Islam's Intellectual Tradition
People are never asked to follow the teachings of Islam without contemplating and analyzing their validity. The Qur'an is repeatedly addressed to “people of knowledge” and “those endued with understanding.” The Qur'an challenges all people to listen to and evaluate the message of Islam based on sound evidence and reasoning.
In Islam, education is mandatory for all people. Muhammad encouraged his followers to “seek knowledge, even unto China,” meaning that one should travel as far as necessary to attain learning and not be limited by barriers or prejudices. Over time, the Muslim world did just that.
The Signs of Allah
The Qur'an encourages Muslims to seek out an understanding of the universe so they might come to see the “Signs of Allah” in the natural world. The Qur'an asks people to contemplate the laws of nature, the intricate balance in which the universe exists, down to the minutest detail. This is cited as evidence of Allah's power and wisdom in His creation: “Behold! In the creation of the heavens and the earth; in the alternation of the night and the day; in the sailing of ships through the ocean for the profit of mankind; in the rain which Allah sends down from the skies; and the life which He gives therewith to an earth that is dead; in the beasts of all kinds that He scatters through the earth; in the change of the winds, and the clouds which they trail like their slaves between the sky and the earth — Here indeed are Signs for a people that are wise” (Qur'an 2:164).
Questioning Is Encouraged
Muslims are encouraged to discuss Islam's teachings, seek answers, defend their opinions, and reason out questions in their minds. Muslims honor differences of opinion and respect disagreements as necessary in the pursuit of knowledge. The Prophet Muhammad once remarked, “Differences [of opinion] in my ummah are a blessing.” Entire books are written for Muslims about how to disagree with each other and how to respect intellectual tradition.
One of the most renowned is The Ethics of Disagreement in Islam, by Taha al-Alwani, a work that explores the history of Islamic analytical debate and discussion. Al-Alwani emphasizes that the early Muslims did not depend on blind imitation — they questioned, presented evidence, and evaluated positions, always with respect and humility.
At the same time, Muslims are warned against asking too many questions about things that are not meant to be part of human knowledge. Muhammad once told his companions that Allah hates the “asking of too many questions” in regard to religious matters, such as the nature of Allah or the secrets of the unseen world. When it comes to Allah, there are some things that are beyond the reaches of human comprehension.
The following Qur'anic description of the sun and Earth's orbits was later found to be in agreement with scientific studies: “It is He Who created the night and the day, and the sun and the moon. All of the celestial bodies swim along, each in its rounded course” (Qur'an 21:33).