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Contemporary Skepticism, Ancient & Modern Theology, By Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi

Contemporary Skepticism and theology

INTRODUCTION: Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi wrote this article by way of Foreword and Preface to his famous book “Answer to Modernism”. The book has been conceived as a reply to certain Muslim “Modernizers” who, under the impact of the 19th century “scientism” and cowed down by the physical might of western imperialism, fell a prey to all kinds of flimsy doubts and misgivings about Islamic doctrines, and clamored for a “new” or modernist apologetic approach even at the cost of sacrificing authenticity. The book lays down certain general and basic principles which can help one to see things for what they are. The principles are, indeed, so quintessential that they can serve as an indispensable guide to the understanding of any religious tradition, beside Islam.

Translated By: Professor Muhammad Hasan Askari & Karrar Husain
Compiled By: Mufti Umar Anwar Badakhshani

Answer to Modernism: Foreword

The rules of ancient theology are sufficient to solve the present and future doubts

These days one notice a number of inner perversions that have crept into the religious beliefs and consequently into the religious practice of certain Muslims, and that are daily on the increase. In view of this, people have started talking about the need of compiling a “new” dialectical theology (ilm ul Kalam al jadid). In the sense of revising the basic principles of the ilm ul Kalam as it exists, this demand itself is questionable. For, these principles are quite sufficient and comprehensive, as any scholar, by practicing them, can easily judge and verify for himself with absolute certainty. In the sense of further elaborating these principles, however, this demand may be considered just and valid. But what is “new” in this case is only that certain doubts have newly arisen. In fact, it would demonstrate the comprehensiveness of the “old” ilm ul kalam all the more conclusively, and show that, no matter what the doubts are and in what age they arise, the same “old” principles are more than sufficient to meet them adequately. Thus, it is essential to get rid of this misunderstanding in defining this demand which has become all too popular.

Another error is still more grave, and calls for an even more urgent correction. In making this demand, what most of the people really intend is this the injunctions of the Shariah with regard to the doctrinal beliefs as well as to the religious practices enjoying universal conformity, resting on explicit statements in the Holy Quran and the Hadith, preserved and handed down from generation to generation, should be so modified in the light of new scientific researches as to bring them in agreement with the latter, even though the validity of these researches is neither confirmed by observation nor proved incontestably by rational argument. This object is patently absurd. All the propositions which are popularly known as “new researches” have not attained the degree of certainly; actually, most of them are merely hypothetical and conjectural. Nor are most of them really new, but have been mentioned by the ancient philosophers, and have even been discussed by our own theologians (Mutakallimin), as one can see for oneself by referring to the books of ilm ul kalam.

Meaning the compilation of modern theology

However, there is no denying the fact that some of the doubts which had ceased to be talked about are being repeated afresh, some are being presented in a new form, while there are others which are new even with regard to their content, for they are founded upon certain assumptions which can justifiably be described as “new researches”. It is only in this sense that the set of such doubts can properly be called “new”. And, in so far as we mean to combat these doubts which are “new” in this sense, and also because a certain “newness” in the mode of expression may be found useful, making it more suited to the contemporary taste, it would be permissible to describe our solution of these difficulties and our refutation of these doubts as a “new ilm ul kalam”. If we interpret the popular demand for compiling a new ilm ul kalam in this fashion. there is no point in denying such a need.

In whatever way you may interpret this need, we on our part have for a long time been anxiously considering different forms in which this need could be fulfilled. Some of these forms were comprehensive, but also voluminous. So, our mind settled on a shorter method. Let all the doubts that are currently being expressed orally or in books be collected and catalogued, and each one of them answered individually. In this way, our answers would be more efficacious in refuting the present doubts, each one of them having been dealt with separately and particularly, and the general principles obtained in the course of discussing the particular and individual doubts should, in shallah, prove adequate to refute similar and comparable doubts that may arise in future.

This procedure required that doubts should be compiled together, and the responsibility for this task does not lie only on the man who is to furnish the answers. So, we asked a number of people to help us in this respect. And we waited for a sufficient number of doubts to be compiled, so that we could begin our tasks in the name of Allah.

Lecture at Aligarh University

We were still waiting, when we had to make a journey to Bengal in the beginning of Dhi Qadah 1327 A.H. We broke the journey at Aligarh in order to meet our younger brother who was posted as a sub-inspector there. Some students of the M.A.O. College came to know of our arrival, and paid us a visit. A group of them informed the Secretary of the College. Nawab waqar ul Umara, and probably requested him to invite us for a sermon. We received a letter to this effect from the Nawab at night, and in the morning he himself came to see us, and took us to the College. This being a Friday. we offered our prayers there, and, as desired, gave a sermon that continued till the time of the afternoon (Asr) prayers. (A brief summary of this sermon has been given in the present book by way of a preface).

From the way the students listened to the sermon we could judge that they had in a certain degree the eagerness and expectancy to find out the truth; we even saw in them the signs of understanding and discernment. They expressed the desire to be given the opportunity to listen occasionally to our discourses and sermons in future too, for the sake of their reform and edification. This being a service to religion, we were only too happy to accept the suggestion.

Seeing this, we proposed to ourselves a further concision and consequently a little modification even in the shorter plan we had contemplated. We now decided that for the present we should not wait for all individual and particular doubts to be compiled, which was a task requiring the help of others, but should consider only those doubts which we had ourselves heard in the course of our conversations with people, or seen formulated in books, and should try to answer them as far as was necessary in our sermons before the students. Brief summaries of these sermons could then be published in book form for the benefit of those who had not been present. The oral sermon could precede the publication, or it could also be otherwise, depending on the time and the situation. Moreover, if some people would, during the course of this undertaking or before or after it, help us in compiling the doubts, then that earlier plan could also be executed, and a second part could be added to the present work. Failing that, we have our trust in the Almighty Allah, and hope that even this elementary work would be quite sufficient. If the reader can find someone to teach it systematically in detail, the benefit would be all the greater.

If Allah helps someone to compile from the writings of atheists and critics of islam all those objections and doubts that are based on the confrontation between Islam on the one hand, and science or the new principles introduced by western civilization on the other, and then to write a detailed refutation, such a work would genuinely deserve the name of a “new ilm ul kalam. In fact, a comprehensive model of such a book has, thanks to Allah, been already published, compiled from the teachings of Husain al Jasr al Tarabulasi and entitled “Al Risalah al Hamidiyyah”. Even an Urdu translation under the name of “Science Aur Islam” has appeared and been found useful and attractive by many reader. May Allah help us in the task and make it easy for us.

The Deprivation of the Modern Generation, Causes & Solutions

Preface: Sermon delivered at the M.A.O. College Aligarh

The text of the sermon was a verse of thc Holy Quran from the chapter ” Luqman”:

واتبع سبيل من اناب الي

“Follow the way of him who has turned to Me ….. “

Since the sermon was rather long, we would give only a summary here: Today we do not propose to speak on a particular theme, but to make a brief survey of the causes which have not so far allowed you to profit from the sermons of the Ulama, and which, if not indicated and remedied now, would render such sermons unprofitable in future too. The causes spring from certain deficiencies in you yourselves.

  • 1: The first of these deficiencies is that although religious doubts are spiritual ailments, yet you do not regard them as ailments. That is why you have never dealt with them in the manner you deal with physical ailments. May Allah protect you from all harm, but whenever it so happens that you fall ill, you never wait for the official physician of the college to come down to your room for himself in order to examine you and to treat you. When you were ill, you must rather have gone to his residence yourself and spoken to him about your illness. And if his treatment did you no good, you must have gone beyond the boundary of the college to the town, and seen the civil surgeon at the hospital. And, in case even his treatment did not prove effective, you must have left even the town and made a journey to other cities, and must have spent quite a good sum of money in bearing the expenses of the journey, in paying the doctors and in buying medicines. In short, you had no peace of body or mind until you had fully regained your health. This being so, how is it that when you are affected with religious doubts, you just expect that the Ulama themselves should attend you? Why do you not turn to them yourselves? And if, during this quest, one Aalim fails to restore your health (either because his answer is not sufficient, or because it is not to your taste), why do you not seek other ulama? Why do you jump to the conclusion that your problem is insoluble? You should at least have made a thorough search for its solutions. The expense it entails is almost nothing in comparison with what you spent on a physical cure. What could be simpler than to send a reply paid post card to any religious scholar you choose, and to ask him whatever you like?
  • 2: The second deficiency is that you too often have an absolute confidence in your own opinion and judgment, and assume that nothing can be wrong with your way of thinking. This is another reason why you never turn to any religious scholar (Aalim). this in itself is a great error. If you seek a verification of your opinion from the ulama, you would soon be aware of the errors you commit.
  • 3: The third deficiency is that, in religious matters, you are habitually reluctant to follow anyone. That is why you do not accept the authority of any expert in any religious matters, but always pry into the explanations, reasons and arguments of everything, while the truth is that one who is not an expert cannot at all do without accepting the authority of an expert. This does not mean that the scholars of the Shariah do not possess any reasons or arguments. They do possess all that. But many things are beyond your understanding. Just as it is very difficult to explain at theorem of Euclid to a man who is ignorant of the first principles, definitions and other preliminaries necessary for a proper study of geometry in the same way there are certain sciences which serve as instruments and elementary principles for a study of the injunctions of the Shariah. Anyone who wishes to understand them fully must necessarily acquire a knowledge of these sciences to begin with. But the man who has not the time or the inclination to do so, cannot help accepting the authority of someone else.

I would, therefore, advise you to adopt this method. Whenever you have a doubt with regard to any religious matter, you should continue to put it before different ulama until it has been finally removed, and should in no case rely on your own judgment. If there is Something which you are unable to understand perfectly, you had better admit your own short-coming, and then trust and follow those ulama who are really experts in their own field. If you adopt this procedure, I do hope that Allah will help you, and you will soon be able to correct your errors.

SOURCE: Answer to modernism, By Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi

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