The Quran gives us very little information on how and why the world we live in today was created. All it says is that God brought the world and everything in it into existence with the command, “Be.” It also hints at God “unfolding” the universe in stages – a process that took “six days” (but of course “days” here mean a different span of time than our 24 hour days), after which God went up to His Throne.
What the Quran does talk a lot about is nature itself – meaning the universe or the whole world around us. What does it say about nature? Fazlur Rahman, the author of Major Themes of the Quran, mentions three points worth reflecting on: how nature functions, nature as God's ultimate sign, and nature in relation to humans.
How Nature Functions
And the sun moves [along its course] to its resting place – that is the measuring of the All-Mighty, the All-Knowing. And for the moon We have appointed certain stations, until it returns like an old curved stick. It is not for the sun to overtake the moon, nor for the night to overstrip the day, each coursing in its own orbit.” (36:38-40)
When people try to explain how the universe we live in functions, they usually offer one of two explanations. Some people say that God makes the universe and the world we live in work through His direct commands, like a sergeant moving soldiers in an army. These people call themselves “religious.” Other people say that the universe we live in moves according to its own system of laws, usually labeled “Mother Nature” or “natural selection.” These people call themselves “scientific,” or “modern.” Today, there is a huge gap between these two explanations of how the world works, and they are often considered opposites: you either accept one or accept the other.
The Quran doesn’t see things in this way. In fact, it unites these two views, bringing together faith and science. On one level, the Quran acknowledges the impressive natural system that moves the world. The world works according to regular and reliable natural laws that create what seems like a self-sufficient system. But on another, higher level, God is always at work in nature. How? By creating the very laws that move nature in the first place. When God created the world, He also created the laws that make it function.
The best way to explain this is through an example. Imagine planting an apple seed. God isn’t peering over a fluffy white cloud, thinking, “Ah, she put the apple seed under the soil. Now, oh seed, I command you: grow into an apple tree!” According to the Quran, God created the world, and created the law that when apple seeds are put into the soil in the right conditions, apple trees will grow. The natural processes that allow apple trees to grow, that we call “science,” are respected. But the source and constant support of these laws, of science in general, is God.
Science and faith don’t contradict each other here. Science, or the natural law that moves the world, is a part of the system God created – it is God’s miracle, as we’ll see next.
Nature as God's Ultimate Sign
“Indeed, in the creation of the heavens and the earth and the succession of day and night are signs for people of wisdom.” (3:190)
People belittle or rebel against the idea of God because they see nature as a complete, self-supporting system. When they want proof of God’s existence, they usually want to see “miracles” that somehow break the laws of nature. What they don’t understand is that nature (including its laws) is itself the miracle. It’s the sign that “proves” God’s existence – or, more accurately, the sign that points to the Creator and the Sustainer. The universe we live in didn’t have to exist. There could have just been nothingness. That fact that it exists, that we exist, is a miracle.
Nature, in the Quran, is considered the ultimate “sign” of God. If we really examine the world we live in, see the complex system of laws and processes that keep it functioning, we can only come to the conclusion that some great force is behind it, moving it. In fact, this sign is so great that the Quran seems to imply that if we as humans had paid attention to what nature was showing us, we wouldn’t even have needed revelations. God’s revelation, while of course divine, is merely “the clarification of the signs” seen in the universe around us.
Wow. Talk about giving nature and science (a.k.a. the study of the laws of nature) a high standing.
Nature in Relation to Humans
“It is He who has created all that is in the earth for you.” (2:29)
As I wrote in an earlier post, God gave us humans a mission when He created us: to establish a moral, or “good,” society. Nature, and the world we live in, was created as a resource for us to be able to fulfill that mission. We can’t function in nothingness – we need a place to live in, a place where our actions can take form. According to the Quran, that’s what the world was created for. We also need a place that sustains us, that gives us food, shelter and tools to be able to create a functioning society. Again, that’s why God created the world in the way He did. The world is here not to be abused by us, but to be respected as a gift from God that allows us to fulfill our divine purpose and live a good life.
Hope this made you see nature in a new, interesting light. Till the next post!