“Reason” vs. “Revelation”–A Discussion by Ibn Taymiyyah

This article by Skeikh ul Islam Ibn Taymiyyah answers the following questions:

  • Is reason self sufficient for the acquisition of all knowledge?
  • What is the role of revelation in acquisition of knowledge?
  • Within the religious context, should reason be completely suppressed?
  • What about people who completely depend on reason and even discredit the teachings of the prophet?

Ibn Taymiyyah has written extensively on this topic. In his introduction of the book “Ibn Taymiyyah Expounds on Islam”, Dr. Muhammad `Abdul-Hagq Ansari, Researcher in the Deanery of Academic Research at Al-Imam Muhammad Ibn Saud Islamic University (Saudi-Arabia) states the following:

Reason is the next principle of Ibn Taymiyyah’s innovative work. He says that God created man with a particular nature, fitrah. The beliefs, values and the principles of Islamic life and society have their roots in this fitrah. Islam is the religion of fitrah. And the whole purpose of Islam is the perfection of man on the lines of his fitrah. Reason is part of fitrah. Here there is and must be complete agreement between reason and revelation. This places two obligations on Ibn Taymiyyah. He has to show, on the one hand, that the beliefs, values and the principles of life and society that the Quran, the Sunnah and the Salaf expound have their rational justification; they are neither irrational nor arbitrary. He has to show, on the other hand, that whatever philosophers, theologians, or scholars of any field claim to be rational is not in reality rational if it goes against the Quran, Sunnah and the views of the Salaf .

…..

There are two main sources of knowledge: one that is available to every human being in varying degrees – senses and reason; and the other which is for prophets and messengers – revelation. In the former category there is a part which is self-evident, such as two and two make four, or two things which are equal to a third thing are equal to each other. Mathematics is based on these axiomatic truths that need no argument to prove them. Another category of knowledge is what is gained through sense perception and experience. This knowledge is of particular things which exist in reality – this man or that man, this chair or that chair. There is no knowledge of man as such, or of chair as such, for universals, Ibn Taymiyyah says, have no existence in reality; they exist only in our minds. And there is no knowledge of things which do not exist out there. Like the Stoics before him, Ibn Taymiyyah is a thoroughgoing nominalist; he opposes every doctrine which imputes any real existence to universals. All scientific knowledge, he says, proceeds from the perception of particular things from which reason forms ideas and concepts. This is the case for all physical and social sciences. (Read more on the Scientific Facts in the Quran)

We see from the article below that complete knowledge requires both dependence on reason and dependence on prophetic revelations. The article is a short write-up on the topic of Reason Vs. Revelation by Ibn Taymiyyah:

Reason is prerequisite to the acquisition of knowledge, as well as for the performance of a good deed or righteous act. Mystical states like ecstasy or intoxication, which involve the suppression of reason, are imperfect states of mind, and ideas that conflict with reason are false. However, reason is not self-sufficient; it cannot dispense with revelation, which alone gives the knowledge of realities that transcend it.

Many theologians base their ideas simply on reason, and rely exclusively on it. They subject it to the faith and the Quran. Knowledge is derived from general principles of reason sufficient in themselves without a recourse to faith on the Quran.

Most Sufis, on the other hand, condemn reason and find fault with it. They assert that sublime states and higher spiritual stages are never attained without negating reason. They expound ideas which contradict reason and lead to rapture, ecstasy and intoxication. They believe in truths and experiences which, as they claim, accrue only when reason is completely suppressed; they also believe in things that are clearly denied by reason or are not attested to by it.

Both these sources are wrong. To be sure, reason is prerequisite to all knowledge, as it is the prerequisite of virtue and good life. With it we acquire knowledge and virtue, but it is not sufficient by itself. It is only a faculty of the soul, a power like the power of vision in the eye. It works only when it receives light from faith and the Quran, as the eye sees only when it receives light from the sun or a fire.

Left to itself, reason cannot know things which it is not equipped to know by itself. On the other hand, when it is completely suppressed, the ideas that one receives and the acts that one performs may be things such as happen to the animals. One may have love and ecstasy and other experiences, but they will not be different from what the animals get. Hence the states that one attains by negating reason are defective, and the ideas one receives contrary to reason are false.

Prophets came with knowledge which reason could not attain in and of itself; never did they come with what reason considers to be impossible. People who place unjustified faith in reason readily make statements regarding the necessity, possibility or impossibility of things purely on the basis of reason; they work all the while under the impression that their views are correct, whereas they are false; they are even audacious enough to oppose the views which the prophets taught. On the other hand, those who decry reason and affirm things that are false, revel in satanic states and evil practices, and cross the boundaries which the sense of discrimination (between good and evil) draws, with which God has endowed man and elevated him above other creatures.

Among the people of hadith (ahl al-hadith) there are also some who lean towards one or the other of these two groups. They sometimes bring down reason from its position, and sometimes put it against the prophetic practices (sunan). [Source: Ibn Taymiyyah Fatawa 3:338-9 – Taken from “Ibn Taymiyyah Expounds on Islam]

(To read about Ibn Taymiyyah and his role as a Mujaddid (renewer of Islam), click and read the introduction article on Ibn Taymiyyah.)

Get the Tafsir Al-Kabir by Ibn-Taymiyyah

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9 comments… add one
  • Maisha

    AssalamuAlaikum waRahmatullahi WaBarakata – MashaAllah for the article brings much with its few words. JazakAllah Khair for the sharing and InshaAllah the teaching it has left me with. Be safe, be blessed and Be with Allah – for Allah Subhana wa ta’ala is with those who are with Him in Rememberance. It is mentioned in the Quran: Allah disdains not to use the similitude of things, lowest as well as highest. Those who believe know that it is truth from their Lord; but those who reject Faith say: “What means Allah by this similitude?” By it He causes many to stray, and many He leads into the right path; but He causes not to stray, except those who forsake (the path),- (Al-Baqara: 26) Islam is a rational system which not only allows questions but raises knowledge to a new level of dignity and respect. No other religion has exalted knowledge and its pursuit, as has Islam. In fact, for the first time in human history, a religious book invited people to question the creation of the universe and stated that in it (the universe) were signs for people of understanding. ‘In the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the alternation of night and day, there are Signs for people of intelligence.’(The Final Testament,i.e.Quran,3:190-191)
    “He directs the whole affair. He makes the Signs clear so that hopefully you will be certain about the meeting with your Lord.”
    (13: 2). Everything in Islam is subject to rational pursuit.
    Islam is an intellectual and historical religion. There are no secrets and no mysteries which cannot be understood by an ordinary person. We should, therefore, refrain from forming particular ideology or opinion prior to witnessing clear evidence-just as Islam advises us.
    The Prophet Salallahu alaihi WaSalaam said: ‘The cure for ignorance is to question.’ (Sunan Abî Dawûd)

    • VP Farooq

      To identify appropriate Sunnah of the Prophet SAW has become a real task for the present day muslims. In many cases we are misguided deviating from the path of the Sahabah and Tabiuthabe’een, Renewers and innovators have taken swift steps in their conclusions without going deep into the practices and sayings of the prophet SAW.

  • Hafsat Yusuf

    Assalam. Jaza Kallahu Hairun for this article which is just at the right time when the Muslim Ummah is faced with a lot of challenges world wide. This article will strengthen our Iman and clear doubts in the hearts of non Muslims & even Muslim faithfuls.

  • Mohd Tasneem Khan

    Assalam Very interesting and thought provocing blessed post. Jaza Kallahun Khairun.

  • Dr. Wali Zar Jahantab

    Yes,I read the article , it is exellent, no doubt the great Imam analysed the topic in very very sound way.

  • jaleel shakir

    Excellent post …………..

  • Mustapha Emigi

    Salam Alaikum W W. Jakallahu Khairan. This topic is very crucial to every Muslim and non-muslim alike. Lack of understanding between the two important words creates misunderstanding thus leading to confusion. Now everyone knows that reason is not sufficient to stand on its own but requires a revelation to lighten up one’s faith. What a wonderful and educative topic!

  • maimuna

    salamu alaikum first of all i will like to say jazakallahu khair to all those behind dis very educative and interesting site may Allah reward u all and may we put into practice every single thing we learn . Alhamdullilah i really learn alot . May Allah have mercy on ibn taymmiyya and d likes of him

  • Kassim

    That is very useful piece of write-up. I completely agree with the article, the two are essential components of knowing the ultimate reality. May Allah guide us and increase us in faith and health

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