Stages in Understanding Nature
By: Professor Mahdi Golshani
We have already seen from the viewpoint of the Qur’an man has the capacity to understand nature.
With the use of external senses and intellect, human beings should get closer to God through understanding Divine signs. Here we have to mention wherever there is a reference in the Qur’an to the Divine evidences in the physical world, Allah attributes the ability of understanding them to special groups of people. Here are a few examples:
“He it is who sends down water from the cloud for you, it gives drink and by it (grows) the trees upon which you pasture. He causes to grow for you thereby herbage, and the olive, and the palm tree, and the grapes, and of all the fruits, most surely there is a sign in this for a people who reflect.” (16:10 – 11)
“And He has made sub-servient to you whatsoever is in the heavens and whatsoever is in the earth, all, from himself, most surely there are signs in this for a people who reflect.” (45:13)
On the Wise
“Most surely, in the creation of the heavens and the earth, the alternation of the night and the day,, and the ships which run in the sea and which profits men, and the water which Allah sends down from the cloud, then gives life with it to the earth after its death and spreads in all (kinds of) animals, and the changing of the winds and the clouds made sub-servient between the heaven and the earth, there are signs for a people who ponder.” (2:264)
“And He has made sub-servient for you the night and the day and the moon, and the stars are made sub-servient by His commandment, most surely, there are signs in this for a people who ponder.” (16:12)
On People who Understand
“Most surely in the creation of the heavens and the earth and the alternation of the night and the day there are signs for men who understand.” (3:189)
“Do you not see Allah sends down water from the cloud, then makes it go along in the earth in springs, then brings forth therewith herbage of various colours, then it withers so you see it becoming yellow, then makes it a thing crushed and broken into pieces? Most surely there is a reminder in this for the men of understanding.” (39:21)
On the Believers
“Most surely in the heavens and the earth there are some signs for the believers.” (45:3)
“Do they not consider we have made the night in which they may rest therein, and the day to give light? Most surely there are signs for a people who believe.” (72:86)
On the Pious
“Most surely in the variation of the night and the day, and what Allah has created in the heavens and the earth, there are signs for a people who guard (against) evil.” (10:6)
“Take hold of the law We have given you with firmness and bear in mind what is in it, so you may guard (against) evil.” (2:63)
“And one of His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth and the diversity of your thanks and colours; most surely, there are signs in this for the learned.” (30:22)
“He it is who made the sun a shining brightness and the moon a light, and ordained for it mansions in which you might know the computation of years and the reckoning. Allah did not create it but in truth; He makes the signs manifest for a people who known.” (10:5)
On the Mindful
“And what he has created in the earth of varied hues; most surely there is a sign in this for a people who are mindful.” (16:13)
“And of everything We have created pairs in which you may be mindful.” (51:49)
On Those who Listen to Truth of God’s Word
“And one of His signs is your sleeping and your seeking of His Grace by night and (by) day; most surely, there are signs in this for a people who would hear.” (30:23)
“And Allah has sent down water from the cloud and therewith given life to the earth after its death; most surely there is a sign in this for a people who would listen.” (16:65)
On the people who are sure
“And in your (own) creation and in what He spreads abroad of animals there of animals there are signs for a people which are sure.” 45:4)
“And in the earth there are signs for those who are sure, and in your souls (too), will you not then see?” (51:20 – 21)
On those who examine truth, have insight, and understand
“And he it is who has brought you into being from a single soul, then there is (for you) a resting place and a depository; indeed We have made plain the communications for a people who understand.” (6:98)
“So the rumbling overtook them (while) entering upon the time of sunrise. Thus did we turn it upside down, ad rained down upon them stones of what has been decreed. Surely in this are signs for those who examine.” (15:73 – 75)
“Eat and pasture your cattle; most surely there are signs in this for those endowed with understanding.” (20:54)
What we understand from the words “Tafakkur, Taaqqul, Tafaqquh, etc.” used in the Qur’an is they refer to different degrees of intellectual perception and some are indispensible for some others. For example, by comparing the following verses: “Most surely in the creation of the heavens and the earth and the alternation of the night and the day there are signs for men who understand. Those who remember Allah standing and sitting and being on their sides and reflect on the creation of the heavens and the earth, “Our Lord, You have not created this in vain. Glory be to You, save us then from the chastisement of the fire.” (3:190 – 191)
“Most surely in the creation of the heavens and the earth and the alternation of the night and the day...there are signs for a people who understand.” (2:164)
“Most surely in the alternation of the night and the day, and what Allah has created in the heavens and the earth, there are signs for a people who guard (against evil).” (10:6)
“...and make provision, for surely the provision is the guarding of oneself, and be careful (of your duty) to Me, oh men of understanding.” (2:197)
“And (as for) these examples, We set them forth for the people and none understand them but the learned.” (29:43)
It may be concluded in which “Ulal-Albab” possess “reasoning faculty,” mediation, piety and knowledge. Their other characteristics are: listening and hearing the right word, ability of avoiding fallacies of illusions, worshiping God, having wisdom, being mindful and taking an example of past experiences (of ancestors). These characteristics are deducible from the following verses.
“Those who listen to the word, then follow the best of it, those are they whom Allah has guided, and those it is whom are men of understanding.” (39:18)
“He it is who has revealed the book to you, some of its verses are decisive, they are the basis of the Book, and others are allegorical, then as for those in whose hearts there is perversity, they follow the part of it which is all allegorical, seeking to mislead, and seeking to give it (their own) interpretation, but none knows its interpretation except Allah, and those who are firmly rooted in knowledge say, ‘We believe in it, it is all from our Lord, and none do mind except those having understanding.” (3:7)
“What! He who is obedient during hours of the night prostrating himself and standing,, takes care of the hereafter and hopes for the mercy of his Lord! Say, ‘Are those who know and those who do not know alike?’ Only the men of understanding are mindful.” (39:9)
“He grants wisdom to whom He pleases, and whoever is granted wisdom, he indeed is given a great good, and none but men of understanding mind.” (2:269)
“Do you not see Allah sends down water from the cloud, them makes it go along in the earth in springs, then brings forth therewith herbage of various colours, then it withers so you see it becoming yellow, then He makes it a thing crushed and broken into pieces? Most surely there is a reminder in this for the men of understanding.” (39:21)
“In their histories there is certainly a lesson for men of understanding.” (12:111)
One can see “Ulal-Albab” possess most of the characteristics mentioned in the Qur’an for understanding nature. They have purified intellects, and, therefore, have better capability for attaining a deeper knowledge of nature.
“And He it is who has made the stars for you in which you might follow the right way thereby in the darkness of the land and the sea; truly we have made plain the communications for a people who know.” (6:97)
“And He it is who has brought you into being from a single soul, then there is (for you) a resting place and a depository; indeed, we have made plain the communications for a people who understand.” (6:98)
“And He it is who sends down water from the cloud, then We bring forth with its buds of all (plants), then we bring forth from it green (foliage) from which we produce grain filled up (in the ear), and the palm tree, of the sheaths of it, come forth clusters (of dates) within reach...most surely there are signs in this for a people who believe.” (6:99)
We realize (as ‘Allamah Tabatabai has mentioned27) while understanding certain things related to plants is possible for unlearned believers, the understanding of astronomical problems requires scientific background, and the understanding of issues related to the human soul and its mysteries needs theoretical knowledge as well as profound understanding of human nature. The Qur’an refers to a sublime faculty of cognition which is the cognition of the “spiritual dimension” (Malakut) of the heavens and the earth: “And thus did We show Ibrahim the spiritual dimension of the heavens and the earth, and he might be of those who are sure.” (6:75)
“Do they not consider the spiritual dimension of the heavens and the earth and whatever thinks Allah has created?” (7:185)
Moreover, the first verse indicates the vision of “spiritual dimension” results in sureness. There have been various interpretations of “Malakut.” Some scholars, including “Allamah Tabatabi’i,28 believe it to be the innermost aspect of beings and the deepest attachment of their very existence to the Almighty God. Some meant by it wonders in the heavens and the earth,29 and some others interpret it as the laws of nature.30
In reference to the vision of “Malakut,” various vies have been expressed. A majority of the interpreters believe it to be a non-sensual vision or an intellectual one.31 Imam Fakhr al-Din Razi in his interpretation of the first verse (i.e. 6:75) says, There are two view in connection with the “revealing”: First statement indicates God revealed the spiritual dimension to Ibrahim’s ordinary eyes... and the second indicates it was his inner and mental discernment which had this vision, not his physical eyes. These things prove the vision had been through mental discernment, not through the eyes.”
It is quite certainly a profound cognition of nature, and as it ends in certitude and sureness, therefore, it is the highest level of cognition. And to attain this kind of cognition, one requires all the qualifications mentioned in the verses quoted in this section.
Thus, we conclude
1. There are different levels of understanding a phenomenon.
2. For understanding the different natural phenomena, there are different pre-requisite conditions.
3. To have a more profound understanding of nature, researches should try to acquire the above mentioned characteristics more and more. These characteristics can be briefly summarized in the following three categories: scientific aptitude, higher (analytical) intellect, and faith with piety.
One may question the role of faith and piety in the proper understanding of nature, or can say for what reason has God denied the proper cognition to unbelievers in the following verses: Say, “Consider what is it which is in the heavens and the earth and signs and warners do not avail a people who would not believe.” (10:101)
“Do they not see the earth, how many of every noble kind We have caused to grow in it? Most surely there is a sign in this, but most of them will not believe.” (26:7 – 8)
Nor can you lead away the blind out of their way. You cannot make to hear any but those who believe in your communications.” (30:53)
Why has God attributed the understanding of some of his signs in nature to the believers and the pious only?
“Most surely in the heavens and the earth there are some signs for the believers.” (45:3)
“Most surely in the alternation of the night and the day, and what Allah has created in the heavens and the earth, there are signs for a people who guard (against) evil.” (10:6)
Is it not true in which every person whether believer or non-believer may be capable of logical thinking? Is not the Qur’an Itself a logically arguing with unbelievers and polytheists? To answer this question we seek help from the Qur’an itself. In view of the inseparability of piety and faith: “And be careful of (your duty to) God if you are believers.” (5:57)
One can point out in which the effect of faith people can differentiate between right and wrong, for their intellectual activity is free from the vices caused by devilish inducements and temptations.
As Mowlavi puts it When the mirror of the heart is clean and stainless, Therein you see images beyond earth and water, You see both the Painter and the paintings, Both the Divine carpet and the carpet spreader.
Or as Hafez puts it The blurred eye cannot reach the face of the beloved, Cast your look upon her when your mirror is clean, I rinsed my eyes clean with my own tears, as the visionaries say, First clean yourself and then look upon the clean.
In his exegesis of the Qur’an “al-Mizan,” ‘Allamah Tabataba’i says,32 “The reason why the Holy Qur’an emphasizes piety alongside reflection, intellection and remembrance, and has related knowledge with practice is it ensures the stability of thought, righteousness of knowledge and avoidance of vices of caprice and evil.”
A saying from our great Prophet (S) has been reported, which confirms it,33 “Had the part of the devil not moved around the minds of the children of Adam, they would have seen the spiritual dimension of the sky.”
There is also a statement from Imam ‘Ali (a.s.) on the same line,34 “One who does not render his heart clean does not benefit from his intellect.”
Therefore, the important role of piety and cleanness of heart (sanctification) is to harness the slips of intellect. However, we deduct from certain Qur’anic verses and Islamic works which effect of piety is not limited to the repulsion of the impediments of cognition, but through piety and sanctification one can attain cognition above and beyond the cognition attained through experience and reasoning. In this connection, we are going to cite some relevant verses from the Qur’an: “...and be careful of (your duty to) Allah. Allah teaches you, and Allah knows all things.” (2:282)
“And (as for) those who strive hard for Us, We will most certainly guide them in Our ways, and Allah is most surely with the doers of good.” (29:69)
“And thus did We show Ibrahim the spiritual dimension (Malakut) of the heavens and the earth and he might be of those who are sure.” (6:75)
A Tradition of the Prophet (S), which is universally accepted and respected by all Muslims, says,35 “No servant has sought My proximity through what is more favourite to Me than performing his duties, but through praise-worthy acts a servant gets so close to me I love him. It is then I become an ear for him by means of which he hears, an eye from him by means of which he sees, a tongue for him by means of which he speaks and a hand with which he grasps. Should he call Me, I respond to him, and should he request something, I bestow upon him.”
It has also been reported in which our great Prophet (S) had said,36 “No servant devotes his full forty mornings to (the service of) God except when the springs of wisdom flow from his heart to his tongue.
And it is reported from Imam ‘Ali (a.s.) in Nahj al-Balaghah,37 “He (the believer) kept his mind alive and killed (the desires of) his heart until his body became thin, his bulk turned light and effulgence of extreme brightness shone for him. It lighted the way from him and took him on the (right) path. Different doors led him to the door of safety and the place of (his permanent) stay. His feet, balancing his body, were fixed in the position of safety and comfort because he kept his heart busy (in good acts) and pleased his Allah.”
Also in Nahj al-Balaghah we find,38 “Knowledge has led them to real understanding and so they have associated themselves with the spirit of conviction. They take easy what the easy going regard as hard. They love what they ignorant took as strong.”
In any case, it is certain in which illumination and inspiration, as a source of knowledge is not open at all, and only those with proper background can benefit from it. The channel which is open to all is the employment of sensory experience and intellect, and, of course, in order to arrive at truth one should avoid the impediments in the way of cognition.
Impediments of Cognition
Sometimes, certain internal factors over-rule the intellect, and prevent it from functioning properly. Then, while the judgments are said to have been made wisely, in fact they are the product of an unhealthy intellect polluted with impurities. As Allameh Tabataba’i puts it,39 “The role of intellect in such cases resembles a judge who passes an unjust verdict relying on (forged) documents or false witnesses, though he may not have intended to do so.” Therefore, a research should shake his mind of unfounded pre-judgments and suppositions, and cleanse it of immoralities in order to attain a correct understanding.
Ghazali in his “Ihya al-‘Ulum al-Din” uses an interesting simile,40 which, in some respects casts light on this subject. He says the human heart resembles a mirror which reflects good, clear pictures when it is shined and polished. The human heart, too, gets more sheen through noble qualities and better reflects the truth and realities, but when it is affected by vicious qualities, like a dust covered mirror, it cannot depict realities. For the same reason “not hearing” has the connection with “the sealing of the heart” on account of faulty deeds as shown in the following verses of the Holy Qur’an: “If We please, We would afflict them on account of their faults, and set a seal on their hearts so they would not hear.” (7:100)
“...And be careful of (your duty to) God and hear...” (5:108)
Thus, listening to, and hearing the right word is connected with piety, and not hearing it, or sealing the heart, is connected with committing sins.
Gazzali goes on with his simile and says, “For everything known there is a truth, a picture of which falls on the mirror of heart, which is the home of knowledge.”
Now, in the same way in which an ordinary mirror cannot reflect an image because of any one of the following defects:
1. imperfect components
2. opacity of the face of the mirror
3. not facing the bright side of the mirror
4. the existence of a barrier between the mirror and the objects
5. the object not being placed in front of the mirror
A human heart, which is capable of cognizing realities, may lose this capacity if affected by one of the following five causes:
1. intrinsic deficiency, as in the case of children
2. obscurity (darkness) caused by sins and lust, therefore, turning one’s face towards the Creator and turning away from passion purifies the heart and makes it glitter: “Those who strive hard for us We will most certainly guide them in our ways...” (29:69)
3. Not paying attention to realities. A heart may be clean, but if it does not search for truth, it is not revealed to him. For instance, a man whose sole endeavour is physical worship or earning his livelihood, without any meditation on the Divine realities hidden from common people’s eyes, may get only what they are after, not more.
4. The existence of obstacles in the way of cognizing realities, i.e. veils and barriers between the heart and the object in view, due to which truth does reveal itself. Blind imitation of the ancestors and the sedimented opinions of their own are hindrances to the perception of realities.
5. Ignorance of the method of attaining the object in view. A man in search of knowledge cannot succeed to do so unless he is provided with the pre-requisites for attaining the desired reality. Therefore, ignorance of these pre-requisites and their manner of combination is an impediment in the way of attaining knowledge. For instance a man who wants to see the back of his head, but holds the mirror in front of him, cannot seen what he wants; if he holds the mirror behind his head, he cannot see even the mirror, much less his back. Thus, he needs two mirrors to achieve his purpose, and the two mirrors should be set in a special position in relation to each other. In is the case with cognitions, too. For every cognition, its pre-requisites should be attained first. Ignorance creates the impediments between the heart and realities. Otherwise, the heart is intrinsically noble and capable of attaining realities (this is a brief summary of Ghazali’s views on the matter).
Now we are going to cite from the Holy Qur’an the factors which prevent a correct cognition. These factors can be classified under two or three general headings, but for the sake of clarity of the matter, we use the very headings mention in the verses of the Qur’an.
1. Lack of Faith
There are many verses in the Qur’an which indicate faithlessness as a great impediment in the way of cognition: “This is because they believe, then disbelieve, so a seal is set upon their hearts so they do not understand.” (63:3)
“Nor can you lead away the blind out of their error. You cannot make to hear any but those who believe in Our communications so they shall submit.” (30:53)
“...Thus does God lay uncleanness on those who do not believe.” (6:125)
“Surely we have made the Shaitans to be guardians of those do not believe.” (7:27)
“(As for) those who do not believe in God’s communications, surely God will not guide them.” (16:104)
“...and (as for) those who do not believe, there is a heaviness in their ears and it is obscure to them.” ((41:44)
Some verses in the Qur’an indicate the sole reliance on knowledge, without faith, can never take one to the correct understanding of nature: “Say, ‘Consider what is it in which is in the heavens and the earth, and signs and warners do not avail a people who would not believe.” (10:101)
“Therefore, turn aside from him who turns his back upon Our reminder and does not desire anything but this world’s life. This is their goal of knowledge, and He knows best him who follows the right direction.” (53:29 – 30)
As previously mentioned, the principal role of faith in understanding is to restore man’s faculty of intellect to its original state.
2. The existence of the factors causing intellect’s deviation
A. Following one’s desires, fancy and wishes
It is repeatedly mentioned in the Qur’an in which the following one’s desires and wishes lead one astray: “But if they do now answer you, know they only follow their low desires, and who is more erring than he who follows his low desires without any guidance from God.” (28:50)
“Have you then considered him who takes his low desire for his god, and Allah has made him err, having knowledge, and has set a seal upon his ears and his heart and put a covering upon his eye. Who can then guide him after Allah? Will you not then be mindful?” (45:23)
“And if you follow their desires after the knowledge has come to you, you shall have no guardian from Allah, nor any helper.” (2:120)
“...so judge between men with justice, and do not follow desires, lest it should lead you astray from the path of God.” (38:26)
“...and most surely many would lead (people) astray by their low desires out of ignorance...” (6:119)
“And these are they upon whose hearts God has set a seal and they follow their low desires.” (47:16)
Our Great Prophet (S) has been quoted as saying,41 “In your case, I would fear two characteristics: obedience to desires and indulgence. Obedience to desires and fancies keeps you away from finding truth, and indulgence causes to forget the Resurrection.”
And it has been reported from Imam Ali (a.s.) as saying, “Desire is the enemy of reason.”42
And, “Ambition blinds man’s insight.”43
B. Blind love or hatred and unjustifiable prejudice
These, too, are the factors which prevent the intellect from impartiality and seeking truth. An Arab poet said, “A look through satisfied eyes covers all the faults, but a look of discontent uncovers all the faults.”
Or as Mowlavi puts it, “When bias comes, art is covered.”
The Holy Qur’an has repeatedly warned man against the diseases which inflict the heart: “And as to Thamud, We showed them the right way, but they chose error above guidance, so there overtook them the scourge of an abasing chastisement for what they earned.” (41:17)
“And (We destroyed) ‘Ad and Thamud and from their dwellings (this) is apparent to you indeed, and the Shaytan made their deeds fair seeming to them, so he kept them back from their path, though they were endowed with intelligence and skill.” (29:38)
Then said, “Oh my people, I did certainly deliver to you the message of my Lord and I gave you good advice, but you do not love those who give good advice.” (7:79)
“This is because they have this word’s life more than the hereafter, and because Allah does not guide the unbelieving people. These are they on whose hearts and their hearing and their eyes Allah has set a seal and these are the heedless ones.” (16:101 – 108)
“Certainly we have brought you the truth but most of you are adverse to the truth.” (43:78)
“This is because they hated what God revealed. So He rendered their deed null.” (47:9)
“...and this was made fair seeming to your hearts and you though an evil thought and you were a people doomed to perish.” (48:12)
“And the women in the city said, ‘The chief’s wife seeks her slave to yield himself (to her), surely he has affected her deeply with (his) love, most surely we see her in manifest error.’” (12:30)
“And thus the evil of his deed was made fair seeming to Pharaoh, and he was turned away from the way...” (40:37)
It has been quoted from the great Prophet (S),44 “Loving something makes you blind an deaf (in relation to it).”
And it has been quoted from ‘Ali (a.s.), “A lover is blind and sick at heart, so he faces the truth with unhealthy sight and a deaf ear.”45 And, “Heart turns blind to what it dislikes.”46
It happens so often in which a person (though aware of the fact) does not accept truth. The Qur’an warns this group of people of God’s severe punishment: “Who hears the communications of Allah recited to him, then persists proudly as though he has not heard them? So announce to him a painful punishment. And when he comes to know of any of Our communications, he takes it for a jest, these it is which shall have abasing chastisement.” (45:8 – 9)
“Surely (as for) those who dispute about the communications of God without any authority which has come to them, there is naught in their breasts but (a desire) to become great which they shall never attain to...” (40:56)
“So when Our clear signs came to them, they said, ‘This is clear enchantment, and they denied them unjustly and proudly while their soul had been convinced of them; consider, then how was the end of the mischief makers.’” (23:13 – 14)
“But neither their ears nor their eyes nor their hearts availed them aught since they denied the communications of God, and in which they mocked encompassed them.” (46:26)
“Surely (as for) those who reject Our communications and turn away from them haughtily, the doors of heaven shall not be opened for them.” (7:40)
“And whenever I have called them in which You may forgive them, they put their fingers in their ears, cover themselves with their garments, and persist and are puffed up with pride.” (71:7)
“Then he turned back and was big with pride. Then he said, ‘This is naught but enchantment narrated.’” (74:23 – 24)
It is quoted from our Prophet (S) who said,47 “Oh ‘Ali, people perish because of three characteristics: jealousy, (carnal) desire, and egoism.”
And it has been reported from ‘Ali (a.s.) who said, “Egoism corrupts intellect.”48
D. Blind Imitation of the Ancestors’ Opinions, Men of Authority, and the Sediments of One’s Own Thoughts
These, too, are characteristics which put barriers in the way of seeking the truth, and are repeatedly condemned in the Qur’an: “And they shall say, ‘Oh our Lord, surely we obeyed our leaders and our great men, sot they led us astray from the path.” (33:67)
“Nay, we follow what we found our fathers upon. What, and though their fathers had no sense at all, nor did they follow the right way.” (2:170)
“Then when their apostles came to them with clear arguments, they exulted in what they had with them of knowledge, and there beset them which they used to mock.” (40:83)
“And when it is said to them, ‘Follow what Allah has revealed and this messenger.’ They say, ‘Nay, we follow what we find our fathers upon.’ What! Even though their fathers had no sense at all, nor did they follow the right way.” (5:104)
“And thus, We did not send before you any warner in a town, but those who had easy lives in it said, ‘Surely we find our fathers on a course, and surely we are followers of their footsteps.’ (The warner) said, ‘What! Even if I bring to you a better guide than which you find you find your fathers?’ They said, ‘Surely we are unbelievers with whom you are sent.’” (43:23 – 34)
“And this was ‘Ad, they denied the communications of their Lord, and disobeyed His apostles and followed the bidding of every insolent oppose (of truth).” (11:59)
“...but they followed the bidding of Pharaoh, and Pharaoh’s bidding was not right directing.” (11:97)
E. Haste and Judgments
Haste often is the cause of carelessness and error in understanding the truth. This is why the Qur’an has warned us against it: “Man is created of haste, now will I show to you my signs; therefore, do not ask Me to hasten (them) on.” (21:37)
“...and do not make haste with the Qur’an before its revelation is made complete to you.” (20:114)
Oh you who believe, if an evil-doer comes to you with a report, look carefully into it, lest you harm a people in ignorance, they be sorry for what you have done.” (49:6)
It has been quoted from our Prophet (S) who said,49 “Haste is the deed of Shaytan, and tranquility is from Allah. Indeed, human beings face death when they act hastily; had men had stability they would not have perished.”
And Imam ‘Ali has been quoted as saying,50
“Haste hinders one from reaching righteousness and rectitude.”
Most of the errors in judgments (whether scientific or non-scientific) originate from ignorance of the subject and lack of enough knowledge about it.
In the Qur’an, there are a goon number of verses in which ignorance has been condemned: He said, “My Lord, I seek refuge in You from asking You of which I have no knowledge.” (11:47)
“...why then do you dispute about which you have no knowledge?” (3:66)
“And most surely many would lead (people) astray to their low desires out of ignorance...” (6:119)
“And among men there is he who disputes about Allah without knowledge and without guidance and without an illuminating book.” (22:8)
“...and I deliver to you the message with which I am sent but I see y ou are a people who are ignorant.” (46:23)
Our great Prophet (S) is reported to have said,51 “The angels in the heavens and the earth curse the person who passes judgment without knowledge.”
Among the evident examples of ignorant judgments, one may include subjection to conjecture, unfounded confirmations or rejections, and superficial consideration of events and phenomena.
A. Subjection to Conjecture
In the Qur’an we have been repeatedly warned against subjection to conjecture and sacrificing knowledge to supposition: They say, “There is nothing but our life in this world, we live and die and nothing destroys us but time, and they have no knowledge of this, they only conjecture.” (45:24)
“And they have no knowledge of it, they do not follow anything but conjecture and surely conjecture does not avail against the truth at all.” (53:28)
“They entertained about God thoughts of ignorance quite unjustly.” (3:154)
B. Unfounded Confirmations and Rejections
The Glorious Qur’an encourages us to follow reason and avoid unfounded confirmations: Say, “Have you any knowledge with you so you should bring it forth to us? You only follow a conjecture and you only tell lies.” (6:148)
And they said, “None shall enter the garden (of paradise) except he who is a Jew or a Christian. These are their vain desires.” Say, “Bring your proof if you are truthful.” (2:111)
Say, “Have you considered what you call upon besides Allah? Show me what they have created of the earth, or have they a share in the heavens? Bring me a book before this or traces of knowledge, if you are truthful.” (46:4)
“Surely (as for) those who dispute about the communications of Allah without any authority which has come to them, there is naught in their breast but (a desire) to become great which they never attain to. Therefore, seek refuge in Allah; surely He is the Hearing and the Seeing.” (40:56)
“And follow not those of which you have not the knowledge. Surely the hearing and the sight and the heart, all of this shall be questioned about this.” (17:36)
It is important in any research neither to confirm nor refute (reject) any view without taking into consideration all the relevant information available and even then reserve judgment until one arrives at a certain result. It is quoted from Imam al-Sadiq as having said,52 “Allah has earmarked two verses from His Book (Qur’an) for his creatures not to speak on any subject until they know about it, nor reject what they do not know. Allah has said, ‘Did they not pledge not to utter but the truth about God.’ And Allah has said, ‘They rejected what they did not know while they had no access to its interpretation.’”
Unfortunately, overlooking this important principle has led some research scholars in natural sciences to come unfounded generalizations or rejections, thus causing irreparable material and spiritual loss to human societies. Atheism and materialism, pre-dominant in certain academic circles, are striking examples of this wrong attitude. Those who base their judgments on perceptible only have no right to deny supra-perceptible realities. The most they are entitled to do is to keep silent in such matter.
Researches should always bear in mind the advice given by ibn Sina in his al-Isharat, waal-Tanbhat, which in fact, beautifully elaborates the spirit of the afore-mentioned Qur’anic verses. It goes as follows,53 “Lest you believe in which rejecting is (a sign of) imbecility and weakness. Rejection of what is not clear to you is no less foolish than confirming what is not proved to you. Should you hear something which sounds odd to you, you should hang onto it unless you have no proof for its improbability. It is advisable you consider such issues just probable as long as they have not been rejected by firm proofs...”
The Qur’an strongly condemns those who look at the natural phenomena superficially and pass comments without trying to find reasons behind the natural events: And they shall say, “Had we but listened or pondered, we should not have been among the inmates of the burning fire.” (67:10)
“...and He casts uncleanness on those who will not understand.” (10:100)
And when you call to prayer they make mockery and a joke; this is because they are a people who do not understand. (5:58)
And there are those of them who hear you, but can you make the deaf to hear though they will not understand?” (10:42)
And have they not travelled in the land so they could have hearts with which to understand, or ears with which to hear...” (22:46)
They know the outward of this world’s life, but of the hereafter they are absolutely heedless.” (30:7)
And how many a sign in the heavens and the earth which they pass by, yet they turn aside from it.” (12:105)
On the basis of the following two verses we can conclude in which the fundamental difference between man and beasts of burden lies in rationality; therefore, a person not utilizing their reason is even less conscious of the right way than animals: Surely the vilest animals, in Allah’s sight are the deaf and the dumb who do not understand.” (8:22)
Or do you think most of them do hear or understand? They are nothing but as cattle, nay, they are further astray from the path.” (25:44)
Indifference towards Craving for or Acceptance of Truth
One of the important factors which leads a researcher, in any field of research, to success is the researcher should solely look for the truth. The Glorious Qur’an calls on a person to seek and follow the truth: Therefore, give good news to My servants who listen to the word, then follow the best of it. These are whom Allah has guided and who are the men of understanding. (39:18)
...certainly the truth has come from your Lord. Therefore, you should not be of the disputers.” (10:49)
...what is there after the truth but error, how are you then turned back? (10:32)
Furthermore, the Qur’an condemns those who have no craving for truth or do not accept it when it is told to them: So they have indeed rejected the truth when it came to them. (6:5)
Certainly we have brought you the truth but most of you are adverse to the truth. (43:78)
And who is more unjust than one who forges a lie against Allah or gives the lie to the truth when it has come to him. (29:68)
I will turn away from My communications those who are unjustly proud on the earth and if they see every sign they will not believe in it, and if they see the way of rectitude they do not take it for say and if they see the way of error, they take it for a way. This is because they rejected our communications and were heedless of them.” (7:146)
In the light of the glorious verses which follow, one comes to realize the Divine Verses are instructive for people who eagerly listen to and think about what they hear, and finally accept what is right: And one of His signs is your sleeping and your seeking of His grace by night and (by) day, most surely there are signs in this for people would hear.” (30:23)
And Allah has sent down water from the heaven (clouds) and therewith given life to the earth after its death; most surely there is a sign in this for a people would listen.” (16:65)
27. M.H. Tabataba’i, al-Mizan, vol. 7, pp. 289 – 290.
28. Ibid, vol. 8, p. 348.
29. M. J. Mughniyah, al-Tafsir al-Kashif, vol. 3, p. 213.
30. Din Arkan Tabiah, p. 251.
31. Abu Hamid al-Ghazali, Ihya ‘Ulum al-Din vol. 3. p. 15.
32. M. H. Tabataba’i, al-Mizan, vol. 5, p. 270.
33. Abu Hamid al-Ghazali, Ihya ‘Ulum al-Din, vol. 3, p. 9; Mullah Muhsin Fayd Kashani, Mahajjah al-Baida, vol. 2, p. 125.
34. ‘Amidi, Ghurar al-Hikam wa Durar al-Kalim vol. 5, p. 411.
35. Kulayni, al-Kafi, vol. 2, p. 263. For other versions of the same tradition, see also al-Bukhari, al-Sahih, vol. 8, p. 105, and Fayd Kashani, Kalimat-e-Maknunah, p. 113.
36. Saduq, ‘Uyun Akhbar al-Rida, vol. 2, p. 69. For other versions of this tradition see, e.g. Suyuti, al-Jami al-Saghir (Damascus) vol. 2, p. 483, and Fayd Kashani, Kalimat-e-Maknunah, p. 247.
37. Nahj al-Balaghah (S. al-Salah Ed.) p. 337.
38. Ibid, p. 497.
39. M. H. Tabataba’i, al-Mizan, vol. 2, p. 250.
40. Abu Hamid al-Ghu7zzali, Ihya ‘Ulum al-Din, vol. 3, pp. 12 – 14.
41. Saduq, al-Khisal, vol. 1, p. 151.
42. ‘Amidi, Ghurar al-Hikam wa Durar al-Kalim (Tehran University Press) vol. 1, p. 68.
43. Nahj al-Balaghah (S. al-Saleh Ed.) p. 524.
44. Ibn Abi Jumhur, Ghawali al-La’ali, vol. 1, p. 240. In Suyuti’s al-Jami‘ al-Saghir, (vol. 1, p. 500),this tradition is reported in the following form:
45. Nahj al-Balaghah (s. al-Saleh Ed.) p. 524.
46. Ibid. p. 503.
47. Saduq, al-Khisal, vol. 1, p. 85. See also Suyuti, al-Jami‘ al-Sahir, vol. 1, p. 469.
48. Amidi, Ghurar al-Hikam wa Durar al-Kalim, vol. 1, p. 189.
49. Barqi, al-Mahasin, vol. 1, p. 215.
50. Amidi, Ghurar al-Hikam wa Durar al-Kalim, vol. 1, p. 231.
51. Saduq, Uyun Akhbar al-Rida, vol. 2, p. 46.
52. Kulayni, al-Kafi, vol. 1, p. 43.
53. Ibn Sina, al-Isharat waal-Tanbihat, vol. 13, p. 246.