Reason and Revelation by Khalid Baig

American economist Robert Samuelson recently made an interesting observation about the American society in his Newsweek column: "America's glories and evils are tightly fused together." Quoting sociologist Seymour Lipset, he asserts that America's economic vitality and progress come from the same source as do crime, family breakdown, inequality, and vulgarity. Freedom and individualism have fired economic advance, yet have also inhibited social control. But why the qualities that bring the best in a nation also should bring the worst in it? Is humanity doomed by having its vices and virtues so intricately mixed?

Samuelson does not probe the issue. Instead he seems to be happily resigned to it. "We are burdened as well as blessed by our beliefs," he says. Economics, we may be reminded, is the dismal science.

Actually the world is not doomed by design. Samuelson comes very close to the truth but he confuses approaches or tools with attributes. A tool that works great in one area is also being used in another for which it was never designed. The problem lies with the user who keeps on insisting on its use in the second area citing its success in the first. To put matters simply, it's the free use of reason and intellect that is behind most of America's (and West's in general) phenomenal scientific and material progress. It's the use of the same tool in moral, and religious life that has caused its equally phenomenal moral degeneration!

Every tool has a designated area of application. Outside, it will fail to work. A 4 bit computer is good for some elementary math involving whole numbers. It may multiply 2 by 20 and give the correct answer instantly. But burdened with complex calculations involving several decimal digits, it will give the WRONG answers. A weighing scale meant for gold will not work for iron and vice versa. Their resolution and capacity are inappropriate for those applications.

Same with the tools we use for learning about the world. Our senses and intellect are wonderful things. Science and technology are all about their use. Certainly it was free inquiry driven by reason that led to so many of the discoveries of science. It happened at an accelerated pace during the past four centuries and the results are everywhere around us to be seen.

But a tool that is so great in one area may be totally useless, even dangerous, in another. Pure Reason, uninformed by Divine Guidance, is a defective tool for deciding purpose of life or suggesting its values. What is Right and what is Wrong? These questions require knowledge beyond what we can acquire by using our senses and reasoned analysis. As a direct result, everyone's reasoning is different. That is why philosophers have never been able to agree upon what should be the goal of life. Happiness? Survival? Pleasure? Love? Self-fulfillment? You name it. In addition, it is impossible for us to separate our reasoning in these matters from our feelings. Pure or uninformed reason becomes just a tool to justify what we desire.

Today West's problem is that it has accepted the wrong tool for developing its moral compass. Probably the majority of its people abhor homosexuality. They may know that it is an abomination and evil. Yet today same-sex marriages are getting legal sanction in the West. And they are helpless in trying to stop its advances. Why? Because they cannot argue that it is wrong based on pure reason. It is easier to make a case against smoking in public places, then against the worst forms of immorality. Such is the result when pure reason becomes the accepted arbiter of right and wrong.

There is nothing modern about this either. Several centuries ago, Obaidullah Hasan Qirwani, a leader of the renegade batani cult declared it foolish for a brother to marry his beautiful sister to a total stranger, while trying to be content with a less qualified wife -- another stranger. She would be much more suited to be wife of her own brother, with whom she may be a lot more compatible, he argued. His argument is, no doubt, sickening. But is there a counter argument based on pure reason?

Certainly mankind needs a superior tool for determining the values and purpose of life. A source of guidance that is based on certain knowledge, not conjecture. One that can inform our desires rather than being subservient to them. This is what Prophets, Alayhim assalam, came with. They claimed to have access to the higher source of knowledge, the Divine Revelation. Those who accepted them used reason and observation to verify their authenticity and character. But they accepted Divine Revelation as a SUPERIOR source of knowledge! That is why a son can tell his father:

"O my father! To me has come knowledge that had not reached you. So follow me. I will guide you to a Way that is even and straight." (Maryam, 19:43).

All this is obvious, except in implications. We accept this is Right and that is Wrong because the Revelation TOLD us, not because it PROVED it to us. What is wrong with riba? Gambling? Pork? Alcohol? Revelation told us that they were wrong. Why is hijab necessary? Allah and His Prophet, Salla-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, ordered that. What are the rights of men and women? Those given to them by Allah and His Prophet, Salla-Allahu alayhi wa sallam. The attribute of the Muslims is that they "listened and followed" (Al-Baqarah, 2:285). It is not that they listened and questioned, and argued, and investigated and then if they felt like it, they followed. That is also THE message of Prophet Ibrahim, alayhi assalm's, sacrifice, a defining event for Islam. For the Qur'an describes the moment when the father and son were ready for the ultimate sacrifice by saying: "When they surrendered" (Al-Saffat, 37:103). Literally it can also be translated: "When they accepted Islam." For pure reason could have raised a million questions about the command for that sacrifice.

Normally it is difficult for us to say "I don't know." It is even more difficult for nations to admit a weakness in their celebrated tools of inquiry. That is the dilemma of the modern world, which sees so much wrong with itself but cannot bring itself to admitting the problem with its basic approach. But a Muslim is the person who has both the wisdom and the courage to surrender before the higher source of knowledge and guidance. For him Revelation informs his reason and his reason controls his emotions. Such is the person who is blessed, but not burdened, by his beliefs.

Reference url: http://www.albalagh.net/food_for_thought/reason.shtml

'Adl, Ihsan and Qurba

The first part of verse 16:90 says:

             "Allah enjoins justice, generosity and kind treatment with kindred."

The verse 16:90 is being recited in Jumuah khutbas every Friday in millions of Masajid throughout the world since the time of Umar bin Abdul Aziz (may Allah T'ala be please with him).

The first of these three commandments of Allah T'ala is justice which has two aspects.
To make such arrangements as may enable everyone to get one's due rights without stint. Justice does not, however, mean equal distribution of rights, for that would be absolutely unnatural. In fact, justice means equitable dispensation of rights which in certain cases may mean equality. For example, aII citizens should have equal rights of citizenship but in other cases equality in rights would be injustice. For instance, equality in social status and rights between parents and their children will obviously be wrong. Likewise those who render services of superior and inferior types cannot be equal in regard to wages and salaries. What AIIah enjoins is that the full rights of everyone should be honestly rendered whether those be moral, social, economic legal or political in accordance with what one justly deserves.

 

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The Bad and Good are Not Equal

Allah T'ala says in the Holy Quran:

 

قُل لاَّ يَسْتَوِي الْخَبِيثُ وَالطَّيِّبُ وَلَوْ أَعْجَبَكَ كَثْرَةُ الْخَبِيثِ فَاتَّقُواْ اللّهَ يَا أُوْلِي الأَلْبَابِ لَعَلَّكُمْ تُفْلِحُونَ

(5:100) (O Messenger!) Say to them: "The bad things and the good things are not equal, even though the abundance of the bad things might make you pleased with them. Men of understanding, beware of disobeying Allah; then maybe you will attain true success.'

This verse enunciates a standard of evaluation and judgement quite distinct from the standards employed by superficial people. For the latter, for instance, a hundred dollars are worth more than five dollars, since a hundred is more than five. But, according to this verse, if those hundred dollars have been earned in a manner entailing the disobedience of God the entire amount becomes unclean. If, on the contrary, a man earns five dollars while obeying God then this amount is clean; and anything which is unclean, whatever its quantity, cannot be worth that which is clean. A drop of perfume is more valuable than a heap of filth; a palmful of clean water is much more valuable than a huge cauldron brimming with urine. A truly wise person should therefore necessarily be content with whatever he acquires by clean, permissible means, however small and humble its quantity may be. He should not reach out for what is prohibited, however large in quantity and glittering in appearance.

Rights of Neighbors in Islam

Allah, the Exalted, says:

"Worship Allah and join none with Him (in worship); and do good to parents, kinsfolk, orphans, Al-Masakin (the poor), the neighbour who is near of kin, the neighbour who is a stranger, the companion by your side, the wayfarer (you meet), and those (slaves) whom your right hands possess.'' (4:36)

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ISLAMIC CIVILIZATION AND THE WESTERN ORIENTALISTS

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The Philosophic Value of Islamic Determinism

Had the Orientalists understood Islamic determinism in the manner we have described, they would have appreciated its philosophic worth and profound value. For Islamic determinism regards life in a manner coherent with the most advanced, precise, philosophical, and scientific theories which human thought has achieved in its long and progressive history. The Islamic philosophic idea is synthetic. It does not exclude scientific determinism, nor does it deny the world as will and idea or the doctrine of emergent evolution.["Scientific Determinism," "The World as Will and Idea," and "Emergent Evolution" are philosophic systems advanced by the positivist philosophers, Schopenhauer and Henri Bergson.] Rather, Islamic determinism includes all these views within its system as aspects of the pattern of the cosmos and life. This is not the place to elaborate this point in detail. Nonetheless, we shall try to state it as succinctly and as clearly as possible, hoping that the reader will agree that the greatness, comprehensiveness, and depth of this idea is comparable with any other theory known or discovered until now, and that it leaves the door wide open for any great advance human thought may achieve in the future.

Before we begin our brief statement, two observations are in order and should not be forgotten. First, it is not the intention of this author to contradict any Christian theory. The revelation of Jesus has been confirmed by Islam, as we have had many occasions to see in the course of this work. Islam sought to synthesize the prophecies and divine messages which had gone before and to provide for them a climax and a crowning. As the Gospel substantiates Jesus Christ's claim to his disciples, "Think not that I am come to destroy the law . . . I am not come to destroy but to fulfill," [Matthew, 5:17] just so the Qur'an confirmed the Muslim's iman in Ibrahim, Moses, Jesus, and all the preceding prophets. Islam came as a synthesis of all the previous divine revelations, as a correction and reproof of all the tampering with scripture done by the followers of those prophets. The second point is that the philosophical theory deducible from the Qur'an has been discovered by others before but in a different way than that which I am following in these pages. I have reached it in the way I have because I have opened myself to the guidance of the Qur'an and followed a modern scientific method. If God has guided me to the truth, to Him belongs the praise and the gratitude. And if I have missed the truth in some of my reasoning, then it is all the more cause to pray for my mistakes to be corrected by men of knowledge. But that too is to praise God and to be grateful for His blessing.

The first principle the Qur'an firmly establishes is that God has implanted in the universe immutable patterns and eternal laws. The universe does not only consist of our earth and all that is on it, nor is it limited to all that our senses can reach by way of stars and other heavenly bodies. The universe consists of all that God has created, whether sensory or non-sensory, past, present or future. If we only attempt to imagine God's creation, we will realize that our knowledge is indeed small. The space which stands between us and the stars of heaven, electricity which fills this space as well as our earth, the great vastness of space which separates us from the sun and the stars and other systems of heavenly bodies yet farther than the sun and separated from us by thousands of light years, and the infinity of space lying still beyond these which is beyond our imagination but known to God-all this runs according to changeless and immutable laws. All that we have scientifically known about creation is still very scant; in it the actual has been mixed up with the imaginary. Indeed, the real component of our so-called knowledge is little by comparison with the fictitious. However, it constitutes all that we genuinely know of the universe and serves as foundation for what we call the laws of the universe and of life, and puts a critical brake on our overhasty will to generalize. If, for a moment, we were to lift this brake, our imagination would seek to encompass the whole and the result would be the greatest flowering of science fiction. Supposing, for instance, that the inhabitants of Mars were to build a broadcasting station of a force of one hundred million kilowatts in order to bring to us, the inhabitants of the earth, details of what was taking place on their planet and show it to us by means of television. Would it then be possible for man on earth to restrain his imagination, considering that Mars is not the most distant of the planets nor the most difficult with which to have communication ?

Everything in this vast universe, of which we know so little, exerts some influence on our world and everything it contains. If any one of these heavenly bodies were to change its course or structure in some measure, however little, the pattern of our universe would be equally affected by such a change, and our own short and insignificant life that is already determined by our environment would equally be affected. Naturally, our life is more deeply affected by the greater cosmic forces and changes; even so, in suffering their effects, we may achieve the good as well as its opposite. The final result is not only a function of the influences we suffer, but of our preparation for receiving such influences and our mastery of ourselves in disposing of their effects. Many an identical pattern has determined many people in different ways, propelling some to good, others to evil, with all the variant degrees between them. In this life, good and evil are the effects of a dialectical relation between the elements and factors of the cosmos and the human soul. Thus, both good and evil may be said to result from the immutable pattern of the cosmos and follow necessarily from its existence, just as the positive and the negative are necessary implications of the existence of electricity, and microbes and germs are necessary implications of human bodily life.

Short Quotes

Mercy

"And We have not sent you (O Muhammad) except as a mercy to mankind" (The Holy Quran, Al-Anbiyah, The Prophets 21:107)