Random Thoughts and Notes: Days 49-57

o    I have heard some people (actually, a good number of people) wondering as to why the Ulamaa’ do not do more to enter ‘head-long’ into debates with Islam-haters. There are a number of reasons for this. One of them is that the Shaykh or Mufti may have been given a certain scope and task by his teacher, and this may have included a strict adherence to teaching and/or spiritual development, and it may not have included the ‘mandate’ to tackle what are many a times silly polemics. So this is definitely one point to consider.

o    But another important aspect to keep in mind is that even if we imagine an ‘Aalim or Mufti wanting to engage a non-Muslim concerning some topic, the ‘Ulamaa will take the deriving of a conclusion (that is, from A to Z) very seriously. They will never enter a debate with someone concerning a topic they know little about, since it would seem to trivialize the importance that they, as Islamic scholars and ‘representatives’ of Islam give to knowledge and erudition as a whole.

o    But of course, the Islam-hater in many cases takes Islam as a joke to begin with, so he does not care about checking his sources, or knowing the interrelationships between the sources and the concepts he is presenting. I know that it may be said that there is a dire need and the ‘Ulamaa should go forward and discuss the matters with the Islam-haters anyway, but this is an individual decision for the ‘Aalim and Mufti to make, and from what I can see in this vein, their self-respect will not allow to merely dabble into such things.

o    A sign that the opponent is not serious in discussing Islam properly is when it is seen that his goal, his end presides way above his methodology, so much so that he will not bat an eyelid to adopt contradictory methodologies if it leads him to his goal. This is why the scholars of Islam are so adamant on having a common base and a well-known methodology, and proper definitions before they start any debate, and also why they may not debate most people to begin with.

o    From one personal experience, I saw a non-Muslim presenting a premise which basically said that the Chinese people accept the existence of mutually exclusive contradictions in their culture. I do not have this article/study with me right now, but if my memory is correct, this was in fact an elucidation of how the traditional Chinese thinking tries to find common ground between what seems to be mutually contradictory positions, and tries to iron out and sort out these apparent problems. But the problem with the original non-Muslim poster is that he wanted to show that many people do not believe in the applicability of the ‘Law of Non-Contradiction’ and that this should be kept in our minds, so that we Muslims do not try to push others to accept our definitions. I do not know whether this non-Muslim had or has many other similar articles, but from what I can tell, the presentation of this particular study with the explanation this non-Muslim is providing seems to show that the objector cares about sticking to his point at whatever costs, even if it means the utter disfigurement of entire peoples and the mutilation of the original articles he has come across.        

o    I know this may sound extremely dogmatic to some, but the Islamic viewpoint is that even what appears right now to be ‘absolute fact’ in science will be disproved (in the abstract sense, even if that disproving is not done in this world), if it directly contradicts with the indisputable aspects of Islam [the argument about this latter issue and what is ‘indubitable’ is definitely a long and intricate matter, no doubt]. Besides, scientific theories are said to be formulated provisionally and useful within a certain scope, so how can provisional explanations definitively disprove anything else (either certain or uncertain)?

o    We have to be honest, that if we take what is termed ‘skepticism’ to the extreme, the supposedly ‘objective person’ would be skeptical even at the gates of Paradise or Hellfire, or even within Paradise and Hellfire itself. So it is not really a question of insufficient evidence, or a criticism of the ‘human endeavors’ and its results, but of a wrong set of base fundamentals and an incorrect methodology to begin with. [Thanks to the brother who pointed out that the skepticism referred to in here is classical ‘radical skepticism’ and not ‘scientific skepticism’.]

o    If it is asked that why do we take the ‘dogmatic view’ that skepticism towards Islam is unwarranted and false, one partial response from our side would be to wonder why skepticism towards skepticism itself is taken to be unwarranted for our opponents – since this is what is basically comes down to, that what is the scope, extent, and limit of skepticism, and is it being correctly applied. If ‘skepticism’ were to be given a totally unbridled rein, I am sure that the skeptic would soon become insane, since any position taken without boundaries and limitations leads to excesses and to adverse side-effects.

o    One matter to consider is that ok, it is said that the Qur’an has the clarity of straightforward language while having a sweetness that is more the characteristic of poetic language – and this is a true statement. But one important thing in addition to this is that not only is the Qur’an much easier to comprehend that ‘poetry’ (which uses what can be said to be an artificially high number of rhetorical features that oftentimes complicates the understanding of the poem), but the Qur’an is also more lucid than normal Arabic prose; and this is because prose has its own way of trying to achieve high-language, which does make it difficult to follow in certain cases. So this is an important distinction that must be keep in mind.

o    One thing about which Islam gets criticized, but is actually a very positive point of Islam, is that Islam, unlike other religions, did not ‘outsource’ the state-building venture for its community to ‘the random events of history’, nor did it try to progress by tying itself to existing kings and rulers and then trying to curry favor with them until it became dominant in the land. Rather, it started from scratch and had go through the entire process of warfare, consolidation of captured land, etc., until the Muslim polity became a major socio-political force in the world. The fact that this occurred with a few decades is in fact one of the miracles of Islam.

o    Obviously, a miracle like this will have those who badmouth it due to their aberrant personal inclinations, but for the true seer, if he only considers this, he will count it as a miracle of the Qur’an, of the Prophet , and of Islam in general, and the truth of Islam will become clear to him.

o    I was asked as to what it could be that drove the Orientalists to their wrong conclusions. Some people may rephrase the question by asking as to whether criticism from us Muslims against the Orientalists is really warranted, or whether we are just trying to hide the ‘faults of Islam’. To answer this question in a simple way, I ask those of you who know more than one language whether ‘Google Translate’ is a proper service for carrying out straightforward translations of a work, page, or even a paragraph? It is clear that this and other simple automated translation services are of some use, but they have absolutely no sense of the proper context where each word has been used within the original text, and of how it properly translates to the second language in a harmonious fashion. This is why they may give an idea of what is going on in the original text, but they cannot understand the intention of the writer in the original language.

o    If this is the case with a few pages of text, what about the entirety of Islam, its texts, its rulings, its scholars, and the interrelationship between all of these? One can hypothetically dismiss some or all of the ‘traditional’ elements in the Islamic narrative and come up with his own narrative, and the narrative may even sound good, but so can a person who knows nothing of the original source language take the Google translation and make only cosmetic tweaks and then come up with a ‘translation’ that does in fact ‘sound good’, but in reality misses the mark for the most part.

o    Or if this example is not good, we can imagine what would happen in a university student where to start taking a higher level course without having taken the prerequisite courses. It is clear that he will struggle a lot, or he may make up his own definitions and terminologies and then get confused and deviated in his field of specialization. The only difference is that in the modern-day secular fields, a person who tries to extemporize in this way will be derided, but in the case of Western-based ‘Islamic academics’, many a times the ‘field’ itself is not taken as a serious endeavor, and extemporization and spontaneous inventions are lauded and elevated to heights they should not occupy.

o    So, at the very minimum, what happens with someone like an Orientalist who takes up ‘Islamic studies’ is that his context is many a times disturbed by his cultural background and assumptions. Here I am not even considering whether he has good or evil intentions, but only the difficulties that his background may bring up.

o    The story of al-Baaqilaani’s (RA) life starts, by mentioning some biographical data, his teachers and some interesting stories about himself and his teachers, such as the fact that he was considered a pillar of the Sunni ‘Ulaamaa even when he was relatively young. He also attended public discussions/debates with Mu’tazilis in Shiraz and with Christians in the Roman Empire.

o     In the debates with the Mu’tazila, we learn some things such as: When they ask us as to whether it is possible for Allah to burden someone with what he cannot bear, we say that if the signification is mere Takleef (i.e. only the literal meaning of the term), then there are a number of places in the Qur’an where this has apparently been ordered: such as when Allah commanded the angels to tell Him the names of all creatures even though they did not have knowledge of this, and when Allah (apparently) commands disbelieving people to become stones and iron, or where He orders the disbelievers to make Sujood on the Day of Judgment but their necks will become stiff. And if a more technical meaning is sought, then the original question is invalid, since Takleef for the Sunnis consists of difficult obstacles that are imposed during the completion of the deed; but if the deed cannot be completed at all, there can be no Takleef [as per our definition].

o    From what I understand, Al-Baaqilani’s explanation of ‘Takleef’ of what cannot be taken on, is that of a writer who cannot do business [not because he is physically incapable of trade, but because he is busy in his writing]. Likewise, the Kaafir is not intrinsically incapable of becoming a believer, but he has chosen one option over the other.

o    Another issue concerns the Ru’yah [Vision of Allah in the Hereafter], and the claim is that this is impossible, since what may be seen with the eyes necessarily lies in a direction opposite to the seer. Al-Baaqilaani (RA) responds by saying that yes, if the thing is seen with the eyes then it is seen in a direction, but Allah will be seen with the cognizance that He will create in the eyes – and one pointer to this is the fact that the disbelieving people will not see Allah in the Hereafter, even though their eyes will be existent. Also, even in this world, we notice that the one whose eyes are dazzled by the sunlight cannot see a thing, even though his eyes are present.

o    All in all, as per this story, for Al-Baaqilaani (RA) what is seen is not seen with the eyes but with the vision that is created within the eyes; other proofs for this are that the Prophet was able to see the Angel Jibril (AS) while others could not see him, or that the dying person sees angels while those around him cannot see these same angels. He also says that being a genus is not a basis for seeing, nor is there a need for a Ma’na to be attached to the seen thing – because we see incidents while they are not ‘transporters’ of Ma’aani. (Note: Ma’aani normally would mean significations, meanings, or hidden senses, but in this case the term is not further defined, it could refer to an abstract mental image, or an abstract meaning, etc. If I can check this with a knowledgeable scholar, I will come back and change this as necessary).

o    It is clear from even a small reading of historical incidents within the Islamic milieu that there was a presence of astrologers, and other types of people who were heretics, and they tried, whenever they spoke to the Muslim scholars, to steer the topic towards some frivolous point, but the issue was that the scholars would find out their tricks, and would make this known to the relevant parties. What happens today is that with the dissemination of information, any objector can take any point whatsoever and make a big hue and cry about it, and there will always be those simple Muslim men and women (or even boys and girls, in fact) who will fall for these tricks without even knowing what is going on. This has nothing to do with intellectual argumentation, but more to do with manipulation of people for the sake of deriving a sort of pleasure – a hallmark of the unbridled ego, nothing else.

o    One issue mentioned is that of the miracle of the splitting of the moon at the time of the Prophet , that people may object to this and say that how come only the people of Makkah happened to see this, and not the world in its entirety. One answer provided is that the duration for this occurrence was not long, so if the people were not expecting such a thing to happen, they would not have made preparations for witnessing it. Also, we see that there are many occurrences such as eclipses that do occur and are witnessed by so many people, yet the transmission of this information from the ‘witnessing’ standpoint is not so great. Yes, the people today may know that an eclipse occurred at such and such time due to calculations, but if we were to rely only on transmission (which would, in the case of eclipses that occurred a very long time back, be restricted to oral transmission), how many eclipses would be missed or ‘lost to history’?

o    Thus, these are matters connected to how information about an event is transmitted and passed down from generation to generation, and how problems and deficiencies may enter into the transmission of such occurrences, and how this knowledge may be lost altogether. Note that the transmission of this occurrence of the splitting of the moon has been recorded by a good number of independent witnesses as per our system of recording narrations, so there is no reason to discard the locality of Heejaz in favor of other areas that may not have recorded the witnessing of such an event.

o    There are other possibilities in this regard as well, such as that – as an analogy – even during a total lunar eclipse, the moon is seen in different forms throughout the night, so if one is not previously informed that an eclipse is occurring that very night, he might not be cognizant of this fact based on his observations alone.

o    Imam Ar-Razi mentions in his Tafsir that the histories in this age were mostly taken up by soothsayers, so it could be that such soothsayers considered such an occurrence as an eclipse, and molded their “histories” accordingly.

o    Also, one sees that many people today, even older people who have lived many years, may yet be unaware of the patterns of sunrise and sunset. For example, there was a case of an older person who became a Muslim in the West. He said that he would need to follow the timetables for prayer since he would be unsure whether one day the sun would set at a certain time, then the next day 10 minutes later, and the day after that 5 minutes earlier, etc. This means that for his entire life of 60+ years he did not notice that the times of sunset increment or decrement linearly by a minute or two each day and in many days they remain the same, and that they do not change by large aberrant fluctuations – why did he not know this? Because he never paid strict attention to such a thing. In fact, if you ask most people what the time of sunrise or sunset was yesterday, they would not be able to tell you correctly, and they would be off by perhaps 30 minutes or more, since they do not pay attention to such a thing, even though its knowledge is readily available, either on the Internet or by personal observation.

o    Not only this, but we see that the knowledge of the existence of entire civilizations is sometimes lost for good, and there is no talk of it until an archeologist or the like makes a finding, and then they can start making studies about such a lost civilization. We see that in here we are not talking about a single occurrence that happened for a little while, or the experiences of a single person, but rather about the existence of cities, an economy, governmental structures and so forth, over a large period of time, whose knowledge was totally lost, and no one recorded such a thing, either orally or through writing, for centuries or even millennia, until modern archeologists discovered some artifacts, tools, or the like, from which they can start to build their theories.

o    Besides, it is mentioned in our sources that people coming back from their trips to Shaam (Syria, etc.) attested to this miracle [because the disbelievers who witnessed this miracle said the same thing that occurs to the minds of disbelievers today, that it was only a mirage, or a type of magic that is localized to one area]. And it is also mentioned in the Tafseer books that a king in India embraced Islam due to this miracle, and he wrote down what he had witnessed at that time. (Yes, this seems to be an evidence of a lower level, but it is mentioned nonetheless).

o    Another matter to consider is that when discussing with Jews and Christians for example, there have been certain amazing occurrences affecting heavenly bodies, such as stopping the sun from its normal course, and so forth. If we use the same analogy that they are trying to use against us, we could ask as to why there was no “independent recounting” of whatever amazing things may have occurred to the sun which would have matched their biblical accounts, and this would be a valid way to counter their objections.

o    And as a final thing, I really want to drive home the point that in the case of the splitting of the moon, we do have mass transmission about this event, even though it is from the sources of the Muslims. But as far as the number of reporters is concerned, most of the scholars of Islam say that it reaches the level of Tawaatur, and this is something which can be verified by a scholar of Ahaadith sciences. But we see that the very important events in other religions (Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity), do not even have this element of “internal mass transmission”, since the academic transcribing of chains of narration is not something that such religions bothered themselves with much, thus leading to difficulties in ascertaining the events they claimed occurred from their own sources. This is a very long topic which might need many books to develop fully, but here we are only pointing towards it in order for the readers to have some idea of what the issue at stake is really about.