Chapter 5: Islam A Challenge to Religion
REASON AND IMAN
By Allama Ghulam Ahmad Parwez
I. Reason and Its Limitations
The source of Revelation (Wahi) is transcendental Reality, which is beyond the ken of reason, but as Revelation is the purpose of guiding them, it is, naturally, couched in a language which is intelligible to them. Reason, therefore, can apprehend the content of Revelation.
Reason has its own distinctive approach to Reality and apprehends it, albeit to a limited extent. The greatest achievement of reason is science. Science employs methods which are perfectly valid and yields true knowledge within its proper sphere. Reason certainly has its limitations but sceptics declare it to be absolutely unreliable. This is not true. The telescope enables us to see heavenly bodies which we cannot see with the naked eye. It would be unreasonable to react its aid on the ground that it does not extend our vision to the outermost regions of the universe. Similarly, it is no doubt true that reason cannot give us absolute knowledge, nevertheless the knowledge it does achieve, however small, is useful and valuable. The old adage, "A little knowledge is a dangerous thing" is only partially true, as traditional maxims are. A little knowledge is only dangerous when we take it to be complete knowledge. Every fragment of knowledge is useful if we apply it with intelligence and with full awareness that it reveals only a fraction of reality. But if it is wrong to despise and reject human reason as an unreliable guide, or belittle its value, it is equally wrong to exaggerate it and claim that the whole of reality is within its ken. Only a few aspects of reality are accessible to reason and about them it does supply true and useful knowledge. Reality, however, has infinity of aspects, and all of them as well as the very core of reality, reason will always find inaccessible. Reason can legitimately function within its own sphere and ceases to be reliable the moment it steps beyond it. Wisdom requires that we should form a correct estimate of the capacity of human reason as well as of its limitations. We can put it to the best use only when we know what it can do and what it cannot. Some scholars, dazzled by the spectacular and soaring success of modern science, believe that the time is not far off when science will have solved the riddle of the Universe and will be able to answer any question that we care to ask regarding man and the world. The universe to them is a gigantic machine, which, though immensely complex, can yet be understood fully and exploited by human reason. This presumption attitude is hardly justified and, if not corrected soon, can do us great harm. Wise men, including great scientists, are aware that reason can never fathom reality. What Shakespeare wrote in the seventeenth century is still true when science has seemingly reached its meridian:
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
The same sentiment is echoed even by some scientists of today. Dr. Aitken, the Director of Lick Observatory, California, while discussing the formation of the universe frankly admitted: "Of the origin of the universe and its ultimate fate, we know practically nothing."1 Besides, there is no finality about scientific theories. With the discovery of a new fact, even a well established theory may have to be modified or even set aside. We cannot, therefore, place absolute reliance on them nor can a philosophy of conduct valid for all human beings, be built upon the shifting sands of scientific theory Dr. Crowther aptly remarks: "The last word of science on any topic may perhaps be left for the last man to utter."2 It will be sheer folly then, if we were to depend on reason alone for acquiring a set of right principles of conduct. Reason has repeatedly failed to give eight guidance in regulating social relations. Experimenting with social affairs has often led to disaster. Kingship was tried at first, then imperialism and finally democracy, and that too is on trial today. Man has paid a heavy price for experimenting with various forms of government-centuries of bloodshed, internecine wars, revolutions, class struggle, and economic and political unrest. Man is still yearning for justice, equality, freedom and peace. For two centuries men have pinned their faith on democracy but there are now unmistakable signs of disillusionment. Later on we will undertake a fuller discussion of democracy.
II. The Function of Reason
Man is a finite being and the powers with which he is endowed are necessarily limited in scope. Human reason is no exception. On this ground, however, we are not justified in despising it and refusing to employ it in solving the problems of life. The guidance that reason gives is not the less valuable because it is not perfect. It is reason that has raised man far above the animal level; to repudiate reason is to sink to the animal level or even lower. Man cannot fall back on instinct which is the mainstay of animals. Man outgrew instinct when he developed reason. The glorious successes of reason however, led man to overestimate its capacity: he expected that reason would give him absolute knowledge. When this expectation was not fulfilled, he became disillusioned with reason and went to the other extreme in rejecting reason outright. Among religious people too, both the:. mystics and the dogmatists are in revolt against reason. The mystics seek guidance in mystical experience and the dogmatists strictly in the letter of the scriptures. They forget that both these things have to be interpreted by human reason if they are to be of any use to man. They forget that reason is the distinctive attribute of man and to repudiate it is to repudiate the best in him. They forget that the Qur’an does not lend support to this deprecation of reason. Rather, it exhorts us to make full use of our rational power.
The Qur’anic view of reason and its place in human life deserves careful consideration. Briefly stated, this view is that the long evolutionary process culminated in the emergence of man, characterized by the Qur'an as a "new creation" (23: 14). It was at this stage that "He breathed in him His Ruh" (32: 9), and endowed him with the capacities of "seeing, hearing and apprehending" (32: 9). Man was granted a mind (fuad) which enabled him to think and, through the instrumentality of intellect, to build up a system of knowledge. Man will, indeed, be an ungrateful creature if he refuses to value and make use of the best of Divine gifts. Reason converts the raw grist collected by the senses into knowledge. The Qur'an rightly assigns to reason an important role in human life:
The worst of beasts in Allah's sight are the deaf, the dumb, who do not use their intellect to understand (8: 22).
This is a graphic description of the degradation of man when he does not press reason to his service. Such a man, the Qur'an tells us, not only lives a worthless and debased life in this world but also renders himself unfit to live in the higher plane on which he enters after death:
There are many a people, both among the civilized and the nomadic tribes, who lead such a life as makes it obvious that they are meant for hell (7: 179).
It is so, because, as the Qur'an puts it:
They have hearts with which they discern not, and they have eyes with which they see not, and they have ears with which they hear not ; these are as the cattle-nay are worse ; they are the heedless (7: 179).
The point is a again emphasized in the chapter entitled
The Furqan. The Rasul is addressed in the following words:
Do you think that most of them hear or have sense? They are but as the cattle—nay but they are farther astray (25: 44).
The denizens of Hell are consumed with remorse because they had possessed understanding but did not use it to any purpose:
Had we been wont to listen or have sense, we had not been among the dwellers in flame (67: 10).
In the chapter entitled Yasin, they are again reminded of their sinful negligence of their duty to use their understanding:
And yet Shaitan has led astray of you a great multitude. Had ye then a sense. This is the Jaahannam with which ye were threatened (if ye did not use your sense and follow him blindly) (36:62-63).
It is clear, therefore, that Islam is no enemy of reason and does not regard it as a hinderance to "spiritual" progress. It will be worthwhile to consider the role that the Qur'an assigns to reason both in the "secular" and the "spiritual" spheres.
III. Reason and Faith (Iman) - The Qur’anic View
In the Qur'an, human reason is repeatedly extolled. As already stated, the birth of reason in man is referred to as marking a "new creation." It is clearly stated that even Divine Revelation is not to be, accepted unquestioningly and uncritically. Man is exhorted to ponder and reflect over it and interpret it in the light of his reason. "Will they not ponder over the Qur'an?" (4:82). Men who find thinking irksome are described in these words:
These are they whom God's Law of Retribution has deprived (as a result of their own doing) of the blessings of life and has made them deaf and has blinded their eyes. Will they not then meditate on the Qur'an or there are locks on their hearts (47: 23-24).
The Qur'an appeals to man's reason and understanding. Its teaching is couched in a language which is lucid and intelligible. "Thus God makes plain to you His Revelations that haply you may reflect" (2: 219). The great truth to be apprehended by man is that he is the architect of his fate so that what he is in this world and what he will be in the Hereafter depend solely on his own actions. Good acts necessarily elevate him and bad actions inevitably degrade him. His welfare and misery are the result of his own deeds. He cannot shift his responsibility to others.
The Qur'an insists that even success in war depends on the right use of reason. It is generally believed that an army which is inspired with courage and fired with zeal is sure to win. The Qur'an claims that victory falls to the lot of men who remain cool and collected in the presence of danger and whose thinking is not clouded by passion. A hundred such men, the believers, are said to be a match for a thousand unbelievers who are swayed by passion, because they are, as the Qur’an puts it, "a folk without understanding" (8: 65).
It is clear that the Qur'an assigns an important role to reason in the life of man. The Nabi is enjoined not to demand blind obedience from men but to exhort them to think and ponder. The following verse leaves no room for doubt that the Qur’an encourages and approves of independent thinking:
Say, I exhort you unto one thing. And what is that one thing? It is that "ye awake, for Allali's sake by twos and singly. And then, reflect" (34: 46).
The Qur'an expects man to think and use his power of understanding. If he does this, he will be sure to follow the right path. The point to bear in mind is that the path which leads to success, that is eligibility for a higher plane of existence, can be discovered and followed only with the combined help of reason and revelation. These sources of guidance are supplementary to each other. If they are kept within their proper spheres, there will be no conflict between them. The Rasul, therefore, is bidden to say:
This is my way. My invitation to you to follow Allah's path is based on reason and insight—mine as well as of those who follow me (12: 108).
The Qur'an challenges the opponents of Islam to produce arguments in support of their contention:
Ask them, (O Rasul) Bring your proofs if you are truthful (2:111).
They are admonished when they argue about things of which they have no knowledge:
Why, therefore, do you wrangle concerning that about which you have no knowledge? (3: 66).
Arguing about things of which we have no knowledge leads nowhere. The Qur'an asks us to eschew such unprofitable disputes:
Do not pursue that whereof you have no knowledge. Verily, the hearing and sight, and the heart, each of these will be asked (17:36).
The Qur'an lays stress on the value of correct knowledge and advises us to accept it and act upon it. All else is dismissed as mere guess work which is far from being a trustworthy guide to action. As the Qur'an says: "A guess can never take the place of truth" (53: 28). As rational beings, it is our duty not to stop till we have achieved correct knowledge. To be content with a mere "guess" is to denounce or abdicate our rationality, and to act upon it is to risk self-fulfilment.
The Qur'an gives a sketch of the process of knowing, so far as it is germane to its purpose, which is both scientific and ethical. The process is begun by the activity of the senses, which furnish the raw material of knowledge. The next stage is that of attending when the mind addresses itself to the material reaching it. This is the stage of perceptual knowledge. The sense data are referred to external objects and events and their objective meaning is grasped. In the third stage, through the processes of analysis, synthesis, abstraction and generalisation, the material is converted into knowledge of varying degrees of generality. The final stage is that of comprehension in which the new knowledge is placed and viewed in the context of the whole of human knowledge and experience, and its meaning for human life is assessed. The Qur'an exhorts men to aim at this deeper understanding of the meaning of the Nabi's words, whenever he speaks to them. It denounces those who fail to make this attempt and stop at the first or second stage, being content with imperfect knowledge:
And you may see them looking towards you, but they see not (7:198).
These were people who appeared to be looking intently at the Nabi, and listening to him, but their mind was making no effort to grasp the sense of his words and relate it meaningfully to their lives. The Qur'an makes an important distinction between "nazar" and "basar." Nazar refers to the fact of passively receiving certain visual stimuli. Basar is insight, the grasping of the essential meaning of the thing of which the visual stimuli are mere signs. The same distinction applies to other senses, such as hearing, etc:
And of them are some who hearken to thee but will thou make the deaf to hear although they have no senses (10: 42).
What the Qur'an is driving at is that a man whose mind is clouded with prejudices and preconceptions, will not be able to apprehend the truth, even though it stares him in the face. To apprehend it, he must approach it with an open and unbiased mind, must concentrate his attention upon it and must strive to comprehend it in relation to his genuine knowledge and authentic experience. In effect, the Qur'an recommends them an aposteriori approach to Revelation. By implication, the apriori approach is not favoured. The Qur'an's position on this question may be summarised in this way: rid your mind of all preconceived ill-founded notions. Give close and earnest attention to the Revelation and have full confidence (Iman) in it. Relate the Revelation to the well-established facts of human experience. Project your findings into the future as far as your reason can take you along the high-roads lit by Revelation. Enrich your experience by the experience you have yet to experience. And, in the new vistas and the widened horizons that open up before you, identify the stars of your destiny and address yourself to the problems of life at hand. If you approach Revelation in a proper frame of mind, making full use of the powers with which you are equipped—reason and hope and charity—you can apprehend the truth enshrined in it, and guided by it, can march forward to the glorious destiny that awaits you. But you must deliberately, and of your own free will, choose the path which is pointed out. God could have compelled you to be good if He had wanted. But such goodness would have had no value. Only goodness that you acquire through your own efforts has value. You are free to choose, and if you use your faculties aright, you will make a proper choice.
This, in brief, is the advice that the Qur'an offers to man. It is reiterated in numerous verses. When the Nabi grew worried that people did not pay attention to his words and did not try to understand them, he was admonished in this way:
If Allah willed, all who are on the earth would have believed (in Him). Would thou (Muhammad) compel men until they are believers? (10: 99).
To understand the Qur'an or, for that matter, and other revealed book, it is not enough to have mastered its language. A man may be proficient in the Arabic language and yet the meaning of the Qur'an may elude him. He should approach the Book with a receptive mind free from preconceived ideas and notions, prejudice and bias. He should be serious about human life and the universe in which we live, and should have an intense consciousness of participation in a purposeful cosmic process. He should also be anxious to guard against pitfalls in the of way of life and to steer clear of the obstacles which hinder his progress. These are, according to the Qur’an, the essential pre-requisites for understanding the Book. To those who do not approach it in this way, it remains a sealed book. In the stories of the Anbiya - prophets recounted in the Qur'an- we are told how those who were not perceptive and alive were only bewildered when they listened to their (Anbiya's) passionate exhortations. Some of them frankly confessed that they found their words unintelligible:
O’ Shu’aib! We understand not much what you say (11: 91).
The Nabi (Muhammad—P) too, often came across people who were completely unresponsive to his words, while others were stirred, who believed and were prepared to listen. In dealing with the former, he occasionally grew impatient and felt frustrated. The Qur'an counsels him to be patient, forgiving and tolerant. It warns him against the temptation to impose his views on them:
Haply you will kill yourself with grief—if they believe not in this message (18: 6).
The Nabi is assured that if he has placed the true view, in simple terms, before the people, he has fulfilled his mission. More than this is not expected of him. It is not his duty to see that the view is accepted by the people. His duty is only to tell them which is the right path and which the wrong one and to acquaint them with the consequences of following the one or the other. They are free. To choose for themselves. God does not want to force people to accept His guidance. He has endowed man with the ponders of understanding, judgment and free, choice. If man makes use of these powers he can understand the Revelation and can profit by the guidance offered therein. He must bear the consequences of his choice, whether they are pleasant or unpleasant.
To sum up, there is no conflict between Revelation and reason: rather they supplement each other. Iman in Revelation and reason together enrich life and make it fruitful, provided each keeps to its own proper sphere. Iman energises reason and reason orientates Iman to concrete reality. Without either life would be impoverished. Reason without Iman is like a well-constructed machine which is not geared to a motor, while Iman without reason is only a blind force. The glorious periods in human history were characterised by a robust Iman and an active reason. Prof. Whitehead has rightly remarked:
Ages of faith are the ages of rationalism.3
The subject of miracles bristles with difficulties and yet it challenges the attention of every student of religion. Such a student is called upon to define his attitude towards miracles and to explain his conception of the relation between religion and miracles. Here he faces a dilemma. On the one hand, modern man finds it well-nigh impossible to give credence to miraculous happenings. The only course open to him is to dismiss them as gross superstitions. For the scientist, nature is a closed system and any incursions of the supernatural into it are unthinkable. On the other hand, history testifies to the close association of religion with belief in miracles. The prophets of old were generally credited with the power of working miracles, so much so that a prophet was judged not by the value of his teaching but by the miraculousness of his deeds.
Whatever may be the case with religion, Islam, at least, lends no support to such superstitions. The Qur'an appeals to reason. Its professed aim is to make men rational and clear sighted, not to make them superstitious. The Qur'an directs man's attention to the phenomena of nature and the facts of history, as they reveal the power of God and His wisdom. Man is invited to look at and reflect upon the grandeur of the heavens, the beauty of the earth, the freshness of dawn, the glory of sunset and the terrifying force of the wind as it sweeps over the open spaces of the desert. Pointedly, it asks: "Are not these marvellous? What more do you want? "The phenomena of nature, at once beautiful and mysterious, can fully gratify man's sense of wonder. However, the people with whom the Nabi of Islam had to deal were steeped in superstition. They were obsessed with the craving for the miraculous. They not only believed that the laws of nature could be violated but regarded such a violation as the only proof that could be offered for the truth of a statement. Instead of scrutinizing the rational grounds of the statement and accepting it if adequate evidence was adduced in its favour, they asked whether the man who made it could work wonders or not. It was not easy to deal with and win over people whose attitude to truth was so irrational. The Nabi did the best that he could in these difficult circumstances. With gentle persuasion he strove to turn their attention from figments of imagination to the concrete facts of life and history. He exhorted them to reflect upon nature and history and make a serious attempt to understand them both. With fervent earnestness be assured them that he did not claim the power to work miracles but that he rested his case on rational arguments and oil the beneficial effects of his teaching. His opponents could not be expected to be satisfied with this simple explanation. They retorted that if he were a true Nabi he would surely have worked miracles; his inability to do so was proof that be had no valid claim to nubuwwah. The accusation was without foundation. If the Nabi had been an imposter, he could easily have worked on their superstitious minds. A single instance will suffice to prove his integrity of character. Soon after the death of his beloved son, there was a solar eclipse. People were frightened by the unusual darkness and they humbly suggested to the Nabi that nature seemed to be convulsed by the shock of his son's death. Without the least hesitation, he assured them that this was a natural phenomenon and had no bearing on his personal affairs. Nature goes on its course unconcerned with the calamities that may befall man. Only a man of his stature could have refused to seize an opportunity of convincing people absolutely that he was a miracle worker and, therefore, a true Nabi. The incident throws ample light on the essential honesty and integrity of the Nabi. No prospect of immediate gain could induce him to come to a compromise with the superstitious unbelievers.
The Nabi was consumed with the passion to reform the people and to induce them to accept the truth which he had placed before them. Their insistent demand that he should work miracles to convince them, made him despondent. On such occasions, the Qur'an counsels him to remain firm and not to give way to despair. Sometimes, he might have thought that if only he possessed the power to work miracles, he could quickly have persuaded the people to accept his teaching and follow the right path. The Qur'an did not leave even such a remote thought unanswered:
If their aversion (to the truth) is grievous to thee, then, if thou can, seek a way down into the earth or a ladder into the sky that thou may bring to them a portent (to convince them all). If Allah willed, He could have brought them all together to the guidance; so be not thou of the ignorant (6: 35).
God wants men to see and accept the truth through understanding and not dogmatically and irrationally:
Those who do not use their intellect, the matter remain confused to them (10: 100).
The Qur'an calls upon men to apply their minds to its teaching, to strive to grasp its meaning and rationale. If they remain unresponsive to call, the Qur'an refuses to stoop to irrational methods of influencing their minds. It would rather leave them to follow the wrong path, if they have chosen it freely, than consent to any kind of compulsion, however well-intentioned, to lead them to the right path. Greatness may be thrust on some but goodness can be thrust on none. All that the Qur'an does is, it sounds the warning, time and again, that if the thought-provoking faculties are suppressed for long, they would ultimately lose their power to kindle the pulse of thought, It says:
Those who just go on rejecting the truth (without trying to understand it) it is all one for them whether you warn them (against the, consequences of their actions) or not. They will not accept the truth. (As a result of their obstinacy, the law of Allah) has sealed their hearing and hearts and on their eyes is a covering. Theirs will be an awful doom (for they saw not reason) (2: 6-7).
Those who possessed reason and did not use it to acquire true knowledge and to gain an understanding of the Revelation are denounced as the vilest of men and contempt is poured on them:
And we have struck out for men in this Qur'an all kinds of similitude’s (to make the matter clear) but, notwithstanding all this, if you place before them a verse of the Qur'an, those who disbelieve will surely say: You are but given to vanity. Thus does Allah seal the hearts of those who do not try to understand (30: 58-59).
And We send not Our messengers but as bearers of glad tidings and as warners (to those who tread the wrong path): but those who reject the truth dispute with vain words that they may refute the truth thereby, and they take My Revelation and what they are warned of as a jest. And who does a greater wrong than one who being reminded of the laws of Allah, turns aside from them and forgets what his Hands have sent on before. (This is how Our Law of Retribution) places veils upon their hearts, so they understand not, and a heaviness is in their ears. (The result of their obstinacy is that) though thou call them to the right path, they will never adopt it (18: 56-57).
Again and again, in support of itself, the Qur'an directs man's attention to natural phenomena and historical events. It justifies its teachings on verifiable grounds and on historical evidence. The Qur'an assures man that his highest aspirations and ideals are attainable as he lives in a friendly and sympathetic universe, which is controlled by a wise and compassionate power. Miracles are repugnant to the consistently rational spirit of the Qur'an. Those who demand miracles are occasionally humoured but are more often reproved in plain terms.
The view advocated heremay, however, be challenged on the ground that the Qur'an recounts many miracles which were wrought by the earlier Anbiya. There are several possible interpretations of these miracles. Some scholars have had recourse to allegorical interpretation. Others have held that the figurative language and vivid imagery served to drive home a general truth. Another plausible theory is that the Qur'an in describing people of an earlier age had to mention the unusual events which had psychological reality for them. However, it is a question which concerns the scholar who is interested in the mental development of man. It has no bearing on din as such. We subscribe to the view that they have been narrated metaphorically and can be interpreted rationally.*
At this point we deem it our duty to put in a word of caution. Events which have been reported in ancient books as "miracles" need not all be dismissed as the unconscious fabrications of credulous people. The mind of man may possess powers which are unsuspected by science. Some present day scientists are not so sceptical as their predecessors were. A new science, parapsychology, has sprung up and for the moment seems to be vigorously active. A few eminent psychologists are working in this field and have already collected evidence and discovered facts in the face of which dogmatic scepticism appears to be as absurd as the credulity of the ancients. Telepathy, clairvoyance, clairaudience and psycho-kinetic phenomena are being experimentally studied. All we can say at present is that the mind may well possess supernormal powers. We are learning the lesson that intellectual arrogance is an obstacle in the search for truth. Whatever may be the outcome of the investigations into the occult, the truly Qur'anic response to the universe will remain unchanged. The question of miracles may enlist the interest of the scientist but it has no vital relation to a quest which has any connection with din. The Qur'an seeks to awaken in man the consciousness of his intimate relation to the universe. Its main emphasis is on reason and knowledge. Its purpose is to help to build up a free, self-reliant and rational personality, vivified with the sense of God's working in the universe according to His unalterable laws. Therefore, miracles, if they mean freaks of nature or any alteration in the immutable laws of God, can have no place in that working.
We close this discussion with the following apt quotation from Iqbal which bears eloquent testimony to his deep insight into and perceptive appreciation of Islam:
The birth of Islam.... is the birth of inductive intellect. In Islam prophecy reaches its perfection in discovering the need of its own abolition. This involves the keen perception that life cannot for ever be kept in leading strings; that in order to achieve full self-consciousness man must finally be thrown back on his own resources. The abolition of priesthood and hereditary kingship in Islam, the constant appeal to reason and experience in the Qur'an and the emphasis that it lays on Nature and History as sources of human knowledge, are all different aspects of the same idea of finality.4
V. Approach to the Qur'an
Our first task is to understand the real meaning of the, Qur'an with the help of all the intellectual faculties we possess. We can then proceed to assess the value of its teaching. How are we to test the truth and usefulness of the Qur'an teaching? The Qur'an itself helps us to answer this question. It proposes three ways in which it may be tested and offers to abide by the results of these tests. It is significant that the tests proposed are all acceptable to reason. Nowhere is the supernatural invoked. The appeal is invariably to human reason and experience.
Before proceeding to consider the tests, let us recapitulate the teaching of the Qur'an. The Qur'an enjoins man to believe in God, to follow His laws, to believe in one's own self, to love and serve his fellow-beings, to act in a virtuous manner so as to develop and express the best in him, and finally to believe in and prepare for the Hereafter. All these we are invited to test in the light of reason. Is there anything in this teaching that is repugnant to reason? No doubt it is possible to doubt the existence of God and the reality of the Hereafter. But then, it is also possible to doubt the existence of the world. There is no conclusive proof of the existence of the objective world and some philosophers have argued, in all seriousness, that belief in such a world is unjustified. All that we can be sure of is the actual momentary sensation. In spite of philosophical arguments our belief in objective reality remains unshaken. Life pays little heed to the cobwebs of philosophers. The point to bear in mind is that supranational realities are not less real because they cannot be proved by logical arguments. In applying the rational test it is permissible to ask whether there is anything in the teaching which runs counter to reason and to that part of human knowledge which commands universal acceptance. The question as to whether every element in it can be logically proved is inadmissible, because, the teaching, if it is to be true to its nature, cannot avoid reference to realities which transcend reason. In this case, the rational test will take the form of determining whether or not the teaching is in direct conflict with reason and whether it furthers the interests of humanity. It is needless to say that the Qur'an has stood the test of reason and proved itself to be in harmony with the best in man:
Say (O Muhammad! to the unbelievers): I say not unto you (that) I possess the treasures of Allah, nor that I have knowledge of the unseen, and I say not unto you: Lo I am malak. I follow only that which is revealed to me.
Say: are the blind man and the seer equal? Will ye not then take thought? (6: 50; 11: 24).
Secondly, the Qur'an invites people to judge it in the light of history. It asks them to ponder over the rise and fall of nations. It assures them that if they seek the causes of the downfall of a people, they will find that the people had contravened the principles of right conduct and permanent values which were communicated to them by the Nabi of their age. Right belief and right conduct enable a nation to rise to power, and wrong beliefs and actions lead to its downfall. Time and again the Qur'anic teaching, which confirms the teaching of earlier Anbiya, was put to the test and was found to be a trustworthy guide to the good life. People who rejected it and followed the wrong path inevitably fell into decay and were overtaken by a dreadful fate. The Qur'an advises men to pay attention to the facts of history in order to discover the difference between the ways of life of the nations which flourished and prospered and those which perished. It will be brought home to them that the latter cherished false and harmful beliefs and their conduct was not in harmony with the eternal laws of God:
But they deny the knowledge that they could not compass and whereof the final result had not come unto them. Even so did those before them deny. Then see what were the consequences for the wrongdoers (10: 39).
Finally we come to the pragmatic test. The unbelievers are repeatedly urged to apply this test and satisfy themselves about the truth and value of the Qur'an. A tree is judged by the quality of its fruit and creed by its effects on the life and conduct of men. The believers who had accepted the teaching and had regulated their lives in accordance with it, provided irrefutable evidence of its value to man. Their character had been transformed overnight. Formerly they were mean, selfish, quarrelsome, narrow-minded and self-centred caring only for petty gain. Afterwards, they were united in the pursuit of noble ends, were bound to each other by ties of love and affection, were kind and just to their enemies and lived up to the high ideals which they professed. The Qur'an had brought into existence a new type of man-self-respecting, self-reliant, conscious of his worth and desirous of enhancing it and fired with the ambition to set up a better social order in the world. These men by their lives and actions testified to the value of the Qur'an the spirit of which they had imbibed. The Nabi was fully justified in, pointing to these men as a living testimony for the truth of the faith he preached. The astounding effect of the faith on the life of man was the strongest proof of its truth and values:
Say: O my people! Work in your own way. I too am working, thus ye will come to know for which of us will be the happy sequel.
Lo! The wrong doers will not be successful (6: 136).
Such are tests which the Qur’an desires to be applied. Even bitter critics will have to concede that the tests are crucial, practical and provocative.
Again and again the Qur'an exhorts man to think and think hard. The man who uses his reason is held up to admiration:
The blind man is not equal with the seeing, nor is darkness equal to light, nor is the shadow equal with the sun's refulgence; nor are the living equal with the dead (35: 19-22).
Those who think rightly can find the light of knowledge and can discover the path that leads to success:
Are those who know equal with those who know not ? But only, men of understanding will pay heed (39: 9).
Surely those who strive for Us, We guide them to Our ways, and verily Allah is with those who lead a balanced life of goodness (29: 69).
The Believers (Mo’minin), according to the Qur'an, are:
Those who, when the revelations of their Rabb are presented to them, do not fall thereat deaf and blind (25: 73).
This is Iman! Not to accept even God's revelations deaf and blind.
1. The Great Design, p. 35.
2. Ibid, P. 52.
3. Quoted by Iqbal in the Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, p. 2
4. Iqbal, op. cit., p. 120.
There is an emerging belief in the intellectual class of Muslims that hadith are subject to lots of confusion and conflicts, thus we should only follow Quran and ignore hadith. First of all we should understand that Islam is not just a faith, but a way of life. Islam not only defines what should be your relation with the Almighty (spiritual) but also defines your relations/ behaviour with other human being beings and animals e.g. family, friends, neighbours, relatives, poor in the society and so on. These are the social, economic and political aspects of Islam. A comprehensive way of life cannot be directly learnt from a book but has to be learnt from an example (the arabic word for example is sunnah). Thus, Allah sent His last and final messenger the Prophet Mohammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) to convey the message of the Almighty and show the people how they can live this message day to day. This way over a period of 23 years, the earliest Muslims not only received the message but also saw how the Messenger behaves in different roles e.g. husband, friend, relative, political and military leader, teacher, master and even as a humble servant of Allah while performing ibadah (worship). This comprehensive example has to be learnt in order to understand Islam as a way of living.
Quran has amazing eloquence and lucidity and Allah explain things in extremely beautiful and simple manner. Allah commands Muslims to obey the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) lots of veres, some of which are as follows:
Sura An-Nisa 4:59 O ye who believe! Obey Allah, and obey the Messenger, and those charged with authority among you. If ye differ in anything among yourselves, refer it to Allah and His Messenger, if ye do believe in Allah and the Last Day: That is best, and most suitable for final determination. (4:59)
Sura Al-A'raf 7:157 "Those who follow the apostle, the unlettered Prophet, whom they find mentioned in their own (scriptures),- in the law and the Gospel;- for he commands them what is just and forbids them what is evil; he allows them as lawful what is good (and pure) and prohibits them from what is bad (and impure); He releases them from their heavy burdens and from the yokes that are upon them. So it is those who believe in him, honour him, help him, and follow the light which is sent down with him,- it is they who will prosper." (7:157)
Sura An-Nahl 16:44 (We sent them) with Clear Signs and Scriptures; and We have sent down unto thee (also) the Message; that thou mayest explain clearly to men what is sent for them, and that they may give thought. (16:44)
Sura Al-Hashr 59:7 What Allah has bestowed on His Messenger (and taken away) from the people of the townships,- belongs to Allah,- to His Messenger and to kindred and orphans, the needy and the wayfarer; In order that it may not (merely) make a circuit between the wealthy among you. So take what the Messenger assigns to you, and deny yourselves that which he withholds from you. And fear Allah. for Allah is strict in Punishment. (59:7)
The above-mentioned verses do not leave any doubt that Allah commands us to obey the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) and in this way the commands of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upno him) conveyed to us through hadith are also commands of Allah, as the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) did nothing on his own.
Now comes the confusion of hadith that many Muslims tend to question. We should understand that there is a science of grading for hadith and it takes into account several factors that are as follows.:
1. The continuity of transmitters: The chain of the narrators or transmitters who are relating the text has to be unbroken.
2. Integrity: The integrity, character and Islamic adhrerence in day to day life must not be questionable for any of the narrators of hadith.
3. Accuracy: This is determined by two factors; (1) Soundness of memory, the narrator should not be in a habit of repeating the hadith in many different ways, (2) the narrators must be known to record the hadith accurately in their books.
4. Conformity: The hadith conforms to similar hadith narrated on the same topics.
5. Absense of hidden defect: Any element of contradiction with any other established historical fact or tradition.
There is also a popular belief that the first hadith was written 300 years after the death of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). We should know that the tradition of conveying the hadith even started during the times of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) and hadith were even recorded in writing by some sahaba.
The collection of hadith has been such a strenuous and judicious task that Imam Bukhari (may Allah have mercy on him) came to know about over a 100,000 hadith and he only recorded over 6000 hadith in his book.
I have a simple logical suggestion to those who question hadith for the sake of it. The ulama that have done streneous efforts to grade hadith into sahih, hassan or daeef have used logic, reason and a process to do the same. Unless we have a better reason or fact (e.g. this hadith contradicts with what is written in Quran or with other sahih hadith or with established way of life of the companions of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), we should not question just for the sake of it.
Besides, that the Prophet (peace be upon him) taught us that 'a Muslim should not delve into affairs that do not concern him'. So, unless a hadith comes in the way of our day to day following of religion or living life according to Islam, there is no point in wasting energies debating them. There are alhamdulillah millions of ulama to deal with those intricacies.
Quran has to be the fundamental source and inspiration of an Islamic life and when we need to understand further the commands of Allah, we refer to hadith. For example, we learn from Quran that Allah commands us for salah, fasting, zakah, jihad etc. and when we want to learn 'how' and 'do's' and 'don'ts of these commands, we refer to hadith. This way we will never find any confusion in any of the learnings.
There is a popular saying in English which is logical in all spheres, it says: 'do no reinvent the wheel'. Thus, if a tradition of hadith has been established, efforts have been done, Quran has been explained by mufassireen in lots of details and in the light of history and sunnah, we should at first try to understand the same knowledge, rather than trying to develop new interpretations on our own.
Those people who are interested in reading more in these issues, I will recommend the following books from Dr. Abu Ameenah Bilal Phillips; 1) Evolution of fiqh (Islamic law and madh-habs) and 2) Usool Al-Hadeeth (The Methodology of Hadith Evaluation).
Thursday, December 20, 2007
Posted by Anis at 3:06 AM