The Use of the Intellect as a Means to Subdue Appetites



It is related that when the husband of
Rabi’a al-‘Adawiyyah died, al-Hasan al-Basri and his companions asked for
permission to visit her. She gave them permission to come in and let down
a curtain and sat behind it. Al-Hasan and his companions said,


“Your husband has
died. You should have someone to replace him.”

“All right,” she
said, “but which of you has the most knowledge, so that I may marry him?”

“Al-Hasan al-Basri,”
they replied.

“If you can answer
me four questions, I am yours,” she said to al-Hasan.

“What do you say
to this,” she asked, “when I die and leave this world, will leave with
belief or not?”

“That is a matter
of the Unseen and none knows the Unseen except Allah.”

“What about this,
then? When I am put into the grave and Munkar and Nakir question me, will
I be able to answer them or not?”

“That is a matter
of the Unseen and none knows the Unseen except Allah,” replied al-Hasan
a second time.

“When people are
gathered together on the Day of Rising and the books are distributed, will
I be given my book in my right hand or my left hand?”

“That too is a matter
of the Unseen and none knows the Unseen except Allah,” came the reply again.

“When people are
called: ‘One group in the Garden and one group in Blaze!’ which of the
two groups will I be in?”

“That is a matter
of the Unseen and none knows the Unseen except Allah,” responded al-Hasan
for the fourth and last time.

“How is it possible,”
she retorted, “for someone who is suffering the grief of ignorance about
these four things to think of marriage?” “O Hasan,” she continued, “in
how many parts did Allah create the intellect?”

“In ten parts,”
he replied, “nine for men and one for women.”

“O Hasan, in how
many parts did Allah create appetite?”

“In ten parts: nine
for women and one for men.”

“O Hasan,” she concluded,
“I am able to contain nine part of appetite with one part of intellect
whereas you cannot even guard one part of appetite with nine parts of intellect!”
Thereupon al-Hasan wept and left her.

Because of its ability to keep the appetites
in check, Islam is very much concerned with the intellect, nurturing it,
developing it and giving it the greatest scope to evaluate things and their
results with precise criteria. It should be used to distinguish the positive
and negative sides of appetite using the criterion of the Shari’ah and
to understand what its consequences will be in this world and the Next.
It should know how to encourage the lower self to gain the pleasure of
Allah and how to make it wary of anger of Allah so that it does not collapse
under the pressure of impulses, appetites and desires and become lost in
the oceans of this world. Out of His endless generosity the Almighty has
prescribed various measures to safeguard the intellect and promote the
development and expansion of its faculties.

Among these measures is Revelation itself.
One of the functions of Revelation and the Message is to act as Allah’s
evidence against mankind. Left to itself, the intellect can misguide. Natural
form (fitrah) on its own is also capable of deviation. The only safeguard
for the intellect and natural form is to adopt the Revelation as their
directing guide:

“We never punish until We have sent
a Messenger.” (17:15)

Therefore the intellect needs the Revelation
to guide it and direct it and make it sound so that it can distinguish
the bad from the good. Revelation protects the intellect from becoming
lost in materialistic philosophies.

Another of the safeguards of the intellect
is the prohibition of intoxicants. Many a man fritters away his intellectual
abilities in satisfying his lower appetites and passing whims and this
opens him up to misguidance, deviation and bad habits of all kinds which
will disrupt first his own life, then the life of his family, and finally
that of society as a whole. This is the root cause of Islam’s prohibition
of intoxicants of all sorts – alcohol, drugs, or any substance that has
an effect on the brain, leading to altered states of consciousness or hallucinations.
The Almighty says in His Noble Book:

“O you who believe! Wine and gambling
and stone altars and divining arrows are disgusting things, part of the
handiwork of Shaytan. Avoid them completely, so that perhaps you will be
successful.” (5:90)

Could there be any greater accomplishment
than being awake and alert and perceiving where your steps are taking you
and being able to truly evaluate their prospective benefit or harm for
yourself in the world and the Next?

Another thing which Allah does in this
respect is to invite the intellect to reflect deeply on existence. The
purpose of this invitation is to free the intellect of the chains that
shackle it and make it stumble under the pressure of all the needs and
demands which hem it in. when man contemplates the universe, he is inevitably
aware of the immensity of its Creator and His strength and this impels
him to seek help and strength from Him to under take the task for which
he was created. Such contemplation awakens him from the sleep of heedlessness
and opens all his receptive senses and cognitive faculties:

“Truly in the creation of the heavens
and the earth, and the alternation of night and day there are signs for
people of intelligence.” (3:190)

“Have they not traveled in the land?
Do they not have hearts with which to understand or ears with which to
hear?” (22:46)

In all created existence there is nothing
more noble than the human intellect and for this reason Allah honours it
as it deserves. There is no deen which fulfils all the aspirations of the
intellect and answers its questions as Islam does. This is only to be expected
since the intellect is the supreme instrument of human perception and whenever
it is polished, perception is increased and the results derived from its
use are greater. A Bedouin possessing an unspoiled natural response to
existence articulated this when people asked him, “Why do you believe in
Muhammad?” His reply was: “Because what his deen orders leaves no scope
for the intellect to say, ‘If only he had ordered this.’ Nor does what
it forbids leave the intellect any scope to say, ‘If only he had not forbidden
that.’ “


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