By Asif Merchant, New Age Islam
17 Aug 2012
The Bible has a story about Creation. The Quran also has a similar story. The only problem is that neither of these have any credibility in the light of present day knowledge. Bishop Samuel Wilberforce, speaking at Oxford University’s Museum Library announced that the World was about 6,000 years old, having been created by the hand of God on 23 October 4004 B.C. He had obtained this date by counting back through the genealogy described in the Bible.
If someone had tried a similar exercise and tried to work out the same problem using the Holy Quran, most likely he would have got a similar result. This is not all. There may be vague hints that are pointed out after a major scientific discovery, but in no case has anyone, using only the Quran, or the Bible been able to pre-empt the discovery.
What is the problem? Are the Holy Books wrong?
If the Books are not wrong, the only possible explanation is that our way of reading the Books is wrong.
The Earth is only a speck in the Solar System, which is less than a speck in the Milky Way, which itself is much less than a speck in the Universe, which is . . . There is no way of describing the Universe in words. A whole lot of amazing mathematical concepts are involved, of which even most of those well versed in the subject would be unable to fully understand.
The Quran was revealed about 1400 years ago. The Bible is even older. Leave aside the age. Even if a Holy Book was revealed today, any reference to the Universe and Creation would have to be somewhat similar. Anything else would be unintelligible to the reader. Even so, a literal interpretation would lead to as many errors as the present literal interpretations of the Bible and the Quran. The true function of these Books is to set you off on the Quest. Not to show you every step.
A literal interpretation leads to a view of the Creator as some sort of a Superhuman. No matter how much people may deny it, but that remains their viewpoint. We hear statements like ‘Allah ke Darbar ’ , describing the Creator as some kind of a King, or, that during Ramzan, ‘The Gates of Heaven are kept open for you, and the Gates of Hell are permanently closed’. Such statements are some sort of ‘Shirk’, and should be avoided. Among the Commandments given to the Jews, through the Prophet Moses is, “Thou shall not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain”. I think this is to avoid committing the sort of ‘shirk’ I have just described. In contrast, our Muslims take pride in saying ‘Allah this . . . and Allah that . . .’ at the slightest excuse.
Even today, most of us subconsciously treat the Earth as flat. This can be seen in the way people look in only one particular direction when speaking of God. The hands are raised to direct the prayers in a particular direction. We speak of ‘The Lord above’. We point in that direction when we talk of Heaven. ‘The Heaven above’. Or point downwards to indicate Hell. Heaven is above, Hell is below. In between is the Flat Earth. In truth, whatever direction you point, it will be towards God, since the Earth is round.
Since the Creation is so difficult to understand, it stands to reason that the Creator cannot be explained by normal concepts. In fact, one can go as far as to state that ‘Whatever you say about God is bound to be wrong’. It is best to avoid making a direct reference. At the most, one can speak around the subject. Perhaps that is why the Holy Prophet is said to have remarked that to spend one hour in the study of Science is better than a year of worship. In the study of Science, one can get some idea about Creation. Here again, I would qualify that if you do not take the Science study too literally, but try to go beyond it, it is possible to get a glimpse of Creation.
Actually, I think it is the literal interpretations of the Holy Book that have misled us so badly. If we assume that the main intent of the Quran is to lead us towards a just and peaceful civilisation, and read without taking it literally, it makes a big difference. The laws all have qualifying remarks like “Even if you don’t, remember that your Lord is Allseeing, Merciful, . . .”. This indicates that the laws as given in the Quran are only guidelines. We have to work out our own laws to make a Society based on the Rule of Law, devoted to Justice.
In any case, never forget that this is our one chance to live, and think. Apart from our working for our livelihoods, we should also spend some time on the ‘Divine Quest’. There are an infinite number of approaches to it, each one equally valid even in whatever your own profession or business is. Maybe at some stage, one can sincerely say:
“Talaash o Talab may, voh lazzat milee hai
Dua kar raha hoo, ke Manzil na Aaye”.