Intellectual Discourse and Muslims

Intellectual Discourse and Muslims
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By Tahir Iqbal

The Islamic tradition has its origin(s) directly from the Divine lap. The whole Islamic civilization and ethos is the emanation of the revealed knowledge from the Eternal Spring of God. The pre-prophetic Arabs were in dogmatic slumber, divorced of the cosmic message and intellectual civilization. They were thinking that a man is just a sport in the hands of fate. The prophetic guidance engendered a revolution in the minds of them. He made them to recognize the Supreme Intelligence operating the whole cosmic world. The Qur’anic injunctions awakened them to research, to understand and to come out of their narrow world of superstitions and polytheism.
It was before the translation movement that Muslims begun to use their intellectual faculties in discussions and polemics about Qur’anic doctrines, but later on, when Mamun Rashid, the great Abbasid Caliph, laid the foundation of Baitul Hikmah and got a lot of intellectual material and books translated from various languages into the Arabic, people started to discuss the things/themes/concepts in a way which was more open and conducive to learn. However, jurists and traditionalists were very much antagonistic to such engagements. They gave strict verdicts against people who were engaging in the philosophical discourses and debating the ontological expositions expounded by the Islamic traditions.
Coming to philosophy, Hussein Nasr argues that much of Islamic philosophy is in fact a hermeneutic unveiling of the two grand books of revelation, the Qur’an and the cosmos. It deals with man, cosmos and final return to the lap of divinity. The Muslim philosophers did try to understand the cosmic world while using the parameters founded by the Greek philosophers like Aristotle and Plotinus. Yaqub al-Kindi, the first Muslim philosopher , for example didn’t discredit the early Greek philosophers; in fact, he welcomed the truth wherever it came from. He explained the world through the theory of emanation as expounded by Plotinus. He knew the limitation(s) of the intellect. He stated that the philosopher is unable to make any positive statement concerning God. He propounded a negative Theology. As Plotinus said, “we state, what is not; what is, we don’t state”. Al-Farabi, another great Muslim philosopher became famous as the “second teacher” after Aristotle. He espoused the themes of peripatetic philosophy, commented upon the books of Greek philosophers and interpreted them in Islamic climate. It is a fact that Muslim philosophers endeavored to make harmony between Greek philosophies with Muslim creeds/doctrines. They were sincere and it was their methodology to understand the Being and the cosmos which created controversies among the both, theologians as well as Muslim jurists.
The Muslim jurists and the traditionalists discredited the Islamic philosophy and the use of theological methods to demonstrate the metaphysical realities on rational grounds. Ibn Qudamah in his ‘censure to speculative theology’, lists nine points why kalam must be avoided. He says that kalam is tantamount to passing verdict on God in matters that the interpreter has no certain knowledge. Imam Razi, however reinterpreted/rejected all those statements which were given against Mutakalimun(theologians)by the traditionalists. The theology (kalam) was nothing but the arguments to disrupt the innovations and establish the religion of Islam on the basis of rationality and Text.
Muslim history is replete with intellectual discussions and debates. Imam Ghazali, for example, was not only a jurist and theologian but also a great philosopher who deconstructed the various points of Greek philosophers by writing the “Incoherence of philosophers”. In fact , there were many outstanding scholars such as Ibn Rushud and Shah Waliuallah who were not only well versed with the Sacred Law but also firmly grounded in philosophy and theology. They discussed, analysed and commented upon the intellectual traditions of religion and philosophy and made the Islamic legacy much more rich and splendid.
In modern, we have scholars like Mohammad Abduh, Dr. Iqbal and Sir Syed Ahmad who engaged with the philosophical traditions and theology, although they were not representing the main stream interpretation of Islamic thought as we have in the case of Maulana Shibili Nomani and Maulana Munazir Ahsan Gilani. The Al-Din al-Qayim” of Maulana Munazir Ahsan Gilani is a remarkable work on the intellectual discourse on metaphysical realities and ontological expositions of Islam. And , I think he was one of the few intellectual colossi from the Deoband thought who had enough courage to think out of the dogmatic attitude of the traditionalists.
In the final analysis, one should not be afraid to get involved in the traditions of Islamic intellectualism and philosophy ;rather, we need to imbibe its essence so we may deconstruct the modern philosophies of materialism and atheism. Our Islamic scholars and intellectuals should read the philosophical traditions in a positive way and use it for dismantling the false of edifice of modern and postmodern weltanschauung and establish the superiority of Islamic thought over the mental acrobatics of human mind.

The author is an Assistant professor in Islamic Studies in the Higher Education Department , J & K. He can be reached at:


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