For more on this topic, see The Straight Path - Finding Guidance in an Age of Confusion


This essay has been summarized based on an intensive course delivered by Dr. Hatem Al-Haj entitled Islamic apologetics in December 2019 and presented in essay format by Dr. Nazir Khan with additions and final essay verified, edited, and approved by Dr. Hatem al-Haj.

Introduction 

The principles governing Islamic apologetics constitute a field of knowledge that is in need of greater attention from Muslim scholars. Indeed, the term itself is unfamiliar to most Muslims. Typically, Muslims dealing with allegations against Islamic doctrines or practices speak of “Radd al-shubuhāt,” or refutation of misconceptions. However, apologetics is not limited to the refutation of misconceptions. It involves establishing a science that is much broader than that; it includes also the rational explication and defense of doctrines and practices.
There is a general principle mentioned by Muslim scholars that states that there is flexibility in using different terminology so long as the meaning and understanding being conveyed are correct.[1] Should we use the term apologetics? First, we must clarify that apologetics is not about apologizing. Islam does not need any apology on its behalf. Rather, apologetics refers to intellectual defense—it is a systematic discourse in defense of doctrine. The word comes from the Greek term Apologia, used by Plato for his account of the speech Socrates made at his trial. The closest word in our tradition is the term kalām,[2] which has been used to refer to the rational defense of religious doctrines. So the notion exists in our tradition; however, its use was largely limited to the defense of creedal doctrines, not laws and practices.
Borrowing terminology and developing new terms is a natural consequence of the interface between Islam and other languages, like English, in recent centuries that have not been part of its historical heritage like Arabic and Persian. As Islamic thought encounters languages that were previously not part of its history, it leads to choices over the best terms to convey concepts and meanings. There are certainly potential downsides to using the term apologetics. For one, it has long been associated with Christian apologetics. The goals and objectives of a rational defense of Islamic orthodoxy will differ considerably even though there may be some areas of overlap in responding to secularism and atheism. Christian apologetics may be seen as having gone too far in reconciling Christianity with prevalent thought and norms throughout the ages. However, Islamic apologetics need not follow the same path. In fact, Islam has intrinsic qualities that make it largely immune to that.
The other potential downside to using the term apologetics is that people may get stuck on the misinterpretation of apologetics entailing “apologizing” for the faith and that will make them apprehensive of the discourse. Consequently, some may elect not to use the term apologetics altogether because of these perceived negative connotations and legitimate considerations, which is entirely their prerogative. If one is not comfortable with the term, they do not need to use it.
My choice to use the term is on account of a number of important reasons. First, it is a recognized term so it spares the speaker having to restate a lengthy definition every time they refer to this discipline. Second, using a formal term Islamic apologetics that designates a field of study leads one to recognize the complexity of the topic, the academic nature of the science, and the need for one to approach the subject with humility. 

Importance of apologetics

Concerns and pitfalls

Limitations of apologetics

A general scheme for apologetics

Guidelines for the apologist

Latitude in apologetics

Methods in conversations

Build certainty

Conclusion

Notes