Credit to the shallow Western way of life, builders of the body and extinguishers of the soul, doubts about God, His existence, His functions, mankind’s need of Him, etc. are growing: “Does He exist? What is He doing up there? Shouldn’t He answer when we call Him? If He is there, and is of qualities attributed to Him, why is there any suffering on the earth? What is His role in situations of human crisis?” Such are the doubts and such are the taunts. He is under attack. The Field Commanders are Scientists, half-baked intellectuals, and influential men and women of motley colors: especially those of the West. At the moment, affluence is of the highest order in the West, and so is arrogance:
“Nay. But Man transgresses all bounds, that he sees himself self-sufficient.” (The Qur’an, 96: 6-7)
The issue is large and questions to be answered many. We propose to deal with only one aspect of it: How to discover God? What kind of guidance does Islam offer?
In truth, finding God should not be as daunting a task as disoriented philosophers, half interested seekers, and casual three-minute musers make it appear. The Creator and Sustainer of all that exists is a big reality. It is not a minor issue that can be waved away as some imbecile thought which has a funny way of recurrently popping up at the surface of the mind. It is a reality that persistently reminds us of its presence, for, God persists. One of His names is Al-Qaa’im. A major problem is that He is hidden from us. But, is He the only reality hidden from us?
A close parallel is in an electronic doll that we make. It has the ability to talk, and, if fitted with a chip, can talk intelligently too. Yet, although its creators, we are hidden from it. It cannot locate us or communicate with us, far from understanding us. Its limit is set by the electronic chip. So we humans are – in relation to our Creator. Are we any better than electronic dolls when set against Him in similitude?
If we consider ourselves as mere matter, or, at best, living matter, in the classification of animals, then, that be it. (The humanity can wait the emergence of the beast at the shores of the Middle-east). But, if we are higher beings, possessed with mysteries called mind, heart, and a soul from God, then the case is beyond laboratory equipments and scientific jargons. From this wide vantage we should be able to meet with greater success in efforts to understand our Creator. We cannot of course talk to Him. That is because He has decided against talking to anyone except a chosen few. Those few came and went. The last one said, “There might be a few pretenders after me. But remember, I am the Last One.” (Have you heard of any after him?) So, there can be no communication at the physical level. But the door to spiritual communication is not shut. Admittedly though, it is heavy.
Islam has never asked us to find God in the material sense of finding or perceiving Him, or get to, sort of, feeling Him. But rather, has shown us a more practical and less ambiguous way: a way which has the double purposes of improving the world while ridding us of the pollutants. We are asked to work our way to Him through two channels: one created, the other uncreated. The created world has the animate, (topped by the humans), and the inanimate (all the rest that is there). The uncreated is the Revelation. In other words, we are to know Him by His Attributes; and His Attributes abound in His creations as they abound in His Revelation: the Qur’an. (The Gospels have, in the main, attributes of Jesus Christ, Torah has the attributes of the Jewish race, the Qur’an has the Attributes of God – if you wish to know the difference).
The process of knowing God “the Imperceptible” is in a way similar to knowing everything else that is imperceptible. E.g. sound waves. They are imperceptible. They cannot be located, and stored. You cannot fill a box with sound waves and say, “Here is 10 kg. of it.” You cannot converse with them either. If you said, “Hullo! Are you there?” you will not hear back, “I am right here.” We know these imperceptibles – countless number of them – by their attributes. In case of sound waves: they are of such and such a pitch, measurable in so many decibels, which travel at such and such speed, etc. We experience them, can even catch them, but will never see them. Their creator has decided against us seeing them. That’s the end to it. He creates, and He decides. The chip in us has its limitations.
Allah too is not perceptible. He cannot be communicated with. He does not come and reside in a heart to say from within, “Lo! Here I am, in your own heart.” He has made His existence known to our hearts and has informed us that we can understand Him and get closer to Him by following methods sanctioned by Him.
If you do not believe in a reality called “sound waves,” you are not going to know it. It starts with a hypothesis. When you hear a sound you wonder: How did it get through to me? There must be a means and a medium. You investigate, conduct experiments, work at the project for decades, until you learn that it is waves which emanate from the point of origin. Then you learn to catch them and find that there are varieties of them, that they have a fixed speed, but pitches that vary; some are ultrasonic, and so on. In this fashion you arrive at the attributes, and you discover the unknown with the help of the known. You still do not know the nature of the sound waves, their reality, their essence. You cannot hold them in your palm and stare at them. They do not come in red, blue or pink colors. They have been placed among the invisible. You know these invisibles through their attributes. The creator of these invisibles decided that you will not see them. But, it does not mean you shall never know what a sound wave is.
The method is more or less similar when the search objective is God, except that sound waves, electrical energy, magnetic power, and other invisibles do not assist you as you try to discover them. But Allah does. He interacts with you as you work with increased vigorousness, plodding up on the path of submission, charity, study and application. He gets closer and closer to you, as you strive, as you struggle, as you sacrifice your hours, your energies and your wealth, until, “I become the hand with which he holds, the feet with which he walks.” Your high degree of submission allows Him (since He does not force Himself upon the self-sufficient) to move your hands and feet, in complete harmony with His will. You do not become Him, nor He you. But rather, you become His instrument with which He expresses His will. You become a sign of God. Hence a Prophetic statement, “A true believer is one who, when you look at him, reminds you of God.”
Through the Attributes
After belief and submission to Him, the directives given by Allah have something to do with His Qualities. You acquire them and live them. You take a Quality of His, say generosity. In the beginning it is tough. But you practice, and little by little, you learn how to do it; how to make it a part of your personality for it to emanate from you without any effort from you, almost automatically? Then you take on another Quality: patience. And then others: knowledge, service to the poor, love of the good, and so on. With practice you learn and improve the skill. You expand, improve, and gain proficiency. You can take several Attributes of His in parallel. Just as the DNA strand duplicates itself at several places, while issuing commands for manufacture of proteins, all at the same time. Similarly, you take several qualities for practice, and go on, maybe for decades, until your acts are like His acts. You do His will. “Allah has ninety-nine names,” says a Prophetic tradition, “one less than a hundred. Whoever took good care of them entered Paradise.”
The Created World
Another way to find Him is to come out of our habit of taking things granted: just as many people take sound transmission for granted, and never inquire about what it really is. As we look at the created world, we need to ask ourselves not only how, which scientists explore and explain, but also why, which no scientist can answer, unless he can give up relating himself to animals. He has to start as human being, from a state of humility, admitting his limits, his dependence (even for moving his finger) and acknowledging other facts of existence. If he thinks he is too clever – the electronic doll – and can work out everything through the chip he is endowed with, he will end up without moorings, without directions and without orientation.
Whether it is the emergence of a child, birth of a plant, rising of the sun, circling of the planets, twinkling of the stars, or images from the depth of the universe, they are all loaded with mystery: mysteries which each of us can unravel for himself by connecting them with the bigger reality. There has to be someone behind these. And that someone has to be One. And He has to be omniscient and omnipotent. And He has to be endowed with immense wisdom and mercy. There is no escape from these conclusions. One can take a leaf, cut it through and look at it with a microscope. A world opens up: there is protoplasm, photosynthesis, the Golgi Complex, the tiny power houses called Mitochondria, and so on. There are so many thousands of the organelles within a single cell; each deepening the mystery. Now you can spend a few years studying it, provided, yes, provided you learn a few things more: chemistry, physics, electronics. As you advance in your learning of the leaf, you discover that you have to learn a few more of the sciences, including, surprisingly, mathematics. The more you learn other sciences, the more you apply to the leaf, the more you learn amazing things. At one point you exclaim, “Probably, the mounting mysteries will never be unraveled.” But the study does reveal meaning. It connects the leaf to the tree, the tree to the outside world, and to the life-cycle. Remove the leaf, and there will be no life. Remove Mitochondria, and there will be no leaf. Remove electronics, and there will be no Mitochondria. It goes on. It is a chain and a cycle where each atom dances its role. You conclude that the whole thing couldn’t be out of accident: there is design, calculation, chemical reactions, renewal, death. There has to be someone behind it.
In its unparalleled beauty and brevity the Qur’an said (50: 6-11):
“Have they not considered the heaven above them how We have built it and adorned it, and it has no cracks? And the earth – We stretched it forth, and cast thereon firm mountains, and produced therein every kind of joyous growth in pairs: an insight and a reminder to every penitent slave. And We sent down out of heaven water: blessed; and We produce therewith gardens and grain for harvest; and tall palm-trees, with spathes one over another; provision for the slaves; and We revive therewith dead land: thus (will be) the issuing forth (from the graves).”
Qur’anic passages are of similar nature. You cut through one of the passages, and a world of meaning opens up: intriguing words, insinuations, nuances, relationships, laws and principles. Now you can spend a few years studying it, provided, yes, provided you learn a few other disciplines: language, Prophetic traditions, logic. As you advance in your learning of the passage, you discover that you need to know more of other sciences, including, surprisingly, maybe, geology, or botany. The more you learn other sciences, the more you apply to the passage, the more you learn amazing things. You learn that the passage is related in many ways to the rest of the text, that the text is related to human existence, and that to spiritual life. At one point you exclaim, “Probably, the mounting mysteries will never be unraveled.” You also know that the passage could not be from a human. Just like the leaf. There is design, poetry, meaning, and soul elevating experience, provided, yes, as against the study of the leaf, there is application. What you learn, you apply. You do that and qualify for higher learning. Failing application, you are discarded.
Time and Places
One should also know when he or she can be closest to God. Says a Prophetic report, “The closest a man is to His Lord is when he is in prostration.” Another report from him says, “The closest that a man can be to his Lord is in the middle of the late night hours. Therefore, if it is possible for you to be of those who remember Allah in those hours, then be.” Muslim women are luckier to have, in addition to the two above, a third way of getting closer to their Lord. A hadith says, “The closest a woman can be to her Lord is when she is in the deepest part of her house.”
Another method, which should be combined with the above for best results, is to look for God where He can be found. This is what we meant when we said earlier that God can be found through His animate creations also. Compilers of Prophetic sayings have a report on the authority of Abu Hurayrah, of which we reproduce the relevant part here: “Allah will say on the Day of Standing, ‘Son of Adam! I was sick but you did not visit Me!’ He will remonstrate, ‘My Lord! How could I visit You when You are the Lord of the worlds?’ He will say, ‘Did you not know that such and such slave of Mine was sick? But you did not visit him. Did you not know that had you visited him you would have found Me at him?'”