The Foundations of the Religion
If I am ever asked about what makes Islam different from
any other religion, I will always answer that Islam is the religion of
the sound mind; there is no contradiction between the Islamic faith and
sound reasoning. This means that the core religious beliefs and
methodology of knowing the religious judgment on human actions can be
defended by reason alone, without referring to scriptures. It also means
that there is nothing in the teachings in the religion that contradicts
sound reasoning, although not everything in the religion can be known by
reason alone (such as knowing how and when to pray).
In other words, Islam is neither founded
on the mysticism, nor on the ¡§take it or leave it¡¨ propositions that
other religions are. There is no separation of logic and faith in Islam.
When the scholars of Islam spoke of the
knowledge of foundations (usuul in Arabic,) they meant either the
foundations of the religion (the Islamic belief) or the foundations of
fiqh religion, sometimes both. The foundations of the religion are the
Islamic beliefs. The foundations differ from the branches (furuu^),
which are the detailed questions pertaining to the religion¡¦s judgment
on the actions of humans.
Sound reason, the foundations of the religion, the
foundations of fiqh and the branches of fiqh are connected as follows:
First, it is by sound reason we know that God exists, is one, without a
partner or an equal, and is attributed only with attributes of
perfection. Second, it is by sound reason that a prophetic miracle
becomes known as an irrefutable proof of prophethood. Third, it is by
sound reason we can establish that Prophet Muhammad had miracles and
other prophetic attributes. For these threes reasons, the scholars all
agreed that nothing in the scriptures is interpreted in a way that
contradicts sound reasoning or sensory reality (such as square is
different from round, 2 is different from 3); if this was not so, then
it would be a denial of the faith itself.
Fourth, it is by sound reason we can
establish how to extract the judgments of the branches of fiqh from
textual evidence; a scientific methodology for knowing these branches
(i.e. what the judgment is on a particular human action). After all, it
is by reason we can determine what is a strong proof and what is not.
This article is dedicated to explaining these four points, but before that we need to explain the concept of sound reasoning.
No religious community is anywhere near as meticulous and
fair minded as the Muslims with regards to the evidences of the
correctness of their beliefs and practices. Muslims recognize different
levels of probability regarding the validity of their texts, and other
types of evidence. These can be viewed as:
This ranking is actually fundamental to any science,
because these are the natural categories in which the sound mind views
things. In the same manner, the acceptance of these categories is
fundamental in Islamic scholarship, because denying them leads to
denying the human ability to see reality at all, and thereby the ability
to understand when being addressed.
The opposite of sound reasoning is
sophistry, or extreme relativism, where a person claims to doubt
everything, even sometimes his or her own existence. Since they thereby
doubt the existence of proofs, arguing with theme is a useless activity.
Instead, they are handled by putting them in a situation where they are
forced them to admit the certain existence of sensory reality. An
example of how this can be done, is saying to them, ¡§I will not
discuss anything with you until you admit that you are certain that we
are speaking to one another.¡¨ A slightly harsher way is to throw some
cold water in their face, and when they complain say, ¡§you mean the
water you are not certain exists thrown in the face you are not certain
exists by a person you are not certain exists?¡¨
Explaining what constitutes certainty is of fundamental
importance, because this is the means by which belief and reason come
together; a unique attribute of Islam. The fundamental beliefs of
Muslims are all coupled with certainty in terms of their evidences, and
from those the remaining beliefs and practices flow.
Certainty is of two kinds: knowing by
plain reason that a claim MUST BE true or that it is IMPOSSIBLE. All
other claims are considered POSSIBLE, unless there is material evidence
of otherwise. Here is an explanation of what is meant by ¡§MUST BE¡¨,
¡§IMPOSSIBLE¡¨ and ¡§POSSIBLE¡¨:
MUST BE: These are claims that sound
reasoning cannot deny because their opposites are absurd. For example
1+1=2 MUST BE true, because claiming otherwise would be absurd (in the
case of natural numbers). It does not apply to scientific theories such
as MC^2=E, because it is conceivable that they could be proven wrong.
IMPOSSIBLE: These are claims that sound
reasoning concludes to be absurd, such as the claim that 1+1=3, or that
a part of a whole can be larger than the whole, or that there is a
square circle. Another example of something impossible would be for a
camel to enter through a needles eye, without a change in the size or
shape of either party. Impossible claims refer to things that cannot
ever be; they are mere verbal absurdities without a sound meaning. They
are usually contradictions of terms (such as the idea of a square
circle) or meaning (such as the idea of 1+1=3 using natural numbers).
Impossible things do not include claims that are NATURALLY IMPOSSIBLE,
such as pigs flying or rivers flowing up a mountain. These are things
that are known to be impossible only by knowing how the world works, and
cannot be said to be impossible by reasoning alone.
POSSIBLE: Possible means possible
according to reason alone. It does not mean possible according to the
normal course of events. This category includes all normal events, but
also things that are NATURALLY IMPOSSIBLE, such as the examples of
rivers flowing up mountains or pigs flying mentioned earlier. If
something happens that is NATURALLY IMPOSSIBLE then this is an
extraordinary event, such as feeding hundreds of people with one piece
of bread, curing a leper by touching him, awakening the dead, walking on
water, etc. I.e. events that are NATURALLY IMPOSSIBLE are POSSIBLE, but
completely extraordinary. This shows the highly open minded attitude
learned Muslims have towards claims regarding worldly events, i.e.
Accepting these categories for sound
reasoning is absolutely fundamental. Denying them implies denying the
religion as a whole, because it means denying the possibility of knowing
with certainty that Allah exists, that the Quran is an unperverted book
and a miracle, and that Prophet Muhammad was Allah¡¦ prophet and
messenger. To claim that one only achieves knowledge through the
revealed text is absurd, and a form of sophistry, because one must first
establish that the text itself is reliable, and this can only be done
through sound reasoning.
These categories are firmly established
by the Quran, where the rhetorical question ¡§afalaa ta^qiluun¡¨
meaning, ¡§Don¡¦t You realize the truth?¡¨ or the like, is repeated
throughout. This question is an appeal to be sound minded.
Islam orders Muslims to believe that the fundamental creed
of Islam without a fragment of doubt. At the same time, Allah (God, the
Creator of this world) has stated in the Quran that He does not order
someone to do something he is unable to do. Allah also named himself al-Thaahir,
which means, ¡§The One Who¡¦s Existence is Obvious by Proofs.¡¨ It is
clear then, that these fundamental beliefs can all be proven correct
The basic Islamic belief belongs to the
MUST BE category of claims. This belief is that there is only one
Creator and that he has no partner, part or equal in his attributes. A
simple way to show this to be true is to first establish that this world
needs a Creator.
It is clear that this world is an
incredible organized place. Take for example the human cell and how it
develops and is coordinated with the rest of the body, or the incredible
precision of the solar system and the earth¡¦s atmosphere. Sound
reasoning tells us that these are not random events, and if they are not
random, then they are organized, and organization requires specification
and power without exception. We conclude then that this world MUST have
a Creator that is attributed with will and power. Don¡¦t you see that
if you leave a few trees by the riverside they will never become a raft
if left alone? Or, that a ship will never sail straight to its
destination in a hurricane without a captain? If this is true for these
simple events, then it is obviously true that someone controls the
events of this universe, and that He is attributed with will, knowledge
The above argument is used by anyone that believes in the
existence of a Creator, such as Christians and Jews. However, accepting
this proof leads to other necessary conclusions as follows:
Anyone that is fair minded will admit this. However,
because of the atheist and agnostic propaganda people are exposed, it is
appropriate a more detailed proof as follows.
Islam is greater than those religions that are taken on
faith alone; as the scholars have shown in their answers to pagans and
atheists throughout history. The proof of God's existence is
mathematical, however, rather than experimental. One such proof is:
Premise a - We exist here today.
Premise b - Before we existed there were
a series of events, one after another, leading up to our existence
today. (The passing of such series of events is what we call time, and
measure in minutes, days, weeks and years.)
If one accept these two premises, then
one must also accept that this series of events must have a beginning.
This MUST BE, because if someone claims that an eternal amount of events
had to be concluded before his existence, then he is saying that
eternity came to an end, which is a contradiction in terms. It is like
someone saying "this car will only get to its destination after its
wheels have spun infinitely many times." Would the car ever get to
its destination if this was the condition for its arrival? Another way
to illustrate this contradiction is that those who claim that the world
has no beginning are in fact saying that it is a prerequisite for
tomorrow to arrive that an infinite number of events first take place.
This is impossible, because infinity cannot end.
In addition, since this series of events
MUST have a beginning, i.e. it MUST BE true that it has a beginning,
then we must also conclude that before this beginning there were no
series of events (i.e. anything with a beginning). If someone claimed
otherwise, then they would end up with the same contradiction (saying
that infinity came to an end). Moreover there MUST BE a Creator that
gave the series of events existence - since it was nonexistent before.
It is now clear why muslims say that Allah must exist (waajib al-wujuud).
Moreover, since it is impossible to be
any events before the existence of this series (otherwise one would end
up in the same contradiction in terms), then it MUST BE that the Creator
is not attributed with events, i.e. any attribute or action with a
Finally, since all created attributes
have a beginning, then it MUST BE true that the Creator does not
resemble His creation.
The last point above can also be known
by saying that since God¡¦s existence MUST BE, then He cannot also be a
POSSIBILITY (since the ¡§must be¡¨ and ¡§can be¡¨ are incompatible
meaning). Therefore, He must be clear of any attribute that belongs to
the POSSIBLE category of things. For example, weakness, limits,
boundaries and needs are attributes that may or may not have existence;
their existence depends on them being created; their existence is a
possibility, not a must. They need a Creator to specify their limits. We
know that we need a Creator, because we know that our own attributes
need specification. We know they need specification because they have
limits, and limits must be specified. For example, if you pointed at a
table in a room and said, "Who made it that shape?" and
someone answered, "Noone, it is just there like that
eternally!" would you accept this? Of course not, because we know
anything limited needs someone to specify it.
This is what Ibrahim (peace be upon him)
meant when he said about the star in the sky "I don't like those
who go away."(suurah 6, 76-78) Going away is an event and an
obvious sign that the star is a creation; it needs someone to specify
its time, and it makes blatantly obvious its possibility of
non-existence. He also said about the sun "this is bigger!".
He was pointing out to his people that what is attributed with a limit
(size needs a limit) is an event (something that has a beginning),
because it needs someone to specify its size, like anything else with a
Therefore, Allah is not attributed with
limits, since He is not created. We know from the above, by mathematical
precision and necessity, that Allah exists and does not resemble His
creation, which is the muslim creed. Even if the pagans disapprove.
Now that we have shown with certainty
that the Creator exists, is one without a partner, and that He is clear
of created attributes, we will move on to the next fundamental part of
the creed. Namely that Muhammad is God¡¦s Prophet and Messenger.
First, when we say that Muhammad is God¡¦s Prophet and
Messenger, we mean that he received a revelation from God ordering him
to teach the true belief (Islam), and to bring changes in the rules and
laws of previous messengers. Muslims believe that Jesus, Moses,
Johannes, Abraham and the other prophets were prophets of Islam. Their
belief was the same, but the laws and rules they brought were sometimes
different. This is because the needs of human kind have differed through
Second, nobody denies the historical
existence of Prophet Muhammad, so there is no need to discuss this.
Third, as for the proof of his
prophethood, this is done, like with all other prophets, by claiming
prophethood while showing a miracle. By ¡§miracle¡¨ Muslims mean an
extraordinary event that nobody opposing the claim can imitate. If a
person shows a clear miracle while claiming prophethood, and at the same
time this person is known to never lie and to be of exceptional moral
character and beauty, then the sound minded conclude that this person
has God¡¦s support in his claim. In other words, he MUST BE a prophet.
Before becoming a Prophet, the Prophet
Muhammad was known among his people as being sincere and trustworthy,
even as an infant, and he was greatly loved for this. Never telling a
lie is an essential characteristic of any Prophet, before and after
prophethood. That is why the king of Ethiopia at the time believed
Prophet Muhammad. He heard from the Arabs that he was known never to
have lied, and this king knew that if such a man claimed prophethood,
then he could only be a Prophet.
As for his miracles, they are many, but
the most obvious is the Quran itself. The Quran has been preserved to
the last letter, without any perversions or other versions for some 1400
years. This in itself is a miracle, because no other book has been
preserved in this way in human history, as Prophet Muhammad said it
would. This is a miracle, because the claim of the Prophet matched this
already extraordinary preservation.
Add to the preservation the fact that
the Quran challenges anybody who opposes Prophet Muhammad¡¦s claim to
prophethood, to compose a suurah like any of its 114 suurahs. This is
despite the fact that the shortest suurah in the Quran can be written on
a single line on a piece of paper. Yet, nobody succeeded in meeting this
challenge among the Arabs, despite the Arabs pride in eloquence at the
time and the widespread occurrence of poetry competitions between tribes
and individuals. In fact, nobody during these 1400 years has met this
challenge. Moreover, if the challenge had been met during his time, then
Prophet Muhammad would have lost his support. Add to that the fact that
Prophet Muhammad was illiterate and never took part in composing any
In addition, the Quran contains many
statements about things the Prophet could not have known through
ordinary means, such as the promise of the incredible spread of Islam at
a time when the Muslims were very weak as a community, or the
description of what would happen to the breathing of a person if lifted
up into the atmosphere.
Another example was that once when the
Prophet and his army were stuck in the desert without water, he filled
empty jars with water by putting his hands in them. The water was
eventually enough for an army of 1500 people to drink and wash.
Remember that these events happened in
broad daylight in front of masses of people, and that these things were
related to the next generation without interruption until this day.
These are not stories found in books with unknown authors, or tales of
single individuals in the darkness of history. Rather, when the Prophet
performed his last pilgrimage he had more than 100,000 people with him
and was the established ruler of the Arabian Peninsula. He was there
when the Islamic civilization was founded and it only grew since then.
Now that we have established the creed
of Islam as correct with certainty, what about the various rules and
stories in the Islamic religion?
Since we have already established that Muhammad was a
Prophet and Messenger of Allah, then all we have to do regarding the
other teachings of Islam is to show that something was actually taught
by the Prophet. These teachings are of 4 main sources:
I will only discuss the first two sources, since the third
and forth go beyond answering the question that prompted this article.
Before discussing the two sources it
should be known that both Quran and Hadith is related from person to
person in chains of relators that extend from the Prophet to those who
relate them today. For example, if you go to a properly qualified
scholar today, he can tell you what his chains of relators are for the
Quran or Hadiths all the way to the Prophet. He would say I was taught
this by so and so, who was taught by so and so, etc. These chains are
called chains of relators.
As for the Quran, it has already been
established that the Quran has been completely preserved. Masses of
people memorized Quran around the Prophet. These masses taught other
masses and so on until today, and there is still only one Quran; whether
you test someone who has memorized in Mecca or someone who lives in
China or Argentina. It is NATURALLY IMPOSSIBLE that any of these masses
in the various generations could have gotten together to agree to
fabricate, insert or remove something. That is why a plain statement in
the Quran is a plain proof.
As for Hadiths, these are ranked
according to the probability of correctness, as I indicated at the
beginning of this article. The highest-ranking Hadiths are the ones that
have been related in the same manner as the Quran. Such Hadiths are
automatically established as correct, without looking at who related
them, because it would normally be impossible for them to be lies. These
Hadiths would be comparable to the news we have received that there was
a war in Iraq. There is no sound reason to doubt this because it has
been related by so many different sources in a way that does not allow
for a conspiracy to lie. This is unlike, for example, moon travel. This
incident is entirely based on what NASA says as an organization, and
there were military and political motives to lie, so a conspiracy is a
real possibility. According to the Islamic manner of relating Hadith,
the story of traveling to the moon is no more than a possibly true. This
is to illustrate how strict the science of Hadith is.
The next level for Hadiths is for those
that were not related in the manner above. Rather, they were related by
one or more individuals, who then related it on to others. These Hadiths
may be related from masses to masses today, but at some stage they were
not. These Hadiths can range from highly likely true to certainly
untrue. Several factors are taken into consideration when ranking these,
All of the above factors are taken into consideration to
rank a particular Hadith, and the work of ranking them is a highly
scientific task. When establishing what the meaning of a Hadith is, one
takes into consideration all the consideration of ranking. Moreover,
they must be interpreted according to the most obvious meaning in Arabic
unless there are other Hadiths or statements in the Quran that indicate
otherwise. In other words, before claiming that a statement is
figurative one must have a solid proof for why this is so. This is done
by showing that the literal meaning is absurd or inconsistent with other
related texts from the Quran or Hadith. This must be so, otherwise
anybody could make any interpretation they desire and there would be no
meaning in having a Prophet sent.
In the end, and putting it simply, what
is considered to be obligatory for Muslims to believe, are the things
that are established with certainty. Moreover, if it is concluded that
the Prophet most likely prescribed something, then one must follow this,
because it is improbable that he did not, and God ordered us to follow
him. To illustrate, if a person that you trust at work came to you and
said that the boss wants you to do so and so, do you ignore it, or do
you naturally accept the task? Would it be reasonable to reject the
command on the basis that it is not impossible for this to be wrong? Of
course not. These rhetorical questions illustrate that accepting Hadiths
with strong chains of relators and a meaning that is free of
inconsistencies (in view of the text of the Quran or other Hadiths, or
established rules of scholarship) is only reasonable and rejecting it
would be unreasonable, and there is no doubt that it is better to be
reasonable than unreasonable.
To finalize this article, one particular issue needs to be
discussed in more detail; the role of identifying literal meanings as
absurd, and thereby interpreting them as figures of speech.
Identifying literal meanings that are
absurd is of particular importance in matters of belief, so it deserves
a more detailed discussion. It should first be pointed out that
rejecting absurd meanings and understanding expressions as figures of
speech is something natural that we all do constantly. To illustrate: A
few years ago the telephone company AT&T had an advertising slogan
saying, ¡§reach out and touch someone.¡¨ What they meant here was not
a physical touch, but simply pleasing another person by calling them. To
interpret this slogan literally would be absurd and laughable. We know
this through our knowledge of what a telephone is and what it is not.
In this same manner, among others,
figurative speech is identified in the Quran and Hadith; a learned
muslim knows what attributes are impossible for the Creator or a prophet
to have. He knows thereby that expressions in the Quran whose literal
meaning implies attributes that are physical, or have a beginning, or an
end, or change, must not be taken literally. He knows that interpreting
them literally would be absurd and an insult to the Creator, just like
the sane person who heard the AT&T slogan knew its literal meaning
to be absurd.