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Critical Thinking vs. Tradition

al-Nahl

123. Then We inspired you to follow the sect of Ibrahim, deviating [from other things]. And he was not of those who associate.”


al-Anbiya’

51. And We certainly approached Ibrahim his reasoning from before, and We were knowers about him.

52. When he said to his father and his folk, “What are these likenesses to which you are devoted?”

53. They said, “We found our forefathers being agents for them.” 

54. He said, “Truly, you and your forefathers certainly are in clear straying.


al-Baqara

170. And when it is said to them, “Follow what Allah has descended,” they say, “We follow what we found our forefathers following.” Even if their forefathers do not process a thing, and do not guide themselves?


Ibrahim, or Abraham as he is known in English, is revered as a founder of monotheism in the Judeo-Christian and Islamic traditions. In fact, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are referred to as the “Abrahamic” faiths owing to the prominence of this figure. In the Qur’an, Ibrahim has a special position as a role-model for Prophet Muhammad. He sets a beautiful example of combining intellect and intuition with courage to confront ancestral traditions.


In Chapter 16 (al-Nahl) verse 123, Muhammad was told to follow the path of Ibrahim. When I saw this verse my question was, “If Muhammad had the Qur’an as a guidebook, why was he asked to follow Ibrahim?” We find a simple answer in verses 51-54 of Chapter 21 (al-Anbiya’): Ibrahim was given reasoning as well as intuition, so he did not just follow the teachings of his forefathers before him.


Chapter 2 (al-Baqara) verse 170 explains that whenever people are asked to follow the download from Source (Allah), they tend to profess their comfort in following their forefathers, even if they do not process the information. As people have received guidance from many scriptures throughout the history of humanity, human nature has come into play and allowed beliefs and traditions to develop that deviated from the intents of the original guiding messages. Therefore, if we are to be guided by truth, we must use reason to question both inherited and new perspectives, and not blindly believe what our ancestors or others believe, even if they are of our own people. 


These verses emphasize the importance of engaging critically with knowledge to develop well-reasoned faith in the pursuit of true understanding. As Ibrahim was said to undertake this mission, so was Muhammad recommended to follow his example. This connection between intellect and intuition, and the call to use both heart and mind to independently evaluate and process information, remains an essential theme in the messages of the Qur’an.

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