Rafed English

The Bedrock of Reason and Conscience

When the rebellious impulses try to undermine the role of reason and conscience and make man a captive of lusts, faith turns out to be the best support for relying upon. Faith is the greatest support and foothold of conscience and reason. With its support reason and conscience acquire the capacity to suppress rebellious instincts in all circumstances, resist the hostile pressure of desires and to overcome any kind of dangerous inclination. A human being armed with the weapon of faith is one who, in the words of the Qur'an, "has laid hold of the most firm handhold that can never break.'' 16

The function of theoretical reason on which metaphysics, natural science and mathematics are based, is to make judgements concerning reality. However, it is practical reason that forms the basis of the sciences of life and its function is to form judgements concerning the duties and responsibilities of man. The path and approach selected by the human being in life is related to the character of judgements made by practical reason.

One of the important factors that gives clarity of vision to the intellect is godfearing (taqwa). The claim that godfearing illuminates the intellect and opens the window of wisdom before man is a matter that does not relate to the theoretical intellect. It is with the means of godfearing that man is able to discern the correct way of living and discover his own ailments and their remedies.

Since the domain of action of the practical intellect is the same as the realm of desires, impulses, and passions, their unbridled violence has a decisive effect on man's practical intellect and thought which have the function of forming clear conceptions of duty and that which is right or wrong. The uncontrolled passions raise a dense mist that obstructs the light of the lamp of the intellect. In the words of Hafiz Shirazi:

The beloved's beauty has neither a veil nor a curtain before it, but,

The dusts of the road must be made to settle before the sight may work.

In Islamic teachings desire and passion have been considered hostile to the intellect because their hold weakens the power of the intellect and neutralises its influence. The Noble Messenger, may God bless him and his Household, said:

Your worst enemy is the one between your two sides; 17

Imam al-Sadiq, may peace be upon him, says:

Desire is the intellect's enemy.

The Commander of the Faithful, 'Ali, may peace be upon him, says:

Most of the falls of intellects occur under the lightning bolts of greed. 18

When godfearing takes hold of the heart, it puts desires and passions in chains, making them docile and tractable. As a result of it the intellect becomes free and active. This shows the effectiveness of taqwa in enhancing the vision and clarity of the intellect.

The Noble Messenger, may God bless him and his Household, mentions the following characteristics while describing the qualities of men of faith:

Among the salient merits of a person possessing faith is that he does not violate the norms of justice on account of resentment for someone. His attachment for someone does not make him take a sinful course. He is not a transgressor and does not oppress others. He does not accept falsehood though it should come from a friend and does not deny his enemy's legitimate rights. 19

Man is completely free to utilise the precious assets of reason and conscience that he has been endowed with and to benefit from them. However, his ultimate freedom lies in overcoming some of his natural desires; that is, when a part of his being- that is his reason and conscience-dominates the other part, consisting of the natural instincts.

Reason and conscience maintain their supremacy so long as there is no conflict between them and turbulent psychic impulses, which are easily kept under the control of these two faculties. These two have a greater power than external police authorities, for their orders are considered by the individual to be issued by himself and hence he cannot rebel against himself by refusing to comply with them.

However, a major difficulty arises when the domination of reason and conscience necessitates indifference to or repression of one of the inner instincts. In such a situation, in many cases, the resisting power of reason and conscience breaks down in front of the violent force of instinct. They are forced to withdraw leaving the field to the marauding forces of instincts. Whatever may be the conditions, man is always threatened by his desires and passions.

But the man with genuine faith in God, whose faith has enduring roots in the profound depths of his heart and who is specially attentive to religious aspects, governs his tumultuous instincts by relying on this faith. In dangerous moments of life and vis-à-vis the call of illegitimate desires he rejects his improper impulses, and, with perfect authority and power, puts up steadfast resistance against rebellious passions.


16. The Qur'an, 2:256.

17. Nahj al- fasahah, p. 66.

18.Al-Amidi, Ghuraral-hikam, p. 195.

19. Al-Majlisi, Bihar al-anwar, vol. 15, p. 82.

Adapted from: "Ethics and Spiritual Growth" by: "Sayyid Mujtaba Musawi Lari"

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