Enlightenment has always been affiliated with the level of development, usually cultural development, that nations and individuals undergo. But here, I will attempt to offer a different take on this subject, or the notion if you’d like to call it.
All through the centuries and throughout the history of human civilizations, any attempt to change the culture or morals of nations had always been brought at the hands of a select section of a society that eventually sought domination of its ideologies if not its own entity as a leading authority. We’ve seen ideologies seeking domination pretty much like individuals.
Linguistically “enlighten” as a verb is a derivative of the root “light”, and it connotes having better vision as a result of being at a closer distance from light or the fact that the source of light is so strong to reach you and thus makes your vision/ path much clearer than before.
So getting enlightened involves two principle aspects: external; that is the source, and internal; that is yourself, the recipient of the light beams- and the lack of any of the two aspects doesn’t render a genuine state of enlightenment.
On a more deeper level of meaning, enlightenment as a state of cultural and mental advancement involves a more perceptive understanding of one’s self, the universe and the surrounding realm, with consequential illumination pertaining to all worldly and divinely matters.
This being said, man’s mental illumination entails being more acquainted with that which relates to his inner-world, including faith, identity, beliefs and inclinations, and that which relates to the outer-world, which involves the universe, the notion of creation, facts about the natural order of the universe, social, economic and political paradigms, as well as knowledge about the Creator of the Universe and about other individuals.
And perhaps that’s why Islam teaches people to pursue knowledge and better understanding of the divinely aspects of life including: religion and the law ordained by Almighty Allah, as well as secular knowledge which involve the worldly realm of life. The two combined constitute a balanced view and mature understanding of life which, while equips people with logical and comprehensive intelligence that would aid them in this life, guides them to what earns them salvation in the hereafter.
And this is encouraged as an individual duty that safeguards individual freedoms rather than an imposed way of thinking or attempt to impose any man-made laws or ideologies.
Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said:
“Seeking knowledge is a duty on every Muslim.”—Narrated by imam Bukhari.
And this involves all branches of knowledge, whether secular or Sharii knowledge pertaining to God commands and Islamic teachings alike, those that feed the heart, and those that nurture the mind.
And in another instance;
Safwan ibn Assaal al Muraadi came to the Prophet (peace be upon him) in the mosque and said: “O Messenger of Allah, I have come seeking knowledge.” The Prophet (pbuh) told him:
“Welcome, O’ seeker of Knowledge! Truly the angels surround the seeker of knowledge with their wings, gathering around him in ranks one above the other, until they reach the first heaven, out of love for that which he seeks.”—Narrated by Imam Ahmas, Tabaraani, Ibn Hibaan, Al- Haakim with a saheeh Isnad.
Also Allah says in the Qur’an:
“… Say: Are those equal, those who know and those who do not know? It is those who are endued with understanding that receive admonition.”
– Qur’an (39:9)
So Muslims are encouraged to enact the bliss of thinking and boost their mind abilities. They’re as well encouraged to contemplate and reflect on the supreme ability of God as manifested in the beauty of His creation- This is one exercise that involves the heart and the mind, and equally enlightens the two.
“Indeed, in the creation of the heavens and the earth and the alternation of the night and the day are signs for those of understanding. Who remember Allah while standing or sitting or [lying] on their sides and give thought to the creation of the heavens and the earth, [saying], “Our Lord, You did not create this aimlessly; exalted are You [above such a thing]; protect us from the punishment of the Fire.” – Qur’an 3:190-191
The noble Ayas here address both: the hearts and the minds.
The subject also brings to mind Europe’s 18th century Age of Enlightenment; also known as the Age of Reason. It was a time when Europe witnessed the emergence of some movement of “intellectuals” who sought to mobilize the power of reason, understanding the natural world and humans in it on the basis of reason with total disregard to religion, which triggered a significant conflict between the power of reason, and attempting to judge things according to logic on one hand and religion on the other, to witness in the following centuries deterioration of the very same trend of thought, which awakened people to the moral hoax they were living, under the full control of an ever dominating social minority.
Immanuel Kant, one of the most influential philosophers of the 18th century Age of Enlightenment in Europe, referred to Enlightenment as “Mankind’s final coming of age, the emancipation of the human consciousness from an immature state of ignorance and error.”
Islamic Thought or Islamic Doctrine never needed to live through similar experiment of ideologies to discover the power of mind and reason and later establish a bond linking the two together. We have many bright icons of Muslims who pioneered in all sorts of secular studies and innovative thinking, those who set the milestones for many contemporary inventions, the bounties of which we still enjoy till date.
I quote Louis Dupre who said that “Islam never had to go through a prolonged period of critically examining the validity of its spiritual vision, as the West did during the 18th century…”
Ibnul Haitham, Al Bairuni, Al Farrabi and many others who set great inventions that we copied and followed by other civilizations, and some of which we mistakenly attributed to the European Renaissance.
Our predecessors never seized to explore secular fields of science and philosophy, considering it part of their pursuit to perfectly uphold their roles in life and out of keenness to leave a rich legacy behind. Islam and Reason never conflicted, on the contrary, they supported one another- for an appropriate pursuit of the two leads to the same facts about life, all of which intertwined prove the supreme power of One Mighty Creator of the Universe, that is Allah (SWT).
Islam, regardless of minor divisions in some perceptions in different stages of its history, never faced a conflict between its teachings and logic.
Islam encourages man to do his own thinking and analysis of matters, and prohibits exerting any control over human minds to impose any ideology, way of thinking or even faith. Islam itself doesn’t condone compulsion even in drawing people to join the religion of Islam.
“There is no compulsion in Islam.”
May Allah enlighten your hearts and path towards salvation in this life and the hereafter, and guide you to what best protects your intellect and dignity.