Home / Current Affairs / [al-Taḥawiyyah Pt 33] Removing the Conflict Between Reason & Revelation part 1/2

[al-Taḥawiyyah Pt 33] Removing the Conflict Between Reason & Revelation part 1/2

وَلا يَثْبُتُ قَدَمُ الإِسْلامِ إِلاَّ عَلَى ظَهْرِ التَّسْليمِ وَالاسْتِسْلامِ

The foundation of Islām is not made firm except with the support of unreserved assent and submission to Allāh.

The author meant by this statement that the matters of faith (imān) and Islām; be that from the fundamentals (usūl) or from the secondary matters (furū’), will never be planted firmly inside a believer until and unless he shows unreserved reverence and submission to the Lord of the Worlds. The more compromised a person’s submission is to Allāh, the more problematic and troublesome he finds aspects of His Religion. This is a universal truth that transcends time and even scriptures. The importance of this point in shaping a pure belief in Allāh cannot be overstated and it would have been better for it to have been articulated as a separate point in its own right at the very beginning.

All religions revealed by Allāh are subject to this principle of unreserved submission, for all these religions are built upon faith (imān) in the Unseen (ghayb). This is why in the Qur’ān, belief in the Unseen was mentioned before anything else: ‘Alif Lam Mim. That is the Book, without any doubt. It contains guidance for those who have taqwa: ‘those who have faith in the Unseen and establish prayer and spend from what We have provided for them’. [1]

The Prophet (Ṣallāhu ‘alayhi wa salam) taught his Companions that faith comprises of six articles, all of which relate to the Unseen (ghayb): All Mighty Allāh, His Angels, Hellfire and Paradise, His Scriptures (Kutub, even those unknown), His Prophets (including those unknown), and His Divine Decree (qadar). Therefore, to acquire sound and pure faith, one needs to show complete and unreserved submission to Allāh and His Religion. The only viable manner in which a person can do this is to adhere firmly to the Sacred Text that Allāh revealed to mankind. It is by submitting to the Sacred Texts: the Qur’ān and the Sunnah, that a person shows true submission to Allāh.

The very word Islām linguistically means submission (istislām) to the Will of Allāh. This is the word that Allāh chose to name His Religion with: ‘Truly, the religion with Allāh is Islām’[2].

The Qur’ān speaks of unreserved submission to the Creator in countless places and clarifies that wholehearted resignation to the Will of Allāh is the essence of faith (īmān). In the Quranic chapter al-Nisā, Allāh says: ‘No, by your Lord, they are not true believers until they make you their judge in the disputes that break out between them, and then find no resistance within themselves to what you decide and submit themselves completely[3]. Likewise Allāh, Exalted is He, also said: ‘When Allāh and His Messenger have decided something it is not for any man or woman from the believers to have a choice about it. Anyone who disobeys Allāh and His Messenger is clearly misguided.’[4]


The theological discussion relating to submission towards the Sacred Texts often sparks a long standing debate around the possible conflict between what the Sacred Texts say and other influential factors such as a preconceived ideas, cultural conditionings, social constructs, base desire and so on.

The Sacred Divine Texts came to enlighten the mind of man and change the course of his life to fall in line with the Will of his Creator and Sustainer. It encapsulates guidance in the most complete and comprehensive sense and thus requires no external sources of influence to help the human mind appreciate and comprehend it; in fact, external influences and preconceived ideas only appear as obstacles that the person must seek to overcome in order to benefit fully from the guidance therein. Unreserved submission to the Creator through His Sacred Texts not only makes sense but unlocks the true potential of man to achieve success in the life to come as well as in his worldly life.

This was the founding thought upon which the Early Muslims (salaf) community was built and that is why they achieved what they achieved during that era. Later on, groups arose that claimed that though unreserved submission ought to be shown to the Divine Texts, there are some instances where a reference to external sources of non-Divine knowledge may be required in order to properly interpret the Text, especially in cases where there is a perceived conflict. This became the precursor idea which led to the formulation of the false dichotomy which states that a conflict between reason and revelation can exist. The various groups that held this to be true then went their own ways in dealing with these supposed conflicts.

It was the scholars of speculative theology (mutakallimūn) who were the first to construct this false dichotomy between reason and revelation. The very notion of a conflict or polarity between human intellect and revelation did not exist in era of the Early Muslims (salaf). Human reasoning and intellect were always perceived as being in harmony with the Sacred Texts, for both in reality came from the One Creator, Lord of both intellect and scripture. If Divine Revelation were to contravene god-given intellect it would be a logical fallacy as both come from the same source.

From another perspective, the Revelation that Allāh sent down only serves as a message to mankind if their intellects can understand it. Without this obvious element of human intellect being a receptacle to Revelation, Revelation would lose all meaning and be similar to a message secured by with an unbreakable code. Therefore, the words and expressions that make up Revelation are Divine and the meanings behind those words and expression are also Divine. These particular meanings, as intended by Allāh, are discernible to man due primarily to his intellectual grasp of language and its universal dictates. It is upon the ability to understand and comprehend the message within Revelation that responsibility and accountability before Allāh (taklīf) is established. This is the reason why those persons who cannot understand the Sacred Texts, such as the senile and the minor, are not deemed to be morally responsible before Allāh.

With these fundamentals in mind the relationship between Revelation and intellect can be better understood. As for the Revelation (naql) its words and expressions can convey a variety of meanings such as:

1)  A clear and decisive (qaī) meaning.

2)  An obvious and apparent (dhāhir) meaning.

3)  A predominant (rāji) meaning, though another less probable meaning is also possible.

4)  A possible (marjū) meaning that is weak and unlikely to be accurate.

Anything outside of these four categories would be deemed as fanciful interpretation and a claim to ascribe meaning to Divine words or expression that in reality is not there. Though this interpretation or understanding is alien to the Sacred Texts it may make sense to the intellect of the one ascribing it; however, simply because such interpretation makes sense it cannot therefore be forcefully read into the Text. The relationship in question is thus more accurately understood to be between sound interpretation and preconceived paradigms of textual hermeneutics, as it is to do with a conflict between reason and revelation.

To explain the two entities, reason and revelation, in a more rudimentary sense, reason will never find a conflict with simple truths such as the whole always being greater than the sum of the parts. This is the intuitive nature of reason given by God to human beings. Moving then to the matter of the revelation, words or expression found in the Sacred Texts have their correctly understood meaning. Human reason and the correctly understood meaning(s) of Sacred Texts will always come together in harmony without conflict. The problem arises when either reason becomes tainted with preconceived ideas or when words and expressions found in the Sacred Texts are assigned inaccurate meaning(s). The possibilities are therefore as follows:

1)  Reason & correct meaning(s). No contradiction or conflict arises here, regardless of which type of meaning being referred to.

2)  Reason & incorrect meaning(s). Conflict does arise here, when for example the Mu’taziltes claim that the words of Allāh: ‘And construct the ship under Our Eyes (bi-a’yuninā)’, according to the apparent (dhāhir) meaning would mean Nūḥ made the boat with the eyes of Allāh. However, this is simply incorrect from a purely linguistic perspective as the apparent meaning is a metaphorical one and not the one they claim. Hence, there is no need to reinterpret this beautiful expression as the apparent is clear.

3)  Incorrect reasoning & correct meaning(s). Conflict does arise here, when for example the Quraysh rejected the Prophethood of Muḥammad (Ṣallāhu ‘alayhi wa salam)  by saying: ‘Why was there not sent down to him an angel?, as according to their reasoning a prophet could not be a human but had to be an angel, yet Allah condemned them for using false reasoning saying: ‘But if We had sent down an angel, the matter would have been decided; then they would not be reprieved’.[5] In similar vein, the Mu’tazilites claimed that the Prophet’s saying that Allāh is fī al-samā, in the heaven, cannot be taken to mean what is apparent as that would imply that Allāh is contained within His creation. Their reasoning is at fault here as it tells them that assigning a direction (jihah) to God is to anthropomorphise, as it necessitates that He is within the universe (makān).

The phenomena of false, mystical and even fanciful interpretation of revealed scriptures is not something unique to the final revelation sent to the Prophet Muḥammad (Ṣallāhu ‘alayhi wa salam). Various modes of interpretation have been employed with the Bible in Judaism and Christianity. However, a survey of the various instances wherein the scholars of speculative theology (mutakallimūn) adopted a false mode of interpretation, such as words and expressions relating to God’s Attributes, reveals a shared understanding exists between them and the groups that came before them, and that is an attempt to merge the horizons of the contemporary world thought alien to the religion with the world projected by the Texts of the religion. These groups took their preconceived ideas about the ontology of the Text, hermeneutics, history, culture, and epistemology and read them into Revelation. Whatever ran contrary to their preconceived ideas was incorrectly perceived as a direct conflict between reason and Revelation, when in reality, it is merely a conflict between reason and preconceived ideas. As such, the scholars of speculative theology (mutakallimūn) were limited in their thought and ability to faithfully interpret Revelation. More on the role of hermeneutics in heresiology will be elaborated upon in point 57.

If revelation, with its four measures of meaning (see above list), were to contradict or oppose human intellect it would not be a worthy form of guidance. Nevertheless, the scholars of speculative theology (mutakallimūn) were heavily influenced by a Hellenistic culture which led them to believe that a conflict between reason and revelation was possible. The various groups within this school of thought then differed as to the manner in which they would deal with such conflicts. Some would adopt figurative interpretations when they perceived conflict whilst others would question the veracity of the particular Sacred Text in question whilst others still would outright reject it. However, none of them sought to clarify whether their initial understanding of the Sacred Text was correct, or whether their reasoning was true and shared by human beings in general and not tainted by preconceived ideas or philosophies alien to the religion.

The consequence of reserved, compromised submission to the Sacred Text is that a person may inadvertently make his intellect (‘aql) take on the role of the Legislator (al-ākim) in defining the religion. The converse is also possible, whereby a person marginalises the role god-given intellect and reason has to play in religion. The consequence of this doctrine is that a person sees no legislative reasoning (‘illal) behind the Sacred Texts and thereby reduces the scope for legal reasoning (ijtihād).

The Ahl al-Sunnah hold a position in between these two evil extremes. They addressed both parties from a middle ground clarifying that revelation that relates to matters of the Unseen (ghayb), theology (‘aqīdah), as well as matters of worldly dealings (mu‘āmalāt), is always in harmony with human intellect as Allāh revealed it for a people of intellect. The intellect recognises it to be sound and is ready to adhere when revelation legislates and commands it. Thus, the role of intellect is essentially one of recognising and submitting to the truth found in revelation. The verse of the Quranic chapter al-Mulk points to this when it relates the cries of the disbelievers as they enter the Hellfire: ‘If only we had really listened and used our intellect, we would not have been Companions of the Blaze’;[6] only now do they realise the reason why God had granted them the senses and a discerning mind.

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] Q. Al-Baqarah, 2: 1-3.

[2] Q. Āl-‘Imrān. 3: 19.

[3] Q. Al-Nisā, 4: 65.

[4] Q. Al-Aḥzāb, 33: 36.

[5] Q. Al-An‘ām, 6: 8.

[6] Q. Al-Mulk, 67: 10.

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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