This world is the abode of the human being, and it is a place in which we face many problems throughout our life. The problems that we face may be of diverse natures and of variant types, but all can be classified into three broader categories: (I) problems related to humans and their outer-world; (II) the problems of the inner world of human beings; (III) and problems related to the inter-relationship of human beings. Human beings are bestowed with the faculties of intellect and wisdom. Human history is nothing more or less than the tale of our efforts to ascertain the solution to these problems. The experimental method is the route followed by the intellect. The intellect assumes one route on an experimental basis to judge the appropriateness of a solution. Occasionally, we are successful, but sometimes the experiment proves to be faulty and human intellect has to search for another route. In this way, human intellect gradually steps forward, on an experimental basis, to discover the realities of life and the solutions to problems.
In this scenario, according to one school of thought, as there is no source of knowledge but intellect for human beings, then there is no alternative with which we can identify the solutions of human problems. We have to go along life’s journey under the guidance of the intellect, bearing the distress of each abortive effort.
A second school of thought opposes this view. It states that intellect alone is not enough to reveal the truths of life and/or to solve the problems. Rather, knowledge is also a source; one can differentiate between right and wrong. Moreover, humans should be able to reach the destination safely and save themselves from the fruitless and exhaustive efforts of the intellect. But unlike animals, knowledge is not an instinctive characteristic of all human beings. Humanity has been given such knowledge through selected persons; this knowledge is called revelation.
Revelation does not exclude human intellect; rather, it respects it and claims that just as the human eye needs light to see, so too does the intellect depend on the light of revelation to be able to view the world correctly.
After having looked at these two different points of views, it is time to compare them.
Today, if human intellect (even after thousands of failures) has discovered the true solution to all problems, then there is no need for human beings to take on revelation as a panacea. The intention of revelation was to solve the problems of life. If such problems have been solved without the assistance of revelation, then it is useless to discuss intellect or revelation.
But what if human intellect is yet to discover the true solution of the problems of life and is yet entangled in the whirlpool of its experiments? Then, it is worth investigating whether humans should continue pursuing these answers with the intellect or whether they should verify the claim of the revelation by adopting its approach for dealing with problematic situations.
Today’s world carries the burden of diverse problems-social unrest, political instability, wide-spread poverty and destitution, prostitution, homicide, drug addiction, alcoholism, the disintegration of the family, juvenile delinquency, terrorism, suicides and AIDS. The figures and forecasts of this virulent disease are intimidating, bearing in mind that prostitution and pornography are not only permitted in many countries worldwide, but are becoming money-spinning sources of living, particularly in the West. This is aggravated by the actuality that there is at present an ever-increasing rise in the international trafficking of children for these purposes. Moreover, infidelity is also on the rise, along with soaring crime rates in leading democratic and formerly communist countries. Undeniable facts illustrate that man-made systems that are devoid of Divine guidance have done more damage than good to humanity. It appears that the ambitions of knowledge and contentment have not been realized.
In philosophy and contemporary sciences-natural, behavioral, and social-the source of knowledge is limited to the human intellect and its five senses. Revelation is dismissed out of hand, and is not considered to be a source of knowledge; it is renounced as being nothing more than a parable or a superstition. This refusal to accept revelation as a source of knowledge is a phenomenon that has both historical and philosophical antecedents.
It is the natural attribute of human intelligence to identify and strive to destroy disorders that exist in and near it; this is part of the “quest for truth.” Astoundingly, regardless of humanity’s efforts to bring order by abolishing these disorders, they are in fact increasing the world over. It is the same intelligence that causes the disorders and the attempts to correct them; the only difference is the level of perception. Intelligence, if it is improved, or not disturbed, believes that it can alter the situation of the world by evangelizing good behavior. Any amount of teaching or intimidation will only bring about a provisional alteration in behavior; yet it is only a fundamental or basic change in humanity’s frame of mind that can change the world.
If we are not able to elucidate “why things are the way they are” by means of principles that are the results of the intellect, then the only alternative, other than abandoning our pursuit, is to search for the true principles as the source. So, one might be led to inquire, where do we turn for an appropriate understanding of reality and the purpose of life itself then? If we cannot rely on the knowledge or findings of any human source, then where can we discover a dependable source of knowledge?
Moreover, knowledge that is gained through the endeavor of the intellect does not exist in isolation, but rather is linked with the economics and politics of the culture from which it arises, as well as all the rest of that culture. The thoughts, attitudes, feelings, values, motives, purposes, goals, modes of action and organization, rituals, and institutions of a society are all interrelated and all affect one another. The attention to nature, the idea that there are causes for things, that there is an underlying harmony and something constant behind change and diversity, and that the Universe is regulated by laws are attitudes that result from religion. These are pre-requisites that must be fulfilled before science can begin.
In fact, the Qur’an attaches great worth to human intellect. It appeals to the intellect of its addressees in order to persuade them about its legitimacy as the word of God. It denounces those who fail to employ their intellects as being undeserving of God’s blessings, and being no better than animals. Furthermore, those who do not have the appropriate mental ability-for example, children before they reach the age of puberty and the mentally ill-are not expected to fulfill the requirements imbedded in the message of Islam according to the Prophet.
Nevertheless, these facts about the intellect do not signify that human intellect does not have its limitations. It can be swayed to believe, for instance, what opposes its own instincts. Unrestrained eagerness for a definite model, equally, can cause the intellect to be prejudiced to what is undeserving of endorsement. There are, likewise, some intriguing problems which are beyond its grasp. All these limitations restrain the efficiency of human intellect if used without restrictions. It appears to yearn-given these restrictions-for external guidance. Divine Revelation in the form of the messages of the prophets (peace and blessings be upon them) is this very guidance. The Qur’an and Sunna (way of life of the Prophet) represent the final version of this guidance. The Qur’an has given an account of the connection between Divine Revelation and human intellect as being light upon light (Qur’an 24:35); that is, the guidance of human intellect is principally a light, although with defects (and therefore not bright), while the Divine revelation in the form of the Qur’an is a brighter light to compensate for the imperfections of the intellect. Hence, a brighter light (the Divine revelation) exhibits the path to a less bright light (the human intellect).
Islam, being the final source of revealed knowledge in the modern world, also equips us with the techniques to differentiate between good and evil. It does not base our knowledge of wickedness and virtue on mere intellect, desire, intuition, or experience that are derived through the senses; these frequently experience changes and alterations and therefore fail to offer explicit and unchanging ethical norms. As an alternative, Islam provides us with an unbiased source, the Divine revelation, as is obvious in the Book of Allah and the Sunnah of the Prophet. This source recommends a standard of moral conduct that is lasting and universal, holding true in every age and under all circumstances.
- Barbour, Ian G., “Religion in an Age of Science”, HarperCollins: New York, 1991.
- Hooykaas, R., “Religion and the Rise of Modern Science”, Scottish Academic Press, 1972.