By Arif M Khan
Nahjul Balagha (a collection of sermons and letters by Maula Ali) reports a profound statement: “Surely God has characterised the angles by intellect without sexual, and the animals with anger and desire without intellect. He exalted man by bestowing upon him all of these qualities. Therefore, if man’s intellect dominates his desire and passion, he rise to a rank higher than that of angles, because he achieves this rank despite the obstacles that do not vex the angles.”
This remark is emblematic of the importance of the use of reason and intelligence in Islamic tradition. The Quran repeatedly exhort its students to apply their minds to understand the signs of God contained both in the word (Quran) and work (Creation) of God. It says: “Do they not then earnestly seek to understand Quran or are their hearts looked up by them?” (47.24).
The Quran disapproves of those who instead of making an effort to understand the Book, show misplaced reverence towards it: “And those who when they are reminded of the signs of their Lord, fall not deaf and blind thereat” (25.73). It is important to note that the Quran uses the same Arabic word ayat (proofs, evidences, verse, lessons, signs, revelations, etc.) booth for its own sentences and for all creation in the universe, animate and inanimate: “Behold! In the creation of the heavens and the earth; in the alternation of the night and the day; in the sailing of the ships through the ocean for the profit of mankind; in the rain which God sends down from the skies and the life which He gives therewith to an earth that is dead; in the beasts of all kinds that He scatters through the earth; in the change of the winds and the clouds which they trail like their slaves between the sky and the earth; (here) indeed are signs (ayats) for a people who understand” (2.164).
In fact, the Islamic tradition elevated “scholarship” to a status higher than that of martyrdom and rated “reflection” as more valuable than worship and devotion. The holy Prophet often used to remind his audience that “the ink of the scholar is holier than the blood of the martyr”.
Elsewhere, he said, “One hour’s meditation on the works of the Creator (God) is better than seventy year’s prayer.” Another report says that when asked to describe the quality of the devotions of the holy Prophet, a companion replied that “it was meditation and reflection.”
Likewise, the Quran mentions remembrance of the Creator and reflection in the creation in one single verse: “Verily, in the creation of the heavens and the earth, and in the alternation of night and day, there are indeed signs for men of understanding. Those who celebrate the praises of Allah standing sitting and lying down on their sides and contemplate the (wonder of) creation in the heavens and the earth (and say): ‘Our Lord! Not for naught have You created (all) this’!” (3.191-192).
On the other hand, those who do not exercise their intellect and reasons have been compared with animals: “For the worst of beasts in the sight of God are the deaf and the dumb – those who understand no” (8.22). Another verse describes them as people who are deaf, dumb and blind (2.218). Describing the life in the hereafter, the Quran warns of divine punishment to those who use not their reason: “They will further say: ‘Had we but listened or used our intelligence, we should not (now) be among the Companions of the Blazing Fire’!” (67.10).
The Quran asserts that if people keep their eyes and ears open they can learn wisdom. It says, “Do they not travel through the land so that their hearts (and minds) may thus learn wisdom and their ears may thus learn to hear? ‘Truly it is not their eyes that are blind, but their hearts which are in their breasts” (22.46). The Quran has more than 700 verses prescribing the use of reason and at those who apply reason: “And those who strive in Our (Cause) We will certainly guide them to Our Paths” (29.69).
Source: The Sunday Guardian