There is an old Chinese curse that allegedly says: “May you live in interesting times”. It seems that we are nowadays living in some very interesting times indeed. Many are at a loss and confusion has set as the normal state for them. Others have been self-deceived into thinking with certainty about what they have concluded to be a correct worldview. Terms are no longer defined before speaking and concepts are conflated with each other. We live in the great fallacy of equivocation.
With our scientific and technological progress, and the perpetuated mantra of how “rational” we have become, the onslaught on the belief in God and religion is unrelenting. Apparently, belief is irrational because the “evidence” is not forthcoming. Furthermore, we are told that religion is a cause of division and suffering, and therefore it must be done away with. The superficiality of such claims is puzzling and the authoritative tone in which they are asserted is quite odd. While many of those making these claims are simply parroting what they heard from some celebrity or famous figure they admire, there are some who actually want to think about this matter seriously before making such statements. This is very commendable. However, the caveat here is that thinking is an acquired skill that needs to be learned.
There are two major approaches to forming a basis of how to view the world around us: rationalism and empiricism. Being a major philosophical topic that has been and continues to be debated, the details of how each approach is constructed can be found elsewhere. What it all boils down to is that a rationalist claims that there are more than just our senses to guide our knowledge acquisition, for example reasoning capacity, while on the other hand an empiricist restricts knowledge acquisition to what can be seen, touched, heard, and measured.
Although these two approaches are treated independently in philosophy, and several philosophers were grouped under each school, a careful examination will bring out the nuanced and sometimes complex interaction between these two thought processes. While one might claim to be a rationalist or an empiricist, the reality is they would not be able to go about their day if they were exclusively either one. A constant interplay between the two modes of thought is taking place. For example, in mathematics one has to be a rationalist because the nature of the subject is such that one cannot ask for evidence they can see or measure. On the other hand, biology is an empirical endeavour where the claim needs to be supported by some form of measurable evidence. But when it comes to a subject matter like physics, there is a more prominent combination of rationality and empiricism given the fact that claims are tested with empirical experiments while the rational activity of mathematics is used to support and explain them.
If one is able to discern when each approach is justified to use, and more importantly able to avoid confusion by not conflating the two approaches, then a sound judgment about different matters of investigation and speculation can be concluded. The problem comes about when someone that relies on empirical evidence assumes that such a reliance is equated with being rational. For example, given the age we are living in, many vocal science-worshipping atheists claim to be the rational ones. When probed about why they reject God or Prophets, they cite their empirical reasons, which in reality makes them the irrational ones if one considers the matter carefully.
Imam Abu Hamid Al Ghazali, the 12-century medieval Muslim scholar, is considered one of the most influential philosophers and theologians in history. As a side note, Renee Descartes’ writings were confirmed to be direct plagiarisms of Imam Al Ghazali by analytical comparison and also evidence of Al Ghazali’s manuscripts in Descartes’ personal library. In his autobiography titled “Deliverance from Error”, Imam Al Ghazali gives a very interesting case for how irrational those who reject Prophets are actually being.
Imam Al Ghazali states that when we are born, we initially only have access to some of the senses. We have the sense of touch by which we can determine if something is hot or cold, smooth or rough, etc. We have the sense of hearing by which we can tell different sounds and tones. The sense of sight opens us up to the most extensive type of perception and through it we can tell colours and shapes. However, what we can perceive with our sense of sight is blocked to our sense of hearing. For example, the colour blue is identified via our sense of sight, but it is not something we can perceive with our ears, and can in fact be considered as nonexistent to our remaining senses.
As we get older, we graduate from being trapped in the “world” of sensoria and we begin to discern between matters. This is a stage of perception beyond sensation. Here we can begin to identify right from wrong and we start to learn simple concepts of human interaction. Later we ascend into another stage where we gain the power of intellect that allows us to perceive the necessary, the possible, the impossible, and all those things not found in the previous stages.
The ascension from each of these different stages does not mean the negation of the previous ones. While we maintain the lower stages in our capacities, we intuitively recognize that each one is removed from the other, and within each stage different aspects can be removed from one another. For example, we take for granted that we cannot identify a colour using our ears. But that does not mean the colour is not there to be perceived using our sense of sight. Moreover, if a blind man rejects the existence of colours simply because he cannot perceive them, we would consider that to be the very essence of irrationality.
In the stage of intellect, we accept that some of us gain access to some realms that others may not gain access to. A doctor is someone who was granted access into the study of medicine. We determine her expertise based on her credentials and reputation. Although we may not be directly practicing medicine, our experience of its effects allowed us to rationally deduce its reality. If someone who has never experienced the effects of medicine – because they never needed to use it personally – rejects it as a real force in this world, we would assume their rejection to be ludicrous at best.
How do we generally establish someone’s credibility as an expert in any field, which most of us may not have been granted direct access to? We read their works, look at their educational background, and see how their impact has reached us. For example, someone like Albert Einstein is acknowledged to be one of the greatest theoretical physicists of all time. If we asked ourselves the question of why we recognize that as truth, given the fact that most of us do not have the slightest clue about where to start when it comes to theoretical physics, some might point to his revolutionizing the field of physics and creating new subfields of study within it, while others might point to the impact of his work on our daily lives such as its applications to nuclear energy production and GPS satellites around the earth. Anyone rejecting Einstein as a physicist because they are not able to grasp his work intellectually, meanwhile experiencing the impact of it, would be considered irrational.
What about Prophets? These are people who have been granted access to a realm that we have not been granted access to: the Hidden Realm. Before rejecting the existence of such a realm, and before rejecting their claims to be Prophets of God, we must first establish how we can examine their claim and put it to the test. Surely, a blind man will not try to examine our sight-based observation using his eyes. Two criteria must be fulfilled before someone’s claim to Prophecy can be accepted: his character and his impact upon our experience. The character part is similar to examining the credentials of doctors and scientists in that one would have to examine their states and what is known about them, in addition to what they left behind in sacred scripture and tradition. This may become a point of dispute if it is examined alone. Hence, the impact upon our experience must be assessed, which can only be accomplished by personal involvement.
If we take the example of the Prophet Muhammed peace be upon him, there are literally thousands of sayings from his tradition that would speak volumes of truth to one who applies them. Consider, for example, his saying: “Whoever reaches the point where all his cares are a single care, God Most High will save him from all cares in this life and the next”; and “Whoever aids an unjust man, God gives the latter dominion over him”; and “Whoever acts according to what he knows, God will make him heir to what he does not know”.
No intellectual discourse can substitute for the experienced reality of the impact of what these statements and the remaining few thousand have on one’s heart and life in general. In fact, intellectual and philosophical debates about the legitimacy of his status as a Prophet are merely a distraction. For one to reject Prophets simply because they cannot comprehend the existence of the realm they have been granted access to is akin to a blind man rejecting the existence of colours because they cannot see them.
It is important to note something here. Imam Al Ghazali mentions that miracles cannot be the foundational basis for one to accept the claim for one being a Prophet. Extraordinary acts can easily be explained away as the work of magicians, or more simply as the work of a scientist doing a really amazing demonstration, or even more simply as the light reflection going through a fountain giving the apparent image of a saint on the glass of a building. Multiple ways of explaining away miracles can be derived. But the experiential nature of applying the teachings of Prophets will be akin to seeing and handling. Hence, they offer a more solid foundation for accepting that someone is indeed a Prophet from God.
There is a Zen Buddhist proverb that says: “Do not mistake the finger pointing at the moon for the moon”. Those who reject the Prophets have mistaken the intention of the pointer using their finger when they said: “Look at the moon!” and thought the preposition “at” was indicating the finger. In turn, they thought they were rational to reject the claim that it is the moon. Most of them have not actually taken the time to examine the claims to Prophecy rationally and their rejections are based on a fallacious approach that is a result of a hidden ego not accepting being blocked from accessing a realm above one’s own.