It is true that we cannot see God in this worldly life, my friend, but that does not mean He does n’t exist. Would you not agree that there are many things we cannot see, but exist, like electricity, x-rays and the force of gravity. Though we cannot see them, we know that they exist because we can see their effects, like when we see a light bulb alight or a photofilm of our bones or an apple falling from a tree. Some things simply cannot be seen, but they exist. On the other hand, your eyes can deceive you, like when you see a mirage of a soothing oasis in the heat of the desert. Tests your assumption that seeing is believing, doesn’t it?
Human perception is limited and this even modern science accepts. Science tells us that our sight is confined to what is called the visible range and our hearing limited to a particular frequency range. In fact we now know that animals have a sixth sense we humans don’t have. This was illustrated in the Boxing Day Tsunami of 2004 which took its toll of human lives in a wildlife park known as Yala in Sri Lanka, but left untouched animal life, elephant and hare alike. Why because they had a sense men did not have. They sensed it and escaped to safer ground before the catastrophe struck. Thus the knowledge one gains from one’s senses has shortcomings since everything is not observable. Similarly God cannot be observed by the human eye, but He exists and we know of that existence from its signs spread out throughout creation. As we read in our holy scripture, the Qur’an:
No vision can grasp Him. But his grasp is over all vision. He is above all comprehension, yet is acquainted with all things
But man also has a unique sense, a sort of spiritual sixth sense, an innate, inexplicable sense that longs to know God, to seek Him and adore Him. This conception of God, even the theory of evolution cannot explain. It has been there since the birth of humanity from time immemorial and has lasted for millennia. It is ingrained, and ingrained deeply in human nature. There is something in man that prompts him to know God, to yearn for Him. There is no race on earth, however small it be, that has not had an idea of Divinity.
Why is it that men, be they in the materially advanced West or the jungles and desserts of Africa or Australia believe in a divinity? Yes, God is in men’s thoughts everywhere, from the American Pledge of Allegiance ‘One Nation under God’ to the Russian National Anthem This land protected by God To Switzerland’s Schweizerpsalm When the alps glow bright with splendour, Pray to God, to Him surrender! And Britain’s God save the Queen. He is thought of as such even in deepest Africa where peoples like the Dogon of Mali call him by the name of Amma, the Supreme Creator God who created the stars, sun and moon and then went on to create man and woman.
There seems to be in man’s collective conscience a primordial reminiscence of a Divine Being who created them and all that exists. Even if you were to tell me you do not believe in God, I’ll find that hard to believe. Why, because deep down you know there is a God though you cannot bring yourself to accept it. If you were to jump from a plane without your parachute there’s a good chance that you will cry out “O God!”. That’s how ingrained this belief in God is in us, sometimes coming out in our most helpless situations.
This belief in God is innate in man, it is inborn in him, which explains why it is so pervasive and universal. All this we can explain on the basis of the Islamic concept of Pre-Creation.
Ah, now you’re going to ask me what pre-creation is. Well let me explain. Pre-creation is a notion in Islamic cosmogony that holds that the soul of every human came into being prior to its birth on earth. Our Prophet said that when God created Adam, he took a covenant from him and extracted from him all of his descendants who would be born until the end of the world, generation after generation, and spread them out in front of Him in order to take a covenant from them as well. He spoke to them face to face saying “Am I not your Lord ?” and they all replied “Yes, we testify to it”. This the Almighty did lest men should say on the Day of Resurrection that they had no idea that He was their God. So according to our faith every human being has the belief in God imprinted on his or her soul even before it enters the foetus in the fourth month of pregnancy. A newborn therefore has a natural belief in God which is known in Arabic as fitrah. Every child, our beloved Prophet said, is born in a state of fitrah and it is his parents who make him a Jew or Christian or Magian. Thus belief in God is indelibly written in the human soul and this is nothing but the remnants of the primordial revelation when God revealed Himself to man during the pre-creation. It is Islam that best explains why man is predisposed to worship God, more so than any other faith or this new fangled theory men call evolution.
But beware. Satan lurks everywhere. In the minds of men and in the blood that circulates in their veins, constantly finding ways to corrupt man’s innate tendency to venerate a Higher Being by substituting in its stead revolting superstitions and a multiplicity of false divinities. Indeed so pervasive has this influence been that even the Israelites of old, despite being strict monotheists, could not always hold firm to their faith and were enticed by their pagan neighbours to sacrifice their children to false deities like Molech as we read in the Bible. Even the Qur’an talks about this handiwork of the devil:
In the eyes of most of the pagans, their partners (other divinities) made alluring the slaughter of their children, in order to lead them to their own destruction
So now we come to the question, How do we know God? Simple, we know Him by His Signs. which are the rational proofs of God’s existence, His tell-tale signature scattered over all of creation from the tiniest germ to the fiery sun. This is why you will find even a child so very curious about the universe, asking questions such as where did I come from? Who made the world, Who made the Sun?, Who made the moon?. What this shows is the inherent God-seeking nature of the child has begun to awaken. He longs to know the answer through the creation he sees around him.
In later years as he ponders over the mystery of creation, he realizes that there must be a creator behind it all. This was neatly captured by well known American Natural Scientist Dr.Irving William when he said: “I believe in the existence of God because His Divine existence is the only rational explanation of all the features of the universe we can see about us”.
How true. Everything in the universe bears eloquent testimony to this fact. Take the workings of the cosmos which operates in perfect order. This perfect celestial order would be apparent to any man or woman who chooses to reflect on it:
God is He who raised the heavens without any pillars that you can see; Then He established Himself on the Throne; He has subjected the sun and the moon. Each one runs for a term appointed. He regulates all affairs, explaining the Signs in detail, that you may believe with certainty in the meeting with your Lord
But man does not have to look to the cosmos to understand these Signs. They are all around us, even within ourselves. As God says:
We shall show them our Signs in the Universe and within themselves. Until it becomes clear to them that this is the Truth
Reflecting on these Signs of God and reasoning on them brings us closer to realising the truth of God’s existence, which is why we have Him reminding us again and again:
Verily all things have We created in proportion and measure. And Our Command is but a single (act) like the twinkling of an eye
(The Moon: 49-50)
It is He created who the seven heavens one above another. No want of proportion will you see in the creation of the Most Gracious. Turn your eyes again. See you any flaw?
And the earth we have spread out (like a carpet); set therein mountains firm and immovable; and produced therein all kinds of things in due balance
(The Rocky Tract:19)
Do they not look at the sky above them? How We have made it and adorned it, and there are no flaws in it? And the earth – We have spread it out, and set thereon mountains standing firm, and produced therein every kind of beautiful growth
And it is He who spread out the earth and set therein mountains standing firm, and rivers, and fruit of every kind He has made in pairs, two and two; He draws the Night as a veil over the Day. Behold, verily in these things are Signs for those who consider!
It is He who shows you the lightning, by way of fear and hope; it is He who raises up the clouds, heavy with rain! Nay, thunder repeats His praises, and so do the angels with awe;He flings the loud-voiced thunderbolts and with it strikes whomsoever He will
(The Thunder: 12-13)
Thus we come to know God by His Signs. This is the evidence of His Creation which we can reflect upon by using the intelligence He has endowed us with. See how beautifully God Almighty Himself explains this in His Word, the Qur’an, such as when he says:
God beckons by His Grace to the Garden (of bliss), and Forgiveness, and makes His Signs clear to mankind that they may receive admonition
Soon will We show them our Signs in the (furthest) regions (of the earth) and in their own souls, until it becomes manifest to them that this is the Truth
And of His signs is that He created for you, from yourselves, mates that you may find tranquility in them; and He placed between you affection and mercy. Indeed in that are signs for a people who give thought
He is it that cleaveth the daybreak (from the dark). He makes the night for rest and tranquility, and the sun and the moon for the reckoning (of time). Such is the Judgement and Ordering of (Him). The exalted in Power, The Ominiscient. It is He who makes the stars(as beacons) for you, that ye may guide yourselves with their help through the dark spaces of land and sea. We detail Our Signs for people who know
Behold! In the creation of the heavens and the earth; In the alternation of the night and day; in the sailing of the ships through the ocean for the profit of mankind; in the rain which God sends down from the skies, and the life which he gives therewith to an earth that is dead; in the beasts of all kinds that he scatters through the earth; In the change of the winds, and the clouds which they trail like their slaves between the sky and the earth – indeed are signs for a people that are wise
A Sign for them is the earth that is dead. We give it life and produce grain therefrom, of which ye eat. And We produce therein orchards with date palms and vines, and we cause springs to gush forth therein. That they may enjoy the fruits of this (artistry). It was not their hands that made this. Will they not then give thanks? Glory to God, Who created in pairs all things that the earth produces, as well as their own (human) kind and (other) things of which they have no knowledge
And a sign for them is the Night. We withdraw therefrom the Day, and behold they are plunged in darkness. And the Sun runs its course for a period determined for it. That is the Decree of (Him), the Exalted in Might, the All Knowing. And the Moon, We have measured for it Mansions (to traverse) till it returns like the old 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 swims along in (its own) orbit
(Ya- Sin 37-40)
Man is called to reflect upon these Signs. The Almighty asks men:
Do they not look at the camels, how they are made? And at the sky, how it is raised high? And at the mountains, how they are fixed firm? And at the earth, how it is spread out?
(The Overwhelming Event: 17-20)
First, God brings our attention to the camel, the ship of the desert which is perfectly adapted to its surroundings, as if it were made for the desert with its ability to store water in its body for days on end. It represents living beings, all of which are created with the ability to thrive and survive in their environment and blend into their surroundings, a miracle as it were!
He then brings our attention to the sky which towers over us like a dome, a vault of life supporting ether that does not rest on pillars and does not come crashing down on our heads. How did it come into being, this wonder of the world!
He then brings our attention to the mountains which are fixed like pegs on to the earth, a symbol of stability in the earth that have existed since the beginning of creation, so solid that they will last till the end of days!
Finally He brings our attention to how the earth is spread out. Now, we may ask, why should this be brought to our attention if not for the fact that the earth is a globe? God was telling us so over a millennium ago. Despite its being a globe, the God-given gravity it exerts holds us down and makes it seem as if it were flat all over from sea to shining sea!
Reflecting on these Signs expands our horizons and helps us understand the wonders of creation. The camel is but a single creation and still it is a miracle in itself. But what about the vast array of flora and fauna we see all around us, from the humblest lichen to the mighty oak? From the puniest worm to the majestic elephant? Even if all humans on earth came together, could they create as much as a tiny grain of rice from inorganic matter? Could they manipulate the atoms to fashion a living organism even as simple as a worm? Nay. They would not be able to create even a single-celled germ.
They would not be able to give it the beauty with which God has created nature. We know today that much of nature bears the signature of God as it were. This is seen for instance in the golden mean, a ratio of measurement pleasing to the eye much seen in nature such as flowers and mollusk shells, where the width of an object is roughly two thirds of its height 8:13 or 1.618. Such beauty ubiquitous throughout nature could not have come into being by natural processes, but through the deliberate workings of a Higher power obsessed with beauty. As Islam tells us God is Beautiful, and loves Beauty.
It is not surprising then that He should have created His creation beautiful, not the least His choice creation, man, which he made most beautiful, reflecting as it were His Beauty on earth.
He has created the heavens and the earth in just proportions, and has given you shape, and made your shapes beautiful
(Mutual Loss and Gain:3)
Take your navel as your centre and stretch out your limbs and you will find your fingertips and tips of the toes touching the circumference of an imagined circle, a fact captured in Da Vinci’s Vituvian Man. God it is who has created all things in proportion as the Qur’an itself tells us and no better is this seen than in man himself whom He created after His Own Image. The circle is, after all, a symbol of infinity, and that God chose to bestow this form as an outline of man’s outstretched limbs is not surprising.
Then take the world we live in. Until the days of Newton, we took gravity for granted. Nothing seemed so natural as being pinned down to earth. But then came Newton and gave it some thought, and hey presto, discovered a new force that changed the entire course of science. It also made us realize in what a strange place we live in. The earth spins continuously on its axis at an incredible speed of 1000 miles an hour and yet we cling to it like a limpet rather than be thrown off balance every split second. We carry on our lives without fear of flying around in limbo between earth and sky or thrown out into space. The pull of the earth below us and the pressure of the atmosphere above ensure this, but little do we stop to think how they came to be. Modern man should be in greater awe of the power behind creation than his ancestors.
But does he even stop to wonder what power on earth or the heavens explains how a simple-looking Godwit bird can fly non-stop without any sustenance whatsoever for than eight days and a distance of 7,200 miles, the equivalent of making a roundtrip flight between New York and San Francisco in opposite ends of the US, and then fly back again to San Francisco without ever touching down?. What power on earth explains how the buzzard effortlessly stays in the air for hours at a time waiting for the right moment to swoop down to get its food? As God tells us in the Qur’an:
Do they not observe the birds above them, spreading their wings and folding them in? None can uphold them except the Most Gracious. Truly it is He who watches over all things
(The Dominion 19)
So using our intellect, we deduce from Cause to Causer, from creation to creator. It’s like seeing a palace and reflecting on its builder or holding a book and reflecting on its author. It’s that easy. Could a palace have come into being without a builder or a book without a writer? Can there be smoke without fire or steam without water?
This is a far cry from other faiths which require blind belief in its tenets. Islam on the other hand gives you ample scope to use your reason and your senses to know God. Take the story of Abraham, whom we Muslims call the Friend of God. The Qur’an tells us how he discovered the One True God by using his intelligence:
When the night grew dark over him he saw a star and said, ‘This is my Lord,’ but when it set, he said, ‘I love not things that set.’ And when he saw the moon rising he said, ‘This is my Lord,’ but when it too set, he said, ‘If my Lord does not guide me, I shall surely be among those who are astray.’ Then he saw the sun rising and cried, ‘This is my Lord! This is greater.’ But when the sun set, he said “O my people! Surely I am free from that which you associate with God. Verily, I have turned my face towards Him Who has created the heavens and the earth, and I am not of those who associate others with God’
In times of yore too God expected people to know Him through His Signs. The Book of Job is a wonderful repository of such Signs, where we are told of God’s Signs such as in the balance of nature:
Have you (O Job) entered the storehouse of the snow and seen the treasury of the hail which I have reserved for times of stress, for the days of war and of battle? Which way to the parting of the winds, whence the east wind spreads over the earth? Who has laid out a channel for the downpour and for the thunderstorm a path to bring rain to no man’s land, the unpeopled wilderness, to enrich the waste and desolate ground till the desert blooms with verdure? Has the rain a father; or who has begotten the drops of dew? Out of whose womb comes the ice, and who gives the hearfrost its birth in the skies?
In the sustenance of the animal kingdom:
Do you hunt the prey of the lioness or appease the hunger of her cubs, while they crouch in their dens, or lie in wait in the thicket? Who puts wisdom in the heart and gives the cock its understanding? Who provides nourishment for the ravens when their young ones cry out to God,and they rove abroad without food?
And in the workings of the Cosmos:
Have you fitted a curb to the Pleiades, or loosened the bonds of Orion? Can you bring forth the Mazzaroth in their season, or guide the bear with its train?
Likewise we find the Iranian Prophet Zarathustra invoking the Supreme Being who he and his followers called Ahura Mazda ‘The Wise Lord”:
This I ask You, tell me truly, Lord.
Who is the foremost creator and parent of righteousness?
Who made the sun and the stars in their paths?
Who makes the moon wax and wane?
I am, Wise One, eager to know all this and more.
This I ask You, tell me truly, Lord.
Who holds the earth below,
who keeps the sky from breaking away?
Who creates the waters and who the plants?
Who lends the wind and clouds speed?
Who is the creator, Wise One, of good mind?
This I ask You, tell me truly, Lord.
Which artist fashioned the light and the darkness?
Which artist planned sleep and awakening?
Who made the dawn, day, and dusk
that remind the wise of the ultimate goal?
We learn from God Himself that we know Him through His Signs. Many of these Signs are so obvious that we take them for granted, even so manifest a Sign like the rain. This is why God reminds us:
And We send the fecundating winds, then cause the rain to descend from the sky, providing you with water, though you are not the guardians of its stores. And verily, it is We who give life and who give death. It is We who are the Inheritors (after all else passes away)
(The Rocky Tract:22-23)
So let’s ask ourselves: Who is it that holds in check the waterdrops that form into rain clouds that then shower down on the earth to nourish a parched land, dressing the earth with beautiful meadows as far as the eye can see and even throwing in a rainbow for good measure? Who else but God! Who made the sea sand that soaks up the waters of the oceans so wonderfully without muddying it? Who else but God! Who created the sun, so much larger and so much further away, in such a manner as to appear to us earthlings just about the size of the moon as you see during an eclipse? Who else but God!
Who gave us our food, with which we sustain ourselves? Who put in its taste to make it palatable and its nutrients to make it wholesome? Who made such a great variety of it to enjoy and think of the good days to come? Who else but God! Somebody once said that man is what he eats. Why, because everything he is physically is whatever nourishment he has gotten from his food. But do we ever stop to wonder at the plant and animal matter that go into the making of our flesh and bones, nails and hair. Do we ever stop to ponder how we came to depend on fruits for our sustenance and how is it that every bit of it down to the little ascorbic acid it has is necessary for our wellbeing. If not for such nutrients provided by these fruits around us, would we be alive today to tell our tale. So we are in a sense, what we eat. So who put it there and who enables us to sustain ourselves with it? Who else but God!
How is it that blood turns to milk for the mother or grass becomes milk for the cow? Yes, I ask you, who gave the mother her milk to feed her child and put in it the colostrum to build its immunity to ward off infection in those vital early days of life? Who is it that taught the bird to build its nest to lay its eggs and nurture its young? Who is it that gave the kangaroo its pouch to nurse its young? Who is is that gave the spider its ability to spin its silken web to catch its diet of flies and bugs using tough threads for foundation lines and sticky threads for snare lines. Who gave it its threads ? Who taught it to spin? Who else but God! Our existence in this world is such a web of complexity, so intricate and delicate and yet so perfect, that little do we stop to think of the one true reality behind it all.
We take these things for granted because we take many things in this world for granted. Like why each and every single human being on earth has a different face, a unique cast of features peculiar to himself or herself. A lookalike strikes us as strange while a million faces differing from one another is not strange. Ever stopped to think how, given that there are six billion people out there, your face stands out from the crowd, different from everybody else’s. How unique it is, and yet you think nothing of it.
How blind man is that he cannot see the wonder of it all. How he loses sight of the obvious which is all around him. You may wonder why. Well I’ll tell you. Human nature is such that familiarity dullens perception. You are not impressed with a familiar place because you have grown up with it throughout your life. You take it for granted, don’t you? Now suppose you are in a strange and exotic land. Doesn’t the experience sharpen your senses so that you pay it due attention? So sometimes to learn you have to unlearn and then relearn. Suppose you put on green glasses, won’t you see everything in green, the blue sky will be green and the brown sand will be green. It is only by taking them off will you see the truth in its proper light.
The same holds true of our relationship with God. His Signs are all over us and yet we tend to overlook them. Why? Because we are so used to it! That is why God reminds us of these Signs, over and over again so that we know Him. These Signs are countless, for creation itself is so vast and immeasurable. These Signs are also called the Words of God in the Qur’an as they all came into being by His Command:
If the ocean were ink (wherewith to write out) the Words of my Lord, sooner would the ocean be exhausted, than would the words of my Lord, even if we added another ocean like it for its aid
And If all the trees on earth were pens and the ocean (were ink) with seven oceans behind it to add to its (supply), yet would not the Words of God be exhausted (in the writing). For God is Exalted in Power, Full of Wisdom
Yes, God’s Signs are everywhere. Think about it. We are blessed with a transparent atmosphere that opens out to the night sky like a giant observatory to view stars and constellations. Yes, God not only made the earth for us, but He also placed it in a place where we could understand the vastness of His creation and so humble ourselves and glorify Him. Think about it. Though the moon is 400 times smaller than the sun, it just happens to be 400 times closer than the sun so that their size in the sky are almost identical to us on earth. This is why we are able to see a total solar eclipse like a halo around the moon. Only planet earth gives us this opportunity. And so it is in the vastness of space. When astronaut Frank Borman returned from his memorable Christmas 1968 flight around the moon in the Apollo 8, he was told that a Soviet Cosmonaut who had recently returned from a space flight had commented that he had seen neither God nor angels on his flight. Had Borman seen God? the reporter asked. Borman frankly replied, “No, I did not see Him either, but I saw His evidence.” As for those who do not wish to know their Creator after seeing it all, let us see what God has to say about them:
Do they not travel through the land, so that their hearts may learn wisdom and their ears learn to hear? Truly it is not their eyes that are blind, but their hearts which are in their breast
(The Pilgrimage: 46)
Truly is it said: None are so blind as those who refuse to see!