Thought Archive

Monday, October 01, 2007

Ramadan Post 5: The Light of Reason in Islamic Tradition

This could be re-named Meaning of Reason amongst some Shia scholars for it is clear from even a simple look, especially at Ismaili traditions to understand the division between the Faith and Reason. It is however undeniable that Shia scholarship largely occupies a logical and mutazilite position, even if limited in application. This limited application and the application without Revelation leads to a certain scholasticism, and this is in essense what could may have happened in the Modern times.

It is known that Man cannot comprehend true light of reason, which is from Allah and Allah only. Here we say: ما عرفناك حقّ معرفتك , which means that the Reason as an abstract concept is not of Man but from Allah Only. In hadith from Imam Sadiq it is said “Allah said to the Reason: Turn to me and it did and then Allah “said” I have created Thee in the best image and made you of the Higher Station to all other creations:. (many interpreters of the hadith say that words «Turn » signify «su’ud» or “tanazzul”, meaning “to look from below”). Imam also said : “There is nothing more excellent which is shared by Humanity than the Light of Reason, it is shared though not by equal measure”.

This subdivision of the reason presupposes that people are created in such a way that they understand Revelation differently and their faculties are not equal. In the next hadith from Bihar Al-Anwar we read: وّل ما خلق الله نور «First which Allah created was Light» From Imam Baqir there is also a tradition where he promulgated to his disciples: عن الباقر ع :يا جابر كان الله و لا شئ غيره و لا معلوم و لا مجهول فأوّل ما ابتدأ من خلق خلقه أن خلق محمّداً ص و خلقنا أهل البيت معه من نوره و عظمته «О Jabir! There was only Allah, and there was nothing before and after him, meaning. However the first that which he created was the light (spirit) of Muhammad and His Family and with it all the humanity was born.

These types of apocryphal stories were the reason that some Shia scholars named so called “Truth of Muhammed” to be the first creation, alleging that it was thus the first non-physical entity. In the different tradition from Musa Ibn-Jafar he addresses his Disciples and says: “ Verily, Allah has two meanings to present to the Humanity. First is External (Zahir) and second is Hidden (Batin). The External argument is the Prophethood and Imamhood, whereas the hidden one is the Reason. Imam Ali Al-Rida was asked as to how can people who are denied miracles of the prophets retain their Faith. He answered: “Return to Reason, for with the help of Reason and Logic it is possible to support or deny the truthfulness of an argument in favour of God".

Kashani says that the answer of Imam shows that intellectual development that people are not satisfied by Revelation for they claim to have Logic, for the Faith which is based on only Divine Revelation and miracles is distinct from the assuredness that comes from the Light of Reason.

Imam Ali himself is believed to have said: "Verily the comprehension of Allah is possible only by and with help of Allah, so whoever claims that comprehension by any other way or by other means, and whoever believes in something that he does not understand or wish to understand, verily is confused. No creation can comprehend God by, but only with His help."

Imam Ali also said in Nahj_al-Balagha: “God has no boundaries that can be defined for in fact he exceeds the definition of being boundless. For what has boundaries is of numerical character and God is not that which could be described…. God (As-Samad) does not posess quality of emptiness”

Shia scholarship, while on one hand rooted in the traditions of the Family of the Prophet on the other hand is also rooted in philosophy and methaphysics, which in its Neoplatonic form found its greatest defender in Mullah Sadra and his mystical philosophy. However Shia religious scholiasts, of which there are great many, were and still are great proponents of classical Greek methods of philosophical inquiry and rhetoric.


Riri said...

Aye! Islam has a very rational approach to humanity and life on Earth, it is very much pounded upon in the Qu'ran, every aya or a couple of ayas Allah (swt) invites and urges believers to reflect, ponder and think about the physical world of creation. The spiritual realm or the realm of the "unseen" is addressed via analogies and illustrative examples from the world of matter that we are familiar with. Readers of the Qu'ran will immediately notice how they are being addressed as thinkers, non-thinkers, knowlageable, un-knowlegeable, wise, unwise, foolish, intellectually insincere etc and every possible description/invitation/command to use Reason, Logic and all the perception tools we have been endowed with. Its style is truly unique - very authoritative and disdainful (for the wrong-doers and the ones who show disdain for the signs of Allah) yet gentle, attentive, insightful, supportive and encouraging.

The examples, analogies and stories of the Qu'ran are also unique in the sense that they give the reader a lot of freedom to think and draw their own conclusions about morals and how it pays to be a good soul or at least strive to become a good soul, despite their impressive precision of description and detail - in their own right, they help people of all levels of education and culture to engage in fruitful mind-mapping around the main central themes of the Qu'ran: Onness/Greatness of Allah (The Creator), The Inevitability of Judgement Day (Ultimate Reward and Punishment, Our Deeds are not Worthless, There is an ultimate value to our existence as free-willed creatures etc), Historical Backup of Divine Revelation through Human Prophets and Instructions for Believers.

Finally, just a noteon the poetic prose of the Qu'ran and how it stimulates intellect as opposed to a rigid book of facts and laws such as a scientific book for example. A lot of people especially of Western upbringing expect the Qu'ran to be like the Gospels, and they are completely baffled by a unique style of Divine Scripture, powerfully poetic and musical, where dilemmas of the human soul are so accurately described and predicted through a profoundly rich and mostly rhyming text and vocabulary. It makes sense because poetic prose is what touches our human souls and makes our inner beings resonnate, not dry accounts of facts as in science or history. The Qu'ran manages to recounts a number of very accurate historical facts and scientific truths using a very beautiful poetic language. Therein lies one facet of its many facets of miraculousness and greatness (ii'jaz).

Hazar Nesimi said...

Riri, you have put it so eloquenlty and me so ungainly, but we emphasizing the great importance of Reason in the Holy Qur'an, that is known to All. But I also emphasized that too much reason (ing) produces dry scholastics. It is important to keep the two equally nourished.
I have reverent, almost awestruck relatiionship with The Book. It comes from being a non-arab and thus detached from poetical value of the prose, but feeling every rhyme in your bone of the body resonate with awe.

Riri said...

Too much of anything can kill you as they say. I agree on that one. Incidentally, the Qu'ran warns readers not to delve too much into "hidden" meanings and not to ask questions that one knows are beyond the human grasp. Throughout, the value of sincere and honest intellectual quest is emphasized as opposed to insincere and ill-intentioned waste of time and false inquisitiveness which stems from an hypocritical heart.

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