Religion and Islamic Studies

Religion and Islamic Studies

Religious Belief and Scientific Belief

"Are those who know and those who do not know equal!?" (Qur'an 39:9)

What we tend nowadays to call "science" in the narrow or strict sense covers the latest developments and discoveries in the mathematical, physical, and biological sciences. Yet the expression continues to be used in a wider sense, one that covers our contemporary social sciences and occasionally human sciences (including perhaps the science of religion) as well. If, when speaking of the Islamic perspective on, or conception of, religious belief, scientific belief, and the relation between them, we mean to address the entire Islamic tradition, we will invariably be faced with an impossible task. To do this successfully, we would have to start from the Qur'an and go through Islamic history century by century, if not generation by generation, and see how the Qur'anic perspective was realized by the Muslim community in diverse regions and disciplines. This process would reveal what tensions and conflicts arose, how these were resolved, and what happened when the Muslim world was faced with the adoption of what we now call "science."

Putting this task aside, we can perhaps touch on a few points in that long and complex history. First of all, we will speak briefly of the Qur'anic perspective and then say a few words about how the different sciences, when developed, were organized into a general scheme of human knowledge and how this organization implies a certain view of the relation between religious belief and scientific belief. This talk will conclude with the raising of some questions regarding what we understand by the term "Islamic science" when we use it as a historical or classificatory notion.

Joseph in the Torah and the Qur’an: An Assessment of Malik Bennabi’s Narrative

Malek Bennabi’s The Qur’anic Phenomenon provides an excellent analysis of Qur’anic revelation through the application of the phenomenology. A closer analysis of the work shows that Bennabi’s major contribution is to be found in his narrative strategies and comparative style as evidenced, among others, in chapters 13 and 14 of the Qur’anic Phenomenon. Here Bennabi provides a balanced picture of the story of Joseph in the Torah and the Qur’an. Bennabi’s textual strategy, narrative and meta-narrative brings out the uniqueness of the Qur’anic account of Joseph. The reconstruction of the story of Joseph opened a new type of discourse in understanding the relationship between religion and modernity.

Islam as “The Middle Path“

This article describes an observable pattern in Western converts’ journey to Islam. It shows how at an early stage in their life, many Westerners are disenchanted with their religion, Christianity or Judaism, and proceed to explore radical alternatives including new age religion, eastern religions and even various cults. Their search for spiritual and religious identity is usually not satiated by these alternatives and so they gradually gravitate toward Islam. The author argues that in Islam these converts find reason, order, meaning, and a contemporary relevance that is missing in western as well as eastern religions. It is the opportunity to traverse the “Middle Path,” familiar yet new, similar yet different, which the author suggests may well be the reason why these “seekers” eventually find whatever they are looking for in Islam. 

A Maqāsidī approach to contemporary application of the Sharī‘ah

This paper explores how Maqāṣid al-Sharī‘ah (higher purposes and intents of Islamic law) could contribute to the application of the Sharī‘ah itself in contemporary Muslim societies and to making the appropriate related juridical policies. The soundness of the application of the Shar‘īah and related policies is subject to the degree of universality and flexibility of the Islamic rulings with changing circumstances, are discussed from various viewpoints in this paper. After a survey of the system of values that Maqāṣid al-Sharī‘ah represent, three methods are explored: (1) differentiating between scripts that are means (wasā’il) to higher ends and scripts that are ends (ahdāf) in their own right, (2) preferring a multi-dimensional understanding for the conciliation of opposing juridical evidence, instead of reductionist methods such as abrogation (naskh) and elimination (tarjīḥ), and (3) achieving a universality of Sharī‘ah across cultures via the consideration of customs (al-‘urf). A number of examples are provided throughout the paper in order to explain the impact of the proposed methods on contemporary Islamic rulings and juridical policies related to them.

Book Review: Muhammad Asad: His contribution to Islamic learning.

A number of studies on Muhammad Asad have been published over the past years in the form of journal articles and online texts. But there has not been any extensive study of his ideas and works to date. Therefore, Andrabi’s book, which is based on his Ph.D. thesis, is a welcome addition to the life and works of Muhammad Asad (Leopold Weiss).  Andrabi’s book under review consists of six chapters. In the first chapter, the author shares his thoughts on Asad’s life before his conversion from Judaism to Islam. It successfully chronicles Asad’s experiences in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan while serving the governments of these countries. One of the major shortcomings of this chapter, indeed the book is that it lacks a theoretical framework, which could have been used to assess Asad’s general contributions as a Muslim intellectual.

The Brain and Religion: How Do They Relate to Each Other?

This essay evolves around three concepts: (i) brain, (ii) religion, and (iii) relationship. Much of current misunderstandings and disputes result from using these concepts in differing ways without making the differences clear. Therefore, the stage is set with the corresponding definitions and a brief summary of the present state of affairs as understood here. That will also indicate the comparatively narrow content-related limits of the present considerations, which, from an enlarged perspective, are embedded in much wider concerns. Having thus situated the area under discussion here, two current major issues will be dealt with: “Is the brain the generator of religion,” and “Is the brain sufficient as a guide for living a satisfactory life?” Present answers are, respectively “Scientifically speaking, more data are needed before coming to a definite conclusion,” and “No.” In making the relevant arguments and statements, I partly draw on my earlier work.

The Significance of Toshihiko Izutsu’s Legacy for Comparative Religion

Toshihiko Izutsu explored the Oriental philosophies and clarified their comprehensive structural framework by using comparative philosophy and linguistic philosophy. Izutsu made three contributions that are deemed especially crucial to the study of comparative religion. First, the attitude of empathy he proposed and applied to himself, and his strict methodology of semantics in interpreting philosophical texts. This attitude is also important when one is trying to understand the faith of others. Second, his delineation of the scheme of the basic structure of Oriental philosophy for the comparative study of religions. Third, his study of Oriental (mystical) philosophy is a significant contribution to the study of mysticism. However, there are still problems which remain to be addressed in comparative religion.

Objectivity and the Scientific Study of Religion

The concern for and the debate on “objectivity” in the scientific study of religions led scholars to advocate two major approaches known as “History of Religion” and “Phenomenology of Religion.” Both approaches are claimed to be “descriptive” and “value-free” as they stringently enforce the principle of epochê or distanciation to ensure objectivity. However, there are scholars who argue that objectivity (be it “descriptive” or “value-free”) is ontologically questionable and epistemologically impossible. It is a selfdefeating concept and a myth. They argue that objectivity is principally and directly concerned with “the object” under investigation regardless of the types of approach used.

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