By Observer for New Age Islam
December 19, 2013
The Quran has its own distinct way of communicating the truth. Resorting to allegorical language is rare and only when communicating the mystical. The only other exception when it uses allegorical language is when relating the story of the people of the Cave (Surah 18) which is from Jewish tradition. It rarely uses allegorical language for communicating truths that can be established by science but avoids precise language if our knowledge of the world is likely to change with the progress in science. It thereby avoids unnecessary controversy during periods when imprecise knowledge of the World may contradict with the truth in the Quran.
Just consider the simple question of the number of times the obligatory prayers must be performed and at what time of the day or night. These are covered in verses spread apart in 2:238, 11:114, 17:78, 30:17,18. None of these verses talk about all the five times of obligatory prayer in the same verse but between them, these verses cover all five times of obligatory prayer. I think this is deliberate and there is a lesson in it. The lesson is that for each verse, there are other verses which help understand its meaning or contain additional information that complete its meaning and no verse should be interpreted on its own, without finding corroboration for the interpretation through other verses or additional information to get a more complete picture. Sometimes, the picture is left incomplete. For example, the verses on the creation of man mainly say that:
(23:12) Man We did create from a quintessence (of clay);
(25:54) It is He Who has created man from water….
We know from science that Man is composed of elements found in the earth (which is reason why the earth is able to sustain life) and from water. Seventy percent of body weight is water.
A third scientific truth is that we are mostly empty space which is not found in the Quran. The verse saying that man is created from water was itself incomprehensible to the people in the seventh century and a verse saying that we are mostly empty space would have taxed the belief of the seventh century people in the Quran as the word of God beyond their threshold level. The Quran therefore constructs the truth through several verses spread apart. If these two verses were placed together, it would have implied that all that needs to be said about creation has been said and is contained in the two verses. Spreading them apart clearly means that each of them contains a partial truth and putting both together may not necessarily complete the full picture.
Then there is that amazing verse that speaks about creation and procreation describing the stages of embryonic development that science confirmed as accurate only in the 20th century.
(22:5) O mankind! if ye have a doubt about the Resurrection, (consider) that We created you out of dust, then out of sperm, then out of a leech-like clot, then out of a morsel of flesh, partly formed and partly unformed, in order that We may manifest (our power) to you; and We cause whom We will to rest in the wombs for an appointed term, then do We bring you out as babes, then (foster you) that ye may reach your age of full strength; and some of you are called to die, and some are sent back to the feeblest old age, so that they know nothing after having known (much), and (further), thou seest the earth barren and lifeless, but when We pour down rain on it, it is stirred (to life), it swells, and it puts forth every kind of beautiful growth (in pairs).
Creation of the Heavens and the Earth
(7:54) Your Guardian-Lord is Allah, Who created the heavens and the earth in six days …
Lest you take a day as 24 hours, you have verses describing a cosmic day as thousand years or fifty thousand years in different contexts.
(22:47) …Verily a Day in the sight of thy Lord is like a thousand years of your reckoning.
(32:5) He rules (all) affairs from the heavens to the earth: in the end will (all affairs) go up to Him, on a Day, the space whereof will be (as) a thousand years of your reckoning.
(70:4) The angels and the spirit ascend unto him in a Day the measure whereof is (as) fifty thousand years:
The Quran does not speak about genealogy or of history or when life began or the age of the Universe and therefore does not contradict science as some of the scriptures which contain precise numbers do.
Creation vs Evolution
The rejection of religion by the westerner is related to the way the question of evolutionary biology and creation is presented. Either you choose evolutionary biology and therefore science or you choose creation and therefore religion. Evolutionary biology and creation are not treated as equally valid models of the reality. “My personal feeling is that understanding evolution led me to atheism” is what Dawkins says. He further says that “the theory of evolution by cumulative natural selection is the only theory we know of that is in principle capable of explaining the existence of organized complexity”.
I would think that organized complexity can be better explained as the work of a Creator just as the works of Shakespeare are more easily understood as the work of a person rather than as produced through some process of `natural selection’ by a computer. We can grant the possibility that a computer can be programmed by a linguist to produce intelligible works comparable to the works of Shakespeare, but there is a difference between what is deemed as conceivable and fact or even a possibility in the next trillion years. It is necessary that all works of literature are composed of building blocks (words and rules of grammar) that make it possible to express almost anything. That does not mean that every work of literature just happened by itself! Also, we need human beings to do the programming even if we can use machines to generate intelligible text. So why Dawkins and others should reject the idea of creation and hold as true the idea of evolution of higher life forms from the lowest? Just because fossils are available that date hundreds of thousand years ago and the Bible says that life began a few thousand years ago? The Church may have erred in a number of ways but that is not true of every religion. Rejecting the idea of creation is a personal whim and probably based on antipathy to religion rather than a rational conclusion.
Is it possible that all life began in its lowest form and the present higher life forms are a result of evolutionary process? Yes, it is possible. However, the time required for life to evolve from its basic forms to the most complex form such as the Human being has been calculated and this number is much higher than the age of the planet. So is it possible that the starting point of life could have been the higher forms? Yes, and creation is probably the more correct theory speaking scientifically.
The fact that mutations according to the law of natural selection are necessary to make us adapt to our changing environment, makes it necessary for the life forms to be composed of basic mutable building blocks which in turn show us the possibility of life evolving from lower forms. However, like the self-evident creative ideas which are logical in hindsight just do not happen by themselves, nor are the works of Shakespeare composed of the basic building blocks of words created by computers, a Creator may have created the higher and most complex life forms and while evolution by natural selection goes on, the starting point for life could well have been the higher forms. Does evolutionary biology rule out the idea of the starting point of life being the higher life forms? I don’t think so. What about the existence of fossils that are hundreds of thousand years old? They just prove that the beginning of life on earth dates hundreds of thousands or millions of years ago which does not contradict the Quran.
Benefits of the Quran’s Style of Communicating the Truth
The Quran forces us to avoid jumping to conclusions based on the reading of a single verse. It forces us to seek all verses that are related, to form the correct view. The discipline helps us while seeking knowledge of the World around us or while considering any matter. We get into the habit of collecting all relevant data before analyzing the same and only then drawing our conclusions. This discipline also helps us to understand the holistic message of the Quran distinct from its parts. The understanding of the parts then gets refined as these are now understood in their proper perspective as part of the same central theme. Our understanding gets progressively refined with each reading of the Quran until we begin to understand the mystical verses, the difficult verses and how everything fall together to make us understand the divine plan, divine justice and divine mercy and compassion . A simple test of how far we are from such an understanding is to try to comprehend the following verses:
35) On you will be sent (O ye evil ones twain!) a flame of fire (to burn) and a smoke (to choke): no defence will ye have:
(36) Then which of the favours of your Lord will ye deny?
(37) When the sky is rent asunder, and it becomes red like ointment:
(38) Then which of the favours of your Lord will ye deny?
(39) On that Day no question will be asked of man or Jinn as to his sin.
(40) Then which of the favours of your Lord will ye deny?
(41) (For) the sinners will be known by their marks: and they will be seized by their forelocks and their feet.
(42) Then which of the favours of your Lord will ye deny?
(43) This is the Hell which the Sinners deny:
(44) In its midst and in the midst of boiling hot water will they wander round!
(45) Then which of the favours of your Lord will ye deny?
(46) But for such as fear the time when they will stand before (the Judgment Seat of) their Lord, there will be two Gardens-
(47) Then which of the favours of your Lord will ye deny?
Once we begin to gain an understanding into such verses, we will have no more questions left. We will be well on the Sufi path of fanaa.
In the early centuries of Islam, the people zealously studied the Quran and the discipline that the Quran teaches, made them excel in the arts, sciences and philosophy. Over a period, familiarity made people neglect its study. The madarsas also discouraged its study as the rulers did not need thinkers but only people who would comply. If the teaching of Quran is done in the right manner, I am sure it will work wonders once again. It is the best training material that I know of to promote critical and analytical thinking and the ability to relate and understand the big picture.