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Islam and Dialectical Reasoning

By Dr. Ibrahim B. Syed*

Louisville, KY


When I read the story of Ibrahim (AS) in the Qur'an and his arguments with his people, his father and King Nimrod, I got the impression that his mind was like the mind of a Nobel Prize winner in the Sciences.

Out of more than 720 prizes awarded since 1901, more than 130, or about 18 percent, have gone to Jewish laureates. Jews comprise only 0.3 to 0.5 percent of the world's population. Muslims are one-fifth or 20 % of the world's population, and they should have won 144 Nobel Prizes, but have won only NINE. Ibrahim (AS) was neither a Jew nor a Christian. He was a Hanif or an upright man.

Most of the Nobel Prizes are won by Americans every year, particularly in Physics, Chemistry, Medicine and Economics. What accounts for their success?

The reason is America has the best institutions: educational, research, think-tanks, industrial, government, military and the vast resources to back these institutions.

We are blessed that we live in this country and have access to these fine institutions.

Students come from all over the world to get American degrees. Students from India are the largest in number approximating 100,000. Majority of the PhD students in America are foreigners.

What makes the American educational system so unique?

The system imparts critical and creative thinking, develops metacognition (knowledge of one's own thinking processes and products or anything related to them), promotes scientific enquiry, dialectical reasoning (the art or practice of arriving at the truth by the exchange of logical arguments), problem solving, logical analysis, designing and composing, scholarly debates; and evidence-based knowledge.

In many countries rote learning is emphasized – mechanical repetition of something so that it is remembered, often without understanding its meaning or significance.

In the Qur’an in The Story of Ibrahim (AS) we find the American educational values: Prophet Ibrahim (AS) reminded his people that there was only one God, the Lord of all creation, who controlled life, death and resurrection. He told his own father, Azar, to desist from worshipping idols. He said he had learned from his own experience (that is using dialectical reasoning) that God alone was worthy of worship. He was shown by God 'the Kingdom of the heavens and the earth so that he might be convinced of the faith in his Creator.

An example of metacognition and dialectical reasoning is as follows.

When the night was dark, Ibrahim (AS) saw a star; he said to himself, “This must be the Lord.” But soon the star set and his faith was shaken. Then he saw the moon rising in the sky, “This is the Lord,” he said. However, when it waned, he lost faith in it. Likewise, when the sun rose, brighter than everything, he was convinced that it was the Lord. But the sun also set, and Ibrahim (AS) cried: “I set my face against all these. I repudiate every other kind of worship except the worship of God, Creator of all that is in the heavens and the earth, i.e., The Creator of the Universe (Surah 6: 76-79)

An example of logical analysis:

Turning to his father, Ibrahim (AS) asked what the images were to which he and his people were devoted. Azar replied that they worshipped what their fathers had worshipped. Ibrahim (AS) said: 'Then assuredly, you and your fathers are clearly in error.' Here, Ibrahim (AS) is opposing his own father. The Qur’an clearly states not to obey your parents if your parents deviate from the Qur’anic Guidance.

The following illustrates an example of scholarly debate, opposing points of view, and logical reasoning with King Nimrod.

Ibrahim (AS) debates with Nimrod, the King of Iraq, not to forget that it was God who gave him the Kingdom and power and glory; but the King, in his arrogance, denied it and declared that he determined the life and death of his subjects. Ibrahim (AS) had then asked him: 'Allah makes the sun rise from the east; can you make it rise from the west?' The King had no answer. He sentenced Abraham (AS) to be burnt alive.

An example of evidence-based knowledge and scientific inquiry is the following Ayah from the Qur'an, Surah Baqarah, 2: 260:

Call to mind the other event also, when Ibrahim (AS) said, "My Lord, show me how Thou bringeth the dead back to life?" He (Allah SWT) said, "Have you no faith in this?" Ibrahim (AS) humbly replied, "I do believe but I ask this to reassure my heart." (That is, "I want that peace of mind which is gained by actual experience." ). Allah said, "Well, take four birds and tame them with yourself and then (cut them into pieces) and place a piece of each of them on each hill. Then call them and they will come running to you; know this for certain that Allah is All-Powerful, All-Wise."



Furthermore we read in Surah, Ar-Raad, 13: 3:



"And it is He Who has spread out the earth, and fixed the immovable mountains in it, and made the rivers flow on it. He has created in pairs every kind of fruit, and He covers the day with the veil of night. Surely there are great Signs (Verses of the Qur'an and Natural Phenomena) in these for those who reflect (Think, Ponder) upon them. The Qur'an repeatedly provokes and challenges the reader to think and contemplate the signs of Allah so that she/he can understand."

I am not aware of any religion that asks its followers to think, reflect and ponder. Allah (SWT) is challenging the believers to use their greatest gift, that is aql or mind.

*President, Islamic Research Foundation International, Inc. Louisville, KY.


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