A STUDENT OF philosophy laments that I am a religious person. He tells me that my “wings are clipped,” that my belief prevents me from soaring to the heights of thought and wisdom.
Rather, the right example for my faith is that of a tree. For a tree to be healthy its dead and stray branches must be clipped and pruned. The more skillfully and efficiently this is done, the more fruitful and beautiful the tree will be.
Have you not considered how God presents as a parable a good word as a good tree, whose root is firmly fixed, and its branches stretch forth to the sky. It produces its fruit all the time, by the permission of its Lord…And the example of a bad word is like a bad tree, uprooted from the surface of the earth, not having any stability. [Surat Ibrahim,14:26]
The wisest and most insightful man, relying only on himself or other men, can find truth at times. As a matter of course however, he will wander in error. He would have profited seminally from guidance as to which ideas were worth pursuing—and the most perfect of such guidance is that of the Author and Originator of Truth, God.
It is a fact that many of those gifted with great intellect do not see they are burdened with a test: Their abilities tempt them to pride and mislead them into falsely magnifying what they can do with their faculties. They see that it is acceptable for ordinary people to be satisfied with religion. As they are not ordinary people, they must be somehow above it.
It is amazing, however, that they fail to see a truth about religion which is so plain that ‘ordinary’ people see it effortlessly: The religion of God, to borrow a metaphor, is shallow enough for children to paddle in and deep enough for the wise to swim in. Indeed, the great Seventh Century (hijri) scholar, Ibn Qudamah Al-Maqdisi, coined it with a slight shift in focus:
As for religious knowledge—one can never plumb its depths, but only hover about its shores.
Faith, it has been said, is the resting of the soul in truths that are worthy of belief. When ideas are presented to us, we judge their truth by what we already know and intuit to be true, independent of our experience. Whether our judgment is sound depends on the quality of our insight and how honest we are with ourselves. Thus, in a sense, when it comes to the eternal truths, we are not taught anything, but are only reminded of what we already know. Hence the Quran says:
And none will be reminded except those of understanding. [Surat Al ‘Imran, 3:7]
When I was a Catholic, I loved going to Mass. As I knelt before God, I felt—I knew, and I still know now—that He was looking upon His servant, that He heard his prayer, that He was pleased by his submission. And I loved Jesus, peace be upon him: To me, his teachings meant a lot. But the idea of God as three, that Jesus himself was God, never truly settled within my heart. It troubled me, so that when I prayed, I prayed only to God Himself.
Later in life, when for a short period I was seduced by modern political theories, I abandoned belief in God altogether. But a person of insight, a person sensitive to his own heart, cannot maintain such an absurdity, despite his best efforts. He cannot be untrue to himself.
And so, after a period of searching, I discovered the Quran, a Book whose every letter resonated within me, a Book in harmony with what I already knew to be true, a Book, the truth of which, the universe within me and without testified to, a Book that—like the teachings of Jesus, of all the prophets—is Truth and Life itself.
I am amazed at a man who will not consent to hear a word of revelation, even when the same word is found in the books he admires. Yet I deign to read his books. I judge their ideas by what I know to be true. I trim their dead and stray branches and benefit from their fruit, from wisdom that amounts to a commentary on and restatement of eternal truths.
My faith gives me health and life. His pride clips his wings, and dooms him to fall to earth and wander, to never find his way home.