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Discipline in Asking Questions 28 June 2010

Posted by MOZAFFAR in Misc.

The path to knowledge involves asking questions. The path to God involves yearning.  When you ask about the Tradition, try — when you can — to ask questions that pertain to your yearning for God.

If you lack yearning for God, then that is your first question.  That first question is answered in the opening chapter of the Qur’an when we seek for God to “guide us to the Straight Path.” Every path has a journey and a destination.  The destination here is either God or Paradise, depending upon which one is more important to you at a given moment.

But, the questions we often find in our community are often *not* explicitly or implicitly directed toward reaching the Divine or toward reaching Paradise.  Rather, the questions we ask on a given topic are often motivated by caprice. That caprice itself is often shaped by topics in the greater ethos of our culture.

Consider the countless questions I receive about meat consumption.  On the surface, these concerns might seem to be related to Salvation and/or connecting with the Divine.  When we dig a bit deeper, we see that the questions themselves are highly selective: we ask in detail about the requirements for the slaughter of the animal. We ask questions in detail about the permissibility of eating from such animals that might not be slaughtered.  But, do we express any concern in these questions about the lifetime treatment of these same animals?  The treatment of these animals is a concern both for the sake of the animal, as well as the quality of their meat that we would be consuming.

To take the point a step further, do we ask only about the slaughtering? What about factors related to the business of the merchant?  Why stop there? Why not ask about every single detail that is absolutely imaginable in such an issue? Why not? Because it would be ridiculous to do so.  The point I am illustrating is that an undisciplined path of questioning has no end. An undisciplined path of questioning is a bottomless pit.

If your goal is exploration, then you must absolutely free yourself of many or all of the boundaries of questioning.  But if your goal has a set destination, perhaps God and/or Salvation, then you might shed yourself of many of these questions.

Still, we do seem to reach a point where we stop asking such questions on a given topic.  That is because we ask questions until we reach a point of satisfaction. Once we reach that point of satisfaction — which itself is often driven by caprice, rather than legitimate concern — we stop asking.

The problem of undisciplined questioning has another dimension.  When we place uncontrolled attention on one topic, we sacrifice attention on another topic.  Thus, we rarely find believers who are concerned about meat consumption to be comparatively concerned about something as serious as justice.  Those who are ultra-concerned about imposing gender segregation will often care little if at all about the conditions in both sides of the partition.

Thus, the problem with this excessive, undisciplined questioning is a problem of lack of calibration with the Divine dictates.  The person concerned about meat will be hard pressed to cite one passage from memory in any of the primary sources on the topic. Likewise for the common person concerned with segregation.

The goal to reach is a calibration dictated by the primary sources, where we reach a point where the dictates of the primary sources become *native* to us.  That process takes extensive effort, but must begin by engaging with the primary sources themselves.  Otherwise, you will hang yourself in the cloud of communal caprice.

And Allah knows best.


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