Wahhabi madness

Most devout Muslims today are in favor of science, and often even philosophy. If you press further, you may run into qualifications: it isn’t supposed to be “materialist science,” certain sciences such as evolutionary biology might be tainted, etc. etc. But at least rhetorically, most affirm science.

And then there are the Wahhabis and other ultraconservatives. You would hope medieval Islamic rulings against philosophy and natural science would be a bad memory by now, but no, these guys resurrect them.

Here are some selections from Shaykh Muhammad S Al-Munajjid (mostly quotations from approved sources). Al-Munajjid is a Saudi religious scholar who posts his rulings online.

Natural sciences, some of which go against sharee’ah, Islam and truth, so it is ignorance, not knowledge that may be mentioned alongside the other branches of knowledge. Some of it involves the discussion of the attributes of different elements and how one can be changed to another. This is similar to the way in which doctors examine the human body in particular, from the point of view of what makes it sick and what makes it healthy. They look at all the elements to see how they change and move. But medicine has an edge over the physical body in that it is needed, but there is no need for the study of nature.

. . . philosophy, as defined by the philosophers, is one of the most dangerous falsehoods and most vicious in fighting faith and religion on the basis of logic, which it is very easy to use to confuse people in the name of reason, interpretation and metaphor that distort the religious texts.

The Greek philosophers still have an impact on all western philosophies and ideologies, ancient and modern. Indeed, most of the Islamic kalaami groups were influenced by them. The terminology of Islamic philosophy did not emerge as a branch of knowledge that is taught in the curriculum of Islamic studies until it was introduced by Shaykh Mustafa ‘Abd al-Razzaaq – the Shaykh of al-Azhar – as a reaction to western attacks on Islam based on the idea that Islam has no philosophy. But the fact of the matter is that philosophy is an alien entity in the body of Islam. There is no philosophy in Islam and there are no philosophers among Muslims in this deviant sense. Rather in Islam there is certain knowledge and prominent scholars who examine matters. Among the most famous philosophers who were nominally Muslims were al-Kindi, al-Faraabi, Ibn Sina (Avicenna) and Ibn Rushd (Averroes).

Acquiring knowledge may be an individual obligation, which is as much as one needs for religious commitment to be sound; or it may be a communal obligation, which is in addition to the previous and is done for the benefit of others; or it may be recommended, which is studying fiqh and ‘ilm al-qalb (purification of the heart) in depth; or it may be haraam [prohibited], which is learning philosophy, magic (sleight of hand), astrology, geomancy, natural science and witchcraft.

Mind you, this is all very medieval; “natural science” in that context isn’t exactly what we have in mind today. But this is the basis by which these scholars reach modern rulings. In this case, a ruling concerning studying philosophy in school. Read the whole thing.

Fortunately a lot of Muslims, and certainly those who are liberal-minded and want to make some kind of peace with the modern world, think all this is madness. Unfortunately, these Saudi scholars also have a lot of resources to spread their views, and so they enjoy some significant influence among Muslims.

About Taner Edis

Professor of physics at Truman State University