Taking Inspiration from the Imams in Addressing Modern Issues

This is a translation of an Arabic post I made on The Usuli’s Facebook page. It came out much longer than the Arabic original so I put it here instead as an article.

The scholars of Kalam and Usul were known for their realization that responding to groups such as the Mu’taziliah and those who were even more extreme would require them to delve deep into the study of logic and ancient Greek metaphysics.

Therefore it became an accepted and majority trend in Sunni thought that the fields of logic and philosophy were dually composed of truth and falsehood, beneficial ideas and philosophical chatter, as well as Shar’i good and evil, all judged so according to the building blocks of Islamic epistemology and Ontology: the Qur’an and Sunnah, scholarly consensus and the rules of the Arabic language.

Anyone who studies Kalam and Usul in depth cannot escape from this reality. Otherwise how else do we understand the integration of the rules of logic into the books of usul and kalam and the resulting effect on the science of balaghah as well? How do we understand that many classical curricula to this day still enforce a system of study on students of logic and philosophy? How do we understand the impact that some of the most sophisticated and polymathic scholars of our history had on Islamic thought?

Even Imam ibn Taymiyyah didn’t deplore logic in it’s entirety, rather just debated it’s importance and utilty for the average Muslim. And this is in addition to the fact that he was one of the scholars of Kalam as per the scholastic definition of the word ‘mutakallim’, not from a sectarian perspective or partisan bias. His own critique of the Asharis was based on an intimate knowledge and reading of Ash’ari creed, it’s development, as well as logic and philosophy itself, beyond of course his other high level credentials in the traditional Islamic discplines.

As for popular ideas today that have taken root among average Muslims in the West – ones who are often more ‘educated’ than most average Muslims around the world – not to mention among the countless thinkers, academics or philosophers, then are these popular ideas and modern philosophies any different than those the scholars of Kalam and Usul had to deal with? Why should our approach be different?

Let’s take the philosophy of feminism as an example of these popular ideas. It is an idea that is constructed from numerous philosophical foundations, interlacing ideas, studies, societal problems, sociological concerns etc, just like any other major field of study. So our criticism of it should be done in the same way that our scholars conducted themselves: criticism via a deep understanding, study and comparison of it with Islamic sources, ontologies and sciences.

This is so that the critic can distinguish at a high resolution between the the truth and falsehood, the beneficial and the harmful, what is ‘unIslamic’ with absolute certainty, and what is not so, and even what could be considered to be a positive innovation in Islamic thought via a reference point in the texts or because of it’s communal benefit. And this doesn’t just come from a high level of expertise in Islamic Studies, it requires a similar level of competency in the target discpline being critiqued.

Now, I do not claim that such an endeavor will yield static and concrete answers that everyone will agree on, but we may produce from this process a fruitful academic discussion that will enable us to solve many of our current societal and ideological problems, whether it be radical feminism or the oppression of Muslim women.

I also do not claim that mistakes will not be made in this process when scholars participate in it, because the occurrence of mistakes is natural in the process of academic research and the process & development of ideas.

But if scholars who are well-versed in the traditional discplines do not enter into these fields in the same way that our illustrious Imams and giants of thought did, then anyone and everyone will get involved instead, whether they be from the ill-equipped, woefully ignorant or the corrupt at heart, and of course, this is already happening today.

So If we attack and critique these ideas belieiving that they are wholly incorrect and dangerous without any fine tuning or high resolution analysis, our ignorance will be plain to see for anyone who has read even a textbook, research paper or even done one University course in the topic. And it may be that as a result of our critique, these people may move further away from Islam because of their inability to find detailed and descriptive answers with the scholars of Islam.

When we see scholars or daīs today who will extol the virtues of our Imams al-Ghazzali, al-Razi, al-Ash’ari, al-Maturidi, ibn Taymiyyah and others, yet engage only superficially with modern ideas by reading an overly critical book or two on the subject (or sometimes even just suffice with YouTube videos or social media – the very thing they claim is destroying the younger generation!), or be missing the important background in Islamic studies to be engaging with these ideas to understand with great clarity and differentiation what exactly consitutes an ‘unIslamic’ or ‘Islamic’ idea or parts of an idea, then it is only clear how far we have fallen and how distanced our level of discourse is from that of our great scholars and Imams.

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