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Islam and Reason
March 1, 2017
Ahmad Farouk Musa || 1 March 2017
The greatest challenge facing the Muslim ummah in the 21st Century is their struggle to reconcile reason (‘aql) and revelation (wahy). And without doubt this has been the most problematic issue since the early Islamic centuries. And this could have been the main reason for the stagnation of the Muslims’ civilization. It was their abdication of reason that has led to this stagnation despite the development of a great rational philosophical tradition during the time of the Muktazilites. But the acceptance of reason as an ally of revelation has gone back much further in history instead. The Qur’an strongly recommends us, the Muslims, to use our reason, our faculty of intellect or “’aql” appropriately. The word “’aql” can be found in more than forty-five verses of the Qur’an. The Qur’an urges us to use “’aql”, to reason, to reflect, and to ponder so that we could derive benefits or “maslahah” out of it and to avoid hardship. This can also be found in the declaration of the Qur’an: “Verily, in the creation of the heavens and the earth, and in the succession of night and day, there are indeed messages for all who are endowed with insight” (3: 190). Such verses are aplenty in the Qur’an, urging man to perceive and reflect on the signs. Surely the Qur’an as the Word of Allah and as the infallible divine text must be read and understood by the mind of man created inherently fallible by his Maker. This has led to the biggest challenge that has to be wrestled – of interpreting the texts of the Qur’an, and contextualizing some of its verses – that would require human endeavor, or reason. But now, rationalism, once regarded as an ally of faith, came to be regarded as its enemy. There is no more critical thinking and analytical reasoning on the part of Muslims in general. In actuality, Muslims distanced themselves from a scientific worldview long before the scientific revolution took place in Europe. In fact, a scientific devolution had just been completed in the Muslim lands by the time the scientific revolution began to take hold in the Western World. Since then, the Muslim lands have been in an intellectual stagnation and rational sclerosis. So, in order for Muslims to rejuvenate their glorious past, they must first revolutionize their thinking again and utilize to the maximum their faculty of reason in answering modern problems affecting them and start tackling their chronic disease before it turns fatal.
Dato’ Dr Ahmad Farouk Musa is a Director at Islamic Renaissance Front (IRF), a think-tank advocating reform and renewal and the empowerment of the intellect. This paper is to be presented at the Symposium on “Islam and Contemporary Issues” at the Al-Mustafa International University, Tehran, Iran in March 2017.