الأربعاء، 29 أبريل، 2009
ISLAM & SCIENTIFIC THOUGHT
Research Fellow (History & Philosopher of Science), ISTAC
Islamic science was international in nature with an international language, Arabic, just as we have now English as an international language of science. And so Arabic language was international, spoken by all people, Arabs and non-Arabs. At that time it was the lingua franca and everybody has to know Arabic. Islamic science was cultivated by international scholars of diverse beliefs. This means that not only Muslims did science, but some were non-Muslims, Jews, Christians, Persians, and they all contributed to the content of what we recognise now as "Islamic Science."
Al-Ghazali, in his Incoherence of the Philosophers made critical studies of Greek thought. He highlighted those aspects of Greek thought which was unIslamic. Basically, he says that the physical sciences and the mathematical sciences are to a large extent neutral in so far as the Shariah is concerned. This means that the Shariah is not against mathematics or physical studies of the world. So these sciences are neutral in that people can study them because in themselves they do not contain anything that contradicts the Shariah since they are based on experience, observation and logical analysis. So these sciences are even encouraged in the service of public good, for instance medicine.
But the metaphysical aspects of Greek thought, their speculative assumptions about God, the origins of the world, the soul, etc., were found to be problematic since they contradicted the basisc tenets of Islam. And al-Ghazali warned Muslims to be extra careful with Greek metaphysics.
Before the influence of Greek science, Muslim has already developed their indigenous sciences (i.e., systematic intellectual investigations and researches) in the forms of Fiqh, Kalam, Grammar, Linguistics, Hadith, etc. The scientific thinking of Muslim was already in place before the reception of Greek science. And so it is wrong to say that science in Islam began when Muslims were exposed to Greek science. Also, science in Islam has a meaning broader than the modern conception of science, which is restricted to the study of the physical world. In Islam any systematic study of the human, the natural and of the relation between God and the world would be scientific sudies.
In Islam, not all knowledge or branches of knowledge are at the same level. Certain branches of knowledge are considered as higher in rank. For instance studies about the attributes of God in Kalam or Tawhid, and so the knowledge of God is considered to be in the first rank, by which we recognize the oneness of God, that He's the all-knowing and so on, and therefore this knowledge of God cannot be at the same rank as knowledge of home-science, for instance. Scholars such as al-Farabi, Ibn Sina and al-Ghazali made various classifications of all the sciences prevalent during their time.
As for Imam Ghazali classification of the religious and the intellectual sciences: basically, he divided all the sciences and all branches of knowledge into the religious (transmitted) and into the intellectual (speculative) sciences. Under the Religious Sciences, what we can see is:
A. The science of fundamental principles which includes:
a) the science of divine unity.
b) the science of prophethood. This science is also concerned with the states of the companions and the religious spiritual successors.
c) The science of the hereafter or the science of what will happen to us after we die.
d) The science of the sources of religious knowledge; there are two primary sources, the Qur'an and the Sunnah. And there are also the related science of Ijma' or the concensus of religious authorities; also in this category are the auxillary linguistic sciences like grammar and philology, because without a proper command of the Arabic language, we cannot really study the Qur'an and the Sunnah. This category also includes:
i) the sciences of the Quran which also includes the science of its interpretation, Tafsir.
ii) the science of prophetic traditions, Hadith.
iii) the science of jurisprudence, Usul Fiqh.
iv) the science of biography, sirah, which deals with the life of the Prophet and the Companions.
B. The science of the practical branches or the furu' (derived principles) of the Shari'ah, i.e., sciences that are concerned with man's obligations to God (i.e., prayer, zakat, fasting, hajj and so on.; and the science of men's obligations to society, namely, mu'amalah, including commercial and also family law; and the science of akhlaq, which deals with how we are to conduct our ownselves ethically with respect to God and other people, and also it deals with your own private conduct and behaviour, and personal moral-spiritual rectification.
Under the Intellectual Sciences we have:
a) mathematics and that includes arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, astrology and music
c) physics or the natural sciences, including
d) the sciences of being beyond nature or Metaphysics: including ontology, the science of being and existence, knowledge of the divine essence and attributes and activities, etc.
What we can see here is that Islam affirms a hierarchy of reality: the absolute reality (God); the level of the reality of the angels; physical sensual reality, and so on. And also what we can see in us is the physical, but there's also something in us which is not physical, for instance, our mind. and within ourselves, there are also inner layers of realities pertaining to our psyche or soul.
The classification of the sciences corresponds to the hierachy of existence. So, that is why under the category of intellectual sciences, al-Ghazali not only includes the sciences of the natural world, but also the science of the knowledge of the angelic world, the knowledge of the beings that are beyond physical nature.
This also tells us of the function of 'aql or mind from the Islamic point of view. In modern science, the function of the mind is restricted to the perception of the objects of the physical world. They say that the mind cannot grasp the objects of the non-physical world because the non-physical world does not exist. But in Islam, the function of mind does not only pertains to how we organize and interpret the physical world but the mind also functions towards understanding and gaining intuitive knowledge of the non-physical world.
So, the mind is in the middle position; one aspect of it looks on the physical world and the other on the metaphysical and the spiritual world. And so, in this sense, rationality or reason in Islam functions both in relation to the physical and the non-physical world.
But in modern science, rational thinking pertains only to the physical world and so thinking beyond the physical world is deemed unreasonable and irrational.
However, we argue that man is a limited being, and his mind is limited, and so it cannot claim to comprehend the whole of reality. Hence Islam affirms divine revelation by which the nature of ultimate reality is made known to man. Hence, Islamic science takes into consideration both the physical and the non-physical dimension of life and existence.
To conclude, the meaning of science in Islam is more holistic, is wider and takes both the natural and the spiritual into account and integrates the two. In contrast, modern secular science reduces everything to the physical, to quantity, even when the object of its study relates also to attitudes, morality, and quality.
Muslim historiography of science
Historiography pertains to how we view the unfolding of events in the past, how we interpret historical facts and the ways of understanding historical events, and relating them to our present situation. In the West, the view of history is progressive. For example, human beings are seen to have begun as immature, primitive primates, but over time they gradually became more and more mature, skillful, smarter, civilized, self-conscious, knowledgeable and so on. In science also, in mainstream western historiography of science, the prevalent view is that men began in stupidity, and through a long process of trial and error experience men discovered science in Greece!
But that is not the Islamic view, and moreover such a view is totally unscientific, unsupported by the evidence. In Islam, science and knowledge began with the first man, Adam, as part of his nature, his fitrah. Adam was to be God's representative, khalifah, on earth, and he was mature and wise from the very beginning since he was taught the names of all things. And so the basics of all human skills and sciences are either taught by prophets to their people, or are of divine inspiration to the sages of old. Sciences are never due to blind, bumbling chance discoveries; they are due to intuition, instruction, creative forethought and systematic endeavour.
In the Qur'an, Allah says He taught the prophets certain skills relating to earthly life. For, instance He facilitated the use of iron, copper and the construction of the ship to David, Solomon and Noah respectively. So, these skills are fundamentally inspired by God. There also are archaeological evidences that indicate that human beings already knew how to build ships and sail the oceans 700,000 years ago and already have languages. And for instance, the Egyptians, 5,000 years ago, they already have mathematics and medicine and they already knew how to build immense architectural monuments. So, this scriptural and empirical considerations clearly go against the mainstream notion of long term, very gradual, haphazard trial and error discovery of skills, like counting, speaking and skills like building, agriculture, ... etc.
Science is something we do that transforms the unknown to the known. One of the founders of modern geology, Lyell, said that the present is the key to the past, meaning that the present observable facts point to events that have occurred long ago. For instance, there was once when al-Biruni climbed up a mountain and found a lot of seashells at the mountain top. And to our normal experience, a seashell should be found at the beach. And so he inferred that what was land now could have been once buried under the sea.
Scientists do research into such things, and look for patterns in nature by which diverse phenomena can be related to one another, thus arises the notion of laws of nature. And so, the scientific goal is to solve intellectual problems and puzzles presented to our minds by our observation and experience of phenomena. And in the process, concepts are created, e.g., "energy," "gravity," etc., by which these phenomena are classified, organized, related to one another, and by which predictions are made of future similar phenomena. In the process, techniques and methods of scientific analysis are created, e.g., logic, mathematics, experimentation, etc., thus scientific methodologies are formulated.
In the West, they talk a lot about scientific methodologies, or how to investigate and ascertain the truth and validity of scientific claims about the physical world; and so they are concerned about proper procedures of scientific research. But unfortunately, there's also a few fundamental things that are not touched or not touched enough. These basically pertains to the relation between science and the society in which it is supported and cultivated, and within which scientists formulate their research agenda. Also the relation between the scientific endeavour and the scientist as a person, as a moral being.
So, larger questions are often ignored; questions pertaining to the role the scientific endeavour plays in a society; what is the position of science with respect to the religious, moral, ethical, cultural, spiritual, aesthetical aspects of human life; to the quality of the social and natural environment? To the ultimate destiny of man?
It is important for Muslim scientists to think creatively about these meta-scientific matters. They must have a clear conception of how this scientific activity is connected to all other activities in totality of Islamic life. It is this conception that gives meaning and direction to the scientific endeavour in Islam. Science in Islam is not to know the world for knowledge's sake; it is to know the world as a means toward appreciation of divine wisdom and bounty, and toward the cultivation of a socio-physical environment conducive to that appreciation.
AL-ATTAS ON ISLAM AND THE PHILOSOPHY OF SCIENCE:
an outline of the main points
1. Science in Islam is the understanding of God's "signs and symbols" in the pages of the "book of nature" by means of the guiding light of His words and the Sunnah of His Messenger.
2. Islamic Science involves the application of the "sound senses" to the experience of reality, and of "sound reason" to the apprehension of truth.
3. The "truth" is at once subjective and objective, since the subjective and the objective are inseparable aspects of a single reality.
4. Nature is sacred because it is a symbolic form manifesting divine creativity at the level of phenomenal reality.
5. Sources and methods of knowledge in Islam: Knowledge comes from God, and is acquired through the channels of:
* Sound senses:
(i) five external senses: touch, smell, taste, sight, hearing (ii) five internal senses: common sense, representation, estimation, retention,recollection, imagination
* True report based on authority:
(i) absolute authority,
(a) divine authority, i.e., the Qur'an
(b) prophetic authority, i.e., the Messenger
(ii) relative authority,
(a) consensus of learned scholars (tawatur)
(b) report of trustworthy people in general
(i) sound reason (ratio)
6. The levels of human existence encompasses the ontological, cosmological and psychological domains.
7. The spheres of human cognition correspond to these various levels of human existence:
a. Real existence, e.g., objective reality/external world.
b. Sensible existence.
c. Imaginary existence.
d. Intellectual existence
e. Analogous existence.
f. Suprarational/transcendental existence or holy existence.
8. Haqq denotes the truth and the real:
*the real = ontological orders of existence.
*the true = logical orders of existence.
(a) Haqq as real refers to the reality of existence as well as its modes and aspects understood as events and processes.
(b) Haqq as true refers to intellectual judgement conforming to the external realities.
9. "Things" in the world are not independent, self-subsisting essences, but are continuous manifestations of an underlying spiritual reality of existence that both includes and excludes them.
10. The "laws" of nature describes God's customary way of acting (Sunnat Allah).
11. Causality: there is no necessary connection between natural causes and effects; every effect is directly caused by the Creator.
12. "Things" refers to the external realities arising out of the events and process of existence.
14. Our conception of the external realities stand in a relation of coherence within a system of conceptual relations already imprinted upon the soul that covey to us our vision of the nature of reality.
16. "Fact" is not neutral, but its existence depends on the value and belief system of a particular worldview. Therefore, truth is not mere correspondence with fact, for a fact can be false, i.e., not in its proper place in the order of reality.
17. "Truth" is correspondence of thought, idea or belief with fact, but only when the fact coheres within an integrated system of interrelated truths as apprehended by the soul.
18. "Existence" means to have a place in the order of reality.
19. "Knowledge" consists of units of meaning.
20. "Meaning" is the recognition of the place of anything within a system. This recognition occurs when the relation of a thing with other things in the system becomes clarified and understood.
21. "Recognition" depends on specific difference in things, essential relation between things, and these two must remain as such for they form the relational criteria by which judgement, discrimination, distinction and clarification are possible.
22. "System" refers to:
(i) partial systems within a network of interrelated systems.
(ii) the ultimate, grandscale ontological system of systems.
23. Knowledge is arrival of meaning in the soul (by divine illumination), or arrival of the soul at meaning (by human acquisition).
24. The Book of Nature is analogous to the Book of the Qur'an, except that the former is created and continually articulated, instanstiated and renewed by the creative word of God.
25. Study of nature as independent, self-suffient and self-effecient entity is a false study and devoid of real purpose.
26. The "right meaning" of a thing is determined by the Islamic vision of reality and truth as projected by the Qur'®nic conceptual system. It is this belief system which defines the proper place of things.
27. There is a "limit of truth" in every object of knowledge, and "wisdom" is knowing this limit.
28. The purpose of scientific inquiry is to know the different limits of truth in its various objects of inquiry.
29. Science is ultimately a kind of "ta'wil" or allegorical interpretation of the empirical things constituting the world of nature.
30. "Ta'wil" means getting to the ultimate primordial meaning of something through a process of intellection.
31. "Tafsir" is getting to the apparent meaning or obvious meanings.
32. "Reality" is at once permanence and change in the sense that the former underlies and underpins the latter.
33. Phenomenal things perish upon coming to existence and are continuously renewed in new similars.
34. The world is ever new, a novelty (muhdath); it is continually being recreated by the Creator.
35. Change occurs not at the level of phenomenal things, for they are ever perishing, but at the level of their realities which contain within themselves all their future states.
36. "Change" is the actualization of potentialities inherent in the realities of things which, as they unfold their contents, preserves their complete identities through time.
37. The phenomenal world are processes whose every details is "discontinuous."
38. The "permanent entities" (al-a'yan al-thabitah) are aspects of the names and attributes of God, and form a third metaphysical category between existence and non-existence.
39. The difference between Islamic science and Western science is due ultimately to our affirmation of divine revelation and the tradition derived from it as the source of true knowledge of ultimate reality.
40. True knowledge has an immediate bearing on the individual man as it pertains to his identity and destiny. His lifespan is too short and thus he cannot afford to suspend his judgement concerning the truth of his identity and destiny in the vain hope of having it eventually discovered by some future generations. Such a future discovery will do him no good since he would not be around anymore to benefit from it for his personal salvation.
(By: Dr Zainy Othman)
Why we are talking about the meaning of knowledge is because now, knowledge are being corrupted and adulterated. Now, even computer science is regarded as knowledge and even singing is knowledge that we can see so many colleges of music and also industrial, when it brings money then people see that its knowledge. But from our Islamic point of view, that is now knowledge, but skills.
In Islam, we have Fardh Ain and Fardh Kifaayah. But in western point view, Aristotle, he would divide knowledge into three; theoretical, practical and productive science. In Islam, practical and productive science is call fann or sinaa’ah, that is an art or skill. Productive is basically sinaa’ah and practical is also practically sina’ah but there’s a skill that is required to it. Now, the Muslim is not so keen to these two things although we do inculcate them but we don’t put so much credence on them. It is a skill where it supposed to maintain the material well being of a person but the Muslims are more interested in Fardhu Ain because we are not interested in material of this world alone, we are also interested in matters pertaining the other world. Now, unfortunately presently its the western system that has demony about us all and now the Fardh Ain and Fardh Kifayah has been considered equal. According to Aristotle, the highest of the theoretical is basically the science of wisdom, it is basically the affair of the mind, that’s why in the West, there is very negative connotation of philosophers, they have nothing to do with fann or sinaa’ah, not producing anything. However, if we follow Aristotle’s writing, we can agree to some extend and we disagree in many other aspect of it. Because in the practical sciences, this is where Aristotle put for example, politics, and before that he would also put the science of moral and ethics. And example of productive science, still in the western concept, something like poetry. This is the problem when we want to compare this with the Islamic classifications of sciences. Because in Islamic classification of sciences, the science of learning poetry is part of language and language is part of learning the Arabic. Where to the western is productive, to us it’s more to Fardh Ain, because if we want to make tafsir, we have to study Arabic, and to study Arabic, some of the non-Islamic poetry also we have to study because that is the quintessential for the good Arabic and not for the morality that they teach but for the language of it. And that’s why in Islam, language is much more to fardh ain but for the West, language is not theoretical science. Politic, moral and ethics had been put aside as practical, is because to Aristotle or in the western is what democracy is all about as to the West, the citizen is much more important because it goes back to the western conception of state. As for Muslim, we are not concern about the citizen but are more concern to the man as in a good man not a good citizen. That is why from the western perspective, according to Aristotle, for every type of science, there is a goal that we want to achieve and that goal is to achieve the good, that when u want to manage something, do manage it in the best as u can and when u want to write poetry, write a good poetry as there’s no point to write a bad poetry. That’s why now what u can see in the western conception, when they want to do the scientific research or sports, they will go to the very extreme cases to produce the very best thing they can. Islam is not interested in that and that’s why we are not interested to go to eskimo land or conquer the nature as the West prone to do it. Although in the Quran said that the nature is made to subservient to us but we are not supposed to conquer to show that we are stronger than it that we men has to be a part of it too. These are all a meaningless pursuit. We can see in the West, in the train for instance, the Westerners would read novels, and the reason why they read novels is because they actually trying to find the meaning of life as they didn’t have any guidance. They cannot read in the bible because the bible is unreliable although they have something called bible study, it is so unreliable because it’s detached from the reality. And that’s why they are trying to find answers to their problem from either movies or literatures. And our thesis is very clear that when we see on their tv programme, it would be base on philosophy and their ideas basically in the meaning of life, they try to find happiness. In the history of western sciences, practical, productive and theoretical is because these who things has got to do with man and woman. What really makes a human being a human being is of course the knowledge that he has in it. Many of our man, for instance in Malaysia, where they are on d government service, when they reach their retirement age and are not with the government service anymore, they would feel lost in their identity, because they are no longer being expected as the main guy and suddenly they did not know what to do and don’t know the meaning of life after retirement. So, some of them would start to try mosque that some of them would backbiting people in the mosque. That is because they failed to know what is the meaning of life. The challenges that we are facing now is how to rate our books from the younger ones to the very old ones that even the tv programs would rated as SX 18, Pg and so on. But have we sat and think how to make a book for Muslim young ones, Muslim teenagers, or the older Muslim? in the West, this is part of their educational program, there’s also an Einstein book that is meant for the teenagers and so on. I’m not saying that we have to follow the West, the point is that these was done earlier from our history but now we are lost. Because the meaning of knowledge in Islam, is the arrival of soul at meaning and the arrival of meaning at soul. When we are active searching the meaning of something, that means that we are preparing our soul to arrive to that meaning. This is also part of Sufi’s tradition saying that, when you arrive at the certain level, you’re given to it. As for our case, we are hindered with so many problems. Firstly, we had completely lost and out of touch with the reality i.e. our religion itself. For instance, in Malaysia, after form five, they don’t know what to read. We read and even we teach the young Quran, but we do not teach the ulama’ of how they have suffered, their human aspect. For us moral and ethic are more to fardhu ain is because it’s more bound to our religion. And in the book of ‘Aqaid an-nasafi, those three theoretical, practical and productive are bound into one and that is Aqidah. As far as Islam is concern, moral and ethics is not from the philosophy unlike what the Westerners think. Although there are such things as moral philosophy in the West, we do not develop it into philosophy as it is part from our religion. From the western point of view, moral philosophy is part of science. Although later Muslims do take some binding from the western philosophers, but that is where our Muslim scholars has benefited from the Greek thinker logical thinking and we do not discard some good things that the Westerners has done for us. Anything that is not against Islam, we do not reject it but acknowledge and take them that we even mention their names and that we have even a non-Muslim professors teaching at ISTAC. In the history of Islamic learning and scholarship, of coz we had so many names like Ibn rushd, al Biruni, Ibn sina, Imam Ghazali and so on, but generally there are three field that we knew of; Kalaam, tasawwuf and the falsafah. Of course we do says that those three came under the same roof that is Hikmah after the time of Ghazali, but it took the Ghazali to wrestle all.
From the knowledge point of view, for those who understands Quran very well, the Quran also outline us the proper manner thinking of looking at things. For example, revelations is understood as the highest form of knowledge. Knowledge is what separate man from other being. When u read the Quran, for people who are uninitiated of what the Quran is trying to tell you, like the western scholars, Richard Bell said that the Quran need to be re-created because it doesn’t follow the theme of one another.
FOUR MODELS OF WESTERN RELIGIOUS THOUGHT
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HUMANIST MANIFESTOS I & II
WRITINGS OF MARX AND LENIN
WRITINGS OF SPANGLER, FERGUSON, ETC.
Darwinian/ Punctuated Evolution
Darwinian/ Punctuated Evolution
Monistic Pavlovian Behaviorism
Non-Traditional World-State Ethical Society
Abolition of Home, Church and State
Non-Traditional Home, Church and State
Home, Church and State
World Government (Globalism)
New World Order (New Civilization)
New Age Order
Justice, Freedom, Order
Universal Enlightened Production
Stewardship of Porperty
FOUR MODELS OF WESTERN RELIGIOUS THOUGHT
[Greek: theos (God) + logos (word)]: The study of the existence (or non-existence), nature, and attributes of God.
Secular Humanism: Atheism
Secular Humanists believe that there is no God, that science and the scientific method have made God obsolete. Humanists believe that only matter - the things we touch, feel, prove, or study - exists and has always existed. Thus, man is only matter, and has no soul or spirit. No supernatural explanation is needed for the existence of this matter.
Marxism/ Leninism: Atheism
Marx was an atheist before he became a socialist. Engels and Lenin agreed that religion was a drug or “spiritual booze” and must be combatted. To them, practicing atheism would mean s “forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions,” including the economy, government, law, etc. The Communist Party has not deviated from its founding fathers’ attitude toward God or religion, which would explain the persecution of the church in communist countries.
Cosmic Humanism: Pantheism
The New Age movement believes that all things are divine, or a part of God: people, rocks, trees, stars, etc. Since everything and everyone is a part of God, we have to get in touch the “god within” to achieve total cosmic unity. Some adherents of Cosmic Humanism resort to channelling, meditation, Ouija boards, or hallucinogenic drugs to contact the god within. In a very real way, these methods are the “sacraments” of the New Age religion.
Biblical Christianity: Theism
Jesus Christ is the “fullness of Godhead”
Genesis 1:1, Colossians 2:9
Biblical Christianity believes in the existence of an intelligent, powerful, loving, just, and awesome God who exists in the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. From the Christian perspective, “In the beginning God” (Genesis 1:1) is the foundation for all meaning. Christianity further proclaims that this powerful, intelligent God who created all things in heaven and earth is the same God who took upon Himself human form in the person of Jesus Christ. Christianity proclaims a God who is both Mind and Heart, Who not only created the world, but also loves it so much that He sent His only begotten Son to die for it. Christian theism declares in large letters, “God is,” “God created,” “God loves,” and “God judges”.
[Greek: philo (love) + sophia (wisdom)]: the love of wisdom; the attempt to discover an explanation for the whole of existence or reality.
Secular Humanism: Naturalism
Naturalism says that all that exists is matter - things you can touch, feel and study. The Humanist trusts the scientific method as the only sure way of knowing anything. If something cannot be observed, tested, and experimented on, it doesn’t exist. Since you can’t observe or conduct experiments on God, hell, the human mind or the human spirit, those things don’t exist.
Marxism/ Leninism: Dialectical Materialism
Materialism is another name for Naturalism (see above). The dialectic says that in everything there is a thesis (the way things are) and an antithesis (an opposition to the way things are) which must inevitably clash. The result of the struggle and merging that comes from the clash is the synthesis, which becomes the new thesis. This new thesis will eventually attract another antithesis, and the resulting clash will produce a new synthesis. For Marxists, “Dialectical Materialism” is the driving process that moved matter from inorganic state into life, then to animals, then humans, and finally organised social institutions like governments and nations.
Cosmic Humanism: Non-naturalism
Because the Cosmic Humanist believes God is in everything, and that everything is a part of God, he must conclude that everything - in essence - is spiritual. The things that we can see and feel are only a manifestation of spirit, and all matter will melt away when universal consciousness is achieved. This view leads the New Ager to believe all matter can be controlled by an enlightened mind, a mind that is in touch with the god within. Health, wealth, and even a good sex life can all be achieved by “mind over matter.”
Biblical Christianity: Supernaturalism
Jesus Christ is the “Logos of God”
Genesis 1:1, John 1:1, Colossians 1:17, Revelation 19:13
The philosophical quest that most appeals to Christians is the attempt to obey 2 Corinthians 10:5, “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” Non-Christian philosophy, referred to in the Bible as “vain and deceitful philosophy,” comes from basing philosophy upon the “traditions of men, after the basic principles of the world, and not after Christ.” (Colossians 2:8). The single most important philosophical truth in the Bible is that Jesus Christ is the Logos (word, or mind) of God. Christian philosophy says Christ the Logos is the explanation for the universe and everything in it. Critics charge that Christianity in general and Christian philosophy in particular, are unscientific. Christians claim that the Christian doctrines of God, creation, Logos, design, purpose, law, order and life are consistent with the findings of science, history, and personal experience in a way that other philosophies (like dialectical materialism and philosophical naturalism) could never be.
[Greek: ethikos (custom)]: The study of conduct, moral, values, duties, actions, and ends.
Secular Humanism: Ethical Relativism
Since the Humanist rejects the existence of God, human beings are free to set standards and values. Humanists believe that science, reason, and historical experience are sufficient guides for figuring out rights and wrongs in any situation. These standards will naturally differ according to an individual’s background and reasoning. Therefore, the standards and values – ethics – are relative. The Humanist Manifesto II states, “We affirm that moral values derive their source from human experience. Ethics is autonomous and situational, needing no theological or ideological sanction. Ethics stems from human need and interest.”
Marxism/ Leninism: Proletariat Morality
Marxist ethics don’t come from a sense of absolute rules, but from the cause of communism. Whatever advances the proletariat (the working class) is morally good. Whatever advances the cause of communism is morally good; whatever hinders its advance in social and human evolution is morally evil. The killing fields of Cambodia, the Soviet Union and the Ukraine and the mass murders in China were the practical results of proletariat, or class, morality.
Cosmic Humanism: Ethical Relativism
Since each individual is divine, he needs only to get in touch with the universal god-consciousness to act morally. According to this standard, virtually every mindset and action is justified -with the notable exception of adhering to a worldview which believes in moral absolutes. Such a view would stunt a person’s ethical progress.
Biblical Christianity: Ethical Absolutes
Jesus Christ is the “Light”
Genesis 2:9, John 1:9, John 3:19,20
God’s moral nature is absolute and unchanging. God always hates evil and loves good. The Bible is of supreme importance because it tells us the difference between the two, and provides a framework on which to build unambiguous ethics. According to Biblical Christianity, ethical relativism leads to destruction (Matthew 7:13). Because Christian ethics is grounded in the character of God, Christian ethics is inseparable from theology. Rather than believing in some ethical scheme bound to society’s ever-changing whims, the Christian answers to a specific moral order found in both general revelation and the special revelation of the Bible and the person of Jesus Christ.
[Greek: bios (life) + logos (word)]: The study of living organisms.
Secular Humanism: Darwinian Evolution
Naturalistic evolution says that life just happened. At some point in time, life appeared from a primordial ooze, and through natural selection (from beneficial mutations) changed into animals, plants and man. Without naturalistic evolution, there is no Secular Humanism. Anything else would require a Creator, which would mean that man is not the source of all things. Humanists believe that since science has proven the theory of evolution, it is no longer a theory but a scientific fact. According to this “fact”, man is the most highly evolved of all creatures, and is now responsible for directing and aiding the evolutionary process.
Marxism/ Leninism: Darwinian/ Punctuated Evolution
Marxism/ Leninism also depends on the theories of evolution and spontaneous generation. Karl Marx made it very clear that origin of the species contained the scientific basis for his views on the class struggle. However, Marxist dialectical materialism needs a theory with clashes and leaps, not a gradual progress like natural selection. Thus, Marxists adhere to punctuated equilibrium, which says that each species remained stable for long periods of time (equilibrium) and evolution happened through occasional ruptures – leaps (punctuation) from one species to the next.
Cosmic Humanism: Darwinian/Punctuated Evolution
The New Age movement sees mankind as evolving from disharmony to harmony, until evolution can eventually guide men and women out of the material into the wholly spiritual. Evolution is central to Cosmic Humanist doctrine, because it ensures mankind’s eventual progression to godhood.
Biblical Christianity: Special Creation
Jesus Christ is the “Life”
Genesis 1:17, John 11:25, Colossians 1:16
Only the creationist perspective can adequately account for design in nature, since it postulates a Designer, a law-giver and an orderly cause, while the materialist can only posit chance. Christians believe the creationist model as described in scripture fits the facts of science better than the evolutionary model. Christianity trusts the authority of Genesis and other declarations concerning creation, such as Mark 10:6 and Colossians 1:16. Science and Christianity are demonstrated to be compatible and to declare in unison that God “created all things” (Ephesians 3:9). The Bible gives us information about God and His universe; science gives us information about God’s universe.
[Greek: psyche (soul) + logos (word)] : The study of the soul, mind and spirit.
Secular Humanism: Monistic Self-Actualization
This psychology requires belief in man’s inherent goodness, and predicts that every individual can achieve mental health through the fulfilment of physical or material needs (self-actualization). Monism means that man is only body, that no soul, mind or conscience exist. If man is only matter, then his actions are simply the result of mechanical impulses. This notion is called behaviorism, and it contradicts the Humanist’s atheistic theology and naturalistic philosophy which claim that man is the master of his fate.
Marxism/Leninism: Monistic Pavlovian Behaviorism
Behaviorism says that everything a person does is the result of two purely material factors: the individual’s physical makeup and the influence of the environment on a person’s nervous system. The brain is just a collection of nerves and blood vessels and tissues that have been programmed to react a certain way. The programming is done by a person’s environment: his education, surroundings, family, background, etc. Just like Pavlov conditioned his dogs to salivate when they heard a bell, humans are conditioned to feel patriotic when they see a flag, or to rescue children from drowning. This conclusion follows logically from the materialist philosophy that only matter exists. But if every man’s actions are programmed, how could any individual consciously choose to revolt? The Marxist must water down behaviorism to encourage the worker actively, consciously strive for Communism. The Marxist’s belief in Pavlov’s “second stimuli” of language allows the Marxist to claim that while a man’s action are largely determined, he can obtain a measure of freedom in his use of and response to the stimulus of language. In this way, the Marxist can cling to his behavioristic assumptions and still claim that the worker may choose to join the revolution.
Cosmic Humanism: Collective Consciousness
Society and the environment, according to the New Age movement, stifle our knowledge of the god within. Thus, the aim of psychology should be to cause individuals to realize that they are fundamentally perfect, and therefore they should trust their intuitive urges. According to the New Age doctrine, a man’s true self would never urge him to contribute to dis-unity.
Biblical Christianity: Dualism
Jesus Christ is “Savior”
Luke 1:46-47, Titus 2:13
Only Christianity, with its focus on the spiritual and its understanding of man’s fallen condition (Romans 1-2), can truly address the innermost concerns of the individual. Christian psychology helps people get in touch with their real selves only because it allows them to recognise their own sinfulness and consequently their need for a Savior. Our greatest need is not self-esteem; rather, it is the realization that we are sinners in rebellion against God. “Christianity starts off,” says William Kirk Kilpatrick, “by saying that we’re not OK the way we are. There is something wrong with us – a twist in our natures. And the twist is not removed by liking yourself, but by starting to live in Christ.” Only after receiving Christ as Savior can people begin to understand their value as being created in God’s image; then they can lead triumphant lives. Rather than demanding that the individual ignore his conscience, the Christian calls for him to recognize that his guilt is real, then to face his guilt and repent. Biblical Christianity teaches moral responsibility, whereas Humanism and Marxism blame individual moral failings on society or the environment.
[French: socio (social, society) + Greek: logos (word)]: The study of social institutions and society.
Secular Humanism: Non-traditional/ World State/ Ethical Society
There is a huge gulf between the Humanist view that man is capable of perfection, and the real world of evil. Humanists explain this by saying that civilization and culture shape the individual. Thus, man is evil primarily because his cultural and social environments are evil, not through any fault of his own. Society and culture have influenced man’s action and have therefore stifled this inherent goodness. One of the most stifling of human institutions is the family. Government-sponsored education provides the most desirable method for abolishing outdated social institutions and ensuring the development of a free society.
Marxism/Leninism: Abolition of Home, Church and State
The Marxist is especially anxious to usher in a communist society because only then will man achieve a truly moral social consciousness. When mankind has achieved this consciousness, society will be so radically changed that the individual will be influenced to act responsibly at all times. Since every man can then be trusted to act responsibly and rightly, established institutions such as the church or the family will be unnecessary. These, in fact, would only hinder man’s development or lead him astray.
Cosmic Humanism: Non-traditional Home, Church and State
To explain the all-too-obvious evil done by a man, the Cosmic Humanist resorts to blaming traditional society – especially the central principles of Western Civilization. Various New Age leaders blame different aspects: technology, male-dominant norms (including those of the traditional family), the free-enterprise system, a central government, and dogmatic monotheistic religions. Thus, many New Agers blindly rebel against all traditional values without examining their reason of existence.
Biblical Christianity: Home, Church and State
Jesus Christ is “Son”
Genesis 4:1, Luke 1:30-31, Isaiah 9:6
Christian sociology is based on the proposition that both the individual and the social order are important to God. Christ died and rose again for each person as an individual; God also ordained social institutions (family, church and state) to teach love, respect, discipline, work and community. Christian sociology focuses on two things: society as means for human co-operation in accordance with God’s will, and the individual as a vital part of various institutions in society.
[English: lagu (code, rules)]: The study of principles of conduct or procedure which are expected to be observed.
Secular Humanism: Positive Law
In Secular Humanism, the state is given sovereignty – which is entirely rational because there is no higher power to be taken into consideration. Just as man is seen as the final word in ethics, the world state is seen as the only source for legal “truth”. The Humanist believes that the social order is more responsible for crime than the criminal is. After all, the criminal was good before society corrupted him.
Marxism/ Leninism: Positive law
In Marxism/Leninism, sovereignty is given to the proletariat. Marxists generally trace law back to the concept of private property. Law was devised by the propertied class to protect its own property – bourgeois law. The basis of proletariat law is to protect social or state property. Socialist law grants certain human rights but only those rights which assist the advancement of socialism, communism, or evolution. Law (and the state) will become unnecessary, however, when the full socialist system is victorious, and the proletariat class will experiences its communist paradise.
The biological theory of evolution plays a significant role in Marxist legal theory. Since mankind is evolving, law is evolving with it, and there can be no legal absolutes. There is no eternal lawgiver, and there are no eternal legal principles. Legal principles assisting man in his evolution are just; all others are unjust.
Cosmic Humanism: Self-Law (Anarchy)
Individual autonomy means that each person gets to decide what is right and act for himself. As we grow closer to achieving god-consciousness, the need for laws and legislation will quickly fade away. The unenlightened people – those who still believe mankind is inherently evil – require laws, but once this outdated concept is exposed as a lie, the world will function in complete harmony.
Biblical Christianity: Biblical/Natural Law
Jesus Christ is “Lawgiver”
Genesis 3:11, Genesis 49:10, Revelation 5:5, Isaiah 9:7
Christian law consists of both natural and Biblical law, which originate in the very character of a righteous and loving God. Divine law is eternal because God is eternal. It is so eternal and permanent that someday God will use it to judge the world (Acts 17:31), based on natural and revealed law (Romans 2:12f). God established human government and the rule of law primarily to keep man’s sinful nature and passions in check (Romans 13:1-4). Because of the Fall, human history reflects a continuing effort by men to substitute man-made law for God’s law. Christians believe that when God’s laws are obeyed, men and societies thrive. The Christian concept of human rights involves the biblical doctrine that God created man in His image. These rights, which carry with them specific responsibilities, are unalienable. God’s Word and nature’s law are sufficient for mankind to establish a legal system that exemplifies man’s creative image and still acknowledges his depravity.
[Greek: polis (city)]: the art of governing a city, state, or nation.
Secular Humanism: World Government (Globalism)
Humanists believe that world government is the next logical step on man’s evolutionary road to utopia, since man is now conscious of his evolution and is responsible to direct it. A global state is also the best way to achieve the Humanist goal of world peace. The state, directed properly, plays a central role in guiding man. As Julian Huxley said, “To have any success in fulfilling his destiny as the controller or agent of future evolution on earth, [man] must become one single inter-thinking group with one general framework of ideas…”
Marxism/Leninism: New World Order
Eventually, the proletariat throughout the world will rise up, throw off the chains of bourgeois oppression, and seize the means of production (and with it political power), thereby establishing a worldwide “dictatorship of the proletariat”. This is the next major evolutionary step towards the coming world order. Marxists are willing to call for a one-world dictatorship of the proletariat because they will control such a government through Marxist/Leninism law. The Marxist believes that once every trace of bourgeois ideology and capitalistic tradition has been eradicated, a fully communist society will exist. In such a society, government will become unnecessary and wither away.
Cosmic Humanism: New Age Order
As with law, the need for politics and government only exists because some individuals refuse to get in touch with their true selves. The trend toward a one-world government is perceived by Cosmic Humanists as a positive sign that we are evolving away from our need for government, and toward spiritual unity; away from our unenlightened state, and toward the “oneness” that this is the real basis of all spirituality.
Biblical Christianity: Justice, Freedom, Order
Jesus Christ is “King of kings and Lords of lords”
[Greek: oikos (house) + nomia (rule)]: The rule or management of resources, whether by an individual or a society.
Secular Humanism: Socialism
Most Humanists believe in some form of socialist economy, consistent with their belief that man is an evolving creature who will become capable of planning the perfect harmony. Man, who must “save himself”, must be in absolute control of all aspects of his universe. Thus, the world’s economic system must be strictly controlled through central planning – that is, government must be granted authority over man’s economic affairs.
Economics is central to Marxism/Leninism because Marx believes that the economic system of a society determines the nature of all legal, social and political institutions. Because the Marxist believes that modes of production form the foundation for society, he concludes that anything wrong with society is the result of imperfect modes of production. Societies have been improving because the economic systems on which they have been founded are gradually improving: slavery gave way to feudalism, and feudalism to capitalism. Because of capitalism’s flaws, it will eventually give way to socialism. In a socialist society, all private property will gradually be abolished; man will no longer oppress his fellow man in an effort to protect his private property. When all private property and consequently all class distinctions have withered away, the transition from socialism to the highest economic form, communism, will be complete. The ultimate aim of Marxism/ Leninism is the creation of a political world based on communism that will solve the economic problem of scarcity so efficiently that each individual will see his needs (and most of his wants) fulfilled.
Cosmic Humanism: Universal Enlightened Production
Traditional economic forms act as a hindrance to individual enlightenment, because they emphasize only the material. This does not mean, however, that Cosmic Humanists should not have possessions; rather, whatever is necessary for the happiness of New Agers will automatically flow toward them, if they stay true to the voice within. “Mind over matter” is a way of life; if you are in harmony with the spiritual realm you can control the ebb and flow of material gain.
Biblical Christianity: Stewardship of Property
Jesus Christ is “Owner”
Genesis 1:28, Psalm 24:1, Psalm 50:10-12, I Corinthians 10:26
Christians begin their economic theory with an assumption about human nature: man is sinful. Another Biblical precept – the concept of justice – also plays an important role for the Christian. The most desirable economic system promotes justice by protecting the rights of individuals from infringement by others. If all men were inherently good, one might not have to worry about individuals denying the rights of others; but man is not inherently good. Therefore, the Christian believes the best economic system would contain basic checks and balances that can guarantee the protection of human rights. Applying this criterion, the Christian believes the free enterprise system to be more compatible with his worldview than other economic systems. Economic systems that check injustice and grant men responsibility – in both private property and economic decisions – can allow men the freedom to act with all the dignity of beings created in God’s image. This, according to the Christian view, is the important end of economic theory, offering not riches or luxury, but the freedom to seek fulfilment through understanding one’s role in God’s universe.
[Latin: historia (information)]: The study of past places, persons and events.
Secular Humanism: Historical Evolution
Humanists view earth’s history from a strictly naturalistic vantage point, assuming no supernatural influence. The history of man and the universe is the history of evolutionary activity. Propelled without design by “blind natural selection,” history has moved in an upward direction from simplicity to complexity. Some Humanists view Artificial Intelligence – the computer – as the next step in historical evolution.
Marxism/Leninism: Historical Materialism
History for the Marxist is the result of the dialectic (thesis, antithesis and synthesis) at work through biological evolution, economics, and the social order. Beginning with eternal matter and spontaneous generation, history is a progression of biological and economic evolution, which will ultimately result in a society of communist man in a communist paradise. Man – the consequence of these impersonal happenings - is given a minor role to play, to nudge history along a little faster toward its predetermined end.
Cosmic Humanism: Evolutionary Godhead
Evolution is constantly moving mankind toward god-consciousness. Cosmic Humanists are assured, by the scientific fact of evolution, that man and all reality are progressing toward a unified enlightenment. The fittest already recognize this; the “unfit” are the Christians and other proponents of dogmatic worldviews who act as a hindrance to evolutionary forces.
Jesus Christ is the “Logos made flesh”
Genesis 3:15, John 1:14, Galatians 4:4, I Timothy 3:16
Christianity and history have always been allies. Christianity is rooted in history; without its historical roots there would be no Christian worldview (I Corinthians 15:14). The history contained in the Bible is accurate, and describes events, which actually occurred. All in all, the historical Bible (the written word) and Jesus Christ (the Living Word) are the two cornerstones of the Christian worldview. If the bible isn’t history, or if Jesus Christ isn’t “God with us” (Matthew 1:23), Biblical Christianity crumbles.
Bibliography on Philosophy, Science and Technology
S. M. N. al-Attas Prolegomena to the Metaphysics of Islam (Kuala Lumpur: ISTAC, 1995)
_______, Islam and Secularism (Kuala Lumpur: Muslim Youth Movement of Malaysia, 1978)
Gaston Bachelard The New Scientific Spirit (Boston: Beacon Press, 1984), transl. By Arthur Goldhammer
Ian G.Barbour Issues in Science and Religion (New York: Harper & Row, 1971)
Daniel J. Boorstin The Discoverers: A History of Man’s Search to Know His World and Himself (New York: Random House, 1983)
Albert Borgmann Technology and the Character of Contemporary Life: A Philosophical Inquiry (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984)
Maurice Daumas A History of Technology and Invention: Progress Through the Ages (New York: Crown Publishers, 1979), vols. I, II, III, transl. by Eileen B. Hennessy.
John Dewey Democracy and Education (New York: The Free Press, 1966)
Frederick Ferre Philosophy of Technology (Athens & London: The University of Georgia Press, 1955)
Amos Funkenstein Theology and the Scientific Imagination: From the Middle Ages to
the Seventeenth Century (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986)
Ahmad Y. al-Hassan Islamic Technology: An Illustrated History (Cambridge:
and Donald R. Hill Cambridge University, reprint 1994)
Karl Jaspers The Future of Mankind (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1961). transl. by E.B. Ashton.
Hans Jonas The Imperative of Responsibility: In Search of an Ethics for the Technological Age (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984)
Christopher Lasch The True and Only Heaven. Progress and Its Critics (New York: W W Norton & Company 1991)
Erwin Schrodinger Nature and The Greek and Science and Humanism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977)
Richard Westfall The Construction of Modern Science: Mechanisms and Mechanics (London: Cambridge University Press, 1977)
The Islamic Weltanschauung
All human values and attitudes, conscious or unconscious are a reflection of a certain set of metaphysical beliefs or weltanschauung. The domains of knowledge and education, certainly, are two realms that are organically rooted in a world-view, as has been demonstrated by studies on the philosophy and sociology of knowledge and education.
The Islamic weltanschauung can be defined at two levels. At one level it is the totality of human interpretation of the world and of our lives in the world, and this poses a problem of epistemology. At another level, it is the totality of the value by which man lives, and this constitutes a problem of ethics. Weltanschauung deals with ultimate questions, with universal and general decisions. An individual worldview includes, among other things, the educational, political, philosophical and moral attitude of a person. Thus a systematic and coherent articulation of a true Islamic we1tanschauung is necessary if, as Professor Fazlur Rahman insists ‘various specific fields of intellectual endeavour are to cohere as informed by Islam’. The articulation of such a weltanschauung based on the Quran and the authentic conduct and sayings of Prophet Muhammad is also a valuable criterion for evaluating the performance of historical Islam. A just and critical assessment of our past will surely provide a more informed Islamic direction to the present struggles for the realization of lslamic ideals and aspirations. The intricate relationship between the past, present and future is eloquently expressed by the prominent Spanish philosopher, Julian Marias: “The present, which is laden with the entire past, bears the future within itself; the mission of the present consists of setting the future in motion.” And since the mission of Islam, as can be easily discerned from the Quran and the Sunna, is to direct history according its socio-moral world-view, a critical assessment of the past and the Islamization of the present is logically necessary.
Discussions on world-views normally centre on the idea of God or gods, the coneept of man and his destiny, and the universe. The Islamic world-view naturally consists of these elements, and like Judaism and Christianity, would not be intelligible without the key concept of prophecy. In fact, the great Muslim reformer of the fourteenth century CE, Taqi al-Din Ibn Taymiyya, suggested that incorrect understanding of the concept and mission of prophethood was the primary error of Muslim philosophers and theologians. In this chapter, the concept of prophethood in Islam will be discussed very briefly because it will be taken up again in the following chapter on the discussion of the authority of the Sunna.
The Concept of God
Ontologically one can say that Islam, as found in the Quran, is theocentric because the only true reality is the One God, Allah, the Necessary Being. Everything else in this creation is contingent upon His Will. In the Quran, the terms Allah and Rabb (the Lord, Sustainer) combined, occur more than 3,750 times. This numerical quantity does not include the other adjective-attributes of God which Muslim theologians call al-Asma al-Husna (the most beautiful names), and personal pronouns referring to Him. Teleologically, however, the Quran and Islam are anthropocentric as affirmed by Izutsu: ‘Man, his nature, conduct, psychology, duties and destiny are, in fact, as much a central preoccupation of the Koranic thought as the problem of God Himself . . .’
The idea of Allah was not new to the pre-Islamic Arabs. This is evident from pre-Islamic poetry, compound personal names and old inscriptions. But Allah, the One God, or the idea of the divine itself, did not have the kind of urgency and centrality in their world-view as demanded by the Quran. They did believe in Allah as the ‘Lord of the House’ and as the creator of the heavens and the earth including Kaba, as the Quran itself testifies (96:123; 29:61). However, to them, Allah was but one of the ‘Gods’, albeit the Highest, to whom they set up intermediaries (39:3) and to whom they assigned daughters (16:57). Their worshipping of Allah was expedient: they invoked His name in their oaths (35:40; 16:3) and even in the killing of their daughters (6:137). They cried for His help in trouble but then reverted to polytheism: ‘Then, when misfortune reaches you, unto Him you cry for help. And afterwards, when He has rid you of the misfortune, behold! a set of you attribute partners to their Lord.’ Izutsu terms this expediency ‘temporary monotheism’. This ambiguous relationship with God caused the pre-Islamic Arab to entrust his destiny to the dark 'Master' called Dahr until his death, and to the predetermining matters (azdar) that were beyond man's control, and which produced the well-known pessimistic nihilist world-view of the jahiliyya.
After the Quran had revealed the concept of God, Allah, as the Highest and the Most Central factor in the life of man and the universe, the jahiliyya Arabs initiated and carried out formidable challenges to the message of Muhammad.
God, according to the Quran, is Absolutely Real (al-Haqq), while all the rest of the deities are false (batil), nothing but mere names. He is not a projection of man's mind as Feuerbach tends to think, nor is He a product of resentment of those who have fallen short as Nietzsche thinks. He is neither an illusion of those who have remained infantile as Freud contends nor is He, as Marx conjectures, an opium of the masses, a consolation serving vested interests. He is Eternally Living (al-hayy al-Qayyum), transcending the limitations of spatio-temporal order, being the first (al-Awwal), the Last (al-Akhir), the External (al-Zahir), and the internal (al-Batin). The exact nature of God is not knowable for He is beyond comprehension.
However, in order to facilitate human understanding and thus influence their behaviour, God uses metaphors and similitudes from what is loftiest in the heavens and the earth (30:27) and from our own experiences (20:28). The description of His attributes are many, but can be summarized under a few essential heads: Life, Eternity, Unity, Power, Truth, Beauty, Justice, Love, and Goodness. These are just pointers to the Ultimate Being, serving as the ultimate human ideals that He has implanted in our natures.
The most important aspect of God in the Quran is His Oneness, the affirmation, of which became the most fundamental aspect of Is1amic teachings, that is, tawhid. The spiritual, intellectual, and socio-moral implications of this concept can be obtained both from the Quran itself as well as through logical deduction. Briefly then, God is one, not having been born, neither having any offspring, nor having any partners; for if there were to be more than one God, there would definitely be disorder and chaos in the universe. He is al-Samad, the Eternal, Self-Subsisting Being, who is, metaphorically, likened to a hard, solid rock which provides anchor to everything. No wonder then that the short, early Meccan sura (112:1-4) which contains this description of God's unity has been traditionally considered as equivalent to one-third of the entire Quran.
From this One God, then, emerged one humanity which, though divided into races and tribes, male and female, is essentially one in its purpose on earth, and in its ultimate destination. The unity of God who is Truth, the Light, logically implies the unity of knowledge, that is, the unity of prophethood (nubuwwa). The unity of knowledge, as will be elaborated on later in this work, means, for example, that there is no bifurcation between what is called secular and religious sciences, neither in their teleology nor in utility. God is the originator of this heavens and the earth and everything therein and in between. He is the Rabb, which means the Lord, the Owner and Nourisher, also the Bringer-up by degrees to full conclusion, or the Educator, the Guardian, as God, via Jibrail, revealed to Muhammad for the first time at the cave of Hira. During that historic moment, He made known to him that God is the Rabb, who is the Creator and Teacher: ‘Read! Read in the name of your Rabb who created. Created Man from a clot. Read: And thy Rabb is the most Bounteous, who taught man by the Pen, taught man which he knew not’ (96:1-5). The idea of Rabb is further explained in other verses dealing with His relationship with His creation: ‘Praise the name of thy Rabb, The Most High, who has created and then gave order and proportion, who has fixed a measure [for every being] and then granted it its guidance’ (87:3; 20:50). Without God, there would be nothing; and if there were to be more than one God, certainly there would be disorder in the universe.
The Lordship (Rububiya) of God is characterized by mercy and justice. In fact, the most frequent epithets used in the Quran which refer to God are al Rahman al Rahim which stand at the head of all suras but one. He is also the Pardoner (al-Afuww) (4:43), and the Forgiver (al-Ghafir) (7:155; 40:3), but He is also to be Reckoner (al-Hasib) (4:86; 33:39) and Lord.of Retribution (7:95). All these aspects of God only confirm our thesis that they are primarily concerned with stimulating and enlivening man’s moral potentialities. A God who is forgiving, patient, and yet is swift in punishment will strengthen the moral fibre in those who do not take Him for granted! A man who is truly convinced of the reality of this God will strive hard in all circumstances to do good according to the values revealed by God, and if he falters or falls short, he knows God will forgive.
As mentioned above, the Quran is basically concerned about man. In its statements about the Divine, the primary intent could be interpreted as functional to man’s positive cognitive-moral growth as well as to vindicate the orderliness of this universe.
For example, the emphasis on the non-compromising position of tawhid, and the assertion of the Oneness of God is intended to develop and to free man’s intellect to discover the truth by dissociating from the shackles of intermediaries who may obstruct this process. Thus, the Quran condemns those who follow their subjective notions (hawa), making them as gods (arbab) which obstruct their sense of hearing and thinking about objective truths. These people, ontologically, the Quran places lower than cattle! (25:43-4). In a similar vein, the Quran condemns those who follow their forefathers blindly in spite of the truth from God (revealed through the truthful Prophet) as ‘deaf, dumb, and senseless’ (2:170-1). The importance of freeing man's intellect especially in religio-spiritual matters is explicitly evident in the Quranic criticism of the Jews and Christians which equates them with the kafirun and mushrikun, (those who associate others with God) who turn the rabbis and monks and Isa, son of Maryam, into gods (9:31-3). The idea here is not the rejection of a learned group per se but the rejection of the surrender of personal duty of each individual to seek out the truth, to convince himself and act accordingly. It is an emphasis upon the direct link with God Himself, without any intermediaries. This personal relationship with God and the emphasis on the individual efforts and struggles to seek and act according to objective truths whether revelational, historical, natural, or logical, is very evident in the Quranic world-view.
Related to this ideal purpose is Islam's prohibition or all forms of superstitious beliefs and practices like magic, sorcery, astrology, and all varieties of predicting the future. The Quran condemns, for example, the customary Quraish practice of divining arrows as impiety (fisq). These beliefs and practices necessarily force man to be dependent upon them while they should be dependent on God. The Quranic denunciation of addiction-forming substances and activities such as intoxicants and gambling, besides warning of their grave socio-economic consequences, also aims at freeing man’s mental faculties and physical capacities for their intended purposes.
Another example of the functional motive behind the Quranic description of God’s attributes is provided by the idea of His Immanence. Several times the Quran mentions that God is present everywhere and that He is ever near; in fact closer than man’s own neck vein! What does this mean? Certainly it does not mean the physical locus of God residing in or near man! It does imply, as the context indicates, that God is ever aware and watching man's internal impulses and covert acts, hoping that man will refrain from being stubbornly unmindful of the ultimate ends of his acts. In Sura al hashr aya 19, the Quran reminds Muslims not to be like those whom God has caused to forget themselves as a consequence of their forgetting God. Consequently, they became transgressors. On the other hand, the nearness of God is also intended to provide relief and spiritual upliftment to those who are struggling ‘on the right way’ (as in 2:186). This concept thus has a double-edged significance to man’s moral development. Since God is so necessary for man, the level of consciousness of God (taqwa) necessarily becomes one of the most important instruments in the Quranic process of personality development. Taqwa becomes the only criterion of honour among mankind that the Quran recognizes (49:13). It is an all-comprehensive concept integrates belief, knowledge, and action.
From this perspective (the anthropocentric teleology of the Quranic description of God), it can be said that many classical Muslim thinkers such as those of the Mutazilites, the Mutakallimun (theologians), the philosophers and the traditionalists have missed the purpose of the Quran and the general Quranic élan in varying degrees on this issue. Every sect apparently seeks to defend or explain God on the basis of a certain prized principle because of the lack of an integrated and coherent articulation of a Quranic world-view. Thus we see the Mutazilites defending God's Unity and Justice at the cost of His Mercy and Forgiveness; while the philosophers reduce Him to a contentless Principle detached from His creatures and history. The theologians who generally uphold the aspect of His Omnipotence and arbitrary Will have had great difficulties reconciling this with the Quranic notion of human freedom and responsibility. The sufis, who seek the Quranic ideal of personal contact with God, nevertheless became drowned in the ‘selfish’ struggle which neglects all socio-political concerns, the proper realization of which are important ingredients of Islamic piety and success. The traditionalists, guarding jealously the literal descriptions of the Quran, fall into the quagmire of dangerous anthropomorphism which negates the single-most important Quranic statement on God: ‘There is nothing similar to Him’ (42:11), or ‘There is none comparable to Him’ (112:4).
The Concept of Man
The Quran, being a guidance for mankind, is logically aimed directly at man. Marshall Hodgson, while discussing the Quranic recounts of earlier prophets, correctly says that the cosmos of the Quran is ‘intensely human and even social’ with a strong sense or common human destiny. Khadduri, in his latest work, notes this human concern within the context of justice:
Second only to the existence of One God, no other religious principles are more emphasised in the Quran and Traditions than the principles or uprightness, equity, and temperance, partly because of their intrinsic value but mainly because or the reaction against the pre-Islamic social order which paid little or no attention to justice.
In the Quran references to man as a species are conveyed by the term al-insan which occurs sixty-five times and its plural form of al-nas and al-ins which occur, respectively two hundred and forty and eighteen times. In all except one (17:4), the appearance of the definite article ‘al’ joined to Insan seems to have some significance. S. H. Shamma proposes that this article has a function similar to that in al-Illah (Allah) which seems to have raised the original meaning of God to that of a universal and unique God. In the case of Insan, it seems to have given extra importance to mankind with its universal import and uniqueness. This thesis is plausible as the following discussion about man's nature, his purpose and the relationship of the universe to him will hopefully indicate.
The Quran talks about two levels of the creation of man. The first level is that of ghayb, the unseen which occurred in primordial time, which is known only through revealed knowledge. The second level is the so-called natural biological process that man knows through experience as well as science.
At the primordial stage, it is mentioned repeatedly that man is created ex nihilo from lower organic substances referred to as tin, (clay), turab (dust and mud), min salsal min hamai masnun (and from dark altered clay) which God moulded with His own Hand and when it was fully formed, breathed His Spirit into it. This divine spirit, moulded in the ‘best possible form’ (94:4) into the human organism has neutralized, and in fact, superseded the humbler materialistic composition of the human constitution and made man the most honoured of God’s creatures. This is perhaps one of the reasons why God ordered the angels to prostrate to Adam, the First Man.
Another reason for man’s unique position is his capacity for creative knowledge and his acceptance of the amana, the trust which no other creation was able to accept for rear of not being able to discharge it properly. Man accepted it with all the consequences that entail from success as well as failure to uphold the trust. At this level also, man made a covenant with God confirming his Lordship.
The second level of the creation of man is the scientifically known biological process: a sperm, which lodged in a firm place and was turned into a lump which was later equipped with bones and flesh.
A closer study of the verses dealing with the creation of man indicates that the primary intention of the Quran is not scientific, though some of its biological descriptions have been in accord with the established scientific facts. The Quranic propositions regarding the primordial stage are beyond the investigative range and scope of scientific methods and instruments and as such should be accepted as they are. The Primary motives or the Quran vis-à-vis man’s creation can be generally stated as follows:
1. to refute the Christians’ attribution of divinity to Jesus, son of Mary, through his unique birth, because Adam was also created from dust as stated in 3:59-60;
2. to inform man of his uniqueness and purpose of creation and duties as in 2:30-33 and 33-72, etc.;
3. to affirm the fact that God, who first created man ex nihilo certainly can, and shall, raise him again for accountability as in 22:5. ‘O mankind! If ye are in doubt concerning the Resurrection, then lo! We have created you from dust . . .’;
4. to develop a higher sense of God-consciousness, taqwa, as in 6:2; and related to it, humility, for example in 18:32-44: ‘O mankind! Be ever conscious of your Lord (ittaqu rabbakum) who created you from a single person and from each it created its mate and from them together had spread a broad multitude of men and women. Be ever conscious of God [wat taquI-Lah] in whom ye claim [your rights] of one another, and toward the wombs [that bore you]. Lo! God has been a watcher over you (4: 1).’
It is important to note that mankind in the Quran comes from a single person, nafs wahida. The division of humanity into male and female, into groups and tribes, cannot be construed as there being one sex or group superior to another except in the degree of taqwa which consists of good, comprehensive belief and useful work. The Quran recognizes palpable differences among human individuals in terms of moral, intellectual and physical capacities, but the essential equality, and mutual responsibility of the human race is categorically affirmed. In 6:165, the fact that God ‘raises some above others’ is a bounty that entails accountability: ‘Allah has made you vice-regents on earth, and He has raised some of you above the others so that He might test you in what He has given you.’
Even though man is of divine origin with a superior status to other living things the Quran is replete with descriptions and declarations of man’s not having lived up to his highest potentiality and noble purpose: ‘Nay, but [man] has never yet fulfilled what He has enjoined upon him’ (80:23). Man is mentioned as ever grudging, and niggardly (17:100), stubbornly contentious (18:54), ungrateful (7:10; 36:45-7), impatient (70:19-21), hasty in action (96:6-14), as loving the fleeting life, pushing back in his consciousness the remembrance of the grievous day (76:27), transgressing all bounds (96:6-14), and as having numerous other faults.
These two opposing tendencies form the tension which seems to demonstrate the unique Quranic wisdom in extracting the highest moral performance from man: ‘Verily we created Man in the best mould and thereafter we reduced him to the lowest of the low excepting only those who attain to faith and do good works…’ (95:4-6). And in 103:2-3 this characteristic tension is expressed in another way: ‘Indeed, man is in a state of loss, except those who believe and do good works, and exhort one another to truth and exhort one another to endurance.’
The discussion concerning man’s nature from the perspective of the Quran is necessarily linked to the idea of the trust which man (or the Quran sometimes uses Adam, as the archetype of man) accepted in primordial time, and the idea of his freedom which is fundamental to his nature and destiny. Both of these ideas or concepts have been differently interpreted by Muslims.
Early interpreters of the Quran like Ibn Abbas (d. 688 CE) thought that the trust in 33:72 which the heaven, the earth, and the mountains refused but man accepted, refers to obedience (al-Ta'a). al-Hasan al-Basri (d. 728 CE) considered it as the obligatory duties (al-faraid) while Qatada added Sharia punishments (hudud) to al-Hasan's definition. Ibn Abbas is clearly wrong because it is mentioned in many places in the Quran that everything in the heavens and the earth gives obedience to God. The other two interpretations are only partly plausible because the obligations and penal law are only consequences or implications of the trust. The fundamental difference between man and all other creations is that he will be judged both historically and in post-history while the others are not. Judgement in history concerns the total performance of a people while the post-historical one deals with individuals. This necessarily implies that the object to be judged must be empowered with volition and intellect, which constitute the amana. The consequences of these two ‘powers’ with their limitless possibilities for good and evil are the reasons why neither the earth nor the heavens nor the mountains were willing, or capable of accepting it. In other words, volitional and intellectual faculties are part of the essential, definition of man. All other creations of God have their own unique characteristics and predispositions whereby they fit properly into the universe. This is what the Quran calls God’s ‘guidance’, ‘command’, and ‘measure’ of everything.
The question of human volition and freedom, unfortunately, has been much debated outside the Quranic imperative. The origin of the controversy lies in verses of the Quran such as the following:
1. ‘This message is no less than a reminder to all mankind, to everyone of you who wills to walk a straight way. But you cannot will it unless God . . . wills’;
2. ‘If God so willed, they would not have ascribed divinity to other than God. Hence, we have not made thee [Muhammad] their keeper, and neither are thou responsible for their conduct. ‘He will guide whomever He pleases’ and ‘He leaves astray whomever He wills’;
3. ‘God has power over all things.’ ‘Regulation and command of everything is in the hand of Allah.’
The above verses led to the idea that, since God is Super Omnipotent, man does not have any independent will or action, but somehow appropriates the actions created by God. However, if these verses are analysed within their proper context the intention behind them can be correctly comprehended and the Quranic emphasis on man’s actions and his ultimate judgement, God's mercy, justice, and His ‘habits’ can be fully and systematically understood.
The first group of verses that apparently imply that ‘man cannot will unless God wills’, do not actually mean that man cannot will but that man’s ability to will or not is part of God’s will, expressed in the nature of man himself. The occasion for the revelation of this aya (81:28-9) according to Sufyan al-Thauri was the arrogance of Abu Jahl when he said: ‘It’s up to us, if we wish, we will follow the straight path, and if we [also] wish we would not follow it.’ Abu Jahl is an example par excellence of those individuals who ignore their origins and their relationship with God out of mere arrogance, denying any ties with Him. The intent of this verse is not to refute Abu Jahl’s statement, for he certainly chose not to believe, but to affirm the higher relationship of human nature to God’s will, as manifested in the terms qadr, taqdir, huda, amr.
God in the Quran is just and merciful. He does not arbitrarily punish any nation which has fallen into wrongdoing until a messenger is sent to guide them, and they have been given the chance to repent. Similarly with individuals, the verses that imply God’s misguiding peop1e, if closely observed, do not form the first premise of the Quranic argument upon man’s actions, but almost always form the logical conclusion about those individuals who have persistently rejected the truth and stubbornly adhered to immorality. In such cases, God’s will, the ‘natural law’ or ‘psychological rule’ becomes operative in such a way that those negative, destructive attitudes and behaviours become reinforced and deeply embedded into the personality in a dangerously permanent state. Still, the Quran does not admit of a point of no return for those who sincerely repent and change their ways. Man is given freedom to choose and act and he will be held accountable to the smallest element: ‘And so, he who shall have done atom’s weight of good, shall behold it; and he who shall have done an atom's weight of evil shall behold it.’ W. Montgomery Watt in his seminal work, Free-will and Predestination in Early Islam, is correct when he points out that the ‘predestinarian view’ of the Quran centres on the majesty and omnipotence of God, and to a lesser extent on man’s subordination to this majestic Being; whereas the predetermined character of man’s life occupies the forefront of Muslim tradition, a remnant of pre-Islamic world-view despite the Quranic denunciation of it.
In summary, the motive of the Quran in these verses is to enhance the human relationship with, and the consciousness of, his Lord, the Creator, the Generous, and to encourage the believers not to be overly anxious of the opposition and rebellions of certain people because these are part of the ‘will of God’. The attitude of reliance on God will produce personalities that are ever-optimistic and courageous once they know the true worth of their actions. Muhammad Iqbal (d. 1938), in addressing the younger generation of Muslims in Asrar-i-Khudi epitomises the dynamism of reliance on the one God
When they moulded thee of clay,
Love and fear will mingle in thy making:
Fear of this world and or the world to come,
Fear or death,
Fear of all the pains of earth and heaven,
Love of riches and power, love of country,
Love of self, of kindred and wife,
so long as thou hold’st the staff of La ilah.
Thou will break every spell of fear!
One to whom God is as the soul in his body,
Does not bow his head before untruth.
The Concept of the Universe
The concept of the universe in the Quran is conveyed by the phrase ‘the Heavens and the Earth and whatever lies between them’ as in 39: 5;
Have they not pondered upon themselves? Allah created not the heavens and the earth and what is between them, save with truth and for a destined end. But truly, many of mankind are disbelievers in the meeting with their Lord.
The term sama (‘heaven’ or ‘sky’) is applied to anything that is spread like a canopy above any other thing as in the case of our visible skies which is the primary meaning of this term in the Quran. It also connotes ‘the cosmic system’, the universe. The term al-ard in relation to the process of creation is not only the planet Earth, but the entire inorganic universe including the planet Earth. Of course, references to specific creations of God either of the Seen (al-shahada) or the Unseen (al-ghayb), like the jinn and angels, also denote parts of the Quranic universe.
The shahada, the visible phenomena, are of course all that is visible that exist in the entire cosmos; the ghuyub, on the other hand, represent all that is beyond human perception including not only the jinn and angels but also past historical events which have been forgotten or are vaguely remembered by man, such as man’s inner whisperings (5:119), the eschatological realities such as the coming of the Day of Judgement (34:3), or Heaven and Hell (19:61). God created this entire creation, a creatio ex nihilo by a mere command, ‘He is who created the heavens and the earth in truth. In that day when He said “Be!” Then it was.’ From this watershed of creative command, He allowed the universe to evolve in a periodic time, called ayyam, plural for yaum, which is commonly translated as 'day' or 'eon'. This term is used in Arabic to denote any period whether extremely long or extremely short. The process of creation by God continues indefinitely (35: 1). This universe has no gaps or dislocation, a testimony to the unity and majesty of God (67:3-4). The sun and the moon run their courses for a determined period (36:38-9). All natural phenomena are given their respective proportions, measures, orders and laws: from the growth of a seed into a plant bearing flowers and fruit to the constellations in the sky and the succession of the day to night all reflect this orderliness.
This universe does not exist to provide sport but for definite ends. Neither are these creations ends in themselves, opaque and spiritually meaningless; rather, they are signs (aya) pointing beyond their own forms to a higher Reality. The fact that natural phenomena are referred to in the same way as revelational knowledge means that they both demand the same consideration – that is, to be contemplated and thought about. Also, the Quran twice uses the term kalimatullah (‘the words of Allah’, in 18:109 and 31:27) referring to the extra-scriptural, that is, the natural wonders of God. The same term is used to convey revelational knowledge of the Prophets and chosen individuals. The aya (signs) God are also used for psychological phenomena (41:53). Thus, it can be maintained that the Quran considers several avenues to guidance, to an understanding of the higher purpose and laws of life and existence. On the one hand, there is the verbal-scriptural guidance revealed in a specific language addressed to the immediate situation of a people, and through them to the whole of mankind. On the other hand, there is the universal guidance in natural phenomena, history and human psychology from which mankind should be able, to derive benefits. Both complement each other, and one cannot be dispensed with in the attainment of the highest level of Quranic individual and collective development.
History has seen that Muslims became ‘backward’ when they held steadfastly only to the First guidance, while modern man became ‘unhappy’ and ‘lost’ using only the second type of guidance. The knowledge of, and the power over, the universe, is to be more conscious of God’s favours, wisdom, and majesty, and then, to improve human welfare. The controversial German theologian Hans Kung narrated a story that is indicative of the arrogant mood of many modern secular scientists: when questioned about whether he believes in the existence of God a Nobel Laureate declared: ‘Of course not, I am a scientist’ The Quranic philosophy of the universe would prompt the scientist to answer: ‘Yes, of course! I am a scientist!’ Muhammad Iqbal correctly warns that scientific knowledge that does not enhance, and is not subordinated to religion is satanic. He wrote, ‘Intellect, divorced from Love (Ishq), is a rebel (like Satan) while intellect, wedded to Love, has divine attributes.’ The tragic and morally paralysing effects of the secular humanist philosophy and world-view have pervaded every level of the modern West. Even Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, in his commencement address at Harvard University in 1978, categorically warned that the most impressive scientific and technological achievements could not redeem the moral poverty so prevalent in the Western world.
It is indeed very humbling to know that the entire universe and its contents are made for the use of man. However, all creation in itself such as the angels, birds and even the thunder is spiritually significant in the sense that it hymns the praise of God in the manner that surpasses human understanding. Even though the entire universe is made to be utilized by man, this utilization is for the enhancement of man’s true purpose in creation: to perform service (ibada) to God: ‘I did not create jinn and Man except to worship me’ (51:56-8). Hence, man should use the entire cosmos not merely for his physical and intellectual needs but more importantly, for his moral-spiritual advancement. His power over the cosmos is for good in the widest possible sense; and not to sow corruption which the Quran repeatedly condemns. The ‘corruption on earth, on the land and in the sea’ is due to men’s actions (30:41), as a manifestation of their extravagance (27:34) which stems from greed.
The current sentimentalism regarding the natural environment which is sweeping the industrialized nations is an overdue reaction to, and realization of, the hazards of irresponsible exploitation of nature that was motivated by greed and inspired and justified by a disjointed theology that exaggerated man’s supremacy in the universe. The extreme anthropocentric bias in Tudor and Stuart England, for example, enabled theologians to represent the world's physical attributes as a direct response to Adam’s sin: It was only because of the Fall that wild animals were fierce, that obnoxious reptiles existed, and that domestic animals had to go blows in misery.’ The disjointed theology is clear in a statement from Jeremiah Burroughes writing in his Gospel Reconciliation (1657) that God ‘made others for man, and man for himself’. The attitude that nature is something to be enjoyed and used to the fullest extent possible in the pursuit of the dreams of material progress alone, without any responsibility and accountability, has produced various kinds of ecological crises that have plagued modern man, and can be attributed to ‘the destruction of harmony between man and God’, a relationship that concerns all knowledge. According to Professor Keith Thomas the current preservationist attitudes toward animals and nature as a whole are emotional and conflict with the materialistic and hedonistic direction of the industrialized world. But, more importantly, this sentimentalism threatens the basic economic resources of poor people; developing nations regard these new sensibilities ironically:
During colonial times, much of our forests was claimed for timber and for planting rubber, palm-oil, tea, sugar… Little concern was then expressed about the environment. Now as we seek to open up our lands for modern farming, for generation of power and for industrialisation, a whole host of environmentalists from industrialised countries have descended upon us to agitate our people about preserving the natural beauty of our tropical forest… We will not accept a situation where our rural people live in poverty and misery so that the rich, when they come by can say ‘what unspoilt beauty’… then tip the ‘happy’ native children ten cents…
The Quranic notion regarding the subjugation of the entire universe for man is not unqualified and unpurposeful: man’s freedom, his intellect and other faculties, as well as this vast cosmos should, and must be used, not for mere pleasure but as a form of worship. In this way, the intrinsic spiritual dimension of all created things, used by man to worship God, will incur no disjunction but harmony in the purpose and order of creation. Ibada or worship in the Quran is a very general and comprehensive concept which is frequently joined to other key ethical terms like shukr (thankfulness) as in 29:66 and 17:3, and to taqwa (God-consciousness) as in 29.16, 71:3 and numerous other places.
Man has been reminded often in the Quran to be thankful for all the favours that he receives from his Lord, whether they be material or spiritual: ‘Eat of the good things that we have provided for you and give thanks to God’ (16:114; 34:15). ‘Exalt the greatness of God that He has guided you and you may give thanks’ (2:185). Shukr should be manifested in several interrelated ways: by recognizing in the heart and the mind the favours received from God; by praising, eulogizing or commanding verbally; and by using the favours according to their intended purposes. The opposite of shukr is israf which means wastefulness or putting a thing in a wrong place. The Quran urges moderation in consumption as well as spending and warns against israf: ‘O children of Adam! Attend to your adornment when you go to the mosques, and eat and drink and be not wasteful; surely He loves not the prodigals (7:31). In 25:67, while mentioning the qualities of His good servants the Quran says: ‘And they who, when they spend are neither extravagant nor parsimonious, and the just mean is ever between them.’ Indeed shukr occupies a remarkable position in the whole system of Islamic ethics to the extent that the lack of it is condemned as kufr, one of the most ethico-spiritual negatives of the Quran. Thus, shukr has a key relationship to ibada, and provides the qualitative and quantitative criteria for the use of human faculties and bounties in the universe. This is another example of the creative and positive tension that the Quran uses to enhance man’s spiritual moral development. Taqwa is only the other side of the coin of ibada. It is fitting that since man’s purpose is ibada to God, that should therefore be the only criterion for status differentiation among men. The Quran puts it very succinctly:
O Mankind! Surely we have created you from male and female, and made you tribes and families that you may know each other. Surely the noblest of you with Allah is the one with the most taqwa. Surely Allah is knowing, Aware. (49:13)
Taqwa is perhaps the most comprehensive and representative of an ideal human characteristic among the Quranic ethical terms. In its various forms (including the active participle muttaqun and the abstract noun taqwa) the word occurs 242 times, almost as often in the Meccan as in the Medinan period – 102 times and 140 respectively. It appears more often in Medinan; the reason seems to be that in Medina interhuman relationships are the main subject of Islamic concerns. Taqwa can only be exercised in a social context. An isolated individual can hardly be a muttaqi. Its comprehensiveness is clearer because the root meaning of w-q-y, root letters of taqwa, means to protect, to save from destruction, and to preserve. These are the basic constituents of iman and Islam which give the meaning safety, peace, and integrity as opposed to danger, fragmentation and disintegration.
… while iman [faith] is primarily concerned with the inner life (although it is supposed to end in overt action), and while Islam (Surrender to God’s law) belongs primarily to outward action (though its inner dimension is equivalent to faith), taqwa equally comprises both faith and surrender…
The passage 2:177 defines ‘those who attain taqwa’ in a comprehensive manner and emphasizes that overt acts that are not rooted in inner faith are not righteous. Thus, after mentioning the change of qiblah (direction of prayer) from Jerusalem to Mecca it says:
It is not righteousness that you turn your faces eastward or westward [in prayer]; the righteous rather, is he who believes in God, the Last Day, the Angels, the Book [i.e., all revealed Books] and [all] the Prophets [and] who gives of his wealth despite his love for it, to his [poor] kinsmen, to orphans, to the indigents, to the way-farer, to those who ask for financial help, and for the freeing of captives and slaves; he who establishes prayers and pays zakat-tax, those who keep their pacts when they make them and are steadfast in adversity, tribulation and in war – these are the ones who are truly righteous and these are the ones who have taqwa (muttaqun).
The security or ‘safety’ dimension of taqwa becomes clearer when it mentions that taqwa is the best garment (libas) (7:26), and in 2:197 that taqwa is the best provision for future life. Taqwa then is the moral torch that man needs to make objective evaluation of his thoughts and actions as well as his environment. Since there are men who are self deluding, thinking that they are ‘reforming the earth’ while they are in fact corrupting it (2:11) and thinking that their deeds are ‘weighty’ while in actuality they are like ashes (14:18), there is a need for the Final Judgement. The fact that man shall die and will be raised again to give a full account of the omission or commission of his amana is central to Quranic weltanschauung. In fact, in many places the expression ‘belief in God’ is coupled with ‘belief in the Day of judgement’ which indicates the intrinsic inseparability of the two fundamental anchors in the Quranic view in the enrichment of human moral conduct. Positive consciousness of the Judgement Day would put into perspective man’s entire life: its ephemerality, and the inevitability of imminent accountability that should restrain him from the seductions of ‘momentary life’ and lead him to one that is founded on a solid basis.
Thus, the ideal human character of the Quran is the muttaqi, the one who has attained taqwa (God-consciousness). This implies directly that he should be Muslim, submitting to the laws of God, after discovering them in the Book of Revelation and Creation (nature and human psychology and history). Spiritually, a muttaqi is a mumin whose faith is grounded in tawhid (affirming the oneness of God), shukr (thankfulness) and the Ultimate End. His iman (faith) is grounded firmly in knowledge of the word of God in Revelation and the work of God in creation. He, then, shall join the community of Muslims to ‘enjoin good, forbid evil’, ‘co-operating in righteousness and taqwa’, to use all the resources in nature and wisdom from historical experiences and psychic phenomena to establish and maintain a socio-moral order on earth – an order that reflects the harmonious relationship between God, man and the universe, according to the precepts enjoined by God. The Quranic man is an integrated man, who is first of all cured of all the maladies of the soul, not by having all tensions and complexes removed in the manner of modern psycho-analysis so that he becomes like a plant quiescent but without an inner drive, but by having all those tensions that arise from his natural constituencies and from his profound urge and need for the transcendent in him and fulfilled.
The Concept of Prophethood
In an Islamic world-view the knowledge about God, the ghayb, the purpose of human existence, man’s destiny and that of the universe is conveyed throughout history by a special group of human beings known as messengers (rusul) or prophets (anbiya). The Quran seems not to make any distinction between these two functions as do the Mutazilites; but orthodox theologians consider that ‘a Messenger is a man sent by Allah to creatures in order to convey His judgements; and the bringing of a book may be stipulated of him, in contrast to a prophet (al-nabi) for "prophet" is a more general term.’
Be that as it may, the messengers of God have been sent to all peoples (10:47; 13:7). Some of their names are given in the Quran while others are not (4:164; 40:78), and all or them conveyed the same basic message; to invite their people, and through them all mankind, to the true worship of the One God, and to shun powers of evil. They were vouchsafed clear signs in the form of revelation, and some were given scriptures. They purified their people and taught them wisdom through a language understood by their respective audiences and said that they would stand for justice. The Prophets were the bringers of the good news of the eternal rewards from God for correct belief and good deeds, and warners of painful punishment for rejection of faith and transgression. The knowledge pertaining directly to their duties was revealed to them without any conscious preparation or effort on their part in three different ways: revelation, from behind a veil (that is, by a voice whose source was invisible), or through a messenger (Jibrail). The contents of these revelations are variously described as guidance (huda), truth (haqq), light (nur) and the criterion for judging between righteousness and falsehood (furqan).
Muhammad is the seal of the prophets but Muslims believe in all the previous prophets without any distinction between any of them. H. A. R. Gibb, contrary to many of his contemporary western scholars, perceives the unity of prophethood that Islam portrays when he writes:
Thus Islam, although a religion physically centered on Mecca, is not an Arabian religion, nor even an Arabian adaptation of Judaic or Christian monotheism, by that is implied a lowering of existing standards Judaism and Syriac Christianity to a supposedly lower Arabian mentality. On the contrary, the whole function of Islam was to raise both Arabian and non-Arabian religious conceptions and ethical standards to levels set by the preaching of earlier prophets.
Prophets are exemplary human beings whose conduct, sayings and virtues are enjoined to be obeyed upon their followers. However, as we shall see in the next chapter, their Sunna especially that of Muhammad, manifests categories of permanence and socio-historical relativity.
The Islamic Attitude towards Knowledge and its Basic Sources
The Quran uses repetition in order to imbed certain key concepts deeply in the consciousness of its listeners. Hence, the words Allah (God) and Rabb (Lord Sustainer) are repeated 2,800 and 950 times respectively. The derivations of the root -1-m, excluding the unrelated alam (world) occur 750 times, thus ranking it third in numerical tabulation and importance. Thus Rosenthal concludes that: ‘It is evident that the terms which were truly important to the Prophet did indeed occur in the Quran with greater frequency than all others.’
The concept of justice is also conveyed through synonyms such as qist (fairness), qasd (mean), istiqama (honesty), wasat (middle) and mizan (balance/impartiality). Justice is also emphasized through the use of its opposites, jawr (oppression/tyranny), zulm (wrong doing), tughyan (tyranny) and others, as Professor Khadduri points out. He has also suggested that ‘second only to the existence of one God, no other religious or moral principles are more emphasized in the Quran and Traditions than the principle of uprightness, equity, and temperance...’ This observation appears correct on two counts. Firstly, that the establishment of comprehensive justice follows logically and consistently from the weltanschauung that the Quran advocates, which is grounded deep in ilm (knowledge), tawhid (unity of God), iman (faith) and taqwa (consciousness of God).
Justice, for example, socio-economic justice, is considered so paramount to the meaning and so integrated into Islamic religious life that the Quran, in an early Meccan sura, even equates worship of God in the face of lack of socio-economic empathy with sheer hypocrisy:
Didn’t you see the one who denies religion [din]? Such is the one who repulses the orphan, and does not encourage the feeding the poor. So woe to the worshippers, who are neglectful of their prayers; those who [want but] to be seen [of men] but refuse [to supply even] the neighborly needs. (107:1-7)
And in other early Meccan suras also, the Quran equates the quest for a spiritual/religious ‘steep path’ (al-aqaba) with ‘the freeing of the bondsman’ (fakku raqabatin) which Muhammad Asad extends to all forms of bondage: physical, social, economic, and intellectual. This quest is also identified with the giving of food on the day of privation, to orphans who are near and the poor.
The centrality of justice was clearly manifested during the period when Muslims were not politically powerful and had no means of institutionalizing it. Indeed the major Quranic themes during the Meccan period were tawhid, social economic justice and human accountability on Judgement Day. And in the Medinan period, this emphasis on economic justice became more pronounced even towards enemies. Its relationship to taqwa is clear; i’dilu, huwa aqrabu lil-taqwa (‘Be just! It is closest to God’s consciousness’) (5:8).
Secondly, the activities of the Prophet himself demonstrated the importance of justice. The raison d’etre of his prophecy was that it constituted a ‘mercy for the entire world’ (21:107) by seeking to uplift and improve human conduct.
It is indeed surprising then that a keen and capable scholar like Rosenthal should reach the conclusion that statistical frequency can bc equated with lack of importance:
It is evident that the terms which were truly important to the Prophet do indeed occur in the Quran with greater frequency than all others. Vice versa, terms that expressed ideas which he did not consider vital elements of his preaching tend to appear low on the scale in the tabulation of words.
Can we correctly infer that since the word shura and its verbal directives are mentioned only twice in the entire Quran (42:38 and 3:159), that Islam and Muhammad attached correspondingly little significance to it? Certainly not, for shura became the paramount vehicle for collective decision-making practices by the Prophet in all matters on which the revelations were silent such as the choice of call to prayer, the decision prior to going to war at Uhud, or the peace negotiations with some of the Arab tribes during the difficult moments of the Battle of the Ditch.
The frequency of appearance of the roots of a word (for example, i-l-m), is only one indication of the importance of a concept. Often the use of synonyms with many shades of meaning like f-k-r (to think), f-q-h (to understanding), d-b-r (to consider), a-q-l (to think), f-h-m (to understand), and antonyms such j-h-l (to be ignorant) and the negation of synonyms (for example, la yafqahun, la ya'qilun) also emphasize the importance of this concept. Muslim scholars also tend to infer that the Quranic usage of certain objects or phenomena in oaths with the adjurative particle wa at the beginning of the suras (chapters) signifies its importance by drawing the addressees’ attention to it and to a subsequently stated truth or evidence of the truth, such as in 52:1-3 ‘By the Mount (Tur) and by a scripture inscribed, on parchment unrolled and in 68:1 ‘Nun, and by the pen and that which ye write therewith…’ In addition, the Quran also uses many words that denote objects employed in writing, such as qalam (pen): raqq and qirtas (parchment and paper); rnarqum, mastur, mustatar, maktub, takhattuhu, tumla yumlila (derivations from verbs meaning to write); katib (writer); yamudduhu (supplies it with ink); kutub, suhuf (books) and others.
Professor Hamidullah makes the interesting observation that almost all the verse of the Quran in praise of, or in connection with learning and writing belong to the Meccan period while the Medinan verses lay greater emphasis on action and performance. In fact, in one Medinan aya in which jihad was commanded, it was stated that a certain group should be exempt from the duty of war to pursue a deep and comprehensive understanding of Islam so that they could teach the community (9:12).
In the preceding pages I have discussed indirect indicators of the Quranic emphasis on knowledge; now I shall deal with the Islamic concept of knowledge in a direct manner. The emphasis on knowledge can be directly discerned from the elevated status accorded to those who seek, possess, teach and act upon it (the ulama). The Quran categorically dismisses any thought of equality between those who know and those who do not: ‘Say [unto them, O Muhammad): Are those who know not? But only men of understanding [ulul albab] will pay heed’ (39:9). Positive fear of God which forms the central principles of Islamic religious life can be attained only by those who have knowledge (35:28) for they, together with the angels are able to testify to God’s existence and unity (3:18) through the evidence of creation. Nobody except those with knowledge shall grasp the meanings of divine wisdom through similitudes (amthal) that God has coined for mankind (29:43).
Consequently, the prophets of God, who were the best of men, were all endowed with knowledge and wisdom. God taught Adam the nature of all things (2:32; 33:37) and He showed Ibrahim ‘the Kingdom of the heavens and the earth that he might be of those possessing certainty’ (6:75). Lut (21:74), Yusuf (12:22), Musa (28:14), Dawud and Sulayman (27:15) were given knowledge and wisdom.
Isa was taught ‘The Book and the Wisdom, and Torah and Injil’ (34:48; 5:113) so that he might ‘recite to you our signs, purify you and teach you the Book and the wisdom, and teach you what you did not know’ (2:151). It should be noted that the knowledge vouchsafed to the prophets reflects the comprehensive and all-inclusive character of the Islamic concept of knowledge and prophecy. Beyond the revealed knowledge of the divine will and wisdom, certain prophets were specifically mentioned as having received unique abilities. For example, Yusuf was taught to interpret dreams (12:6; 101), Dawud was vouchsafed the art of making coats of mail (20:80) while Sulayman was endowed with knowledge of the language of animals (27:16-20).
Muhammad is unanimously held by all Muslims to be al-nabi al-ummi, the unlettered Prophet. Despite this, his Sunna is replete with aphorisms and actions that corroborate the Quranic concept of knowledge and became the impetus and motivating force for future intellectual and civilizational developments in Islam. The Prophet said that people are divided into scholars (alim) and students (mutaallim); the rest are savages or the rabble (hamaj): only the first two share in goodness. God and the entire cosmos including ants and fishes pray for the teachers of good. Scholars are heirs of the prophets whose ink will be weighted with the blood of martyrs on Judgement Day, for the seeker of know1edge is truly exerting himself on the path of God. God will facilitate the way to Paradise for scholars.
The prophet also said that the superiority of a scholar over a worshipper is like comparing the full moon with all other stars, or the rank of Prophet Muhammad compared with the least of men. A person who has an understanding of religion (faqih) is more formidable against Satan than a thousand worshippers. Scholars – after the prophets, but before the martyrs – will intercede before God, on the Judgement Day. Beneficial knowledge, together with a charitable contribution that brings perpetual reward and pious offspring who pray for their parents, will provide everlasting good after death. Ibn Maja (d. 830 CE) in his Sunan narrates that the Prophet is related to have said that the best form of worship is the pursuit of knowledge, and an hour of deep thinking is better than seventy years of worship, for worship without knowledge has no goodness in it, and knowledge without thinking about it also has no benefit.
Therefore, the pursuit of knowledge is obligatory upon all Muslims from the cradle to the grave, and it must be carried out even until China. The hadith referred to above certainly has different degrees of reliability and some may be due to the process or backward projection as Rosenthal suggests. But they cannot be trivialized because these hadiths have had a tremendous influence upon an innumerable number of Muslims and have helped shape the spirit and character of Islamic civilization.
It is known that Muhammad, besides his duty of teaching the Islamic faith, assigned teachers to teach reading, writing, and calculation to the people. His emphasis on the acquisition or these tools of knowledge led him to offer to release any prisoners of war who would teach ten Muslim children to read and write. The Prophet’s Mosque was connected to a building that served as a school and hostel for poor students and out-of-towners. Professor Hamidullah mentions that there were nine mosques in Medina during Muhammad’s time that simultaneously served as schools.
The Quran as a Source of Knowledge
Everything that exists originates from God, including knowledge. He is the Rabb who comprehends all things. The concept of His Lordship includes the proper upbringing of His creatures by instituting within them certain mechanisms intrinsic to their natures or instincts as well as by direct revelation as in the case of man. Thus, the idea that He is the One who teaches Man is conveyed often (2:31; 55:2; 96:4-5; also 2:239; 5:1-4). In 55:1-4, the Quran says: ‘The Beneficent has taught the Quran, He has taught him al-bayan.’
Revelation (wahy), which all prophets received from the Divine source, is the most certain knowledge. The Quran also indicates that there exist other sources of knowledge, the proper study and orientation or which will complement the Truth of revealed knowledge; for ultimately they are derived from the same source: God, the Originator of all things. However, because non-revealed knowledge is not directly bestowed by God to man and is vulnerable to methodological and axiological limitations, it does not carry the same status as wahy.
The other sources of knowledge are natural phenomena, human psychology, and history. The Quran applies the term ayat to represent the first two categories and its own verses. The term kalima which is used to refer to the Quranic messages, is also extended in two places (18:109 and 31:27) to the entirety of God's creation. For example, in 31:26-7:
Unto God belongs all that is in the heavens and the earth. Verily, God alone is Self- Sufficient, the One to whom all praise is due! And if all the trees on earth were pens, and the sea [were] ink, with seven [more] seas yet added to it, the words of God [kalimat Allah) would not be exhausted. For He is mighty, wise.
Logically, the term kalima here could not mean the words of the Quran, for obviously they are numerically limited to 114 chapters. Classical Quran commentators such as al-Qurtubi (d. 1273 CE) interpret this term to mean the ‘wonders of God’s work’, which means the entire universe.
The usage of the aya for natural phenomena and human psychology can be attested by the following verse:
Lo! In the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the difference of night and day, and the ships which run upon the sea with that which is of use to men, and the water which Allah sends down from the sky, thereby reviving the earth after its death, and dispersing all kind of beasts therein, and [in] the ordinance of the winds, and the clouds obedient between heaven and earth are signs (ayat) for people who use their senses [Liqaumin yaqilun]. (2:164)
In time, we shall show them our signs [ayatina] in the utmost horizons [of the universe] [fi al-afaq] and within their inner selves. (41:53)
In reference to historical phenomena, the Quran never uses the term aya, but rather the term ibra (lesson, guidance), from which moral lessons should be extracted. For example:
In their histories, there is certainly a lesson for men of understanding. It is not a narrative [hadith] that could be forged, but a verification of what is before it, and a distinct explanation of all things, and a guide and a mercy to a people who believe. (12:111)
As a corollary to its divine authorship, the Quran, apart from pointing to the sources of knowledge external to it, is itself a major source of knowledge. Its references to the historical, metaphysical, sociological, natural, and eschatological phenomena and events must be necessarily true either literally or metaphorically. Muslims derive systems and subsystems of knowledge and culture from the Quran. The ‘most authentic document’ on the subject of sciences (for which the Quran is the catalyst) is to be found in Badr al-Din al-Zarkashi’s al-Burhan fi Ulum al-Quran from which Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti obtained much of the materials for his al-ltqan fi Ulum al-Quran, in which he stated that there were more than 3,000 systems of knowledge derived and systematized by Muslims from the Quran. Basharat Ali maintains that there could be more:
Allamah Jalal-ud-Din [al-Suyuti] to my mind, has overlooked the predictive nature of the statement made in the Qanun al-Tawil by Qadi Abu Bakar bin al-Arabi, that Quranic systems of knowledge are 50,400, 7000, and 70000 [in number]. This means by the token of the advancement of Islamic culture, the new generations, in accordance with the rate of intellectual advancement and in accordance with the unfolding of the Quranic culture, will have to discover, identify, systematize and synthesize ever new systems of knowledge.
The notion of the infinitude of Quranic wisdom and knowledge beyond the external traditional meanings, which God vouchsafes to deserving minds, is one of the main arguments used by al-Ghazali against the impermissibility of Quranic interpretation by personal opinion (ray). To buttress this notion, he quotes the Prophet as indicating that the Quran has a zahir (outward aspect), a batin (inward aspect), a limit and a prelude. He also quotes Ali bin Abi Talib as saying that he could certainly load seventy camels with the exegesis of the opening sura alone, adding that the sura itself is extremely short.
A brief mention was made in the first chapter of the methodology for understanding the Quran where the unitive socio-historical approach and the emphasis on letting the Quran explain itself were underscored. Muhammad Idris al-Shafii (d. 820 CE), who did pioneering work on the systemization of Islamic jurisprudence, dealt with mechanisms for understanding the Quran, the most important of which is his categorization of the general (amm) and the specific (khass). Without his categorization confusion could arise through a literal interpretation of Quranic works. Professor Subhi al-Salih, the well-known Lebanese scholar, depending primarily on the work of Badr-al-Din Muhammad ibn Abd Allah al-Zarkashi, (d. 1392 CE), al-Burhan fi Ulum al-Quran and Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti’s (d. 1505 CE), al-ltqan fi Ulum al-Quran, indicates that this method was often used by classical commentators when they came across certain verses whose meanings would be much clearer when seen in conjunction with other verses. Several methodologies have been devised to realize this.
One deals with text (mantuq) and meaning (mafhum). Mantuq signifies the literal understanding of the text such as in 2:196 ‘... then a fast of three days during the pilgrimage and seven more when he returns; these are ten complete.’ Mantuq also carries the obvious meaning as in: ‘And He [God] is with you wherever you are’ (57:4). Nevertheless, it is obvious this does not mean that God is physically present with us. Mafhum, according to classical ulama, is the intellectual understanding of a term or verse that is not literally indicated. It is divided into two.
Firstly, there is mafhum muwafaqa, when a rule or meaning agrees with that of the text. This could be fahwa al-khitab, when the meaning points to something higher to be considered, as in sura a1-Isra,verse 23, ‘Do not say to both of them [your parents] “Uff”.’ This verse indicates that hitting one’s parents would constitute a heavier offence. Or it could be lahn al-khitab when the rule of mafhum agrees with that of the text, as in 4:10, ‘Those who consume the property of orphans unjustly, surely they shall fill their bellies with fire and they will be placed in Hell.’ This clearly shows what is forbidden.
Secondly, there is mafhum mukhalafa, when the implied meaning differs from the literal meaning of the text. It is divided into three main branches: First, is the descriptive (wasfi), which is categorized as follows:
1. attributive (nat) as in 49:6, in which Muslims are urged to ascertain news brought by the fasiq (evil doers). The mafhum here is that it is not necessary to do so if the bearer is adil (good, trustworthy);
2. state condition (hal) as in 4:43 where one is forbidden to pray while in a drunken state. The mafhum here is not only the gradual censoring of alcoholic consumption for prayer, but its complete prohibition;
3. adverb (zarf) as in 2:198 where the pilgrims are asked to mention God’s names in the Mashar al-Haram in a certain manner. The mafhum here is that ritual worship must be observed without any innovation;
4. a number (adad) as in 24:4 where the punishment of eighty lashes must be meted out to those who wrongly accuse good women of adultery. The mafhum is that the numerical specification is not to be altered.
The second main branch of mafhum mukhalafa is conditional disagreement (mukhalafa shartiyya), as in 65:6 where it is stated that it is obligatory to support a divorced wife who is pregnant. If she is not pregnant, then it is not obligatory though many scholars recommend it for a certain period: The third branch comprises limitational disagreement (hasri) as in 1:5: ‘Ye [God] do we worship, from ye do we seek help’; this means that it is forbidden to worship or to seek the help of other than God.
Another methodological concept that classical interpreters used to understand the Quran by itself the deployment of the specific (khass) and general (amm). The general is understood as ‘a certain word whose original linguistic meaning signifies inclusiveness of totality without any qualitative limitation’. It is conveyed by indicators such as ‘every’, ‘all’, ‘together’ (kull, jami, and kaffa), definite articles, relative pronouns (ism mausul), plural relative pronouns in a genitive construction (idafa) and negation. These indicators will give a general signification unless specified.
A specific rule or statement is one that basically indicates a single unit or a limited quantifiable entity such as one or two individuals or a tribe. Most of the general rules or statements, with few exceptions, have been clearly specified. For example, in 2:234 it is written: ‘Those women whose husbands are dead should restrain themselves (from marrying again for four months and ten days)’ and this is a general rule. Exceptions are made, however, for pregnant divorcees or widows, whose waiting period is until delivery (65:4). Specific rulings of the Quran as in the cutting off of the thief’s hand (5:38), and feeding the poor to expiate unfulfilled oaths (5:89), for example, are fixed, according to classical interpreters.
Difficult or vague words or phrases (mujmal) are normally explained in the context of the verse or, in the context of different verses (mubayyin). Apparent contradictions are resolved in the case of general verses by giving priority to the prohibitory verses over the permissibility ones. When they are of the same character the doctrine of abrogation (naskh) is appealed to.
The classical doctrine of naskh is based on three Quranic verses: ‘Such of Our revelations [aya] as We abrogate or cause to be forgotten, We bring [in place] one better or like thereof (2:106); ‘And when We put a revelation in place of [another] revelation and Allah knows best what He reveals – they say: verily, thou art but inventest it. Most of them know not’ (16:101); and ‘Allah effaces what He wills and establishes [what He wills] and with Him is mother of the Book (umm a1-Kitab)’ (13:39). Analysis of the context of these verses clearly indicates that the abrogation or effacement referred to was that of earlier prophets or messengers, not rules or verses of the Quran. Classical supporters of this doctrine have divided abrogation into three levels.
Firstly, there is the abrogation of the rule/judgement but not of the text, as with many rules or commands primarily of Meccan origin that were annulled in Medina. Then there is the abrogation of the text but not the ruling, as in the case of the ‘lost verse of stoning for adultery’ (aya al-rajm). Thirdly, there is the abrogation of both the text and the ruling as in the case where the Prophet was alleged to have recited praises for the Meccan idols in order to gain converts, which prompted a repudiation in 17:73-5.
The second and third levels of abrogation have been questioned by numerous scholars, for example, by Subhi al-Salih on the grounds that the proofs for these are limited to one or two illustrations only. In addition, they are based on khabar ahad (a hadith with a single chain of transmitter) which cannot be used as a hujja (firm argument) on matters of the revelation of the Quran and its abrogation. Also, there is a contradiction in the position: for example, some consider aya al-rajm to be a part of Sura al-Nur while others place it in Sura al-Ahzab. Some classical scholars, such as Fakr al-Din al-Razi (d. 1210 CE), al-Nawawi (d. 1277 CE) together with al-Mundhiri, al-Baihaqi and others, rejected the story of the Prophet praising the Meccan idols, even though other scholars like Musa b-Uqba, Ibn Mardawayh and Ibn Hajr al-Asqalani accepted it as genuine. These categories of abrogation can also be questioned because the second one implies the fatal neglect of God on an issue as important as the stoning of an adulterer; and the third one undermines strict monotheism, the commission of which is shirk, an unpardonable sin. Category one – the abrogation of rulings or decisions of the Quran but not the text – is not only historically true but also necessary because the Quran was revealed piecemeal to guide and inspire the ever-growing community of the first generation. This meaning is supported by the fact that the Quran itself introduces its rules in a gradual manner, such as in the prohibition of alcohol consumption or riba (usury). However, absolute abrogation is caused by the irreconcilability of apparently contradictory verses of the Quran revealed at different periods of the Prophet’s struggle.
Many scholars have too conveniently invoked the doctrine of abrogation; at one point there were 564 abrogated cases relating to the Quran! It is ironic that there is not a single authentic tradition from the Prophet that touches upon this notion of absolute abrogation. However, some companions and early authorities understood it in the sense of exception or particularization of meaning (takhsis) or clarification. Classical scholars differ extensively on the number of abrogated verses. Abu Muslim al-Isfahani (d. 927 CE), Fakr al-Din al-Razi (d. 12 10 CE), Muhammad Abdu (d - 1905 C E) and Rashid Rida (d. 1935 CE) seemed to hold that there is no abrogation in the absolute sense; al-Nahhas (d. 1010 CE) numbered the abrogated verses at one hundred, but al-Suyuti (d. 1505 CE) reduced these to twenty. Shah Waliy Allah (d. 1767 CE) maintained there were five and al-Shawkani (d. 1834 CE) declared that there were eight.
The acceptance of absolute abrogation of Quranic verses may subvert the universal applicability of Divine Wisdom which must transcend space and time. It also tends to indicate the lack of a systematic formulation of Quranic axiology according to a scale of Islamic priorities, and the absence of a comprehensive extraction of general ethico-moral principles from certain historically specific Quranic injunctions, so as to be relevant in other times and climes.
Another mechanism invoked by classical interpreters ‘to let the Quran interpret itself’ is the doctrine of nass which is closely related to the dual concepts of muhkamat (clear verses) and mutashabihat (ambiguous verses). Nass literally means ‘something clear’ but theologically and judicially is ‘the text which conveys only one meaning’ or ‘whose meaning is the text itself’. It seems that Muhammad al-Shaybani (d. 804 CE), a student of Abu Hanifa, first used the term nass in his last work, al-Siyar al-Kabir (The Great Conduct), while earlier authorities used the term al-Kitab (the Quran) and Sunna (the conduct and sayings of the Prophet). The muhkam verses, according to the great ibn Jarir al-Tabari (d. 923 CE), contain messages that are clear in themselves and do not have more than one interpretation, but this Muhammad Asad considers ‘too dogmatic’. This seems to be true concerning the definition of nass, because there are many interpretations on the so called nassi and muhkam verses which include everything that is not mutashabih.
The mutashabihat are the ambiguous or allegorical verses that are traditionally understood to deal with the hidden, metaphysical themes such as the attributes of God, the ultimate meaning of time and eternity, the resurrection of the dead, from the realms of the ghayb. The aya muhkamat is the ‘essence of the divine writ’ (umm al-Kitab) (3:7) because, according to Asad, ‘they comprised the fundamental principles underlying the message, and in particular, its ethical and social teachings; and it is only on the basis on these clearly enunciated principles that the allegorical passages can be correctly interpreted.’ Ayoub notes that in this context some classical scholars even assert that the muhkam can abrogate the mutashabih.
The Quran is often interpreted by the deeds and sayings of Muhammad whose role as the transmitter and interpreter of the Quran is directly related to the office of prophethood. The Quran in many places ordered Muslims to obey God and Muhammad to the same degree and he is declared to be an excellent example to follow. Muhammad’s character when correctly conveyed by a tradition is the Quran. Al-Shafii gives a lengthy elucidation in which Muhammad’s practices explain numerous injunctions of the Quran, either by way of particularization, qualification or exception. Two examples will suffice to illustrate this: sura 4:12 indicatcs that a husband can inherit from a deceased wife after the settlement of any bequests and debts, but the sunna qualifies this by stipulating that any bequest could not exceed one-third of the estate, while payment of debt is the first priority in these transactions. And in 5:42 the sunna again qualifies the punishment of amputating the hands of thieves to cases of theft of well-protected property with a price of more than a quarter of a dinar.
Under this category comes the number of prayers, amount of zakat payment and the time limit for payment, Muhammad also made decisions on situations that were not covered by the Quranic text, as in his deciding in favour of al-Zubayr in the latter's land dispute with a man. In problems such as these, the prophets relied on his ijtihad.
A further source of interpretation of the Quran frequently employed by classical ulama relied on the examples and opinions of those who lived in the time of Muhammad – his companions.
All the above are fundamental ingredients in the traditional methodology of Quranic interpretation and understanding. Fortunately or unfortunately, almost all classical traditional exegesis of the Quran is based upon the thirty-volume work of Abu Jafar Muhammad al-tabari (d. 923 CE), which H. A. R. Gibb calls ‘a monument of scholarly piety, unequalled in his time or his kind’. al-Tabari brings together all the extant materials of traditional exegeses in his time with their different versions of contents and transmission chains (isnad). To illustrate a text, he provides simplifying paraphrases and lexical references including various poems. However, some of his authorities are weak having derived much of their material from the people of the Book, and this material is therefore rejected by scholars as israiliyat or Jewish lore. Despite the fact that he does not acknowledge all the isnads, the scope of his materials and his general critical and evaluative approach are of great importance.
Non-traditional interpretations (that is, tafsir bil-ray) which are based on intellectual reasoning, speculation or mystical intuition, continue to be attempted despite general prohibition by the more conservative scholars. The cornerstone for the argument against any form of Quranic understanding and interpretation beyond hadith materials is the hadith in which the Prophet said: ‘Whoever speaks concerning the Quran according to his own opinion [bi-rayihi], let him expect his seat in Hell.’ However, the seeds of this form of tafsir seem to have been sown in the earliest days of Islam. Certainly, the Quran itself, as I shall describe in some detail in the following chapter, tirelessly invites mankind to think and reflect upon its verses as well as on the natural, psychical and historical phenomena. So it is not surprising to find that the companions and early authorities often employed their independent reasoning (ijtihad of personal reasoning) to certain verses. For example, the prominent Mutazilite thinker, Abu al-Qasim Mahmud al-Zamakhshari (d. 1144 CE), relates in his monumental tafsir that Aisha, and Muawiya (the founder of the Ummayad Dynasty) described the Ascension of Muhammad to the Heavens as a spiritual journey; this idea runs counter to majority opinion. Mujahid ibn Jabr (d. 720 CE), a scholar and a trustworthy traditionalist, interpreted 2:65 (‘We said to them: Be as apes despicable!’) in a non-literal way: that is, that the status of those who transgressed divine command would be reduced to that of animals, but they were not physically transformed into apes. al-Ghazali (d. 1111 CE) is thus correct in his criticism of the traditionalist position in attacking tafsir bil-ray and deduction (istinbat). He proposed that one should not use the Quran to support preconceived ideas as may happen unconsciously where a verse may have two meanings, one of which closely corresponds to one’s preconceived views. Those who are not properly equipped with the knowledge of the Quran should refrain from interpreting it.
Unfortunately, al-Ghazali’s fears were realized to an extent, as can be seen in the treatment of the Quran by different Muslim intellectuals, be they orthodox Mutakallimun (theologians), speculative sufis, rationalist Mutazilite theologians, philosophers, and the Shia. However, this fact cannot distract us from appreciating the brilliant insights and positive contributions that some of these groups have made on different aspects of the Quran in their attempts to fathom its wisdom as well as to deal with the political-intellectual and spiritual problems of their time. Gatje is perhaps quite accurate in observing that while the interpretation of the Quran is not limited to comprehensive works of the commentaries, but is also to be round in theological, judicial and mystical works, nevertheless the appearance of the more significant Quran commentaries often marks the end or the high point of a theological development.
Attempts to derive inspiration from the Quran and prophetic tradition and then apply them to the entire spectrum of human experience are instigated by the Quran itself, which proclaims that it is an exposition for all things (tibyan likulli shay), as guidance and mercy (16:89), in which nothing is neglected. The development of myriad branches of knowledge in Islam is ample testimony to this fact. Even as early as the thirteenth century there was some kind of scientific Quranic exegesis which certainly predates the impact of Western technology and scientific achievements on the Islamic world. Shara al-Din al-Mursi (d. 1275,CE) relates to the Quran not only the arts of astronomy, medicine, weaving, spinning, seafaring, and agriculture as practised during his time but also such skills as pearl-diving (by combining suras 38:37 and 16:14). This development, though not very common, fits well with the general development in law, philology, lexicography, and prophetic medicine. al-Ghazali, in his Kitab Jawahir al-Quran, underlines the importance of contemporary sciences in understanding the Quran: ‘The Quran becomes transparent only to those who have studied the sciences, which are extracted from it.’ For example, the meaning of sura 26:80, ‘ . . . who, when I am sick, giveth me health’ could not be properly understood without the knowledge of medicine. Similarly, the real meaning of the solar and lunar movements (55:5), the merging of the night into the day (35:13), and so forth, could be fully understood only by astronomers, thus affirming a complete harmony between many Quranic sciences and natural and positive sciences.
The subsequent mushrooming of modern scientific exegesis from the last half of the nineteenth century until the present should be viewed as a continuous development of creative activity. The appearance of Sayyid Ahmad Khan’s (d. 1898 CE) six-volume exegesis of the first seventeen suras in 1880 is, according to J. M. S. Baljon, ‘the initial date of deliberate modern Koran interpretation’. In 1880 also, an Egyptian physician named Muhammad ibn Ahmad al-Iskandari published a book entitled Kashf al-Asrar al-Nuraniyya al-Quraniyya (The Unveiling of the Luminous Secrets of the Quran). Jensen thought that he was ‘the First Koran interpreter who treats of non-Arab occidental sciences in his Koran commentary’. The works of Sheikh Muhammad Abdu (d. 1905) Tantawi Jawhari (d. 1940), Ghulam Ahmad Parwez (d. 1908), Muhammad Farid Wajdi (d. 1940) also played a prominent part in popularizing the scientific interpretation of the Quran. According to Jensen, Farid Wajdi's commentary of the Quran is possibly ‘one of the earliest Koran commentaries in which modern natural history is just one aspect of Koran interpretation’. The works of Dr Abd al-Aziz Ismail, Abd al Rahman al-Kawakibi, Mustafa Sadiq al-Rifii, or Hanafi Ahmad were devoted exclusively to this kind of exegesis.
Basically, this genre of tafsir gives the Muslim community encouragement in that it is evident that their religion, because it originates from God, not only provides guidance for socio-moral and spiritual life but also for all realms of human endeavour, including science and technology. It is both a process of action and reaction. It acts upon the intellectual malaise and conservatism that arrested the development of the Muslim umma and which ultimately made it incapable of resisting the imperialistic onslaughts of the West. Western administrators, scholars, and missionaries pointed to the inadaptability and inflexibi1ity of Islam and its institutions and this induced an apologetic response in some of these Muslim authors.
However, the case with which many of these writers ‘reconcile’ modern scientific discoveries, observations or even theories with the Quranic dicta-from the Muhammad Abdu’s classic equation of jinn with microbes, to Muhammad al-Banna’s reading of aeroplanes in 17:1, artificial satellites in 41:53, and interplanetary travel in 55:33 – must have surprised many a Westerner in the light of the difficulties Western Christianity and the Church has had with science since the days of Galileo. The easy and attractive, albeit sometimes bizarre, approach of these Muslims should not, however, be trivialized by labelling it as apologetic because their contributions have often been positive.
Their ideas gave Muslims confidence since they could show that the Quran contains progressive elements that the superior West has only recently discovered. Furthermore, these efforts excite the educated Muslims minds to go back to religious sources for a reassertion of their intellectual, cultural, and historical identity. It is not a coincidence that the current defiant attitude of Islamic revivalism has its immediate roots in the works of modernist thinkers and apologists, in the scientific, political, or cultural fields, such as in the above mentioned works, or those of Muhammad lqbal, Sayyid Ameer Ali, and numerous others. Admitting their lack of systemization and, with few exceptions, their lack of intellectual originality, these efforts, in a sense, follow the earlier endeavours of the Muslim falasifa, mutakallimun, and sufis in dealing with the intellectual and spiritual challenges facing them. Although it has been pointed out by many scholars that none of these groups has done total justice to the true weltanschauung of the Quran.
However, the criticisms of the Egyptian scholar, Amin al-Khuli, that this genre is philologically unsound because the Quran addressed the Arab contemporaries of Muhammad and thus cannot contain anything that they would be unable to understand, should not be accepted in toto either. al-Khuli’s observations are not valid for several reasons. Firstly, it is a historical fact that the companions and the People of the Book asked the Prophet the meanings of certain things. This means that even the Prophet’s contemporaries did not understand the Quran without the Prophet’s guidance. Secondly, certain Quranic statements, particularly on scientific matters such as the detailed accounts of the physiological development of the human embryo, the creation, astronomy, the explanation of certain matters coneerning the animal and vegetable kingdoms, accord completely with the modern scientific facts, certainly indicate that this kind of information could not have been fully understood at the time of revelation.
The Quran (36:36) in mentioning the existence of couples or polarities in all creations alludes to the fact that man during the Prophet’s time did not know certain aspects of creation: ‘Glory be to Him Who has created opposites in whatever the earth produces, in men’s own selves, and in that of which they have no knowledge.’ The full wisdom of the decree forbidding the consumption of alcohol and gambling – because their evil is greater than their good (2:219) – could not have been comprehended as fully by the Prophet's companions as by us today.
The Prophet as a Source of Knowledge
In our previous discussion on the methodology of classical interpretation of the Quran, the role and function of the Prophet as the interpreter par excellence was briefly mentioned. Muhammad is called ‘an excellent example’ (uswa hasana) by the Quran (33:21) as was Ibrahim and those who were with him (60:4, 6). The elevated status of the Prophet Muhammad as the model of the highest Islamic socio-moral piety and the leader of the community has been consistently supported by the Quran: ‘Say [O Muhammad], “If you (all) love God, then follow me…”’; ‘Say [O Muhammad]: Obey God and His Apostle’ (3:31-32; 4:58; 5:59, etc.). al-Shafii said that those who were learned in the Quran in his times equated wisdom – which appears in conjunction with the mentioning of the Book of God – with the Sunna of the Prophet. This is expressed in several places including 2:146:
And also we have sent among you an Apostle, one of yourselves, recite to you Our signs, and purify you, to teach you the Book and the Wisdom, and to teach you what you did not know.
It was natural for contemporaries of the Prophet to consult him on all matters of concern and abide by his orders and suggestions. But it is widely known that on several occasions they tried to distinguish between Muhammad’s personal opinions and revelation. For example, al-Hubab b. al-Mundhir asked the Prophet if his decision to camp before the battle of Badr was based on God’s command or whether it was a matter of opinion and military strategy. When the Prophet affirmed that the latter was the case, al-Hubab suggested a better strategy with which the Prophet concurred.
The question arises as to what status should be accorded to the Prophetic Sunna. What imperative does knowledge obtained from authentic traditions of his conduct and sayings carry? The answers to these questions are particularly important to modern Muslims in the wake of the spirited resurgence of movements which are seeking to return to the Quran and Sunna. Already we have observed the prevalence of certain groups who maintain that Muslims should follow everything that the Prophet and his companions did – including eating with three fingers and using miswak (a toothbrush made from a sweet-smelling tree-branch). Another student group, when reviewing a speech by a well-known Southeast Asian Muslim scholar, Cesar Adib Majul, were shocked to find that he had mentioned that the Prophet Muhammad was not sent to be a military general, but a prophet; hence he was not to be judged in the former category. Another prominent group, the Darul Arqam of Malaysia, follow the Sunna keenly. Not only do they wear Arab-style robes and headgear and promote polygamous marriages, but they have recently revived the sunna of horse-riding by buying nine polo horses for which every member is requested to pay twenty-five dollars a year.
It is not my intention here to go into the nature of prophecy in Islam, which has been hotly debated by Muslim theologians and philosophers, particularly on the issues of selection for prophetic office and the possibility of supernatural miracles. My primary interest is to examine the nature and extent of the relevance and normativeness of the Sunna as a source of knowledge and guidance. Naturally, I shall look at the nature of prophetic knowledge and the concept of isma (immunity from error).
The Quran is replete with reminders that Muhammad (like all prophets) was merely a man whose distinction, apart from his naturally good disposition, was that he was the recipient of revelation (17:93; 18:110; 41:6). He did not have any power to benefit or harm anybody, nor did he possess powers of the unseen (7:188; 10:49; 6:35; 17:75, 86 and 72:21). How reliable and normative then would be the knowledge of the Prophet beside that of revelation (the Quran)? Could he have been mistaken in matters not pertaining to revelation?
It was natural for the companions to ask the Prophet for guidance, and they obeyed his decisions and suggestions; but I have also noted that they made a clear distinction between his personal and his revelatory speech. While many of them copied or memorized the Quran, very few wrote down a compilation of the Prophet’s non-revelatory personal speech, although they must have obviously memorized and internalized the conduct and sayings of their beloved leader and Prophet of God.
al-Shafii maintains that the Prophet’s knowledge consists of revelation that is recited (the Quran), and that which is not recited (in the form of Sunna). The latter explain the former and also take on an obligatory status. However, a distinction should be made between those aspects that cannot be correctly understood by human minds such as those limited to matters of belief and ritual worship as well as principles of socio-ethical conduct and fields of human cognition and experience that are open to further knowledge. Thus, Shah Waliy Allah, for example, divides the prophetic sciences into two. First is the knowledge that serves to propagate the message, which includes the sciences for the next life and the wonders of the malakut, all of which are direct results of revelation. It also includes divine laws, the setting down of which are based on revelation, while others are based on the Prophet’s ijtihad (personal intellectual reasoning). But this ijtihad at the level of revelation, for the Prophet was protected from error. Moreover, his ijtihad was not based on any textual evidence because he had already been taught ‘the goals of the law and precepts of the legislation and the orders’. In this category are the rules that are not tied to any general principles, and the general salutary purposes and practical virtues.
The second category of prophetic sciences, according to Shah Waliy Allah, is that which is not related to the propagation of the message. He quoted two sayings of the Prophet Muhammad: ‘I am only a man, and when I order you with something according to my own opinion, then I am only a man.’ The other supporting hadith is that relating to the well-known case of his failed advice against artificial pollination of date-palms: ‘I only thought a thought, so don't blame me for that idea, but if I tell you something about Allah, then accept [it], for I will never lie about God.’ His opinions on these matters were based on experience, custom, and exigential considerations (such as medicine and military strategy). This also includes certain rulings and particular decrees (for example, in social arbitration) in which the Prophet would make decisions based on evidence presented to him.
Shah Waliy Allah’s description of the first category of prophetic sciences as are compiled in hadith is similar to al-Shafii’s description of Sunna as the interpretation of the Quran. Indeed, according to Sa’ad al-Din al-Taftazani (d. 1386 CE), there is an overwhelming consensus among Muslims that it is impossible for the Prophet to commit any major errors in areas pertaining to the laws, judgement and guidance. All prophets, by the internal logic of their function, are preserved from errors in this category. Any news regarding falsehood and/or disobedience on their part is to be rejected if recorded by individual traditions, or interpreted away from the literal meaning if recorded in tawatur traditions (those with continuous and numerous chains of transmission), if possible. Otherwise it is to be explained as a case of doing the lesser of two evils, or as something that happened before their mission. Using this method, Prophet Musa’s (Moses) accidental killing of a man before he was elected for prophetic office can be seen in its proper perspective. The idea of isma seems to be systematically developed in the theological tract, Fiqh Akbar 11, attributed to Imam Abu Hanifah (d. 767 CE). The eighth article of this tract stipulates that all prophets are immune from all sins but they may stumble or make mistakes. The areas in which they may err are certainly not those that would compel people to forsake them (like debauchery, unbelief, vices, and petty sins like stealing or giving short measure). Shah Waliy Allah places these in the second category of prophetic sciences – sciences where there exists the possibility of error but which do not hinder the essential authority and dignity of the message. However, the prophets, being human, are not free from the motivation to err or from reaching the brink of an error. This can be seen from the evidence or the Quran itself as well as in the record of the prophetic struggle. Let us take the case of the Prophet Muhammad himself.
From the internal evidence of the Quran itself (with the assistance of ‘occasions of revelations’, it is quite apparent that the Prophet Muhammad was corrected on several occasions, all of which emphasize his humanity. For example, in his eagerness to succeed in his message, he ignored Abd al-Allah ibn al-Maktum over an important Quraish elite (80:1-10). On another occasion, he was tempted to compromise with the Quraish in order to gain their conversion (68:9; 17: 73, 73-5); and in his tenderness he chose to obtain ransom for his prisoners from the battle of Badr rather than kill them (8:67).
It is well known that he sought the counsel of his companions in war matters at Badr, Uhud, Khandaq, as well as in the determination of the specific Muslim prayer-call. In judging between contending parties, he seemed to indicate that he based his decisions upon evidence and testimony available to him. Therefore he urged those involved to be truthful and sincere in their testimony. As ibn Khaldun (d. 1406 CE) and Shah Waliy Allah (d. 1767 CE) have indicated, the Prophet’s utterances and practices on medicine (as found in the collection of tibb nabawi) are based mostly on Arab customs, and not revelation. The Prophet also made sharp observations on the practices of the Romans and Persians on family matters. In the Sahih of Muslim (d. 875 CE), the second most authoritative hadith collection after the Sahih of Al-Bukhari (d. 870 CE), the Prophet calmed down a man who feared that his practising azl (coitus interruptus) might harm his wife, by remarking: ‘If it is harmful, certainly it would [also] have harmed the Persians and the Romans.’ It is also narrated that Prophet initially intended to forbid the practice of ghila (having sexual intercourse with a pregnant wife) fearing that it might affect the offspring, but refrained from forbidding it upon observing that no harmful effects ensued when the Persians and Romans practised it. It seems safe to deduce that the Prophet’s decisions to forbid or approve of certain practices for the health and general welfare of his umma depended on the prevailing ideas of his time and his assessment concerning them.
In the categories of human affairs outside belief, ritual worship, and principles of ethico-moral conduct, the prophets were liable to make mistakes which would not warrant God’s interference. This so-called non-religious realm, for lack or a better term (since there is no watertight compartmentalization between the religious and the worldly in Islam), includes such diverse fields such as medicine, civil administration, crafts, agriculture, judicial matters, diplomatic and military affairs. The Prophetic practices and utterances in these matters are regarded as beneficial not in the literal sense, but in our fathoming the purposes of a superior social leader. The fact that some or many of the Sunna in these areas may not be literally applicable does not in any way reduce the authority of the Prophet’s personality and teachings.
Shah Waliy Allah alludes to the primary objectives of prophecy and the realities of his immediate audience when he states that prophetic conduct was concerned only with spiritual upliftment and proper community development; not with the explanation for atmospheric events like rain and eclipses, the cause of daily events and even history and geography. Moreover, the existence of a unique genre of hadith called hadith qudsi, whose contents are directly inspired by God to the Prophet who in turn articulated them in his own words, testify to the fact that there is a major distinction within prophetic sayings. The contents of hadith qudsi consists primarily of exhortations that were almost exclusively concerned with practical aspects of religious life and its duties, the love of man for God and vice-versa, the need to beseech God’s help and His forgiveness, and the proper attitude of Muslims towards God.
It is for these reasons that scholars like Ibn Khaldun, Qadi lyad, the prominent Maliki Jurist of Spain (d. 1149 CE), the Mutazilite Qadi Abd al-Jabbar (d. 1025 CE), Shah Waliy Allah, Muhammad Abu Zahra and Muhammad Sulayman al-Ashqar generally hold this view. These scholars did not question the authenticity of hadith in these categories as long as they passed the normal isnad criticisms. However, they did not consider that these practices or sayings of the Prophet carry normative obligations. Ibn Khaldun, while speaking of prophetic medicine transmitted through a sound tradition, stressed its non-scientific nature and dismissed its obligatoriness, but pointed out that it might be beneficial if applied with deep faith. On the other hand, Rashid Rida (d. 1935) proposed that many traditions of sound isnads ought to be submitted to a renewed textual criticism because isnad criticism alone was insufficient.
Certainly, the concept of checking important information in Islam exists in the Quran itself as indicated by 49:6, ‘O ye who believe! If an evil man comes to you bringing a news, then check it or verify it.’ Classical interpreters add the qualification that if a truthful person brings the news, then there is no necessity to verify it. Perhaps this stimulated the muhaddithun to place heavier emphasis on isnad criticism, that is, on the chain of transmission and quality of transmitters compared to the textual (matn) criticism. During the time of the Prophet and immediately after, close companions like Abu Bakr, Umar, Ali and Aisha, and Abu Hurairah were already practising an informal form of checking by questioning and confirming with the Prophet, or comparing with each other. This method involved comparisons between hadith of different students of one scholar, statements of a single scholar at different times, the written documents and oral tradition and the related hadith, and the relevant text of the Quran. Formal and systematic science of hadith criticisms developed only in the early third century AH/ninth century CE.
The critical investigation of isnad caused hadith scholars (Muhaddithun) to travel far and wide, not only to ascertain the names and relevant biographical data of the authorities in order to investigate when and where they lived, and their mutual acquaintances, but also to test truthfulness and accuracy in textual transmission to ensure their reliability. This is called al-jarh wal-tadil (wounding and authentication). The ‘knowledge of transmitters’ became eminently important in this science and numerous works, called tabaqat have been devoted to the lives of classical scholars. Hadith are therefore graded according to the authority of the continuity of their transmissional lines and the reliability of their transmitters. The following categories are classified according to their transmissional chain:
1. Mutawatir: a hadith transmitted by numerous chains of transmission, anywhere from four to several hundreds. They have attained a status of certainty because it is inconceivable that people could agree on a lie. Mutawatir by wording is very few; the majority of mutawatir are by meaning, (i.e. all chains of transmission carry the same meaning even with different wording);
2. Mashhur (well-known): a hadith which is transmitted by three or more reliable people at every stage;
3. Aziz: a hadith transmitted by at least two reliable transmitters in any generation, but not as widely disseminated as in the first two categories;
4. Gharib: in general, a rare tradition with a single transmitter either through its isnad, after a companion, or at any stage;
5. Ahad: a hadith with a single transmitter. Some scholars like Azami and Siddiqi include in ahad traditions hadith having one to four transmitters in the first three generations. The mutawatir and mashhur traditions are recognized by all schools or thought to be the second most important source of knowledge in Islam. The ahad traditions are accepted as being superior to analogy by all major Sunni schools apart from the Malikis. Hanafis also reject ahad hadith if it contradicts certain Sharia principles derived from an accepted Quranic or hadith text. The acceptability however, depends on the transmitter; he or she should be a Muslim of sound mind, trustworthy, and well-known for accuracy, and the hadith should be corroborated by reason;
6. Marfu is a tradition that goes back to the Prophet, but the isnad is broken;
7. Mauquf hadiths go back to the generation of the companions, while maqtu to the successor only;
8. Mursal is a tradition whose transmitter jumps from the successor directly to the Prophet, dropping the companions. Mu’allaq has an isnad which omits one or more authorities, specifically called munqati if one is missing, mu'dal if two are missing:
9. Mu'an'an: an isnad which uses the term an indicating the lack of explicit method of hadith reception;
10. Musalsal is a tradition whose transmitters have a similar background or did similar things while narrating.
A hadith is accepted (maqbul) either as sahih (authentic), or hasan (agreeable/beautiful) or mardud (rejected). A sahih tradition should possess an uninterrupted isnad, should not be isolated (shadh) and/or should not have any hidden defect such as a trustworthy scholar’s attributing a companion’s tradition to a prophetic one. A sahih hadith should also not contradict the general Islamic we1tanschaunng. If a hadith is not totally faultless, for example, if its isnad is not totally complete or there is disagreement on the reliability of its authorities, then it is called hasan. If there is serious doubt about discontinuity in the narration, or isnad or other complexities, then the hadith is called weak (daif). Weak hadiths may be accepted if they are corroborated by stronger hadith. Hadiths that are totally unacceptable are spurious ones narrated by liars and forgerers.
The genuineness of the isnad still does not guarantee textual reliability. This fact is recognized by classical traditionalists; for example, Ibn al-Jauzi (d. 1020 CE) and Abu Bakr b. al-Tayyib (d. 10 13 CE). Ibn al-Jauzi, as quoted by al-Suyuti in his Tadrib al-Rowi said: ‘If you find a hadith contrary to reason, or to what has been established to be correctly reported, or against accepted principles, then you should know that it is forged.’ Ibn al-Tayyib suggests that the signs of forged hadith are that they offend reason and common experience, or they are contrary to explicit Quranic text, or the mutawatir traditions or consensus. Other signs of forged hadith include a single report about an eminently public event, or hadith stipulating severe punishments for minor faults, or promises of high rewards for insignificant deeds. Ibn al-Qayyim al-Jauziyya would in addition reject a hadith with an ‘inadequate’ style or if it ‘sounds like the sayings of mystics or medical practitioners’. Siddiqi also rejects those hadith that talk about the virtues of certain Quran chapters, persons, tribes, or particular places, as well as those with detailed prophecies or future events and dates.
Thus, Sahih al-Bukhari, which is considered the most authoritative and scrupulous collection of authentic hadiths and ranks second only to the Quran according to the majority of Muslims, contains hadiths that have been rejected by prominent scholars. For example, Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani (d. 1449 CE) rejected a hadith indicating Adam’s height to be sixty yards on the basis of archaeological or historical fact. The Quranic injunction in 49:9 – ‘And if two parties of believers fall into fighting, then make peace between them’ – was interpreted by a hadith as referring to the quarrel between the faction of Abd Allah b. Ubayy and the Prophet’s companions. However, this was rejected on historical grounds by Ibn Battal because at the time of the revelation of this aya, Abd Allah had not yet accepted Islam; even outwardly, al-Nawawi, Ibn Abd al-Barr, Ibn al-Athir and al-Shaukani all rejected a hadith which predicted that had lbrahim, the only son of the Prophet, lived, he would have been a prophet. Also, Ibn Hajar reports that al-Ismaili rejected a hadith which stated that the Prophet Ibrahim prayed on the Day of Judgement: ‘O Lord, Thou hast promised that thou would not humiliate me on the Day of Judgement. Ahmad Ibn Ali al-Jassas (d. 981 CE), a celebrated Hanafi jurist, rejected a hadith in al-Bukhari which supported the existence of sorcery. He said that it was a fabrication because the Quran in 20:69 indicates the non-reality of sorcery, and that the traditions suggesting that the Prophet had been affected by a witch are baseless. According to the Quran, sorcery has a psychological efficacy, not a concrete one. Fakhr al-Din al-Razi and others rejected a hadith considered genuine by others concerning the Prophet’s alleged praise of the Meccan idols while reciting the Quran to the polytheists. The orthodox scholar Taqi al-Din ibn Taimiyya (d. 1328 CE) rejected what was most probably a Sufi hadith (‘he who loved, kept clean, and died, is a martyr’) with the remark that even if the isnad were as bright as the sun, it would still be wrong and fictitious.
It seems that classical ulama and traditionalists had viable criteria for evaluating both the isnad and matn (textual contents of hadith), as described earlier. Unfortunately, the over-emphasis on the authority of isnad, and the lack of proper analysis of Prophetic sciences (with the exception of perhaps Ibn Khaldun and Shah Waliy Allah), led to the criteria established for matn criticism oftentimes becoming entangled, and opposing reason, experience, and historicity. As in the case with the Quran, the modern hermeneutical methods that need to be developed do not necessarily have to be totally independent of the classical efforts, rather, they should provide valuable sources of references in this endeavour. If the great al-Ghazali, in defending the right of disinterested and non-traditional tafsir, rejected the normativeness of earlier authorities, then the authorities that come later could be referred to, but do not necessarily carry normative status as well. It is in this spirit, that Shah Waliy Allah’s method of Quranic studies – the first that required the Quran to be studied by itself independently of any tafsir that was utilized as secondary material – is truly profound. Professor Fazlur Rahman, in his call for a new methodology of hermeneutics on the Quran, carries the Shah’s initiative several steps further. In Islam and Modernity he points out that the classical Quranic exegesis may contain pears of insight and historical information, but as a whole ‘impedes rather than promotes a real understanding of the Quran’. Nevertheless, he recommends that the efforts of historic Islam be not ignored because they gave continuity to the intellectual and spiritual being of the Muslim Umma. However in order to advance forward, it is necessary that all efforts of historic Islam must be judged by the Quran, which should be understood in the context of its socio-historical milieu and its general weltanschauung.