INTRODUCTION Not too long ago it was common to meet the view expressed by Western intellectuals that: “The oriental mind is quite different from ours. The oriental mind has no sense of critical rationalism, no sense of reality .”[^1] These are the words of E. F. Gautier, professor at the University of Algiers and a leading ideologue of colonialism who promoted historical untruths and racist arguments in order to justify and legitimate France’s empire in North Africa. Gautier went so far as to denigrate Ibn Khaldu>n, the founder of the science of history, by denying him any intellectual originality, since Arabs could not have any critical sense of history: “This oriental had a sharp, critical mind. In other words, he had a western sense of history .”[^2]
At the present time such discredited untruths have been replaced by another false dichotomy intended to divide cultures and perpetuate the division between West and East: one that tells us that whereas the western world is disposed towards rational logical thought and materialism, the East is disposed towards intuitive forms of knowledge and spirituality. This misperception only recycles the 19th century dogma voiced by European historical criticism of religions that the Oriental or Semitic mind is incapable of the higher reaches of rational thinking exemplified by Hellenic and Western civilization. These views are rooted in the inversion of a deeper reality: that over the past several centuries the West cultivates the expansion of Knowledge-information severed from any encompassing metaphysical worldview, while the East cultivates Understanding and Being within the frame of permanent Values and transcendent truth.
But even this reality is changing beyond recognition in today’s globalizing era that universalizes Western cultural preferences and forces particular religious traditions to find legitimization from within the dominant Western framework of values and terms of reference. The fact that material and power exchanges in political and economic arenas are increasingly being displaced by symbolic exchanges—we meanvalue-based relationships —is of the utmost significance especially for religion. Consumerist globalizing forces seek to remove the ‘irrational’ influence of religion upon society by denying or marginalizing the relevance of the spiritual, by disrupting the solidarity of families and communities, and above all by eroding the hierarchical values of revealed knowledge systems. Certainly the supposed ‘rational / intuitive’ divide represents a significant element in this process of inverting values.
So the question ofthe actual role and place of reason and rationality within the religion of Islam becomes ever more pressing for our world today. This is true not merely because Muslim societies and governments are seeking to acquire the methodologies, technology and science of the West and its particular ‘culture-of-knowledge’, in a catch-up development race they can never win. Nor has this question simply become a ‘hot issue’ in the wake of the so-called “martyrdom operation” on September 11th 2001 sparking the ‘Global War on Terrorism’ and the projection of U.S. hegemony as the world’s rogue super-state, with Islam and Muslims portrayed as fanatic and irrational. But the urgency and seriousness of the question concerningthe authentic Islamic understanding of reason now
assumes the critical mass of a vital central issue between Muslims themselves in the form of an internal dilemma or contradiction.