"REASON AND REVELATION: ON BECOMING A MORAL HUMAN BEING"
24 January 2020
Our anchor in our existence is revelation. This is, in principle, what defines a believing Muslim. A Muslim is the person who believes that this world – this existence with its known and unknown, physical and non-physical, and material and non-material planes – has an Owner, and that this Owner is All-Knowing, All-Seeing, and purposefully and meaningfully engaged with the existence that the Owner owns. This existence has not come by accident or coincidence. Further, a Muslim believes that God has spoken – the All-Knowing and All-Powerful Owner of the Kingdom has spoken, which is very critical in the existence of a consistent Muslim. The speech of God is what we refer to as revelation.
Revelation has its most direct and indisputable form in the text of the Quran, in the revelation of the Quran taken as a whole, and in any other source that informs us about God’s revelation and what that Owner intended to reveal to us. Revelation is of a quintessential role for a Muslim who wants to be a consistent Muslim: one that believes that God created existence for a purpose and that God cares about what God created. Muslim belief is not akin to old beliefs in which gods create humanity and are not further invested in their creations. For a Muslim, God continues to be not just knowing, but interested, vested and involved.
Being anchored in this principle and mindful of God’s revelation draws us back to a conscientious journey to comprehend and effectuate God’s speech. If God speaks and you are disinterested or not engaged, you have a problem as a Muslim. Imagine if you live in a home, and this home has an owner, and that the owner speaks about his or her household, but you are agnostic about the speech of the owner in the owner’s home. That is an ethical problem. That would make you a bad guest; an unethical guest. If you function in this household as if it does not have an owner and are only interested in your own comforts, again, this is an ethical problem.
Throughout time, Allah has told us that iman (faith) is a transformative engagement. The transformative power of the words of the Quran – that revelation or speech of the Divine – can be demonstrated just using a small passage from Surah al-Ra‘d, which is itself an entire philosophy of existence in a few words. Allah reminds us not to be fooled by the physical appearance of things, as it is not the claims of knowledge that tell us who is knowledgeable or not, but the truth of things. There are many people who philosophize but who are fundamentally blind to the ethical failure of existing in a space where they do not honor the true Owner.
Allah also reminds us that he gave us a sense of reason, the miraculous ability to think, reason and decide. Reason, like all other instruments given by God, can be used for goodness or the opposite. How that reason is used to interact with, unpack, or allow revelation to occupy its ethical space in existence is the challenge.
The further challenge is to employ reason correctly, using it to honor our covenant with God, to live within the terms of God’s revelation, and to remind us that we cannot exist in this space without a purpose.
The beauty of reason is that it gives us the ability to deduce what is ethical and what is unethical; we do not need a specific hadith or command from God for every situation. God does not specifically tell us to not waste our life invested in materialism, or to not spend too much time watching TV, but tells us all that we need to know when He says, "Your reason can tell you what is reasonable as to the covenant that I have with you in existence." God does not specifically need to tell us to not be late for appointments; it is enough that God said, "Honor your obligations." We do not need a law or positive commandment; it is enough to use our God-given sense of reason and rationality to reflect upon the ethical principle.
Reason reasonably applied to revelation leads to an ethical existence. God expects us to apply intellect to God’s revelation, therefore gaining the ability to distinguish between what is ethical and unethical. God tells us, "Reflect upon the type of relationships that invoke an obligation upon you to live morally.” Whatever we do, including severing relationships that God wishes to be preserved, we will be held accountable for.
We live in an age of constant ethical and moral challenges, where many Muslims feel they need a specific hadith or revelation before knowing if they have an ethical or moral obligation. We do not need an instruction sheet, but instead need to understand the ethics of belief and the imperative of a moral life. One can have all of the Quran and hadiths memorized, but if their ethical engine has not been activated, they will still fail ethically, mistreating those around them. Our ethical intellect tells us if we do not want it to be done to us, then we should not do it to others. Our salvation as Muslims does not come from textual instructions, but the activation of the intellect that is interlinked with a conscientious existence.
Surah al-Ra‘d reminds us that to live a moral, rational existence, we need perseverance and patience. Failure to understand the importance of perseverance or favoring immediate satisfaction and gratification, one will fail at an ethical existence. Those who persevere in prayer will have a far greater chance of persevering in patience and in upholding the bonds that God wants to be upheld. God warns us that it is crucial in our ethical journey to give from what is dear to us, not from what is excess to us. God draws us a complete moral, ethical picture, but it needs a rational human being, who takes their existence and relationship with God seriously.
We are surrounded by insanity. We live in a world in which even the most basic ethical behavior has become suspect. At the same time that a scholar like Salman Odeh is in prison and no Muslim can say a critical word against the rulers of Saudi Arabia, Israel’s Likud Party has an official representative in Saudi Arabia, who continuously praises Israel while ignoring its human rights violations. American Muslim leaders praise the Emirati as a government of tolerance while the Emirati murder Yemenis and Libyans in cold blood every single day. No one says a word. The worst thing about insanity is that it challenges your ability to persevere and believe in rationality. Eventually, you become skeptical about ethics, morality and the possibility of beauty and goodness, and that is the true failure. The Saudi and Emirate governments want an Islam where despotism is not condemned, that brings suspension of our rational, ethical inquiry; a destructive version of Islam. May we be led to a better path.