Illogical Roots of Modern Debates: Conflating Points of Dispute

Yousef Wahb
Imam at Windsor Islamic Association Ontario, Canada.
LLM candidate at the Faculty of Law, University of Windsor.

Every sentence we utter is a kind of “judgment” whether it is an unsubstantiated claim, a false statement, a rational or rhetorical argument, an exaggeration, etc. These judgments are the integral components of our daily life conversations, discussions and arguments. In modern intellectual discourse, contextualized in a globalized and internationally-aware society, we need to accept that people reach different conclusions through unique perceptions derived from different intellectual frameworks and are influenced by various biases triggered by language, culture, environment, politics, media …etc. Our inability to apply the traditional practice of “identifying the point of disagreement” frequently creates unclear artificial disputes or incorrectly framed thoughts. This practice does not disregard the possibility of having differences of opinion or accepting relativity of points of view, but rather, it merely attempts to narrow the scope of disagreement by logically de-constructing abstract concepts to determine the kinds of claims being made, the types of arguments being followed, and the level of certainty the judgments belong to.[1] Part I of this article summarizes important terminology and principles used in traditional logic. Part II illustrates the taxonomy of the three domains of judgements. Part III applies the traditional practice of clarifying points of disputes in modern discourses.

Part I: Introductory Logical Terms and Principles

According to the discipline of traditional logic, the thinking process begins with conceiving an object, known as a “conception”,[2] followed by conceiving the relation between two conceptions, known as an “assent”.[3] In this manner, “knowledge” can be described as the image formed in the mind comprehended through either conceptions or assents.

Example: Comprehending the two meanings of “man” and “knowledge” are conceptions. Comprehending the relation between these conceptions in the sentence “this man is knowledgeable” is an assent.[4]

Conceptions of basic or composite meanings are tools to construct definitions using the framework of the “Five Universals.”[5] These definitions can be either essential or non-essential, as well as complete or incomplete.[6]

Example: The conceptions of “human” as “rational” and as an “animal” construct the definition of “human” as “a rational animal”.

Assents are the main tools for constructing logical syllogisms (deductive arguments) by using categorical or conditional propositions in their premises. When an assent is used in a logical argument, it is referenced as a “proposition” while in theology it is called a “ḥukm: judgment.” Deductive arguments are the most certain logical proofs that come at the top of the five arts in the art of argumentation[7] since the truth of the composition of the premises necessarily entails the truth of the conclusion. The soundness of the conclusion is ensured by the soundness of the premises.[8]


Premise 1: The world is contingent.

Premise 2: Every contingent must have an originator.

Conclusion: Therefore, the world has an originator.

Part II: Taxonomy of Judgements

To avoid this problematic confusion and assist in pinpointing the exact point of disagreement in discourse, Muslim scholars analyzed the thinking process and set a mind map that categorizes the types of judgments/assents that are used in our daily discussions and debates. They identified three domains/realms that each assent belongs to: rational, normative and empirical.[9] Identifying the domain for a specific assent clears the misconceptions, confusions and preconceived judgements that could lead to prolonged debates. It also helps dissect the multi-faceted arguments to decide if the frame of disagreement is the same or not.[10]

These 3 domains for judgments are: Empirical, and Normative, and Rational.

1- Empirical Judgement[11] is an assent based on observations as perceived by the senses. Most of science falls under this type of judgment, since the scientific method relies on recurrent experiments that are empirically perceived.

Example: “high body temperature is a symptom of fever”

2- Normative Judgement[12] is an assent based on an authority of a law which is, in the Islamic context, derived from the Divine Revelation concerning the acts of the moral agents.

Example: “Prayer is a pillar of Islam”

3- Rational Judgement is an assent based on the realities of things as such, independently of convention, recurrent observation or laws.

Example: 1+1= 2.

This classification is based on the identity of the prescriber of the judgment, which may be: the intellect, a conventional observation, or a source of law.[13] The identity of the prescriber is not to be confused with the means of comprehending a judgement. For example, the Quran as a source of Divine Law is what determines that “Prayer is obligatory” even though we comprehended that by the intellect.

This classification indicates the different degrees of certainty implied by each type of judgement. The rational judgment is the most certain, since all deductive and inductive arguments are built on it, while the certainty of the rest is arguably dependent on their supportive confirmation by the rational domain.

Further sub-classifications:

Each of the abovementioned judgments is further divided into two sub-categories: (1) the self-evident (that which is immediately known), and (2) the acquired (that which is inferentially known). For example, while the above rational statement “1+1=2” stands as a self-evident judgment, the rational statement “God exists” is an acquired judgment since it’s based on a series of deductive premises.

They are also sub-categorized based on whether the mind can or cannot conceive their existence or nonexistence: necessary (the mind cannot deny), impossible (the mind cannot affirm), and possible (the mind can neither affirm nor deny).[14] For example, the existence of God is necessary, while our existence is potentially possible.

Part III: Identifying Points of Disputes

The main merit of the 3-domain taxonomy is to understand the practice of identifying points of disputes. This practice is relevant to a variety of contemporary discourses and can help delineate what kind of claims are being made, which in turn, will allow us to better evaluate the evidence adduced to support those claims.

For example, in intrafaith discussions between Muslims, points of disagreement typically surround thoughts being adopted by the followers of the same faith about its belief system, teachings or practices and more importantly how to read its divine texts and deduce rulings from them. It also extends to interfaith dialogues between various faith systems, or even atheistic arguments against religion. Here, points of disagreement may deal with most of the misconceptions and stereotypes about Islam. Such identification efficiently sorts out the argument to be a thorough critique or an evident support for the thought. Once the identification of the categorization is clear, you move on to the standards, the principles and the rules of the judgments’ domain to prove or disprove the claim made within.

Examples of misplaced arguments:

1- “God doesn’t exist because science can’t prove His existence” or “God exists because the Quran says so”.

The statement “God exists” is a rational judgement. In other words, it requires a rational argument to demonstrate its veracity. Theists get themselves stuck by applying sensual or physical concepts (empirical judgments) to such arguments. Instead, to be convincingly conclusive, pure rational arguments depend on the use of rational judgments. Another incorrect method of proving God (rational argument) is through His books (normative judgments), since their authoritative authenticity are dependent on His existence.

Both examples are fallacious arguments. The first is based on a misplaced premise using empirical inference to disprove a rational argument, and the second entails the impossible circularity by making the evidence of the existence of God dependent on the derivative orders legislated in His own speech.

2- “Quran already proved black holes 1500 years ago”

The existence of black holes is postulated by certain empirical theories, i.e general relativity, which have been recently observed directly. Misreading Divine sources, the Quran or the Sunnah, by neglecting this categorization and mixing up their respective domains leads to misplaced arguments. Twisting a Quranic verse to make it imply certain scientific theories (empirical judgments) is a common problematic approach of the so called “scientific miracles in the Quran”. Quran is not a science book and the belief in God is not dependent on scientific theories or discoveries.

3- “Interest is Haram because it’s an inefficient economic system”

The impermissibility of usury is a normative judgment. Over-rationalizing some of the Divine rulings causes lots of confusion for Muslims. Understanding that the realm of Divine rulings stem from God’s unlimited legislative power and authority requires submission to His commands with or without grasping the wisdom behind some of them. The process of deriving God’s commands is completely independent of understanding the legal purposes behind them.

Not all discussions are limited to one category of judgments. Some issues require the intersection of more than one judgment. Identifying the fine lines is critical to come up with a sound understanding of the issue and a conclusive argument.

Ex: Marijuana is Haram because it is intoxicating.

In a thorough academic investigation of this syllogism, we need to first identify the domain of each premise of this judgement, even if it is not explicitly stated:

P1: Every intoxicating substance is Haram.

P2: Marijuana is intoxicating.

C: Marijuana is Haram.

P1 is based on a normative judgment derived from an authentic Prophetic Hadith than can be further discussed within the Shar’i Divine sciences according to their principles and standards. P2 is based on an empirical judgment derived from a chemical understanding of the components of marijuana. The conclusiveness and applicability of the entire syllogistic process are based on rational judgments that organize the mind’s thought processing.

In the art of analogical reasoning, the soundness of the conclusion is dependent on the soundness of the premises. Investigating all premises from the perspectives of their judgments’ domain is a critical step of a thorough understanding of the discussed conclusive argument based issue.


The introductory discussions and topics of traditional logic, theology and principles of jurisprudence are extremely important for the modern Muslim mind to connect the dots between his/her principles and reality. They thoroughly address a lot of the common controversies and answer the questions of the applicability of Islam as a belief system and a set of practices and teachings in all times. Having the ability and the capacity of conducting a fruitful logical based discussion is something we do lack today internally within our Muslim communities and externally approaching the “other” to express our thoughts and deliver our messages.


[1] Scholars off-branched from logic and theology a separate independent science on the art of debate and argumentation.  See Abdulhamid, Muhammad Muhyeddin. (1958). Rsalah ala’dab Fa A’db Albhth Walmnathrah (the art of debate and argumentation). Cairo, Egypt. Cairo Bookstore.
[2]  In Arabic logical terminology it’s called Tasawwur.
[3]  In Arabic logical terminology it’s called Tasdiq. It is technically defined as “ascribing one thing to another or negating it.”
[4] See Shirazi, Sayyid Sadiq. (2006). Summary of Logic. Translation and notes by Ali Abdulrashid. Madani E-Publicacions.
[5] Essential universals include: The genus, the species and the specific difference. Non-essential universals include: property and accident.
However, the art of definition was classically considered as one of the subtlest topics of logic and theology. Unfortunately, modern academia has reduced its significance by omitting it from the curricula of logic and merely referencing it in the educational context of studying the history of logic.
[6] See Al-Damanhuri, Ahmad B. Abdul Mon’im. (2010). Explanation on Al-Akhdari’s Ladder of Light. (al-Sullam al-Munawraq) didactic poem by on classical logic. Cairo, Egypt. Dar al-Basa’ir.
[7] The five Arts in logic, in order in terms of certainty and rational productive applicability, are: proof, dialectics, rhetoric, poetics and fallacious reasoning.
[8] See Al-Kati, Husam al-Din. (2015). Explanation on Al-Abhari, Athir Al-din’s “Isagoge” on classical logic. Beirut, Lebanon. Dar al-Dhkha’ir.
[9] See Fouda, Sai’d Abd Al-Latif. (2013). A Refined Explanation of the Sanusi Creed, the Foundational Proofs. Translated by Suraqah Abdul Aziz. Meppel, Netherland. Sunni Publications.
[10] In tradition, this is called Khilaf Haqiqi VS Khilaf Lafdhi.
[11] Traditionally known as ‘Aadi Judgment.
[12] Traditionally known as Shar’i Judgment.
[13] There are 3 sources of knowledge: Intellect, unimpaired senses and the truthful divine communication to human beings. See al-Taftazani, Sa’d al-Din. (1950). “A commentary on Najm alDin al-Nasafi’s Creed of Islam”. New York, US. Columbia University Press.
[14] See al-Dosuqi, Muhammad B. Arafa. (1939). A commentary on Al-Sanusi, Muhammad B. Yusuf’s explanation of “The Foundational Proofs” on Islamic Thelogy. Cairo, Egypt. Mustafa al-Halabi.


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