Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Characteristics of the Islamic Way of Thinking

The following is a chapter from the book 'The Islamic Way of thinking' by Hasan Abdullah published by Revival Publications.

With the emergence of the many problems that resulted from the absence of the Islamic way of thinking, some members of the Muslim Ummah attempted to define the course of revival. Any attempt to revive the Muslim Ummah cannot succeed without reconstructing the Islamic way of thinking among the Muslims. Without a clear picture of what the Islamic way of thinking consists of, reviving the Muslims would be doomed to failure and would repeat the same mistakes of past attempts which failed. Thus, fully comprehending these unique characteristics is vital to the revival process in order to keep the revival detached from the emotions, reactions, and factors that precipitated the decline. After addressing the factors and causes that resulted in corrupting the Islamic way of thinking, it is necessary to mention some distinguishing characteristics of the Islamic way of thinking. These characteristics can be deduced by examining the wahi, which defines the source of the Islamic culture, and by studying how the Sahabah dealt with the issues that faced them. Following are some of these characteristics:

The Existence of Truth and Falsehood as Absolute and Not Relative

The objective of the Islamic way of thinking is to reach the truth, which necessitates believing in the existence of truth and falsehood and in the correct and incorrect as absolute, and not relative, facts.  The most distinguishing feature of this life is that it consists of facts and not illusions. Any objective and serious study or thought must acknowledge the undeniable fact that absolute realities exist; otherwise, such a study would degenerate into fanciful storytelling and speculation that cannot construct any sustainable concepts. With this in mind, any research, study, or thinking cannot be devoid of purpose or for entertainment; any such study or research would be in vain and would bear no productive concepts aside from superficial thoughts and abstract philosophies. 

Reaching the truth must be the sole motive behind any study or research, and once the truth is reached and is proven conclusively, Muslims must abide by it and adopt it as part of their thinking.  No attention should be given to the opinions and traditions of the masses, or to any cost or benefit that may be associated with adhering to the truth. The truth must be accepted only based on its merits. Anyone who realizes the truth and failed to abide by it has willingly labelled himself a hypocrite and has cheated and deceived himself, which suffices to classify such a person as ignorant.

The existence of absolute truth is easily recognizable upon examining the manner in which the human being develops his thinking capacity. The human being from early childhood begins to sense his surroundings, and the images of these realities will be firmly entrenched in his brain. The human being at an early age feels the existence of these realities although he is unable to explain or define them. Upon repetitive feeling and sensation, the existence of these realities becomes definite and conclusive, and the notion that such realities are merely illusions quickly dissipates. The moon or mountain which the human being senses remains the same moon or mountain every time he senses them. If these realities were merely illusions that emanated from his imagination, then the human being, who has full control over his imagination, can alter the shape and nature of such illusions as he pleases.

However, these realities exist regardless of his or anyone else’s imagination, which means that the existence of these realities does not depend upon the imagination and is not a relative issue like the subject of one’s imagination.

Furthermore, as the human being develops in his childhood, he develops the ability to connect some of his instincts and needs to these objects. Initially, such a connection during the early stages is merely instinctive or emotional, but not intellectual and such connections exist even among the animals. For example, the infant would connect between his mother’s aroma, her voice and the breast milk. These connections are not imaginary or illusory but are real outcomes of the interaction between his instincts and needs with the objects and realities surrounding him. Food and water always satisfy his need to eat and drink, and this satisfaction occurs in every human being and animal without exception.

With further maturation, the human child beings to comprehend these realities and initiates the process of classifying things by terms. Initially, this process occurs through imitation, starting with tangible things in his immediate vicinity such as his parents and bodily organs. He then begins the process of building relationships between these tangible realities, such as categorizing different realities on the basis of size or shape. In addition, the child starts to comprehend the attributes of certain actions, such as eating, walking, and sleeping. What must be noted is that the realities which the human being senses exist regardless of the terms he attributes to them. A mountain exists regardless of whether someone refers to it as a mountain or a small hill. Furthermore, the attributes that exist in objects are realities which the human being senses from his early childhood. Fire has the attribute of burning, and everyone observes this phenomenon without exception.

Alongside these processes, the child develops the ability to listen to the different sounds, which is the first linguistic skill that man develops and will later shape the development of his vocal system.  All of these sounds and images will be stored as information, which will further reinforce the already conclusive existence of the realities that he has repeatedly observed throughout the years. The child starts communicating using very simple language usually composed of one or two phonetics. With time, his vocal system develops to the extent that he begins to utilize language and express his ideas in a spoken form, whereas before he would express himself primarily through emotions (laughing, crying, etc.) or bodily movements. Once the child acquires the ability to speak, he begins the process of questioning the realities surrounding him as well as their relationship to one another. This questioning proceeds naturally, and usually his parents assist him in answering these questions. The answers he receives will serve as information that will later serve as a basis for his thinking. In addition to questioning, the child also begins the process of issuing his own opinions and judgments. This thinking process will be crude and have numerous errors in its initial stages. By the time his reservoir of information increases and his senses become more refined; his thinking will become more sophisticated and accurate.

The human being, from the onset of his ability to rationalize and comprehend his surroundings, realizes that there is a stark difference between the existence of certain realities and their explanation. The existence of these realities is connected directly to the human being’s senses and is, therefore, conclusive. Since the onset of the development of his ability to sense his surroundings, the human being has sensed the different realities, and what he senses is consistent time and again.  However, the information which explains these realities may differ. Man begins to associate the information provided to him with the realities that he senses. If the information corresponds to the reality, then it will concentrate within him and naturally evolve into a concept, which he refers to as a reference for measuring other ideas and issues by.

For example, the parent would tell their child that playing with electrical items is dangerous and could result in injury or death. They would also inform him that crying in a loud voice at night would attract ghosts which would kidnap him.  Initially, the child would trust both statements because of the bond of trust and emotional link between him and his parents. However, the human being by his nature is curious, and this curiosity entices him to explore. With time, he will realize accuracy of the first statement and the inherent fallacy of the second by comparing both statements to the reality which he senses and to the many incidents and experiences. He will realize the correctness of the first statement either by news of others who were injured or killed by electrocution, or by directly experiencing an electric shock.  When he begins contemplating the second statement and compares it to the reality, he will realize its falsehood through the accounts of many children, including himself, who would cry at night without ever being kidnapped by ghosts. As a result, he would consider the first statement as a concept and conviction that cannot be changed without the need to search for any further evidence to support it. As for the second statement, he would abandon it after realizing its falsehood. 

Therefore, the truth is what matches with the reality, and because the reality is the same for everyone, then this correspondence is absolute and not relative. For example, the issue of whether Allah exists is not relative because either Allah exists or He does not. No one can claim that Allah exists and does not exist at the same time on the basis that some people deny His existence and others acknowledge it. The existence of the reality is something that people sense and not something that people create in their minds or imaginations. Thus, the reality exists in this life because of the fact that the reality itself exists and not because man wanted it to exist or imagined it to exist. The human being arrives at this conclusion from the moment that he begins to sense these realities.

Claiming that the realities which people sense are merely illusions and not the reality is a false claim which has no basis. Those who claim such a hallucination contradict their assertion simply by their conduct in daily life. If a human being were to doubt that everything surrounding him is real including the food he eats, the items that he uses to carry out specific actions, and the words that he speaks and hears from others he would be unable to live. Thus, the ideas and thoughts which either affirm the existence of a specific reality or attribute some descriptions to it are correct if the reality proves their correctness and false if the reality proves their falsehood. Saying that there exists a force called gravity which pushes matter to the centre of the earth is correct and absolute because the reality proved its existence millions of times, and everyone observes the same phenomenon continuously and without exception.

Thus, the existence of truth is a conclusive issue that every human being realizes, and this realization is firmly entrenched. Once a human being realizes the truth, then he must abide by it because thinking is the noblest characteristic the human being possesses. Through this ability to think, the human being comprehends his surroundings, builds concepts that shape his personality and outlook, and develops plans and objectives to guide him through life. The human being can avoid many dangers, whether physical or intellectual, and overcome many obstacles that impede his progress through this ability. Furthermore, thinking renders the person legally accountable and responsible for his actions and their consequences. Without this capacity, the person would be considered insane or mentally dysfunctional and cannot be held legally accountable for his actions.  Thus, the natural course for any human being to pursue is to proceed in this life according to his convictions, which he arrives at through the thinking process.

The most debased of people are those who identify the truth and then avert themselves from it and fail to abide by it. Anyone who chooses this course of action defeats the very purpose of the most honourable characteristic that Allah has granted him, and he begins training himself in the fields of lying and hypocrisy. Stubbornness and argument based on falsehood become distinguishing features of his character.

While thinking is the most venerable characteristic that a human being has, the process itself is time and energy-consuming. Thus, the human being should not engage in thinking for entertainment like the Greek philosophers would do, nor should it be done for show as some people try to do when they argue an issue that is clearly incorrect. The Prophet (saw) said, “I guarantee a house in the Jannah to the one who abandons (the miraah) even if he is correct.”[1]  

The word “miraah” in the hadith refers to the sophistic or pointless argument, or any argument initiated out of stubbornness and not for the purpose of reaching the truth in order to abide by it. Thus, it is mandatory upon all Muslims to abide by the truth and make reaching the truth the objective of any discussion, while ridding themselves of any loyalty aside from loyalty to the truth. The truth should serve as the frame of reference to measure things with. Muslims should never refer to anything whether an individual, emotion, benefit, or institution as a frame of reference for assessing the truth. Anyone who does so has betrayed himself and has sold his personality and independence for a very cheap price. It is expected for a Muslim to consistently refer to the truth, and he should not insist on the falsehood regardless of the reasons or justifications for doing so.

Recognizing the Daleel, its Types, and its Domain

Human beings encounter many issues in their daily lives, ranging from political and economic to intellectual and cultural. In order to proceed through life with its myriad of issues, the human being must develop or adopt certain opinions and thoughts related to these issues, and this adoption will serve as the basis for pursuing a specific course of action in addressing or resolving these issues.  The most accurate and correct opinion or thought will doubtless lead to the most effective course of action in resolving an issue. And the accuracy or correctness of any thought or opinion will depend solely upon the strength of evidence that supports the thought or opinion. Therefore, no idea, opinion, rule or thought should be taken without its daleel (evidence). The process of adopting opinions or thoughts should not be done out of convenience or fascination (either with the opinion itself or with the one who carries it). No one should adopt any thought or opinion on the basis of personal benefit, emotion, reaction, or imitation. Ultimately, the daleel is the sole criterion for determining which opinion is correct.

The reason for placing the evidence as the sole basis for adopting any thought, action, opinion, or rule, is that Muslims will be held accountable for their actions when they face Allah (swt). This accountability will proceed on an individualistic basis in which everyone will be asked about only his or her actions. Parents, siblings, family, friends, shaykhs, leaders, teachers, government, country, or personal benefits and desires, will not avail any individual on the Day of Judgment.  Allah (swt) will ask each person about their obedience to the wahi He sent. Therefore, awareness of the Shar’i rules along with their evidences is critical for the Muslims.

Furthermore, the behaviour of the human being is based on the concepts and convictions which he carries. A concept, which the human being is convinced of to the extent that he will refer to it as a basis for his personality and outlook, cannot emerge unless it is built upon convincing evidence.  Without any evidence to substantiate it, a concept will be reduced to superficial information which cannot define a consistent behaviour. One should not adopt or defend any opinion, thought, or rule, without being convinced of its evidence (with the notable exception of Taqleed, where the person is unable to evaluate the evidences or opinion). This is because the process of adoption renders whatever a person adopted an integral component of his mentality which will define his thinking.  And anything that a person is not convinced with cannot define the thinking. Shallow thinking will be the inevitable outcome of adopting opinions without conviction.

One would say that a person who is part of a party or group is expected to adopt what the group adopts even if he is not convinced with the group’s adoption. However, the evidence for adoption in this case is the same evidence which obligates the Muslim to establish and join a group, which is the ayah:

وَلْتَكُنْ مِنْكُمْ أُمَّةٌ يَدْعُونَ إِلَى الْخَيْرِ وَيَأْمُرُونَ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ وَيَنْهَوْنَ عَنِ الْمُنْكَرِ وَأُولَئِكَ هُمُ الْمُفْلِحُونَ

“And let there arise from among you an Ummah that calls for Khayr (Islam), commands Al-Ma’ruf (good, what Islam ordains) and forbids Al-Munkar (evil, what Islam prohibits), and those are the ones who will attain success.” [TMQ 3:104]

The group cannot exist as a distinct entity without adopting a set of thoughts. It cannot even interact with the people without adoption. In order to maintain a pure and strong entity, which would translate into effective communication with the people, the group is expected to adopt its thoughts based on study, thought and research. Furthermore, the group or party should present its adopted opinions with its evidence to its members and to the Ummah, and leave the doors open for any discussion in order for the adoption to produce its fruits. Thus, the adoption in the group in no way should be associated with blindly following opinions or taking opinions without an evidence.

[1] Sahih Al–Jami’ As–Saghir, Vol. 2, no. 1477, Abu Dawud Book No. 41, Hadith No.4782


Amel Alchaar said...

Mashallah! Excellent article, I've never read anything like this, this idea alone, about the doubtless existence of reality whether or not the outcome of individuals thinking concludes it, its not just "fascinating", but the idea itself is so real, so comforting, subhanallah. And the way he spoke about the stages the child's development in thought and connecting info to what he already senses, how the parents plays a vital role in shaping his connected to reality, and how even through false information, the power of thinking will lead him to truth. Allahu akbar, allahu Akbar! Beautiful, beautiful article. The best I've ever read and by the far, the most thought-provoking.

zahid said...

Masha Allah ....... thankyou brother for this article... I specially like the last part of thought that a person cannot stay in the group without adopting it. Very comforting to me.

Razor1924 said...

I understand that we have reality which has existence and essence.

My understanding is that we can arrive at definite conclusions about the existence of things, but not their essence.

I understoof essence to be their attributes and what you called its explanation.

Can you explain these terms, ie whats the difference between essence, attribute and its explanation?

Jaza kallah khair