People have various views as to how we know God and His unity and the basis for obligation is in this regard. The best view on this subject is that acts have properties which make them good and obligatory or evil and forbidden. This fact is often known by reason, but God does not punish anyone except after His message has reached him.
Opinions have differed regarding the means of knowing God and His unity and other basic principles of religion. Is it the shar’ which gives us knowledge about them, and defines our obligations or is it the case that we know them through our reason, while it is the shar’ which makes them obligatory? Or is it the case that reason is both means of their knowledge and the instrument of their obligation? These are three known views on the subject, and each one is held by various sections among the followers of the founders of the four schools of fiqh, Ahmad and others.
One group is of the view that the source of knowledge as well as the basis of obligation is nothing but the shar’. The Salimiyyah and others such as Shaykh Abu Al-Faraj Al-Magdisi belong to this group. The followers of Ahmad and others from the Ahl as-Sunnah have also been reported to hold this view. It is also held by Ibn Dirbas, Ibn Shukr and many other followers of Ash-Shafi`i. From the scholars of hadith and fiqh, those who condemn kalam generally subscribe to it. This is the issue on which a controversy had flared up between the companions of the theologian Sadaqah Ibn Al-Husayn Al-Hanbali and a faction of Ahmad’s followers, as well as between Abu Al-Faraj Ibn Al-Jawzi and another faction of the Hanbalis. The former parties contended that the shar’ is both source of knowledge and the basis of obligation, whereas the latter group said that the
source of knowledge is reason but the basis of obligation is the shar’. Al-Amidi has mentioned three views regarding the source of knowledge. One, it is reason alone, independent of Revelation (as-sam ‘), as Ar-Razi has said; second, it is revelation, that is to say, the Qur’an and the Sunnah; and third, both of them are sources of ethical knowledge. And it is the last one which Al-Amidi has preferred, and it is the correct view.
The second view is that the instrument of obligation is the shar’ alone, even though reason is also a source of knowledge. This is the view of Al-Ash`ari and his followers, as well as Qadi Abu Ya`la, Ibn Az-Zaghuni, Ibn `Agil, and others. The third view is that the source of knowledge as well as the instrument of obligation is reason. This is the view of the Mu`tazilah, the Karramiyyah and many others from the followers of a’immah, such as Abu Al-Hasan Al-Amidi, Abu Al-Attab and others. Sections of Maliki, Shafi`i and Hanafi scholars also hold this view; even Abu Hanifah is reported to have subscribed to it. It has been noted that the Mu’tazilah, Abu Bakr Ar-Razi, and Abu Al-Khattab have clearly stated that even those who have not received the words of any prophet will be punished on account of their violation of the dictates of reason.
We have mentioned that the most reasonable view on the subject is that acts possess properties which make them good and obligatory, or evil and forbidden, and that is often known by reason. But God does not punish people except after they have received His message, as He has said, “We do not punish people unless we have sent to them a messenger” (17:15). This is a general proclamation from God, and He has not differentiated between one kind of act and the other.
Islamic Topic: Human Reason, Revelation, Knowledge of Allah
Source: Book: Kitab An-Nubuwwat 162-3 / Also mentioned in “Ibn Taymiyyah Expounds on Islam”
Author: Ibn Taymiyyah