By Jaafar S. Idris
IT IS COMMON these days to see the term “intellectuals” being used to describe those who follow paths inclined from the right path in regard to understanding Islam and explaining its texts. This indeed is a misnomer for many reasons.
FIRST: It acknowledges that the mind can be in contradiction to the Sharîʿah. In fact, those who employ this term agree that there is no contradiction between the plainly rational and the authentically transmitted. Why then do we use a term that accepts something we all deny?
SECOND: We cannot find in Allah’s Book nor the Prophet’s Sunnah that a person strayed from the right path because of his mind. Instead, we find that those who go astray are those who do not comprehend, do not devise, do not think, and do not observe. Guided people are those who comprehend and understand:
Those are the ones whom Allah has guided, they are the people of understanding. Sûrat Al-Zumar, 39:18
THIRD: There is a fundamental difference between intellect and desire. A person strays from the right path because he chooses to and not because his mind directs him. Our righteous predecessors, Al-Salaf, used to call the Al-Muʿtazilah, and their likes, people of desires, ahwâ’, not intellectuals, as some contemporary people now call them in imitation of orientalists.
FOURTH: There is a difference between having an opinion and being intellectual. Not every opinion is realistic even if it is not based on desires. There are two kinds of opinion, a right opinion, which is always in accordance with the mind and a wrong opinion, which cannot be in harmony with it.
FIFTH: Describing them as intellectuals appeals to them. It might make them more selfish and make them say things out of pride, “yes, we are intellectuals. We think and you are only empty-minded, repeating what you do not understand.”
SIXTH: The Imams of the Sunnah like Abû Saʿîd Al-Dârami and Ibn Taymiyyah did not only state that the true path is always in accordance with the mind, they actually showed it in convincing detail. They also used rational proof to show that those who do as they please in actuality contradict the mind. They also proved that what those people alleged as rational was actually ignorance.
SEVENTH: Every religious detail, be it in belief, worship, or conduct, has behind it a rational explanation. This point asserts that intellectuals are indeed those who follow the true course, the way of the people of Sunnah and Jamâʿa.
To be convinced with a rational proof depends on two factors:
FIRST: The person being spoken to has to be sane and rational. If he isn’t, there is no way to reason with or convince him.
SECOND: The reasoning used must be correct and should be based on the right assumptions which will in the end, lead to the desired results.
Some lines of reasoning are clear on their own—an intelligent person sees their clarity by employing his intellect. Others may require proof. Usually, this is the deciding factor in how long your argument can be with your audience. If your assumptions are not acceptable to the person you are talking to, he may demand proofs for them.
The verse: Were they created of nothing, or were they themselves the creators [Sûrat Al-Ṭûr, 52:35] is one of the very concise proofs found in the Quran for the fact that this world has an existing Creator. This proof is led to by two intuitive and logical facts stated by the verse:
FACT 1: No creation comes from nothingness, and
FACT 2: Nothing creates itself.
This is indisputable except to the arrogant.
But let us assume that a person alleges that resurrection is an impossibility. To answer this allegation, one would use as an argument what the Quran has asserted: Allah the One Who created people the first time can bring them back after their death. This, however, depends on the assumption that this person already believes that Allah created him. If he denies this fact, then one needs to first prove to him that the Creator exists.
It might be said that such an example is a simple and clear one. This is true. However, that person may argue that there are things to which most would submit as being true facts of life, but this would not hold true for all religious issues.
I, however, argue that submission is a necessary requirement for reasoning and intellectuality to hold true. Submission, I say, is an absolute wisdom. How is that? Let us take an example:
Suppose that someone asks: “On what basis do you submit that the Maghrib Ṣalâh is three rakʿahs?”
The answer would be: “On the basis that this is what the Prophet ﷺ ordered.” And, for the sake of furthering the argument, we would elaborate by saying: in fact, the Prophet ﷺ does not speak out of his own desire. Everything he ordered is actually a revelation from Allah. Only Allah decides what the truth, Ḥaq, is. Only He orders the good. Listen to the Quran stating this:
The word of your Lord shall be fulfilled in truth and justice. [Sûrat Al-Anʿâm, 6:115]
A rational person listening to you will realize that your reasoning leads to a mandatory submission that the Maghrib comprises three rakʿahs. He should recognize this fact even if he does not believe what you do (i.e., your religion).
If this person now wants to submit as you submit, he will then ask for a proof. He will ask you: “What proof do you have that the Prophet ﷺ said what you say he did? Or, he may ask: “What proof is there that Muhammad is Allah’s Prophet?”
All these questions have rational proofs. If you know them you should say them. If you do not, you should refer them to someone who knows. This is the rule set for us by the Quran.
Suppose that this person indicates that he does not want a religious proof. Instead, he says, “I want a direct proof.”
I say that person is not rational because, in essence, results are dependent on whatever assumptions are given as a foundation for the argument. And when one accepts the assumptions, he should accept the results they lead to. It is that simple. If, he is not convinced with the truthfulness of the assumptions, he can ask for proofs to them.
Furthermore, ask this person: “What is the proof that four times five is twenty?” If he says that four times five means four plus four plus four plus four plus four (five times); tell him, “I do not want proof based on the ‘addition assumption.’ Instead, I want a direct proof.”
He will answer, “Multiplication is based on addition; and if you do not acknowledge the addition assumption and do not submit to it, then I cannot give you proof for the multiplication phenomenon.”
The very same concept and reasoning applies to the case of the number of rakʿahs for the Maghrib Ṣalâh. The proof for them is based on submission to the assumption that Muhammad is a Messenger from Allah.
This is our stand regarding intellect and the use of rationality. So what is the stand of the people of the desires?
The scholars of Islam, have dealt with this kind of people in all times, and we have received much of their heritage about the subject. It remains to be said that we, today, do the same and judge modernists on the same basis.