Theology and Sociology

Ibrahim al-Haidari*

The history of political, religious and social thinking in the second and third centuries

reveals a number of topics and theses about the controversial

relationship between society and theology. This discovery is an important scientific epistemological addition to the clarification of its religious causes and societal dimensions and the deconstruction of some of the traditional sayings and their cloak of divinity by social activists. Since its inception, theology has been connected with a multicultural society. Although it is a search for God, yet it is not only an abstract theoretical way of thinking by scholars of theology, completely removed from contemporary events in a society of social, economic and political conflicts. These scholars are in a society that they influence and by which they are also influenced. Moreover, they gain their position and religious prestige from these conflicts, despite their assertion to the contrary that they stand above society, owing to their sacred knowledge. Examining this complex relationship, which produces various questions and conspicuous anomalies, as well as using epistemological and anthropological– sociological methodologies, is not that easy. We are trying to carry out an outline investigation of the important matters and questions connected with it and the factors contributing to the emergence of identity and awareness and their symbols. This

leads to the unification of Islamic thought, the progress of theology and the evolution of pragmatic and enlightened thought among Muslim philosophers. The emergence of social awareness and religious identity with their various symbols was not a single creation, for it evolved with the events that accompanied the spread of Islam to different countries. This was particularly true of the relationship between God and humankind, the individual and the group, creeds and responsibility as well as the development of the image of the Prophet from the Qur’an and the Sunnah. It was connected to the development of the unity of the Ummah and the unity of Islamic thought and their influence, in turn, on the evolution of theology and its progress in Basrah and, later, Baghdad. Their influence also extended to the evolution of knowledge and science that generated Islamic anthropology as in the ----- Ibn Hatheil al-A’alf. In addition, the development of the Mu‘tazilite school, as the first organized movement in Islam, falls into the same category. Despite the similarity of the enlightenment that appeared in Europe during the Renaissance and the enlightenment that appeared among Arab/Muslim thinkers in the Middle Ages, we should differentiate between the two lines of thought that have been in conflict with each other since medieval times. One line of thought is represented by the trend of the central theology. The other is represented by the trend of the human aspect, which focuses on the individual. The first line of thought was manifested by Muslim thinkers and took holy religious texts as its terms of reference. The other was manifested by Arab/Muslim philosophers and took the ideas of Plato and Aristotle as its terms of reference. Only the European Renaissance had the courage to break away from theology and achieve complete independence for philosophy. However, the human-oriented Arab/Islamic line of thought could not

achieve full independence from the religious terms of reference. The result was that the great philosophers such as Farabi and Ibn Rushd remained to the end subservient to the religious terms of reference. Mohammed Arkoun states that the European Renaissance was the first era to achieve independence of the intellect concerning the transmission (naql) tool. On the other hand, we find that the main problem is that the Arab mind and thought do not diverge from the great religious texts. Three principal views that shaped this fundamental problem can be identified: 1. The traditional view states that priority should be given to naql (transmission) over ‘aql (intellect). 2. The pragmatic view gives priority to ‘aql (intellect) without rejecting naql (transmission) or having the courage to omit it altogether. 3. The Sufi (mystic) view is based on spiritual experience, introspection and a symbolic reading of the texts. I argue that the failure of the Arab/Islamic enlightenment movement was due not only to social, economic and political conditions, but also to the detachment of theory from the practical aspects of life. The middle class and intelligentsia were supposed to take upon their shoulders the responsibility of implementing the principles of enlightenment and pragmatism and promote their progress with zeal and determination. However, what happened as soon as they gained power, as during the era of al-Ma’mūn, was that they abandoned their principles and revolutionary ideas. Instead, they began, in turn, to suppress their opponents and whatever principles in which the latter believed or what they said in speeches or wrote in books. Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Melk al-Zayat, who had adopted Mu‘tazilite ideas and

disseminated their statements, underwent a complete transformation when he gained power and changed it into a suppressive rule unparalleled in the caliphate. This was the result of the intellect, from the aspect of faith, beginning with the principles of the Shari‘ah (muqaddimat al- shari‘ah) without any questioning. Therefore, the enlightenment remained theoretical or legendary, far removed from the experiment and its practical and continual inquiry.

Sunset of Pragmatism
The movement of the Arab/Islamic civilization from East to West in al-Andalus, in addition to the other factors already mentioned, helped in the decline in the humanoriented and pragmatic change in thinking and philosophical stances. This was particularly true after the setback that faced pragmatic philosophy as a result of the attack by Abu Hamid al-Ghazali in his book The Incoherence of Philosophy. Al-Ghazali’s views played an important role in the decline of the intellect and pragmatism in Islamic heritage and the domination of an inflexible reading of the text, making rigid interpretation look original. There was also the control of the theoretical trend that denigrated the value of the intellect and pragmatism and the re-evaluation of Aristotelian logic that had already been disregarded. The preference was for the religious stance, which did not allow the intellect independent thought, but required it to be subservient to the religious texts without discussion or criticism, since it represented the Revelation (wahy). In those days, the following statement of al-Suyūţī was widespread: “Whoever uses logic is therefore a heretic” (“‫ ,) ”من تمنطق فقد تزندق‬Since logic would lead to changes in thinking, doubts and philosophy, that in turn would lead, so it was thought, to kufr and atheism.

The closure of the gates of pragmatic self-critical thinking as well as ijtihād have led the Ummah to a crisis in civilization and transformed fiqh (jurisprudence) into an ideological tool used by the scholars (fuqahā’) of the Royal Court and their preachers. There was also the danger faced by the Muslim intellect in continuing to challenge the circumstances that dominated society in those days: a total and blind adherence that overwhelmed contemporary awareness and facilitated the decline to the era of darkness and backwardness.

*Ibrahim al-Haidari (PhD) is a Professor and Researcher in Sociology,

resident in the United Kingdom.