Posted by: Dawud Israel | March 10, 2010

Developing Critical Thinking Skills In Understanding Islam


‘Imrān ibn Khālid said, “I heard al-Ḥasan saying, ‘A person’s religion is not completed until his intellect is perfected.’” [Al-‘Aql wa Faḍlih / 17]

Aḍ-Ḍaḥḥāk said, “‘That it (the Qur’ān) may give warning to him who is living’ 36:70, (refers to) the one with intellect.” [Al-‘Aql wa Faḍlih / 30]

The above quotes do not talk about knowledge, nor do they talk about memorizing- they speak about Intellect.


Intellect (‘Aql) is not simply something you are born with. It can be acquired. The best method is to employ key questions to hone one’s intellect. This requires asking not just general questions, but specific questions, increasing in nuance, increasing in detail, increasing in intellectual honesty and increasing in sincerity to truth. There is no room for reductionism. The more meaningful questions you ask, the more knowledge is drawn to you.

The following are guiding questions and lines of thinking which help one dig out the gems of the deen and to help you arrive at seeing through the lens of islam. They represent the foremost Islamization, the best ways to tarbiya and contemplation and developing the mental reality of Islam, the social and psychological world of the deen and the akhira.

When you learn something of Islam, whether it is a lecture, book or conversation keep asking yourself these questions:


-What if this never happened or was slightly different in some way? How would that affect the outcomes? Ex: If the Quran hadn’t mentioned the provisions and rights for women, or Ahlul Kitab?

-What is the depth of this? Is there something deeper being said? What do the words mean? Did I mishear what was said or misread what was said, and understood something else? (Sometimes you mishear something, and it is more profound than what the person actually said)

-Notice the language and context, also notice what is missing or not being mentioned and why that may be?

-When you read a hadith, put yourself in the position of the Sahabi or Prophet salallahu alayhi wasalam. If you were the speaker of this hadith, what had to have taken place in you or your life for those words or actions to come about (at that moment)? 2 examples: Consider the story of Abu Bakr when Nabi salallahu alayhi wasalam died and he said, “If you worship Muhammad know that he is dead, but if you worship Allah, know that He is eternal” and his quoting the Quran.

-How would this verse come to be? Why did Allah see the need to mention this in the Quran? Where in the world does this ayah relate? Search for the wisdom, not interrogate with a conclusion already in mind, but rather search for that conclusion…the reality of the verse. Ex: Consider the ayahs about the sun and the moon. Or the verses about hijab not being a word-for-word description. Doesn’t ease come from the broad nature of verses, and isn’t it often the most stubborn who wish the Quran were more specific?

-Not to read hadith and the words of the pious, openly and freely for feel-good purposes, but to read them with certain ideas or trends in mind, seen from other hadiths and then look for trends, or themes; as you read to discover, build up and clarify themes in Islam and Sunnah- to look for certain ideas and thereby, have a way in which you can discover and distinguish new themes that are related or indirectly related, and others which seem opposite but aren’t (you may create your own explanation to placate your misunderstanding, which may seem like a threat to your faith)- if you keep reading and thinking you’ll understand them sooner or later. And the more you do this, the closer you get to the spiritual reality of those who wrote those words. The goal: You can come to embody the eman of the author/speaker.


Reading generates a mental representation, or gist, of the text, which serves as an evolving framework for understanding subsequent parts of the text. As we read further, we test this evolving meaning and monitor our understanding, paying attention to inconsistencies that arise as they interact with the text. We come to texts with purposes that guide our reading, taking a stance toward the text and responding to the ideas that take shape in the conversation between the text and the self.
Reading does not simply understand facts; rather it’s a complex process of problem solving in which the reader works to make sense of a text not just from the words and sentences on the page but also from the ideas, memories, and knowledge evoked by those words and sentences.
Reading is influenced by situational factors, among them the experiences readers have had with particular kinds of texts and reading for particular purposes. And just as so-called good or proficient readers do not necessarily read all texts with equal ease. SOURCE


This is extremely important because words can only convey so much, and in writing, authors often forget or miss crucial aspects. They conceptualize it textually differently then they conceptualize it privately, to themselves. You will therefore get nowhere if you read mindlessly but will only enrich yourself if you read actively, participate with the text and try your best to pull out the different meanings.

Subhana kallahumma wa bihamdika ash-haduana la illaha illa ant astaghfiruka wa atubu ilayk, ameen.


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