Muslim philosopher, Ibn Rushd (Averroes) on the need for synergy between religion and rationality

Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi, Editor,

Muslim philosophers and social scientists also perceived a perfect harmony between reason and revelation. They argued that numerous Qur’anic verses exhort contemplation (tadabbur), reflection (tafakkur) and pursuit of surest knowledge (ilm al-yaqeen). It would be refreshing to go through the religious and philosophical ideas of those Islamic scholars who cogently outlined the need for a fine balance between religion and science. There are plenty of irrefutable proofs to substantiate the point that these Muslim scientists and inventors were fervent advocates of science and reason, while at the same time staunch believers in the Quran.

For instance, the reviver of Aristotelian philosophy and a great believer in the Quran as guidance for all mankind, Ibn Rushd (Averroes) held progressive views on a spiritual symbiosis between religion and philosophy, reason and science of creations. He extensively quoted the Qur’an’s references in support of his position.

Abu Walid Mohammad IbnRushd, also known as Averroes in the West, was born to be remembered for his tremendous contributions in philosophy, religion, medicine, astronomy, psychology, mechanics, physics and theology, particularly for his profound commentaries on Aristotle which shaped European thinking throughout the later Medieval and early Renaissance periods. At the young age of 25, Ibn Rushd conducted astronomical observations and discovered a previously unobserved star. He also gave one of the first descriptions on sunspots. In medicine, he rendered remarkable contributions and wrote a ground-breaking book “Kitab al-Kulyat fi al-Tibb” which became more famous in Latin as ‘Colliget’. In this book, Ibn Rushd dwelt on various aspects of medicine including the diagnoses, cure and prevention of several diseases and original observations of him. He wrote at least 67 original works including 28 works on philosophy, 20 on medicine, 8 on religion, 5 on theology, and 4 on grammar.

Ibn Rushd was deeply moved by Islamic spirituality. He held that his faith in the omnipotence and oneness of God increased by carefully studying anatomy. Consequently, he developedprofound religious faith within his heart and believed that one can enjoy true psychological happiness only by following the path to lead a blissful eternal life in the hereafter.

Ibn Rushd’s interpretation of the Quran engages one in an intellectual brainstorming. He was so immersed in the Qur’anic combination of reason and revelation that he had the courage of conviction to say: “the study of existing beings, natural sciences, and other disciplines like physics, metaphysics, ethics etc. is obligatory in the Qur’anic view”. He contributed a comprehensive book in Arabic “Kitabfasl al-maqal” on the harmony of religion and science articulating it in a clear, cogent and convincing way.

I am reproducing below a translated excerpt from a chapter of the above-mentioned Arabic book (Kitabfasl al-maqal) on “the Harmony of Religions and Philosophy”. It is not difficult to see in them that Ibn Rushd extensively quoted Qur’anic verses to buttress his point that religion is in full synergy with scientific temperament:

“There is a clear indication of the necessity of both reason and revelation in the interpretation of things. The Qur’an says: “Do they not contemplate the kingdom of heaven and earth and the things which God has created” [7:184]”.

“The more perfect becomes the knowledge of creation, the more perfect becomes the knowledge of the Creator. The [Islamic]Religion encourages and exhorts us to observe creation. Thus, it is clear that this is to be taken either as a religious injunction or as something approved by the Religion. But the Religion urges us to observe creation by means of reason and demands the knowledge thereof through reason. This is evident from different verses of the Qur’an. The Qur’an says: “Wherefore take example from them, you who have eyes” [Qur’an 49.2]”

“That is a clear indication of the necessity of using the reasoning faculty, or rather both reason and religion, in the interpretation of things. Again it says: “Or do they not contemplate the kingdom of heaven and earth and the things which God has created” [Qur’an 7.184]”.

“For a believer in the religion and a follower of it, it is necessary to know these things before he begins to look into creation, for they are like instruments for observation. For, just as a student discovers by the study of the religion, the necessity of knowledge of legal reasoning with all its kinds and distinctions, a student will find out by observing the creation the necessity of metaphysical reasoning. Indeed, he has a greater claim on it than the jurist”.

Ibn Rush quoted many Qur’anic verses in support of rationality, reason and encouraged the use of observation to study the universe and creations. Some of those verses from the Qur’an that he quoted in his book “Kitabfasl al-maqal” are as in the following:

“Do they not consider the camels, how they are created; and the heaven, how it is raised” [Qur’an 88.17].

“And (who) meditate on the creation of heaven and earth, saying, O Lord you have not created this in vain” [Qur’an 3.176]. T

“Wherefore take example from them O you who have eyes” [Qur’an 59.2],

“One cannot maintain that reasoning is an innovation in religion because it did not exist in the early days of Islam. For legal reasoning and its kinds are things which were invented also in later ages, and no one thinks they are innovations. Such should also be our attitude towards philosophical reasoning”.

“Verily the idols which you invoke, beside God, can never create a single fly, though they may all assemble for that purpose” [Qur’an 22.72].

“Or do they not contemplate the heaven and the earth, and the things which God has created?” [Qur’an 7.184].

“Blessed be He Who has placed the twelve signs in the heavens; has placed therein a lamp by day, and the moon which shines by night” [Qur’an 25.62]

“Let man consider his food” [Qur’an 80.24].

“Let man consider, therefore of what he is created. He is created of the seed poured forth, issuing from the loins, and the breast bones” [Qur’an 86.6];

“Do they not consider the camels, how they are created; the heaven, how it is raised; the mountains, how they are fixed; the earth how it is extended” [Qur’an 88.17];

“O man, a parable is propounded unto you; wherefore hearken unto it. Verily the idols which they invoke, besides God, can never create a single fly, though they may all assemble for the purpose” [Qur’an 22.72].

“I direct my face unto Him Who has created heaven and earth; I am orthodox, and not of the idolaters” [Qur’an 6.79].

“O men, of Mecca, serve your Lord, Who has created you, and those who have been before you: peradventure you will fear Him; Who has spread the earth as a bed for you, and the heaven as a covering, and has caused water to descend from heaven, and thereby produced fruits for your sustenance. Set not up, therefore, any equals unto God, against your own knowledge [Qur’an 2.19]. His words,

“Who has created you, and those who have been before you,” lead us to the argument of creation; while the words, “who has spread the earth” refer to the argument of divine solicitude for man. Of this kind also are the following verses of the Qur’an, “One sign of the resurrection unto them is the dead earth; We quicken the same by rain, and produce there from various sorts of grain, of which they eat” [Qur’an 36.32]

“Now in the creation of heaven and earth, and the vicissitudes of night and day are signs unto those who are endowed with understanding, who remember God standing, and sitting, and lying on their sides; and meditate on the creation of heaven and earth, saying O Lord, far be it from You, therefore deliver us from the torment of hellfire” [Qur’an 3.188].

“And when the Lord drew forth their posterity from the loins of the sons of Adam, and took them witness against themselves, Am I not your Lord? They answered, Yes, we do bear witness” [Qur’an 7.171].

“God has borne witness, that there is no God but He, and the angels, and those who are endowed with wisdom profess the same; who execute righteousness; there is no God but He; the Mighty, the Wise” [Qur’an 3.16]. Among the arguments for both of themselves is the praise which God refers to in the following verse, “Neither is there anything which does not celebrate his praise; but you understand not their celebration thereof” [Qur’an 17.46].

An expert of the Maliki Islamic jurisprudential school of thought, Ibn Rushd amazingly augmented flourishing knowledge, critical reasoning and logical progression in his thoughts. He richly contributed to the European sciences and is recalled as the intellectual architect of the Europe.

The essential message of Ibn Rushd with regard to reason and religion needs to be rejuvenated today. He believed truth, for eternity, has two sides; one relies on religion or spiritual path, which does not require any mundane kind of reasoning. But the other is entirely based on rationality and logic.

In his book, Tahafat al-Tahafat, which he wrote in an intellectual retort to Imam Ghazali’s book “Tahafat al-Falasifa”, Ibn Rushd made it patently clear that there is no conflict between these two paths that lead to truth, because, he avers, “some people are born with spiritual minds and are imbued in faith and, therefore, they choose to tread this path, without any need for enquiry and questioning”. However, Ibn Rushd explains that “there are also people who cannot settle without questioning and clearing their doubts. Therefore, it would be better for such people to opt for the second path”.

Given the latter section of human beings, Ibn Rushd called for scientific reasoning and full confirmation between the religion and rationality. He wrote a very interesting piece in this regard, in his book “Kitabfasl al-maqal”:

“A large number of the followers of this religion [Islam] confirm philosophical reasoning, all except a small worthless minority, who argue from religious ordinances. Now, as it is established that the religion makes the consideration of philosophical reasoning and its kinds as necessary as legal reasoning, if none of our predecessors has made an effort to enquire into it, we should begin to do it, and so help them, until the knowledge is complete”.


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