Book Review: The Closing Of The Muslim Mind

The Closing Of The Muslim Mind:  How Intellectual Suicide Created The Modern Islamist Crisis, by Robert R. Reilly

This book is a fascinating one, and it deals with the subject matter of why it is that the Muslim world fell so fast after its enlightened early period and why it remains an intellectual backwater in the world, and how that intellectual crisis eventually led to a lot of other kinds of crisis that have continued to poison the relationships between the Muslim world and everyone else.  What makes this book particularly interesting is that it is not a political history so much as an intellectual history, and it demonstrates the repercussions that worldview has on how it is that people think and reason and live.  We are not used to taking such matters seriously–and why be I mean contemporary people whose intellectual depth is seldom very profound and who may even have a difficulty in understanding the nature of our worldview in the first place.  Likewise, learning about the failures of the Muslim worldview can allow us to avoid making the same mistakes that they have, which is definitely for the best and allows us to better understand how it is that the life of the mind and thinking about philosophy and reason can affect the destiny of nations and peoples.

This book is about 200 pages long and is divided into nine chapters.  The book begins with a foreword by Roger Scruton and then the author discusses the intellectual suicide that occurred in the middle ages in the Muslim world during a specific period just before 1000AD in the Abbasid caliphate.  The author discusses how it is that the Muslims discovered Hellenic thought during their conquest of the Middle East (1), and how it was that the overthrow of the M’tazilites led to the closing of the gates of ijtihad [1] and thus the Muslim mind (2).  The author explores the metaphysics of the will and why it matters if God’s will is automatically good, or if good is simply what God wills (3).  After that the author explores the triumph of Ash’arism (4) as well as the unfortunate victory of al-Ghazali which led to the dehellenization of Isalm (5), which the author views as a very bad thing.  The author blames this loss of interest in reason and philosophy for the decline and the consequences of that decline on the Muslim world (6).  After this he explores Muslim testimonials about the fall of Muslim reasoning (7) as well as the sources of Islamism (8) and the crisis of contemporary Islam (9), after which the book ends with notes, suggestions for further reading, acknowledgements, and an index.

The author’s point is a deeply interesting and also somewhat troubling one for certain people.  This book posits that it was the anti-reason perspective of the Muslims after the Muslim golden age that first closed the mind of the Muslims by inoculating them against advances in reason and leading them to believe that everything at all times was a miracle and that God’s will was not reasonable at all.  The author draws from this the conclusion that in order to believe in a reasonable God one must have a commitment to both faith and reason, and to a faith that was in some ways amenable to human reasoning on some level.  Although this is of the biggest importance when dealing with the Muslim world, there are certainly a great many parts of the Western world where reason and human reasoning is viewed with extreme skepticism, making the fate of those who would defend intellect in those circles as hazardous to one’s safety and well-being as it has been in the Muslim world for the last millennium or so.  And that is a great shame.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2014/03/28/opening-the-floodgates-of-ijtihad/

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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