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« The intolerance of secular fundamentalism | Main | The silence is so loud... »

July 07, 2004



>>>I think Muslims should begin by tackling the tough questions on creating and discovering knowledge, how we get this knowledge, and how and for what purpose we classify it. It is no good discussing the philosophy of a 11th-century theologian...<<<

I dropped out of a PhD philosophy program. Not for the reasons I am about to list, but I certainly thought about them.

I think that if you are approaching Philosophy from the "Muslim" (God-conscious) perspective, you have no choice but to start at the 11th century theologians. And even after you master them all and start writing your own work, you are going to sound very much like the mutakallimeen. You say we need to begin by asking questions like how knowledge is created, how it comes about, and for what purposes we have it. But, if philosophy is the search for ultimate answers (in tiny steps), and you already BELIEVE in an ultimate embodiment of truth, namely God, then your epistemology and linguistic analysis is going to become nothing more than a creative way by which to link the analysis with God. The problem is, that we don't call that Philosophy, but spirituality, or literature, or metaphysics. Back in the middle-ages, we did for a while categorize this type of ex post facto reasoning as philosophy, though it was shortly renamed kalam, and the other type of philosophy - in which you assume the position that you are searching for 'truth' no matter where it leads (even away from God)...was severely rebuked and all but eliminated. I think you should only promote "philosophy" to Muslims if you are willing to accept them ending up in a state of God-denial. You personally may even be this open-minded. I am too. But I don't think the majority of Muslims are going to want to accept it. That's why they reject 'philosophy' from the get-go; or if it is permitted, it is permitted with 'limits' - i.e. go up to this point and then stop.

Philosophy, if it is known by its other name, free-thinking, is going to want to challenge the hypothesis that all things lead back to God. The only way I see Muslims doing "philosophy" is if what philosophy is defined as is changed. In other words, if you can make "philosophy" and Kalam synonymous, then I think you're good to go. (Unfortunately, Nietzsche and Descartes will still lurk out there and will have to be banned).


"But, if philosophy is the search for ultimate answers (in tiny steps)..."

I am not sure it philosophy is such an activity anymore, even if philosophers make such claims for their activity (which I don't think they do). But then I've been reading too much Hacking lately.

In any case, my concerns were not neccasrily about "free-thinking" (free of what? Language? Culture? Experience? Life?). They were a little more specific, and you're right to highlight the limitations that my suggestion will pose.


Finally, somebody who shares my sentiments on philosophy. Well said Thebit. (Is your name pronounced The-bit or Sabit?)


Thanks, Abdus Salaam.

Yes, thabet (or thebit) is with a 'theen'. (So if you're South Asian it is 'sabit'.)

Frank Goodman

Some would separate religion from philosophy, the mundane life from the spiritual, work from play, and fact from reason. I submit that all fall into the one reality on the threshold of knowledge of Allah who is Truth. Man is aware of only two distinctions, Truth and Deception. The Qu'ran holds out Al Haq as a name for Allah. It is also clear that the Qu'ran holds out Deception as a name for Shaytan. The essence of deception is the use of truth to deceive. That is the original sin of the Christian construction. Muslims struggle (in Jihad) to avoid the influence of Shaytan. Yet in all theology and philosophy, the path to ultimate truth is through the valley of the domain of Shaytan. Some scholars lead us better than others, but other 'scholars' are the deciples of Shaytan. The true prophets were deciples of Truth who is Allah. True philosophers lead to the threshold of ones own knowledge of truth, which is faith after all. Allah (Truth) does not deceive, but Shaytan takes over the mind of the unwary. It is the human condition of uncertainty which creates the need for faith, whether in science, philosophy, or religion. Beware that your faith lay not with Shaytan.


Muslim nation is in dire need of introducing philosophy in its society. Many Muslim scholars already have sufficiently shown that true philosophy would try to interpret religion on rational footings so there is no real clash between religion and philosophy. We are in need of not only to determine the nature of knowledge and related issues but there is also need to determine the root causes and implications of our ethical standards.




as-salaam alaykum,

ah, but taboos are useful things. if we accept that philosophy is beneficial (perhaps even necessary) in certain cases and certain hands, there are other cases and other hands by which it can be corrosive of justly held beliefs. this is not to say that our convictions should be immune from scrutiny, but rather to observe that poor criticisms can be just as damaging as good ones (and have often done their harm by the time they are successfully refuted).

see my more limited defense of philosophy at ("Philosophy as Fashion", 7 Sep).

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