Islam: intellectual perspectives (introduction)

Written by Urfan Ul Hassan
December 2021

"God is a comedian playing to an audience too afraid to laugh" -Voltaire

My translations of the Qur'an are available here.

Philosopher, inventor and mathematician Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) was famous for his "Pascal's wager", which argues for why it is wise and necessary for human beings to reflect on God's existence.

It is possible that God has designed the universe after a mathematical model and human beings with free will. Thus, if one freely follows the rules set by God, then logically speaking, one should reach absolute success in this world, and one's personality will develop to its maximum potential. If the universe is mathematically designed there should be a recipe - such a universe would focus on the behaviors and choices of individuals. Ritualistic behaviors do not make sense in such a universe.

Religions often focus on rituals, legends, myths and superstitions that do not fit into a universe that follows the laws of physics. The myths and superstitions might be allegories and metaphors. Thinkers such as Immanuel Kant worked to unite reason and faith, while others such as Kierkegaard thought it was an either/or choice.

Kierkegaard wanted to bring the real Christianity back into society. Kierkegaard, an existential and romantic philosopher, criticized societies for leaving God and true Christianity. He thought societies were hedonistic. Islam, Christianity and Judaism were originally "Deen" (Systems of Life), and not religions. They turned into religions over time. "Deen" (System of Life) - a complete system and a recipe for individuals and societies to evolve, both physically and for the self (Quranic "self", Biblical "soul".) These systems turned into religions over time as they were affected by tradition and culture. Kierkegaard further thought that only few people are actually believers, because it is only a few that are brave enough to follow the rules of God in their thinking and behavior - rituals have thus nothing to do with human development.

"It is so hard to believe because it is so hard to obey."
-Søren Kierkegaard

Metaphors and intellectual interpretations

In my opinion, both the Qur'an and the Bible invite to abstract and metaphorical thinking. For example, heaven and hell are most likely allegories that are also relevant in our life on earth as mental conditions. This can be proved if the verses are analyzed closely, and then interpreted with no bias from tradition or culture. The histories and metaphors in these books are for people to reflect on, and to use the wisdom in their life regardless of what era they live in. Dante's Inferno is a metaphorical description of hell inspired by Christianity. See psychologist Jordan Peterson's metaphorical interpretation of Jesus' "Sermon on the Mount", and how it is relevant for humans today.

The Qur'an encourages all humans to think for themselves and to keep an open mind. The Qur'an actually promotes the scientific method - to ask critical questions and to sincerely do one's own research (17:36). Rituals, myths and extreme attitudes are all manmade and come from different literature, such as the history books called hadiths in Islam. These books contain stories that one has to be extremely careful with because they remain fundamentally unverifiable. They contain extreme utterances and myths, and they also cause discord between groups of people. The Qur'an promotes absolute unity between all people - it does not matter whether you are from Pakistan or from Iceland.

Thus, the Qur'an argues that it has to be understood in its own light. Most of the translations and interpretations of the Qur'an and the Bible are affected by culture and tradition - these translations can be misleading. See examples under.

I recommend "Qur'an As it Explains Itself" written by Dr. Shabbir Ahmed - a great attempt at translation with minimal reference to traditions and culture.

Qur'an 17:36

Do not reach conclusions about that of which you have no knowledge. (Using your senses and intellect, you must verify it for yourself.) Surely, the hearing, the sight and the faculty of reasoning – all of them – will be questioned.

Definition of muslim og islam is not what many people think

The Qur'an encourages to do research on it. The words muslim and islam both stem from the same root word in Arabic: Seen-Lam-Meem (SLM). Root words can have several meanings. Many researchers are surprised at the actual meaning of these words when you look them up. Lughat-Ul-Qur'an, lexicon:

Root SLM

1: develop human potential to the maximum - far above our condition as animals of evolution (sa-lima)

2: to climb a ladder that is safe = as-sullam. Development of character and personality by living in tune with God's laws in nature = as-silmu

Root SLW

SLW is traditionally translated as prayer. The actual meaning is different:

Horse in 2nd place follows closely the horse in 1st place. To follow closely. In the Qur'an it means to follow God's laws closely, both in behavior and thinking.

Some general principles from the Qur'an

Inspired by G.A Parwez's book Islam: A Challenge to Religion

- Intellect is a product of evolution, and when it is used effectively it always leads to societies and individuals to gain something. Thus, intellect is a force that ultimately causes some form of gain.

- Self or the soul only grows by giving away. The soul stagnates if it does not give away freely to other humans and to society. The Qur'an promotes giving away that which you consider is not needed by you. You could give away material things, your time, knowledge etc. This means that the individual who has extreme material success will not grow if that person does not give away that which is not needed by him or her. These people will not be truly happy as it is not in tune with nature to be greedy. This is in line with the virtue ethics by Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. They spoke about the development of the self is only possible when the individual lives virtuously, and thus in tune with nature. Christianity and Islam also have universal moral laws, similar to Kant's view.

- Both capitalism and communism are ideologies that is not supported by the Qur'an, even if you identify some similarities on the surface. Communism is furthest away from Qur'anic principles. In short, all materials, land, resources etc. belong to God - not the state or individuals. Human behavior based upon such acknowledgement will be radically different from a system with communism or capitalism.

- The modern world forces an extreme focus on material things, and live in practice without the assumption of God and God's laws - such societies will stagnate their evolution. Such societies are bound to inevitably become primitive, hedonistic and meaningless, regardless of technological advancement. The story of Noah and other messengers are to demonstrate that mighty societies will self-destruct and fall if they do not live by real moral principles.

- In an optimal society, human beings and their development to their maximum potential is the focus. Societies will flourish when individuals grow. Plato, Socrates and Aristotle had similar reflections. Every single human being is a special creature in the universe and must not be reduced to a simple worker.

- There are no people in society that are absolute rulers, and no humans should rule over other humans. God is the absolute ruler. Thus, in society, things ought to be done based on knowledge from science and from objective morals imposed by God. There are no authorities in science, only arguments and evidence are relevant. Objective morals don't exist without God (Immanuel Kant), and there is only one objective truth - everything else are perceptions and interpretations of the truth.

- There is no coercion related to Islam or Christianity. It is an invitation to individuals and societies that they might willingly accept, or willingly reject. The Qur'an claims it is a recipe for success.

- God's existence can be proven by the use of logic. It can also be proven by observing nature and by the high mathematical probability of the existence of an intelligent designer. See the arguements of William Lane Craig.

What's next

This article is written to create an overview and to introduce some ideas. The main message is that the Qur'an has to be researched on independent of tradition and culture. The Qur'an has to be interpreted intellectually.

Moving on, I will write articles that have intellectual interpretations of several verses, and how these verses and stories can be useful for us today. I will present several analyses of root words.

You can read my translation of Quran chapter 93 here.

You can read my translation of Quran chapter 94 & 103 here.

See here for an overview of translated chapters so far.

Please send me an email with critique, comments and your thoughts. Also send in your wishes in regards to what you want to read more about. Do your own research, ask critical questions, keep an open mind - use the scientific method.