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FIKR AND ‘AQL

THINKING AND REASONING

 

(Based on a Friday khutbah delivered on April 8, 2005)

By: Dr. Ahmad Shafaat


Fikr means thinking. Like many other human activities, fikr can be for good or evil. There are many people whose thinking is directed towards harming others or in the service of falsehood and injustice. An example of this is mentioned in the Qur`an:

 

        

For he thought and he plotted;
And woe to him! How he plotted! (74:18-19) 

A story that is said to provide the background for this verse is that when the mission of the Prophet (sall allah ‘alayhi wa sallam) started and the season of hajj came, the Quraysh were concerned that the Prophet would preach his message to the pilgrims and in this way turn them against the Quraysh. So they decided that one of them, Walid bin Mughirah, should speak to the pilgrims and try to discredit the Prophet. Walid thought hard about what accusations he should fabricate against the Prophet. He applied logic, listing many possibilities and then excluding them for various reasons. He finally decided that he would defame the Prophet before the pilgrims as a magician. 

These days there are missionary and zionist individuals and organizations that are similarly busy thinking about how to harm Muslims and to discredit Islam and its Prophet, not by fair use of the evidence but by manipulating it. The past few centuries have also produced in the West people called “orientalists” who carry out studies of other societies and religions in order to assist their countries in colonizing other people and/or taking away their lands and/or attacking them and/or exploiting their labor and resources. 

Apart from the passage cited above,  fikr is used in the Qur`an in a positive sense. It is closely related[1] with ‘aql, which is always used in a positive or neutral sense.  Aql means: sense, reason, understanding, discernment, rationality, intelligence[2].

Fikr and ‘aql lead to fiqh, which means understanding and in the Qur`an usually refers to the understanding of religious principles. 

Fikr and ‘aql take place in our minds or brains but it is closely related to our hearts, that is, our motivations and emotional reactions to events. Our hearts to a large extent determine what we will think about, how we will think about it and what conclusions we will reach. Likewise, our thinking and reasoning can influence our hearts, modifying our motivations and emotional reactions. Enough of our thinking and reasoning needs to be specifically directed towards our motivations and emotional reactions, so that they become more reasonable. We also need to think more about the short-term and long-term consequences of our actions for ourselves and others. Islam is primarily concerned with this type of thinking and reasoning. Walid bin Mughirah used thinking and logic to devise a plan to discredit the Prophet but he did not think and reason enough about his motivations and emotions or consequences of his actions. In Islamic terms he would be considered among “people who do not reason” (qawm la ya‘qilun) or “people who do not understand” (qawm la yafqahun). 

We cannot really become reasonable people unless our hearts also become reasonable. An obvious characteristic of a reasonable person is that s/he does not ignore or suppress or deny any of her/his observations and experiences and does not rashly jump to conclusions on the basis of some others. But this would not be the case if our motivations and emotions are unreasonable. In some specific matters we may be able to carry out a very rational and profound analysis but if our motivations are misguided and our emotional reactions are unsound, then in some other important matters we would incorrectly use our observations and experiences. We would ignore some of them, build too much on some others, and as a result arrive at erroneous and possibly disastrous conclusions. 

To be a thinking/reasoning person with overall reasonable approach to life, one does not have to be a great philosopher or scholar or scientist. Even a simple uneducated person can have such an approach. After all many of the early ashab of the Messenger of Allah were uneducated slaves. And if a simple uneducated person can be essentially a reasonable person, a great philosopher or scholar or scientist may be essentially an unreasonable person. For example many philosophers, scholars and scientists supported Hitler’s mad enterprise of establishing supremacy of German race over other nations and races just as many others now support the equally mad Zionist enterprise of emptying a country of its inhabitants and making it a racist Jewish country. 

 

HUMAN BEINGS ARE MEANT TO GROW TO BECOME THINKING/ REASONING PEOPLE

The Book of Allah says:

 

It is he who has created you from dust then from a sperm-drop, then from a clot; then he brings you out as a child for you to reach your age of full strength, then to become old -- though some of you die before that -- then to reach a time (of death) appointed and in order that you may reason. (40:67) 

The concluding words of this verse, “in order that you may reason” show that just as a human being, starting from a sperm-drop, should normally develop into a child, then reach the age of full strength, then to become old, and then die, so also he should become a thinking/reasoning person. 

 

FIKR AND ‘AQL ARE A PRIMARY MEANS TO RECEIVE RELIGIOUS GUIDANCE

The Holy Qur`an makes it clear that normally fikr and ‘aql are a necessary as well as a sufficient means to receive religious guidance. That is: 

1)      As a rule, thinking and reasoning should by themselves lead to the basic religious truth taught in Islam. Every sane human being makes enough observations in the world outside and in his own self and has sufficient mass of information stored in his subconscious that if he has a thinking/reasoning attitude he should normally be led to the basic message of Islam, though not to all of its specific teachings. 

2)      Thinking and reasoning are normally required before a person can receive religious guidance. People who do not think enough and do not use their reason enough get lost into serious error. 

 

The basic religious truth 

The basic religious truth taught in Islam may be expressed as follows (2:62, 91:7-10, 98:5 etc): 

a)      Reality has an internal harmony and unity, it is transcendent and mysterious, and it is purposeful (belief in one God).

b)      Man’s actions have consequences even beyond his death (belief in the hereafter).

c)      Right and wrong are generally known to human nature; man needs to do what is right and avoid what is wrong (leading a righteous life).

d)      The above three beliefs should not simply be professed but affect our motivations, emotions, and actions. 

 

Fikr and ‘aql can by themselves lead to the basic religious truth 

The Holy Qur`an says that when the disbelieving people will be brought to hell:

 

 

They will say: "Had we but listened  or used our intelligence, we should not  be among the companions of the blazing fire!" (67:10) 

This verse mentions two ways for safety from the fire of hell: sam‘ and ‘aql. Sam‘ refers to listening to and understanding the message brought by the Messenger while ‘aql refers to using one’s reason. This suggests that fikr and ‘aql can by themselves lead man to guidance. The same conclusion is suggested by verses in which some basic Islamic teachings are introduced with words like: 

afala t(y)a‘qilun (do you or they not reason)
in kuntum  ta‘qil
un (if only you reason)
afalam takun
u ta‘qilun (did you not reason)
afal
a tatafakkarun (do you not think)
tatafakkar
u (think!)
 
awalam yatafakkar
u (do they not think). 

For example:

 

 

Do they not reflect on their own selves? Not but for just ends and for a term appointed, did Allah create the heavens and the earth, and all between them. Yet

are there truly many among men who deny the meeting with their Lord! (30:8) 

Here it is understood that if people reflect on their own selves, i.e., on their motivations, feelings, pursuits etc they can reach the conclusion that there is purpose in this universe, that the universe is moving towards an appointed time, and that we will meet with our Lord (for reward and punishment). Other similar verses are: 6:32, 7:169, 7:184, 10:16, 11:51, 12:109, , 21:10, 21:67, 23:80, 26:28, 28:60, 36:62, 34:46. 

 

Fikr and ‘aql are normally necessary to realize the basic religious truth

The Holy Qur`an often says that the signs that Allah shows us in nature (2:164, 13:3-4, 16:10-12, 16:67-69, 30:24, 28, 39:42, 45:5, 13), or in history (29:35), or in our own selves (30:21, 39:42), or in the Qur`an (10:24) are for those who are in the habit of thinking and reasoning: li qawm yatafakkarun and li qawm ya‘qilun. This shows that thinking and reasoning are normally necessary to find guidance. This is also clear from several verses stating that those who do not use ‘aql are not guided:

 

Among them are some who listen (with their physical ears) to you (O Prophet). But can you make the (mentally) deaf to hear (with the ears of their hearts), considering that they do not reason? (10:42; see also 6:25, 17:46, 18:57, where the verb used is faqiha) 

This verse shows that one needs to be in the habit of using one’s ‘aql before one can be guided by the message brought by the Prophet.

 

 

 

 

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

According to this verse human beings who do not use their ‘aql are worse than all living creatures. This is because other living creatures grow to realize the potential of development with which Allah created them while human beings who do not think and reason fall ruefully short of their potential. 

The idea that those human beings who do not use their faculties of thinking and reasoning are worse than animals is also stated in the following verse:

 

Many are the jinns and men we have made for hell. They have hearts wherewith they understand not, eyes wherewith they see not, and ears wherewith they hear not. They are like cattle, nay more misguided. These are the ones who are heedless.(7:179) 

A common way to reject the use of ‘aql is to insist on ideas received from past generations without question. The Qur`an condemns this and once again uses a comparison with animals:

 

 

 

 

When it is said to them: "Follow what Allah has sent down:" They say: "Nay! we shall follow the ways of our fathers." What! even though their fathers did not understand a thing and were not well-guided? The example of those who reject faith is as if one were to shout like a goat-herd, to (creatures) that listen to nothing but calls and cries: Deaf, dumb, and blind, they do not reason. (2:170-171)

 

The following verse also makes clear that without fikr and ‘aql the guidance does not come. 

 

No person can believe, except by the will of Allah, and he placed rijs  on those who do not reason. (10:100)

The statement that faith does not come without Allah’s leave does not mean that thinking and reasoning done in the right way do not lead to faith. It rather means that like other human efforts, there are many possibilities of things going wrong. The right way of thinking and reasoning, as mentioned before, is to ignore none of our observations or experiences and jump to premature conclusions on the basis of none. This is easy to say but difficult to achieve. The tendency to ignore some evidence and to overuse some other is extremely strong in human beings. History shows that even in  science very clever and intelligent people think and reason for years only to reach completely wrong conclusions. And the possibility of error in the matter of religion is much greater because: a) religious truth is much more illusive than scientific truth, especially before it has been expressed in a revelation; b) religious truth demands a radical change in the way we live and is therefore resisted much more by man’s own self than scientific truth. 

Hence for an overwhelming majority of people guidance comes in two steps: They develop a thinking/reasoning attitude. This leads them to listen to the message of the Prophet with some open-mindedness, which then makes them accept his message. Afterwards they direct a good part of their thinking and reasoning to the Qur`an itself and develop further in the understanding and practice of Islam.

 

The meaning of rijs 

The verse 10:100 quoted above says that Allah places rijs (dirt or filth) on those who do not reason. But what is this rijs? 

The following verses give weakness, fearfulness, defeats, divisions, and hypocrisy as the results of not using ‘aql and it is natural to think that these negative results constitute rijs: 

They will not fight you (even) together, except in fortified townships, or from behind walls. Strong is their fighting amongst themselves. You would think they were united, but their hearts are divided. That is because they are a people who do not reason. (59:14) 

 

O Prophet! Rouse the believers to the fight. If there are twenty steadfast amongst you, they will overcome two hundred and if a hundred, they will overcome a thousand of the unbelievers. For these are a people who do not understand[3]. (8:65) 

 

Whenever there comes down a Surah, they look at each other, (saying with their eyes), "Does anyone see you?" Then they turn aside: Allah has turned their hearts (from the truth); for they are a people that do not understand. (9:127) 

Some Muslims discourage thinking/reasoning on the grounds that this will mislead people or create divisions. The above verses teach the exact opposite. They tell us that thinking/reasoning, far from misleading people is necessary for receiving guidance and that it is lack of thinking/reasoning that leads to all types of rijs, weakness, cowardice, hypocrisy, and yes, even divisions. I would say that differences among people who think and reason is rahmah or mercy from Allah. And agreement among people who do not think and reason is la‘nah or curse from Allah.

 

The meaning of deaf, dumb, and blind 

Several verses describe those who do not think and do not use their ‘aql as deaf and/or dumb and/or blind. In case of blindness the Qur`an clarifies the meaning: 

 

Do they not travel through the land that they may have hearts with which to reason and ears with which to hear? (In most cases), it is not the eyes that become blind, but the hearts that are in the breasts. (22:46) 

Thus blindness is the failure to apply ‘aql to what one sees and as a result fail to see a great many important truths. For various reasons we ignore or suppress or deny some of what we observe and experience. This makes us blind to some very important religious truths. Similarly, we can speak of deafness as the failure to apply ‘aql to what one hears. But what is dumbness? Dumbness is not to speak the truth as one sees it but as a habit say what serves one’s interests or the interests of one’s group or repeat the generally or traditionally accepted views without thinking. When one does that over a long period, one’s ability to perceive truth is all but lost. 

Notice that in this verse reasoning is said to be done with the hearts. Non-Muslims have objected to this as a proof of the Qur`an’s ignorance of the fact that thinking and reasoning is done in the brain (see also 7:179, where fiqh is associated with the heart). Muslims have replied by saying that the Qur`an uses the language of literature and not of science. But while this reply is valid, there is probably more to the Qur`anic reference to hearts doing the reasoning. It is probably drawing attention to the fact, noted earlier, that brain cannot reason adequately in all important matters unless our motivations and emotional reactions, often associated with the heart in literature, also become reasonable. Moreover, reaching the basic religious truth involves not only cerebral thinking and reasoning but also some intuitive sense, which is likewise associated with the heart.

 

FIKR AND ‘AQL AND REVELATION 

One may ask: If fikr and ‘aql can by themselves lead to religious truth, then what is the function of the Qur`anic revelation? The answer to this question is: 

n      There are so many possibilities of our thinking and reasoning going astray due to the unreasonableness of our motivations and emotions that relatively few people reach the basic religious truth on their own. An overwhelming majority of people need revelation to guide their thinking and reasoning towards the truth. Revelation provides the clearest possible expression of the basic religious truth and in this way makes the journey of thinking/reasoning people towards the truth much easier. 

n      Even those who do reach the truth on their own, their sense of it in most cases is so hazy and their hold on it so weak that they can loose it under the pressures and influences that they must inevitably face. Revelation helps such people stay on the guidance and not fall back into error under various pressures and influences. 

n      Revelation creates social environment in which realizing the truth and staying on the path indicated by it becomes much easier. 

After Allah leads thinking/reasoning people to the revelation given to the Holy Prophet, they realize that he must be obeyed, since otherwise it would be an unacceptable loss of opportunities to do good in the world. Also, their thinking/reasoning does not stop but continues except that a major part of their thinking/reasoning is now done using the Qur`an. 

The Qur`an is very concerned about its basic message being understood and not simply accepted as a revealed mystery, although it does contain mysteries. Thus it says that its revelation is in Arabic so that you, its first recipients, may understand (la‘allakum ta‘qilun: 12:2, 43:3). And after giving laws (2:219, 242, 6:151, 24:61), parables (2:266, 7:176, 59:21, and mentioning signs from nature (57:17) it often says “that you or they may understand or use ‘aql (la‘allak{h}um t{y}atafakkarun or la‘allak(h)um t{y}a‘qilun). Then in some verses it states the same for the whole book: 

 

 

(This is) a book that We have sent down unto you (O Prophet), full of blessings, that they may reflect on its verses, and that men of understanding may receive admonition. (38:29) 

The word for “reflect”, tadabbara, always used in the Qur`an (4:82, 47:24, 23:68) in connection with reflection on the Qur`an itself,  also means: to be prepared or organized or planned and to treat with care. It has thus a sense of thinking in a careful, organized and thorough way. 

We have sent down unto you (O Prophet) the Message that you may explain clearly to men what is sent for them, and that they may think. (16:44) 

The words “that you may explain clearly to men what is sent for them” are often correctly used to argue that the authentic ahadith are a source of Islamic guidance. But we should also not forget the last words, “that they may think”. These words show that there are really three sources of guidance in Islam: the revealed message, its explanation by the Prophet  and man’s own thinking/reasoning. 

 

CONCLUSION 

The verses I have quoted show that Allah expects man to think about nature, history, basic philosophical questions such as whether there is a purpose in the universe, about our motivations and emotions and about the Qur`an itself. In early Islamic centuries this inspired Muslims, on the one hand, to study, develop or initiate all kinds of fields of knowledge, and, on the other hand, to devise spiritual systems of tasawwuf for inner development. The Qur`an demands us to do this in all ages. But in the past few centuries we have not been doing enough thinking and making enough use of ‘aql about the world around us and about the Qur`an itself. And tasawwuf has largely degenerated into superstitious deviations from Islam. So as a result, just as the Qur`an says, the rijs of weakness, fearfulness, cowardice, hypocrisy, and divisions has been placed on us. May Allah forgive us and enable us to pay heed to his call to think and reason. 


[1] The Qur`an several times puts fikr and ‘aql in parallel verses next to each other, e.g. 13:3-4, 16:10-12, 16:67-69, 30:21, 24.

[2] The verb ‘aqala has the following meanings:

 

i)        To intern, to arrest, confine, overcome (in wrestling and throw down the opponent). Thus ‘aqala al-ba‘ira means he tied (the feet of) the camel and ‘aqala lisan hu means he tied his tongue, that is, made him speechless.

ii)       To be or to bring something within the grasp of the mind, to comprehend, to understand. Also, to be reasonable, have intelligence, to be in one’s senses, to be conscious. The word can also mean, to have memory of something Thus la a‘qal hadha means “I have no memory of this.”

iii)         To pay blood money. 

In the Qur`an the meaning of the world is “understanding” or “reasoning”. In 2:75 it is said that the Jews used to hear the word of God and then after understanding (‘aqalu) its meaning used to change it. In other verses, the meaning is mostly reasoning.

[3] The word here and in 9:127 is fiqh and not ‘aql.  But fiqh is normally the result of  using ‘aql.


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