The Rational – Episode 02- Quran 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 Fazaga.

Transcript of The Rational 2: Quran And Rationality

 Yassir Fazaga: Last time we spoke we were talking about not only the Quran but even previous scriptures that were sent down by Allah stating that they were not only rational but also inviting to this idea of us being endowed with the faculty of intellect so as to put it to use.  And the Quran not only alludes to this but directly emphasizes to this idea in different ways and forms and we are wondering if we can shed some light on this Quranic approach.

Dr Jaafar Sheikh Idris: I think we emphasized the fact that Quran and all the revealed religions address people as rational. The Quran, as if it’s telling people, that nothing more is being asked of you other than abiding by this rational criteria that you use in your daily life. We will use the same criteria to invite you to the truth so we are not telling you something mysterious or something that you don’t understand. I can enumerate some of these. I already said how people can get very rational when it comes to business dealings. Now we can go into details of characteristics of rational people.

  • First they like to understand, they don’t just follow, and this ‘understanding’ is mentioned in the Quran.
  • They don’t like contradictions.
  • They don’t like their deeds to contradict their words.

The Quran says do you invite people to do good and you forget yourself, don’t you understand? When the Quran asks a rhetorical question, this means that the matter is already understood. The Quran is not telling people that their deeds should not contradict their words. The Quran is saying that this is a bad thing, and you know that, so why are you still doing it.

Yassir Fazaga: Sheikh, people might think this to be more of a moral argument than an intellectual one.

Dr Jaafar Sheikh Idris: Some people especially in the west now understand intellect in a narrow sense. For rational people, moral values are part of their rationality. A rational person would not say I don’t care if a person lies or not. He would not say I don’t care whether a person is honest or not. I am not talking about people who are intellectuals or holders of PhD degrees or people who are educated. I am just mentioning how genuinely rational people behave.

Yassir Fazaga: So within that circle of rationality, are not only the intellectual arguments, but based on that we get our moral understanding?

Dr Jaafar Sheikh Idris: Yes morality is part of being rational. In addition rational people use aesthetic values. No one prefers ugly to the beautiful. This is also one of the criteria that the Quran uses. In fact Allah is described as being beautiful. His names are beautiful. The Quran is in a beautiful language and as the prophet saw said ان الله جميل يحب الجمال. Allah is beautiful and he loves beauty. So the Quran uses this because ordinary people use this. That applies to appearances and it also applies to things like fragrances. No one prefers nasty things to things that smell nice.

Rational people also prefer what is more useful to what is less useful. Some people think this has nothing to do with religion.

But as we said last time the Quran uses business terminology and of course when people are more rational they prefer what is more profitable even in worldly sense. When we come inshAllah to talk about morality, we will see that the Quran uses the word نفع i.e. it is useful for you to be moral.

So now let me emphasize first that I am talking about all revealed religions, they take the human persona as a whole as this is how God created us. There is no dichotomy between reason morality aesthetic values. This is how the human person is made and how he believes. A rational person also will make a sacrifice of something present for something more useful in the future. This is what businessmen do for a bigger gain in the future and the Quran uses the same word for the gain in the hereafter. You might gain by telling a lies in this world, the Quran says you might benefit by doing so in your business dealings in this world but compare it with the benefit to come.

Also rational people think about the wisdom behind things. Why is this so? Why do we do this? The Quran uses the same criteria.

Yassir Fazaga: I think this is what you spoke about earlier on i.e. the idea of tadabbur: to ponder, the idea of going beyond the obvious to see what is the reality behind whatever is going on.

Dr Jaafar Sheikh Idris: Yes! We must emphasize again that all rational people abide by rationality all the time especially if doing so serves their interest. And this is what the Quran is asking people to be i.e. to apply this rational criterion to distinguish between false and true religion.

Yassir Fazaga: So how do we describe a person who is supposedly rational some times, however at other times they are not. What are they called when they are not being rational?

Dr Jaafar Sheikh Idris: They should be called irrational then! One cannot be called rational even he if behaves rationally partly, just like a liar. I once said in a lecture, even the biggest liar tells the truth most of the time. He doesn’t lose anything by saying for example: this is a piece of paper or there are matches or the light is on etc, when all this is right in front of him!

But we still call him a liar. Again we call him or her irrational in spite of the fact that on many occasions the person behaves rationally.

Yassir Fazaga: Sheikh I am wondering with all these phrases that are mentioned in the Quran with regard to people who are rational and use intellect, are there certain areas where intellect does not really help anymore? Or using it does not remain a useful tool for us?

Dr Jaafar Sheikh Idris: I have read the Quran several times and the hadith literature, looking for what people claim.

You find now that there are people who are very good Muslims but they have a problem with reason or aql and they call the people who do not abide the Sunnah of the prophet SAW عقلانيين  or who interpret the Quran in their own way, so I once wrote an article saying they are no aqlaniyeen, as they are not rational people and when you call them aqlaniyeen, you are praising them!  There is nothing in the Quran or in hadith that states that someone deviated because of using reason.

Yassir Fazaga: That’s a very impressive statement!

Dr Jaafar Sheikh Idris: The Quran equates the two in a verse i.e. being rational with having faith. An irrational person cannot have faith and a truly faithful person must be rational اولئك الذين هدىهم الله و اولئك هم اولوا الباب   . ‘Those are the people who Allah guided and those are the ones who are people of reason/intellect’ hence there is no contradiction at all in this matter in the Quran or Sunnah. In fact faith must be based on knowledge. Contrary to what people say now, ‘I believe so but I am not sure’. But the Quran insists faith to be based on knowledge.

Yassir Fazaga: Knowledge that would lead to certainty?

Dr Jaafar Sheikh Idris: Yes so that you don’t believe in something of which you have no knowledge. Like some people in Arabic say انا اعتقد لكني مش متاكد – ‘I believe so but I am not sure’. That’s a wrong statement if you are rational you must base your faith or belief on knowledge.

Yassir Fazaga: Sheikh, I think that’s what was emphasized when we spoke for the first time about this idea and I think you just reinforced it again i.e. if you are a believer you must be a rational person and if you are irrational you cannot be faithful.

Dr Jaafar Sheikh Idris: Yes but when we say believer, I don’t want the listeners to understand that anyone who calls himself a Muslim is the most rational person in the world.

Yassir Fazaga: We have our share of irrational Muslims!

Dr Jaafar Sheikh Idris: It depends on the degree of faith you have, the degree of knowledge of your religion you have. The more knowledgeable you are about your religion, the more rational you are.

Being knowledgeable according to the Quranic conditions is that you understand what you read, you think about it. So by following the Quranic advice of reflecting, pondering and understanding, your ability to reason increases.

So I don’t want people to think that someone just by calling himself a Muslim can be rational by default because I know some people who are Muslims and I have no doubt about their honestly but most of the time they are not rational and in fact they think this is the way it should be for a Muslim.

Someone once told me that he puts Quran and Sunnah of Prophet SAW before empirical facts. I said to him now you are creating a problem where in fact there is no problem.

And then he gave me an example that I think mentioned in one of my books too, the example of a man whom the Prophet SAW advised to take honey and the honey made his condition worse. Now this man took this as a proof that empirical fact is not important, I said suppose the man drank honey 50 times and every time his condition becomes worse, he will come to the Prophet PBUH and say what you told me is not the truth. And how do we distinguish between falsehood and truth?

It is by seeing whether statement corresponds to the facts and if it does not we as rational people say this is false. If someone calls a white piece of paper black, we say this statement is false and he’s not telling the truth so there can be nothing like this in any truly revealed religion from God.

Yassir Fazaga: Interestingly Sheikh you are saying that the closer one is in knowledge as far as it concerns the religion that was revealed by God the more rational supposedly one becomes. People usually look to becoming more spiritual, more undoing with reason, thinking you are more devout, looking for tranquility etc.

Dr Jaafar Sheikh Idris: Again. There is no dichotomy between these. I know that people think if you are religious you are emotional, spiritual etc and spirituality is different from being rational but all of this goes together. And all these are qualities of the soul anyways, not qualities of the body. Even the brain as a material thing is used by the soul.

Yassir Fazaga: Sheikh, is there an area where intellect is not be used or intellect does not come in as a handy tool to gain more information?

Dr Jaafar Sheikh Idris: Intellect as something ‘abstract’ in the mind, does not help you to discover facts whether they are worldly or religious. For instance, if you close your eyes and sleep you cannot talk about astronomy and tell that the distance between the moon and the sun is such and such.

Your intellect works with the data that comes through the senses and that’s why the Quran says that God brought you out of the wombs of your mother you came out knowing nothing. Then he endowed you with hearing, sight and mind, so without the senses the intellect cannot do much.

Yassir Fazaga: So knowledge is like data that is later on processed by the intellect through which we are able to comprehend.

Dr Jaafar Sheikh Idris: This applies to both worldly and religious knowledge. I am not saying that a faithful person is rational in the sense that he can close his eyes and lie in his bed and say that I think Allah must be so and so. He has to have knowledge.

You remember the hadith مبلغ اوعي من سامع; someone who has very good senses, he hears, he understands what he’s heard and he conveys is to someone else, and that someone else benefits more than the deliverer of the message.

That’s the distinction between people; knowledge is not just about the amount of knowledge. It is well known that there were many people who knew more than the sunnah of the Prophet PBUH than Abu Hanifah. But with the lesser knowledge of the sunnah he became a greater alim as compared to those who had more knowledge of ahadith of the Prophet SAW. Imam Ahmed used to say فهم الحديث احب علي من حفظ الحروف   ‘The understanding of hadith is more important than committing the letters to memory’.

I think there’s another point that I want to mention here. Because Islam addresses people as rational beings, it has bridges with people. I think I talked about it at a conference in India where they asked me to build a bridge between Islam and one of the Asian religions and I said we don’t need to build bridges because the bridges are already there. If these are rational folks, then we have a bridge already.

But then you can also add that there are special bridges which exist between us and people who are not only rational but who also accept some of the Islamic truths, e.g. a person who is rational and who also believes in the existence of the Creator, a person who is rational who not only believes in the existence of the Creator but also is of the view that the Creator should be worshipped, who believes in Prophets like Jesus was a prophet, Abraham was a prophet and so on. Hence we find many arguments in the Quran which are based on this premise; a verse of the Quran وما قدروا الله حق قدره إذ قالوا ما أنزل الله على بشر من شيء قل من أنزل الكتاب الذي جاء به موسى نورا وهدى للناس you cannot believe in Moses as a Prophet and then say God never sent a book. The Quran tells us that if so and so is a Prophet then you should not attribute immoral things to him because the Prophet cannot be involved in any such matter.

Yassir Fazaga: The deeper we are getting into this, the more exciting it is getting and it seems as the time is passing, I am getting deeper into this. Hoping that we’ll see you next time. On behalf of myself and Sheikh Jafar, I’d like to say thank you and Assalamu alaikum warahmatullah wabarakatuh!

Credit: Transcribed by Defiance Team.

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