What is the place of reason in Islam?
No Muslim is unaware, at minimum, that Islam celebrates the intellect, vaunting its worth and considering it a focus of every religious obligation. Only the intelligent are addressed by religious rulings and are obliged to fulfill them; whoever is incapable of mature intellection, whether because of youth or insanity, is not responsible before the religious law. Likewise, the Qur’an is the sole scripture to exhort “those of insight” and “those of discernment,” that is, those who exercise reason. Islam is a religion that constantly enjoins reflection and pondering, and Qur’anic verses often include or end with such formulas as, will you not, then, consider?…; will you not, then, ponder?…; will you not, then, remember? The Qur’an includes many other formulations (some of which are reproduced below) that are unprecedented in the texts of earlier religious communities.
We have composed an entire book expounding the value accorded by the Qur’an to the intellect and its fruits in knowledge. The most important matter we clarified there was that the Qur’anic teachings and guidance work toward a rational, scientific project that can yield a true renaissance, build a civilization, and found disciplines of knowledge. This is the exact antithesis of the credulous intellect that accepts everything it hears. The Qur’an bases this rationality upon seven pillars that we shall briefly reiterate here:
1) Refuse conjecture in the face of certainty, as God Most High says denigrating the pagan approach: And they have no knowledge thereof. They follow but conjecture, and lo! conjecture does not avail a whit against truth (Q 53:28) and Say: Do you have any knowledge that you might adduce for us? Lo! you follow naught but conjecture, Lo! you do but guess (Q 6:148).
2) Refuse the influence of fancies, and the guidance of emotions, for these affect rational and objective considerations. God Most High says: They follow but conjecture, and lo! conjecture does not avail a whit against truth (Q 53:28) and and follow not desire, that it beguile you from the way of God (Q 38:26).
3) Refuse blind imitation of one’s forefathers and ancestors. God Most High says: And when it is said to them: Follow that which God has revealed, they say: We follow that wherein we found our fathers. What! Even though their fathers were wholly unintelligent and had no guidance? (Q 2:170).
4) Refuse intellectual dependence on leaders and elders. God Most High says: And they will say, Our Lord! Lo! we obeyed our princes and great men, and they misled us from the Way (Q 33:67). The Qur’an levels the responsibility for such dependence: but they did follow the command of Pharaoh, and the command of Pharaoh was no right guide. / He will go before his people on the Day of Resurrection and will lead them to the Fire; and wretched is the place where they are led (Q 11:97-98).
5) Invite consideration and reflection on the universe and on humanity (or, on the cosmos and the soul). God Most High says: Say, consider what is in the heavens and the earth (Q 10:101) and Do they not consider the dominion of heavens and earth, and what things God has created (Q 7:185).
6) Require establishing evidence for any invitation: scriptural proofs for shari‘a matters—Has God permitted you, or do you invent something about God? (Q 10:59)—and rational proofs for the appropriate matters—Or have they chosen other gods besides Him? Say: Bring your proof (Q 21:24) and And they say: none enters Paradise unless he be a Jew or a Christian. These are their own desires. Say: Bring your proof, if you are truthful (Q 2:111)—and witness testimony for what is sensible or observable—And they make the angels, who are the slaves of the Beneficent, female. Did they witness their creation? (Q 43:19).
7) Attend the habitual ways of God (i.e., invariable processes) in the universe and society. God says: Systems have passed away before you. Do but travel in the land and see the nature of the consequence for those who did deny (Q 3:137) and You will not find for God’s way of treatment any substitute, nor will you find for God’s way of treatment aught power to change (Q 35:43). Due to these the Prophet, peace and blessings upon him, denied magic, the occult, the practice of amulets, the blessing of trees and stones, and everything that does not fall under the established system of causes and effects. These are all based on illusion and falsehood.