Some Logical Fallacies Dealt With In the Qur'an
by: Mustansir Mir
widely held belief about the Qur'an is that it makes its basic appeal
to emotions and not to reason. Among the advocates of this view were the
Muslim philosophers of early centuries who used a theory of
intellectual classes to support it. According to this theory, people
have different levels of understanding: some are capable of grasping
truth in its theoretical, abstract form (these are the philosophers, the
most gifted intellectually), some are capable of rational thought but
only within a closed system of belief (theologians make up this
category), but most people have a humdrum intelligence that can
comprehend truth only in its gross, material from (these are the masses,
the great unwashed).
1. Argumentum Ad Baculum
The Latin word baculum means "stick." An argumentum ad baculum (or argumentum baculinam), therefore is one that appeals to the stick - or force. Force does not have to be used actually; the threat of its use would suffice to generate the fallacy. Several nations mentioned in the Qur'an responded to their Prophets by issuing threats to them. For example, in Surah Hud we find the people of Shu'aib saying:"They said: Shu'aib, we do not understand much of what you say. We see that you are weak. Had it not been for your tribe, we would have stoned you, for you are not too difficult for us to handle'." [11:92]
In Surah Shu'ara,
Pharaoh threatens Moses with imprisonment if the latter were to take
anyone other than him as a deity .Already (vs. 19) Pharaoh has given a
veiled threat to Moses by alluding to the manslaughter Moses committed
earlier: 'And you committed the act that you did commit'. Abraham is not
only threatened, he is actually thrown into a fire:
2. Argumentum Ad Hominem
The fallacy consists in an attempt to refute someone by making disparaging remarks about him rather than by responding to his argument. In other words, not the argument but the man (L. homo, "man") behind the argument is attacked. The nobles of the people of Noah rejected him and criticized his followers on the following grounds:
"We see that you are just a human being like us. We see that only those people have followed you who are quite obviously the lowliest among us. And we see that you are in no way superior to us. In fact, we suspect that you are liars." (11:27)
In other words: Noah's message must be rejected because his followers happen to be such - and - such people (see also 26:11).21:36 says that the Quraysh start making fun of Muhammad the moment they catch sight of him, and pay no attention to his message. For other examples of this fallacy, see 23:47 (Pharaoh and courtiers/Moses and Aaron), 26:27 (Pharaoh/Moses), and 26:153-154 (Thamud/Prophet Salih), 26:185 (Madyanites/Shu'aib), and 43:52 (Pharaoh/Moses).
3. Argumentum Ad Populum
In this fallacy one makes an appeal to the crowd, trying to play on their feelings. In the following verse, Pharaoh, unable to deny the miracles shown by Moses in his court, turns to his courtiers and tries to provoke them by suggesting that Moses intends to occupy their land and banish them from it:
"He said to the courtiers around him: `This one here is a sophisticated magician. He intends to expel you from your land by means of his magic'..." (26:34-35)
Another example, again involving Pharaoh and his noblemen on the one hand and Moses and Aaron on the other, is found in 20:63-64, where the common Egyptians are told that Moses and Aaron are magicians who intend to expel them from Egypt and, at the same time, destroy their superior culture, and that they, the Egyptians must do their best to counter their magic.
4. Argumentum Ad Verecundiam
This is an appeal to one's sense of modesty, so that the addressee would find it hard to make a response without being indecorous or indirect. In Surah Shu'ara, Pharaoh, faced with Moses demand to allow the Israelites to leaveEgypt, says: 'Did we not bring you up when you were a child? And did you not stay with us for many years of your life?' (26:18).
Pharaoh thus tries to force Moses into a situation from which the latter would find it hard to escape without offending against such values as gratitude and reverence.Appeal to distinguished names is also subsumed under the argumentum ad verecundiam. Several nations, when reproached by their Prophets for idolatry, justified their conduct by appealing to prestigious names in their past history. Here, for example is the dialogue between Abraham and his people: "When he said to his father and his people: `What are these images you are so attached to?' They said, 'We have found our forefathers worshipping them'."(21:52-53)
5. Petitio Principii
In Surah Zukhruf, there is an example of the fallacy of "begging the question". Upon the mention of Jesus in the Qur'an, the leaders of the Quraish tried to mislead their people by saying, first that the Qur'an speaks of Jesus as a deity, and second, that the Qur'an holds Jesus-as-deity to be superior to their own deities, the angels. Having made this statement, they asked their people as to who was better - the angels, whom they worshipped or Jesus? Now the conclusion drawn by the Quraish, namely, that the Qur'an considered Jesus-as-deity superior to angels-as-deities was as baseless as the premise on which this statement was based, namely, that the Qur'an spoke of Jesus as a deity. Here are the two relevant verses of the Surah: "And no sooner is the son of Mary is cited as an example than your people start raising a hue and cry about him. They say: 'Are our deities better or he?' They say this to you only for polemics sake. The fact is that they are a contentious lot." (43:57-58)
The Qur'an comments by saying (vss. 59 ff.) that the Quraish leaders know quite well that Jesus is not presented in the Qur'an as a deity but as a human being who was sent to the Israelites as a Prophet.
6. Ignoratio Elenchi
This is the fallacy of irrelevant conclusion. If a person is asked to prove or disprove something and he proves or disproves something that is not at issue, he would be committing this fallacy. The following verse alludes to this fallacy:"The case of Jesus in the eyes of God is like that of Adam: He created him from earth and then said to him, 'Be!' and he comes into existence."(3:59)
Christians regard Jesus as the son of God because, they argue, he was born without a father. To the Qur'an, however, the conclusion is not warranted, for otherwise Adam, who was born without any parent at all, would have a greater claim to deity.
 In Surah Yusuf, where Potiphar's wife threatens Joseph with dire punishment if he were to refuse to comply with here wishes. 'And if he does not do what I would have him do, he shall be imprisoned, and he shall suffer humiliation.' (12:32)
 If you wish to do something: The Arabic, inkuntum faa'eelina, is highly suggestive. It connotes emergency: Things are coming to a head, and it may be too late if you miss this opportunity to put a stop to Abraham's activity; so, if you are at all minded to do something, this is the time to act. It also is a plea for concerted action, for there is a hint that Abraham's opponents were divided as to the kind of action to be taken against him Cf. inkuntum faa'eelina, with similar connotations, in the story of Joseph (12:10).
 Although grammaticallyWa-labithta min 'umurika sineena is not a negative sentence, it is negative in respect of the overall structure of Pharaoh's statement, the first part of which is,A-lam nurabbika walidan. Two of the many examples of this construction in the Qur'an are 93:6-8 and 94:1-4.
 This interpretation of the verses has been borrowed from Amin Ahsan Islihi, Tadabbur-i-Qur'an (8 vols.;Lahore, 1967-80), 6:239-242.
 And he comes into existence: One expects to have "and he came into existence" (i.e.,fa-kana instead offa-yakunu). The change from themadi (past) to themudari (present and future) indicates that the rule holds good for the present and the future as for past, that the creation of Adam was not the only occasion in the past when the command "Be" resulted in the creation of a human being, but that the creation of any other human being, or of anything for that matter, occurs in the same manner.