Many of the criticisms I see and hear of religion in general (ie. faith without reason is bad and should be unacceptable) by prominent atheists like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris focus on how “dumb” religious people are. The characterisation of atheists as “brights“, the use of terms like irrational, blind faith etc. to describe people of religious persuasions all point to this. There’s some (not so well) hidden feeling that it’s in some way “superior” to be an atheist. It’s hip, it’s elite and it’s the way to be if you’re enlightened.
I disagree with the idea of course but after reading this article, it occurs to me how anti-rational and anti-intellectual many religious people are. The percentage of seriously religious people who are well read and whom one can have an intelligent conversation with about a subject is quite low. The amount of general knowledge too is quite low. Many of them close off their minds to all subjects except perhaps some parts of their own faiths. While this might be important to them, it’s unquestionable that there is a lot of interesting stuff out there that’s purely secular. To not take advantage of this vast body of human knowledge that our ancestors and contemporaries left us is sad. Some people argue that their faiths are in embryonic stages and they don’t want to hurt themselves by taking in too much secular stuff. This is understandable. It’s a decision some people make. However, to deny that there is anything out there outside their own faiths and to withdraw into that shell of isolation is a horrible way to go through life.
So, in this sense, religion has a “dumbening” effect on people. “This is all there is to know. End of story!”. However, it’s not a hopeless situation. There are lots of people out there who are very well grounded in traditional religion and who are equally well read. The fine folks who hang around on Deen port are good examples. We need more like them. This is especially true in the matter of scholars. Ulema need to be exceptionally strong in this regard. A person who is completely devoid of any external knowledge of the world might be able to save himself but can’t really illuminate the lives of others too well in my opinion. Their narrowness and naivete about matters of the world and it’s history can be really damaging to their efforts to guide people. Many Muslim preachers these days often hold out famous forgeries like “The Protocols” in their fire and brimstone speeches about the evil Jews. This kind of thing is not only embarrassing, it’s also damaging to the fabric of the Muslim community as a whole.
This is quite saddening and not only for Islam but for most religions since the majority of the great thinkers of the past were rooted in one religious tradition or the other. Nowadays, the people who actively contribute to science and technology seem to be people outside a theistic tradition. They’d probably argue that this is proof for the mentally stultifying power of religion but I think it’s the general slump in the desire to learn and advance that the article linked to above that’s the reason.
Shaykh Hamza and Shaykh Abdul Hakim Murad are examples of people who are very well read. Their speeches and lessons have a certain liberating effect without compromising on any aspects of the religion itself. Their lessons unlike those of a typical village mulla who went through Islamic school simply because he wouldn’t fit anywhere else are wide and freely draw on sources outside the faith without compromising it in anyway. Sort of like trees with very deep and strong roots. They can grow as wide and outspread as they want without falling down. More people reap their benefits. We need more people like them.