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Faith and Reason

Ayatollah Mesbah YazdiFaith is something which is attained after a valid search for the truth. It may be said to be the religious equivalent of scientific knowledge and certainty, which can only be achieved through a valid process of scientific inquiry, training and research. Science is not a medley of unproven hypotheses, and a hypothesis does not become part of scientific knowledge unless it is proven by valid scientific methods.

Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi

Religiosity and piety have been understood to mean not loyalty and commitment to the truth, but as faithfulness to the religious tradition in which one has been born and which one was made to imbibe through the process of acculturation. In all the existing religious traditions of the world, unfortunately including even the Islamic world for the most part, beliefs and practices are based on the ways of one’s ancestors and on the thoughtless adoption of current ideas, beliefs and norms through acculturation. Children are expected to adopt the creed of their parents, and adherence to any given religious tradition derives from imitation rather than individual research and quest. Imitation, acculturation and blind loyalty to the creed and beliefs of one’s elders and ancestors rather than through intellectual effort make the basis for the continuity of religious traditions. Such a view of religion is a travesty of the real meaning and spirit of religion as the highest and noblest of human pursuits for the truth.

 

According to Islam, imitation cannot be the basis of faith. Even if one adopts the right beliefs by following and imitating others, it will not be acceptable and such a person cannot be said to possess a valid faith. Faith is something which is attained after a valid search for the truth. It may be said to be the religious equivalent of scientific knowledge and certainty, which can only be achieved through a valid process of scientific inquiry, training and research.

 

Science is not a medley of unproven hypotheses, and a hypothesis does not become part of scientific knowledge unless it is proven by valid scientific methods. A scientific theory, even if it should be true and correspond to factual reality, cannot be accepted by the scientific community unless it can be established by valid empirical demonstration. Religious faith too is not blind faith; it is a knowledge that permeates deeply the heart of the faithful person as a result of valid intellectual effort, reasoning and spiritual endeavor.

 

The Qur’an is unique among the world’s scriptures in that it not only lays down the doctrines and laws of the Islamic religion, but also offers a critique of the religious traditions that existed in the Arabia of those days, namely Arab polytheism, Judaism and Christianity. The rejection of imitation and acculturation as a foundation for belief has a basis in the Qur’an itself. The Qur’an flatly rejects the rationale advanced by the polytheists for following the creed and practices of their ancestors: “When they are told, ‘Follow what Allah has sent down,’ they say, ‘We will rather follow what we have found our fathers following.’ What! Even if their fathers neither applied any reason nor were guided?! The parable of the faithless is that of someone who shouts after that which does not hear [anything] except a call and cry: deaf, dumb, and blind, they do not apply reason”. (2:170-1)

 

According to the Qur’an, the most conspicuous characteristic of those who are devoid of real faith is that they do not apply rational criteria to their beliefs. As such they are considered creatures of a lower order than animals, because the animals simply follow their innate God-given instincts, whereas the faithless fail to use their God-given intellects and therefore degenerate to a level below that of animals: “Do you suppose that most of them listen or apply reason? They are just like cattle; rather they are further astray from the way.” (25:44)

 

Indeed the worst of beasts in Allah’s sight are the deaf and the dumb who do not apply reason. While Allah says, “Indeed We have sent it down as an Arabic Qur’an so that you may apply reason.” (12:2)

 

Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi studied under Allama Tabatabai, Imam Khomeini, and Ayatollah Behjat. He is a member of the Iranian Assembly of Experts and currently lives and teaches in the holy city of Qom.


Editor’s Note: This article is an excerpt from the author’s book Theological Instructions.

 

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9 comments

  1. there is a english trnsl book on tauheed by Ayt misbah does anyone know if on line ? by islamic propogation tehran begali translation in al-islam found thru google though !

  2. Excellent excerpt. If this piece was so thought provoking, imagine what the entire book contains.

  3. I have decided to just make a short comment or two rather than repeat what I wrote several days ago. First of All I have doubts that Ayatollah Yazdi actually wrote the opening paragraph of this excerpt. The reason why is that it appears that he is just as guilty of this process as anyone on the planet.
    All humans have their intellectual starting points and they can no more escape them than we can escape who are biological parents were. This is why I have adopted the a view held by some people who would no doubt describe themselves as Secular Humanists and other people who would no doubt describe themselves as Buddhists who believe that man does not really have much if any free will that this concept is an illusion.
    Part 2 follows.

  4. To what extent has Ayatollah Yazdi studied the traditions not only of the Sunnis and Christians and Jews but also the many versions of the Hindus and Buddhists and and the many versions of the native American and African religions and of the many versions of secular humanism from Confucius to to Rothbard and Sartre and Marx? When he studied such alternatives to his own Shia school did he study them with an open mind or was he only looking for ways that he could discredit them in his own mind and the minds of others?
    Part three follows

  5. The exact same accusations could be thrown at me in general and when I studies Islam. Of course my study of Islam was handicapped because I do not speak Arabic. Therefore I will always leave a seed of doubt in my mind as to the worth of Islam. It could also be said that the reason that I did not become a Muslim because I did not come in to contact with the correct teacher. But then by Islamic thinking that would have been due to the will of Allah. So either he led me away from error or he led me towards error. Who could pass judgment on his decision?
    Part Four follows

  6. I can not offer proof but I can offer evidence that I listen to differing viewpoints with an open mind. First of all I was raised as a Catholic. But I left that faith and became a Unitarian Universalist. Now a Muslim thinker unfamiliar with the UU tradition might think that it has something to do with the Unitarian religion in Hungary. It may have been at one time.
    The UU tradition in America has evolved however.
    More evidence that I am capable of change is that my first politcal convictions could have been described as conservative imperialist. Then I evolved in to a Libertarian Atheist in College. But I actually listened to what my Marxist Professor said, I argued with him a lot at the time but over the years I could see that his understanding of the world made more sense than mine did.
    Part five follows

  7. Questioning beliefs is necessary for everyone. No one should believe without reason. It is up to a person to undertake investigation himself.

    All good works have merit and will be rewarded, but the works of a disbeliever and a believer are not equal because their intentions or motivations are not equal.

    Merely thinking of oneself as Muslim does not guarantee anything about how God perceives or judges that person. A title is irrelevant, what one actually is is relevant.

    Of course God knows everyone’s intent, even when they deceive themselves or others about their intent.

    It is not important to judge people at all – God is the judge.

    You may tell yourself that you speak for God, but you cannot, so you deceive yourself.

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