ISLAM AND CRITICAL THINKING (TAFAKKUR): AN IMPETUS TO CREATIVITY
It is often said that ‘creativity is a mother of invention’. This is particularly true when the mind engages in critical thinking or what can be referred to as ‘Tafakkur’, and comes up with results-oriented mindset. Tafakkur (to think to ponder, in Arabic), is an essential component in critical thinking. Combining tafakkur, Ikhtilaaf (respect for differences of opinions in Islam), and of course the ‘Socratic’ method of critical thinking makes you a full blown critic of your thinking, and hence free from the shackles of ignoramus bondage.
The two concepts- Tafakkur and Ikhtilaaf are key in Islamic Jurisprudence. Muhammadullah Muhammad Khalili Qasmi says: ‘…rational thinking to find out the depth is not only permissible but also encouraged in Islam’. The expediency to think critically appealed to USAID/OTI to sponsor the North East Intellectual Entrepreneurship Fellows- NEIEF, a brain child of North East Regional Initiative- NERI, to train in this very important discourse- ‘Critical Thinking’ facilitated by a renowned international consultant- Quilliam International.
Apparently, it never cease to interest me, in my minute horizon, how a fierce intellectual interplay of critical thinking came to the fore, which gave birth to this alluring spectrum of implementable idea- the NEIEF project. This is creativity in the real sense of the word! This is a handiwork of great minds in all ramification, and is yielding a self-effacing and palatable results- talents have been harnessed and nurtured, now ready to change the world.
I vividly recall, prior to the inception of the fellowship, how I was in a quandary as to how and where to showcase my passion- writing. Lo and behold, with the fellowship at my disposal, a dream has now turned into reality. I am writing and fascinatingly proud to be a fellow and of course, one among those trained and equipped to bring about positive social change. A capacity building training facilitated by Quilliam International was not the first but of course one of the best! All fellows attest to that fact without any fear of contradiction. The material benefits therein are second to none.
Having said that, looking at a view point from Islamic perspective, and in tandem with the theme of our discussion- Islam and Critical Thinking: An Impetus To Creativity, we need to ‘co-construct our thinking’- one of the catch-phrases of Dr. Muhammad Fraser-Rahim, the executive Director, Quilliam N. America. To do that however, we need not only tafakkur and ikhtilaaf as mere theoretical jargons, but the practical applications of the concepts as they affect the way and manner we use our intellect to critic our thinking. As the question goes: “Does Islam permit critical thinking?” Islamic scholar, Muhammadullah Muhammad Khalili Qasmi has this to say:
People state, “Most Muslim schools focus on rote memorization of religious texts and discourage independent thinking”. There are two different things; critical thinking and rational or independent thinking. There are categories where the mind should play its role and where it should not poke its nose. The clear and apparent meanings of the Glorious Qur’aan and the Hadith, which are called “Mansusaat” or ‘Nusoos-e-Qatiyah’ in Islamic terms, have no place for criticism.
Here, rational thinking to find out the depth is not only permissible but also encouraged in Islam. The principle beliefs, obligatory practices are from this category where the human mind is allowed to explore the reasons and the facts of the matters, but it is not allowed to criticize since the mind has its own limitation as other human faculties have.
The aforementioned points debunk the assertion that Islam does not give room for criticisms. Of course it abhors polemics. With the way we see the four major schools of thought in Islamic Figh- Hanafi, Shaf’ee, Maliki, Hanbali it is enough evidence to buttress our points. The scholars, having deep knowledge of the Glorious Qur’aan, Hadith and Islamic sciences, discussed the matters, which were not explicitly mentioned in the Qur’aan and Hadith, and they perform Ijtihad.
In this course, they many times contradicted each other and had different opinions about same issue. But, after all, there opposition was barely not an opposition to play down the other but sincere and concrete opposition based on proofs and evidences. That is why today nearly all of the Ummah follows any of the four schools and none of them deny the other, each of them believes that all are on right path.
This highlights the fact that as religious as we are, irrespective of where we come from, what faith we practice, there should be that quest to ponder. Ask questions that are objective enough to give a meaningful and coherent thoughts about a phenomenon. Subjective quagmire anchored on browbeating on the basis of a limited knowledge is disdainful and rebellious. The Glorious Qur’aan has set the tradition of thinking in the creation of Allah and asked its followers to reflect on the natural phenomena. For example the Glorious Qur’aan praises people who think:
“Lo! In the creation of the heavens and the earth and (in) the difference of night and day are tokens (of His sovereignty) for men of understanding. Such as remember Allah, standing, sitting, and reclining, and consider the creation of the heavens and the earth, (and say): Our Lord! Thou created not this in vain. Glory be to Thee! Preserve us from the doom of Fire” (Surah Ale-Imran, 3: 190, 191).
Before Islam, nearly every religion, which existed then, adopted creatures as God. This concept stopped them to think in the reality of the creatures of the heaven and earth. When Islam came it concentrated the human belief only in Allah and regarded the entire universe as the servant of the human beings. Thus, Islam opened the door of independent thinking in Muslims and it led them to a grand era of science- Khalili Qasmi. Some cultural undertones (not Islam) limit students to certain boundaries of knowledge. Modern scientific ideas like evolution, secular histories of other nations, are believed to be a no-go area to Muslims. However, as scholars argue, knowledge is dynamic and science is ever-growing.
Instance is cited from scientific evidence on how Newton’s theory known as ‘Gravitation Laws’ in the 17th century was so popular to the extent that if you question its popularity you become a subject of abuse. But, later in 20th century Einstein came and the entire theory of Newton turned upside down. So, as a Muslim, one should think whether one is going to change one’s beliefs which are told by All-Knowing Allah to the notions that have no concrete ground.
As a rule, and of course from the Socratic philosophical method of inquiry vis-à-vis Islamic literalism, one-upmanship is detested, so also in most religions. Above stated instance where the Islamic jurisprudence allows for divergent opinions based on one’s predisposition to one’s school of thought- Hanafi, Shaf’ee, Maliki, or Hanbali, as the case be tells us more about this claim. A clear indication that browbeating even in religion is a diatribe. As Muslims, we are cautioned against criticism propelled by prejudices. It is said:
“O ye who believe! Let not a folk deride a folk who may be better than they (are), nor let women (deride) women who may be better than they are; neither defame one another, nor insult one another by (insulting) nicknames. Bad is the name of lewdness after faith. And whoso turneth not in repentance, such are evil doers. O ye who believe! Shun much suspicion; for lo! some suspicion is a crime. And spy not, neither backbite one another. Would one of you love to eat the flesh of his dead brother? Ye abhor that (so abhor the other)! And keep your duty (to Allah). Lo! Allah is Relenting, Merciful.” (Surah Al-Hujrat, 49: 12, 13)