Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Ebrahim Moosa - Epistemic Openness & "Islamic Thought"

The idea of Muslims being open to knowledge from various sources (human or 'secular' knowledge or even ideas from thinkers in other religious traditions) instead of a narrow minded approach (quoting the verse "This day I have perfected for you your religion" and thus questioning what need do we have of anything else) is something I've come to really appreciate.

Recently the Zaytuna College website has a piece on "General Education: A Demystified Approach." I think Ebrahim Moosa in the following passage also writes eloquently on this:
One of the issues related to change that has exercised me for some time is an observation that stems from my reading of classical Islamic texts, whether they be law, theology, history, mysticism, or philosophy. When studying the ancients, I am struck the epistemic openness and the liberty with which many thinkers and authors energetically engaged with a wide variety of knowledge traditions. They did so without allowing the provenance of knowledge be a decisive veto factor. Hence, a good portion of early Muslim intellectuals were open to the spirit of knowledge, whether it came from Greek, Indian, Biblical, or other philosophical traditions. Some strains of thought did resist this intellectual orientation, but they were hardly successful in dampening it.

This picture contrasts radically with many strains of contemporary Muslim intellectual thought, especially religious discourse. The provenance of an idea or a practice is more significant in contemporary thought than the substance of the idea. The prevalence of this condition has not only resulted in the atrophy of knowledge, but the process of knowledge production itself has suffocated. Knowledge related to religious discourse, such as ethics, law, theology, and philosophy, is quarantined from intercourse with ideas that have a non-Islamic genealogy. Only in the realm of science and technology is knowledge of a non-Islamic provenance tolerated, since these are viewed as secular discourses.” –pg. 25-26 of Ghazali & The Poetics of Imagination
Addition 10/29/09 from Dr. Jackson:
"The spread of Islam outside the Arabian Peninsula brought into the fold of the Muslim empire a range of peoples, cultures, intellectual and religious traditions. In the early period, there was no such thing as 'Islamic thought,' like the usul al-fiqh, kalam, and usul al-din that would later be so designated. As such, conversion to Islam did not oblige individuals to convert to any particular tradition of thinking. Rather, converts would come to Islam with the intention of 'thinking' on the data of revelation in the best way they knew how, be that way grounded in a Greek, Manichean, or Arab nativist tradition. Over the course of the formative period, some of these traditions would be able to sustain themselves as legitimate while others would be rejected as alien or even antithetical to Islam. In the final analysis, however, all of them would share a common trait: they were all historically determined, ultimately external to revelation. Recognizing this fact would appear to be the sine qua non for the success of any religion with universalist claims. It is interesting, however, to see so many who champion the universalist claims of Islam unable or unwilling to recognize this fact."- pg. 16
from Dr. Jackson's introduction to his annotated translation of Abu Hamid al-Ghazali's Faysal al-Tafriqa, On the Boundaries of Theological Tolerance in Islam

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