“One’s Inability to Understand Something is no Argument for its Being False”, By Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi

Translated By: Professor Muhammad Hasan Askari & Karrar Husain
Compiled By: Mufti Umar Anwar Badakhshani

Answer to Modernism

First Principle

One’s inability to understand something is no argument for its being false.


When we describe a thing as “false”, we really mean to say that a clear and definite argument leads us to conclude that it does not exist. It is evident enough that these two facts—namely, the inability to understand that a certain thing exists, and the certain knowledge that it does not exist—are totally different from each other.

The former (that is, the inability to understand that something exists) signifies that, for lack of observation, our mind has not been able to comprehend the causes and modes of its existence, and hence feels bewildered, and hesitates in determining these causes and modes. But, in this case, beyond wondering how such a thing could exist, our mind can produce no sound argument, rational or based on the report, to establish its non-existence.

On the other hand, the latter (that is, the knowledge that the thing does not exist) signifies that our mind can produce a sound argument, rational orbased on report, to establish its non-existence.

For example, a rustic who has never chanced to see a railway train comes to hear that there is a carriage that runs all by itself without being pulled by a beast. He would naturally be bewildered, and wonder as to how it could be so. But, at the same time, he would be unable to produce an argument, to deny this fact, for he does not possess any argument even to prove that the fast and continued motion of a carriage can have no other cause than being pulled by a beast. This is what we call “the inability to understand”. If the rustic begins to deny the fact only on this ground and to refute the reporter, all sensible people would consider him a fool, and the basis of their judgment would be the elementary principle that if a man is unable to understand a certain thing, he is not necessarily entitled to deny its existence. This, then, is an illustration of “the inability to understand” the existence of a thing.

Now, if a man boards a train at Calcutta, and gets down at Delhi, and a second man comes and states in his presence that the train has today covered the journey between Calcutta and Delhi in one hour, the traveler would refute him. And he would possess an argument for this refutation—the argument being his own observation and the witness of one or two hundred other observers who have come by the same train. This is an illustration of proving the non-existence of a thing.

The difference between not understanding something and being false

First Example: In the same way, let us suppose that a man is told that on the Day of Judgment one will have to cross the bridge called “Sirat” which will be finer than a hair. Since no one has ever seen such a thing happen, it is natural enough that the man should wonder as to how it could be so. But it is also evident that his reason does not possess any argument to refute the statement. For, if there is an argument at all, it can apparently be only this—the human foot is so broad and the place where it is to be put is so narrow, hence it is not possible for the foot to rest on it and to walk on it. But one cannot even prove that it is rationally necessary that the breadth of the patch must be greater than that of the foot. Of course, we may concede that this is the habitual fact according to our observation, that we have not seen anything contrary to it, and if we have at all seen the contrary (for example, people walking on a rope), we have not found such a great difference of breadth. But is it really impossible that Allah, who is omnipotent, may altogether change this natural or habitual law in the other world? The man who had denied this possibility on the basis of what has habitually been observed would be placing himself in the position of the rustic who had denied that a railway train could run by itself without being pulled by a beast.

Second Example: Now, take a different kind of example. If a man were to hear someone declare that on the Day of Judgment Allah the Majestic would honor and exalt the offspring of a certain saint on account of their relationship to him, even without their being genuine Muslims, then such a belief would be repudiated and considered false, for there is a solid argument which proves just the opposite of this belief. The argument in this case being the clear teachings of the Shariah that an infidel cannot attain salvation.

This, then, is the distinction between what one has not been able to understand and what is “false”.

SOURCE: Answer to modernism, By Maulana Asharaf Ali thanvi

Answer to Modernism: To read the Second Principle Click on the link below:


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