The Islamic framework
Surah 51:Verses 20-21
On the earth are Signs for those of assured Faith
As also in your own selves: will ye not then see?
The elements of our new framework of knowledge have now been examined and compared briefly with the assumptions of the old framework. I am now in a position to describe an Islamic framework for the basis of human knowledge.
Observation and reason will convince human beings of certain things. This is in our nature. This certainty can be called knowledge in the sense that I described above. Within these limits it is possible to become convinced of the existence of Allah (i.e. we learn that something we then call Allah must exist). I will be considering two broad categories of evidence by which people become convinced. The first is through contemplating the universe in which we have been created and the second is through considering the phenomena of prophets, in particular that of the prophet Muhammad (Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him) and the message he delivered - the Qur’an. Once someone is convinced of the existence of Allah, they must ask themselves what ‘Allah’ is and what Allah does. Since knowledge of such matters is beyond our perception we must rely on the information given to the prophets of Islam. This brings in the third source of knowledge into the Islamic framework - revelation.
The sole purpose of revelation is the guidance of human beings to good morals.
For this it is necessary to explain to humanity some of what exists beyond our perceptions. The words of revelation must however be taken from human experience and perceptions. Such explanations are therefore inevitably allegorical or metaphorical.
If someone accepts Islam and becomes a Muslim that person in essence is making only one assertion. It is that s/he accepts the Qur’an as a true revelation from Allah. This is reflected in the shahada which is the declaration of faith and which is sufficient for someone to become a Muslim under Islamic law. This declaration of faith says:
I bear witness that there is no divinity except Allah and
I bear witness that Muhammad is His messenger.
This introduction of a third source for human knowledge is the only issue which separates the Western Islamic mind from the Western non-Islamic mind.
I have already indicated the closeness of the Islamic positions to the assumptions in the existing scientific approach to human knowledge.
The evidence of Allah that convinces us comes in the form of ‘signs’. The most direct form of sign is a clear miracle, which happens through a prophet. Other signs may be a discovery of something of reality or in nature that makes us consider the design in the universe. Others may be inside us: we realise that the belief in Allah and all that it implies fits perfectly with our human nature- it is like the key to fit the lock, unlocking our potential. .
Signs present people with facts of reality including facts of their own natures which make them think. They present challenges that say ‘your theory of reality needs corrections’. These corrections invariably include accepting the existence of Allah and the authenticity of his prophets.
In Islam the primary piece of evidence is the Qur’an. It is a book full of signs. It claims to be internally consistent to perfection and it claims to be consistent with external reality to perfection. It claims that no human being or any collection of human beings could write a single Surah (chapter) with such merit as those of the Qur’an. All these are testable claims. That they have remained repeatedly confirmed throughout its 1400 year existence is a demonstration of the continuing miracle of the Qur’an.
It may seem that this new, third, source of knowledge - revelation - is quite different from the knowledge we have today for science, however, this is not so.. . It is useful to compare what we actually use as the method to find knowledge. We rarely go direct to the sources outlined above (reason and observation) . Instead we use the universal expedient of the written word. We simply try to make sense of what we read. This is the most common way that people absorb and have absorbed knowledge. It is this route to knowledge which is mentioned in the first words of the revelation of the Qur’an:
Surah 96: AL ALAQ (THE GERM CELL)
(1) Read in the name of thy Sustainer, who has created - (2) created man out of a germ cell!
(3) Read - for thy lord is the Most Bountiful One (4) who has taught [man] the use of the pen- (5) taught man what he didn’t know.
(Translation by Muhammad Asad)
This section has looked at what we know from the perspective of considering defined sources of knowledge: Observation, Reason and Revelation. This has meant that the concentration has been on definition of these sources in the same way as you might define objects. However, having looked at these 'sources' we can now more readily identify them as processes of the mind which lead to us arriving at conclusions and making decisions based on those conclusions. In the next section we consider the processes of reaching knowledge and the ways in which we can choose to do this well or badly. This lead us into a discussion of the 'sin of disbelief' in Islam and a good understanding of what it is.