According to Fazlur Rahman, the Quran’s main task is to open our eyes and hearts to God. If that is achieved, everything else is achieved, because everything in Islam (which literally means “surrender” to God) follows from the belief in God. However, the Quran doesn’t try to philosophically prove God’s existence. It offers reminders of God in signs that point to Him. These signs, though, can only be seen by those who have opened up their minds and hearts and are willing to see them.
In going through the first chapter of Rahman’s book, I was able to come across three major points that summarized the discussion of God: the necessity of God, the difference of God, and the mercy of God.
[Note: I’ll be using the male pronoun “He” to refer to God, as this is what has been traditionally used to imply gender neutrality. But this in no way associates God with the male gender. God is above gender.]
The Necessity of God
“The only straight path leads to Him – all other paths are deviant.” (16:9)
Why should we have the concept of God? This is the question Rahman poses at the beginning of his chapter. Why not just nature and the universe? Why complicate things with talk about a God?
Rahman answers this with the following.
According to the Quran, all of nature (meaning the universe) is one system. It works according to laws, which make it seem to exist on its own without outside support. But where do these laws come from? How were they put into place? In fact, where does nature itself come from? Although nature exists, it doesn’t explain its own existence. Citing the Quran, Rahman says that thinking about how nature originally came into being forces you to “find” (rather than prove) God.
The role of God in the Quran, according to Fazlur Rahman, is “strictly functional” – God exists because He must exist as the creator and sustainer of the world.
The Difference of God*
“Everything thereon is vanishing, there remaining only the Face of Your Lord.” (55: 26-27)
When we “find” God and recognize He exists, there are certain consequences that immediately arise from that conclusion. The most immediate and important of these show the difference of God.
God, by definition, can’t be an existent among other existents – or, as Rahman says, “an item among items.” According to metaphysics (the study of being and knowing, or the study of what is beyond physics) the Original and the Creator can’t share “being” with the borrowed and the created. This means that God is not a being that exists – that would make Him like us, which is shirk (“assigning partners with God”), the greatest sin to commit in Islam. Existance, as we understand it, is a human quality.
I found this last point jarring when I understood it properly. I always understood that God is not a person, or an animal, or a tree, or anything that I saw around me in the world. But as humans, we can’t understand God without using some human qualities to describe Him. So God, in my mind, was always some thing out there, to communicate with and experience. Some thing that existed out there, beyond the borders of the world. But God is not a thing, and God does not exist (at least in our understanding of existence). Being a thing and existing are qualities of this created world. God is above that.
So if God is not a thing, and does not exist, then what is God? Rahman says that God can best be described as a “dimension that makes other dimensions possible.” He gives meaning and life to everything. He is the all-enveloping, the infinite. He is “with” everything. According to Rahman, God is “the very meaning of reality.”
The Mercy of God
“He has imposed the law of Mercy upon Himself.” (6:12)
“My mercy comprehends all.” (7:156)
All of the above focuses on God’s majesty, greatness, power, and lordship over the world. But God, according to the Quran, is no distant bundle of power. God is much more intimate, “closer to [man] than his jugular vein.” How? Through His mercy.
God’s lordship and power over the world is expressed through His mercy. In fact, Rahman says that the Quranic worldview implies that God’s power, creation and mercy are the same one thing.
God’s mercy is exercised through creation, the sustenance of creation (especially man), and recreation in new forms. Creation is the most basic expression of God’s mercy, because it gave us existence, the greatest gift. (What we make of that existence later is up to us.) In addition to creating, God sustains His creation – in the case of man this sustenance is physical (providing the Earth as a source of food, shelter, etc.) and metaphysical (guidance and revelation). As for recreation in new forms, one example is how God returns to creatures who had purposely separated themselves from Him but now want to be reconciled with the source of their being.
Personally, I think that the idea of expressing power and ownership through mercy is something worth noting. We often think that when we have something, it’s our right to have it because it’s ours – and that’s that. But to really own something, according to the Quran, you have to care for it and nurture it – be it a house, a relationship with a friend, or your own body. True power and ownership is deeply connected to mercy and care. (Sounds a bit like feminist ethics to me!) With all of the wars and violence we see today, I think we could use a lot more of this understanding of power.
So that’s all for the first post. I hope you enjoyed it. Till next time!
*Some readers have claimed that this section of the post is problematic and may need to be to be reworked. Please read the comments for clarification on the issue.