Before going into the subject of doctrine in detail we should define certain terms which frequently appear in books on this subject and which are often used by scholars of Islam. These terms are ‘Doubt’, ‘Presumption’ and ‘Knowledge’. After we have examined them we shall begin to look into the meaning of faith.
Descartes; the renowned French philosopher and mathematician, and, before him. Imam Ghazali in his book “Savior from Misguidance” both chose ‘DOUBT’ as a point of departure for their enquiry into certainty. In fact, Descartes: used ‘Doubt’ as a means to reach certainty. So what do we mean by ‘Doubt’? If someone were to ask you while you were staying in the centre of a city, that whether it was raining in the suburbs? You would be unable to reply, even though the suburbs are only about twenty miles away. You would have no definite evidence one way or the other. And this is the case with the ‘concept of doubt’. You can make a guess, but you cannot be 100% sure.
However, if you were to look into the distance and see some rain clouds you might be inclined to say: “It looks as if it is raining in the suburbs.” This means that it’s very likely that it is raining, and this possibility regarding the existence of something, is known as ‘Presumption’. Should you take a further look and notice that the rain clouds are quite thick and heavy, and also see a flash of lightning, your presumption regarding the possibility of rain increases and your response to the original question will be more positive. At this point you might well reply: “I’m inclined to think it’s raining in the suburbs now.”
But if you were to go into the suburbs and actually see the rain failing, your presumption would become a certainty. And this is what scholars term as “KNOWLEDGE’. If we examine the various meanings of the word ‘knowledge’ we see that firstly we have ‘absolute knowledge’ as opposed to ignorance. Knowledge also embraces science in contrast to the arts and philosophy. For example, physics and chemistry are both sciences whereas art and poetry belong to the domain of the arts. In the context of science where the ultimate goal of knowledge is to seek the truth, the intellect is used as a tool to achieve this aim. The methods adopted are ‘enquiry’, ‘experiment’ and “deduction’. In the case of the arts, it is concerned with the appreciation of beauty. Its means are perception and consciousness while a good taste is instrumental to success in it. Definition of Faith needs no proof. We intend to discuss that knowledge which in contrast o doubt and presumption stands for certainty and positiveness. This knowledge is of two kinds:
It is the Knowledge gained through the senses and observations need no proof. For example there is a mountain before you which does not need any proof. You see it there and it exists. Every san person who sees it will admit of its existence. Its presence is the proof of its existence. This knowledge is called essential or axiomatic knowledge.
It is that knowledge which requires proof. For example the formula that the sum of squares of base and height o a right angled triangle is equal to the square of its hypotenuse; is something which requires proof. Any scholar or a student who finds the proof of that will know the fact and will admit it. But an ignorant unlettered person will not know it and will not accept it until he is given vivid proof of that even though the triangle along with squares on its sides are placed before his yes. This knowledge is known as Theoretical Knowledge that is the knowledge which cannot be acquired without proof.
Self Evident Truth and Creed:
Some theoretical knowledge needs proof because it cannot be perceived merely by logic and observation. Nevertheless, it is common and popular knowledge of which everyone, regardless of age or education, is aware. Such knowledge almost falls into the category of essential knowledge. For example: “A part is smaller than the whole” is a theoretical statement, but, although the category of theoretical knowledge basically needs to be proved, you will hardly find anyone who doubts this statement or needs evidence of it. Even a child will accept it. If you were, for example, to take a bar of chocolate from a child and give him back just a small piece, telling him that the piece you have returned is bigger than the bar of chocolate, he would not be convinced and would not accept it. This is because it is self-evident that any part of any thing is smaller than its whole.
The statement regarding identity-that is, that everything has an identity of its own, is also a self evident truth. If someone were to ask you to prove that the pen you were holding was not a teaspoon, you would respond by saying: “That’s quite obvious and doesn’t need any proof!” So these self evident truths are obvious facts which everyone acknowledges – facts that do not need proof. And when a self evident truth enters the inner consciousness and establishes itself there, it creates an impact on intuition and all aspects of behaviour – and is known as faith. Belief in it is known as Iman. However, we all know that although people often believe in truth, more often than not they believe in ‘untrue’ ideologies. Nowadays there are many breakaway groups with misleading principles not based on truth, and these groups have attracted a lot of ardent followers who sacrifice all they have for the sake; of these groups. Such people cannot be regarded as believers; in the absolute meaning of the word. God says in the Holy Qur’an: Art thou not aware of those who, having been granted their share of the Divine Writ, (now) believe in unfounded mysteries and in the powers of evil.(Qur’an;4:51); “And most of them do not even believe in God without (also) ascribing divine powers to other beings beside Him (Qur’an;12:106).
As for Iman, and all the derivatives of this word, they are used exclusively to denote belief in all that pertains to the Holy’ Qur’an and the Sunnah (tradition).
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Source: Islam: A General Introduction by Shaikh Ali Al Tantawi