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.)