Monthly Archives: April 2020

Reason takes a back seat in Faith

Syed Sharfuddin

The stories of prophets mentioned in the holy Quran testify to the fact that in matters of faith, logic does not occupy the primary place but has a complimentary role. Although man has been given the faculty to think and reason, it is always limited because it is human and only a small fraction of the whole, represented by God whose wisdom and knowledge is unfathomable and beyond human comprehension. It is but natural for reason to question our inner gut feeling and often stop it from manifesting itself in our response to outside happenings. This inner gut feeling is what connects humans with nature. And it is nature through which God manifests Himself to humans. In the Quran this phenomena is called His clear signs.

But we also know that reason and logic are not constant. They are dependent on external factors of time and place. Whether it is cosmic time or earthy time, the principle is the same. They change according to circumstances and settings. But divine laws go a step further. They include miracles and incidents which are both extraordinary and beyond human logic. When faith and reason are compared with each other, they are hierarchical, if not incompatible.

Take for example the story of prophet Musa (AS). He grew up in the palace of the Pharaoh as an adopted orphan. When he grew up he killed an Egyptian in a fight and was wanted by the law of the land. He became a fugitive for ten years before he returned to Pharaoh’s court. Reason would demand that he should be arrested by the Pharaoh and tried for murder. But instead, what we are presented in the Quran is Musa’s invitation to Pharaoh to accept Islam and hand over the Hebrews to him who were oppressed in Pharaoh’s reign. In his defence Musa brings forth the miracles of his walking stick becoming a ferocious serpent and his hand becoming white from celestial light. Musa also had seven additional miracles to prove he was a prophet of God. Imagine if you lived in those times, would you side with the rule of law to punish Musa? Or would you support a ‘magician’ who challenged a king who brought hum up in his house as his adopted ‘father’?

Then there is the story of prophet Nuh (AS). He lived for 950 years and most of his life preached the message of oneness of God and observed the moral and ethical code of peace and tranquillity. But his nation ignored him completely except a minority who accepted the divine message and started to live as Muslims. Then Nuh starts building a large barge and tells everyone that God will punish this nation for continuing idol worship and only those who will come aboard with him will be saved from the great flood which he foretold to his people. Imagine if you lived in those times, would you believe the words of an old man who had no miracles and no power to prove what he was saying was going to happen? Would you help this old man build the barge by making a physical or material contribution to it and ride with him when he said these waters will drown everyone? Or would you laugh at the old man’s claim and pass on doing what you have always been doing?

Then there is the story of Saleh (AS) who was sent to the nation of Thamud who had taken to idol worship. Their leaders not only plotted to kill Saleh but they also demanded a miracle from him to prove that he was a peygamber of God. On their demand a healthy she camel emerged from the mountains. This she camel was no ordinary animal. She drank so much water that there was nothing left for the people. Being a nobleman himself, Saleh made the rule that the village’s drinking water will be apportioned every alternate day for the she camel and for the community. He also waned them not to harm the animal because she was a gift of God. The people of Thamud could not stand this arrangement for long. They hated the she camel even though they were the ones who had asked Saleh for a miracle. Finally, they killed the she camel and invited God’s wrath in the form of a huge earthquake which destroyed all the disbelievers. Imagine if you lived in those times, would you tolerate a camel sharing your drinking water in such a way that the entire community would be out of water on the day that was reserved for the she camel? Would you find it reasonable to equate the rights of an animal with those of humans, one verses many? Would you not join those who reasoned to get rid of the problem so that normalcy could be restored? Or would you think this is a trial from Allah and do nothing against the camel?

There is the story of prophet Ibrahim (AS). We learn that from childhood he started searching for the true God because he abhorred the worship of idols by his father and his community. He first told his father of the futility of making idols, then selling these to the temple for pittance and then worshipping these as gods. In Ibrahim’s story we also learn that Ibrahim demolished all the idols at the big temple except the chief idol and mocked the priests and his community be saying they should ask the chief who broke the rest of his companions. For this act of sacrilege Ibrahim was sentenced to die in a burning fire. But Allah ordered the fire not to harm Ibrahim. Imagine if you lived in those times, would you not support punishing a half mad man who challenged your religious practices and broke your religious icons? Or would you support Ibrahim and say he should not be punished for not showing any remorse because he was right and his people were wrong?

Further, in the story of prophet Ibrahim (AS), we learn that he left his woman Hajirah and infant Ismail alone in the desert of Arabia making no arrangement for their livelihood. Then he returned to this deserted place after some years and told Ismail of his dream of sacrificing him for the pleasure of God, as was ordained to him in a repetitive dream. Then, we also learn that Ibrahim and Ismail (AMS) traced the original foundations of the House of Allah and constructed the Holy Kaaba which stands to this day as a reminder of the his great message of oneness of God. Imagine if you lived in those times, would you not detest a man who left his woman and infant child uncared for in a hot and lonely desert without any shelter and water  and yet he came back to this place after a few years to slaughter his surviving son to please his God? Would you endorse his actions? Or would you not report him to the authorities to detain this man and intern him before causing any harm to his family?

Or take the example of Isa (AS), son of Mary. Isa did not have a blood father because God ordered the angel to make his mother pregnant without meeting any man. When people questioned Mary’s chastity, the infant spoke in his cot and proclaimed to be the slave of Allah. Like Musa (AS), Allah also gave many miracles to Isa. He cured the sick and brought the dead to life with Allah’s Will. Isa conveyed the message of peace and oneness of God to his people who rejected his message and plotted for his death, eventually finding him and sending him to the cross. He was raised to the heavens by Allah and another person bearing his figure was left to die on the cross. Imagine if you lived in those times, would you be one the side of Isa or on the side of the people who chained him and sent him to the cross? If you would be on the side of Isa, would you believe his miracles as a medium of illustrating the power of God, as did Musa before the Pharaoh? Or would you take Isa as son of God because he was born to Mary with the spirit and attributes of God?

We are also told that before the end of times, Dajjal will appear with extraordinary powers to convince people that he is god descended on earth. His stay on earth will be short (reportedly 40 days in which the days will be of different time variations) but this stay will be long enough to rob all those believers of their faith who simply use logic and reason as the foundation of their religion. Dajjal will also have the power to show heaven and hell on earth which will be scientifically observable in real time. His power and actions will satisfy reason that what he claims is real. Only the faithful will know the truth about his false claims. Imagine if you lived long enough to see those trying times, would you believe the words of Dajjal because he will have the power to kill and bring the dead back to life? Or would you oppose him because you have been told that regular recitation of Surah Kahf will protect a believer and bring him no harm from the actions of Dajjal?

The historical account of the prophets who preceded prophet Muhammad, may Allah preserve him and protect him, serves as a strong reminder in the holy Quran that if Islam is to be understood properly, the creation of Adam and Eve, their despatch to earth for a fixed time, the miracles given by Allah to His prophets, the foretelling of the end of the world, the coming of the day of judgement, the reality of hell and heaven and everlasting life after death can only be grasped fully with faith and not with logic or reason alone. The latter are great instruments which sharpen the understanding of religion but to suspend faith completely and place every single aspect of religion in a test tube to be subjected to scientific observation and experimentation will never get you the right answer in the same way as the difficult questions I have posed you above as a believer in this essay. May Allah bless us and guide us always, for without His guidance we will surely be lost in the wilderness.