Rationality and Morality
The same intuitive thinking is at work in our moral choices. Since moral principles are self-evident in most cases, we know how we need to act in such situations. But is it enough to have a self-evident argument to be able to act virtuously?
Given the driving force of human emotions, even the correct use of reason alone cannot be sufficient to always make the right moral choices. The reason is that we have to combine reason and will, the two distinguishing features of being human, in order to act on what we believe. In contrast to Descartes who called the human person a "machine who thinks", we are also beings who will. Here ‘will' does not simply designate choosing one option or the other. It refers to our ability to make a choice from among available possibilities. But in an axiological sense, it means choosing truth over falsehood and good over evil. Reason and rationality in the broad sense discussed above guide our choices and form the content of our moral behavior. Rationality and morality thus go hand in hand because we are rational animals and moral beings at the same time.
In the Qur'an, this point is registered in the relationship between using reason and having a moral and spiritual awareness of God. The word taqwa, usually translated as consciousness and fear of God, literally means to protect and guard oneself against danger. In the Tradition, it refers to "protecting the soul from what afflicts it" ]. As explained in the Hadith, taqwa means having the majestic presence of God in one's heart by which to protect oneself against everything false, evil and ugly. In this sense, the conceptual meanings of ‘aql and taqwa converge: they both refer to our conscious effort to protect ourselves against the inhuman and immoral consequences of evildoing, injustice and oppression. Thus "the intelligent person is the one who has consciousness (taqwa) of his Lord and who reckons with his soul" [
This principle underlies the rational basis of choosing goodness over evil and virtue over vice. Reason has no problem with accepting ‘consciousness of God' (taqwa) as a moral and spiritual principle because it guides our moral choices. It is only by combining intelligibility, meaning and will that we fulfill our humanity as ‘rational animals'. Moral choices make sense not because simply they are our free choices but because they let us participate in the intelligible order of existence and thus enable us to go beyond ourselves and reach out to a larger reality.
According to the Islamic ethical tradition, upholding justice makes sense because justice (‘adl) means "putting things in their proper place". Likewise, opposing injustice is reasonable because injustice (zulm) means "putting things out of their place", i.e., destroying the order which gives meaning to things. An act is rational when it conforms to the reality of something and pays due attention to its proper place. It then makes perfect sense to protect oneself against the destructive forces of selfishness and evil-doing; acting otherwise contradicts the basis of our humanity. Summing up these points, Ibn Miskawayh says: "… since justice consists indeed giving to the right person what ought to be given in the right way, it would be inconceivable that men should not owe God, exalted is He, who granted us all these immense goods, an obligation which they should fulfill" [39].
We can then conclude that it is rational to be moral. By the same token, immorality is irrational because it goes against our self-interest and violates the order of things, which, in turn, causes us harm. The Qur'anic treatment of moral choices and how they are made within the larger context of existence establishes rationality as a key component of moral behavior. But the reverse is also true: rationality, carried to its full capacity, results in moral behavior and extends to other human beings, the universe and eventually God. According to the Qur'an, human beings have been granted reason to discern between right and wrong on the one hand, and good and evil on the other. In terms of both true knowledge and moral behavior, we use reason to make the right choices. The famous controversy among Muslim theologians over whether we know things to be true and good because they are intrinsically so or because God has created them in that way is irrelevant here. The key point is that correct thinking and moral behavior complement each other and thus reject any dichotomy between reason, rationality, belief and morality. Thus Ibn Hazm says that "knowledge has a decisive role in the implementation of virtues… knowledge has a share in each and every virtue and ignorance in each and every vice"
In a similar vein, Ibn Miskawayh identifies "the intelligent man" as one who seeks "virtue in his rational soul, examine the imperfections of this soul in particular, and strives to remedy them to the extent of his capacity and effort"
10. Rationality as Coherence
The move from reason and rationality to moral behavior and back is a recurrent theme in the Qur'an and forms the basis of the Islamic ethical tradition. Reason, when properly cultivated, leads to moral action; moral behavior, in turn, nurtures reason. The Qur'an considers this simple syllogism to be self-evident because it is a contradiction to accept something as right and true and then not act accordingly. So is hypocrisy: "Do you order other people to be righteous and forget yourselves while you recite the Scripture? Will you, then, not reason?" (al-Baqara 2:44). The Qur'an condemns hypocrisy as much as disbelief and in some cases more so because hypocrisy, besides being a failure of the human will, breaks the logical connection between reason and morality and thus lands us in incoherence. "O you who have believe, why do you say what you do not do? {2} It is most hateful in the sight of God that you say that which you do not do." {3} (al-Saf 61:2-3).
The same principle of coherence applies to belief in God. The cosmological verses in the Qur'an, which give vivid descriptions of how God has created the universe and the human being, make a strong case for rationality as coherence because all of them without exception speak to the human reason to make the logical connection between a universe so miraculously ordered and well-functioning and the belief in the Creator who created it. Those who take partners unto God, while believing in His existence, contradict themselves. Believing in God and not heeding His guidance presents a clear case of incoherence.
The following verses, while emphasizing God's infinite mercy in creating and caring for the humankind, challenge the internal inconsistency of taking partners unto God (shirk), which is the greatest sin, and declares it to be utter irrationality. Those who think, ponder and use their reason have no difficulty in recognizing God as he deserves to be recognized.
And who other than Him created the heavens and the earth and sent down for you water from the sky, whereby We cause to grow lush orchards; for it is not up to you to cause their threes to grow! Is there, then, a god besides God? Yet these are the people who ascribe partners to Him. {60} And who other than Him made the earth a firm abode [ for you], and set rivers traversing through it, and put firm mountains therein and sealed off one sea from the other? Is there, then, a god besides God? Indeed, most of them do not know. {61} And who other than Him responds to the distressed one when he calls Him and He relieves him of the distress and Who has made you [mankind] His vicegerents on earth? Is there, then, a god besides God? – little do you reflect! {62} And Who other than Him guides you in the darkness of the land and the sea? And who sends forth winds heralding His mercy? Is there, then, a god besides God? Far exalted be He above what they associate with Him! {63} And who other than Him brings forth His creation and then recreates it? And who gives you sustenance from the heaven and the earth? Is there, then, a god besides God? Say [O Muhammad!]: Bring your proof if you are right [in associating others with God]. {64} (Al-Naml 27:60-64).
These verses reveal a strongly argumentative approach and underlie the Qur'an's insistence on coherence as a basis for a proper discourse about the relationship between man and God on the one hand, God and the universe on the other. rationality as coherence means that we draw the correct conclusions from the correct premises. Considering the continuity of our ontological and moral presuppositions, this suggests that our empirical observations about the universe lead to their logical conclusion in a theistic context, i.e., accepting God as God and acting accordingly. The Qur'an makes profuse use of this procedural notion of rationality and applies it to cosmological, theological and legal issues. in its numerous confrontations with the Meccan pagans, the Qur'an challenges them to think for themselves and see if their misguided thinking about God makes any sense. A rationally coherent notion of God and the universe can be obtained through correct thinking if we can use our reason cogently to read the signs in the "visible world".