Aql (intellect) and Religion

Type the word ‘aql’ in Arabic into an electronic format Quran search and – you might be surprised to know – it will tell you there are no results found. The same applies to its plural form ‘uquul’.

Try ‘aaqil’ and, lo and behold, still nothing.

It does seem a bit baffling, the Quran-e-Majeed, Book of Allah and yet this common word, ‘aql’ meaning amongst other things; rationality, intelligence or intellect, is not there in its root form anywhere at all. Derivatives are found, for sure – 49 aayahs with 49 instances of words derived from ‘aql’ all of which at the basic level speak of ‘understanding’ or ‘comprehending’.

Looking at these 49 instances it seems that largely a challenge is being issued or a rebuke – “if only they understood”, “do they not understand”, “for those that understand”.

In his renowned qasida mubaraka Syedna Taher Saifuddin (ra) writes that ‘Al-Aql’, the intellect in man, is the loftiest substance which radiates in him like the Moon.

Molana-l-muqaddas then expounds on the analogy with the Moon by telling us that just as the Moon does not have light of itself but reflects the light it receives from the Sun, so too man’s intellect cannot see for itself except by the radiance that is shone upon it from sahib ul zamaan – the Imam or the Dai al-Mutlaq.

In this day and age scientists, scholars and leading thinkers are championing the intellect above all. We can see it all around us, the Richard Dawkins followers who contend that man’s intellect is supreme, any supposed  Almighty God and all the religions founded in His belief are the acts of the unschooled, the primitive, those unwilling to use their intellect to see beyond blind faith.

Yet this is far from a new phenomenon. In the early centuries of Islam the Abbasid Caliph Harooun Rashid propagated this idea, promoted scientific and intellectual inquiry in a veiled effort to scuttle religion. Imam Ahmed al-Mastur (as) released the Ikhwaan al-Safa, 53 epistles showing how each and every form of scientific knowledge of the time – Mathematics, Music, Astronomy for example – all led to the affirmation of a single Almighty Deity – the Allah of Islam.

For all its loftiness the fact of the matter is that the ‘amir’ of the organs of the body is in fact the heart. And in several places in the Quran the heart is said to be the medium of understanding.

Yet when we refer to the heart we do not characterize it is as the domain of thought, of ideas, of rationale – we characterize it as the domain of belief. Sometimes it just feels right. It doesn’t require analysis, reasoning or evidence to know that something is correct or true.

Even in colloquial language we refer to ‘learning by heart’. In the story of the 3 gold heads it is the one where the water passes from the ear into the throat that Syedi Hasan Fir (qr) declares as the ‘aaqil’ – intelligent – head and the only one of value amongst the three. Clearly, though, the water went down towards the heart and not up towards the head and where the brain is!

The heart believes and the heart almost always knows as well. The man who has committed a theft knows in his heart whether he is a criminal or not regardless of whether he admits it to the judge. No matter how much evidence and reasoning he gives to get away with the crime deep down he will know that he is guilty and that guilt will remain with him.

To hide it from himself he will tell himself he is entitled, there is no other way, its fine as long as I don’t get caught but nothing will change the fact that he knows deep down – its only a question of how far deep down he can bury it.

The usurpers of the haqq of the sahib of zamaan have been no different. They have always known that they are taking a position that is not theirs to take. They had convinced themselves perhaps, using their own ‘aql’ – intellect, that they were entitled to that position but the fact remains that they also knew that it had not been given to them. They knew that a higher authority, a greater ‘aql’ had decreed it be given to another, they knew the other to be the only one truly worthy and thus the only road open to them to usurp that right was to sow doubt as to the authenticity of the conferral. In ‘their heart of hearts’ as it is said so eloquently – they knew, they know, exactly what is right and what is wrong.

No better example of this can be found than that of Muawiya (la). When Dhiraar al-Nahshali (ra) extolled the virtues of Molana Ali (as) in his Damascus court even this caliph, the sworn enemy, was reduced to tears and stated that indeed those were the virtues of the House of Mohammed. When asked why he had done all that he had done in challenging and battling with Ali (as) for the caliphate he stated that it was only out of his desire to give it to his son Yazid (la).

When Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin (ra) passed away a few weeks ago there was no doubt whatsoever in the minds of the tens of thousands of Mumineen who thronged Saifee Mahal that the heir to the throne of Dawat, the Dai al-Mutlaq was anyone other than Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin (tus). It was obvious for anyone to see, even someone who hadn’t known of the many examples of nass that dated back over 40 years. It was incontrovertibly obvious and apparent in his bearing, his words, his grief, his solace, his embrace of the devastated masses of Mumineen that he alone could possibly fill the void left by the passing of our beloved Mola Burhanuddin (ra).

They knew this in their hearts and it was backed up by what they knew in their minds. Religion and belief, after all simply cannot be the preserve of the elite intellectual crowd. Indeed, as often as not, those with the most supposed intellect have the least in terms of belief and faith. This is because they dismiss much that they cannot comprehend determining that if they cannot comprehend it or find proof for it then it cannot exist or cannot be true.

Religion, to be truly all embracing, necessarily has to be available to all. The heart is the organ through which true belief, comprehension and understanding can be had by anyone; not just those with a Ph.D. In the narratives we hear most often – Bani Riyah’s ghulam for example the central figure is not described in terms of his intellectual capacity. He is valued and repeatedly cited for his purity of belief and faith and that ultimately is the greatest form of intellect.

It is often stated in waaz that the true ‘aqalmand’ is the one who sheds tears and does matam for Imam Husain (as). He or she need not be a high flying intellectual, graduated from an Ivy-League or Oxbridge University, he may not even have gone past ‘metric’ but if he has comprehended this basic belief of devotion to Imam Husain and his Dai then that is the most fundamental knowledge of all without which all other knowledge is superfluous.

Which brings us to contemplate this aayat sharifa – “They have hearts but they understand not with them…” The Quran depicts the heart as having the faculty of understanding. (Al-Aaraaf 179).

It has been heard on several occasions that Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin (ra) states that the Mumin who knows the names of the Panjatan Paak cannot be called ignorant.

Rasulallah (sa) has said, “He that dies not having acknowledged the Imam of his time in his life; dies the death of ignorance.”

In the time of satr that acknowledgment is only possible through acknowledgement of the Dai al-Satr.

And so, finally, for all those who deign to invoke the credentials of any other aside from Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin (tus);

“Then, even after that, your hearts became as rocks, or worse than rocks, for hardness. For indeed there are rocks from out of which rivers gush and indeed there are rocks which split asunder so that water floweth from them. And indeed there are rocks which fall down for the fear of Allah. Allah is not unaware of what ye do.

Have ye any hope that they will be true to you when a party of them used to listen to the word of Allah, then used to change it, after they had understood it knowingly?”

Al-Baqara 74,75.