From Issue: 1032 [Read full issue]

Faith-Based Assumptions

Faith-based assumptions are always the most challenging and the most dangerous. By nature they are not accessible or sufficiently accountable to others. Faith-based assumptions are like saying, "I love God", "God is most merciful", or "God loves all people." Such statements must be believed and felt to mean anything. They could be engaged and debated, and one can attempt to refute them, but fundamentally, they rely on a collateral relationship with God. If, for example, I believe that God cannot and will not command anything that is immoral or ugly, there is no doubt that this will affect all my interpretive activities and legal determinations. I am not arguing that it is inappropriate or futile to argue about faith-based matters — far from it. Faith-based assumptions are influenced by a variety of human experiences including textual evidence, sociological experience, human temper, and individual dialectics, but they are not determined by any of them. As such, faith-based assumptions do run the very high risk of becoming authoritarian. We witness this particularly in sectarian debates. Historically, Sunni scholars have rejected the determinations of Shia narrators of hadith and vice versa. In addition, ahl al-hadith dismissed the transmissions of the Mutazilah, Khawarij, and Shia as palpably false. Yet, faith-based assumptions are a matter of conscience and conviction, and so they cannot be dismissed as irrelevant.

The question becomes: what does a special agent do with faith-based assumptions? At a minimum, they must be honestly disclosed so that common agents may decide whether they share these assumptions or not. Moreover, it is important to remember that faith-based assumptions have a rather limited scope. If something is established in an interpretive community through rational analysis, factual determination, or methodological choices, in most circumstances, it is impeachable on the same grounds. Since faith-based assumptions are always at risk of being whimsical, they should be utilized sparingly. As will be recalled, the reliance on whimsical beliefs or determinations is treated in the Quran as an abomination and a sin. Therefore, a cautious and wise agent will not hastily claim a faith-based determination, but will first pause and then honestly, diligently, comprehensively, reasonably, and humbly scrutinize the evidence before deciding to reach an opinion. If the evidence reasonably supports his or her claim, then there is no issue, but if it does not, the agent may be forced to revise his or her beliefs or decide to become a conscientious objector.

Compiled From:
"Speaking in God's Name: Islamic Law, Authority and Women" - Khaled Abou El Fadl