Exploring some of the ultimate questions that confront humanity, and responding imaginatively to them;
The ups, downs and meaning(s) of life’s journey.
There is a famous saying in Islam that when you want to speak to God you pray, and when you want God to speak to you, you recite the Qur’an. God tells us in the Qur’an that He is closer to humans than our jugular vein (Surah 50:16) and hence Muslims can have a very close and intimate relationship with God. In fact, the Qur’an makes it clear that we can speak to God directly and that God also speaks to us but we need to listen and be attentive:
When My servants ask thee concerning Me, I am indeed close (to them): I listen to the prayer of every suppliant when he calleth on Me: Let them also, with a will, Listen to My call, and believe in Me: That they may walk in the right way (Surah 2:186).
Praise and thanks are key things which are emphasised in Islam when communicating with God. This is especially so in one’s private and personal prayer when asking for something or the alleviation from something. One must not be indifferent to the many bounties which God blesses the human being with. Muslims also have the habit of constantly saying certain phrases in the praise of God such as al-hamdu-li-Llah which means all praise be to God which is said in thanks to God and which shows that one is always pleased with God’s will. Another phrase is masha’a Allah (lit. whatever God wills) which is said when one is surprised, or pleased with or to praise an achievement or beauty. An example of awe in the Qur’an is the way God communicates to Moses through the burning bush (Surah 28:30) and when the mountain crumbles as Moses loses conscience after asking to see God:
When Moses came to the place appointed by Us and his Lord addressed him, He said: “O my Lord! Show (Yourself) to me, that I may look upon You.” Allah said: “By no means can you see Me (direct); But look upon the mount; if it stands still in its place, then you shall see Me.” When his Lord manifested His glory to the mountain, He made it crumble. And Moses fell down in a swoon (Surah 7:143).
Muslims are encouraged to recite the remembrance of God (dhikr) through phrases of praise as mentioned above or others. This is because one finds peacefulness and comfort in this as the Qur’an says:
Those who believe, and whose hearts find satisfaction in the remembrance of Allah: for without doubt in the remembrance of Allah do hearts find satisfaction (Surah 13:28).
One can experience feelings of awe and wonder through many devotional acts such as fasting, reciting the Qur’an or supplications. However, the liturgical prayer is one of the most important acts regarding which the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said:
The prayer (al-salah) is the ascension (mi’raj) of the true believer.
As a means to gain proximity to God, the prayer allows one to detach himself from worldly affairs and it allows the soul to enter a spiritual ascension and to experience feelings of awe and wonder. Prayer and reciting supplications are also recommended to be performed in congregation. This is because of the effect that collective worship has on the individuals. When a number of people are reciting the same thing simultaneously, it creates a powerful feeling, a greater spiritual effect and a greater sense of unity and spirit within the ummah.
Islam stresses the importance of knowledge, reflection and awareness of one’s faith and condemns the blind or ignorant following and practice (Surah 7:179):
Many are the Jinns and men we have made for Hell: They have hearts wherewith they understand not, eyes wherewith they see not, and ears wherewith they hear not. They are like cattle—nay more misguided: for they are heedless (of warning).
[…] “Are those equal, those who know and those who do not know? It is those who are endued with understanding that receive admonition” (Surah 39:9).
One who believes out of conviction and understanding, his belief is more worthy than the one who practices out of habit and tradition. A person with knowledge and understanding of his actions can attain higher states of spirituality and experience the feelings of awe and wonder.
Every act of worship in Islam is meant to bring about a religious experience, for example fasting. There are many traditions which criticize a person who only feels hunger, thirst and tiredness hence only the physical effects of fasting, whereas the true purpose and meaning of fasting is spiritual experience and growth. There are many Muslims who say to have experienced some sort of a spiritual event in which they believe they have had a special connection with God, seen the Prophet Muhammad in their dream, have been given some sort of message or guidance, or have had their prayers answered when asking for the removal of illness or some other type of distress. Religious and numinous experiences happen more in sacred places such as at the Ka’bah or shrines of Saints. People say to have felt a Divine presence there and some even say to have been cured from incurable illnesses such as paralysis.
The purpose of religious practice is to attain spiritual experiences. Most of these experiences would generate something within the person to begin to reflect and evaluate their life for the better. They encourage a person to become a more dedicated Muslim and to seek proximity with God.
Whether there is a real tension between religion and science in Islam depends to an extent on the view of Islam being considered.
The account of creation in the Qur’an says:
Your Guardian-Lord is Allah, Who created the heavens and the earth in six days, and is firmly established on the throne (of authority): He draweth the night as a veil o’er the day, each seeking the other in rapid succession: He created the sun, the moon, and the stars, (all) governed by laws under His command. Is it not His to create and to govern? Blessed be Allah, the Cherisher and Sustainer of the worlds! Do no mischief on the earth, after it hath been set in order, but call on Him with fear and longing (in your hearts): for the Mercy of Allah is (always) near to those who do good. It is He Who sendeth the winds like heralds of glad tidings, going before His mercy: when they have carried the heavy-laden clouds, We drive them to a land that is dead, make rain to descend thereon, and produce every kind of harvest therewith: thus shall We raise up the dead: perchance ye may remember. From the land that is clean and good, by the will of its Cherisher, springs up produce, (rich) after its kind: but from the land that is bad, springs up nothing but that which is niggardly: thus do we explain the signs by various (symbols) to those who are grateful (Surah 7:54, 56-58).
There is no order given for creation, simply that everything was created by Allah. Although translations, as here, tend to say that the process of creation took six ‘days’ – the word being translated is more properly understood as ‘long periods’ or ‘ages’.
The creation of humanity:
I have only created Jinns and men, that they may serve Me. No Sustenance do I require of them, nor do I require that they should feed Me. For Allah is He Who gives (all) Sustenance—Lord of Power—Steadfast (for ever). For the Wrong-doers, their portion is like unto the portion of their fellows (of earlier generations): then let them not ask Me to hasten (that portion)! Woe, then, to the Unbelievers, on account of that Day of theirs which they have been promised! (Surah 51:56-60).
The Jinn are spirits made of fire and are neither good nor evil. The Mala’ikah are angels and the messengers of Allah but they have no free-will and no physical bodies.
Islam has always been at the forefront of scientific discovery and therefore modern theories of evolution and cosmology do not present a problem.
Although the Qur’an is viewed as the Word of Allah and therefore true, this does not mean that science cannot explain further what is written in the Qur’an. As humanity grows and learns science helps further understanding of Allah’s message.
There are some details in the Qur’an however, which show what appears to be a very modern approach to science:
Do not the Unbelievers see that the heavens and the earth were joined together (as one unit of creation), before we clove them asunder? We made from water every living thing. Will they not then believe? And We have set on the earth mountains standing firm, lest it should shake with them, and We have made therein broad highways (between mountains) for them to pass through: that they may receive Guidance. And We have made the heavens as a canopy well guarded: yet do they turn away from the Signs which these things (point to)! It is He Who created the Night and the Day, and the sun and the moon: all (the celestial bodies) swim along, each in its rounded course (Surah 21:30-33).
This passage seems to show an understanding of the beginning of life in what is now often referred to as a ‘primordial soup’. It also demonstrates that the sun and the moon have separate and particular orbits.
Muslims might argue that Allah wished to explain these things to humanity even though the supporting scientific discoveries had not yet been made.
A further verse explains the role of water in life:
Seest thou not that Allah sends down rain from the sky, and leads it through springs in the earth? Then He causes to grow, therewith, produce of various colours: then it withers; thou wilt see it grow yellow; then He makes it dry up and crumble away. Truly, in this, is a Message of remembrance to men of understanding. (Surah 39:21)
In addition it is shown that bodies can carry out physical changes on substances:
And verily in cattle (too) will ye find an instructive sign. From what is within their bodies between excretions and blood, We produce, for your drink, milk, pure and agreeable to those who drink it. And from the fruit of the date-palm and the vine, ye get out wholesome drink and food: behold, in this also is a sign for those who are wise. (Surah 16:66)
Scientific discoveries are therefore seen as supporting what has already been revealed.
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