Why has the Muslim world abandoned reasoning

by Sajid Kamal


With the passage of time, the Muslim world has tasted the fruit of two extremes; from producing legendary scientists to the deadliest terrorists and terrorist organizations. This demise has not been sudden, but rather a process with number of reasons. On the other side, the people in the west who, once were surrounded by poverty and backwardness have raised themselves and have become the leaders of the modern world.

In the ancient Greek and the Roman empires, clergy had a major role to play in the affairs of the state and enjoyed vast powers and perks. In the medieval era people in the west strongly believed in the concepts of hell, heaven and afterlife. As the influence of the church was so strong, the people were made to believe that the only way for them to enter into was if the Roman Catholic Church allows them.

When the people used to go to churches, they were terrified by the priests of the fire of the hell and the horrors that waited for them in the hell. Peasants used to work in the churches without any salaries; hence it became difficult for them to spend their lives in a better way. People used to pay tithes, which was 10 percent of their annual earning, to the church because of fear of the afterlife. The grip of the clergy on the affairs of the state was so tight that freethinking in the people could not establish and nourish.

Socrates, Plato and Aristotle advocated free thinking and reasoning but were accused of corrupting the minds of the people and were put in prison. But these philosophers had sown the seeds of the transition of the power from the church to the common people. With the passage of time, the power of the church weakened and democracy became powerful in the western societies and in the modern world we see that the power of the church and the monarchy are very much limited.

The major reason due to which the western societies were in slumps was abandoning reasoning and questioning, exactly the same reason why the Muslims societies are in a slump today.

This slump in the Muslim world can be traced back to the post Al Mamun, Abbassid caliph, era. In his era, science developed as he undermined the traditional religious scholars and sponsored a doctrine known as the Mu’tazilism, which was actually deeply rooted in the Greek rationalism, Aristotelianism. But the successors of Al Mamun did not follow his doctrine and in few decades the adherence to Mu’tazilism became a punishable offence, and in the year 885 it became a crime to copy the books of philosophy. This was the time when another school of thought, which was anti rationalist, Ash’rites became dominant and hence opposed scientific inquiry.

Mu’tazilism, argued that Quran was the creation of God, so it must be interpreted through proper reasoning but the Ash’arites believed the Quran to be a coeval with God and hence it cannot be challenged and no reasoning was permitted. Occasionalism, a doctrine which actually negated natural causality, was the core of the Ash’ari metaphysics; Natural necessity does not exist as the will of the God is free. Putting this in simpler words, Mu’tazilism held that fire produces heat because of the nature of the fire, but the Ash’rites held that fire can produce coldness as well, as every single atomic event in the world is through God, and the will of the God is not restrained by reasons.

The famous supporter of the Ash’arites, Ghazali was very much against philosophy and philosophers and attacked the views held by Al Farabi, Ibn Rushd and Avicenna. Steven Weinberg claimed in the Times of London, that after al-Ghazali “there was no more science worth mentioning in Islamic countries”. The view is followed by many Muslims in the contemporary world like Mohammed Yusuf, the late leader of Nigerian Taliban, said, “Western education is a sin, we believe earth is a creation of God rather than an evaporation caused by the sun that condenses and becomes rain.”

The Ash’ari view is evident when the scholars of the Islamic world link the natural disasters with the anger of God, rather than the environmental changes. The results of abandoning reason and question have proved to be disastrous for the Muslim world. In the contemporary Muslim societies, education is classified into religious education and worldly education. Due to this the religious education is left to a certain group of so called religious scholars who do not allow the asking of questions and reasoning and use Islam for their personal gains.

Since the religious teachings of Islam have been left to this group, common people look towards these scholars for guidance rather than studying such matters themselves. At the individual level and the state level, there should be no differentiation between the spiritual and worldly education because knowledge, one way or the other, connects a human to God and also only then the culture of questioning and reasoning can be nourished.

Fear of the fire of the hell does not allow people to question and blocks the thinking process of a human mind; independence from this fear would definitely open the blocked road of progress for the Muslim world. Because, our so called religious scholars have kept the religious knowledge aloof from the worldly knowledge, people look towards them in the purely religious matters, providing them the opportunity to create the fear of hell in our minds, hence snatching the rights of questioning and reasoning from the people.