#MiddleGroundPodcast: Understanding Islam – Reductionism, Reality, and Intention

Imam Marc discusses the relationship between reductionism, reality, and intention and how the Qur’an advocates for not a reductionist world view, but an expansionist one.

Phe·nom·e·non (/fəˈnäməˌnän, fəˈnäməˌnən/):

  • a fact or situation that is observed to exist or happen, especially one whose cause or explanation is in question;
  • the object of a person’s perception; what the senses or the mind notice.

From Richard H. Jones’ Analysis & the Fullness of Reality, he quotes Robert Nozick on the relation between phenomenon, reality, and reductionism:

“The philosopher Robert Nozick labeled ours ‘the Age of Reductionism’, and most people in our scientifically-informed culture would agree. We want to understand the world, and under the influence of modern science we now want to know how things work in terms of material and efficient causes. Moreover, we are not fully satisfied with any suggested explanation of a phenomenon unless it is explained in terms of something we deem to be a basic reality. We search for the ‘true nature’ of things—what is ‘really real.’ And this is where reductionism enters the picture: we want to get down to the reality that is the source or substance of a phenomenon. We take a phenomenon apart to see what makes it tick, or we retrace (Lat., re-ducere, ‘to lead back’) the development of the phenomenon to its roots. A reduction thus proposes what in the final analysis is real in a phenomenon. We find that what was apparently real is ultimately ‘nothing but’ its parts or something else more basic. Thereby, an apparent reality is ‘reduced’ to something real, and our desire for understanding at least the reduced phenomenon is satisfied.”

Continuing, Jones says,

“It is important to note that reductionism is not merely a matter of the scientific identification of the causes at work in a whole. Rather, reductionists go further and claim that the parts and causes are all that is real in a whole—the reality of a whole is nothing but that of those parts. It is easy to see why many people are disturbed by such reductions: in moving from the more complex to the simpler in human beings, reductions deny what is distinctly human.”

وَإِذ قالَ رَبُّكَ لِلمَلائِكَةِ إِنّي جاعِلٌ فِي الأَرضِ خَليفَةً ۖ قالوا

أَتَجعَلُ فيها مَن يُفسِدُ فيها

وَيَسفِكُ الدِّماءَ وَنَحنُ نُسَبِّحُ بِحَمدِكَ وَنُقَدِّسُ لَكَ ۖ قالَ

إِنّي أَعلَمُ ما لا تَعلَمونَ

“When your Lord said to the angels, ‘I am putting a khalif on the earth,’ they said, ‘Why put on it one who will cause corruption on it and shed blood when we glorify You with praise and proclaim Your purity?’ He said, ‘I know what you do not know’.” Qur’an, 2: 30

“More generally, reductionists ‘reduce the more valuable to the less valuable, the more meaningful to the less meaningful,’ and never the other way around. If things are reducible to a reality below the surface, then much of human life loses its value. The effect on our lives is to undercut the reality of what is specific to being human—consciousness, free will, personhood, our cultural creations.”

سمِعْتُ

رسولَ اللهِ صلَّى اللهُ عليه وسلَّم يقولُ إنما الأعمالُ بالنيةِ وإنما لامرِئٍ ما نوى فمَن كانت هجرتُه إلى اللهِ ورسولِه فهجرتُه إلى اللهِ ورسولِه ومَن كانتْ هجرتُه إلى دنيا يُصيبُها أو امرأةٍ يتزوجُها، فهجرتُه إلى ما هاجَر إليه

I heard Allah’s Messenger ﷺ saying, “The deeds are according to their intentions and every person will get the reward according to what he has intended. So whoever emigrated for the sake of Allah and His Apostle, then his emigration will be considered to be for Allah and His Apostle, and whoever emigrated for the sake of worldly gain or for a woman to marry, then his emigration will be considered to be for what he emigrated for.” Sahih al-Bukhari, #6689

Understanding Islam – Intro To Usul al-Fiqh (al-Juwayni’s al-Waraqat) – Prophetic Actions

The following is a recording of the regular class I teach on Sundays at Middle Ground Muslim Center, Understanding Islam. This week covered the chapter of Prophetic Actions (Af’al al-Nabi/أفعال النبي) from al-Juwayni’s al-Waraqat.


[Direct download]

فعل النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم – إما إن يكون على وجه القربة والطاعة – فإن دل الدليل على الاختصاص به يحمل على الاختصاص كزيادته صلى الله عليه وسلم في النكاح على أربع نسوة – وإن لم يدل دليل لا يخصص به – لأن الله تعالى قال: لَقَد كانَ لَكُم في رَسولِ اللَّهِ أُسوَةٌ حَسَنَةٌ لِمَن كانَ يَرجُو اللَّهَ وَاليَومَ الآخِرَ وَذَكَرَ اللَّهَ كَثيرًا

“The actions of the Prophet ﷺ are either in the mode of acts of worship and obedience or they are not. If they are in the mode of acts of worship and obedience and the evidence points to it being particular to the Prophet ﷺ, then it is to be interpreted as particular to the Prophet ﷺ. The example given is the increase in the number of women (more than four) in which the Prophet ﷺ engaged in. If the evidence presented does not point towards peculiarity (of the Prophet ﷺ) then the action is not to be interpreted as particular, as the Qur’anic verse informs us:

“You have an excellent model in the Messenger of God, for all who put their hope in God, the Last Day and remember God much.” Qur’an, 33: 21

Also see Dr. Sherman Jackson’s, Towards Empowering the Common Muslim.