فَمَنْ رَامَ عِلْمَ مَا حُظِرَ عَلَيْهِ، وَلَمْ يَقْنَعْ بـِالتَّسْليمِ فَهْمُهُ، حَجَبَهُ مَرَامُهُ عَنْ خَالِصِ التَّوْحيدِ، وَصَافِي المَعْرِفَةِ، وَصَحِيحِ الإِيمَانِ،
He who seeks knowledge that has been barred from him, and whose intellect is not prepared to surrender, will find that endeavour preventing him from acquiring a pure understanding of Allāh’s unity, clear knowledge and correct faith.
Ibn Abi al-‘Izz (d.792H) in his famous explanation of al-Aqīdah al-Ṭaḥāwiyyah began expounding on this point by saying: ‘This is an elaboration of the earlier point along with a warning that one should not discuss the principles of the faith or any other aspect of the religion without sound knowledge. Allāh says, “Pursue not that of which you have no knowledge; for every act of hearing, seeing or feeling in the heart will be asked about (on the Day of Reckoning); “Yet among men there are such as dispute about Allāh without knowledge, and follow every evil one obstinate in rebellion. About the evil one it is decreed that whoever turns to him for friendship, he will lead him astray and guide him to the penalty of the Fire”; “And yet, there is among men such a one who disputes about Allāh, without knowledge, without Guidance and without a Book of Enlightenment, disdainfully bending his side in order to lead men astray from the path of Allāh. For him is disgrace in this life, and on the Day of Judgment, We will make him taste the penalty of the burning Fire”. And there are other verses that point to the same meaning.
Abu Umāmah al-Bāhili narrated that the Messenger of Allāh (Ṣallāhu ‘alayhi wa salam) said,
“The people who have the guidance of Allāh do not stray unless they indulge in intellectual disputation (jadal),” and then he read the verse, “They set this forth to you only by way of disputation”.
No doubt, anyone who does not submit completely to the Messenger has some shortcoming within his belief in the Oneness of Allāh, as he speaks according to his own opinion and desires or he follows somebody else’s opinion or desire rather than the guidance from Allāh. This shortcoming is directly proportional to amount he departs from what the Messenger brought. In those matters, he has taken a god other than Allāh. Allāh says, “Do you see such a one who takes for his god his own desires and impulses?”  That is, he is a servant to what his own soul desires.’
The modern paradigms of today, such as secularism, liberalism, humanism, and so on, claim to be reference points for humanity to draw guidance from. These ideas are often merged together under the supreme banner of human rights as a unified whole thus offering a complete worldview in the same way that Islam offers a complete way of life. They attempt to offer a complete perspective of how humans should function from the political, social, and even the spiritual dimensions. As many states have subscribed to these ideologies they have gained prominence and become dominant on the world stage. This in turn affords them assumed legitimacy and tangibility. However, at the heart of these modern paradigms is a shared perception of what constitutes human rights, with their view of human rights often being framed as being at odds with the world religions.
It is this contrived understanding of human rights that continues to provoke considerable scepticism and debates about the content, nature and justifications of world religions and in particular Islām being of detriment to its two most esteemed values: freedom and liberty. Islām is increasingly framed as being in conflict with freedom and liberty (i.e., the western understanding of freedom and liberty), the most sacred values of our times. Hence, a deep-seated polarity exists between Islām and the modern day ideologies of the twenty-first century.
The Early Muslims (salaf) had their own ideological battles to contend with and were always critical of thoughts and ideas that called people away from the Islamic world view. They were particularly vocal in condemning corrupted disciplines in epistemology, or theory of knowledge, and metaphysics, the branch of philosophy that deals with the first principles of things, including abstract concepts such as being, knowing, identity, time, and space. This is why, as early on as the third hijri century, Muslim scholars became vehemently outspoken against kalām, speculative theology. The general consensus at that time was that it was prohibited to study speculative theology. This prohibition was based on the deeply negative impact that science had on one’s faith (imān).
The ideologies of our time, such as humanism, and the more recent scientism, wherein science itself claims, or rather scientists attempt to lead humanity to the truth, equally impact negatively on one’s faith (imān). Therefore the warning entailed in the author’s statement: ‘He who seeks knowledge that has been barred from him, and whose intellect is not prepared to surrender, will find that endeavour preventing him from a pure understanding of Allāh’s unity, clear knowledge and correct faith’, is as significant today as it was more than one-thousand years ago. The great scholar Ibn Taymiyyah (d. 728AH) astutely pointed out that the root-cause of misguidance, referring to sects such as the Mu’tazilites and Ash‘arites, was their turning away (khawḍ) from the Sacred Texts and looking to external sources for enlightenment.
When a person delves into such philosophies and ideologies alien to Islām he exposes himself to ideas that contradict and contravene the teachings of his religion. The obvious consequence of this is that doubts begin to arise in one’s mind which directly takes away from his submission and devotion to the religion, for how could diametrically opposed ideas settle with ease in one heart? His belief in the Oneness of Allāh (tawḥīd) is then compromised up to the extent to which he delves into these philosophies and accepts their ideas. Allāh, Exalted is He, addressed the Prophet (Ṣallāhu ‘alayhi wa salam) saying: ‘Do not pursue what you have no knowledge of…’, which clarifies that the revelation independently suffices as a complete form of guidance for mankind. Anything that contradicts or opposes its message is to be rejected as the Creator alone has the sole right and authority to lay down the command for His creation. Man is only aware of his own morality, truths, and falsehood, through His god-given intellect and natural intuition (fiṭrah). Therefore, from this perspective, God is the very definition of good, and that which contradict His guidance must be false. This is way of the Ahl al-Sunnah; to assert that the truth (al-ḥaqq) is what Allāh and His Messenger says.
There is no one more enlightened  than a Prophet of God. The Prophet’s would use rational arguments in their call and propagation. The Prophet Ibrāhīm’s ability to successfully debate with opponents of the Religion is often illustrated in the Qur’ān. One such incident is narrated in the Quranic chapter al-An‘ām:
Remember when Ibrāhīm said to his father, Āzar, ‘Do you take idols as gods? I see that you and your people are clearly misguided.’
Because of that We showed Ibrāhīm the dominions of the heavens and the earth so that he might be one of the people of certainty.
When night covered him he saw a star and said, ‘This is my Lord!’ Then when it set he said, ‘I do not love what sets.’
Then when he saw the moon come up he said, ‘This is my Lord!’ Then when it set he said, ‘If my Lord does not guide me, I will be one of the misguided people.’
Then when he saw the sun come up he said, ‘This is my Lord! This is greater!’ Then when it set he said, ‘My people, I am free of what you associate with Allāh!
I have turned my face to Him Who brought the heavens and earth into being, a pure natural believer. I am not one of the polytheists.’
His people argued with him. He said, ‘Are you arguing with me about Allāh when He has guided me? I have no fear of any partner you ascribe to Him unless my Lord should will such a thing to happen. My Lord encompasses all things in His knowledge so will you not pay heed?
Why should I fear what you have associated with Him when you yourselves apparently have no fear of associating partners with Allāh for which He has sent down no authority to you? Which of the two parties is more entitled to feel safe, if you have any knowledge?
Those who have imān and do not mix up their imān with any wrongdoing, they are the ones who are safe; it is they who are guided.’
This is the argument (ḥujjah) We gave to Ibrāhīm against his people. We raise in rank anyone We will. Your Lord is All-Wise, All-Knowing.
The argument (ḥujjah) that Allāh bestowed on Ibrāhīm comprises of both revelation and intellectual reasoning. It was through knowledge of the celestial bodies and sound reasoning that he constructed his argument and presented it before his people. When he said: ‘I do not love what sets’, he was reasoning with them that such objects, however majestic they appear, are ultimately deficient and inadequate and thus not befitting of being regarded as Lords who take care of creatures. This is the case with all that exists save Allāh, the One True Creator; does servitude and devotion to other than Him therefore make sense? Then, he put it to them: ‘Which of the two parties is more entitled to feel safe, if you have any knowledge?’; as if to say: is it the party that worships the One True Lord, or those that worship many others beneath Him?
The Ahl al-Sunnah affirmed that human intellect (‘aql) plays an integral role within religion but clarified that one’s own subjective understanding and intellect should not be regarded as the ultimate frame of reference, which one then uses to disapprove and disbelieve in authentic Sacred Texts. This is what the Prophet (Ṣallāhu ‘alayhi wa salam) was elucidating to when he said: ‘Doomed are those who unnecessarily enter into hair-splitting and unnecessary subtleties’, as they used the Sacred Texts as mere fodder for philosophical discussion and debate.
In modern times, the movement of the so-called progressive Muslims can be looked at as another manifestation of the ancient Mu’tazilite thought. By claiming that Sacred Texts can be subject to unprecedented interpretations depending on factors such as time, culture, modern day values, and so on, they afford the human intellect ultimate supremacy in discerning right from wrong. This was the fundamental doctrine of the Mu’tazilites. Thus, when they find something disagreeable in the Sacred Texts they re-interpret it to conform with their enlightened understanding which, rather cynically, always seems to fall in line with popular Western ideas and values. It should however be noted that the ancient Mu’tazilites initially sought to champion Islamic values and doctrine and repudiate the philosophy the ancient Greeks. In modern times, such movements only bring Islam into disrepute and undermine their respective Muslim communities.
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.
 Q. Al-Isrā, 17: 36.