Muslims lose faith


Anna Akasoy

To person

Dr. phil., born 1977; Research Associate, Warburg Institute, Woburn Square, London WC1 0AB, UK.
Email: [email protected]

What are the concepts behind the terms "faith" and "reason" in Islamic theology? And what about their relationship in Islam?


One call that is often made in discussions about the currently desolate state of the Islamic world is for an "enlightenment", a radical change that entails a redefinition of the relationship between faith and reason. But what about this relationship in the Islamic religion? What concepts are hidden behind the terms "faith" and "reason" in Islamic theology? [1] Since the role of reason in Islam and its relationship to belief and knowledge are complex problems, a broad one is required here designed introduction to the early Islamic intellectual history.

When Muhammad, the last prophet according to Islamic tradition, died in the year 632 of the Christian era, the revelation was considered complete. The last sura of the Qur'an was revealed, and the sunna, the model of the Prophet, had also come to an end with his death. With the drying up of the sources, the Islamic religion entered a new phase: the phase of canonization and systematisation. A number of developments could not be foreseen at this point in time. Only in the course of the first two centuries of the Islamic calendar (i.e. in the seventh and eighth centuries after the birth of Christ) were the central sources compiled in their current version.

According to the traditional Islamic view, the text of the Koran itself is said to have been fixed in canonical form under the third caliph, 'Utman (23 - 35 or 644 - 655), but probably not until the early eighth century. The compilers of the six great Sunni collections of ahadit (plural of hadit = reports on statements and actions of the Prophet) worked during the third Islamic, i.e. the ninth Christian century.

Many doctrines, laws, and interpretations developed over time. While the revelation and example of Prophet Muhammad were obvious sources of Muslim faith and life, who had the right to interpret these sources, by what means, and what followed? An important difference to Christianity is the absence of institutions to which all believers are subject and which decide on these questions of right belief and action. Of course there were and are influential scholars in the Islamic world whose opinions many believers orientate themselves on, but their authority is not necessarily binding. An important reason why there are so many contradicting interpretations of Islam today is the possibility for every believer to acquire the knowledge necessary for interpreting the religious sources himself. Liberal reformers are therefore just as authentic a manifestation of Islam as radical fundamentalists.

Another important difference from Christianity is that the Muslims achieved considerable military and political successes very early on, during the Prophet's lifetime. This brought with it problems of the distribution of power, in the context of which regulation of the interpretative sovereignty of religious sources was of crucial importance. [2] While some Muslims demanded a privileged position for the legal scholars, others preferred to resort to reason as an individual means of knowledge. This allowed rulers, for example, to rely on their own interpretation of the religious texts, as will be shown below using the example of the caliph al-Ma'mun.

In many cases, the roots of the divergent readings of Islamic teaching in the present can be found in developments whose first course lay in the religious and political conflicts of the early Islamic period and which left a wide range of orientations for very different basic convictions. In these first two or three centuries, not only were the canonical sources and dogmatic foundations laid down - here we find what can be described as Islamic theology. [3]

In principle, it can be said that many authors of classical Islam attached great importance to reason or to rational knowledge in religion. Reason ('aql) was given to man by God on the condition that it should be used. Thus it says in the 38th sura of the Koran: "(The Koran is) a blessed scripture that we have sent down to you (and is proclaimed to people) so that they might think about its verses, and thus those who understand have to be reminded. " (Verse 29, translation by Rudi Paret)

At this and other places in the Koran it is emphasized that the function of revelation is to make people recognize divine truth. Some have interpreted this as spiritual knowledge, but many others have interpreted it as rational insight. The scholars disagreed on the question of which areas human reason could not access and where man should rather rely on revelation or tradition (naql) without asking any further questions. This problem can be found in different disciplines of Islamic religious science.