Thursday, November 22, 2007

Characteristics of the Current Islamic Thought

The following is a chapter from the book 'The Way of thinking' by Hasan Abdullah, soon to be published by Revival Publications.

Islam today is acquired and studied through these methods, and it is obvious by their nature that they cannot establish any Islamic thinking. As a result of their prevalence, idleness in thinking, and superficial and emotional thinking are encompassing the current thinking of Muslims in spite of the tremendous number of Muslims studying Islam in universities, masjids, and institutions, and the increasing number of Shaykhs. These methods naturally lead to such a situation because Islam is no longer viewed as an ideology that shapes the point of view towards life. Rather, Islam is taken either as rigid or static information, or as stories to appease the emotions. Following are some characteristics of the current thinking of the Muslim Ummah that have emerged as a result of acquiring Islam through these methods.

Superficial Thinking

Thinking can be characterized as either superficial, profound, or enlightened. The superficial thinking results from a lack of deep and comprehensive study of the situation, and the individual who resorts to this thinking is content with looking at the surface of any event or situation. This superficial though reflects in the current political thinking of the Muslims. When Muslims look to the existing states in the Muslim world, they think that these states are independent and that the rulers have their own will simply because they each have their own borders, flag, constitution, and membership in international organizations. However, if the same person who reaches this conclusion would spend time studying the reality of these states, how they were developed, and their relationship with the West, he would not conclude that these states are independent.

Another example of superficial thinking is claiming that Democracy parallels the Shura that Islam calls for based solely upon the fact that Islam recommends consultation and gives the Ummah the right to choose the Khalifah. However, closely examining the ideological basis of Democracy in a profound way will reveal that Democracy is a specific system based on the notion that the human being has the right to make his own laws and decide for himself his own standards of right and wrong. This notion contradicts the basis of the Islamic system, which states that only Allah (swt) has the right to make laws and decide what is halal and haram while the human being has only the right to understand and implement these laws. Not only do the Democratic and Islamic systems differ in the source of their laws but in the process of extracting the laws from the legal sources. Whereas in Democracy the process of extracting laws is governed by the prevailing interests of the society, in Islam the process of extracting laws in done through ijtihad, which is a specific process that is dictated by the Arabic language and the strength of the evidence from the legal text. Furthermore, the institution of Shura as defined by Islam is distinct from the functions of the Congresses and Parliaments of the West.

Still another example of superficial thinking among Muslims is seen in the evaluation of some individuals and movements by their external features without attempting to study what they call for, how they think, how they were established, and other factors, in a profound and critical way. No one can be a good person by the mere fact that he is a member of a specific group or because he has a long beard or holds a religious position. By the same token, no group or institution can be considered Islamic simply because it carries the name of Islam and its founders are Muslims. Both cases require probing beyond the apparent features and scrutinizing any individual or group that claims the name of Islam.

Because this type of thinking requires very little effort, most people find its utilization easy. And with the passage of time, individuals will gradually be content with this type of thinking if left to their own devices. This type of thinking has to be fought because of its lack of productivity, both for the individual as well as for the Ummah.

Contrary to the superficial thinking, the profound thinking is produced by conducting a deep study of the issue at hand as well as by analyzing and scrutinizing both the situation and the information related to the situation deeply. In examining a table, the superficial thinker would focus only on the apparent features, and would thus conclude that a table with a brownish colour and four supports exists. A deep thinker would scrutinize the table more profoundly, which would result in information about the table’s physical composition, the specific type of wood used, and other physical parameters such as its hardness and its dimensions. Thus, the deep thinking is sufficient in fields such as chemistry or physics. However, due to its nature, the profound thinking does not require from the individual in the lab to think about other issues beyond the material at hand, such as where the material came from or its relationship to the surroundings.

The highest level of thinking is the enlightened or comprehensive thinking. This type of thinking is needed in areas or fields which require thinking deeply about a specific situation or issue in addition to thinking comprehensively by connecting the issue or situation at hand to other situations or issues. Areas such as political analysis and jurisprudence require this type of thinking. In the field of jurisprudence, the person must utilize the enlightened thinking in order to think about the situation, refer back to the legal texts addressing the situation, understand and analyze the texts according to a specific methodology, and then apply this understanding to the situation. In the example of the table, an enlightened thinker would think deeply about the table with all of its physical features, in addition to thinking about where and how the table was constructed, where the material used to construct the table came from, and the relationship of the table to the rest of the furniture and the overall setup of the room.

To more vividly illustrate the distinction between the three types of thinking, some examples are needed. Calling to establish a Palestinian state in the West bank and Gaza would constitute superficial thinking. As a result, a superficial person will perceive only the surface value of this slogan and will look to those who call for such a state as heroes and saviours. However, thinking deeply about this state in terms of its resources and internal situation would lead a profound thinker to conclude that such a state is impossible to emerge and sustain itself, and that the call to establish such a state is a mission impossible. And an enlightened thinker would not only scrutinize the Palestinian state itself but would connect this situation with the plans of the superpowers in the region and their relationship with the different parties in the Middle East. Based on this comprehensive research, the enlightened thinker would conclude that the issue extends beyond the impossible and dreaming about impossible things. From this context, the issue of the Palestinian state will be viewed as part of a wider plan that calls for establishing a Palestinian entity, either as a buffer zone or as a connection between Israel and the other neighbours, where the one who calls for such a state is only a player in this game.

Another example to illustrate the distinction between the three types of thinking is seen in the Missionary invasion of the Uthmani Khilafah which began in the 17th century. A superficial thinker would look at such a situation as a group of people who came to the Islamic State, opened up various missionary organizations, associations, and schools, in order to preach Christianity and endorse education in various sciences. The deep thinker would scrutinize these Missionary movements and examine the reality of their organizations and their ideas. Based on this profound study, such a person would conclude that these Missionary organizations were in fact calling for Nationalism, Western Culture, and other corrupt ideas that seeped into the thinking of the Muslims. And the enlightened thinker would scrutinize the nature and reality of these movements and what they were calling for, in addition to thinking about the origins of such a movements, their ultimate objective, and their relationship to the West and its objectives. Such a comprehensive thinking process which would encompass all the issues related to the Missionaries would conclude that the Missionary movement was a continuation of the West’s objective of diverting the Muslims from their ideology with the overall objective of dismantling the Khilafah and colonizing the Muslim world.

The superficial thinking has to be fought, and the Muslims must be trained to think not only profoundly but comprehensively because such an enlightened thinking process is the only way for the Muslim Ummah to understand its situation and its course of action in this life. The development of profound and enlightened thinking can materialize by presenting case studies and continuing to work with the individuals until they will never be content with their thinking until they think in a profound and enlightened manner.

Thinking Based on Imitation

When the thinking level declines, the individual will be unable to conduct any original research on his own. In this situation, the individual will adopt already-existing ideas established by others when faced with any case or issue that requires any type of original thought or research. Whether in political, legal, or any other issues, such a person will turn to others to provide him with the answers. And after taking the answer or opinion from others, he will defend and justify this opinion as if it was his own without researching the related evidences, only because of his trust in the one who established the opinion.

This type of thinking is widespread among Muslims in spite of their large numbers, whereas the amount of original thinking is almost non-existent. Such taqleed (imitation) is acceptable in fiqh for those unable to conduct ijtihad and is also acceptable for the mujtahid is some issues where he does not have to exercise his own ijtihad. However, this type of thinking is not allowed in the Aqeedah, as it is well known that Muslims are prohibited from adopting their Aqeedah through taqleed. Such an approach towards the Aqeedah originated from the non-Muslims who simply follow their ancestors without initiating any type of thinking or research into their beliefs. Furthermore, the definition of Iman leaves no room for the taqleed in the Aqeedah because Iman is defined as the conclusive belief that agrees with the reality and is based on conclusive evidences. Taqleed cannot establish such an Iman because it requires thinking about the issue and building one’s case based on daleels that establish the conclusive belief. Therefore, it is incorrect for anyone to say "I believe in Allah and the Messenger" because his father or shaykh said so.

Regarding the political thinking and the intellectual issues, the prevalence of taqleed in these areas is a strong indicator of the declined status of Muslims. The Muslim cannot shift aimlessly from one opinion to another while having no opinion or original thinking of his own. Rather, he must build his culture and thinking based on original research and study. If the Ummah carries a creative way of thinking, its members will no longer constitute a discordant mass of bodies that will shuttle from one opinion to another like cattle. Furthermore, the members of such an Ummah will no longer accept for themselves to follow personalities, which will translate into a creative Muslim Ummah.

Because of the taqleed and the lack of thinking and creativity, the thinking of Muslims was reduced to a personalized type of thinking that became connected with personalities and not ideas. Nowadays the idea carries no value unless it is connected to a well-established or high-ranking personality. And any existing research in this case will focus on the person and not the thought (i.e., the discussion will emphasize "Who said what" rather than "What is being said."). Any person who opposes the opinions of such personalities will be attacked severely, and the "character assassination" will dominate the focus of any discussion. At the end, the individual will view the correct idea as the idea that comes from a personality that he respects, and the wrong idea is the idea that comes from a person that he does not respect. And the only way to explain the fallacy of any idea in this context will be to focus the discussion on the personalities.

Such an approach indicates the lack of thinking among Muslims. When the Muslims had a high level of understanding, they would evaluate the personalities based on the ideas they carried and not vice versa. Ali (ra) used to say, "Recognize the truth first; then, afterwards, you will be able to recognize the people who adhere to the truth." Furthermore, they realized that digging into the intentions of the individuals and discussing their personalities was not their function because only Allah knows the intentions and what is hidden in the hearts of men. Even when some Muslim scholars began documenting the reliability of hadith reporters, they never probed into the hidden or attempted to decipher the intentions of the reporters. Instead, they addressed each reporter from the perspective of his truthfulness, accuracy, and his memorization capability in relaying the report.

Therefore, the entire discussion should focus on the issues and the ideas where the evidence, and not a personality, serves as the reference. Only through independent thinking and encouraging the sound and original research can Muslims break free of this imitation and the intellectual tribalism that is resulting from it.

Thinking in Areas That do not Require Thinking

In everyday life, there are areas that require deep and comprehensive thinking, such as political events or conducting research in the lab, or searching for the evidence in a legal matter. In addition, there are situations that need to be addressed by thinking, such as how to deal with an attack and what specific strategies and measures to undertake. Such an incident was demonstrated by the Prophet (saaw) during the Battle of Al-Khandaq, in which the Prophet (saaw) initiated numerous tactics which required extensive thinking about the situation in order to effectively counter the attack upon Medina.

On the other hand, there are situations and issues which do not require thinking. One does not need to conduct lengthy experiments and engage in extensive study to prove that water fulfils the need of a thirsty person or to prove that any nation must protect itself against its enemies. Such issues are plainly obvious from everyday experience. Also, when a Muslim hears the Adhan, he does not need to think about how to perform the wudu because this action is so well-known to him that he automatically does it without any need to think about the movements. While a new Muslim may initially require a few demonstrations of the wudu, he does not need to philosophize the wudu every time he needs to perform it.

However, Muslims lost this fine line that separates what requires thinking from what does not require thinking. As a result, Muslims began discussing in a very lengthy and detailed fashion issues that do not require such detail. A shaykh would exhaust one year explaining the rules of wudu to the people, although a few practical demonstrations would suffice. In addition, other individuals would write volumes upon volumes of literature about wudu, taharah, the movements of the salat, and other such issues.

Similarly, Muslims have begun discussing trivial issues that keep them occupied from discussing more critical issues that affect their status quo. Nowadays, one finds extensive research and books written discussing the beard, its length, its shape, and whether we are allowed to dye it and with what color. Also, one would find lengthy research on moving the index finger during the tashahud, whether it should be raised or wiggled, and whether the finger should be straight or slightly bent. On the other hand, no serious and comprehensive discussion or research exists about issues such as the oil industry, who has the right to own it, and its relationship to the state. To illustrate this trend, a journal published by the religious establishment of Saudi Arabia a series of articles discussing in extensive detail the possibility of landing on the moon and whether or not the earth revolves around the sun, while ironically no article exists discussing the Hukm Shar’i of the Peace Process or the Hukm Shar’i regarding the exploitation of the Ummah’s resources by the current regimes.

Such a distorted thinking process exists despite the fact that Islam teaches Muslims how to prioritize their issues. Within this context, a man found a date and came to Umar asking him what he should do with it. The man was referring to a rule in Islam which states that if one finds something, he needs to identify it for a period of time, and if no one comes to claim it, then the object is the property of the one who found it and he would have to pay 20% of its value as Zakat. Umar told that man, "Eat it, Oh disgusting person." In another incident, after the murder of Husayn ibn Ali, a man came to Abdullah ibn Umar during the following Hajj and asked him whether he can kill a mosquito while in the state of ihram within the borders of Al-Haram. Abdullah ibn Umar asked him, "Where did you come from?" and the man replied, "I came from Kufa." Instead of answering him, Abdullah ibn Umar addressed those sitting next to him: "Look to those people! They shed the blood of the grandson of Rasulullah (saaw), and now he wants to ask about the blood of a mosquito."

Thinking in Metaphysics

In order to address this issue, one must realize that the thinking process requires that the individual sense and comprehend the issue at hand. No one can think about issues that are beyond the scope of their senses unless an authentic evidence regarding such issues comes from a source that the rationale has already established as credible. Within this context, Muslims believe in the Jinn, the Angels, the Day of Judgment, Paradise and Hell-fire, and other aspects of the Ghaib. The belief in such realities is built upon the conclusive evidence that is established through the intellect, to be distinguished from metaphysics, which is based upon pure speculation.

Recently, the metaphysical thinking has seeped into the thinking process of the Muslims.

Nowadays, the Muslims manifest the metaphysical thinking in two aspects:

Thinking in issues that lay beyond the senses and are part of the Ghaib

Failure to understand the limits of the thinking process and the human mind has resulted in Muslims discussing issues related to the Ghaib using their own mind and senses. As a result, issues such as the jinn occupy a very large space in the thinking of Muslims, to the extent that some even claim that they can communicate with the jinn. Another example of such an issue is the discussion that revolves around the Attributes of Allah and whether or not they are part of His Entity. Although Muslims must believe in the existence of such realities, this belief must be limited to the text of the evidence and cannot venture beyond it because the thinking process requires sensation in order to occur. Attempting to initiate the thinking process upon realities that the human mind cannot comprehend or sense will result in speculative imagination devoid of any thought.

Many reasons contributed to such a level of thinking. One important reason is that discussing the current situation of the Muslim Ummah may lead to some problems with the ruling elite. As a result, people would shift towards such issues because they may not be problematic to the ruling establishments. In fact, the ruling elite may even encourage this type of thinking to distract the Muslims from the real issues facing them. Another reason is that the low level of thinking that exists among Muslims may push the individuals to discuss such issues because metaphysics does not require serious thinking, which is difficult for many people to initiate. All that metaphysical thinking requires is bringing stories and unleashing the imagination without the need to establish any concrete evidence to build a case or argument, which is something that anyone can do with relative ease and comfort.

What Muslims fail to realize is that the Qur’an and the Sunnah themselves shifted their thinking away from the direction of metaphysics. Allah (swt) in Surat Al-Kahf, after talking about the number of people who were inside the cave, said:

سَيَقُولُونَ ثَلَاثَةٌ رَابِعُهُمْ كَلْبُهُمْ وَيَقُولُونَ خَمْسَةٌ سَادِسُهُمْ كَلْبُهُمْ رَجْمًا بِالْغَيْبِ وَيَقُولُونَ سَبْعَةٌ وَثَامِنُهُمْ كَلْبُهُمْ قُلْ رَبِّي أَعْلَمُ بِعِدَّتِهِمْ مَا يَعْلَمُهُمْ إِلَّا قَلِيلٌ فَلَا تُمَارِ فِيهِمْ إِلَّا مِرَاءً ظَاهِرًا وَلَا تَسْتَفْتِ فِيهِمْ مِنْهُمْ أَحَدًا

"(Some) say they are three, the dog being the fourth among them; (others) say they were five, the dog being the sixth – guessing at the unseen; (yet others) say they were seven, the dog being the eighth. Say (O Muhammad), ‘My Lord knows best their number; none knows them but a few.’ So debate not (about their number, etc.) except with the clear proof." [TMQ 18:22]

Furthermore, a man came to the Prophet (saaw) asking him about the time of the Day of Judgment. The Prophet (saaw) asked him, "What did you prepare for it?" (Bukhari & Muslim). Thus, the Prophet (saaw) shifted the man’s thinking from the Ghaib to the practical aspect of the issue.

Neglecting the reality of Cause and Effect and Behaving based on Qadriyya Ghaibiyya

Qadriyya Ghaibiyya refers to shifting the connection of the actions from the Hukm Shar’i to what someone may imagine as the Knowledge of Allah. Examples of such a mentality are claiming that the current backwardness and decline of the Muslims is their destiny that cannot be addressed or changed, or using the Du’a as the only means of changing the situation of Muslims without initiating any action, or claiming that the jinn and the shayateen are the cause of some diseases and that the only way to cure the disease is to communicate with them.

Muslims must believe that Cause-and-Effect is a natural law that Allah (swt) set in this universe. The effect will occur only if the cause exists. For example, victory cannot materialize unless its causes exist, such as the army’s firm conviction in its objectives, the shrewdness of the leaders, and the level of preparation and planning. Also, curing a disease has a cause, which is the correct medication. The Prophet (saaw) said, "O servant of Allah! Seek medical treatment since Allah created the disease and the medication."[1]

In one incident, a man came to the Prophet (saaw) asking him to make Du’a to his camel to cure her from a skin disease. The Prophet (saaw) told the man, "Add to your Du’a some tar," indicating that the Du’a by itself will not accomplish the objective. In another incident, the Prophet (saaw) told a man who wanted to unleash his camel while depending on the tawakkul to protect her, "Leash her, and have tawakkul." (Reported by Tirmidhi)

By the same token, reviving the Muslims from their current status quo will occur not by Du’a and ibadah alone but through initiating the change and working towards creating the revival. Allah (swt) says clearly:

لَهُ مُعَقِّبَاتٌ مِنْ بَيْنِ يَدَيْهِ وَمِنْ خَلْفِهِ يَحْفَظُونَهُ مِنْ أَمْرِ اللَّهِ إِنَّ اللَّهَ لَا يُغَيِّرُ مَا بِقَوْمٍ حَتَّى يُغَيِّرُوا مَا بِأَنْفُسِهِمْ وَإِذَا أَرَادَ اللَّهُ بِقَوْمٍ سُوءًا فَلَا مَرَدَّ لَهُ وَمَا لَهُمْ مِنْ دُونِهِ مِنْ وَالٍ

"Allah does not change the situation of any people until they change what is within themselves." [TMQ 13:11]

However, instead of facing their problems and acquiring the correct ways and means in order to reach the solution, Muslims chose the easy route and began depending on the Ghaib, thinking that this is the Iman. Similarly, they began thinking that any other approach constitutes shirk or denying Allah’s Will, although Allah ordered the Muslims in many ayahs to acquire the requirements and the causes to achieve their objectives and mentioned explicitly that He does not change His Law. For example, Allah (swt) mentions regarding the preparation:

وَأَعِدُّوا لَهُمْ مَا اسْتَطَعْتُمْ مِنْ قُوَّةٍ وَمِنْ رِبَاطِ الْخَيْلِ تُرْهِبُونَ بِهِ عَدُوَّ اللَّهِ وَعَدُوَّكُم

"And prepare all you can of power, including steeds of war to alert the enemy of Allah and your enemy..." [TMQ 8:60]

The Prophet (saaw) also instructed the Muslims to acquire these ways and means and said, "Act! Each one will be facilitated towards what he was created for."

Thus, acquiring these requirements and complying with the law of Cause and Effect is not shirk and does not constitute weakness in the Iman. Rather, such an approach manifests the correct tawakul and the correct Iman. And through this approach, the discussion of the course of action for Muslims will be based on the Hukm Shar’i and not the Will or Knowledge of Allah, which is part of the Ghaib.

This type of thinking also manifests itself in believing that some individuals, either in their life or after their death, possess some supernatural powers that can reach the level of curing people or bringing good luck. All of these concepts are non-Islamic and constitute shirk. By believing in individuals with such capabilities, Muslims do not differ from those who sanctify individuals to the level of Godhood.

[1] Related by Abu Dawood, At-Tirmidhi, Ibn Majah, Al-Bukhari in Al-Adab Al Mufrad, Ahmed and others.

Hasan Abdullah

To be continued...


trisha said...

salam, i want to know the difference between deep thinking and enlightened thinking? plz dont refer any book . i want the specific answer.

Islamic Revival said...

The way man approaches thought differs, thought can be relatively superficial, deep, or enlightened. The superficial thinker tends to judge based upon a brief look and makes decisions without understanding. Deep thought, on the other hand, examines the reality in great detail; once it is understood it is then judged. Through enlightened thought man not only understands the reality, but also all that relates to it, and only then does he judge it. So the person that buys the first colourful table that appeals to his sense of fashion is thinking superficially, whereas the man that studies the type of wood, veneer and construction of the table thinks deeply. It is only the man that takes into account these factors and his use of the table, the size of room it will fit, and his budget that uses enlightened thought.