By the fourth Hijri century, religious discourse had reached full maturity.
After two centuries of writing and documentation, and during the peak years of a powerful Islamic nation, Islamic ideology and consequently religious discourse were in line with its contemporary conditions. Thus, it is not surprising that Europeans copied Muslims’ philosophy and research methodologies in order to emerge from the European Dark Ages which were marked by decline. All that while Islamic thought was free, civilized, and productive in the field of knowledge, while the Islamic nation extended from China in the east to Andalusia in the west, with Cordoba at the center of knowledge and Ibn Rushd’s (Averroes) teachings introducing advancement to Europe.
If any positive impact of the Crusades is to be mentioned, it would be for the Europeans who carried back home Islamic ideas, methodologies and philosophy during the Crusades from 1096 to1291. Modernized thought was produced in European circles, and pushed them to the empirical school of thought, as an evident result of philosophies introduced by Ibn Al-Haytham, Ibn Sina (Avicenna) and Al-Biruni, followed by Roger Bacon’s mathematical theories (d. 1294). The line would take an upward direction, and Gutenberg’s printer would speed up circulation of all these ideas.
Then, Martin Luther would emerge to change the church’s route, along with Copernicus, and later Galileo to shift the idea of earth being at the center of the universe and develop western thought. Hence, a religious, social and political revolution would erupt and result in a transformation of religious discourse. A political modernization would follow to establish vital issues such as freedoms, legislations, state’s authority and religious tolerance.
Separation between the state’s authorities and religious belief was initiated by philosopher John Lock who introduced the social contract. Public coercion faded in the favor of legislature’s power which became the basis. That coercion was a result of the executive political power, which didn’t own the right to oppress people even if it used religious discourse. Therefore, the western mentality started to develop, fueled by Islamic ideas and philosophy when Muslims were of great achievements.
As Islamic thought witnessed setbacks and decline, some reformists emerged with intellectual, but not religious, efforts. Some of them blindly followed the West, their justifications were hollow attempts that reflected the defeated admiring their defeater. Another team found nothing wrong to take what suited us from the Western thought, as it was originally our product, while a third team stood confused, burdened with guilt due to the religious discourse shift to an excessively authoritative discourse.
At times of decline, darkness advocates who adopted extreme ideologies came out to save face and take advantage. There were some opportunists who managed to manipulate religion for political ends. They failed to ask themselves, if their goal was to rule, why wouldn’t they follow legitimate or even illegitimate political means, instead of imposing religious discourse on their agenda, not to mention their redaction of hadith and historical incidents to back their positions.
Amid that, religious discourse moved away from maturity, and kept frozen under the guardianship of Al-Azhar which became affiliated with the government, and followed firm Egyptian bureaucracy. With the exception of honorable sheikhs such as Muhammad Abduh, Shaltut and Tantawy, there was not any new ideology that spoke to the youth to remove the authoritative barrier of human religious discourse and to underscore the intellectual values without promoting the Mu’tazila school of thought, which could be rightly described as the knights of intellect and justice. But for their transgression and antagonizing al-Ma’mun against Imams of the nation, their school would have been of brilliant future.
Unfortunately, this prevailed during the culmination of Islamic intellectual maturity. Mu’tazila followers turned against their principles and used oppression to promote their school, until it declined. Nevertheless, it remained a vivid example of combining between religious text and intellect in Islamic Fiqh, which we hope our contemporary scholars do in order to keep the human religious thought in line with Muslims’ aspirations. Islam has not come to warn people with all severe punishments, but to complete noble virtues, that is to say the highest level of human development and moral evolution.
In this regard, the means used is education. Most Qur’anic ayahs educate humans to cooperate with each other, and inform that the original mission is to populate earth. It doesn’t aim to make peoples’ lives harder in the world and in the hereafter, which would have made people depressed and gloomy at best, or led them to atheism or infidelity at worst.
Hence, we demand that religious discourse be more realistic and mature.
To be continued..