Most people think of reason as associated with science and philosophy, not religion. Religion is associated with faith, which in turn is usually seen as opposed to reason, based on “leaps of faith” that circumvent reason or logical thought in order to jump to a religiously acceptable conclusion about important and basic questions that deal with the meaning and purpose of life. Yet here we find that the Quran enjoins Muslims to think, use their minds, to reason, and make an effort to comprehend. This is not a religion of blind faith.
The Quran names those who ‘aqil or “comprehend”/ “use their minds” as being also people of faith or mu’mineen, those who put their trust, which is a condition of the heart, in Allah (God). The Almighty wants us to put our trust in Him wholeheartedly, after engaging our God-given ability to reason and satisfying our need to know and understand. There is no inherent contradiction between reason and faith, according to the Quran.
On the contrary, in Islam a “believer” or person of faith must also be a “thinker” or person of reason and logic. In the Quran, both reason and faith take place in the heart.
From Surat Al-Aaraf (7):22
22. For the worst of creatures in the sight of Allah are the deaf and the dumb,- those who do not comprehend/ use their minds.
۞ إِنَّ شَرَّ ٱلدَّوَآبِّ عِندَ ٱللَّهِ ٱلصُّمُّ ٱلْبُكْمُ ٱلَّذِينَ لَا
This does not refer to physical hearing/ speech impairment but rather to spiritual unwillingness to hear and understand. The refusal to use one’s faculty of speech is in this case part of the refusal to engage one’s intellect in thinking which could involve discussion, asking questions, as well as listening. Clearly Allah highly values the intellect/ faculty of comprehension over obedience alone or mere memorization without engaging with the meaning. This means that Allah is more pleased with the person who spends time thinking about the meaning of the Quran than one who repeats the words mindlessly, counting each letter as hassana (good point), as if the sound alone was the message.
To take this even further we have this aya from Surat Yusuf 12:100:
100. No soul can believe except by the will of Allah, and He will place doubt (or obscurity) on those who will not use their minds.
وَمَا كَانَ لِنَفْسٍ أَن تُؤْمِنَ إِلَّا بِإِذْنِ ٱللَّهِ ۚ وَيَجْعَلُ ٱلرِّجْسَ عَلَى ٱلَّذِينَ لَا يَعْقِلُونَ ﴿١٠٠﴾
Here we read that there can be no faith without reason, without intellect. In a complete reversal from standard Christian doctrine, whose legacy influences the “West” and its culture, the act of belief itself must be part of an act of thinking resulting in comprehension. And that comprehension can only be achieved if Allah wills, implying that a certain reverence and a sense of the sacred assists secular notions of logic in achieving the goal of understanding reality and truth. So the idea that logic is accomplished by the brain whereas “illogic” is the domain of the heart makes no sense at all. These things overlap, share space in cognitive processes. The “heart” itself is a mystery: a “place” which our very cores inhabit. The brain is a physical organ but is not entirely self-driven. We drive it; but who are we?
From Surat Al-Hajj 22:46:
أَفَلَمْ يَسِيرُوا۟ فِى ٱلْأَرْضِ فَتَكُونَ لَهُمْ قُلُوبٌ يَعْقِلُونَ بِهَآ أَوْ ءَاذَانٌ يَسْمَعُونَ بِهَا ۖ فَإِنَّهَا لَا تَعْمَى ٱلْأَبْصَٰرُ وَلَٰكِن تَعْمَى ٱلْقُلُوبُ ٱلَّتِى فِى ٱلصُّدُورِ ﴿٤٦﴾
Have they not roamed the earth and had hearts with which to comprehend and ears with which to hear? No, it is not the sight which is blind, but it is the hearts that are in the chests that are blind.
Here the word translated “comprehend with” is the same—’aqiloon—as that translated “use their minds.” In fact, the word, from which is derived the modern Arabic word aql used to mean “mind”, is used in the Quran exclusively as a verb, whose meaning is closer to “comprehend”, except that in English the word “comprehend” refers more to the end product, understanding, than the process, thinking, whereas the Arabic word includes both senses. Note that the “place” which comprehends is the heart, not the brain. Although this appears to contradict modern scientific understanding, in a deeper sense the “heart” of a person is where a person’s “essence” or central/core self comes into being. The Quran treats it as a consciousness rather than an organ per se, one could say the master of ceremonies, which uses the input of the brain/mind along with experiential and emotional input to draw its own conclusions. We are identified by, and think/understand with, our hearts, as indicated by Quranic usage. At this point, one may begin to see how emotion and thought could arise from one source, the self which processes both. Taking this further, it’s possible to see how faith and reason arise from the same source and hence are not in contradiction.
The intuition, to Western thinking something of an “occult” sense that must be finalized by passing the test of reason or scientific method, is considered a part of the reasoning process, more like an inner compass or “sense” one uses to test the workings of logic. Again, here the “Western” idea about what reason is or does is challenged by the Quran. The intellect/ mind here is a capacity using a number of different functions in an overarching means of achieving comprehension. It uses logical analysis, intuition, sensory input, experience, historical or other people’s experience, emotional response, observation of behavior or patterns, and more——what defines intellect is the achievement of some level of comprehension, from learning language and math to learning how to conduct wars or live in harmony with one’s neighbors. The highest form of learning is the “science” of seeking the truth about “larger” issues such as why are we here, is there a purpose in creation, and since our lives must end, how best to spend our time and energy in this brief life.
It is worth noting that the Quran mentions the word ‘aql in its verb forms (to think/ comprehend) 49 times in various contexts. This is significant because the Quran expresses importance by repetition, a way of highlighting or using “bold” letters to emphasize something. And of these, the most frequently used format is the question: “will you/they not use your/their minds?” or alternatively translated, “do you/they refuse to comprehend?”
This in itself tells us something important about Islam, and about what Allah wants from us. He does not want us to blindly obey dogma or unthinkingly “leap” into a “faith” without attempting to think about it and see if it makes sense to us. Rather, He wants us to think about Allah, think about the purpose and meaning of life, think about how to live this life, think about mortality and time, what happens after death, and very importantly, justice and moral integrity. After all, He created us with a highly developed capacity to comprehend…obviously, in order to use it. To use it in the way of Allah means to use it for good and higher purposes, not evil or oppression or injustice or to satisfy the lowest desires. The fact that He asks the question “Will you not use your minds (faculty of reason)?” without specifying “for good” implies that genuine comprehension, the result of a successful thinking/ consideration process, will be true and rightly guided. Thus true comprehension is also ethical in the Quranic view; which further emphasizes that Good and Truth are not in contradiction to one another. This in turn sets us free to think freely, for nothing bad can come of comprehension —but not the limited “Western” sense of thinking which may or may not be comprehensive, and may separate itself from ethical input. The responsibility for putting it all together remains with us. Do you not want to comprehend?