Muslims to the rational method used in the theology
The past victories of the Ash’arits, on the one hand, and amazing triumphs of the empirical method, with followed one another in quick succession, on the other hand, drove some non-shi’ite Muslims writers to the extremes of excitement. The outcome was the eclectic opinion that from the religious (shar’i) as well the rational point of view the use of deductive method even in problems of theology should be discarded. From the shar’i viewpoint, they made the claim that according to the outlook of the Qur’an the only approach valid in theology was the empirical and experimental method and the study of natural phenomena and the system of creation, the rest, they declared, is no more than an exercise in futility. They pointed out that in scores of its verses, the Qur’an in most unequivocal terms has invited human beings to study the phenomena of nature, it considers the keys to the secrets of the origin and workings of the universe to be concealed within nature itself. In this way they echoed, in their writings and speeches, the ideas expressed by the European proponents of empirical philosophy.

Farid al- wajdi in his book Ala atlal al –madhhab al- maddi (on the Ruins of Materialism),and sayyid Abu al- Hasan al- Nadawi, in his Madha khasira al- alam bi-inhitat al-Muslimin ( “ what the world Lost Through the Decline of Muslims)” and the writers belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood (I k h wan al- Muslimin) such as sayyid Qutb and others, have supported this view, vehemently the opposite viewpoint.

Al-Nadawi, in his above – mentioned book, says:
The prophets informed men about the existence of God and his Attributes and informed them about the origin and beginning of the world and the ultimate destiny of man, putting this free information at his disposal. They relieved him of the need to understand and discuss these problems the basics of which lie beyond our reach (because these problems belong to the sphere of the supra – sensible, and our knowledge and experience is limited to the physical and the sensible).but men did not value this blessing and entangled themselves in debates and speculations about these problems. And strode into the dark regions of the hidden and the unknowable.

The same author, in another chapter of the same book, where he discusses the causes of the decline of Muslims, under the heading “the Neglect of Useful Sciences “ criticizes the Muslims, “ulama ”in theses words:

The Muslims scholars and thinkers did not give as much importance to practical and experimental sciences as they gave to debating about metaphysics, which they had learnt from Greek philosophy. The Greek meta physics and theology is nothing more than Greek’s polytheistic mythology presented in philosophical outfit, and is no more than a series of meaningless conjectures expressed in an absurd jargon. God has exempted Muslims from debate, speculation and analysis in these matters, which are not much different from the analytic pursuits of the Alchemists. But out of ingratitude for this great blessing, the Muslims wasted their energy and genius in problems of this sort.

Without doubt, the views of the like of Farid al- Wajdi and al- Nadawi should be regarded as a kind of return to Ash’arism, though dressed in contemporary style akin to the language of empirical philosophy.

Study of muslims neo Ash’ arites speeches
We cannot into a philosophic discussion about the value of philosophic reflection, in the chapters entitled “the value of information” and “origin of Multiplicity in perception” of the book the principles and Method of Realism, we have discussed the matter in sufficient detail. Here, we shall confine ourselves to the Qur’anic aspect of this problem, and investigate whether the holy Qur’an considers the study of nature to be the only valid method of inquiry into theological problems, or whether it allows for another approach besides the above- mentioned.

However, it is essential to point out that the disagreement between the Ash’arites and the non- Ash’arites is not about the legitimacy of the use of the book and the sunnah as sources in problems of theology, rather, the disagreement concerns the manner of their utilization. According to the Ash’arites to the Ash’arites, their application should not exceed mute acceptance. According to them, we assign the various Attributes like Unity, omniscience, omnipotence and the rest to God because they have been ascribed to him by the shari’ah. Otherwise we would not know whether God is such or not, because the basic principles and essentials dealing with God are beyond our reach. Therefore, according to them, we are forced to accept God as such, but we cannot know or understand that God is such. The role of the religious texts is that prescribe for us the way we ought to think and believe so that we may follow it in our thought and beliefs.

According to the contestants of this view, these issues are amenable to human understanding, like any other rational concept or idea. That is, there exist certain principles and essentials which if known properly enable man to understand them. The role of the religious texts lies in their capacity to inspire, motivate, and guide human reason by putting understandable principles and essentials at its disposal. Basically servitude in intellectual matters is absurd. It is like ordering one to think in a certain fashion, and asking him to derive certain prescribed conclusions. It is like ordering some one to see a think in a certain fashion and then asking him, “how do you see it? Is it big or mean anything other than absence of thinking and acceptance without reflection.

In short, the question is not whether it is possible for man to go beyond the teaching of the Revelation. God be our refuge, there is nothing that lies beyond them. Because that which has reached us through Revelation and the Household of the (i.e. the Ahl al- Bayt[a] ) is utmost limit of perfection concerning knowledge of the Divine. Here our debate centers upon the capacity of human thought and reason, whether it can, when supplied with the basic principles and essentials, undertake an intellectual journey though the would of theological problems or not.

As to the invitation of the Qur’an to study and inquiry about the phenomena of creation, and its emphasis on nature as a means for attaining the knowledge of God and the supra- nature, it should be said that it is, indubitably, a basic principle of the Qur’anic teachings. It is with extraordinary insistence the Qur’an asks human beings to inquire into the nature of the earth, the sky, the plants and animals, and man himself, and urges them to study them scientifically. It is also indubitable that the Muslims did not take enough worthy steps in this direction. Perhaps the real reason behind it was Greek philosophy, which was deductive and based on pure speculation, and they used this approach even in the field of the physical sciences. Nevertheless, as the history of science bears testimony, the Muslims scientists did not altogether abandon the experimental method in their studies like the Greeks. The Muslims were the pioneers of the experimental method, not the Europeans, as is commonly thought, who followed on the tracks first laid by The Muslims.

The value of study of the Natural Phenomena:
Aside from all of this, the question worthy of consideration is whether the Qur’an, besides its emphasis on the study of the creatures of earth, water, and air allows other ways of approaching the issue, or it closes all other doors. The question is whether the Qur’an, even as it invites people to study of God (ayat) also welcomes other modes of intellectual endeavour. Basically what is the value of inquiry into the works of creation (an inquiry which the Qur’an urges us, explicitly or implicitly, to undertake), from the viewpoint of initiating us into the awareness and consciousness which this heavenly book aims to cultivate?

The truth is that the measure of assistance provided by the study of the works of the creation in understanding the problems explicitly pointed out by the holy Qur’an is quite restricted, the Qur’an has propounded certain problems of theology which are by no means understandable through the study of the created world or nature. The value of study of the system of creation is limited only to the extent to which it proves that the world is governed by a power which knows, designs, world is governed by a power which knows, designs, plans, and administers it, the world is a mirror, open to empirical experiment, only to the extent that it points towards something that lies beyond nature and discloses the existence of Mighty hand with runs nature’s cosmic wheels.

But the Qur’an is not content that man should only know that a Mighty, knowing, and wise power administers this universe. This may perhaps be true of other heavenly scriptures, but is no means true of the holy Qur’an ,which is the final ultimate heavenly message and has a great deal to say about God and the reality transcending nature.

Purely Rationalistic Problems:
The most basic problem to which the mere study of the world of creation fails to provide an answer is the necessity of existence and uncreatedness of the power which transcends nature. The word is a mirror in the sense that it indicates the existence of Mighty hand and a wise power, but it does not tell us anything more about its nature. It does not tell us whether that power is subservient to something else or not, if it is self –subsisting. And if it is subject to something else, what is that? The objective of the Qur’an is not only we should know that a Mighty hand administers the world, but that we may know that Administrator is “Allah and that Allah” is the indefinable: لیس کمثله شی ( there is nothing like him), where Essence encompasses all perfection, or in other words, that “ Allah” Signifies Absolute perfection and is the referent of وله المثل الاعلی ( his is the loftiest likeness). How can the study of nature give us understanding of notions and concepts?

The second problem is that of the Unity of God. The Qur’an has stated this issue in a logical from and used a syllogistic argument to explain it. the method of argument it has employed in this regard is what is called “exclusive syllogism” or “reductio ad impossible” (bur han al- tamanu). On occasion it eliminates the possibility of multiplicity in the efficient cause as in the following verse:
If there had been (multiple)gods in them (i.e. the earth and the heaven other than God, they would surely go to ruin…(21:22)

At other times it argues eliminating the possibility of multiplicity in the final cause:
God has not taken to himself any son, nor is there any god besides him, for then each god would have taken off that he created and some of them would have risen up over others….( 23:91)

The Qur’an never suggests that the study of the system of creation can lead us to the knowledge of the Unity of the Godhead so as imply that the essential knowledge of the transcendental creator be considered attainable from that source. Moreover, such a suggestion would not have been correct

Some examples of purely rationalistic problems in the Qur’an
The Qur’an alludes to various problems as indicated by the following examples:
….. No thing is like him….(42:11)
….And God’s the loftiest likeness… (16:60)
…..To him belong the Names most Beautiful. (20:8)
….And his is the loftiest likeness in the heavens and the earth….(30:27)
He is God: there is no god but he, he is the king ,the All –holy, the All- peaceable, the All-faithful, the All-preserver, the All-mighty, the All-compeller ,the All –sublime… (59:23)
And to God belong the East and the West:
Whithersoever you turn, there is the Face of God,…
And he is God in the heavens and earth, he knows your secrets, and what you publish… (6:3)
He is the first and the Last, the Outward and the Inward, he has knowledge of everything (57:3)
…. He is Living, the Everlasting ….(2:255)
God, is the Everlasting, [who] has not begotten, and has not been begotten, and equal to him is not any one. (112:2-4)

Why does the Qur’an raise such issues? Is it for the sake of propounding mysterious matters incomprehensible to man- who according to al-Nadawi, tacks the knowledge of its essential principles – and then asking him to accept them without comprehending their meaning? Or, the Qur’an actually does want him to know God though the attributes and descriptions that have come in it? and, if this is true, what reliable approach does it recommend? How is it possible to acquire this knowledge thought the study of the natural phenomena? The study of the creation teaches us that God has knowledge of the things, that is, the things that he has made were created knowingly and wisely. But the Qur’an expects us not only to know this, but also stresses that:
….Indeed God has the knowledge of everything (2:31)
….And not so much as the weight of an atom in earth or heaven escapes from thy Lord, neither is aught smaller than, or greater, but in Manifest book (10:6)
Say: “If the sea were ink for the words of my Lord, the sea would be spent before the words of my Lord are spent, thought we brought replenishment the like of it” (18:109)

This means that God ‘s knowledge is infinite and so is his power. How and wherefore is it possible through perception and observation of the world of creation to reach the conclusion that the Creator’s knowledge and power are infinite? The Qur’an, similarly, propounds numerous other problems of the kind. For instance, it al- mahw wa al-ithbat (the Tablet of Expunction and Affirmation), jabr and ikhtiyar (determinism and free will),wahy (revelation ) and ilham (intuition),etc. none of which are susceptible to inquiry though the empirical study of the world of creation.

It must be admitted that the Qur’an ,definitely has raised these problems in the from of series of lessons and has emphasized their importance through advice and exhortation. The following verses of the Qur’an may be quoted in this connection:
What, do they not meditate in the Qur’an? Or is it that there are locks upon their hearts ?....(47:24)
(this is) a scripture that we have revealed unto thee, full of blessing, than they may ponder its revelations and that men of understanding may reflect.(38:29)

Inevitably, we are forced to accept that the Qur’an assumes the existence of a reliable method for understanding the meaning of the these truths, which have not been revealed as a series of obscure incomprehensibles which lie beyond the reach of the human mind.

The scope of problems propounded by the Qur’an in the sphere of metaphysics is far greater than what can be resolved or be answered through the study of physical creation. This is reason why the Muslims have pursued these problems, at times through spiritual and Gnostic efforts, and at other times though speculative and rational approach.

I wonder whether those who claim that the Qur’an considers the study of nature as the sole, sufficient means for the solution of metaphysical problems, can give a satisfying answer in regard to the multifarious problems propounded by it- a characteristic which is special to his great heavenly book.

Ali ‘s sole source of inspiration in his exposition of the problems mentioned in the previous chapters is the holy Qur’an. and the sole motive behind his discourses is exegetical. Perhaps, had it not been for Ali (a) the rationalistic and speculative aspects of the Qur’an would have forever remained uninterpreted.

After theses brief introductory remarks on the value of the these issues, we shall go on to cite some relevant examples from the Nahj al- balaghah.


Glimpses of the Nahj al-Balaghah- pages: 62 to 76


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