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Religion and Enlightenment

OurIndonesia – In 1784, Immanuel Kant wrote a short essay titled What is enlightenment? (Was ist Äufklarung?), which was an answer to the question raised by many intellectuals during that time.

According to Kant, enlightenment is man’s release from his immaturity. Immaturity is “the inability to use one’s reason” and the desire to always refer and accept another’s direction. Man is immature not because he does not want to think, but because he is in lack of resolve and courage to use his own reasoning without guidance from another.

The core of the age of renaissance in Europe –in which Kant was among its pioneers—is the idea to use one’s reason and to put aside another’s irrelevant understanding. As long as we depend on the understanding of others, we will never be mature, and therefore, we will not be enlightened.

The motto of enlightenment is Sapere Aude!, “Have courage to use your own reason!”. One who dares not to use his reasoning is not enlightened.

Enlightenment does not emphasize on “using one’s reason,” but on “having courage.” Do we have courage, for instance, to use our reasoning on religious matters? Do we have courage to use the product of our understanding in opposition to the understanding of others? For example in opposition to Sayyed Qutb, Hasan al-Banna, Yusuf Qardawi, Taqiyuddin Nabhani, Rashid Ridha, Muhammad bin Abd al-Wahab, Ibn Taymiyyah, al-Ghazali, Imam Syafii, al-Bukhari, the Prophet’s companions, and even the Prophet Muhammad himself.

Enlightenment requires adulthood and maturity. One who uses to consider another superior and more authoritative, will never be adult and mature. New things are discovered not by repeating the old opinion, but by creatively producing new opinion. Repeating the opinion of others will not lead him anywhere, except to the past he refers.

Religious reformation movement is the movement of enlightenment, just like the movement of aufklarung generated by Kant in Germany. Religious reformists are enlightened men who achieved their maturity.

“Courage” is like “freedom”. It is hard for anyone to perceive this concept, since he tends to take everything for granted. Something “wild” and “limitless” terrifies him. Therefore, it is better for him to accept present condition, however bad and dull it is.

The enlightened man uses to think ahead and find out better possibilities. Therefore, he has courage to use his own reasoning and leave the irrelevant ancient views.

As long as we use to repeat the opinion of others in the past and dare not to convey our reasoning, we will never be enlightened.


The Indonesian version of this article was published in IslamLib.