By N. J. Bridgewater
The existence of God has been a hotly-debated topic throughout history. Jewish, Christian and Muslim scholars have set forth various rational proofs for God’s existence and these have been debated and, according to some, refuted by opponents who hold that God does not exist (i.e. atheists) or who maintain there is no proof either way (e.g. agnostics). Still others hold that God does exist, but that He is either everything (a belief known as ‘pantheism’) or that He created the universe and set it in motion but then had and has no interaction with or control over His creation (a belief known as ‘deism’). A belief in pantheism is held by many branches of Hinduism, as well as many Sufis (a variety of mystical Islam) and other mystics. The latter belief, i.e. deism, was held by some of the Founding Fathers of the United States and other rationalists who could not conceive of a God who was involved in the everyday life of man, perhaps because of the problem of suffering (which I have addressed in my previous blog post and will not deal with here) or a belief that scientific laws are the basis of existence and all things happen according to those natural laws without any outside intervention (this being a form of materialistic philosophy). The ancient Arabs held another perspective. They believed that God exists, but that He has a number of intermediaries (i.e. lesser gods). These include the angels, who were believed to be God’s daughters. God was also said to have a wife and there were believed to be other male gods who were presumably connected to God or were more accessible and able to provide help or assistance to those who invoked them. These gods were worshipped in the form of idols made of wood, clay, stone or metal, and one of the main shrines where they were worshipped was the Kaaba—a cube-shaped building in Mecca.
The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon Him) was raised in this pagan milieu and was aware of the beliefs of the Arabs regarding God and the various supposed lesser gods who were worshipped by the majority of his people (the Quraysh tribe). He was also aware of the Christian and Jewish communities which existed in Arabia, all of whom proclaimed the existence of one God but who, in some cases, believed in intermediaries between God and man or worshipped and venerated images. There were, for example, a large number of unorthodox Christian sects in Arabia, who had been pushed out by the Orthodox Church of the Byzantine Empire. Some of these worshipped Mary as a goddess. Others believed that Jesus was literally the Son of God or that God adopted Jesus as a Son. According to the Qur’ān, there was also a group of Jews who venerated ‘Uzayr (i.e. Ezra) as a Son of God. Due to the remoteness of Arabia and the diversity of beliefs present there, this is more than likely. Some of the Jewish tribes were descended from Arab pagans who converted to Judaism and were not highly literate, meaning that unorthodox beliefs were likely to spring up among them. In addition to these groups, there were also Magians (a.k.a. Zoroastrians) from Persia who held that God was opposed by an evil spirt, Angra Mainyu or Ahriman, and Hanifs, who held that there was one God and the original religion of the Arabs was the religion of Abraham. To these latter, Muhammad associated Himself.
When Muhammad proclaimed that “there is no God but God” and that all should turn away from idolatry and accept pure monotheism, His people reacted strongly against Him, pelting Him with rocks and refuse and persecuting anyone who followed Him. The early Muslims were a small group within Mecca, mostly including the poor, abject, slaves and women, and some members of Muhammad’s clan (the Hashimites). When He said that there would be a resurrection, that the polytheists would go to hellfire and that God would send divine judgement, the Meccans declared that Muhammad was repeating the stories of the ancients, that He was a poet or soothsayer and that He was possessed by genies. Many of their arguments against Him are recorded in the text of the Qur’ān itself, along with God’s rebuttal. It is in this context that the Qur’ān gives some convincing argments for the existence of God. These are not scientific proofs, it should be born in mind, as science is a field which relates to material existence. God is not some energy or material being who can be measured, analysed and proven through science—nor can God’s existence be disproved by science. Science simply does not belong in the equation, as it relates to observable phenomena only. God is the ultimate reality, existing above and beyond the physical universe and does not consist of any material substance or energy. Arguments for the existence of God, then, must take a different form. They appeal to man’s higher sensibilities and powers of intuition, reflection and spiritual receptivity. Here are some of the arguments laid out by the Qur’ān. I have included five main proofs, which are listed as follows:
1. Man did not create himself
2. Everything is a sign of God’s attributes
3. Life and death are in the hands of higher Power
4. The example of ancient peoples who rejected God
5. The verses of the Qur’ān are Signs of God
Let’s start with the first:
1. Man did not create himself.
Qur’ān 52:33 – 36:
“Or do they say, "He fabricated the (Message)"? Nay, they have no faith! Let them then produce a recital like unto it—if (it be) they speak the truth! Were they created of nothing, or were they themselves the creators? Or did they create the heavens and the earth? Nay, they have no firm belief.”
This is perhaps the most obvious argument for the existence of a Creator. If man is not self-created, he is in need of an external creator. Man also did not create the heavens and earth, so there must be some creator outside of creation which brought them into being. While the Meccans believed that God existed, they did not believe that God was an active Creator or that He could bring about a resurrection. Time, they believed, was eternal—without beginning or end—and God was merely the highest among many deities which had power over the world. They also believed that Fate was the main determiner of life and death. The Qur’ān argues that this is not the case—each human being is created by God; God decides when one lives or dies; and fate (Arabic qadar) is merely what God has predetermined in the Mother Book—the preserved Tablet—which contains the knowledge of all things, past and future. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá further elaborates on the argument that man did not create himself:
“One of the proofs and demonstrations of the existence of God is the fact that man did not create himself: nay, his creator and designer is another than himself.
“It is certain and indisputable that the creator of man is not like man because a powerless creature cannot create another being. The maker, the creator, has to possess all perfections in order that he may create.
“Can the creation be perfect and the creator imperfect? Can a picture be a masterpiece and the painter imperfect in his art? For it is his art and his creation. Moreover, the picture cannot be like the painter; otherwise, the painting would have created itself. However perfect the picture may be, in comparison with the painter it is in the utmost degree of imperfection.
“The contingent world is the source of imperfections: God is the origin of perfections. The imperfections of the contingent world are in themselves a proof of the perfections of God.”
(Abdu'l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 5)
Thus the existence of imperfection implies that perfection must exist. Plato held the same essential argument, that perfection must exist and this world is merely an imperfect reflection of a higher and perfect reality. He argued that what we see as beautiful and wonderful, such as flowers and trees and rivers, etc. are all imperfect reflections or shadows of a perfect reality. There is a perfect tree, a perfect flower, etc. in another realm of existence. Regardless of whether Plato’s idea is true or not, the concept of imperfection does imply, by its very meaning, that perfection must exist. If there is dependency or contingency, then independence and self-sufficiency must exist. If there is plurality, there must also be singularity and oneness. Light implies the existence of darkness, just as heat implies the existence of cold. If there were no cold, heat could not be imagined. Likewise, if there were no heat, the concept of ‘cold’ would be meaningless. Instinctively and intuitively, every human being can understand that we are imperfect beings and that everything around us is imperfect and contingent. We are incapable of creating ourselves just as the universe is incapable of springing into being out of nothingness on its own. Therefore, there must be a Creator and that Creator must be absolute perfection and be completely independent; otherwise, it would be like its creation and hence limited and constrained, incapable of creating anything.
2. Everything is a sign of God’s attributes:
The Qur’ān says (51:20 – 23):
“On the earth are signs for those of assured Faith, as also in your own selves: Will ye not then see? And in heaven is your Sustenance, as (also) that which ye are promised. Then, by the Lord of heaven and earth, this is the very Truth, as much as the fact that ye can speak intelligently to each other.”
According to this concept, everything in existence is a sign (Arabic āyah) of God’s existence, from the largest stars to the smallest ant, from the sun and moon to man himself and his inner being. The word ‘sign’ or āyah is also used to refer to the verses of the Qur’ān. Thus each and every verse of the Qur’ān is also a sign of God’s existence and a proof for those who can perceive its truth. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá writes:
“Throughout the world of existence it is the same; the smallest created thing proves that there is a creator. For instance, this piece of bread proves that it has a maker.
“Praise be to God! the least change produced in the form of the smallest thing proves the existence of a creator: then can this great universe, which is endless, be self-created and come into existence from the action of matter and the elements? How self-evidently wrong is such a supposition!”
(‘Abdu'l-Bahá, SomeAnswered Questions, p. 6)
God can only be understood through His attributes, which are mentioned in the various Scriptures which have been revealed to mankind. For instance, the Qur’ān says (59:22 – 24): “God is He, than Whom there is no other god—Who knows (all things) both secret and open; He, Most Gracious, Most Merciful. God is He, than Whom there is no other god—the Sovereign, the Holy One, the Source of Peace (and Perfection), the Guardian of Faith, the Preserver of Safety, the Exalted in Might, the Irresistible, the Supreme: Glory to God. (High is He) above the partners they attribute to Him. He is God, the Creator, the Evolver, the Bestower of Forms (or Colours). To Him belong the Most Beautiful Names: whatever is in the heavens and on earth, doth declare His Praises and Glory: and He is the Exalted in Might, the Wise.” (55:78): “Blessed be the name of thy Lord, full of Majesty, Bounty and Honour.”
Each of these attributes, and the many other attributes of God, are mirrored and evidenced in ourselves and the created world. For example, everything in the universe possesses a power of attraction by virtue of gravity. All objects, both large and small, bend space to a greater or lesser degree. The essence of beauty is the power of attraction. Those who reflect on beauty and attraction can see in this power signs of the existence of ultimate and perfect Beauty, which is an attribute of God.
The order and power of the universe are also signs that there is an ultimate Being who ordered existence and set the celestial bodies into motion. The Qur’ān says 36:37 – 40: “And a Sign for them is the Night: We withdraw therefrom the Day, and behold they are plunged in darkness;
And the sun runs his course for a period determined for him: that is the decree of (Him), the Exalted in Might, the All-Knowing. And the Moon—We have measured for her mansions (to traverse) till she returns like the old (and withered) lower part of a date-stalk. It is not permitted to the Sun to catch up the Moon, nor can the Night outstrip the Day: Each (just) swims along in (its own) orbit (according to Law)”. The orbits of the sun and moon, one around the galactic centre and the other around earth, are thus fixed and determined by a higher Power who has brought this tremendous order into being. We also know that the physical universe was once a single point which was then expanded through the Big Bang. Even now, the expansion of the universe is constantly accelerating. This is another proof of God’s power and might for those who can perceive.
The Qur’ān says (51:47 – 49): “With power and skill did We construct the Firmament: for it is We Who create the vastness of space. And We have spread out the (spacious) earth: How excellently We do spread out! And of every thing We have created pairs: That ye may receive instruction.” That is Yusuf Ali’s translation. However, verse 47 actually reads wa-s-samā’-a banaynā-hā bi-ayd-in wa-’innā la-mūsi‘ūna – literally meaning “And the sky, we created/built it with-strength and verily-We [are] the Expanders” (my translation), implying that God created the heavens (i.e. the physical universe) and then expanded and continues to expand it. If God had expanded the heavens once, He would have used a past tense verb. Instead, He uses a nominal sentence with two emphatic particles, ’inna and la-, and then an active participle, implying that He is still expanding the universe. The plural is used because it is the divine or royal ‘We’. Also, in Qur’ān 21:30, God says that the universe was once a single point that God expanded. In the following verses, He also says that all life came from water (Arabic fa-ja‘al-nā mina l-mā’-i kull-a shay’-inHayy) and that all celestial bodies “swim along” (Arabic yasbaHūn), each in a rounded course (Arabic falak), implying that all celestial bodies are subject to gravity (verses 21:30 – 33):
“Do not the Unbelievers see that the heavens and the earth were joined together (as one unit of creation), before we clove them asunder? We made from water every living thing. Will they not then believe? And We have set on the earth mountains standing firm, lest it should shake with them, and We have made therein broad highways (between mountains) for them to pass through: that they may receive Guidance. And We have made the heavens as a canopy well guarded: yet do they turn away from the Signs which these things (point to)! It is He Who created the Night and the Day, and the sun and the moon: all (the celestial bodies) swim along, each in its rounded course.”
When it says “We have made the heavens as a canopy”, this literally means “And We made the sky as a protective ceiling” (Arabic wa-ja‘al-nas-samā’-a saqf-an maHfūZ-an). In other words, this is not a reference to the sky being a dome. It’s a reference to the sky above earth being a protective shield (i.e. the earth’s magnetic field), protecting us from solar radiation. With regards to the reference to mountains, I would refer the reader to explanations on the scientific miracles of the Qur’ān, which mention the Qur’ānic references to mountains, the sky, rain, waves, the barrier between seas, embryology, etc. as well as the beneficial properties of certain foods.
3. Life and death are in the hands of a higher Power:
|A human embryo|
There is a famous story narrated in the Qur’ān which illustrates an argument between an ancient king (presumably Nimrod) and the Prophet Abraham (upon whom be peace). It goes as follows (2:258):
“Hast thou not turned thy vision to one who disputed with Abraham about his Lord, because God had granted him power? Abraham said: "My Lord is He Who giveth life and death." He said: "I give life and death". Said Abraham: "But it is God that causeth the sun to rise from the east: Do thou then cause him to rise from the West." Thus was he confounded who (in arrogance) rejected faith. Nor doth God Give guidance to a people unjust.”
Abraham maintained that God was the giver of both life and death. The arrogant king argued that he could also bestow life and death (presumably by having the right to execute and make war). What he did not realise was that his own power was limited whereas God’s power was ultimate and unlimited. Human beings may be capable of producing children and of taking life through killing one another, but the reality is that a higher power causes both life and death. This may be understood by considering the question, ‘who brought life into being in the first place? Who created the clouds which bring rain and the seeds which bring new plant life? Who set the earth in motion around the sun and who brought about the seasons which provide for new life in spring and death in winter?’ Every abundance, every life-giving sustenance, every drop of water, is a bounty from God. Human beings developed on this planet and found it as it was, full of animals, plants, water, warmth and shelter. Did mankind bring these into being or were they provided here for our benefit? Just as a parent provides his or her children with what they need for life, so God has provided everything that humans need to live and grow. When He determines, we are born and fashioned in the womb according to a preordained pattern and then we grow old and die at a time when God has determined. All of this is within the hands of a higher Power.
When the king argued that he was the cause of life and death, Abraham argued: “But it is God that causeth the sun to rise from the east: Do thou then cause him to rise from the West”. If the king were truly a god or possessed of all power, he should have been able to comply with that command. Realising his own impotence, however, the king was completely confounded. The sun moves in its own orbit and the earth rotates on its own axis and circles round the sun. None of these things can be controlled by man—a limited and finite being. Rather, their order was ordained and established by a higher Power which is the source of all order and movement. This is not a separate argument from the one above. On the contrary, Abraham uses the concept of the sun rising from the West to demonstrate the impotency of man to be able to do aught that God is capable of. Bringing about life and death is really equivalent to causing the sun to rise (from any horizon). It is a miracle which lies in the hands of God. This theme of God as the giver of life and death is repeated throughout the Qur’ān, as in the following verses:
46:33: “See they not that God, Who created the heavens and the earth, and never wearied with their creation, is able to give life to the dead? Yea, verily He has power over all things.”
2:28 – 29: “How can ye reject the faith in God—seeing that ye were without life, and He gave you life; then will He cause you to die, and will again bring you to life; and again to Him will ye return. It is He Who hath created for you all things that are on earth; moreover His design comprehended the heavens, for He gave order and perfection to the seven firmaments; and of all things He hath perfect knowledge.”
One of the signs of God is that the earth becomes dry and barren (as in the desert) and then rain comes and brings life to the dead plain. The water causes seeds to germinate and spring out of the dead earth and plants, insects and animals proliferate. A wadi rushes forth in the formerly-barren desert and flows like a river, giving drink to men and animals. This is an allusion which the desert Arabs could easily comprehend and relate to, for they saw this miracle of life every year. The materialist will see this as nature following its course, while the spiritually-minded person sees providence, mercy and bounty from God, who provides the rain and gives life to the earth, as the Qur’ān says in the following verses:
41:39: “And among His Signs in this: thou seest the earth barren and desolate; but when We send down rain to it, it is stirred to life and yields increase. Truly, He Who gives life to the (dead) earth can surely give life to (men) who are dead. For He has power over all things.”
10:31 – 32: “Say: ‘Who is it that sustains you (in life) from the sky and from the earth? or who is it that has power over hearing and sight? And who is it that brings out the living from the dead and the dead from the living? and who is it that rules and regulates all affairs?’ They will soon say, ‘(God)’. Say, "will ye not then show piety (to Him)?" Such is God, your real Cherisher and Sustainer: apart from truth, what (remains) but error? How then are ye turned away?”
In another verse, God contrasts the creation of man with the creation of the heavens. When speaking about Pharaoh, who declared himself to be a deity, God provides the following argument (79:27 - 33): “Are ye the harder to create, or the heaven which He hath built? He reared its height and fashioned it, and gave darkness to its night, and brought out its light, and afterwards stretched forth the earth, He brought forth from it its waters and its pastures; and set the mountains firm for you and your cattle to enjoy”. Here God is asking those who deny they are created by God whether it is easier to create the heavens and the earth or to create man? In other words, since the universe must be originated, and is hence created, how can anyone deny that they are also created? If the universe must be created, and this is far greater creation, so too must each one of us accept that we are created beings. Likewise, we should appreciate the fact that God has created night and day, has formed the earth with all its water and pastures, its mountains and plains for humans and their livestock to enjoy. All of these wonders are signs of God and the power of His creative agency. They are also signs of His mercy and care for His creatures. Likewise, in 56:63 - 64, He asks whether people they think that they are the ones who cause crops to grow. We may sow the seed, but it is a higher power—God—which causes that seed to spring forth: “What think ye? That which ye sow, is it ye who cause its upgrowth, or do We cause it to spring forth?”
In Surah Ar-Rahman (the chapter of the All-Merciful), there is a constant, mesmerising refrain of ‘Which, therefore, of your Lord’s benefits will ye ungratefully deny’ (fa-bi-’ayyi ’ālā’-i rabb-i-kumā tukadhdhibān), where numerous benefits or bounties of God are described and these are contrasted with the ungratefulness of man. This is a way of waking the listener up from slumber so that they realise that all the blessings of creation derive from God and should be appreciated. Each line is short, rhythmic and pulsating, like waves on the sea.
(55:1 – 6, 10 - 13): “The Merciful hath taught his servant the Qur’ān. He created man: He hath taught him distinct speech. The sun and the moon run their courses according to a certain rule: and the vegetables which creep on the ground, and the trees submit to His disposition... And the earth hath He prepared for living creatures: therein are various fruits, and palm-trees bearing sheaths of flowers; and grain having chaff, and leaves. Which, therefore, of your LORD’S benefits will ye ungratefully deny?”
4. The example of ancient peoples who rejected God:
|Remains of the people of Thamud|
One of the recurring themes of the Qur’ān is that God has sent Messengers and Prophets to every people with a message in their own language. It lists a number of these stories, both of Biblical and ancient Arabian Prophets, the arguments of their peoples and God’s response to their actions. Each of these are signs for people to understand God’s interactions with humanity. In Qur’ān 14:9 – 18, we see an example of this:
“Has not the story reached you, (O people!), of those who (went) before you?—of the people of Noah, and 'Ad, and Thamud? - And of those who (came) after them? None knows them but God. To them came apostles with Clear (Signs); but they put their hands up to their mouths, and said: "We do deny (the mission) on which ye have been sent, and we are really in suspicious (disquieting) doubt as to that to which ye invite us." Their apostles said: "Is there a doubt about God, the Creator of the heavens and the earth? It is He Who invites you, in order that He may forgive you your sins and give you respite for a term appointed!" They said: "Ah! ye are no more than human, like ourselves! Ye wish to turn us away from the (gods) our fathers used to worship: then bring us some clear authority."
“Their apostles said to them: "True, we are human like yourselves, but God doth grant His grace to such of his servants as He pleases. It is not for us to bring you an authority except as God permits. And on God let all men of faith put their trust. No reason have we why we should not put our trust on God. Indeed He Has guided us to the Ways we (follow). We shall certainly bear with patience all the hurt you may cause us. For those who put their trust should put their trust on God."
“And the Unbelievers said to their apostles: "Be sure we shall drive you out of our land, or ye shall return to our religion." But their Lord inspired (this Message) to them: "Verily We shall cause the wrong-doers to perish! And verily We shall cause you to abide in the land, and succeed them. This for such as fear the Time when they shall stand before My tribunal,—such as fear the punishment denounced."
“But they sought victory and decision (there and then), and frustration was the lot of every powerful obstinate transgressor. In front of such a one is Hell, and he is given, for drink, boiling fetid water. In gulps will he sip it, but never will he be near swallowing it down his throat: death will come to him from every quarter, yet will he not die: and in front of him will be a chastisement unrelenting. The parable of those who reject their Lord is that their works are as ashes, on which the wind blows furiously on a tempestuous day: No power have they over aught that they have earned: that is the straying far, far (from the goal).”
Money, wealth, political power and sovereignty, wives and children, camels and other livestock—all of these are fleeting. The parable above says that the works of the transgressors are like ashes which the wind blows away on a tempestuous day. They have no power to preserve or protect what they have earned—their physical possessions and their symbols of power and authority will vanish away and disappear. Even if we cannot historically substantiate the existence of a particular Prophet, such as Hud, Salih or Noah, the message of these verses is clear: those who oppose God and His teachings pass away like ashes in the wind while God and His Message endure. As an example, one may consider the ancient Egyptian civilization with all its pomp and pageantry. They worshipped many gods and goddesses and Egypt was the breadbasket of the Mediterranean. It was a land of milk and honey, full of gold and riches, science and technology, military might and power. However, what has endured of this pomp and glory? Its god-king Pharaohs no longer reign, its religion has been exterminated, its monuments are worn-down, its language has become all but extinct and its glory has faded. Yet the religion of Moses, the Revealer of the Torah, endures and is recognised by over two billion people on the planet, including almost all Egyptians (whether they be Jewish, Christian, Muslim or Bahá’í). The Jewish people, the descendants of the Israelites, endure and continue to make amazing contributions to science, technology and culture, while ancient Egyptian civilization has lost its splendour.
Another example is the Roman Empire. Jesus Christ was a poor, unlettered Hebrew from Galilee, a remote corner of the Roman Empire—a land under foreign occupation. His followers were uneducated and mostly illiterate, including twelve disciples (one of whom betrayed Him to the Sanhedrin) and several women. He was executed after a short ministry, His body being suspended on a cross, and His followers became distraught and abandoned His teachings. Peter (originally called Simon Kefa—the ‘Rock’), even denied Him three times in public, refusing to admit His connection to the Prophet. Yet, after three days, the entire community was revivified and, inspired by the Holy Spirit, set out to spread His Message—the Good News or ‘Gospel’—across the face of the earth. Within three centuries, it had spread throughout the Roman Empire and, after much persecution, was granted recognition by Constantine the Great, who converted to Christianity on his death bed. Thereafter, it expanded to become the majority and official religion of the Roman Empire. Finally, Germanic Christians moved into Italy and brought the empire to its end, such that the pomp and might of Rome no longer exist. Indeed, for many centuries, Rome would be known only as the city of the Bishop of Roman—the Pope—not as the capital of a mighty and expansive empire. The Roman Empire fell and its monuments wore away to ruins; its legions no longer exist; its language has been transformed by a dozen subject peoples, and its Senate, consuls and emperors no longer exist. Their wealth, their riches and glory faded away like ashes in a tempestuous wind. What endured was the Message of Jesus Christ.
Likewise, the Qur’ān urges the Meccans to accept the Message of Islam and reflect on what befell past peoples. In Qur’ān 30:9 – 10, He mentions the ruins of past civilizations, which are a sign to those who reflect:
“Do they not travel through the earth, and see what was the end of those before them? They were superior to them in strength: they tilled the soil and populated it in greater numbers than these have done: there came to them their apostles with Clear (Signs). (Which they rejected, to their own destruction): It was not God Who wronged them, but they wronged their own souls. In the long run evil in the extreme will be the end of those who do evil; for that they rejected the Signs of God, and held them up to ridicule.”
Again, in 22:45 – 48:
“How many populations have We destroyed, which were given to wrong- doing? They tumbled down on their roofs. And how many wells are lying idle and neglected, and castles lofty and well-built? Do they not travel through the land, so that their hearts (and minds) may thus learn wisdom and their ears may thus learn to hear? Truly it is not their eyes that are blind, but their hearts which are in their breasts. Yet they ask thee to hasten on the Punishment! But God will not fail in His Promise. Verily a Day in the sight of thy Lord is like a thousand years of your reckoning. And to how many populations did I give respite, which were given to wrong-doing? in the end I punished them. To me is the destination (of all).”
In 29:38, the ancient ruins of the peoples of ‘Ad and Thamud are specifically referred to. The remains of Thamud can be seen in Mada’in Saleh in northern Saudi Arabia to this day. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
“(Remember also) the 'Ad and the Thamud (people): clearly will appear to you from (the traces) of their buildings (their fate): the Evil One made their deeds alluring to them, and kept them back from the Path, though they were gifted with intelligence and skill.”
In 29:39 – 44, He refers also to the ancient Egyptian Pharaoh and his minister, Haman, and Korah (called Qarun in Arabic) who rebelled against Moses: “(Remember also) Qarun, Pharaoh, and Haman: there came to them Moses with Clear Signs, but they behaved with insolence on the earth; yet they could not overreach (Us). Each one of them We seized for his crime: of them, against some We sent a violent tornado (with showers of stones); some were caught by a (mighty) Blast; some We caused the earth to swallow up; and some We drowned (in the waters): It was not God Who injured (or oppressed) them: They injured (and oppressed) their own souls. The parable of those who take protectors other than God is that of the spider, who builds (to itself) a house; but truly the flimsiest of houses is the spider's house—if they but knew. Verily God doth know of (every thing) whatever that they call upon besides Him: and He is Exalted (in power), Wise. And such are the parables We set forth for mankind, but only those understand them who have knowledge. God created the heavens and the earth in true (proportions): verily in that is a Sign for those who believe.”
5. The verses of the Qur’ān are Signs of God:
The Qur’ān maintains that not only is every creature, man and natural phenomenon a sign of God, but the verses revealed to His Prophets are also signs (Arabic āyah, pl. āyāt). The Qur’ān is presented as a scripture which is pure, complete and free from corruption, so each of the verses thereof can be regarded as the Word of God and a sign, not only of His existence but of His might and power, His attributes, and a verification of the Prophet Muhammad. In fact, the Qur’ān challenges anyone who denies it to produce a surah like even one of the surahs of the Qur’ān in order to disprove its claim. Yet, after 1400 years, no such counter-surahs exist. The only comparable writings to the Qur’ān are the previous scriptures, e.g. the Bible, which contains both man-made writings (e.g. epistles, etc.) as well as prophetic writings, and the scriptures which have come after the Qur’ān, (e.g. the Qayyúmu’l-Asmá, theBayán, the Kitáb-i-Aqdas and other writings revealed by the Báb and Bahá’u’lláh). These, however, are not challenges to the Qur’ān—they are divine revelations in succession to the Qur’ān, as they also contain āyāt ‘verses’. The Bahá’í Writings thus claim a common authorship and are a confirmation and fulfilment of the Qur’ān. The Qur’ānic challenge is posed at those who deny the divine revelation of the Qur’ān and claim that it is mere poetry, soothsaying or simply man-made collections of stories.
- The Qur’ān challenges those who deny it produce the like thereof:
17:88 – 89: “Say: "If the whole of mankind and Jinns were to gather together to produce the like of this Qur’ān, they could not produce the like thereof, even if they backed up each other with help and support. And We have explained to man, in this Qur’ān, every kind of similitude: yet the greater part of men refuse (to receive it) except with ingratitude!”
- Later, the Qur’ān challenges its deniers to produce 10 surahs like it:
11:13: “Or they may say, "He forged it," Say, "Bring ye then ten suras forged, like unto it, and call (to your aid) whomsoever ye can, other than God—if ye speak the truth!”
- Finally, it challenges anyone to produce one surah like unto a single surah of the Qur’ān:
2:23: “And if ye are in doubt as to what We have revealed from time to time to Our servant, then produce a Sura like thereunto; and call your witnesses or helpers (If there are any) besides God, if your (doubts) are true.”
10:38: “Or do they say, ‘He forged it’? say: ‘Bring then a surah like unto it, and call (to your aid) anyone you can besides God, if it be ye speak the truth!’”
The big question is, what does this mean? Does this mean that no one can make a poetic composition with the same rhyme pattern as the Qur’ān? Does it mean one couldn’t imitate the Qur’ān by taking a few verses and switching the words around? Some Muslims argue that this refers to the beauty of the original Arabic of the Qur’ān—a beauty that cannot be surpassed. Others state that the inimitability of the Qur’ān is not only linguistic but intellectual. In other words, the ideas and concepts of the Qur’ān cannot be replicated or surpassed by any human text. There may be truth to both of those ideas, but I think the inimitability is more fundamental than that. It is not merely a question of the words chosen and the order of those words or the rhyme patterns and sonorous quality of the verses. Rather, the Qur’ānic verses have a spiritual potency and impact which human speech is incapable of possessing. If I tell someone they should do good things and encourage them to improve their lives, they may listen to me or take my ideas on board, but the influence of my speech will be limited. Even the best orators have only a limited impact with their words. Lincoln’s Gettysburg address is inspiring, but it does not have the spiritual impact or potency of divine verses.
The Qur’ān, on the other hand, has such power and force that it transformed primitive, warmongering Arab tribes of diverse loyalties into a single, spiritually-based community. Myriads of pagan Arabs whose highest virtue was victory over one’s enemies, learned the value of prayer, morality, and the virtues which lie at the core of every true religion. Furthermore, Islam has united diverse tribes and peoples from the Horn of Africa to the great Sahara desert, from Central Asia to the land of Persia, from Eastern Europe to southern Spain. Where animosities once existed, unity and brotherhood prevailed. Where women had no rights, they now had definite rights. Science, technology, civilization and education flourished during the Islamic Golden Age. As much as Plato or Socrates were great orators, their words were incapable of such massive transformations of human character and there is no denying that religion is the greatest motivator in human civilization. In short, the verses of the Qur’ān are miraculous and inimitable because of the effect of the words. They are beautiful and amazing, but the impact of the words derives from the spiritual potency of each verse, word and letter of the Qur’ān, all of which are pregnant with meaning.
Furthermore, the Word of God is creative. What does that mean? It creates whatever it states. Thus if a verse is revealed stating that such-and-such a thing will happen, that event will happen. Likewise, if it says that such-and-such a law has been revealed, that law comes into force and is followed by the adherents of that text for as long as it is in force. If God changes a law and abrogates a previous one, that previous law is no longer in force from that moment. If it says someone is a true believer, that person is reckoned as a true believer. If it says someone is destined for hellfire, that person falls out of God’s grace. Everything that is in existence, according to the Qur’ān, comes into being through the power of the Word of God. This point is illustrated in the following verse (2:117): “To Him is due the primal origin of the heavens and the earth: When He decreeth a matter, He saith to it: ‘Be,’ and it is.” This primal Word, be (kun) is the same as the divine Logos at the beginning of the Gospel of St. John. It is the Primal Word of God, the Primal Point from which all creation has been generated. While God is an inaccessible and incomprehensible Essence, we can understand God through His Word, which is revealed in human language for our benefit.
In conclusion, let us consider that the points above are not scientific proofs but indications (Arabic dalā’il) or ‘signs’ which appeal to the intuition, reason and spiritual receptivity of each human being. They make sense because they appeal to that higher sensibility which is latent in each human being. Every human being is born with an innate sense of dependency and a recognition that there is something higher and more powerful than himself. This is called fitrah in Arabic, which may be translated as ‘instinct’, ‘common sense’ or ‘innate nature’. The Qur’ān refers to this essential nature of man in 30:30: “So set thou thy face steadily and truly to the Faith: (establish) God’s handiwork (fiTrata llāh-i) according to the pattern on which He has made mankind: no change (let there be) in the work (wrought) by God. That is the standard Religion: but most among mankind understand not.” The arguments above appeal to this fitrah, this inborn and instinctive awareness of the spiritual nature of man and the need to find and worship the Creator. In my previous blogpost, refuting Stephen Fry’s arguments against God, I mentioned that it is impossible to prove the non-existence of God through rational proofs since it is impossible to conceive of something which in indefinable and illimitable. If the illimitable could be conceived, it would cease to be illimitable—it would become limited and constrained. God, in His Essence, is exalted above and beyond every human conception. What we can, to a very limited extent, understand—or try to understand—are God’s attributes (e.g. mercy, compassion, justice, etc.). This article, then, cannot be taken as an attempt to logically prove the existence of the unknowable Essence that is God—rather, it illustrates the spiritual indications which lead one to believe in God and accept His Prophets and Messengers.