By His Eminence, Sayyed Mohammed Hussein Fadlullah (ra)
The Holy Quran defines some of the pious people's traits in their faith and behavior within the framework of the principles of the creed and includes its basic positions in life. When we try to identify these traits in terms of their nature, significance, and role in our spiritual and practical life, we would notice that believing in the unseen is one of the basic traits of the pious people, for Allah says: "Those who believe in the unseen." (02:03). The term "unseen" has different aspects in which it moves, so what is meant by believing in the unseen?
The act of believing in the unseen is to believe in things that could not be sensed, including believing in Allah through His creations that reveal the magnificence of His ability to create, even though Allah cannot be touched or seen; however our conscience imposes this fact as a conclusive truth that relies on scientific and rational basis, thus turning the intellectual piety into a movement within one's self creating certainty and guiding the soul towards believing. On another level, we notice that the non-pious people rely only on the senses and experiments, without even considering the rules and bases that govern them. They believe that the intellectual value of their judgments lies in that it could be deduced without relying on any previous rational or intellectual content. Actually, some say that man's natural standards, through which he could differentiate between the right and wrong, lie in the act of believing in the materialistic sensation, for man could realize the results of his experiments, regardless if they had failed or succeeded. In case one succeeds, he would go through it all over again so as to explore the dimensions of success, and if it fails, he would stop at the experiment's early stages, so as not to go through it again, for any fault does not tempt man to go through the same experiment again.
They also believe that it is not possible for man to determine through his conscience if the pure thoughts are true or false, for the mind does not enjoy the criteria to judge, since pure thoughts are not part of the visible things that could be verified by observation, so as to base belief on a solid foundation. Perhaps this is one of the strongest criticisms that the sensualists brought up in the face of the mentalists who believe that knowledge has a base other than the materialistic senses. However, in response to this point of view, we say that it cannot hold when it is criticized and that is for several reasons, some of which are:
First: This evidence they have presented, in an attempt to prove that it is wrong to refer to the mind, is actually rational (based on reasoning). It is based on abstract observation and contemplation to begin with, for they say: had we not based our knowledge on the senses and experiments, we would not have had an accurate measure for the right and wrong; which brings up the following question: Are the connotations of this idea based on the empirical results of experiments? If the answer was no, then the result is that their attempt has tried to deny rational evidence using rational evidence; thus, confirming and backing the trend which believes that there exists another proof besides experiment, as a basis for belief and intellectual and conscious conviction.
Second: The senses and experiments are not fit to be a basis for knowledge in general without adding the rational premises, for the experiment is bound to a certain time and place; thus, the only results these experiments produce are restricted to the scope of the experiments, excluding all what could the experiments that have not taken place yet result in, meaning that there is no way to explore them. Therefore, if we performed a certain experiment and it came out with a certain result and then we did the same experiment again and it led to the same result, and then we repeated it over and over again, then the sensualist (empirical) logic would not conclude on its own that the results of similar experiments will be the same, for they have not been directly subjected to observation. Moreover, if a second experiment produces results that are different from the first one, we would not be able to determine what was wrong, for each experiment has its own circumstances, rendering each subjected to the moment it was executed; thus, no experiment version enjoys any generalizing ability exceeding its scope.
However, the rational logic makes experiments extend beyond the circumstances of time and place, for example, if we came across a scientific rule which says that "movement produces heat" after performing quite a number of experiments on the concept of movement, we would not be able to consider this scientific rule to be comprehensive unless we base it on abstract rational rules, such as the following rule which says that "the ruling towards similar things in what could or could not happen is one," meaning that the things which share the same traits and undergo the same circumstances will yield the same results, and the rule: "the one could not be the result of the many," and the principle: "a thing would not be true if its opposite was true. Therefore, had we not relied on these accepted rational rules, we would not have been able to make the experiment reach what is beyond its scope. Actually, the first rule considers the results of the cases that were not experimented similar to those that were experimented, and the second rule subjects the singular result of a million movements to the same cause; which is the nature of the movement away from the inherent characteristics of each, for the one heat could not be the result of a million factors. Moreover, the third rule rules out the possibility of being false when it is deemed to be true, for that would lead to the impossible joining of the opposites.
Therefore, we conclude that the rational principles are what connects us to the general thoughts and rules via limited experiments, and had it not been for them, the empirical experiments would not have enriched man scientifically and intellectually, whether in the general scientific rules or in life's general principles.
Moreover, we ought to shed light on the third rule as a conclusive sample of the a priori rational postulates that are considered as a measure to differentiate between the right and wrong in all the aspects of knowledge. Existence and nonexistence cannot be joined together in the same place and time, for this concept is one of the conclusive irrevocable mental thoughts which no knowledge can do without, for the result of any means of knowledge is worthless if it is possible that the opposite result is true, since the case would be right and wrong at the same time. Therefore, had it not been for this mental rule that is not founded on any empirical experimental basis, it would not have been possible to prove or establish any fact.
We, Muslims, are known for relying on the soundness of the religious thought that believes in the existence of unseen forces, worlds, and things, as an obvious result of the presence of objective bases in the world of reality, so that we are able to learn about or believe in with the help of established rational evidence, the best example of which is believing in the existence of Allah. Everything around us reveals that Allah does exist even though we cannot see or materialistically sense Him, based on the rational rule which stipulates that anything possible ought to have an inducing cause that is not subjected to any other cause. We might be able to realize that by some clarification means, for example, when we notice that we actually believe in things in the universe that we cannot experience by our senses; things we could not experience through the means we possess in our practical lives. This means that the principle which admits the reality of believing in the unseen is existent and right. However, the possibility of seeing it in the future or not does not change a thing. Believing in the unseen is a result of the conception which says that the ability to materialistically sense or experiment is not all what is required to acquire knowledge, bur rather the senses are accompanied by the mind in order to acquire the sought knowledge, either through the senses or the mind.
At this level, we ought to take a stop at a critical point which is that since religion lays emphasis on believing in the unseen, does that mean that religion is only based on believing in the unseen and that the only reference is the unseen when it comes to belief or evaluating people or explaining the social and the cosmic events and phenomena, as some might feel like saying, believing, or explaining, subjecting all the natural phenomena to metaphysical explanations that man's thought cannot reach? As a result, the human mind, at some of its stages, started to look for and explain the causes of these natural phenomena, such as sickness and health, defeat and victory, and the reasons behind the economic and political problems outside the framework of the practical reality of things. Thus, the human mind might tend to refer all that to metaphysical factors, or to Allah, without examining the natural laws Allah has founded in the universe, so as to establish His system and life's system under the principle of natural causality in things.
Some naïve believers fell for this argument; thus, denying many of the results of science for they tend to clash with the metaphysical mentality that is not familiar with these results. Moreover, at certain levels, some went to the extent that they deemed those who believe in the existence of natural laws that govern the natural and cosmic phenomena as unbelievers, for they believe that the difference between belief and unbelief is that in the former, people believe in metaphysical causes; whereas in the latter, people believe in realistic and materialistic causes.
There was an insistence, at some time periods, on focusing preaching on the metaphysical side in all life's aspects, without explaining the role of the natural laws Allah has set to the universe. This resulted in connecting all the natural phenomena directly to Allah, and maybe this is one of the reasons that prevented Muslims in past eras from progressing towards understanding the universe by understanding the laws governing its course and that participated in creating the metaphysical personality of the metaphysical mind and feelings that try to dig out, in the past and present, the steps towards the unseen and face the future with metaphysical expectations that pave the way for astrologers and foretellers to manipulate people's feelings and emotions by foreseeing their future and the like. We have even noticed that many politicians and others who were concerned with knowing all about their political and emotional futures were resorting to astrologers and old people, who pretend to predict the future and undertake it as a job, in order to get to know from them all about the future.
We do not believe in the unseen in the sense that it is applied to this vast extent on people's private and public lives, but rather we believe in the unseen that connects us to Allah within a limited scope. Therefore, we notice that Islam wages a stern campaign on the astrologers and foretellers and the acts of prophecy and fortunetelling so as to drift this mentality away from the reality of thought and life and to keep the act of believing in the unseen a doctrine that one ties inside himself. In this way, man would not indulge into the blind materialism that does not open up to the wide horizons forever related to Allah, so that he would not freeze at the limits of the narrow hope created by his limited circumstances.
We might boldly believe in the unseen in many cases we might not understand, and we might even rebel against some natural laws that might have a metaphysical aspect, for we believe that life is not always subjected to materialistic explanations. Actually, in our lives, many things that cannot be explained physically might take place at the level of livelihood, health…etc. Some patients might even heal from sickness after invoking Allah through the intercession of a prophet or a wali, or as a result of a certain supplication or a worshipping rite that takes place in a certain psychological ambience that is inconsistent with the practical psychological interpretation.
We do not deny that there exists a spiritual power that guards man and plays a certain role in his life; however, the basic principle in life, from an Islamic point of view, is that life and all is secrets and features, be they political, social, or economic, are subjected to natural laws Allah has set to the universe; a fact that is exemplified in many Quranic verses in which Allah talks about the universal course He has drawn, for He says: "Such has been the course of Allah with respect to those who have gone before," (33:38), and: "For you shall not find any alteration in the course of Allah; and you shall not find any change in the course of Allah." (35:43).
Therefore, believing in the unseen does not prevent us from studying every universal or life phenomena so as to understand its causes and secrets. Moreover, the Quran calls on us in all the verses that call for contemplation and meditation to dive into the universe and history to get to know their causes and secrets which would lead us to realize the Greatness of Allah. Therefore, the Islamic thought embraces all the sciences of life and man that seek to discover the scientific laws that govern the universe, conduct, and the act of thinking within a balanced and integrated entity, and tends to interpret reality in a way that conforms to the big role Allah has prepared man for in life.
We conclude that the experiment is not the only measure to differentiate between right and wrong, freezing knowledge at the doorstep of materialistic senses, but rather there is also the mind that connects man to the knowledge's solid base, whether in abstract or empirical thoughts.
* An excerpt from “Interpretations Inspired from the Quran”