Robert Reilly on Lafif Lakhdar: Call for Islamic Rationalism
In looking for more information about the Tunisian Muslim reformer Lafif Lakhdar, whom I quoted in a post two days ago, I came across some of his remarks on rationality and Islam cited in an interesting interview that Robert Spencer of Jihad Watch conducted with Robert R. Reilly, author of a recently published book, The Closing of the Muslim Mind, which dates that intellectual closing to Islam's early rejection of Mu'talizite rationalism and emphasis upon Allah's nature as pure, omnipotent will, limited by nothing, not even by rationality.
Mr. Spencer had asked about the possibilities for reviving the "period of Mu'talizite domination in Islam," which by virtue of its rationalism was"a kind of golden age of philosophical reason, intellectual innovation, and openness" in the Muslim world. Specifically, Mr. Spencer asked if there were any "Islamic thinkers today who are trying to do this," i.e., to revive Muslim rationalism. In response, Mr. Reilly cited Mr. Lakhdar as an example of one such Muslim thinker:
Reformist Tunisian-born thinker Latif (sic. Lafif) Lakhdar calls for a revival of "Mu'atazila and philosophical thought that subjected the holy writings on which the religion is based to interpretation by the human mind." He said "it is absurd to believe the text and deny reality."Mr. Reilly is quoting from two different articles. The first is from Aluma Dankowitz's summary of Mr. Lakhdar's views in "Tunisian Reformist Thinker: Secularism is Vital for the Future of the Arab and Muslim World" (Memri, May 19, 2005, No. 222):
In addressing the question whether secularism means disconnection from Islam, Lafif Lakhdar explains that it is disconnection from the negative autocracy and theocracy in the Muslim world, but is also a revival of the connection with other elements in Islam -- such as mu'atazila [rationalist] and philosophical thought that subjected the holy writings on which the religion is based to interpretation by the human mind.The second is from the article by Mr. Lakhdar that I cited a couple of posts ago, "Moving From Salafi to Rationalist Education" (Meria, Volume 9, No. 1, Article 3, March 2005):
Open religious rationalism -- subjecting the religious text to rational investigation and research -- ought to become the core of the aspired religious education in the Arab-Islamic region, since it is absurd to believe the text and deny reality.Both of these Lakhdar citations appear to be related, given their chronological proximity (Spring 2005) and their mutual emphasis upon rationality applied to religious texts. Mr. Reilly -- in speaking of the 'de-hellenization' (expulsion of reason) that took place in Islam with the rejection of Mu'talizite rationalism -- goes on in the interview to make a point that I have also made:
If reason is illegitimate, how are differences to be adjudicated? Force will decide. The stronger will decide. Why does Islam use violence to affirm its theology? Because it is the theology of power, of the doctrine that "right is rule of the stronger," raised to the level of God. The primacy of the will always seeks success through force.In September 2006, I made much the same point as Mr. Reilly:
Benedict XVI told his audience in Regensburg that not only is violence in spreading faith unreasonable and therefore against God, but that a conception of God without reason, or above reason, leads to that very violence. This is the problem in Islam. That which is unreasonable is against God only if God is reason. This is not so in majority Sunni Islamic theology. He is pure will and power, unconstrained even by his own word. Therefore, there are no solid barriers between the statement that God is pure will and power, and the startling declaration of Abdullah Azzam, which Osama quoted in the November 2001 video, released after 9/11, that "Terrorism is an obligation in Allah's religion." This can only be true -- that violence in spreading faith is an obligation -- if, as Benedict XVI said, God is without reason. This is why the problem we are facing is primarily a theological one.
The Pope's larger theme lay in his subtle argument that Islam might have a problem with violence because it has a problem in its theology. If God's nature is defined centrally by his radically free will, then believers cannot appeal to reason in their aim to convert nonbelievers but must demand submission to an arbitrary God who cannot be rationally understood. If the force of reason cannot be used in converting nonbelievers, then the force of violence will be.If Mr. Reilly and I are correct, then this problem at the heart of Islam will be very difficult to rectify, for an appeal to reason can be met by a resort to force, so how does one go about restoring rationality to the irrational?
Let us not give up hope, however, for even Christian theology had to overcome a radically voluntarist conception of God . . . and generally succeeded.