Should Muslims Be Critical Thinkers? |

Should Muslims Be Critical Thinkers?

Many adults who were raised by Muslim parents were taught not to question authority. Inquiries like “Why do I have to clean my room?” were most likely met with inflexible responses like, “Because I said so.” 

Many of us quickly learned it was unwise to demand a better explanation. Unquestioning obedience might seem like an Islamic principle due to the faith’s emphasis on honoring parents and following Divine command, but is it really? Can Muslims simultaneously be sincere believers and critical thinkers?  

First, let us define what is meant by “critical thinking.” According to one comprehensive definition, “Critical thinking might be described as the ability to engage in reflective and independent thinking. In essence, critical thinking requires you to use your ability to reason. It is about being an active learner rather than a passive recipient of information. Critical thinkers rigorously question ideas and assumptions rather than accepting them at face value. They will always seek to determine whether the ideas, arguments and findings represent the entire picture and are open to finding that they do not. Critical thinkers will identify, analyze and solve problems systematically rather than by intuition or instinct.” 1  

Rigorously questioning ideas and assumptions is the opposite of blind obedience. But does Islam require believers to obey blindly? May we question our parents’ commands? What about our Creator’s? 

Regarding our parents, Shaykh Dr. Yasir Qadhi writes:

“Obedience to parents is not always obligatory. It is common to hear preachers talk about “obedience” as a part of Islamic teachings. However, it is important to note that the primary term the Quran uses is not “ṭā'ah” (obeying) but rather “birr” (being kind to one's parents). In fact, kindness to one's parents is NOT the same as obedience. One must always try one's best to be kind at all times, but one is not obliged to obey each and every command, especially if that command involves the rights of others or is of no direct relevance to the parent.” 2

In other words, we are allowed to think critically about our parents’ requests. If they infringe on others’ rights or have nothing to do with our parents’ wellbeing, we may kindly deny them.

What about our religion and our Creator? May we even think critically about them? Let us remember that critical thinking does not mean criticizing. It means questioning, evaluating, seeking proof, and reflecting deeply. This mindset is, in fact, encouraged by God,who urges us to use our intellect to ponder His creation: 

“Thus does Allah make clear to you His verses that you might use reason.” 

(Quran 2:242) 

“Man should reflect on what he was created from.” 

(Quran 86:5)

Only when we are convinced that Allah is our Creator, Islam is our religion, and Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, is our Prophet, can we obey and worship fully. Our hearts will not be in true submission until our brains have been satisfied. For this reason, each Muslim must seek to understand the deen, clarify his/her own misconceptions, and find answers to any questions that are prohibiting full compliance to Allah’s will. 

In an article that Tom Bassanoof, Ph.D. wrote for IslamiCity: “Critically thinking means suspending previous predetermined evaluation along with anger . . . Your critical thinking capabilities would make you a more efficient and creative Muslim person.” 3

That said, here are four reasons to encourage critical thinking in our children:

1. We want our kids to be able to question, analyze, and respectfully debate what they’re learning in school. 

If something their teacher says contradicts Islam, or stereotypes Mulsims, or even, more generally, is incorrect information, we want our children to be able to identify it, speak up respectfully, and not accept everything they are taught as pure fact. 

2. Our children should be able to assess their peers’ statements and separate fact from fiction. 

Gullible people–which includes many kids of an impressionable age– tend to believe whatever their friends tell them.  If we can instill critical thinking skills early on, our children will be more likely to think clearly and independently. 

3. Today’s youth need to be able to analyze what they see on TV and social media. 

Kids are inundated with information all day long. Parents won’t always know what their children are being exposed to, so arming them with critical thinking skills will help them carefully evaluate what they see and hear. 

4. If they have not questioned the faith of their upbringing and claimed it enthusiastically, is it really theirs? 

It is one thing to be raised in a Muslim family, swallowing whatever is spoon-fed to you. It is another to ask yourself what you believe, why you believe it, and whether you intend to practice it willingly as an adult. Without critical thinking skills, how will young adults be able to grapple with the big philosophical questions, look to Islam for answers, and then embrace it wholeheartedly for themselves?  

As Muslims, we have been given the perfect faith, designed by Allah. We have nothing to fear from critical thinking because logic and reason are compatible with Islam. A sincere questioning person will find satisfying answers in the Quran, Sunnah, and scholarly explanations. Should we obey Allah wholeheartedly and completely? Of course. But should we obey blindly? No. We should obey with our eyes wide open to why we are doing it. Critical thinking will enable our minds and hearts to be equally at ease as we submit to our Creator. 

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Laura El Alam is a freelance writer and editor and a first-generation American Muslim. She is the author of over 100 published articles and has written a children’s book, Made From the Same Dough, due to be released in 2023, inshaAllah. A wife and mother of five, Laura lives with her family in Massachusetts. You can visit her online at

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