A very basic fact regarding the Holy Qur’ān – one that can be very easily detected by a more general reader of the book- is that it introduces propositions, believing in which and meeting the requirements entailed by such a belief decide the question of man’s success in the afterlife. It is only these propositions the Qur’ān aims at proving through psychological, natural and historical evidence. It is only these facts the Qur’ān calls the human beings to submit to, warns them regarding the consequences of rejecting them and explains what entails professing faith in them. The Book does not deal with anything beyond these points. Though at times it refers to the laws of the physical, world in order to explain these facts without contradicting the reality, yet the discoveries in the realm of physics made thus far and the ones which human intellect is bound to penetrate in future, are not discussed in the Qur’ān at all. Such knowledge is not the subject of the Qur’ān in any way.
But alas, during the course of Muslim history, people have repeatedly failed to acknowledge this true position of the Book. Consequently we see that they first imposed a premise external to the Qur’ān on it proposing that being divine in origin, the Book must moderate all the possible human disciplines. Having imposed such a condition on the Book they tried to base all the human disciplines in it. Therefore, this endeavour led them discover the illusions of Greek philosophy from its verses at one time and to ground the current scientific knowledge in its text at another. At one time, the prevalent knowledge of medical science and theories of astrology and astronomy were extracted from its verses and the mention of the atomic bomb and man’s conquest of Moon at another. In such adventures they opted to ignore grossly all rules of linguistic expression of the Book and the bright light of the context of its verses.
All this trouble owes itself to the erroneous conclusions about the Book. They failed to grasp the fact that the Lord has blessed mankind with intellect before He revealed the Book to them. Just like this Book is a blessing of God bestowed upon them so is the intellect a manifestation of His profound generosity. Therefore, the Book does not concern the matters in which intellect suffices as a guide for them. Similarly in matters the Book deals with, the intellect, when functional, is compelled to submit to its dictates.
The fact also holds true in the case of the teachings of the Prophet (sws). He has explained this reality to his adherents in no unclear terms. The Mother of the Faithful, Ḥaḍrat Ā’ishah narrates that when the Prophet (sws) noticed people engaged in cross fertilizing the date palms trees he said: “It would be better if this exercise is abandoned.” Consequently, the people did not cross fertilize the dates palm trees that year. As a consequence the produce dropped considerably. The people mentioned the state of affair to the Prophet (sws) who responded: “You understand these matters better than me. I have come to explain to you the religion of God. Therefore, turn to me for guidance only in religious matters.”1
If we really intend to be guided by the Holy Qur’ān we are obligated to turn to it for guidance in nothing except the religious truth and facts. We may not knock at but our intellect in matters such as how to carve a bed out of wood to avail us a comfortable sleep and how to conduct research on the heavenly bodies. It is an unquestioned fact that intellect has never failed us in its own spheres.
The Holy Qur’ān has been revealed to make plain to us what we are expected to believe in and what to practice in order to please God in the life of this world. We should bend our desires to submit to the dictates of the Book rather than basing our cherished concepts and issues in its verses. The Almighty has repeatedly explained in the Holy Qur’ān that making our desires submit before its dictates is crucial to seeking its guidance. It is but possible that one desire to seek the foundation of the worldly disciplines and fields of knowledge in this book alone yet his desire cannot alter the fact to a slight degree that this book deals only and only with the kind of knowledge upon which our afterwordly salvation depends.
1. Abū al-Husayn Muslim ibn al-Hajjāj, Al-Jāmi‘ al-sahīh, 2nd ed. (Riyād: Dār al-salām, 2000), 1038-1039, (nos. 6127, 6126, 6128).
Translated by Tariq Mahmood Hashmi