The Question to Begin all Questions


Much of the discourse existing across the Shia works dealing with Islamic topics or subjects related to Islamic studies, is based on multiple rudimentary presuppositions. For the most part, they are rooted in understandings and conclusions, explicit or implicit, from theological examinations. One of the fundamental and underlying beliefs that heavily dictates the direction and, eventually, the outcomes of these discourses is the question regarding the extent of Islam’s comprehensiveness and one’s answer to this question. Put simply, there are several issues at hand here; firstly, we must discuss whether Islam has an answer, theory, opinion or plan for every aspect of human life. If we answer in the affirmative, as most Shia scholars seem to do (in one form or another), then we must discuss how it does so, and where and through what means are these views to be found. Is the answer of Islam or its solution to these questions or problems (if it is at all one thing) a detailed one that can be found by examining all the religious sources, or a non-detailed one? If it is not detailed, then what are we to do in regards to the details? Do we have a general guideline, or is it something completely unspecific?

The answers that scholars have given these questions and others constitute the framework with which they approach other related topics. Therefore, if a scholar wants to present a theory or system of education, politics, economics, psychology, upbringing of children etc, their efforts would begin with propositions that are corollary to the conclusions reached for the questions above. Scholars who believe that Islam has given a detailed answer for all these issues search for the detailed instructions from within the Islamic texts. Those who believe that Islam has a general answer may argue that we have to take the universal principles and spirit of the Islamic teachings and present general guidelines that these subjects must remain in the confines of or abide by, while the details may can be anything that does not oppose or contradict these guidelines (wherever those details may be from). Those who do not believe that Islam has a detailed plan nor a definable general one, they may argue that we have grey area where we are free to present theories and systems, as long as they don’t contradict other teachings of Islam, but they are not outside the fold of Islam because it falls under the ruling of wider category of permissibility (indicating that the issue is being approached through a legal lens). The difference between the second and third option is quite subtle. On the opposing side, are those who argue that Islam does not offer a solution to all aspects of human life and to all the problems that man may face. They may argue that Islam is limited to man’s relationship with God and a limited social theory. Or that religion deals with a very specific set of issues and was never intended to govern and guide all areas explorable by man. Each of these views are held by persons or groups in the Islamic seminaries or various academic institutions. The discussions are very much alive and impact the mentality of academics in various fields.

Among the issues which have gained a lot of attention is the question whether we have (or can even possibly have) Islamic social sciences. In Iran, there are many groups involved in this discussion. Most of the groups have their own unique approach in addressing the topic. Nonetheless, not all of them are actively seeking to produce an Islamic version of a social science, but rather are only offering guidelines as how it such could be achieved. There are a number of institutions who have taken up this daunting task in the cities of Qom and Tehran. The critics are waiting for those who claim it is possible to derive these sciences, to produce one instance, so that they may discuss it in detail.

To date, some efforts have focused on producing an Islamic version of a social science from scratch, while others have attempted to Islamify the existing social sciences by trying to omit that which may be contrary to the teachings of Islam, and, even occasionally adding some details that they believe to be from Islam.



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