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Dr Paakatchi

Islamic Intellectuality and Fundamentalism (On Fundamentalism’s Origins, Features, and Implications)


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· Translated and Edited By Amir Abbas Salehi


This article aims toward assessing rationality in the practical life. One of the most serious issues in Muslim world is the Fundamentalism. Therefore it is so crucial to involve with this issue with respect to the concept of rationality.

Rationality is a very popular and accepted concept throughout the world. Yet fundamentalism is irrationality and fundamentalist calls himself a pure and right Muslim (and this makes clear that we attribute fundamentalists to them). In addition, we must put it in our mind that Salafism and fundamentalism are not the same in meaning but we can talk about each separately. The key element is that fundamentalism is the outcome of modern connection of west with Islam. Salafism had the same function in the past that fundamentalism has nowadays.

There are three main parts:

First part:

Two branches of salafism and the issue of rationality:

In surah20 of Quran we see this verse which says “The ever-merciful, established on the throne.”

What is clear in this verse is that God sitting on something. Therefore there can be raised a question that how we can interpret the rationality of this verse? How we can justify this verse knowing that God is beyond time and space and who cannot be attributed by any human attributions. 

Malek Ibn Anas (the leader of Maleki sect) responded that: the establishment is for sure but we cannot decide about how is this establishment (the knowledge of it is equivocal) and questioning about it is heresy. Sufyan Al-Suri who was very popular in narration tradition, as well, said “Its (Quran) reading is its interpretation”. We should not attempt for interpreting Quran, we should just read it. This was the problem of the narration tradition in its first period. The problem, therefore, was not just limited to the contradictions which a person may face when he sees such verses and contexts but also it contains the contradictions which may rise from different verses and within them. That is to say, we see the conflict between intellect and text as well as the conflict between different parts of the text. The simple contradiction come from their position. From this point it seems necessary to provide intellectuality.

The emergence of Salafi movement:

Ibn Taymiye was the leader of Salafi movement in the medieval ages. His writings could be categorized into these parts: 1. His writings against logicians. 2. Writings in opposition with the theologians 3.writings with regard to compatibility of Intellect and the Texts. The later puts emphasis on this fact that he understands the contradictions of Intellect and the Texts but believes that these contradictions must be eliminated. This can be happened in two ways: 1. intellect goes along with the Texts (this is when intellect works independently) 2.the priority of the Texts over intellect (when intellect is seen dependent to text and when it is used to interpret the Texts.


The important point here, however, is that when Ibn Taymeye talks about the intellect he means just “the intellect of Followers and those who were in the time of prophet or exactly after him” and he does not verify any other intellect. They can truly grasp and understand the religious teachings and we, therefore, must choose and implement their system of intellectuality in our contemporary life. That is to say, according to his point of view all knowledge is divided into two branches; 1.The Knowledge of God and Religion 2.The knowledge of Mathematics and Physics. Intellectuality in the former is specifically the Follower’s and we should cope with it. And in the later there placed all kind of sciences. He maintains that the intellect of philosophers and the followers of other religions are just applicable in this second branch.

He thinks of intellectuality as going through details and cases toward a universal and general law. In the case of religion, therefore, one should comprehend the intellectuality of each and every Follower at the time of Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) in order to have a better understanding of our current religious situation. (This thought can lead us toward “socialized episteme” i.e. an epistemology which is dependent on cultural and thought context of a society. To put it in another way, this idea considers the social aspect of an idea as the most important aspect of it. Due to this fact, ibn taymiya thinks that the intellectuality of the followers of other religions is incapable of understanding the pure and deep teachings of Islam.)

There at least two problems that we can address in respect of this point of view: first the two intellectuality which he doesn’t explain anything about their connection and relation. Secondly, there is no procedure thereby we could find out the system of their intellectuality. If the Followers (Sahaabe) have a specific system of intellectuality through living in the time of Prophet Mohammad, so the question is how we can grasp it? The problem seems to get worse if we regard narrations and traditions since we must verify their authenticity in the first place. Ibn Taymiya, however, maintains that we first grasp the system of intellectuality and then assess the authenticity of traditions and narrations.

We can conclude that intellectuality in his point of view is like intellectual skill which emerged from specific source and tradition. Not only to preserve the narrations and traditions of predecessor but also should we stick to their system of intellectuality.

We can sum the differences between the first and second movement of Salafism as follow: the first movement concentrates on just narrations and traditions and neglects intellect. On the other hand, the second movement believes that there are no contradictions between intellect and the Text. Their solution is that both intellect and Text come from tradition and The Ancestors so if we take both there going to be no trouble or contradiction.

Reason, Contradiction and Adaptation

We have taken glance into the intellectuality and the contradictions which their thoughts confront. So now it is time to look at the adaptation. We can characterize three type of adaptation: 1.The adaptation of intellect and intellectuality in the text 2.The adaptation within texts according to intellect. 3. The adaptation between theory and practice through intellect

What differentiates theoretical world from practical world is that with regard to theory, we create the notions and concepts and separate them and establishing law. Everything is just the projection of human mind. We implement them, on the other hand, in practice. This is because the world is in front of us apriori. World does not speak to us but pose itself to us and due to this fact we should take a proper theory which corresponds to it.


Adaptation of intellect in the Text:

Salafi maintain that there is no need for justification and reasoning in our beliefs. That is to say, one should not involve any intellectual justification in interpreting Islamic teaching. Thus there is no connection between the Texts. Namely, what one may encounter is not only “what he should believe” but also “what he should do”. Ibn Hazm says: any discussion about the teachings

We can talk about adaptation when we are allowed to utilize intellect. That is to say, if we already have blocked the intellect so there would be no adaptation.

Ethical “Goodness and Badness” was a controversial issue among theologians. Mo’tazele and Matoridi believed in intellect as the criterion with regard to Goodness and badness and declared that religious teachings could not be in contrast with the intellect because God would not act in contrast with the intellect. There was a rule in this respect whish said: “whatever intellect judges, the Jurisprudence judges as well”. Ibn Hanbal and his followers, on the other hand, did not believe on such a connection and announced that we should obey God’s commandments just because God commands and we must not search for some intellectual reasons and justifications. Here is not the domain of the intellect.

Salafi Believe that if we are concerned with “what are in the world?” so we don’t need adaptation. This is because the Text is adequate and there is no need for intellect. We should stick to the Text and if we expect something more than the Text this is called heresy. With regard to “what should be done?” the situation is different because here we deal with human behaviors. They, in this domain, permit to utilize the religious jurisprudence. Namely they put the intellect in the context of religious studies. Moreover, we need some evidence in order to understand commands and orders of God. These evidences are: Holy Quran, Sunnah (Prophet’s sayings), the consensus of the religious experts and the intellect. These are four ways to adapt God’s commandments which have been established from the time Al-Ghazali and by him.

When we are concerned with the Quarn and the Sunnah, we should keep this in our mind that their nature is textual. On the other hand, the nature of the intellect is not textual so the adaptation is hard. The situation is even get worse with regard to the consensus of the religious experts.

What is the relationship between intellect and religious text?

All Islamic sects (except Salafism) accept to use intellect for better understanding of religious teachings. There exist this belief that we should analytically obtain the jurisprudences which are behind the verses. Analytically means two ways: 1. Semantic aspect 2. Intellectual aspect which means we should utilize intellect in order to interpret jurisprudence of a specific spatial-temporal circumstance.

But in Salafi point of view toward the jurisprudence, Quran and Sunnah are separated from temporal and spatial condition. The system of thinking and intellectuality of the Followers, therefore, is authentic and genuine. Namely, there is one true way of thinking and we should establish it in our circumstances. Due to this fact, there is a deep gap between Salafi thinking and other cults. That is to say, these sects accept the spatial and temporal situation and with this we can logically speak about adaptation in our time.

The third characteristic is the adaptation between theory and act. For better understanding of this third characteristic it is better to consider the distinction between act and fact. For instance, someone committed a murder. First of all one should investigate all the data and evidences. These are facts. But one should not stop here and should make an act in accordance with the evidences. We must consider this distinction in religion and tradition. We know, for instance, that lying is forbidden but, then, we should ask what is lying? What sort of lying is justifiable? In what condition we can lie? ...

When we are concerned with the facts of modern life this kind of adaptation seems to be harder.  We can adapt different views toward Issues like banking, insurance, etc. If one have contact with these issues which were not existed at the time of Prophet Mohammad, his first step should be to comprehend these issues. According to Ibn Taymeye and his teachings these issues cannot be raised and his thought removes the possibility of these issues in the first place. This is due to the fact there were not such things at the time of Prophet and his direct followers. There was not the basis for these notions at all. Theoretically, therefore, these questions remain without any answers. There are some ways in other Islamic sects which pave the ground for this adaptation and these issues are answerable theoretically.

In addition to that difficulty toward the Salafi thinking we can pose some other criticisms: 1. The first difficulty is the struggle between religious teachings and new discoveries in sciences. For instance, the issue of the Creation of Mankind is not understandable if we consider new discoveries in sciences. We can, however, adapt some element in order to bridge these two issues. For instance, elements such as interpretation or metaphor can be useful to get rid of these dilemmas. Moreover we can claim that the notions and ideas of Quran are contextual. This problem is more complex with regard to Salafi principles. Namely, they believe, in one hand, on practical reason and on the other hand they approve the religious reason and this contradictory belief comes to this conclusion that we see the doctrine of Seven Sky alongside its opposite belief in empirical sciences. And this contradiction is insolvable. (we should remind this fact that the problem just mentioned is not restricted to Salafism and we can address it in all religion.)

2. Salafi’s intellectuality comes from religious texts and is construction of them. But this intellectuality formerly is the construction of sort of scientific intellectuality. This intellectuality, therefore, must be seen and comprehend as a kind of historical intellectuality. That is to say, according to Salafi principles we already have not this intellectuality and we should obtain and construct it for our present time and this claim is intellectual process. 

3. In some circumstances scientific intellectuality stand against the religious intellectuality and in these circumstances they have not any clear criteria to decide.

4. Salafi approach is selective. With regard to a specific issue they decide to choose the first or the second system of intellectuality and this process does not have a clear justification or reasoning behind it.

5.Salafi thinking has a selective approach toward instances of universal concepts. For example, when they confront the issue of usury in banking they cannot decide the process which must be taken. This is simply because these issues didn’t exist at the time of Prophet Mohammad.

6. This is not clear, based on their attitude, when we must decide in accordance with principle of necessity and when we should not? For example we cannot strictly decide whether women should have total Hijab or not.

These differences come out of different discourses.

Denying the historical adaptation:

Modern era characterized and defined as the post-traditional and post- medieval time which moves from feudalism to capitalism and modernization. We can, therefore, indicate two important aspect for modernity: 1.knowledge level 2.practical level


In accordance with the knowledge level, which is so-called Rationalism, there is individualism. Individualism means concentration is on human and his condition not on God or metaphysics. In practical level we can see two characteristics: 1.Exploitation of Nature 2.Large-scal Management. The later has a direct link with industry, factories and governmental organizations. These are the characteristics of modern life. There was not any Large-scale Management in pervious empires.

- Modern attitudes:

- Change in everything (e.g. Art works)

- Organization in every aspect (even crime become systematic)

- Nature overusing and exploiting it


Let’s look at some consequences and results of each characteristic which we already mentioned. With regard to exploitation of nature we are facing phenomena like: 1. Transportation 2.Maximizing production3. Development4.Industry. With regard to the issue of Large-scale Management we are facing phenomena like 1. State-nation 2. Democracy 3. Media 4. Corporations and companies 5. Global market 6. Imperialism 7. Different unions (like Soviet Union ).

Our goal in this part is to compare fundamentalism with each of the modern characteristics which have been mentioned so we can reach a better understanding of it.

The Dichotomy of fundamentalists attitude toward intellectuality:

Modern intellectuality deals with non-religious issues. As is said, Salafi thinking claims that there are two kinds of knowledge: religious knowledge and knowledge of other sciences and only with regard to the later we can utilize philosophers wisdom and scientists reason. Of this, there is no contradiction if one is a member of Salafi sect and be educated in modern sciences. Thus this group understands this gap between these two intellectualities so they try to disappear it and to justify their belief toward intellectuality. Because of this attitude now they talk about some sciences like Islamic medical science which religious intellect play the major role. That is to say they establish a new science that is not based on the scientific intellectuality but is based on Followers system of intellectuality and is based on the first group of Muslims who were immediately after prophet. This attempt aims to eliminate the gap between these two intellectualities.


Fundamentalists reject any principle of individual free will and attempt to have control over all the behaviors through restricting individual freedom. This is form of totalitarianism and tyranny. The conclusion is the conflict between this idea with the modern thought. But this is not the whole story.  On the other side we see that modern individualism is supported in the deepest part and they subconsciously support it (in phenomena like social network, mass media, the concept of state-nation) although they may reject them superficially.

Practical side:

In this level, fundamentalists, totally accept the modern thought i.e. both the characteristic of exploitation of nature and the Large-scale Management.  Change in everything is a major principle among fundamentalists. (This leads to the idea of changing in social system). Moreover organization in everything is apparent in fundamentalism.

To sum, fundamentalism, in practical side goes alongside with modernity because they are not in opposition to each other in this side. But in the knowledge side they stand in opposition to each other. That is to say fundamentalism and modernity collapse in system of intellectuality. 

We can pose here two criticisms:

- The gap between problems: the world is one and does not divide into religious and non-religious. All the issues as well are the issues of this one world. The gap, thus, fundamentalists have made, will put them into the trouble of "how we can understand and decide which issue is religious and which is not.

- The gap between knowledge and practice: fundamentalists took the traditional system of intellectuality and the modern action in practice This prepares the situation for radicalism. Radicalism in every religion means an attitude which reject any adaptation which has been happened during the history of mankind as well as denying any problem and difficulty which God-believers may face in each time in order to reach a genuine notion of religion ( the notion which is not adapted).

In this process of religious cleansing, they have deprived religion from its historical process in order to reconstruct it according to the followers system of intellectuality. They put away all the textual and linguistic conditions and restrict themselves to apparent and aspects of narration. Their solution took the form of A-chronical and pseudo-chronical reading of Quran and traditions. One example of their pseudo-chronical approach is in the notion of Jihad. They see no difference between war and Jihad. But this is a wrong understanding because in Quran Jihad means to attempt and to be hard working. In some occasion it means war.

For better understanding of the gap between theory and practice in fundamentalism it is necessary to consider an example i.e. the disagreement between theologians in the issue of goodness and badness in the first period of Islam. Motazila and Shia believe that intellect could understand the goodness and badness but Ashari maintain that intellect could not gain that capability and jurisprudence just have the authority to decide about goodness and badness. But this is noticeable that these groups were agree in lots of subjects and issues which have the practical nature although they are disagree theoretically. Fundamentalists defend modern intellect which is in contrast with their system of intellectuality. But this makes no difference in practice because system of intellectuality of the followers is not accessible for us so the intellectuality which they utilize is the modern intellect. So the distinction between modernity and fundamentalism is so narrow and is theoretically not practically.

The fundamentalists and their advocates although reject historical approach but they are not aware that intellect and our need to it is something necessary and essential. Their approach not only result in gap between theory and practice but also result in gap in their actual life and make a phantasy understanding of Islam. 


15:30 - 04/10/2015    /    number : 65479    /    Show Count : 257





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