Issue 101 / September - October 2014
Faith, Wisdom, and Power
Question: What roles do faith, wisdom, and power play in the survival of a society?
Faith, especially in the form of religion, refers to a heavenly-inspired system that leads people to goodness, but on the condition that they believe wilfully.
Religion is a divine system or a corpus consisting of systems. The most eminent feature differentiating it from human systems is that it is ordained by God, based on scripture, the good example of the Messenger that it was revealed to, and on how scholars have interpreted both. Arriving at goodness by means of religion is an absolute blessing by God; yet every human contributes to it by his or her choices.
Wisdom, on the other hand, has been decribed in many forms. In the case of Islam, the Qur'an states that wisdom has been bestowed to the Prophet in addition to the Book.1 Because of this fact, many interpreters have said that wisdom and the Book are not one and the same. It is decreed in another ayah that, "whoever is granted the Wisdom has indeed been granted much good."2 Since the Prophet's sunnah - his traditions, including his words and silent approvals - specifies the general issues of the Book, generalizes the specific points, and restricts its absolute topics by particular conditions and clauses, it is a great and abundant fountain of goodness. Therefore, some hadith scholars thought it was the Sunnah that "Wisdom" was actually refering to. Besides, the details of daily prayers, fasting, and hajj were determined by the Sunnah.
At the same time, as pointed out by Bediuzzaman, wisdom has been interpreted as the attainment of certain truths of faith and the universe, which have been concealed behind material veils, through spiritual inspiration and discoveries. All we see are a door, some windows, and four walls around us; however, the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, decrees that, "I see what you do not see, and hear what you do not hear. The sky has resonated in such a way that you would laugh less and cry more if you saw what I see and knew what I know." In this regard, reaching the veiled knowledge about the realm behind the physical world has also been considered wisdom.
This cognisance may take place through intuition or an expansion of the imagination, or through divination or direct witness. Whatever we know through rational deduction and certainty of knowledge (ilm al-yaqin) is endorsed by seekers of truth - first inwardly, in their consciences, and then outwardly, in their practices. This is another sign of abundance of goodness.
However, some have heaped the meaning of philosophy upon wisdom. There is a conflictual history between Islamic scholars and positivist philosophers. The struggle of Islamic scholars like Imam Ghazzali against philosophical deviance has become legend. Scholars like Ghazzali and Bediuzzaman used reason, logic, and other methods of philosophy to contest philosophers; so, if their efforts will be considered a part of philosophy, then it is certainly within the domain of wisdom.
One dimension of this conflict had to do with the literalists who interpreted all commandments exclusively and conducted them without question, even though this may have led to contradictions with other rules. Philosophers reacted to this movement, yet drifted to another extreme, where they went so far as to deny the essentials of faith. What we consider "wisdom" would be one that embraces rationality and logic in accordance with positive sciences and humanities, but is also in line with the overall message of the scripture as understood and practiced by the Messenger.
Searching for an accord between laws in nature and the regulations and laws of human life, and sensing and eliciting the concordance between the divine message and universe, are also considered within the territories of wisdom. Such a search for harmony between these dynamics is a key for success and serenity, both in this world and in the life to come after death. The science of jurisprudence in Islam and its applicative branches may be regarded as a vital manifestation of this correspondence and union. This science has been successful because it has been open to analogical reasoning and interpretation. Under current conditions, where such reasoning is missing, it is impossible to govern even the smallest district in any country.
After religion and wisdom, comes power. Unless the laws of wisdom and principles of faith and state are equipped with power, everything shall remain on paper and cannot evoke any sort of influence on people. Without power, how can the wisdom in minds and souls, and the piles of books in the libraries, transform into daily practice? As a matter of fact, we have been witnessing that it is not transformed, since those representatives of brute force who have turned their backs on scientific knowledge and absolute truth, and believe that they can sort out everything by power, have not let it be so; and it seems that they will not, either. In this regard, if a nation does not attach as much importance to power as as it does to wisdom, much of the performance of that nation in the name of national and religious values shall be uncertain. Besides, all three elements of religion, wisdom, and power must work together and in alliance. Otherwise, power not guided by faith and wisdom shall be a mere tool of cruelty and suppression; wisdom without faith shall be a wheel of intrigue; and faith not supported by legitimate power shall become just a mere "issue of conscience." That is, the raison d'etre of faith and communicating it to people shall not be fully realized.
1 Surah Al-Baqarah, 2/129, 151, 231; Surah ├él-i Imr├ón, 3/164; Surah An-Nis├ó, 4/113; Surah Al-Jumu'ah, 62/2.
2 Surah Al-Baqarah, 2/269.