Critical thinking: a right (and duty) of all Muslims


Posted in Irshaddering Thoughts, On The Road on Oct 11, 2007

Last night’s sold-out film screening at NYU drew a number of young Muslims who are genuinely struggling with Islam. One girl cried in my arms. Another wrote these words to me:

As a devout (but not extremist) Muslim myself, your documentary Faith Without Fear really touched me deeply. I think that it is important for Muslims who are frustrated/oppressed by extremist Islam to know that it is ok to follow the faith that is within their souls. Muslims need to know that instead of abandoning their faith or Allah, they can and should turn to ijtihad.

“Ijtihad” is Islam’s tradition of critical thinking, debate and dissent. To restore this progressive tradition to the practice of Islam, I and other reform-minded Muslims have launched Project Ijtihad.

Of course, our critics are loud and legion. They insist that ijtihad can only be exercised by “scholars.” In that case, they ought to read a scholarly paper written by Umar Faruq Abd-Allah, Ph.D.  To download the paper, click here, then go to the “Read and Learn” box at the right-hand side of the page.

Dr. Abd-Allah points out that ijtihad is a “duty of the first magnitude” for ordinary Muslims and not just for the elites. Throughout Islamic history, says Dr. Abd-Allah:

“… even the common people were required to perform their own type of ijtihad by striving to discern the competence of individual scholars and selecting the best to follow, a principle emphatically asserted by the majority of Sunni and Shi’i scholars and their schools.”

Today, he suggests, Muslims in North America are well-poised to revive ijtihad on behalf of Muslims everywhere:

“Like our counterparts in Canada, considerable sectors of the American Muslim community, in contrast to many of our co-religionists in the European Union, are highly educated and constitute, per capita, one of the most talented and prosperous Muslim communities in the world. Moreover, American Muslims, at least for the time being, enjoy a relatively favorable socio-political context with extensive freedoms and political enfranchisement. Few Muslims in the world today are in a more advantageous position to comprehend the essence of modernity and post-modernity and to formulate new directions for ijtihad in keeping with the best traditions of Islamic thought and the imperatives of an interconnected pluralistic world.”

I concluded last night’s event with a similar sentiment: We ijtihadists aren’t asking our fellow Muslims to import a foreign tradition or an alien virtue into the faith. We’re reminding Muslims that Islam itself once exhibited a tradition of indie thinking.

What in God’s name are we doing with that tradition now?


1 Response to “Critical thinking: a right (and duty) of all Muslims”

  1. 1 Eagle
    November 4, 2007 at 5:02 am

    Great piece 😀

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