Friday, July 3

Islamic Reasoning

I think something currently lacking in most of us is the ability to reason. I'm not talking about deep philosophical (and sometimes largely irrelevant) topics about morals or life and death but more about how we're unable to take even a few minutes to see if something makes sense to us, and then going on to trust that personal judgement.

Essentially it's about striking the right balance between figuring things out for yourself and having to ask someone else to do it for you. Technically coming to a conclusion requires both - you ask questions of others in order to arm yourself with inputs to your own honed reasoning process. With respect to Islam this is ever important - something as large and vibrant as this way of life will never be successfully transmitted by rote or facsimile but rather by the transmission of its underlying principles and ideas, each implemented at the individual level.

Of course I could be grossly overestimating our ability to reason: for some of us it's obviously clear what to in even some of the more esoteric situations, while the rest of us struggle with basics. While this could be just down to a lack of knowledge, I suspect it's more to do with laziness (at worst) or a lack of self confidence and self belief that your internal Islamic compass is pointing you in the right direction (at best).

But in these days of the Internet a fatwa is only a Google away and ignorance is no longer an excuse. This is a mixed blessing though as some choose to follow verbatim instead of treating it as another input to their decision making process. I've witnessed many discussions where "evidence" is given in the form of a URL; although I guess this is easier to do than actually using common sense. However in my opinion a well thought out and dissenting opinion is better than one agreed upon via Wikipedia.

So it's about equipping ourselves with some kind of personal responsibility to be able to figure things out for ourselves instead of relying on others to do this for us. We should be taking advice from our imams and scholars, not commandments, and have the guts and will power to ensure we actually assess, question and eventually believe in what we're doing. Islam is the truth and I think we'd automatically get there ourselves if we tried.

Essentially it's about asking for stuff; not for conclusions, rulings and fatwas but why and how these had come about. For example, we should be looking at the Seerah of the Prohpet and seeing how and why he came to the conclusions he did (here's a clue: he reasoned and meditated in isolation after taking cue from the Quran) instead of blindly following these conclusions - after all, apart from those from the Quran many of the rulings of his time came from his own (albeit inspired) head. We need to see where opinion differs from fact, where interpretation differs from the literals, and then take them all to make our own. And don't worry: this process of asking "why?" and questioning things doesn't make your faith weaker; if anything it reinforces it.

In theory it should be possible to reach the correct conclusion without imams or scholars - the extreme indication of this being how the Muslim world doesn't have a single head of religion. The sacred texts and sources should and are enough for us, we just have to buck up and read them instead of solely relying on others to do the job for us. Of course I'm not by any means discounting the job of scholars but merely our current use of them; in my opinion they are here to arm us with facts as well as opinions while all the time allowing us to pick the ones which we think are right.

At the end of the day it will be us paying for the actions we take (I don't think we'll be able to send God a link to something we read on the Internet) so some kind of personal responsibility needs to be taken. With the right intent I'm not even sure you can go wrong no matter where you happen to end up.


Originally drafted 12th September 2007