Beyond Ratiocination

18Apr07

The following is the text of three articles [one of which has already been posted on Ekhlas] entitled:

1. Beyond the Intellect [Spiritual Tendencies]

2. Reason, Argumentation, and Belief [Shaykh Hamza Karamali, SunniPath]

3. Can the existence of God be proven rationally? [Shaykh Faraz Rabbani, SunniPath]

Beyond the Intellect:

Imam Abū Hāmid al-Ghazālī—may Allāh protect his secret—said:

Beyond the intellect is another sphere to which another eye is opened, and by it the unseen and what happens in the future are really seen, and other things from which the intellect is isolated, just as the faculty of discernment is isolated from perceiving the objects of the intellect.

Shaykh Muhyiddīn Ibn ‘Arabī—may Allāh protect his secret—said:

Those who know God come to know concerning Him through His Knowledge of His own Essence that which intellects cannot know in respect of their own sound reflections. This is the knowledge about which the Tribe (Sufis) says that it lies beyond the stage of the intellect. God says concerning His servant Khidr, “We taught him a knowledge from us” (Holy Qur’ān 18:64); and He says, “[He created man] and taught him the explanation” (Holy Qur’ān 55:4); so He attributed the teaching to Himself, not to reflection (al-fikr). Hence we know that there is a station beyond reflection that bestows upon the servant knowledge of various things.

Shaykh ‘Ayn al-Qudhāh al-Hamadānī—may Allāh protect his secret—said:

The greater a man’s attainment of this stage (the stage beyond the intellect), the more aware his intellect is of its inability to understand the reality of the First (al-Awwal) and of His Attributes. The highest stage of the intelligibles appears when the intellect realizes its inability to perceive many existent things which appear at the stage beyond the intellect. The limit of the stage of reason is linked to the intial stage beyond reason, just as the limit of discretion (sensory perception) is linked to the initial stage of the intellect. If a scholar is perfect in his knowledge, he must needs be able to discover that he is certainly incapable of comprehending the divine reality. However, he only realizes this after he has mastered many premises known to the speculative scholars. Thereafter, there will be a wide gap and a great difference between the intellect’s realization of the inability of deductive method and the gnostic’s (’ārif) realization of that inability, that is to say that the intellect is incapable of comprehending the understanding of the gnostic. The intellect’s realization of its inability is almost like the inability of the imagination with regard to the realization of the understanding of the intellect. By deductive methods, the imagination realizes its inability to understand obscure things which are conceivable.

However, the intellect realizes the inability of the imagination to perceive its understanding without any premise. The imagination reaches its climax when it recognises its inability to perceive rational knowledge established by reason through the use of correct premises. Likewise, when an intelligent man realizes the inability of the intellect to perceive the understanding of the gnostics, he has then reached the limit of the intellect and perceived the utmost of what is perceptible by reason. He has then certainly been close to the final object of his search. At this point the traveller (sālik) has completed the first stage of his journey to Gnosis (ma’rifah).

Reason, Argumentation, and Belief :

Question:

Can the existence of God be proven through the intellect alone and not the heart, i.e. formal logic? Some scholars claim it is possible, and that appears to be the position commonly repeated in a lot of the classical texts on the subject. Others (such as Shaykh Nuh Keller?*) say that it is not the job of the mutakallimun to prove the existence of God, only to ensure that people are aware of its rational possibility. It is claimed that Islam itself cannot be proven, or everyone would be a Muslim. It was reported to me that individuals from the first group (such as Sidi Abu Qanit al-Hasani, author of The Guiding Helper) reply that the position of the second group may well be derived from the structure and nature of their pre-Islamic learning in Western universities, and that they are not fully aware of the answers of the advanced mutakallimun on some of the newer arguments against the existence of God that have become commonplace in the West. They stand by the statements of the classical mutakallimun that the attributes of God can be rationally proven. I also have a further, more specific, question. What, if anything, is the formal reply of the mutakallimun of our age to David Hume’s criticism of the cosmological argument from the First Cause, particularly when concerned with the infinite regress of causes? Finally, can you tell me the names of scholars in the current age who are especially noted for their knowledge of kalam, particularly when it comes to being fully aware of trends in the West?

Answer:

In the Name of Allah, Most Merciful and Compassionate

The existence of God can, indeed, be proven through the intellect alone, but this proof requires sound reasoning and careful deduction from premises. In other words, Allah Most High has erected definitive signs that point to His existence and to the veracity of His prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace), but He did not make these signs obvious and self-evident.

What this means is that people who are sincerely seeking the truth will find that their reason unquestionably indicates the existence of God and the veracity of the Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace). People who have already decided not to believe, however, will be able to construct an endless number of logical maneuvers that enable them to argue and object to such arguments, not because the arguments are insufficient, but because such people have already made up their minds not to believe. They are arguing with the goal of reaching a foregone conclusion, not with the goal of following the truth.

This was the state of the unbelievers of Mecca: the Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace) brought them clear signs, but they did not want to leave the way of their ancestors even after it had become clear to them that the truth lay in following the way of the Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace).

Arguing with such people is fruitless and it draws us into a never-ending cycle of objection, reply-to-objection, objection-to-reply, reply-to-objection-to-reply, etc. The Quran teaches us that the way to deal with such people is to present one’s arguments in a manner that convinces them, but not to get sucked into the subsequent fruitless debate. This is evident in Quran 2:118, for example, and also in many other verses that cannot be lost on anyone who reads the Quran.

Scholars such as Shaykh Nuh Keller do not object to the definitiveness of rational arguments [1], but rather to the usefulness of getting drawn into hairsplitting debates with people who have already made up their mind not to believe in God.

The way to bring people to Islam is not to construct intricate philosophical arguments, but to present the teachings of Islam in a sensible, rational manner, while at the same time appealing to the spiritual and emotional faculties within human beings. The problem with most disbelievers to who launch philosophical attacks against believers is simply that they don’t want to believe. The philosophical arguments are merely a facade to make it seem like they are being sincere.

It is important for Muslims to engage in the intellectual debates of the age and make the light of Islam shine bright and clear. The way to do this, however, is not to push one’s way into the philosophical amphitheaters of our age and flex one’s intellectual muscle. Successful da`wa has always been carried out by someone who is first and foremost a living example of the message that he is carrying. Sharp intellect and eloquent speech are secondary. [2]

And Allah knows best.

[1] You can read about Shaykh Nuh’s position in his comprehensive article Kalam and Islam, where he clearly supports the authoritativeness of rational arguments. He says, for example,

In cosmology, for example, the origin of the universe must be explained causally, and most scientists currently believe that the universe began about fifteen billion years ago in a cosmic cataclysm they term the Big Bang. And yet this most interesting of all events, indeed the effective cause of all of them, is somehow exempted from the scientific dictum that to explain something is to suggest a cause for it. Why the Big Bang? What urged its being rather than its nonbeing? This is no trivial enigma, still less a play on words. If to explain an event is to find a cause for it, then the Big Bang is not an scientific “explanation” for the origin of the universe in any ordinary sense of the word. Here, the kalam argument that the contingent must return to the necessary is still relevant today, and has been cited by name in works such as Craig and Smith’s Theism, Atheism, and Big Bang Cosmology. The prevailing cosmological view among scientists is that the universe did have a beginning, and this requires an explanation.

[2] Imam Ghazali observed this almost a millennium ago: one of his sharpest criticisms against the philosophers of his age was that their deeds and states did not correspond to their theories and arguments.

Can the existence of God be proven rationally?

Question:

Is the existence of Allah and his attributes rationally provable with the mind without doubt – since iman is based on taklif.

Or is Allah’s existence just a guess that we take hoping it is true with a certainty (the Christian concept of “leap of faith.”)

Answer:

In the Name of Allah, Most Merciful and Compassionate

May Allah’s peace and blessings be upon His Messenger Muhammad, his folk, companions, and followers

قَالَتْ رُسُلُهُمْ أَفِي اللّهِ شَكٌّ فَاطِرِ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالأَرْضِ يَدْعُوكُمْ لِيَغْفِرَ لَكُم مِّن ذُنُوبِكُمْ وَيُؤَخِّرَكُمْ إِلَى أَجَلٍ مُّسَـمًّى

[إبراهيم : 10]

“Their messengers said: Can there be doubt concerning Allah, the Creator of the heavens and the earth ?

He calls you that He may forgive you your sins and reprieve you unto an appointed term.”

[Qur’an, 14.10]

Walaikum assalam wa rahmatullah,

Reason does have ‘sufficient proofs’ for the existence of God insofar as they are sound and rigorous, and free of fallacy. They may convince some people, particularly when presented well and with strength of conviction.

However, they are not ‘self-evident’ but based on premises. The problem why they some–including notable scholars well versed in philosophy and modern thought–consider them “insufficient” is that each premise could be questioned, and proof be sought for it. Sound reasoning –like those of our theologians (Allah have mercy on them)–can ‘prove’ each of these premises. Then the skeptic could question the bases of the new ‘proof’, and the discussion would go on until the strength of argument of the theologian (or the skeptic) prevail.

The Qur’an has numerous examples of rational arguments. However, as scholars note, it also shows that the way to deal with skeptics is to ‘go beyond’ the rational to appeal to the entirety of human experience–the mind, the heart, the soul, the emotions, and lived experience (personal and social).

The Qur’an engages the human, as if Allah is asking the reader–as he was asked before material creation–”Am I not your Lord?” The sincere seeker whom Allah wishes to guide finds no choice but to say, “Indeed!”

One problem, then, of purely rational proofs is that they aren’t themselves ‘sufficiently convincing,’ as the human isn’t just a rational being–and the skeptical mind is given, as the Qur’an tells us, to endless argumentation.

At the level of belief, proofs appealing to the heart and soul are often more convincing; and the proof the soul finds within it through spiritual turning is the most convincing–as Imam Ghazali concluded. Allah Most High points to this in the Qur’an, “And in yourselves–do you not reflect?”
The key to the Qur’an is the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him), and the key to the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) are his inheritors in each generation–those who live and exemplify his example and guidance.

This is why those who are guided to Islam tend to be guided by interaction with Muslims; and the Muslims who have the greatest impact are those most spiritually realized—because, as the Qur’an tells us, “their signs are on their faces.”

And Allah alone gives success.

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2 Responses to “Beyond Ratiocination”


  1. 1 Seekersdigest.org » Blog Archive » Beyond Ratiocination - Belief, Reason, and the Role of the Intellect in Understanding the Existence of God - « ekhlas
  2. 2 Al’ ilmun Nafi’ » Blog Archive » Beyond Ratiocination « ekhlas

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