It is noteworthy that in the last verse – just as it is the case with all other Quranic verses wherein Allah speaks about the tools for knowledge acquisition in man — the sense of hearing (al-sam’) is mentioned in the singular form, whereas the sense of sight and reason, or intellect, are mentioned in the plural form, al-absar and al-af’idah respectively.
That would mean — among other possible interpretations — that there is only one source from which man is to receive the divine revealed knowledge, addressing the people’s essential concerns, such as guidance, worship, faith, ethics, morality, life orientation, mission and purpose.
That source is the Quran and the Prophet’s Sunnah, which are to be listened to only and about which there should be no disagreements whatsoever. Hence, the hearing sense has been mentioned in the singular form.
Allah said, for example:
It is not fitting for a believer, man or woman, when a matter has been decided by Allah and His Messenger to have any option about their decision; if anyone disobeys Allah and His Messenger he is indeed on a clearly wrong path (Al-Ahzab, 36).
However, when it comes to people’s understanding, interpretation and application of the revealed knowledge in the variables of time and space, it is then that many aspects of the assignment will be affected – justifiably or otherwise – and some aspects more and others less. It is then that different ways in which the people “see”, “perceive” and “comprehend” different things will come to the fore.
It is thus rightly said that applying and living Islam as a comprehensive code of life denote striking a delicate balance between the physical and metaphysical, the permanent or immutable and impermanent, pure religious and pure mundane, and extremely dynamic and less so, worlds or tiers of existence. Thus, the sense of sight and reason, or intellect, have been alluded to in the plural form.
According to a Quranic verse, the inhabitants of Hell (Jahannam) will affirm:
…Had we but listened or used our intelligence, we would not have been among the dwellers of the blazing Fire (Al-Mulk, 10).
This means that the dwellers of Hell were not granted forgiveness, and thus, salvation from the Fire, because they neither believed – perhaps, in addition, associating some other beings with Almighty Allah — nor were they Allah’s faithful and obedient servants.
The reason for that repugnant status of theirs was twofold: they did not listen to their prophets and the revealed knowledge given to them, nor did they use their intelligence aright, in which case they would have been guided to the necessity as well as reasonability of following the prophets and their life patterns. They realized that truth only in the Hereafter when it became too little, too late.
This verse by no means implies that the revealed knowledge and reason, or intellect, are on a par with each other, representing two separate avenues to the actualization of the truth, as some extreme rationalists would like to depict it.
Rather, the only way to the difficult goal of grasping and following the ultimate truth is the revealed knowledge supported unconditionally by ‘aql (reason, or intellect). The furthermost role of ‘aql is to rationalize the need to follow the revealed knowledge, to rationalize many of its dimensions, and to unreservedly support as well as conform to it by continuously playing second fiddle to it.
Next, the righteous scholars occupy a very special position in Islam. They are the heirs of the prophets. Their superiority over the devout, but ignorant, is like that of the moon, on the night when it is full, over the rest of the stars (Sunan Abi Dawud).
Seeking knowledge is incumbent upon all Muslims. The Prophet said:
If anyone travels on a road in search of knowledge, Allah will cause him to travel on one of the roads of Paradise. The angels will lower their wings in their great pleasure with one who seeks knowledge, the inhabitants of the heavens and the Earth and the fish in the deep waters will ask forgiveness for the learned man (Sunan Abi Dawud).
A person should never feel that he has enough knowledge:
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And say: ‘My Lord! Increase me in knowledge’ (Ta Ha, 114).