Knowledge and Reason, Conscious Effort, Society and Community
Issue 1002 » June 8, 2018 - Ramadan 24, 1439
Knowledge and Reason
Al-Jathiya (The Kneeling) Sura 45: Verse 5
"In the alternation of night and day, in the rain God provides, sending it down from the sky and reviving the dead earth with it, and in His shifting of winds there are signs for those who use their reason."
The Quran is generously sprinkled with references to learning, education, observation and the use of reason. Indeed, reason, after revelation, is the second most important source for discovering and delineating the 'signs of God'. The cosmos is presented as a 'text' that can be read, explored and understood with the use of reason. Thus, reason is a path to salvation; it is not something you set aside to have faith, it is the means to attaining faith, a tool of discovery and an instrument for getting close to God.
The Quranic notion of reason, however, is much more than simple logical deduction. Reasoning per se can become instrumental and lead to oppression. By simply focusing on the most rational and efficient way of doing things, instrumental reasoning, as critical theorists and social philosophers such as Jurgen Habermas have pointed out, can lead to all sorts of social, economic and political problems. By concentrating on 'how' a goal is to be achieved, we often overlook 'why' the goal is sought in the first place, and whether it 'ought' to be pursued at all.
The Quran often uses 'reason' in juxtaposition with 'listening.' Every reasoned argument has a counter-argument. While understanding comes from reasoning, it does not come with reasoning alone. We are also required to listen to the counter-argument and take it into consideration in our reasoning process. We reason, according to the Quran, not just with our minds but also through listening and seeing; true comprehension is reached when all the faculties, including the heart, come into play. Blind followers are not necessarily irrational, they simply stick to the paradigm they know and trust: the ways of their forefathers (43:22-3), the traditions of Great Men long dead (43:22), the ideas that 'they do not know to be true' (17:36) which have passed their 'use by' date. True knowledge, the Quran tells us, is produced through arguing and listening to the arguments of others, through criticism, self-criticism and counter-criticism.
So the elitist idea that faith can only be explained and taught by scholars cannot be justified using the Quran. Knowledge, the Quran makes clear, is not the domain of a chosen few. Rather, every individual should seek knowledge as a religious duty.
"Reading the Qur'an: The Contemporary Relevance of the Sacred Text of Islam" - Ziauddin Sardar, pp. 251, 252
Ramadan comes every year. One comes after another, and has been coming for centuries. Quran is the most recited book, its one reading is followed by another and this is an unending endeavour. Every Ramadan, Quran is recited, fasting is observed, prayers are offered and nights are spent in supplications. Yet, we remain where we were before Ramadan. We remain devoid of piety (taqwa) just as we were without Ramadan. Neither our personal matters change, nor do our individual manners improve; neither do our national circumstances and conditions change, nor the clouds of slavery and bondage, insult and subjugation hovering over us move away. Why is it so?
First of all, this is because we cannot achieve without deliberate and conscious effort that great amount of good of Ramadan with which it comes every year. We are either devoid of this conscious effort or simply oblivious of its need and importance.
More than this, our condition is more like the condition of the person about whom the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) said: "when a person does not stop telling lies and following falsehood, Allah is in no way obliged to accept his hunger and thirst." [Bukhari] We declare Allah our Lord, accept Muhammad as our Prophet, believe in Quran as the book of Allah, yet we do not try to understand what they all say to us, nor do we obey what they say. If this is not falsehood and acting upon it, then what is?
"Making the Most of Ramadhan" - Khurram Murad, p. 28
Society and Community
A difference should be made between society which is an external group of individuals gathered on the basis of interest, and community which is an internal group of people brought together on the basis of the feeling of belonging. A society is based on material needs, on interests; a community is based on spiritual needs, on aspirations. In a society, people are anonymous members connected or divided by interests; in a community, people are brothers, connected by common thoughts, trust, and simply by a feeling that they are one. Society exists because it makes it easier to acquire benefits or to ensure our survival. A child cannot survive without other people's help, while adults cannot love well without associating with people - that being the source of a society in its external sense (the source of the social idea). We can conclude that man's aspiration to live in a society does not stem from his real being but from a necessity. Socialization is not looked for as such, but for the benefits that result from it. A society is ruled by the laws of the fittest, laws of subjection, exploitation, or, at its best, laws which share the interest. It is only a community that knows justice, mutual help, solidarity, and brotherhood. Many misunderstandings result from the unconscious confusion of these two terms.
Jesus talks about love among people and he is right. Hobbes talks about a war of all against all (or Marx about external exploitation) - and he is right too. While Jesus has in mind a community of people, Hobbes and Marx think of a society. Adam Smith discovered that an affinity for and impulse of revenge are forces that regulate relations among people, but an affinity for and an impulse for revenge are forces that exist in a community, not in a society.
"Islam Between East and West" - Alija Ali Izetbegovic, pp. 170, 171