Knowledge is of two types: Eternal (qadīm) and contingent (ḥādith).
Eternal Knowledge is that which subsists with the Divine Entity. It is not comparable to the knowledge of contingent beings.
Contingent knowledge is of two types: self-evident (ḍarūrī) and acquired (iktisābī). Self-evident knowledge is that which Allāh creates within the knower without his acquisition or choice, like the knowledge of his own existence and various sensations such as hunger, thirst, pleasure and pain whereby the person cannot doubt these sensations. All animals (ḥaywānāt) possess this knowledge. As for acquired knowledge, it is that which Allāh creates within the servant through the servant’s acquisition and choice, and it is known through different ways.
There are three sources: the sound senses (al-ḥawwās al-salīmah), the truthful report (al-khabr al-ṣādiq) and reasoning (naẓar al-ʿaql).
As for the sound senses, they are five: hearing (samʿ), sight (baṣr), smell (shamm), taste (dhawq) and touch (lams). Specifics of each sense become known when they are used.
Truthful reports are of two types:
- The first is the mass-transmitted report (al-khabar al-mutawātir). It is that report which is heard by multiple people in different ways to the extent that it is impossible that they all collaborated to invent a lie. It is a source of necessary knowledge (al-ʿilm al-ḍarūrī) such as knowledge of ancient kings and distant lands.
- The second is the report supported by the miracle of aprophets (peace be upon them all) and it is a source of definitive knowledge (al-ʿilm al-qaṭʿī) though by way of inference.
As for reasoning then it too is a source of knowledge, and the knowledge acquired from it is of two types:
- Self-evident – also known as axiomatic (badīhī) – is that which is known through immediate thought with no need for further deliberation such as the knowledge that the whole is greater than the sum of its part;
- Inferential (istidlālī) and it is that which requires some degree of thinking, like the knowledge of the presence of fire upon seeing some smoke.
The acquisition of knowledge through these sources is a matter that is testified to by anyone who is just and does not reject it out of obduracy. A group called the Sophists completely rejected the above — some of them rejected the reality of things, whilst others rejected the knowledge of the reality of things. It is not possible to debate with these people except by painful strikes or by burning so that they are forced to concede.
The Buddhists and the Brahmins deny the [truthful] report to be from the sources of knowledge, and this is close to the denial of the Sophists, for they deny necessary knowledge (ʿilm al-ḍarūrī) by means of mass-transmitted report. If the mass transmitted report was not from the sources of knowledge, how would a person know his father, his brother, his uncle or any of his relatives? There is no way of recognising these people except by narration.
The heretics, the Rāfiḍah and the anthropomorphists (mushabbihah) deny intellect to be from the sources of knowledge. They reason that logical propositions vary according to different people. We will say, ‘how do you come to know that the judgements of the mind are contradictory?’ If you say, “via the intellect” then you have contradicted yourselves in that you are effectively saying: “we know via the intellect that the intellect cannot know anything.” And if you say, “via narration,” we will ask: ‘how do you know the narration to be true or false?’ And if you say, “through the senses” then you are being stubborn.
Then we will respond: logical propositions are not contradictory—the difference amongst rational people only occurs due to some having weaker intellects or due to them not fulfilling the necessary conditions of reasoning. And so, some make judgments according to their whimsical desires or mere conjecture whilst claiming they are ruling according to logic. For example, if some were asked ‘what is three times three?’ then they will not differ in the answer being nine. Yet, if they were asked [to calculate in their minds the answer to] ‘what is thirteen times thirteen?’ then they may disagree with each other regarding the answer due to the reasons outlined above, not because there is a contradiction in the logical answer being 169.
This is not dissimilar to one’s eyesight: bystanders will not disagree with one another about the visibility of the moon on a dark and clear night, yet there may be disagreement regarding the crescent moon at the beginning of the month — perhaps due to visual impairment or an error by the onlooker. This is similar to the [the difference in] logical reasoning.
al-Ṣābūnī, Abū Muḥammad Nūr al-Dīn Aḥmad; al-Bidāyah fī Uṣūl al-Dīn
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