Principle of Reason over Revelation

Explain the principle of reason over revelation.

Allah gave us reason and logical mind to think and that is what we tell Christians who have accepted that 1+1+1 is 1. We say God has given you intelligence and logic; everything tells you that 1+1+1 is 3. Of course but the Christians, they say it is divine mystery we just believe. The point though for them, if they had revelation to back them they would be justified. The verse which is in the Bible, which said, “that there are three that bear witness in heaven, the father, the son and the holy spirit”, these verses which are found in King James Version were removed in Revised Standard Version by major Christian scholars who said that there were many errors in the first translation. King James version did not rely on all of the manuscripts, and it was clear to them that this verse was not found in the earliest manuscripts of the Bible. So they removed it, and made a footnote and verse number is still there and says not found in original manuscripts. The closest thing, which they had to, in revelation, was no longer there. The History clearly indicates that this concept was developed only centuries later.

The Muslims do not have to produce anything. It is in their own books. It is just an idea and ideas can be right or wrong. For us we could run into the same problem. If we could look at Islam, as I was told when I first became a Muslim, we Muslims must follow a madhab, one of four, all four were correct, but we must choose one. If you don’t choose one, then your imam is Satan. So, I chose to be Hanafee, because I was travelling with Jama'at Tableegh and the Imam Abu Hanifa was the greatest of Imams, so it made sense to me. However, after travelling, studying under some brothers of Shafi'ee madhab and came to understand some of the differences and was still trying to apply the principle that they were both correct. When I ran into the issue where Hanafees say that if you accidentally touch a woman, you still have wudhu and Shafi'ees say, ‘you don’t have wudhu, I was stuck. To accept that both of them are correct means to accept that you could have wudhu or not have wudhu at the same time. And to do that intellectually is the same for me like accepting that 1+1+1=1, you have to turn off your brain, your reason, your intellect and just believe.

So where we are dealing with reason and revelation, we do understand that Allah has given us an intellect to understand. He revealed the Qur'an and it is the basis of Islam. Everything that concerns Islam should be understood through the Qur'an first and foremost. When it comes to applying the Qur'an, then our reason tells us it is applicable here and not applicable here. This verse is for this circumstance and the other verse was for other circumstance. That is why we are using our reason. However, when Qur'an says this and we say it is not this but that, now we have a problem. Now we have a problem. Should we give precedence to our reason over revelation or should revelation take precedence over reason. This is the point.

The correct position was simply stated by Ali (رضى الله عنه), “were the religion based purely on reason and logic, then the bottom of the socks should be wiped instead of the tops, however I saw Rasoolullah (ﷺ) wipe the top and not the bottom.”

He clarified there that Islam is fundamentally based on revelation. Reason must come after revelation. That’s what Umar (رضى الله عنه) did when he stopped, when everybody was making tawaf, he (رضى الله عنه) pointed to the black stone and talked to the black stone saying,

“I know you are only a stone you can neither bring any good for me nor harm me. The only reason I am kissing you is that I saw Rasoolullah (ﷺ) kiss you.” [1]

So I don’t try and get into some reason behind this. Rasoolullah (ﷺ)said,

“Take your hajj rituals from me.” [2]

So we do as he (ﷺ) did and kiss it. Some people said “It is because of the barakah, so therefore the whole issue is about barakah. Not that you get your whole self in and your arms in and as much as barakah as possible. There is whole another interpretation, far behind kissing. Bring the baby in and wipe the baby on the stone, it’s a whole different mentality. So we understand that in fact, revelation takes precedence over reason.

Today people challenge this, especially with regards to issues, which go against modern knowledge. The example is the hadeeth of the fly. Narrated Abu Huraira (رضى الله عنه),

‘Allah's Apostle said, "If a fly falls in the vessel of any of you, let him dip all of it (into the vessel) and then throw it away, for in one of its wings there is a disease and in the other there is healing (antidote for it) i.e. the treatment for that disease."  [3]

In modern science we only know flies for disease. No one tries to grind flies and drink it for medicine. So we only know disease from fly. So they said this hadeeth must be wrong. The hadeeth is revelation of course, because Allah said in the Qur'an,

“What he speaks is revelation which has come to him,” [4]

Modern science says otherwise. If your tawwakkul is shaky you cannot drink, because it is not obligatory for you to drink. But if you believe in Rasoolullah (ﷺ) and drink, then do it.

In this hadeeth he (ﷺ) said, ‘under one wing is disease’. When did human beings realize that flies carry disease? After the development of the microscope. He (ﷺ) said that there was disease then, how did he (ﷺ) know? Obviously he (ﷺ) is giving us information which we may not know the details of it, but it is not something which is illogical but something which we don’t know about today.

The problem with modern science is things they don’t know about, they claim don’t exist. They have a saying in Arabic, ‘absence of knowledge is in and of itself not knowledge’.  If you don’t have knowledge, then lack of knowledge is not in itself knowledge. If you know there is no cure from the fly, all we can say is that we don’t know if there is any cure from the fly, we cannot say that there is no cure from the fly. What people tend to say, there is no cure. Things they say yesterday they change it today and they do this all the time, since they don’t have humility before Allah. To say well it might be this. No, it is not we know. Common sense tells us that poisonous snake should have an anti-dote for its own poison, for if he didn’t have it then he would die if he first bit his first victim. He has the poison and the anti-dote of the poison. It is not something so illogical, if you think it though.

Unfortunately, this methodology, this approach where reason should come first, whatever reason determines is taken and this comes over revelation, was first expressed by a group known as the Mu’tazilites, one of the philosophy groups’ to break off from Islam. Where they claim none of the attributes of Allah, in the Qur'an, are His attributes. They didn’t deny the statements in the Qur'an; these are not His attributes, they said Allah is unknowable. Greek philosophy taught a similar concept. God in deep Greek philosophy is unidentifiable, anything you can say that he is, that he isn’t. So this is the root of the date. Any of the terms are terms from human expressions and cannot be expressed as Allah. Later generations accepted some of that and rejected some. Some of the attributes are basic and interpreted the rest in the light of these. These are the twenty attributes of Allah, which they talk about. Kids were required to identifying the twenty out of the many, which have to be because the reason tells us that they have to be. Reason tells you these twenty has to be for Allah to be God, He has to have these twenty, for all the other we will interpret them to be one of zero.


[1] [Sahih al-Bukhari 1597]

[2] [Sahih Muslim 1297]

[3] [Sahih Bukhari, Volume 7, Book 71, Number 673]

[4] [Qur’an 53:3-4]

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