When the noble companions of the Prophet Muhammad, People of the Book, and some disbelievers came to the Prophet with a barrage of questions (which are noted in the Qur’an in at least 16 instances with the phrase Yasaloonaka – “They ask you (O’ Muhammad)” or its derivatives – the Prophet was commanded to respond to their questions.
It is one of the shortest words in the English language, yet sometimes, to answer the question put forth by this three-letter word provokes a long, complicated reply.
Within some religious traditions today, this word is taboo! One could never think about asking his/her religious minister “why” a certain act has been legislated; why they must keep away from certain things or even why they believe what they are ordered to believe – and are just barely clinging on to!
On the other hand, Islam and the pristine teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his progeny) and the Ahlul Bayt (peace be upon them) offer an entirely different perspective to this question. At the same time, however, there are certain nuances which we must keep in mind as it is not a black-and-white issue.
When the noble companions of the Prophet Muhammad, People of the Book, and some disbelievers came to the Prophet with a barrage of questions (which are noted in the Qur’an in at least 16 instances with the phrase Yasaloonaka – “They ask you (O’ Muhammad)” or its derivatives – the Prophet was commanded to respond to their questions. The answers were always given in accordance with the level of understanding of the recipient and presented once viewpoint. In most cases, the answers provided were satisfactory and put the heart of the questioner at ease without the need for further reasoning and analysis.
The current era is one of intrigue, with challenges being directed towards the belief system of the Muslims. More and more, believers are being questioned by non-Muslims, and indeed Muslims themselves are questioning the scholars of the faith in regards to the edicts (Fatawa) which they issue and are asking “why” certain things are legislated. The reply that “Because Allah has determined it to be such” or “Because the Prophet Muhammad or the Ahlul Bayt have said so” is no longer satisfactory for most. Today, people do not want a tradition; they want an equation. They do not want to hear “The Prophet has said”; they want to hear “Dr. So and So has proven that….” People won’t believe it if it is only in the Qur’an, but if it is in the latest scientific journal, then…
This leads us to question: Who stole the soul (of Islam)??
In and of its self, questioning is not a bad thing, as the Qur’an encourages us to understand the rationale behind the legislation. At the same time, however, we run into a dilemma when we try to explain every aspect of religion using science. Case in point is that of the prohibition of intoxicants.
Alcohol and other forms of intoxicants were made forbidden over a period of many years in the beginning of the Islamic message. Over this time span, four verses of the Qur’an came down explaining various aspects of why the believers needed to stay away from this evil. The first verse to counter the scourge of intoxicants stated: “They ask you (O’ Muhammad) concerning intoxicants. Say to them, ‘In these two there is great evil and (also) benefits for the masses – however the detrimental effects of these two is much greater than their benefits.”
There is no direct prohibition in this verse – merely the Creator explaining to us that there is bad and good in intoxicants (alcohol specifically). Today, when believers are confronted as to why they do not drink, they sometimes answer that “it is detrimental to one’s self – as the Qur’an tells us and as specialists have even stated.” If one was to merely employ this one understanding as to why intoxicants are forbidden in Islam and the opinion of some “experts”, one could be confronted with counter-arguments of the “specialists” who have “proven” that a glass of wine daily helps in blood flow and may prevent many illnesses! So what to follow? The words of The Creator or science which have “proven” through clinical trials that alcohol, in moderation, is beneficial?
Another example is the Qur’anic injunction of purification before prayers and other major acts of worship. When asked why we perform the ablution (Wudhu) with water before prayers, some may be compelled to reply that it is a form of physical purification before we enter into conversation with the Almighty. However, what is our answer when we read in the Qur’an that if we do not have water, or due to other reasons cannot use it, that we are then ordered to use dirt to “purify” ourselves – commonly known in Islamic terminology as Tayammum?
Thus, we see that in certain circumstances, we need to submit to the order of Allah and keep the “soul of Islam”, which is “absolute and unquestioned submission to the commandments of the Almighty” within the reasoning of legislation of the Islamic teachings.
These are not the only arguments which people have tried to debate using science to “prove” Islamic legislations and prohibitions – issues such as the prohibition of homosexuality in Islam, consumption of swine and other topics using flawed logic have also been challenged – only to realize that every time we try to use “logic”, “reason”, and “science” to defend the Qur’anic ethos, we fall into error!
Today, numerous books have been written and translated into English which seek to explain “why” certain acts of worship and other Islamic rulings are in place. Such works are beneficial in that they help us understand one angle of why legislations are in place, but we must be careful that we do not read such works and then assume that since science has provided an “explanation”, that their answer is the “gospel truth”, and if new discoveries come up, we do not want to have to change our understanding of “why” certain practices are legislated – something which may lead us further into doubt!
In closing, we cite the words of one the teachers of Akhlaq (Islamic morals and ethics) in Qom: “As believers, we need to strive to be an ‘Abdullah’, not an ‘Abdul-Daleel'” – be a servant of Allah, not a servant of (logical) proofs. By this statement, he meant to convey that when an order comes from Allah, rather than trying to rationalize and measure the reason “why” a particular ruling has been enjoined, we need to submit to the commandment, the true soul of submission to Allah – even if there are no scientific proofs to back up the religious injunction.
In addition to working full-time for Canada’s largest manufacturer of smartphones, Shaikh Saleem Bhimji has also written and translated numerous works on Islam and Shi’ism. These can be read and purchased at http://al-haqq.com and http://www.iph.ca.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The purpose of “Clergy Corner” is to provide a forum for scholars of Islam to express their ideas, thoughts, and concerns. By publishing these articles, Islamic Insights does not necessarily endorse their views or opinions. If you know of any scholars who would be interested in contributing to this section, please contact us at email@example.com.