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Shaykh al-Islām Ibn Taymiyyah on the Role of Reason in Guidance in Matters of Creed and Clarification of a Doubt

Posted by Abu Iyaad
Friday, May 17 2024
Filed under Aqīdah

The quote in the image was forwarded via social media and this article looks at the context of the quote and clarifies a doubt that is based on a misunderstanding, misinterpretation and misapplication of this speech.

In the beginning of the 9th volume of Darʾ al-Taʿāruḍ, over the first 30 pages or so, Shaykh al-Islām Ibn Taymiyyah (رحمه الله) speaks of the differing among the sects regarding how knowledge, acquaintance and guidance is acquired, is it through reason, or is it through revelation, along with Allāh’s tawfīq (granting success) in these endeavours, and issues related to this. Likewise, what is reason (ʿaql) is it knowledge, or knowledge with action, and what is wisdom and so on.

As part of the discussion he mentions the view of the Qadariyyah, the deniers of al-Qadar. They claim that acquiring knowledge and guidance is an act of the servant alone, without any aid from Allāh in that.

Ibn Taymiyyah refutes this view through numerous angles.

An interesting quote from one of the Salaf he mentions is that he was asked: “Did you know Allāh through Muḥammad or did you know Allāh through Him (Allāh)?” He replied: “I came to know Allāh through Him (Allāh), and I came to know Muḥammad through Allāh. If I had come to know Allāh through Muḥammad, then the favour would have belonged to Muḥammad, besides Allāh.”

The point being that coming to know Allāh is a favour and bounty from Allāh, this being a refutation of the Qadariyyah who claim man is the creator of his own actions, outside the domain of Allāh’s creative power, and included within this, is their claim that man guides himself through his own intellect.

At the same time, Ibn Taymiyyah points out that while Ahl al-Sunnah refute the Qadariyyah with the saying that guidance is a bounty that is bestowed by Allāh, this does not mean at the same time, that guidance cannot be attained through the use of reason (ʿaql). Rather, reason is from among the causes through which a person can attain guidance, if Allāh decrees absence of barriers, and all of it is from the decree of Allāh, who is the Creator of all causes and their effects.

Shaykh al-Islām says:[1]

The people of affirmation (of al-Qadar) have disputed about the issue of sound observation necessitating (the acquisition) of knowledge, is it through the route of inclusion (taḍammun) which rationally speaking prevents separation therefrom. Or is through the route of Allāh making this to be something routine but which is possible to invalidate.

The point Shaykh al-Islām is raising here is that alongside Ahl al-Sunnah affirming that a person can be guided through the route of reason—this being part of the ways and means Allāh has decreed, and the acquisition of guidance thereby being a favour and bounty from Allāh, He being the One who guides and misguides, in opposition to the heresy of the Qadariyyah—they then dispute about whether observation and investigation necessitates knowledge through inclusion, meaning that mere observation and investigation itself necessitates and guarantees acquisition of knowledge, always, as a rule, one not being separable from the other, in the same way that when we say the word “house”, then by necessity this includes a wall, there being no separability between the two.

Or is it merely something that routinely leads to acquisition of knowledge, which we know from experience, though it can be prevented through barriers? Meaning, even though a person engages in observation, investigation, and uses his reason, he may still not attain knowledge and guidance, even if the use of reason is a routine means of knowledge and guidance. This is due to barriers, and these could be lack of success from Allāh due to things like pride, arrogance and affairs which lead to that.

It is here that Shaykh al-Islām says the following:

In any case, the servant is in need of Allāh to guide him and inspire him as to his guidance, and when he acquires knowledge through rational evidence, then he is need of Allāh to enable his heart to properly conceive the premises of that evidence and combine them in his heart [for comprehension], and thereafter to bring about the knowledge which is acquired through them.

A man could be among the most intelligent of people, the sharpest of them in observation, yet He blinds him from the most apparent of affairs. And he could be from the most simple-minded of people, the weakest of them in observation, yet He guides him by His permission to the truth which has been differed over, for there is no might nor power except through Him.

Thus, whoever relied upon his observation and deduction (of evidence), or his reason and acquaintance, will be abandoned. For this reason, as occurs in the authentic hadīths, the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) used to say frequently: “O Turner of the Hearts, make my heart firm upon your religion.”

Once this is clear, we can now make some observations and comments and clarify the doubts:

01  It is clear from what has preceded that the meaning of this speech is that someone could be the sharpest in observation, investigation, scrutiny and in intellect—such as many among the Mutakallimūn (speculative theologians), from them, the likes of al-Ghazālī and al-Rāzī—yet they can be blinded from the truth in matters of creed. And yet others can be the most simple-minded, of intact fiṭrah (natural disposition) and be guided to the simple truth. For example, the aged, barren women of Nīsapūr, know that their Lord is above the heavens, above His Throne, whereas the most intelligent of the Mutakallimīn, don’t know that their Lord is above the heavens because they are blinded by Aristotelian Metaphysics, the language of bodies and accidents (al-ajsām wal-aʿrāḍ). The same can be said about other affairs of creed.

Indeed, some of these speculative theologians acknowledged this at the end of their lives and admitted that the barren old women are upon a sounder religion than they were, and that they sailed the oceans and traversed the lands in philosophy, and yet attained nothing from it but utter confusion.

Rather, even in the affair of Tawḥīd, in the matter of worshipping Allāh alone, as Shaykh al-Islām Muḥammad bin ʿAbd al-Wahhāb (رحمه الله) stated at the beginning of al-Uṣūl al-Sittah (the Six Principles), that many of the intelligent from Banī Ādam erred with respect to the matter of Tawḥīd, which is the greatest and most evident foundation of the religion.

02  This quote from Ibn Taymiyyah was circulated on social media with a subtitle:

This is not the intent of Shaykh al-Islām, as is clear, and though there is truth in that a man is not free from trial and tribulation in his religion, there is nothing in the quote or the context of the quote that justifies this remark over this speech.

This is because the comprehension and guidance Ibn Taymiyyah is speaking about is in matters of creed between Ahl al-Kalām and Ahl al-Sunnah, where the simple minded of Ahl al-Sunnah are better guided than the most shrewd and intelligent of Ahl al-Bidʿah. That’s firstly.

Secondly, thirty years in daʿwah carries weight and it is in fact recognised and appreciated by the scholars, because it brings with it firmness through trials, wisdom through experience, and insight into affairs. That is not dismissed just merely through our knowledge that all of Ahl al-Sunnah, without exception are subject to trial and potential misguidance.

And of course, none of this is to say that anyone is infallible and safe from errors, slips and misguidance, everyone acknowledges this, but it is not befitting that such an emotionally-charged and politicised remark should be made, especially when it comprises a twisting of Shaykh al-Islām’s otherwise insightful and beautiful words.

03  Thirdly, the objective of whoever wrote this remark is defeated and invalidated because if that can be said about those who have thirty years in daʿwah, then does that not apply even more so to those with only 29, or 20, or 10, or five or one? As such, this remark is an own goal and is self-defeating.

04  We can close with some advice. The statements of the scholars, like this one from Ibn Taymiyyah (رحمه الله) contain beautiful insight, direction and guidance, and they are too worthy and precious to be subjected to one's whims, ambitions and/or personal grievances and a man should be more dignified and noble than to use such speech to this end. This is not the way of Ahl al-Sunnah who always seek to say a selfless, upright word and always seek to do an upright deed, stripped of worldly motives and inclinations.

We ask Allāh for tawfīq, (success) sadād (uprightness) and thabāt (firmness).

1. Darʾ al-Taʿāruḍ (9/34).

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