The method of thinking in Islam (Part 1)

Tareeqa-E-Tafakkur

by The grand scholar Allamah Rasheed Turabi

Translated by Syed Mohsen Rizvi

يَعْلَمُونَ ظَاهِرًا مِّنَ الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا وَهُمْ عَنِ الْآخِرَةِ هُمْ غَافِلُونَ

أَوَلَمْ يَتَفَكَّرُوا فِي أَنفُسِهِمْ مَا خَلَقَ اللَّهُ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضَ وَمَا بَيْنَهُمَا إِلَّا بِالْحَقِّ وَأَجَلٍ مُّسَمًّى وَإِنَّ كَثِيرًا مِّنَ النَّاسِ بِلِقَاء رَبِّهِمْ لَكَافِرُونَ

[Al-Quran: The Romans: 7-8]

They know the outward of this world’s life, but of the hereafter they are absolutely heedless. Do they not reflect within themselves: Allah did not create the heavens and the earth and what is between them two but with truth, and (for) an appointed term? And most surely most of the people are deniers of the meeting of their Lord [Al-Quran: The Romans: 7-8]

These verses are from the chapter ‘The Romans’ of the Holy Qur’an. This chapter is customarily recited during the month of Ramadan in the night of Qadr. Our discourse begins with the initial verses of the chapter

يَعْلَمُونَ ظَاهِرًا مِّنَ الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا

These are the people who know the outward of this life,

وَهُمْ عَنِ الْآخِرَةِ هُمْ غَافِلُونَ

but of the hereafter they are absolutely heedless.

أَوَلَمْ يَتَفَكَّرُوا فِي أَنفُسِهِمْ

what happened? Do they not reflect within their souls (psyche(s)[1]:

مَا خَلَقَ اللَّهُ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضَ وَمَا بَيْنَهُمَا

Allah did not create the heavens and the earth and what is between them two

إِلَّا بِالْحَقِّ

but with truth, [the complete creation, the complete universe, the complete system of nature is brought into existence by Allah with absolute justice [2]

وَأَجَلٍ مُّسَمًّى

and (for) an appointed term? [And what is created is not eternal and perpetual whatever created is assigned a beginning and an end]

وَإِنَّ كَثِيرًا مِّنَ النَّاسِ بِلِقَاء رَبِّهِمْ لَكَافِرُونَ

And surely most people refute the meeting with their Lord [the majority of mankind denies the assembly in front of Allah for the reckoning of deeds and assert that there is no such day when man will appear at the stage of accountability].

Announcements were made that the topic of our discourse will be ‘The way of thinking in Islam’, this is a new subject and a novel idea and it may seem apparent that we may have to exercise philosophical deliberations and the level of discussion may soar over the level of your comprehension but it is not true, due to the fact that we have placed a condition of limiting the method of thinking within ‘Islam’ we have restricted our discourse within the bounds of our religion.


The task of thinking is not sanctioned to animals, rather it is a privilege designated to man alone, and since Islam constantly raises the rank of humanity we are compelled to determine the right method of thinking, and hence this is our topic.

So what should be the method of thinking? Thinking/Fikr here is not interpreted as a ‘concern’, like the concern for livelihood or health or wealth, our topic has no relation with these types of (mundane). Thinking here implies ‘thought’ and its development, in other words if we delve in our chain of thoughts then the aim should be to apply such research to journey the transcending arc

قوس السود

and reach higher stages (of understanding), in other words building a chain of thoughts that leads to comprehension and understanding. In this regard Imam Ali (as) said: he who hears and thinks is the one who has acquired the acumen

بصيرة

hence in order to comprehend (realities) it becomes necessary to investigate the concept of ‘thinking’ and determine the method of thinking. Now that you understand the meaning of thinking, you must know that I am using the essential meaning in linguistics as well as the meaning that is mentioned in Qur’an

أَوَلَمْ يَتَفَكَّرُوا فِي أَنفُسِهِمْ

what happened? Do they not reflect within their souls, so this verse does not contain the thinking related to the apprehension of health, sustenance, housing or children, No! But the verse is talking about thinking about our own soul, what are the conditions of the soul? What is its association with other souls? What is grief for the soul and what is joy for the soul? What is bliss and anguish for the soul? What is its association with its creator? How should it succeed in the path of serving (Allah)? Why do they not reflect in their own soul to know its association with the greater existential system of nature

نظام الأكبر

and the Absolute system of nature

نظام الكل

What is its relation with the existent?

موجودات

It is our soul – although very weak on the apparent -will be brought to the stage of accountability, not the body but the soul which will be questioned 74:38

كُلُّ نَفْسٍ بِمَا كَسَبَتْ رَهِينَةٌ

every soul (psyche) shall be held in pledge for it deeds, so we are deliberating on the command to deliberate in the soul (psyche) in order to understand what should be the sign of thinking, what should be the beginning of thinking & the chain of thinking and how the thought must be linked with each other? All these efforts are undertaken so that mankind can reach to the divine ascension/meraj. We must try to deliberate on different aspect of thinking and try to understand the method of thinking which Islam suggests, thinking in the path of truth and thinking at different stages of truth, in the comprehension of truth, thinking in the search of that which is essential for mankind.

I would like to mention few things in the introduction without giving my audience much trouble, but I would like to convey certain essential issues to you so that the more time you spend on this subject or reading verses from Qur’an on this topic the more you will feel exhilarated. You see the verses start with the declaration that the majority of people are only aware of the empirical world يَعْلَمُونَ, which means that they have the knowledge & understanding of the apparent world but they are oblivious to the latent or abstract of the existents. The Qur’an used the word يعلمونا not يعرفونا it means that while mankind is succeeding scholastically acquiring academic degrees, where some have obtained PhDs, some are scientists, some are mastering in physics, some in Chemistry, some are working in geology, some are astronomers

يَعْلَمُونَ ظَاهِرًا مِّنَ الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا

everyone is aware of the empirical realm of the universe

وَهُمْ عَنِ الْآخِرَةِ هُمْ غَافِلُونَ

but they are unaware of the Day of Judgment! They have knowledge of this world but oblivion to the hereafter and now the last verse is declaring that even though they are constantly acquiring knowledge of the existential objects which We have created yet they ignore the fact that whatever is brought into existence is created by a predetermined set of rules and each creation is assigned a period for its existence from certain point to certain point – وَأَجَلٍ مُّسَمًّى, there is an end to every creation, there is a limit to it and an extent to it. The stars fall, the sun rises at dawn and set at dusk, the stars shines at dusk and disappears at dawn, there is wind, there are seasons, the season change, man transforms from childhood to adulthood and then to senility and reaches the stage of death. What creation exists in the greater realm of existence that does not have an appointed term?

وَأَجَلٍ مُّسَمًّى

every creation has an appointed term. Knowing that there is an appointed time for every thing man is still only aware of the evident and chose to remain oblivious to the latent. What happened? Why do they not reflect within their soul (psyche)s, hence this means the beginning of thinking is not thinking about sun or thinking about earth or the universe, the beginning of thinking is not the observance of other abstract realities! The commencement of thinking is from thinking in our own soul (psyche)s

أَوَلَمْ يَتَفَكَّرُوا فِي أَنفُسِهِمْ

commence the process of thinking by thinking about our own soul (psyche)! Introduce your soul (psyche) to your intellect, know your soul (psyche) and see

مَا خَلَقَ اللَّهُ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضَ وَمَا بَيْنَهُمَا إِلَّا بِالْحَقِّ

that Allah has not created this realm of creation but with absolute truth وَأَجَلٍ مُّسَمًّى and brought them into existence for as predetermined period. But majority of mankind rejects the creator and denies the day of reckoning.

Thinking is such an imperative command that in essence the message of Day of Judgment is rooted in the beginning of knowledge and أَوَلَمْ يَتَفَكَّرُوا is such a beginning where there is a solution to the ignorance & obliviousness of that what is latent. The first stage is, did anyone see their own soul (psyche)? We can see our material faculties like eyes and hands, we can see our face in the mirror and the physical standing, we have seen our own existential growth remembering the childhood and adulthood. The man has seen everything but was the soul (psyche) visible?

And because man is incapable of observing the soul the holy Qur’an used the word أولم يتفكرو not أولم ينذرو there is the verse in Qur’an 7:185

أَوَلَمْ يَنظُرُواْ فِي مَلَكُوتِ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالأَرْضِ وَمَا خَلَقَ اللّهُ مِن شَيْءٍ

why do they not observe the kingdom of the heavens and the earth and whatever things Allah has created

Thus Quran suggests us to observe the empirical objects of the universe and this the beginning of science. They have observed that when a container of boiling water is shut tight the vapors has such energy that it can break the container open, this observation led to channeling that energy to give mechanical movement to wheels, and thus eventually led to an invention of a transportation system. So observation is employed for inventions, but since the observation is material in nature the invented object is also material! In other words, material observation is possible for things which are practical and experimented and its conditions can be observable (to senses). However in the case of objects which are abstract and nonphysical in nature, they require cognizance for comprehension instead of just knowledge. Hence soul demands cognizance not physical observation because if soul was physical then Qur’an would have said أولم ينذرو, but since it is not empirical in nature Qur’an said أولم يتفكرو

Since soul is a designated subject to the commencement of thinking then determining where the soul is located is the first step, so where is the soul located? Is it in the forehead, is it in the head? Is it in the eyes? Is it in the nose? Is it in the mouth? Is it in the heart? Where is it? It is concluded after some thinking that when the forehead is bruised a feeling of ache is felt similar to the pain that is experienced with the wound that is inflicted on other parts of body like eyes, nose, mouth or heart, in other words there is something which occupies the whole body at any given time from the head to toe… and sometimes it even leaves the body. For example one may fall asleep and dream about visiting the holy graves of the infallibles for ziyarat – it means although the body was in the bed and the eyes & feet were confined to bed the soul left the confinements with the power of movement, vision and hearing… but prior to when one wakes up from the slumber the soul (psyche) returns back to the body in a single moment. Now, one cannot question where the soul was? How did it returned so fast? How was one able to recall the dream? One was able to see without the eyes and move without the legs and hear without the ears. One can recall the conversation that took place in the dream, remembering the faces it confronted. It can be concluded that the soul does not depend on the eyes, legs or ears, it has such abilities that it can see, hear and move without material faculties!

At this stage my master (Imam Ali (as)) said

من عرفة نفسه فقد عرفة ربة

he who has known his soul has known his Creator.

Cognizance of soul is a very difficult feat, an in-depth subject that it has became a science in itself. Sometime you hear that somebody has died and his spirit /Ruh has left his body – although what is told is correct but there is a slight error in the statement and needs some attention, the following verse is from Surah Zumar 39:42

اللَّهُ يَتَوَفَّى الْأَنفُسَ حِينَ مَوْتِهَا

Allah takes the soul/Nafs at the time of their death

The body is left behind and the soul is taken away

وَالَّتِي لَمْ تَمُتْ فِي مَنَامِهَا

and those body which sleep but not destined to die

Allah takes away the soul at the time of sleep, in other words the soul of the mankind is removed from the body at the time of death and at the time of sleep

فَيُمْسِكُ الَّتِي قَضَى عَلَيْهَا الْمَوْتَ

then He withholds those on whom He has passed the decree of death

وَيُرْسِلُ الْأُخْرَى

and sends the other souls back

which were taken during the sleep

إِلَى أَجَلٍ مُسَمًّى

till an appointed term

go back and your time will come when We will call you. Hence Qur’an mentioned the taking away of soul/nafs not the taking of the spirit/ Ruh. Allah (swt) has never mentioned that we will question the spirit/Ruh, Allah (swt) will question the soul, it is the soul that is answerable not the spirit, but then what is spirit? Qur’an says 17:85

وَيَسْأَلُونَكَ عَنِ الرُّوحِ قُلِ الرُّوحُ مِنْ أَمْرِ رَبِّي

And they ask you about the spirit. Say: The spirit is one of the commands of my Lord, please pay attention, what is spirit?

It’s a command of Allah – Allah says ‘Live’ – Life has come, Allah says ‘Die’ – Death has occurred. But the reckoning is not with the spirit it is with the soul. In other words Qur’an says 38:71

إِنِّي خَالِقٌ بَشَرًا مِن طِينٍ

Behold, I am going to create a mortal from dust

فَإِذَا سَوَّيْتُهُ وَنَفَخْتُ فِيهِ مِن رُّوحِي فَقَعُوا لَهُ سَاجِدِينَ

So when I have made him complete and breathed into him of My spirit, then fall down making obeisance to him.

The spirit (command of Allah) was executed on Adam (as) and brought Adam to life! Hence spirit is not an element which is answerable to Allah. If we suppose spirit /Ruh will stand the trial than that spirit is a Divine Will (with no human freedom) thus it is unreasonable to suppose that spirit will be answerable. The spirit is a command which brings life to Adam and the angles are ordained to bow in obeisance. Similarly when the divine command (the spirit) descends on us to ‘come to life’, we come into existence and when the divine command (the spirit) descend on us to ‘die’ we experience the separation of the body with the soul causing essential death. This is the soul which stays with the body of the human being by the command of Allah (known as the spirit/Ruh) and prepares itself to the idea that it must reach its highest potential and make itself ready for the stage of reckoning and accepting the responsibility of its deeds by recognizing its good and evil, observing its disgrace and dignity, protecting its body from pain and grief as much as possible, and then when the divine command spirit is sanctioned to die, than the same soul shall be brought in the presence of Allah

أَوَلَمْ يَتَفَكَّرُوا فِي أَنفُسِهِمْا

what happened? Why do they not think about their own souls? Ask yourself today what your soul is saying? If you cannot be acquainted with your own soul then how can you recognize the soul of the Prophet (saw)? Do you have any idea about the soul of the Prophet? The discourse is not on the soul of Allah yet! The Quran talks about the soul/Nafs of Allah (swt) in the following verse 6:54

كَتَبَ رَبُّكُمْ عَلَى نَفْسِهِ الرَّحْمَةَ

your Lord has ordained mercy on Himself

This is the soul/Nafs of Allah (swt), and the soul/Nafs of The Prophet (saw) is 3:61

وَأَنفُسَنَا وأَنفُسَكُمْ

and ourselves (our souls) and your souls;

The commencement of thinking is ‘Do I exist?’ the answer would be ‘Yes I exist’, so if I exist then ‘did I come into existence with my own will?’ the reply would be ‘No’, did I use my own abilities to bring about my own existence? Is my end under my control?’ So when these questions are raised regarding the soul then we have come to the conclusion that ‘no doubt I exist but I exist by someone else’s Will, authority and assistance, and will continue to exist until it is terminated by His Will and Authority. The moment you commence this thought process that ‘because I exist there must be someone who brought me into existence, and if I didn’t exist then this thought wouldn’t have existed at all’ it becomes the beginning of the thinking (process) of the soul from ‘I exist’ to ‘hence I have a Creator’. The affiliation of the soul with its Creator is not like a relationship of brother to a brother or the father to his son, this affiliation is of the servant with his Master, creation and his Creator. So one must begin the process of thinking by posing the question ‘Do I exist?’ Obviously you can answer the question positively because you can see, talk and think, and with these abilities you can answer that ‘Yes I know I exist and I don’t have any doubt in my existence’, here if you doubt your existence than the argument should be terminated. But if you are certain that you exist then ask yourself ‘Did I come into existence by myself?’, if the answer is no then someone has created you, and if there is a Creator then what are His rights and how should the soul commence its response. Since the affiliation of the soul with its Creator is not like the relationship of brotherhood, fatherhood or childhood then it is possible that someone may declare that the Creator has also such relationships (like those of the Christians). In this circumstance the Prophet (saw) is ordained to confront them, the Quran says: O Prophet – take your sons, your brothers and your women (and show them the affiliation of the creation with their Creator).

It was not necessary for the Prophet (saw) to take everyone to confront the Christians (in Mubahila) but those who confronted the Prophet proclaimed that Jesus is the son of the Creator, so Allah (swt) commanded the Prophet (saw) to ‘Take your sons, your souls and your daughter’[3] and reveal to the Christians that it is Allah (swt) who bestows relationships amongst his creations, so proclaim to them that those who assert that the Creator has relationships (like creations), they are liars! The relationship of the messenger (saw) with his household has challenged Christianity, although the Prophet (saw) debated with them, this event (of Mubahila) separates its self from previous debates by the divine Will in order to establish who is lying and who is not!


At the stage of sons in Mubahila we have witnessed Imam Husain (as), and if Imam Husain (as) was to curse the liars then the Wrath of Allah would have descended. As you know Imam Husain (as) was born in the third year after Hijrah and his holy age was about six years. Imagine if he can invoke the chastisement of Allah at the age of six what would happen if Imam curses at the age of fifty seven?

Imagine if Imam Husain (as) invokes the wrath of Allah (swt) with his martyred six month old son in his hands or what if Imam invoke the wrath of Allah at the body of his young handsome son Ali Akbar or if Imam invoke the wrath of Allah reaching the body of his brother Abbas! But Husain is patent and doesn’t invoke the wrath of Allah.

But what if the children of Husain invoke the wrath of Allah? What will happen then? But the Imam said: ‘be patient O daughter Sakina your father is coming (to take you)’, the daughter began wailing – Tahir al damishki narrates that it was middle of the night and Yazid (la) head was in his lap and he kept on opening and closing his eyes and suddenly the door to the room in which the head of the Imam Husain was kept unlocked and the chain fell and the head of the Imam came out crying ‘O Yazid my daughter is crying for me’


++++ YA HUSAIN ++++

[1] Here soul (psyche) is a translation of the Arabic term نَفْسِ /Nafs, some exegesis suggest ‘soul’ as the correct translation instead of psyche but due to the fact that term لرُّوح /Ruh is also translated as soul in some verses like (17:85) it may cause confusion, so in order to mark the difference between Ruh & Nafs some scholars suggested the term psyche instead of soul for نَفْسِ

[2] Here Absolute divine Justice suggests an existential justice with which every object in the existential realm is created by the laws of cause and effect.

[3] Holy Quran 03:61


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