The term critical thinking has been used recently by numerous religious scholars, business executives, policymakers, civic leaders and educators. It has been viewed as a fundamental characteristic of an educated person and as an employability skill required for many jobs.
Its growing usage is an indication of just how important it is to start learning about critical thinking in the context of self-discovery and its relevance to our creativity triad at Qawareer.
Critical thinking started 2000 years ago with Socrates. It was researched and thought of as an approach to learning, instead of an approach to teaching information and content.
Later, John Dewey, the “father” of modern critical thinking, referred to it as reflective thinking and defined it as “active, persistent, and careful consideration of a belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the grounds which support it , and the further conclusions to which it tends” (Dewey 1909, p.9).
In other words, critical thinking is considered an “active” learning process. This process does not allow one to jump to conclusions; instead, it “persistently” requires one to think things through for oneself, to raise questions and to find information.
This process is in complete contrast to a “passive” learning process in which one just sits and receives the information from an educator and believes it. Today, we tend to use the word reason instead of grounds, meaning that we arrive at an “understanding and belief,” or what Dewey refers to as “conclusions,” through a set of reasons.
A group of famous thinkers and intellectuals, including Robert Ennis, Edward Glaser and Michael Scriven, have also defined critical thinking. All definitions essentially evolved from Dewey’s earlier definition. Michael Scriven’s definition of critical thinking is of particular interest because it can be applied to the thinking process of any aspect of life: “a skilled and active interpretation and evaluation of observations, communications, information, and argumentation” (Scriven 1997, p.21).
On the whole, critical thinking improves the quality of public debate and decision making.Itliberates and empowers individuals by freeing them from the unexaminedassumptions, biases, dogmas and prejudices of their upbringing, their society and their age.
Critical Thinking Skills
Skills involved in critical thinking are developed over time—through effort, practice and experience. They include the following:
- interpretation: to comprehend and express
- analysis: to identify the relationship between causes and results
- evaluation: to assess the credibility of statements
- inference: to identify and secure elements needed to draw reasonable conclusions
- explanation: to state and to justify
- self-regulation: to monitor one’s process of thinking
Alternatively, an ideal critical thinker is habitually inquisitive, well-informed, trustful of reason, open-minded, flexible, fair-minded in evaluation, honest in facing personal biases, prudent in making judgements, willing to reconsider, clear about issues, orderly in complex matters, diligent in seeking relevant information, reasonable in the selection of criteria, focused in inquiry, and persistent in seeking results which are as precise as the subject and the circumstances of inquiry permit. (Facione 1990, p.22)
Critical Thinking Barriers
- blind party loyalty
- apathy (lack of interest)
- lack of relevant background information
- poor reading skills
- poor listening skills
- superstition (myth)
- egocentrism (self-centered thinking)
- sociocentrism (group bias)
- peer pressure
- distrust of reason
- unwarranted assumptions and stereotypes
- wishful thinking
- short-term thinking
- selective perception/attention
- selective memory
- overpowering emotions
- face saving
- fear of change
- use of models, symbols, diagrams and pictures
- use of abstraction to simplify the effort of thinking
- limitation of attention to aid concentration and focus on a concept
- use of peace and quiet to aid concentration
- goal setting and goal revision (simply letting the concept percolate in the subconscious and waiting for the concept to resurface)
- communication with like-minded people; communication with others, if this is allowed
- working-backward approach
- desire for learning
Islamic Perceptive on Critical Thinking
Many people think that Islam stands against critical thinking. Well, that is simply not the case. Islam allows critical thinking in different ways.
Nearly one-eighth of the Holy Quran urges readers to study nature, history, the Quran itself and humanity at large. The text employs a range of expressions in its appeal to those who listen (yasma’un), those who think (yatafakkarun), those who reflect (yatadabbarun), those who observe (yanzurun), those who exercise their intellect (ya’qilun), those who take heed and remember (yatadhakkarun), those who ask questions (yas’alun), those who develop an insight (yafqqahun) and those who know (ya’lamun).
“Afala yatadabbarun al-Quran” (do they not do tadabbur in the Quran)? “Do they not then earnestly seek to understand the Qur-an?” (Mohammad 24). It has established the tradition of tadabbur, which in Arabic means the following: concentrated and goal-oriented thinking provoked by the challenge to find something new or to solve a difficult problem.
In Islam, thinking is considered an act of worship.
Its significance is evident in the words of Abu Darda, who declared that “Thinking for an hour is superior to a whole night of prayer." Ibn Qayyim added that "Thinking is the act of the heart whereas worship is the act of one's limbs, and the former is superior to the latter."
Ijtihad, the process of making a legal decision by independent interpretation of the Quran and the Sunnah, is further evidence of Islam’s encouragement of critical thinking.
In Islamic jurisprudence (figh), there are four major schools of thought (i.e., Hanafi, Shaf'ee, Maliki and Hanbli).
The existence of these differing schools of thought clearly demonstrates that ijtihad is supported and practised. Throughout history, scholars have contradicted each other and have expressed different opinions about the same issue. Opposing views based on evidence have always been welcomed in Islam. Thus, history has shown that Islam has never discouraged independent thinking and criticism.
In addition, Islam has fully encouraged Muslims to study science. However, scientific theories in Islam are considered just that—theories. Scientific theories (e.g., the earth’s shape, the theory of evolution and the theory of gravitation) are not absolute; they are subject to change and may be contradicted as a result of further experimentation and research. By contrast, belief in God is absolute.
According to Islam, the following hinder the proper functioning of intellect or thinking:
· the pursuit of caprice (hawa), which may consist of love, hatred, pomposity and prejudice
· the pursuit of conjecture (al-zann) in the face of certitude (al-haqq)
· blind imitation and following of others (taqlid)
· oppressive dictatorship
Throughout history, Islam has promoted a medial approach in all aspects of human life, including the way in which humans think or believe. Islam’s medial approach means it holds the middle ground between two extremes—the liberal tradition of the West, which advocates freethinking that is not limited by goals and values, and the insular tradition of the East, which imposes cultural and legal restrictions on thinking.
Thinking, knowledge, and education in Islam help cultivate the mind, soul and body with proper ethical, moral, spiritual and intellectual values, thus enabling Muslims to create their path in life, which is God’s precious gift.
· Critical Thinking: What it is and Why it Counts. Peter A. Facione http://www.insightassessment.com/pdf_files/what&why2006.pdf
· Barriers to critical thinking http://profmulder.home.att.net/introbenefits.htm