Reason or Orthodoxy: Which One Should Rule?

Epigraph: Say, ‘Bring forward your proof if you are truthful.’  (Al Quran 27:64)


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

My Exhibit A in favor of reason and its supremacy over the orthodoxy’s understanding of revelation is the last thousand year history of Europe.  It has been one victory after another, carved by human reason and rationality, over the ‘word of God,’ the Holy Bible, as understood by the Catholic Church and later by the Protestant movement.  I do not have time and space to elucidate my first exhibit, but, almost every modern person in the West, has some concept of what I am talking about.  So, allow me a short cut and let me just place a book here to describe the history for you.  I link two articles pertaining to this book:

Thomas Jefferson’s Qur’an: Islam and the Founders’ by Denise A. Spellberg

Europe and America’s Journey from Religious Bigotry to Pluralism, A Book Review

My Exhibit B is a recent debate by Ken Ham with Bill Nye.

Kenneth Alfred “Ken” Ham is an Australian-born[1] young Earth creationist and the president of Answers in Genesis (AiG), a Creationist apologetics ministry which operates the Creation Museum.[2] He is a former high school science teacher and currently lives in Kentucky, USA.[1]

Ham advocates a literal interpretation of the Book of Genesis.[n 1] His claim that the universe is approximately 6,000 years old, based on his interpretation of the Bible, is contradicted by evidence from astronomy and from the Earth’s fossil and geological records[4][n 2]

Ham was born on October 20, 1951 in Cairns. His father was a Christian educator who settled his family in Brisbane as a school principal. According to Ham:

[My father] was always very adamant about one thing – if you can’t trust the Book of Genesis as literal history, then you can’t trust the rest of the Bible. After all, every single doctrine of biblical theology is founded in the history of Genesis 1-11. My father had not developed his thinking in this area as much as we have today at Answers in Genesis, but he clearly understood that if Adam wasn’t created from dust, and that if he didn’t fall into sin as Genesis states, then the gospel message of the New Testament can’t be true either.

—Ken Ham (2008)[6]

Here is the debate without further ado, where in, Ham makes a fool of himself, by insisting on his understanding of a few verses of the Holy Bible and disregarding almost every thing scientific revolution stands for:

So, far it was about the Holy Bible and the Muslims may well say, the Bible has been corrupted, but, our Holy Scripture the Holy Quran has been preserved and is the literal word of God.  It is the final revelation by the All Knowing God to mankind. Fair enough!

My Exhibit C is an interview of a Pakistani religious leader Munawar Hassan, who makes a fool himself of no lesser order than Ken Ham in the video linked here.  Syed Munawar Hassan (Urduسید منور حسن ‎) (born August 1944, Delhi) is a politician and the former Ameer (President) of Islamist party Jamaat-e-IslamiPakistan.[1]

Hassan joined the National Students Federation (NSF) – a Communist student group – and was elected its President in 1959. The real change appeared in his life when he came closer to the activists of Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba (IJT) Pakistan and studied the writings of Mawlana Syed Abul Ala Maududi. As a result, he joined IJT in 1960 and was elected President of its University of Karachi Unit, Karachi City Unit and member of the Central Executive Council. He became its national President in 1964 and served in that capacity for three consecutive terms. During his tenure the Jamiat organised several campaigns mobilising public opinion regarding education issues.

He joined the Islamic Research Academy (IRAK) and later Islamic Jerusalem Studies, at Karachi as a Research Assistant in 1963. He became its Secretary General in 1969. Under his supervision the Academy published 70 scholarly books. He also served as Managing Editor of the The Criterion and The Universal MessageKarachi.

In this interview, one of the most learned scholars and proponent of Sharia says that if a woman is raped and does not have four male witnesses, regardless of other circumstances, she should better be quiet. The learned scholar does not suggest how the victim should negotiate with the potential witnesses before the legal hearing in presence of strict Purdah requirements, to make sure that they are not going to deviate from their testimony. Such lack of insight and empathy should send shivers down the spine of every sensitive human being! All the moderate Muslims may be better off under any Western law rather than such medieval understanding of Sharia Law. My apologies to the English readers, for the video clip is in Urdu. You will need to find an Urdu translator. Munawar Hasan is also completely unable to conceptualize that he may not have the correct interpretation of the Holy Quran.

My Exhibit D is the Taliban and their rule of Afghanistan, for a number of years.

My Exhibit E is ISIS.

My Exhibit F is Al Shabab.  I do not need to list all their misdeeds, but merely their recent killing of innocent Christians, with complete disregard of their own religion and manifesto, as the religion of Islam is understood by moderate Muslims and myself.  I believe that the Holy Quran equates killing of one innocent person to perpetrating a genocide. (Al Quran 5:32)

My Exhibit G is Boko Haram, I do not need to list their misdeeds, they have chosen to put their medieval understanding of Quran and Sunnah above human reason and rationality and decided to see the world through those glasses, with complete disregard for reason and rationality.

My Exhibit H is a recent article by me, Do Muslims Prefer Camels over Modern Cars?

Prophet Muhammad, may peace be on him, did not have the solutions to the societal problems and at an age of forty years, he was meditating in the cave of Hira and angel Gabriel came and started guiding and leading his reason.  Once again the revelation took supremacy over human reason.  It had happened at least 120,000 times before in different parts of the world.  Through out his 23 years ministry he was constantly guided by revelation. When the Prophet died constant and reliable revelation stopped, at least for the foreseeable future.  God did not give the Prophet any sons and he did not set up a dynasty.  He had laid precise instructions about relatively less important things, for example, how to do ablution, clean teeth regularly, invoke God before eating and every little task and to sleep on the side.  But, he did not give a political system.  He did not say how to elect the future leader of the blossoming Islamic Empire.  Was it shortsightedness a slip or was it by design?  I think not! In his last sermon at the time of Hajj he had stressed the importance of the Holy Quran, but, did not name a person or a body to interpret it for the Muslims.

In the year 632 CE, after the death of the Prophet, the Muslims of Arabia were left to chalk out their course by their God given reason and seek guidance from the Holy Quran to the best of their abilities and whatever they could gather from it.  There was no longer one authority to interpret it for them.  Were they abandoned by All Knowing God?  I think not!  All Knowing God was just telling them that for every one other than a Prophet, reason has to rule revelation.  There were no two ways about it.  The Muslims used their best judgment and elected Hazrat Abu Bakr to be the Khalifa.  They could have chosen someone else.  Each subsequent Khalifa was elected through a different process and thirty years later the system changed into a monarchy.

The revealed word of the God was preserved as the Holy Quran, was collected into a form of a book, during the reign of Hazrat Abu Bakr, within two years of the death of the Holy Prophet.  Human rationality became the main tool to understand the Holy Quran; which verse is explaining which other verse and which part of Sunna bears on a particular verse was important, but, ultimately had to go through the scrutiny of human reasoning and understanding.  What ever was happening or being thought about in Medina will take a month or more to get to Mecca, not to speak of Jerusalem, Damascus or Antioch and other farthest parts of the Islamic Empire, under the reign of Hazrat Umar.  Individuals were on their own and with their own reason to understand the Holy Scripture, the Holy Quran.

But, like all earthly resources, we tend to monopolize the heavenly resources also, as much as we can.  Centuries ago if someone of lower caste got to hear Gita, molten lead was put in his ears.  William Tyndale was an English scholar who became a leading figure in Protestant reform in the years leading up to his execution. He is well known for his translation of the Bible into English.  In 1535, Tyndale was arrested and jailed in the castle of Vilvoorde (Filford) outside Brussels for over a year. In 1536 he was convicted of heresy and executed by strangulation, after which his body was burnt at the stake.   In the same vein, translation of the Holy Quran was not allowed for more than a thousand years. In personal life, we should of course put the revealed word of God, above our hedonistic desires, but, when it comes to communal living, politics, law and economics, we have little choice but to give precedence to our reason and rationality over any one person’s understanding of any verse of the Gita, Bible or the Quran.  If we fail to do that we will often find ourselves in catch 22, a double bind situation like Ken Ham and Munawar Hassan were in the above videos.

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