The Vocabulary of Thinking in the Qur'anThe Qur'an uses a number of terms that are closely related to reason/intellect and thinking. Tafakkur, "thinking", qalb, "heart", fu'ad, "inner heart", and lubb, literally "seed" meaning "essential heart", are among these terms and each corresponds to a different aspect of the act of perceiving, thinking and reflecting. There are also other terms which fall within the same semantic field of ‘aql: ‘ilm, "knowledge"; fahm, "understanding"; fiqh, "perceiving/understanding"; idrak, "grasping"; shu'ur, "consciousness"; burhan, "demonstration"; hujjah, "evidence"; bayyinah, "clear evidence"; sultan, "over-whelming evidence", furqan, "discernment"; tadabbur, "contemplation"; nutq, "talking/ thinking"; hukm, "judgment"; hikmah, "wisdom"; and dhikr, "remembrance/ invocation".
The Qur'anic usage of these terms, whose full exposition requires a separate study, establishes a context of integrated thinking in which our encounter with reality unveils different aspects of the all-inclusive reality of existence. More importantly, it leads to a mode of thinking that combines empirical observation, rational analysis, moral judgment and spiritual refinement.
This rich vocabulary points to the wholeness of perceiving and thinking. in contrast to categorical distinctions between sensate perception and conceptual analysis, our natural or ‘first-order' encounter with things takes place as a unitary experience. in perceiving things, our sense organs and reason work together. The sharp distinctions between sensate qualities, which correspond to the physical-material world, and intellectual notions, which correspond to the world of the mind, are reflections of the Cartesian bifurcation between res extensa and res cogitans and hardly give us an accurate description of the actual act of perceiving and understanding. These categories belong to the ‘second-order' reflection upon reality whereby we make distinctions between subject and object, the knower and the known, the perceiver and the perceived, mental and material, etc. Our first-order encounter with the world takes place in a different context.
The wholeness of our epistemic experience of things stems from the wholeness of existence. Knowing as encounter means that we stand before our object of knowledge. This puts us in a special relationship with the reality of things in that we respond to it through our epistemic faculties rather than create its meaning in a a self-referential way. This meaning of knowing through reason is reflected in one of the root meanings of the word ‘aql, which is to tie, to link, to relate. Reason ties us to the truth and thus opens up a new horizon beyond the ordinary chain of causes. In a horizontal way, the human reason moves between and across facts and concepts and links them to one another. In a vertical way, it links what is below to what is higher. The Qur'an insists on the convergence of the two axes of causality: horizontal, which regulates the world of physical causes, and vertical, which introduces the ‘Divine command' (amr) into the natural realm. There is no contradiction between the two but they follow different rules. The day and night follow each other as part of the natural order in which we live and there is no breaking of this rule. But also "when God wants something to happen, He says to it "be" and it is" (Yasin 36:82). Each realm of existence requires a different type of thinking.
The elaborate vocabulary of sensing, reasoning and thinking which the Qur'an employs is necessitated by the nature of reality itself. A multilayered and multidimensional reality cannot be perceived by a single cognitive method. It requires a larger toolset of conceptual abilities. At this point, the Qur'an speaks of ‘alam al-ghayb, "the world of the invisible" and ‘alam al-shahadah, "the world of the visible". The invisible world refers to that realm of existence known to God alone. God has given intimations of this world but no comprehensive knowledge of it has been made available.
While not accessible to the human experience, the invisible world guides our encounter with the world of visible existence and thus functions as a signpost for our conceptual analyses and moral judgments. In a metaphysical and moral sense, it regulates the affairs of the visible world in which we live. What is striking about the Qur'anic notion of the ‘visible world' is that a proper perception of it is based on an experience of ‘witnessing' (mushahadah), which is different from looking and seeing. Witnessing means standing before that which presents itself. It entails looking and seeing but also attending to. it is more like the experience of looking at a landscape and having a gestalt perception of it. In contemplating a landscape, we move between parts and whole and each time discover a new relationship.
In this sense, our encounter with the reality of things is a rational and conceptual process but takes place within a larger context of intelligibility and significance that goes beyond purely logical and discursive thinking. Concepts, which are not created in vacuum, correspond to different aspects of reality and emerge in our encounter with reality, which the Qur'an describes as " bearing witness to the truth". Thus we ‘see' the light, ‘touch' the wood, ‘smell' the rose, ‘taste' the cherry, ‘perceive' the dimension, ‘think of' the infinitude, ‘have consciousness of' the nearness of the water, ‘discern' between a thing and its shadow, ‘understand' a command, ‘respond' to a call, ‘submit' to truth, ‘accept' the evidence, ‘contemplate' the meaning of life, and so on. Each of these epistemic acts says something about our mental and conceptual abilities with which we understand the world. But more importantly, they correspond to something outside us and expand the horizon of our subjectivity.