Saturday, December 9, 2006

49)Interpretation in Islam: Similarities and Differences.

His Holiness the Pope recently stirred up a lot of controversy with a speech in Germany. Worse than the quote by the Byzantine emperor that Islam was spread at the point of a sword, I think, was the Pope's assertion that Islam is a religion that is not compatible with reason the way Christianity is. In saying this, the Pope was either ignoring or glossing over the rich tradition encompassing Islam's golden age during which well-known intellectual luminaries succeeded in achieving a harmonious balance between revelation and reason. Perhaps the Pope was referring to the majoritarian Sunni interpretation of Islam and the anti-philosophy stance promulgated by the Hanbali-Ghazalian orthodoxy a millenium ago, which has led to the fundamentalist Sunni Islam of today. More than anything this shows that, as our Imam has often stated, Islamic society is not monolithic, whether culturally, ethnically or doctrinally. While there are important similarities and crucial commonalities among all muslims, there are also important differences, one of which is that various minoritarian communities, eg the Ismailis, have always placed great importance on the use of intellect, reason, philosophy and science in expounding and developing an explanatory teaching for their unique theology, of which the concept of Imamat is the central doctrine.

Here are examples of muslims of all stripes(and others) who have, through their writings and works, been able to tap rationalist and philosophical ideas from previous civilizations and create their own new syntheses to provide an explanatory teaching for their own theologies based on Quranic teachings, inculcating important concepts like Tawhid, Prophethood, Imamat, the created universe, salvation, etc. Links to articles prepared by the Institute of Ismaili Studies and the Internet Encyclopedia of philosophy will be provided so the reader can familiarize himself or herself with short descriptions of these various thinkers and their works:

On Mutazila, among the earliest proponents of rationalism in the explanation of religious concepts:

On Ismaili philosophy: excellent article by the IIS director on just how important a part reason played in trying to elaborate Ismaili doctrines:

On Ikhwan al-Safa: among the earliest attempts by muslims, this predominantly Ismaili group, succeeded in establishing a harmonious balance between revelation and reason in Islam:

On Avicenna(Ibn Sina)(father and brother were Ismaili, he may not have been one):

On Averroes(Ibn Rushd)(Umayad dynasty in Islamic Spain):

On Yakub Al-Sijistani(Qarmatian Ismaili turned regular Ismaili pre-Fatimid period):

On Nasir Khusraw(Ismaili, peri-Fatimid, Iranian but banished to Central Asia):

On Hamid-adin Al-Kirmani(Ismaili during Fatimid period):

On Nasir-ud Din Tusi(Ismaili during post-Fatimid Alamut period):

On Thomas Aquinas:

On Plotinus, the founder of Neoplatonism:

On Neoplatonism:

On faith and reason:

On Gnosticism:

On Al-Shahrastani:

On Al-Ghazali, the brilliant scholar with horns on his head who, IMHO, killed philosophy and science for muslims and the one whose ideas are most responsible for creating the majoritarian Sunni Islam of today. He often locked horns with the Ismailis and their doctrines but, at the end of his life, became a sufi, some people think, because of his exposure to and relentless criticism of those very same Ismaili doctrines:

On the newly created IIS gallery showing the scientific tradition in medieval Islam. During medieval times, science as we know it today was part of philosophy and was called natural philosophy. This gallery shows how the study of science in Islam was a rational pursuit and done very much within the realm of achieving a balance between revelation and reason:


Islam, eminently logical, placing the greatest emphasis on knowledge, purports to understand God's creation:Aga Khan 4.
The God of the Quran is the One whose Ayats(Signs) are the Universe in which we live, move and have our being:Aga Khan 3