Perception and Reception – An Islāmic Account on the Acceptance or Rejection of the Qur’ānic Message
Perception and Reception – An Islāmic Account on the Acceptance or Rejection of the Qur’ānic Message
(with excerpts from the latest edition of Stories of the Prophets for the Modern Age – Volume One – The Resolute Messengers)
By Shaykh Faheem of the Islamic Lifestyle Solutions Lifestyle Solutions
Some people look at the Qur’ānic message and are wowed by its amazing precision and how it relates to one’s situation by providing subtle yet succinct solutions to the daily problems of life. Others though, may look at the Qur’ānic message and the puzzled looks on their faces tell a different story altogether. So why do these two contrasting responses exist from the same book? How is it that one person can read it and receive guidance, yet another can open it to fault-find? Wouldn’t it be remarkable to be able to answer why such diametrically opposed views arise from a reading of the same script? Wouldn’t it be even more marvellous if the answer to this question was found in the very book which brings about such contrasting reactions? An attempt to explain this remarkably complex topic has been covered in the 2017 Islāmic Lifestyle Solutions publication via the topic of “Perception and Reception”. The information is as follows,
“The significance of the recognition of the subject pertaining to ‘perception’ and ‘reception’ as a means to appreciate the message of the prophets stands –in this Islāmic account- as evidence from the Qur’ān, postulating the possibilities of why many people will not be willing to accept the message, and, furthermore, why others accept it in a ‘heartbeat’. The premise thereby stands to elucidate;
a) Why the message of the prophets are either accepted wholeheartedly by some, but repudiated by others.
b) How the acquisition of knowledge cannot be confined merely to sensory perception and external observation.
c) That the combination of the aforementioned terms (perception and reception), results in the harmonization ‘faith’ and ‘reason’, thus allowing the reader to gain access to a realm of understanding which could not be experienced aforetime.
In order to pursue an understanding of this Islāmic account, one must first realize the basic definition of these words, without which, there can be no further theoretical analysis.
Linguistically, perception refers to the act of perceiving or apprehending by means of the senses or by the mind, cognition or understanding. Technically, it refers to the immediate or intuitive recognition as of moral, psychological or aesthetic qualities better known as insight or intuition.
In light of the acquisition of knowledge, refers to the means by which one ‘receives’ information. In this case, the general meaning is in reference to knowledge by the faculties of seeing, hearing and speech.
In light of the above two brief elucidations, it follows that ‘perception’ be understood as those experiences better known as ‘gut’ feelings or intuition, which cannot be taught through receptive means. These intuitive experiences, if viewed from the Islāmic account of ‘faith’, explains that belief is internal and cannot be forced upon a person whose ‘perception’ of the ideal is not synchronized to the understanding of the messenger.
An example of this may be understood from the renowned view of a child’s perception of reality. Children perceive things very differently from adults. Their perception reveals that children are more susceptible to belief in the unseen and supernatural. This ‘innate’ perception, when introduced later to the ‘current’ receptive means of knowledge, which then postulates that reality can only be experienced by external observation, which later creates conflict with the primordial disposition of every child on the face of planet earth. Thus the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) stated,
“…Every child is born with the primordial disposition (fitrah) and it is his parents who cause him to become Jewish, Christian, or Zoroastrian (in faith)…”
(Al-Bukhārī, Book 23, Hadīth 1358)
Meaning that we are born with the innate ability to perceive the ideas of the transcendental realm of reality, but later on, based on the information we ‘receive’, the way we perceive evolves.
An example of how every individual’s ‘perception’ of a situation differs based on one’s instinctive experience may be viewed from the two contrasting experiences of the same scenario,
There are two men stationary at a traffic light whilst driving different cars parallel to each other in the same direction. One man is a law-abiding citizen who has never committed a single crime in his lifetime. The other, is an escaped convict who is a fugitive on the run. At the traffic light, a police officer is seen crossing the street. Naturally, his searching eyes police the surroundings for any suspicious behaviour so that he may uphold the law which he swore to protect. At this exact moment, the perceptions of both the men, who have seen this policeman, are constellations apart.
The law-abiding citizen is so confident of his rapport with the law, that, in all probability, he has no qualms in even initiating contact with the officer by way of gesture. Such is his experience of this moment, that the sudden emergence of the policeman holds no effect on him.
On the other hand, the perception of the fugitive would have been an agonizingly lengthy affair, and indeed one which would have seen his heart rate spike, affecting his breathing, resulting in his sweat glands working overtime. In the view of the criminal, at this exact moment, every motion of the police officer is gauged with the view to strategize his escape plan in the case of any contact initiated by the officer of the law.
In view of the above parable, both men are experiencing the same moment, yet the perception of each is diametrically opposed to the point that, one person is so confident of his innocence, that he is unaffected by the arrival of the policeman whilst the other is so confident of his crimes, that his brief, yet distressing few moments incurred an immediate negative effect.
Thus, the way we perceive a thing can be attributed to personal experience, based on belief. Perception then, in light of the Islāmic tradition may be viewed as belief (Imān), which is also the internal factor governing the receptive means of the believer.
Reception on the other hand, denotes the means of acquiring knowledge by sight, hearing and speech, which are forms of general learning taught in schools, but unlike perception, reception can be fine-tuned, whilst perception is natural. When one’s vision weakens, the optician recommends spectacles to enhance one’s vision. Deafness can be enhanced by hearing aids, but the way we perceive remains uncharted territory for learning as it deals with internal insight. (12:108)
Islāmically, if God Almighty gifted us with the means to perceive and receive information, there should be a correlation between the two, which not only explains this link, but further stands to explain how the inefficiency of one, is a corollary of a deficiency in the other. At the onset, we asked how there could be two contrasting reactions to the Qur’ānic message. I have explained that possibility from the notion of perception and reception in general. So, is there evidence in the Qur’ān to support the view of perception and reception? The response to that is clear from the following elucidation,
Towards the beginning of Sūrah Al-Baqarah, the Qur’ān clarifies the following;
فِي قُلُوبِهِم مَّرَضٌ فَزَادَهُمُ اللَّـهُ مَرَضًا ۖ وَلَهُمْ عَذَابٌ أَلِيمٌ بِمَا كَانُوا يَكْذِبُونَ
“In their hearts is a disease, so Allāh has increased their disease; and for them is a painful punishment, because of their lies”
(Sūrah Al-Baqarah, 2:10)
Here, the Qur’ān elucidates the condition of the hearts of those people who cannot perceive the reality of the message. Such hearts are diseased due to their incessant lies against God by rejecting the truth. Hence, in light of the current subject of perception and reception, Qur’ānically, the diseased heart has now been sealed from all perceptive means of intuition, not because God is ‘unjust’, but because, this God-given insight has been rejected by the individual.
Furthermore, the verse acts subjectively to console the Blessed Prophet (peace be upon him) -and no doubt his followers after him who will experience a similar reaction to the truth- but also objectively to underline the ‘cause’ of this heartless ‘effect’ from the rejecters. The basis of rejection is cited as possessing a spiritually diseased heart, and the symptoms of the spiritually diseased heart are clarified a few verses later,
صُمٌّ بُكْمٌ عُمْيٌ فَهُمْ لَا يَرْجِعُونَ
“Deaf, dumb and blind, they will not return (to the path)”
(Sūrah Al-Baqarah, 2:18)
Whilst the unbelievers were not physically handicapped, the Qur’ān highlights the spiritual condition of such people. Their receptive means, i.e. hearing, speech and sight are not beneficial to them, and are sealed in consequence of their lack of ‘perception’ due to their diseased hearts. Hence, those people who, after being presented with countless evidence, and who obstinately refuse to accept the truth, are the manifestation of the aforementioned verses highlighting the uselessness of receptive means when perception is cut off.
An example from the Prophetic era of two people, whose reaction to the Qur’ānic message was diametrically opposed, is as follows,
Abū Jahl – known by his kinsmen and Abul Hikam (the father of wisdom). He was shown numerous unequivocal signs by the Prophet (peace be upon him) but the message did not penetrate the depths of his heart because, even though he was ‘perceived’ by his people as man of wisdom, his receptive means of understanding was of no benefit to himself due to his spiritually diseased heart. As a corollary of his lack of perception, he continuously adopted a critical stance against the Qur’ān.
Sayyidunā Abū Bakr As-Siddīq (may Allah be pleased with him) – was amongst the closest of the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) companions, and was his father in-law. His heart was so pure, that the symptoms proving his spiritually sound heart manifested to all on the day following the Prophet’s Muhammad’s (peace be upon him) miraculous Night Journey (Al-Isrā Wal-Me’rāj). When Sayyidunā Abū Bakr (may Allah be pleased with him) quizzed by the likes of the chieftains regarding the ‘illogical’ journey of the Prophet (peace be upon him) (from Makkah to Jerusalem, thereafter to the seven cosmic strata of time and space, and beyond), he accepted it in a heartbeat, even though his receptive means of acquiring knowledge told him that there was no evidence of such a journey, his sound heart perceived it to be a matter of ‘faith’, rather than one of ‘reason’, and so he exhibited such conviction in the matter, that he was known thereon as As-Siddīq (the truthful).
From the above two examples, it is clear that when one’s perception of the ideal is sealed shut, then the receptive means of acquiring information are of no value to the person.
Thus, the question of ‘Why do all people not accept the Qur’ān to be the resolute message of God?’ is answered subtly to the people of acumen, who contemplate it without bias. It further stands to prove that by two seemingly unconnected verses, the Qur’ān can indeed answer the questions of the modern age, as long as there is a sound methodology in place.
Co-Founder and Head of Da’wah, Media, Publications and Education Department of the Islāmic Lifestyle Solutions