Is God’s existence a reality?
Our discussion in the previous lessons revolved around the concept of ‘Tauheed’. We had made an attempt to establish God’s existence to those who deny Him. In this lesson, we shall conclude this discussion on ‘Tauheed’ by deliberating on a very important topic, i.e. ‘recognition of God’. Now that we have established God’s existence through our ‘Fitrat’, we would like to know about God, from the Islamic viewpoint.
Ameerul Mo’mineen (a.s.) declares in Nahjul Balagha,
‘Tauheed implies that we do not have any impression or mental image about Him.’
God, in Islamic teachings, neither possesses any limbs, nor is He made of stone, or any such matter. Neither does He reside anywhere, nor is He the first and neither is He the last. He is not stationary, nor is He in motion. No place is devoid of His existence, nor can it be said about any location that, it is here that God exists. Neither does He sleep, nor does He wake up. Neither does He stand, nor does He sit. Since He does not possess a body, we can neither see Him, nor perceive Him with our intellects. Since if we can comprehend Him with our intellects, it would imply that we have created Him, and not the other way round. Since then He would become a product of our perceptions. Therefore, what we perceive in our minds is not God, but someone other than Him. If we pay a little attention, we will realise that when we perform our daily prayers (salaat), we recite in the bowing (ruku), which means that ‘we purify God, the Exalted, from every defect, and glorify Him.‘ Then in prostration (sajdah), we recite, which means that ‘we purify God, the High, from every defect, and glorify Him.‘ When we recite thrice, we purify God from all defects and blemishes. It means that we have purified God from any mental image that we can possibly visualize. He is higher than any perception or impression that we may have about Him. In other words, our five senses and our intellects cannot perceive God.
God as introduced by Islam has neither limits nor boundaries. Therefore, since we have limitations and Allah is limitless, it is impossible for us to perceive Him with our limited powers of perception. He is more exalted than any image we can possibly conceive in minds, no matter how fantastic it maybe. He is higher than the most brilliant image conceived by the most brilliant minds.
Therefore, God as introduced by Islam is beyond man’s limited faculties of perception. This is the most critical aspect of ‘Tauheed’, that distinguishes a Muslim from an idol-worshipper. An idol-worshipper constructs an idol from stone, metal, leaves, etc. and worships it. Another person does not worship idols, but instead, has some mental image about God, and worships Him through that mental image. In reality, both these are idol-worshippers, the only point of distinction is that while one worships a physical image, the other worships a mental image. Both of these are apostates, and their god is in contrast to the real God. Therefore, their belief ‘Tauheed’ is totally unacceptable.
There are some people who discuss God’s attributes, like His wisdom, His knowledge, His mercy, His justice etc., that is in complete contrast with the culture of the Quran, and the traditions of the Ahle Bayt (a.s.). In such a situation, it is for us to realise that the God introduced by such people is in fact an idol that they have created in their minds. Here the roles of the Creator and the creature have been reversed. Man has created an image of his God, thereby assuming the role of the creator, and making God his creation. As mentioned earlier this is just another version of idol-worship.
The sun, moon, stars, trees, fire, animals, etc. are all signs that point towards God. They are God’s creation and therefore, we can not and must not worship these as God. This is exactly what Allah proclaims in the Quran,
"And among His signs are the night and the day and the sun and the moon; do not make obeisance to the sun nor to the moon; and make obeisance to Allah Who created them, if Him it is that you serve."
All these are signs that suggest the existence of a Creator. A Creator about Him, we can not construct any image or illusion. For if we do this, then we will fall in the pit of apostasy (shirk). No doubt we will still claim to believe in one God, and we will even be truthful in our claims, but such a belief shall be apostasy, thereby making us apostates (mushrikeen).
Indeed, apostasy is the most serious of crimes against Allah, which shall never be forgiven. In the Qur’an, terms like Shirk and Kufr have appear more than two hundred times, which imply ‘shirk’. ‘Shirk’ is the exact opposite of ‘Tauheed’. It completely negates the belief in one God, and assigns partners/associates for Him. The severity of ‘shirk’ can be gauged from the below-mentioned Qur’anic verse
‘Surely Allah does not forgive that anything should be associated with Him, and forgives that what is besides that to whomsoever He pleases; and whoever associates anything with Allah, he devises indeed a great sin.’
Indeed, man is foolish. He assigns a partner to God, and is very proud of this fact. Moreover, he considers himself treading the path of guidance, while he is treading the path of polythesim. Indeed man should wake up from his unawareness. He should rid his heart of all idols like hunger for fame, power and wealth, and turn towards the true God, Who has created him and nourished him. Man should perform his actions to please God alone, so that he can rest content with the fact that God is pleased with him, and he is pleased with his Creator.
We conclude this discussion on Tauheed with a Qur’anic verse that exhorts man to worship Allah alone, if he wishes to redeem himself from eternal disgrace.
"Do not associate with Allah any other god, lest you sit down despised, neglected."
(Bani Israel: 22)
ADL (JUSTICE OF ALLAH)
The second tenet of religion according to the Shias is Adl.
According to books of literature, Adl means, ‘to place a thing in its correct place’.
Adl means that Allah, the Almighty is just, and does not deal with anyone in an unjust or inequitable manner. He deals with everyone based on His impeccable wisdom and His indomitable will.
Allah has created everything in its own distinct manner. When these things came into being, they had no rights or claims upon Allah. Allah selected an appropriate course for every creation. This is indeed Allah’s mercy upon us. He brought us into creation, while we were non-existent. He has dealt with us in an equitable and just manner, and has not wronged or oppressed us. Then surely He enjoys some rights upon us, while we do not enjoy any rights over Him.
Allah has gifted man with intellect, with which man can distinguish between right and wrong. With his intellect, man perceives that justice is an admirable and desirable trait, while injustice is detestable and undesirable. Man with his intellect is able to understand that since injustice and oppression are undesirable, God does not deal with injustice, and is most equitable with His creation. Whatever injustice we witness in this world is a result of man’s doing, which in turn is a direct consequence of the below-mentioned factors:
Sometimes man perpetrates injustice out of sheer ignorance, as he is not aware of the harmful influence of his actions. For instance, a man may not know the deadly effects of intoxicants. Then by consuming such intoxicants he has dealt with himself in an unjust manner. He is the cause of his own destruction. But ignorance is a factor that afflicts only man. Allah, the Almighty is all knowing, and nothing remains concealed from His wisdom. Therefore there is no question of Allah acting unjustly.
Fear is another factor that drives man to behave unjustly. For instance, a powerful king may fear an equally powerful king from a neighbouring country. The former may live in constant fear of being attacked by the latter. He realises that if he does not attack the enemy, he will in any case be attacked. Out of fear, he may decide to launch the initial assault upon his enemy. Here again, fear is something that afflicts only man and not Allah. Allah, the Almighty is the Creator of everything, and faces no threat from His creation. Therefore He has no reason to fear, and consequently there is no question of Him acting unjustly out of fear.
3. NEED OR DEFICIENCY
At times a person may commit an unjust act to satisfy a physical or spiritual need. As in the earlier two factors this is something which is peculiar to man, as Allah is above all needs and deficiencies, spiritual, physical or otherwise.
4. INNATE DEPRAVITY
Sometimes corruption and vices are inherent in a person. Such a person gains some sort of a joy to commit atrocities on others. This is also factor that afflicts man alone, as Allah, the all Merciful, the all Beneficial is above all forms of depravity, degradation and baseness.
Thus, as we have seen, injustice and oppression is by and large, a consequence of ignorance, fear, deficiency and depravity. Whereas these qualities may well be present in the creation, Allah the Creator, certainly is free and purified from it. Therefore Allah never perpetrates injustice and oppression. The Quran also testifies to this fact,
‘And Allah does not desire any injustice to the creatures.’
(Ale Imran: 107)
What is particularly noteworthy from the above verse is the fact that Allah does not even conceive of doing injustice The Quran further declares,
‘Surely Allah enjoins the doing of justice and the doing of good (to others).’
If Allah commands His creatures to act with equity and justice, then how can one expect Him to act with injustice and oppression? For if the creatures, in line with Allah’s commands, act with equity, while Allah Himself is unjust (Allah forbid), then the creatures would be superior to the creator, which is most absurd!
Now that we have sufficiently explained the concepts of justice and equity on the one hand, and injustice and oppression on the other hand, it is imperative that we understand that Adl does not always mean ‘treat everything or person equally’. In order to facilitate the discussion we shall explain the concepts of disparity and parity.
Disparity means to discriminate between two persons, despite them being affected by similar circumstances. This discrimination amounts to injustice. On the other hand, parity implies treating two persons alike while they are affected by different set of circumstances. To cite an illustration of disparity, let us take a class wherein all students have appeared for an exam. All students take the same time to answer the question paper on standard answer booklets. Now if the examiner corrects the answer booklets and assigns a distinct rank to each student, then it would amount to discrimination. However, this discrimination is based on the method adopted by each student to tackle the questions, which obviously is not the same for all students. Moreover, the students have varying aptitude, which is reflected in their answers. Then on this basis, discrimination will not amount to injustice, but in fact will imply justice and equity.
Take another illustration of a doctor, who prescribes a common medicine to all his patients, regardless of the ailment. Obviously this will not have the desired effect, and will in fact amount to injustice, despite the doctor’s attempt to deal with his patients in a most just and equitable manner. In both the illustrations, of the doctor as well as the examiner, discrimination amounts to justice and indiscrimination amounts to injustice and oppression. Discrimination in both the illustrations is not borne out of blood relations, status in society, etc., but out of judgement and prudence. And discrimination based on prudence and judgement is in fact, Adl. And this is exactly how Allah deals with His creatures. His judgement and decree is based on the highest form of prudence and wisdom, which is beyond man’s limited powers of comprehension.
The Majestic Quran declares,
‘And one of His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth and the diversity of your tongues and colours.’
If an artist paints the same portrait at all times, or a sculptor sculpts the same sculpture on all occasions, or a poet composes the same ballad every time, then this would lend no credibility to their works, and in fact would introduce a degree of monotony in their works. After some time they would lose their appeal, and their most ardent fans would turn away from them. But an artist, sculpture, poet who can churn out something beautiful and original every time he sits down, would be acknowledged as skilful, drawing praise and renown from all corners of the world. The same is the case with Allah, Who has created His creatures with such diversity, that it boggles the mind.
One point that must be highlighted over here is that, we often accuse Allah of being unjust, due to our defective and deficient intellects. This is despite the fact that Allah has claimed in several places that He is Just and never oppresses His creatures. Read the following illustrations to understand this point.
Often we, in our grief at the death of a close one complain to Allah and question the wisdom behind the person’s death. We forget that we have been created for the hereafter, and we assume the world as our permanent abode. We tend to take our existence in this world as permanent, and expect all kinds of comforts and amenities in it. We tend to ignore that true comfort and abundance is only in the hereafter, while the world is for examination where there are bound to be tribulations and afflictions. For the same reason, we protest and question Allah’s discretion at the time of earthquakes, typhoons, famines, droughts, and manmade disasters like plane crashes, and ask ourselves whether Allah, the Almighty could not have prevented these disasters. The fallacy in our thinking is like that of a person who goes to a drama in a theatre and complains to the management that no food and drinks were served! The person forgets that he had come to see a drama and was not attending some banquet. Therefore our objection to Allah about tribulations in this world is as baseless as the protests of the person who goes to see a drama and complains to the management about lack of food and beverages.
The solution to this problem is that we comprehend one very simple fact, i.e. we are not going to live in this world for more than a few years. We have been raised in this world to be examined with difficulties and afflictions, so that we can be judged accordingly in the hereafter. It is just like an examination that is conducted in a school, so that the student can be promoted or demoted. Without an examination such a decision would be practically impossible to make.
Another important aspect that we tend to ignore is the effect of our sins and evil actions. We fail to see the correlation between our persistent disobedience of Allah and the tribulations and turmoil in our lives. In our ignorance we complain to Allah about our difficulties and seek the rationale behind it. We cast aspersions on His claim of being just and equitable. In fact most of the tribulations that we experience in our lives is the result of our own actions. This is just like a patient who ignores his doctor’s exhortations and consumes food that is detrimental to his health. If the patient falls sick under such circumstances, then he can hardly hold the doctor responsible for his misery. In this aspect, we should refer to the Quran, which was sent as guidance for mankind, and see what it has to say.
‘And whatever affliction befalls you it is on account of what your hands have wrought’.
But there are instances wherein a person not even inclined towards disobedience of Allah is a victim of intense tribulation and distress. Allah, in several places in the Quran attributes these tribulations as a trial and examination, to see how the person reacts under adversity. On the other hand, Allah may also choose to examine His servants with prosperity and affluence. In fact, this again is like the example of a student who is made to appear for an examination, so that he can be promoted or demoted. That is why Allah warns in the Quran:
‘And We will most certainly try you with somewhat of fear and hunger and loss of property and lives and fruits; and give good news to the patient. Who, when a misfortune befalls them, say: Surely we are Allah’s and to Him we shall surely return.’
Thus tribulations and afflictions are a yardstick by which our patience and steadfastness in religion is gauged. How is it possible for the One who has raised us, nurtured us, sustained us and loves us more than our parents, to oppress us or send down tribulations upon us without any rationale? Sometimes Allah bestows excessive favours upon the wicked and corrupt people. And at other times He tries the pious and virtuous ones with the most unpleasant calamities.
This is so that the pious always remember Allah and constantly feel the need to beseech and supplicate Him. That is why these calamities are in fact a blessing in disguise that takes us closer to Allah. This is another rationale behind adversities and tribulations as explained by the infallible Imams (a.s.). Take for instance a loving father who purchases some toys for his little son. The son is overjoyed on receiving those toys and spends the entire day playing with them. He is so preoccupied with the toys that he ignores everything else, even his father, without whose bestowal he would never have received those toys. The father waits patiently for the son to get over his obsession with the toys and turn towards him. When he sees no change in his son’s behaviour, the father takes back the toys. His objective is not to displease his son, but only to make him feel and realise his father’s presence. This is exactly the case with Allah. When He sees that His creatures are unduly immersed in their affairs, and do not feel the need to refer to their creator, then He involves them in adversities so that they in their helplessness may turn to Him. Therefore calamities from Allah’s side that draw us towards Him are His mercy, but those tribulations that we have earned due to our sins serve as penalty for our disobedience. For instance, a person who slips and falls from the fifth floor of a building is not the same as one who jumps from there in attempt to commit suicide. In the first case, the person did not fall delibe7rately, but in the second case the person is totally responsible for the fall.
Therefore calamities play an instrumental role in taking us towards our Creator. They wake us up from our sleep of neglect in our duty towards Allah, and serve to remind us of His presence. They serve as warning bells for the wise and cognizant. Without tribulations we would never feel the need to beseech Allah. To this extent adversity is more significant than even prosperity. That is why the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.s.) declares,
‘You shall not attain perfection in faith until you regard adversity as a blessing, and prosperity as a tribulation.’
(Behaarul Anwaar, v. 67, p. 237)
Allah, the Almighty is above oppression. He treats His creation in a most equitable manner. He acts with discretion and all His actions are governed by His wisdom, which is without any parallel. He is all-Knowing and all-Powerful. He has created the creation in a most unique manner, and no two creatures are similar. As it is mentioned in the Quran
"….every moment He is in a (different) state (of glory)."
Allah has created us out of His mercy. He gave us form and shape while we did not exist in the first place. We enjoy no rights upon Him, but His right and authority over us is complete. Under these circumstances how can He be unjust to us, why should He be unjust to us? Here it is pertinent that we reiterate Ameerul Mo’mineen’s (a.s.) definition of divine justice,
‘Adl is that you don’t level any accusation against Allah.’
Divine Justice is that we don’t try to comprehend Allah’s perfect wisdom and the rationale behind His actions with our deficient and imperfect intellects. And when we can not comprehend the rationale, we should not accuse Him of oppression and injustice. The example mentioned below shall highlight what we are trying to say.
There is a glass vendor who has kept the glasses in his shop upside down so as to prevent dust and dirt from sticking on the inside of the glass. A customer approaches the vendor to purchase glasses. On seeing the glasses placed upside down, he is puzzled. He lifts a glass in an upside down position and looks at it with bewilderment. He tells the vendor, ‘This glass is most strange. Its top is sealed, while its bottom is left open!’ The vendor smiles and explains, ‘That is because you are holding the glass upside down.’ The vendor takes the glass from the customer and places it in the correct position and tells the customer, ‘See, now its top is open and its bottom is also sealed. I have placed these glasses upside down, to prevent dust from accumulating in it. But you did not understand the wisdom behind my action and thought that I was selling unusual glasses with a closed top and an open bottom. If you had understood my objective behind positioning the glasses upside down, you would never have reached such a conclusion.’ Our relationship with Allah as far as understanding the rationale behind His actions is concerned, is on the same lines as the glass vendor and the customer. We rarely if ever comprehend the wisdom behind Allah’s actions, and in our ignorance hastily jump to the conclusion that He has oppressed us and been unjust to us.
Therefore it is very important that we keep in mind that Allah’s actions are dictated by discretion of the highest order, and that He has not given man the intellect to comprehend His discretion. We must at all times bear in mind that this world is a temporary dwelling and not our permanent habitat. We all have to die, and face Allah’s judgement in the hereafter. It is for this reason that Allah examines us with tribulations in this world. In the hereafter we shall see the consequences of our actions and also understand the wisdom behind Allah’s actions. Till then we should act with patience and be steadfast in religion. And, we must at all times remember Ameerul Mo’mineen’s declaration about divine justice i.e.
‘Adl is that you don’t level any accusation against Allah.’