The Qur’anic Account of Nature: An Epitome of God Inspired Rationality and Liberation from Superstition

The Qur’anic Account of Nature: An Epitome of God Inspired Rationality and Liberation from Superstition
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By Ashraf Amin

The Prophet of Islam, Muhammad (SAAS) was inspired by the word of Allah, al-Quran, at a time , when humanity, in general, and Arabs , in particular, were steeped in certain superstitions and fallacies. People used to resort to the conjectures and guess-work. They were seldom thinking upon the basis and validity of their religious and social beliefs. Natural phenomena were an unsolved mystery for them. The complex occurrences in nature made people to venerate natural things. They could barely think beyond the needs of food, clothes and shelter. The Prophethood of Muhammad (SAAS) with the revelation of the Qur’an ushered an era of awakening and enlightenment. People, who were unable to understand their lives on earth and the reality of vast sky above them, began to ponder over every single creation surrounding them. Qur’an infused in them the spirit of inquiry and quest to know the secrets of the functioning of natural world. As soon as humanity embraced the teachings of the Qur’an, they found the unity of purpose in their lives and the natural world around them. Superstition and fatalism gave way to certainty and self-reliance.
Qur’anic Account of Nature
The one basic aim among many of the glorious Qur’an was to guide humanity to the ultimate reality of things. The depiction of nature in the numerous verses of the Qur’an aimed at exposing the true cause of existence, besides revealing the ultimate reality of natural phenomena. The implications of such teachings were such that the humanity identified the greatest intelligence working behind all existence; and Qur’an calls that Intelligence as Allah. The Qur’an called upon its followers to read the Book of Nature as well; what was forcefully advocated in the 17th century Europe, Qur’an had already pointed towards what came to be known as Natural Theology. Indeed Qur’an used the terms like ‘Alam (Worlds) for various creations or the diversity of life on earth, Afaq (Heavens), Anfus (Inner world of Human body) to encourage mankind to ponder over the creation of Allah, so that the signs of Allah’s grace and magnificence become evident to the men of intellect (Ulul al Bab). Nevertheless, the recognition of Allah as Creator and Sustainer of the worlds solved many mysteries for mankind. Instead of allowing speculations and superstitions to grow about the natural occurrences, Qur’an led the road open for men to channelize their abilities both physical and mental to the good cause of all creation. Qur’an abounds in verses which talk about the natural entities in the most reasonable manner suiting to the intellectual make-up of human beings.
The Holy Quran says, “He [Allah] is the originator of the heavens and the earth. When He decrees a plan, He says to it BE and it is.” (02:117) At another place, the Qur’an says, “His law of creation is such that when He intends a thing, His decree is BE and it is.” (36:82)The underlying idea in the above verses is that Divine intentions and decisions are in fact an integral part of God’s process of creation. The Holy Quran has used two different words for creation. They rather indicate the two different stages of creation. One is Amr, the other is Khalq.
It means to create a new object from the existing constituents. This is where an object appears in its manifest form. But, prior to this is a stage where an object is still in the process of ‘becoming’. This planning stage is described by the Holy Quran as Alam-e-Amr. What is the nature of this planning “and how it is carried out is beyond human imagination. This is also described by the Holy Quran as Masliiyyat of Allah which nobody can question.
We have, in the Qur’an, Allah saying, “Allah acts according to His will”. (14:27) Here we must understand that the ‘will’ does not mean whims and wishes. It means a set of laws as Qur’an says in the following verse:“…The sun, the moon and the stars are subservient to His (command) law.”(07:54) “Do you not see that the law of God has made subject to you all that is on the earth and the ships that sail through the sea by His (Amr) law. He withholds the celestial bodies from falling on the earth, except according to His law.” (22:65)
The phenomenon of nature described in the above verse is that the celestial bodies do not fall on the earth. This as is known through scientific investigation is due to the balance between the centripetal force of gravity and centrifugal force of rotation. If ever the balance between these forces is disturbed at any stage of evolution, the celestial bodies are liable to collide against each other; and that also will be according to a certain law.
The laws governing the phenomena of nature are called as Allah’s Amr, as we came to know in the lines above. In the Quran we have a good example of Allah’s Law (Sunnat-al-Allah) with respect to the floating of ships on the sea as we came across such verse above. We must reproduce the relevant part of that verse as: “Do you not see that the law of God has made subject to you all that is on the earth; and the ships that sail through the sea by His (Amr) law…”
We find in the world of Science that a body wholly or partially immersed in a fluid, suffers loss of weight, equal to the weight of the fluid displaced (Archimedes principle). If the weight of the body is greater than the weight of the fluid displaced, it sinks. If the weight of the body is less than the fluid displaced, it floats. When a body is floating on the surface of a fluid, a portion of the body is immersed in the fluid, so that the weight of the fluid displaced by the immersed portion is equal to the weight of the entire floating body. This is the law according to which the ship floats on the water. And it is the law according to which Allah patterned the voyage of ship over waters. The more we explore nature, the more we gain knowledge of these laws. But, our knowledge is confined only to the extent of finding out the laws working behind a certain phenomena. Why do these laws make things work as such, and who created these laws, we do not know! Through the unchanged text of the Qur’an we come to know that all phenomena work under the control and supervision of Allah. By finding out the procedure of any particular natural phenomenon, we are yet dependent on an ultimate explanation of why does this happen. Qur’an answers as the preceding revelations did that all happens for Allah wills so.
The Qur’an tells us that the law-giver is one and the laws governing the phenomena of nature and those governing the human affairs originate from the same source, and that there is a unity of purpose in the creation of the universe. The fact is described in the Holy Quran over and over again, in so many different ways. Thus while the most obvious and attractive phenomena of nature and the most wonderful capabilities of human personality are all governed from the same source, the facts are beautifully described in the following few verses of the glorious Qur’an: “By the sun and its brightness and by the moon as she follows him. By the day as it shows up the sun’s glory and by the night as it conceals it. By the heavenly bodies and their (wonderful) structures. By the earth and its (wide) expanse. By the human personality and the order, and equilibrium given to it and the (wonderful) way in which the possibilities of its disintegra¬tion and protection therefrom have been ingrained therein. All these laws governing the phenomena of nature as well as those that govern the human personality are witness to the fact that truly the one who develops his personality (by his right conduct) does succeed, and the one who disintegrates it by his misdeeds, fails.” ( 91:1-110)
Islamic Representation of Rationality
Allah has patterned the world/ universe on certain immutable laws, which no one can challenge or alter. The Holy Quran declares this in multiple verses, few of which can be reproduced here: “Nobody can change the laws of God.” Not even the messenger of God. (06:34) … (O Messenger of God!) , you are not given the authority to change the laws of God.” … “Allah’s process of creation never changes.” (30:30)…“So , you can never find change in the working of the Divine Laws.” (35:43)
The laws that the Qur’an talks of in the afore-mentioned verses and their likes point towards a well-knit structure and well-set discipline on which the entire creation works. All living and non-livings components of nature have to abide by the Laws of Allah. The rotation and revolution of earth, the spinning of sun on its own axis, the passage of stars within their orbits, forming of clouds out of vapours, the fascinating food-cycle among living beings, the rewards of human labour in terms of either profit or loss, all are bound by God’s Laws (Sunnat-al- Allah). Islam in its final phase with the Prophethood of Muhammad (SAAS) ensured that humanity attains the true knowledge of natural phenomena.
To amply testify that nature works according to certain well-set laws of God, the Prophet (SAAS) offered the simplest yet enlightening explanation to his community at the most opportune time in his life-time. The incident is recorded in Sahih al Bukhari, a collection of the Prophetic Ahadith (Sayings/Doings/ Tacit Approvals of the Prophet (SAAS)) as: The sun eclipsed in the life- time of Allah’s Apostle on the day when his son Ibrahim died. So, the people said that the sun had eclipsed because of the death of Ibrahim. Allah’s Apostle said, “The sun and the moon do not eclipse because of death and life (i.e. birth) of someone. When you see the eclipse pray and invoke Allah.” (al-Bukhari). In slightly different narrations found in the same book of Ahadith, the Prophet has used the words, “…the sun and the moon are the two signs amongst the signs of Allah…” Such a Hadith of the Prophet (SAAS) makes it adequately clear that Islam sides with reason and rationality, blocking all roads to speculation and superstition.

The author is a Senior Research Fellow at the Shah-i-Hamadan Institute of Islamic Studies, University of Kashmir. He can be reached at: [email protected]

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