Theory of Understanding: Islam vs. Modernism by M.A.Siddiqui

Philosophy is based on the axioms of reason in which man tries to use rationality and reason to answer questions. A researcher explores the different frontiers of knowledge and tries to fulfills the basic human desire to find the unknown. This has resulted in many branches of the field, one of which is the Philosophy of Religion.

Philosophy of Religion is the subfield of Philosophy devoted to the study of religious phenomena. The central effort of the Religious scholars has been to try and understand the different questions in religion and answer them rationally. One of the basic factors in the field of Philosophy is that of “Reason”. But Reason, as source of knowledge has not been followed by the Islamic point of view. Rather, it is the Modernist approach that has reason as its mainstay.


Epistemology can be simply defined as the “source of knowledge” and its study, and is concerned with the nature, sources and limits of knowledge. Thus, for the purposes of this course, Philosophy of Islam, this definition will suffice. I will try and show how Islamic Epistemology (Revelation) compares with the modern world’s Epistemology (Reason).


The main source of knowledge in Islam is revelation, which has been conveyed through the Quran. The main theme of the Quran and all previous revelations has been the absolute oneness of Allah, the creator and sustainer of the universe, who is without partner(s). Allah (Glory be to Him) did not beget nor was He begotten. The role of Reason comes after that of revelation. This is the basic point of difference that sets Islam apart from the other, more modern views.
There is no compulsion in religion. The right direction is henceforth distinct from error. And he who rejecteth false deities and believeth in Allah hath grasped a firm handhold which will never break. Allah is Hearer, Knower. (SURAH 2, AYAT 255-56)

Thus, in Islam, there is no argument of reason that is taken to be of more substance or value than the scriptures of revelation. A muslim by definition believes in the revelation, the oneness of Almighty Allah and does not for one moment, believe that reason has anything to do with Islam being right or wrong. Whatever is there in the Quran, is right. As put by our teacher, it is not that Allah does the right things. It is that whatever Allah does, is and becomes right.

Islam requires its believers to accept things as they are conveyed to them without any questions. The very first verses of the Holy Quran urge man to read and explore the frontiers of knowledge:
“ Read, Read in the name of Thy Lord, who Created man from a Clot of Blood! Read and Your Lord is most Bountiful!! Who Taught by pen! Taught man what he knew not!!”
Faith in Islam is thus firm belief arising out of knowledge and conviction. This faith invariably leads man to a life of obedience and submission is known as Muslim. It is the indispensable essential; rather the very starting point without which no beginning can be made.
Thus Islam requires that a muslim believes in the Quranic Revelations and the Hadiths. His attributes can be traced everywhere in his work. It is mentioned in the Holy Quran:
Lo! your Lord is Allah Who created the heavens and the earth in six Days, then mounted He the Throne. He covereth the night with the day, which is in haste to follow it, and hath made the sun and the moon and the stars subservient by His command. His verily is all creation and commandment Blessed be Allah, the Lord of the Worlds!
O mankind! Call upon your Lord humbly and in secret. Lo! He loveth not aggressors. Work not confusion in the earth after the fair ordering (thereof), and call on Him in fear and hope. Lo! the mercy of Allah is nigh unto the good. (SURAH 7, AYAT 54-56)


Islamic knowledge is based on revelation and requires the person to submit his Rationality and Reason before the will and submission of God. Rationality and reason are used in Islam to interpret religion and to confront the every day troubles that a Muslim faces in his real life.
Thus, the role of reason in Islam is that of subservience to the more powerful role of Revelation. God tells a Muslim what to do in the Quran, and a Muslim is expected to believe and have Faith in it. By doing so, a Muslim accepts that there are some things above Reason too.
This implies that Revelation is sometimes above the scope of Reason too. Thus, there are many things that reason cannot understand, simply because it is not Reason’s place to understand them.

The supremacy of the Quran and the Sunnah over the other sources can be illustrated from many incidents. For example, when the Holy Prophet appointed Maaz ibn Jabal as the Governor and judge in Yemen, he asked him:

According to what will you judge?
According to the Book of Allah
And if you find nothing therein?
According to the Sunnah of the Holy Prophet
And if you find nothing therein?
Then I will exert myself to form my own judgment

The Holy Prophet’s response was:
Praise to be Allah Who has guided the messenger of His Prophet to that which pleases His Prophet.
This clearly shows the role of reason to be of secondary importance in Islam to that of the role of Revelation, or the Holy Quran.


The ideal in Islam is to please God and to submit your will before the requirements of God. The Goals should be so designed that we satisfy our ideal. The main requirement in Islam is that a person should live his or her life according to the ways specified in the Shariah.

The way in which Man can please his God is to indulge in IBADAT. The basic meaning of Ibadat is taken from IBD, which means “to serve”, or “submission”. Thus, when man attains the freedom to be a slave to God, or to perform Ibadat, he then pleases God and thus attains his destiny.

O mankind! Worship your Lord, Who hath created you and those before you, so that ye may ward off (evil). Who hath appointed the earth a resting-place for you, and the sky a canopy; and causeth water to pour down from the sky, thereby producing fruits as food for you. And do not set up rivals to Allah when ye know (better). And if ye are in doubt concerning that which We reveal unto Our slave (Muhammad), then produce a sura or the like thereof, and call your witnesses beside Allah if ye are truthful. And if ye do it not and ye can never do it–then guard yourselves against the fire prepared for disbelievers, whose fuel is of men and stones. (SURAH 2, AYAT 21-24)

Thus the ideal in Islam is not Freedom as an end, as it is in Modernist discourse, but rather, freedom as a means to perform Ibadat, to serve God, to please Him.


In the case of Modernism, the source of knowledge in the Modern era is “Reason”. After the renaissance and the reformist eras, the belief in revelation faltered and more and more “Rational” thinkers cropped up. All the major discoveries in the eyes of materialistic man were made as a result of this Rational and Reasoned thinking and thus, Reason was chosen as the source of all knowledge.

So much belief was put in the faculty of Human Reason that it was said at one time that Reason can defeat death also.

As for the ideals of Modernism, there has been one supreme ideal. The quest for “Freedom”. Thus here, the concept of Freedom is taken as an end in itself, not a means to an end, as is taken in Islam. Due to this reason there has been more Individualistic tendency in the west as opposed to he east, or the Muslim world, which still has a societal or “ummat” view of themselves.


Thus, the basic comparative difference between Islamic and Modernist approaches is the role of Reason and Freedom. In Islam, Reason is taken to be subservient to Revelation as a source of knowledge, whereas in Modernist thinking the role of Reason is the primary one. As far as Freedom is concerned, Islam treats it as a means, not an end. In modernism, Freedom is an end in itself. These are the core differences between the two approaches.

References: Many articles taken from the Internet, which will be attached to the main report. The most common source is the website

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