10 Questions with ‘The Closing of the Muslim Mind’ author Robert R. Reilly

Robert R. Reilly is the author of The Closing of the Muslim Mind: How Intellectual Suicide Created the Modern Islamist. A former director of Voice of America, he now serves as a senior fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council.

Reilly recently agreed to answer 10 questions about his book and other topics of interest for The Daily Caller:

1)   Why did you write the book?

I was fascinated by Bernard Lewis’ book What Went Wrong, in which he chronicles the decline of the Muslim world. I wanted to find out why it went wrong. And, like most Americans, I was galvanized by 9/11 and wanted to search more deeply into the wellsprings of violence in Islam. Since 9/11, I was also working professionally in the area of the Middle East, most particularly on Iraq for the Defense Department.

After years of study and work, I concluded that the Islamism we see today is a spiritual pathology based on a deformed theology that has produced a dysfunctional culture. That is a lot to say in one sentence, but I take 200 pages to explain it. I trace the roots of Islamism back to an intellectual crisis in Islam in the ninth century.

2)   What do you mean by your title, The Closing of the Muslim Mind? When did this closing begin?

By “closed,” I mean that access to reality has been blocked. I do not mean that the minds of every individual Muslim are closed, or that there are not varieties of Islam in which the Muslim mind is still open. I do mean that a large portion of mainstream Sunni Islam, the majority expression of the faith, has shut the door to reality in a profound way. Today, this can be seen in the highly dysfunctional character of the Arab world in particular.

The great twentieth-century Muslim scholar, the late Fazlur Rahman, said that, “A people that deprives itself of philosophy necessarily exposes itself to starvation in terms of fresh ideas — in fact, it commits intellectual suicide.”

This is the source of the subtitle of the book. In his Regensburg address, Benedict XVI said something similar. He spoke of dehellenization — meaning the loss of reason, the gift of the Greeks — as one of the West’s main problems. Less well-known is the dehellenization that has afflicted Islam — its denigration of and divorce from reason. (The pope alluded to this only briefly, though it became a source of major controversy.) The dehellenization of Islam is less well known because it was so thorough and effective that few are aware that there was a process of hellenization preceding it — especially during the ninth and tenth centuries. It was a pivotal period for Islam and the world. It was then, toward the end of this period, that the Muslim world took a decisive turn in the wrong direction.

There are two fundamental ways to close the mind. One is to deny reason’s capability of knowing anything. The other is to dismiss reality as unknowable. Reason cannot know, or there is nothing to be known. Either approach suffices in making reality irrelevant. In Sunni Islam, elements of both were employed in the dominant Ash’arite theological school. As a consequence, a fissure opened between man’s reason and reality — and, most importantly, between man’s reason and God. My book contends that the fatal disconnect between the Creator and the mind of his creature is the source of Sunni Islam’s most profound woes.  This bifurcation, located not in the Qur’an but in early Islamic theology, ultimately led to the closing of the Muslim mind.

My book is an account of Sunni Islam’s intellectual suicide — in Fazlur Rahman’s meaning of the term — and the reasons for it.  As I mentioned, the book attempts to relate not so much how it happened, but why it happened; what its devastating consequences have been, and how the Muslim mind might possibly be reopened (as suggested by Muslims themselves), an endeavor fraught with repercussions for the West, as well as for the Islamic world.

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  • RickZ

    Point # 7 is full of hogwash.

    “We should say that we respect Islam as a source of moral and spiritual order in the lives of millions of people …”

    Tripe, pure tripe. Respect islam, for anything? Has the author considered, even for the briefest of lucid moments, to name any other so-called ‘great religion of the world’ founded by a bloodthirsty warlord? That maybe, just maybe, the jihadis are following the example of their prophet, ‘the most perfect example of man to mankind for all time’? I should respect that? People sometimes ask sarcastically, ‘What would Jesus do?’ Well, we never have to ask that question of Ol’ Moe, as we have the historical record for the answer: Kill ’em all and let allah sort ’em out.

    As I said, what rubbish.

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  • theslowrider

    I disagree with Robert’s 4th answer about why muslims are committing terrorism. It’s simpler than ‘a lack of reason.’ Ignorant young men are told they will go to heaven and have 72 virgins if they will kill others while committing suicide. Period. Being with God and having sex is the reason they do it!
    Not being able to ‘reason’ the proposition that murdering others might not be a good thing to do, is really fear. Fear of not going to heaven. If you notice, the older planners of these terrorist acts NEVER are the ones to blow themselves up. Maybe THEY want power, but the actual young suicide bombers care nothing about power, only the after-life their acts will bring. They want to go to heaven and have some sex with girls.

  • rocco

    I think it’s pretty safe to say; more than one nuclear bomb will explode on this earth before Islam will emerge from it’s 9th century mentality.

    As long as half the Americans think like President George Bush, (all peoples just want to be free) and the other half think like President Barack Obama, (all peoples faiths are morally equivalent), well let’s just say, two wrongs are still just wrong.

  • tombt

    Very interesting material and it may give insight into the growing alliance seen between the secular left and Islam. Both are closed to reason favoring their respective religions / ideologies. Both also are opposed to those who still embrace reason and the belief that truth can be known and is not relative.

  • huffno

    Excellent interview. Excellent comments by the author — I’m going to buy his book after reading his comments here.

  • TheFickleFingerofFate

    Of course this will be taken as some sort of insult against “The Prophet” Mohammad.