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Book: Revelation, Rationality, Knowledge and Truth
Revelation, Rationality, Knowledge & Truth
Mirza Tahir Ahmad
Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV
The Nature of Revelation
Divine Revelation and Rationality
Belief in the Unseen
Al-Bayyinah—A Manifest Principle and Al-Qayyimah—An Everlasting Teaching
The Quran and Cosmology
Entropy and the Finite Universe
The Quran and Extraterrestrial Life
Part V
Part VI
Part VII
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Al-Bayyinah—A Manifest Principle and Al-Qayyimah—An Everlasting Teaching

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AL-BAYYINAH, a Quranic term, applies to such manifest truth as is outstanding in its quality of dazzling brilliance, as though the sun had risen and the night dispelled. It appears with the appearance of all Divine messengers who usher in a new era of light. It does not relate to the beginning of Islam alone; it relates to the beginning of all Divine manifestations. When a messenger comes to revolutionize a society, he personifies Al-Bayyinah of which he himself is the harbinger.

Therein are everlasting teachings.1

AL-QAYYIMAH () is another term which signifies that part of a prophet's teachings which makes the central core of every religion. It has a quality of permanence about it which defies change. All prophets according to the pronouncement of Surah Al-Bayyinah (Chapter 98), essentially bring the same message in fundamentals. This means that Adamas, the first messenger of God, was no different in this respect from any other prophet who followed him. Al-Qayyimah provides the binding link between all Divinely revealed religions. According to this declaration the religion of Adamas, the first prophet, and that of Hazrat Muhammadsa, the last of all the law-bearing prophets, have to be the same in bare essentials. Despite this similarity, there may be vast differences in the teachings of the earlier religions and those of the more evolved ones of subsequent ages. To produce dissimilarity in detail despite similarity in the fundamentals is in fact an intrinsic character of evolution. The term 'mammal' for instance is a term applied to all warm-blooded animals who possess vertebral columns and limbs but they are not exactly alike. Sheep differ so much from humans, and cats from monkeys, despite the fact that they belong to the same order of mammals. Hence, as religions continue to evolve, they appear with new titles and names without becoming different in fundamentals. Al-Qayyimah remains their permanent binding link.

The Bayyinah as explained above, is not only the quality of the truth a prophet brings but it is also the quality of his personal character. His truth is so manifest that prior to his claim of Divine representation, the entire society in which he is born and raised testifies to it with unanimous accord. But Al-Bayyinah is not that alone! The truth of a prophet, when further supported by heavenly signs, becomes so evident that there is no genuine excuse whatsoever for the society to deny it. It is this same irrefutable manifestation of his Divine origin which ironically becomes responsible for the extreme hostility and antagonism displayed against him, particularly by the old order religious clergy of the time. They reject him only because they recognize in him the dawn of a new day of truth. This rise of a new dawn, if permitted, would break their hegemony over the ignorant masses and destroy the old order of their religious hierarchy. It is this potent threat to their survival as a class which compels them to forget their mutual differences and put up a joint front of resistance with no holds barred. When all their baboonish noises and threats fail to intimidate the prophet, the only option they are left with is a desperate recourse to violence. But it is far beyond their united might to defeat Al-Bayyinah. Its winning potential lies not merely in the quality of its truth but more than that it lies in the support that God lends it. Al-Bayyinah thus aided by destiny transcends time and space, and always emerges as the dominant principle. To be on the right side of Al-Bayyinah is to survive, to be on the left is to perish.

Al-Bayyinah does not belong to that category of absolute truth which makes the subject of philosophical discussions. Nor is it similar to the emergence of absolute ideas which gradually develop after successfully meeting the challenges of successive eras. The quality of brilliance it displays is lent to it by Divine revelation from its very inception.

The term Al-Bayyinah also comprises other connotations. It works as a motive phenomenon which advances faith and spiritual evolution. It is not inert, but is more like the domineering principle of evolution. All prophetic movements emanate from Al-Bayyinah. The word is derived from an infinitive which has the root meaning of differentiation and discrimination, a meaning it shares with another Quranic term, 'Al-Bayan'. Al-Bayan () is the faculty of speech which has the power to differentiate between two meanings and to define human thought into clear expressions. It should be noted that like the 'Bayyinah', Al-Bayan ( ) also is described by the Quran to have a Divine origin as mentioned in the following verse:

He created man;

And taught him how to express himself and differentiate.2

Hence, the faculty of speech is clearly claimed to have been bestowed by God upon man, which leads to the inevitable conclusion that the first language taught to him was taught by God Himself. In the light of this, the enigma of the human faculty of speech does not remain as incomprehensible as it would otherwise be. The faculty of speech separates man from the rest of the animal kingdom by such a wide margin as cannot be explained by the doctrine of evolution alone, however much it may be extended. Hence, Al-Bayan, the faculty of speech has to be a gift of Divine revelation.

Thus both the Bayan and the Bayyinah have the same common origin and both possess the same quality of differentiation. Despite this similarity however, there is a characteristic difference between the two. While Al-Bayan is intrinsically bonded to verbal expressions, Al-Bayyinah is not confined to this alone. It may at times carry verbal pronouncements, but at others it may manifest itself without the medium of speech. This silent display of Al-Bayyinah is like the radiance of a midday sun in which all ever-lasting Divine teachings bask. While on the one hand it draws its strength from God, on the other it lends support to those who lean on it.

"Al-Qayyimah", the other term, applies to all such fundamental teachings as have a quality of permanence about them. It is there that the two terms seem to merge together into one. The philosophical terms of absoluteness or universality of values can also fully apply to the values which are expressed by the religious term Al-Qayyimah. But whether there can be any ideas or values which can in reality be described as absolute or universal is the question which we must examine now purely from the secular angle. Almost all the prominent thinkers belonging to the school of scientific socialism reject the absoluteness of ideas or values categorically. They only do so because of the incompatibility of absoluteness with the Marxist vision of dialectical materialism. But their encounter with the day-to-day realities of the surrounding material world leaves them no justification for their total rejection of the idea of absoluteness.

Night follows day and day follows night. Fire burns and water extinguishes. Our sense of heat and cold, of sorrow and pleasure, our awareness of appetite and satiation, our concept of thirst and its slaking and a myriad of other similar perceptions do not require a scientist to prove their validity. They simply exist without change, without question, requiring no advocate to prove their validity. All the same their absoluteness is inseparably linked with the quality of human perception. The concept of night and day requires the faculty of sight. But what of those whose vision is impaired? Their perception of things will be relatively different from that of those who are gifted with a better quality of sight. This raises the doubt that even what we categorize as elementary perceptions may only be relative in nature. There is a wide spectrum between the extreme edge of doubt and that of absolute certainty. Both may shift in any direction along the spectrum depending on the clarity of the observer's sight and that of the available light. But such doubts are raised only with reference to exceptional cases and situations. Compared to the universal human experience at large, they make only a very small and insignificant minority, which cannot alter the consensus of the universal human experience.

Again it is not just in relation to these elementary concepts that man has reached a stage of certainty; there are other far more complex and intricate issues which can yet be safely described as absolute. Most of our advanced knowledge of chemistry and physics today belongs to this category. It continues to grow, no doubt, but most often without contradicting the previously held views based on universal human observation. The alterations and amendments take place only in the peripheral areas. The uncertainty factor does not cast shadow of doubt over the main body of proven facts; it does so only in relation to a few limited and confined areas of advanced research. Hence, one can safely conclude that at least in the secular field of human experience, the concept of absoluteness is not merely valid, it is certainly an ongoing progressive reality. But in the matter of faith and belief the same cannot be claimed with any justification. It is extremely difficult for believers, if not impossible, to draw a clear line between the facts and fantasies of their beliefs. Most often they are raised as children in the cradle of faith and, before they ever become capable of judging the truth or falsehood of their beliefs, they already become an integral part of their system. The few who awaken from their mental state of lethargy and oblivion do so at the cost of their religion but seldom admit this fact publicly. They keep wearing the same garb under the same title so that despite the loss of faith their religion continues to survive merely as a symbol of identity. This, unfortunately, is the fate of all religions which deny rationality any instrumental role in judging the validity of their beliefs.

Returning to the discussion of the progressive transformation of uncertainties into certainties and certainties into absolute truth, we must admit that the same universal trend of change leads some philosophers to regret the very concept of absoluteness altogether. No perception can ever be absolutely free from the influence of ever-changing time and the variant faculties of the beholder. If their logic is accepted, one is left with no choice but to reject everything as possibly untrue and believe in nothing. But in everyday life a philosophy such as this would lead to utter disaster. With what measure of dependability can one decide whether the precipice one sees at the edge of a lofty rock is really a precipice? By what criterion can one become absolutely sure that the deadly viper blocking one's path is actually what it appears to be? In all such encounters with threats to life, even the most sceptical would accept the verdict of the common human experience. It is this common human experience which is most steadily moving in the direction of absoluteness of knowledge. At every cross-section of time this verdict must be accepted. Call it probability if not absoluteness but remember that it is this probability which commands the human destiny with absolute firmness. One cannot deny a seeming reality lest it should prove to be false in future.

All said and done, in the evolution of human knowledge most concepts do mature to a fullness which cannot be further touched by the hand of change or doubt. Similarly, the behaviour of many physical and chemical laws once understood continues to remain the same. Our ignorance of some of their operations does not invalidate the knowledge that we have already gained in most areas of their operation. Despite the fact that the dynamics of the heavenly bodies and the laws of gravitation are now perceived with a minute variation of perception, the Newtonian understanding of them is still valid within its context. Thus the laws of motion of the heavenly bodies are as absolute as they ever were within their respective field of operation. The laws of motion of the subatomic particles are also absolute within the domain of their miniature universe. Hence there is no discrepancy or contradiction between the laws which govern the cosmos and the laws which govern the subatomic world. Their field is different and the context in which they operate is not the same either. What man has discovered is only the fact that Newton's laws of dynamics are applicable only to the cosmos. Both categories of the laws are absolute and exist independently of man's ability or inability to understand them. Thus, absolute truth is not just a product of the human mind. It must exist independently.

Returning to the Quranic pronouncements, on the subject of rationality and its bearing on religious truths, the reader's attention is drawn to the following verses of the Holy Quran which rule out the possibility of any contradiction in the universe created by God:

... No incongruity can you see in the creation of the Gracious God. Then look again: Do you see any flaw?

Aye, look again, and yet again, your sight will only return to you tired and fatigued.3

THE QURAN FURTHER stipulates that likewise there can be no contradiction within the scriptural universe which is the Word of God (4:83, 21:23). Both the Word of God which is revealed truth and the Work of God which is material universe, must be in perfect unison with each other. Thus Divine revelation can never be at odds with the laws of nature, both sharing the same Fountainhead of Eternal Wisdom. This categorical denial of contradiction is yet another way of endorsing the inviolable principle of rationality.

Thus, whenever and in whatever area the scientists' understanding of the material world is correct, it is impossible for the Word of God to contradict it. The converse is also true. As such whenever we witness a perfect accord between the two, the quality of their absolute truth becomes par-absolute.

In the light of what has passed, we are ready now to undertake the issue of Quranic revelation and examine its validity on the touchstone of rationality and reason, category by category.


  1. Translation of 98:4 by the author.
  2. Translation of 55:4–5 by the author.
  3. Translation of 67:4–5 by the author.

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