Preservation of Reason – Moving Beyond Lexical Empiricism

“To the extent that regimes of normalized domination exist, clearly the preservation of ‘reason,’ [حفظ العقل] or ‘the ability to know,’ would have to go beyond the mere proscription of drugs and alcohol. For the ability to know is clearly affected by more than the essentially private acts of self-administered corruption of the mind. Indeed, regimes of normalized domination corrupt reason on a far grander scale and provide in many instances the very incentives for drug and alcohol abuse. In this context, hifz al-‘aql, if it is to be effective, would have to deal not simply with individuals but with political, social, cultural, educational, and economic institutions.” Sherman Jackson.

One of the great developments of Muslim thought has certainly been the system of classification known as maqasid al-Shari’ah, or roughly translated as the “broader aims and objectives of divinely-inspired law.” While not without its  contentions and controversies, it nonetheless has persevered to the present day and still manages to inform Muslim thought to a great extent. In the above quote from Sherman Jackson’s Literalism, Empiricism, and Induction, Dr. Jackson points out a key insight into the issues that challenge, and perhaps even plague, modern Muslims. Having been coerced into accepting textually- or scriptural-based rulings on a Muslims ability to navigate and understand their environment, this tendency has left many Muslims defenseless and agent-less against systems of “normalized domination.” It is no wonder that Muslim youth and those new to the religion continue to struggle in carving out dignified existences as Muslims. Their failures to do so are often chocked up to living in “kafir” societies and the like. Seldom are these conditions examined whereupon Muslims themselves may actually be the culprits as to why they fail to get their Islam up off the ground (not to speak of the centuries-long failures of Muslim societies and states to provide any real alternative to the Western status quo).

It’s this and other urgent subjects I hope to bring to light and discuss at the 2012 Winter Retreat in Boston: Divine Remedies, Islam’s Answers to Contemporary Issues. Register today.

The Role of Rationalism in Immorality and Sin

Proponents of rational thought often look down their noses at religious thinkers because of the latter’s reliance on tradition and revelation in the realm of moral thought. What they may find interesting is reason’s role in immorality and sin.

“Immorality and sin for Niebuhr are not, of course, the same thing. Sin is the more inclusive concept and immorality is only one aspect of sin. But Niebuhr’s major statements concerning sin apply equally well to his view of immorality. Thus, immorality, like sin, is for Niebuhr fully a spiritual phenomenon. This means that immorality is not necessarily irrational. Reason can be intimately involved in the immoral act. In the last analysis, according to Niebuhr, immorality involves an act of the will that is neither rational nor irrational. This is not to suggest that immorality cannot be explained and does not have certain preconditions. Among these preconditions is the fact of man’s finitude, especially as this takes form in his capacity to die. Man’s mortal nature furnishes the occasion for immorality, as Niebuhr says. But neither mortality nor finitude necessitate immorality. Both sin and immorality are the result of free choice for Niebuhr. In this sense, they are not ‘necessary.’ “

Indeed, many arguments are entertained in the Qur’an regarding idol worship, associating partners, rejecting revelation, and all forms of immoral and indecent behavior.

يَسْأَلُونَكَ عَنِ الْخَمْرِ وَالْمَيْسِرِ ۖ قُلْ فِيهِمَا إِثْمٌ كَبِيرٌ وَمَنَافِعُ لِلنَّاسِ وَإِثْمُهُمَا أَكْبَرُ مِن نَّفْعِهِمَا

“They will ask you about alcoholic drinks and gambling. Say, ‘There is great wrong in both of them and also certain benefits for mankind. But the wrong in them is greater than the benefit.’ ” Qur’an, 2: 219.

For those who claim the Qur’an does not use or address reason, they simply have decided not to look for it. However, their main objection is that Revelation ultimately trumps reason (this can be found in the writings of al-Ghazzali and others). And while Revelation supersedes reason, it does not disallow it from the human decision making experience, moral, religious or otherwise. It simply seeks to put it in its place.

From Ronald M. Green’s Niebuhr’s Critique of Rationalism: A Limited Validation. Read the full article here.