All the Qur’anic verses containing the word aql, can be divided into two main categories: (1) verses inviting mankind in general to use their aql and reflect upon the creations and ‘signs’ of Allah, and (2) verses addressing specific groups of people with regard to the use of their aql. In those verses that invite all kinds of people to use their aql, there were few recurring themes or signs that were mentioned. Among them are the development and life of human; the life, through water, and death of the earth and its produces; and the alteration of night and day: 23:80; 36:68; 57:17. These verses read as: “And He it is who grants life and deals death; and to Him is due the alternation of night and day. Will you not, then, use your reason? (23:80); “But [let them always remember that] if We lengthen a human being’s days, We also cause him to decline in his powers [when he grows old]: will they not, then, use their reason?” (36:68); and “[But] know that Allah gives life to the earth after it has been lifeless! We have indeed made Our messages clear unto you, so that you might use your reason” (57:17). Reflecting further on these verses results in extracting many lessons: that Allah controls each of His creation, He gives life to any, and as such, He gives death to any, and most importantly, none of His creation is exempted from death.
In the second category, the verses are addressed to specific groups of people. Some are addressed either to the non-believers who need further guidance, or to the non-believers who reject the belief in Allah; many others are addressed to the people of the book, and many to the believers. The people of first category, for example, are being invited to reflect on the signs and creations of Allah, and to believe that Allah is in control of everything, humans could still be directed into different directions depending on the use of the aql. However, Allah guides humans further by rejecting the concept of worshipping multiple gods, idol-worshipping or blind faith; for example, Q. 2:170; 30:28.
The final group of people addressed is the believers, who submit to the Unity of Allah, worshiping Allah alone, and obeying the teachings of His Messenger. Upon reflecting on the signs and creations of Allah, the faith of the believers becomes more reaffirmed and solidified, thus resulting in increased acts of worship. However, the use of aql for a believer has to be accompanied with knowledge, i.e. in the light of the Qur’an and the Sunnah. As mentioned in the Qur’an, none would properly understand, except people with knowledge: And so We propound these parables unto man: but none can grasp their innermost meaning save those who [of Us] are aware [those of knowledge]” (29:43). On other occasions, the Qur’an tells the believers to ponder and learn from the Qur’an itself: “behold, We have bestowed it from on high as a discourse in the Arabic tongue, so that you might encompass it with your reason (or “Indeed, We have sent it down as an Arabic Qur’an that you might understand”, 12:2).
Many of the verses, addressed to the believers, begin by Allah mentioning His commands, and ends either with la’allakum ta‘qilun, or with la‘allahum yafqahan, 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). Some verses belonging to these categories are 2:73; 3:118; 6:151; 2:76; 3:65; 6:32; 7:169; 10:16; 11:51; 12: 109; 21:10, 66; 23:80; 28:60. All these verses imply that, it is not for the believer to question the details of these commands, rather, obey it and be assured that there are lessons to be learned from these commands; e.g., “Say: Come, let me convey unto you what God has [really] forbidden to you: Do not ascribe divinity, in any way, to aught beside Him; and [do not offend against but, rather,] do good unto your parents; and do not kill your children for fear of poverty…: this has He enjoined upon you so that you might use your reason” (6:151).
In the Qur’an, among others, the terms like reasoning and reﬂecting (tafakkur) are frequently used as a “teleological context”, intended to illustrate Allah’s creative Power, His Sovereignty and the rationality of His ways. Thus the verses on aql urge and insist to study nature; to reflect and to meditate over the creation of Allah; to think deeply and ponder on the Ayat mentioned in the holy Qur’an; be thoughtful and deeply understand whatever is in the heavens and earth or/ and in the whole universe; and to make acquisition of knowledge and scientific comprehension—as there are ‘Signs’ of Allah’s Power for mankind. All this reveals very clearly that thinking is indeed highly promoted in the Qur’an, as there are numerous verses related to aql its derivatives, and other terms having similar connotation.
From the Qura’nic verses related to aql—their text and context, connotation and implication—it becomes apparent that Allah expects mankind to think, contemplate, reflect, and deliberate about nature, history, basic philosophical questions (such as whether there is a purpose in the universe, about our motivations and emotions) and about the Qur’an itself. Indeed there are great lessons to be learned from these verses in every age, era, and epoch—including ours—for all of them demand us to study, develop, or initiate all kinds of fields of knowledge—and to do all this in all ages.
–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@example.com