By Jamaal Al-Din M. Zarabozo
Is there any way to avoid being apologetic? Is there any need to do so?
Any attempt to “defend” Islam and “revisit” the da`wah narrative will probably be viewed as apologetics. Apologetics, originally, did not have a negative connotation to it. The word comes from the Greek word apologia which means, “speaking in defense.” Today, “apologetics” is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as, “Reasoned arguments or writings in justification of something, typically a theory or religious doctrine.”
There is no question that Christians seem to have developed a liking for apologetics, as they have a long history in this field, inclusive of their historical interactions with Muslims.
Thus, one can find works such as The Apologetics Study Bible and Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics.
Perhaps it is due to Christians defending untenable positions that “apologetics” has a negative connotation today.
The term “apologetic” is used often times in reference to the defense of unpopular positions. Even worse, it is sometimes seen as defense simply for the sake of defense, out of zealousness or patriotism, rather than a defense of a well-reasoned conclusion.
Judging by numerous YouTube videos, this author is of the view that many Callers to Islam do not recognize the difference between pure apologetics that may only resonate or make some followers happy and a true calling to the message of Islam based on well-established proofs and reasoning.
Although it is not a “scholarly source,” there was an online discussion that perhaps best highlighted the perils of “apologetics” and, by inference, da`wah as well.
In this discussion, an individual put forth the following question:
Denotatively, an apologist is “a person who offers an argument in defense of something controversial.” However, I’ve read “apologist” being used as something negative in forums, especially regarding religion. Why is being an apologist seen as something negative? How is one supposed to explain/defend their religion and/or other beliefs and avoid being labeled as one?
The response to the above inquiry was:
Apologias, as I understand, were effectively religious propaganda. Even if well-reasoned and well-written, the apologist starts from the conclusion and works backward to the argument. As such, calling someone an apologist is meant to imply that their reasoning isn’t really to be trusted, since even if you could disprove it, only the argument, not the conclusion would change.
As such, calling someone an apologist is a fancy sounding way to accuse them of not engaging in an honest dialogue…
This led to the follow-up question:
How can anyone support their beliefs without working backwards from a theory?
If an evolutionist was presented with a novel example to which they must explain said example from their perspective (evolution), they must consider the proposed question and work backwards to make their argument about said example parallel the theory of evolution.
The same must occur if someone believed in string theory vs. loop quantum gravity. You don’t see people change their beliefs (i.e. their conclusions) often if an argument is made, and it seems natural to change your argument if there is a hole it in. Even Popper said for a theory to be considered scientific, it must be falsifiable.
Justifying One’s Belief
Are all debaters considered apologists to their respective field they advocate? At what point is labeling someone an apologist considered legitimate versus an unwarranted ad hominem attack? Please, if there is error in my reasoning, tell me. I really just want to understand this. Thank you.
Finally, the responder replies:
I mean, as you note above, the technical definition is just a reasoned defense, usually related to religion. It’s not a word that has to have a negative connotation, sort of how the word “discriminating” can have a completely neutral meaning, or a completely negative meaning. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say that most people that spend time arguing for a side could be considered “apologists” if they take on the style of apologias.
When people use apologist negatively, they are implying not defense of a position, but the worst kind of “religious” argument: using any argument you can possibly think of, no matter how weak or attenuated, to justify your belief. Excusing, rather than arguing for.
Or, to put another way, you don’t believe your conclusion because of your argument. You believe your conclusion, and then you are presenting an argument that supports that conclusion. And, even if there were some flaw in that conclusion, you would still come up with something to either explain it away or justify it.
This is why it often comes up in religious debates. Because you don’t believe in God because of your theory of Theodicy, you’ve developed your theory of Theodicy to defend your belief in God. If your argument allows for the nature of your belief to change based on the argument and counter arguments (maybe God is more forgiving than you thought, or suffering somehow different), you’re far from the “negative” kind of apologia. If, on the other hand, your argument is just a pretext, a way to shield your existing faith from another’s critique without really engaging either the critique or the facts, than you’re closer to that meaning. The same could happen in a scientific context I imagine too…
The conclusion from this is that if a response or discussion on an issue by a Muslim is seen as simply a “defense” of his faith, whether it is reasonable or not, then that may actually harm the da`wah efforts.
These kinds of apologetics give the audience the impression that there is no sound response to the criticisms of the faith. Therefore, the caller to Islam should have a good understanding of certain general principles of how to respond to contemporary challenging issues.
The article is an excerpt from the Paper “Revisiting and Reviving the Dawah Narrative (Renewing the Da’wah Narrative in a Way that Safeguards the Fundamentals and Suits our Times and Places)” by Jamaal Al-Din M. Zarabozo.