Dr. Peter Riddell delivered a lecture on Islamic doctrine and debates during a CIU course. Here, Riddell presents the different debates that arise from Islamic doctrines, both outside and inside the ummah (reason vs. revelation, works vs. faith, who is a Muslim, attributes of Allah, nature of the Qur’an, eternal heaven and hell, and predestination). 


  Here starts the auto-generated transcription of Dr. Peter Riddell’s Lecture: Islamic Doctrines and Debates 


Welcome back to understanding the Quran. We’re moving on to a new lecture topic, doctrines and debates. But actually, it’s not so new because we have engaged with some of the the debates within the Islamic community in earlier lectures on a number of occasions. So this is a return to some of the topics that we’ve encountered before. Now, of course, the Islamic community has been, characterized by internal division and discussion and debate no less than the, history of Christianity.


And Muslim debates have focused in some cases on some of the same questions that have exercised Christian minds. What are some of those questions that have challenged Muslims down the ages and continue to challenge Muslims? Well, it’s worth noting that the kinds of questions that are debated relate to both outside and inward issues, and you need to note that distinct distinction. Firstly, there are political issues. The question of whether Muslims have the right to challenge earthly rulers or not.


That’s been a cause of a great debate down the centuries. And, of course, in some cases, earthly rulers, the caliphs, have argued that, in fact, Muslims should not by their religion challenge earthly rule, but it’s been a matter of great discussion and debate. And I think we no doubt he records this in Christian history as well. Should Christians challenge earthly rulers? If so, how?


Another, topic of great debate has been the question of reason and revelation, and I’ll say more about those shortly. Another topic of debate has been the issue of works versus faith. And, again, we’ll discuss that in more detail later. Part of that is the question of who is a Muslim and who is a or who is an unbeliever. The first part of that question, who is a Muslim, has tended to be more an intellectual discussion among scholars.


Whereas who is a disbeliever, a cafe has been somewhat more addressed to the masses. The Islamic community down the ages has also debated the attributes of Allah, and we discussed the attributes of Allah in some detail in an earlier lecture. And we saw there that there were debates that surrounded that. The question of the nature of the Quran, whether the Quran is a created thing or not, has been a matter of great debate. Of course, the predestination versus free will debate has carried on down the centuries through Islam.


We addressed that in an earlier lecture, and we will return to that shortly. And the question of eternal heaven and hell is one that has been a matter of some considerable debate among Muslims as well. Now in the remaining part of this lecture, I would like to turn our attention to several of those debate issues that you have on that list there. First, we’re going to consider the issue of reason and revelation. The issue is not so much reason versus revelation, but it’s rather how one interprets the primary texts.


Does one do so through reason or through revelation? The methods of engagement with the Quran that we saw in our earlier discussions about interpretation included literal interpretation, allegorical interpretation, Sufi interpretation. And these are the debates. How should Muslims understand the Quran Quranic verses? Should they understand them as a literal interpretation?


Or should they understand them in terms of a more philosophical kind of interpretation? How should revelation, as Muslims understand it, how should the Quran, the Quranic revelation, be understood? Should it be through the use of the hadith or should it be through the use of reason? This was the big debate and within a 100 or so years of the death of Mohammed, this debate erupted in Islam and still goes on today. The reason I focus on these kinds of issues is not because I’m specifically interested in history, but it’s more because these are issues which come from history but live on today among today’s Muslims.


Now back in the early centuries of Islam, there was a fundamental divide between reason based scholars and more literalist hadith based scholars. For the revelation based, Ahlil Hadith, as the literalists were called, they leaned towards Islamic law over theology and faith. Whereas for the reason based school, theology and faith had a higher place. An important source for you to refer to is this work that was edited by Andrew Rippon and Jan Nappert called Textual Sources for the Study of Islam. And we’ll look at some of their some of the writings in that shortly.


But I wanna return to the early liberal theologians, the the Mu’tazilites, who we talked about in earlier lectures. They were reason based. They were very much rationalist, philosophical kinds of thinkers, and they united around 5 key principles. They argued that Allah was 1 in Islam. Allah was unitary.


There was 1 God. There were not multiple gods. And because there was one God, they said the Quran could not be a created thing. I’m sorry. The Quran could not be an uncreated thing because that would imply an eternal element alongside God, God and the Quran.


Therefore, they said the Quran had to be a created thing. Similarly, they argued that God had to be just. If God was unjust, he would not be divine. Therefore, humans had to have free will because a just god could not predetermine people to sin and then punish them for it. So because Allah had to be just, humans had to have free will.


That was their argument. They also argued that Allah as a just God must reward the good and punish evil. Therefore, a grave sinner had to remain forever in hell. Otherwise, his punishment would not be complete. They also argued that mortals that people could not pronounce judgment on a grave sinner.


That was up to god to do, and that was reserved until judgement day. And they also argued that the task of the believer was to command the right and to forbid the wrong. Now these early Mu’tazila thinkers were very much based on reason, and they they argued that in interpreting the Quran, the primary instrument for doing so should be reason, should be rational thinking. Now their opponents were the strict literalists, the ahlil hadith, and there was a polemic for a century in the early centuries of Islam. And it was ultimately resolved by a man and his school.


His name was Al Ashari. And he was the one who really determined Muslim orthodoxy as a kind of compromise between the 2 poles. He said he drew on the Quran and the Hadith to address and resolve the agenda established by the Mu’tazila who had drawn greatly on reason. So Al-‘Shari reinstated the place of scripture as the primary instruments for interpreting scripture, but allowed for reason to be part of the toolkit in the interpretation process. I’d encourage you to read up about Al Ashari in your reference works.


This is another important source for you to obtain and be familiar with, Islamic creeds, a selection by W Montgomery Water was published in Edinburgh in 1994. Now what made an important distinction? He focused the discussion in his introduction on the issue of author orthopraxia versus orthodoxy. And in the case of Islam, he prefers to use the term orthopraxia rather than orthodoxy, claiming that Muslims are more concerned with right conduct than with right belief. In other words, with works than with faith.


Conduct Trump’s belief. The mainstream, in his view, thus refers to that group which prioritizes right conduct, I e, the Sunnis. That’s what Sunni means, the conduct of Mohammed. So a religion of works is core to his claim. So then how are faith and works balanced within the Islamic scheme of things?


Well, this was a cause of debate, and these are the debates that exercised Muslim minds in the early centuries and continue to exercise Muslim minds today. Take the group of the Hanafites. They’re one of the 4 surviving Sunni law schools centered very much on Turkey and regions related to Turkey. They held that works were not part of faith. They tended more towards more liberal approach to expressions of Islam.


Whereas the Hanbalites, the more much more conservative, literalist law school insisted that works belonged within faith, and indeed faith increased or decreased according to works. So works were primary. The Hanbalife Law School is centered on Saudi Arabia, and that, of course, is one of the most conservative narrow areas of the Islamic world, very much works driven. How do the debates discussed in the preceding slides connect with debates within Christianity? Are such questions purely of historical interest, or do they have resonance today in Christianity?


Does a debate about the relative balance between faith and works in Christianity still exist? How would we draw on the Christian experience of that debate to engage with Muslims? With Muslims who follow a religion, which at its core is works based. What about the debate relating to the interpretation of scripture through reason or through a more literalist approach. That debate was and remains active in Islam.


What about in Christianity? Does it exist in Christianity? Does it still exist in Christianity? How do Christian perspectives on that debate help us to engage with Muslims? Welcome back to understanding the Quran.


We’re continuing on with the theme of doctrines and debates. And in this lecture, we’re going to focus very much on one particular debate, the issue of predestination versus free will. Now we’ve touched upon this before in these lectures, but we’re going to look at it more intensively now. I draw your attention to the Moodle page, where there is a range of reading materials that relate to this topic. There is an excellent piece of writing by Baljon, by Hoover, And you have a set of readings translated by Andrew Rippon, which we will look at in part in these slides.


We’re going to watch film, and there is an also very interesting, excerpt of writing by the great, Christian, missionary Samuel Zwemer, a very prolific writer who spent time in the Middle East, in Egypt, and in various locations. And he has left us a a vast collection of writings on Christian perspectives on Islam. Now our Moodle page includes a an excerpt from one of his books in which he talks about the debate about predestination versus free will. Let’s begin by listening to what the Quran has to say on this topic A key verse is Surah 13 verse 11. For each such person there are angels in succession before and behind him.


They guard him by command of Allah. They guard him by command of all Allah and verily, never will Allah change the condition of a people until they change it themselves with their own souls. But when once Allah will of a people’s punishment, there can be no turning it back, nor will they find besides him any to protect. The fascinating thing about this topic is how each side of the debate is fed is supported in part by certain references in the Quran and in the associated literature. The fact is there has been a debate down the centuries in Islam between those who advocate predestination and those who advocate free will.


So each side must be able to find some support in the literature, and they can. So that verse in the Quran contributes. What about the next verse? 1327. The unbelievers say, why is not a sign sent down to him from his lord?


Say truly, Allah leaveth to stray whom he will, but he guideeth to himself those who turn to him in penitence. As we’re reading these verses, make a note of your impressions. Does each verse seem more weighted towards predestination or free will? Assemble a set of Quran verses and draw your own conclusions before we move on to associated literature. The Quran, surah 14 verse 27, Allah will establish in strength those who believe with the word that stands firm in this world and in the hereafter, but Allah will leave to stray those who do wrong.


Allah doeth what he willeth. Is that more inclined to predestination or free will? Surah 4 verse 78. Wherever you are, death will find you out even if you are in towers built up strong and high. If some good befalls them, they say this is from Allah.


But if evil, they say this is from thee, oh prophet. Say, all things are from Allah, but what have come to these people that they fail to understand a single fact? Verse 79 of surah 4. Whatever good happens to these from Allah, but whatever evil happens to thee is from thy own soul. And we have sent thee as an apostle to instruct mankind, and enough is Allah for a witness.


Now the Quran has many references in addition to those that I’ve read, but there are also many references in the hadith and fiqh manuals. Here’s one reference from the hadith from Muslim, and it’s interesting because it raises the issue of Mohammed serving as a kind of intercessor. Sahih Muslim number 38, the messenger of Allah said to his uncle at the time of his death, make a profession of it that there is no God but Allah, and I will bear testimony of your being a Muslim on the day of judgment. So the issue arises. In the free will versus predestination debate, what role is there for intercession by Mohammed on judgment day?


And how does that cut across predestination? Turning now to a fiqh manual, a legal text, a jurisprudence text. Arisala is a Maliki manual from the Maliki law school writing, Another precept is the belief in divine for ordainment, whether it be for good or for evil and whether it be pleasant or distasteful. All of that has been ordained by Allah our Lord. The beginnings of affairs are in his hand and they take place by his decree.


He knows all things before they happen, and they happen in accordance with his knowledge. Neither words nor deeds can proceed from his servants except by his decree. Is this the same sense, the same inclination that we’re getting from some of the earlier Quran verses? Carrying on. Surely, he who creates knows.


Besides, he is the gentle and knowing one. He leads astray whom he likes to, and he then forsakes him out of his justice. He also guides to the right path whom he wishes to and grants him success out of his grace. Everything is facilitated through his aid and takes place in accordance with his prior knowledge and decree as to whether his servant shall be miserable or happy in the hereafter. Is this more weighted towards predestination or free will?


Now we come to some of the writings by scholars, and we have a very interesting piece of writing by Hassan al Basri who wrote the Risala, same name as the previous work, but a different work, in response to a letter from the caliph Abdul Malik. Now you have this particular piece of writing available in greater at greater length on the middle page. This is an excerpt. Hassanal Basri writes, know, oh, commander of the faithful, that God is more just than to blindfold his servant and then to say to him, look, I will not punish you, or to make him deaf and then to say to him, listen, I will not punish you, or to make him mute and then to say to him, speak, I will not punish you. This, oh, commander of the faithful, is plainer than that which is hidden from an intelligent person.


I’d encourage you to read Hassan al Basri’s full text on the Moodle page because he is a champion of free will in the early centuries of Islam. He was a precursor to the Mu’tazilite school, which argued very strongly for free will for Muslims. He was opposed by others, and one of those who spoke against his view was Ibn Khudama, an early Hanbalite jurist and scholar coming from the Hanbalite school. It he was a more conservative person, and the Hanbalat School is the most conservative law school among the Sunni law schools. Ibn Khadama disagreed with his contemporaries about how to define faith, and he took a more hard hardline position concerning the possibility of supplementing the the Quran and the Hadith with reason.


He was very much a literalist text based person opposed to the arguments for free will. Read his piece of writing available in the text by Ripon on the Moodle page. You also have writing by Mohammed Al Fadali Al Shafi’i, which we have encountered previously. This is also available on your Moodle page, edited and translated by Andrew Rippon and Jan Nuffet. He tries to strike a balance in the question of predestination versus free will.


He writes, the liberal theologians teach that humans create their own actions even though they are slaves of God. They’re called the khadiria. Similarly, the representatives of extreme pre predestination are called the Jabiriyah, for they teach that people are forced to act as they do by god’s compelling power. This doctrine is also incorrect. And al Fadawi summarizes his perspective.


The truth is the golden road between 2 extremes. People are not compelled nor do they create their own actions. God created the actions which people perform, but at the same time, people act. People have a free choice to act. And this became essentially the position of Sunni Islam among the scholars.


Among the masses, a much more predestinarian view predominates. Let’s listen to Hamka, the Indonesian scholar and exegete who we’ve encountered before. Let’s listen to his commentary on Surah 29 Surah 18 verse 29, and I would encourage you to read that verse in your Quran as well as verses surrounding it. He writes, now his commentary is weighted towards human responsibility and freedom of action. Verse 8 1829 reads as follows, and whoever so wishes then he will abandon faith.


Humke comments, because you are each given intellectual capacity, you yourself can consider and adhere to the truth. If you are strong in faith, you will save yourself because you have followed the voice of your own intellect. And if you wish to abandon faith, then the one who will bear the consequences of this apostasy is none other than you. Listen to Chandra Muzaffar, a modern Malay scholar Malaysian scholar. He makes a very clear and unambiguous statement.


He says the Quran accords the human being freedom, the freedom of will, of choice, of speech, of action, but it is freedom that is shaped by the entirety of eternal values which guides him as a human being. In other words, it is freedom to fulfill his destiny as Khalifa Allah, no more no less. There are clearly mixed messages out there on this question among the Islamic scholarly community. What is noticeable, as I said previously, is that while Islamic scholars debate the issue of predestination versus free will, at the level of the masses, predestination seems to be predominant. Shiite scholars tend more towards affirming freedom of the will.


Listen to Behisti and Bohona writing in 1982. They’re 2 Iranian scholars, and they write, man’s disobedience is only a manifestation of his free will and power of choice granted to him by Allah. And to get a further perspective on this topic, turn to your Moodle page and pause this presentation and listen to the short summary by Yusuf Estes, the American convert to Islam, on predestination. Then read the other materials on the Moodle page on the issue of free will and predestination And ask yourself the question, where does Islam sit? Does it clearly sit in one side or other side of this debate?


In choosing assignments for this course, you may well choose to take this as a topic of an assignment and to not only address the debate within Islam, but to respond to it as a Christian? How does the Islamic debate intersect with Christian debates on this very topic? And how would you respond to a Muslim on this topic? How would you engage with a Muslim on the question of predestination and free will from a Christian perspective?