SHAFAQNA (International Shia News Agency) –
The method of apprehending truth
One of the extraordinary distinctions and beauties of the divine religion of Islam is that its teachings have been propounded so as to be wholly assimilable by all human societies. Of course, to understand this concept and its invaluable results, deep contemplation is necessary.
Many who are wallowing in worldly thoughts and have withdrawn completely from spiritual life consider this, as well as other statements that evoke spiritual issues and praise spiritual life, a poetic notion lacking any real value.
They are people with limited knowledge who, upon hearing materialist scholars say, “Religion is a relic from the Age of Legends”, have neglected to look closely at Islam’s call and the veracious teachings of this impeccable religion.
Needless to say, one should not expect a better and more profound opinion or a more clear and logical outlook from such people and there is no need for their acceptance or endorsement because if our view is righteous and justified it does not rely on the judgment of others nor require their approval. Hence, it is better that we leave them be: “Let them die in their vainglorious agony!”
Islam makes assimilation of its teachings easier in every respect through use of: Instruction and guidance of the superior (those with expertise)
Logical exposition and reasoning
Conscience and observation
Clearly, these are the only ways for a human to understand and apprehend any type of truth. By way of illustration, sick persons may obtain prescriptions from a competent and sanctioned doctor, deduce the remedy through their own medical knowledge, or realize it by observing the positive effects of a treatment in similar patients.
In the same manner, students of foreign languages may learn the meaning of words from an adept teacher, infer it through grammar and conditions of the sentence, or learn it by observing its use by native speakers of the foreign language.
Therefore, whenever we wish to fathom something as a “rational human”, we must apprehend it through one or more of these methods. If possible we learn facts by personal observation. In the event that this is not viable, we deduce through our God-given reasoning.
Finally, if we cannot learn by either observation or reasoning, we must refer to someone else who has grasped the knowledge through observation or reasoning (albeit through one or more intermediaries) and follow their view. Naturally, we must first verify that person’s competence through observation or deduction if we ourselves cannot fathom the issue itself by such means.
This is the collection of methods a person uses with the orientation of the system of creation. Islam accredits all three ways, and the Noble Qur’an, which is the divine book of Islam, explicitly bases the call of God on the principles governing the world.
It enjoins and leads us to a series of ideological and practical teachings necessitated by the relationship of humanity with the world and the universal order in general. The human civilization will sooner or later realize the necessity of believing in and effectuating these teachings.
“So set thy face toward the pure religion; it is in accordance with the nature [fitrah] of God upon which He has formed the nature of humankind. There is no alteration in the creation of God. This is the enduring (and true) religion, however most humans do not know.”1
Based on this, Islam enjoins us to adhere to knowledge and science and has prohibited following irrational and unscientific paths. It warns of speech and actions that are not in line with reason and necessitate following doubt, conjecture, carnal lusts, desires, feelings, and longings.
“And follow not that of which you have no knowledge…”2
“…surely conjecture will not avail aught against the truth…”3
“And do not follow desire, for it shall lead you astray from the path of Allah…”4
Method of the guidance of the superior [tarīq-e irshād-e mawlawī]
In the Divine Book, God, the Almighty, directly addresses His servants and speaks with us. He portrays His divinity and pure qualities. He describes the principles of the universal system, which He has created and manages, and the genesis and termination of the cosmos, which He directs. Also, He explains the decrees and instructions that must be carried out in the human world which are founded upon the universal system.
This method of expression seen in religious literature, i.e. the Holy Qur’an and narrations of the Prophet (S) and the infallible members of his Household, is an aspect of “the guidance of a superior” [irshād-e mawlawī]. It shows that humans, who are infinitesimal before God, must submit before the divine presence of the Creator and obey His “canonical” [tashrī‘ī] laws just as they by their natures obey His “genetic” [takwīnī] (i.e. natural, hence inviolable) laws.
No doubt, this method of expression is acceptable to true advocates of Islam and disciples of the school of the Qur’an, that is, those who have comprehended the righteousness of Islam and the divinity of the Qur’an through knowledge and conviction. For, on the one hand, the Divine—who has created all laws, reasons, and even the structure of causality—is not restricted by His own creation. He is above these causes, and not limited by them.
When we ask a person, “Why did you do that?” or “Why did you say that?” we are asking for the cause. What we mean is: what external cause gave you the right to do or say that?
Logically, this question or objection is only justifiable regarding a person who is bound by external causes and whose rights derive from external activities, effects, and rules. However, concerning a being that has created the concept of necessity and effect of external causes, this question or objection is completely irrelevant.
If what He commands is of the genetic order, His command is precisely the external existence of the phenomenon.5 If it is of the canonical order, it is an external virtue or evil that has been given the form of an instruction or prohibition,6 and this is, of course, according to reason.
On the other hand, with regard to the fact that Islam is a natural [fitrī] religion (meaning that it is in line with human nature not that it is mundane or secular) and that its intellectual and practical substance derives from the universal system of creation, Islam asks only that which conforms to the human make-up.
The existential constitution of humanity is equipped with abilities and mechanisms which yearn for the religious call and, obviously, this does not require comprehensive rationalization.
By way of illustration, a human, who is constitutionally equipped with the faculty of nutrition from head to toe, does not require reasoning to accept the statement of one who prescribes them food. In the same manner, a person who is equipped with a reproductive system and does not suffer from dispositional or mental deviations will never deny the tradition of marriage and will not need an extensive rationale to accept this institution.
It is self-evident, therefore, that genetic equipment makes its needs palpable and acceptable to its host (on the condition that the host does not deviate from the genetic or natural course on account of malady).
This method, pronounced in the statements of the Qur’an—i.e. guidance of the superior—is one of the three methods that were previously indicated. This concise encroachment upon this method was beyond the objectives of this text. In fact, our chief aim is to demonstrate the authority Islam bestows upon the other two methods: “the rational method” [tarīq-e istidlāl] and “the empirical method” [tarīq-e mushāhidah wa ‘ayān]. Among these, major consideration is credited to the empirical method or transcendent life of Islam, which is otherwise called “Islamic eschatology”.
The rational method
We cannot doubt that discourse and curiosity regarding the causes of incidents and rationalization of doubtful or suspect theories is an intrinsic and natural human characteristic.
Humans understand phenomena using all available faculties. They necessarily accept and cannot disregard them. They comprehend that knowing and understanding something that has causes and means depends upon knowing those causes and means. Thus, when they intend to understand something, first they discuss and enquire into its causes.
Humans are realists due to their God-given fitrah and do not depart from the fortress of thought for as long as they are alive and healthy. Whatever they comprehend is due to thought, something for which they never asked. They eternally desire independence from thought and do not regard it to be objective. They are forever seeking external truth and independent of thought.
Consider a man who peers at himself though a mirror. Even though he knows the mirror creates disruption in his appearance—such as inversion, magnification, reduction, etc.—he is concerned with his own face not the illusory image that is portrayed in the mirror.
In any event, humans are naturally realists. Even when those who deviate from this belief through discourse or other factors and become sophists or skeptics summarize the essence of their beliefs and say “we doubt everything”, “we doubt everything external to ourselves”, or “there is nothing but our thoughts”, it is evident that these statements are presented as scientific and definite information in a realist perspective.
In addition, in their daily lives they treat their thoughts realistically like everyone else. When they encounter an external advantage, they hurry to achieve it and when they come across disadvantage, they try to avoid it and never treat their thoughts as unreal. As a result, in practice, they confirm that they are realists.
Additionally, even when advocates of “pragmatism”, who have negated the value of realism in thought and only give credence to realism in practice, define the essence of their thought: “thought only has practical value”, they put forth this statement as something with real value.
It is evident that they want us to believe that in reality thoughts only have practical value and this itself is a practical truth. If their intent is only the practical value of this thought, then they are a type of skeptic. If so, like true skeptics they would also give credence to thought in words and deeds (as previously stated). Therefore, humankind cannot escape from realism.
Obviously, we must not go too far and conclude that any thought, even one deriving from human senses, completely corresponds with reality and that reality is exactly what we perceive externally without human cognitive processing.
What we mean is that the distance between self and the external world is not completely obstructed and, in short, the human mind can access external reality. (Further elucidation of this matter will come at its proper place.)
These two issues, meaning “human realism” and “human rational intellect”, which derive from human nature and genesis, have drawn the attention of Islam—which is based upon the system of creation. As a result, even though Islam has conveyed its teachings though divine revelation (guidance of the superior), it has also traversed the path of free reasoning and in this way encourages and emphatically recommends following Islam.
For example, among the (over six thousand six hundred) verses of the Holy Qur’an, many verses may be found that express the theoretical and practical teachings of Islam in a ratiocinative manner. These verses present their objectives with sufficient reasons to the realist instinct and rational intellect of humanity.
None of these verses demand that their ideas be accepted without dispute and the Qur’an does not reason about them as a pastime; rather, the Qur’an requests: “Freely refer to your sound judgment. If you confirm these assertions though the reasons and evidence provided (and you will surely confirm them) accept and submit to Islam. (This is the philosophical and free rationality outlook.)”
As a further example, amid the holy Qur’anic verses, there are many that rebuke ignorance and rigidity of mind, praise knowledge and understanding, and instruct humans to think, contemplate, plan, weigh, debate, and inquire into every nook and cranny of the world of creation.
These verses are so profuse and clear that quoting them does not seem necessary. However, there are some practical precepts that rise from the superior knowledge of God, such as the following statement: “…That is better for you, if you know.”7
These verses combined with other verses that enjoin intellection and thought indicate that every Muslim must understand the good and evil which give rise to religious precepts, even if they cannot understand their details and characteristics.
Many hadīths regarding this issue may be found in the traditions of the Prophet (S) and statements of the noble members of his Household [ahl al-bayt] (‘a).
1. Sūrat al-Rūm 30:30.
2. Sūrat al-Isrā’ 17:36.
3. Sūrat al-Yūnus 10:36.
4. Sūrat Sād 38:26.
5. Contrary to our speech, the speech of Allah is not a set of compiled sounds that signify meaning on account of established conventions and the speech of Allah is in no way similar to the speech of creations. This is due to the fact that verbal expression is not possible without corporeal form and Allah is free of corporeality. Rather, the speech of Allah is the creation of an object, which demonstrates the perfection of the Creator. As Amīr al-Mu’minīn ‘Alī (‘a) has declared: “His speech is His deed.”
6. Instruction, prohibition, and other ordinary commands are a type of social accreditation that is normally carried out by utterance or signal. Doubtless, it absolutely necessitates the corporeality and sociality of the commander; this is impossible regarding Allah. Rather, the instruction and prohibition of Allah is creation of something that intrinsically expresses the command. For further information regarding speech [kalām] refer to “Tafsīr al-Mīzān”.
7. Sūrat al-Tawbah (or Barā’ah) 9:41.