If you were directed to this article, it may be because someone thinks you need to learn about fallacies. If you found this article on your own, then it may be because you are interested in the topic yourself. Whatever the case may be, it is always good to learn more about logical fallacies. What you will read in this article is what I consider to be the top 10 logical fallacies for Muslims. That is to say, these represent the most common fallacies that I have found throughout my interactions within the Muslim community.
[Disclaimers: (1) This is by no means an exhaustive list of fallacies. This list may not even represent the most relevant or common fallacies. This is simply meant to be my top 10 list of fallacies that I personally believe are most relevant to Muslims. Again, this is based on my experiences interacting with various Muslim communities and engaging in the field of da’wah. (2) This should not be construed as a list of fallacies inherent to the religion of Islam. Muslims may very well use Islam (referencing Islamic texts and principles) to commit all kinds of fallacies. However, needless to say, these are not a reflection of the Islamic faith. (3) Depending on which textbook you reference, you may find groups of fallacies divided into various categories. You may even find that some definitions vary slightly. Nevertheless, I have decided not to focus on classifying the different types of fallacies. Instead, I have decided to lump all fallacies together and present them simply as logical fallacies. (4) Please do not be offended by what you read in this article. This is not meant to be an attack on Muslims. Rather it is meant to be a self critical analysis, sprinkled with a little banter. Furthermore, highlighting some of the fallacies committed by Muslims is not anything extraordinary. All human beings commit fallacies. By the end of this, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that I myself have committed several fallacies throughout this article.]
For those who may not be familiar with logical fallacies, it may be essential to go over a few key things, as well as the overall importance of fallacies. First, in this article, you will notice the term ‘argument’ used frequently. The term argument may be used in everyday speech to mean disagreement, hostile debate, senseless bickering, or even repetitive contradiction. None of these necessarily have anything to do with arguments in the formal sense. The term argument can be defined as a connected series of statements intended to establish a definitive proposition1. Or more simply put, an argument is a claim that is backed by reasons. Whether we know it or not, we engage in arguments all the time. If you have ever tried selling yourself in an interview, presenting a proposal for a project or an event, defending yourself against a false accusation, justifying a decision you have made, or anything of that sort, then you have most likely engaged in an argument.
Arguments are the basic unit of reasoning. They express our reasoning about things that we know and experience and help us to build on our knowledge. There’s an important distinction made between good reasoning and bad reasoning, which we would refer the latter to as fallacious reasoning. A fallacy is simply an error in reasoning. When someone engages in fallacious reasoning they are using erroneous thinking to infer something. If they use fallacious reasoning to construct an argument, it becomes a fallacious argument. Some fallacies are so common that they have their own names for them. In this article, I will only be going over 10, although there are plenty more.
Lastly, why is all of this important? Well, learning about fallacies is important because it helps us to reason well. And naturally, as rational beings we want to be able to reason well. Reasoning is our means of arriving at correct information. It leads us to arrive at certain beliefs, which ultimately influences our decisions. If we engage in fallacious reasoning, then it could have serious effects on our beliefs, as well as our decisions. Additionally, learning about fallacies can help us avoid them and identify them when others use them.
A simple example of how fallacies can affect our decisions can be found in choosing a spouse. Imagine if one of your friends tells you that she has just found the love of her life. When you ask her why she believes that person is the right one, she responds with, “He is the one because he told me that he is the one. And I trust him because he is the one.” Most people would be able to recognize this line of reasoning as being fallacious2. The reason we want to avoid this type of thinking is because it may lead us to infer false beliefs (i.e. this person is the one) or make regrettable decisions (i.e. marrying the person).
It’s worth mentioning, however, that you could commit a fallacy and still turn out to be right3. Going back to the example with your friend. It may be the case that she is right, in that, the person that she is hoping to marry truly is the right one for her. However, this does not take away from the fact that she used fallacious reasoning to arrive at her conclusion. The reason we do not want to commit such fallacies is because it ultimately compromises our means of arriving at correct information. Sure, we may get lucky once or twice, in the same way we would if we decided to drive cross-country, without a map, to get to our destination in time. But in the long run, such an approach wouldn’t be nearly as effective and would cause us to make many mistakes in life.
1. Straw Man Fallacy
A straw man fallacy is simply misrepresenting someone else’s argument. This could either be done intentionally or unintentionally. The reason I decided to start with this fallacy is because I think this may be one of the most commonly committed fallacies. I also think this is one of the most important fallacies that we should avoid.
Person A: We as a community need to work together to address some of these (Islamic) texts since they are problematic.
Person B: Problematic? There is nothing problematic about belief in Islam!
This is a good example of a straw man. In the example, Person B may be right but that is not the argument. Person A is arguing that such texts are problematic and not that belief in Islam is problematic. If anything, Person A may completely agree with Person B.
Person A: I’m sorry, I do not accept these hadiths. They are completely fabricated.
Person B: So you would rather disobey Prophet Muhammad? Who are you to reject the Prophet of Islam?
Again, Person B misrepresented Person A’s position. Person A is not rejecting Prophet Muhammad, nor is he attempting to disobey him. Person A simply does not believe the following aḥādīth are attributed to him.
If I were to guess, I would think this to be one of the most commonly committed fallacies. The reason may be because it can become quite easy to misunderstand each other. Trying to understand someone’s point takes some work and requires comprehension skills. If you add that to being in the heat of the discussion, it can become almost impossible to listen to anything your opponent has to say. Furthermore, even if you manage to come across someone who can listen, you still have to face the challenge of articulating yourself in a way that sufficiently conveys your point. These are some of the reasons that naturally cause you to be misunderstood, as well as misunderstand others.
The name “straw man” comes from the idea of substituting a person’s original argument with a weaker version (i.e. a “straw man”) which makes it easier to attack. One of the best ways to avoid this fallacy is to try and “steel man” the argument of your opponent. According to philosopher Daniel Dennett, one of the first rules for engaging in critical discourse is to “attempt to re-express your target’s position so clearly, vividly, and fairly that your target says, “Thanks, I wish I’d thought of putting it that way.4“” Presenting your opponents arguments back to them, before responding to it, helps to ensure that you are responding to the best form of the argument.
An ad hominem fallacy is an argument that attacks a person instead of attacking their argument. It ultimately dismisses an argument on the basis of the one who is presenting it. This is a very common fallacy, as well, and is committed often in the media. Keep in mind there are several types of ad hominems (abusive, circumstantial, tu quoque, etc).
Person A: There is really strong evidence to support the theory of evolution.
Person B: Yeah right! You’re just saying that because you’re an atheist.
Person A’s claim is that there is really strong evidence to support the theory of evolution. His worldview or bias does nothing to undermine the truth of his claim. Perhaps an easier way to think about it would be to think if Person A asserted that “2+2=4.” Pointing to the fact that Person A likes the number 4, or has an affinity for even numbers, does nothing to undermine the veracity of his claim. If you were to claim there to be really strong evidence to support the truth of Islam, the fact that you are a Muslim would have no bearing on the claim.
Person A: Islam is not a religion of peace. It’s a religion of violence. There are many verses in the Quran that point to violence.
Person B: You want to talk about violence? What about Christianity? Christianity is one of the most violent religions the world has ever seen.
This is a specific type of ad hominem where you undermine or dismiss someone’s argument because they are not acting consistently with their own argument. In a discussion, there’s nothing necessarily wrong with pointing out someone’s hypocrisy. However, at some point, if we really want to refute their argument, we should address the actual argument itself. In the example given, pointing to the violence of Christianity seems to affirm that Islam truly is violent and seeks to bring Christianity down to its level.
This fallacy is so common that there are too many good examples to count. Imagine if you were trying to share some information with someone and they respond with the following: “Who are you to tell me what’s haraam? You’re the biggest sinner I’ve met.” “Who are you to tell me smoking is harmful? You smoke 3 packs a day.” “Who are you to tell me what the Qurʾān says? You can’t even speak Arabic.” “Who are you to tell me about Islamic law? You’re a Salafi.” “Who are you to tell me what Islam is? You are a liberal Muslim (or a non-Muslim).” “Who are you to tell me what’s the right thing to do? You’re an atheist.” If you have been a victim of either of these attacks or perhaps similar ones, then you have been a victim of an ad hominem attack.
This may be one of the most destructive fallacies, as it could hinder us from broadening our knowledge. If we are not willing to accept, or even consider, information from people whose overall views do not align with ours, it’s going to be very difficult for us to grow intellectually. Instead we should aspire to be truth-seekers and be willing to accept the truth regardless of who or where it comes from. This point is supported by the story of Abu Hurairah, who was given beneficial information by Shaiṭān (i.e. Satan). When Prophet Muhammad was informed of this, he responded with the following, “Indeed, he (Shaiṭān) has told you the truth though he is a liar.5”
One last thing to consider regarding fallacy is whether it applies to ʿilm al-rijāl. ʿIlm al-rijāl, which can be understood as “science of narrators,” is a discipline found within the sciences of Ḥadīth. It is devoted to establishing the credibility of narrators in order to determine the authenticity of a ḥadīth. One question which may arise is, if it is fallacious to dismiss someone’s claims because of their character, then isn’t ʿilm al-rijāl fallacious since it seeks to evaluate people before accepting their claims? Well, not quite.
ʿIlm al-rijāl would not count as being an ad hominem simply because you are not dismissing someone’s argument on the basis of their character. Rather you are not accepting their testimony. This becomes entirely reasonable when trying to recreate or determine what happened. A person’s testimony relies considerably on who that person is. This is why in court, witnesses are assessed based on their credibility. Some are considered credible witnesses whereas others are considered less credible. And some witnesses have no credibility whatsoever. This does not mean that such witnesses are unable to assert true claims or give a true account of what happened. Rather we just have very little to no reason to accept their claims and if anything may have reasons to be skeptical.
3. Appeal to Majority
An appeal to majority fallacy claims something to be true based on the fact that many people or the majority of people accept it. This fallacy is so problematic that it’s even repudiated by the Qurʾān. The Qurʾān states, “If you obeyed most of those on earth, they would lead you away from the path of God. They follow nothing but speculation; they are merely guessing.6”
Person A: How can you be sure that Islam is true?
Person B: Of course, Islam is true! Islam is the fastest growing religion.
Of course, we may believe Islam is true. But this cannot be substantiated by the fact that many people are converting. Even if it were the case that everyone in the world was Muslim, that would not make Islam true. The best way to think about this is to think about the fact that Christianity is currently the world’s largest religion. Does that make it true?
Person A: I’m not sure if we are religiously allowed to celebrate The Prophet’sbirthday.
Person B: Sure, we are allowed to celebrate it. Everyone else celebrates it.
This is another great example. My point in using this example is not meant to stir up controversy over the permissibility of celebrating the Prophet’s birthday. Regardless of our view on the matter, we cannot use the fact that everyone is doing something, to justify that act of doing it.
Consider the following example found in The Qurʾān; “When it is said to them, ‘Follow the message that God has sent down,’ they answer, ‘We follow the ways of our fathers.’ What! Even though their fathers understood nothing and were not guided?7” Sometimes this verse is used to argue against following the majority. However, the explicit verse itself seems to be pointing to another logical fallacy, which is very similar, known as appealing to tradition. Depending on your classification, this fallacy can be considered a particular type of appeal to majority.
Something that has come up throughout my discussions on this topic, is the question of ijmā. Ijmāʿ is a principle in Islamic law, which is essentially the agreement of the entire Muslim community or Muslim scholars. It’s a source of Islamic law, and so for many, it can be seen as something that is binding on us. Does the idea of ijmāʿ constitute an appeal to the majority? I cannot speak to that for several reasons. Firstly, there is some disagreement as to what constitutes ijmāʿ. Second, such a discussion would involve getting into the intricacies of ijmāʿ, which itself lies beyond the scope of this article.
Nevertheless, in this context, we can understand the idea of ijmāʿ as being something similar to a scientific consensus. Appealing to a scientific or scholarly consensus is not a fallacy, if you are simply appealing to the likelihood that something is the case, based on the fact that it is supported by many scholars and experts in the field, who themselves are assumed to have various reasons and evidence. You can use a scholarly consensus to draw attention to the fact that such a claim deserves serious consideration. However, even with a scientific consensus you cannot claim something to be true solely based on the fact that it is agreed upon by a majority or even all scientists in the world.
4. Appeal to Authority
An appeal to authority fallacy claims something to be true based on the statement or approval of an expert or some authority. This is the next best fallacy to get into because it builds from our earlier discussion. This is another problematic fallacy that even scholars have been recently cautioning against. Unfortunately, it’s a common fallacy and one which has had detrimental effects on our community.
Person A: How do you know investing in Bitcoin is a good financial decision?
Person B: Because Mufti G told me so. And he’s a mufti, so it must be true.
Mufti G may be a great religious scholar. And investing in Bitcoin may even be a good decision. However, his religious knowledge does not entail knowledge of good financial decision-making. Unfortunately, taking the advice of religious scholars, unconditionally, has been the situation for many of us. Many would rather take the advice of our scholars, when it comes to matters outside religion, versus taking or even asking experts in the field. Such an approach is risky and can have damaging effects, especially when it comes to matters of investment or mental health. The Qurʾān explicitly tells us to, “Ask those who have knowledge, if you do not know.8”
Person A: Mufti G, who happens to be a master in fiqh, says we can follow Moon calculations. What do you think?
Person B: Well then, if Mufti G said it, then it must be true.
This is another great example. Again, I want to avoid the age-old debate surrounding moon calculations and point to the fact that even this is a fallacy. Interestingly, even if someone is a religious scholar it can still be considered fallacious to base a conclusion on a religious matter solely on the endorsement of that scholar.
A good way to think about this would be to think of your doctor. If your doctor tells you or your wife that she is pregnant, that would be completely fine for you to accept. That is because you accept that fact based on the assumption that your doctor has concrete reasons and evidence to support her conclusion. Some philosophers would consider this “deferring to an authority.” According to Bennett, “it is not at all unreasonable (or an error in reasoning) to accept information as provisionally true by credible authorities.9” However, if your doctor claims that your wife is pregnant simply because she is a doctor and knows what she is talking about, that would be considered fallacious.
Something that was brought to my attention by a good friend of mine was the authority of Prophet Muhammad. We as Muslims are required to follow Prophet Muhammad . Would that be considered an appeal to authority? My short answer: absolutely not!
The reason is because Prophet Muhammadis infalliable when it comes to religious matters. Keep in mind, part of what makes a fallacy is that it is erroneous. It can lead you to make a false conclusion. Appealing to the authority of your doctor is fallacious because there’s a possibility she can be wrong. That is not the case with Prophet Muhammad . We believe God has sent Prophet Muhammad as a perfect messenger for us to follow. If Prophet Muhammad says something is the case, as it pertains to religious matters, then it is always the case.
There was an instance where Prophet Muhammadgave a suggestion to some workers that he was passing by, which ultimately, did not workout in their favor. When asked about his advice, he stated, “I am only human. If I command you to do something in your religion, then take it. But if I tell you to do something based on personal opinion, then I am only human.10” “You have better knowledge of the affairs of your world,” according to another narration. Interestingly, through this narration we can see that the appeal to authority fallacy would apply even to Prophet Muhammad himself, particularly as it pertains to non-religious matters.
5. Appeal to Ignorance
An appeal to ignorance fallacy claims something to be true or false based on the lack of evidence that proves the contrary. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that this is a commonly committed fallacy. However, I decided to include it on my list because it has some sentimental value for me. I remember when I was first introduced to one of my beloved shuyūkh, who recently passed (may Allāhhave mercy on him), he highlighted this fallacy in one of his lectures on fiqh. I will never forget how he described this fallacy through the following famous phrase, “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.”
Student: Did Abu Hanifa ever interact with any philosopher during his time?
Teacher: No, of course not. We know this because there is no evidence that proves otherwise.
Interestingly, this example was based on an actual argument between me and an instructor. The instructor’s claim was essentially that we could say Imam Abū Ḥanīfanever interacted with any philosopher, simply because there is no evidence to suggest that he did. It may very well be the case that Imam Abū Ḥanīfa never encountered any philosophers, but again, we cannot use the fact that there’s an absence of evidence to claim that it did not happen. At the same time, the fact that there is no evidence does not mean that we can say that he did interact with philosophers.
Person A: Why are you an atheist?
Person B: Because there is no evidence to suggest that a god exists.
This is a more familiar example. Again, I want to avoid the debate surrounding defining atheism and focus on the fallacy. If we understand the position of atheism philosophically, as affirming the proposition that God does not exist (or that there are no gods), then such a position cannot be substantiated solely by the fact that there is no evidence of any god11. Such a position in this regard would have to appeal to other reasons for justification.
Another way this fallacy may manifest in Muslim circles is on the topic of other creatures like aliens or dinosaurs. Some may be inclined to argue that aliens do not exist because the Qurʾān doesn’t mention them. However, this is a fallacy. The same rule may still apply. The Qurʾān doesn’t mention many things, that does not mean those things do not exist. The Qurʾān itself can be used as evidence. However, there’s a difference between The Qurʾān negating something, like the crucifixion of Prophet Īsā, and remaining silent on it. Remaining silent is not the same as negating.
6. Hasty Generalization
A hasty generalization is a fallacy that draws a general conclusion based on a small or inadequate sample. We as humans naturally generalize which is fine. It’s an effective way to understand the world and saves us the trouble of having to go and examine every particular thing out there. The problem is when we commit to these generalizations to the extent that we are willing to pass real judgements about an entire group based on a few individuals. If I were to guess, I would say Muslims tend to fall victim to this more than any other fallacy.
Person A: The majority of Muslims are radicalized
Person B: What are you basing this on you filthy little liar?
This is a common example of a hasty generalization since Person A is making a general claim about most Muslims, based obviously on a few radicalized individuals Person A may have seen or heard about on the news. Another iteration of this same sentiment can be expressed as “all Muslims are terrorists.” I am actually always surprised when I find someone stating this, so much so that I don’t even think people say this anymore. But then of course, we had Donald Trump who asserted that, “Islam hates us (i.e. Americans).12”
To clearly demonstrate the absurdity of this fallacy, think about the implication of saying “all Muslims are terrorists” or even “most Muslims are terrorists.” What you are saying is that you can run into any Muslim down the street, at the mall, at school, or at your workplace, not knowing anything about them, and be willing to bet a huge amount of money that he or she is a terrorist. If so, please reach out to me because I would love to take you up on that.
Sometimes, in their careful attempt to try and present a more accurate depiction, we may hear pundits state, “it’s not that all Muslims are terrorists, but that all terrorists are Muslims.” However, even that statement, which may seem more plausible, is equally fallacious. The reason is because, again, this conclusion is based only on a small selection of individuals. We should ask ourselves, how many terrorists are we looking at to arrive at this conclusion? If we are only looking at Muslim terrorists and only using the word terrorism to describe violent acts committed by Muslims, then of course it will seem as if all terrorists are Muslims. But a more exhaustive and in-depth analysis will show otherwise. To say that all or even most Muslims are terrorists completely goes against the empirical data.
Person A: I plan to study at this institution which is predominantly Sufi
Person B: I wouldn’t do that! All Sufi’s are crazy! They like to jump up and down frantically and spin around in the masjid. And they all practice impermissible religious innovations.
One of the most interesting things about this fallacy, is that although we dislike being the victims, we commit this same fallacy against each other when assessing other groups from within our own faith. Consider the following examples; “Sufis are innovators.” “Salafis are extremists.” “Shias are idol worshippers.” “Liberal Muslims are ignorant.” “Traditionalist Muslims are strict.” “Non-hijabi Muslims are sinners.” “Conservative Muslims are arrogant.” We know how it feels to be victims of this fallacy and so at the very least, we should try our best to avoid using it against others.
The best way to avoid this fallacy is to add more context to your supposition. There are several ways to do this: (1) Try making a genuine effort to learn more about the other group. Do not just learn about it so that you can refute or attack it, but genuinely try to learn more about it so that you can come to understand it more. (2) Try interacting more with people of other groups. In my experience, this seems to be one of the best ways to deconstruct misconceptions and stereotypes. (3) Avoid relying on things like social media for information on other groups. Things like the news and social media tend to sensationalize everything to grab the people’s attention. Hence, it proves you with very limited, and in many cases distorted, information about other groups.
This fallacy is ultimately based on ignorance. It is committed when we infer a conclusion about a group based on limited data and so it only makes sense to increase and diversify our data set.
Just one last point about this fallacy. As some of you would have rightly noticed by now, this whole article seems to commit the hasty generalization fallacy. The very title of this article is making a broad generalization about Muslims, despite the fact that Muslims are not a monolithic group. We have American Muslims, Asian Muslims, Arab Muslims, African Muslims, Latino Muslims, British Muslims, etc. All of which are uniquely different in their own ways.
7. Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy
An argument which is based on exaggerating the similarities of the data that you are referencing and ignoring the differences. This fallacy gets its name from the idea of a Texan shooting randomly at a barn wall, and then painting a bullseye target around the closest cluster of bullet holes, making it seem as if he is an excellent sharpshooter.
Initially, when I first proposed the idea for this article, I wanted to write about fallacies related to the process of getting married. Since that obviously did not happen, I thought I would go ahead and devote at least one example to getting married.
Person A: Person B is the one! He and I took a personality test online and found that we have so many things in common.
(Person A ignores the many questions that highlight their major differences.)
In the example above, we can see that Person A is only focusing on the fact that she and Person B share similarities with one another. There is nothing generally wrong with paying attention to the similarities between you and someone you are interested in. However, this becomes problematic when you focus solely on those similarities and create meaning out of it. A key aspect of this fallacy is that it creates meaning out of randomness.
Person A: 9/11 was an inside job orchestrated by George W. Bush himself. Think about how the twin towers fell. According to some engineers, the towers weren’t supposed to come down the way they did. Also, think about the pentagon and how no one saw a plane crash.
(Person A ignores the other engineering experts who argue that it is entirely possible and expected for the towers to come down after a crash. Person A also ignores the testimonies of people who witnessed a plane crashing into the Pentagon.)
No one loves conspiracy theories more than Muslims. However, we should keep in mind that many conspiracy theories are built on logical fallacies. This is one prime example that is commonly held. Again, setting the question of what really happened aside, the point is that we cannot support the claim that 9/11 was an inside job, simply by pointing to some evidence and ignoring others. This fallacy tends to rely on cherry-picked data and fails to take into account all of the relevant data that goes against their hypothesis.
The best way to avoid this fallacy is to actively look for evidence that goes against your position. This is a process in science known as falsification. Generally, we tend to think that when seeking to prove something true, we should find evidence to support it. That’s actually not the best method. The problem with that is you risk falling into fallacies like these. The best method is to try and disprove your hypothesis.
8. Fallacy of Undistributed Middle
The fallacy of undistributed middle is where you claim that two different things are equated due to both of them possessing a commonly shared attribute. This fallacy was pointed out by Hamza Tzortzis in his article, Does The Qur’an Contain Scientific Miracles? According to Tzortzis, most of the arguments for the scientific miracles of the Qurʾān commits this fallacy.
John needs oxygen to survive.
My dog needs oxygen to survive.
Therefore John is my dog.
This is a basic example that Tzortzis used in his article. We can easily see that this argument is fallacious. You cannot infer that John is your dog based on the fact that they both share the common attribute of depending on oxygen.
The scientific fact in embryology is the implantation of the blastocyst in the uterine wall. Implantation can be attributed as a safe place.
The Qurʾān uses the words qarārin makīn, which can mean a safe place.
Therefore, the Qurʾān is describing the scientific fact of the implantation of the blastocyst.
This is one of the main examples taken from Tzortzis’ article. Tzortzis explains that such an argument does not logically follow since the description of the following words does not necessarily refer to the process of implantation. As Tzortzis states, “The mere correlation between a Qur’ānic word and a scientific process or description does not ascertain the intended meaning of the verse.” It should be noted, however, that this does not take away from his overall claim that the Qurʾān is miraculous. According to Tzortzis it simply demonstrates “the argument that the Qur’ān is a miracle because the descriptions of certain words it uses seem to relate to descriptions of words used in scientific facts, is logically fallacious.”
This insight by Tzortzis is especially remarkable because, at one point, he was among the most popular proponents of the scientific miracles narrative. The fact that he was willing to scrutinize his own work and eventually retract many of these arguments shows great intellectual integrity. As Muslims, we should not be afraid to scrutinize ourselves when needed and raise ourselves to a higher standard.
One More Example:
The terrorists who committed that attack last year were Muslim.
My neighbor down the street is Muslim.
Therefore my neigbhbor down the street is a terrorist.
One of the most dangerous aspects of this fallacy is that it seems convincing. It seems entirely reasonable to associate two things as being the same, based on the fact that they share a common link. However, as clearly illustrated in our first example, such a line of reasoning is flawed.
9. False Dichotomy
A false dichotomy is an argument that limits relevant possibilities without justification. Some refer to this fallacy as the “either-or” fallacy, false dilemma, or the black or white fallacy.
Person A: As a Muslim, I can’t get behind capitalism. In my opinion, global capitalism is one of the biggest problems that we face today.
Person B: If you are against capitalism, then you must be a socialist.
This is a great example where Person B assumes that Person A is a socialist simply due to his rejection of capitalism. Again, Person A may be a socialist, but such an inference can’t be made definitively based solely on his rejection of capitalism. This assumes that you can only support either capitalism or socialism which is untrue. You could support neither or even both. In fact, the Islamic economic model lies somewhere in between, where it takes positive aspects of both capitalism and socialism.
One typical way this fallacy manifests is when it comes to choosing labels. If you are not careful, you may find yourself backed into a corner and prompted to choose between labels. For example; are you a Sunni or Shia; liberal or conservative; pro-government or anti-government; Sharīʿa or democracy; Real Madrid or Barcelona; Gryffindor or Slytherin; and so on.
Person A: We should either vote for this Democratic candidate who is good for Muslims or vote for that Republican candidate who is bad for Muslims.
Person B: Can’t I just decide not to vote since I do not want to engage in this kayfabe spectacle, where I feel as if neither candidate truly reflects our values.
This is a great example which comes up every election cycle. They always seem to get us to vote by presenting the fact that voting for one is voting for the “lesser of two evils.” Even if we want to argue that voting is important and that we should all exercise our right to vote, that doesn’t necessarily mean that is our only option. Not voting is an option and in most cases so is voting for another candidate.
One of the most famous illustrations of this fallacy is the statement made by George W. Bush, after the events of 911. “Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.” Clearly, we are not with the terrorists, but that doesn’t mean we want to support the US’s 20+ year War on Terror.
Another way this fallacy may manifest in Muslim circles is when it comes to questions of haram (impermissble) and halal (permissible) acts. Imagine you caution your friend not to do something that is quite explicitly prohibited, simply because you have an uneasy feeling about it. They may respond by saying, “it’s not haram, right? That means I can do it!” This commits a false dichotomy fallacy because it assumes that it can only be either or. Contrary to what may be common belief, actions are not simply halal or haram in Islamic law. There can be some nuances depending on the circumstances. Additionally, according to legal scholars, some actions can be entirely permissible, but still disliked or discouraged.
One last thing to note about this fallacy, is that it does not only have to be restricted to two options. One can still commit this fallacy even if the person includes multiple options. The key aspect about this fallacy is not the fact that it limits your available options to two, but rather that it simply limits your available options.
A good example would be if a man tries to justify taking another wife by appealing to the following reason: I can (1) stay with my current wife and be unfulfilled, or (2) get a divorce and be lonely, or (3) stay with my current wife but get another wife13. This still commits the same fallacy because it presents these three options as being the only available options when there are more. The person can also consider (4) working things out with his wife so that he becomes fulfilled, (5) seeking therapy, etc.
10. Slippery Slope
A slippery slope fallacy is an argument against something (relatively insignificant) because it will lead to a chain of increasingly negative consequences. This fallacy tends to be driven more by fear and paranoia than rationality.
Person A: You need a break from studying. Why don’t we hang out today?
Person B: I can’t! I really need to get an A on this assignment. If I don’t get an A on this assignment, then I am not going to get an A in the class. If I don’t get an A in the class, then I’m not going to get into a good university. If I don’t get into a good university, then I’ll never get a good job. And if I don’t get a good job, then I’ll never marry the girl of my dreams.
This argument may seem reasonable. However, the problem with this line of reasoning, like most slippery slopes, is that the likelihood of each event following the other seems exaggerated. It may seem reasonable to believe that not getting an A on such an assignment will lead to not getting an A in the overall class. But to conclude that such an assignment will ultimately affect whether you marry the girl of your dreams, or even get a good job, is a bit of a stretch.
There are two fundamental problems with slippery slope arguments. The first is the likelihood of each consequence following each event. For example, if you do not get into a good university, it may be the case that you do not get a good job. But it isn’t necessarily the case that you will not get a good job. It may be likely but not that likely. Compare that with getting caught for armed robbery. It is not an exaggeration to say that you will most likely go to jail. Such a consequence is more likely to follow.
The second problem is the number of consequences. You may be able to argue that not getting an A on such an assignment will lead to not getting an A in the overall class. However, the more consequences you add the more likely it is that other factors could alter the consequences. Making a claim about one event following another (i.e. not getting an A in class) is stronger than making a claim about several (i.e. not getting into a good university, not getting a good job, not marrying the right girl).
Teen: Can I go hang out with my friends?
Parent: No, because you might end up staying out late. And then you might end up meeting new friends who are trouble-makers. And then you might end up hanging out with your new bad friends. And then you might end up doing something haram with your new bad friends. Remember whatever leads to haram is haram. So no, you cannot go out with your friends.
This may be a familiar example to many. This time the fallacy is committed by appealing to a valid principle in Islamic law, “that which leads to haram is haram.” Unfortunately, such a principle gets misused. It is true that there are things which could lead to haram, and so we are required to stay away from them. However, at some point we have to draw the line. Otherwise, under this principle one could argue that everything is essentially haram, since almost anything can lead to haram.
In the end, I hope you enjoyed my top 10 list of Muslim fallacies. If you disagree with my list or think there are a few fundamental things that I overlooked, feel free to let me know in the comments section below. If you are interested in learning more about arguments and fallacies, then you may want to pick up a book on logic. The primary book that I used for this article is Logical Fallacious: The Ultimate Collection of Over 300 Logical Fallacies by Bo Bennett. Additional resources include The Art of Reasoning: An Introduction to Logic by David Kelley and Debbie Hutchins and Understanding Arguments: An Introduction to Informal Logic by Walter Sinnott-Armstrong and Robert J. Fogelin14.
Source: Muslim Matters