What is the goal of a Muslim leader? To contribute. The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:
“The best of people are those who are most beneficial to people.”
It is not possible for Muslims today to benefit people effectively without having a clear understanding of their faith. And the best way to do it is to become a critical thinker.
Muslims are not supposed to follow blindly the leaders. Otherwise, they are just imitators who don’t understand what they are doing. As Albert Einstein said:
“Any fool can know. The point is to understand.”
A Muslim critical thinker has 4 characteristics:
- He thinks with his mind and heart
- He wants to know the source of knowledge – Is it divine or human?
- He questions and understands
- He knows what he wants to achieve
Thinking from a Quran perspective
The Quran is an invitation to think. From cover to cover, Allah is reminding people to think for themselves. The Quraysh, the first audience of the Prophet Muhammad, wasn’t knowledgeable people, compared to the Jewish tribes of that time, the Romans or the Persians. And yet, Allah invites them to think, reflect, and ponder. Knowledge is not a prerequisite for thinking.
“Have they not reflected upon their own being? Allah only created the heavens and the earth and everything in between for a purpose and an appointed term. Yet most people are truly in denial of the meeting with their Lord!” [Qur’an 30: 8]
“It is these who commemorate God while standing, sitting, or resting on their sides and who think about the creation of the heavens and the earth and say, “Lord, you have not created all this without reason. Glory be to you. Lord, save us from the torment of the fire”. [Qur’an 3: 191]
Thinking is supposed to inspire a quest for beneficial knowledge. By the way, seeking knowledge is a command of God that every Muslim should pursue. It started with the first word of the revelation: Read. You can seek any type of knowledge, study any sciences as long as it does benefit people.
Mind & Heart
The Quran insists on thinking for a reason: unless you change the way you think, your behaviors won’t change. The singularity in Islam, though, is that thinking is an intellectual and spiritual exercise. You think with your mind and heart. They are interrelated. The purpose of thinking is to bring you closer to God.
“Then do they not reflect upon the Qur’an? If it had been from [any] other than Allah, they would have found within it much contradiction”. [Qur’an 4: 82]
“Do they not then reflect on the Quran? or are there locks on the hearts?” [Qur’an 47: 24]
“They have hearts but do not understand, eyes but do not see. They have ears but do not hear. They are worse than lost cattle. These are the heedless ones.” [Qur’an 7: 179]
Sometimes, I think about the first Muslims. They had bites of the Quran – it took 23 years to reveal the whole book. Medicine or astrology was not as developed as today to appreciate what the Quran is mentioning. And yet, their faith was strong. Why? Because they were independent thinkers first. They used their natural gifts of mind and heart to derive conclusions about God. Knowledge came second.