Posted by: Dawud Israel | October 13, 2010

Contrapuntality in Islamic Reasoning?


Allah in stone in Rohtas Fort, District Jhelum...

Image via Wikipedia


Bismillah, alhamdulillah, wa salat wa salam ala Rasulullah

I was doing some reading and I came across this idea of contrapuntals/contrapuntality. Its a vague idea but generally what it refers to is whenever something is explained to also encapsulate an opposite idea or counterpoint alongside it. It’s a nice word that summarizes this idea I’ve always tried to express- it provides a more holistic picture. Edward Said, Ebrahim Moosa and Lewis Mumford spoke of it too but you can be relieved that’s really not what I’m concerned with here in this post. đŸ™‚

What I wanted to look at is how this idea emerges in Islamic texts. It almost seems like a Quranic trope. This article talks about al-Fatiha’s use of opposites. Many verses in the Quran are rhetorical in nature but they also demonstrate this ‘contrapuntality’ and I think from this we can find a blueprint for the argument style that Allah wants us to utilize. When you mention ‘darkness,’ you come understand ‘light’ better- and beyond this you understand something bigger or beyond either of the two- for example darkness/light you understand the cycle of night and day, jannah and jahannum, angels and shayateen, heaven and earth- those all carry with them that connotation. There are implications for the contrapuntal argument- it has a reach and thus an idea that incorporate contrapuntality resonates with the listener- it has ramifications beyond that which the listener grasps at that moment- it reshapes the way he/she thought of things and how he/she will think in the future.

That might sound a bit abstruse above, but just stay with me here. The idea in this post is to tap into the blueprint of opposites as a technique for understanding, either useful in philosophy debates or just penetrating and navigating the oceans of wisdom. The goal here is to use this to craft new, compelling arguments to help the cause of the deen.

A few Islamic contrapuntal arguments:

-In one of his poems, Jalaluddin Rumi answered a question about Allah’s Wrath as to why if He is so merciful, then why does he punish? He replied, “He is merciful precisely because He punishes!” Think about it: if he didn’t punish some and spare those that deserve punishment, can He be called merciful- especially by those who were wronged?

-Imam Ibn Ata’illah in his Hikam says, “What could be more obvious than You (Allah), that it may be a proof of You?” In other words, the hidden assumption in questions of Allah’s existence is that the proof has to be obvious and simple…but if that were the case, then it would show God as being subsidiary and secondary to that proof. Yet, Allah is far above and far removed from such reductions!

-Dr. Abdul Hakim Sherman Jackson quotes a Maturidi argument:

Of course, such arguments did not satisfy everyone. The founder of the Traditionalist school once asked rhetorically: If God is wholly unconnected to evil, what role can God play in lifting it? The Maturidite school, meanwhile, went even further. Not only did its founder accept that God could create evil, he actually turned evil’s existence into a proof of God’s existence! According to him, had the universe come into being on its own, it would have produced nothing that jeopardized its integrity or well-being. Thus, the very existence of evil implies autonomous choice on the part of something that stands outside the system — God. Yet, while God can, according to the Maturidites, create evil and human suffering, God cannot and does not create evil that does not ultimately serve a wise purpose. Source

-My own argument: I had this come to me while making dhikr. I thought to myself about skeptics and how vehement the attacks have become on Islam and religion in general. I thought to myself how simple it is- Allah revealed the Book and commanded us to believe in Him. And then it occurred to me, “Did Allah reveal the Quran and then command us to disbelieve in Him?” The point being that non-believers/agnostics argue as if there is such a grave logical error present, as if God revealed Himself through his Prophets, Messengers and Books, and then said, “Now that you have heard Me, obey this command of Mine: disbelieve in Me.” That would be absurd. So then, how clear and easy it is that all He asked us to do was simply believe in Him- the most fundamental and simple act that there is? Alhamdulillah, Islam does not demand any mental gymnastics, just recognition of Allah as He is. This point may confuse some people but it made sense to me, because it shows how misplaced the intellectual passion the anti-God line of argument is.

The above arguments differ in terms of how close together they bring the opposites. Contrapuntal line of arguing seems to really hit the spot. Its advantages is it explores new territory, it’s succinct, almost slogan-like, and convincingly exposes the weaknesses and shortcomings in others reasoning. It’s a blueprint for creating new, fresh, compelling arguments. Its a straight dose of wisdom and I believe the precedent for it is Quranic in nature and also definitely in some of the blessed words of the hadith.

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


  1. Outstanding, mashAllah. I always loved your blog, and this I better understood after I hated other blogs.

  2. Love it, mashaAllah! Good to see some posts after a long waiting period. Keep them coming inshaAllah

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