Allah says: “And follow not that of which you have no knowledge; surely the hearing and the sight and the heart, all of those, shall be questioned about that.” (17: 36)
Allama Tabatabai* explained the verse in this way:
Our primordial nature (‘fitra’) says that one must follow knowledge and should not follow anything else. .. A human with a sound ‘fitra’ follows, in terms of his beliefs, what he finds to be true and actual in the external world and follows, in terms of his actions, what he deems to be right. This is the rule of human nature concerning things that one can have knowledge of – such as the details of religious beliefs for some people, and most religious injunctions of most of the people – then the rule of human nature is that one should follow the knowledge of one who is knowledgeable and expert of it [This scenario is exemplified as accepting and following the religious laws that the prophet gives, and obeying him in what he commands or prohibits on behalf of his Lord] . But this act of following is because of the follower’s knowledge that the person has the right knowledge and expertise. Hence it reduces again to the following one’s knowledge, which in this case is knowledge of someone else’s knowledge and expertise.
This is like a traveler who does not know the directions resorting a guide – based on the traveler’s knowledge that the guide has the knowledge and information. Likewise is the case of a patient who refers to a doctor and anyone else who refers to a specialist or technician to take care of his specific need.
Based on the above, one never fails to follow knowledge throughout his life, for one’s innate nature dictates so. Except that sometimes one assumes things that satisfy his soul and pacify his heart to be knowledgeable, even though they are devoid of the certainty that is called knowledge as in the technique of demonstration in logic [like ‘Atheist who denies the existence of God arrogantly (Autor)].
The problem with this view is that the verse undoubtedly prohibits following anything other than CERTAIN knowledge. However, we have binding proof based on knowledge for cases where one must act according to presumptive evidence. For example: knowledge of the infallibility of a Prophet is binding proof that what he informs complies with the facts, and his commands and prohibitions conform to the reality. It is binding proof that one must follow these injunctions in order to hit the truth. Likewise, knowledge to the speciality of a doctor and the expertise of an expert is binding proof that one who refers to them is doing the right thing.
The next part of the Ayat “…surely the hearing and the sight and the heart, all of those, shall be questioned about that.” is a justification for the prohibition at the beginning of the Ayat where it says: “follow not that of which you have no knowledge”. It further implies that one’s hearing, sight and heart are the instruments to acquire knowledge.
The hearing, the sight and the heart are God’s blessings upon mankind so that they may identify and acquire the truth, so that they may believe in it and act accordingly. Each of them soon will be asked whether or not it was used to acquire knowledge, whether or not the person followed the knowledge acquired by those instruments / means.
Allama Tabatabai again explained in this way:
The hearing will be asked: Did you pursue “SURE and DEFINITIVE KNOWLEDGE” in your hearing?
The sight will be asked: Did you pursue what is EVIDENT and PATENT in your seeing?
The heart will be asked: Did you pursue what is CERTAIN and DOUBTLESS in your THINKING and JUDGEMENT? }* (i.e. Critical and Sound Thinking)
Atheism suffers due to the poor understanding that: knowledge is based on only hearing and sight [a pure fallacy that the atheist are even certain in some contexts] ignoring the heart in true sense!
Believing a propaganda (Blaming against a religious scholar for example) is based on only ‘hearing’ (not even SURE & DEFINITIVE) wich ignores ‘sight’ and ‘heart’ (sound judgement) completely in practice. The Messenger of Allaah (Sal Allaahu Alaiyhi wa Sallam) said: “It is enough lying for a man to speak of everything that he hears.” (Muslim)
On the contrary, Islam paves the foundation of ACQUIRING TRUE KNOWLEDGE using all possible three things (whatever suits well – best if all the means are feasible in a situation): hearing, sight and heart.
*Ref: Tafsir Al Mizan, Tabatabai, Vol 25, pp 122 – 6.