Jan 29, 2013

Intellect عقل Akal in Islam


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بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

الَّذِينَ يَسْتَمِعُونَ الْقَوْلَ فَيَتَّبِعُونَ أَحْسَنَهُ ۚ أُولَٰئِكَ الَّذِينَ هَدَاهُمُ اللَّهُ ۖ وَأُولَٰئِكَ هُمْ أُولُو الْأَلْبَابِ
Quran 39:18
Who listen to the Saying (and) so closely follow the fairest of it. Those are they whom Allah has guided, and those are the ones endowed with intellects.

Yang berusaha mendengar perkataan-perkataan yang sampai kepadanya lalu mereka memilih dan menurut akan yang sebaik-baiknya (pada segi hukum ugama); mereka itulah orang-orang yang diberi hidayah petunjuk oleh Allah dan mereka itulah orang-orang yang berakal sempurna.
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Sheikh Shady Alsuleiman
The Position and Role of the Mind in Islam



Does Islam permit critical thinking?
By Muhammadullah Muhammad Khalili Qasmi

Markazul Maarif Education & research Centre, Mumbai, India

Many believe that Islam has banned critical thinking and introduced a kind of stagnation in the field. So, I want to answer the common question "Does Islam permit critical thinking?"

People state, "Most Muslim schools focus on rote memorization of religious texts and discourage independent thinking". There are two different things; critical thinking and rational or independent thinking. There are categories where the mind should play its role and where it should not poke its nose. The clear and apparent meanings of the Glorious Qur'aan and the Hadith, which are called "Mansusaat" or 'Nusoos-e-Qatiyah' in Islamic terms, have no place for criticism. Here, rational thinking to find out the depth is not only permissible but also encouraged in Islam. The principle beliefs, obligatory practices are from this category where the human mind is allowed to explore the reasons and the facts of the matters, but it is not allowed to criticize since the mind has its own limitation as other human faculties have.

For instance, what the hearing faculty can do the smelling faculty cannot, and what the eyes can see the others cannot. As we see a plane flying in the sky, looks very little, if we use only our eyes and not mind, it will be that the plane is small like a bird. But here, we use our mind and say 'no' since the plane is at a certain height that is why we see it small otherwise it is huge. As in this example, there comes one point where the boundary of eye's action ends and the boundary of mind's action begins. Likewise, there is one point where certainly the human mind fails. This is a common idea every sane believes in.

But ahead of this, there is difference between Muslims and others. Muslims believe in 'Wahy', which can be translated as 'revelation' which is by Allah almighty to his messengers and prophets through different ways. The action of 'Wahy' begins from where the action of human mind comes to an end. The 'Wahy' tells us specially about the things which generally a mere human mind cannot find out. The existence of Allah, His attributes, the hell, the paradise, Day of Judgment etc are known only by 'Wahy'. Since, these matters are out of the reach of human mind so the human beings are asked just to believe in. The issue of 'wahy' is based on a principle that every action of human being is poised with error, it is only Allah and His Messengers who are free from human mistakes. That is why there is no possibility of error and criticism in their matters. The human body is temporal and mundane so the parts of the body are also mortal. They cannot have the feeling of things which belongs to another permanent and eternal world. This even we observe in our day-to-day life that if a villager is told about the facts of astronomy he nearly denies all the same.

Besides, Islam allows critical thinking in other matters. The four major schools of thought in Islamic Fiqh i.e. Hanafi, Shaf'ee, Maliki, Hanbli are the clear proof of the claim. The scholars, having deep knowledge of the Glorious Qur'aan, Hadith and Islamic sciences, discussed the matters, which were not explicitly mentioned in the Qur'aan and Hadith, and they perform Ijtihad. In this course, they many times contradicted each other and had different opinions about same issue. But, after all, there opposition was barely not an opposition to play down the other but sincere and concrete opposition based on proofs and evidences. That is why today nearly all of the Ummah follows any of the four schools and none of them deny the other, each of them believes that all are on right path.

Likewise, in Islam 'Amr bil Maroof' (enjoining the right) and 'Nahy anil Munkar' (forbidding from wrong) are the basic rules of a social life, which Allah almighty has counted in one of the characteristics of this Ummah as He states:

"You are the best community that has been raised up for mankind. You enjoin right conduct and forbid indecency; and you believe in Allah." (Surah Ale-Imran, 3:110)

This is emphasized by other verses and holy Hadiths, as for example a Hadith says:

"If any of you sees an evil done he/she should stop it by his hand, if he/she cannot he/she should protest against it, if cannot then at least he/she should repulse it by heart, and this is the weakest from of faith." (Sahih Muslim, V 1 p 51)

As another Hadith assets "The best form of Jihad is to utter the truth before an oppressor ruler". You might know the story of a common person who stood before Hazrat Umar Farooq while he was delivering a sermon and said if you will go wrong we will rectify you by our swords, in reply Hazrat Umar thanked Allah that his caliphate enjoys persons determined for truth and justice. Here, one thing should be kept in mind that, though Islam has allowed criticizing, it sternly prohibits backbiting and hurting others.

"O ye who believe! Let not a folk deride a folk who may be better than they (are), nor let women (deride) women who may be better than they are; neither defame one another, nor insult one another by (insulting) nicknames. Bad is the name of lewdness after faith. And whoso turneth not in repentance, such are evil doers. O ye who believe! Shun much suspicion; for lo! some suspicion is a crime. And spy not, neither backbite one another. Would one of you love to eat the flesh of his dead brother? Ye abhor that (so abhor the other)! And keep your duty (to Allah). Lo! Allah is Relenting, Merciful." (Surah Al-Hujrat, 49: 12, 13)

So, this means that criticism should not be for the sake of criticism, and on personal basis but it should be with a good intention, i.e. 'Islaah' based on social etiquettes.

All these things prove that Islam has never discouraged independent thinking and criticizing, it has allowed human mind to function in areas where it can work. Not only this that Islam has allowed independent thinking, but it is The Glorious Qur'aan which has set the tradition of thinking in the creation of Allah and asked its followers to reflect on the natural phenomena. For example the Glorious Qur'aan praises people who think:

"Lo! In the creation of the heavens and the earth and (in) the difference of night and day are tokens (of His sovereignty) for men of understanding. Such as remember Allah, standing, sitting, and reclining, and consider the creation of the heavens and the earth, (and say): Our Lord! Thou created not this in vain. Glory be to Thee! Preserve us from the doom of Fire" (Surah Ale-Imran, 3: 190, 191)

Before Islam, nearly every religion, which existed then, adopted creatures as God. This concept stopped them to think in the reality of the creatures of the heaven and earth. When Islam came it concentrated the human belief only in Allah and regarded the entire universe as the servant of the human beings. Thus, Islam opened the door of independent thinking in Muslims and it led them to a grand era of science.

It is not correct to write: "they (students) are not allowed to learn about modern scientific ideas such as evolution, secular histories of other nations, or anything which would conflict with the religious tenants of Islam." There is a vast difference between believing and learning. Islam has fully allowed Muslims to learn scientific education but not to believe in the matters that contradict with established Islamic beliefs. Because, the science is ever-growing and ever-changing. For example, the scientific facts of Newton in 17th century known as 'Gravitation Laws' were so widely believed that those who denied were called as insane. But, later in 20th century Einstein came and the entire theory of Newton turned up side down. So, as a Muslim, one should think whether one is going to change one's beliefs which are told by All-Knowing Allah to the notions that have no concrete ground.

Some one wrote "Some of the religious schools (madrasas) merely propagandize militant Islamic beliefs and indoctrinate little boys into becoming warriors for the next Jihad." I do not know any madrasa, specially in India, where so called 'militant Islamic beliefs' are 'propagandized', and I do not even understand what this 'militant Islamic beliefs' mean. Likewise, the one who made this statement should point out in which madrasa little boys are indoctrinated to become 'warriors for Jihad'. I will be highly thankful to the one who wrote this to provide me correct information. Otherwise, let me very plainly say that the above statement is a lie and some people became habitual to believe in wide spread lies. They have closed their sights and hearing and blocked their minds and now believe blindly in what's being spread by some anti-Islamic elements.

Allah knows the best!

irfi.org

Sheikh Yasir Qadhi
Intelligent Faith
The Role of Reason and Intellect in Islam

 ilmisfree



WHAT IS INDEPENDENT THINKING ?
Dr. M. A. Muqtedar Khan

For various theological and historical reasons the idea of "independent thinking" has become a highly contested one within the Muslim community. The term means different things to different people and based on these different understandings, people engage in either advocating or rejecting independent thinking among Muslims. In this article I hope to clarify some of the major interpretations of the term and the related politics of meanings.

The jurists use independent thinking as an elucidatory instrument. It is to be invoked in order to understand the injunctions of the Shariah on issues on which the primary sources, The Quran and the Sunnah are silent. For some it is an exercise of opinion (Ra’y as with the Hanafis) and for some it is merely the practice of qiyas, analogical reasoning (The Shafiis). There are of course some schools which leave no room for any independent thinking claiming that the sources are comprehensive. There are also variations in this school of thought. Some privilege only The Quran, others overemphasize the Sunnah, some claim to maintain a balance. The juristic understanding remains, conservative, often defensive and even paranoid.

Outside the discourse of the traditional jurists, intellectuals, reformers and philosophers, have seen independent thinking as not only inevitable but a mandate, that enables the continuous renewal and revival of the Islamic spirit. For them independent thinking is the use of reason, science, and experience to understand Islam in the present context and also understand God’s creation. God has spoken to humanity through many media, texts and prophesy are just one medium. The universe around us is also God’s continuous communication. Independent thinking is thus another way to understand God’s message through reading his other book -- nature. Ibn Tufayl’s famous story of Hai Ibn Yaqzan, is a brilliant example.

To my mind, independent thinking is more than a "process" or an activity. It is also not just a juristic tool. For me independent thinking is a state of being. It is the state in which a human being realizes that he/she is a fully functioning cognitive, rational and moral being, aware that one is accountable for one’s actions to a higher being, and would therefore like to always act intentionally and meaningfully. This intent and meaning in action can only come from within.

Therefore a comprehension and awareness of the logic and motivation behind every action is necessary. Such cognitive and reflective beings can only emerge if one takes one’s cognitive and rational faculties seriously. If however one rejects one’s own rational and cognitive capabilities then one has rejected one’s own humanity. One can then only be an ape! Islamic theology has a term for this aping, it is called taqleed. I cannot conceive of any human and any Muslim as an ape. Therefore aping (taqleed) is not an option.

Given this, how do we understand the relationship between Sunnah and independent thinking? Does independent thinking necessarily reject Sunnah. NO! Independent thinking rejects aping, blind imitation, without understanding. Muslims are not required to ape the Prophet of (Islam). Just as we choose to sport a beard even when safety razors are available but not ride a camel when a car is available. We understand the Sunnah and its meaning so that when we act, we can also invest an Islamic meaning in our actions.

There are also popular understandings of the term independent thinking. Muslims who believe that Islam is not limited to that past and its principles are adaptable to the changing conditions of modern life, see independent thinking as a means of reconciling the demands of contemporary life with Islamic injunctions.

But there are also Muslims, who are paranoid and think that independent thinking and Shariah are mutually exclusive. Therefore if we advocate independent thinking we advocate a departure from the Shariah. These Muslims are laboring under the assumption that the shariah is a static body of fiqh articulated in the first and the second century of Islam. To put it bluntly, they confuse the opinions of the classical scholars with shariah and so independent thinking becomes anti-shariah because it may entail disagreements with past scholars.

Needless to say, the popular understanding od the term independent thinking are simplistic and over generalized. They are mere reflections of people’s attitude towards life itself. Those who are not afraid of change view independent thinking positively. While those who are afraid of change see independent thinking as dangerous, even anti-Islamic.

I believe that the present socio-political, economic, geopolitical, moral and cultural conditions of the Ummah is less than acceptable. We cannot and must not exist as we do today. Therefore change is necessary, indeed inevitable. By corollary independent thinking is necessary and inevitable. It has to happen and will happen. It is only a matter of choice. To we take the first step or wait for the next generation. I think why put off till tomorrow what can be done now!

ijtihad.org


Epistemology in Islamic philosophy

Muslim philosophers agree that knowledge is possible. Knowledge is the intellect's grasp of the immaterial forms, the pure essences or universals that constitute the natures of things, and human happiness is achieved only through the intellect's grasp of such universals. They stress that for knowledge of the immaterial forms, the human intellect generally relies on the senses. Some philosophers, such as Ibn Rushd and occasionally Ibn Sina, assert that it is the material forms themselves, which the senses provide, that are grasped by the intellect after being stripped of their materiality with the help of the divine world. However, the general view as expressed by al-Farabi and Ibn Sina seems to be that the material forms only prepare the way for the reception of the immaterial forms, which are then provided by the divine world. They also state that on rare occasions the divine world simply bestows the immaterial forms on the human intellect without any help from the senses. This occurrence is known as prophecy. While all Muslim philosophers agree that grasping eternal entities ensures happiness, they differ as to whether such grasping is also necessary for eternal existence.
1. Nature of knowledge

Muslim philosophers are primarily concerned with human happiness and its attainment. Regardless of what they consider this happiness to be, all agree that the only way to attain it is through knowledge. The theory of knowledge, epistemology, has therefore been their main preoccupation and appears chiefly in their logical and psychological writings. Epistemology concerns itself primarily with the possibility, nature and sources of knowledge. Taking the possibility of knowledge for granted, Muslim philosophers focused their epistemological effort on the study of the nature and sources of knowledge. Their intellectual inquiries, beginning with logic and ending with metaphysics and in some cases mysticism, were in the main directed towards helping to understand what knowledge is and how it comes about.

Following in the footsteps of the Greek philosophers, Muslim philosophers consider knowledge to be the grasping of the immaterial forms, natures, essences or realities of things. They are agreed that the forms of things are either material (that is, existing in matter) or immaterial (existing in themselves). While the latter can be known as such, the former cannot be known unless first detached from their materiality. Once in the mind, the pure forms act as the pillars of knowledge. The mind constructs objects from these forms, and with these objects it makes judgments. Thus Muslim philosophers, like Aristotle before them, divided knowledge in the human mind into conception (tasawwur), apprehension of an object with no judgment, and assent (tasdiq), apprehension of an object with a judgment, the latter being, according to them, a mental relation of correspondence between the concept and the object for which it stands. Conceptions are the main pillars of assent; without conception, one cannot have a judgment. In itself, conception is not subject to truth and falsity, but assent is. However, it should be pointed out that tasdiq is a misleading term in Islamic philosophy. It is generally used in the sense of 'accepting truth or falsity', but also occasionally in the sense of 'accepting truth'. One must keep in mind, however, that when assent is said to be a form of knowledge, the word is then used, not in the broad sense to mean true or false judgment, but in the narrow sense to mean true judgment.

In Islamic philosophy, conceptions are in the main divided into the known and the unknown. The former are grasped by the mind actually, the latter potentially. Known conceptions are either self-evident (that is, objects known to normal human minds with immediacy such as 'being', 'thing' and 'necessary') or acquired (that is, objects known through mediation, such as 'triangle'). With the exception of the self-evident conceptions, conceptions are known or unknown relative to individual minds. Similarly, Muslim philosophers divided assent into the known and the unknown, and the known assent into the self-evident and the acquired. The self-evident assent is exemplified by 'the whole is greater than the part', and the acquired by 'the world is composite'. In Kitab at-tanbih 'ala sabil as-sa'ada (The Book of Remarks Concerning the Path of Happiness), al-Farabi calls the self-evident objects: 'the customary, primary, well-known knowledge, which one may deny with one's tongue, but which one cannot deny with one's mind since it is impossible to think their contrary'. Of the objects of conception and assent, only the unknown ones are subject to inquiry. By reducing the number of unknown objects one can increase knowledge and provide the chance for happiness. But how does such reduction come about?
2. Sources of knowledge

In Islamic philosophy there are two theories about the manner in which the number of unknown objects is reduced. One theory stresses that this reduction is brought about by moving from known objects to unknown ones, the other that it is merely the result of direct illumination given by the divine world. The former is the upward or philosophical way, the second the downward or prophetic one. According to the former theory, movement from the known objects of conception to the unknown ones can be effected chiefly through the explanatory phrase (al-qawl ash-sharih). The proof (al-burhan) is the method for moving from the known objects of assent to the unknown ones. The explanatory phrase and proof can be either valid or invalid: the former leads to certitude, the latter to falsehood. The validity and invalidity of the explanatory phrase and proof can be determined by logic, which is a set of rules for such determination. Ibn Sina points out that logic is a necessary key to knowledge and cannot be replaced except by God's guidance, as opposed to other types of rules such as grammar for discourse (which can be replaced by a good natural mind) and metre for poetry (which can be replaced by good taste).

By distinguishing the valid from the invalid explanatory phrase and proof, logic serves a higher purpose, namely that of disclosing the natures or essences of things. It does this because conceptions reflect the realities or natures of things and are the cornerstones of the explanatory phrase and proof. Because logic deals only with expressions that correspond to conceptions, when it distinguishes the valid from the invalid it distinguishes at the same time the realities or natures of things from their opposites. Thus logic is described as the key to the knowledge of the natures of things. This knowledge is described as the key to happiness; hence the special status of logic in Islamic philosophy.
3. Logic and knowledge

We are told that because logic deals only with the known and unknown, it cannot deal with anything outside the mind. Because it is a linguistic instrument (foreign in nature to the realities of things), it cannot deal with such realities directly, whether they exist in the mind or outside it, or are external to these two realms of existence. It can only deal with the states or accidents of such realities, these states comprising links among the realities and intermediaries between the realities and language. Logic therefore deals with the states of such realities, as they exist in the mind. Such states are exemplified by 'subject' or 'predicate', 'universality' or 'particularity', 'essentiality' or 'accidentality'. In other words, logic can deal with realities only in that these realities are subjects or predicates, universal or particular, essential or accidental and so on.

Because the ultimate human objective is the understanding of the realities, essences or natures of things, and because the ultimate logical objective is the understanding of conceptions, logicians must focus on the understanding of those conceptions that lead to the understanding of the essences if they intend to serve humanity. Ibn Sina points out that since the essences are universal, such expressions are also universal in the sense of representing universal conceptions such as 'human being', not in the sense of being universal only in expression, such as 'Zayd'. A universal expression can be applied to more than one thing, as the last two examples show, but one must keep in mind Ibn Sina's distinction between these two types of universal expressions: the former represents reality, although indirectly, the latter does not. It is only the former with which the logician should be concerned (see Logic in Islamic philosophy).

Considering that the discussion of universals occupies a central place in Arabic logic, it is important to focus briefly on this subject to ensure understanding of the proper objects of the knowledge of the natures of things. Muslim philosophers divide universal expressions into five types, known together as the five predicables: genus, species, difference, property and common accident. Genus refers to the common nature of all the species that fall under it, such as 'animality' for 'human being', 'dog', 'cat' and so on. As such, it tells us what the general nature of a thing is. Species refers to the common nature of all the individuals that fall under it, such as 'human being' for 'John', 'George' and 'Dorothy'. As such, it tells us what the specific nature of a thing is. Difference refers to that which differentiates the members of the genus, such as 'rational', which differentiates the species of being human from other animal species; it tells us which thing a being is. These three universals are essential to a thing; that is, without them the essence will not be what it is. Property and common accident are accidental, in that they attach to the thing but are not part of its essence. Property refers to something that necessarily attaches to one universal only, such as 'capacity for laughter' for 'human being'. Common accident refers to a quality that attaches to more than one universal, either in an inseparable manner, such as 'black' for 'crow', or in a separable manner, such as 'black' for 'human being'. The inseparability of the common accident, however, is only in existence.

Only the first three of the above universals constitute the essences of things. If one is to understand the essence of a thing, one must first understand its genus, species and difference or differences. The understanding of these three universals takes place through the explanatory phrase and proof, of which these universals are simple elements. The explanatory phrase is either definition or description. The definition is a phrase which mirrors the essence of a thing by indicating its general and specific essential qualities, that is, its genus, species and difference; the description is like the definition except that it indicates the property instead of the difference. Thus the description does not give a complete picture of the essence of a thing as does the definition. The proof is a set of propositions, which consist of conceptions joined or separated by particles. The proof that helps in the understanding of the essences of things is that which moves from known universal judgments to an unknown universal one.

The important question that concerned Muslim philosophers is how the universals or forms that are essential to the natures of things arrive at the human mind before it has the chance to employ the explanatory phrase and proof to compose known conceptions and known judgments from them. In order to answer this question, Muslim philosophers first discussed the structure of the human soul and then the steps through which the universals pass on their way to the place of knowledge (see Soul in Islamic philosophy). As stated above, conceptions come to the mind through either the philosophical way or the prophetic way. The philosophical way requires one first to use one's external senses to grasp the universals as they exist in the external world, mixed with matter. Then the internal senses, which like the external senses are a part of the animal soul, take in these universals and purify them of matter as much as possible. The imagination is the highest internal sense, in which these universals settle until the next cognitive move. It is from this point to the next step in the philosophical journey that the details seem particularly unclear.
4. The role of the mind

All Muslim philosophers believe that above the senses there is the rational soul. This has two parts: the practical and theoretical intellects. The theoretical intellect is responsible for knowledge; the practical intellect concerns itself only with the proper management of the body through apprehension of particular things so that it can do the good and avoid the bad. All the major Muslim philosophers, beginning with al-Kindi, wrote treatises on the nature and function of the theoretical intellect, which may be referred to as the house of knowledge.

In addition to the senses and the theoretical intellect, Muslim philosophers include in their discussion of the instruments of knowledge a third factor. They teach that the divine world contains, among other things, intelligences, the lowest of which is what al-Kindi calls the First Intellect (al-'aql al-awwal), better known in Arabic philosophy as the 'agent intellect' (al-'aql al-fa''al), the name given to it by al-Farabi (§3), or 'the giver of forms' (wahib as-suwar). They contend that the world around us is necessary for the attainment of philosophical knowledge. Some, such as Ibn Bajja, Ibn Rushd and occasionally Ibn Sina, say that the mixed universals in the imagination that have been derived from the outside world through the senses are eventually purified completely by the light of the agent intellect, and are then reflected onto the theoretical intellect.

Al-Farabi's and Ibn Sina's general view, however, is that these imagined universals only prepare the theoretical intellect for the reception of the universals from the agent intellect that already contains them. When expressing this view, Ibn Sina states that it is not the universals in the imagination themselves that are transmitted to the theoretical intellect but their shadow, which is created when the light of the agent intellect is shed on these universals. This is similar, he says, to the shadow of an object which is reflected on the eye when sunlight is cast on that object. While the manner in which the universals in the imagination can prepare the theoretical intellect for knowledge is in general unclear, it is vaguely remarked by al-Farabi and Ibn Sina that this preparation is due to the similarity of these universals to the pure universals, and to the familiarity of the theoretical intellect with the imagined universals owing to its proximity to the imagination. In other words, the familiarity of this intellect with what resembles its proper objects prepares it for the reception of these objects from the agent intellect.
5. Philosophical and prophetic knowledge

The prophetic way is a much easier and simpler path (see Prophecy). One need not take any action to receive the divinely given universals; the only requirement seems to be the possession of a strong soul capable of receiving them. While the philosophical way moves from the imagination upward to the theoretical intellect, the prophetic way takes the reverse path, from the theoretical intellect to the imagination. For this reason, knowledge of philosophy is knowledge of the natures of things themselves, while knowledge of prophecy is knowledge of the natures of things as wrapped up in symbols, the shadows of the imagination.

Philosophical and prophetic truth is the same, but it is attained and expressed differently. Ibn Tufayl's Hayy Ibn Yaqzan is the best illustration of the harmony of philosophy and religion (see Ibn Tufayl). The so-called double truth theory wrongly views these two paths to knowledge as two types of truth, thus attributing to Ibn Rushd a view foreign to Islamic philosophy. One of the most important contributions of Islamic philosophy is the attempt to reconcile Greek philosophy and Islam by accepting the philosophical and prophetic paths as leading to the same truth.

Muslim philosophers agree that knowledge in the theoretical intellect passes through stages. It moves from potentiality to actuality and from actuality to reflection on actuality, thus giving the theoretical intellect the respective names of potential intellect, actual intellect and acquired intellect. Some Muslim philosophers explain that the last is called 'acquired' because its knowledge comes to it from the outside, and so it can be said to acquire it. The acquired intellect is the highest human achievement, a holy state that conjoins the human and the divine realms by conjoining the theoretical and agent intellects.

Following in the footsteps of Alexander of Aphrodisias, al-Farabi, Ibn Bajja and Ibn Rushd believe that the theoretical intellect is potential by nature, and therefore disintegrates unless it grasps the eternal objects, the essential universals, for the known and the knower are one. Ibn Sina rejects the view that the theoretical intellect is potential by nature. He argues instead that it is eternal by nature because unless it is, it cannot grasp the eternal objects. For him, happiness is achieved by this intellect's grasping of the eternal objects, for such grasping perfects the soul. Muslim philosophers who believe that eternity is attained only through knowledge also agree with Ibn Sina that knowledge is perfection and perfection is happiness.

See also: Epistemology; Ethics in Islamic philosophy; al-Farabi (§3); Ibn Bajja (§3); Ibn Rushd (§6); Ibn Sina (§3); al-Kindi; Logic in Islamic philosophy; Meaning in Islamic philosophy SHAMS C. INATI
Copyright © 1998, Routledge.
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References and further reading Davidson, H.A. (1992) Al-Farabi, Avicenna and Averroes on Intellect, London: Oxford University Press. (Discusses the link between Greek and Arabic understanding of intellect and the various transformations the concept of intellect underwent in Islamic philosophy.)

Fakhry, M. (ed.) (1992) Rasa'il Ibn Bajja al-ilahiyya (Ibn Bajja's Metaphysical Essays), Beirut: Dar al-Jil. (Includes the most important of Ibn Bajja's philosophical treatises, Tadbir al-mutawahhid (Management of the Solitary), Risalat al-ittisal al-'aql al-fa''al bil-insan (Essay on the Conjunction of the Intellect with Human Beings) and Risalat al-wada' (Essay on Bidding Farewell).)

al-Farabi (c.870-950) Risala fi al-'aql (Essay on the Intellect), ed. M. Bouyges, Beirut: al-Maktab al-Katulikiyya, 1939. (One of the best known and most influential treatises on intellect in Islamic philosophy; it gives the different senses of 'intellect' known to al-Farabi.)

* al-Farabi (c.870-950) Kitab at-tanbih 'ala sabil as-sa'ada (The Book of Remarks Concerning the Path of Happiness), ed. J. Al-Yasin, Beirut: Dar al-Manahil, 1985. (Includes al-Farabi's definition of the self-evident objects.)

Ibn Rushd (1126-98) Talkhis kitab an-nafs (Epitome of Aristotle's On the Soul), ed. A.F. al-Ahwani, Cairo: Maktabat an-Nahda, 1950. (This edition also includes three other essays: Ibn Bajja's Risalat al-ittisal (Essay on Conjunction), Ishaq ibn Hunayn's Kitab fi an-nafs (Book on the Soul) and al-Kindi's Risalat al-'aql (Essay on Intellect).)

Ibn Sina (980-1037) al-Shifa' (Healing), ed. F. Rahman, London: Oxford University Press, 1959. (Standard account by Ibn Sina of his views on the soul, including the essays at-Tabi'iyyat (Physics) and an-Nafs (Psychology).)

Ibn Sina (980-1037) al-Isharat wa'l-tanbihat (Remarks and Admonitions), part translated by S.C. Inati, Remarks and Admonitions: Part One, Logic, Toronto: Pontifical Institute for Mediaeval Studies, 1984. (The most comprehensive of Ibn Sina's logic and best representation of Arabic logic.)

* Ibn Tufayl (before 1185) Hayy Ibn Yaqzan (The Living Son of the Vigilant), ed. L. Gauthier, Beirut: Catholic Press, 1936; trans. L. Goodman, Ibn Tufayl's Hayy Ibn Yaqzan, A Philosophical Tale, New York: Twayne Publishers, 1972. (Expresses the harmony between reason and revelation in a literary form).

Nuseibeh, S. (1996) 'Epistemology', in S.H. Nasr and O. Leaman (eds) History of Islamic Philosophy, London: Routledge, ch. 49, 824-40. (Analysis of the main concepts of epistemology, along with discussion of how some of the main thinkers take up different positions.)

Rida, A. (ed.) (1950) Rasa'il al-Kindi al-falsafiyya (al-Kindi's Philosophical Essays), Cairo: Dar al-Fikr al-'Arabi. (These two volumes include four essays relevant to al-Kindi's theory of knowledge: Risalat al-Kindi fi al-qawl fi an-nafs (Al-Kindi's Essay on the Discourse Concerning the Soul), Kalam lil-Kindi fi an-nafs (Words for al-Kindi Concerning the Soul), Risalat al-Kindi fi mahiyyat an-nawm war-ru'ya (Al-Kindi's Essay on Sleep and Vision) and Risalat al-Kindi fi al-'aql (Al-Kindi's Essay on the Intellect). The last of these is the best known and seems to have been the first in a long and influential series of Arabic works on the intellect.)

Rosenthal, F. (1970) Knowledge Triumphant: The Concept of Knowledge in Medieval Islam, Leiden: Brill. (By far the best work on epistemology in Islamic thought, authoritative and always interesting.)
What Role Should the Intellect Play When Seeking God ?
Answered by Sidi Faraz A. Khan

Question: I am an agnostic, this means that I believe that there might be a God, but due to lack of evidence I do not make a decision. Recently, I have become very interested in Islam. I find the messages are always filled with love and compassion. But certain aspects of religion, and these are not limited to Islam, are seemingly incompatible with my view of the universe.

These aspects are usually of the mystical variety. In particular, I am concerned with angels, jinns, heaven, hell and the day of judgment. I know that these are integral parts of Islam.

The way I was brought up was never to accept anything blindly. Reacting critically to observations and facts, is what makes me a scientist.

I have always felt that science and religion are not contradictory to each other. But attempting to grasp these concepts from a critical point of view makes me want to reject them. I could redefine these terms so that they make sense in such a critical framework, but I am afraid that envisioning them as such would rob them of their place in Islam. For example I could imagine that heaven and hell are states of mind which we experience our time on earth, judgment day a continuous event. But I know that re-interpreting the Qur’an in a metaphorical way at any convenient time, done for example by the Mu’tazilli, is not accepted by most branches of Islam

I can not simply submit to these beliefs; it would make me a hypocrite. Furthermore I feel that refusing to use the capabilities of thought and reason given to me by God would be an insult to him.

Is there any advice you can give me to help me find a way to being a good Muslim without betraying myself? Thank you.

Answer: In the name of God, Most Merciful, All Compassionate

Thank you for your question - it reflects one of the greatest challenges that religion faces in the modern world. Religion is based on faith, while the modern world has devoted itself to a particular paradigm of the intellect reflected in modern science and critical thought. The following serves only as a summarized presentation of this issue, as it is one that deserves much more discussion.

On Faith, the Heart, and the Intellect

The Prophet Muhammad [peace and blessings be upon him] was asked what faith was, to which he responded, “That you believe in God, His angels, His revealed books, His messengers, the Last Day, and predestination - both its good and evil.” [Sahih Muslim]

A key aspect of this prophetic response is the very beginning of the statement, “That you believe.” Faith is rooted ultimately in what Islamic cosmology terms “the heart,” that is, the spiritual heart. This is the locus of belief for the human. It is the faculty within the human being that enables him to know the Divine, with a knowledge that results from submission, devotion, contentment in His decree, and gratitude. These are the means by which to reach knowledge of God, and they are the only means.

The intellect, as important and valuable as it is, is therefore not the only capacity with which the human can perceive truth. It alone can never reach true experiential knowledge of the Divine. However, it is still an indispensable tool for human success in worldly affairs, as well as an aid in the human pursuit of the Divine. This is because the very first step in one’s spiritual journey to reach Divine pleasure is to learn what He has ordained for us in His revealed Sacred Law. This knowledge is acquired by the intellect. Yet to apply that knowledge in one’s life, in a state of submission and contentment, is a task for the spiritual heart, not the intellect.

Critical thought must be put aside for the heart to thrive. In Islamic cosmology, the most symbolic physical manifestation of human submission to the Divine is prostration, which the Prophet Muhammad [peace and blessings be upon him] described as a position in which the servant is closest to his Lord. It is interesting to note that in that position, the brain is physically lower than the heart. With one’s forehead on the ground, the intellect is made to submit while the heart is elevated to its appropriate place of superiority.

The Place of the Intellect

This understanding by no means negates the value of human intellect. The mind is one of the greatest gifts of God to humanity. Muslim scholars have written much on the merits of the intellect and its lofty place in Islam, as it is the very basis of human civilization and development, as well as the means by which humans learn how to worship the Divine. And coupled with experience - or experimentation - it has immense potential for societal betterment. As an Arab poet once said, “Have you not considered how the intellect is an adornment for its possessor? Yet its perfection is only by plentiful experience.” [Mawardi, Adab al-Dunya wal-Din]

Having said that however, like any organ or faculty in the human being, it does have limitations. This is why the Islamic scholar Imam Zarnuji states:

“The people of truth - those who adhere to the prophetic way and the Muslim majority - seek truth from God, a truth that is clear and that guides and protects, and so God guides them and protects them from deviation.

The people of misguidance, however, are people who are impressed with their opinions and their intellects, and therefore seek truth from this created faculty within them that alone is simply incapable of discerning the truth. This is because the intellect cannot perceive all things, just as the human eye cannot see all things. So they are veiled and prove incapable of discerning truth, and fall into misguidance and go astray…

Therefore, the very first task of the intellect is to realize its limits, as reflected in the prophetic saying, “Whoever knows himself will come to know his Lord.” That is, whoever realizes his own incapacity will come to know the infinite power of the Divine. Such a person will not rely on himself or his intellect, but rather place his complete trust wholeheartedly with God and seek the truth from Him alone. And whoever places his trust completely in God, God proves sufficient for him and guides him to a magnificent straight path.” [Zarnuji, Ta`lim al-Muta`llim]

Although Imam Zarnuji lived 800 years ago, his words are timeless and prove as relevant to us today as they did in his time, if not more so. We live in an age in which the intellect is worshiped - total reliance is placed on it for discerning all types of truth. Yet the intellect, as spectacular and brilliant of a faculty as it is, is nevertheless limited. Just like the human eye, it cannot perceive all of reality. We now know that certain wavelengths comprise what is termed “the visible spectrum,” and that the eye - despite it being an amazing organ - is limited and cannot perceive wavelengths outside the visible spectrum. No matter how much it attempts to focus, the eye alone will not be able to perceive realities outside of those wavelengths.

Does that mean reality is limited to the visible spectrum, since that is all we can see? Of course not. And moreover, we know that certain species of birds and bees, for example, can indeed see outside of our visible spectrum. They have access to what we do not have access to.

This is how we must understand the intellect. It is a phenomenal faculty that we are endowed with, and it can indeed do wonders in the material world. Yet it is limited. There are certain realities it simply does not have access to, no matter how much it endeavors to perceive those realities. Coming to terms with this is not easy for the modern man, who is engrossed in an age devoted to science and critical thought.

This is why Imam Zarnuji’s other counsel proves timeless as well, namely, to not be impressed with our intellects. The more we are impressed with our mental capacity, the more difficult it is to realize its limitations. Sincere desire to discern spiritual realities is predicated upon humility and recognition of one’s limitations. This is the key to accepting truth, as well as the key to moving forward in implementing truth in one’s life. Hence the name of our religion, Islam, is an Arabic word that literally means “to submit.” Submission allows for recognition and acceptance of Divine oneness, and it is the greatest means for spiritual growth after that acceptance.

Prophets and Messengers: Beyond the Spectrum

Just as birds and bees can see realities beyond the visible spectrum, certain humans have been shown realities beyond the scope of human perception. God singled them out and honored them to relay His message of Divine oneness and submission, and He showed them many realities to which we have no access, in order for them to convey to us those realities based on direct experience rather than merely being informed. As the Prophet Muhammad [peace and blessings be upon him] stated, “Being informed is nothing like actual experience.” [Musnad Ahmad; Mustadrak Hakim]

The prophets and messengers directly saw angels, jinns, heaven and hell. They were shown glimpses of events that will take place on Judgment Day. And they received revelation from God as confirmation of what they saw. These realities are integrals of faith, and as you mention, they are by no means metaphorical or allegorical. They are literal, and they are absolutely real.

Accepting these realities, then, is not a matter of cognition but rather one of belief. The human intellect cannot perceive these realities, no matter how intelligent the person and no matter how much technology he has to aid him. Logic or critical thinking will not confirm these realities, and scientific experiment will prove unable to access them.

The mind exists only to understand them, yet it is the spiritual heart that believes in them. It is the spiritual heart that endows the human with full conviction in them, as well as the aspiration and resolve to respond to them appropriately, namely, through fear, love and gratitude to the Divine. Hence, submitting to these beliefs would not make you a hypocrite; it would not entail any sort of self-betrayal. Submission to God is no insult to Him, but instead the very epitome of doing what He loves.

Belief does not entail a rejection of reason. Rather, it is the most appropriate delegation of roles to each faculty. The mind is at home when working within its limits, and the heart is at home when with the Divine.

A Final Note and Some Suggested Reading

Lastly, one can appreciate that the real foundation of accepting such realities lies not in pondering over the nature of the realities themselves, but rather in the one conveying them to us. This is at the heart of the entire discussion. The conviction of the believer in the content of revelation is directly linked to his absolute trust in the honesty, moral integrity, and perfected character of the prophet or messenger.

For a detailed examination of the life and character of the Prophet Muhammad, I would highly recommend the book “Muhammad: His Life Based on the Earliest Sources” by Martin Lings.

-”Muhammad: His Life Based on the Earliest Sources” by Martin Lings

And for a more summarized presentation of his exalted character [peace and blessings be upon him], I would recommend the following article:
Why Is the Prophet’s Character Described as Being Tremendous? - Faraz Rabbani

Also, for further discussion on the Islamic worldview vis-a-vis the modern outlook of science and critical thought, I would suggest the following books:

-”Deliverance from Error” by Imam Ghazali [Translated by R.J. McCarthy, Fons Vitae]
-”Marvels of the Heart” by Imam Ghazali [Translated by Walter James Skellie, Fons Vitae]
-”King of the Castle” by Charles Le Gai Eaton
-”Islam and the Destiny of Man” by Charles Le Gai Eaton

I would like to end by sincerely advising you to pray to God for help and guidance on this matter. If you put your mind on hold and instead turn to Him with your heart, in a state of complete humility, He will never let you down.

Please do not hesitate to write back with any other questions. We are here to serve.

And God alone provides success.

Sincerely,

Faraz A. Khan

Checked & Approved by Faraz Rabbani
eekersguidance.org 

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