Islam and Ignorance

The Inter-relation of Opinion and Conduct

Man faces many things in life and with none of them can he deal properly unless he forms an opinion about the nature or condition of that thing and his own relationship with it. Right or wrong, an opinion has to be formed about everything and until such an opinion is formed no man can decide what behavior and what attitude he should adopt towards a particular thing. This is an experience which is a part of your daily life. Whenever you meet a person you want to know: Who is he? What is his position and status in life ? What are his personal qualities? What sort of relationship subsists between both of you? You cannot determine how to deal with the man to the aforesaid questions. In the absence of all such information, you nevertheless have to form a conjectural opinion on the basis of appearances and whatever conduct you adopt towards him is controlled by the opinion so formed. You eat the sort of things which according to your knowledge or conjecture stain food value. The things you cast away, or make use of; the things you preserve, adore or loathe; the things you fear or love, your varying attitude towards all these things is regulated by the opinion which you have formed about their nature and propensities and your relations with them.

The correctness or impropriety of your behavior towards these things is dependent upon your right or wrong opinions you have formed about them. The validity or fallacy depends on whether you have formed the opinion about them on the basis of knowledge, conjecture, whim or observation through senses. A child, for instance, sees fire and on bare observation through senses forms the opinion that it is an attractive, glaring plaything. This opinion leads him to the act of stretching his hands to hold the fire. Another man sees the same fire and through conjecture or whim comes to the conclusion that it embodies in itself some attribute of Divinity or, at least, it is at an emblem of Divinity. On the basis of this conclusion, he determines to bow his head in supplication before the fire, thus signifying his relationship with it. A third man looks at the fire. He begins to investigate into its nature and properties and through knowledge and research arrives at the conclusion that fire can bake, burn or heat things. He further forms the opinion that his relationship with fire is like that of master with his servant. Fire, in his opinion, is neither a plaything nor a deity. On the other hand, it is a thing which can be pressed into service for cooking, burning or heating purposes, whenever the need arises. Among the foregoing different attitudes, those of the child and the fire worshipper are definitely based on ignorance. Experience negates the child's opinion that fire is a plaything. The opinion of the worshiper of fire that fire is God or an emblem of godhood is based upon whims and caprices rather than on any proof furnished by true knowledge. In contrast to both these opinions, the attitude of the man who regards fire as a useful agent in the service of man is a scientific attitude as is based upon knowledge.