What Is Superior: Knowledge Or Reason?

salamu `alaykum

Shaykh al Islam Ibn Hajar Haytami stated:

“There is difference [of opinion] among the scholars regarding this. The preferred opinion according to many of them is the superiority of knowledge (`ilm) because Allah Most High is categorized [fundamentally] by pre-eternal knowledge and not by reason (`aql). The actual attribute and qualifier is superior to what is from the genus [of that attribute].

Further, another proof for the superiority of knowledge is that it is connected to that which is more virtuous, and its merits have come in the narrations. No narrations have come on the superior merit of reason and verily all of them that have been narrated are fabricated and lies.

Some of the verifying scholars said: Knowledge is superior in relation to it being closer to the vastness of the knowledge (ma`arifa) of Allah and His attributes. Reason is superior in relation to it being the building block of knowledge and its basis.

The conclusion is that knowledge is superior in its essence while the superiority of reason is in its being a means to [attaining] knowledge.

(Fatawa Hadithiyya, Pg: 240 Dar Ihya al Turath Ed.)

[s: `Aql is a prerequisite to attaining `ilm. This is why the `ulum `aqliyya are so important in the shari`ah, as our master Ashraf `Ali Thanawi (May Allah be well-pleased with him) stresses often in his works. Further, one of the conditions for being morally responsible is being `aqil, which can be translated in this context as “sane”.

It is interesting to note here, in light of Ibn Hajar’s words (who was an Ash`ari), the Maturidi position on reason and intellect being sufficient in establishing and “knowing” the existence and oneness of God based on the various Qur’anic verses that command us to “reflect” on the creation in order to see the “purposeful design” behind it. Thus, one wonders, if reason is sufficient to establish this fundamental aspect of tawhid – the fountainhead of all knowledge – then how does this play into its superiority in contrast to `ilm?

Of course, there are alot of nuances involved in this discussion and details that need to be spelled out even before addressing such a question.]





Filed under General, `Aqida

9 responses to “What Is Superior: Knowledge Or Reason?

  1. Pingback: What Is Superior? Knowledge? Or Reason? at Ijtema

  2. Omar

    Ibn Hajar’s position is also the standard Ash’ari position as I have learned from my teachers. The Ash’aris fully agree with the Maturidis that the existence of Allah can be found through reason alone as the Qur’an clearly gives proofs for this. The difference is that the Maturidis say that this fact makes those who have been unreached by the message divinely responsible, while the Ash’aris say there is no divine responsibility on the one who was unreached by the message.

  3. lotusnpearls

    Dear Salman…..Do you know of any Sufi groups in Toronto? Can you email me the information or you can post it here. I am interested in learning more about the Sufi Shaykhs. I am not sure, but from what I have read, you are in the US.

    I apologize for being off track on the above post.


  4. abd al-hakim

    Assalaamu a’laikum,

    Another nuance is how the Hanafi madhab stands apart from the others in placing a greater emphasis on ra’y (reasoning). Depending on one’s perspective, it might be argued that the prevalence of Hanafi followers in the ummah, is an indication of the triumph of ra’y. It could also be argued that the prevalence of so many leading scholars from the Shaf’i madhab, is an indication of the triumph of ilm, over ra’y/aql.

    But perhaps to say all this, is its own can of worms! Just sharing my amateur observations…

  5. Omar, let me make sure I read that correctly: The Asha’ris agree with the Maturidis on the ability of the ‘aql to ascertain the existence of God?
    I thought the Ash’aris believed it is necessary for God to send messengers so that we may know the truth.
    Correct me if I’m wrong.

  6. .


    Can you email me please.


  7. salamu `alaykum

    Sidi `Abd al Hakim: I would disagree somewhat with your analogy. Contrasting ray to `aql is, in my opinion, not sound. This is mainly because ray is never employed independently of the texts and is thus intimately linked to naql.

    This is not the case with `aql, which purely relates to one’s independent reasoning capacity. Thus, Maulana Thanawi states in one of his work that the establishment of tawhid is achievable through reason (`aql) and does not require textual establishment (naql).

    Juhah: I believe both the Ash`aris and Maturidis consider reason to be capable of establishing the existence of God. What they differ on is whether this makes one morally accountable even without the sending of a messenger. The Ash`aris say no whereas the Maturidis say yes. The latter state that the verse “We do not punish until we send a messenger” is the hikma of God – and the hikma is never binding upon Him.


  8. This is an interesting discussion. Surely reason cannot exist without knowledge and that is where it derives from? Since reasoning devoid of knowledge is like taking a stab in the dark, its not upheld or has a foundation from which to build on.

    Interesting. Thanks for this Salman!

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