Then they found one of Our servants whom We blessed with mercy from Us and whom We gave knowledge, a knowledge from Our own. (65) Musa said to him, “May I have your company so that you teach me some of the rightful knowledge you have been given.” (66) He said, “You can never bear with me patiently. (67) And how would you keep patient over something your comprehension cannot grasp?” (68) He (Musa) said, “You will find me patient, if Allah wills, and I shall not disobey any order from you.” (69) He said, “Well, if you follow me, do not ask me about anything unless I myself start telling you about it.” (70) So, they both moved ahead, until when they boarded a boat, he sliced it (by removing one of its planks). He (Musa) said, “Did you slice it to drown its people? In fact, you have done a terrible act.” (71) He said, “Did I not say that you can never bear with me patiently?” (72) He (Musa) said, “Do not hold me punishable for what I forgot, and do not make my course too difficult for me.” (73) So, they moved ahead until when they met a boy, he killed him (the boy). He (Musa) said, “Did you kill an innocent soul while he did not kill anyone? You have committed a heinous act indeed.” (74) He said, “Did I not tell you that you can never bear with me patiently?” (75) He (Musa) said, “If I ask you about something after this, do not allow me your company. You have now reached a point where you have a valid excuse (to part with me) from my own side. “ (76) Then, they moved ahead until they came to the people of a town; they asked its people for food, and they refused to host them. Then, they found there a wall tending to fall down. So he (Khidr) set it right. He (Musa) said, “If you wished, you could have charged a fee for this.” (77) He said, “Here is the point of parting ways between me and you. I shall now explain to you the reality of things about which you could not remain patient. (78) As for the boat, it belonged to some poor people who worked at sea. So I wanted to make it defective, as there was a king across them who used to usurp every boat by force. (79) As for the boy, his parents were believers. We apprehended that he would impose rebellion and infidelity upon them. (80) We, therefore, wished that their Lord would replace him with someone better than him in piety, and more akin to affection. (81) As for the wall, it belonged to two orphan boys in the city, and there was a treasure beneath it belonging to them, and their father was a pious man. So your Lord willed that they should reach their maturity and dig out their treasure, as a mercy from your Lord. I did not do it on my own accord. This is the reality of things about which you could not remain patient.” (82). [18: 65-82]

   What is knowledge? Take one philosophy course (almost any course) and you will be presented with about 1000+ theories on Epistemology– what knowledge is, how we acquire it, why we acquire it, what we do with it, and what it all means in the grand scheme of things. When I’m in class it seems that there are a plethora of theories, and once we’ve touched based on even one of them, we jump to the next– occasionally come back to some previous ones–accept them or challenge them, and the cycle continues. Let’s not forget the theories that a philosopher might create just to refute a theory he/she doesn’t like. But I love it. I love my philosophy classes and I love that I can learn those 1000+ theories and the fact will always remain- Allah is the first and the last.

“He is the First and the Last and the Ascendant (over all) and the Knower of hidden things, and He is Cognizant of all things.” [57:3]

    Of course as Muslims we have to understand that it is by Allah’s mercy that He has granted us the Qur’an as guidance and so that we can understand the reality of this world. It is also by His mercy that such profound information is clarified in one book. So how can we use the Qur’an to understand Epistemology? To begin, Allah reminds us that only He is the all-aware and all-knowing. Allah describes Himself with many names that are only reserved for Him, especially in regards to knowledge. Even in the case of Khidr (AS), he himself states that the knowledge and wisdom bestowed upon him was all from Allah. It is very clear that as the creation we are limited and He is limitless.

    In philosophy, when we talk about epistemology, it often follows that we also talk about intuitions and beliefs. Why do we hold certain intuitions and are they a reliable source of information? If we have the correct information but come to an incorrect conclusion in virtue of that information, does it still count as having a true belief? Philosophers have tried to tackle these questions by considering certain scenarios, such as the Gettier cases and thought experiments. Gettier cases are hypothetical scenarios that were made to appeal to our understanding of knowledge and true beliefs. A super simplified version of a Gettier Case can be understood in the case that Smith knows that Jones always drives a Ford so Smith believes that Jones owns a Ford. However Jones is currently renting a Ford (unbeknown to Smith) – so would that count as Smith having the justified belief that Jones owns a Ford? Now to put a twist on things, thought experiments also constitute of hypothetical situations that examine how knowledge plays a role in moral judgment which then have consequences that are manifested in action. For example, there is a situation where one must to choose between letting a trolley (train) kill X number of people on a track or purposely killing 1 person to spare the others. There are more versions of this case that consider how varying indirect/direct responsibility for the killing would have an effect on one’s decision. For both Gettier Cases and Thought Experiments, many philosophers have tried to reconcile different theories of beliefs and intuitions to come to some sort of conclusion about knowledge.

   Without going into further discussion about such cases, we can rewind and come back to the story of Musa and Khidr (AS)- to appeal to intuitions and beliefs. Even though Musa (AS) was a prophet, in this event we see how he was bound by his own intuitions, which prevented him from seeing the wisdom behind the actions of Khidr (AS). Again, Musa AS is a prophet and because of that him and his knowledge are still held to a high regard, however even as a noble prophet, Allah is showing us something extremely profound in regards to epistemology. It is He who holds all the knowledge of the seen and unseen and it is He who grants guidance and wisdom to whom He wills. In this case He granted Khidr knowledge and wisdom from Himself, which is the only way that Khidr was able to take the action that he did. This story reflects greatly on the trials that we will face in our life. We as the creation have limited capacities by nature. Nobody will deny this; nobody will deny that humans although the intelligent species- have limited and many times imperfect perception. We are able to make certain moral judgments and filter our own actions accordingly but every so often we will find that what we intuit to be “bad” may actually be beneficial and what we intuit to be “good” may actually be detrimental.  

  Again, this is largely my own reconciliation of what I learn everyday with what Allah tells us in the Qur’an. Of course the Qur’an will always take precedence over anything I learn and if there is any lesson that I would like to share from this reflection, it is that no matter how much knowledge we think we have or how intelligent we think we are, Allah is the most knowledgeable, the most wise, and only He is perfect. Any mistakes that we make are a product of our own imperfections and all success is only from Allah. We must ask Him for guidance especially in times of hardships when our intuitions are playing against us.

P.S. I am also not a Philosopher, but whatever. Who in philosophy even is?

Sources:

  • “Is Justified True Belief Knowledge” – Edmund Gettier, 1963

By Abyaz Uppal  

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