Yes - there is even Islamic “thinking”!

Bissmillaah. Wa-s solaatu wa-s salaamu ‘alaa rasoowl Allaahu. Wa b’ad: This article reflects on the issues of thinking in Islam, knowledge in Islam, the sources of knowledge in Islam and the nature of scholars in Islam. It is intended mainly for those people who have doubts about trusting the scholars of Islam and prefer to use their own thinking with which to worship Allah as a supposed safer option. It does, though, also provide a useful reminder for the rest of us.

Can we really get things wrong?
This is a good place to start the discussion. Human nature being what it is, this is not something we generally think about asking or are generally trained to ask. Humans always seem to be led to thinking somehow that they always know best. For this reason, humans make a great many mistakes and suffer a great deal as a result of not asking if they have got things wrong, or misunderstood. I will not give any examples here of what comes as a result of humans thinking they know best, as they are many and numerous, and a quick glance into any newspaper or at a television news programme will probably provide enough examples, for you to come to this conclusion on your own. Allah says on this point: “…and it may be that you dislike a thing while it is good for you, and it may be that you love a thing while it is evil for you, and Allah knows, while you do not know…” 2:216 Here, Allah is saying that we may have the idea that something is good, but it might not actually be good. But after everything, Allah will always know what is right for us. This is an important point to make, as many people – even Muslims – get the idea that they can somehow use their thinking to work out what is good and bad. A good example of this is living in the modern age. Some people believe that we needed the laws of Islam a long time ago, because people were barbaric and acted like animals, but now, they say we are “more cultured” and don’t need these old laws any more: in fact, the laws should be updated! The above-mentioned ayah shows this opinion to be a false way of thinking. Note, the thinking behind this provides no evidence from Islam itself to support its claim. The result of allowing such thinking is that Allah is effectively removed from any affair we might require guidance on. This type of thinking is also declaring that Allah is stupid (we seek protection with Allah from believing that). I am sure that everyone agrees that forgetting our Creator in any situation is bound to lead us to destruction. Even some of the thinkers, who think as we have just discussed may agree with this. As we see, finally, in the verse above, the Creator (Allah) himself is telling us that He knows and we do not know, and we should take heed of this.

Reflective practice
From a purely secular viewpoint, people have started to become aware that this problem of people “thinking they know” can be curbed in some ways. Now, some university courses have started to come complete with modules in “Reflective Practice”, which enable students to reflect on their performance on a continual basis, to detect and correct in problems with their ongoing practices in the field of their study. This shows us that indeed, thinking about what we are doing is crucial for a successful beginning, middle and ending in everything we do. Is Islam, thinking is mentioned too – hence, the title of this article. Thinking in Islam, like everything else, has its place. The following verse should demonstrate this: “…Those who remember Allah standing and sitting and lying on their sides and reflect on the creation of the heavens and the earth: Our Lord! Thou hast not created this in vain! Glory be to Thee; save us then from the chastisement of the fire…” 3:191 “…Do they not then meditate on the Quran? And if it were from any other than Allah, they would have found in it many a discrepancy…” 4:82 “…Then to eat of all the produce (of the earth), and find with skill the spacious paths of its Lord: there issues from within their bodies a drink of varying colours, wherein is healing for men: verily in this is a Sign for those who give thought….” 16:69 “…Does man think that he will be left uncontrolled, (without purpose)?…” 75:36 There is a pattern: the verse that mention the use of our faculty to think or reflect in a positive sense, relate only to the signs of Allah and his creation, with the intent that this thinking will lead a person towards recognising just who Allah is, and then being able to effectively worship him, as a result of knowing him. There are no verses about thinking which ask us to think what a certain verse of the Quran means or about how to make a law, for example. It should also be stated here, that interestingly, there are many more verses in the Quran that address the issue of negative thinking than address the issue positive thinking, and the content in some cases, gives a thinker reason to be concerned about their thinking. Make of note of the people with whom negative thinking is associated and reflect whether you would like to be classed as being among those people in this life and the next. The verses were selected at random: “…The Hypocrites - they think they are over-reaching Allah, but He will over-reach them: When they stand up to prayer, they stand without

earnestness, to be seen of men, but little do they hold Allah in remembrance…” 4:142 “…He it is Who enable you to traverse through land and sea; so that ye even board ships;- they sail with them with a favourable wind, and they rejoice thereat; then comes a stormy wind and the waves come to them from all sides, and they think they are being overwhelmed: they cry unto Allah, sincerely offering (their) duty unto Him saying, ‘If thou dost deliver us from this, we shall truly show our gratitude!’…" 10:22 “…Those who brought forward the lie [of accusing Aisha, the mother of the believers of adultery] are a body among yourselves: think it not to be an evil to you; On the contrary it is good for you: to every man among them (will come the punishment) of the sin that he earned, and to him who took on himself the lead among them, will be a penalty grievous…” 24:11 “…Pharaoh said: ‘O Chiefs! No god do I know for you but myself: therefore, O Haman! Light me a (kiln to bake bricks) out of clay, and build me a lofty palace, that I may mount up to the god of Moses: but as far as I am concerned, I think (Moses) is a liar!..’" 28:38 Which leads us to another point: thinking can be flawed. Thinking is only a human quality; however, Allah, as we know, is not like us and does not think – he knows. Thinking implies that there is a point where we do not have any opinions about something and we have to go through a process to arrive at some ideas, based on ideas or information we already have. Let us say that Allah has always known everything and therefore does not need to go through any processes to arrive at conclusions about how to do a particular thing, because he already knows how to do everything (befitting his Majesty, of course) perfectly. This brings us neatly onto the next subject:

What is the source of “knowing” in Islam?
Allah says: “…Have knowledge that there is nothing worthy of worship except Allah, then ask forgiveness for your sins…” 47:19 So, here, the very first command from Allah is for us to have knowledge. For example, Allah didn’t say, “think” or “feel” – he said, “know!”. The only way to “know” in Islam is through the Quran and whatever that directs us to. Allah says: “…This Quran is not such as can be produced by other than Allah; on the contrary it is a confirmation of (revelations) that went before it, and

a fuller explanation of the Book - wherein there is no doubt - from the Lord of the worlds…” 10:37 The Quran is the first source of information we have from Allah. It is, therefore, the only way of knowing anything about what Allah orders us to do or not to do. What we have be sure of is the perfection of the Quran: is it what it says it is, i.e. free from contradictions, errors and other mistakes?

Is the Quran 100% the word of Allah?
We have to take all of Allah’s orders from the Quran, so we must be sure it is 100% from Allah. How do we know this for sure? Perhaps someone could have written it or changed parts of it. But - no. Allah says: “…Indeed, we have revealed the Quran and it is we who are going to protect it…” Allah also sets us many challenges in the Quran, to prove to us that it is in fact 100% :from Him. I will give one example here, which is “…And if you are in doubt as to that which We have revealed to Our servant, then produce a chapter like it and call on your witnesses besides Allah if you are truthful…” 2:23 To this day, nobody has been able to produce anything like even a single verse of the Quran! So, we can be sure from this that the Quran we have today is definitely the Quran that was given to our messenger over 1,400 years ago. It has not changed at all, unlike any other publication produced before or at the same time (for example, another holy scripture): all have undergone changes or some sort or another, but not the Quran! Dotfor-dot, letter for letter, the Quran has remained unchanged for over fourteen centuries, and is memorized the world over by millions of people every year, who do not, in many cases understand the meaning of the Quran. There are other verses placed throughout the Quran, which were revealed to challenge the various people at the time of the prophet Muhammad who doubted the origin of the Quran. These verses form a series, starting from asking questioners to produce the like of the whole Quran, to ten chapters, to one chapter (shown above), to ten verses, to finally, just one single verse! Note, that the shortest verse in the Quran is only five letters long! But from those five letters upwards, the Quran has remained unchanged in any way for over fourteen centuries. This is a miracle. Here are the other verses: “…Let them then produce a Quran like unto it,- If (it be) they speak the truth!…” 52:34

“…Or, do they say: He has forged it. Say: Then bring ten forged chapters like it and call upon whom you can besides Allah, if you are truthful…” 11:13 “…And if you are in doubt as to that which We have revealed to Our servant, then produce a chapter like it and call on your witnesses besides Allah if you are truthful…” 2:23

Chilling warning
“…And who is more unjust than he who forges a lie against Allah, or says: It has been revealed to me; while nothing has been revealed to him, and he who says: I can reveal the like of what Allah has revealed? And if you had seen when the unjust shall be in the agonies of death and the angels shall spread forth their hands: Give up your souls; today shall you be recompensed with an ignominious chastisement because you spoke against Allah other than the truth and (because) you showed pride against His communications…” 6:93 From this verse, we learn of the terrible fate of chastisement that awaits someone who claims that they know what Allah knows. In the context of the verse, the verse is actually talking about revelation of verses. But the actual meanings of the Quran were revealed to the Prophet Muhammad also: “…With clear arguments and scriptures; and We have revealed to you the Reminder that you may make clear to men what has been revealed to them, and that haply they may reflect…” 16:44 So, by extension, this verse, also refers to a person who claims he knows what a verse means, without having checked with the prophet as to its meaning. We learn from this verse that it is not permissible for anyone – apart from the prophet to try to explain any verse, even if that meaning were to be lost. We are also reminded that the prophet is the first point of call for understanding, meaning, until you have consulted with him, you cannot say you understand what any verse in the Quran means. Until you have asked the prophet about any verse, you are in a position of ignorance, regardless of whether or not, the meaning of a verse appears clear to you. And we find that with the last point, there are a great many number of verses whose meaning appears to be clear, yet, when we look into the explanation given by the prophet of those verses, it is as if we had not known at all what those verses meant. Now, there are many people today who claim that we can no longer trust the ahadith collected from the prophet, down through the centuries, as they were remembered and collected by men, who, by their nature, are prone to corruption. As this essay is not directed towards the science of ahadith collection, we will mention a few points here, which should clear this issue.

The first point is that Allah says: “…And We did not send before you any but men to whom We sent revelation-- so ask the followers of the Reminder if you do not know…” 16:43 So, here we are being told that if you do not understand what the Quran means (which is clear, from what has just been mentioned above, on the subject of being in always being in an original state of ignorance, when approaching any verse of the Quran for the first time), go and ask the “followers” of the scripture. The verse here is talking about the previous scriptures (e.g. the Torah, the Gospel), but the verse can also be applied to the Quran. The principle “followers” will always be the prophets and then those who first received the meanings from the prophets (i.e. the scholars), and so on, as the message is disseminated down to the people. In other translations, the words “people of knowledge” are sometimes used. The original text reads, “ahla-th thikr” (i.e. “The People of the Reminder”), which means the rabbis and priests and such like. The principle that we take from this verse is that we are ordered by Allah to take the understanding of the verses of the Quran entirely from the scholars. So, it is not for any person today to claim that because the scholars are corrupt (according to a word without any evidence, and completely generally for all the scholars) that I will now interpret the Quran myself. No – the scholars must always be consulted as to the meanings of the verses of the Quran, as Allah did not lay any condition of how “corrupt” we considered them to be as a criterion for deciding whether or not to go to a scholar and ask them for advice. In fact, this verse is a general proof that scholars by definition are not corrupt, for if they were, Allah would not have advised us to ask them for advice regarding the meanings of the Quran.

A story from the Quran about thinking
Chapter 18 (Soowrat-ul Kahf – The chapter of the cave) of the Quran contains several short stories, each of which has its own moral to tell. The Prophet Muhammad encouraged us to read the whole chapter, each and every Friday, as it would provide a light for us between that Friday and the next Friday. Of particular interest to this article is the that story in the chapter about two individuals, of whom, at least was a prophet (some believe that both were prophets, but that is not the issue we wish to make here. For the purposes of this article, we will assume that only one was a prophet). So, the story starts before the prophet meets the other significant person in the story. This prophet’s people ask him, “Who is the most knowledgeable?” to which the prophet replies, “I am”. As soon as he says that, Allah reminds him that he should have said that Allah is the Most Knowledgeable.

Then Allah tells that prophet to go on a journey and when such-and-such thing happens, there he will meet a man who knows things which Allah has taught the man, but which the prophet does not know. When the prophet meets the other man, the prophet is eager to travel with the man and learn the things that Allah has taught to the man. The man, however replies, “You will not be able to remain patient with me, because how can you remain patient about something that you don’t know about?” Anyway, the prophet says that, indeed, he will be able to remain patient with the man. So the man says, “Okay – but don’t ask me about anything that I do, until I myself tell you why I have done it.” So, the man does three things which the prophet thinks are either terrible or an injustice. Each time, the man explains, “I told you – you would not be able to remain patient with me”, and each time, (ending with the third outburst from the prophet), the man replies with the same reply. On the third occasion of the prophet being shocked at the behaviour of the man, the man explains why he did each of the three things, and then the two part ways. The prophet in the story is our Prophet Moses, while the man, as you may know is called “Khidr” (whom, some people believe was also a prophet). As we have said, each short story in Soowratu-l Kahf has a moral attached to it. As the final scene of the story, which has just related, draws to a close, the moral arrives to complete the final act. What moral lessons do we learn from the story? There are many, but here are the main ones, selected for purposes of ending this article. Firstly, we learn that the people look to the prophets to provide them with guidance; in the story, the people ask the prophet who is the most knowledgeable. Secondly, we learn that men –prophets included – do not have absolute knowledge. Thirdly, we learn that Allah is the one who knows everything and teaches us what we know. Fourthly, we learn that a quality of people is their tendency to use their knowledge in matters where they have been expressly been told not to use them: people do use their limited understanding beyond its scope to explain – rightly or wrongly – to explain things, with the result that they are not always right. From all that has been presented here, it should be clear now that thinking is a gift which Allah has given us to draw us closer to him, by reflecting on his signs in the heavens and on the Earth. Thinking is often used as a replacement for thinking – when we do not know the answer to something – because knowledge is important to use for our well being and we generally need good results quickly in life, to solve the constant emergencies created for us. We have also learnt that we can only get knowledge from “the people who know”, which for us is the scholars and that using our thinking as a replacement for the scholars will

only allow us to depart from Allah and travel into the Fire. With this, and having proven a valid point, I will end here with the translation of the meanings of yet another verse from the Quran: “…If ye invoke them, they will not listen to your call, and if they were to listen, they cannot answer your (prayer). On the Day of Judgment they will reject your "Partnership". And none, (O man!) can tell thee (the Truth) like the One Who is acquainted with all things…” 35:14

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