Posted by: admin | March 7, 2008

MS09.3 – Protection of Intellect [Part 2 of 2]

This post forms the second and final part in our discussion of Hifdh al-Aql and we look at those things which threaten the Intellect from its intended use.

From the Perspective of That Which Threatens al-‘Aql
We mentioned earlier that role of the intellect is twofold, personal reflection and collective thought and planning. Anything which threatens al-‘Aql is discouraged, prevented and prohibited. Examples of how this is achieved are as follows:

1) Absolute Prohibition of Alcohol, Drugs and Intoxicants
Although the word used in the Qur’an [5:90] khamr, refers specifically to wine, all alcoholic drinks are prohibited in Islamic Law, as are all intoxicating substances. When the Qur’an was revealed wine was the prevalent alcoholic beverage being consumed, so this was addressed specifically. By referring to several Prophetic sayings and using Legal Analogy (Qiyaas) scholars (‘Ulema) are able to extend the ruling to any type of intoxicant, including drugs.

This generalisation is captured in the words of the Prophet (s) who is reported to have said: “Every intoxicant is khamr, and every khamr is prohibited” [Related by Muslim] and furthermore, outlining a broad definition of khamr he (s) said, “Khamr is that which befogs the mind.” [Related by Bukhari]

From this we can understand exactly what khamr is and the reason why it is haram (prohibited). When defining the intellect in the previous post, one of the definitions presented was “a mind’s ability to apply knowledge to a problem-solving situation.” Of course if someone is drunk, this ability is temporarily suspended and they are no longer in control of their actions.

A rebuttal to this can be made by saying that if one drinks a single drop of wine, they are not going to end up in a drunken stupor. That’s obviously true, but this goes back to our discussion in MS06 where we presented the concept of a maqsad dhanni (supposed objective). Saying that the only reason alcohol is prohibited is to protect the intellect is tenuous, which is why we say the objective here is dhanni not qat’ee (certain). Furthermore, as our first mode of understanding the Shari’ah is as “dos“‘ and “don’ts” which all Muslims are obliged to follow, this matter is clarified by the following hadith which also gives us one of the general principles of Islamic Law, “Of that which intoxicates in a large amount, a small amount is prohibited” [Related by Abu Dawud and Tirmidhi].

The prohibition of alcohol in Islam is absolute, rather than just being limited to drinking, the prohbition extends to production, selling, buying, transportation etc, namely all those things which support and maintain its presence in society.

The Prophet Muhammad (s) outlined the comprehensive nature of the Islamic stance on alcohol, Truly Allah has cursed khamr and has cursed the one who produces it, the one for whom it is produced, the one who drinks it, the one who serves it, the one who carries it, the one for whom it is carried, the one who sells it, the one who earns from the sale of it the one who buys it, and the one for whom it is bought. [Related by Tirmidhi and Ibn Majah]

As something deemed harmful to the very fabric of society, the laws of the Shari’ah are designed to sever it from the root, in an albeit gradual way, from a financial and economic perspective as outlined in the previous hadith as well as well from a social perspective so that it is considered to be something taboo. On this point, in another hadith the Prophet (s) said: Whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day must not sit at a table at which khamr is consumed[Related by Ahmad and Tirmidhi]. This last issue is one of some confusion and occasionally causes feelings of discomfort amongst Muslims and non-Muslims in Western societies particularly in the workplace where the majority of social activities revolve around the consumption of alcohol.

Due to the practical nature of Islamic Law and God’s intimate knowledge of our innermost desires, the Qur’an does not deny the perceived “benefit” in drinking alcohol, namely the pleasant feeling of relaxing one’s inhibitions. However as beings blessed with the faculty of discernment we are able to weigh up any benefit against the associated harm. Shocking crime statistics as well as the negative impact on one’s health should lead any rational person to conclude that the harm does indeed outweigh the benefit. This very issue is related in the Qur’an: “They ask you concerning wine and gambling. ‘Say:In them is great sin, and some benefit, for men; but the sin is greater than the benefit.'” [Qur’an 2:219]. This verse was revealed before the one mentioned earlier [5:90] which indicates the gradual prohibition of alcohol and the Islamic approach to social change, a fascinating subject in itself, which Insha Allah we will revisit as part of Uloom al-Qur’an.

Although we’ve focused here on alcohol, everything that has been said can be applied to any intoxicating substance, whether it be soft drugs such as marijuana, or hard drugs such as heroine, cocaine etc. no distinction is made. IslamOnline has a good general article on the Islamic stance on drugs and intoxicants here.

2) Prohibition of Harmful Thoughts and Ideas
How can thoughts and ideas threaten our intellect? Previously we discussed the reasons why God blessed us with the faculty of intelligence and that there is a specific role intended for its use. Anything which takes us away from this is deemed a threat and discouraged.

On an individual level we said that one is invited to contemplate on the signs of creation and by this process of reflection, come to know their Lord. As our intellects are inherently limited and dependent on our senses, their use is constrained to reflecting on the creation of God and not about God Himself. As it reaches us from the Prophet (s), “Contemplate upon what Allah has created, and do not contemplate upon Allah, for you will never be able to conceive Him” and in a verse of the Qur’an it states: “There is nothing whatsoever comparable to Him.” [Qur’an 42:11]

As we can never comprehend the person of God, we are not permitted to enter into debates about His Being. It is on this point that some sects in Islamic history erred. This was in some part due to influence from Hellenic philosophy and in some areas this negatively affected the Islamic belief in the Divine. There is never any benefit to be gained by asking questions such as where exactly God is, what He looks like etc. Islamic scholars used to say in response to this, that before asking such questions, realise who you are in relation to God, i.e. a small speck on a miniscule planet in a tiny corner of the universe created by the Supreme Being. As the intellect is the means by which we come to recognise our Creator, the prohibition on such pursuits frees up our minds to focus on what is of benefit both for ourselves and others.

In matters of religion and our dealings with others, there are also areas in which it is not permitted to enter debate and reflection. Recall that the second role of the intellect was to think of and develop ways how we can live our religious and wordly lives as best as possible. If we are saying that we are reflecting on the actual nature of the Religion and whether it and its rulings are needed / relevant / incorrect, then this is prohibited as it is not the intended use of the intellect. The areas we mentioned in the previous post were concerned with working out the best way to apply it in our lives today and not whether parts of it’s core principles need to be changed. Reflection and thought are permissible in the methods by which we can arrive at the best application of the Religion and its laws (Kayfiya) though not in the core substance of the Religion itself (Maahiya).

This may sound harsh but it is in accordance with the intellect’s intended use and is the manifestation of the synergy between faith and reason (Naql and ‘Aql). This is succinctly summarised in the famous saying of one of the Islamic philosophers, “al-Insaanu Hurrun fi ‘Aalam il-Quyood” which translates as “Man is free in a world of chains.” This is not just an Islamic observation, the same point was made by the French Enlightenment philosopher, Jean-Jacques Rousseu, who noted, “Man is born free, but everywhere he is in chains.

The intellect or ‘Aql is the means by which we know our Lord and by use of which, a successful human society can be built. It is the unique blessing that separates us from animals and its protection is one of the most important of Islamic objectives.

This protection is achieved by strengthening the intellect through education and using its faculties to improve the lives of humanity in both religious and world spheres. Anything which threatens the intellect, whether temporarily, such as intoxicants or more long term such as ignorance, harmful thoughts and ideas are prohibited.

The next post will Insha Allah look at the next in our list of darooriyaat, al-Nasb (Lineage) and how it is protected and preserved by the Shari’ah.


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