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An Imam was fired for believing in evolution

Some news from Twitter:

An Imam was fired for believing in evolution. I replied to the tweet with a link to my essay in which I discuss the compatibility of the Quran and evolution. Unfortunately it doesn’t look like anyone bothered to read it, so I only got a lot of self-congratulating replies from true believers in atheism.

The Atonement by William Lane Craig

I became interested in the Christian theologian William Lane Craig after reading Jacobus Erasmus’s The Kalām Cosmological Argument: A Reassessment, a 2018 book that reconsiders Craig’s views on this argument for God’s existence and tries to strengthen it. I was surprised by just how strong this argument is, although it does not reach the level of “proof”. A true proof is one that all rational people can accept. But no argument for God’s existence reaches this level–there is always room for some doubt, there is always a “leap of faith” necessary in order to accept the argument. As the Christian theologian recently stated on Twitter:

Alister McGrath’s statement applies very well to the The Kalām Cosmological Argument. As a faithful person who has already made the leap of faith, it further convinces me just how incredibly unwise it is to doubt God’s existence. But I admit that a dedicated atheist can question it.

I decided to embark on a journey to read most of Craig’s books starting with his newest, which was The Atonement. This is as part of my efforts to familiarize myself with Christian theology. The studying of Christianity by Muslims is sometimes framed under the unfortunate rhetoric of “knowing the enemy”. That attitude will hopefully go away as Muslims interact more with Christians and recognize the need to see Christians as fellow humans and persons doing their best to serve God as they understand Him. Of course many Christians also have a similarly unfortunate attitude toward the study of Islam. But when interacting with a non-Muslim group, the proper way is to focus on the best and most humane among them and treat them as they like to be treated, rather than focusing on the worst and using this to justify bad treatment.

The Atonement is a short defense of the Christian Doctrine of the Atonement on both theological and legal grounds. An interesting aspect of the book is the author’s use of modern legal theory. The book is a good representative of what we might call the cutting-edge of Western theological and legal thought. The Christian doctrine of the Atonement attempts to justify how the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ [as] (something Islam denies but Christianity considers foundational to its theology) leads to the salvation of Christians. How does the torture and death of an innocent person lead to forgiveness and salvation for others?

Some Christian theologians, similar to the Muslim Muʿtazilites, had the “cosmic justice machine” view of God. According to them God is forced to be just in all things, which means that He is prevented from forgiving sins unless there is a good and just reason for this forgiveness.

William Lane Craig

As a non-Muʿtazilite, I naturally find that view of God highly unsatisfactory. God has many attributes and He is not forced to act by any one of them. He is forgiving, He is just, and He is avenging. And He is free according to which attribute He should treat a particular person or group of persons. He can forgive someone even if our idea of justice requires the person to be punished, because this is the essence of forgiveness: to choose not to do some injury to someone despite the fact that they justly deserve it. My view of God as freely choosing to act according to whichever attribute He prefers is also why I reject the Sufi view that loving God is better than fearing Him (as discussed here). Loving God pleases God’s attribute of the Loving, while fearing Him pleases His attribute of the Mighty (among others). Who are we to choose whether pleasing one of His attributes is better than pleasing another? The proper, God-fearing view in my opinion is to respect all of God’s attributes equally. This means that serving God out of fear and desire is just as good as serving God out of love. Ideally, of course, we should serve God out of fear, love and desire, and out of the intellectual recognition of the fact that God is One who deserves to be worshiped, not out of fear, love or desire, but because that is something He simply deserves. The love and appreciation of all of His attributes should be the foundation of our worship of God.

According to the cosmic justice machine theory (to which Craig subscribes to some degree), therefore, the Atonement was necessary because God could not justly forgive humanity without first demanding that a sacrifice or offering should be made to Him, or demanding that a particular person be punished as a substitute and representative of humanity.

An alternative theory to that is the moral influence theory, according to which the Atonement was meant as an example to humanity rather than as an offering for sin. Other arguments are also mentioned but I will not go into the details here.

An important problem with all doctrines of Atonement is the issue of imputation. How is it rational that a particular person be held responsible for the sins of all others? Various responses to this problem are mentioned in the book. For example it is mentioned that God, as Supreme Ruler, has the right to punish a person for the sins of another. Just because we cannot easily envision how this can be just or rational does not mean that it is not.

A strong argument in favor of the imputation of humanity’s sins to Christ is the concept of vicarious liability. This legal concept refers to the fact that, for example, an employer can be punished for crimes committed by his employees. Even though he himself has committed no fault, the employee’s fault can legally fall upon the employer. Similarly, Christ can be considered the master of mankind and therefore any sins committed by his underlings can be in some way imputed to him. The fact that he accepts this responsibility and imputation willingly makes its justice even stronger.

Another defense is that God’s punishment of Christ, even though on the face of it unjust, helped prevent a greater harm, which was the destruction of all of humanity for their sins.

Defining guilt and pardon

Craig analyses the concept of guilt and rejects the definition that guilt is simply the fact of having committed a crime or sin. Guilt, instead, is a person’s liability for punishment.

According to this view, pardon is the act of taking away a person’s liability for punishment without implying that the person did not commit the crime. The commitment of the crime is acknowledged, but the act of pardon takes away all guilt. Craig says:

A person who has served his sentence has paid his debt to society, and so is now no longer guilty; that is to say, no longer liable to punishment. Similarly, a person who has been pardoned is by all accounts no longer liable to punishment for the crime he committed.

Since Craig to some degree believes in the cosmic justice machine theory, he concludes that God’s pardon of our sins could only be justly accomplished if someone was punished for them. There is a contradiction between pardon and justice that can only be resolved if the pardon only takes place when some punishment has taken place (in this case the punishment that Christ bore willingly for the sake of humanity). Thus God is powerless to pardon without punishment since that would be unjust.

As should be clear from what I said earlier, I find Craig’s final solution to the contradiction between justice and pardon unsatisfactory. My solution would be that God is free when it comes to which one of His attributes He acts according to. He can act according to His attribute of Mercy regardless of what His attribute of Justice demands. There is no contradiction here because there is no higher power forcing God to act according to one attribute and not another.

He will not be questioned about what He does, but they will be questioned.

The Quran, verse 21:23.

One argument against my view would be that it suggests that God could just as easily be cruel as He can be kind. But that argument is preempted by the following Quranic verse:

Say, “To whom belongs what is in the heavens and the earth?” Say, “To God.” He has prescribed for Himself mercy. He will gather you to the Day of Resurrection, in which there is no doubt. Those who lost their souls do not believe.

The Quran, verse 6:12.

God has freely chosen His attribute of Mercy as an overruling attribute, which is likely why in Islam His two major names by which we call Him are al-raḥmān al-rahīm (“The Most Mercifully Gracious”, “The Most Mercifully Compassionate”). Both names come from the RḤM root (“mercy”, “kindness”, “womb”).

Of course my solution would likely not work for a Christian since it would invalidate the commonly accepted versions of the Doctrine of the Atonement. If God could have forgiven us anyway, there would not have been a need for Christs’ suffering, or his suffering would have only served the purpose of a reminder and example to humanity.

In the last paragraph of the book, Craig states:

As mentioned earlier, it is not at all implausible that only in a world that includes such an atoning death would the optimal number of people come freely to love and know God and so to find eternal life. God’s wisdom, not only His love and holiness, is thus manifest in the atoning death of Christ.

In conclusion, The Atonement is a good defense of Christian doctrine and contains some ideas that Muslim thinkers can benefit from. The analyses of the concepts of guilt and pardon are especially worthy.

Advice to my younger self

“There is no god but You! Glory to You! I was one of the wrongdoers!” (from the Quran, verse 21:87)

If you could give advice to your younger self, what would it be?

I would give myself two pieces of advice:

1. You cannot guide yourself

Even if you spend years reading the best available books, without God’s help and guidance you will never be able to achieve guidance.

Whomever God guides is the guided one. And whomever He sends astray—these are the losers.

The Quran, verse 7:178

The proper attitude toward guidance is to desperately desire it from God the way a person dying of third desires water. This was one of the most difficult lessons I have learned in life and possibly the most important one.

2. You cannot benefit yourself without God

Nothing you do can ever succeed if God does not want it to succeed. Success should first always be sought from God. All good things come from God and we have no power to do anything that benefits us except through God’s will and approval. So it is from God that we should seek all benefit.

Whatever mercy God unfolds for the people, none can withhold it. And if He withholds it, none can release it thereafter. He is the Exalted in Power, Full of Wisdom.

The Quran, verse 35:2

In short, both when it comes to guidance and success, God should be our center. He should be the King from whom we desperately seek these things, knowing that nothing we do will have any benefit unless He desires it.

The lesson I have learned is therefore that I must lead a God-centered life; to throw away all my illusions that I am capable of benefiting or guiding myself.

Human and Social Development in Islam

Panoramic view of the Alhambra Complex in Garanda, Spain.

What exactly do we mean by human and social development?

This question will be answered differently if we were to ask a diverse set of people.

Even though most people may agree that human development entails having more “freedom”, “equality”, “justice”, and access to opportunities for “self-fulfillment”, “happiness”, and “flourishing”, different societies may interpret these values very differently depending on their worldview. This is because concepts of development and progress ultimately stem out of a society’s belief and value systems and are measured according to them. The worldview of a community or culture dictates how that society perceives reality and consciously or subconsciously shapes that society’s normative principles of ethics, morals, development, and progress.

Just like the right ideal can galvanize people towards progress, a wrong ideal can derail the efforts of humans and societies. The dominant secular (neoclassical economics-based) worldview has done just that through its myopic formulation of human development in terms of material wealth and by ignoring the role of spirituality or character development in defining human development. This narrow formulation of human development, accompanied by the rise of market-based capitalism and the estrangement of God from human life, has significantly damaged the human psyche and society, as well as the environment.

The Islamic worldview in contrast has principally spiritual end-goals of human development and defines life to be purposeful. The purpose of human life is clarified by God in the Quran to be “nothing except for the worship of God”1. A primary distinction between the Islamic and non-Islamic worldviews is that the former incorporates a belief in the impermanence of this worldly life (al-dunyā) and the existence of an eternal afterlife, al-ākhira. The Quran says in this regard, “And this worldly life is not but diversion and amusement. And indeed, the home of the Hereafter—that is the [eternal] life, if only they knew.”2. The real measure of human progress and actions thus is to be seen in the light of the Quranic verse, “And that to your Lord is the finality”3.

It is illuminating to see a Quranic negative example related to human development in order to understand what should not be mistaken as human development. The Quran narrates the story of Qārūn, an affluent contemporary of Prophet Moses [as],

So Qārūn came out before his people in his adornment; those who desired the worldly life said, "Oh, would that we had like what was given to Qārūn; indeed, he is one of great fortune." But those who had been given knowledge said, "Woe to you! The reward of God is better for he who believes and does righteousness; And none are granted it except the patient."

 The Quran, verses 28:79–80.

God clearly establishes through these verses the true Islamic knowledge of development by defining the belief in God and righteous actions to be better and deserving of everlasting reward. Islamic development does not conflate needs with objectives and goals. While economic well-being is a need of all people, it is not the ultimate goal of human efforts. Islamic development is not about material accumulation or the freedom to consume. It entails the development of an ethical innate character (akhlāq) through the process of the purification of human souls (tazkiya), which is manifested externally through the correspondence of human actions with divine guidelines and internally through the rectification and purification of intrinsic human character traits.  

We can therefore begin to describe the ends (i.e., objectives) of the Islamic conception of development by describing seven interrelated overlapping concepts. In contrast to the secular worldview, human development entails freeing oneself of base desires and recognizing one’s servanthood before God (ʿubūdīya) and attaining a God-consciousness that can rein in selfish indulgences and actions that are harmful for oneself and society (taqwā). By attaining a high standard of ethical character (akhlāq) through the purification of human souls (tazkiya), human beings can deserve to be the vicegerents of God on earth through their attempts to perfect their servanthood before God (ʿubūdīya). 

Although new concepts such as sustainable development and human-development have recently been proposed, the true barrier in the Islamic worldview that can check human transgressions is God-consciousness (taqwā), which literally means guarding oneself against God’s displeasure. God describes in the Quran that the most noble person before God is the one with the most taqwā. By adorning oneself with these attributes, one will be able to scale the heights of excellence (iḥsān) and civilization (ʿumrān) and achieve true felicity, happiness, and welfare in this life and in the hereafter (saʿāda).

By subscribing to these notions of development, human beings can rise above the inhumane pursuit of selfish interests and create sound and harmonious societies while also earning the pleasure of God and escaping the illusion of those whose effort is lost in worldly life, while they think that they are doing well in work.”4

To read more on the seven overlapping ends of Islamic development, read our paper:  “The Ends of Development in Islam: Seven Overlapping Concepts”, J. Qadir, A. Zaman, Journal of Islamic Banking and Finance, Volume 35, No 3, 2018. http://islamicbanking.asia/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/July-Sept-2018.pdf
[Longer version]: “The Islamic Worldview and Development Ideals”, J. Qadir, Journal of Islamic Banking and Finance, Volume 35, Number 1, Jan–Mar 2018, pp 33–44. https://tinyurl.com/islamicdevelopment

Birth control in Islam: A study of the hadith on coitus interruptus

A hadith found in three places in Sahih al-Bukhari suggests that birth control is not recommended in Islam:

We asked (the Prophet PBUH) about it and he said, 'There is no harm if you do not do [coitus interruptus1], for if any soul (till the Day of Resurrection) is predestined to exist, it will exist."

Sahih al-Bukhari 4138

First, this hadith does not say that birth control is bad. It merely say that there is no harm in not using birth control.

This hadith, however, is not a very high-quality one due to its meager chain of narrators. Below is a diagram of all of the chains of the authentic versions of this hadith:

This hadith has only an 11.79% chance of authenticity, which is quite low. In my mathematical hadith verification methodology (which I discuss here), a hadith that falls between 10% and 20% is munkar (strange and unlikely to be true, but not clearly false and fabricated). A munkar hadith is not strong enough to act as a basis for establishing sunna (the tradition of the Prophet PBUH). For this reason, we cannot say with certainty that a negative view of birth control is part of Islam. In this case, the commonsense view should be used that birth control is a matter of personal choice.

Speeding up grep of a 12.4 GB text file

I am working on a vocabulary-building book for SAT and GRE students. Below is a picture of the provisional cover of the book:

In order to have a wide corpus of classical texts to find word usage examples, I downloaded a massive ebook collection from the Gutenberg project and merged all of the text files into one big file that reached 12.4 gigabytes in size. I then wrote a PHP script that used the grep utility to search through about 250 billion lines of text1 to find the word usages I needed.

Here is an example of the results for the word “taciturn”:

In order to find interesting examples, I use the following regular expression:

egrep -aRh  -B 20 -A 20 "\b(she|her|hers|his|he)\b.*taciturn" merged.txt

This finds usages of the word that start with a pronoun such as “she”. This helps find usages that occur mostly in novels, rather than other types of books (the Gutenberg collection contains many non-novel files, such as encyclopedias and legal works).

My first step toward speeding up the grep was to move the file to an old SSD I have that is attached to my desktop. The SSD supports up to 200 MB/second read speeds. This was not good enough, so I eventually moved it to my main Samsung SSD which has over 500 MB/second read speeds. Below is a screenshot of the iotop utility reporting a read speed of 447 M/s while grep is running:

My first idea to speed up the grep was to use GNU parallel or xargs, both of which allow grep to make use of multiple CPU cores. This was misguided since the limiting factor in this grep was not CPU usage but disk usage. Since my SSD is being maxed out, there is no point in adding more CPU cores to the task.

Using the following grep command, it took a little over 30 seconds to finish grepping the entire file once:

Here is the output for the time command which tells how long a command takes to finish:

One of the first suggestions I found is to prefix the command with LC_ALL=C, this tells grep to avoid searching through non-ANSI-C characters.

That seemed to make the grep very slightly faster:

Just to see what happens, I next used the fmt utility to reformat the file. The file currently is made up of short lines all separated by new lines. Using fmt, I changed it to having lines of 500 characters each. This was likely going to make the grep slower since it was going to match a lot more lines since the lines were going to be longer:

But on the upside, I was going to get a lot more results. The fmt command decreased the number of lines from 246 million to only 37 million:

But actually what happened when I did the next grep was that the grep time decreased to only 23 seconds:

I guess the reason is that grep has a lot fewer lines to go through.

Unfortunately it looked like fmt had corrupted the text. Here is an example:

I think the reason was that some (or most, or all) of the text files were using Windows-style newlines rather than Unix-style ones which was perhaps confusing fmt. So I used this command to convert all Windows-style newlines into spaces:

After that operation and running fmt again on the result, grepping again seems to result in non-corrupt results:

And:

I also looked for the corrupted passage above to see how it looked now:

So it all seems fine now.

As far as I know there is no way to speed up the grep significantly further unless I get a lot of RAM and do the grep on a ramdisk, or get a much faster SSD. Just out of curiosity I decided to try out changing the fmt command to make lines of 1500 characters each to see how that affects the grep:

That didn’t actually do anything to speed up the grep further:

A study of “the majority of people in Hell are women” hadith

A famous hadith of the Prophet PBUH states:

I looked into Paradise and I saw that the most of its people were the poor; and I looked into the Fire and I saw that most of its people were women.

Sahih al-Bukhari 3241

Note that this hadith does not actually say that the majority of women in Hell are women. It may just mean that the part of Hell that the Prophet PBUH was shown contained many women. None of the versions of the hadith say “the majority of people in Hell are women”. They all mention that when the Prophet saw Hell, he saw that the majority of the people (of the part he saw) were women. It is clear that the Prophet PBUH interpreted this vision as meaning that the majority are women. But since nothing in the Quran or hadith tells us that explicitly, we may consider it to be the Prophet’s own personal conclusion from what he saw.

Various versions of this statement are to be found in all of major hadith collections. I decided to conduct a study of all existing authentic versions of this hadith to find out just how reliable they are.

Below is the version from the Companion ʿImrān b. Ḥuṣayn [ra]:

All of the versions come through the single transmitter Abū Rajāʾ.

Next are the versions coming from the Companion Ibn Abbas [ra]:

The strongest chain comes again through the aforementioned transmitter Abū Rajāʾ. There is however an additional chain (the top one) coming through ʿAṭāʾ b. Yasār, through Zayd b. Aslam.

Next are the other chains coming from four other Companions:

None of these latter four chains are very strong because each comes through a single transmitter, through another single transmitter, before other witnesses come along.

In order to prove a point with reasonable certainty, a hadith should come from a binary tree chain, as follows:

The current hadith falls short of this standard as follows, with the red boxes indicating missing transmitters:

Besides the missing transmitters, the hadith also has the issue of having a duplicate witness (the yellow boxes). So in reality we only have two transmitters’ words for it that the two Companions said that.

However, the four additional chains are supporting evidence in favor of the hadith and cannot be ignored. Using a hadith verification methodology I have developed that uses probability theory to combine the reliability of each transmitter and chain to reach a single number that represents the chance of the hadith being true (see my essay about it), we perform the following calculation to combine all of the probabilities:

(1-(1−0.34)×(1−0.39015)×(1−0.0207)×(1−0.1076)×(1−0.0776)×(1−0.1716)) = 0.7312

So the verdict is that this hadith has a 73.12% probability of being truly from the Prophet PBUH, which is a very high probability for a hadith. In my highly stringent verification methodology, a hadith that reaches 60% or higher is ṣaḥīḥ al-ṣaḥīḥ (a degree above ṣaḥīḥ)

In conclusion, the Prophet PBUH almost certainly said that the majority of the people he saw in Hell were women. Whether this really means the majority are women, or whether only the part that he saw had a lot of women, we cannot say. So the hadith should not be used to imply that women are less pious or more evil than men.

Is ruqya part of Islam? A study of the hadiths on ruqya using probability theory

There are numerous narrations that mention ruqya (the use of certain words, prayers or Quran recitations as charms or spells to heal or protect a person). I decided to to conduct a search of all major hadith collections and some minor ones to find all the hadiths that mention ruqya in order to find out just how authentic they are. I then used my own mathematical method of calculating hadith authenticity which combines probability theory with the science of hadith transmitter criticism (al-jarḥ wa-l-taʿdīl). The method (see my essay about it) is useful in judging between contradictory hadith narrations because it produces a single percentage for each hadith that reflects its chance of authenticity. We can then compare the chance of the authenticity of different hadiths to find out which one is most likely to be truly from the Prophet PBUH.

Summary

The hadith against ruqya has a 64.1% chance of authenticity, which makes it ṣaḥīḥ. The hadiths that support ruqya, however, are much lower in quality, the strongest having only a 20.78% chance of authenticity. But by combining the chance of the authenticity of all the ruqya-supporting hadiths, we reach a probability of 49.69%, which means that the crux of the meaning of the hadiths is likely to be true. It is strange, however, that the most authentic hadith in support of ruqya says that it is only to be used against the evil eye and scorpion stings.

In conclusion and considering all of the hadiths together, it appears that the Prophet PBUH forbade the use of ruqya in the pre-Islamic sense of casting a spell. But he permitted the use of the recitation of the Quran as a means of hopefully bringing about healing and protection. While some Muslims think that ruqya has an almost magical power that is guaranteed to bring about results, it is probably more correct to think of it as the same as prayer. It is merely the use of God’s words in the hope of attaining His blessings.

The traditional understanding of ruqya as casting spells is therefore highly doubtful and appears to be an importation of pre-Islamic Arab beliefs into Islam. The Prophet PBUH himself appears to have strongly disliked the spell-casting aspect of ruqya, which is why the most authentic narration speaks against it and mentions it along with other pre-Islamic practices. However, he appears to have tolerated the use of Quran recitation as a substitute for pre-Islamic forms of ruqya while allowing it to be called ruqya.

I am therefore fairly confident that we should reject the understanding of ruqya as spell-casting and instead think of it as similar to prayer and no more likely than prayer to be effective.

Technical details

The hadith against ruqya

It is interesting to note that the most authentic narration on ruqya actually says good Muslims will not use it:

Verily the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said: Seventy thousand men of my Ummah would enter Paradise without rendering account. They (the companions of the Holy Prophet) said: Who would be those, Messenger of Allah? He (the Holy Prophet) said: They would be those who neither practise charm (ruqya), not take omens, nor do they cauterise, but they repose their trust in their Lord.

Sahih Muslim 218 b

This hadith comes to us through three Companions (ignoring unauthentic chains). I decided to gather all of its versions from the major hadith collections to find out just how strong its chains are.

Below is a diagram of the chains coming through Ibn Abbas:

The numbers indicate probability of authenticity. Thus this chain has a 24% probability of being truly from Ibn Abbas (according to my methodology).

Below are the chains from Imran b. Husayn:

This chain is stronger and has a 45.7% probability of authenticity.

The last chain is from Ibn Masud and has a 12.85% chance of authenticity.

We use the following equation to combine all of these probabilities into one probability:

probability of authenticity = 1 - (1 - probability of authenticity of first chain) × (1 - probability of authenticity of second chain) × (1 - probability of authenticity of third chain chain) and so on.

Thus:

1-((1−0.241)×(1−0.4579)×(1−0.12855)) = 0.641438499

The result is that this hadith has a 64.1% probability of authenticity. Any hadith that has a 60% probability of authenticity or higher is ṣaḥīḥ al-ṣaḥīḥ (a degree above ṣaḥīḥ) in my methodology, so this hadith is extremely authentic.

The hadiths in favor of ruqya

Narrated Al-Aswad:

I asked `Aisha about treating poisonous stings (a snake-bite or a scorpion sting) with a Ruqya. She said, "The Prophet (ﷺ) allowed the treatment of poisonous sting with Ruqya."

Sahih al-Bukhari 5741

It was narrated that Jabir said:
“There was a family among the Ansar, called Al ‘Amr bin Hazm, who used to recite Ruqyah for the scorpion sting, but the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) forbade Ruqyah. They came to him and said: ‘O Messenger of Allah! You have forbidden Ruqyah, but we recite Ruqyah against the scorpion’s sting.’ He said to them: ‘Recite it to me.’ So they recited it to him, and he said: ‘There is nothing wrong with this, this is confirmed.’”

Ibn Maja (authentic) Vol. 4, Book 31, Hadith 3515

The below diagram is the result of my search of all hadiths mentioning ruqya (click to enlarge it):

Below is a summary of the authenticity probabilities of the hadiths:

  • Aisha 10.88%
  • Aisha 7.77%
  • Aisha 15.67%
  • Aisha 7.278%
  • Anas 14.29%
  • Jabir’s uncle 1.2%
  • Abu Saeed al-Khudri 11.27%
  • Anas + Buryada + Imran 20.78%
  • Jabir + Asmaa’ b. Umays 14.89%
  • Awf b. Malik 5.8%
  • Shifaa’ b. Abdullah 3.88%

The strongest hadith is the one coming from the Companions Anas, Burayda and Imran, and it is as follows:

The Prophet (ﷺ) said: No spell (ruqya) is to be used except for the evil eye or a scorpion sting.

Sunan Abi Dawud 3884, Ibn Maja Vol. 4, Book 31, Hadith 3513, al-Tirmidhi Vol. 4, Book 2, Hadith 2057, etc.

The hadith, however, has only a 20.78% chance of authenticity, which is far below the 64.1% authenticity of the anti-ruqya hadith mentioned at the beginning.

There is one final step we can take by combining the authenticity probabilities of all the separate pro-ruqya hadiths, as follows:

1-((1−0.1088÷2)×(1−0.077÷2)×(1−0.1567÷2)×(1−0.07278÷2)×(1−0.1429÷2)×(1−0.012÷2)×(1−0.1127÷2)×(1−0.2078÷2)×(1−0.1489÷2)×(1−0.058÷2)×(1−0.0388÷2)) = 0.444614954

Before merging the probabilities we divide each of them by two. This reflects the fact that we are combining entirely different hadiths together. It is easier to fabricate entirely new hadiths and chains than to fabricate supporting chains for the same hadith. So the probability of all the separate hadiths being true is lower than the probability of all the chains of the same hadith being true.

So the result is that there is a 44.4% chance that the crux of the meaning of the hadiths is true. In my methodology a hadith that reaches 30% or higher is ṣaḥīḥ. So the combined hadiths together can be considered authentic.

A woman’s worth does not depend on her accomplishments

AOA, Akhi! few days ago I met an aunt of me.She and her daughters are very social and they all are well known in their fields.My father couldn't afford our studies so we sisters are just graduate.Also my father never allowed us to go out much so we are kind of staying at home type girls.But Alhamdulillah all are married and happy in their lives.My aunt said to me that the kind of life u are living,is just making u a burden on society.So does a person must be recognized by society before dying?

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

In my opinion a saintly “soccer mom” who has no accomplishment beyond taking care of her family is infinitely more admirable than a selfish and greedy female CEO. A woman’s worth has nothing to do with her accomplishments and everything to do with her character. A saintly woman who carries out her duties (whatever they may be) is better than other women regardless of accomplishments.

The idea that a woman’s worth should depend on her accomplishments is a self-defeating modern superstition. It tells women they are not good enough unless they ignore their own desires and instincts and enter races with men in the corporate, political or scientific world. 

I fully support women’s participation in these things. What I do not support is acting as if a woman’s worth depends on these things. It does not. Her worth depends on her character. I would consider a woman with no accomplishments but with a good character superior to a female Nobel Prize winner with a bad character any day.

Our accomplishments are gifts from God. He created us, gave us talents and made things easy for us. Acting as if accomplishments increase our worth is the height of arrogance, it is the same as a rich person thinking their money that God has given them makes them worthier than poor people.

I see nothing wrong with a woman having no interest in accomplishments and simply wanting to take care of her family. And I see nothing wrong with another woman who likes accomplishments. Neither is worthier than the other. Both are simply carrying out their duties.

It is only ignorance and arrogance that makes a scholar or scientist think their job is more glorious than a mother who takes care of her children. To me their worth depends on their character, including how well they try to carry out their duties. If God has enabled me or some woman to be a scholar and has put scholarship in our path, it would be shameful if we do not try to be the best scholars we can be. But if God has not enabled another person to become a scholar, then it is not shameful that they are not scholars.

I firmly believe that an uneducated and illiterate shepherd who fears God more than I do is a better and worthier person than I am regardless of my accomplishments.

Your aunt’s statement that you are a burden on society is rather ignorant and arrogant. Just because God made things easy for her and not for you makes her think she is better than you. If you fear God more than her and carry out your duties just as well as her, then you are superior to her even if she gains global fame in her field.

There is no worth, honor or glory except through God. Anyone who chases these things outside of God is chasing a mirage. 

I do not want to discourage women from working in traditionally masculine fields. What I want to discourage them from is the arrogance to think that this makes them superior to other women. It does not. Whether you work with test tubes or diapers, you are a lowly servant of God and your only worth comes through Him. Anyone more pious and saintly than you is superior to you regardless of who you think you are.

And I find pious women who seek worth and honor through God to be infinitely more admirable than women who seek these things by trying to race with men in traditionally masculine fields. Of course there is nothing wrong with a woman wanting to work in these fields, what is wrong is her thinking this is something to be proud of. Like I said, being proud of your accomplishments is like being proud of being rich. Both are blessings from God that you would never have had if He had not made things easy for you. Accomplishments should only increase your humility and gratitude toward God.

If anyone, man or women, thinks their accomplishments makes them superior to someone more pious than them, then they have become arrogant and misguided. If you think your fame and accomplishments make you superior to a completely unknown mother who fears God more than you and whose only accomplishment is raising healthy and happy children, then that is the height of arrogance.

So never let someone make you think you are inferior just because they are more accomplished and famous than you. It is the same as letting a rich person make you think you are inferior because you are not as rich. Seek worth an honor only through God, He should be your standard and your guide, not other people. If you are more pious than your aunt, then she has absolutely nothing to be proud of, and her self-satisfaction has only set her up for failure in attaining God’s love and pleasure.

There is, however, the danger of letting our sense of our piety make us feel arrogant and superior to others. This too is wrong. Feeling superior to others is always wrong, whether because of piety, accomplishments or wealth. You should only compare yourself to what God wants you to be, and seeing your numerous failures in being the best person you can be in God’s sight should only increase your humility and fear of God’s dissatisfaction with you.

The incredible growth of science in the Muslim world: The scientific output of Muslim countries in 2017

The scientific output of Muslim-majority countries has grown tremendously over the past 20 years, measured in the number of scientific and scholarly papers published in international journals. The top scientific publisher is Iran, followed by Turkey, followed by Malaysia:

The scientific output of the top 10 Muslim-majority population countries according to SJR (citable documents alone)

Below is the total of the scientific output of all ten countries:

The data only includes citable papers published in peer-reviewed journals included in the Scopus database (source: Scimago Journal & Country Rank).

In just ten years, these Muslim countries went from publishing 64110 papers in 2007 to 211287 papers in 2017, growing by over three times.

Below is a comparison of the Muslim total (blue) with the established scientific powers France, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States:

The Muslim total has surpassed all of the European powers in quantity (not in quality, of course).

If the Muslim countries maintain their growth rate of 7.7% annually (the average rate of the past 5 years), they will surpass the United States by 2030:

It seems unlikely that that kind of growth can be sustained. The image below is more likely, which assumes an increase of 14000 papers per year (the average annual increase over the past 5 years). Accordingly, the Muslim countries will reach the level of the United States by 2042:

It should be noted that these statistics do not take account of the 200 million Muslims of India and their scientific output.

The Oxford Handbook of Islamic Theology by Sabine Schmidtke

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This impressive volume brings together essays by many highly respected Western-educated scholars of Islam. Comparing it to The Cambridge Companion to Classical Islamic Theology (which I shortly reviewed here), this book is far more in-depth and analytical. In fact the Cambridge Companion feels like a preface to this more sophisticated (and much longer) book. This book will likely be a classic of Islamic studies, an achievement that helps take the entire field of Islamic theology forward.

One issue I have with the book is that many of the articles focus far more on history and social backgrounds than on the actual theological ideas. The two most important Islamic theological doctrines, Ashʿarism and Māturīdism, never receive a completely satisfactory exposition.

A number of the articles mislabel Ibn ʿArabī (d. 1240) as Ibn al-ʿArabī (d. 1148), which could confuse readers. Below I will mention a few highlights from the book.

I was interested to learn about Ḍirār b. ʿAmr (d. 815 CE), an early Muslim theologian who developed the anti-Aristotelian idea that the universe is entirely made up of “accidents” (attributes or properties), rejecting Aristotle’s theory of the existence of “matter” or substance as a separate thing from its properties. Rejecting the concept of matter helps detach Islamic theology from the nature-supremacism of Aristotle (and later Ibn Rushd), who envisioned nature as something of an eternal entity that chained God’s freedom of action.

The Aristotelian theory creates great difficulty for explaining miracles because miracles seem to override nature, which breaks the primacy of matter. Nidhal Guessoum, who subscribes to that worldview, is forced to explain away miracles by reference to ideas like quantum uncertainty and the placebo effect in his book Islam’s Quantum Question (as I discuss in my review of it here). But if the entire universe is made up of attributes so that matter is nothing but a collection of attributes (as Ḍirār b. ʿAmr asserts), then this turns the universe into something of a simulation where everything has no basic reality of its own. Its realness always comes from God who upholds this “simulation”.

That is the key idea in my Ghazali-inspired computational theory of the universe. According to Ḍirār b. ʿAmr, if we translate his ideas into the computational language, everything in this universe is merely information held inside the Divine Register (al-Lawḥ al-Maḥfūḍ), similar to the way a video game’s universe is entirely information held inside a piece of hardware inside a computer known as RAM.

There is complete equality between one bit of information and another bit. The bits that define matter and the bits that define its attributes are equal so that everything can be considered an attribute. The matter-ness of matter is just another attribute. This means that for God to perform a miracle, all that He has to do is flip bits of information inside the Register. The stick of Moses [as] can turn into a snake because God, who is in charge of the simulation, can easily change the bits of information in the Register that define the stick-ness of the stick so that for a time it becomes a snake. Aristotelians like Ibn Rushd and Guessoum cannot envision this because to them matter is not information in a simulation, it is something that has its own “reality” that is almost separate from God’s control.

In their view, God is unable to perform miracles or is severely limited in His capacity to perform them the way we understand them because the laws of matter do not permit miracles.

But Ḍirār b. ʿAmr’s theology (and orthodox, Ashʿarite Islamic theology) has no such problem with miracles because nature is entirely made up of information controlled by God. This orthodox theology that so many ill-educated science-minded people consider to be irrational and backward is in fact highly futuristic in its outlook if we interpret it in modern terms. It makes solving problems like reconciling Islam and evolutionary theory a rather easy exercise, as I discuss in my essay Al-Ghazali’s Matrix and the Divine Template.

Regarding the issue of free will, the Iranian Imam Abū Ḥanīfa (d. 772 CE, after whom the Ḥanafī school is named), came up with a moderate solution. God creates all things, including everything that takes place in the world. But humans intend, and God either carries out the intention or not. It is for this intention that they are responsible. This fits with the computational theory; the universe is like a simulation that is under God’s absolute control. Nothing happens inside it except when God makes it happen. But humans have been given the power to intend things. They are given a “remote control” to their bodies, they issue commands (intentions) and God either carries it out (by moving their bodies for them and allowing the intention to be carried out) or He does not (by refusing to move their bodies, or by causing the simulation to get in their way). For example a good person who intends to sin may be hindered by God. God can either cause a weakness and fatigue in them that takes away their ability to carry out the sin, or He may bring about causes that prevent the sin from being possible to carry out.

His views were the basis of the development of the Ḥanafī theological tradition that found its full development with the Arab Iranian scholar Abū Manṣūr al-Māturīdī (d. 945 CE).

Abū Ḥanīfa and Māturīdī shared the conviction that humans can tell good from evil based on reason alone (without the guidance of revelation). Ashʿarite scholars like Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī (d. 1210) developed a highly “Darwinian” view of human ethical reasoning; humans know good from evil due to their empathy for fellow humans and their knowledge of consequences, rather than due to the existence of some absolute ideal of good and evil that humans can appreciate (as the Muʿtazilites claimed). While Muʿtazilites have often been celebrated in Western thoughts as Islam’s arch-rationalists, in this case as in many others, the orthodox Islamic view is actually more “scientific”. It rejects the Muʿtazilite trust in human reason’s philosophical ability to know good and evil with a more naturalistic, Darwinian explanation. According to Rāzī humans develop ethical ideas based on experience, not based on philosophical axioms that exist independently of the world and God.

The Oxford Handbook of Islamic Theology is a great resource for everyone interested in Islamic theology, the history of Islamic thought and some the key issues relating to the interpretation of the Quran.

The Cambridge Companion to Classical Islamic Theology by Tim Winter

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The Cambridge Companion to Classical Islamic Theology is a good introduction to the topic of Islamic theology and its relationship with Sufism. It was edited by Timothy Winter, known to Muslims as Shaykh Abd al-Hakim Murad. The essays are by many well-known and highly respected scholars, such as Shaykh Umar Faruq Abd-Allah and Yahya Michot.

The essays are mostly introductions to their topics and do not delve too deeply into the details. In fact many of them end right when things seemed to start to get interesting to me, for example Steffen A. J. Stelzer’s highly interesting chapter on ethics.

The book could have as well been titled An Introduction to Islamic Theology. This makes it different from other Cambridge Companions I have read where scholars delve deeply and present new interpretations and theories of their own. Here the scholars almost entirely limit themselves to presenting overviews of the topics they discuss, which is beneficial for beginners to the topic, but not so beneficial for those wishing for detailed discussions.

The two exceptions are Steffen A. J. Stelzer’s essay on ethics and Toby Mayer’s essay on theology and Sufism, which present new and interesting analysis.

The Crucible of Islam by G. W. Bowersock

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G. W. Bowersock’s 2017 book The Crucible of Islam is a very brief survey of the religious and political situation of Arabia in the centuries leading up to the coming of Islam. There is mention of the relationship of the Byzantines, Persians and Ethiopians with the Jews and Christians of Yemen and Arabia.

The purpose of the book is to shed light on the “crucible” in which Islam was made. Due to the extreme lack of documentary evidence on the situation in Mecca and its surroundings, the book is restricted to retelling the stories of a few major events in the surroundings that may (or may) not have had an important influence in the way Islam came about. The Ethiopians conquered Yemen and Christianized it. The Persians and Byzantines competed for influence over the region through their relationships with allied Arab tribes. I cannot really say that much light has been shed on the crucible of Islam; due to its briefness and the lack of documentary evidence, the book serves mostly to show how little we know about the reality of the facts on the ground.

The most interesting thing I learned from this book is Michael Lecker’s theory that the Ghassanids in Medina may have had a role in encouraging the Jews and pagans to unite under the rule the Prophet Muhammad PBUH. The Byzantine emperor Heraclius may have encouraged his clients the Ghassanids to do this in order to ensure that the Persians did not regain influence over the Medina region.

Below are some notes on (mostly minor) issues and errors that I encountered in my reading.

On page 39 he says there are no daughters of Allah mentioned in the Quran. While it is true that no daughters of Allah are mentioned by name, the Quran does contain mention of the pagans attributing daughters to Allah:

Glen Bowersock, Professor of Ancient History at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton.

And they attribute to God daughters—exalted is He—and for themselves what they desire. (The Quran, verse 16:57)

Ask them, “Are the daughters for your Lord, while for them the sons?” (The Quran, verse 37:149)

Or for Him the daughters, and for you the sons? (The Quran, verse 52:39)

He considers the Wars of Apostasy an inappropriate label because he assumes they were majorly aimed at false prophets like Musaylama. But according to Muslim sources these wars were aimed first at tribes that refused to pay the zakat which they had paid during the time of the Prophet PBUH. The war on Musaylama was a sequel to these, and rather than being directed at extinguishing a rival religion specifically, the war was an act of statecraft; Musaylama had established a state that was at war with the Muslim state, and the Muslim state responded.

He mentions the word ukhdūd as referring to the Trenches in the Battle of the Trench, even though the name universally used is khandaq. He mentions that chapter 85 of the Quran al-Burūj commemorates this battle when there is no relationship between the chapter and the battle whatsoever. This chapter in fact commemorates that killing of Christians by Yemeni Jews, a chapter of pre-Islamic history that Bowersock himself mentions often. The chapter of Quran the actually commemorates the Battle of the Trench is chapter 33, al-Aḥzāb (“The Confederates”).

He mentions that the relics of the True Cross had been moved to Baghdad in 614, possibly meaning al-Madāʾin because Baghdad did not exist at the time.

He says that the Prophet’s cousin ʿAlī b. Abū Ṭalib did not belong to the Quraysh tribe but to the Banū Hāshim, confusing clan differences with tribal differences. Banū Hāshim were actually a clan within Quraysh.

He mentions that the Prophet PBUH “reconstructed” the Kaʿba. The phrasing implies that he did this as part of his mission. There is no evidence as far as I know that the Prophet PBUH made any changes to the Kaʿba. He had taken part in repairs to the Kaʿba before he became a prophet.

His treatment of the Dome of the Rock seems to suggest that he is unaware that the mosque (al-Masjid al-Aqṣā) is actually the original mosque that was established on the Mount. He expects the traveler Arculf to have seen the rock in the mosque, but since the mosque does not actually include the rock and is hundreds of meters away from it, it is quite natural that Arculf does not mention the rock. The Dome of the Rock itself is not a mosque but merely a shrine.

An Intelligent Person’s Guide to Understanding Islam and Muslims

My new book An Intelligent Person’s Guide to Understanding Islam and Muslims is now available on Amazon.com. This book grew out of a review of Shahab Ahmed’s wonderful What is Islam? that I was preparing last January. Once it passed 15,000 words, I decided that I might as well to turn into a book on the sociology of Islam. Reading Robert R. Reilly’s ridiculous caricature of Islam in his Closing of the Muslim Mind gave me extra impetus to work on it.

At some point I became dissatisfied with my work and put the project on pause. I went on to read 30 books and close to 100 scholarly papers on relevant topics (mainly Western Islamic studies and the evolutionary study of culture). Roger Scruton was especially helpful in clarifying the important issue of human sexuality and how it relates to religion. Recently I felt confident enough to pick up the project again. I rewrote the book and integrated some new essays into it, and this is the result.

From the introduction:

Many Western intellectuals cause Muslims to want to cringe as soon as they open their mouths to speak about Islam. Even if they have read multiple books on Islam, they are often capable of the most gargantuan mischaracterizations of the religion. There is a serious gap in knowledge between Islam as it is described in books and Islam as it is understood and practiced in the real world—and this book aims to fill that gap.

The Moral World of the Qur’an by M. A. Draz

Dastūr al-Akhlāq fī l-Qurʾān might one of the most important works of Islamic philosophy in the 20th century. It is a work on Quranic moral philosophy by Muhammad Abdullah Draz (1894-1958), a highly intelligent Egyptian Islamic scholar who had thoroughly studied the Western philosophical tradition. The work was originally written in French as a PhD dissertation titled La morale du Coran presented to Sorbonne University. It was translated into Arabic by Abd al-Sabur Shahin and published in 1973. The English version, titled The Moral World of the Qur’an, was published in 2008 by I. B. Tauris (Amazon link, it is absurdly expensive at the moment unfortunately).

When picking up a book by a non-Western Islamic scholar, one fears to see modes of reasoning that are centuries behind the times (as commonly seen in polemical and partisan works). Draz is an early example, perhaps one of the earliest, of an Islamic scholar who is willing to engage with the West with a thoroughly open mind, willing to take Western thinkers seriously and willing to view Islam from a Western framework. He does his best to predict attacks on his lines of reasoning and answers many possible criticism. I did not expect to learn too much from this work, being so familiar with the Quran. But I am pleased to say that some parts of it were highly enlightening.

Unfortunately both the Arabic and the English translation leave much to be desired. The Arabic translation appears to be a somewhat word-for-word translation of the French, extremely difficult to follow due to the near-complete absence of Arabic modes of expression. The English is not much better; its language feels almost as outdated as a book from 1850.

Shorter (and cheaper) version on Amazon. Also available as Kindle ebook.

Maybe the reason is Draz’s own French writing still (his Arabic writings in his other books and articles are extremely easy to follow). What the book needs is a thorough modernization effort that does not merely translate the paragraphs but translates his thoughts into modern English.

I found the following version (published 2018) by Basma Abdelgafar titled Morality in the Qur’an: The Greater Good of Humanity and bought it from the Kindle store. It shortens the work in order to make it more accessible. While this is a very welcome effort, unfortunately it is more on the order of study notes due to its highly abridged nature, and it uses many technical words that even college graduates will likely struggle. Still, it might be the best introduction to Draz’s thought that there is.

The Way of the Spiritual Muslim

My new book The Way of the Spiritual Muslim is now available on Amazon.com as a paperback and Kindle ebook. This book contains all of the sayings of Ibn al-Jawzī and Ibn al-Qayyim from my previous books along with new sections presenting the sayings of Ibn ʿAbbās, al-Ḥasan al-Baṣrī, al-Fuḍayl bin ʿIyāḍ, Imam al-Shāfiʿī, Imam Aḥmad, Imam al-Ghazālī,  Jalāl al-Dīn Rumi and Ibn ʿAṭāʾ-Allāh.

An Islamic answer to Sam Harris and other deniers of free will

This article is an Islamic answer to Sam Harris and those who follow in his tracks. Below is a video that shows the dynamics of the free-will-denying discourse; the way it uses a collection of scientific facts to leap to the conclusion that there is no room for free will:

The main argument of the video can be stated as this: if this universe is a closed physical system, then everything that happens inside it is a consequence of the system itself.

If you imagine this universe as a closed box with atoms floating inside it, when you see an atom move faster than another, you do not say that atom chose to move faster. The atom has no free will. You instead say that the way this atom interacted with those other atoms caused it to move faster.

Sam Harris’s philosophy is therefore entirely reliant on the assumption that the universe is, when it comes to free will, a closed system. If everything we do is a consequence of the design of the brain and body and our past experiences, then naturally this means there is no room for free will. According to this view, if you have perfect knowledge of everything that goes into a person’s brain, and perfect knowledge of their physiology, then you can predict with 100% accuracy every one of their thoughts and actions. They are just a highly sophisticated robot responding to their own design and their environment.

Islam’s answer to that is this: this universe is a simulation with the soul residing outside of it. We are happy to acknowledge everything scientists say about the way human behavior is affected by material causes. But we reject the unproven hypothesis, the leap of faith of free will deniers, that this leaves no room for free will. By placing the soul outside the universe, we can say that the soul can act independently of the universe. It can “transcend” the universe and do its own thing when it chooses.

The most fundamental question when it comes to the question of free will, according to the Islamic perspective, is whether God exists. From there we can come to whether the soul exists. And from there we can come to the material universe. The soul, according to Islam, is “more real” than the universe, the same way that in the film The Matrix the real people are outside the universe, controlling avatars inside it. The universe is merely like a computer game, with the players residing outside.

While as a soul I am constantly affected by the universe, by my hormones and past experiences, since I am “more real” than these things, I can “sit back”, think apart from all that, and come to choices that are not demanded by the material factors. I am like Neo in the Matrix; my avatar inside the Matrix an send all kinds signals to my real self which resides outside of. But since my real self is outside of it, it continues to maintain a form of independence from the Matrix; it can transcend it. I can choose to be selfless and generous even if all material causes make me want to be otherwise.

As Muslims we say the player is more real than the game and controls it. They say there is no player; there is just the game. They are like characters stuck inside a video game, or inside the Matrix, denying that there could be anything outside the game. And they keep telling us about the wonderful features of the game and how it affects the avatar as if this proves there is no reality beyond it. To them everyone in the game is an NPC (non-playable character) controlled by the game itself. To us, humans are real players who are not deterministically controlled by the game, even though the game affects them strongly.

They will say that since there is no proof that there is anything outside the game, we must believe the game is all that there is. That is another way of saying that there is no reason to be Muslim (and have such beliefs about the universe) since there is no proof that Islam is God’s one true religion. To that I say that since I have experienced God through the Quran, and since thousands of great men and women before me have also experienced God in similar ways (and not just Muslims), I could not be anything but Muslim. To me my framework, my worldview, is more authoritative than theirs. There is no scientific proof that God or the soul do not exist, or that Islam is false. But there is strong soft (not hard) evidence for the truth of Islam. Therefore my view of the universe, to those who have had similar experiences to mine, actually has more evidence on its side than their view of the universe. I take a leap of faith based on experience and soft evidence. They take a leap of faith that goes against experience (all humans act as if free will exists even if they can come up with clever theories to deny it) and that only has soft evidence behind it (suggestive facts about the way human behavior is affected by physiology and the environment).

If they say that only foolish people believe in religion and that more intelligent people will believe in their worldview, the evidence of the real world disproves their claim. There are highly religious Muslims and Christians who believe in a worldview similar to mine who are just as intelligent as any atheist or non-believer in free will.

For more on the Islamic theory of the universe as a simulation and a discussion of soft versus hard evidence, see my essay: Al-Ghazali’s Matrix and the Divine Template: A Plausible Reconciliation of the Quran and the Theory of Evolution

This article is based on an email I sent to a friend who sent me the video above and asked for an Islamic answer to it.

Impiety by Mahwi (1836 – 1906 CE)

The cover of an edition of his diwan (collected poetry)

A famous poem by the Kurdish poet and Islamic scholar Mahwi (1836 – 1906 CE, full name: Mullah Muhammad son of Mullah Uthman Balkhi)

In impiety–woe to me!–my life has passed;
O God, let me go on living till I die at a pious man’s doorstep.

Wasted in meaninglessness my whole lifetime has gone:
I must even pray for time to die in from the Lord of Time.

The hour of death has come: “Be ready! It is the time of resignation and submission!”
Yet I, in obliviousness, am only starting to busy myself with childish matters.

The empty thoughts of the worldly life have so overcome me,
Only on the Day of Judgment will I be able to remember the Day of Judgment.

I have become a cripple, yet like a child I desire the world:
The frailty of old age prevents me from holding my head up, yet in worldliness my ego feels as if it is just beginning to walk.

What is its sin and crime that it has become a home of torment?
My grave, to the gravedigger, will be complaining thus until the Day of Judgment.

Tomorrow is the Day of Resurrection, my friends, it is your chance today:
Disown me–let no one’s judgment be with mine!

I do not know what my villainous ego can want of me anymore:
I am already an evil-doer, evil-mannered, evil-minded and evil-natured.

My only hope is that His attribute of the Coverer of Sins covers me with a wave of the sea of His Mercy
Otherwise my correction is unlikely, the covering of my sins impossible.

Kurdish text:

له‌ ناکه‌سکاریا خاکم به‌سه‌ر، رۆیی به‌با عومرم
خودا، تۆ بمژێنه‌ تا له‌به‌ر قاپی که‌سێ ئه‌مرم
به‌ ظایع چو له‌ مالایه‌عنیا، وه‌قتم هه‌مو یه‌عنی
ئه‌بێ وه‌قتێ له‌بولوه‌قتێ بخوازم، تا تیابمرم
ئه‌جه‌ل ده‌ورم ده‌دا، حاظڕبه‌ واده‌ی ده‌وروته‌سلیمه‌
منی غه‌فڵه‌تزه‌ده‌، تازه‌ خه‌ریکی مه‌سئه‌له‌ی ده‌ورم
خه‌یاڵی پوچی دنیا، وا ده‌ماغو دڵمی پێچاوه‌
قیامه‌ت هه‌ر مه‌گه‌ر رۆژی، قیامه‌ت بێته‌وه‌ فکرم
له‌پێ که‌وتومو نه‌فسم بۆ هه‌وا ده‌شنێ وه‌کو منداڵ
له‌به‌ر پیری سه‌رم خۆی ناگرێتو، تازه‌ پێده‌گرم
چیه‌ سوچو گوناهی؟ بۆچی ده‌یکاته‌ جه‌زاخانه‌؟
له‌ قه‌برهه‌ڵکه‌ن هه‌تا رۆژی جه‌زا، ده‌عوه‌ت چییه‌ قه‌برم
سبه‌ینێ (یحشر المرء)ه براگه‌ل، فورسه‌ته‌ ئه‌مڕۆ
ته‌به‌ڕابن له‌ من، با که‌سنه‌بێ حه‌شری له‌گه‌ڵ حه‌شرم
!له‌ من نازانم ئیتر، نه‌فسی به‌دخو چی ئه‌وێ (مه‌حوی)؟
که‌ به‌د کردارو به‌د ره‌فتارو به‌د ئه‌فکارو به‌د طه‌ورم
مه‌گه‌ر به‌ر مه‌وجی به‌حری ره‌حمه‌تمکا، وه‌سفی سه‌تتاری
وه‌گه‌رنا، زه‌حمه‌ته‌ پابونه‌وه‌م، نامومکینه‌ سه‌ترم

On Islam’s view of psychology and scientific reductionism

What do you think of theory of psychology like Myers-Briggs Type Indicator? Is it worth it to study it to understand human personality or is it just a mere fun and entertainment? Also, how does Islam view the majority of theory of psychology which was born in Western? Thank you. I love your blog!

Islamic theology embraces science because it considers this universe a simulation-like thing that is designed to work according to scientific principles (as I explain in my essay Al-Ghazali’s Matrix and the Divine Template – PDF file). So whatever is established by science will also be automatically confirmed by Islamic theology.

Psychology is like any other science. Whatever objective and verifiable results it discovers will be accepted by Islam. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is not firmly established (see the criticisms section on Wikipedia), so Islam’s view of it will have to take these criticisms into account.

Psychology has what is called a “replication crisis” where studies conducted to verify previous studies often come to different results. For this reason psychology is not as respectable as the other sciences and its results should always be treated with skepticism unless some result is validated by many studies.

There is, however, the issue of scientific reductionism which is likely what led to your question. Science tends to treat humans as if they were nothing more than “clever apes”, animals who happen to be intelligent and use language. This view operates under the belief that science can work out everything there is to know about humans through scientific studies.

Islam is opposed to that view. It will accept all empirical and verifiable results of the sciences, but similar to Christian philosophy it views humans as “embodied spirits” not clever apes. We all have an “inner ape” that can be studied by science; this refers to the parts of our biology and psychology that are under the control of physical factors like genes. Islam fully accepts this.

But Islam and Christianity both go a step beyond that: Humans also have uniquely human part that is layered on top of the ape part and that controls it. The uniquely human part has self-consciousness, free will and inviolable dignity.  There is nothing wrong with the biological and evolutionary study of humans, but there is something wrong with suggesting that that is all there is to humans. We believe that humans can transcend their physical limits and overcome the inner ape’s instincts in order to do what is better, more just and more admirable.

The view of Islam and Christianity is that humans have inner apes and potential inner saints. The perfect human in both Islam and Christianity is the one who strives always to embody the divine attributes that are fit for a human to have (generosity, fairness, mercy, compassion, empathy). We believe that all humans have been given a nature (what Islam calls a fiṭra and which is also mentioned by Christians like Thomas Aquinas) that seeks to transcend itself by communion with God and the embodiment of His attributes. This, needless to say, is a far more beautiful and humane worldview than what scientific reductionism believes about humans.

If someone uses psychology or other fields of science to build a theory that reduces humans to nothing more than clever animals, then that is rejected by both Islam and Christianity. But that is not science anyway; there is no proof that humans are merely animals. It is just an unproven conjecture that some people like. As for the respectable, non-conjectural parts of science that are supported by studies, they are accepted by modern Islamic theology and the Christian theology of thinkers like Alister McGrath.

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