THE LATE GAI EATON PUT his finger on the crux of the matter (as it seems to me), when he wrote three or four decades ago:

‘I think it must have been easy enough in earlier ages in the Christian world, and is still easy in those parts of the Muslim world which remain traditional, to hold to a simple faith without much intellectual content. I do not believe this is any longer possible in the modern world, for the spirit of our times asks questions – questions for the most part hostile to faith – which demands answers, and those answers can only come from informed and thoughtful faith, from study and meditation.’1

He then went on to note: ‘Whatever our religion, we can no longer be sure of holding onto it out of habit or by an act of will. We have to be, if not theologians, then at the very least people who study their religion and who think about it.’2

For quite some time now, the monoculture’s levelling reverberations – with its underlying orthodoxies, assumptions, assault on Religion, uprooting of traditional patterns of living, and its insistence on redefining the normative human persona – have radiated outward across the globe, much like how rings spread out from a pebble tossed into a pond. For much of that time, Muslims (particularly those parts of the globe still referred to as “the Muslim world”), even if they did put up resistance to the political ideologies which swept over them, have tended to be far less critical of the philosophical propositions modernity insists on.

These assumptions – that Man has now come of age and is the measure of all things; that happiness is bound with the merciless wheel of material and consumer progress; and that life and the cosmos are bereft of meaning, beyond what some may fictitiously confer upon them – have severed us from the great transcendental and social continuities of religion, family, craft and earth that has been the setting for normative human life throughout the millennia. Simple believers of earlier times, who knew relatively little yet possessed depth of faith, could scarcely survive in today’s world where both the senses and the intellect are relentlessly bombarded by imagery and arguments of doubts and disbelief.

If commitment to religious faith and practice is to survive such a deluge, firm knowledge of the core doctrines and cosmology of Islam, and the monotheistic assumptions they are grounded in, is crucial. This is not to say that a Muslim cannot love Allah unless he or she becomes some sort of philosopher-theologian. Not at all! However, while less than half a century earlier one could be a decent Muslim and remain so without having ever heard of al-Ghazali, al-Razi or Ibn Taymiyyah, today a Muslim who does not possess at least some grounding in the doctrines and assumptions upon which the faith of Islam is grounded, stands in immense danger, unless cocooned in some impenetrable bubble of naivety or simplicity.

Of course, many Muslim saints and pietists of the past did end up turning their backs on a heedless or hell-bent society. If it were possible for those who see the monoculture for what it truly is to withdraw from society and to go their own way in peace, this would probably be a decent course of action (not forgetting that the core of Islam’s call is very much urban and city-centred). But there is no where one could ‘opt-out’. For day by day, liberal modernity grows ever more invasive and totalising, suffocating any meaningful dissent; assimilating any significant diversity; and erasing any significant divergence. So driven into a tight corner, religion has little option but to turn and fight. Hence an urgent need to raise the dust of polemics against the ensnaring assumptions of modernity.

1. Reflections (Cambridge: Islamic Texts Society, 2012), 85.

2. ibid., 85.

8 thoughts on “Intelligent and Informed Faith is Our Only Option

  1. We must fight back, we can not be trampled over, we must respond with the most decisive and clearest of responses IA. Our tradition demands it, our intellectual heritage demands it, our faith demands it.

    وجاهد هم به جهادا كبيرا

    1. spot on, the Observer. And bless you for reminding us about the verse that instructs us to strive our utmost to invite and summon others to the message of the Qur’an, and it’s arguments of why it is indeed the truth.

  2. Jazakallah Khair.

    Intelligent and informed faith has always been the way of Islamic scholars and successful Muslim societies. I don’t think we can frame such as a new challenge in and of itself. All generations faced their own kind of intellectual challenges and Muslims dealt with it..

    The current intellectual problem seems to be only an element of the larger problem that needs to be dealt with comprehensively and not in isolation.

    We have seen a lot of thoughts on why Muslims are weak, what led us to this state and the solution to it. Getting the disease and cure right will be key because we have seen a lot of attempts at diagnosis and experimental cures that were wrong and failed.

    Below is an incomplete attempt at this stating what maybe obvious or heard before but trying to arrange into a clear process so that any missing or erroneous elements can be spotted:

    • Colonization of Muslim lands > Weakening of Muslim leadership > Weakening of Muslim institutions > Creation of religious and secular institutions to serve colonial interests> Emergence of new religious ideologies and leaders supported by colonial powers =corruption of religious knowledge among the masses and division of Muslims > Muslim isolation from colonial controlled secular institutions to protect their religion =
    Separation of religious and secular knowledge, Muslim stagnation in knowledge of secular sciences, loss of worldly power and knowledge of secular sciences in hands of those with corrupted religion.

    • Revival of righteous religious institutions, correction of religious knowledge among masses = uniting of Muslims > Revival of institutions studying and catching up on secular knowledge side by side with
    righteous religious knowledge = secular knowledge in hands of righteous Muslims
    benefiting Muslim interests leading to regain of worldly power.

  3. as-salam `aleikum Sidi;

    Regarding this point of view quoted below which is very common now-a-days – maybe you could elaborate on this old (mis-)understanding some day which goes like this:

    “I don’t need religion, (I believe in some higher being/ alt.: I don’t know if there is a God) but I help other people and lead an ok / decent life.”

    Evoked from:

    63% of Americans say you don’t have to believe in God to be moral and have good values.

    ( From a tweet by @conradhackett )

    Although in 2001 I wrote the text:
    Is Belief In God Enough?
    – probably today I would write it differently and shorter (!) with the main arguments clearly focused on.

    ma`a salam, OmarKN

    1. Wa alaykum al-salam wa rahmatullah.

      Thank you for the various links, including the one to your article. Whilst the article is very thorough and beneficial, it is – as you quite rightly observed – probably too long. Nonetheless, may Allah reward you with goodness, Sidi, for the article and for the links provided.

      As for the question of whether one can be morally upright without belief in God, or the statement that one doesn’t need religion to be a good and decent person, then there is, I believe, some detail to it:

      Firstly, if by “moral” or “morally upright” one intends the generic sense, which is shared by all cultures – not to steal, kill, or harm someone except by due process of the law; to be charitable to the poor; compassionate to the weak; respectful to elders; etc. – then life shows that one can even be an atheist and be still morally upright or have moral integrity. To deny this is to deny reality.

      Secondly, the question to then be asked is: In the absence of a revealed or sacred moral code guiding and governing the collective, can society actually survive in the civil sense? That is, without an agreed upon revealed moral code – as opposed to a free for all, or as opposed to the ‘I-will-decide-my own-morality” worldview – there seems to be no glue to hold society together. And this has lead, in our age, to social fragmentation, anomie, a less fairer and compassionate society, and ultimately to the epidemic of acute loneliness. Can consumerism or the market economy, or our own rationality – uninfluenced by any “Abrahamic” ethics – provide a new, collective morality which can help society gel and make better people of us? Probably not.

      Thirdly, if by morality we also include sexual morality, or public morality in the way the sexes behave with each other, or what is and isn’t lawful to consume – as defined by Jewish, Christian or Islamic standards – then no, one could not be morally upright if one does not believe in the moral virtue and correctness of such religious prescriptions.

      Of course, as Muslims, our moral principles and ethics are rooted in, not just the general text of the Book and Sunnah, but in their detailed injunctions too.

      And Allah knows best.

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