Latest response to Ibrahim Lawson
[this is part of an ongoing dialogue I am having with the head of an Islamic school].
Ibrahim has recently responded to my last post to him. He thinks our dialogue is running out of steam, and wants to try to move things on…
“One last attempt to move things along (or move the goalposts, I am sure some people will think). I am absolutely prepared to admit that I know very little and am wrong about everything I think. With the exception of a sole domain: against all human reason and experience, I know as an absolute, incontrovertible certainty that there is no god but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet and messenger. This CLEARLY puts the whole thing on a totally different basis. How to understand this? Well, that’s precisely the task Islam puts to me. In this, I have found thinking based solely on induction and deduction to be singularly useless, except, via negtiva, in showing where the answer does not lie. Instead, I find this sort of thing a useful place to start: “If thinking is not philosophy, if it thinks upon that to which philosophy can in principle have no access, what is it? How are we to regard it?”
I have two responses.
First, Ibrahim, can you answer those questions that I asked at the end of my last post about faith schooling (I can’t see that your unwavering commitment to Islam prohibits you from answering them). Seems to me your views on this topic are something well worth clarifying, given our original discussion was specifically on faith schools.
Second, the discussion has also kind of moved onto Islam generally (which wasn’t my intention). You claim you know as an absolute incontrovertible certainty that Islam is true. Also, you suggest above that reason cannot usefully be applied to Islam. Indeed, you maintain, without argument, that this is an area “to which philosophy can in principle have no access.”
But still, you want to engage in a dialogue about Islam. So do I. But I am puzzled as to what form it should take.
Here’s an analogy to explain my puzzlement.
Suppose Bert is raised from birth to accept uncritically that the memoirs of a rather opinionated, deluded, and occasionally bigoted Victorian politician are in fact THE TRUTH. He supposes everything in this Victorian moralist’s book is absolutely, incontrovertibly certain. Why? Because the book says so!
Bert is also raising his own kids to have the same unwavering certainty in the contents of his book.
Understandably, that concerns you.
Now Bert is a nice guy, and otherwise entirely reasonable. Indeed, he is happy to have a dialogue with you about what’s in his book. Only he’s not interested in applying reason or listening to any arguments you might have to offer, because, he says, the book is something to which reason and philosophy don’t apply. He wants a different sort of “dialogue”.
What would you say to Bert? What kind of dialogue could you usefully have with him? Wouldn’t you feel that Bert has, in effect, restricted the scope of any “dialogue” you might have with him in a wholly unjustified and unfair way?
That’s more or less how I feel about the way this dialogue is going…
It’s not that I am not very interested in your beliefs, or unwilling to explore new ideas, or that I think you are a bad person or anything like that – I am just not sure what’s left for me to say in response to you once I’ve agreed to your ground rules.