Quranic Reflection No 656. Āyat 17:36 – Causes of Wrong Thinking


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وَلَا تَقْفُ مَا لَيْسَ لَكَ بِهِ عِلْمٌ

Do not pursue that of which you have no knowledge. 

(Sūrat Al-Isrā, No.17, Āyat 36)

A miracle is defined as an extraordinary act performed by someone who claims to be a prophet.  To validate and convince the common people regarding their claim to prophethood, a prophet comes with something miraculous, an act which is beyond the level of ordinary men. 

The Quran is a miracle brought by the Prophet Muhammad (s). Apart from its literary eloquence, the Quran contains profound teachings that are themselves a miracle. It contains knowledge and wisdom that transcends what scholars in the seventh century CE had comprehended. An example is how the Quran identifies the roots of mistaken logic in man’s thinking. How does the human mind veer into erroneous ways of thinking?  What brings about unreasonable and illogical thinking? This is a difficult discussion that has puzzled philosophers of the past but is well explained by Allah ‘azza wajall in the Noble Quran.

To give some background: the study of logic can be divided into two types, formal and material logic. Formal logic was first codified by Aristotle, over nine centuries before the birth of Noble Prophet Muhammad sallal-lāhu ‘alayhi wa-ālihi wasallam. As the name indicates, it deals with the form of man’s reasoning. For example, how must propositions be combined to draw a correct conclusion? This is interesting and to a certain extent useful, but it does not suffice. Wrong reasoning can also be the result of incorrect propositions. Such propositions would result in an incorrect conclusion even if they were combined correctly! Just as a building can be unstable due to an incorrect structure or due to faulty and weak materials.

For this reason, later philosophers tried to go beyond the formal Aristotelian logic to discuss what is known as “material logic”. Material logic pertains to the content of an argument and why the propositions could be incorrect in the first place. Refer to the four idols of Bacon or the four rules of Descartes for attempts by European philosophers during the Renaissance to discuss material logic.

Long before the Renaissance however, the Quran had already addressed material logic and identified why man makes mistakes in his thinking. Below are four different reasons the Quran brings up in this regard:

1.     Acting without knowledge. In different verses such as the one quoted at the onset of this writeup the Quran strongly forbids people from following and acting upon suspicion and conjecture. According to the Quran, many people do this and become misguided from the path of Allah. Refer to verses Q 2:78 and Q 6:116.

2.     Imitating Forefathers. Indirectly and directly, this phenomenon has been harshly rebuked in the Noble Quran. When recounting disbelievers of the past and present they are often quoted as asking their prophet why he forbade them to worship what their fathers had been worshiping.

3.     Following Desires. In Sūrat al-Najm the disbelievers are describe as:

إِن يَتَّبِعُونَ إِلَّا الظَّنَّ وَمَا تَهْوَى الْأَنفُسُ ۖ

They follow nothing but conjectures and the desires of the [lower] soul (Q 53:23). This means that in addition to acting without knowledge, their lowly desires have led them to make a mistake.

4.     Following the Elite. In addition to following the traditions inherited from one’s forefathers, man can be deceived by following those who are rich and famous or powerful in society. Refer to Q 33:67.

Is it not a miracle that identifying the root causes of mistaken logic, not yet uncovered by scholars in the seventh century CE, was eloquently expressed by an unschooled individual?! This wisdom in the teachings of the Quran points to the fact that the words are not those of a human being. Rather they are the words of the Creator who knows all things.

We pray to Allah subhānahu wata‘ālā to allow us to benefit from the Noble Quran and implement its teachings in our lives. We beseech Him to make us from those who act appropriately in life, not from those who act without knowledge or who follow their lowly desires, their forefathers, or the elite of society. Lastly, we pray to Him to bring relief to the oppressed believers around the world and the resilient and brave people of Palestine.

Resources: Martyr Murtadā Mutahharī, I’jāz-e Qur’an