A False Dichotomy of the Role of Reason in Muslim Traditionalism vs. Rationalism?

In his On the Bounds of Theological Tolerance in Islam, Dr. Sherman Jackson states:

Directly related to the relationship between theology and history is the relationship between what Islamicists have termed Traditionalism and Rationalism, the two main approaches to theology in Islam. To date, modern scholarship has been unanimous in its depiction of the basic distinction between these two approaches as residing in their differential relationship to reason. My contention, however, is that it is primarily history that divides these two approaches and that Traditionalism is no more devoid of the use of reason than Rationalism is of a reliance on tradition. As such, these two approaches are better understood as different traditions of reason.

If our community were able to digest and adopt such an (mutual) understanding, we just might be able to move beyond the man-made and self-imposed theological roadblocks impeding a healthy spiritual development so very needed by Muslims (and the world!) today.

Why Our Efforts to Rally Together Fail

I came across Elisa Tamarkin’s Anglophilia: Deference, Devotion, and Antebellum America, as she reflected on the thoughts of Samuel Morse, the pro-slavery inventor of telegraphy and co-inventor of Morse Code, that should give Muslims pause to consider why we still struggle to come together as a community in America:

“…democracies come together not through language and abstract principles but through the prepolitical feelings we experience toward symbols and works of art.”

If one substitutes “democracies” for “Muslim communities” while leaving “language” and “abstract principles” while exchanging “prepolitical feelings” for pre-Islam feelings and experiences, one can gain some insight as to why we continue to not gel as a community. Of course “symbols and works of art” can be substituted for “the Qur’an and the Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم” (deliberately avoiding such slogans as “Qur’an and Sunnah”).

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