Reason is one of the things that Almighty Allah has honoured humankind with. Using reason to contemplate on and make use of worldly affairs is praiseworthy in Islam. In this regard, all Muslims should use their reason in the field of their work for their own benefit and the benefit of their country and humanity in general. As for using reason in matters of religion, this needs detailed elaboration. Concerning the practices of religion that have been proved authentically (by the Qur’an and Sunnah), reason may deduce the rulings built on them and the wisdom of them. But as far as applying practices is concerned, reason has no role to play in adding to or subtracting from them. Muslims are required to apply them as ordered, whether or not they realize the wisdom of their ordainment. As for worldly things that have not been dealt with explicitly or implicitly in religion, scholars are to use their reason and give their personal opinions concerning them.

With regard to the unseen things that are established by authentic religious texts, there is no place for reason to contemplate on them. Muslims have only to believe in their occurrence as conveyed by the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) by way of revelation from Almighty Allah.

Dr. `Ali Ibn `Umar Badahdah, a well-known Saudi scholar and da`iyah, states the following: Reason has an important place in Islam as it is the instrument of thinking and contemplating as well as (making use of the human capabilities in) populating the earth. The Qur’an has referred to the importance of reason in many verses.

The scope of reason, as any other faculty of the human being, has certain limits that it cannot go beyond. If any faculty or organ tried to transcend its scope, it would not be able to do this, and, moreover, it would be harmed. For example, the naked eye has an ordinary scope of seeing that includes all visible things, but it cannot see microbes or infrared rays, for instance, though these very things already exist. Should it try to transcend this scope, by, for example, looking directly at the sun at noon, it would not get any result but hurting itself. So is the case with other faculties such as hearing, (speaking), etc.

Reason also cannot discern all truths and knowledge. For example, man accepts the law of gravity and the fact that electricity exists when the negative charge moves from electrons to protons, but he cannot discern how these things originally take place. Likewise, the mirage appears to one’s eye as if there were already water, but the reason, through experiment, falsifies such an illusion. Also, when a pen is put in water, the refraction of light makes it appear that the pen is bent, but so is not the case in reality.

The scope of human reason includes this world only. The unseen world is indiscernible to human reason to the extent that it may be said that what enters the scope of the unseen has no place in the scope of reason. For example, it is reported that when the dead is buried in his grave, the soul returns to his body, and two angels come to the dead and cause him to sit so that they bring him to account for his deeds in this world. The reason may wonder how the soul returns to its body and why, after this, the dead does not call out to be taken out of the grave. One may wonder also how one’s grave would be widened as far as one’s eyesight can go if one was a good doer in this world—and how it is constrained for the wicked. All these things are indiscernible by reason.

To make it clearer, take the example of the visions that one sees while sleeping. How can we explain that when someone dreams that he is running, he wakes up out of breath? What relates the world of vision to this world?

Hence, we can say that we are to accept the unseen things conveyed to us by the divine revelation without trying to discern their truths, so that we avoid the harm that may result therefrom.

In light of this, we understand the stance of those who are of sound instruction towards the guidance of Almighty Allah in general, as the Qur’an relates: (And those who are of sound instruction say: We believe therein; the whole is from our Lord; but only men of understanding really heed) (Aal `Imran 3:7).

This was the stance of the righteous predecessors (may Allah be pleased with them). They did not make their reasons exceed their limits by transcending the scope of this world to that of the unseen. For example, they did not reflect on the being of Almighty Allah or the essence and hows of His attributes. They not only refrained from tackling these subjects themselves but also forbade others from doing this; hence, their hearts were pure and filled with true faith.

When Imam Ibn Khuzaimah was asked about tackling the names and attributes of Almighty Allah, he said, “The eminent Muslim scholars and the founders of the schools of knowledge and jurisprudence did not tackle these subjects and, moreover, they would forbid their followers from handling them, guiding them to stick only to the Qur’an and the Sunnah.” Among the eminent scholars who adopted this attitude are Malik, Sufian, Al-Awza`i, Ash-Shafi`i, Ahmad, Ishaq, Yahyah ibn Yahyah, Ibn Al-Mubarak, Abu Hanifah, Muhammad ibn Al-Hasan, Abu Yusuf.

When Imam Ahmad heard a man relating the hadith of Almighty Allah’s descending to the heaven of the world saying, “He Most High descends without movement or transition or changing of position,” Imam Ahmad cr
iticized the man: “Say only what Allah’s Messenger (peace and blessings be upon him) said in this hadith. He (peace and blessings be upon him) was more mindful than you of the merits of His Lord.”

When Al-Awza`i was asked about this hadith, he said, “Almighty Allah does what He wishes.”

Al-Fudail ibn `Iyad also said (addressing his followers), “If one of the Jahmiyah [a deviated group of philosophers] said to you ‘I disbelieve in a god that moves from a position (to another)’ [referring by this to the hadith of Allah’s descending to the heaven of the world], answer him, ‘I believe in a god that does what He wishes'” (Aqawil Ath-Thiqat, pp. 62–63).

The author of At-Tahawiyah also said, “He who can be described as having a sound religion is he who submits to Almighty Allah and His Messenger (peace and blessings be upon him), and he who resorts, when facing a doubtful thing, to a knowledgeable scholar about it.” The commentator on this book explained these words by saying, “The author means here the person who abides by the teachings of Allah’s Book and the Prophet’s Sunnah without opposing them with doubtful things and distorted explanations.”

Hence, it is obligatory on Muslims to submit, heart and soul, to Almighty Allah and accept the authentic hadiths of His Messenger (peace and blessings be upon him) with full confidence in his truthfulness, without explaining them doubtfully or opposing a thing thereof with a distorted imagination that they may call logic or reasoning.

The author of the previous source also said, according to the commentator on the book, “A person’s faith will not become firm unless it is based on full submission to the texts and teachings of Allah’s Book and the Prophet’s Sunnah without imposing his personal opinions or logical reasoning thereon.”

Al-Bukhari reported that Muhammad ibn Shihab Az-Zuhri (may Allah have mercy on his soul) said, “Almighty Allah sent the message (of Islam), and the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) conveyed it, and our role is to submit (to its rulings and teachings).” This, in fact, is a pithy useful word (Ibn Abu Al-`Izz, Sharh Al-`Aqidah At-Tahawiyah, pp 216–217, 219).

Some people claim that some religious texts contradict logic and reason, and hence we are to use our reasoning and not to accept the religious texts as they are. But the very reason those people use as evidence on their view stands against them when argued by the fact that people differ in their mental abilities and wisdom; and if so, which human reason may we resort to when we find a religious text seeming to contradict logic? Why, in the first place, do we resort to a human reason (in taking laws), especially when we know that people change their minds from time to time after careful revision of their stances and when faced with new information and knowledge (that may contradict their first views)? This means we may accept an opinion today and find it futile tomorrow and also that we may have many different views on a single issue, which may result, in the end, in confusion and irreconcilable contradictions. Besides, it is proven that some scholars who had taken such an extreme attitude of depending on the rational thought went astray; some of them revised their stances and admitted their being wrong and thus returned to the right path of yielding to the teachings of the Shari`ah.

Hence, we are to strongly believe that the infallible teachings of Shari`ah are perfect; that thus it is the most appropriate system that can bring about benefits and protect us against harms and corruptions; and that, first and foremost, it is in accordance with the pure human nature and sound reason.

Moreover, we are to praise Almighty Allah every now and then for granting us the blessing of both religion and sound reason that does not contradict the path ofShari`ah. This is emphasized by the fact that all what is forbidden in Islam has been proved by experiment as well as the progress of sciences to be harmful to man as it is the case with alcoholic drinks, pigs’ meat, usury, adultery, etc.

We are also to firmly believe that disobeying the teachings of Shari`ah corrupts one’s life and brings about many harms, as Almighty Allah says, (But he who turneth away from remembrance of Me, his will be a narrow life, and I shall bring him blind to the assembly on the Day of Resurrection) (Ta-Ha 20:124).

It is also a great blessing from Almighty Allah that He has provided us with the Qur’an and the Sunnah of His Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and that He has taken upon Himself the preservation of these two divine sources. He Most High thus spared us exhausting our minds by going into the unseen world and reflecting on the truth of creation and religion to discover what He Most High wants from us. He Almighty wants us, instead, to use our capabilities in useful things and developing the earth.

Sayed Qutb (may Allah shower his soul with mercy) said, “No religion other than Islam has such an interest in awakening the human reason to realizing its role by reforming its methodology in contemplating and freeing itself from the shackles of illusion, sorcery and superstition, as well as protecting it, at the same time, from transcending its scope and going into the unknown with no valid evidence.”

He also said, “The Islamic perspective does not only give reason wide scope to discern the scientific secrets of the universe but also encourages its search in this respect so long as it does not exceed its limits by interfering in the foundations of this perspective” (The Characteristics of the Islamic Perspective, pp. 49, 71).

An ironic good word of Imam Al-Ghazali (may Allah have mercy upon him) in this respect is worth quoting here: “Almighty Allah has spared the Muslims the burden of searching or inventing in the matter of religion as He Most High ordered them to follow His guidance in this regard, while He Almighty left it open to them to search and invent in the worldly matters. But, unfortunately, some Muslims reversed these principles, inventing in the matter of religion and copying en suite other Eastern and Western nations in the worldly affairs.”

Imam Hasan Al-Banna (may Allah shower his soul with mercy) also said, “Going into every question upon which no (religious) act is based is an affectation, which we are bidden to avoid. This applies to the multitude of inferred rulings on things that have not yet occurred” (Rasa’il Imam Al-Banna, p. 9).

Imam Ibn Hajar said in this regard also, “(Futility of research also) applies to the multitude of rulings founded on rare questions that have no basis in Allah’s Book or the Sunnah of the Prophet or the unanimity of the Muslim nation. One may waste much time on such tiny questions, while he might have used this time in searching valuable issues. What is far worse is posing questions on the unseen matters which religion has ordered us to accept without asking about their how-comes, especially those thorny issues which may cause a lot of confusion and doubt” (Fath Al-Bari, vol. 13, p. 267).