The Antidote to Intellectual Suicide

A letter to my daughter,

My dad (your giddo) often talks about the pitfalls of intellectual suicide – he refers to it by the acronym “IS,” as though it’s some kind of horrible disease (which it is). By far, intellectual suicide is more deadly than any physical ailment.

It’s the process of surrendering your own logic, thought-process and will to another human being or group. IS afflicts the young and old, the poor and rich. It’s a disease that doesn’t discriminate based on your gender, your socioeconomic status, or your race.

You must fiercely protect your mind and heart from people who ask you to suspend your own thinking by adopting their personal line of thinking.

Allah (swt) says: “And Satan will say when the matter has been concluded, ‘Indeed, Allah had promised you the promise of truth. And I promised you, but I betrayed you. But I had no authority over you except that I invited you, and you responded to me. So do not blame me; but blame yourselves’” (14:22).

Shaytan’s only goal is to push us off the path of truth and into hell. Although he whispers to us to do and say evil things, he will disassociate from us on the Day of Judgment saying, “I had no authority over you except that I invited you, and you responded to me.”

When we stand before Allah (swt), we will not be able to claim that someone else misguided us. We will be taken to account while we are completely and profoundly alone: “And all of them are coming to Him on the Day of Resurrection alone” (19:95). All of our beloved ones will push us away, only apprehensive about their own fates.

When we know for a fact that Allah (swt) has ordered us to do something, or that the Prophet Muhammad (saw) has instructed us through authentic narrations to act a particular way, then our immediate response should be:

“We hear and we obey.”

This is in no way a suspension of intellect. This is actually the highest testament to our intellect in that we have understood that Allah (swt) is All-Knowing and would only ask us to perform or avoid certain actions for our own benefit.

But if we know for a fact that we will meet Allah (swt) alone, why would we ever suspend our logical minds in order to fall in line with some random scholar or organization’s groupthink? We may look at a seasoned scholar or established organization and admire their years of work, but allowing our minds to take a backseat because we believe these people or groups are inherently closer to God than us, is to deny our own intellectual abilities.

Allah (swt) created us in absolute perfection, both in body and mind. He gave each of us the ability to discern right from wrong, to learn about the world through our senses, and to come to the right conclusions about Him based on what we read in His revelation and what we witness in His creation. He consistently calls on us to reflect on His creation – the moon, the sun, the stars, the earth’s vegetation, the insects and animals, the oceans, thunder and lightning, and much more. Allah (swt) didn’t create these worldly beauties in vain. They are an active, living, breathing testament to the perfection of our Creator, and we are obligated to reflect on them constantly.

We exist as a group of Muslims, an ummah of believers. We respect one another, and we treat each other with kindness and mercy. We have the utmost respect for our scholars who have made it their lives’ work to learn and teach the intricacies of this beautiful faith. We accept mentorship and guidance from them, but they do not own us. When we allow people or groups to own us, they will surely lead us astray, because they are fallible.

Allah (swt) mentions the antidote for intellectual suicide in the Quran. He says, “So give good tidings to My servants who listen to speech and follow the best of it. Those are the ones Allah has guided, and those are people of understanding” (39:17-18).

When we hear what Allah (swt) and Prophet Muhammad (saw) say, we obey. But when we hear what people and groups say, we think first. We measure their words by our own understanding of the purpose of life and our surroundings. We accept from them what is sound and we leave aside what is defective.

The caveat here is that in order for us to be qualified to do the above, we must be actively engaged in seeking knowledge and understanding the world around us. We have to read, listen, reflect. We will never be able to distinguish the good from the bad if we cloud our understanding with our own desires. We will never be able to determine right and wrong if we allow an inflated self-worth and arrogance to creep into our intentions.

We have an obligation to ourselves, no matter what our station of influence or wealth is, to utilize the intellectual abilities that Allah (swt) gave us.

On the Day of Judgment, those who were weak and without influence will want to lay blame on those who were rich and powerful. After all, the powerful are the ones who misled them, right? Allah (swt) will not accept this excuse:

“The weak will say to those who were arrogant, ‘Indeed, we were your followers, so can you avail us anything against the punishment of Allah?’ They will say, ‘If Allah had guided us, we would have guided you. It is all the same for us whether we show intolerance or are patient: there is for us no place of escape’” (14:21).

We have a responsibility to take care of our own minds. When certain people or groups call us to believe in something that has no place in the faith, all they are doing is calling.

We have the choice whether or not to answer.

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