Monday, October 24, 2011

Forum: An Undergraduate Book Review - The Closing of the Muslim Mind by Robert R. Reilly reviewed by Lindsey Richey

The Closing of the Muslim Mind: How Intellectual Suicide Created the Modern Islamic Crisis.
Robert R. Reilly, Wilmington: Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2010. ISBN: 9781610170024

The modern Islamism crisis is gaining more and more importance, while it has remained somewhat of a mystery to the general public. Robert R. Reilly attempts to explain the issue as well as dispelling any misconceptions about the entire crisis. Reilly focuses on the theological difference that resulted in the removal of philosophy from the repertoire of Islamic belief. Utilizing a wide range of sources, Reilly establishes the fundamental change in belief as well as how such a change was accomplished and illustrates the repercussions such a change created in modern times. Reilly does a thorough analysis on the differences between the Mu’tazilites, with their philosophical roots in reason and free will, and the Ash’arites, with their theological roots in Allah’s omnipotence.

In order to fully understand the modern Islamic crisis and its roots, Reilly correctly delves into the original opening of the Muslim mind and the subsequent theological battle that resulted in the dehellenization of the Muslim faith. For this endeavor, Reilly provides insight gained from studying the historical documents. First, there was the hellenization of the Muslim faith which happened through the spread of the Arab Empire. Greek thought was originally encountered through the acquisitions of the Byzantine and Sassanid Empires. There the Mu’tazilites, a group of Muslim philosophers, reconciled the main differences in the Muslim faith and reason.

The first struggle was Qadar, man’s power to act versus Jabr, fate or compulsion. The Mu’tazilites originally stemmed from the group called Qadarites, the root being qadar, or power, meaning the power of man to act. The thought was that if man did not have the power to act then the moral obligation to do right and avoid evil would be a meaningless order from God. The second struggle was that of ‘Aql, reason, versus Naql, or traditional faith. This was approached in much of the same way. Reason was the human’s ability to know mortality, and reason was needed for the goodness and justice of God. All of this was necessitated by the need of man’s free will. The Mu’tazilites were the first to fully develop a theological school in Islam. However, this development was not to last forever.

The Ash’arites did not much care for the Mu’tazilites way of thinking, to say the least. This resulted in the response of Al-Ash’ari, the man who would become the founder of the Ash’arites. Al-Ash’ari developed what he called the Metaphysics of the Will, a teaching about the will of God, or Allah. Opposed to the Mu’tazilites who believed in reason and the free will of man, Al-Ash’ari created the metaphysics of will, in which only in the present moment does anything exist. The sole reason for existence is Allah’s will. This means that from this second to the next the only force that keeps everything in existence, is Allah’s will. For example, the only reason why fire burns is because Allah wills it; there is no other reason. If Allah so wished, next time fire meets paper, the paper might not burn, it might turn to gold. There are no laws to decide what will happen. It is simply the will of Allah. Allah creates and destroys atoms as he wishes in any patterns that he wishes— patterns which can change at any moment. Reason has not only completely disappeared, but free will has been dissolved and any thought that there might be a reason for something happening other then Allah’s will, is shirk—blasphemy.

Reilly’s analysis of the fundamental differences in the Mu’tazilite versus the Ash’arite doctrine is insightful. Reilly explains the differences in doctrine that have been essentially the root of the problem between the Arab and Western worlds. Without the understanding and knowledge that Reilly tries to lend the world, a world largely ignorant of these beliefs, there will be no solution to the modern Islamism crisis. Reilly is very successful in illuminating where the change in doctrine caused the modern Islamism crisis, and what the consequences of such a change are.

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