It did not occur to many researchers in Islam and its heritage to ask a number of questions but these did occur to others and determined the course of their research towards areas that were, and still are, entirely absent from the traditionalist Islamic mindset and the generality of Muslims.


THE SUBJECT OF ISLAM and how to handle the Qur’ān has remained the preserve of traditional jurists and scholars (the ‘Guardians of the Temple’) who have been very keen, for centuries now, to keep the doors closed to any attempts to understand differently, or deal differently, with issues concerning Islam and the Qur’ān. Consequently it is the opinions and attitudes of those who remained faithful to what has been handed down, repeated and regurgitated that have prevailed. This approach dominated to the point of casting the Islamic peoples outside the circle of history.

The predominant approach to dealing with history, in Islamic circles, is to adopt a doctrinal defensive, apologetic, and reverential logic, without subjecting it to any examination, despite the tremendous developments that the world and its people have experienced in every field. Anyone who dared ask himself about the issue of Islam, the Qur’ān, or the Islamic heritage was held to be a heretic or to have committed blasphemy. In fact, the issue at times came to shedding his blood in the name of God and the faith.

Muslims have been very late, and still are, in considering the religious issue in general as one amongst many facts to be scrutinized, instead of being an absolute tribal fact to be dealt with just as it is, or as it is presented by the Guardians of the Temple. The majority of Muslims are still now unable to separate off belief from research study. This mentality has thus for centuries been subject to ready-made templates, and has not strayed from it even an inch. In Islamic circles, the reading of the sacred has remained an ideological-religious reading whose results are predetermined in advance – not a cultural, historical or sociocultural critical reading.

The majority of Muslims are still now unable to separate off belief from research study

It may be that Islamic orthodoxy, in its centuries-long pushing and pulling, has come to devote a specific interpretation to the Qur’ān and, consequently, to how it is to be understood along with other related matters, and that every violation of this orthodoxy came to be labeled delusion, heresy or blasphemy, fully deserving of shedding blood. The nature of the Qur’ānic text and the many texts of hadiths may have helped this attitude come about. It may be also that in order to ensure its continued existence and effectiveness, the ‘Islamic institution’ came to adopt a mentality that focused on obscuring and obfuscating alternative opinions, understandings and perceptions, and rejected anything that could undermine its credibility and the legitimacy of the ‘political system’ that it dug its nails into, and was desperately keen to preserve, after having established it on a heavenly, religious foundation.

All this calls for an urgent scrutiny of the Islamic mindset in terms of its nature, its approach, its methodology and tools and its embodiment on the ground, in order to find a way of encompassing it within a comprehensive and interconnected framework. When that is achieved, the features of the path followed and the influences established will become evident. Some researchers have gone so far as to say that the early history of Islam is messy, the Sunna is fabricated, the Qur’ān is problematic and the Islamic legal and jurisprudential disciplines are full of holes. They conclude that this is due to the influence of a mercurial, apologetic, reverential mentality entrenched for centuries, which has succeeded in anesthetizing the minds of ordinary Muslims.

Does an unbiased scrutiny confirm this or refute this? The mercurial, apologetic mentality has survived intact, and one of the factors that has helped it to survive is that fact that the overwhelming majority of Muslims are Muslims of identity and not Muslims of belief. It is this that has made its task all the easier.

But with the rise of a mentality of questioning, scrutiny and a desire to base faith on actual belief, it has become apparent that this mindset has became confused and unable to fight argument with argument. Instead it opted for the easy way out: insults, criminal accusations, personal attacks, and takfīr. It had no other choice due to its stagnation and calcification over the course of centuries.

The mentality of the jurists and commentators, the overwhelming majority of them, kept on churning out explanations, justifications, and conclusions about any issue or its opposite in order to justify all the woven myths and fabrications regarding the Prophet, the Qur’ān, and the early history of Islam. As long as the general Muslim public swallowed these uncritically and without employing their intellect, any contradiction that did emerge had ready-made, canned explanations thrown at them to smother the embarrassment.

In this way, this mentality contributed significantly to placing Islam, the Qur’ān and the Sunna outside the circle of history. Today, the Islamic heritage and its narrative is in a dilemma as a result of what this mentality has produced over the centuries. Note how these dilemmas have only intensified in a world that has witnessed massive and unprecedented developments in how it understands the universe and the laws of nature, and how it unravels its mysteries. That mentality, however, has remained all the same entrenched outside the circle of history.

Any possibility of actual reform to correct this crippled state is now difficult, and possibly beyond reach

It has turned, in the end, into a situation that makes it incompatible with the development of humanity and knowledge, and therefore any possibility of actual reform to correct this crippled state is now difficult, and possibly beyond reach.

Once the research understands the nature of this mentality, its approaches and methods, its tools and its weaponry, and how these are embodied in reality and encompass it, it can be perceived in its holistic and integrated framework. At such a time, the features of the path followed and the influences established will become clear. This is why the unbiased researcher is called to scrutinize this mentality before passing judgment on it.

To see some aspects of how the mechanisms of the mercurial, reverential, apologetic mentality operates, one must first put one’s finger on the embarrassment or the embarrassing situation that is being avoided, and then scrutinize the accepted ‘explanation’. Following that, one should search for hadiths related to the explanation and scrutinize them thoroughly. It will thus become clear whether this can be relied upon wholly and in detail, or whether it contains anything that excites suspicion. One may well find evidence that it is perhaps merely a fabricated and invented ‘resolution’ intended to explain away an embarrassing situation or bury a blatant contradiction.

Whenever you come across an embarrassing issue that calls for a ‘explanation’, search for the hadiths and issues related to the topic. Inevitably, you will be turn up suspicious hadiths and interpretations, and carefully cross-referencing and comparing these may give you some indication of evidences of invention and fabrication.

Anyone who scrutinizes for example the Qur’ān – the Muṣḥaf –  becomes thoroughly exhausted by the way it is arranged, the scattering of topics here and there, and the absence of any connection between successive verses in the same sūra. This is patent something to anyone, but note that the Qur’ān is the last book revealed to humankind, and that there is no book after it. Keep aware that it is this mercurial, reverential, justifying mentality – felt  by those who study the Qur’ān – that has come up with such  ‘explanations’ as: ‘the Qur’ān has its own systems and organisation unique to it, and  provides its own internal and external keys to study and comprehend it, all of which are hidden in the text’. Thus, one has to choose today, it seems, between two things: –

  • putting blind trust in the shaykhs and jurists, and swallowing what comes out of them whole, because the average person does not possess the keys to the catacombs of understanding the Qur’ān, or
  • searching for someone who can teach him the “clear Arabic tongue”[1], which was prevalent and used at the time the Qur’ān was revealed, but which has not been used for centuries.

As a precautionary measure, the mercurial, reverential, justificational mentality has made sure to come up with a recipe that comforts everyone, which is:

‘The Qur’ān encompasses all ways of understanding it and all ijtihādāt [independent legal reasonings] and is able to keep pace with all developments and conditions’

One thesis that still shackles research is considering what is contained in the Qur’ān that we have in our hands today as a ‘literally and formally’ the word of God.

It seems that the reality of this matter cannot be ascertained from within this calcified circle, but rather from outside of it. Any hope of reforming this mentality at this stage therefore lies with Muslims in the West. This is because Muslims in Islamic countries are still affected to the core by the calcification of this mentality, while Muslims in the West have the greatest chance to rid themselves of this calcification and escape from having to perceive the circle from within, and perceive it from the outside in order to scrutinize it properly. This is where the revivifying rains will come from to refresh the Islamic mentality after its long calcification.

Any hope of reforming this mentality at this stage therefore lies with Muslims in the West

Some strange output at times emerges from this mercurial, reverential, justificational mentality, in the way, for instance, that the rhetorical, grammatical, and other errors contained in the Qur’ān are explained away. This mentality has also actively sought to ‘cancel out’ or ‘leapfrog over’ the contradictions contained in the hadiths – even the ṣaḥīḥ hadiths.

This mercurial, reverential, apologetic mentality has contributed to the impossibility of any liberation from the Islamic heritage, particularly the problematic legacy left behind by commentators and jurists. We should keep in mind that the developments mankind has achieved at the cognitive level, the unveiling of what has been covered up from the early history of Islam, today requires – more than ever – that we do not rely on much of the Islamic tradition and what it regurgitates, and which has become deep-rooted through being accepted unquestioningly and unscrutinized.

[1] The Qur’ān gives a couple of instances of this phrase. See Qur’ān XVI (al-Naḥl), 103: وَهَٰذَا لِسَانٌ عَرَبِيٌّ مُبِينٌ  ‘and this is clear Arabic tongue’ and Qur’ān XXVI (al-Shuʽarā’), 195:  بِلِسَانٍ عَرَبِيٍّ مُبِينٍ  ‘in plain Arabic speech’. (Ed.)