Faith and Reason

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The discourse regarding the compatibility of faith and reason began life simultaneously with the birth of philosophy, naturally. The tension between the two principles, as it was cultivated in Europe finds its origins in the locality of Greece, over two millennia ago, and manifests itself today in the form of multiple philosophical theories such as Fideism[1] and Rationalism[2]. The recollection of the past two centuries will exhibit a great leap in the development of the human cognition; erudition became mainstream, and we witnessed ground breaking technological advancements boasting loudly of the human ingenuity.

As a result however, it was witnessed that the ‘intellect’ and ‘reason’ were posited to have acquired a superior status in the society, in the West this approach was further bolstered by the influential Vienna Circle who proclaimed only empirical statements were meaningful and all metaphysical statements are dismissed on the ground that they cannot be proven by empirical or observable evidence. Hence, rendering all religious statements meaningless, since they were concerned with metaphysical entities not accessible to sense data. These views were effectively infiltrated in to the Muslim culture and we have seen many reactionary movements which followed. The most common approach was to segregate the department of religion from that of reason, which has led to what is commonly regarded as “blind following”.

One may be inclined to ask what is exactly the status of reason is in the Islamic faith, and to what extent does Islam allow for the freedom of thought or inhibits it?

In the Quran there are numerous reiterations urging humans to utilise their cognitive faculties in order to be able to discern the truth from falsehood. And blind faith without any comprehension of the message is discouraged.

‘Indeed, the worst of living creatures in the sight of Allah are the deaf and dumb who do not use reason.’ (8:22)

The doctrine of Islam is not dependent upon any complex mythology which may be contradictory to reason, and doesn’t rely solely in the imagination of the believers. The Creator may be veiled from our eyes, but His works, the intricately organised universe are strikingly tangible to those in possession of intellect.

‘Indeed, in the creation of the heavens and the earth and the alternation of the night and the day are signs for those of understanding [albāb]. Who remember Allah while standing or sitting or [lying]on their sides and give thought to the creation of the heavens and the earth, [saying], “Our Lord, You did not create this aimlessly; exalted are You [above such a thing]; then protect us from the punishment of the Fire’ (3:190-1)

Allah, Exalted is He! Has presented in the natural world vestigia Dei (Traces of the Creator) for men to apprehend Him. Albāb is the plural of lubb which is explained by Abdal Hakim Murad thus: “a word whose resonance include ‘core’ and ‘seed’, and denote an intuitive rather than a purely discursive cognition. The resulting state of secure conviction (imān) is opposed to kufr which, which has the sense of the ‘covering up’ of God’s existence and signs.”[3]

The focus on intuition is something which often echoes in the works of Muhammad Iqbal, he defines knowledge as “sense-perception elaborated by understanding” [4]. Understanding here encompasses both reason and intuitive mode of knowledge. And unlike most philosophers Iqbal seeks to assert that intuitive experiences are objective rather than subjective [5], because just like during our social interaction the testimony of the objectivity of our experience is the expected response from other subjects, similarly the Quran and the Ahadith have attested that Allah too responds to our call.

“And your Lord says, “Call upon Me; I will respond to you.” (40:60)

And this beautiful Hadith Qudsi describes the interaction between Allah and his servants entrancingly:

“Allah the Exalted said: I have divided prayer between Myself and My servant into two halves, and My servant shall have what he has asked for. When the servant says: Praise be to Allah Lord of the Worlds, Allah says: My servant has praised Me. And when he says: The Most Gracious, the Most Merciful, Allah says: My servant has extolled Me. And when he says: Master of the Day of Judgment, Allah says: My servant has glorified Me, – and on one occasion He said: My servant has submitted to My power. And when he says: You alone we worship, You alone we ask for help, Allah says: This is between Me and My servant, and My servant shall have what he has asked for. And when he says: Guide us to the straight path, the path of those whom you have favoured, not those who went astray, Allah says: This is for My servant, and My servant shall have what he has asked for.” [6] – Sahih Muslim 395

Thus, it has become apparent that the use of reason by no means is discouraged by Islam; au contraire the endowment if intellect suggests its usufruct. However, as the Al-Ash’ari school of theology established human reason was by no means superior to the Divine revelation, and both must be used simultaneously to be able to formulate a balanced understanding of Islam. To quote Rumi:

“Surrender thy intellect to the Prophet!

God sufficeth. Say, He sufficeth.

Beware of wilful reasoning,

And boldly welcome madness!

He alone is mad who madness scoffs,

And heeds not the agent of Law!”

References


[1].   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fideism

[2].  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rationalism

[3]. Abdal Hakim Murad, 1995. “Al-Ghazali on Disciplining the Soul and on Breaking the Two Desires: Books XXII and XXIII of the Revival of the Religious Sciences..”

[4]. Muhammad Iqbal, 1930. “The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam” p. 12.

[5].   http://www.allamaiqbal.com/publications/journals/review/apr87/7.htm#_edn1

[6].  http://www.faithinallah.org/forty-sacred-hadith-qudsi-english-arabic/

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