Home / Current Affairs / [al-Taḥawiyyah Pt 33] Raising the Conflict Between Reason & Revelation part 2/2

[al-Taḥawiyyah Pt 33] Raising the Conflict Between Reason & Revelation part 2/2

It is not the role of the intellect to legislate and formulate religious prescriptions independent of revelation. Regarding the case of the scholars (mujtahidūn) who are able to exercise legal reasoning (ijtihād) based on their intimate knowledge of the Sacred Texts and the legislative reasonings (‘illal) behind injunctions, the intellect does plays a greater role here. However, it is still operating within the realm of revelation and not independently. Moreover, revelation itself commands that legal reasoning be applied in certain cases.

True intellectual liberation cannot come from following the philosophies and ideas of one’s mind or from disbelieving nations, for every man errs and makes mistakes. As for the ideas, thoughts, and principles that are found in revelation, they come from a Divine infallible source. Revelation therefore deserves to be placed over and above human intellect if any perceived conflict was found between the two sources. Furthermore, the Prophets came with knowledge which reason could not attain in and of itself, such as knowledge about the Creator, the Hereafter, the Unseen (ghayb), and so on; never did they come with what reason considers to be impossible.

The reality is that reason is a prerequisite to all knowledge, as with it we acquire knowledge; however, it is not sufficient by itself. It is only a faculty of the soul, a power like the power of vision in the eye. It works only when it receives light from faith (imān) and revelation, just as the eye sees only when it receives light. Therefore, true enlightenment does not come from submission to that which errs, may speak from conjecture, or is prone is external influences; rather it comes from submission to the All-Mighty, the All-Wise.

 Points of Benefit

1) Though this point of the author supplements the previous point on the Beatific Seeing of Allāh, it deserves to be given attention in its own right due to its importance and the ramifications unreserved submission (al-taslīm al-mulaq) has on the rest of a person’s religion.

2) The use of one’s ‘aql or rational faculties has been praised in the Qur’ān and never been dispraised:

“With clear signs and Books (We sent the Messengers). And We have also sent down unto you (O Muhammad) the Dhikr [reminder and the advice (the Qur’ān)], that you may explain clearly to men what is sent down to them, and that they may give thought.” [1]

“…Verily, in these things, there are Ayāt (proofs, evidences, lessons, signs, etc.) for people who reflect. [2]

“Those who remember Allāh (always, and in prayers) standing, sitting, and lying down on their sides, and think deeply about the creation of the heavens and the earth, (saying): “Our Lord! You have not created (all) this without purpose, glory to You! (Exalted are You above all that they associate with You as partners). Give us salvation from the torment of the Fire.” [3]

3) Our subjective perception of matters (based on our ‘aql) should accord with the texts of Islām (the naql). If they do not match, we should affirm the texts and their meanings instead of rejecting them based on our ‘aql, as often our subjective understanding of matters is at fault due to its limited and subjective nature. One must not conclude that the texts of Islām are not in accordance with rationality if they do not match our subjective rational analysis.

A hypothetical example would be where a person from an Amazon tribe untouched by modern society but who sees a person using a mobile phone would struggle to explain this phenomenon to his fellow tribesmen upon his return; they would use their ‘aql to deny that an inanimate item made of metal or some other substance can speak. This would be a legitimate exercise of their ‘aql according to such tribesmen, but because their understanding and knowledge is limited, their conclusions are flawed.

Similarly the authentic texts of Islām are from a divine source who is the All Knowing, the Wise, and therefore our subjective ‘aql cannot always comprehend a text fully, but provided it is authentic it must be accepted. One must therefore subscribe to the beliefs and the authentic texts of Islām fully without contradiction from one’s own subjective thoughts.

A practical example would be the ḥadīth of where a fly falls into one’s food or drink, as the ḥadīth apparently counter-intuitively instructs one to dip the fly completely into the food or drink before disposing of it. However, modern scientific research has now confirmed that the surface area of house flies and other types of flies have a powerful antibiotic and anti-pathogenic substances (designed to protect the fly from the typical environments in which it operates). It is only therefore in modern times that this type of research has confirmed the text of the ḥadīth, therefore those who in the past may have questioned it based on their limited knowledge and experience would have been wrong to do so.

4) Not only do Muslims believe in the words and expressions used in revelation to describe Allāh and the Unseen, we also believe in the apparent meaning behind those words and expressions. As for the reality of how these words manifest and their subsequent modality, this is something unknown to any save Allāh. The meanings however, are known and understood by the language of the Arabs. The Early Muslims (salaf), and in particular the Companions of the Prophet (Ṣallāhu ‘alayhi wa salam), had a better grasp of this language than anyone else who came after them and therefore their level and depth of understanding of Allāh’s Attributes as explained in Revelation will continue to reign supreme until the end of time. No one understood the Religion as deeply and as profoundly as they did and no aspect of the Religion was an exception to this.

5) It was the scholars of speculative theology (mutakallimūn) who were the first to construct this false dichotomy between reason and revelation and as a result they institutionalised figurative interpretation of Revelation. Their approach then paved the way for an even more extreme sect who not only figuratively interpreted God’s Attributes but Revelation in its entirety. They became not as al-Bāṭiniyyah, the Esotericists. “Establish the prayers” no longer meant offer the five daily prayers but rather ‘believe in the five: ‘Ali, Ḥasan, Ḥusaīn, Fāṭimah, and Muḥsin’, they claimed that there is no such thing as resurrection, and so they destroyed every aspect of the Religion through re-interpretation.

6) The Prophet (Ṣallāhu ‘alayhi wa salam) created a culture of confidence within his Companions such that they would ask and enquire about matters they felt were obscure or vague. Furthermore, there are detailed accounts of instances wherein the Companions misunderstood an aspect of the Religion and the Prophet (Ṣallāhu ‘alayhi wa salam) came to know of it and subsequently clarified the matter. Such insight into the lives of the Companions and their relationship with the Prophet (Ṣallāhu ‘alayhi wa salam) highlight an important point that relates to hermeneutics and false interpretation. The fact that the Companions would ask the Prophet (Ṣallāhu ‘alayhi wa salam) about matters that they were unsure of implies that they were collectively very sure with regards to their belief in the attributes of Allāh. Once, a Companion asked the Prophet (Ṣallāhu ‘alayhi wa salam) about the word sabīl from the Quranic verse, ‘Hajj to the House is a duty owed to Allāh by all mankind – those who can find a way (sabīl)’, and the Prophet (Ṣallāhu ‘alayhi wa salam) explained it to mean, ‘provision and a mount’. If this is the case when it came to a peripheral matter of Religion, how much more so does it relate to the fundamentals such as belief in God Himself. Moreover, the fact that Allāh, through His Prophet, would not allow the Companions to hold on to misconstrued beliefs about the Religion indicates that holding a theological position clearly distinct from that of the Companions is plain heresy. The alternative would be to claim that the Companions remained confused, or lacked a clear understanding, on the idea of God’s attributes (otherwise termed the doctrine of tafwī) during the life of their Prophet and continued in this way until their demise.

7) If it was wrong to understand God’s attributes based on the first meaning that comes to one’s mind when reading of them the Prophet (Ṣallāhu ‘alayhi wa salam) would have stated that in clear terms. He would have told his followers: ‘Do not hold on the apparent meanings (dhāhir) behind the words and expressions used to describe Allāh in Revelation.’

8) According to the scholars of speculative theology (mutakallimūn), when Allāh said He is al-‘Alī it does not mean His Essence is most High but rather it means He is the Supremely Overpowering or that He is the Supreme One in terms of rank. Technically, what this means is that whenever Allāh said He is al-‘Alī, He was in fact saying: Believe that I am most high in terms of my might and ability to overpower and certainly not in terms of literal highness and of being above My creation. If this was the case, would not the Prophet (Ṣallāhu ‘alayhi wa salam) whose main mission was to the explain the religion to mankind have clarified this meaning and warned against misunderstanding this attribute of God? According to the scholars of speculative theology (mutakallimūn) not only would believing in the apparent meaning be wrong it would be an act of disbelief as it would entail anthropomorphising God. If this was really the consequence of misunderstanding the attribute, and others like it such as ascension (istiwā), would the Qur’ān not have qualified this instead of leaving it open to be easily misread?

Source: www.islam21c.com

Sheikh Haitham al-Haddad’s explanation of al-’Aqīdah al-Ṭaḥāwiyyah, edited by Asim Khan, will soon be published as a hardback book. Islam21c have exclusive rights to share extracts from the book for its readers, and will be posting certain sections of the book on a weekly basis. The book: al-’Aqīdah al-Ṭaḥāwiyyah, is a short text outlining the ‘aqīdah of Ahl al-Sunnah in short statements. Each extract posted is a complete explanation of any one of those statements.


[1]  al-Naḥl 16:44

[2] al-Ra‘d 13:3

[3]  Āl-‘Imrān 3:191


About Shaikh (Dr) Haitham Al-Haddad

Dr. Haitham al-Haddad is a jurist and serves as a judge for the Islamic Council of Europe. He has studied the Islamic sciences for over 20 years under the tutelage of renowned scholars such as the late Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia as well as the retired Head of the Kingdom's Higher Judiciary Council. He specialises in many of the Islamic sciences and submitted his doctoral thesis on Islamic jurisprudence concerning Muslim minorities. Shaikh Haitham is highly respected having specialised knowledge in the field of fiqh, usul al-fiqh, maqasid al-shari'ah, ulum al-Qur’an, tafsir, aqidah, and fiqh al-hadith. He provides complex theories which address the role of Islamic jurisprudence within a western environment whilst also critically re-analysing the approach of Islamic jurists in forming legal rulings (ifta’) within a western socio-political context. He has many well known students most of whom are active in dawah and teaching in the West. The shaikh is an Islamic jurist (faqih) and as such is qualified to deliver verdicts as a judge under Islamic law, a role he undertakes at the Islamic Council of Europe as Islamic judge and treasurer. Dr Haitham al-Haddad also sits on various the boards of advisors for Islamic organisations, mainly in the United Kingdom but also around the world.

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