World Faiths & Religions

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the relationship between reason, revelation and free will in Islam?

The Quran explains that humans go astray when they turn away from revealed scriptures and begin taking their own speculations and customs as religious beliefs or rites. However, the religion that God revealed to mankind through the medium of the prophets, pure monotheism, is also the natural religion of humans. As a result, people can arrive at a recognition of the one true God and basic morality through the use of reason alone. The ultimate example of this in the Quran is Abraham, who rejected idols, the sun, moon and stars as potential divinities because they not omnipotent - instead he turned to worship the Creator of all these. So, in Islam, humans are linked to the truth of God through both reason and revelation. Reason, however, can only guide men to the broadest universal truths (such as God exists). It cannot provide insight into the details of the unseen (such as heaven and hell, the creation and end of the world). Reason also cannot determine the details of worship; why, for example, do Muslims pray five times a day and not ten? Why do women not pray when they are menstruating? These beliefs and practices are known as ‘submissive (ta'abbudi)' - Muslims do them because they come from the revealed message of Muhammad without asking how or why. Like Christian theologians, Muslims have debated the extent to which reason should inform their understanding of God's nature and judgment. The Quran is ambiguous about whether or not humans have free will. Many Muslim rationalists decided that God must give humans the freedom to choose if He is to punish them for sins, because otherwise this would rationally contradict His ultimate justice. Mainstream Sunni scholars decided to avoid speculating on such matters. Reason plays a larger role in Islamic law. Although many details of Islamic law are specified in revelation and cannot be altered (such as a prohibition on alcohol and pork), Muslim scholars use analogical reasoning to prohibit other intoxicants and notions of reasonable constraint to say that you can eat pork if you are starving.