By "religious thought" we mean that form of thought which is concerned with any of the problems of a religious nature within a particular religion, in the same sense that mathematical thought is the form of thought which deals with mathematical questions and solves mathematical problems.
Needless to say religious thought, like other forms of thought, must have reliable sources from which the raw material of its thought originates and upon which it depends. Similarly, the process of reasoning necessary for the solution of mathematical problems must have a series of established mathematical facts and principles.
The single source upon which the divinely revealed religion of Islam depends and upon which it is based, in as much as it is based on a revelation of celestial origin, is none other than the Holy Quran. It is the Quran which is the definitive testament of the universal and ever-living prophethood of the Prophet and it is the content of the Quran that bears the substance of the Islamic call. Of course the fact that the Quran is alone the source of Islamic religious thought does not eliminate other sources and origins of correct thinking, as will be explained later.
There are three methods of religious thought in Islam. The Holy Quran in its teachings points to three paths for Muslims to follow in order to comprehend the purposes of religion and the Islamic sciences: (1) the path of the external and formal aspect of religion (the Shari'ah); (2) the path of intellectual understanding; and (3) the path of spiritual comprehension achieved through sincerity (ikhlas) in obeying God.
It can be seen that the Holy Quran in its formal aspect addresses all people without providing any demonstration or proof. Rather, depending on the unique sovereignty of God, it commands people to accept the principles of faith such as divine unity, prophethood, eschatology; it gives them practical injunctions such as the daily prayers, fasting, etc.; and at the same time it prohibits them from committing certain other actions. Yet if the Quran had not provided authority for these commands it would never have expected man to accept and obey them. It must, therefore, be said that such simple utterances of the Quran are a path toward the understanding of ultimate religious ends and the comprehension of the Islamic sciences. We call such verbal expressions as "Believe in God and His Prophet" and "Perform the prayers," the external or formal aspect of religion.
In addition to guidance in the external aspect of religion, we see that the Holy Quran in many verses guides man toward intellectual understanding. It invites man to meditate, contemplate and deliberate upon the signs of God in the macrocosm and the microcosm. It explains many verities through unfettered intellectual reasoning. It must be said in truth that no sacred book praises and recommends science and intellectual knowledge for man as much as does the Quran. In many of its words and utterances the Quran attests to the validity of intellectual proof and rational demonstration, that is, it does not claim that man should first accept the validity of the Islamic sciences and then through intellectual proofs justify these sciences. Rather, with complete confidence in the truth of its own position it proclaims that man should use his intellect to discover the truth of the Islamic sciences, and only then accept this truth. He should seek the affirmation of the words contained in the Islamic message in the world of creation which is itself a truthful witness. And finally man should find the affirmation of his faith in the results of rational demonstration ; he should not have to gain faith first and the, in obedience to it, seek proofs. Thus philosophical thought is also a way whose validity and efficacy is confirmed by the Holy Quran.
Also, in addition to guidance in the external and intellectual aspects of religion, we see that the Holy Quran in subtle terms explains that all true religious science originates and comes from Divine Unity (tawhid) and the knowledge of god and His Attributes . The perfection of the knowledge of God belongs to those whom He has drawn from all places and elevated solely to Himself. It is these men who have forgotten themselves and all things and as a result of sincerity in obedience to God have been able to concentrate all their powers and energies upon the transcendent world. Their eyes have become illuminated through the vision of the light of the Pure Creator. With the eye of discernment they have seen the reality of things in the kingdom of heaven and earth, for through sincerity of obedience they have reached the station of certainty (yaqin). As a result of this certainty the kingdoms of heaven and earth and the immortal life of the eternal world have become revealed to them.
Deliberation upon the following holy verses illuminates fully this claim: "And We sent no messenger before thee but We inspired him (saying): There is no God save Me (Allah), so worship Me" (Quran, XXI, 25); and, "Glorified be Allah from that which they attribute (unto Him), Save single-minded slaves of Allah" (Quran, XXXVII, 159-160); and, "Say, I am only a mortal like you. My Lord inspireth in me that your God is only One God. And whoever hopeth for the meeting with his Lord, let him do righteous work, and make none sharer of the worship due unto his Lord" (Quran, XVIII, 111); and, "And serve the Lord till the inevitable [al-yaqin] cometh unto thee" (Quran, XV, 99); and God says, "Thus did We show Abraham the Kingdom of the heavens and the earth that he might be of those possessing certainty" (Quran, VI, 76); and "Nay, but the record of the righteous is in 'Iliyin - Ah! what will convey unto thee what 'Iliyin is! - A written record, attested by those who are brought near (unto their Lord)" (Quran, LXXXIII, 18-21); and, "Nay, would that ye knew (now) with a sure knowledge ['ilm al-yaqin]! Ye will behold hellfire" (Quran, XII, 5-6).
Thus it may be said that one of the paths for the comprehension of religious verities and sciences is the purification of the carnal soul and sincerity in obedience to God.
From what has been said it becomes clear that the Holy Quran proposes three methods for the comprehension of religious truths: the external, or formal aspects of religion; intellectual reasoning; and sincerity in obedience leading to the intellectual intuition which results in the unveiling of the truth and its inward vision. Yet it must be understood that these three methods differ from each other in several ways. For instance, since the external forms of religion are verbal expressions in the simplest language, they are in the hands of all people, and everyone benefits from them according to his own capacity. On the other hand, the other two paths, which are appropriate to a particular group (the elite - khawass), are not common to all. The path of the external forms of religion leads to the understanding of the principles and the obligations of Islam and results in knowledge of the substance of the beliefs and practices of Islam, and of the principles of the Islamic sciences, ethics, and jurisprudence. This is in contrast to the other two paths. The intellectual path can discover the problems connected with faith, ethics, and the general principles governing practical questions, but the intellectual method cannot discover the specific religious injunctions given in the Quran and the Sunnah. The path of purification of the carnal soul, since it leads to the discovery of God-given spiritual truths, can have no limits nor measure of its results or of the truths revealed through this divine gift. Men who have reached this knowledge have cut themselves off from everything and forgotten everything but God and are under the direct guidance and dominion of God Himself - May His Name be Glorified. Whatever He wants and not what they want is revealed to them.
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