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January 16, 2012, Monday

Righteous reason and a pure disposition

Islam never paid much attention to extraordinary phenomena and it didn’t refer to superhuman personalities to convince people to adopt its message. We see this in the method the Prophet employed from the beginning in disseminating the message of Islam. In other religions, extraordinary events and miracles were commonly employed as proof of the religious message. In comparison, the only miracle employed by the Seal of the Prophets was the Holy Quran, which directly appeals to “righteous reason” (akl-ı selim) and a “fair disposition” (temiz fıtrat).

Let us imagine ourselves among the people of Quraysh whom Prophet Muhammad gathered together and addressed for the first time in A.D. 610. Let us ask ourselves, “What would my reaction have been had he invited me to join the new religion?” I am sure we would quickly reply, “Of course I would have believed him.” But things are not as easy as they may seem. Suppose someone named Muhammad brought together people who had been believers in the same faith for centuries and asked them, “Would you believe me if I said, ‘There is an enemy army behind this hill’?” All of them would reply, “Yes, we would.” Muhammad would respond: “Then believe this as well. God is one and there is no god other than He and all the other gods you worship are nothing. The Angel of Revelation came to me. I am the Messenger of God.”

Here the important thing is that this man who said that he was the messenger of God did not produce any miracle. The people whose mental and spiritual processes were disrupted did not see the Angel of Revelation. True, he was the most trustworthy and reliable person in Mecca. But what was the truth value of his words? He was just speaking.

Now let us ask: How did the Meccans verify the truth of his words? To what did they refer in doing this? Put yourself into the shoes of the first person Muhammad addressed and ask yourself this question: Would you quickly renounce your old beliefs, adopt new ones and change you lifestyle? Would it be so easy? How could they be sure that Prophet Muhammad was telling the truth?

Clearly they had nothing but their own reason and conscience to consult. They pondered the Prophet’s words and made comparisons, and they discussed and criticized his words before coming to a conclusion. There were only two faculties which they could use as guides: reason and conscience. Only by using their reason and conscience would they be able to conclude whether or not the Prophet was telling the truth. Indeed, those who were able to seek guidance from their reason and conscience were eventually able to believe in him, and those who could not refused to believe.

This indicates that Islam directly appeals to “reasonable people.” It sends its message to righteous reason and it calls on people to think, meditate and reason about everything. Therefore, contrary to what many Westerners claim, Islam suggests that there is an important link between belief in God and the nature of reason. In doing so, Islam also stresses that people should not stick to old habits and practices blindly, because people in the past may have failed to use their reason effectively. In Arabic, one sense of the term “aql” (reason) is something that connects two things. So from an epistemological perspective, reason is the bond between man and God.

Islam’s greatest achievement was to return reason to its proper value and position. Humans have, through the guidance of revelation, used their intellect, produced knowledge and experimented. They regarded reason as the first step on a spiritual journey. Some peripatetic philosophers (Mashsha’i) and Sufis even argued that Archangel Gabriel was “Aql ul Fa’al” (active intellect). If the most precious piece of knowledge is to know oneself, then one can only learn about oneself via one’s reasoning soul.

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