Islamic and Christian Sources of Knowledge Then and Now: A Comparative Analysis

Christopher Hurtado —  November 5, 2007 — Leave a comment
Islamic and Christian Sources of Knowledge Then and Now: A Comparative Analysis | Christopher Hurtado
“The more things change, the more they stay the same.” (Author unknown)

In his search for true and distinct knowledge, after overcoming skepticism, al-Ghazali found there to be essentially four groups of those who sought the truth in the Islamic world of his day. Al-Ghazali sought to align himself with the one and only true and correct source out of the four. Similarly, in the modern Western world, there are four equivalent sources to which one might turn for truth. Although the Islamic world of al-Ghazali’s day and the modern Western world are very different, these sources of knowledge are very much the same.

The four sources of knowledge in the Islamic world of al-Ghazali’s day were the mutakallimun, who were conservers of the creeds of orthodoxy; the Batinites, or Ta’alimites, who and their Infallible Imam; the philosophers, who relied strictly upon reasoning and logic; and the sufis, who were mystics who sought come closer to God by ridding themselves of all that is ungodly. The four modern-day Western equivalent sources of knowledge in the modern Western world are the Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox churches as conservers of the creeds of orthodoxy, Protestantism with its theological concept of solo scriptura, the philosophers, and the restored Church.

The Mutakallimun of the Islamic world of al-Ghazali’s day had been established to combat heresy and to conserve the creeds of orthodoxy based on the Qur’an and the Traditions. The Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches have long played the same role in the modern Western world availing themselves of their own authoritative interpretation of the Bible and the creeds they have authored in the many councils they have convened for this purpose. No new knowledge or revelation may be gained by turning to these conservers of the creeds of orthodoxy.

The Batinites or Ta’alimites of the Islamic world of al-Ghazali’s day held fast to their belief that there had to be authoritative or infallible teaching and an authoritative teacher or Infallible Imam. Similarly, the modern Western world produced the protestant reformers with their theological concept of solo scriptura. In this case, the infallible authority was the Bible. In contrast to the Roman Catholic and Easter Orthodox churches, who defended the creeds of orthodoxy based on their traditions of which the Bible was only a part, protestantism relied on the sole authority of scripture. Here again, we find the windows of heaven closed and revelation therefore absent.

The philosophers of the Islamic world of al-Ghazali’s day relied on reason and logic alone in their quest for knowledge, and tended to mingle their philosophies with Islamic religious beliefs. Many Muslims were lead astray by their teachings. The reasoning and apodeictic proofs of the philosophers led them and other Muslims who followed them to beliefs that were incompatible with Islam. Specifically the Neoplatonic philosophies of the dissolution of the soul, God’s lack of knowledge of particulars, and the co-eternality of the world with God. The philosophers of the modern Western world are all that different from the philosophers of the Islamic world of al-Ghazali’s day. If anything, the philosophers of the modern Western world have become even more secular, if not atheistic. Even as the promote skepticism, agnosticism, or outright atheism, they continue to mingle Christian traditions with their own philosophies. So it is today that, just as many Muslims were led away by the philosophers of the Islamic world of al-Ghazali’s day, many Christians are led astray by modern Western philosophers. Just as it was in the Islamic world of al-Ghazali’s day, the philosophers of the modern Western world don’t tend to lead one closer to God or revelation from Him.

The sufis of the Islamic world of al-Ghazali’s day sought to rid themselves of all that was ungodly and thus come closer to God. They sought truth through direct revelation from God, bypassing all of the above sources. Similarly, in the modern-day West, man has sought direct knowledge from god without any intermediaries. One such man, Joseph Smith, sought direct revelation from God and received it. He was chosen of God to be the prophet of the restoration. Among those truths restored, were the many plain and precious truths that had been omitted, whether intentionally or unintentionally, from the Bible. Additionally, many other truths were restored. Among them, gifts of the spirit, such as the gift of prophecy, whereby man can receive knowledge directly from God. In order to receive such knowledge, the new scriptures of the restored gospel called on man to put off the natural man “for the natural man is an enemy to God” (Mosiah 3: 19) and “no unclean thing can dwell with God” (1 Nephi 10: 21). Thus, as in sufism, the way to come closer to God is to rid oneself of all that is ungodly. Only then are the windows of heaven opened and personal revelation poured out upon the believer.

Over the course of centuries, many things change. There are also many differences between the Islamic world and the Western world. Nevertheless, despite all the changes and differences from the one time and place the other, the more things change, the more they stay the same. The sources to which one may turn for knowledge and truth have changed only in name.

Christopher Hurtado

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Christopher Hurtado is President and CEO of Linguistic Solutions and Adjunct Instructor of Philosophy and Political Science at Utah Valley University. He holds a BA in Middle East Studies/Arabic and Philosophy and an MA in Nonproliferation and Terrorism Studies. He coauthored Vacation Spanish: A Survival Guide for Mexico, the Caribbean, Central & South America. He is married to children's book author and homeschool mom, Alysia Gonzalez. Together they have nine children. They are active in their church and in their community.

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