Prelude: Divine Guidance
Islam teaches that Allah sent communication to mankind at various times in history. This communication was through human messengers (prophets), who were directly inspired by Allah, and commanded to convey to their people the truth and guidance received through this revelation. Every true prophet of Allah must show people at least one miracle: something that is beyond human capability, a sign from God. A miracle (along with other factors, as we discuss later) is what proves that the prophet is indeed conveying a divine message, and that he is not just a philosopher, social reformer or charismatic leader.
Our knowledge is limited, subject to change, and confined to our experience in and of this world. Since we cannot directly perceive anything outside this life, we cannot know exactly how our conduct here impacts our fate after death. Human reason and experience might, arguably, be able to reach some realizations (about God, morality and divine justice) independently of divine revelation. But it is only by means of communication from outside this world that we could ever receive detailed knowledge of ultimate realities about the universe and our role in it. Individual spiritual experiences and human moral judgments can vary drastically between different people, especially in different cultures and time periods. This subjectivity makes these two sources unsuitable for the collective guidance of humanity. It makes sense for there to be some core of absolute values, corresponding to the essential, shared nature of humanity, and such common values can provide a basis for the smooth conduct of society. Read more
The following is a thought-provoking sermon, attributed to Caliph `Ali (may Allah be well pleased with him).
Among the people most detested before Allah are two: One whom Allah has [forsaken and] entrusted to his own self, and so he has transgressed from the sound path and is enamored with speech of [reprehensible] innovation and invitation towards error. He is therefore a tribulation for those who are afflicted with him, astray from the guidance of those preceding him, misleading those who follow him in his life or after his death, carrying [part of the burden of] sins of others, and mortgaged for his own misdeeds.
[The second is] a man who has amassed ignorance. He moves among the ignorant of the ummah [to deceive them] and hastens to the darknesses of tribulation, while being blind to the advantages of tranquil satisfaction. Pseudo-men have named him a scholar but he is not so. He goes out in the early morning, and amasses an abundance of things which are better to be lacking in than to have in plenty, until, when he has quenched his thirst from polluted, brackish water and gathered purposeless things, he sits as a judge amongst people, taking upon himself to clarify what has been perplexing to others. If an enigmatic matter comes before him, he prepares for it some crumbling stuffing and passes it off as a certainty. Read more
Perception, Between Truth and Error
There are many important issues on which people disagree, yet each of them may think he/she has the correct position. Clearly, at least some of the people must be mistaken – in part or totally – for there cannot be contradictory truths about the same matter.
Caliph `Ali (may Allah be well pleased with him) is reported to have said that a shubhah (confusion or misunderstanding) is so named in Arabic because it resembles (tushbihu) the truth in some respects. In this light, we summarize here the main scenarios of perception, between truth and error. Perhaps it will be useful to those who want to honestly evaluate themselves.
- A complete perception of the truth, along with all of its elements, parts and characteristics. This is somewhat rare, especially for matters related to the unseen. [See Qur’an[17:85] for example]
- An incomplete perception, whereby one has perceived part of the truth, but not all of its elements, parts and characteristics. We need to humbly acknowledge our deficiencies and limitations.
- Blurring of some of the boundaries of the truth, often arising from ignorance, or insufficient knowledge, or misconceptions.
- Exceeding the boundaries of the truth, under the impression that the excess is also part of the truth. e.g. unjustified generalization, such as judging a school or philosophy based on a single factor attributed to it, or a single individual who claims to follow it.
- A partial conformity to the truth, analogous to someone who intends to aim a searchlight at a certain building, then proceeds to do so, except that the searchlight falls on only one wing of the building, while the person does not realize this, and imagines what he sees to be the entire building.
- A complete miss of the truth, such as if the searchlight from the above analogy misses the targetted building entirely, and instead strikes another building, or nothing at all, with the person being under the false impression that he is now seeing the building he targetted.
[These six categories are summarized from: Basa’ir li’l-Muslim al-Mu`asir, by Shaykh `Abdur-Rahman Hasan Habannakah al-Maydani, a contemporary Muslim scholar.]” Read more
Mere profession of faith in one god is not sufficient for one to be a believer. In fact, many people may claim to profess such a belief, and yet their conceptions of the One God are often strikingly different. The prophets, and in particular Muhammad (may Allah bless him and grant him peace), were sent to eradicate idolatry, and describing Allah as resembling creatures is nothing but a manifestation of idolatry. Allah is transcendent, above the limitations of created things, beyond our sensory perception, and can be recognized only through His attributes. An important principle, which follows from Allah’s transcendence, is that we may only describe Him by those names and attributes by which He describes Himself, or by which His Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) has described Him.
It is important to stress that Allah’s non-resemblance to creatures does not make Him unreachable or incomprehensible.
“And when My servants ask you concerning Me, indeed I am near. I respond to the invocation of the supplicant when he calls upon Me. So let them respond to Me [by obedience] and believe in Me that they may be [rightly] guided.” [Qur’an, 2:186]
Indeed, we can sense or comprehend the effects of many of Allah’s attributes. An example is the attribute of mercy.
“So observe the effects of the mercy of Allah – how He gives life to the earth after its lifelessness.” [(30) Al-Rum, 50] Read more
Mankind in general has maintained a belief in the existence of the Creator of the Universe since time immemorial. The duty of the prophets of Allah was not so much to inform their people of Allah’s existence as to warn them against associating others with
Him, and to teach them how to serve Him.
“Their messengers said, ‘Is there any doubt concerning Allah, the originator of the Heavens and the Earth?'” [, 14:10]
The early Muslim scholars did not even have to address the issue of the Existence of God, for it was a blatantly obvious fact which nobody questioned. It was only around the fourth century after hijrah, when people’s doctrine started being infiltrated with atheism and permeated by unbelief, that the scholars had to address the issue.
Human beings acquire knowledge through four different channels: credible reports, intuition (or instinct), deduction and sense perception. Each of these channels can lead us to knowledge of the existence of Allah. Read more