The other day I read about a study (published about a month ago), which made me feel that today, more than ever, the importance of building strong and intelligent Islamic institutions, headed by a strong and intelligent Islamic leadership of scientists and scholars, is fundamental in facing contemporary challenges, both within the Islamic Ummah (nation), and external to it. This study found that:
‘European school books present a distorted image of Islam and Muslims, using stereotypes that breed mistrust of the faith and its people, …
This slanted view reflects “cultural racism,” concluded Germany’s Georg Eckert Institute for textbook research, which analysed 27 volumes used in classrooms in Britain, France, Austria, Spain and Germany. The report, which was presented at the foreign ministry in Berlin, was billed as the first of its kind in Europe. “Islam is always presented as an outdated system of rules which has not changed since its golden age,” Susan Krohnert-Othman, the institute’s project director, told reporters.’
and, more importantly (my emphasis):
‘The researchers called on schools to present information on reforms advocated by Muslim clerics and intellectuals as well as the modernisation process within the religion.’
So, scholars of the west view Islam ”as an outdated system of rules which has not changed since its golden age”. And if scholars think that way, one cannot blame anyone except oneself for the materialists and religion-phobes attitude towards religion and its followers.
Therefore, from this e-podium, I propose something our intelligent and socio-politically aware scholars, from the late Imam Khomeini (qs) (who in my view, was the first modernizer of this religion of his generation), to Martyr Muhammad Baqir Al Sadr, to our esteemed scholar and Marja’ Seyyed Kamal Al Haydari, have been advocating and dedicating their lives towards (and in the case of Al Sadr, were martyred in the process). They revolutionized Islamic thinking, revitalized interest in religion, and helped pave the way for scholars like Murtadha Mutahhari and Dr Ali Shariati to spread their genius to the masses.
Firstly, scholars (and their students) of theology and theosophy, should explain religious doctrines (Divine unity, Prophethood, Imamate, etc), both to their followers and be prepared to answer challenges and questions from outside of the religious seminaries.
The importance of correct inference (Istidlal) should be emphesized in the seminaries. There exists 3 ways to provide evidence: scientific (istidlal ‘ilmi), rational (istidlal ‘aqli/burhani), and scripture (istidlal naqli). Therefore the theologian/theosopher should understand the subject matter at hand, so that he/she can apply the correct method of providing evidence.
You see, this is where the materialists started confusing the two (knowingly or un-knowingly). They request evidence for a subject using the wrong methodology. They fail to understand (again knowingly or un-knowingly) that you cannot use the empirical scientific method to prove the existence of a non-material being. Just like you can’t use scripture to prove evolution or any other scientific theory. You have to specify the subject matter before deciding which method is suitable to establish the proofs.
One law established in the materialist school of thought, within their concept of logic, is that any subject that cannot be proven empirically (ie in the external visible material world) is not even worth addressing, or to prove its truth or falsehood is pointless. They calim the first question when dealing with the concept of a god, is not whether such a concept exists or not, but the question should be whether this concept has a meaning or whether it is nonsensical. And they believe that all concepts pertaining to religion have no meaning at all and are nonsensical, so it is pointless to investigate their truth or falsehood. So we ask them, what is the method to establish whether a concept has meaning or not? They say: a concept has meaning if you are able to establish the subjective reality of that concept by seeing whether the truth or falsehood of the concept changes the subjective reality of it. So for them, the existence or non-existence of God is the same, since there is no change in the subjective reality in either case. So based on that, to the materialists the external reality equals matter, and it is the responsibility of the theologian to provide evidence that in fact this is not so, and reality does not equal (just) matter. This has to be established before debate can continue.
The importance of the theologian to be aware of the current scientific trends and contemporary problems, socio-political, economical, etc., is essential to keeping the religion up-to-date. Along with that, he should be aware of the limits of science, the limits of the intellect and the rational method, and the limits of scripture, and to avoid mixing the methods and subject matters. To the above example of materialists, the same must be said about those who have not understood the power of the rational argument and have limited themselves to scripture. When you ask them: is God One? They say: we don’t know, the scripture available to us says He is One, and that is our proof! They failed to understand that this is a rational subject matter and hence can only be investigated by the rational argument. Hence, the one who is knowledgeable in the sciences (in the general sense of the word) of his time, is immune from any source of confusion. And it is his utmost responsibility to spread his knowledge by all means available to him.
This is where the importance of ijtihad (in the branches of the doctrines of religion) becomes evident. Just like we have ijtihad in the branches of jurisprudence, we need to keep the doctrines alive and fresh with the changing challenges of our era. And this is done by making sure the laws governing these doctrines are up-to-date and in line with the changing trends of our generation.