Politics, religion, and culture where East meets West

At the Blue Mosque: Logic before faith

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In the side rooms of Istanbul’s Sultan Ahmed Mosque, the debate between reason and revelation—logic and faith—defies the “norm.” Here, one Turk’s Islam favors reason over revelation, and three American Christians disagree.

The room was small and carpeted. Where there wasn’t Arabic calligraphy, there were books, and where there weren’t books, there were the small, 17th century windows set high in the wall. Low, cushioned benches lined most of the room, welcoming any visitor who was interested in more than just the architecture of the mosque.

Where the benches ended sat the Imam’s humble desk, as if to preside over a meeting. But he was not presiding over any meetings—he was swaying in motion, back and forth, reciting the Qur’an aloud.

The Imam had already welcomed us shortly after we arrived. He asked what we were studying.

“Felsefe,” I said.

“Ah, philosophy,” He smiled widely before returning to the Qur’an. “Maşallah.”

Left: The İmam of the Sultan Ahmed (Blue) Mosque, Emrullah Hatipoğlu, engages in what is probably a less interesting conversation than the one related here (yenisafak.com.tr).

It was over the sound of the Imam’s recitation that the discussion on the other side of the room began. There, three Christian Americans sat with a Muslim Turk, debating theology. Muslim Ghanaians, Christian Koreans, Muslim Nigeriens, and Christian Germans filtered in and out, listening and asking questions—but none stayed the duration.

As the outreach director of the mosque, the Turk was fluent in French and Arabic as well as English, which—after the Americans had exhausted their Turkish—became the language of the debate.

“Islam is the logical religion,” The Turk insisted. While he spoke, he patted the Qur’an—but he consulted it only three times. To consult it was unnecessary.

For all men, the Turk explained, the truths of Islam are self-evident. It is only delusion that leads one away from these truths. Blind faith in false gods, like the Christian God—or “natural science”—makes us ignore, or conceal, the truth. Even worse for these “concealers” is that the one true God does not forgive the association of false gods with Himself.

He quickly qualified his statement: “But nothing is beyond the power of Allah. He can forgive anyone and anything.”

When we asked him to explain how one can come to these logical conclusions about God and His Will without reference to the Qur’an, we were treated to little more than “Isn’t it obvious?” and an exposition about how the patterns, the beauty, and the complexity of the natural world point to the existence of a Creator—the unity of which is necessary. And the unity of which (tawhid) prevents the possibility of  “your Christian God’s three ‘persons.'” Or, as he added with visible disgust, “the Hindu gods.”

I thought it odd that his explanation for the necessary existence of the one true God made extensive reference to natural science (an aforementioned false God), but I wasn’t sure I understood, and chose not to address it.

We explained that his reason for God’s necessity seemed, to us, less a matter of logic than a matter of faith. He had an answer prepared.

“God does not give to man an impossible task,” the Turk explained. “For this reason, the Christian God cannot be. The oneness of God is logical, and we can understand this. But we cannot understand the nature of the Christian God. The true God would not give us the burden of something that we cannot understand.”

I nodded and we asked him to continue—but I did not fully comprehend the emptiness of his statement until the three hours had passed.

No doubt built with logic in mind.

Why—I later wondered—is “The Omnipotent” logically necessitated to give man only those tasks which he can logically understand? Is it not within the (all-powerful) power of God to instruct man to do such things as pray at least five times daily, to kill one’s own son, or to do other inexplicable things? And is it not the province of man to obey—to “submit” to the Will of God regardless? Is this not the very definition of Islam?

I wondered: Why does this particular Turk put so much stock in logic (so much, in fact, that he justifies his belief in God with an appeal to a “false god”)? Why was it unacceptable to him that his religion could be, at root, a matter of faith? How can the revelation through Muhammad (the Qur’an), by comparison to logic, be so unimportant?

Distilled—my thoughts led me to the only real answer: For some reason, the primacy of logic was very important to this guy, and I’m not sure why.

Three more hours at Sultan Ahmed and maybe I’ll figure it out.

Written by M. James

July 27, 2012 at 6:06 pm

Posted in Culture, Religion, Turkey

Tagged with , , , ,

One Response

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  1. Reblogged this on turkischland and commented:
    obama in turkey


    July 28, 2012 at 2:41 am

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