Introduction: The Arabic term al-„aql / ―intelligence/understanding/ reason‖ is one among half-a-dozen of the most important concepts occurring throughout Islamic experience and thought. From the beginning of the Islamic era, it had been an opaque term, and Muslim scholars did not always agree that „aql was univocal in meaning. In its early Islamic unfolding the concept of „aql comprised the intersection of primarily Arab and Qur‘anic as well as Biblicic components with Hellenic and Iranian traditions. „Aql became the carrier of multiple overlapping or diverging meanings, if not already before Islam among the old Arabs; it assumed particular significances in ethics, humanistic studies (adab), prosody and rhetoric, law, theology, philosophy, as well as in spiritual and metaphysical speculations.1 A review of the Islamic understanding of ‗reason‘ and ‗rationality‘ would have to deal with the chief disciplines wherein rationality played an extensive role: legal theory (usul al-fiqh), speculative theology (kalam), philosophy (falsafah) and rational spirituality (hikmah & „irfan). Attention should also be given to pronounced anti-rationalist features of Traditionalism.
A review of the Islamic understanding of ‗reason‘ and ‗rationality‘ would have to deal with the chief disciplines wherein rationality played an extensive role: legal theory (usul al-fiqh), speculative theology (kalam), philosophy (falsafah) and rational spirituality (hikmah & ‘irfan). Attention should also be given to pronounced anti-rationalist features of Traditionalism. Language and ideas take political and theological expression through discourse, narrative, literary genre or technique, and community setting.2
In terms of contemporary discourse analysis or text semiotics, contextual employments of this term were commonly viewed by classical Muslim scholars to exemplify a form of textual polysemy admitting multiple significances when its meaning was appropriated by different circles. The attempts of the lexicologists from the 2nd century onwards subscribe to the goal of textual monosemy by searching for an original concrete sense or objective interpretation, through its derivation from al-‘iqal /the camel‘s binding cord. Successive layers of conceptual drift in linguistic usage over centuries have covered up the thought-forms and experiences of earlier notions. Such early conceptualizations might now appear strange or unfamiliar to many contemporary Muslims, although their foundations are still manifest in Islamic Tradition literature, religious and philosophical ethics, and spirituality.
Early Islamic creation teachings were inspired by the Qur‘an and closely related Biblicist (Jewish & Christian) traditions, yet they would grow to encompass the Hellenic emphasis on intelligible reality preceding and transcending the psycho-physical realms, as with the falasifah and related trends in philosophical Shi‗ism. During the twentieth century ‘aql enjoyed a reincarnation among modernist Muslim thinkers in the face of Western cultural and political challenges.3 Recently, there has been a growing interest among contemporary thinkers in al-nazar al-‘aqli/the ‗rational argumentation‘ of the Qur‘an.4 Today, ‘aqlmost often connotes ‗reason‘, mentality, or discursive mention, reflecting the brain conception prevalent in our contemporary mentality—(eg. ‘aqlilaktruni ‗electric brain‘, computer; or mukhkh ilaktruni).5