The Rational – Episode 01- Religion And Rationality

The Rational is a 30 episodes of interviews with Dr. Idris discussing Faith and Rational arguments.

Series appeared on Huda TV. Host is Yassir Farzaga.

 Transcript of The Rational: Episode 01- Religion And Rationality

All praise is due to Allah & may His peace & blessings be upon our beloved Prophet Mohammed SAW.

Brother & sisters in Islam, brothers & sisters who may not be of the Muslim faith, all brothers & sisters in humanity, we would like to begin by greeting you with the Islamic universal greeting Assalamualaikum warahmatullah wabarakatuh, may the peace & blessings of God be upon you.

There has been a dichotomy between faith and reason; a common misconception that is within the religious community where it is said that if you believe you need not to look for any intellectual conviction in your belief.

In fact some even say that challenge for the religious community is to believe without making sense to it. Indeed that is not what the earlier messengers taught, that is definitely not the teachings of Islam.

So in this series of episodes we will discuss the relationship between faith and reason and we promise you that this is a program where you will be intellectually challenged, stimulated, tickled and invited to think; and for this we have invited an extremely well qualified scholar for this session of the program.

A well known scholar as well as a student and a teacher of western philosophy, originally from Sudan, he has taught in many different places including Saudi Arabia, the University of Khartoum, the Islamic Institute of Arabic and Islamic Sciences in Virginia, the author of many books and articles, he has travelled all over the world.

Here like I said, it is an invitation where you are really about to enjoy an intellectually stimulated program. It is such an honour and a privilege to have with us Dr. Jafar Sheikh Idris.

Jaafar S. Idris: Assalamualaikum warahmatullah wabaraktuh

Yassir Fazaga: Waálaikum assalam. Dr Jafar, it is such an honor to have you with us and I am very enthusiastic and extremely happy and  looking forward to having spent this time with you and I was wondering if we can begin by commenting on this idea that the religious community needs not to be intellectually convinced about their beliefs.

JSI: Infact it is not only the religious community, there is what you described as a common misconception; it includes even non-religious people. In fact some people say that they do not accept religion because religion is not something rational and they describe themselves as being rational and some of them think that it is only the soft headed people who will accept religion. But in fact religion, a true religion must be rational. Why should a religion be rational? Because reason is the only means by which we decide whether a certain claim is right or wrong.

In our daily life, if someone makes a claim about anything relating say to some of the sciences or social sciences or even in everyday life if someone makes a claim we don’t immediately accept his claim and we will not be convinced if he says this is something that you HAVE to believe in or there is a mystery in this, we don’t accept this.

Usually we ask for evidence and if this is so then it should apply to religion also. And in fact wise people don’t accept the claim of someone who calls himself a prophet just because he comes and tells them I am Ábraham, I am sent from God, I am Jesus, I am Moses; they must have asked them for evidence to show that they are what they claim, so this is the reason why (a true) religion must be rational.

YF: If that’s the case, then it seems like the religious community has compromised on this topic. Any particular reason as to why that happened?

JSI: One reason is that some religions are really irrational. They make claims that are contradictory to reason and they try to justify this by saying that ‘Oh there is a difference between reason and religion, science and religion. They are two different realms’. These are only ways of rationalizing their irrational belief but unfortunately some people who believe in rational religions like Islam, especially nowadays, have been influenced by this kind of propaganda against religion.

YF: If I may be the devil’s advocate, if I can use this word! What is wrong with saying ‘Isn’t it the essence of religion to show absolute opinions, unconditional opinions, about God and whether it makes sense to me or not, that really does not matter. What I need is to just submit.’

JSI: That’s only after ‘why did you become religious in the first place’. Suppose someone is an atheist. Why should he accept the religious claim that there is a God? Or if he believes in God,  why he should accept the claim that Mohammed SAW is the Prophet of God? Even people at the time of Prophet Mohammed said so and even at the time of any other prophet. Why did they accept them? They must have asked them for evidence. If you are a wise person you don’t just accept the claim of someone who tells you something. In fact people and I am not saying this always happens but people can be very irrational and I think this is the problem now with religion whether Islamic religion or any other religion e.g. in Islamic religion there are many people now who follow some sheikhs or so and they follow them blindly they don’t use their reason. But a wise person will not do something like this!

YF: Im thinking now of the other extreme then. If we say that our acceptance of any specific belief must be based on reason then are we saying that reason is the final judge? How far do we take this?

JSI: I think for a religion to be rational, it must fulfill certain conditions and these are similar to what we demand of scientific theories. I think the same should apply to religion.

First, it must not tell us something contradictory, it should not make a statement and then contradict that statement. This is one condition in itself for any theory or religion to be rational.

Secondly, when we talk about Quran, I will show that in fact the Quran made this criterion for deciding whether a book is from god or not. If there are contradictory statements in a book, then we say that it can’t be from God.

Thirdly, it should not make factual mistakes and you know now people especially in US, who write about some religions, they enumerate the places where their books made factual mistakes, they point out statements that have been proven to be false by science and of course also it should not condone or invite people to immoral acts. These are criterions which people use in their everyday life. All people are born with a moral sense so they don’t accept the condoning of immoralities.

The fourth condition is that religion must be able to support its basic claims. If someone comes and says he’s a prophet, then he must give us reason to support it because this is a basic claim and he must be able to support his basic claims with evidence. This need not apply to secondary claims i.e. claims that are based on this. If he gives you evidence that he’s a prophet and this is a book from God and then he says that God said so and so, then that’s evidence. You don’t need a direct evidence for every detail in religion


YF: But the basic claim you say, must be supported by evidence?


JSI: Yes and this applies by the way, to science also. If for example, someone who has never studied any geometry asks you to give a direct proof by Pythagoras theorem, you say no! You have to know first what is an angle, what is a line etc, and then on that I can build my answer.

YF: So creating the ground is important?

JSI: Yes, these are the pre-requisites on which reason is based.

YF: I get the impression that you are saying that the first evidence must be a rational evidence. It must be intellectually accepted in order to take it any further from there?

JSI: Yes, but I want this ‘intellectually accepted’ to be taken in a broad sense, let’s say there must be evidence and evidence can be pure reason and it can be something material e.g. a miracle is an evidence.

YF: So in the form of a miracle which would be defined as a violation of natural law, as something usually not done?

JSI: We don’t like to say violation of natural law because Muslim scholars don’t like to call it violation that’s why they call it خرق العادة , more towards ‘deviation’ or ‘exception’ to natural law but sometimes even miracles can be explained in another law that we don’t know!

YF: You mean through that which is not available to us?

JSI: Yes, hence it’s not violation of sunnan of Allah because that is what we now call natural laws, the way Allah makes things happen.

YF: Sheikh, we’re talking about this idea of revealed religion that it must be a rational religion and many have argued that Quran is a book that literally invites people to think. Any examples?

JSI: I would in fact like to say that this does not apply only to the Quran. Any religion that is a true revelation from God must be rational and I have reasons for saying this.

First it is God who endowed us with reason. He SWT knows how we behave rationally so it is irrelevant that He would say something that is incompatible with the reason which He endowed us.

Secondly it is God Who created the empirical world so He would not create the world in one way, then tell it to us in another way. He would not contradict Himself so any mistake, factual one in a book is a proof that at least that statement (not the whole book) cannot be from God because God does not contradict Himself.

These are the main reasons and this applies also to morality as it is God Who endowed us with moral sense and religion is based on this. I usually ask my students what is the first verse in the Quran. They sayاقرا باسم ربك  ‘Read in the name of your Lord’. Now why should I read in His name? الذي خلق ‘Because He Created’. Now this is a moral act. If someone has no moral sense at all, he would say what’s the big deal? Why should I read in His name so religion is based on whatever God endowed people within their nature. That’s why it’s called the religion of fitrah, the religion of original good human nature. That includes reason and moral sense and acceptance of empirical facts as well.

YF: Sheikh, I would like you back to the statement that you said when I said that the Quran is a book that invites people to think. You commented and said not only the Quran, but even the previously revealed religions were along these lines.

JSI: Yes I did.

YF: That might come as a surprise to many Muslims and many brothers and sisters who may not be of the Muslim faith.

JSI: I think my argument in itself is a rational argument. I repeat: If the religion is from God who endowed us with reason, He would not reveal a religion that contradicts with that reason!

In fact some of the arguments that we use as Muslims are the arguments that the Quran says were expressed by earlier prophets and the Quran praises people who have good valid arguments. This is considered to be one of the biggest blessings. But then we cannot go into the details of those religions for a simple reason that we don’t have their texts in front of us now. The only religion we can refer to now is the Islamic religion and through it we can prove that those religions were rational as Islam tells us about those religions so if we prove that Islam is a rational & authentic religion, then this will be our primary source for previous religions and I think some people, for many reasons might say, why the Islamic religion?

Firstly, you know some non-Muslim scholars of comparative religion describe the Prophet SAW as being the only historical prophet meaning that there is historical proof that this man who called himself Mohammed SAW existed! There is no historical proof other than the Quran to show the existence of other prophets, let alone their books! Nowadays their scholars, even very religious Christians would not say that every word of Bible is the word of God because they know the history of Bible and the translations it underwent so Jesus for them is not a historical proof. There is no evidence that there is any book other than the Quran that a prophet claimed was revealed to him. That much is accepted even by non-Muslims. As I said, this Quran gives us information about earlier prophets so we can depend on it while talking about them. The Prophet SAW said that he was sent to humanity at large. In fact he has been described in the Quran as being a mercy to the world. No prophet before him claimed to be a universal prophet. So these are some of the reasons why we can use the religion of Islam to prove that all revealed religions were rational.

YF: Like when they were revealed in their original form to their messengers be it Torah to Moses & Gospel to Jesus?

JSI: Yes.

YF: Going back to the idea of not only the Quran, now that we stand corrected, so not only Quran is a book that invites people to think but all revealed religion would give an invitation to do that, since God has endowed us with this faculty of reason and that in turn was given to us for a reason. One thing that strikes me was the richness of the Quran in the different words that it uses to invite people to think and I’m looking into one of the articles that you’ve written in Arabic where there was an attempt to gather all these words and it is very vast and I’m not sure whether we do what the Quran says but at least the invitation is really out there.

JSI: Yes, I remember some of the words. Let us enumerate them and translate them into English. e.g. it says this book is for people who are يعقلون which has many meanings like those who understand, who don’t want to contradict themselves; it is for people who are يتفكرون,  those who reflect. It invites people to يتدبرون those who reflect & look for the truth. It does not right way tell them to just accept. Allah SAW says ان يعلم الله ما في قلوبكم خيرا يوتكم خيرا , Allah will see the desire for truth in your heart & then He will guide you. There are many other verse which express the same thing but what I have come to think about lately, is finding myself asking why does the Quran use commercial language? There is commerce تجارة, profit رباء, loss خسارة, saving, wage اجر. Do you know why? People are mostly rational when they come to business as in a person might not be rational at all when it comes to religion etc but when it comes to business he becomes very rational! So it’s like the Quran is saying be rational when it comes to religion like you are when it comes to business.

YF: Now that’s what I call a rational argument!

With this we would come to conclusion of this part of our episode. We’re glad that you joined us and inshaAllah until we see you next time, my greeting as well as the greetings of Dr Idris who is our guest for this program; we say Assalamualaikum warahmatullahi wabarakatuh.

Credit: Transcribed by Defiance Team.


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