Wednesday, 5 August 2015

The Sharing Group Discussion: Was the Prophet (s.a.w.) a Philosopher?

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

The following was posted by Brother Tim, on the 20th July 2015, on The Sharing Group: “Was the Prophet (s.a.w.) a philosopher?”

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: That would depend on how we define philosophy right?

Brother Tim; Yes, to start with my definition would be that a philosopher is someone dedicated to pursuing wisdom and seeking to live by what they discover.

Brother Tarek Sourani: In your sense, yes.

Brother Kazi Abdus Samad: A philosopher rarely comes to any conclusion.  The individual experience remains absent since searching for truth using the mind is an impossible task.  When the heart is alive, the whole existence comes closer to show the truth; words are absent there, experience remains.  The mind is a dead subject there.  The mind remains a philosopher, not the spirit.

Brother Tim: I do not accept that philosophy is purely mental, Brother Kazi.  And many philosophers made commitments to living their philosophy spiritually.  I think you are partially right about philosophers not reaching conclusions.  However, surely that is a virtue?  The closure of open enquiry into truth is the opposite of philosophy, namely ideology.

Brother Kazi Abdus Samad: I liked your query, Brother Tim.  An individual who has gone through the experience of truth does not represent himself as philosopher.  Society calls them philosophers, because, the masses have little intelligence and those characters are different from the masses.  They certainly have value to society, though, they remains in the surface of truth, not at the core.  Courage is needed to have that individualistic experience, or all the knowledge becomes useless.  Truth is dangerous for established institutions.  And that has been happening for thousands of years.

Brother Ibn Al-Waqt Feisal Bajrai: Not at all.  He did not even like poetry.  He was illiterate; he did not even read or write.  The wisdom he brought was not from himself but he was an Appointed messenger, a Chosen prophet who reveals reality, wisdom and prophecies from his Lord Almighty.

Brother Tim: I would suggest the opposite, that his philosophical disposition, including ethical character, was what made him open to Revelation.  Are you saying he was too illiterate to understand the Revelation being mediated through him?

Brother Kazi Abdus Samad: Good point, Brother Tim.  I do not know why the arts, music, poetry and all those creative works remain ignored in some religions.  These are works of wisdom.  Having such controversial ideas, people have made historical characters of wisdom small.

Brother Ibn Al-Waqt Feisal Bajrai: He reads what you and I are unable to read.  As one who was Chosen to reveal Messages from Allah (s.w.t.), he understood what we do not understand.  He spoke and was accompanied by an archangel and yet, the Qur’an Says he was taught to perfection by Allah (s.w.t.) Himself.  Philosophy is the mind’s production.  Revelation is from Allah Almighty.

Brother Kazi Abdus Samad: Did you have personal experience, Brother Ibn Al Waqt?  Millions of people are saying the same.  The individual journey is important to know the truth.  Certainly you take oxygen by your own nose, not others.

Brother Ibn Al-Waqt Feisal Bajrai: But not in Islam, Brother Kazi.  Islam reflects beauty itself and hence we have colourful poetry and music.  We also have the whirling and the hadhrah.  Only the Wahhabi sect has a problem with the arts.

Brother Tim: He sounds like a philosopher to me, open to the source of goodness, truth and beauty in his soul.

Brother Ibn Al-Waqt Feisal Bajrai: Personal experience, in our way, we learn especially through direct experiences, my dear brother.  It is important to have guides in this journey, since it is not a journey we can depend on just our minds and opinions.

Brother Tim: A philosopher would pursue wisdom as revealed to them, as guided by the wise, as reflected upon by reason, as experienced personally in one's life.  The opposite is a dogmatist or ideologist who teaches by indoctrination.  I hope you are not suggesting the Prophet (s.a.w.) was dogmatic and opinionated yourself?

Brother Ibn Al-Waqt Feisal Bajrai: Hujjat al-Islam Imam al-Ghazali (r.a.), was once a philosopher before he met his true masters.  He is remembered as the ‘proof of Islam’ until today.  Maybe it is wise that you have a look at his works, and see what he has written in regards to philosophy.  Good question, Brother Tim, because if we truly seek, we will all learn something, insha’Allah.

Brother Tim: If you are referring to The Incoherence of the Philosophers, Tahafut al-Falasifah, what form of philosophy or philosopher was Imam al-Ghazali (r.a.) disputing?  To assume it is the same as the definition I have offered here suggests you are transmitting something second hand which results in yet more indoctrination.  I encounter much talking at cross purposes with Muslims who think their predecessors came up with all the definitive answers as if Islam has a monopoly on philosophy, so that means we do not need to pursue wisdom ourselves.

Brother Ibn Al-Waqt Feisal Bajrai: The first Revelation itself Commands, “Read!”  Allah Almighty Tells us to turn every stone if we have to.  The Prophet (s.a.w.) said, “Seek knowledge even if you have to travel to China.”  Islam teaches us to seek knowledge and wisdom beyond the horizons, but there is an adab, certain guidelines that should be observed to protect the seeker from being misled.  I suggest you read more on Imam al-Ghazali (r.a.) and others, these are the real champions of Islam whose works are still relevant today.  But still, I must emphasise the importance of du’a, to ask Allah Almighty Himself when seeking knowledge and wisdom.  Particularly to let Him guide our hearts to wherever Pleases Him.

Brother Nabeel Sadiq: ‘Laa ‘alakum ta’qalun’, meaning to think, which the Qur’an Repeats and Orders us to do.  Sadly, to many it means do what the man wearing the turban says and you will be okay.

Brother Tim: In truth, I am partly asking this question for educational reasons.  I suspect many Muslims have closed their minds to philosophy because some leader in a turban has put them off.  No doubt academic philosophy is very intellectually demanding but I am more interested in the philosophical approach to life and do not see prophets as anti-philosophical in that sense.  I love the subtitle of Shaykh Nasr’s book, ‘Philosophy in the Land of Prophecy’.

I also believe myself that the insights and openings of the Ancient Greek philosophers were revelatory in the mystical sense though outside the Semitic prophetic tradition as we know it.  In case anyone is interested, Peter Kingsley has done the most work on recovering the prophetic and mystical origins of western philosophy in this regard.   This is Peter Kingsley's Bibliography.

Brother Stephen Roche: If philosophy is an attempt to understand universal truth by rational or reasonable means then no, if it is an attempt to accept universal truth as beyond the rational or reasonable then yes.

Brother Tim: If we define philosophy as the study of the fundamental nature of existence and reality, then all prophets are philosophers.  If we understand it as an academic discipline pertaining to principles of thought, then no.

Brother Joel Troxell: I am going to play the devil’s advocate and say no, that he was not a philosopher.

Brother Tim: Devil’s advocates are burnt at the stake here unless they have good reason 

Brother Joel Troxell: So shall I make my case and try to blow out your torch at the same time?

Brother Tim: Please do, though my torch is as inextinguishable as my ego.

Brother Joel Troxell: I am going to say that philosophers, in the non-academic sense, can only do what they do within the religious context of a culture or society, but they cannot be the source of that religious context.  Prophets provide the mirror.  Most of their statements are seemingly vague and rooted in an experience of the world that most of us cannot even fathom.  They leave behind the mirror as a test.  Each of us look into the mirror and will be judged by what we see.  The task of the philosopher is to polish the mirror and clarify the reflection.  For instance, there are narrations about Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) chiding people for not completely washing their feet during wudhu’, something along the lines of “That is in the Fire.”  What does that mean?  Is it the absence of water that puts that part of the foot in the Fire?  Is it the heedlessness of the individual?  Is it an incomplete purification of the soul that the water represents?  The prophets give us the mirror.  The philosophers polish.  They are divine callings, but separate ones.

We find Socrates doing the same thing in Athenian society.  He did not change the religious culture by proclaiming a new god or gods, but he did challenge people to refine their understanding of the divine nature at work in their representations of the gods.  He was critical of portrayals of Zeus as arbitrary and philandering, for instance.  But I would also add that Islam needs philosophers.  There are too many parrots and not enough thinkers.

Brother Tim: Well, that polished my mirror.

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: I understand religion to be a doctrine of philosophy with the addition of a spiritual element, particularly eschatology.  In Islam, we have a proud tradition of scholarship in philosophy.  However, in this current age, just as we have an overall neglect of these fields, we also have a general ignorance of Muslim philosophy.  Muslims scholars were noted for their distillation of Greek and Indian thought into coherent doctrines.

Brother Tim: Might not a prophet fulfil both functions though, Brother Joel: channel of Revelation and polisher of mirror?

Brother Hajj Ahmad: No, he definitely was not a philosopher.  He was a Messenger of Allah (s.w.t.).  There is a huge difference.  Philosophy was derived from his Revelation.

Brother Tim: Would you say that philosophy needs reviving amongst Muslims today, Brother Terence?  Not so much academic as a revival of a philosophical disposition and capacity to think through and articulate a comprehensive worldview that is open to conversing with others.

Brother Joel Troxell: Brother Tim, it is certainly possible.  But I think each calling requires a different mind-set.  The problem with a prophet engaging in philosophy is that there is the tendency to make his polishing of the mirror as sacrosanct as the mirror itself.  And because of that, a new way to look at Revelation is never allowed.  There are a lot of statements of Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) that are transactional: you do this for God, and He will Give you this.  I think those were philosophical statements, but rooted in a society based on trade and barter.  One has to get behind the mere words in that case and begin to ask the question if God really is that transactional or if he was saying something different about God’s Generosity instead.

Brother Tim: Perhaps though, as I suggested above, he was Chosen as a Messenger because he was already philosophical, Brother Hajj Ahmad.

Brother Joel Troxell: I would agree with that, much like how Abraham (a.s.) is portrayed in the Qur’an.  He philosophically argued his way out of polytheism.

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: I would say ordinary Muslims need to study tawhid first.  They barely know it.  Once they have mastered the foundation, then they can consider the rest of the religious sciences.  But amongst the people of knowledge, there has to be respect for this field and a revival.  Without the tools of kalam and manthiq, people are easily swayed by deviant ideologies since they are unable to deconstruct the doctrines of our creed and understand it to the depths.

Brother Tim: Is not tawhid intrinsically philosophical though?

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: Definitely.  Who studies tawhid nowadays, brother?  People want to dabble with fiqh and ahadits, or claim they are interested in taswawwuf.  In terms of ‘aqidah, they memorise the points of doctrine but they do not digest anything.

Brother Tim: That's what I mean by “comprehensive”' world view; one which has integrity and is methodologically integrative.

Brother Tim: Did I miss some Socratic Dialogue?


Brother Hajj Ahmad: No, Brother Tim, he was not philosophical.  He was the ultimate fitri revelatory vehicle because of his inherent capacity for higher consciousness.  Philosophy is of the mind, and the Prophetic manifestation was beyond mind.  What he brought may have had philosophical concepts embedded in the Revelation, or, as I mentioned these concepts were ‘derived’ from the Revelation, but he was not a philosophical being in the sense of Imam ibn Sina (r.a.), Imam ibn Rushd (r.a.), Imam al-Kindi (r.a.), Imam ar-Razi (r.a.), Imam ath-Thusi (r.a.), and so forth; or Locke, Plato, Zeno, Descartes or Aristotle.  Philosophy is thought based.  It is ‘the rational investigation of the truths and principles of being, knowledge, or conduct.”  The Prophet (s.a.w.), though his Revelation and life practice obviously embodied truth, being, knowledge and conduct, his method for achieving these was not thought based.

Brother Tim: Well I have been influenced by Eric Voegelin’s philosophy which is noetic but not mind-driven, and also Pierre Hadot’s work on Philosophy as a Way of Life, subtitled Spiritual Exercises from Socrates to Foucault.  It is clear to me that philosophy was much deeper and much more religious in origin, even if it has become more to do with thought over the centuries.

Brother Hajj Ahmad: Of course, Brother Tim, you are referring to metaphysical philosophy which I am also fond of.  Thanks for the book reference by Hadot.  You obviously recommend it?

Brother Tim: Yes though I doubt it will change your life.  It is good to see philosophers retrieving the purpose of philosophy as a spiritual practice.

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: Materialism is also a form of spirituality.

Brother Tim: But materialism, and every other ‘ism’, is turned into ideology by its closure to the transcendental ground of existence which means it is not philosophical.  Voegelin would say that and I agree.

Brother Ahmed Eckhard Krausen: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who lived from 1749 to 1832, wrote, in hist West-Eastern Divan

“Er ist ein Prophet und kein
Dichter.  Deswegen muss man
Seinen Qur’an als Göttliches
Gesetz und nicht als ein
Menschliches buch betrachten,
Das der Bildung oder der
Unterhaltung dient.”

“He is a prophet and not a
Poet.  So you have to
Study his Qur'an as a Divine
Law, and not as a
Considered human book,
For education or
Entertainment."

Brother Tim: Also, sprach Goethe der philosoph.  That is pretty much what Peter Kingsley teaches about the origins of pre-Socratic Greek philosophy and the seeding of the western tradition as found here: Peter Kingsley: Complete Interview.

Sister Roux Black: To answer the question of the post, no, the Prophet (s.a.w.) was not a philosopher.  He was a tradesman in caravans.  He was well known and known to always give full measure and never cheated anyone.  He was known in many countries and he is even written in historical records as being this kind of man.

Brother Tim: But he was a man who withdrew to meditate in caves which suggests a philosophical disposition and it was his natural wisdom and capacity to adjudicate which emerged for all to witness before the first revelations.  That was done at retirement age.  He did not do that until his 50’s.

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: The Prophet (s.a.w.) was already known to have gone into seclusion from the very beginning.  He received Revelation from age 40.  It was in such seclusion that Surah al-‘Alaq was Revealed.

Brother Tim: Yes, I understood the hunafah had continued, or reverted to, Abrahamic monotheistic practices and so the Prophet (s.a.w.) did not just emerge as a ‘Muslim’ in a vacuum.

Brother Hajj Ahmad: No, not completely in a vacuum, but the hunafah were a very small group, and the majority of the Arabs were intensely pagan.

Brother Tim: There has always been a remnant amidst the sea of humanity

Brother Hajj Ahmad: The religion of Islam that the Prophet (s.a.w.) brought used many of the ancient customs that had turned pagan and purified them, such as the hajj.  Also, remember that when the Qur’an Speaks of historical incidents like the A’ad and Tsamud, these incidents and all the vocabulary used in the Qur’an were understood by them otherwise it would have made no sense.  The Qur’an merely reinterpreted the common knowledge of these incidents or concepts and made them Allah-centric in meaning.

Brother Trevor Skinner: No.

Brother Tim: I will take that as a qualified yes, Brother Trevor.

Brother Joel Troxell: It would be interesting to know out of those who reject the idea that Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) was a philosopher, who rejects this because of a categorical definition, and who rejects it because they just do not like the title ‘philosopher’ because of Imam al-Ghazali (r.a.) and the general dislike among Muslims of philosophy.

Brother Hajj Ahmad: My interpretation is the common one, Brother Joel, which I listed in a previous post.  Brother Tim then added metaphysical philosophy which is a genetically modified version but in fact is a version none the less.

Brother Tim: I suspect it is a prejudice born of the latter, Brother Joel, coupled with an encounter with academic western philosophy which is enough to put one of the word ‘philosopher’ for life.

Brother Trevor Skinner: Brother Tim, the original question reminds me of when a Sufi was asked, “Can a Sufi be a communist?”

The answer was, “Can a tree be a piece of cheese?”

Brother Tim: And yet who is to say that the God of the philosophers is not God?  Please do not ask a Sufi.

Brother Joel Troxell: I think it would be difficult to make the argument that he was a philosopher.  But that does not mean that Muslims should not be philosophers.  Islam certainly does have a tradition of philosophy, but it is obscured by a lack of interest, viewed as foreign or suspicious since it was not native to the time of Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.), and always subservient to other sciences in Islam.  There is no balance.

Brother Hajj Ahmad: That is right, Brother Tim, you remember what happened when Shaykh ibn al-‘Arabi (q.s.) was taken by his father in his early teens to see Imam ibn Rushd (r.a.).

Brother Tim: No, what happened?

Brother Hajj Ahmad: No one is saying philosophy is bad, Brother Joel, it is just limited to the mind.  That is okay, but it is what it is.

Brother Joel Troxell: But Brother Hajj, I do not think that is the case.  For Socrates, his pursuit if philosophy was a spiritual one, since he undertook his task at the behest of the oracle at Delphi and felt he was spoken to by God Himself on occasion.  The beauty of the Stoic system was that it was meant to bring the entire being of a person in accordance with nature.  Some of the saying of Epictetus read like devotional religious discourses.

Brother Hajj Ahmad: So true, Brother Joel.  Socrates and, after him, Plato and Plotinus were exceptions to the rule and also of an older order of Greek philosophy which linked the philosophy of the mind to unveiling of consciousness.  This is also still true in exceptional cases, but for the most part, if the philosophical discourse is not interwoven with a proven metaphysical system, it usually remains in the mind.

Brother Tim: That is really what I'm trying to tease out, Brother Joel.  ‘Islamic prophetic exceptionalism’ is a contradiction in terms.  There must be existential and spiritual commonalities at the level of fithrah, basic human consciousness, if tawhid means anything.  That is why I am interested in the work of Eric Voegelin who saw how the openings to transcendence in ancient Greece and Israel were so important: Voegelin & 21st Century Jihadism.

Brother Joel Troxell: Brother Hajj, I agree.  I think the reason why people view philosophy as a merely rational system is because now it is the discipline of the academia and no longer the discussion in the agora.  It is the exception today, since academics must maintain, at least, the semblance of objective distance from their work.  But by and large, that was not the rule.  It was the exception.  I think it is harder to see philosophy in relationship to another religion like Christianity because philosophy was already interwoven into Judaism by the time of Jesus (a.s.), and there are places where Jesus (a.s.) actually engaged in philosophical discourse.  From there, there were those like Justin Martyr who saw Plato as a “Christian before Christians” and considered philosophy as a divinely-appointed precursor to Jesus (a.s.) parallel to Judaism.  What makes philosophy so tricky for Islam is the nature of the Qur’an.  When something is considered Direct Speech from God, then you are going to find real resistance to the idea of philosophical narrative within the text itself.

Brother Hajj Ahmad: I will read this, Brother Tim, thanks.  My immediate response from my own personal insight is that there is a problem with trying to encapsulate the ‘experience’ of fithrah within the realm of language; and philosophy, to my understanding, is a very high order development of language and thinking.  The experience of the fitri self cannot be nailed down by words or concepts which is why a deeper understanding can usually only be obtained within the context of an ontological system or presentation.

Brother Tim: I would agree with that but also that there was a brilliant generation of Muslim philosophers who appreciated the Pre-Socratic, Platonic and Aristotelian heritage of ancient philosophy alongside the prophetic.  And it was not just their analytical thinking skills that they acknowledged but something in the Greek masters that Islam was essentially about too.

Brother Trevor Skinner: When the Sufi met the philosopher: Imam ibn Sina (r.a.) said, “What I know, he sees.”

Shaykh Abu Sa’id (q.s.) said, “What I see, he knows.”

Brother Hajj Ahmad: Yes, Brother Tim, that is true, but Shaykh ibn al-‘Arabi (q.s.) categorically dismissed most of them as philosophers, not men of kashf, unveiling, which is the necessary condition to access the experience of fithrah.

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: Since we are considering the influence of Aristotle and Plato, we should note that the Neo-Platonist faction of Muslims have been comprehensively refuted on many of these points tangentially mentioned: Mu’tazilah: The Rise of Muslim Rationalism.

Brother Tim: This does not address Neo-Platonism at all, Brother Terence.

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: Actually, it does, since the entire premise of Mu’tazilah thought pertaining to the Attributes are based on Platonic thought.  These included ideas that the universe could be eternal by itself, or that because of their understanding of free will, God cannot predict the future act of a person.

Brother Tim: It certainly shows the limits of rationalism in the context of a revealed religion but also the extent to which individuals were not allowed to be philosophical, on pain of death.

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: I am not sure how you arrived at that latter portion.  But certainly, rationalism itself is inadequate.  It presupposes that man is entirely logical, but that is a facade.  A person is emotional, and logic is used as an excuse to arrive at predetermined conclusions that have emotional weight to the individual.  That is the limitation of rationalist philosophy.  It can only conceive from prior experience.  It has no weight when conceptualising the ‘other’.  Rationalism by itself is an exercise to feed the ego.  It begins with cogito ergo sum, neglecting the fact that it is actually non sequitur since cogito does not necessarily point to the existence of the whole, only the existence of thoughts by themselves.  It then builds on this false understanding by assuming there is enough knowing to build a picture.  It is vainglorious and futile.

Brother Joel Troxell: Brother Terence, I do not think that is an adequate explanation of rationalism.  It presupposes that existence is logical and through the exercise of reason the human mind can ascertain truths about the universe.  It does not say that humans are by nature entirely logical.  Reason requires training.  The Stoics were very clear on that, and it is the basis of their psychological and ethical exercises.

You said, “A person is emotional, and logic is used as an excuse to arrive at predetermined conclusions that have emotional weight to the individual.  That is the limitation of rationalist philosophy.  It can only conceive from prior experience.  It has no weight when conceptualising the ‘other’.”  This is pretty much Nietzsche’s view of the fallacy of rationalism.  But the problem with this is it is a critique of the exercise of reason by most people, and is as apt a dismissal of reason as it is to say that Islam does not work because most Muslims fall short of its aims.  It was also Anton LaVey's criticism of the Judeo-Christian ethical system.

You then said, “Rationalism by itself is an exercise to feed the ego.  It begins with cogito ergo sum, neglecting the fact that it is actually non sequitur since cogito does not necessarily point to the existence of the whole, only the existence of thoughts by themselves.”  This was David Hume’s critique of rationalism, but it too, is problematic.  Both of the things you have put forth are dismissals of a priori knowledge, which ultimately arrives us at the position of empiricism.  I do not have time to get into it now, but empiricism is absolutely fatal to any form of theism, particularly Abrahamic theism, not to mention a theistic morality upon which a great deal of human society is based.  When I argue with an atheist, the two ideas that you have posited here are the first things I try to rhetorically kick out from under him.  In short, you are sounding a bit like an atheist here.

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: I have never read Hume, and I never thought much of Nietzsche.  But then, I have never thought much of unfettered rationalism itself.  I believe it is a tool to be exploited, not a system to be adhered to.  How rationalism works for me begins with the recognition that it is inherently tainted by our desire to be ‘right’.  As such, we much step beyond ourselves.  This is an exercise of spirituality, taswawwuf, a process known as tazkiyyah an-nafs.  The Qur’an appeals to the ‘aql, the rational mind.  But that appeal to ‘aql is conditional upon that ‘aql being purified of self-interest.  Thus, ‘aql must be paired with naql, the textual evidence.  Either by itself is incomplete and leads to tyranny.

Brother Hajj Ahmad: This is a fun thread.  Thanks to all for participating.  One quick comment before I am immersed in the daily routine: there are two types of ‘aql.  The lower type is based mostly on reason, the mind and intellectual reflection.  The second type referred to by the ‘arifin can be called the higher intellect.  This is the intellect that is illuminated by unveiling and discerns in the moment.  It does not rely on reason, and recognises that it operates by a Higher Source, but that does not mean it is unreasonable in its actions or words.

Brother Tim: I was only ever referring to the latter when talking of the philosopher.  The former is a debasement of philosophy.

Brother Sulayman Bates: I like to think of Islam as spirituality, philosophy and a social way of living all wrapped up in one beautiful package.

Brother Tim: That is exactly what Ancient Greek philosophy was, Brother Sulayman.

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: Whilst the Ancient Greeks had interesting ideas, the vast majority of it was rubbish.  What we have now is a synthesis of the very best of them.

Brother Joel Troxell: I think we owe a great deal of debt to the classical Greeks, particularly in the western world.  Thanks to their influence, a lot of the assumptions of the feudal world were called into question, particularly areas of theology, politics and dynamics of power.  We also cannot dismiss the entanglement of philosophy into Christianity and Judaism, given that just about every christological controversy boils down to Stoicism versus Platonism, or Platonism versus too much Platonism.  In Judeo-Christian thought, there is a very fine line between theology and philosophy.  I am not sure Islam is better off for staying out of dialogue in any real sense with philosophy, be it the classical philosophers or the modern existentialists.  It is, in my honest opinion, one of the main reasons why Islam has not been able to move freely in any substantial way in western civilisation.  Clusters of communities largely unto themselves who happen to be living in the West is not the same thing.

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: Actually, Islam has had a lot of discussions on philosophy.  Unlike the West, because of the geopolitical location of the Islamic world, the Muslims have had access, to digest and regurgitate philosophies from India, the Greater Middle East, the Far East and beyond.  Western thought has been limited by and large to only the Greeks.

Brother Joel Troxell: Right, but in the final sense of things, those who engaged in philosophy were considered suspect at best.  There is a kind of double-speak when it comes to philosophy and rationalism.  When a Muslim talks to a non-Muslim, they will say, “Hey, we gave you good manuscripts of Plato and Aristotle and ibn Sina and ibn Rushd!”  But when one Muslim talks to another, he will say, “Don't read ibn Rushd.  al-Ghazali gave him an intellectual smackdown and there is no room for philosophy in Islam.”  I am not nearly knowledgeable at all, but I can name a dozen scholars of Islam off the top of my head.  I can think of one living Muslim philosopher.  I cannot even remember his name.  All I know is he came up with the idea of the ‘Islamisation of knowledge.’  The reason is not for my lack of looking.  It comes down to Muslims, from the least to the most knowledgeable, do not consider philosophy to be worthwhile.

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: Imam al-Ghazali (r.a.) certainly refuted Imam ibn Rush (r.a.) in his Tahafut al-Falasifah.  And Imam ibn Rush (r.a.) responded with his Tahafut at-Tahafut.  Both of them used kalam and manthiq.  Every theologian of Islam was essentially a philosopher.  Theology is itself a form of philosophy.  Considering the number of sects, philosophy has always been very much alive in the Muslim tradition.  But any form of philosophy divorced from naql is viewed with either suspicion or contempt.  Consider, for example, Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica.  It was heavily influenced by the Mu’tazilah and the Murji’ah.  It was an attempt to address the indequacies of Augustinian theodicy.  Essentially, one cannot deny that Western Christian eschatology owes a debt to Muslim philosophy.  Or, the writings of Moses Maimonides and the question of Divine Attributes.  That is from Ash’arite theology.  We cannot engage in modern philosophy, irreligious or religious, without the Muslims.  Even Cartesian thought did not come directly from the Greeks.  That is Western rewriting of history.

Brother Colin Turner: The Quranic Exhortations to ‘think’, ‘reflect’, ‘use powers of reason’, ‘deliberate’ and so on would tend to suggest that philosophy as ‘the study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, and existence’ is a sine qua non of prophethood and, indeed, of being Muslim.

Brother Joel Troxell: I am familiar with the substance of Imam al-Ghazali’s (r.a.) rebuttal towards Imam ibn Rushd (r.a.), and I am not convinced.  Imam ibn Rushd (r.a.) was the only Muslim I have read thus far who was able to integrate Qur’anic exegesis and Greek understandings of nature successfully.  But that is neither here nor there.  I will concede your point about the influence of Muslims on western philosophy to a degree.  But that happened when Muslims dialogued with philosophers themselves.  They just happened to do it better than Christians, who had become exceedingly superstitious with a theology almost entirely divorced from the natural world.  But that was then.  That epoch of Islamic history is over and the Islam of today is not the same.  Currently, there is no place for philosophy in modern Islam.  It is not entirely honest to rest on the laurels of the past without admitting that, in the present state of things, there is no place for it today.

Brother Colin Turner: One of the reasons that ‘modern Islam’ is in utter disarray and desuetude is because our ‘scholars’ have repudiated philosophy and speculative theology.  It is our terrible loss.  And stupidity.

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: Now that is a different issue.  And it is part of a larger malaise.  It is not that there is no place for philosophy in modern Islam, but that there is no place for thinking.  Consider all our discussions on issues such as homosexuality, the hijab, the role of Muslims in non-Muslim environments; or consider what we have addressed in spirituality, jurisprudence and theology.  We are in an age known as Zaman Jahiliyyah ats-Tsani, the Second Age of Ignorance.  That is the fault of Muslims, not Islam.  Islam is merely the vehicle we use to understand the balance between ‘aql and naql.  What has happened here is that Muslim institutions, educational, political and social have been compromised.  It is an age of decline.  And it was something foretold by the Prophet (s.a.w.).  When else in the history of the Muslims would we have so many bankrupt preachers, deviant doctrines and corrupt leaders?  It is an age of moral and social decline.  When the practices and doctrines of religion become divorced from their causes and reasons, religion ceases to become theology and regresses into superstition.

Brother Colin Turner: Absolutely, Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis, giving credence to the old Sufi saying that Islam is in the books and Muslims are in the graves.

Brother Joel Troxell: I am not sure it is a different issue, Brother Terence.  There is an absence of thinking, but how can that happen with systematic attempts at dismantling rationalism as a discipline in itself?  Appeals to authority almost always end any discussion that questions the status quo in Islam.

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: An appeal to authority is not in itself a bad thing.  I am not a fan of this idea that every idea is valid and every person is credible.  Scholarship is to be respected.  As Imam al-Ghazali (r.a.) said, if we want to talk about a cup, we must know what a cup is.  Nowadays, the problem is not appeals to authority.  The problem is everyone thinks they are an authority, or that they choose an authority that appeals to their preconceived notion.  The value of searching for knowledge for the sake of knowledge is lost.  For example, we have had threads about people talking about ahadits.  It is not that discussions are shut down, but I am personally dismissive about people who want to have an opinion on the matter and the only thing they know comes from the Internet.  Or what they think.  I do not consider it an appeal to authority to state that if such a person does not know the technicalities of the science or has the foundational knowledge, then his opinion on the matter has no worth to me.  It is as logical as me saying I will not take driving advice from a person who has never owned a car.  People get hurt, and they consider this arrogant.  From what I see, the only arrogance is when someone thinks their limited opinion should carry as much weight as a scholar or a professional.  That is the disease of this age.

We should have authorities and we should respect them.  We do not worship them, and we have the right to scrutinise them and to seek another opinion.  But we must identify these authorities and learn from them.  Now, if these authorities do not like to be questioned, then leave them.  To be an authority on anything is to be challenged on it.

Brother Joel Troxell: The formal logical fallacy related to appeals to authority does not accept that all ideas are valid and every idea is credible.  It says that it is not a valid response to an argument to refute it by stating one's title or education in itself.  A PhD can be just as wrong in his ideas as anyone else, and his degree does not entitle him to dismiss without showing evidence.  That is what it means to appeal to authority.  Every shaykh I have ever spoken with resorts to this nonsense every time.

The issue of ahadits is one where the appeal to authority is used the most.  While I do not dismiss Islam’s oral tradition outright, I am highly skeptical of the epistemology used by Imam al-Bukhari (r.a.) and others to determine what is swahih.  I have raised these issues multiple times in many places beyond just here.  I am never met with any specific rebuttal as to why my understanding of the science of ahadits is incorrect, only that I am being disrespectful to those in the past who are clearly smarter than me, disrespectful to the ijma’ of the ‘ulama, or some other appeal to tradition or authority.  What you are saying is perfectly fine if scholars actually took the time to explain instead of resorting to retarded truisms like “those who know, know I’m right.”  But they do not.  I have spoken to one scholar who actually explains things.  Everyone else gets defensive and tries to scold me like a small child.

Questions and challenges can be used as teaching moments.  I do it fairly frequently when people say some nonsense from the Christian point of view.  I have yet to see any authority in Islam do that.  Well, again, one.  But he has been labelled a “neo-Mu’tazilah Zionist puppet”.

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: I cannot speak for elsewhere.  What I can say is that we attempt to explain things here.  And we are not shy of difficult topics.  But I reject the idea that an appeal to authority is the reason discussions are shut down.  That is simply not my experience, especially not here.  If that were so, we would not have threads stretching in the hundreds of comments.  I believe that both points are related.  On one hand, we do have people who claim some sort of authority on the basis of a title or credential.  That is how we all understand the appeal to authority.  But I believe that there is the other side of the coin.  And that is any demonstration of competency and credentials is viewed as an appeal to authority.  The underlying claim is that the opinion of the ignorant is equally valid.  Is it so difficult for people to say that they do not know enough to have an opinion on something?

An example would be the aforementioned issue of ahadits.  Imam al-Bukhari (r.a.) did not originate muswthalah al-ahadits.  So a criticism of ‘his’ methodology immediately diminishes the credibility of the one criticising as is the Quranist position we have had here.  Or, the ridiculous idea that the ahadits were compiled 300 years later when we know they were written in the time of the Prophet (s.a.w.).  Or, even more laughably, someone quoting a verse of the Qur’an with the world ‘hadits’ and claiming it to be a prohibition on the corpus.

Now, from our position of knowledge, how do we even address this?  Can we point out that there is obviously no knowledge of Arabic, and within the language itself certain things are so obvious that there is no dispute whatsoever?  Can we point out the technicalities of the matn, the sanad and the silsilah that leave no room for doubt as to the authenticity with the knowledge needed to understand it is non-existent?  It is like the Creationists criticising established evolutionary science when they have no foundational knowledge of biology, geology or any of the fields.  Or people criticising vaccines and dismissing everyone else as a conspiracy.  I am of the opinion that knowledge only comes when one acknowledges he is and behaves like a student.  The privilege of criticism in any field belongs to those who have understood.  It is not a right.  To believe that is to serve the cult of the ego.

Brother Joel Troxell: Brother Terence, I apologise if it seems I was suggesting that this group has the tendency to appeal to authority.  That has not been the case.  I am speaking of dialogue with Muslims in general.

As for your other points, I feel like you are lampooning points I have made in the past.  I am aware that the science of ahadits grading did not originate with Imam al-Bukhari (r.a.).  There is a general approach to authenticity based on a number of things, and each noteworthy muhaddits has had perhaps a slightly different take on it.  But the overall approach is based on certain epistemological assumptions about what constitutes knowledge delivered with a credible level of certainty, yes?  We can take those assumptions and compare them to modern understandings of epistemology.  At what point have I said, ‘Throw out all ahadits”?  Yes, ahadits were compiled during the life of the Prophet (s.a.w.); we know the names of the texts in which they were compiled, but we do not have those texts.  I am not casting stones at the entire idea of an oral system.  I am raising questions of epistemology, and the response from those with some supposed level of knowledge is to strawman what I am saying or to appeal to authority.  Do not tell me how complex a system is.  Complexity in and of itself means little.  Rube Goldberg machines are often complex.

You said, “Can we point out the technicalities of the matn, the sanad and the silsilah that leave no room for doubt as to the authenticity with the knowledge needed to understand it is non-existent?”  What would you consider to be the prerequisite knowledge that a person needs to entertain such a discussion?  I understand what those things are and I think I have a basic grasp on what gives a narration credibility.  When I raise questions, I am not doing so as a spoiled teenager rebelling against his parents.  If I am wrong, then I think it would be pretty simple for someone of knowledge to say, “Read this book, and then we will talk.”  Or something similar.

If someone is going to come to me and tell me that their system is so just and righteous as to require the bending of western civilisation in its entirety to fit with the Sunni understanding of the sunnah of the Prophet (s.a.w.), then of course I am going to raise questions about where such ideas come from and why.  Anyone with a cursory understanding of how Islam is interpreted and taught in the modern world knows that the suggestion of Islam being a universal religion is a fairy tale.  Since it is not, and it requires the bending of the will of the individual and the society to fit with how it is understood by those with authority, there will always be two questions: how does the current understanding of Islam emerge from the source materials such as the verification of the Qur’an and ahadits; and how are those source materials interpreted to justify the current interpretation of Islam?

I think just about every question I have ever raised has been along those lines.  While people here have been very kind, well-mannered, and have answered well, those who have ijazah or some title have been those who have been more likely to answer according to one logical fallacy or another, namely an appeal to authority.  I can understand that there are some who have no idea what they are talking about when they raise questions, and I can see the need to shut that sort of thing down.

Going back to the original question, historically philosophy was a way that helped keep a society honest and authentic.  Plato’s Socratic dialogues show him forcing discussion about relevant religious and political issues in Athens.  Kierkegaard’s ideas of angst and the teleological suspension of the ethical were aimed at forcing the individual to consider his relationship to God in the middle of a nation that assumed that their status with God was a corporate one and they did not need to consider questions of individual responsibility.  I am deeply concerned for the authenticity of any group of people that does not make room for philosophical dialogue, and I think we perhaps can agree that Islam has increasingly squelched free thought by eliminating philosophical speculation and dialogue as something acceptable among its adherents.  So, what is to be done?  I think most Muslims do not value any sort of emphasis on training Muslims to think and dialogue logically or rationally.  There is the sense that such an approach is foreign to Islam.  I find that problematic.

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: Brother Joel Troxell, I have never lampooned any of your points.  Your feelings to that effect are your projection.  When I am truly displeased with someone, and that only happens when the other party is rude, I do not beat about the bush with my replies.  That has never been my nature.

You should note that I am speaking in general, based on our collective experience in this group and elsewhere.  Nowhere is this conversation am I talking about you specifically.  We always do our best to address every issue, especially topics that are summarily dismissed elsewhere.  I am a convert.  I know what it is like to be told we should not question things.  I agree that we should question everything.  My pet peeve are people who ask questions and then do not take the time to stay for the answers.  You have never done that and that is a credit to you.

Going back to the topic, I am actually a fan of Plato, not so much Aristotle who I consider over-rated.  Whilst I respect the Platonic methodology, I am less enamoured with the neo-Platonic doctrines.  Soren Kierkegaard, on the other hand, would have found a place in the pantheon of theistic greats.  If I may posit, Parmenides is someone we should revisit.  He was the first Greek philosopher that I know of who attempted to unravel the kun fa yakun, ‘be and it is’.  That was perhaps the basis of much of Western philosophy.  Even cogito ergo sum actually comes down to this.

Brother Tim: And Parmenides is where Peter Kingsley comes in, as I have mentioned twice already in this thread: Parmenides & Empedocles.  More of this in his book here: The Spiritual Tradition & the Roots of Western Civilisation.

Brother Hajj Ahmad: Brother Joel, brilliant post above.  I am saving that one, brother.  I must qualify that my posts were directed at the original post on this thread.  I have nowhere near the breadth of philosophical knowledge to judge which philosophers were within the embrace of ontology in their writings.  The whole issue of the epistemological basis underlying the authoritarian premises of ahadits is quite faulty, and there are those who refuse to re-examine this issue along more rational lines as though the ancients had some sort of unassailable position to relate what happened over 1,400 years ago.  Ahadits must be subjected to reason rather than the faulty position of transmitted authority which has persisted since the time of the Prophet (s.a.w.).


6 comments:

  1. Salam brother. I think if one wish to follow a crash course of misguidance then your blog would get an oscar in that category. I'm a sufi by the way and what you've created here is a machine of misguiding new converts and people who have weak faith. I pray for you that you understand the destruction which could come from over excessive use of reasoning which God has given us. You apply too much reasoning on the path of truth that it can become a misguidance instead of guidance. Don't forget Azazil is more intelligent than humans and knows God best in his creatures. Known for his tremendous worship and unshakable tawhid. Don't take this comment in wrong way, sorry If I have offended you but falsehood is not a mere illusion it is very real.

    "Whoever builds his faith exclusively on demonstrative proofs and deductive arguments, builds a faith on which it is impossible to rely. For he is affected by the negativities of constant objections. Certainty (al-yaqin) does not derive from the evidences of the mind but pours out from the depths of the heart." - Muhyi Al Din Ibn Arabi (rahimahullah)

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    1. Wa as-Salaam,

      Firstly, one is only a Sufi when one has arrived. A Sufi will never claim to be a Sufi, so do not pretend to be one.

      Secondly, this is a discussion thread from a convert group, and people have the right to reason things out. None of us came to Islam by shutting down our 'aql, and it should not be shut on the basis that Muslims are uncomfortable with thinking.

      Do you even know which person o the thread is me, and what my position is before you jump all the place with your conclusions? Is this what you shaykh taught you? I suggest you go back and relearn your religion first before thinking you are some authority on the matter. You do not even have the adab to leave your name.

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  2. Salam brother,

    Brother, I don't want to come off as a rude person but what I wrote was with good intentions. An initiate in this path is also a Sufi. The one who is travelling to Allah by means of love and Ibadah is a Sufi. On the other hand the one who is arrived at Allah's countenance is 'arif. 'arif is a sufi but not every sufi is 'arif.

    As to the reason of my self claim to be a sufi is because I thought you would think my comment as a Wahabi hate speech.

    You objected that 'You came to Islam not by shutting down your 'aql'. Brother you should know that previously you were on the concept of falsehood i.e Trinity that's why it was necessary to reason things out back then and to use 'aql in that circumstance. Now that you have arrived on path of Truth i.e Islam you won't gain any benefit by using 'aql because you are already treading Sirat-al-Mustaqim. Allah (exalted is he) created 'aql in order to make humans such that they can find and accept truth from falsehood. Once they are on truth, the use of 'aql is not necessary infact it is not constructive anymore. Imam Ghazali (rahimahulla) said "Path to misguidance are countless and path to truth is only one". I know many followers of sufism who claim that there are various paths of truth with varying intensities of truth and it is totally delusion on their part. The only path of truth is following the prophet (s.a.w) and one who uses a lot of 'aql is going to produce constant doubts. When one arrive at this path he/she should abandon the 'aql and use the love as cornerstone to attain closeness to Allah (exalted is he).

    Our Shuyukh taught us to 'enjoing good and forbidding evil' firstly in ourselves and then in our brothers and those who have yet to arrive on Sirat-al-Mustaqeem i.e Islam. I came across your blog through google and I've found many articles on this blog particularly on tawhid to be excessive because this kind of tawhid has probability of loss more than its benefit. New converts and laymen who lack basic understanding of doctrine would misguide themselves by accepting pantheism as tawhid through your articles, on the other hand, there are various other articles I've found illuminating.

    Ofcourse I'm not an authority of religion and you will most likely reject my opinion but it is made with good intentions though it may appear rude. I apologize if I have offended you which was not my intention here.

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    1. Wa as-Salaam,

      The initiate of the Path is either a salik, or a muhib or a murid, but not a Sufi. Shaykh 'Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani (q.s.) has defined it thus according to four points. And one of the conditions is swafa', meaning the state of nafs asw-swafiyyah. An 'arif need not be in a thariqa'.

      I reject this idea that we should abandon 'aql. It suffices the common people to engage in pure taqlid, but without 'aql, there will never be depth in ‘ilm. If every Muslim abandoned 'aql, as most have, we would be left with an ummah of emotional idiots. It is precisely this abandonment of 'aql, of muhasabah and of the intent of the sunnah that we have arrived at this backwardness.

      We have to be honest here. The Muslim community is full of uneducated fools misusing the religion to their on ends. We did not come to Islam to be infected by the disease of the Muslims, of laziness in their intellect, of heedlessness in worship, of disrespect of knowledge.

      Religion is to be questioned to the depths. Every hukm and every fatwa should be torn to the basics so we understand the exact basis of it. Every ayat and every hadits should be examined in exacting detail. That is the love of knowledge. You cannot follow a religion you do not understand. You cannot love a God you do not know. It is only with the thirst for knowledge that you arrive at the shore of 'ilm. And when you have tasted that, that is 'irfan. You have limited God to your level, when He is Unlimited. There is nothing wrong with 'aql; you have conflated it with nafs.

      It is because people who claim to follow thariqa’, but do not know the foundations of their ‘aqidah that we have groups like the Wahhabis running around, and when they challenge us on the foundations of religion, you have no answers because you left ‘aql behind. The path of the ‘ulama is a Blessed path, and we cannot have that if we leave ‘aql behind. We must train Muslims to think, to consider and to question everything. A doctrine that cannot be defended has no worth.

      Wa as-Salaam

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    2. Salam Brother,
      In my opinion faith and reason are opposites. If you hold religion by faith it means you've complete trust or confidence in religion. If you're reasoning about your faith in religion then it implies you don't have faith, otherwise you wouldn't question it. Since questions arise from reasoning I can say that one who is questioning his faith has no faith at all. There are a lot of saheeh hadith of Prophet (s.a.w) where he clearly said previous ummahs were destroyed/perished due to excessive questioning in matters of religion. Excessive questioning one's religion or faith doesn't increase him in Taqwa, it'll create more doubts and confusion regarding religion.

      When you love something, you don't question that thing and it is my understanding. When you love the hukm and fatwas of the scholars of Islam you won't question them either. One follows a religion because he loves his religion rather than he understands it. We cannot understand the love, it is simply there. Abu bakr (r) never questioned prophet's opinion (s.a.w) because he loved him and knew that Prophet (s.a.w) won't do anything except what is best for Abu bakr (r). You're mixing 'ilm al kalam with 'ilm brother. 'ilm is what reached us through Allah's (exalted is he) messenger (s.a.w) and what Allah (exalted is he) inspires us through divine dreams. That 'ilm has nothing to do with reasoning, 'ilm is beautiful a gift from Allah (exalted is he). By reasoning you create ilm al kalam which is very dangerous for laymen. Imam Shafie (Rahimahulla) said regarding it, 'there should be a certain number of men trained in kalam to defend and purify the faith, but that it would be a great evil if their arguments should become known to the mass of the people'. Imam Ghazali (rahimahullah) also discouraged laymen from studying 'ilm al Kalam'.

      To defend the aqidah from fanatics like Wahabis is the task of learned men not laymen. You seem to encourage every Muslim to engage in this kind of 'ilm which can be very dangerous for their faith.

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  3. Wa as-Salaam,

    Faith without reason is superstition. Are you then implying that the scholars of the religion question and hypothetise because they have no faith? The Hanafi madzhab engages in speculative fiqh. Does that mean Imam Abu Hanifah (r.a.) and his madzhab do not have faith? That is nonsensical.

    The Prophet (s.a.w.) spoke of previous umam who questioned excessively in issues of legislation, not theology, and the example is Given in Surah al-Baqarah, about Bani Isra'il and the cow. A man of knowledge knows that. A man who claims love is enough uses his 'aql, ironically, and arrives at a different conclusion.

    If your questioning leads to doubt, then the niyyat is not purified. Have you forgotten the hadits, "Actions are by intentions..."? This is the very first hadits from Imam an-Nawawi's (r.a.) Ahadits Arba'in. When you love something, you want to know more about it. If your love is based on contentment only, then you will never find that thirst beyond thirst that Mawlana Jalal ad-Din ar-Rumi (q.s.) speaks about.

    And now, you bring in 'ilm al-kalam, which is a special category of 'aql. So on the basis of a narration taken in isolation, without a context, you have mistaken kalam for 'aql and ijtihad and thrown them all away? This means you do not know the definition of what you speak off. And if you do not know that, then, although you mean well, your naswihah is from Shaythan since it is breeds from ignorant arrogance and that leads people away from religion.

    You are also assuming I am a 'layman'. I studied this religion for more than a decade. Do you assume that every convert is a fool?

    This is what I believe, that 'love' without knowledge has merit, but it is not real since the one who loves, loves a conception and an image, not the 'real'. Anything that calls people away from 'ilm, calls people away from al-'Alim. Your understanding is limited and so is your capacity. That it suffices you, is your path. It does not mean it should suffice everyone else. Our religion is striving, and striving in knowledge is also striving.

    As for the quote of Imam ash-Shafi'i (r.a.), it pertains to a specific time and place, and a specific condition. If you had learned your religion well, instead of leaving off 'ilm for pretentions of ‘love’, you would know the answer to this.

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