Traditionally, faith and reason are considered to be in disagreement with each other. It is generally believed that if you have faith then you do not need to justify it through reason; and if you try to investigate the faith through reason, then chances are that your faith will weaken and come off worse. This situation raises an important query: Do the revelations of the Quran support this traditional schism between faith and reason?
1. Faith according to the Quran
The faith we are talking about has two basic articles: ‘there is no other God but One Creator God’, and ‘Muhammad is the messenger of God’. The concept of One Creator God is common to all major world religions, and not much resistance exists to its acceptance. On the other hand, the second proclamation that ‘Muhammad is the messenger of God’ or that the ‘Message that has come through Muhammad (PBUH) is from the same Creator God’, is the real differentiating factor. Once a person has this faith in the origin of the Quran, its credibility assumes gargantuan proportions. Thereafter, each and every piece of information, injunction, decree, precept, rite, regulation and rule of the Quran, becomes literally the Word and Command of the Creator Himself. But, to get the benefit from this ‘Ultimate Communication’, it has to be understood, interpreted and obeyed by humanity, requiring simultaneous emphasis on faith and action; which also means that a very deep study is required to understand what exactly the verses are revealing to us.
Regarding faith, which includes the belief in its own non-human origin, the Quran says clearly that it cannot be forced on some one. It has to be accepted voluntarily.
Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from Error: whoever rejects evil and believes in God, hath grasped the most trustworthy hand-hold that never breaks. And God heareth and knoweth all things. (Al-Baqr 2:256)
The original Arabic words are La ikraha fee alddeeni. Out of two propositions, La is used for negative, and fee means ‘in’. The word al-deen is ‘The religion’. The crucial word ikraha is from karihi meaning ‘forced and unpleasant’. Using it with La, the verse seems to say that you shall not enforce, or make things unpleasant, in religion.
Regarding the possibility of mutual incompatibility between faith and reason, the Quran is quite clear: For understanding and interpretation of the contents of the communication, the Quran asks us to use our reason and intellect to reflect on its statements, and invites the oloo al-albabi, the persons with purest and the best intellect - to do this.
2. The albabi
The Quran addresses a particular group several times in various contexts [Al-Baqr2:179,197, 269; Aal-E-Imran 3:7, 190; 5:100; 12:111; 13:19; 14:52; 38:29,43; 39:9,18,21 and Al-Ghafir 40:54; 65:10], calling them olee al-albabi. This expression is popularly translated as ‘men of understanding’, but in reality implies the ‘purest and best of people’, or ‘people with purified intellect’. The Arabic albabi is the plural of lubb. The Lexicon explains the lubb as the principal part and middle, the purest and best, the essence etc. Since the principal part of man is mind or intellect, and the intellect can be used for both good and evil, so people with the purest and the best minds are considered to fall under the Oloo al-albabi category. When we study these verses, the following message emerges clearly:
3. Wisdom is the most important gift
He granteth wisdom to whom He pleaseth; and he to whom wisdom is granted receiveth indeed a benefit overflowing; but none will grasp the Message but men of understanding. [Al-Baqr 2:269]
The verse is self explanatory. It clearly states that hikma (wisdom) is the most important gift of God; and the only men with high intellect and positive perspective will be able to grasp the Message.
4. The Message and high-intellect believers
Another message which lies within a group of three verses is more subtle.
How many populations that insolently opposed the Command of their Lord and of His apostles, did We not then call to account - to severe account? - and We imposed on them an exemplary Punishment (65:8). Then did they taste the evil result of their conduct, and the End of their conduct was Perdition (65:9). God has prepared for them a severe Punishment (in the Hereafter). Therefore fear God, O ye men of understanding - who have believed!- for God hath indeed sent down to you a Message (65:10).
The first two verses (65:8,9) are clear reminders to humanity, citing the past history of civilizations to show that whoever opposes God will be punished severely. The third verse (65:10) however needs a closer look. Four points are significant here –
· Characteristic of Oloo al-albabi is their blemish free high intellect.
· Only those Oloo al-albabi are addressed here – ‘who have believed’.
· Belief implies a positive perspective.
· This particular group is being told that ‘God hath indeed sent down to you a Message’ (65:10).
Two interpretations are possible here. God is either telling the ‘high intellect people who believe’ that the Message is for them especially, or the verse is addressing those high intellect people who believe in the Creator but are not yet convinced of the existence of revealed knowledge. It is these people with partial belief, or a positive perspective towards the Creator, who are being asked to take a lesson from previous nations and look at the Message. This interpretation is important because the belief in the Message (Quran) through the application of intellect is expected to follow a process, beginning from a positive perspective towards the Creator and leading to an ultimate conviction in the truth of revealed knowledge. A broad interpretation of these verses would include several top ranking, non-Muslim, scientists in this category.
5. Symbiosis required between revealed and rational knowledge
To extract benefit from the verses, the ‘high intellect people’ have been enjoined to reflect on the revelations (38:29) and on the physical world surrounding them (Aal-E-Imran 3:190). Such verses number close to 100, and contain multiple statements on diverse natural phenomena.
(Here is) a Book which We have sent down unto thee, full of blessings, that they may mediate on its verses, and that men of understanding may receive admonition. (38:29)
Behold! in the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the alternation of night and day,- there are indeed Signs for men of understanding, -(Aal-E-Imran 3:190)
6. Each piece of data has a purpose.
The Quran also tells us that its narratives of past Messengers who had brought revelations, are not just mythical tales:
There is, in their stories, instruction for men endued with understanding.
It is not a tale invented, but a confirmation of what went before it,-
A detailed exposition of all things,
And a Guide and a Mercy to any such as believe (12: 111).
The revelations corroborate the credibility of these past happenings, apart from revealing other information through the stories. The oloo al-albabi are instructed to extract this information for the benefit and guidance of those who will accept its genuineness.
7. The emphasis on intellect - aql in Quran
The Quran exhorts humanity to use its reason, and in this regard, the word intellect (aql) is mentioned at least 49 times in its text.
Thus doth Allah Make clear His Signs to you: In order that ye may use intellect. [Al-Baqr 2:242]
Kathalika yubayyinu Allahu lakum ayatihi laAAallakum taAAqiloona
The expression ‘ye may use your intellect’ (laAAallakum taAAqiloona), is repeated seven times in the Quran (Al-Baqr 2:73; Al-Baqr 2:242; 6:151; 12:2; 24:61; 40:67 and 57:17).
The group or nation (Qawm) who have the ability to use their intellect or reason (aql) are also addressed seven times directly in the Quran, as liqawmin yaAAqiloona (Al-Baqr 2:164; 13:4; 16:12; 16:67; 29:35; 30:24 and 45:5).
And He has made the night and the day and the sun and the moon subservient [to His laws, so that they be of use] to you;' and all the stars are subservient to His command: in this, behold, there are messages indeed for people who use their reason! (16:12)
Ironically, one of the two verses (5:58; 59:14) that describe the groups who do not use their intellect, the qawmun la yaAAqiloona (the la used is negative), narrates an ill in its second part, which is common to the modern followers of the Quran too.
They will not fight you (even) together, except in fortified townships, or from behind walls. Strong is their fighting (spirit) amongst themselves: thou wouldst think they were united, but their hearts are divided: that is because they are a people devoid of wisdom.(59:14)
The Quran also chides those who do not use their intellect. The expression ‘will ye not use intellect’, or afala taAAqiloona, is repeated in the Quran at least 14 times for emphasis (Al-Baqr 2:44, Al-Baqr 2:76, Aal-E-Imran 3:65, 6:32, 7:169, 10:16, 11:51, 12:109, 21:10, 21:67, 23:80, 28:60, 36:62 and 36:68).
Nor did We send before thee (as apostles) any but men, whom we did inspire,- (men) living in human habitations. Do they not travel through the earth, and see what was the end of those before them? But the home of the hereafter is best, for those who do right. Will ye not then understand? (12:109)
8. Arguments on rational grounds
Through this repeated use of ‘will ye not use intellect’ (afala taAAqiloona) the Quran encourages discussion on rational grounds.
The verses usually suggest a line of argument and then ask the Messenger to present it before his listeners. Such verses either begin with Qul, which means ‘Say’, or accompany verses that begin with this command. Three hundred verses begin directly with the word Qul, and several more accompany them. No verse in the Quran is claimed to represent the human Messenger’s words only.
“Say: ‘If God had so willed, I should not have rehearsed it to you, nor would He have made it known to you. A whole life-time before this have I tarried amongst you: will ye not then understand?’” (10:16)
In this verse, a sudden change from the consistent life style of a seemingly normal man to that of a preacher, but one who had never preached before, and now takes the entire old established order of
“O my people! I ask of you no reward for this (Message). My reward is from none but Him who created me: Will ye not then understand?" (11:51)
Here, the lack of any expectation from his side in return for his preaching is cited as an argument.
9. Those who do not reflect
The Quran has not only emphasized the importance of using intellectual reasoning, it has also promised strict punishment for those who do not reflect on its verses:
Those who reject Our signs, We shall gradually visit with punishment, in ways they perceive not; (7:182)
Do they see nothing in the government of the heavens and the earth and all that God hath created? (Do they not see) that it may well be that their terms is nigh drawing to an end? In what message after this will they then believe? (7:185)
The Quran has compared those who do not want to see, listen or reflect on verses, with ‘the worst of beasts’.
For the worst of beasts in the sight of God are the deaf and the dumb,- those who understand not. (8:22)
Ironically, the same allegory has been used for those who reject the Creator:
For the worst of beasts in the sight of God are those who reject Him: They will not believe (8:55)
The faith is voluntary, but according to Quran those reject it, who do not use their intellect to recognize its truth, act like beasts in a herd.
The parable of those who reject Faith is as if one were to shout like a goat-herd, to things that listen to nothing but calls and cries: Deaf, dumb, and blind, they are void of wisdom. (Al-Baqr 2:171)
10. An eternal problem of humanity
The Quran has identified the status quo maintained by the ‘Old order’ as the eternal problem which inhibits the acceptance of revealed knowledge from a fresh source, and in the dynamic interpretation of verses (Al-Baqr 2:170; 5:104).
When it is said to them: "Follow what God hath revealed:" They say: "Nay! we shall follow the ways of our fathers." What! even though their fathers were void of wisdom and guidance? (Al-Baqr 2:170)
When it is said to them: “Come to what Allah hath revealed; come to the Messenger”: They say: "Enough for us are the ways we found our fathers following." what! even though their fathers were void of knowledge and guidance? (5:104)
There are numerous such verses, and it is mentioned that almost all prophets have had to face the same resistance.
Incidentally, the Quran has also plainly revealed injunctions concerning care of elders, clarifying that respect and care of elders is different from the ‘uncritical acceptance of elders’ opinions’.
Thy Lord hath decreed that ye worship none but Him, and that ye be kind to parents. Whether one or both of them attain old age in thy life, say not to them a word of contempt, nor repel them, but address them in terms of honour. (17:23)
And, out of kindness, lower to them the wing of humility, and say: "My Lord! bestow on them thy Mercy even as they cherished me in childhood." (17:24)
11. Knowledge exists in the Quran, whose explanation we may not yet fathom
Nay, they charge with falsehood that whose knowledge they cannot compass, even before the elucidation thereof hath reached them: thus did those before them make charges of falsehood: but see what was the end of those who did wrong! (10:39)
It has been mentioned that to elucidate their knowledge, the verses of the Quran would need dynamic interpretation from a broad cosmic perspective. This interpretation will have to be based on linguistic analysis, support from tradition, and the wide base of increasing knowledge. The exact meaning of the words used can be traced through the Arabic roots, as they were understood by Bedouins in the era when the Quran was revealed, and which was been ably preserved by various early scholars.
In this context, two further verses of Quran are interesting:
12. One should not fall on verses blindly and with deaf ears
The revelations, themselves, seem to define how they should be studied:
And those who if are reminded with their Lord's verses, do not fall down on it deafly and blindly. [25:73]
In this verse the Arabic word used is kharra, which means ‘fall from on high’. Used with a negative (lam), the directive tells us ‘not to fall from on high on revelations’ or in simple language, the verse criticizes very strongly the attitude of those believers who just accept the verses in blind adoration. They do not really look for the true, deeper meaning of the words used, or how these have been used in other places, and what difference it would make if the sender of the Message is the Creator of the Cosmos Himself, and not a human being. This verse truly defines the extent to which reflection should be entertained, and how deeply the revelations need to be probed for a true understanding of their contents; yet, tragically, millions of followers of the Quran miss the true import of this verse.
13. Quran as Mahjur – a highly potent warning
We ought to remember that the depth and scope of an injunction increases immeasurably if the Source is non-human. Therefore, invitations to humanity from the Creator of the Cosmos Himself to look around at ‘nature’, and at the created order of things, should not simply be taken to mean noticing them casually in order to reinforce belief in the Creator. These verses imply intense effort, with deep and patient observation, of natural phenomena; the designing of instruments, laboratories and observatories for collection of data; and then reflection on this data by men of knowledge, brilliance, and with a positive perspective through increasingly complex programs, in order to recognize the Design in creation.
Tragically, the Ulema, the learned ones of the community, exhibit a tendency to curb all original reflection on the verses of the Quran, and bind its interpretation with reference to a particular era and culture. Anticipating this problem of ‘blind following’ and ‘uncritical acceptance of the opinion of elders’ with reference to the interpretation of the Quran, a clear warning for the community has been communicated in its text, against any attempt to restrict its potential guidance. In a verse (25:30) that describes a possible future scenario, Muhammad (PBUH) complains to God on the Day of Judgment regarding the behavior of his people towards the Quran:
Then the messenger will say: "O my Lord, truly my people treated this Quran with neglect." (25:30)
The specific word translated as ‘neglect’ here is mahjoor. The point to note is that the word hujr or hujur means to tie up the foot of a camel, or any other animal, with rope to restrict its movements [Steingass 1165].
The Arabic word Mahjoor thus represents an animal which has been tied in such a way that it cannot move freely on its own. By restricting its movements, the owner of the animal could leave the animal alone and untended, safe in the knowledge that on his return, he would be able to find it at the same place.
Almost all commentators (except QXP) who have translated Mahjoor with reference to the Quran as neglect (as used above), or ‘of no account’ (Pickthal), ‘a thing to be shunned’ (Arberry), ‘a forsaken thing’ (Shakir), ‘abandoned’ (Sarwar) and as ‘deserted’ (Khalifa et al.), do not take into account that these adjectives only become applicable to the Quran, after it is / has been prevented, hindered, withheld, inhibited and restrained from functioning in the way for which it was intended, i.e. to guide correctly. The words used by commentators actually reflect the second stage, while the verse is in fact referring to the act occurring in the first stage, which in turn becomes responsible for the second stage.
Thus the true warning is not about a general abandoning of the Quran by common man, but about restraining and preventing its verses from revealing guidance, and that this was the reason for its being abandoned. The ‘learned ones’ MUST reflect on this verse, with all the intensity that God’s Words deserve, according to their faith. The word Mahjoor has been used to describe the Quran in the Quran itself, and as part of a complaint to God on the Day of Judgment, by no less a man than Muhammad (PBUH) himself, on how the community has treated the Quran.
Such a warning ought to be taken extremely solemnly by the Ulema of the present day, when they lay down restrictive conditions, or put curbs on the interpretation of the Quran.