What Islam Says About Reason, Science, Spiritual Freedom and Predestination, By Murthada Gusau
…the Allah-given ability to acquire knowledge and recognise truth, has been assigned an exalted status in Islam. Rational thought and the resultant disciplines of logic and science are essential for understanding the divine revelation and its relationship to the natural world.
In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful
Verily, all praise is for Allah, we seek His help and His forgiveness. We seek refuge with Allah from the evil of our own souls [and from our bad deeds. Whomsoever Allah guides will never be led astray, and whomsoever Allah leaves astray, no one can guide. I bear witness that there is no god but Allah, [alone and without any partner] and I bear witness that Muhammad is His slave and Messenger.
“O you who believe! Fear Allah as He should be feared, and die not except in a state of Islam (as Muslims) with complete submission to Allah.” [Ali Imran 3:102]
“O mankind! Be dutiful to your Lord, Who created you from a single person, and from him He created his wife, and from them both He created many men and women, and fear Allah through Whom you demand your mutual (rights), and (do not cut the relations of) the wombs (kinship). Surely, Allah is Ever an All-Watcher over you).” [al-Nisa’ 4:1]
“O you who believe! Keep your duty to Allah and fear Him, and speak (always) the truth. He will direct you to do righteous good deeds and will forgive you your sins. And whosoever obeys Allah and His Messenger (SAW), he has indeed achieved a great achievement (i.e. he will be saved from the Hellfire and made to enter Paradise).” [al-Ahzaab 33:70-71]
As to what proceeds: Verily the best of speech is the Book of Allah and the best of guidance is the guidance of Muhammad (SAW). The worst of affairs are the newly-invented affairs in the religion and every newly invented affair in the religion is an innovation and every innovation is misguidance and all misguidance is in the hellfire. As to what proceeds:
Servants of Allah! Know that, It is chic nowadays to berate Islam not only as the source of problems faced by Muslims, but also of ALL problems. According to the proponents of this absurdity, Islam must be abandoned and replaced by secular humanism in order for Muslims to survive. A recent posting in an e-forum stated:
“Muslims saw the light of science and glory exactly when they were living under liberal and progressive rulers like those Abbasid kings, i.e. when Muslims were away from the Islamic bondage and were allowed to think freely. Likewise, Christian Europe saw the light of science and modernity when they came out of the bondage of orthodox Christianity (through renaissance) and were allowed to think freely. And Muslims lost its science and glory when Muslims entered again in the bondage of religion of Islam and lost the power of free thinking.”
Respected Brothers and Sisters! How accurate are such assertions? Is Islam against science, logic, reason, intellect and spiritual freedom? Is it responsible for the current sad state of affairs prevalent in many Muslim nation-states or Muslim-majority-regions?
Brothers and Sisters! Reason (al-‘aql), the Allah-given ability to acquire knowledge and recognise truth, has been assigned an exalted status in Islam. Rational thought and the resultant disciplines of logic and science are essential for understanding the divine revelation and its relationship to the natural world. In contrast, indulgence in irrationality and unreasonable thinking is a means of disgrace, violence, and destruction.
It is by reason that we may know with certainty that Allah created the world and has subjected its nature to universal laws. Allah the Most High said:
“Verily, in the creation of the heavens and earth, and the alternation of the night and the day, and the ships which sail through the sea with benefits for people, and what Allah has sent down from the heavens of rain, giving life thereby to the earth after its lifelessness and dispersing therein every creature, and in His directing of the winds and the clouds controlled between the heaven and the earth are signs for a people who use reason.” (Surah Al-Baqarah, 2:164)
And Allah the Almighty said:
“He has subjected for you the night and day and the sun and moon, and the stars are subjected by His command. Verily, in that are signs for people who reason.” (Surah An-Nahl 16:12)
It is by reason that we may know the truth of divine revelation and the teachings of all of the prophets. Allah the Exalted said:
“We have certainly revealed to you a Book in which is your mention. Then will you not reason?” (Surah Al-Anbiya 21:20)
It is by reason that we may recognise right and wrong as it is presented in the scripture and as it is known to the innate instinct (fitrah) that Allah embedded within the human soul.
An-Nawwas ibn Sam’an reported that:
“I asked the Messenger of Allah about righteousness and sin. The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, said: Righteousness is good character and sin is what waivers in your heart and you hate for people to find out about it.” (Sahih Muslim)
In another narration, the Prophet said:
“Consult your soul, consult your heart.” (Sunan Ad-Darimi)
Sufyan ibn Uyaina, may Allah have mercy on him, said:
“The reasonable person is not one who merely recognises good and evil. Rather, the reasonable person is only one who follows good when he sees it, and who avoids evil when he sees it.” (Hilyat al-Awliya)
My people! Reason is, in fact, the foundation of a righteous Muslim’s character and the pillar upon which the soundness of his or her religion rests. Umar ibn Al-Khattab, may Allah be pleased with him, said:
“The foundation of a man is his intellect, his honour is in his religion, and his chivalry is in his character.” (Adab al-Dunya wal-Din)
And Imam Al-Ghazali said:
“Reason is the source and fountainhead of knowledge, as well as its foundation. Knowledge sprouts from it as the fruit does from a tree, as light comes from the sun, and as vision comes from the eye. How then could that which is the means of happiness in this life and the Hereafter not be considered the most honoured? Or how could it be doubted?” (Ihya’ Ulum al-Din)
Brothers and Sisters! The use of reason extends beyond religion to the study of creation and its natural sciences. It was the Prophet Idris who was the first human to write a script and to study the movement of the stars, which led to the development of mathematics and astronomy. Muslims who study science today and intend to benefit humanity by them are actually following the footsteps of the prophets and Messengers of Allah.
Mu’awiya ibn Al-Hakam reported that:
“I said, “O Messenger of Allah, among us are men who write script.” The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said: There was a Prophet among the Prophets who wrote script, so whoever writes according to his way is right.” (Sahih Muslim)
Imam Al-Qurtubi elaborates on the identity of this Prophet, saying:
“Idris, upon him be peace, was the first to write with the pen, the first to sew and stitch his clothing, and the first to study knowledge of the stars, their calculations, and their movements.” (al-Jamiʻ li-Ahkam al-Qurʼan)
My respected people! For this reason, many classical scholars accepted the validity of natural sciences and encouraged their study for the benefit of the community and humanity in general.
Imam Al-Ghazali said:
“As for natural sciences, they consist of examining the world of the heavens and the stars and the distinct substances that lie beneath them such as water, air, dirt, and fire, and the contingent substances such as animals, vegetation, and minerals, and the causes that alter them, transform them, and blend them. That is like the doctor’s examination of the human body, its primary and secondary parts, and the causes of change in its disposition. Just as it is not a condition of faith to reject medicine, neither is it a condition of faith to reject this knowledge.” (al-Munqidh min al-Dalal)
Muslim scholars throughout history have undertaken the challenge of reconciling reason (aql) and revelation (naql), the divine scripture with the findings of natural law and science. The health and well-being of Muslim societies depends upon the proper balance of religion and science, such that these two great bodies of knowledge and truth perform their necessary social functions in harmony with each other.
Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah said:
“Reason is a requirement for acquiring knowledge and performing righteous deeds, through which knowledge and deeds are perfected, but it is not enough on its own. Rather, it is a faculty of the soul and an ability like the ability within the eye to see. If it is connected with the light of faith and the Quran, then it is like the eye receiving the light of the sun and torch. If it is left to itself, it cannot gain insight into matters that it cannot know alone… Thus, the circumstances resulting from the denial of reason are defective, and ideas that contradict reason are false.” (Majmu’ al-Fatawa)
And he also said:
“Every reliable and authentic narration from the Prophet is the truth and confirms one another. It agrees with the natural instinct of creatures, sound reason that has been placed within them, and noble purposes. It cannot contradict sound reason, nor a noble purpose, nor an upright instinct, nor an authentic and established revelation from the Prophet.” (Majmu’ al-Fatawa)
Indeed, one of the trustworthy methods by which a narration falsely or mistakenly ascribed to the Prophet can be recognised is whether or not it contradicts sound reason.
Imam Ibn Al-Jawzi said:
“If you find a Prophetic narration disagreeing with sound reason, contradicting established revelation, or conflicting with the principles, then know that it is inauthentic.” (Tadrib al-Rawi)
Conversely, Allah has blamed those who forsake the use of their Allah-given reason. Irrationality is the characteristic of unbelief, idolatry, and hypocrisy, as the betrayal of reason hinders the ability of people to recognise the value of religion or causes them to cynically abuse religion for some worldly purpose. Allah the Most High said:
“When you call to prayer, they take it in ridicule and amusement. That is because they are people who will not reason.” (Surah Al-Ma’idah, 5:58)
And also Allah said:
“Do you order righteousness of the people and forget yourselves while you recite the Scripture? Then will you not reason?” (Surah Al-Baqarah 2:44)
Brothers and Sisters! The betrayal of reason opens the door to sin and leads people down the paths of destruction. The worst people are those who forgo logic and facts when the truth opposes their desires.
Allah the Almighty said:
“It is not for a soul to believe except by permission of Allah, and He will disgrace those who will not reason.” (Surah Yunus, 10:100)
And Allah said:
“Verily, the worst of living creatures in the sight of Allah are the deaf and dumb who will not reason.” (Surah Al-Anfal 8:22)
And also He the Most High said:
“They will say: If only we had been listening or reasoning, we would not be among the companions of the Blaze.” (Surah Al-Mulk 67:10)
In its most evil manifestations, the betrayal of reason leads to violence, bloodshed, and crimes against humanity.
Allah the Almighty said:
“Do not kill the soul which Allah has forbidden except by right of justice. This He has enjoined upon you that perhaps you will reason.” (Surah Al-An’am 6:151)
Servants of Allah! The enemies of Islam in the time of the Prophet not only persecuted and killed practicing Muslims, but they also persecuted their own people. The cause of their oppression was their abandonment of reason. Allah said:
“Their violence among themselves is severe. You imagine they are united, but their hearts are divided. That is because they are people who do not reason.” (Surah Al-Hashr 59:14)
Hence, the Prophet warned us of a time that would come in which violence and bloodshed would be widespread because people would no longer apply their ability to reason. Abu Musa reported that:
“The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said: Verily, before the Hour will come an upheaval and killing. Some of the people said, “O Messenger of Allah, will we be reasonable on that day?” The Prophet said: No, reason will be removed from most of the people in that era and the remaining people will not have their ability to reason.”
(Sunan Ibn Majah)
Therefore, Muslims should never be blind followers of a nation, a movement, a sect, or a charismatic leader, politician or a scholar who invokes vulgar prejudice, bigotry, demagoguery and talking ignorantly, anyhow and without reason. We should always examine the good and evil of every situation in light of the guidance of the scripture and our natural moral intuition.
Abu Hurairah reported that: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:
“Whoever fights under the banner of one who is blind, raging for the sake of tribalism, or calling to tribalism, or supporting tribalism, and is killed will have died upon ignorance.” (Sahih Muslim)
Hudhaifa reported that: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:
“Do not let yourselves become blind followers, saying that if the people are good then we will be good, and if they are unjust then we will be unjust. Rather, make up your own minds. If the people are good then be good, but if they are evil then do not be unjust.” (Sunan At-Tirmidhi)
My respected people! The true Muslim strives to apply his or her mind to the study of religion, science, and ethics. Muslims should value knowledge, intelligence, and logical thought as these virtues in no way contradict Islam. Rather, the blessed faculty of reason is fundamental and indispensable to our faith.
Brothers and Sisters! Know that the conflict in the human soul is a battle between the forces of reason and the forces of desire. Reason calls us to follow our nature and to control our desires for the sake of the greater good, whereas desire calls us to seek immediate pleasure despite the unfortunate consequences it may entail.
Every human being was born with an innate nature (fitrah) that inclines us toward the purpose for which we were created. The faculty of reason helps us identify the divine intention behind our design and it directs us to act accordingly. Allah the Most High said:
“So direct your face toward the religion, inclining to truth. Adhere to the nature of Allah upon which He has created all people. No change should there be in the creation of Allah. That is the correct religion, but most of the people do not know.” (Surah Ar-Rum, 30:30)
Abu Hurairah reported that:
“The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said: No one is born except they are upon natural instinct (Fitrah).” (Sahih Muslim)
Our nature is something we inherit, not something we can change or manipulate. Reason observes the patterns of nature, sometimes called “natural law,” and leads us to conclusions that are best for us as individuals and society: restriction of sexual intercourse to marriage, avoidance of harmful addictions and behaviours, encouragement of selfless charity, and adherence to law and order.
In fact, it is reason itself, our ability to control our desires and impulses, which separates human beings from the animals. Allah the Almighty said:
“Have you seen the one who takes his own desire as his god? Then would you be responsible for him? Or do you think that most of them hear or reason? They are not but like cattle (Animals). Rather, they are even further astray from the right path.” (Surah Al-Furqan, 25:43-44)
When people follow their desires instead of their reason, they become like animals who live only to eat, drink, and seek pleasure, without any transcendent purpose in life.
Imam Ibn Al-Jawzi said:
“Indeed, humans are only favoured over beastly animals by their minds which order them to restrain their desires. If one does not accept its suggestion and instead follows the judgment of his desires, the beastly animals will have more of an excuse than him.” (At-Tibb Ar-Ruhani)
True freedom, then, is spiritual in nature. An authentic and fully developed personality is one that can master his soul and prevent himself from following his lowly desires. Notwithstanding worldly aspects of freedom, such as freedom from slavery, the freedom professed by Islam must include freedom of the soul from being controlled by our desires.
Imam Ibn Al-Jawzi said:
“Know that when a human acts in accordance with his desire, he will find himself in disgrace and humiliation even if this desire does not harm him, for he has been defeated by his desire. When he overcomes his desire, he will find honour and pride in himself as he has been victorious. For this reason, when people see an ascetic they become amazed by him and they would kiss his hand out of respect because they consider him to be a person who is strong enough to abandon that over which they were weak, and that is disobeying his desire.” (At-Tibb Ar-Ruhani)
In contrast, a competing vision understands freedom in the opposite sense. Freedom, in this view, is the ability of a person to fulfill their desires without restraint from traditional moral and religious convictions, but rather self-indulgence should be maximised as much as possible. There is no such thing as human nature or absolute truth, for humans can be moulded into any form we wish. An authentic personality is one that can be “true to who they are” or do as they want even if it contradicts time-tested values. This view of freedom is, in fact, a form of spiritual slavery.
Abu Hurairah reported that:
“The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said: Wretched is the slave of gold and silver (slave of money), fine clothes, and garments. If he is given he is pleased, but if he is not given he is displeased.” (Sahih Bukhari)
A person who is only concerned about fulfilling their desires will not use reason to identify his nature and purpose in life, but rather will use his reason to rationalize his desires. Such was the view of Scottish philosopher David Hume when he wrote that:
“Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them.” (A Treatise of Human Nature)
Thus, happiness depends solely on the fulfillment of desires and reason is subjugated toward this end. People who practice this philosophy may achieve happiness in the short term, their actions in the long term will lead to despair as they realise their desires can never satisfied.
Anas bin Malik reported that:
“The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said: If the son of Adam had a valley full of gold, he would like to have two valleys, for nothing fills his mouth except dust (being put inside the grave).” (Sahih Bukhari)
For example, an alcoholic may rationalise his alcoholism by imagining that it makes him happy and fulfills his purpose in life, but eventually he will see its harm in the deterioration of his body and health, the clouding of the mind, or worse. The pleasure of alcohol will fade away as his health and intellect degrade.
Likewise, an adulterer or fornicator may rationalise his promiscuity by imagining that it makes him happy and fulfills his purpose in life, but eventually he will see its harm in the form of sexually transmitted disease, emotional turmoil, scandalous exposure, or worse. The pleasure of adultery and the fornication will fade as his youth and stamina degrade.
The satisfaction of desire will soon pale in comparison to the great void in our soul that comes from neglecting our spiritual purpose. As such, whenever we fall victim to our desires, we must reflect upon the triviality of the pleasure in relation to its sin.
Imam Ibn Al-Jawzi said:
“Proof is of the virtue of reason is found when one anticipates what his desire is calling him to before he attains it. Then, he should examine himself after his pleasure has passed and compare his pleasure to the sin he has earned, for he will realise he has lost twice as much as he has gained. As the poet has said: ‘How much satisfaction that provoked happiness, ended by revealing sorrow and sadness? How many desires ripped from their companions, the garments of religion and chivalry’?” (At-Tibb Ar-Ruhani)
In reality, the sin of deliberately choosing to indulge desire is nothing less than idol worship, wherein idols of wood and stone have been replaced by idols of ego and lust. He will enjoy his temporal pleasures for a time, but ultimately it will lead to lasting punishment and disgrace in the Hereafter. Allah said:
“Whoever should desire the immediate life, We will hasten for him from it what We will to whom We intend. Then, We have made for him Hell in which he will enter to burn, censured and banished.” (Surah Al-Isra, 17:18)
Rather, true enlightenment and salvation in this life and in the Hereafter will only come by using our minds to overcome our selfish desires. We must fulfill the purpose for which Allah has created us and seek out the greater good of our existence. In this way, our capacity to reason is like a doctor who sincerely advises his patient of what is in his best interest.
Imam Ibn Al-Jawzi said:
“As for the mind, it observes the consequences and examines the benefits and its example is that of a resolute man or a sincere doctor. The example of desire is that of an ignorant boy or a gluttonous sick person. Thus, he should know that when his mind and his desires are in disagreement that his mind is a sincere adviser and he should consult it and be patient with what it orders him to do, for knowing the excellence of reason is enough for him to favour it.” (At-Tibb Ar-Ruhani)
Indeed, Allah has promised those who control themselves and submit to His will, instead of their desires, will be rewarded with eternal Paradise. Allah the Almighty said:
“As for him who feared to stand before his Lord and he restrained himself from his desires, then Paradise will be his refuge.” (Surah An-Nazi’at, 79:40)
Therefore, Brothers and Sisters, we should not be fooled by some ideologues who repeat slogans of freedom whereas what they truly call to is spiritual slavery. For a person who cannot control himself and his actions is not free, even though he imagines he owns his will, because true spiritual freedom lies in the ability to control our desires in pursuit of enlightenment, self-actualisation, and ultimate truth.
My respected people! Also Know that, the existential decree is what Allah’s speaks about when he says:
“Originator of the heavens and the Earth, and when He decrees an affair, He only says to it, Be! and it is.” (Surah al-Baqarah, 2:117)
The legislative decree is what Allah’s speaks about when he says:
“Your Lord has decreed, that you worship none save Him.” (Surah al-Isra’, :23)
The divine decree that is mentioned in connection with qadr (determination) is the existential decree.
The term qadr comes with the meaning of determining something, like when I say, “This matter has been determined by Allah.” This refers to Allah’s determination of things in the Preserved Tablet (al-Lawh al-Mahfuz), whereby Allah had set forth all aspects of the universe fifty thousand years before creating the heavens and Earth, as related from Abdullah bin Amr in Sahih Muslim. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said:
“Allah recorded everything that will happen in Creation fifty thousand years before He created the heavens and the Earth.”
The term qadr is also used to refer to the determined event when it takes place in Creation. A person says: “This is what has been determined.”
Therefore, when it is said: “This is the decree (qada) and the determination (qadr)” it means: this is what has been determined and decreed by Allah. The term qada here refers to Allah’s ruling it to be so, since the general linguistic meaning of qada is to issue a ruling or pass a verdict. And Allah knows best.
With respect to the difference between the two with respect to Islamic beliefs, if we mean by qada Allah’s existential decree and by qadr his predetermination of things, then the difference between the two is so slight as to be inconsequential. It is something that we must believe in. Allah determined everything in Creation and decreed that it will be so. There are four aspects to our faith in this matter:
1. We must believe that Allah has knowledge of everything that is going to happen. Allah says:
“Know that Allah is capable of all things and that Allah comprehends everything with His knowledge.”
2. We must believe that Allah has recorded everything that will happen in creation in the Preserved Tablet (al-Lawh al-Mahfuz). Allah says:
“And of everything we have taken account in a clear book.”
3. We must believe that nothing happens in Creation except as He wills. Allah says:
“And you do not will except that He wills.”
And Allah says:
“Whomever He wills He misguides and whoever He wills he places on a straight path.”
He also says:
“If Allah had willed, they would not have engaged in polytheism.”
4. We must believe that Allah has created everything in existence. There is no creator, sustainer, or god besides Him. Allah says:
“Allah is the creator of everything.”
And Allah says:
“Allah created you and what you do.”
There is no sequential aspect to Allah’s decree and determination of things. One does not take place before the other. This is the case if we are referring to the two in the context of Allah’s knowledge or in the context of what has been written.
However, if we mean by qada what Allah decrees in His timeless knowledge and by qadr what Allah has set forth in the Preserved Tablet, then there is a sequence between the two. This is because of the fact that the recording in the Preserved Table took place fifty thousand years before the creation of the heavens and the Earth. As for the determination of Allah’s decree in Allah’s knowledge, this is something timeless.
Respected Brothers and Sisters! With all this, it is actually a great mistake to always blame predestination (kaddara) for our negligence, failures and bad actions.
I ask Allah to give us the ability to restrain our desires and to willingly submit ourselves to His will.
Oh Allah the Almighty, make our country Nigeria safe and the other muslim countries in general, Oh Lord of the universe (jinn and mankind).
Oh Allah protect our safety, our Imaan and our peace in our native lands and rectify those placed in authority over our affairs (our leaders), and don’t hold us to account for that which the foolish amongst us have done, and protect us from trials the apparent and hidden of it.
Oh Allah show us the truth for the truth and help us to follow it, and show us the falsehood for falsehood and help us to stay away from it, and make Imaan the most beloved to us and beautify it in our hearts, and make disbelief, lewdness and rebellion most hated to us and make us from those who are guided.
Oh Allah rectify our leaders, guide them to that which is good for themselves and to that which is good for us. Oh Allah make them a means for our safety, and make them a means for our word (unity) to be one, and make them a cause for our coming together, Yaa Al-Hayyu (Oh The Ever Living, The One who cannot die), Yaa Al-Qayyum (The Self Sustainer), Yaa Saami’ (The Hearer) of the supplication.
Oh Allah safeguard our country. Oh Allah bring ease to the Nigerians from that which they face from sufferings. Oh Allah give us immediate ease. Oh Allah give us victory with a happy outcome. Oh Allah make ease for the Nigerians from every difficulty and from every suffering, Oh Hearer of the supplication, Oh Reliever from every distress, Oh answerer of the supplication, Oh Helper of the grieving, Oh ever living, Self Sustaining, Oh Hearer of the supplication, Oh Owner of Loftiness and Nobility!
I ask Allah to assist us in living by the Quran and Sunnah. I pray that He lets us recognize the truth for what it is and helps us to follow it, and that He lets us see falsehood for what it is and helps us to avoid it.
O Allah! Guide us and protect us from the causes of ignorance and destruction! Save us from the defects of ourselves! Cause the last of our deeds to be the best and most righteous! And forgive all of us. Ameen.
My respected people! Anything good I have said in my today’s Khutbah (Sermon) is from Allah the Almighty, and any mistakes are my own and we seek refuge in Allah from giving wrong advice and from all forms of calamities and fitnah. And I ask Allah’s forgiveness if I stepped beyond bounds in anything I said or I do.
May Allah be praised; and may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon His Messenger Muhammad and upon his family and Companions.
With this I conclude my Khutbah (Sermon) and ask Allah, the Almighty and the sublime, to forgive all of our sins. So seek his forgiveness, He is all forgiving Most Merciful.
This Jumu’ah Khutbah (Friday Sermon) was prepared for delivery today, Friday, Rajab 16th, 1438 A.H. (April 14th, 2017), By Imam Murtadha Muhammad Gusau, the Chief Imam of Nagazi-Uvete Jumu’ah and Alhaji Abdurrahman Okene’s Mosques, Okene Kogi State Nigeria. He can be reached through: +2348038289761.