Intelligence and Reason in Islam


Allah says:

وَسِعَ رَبُّنَا كُلَّ شَىْءٍ عِلْمًا

{Our Lord comprehends all things in knowledge,
in Allah do we put our trust.}

On The Importance Of Intelligence and Reason in Religion

Shaykh Abdul Hakim Murad
Even some scientists hold that human beings have an innate knowledge of right and wrong, (that) we know what's right and wrong, (and that even) children have an intuitive knowledge of right and wrong.

Certainly that would correspond in its own way to the Hanafi understanding which is (that) Allah (may His Majesty be exalted) has created us as noble beings, beings that can recognise the existence and nature of God and can recognise the moral law - even if we didn't have access to a revelation.

Otherwise how could we know that Revelation was true, if we didn't have some external way of assessing that Revelation is moral and that it makes sense - Revelation would not be incumbent upon us to follow.
So we have something that is prior to Revelation, which is the ability to reason, which is why the Quran is sent to {ûlu-l albâb} the people of intellection.

This is very important for Abu Hanifa, very important for the subsequent tradition of islamic theology and law - and we become … the last civilisation of reason.

(Unfortunately now-a-days… - see below)

Intellect and revelation as sources of knowledge.
(NB: intellect is exceedingly more then 'reason')

The way of the Salaf (companions of Prophet Muhammad - the blessings and peace of Allah upon him - was intelligence and wisdom because they were people of Fitrah (intelligence, moral intelligence, natural common sense).

Imam Abu Hanifa: Baghdad's Auspicious Fortune

Talk by Shaykh Abdul Hakim Murad
(Intelligence and reason: @58:51)

fiqh: Superlative understanding; Islamic Jurisprudence and Law; al-fiqh al-akbar = uṣūl (the roots or bases of Islamic Law).  fiqh

The Quran Appeals to Reason

Sh Abdul Hakim Murad:

We could say as a kind of generalization that of the 4 madhhabs, it is Abu Hanifa’s madhhab which is among the most emphatic in its trust of human intelligence and of `aql, the mind, intellection.

This is a route which is important in the Quran, it is about 15 times in which it appears. Other words are ulu-l albâb, ulu-n nuha, people of intelligence, people of understanding. And it is interesting to note that nowhere in the Bible for instance is there praise of human intelligence and of reason, but in the Quran there are constant references to the need to use reason and to understand.

Before Islam moral knowledge had really been tribal. There wasn't really a tradition of working ethics and ideas out using reason.

The Quran comes to sweep that away and says {to a people who think/ ponder - li-qaumin yatafakkarûn} and appeals to universals. There are universal rules - right and wrong - which are intrinsic, and this becomes an important part of a Hanafi and then Maturidi moral theology. There is an intrinsicality to values.

Abu Hanifa says because the Quran appeals to reason and says to the people of Mecca that they should be using their reason in order to determine whether their gods actually make sense or whether Allah (swt) can actually resurrect people from the dead. It's a text that invites us to use our reason, that we need to use this in the law as well.

The believer should trust his intuition, he should trust his `aql, which means something that would include logic but means something deeper; that we have an intrinsic natural knowledge of what is right and what is wrong and that should be an important factor in determining fatwa (religious rulings).

You can see how he links this or it's rooted really within his own experience as somebody who'd been actively involved in the economic and the moral life of a complex new town of Kufa, that very often the jurist as well as the qadi (judge) has to use his sense of what is right, his intuition and Islam is a religion with values, `aql and emphasises that very much.

Title & link for the talk:

Imam Abu Hanifa: Baghdad's Auspicious Fortune

Abdal Hakim Murad about Imam Abu Hanifa

Imam Abu Hanifa: The most learned scholar is the one who is best informed of the differences of opinion amongst the scholars.

Imam Abu Hanifa an-Nu'man ibn Thabit (d. 767), the master-scholar of Iraq, was one of the four great Mujtahid Imams, after whom were named the four Madhhabs to which Sunni Muslims belong. A pupil of Imam Malik, he was celebrated for his intelligence, and his school is famous for its high opinion of the Divine gift of reason.

In this the Imam was a faithful follower of the first generation of Muslims. According to many historians, he had the honour to meet several of the Companions of the Holy Prophet ﷺ. His emphasis on rational approaches in law and theology, which went beyond even the method of Imam al-Shafi'i, did much to trigger systematic jurisprudence and theology in the Islamic world. Partly for this reason, a majority of Muslims in the world today are followers of his school.


Human reason and intuition, while they can never replace or challenge revelation, are very important guides to truth and help us to determine the correct interpretation.

NB: ʿaql for Avicenna (and for Muslim scholars) did not have the same meaning as 'raison' for Descartes, who limited intelligence to reason, and so shaped the dichotomy of modern thought.

Human Reason Cannot Replace Revelation

(Unfortunately now-a-days there are some who think) that we don’t need to be systematic about our approach to religion. We just grab an Ayah (a Quran verse) from here and a Hadith from there and attack everybody who disagrees with us. But this is not the way of the early Muslims.

Abu Hanifa in his emphasis on `aql (intellect) and ra’yi (opinion) is taking from the position of the earliest Muslims and of the Sahaba - particularly the school of Ibn Masud and Ibn Abbas.

Human reason and intuition, while they can never replace revelation and they can never challenge revelation, are very important guides to truth and help us to determine the correct interpretation.

Human Knowledge and Human Nature: A New Introduction to an Ancient Debate, Peter Carruthers

Literalism was never the way of the Salaf with the exception of the Kharijites and we know where that led them. The way of the Salaf was intelligence and wisdom because they were people of Fitrah (intelligence, natural common sense).

Unfortunately nowadays there are some who think reason is not part of Islam. It’s some extraneous thing - its fallible. But Alhamdulilah the way of the Salaf is quite other than that.

If you look at the Fatwas of the great Tabi'in particularly people like Sufyan Ath Thawri, you can see that they are people of intelligence and moral intelligence, where compassion and a sense of justice shaped their understanding of what the correct and faithful understanding of the Qu’rān and the Sunnah aught to be.

Some keywords:

intelligence, intuition, jurisprudence, knowledge, literalism, reason, revelation, right, understanding, wisdom

Related Texts

Reason and Knowledge in Islam, Sh. G. F. Haddad


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