Why the Muslims Need to Kill Aristotles?

Statue of Aristotle

Written and collected by Zia H Shah MD, Chief Editor of the Muslim Times

All the present day Muslims are suffering from a severe case of inferiority complex.

They need to kill the Aristotles of the past metaphorically, so that they stop killing the blasphemers and apostates literally.

John Gribbin opens the first chapter of his book, The Scientists: A History of Science Told Through the Lives of Its Greatest Inventors, as he describes the sway of the Greeks over the European psyche, by saying:

The Renaissance was the time when Western Europeans lost their awe of the Ancients and realized that they had as much to contribute to civilization and society as the Greeks and Romans had contributed. To modern eyes, the puzzle is not that this should have occurred, but that it should have taken so long for people to lose their inferiority complex. The detailed reasons for the hiatus are outside the scope of this book. But anyone who has visited the sites of classical civilization around the Mediterranean can get a glimpse of why the people of the Dark Ages (in round terms, roughly from AD 400 to 900) and even those of the Middle Ages (roughly from AD 900 to 1400) felt that way. Structures such as the Pantheon and the Colosseum in Rome still inspire awe today, and at a time when all knowledge of how to build such structures had been lost, it must have seemed that they were the work almost of a different species — or of gods. With so much physical evidence of the seemingly god-like prowess of the Ancients around, and with newly discovered texts demonstrating intellectual prowess of the Ancients emerging from Byzantium, it would have been natural to accept that they were intellectually far superior to the ordinary people who had followed them, and to accept the teaching of ancient philosophers such as Aristotle and Euclid as a kind of Holy Writ, which could not be questioned. This was indeed the way things were at the start of the Renaissance. Since the Romans contributed very little to the discussion of what might now be called a scientific View of the world, this meant that by the time of the Renaissance the received wisdom about the nature of the universe had been essentially unchanged since the great days of Ancient Greece, some 1500 years before Copernicus came on the scene. Yet, once those ideas were challenged, progress was breathtakingly rapid after fifteen centuries of stagnation, there have been fewer than another five centuries from the time of Copernicus to the present day. It is something of a cliché, but nonetheless true, that a typical Italian from the tenth century would have felt pretty much at home in the fifteenth century, but a typical Italian from the fifteenth century would find the twenty-first century more unfamiliar than he or she would have found the Italy of the Caesars.[1]

Scientific progress was not possible until the awe of Aristotle and other great Greeks was suitably shattered. The same is the case for the Muslim scholars and leaders of previous centuries. They were giants of their times. We indeed stand on their shoulders, but they were not All Knowing. That attribute is reserved for Allah only. They had excellent opinions for their respective centuries.

We need to understand the principles of our religion for our times. The essence of the eternal principles and not the literal meaning of how these are articulated in the Quran, the Hadith or the Fiqah. We could ask what would the prophet Muhammad, may peace be on him, do or say if he was alive in 21st century global village?

What would Imam Abu Hanifah do?

What would other Imams do or say if they were alive today?

Some of the Imams announced capital punishments for apostasy and blasphemy, when these activities were more akin to mutiny or treason, in a bipolar world of Islamic Empire versus the Christendom.

Today, we coexist with people of different faiths in our global village and each of the more than 200 countries has a specific religious majority and several minorities. The Islamic principles have to interpreted in the present day paradigms with emphasis on coexistence and interfaith tolerance and human rights for each and every individual.

It is time to overcome our inferiority complex and rise to the occasion. Our political and secular progress is crying out loud for us to give up our dependence on the past.

Suggested reading

Hamza Yusuf on Jinns: Powerful Men or Demons?

The Taliban Rule: Do Muslims Prefer Camels Over Modern Cars?

Reason or Orthodoxy: Which One Should Rule?

The Holy Quran and the Seventh Century Arabian Metaphors

Is God Alive or Dead: A Metaphor for the Scriptures from the US Constitution?


  1. John Gribbin. A History of Science Told Through the Lives of Its Greatest Inventors. Published by Random House in 2002. Pages 3-4.

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