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Logic, Reason, and the Spirit of Inquiry

By Dr. Mohammad Omar Farooq  

[The author is an associate professor of economics and finance at Upper Iowa University. Homepage:;]

When posting the message "Just a dose of Muslim Irrationality!" I mentioned that I got it from the Internet. However, I forgot to mention that the title is mine and I also forgot to include in my comment that this is probably more a dose of "generic" religious "irrationality," as it can fit into any religious framework. Indeed, there is good indication that this one probably was not originated by any Muslim. Of course, I could be wrong.

It is noteworthy that there was a time in the history of Muslims when good skills in logic were quite important in the curriculum under which many of our famous Islamic scholars received their education. But these days, like many other lopsided conditions, Muslims have little appreciation for logic or reasoning.

Understanding and attitude of some Muslims are even bigger stumbling block. For example, on another forum, one of the Islam-advocates, whose comments without any humility sometimes stir up others to attack Islam, made the following comment:

"We the Muslims have taken Qur'an for granted as the authentic revelation from Allah (SWT). No arguments, no logic and no philosophy. The only thing is we have to understand it and be guided accordingly."

I don't know where (m) any of you stand on this matter, but to the best of my understanding, the above comment is just the opposite to what Islam teaches. And, when we engage in public discussions, with vigor and conviction in regard to such lopsided views, it is no wonder that there are many who would rather let us have the Qur'an and Islam and they would happily seek or settle for something else.

One of the most compelling dimensions of the Qur'an is to frequently engage us in reasoned dialog as it poses questions after questions and provoke us to think and reason with the Qur'an. Consider, for examples, the following:

Say: "See you? - If your stream be some morning lost (in the underground earth), who then can supply you with clear-flowing water?" 67/30

You might find the two books of Dr. Jeffrey Lang (Struggling to Surrender and Even Angels Ask) quite pertinent and enlightening in this regard.

Indeed, sometimes having doubt, even after proclaiming faith, is neither unnatural nor unIslamic. That "no arguments, no logic and no philosophy" attitude or concept is simply alien to Islam or the Qur'an. Demanding proof and use of one of the primary human faculty - reasoning - are essential Islamic, prophetic, and Qur'anic dimensions. The faculty of reasoning never becomes redundant: not while searching for truth, and not after we believe that we have found the truth. Those who do not employ the faculty of reasoning may grab the very first candidate that claims to be the truth, and if that candidate is embraced without appropriate scrutiny, in all likelihood, whatever was embraced will be upheld regardless whether it was really the truth in the first place or not. That is why logic and reason are never unwanted or disposable for Muslims. Islam simply teaches us to use those adequately and PROPERLY.

May I beg your indulgence to read the following verse about Ibrahim (a), who even AFTER attaining Prophethood, asked Allah:

"Behold! Abraham said: 'My Rabb! SHOW ME, how You give life to the dead.' He said: 'Do you not then believe?' He said: 'Yes! But to satisfy my own understanding.' He said: 'Take four birds, tame the to turn to you; put a portion of them on every hill, and call to them; they will come to you (flying) with speed. Then know that God is Exalted in Power, Wise.'" [2/al-Baqara/260]

This is the foundation of Islamic spirit of inquiry, search for truth, pursuit of knowledge, and understanding. We are, of course, not prophets. Genuine search for truth does not begin by taking things for granted, but by our effort to learn and verify. In this process, occasional doubts are very natural. As far as Islamic validity of what I am suggesting, let no one tell you any differently, because this is what the Prophet (s) himself has said:

Allah's Apostle said, "We have MORE right to be in doubt than Abraham when he said, 'My Lord! Show me how You give life to the dead.' He said, 'Do you not believe?' He said, 'Yes (I believe) but to be stronger in Faith.' (2/al-Baqarah/260)" [Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol. 6, #61]

We need to be particularly careful when we engage in public discussions about these matters where non-Muslims, atheists, doubters, and all other sorts of people - who are not necessarily bad people - are involved. Indeed, in terms of human quality, many of them are probably better than many of us.



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