Reason and Rationality in the Quran
1 | 2 | Next
Dr Ibrahim Kalin*
Note of the editor
This article by Dr Ibrahim Kalin was presented during the second seminar of the Catholic-Muslim Forum at the Baptism site, hosted by the Royal Aal Al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought in Jordan in November 21-23, 2011. The Forum is one of the fruits of the ‘A Common Word' initiative, which was launched in 2007 and which seeks to promote Muslim-Christian dialogue (see http://ACommonWord.com). The article was first published as a booklet in MABDA N° 12, English Monograph Series -ISBN: 978-9957-428-48-8. © 2012 The Royal Aal Al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought, Amman, Jordan. We thank Dr Kalin for having permitted republishing on our web portal.
Table of Contents
2. The Modern Context: The Enlightenment Reason
3. Ratio and Intellectus
4. The Ontological Ground of Qur'anic Rationality
5. Reason and Thinking in Context
6. The Vocabulary of Thinking in the Qur'an
7. Reason, Heart and the Human Conscience
8. Reason, Existence and the Universe
9. Rationality and Morality
10. Rationality as Coherence
11. Conclusion: Is Return to Reason Still Possible?
* * *1. Introduction
This paper is based on a simple argument: far from being a self-standing entity, reason functions within a larger context of existence, intelligibility and moral thinking. It articulates as much as discloses the reality of things. Rationality arises within a context of meaning and significance that goes beyond the internal workings of the individual human mind. As a situated and engaged reality, reason by itself is neither a principle nor ground of knowledge, truth or rationality because our epistemic encounter with the world takes place in a wider context of ontological relations and significance. Furthermore, the conceptual and linguistic affiliates of the word ‘aql, which make up a long list of interrelated epistemic terms, present a matrix of thinking wider than calculative and discursive rationality can account for. The Qur'an treats reason and rationality in such a wider context of thinking.
Any notion of rationality that can properly be called ‘Islamic' operates in the context of what I call the metaphysics of creation, which states that the world has been created by an intelligent God for a purpose. It begins with the premise that the world has a beginning and end and that "all shall perish except His [God's] Face" (al-Qasas 28:88). The beginning (al-mabda') and the end or "return" to God (al-ma'ad) lays out a scope and horizon for our rational deliberations and moral choices. Like the universe, human beings have been created for a purpose whose fulfillment is not possible within the confines of a subjectivist ontology of human reason. The work of reason takes place against the backdrop of an ontology of rationality that links human beings to other human beings on the one hand, and to God and the universe on the other.
Figure 1: Dr. Ibrahim Kalin (the third from the right) during the World Muslim-Catholic Forum held in the Vatican in March 2008. (Source).
As God's intelligent work, the world of creation reflects His creative power. Given that God creates optimally and always for a purpose, the universe has an order and intelligibility built into it. Truth, when properly accessed, is the ‘disclosure' of this intrinsic order and intelligibility, which God as the Creator has bestowed upon existence. When reason investigates natural phenomena and the universe, it seeks out this order and intelligibility in them because without order, structure and intelligibility we cannot know anything. To name something, without which we cannot perceive the world, means giving it a proper place and signification in the order of things. A non-subjectivist ontology of reason, which the Qur'an advocates, construes rationality as disclosing the principles of intelligibility derived from the intrinsic qualities of the order of existence. ‘Rationality as intelligibility' is thus markedly different from the current notions of instrumental rationality, which reduces the function of reason, the most fundamental trait of being human, to making logical use of available means to reach our stated ends .
Rationality is then a function of existence and thinking and takes place in a communicative and intersubjective context. To say that something is intelligible means that it has a certain order and structure by which we can understand it. It also means that since it is intelligible, it can be communicated to others through language and rational arguments. This intersubjective context of rationality, which the Qur'an emphasizes on various occasions, places reason and rationality above the solitary work of a solipsistic and disengaged mind. Just as we humans are part of a larger reality, our thinking functions within a larger context of intelligibility. Using the plural form, the Qur'an explains its verses to a "tribe, nation or community (qawm) who thinks" and chastises "those who do not use their reason" (see for instance, al-Baqara 2:164; al-Ma'idah 5:58; al-Ra'd 13:4; al-Nahl 16:12). From disclosing the intrinsic intelligibility of things to intercultural relations, rationality emerges in a network of relations and connections that go beyond the internal procedures of the human mind.
Subsuming reason within a larger context of existence goes against the main thrust of modern rationalism. Ever since the European Enlightenment adapted its ‘baptism of reason' against the alleged irrationality of the Middle Ages, reason has declared its independence and developed a view of itself as the ultimate arche and ens realissimum of reality. In an age in which rationality is measured by quantifiable properties and computerized decisions, the ontological foundations of reason have radically changed, and highly idealized and eventually inhuman forms of rationality have been identified as the basis of human intelligence. In contrast to the notion of rationality as computerization, however, our most unique human quality called reason, the very quality that distinguishes us from the rest of creation and clearly privileges us over them (al-Isra' 17:70), functions essentially and primarily in a qualitative and axiological context. Charges of ‘irrationality' and dogmatism have been launched against Islam in part because the concept of rationality as developed in the Islamic intellectual tradition contravenes the main thrust of modern and postmodern notions of rationality that have arisen in the West since the 17th and 18th centuries.
Motivated by religious zeal, most medieval Christians considered Islam to be against reason and saw it as grounded in blind faith, ignorance, violence and worldly pleasures. The Muslim faith attracted many followers, it was argued, not because it offered convincing arguments but because it appealed to their flesh, the lowest part of the human being.
Furthermore, Islam endorsed violence on non-Muslims to convert them because it could not have produced rational arguments to convince the non-believer. Use of violence and declaration of Jihad against non-Muslims showed how irrational Islam was and how Islamic faith went against the nature of things. Not surprisingly, charges of unreason and violence have survived to the modern period. Today, radically anti-Islamic and Islamophobic voices cite similar arguments to depict Islam and Muslims as irrational and violent. History, though, has its own acts of balancing. Some medieval critics of Christianity such as Peter Bayle and Henry Stubbe defended Islam as a faith closer to reason than the Catholic Church. They praised the simplicity of Islamic faith against the complexities of Christian theology and rituals and admired the advanced state of Islamic civilization. While people like Roger Bacon claimed that the Muslim philosophers Al-Farabi and Ibn Sina had produced their philosophical edifice despite Islam, not because of it, and pretended to be Muslims outwardly to avoid the persecution of an intolerant religion, the anti-Catholic thinkers of the Middle Aes believed that Islam tolerated rational thinking and scientific inquiry more than others .
The secular critics consider Islam as essentially incompatible with the secular-humanist ethos of modernity and thus in conflict with the supposedly rational-scientific basis of modern culture. They also point to the discrepancies between traditional religions and the modern concepts of human rights, equality and freedom. The Enlightenment reason claims autonomy and self-sufficiency and rejects any outside authority such as history, tradition or religion. It does not reject religion in toto but subjects it to the scrutiny of the individual human reason. It draws boundaries for religious belief and denies any role or authority to religion outside them.
Like the medieval critics, the secular critics of Islam link unreason and violence and allege that "Islamic terrorism" is a result of the irrational nature of the Islamic faith. The radical Orientalists add other things to the list: the oppression of women, violation of minority rights, freedom of press, even poverty, corruption, etc. are all somehow related to the Islamic tradition which did not allow free thinking and oppressed free inquiry, dissent and pluralism. Needless to say, this is a caricature of the Iislamic tradition and based on political considerations rather than a sound analysis of historical facts. Much of the current debate about Islam, reason, rationality and science in popular circles in the West is shaped by such simplistic yet powerful views.
2. The Modern Context: The Enlightenment Reason
Modernity via the Enlightenment has claimed superiority over other traditions and non-Western cultures because of its claim to ground things in reason and thus create a primarily, if not purely, rational order. In contrast to the supposedly fideistic claims of Christianity, the enlightenment philosophes sought to justify everything on the basis of what Descartes called "clear and distinct ideas". The question to which Kant responded with his famous essay in 1784 summed up the relevance of reason and rationality for how we were to live in the post-Medieval world: do we live in an enlightened age? Kant believed his generation lived in an "age of enlightenment" rather than in an "enlightened age". The subtle difference between the two is not to be taken lightly. An enlightened age is one in which the defining elements of culture, society and politics follow the principle of reason. This is presumably a mature state of humanism and rationality, a world in which reason has defeated the forces of anti-reason. By contrast, an age of enlightenment is one in which the battle for the soul of humanity continues and the forces of reason fight ignorance and darkness. It refers to a process of gradual maturity and rationality, a goal towards which humanity as a whole moves. Since the reign of reason has begun, the end of history is within our reach – an end that is certain to come when the light of reason dawns upon all humanity including non-Europeans.
Figure 2: Front cover of Knowledge in Later Islamic Philosophy: Mulla Sadra on Existence, Intellect, and Intuition by Ibrahim Kalin (Oxford University Press, USA, 2010).
Kant defined enlightenment as "man's release from his self-incurred tutelage. Tutelage is man's inability to make use of his understanding without direction from another". Man's immaturity has created much of the oppression and ignorance that has shaped human history. Kant characterizes the essence of the Enlightenment as the "courage to think" for oneself freely. "Sapere aude! Have courage to use your own reason! That's the motto of enlightenment" .
From academic circles to populist politics, the debate about the Enlightenment reason has now become a debate about the alleged lack of rationality and humanity in Islam. In his preface to his brilliant History of the Enlightenment, Louis Dupre, "stunned by the attacks on September 11, 2001", wondered "if there was any purpose in writing about the Enlightenment at a time that so brutally seemed to announce the end of its values and ideals". Dupre does not mean to declare Islamic culture "unenlightened". But he notes that "Islam never had to go through a prolonged period of critically examining the validity of its spiritual vision, as the West did during the eighteenth century" . Dupre does not explain why Islam needs to revisit the "validity of its spiritual vision" but he clearly echoes an increasingly common view about the so-called "Islamic reformation". There have been other more alarming voices calling for an ‘Islamic enlightenment' to save Muslims from backwardness and the world from an irrational and dangerous religion.
It is a common mistake to assume that reason has been the exclusive property of the Enlightenment thinking since the 18th century. Traditional societies have accorded reason an important place in theology, law, politics, ethics, art and other areas of human life. The Islamic intellectual tradition, for instance, has produced an immense literature on reason, rationality, logic, thinking, contemplation, scientific inquiry, and so on. From Sunni and Shiite theology to Peripatetic philosophy and Sufism, the classical works are filled with chapters on the nobility of reason, virtues of knowledge and the spiritual blessings of using one's reason properly. The notions of reason and rationality that have developed in this tradition, however, are radically different from their modern counterparts. Traditional societies have seen reason as part of a larger reality and placed them within the wider context of existence and meaning. In order to function properly, reason has to accept its place within an order of things that is larger than the knowing subject. As I shall discuss below, the Qur'an considers human reason as part of a larger reality whose meaning cannot be encapsulated and disclosed by logical analysis, conceptual abstraction or rational discourse alone. The timeless wisdom is that reality is always more than our epistemic constructions of it.
As a mark of modernity, reason has been constructed as a self-regulating principle and the arbiter of truth from the mathematical and physical sciences to social and political orders. One modern tribute to it reads as follows: "The virtue of Rationality means the recognition and acceptance of reason as one's only source of knowledge, one's only judge of values and one's only guide to action" . But in reality, this rarefied view of reason, so passionately defended by academic philosophers, positivists and the self-proclaimed Enlightenment rationalists, has never worked as expected. Nor has it delivered what it promised, i.e., free individuals, rational society, universal equality, scientific culture, reason-bound politics or economic justice. This in itself calls for a deep reflection about the reasonableness of the Enlightenment project of pure reason. At any rate, elements of ‘anti-reason' seem to have crept into the new world order promised by the Enlightenment, and the modern capitalist society with its evasive impersonalism, crude individualism and structural violence, is a far cry from a rational social order.
Ever since the triumph of scientism in the late 19th and early 20th century, reason as logic and rational inquiry has been hailed as a trait of modernity not because we want to grasp the reality of things in the Greek sense of the term but because a purely rational order is believed to enable us to have full control over the world. The instrumental rationality that defines our value schemes, educational systems, political orders and daily lives provides handy justification for control, predictability and dominion and gives a largely false sense of security, satisfaction and fulfillment . It asserts that things are important because they have a use-value for us. The ‘rational' is the ‘useful'. Things have no longer intrinsic intelligibility or ‘rationality'; they have only use-value which we are free to use in any way we want.
Reason in the modern period has oscillated between the two extremes of logical positivism and radical historicism. The former view, represented by the Vienna Circle and its followers, has construed reason as an absolute and timeless principle unaffected by history, custom or such human frailties as emotion and desire. Rationality simply means proving that our concepts correspond to facts. It means drawing conclusions which fit the facts at hand. In this sense, rationality is essentially ‘logical consistency' and finds its purest expression in formal logic and scientific method . No other criteria count as a basis for rationality, and the value of everything from religion to art and education must be judged according to the logical and scientific dictates of this a-historic reason. Thus the values by which we are to live must be derived from the facts of nature which we must investigate through rational inquiry and logical analysis. All else is to be rejected as metaphysical nonsense. Reduced to a function of reasoning as formal logic, existence, too, is reduced to a logical term with no meaning and force outside logical-linguistic constructions .
The second view, represented by the waves of postmodernism and constructivism since the 1960s, deconstructed reason to the point of turning it into a by-product of social-historical processes. Like all other human traits and enterprises, reason is a historically constructed notion whose meaning and function varies from one social setting to another. Rationality means applying the human capacity for thinking to different problem-solving situations. It has meaning only in the context of specific issues, problems or research questions. Depending on the different types of human needs, rationality takes on new meanings and new functions. The defenders of this bounded view of reason insist that this is not to belittle the significance of reason or propose an irrational way of doing things. Rather, it is to admit the limitations of human reason. In this sense, rationality does not necessarily mean drawing conclusions that fit the facts. There are cases where the "anything goes" principle is more useful and functional than some abstract and mathematical notion of reason .
The concept of reason has had a different trajectory in the Islamic tradition and avoided the extremes of positivist absolutism and radical relativism. The reason that emerged within the islamic Weltanschauung proposed a different mode of thinking about existence, the universe, the human state and God. It was seen as part of a larger reality rather than a self-regulating principle and self-standing tool. As I shall discuss below, it is this integrated and wholesale view of reality that underlies the Quranic mode of thinking about reason and rationality.
3. Ratio and Intellectus
Before moving further, a word of clarification is in order for the reason-intellect bifurcation that has come about as a result of a major philosophical transformation in the history of Western metaphysics. I shall not venture into this history as it requires a detailed treatment. It should be briefly pointed out, however, that ratio and intellectus came to designate two separate ways of looking at reality in the late Middle Ages and ever since then the two terms have taken different paths. Ratio has been used for logical analysis, abstraction, deduction, drawing conclusions, and other logical functions of reason. In this broad sense, ratio primarily constituted the basis of scientific knowledge and claimed precision and certainty. By contrast, intellectus came to designate intuitive and sapiential knowledge, which was now fully decoupled from rational investigation and logical analysis. By implication, it was seen as lacking a solid foundation like ratio because it spoke of such subjective terms as intuition, imagination, illumination but not proofs, evidence, and demonstration.
Figure 3: The Arabic version of Dr Kalin's booklet Reason and Rationality in the Qur'an published in English, French and Arabic (Amman, 2012).
Had it not been for the later fallout between rationalist naturalism and mystical thought in the Western tradition, this may have been nothing more than a heuristic distinction. As a matter of fact, the Thomistic tradition maintained a relationship of complementarity between ratio and intellectus and held that they were not opposed to one another but addressed to different aspects of the same reality . But as later history shows, the two terms were employed to represent two substantially different ways of understanding the world and making moral judgments. Ratio became the main instrument of natural sciences, which by now had divested nature of all of its intrinsic intelligibility and symbolic significance, and developed a separate modus operandi. The further estrangement of ratio from intellectus meant that ‘rational analysis' was no longer to unveil the built-in intelligibility of things, their symbolic significance, or their spiritual value.
Rationality created a new domain of truth for itself and bade farewell to our holistic experience of reality. Rationalism, coupled with naturalism and positivism, sought to reduce reality to the analytical competencies of the human mind and identified quantitative-calculative thinking as the only reliable way of knowing the reality of things. Even though contemporary Christian theologians have insisted that both ratio and intellectus together make up a proper process of knowing, the bifurcation of discursive and intuitive modes of thinking has played a key role in the secularization of the modern world-picture and the profanization of nature. Such a distinction has never occurred in the Islamic tradition. The word ‘aql means both reason and intellect in the two senses discussed above. ‘Aql is innately capable of performing the two functions of logical analysis and intuitive knowing without a contradiction. Furthermore, it is the same ‘aql that guides our will in our moral choices. It is true that in the later Islamic intellectual tradition, the philosophers have introduced a general distinction between "rational investigation" (bahth) and "taste" (dhawq), i.e., realized knowledge. The two modes of thinking, however, complement each other and help us uncover the multilayered structure of reality, which, after all, demands a multidimensional yet integrated approach. In the words of Mulla Sadra who epitomizes this tradition, "true demonstration does not contradict witnessing based on unveiling (al-shuhud al-kashfi)" .
When Muslims state, largely under the pressure of modern rationalism and out of inferiority complex against the West, that "Islam is the religion of reason/intellect", what they mean is not that the Islamic faith, or any faith for that matter, can be reduced to human reason. Such a claim would turn faith into an empirical statement or logical proposition. Faith, by definition, must have a dimension that goes beyond reason; otherwise there would be no need for Divine revelation and the Prophets. What is beyond reason, however, does not mean anti-reason; it means supra-rational, that which transcends the cognitive competencies of the human reason. Supra-rational is not irrational because reason can admit what lies beyond its capacities. Such an admission is not illogical because it states not ignorance, agnosticism or blind faith but a self-reflective acknowledgment of limits. Reason cannot think without certain rules and principles. Freedom is not the abolishment of all limits and rules but the exercise of reason in conjunction with virtue .
What is unique and even astounding about human reason is that it can set its own limits to what it can and cannot know. The self-delimitation of reason is a rational act and points to the larger context of existence and intelligibility within which it functions. This is what al-Ghazali attempted with his critique of Peripatetic philosophy whereby he critically tried to draw the limits of speculative reason in the field of pure metaphysics which he believed belonged to the "invisible world" (‘alam al-ghayb). Committing himself to a similar task but working with different premises, Kant, too, sought to lay out the limits of reason in his Critique of Pure Reason: "Human reason has this peculiar fate that in one species of its knowledge it is burdened by questions which, as prescribed by the very nature of reason itself, it is not able to ignore, but which, as transcending all its powers, it is not able to answer" .
4. The Ontological Ground of Qur'anic Rationality
Long before the Greek philosophical texts were translated into Arabic, Muslims had an encounter with the concept of reason/intellect as outlined in the Qur'an and the Hadith. In sharp contrast to the period of the Jahiliyyah, "ignorance", Islam represented the era of faith, knowledge, reason, justice and freedom all at once. Entering Islam meant leaving the mental and social habits of the age of ignorance, polytheism, injustice and immorality. It meant establishing a new socio-political order based on reason, justice, equality and virtue. It also required a new ontology of reason to overcome polytheistic logic and moral cynicism. And this was possible only by introducing a new Weltanschauung and a new mode of thinking.
In order to understand the place of reason and rationality in the Qur'an and the later Islamic intellectual tradition, we thus need to explore the new ontological ground of reason and the mode of thinking which the Qur'an introduced and did so through stories, implorations, deductions, syllogisms, commands, warnings, praises, and promises of reward and punishment. The rich repertoire of logical deductions and moral exhortations which we find in the Qur'an and the Hadith purport to awaken our conscience so that we can begin to use our sensate and rational faculties in a manner that befits our state of existence. The Qur'an says: "And indeed We have put forth for men in this Quran every kind of similitude in order that they may remember" (al-Zumar 39:27). The mathal, translated here as similitude, refers to metaphors and parables by which a fundamental message is conveyed – a message which may otherwise remain inaccessible to the human mind. But since no parable is devoid of cognitive content, this is an appeal both to reason and imagination so that we may "remember" what is essential.
The path of thinking which we find in the Qur'an is not comprised of assembling of facts; nor is it a pietistic enumeration of commands and prohibitions. Rather, it is a whole-some undertaking that requires setting upon an intellectual, moral and spiritual journey. It encompasses all of our being and overcomes such dualities as the sensate versus the rational, the material versus the spiritual, the individual versus the universe, nature versus culture, and so on. The integrated mode of thinking which the Qur'an embodies in its unique style reflects the nature of reality, which is interdependent and multilayered. It urges us to see the interconnectedness of things and how one thing leads to the other in the great chain of being.
The Qur'anic mode of thinking is then primarily not descriptive but prescriptive. The Qur'an does not simply describe things as facts or information; its suggestive stories, striking metaphors and vivid descriptions of God's creation and interventions in history are meant to change the way we see things and our place in the world. it seeks to transform the human conscience so that we can live a life based on justified faith and virtue . Once this conscience is awoken and brought up to reckon with the reality of things, everything falls in place: our reason, thinking, sense organs, seeing, hearing, perceiving and moral judgments begin to come together. Reason and rationality arise within this larger context of integrated thinking and moral discernment. Far from being a principle and ground of truth by itself, reason functions within the larger context of our being in the world and the human responses we give to reality.
Owing its existence to something larger than what is purely human, reason cannot know God in the sense of ‘encapsulating' Him because as a finite being, it cannot encircle that which is infinite. God cannot be known empirically because empirical knowledge entails limit, position, relation, relativity, etc., none of which applies to God. God can be known through reason/intelligence to the extent to which the Absolute and the infinite can be intuited, grasped and represented through formal propositions, concepts, and metaphors. To expect reason to do more than that would be to transgress its own limits. If reason, like other components of reality, is part of the order of existence and not the whole of it, then it can never fully encapsulate the whole of reality. But this in no way diminishes or undermines its significance. By contrast, God is the absolute reality that encapsulates everything. He is al-Muhit, the One who encompasses everything. Thus the Qur'an says that "Vision perceives Him not, but He perceives [all] vision; and He is the Subtle, the Acquainted" (al-An'am 6:103).
Like love, charity, wisdom, spirituality and art, rationality is a fundamental human response to the call of reality. It enables us to disclose the intelligible structure of the order of existence. It invites us to overcome our corporeal existence and connect with the world of nature in primarily rational and moral terms. It urges us to establish a socio-political order based on virtue, justice and freedom. The Qur'an presents a view of the human person according to which our humanity is formed by ‘rationality' (‘aql, nutq) and those other traits that are equally central to our task to give a meaningful response to reality. In an ontological sense, this means recognizing the reality of things as they are and see them as a "trust" (amanah) from God. The human response to the Divine call of protecting His trust is to become His "vicegerent" (khalifah) on earth and thus submit to God, which is the literal meaning of Islam. In the formal religious language, this submission is called ‘ibadah, worship, the supreme human act that transcends the limitations of human existence and binds us to the Absolute and the Infinite.
In this regard, the Qur'anic mode of thinking is not empirical or rationalist, historical or systematic, apodictic or pedagogical, analytical or descriptive. It is none of them and all of them at once. It combines conceptual analysis with moral judgment, empirical observation with spiritual guidance, historical narrative with eschatological expectation, and abstraction with imperative command. The Qur'an is primarily a "guidance" (hidayah) for mankind (al-Baqarah 2:2) and seeks to lead us from ignorance to knowledge, from darkness to light, from injustice and oppression to freedom. The Qur'anic rationality thus extends from the empirical and conceptual to the moral and the spiritual. Being rational means rejecting oppression and injustice and embracing the Divine call for justice. The Prophet of Islam has defined ‘intelligent person' (al-kayyis) as one who "controls his ego and prepares for the afterlife" (Tirmidhi, al-Qiyamah, 25). In Islamic law and theology, a person must be ‘sane' or ‘intelligent' (‘aqil) in order to be responsible for his/her actions because there is no religious responsibility (taklif) without having sanity or reason (‘aql).
In the Islamic tradition, this forms the basis of the moral ontology of reason and rationality and establishes a strong connection between intelligence, rationality, faith and virtue. According to Harith al-Muhasibi (d. 857), reason is "a disposition that is known through its deeds" . It acts as a principle of moral action and seeks to bring us closer to the Divine. If a person is really intelligent, reasons al-Muhasibi, he will seek to secure his salvation in this world and in the hereafter, for which he must use his reason properly. By basing his analysis on the "nobility of reason", which is the title of his work, al-Muhasibi wants to show the unique character of human reason for establishing a justified faith and a virtuous life. A proper use of reason, illuminated by faith, leads to rational thinking and moral behavior. By the same token, faith articulated and corroborated by reason has depth and certainty. The 14th century philosopher Haydar Amuli sees perfect harmony between faith and reason and compares religion (al-shar') and reason to the body and the spirit. Just as the spirit cannot function without the body, the body cannot find meaning, life and wholeness without the spirit. Thus "neither religion dispenses with reason nor reason with religion. Raghib al-Isfahani, quoted by Amuli, states in strikingly unambiguous terms that "reason can never find the right path without religion and religion can never have clarity without reason" . Logic and transcendence thus work together to reveal the nature of things and realize our humanity. But this can happen only when we see human reason working in a larger context of thinking and contemplation.
5. Reason and Thinking in Context
The verb ‘a-q-l, to intellect or to use one's reason, literally means to hold, to protect and to guard. Reason is that by which we protect ourselves from falsehood, error and evil-doing. Thus ma'qal means ‘fortress'. This is the same meaning conveyed in the english phrase "intelligent person". This basic meaning of reason is not to be taken lightly, for it underlies the essential component of thinking and contemplation as the proper human response to the call of reality. In contrast to attempts to reduce reason and rationality to logical competency and procedural ratiocination, reason as a principle of truth and as an instrument of knowledge represents an encounter with the reality of things.
Thinking is not simply to enumerate the physical properties of things or the logical relations of concepts. It is more than a mere mental representation of things because, as Muslim philosophers insist, mental abstraction gives us only a picture of reality. Like all mental abstractions, this picture is frozen and can never fully measure up to the reality itself.
Abstract concepts are essential for rational thinking and the formation of ideas. Thinking, however, requires more than abstraction and use of concepts. It takes place in a context of encounter with reality and puts us in a relationship with something larger than us. It means seeing, observing, listening, hearing, reflecting, contemplating, and drawing the appropriate practical and moral conclusions. It means responding to what we encounter. It involves rational analysis but also moral commitment. In its deepest sense, thinking prevents us from seeing things as a means to an end. it challenges instrumental rationality on both ontological and spiritual grounds. As I shall discuss shortly, if the world has been created by God, then it cannot be reduced to utility. It has a substantive meaning and value independent of us.
In principle, there is nothing essentially wrong with the idea that we attain a degree of rationality by following rules and procedures. Following a rule can certainly counts as rational act and comes handy in our daily lives, scientific explorations, economic decisions, political lives, etc. But while it has its uses, instrumental rationality moves at the surface of human subjectivity and does not necessarily relate us to reality. Following a rule is no guarantee for a rational outcome. We may follow a procedure and arrive at certain conclusions. The outcome, though, can be the most irrational thing and even a catastrophe. Like many autocracies, the Nazis, for instance, had a rule-bound, procedurally ‘rational' governance of Germany. But their instrumentalist approach to religion, history, science and politics destroyed the very meaning of being human. The content and substance of what we do must also have a rational basis.
The Qur'an subscribes to a substantive view of rationality by asserting that not only our instruments and procedures but also our fundamental notions and concepts should be properly rational and conform to the reality of things. The substantive view of rationality follows from the intrinsic intelligibility of existence as God's creation. Every rational act on our part is an act of conforming to the principle of reason built into the nature of things. Whatever violates this principle lands us in the realm of the irrational.
Substantive rationality is also supported by the anthropology of reason itself. Most Muslim thinkers hold that reason responds to empirical data and abstract notions through its own innate qualities. Far from being a hypothetical tabula rasa, reason reflects the fundamental traits of existence of which it is a part. Raghib al-Isfahani divides reason into two: ‘aql matbu', "innate reason", and ‘aql masmu', "acquired reason". Masmu' literally means that which is heard, referring to things learnt by hearing from others. It roughly corresponds to experience and refers to the context of human relations. Innate reason refers to our in-born ability to grasp the intelligible order and truth of things. It is through innate reason that we inhabit an intelligible world. Acquired reason is what we learn by ‘hearing' from others and refers to the context of social relations and linguistic forms with which we name things.
The two are intertwined but ‘innate reason' takes precedence over ‘acquired reason'. Isfahani, who attributes this division to imam Ali ibn Abi Talib, says that just as the light of the sun has no use when the eye is blinded, acquired reason can do no good when innate reason is corrupted . Reason then works two-ways: in its innate form, it works from inside and out. It encounters and witnesses the visible world through its inborn qualities. This is part of fitrah, the fundamental human nature, which is our window to the world of existence and thus must be protected in order to ‘see' right . In its acquired form, reason moves from outside to inside and takes in bits and pieces of empirical data and impressions from the outside world. It is the combination of the two, the inner and the outer, that gives us a fuller picture of the function of reason vis-à-vis reality. This fundamental function of reason, however, always takes place within a larger context of ontological significance and epistemic competency .
The most fundamental function of reason/intellect is to act as a mirror to reflect the intrinsic meaning and order of things. in performing this task, the intellect has a special relationship with the Divine because it emanates from the Divine nature. What the intellect discovers as order, necessity and intelligibility in the universe is a reflection of God's own Nature and Will. Mulla Sadra provides a vivid description of this aspect of the intellect:
The intellect, since there is no veil between it and the the First Truth [God], can witness by itself the essence of the Truth [God] … there is no veiling between the two … [God] can certainly manifest itself to the intellect and the manifestation here takes place through the lucid [unveiling] of [God's] essence. There is no aspect or quality added to the Divine and another being added to [the intellect]. The essence of the intellect is like a polished mirror on which the form of the Truth shines. on the mirror itself, there is no existential entity except the reflected form, and the reflected form is nothing but the form related to the Truth. Therefore in the essence of the intellect there is nothing other than the form of the Truth and its theophany. There are no two things here: the existence of the intellect and the manifestation of the Truth upon it because one being cannot have to existences. By the same token, two [distinct] forms cannot emanate from God in one single manner. Because of this, the sages (‘urafa') have said that God does not manifest [Himself ] twice in the same form. Thus it is known that the existence of the intellect is nothing but a manifestation of God the exalted through His Form on the intellect; and the form of God's essence is itself his own essence, not something added to Him .
6. The Vocabulary of Thinking in the Qur'an
The Qur'an uses a number of terms that are closely related to reason/intellect and thinking. Tafakkur, "thinking", qalb, "heart", fu'ad, "inner heart", and lubb, literally "seed" meaning "essential heart", are among these terms and each corresponds to a different aspect of the act of perceiving, thinking and reflecting. There are also other terms which fall within the same semantic field of ‘aql: ‘ilm, "knowledge"; fahm, "understanding"; fiqh, "perceiving/understanding"; idrak, "grasping"; shu'ur, "consciousness"; burhan, "demonstration"; hujjah, "evidence"; bayyinah, "clear evidence"; sultan, "over-whelming evidence", furqan, "discernment"; tadabbur, "contemplation"; nutq, "talking/ thinking"; hukm, "judgment"; hikmah, "wisdom"; and dhikr, "remembrance/ invocation".
The Qur'anic usage of these terms, whose full exposition requires a separate study, establishes a context of integrated thinking in which our encounter with reality unveils different aspects of the all-inclusive reality of existence. More importantly, it leads to a mode of thinking that combines empirical observation, rational analysis, moral judgment and spiritual refinement.
This rich vocabulary points to the wholeness of perceiving and thinking. in contrast to categorical distinctions between sensate perception and conceptual analysis, our natural or ‘first-order' encounter with things takes place as a unitary experience. in perceiving things, our sense organs and reason work together. The sharp distinctions between sensate qualities, which correspond to the physical-material world, and intellectual notions, which correspond to the world of the mind, are reflections of the Cartesian bifurcation between res extensa and res cogitans and hardly give us an accurate description of the actual act of perceiving and understanding. These categories belong to the ‘second-order' reflection upon reality whereby we make distinctions between subject and object, the knower and the known, the perceiver and the perceived, mental and material, etc. Our first-order encounter with the world takes place in a different context.
The wholeness of our epistemic experience of things stems from the wholeness of existence. Knowing as encounter means that we stand before our object of knowledge. This puts us in a special relationship with the reality of things in that we respond to it through our epistemic faculties rather than create its meaning in a a self-referential way. This meaning of knowing through reason is reflected in one of the root meanings of the word ‘aql, which is to tie, to link, to relate. Reason ties us to the truth and thus opens up a new horizon beyond the ordinary chain of causes. In a horizontal way, the human reason moves between and across facts and concepts and links them to one another. In a vertical way, it links what is below to what is higher. The Qur'an insists on the convergence of the two axes of causality: horizontal, which regulates the world of physical causes, and vertical, which introduces the ‘Divine command' (amr) into the natural realm. There is no contradiction between the two but they follow different rules. The day and night follow each other as part of the natural order in which we live and there is no breaking of this rule. But also "when God wants something to happen, He says to it "be" and it is" (Yasin 36:82). Each realm of existence requires a different type of thinking.
The elaborate vocabulary of sensing, reasoning and thinking which the Qur'an employs is necessitated by the nature of reality itself. A multilayered and multidimensional reality cannot be perceived by a single cognitive method. It requires a larger toolset of conceptual abilities. At this point, the Qur'an speaks of ‘alam al-ghayb, "the world of the invisible" and ‘alam al-shahadah, "the world of the visible". The invisible world refers to that realm of existence known to God alone. God has given intimations of this world but no comprehensive knowledge of it has been made available.
While not accessible to the human experience, the invisible world guides our encounter with the world of visible existence and thus functions as a signpost for our conceptual analyses and moral judgments. In a metaphysical and moral sense, it regulates the affairs of the visible world in which we live. What is striking about the Qur'anic notion of the ‘visible world' is that a proper perception of it is based on an experience of ‘witnessing' (mushahadah), which is different from looking and seeing. Witnessing means standing before that which presents itself. It entails looking and seeing but also attending to. it is more like the experience of looking at a landscape and having a gestalt perception of it. In contemplating a landscape, we move between parts and whole and each time discover a new relationship.
In this sense, our encounter with the reality of things is a rational and conceptual process but takes place within a larger context of intelligibility and significance that goes beyond purely logical and discursive thinking. Concepts, which are not created in vacuum, correspond to different aspects of reality and emerge in our encounter with reality, which the Qur'an describes as " bearing witness to the truth". Thus we ‘see' the light, ‘touch' the wood, ‘smell' the rose, ‘taste' the cherry, ‘perceive' the dimension, ‘think of' the infinitude, ‘have consciousness of' the nearness of the water, ‘discern' between a thing and its shadow, ‘understand' a command, ‘respond' to a call, ‘submit' to truth, ‘accept' the evidence, ‘contemplate' the meaning of life, and so on. Each of these epistemic acts says something about our mental and conceptual abilities with which we understand the world. But more importantly, they correspond to something outside us and expand the horizon of our subjectivity.
 Cf. Milton K. Munitz, The Question of Reality (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990), p. 124.
 See my "Roots of Misconception: Euro-American Perceptions of Islam Before and After September 11th" in Islam, Fundamentalism, and the Betrayal of Tradition, Joseph Lumbard (ed.) (Bloomington, IN: World Wisdom, 2009, 2nd edition), pp. 149–193.
 Kant, "What is Enlightenment?" in Kant on History, ed. Lewis White Beck, (New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1963), p. 3.
 Louis Dupre, The Enlightenment and the Intellectual Foundations of Modern Culture (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2004), Preface, ix.
 Ayn Rand, The Virtue of Selfishness (New American Library 1964), p. 25.
 For a view of modernity as control and predictibility, see Albert Borgmann, Crossing the Postmodern Divide (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1992).
 Cf. Charles Taylor, "Rationality " in his Philosophy and the Human Sciences, Volume 2 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), p. 134.
 Heidegger rejects this impowerished meaning of ‘logos' as ‘discourse' or ‘analysis' without an ontological ground. Instead, he tries to recover the original Greek meaning of logos as ‘gathering' and ‘togetherness'. See his An Introduction to Metaphysics, tr. R. Manheim, (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1959), pp. 120–135.
 Paul Feyerabend, who in his Against the Method (1975) took upon himself to debunk the absolutist claims of positivist science, is probably the most famous proponent of the second view. Richard Rorty ‘s Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (1979) provides another constructivist critique of the Enlightenment project of pure reason. Rorty's alternative is a sort of reason dissolved into human drama. For a discussion of the trails of modern reason in Western philosophy in the 20th century, see Stephen Toulmin, Return to Reason (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001).
 See Denys Turner, Faith, Reason and the Existence of God (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), especially pp. 75–88.
 Mulla Sadra, al-Hikmat al-muta'aliyah f i'l-asfar al-'aqliyyat al-arba'ah, (Beirut: Dar Ihya' al-Turath al-'Arabi, 1981) I, 2, p. 315. Sadra goes on to say: "The difference between the sciences based on theory and the sciences based on vision, is like the difference between someone who knows the definition of sweetness and someone who has actually tasted sweetness; and someone who understands the definition of health and power and someone who is actually healthy and powerful." Commentary on the Chapter al-Waqi'ah, Tafsir, Vol. 7, p. 10. For more on this, see my Knowledge in Later Islamic Philosophy: Mulla Sadra On Existence, Intellect and Intuition, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), pp. 217–221.
 What Kant has to say about this is worth quoting in full: "If reason will not subject itself to the law it gives itself, it will have to bow under the yoke of the law which others impose on it, for without any law whatsoever nothing, not even the greatest nonsense, can play its hand for very long. Thus the inevitable consequence of declared lawlessness in thinking (an emancipation from restrictions of reason) is that freedom to think is finally lost." Kant, "What is Orientation in Thinking?", trans. L. W. Beck in Kant's Critique of Practical Reason and Other Writings on Moral Philosophy (Chicago, 1949), p. 304.
 Kant, The Critique of Pure Reason, trans. Norman Kemp Smith (London, 1933), p. A viii.
 Cf. Fazlur Rahman, Major Themes of the Qur'an (Minneapolis: Bibliotheca Islamica, 1994), p. 22.
 Harith al-Muhasibi, Sharaf al-'aql wa mahiyyatuhu, ed. M. A. ‘Ata (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-'Ilmiyyah), 1982, p. 19.
 Haydar Amuli, Jami' al-esrar wa manba' al-anwar, ed. By Henry Corbin and Osman Yahia (Tehran: Department d'iranologie de l'institut franco-iranien de recherche, 1968), pp. 372–3.
 Raghib al-Isfahani, al-Mufradat fi gharib al-qur'an (Istanbul: Kahraman Yayinlari, 1986), p. 511. Both Harith al-Muhasibi and al-Ghazali refer to this two-fold definition of reason; see al-Muhasibi, Sharaf al-'aql, p. 20.
 Al-Farabi identifies this as one of the six meanings of ‘aql; see al-Fararabi, Risalah fi-'l-'aql, ed. Maurice Bouyges (Beirut: Dar el-Machreq, 1983), pp. 8–9.
 The later philosophical tradition has developed an elaborate epistemology and anthropology of reason which includes ‘aql hayulani or ‘aql bi-'l-quwwah, the material or potential intellect, ‘aql bi-'l-fi'l, the actualized intellect, ‘aql mustafad, the acquired intellect, and finally ‘aql fa'al, the active intellect. Since I cannot discuss these later interpretations here, I will only refer to the foundational texts by the philosophers. For al-Kindi's discussion and classification of ‘aql, which is the first among the philosophers, see his Risalah fi-'l-'aql (‘On the Intellect'), ed. Jean Jolivet in L'Intellect selon Kindi (Leiden, Holland: E. J. Brill, 1971). Al-Farabi fully develops al-Kindi's initial exploration in his various works; see especially Risalah fi-'l-'aql. Ibn Sina discusses ‘aql and its types and functions in his various works including the Shifa' and Najat but also al-Mabda' wa-'l-ma'ad. For an extensive survey of their views against the Greek background, see Davidson, Herbert A., Al-Farabi, Avicenna, and Averroes on Intellect: Their Cosmologies, Theories of the Active Intellect, and Theories of Human Intellect (New York/Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992).
 Mulla Sadra, Risalat al-Hashr, ed. with Persian translation by M. Khwajawi (Tehran: Intisharat-i Mawlawi, 1998), pp. 85–6.
*Dr Ibrahim Kalin is currently Chief Advisor to the Prime Minister of Turkey and is a fellow at the Prince Alwaleed Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, Georgetown University, Washington, USA.
1 | 2 | Next
by: Dr Ibrahim Kalin, Fri 14 September, 2012