By Hasan Aftab Saeed
26 December 2017
And why, in the light of the Quran
From pagan deities all the way to pantheistic variants and then to the many monotheistic versions, gods come in numerous variations. A major reason why discussions on God yield less than satisfactory results is that the more fundamental task of agreeing on what God is has usually been skipped. Also, the broad spectrum of definitions of God allows most atheists to, deliberately or otherwise, attack the more attackable versions and either leave the more intelligent ones alone or muddle everything up to render the strawman easier to carry out. The Quran, for example, presents a coherent concept of God that is far less susceptible to criticism from atheists. It has been found that a lot of confusion and unnecessary debate can be avoided by agreeing on what God is not. For that ought to pave way for much more useful theological debates. Here, then, are some of the things the Quran indicates God is not, although all Muslims may not necessarily agree with, or even be aware of, some of what follows:
For starters, God does not ‘exist’. Existence can never quite be detached from the implications of space and time; coming into existence and someday going out of it. God is not like anything else. He is One of a kind or Unique (112:1). He doesn’t ‘exist’; everything else exists because of Him.
Existence can never quite be detached from the implications of space and time; coming into existence and someday going out of it. God is not like anything else. He is One of a kind or Unique (112:1)
God is not ‘all-good’, as is usually stated and then all sorts of riddles presented to reconcile it with His Omnipotence and Omniscience. For to contend this would be to indulge in anthropomorphism. Good and bad are with reference to something: the same thing can simultaneously be good for one and bad for another. In the ultimate analysis, everything else is relative except God, who is the Absolute (112:2). Evil in the universe is a necessary consequence of free-will for individuals. In fact, the Quran explicitly addresses the evil perpetrated by God’s creatures (113:2). God is without doubt the Creator of all actions (good as well as bad) but of course He doesn’t perform those actions.
God is not partial to anybody based on community, group, ethnicity or the like – he just doesn’t play favourites. For him actions and the philosophy behind them is important; not one’s professed creed or label. Success and failure are based on this, and not on accidents of birth or paying lip service to a cause however lofty. (103:1-3, 2:256 and 2:262).
God is not retired after having created the universe. Being the Absolute He is not subject to anything including the laws of the universe which are nothing other than His own Will. He is not only the Creator but also the Sustainer of the universe; and never gets tired of managing it (2:55). But while we know these attributes of God, the ‘person’ of God is unknowable. That can’t even be fathomed by means of comparisons and similes, for there’s nothing that is like Him. The Quran warns that coining similitudes for God is not a worthy exercise (42:11; 16:74; 112:4). From this, wise men concluded centuries ago that anything that one could imagine could never be God. In the twentieth century Gödel’s theorems demonstrated once for all that for any logical system to make sense, one must have something (unknown) out of the system. Scientific optimism had proposed to put the universe in our back pocket by hoping to make the universe self-explanatory, and getting rid of God in the process. After Gödel, that project has hit a solid wall. It’s obvious that God is here to stay, albeit outside the scheme of things (that is, unknowable).
God is not detached, or a cold academic entity. The relationship between man and God can be personal – or not – according to what man desires (2:186; 40:60). Despite being outside time and space, God interferes in the natural order of things if man is interested in a special relationship. The man with God-consciousness (taqwa) strives like the footballer does in moving towards the goal. This God-consciousness, and then striving based on it are the means – the only means – of gaining nearness of God (5:35).
God is not light. There’s nothing other-worldly about light and energy – they are just forms of matter. Quranic verse 24:35 is misunderstood by as many Muslims as atheists. Far from physically equating God to light, it says that if God is not in your world-view (albeit outside the scheme of things) you are bound to be in darkness; that is, your-world view cannot be complete, or self-consistent.
God is not dependent on anything. He owes His ‘existence’ to nobody. Questions such as who created God are therefore as faulty as discussions about His parents or offspring. ‘Godness’ is not something shared, passed on or inherited. Whatever else one may say about God, He didn’t get created or promoted. He always was God; and always will be.
Finally, God is not a theorem that can be proved by starting from more basic assumptions. Any ‘logical’ argument that proposes to do so ends up proving the opposite, in the process undoing itself. That’s because He is the Absolute (the most Basic), which means he depends on nothing while everything else depends on Him (112:2). Over the centuries, philosophers have repeatedly demonstrated the errors in the ontological, cosmological, and the teleological arguments that claim to ‘prove’ the ‘existence’ of God.