Say: Are those who know equal with those who know not? [i] Everything rests on a pillar, and the pillar of the believer is his intellect and upon the level of his intellect depends the validity of his worship of his Lord. [ii] Wisdom wanders about astray; if a believer stumbles across it, he is all the more deserving of it. But where is the mind that is not afraid of opposing intellectual currents, wherever these hail from? The obligation towards objectivity will always act to the benefit of Islam as a religion which is not to be feared. Islamists also believe that the call for renewal is the way to eliminate the need to comply with sharia. Reason says that when faith becomes firm and shirk is banished there is no more need for excessive precautions or sterile immunizations.
THIS ABOVE COMMENT is necessary before we debate the idea of ‘intellectual pollution’ discussed by Professor Ḥasan al-Tal in his book of the same title. It is an idea that is discussed by many of those interested in intellectual affairs in general. Is there such thing as’ intellectual pollution’ – or is this a fallacy, itself a polluted thinking?
There are those who hold that there is such a thing as intellectual pollution and believe in it. These are mostly Islamists who look at things from an Islamic perspective, one that is canonised to their whims, the way they like to see things. They aim and strive to control the course of these things and turn back the clock of history. Their sentiments and minds are dominated by the image of a past golden age, and they consider everything that came after as mere deterioration and decadence. For these, the source of the evil and corruption of current life is the way the image of that era has been transformed and the way we have become distanced from it.
Islamists look at things from an Islamic perspective, one that is canonised to their whims, the way they like to see things
Such a position might have had some merit if they focused their attention on the active vitality associated with that age, and on the moral, mental and spiritual motivations that spawned its productivity and creativity. But most of the time they aspire to reproduce the forms of life of that era, the social systems that then prevailed and the rulings, laws, traditions and methods that prevailed at the time. But human experience has shown the impossibility of achieving this reversion, and it has demonstrated that creativity does not come from any absolute submission to history, but instead requires a kind of liberation, one that allows us to rise above history and judge it, and make a distinction between the authentic elements in the heritage that remain as opposed to the ever-changing events.
For these people everything new is a extraneous contingency of thought that pollutes ‘Islamic thought’, as if they want Islamic thought to quarantine itself and seal itself off from the currents of contemporary thought.
Was this also the case in the earlier eras of Islam? Islamic thought as it emerged was exposed to various intellectual currents hailing from various quarters. It interacted with Persian, Indian, Roman Byzantine and Egyptian Coptic thought. Islamic civilization has not experience any golden age since the fourth hijrī century, an era which was been called Islam’s Nahḍa, the ‘resurgence’. In this era, Islamic civilization, science and the arts reached their peak and interacted with various incoming currents. But they withstood these currents not by resort to the force of law or state protection, but by dint of elements of power, truth and purity internal to Islam.
Creativity does not come from any absolute submission to history, but instead requires a kind of liberation
Baghdad was the centre of the Islamic world, and it was a capital in every sense of the word. It was a place where waves of all religious and intellectual movements were crashing, with all the jurisprudential, religious and intellectual schools were represented. In this atmosphere, there must a highly active industry of fabricating hadiths, a tendency started two centuries early among the Shī‘a and their opponents, so that a person such as Ibn Ishaq – the author of the sīra (biography of the Prophet) – was a Shi‘te who included in his work Shi‘ite poetry.
It was a time when ‘Awāna ibn al-Ḥakam (d. 147 AH) fabricated poems for the Umayyads. Al-Maqdisi mentions that he was once in the mosque of Wasit when a crowd gathered around a man. As he drew close and found him relating a hadith that he claimed was verified, and which ran:
‘Allah will bring Mu‘āwiya close to Him on the Day of Resurrection, and he will sit him by His side, clasp his hand, introduce him to the people like a bridegroom’.[iii]
In such an era, sound ideas spread along with misleading, misguided ideas. Many relate the story of a shaykh who is said to have taught his son forty thousand hadiths, but when the latter memorized them in his absence, he subsequently said to him, “My son, know that these hadiths are false, so do not adopt them.”
[i] Qur’ān XXXIX (al-Zumar), 9.
[ii] Hadith attributed to Abū Sa‘īd al-Khudrī, Hadith no. 829 (see كتاب بغية الباحث عن زوائد مسند الحارث حديث رقم : 829).