A Contemporary Philosophical Investigation

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Imran Aijaz
Investigating Philosophy of Religion
  • New York, NY : 
    , April
     128 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


In Islam: A Contemporary Philosophical Investigation, Imran Aijaz traces the differences between fideism and the religion of Islam. In the preface, Aijaz utilizes Richard Popkins to define philosophy as the attempt to give an account of what is true and important, based on a rational assessment of evidence and arguments rather than myth, tradition, bald assertion, oracular utterances, local custom, or other prejuices (vii). According to Popkins, this is the definition that originated with the Greeks in approximately the 5th century BCE. However, this is different from the philosophy of religion which, as David Stewart argues, is not a systematic statement of religious beliefs (which would be theology or dogmatics), but a second-order activity focused on the fundamental issues of a given religion. For example, Christians talk about God, but where is the evidence that God exists? If God’s existence can be proven, how does one go about it? And if God exists, how does one account for the presence of evil in the world? Such questions are philosophical in nature, and the religious philosopher will not be content to let such questions go unexamined. Therefore, the task of the philosophery of religion, as it is conceived of in the West, is to submit those claims made by religion to a thorough rational investigation (vii). Using these two meanings, Aijaz enters into a brief history of faith and reason in Islam.

In Sunni Islam, Aijaz identifies two broad stances on the relationship between faith and reason—anti-rationalistic fideism and theistic rationalism. Furthermore, anti-rationalistic fideism can also be divided into two stances—traditionalist fideism and scholastic fideism. In anti-rationalistic fideism, Aijaz argues, revelation precedes reason in determining the truth of religious (Islamic) belief and, by contrast, in theistic rationalism, reason precedes revelation in determining the truth of religious (Islamic) belief (2). The concepts that constitute traditionalist fideism in Islam can be found in the works of Abu Hanifah (d. 767), Malik b. Anas (d. 795), al-Shafi’i (d. 820), and Ahmad Ibn Hanbal (d. 855), famous imams of the Sunni tradition (3).

Chapter 2 continues the discussion on classical traditionalist fideism in Islam. According to the Hanabilah tradition, fideism in Islam has a tendency to reject any attempt at philosophical speculation within the domain of religious belief (14). A classical representative of traditionalist fideism in Islam is the Hanbalite theologian Muwaffaq ad-Din b. Qudama (d. 1223) and his work A Thesis on Prohibiting the Study of Works by the Partisans of Speculative Theology (Mas’ala fi tahrim an-nazar fi kutb ahl al-kalam) (14). Here, Ibn Qudama concentrates his efforts on responding to the views of another Hanbalite theologian, Ibn ‘Aqil (d. 1119), who had heretically expounded the views and endorsed the methods of Mu’tazilite kalam—the focal point of Ibn Qudama’s attack. For Ibn Qudama, Mu’tazilite kalam represented the origin of the heresies that were propagated by Ibn ‘Aqil (14-15). Reduced to its essentials, Ibn Qudama’s polemic against Ibn ‘Aqil supplies two main arguments in favor of traditionalist fideism, and against the permissibility of engaging in speculative theology—an argument from authority and an argument against Ijtihad (roughly translated as “independent critical thought”) in matters of religious belief (15). 

In chapter 3, the problem shifts to classical scholastic fideism in Islam. Historically, the most noted example of a Muslim thinker who subscribed to this idea is Abu Hamid al-Ghazali (35). Al-Ghazali explained that “all significant thinkers, past and present, agree in believing in God and the last day” (37). In Moderation, al-Ghazali discloses several important views on the relationship between faith and reason in his discussion of kalam(38). Here, al-Ghazali condems an extreme traditionalist group called the Hashwiyya (a group much like, and sometimes identified with, the traditionalist fideists among the Hanabilah) for their uncompromising taqlid and abandonment of rational argument, while also condeming extreme rationalists among the Mu’tazilites and philosophers for taking reason too far (39). According to al-Ghazali, God gave him the assurance he needed that beliefs based on the self-evident truths of reason could be relied upon (45). 

In chapter 4, we enter into the discussion of contemporary fideism in Islam, examining the Muslim philosophers who discussed this problem—Sayyid Abu A’la Maududi (d. 1979) and Sayyid Quth (d. 1966). Maududi begins his critical piece on rationalism by quoting from an article, written by an unnamed Muslim graduate, that provides an account of the graduate’s tour of China and Japan (78). Having read the article, Maududi concludes that the mindset of new Muslim generations comes from a modern education. Maududi concludes that, to be a Muslim believer, one has conceded certain things. Specifically, one has conceded that Allah is the supreme Authority, and that the Prophet of Islam is His Messenger. Maududi’s writing strongly influenced the Egyptian Islamic theorist Sayyid Qutb, who states that the Qur’an is true since it says that it is God’s word. As Islam, therefore, is perfect (having been given by God), it needs no adaptation—only the correct application (85). 

In chapter 5, the discussion turns to the rationalist arguments for Islamic belief. In this chapter, a Muslim is defined as someone who assents to the truth of two propositions: (1) “God exists” and (2) “Muhammad is God’s Messenger” (100). The Qur’an also refers to the origins of the universe, as well as its apparent design and order, as evidence of God’s existence (100). This illustrates that to maintain otherwise would require a sustained rationalist effort to provide arguments for the existence of God as well as for the Prophethood of Muhammad (109). In his final chapter, Aijaz examines religious doubt and skepticism in Islam. Here, Aijaz cites Michael Williams and his definition of doubt—a state of indecision or hesitancy with respect to accepting or rejecting a proposition. Thus, doubt is opposed to belief (115). Religious doubt is doubt regarding the truth of religious propositions, such as “There is a God” or “God will resurrect us after death” (117). With this religious doubt, many maintain that a person within the Muslim community, who stops believing that Muhammad is a Prophet of God, is no longer a Muslim (117). 

At 126 pages, Islam: A Contemporary Philosophical Investigation is not particularly dense but, due to Aijaz inserting multiple sub-sections, it is a rather difficult read. Apart from this critique, it succeeds in linking contemporary investigations to Islam.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Wisnu Adihartono is an Independent Scholar who received his doctorate in sociology (gender, migration, family, sociology of everyday life, and Southeast Asian Studies) from Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, France.

Date of Review: 
June 13, 2019
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Imran Aijaz is Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Michigan-Dearborn.


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