How Do I Know?
In public meetings, professional conferences, in
interfaith discussion groups, Muslim fundamentalist leaders frequently
ask the question: “Are you a Muslim? Do you have any Islamic religious
experience? If you don’t have any experience with Islam, how can you
tell me about Islamic Jihad, Koranic dictates and Islamic history?”
Everything is Islamic religious “experience so many Muslim leaders
would have us believe.
To accept the proposition, however, is to move
toward the position that there is no “knowledge” only “opinion”
and “experience”. “It is all Islamic life experience” an
educated Islamic leader once remarked. “Until you have experience with
Islamic life, you are unable to discuss the meaning of Jihad and Islamic
These statements and questions are intended to act
like a silencer. It can bring rational discussion about the brutal past
of Muslims and Jihadi terrorism to a stop. It can inhibit discussion
before it begins about Islamic fundamentalism and Jihadi terrorism. This
vague talk and faulty logic about “Islamic experience” has erroneous
subversive power. The question is posed to discredit non-believers.
This state of mind of fundamentalist Muslims can
lead to a sort of whimsical talk. It means Muslim fundamentalist leaders
are afraid to look at what they are doing, practicing and preaching.
Muslim radical leaders use “Islamic life experience” as a term of
contempt for reason and knowledge. Even to ask the question, “Are you
a Muslim?” takes a lot of courage and means a shortcut to denial.
There are powerful implications in such questions.
One is that experience with Islamic life distorts facts. It is a false
assumption that only a practicing Muslim can understand Islamic Jihad
and its history. Fundamentalist Muslim leaders to dismiss knowledge and
reasoning frequently use Islamic life experience.
Like all relativistic, dogmatic, irrational
arguments, this one is faulty. In any case, “experience with Islamic
life” is less credible. It is to be discredited simply by identifying
its origin. Running to “Islamic experience and faith” is running
away from the whole business of truth seeking. It is blinking the issue
of the brutal past of Islam and the atrocities committed by Jihadi
terrorists. Jihadi terrorists, suicide bombers and fundamentalist
preachers have “Islamic experience”. Who in the world would deny
that? They might sensibly boast of it. They offer their “Islamic
experience” without rational analysis or in total ignorance of their
I do not want to deny religious experience of
Muslim radicals but only suggest that the assumption that “Islamic
belief” is where we start and never where we end is enormously unsafe.
One can gain knowledge and insight about Islamic
theocracy without believing in Koranic concepts or practicing Islamic
dictates. A view might be acquired with no experience, with out belief
at all, as most people acquire the view that Jihadi terrorism and
suicide bombing is wrong on no experience of terrorism or bombing and,
yet, prove dependable.
The assumption that belief and experience
necessarily underlies knowledge or the notion that all knowledge needs
to be based on practical experience is a fallacy. The Muslim radical’s
fallacious argument is, nonetheless, potent. “How do you know?” and
“How can you tell us about Jihad and Islam if you are not believer or
practicing Muslim is really an impertinent question. One can certainly
know that Jihadi terrorism is dangerous. We know that suicide bombing is
dangerous. One would continue to believe that fundamentalist; dogmatic
Islam poses a threat to pluralism, secularism and religious freedom
without any Islamic religious experience or faith in Koranic concepts.
Any argument to discredit this proposition would be discredited even
before it is heard.
Muslim radical’s assumption about “Islamic
faith and experience” needs to be replaced with the idea of
“coherence theory”. Coherence theory proposes that knowledge and
common views are seen to be true when they cohere with other common
views and historical facts one already holds and accepts. Coherence
theory accepts that in speaking of morality, we know what to value and
what to condemn.
I shall expand the coherence theory with further
illustrations. Many of us have not witnessed the Islamic conquest of
Constantinople or the destruction of Persian civilization by Muslim
invaders but are convinced with certainty, that these are historical
facts. This certainty is not irrational, and our knowledge would not be
reinforced even if I have converted to Islam. Many of us have not
witnessed suicide bombing but are utterly convinced that suicide bombing
is inhuman and they are mostly Muslims.
We know that Jihadi terrorism, suicide bombing,
kidnapping, hijacking, coercive religious conversion are wrong. Our
belief on these criminal acts need not be grounded on any single
argument, set of arguments, or faith and experience.
To the Muslim fundamentalist’s challenge of
“How do you know about Islam?” or Are you a believer?” one need
only answer that no answer to that challenge is necessary. We know
because the numerous considerations that bear on the danger of Jihadi
terrorism cohere and fit with worldview on that matter.
A recent incident reminded me vividly of the
marked validity of coherence theory. On publishing a pamphlet on
“Dangers of Coercive religious Conversion”, I received comments from
a number of Muslims arguing that “freedom” means freedom to
forcefully convert non-believers, freedom to impose Islamic morality and
Muslim jurisprudence. Perhaps, there is no single argument by which one
could refute that whimsical statement, but if I had to choose between
freedom from Islamic morality and freedom to believe in secularism, I
would choose the later without hesitation.
The Muslim radicals may reply that my belief about
freedom, secularism and my religious belief fail to reflect the
ontological concepts of Islam. This mirror image is potent in the sense
that it is widely accepted by Islamic fundamentalists. It is also known
as “correspondence theory”. It is often assumed that one must
believe in Islamic faith and experience Islamic life in telling the
truth about Islam. This also means one must have blind faith in Islamic
concepts in interpreting Jihadi terrorism. Though plausible, the
argument is inadequate and ultimately false.
Life of a Jihadi terrorist can be real, and then
that life in itself may not be the life one ought to live. Muslim
fundamentalists and Jihadis must transcend the narrow Islamic tunnel
vision and see the real world as a whole, it means that partial,
dualistic and particular Islamic worldviews are partial, narrow, rigid,
inadequate, and false.
The impatience, hostility, tunnel vision, and
cognitive distortion are characteristic of Muslim fundamentalists. They
are in a hurry to discredit non-believers. “How do you know about
Islam?” is less a question than a challenge.
The task of convincing an Islamic radical the
market superiority of reason and knowledge over rigid, dualistic and
false belief system could take more time that a Muslim would be willing
to give. A Muslim will not stay for an answer or willing to be free.
They are to be forced to freedom.