We all know that it is not possible to live a normal life if we lose our ability to think more than anything else. We use our thinking to make day-to-day decisions. Whether we run our businesses or perform our jobs, or whether we buy or sell or build anything, we think. Thinking is an essential attribute of human life. Without it, we simply cannot survive.
When we do not take time to think about something important in our lives and make a rash decision we suffer from its adverse consequences. Many of us might have experienced such incidents at some point or the other in our lives. Fortunately, when it comes to the real world, we try to learn from mistakes and move on.
One essential prerequisite for thinking about something is to acquire knowledge about it. We obviously cannot think about something unless we have knowledge about it. Struggling to acquire knowledge therefore increases our intellectual potential for critical thinking.
Power of thinking vis-à-vis the material world needs no proof. It is self-evident. If anything, we keep on trying for ways to enhance this power in our own thinking. Yet, it is not easy. Hundreds of books are published every year to help us in that direction. We also try to learn from scholars. We are not afraid to ask questions and we are not satisfied unless we get convincing answers. We benefit from scholars but we never surrender our right to think. Most of all, we tend to keep our minds open when it comes to this world.
But when it comes to Islam we generally tend to close our minds. And we tend to surrender our thinking to religious scholars (who, in turn, tend to surrender their thinking to past religious scholars, and so on, and so forth). The God-given human right of thinking and of questioning which needed no justification in the realm of the real world, now takes on a questionable dimension when it enters the realm of the religious world. We are told that people (no matter how knowledgeable they may be) have no right to think or decide matters of religion except professional religious scholars.
This proclamation echoes from all sides of the religious divide: Only religious scholars or Imams (or those who have their stamp of approval) have the right to think and no one else. But these are the people who become professional authorities on religion simply by quoting the works upon works of past Imams and scholars and faithfully following their thoughts. Those who deviate from the established norms and practices are pronounced misguided or, worse yet, told they are destined for Hell.
كل بدعة ضلالة وكل ضلالة في النار
(Kullu bid'atin dalalah, wa kullu dalalatin fin nar) – Of all matters, the worst are innovations; and everything new is an innovation, and every innovation is a deviation, and every deviation leads to Hell-fire.
In other words, in a nutshell, we are warned: You are not allowed to think beyond the established box. Under this threat of eternal damnation most of us become afraid to ask critical questions of religious scholars that challenge the status quo. And if someone does dare to challenge he/she is labeled heretic and is hounded by the establishment and its blind followers.
Thus, under this kind of religious threat most of us find solace in passively following the traditional path and move with the flow. Moreover, we are promised Heaven by the defenders of religious status-quo. This serves as a powerful dose of tranquilizer for the masses but bestows huge power of mind control to the religious authorities, which they are only too eager to use.
Although some of us may think that we are thinking, but the fact is we mostly echo the thinking of past imams and scholars in matters of religion. As a consequence, we lose our own ability to think and ponder. But more than that we lose something more: We lose our humanity. As a matter of fact, our religious scholars become the shepherds and people become the sheep. This is legendarily called Taqlid in Sharia terminology. And our religious scholars feel extremely proud about it that they are doing Taqlid of past Imams and scholars.
However, according to the Quran, those who do not think from their own minds are animals – nay, they are worse than animals, and are destined for Hell:
وَلَقَدْ ذَرَأْنَا لِجَهَنَّمَ كَثِيرًا مِّنَ الْجِنِّ وَالْإِنسِ ۖ لَهُمْ قُلُوبٌ لَّا يَفْقَهُونَ بِهَا وَلَهُمْ أَعْيُنٌ لَّا يُبْصِرُونَ بِهَا وَلَهُمْ آذَانٌ لَّا يَسْمَعُونَ بِهَا ۚ أُولَٰئِكَ كَالْأَنْعَامِ بَلْ هُمْ أَضَلُّ ۚ أُولَٰئِكَ هُمُ الْغَافِلُونَ
(7:179) – And most certainly have We destined for hell many of the invisible beings and men who have hearts with which they fail to grasp the truth, and eyes with which they fail to see, and ears with which they fail to hear. They are like cattle -nay, they are even less conscious of the right way: it is they, they who are the [truly] heedless! [Asad]
Descartes in his search for truth echoed essentially this same Quranic verse when he said: “I think therefore I am.”
Allama Iqbal echoes the same feeling when he says:
Create your own thoughts because it is a great treasure
What worth is that life which has someone else’s heart
No wonder when we surrender our thoughts, we turn into beggars of thought. Something, indeed, to think about.
Our Prophet (PBUH) emphasized the power of thinking as the Quran clearly points out in the following verse:
قُلْ إِنَّمَا أَعِظُكُم بِوَاحِدَةٍ ۖ أَن تَقُومُوا لِلَّـهِ مَثْنَىٰ وَفُرَادَىٰ ثُمَّ تَتَفَكَّرُوا
(34:46) – Say: “I counsel you one thing only: Be [ever conscious of] standing before God, whether you are in the company of others or alone; and then bethink yourselves. [Asad]