Note: This article was in fact a lecture delivered at the Civil Services Academy, Walton Road, Lahore in 1990. It was later edited by Mr. Shehzad Saleem and was published in Monthly Renaissance in the year 1991.
The Need for Revelation
Before explaining the relationship between Reason and Revelation, a logical starting point would be to affirm at the outset whether or not Revelation is an established need for the human mind. Only if it is proved that there is an actual requirement in the mind for Revelation, should we proceed to study the relationship between them, as otherwise, if the requirement does not exist, no relationship can be established between the two.
How do we ascertain a need or a requirement in one thing for another? Through a slight analysis we see that a need for ‘A’ in ‘B’ can only be established if some characteristics or features of ‘B’, as an individual entity, are incomplete and when combined with ‘A’ such characteristics or features are completed. Consider, as an example a man’s requirement of a woman, or vice versa. By a simple analysis, we see that there are a number of features – physical, psychological, emotional in one which if considered independent of the other, stand out as incomplete. By combining the two we see that such incomplete features and voids are mutually filled by their interaction. In short, it can safely, be stated that where a requirement exists in ‘B’ for ‘A’, ‘A’ has a complementary relationship with ‘B’.
Now let us consider the human faculty of Reasoning and see whether, in any way, it is incomplete or its functioning imperfect, because in case no such imperfections exist, the need for Revelation cannot be established.
For this purpose, we begin our discussion with a brief analysis of the working of the human mind.
How Does the Mind Work
To fully comprehend the working of the human mind, we must first, make an investigation regarding the sources from which the human mind receives its information.
All human information is received through two major sources:
a Priori Information: A Priori Information relates to t he knowledge which is not learned through sense experience but which is innate and inborn in an individual.
The idea of ‘A Priori’ is not new in philosophic literature. It is referred to though in a slightly different sense, even by Socrates, Platoand Aristotle. Aristotle refers to it as the ‘Divine Spark.’ The idea was developed, later, by the German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804 AD), in his ‘A Critique of Pure Reason’. The ‘Critique’ is not precisely a criticism, but a critical analysis; Kant is not attacking ‘Pure Reason’ (meaning knowledge that does not come through our senses, but is independent of all sense experience, belonging to us by the inherent nature and structure of the mind), rather he hopes to show its possibility and to exalt it above the impure knowledge which comes to us through the senses. Kant firmly believed that some of our ideas are A Priori, independent of experience, in t he sense that their content is not derived solely from experience. His widely quoted maxim regarding the two wonders of life ‘The starry heavens above, the moral law within’ refers to the same idea.
The innate ‘A Prior Information’ or ‘Pure Reason’ consists of broad concepts which, as has been stated earlier, are not learned, but exist at inception. Examples of such information include the concepts of contradiction and harmony, part and whole, unity, cause, space (up, down) time (before, after) etc. It also includes human emotions like love, hatred etc.
Sense Experience: The other major source of human information is the one received through our five senses from the external environment. This source of information is physical in nature. We see, hear, touch, smell or taste a thing and get information about it.
There have been philosophers who have tried to create doubt regarding the accuracy of information received thus, but it is a fact, all the same, that man has always depended upon the information received through his senses, and has never really accepted this skeptical view regarding his sense experiences.
The working of the human mind or the human faculty of Reasoning may now be summarized thus:
The mind combines the information that it receives through the sense experiences with the innate or A Priori information that it already possesses.
The two are internally analyzed. If there is a complete harmony between the information received from the two sources, it is stored in the mind, a s a fact. In case any contradiction is found between the information from t he two sources, the process of analysis is carried forward till such a contradiction is removed or an explanation thereof is established.
Hypothesis and theories are formed on the basis of this explanation.
Theories are either rejected or, if accepted, become facts.
A theory becomes a fact when:
It explains the phenomenon completely, and no part of it remains unexplained or inadequately explained; and
It is not possible to give an alternative explanation. In case, although such a case can only be assumed theoretically, two or more theories explain a given phenomenon completely and adequately, then all such theories maintain the status of ‘theory’ and non of them becomes a fact, as there can only be a single fact for a given phenomenon.
To understand the working of the mind, consider the following example: As we have stated earlier, one of the A Priori concepts is ‘Space’, or the concept from this (concept of space) is that in normal circumstances (in the absence of any force) things transfer or change positions from up to down, or in the other words things fall. All our sense experience were in perfect harmony with this concept, till the time that man started studying the stars and other heavenly bodies. Here, there was obviously a contradiction between our concept and the information provided by our sense experiences. Theories were coined to explain such contradiction and ultimately one such theory (law of gravitation) explained this contradiction so adequately that it became accepted as a fact.
Importance of the Mind
The Bible Says:
And God Said, let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness, and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the fowl of the air, and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth. (Genesis, Chapter 1,26-28)
There is no doubt that today man has established his dominion over ‘the fish of the sea and over the fowl of the air and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth and every living thing that moveth upon the earth, and has subdued the earth.’ But what is it that man possesses which gives him the power for this dominion? It obviously is not his physical strength, for is it not that an elephant or a lion is much stronger than him? Nor can it be his sight or his power of hearing for in these faculties he is much weaker than even an eagle or a dog. There is no doubt that the only thing that makes him superior to other living things is the faculty of Reasoning that he possesses. It is the mind alone which guides him and shows him what cannot be heard through the ears and even causes him to touch what his hands are incapable of touching.
Man has invented languages, established cultures, developed social, political and economic guiding principles, constructed skyscrapers, discovered neutrons, protons, electrons and what not. He has progressed from where he was and his hopes are still high. No such development or progress can be found in any other creature of the earth. A dog or a cow or a bull is still where it was. Man has become the master of the earth, and all this is due to his own master, The Mind.
Look at it from another angle. It is not very unusual to come across people who are deaf, dumb, blind or have someother physical handicap. We see that, though not insignificant, such deformities are overcome, at least to some extent, through special training and education, and such ill-fated persons can thus become responsible members of a society and contributing citizens of a state. But a person who loses his mind is not like a deaf, dumb or a blind person; he not only loses his relationship with the outside world but even with himself. Religions impose no duties upon him, the state no long holds him responsible for his actions, the society has no expectations from his, he is even looked upon as a burden by the closest of his relations.
The importance of mind in the eyes of man himself is seen from the fact that if a man is forced to lose any of his faculties, he would first of all save his mind and make choice later. Importance of the mind or the human faculty of Reasoning cannot be over emphasised. Man is the superior being on this planet only due to his analytical powers. It would not be incorrect to say that without the mind man would have been among the worst and weakest of animals.
Limitations of the Mind
There is not doubt that it is the mind that gives honour to the human race and makes man the superior being on this planet. All developments and achievements that he has made can rightly be, solely, attributed to his faculty of Reasoning. But a slight analysis of even the mind shows that it is not without its limitations. We discuss here two kinds of limitations of the mind.
Shortcomings of the Reasoning Faculty: This refers to a particular kind of weakness in the human faculty of Reasoning, where the mind although is fully capable of getting to the results, refuses to do so. Such a situation arises because the mind does not work alone. A human being is a complex compound of extremely strong emotions and feelings like love, hatred, friendship, enmity etc., which come into action as soon as the mind starts its functions, and thereby influence decisions in such a manner that a person intentionally takes a wrong step. Innumerable examples of such shortcomings can be quoted from human history as well as from our daily experiences. Here we point our some of the major shortcomings of the Reasoning faculty:
Prejudice: It is not unusual to see people resist and refuse to listen to a person who speaks against their established beliefs. Rather than listening to his reasoning, people unite against him and strive to the utmost to quiet him down. For example, in the days when Copernicus lived, everybody believed that the earth was fixed at the centre of the universe, and that other heavenly bodies, including the sun, and went round the earth in circles. Copernicus claimed that the sun was fixed at the centre of the solar system, and that the earth revolved around the sun once a year. He also believed that the earth turned completely round on itself once in a day. Not until a century and a half after his death in 1543 AD, did scientists abandon the earth centered universe of the ancients and accept the sun-centered universe Copernicus had conceived.
Hedonism: Another shortcoming of the Reasoning faculty is that at times one refuses to accept the truth or to get to the right conclusions for the sake of his personal pleasures of self interest. Common examples of such cases are corruption and the acceptance of bribery whether material or psychological.
Emotions: Emotions like love and hatred also reduce the accuracy of the decisions made by a person. The maxim ‘Every thing is allowed in love and war’, adequately describes this shortcoming of the Reasoning faculty.
Shortcomings of the Working Faculty: These refer to the limitations which arise out of the way the mind works; in other words which are inherent in the working of the mind. The limitations of the mind can be broadly classified into two categories:
The First Limitation is where the mind itself cannot get to the conclusions but if some one points out the right conclusions, the mind is fully capable of understanding them. We can give here one of the reasons why the mind is sometimes prone to such a limitation. As has been stated earlier that the mind combines the information it receives through sense experiences with the concepts it already has, but before this process can start, the mind must perceive the sensations it receives through the five senses as ‘an information’ or, else, rather than analyzing such information, the mind would ignore the sensations, and thus the process of ‘internal analysis’ and ‘Hypothesis and theory formation’ etc, would not even be initiated. For example, we know that Isaac Newton [1642-1727 AD] perceived his sense experiences as information to be analyzed and drawn conclusions from, but the same sense experiences were ignored for thousands of years and were never perceived as information.
To understand this limitation consider, for example, the general variance in the intelligence level – the power of analysis and reasoning of different people. We know that not everybody is capable of achieving what Newton and other great thinkers achieved and discovered, but with a little effort, their achievements and discoveries can be explained to even persons of average intelligence. The above mentioned limitation of the mind refers to a situation where, due to some reasons, the mind cannot draw conclusions, although the information on the basis of which, the conclusion is drawn is available to it.
The Second Limitation refers to a situation where even the information is not available to it, that is, a situation where neither do the five senses (due to their inherent limitations) provide any information to the mind, nor are such sources available to the mind on the basis of which it could draw analogies and thereby reach the conclusions. In this case, the mind is not only incapable of reaching the correct results but is also incapable of understanding them. To understand this situation, consider the development of the human mind itself. An infant is incapable of understanding even the simplest of facts, but as his mind develops and is exposed to more and more information, it becomes easier for him to appreciate such facts, but now there are other things which he is still incapable of understanding, and so the process carries on in life.
The Need for Revelation
As we have seen from the discussion so far that although it is the human mind that distinguishes man from animals, and due to it alone has man established his rule and dominion over all the other creatures of the earth, but a simple analysis shows that even the mind is not without its weaknesses shortcomings an limitations. We see that the mind with all its achievements and importance is incomplete as an individual entity, and needs to be complemented. Thus, a need for something, whatever name we give to it, is established.
The ‘something’ that complements the mind and is complemented by it is Revelation. How does Revelation complement the mind would be discussed in a later section (‘What Revelation Does’), for now it should be fully understood that the mind is a pre-requisite for the understanding and appreciation of Revelation, because Revelation addresses the minds. A man who loses his mind no long remains an addressee to Revelation. The Qur’an clearly says:
[This is] a scripture that we have revealed unto thee, full of blessings, that they may ponder upon its revelation, and that mindful men may grasp its message. [38:29]
But non will grasp the message except men of [wisdom and] understanding. [2:269]
Opinions on Revelation
Let us next examine the views of some of the philosophers on Revelation. For the purpose of simplification, we can divide them into three groups.
The first group of philosophers includes those who say that we are well acquainted and have experienced the working of the mind, but Revelation is something that we have never experienced. Thus it would be irrational for us to believe and have faith in Revelation and to obey its commandments.
The second group includes those who say that the mind and what it can achieve are extremely limited. The mind has simply nothing to do with matters relating to mataphysics and religion. In these matters s it has to depend completely on a supernatural and superhuman guidance. Such metaphysical and religious matters are not, and cannot be, understood by the mid. They are rather appreciated through the heart (standing for feelings and emotions). The mind, therefore, cannot have anything to do with such matters.
The Third group recognized the importance and capabilities of the mind but declares that the problems and difficulties facing life are so numerous that without the guidance of Revelation, no one can successfully go through such problems and difficulties.
The First Group: We take Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679 AD) as a representative of the first group. According to him, a man cannot and should not believe what he is unacquainted with and what he himself has not experienced. If an individual, himself, does not receive guidance through some supernatural sources – Revelation, how can he be made to obey such guidance? Thus, according to him, there is no room in the mind to have faith or to believe in such supernatural guidance.
Even today this is the most advocated philosophy. Most people maintain that the mind is fully capable and completely adequate for human guidance, and even if it is not, they refuse to accept Revelation as a source of guidance because they do not have any personal experience thereof.
The Second Group: Representative philosophers of this group are Cornelius Jansen (1585-1638 AD) and Blaise Pascal (1623-1662 AD). Pascal put forward the idea that in relation to God, the heart has its reasons; reason proper (the mind) has a more limited place. In this group, we also include the Christian as well as the Muslim scholastics like St. Augustine and Imam Ghazali. The biggest group of the Muslim scholastics is the one called ‘Ashaaira.’ They do not believe that any relationship exists between mind and Revelation. Neither do they believe in any wisdom in the religious commandments, nor do they believe that all of Allah’s actions are base don any cause or wisdom. IN the eyes of this group, religious commandments are only to be followed, not to be comprehended.
The Third Group: As far as the third group is concerned, it although includes Socrates (470-399 BC) and Plato (429-347 BC), we take Aristotle (384-322 BC) as its representative. According to him, it is necessary for the human race that those facts which the human mind cannot discover on its own, be revealed upon it. After the Renaissance, Immanuel Kant (1724-1804 AD) and John Locke (1632-1704 AD) also advocated views similar to Aristotle’s. In the nineteenth chapter of his ‘An Essay on Human Understanding’, Locke says that there are some things which the mind cannot discover on its own, and that they are revealed upon man. According to him, God should and does guide man in these matters. He further states that Revelation cannot be contradictory to human reasoning; it actually ‘enlarges’ the mind and improve its capabilities.
Let us now, briefly, analyze the opinions of the three groups of philosophers, critically.
The basis on which the first group has negated revelation is that they do not have any experience of revelation and therefore, they should not be asked to believe in it. This is not a new philosophy; it has been the philosophy of the rejecters of all prophets, including Muhammad (pbuh). The weakness of their argument is quite obvious. It is like negating that the earth is round or that it is revolving and rotating, because no one has ever had a visual experience thereof. We regret to say that this objection on Revelation is based purely on stubbornness and antagonism.
The second group, which says that the mind has nothing to do with Revelation and that the revealed message are directed towards the heart and can be appreciated by it alone have ignored that the heart is a store of emotions, feelings, traditions and sometimes, wayward thoughts. In fact, the heart is open for everything. A man should, logically, not believe in everything that enters his heart, rather he should weight everything in the scales of reason, before accepting it as the truth. The separation of the state from he church was due to this philosophy. The idea that religion is, basically, a group of illogical and unreasonable commandments and beliefs, is also an outgrowth of this philosophy. In our opinion, therefore, the philosophy that Revelation has nothing to do with the mind, is without any basis.
The philosophy of the third group, in our opinion, is the one closest to reality. Here both the Reasoning faculty the mind, and Revelation have been given balanced and just positions, in relation to their importance. According to this group, although the importance and capabilities of the mind are great, the problems facing life are greater and thus the need for Revelation. Furthermore, Locke’s opinion in this respect, that Revelation ‘enlarges’, empowers and improves the capabilities of the mind and uncovers for it such information which the mind itself is incapable of discovering, is absolutely correct.
What Revelation Does
On the Qur’anic principle that in this world everything has been created in pairs Revelation is a pair for the human faculty of Reasoning. A natural corollary of this is that the relationship between the two should be complementary. A slight analysis shows that Revelation has been perfectly designed to complement the human mind; we see that:
Revelation has nothing to do in spheres where the mind itself is fully capable of getting to and uncovering the correct results.
In those circles where the mind is fully capable of getting to the correct results but refuses to do so due to emotions, prejudices and other hindrances, Revelation only guides the mind to the right way of thinking.
In areas where the mind is incapable of getting to the correct results on its own, but is capable of understanding them if someone points them out (what we have called ‘First Limitation’), Revelation not only presents the conclusions but also substantiates them thoroughly.
Revelation has again nothing to do with spheres where the mind is neither capable of getting to the conclusions nor of understanding them (what we have called the ‘Second Limitation’). This is the reason that none of the revealed scriptures provide any information about the nature of God’s Being.
Revelation Leaves no Excuses for Mankind
According to the Qur’an, Revelation is the ultimate source of guidance after which neither any further guidance is required, or given, nor can, mankind, on the Day of Judgment, have any excuse against being condemned to the punishment of Hell. The Qur’an Says:
[Allah sent these] messengers who gave good news as well as warning in order that mankind might have no plea against Allah, after the messengers. [4:165)
We have called Revelation ‘the ultimate source of guidance’, the first source being A Priori or innate knowledge, as the Qur’an has clearly stated that the knowledge of One God as the sustainer of the world, as well as knowledge regarding basic Goods and Evils were given to all mankind prior to their birth. Regarding the knowledge of one God, the Qur’an Says:
And remember when thy Lord brought forth from the children of Adam from their loins their descendants and made them testify concerning themselves [saying]; Am I not you Lord? They said: ‘Yes! We do testify’, lest you should say on the Day of Judgment: ‘Of this, we were completely unaware.’ [7:172]
Regarding the knowledge of Good and Evil the Qur’an Says:
By the soul, and the proportions and orders given to it. And its enlightenment as to its wrong and its right.’ [91:7-8]
Another fact that is obvious from these verses is that those whom no prophets or messengers reached with revealed messages and scriptures, would stand trial, on the Day of Judgments, on the basis of this innate or A Priori knowledge alone.
Potential Contradiction in Reason and Revelation
After determining the relationship between the human faculty of Reasoning and Revelation, a natural corollary of the discussion is that there can be no contradiction between Reason and Revelation. Obviously the source from which we receive our faculty of Reasoning is the same that provides us guidance through Revelation, Allah the Most Gracious, then how can the two be contradictory. There is not doubt that the two should be and are in absolute concordance. If, at any time, there seems to be an apparent contradiction between the two, then it must be found out why such a disharmony exists and how should it be resolved. This has been adequately explained by Imam Ibni Taimyiah (661-728 AH). According to him, there can only be two reasons for such a contradiction. Either the premises of the so thought of, logical argument is false and without basis or the meanings ascribed to the Revelation are incorrect. By concentrating on both these actors one by one, it would be ultimately found that either of the two reasons applies in all such instances where Reason and Revelation seem to contradict. Thus contradictions are put away with.
Iman Bil Ghaib
From all the discussion thus far, we come to the conclusion that there is perfect harmony between Reason and Revelation. The mind is fully capable of understanding and appreciating the message and commandments that it receives through Revelation. Those who believe that there is no relationship between the faculty of Reasoning and Revelation, and that the mind in incapable of fully appreciating and understanding the revealed messages substantiate their argument by saying that the Qur’an itself says that only those people would be successful who have ‘Iman Bil Ghaib‘ (a Qur’anic phrase, which they hold to mean ‘faith in the Unknown or the Unseen’) Our answer to them is that the phrase ‘Iman Bil Ghaib‘ (to believe without seeing) does not imply that Revelation, (the Qur’an), requires us to believe in something which we cannot understand, or which is contradictory to human reasoning. This phrase only means that the facts presented by the Qur’an are those which can be understand through the mental process of deduction and inference, but which cannot be seen, felt or touched.
Revelation Addresses the Mind
In the end, we present some of the Qur’anic verses which would prove beyond doubt that Revelation (Qur’an) addresses the Reasoning faculty alone, and rather than imposing anything on the persons addressed, convinces them by its arguments.
He giveth wisdom unto whom he will, and he unto whom wisdom is given, he truly hath received abundant good. But none will grasp the message except men of prudence. [2:269]
Behold in the creation of the heavens and the alternation of night and day, there are indeed signs for men of prudence. [3:190]
[This is] a scripture that We have revealed unto thee full of blessing that they many ponder over its verses and the prudent ones may thereby be reminded.’ [38:29]
[The Book of Moses, Torah, was] a guide and a reminder for men of prudence. [40:54]
In condemnation of those who do not use their minds; the Qur’an says:
Most certainly the worst of animals in Allah’s sight are the deaf, the dumb who do not use their brains.’ [8:22]
Those who, on the day of Judgment would be thrown into the Hell Fire would say:
They would say: ‘Had we but listened [carefully to the call of messengers], or had we been prudent, we would not [now] be among the companions of the Blazing Fire. [67:10]