Confusion harmful to Muslims


True understanding of the Quran cannot be possessed by the one with neither intellectual nor spiritual prerequisites, let alone the one who is impudent and insolent of religion.

Confusion and error in knowledge of Islam, as a religion and a civilization, are more harmful to Muslims than mere ignorance.

The mind which is ignorant is simply in a state of privation of knowledge.

Being ignorant in the simple sense of lacking in knowledge means one does not pretend to know. Here, one neither knows nor fancies that one knows religious truths.

In other words, an acknowledged ignorance refers to one’s explicit recognition that one does not know the matter at issue – in this case knowledge of Islam and Islamic worldview.

While to seek knowledge is a religious obligation, acknowledging ignorance is often the indispensable step in the one who is sincerely seeking knowledge.

Indeed, it is easier to teach a person who is aware of his ignorance than a person in error, who is unaware of, or refuses to recognise, that his understanding of the matter is warped.

This is because although the latter is in error about a certain matter, he does not acknowledge his ignorance of it. Satisfied with his condition, the confused person thinks and claims he knows, whereas in reality he does not know and only has a clouded mind.

He is thus unwilling to learn the truth as he thinks himself the equal of those who truly know. He resists the teacher, and glories in being blind to the truth.

How is he going to be cured of ignorance if he does not want to remedy it?

Intellectual arrogance and obstinacy stem from confusion and error in knowledge, leading to the tendency to challenge, belittle, and reject legitimate views of knowledgeable experts on Islam, its worldview, history, traditional culture, literature and language, which give identity to, and consolidate, the Muslim community.

Combined with a false presumption, error in knowledge manifests not just the mind’s failure to know but also its fallibility, misconception, misjudgment and excesses.

This is what we call “learned confusion”, where stubbornness and stupidity are twins.

The mind’s efforts in seeking true knowledge face various epistemological stumbling blocks. Since these pitfalls function as the causes of confusion, we must be really clear of those sources of error, which must be avoided for us to steer clear of error and confusion.

As Dr Syed Muhammad Naquib al-Attas remarked when analysing Muslim Dilemma, we must first come to grips with the rules for the proper adab or conduct of seeking knowledge of religious truths, of Islam and its worldview, not only as a religion, but also as a civilization.

No true knowledge can be instilled without the aforementioned precondition. Consider the following example.

The Quran is the Fountain of all true knowledge. Nevertheless, it cannot even be touched save through the prescribed adab of ritual purity (al-Waqi‘ah, 56: 79).

This alludes to the fact that true understanding of the Quran or Knowledge cannot be possessed by the one with neither intellectual nor spiritual prerequisites, let alone the one who is impudent and insolent of religion.

Hence, as there is a beneficial aspect of the Quran for the believer that will increase his faith, there is also its harmful aspect for the one who studies it with insincerity of purpose. That will add atrocity to their evil (al-Baqarah, 2: 26).

Beneficial aspects of the Quran is for the reader who has respect for the All-Merciful, learning with a heart turned in devotion to Him (qalb munib), lending ear with a conscious mind, with an intention to submit to the truth and goodness.

In other words, the Quranic message is for one who has the heart to understand or ears to hear with.

As has been cautioned, “it is not the eyes that are blind, but blind are the hearts within the breast” (Qaf, 50: 33, 37; al-Hajj, 22: 46).

While the Quran always rightly guides all humankind, its reader’s spiritual and intellectual receptivity to its guidance, or the lack of such receptivity, leads to sound or faulty understanding, respectively.

Meanwhile, one’s level of profundity is dependent upon how prepared one is as far as the training, discipline and development of the following are concerned: powers of reasoning; capacities of sense experience; as well as progress of inner self in the course of faith and practical devotion to God’s clearly defined system of Revealed Law.

Just as seeking knowledge is obligatory, it is also a duty incumbent upon Muslims to have a proper attitude towards a legitimate authority or knowledgeable expert.

By “a proper attitude”, we mean having humility in accepting knowledge-based views on Islam and its vision of reality and truth.

By “legitimate authority”, we are referring to those who are knowledgeable according to the criterion of keen intelligence, profound insight, intellectual integrity, and virtue.

This includes the past erudite scholars of Islam, from whom we inherit volumes of original analyses and interpretations of Islam and its worldview, which function to open our minds and equip us for the future.