By Sohail Arshad, NewAgeIslam.com
Man is a social animal, said a thinker. He is also called a speaking animal. The history of mankind is a treatise on man’s efforts to raise himself above from this animality and place himself on the elevated status of the most superior beings.
Man was driven out of the garden of paradise because of this animality. But instead of submitting to his fate he engaged in his efforts to win back his lost status. He reformed himself so beautifully that God was again pleased with him and called him to shower his blessings on him and accorded to him a place higher than that of the angels.
The most important asset he had with him on this successful journey was his intellect and thought. The thing with which God made distinct man from animals was his intellect that was constantly trained by prophets whom God raised from among them. These prophets taught them the principles of individual and collective life, the difference between good and evil, taught him the purpose of their life, enlightened them on the reality of death, raised the curtains over the mysteries of the universe and blessed them with self-realisation.
The Quran that is a treasure house of knowledge and wisdom, time and again enjoins on man to indulge in observation and ponderance as it is the key to his success. Poet Iqbal has said,
Amal se zindagi banti hai jannat bhi jahannum bhi
Ye khaki apni fitrat me na noori hai na nari hai
(Deeds make life, heaven and hell. This earthly creature called man is neither good or bad in nature)
And amal (deeds) gets direction and destination by virtue of ponderance and thought. The Quran is not merely a collection of God’s ordainments nor is it merely a book of sins and rewards or crime and punishment. It is a balanced treatise on history, scientific knowledge and spirituality, the serious study of which opens the windows of wisdom and spiritual achievements on man making him successful and prosperous both in this world and in the hereafter.
This universe is a humble work of God’s artistry. The earth and the heavens are nothing as compared to his powers. On the Day of Judgment the earth will be in the grasp of his hand and the skies will be wrapped in his right hand like paper is rolled on a stick.
“And on the Day of Resurrection the whole of the earth will be grasped by His Hand and the heavens will be rolled up in His Right Hand.” (Al Zumar: 67)
Nevertheless the countless phenomenon of Nature and its constituents and the expanse of the vast universe hold the promise of wisdom and divine guidance for man and the rise and fall of nations in the world offer useful lessons for him. It is, therefore, necessary for man to have an in-depth study of the historical, scientific and spiritual dimensions of the holy Quran.
The Quran enjoins on man to persevere with namaz (prayers) and shun shirk (worship of non-God) on countless occasions. In the same way it inculcates man to study and ponder in many of its verses giving the impression that it wants to see Muslims a thinking community, a community with scientific outlook and temperament. To Quran a Muslim can’t afford to be thoughtless. In other words, thought and observation run in the veins of a Muslim. The Quran expects Muslims to develop a scientific temperament and look at all that exists in the universe with a scientific vision and study and research on it to get the realization of the oneness of God and at the same time acquire the same order, harmony and balance that is present in God’s universe in his own personality.
Let’s have a brief study of the three dimensions of the Quranic thought.
1) The historical dimension:
Man forms society. A society without man cannot be imagined. Adam and Eve were the first human beings on earth and the society based on them was the earliest society in the world. It gave birth to families, tribes, races and nations. The Quran tells the tales of the rise and fall of these nations in order to enable the later generations to take inspirations from their merits and achievements and learn a lesson from their ruin and extermination as punishment for their weaknesses, wrongdoings and sins. Therefore, the Quran records the collective history of nations, as to Quran, nations are the units of human history and civilisation. The fate of nations is decided on the basis of their collective deeds in the world and on the Day of Judgment too each nation will be called along with its head (prophet) for hisab (judgment).
God sent countless nations in the world in close succession one after the other and gave each of them a fixed span of life as he gave every individual a fixed span of life.
“And every nation has its appointed term; when their term is reached, neither can they delay it nor can they advance it an hour (or a moment)”. (Al A’raf: 34)
Thus, every nation has to fulfill its social responsibilities in the assigned period of time collectively and the fate of the nation is decided on the basis of the deeds of a majority of it. Then its fate becomes a source of learning for the next nation. The Quran narrates the tales of tragic end of many nations as consequences of their collective sins like covetousness, ingratitude, arrogance and pride in their wealth, prosperity and power, sexual perversion and collective downfall in moral and social values for other nations to ponder and learn. Nations of Noah, Aad, Samood, Luth, Madian and Saba are such nations that were exterminated by God for their collective social, economic and sexual misdeeds. The Quran exhorts man to reflect on the tragic end of these nations, to go around places, see their remains scattered in the world and think about his own future. Therefore, the Quran has presented before Muslims a constructive approach to history by narrating the tales of bygone nations not for amusement and entertainment but for character building of nations.
“Do they not travel in the land, and see what was the end of those before them? They were superior to them in strength, and they tilled the earth and populated it in greater numbers than these (pagans) have done, and there came to them their Messengers with clear proofs. Surely, Allah wronged them not, but they used to wrong themselves. “ (Al Rum: 9)
Say (O Muhammad SAW): "Travel in the land and see what was the end of those before (you)! Most of them were Mushrikun (the disbelievers in the Oneness of Allah, polytheists, idolaters, etc.)." (Al Rum: 42)
Thus history makes man realize that nations that were more powerful and prosperous were ruined due to their arrogance, disobedience to God, ingratitude and other social and economic misdeeds and so they should try to escape the wrath of God by avoiding those misdeeds and sins.
2) Scientific Dimension:
An in-depth study of the Quran demolishes the myth that Islam and science are poles apart and establishes the fact that the study of science in fact leads to the divine Truth. There are numerous verses in the Quran that state one or the other scientific fact or phenomenon and impart basic knowledge of various branches of science like embryology, geology, astronomy, biology, physics etc. that have been corroborated by modern science in the light of which the world has made many scientific discoveries and advancements. The purpose behind stating these scientific facts is not merely to give information but to promote a scientific outlook in Muslims and spur their curious mind towards inquiry and research because if scientific facts are discussed in divine religious book of Islam, it means science is a part of Islamic religious teachings but unfortunately it is considered the other way round today. The more man tries to delve deep into the heart of things present in the universe and tries to know the truth deep down the scientific marvels the greater realisation of the greatness of God dawns on him. Secondly, he will also aspire to develop the same discipline that is present in this universe in his own personality as God says that He has not created this universe haphazardly and without a purpose.
“And We created not the heavens and the earth, and all that is between them, for mere play, We created them not except with truth (i.e. to examine and test those who are obedient and those who are disobedient and then reward the obedient ones and punish the disobedient ones), but most of them know not. “(Al Dukhan: 38-39)
About the creation of the Sun and the Moon, the Quran says in another verse:
“It is He Who made the sun a shining thing and the moon as a light and measured out its (their) stages, that you might know the number of years and the reckoning. Allah did not create this but in truth. He explains the Ayat (proofs, evidences, verses, lessons, signs, revelations, etc.) in detail for people who have knowledge.”( Younus: 5)
“And the sun runs on its fixed course for a term (appointed). That is the Decree of the All-Mighty, the All-Knowing. And the moon, We have measured for it mansions (to traverse) till it returns like the old dried curved date stalk. It is not for the sun to overtake the moon, nor does the night outstrip the day. They all float, each in an orbit. “(Yasin: 38-40)
It becomes evident from the study of the verses quoted above that God created the universe according to a definite plan. His creative artistry is manifest across the entire universe and one cannot find a single flaw or shortcoming in his creation. Each and everything is interrelated thus maintaining a balance and harmony in the universe. God, therefore, puts a challenge before man to find out a slightest flaw in the universe created by Him.
“Who has created death and life, that He may test you which of you is best in deed. And He is the All-Mighty, the Oft-Forgiving; Who has created the seven heavens one above another, you can see no fault in the creations of the Most Beneficent. Then look again: "Can you see any rifts?" Then look again and yet again, your sight will return to you in a state of humiliation and worn out.”(Al Mulk: 2-4)
Therefore every part of such a vast and deep universe that is not static but is moving at the speed of light cannot be moving with such a great balance, rhythm and harmony without following a scientific law or principle and the creator of such a wonderful and brilliant universe can only be a power with enormous scientific knowledge and wisdom. That’s why God also encourages Muslims through the Quran to acquire scientific knowledge because Muslims can attain material and spiritual prosperity only through their mastery of science and technology. Therefore, God displays his power of creation before mankind through the knowledge of various branches of science and also enjoins on man to study and ponder over nature. One of the branches is embryology. Man had long been perplexed by the evolution of fetus in the womb since ancient times and had been presenting various theories on the evolution and growth of fetus based on his imagination and logic. One of the theories presented by Aristotle 2000 years ago was called Epigenesis. Another theory that contrasted Epigenesis was Preformation based on Biblical thought on the birth of man. With the ushering of science in the microscopic age in the 19th century, a great deal of progress was made in this field and solid acceptable information became available on the subject. But the Quran has presented the various stages of a fetus in the womb right in the sixth century. A number of verses in the Quran deal with the subject:
“So let man see from what he is created! He is created from a water gushing forth. Proceeding from between the back-bone and the ribs, “(Al Tariq:5-7)
“Has created man from a clot (a piece of thick coagulated blood).” (Al Alaq:2)
“And indeed We created man (Adam) out of an extract of clay (water and earth). Thereafter We made him (the offspring of Adam) as a Nutfah (mixed drops of the male and female sexual discharge) (and lodged it) in a safe lodging (womb of the woman). Then We made the Nutfah into a clot (a piece of thick coagulated blood), then We made the clot into a little lump of flesh, then We made out of that little lump of flesh bones, then We clothed the bones with flesh, and then We brought it forth as another creation. So blessed be Allah, the Best of creators. “ (Al Muminoon:12-14)
It is a miracle of the Quran that the scientific fact that was discovered by man as late as in the 19th century was stated by the Quran through the tongue of a prophet who did not receive a formal education as early as in the sixth century.
Apart from it, there are verses that also deal with other scientific subjects. For example there are following verses about rocks in the Quran:
“And indeed, there are stones out of which rivers gush forth, and indeed, there are of them (stones) which split asunder so that water flows from them, and indeed, there are of them (stones) which fall down for fear of Allah.” ( Al Baqra:74)
Modern science corroborates this Quranic statement that there are indeed some rocks that absorb water that bursts out when they crack. There are some porous rocks through which water flows without any impediment. These are physical facts that stir man’s curiosity and, on the other, hand prove that God is all powerful. He can make water flow out from within rocks or ignite sparks of fire from green branches of a tree if He so wishes as is stated by the Quran:
“ Does not man see that We have created him from Nutfah (mixed male and female discharge semen drops). Yet behold! He (stands forth) as an open opponent. And he puts forth for Us a parable, and forgets his own creation. He says: "Who will give life to these bones when they have rotted away and became dust?" Say: (O Muhammad SAW) "He will give life to them Who created them for the first time! And He is the All-Knower of every creation!" He, Who produces for you fire out of the green tree, when behold! You kindle therewith. “(Yasin: 77-80)
The signs of God’s powers can also be seen in the confluence of rivers and oceans where the colours and tastes of water are different and it appears that two rivers are flowing together without disturbing the characteristics of each other. The Quran describes this phenomenon in the following words:
“And it is He Who has let free the two seas (kinds of water), one palatable and sweet, and the other salt and bitter, and He has set a barrier and a complete partition between them. “ (Al Furqan: 53)
“He has let loose the two seas (the salt water and the sweet) meeting together. Between them is a barrier which none of them can transgress. “(Al Rahman: 20)
Modern science also agrees on the fact that water is the source of all life on earth. This fact is stated by Quran as follows:
“Allah has created every moving (living) creature from water. Of them there are some that creep on their bellies, some that walk on two legs, and some that walk on four. Allah creates what He wills. Verily! Allah is Able to do all things. “(Al Noor: 45)
The Quran also discusses some other scientific truths such as this:
“And it is He Who spread out the earth, and placed therein firm mountains and rivers and of every kind of fruits He made Zawjain Ithnain (two in pairs - may mean two kinds or it may mean: of two sorts, e.g. black and white, sweet and sour, small and big, etc.) He brings the night as a cover over the day. Verily, in these things, there are Ayat (proofs, evidences, lessons, signs, etc.) for people who reflect. “ (Al Ra’d:3)
It is a scientific fact that reproduction in plants takes place through flowers. Some flowers are male while others are female. Fruits develop as a result of the reproductive process. In this respect too, there is no disagreement between the Quran and modern science. Therefore, the Quran rightly says that there is ample scope for research and ponderance over all the creations in the universe and those who have vision and insight observe the creations of God all the time and try to know the truth. About such men, Quran says:
“Those who remember Allah (always, and in prayers) standing, sitting, and lying down on their sides, and think deeply about the creation of the heavens and the earth, (saying): "Our Lord! You have not created (all) this without purpose, glory to You! (Exalted be You above all that they associate with You as partners). Give us salvation from the torment of the Fire. “(Al-i-Imran:191)
Yet another example of God’s extraordinary creative powers is that various species of vegetation grow from the same soil though they are given the same water. This also holds some opportunity for study and research for man. Quran says:
“And in the earth are neighbouring tracts, and gardens of vines, and green crops (fields etc.), and date-palms, growing out two or three from a single stem root, or otherwise (one stem root for every palm ), watered with the same water, yet some of them We make more excellent than others to eat. Verily, in these things, there are Ayat (proofs, evidences, lessons, signs) for the people who understand. “ (Al Ra’d:4)
Similarly, the Quran enjoins on the man to observe all the things present on the earth and in the sky from scientific point of view. And God opens the windows of knowledge and wisdom on those who keenly observe and research on whatever exists in the universe and in doing so He doesn’t discriminate between Muslims and non-Muslims. That’s the reason during the initial stages of Islam when Muslims took to the study and research on nature and the universe, they made important contributions to the fields of astronomy, mathematics, chemistry, physics, medicine etc. And when they ignored the scientific dimension of the Quran only directing all their energies towards spiritualism, they lagged behind in the fields of science and technology. On the other side, the non-Muslims carried extensive research and study on Nature and were gifted with treasures of scientific knowledge and wisdom and they made new discoveries and inventions. Newton pondered over the fall of an apple from the tree and as a result, the laws of gravity were discovered. James Watt studied the power of steam coming out of kettle and paved the way for the invention of the steam engine and other inventions and was instrumental in bringing about the industrial revolution in the West. No Muslim noticed anything extraordinary in the flight of a bird but Wright Brothers saw in it scientific laws and principles at work and got to invent the airplane. Similarly, many non-Muslim scientists made discoveries and inventions through their research and observation of the nature and the universe. God blessed them with knowledge and wisdom as rewards for their appreciation of His creations irrespective of whether they were Muslims or non-Muslims. The Quran does not specifically address the Muslims as its messages are for the whole mankind. So most of the time it addresses the mankind in general as ‘O the son of Adam’, ‘O men’, ‘O believers’ etc.
Muslims laid all the stress on the establishment of the rule of Allah on earth but did not work towards acquiring the material resources that are needed to run a government. As a result, they could not establish their supremacy over the nations of the world. To the contrary, they became slaves of the powerful nations. It is a Quranic principle that to run a government, both knowledge and physical force are necessary. After Moses, his nation was overpowered by Jaloot, a tyrant king. During that period, their prophet was Ishmuel (AS). They approached him and requested him to nominate a king from among them under whose leadership they could fight against Jaloot. Ishmuel (AS) nominated Taloot, a member of a poor tribe. The nation of Ishmuel (AS) did not approve of Taloot’s leadership saying he was poor and that they were better than him in terms of wealth. Ishmuel (AS) said that he possessed both knowledge and physical strength. So they accepted his leadership and fought against Jaloot defeating him. Muslims ignored this Quranic principle and as a consequence incurred damages in the past and are a defeated lot even today as they have neither knowledge nor the physical force acquired through knowledge. The caliphate of Hadhrat Usman (RA) failed because while electing him only the knowledge was taken into consideration and the person who possessed both knowledge and physical strength was ignored though he was not financially strong like Taloot (he did not have the money to pay for Mehr). In other words, guidance was not sought from history.
3) Spiritual dimension:
The Abrahamic faith is based on observation and ponderance. Observation is the sunnah of Hadhrat Ibrahim (AS). Therefore a nation devoid of thought and power of observation can neither attain worldly knowledge nor divine realization. Hadhrat Ibrahim (AS) pondered over the truth of the sun, the moon, the stars, fire, water etc. and was led to the divine truth. Therefore, God wants man to think and ponder over the bounties He has created for him so that he realizes His powers and pays gratitude to Him. God also wants him to submit himself to Him completely:
“[Our Sibghah (religion) is] the Sibghah (Religion) of Allah (Islam) and which Sibghah (religion) can be better than Allah's? And we are His worshippers. [Tafsir Ibn Kathir.] “(Al Baqra: 138)
The Quran reminds man time and again that the master and the creator of the universe is God. He is omnipotent and all powerful. He has no rival or colleague. His knowledge covers everything. He knows each and every particle in the universe and the universe is illuminated with his light. He created the universe for man and illuminated the sun and the moon, spread the greenery on the earth, grew countless bounties for man and gave him supremacy over all the creatures on earth so that he can use them for his own benefit. He created rivers and streams for him and hid gems in them. The Quran expects man to think over all this and seek spiritual proximity to God. It says:
“Verily, in the heavens and the earth are signs for the believers. And in your creation, and what He scattered (through the earth) of moving (living) creatures are signs for people who have Faith with certainty. And in the alternation of night and day, and the provision (rain) that Allah sends down from the sky, and revives therewith the earth after its death, and in the turning about of the winds (i.e. sometimes towards the east or north, and sometimes towards the south or west etc., sometimes bringing glad tidings of rain etc., and sometimes bringing the torment), are signs for a people who understand. “(Al Jasiyah: 3-5)
Yet another verse says:
“See you not (O men) that Allah has subjected for you whatsoever is in the heavens and whatsoever is in the earth, and has completed and perfected His Graces upon you, (both) apparent (i.e Islamic Monotheism, and the lawful pleasures of this world, including health, good looks, etc.) and hidden “ (Luqman:20)
There is food for thought for men of vision and intellect in the universe that leads them to the divine truth. The more man thinks over the material aspects of the world and nature the more he realises the impermanence of the world and he rises above materialism. The ruin and tragic end of bygone nations strengthens his belief in God and he seeks refuge in Him. And to get His protection, he strives to become spiritually pure by renouncing animal instincts and baser elements of his personality like covetousness, greed, selfishness, cruelty, arrogance, ingratitude etc.
In fact, historical and scientific thought only promotes spiritualism in man. History develops accountability in him whereas scientific thought further strengthens his belief in the greatness and permanence of God. Therefore, the dimensions of Quranic thought train human consciousness in such a way that they succeed both in this world and in the Hereafter. That’s why it is called ‘umm-il-kitab’ (mother of all books).
Sohail Arshad is a regular columnist for New AgeIslam.com.