Reason and Revelation by Khalid Baig

American economist Robert Samuelson recently made an interesting observation about the American society in his Newsweek column: "America's glories and evils are tightly fused together." Quoting sociologist Seymour Lipset, he asserts that America's economic vitality and progress come from the same source as do crime, family breakdown, inequality, and vulgarity. Freedom and individualism have fired economic advance, yet have also inhibited social control. But why the qualities that bring the best in a nation also should bring the worst in it? Is humanity doomed by having its vices and virtues so intricately mixed?

Samuelson does not probe the issue. Instead he seems to be happily resigned to it. "We are burdened as well as blessed by our beliefs," he says. Economics, we may be reminded, is the dismal science.

Actually the world is not doomed by design. Samuelson comes very close to the truth but he confuses approaches or tools with attributes. A tool that works great in one area is also being used in another for which it was never designed. The problem lies with the user who keeps on insisting on its use in the second area citing its success in the first. To put matters simply, it's the free use of reason and intellect that is behind most of America's (and West's in general) phenomenal scientific and material progress. It's the use of the same tool in moral, and religious life that has caused its equally phenomenal moral degeneration!

Every tool has a designated area of application. Outside, it will fail to work. A 4 bit computer is good for some elementary math involving whole numbers. It may multiply 2 by 20 and give the correct answer instantly. But burdened with complex calculations involving several decimal digits, it will give the WRONG answers. A weighing scale meant for gold will not work for iron and vice versa. Their resolution and capacity are inappropriate for those applications.

Same with the tools we use for learning about the world. Our senses and intellect are wonderful things. Science and technology are all about their use. Certainly it was free inquiry driven by reason that led to so many of the discoveries of science. It happened at an accelerated pace during the past four centuries and the results are everywhere around us to be seen.

But a tool that is so great in one area may be totally useless, even dangerous, in another. Pure Reason, uninformed by Divine Guidance, is a defective tool for deciding purpose of life or suggesting its values. What is Right and what is Wrong? These questions require knowledge beyond what we can acquire by using our senses and reasoned analysis. As a direct result, everyone's reasoning is different. That is why philosophers have never been able to agree upon what should be the goal of life. Happiness? Survival? Pleasure? Love? Self-fulfillment? You name it. In addition, it is impossible for us to separate our reasoning in these matters from our feelings. Pure or uninformed reason becomes just a tool to justify what we desire.

Today West's problem is that it has accepted the wrong tool for developing its moral compass. Probably the majority of its people abhor homosexuality. They may know that it is an abomination and evil. Yet today same-sex marriages are getting legal sanction in the West. And they are helpless in trying to stop its advances. Why? Because they cannot argue that it is wrong based on pure reason. It is easier to make a case against smoking in public places, then against the worst forms of immorality. Such is the result when pure reason becomes the accepted arbiter of right and wrong.

There is nothing modern about this either. Several centuries ago, Obaidullah Hasan Qirwani, a leader of the renegade batani cult declared it foolish for a brother to marry his beautiful sister to a total stranger, while trying to be content with a less qualified wife -- another stranger. She would be much more suited to be wife of her own brother, with whom she may be a lot more compatible, he argued. His argument is, no doubt, sickening. But is there a counter argument based on pure reason?

Certainly mankind needs a superior tool for determining the values and purpose of life. A source of guidance that is based on certain knowledge, not conjecture. One that can inform our desires rather than being subservient to them. This is what Prophets, Alayhim assalam, came with. They claimed to have access to the higher source of knowledge, the Divine Revelation. Those who accepted them used reason and observation to verify their authenticity and character. But they accepted Divine Revelation as a SUPERIOR source of knowledge! That is why a son can tell his father:

"O my father! To me has come knowledge that had not reached you. So follow me. I will guide you to a Way that is even and straight." (Maryam, 19:43).

All this is obvious, except in implications. We accept this is Right and that is Wrong because the Revelation TOLD us, not because it PROVED it to us. What is wrong with riba? Gambling? Pork? Alcohol? Revelation told us that they were wrong. Why is hijab necessary? Allah and His Prophet, Salla-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, ordered that. What are the rights of men and women? Those given to them by Allah and His Prophet, Salla-Allahu alayhi wa sallam. The attribute of the Muslims is that they "listened and followed" (Al-Baqarah, 2:285). It is not that they listened and questioned, and argued, and investigated and then if they felt like it, they followed. That is also THE message of Prophet Ibrahim, alayhi assalm's, sacrifice, a defining event for Islam. For the Qur'an describes the moment when the father and son were ready for the ultimate sacrifice by saying: "When they surrendered" (Al-Saffat, 37:103). Literally it can also be translated: "When they accepted Islam." For pure reason could have raised a million questions about the command for that sacrifice.

Normally it is difficult for us to say "I don't know." It is even more difficult for nations to admit a weakness in their celebrated tools of inquiry. That is the dilemma of the modern world, which sees so much wrong with itself but cannot bring itself to admitting the problem with its basic approach. But a Muslim is the person who has both the wisdom and the courage to surrender before the higher source of knowledge and guidance. For him Revelation informs his reason and his reason controls his emotions. Such is the person who is blessed, but not burdened, by his beliefs.

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He (s.a.a.w.) Preferred Living Poor

Prophet Muhammad (s.a.a.w.) lived a life of poverty from the day he was born till the day he died. Whenever, he had anything valuable, be it food, money, gold, or sheep, he preferred to give all away, even when he and his family were in need.

In an agreed upon hadeeth, the Prophet (s.a.a.w.) said, "If I had as much gold as the weight of Uhud, it would not please me to have a single dinar out of it with me after the passage of three days, but I would hold back something for the repayment of a debt. I would distribute it among the slaves of Allah like this and like this and like this.'' And he (PBUH) pointed in front of him, and on his right side and on his left side. We then walked a little further and he (PBUH) said: "The rich would be poor on the Day of  Resurrection, except he who spent like this and like this and like this,". and he pointed as he did the first time. "But such persons are few".


Routine Household Tasks

Aisha, the wife of Muhammad (s.a.a.w.) said:

"Allah's Messenger (s.a.a.w.) used to patch his sandals, sew his garment and conduct himself at home as anyone of you does in his house. He was a human being, searching his garment for lice, milking his sheep, and doing his own chores." (Narrated by al-Tirmathi).

She also said:

"He would patch his garments and sole his sandals" She was once asked: "How was he with his family?", she responded: "He was in the service of his family until it was time for prayer, at which time he would go and pray."

Prophet's Appearance and Dress


Muhammad (s.a.a.w.) was of a height a little above the average. He was of sturdy build with long muscular limbs and tapering fingers. The hair of his head was long and thick with some waves in them. His forehead was large and prominent, his eyelashes were long and thick, his nose was sloping, his mouth was somewhat large and his teeth were well set. His cheeks were spare and he had a pleasant smile. His eyes were large and black with a touch of brown. His beard was thick and at the time of his death, he had seventeen grey hairs in it. He had a thin line of fine hair over his neck and chest. He was fair of complexion and altogether was so handsome that Abu Bakr composed this couplet about him:

"As there is no darkness in the moonlit night so is Mustafa, the well-wisher, bright."

His gait was firm and he walked so fast that others found it difficult to keep pace with him. His face was genial but at times, when he was deep in thought, there there were long periods of silence, yet he always kept himself busy with something. He did not speak unnecessarily and what he said was always to the point and without any padding. At times he would make his meaning clear by slowly repeating what he had said. His laugh was mostly a smile. He kept his feelings under firm control - when annoyed, he would turn aside or keep silent, when pleased he would lower his eyes [Tirmidhi].


His dress generally consisted of a shirt, tamad (trousers), a sheet thrown round the shoulders and a turban. On rare occasions, he would put on costly robes presented to him by foreign emissaries in the later part of his life. [Ahmed, Musnad, Hafiz Bin Qayyim]

His blanket had several patches. [Tirmidhi] He had very few spare clothes, but he kept them spotlessly clean. [Bukhari] He wanted others also to put on simple but clean clothes. Once he saw a person putting on dirty clothes and remarked,

"Why can't this man wash them." [Abu Dawood]

On another occasion he enquired of a person in dirty clothes whether he had any income. Upon getting a reply in the affirmative, he observed,

"When Allah has blessed you with His bounty, your appearance should reflect it." [Abu Dawood]

He used to observe:

"Cleanliness is piety."


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The Groundwork of Islamic Civilization

Unlike western civilization, the civilization of Islam is built upon a spiritual base in which man is first and foremost called upon to recognize ultimate reality and to realize his position in the world with regard to that reality. Whenever man's consciousness of this relation reaches the point of certainty and conviction, that conviction will demand of him ever to discipline himself, to cleanse his soul, and to nourish his heart as well as his mind with the sublime principles of magnanimity, contentment, brotherhood, love, charity, and piety. On the basis of such principles man will then organize his economic life. Such progression is the foundation of Islamic civilization as the revelation of Muhammad conceived it. It is first and foremost a spiritual civilization. In it, the spiritual order constitutes the groundwork of the system of education, of personal and social morality. The principles constituting the moral order in turn constitute the groundwork of the economic system. It is therefore not permissible in this civilization that any moral principle be sacrificed for the sake of the economic system.

In this author's opinion, it is this conception peculiar to Islamic civilization that is capable of bringing mankind to a sure realization of happiness and felicity. Should it ever become firmly established in the minds of men, and should it come to dominate this world as western civilization has come to dominate it today, mankind will lead a different life. The current ideologies will be washed away, and nobler moral principles will take over the solution of the chronic crises of the present world. In both East and West, men have been trying to find solutions to these crises without anyone's realizing-not excluding the Muslims themselves-that Islam offers to them certain and guaranteed solutions. The western people are today groping for a new spiritual seriousness which might save them from the paganism in which they have allowed themselves to fall and from the worship of wealth which has been at the root of their misery and interminable wars. The western peoples are seeking to discover this new spiritual seriousness in the religions of India and the Far East, when it has been right here close to them all the time, established once and for all, and clearly elaborated in the Qur'an, as well as given its highest examplification in the life and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad.

It is not my intention to predict here the role of Islamic civilization or to analyze its system. Such work would by itself occupy a volume of this size or even larger. But I do think it imperative to characterize that civilization in general now that I have pointed to the spiritual basis on which it stands. Therefore, I hope to give an idea of the nature of Muhammad's call and thereby to pave the road for further and more complete research and study.


No Competition between Church and State in Islam

Before I do this, however, it behooves me to point to the fact that the history of Islam has been free of any struggle between religious and secular authorities, that is, between church and state. This fact has protected Islamic history from the effects that struggle has left upon western thought. This salutory influence upon Islam and upon its history and thought is primarily due to the fact that it has never known anything called church or religious authority along the lines of Christianity. No Muslim, even if he should be a caliph, has any right to impose anything in the name of Islam. He can neither forgive nor punish any violation of such commandments imposed in the name of religion. Moreover, no Muslim may, even if he should be a caliph, impose upon the people anything other than that which God imposed in His Book. Indeed, in front of God, all Muslims are equal; none may be distinguished from the others except in virtue and piety. No ruler in Islam is entitled to the Muslim's obedience in a matter involving a violation of a divine commandment, or of that which has not been expressly commanded by God. We should recall here the inaugural speech of Abu Bakr following his election to the caliphate: "Obey me as long as I obey God and His Prophet. But if I disobey God's command or His Prophet's, then no obedience is incumbent upon you." Despite all the crass exercises of the will to political power and all the civil wars and rebellions which the history of the Islamic state has witnessed, the Muslims have remained true to this great personal freedom which their religion had established for them. Theirs has always been a freedom which assigned to reason the role of judge in everything, whether in religion or in the matter of conviction and faith itself. The Muslims have held strongly to this freedom even in the face of those kings and princes who claimed that they were the lieutenants of God on earth, not of His Prophet, and who wielded in their hands the keys of life and death. Witness the turbulent events during the reign of al Ma'mun when the issue was whether or not the Qur'an was created. The caliph believed one thing, but the Muslims differed from him despite the certainty of the punishment and wrath that awaited them.


Short Quotes

There is not a leaf ...

Allah T'ala says in the Holy Quran:

 وَعِندَهُ مَفَاتِحُ الْغَيْبِ لاَ يَعْلَمُهَا إِلاَّ هُوَ وَيَعْلَمُ مَا فِي الْبَرِّ وَالْبَحْرِ وَمَا تَسْقُطُ مِن وَرَقَةٍ إِلاَّ يَعْلَمُهَا وَلاَ حَبَّةٍ فِي ظُلُمَاتِ الأَرْضِ وَلاَ رَطْبٍ وَلاَ يَابِسٍ إِلاَّ فِي كِتَابٍ مُّبِينٍ

(6:59) He has the keys to the realm that lies beyond the reach of human perception; none knows them but He. And He knows what is on the land and in the sea; there is not a leaf which falls that He does not know about and there is not a grain in the darkness of the earth or anything green or dry which has not been recorded in a Clear Book.