English dictionaries define the mind as ‘human consciousness manifested in thought, perception, emotions, will, and memory’. That is, it is the force that enables us to know what we are, what lies around us, what arouses in us curiosity and questioning, or fear and awe, or even inspires us with the pleasure at knowing the source of things and what they are, their qualities.


RIGHT FROM THE OUTSET, the Qur’ān has not respected the Muslim mind. It has forced him to believe in what the Qur’ān and Muḥammad say without question. On this, the Qur’ān addresses the believers, 

O you who believe! do not put questions about things which if declared to you may trouble you, and if you question about them when the Qur’ān is being revealed, they shall be made known to you [Qur’ān V (al-Mā’ida), 101]

Preventing people from asking is effectively killing the mind

Since question is the driving force of the mind for discovery and knowledge, preventing people from asking is effectively killing the mind. Muslims have therefore learned from the beginning to accept what Muḥammad tells them without any discussion or question. To confirm this, the Qur’ān says to them:

And it behoves not a believing man and a believing woman that they should have any choice in their matter when Allah and His Messenger have decided a matter [Qur’ān XXXIII (al-Aḥzāb), 36]

If Muḥammad makes a judgment or gives a ruling, the Muslim is not given the option to employ his mind to justify it or reject it. It is a divine command that is to be accepted without discussion. Thus the prevailing idea from the beginning of the Message was that all the deeds done by men were destined for him to do, and written down on the Preserved Tablet[i] before that man was created. This is based on the verse that runs:

No evil befalls on the earth nor in your own souls, but it is in a book before We bring it into existence [Qur’ān LVII (al-Ḥadīd), 22]

And also:

Say: Nothing will afflict us save what Allah has ordained for us [Qur’ān IX (al-Tawba), 51]

The hadith scholars added some materials that bolstered this thought, such as the hadith that runs:

When Allah creates a servant for Paradise, He employs him in doing the deeds of those who will go to Paradise, so that his final action before death is one of the deeds of those who go to Paradise, for which He will bring him into Paradise. But when He creates a servant for Hell, He employs him in doing the deeds of those who will go to Hell, so that his final action before death is one of the deeds of those who go to Hell, for which He will bring him into Hell.[ii]

If Muḥammad makes a judgment or gives a ruling, the Muslim is not given the option to employ his mind to justify it or reject it

This means that man is being steered and has no choice in his doing evil, yet even so God punishes him for his deeds. The free mind naturally cannot accept such logic. They also said that the Qur’ān is the eternal word of God, as eternal as God Himself, and it is not created. These ideas of course also contradict many verses of the Qur’ān itself, but the Muslim jurists accepted them without any question. There then emerged sects such as the Jabariyya that held that man is compelled towards doing good or evil, and that God can punish the believer who has done good throughout his life, or reward the criminal who does evil throughout his life, for no other reason than He has the power to do so, and is not to be questioned as to what He does, while they –  mankind – may be so questioned. 

Then the Mu’tazilites (the veritable knights of Reason) came along and said: 

God forbid that God Himself be made responsible for evil in this world, for God emits nought but good because He is pure good. As for evil, this results from the deeds of men, who lone are responsible for their deeds, good or evil.

They further said that the Qur’ān is created and cannot be eternal, because in that case it would share eternity with God, and thus deny God His attribute of oneness. They added that God had sent messengers before Muḥammad and had revealed holy books to them too – so those books, that is, God’s words contained in them, must have been created. Otherwise there would be several books that share God’s eternity, and we would therefore be reverting to polytheism.

These ideas shocked many Islamic jurists who were not accustomed to logic and the use of reason

Naturally, these ideas shocked many Islamic jurists who were not accustomed to logic and the use of reason. Thus Abū al-Ḥasan al-Ash‘arī defected from the Mu’tazila and formed the Ash‘arī sect which adopted an anti-Mu’tazila line and supported the Jabariyya sect and other groups that placed naql over ‘aql – uncritical imitation over reason. Although al-Ma’mūn, al-Mu‘taṣim and al-Wāthiq supported the Mu‘tazila and raised their status over a period of three decades, the Ash‘aris and the Ḥanbalīs gained strength with the accession of al-Mutawakkil to power, and the influence of the knights of Reason waned; some of them were killed, others were imprisoned, and their books were burned.

With the demise of the Mu’tazila, the jurists focused on naql and on searching in the Qur’ān and the hadiths for evidence to demonstrate the superiority of the Qur’ān over other religions and to prove that it is indeed from God. 

Some of the elite said that ‘the science of interpretation is necessarily comprised of twenty-four sciences; Imam al-Shāf‘ī at the Council of Al-Rashid enumerated these as sixty-three Qur’ānic sciences. Other scholars said that the sciences extracted from the Qur’ān amount to eighty, and they wrote works on them. It was also said that ‘the sciences on rulings required fifteen skills, although its branches number more than fifty. It was also said that the number of sciences is beyond the capacity of the pen to enumerate.[iii]  

Instead of concentrating on well-known issues of morality in the Qur’ān, such as forbidding lying, theft, favouritism towards the ruler, or consuming the wealth of others through deceit, the jurists of Islam occupied themselves and their flock with digging into the Qur’ān in search of hidden sciences, with counting the number of its verses and individual letters, or with the places where it is advisable for the reader to start weeping when reaching them, and so on.

For al-Shāf‘ī, committing all manner of sins is better than studying philosophy

About Mu‘tazila thought Imam al-Shāf‘ī (767-820 AD) had this to say: 

It is better for a slave to be indulge in everything that Allah has forbidden him – with the exception of shirk – than to look into the science of kalām, that is, philosophy.[iv]

So, for al-Shāf‘ī, committing all manner of sins is better than studying philosophy. Then came al-Ghazālī (1058-1111 AD), who was first a philosopher, then a ṣūfī and after that turned to fundamentalism. He wrote his book The Incoherence of the Philosophers in which he put an end to scholastic theology (philosophy). In his work The Deliverance from Error he states, concerning al-Fārābī and Ibn Sīnā: ‘We do not have any doubt that they are disbelievers’.[v]  

Al-Ghazālī, as well as Ibn al-Jawzī and most Islamic jurists, declared philosophers to be disbelievers and forbade the study of philosophy and logic, because these contradicted the Sharī‘a. After al-Ghazālī came ‘Abd al-Raḥmān ibn al-Jawzī, about whom ‘Alī ibn Muḥammad al-Muḥammadī (the editor of Ibn al-Jawzī’s – Aḥkām al-Nisā’) opines: 

The philosophers were among those whose suspiciousness was revealed and their beliefs repudiated. The reason for their misguidance was on the one hand that were individualistic in their opinions and mindset, and on the other hand that they expressed their extreme views without paying heed to the prophets…. [Ibn al-Jawzī] then said that those who follow the philosophers have no basis on which to support their disbelief other than their perception that the philosophers were ‘wise men’. Did they not know that the prophets were wise men and more?[vi]

Thus Ibn al-Jawzī considered all philosophers and those who followed them to be infidel pure and simple.

[i] See Glossary: ‘Preserved Tablet’ and its further doctrinal/theological implications in Glossary ‘Khalq al-Qur’ān’ and the Almuslih backgrounder. (Ed).

[ii] Al-Mustadrak ‘alā al-Ṣaḥiḥayn  by Imam Al-Nīsābūrī, vol. 2, hadith 4001. 

[iii] Al-Qanūjī, Abjad, Part 2, p.7.  

[iv] Ibn al-Jawzī, أحكام النساء p.69. On kalām see Glossary.

[v] Al-Dimashqī, شذرات الذهب, Vol. 2, p.353.

[vi] Ibn al-Jawzī, أحكام النساء ibid.

See Part One of this essay here