Fallacies (المغالطات)

Fallacies : Introduction

FALLACIES: INTRODUCTION

 

It is important to bear in mind that da`wa involves contacting people and therefore meeting them. This contact and meeting inevitably (and naturally) involves exchanges of views as well as discussions.

In the process of discussion(s), arguments will be presented and evaluated on the strength and degree of evidence. However, often in offering arguments, the da`wa carrier may be unaware of certain classes of arguments that are in fact invalid and hence will seem like valid arguments. More on this a little later.

The da`wa carrier will find that most people he encounters are very oblivious to the kinds of arguments they hold and offer simply because they fail to critically evaluate them. Thus, he may come across Muslims who argue that the re-establishment of the khilafah is near impossible and take a resigned attitude to the coming of the awaited Imam Mahdi with a little sprinkle of du`a’ thinking is all we Muslims can ever hope to do.

Now, it is evident that the da`wa carrier is swift to respond to such an argument thinking that: ‘I know the weakness here which is the danger of confusing actions with future reports so I’ll proceed to show how this type of argument is incorrect’. The incorrectness of the argument indeed lies in its premises and can be formulated as follows: 

  1. We have to wait for Imam Mahdi who will establish Islamic authority on the earth and lead Muslims to victory.
  2. We are unable to carry out this task and hence must wait for the divinely appointed event of when he descends.
  3. Therefore, re-establishment of the khilafah is not needed as we are must wait for Imam Mahdi.

Although it is hard to see how the premises and conclusion explicitly connect together, the weakness here are in the claims. The inability to carry out the task rests upon an assumption which is that: 

  1. The duty of re-establishing the khilafah is something we are not able to carry out.

Meaning therefore:

  1. Allah orders us to do an action we are unable to perform.

A and B above are clearly false as it is difficult to accept that Allah command us to do something we are actually unable to do. The command becomes nonsensical and therefore implies that Allah commands nonsensical things.

This type of argument is easy to identify and the da`wa carrier knows this. Why? Because he has rehearsed such arguments, learnt their evidences and mastered their counter-arguments. He is aware of a variety of internal discussions of theology, usul and fiqh equipping him/herself by rehearsing arguments, learning their evidences and mastering their counter-arguments anticipating any chance while in the da`wa to spot an incorrect argument and show the error in its reasoning. But it is not specifically this kind of argument that he must also be trained to detect. There are another class of arguments that he must be on alert against and these are known as fallacies.

In Arabic, fallacies are known as mughalata (pl. = mughalatat). This class of argument must be recognised not only because the da`wa carrier is required to know if his opponent seeks to trap him with it but that he himself does not commit the same mistake in reasoning.

What is a fallacy? “It is an error in reasoning.” It is a flaw in how a conclusion is drawn (derived) from its premises (a set of claims or statements that are either true or false). A conclusion – together with its premises – makes up an ‘argument’. There are different types of arguments and there are different types of fallacies. The one of especial importance is the class of informal fallacies. So, consider the following argument:

Da`wa carrier

“Look at all those girls at the bus stop hitting the town dressed up without any shame! Disgusting! Life for them is just fun and partying with no consequences. What do you expect? All kuffar girls don’t have any shame and all of them just believe in fun…”

 Let’s unpack this:

  1. Some non Muslim girls (= kafir, pl. kuffar) are dressed up without a sense of shame and appear to believe “life is just fun and partying”.
  2. Therefore, all non-Muslims girls do not have a sense of shame and appear to believe “life is just fun and partying”.

This argument is fallacious: It commits the fallacy of ‘hasty generalisation’. 

  • It reasons from an observation of a certain number of people identified in a group/category to making a generalisation to all members of that group/category.
  • It is like saying: “I’ve met two people inLondonso far, and they were both nice to me. So, all people I will meet inLondonwill be nice to me.”
  • (Anyone who’s lived in Londonknows this is not true!).
  • It is like saying: “I’ve met two Salafi brothers in my local area so far, and they were both confrontational with me. So, all Salafis I will meet in my local area will be confrontational with me.”
  • The examples can go on and on.
  • Some non-Muslims do have a sense of shame and do not believe life is all fun and partying; they are called monotheistic People of the Book (ahl al-kitab) whom Muslims are allowed to marry just like there are Londoners who are extremely unkind and unpleasant and Salafis that are wonderfully gentle! (yes, no oxymoron!)
  • Thus, by showing one instance of the conclusion being false undermines the entire argument.

Da`wa carrier:

“The western way of life built on freedom allows anyone to do what they want. Thus, someone goes out clubbing on this freedom and then this exposes them to take drugs which lead them to an addiction and then this addiction ruins their family and they end up on the streets hustling and stealing for money to feed the addiction and in the end they end up dead. Thus, the western way of life leads people to their destruction…”

 Let’s unpack this one. Basically, it states something like this: 

  1. Personal freedom allows one to do what they want.

This leads to…

  1. Someone going clubbing to have a good time.

This leads to…

  1. The person taking drugs.

This leads to…

  1. Drug-addiction.

This leads to…

  1. Life on the streets.

This leads to…

  1. A person’s destruction and doom.

This argument is fallacious: It commits the fallacy of ‘the slippery slope’. 

  • This argument claims that by doing one thing because of something else (i.e. some cause, C), it will give rise to a chain of effects (A, B, C, DZ) that will lead to a serious consequence.

The form of a slippery slope fallacy looks like this:

A leads to B.
B leads to C.
C leads to D.

Z leads to DESTRUCTION.
We don’t want to be destroyed do we?
Therefore, don’t take that first step A.

  • There is nothing to say how the initial cause ‘personal freedom’ necessarily leads a person to their death/doom/destruction although the concept itself is intellectually non-defensible.
  • Many secular non-Muslims people live lives based on freedom and have not been destroyed by their own hands.
  • Again, by showing a counter-example, the argument fails to stand so the argument has to be thought out a little better.

This is just two types of fallacies in over a hundred! Mastering all would be extremely difficult but one ought to at least be aware of the premises and claims of one’s arguments and to check them against any fallacies that may have crept in so as to avoid committing an incorrect reasoning.

In what follows are some major fallacies that I have encountered in the da`wa and have here reproduced them so that it may be of some help. And with Allah is our Help.

 

s.z.c.

London 2003

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