Reason and flexibility in Islam

The role of reason, and its embodiment in philosophical-scientific theorizing, is always a troubling one for religious traditions. The deep emotional needs that religion strives to satisfy seem ever linked to an attitudes of acceptance, belief, or trust, yet, in its theoretical employment, reason functions as a critic as much as it does a creator, and in the special fields of metaphysics and epistemology its critical arrows are sometimes aimed at long-standing cherished beliefs. Understandably, the mere approach to these beliefs through organized philosophical activity, however well-intended, is viewed with suspicion by ecclesiastical authorities and the devout. The attitude towards philosophical inquiry on the part of the Islamic religious community might be thought to typify this reaction. As one of the great prophetic religions, the self-avowed image of Islam is of a tradition which already possesses the truth as set forth in the divine revelation of the Qur'an. What need is there for philosophizing on fundamental matters, e.g., the ultimate nature of reality, the foundations of morality, the modes whereby the divine is connected with the temporal? The structure of creation is already made clear, the "straight path" for living already manifest. how can philosophical activity be anything but a source of divisive controversy, for as it turns its gaze to the foundations upon which the Shari`a' (Islamic Law) rests, or to the grounds for religious belief itself, it cannot avoid turning up alternative viewpoints, different perspectives on divine revelation, noting various weaknesses in received 1 interpretations? In short, isn't the practice of philosophy a threat to Islam's promise of providing a comprehensive way of living devoid of skepticism and uncertainty about the place of a human in God's creation and his or her role in the 'umma (Islamic community)? This problem is not unique to Islam, nor is it a new one within Islam. We know that it has been debated by Islamic thinkers since the translations of the Greek philosophers began to appear in an organized Islamic world during the 8th Century A..
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