بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
I have recently went on a binge of Shoaib Malik‘s series “Academic Access” (sometimes converting them into mp3’s and listening to them while driving, working out or doing other tasks). While I have not listened to every episode, I’ve listened to quite a few. The episodes are generally good, but, like with everything else, there are hits and misses and so there were some episodes that I considered to be much better than others. What I’d like to share here are 7 episodes that I found to be worth the listen.
Note: If you’re wondering why so many of these have to do with Ibn Taymiyyah, it’s because he is the thinker I was least acquainted with prior to listening. I therefore learned a lot during those episodes.
1. Reason and Revelation in Ibn Taymiyyah with Dr. Carl Sharif El-Tobgui
This was by far the most worthwhile episode I watched. Dr. El-Tobgui introduces his book on Ibn Taymiyyah’s magnus opus Dar’ Al-ta’aarudh bayn al aqli wal naql. In this book, he summarizes Ibn Taymiyyah’s main arguments and thoughts on how to reconcile scripture and reason. I found many of the concepts introduced to be very useful. The main take-away from this for me was that we must differentiate between strong and weak aqli and naqli arguments. Often times, when we see a conflict between reason and revelation, it might be a weak aqli argument vs strong naqli argument, or strong aqli argument vs a weak naqli argument. What we should do, therefore, is go for the stronger argument rather than frame it in terms of reason vs revelation. The question still remains, however, as to what to do when you have a strong aqli argument and a strong naqli argument. I believe that theologians like Fakhr al-Deen al-Razi were primarily thinking of this case when they spoke of resolving reason vs revelation. It therefore seems to me that Ibn Taymiyyah’s differentiating between the different kinds of evidence provided is not enough to refute the claim of the theologians that one should discard apparent meanings of the Quran when they conflict with (what they consider) to be sound aqli arguments. Rather, and I suspect in the full work Ibn Taymiyyah does address this, the bulk of Ibn Taymiyyah’s argument would have to be that the aqli arguments put forward by the theologians are not, in fact, sound, or that even if they are, the apparent reading of the scripture should take precedence.
I cannot strongly recommend this episode enough. El-Tobgui’s presentation was lucid and he uses diagrams which help simplify what might otherwise by confusing material.
2. Ibn Taymiyyah on Atheism and Skepticism with Dr. Nazir Khan
This episode was based on Dr. Nazir Khan’s paper at Yaqeen Institute. In it, he puts forward a version of Ibn Taymiyyah’s argument against skeptics and atheists. Rather than put forward arguments for the existence of God, as the theologians had done, Ibn Taymiyyah makes the argument that if one is skeptical about God, one cannot get their worldview off of the ground. For instance, what is the justification for belief in the truth-finding capabilities of reason on a godless worldview? How can one coherently speak of purpose, morality, or other properly basic beliefs that most people hold? Rather than getting defensive, Khan argues that we have to put atheists on the defensive by asking them to justify other properly basic beliefs and thus exposing their skepticism to be extremely selective. Khan, following Ibn Taymiyyah, therefore follows an approach that is more of an appeal to the fitrah rather than a demonstration from first principles. This allows Ibn Taymiyyah to maintain an athari theology regarding God’s attributes because he has not pre-committed himself, vis-a-vis a rational argument, to concluding that God cannot possibly have X property, for example. This was the mistake that the Ashari, Mu’tazili and Shi’i theologians did, according to Ibn Taymiyyah, because their rational arguments meant that God having X property would undermine their argument for God’s existence in the first place.
3. Tawaqquf and Human Evolution with Dr. David Solomon Jalajel
I watched this episode following Daniel Haqiqatjou’s massive paper critiquing Yaqeen Insitute, which cited Dr. Jalajel greatly. I wanted to hear from the horse’s mouth what he thought about evolution. In this video, Jalajel argues that what is today taken to be the orthodox position on the question of human evolution, namely human exceptionalism, is in fact too broad. If one applies orthodox methodological principles correctly, then the most one can conclude from scriptural evidence is Adamic exceptionalism. What this means is that what we can conclude from scripture is only that Adam did not have previously existing parents; scripture is silent on whether human-like creatures that were created through an evolutionary process also existed before Adam or concurrent with Adam. Furthermore, the Quran addressed mankind as “Bani-Adam” (the Children of Adam) and therefore we can conclude that every living human being today must come from Adam’s line. Whether Adam’s children mixed with these hypothetical non-Adamic humans is also a question about which scripture is silent.
For some reason which I did not understand, Jalajel took issue with the phrases “human exceptionalism” and “Adamic exceptionalism,” but I don’t really see what the issue is with those terms. I think they accurately confer the concept that one belives that humans or Adam, are creatures excepted from the general rule that earthly life-forms evolved from previous life forms.
4. Islamic Contentions with Evolution with Dr. Shadee Elmasry
Definitely watch this interview after the previous one because Dr. Shadee Elmasry presents what most Muslims would consider the “orthodox view” in this episode. Furthermore, the question is put forward to Dr. Shadee regarding his opinion Dr. Jalajel’s view. Dr. Shadee responds that in his theoretical caliphate, Dr. Jalajel wouldn’t get any state funding, but he wouldn’t be considered an apostate either. His view therefore passes the bare minimum requirements of Islam, in Dr. Shadee’s view.
What makes this interview, exceptional, however, is not merely the discussion that takes place in the second half regarding evolution. Rather, the first half is about Dr. Shadee’s life and fascinating journey through coming from a rather secular family and finding himself steeped in tasawwuf, with a couple wrong turns along the way. Highly recommended.
5. Ibn Taymiyyah, Fitrah and Revelation with Sh. Yasir Qadhi
Coming back to Ibn Taymiyyah, this episode features Dr. Yasir Qadhi. Dr Qadhi explains his journey from Madinah to Yale, and how he came to contextualize the historical development of the various schools of aqeeda. In particular, he shows that many aspects of Taymiyyah theology, while sharing many core features with predecessors in the Hanbali school, are distinct and without precedent. This does not mean that Ibn Taymiyyah’s theology is in opposition to his predecessors, but simply that his understanding is one strand that responds to the later challenges of other theological schools. Qadhi argues, therefore, that there is room for further development to occur today that is in line with the principle teachings of the Salaf.
6. Fine Tuning Arguments with Dr. Jason Waller
In this episode, Dr. Jason Waller outlines his interest in the Design Argument. He argues that it is much stronger than many of his secular colleagues would admit, due to their prior commitments to irreligion. Dr. Waller argues that any contingent explanation for why things are the way they are are going to raise fine-tuning problems for the contingent explanation itself. In this manner, even if there is a multiverse, for example, the design argument would still apply to that higher order of explanations. If we have another contingent explanation for the multiverse, there would still be a design problem for that explanation. Dr. Waller goes through each of the possibilities and narrows them down to show that the existence of a necessary Designer is the best explanation for contingent reality.
7. Wife Beating in Islam? with Dr. David Solomon Jalajel
This interview was very triggering for me, and I found myself disagreeing with it strongly. For some context, at the time of watching this, I had already seen Dr. Jalajel’s evolution argument and found it to be compelling. I had given him the benefit of the doubt after Daniel Haqiqatjou’s campaign against him. In fact, seeing DH’s distortions of Jalajel led me to have increasingly larger reservations with him, until I no longer saw him to be a net-positive within the community. That all changed, however, when I saw this video. I became convinced that there is still a place for people like Haqiqatjou in the community. This video left no doubt in my mind that Jalajel is in fact a dyed-in-the-wool modernist who simply possesses more advanced tools than your average clueless feminist in order to manipulate the tradition to fit Enlightenment values. In this video, he tries to argue that the command to “strike them” in 4:34 was sarcastic. (Yes, seriously.) Nevertheless, I commend his efforts at at least putting forward arguments that use traditional methodology, rather than the nonsense most ill-trained, barely literate in Arabic, feminist professors put out in western universities.
I will release a more full analysis of this video in the future, inshaAllah. Stay tuned!
Bonus: Episodes that Sucked
Here were episodes I did not enjoy. This may have been because the speaker was boring, he didn’t stay on topic, I didn’t learn anything new, the discussion was disorganized, or some other reason. I will not list individually my issue with each episode, but my verdict is that episodes other than these are likely more worth your time:
- History of Science and Religion with Prof. John Hedley Brooke
- Intelligent Design with Dr. Erkki Vesa Rope Kojonen
- Atheism, Science, and Philosophy with Prof. Michael Ruse
- The Law in John Calvin and Al-Ghazali with Dr. Joshua Ralston
Note: others may disagree with me, these are entirely my personal opinion.
These were some episodes I benefitted from watching. I, however, have not seen every episode. I and other readers would greatly appreciate it if you could include any episode that you found particularly beneficial so that we can use that as a heuristic for future episodes. JazakumAllahu khayran.