John Locke · Social Theorists

Was John Locke a Muslim?

Reading John Locke, while you are a Muslim, makes you wonder whether he was a Muslim or not. His theories especially those of human understanding and humans as individuals resemble so much to Islamic doctrines that one cannot stop comparing the two (although incongruous in some parts). His emphasis on humans as individual beings who are born equal and free, reminds one of Shiite’s first Imam, Imam Ali’s famous statement that said: “You are born free, so do not be a slave to anyone!”
Locke’s theories of human reason are also interesting to compare. Locke starts his “An Essay Concerning Human Understanding” by: “it is the understanding that sets man above the rest of sensible beings and gives him all the advantage and dominion which he has over them.” Similarly in Islam, reason and intellect have been declared as the distinction between humans and animals , and the reason for the superiority of humans to the rest of God’s Creation. In Imam Sadeq’s (Shiite’s 7th Imam) Mofazzal’s Monotheism, it has been clearly stated that the reason apes and humans are so much alike in behavior and capabilities (even apes being superior in physical attributes, since their long body hair enables them to warm themselves even without the need to make and wear clothes) is God’s intention to remind humans, that they are merely different due to their reasoning power and intellect.  

Locke’s theory of innate knowledge and tabula rasa also resembles Islamic thought. Locke contradicts the claim and suggests that there is no such thing as human beings being born with an innate knowledge or universal consents: “It seems to me nearly a contradiction to say that there are truths imprinted on the soul that it does not perceive or understand – because if imprinting seems anything it means making something be perceived.” He further distinguishes between his rejection of innate knowledge and his acceptance of natural knowledge or “Law of Nature”, “between something imprinted on our minds in their very original, and something that we may attain to the knowledge of, by the application of our natural faculties” like the qualities of eating, walking, breathing, that a baby is born with. In Islam it is also said that humans are born with their souls pure and untainted like a white slate; and that every sin, whether minor or major is like a black spot on this white slate; therefore, they should be careful not to taint it, but to inscribe on it words of wisdom. Imam Sajjad, shiite’s fourth Imam, in the beginning section of his Human Rights Treatise emphasizes this by recounting the rights of each one of the body parts, and that humans are responsible for what they let into their minds and bodies through their senses and natural intakes; therefore, should be cautious not to make their senses the gateway of the inappropriate and redundant. 

All these make reading John Locke fascinating especially when one is a Muslim, because truth and logic speak to the heart. This unanimous interpretation of the same concept makes one believe that those doctrines that are based on reason and are unbiasedly developed are unique, regardless of one’s religion or ethnicity.

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