"Our Dialogue" 6th Edition Rev

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Having said that, I should add that there is no great virtue in repeating Allah's attributes like a parrot. Islam tries to make its followers fully aware of their position and responsibilities. This is not done through the memorization of the verses of the Qur'an or Allah's names, but through acting on them. Hence, it is a great virtue to be aware of Allah's attributes, but that virtue is not obtained through repeating His attributes like a parrot.

• Allah's entity and human perception

I have been thinking of a scientific explanation of God's existence and I would be grateful for your comments. Time is eternal. It has neither a beginning nor an end. When there was nothing in the universe, there was time, which will still remain when there will be nothing as well. This is the universal time, not the one which we know, because our time is relative. Space is also eternal, without any end line. From time immemorial, there was space and after the destruction of the material universe, there will be at least space. Energy can neither be enacted nor destroyed, but it can change from one form to another. According to scientists, mass can be converted into energy, and energy into mass. All forms of energy, whether in gravitational, electromagnetic, nuclear form, etc. are derived from God Himself who remains the only source of energy.

I am not a scientist to be able to make any critical judgment of this approach, although it sounds to me much too simplistic. What we have here is a statement of certain scientific facts in order to assert or prove God's existence. But there is a big question mark that arises. The conclusion where it leads actually makes a definition of God in terms of time, space and energy, or indeed a combination of all three. From the Islamic point of view, such a definition is not particularly appealing, because we believe that God cannot be limited or confined within any particular framework. I realize that the framework which we have here is eternal in all its three dimensions of time, space and energy. But then, how do you account for God's other attributes such as absolute knowledge, compassion, provision of sustenance, etc.? Scientists tell us that a source of energy need not have a will of its own. How can a combination of all three dimensions explain God's will which works according to His elaborate planning and faultless designs?

I am only asking these questions to show that we cannot think of God's nature except in terms that are familiar to us. We have to perceive things in order to create an image or define a particular identity. But God's nature, and indeed His existence, are not limited to what is familiar to us in our small corner of the universe. It is for this reason that the Prophet has ordered us not to think about God's entity. Such a pursuit will lead us nowhere.

The explanation that my reader has presented seems to be appropriate, and it may, when elaborated, appear to many people as both convincing and conclusive. However, some scientists who prefer an agnostic or atheistic approach may have some counter arguments which may appeal to other people as also convincing. Where will we stand then? If we are to require a scientific explanation for God's existence and, consequently, a scientific argument in support of faith, then we are likely to put ourselves in a very difficult position. One reason for that is the fact that science is in a continuous process of development. It proves today what it used to deny, and may reject tomorrow what it accepts today. Hence scientific arguments are not to be taken as final in matters which relate to God, His existence, power, will, etc.

It is far simpler and more appropriate to say that the entity and nature of God are questions that relate to what lies beyond the reach of human perception. Therefore, we do not involve ourselves in discussing them in terms that relate to our own world. That is simply not possible. As an English poet puts it: "How can finite reach infinity." Our own minds have a finite scope, but God is infinite in His attributes. Hence, our minds cannot truly perceive the exact nature of God or His entity.

That, however, does not make believing in God difficult at all. There are numerous signs and pointers in the universe around us that indicate not only God's existence but many of His attributes as well. God says in the Qur'an: "We will show them our signs in all fields and within themselves until they come to realize that it is the truth." Numerous are the phenomena which cannot be explained except by saying that God has willed them to exist and to function in their particular ways. Within ourselves, and how we exist and function in our own world, there are numerous aspects testifying to the greatness of the Creator. These must be studied and we can immensely benefit from understanding them to confirm our belief in God's existence and His overpowering will. But we do not take these as indicative of His nature or assume they point out His entity. These are matters that we will not be able to perceive. Why, then, indulge in such an idle pursuit? There need not be any scientific theory or argument to prove or indicate God's entity. We accept the fact of His existence and the fact that He is in absolute and free control of the whole universe without questioning. That is all that is required for us to have peace with ourselves, our world and the universe around us. Hence we stop at this.

• Allah's existence

What is the most convincing way to prove the existence of Allah, the Almighty? Also, what is the proof of the existence of the Prophet?

Do we really need to prove Allah's existence? Perhaps thirty years ago, I might have warmed to such a question and could have written a treatise providing methodical discussion of the subject and giving arguments that the opponents of religion would find very difficult to refute. Now, with the benefit of my life experience, I am more inclined to say that we do not need such a proof any more than we need to prove that the sun gives us heat or that a full moon gives the night superb brightness. Perhaps the best proof lies in the fact that when human nature is free from prejudice, it tends to be a believing nature. Before anyone accuses me of being too subjective, I would like to relate this interesting story.

Imam Al-Ghazali was a highly renowned scholar who rose to fame in an age which was characterized by its great variety of intellectual and philosophical schools of thought. Many Orientalists consider him the greatest philosopher in Islamic history. Yet he was the one who brought about the decline of philosophical trends in the Muslim world.

It is said that Al-Ghazali was once walking along the street and people were keen to express their admiration and respect of him. A very old woman was not particularly amazed by what she saw. She asked who the man was. Someone answered: "Do you not know him? He is the one who knows one thousand proofs of Allah's existence." The old woman answered: "So what? Had he not had one thousand doubts, he would not have had one thousand proofs." Al-Ghazali overheard this reply. He smiled and offered a little prayer in these words: "My Lord, grant me the strength of faith old people have."

The story is significant in the sense that it is man who determines the level of evidence he requires in order to believe in Allah. If he allows his nature to look freely without restraining or checking it by prejudices, social prejudices, personal desires, or interests, he will be so much closer to faith. This is indeed the message we understand from the Qur'an. As you realize the Qur'an is above all a book of divine guidance. It concentrates first of all on the basic issue of faith: The belief in the Oneness of Allah and His control of, and supremacy over, all the universe. The Qur'an draws our attention to the world around us and invites us to contemplate on every aspect of creation. It tells us that there are pointers and indications in the universe which prove without any shadow of doubt, that there is no deity save Allah, the Creator of all. If we were to reflect on these, the only conclusion we would derive from them is that Allah is the Creator of all and the Lord of all.

Such indicators are everywhere in the world, but we tend to overlook them because they are so familiar to us. If you consider how a big tree comes from a small seed and the process of planting the seed, its producing a shoot out of the soil, the way it establishes its roots, and how it grows, blooms and yields its specific brand of fruit, you will conclude that only Allah could have given the seed all these characteristics. But we do not tend to reflect on this, because the planting of trees and plants and waiting for their yield is so familiar to us that we tend to think of it as a simple natural process. It may be so, but who made it so natural? Similarly, the birth of every child is a miracle, but we tend to accept it as the most natural thing on earth. Such birth is certainly a natural phenomenon, but who said that natural phenomena are not miraculous? Since it is beyond man's control, it is definitely subject to the will of a different power, i.e. that of Allah. Man has been studying this process of conception, pregnancy, and birth for centuries on end, but he still cannot influence, amend or change this process. Nor can man determine when to start it or influence its outcome. Not even the best techniques of helping women conceive change the fact that all efforts of man do not amount to more than inducing the start of the process and allowing it to take its course. Otherwise, can man conceive of any method which would bring children into being, without relying on the process of fertilizing a female egg with a male sperm?

You ask how can we prove the Prophet's existence. Do we need to prove it? How to prove the existence of any historical personality? Is it not by the reports we have about him and the events in which he took part or he helped accomplish? We have a full record of the life of the Prophet. We also have reports of all his actions, from the most private ones to those of state and public interest. In the case of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, however, we also have the radical change in the Arabian society and in human life as a whole which he brought about.

Perhaps what you actually mean is how to prove that he actually was a messenger of Allah and that his message was the final one addressing mankind as a whole. In this case, I have to refer you to the Qur'an which is the ultimate proof of all that. I have several points to make here but I can only refer to them very briefly, because of the limitation of space. The Qur'an was revealed at a time when the Arabs gave so much importance to literary excellence, particularly in poetry. A poet of high standard was a source of pride for his tribe. In the tribal warfare, poetry was as important a weapon as swords, spears and arrows. When the Prophet received his revelations and recited them to the people of Makkah, they listened to something totally new. It was not poetry, but its literary excellence surpassed everything they knew. They realized that it could not have been composed by a human being. Even the staunchest of the enemies of Islam acknowledged that. Moreover, the Qur'an was so different in style, rhythm and use of imagery from the Hadith which was the Prophet's own expression. It is not possible for any human being to use two widely different styles to express the same subject matter and to do that so consistently over a period of 23 years, which was the length of the time during which the Qur'an was revealed.

Moreover, the Qur'an mentions certain facts which were totally unknown to mankind at the time of its revelation and only very recently we started to discover them. One example is the details the Qur'an gives about the various stages of the development of the fetus, from the moment it is conceived to the time of its birth. These details are now scientifically proven by the use of sophisticated technology, such as ultrasound scanning. The Prophet had no means of knowing these, except through revelation from Allah, the Creator of man and the universe. Another example is the clear reference to the fact recently proven by scientists: When a strait separates two seas, as the Red Sea is separated from the Indian Ocean by the Strait of Bab Al-Mandab, the two seas are actually separated to the extent that the maritime life in one is so different from that in the other. In Verse 61 of Surah 27, the Qur'an refers to Allah as having "placed a barrier between the two seas." In Surah 55, Verses 19 and 20, which may be rendered in translation as follows: "He has given freedom to the two seas so that they might meet; yet between them is a barrier which they not transgress." If Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, did not receive this from Allah Himself, how could he have known it when he never came near the sea in his life?

Moreover, the Qur'an laid down new legislation in various social matters which represented a great departure from what prevailed in Arabia and in surrounding countries and states. Yet there was no earthly reason for the enactment of such legislation which any reformer would have hesitated to introduce because they were bound to upset the social balance. Perhaps, the best example of these is the high position Islam gives to women, bring them to a level of equality with men, with only a few differences of secondary importance, necessitated by the different role they have to fulfill in human life. In pre-Islamic Arabia and in most societies at the time of the Prophet, women were considered far too inferior to men. Some Arabian tribes considered a widow part of the estate of a deceased man, to the extent that the chief of the clan could do with her whatever he wanted: He could marry her if he wished, without even bothering to ask her or he could pass her to someone else in his family if he so preferred. Women had no share in inheritance. Islam gives them their rightful and fair shares. Furthermore, it gives the woman all the rights to own any type of property and to invest it or spend it as she pleases, without any intervention by her father or her husband or any other man. Why would Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, make such a great departure from the prevailing tradition when no woman in Arabia raised her voice calling for a reform?

As you realize, the Qur'an is preserved intact. Allah has guaranteed that it would remain in its original form for all time. We recite it in prayer and at other times. Its recitation earns us reward. Yet the Qur'an contains a reproach to the Prophet for a step he made. If the Qur'an was of the Prophet's own composition, would he have included such reproach? If he recognized his mistake, would it not have been courageous of him just to admit it? Would he have included such reproach in his book of worship? Read, if you wish, this reproach at the opening of Surah 80. A passage which would also make a very interesting reading is the one included in Surah 69, which describes the Qur'an in these terms: "It is indeed the word of a noble messenger, and is not -- however little you may be prepared to believe it -- a word of a poet and neither is it -- little you may be prepared to take it to hear -- the word of a soothsayer; it is a revelation from the Lord of all worlds."(40-43). This description is followed by this threat: "Now if he (whom We have entrusted with it) had dared to attribute some of his own sayings to Us, We would indeed have seized him by his right hand and would have indeed have cut his life vein and none of you could have saved him." (44-47) If the Qur'an was of Muhammad's own invention, far be it from him to do so, would he have included such a threat to himself?

Moreover, I want also to refer to the fact that the Prophet demonstrated his absolute faith in the Qur'an as the word of Allah. The Qur'an tells the Prophet that he had nothing to fear from human beings because Allah protects him. Verse 67 of Surah 5 may be rendered in translation as follows: "Messenger, announce that all that has been bestowed from on high to you by Your Lord; for unless you do that, then you will not have delivered His message. Allah will protect you from all people." In the battle of Hunain, the Muslim army was in retreat and the Prophet in a highly vulnerable position. The disbelievers would have sacrificed any number in order to kill him. Yet, he stood on his horse, calling on his companions to rally to the cause of Islam. He drew very close to his enemy on purpose. Anyone else in his position could have been easily killed, but he did not even try to have any cover.

This sort of attitude demonstrated the strength of his faith. When Allah tells him that he will be protected, he was certain that nothing would happen to him and he went extremely close to his enemies as if he was inviting them to kill him, hoping to persuade them of the truth of his message when they related his action to what is said in the Qur'an. No one other than a messenger from Allah and a prophet would have done that.

These are only a brief examples of what the Qur'an contains of evidence proving that the message of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, was truly and genuinely a message from Allah.

[But again as was earlier said it is man who determines the level of evidence he requires in order to believe in Allah. If he allows his nature to look freely without restraining or checking it by prejudices, social prejudices, personal desires, or interests, he will be so much closer to faith.]

• Allah's name, its origin, and equivalent in other languages

May I ask what is the name of Allah, and where has this word come from, and what does it mean? What is its equivalent in English? What are the correct names of the Prophet Abraham and Jesus? Why have they changed from their correct versions?

The word Allah is the Arabic name of God. Etymologically, it consists of two words: “Al” and “Ilah.” The first one is the definite article, while the second means “the being who is worshipped.” When the two words were joined, the glottal stop “i” at the beginning of the second word was omitted for easier pronunciation and the two words became inseparable. Its full meaning is “the supreme being to whom all creation turn for the accomplishment of all their purposes, and to whom they appeal to alleviate their hardship, and whom they address in all their needs, just like a little child does to his mother.” We cannot ask where has this word come from because this is not asked about any word in any language.

In English we use the word “God” to refer to the Supreme Being. It has practically the same connotations although in a Christian context it may refer to The Trinity. There is nothing wrong with using the terms other languages use when we refer to Allah. There is no need to retain the Arabic version. Thus, the French-speaking Muslims may use the term “Diem” while those who speak Urdu may use “Khoda,” etc.

In the Qur'an the name of “Ibrahim” is used to refer to the Prophet Abraham, and the name “Eissa” refers to the Prophet Jesus. You may realize that Ibrahim was raised among people who spoke an old Semitic language, perhaps Aramaic. How his name was pronounced in that language, we have no means of telling. However, since, the Qur'an uses “Ibrahim” we must conclude that it is very close to the original pronunciation of his name. The same applies to Jesus' name in Hebrew.

That these names have different versions in different languages is not surprising, because every one of us will hear his own name pronounced differently by people speaking different languages.

• Allah’s will and consequences of our actions

Verse 99 in Surah 10 states that all people on earth would have been believers had it been God’s will for them to be so. Hence no compulsion should be exercised to make them believe. In commentary on this verse, the translator speaks of man’s limited free will. I want to think that man’s free will is unlimited. It is up to man, with much freedom of will, to accept God’s messages or reject them. Please comment.

Some people try to shift the blame for their lack of faith away from themselves. They like to think that it is God’s will that they should be disobedient to Him, or unbelievers. They say: “Had it been God’s will for us to be believers, He would have guided us to believe.” In saying so, they confuse issues.

[The verse 99 read with verse 100 of Surah 10 may be rendered in translation as:

Had your Lord willed (that all the people of the world should be believers) all the dwellers of the earth would have believed in Him. Will you, then, force the people to become believers? No one can believe without Allah's permission and Allah's way is that He throws filth on those who do not use their commonsense.

What these verses contain is the firm statement of the Authority of Allah and His Power, which cannot be denied. It cannot be construed to mean that Allah has predetermined the faith of His creatures. ]

If we were to say that it is God who makes a person believe or disbelieve, then we are saying that He predetermines that some of His creatures will suffer in hell by His will, while others will enjoy heaven by His will. That makes the destiny of mankind beyond their control, or, in other words, the result of God’s predetermination. That would lead us to ask how justice is done when people have no control over their fate? The fact is that people do have that control, because they take the actions which leads them to either heaven or hell. It is a human being’s own choice whether to be a believer or not. God has given us guidance, and placed numerous pointers and indicators in the world around us.

He has also made us all equally susceptible to belief. It is in our nature that we should seek to know Him and to believe in Him. He has also given us our free will so that we determine our choice whether to accept His faith, which He has given us through His messengers.

Moreover, God gives every person a number of occasions when the issues of life and faith are clear in front of his eyes. If in spite of all this a person denies Him, then he does so by his own will. He deserves the fate he is certain to experience.

Now, is a human being’s will limited or unlimited?

The answer is that it is free in certain matters and restricted in others. It is not within man’s ability not to be influenced by the world around him and the natural phenomena that are in his environment. Moreover, his choices are limited by the abilities he has been given. A human being may wish to fly but he cannot do that, no matter how strong is his will to do so. But in matter of belief and actions, his will is certainly free. Hence, it is only fair that his destiny should be determined on the basis of his choice.

God addresses the people of heaven saying:

This is heaven which you have inherited as a result of what you used to do.”

It is clear from this verse that the basis of admitting anyone to heaven is his or her actions in this life.

• Allah's will and His foreknowledge

A person who loses his job or money as a result of his negligence may blame Allah for that, saying that it is His will. The total earnings of a person in his lifetime are already determined by Allah. Why should a man work, then? Please explain what powers Allah has given to man. Normally we find hard workers well off while lazy people are poor.

Sometimes people find it easy to put the blame on Allah's will for what happens to them through their own faults. The example you have mentioned is a typical one. A person may be warned once or twice by his employers about negligence, but pays no heed. Eventually he finds himself out of job. He then starts to justify the whole thing as something that would have happened anyway, because it is Allah's will which cannot be stopped. But what is Allah's will in the matter?

What we have to understand is that Allah has placed man on earth and charged him with the task of building human life. He had given him his freedom of choice which makes him able to choose, in any situation, his course of action. This ability of man is part of Allah's will. Hence, it has to operate in human life. If it did not, then man would have been exactly like animals who have no say in how they live and how they are affected by the world around them. Allah has also willed that the law of cause and effect will operate to the full in human life. Thus, if a man exposes himself to severe wintry weather, he gets cold and he feels himself in need of having a fire or a source of heating nearby. It is Allah's will which makes man affected by weather conditions. It is also Allah's will to give man the ability to think about what sort of action he could take to reduce the severity of the situation in which he finds himself. He thus thinks about having some sort of heating. It is Allah’s' will to make the man able to decide whether to switch the heating on or not. But whether man chooses to switch it on or not is his own action, determined by his free choice. If he does, he gets warmer. If he does not, he continues to suffer in the cold. There maybe some constraints which motivate man to act in a certain fashion, but it is he who weighs up the possibilities open to him and makes his own decision. If a man decides not to switch his heater on, he cannot blame Allah's will for being cold.

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