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The Idea of an Islamic Logic

The opposition to and defense of logic in Islam are both predicated on a misconception of what logic or thought is. In short, logic is thinking and the Greeks did not invent thought.

Philosophy is logic and metaphysics. Metaphysics is content. Logic is form. It is empty of content. It is how thought is structured, not what thought is. It is a calculus. Some would say it is the calculus. Al-Farabi said that logic (mantiq) “gives general rules for the expressions of every community.” A sort of universal grammar. A grammar of all languages.

This is right and wrong. It is wrong in so far as it identifies with being a grammar. But it is right in so far as it means that logic is rooted in grammar, which is to say, it is rooted in language. Al-Farabi’s definition is really an analogy. A sort of gesture saying, “This is kind of like that.” Of course, you only get what this is if you already know that.

But if we follow the analogy it is clear that logic is not Arabic, and definitely not Islamic. Logic is logic. It is form, empty of content. So, why would anyone want to talk about Islamic Logic? Indeed.

The Bedouin Scout

The Bedouin scout sees tracks in the sand and infers that someone must have made them. This is logic. Is it Greek? Is it Arabic? Does it even make sense to say it is Islamic? No, it is human. Do we not all know this?

“But how can you say it is logic? Or that he is using logic? He might not even know the word.” True. He might not even know that he made an inference. But if you asked him, “Why do you say that someone must have made them?” what would he say? I imagine he would question your sanity.

Similarly, if you asked him, “Did you make a logical inference from the tracks in the sand to the thought that someone must have made them? What proof do you have?” Again, he might look at you in wonder, or, what is more likely, just point to the tracks and say, “They are there.”

Does he have to know the word “logic” or “inference” or their history and what they mean in order for him to infer as he does? Does he have to be Muslim?

It’s All Greek to Me

A queer argument against the use of logic and its place in Islam is that it is a Greek discovery that has nothing to do with religion, and that it is probably anti-Islamic. The counter-argument is to prove that there is such a thing as Islamic Logic which is not at all Greek, and therefore okay. Equally queer.

Logic is logic. In the Hijaz or in China. In Greek, in Arabic, in Swahili, or any other language for that matter. It is inference from a set of propositions to another proposition. “But that is all Greek to me. What do you mean?”

A classical example of a logical inference goes: “All men are mortal. Socrates is a man. Therefore, Socrates is mortal.” Formally speaking it looks like this: Major premise; minor premise; conclusion. That is the structure. The structure is empty. It is mere form without content.

This is logic. It is a tool. A very familiar one that is neither of the east or west. We use it all the time. It is not Islamic. Is it still Greek to you?

by Yusuf Latif

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