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Religion, logic and reason

Kassim Ahmad


Is it possible for religion to dwell in the same world as logic and reason? For many people, believers as well as atheists, it is not possible, because religion demands faith, while logic and reason dwell in a lawful rational world. This matter has divided mankind into two camps: the religious that either follows the religion of their ancestors uncritically, or the fanatics who would kill to defend and promote their religion blindly; and those who reject religion and the existence of God, i.e. the atheists. However, there exists another group which accepts religion and the existence of God, while at the same time, equally accepting logic and reason. They are the monotheists, or followers of the religion of unity. In the Quran, they are called mukmin or believers (we would prefer the term ‘affirmers’), i.e. they affirm the existence of God, and muslim, i.e. submitters to the monotheistic system of the religion of unity.

The religious life has existed from very early times in human society, because the social character of that society demands it. Birth, marriage, death, sickness and, in fact, the daily activities of the community needed to be regulated by customs, which included religious beliefs and rituals, which defined their relations with the Divine. All religions embrace matters regarding belief in one god, or many gods, with defined powers, and the rituals of how humans appease him or them, how to supplicate his or their help so that their supplication is met with approval, as well as the beliefs in rewards and punishments and in afterlife.

Due to the limitations as well as the evolutionary character of his knowledge, human beings lack knowledge about many things, especially about the future. For example, the afterlife to him is the “unseen” world, or the invisible world until that world comes into being, or manifests itself. So is God invisible, until such time as He chooses to manifest Himself. So, these worlds though invisible now are going to be visible at some future time, and are therefore not inconsistent with a logical and rational order. Indeed, this Universe becomes irrational, if there was no Power that creates and guides it, that Power, whom we call God, being Power, is, ipso facto, Self-Existent. So is afterlife a logical necessity as a continuation of the present life. For that reason, belief, or, better termed, affirmation of the existence of afterlife and the existence of God, far from being illogical and irrational, is fully logical and rational.

Be it as it may, we must admit that many things in all religions take on the character of myths: the Greek gods of Olympus, the myriad Hindu gods, the myth of the world being supported on horns of a bull; the myth of the Javanese Ratu Adil (the awaited Queen of Justice) and kindred Judeo-Christian and Muslim beliefs in the coming of a Leader or Messiah and the Second Coming of Christ at the “End Times” to bring about a world of justice. However, all these myths have either cleared up or will clear up with the advance of knowledge. There is no mysticism about the coming of a just world. We do not need a Messiah to bring it about. Man is the messiah. It will be the result of his long, persistent, recurring, developing, widening and deepening high endeavour. It will come into being as certainly as the day follows the night.

At this early juncture in our essay, it should be noted that religions group themselves into two major categories. Firstly, the heavenly religions of divine revelation, such as revealed to Moses (later became Judaism), Jesus (later became Christianity, and Muhammad (Islam of Muhammad’s time later to become Sunnism and Shi’ism) – the Abrahimic Tradition. Hinduism and some other major religions might also be included in this category, but coming outside the Abrahimic Tradition. Secondly, the non-heavenly nature-religions, such as animism, shamanism and the like. The first category is the religion based on the belief in One God, or monotheism, or the religion of unity. The second category includes beliefs based on many gods, or many spiritual powers.

Although Judaism and Christianity originated from the monotheistic faith of Abraham, after about three hundred years, beliefs alien to monotheism crept in and became part of the religions. The same thing happened to the Islam of Prophet Muhammad. (It should be noted that the religions brought by Abraham, Moses and Jesus was essentially the same monotheistic religion of Islam but historically suited to their times.) This perfected Islam of Muhammad has also changed, just as the religions of Judaism, Christianity and others. That is why it is acceptable to say believers from among the Jews, Christians, Hindus and others, including Muslims, implying that the majority of them have become disbelievers.

However, the Christians had their religious Reformation in the 16th Century aimed at cleansing the religion from the corrupt practices of the Catholic Church, especially the Papacy. The results of this reformative movement were the separation of Church and State, freeing the European mind from the oppressive clutches of the Church, limiting the Pope’s and the Church’s powers to religious and moral issues only, and the introduction of secularism into Europeans life. For the Muslim world, modernist reforms began with the modernization movement of Jamaluddin al-Afghani (1839-1897) and Sheikh Muhammad Abduh (1849- 1905), which, after more than a hundred years, achieved limited success in legal and educational fields. Rather, it may be said that the orthodox groups have increased their influence in Muslim societies almost everywhere since the revolutionary victory of the Iranian religious class in 1979. In Malaysia, the liberal, in fact, progressive methodologies applied by the Government to circumvent religious orthodoxy (“good values” or “Islamic values”, under Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohammad, and “Civilizational Islam” under Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi), have succeeded to bring in limited modernization into the life of Muslims, but whether this methodology will achieve total success, and how long it can contain the increasing onslaught of the religious orthodoxy, we cannot say. We would rather vote for a fail-safe methodology, i.e. calling the Muslims and the people back to the teachings of Quran, wisely and liberally interpreted, as Prophet Muhammad himself did.

However, we must distinguish between Islam and other religions. Islam is different from other religions in the following ways. The scripture brought by Muhammad, the Holy Quran, describes Islam as a natural religion sanctioned by God, whereas other revealed religions, including Judaism and Christianity have changed to incorporate polytheistic elements into their theologies and practices. Islam, as taught in the Quran, remains a pure and strict monotheism. Although Islam affirms the existence of invisible worlds, such as the existence of God and the Day of Judgement and requires its adherents to believe in them, such beliefs are truthful and not contrary to logic and reason. On the other hand, beliefs other false powers, like the devil and its like, are not necessary, and are, in fact, prohibited.

So, Islam, as represented by the Quran, is not an anti-logical and anti-rational religion. It is completely coherent with reason. We shall investigate these characteristics of Islam further.

Firstly, its monotheism is simple, clear, definite and pure. It is based solely on the belief in One God, unadulterated with beliefs in other gods than This One God. Affirmation in this One God is extremely important. Hence the affirmative sentence begins with a clear and total denial and refutation of other gods (la ‘ilah=tiada tuhan), and only after this denial that affirmation is made in this One and Only God. This means that man is free from all false powers, i.e. that he is free from all forms of idolatry that have been set up by society to subjugate man, individually and collectively. At that moment, man is sovereign, able to decide his own destiny.

This chief characteristic of Islamic monotheism is further strengthened by the concept of man as khalifah, God’s vicegerent, mentioned in the Quran. One of the meanings of the Arabic word ‘khalifah’ is ruler. Man, individually and collectively, is a ruler. He rules over himself and his society, by the authority of God. Although this freedom is precarious and fraught with danger, it is given, indicating God’s faith in the goodness and capability of man, the crown of His creation.

Man is also capable of knowledge, having been taught by God Himself, thus indicating that the world is knowable. He is superior even to the angels, having the faculty of reason and intelligence. His superiority to the angels is symbolized in the Divine order to the angels to prostrate to Adam. That is because at the time of his creation, God breathed into him a breath of His soul and subjected the whole of creation to man’s use. What tremendous potential power man has!

This vast concept of human sovereignty appears to contradict the vaster concept of Divine Sovereignty, the true source of all power in the Universe. How do we reconcile the two opposed concepts of power? We shall not deal with this problem here. We shall only take note of the effects of this power when Muhammad in 7th Century Arabia and his immediate followers in the next sixty years completely liberated Arabia from idolatry and the evil effects of this idolatry and to make almost unknown Arabia into a world power above the two world powers of that time, The Roman Empire and the Persian Empire, and to forge a literary and scientific civilization that lighted the way to the European Renaissance out of its long Dark Ages.

But when the Muslims themselves deviated, against the clear warnings of the Quran after some 250-300 years, and went back their old ways of idolatry and tribalism: the rise of a so-called ulama class, arbitrating their religion, like the Jews and the Christians before; the introduction of a new flawed source, apart from the Quran, the so-called Hadith/ Sunnah; the breakup into sects and fixed schools of legal thought; and the emergence of a new form of escapism from active life, a mysticism called tasawwuf (because of the crass materialism that had developed in official society soon after Muhammad’s death and the fear to confront it), neither taught in the Quran, nor illustrated in the Prophet’s life, their fate was sealed. They fell. Europe, after going through a Religious Reformation, and the new Republic of the United States, an extension and outgrowth of Europe, replaced them to become the new torch-bearers of human progress.

As stated in the Quran, idolatry is yet the greatest mistake a human being or a human society can commit. We are strictly forbidden by God to idolize any human beings, particularly prophets and leaders. Do we realize that we have, perhaps unconsciously and inadvertently, idolized Prophet Muhammad? Setting up Hadith/Sunnah as a source on par with the Quran, and, some time, even above the Quran, thorough the methodology of “Hadith interpreting the Quran” is a subtle form of this idolatry. The setting up of the ulama class to arbitrate our religion for us is another form of idolatry, prohibited to us by God. We have merely imitated the Christians and the Jews!

A Malay proverb requires us to retrace our steps should we lose our way. This is age-old wisdom that is proper for us to follow now, given the mistakes we have made. The beginning of our journey is God and the Quran. We should go back to the Quran to find our bearings. We should be grateful to God that we still have this incomparable book with us, the only scripture whose authenticity is guaranteed by God Himself.

We are living in a world defined and developed by science and technology. We should realize that the Quran itself opened the way for the Age of Science and Technology in human history. As the Pakistani philosopher, Muhammad Iqbal, pointed out, it was Muhammad who began the scientific age. Malaysia is lucky to have leaders who encourage scientific developments in our country. We should proceed more firmly and completely along this line, while deepening our understanding of this Book to guide us into the near and far future.

Religion, science and philosophy are three fundamental areas of knowledge. Religion deals with the spiritual world; science the physical; and philosophy the mental. As the Universe is one integrated whole, so are these three branches of knowledge of the Universe one integrated whole and there is no contradictions among them. The contradictions that we seen in the past are due to our lack of knowledge as well as our mistaken interpretation of that knowledge. But the future, as Philosophy Professor Errol E. Harris has stated, points to rapproachement between religion and science.

Science cannot reject the existence of God, because, to borrow Prof. Harris’s most apt phraseology, “the existence of God is the absolute and most indispensable presupposition of science”, which cannot operate in a physical world that does not run on a lawful and rational basis. Religion cannot reject science, which studies the operation of this physical world that is the manifestation of God. Likewise, philosophy cannot reject the existence of God, because logic and reason which is the methodology of philosophy is also the methodology of the being and becoming of this world. The unification of these three fundamental categories of knowledge will, no doubt, usher in a new era in man’s history to greatly accelerate man’s scientific and technological advancement and take him nearer to his age-old dream of complete universal happiness, that, in the religious terminology, is Paradise.


1) Mazlan Nordin, in his weekly column in Mingguan Malaysia (20 May, 2007, p. 9), reported a current debate in the West over a best-selling book by Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, in which the author states that faith without proofs is extremely dangerous. Some philosophers argue that questions regarding the origin, nature and purpose of existence are pseudo-problems and meaningless. The Universe just exists.( See Errol E. Harris, Nature, Mind and Modern Science, George Allen & Unwin, London, 1954; p. 3.)

2) The religion brought by Jesus Christ changed at the Council of Nicaea (325 A.D.) where the so-called Nicene Creed, based on the Trinity, was first promulgated. The rebellion of the Jews is well-known. They refused to believe in Prophet Muhammad, although his advent was foretold in the Torah, simply because he was not a Jew, and plotted to kill him. They also attempted to kill Jesus Christ.

3) Several Quranic verses state so. One of them goes like this: “Surely, those who believe, those who are Jewish, the Christians and the Sab’in -- anyone who believes in God and the Last Day, and leads a righteous life – they will receive their recompense from their Lord. They have nothing to fear, nor will they grieve.” (2: 62) Sab’in means those religious followers outside the Abrahimic Tradition.

4) The question of apostasy characterizes true Islam from deviated Islam. The Quran is the first book to enunciated clearly the principle of the freedom of conscience thirteen centuries ahead of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 in a famous verse that goes, “There shall be no compulsion in religion: the right way is now distinct from the wrong way. Anyone who denounces the devil and believes in God has grasped the strongest bond, one that never breaks. God is Hearer, Omniscient.” (2: 256). Death penalty for apostasy, taken from the Bible (see Deuteronomy, 22: 20-30), since adopted for this deviated Islam, comes through a Prophetic tradition, obviously a fabricated tradition.

5) In this age, we need a scientific methodology of tafsir. The classical methodology of “Hadith interpreting the Quran” is clearly time-bound and inadequate. It needs to be updated to keep up with the advance of knowledge. See Kassim Ahmad, Hadis – Jawapan Kepada Pengkritik, media Indah, Kuala Lumpur, 1992; Chapter 7.

6) “Therefore, you shall devote yourself to the religion of strict monotheism. Such is the natural instinct placed into the people by God. Such creation of God will never change. This is the perfect religion, but most people do not know.” (Quran, 30: 30) “Would they seek other than God’s religion when everything in the heavens and on earth has submitted to Him, willingly or unwillingly? To Him they will all return.” (Quran, 3: 83)

7) “The only religion approved by God is Islam.” (Quran, 3: 19)

8) See note 2 above.

9) The Islam of Muhammad’s time remained as it was originally revealed, for its scripture, the Quran, is divinely protected from human corruption. “No falsehood could enter it, in the past or in the future, a revelation from the Most Wise, Praiseworthy.” This divine protection lies in its closely-and- mathematically-structured composition, known as Code 19. See Rashad Khalifa, The Computer Speaks: God’s Message to the World, Islamic Productions, Tucson, Arizona, U.S.A., 1981 and Quran: Visual Presentation of the Miracle, Islamic Productions, Tucson, Arizona, U.S.A., 1982. See also his English translataion of the Quran, Quran – The Final Testament, Islamic Productions, Tucson, Arizona, U.S.A, 1989.

10) “When you read the Quran, seek refuge in God from the rejected devil. He has no power over those who believe and trust in their Lord. His power is limited to those who ally themselves with him and fall into idol worship.” (Quran, 16: 98-100)

11) See Quran, 2: 30-34.

12) See verse 72 of Chapter 33 where God symbolically offered freedom and responsibility to all His creation to take on the administration of the Universe. All refused out of fear; only man dares to accept the offer, and God mildly chides him for it. At another place, God prohibits him from approaching the Tree of Knowledge and Freedom, for the danger implicit in this freedom. (Quran, 2: 35) But, again, God has already showed his faith and trust in man when he overruled the angels’s opposition to man’s creation as ruler, saying that He knew better. (Quran, 2: 30)

13) See Quran, 2: 31-33.

14) “He committed in your service everything in the heavens and on earth (Quran, 45: 13)

15) “No one possesses power except God.” (Quran, 18: 39)

16) See Phillip K. Hitti, History of the Arabs, Macmillan Press, London, 1970; p. 142. See also A Concise History of Islam, Djambatan, Amsterdam, 1957; pp.6-11.

17) As an example, see verse 25: 31 which states that God causes enemies from among the criminals to foil the message of every prophet to test the extent of believers’ commitment.

18) See Kassim Ahmad, Hadis – Satu Penilaian Semula, Media Intelek, Petaling Jaya, Malaysia, 1986 and Delima Umat Islam – Antara Hadis dan Quran, Forum Iqra’, Penang, Malaysia, 2002.

19) “… We sent Jesus the son of Mary and gave him the Gospel and We placed in the hearts of his followers kindness and mercy. But they invented hermitism which We never decreed for them. All We asked them to do was to uphold the commandments approved by God. But they did not uphold the message, as they should have. Consequently, We gave those who believed among them their recompense, while many of them were wicked.” (Quran, 57: 27) A Prophetic tradition, reported by Bukhari and Muslim, states the same thing: “Once after the Prophet delivered a lecture on the truth of Judgement Day and the judgement before God, a number of Companions met at the house of ‘Uthman bin Maz’um and stated their resolve to fast every day, to pray every night, to refrain from sleeping on beds, to refrain from eating meat and fat, refrain from having contact with women and avoid the use of perfumes; to wear only coarse clothes, and in general to reject the world. When the Prophet heard this, he said to them: ‘I have not been ordered by God to adopt this life-style. Your body has rights over you: so, fast, but also cease from fasting; pray at night, but also sleep. I fast, but I also do not fast. I take meat and fat, and I also marry. Whoever turns away from my way, is not of me.” Sufism has great names as their proponents, including “the greatest Master” Ibni Al-Arabi (1165-1240 A.D.) in classical times, and the famous Iranian scholar, Seyyed Hossein Nasr, in modern times. We shall reserve discussion of this important topic for later. Here we are content to leave the matter with the two quotations from the Quran and the Prophetic tradition.

20) Replacement of unfit species by fitter ones is a natural law. The Quran states it in many places, one of them thus, “If you turn away, I have delivered to you what I was sent with. My Lord will substitute other people in your place; you cannot harm Him in the least. My Lord is in control of all things.” (11: 57)

21) “God does not forgive the idolization of any idols besides Him, and He forgives all lesser offences for whomsoever He wills. Anyone who idolizes any idol besides God has gone far astray.” (Quran, 4: 116) Regarding those who idolize prophets and religious leaders, the Quran states, “They will say, ‘Our Lord, we obeyed our masters and elders and they misguided us.’” (33: 67). There exists one and only verse in the Quran referring to those who set up two gods: “God says, ‘Do not set us two gods; there is only one God. You shall reverence Him.’” (16: 51) Since we know those who believe in three gods (Trinity) and in many gods, which religious community does this verse allude to?

22) See note 8 above.

23) The very first revelation to Muhammad was the command to read in God’s name. See Quran, 96: 1-5.

24) In his book, The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, Sh. Muhammad Ashraf, Lahore, 1958, Iqbal states: “… the Prophet of Islam seems to stand between the ancient and the modern world. In so far as the source of his revelation is concerned, he belongs to the ancient; in so far as the spirit of his revelation is concerned, he belongs to the modern world. In him life discovers other sources of knowledge suitable to its new direction. The birth of Islam … is the birth of the inductive intellect. In Islam prophecy reaches its perfection in discovering the needs of its own abolition. This involves the keen perception that life cannot forever be kept in leading strings; that in order to achieve full self-consciousness man must finally be thrown back on its own resources…” (p. 126). The English historian of culture, Robert Briffault, in his extremely perceptive book, The making of Humanity, Islamic Book Foundation, Lahore, 1819, states: “ … The debt of our science to that of the Arabs does not consist in startling discoveries or revolutionary theories; science owes a great deal more to Arab culture, it owes its existence. The ancient world was, as we saw, pre-scientific. The astronomy and mathematics of the Greeks were a foreign importation never thoroughly acclimatized in Greek culture. The Greeks systematized, generalized and theorized, but patient ways of investigation, the accumulation of positive knowledge, the minute methods of science, detailed and prolonged observation, experimental inquiry, were altogether alien to the Greek temperament. Only in Hellenistic Alexandria was any approach to scientific work conducted in the ancient classical world. What we call science arose in Europe as a result of a new spirit of inquiry, of new methods of investigation, of the method of experiment, observation, measurement, of the development od mathematics in a form unknown to the Greeks. That spirit and those methods were introduced into the European world by the Arabs.” (p. 191)

25) Professor Errol E. Harris, in his excellent book, Nature, Mind and Modern Science, George Allen & Unwin, London, 1954. states: “… The same tendency, owing to the divine character of the higher activities of the mind, leads to a denial by some of the objectivity (i.e.the reality) of values and even of the existence of thinking itself. But though God transcends the process of deveiopemnt – as must be the case if He is its fulfillment – He is also necessarily immanent in and throughout the process – or else it could not be a process of development at all. Consequently, the existence of God is the absolute and most indispensable presupposition of science, and so far from there being an alienation of science from religion in the modern era, there is and can only be the closest rapprochement between them if both scientific and religious concepts are rightly interpreted Such alienation as there has been was due to the influence of empiricism, which created for itself a nature vacuously actual and banished from its purview the mind as a ghost in which only the superstitious could believe. God had then to be imagined as the Supreme Ghost and all things religious as ghostly – and therefore non-existent. But empiricism, though it persists, is a relic of the past without scientific basis, and has itself proved to be, in this age of evolution, relativity and quanta, an outworn and outmoded superstition.” (p. 452)

* An English rendering of the original essay in Malay entitled “Agama, Logik dan Akal”, (not an exact translation) published in the blog on 27 May, 2007 – K.A.

Kassim Ahmad is a Malaysian freelance writer. He can be contacted at His website is



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