Thinking In Islam

Is Thinking Haram?

By Paul Salahuddin Armstrong

Transcript of speech to New Horizons’ British Islam Conference 2018 (24th February 2018).


“All those who listen to me shall pass on my words to others and those to others again; and may the last ones understand my words better than those who listen to me directly. Be my witness oh Allah that I have conveyed your message to your people.”

~ Prophet Muhammad (Last Sermon)

Bismillah al Rahman al Raheem

When I think back to when I embraced Islam 18 years ago, I remember snippets of some early conversations I had with Muslims, converts like myself who often preferred the term revert and had a strange take on many thinks Islamic…

When I questioned some of the things they were telling me to do – note “telling me” – they would instantly come back with the statement, “Don’t use your aql…”; aql being Arabic for mind or intellect, “…or you will go astray”. I would point out that my aql lead me, at least in part, to Islam. They would say, “That is good, but you shouldn’t use it now that you’ve found the right path or your aql will take you back out of Islam. We must only follow the Quran and Sunnah” – note here they mean a particular interpretation of the Quran and Sunnah, even though many interpretations of the same verses, hadiths, and sira references are often possible and especially in the more ambiguous cases, have often been the subject of debate since the earliest days of Islam.

Needless to say, this idea we shouldn’t use our brain, the very brains Allah SWT gave us to think for ourselves, made no sense to me whatsoever! If using my mind was so bad, why did it cause me go on a spiritual journey, delving into the roots of religion, seeking the truth and leading me to Islam?

How could a religion outlaw that which its sacred scripture, the Holy Quran appeared to actively encourage me to use? I should also stress that while these particular individuals belonged to a particular puritanical sect, regarded heretical by more mainstream Muslims, this line of ‘not using your aql’ is by no means restricted to them. I’ve discovered that Muslims in many different groups take a similar line, even if not expressed so rigidly.

What therefore is the truth of this? Should we use our aql, or is it dangerous to do so? Is thinking really haram?!

I’ve selected some verses from the Holy Quran which discuss using the intellect, and rather than answering this myself, I think we should see what the Quran has to say on this…

In these verses, we can see an emphasis on thinking for ourselves, and taking personal responsibility for our own religion. That wisdom is a gift from Allah, and is a source of abundant goodness and wealth. In comparison, look how strongly the Quran condemns ignorance…

The Quran makes it a duty of the believer to check out any news or information they hear before recklessly acting upon it. In our time of widespread gossip, conspiracy theories and fake news, this is really something to reflect upon. Yet, I’ve heard people preach about conspiracy theories from the minbar as if they were reliable facts instead of the hearsay and speculation that they are! This behaviour is inconsistent with the Quran.

The Quran highlights and stresses the value of knowledge. That the knowledgeable person will recognise the truth for what it is, and the value of this for guiding people. The implication here is also that knowledgeable people are able to guide others, helping them become good citizens who achieve their full potential and give back to their communities.

In this respect, we should be aware of the fact that Islam has never had priesthood. The Prophet wasn’t followed by a hierarchy of divinely ordained archbishops, bishops and priests, but by ulama. Today, when we think of ulama, we think of a guy in a turban or topi wearing particular outfits and classically trained in madrassahs. But the actual meaning of ulama is ‘people of knowledge’. The qualification of an alim, what makes him an alim is ilm, knowledge. This isn’t restricted to religious knowledge either. A real alim is knowledgeable in different fields of knowledge. How else can they be a reliable resource upon which their communities can rely for advice and guidance?

We should therefore be more critical of what we see, hear, and read. If something doesn’t make sense, doesn’t accord with logic and reason, we are under no obligation as Muslims to follow it. Indeed, it is a duty of the Muslim to check things out for ourselves, to think things through, taking responsibility for our own decisions and our own lives. We shouldn’t be consulting others about every last little detail of our lives, simply because they are imams or scholars.

At times though, we will feel out of our depth and need to talk to someone who is wise, and has more knowledge of life and religion. Before consulting anyone, we should first see what they have said on other matters, and if they really possess these qualities. We certainly shouldn’t take everything they say as gospel, simply because other people call them an imam or shaykh. We should reflect on what they tell us. If their advice makes sense, follow it. But if not, or if you’re not convinced, get a second opinion from someone else, similarly qualified.

Always use reason, reflect, and think things through – this is the difference between a rational believer and a member of a cult. Cults, all cults, always tell you not to read or take from other sources, only to study their materials, to follow their instructions. But what benefit can come from such an approach? We will surely only be lead by the nose by those with agendas other than our own best interests, and we will truly end up among the lost and astray.

Quranic Verses Encouraging Thought, Reason, and Reflection



“granting wisdom unto whom He wills: and whoever is granted wisdom has indeed been granted wealth abundant. But none bears this in mind save those who are endowed with insight.”
~ Holy Quran 2:269 (M. Asad)

“He gives wisdom to whomever He wishes, and he who is given wisdom, is certainly given an abundant good. But none takes admonition except those who possess intellect.”
~ Holy Quran 2:269 (



“MAKE due allowance for man’s nature, and enjoin the doing of what is right; and leave alone all those who choose to remain ignorant.”
~ Holy Quran 7:199 (M. Asad)

“Adopt [a policy of] excusing [the faults of people], bid what is right, and turn away from the ignorant.”
~ Holy Quran 7:199 (


“[God] answered: ‘O Noah, behold, he was not of thy family, for, verily, he was unrighteous in his conduct. And thou shalt not ask of Me anything whereof thou canst not have any knowledge: thus, behold, do I admonish thee lest thou become one of those who are unaware [of what is right].’”
~ Holy Quran 11:46 (M. Asad)

“Said He, ‘O Noah! Indeed He is not of your family. Indeed he is [personification of] unrighteous conduct. So do not ask Me [something] of which you have no knowledge. I advise you lest you should be among the ignorant.’”
~ Holy Quran 11:46 (


“and, whenever they heard frivolous talk, having turned away from it and said: ‘Unto us shall be accounted our deeds, and unto you, your deeds. Peace be upon you- [but] we do not seek out such as are ignorant [of the meaning of right and wrong].’”
~ Holy Quran 28:55 (M. Asad)

“and when they hear vain talk, they avoid it and say, ‘Our deeds belong to us, and your deeds belong to you. Peace be to you. We do not court the ignorant.’”
~ Holy Quran 28:55 (


Verifying Information:

“O YOU who have attained to faith! If any iniquitous person comes to you with a [slanderous] tale, use your discernment, lest you hurt people unwittingly and afterwards be filled with remorse for what you have done.”
~ Holy Quran 49:6 (M. Asad)

“O you who have faith! If a profligate [person] should bring you some news, verify it, lest you should visit [harm] on some people out of ignorance, and then become regretful for what you have done.”
~ Holy Quran 49:6 (



“NOW THEY who are endowed with [innate] knowledge are well aware that whatever has been bestowed upon thee from on high by thy Sustainer is indeed the truth, and that it guides onto the way that leads to the Almighty, the One to whom all praise is due!”
~ Holy Quran 34:6 (M. Asad)

“Those who have been given knowledge see that what has been sent down to you from your Lord is the truth and [that] it guides to the path of the All-mighty, the All-laudable.”
~ Holy Quran 34:6 (


“Or [dost thou deem thyself equal to] one who devoutly worships [God] throughout the night, prostrating himself or standing [in prayer], evermindful of the life to come, and hoping for his Sustainer’s grace?’ Say: ‘Can they who know and they who do not know be deemed equal?’ [But] only they who are endowed with insight keep this in mind!”
~ Holy Quran 39:9 (M. Asad)

“Is he who supplicates in the watches of the night, prostrating and standing, apprehensive of the Hereafter and expecting the mercy of his Lord … ? Say, ‘Are those who know equal to those who do not know?’ Only those who possess intellect take admonition.”
~ Holy Quran 39:9 (


“READ in the name of thy Sustainer, who has created – created man out of a germ-cell! Read – for thy Sustainer is the Most Bountiful One who has taught [man] the use of the pen – taught man what he did not know!”
~ Holy Quran 96:1-5 (M. Asad)

“Read in the Name of your Lord who created; created man from a clinging mass. Read, and your Lord is the most generous, who taught by the pen, taught man what he did not know.”
~ Holy Quran 96:1-5 (


“And He it is who has set up for you the stars so that you might be guided by them in the midst of the deep darkness of land and sea: clearly, indeed, have We spelled out these messages unto people of [innate] knowledge!”
~ Holy Quran 6:97 (M. Asad)

“It is He who made the stars for you, so that you may be guided by them in the darkness of land and sea. We have certainly elaborated the signs for a people who have knowledge.”
~ Holy Quran 6:97 (


Thinking and using Reason:

“And it is He who has spread the earth wide and placed on it firm mountains and running waters, and created thereon two sexes of every [kind of] plant; [and it is He who] causes the night to cover the day. Verily, in all this there are messages indeed for people who think!

And there are on earth [many] tracts of land close by one another [and yet widely differing from one another]; and [there are on it] vinyards, end fields of grain, and date-palms growing in clusters from one root or standing alone, [all] watered with the same water: and yet, some of them have We favoured above others by way of the food [which they provide for man and beast]. Verily, in all this there are messages indeed for people who use their reason!”
~ Holy Quran 13:3-4 (M. Asad)

“It is He who has spread out the earth and set in it firm mountains and streams, and of every fruit He has made in it two kinds.He draws the night’s cover over the day. There are indeed signs in that for a people who reflect.

In the earth are neighbouring terrains [of diverse kinds] and vineyards, farms, and date palms growing from the same root and from diverse roots, [all] irrigated by the same water, and We give some of them an advantage over others in flavour. There are indeed signs in that for a people who apply reason.”
~ Holy Quran 13:3-4 (


“And [We grant you nourishment] from the fruit of date-palms and vines: from it you derive intoxicants as well as wholesome sustenance – in this, behold, there is a message indeed for people who use their reason!”
~ Holy Quran 16:67 (M. Asad)

“And of the fruits of date palms and vines, from which you draw wine and goodly provision. There are indeed signs in that for a people who apply reason.”
~ Holy Quran 16:67 (


“It is God who causes night and day to alternate: in this [too], behold, there is surely a lesson for all who have eyes to see!”
~ Holy Quran 24:44 (M. Asad)

“Allah alternates the night and the day. There is indeed a moral in that for those who have insight.”
~ Holy Quran 24:44 (


“HAVE YOU given thought [to how you will fare] if this be truly [a revelation] from God, the while you deny its truth? Who could be more astray than one who places himself [so] deeply in the wrong?”
~ Holy Quran 41:52 (M. Asad)

“Say, ‘Tell me, if it is from Allah and you disbelieve in it, who will be more astray than someone who is in extreme defiance.’”
~ Holy Quran 41:52 (


“CAN, THEN, they [who reject the truth] learn no lesson by recalling how many a generation We have destroyed before their time – [people] in whose dwelling-places they [themselves now] walk about? In this, behold, there are messages indeed for those who are endowed with reason!”
~ Holy Quran 20:128 (M. Asad)

“Does it not dawn upon them how many generations We have destroyed before them, amid [the ruins of] whose dwellings they walk? There are indeed signs in this for those who have reason.”
~ Holy Quran 20:128 (


“Verily, in the creation of the heavens and of the earth, and the succession of night and day: and in the ships that speed through the sea with what is useful to man: and in the waters which God sends down from the sky, giving life thereby to the earth after it had been lifeless, and causing all manner of living creatures to multiply thereon: and in the change of the winds, and the clouds that run their appointed courses between sky and earth: [in all this] there are messages indeed for people who use their reason.”
~ Holy Quran 2:164 (M. Asad)

“Indeed in the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the alternation of night and day, and the ships that sail at sea with profit to men, and the water that Allah sends down from the sky —with which He revives the earth after its death, and scatters therein every kind of animal— and the changing of the winds, and the clouds disposed between the sky and the earth, are surely signs for a people who apply reason.”
~ Holy Quran 2:164 (


“Art thou not aware that it is God who causes the clouds to move onward, then joins them together, then piles them up in masses, until thou canst see rain come forth from their midst? And He it is who sends down from the skies, by degrees, mountainous masses [of clouds] charged with hail, striking therewith whomever He wills and averting it from whomever He wills, [the while] the flash of His lightning well-nigh deprives [men of their] sight! It is God who causes night and day to alternate: in this [too], behold, there is surely a lesson for all who have eyes to see!”
~ Holy Quran 24:43-44 (M. Asad)

“Have you not regarded that Allah drives the clouds, then He composes them, then He piles them up, whereat you see the rain issuing from its midst? And He sends down from the sky hail, out of the mountains [a metaphoric reference to the clouds] that are in it, and He strikes with it whomever He wishes, and turns it away from whomever He wishes. The brilliance of its lightening almost takes away the sight. Allah alternates the night and the day. There is indeed a moral in that for those who have insight.”
~ Holy Quran 24:43-44 (



“Now if We had willed this [divine writ] to be a discourse in a non-Arabic tongue, they [who now reject it] would surely have said, ‘Why is it that its messages have not been spelled out clearly? Why [a message in] a non-Arabic tongue, and [its bearer] an Arab?’ Say: ‘Unto all who have attained to faith, this [divine writ] is a guidance and a source of health; but as for those who will not believe – in their ears is deafness, and so it remains obscure to them: they are [like people who are] being called from too far away.’”
~ Holy Quran 41:44 (M. Asad)

“Had We made it a non-Arabic Qurʾān, they would have surely said, ‘Why have not its signs been articulated?’ ‘What! A non-Arabian [scripture] and an Arabian [prophet]!?’ Say, ‘For those who have faith, it is a guidance and healing; but as for those who are faithless, there is a deafness in their ears and it is lost to their sight.’ They are [as if they were] called from a distant place.”
~ Holy Quran 41:44 (




“In time We shall make them fully understand Our messages [through what they perceive] in the utmost horizons [of the universe] and within themselves, so that it will become clear unto them that this [revelation] is indeed the truth. [Still,] is it not enough [for them to know] that thy Sustainer is witness unto everything?”
~ Holy Quran 41:53 (M. Asad)

“Soon We shall show them Our signs in the horizons and in their own souls until it becomes clear to them that He is the Real. Is it not sufficient that your Lord is witness to all things?”
~ Holy Quran 41:53 (



“for he who commits a sin, commits it only to his own hurt; and God is indeed all-knowing, wise.”
~ Holy Quran 4:111 (M. Asad)

“And whoever commits a sin, commits it only against himself; and Allah is all-knowing, all-wise.”
~ Holy Quran 4:111 (


“O you who have attained to faith! It is [but] for your own selves that you are responsible: those who go astray can do you no harm if you [yourselves] are on the right path. Unto God you all must return: and then He will make you [truly] understand all that you were doing [in life].”
~ Holy Quran 5:105 (M. Asad)

“O you who have faith! Take care of your own souls. He who strays cannot hurt you if you are guided. To Allah will be the return of you all, whereat He will inform you concerning what you used to do.”
~ Holy Quran 5:105 (


“Verily, God does not do the least wrong unto men, but it is men who wrong themselves.”
~ Holy Quran 10:44 (M. Asad)

“Indeed Allah does not wrong people in the least; rather it is people who wrong themselves.”
~ Holy Quran 10:44 (


“WHOEVER does what is just and right, does so for his own good; and whoever does evil, does so to his own hurt: and never does God do the least wrong to His creatures.”
~ Holy Quran 41:46 (M. Asad)

“Whoever acts righteously, it is for his own soul, and whoever does evil, it is to its detriment, and your Lord is not tyrannical to the servants.”
~ Holy Quran 41:46 (


Blind following:

“But when they are told, ‘Follow what God has bestowed from on high,’ some answer, ‘Nay, we shall follow [only] that which we found our forefathers believing in and doing.’ Why, even if their forefathers did not use their reason at all, and were devoid of all guidance?”
~ Holy Quran 2:170 (M. Asad)

“When they are told, ‘Follow what Allah has sent down,’ they say, ‘We will rather follow what we have found our fathers following.’ What, even if their fathers neither applied any reason nor were guided?!”
~ Holy Quran 2:170 (


“IT IS NOT of God’s ordaining that certain kinds of cattle should be marked out by superstition and set aside from the use of man; yet those who are bent on denying the truth attribute their own lying inventions to God. And most of them never use their reason: for when they are told, ‘Come unto that which God has bestowed from on high, and unto the Apostle’ – they answer, ‘Enough for us is that which we found our forefathers believing in and doing.’ Why, even though their forefathers knew nothing, and were devoid of all guidance?”
~ Holy Quran 5:103-104 (M. Asad)

“Allah has not prescribed any such thing as Baḥīrah, Sāʾibah, Waṣīlah, or Hām;1 but those who are faithless fabricate lies against Allah, and most of them do not apply reason. And when they are told, ‘Come to what Allah has sent down and [come] to the Apostle,’ they say, ‘Sufficient for us is what we have found our fathers following.’ What, even if their fathers did not know anything and were not guided?!”
~ Holy Quran 5:103-104 (

  1. The pre-Islamic Arabs used these terms for individual camels and sheep, which were subject to such practices as the slitting of ears, the forbidding of their use for burden, their dedication to idols, and restriction of their flesh to males. The commentators give different descriptions of these primitive customs and their significance, reflecting probably their varying practice among pre-Islamic Arabs. (


“They have taken their rabbis and their monks – as well as the Christ, son of Mary – for their lords beside God, although they had been bidden to worship none but the One God, save whom there is no deity: the One who is utterly remote, in His limitless glory, from anything to which they may ascribe a share in His divinity! They want to extinguish God’s [guiding] light with their utterances: but God will not allow [this to pass], for He has willed to spread His light in all its fullness, however hateful this may be to all who deny the truth.”
~ Holy Quran 9:31-32 (M. Asad)

“They have taken their scribes and their monks as lords besides Allah, and also Christ, Mary’s son; though they were commanded to worship only the One God, there is no god except Him; He is far too immaculate to have any partners that they ascribe [to Him]! They desire to put out the light of Allah with their mouths, but Allah is intent on perfecting His light though the faithless should be averse.”
~ Holy Quran 9:31-32 (