“Faith is not a leap in the dark; it’s the exact opposite. It’s a commitment based on evidence… It is irrational to reduce all faith to blind faith and then subject it to ridicule. That provides a very anti-intellectual and convenient way of avoiding intelligent discussion.”
— John Lennox, Professor of Mathematics at Oxford University and author of the book God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God?
ACCORDING TO DR HOODBHOY THE COMMITMENT TO AN UNDERLYING IDEOLOGY, such as the Islamic injunction regarding the prohibition of usury makes one vulnerable in the face of scientific progress such as that of the West—at least that is how I understood the core argument of his article that he published in Dawn.
This is in the context of the Turkish President’s war on interest rates—as noted by global media outlets in numerous articles such as these.
So why do I support the Turkish President’s war on interest rates?
I do not consider economists to be the ultimate deciders of what is true and false and what is moral and immoral as it relates to all things including the domain of business, trading and economics. I consider God to be the All-Wise; the All-Knowing King Who has a perfect grasp of all things that He created. So if God says “Allah has permitted trade and has forbidden interest/usury” (2:275) then the Muslim is obliged to hear and obey without difficulty, resistance and negative thoughts.
Dr. Hoodbhoy claimed that:
‘”Forbidden” here does not mean negotiating what is low or middle or high — forbidden means zero, exactly zero. Haram is haram. This is why all early Muslim scholars rejected interest.’
He meant that the Turkish President should cut it down to zero if he is consistent with the Islamic rule of the prohibition of usury, not merely cut its rates. In the same article Hoodbhoy clarifies: ”Still, puzzles remain: how come an interest rate of six per cent is somehow un-Islamic but a 4pc rate is okay? What about 5pc?”
However, the slow reduction of interest rates and its eventual prohibition is not necessarily wrong since something can be wrong in its essence i.e. prohibited like usury, music etc. but the addict is given time to reduce its doses in stages so that he does not come under shock. I am not 100% sure but I think this principle of removing evil in stages is real—just like alcohol was forbidden in stages in the earliest stage of Islam as attested to by the Quran.
Regardless, it is important to come to the real principle espoused by Hoodbhoy which is this: pragmatism must overrule rigid ideology especially if the facts contradict a cherished belief.
On the face of it, there is nothing necessarily wrong with this reasoning from a logical and even Islamic point of view, since Islam itself teaches that doctrines must be based on evidence, proof and reasoning. It is for this reason idolatry, polytheism and rival religions are condemned for being based on tradition and the delusions of men by the Quran.
But I think what Hoodbhoy meant was that theological truths such as the prohibition of usury etc. are forms of ideological beliefs that are contradicted by reality, hence they should be rejected in the face of this overwhelming reality.
And some skeptics may question my assertion that the Islamic prohibition of usury is a ‘theological truth’ as they may ask for evidence that proves that our religion is even true in the first place. Again this comes back to our assumptions and a priori beliefs—if someone is an agnostic, an atheist or doubts the belief that Islam is the One True Religion, and then obviously there is no real reason for that person to defend the Islamic truths. But if someone believes in God and the truth of Islam, then this person will defend the injunctions of Islam.
But which assumptions are true?
Are the assumptions of scientific atheism, materialism and naturalism true? Or are the assumptions of theology true?
This is an age-old debate that has occurred for thousands of years between those who believe in the supernatural and those who do not—the literature on these discussions is vast, complex and freely available on the internet.
But I do think that the theistic side has more evidence for its position than the atheist side. And the evidence that from amongst all the religions that Islam is the only true one and all forms of beliefs are false is similarly vast. This small article cannot summarize all these arguments to show which belief is the true one and which method is correct and which world-view is true.
All I claim is that this comes down to what we consider to be the correct set of assumptions about the world, those who believe in God and Islam and those who doubt God and Islam. And people are free to make those choices as the Quran teaches, “There is no compulsion in religion, the right direction is clearly distinguished from the wrong.”
The commitment to rationality and evidence over inherited ideology and tradition is by itself a philosophical problem since this form of thinking is an ideological concept by itself! I do not think Pervez Hoodbhoy realizes this contradiction; he assumes that somehow rationality transcends all forms of world-views, beliefs and positions. This is certainly not true and in fact there are disagreements over what the definition of rationality is! Different disciplines have differing views on rationality itself—in economics rationality is simply making the choice of what you like best! Compare this definition which allows for burning money as being rational and many other shocking actions with the philosophical view of rationality which is ”the faculty or process of drawing logical inferences.”
How can we accept rationality as the standard of truth, which Hoodbhoy argues in other articles and books and lectures, when there is no academic agreement over rationality itself? And furthermore, how does he make sense of the fact that rationality as per the definition of philosophy seems to support the theologians and not the scientists on the issue of God? The deductive argument the Kalam Cosmological Argument is the strongest defense against atheism and naturalism in logical argumentation to date. Would this not be a rational reason to accept God and His revelation including the prohibition of usury? I think Dr. Hoodbhoy should think on this topic more especially since he is a respected academic.
In conclusion, the problem is not about the issue of ideology but the fundamental assumptions and principles that we use to interpret the world and come to conclusions. There is no agreement between the liberal skeptics and the theists who believe a specific religion about the source of morality, the ultimate truth about this entirety of existence. The skeptics come to the scriptures with doubt; and those inclined to science come to religion with their own philosophical positions such as the ability of secular studies to judge the texts of scriptures. And this exposes the self-contradictory nature of the skeptical position, one may phrase it as the inherent self-refuting nature of scientific rationalism.