Ibrahim (Abraham), father of all prophets, spent a long time looking for the truth. According to the Quran, in his search, his faith shifted from the belief in the Planet, to the Moon and the Sun. It was only later that he finally got to know Allah. As impressive as his devotion to discovering the truth is, it is even more significant that Ibrahim’s quest for the truth did not stop at mere belief.
Although he trusted Allah implicitly, he still found it necessary to ask, “My Lord, show me how You give life to the dead.” To which Allah responded, “Have you not believed?” He said, “Yes, but [I ask] only that my heart may be satisfied.” (Surat Al Baqarah: 260)
I wonder what would happen today, if a Muslim went to a cleric and asked, “Prove to me that God is able to give life to the Dead.”
Curiosity and inquisitiveness is what makes us human and what made progress possible. It is only through questioning set norms, values and accepted ‘truths’ that we discover new facts and reveal the real truth. We should be free to ask questions, without fear of repercussions. It is clear from the verses that Allah didn’t admonish Ibrahim or rebuke him. Instead, He responded to his request immediately and proved to him that He is able to revive the dead, as depicted in the story of the bird. Even questions and enquiries that have more objectionable connotations, such as when angels asked Allah “Will You place upon it one who causes corruption therein” (Surat Al Baqarah: 30) are an integral part of the existential components God has put in His creatures. Questions started with the creation of man when Allah asked His angels, “Inform Me of the names of these, if you are truthful” (Surat Al Baqarah 31). Moses once said, “My Lord, show me [Yourself] that I may look at You” (Surat Al’A’raf: 143) which demonstrates the freedom His creatures had to make demands upon the Lord in order to worship and understand Him better. Philosophers and scientists have always asked questions and enquired about laws of nature and the universe. Man will even ask questions in the next life in Paradise, as exemplified in the following quote: “Except the companions of the right, [Who will be] in gardens, questioning each other about the criminals” (Surat Al Muddaththir: 39-41).
Throughout human history, many civilisations existed, but only the great ones prospered through enquiries and doubts. Hence, I cannot understand why the word ‘doubt’ is inextricably linked to ‘lying’ in contemporary Islamic culture, even though their meaning is vastly different — doubt is the opposite of certainty, whereas lying means denying the truth. Confucius and Socrates started by questioning the morals and social systems that prevailed in China and Athens during their times. They asked the people tough questions in order to make them doubtful about their corrupt practices and social beliefs and push them to look for more civilised and moral paths for the future of their societies.
The Muslim civilisation, during the Abbasid state, witnessed a conflict between the Ash’arites, the Mu’tazilah on one side, and the students of Ahmad Bin Hanbal on the other (three ideological schools in the Islamic state that were in conflict over the characters of God during the ninth century). At the beginning, the conflict was religious in nature. However, over the years, it evolved to establish a real humanitarian philosophy that materialised into creative intellectual and scientific movement based on limitless doubts and queries. The scope and nature of those questions had no boundaries, so that they were able to cross all red lines and reached the Creator Himself. Questions and answers strengthened Muslims’ belief and brought their civilisation to its peak. However, the day the books of Ibn Rushd (Averroes), one of the most courageous Muslim philosophers, were burned, Muslim civilisation began to decline. As the American writer Ambrose Bierce once said, “Where doubt is, there truth is — it is her shadow.”
Although various verses in the Quran encourage Muslims to question and enquire, the Islamic religious discourse of today is very sensitive towards this issue. Muslims who ask certain questions related to religion are perceived as outsiders — as if they have gone beyond the pale of Islam. Even today, the religious discourse is primarily guided by interpretations and explanations of the holy texts provided by scholars who lived many hundreds of years ago. The views they offered at the time were based on their understanding, which was not only appropriate but also highly dependent on the circumstances and level of knowledge of their times. Thus, it should not come as a surprise that they cannot provide convincing answers to some questions Muslims have today. Now, we are in need of new interpretations of the Quran and Sunnah, derived from those great views of old scholars, yet not bound by their every word. This will bridge the gap between Sharia texts and current mindsets and will meet the needs and aspirations of modern Muslim society. The way Muslims perceive world today is different from the way their ancestors thought a thousand years ago.
There is also a need to renew studies of the Al Sirah Al Nabawiyah (the biography of Prophet Mohammad [PBUH]) in order to provide a fresh view on these historical texts, with hope of understanding them better and applying that knowledge to our current way of living. In the story of the woman called Al Ghamidyyah, who was brought to the Prophet and confessed her guilt of adultery, the Prophet sent her back until she gave birth to her baby and breastfed him. After she weaned her child, the Prophet judged her according to the Shriah law. When I think of this story, I cannot fail to notice that the period from the time the woman confessed her guilt to the time the judgment for her sin was finally passed spanned almost three years. Thus, an important question inevitably comes to my mind, “Where were the woman’s husband and her family during that time?” It is clear from the story that, in that initial period of child rearing, she was treated like a human being and nobody attacked her despite the severity of her crime. It makes me wonder why history books never shed light on this humane and bright aspect of the life of the Prophet. It raises even more important question — who decides what we are allowed to know? Clearly, such historical accounts have little bearing on the modern practices, in particular on the treatment Muslim women receive today. When I contrast this account with the incident of Manal Al Sharif and her driving ordeal in Saudi Arabia (where women are forbidden from driving), whereby she was described by some clerics as a ‘loose woman’ and an ‘unbeliever’, I can only pity their narrow-mindedness.
Minds that don’t question or doubt are useless. When the role of the mind is marginalised, we shouldn’t be surprised if the Arab nation declines and its role is dwarfed. A nation that deprives its people from the real understanding of their holy book, and asks them to go back to clerics whenever an issue related to Sharia texts arises, is a nation that belongs to the Dark Ages. Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) once said, “We are more liable to be in doubt than Ibrahim when he said, My Lord! Show me how You give life to the dead.” If He encourages us to ask and enquire, why do we insist on retiring our minds?
writer by : Yasser Hareb