Faith, Featured

Intellectual Freedom, Censorship and the Spirit of Islam

The idea that ‘Islam’ is a set of idealism-defining principles with which Muslims often fail to conform, almost seems a clichéd notion. Amongst these lofty principles is allowing the intellect freedom to manoeuvre, to challenge and to break faulty ideas in order to replace them with more accurate ones. Thus we find the inevitable contraposition to this ethic found within many Muslim societies, whereby barriers of censorship are erected in order to shield the masses from intellectual opinions that challenge the presiding point of view, be it ideological in nature or otherwise.

Ironic then, that the birth, and subsequent growth, of Islam was only made possible by the demolishing of such barriers; and that intellectual censorship was a tool upon which the opponents of Islam depended. The Quraysh’s prohibition to Al-Ṭufayl ibn ‘Umar from listening to the Holy Prophet (pbuh), out of fear that he may convert, was by no means an isolated instance[1].

It may well have been the case that the censorship imposed in Mecca, 1400 years ago, was decreed in order to protect prestigious financial and social positions of the Qurayshi elite; it may also be the case that intellectual censorship in today’s Muslim societies does not always spring from such sinister self-serving motives. Nevertheless, the frantic want to silence opinions that challenge the status quo, is the bitter fruit of insecurity; either fearing that the ideas we have adhered to for so long may crumble in the face of a more indubitable argument, or that we lack the scholarly prowess to intellectually defend the beliefs we hold, regardless of how correct they may be.

Islamic philosophy, jurisprudence and even ideological convictions have all evolved over time due to the willingness of scholars, with critical minds, to entertain novel ideas in Popperian spirit [2].

The early history of Islam is riddled with examples of how the progeny of the Holy Prophet (pbuh) debated, discussed and intellectually defeated ideological and jurisprudential conjectures put forth by those less learned. Shying away from debate or attempting to repress contending opinions would have been unbefitting of them.



It is regrettable to see, therefore, that it is now deemed acceptable for religious figures in authoritative positions, to censor and silence academic opinions that are not in harmony with what is considered ‘mainstream’ – regardless of whether or not they are correct.

This unfortunate trend results in the numbing of the collective intellect of the Muslim community by shielding them from controversial views, patronisingly keeping them aloof from mental exercise in a religious context.

However, the refusal to engage and entertain differing views, and blocking them from the community by building a rampart of censorship, could lead to an even more potentially perilous possibility – what if they’re right?!

by Muhammed Reza Tajri


References

[1] Majlisi, M. B. (1988). Biḥār al-Anwār. Beirut: Dar al-Fiqh. V. 17 P. 81

[2] Karl Popper (d. 1994): “I speak of the growth of scientific knowledge, the repeated overthrow of scientific theories and its replacement by better or more satisfactory ones”. [Popper, K. (1963). Conjectures and Refutations. London: Routledge Publications. P. 215]

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3 Comments

  1. Do we leave the causes and remedies of cancer to the common people or trust the doctors who specialize in the disease? Of course everyone has an opportunity to become a doctor; however, the person who has very basic/limited knowledge cannot critique. This will bring more damage than good. My two cents.

  2. Absolutely right that the Muslim World should be free to engage In intellectual debate. This is what Islam promotes.
    At the same time if there is a threat on beliefs and practices it is the right of the scholars to stand up defend.
    Recent instances have showed when pseudo Scholars with liberal views of their penetrating the western youths mindset going unchallenged then a whole movement starts which strays away from the Teachings of Holy Progeny pbuh.
    It is here then the Masses with the help of Conservative Scholars fight back with homely principles.
    Signs of a pseudo Scholar going astray are very clear and a layman can spot them from their oratory and actions.
    Saying that it is very healthy to have intellectual debates and forums like this (theMuslimVibe) are vital to allow issues pertaining to current issues to be addressed freely.
    AND THE END IS FOR THE PIOUS.

    1. The very language of “pseudo Scholar” and “fight back” is the kind of toxic rhetoric which allows censorship to flourish.

      It facilitates epistemic hegemony and no one has a monopoly over religion and religious knowledge, such that they may arrogantly see themselves in a position to define ‘pseudo scholars’ for the masses.

      Once again, it is this attitude that patronises the communities and insults their intellect.

      If ‘pseudo scholars’ are leading people astray, they should be countered with reason and argument, not censorship.
      Gagging and censuring is the ultimate weapon of the intellectually impotent.

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