The holy Qur’an stimulates study of the universe in its various facets, and numerous Qura’nic verses urge and insist believers should study nature, to make best use of Aql in their search and to make acquisition of knowledge and scientific comprehension, as there are signs of Allah’s power for mankind. The word Aql has been used in varied senses throughout the Qur’an, and in most of these verses Aql is connected with knowing, knowledge, with guidance, understanding the Ayat ‘signs’ (ayat) and ‘using the intellect’, etc.
Similarly, denoting deep thinking and contemplation, ‘Tafakkur’ has been used in various verses of holy Qur’an in different senses. All these verses invite humans to use their reason/ rational faculty and ponder on these signs of Allah, so that to understand the reality. An emphasis is on those verses, their context and connotation, wherein they urge and insist mankind to make acquisition of knowledge and scientific comprehension through pondering over the signs of Allah’s power for mankind.
Thus both Aql and Tafakkur urge and insist on studying nature, to reflect and to meditate over the creation of Allah, to think deeply and ponder on the Ayat (sings and revelations) mentioned in the holy Qur’an and be thoughtful and deeply understand whatever is in the universe, and to make acquisition of knowledge and scientific comprehension, as there are signs of Allah’s power for mankind. This study reveals that thinking is indeed highly promoted in the Qur’an, as there are numerous verses related to Aql and Tafakkur, their derivatives, and other terms having similar connotation. All of them demand us to study, develop, and improve all fields of knowledge—and to do all this in all ages. Indeed there are great lessons to be learned from these verses in every age, era, and epoch—including ours.
Qura’nic text on Aql
According to Hans Wehr’s ‘A Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic’, Aql (pl. ‘uqul) means “sense, sentience, reason, understanding, comprehension, discernment, insight, rationality, mind, intellect, intelligence”. In Elsaid M Badawi and Muhammad Adel Haleem’s ‘Arabic English Dictionary of Qur’anic Usage’, ‘-q-l is translated as brain, rational person, or to judge as rational; and aqala (as transitive verb) connotes the meaning of “to understand, to comprehend” (as in Q2:75) or “to have the intrinsic ability to comprehend, to be sagacious, [or] to reason” (as in Q8:22). For Tj. De Boer and Fazlur Rahman, (in The Encyclopaedia of Islam,) Aql means “intellect or intelligence”; and according to the theologians (Mutakallimun), Aql is a “source of knowledge [by nature]” and, as such, is the “antithesis” of naql or tradition. Navid Kermani in ‘Encyclopaedia of Qur’an’ notes Aql or intellect is the power or faculty, opposed to emotion or will, “through which humans perceive and understand the world”; and for Dr Ahmad Shafaat, Aql, which is always used in a positive or neutral sense, means “sense, reason, understanding, discernment, rationality, [and] intelligence”.
The word Aql itself does not occur in the Qur’an, but appears in its derived form and means; and the root ‘-q-l (Ain-Qaf-Lam) appears forty-nine times—always as a verb, such as ‘aqala, ya‘qilu, ta‘qilun, ya‘qiluha, and ya‘qilun, in which it is translated as using the intellect. In all but three verses, as Navid Kermani puts it, the verb is in the second or third person plural, usually in “formulae of admonition” such as a-fa-l ta qilna, wa-la allakum ta qilūna or fidhalika la-ayatin li-qawmin ya qiluna. Thus, the occurrence of the word Aql only in the verb form, in Kocabas words, suggest that “it has a dynamic application” for it designates in all verses, “an activity which is performed, or needs to be performed, or an activity that is not performed despite its indispensability”. And for Muhammad Asad, who translates it as “reason” throughout ‘The Message of the Quran’, the Qur’anic approach to all questions of faith, ethics and morality, is echoed many times in expressions like “so that you might use your reason” (la‘allakum ta‘qilun), or “will you not, then, use your reason?” (a fa-la ta‘qilun), or “so that they might understand [the truth]” (la‘allahum yafqahan), or “so that you might think” (la‘allakum tatafakkarun); and, finally, in the oft-repeated declaration that the message of the Qur’an as such is meant specifically “for people who think” (li-qawmin yatafakkanun).
Those who possess Aql are described as aqil/ uqala meaning “reasonable, sensible, rational, discerning, intelligent, prudent, judicious, wise; in full possession of one’s mental faculties, compos mentis, sane in mind”. Steingass translates “intelligent” (adj.) as aqil. Moreover, the word albāb (sing. lubb) is interpreted as “reason” or “intellect”; and the phrase, “those possessed of understanding” or “men of insight” (ulu l-albab), occurs sixteen times in the Qur’an, with a ﬁrst appearance in Q 2:179. It connects with the phrase “those firmly rooted in knowledge” (al-rasikhuna fi-l ‘ilm).
The word Aql no doubt occurs in numerous verses; and as such has been used in varied senses throughout the Qur’an. For example, in some verses, Aql occurs in “pointing out or rebuking a contradiction in behaviour”, as afa-la-ta‘qilun (2:44, 76, 170; 3:65; 7:169; 10:16; 11:51; 21:67; 5:58, 103; 59:14); others are “directed at false or deficient arguments about or against Allah” like 2:170; 39:43); in numerous others, the verses directly “urge (or motivate) to use the intellect” (some verses include: 2:73, 242; 3:118; 6:151; 12:2, 109; 40:67; 43:3; 57:17). Similarly, the relationship between reaching the superiority of the life of the hereafter over the life of this world and ‘using the intellect’ is established in the verses 7:169, 28: 60; that those who do not use their intellect are like animals, and in some cases even lower than them, as in 25:44; a soul’s belief in Allah is by the izn of Allah, and the direct link between belief and using the intellect is established in 10:100: “No human being can ever attain to faith otherwise than by God’s leave, and [that] it is He who lays the loathsome evil [of disbelief] upon those who will not use their reason?”.
Moreover, understanding the ‘signs’ or revelations (ayah)—which is used “to refer to everything that reveals God’s will and ways”, whether in nature (Q 2:266; 16:11-3; 30:46), history (Q46:27), legislation (Q24:61) or in revelation (Q24:1)—and ‘using the intellect’ are always positively related; examples are: 2:73, 242; 3:118; 12: 2; 21:10; 24:61; 43:3; 57:17; 29:43; 30:29 (and among these, verses 12: 2; 21:10; and 43:3 refer “to the Qur’an itself and its relation to using the intellect”).
In the same vein, guidance and using the intellect are also positively related in the verses 67:10; 2:170; while 67:10 suggests that using the intellect prevents misguidance; 2:170 puts guidance and using the intellect in the same frame: “…Why, even if their forefathers did not use their reason at all, and were devoid of all guidance?”
‘Ilm (knowledge) and using the intellect are related in 29:43, which reads as: “And so We propound these parables unto man: but none can grasp their innermost meaning save those who [of Us] are aware” [men of learning: alimun]. The intellect is notably used, on the similitudes (amsal) which Allah gives in the verses, only by those who have knowledge. This draws at least an implication relationship if not an equivalence—between the alimun and the activity of using the intellect on these similitudes. Abdullah Yusuf Ali, adding a note to this verse, writes: “Parables seem simple things, but their profound meaning and application can only be understood by those who seek knowledge and by Allah’s grace attain it”; while for Asad, “the existence of God is here postulated as a prerequisite of a full understanding of the Qur’anic parables (and, by implication, allegories as well)”.
Furthermore, using the intellect is not merely an activity with a final aim to achieve belief and something to be dispensed with afterwards. The three successive verses of 45:3-5 (Surah al-Jathiyah) suggest that this conception of Aql is unfounded.
On the contrary, the order of these three successive verses suggests that using the intellect succeeds not only faith/belief (iman), but also seeking to be near (yaqin). In other words, using the intellect is an activity that must be carried out at every stage of human perfection. This conceptual order between the words iman, yaqin and Aql has parallels between the words Tafakkur (thinking), ilm (knowledge), samia (listening) and Aql in the following sets of verses: 39:42-43; 13:3-4; 16: 11-12; 30: 21-24. Similarly, in 13:3-4; 16:11-12; and 39:42-43 people who think and use their reason/intellect (li-qawmin yatafakkanun; ya‘qilun) are repeated.
Thus, the various manifestations of understanding in the Qur’an—that is, all the different contexts in which the root ‘-q-l makes its appearance—are part of the Qura’nic concept of “sign.” In the Qu’ranic Weltanschauung all creation is Allah’s sign: Nature no less than civilisation, human history and divine writings, the pleasures of love and of food—everything that exists and takes place in the cosmos and on earth is a revelation of Allah to humankind. Allah speaks to humankind through his signs, those that are spoken being manifested in the books of revelation, the unspoken ones through the world itself.
Thus, all t>>>>>>>>>>>>>>his shows that the verses containing any word that have similar meaning like Aql or/and its derivatives, are numerous, like fikr (thinking), tafakkur (pondering), faqaha (understanding), dhikr (remembrance), etc. All these concepts reveal that the concept of thinking is indeed highly promoted in the Qur’an.
—Excerpts from a paper presented in the third international symposium on “Rethinking the Qur’an: Concepts of Knowledge in the Qur’an”, held in Ankara, Turkey.
—The Author holds a PhD in Islamic Studies from Aligarh Muslim University. Feedback [email protected]