The impulse to worship the Creator comes natural to those who observe and ponder the intricate make-up and operation of the physical world —not forgetting the ‘miracle’ of their own minds and of the bodies in which they reside. The practice of experiencing a metaphysical awe in the world around us can be a powerful enlivening link, taking our attention from all created realms of being to the Creator of it all.
We engage personally with Allah through praise and supplication. That is why our Prayer begins with the verses of Sûrah Al-Fâtiḥah. This set of verses, when one is engaged wth them single-mindedly, is a formula for generating in the worshipper a sense of awe and the presence of the Unseen Holy, on which our very lives and provision depend. Again and again, we are meant to re-connect with our Lord; again and again we seek His guidance and ask for His help —even when we are not at wit’s end or in dire straits, not seeing our way forward, not knowing our way out .
CAN WE MAKE SENSE OF OUR WORLD—APART FROM REVELATION?
Now, some will ask us how —how in this Age of Science— how we can believe in any religion when that religion presupposes an unseen Deity not open to scientific view or verification. Why would any rational person choose to praise a Deity —or respond to the requirements claimed to originate with Him— when we cannot substantiate even His existence by human means? After all, we are humans and need to understand ourselves and our physical world on physical human terms —using our strength of rational thinking and logic, while keeping in mind our limitations. How to respond?
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FIRST, as to our need to understand on a human level: Deity has equipped human beings to recognize His messages, and He has sent to human beings a succession of human prophets, reminding each generation to respond to their ever-present, all-knowing Lord and to take seriously His first requirement that they recognize Him as their sole Creator and Maintainer. Do we ‘chafe at the bit,’ resisting the thought that we might lack control of our own destiny, that we cannot pull ourselves together and get through life in a dignified fashion, on our own? Yet, it is true that from time to time we are abruptly reminded —by our personal circumstances— reminded of our ultimate neediness and dependence when left on our own.
This recognition would lead to realizing that we measure the success of their own lives in terms of a grateful use of His provision, making honest choices in daily life with pure and sincere intent to please their Lord, and acting with right behavior. This would also entail honoring one’s obligations to family and society. All of Allah’s requirements and guidance are intended to result in human happiness, fulfillment, justice and peace.
Prophet Muhammad, too, was sent as a warner with a message couched in terms clearly understood by the peoples of his time: humans are accountable to their Creator for all that they do with their lives. This time, the Creator’s message, revealed by the Spirit of revelation, would be preserved in a manner in which it would not be forgotten, nor would it become hidden or lost to mankind.
And they will ask you [O Muhammad] about [the nature of] divine inspiration [literally, ‘the Spirit’]. Say: “This inspiration [comes] at my Sustainer’s behest; and [you cannot understand its nature, O men, since] you have been granted very little of [real] knowledge.” [Sûrah Al-Isrâ’, 17:85]
Say [to all people, O Prophet]: Indeed, I am only a human being like you. It is revealed to me that, indeed, your God is One God [alone]. So whoever has hope for [a happy outcome in] the Meeting with his Lord [in the Hereafter], then let him do righteous deeds and not associate in the worship of his Lord —anyone at all. [Sûrah Al-Kahf, 18:110]
[And as for you, O Prophet] nothing is being said to you but what was said to all [of God’s] apostles before your time. Behold, your Sustainer is indeed full of forgiveness – but He has also the power to requite most grievously! [Sûrah Al-Fussilât, 41: 43]
We shall teach you to recite [the Quran, O Prophet], such that you shall not forget [it] — except what God so wills. For He [alone] knows all that is open to [man’s] perception as well as all that is hidden [from it]. Thus We shall ease you to [Our sacred way of life with] all ease. So [continue to] remind [all people with the Quran] —even if the reminding benefits [only some of them]. For, indeed, he who [truly] fears [God] shall be [successfuly] reminded. [Sûrah Al-A’lâ, 87:6-10]
It was narrated that ‘Abdullah bin ‘Amr said: “The Messenger of Allah came out of one of his apartments one day and entered the mosque, where he saw two circles, one reciting Qur’an and supplicating to Allah, and the other learning and teaching. The Prophet said: ‘Both of them are good. These people are reciting the Qur’an and supplicating to Allah, and if He wills He will give them, and if He wills He will withhold from them. And these people are learning and teaching. Verily I have been sent as a teacher.’ Then he sat down with them.” (Ibn Majah 1/1/229)
Malik related to me from Ibn Shihab from Muhammad ibn Jubayr ibn Mutim that the Prophet (ﷺ) said, “I have five names. I am Muhammad. I am Ahmad. I am al-Mahi (the effacer), by whom Allah effaces kufr (rejection of belief). I am al-Hashir (the gatherer), before whom people are gathered. I am al-Aqib (the last).” (Muwatta Malik 61/1)
Prophet Muhammad was charged with delivering the message as it had been given to him, not modified so as to endear himself to his listeners.
And when Our Clear Signs are recited to them, they who do not expect to meet with Us say, “Bring a Recital [Qur’an] other than this or change it.” Say [to them, O Prophet] “It is not for me to change it of my own accord. I only follow what is revealed to me. Indeed, if I should disobey my Lord, I fear the retribution of an awesome Day.” Say, “If Allah had so wished I would not have recited it to you, nor would He have made it known to you; I dwelt among you a whole lifetime before it [came to me]. Won’t you use your intelligence?” [Sûrah Yûnus, 10: 15-16]
So, as to why we naturally recognize the existence of some commanding power beyond our modern Science: Just as Science does not prove for us the existence of Gravity or any of the physical or chemical or biological laws, in the same way it does not prove for us what is behind the regular operation of our world. Science describes the operation of those things experienced by our ears – eyes – nose – tongue – touch, even the workings of the mind; but Science leaves the description of the soul and its ethical and moral ‘laws’ to a metaphysical realm with only tenuous links to Science through the reasoning mind:
Consider the human self, and how it is formed in accordance with what it is meant to be, and how it is imbued with moral failings as well as with consciousness of God! To a happy state shall indeed attain he who causes this [self] to grow in purity, and truly lost is he who buries it [in darkness]. [Sûrah Al-Shams, 91:7-10]
Although Allah has a ‘presence’ in the time & space world we inhabit —having full knowledge of its details and having the full ability to set out its course and to change that course, at will— He does not ‘exist’ within that creation; thus, He cannot be probed or proven through the observational tools of Science. On the other hand, the tools of logic and rationalilty do apply to our study of ‘religions,’ of which there are many. While we may not be able to invent true religion, we are able to detect true religion thanks to the nature of the soul. A religious system of belief cannot be true if it projects or allows for more than one All-Powerful and All-Knowing Deity. That is logically impossible: to believe in the sharing of Deity with another being means divided loyalties and a skewing of ultimate Truth.
SECOND, as to verifying the knowledge sources of the Islamic revelation: Prophet Muhammad ﷺ is a historical person soundly attested in tens of thousands of oral and written documents, involving thousands of players, whose names have been preserved, catalogued and rated. The extensive Hadith collections attest to our Beloved Prophet’s person, his godly personality and teachings.
The Quran is widely available as a printed book —and in electronic form, not only in its actual Arabic text but also in numerous English translations, as well as in other major languages. It originally spoke to mankind in one of the top world languages of the 7th century; Arabic remains a major human language today; in 1974 it was made the sixth official language in the United Naions. The Classical Arabic language of the Quran—its grammar, its vocabulary, its literary ambience— is well preserved in scholarship today. The text is fixed and intact; it has never been lost.
The Quran’s verbal text was delivered to a real people in a real time and place. We know what the text was and how it was delivered to Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, how it was remembered, memorized, dictated to scribes, even collected into its final complete written script. Original [dictated] copies exist and copies written from those are numerous. This is significant because previous revelations have been interrupted in their transmission from one generation to the next, opening them to corruption, even lost to the custodians of those older revelations. In that light, the Quran itself claims to restore God’s message to mankind.
Furthermore, the Prophet’s reception of verses was witnessed, repeatedly, by multiple Companions. The sources of Islam are found in historically verifiable and reliable documents, backed up by centuries of intense scholarly efforts to know as much as possible about occasions of revelation and the context of verses and their passages.
THIRD, as to verifying God, His existence, His work and intent as Creator and His ongoing participation in His creation: Since we humans are not of the same caliber or nature as Deity, since we do not live in His sphere of existence, and since we have no say-so over what He wills or does, nor over the laws by which He has chosen to operate His universe, accordingly then, we are not privy to His ‘Mind’ — other than in what He shows us within ourselves, or through the ‘Signs’ which He makes available to us.
…and in the end you will be brought before Him who knows all that is beyond the reach of a created being’s perception as well as all that can be witnessed by a creature’s senses or mind, and then He will make you truly understand what you were doing [in life]. [Sûrah Al-Tawbah, 9:94, 105]
Such is the [Sole] Knower of the [realm of all the] unseen and the seen, the Overpowering [One], the Mercy-Giving—the One who has made excellent everything He has created, and who originated the creation of humankind from clay. Then He made its progeny from a [quintessence of] humble fluid drawn forth. Then He fashioned him and breathed of His [life-giving] spirit into him. Moreover, He gave to you [the faculties of] hearing, and sight, along with hearts [that comprehend. How very] little are the thanks that you give! [Sûrah Al-Sajdah, 32:6-9]
Moreover, it is not for any human being that God should speak to him, except by Revelation, or from behind a veil, or by sending a messenger-angel that reveals —by His permission— whatever He so wills. Indeed, He is ever-exalted, wise. And so it is that We have revealed to you, [O Prophet, this Quran] —a [guiding] Spirit of [the divine Law with] Our [revealed] command. Never before it] did you know what the Book [of God] was, nor [what Heavenly] faith [was]. Thus have We made it a light by which We guide whomever We so will of Our servants. And, indeed, [thereby,] you guide [humanity] to a straight way [of salvation] —the way of God, to whom belongs all that is in the heavens and all that is in the earth. Most assuredly, it is to God [alone] that all affairs are destined. [Sûrah Al-Shûrâ, 42:51-53]
Science deals with the structure, the make-up and operation of the Creator’s perceivable handiwork; Science does not —and cannot— deal with who the Creator is in His very Self. Allah claims to have spoken to mankind throughout their generation; His Words left to mankind through Prophet Muhammad ﷺ are with us. Whereas the textual records of revelation are open to examination and verification, the metaphysical divine origin of those historical texts is not verifiable through the tools of Science. But the human heart can register and respond to texts of divine origin.
…To be continued in Part 4.