Freethinking is perhaps not one of the strongest suits of modern Islam. For one thing, the list of books that have been banned for challenging prevalent religious orthodoxies and sensibilities during the past hundred years is disconcertingly long.Modern Islamic clerics and scholars in various Muslim countries are often highly selective of which part of the Islamic heritage to emphasise and bring to light. Out of the countless and varied sources from centuries of vigorous debates, commentaries and controversies, they seem to dig out, and revel in, interpretations that are hopelessly conservative or frustratingly and grotesquely at odds with the life of modern Muslims.It may therefore come as a surprise to many people that there is a long and vibrant intellectual tradition of dissidence and freethinking going back to the Middle Ages. The Islamic thinkers of the early medieval period expressed ideas and engaged in debates that would appear strangely enlightened in comparison with the attitudes and views adopted by modern Islamic scholarship.This is the basic argument presented by From the History of Atheism in Islam by the renowned Egyptian thinker Abdel-Rahman Badawi. Published in Arabic in 1945, the book was reprinted only once in 1993. It discusses the work of the Islamic philosopher-scientists of the medieval period and the way they upheld reason, freedom of thought and humanist values, while questioning and often refuting some basic Islamic tenets.Although many of those thinkers, according to Badawi, did not attempt to disprove the existence of God, they lashed out against the notion of prophethood and argued against the privileged position occupied by the Prophet Muhammad and his followers.Most prominent among those scholars was Abu Bakr al-Razi 865-925 CE who believed in the supreme importance of reason. He argued that the mind had an innate capacity to distinguish between good and evil, and between what was useful and what was harmful. According to him, the mind did not need any guidance from outside it, and for this reason the presence of prophets was redundant and superfluous.
- Atheism in Tunisia: Diverse and Vibrant, Yet Still Taboo (atheismafrica.wordpress.com)
- Islam’s Medieval Underworld (blogs.smithsonianmag.com)
- Arab atheists inch out of shadows despite persecution in Mideast (bandannie.com)
- It’s fine to be a ‘new’ atheist, so long as you don’t object to Islam (blogs.spectator.co.uk)