Lamp of Islam articles

Quran

Essential methodology for understanding the Quran

Basic guidelines on how to study the Quran

Translation of an untranslatable book

Importance of holistic reading

Understanding the vague messages

When a reading of the Quran can misguide

A reading of the Quran can misguide when …

Why traditional tafsirs are unreliable

Differences among Quran-centrists

An answer to a deist’s rebuttal of the Quran

Unfolding of divine messages is like biological evolution

An answer to Jay Smith’s “Examining the Newest Historical Research on Islam …”

 

Hadith

The Quran prohibited hadiths

Hadith prohibited Hadith

The first four Caliphs prohibited hadiths

Earlier Muslims prohibited hadiths

Common sense prohibits Hadith

The Quran relates Hadith to shirk

The Quran rejects Hadith and its authority

The Quran describes Hadith as satanic revelation

The Quran exposes hadith, sunna, ijma, sharia and salaf

The Quran disapproves of all hadiths other than the Quran

Why the Prophet prohibited Hadith

How hadiths contradict science and reason

How hadiths insult and demonise the Prophet

How hadiths severely corrupted Islam

 

Observation

Hearing, sights and senses as flying birds

Meaning of ‘BIRD’ in the Quran

Where is our ‘Bird of destiny’?

Sensory perceptions in the Quran

Importance of scientific observation

The Quran calls on us to travel

Divine gifts of transport

Can scientific observation be one of the ‘pillars’ of Islam?

 

Reasoning

The Quran calls for inductive reasoning

The Quran calls for critical thinking and reasoning

 

Scientific understanding

Relationship between the Quran and science

What a doctor can learn from the Quran

An answer to Richard Carrier’s “Cosmology and the Koran”

Reading the verses on natural phenomena: A multi-layered approach

 

Science

Articles on science

 

The Oneness and the Transcendent

Why awareness of Oneness and Transcendent is so important

How rejection of Oneness and Transcendent leads to fire

All good deeds spring from the Awareness of Oneness

Will God send disbelievers to eternal hell?

Abraham’s observation of the Universe

Arguments for the existence of God

Messages in our own self

God in the Upanishads

The famous light verse

Abraham’s four birds

Hell and its duration

The Light of the Upanishads

Every kindling of fire is a reminder!

Countering the mosque-goers’ argument during the coronavirus pandemic  

Hell is temporary, heaven is unending

 

Shahada

A preface to “22 serious reasons shahada should contain no name except God’s”

22 serious reasons shahada should contain no name except God’s                

The first commandment of Islam has no name in it except God’s

La ilaha illa Allah is the only shahada found in the Quran

The Quran doesn’t authorize any added name in shahada

Islam revolves around Oneness and so should shahada

In all service we should remember only the ever-living One who never dies

We are not allowed to make distinction between the messengers

God is enough as witness that Muhammad was God’s messenger

The Quran relates the testimony ‘Muhammadur rasulullah’ to hypocrisy

The Quran links the added shahada to rejection

Pairing God with Muhammad violates holistic logic

The Quran condemns those who mention ‘others’ with God

Associating sanctified creatures with God is idolatry, the gravest offense in Islam

Extended shahada is not a requirement to be or become a Muslim

Extended shahada is not a requirement for salvation

Islam is not about any particular messenger

The Quran presaged the extended shahada as deviation

Extended shahada creates false religions by inventing secondary authorities

Sectarian shahada is based on baseless hadiths

‘Shahada hadiths’ are contradictory and confused

Sectarian shahada was a later invention

Earliest ‘dated Muslim texts’ constantly remember God but never Muhammad

The dual shahada evolved in line with an increasing idolization of Muhammad

A summary of “22 serious reasons shahada should contain no name except God’s”

Distortion of shahada evidenced by archaeology

Distortion of shahada through the political slogan of the Umayyads

 

True Islam

Islam is not about any particular messenger

The Quran calls for inductive reasoning

The Quran calls for critical thinking and reasoning

Quran, the messenger of peace and tolerance

The Quran calls for peace and tolerance: verse examples

The Quran promotes religious pluralism

The Quran promotes art and aesthetics

Pursue pleasure and happiness and mind the balance

Pollutants and evils that intruded into Islam through traditions

Book review: Abdur Rab’s “Rediscovering Genuine Islam”

 

Muhammad

The Muhammad of the Quran

True Muhammad versus false Muhammad (part-1)

True Muhammad versus false Muhammad (part-2)

Can Muhammad of hadiths be a prophet of God?

Miraj from the Book of Viraz?

Was Muhammad an epileptic?

Muhammad cartoons controversy: what does the Quran say?

A review of Dan Gibson’s Mecca vs. Petra theory

Petra has nothing to do with the origin of Islam

How hadiths insult and demonise the Prophet

Muhammad: Prophet of Peace Amid the Clash of Empires by Juan Cole

 

Islam vs Muhammadanism

How all the corruption in Islam started

Darood (salawat): Its origin and danger

Miraj from the Book of Viraz?

Lailatul Qadr: Night of Meditation

Who can intercede on the Day of Judgment?

What does the Quran really say about intercession?

Understanding chapter 6 from Abraham’s perspective

How hadiths insult and demonise the Prophet

Quran, the messenger of peace and tolerance

The Quran calls for peace and tolerance: verse examples

Distortion of shahada evidenced by archaeology

Zoroastrian influence on traditional Islam 

Pollutants and evils that intruded into Islam through traditions

Distortion of shahada through the political slogan of the Umayyads

Should we add sanctifying titles and phrases to the names of the messengers?

 

Pluralism

The Quran promotes religious pluralism

Meaning of COLOURS in the Quran

One light (the Truth) is split into many colours (a truth’s)

We are called to observe the colours

The famous Light Verse

Why light is one and darknesses are many

Black and White in the Quran

Various colours in the Quran

One ‘green’ with many products

God in the Upanishads

The Light of the Upanishads

Arabia: The Untold Story: a review

The Quran accepts shirk as a necessary evil

Similarity between Hindu, Christian and Muslim prayers

The story of Adam: a call for a secular, pluralistic society

Quran, the messenger of peace and tolerance

The Quran calls for peace and tolerance: verse examples

 

Islam vs rituals

Salat during the time of the Prophet

Why salat is NOT ritual prayer

The word ‘salat’ in the Quran

Miraj from the Book of Viraz?

Lailatul Qadr: Night of Meditation

Meaning of Safa and Marwah

Zoroastrian influence on traditional Islam

Why establishing the Salat means doing Works of Reform

Is praying for something or someone helpful?

 

Islamic and un-Islamic practices

The Quran never allowed wife beating

Child marriage violates the Quran

Miraj from the Book of Viraz?

Lailatul Qadr: Night of Meditation

Abortion from a Quranic perspective

Should halal slaughter be banned?

Facts about pork

Circumcision: an overview 

Should we recommend circumcision?

Is adoption prohibited in Islam?

Zoroastrian influence on traditional Islam

The Quran promotes art and aesthetics

Pursue pleasure and happiness and mind the balance

Countering the mosque-goers’ argument during the coronavirus pandemic

Halal food misconceptions

 

Salat

Salat during the time of the Prophet

Why salat is NOT ritual prayer

The word ‘salat’ in the Quran

Why QIBLA is not physical direction

Zoroastrian influence on traditional Islam

Why establishing the Salat means doing Works of Reform

Why the Prophet’s wartime salat was not ritual prayer

Origin and development of traditional Muslim prayer

 

Reviews and rebuttals

Arabia: The Untold Story: a review

A review of Dan Gibson’s Mecca vs. Petra theory

Petra has nothing to do with the origin of Islam

An answer to a deist’s rebuttal of the Quran

Can Muhammad of hadiths be a prophet of God?

Lands are shrinking, despite what Quran’s critics say

Does the Quran really say that the Sun sinks in a murky lake?

Book review: Abdur Rab’s “Rediscovering Genuine Islam”

An answer to Richard Carrier’s “Cosmology and the Koran”

An answer to wikiislam’s rebuttal of the Quran about ‘frontal lobe and lying’

An answer to Jay Smith’s “Examining the Newest Historical Research on Islam …”

An answer to Richard Carrier’s “Predicting Modern Science: Epicurus vs. Mohammed”

 

Same sex relationship

The story of Lot condemns xenophobic hate, not homosexual love 

The Quran doesn’t penalise homosexuality

A same sex act in itself is not a transgression

Lot’s people assaulted ‘men from other nations’

Understanding the story of Lot

Does the Quran condemn homosexuality?

The significance of ‘Nay, but’ in the story of Lot

Did Lot really offer his daughters to the rapists?

Why the traditional understanding of the story of Lot makes NO SENSE

Does Prophet Lot question only men, or both men and women?

 

Messages in nature

Messages in physical sciences

Messages in life sciences

Messages in human sciences

Messages in our own self

 

Dialectics

Dialectics in society

Laws of historical dialectics in the Quran

Dialectical expressions in the Quran

The Universal Flux

 

Cosmos

Is there a cosmic blueprint?

The Big Bang and the origin of the Universe

The Expanding Universe

Meaning of ‘seven Heavens’

Strict balance in the expanding Universe

An answer to Richard Carrier’s “Cosmology and the Koran”

Death and rebirth of stars: a reminder

What is ‘the lowest Heaven’?

Heliocentric concepts in the Quran

Meaning of ‘seven Earths’

Mind and the Universe

What is harder to create: Man or Universe?

An answer to Richard Carrier’s “Predicting Modern Science: Epicurus vs. Mohammed”

The Universal Flux

 

Solar system

Meaning of ‘seven Heavens’

What is ‘the lowest Heaven’?

Heliocentric concepts in the Quran

Meaning of ‘seven Earths’

 

Earth

Earth’s axial rotation

Earth’s orbital revolution

Earth is a spinning ball

Earth as a spaceship

Two Easts and two Wests

Meaning of ‘seven Earths’

Does the Quran really say that the Sun sinks in a murky lake?

Lands are shrinking, despite what Quran’s critics say

Mountains are passing like clouds

 

Evolution

Evolutionary sequence in the Quran

Man has evolved through stages

Rumi and the Quranic concept of evolution

The story of Adam confirms evolutionary origin of humans

Unfolding of divine messages is like biological evolution

What is the original material that man has evolved from?

 

Plants and photosynthesis

Every kindling of fire is a reminder!

One ‘green’ with many products

 

Adam

The story of Adam is a parable

The meaning of the story of Adam

Understanding the allegory of Adam

Adam is not a name of a person

Is Adam a prophet?

Creation of Adam is a constantly recurring event

How would the ‘Forces’ know about future violences?

Why Adam’s mate in the Quran has no name

Where is the garden of Adam?

How fall of Adam can be reversed

Meaning of ‘children of Adam’

The story of Adam confirms evolutionary origin of humans

The story of Adam: a call for a secular, pluralistic society

 

Noah

What was the actual age of Noah

Understanding the Flood Parable of Noah

Why the flood story of Noah is similar to the Hindu flood legend of Manu

 

Abraham

Abraham’s observation of the Universe

Understanding chapter 6 from Abraham’s perspective

Abraham’s four birds

 

Jesus

Does the Quran really support the Virgin Birth of Jesus?

The spirit-bearing man who gave Mary a pure son was a real, mortal man 

 

Quranic allegories

What was the actual age of Noah

Understanding the Flood Parable of Noah

Why the flood story of Noah is similar to the Hindu flood legend of Manu

Abraham’s four birds

A lesson from the story of Aaron

The Parable of the Town in Ruins 

Does the Quran really support the Virgin Birth of Jesus?

The spirit-bearing man who gave Mary a pure son was a real, mortal man 

Earth, the great womb of evolving life

Earth, the great womb of evolving life

The Quran describes the Earth as a womb of evolving life-forms

Earth is called Mother Earth because it is in her womb where all life stems and grows. Interestingly, the Quran constantly describes the Earth as a womb for evolving life-forms, comparing it with mother’s womb. See: 3:5-7; 6:98,99,139,140,143,144; 6:137-144; 11:6; 16:4,10,11,65,78; 22:2-6; 23:12-19; 27:60-61; 31:34; 39:6-7,21; 41:39; 41:47; 71:17; 77:20,21,25,26,27.

Earth is portrayed as a mother’s womb

We observe how the Quran draws an analogy between the Earth and mother’s womb:

He it is who sends down water; and He Alone knows what is in the WOMBS. No self knows what it will reap tomorrow. 31:34

Have We not created you out of a water humble?/ Then We established it in a secure firm-abode (qararin makeen),/ To an extent that is predetermined?/ Thus have We determined according to a measure, for excellent indeed are We at measuring!/ Woe on that day to the falsifiers!/ Have We not made the Earth to draw together to itself,/ The living and the dead?/ And set therein mountains, firm lofty, and given you to drink of water sweet? 77:20-27

The latter is a reference to the establishment of the seed of life – in the mother’s womb as well as in the Earth, the great womb of evolving life – in accordance with the ‘cosmic blueprint’ or predestination1 (cf. ‘known measure’, 15:21). This reminds us of human evolution2, both generic and individual, which, in Quranic worldview, follows an intelligent design.

Then the passage below3 outlines the fetal development in mother’s womb, while simultaneously referring to man’s growth within the tree of evolution. This parallel mention of ontogenetic and phylogenetic aspects of evolution implies a resemblance between the two types of evolution, thus obliquely supporting the scientific observation that the development of the embryo somehow traces the evolutionary development of the species4:

O mankind! If you have a doubt about resurrection, then consider that We fashioned you out of dust, then out of a droplet (nutfa), then out of a leech (alaq, clinger), then out of a lump (mudgha), complete and yet incomplete, in order that We may make clear to you; and We cause whom We will to rest in the WOMBS for an appointed term; … And you see the Earth barren, but when We sent down the water thereon, it thrilled and swelled and grew every kind/pair of cheering growth./ This is because God is the Reality: it is He who gives life to the dead, and it is He who has power over all things. 22:5-6

Both Earth and mother’s womb are equally defined as a firm-abode (qarar) for life

Below is another instance where fetal development is mentioned within the context of man’s generic evolution:

We fashioned man from an extract of clay./ Then We established  him as a droplet (nutfa) in a secure FIRM-ABODE (qararin makeen)./ Then We fashioned the droplet into a leech (alaq, clinger); then we fashioned the leech into a lump (mudgha); then we fashioned within the lump bones and clothed the bones with flesh; then We caused him to grow into another creature. Exalted therefore is God, the Best of creators!/… And We sent down water from the Heaven according to a measure, then We caused it to lodge in the Earth, and most surely We are able to carry it away./ Then We cause to grow thereby gardens … . 23:12-14, 18-19

It is commonly perceived that the specific terms used in 23:12-14 strictly apply to the stages of fetal development only. However, this doesn’t seem to be the case when we read these verses from other perspectives. For example, if we sense that the term ‘droplet’ here embodies the first unicellular organism, and ‘leech’ and ‘lump’ symbolise the invertebrates, while ‘fashioning of bones and clothing with flesh’ implies their ossification and transformation into vertebrates (with classes fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals), then the narration seems also to sketchily fit into the phylogenetic stages of man’s evolution as a species. Or, if we read 23:12-14 from the perspective of modern evolutionary developmental biology, they appear to accord with the observation that the development of the embryo somehow traces the evolutionary development of the species4. It should be noted that 23:12-14, in contrast to 22:5, do not restrict the terms to the fetal development only.

Now, translated as firm-abode, the word qarar5 here means a place where the seed of life is established, referring to both the uterus and the Earth. This is maintained by the ongoing context where the Earth is depicted as a mother’s womb and, likewise, a firm-abode for life (cf. 22:5-6). Here is another similar mention of the word:

Have We not created you out of a water humble?/ Then We established it in a secure FIRM-ABODE (qararin makeen),/ … Have We not made the Earth to draw together to itself,/ The living and the dead?/ And set therein mountains, firm lofty, and given you to drink of water sweet? 77:20-21, 25-27

Finally we note how an analogous passage directly calls the Earth itself a qarar (firm-abode) for man:

Or, who has created the Heavens and the Earth, and has sent down for you water from the Heaven wherewith We cause to grow beautiful orchards …/ Or, who has made the Earth a FIRM-ABODE (qarar), and made in it rivers, and raised on it mountains and placed between the two seas a barrier. Is there a god with God? Nay! But most of them know not! 27:60-61

Please compare the above two passages and observe how they both describe the Earth as a stable dwelling; both mention mountains to symbolize this stability; and both refer to drinking water as an essential condition for human life to survive and grow:

Likewise, the Quran describes both the Earth and mother’s womb as mustaqarr (habitation, course, settlement, 6:98-99, 11:6)6, a word sharing common root with qarar, thereby, once again, alluding to both generic and individual evolution of man.

There are parallel references to all wombs, including that of Mother Earth

Please note how the verses below make parallel references to all wombs, including wombs of animals (6:139, 143, 144), womb of Mother Earth that sustains and evolves all life forms (6:141; cf. 6:98-99), and wombs of humans (6:137 and 6:140 mention infanticide, an allusion to human womb; cf. 6:98 refers to embryological development from a single cell):

Thus, for idol-worshippers their idols adorned the killing of born children …/ And they said: What is in the bellies of these livestock is purely for our males …/ Losers are those who have killed their born children foolishly …/ And He it is who has brought into being gardens – both the cultivated and the wild – and palm trees, and multiform crops in diversity …/ Say: Is it the two males that He has forbidden, or the two females, or what the WOMBS of the two females bore? …/ Say: Is it the two males that He has forbidden, or the two females, or what the WOMBS of the two females bore? … 6:137-144

Earth’s fertility is mentioned along with the fertility of mother’s womb

Time and again, the Quran draws an analogy between the fertility of Mother Earth and the fertility of mother’s womb:

O mankind! … We fashioned you out of dust, then out of a droplet, … and We cause whom We will to rest in the WOMBS for an appointed term; … And you see the Earth barren, but when We sent down the water thereon, it thrilled and swelled and grew every kind/pair of cheering growth. 22:5

He it is who sends down water; and He Alone knows what is in the WOMBS. No self knows what it will reap tomorrow. 31:34

To Him belongs the knowledge regarding the Hour. And no fruit emerges from its sheath, nor does any female conceive or give birth, except by His knowledge. 41:47

For God nothing is hidden in the Earth or in the Heaven./ He it is who fashions you in the WOMBS as He wills. There is no god but Him, the Almighty, the Wise./ He is the One who sent down to you the Book (rain, a symbol for revelation)… 3:5-7

Please look into the last passage. Since the Quran defines the Earth as a womb of evolving life-forms, this reference here to man’s biological development in wombs includes individual as well as generic, i.e., his evolution from lower animal stages through millions of years in the Earth’s great womb.

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Note 1

The word qadar, translated above in 77:20-23 as extent (‘To an extent that is predetermined’), implies the point or degree to which a thing extends. Thus qadar refers to the measure, scale, level, amount, magnitude, dimension, range, distance, length, area, size, depth, space, expanse, time, duration, address, co-ordinate and all other specifications over which a thing extends.

Note 2

Man as a species has evolved in a process of gradual evolution in the enormous womb of the Earth’s vast space-time going through millions of non-organic, organic and animal stages, up to the point where ‘man the animal’ eventually became self-conscious ‘Homo sapiens’. Then an individual man evolves in a process of gradual evolution in the mother’s womb, up to the point where the embryo becomes a new, self-contained human entity: all of which points to the existence of a plan and a purpose and, hence, to the existence of a conscious Creator.

Note 3

O mankind! If you have a doubt about resurrection, then consider that We fashioned you out of dust, then out of a droplet (nutfa), then out of a leech (alaq, clinger), then out of a lump (mudgha), complete and yet incomplete, in order that We may make clear to you; and We cause whom We will to rest in the WOMBS for an appointed term; then We bring you out a child, then you reach your maturity, and of you are those who will pass away, and of you are those who are sent to an old age where he will not be able to learn any new knowledge after what he already has. And you see the Earth barren, but when We sent down the water thereon, it thrilled and swelled and grew every kind/pair of cheering growth./ This is because God is the Reality: it is He who gives life to the dead, and it is He who has power over all things. 22:5-6. Following a reference to pregnancy and miscarriage as a result of the Earth’s violent convulsion (22:2), the passage outlines the fetal development in mother’s womb, while simultaneously referring to man’s growth within the tree of evolution. This parallel mention of ontogenetic and phylogenetic aspects of evolution implies a resemblance between the two types of evolution, thus obliquely supporting the scientific observation that the development of the embryo somehow traces the evolutionary development of the species. Then ‘And you see the Earth barren, but…’ further depicts the Earth as a mother’s womb (cf. 31:34), while the expression ‘grew every kind/pair of cheering growth’ clearly includes mankind as a species (kind/pair) of growth, which is confirmed by 71:17 (‘And God has made you grow (anbatat) from the Earth as a growth/growing plant (nabat). 71:17’). Thus the term ‘growth/growing plant’ in the present context reminds us of the single genealogical/phylogenetic tree, i.e., the great tree of evolution, which is shared by all life on Earth as their common ancestry. It is interesting to note that 22:5-6 describe the present Earth as sterile, incapable of giving birth to new life, like the womb of an older mother that was once fertile (‘And you see the Earth barren, but..’). This is true as the Earth we see today is literally sterile because of its current ecological conditions which are balanced by certain biotic and abiotic factors that are very different from those of the primeval Earth, particularly due to its current oxygen-rich atmosphere that resists any de novo creation of living matter from nonliving molecules. Here the use of perfect tense can be interpreted as an allusion to Earth’s vivification as a past event related to the geo-biological evolution of the earlier Earth (‘but when We sent down the water thereon, it thrilled and swelled’). While the expression ‘thrilled and swelled …’ portrays life as a phenomenon with pleasant excitement, it also reminds us of the ‘explosion of life’ as a result of its huge reproductive potential that led to the great evolutionary expansion and diversification. Life on Earth has probably emerged from non-life sometime between 4.4 billion years ago – when water first came down from proto-atmosphere as water vapour liquefied (‘but when We sent down the water thereon, it thrilled’) – and 2.7 billion years ago, when first appeared the green pigment chlorophyll which was able to carry out photosynthesis (cf. ‘therewith have We brought forth all living growth, then have We brought forth out of it green. 6:99’). During this early geological period there gradually formed in an oxygen-free atmosphere increasingly complex organic substances composed of available inorganic compounds and water, utilizing ultraviolet rays and electrical discharges as energy sources. The Earth’s pre-biotic oceans – very different from their modern counterparts – would have formed a ‘hot dilute soup’ in which organic compounds, the building blocks of life, could have formed (cf. ‘and His Throne was upon the water … 11:7’). At a certain stage these organic compounds formed a diffuse solution of ‘nutrient broth’. Then they were drawn together and developed the capacity for self-renewal and self-reproduction. Living matter evolved through this process from self-replicating but nonliving molecules (‘it is He who gives life to the dead.’). Life on Earth thus most probably started its journey as self-replicating molecules such as RNA, and then as the assembly of simple cells. Prokaryotes were the first organisms to inhabit the Earth, 3-4 billion years ago. Soon after the emergence of the first multicellular organisms, a remarkable amount of biological diversity appeared over 10 million years, in an event called the Cambrian explosion. About 500 million years ago, plants and fungi colonized the land, and were soon followed by arthropods and other animals. Amphibians first appeared around 300 million years ago, followed by early amniotes, then mammals around 200 million years ago and birds around 100 million years ago. Thus continued the tremendous diversification of life in space, time and varieties (‘it thrilled and swelled and grew…’), all starting from a single simple life source. This development of organic molecules from inorganic, living from non-living and one evolutionary stage out of another, points to the existence and ever-presence of an almighty Creator who is the absolute Reality (22:6). Sceptics about resurrection are therefore asked to ponder on the origin and evolution of their own life as well as of all the life forms, towards the awareness that the ever-Living Divine who has initiated and evolved life out of non-living is certainly able as easily to bring dead to life. Below we find in concise form a very similar comparison of man’s future resurrection with Earth’s vivification in the past, within an evolutionary context, as depicted in 22:5-6: And among His messages is this, that you see the Earth humble, but when We sent down the water thereon, it thrilled and swelled: most surely He who gives life to it is the Giver of life to the dead; surely He has power over all things. 41:39

Note 4

Haeckel’s theory of recapitulation postulated that “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny”, i.e., the development of the embryo of an animal, from fertilization to gestation or hatching (ontogeny), goes through stages resembling or representing successive adult stages in the evolution of the animal’s remote ancestors (phylogeny). Today, while the proponents of modern evolutionary developmental biology (evo-devo) think that Haeckel overstated the case, they agree that some parts of his theory still make sense. See: Recapitulation_theory and Anatomical clues to human evolution from fish.

Note 5

Derived from Qaf-Ra-Ra, the word qarar means a fixed or secure place, firm-abode, settlement, establishment, habitat, depository etc.

Note 6

The Quran describes both the Earth and mother’s womb as mustaqarr (habitation, course, settlement, 6:98-99, 11:6), a word sharing common root with qarar, thus, once again, alluding to both generic and individual evolution of man: And He it is who has initiated you from a single living entity, and then: a habitation (mustaqarr) and a destination. Thus have We detailed the messages to a people who comprehend./ And He it is who has sent down water from the Heaven; and therewith have We brought forth all living growth … . 6:98-99; cf. And there is no moving creature on Earth but depends for its sustenance on God; and He knows its habitation (mustaqarr) and its destination: all is in a clear record. 11:6

Does Deen have a structure?

Does Deen have a structure

Question: As far as your study and realization is concerned, do you see no place for structure when it comes to Deen or its implementation? I am struggling to find this balance because nature has structure, like Sun rises at fixed times and sets similarly with a precise structure or law. We know an institution needs to have certain structure when it comes to operating in a complex world. So, is SALAT with its wider meaning totally devoid of any structure, or it can have its place?

Answer: Many thanks. The Quran says that the message about Deen1 has always been the same to all messengers, though in their own language so their community understands. It means that, while the message is the same, which is about the permanent values, it needs to be delivered in the language understood by a people of a specific time and place. However, since a language is in constant flux – evolving with the evolving needs of the socio-economics of a given community/generation – the interpretation and implementation of the message itself must be dynamic and must follow the spatiotemporal course of the language including its socio-economic, political, scientific and philosophical terms.

To my reading, the Quran outlines in a condensed form all the timeless Universal Principles of eternal Islam. It thereby constitutes a relative structure of Deen, while leaving its implementation flexible and open to the understandings of the communities and generations.

We note how often the Quran describes itself as ‘no more than a REMINDER’. Thus – unlike the statutory laws legislated by governments or the canonised directives of ritualistic, organised religions – the Quranic messages per se are more like ‘general guidelines’ or ‘reminders’ rather than strict or structured rules and regulations.

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Now, towards the structuring of a divinely desired society, the Quran gives all the basic (but only basic) guidelines: e.g., importance of inductive reasoning, importance of education and science, equal human rights, parliamentary democracy, tax-benefit system for fair distribution of wealth, justice for all without any form of discrimination, women’s rights, need to help the weak, abolition of slavery, peaceful co-existence with multinational, multicultural and multi-faith cooperation, protection of resources and prevention of environmental pollution, freedom of creeds, freedom of opinions and thoughts and so on.

Broadly speaking, any modern secular state aims to implement most or all of these basic principles, because – being just, rational and beneficial for all humanity – they are not only Quranic but also universal.

Moreover, though looks paradoxical, these Quranic guidelines can be followed better within the framework of a secular (faith-neutral) government rather than in a theocracy. That is because, in any theocracy, the religious group in power is naturally predisposed to authoritarianism and intolerance to the interpretations and opinions of others – and that is all justified in the name of a god it unreservedly deems its own property. This is enough reason why the modern world, going through a process of enlightenment, has this irresistible craving for secularism in its desperate struggle for a better and just society.

In view of the above, I think SALAT with its wider meaning does contain certain structure, though not in the way as perceived by organised sharia or ritualistic Islam. For more observations, you may find this study useful: Why establishing the Salat means doing Works of Reform.

Final thoughts

The Quranic principles of Deen are mostly implemented by modern secular states. It is because – being just, rational and beneficial for all humanity – they are not only Quranic but also universal.

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Note 1

Deen is the way or system of life humans must adopt to comply with divine law. Contrary to the traditional understanding, Deen in the Quran doesn’t mean a religious system for the ‘organised religion of Islam’. Rather it means a secular order of social constructs for all, irrespective of personal religion, race, culture, gender, age, socio-economic status etc. The Quran unequivocally embraces all law-abiding groups, including the law-abiding ‘mushrikeen’, in the fold of Deen (9:11). This becomes obvious when we note that the primary scenario wherein the Quran was revealed was to oppose, undermine and evoke questions of the status quo, targeting social inequality, human right abuses and inadequate economic practices. With all these core memorandums of the Quran, the Prophet relentlessly challenged the oppressive elites of his society, steeped in idols and mindless rituals. This original message of knowledge, justice and social reform was later suppressed by the same oppressors through the ritualization of Islam that gradually transmuted it into a religion.  

Finding God through His signs in nature

Finding God through His signs in nature

God, according to the Quran, exists both as Hidden (Batin) and Manifest (Zahir) (57:3). So, while the essence of God itself is unfathomable and thus hidden from us (6:103), He makes Himself evident to us by revealing some of His outward aspects. To many deep observers, these divine manifestations or signs of nature appear to be ‘evidences’ for God’s existence.

Yet, as human observation is never complete, our observation of these ‘divine manifestations’ can only strongly point towards the Ultimate but can never reach its door. Hence, to be logically consistent, we will consider these perceived ‘evidences’ for God’s existence as arguments rather than evidences. This constitutes the basis of the philosophical arguments for the existence of God.

Here we will briefly present some of these arguments for the existence of God in light of modern philosophy, supported by Quranic verses. We will also note how the traditional theistic arguments remain actually unscathed by the objections raised by the atheists.

Cosmological argument

A most-cited argument for God’s existence is the cosmological argument that asserts that God is the Unmoved Mover or the Uncaused First Cause of the Universe and all that there is in it. Critics point out that such an argument involves an infinite regress. The advocates of the argument, however, argue that a series of causes preceding an event cannot be infinite because it has to end with the occurrence of that event. But because an infinite sequence by definition is one that never ends, an infinite regress of temporal causes is logically impossible. So they insist that, as there can be thus no infinite series of causes nor can there be an infinite chain of causation, there must be a First Mover or a First Cause, called God.

In other words, while an eternal Universe/existence can be imagined, it cannot be a Universe/existence in which events keep taking place. In a temporal Universe like ours, there has to be a starting point for events. This argument was further refined by modern philosophers like William Lane Craig, who also promoted the current version of the Kalam Cosmological argument. See The New Atheism and Five Arguments for God. In multiple ways the Quran itself upholds the cosmological argument (52:35-38, 55:26-29, 51:49, 112:1-4, 35:15, 3:97, 29:6, 2:255; cf. 6:14, 6:79, 3:109, 21:30, 21:104, 2:117, 42:11).

Ontological argument

This, also known as the Greatest Concept argument, conditions our existence on the existence of the highest conceivable being, i.e., God. As the Quran also states, since the finite cannot explain itself without eventually asking the infinite, our awareness about the existence of our own being makes us aware about the existence of the Greatest Being, which is the highest conception humanly possible (5:116, 6:75-79, 30:7-8, 45:3-4, 51:23).

Originally conceived by St. Anselm, this argument has been reformulated and defended by others and culminate in more sophisticated versions in terms of modal logic, devised by mathematician Kurt Gödel. Gödel’s Incompleteness theorem, which mathematically proves God as an unavoidable logical necessity, remains unchallenged in modern science and philosophy. The ontological argument has also been subject to criticism such as that it involves a fallacy of petitio principii. However, as this argument is related to our awareness of our own existence, it seems to have substance in terms of its relation to modern consciousness argument that equates God with the Highest Consciousness.

Teleological argument

This, also known as the Intelligent Design argument, relates to the observed order and design and intricate mechanism and fine-tuning that characterize the structure and working of the Universe and takes it as the indicator that there is an architect or intelligent designer behind this, who is God.

The argument goes as follows: Evidence of design implies a Designer. So, when we look at the Universe, how it displays an amazing design and fine-tuning, we ask: Is it possible that such an intricate mechanism, from the stars in the galaxies to the planets orbiting the Sun to the layers of atmosphere protecting life on Earth to the cells in our bodies to the thoughts in our minds could all have happened by chance? Most probably this enormously complex mechanism has been designed – by a divine Designer. The Quran also persistently calls on us to ponder on God’s existence and greatness by observing the perfect order, balance and design all over the creation (2:29, 15:16-19, 15:28-29, 22:18, 32:7-9; 35:41, 38:71-76, 51:7, 51:47, 55:7, 67:3-4, 71:13-18, 75:36-40, 82:6-8, 87:1-3, 91:7-10). It calls God Al-Bari, or The Designer (59:24).

Advanced science is now in the process of increasingly gathering very strong empirical evidence from all branches of study suggesting design, balance and proportion. When we deeply observe the Universe we notice patterns among completely ‘disjointed’ objects. It is difficult to ignore the ‘intelligence’ and information stored in the core of all matter and all observable events that appear to suggest an all-round creative evolution driven and guided by a mastermind (God). While scientists thus generally recognize the grand design of the Universe, there are those who are overwhelmed by its wonder and also those who find a mastermind or ‘intelligence’ behind the design. But as God is not a subject of scientific discussion, scientists refrain from talking about God.

Metascientific argument

Because the precise methodology of science covers only the observable things of the temporal world, science doesn’t discuss God who is beyond time and change, and therefore doesn’t attempt to prove or disprove His existence. Rather it is religion and philosophy that promote the discussion. A good testament to God’s existence, however, is offered by what we call metascientific perspective. In a meta(or extra)-scientific analysis, all nature extols divine glory, as the Quran insists, so every single thing bears God’s fingerprints in creation. To a keen observer, therefore, every single thing in the Universe presents a perceivable proof of God’s existence (17:44, 57:1). Thus, everywhere throughout the creation, s/he witnesses divine manifestations in all the signs of nature (3:190-191, 10:6). These include the immutable laws of nature or ways of God in dealing with things (35:43) as well as those divine manifestations that are carried out through the actions of the free agents in creation (2:251, 8:17). The Quran affirms that those who harbour sure conviction about God see divine signs in the earth as well as within their own selves (51:20-21).

Also, deep within every soul there is a wise sage, the inner fountain of wisdom that speaks with the voice of intuition. Many people with mystical predispositions, including prophets, saints and visionaries, claim to have had spiritual experiences while they heard this inner voice. Some higher levels of these experiences have been perceived as divine revelation, which is accepted by many as indirect evidence of God’s existence. This direct experiencing of the Divine from within, by an awakened soul, is of a different quality from sensory experience or intellectual discovery, and therefore is beyond the domain of physical sciences. We all may experience the Divine directly through our own existential experience and our spiritual awareness, acquired via self-actualization, by thinking right and doing right (7:85, 59:18-24).

The Reality argument

Everyone defines God in their own way. In philosophical discussions God is the biggest entity our mind can conceive. There is nothing in logic or science that can ever dismiss or disprove such entity. Thus, before any debate about God’s existence, we need to clarify what we mean by God, while grasping some nuances of characteristics of God first. A discussion based on different theologies can be quite different in this regard.

Here we come across the perspective of those who define God as The Reality. For example, according to Bultmann, God is not a person but the Reality personified. To different people this Reality may convey a different nuance of meaning: The Infinite, The Ultimate, The Absolute, The Existence, The Whole Truth, The Totality, The Changeless Eternal and so on. The Quran also describes God as The Reality (Al-Haqq, The Truth; 6:62, 18:44, 20:114, 22:6, 22:62, 23:116, 24:25, 31:30). An atheist may perceive this Reality as blind nature. But, as the Quran asks, How can The Reality be blind when it has given you the eyes (90:7-8; cf. 6:103)?

We see an enigmatic power operative in our everyday lives, giving us our lives and all good gifts yet also limiting us in nearly every conceivable way, and finally taking our lives away. There can be no argument whether or not this Reality exists. We are not talking about some metaphysical idea here. We are talking about an unavoidable actuality. Once we thus define God as The Reality, God’s existence becomes self-evident by the definition itself and requires no further proof.

Final thoughts

By reflecting on the signs of nature, we can try to understand whether and how God exists. It appears that, while God exists as Hidden, He also exists as Manifest by displaying some of His attributes through the perceivable signs of nature. For example, in cosmological argument we find God existing as one, unique, first, first cause, uncaused cause, eternal, infinite, almighty, unmoved mover, initiator, innovator, creator and so on. In ontological argument we find God existing as the greatest concept. And in teleological argument we observe God existing as cosmic blueprinter, designer, evolver, intelligent, wise, nourisher, sustainer and so forth.

Change of qibla

Change of qibla

Question: A traditionalists’ argument in defense of Hadith is: Since the qibla was changed, and since the ordaining of the original qibla or what it was is not mentioned in the Quran, the Prophet must have received some guidance/wahy outside of the Quran. I have argued that we can infer from the Quran that the previous qibla was misguidance, and their reply is that it only raises more questions to claim that the Prophet was not on the right deen before the qibla change. What are your thoughts?

Answer: The ‘old qibla’ represented the focus of attention of the Prophet’s followers during the earlier years, which – due to some lack of clarity in certain areas because of its evolving nature – was causing some debate and disagreement among people (2:147, 2:150). We do not know exactly what this former qibla/focus was, but it probably contained some elements that were local (ritual, cultural, traditional) rather than universal (2:115, 2:142, 2:148, 2:177).

In contrast, the ‘new qibla’ is the focus of attention that symbolizes balance and the straight/middle path (2:142, 2:143, 2:238, 22:25, 68:28). In practice, it is the masjid al-haram, or the inviolable project of peace – a blueprint which is to be actualised through good deeds that all people should race towards (2:148-150). So this ‘new qibla’ is the common objective and the ultimate goal of the whole humanity (22:25) that is universally accepted by all groups without dispute (2:150) and therefore well-known and easily recognized by all who are given book/guidance (2:144, 2:146). As an epitome of a pluralistic, equitable society envisaged by the prophetic vision (48:27, 17:60) and exemplified by The Medina Charter, it is the focal point that everyone needs to constantly set themselves at (2:149-150), despite all the differences in their outward directions (2:145, 2:148).

This change of qibla/focus doesn’t really mean that the Prophet and his followers were previously on a wrong deen. It simply means that seeking the Truth and striving for the Peace is a process rather than a ready-made produce. The prophetic awareness, and so the Islamic movement, was evolving in its spiritual journey, going through nebulous, uncertain stages before getting crystallized around its core message by fully focusing on the straight/middle path (2:142). These essential developmental stages functioned as a preparatory test to differentiate the Prophet’s sincere followers from the insincere, since it was found difficult by all except the rightly guided ones (2:143).

I disagree with the traditional view that these qiblas are physical directions or that the Prophet needed “knowledge of some extraQuranic guidance” to be on the old direction or to identify the new one.

Related articles:

Why QIBLA is not physical direction

Meaning of masjid al-haram

Meaning of masjid

The test mentioned in the change of qiblah

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A few related verses:

To God belongs the East and the West, so wherever you turn, there is the face of God. Behold, God is all-encompassing, all-knowing. 2:115

Or do you say that Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac and Jacob and the Patriarchs were all Jewish or Christians (or e.g., Muhammadans)? Say: Do you know more than God does? Who is more wicked than one who conceals the testimony (shahada) with him from God? But God is not unmindful of what you do. 2:140

That was a community that passed away; to them is what they earned and to you is what you have earned; you will not be asked about what they did. 2:141

The foolish from among the people say: “What has turned them away from the focal point (qibla) that they were on?” Say: “To God are the East and the West, He guides whomsoever He wishes to a straight path.” 2:142 

And thus We have made you a community of the middle way/balance so that you may be witness over the people, and that the messenger may be witness over you. And We did not make the focal point (qibla) upon which you (singular) had been before, except to distinguish who follows the messenger from those who would turn away: for this was indeed a hard test for all but those whom God has guided aright. God will surely not lose sight of your faith. God is Merciful and Compassionate over all people. 2:143

We see the shifting of your (singular) face towards the Heaven; We will thus set for you a focal point (qibla) that will be pleasing to you: “You shall set yourself towards the masjid al-haram; and wherever you may be, you shall all set yourselves towards it.” Those who have been given the Book know it is the truth from their Sustainer. And God is not unaware of what you do. 2:144

And if you come to those who have been given the Book with every sign they will not follow your focal point (qibla), nor will you follow their focal point (qibla), nor will some of them even follow each other’s focal point (qibla). And if you were to follow their desires after the knowledge that has come to you, then you would be one of the wicked. 2:145

Those to whom We have given the book know it as they know their own children, and a group of them hides the truth while they know. 2:146

The truth is from your (singular) Sustainer, so do not be among the doubters. 2:147

And to each is a direction to which he turns: so race each other in good works. Wherever you may be, God will bring you all together. Indeed God is capable of all things. 2:148

And from wherever you (singular) start, you shall set yourself towards the masjid al-haram; it is the truth from your Sustainer; and God is not unaware of what you do. 2:149

And wherever you (singular) go out, you shall set yourself towards the masjid al-haram. And wherever you may be you shall set yourselves towards it; that the people will have no room for debate with you, except those of them who are wicked. You shall not be concerned by them, but be concerned by Me; so that I may complete My blessings upon you and that you may be guided. 2:150

Righteousness is not to turn your faces towards the East or the West; but righteous is he who acknowledges God and the Last Day and the Controllers and the Book and the prophets; and spends out of love for Him to the near of kin and the orphans and the needy and the traveller and the seekers and sets necks free; and establishes the communication and contributes towards betterment; and they fulfil the contracts that are made; and are firm and patient in pain and adversity and in time of stress. It is they who are truthful, and it is they, they who are conscious. 2:177

Does Prophet Lot question only men, or both men and women?

Does Prophet Lot question only men, or both men and women

Question: In 7:80-82, Prophet Lot is addressing his QAWM, or his “people”, and I’m assuming qawm is including both men and women1. If this is the case, then Lot is questioning here BOTH his men and women about why they are “approaching the men instead of the women”. While I think this opens up some new perspectives, it also seems confusing since it appears that, because Lot is addressing here both men and women, he is questioning the men’s supposed homosexual actions, and the women’s heterosexual actions. What do you think about it?

Answer: What Prophet Lot is really questioning about in 70:80-82, and what is denounced in this story, is inhospitality and oppression, not homosexual or consensual love. Thus male homosexuality or sexual orientation is not the issue here. This is evidenced by the fact that, as you rightly noted, Lot is questioning here his whole community that included BOTH men and women1 (7:80-82; cf 26:165-1662; 27:54-55; 29:28-30), instead of addressing a particular group as specified in the cases of other messengers in the same sura (7:60, 7:66, 7:75, 7:88, 7:159).

Now, there is no inherent or environmental reason why Lot’s people should be especially more homosexual than any other people of the world. So, as expected, the average men and women of Sodom were also mostly straight and often married to their partners (26:166). Evidently, their acts of hostility and inhospitality were not driven by homosexual attraction or consensual love, but were solely intended to bully, crash and eject all the outsiders (15:70, 15:76, 26:167, 29:29).

Lot’s people preyed on visitors in the worst ways, by committing xenophobic hate attacks like robbery, physical violence and gang rapes in the highway (29:28-29). Women also must have collaborated with men, in one way or other, by participating in those hate crimes.

Those visitors, especially in that ancient time, were expectedly mainly men rather than women. Hence the mention of male homosexual rape.

Question: So what does the phrase “instead of women” here then mean? That’s the part that confuses me, since it sounds like Lot expects his people to approach the women, but not the men, and since qawm includes both men and women, Lot ‘expects’ the men to be with the women, and also expects the women to be with the women

Answer: To my note, in the phrase “for you really APPROACH men with desire in preference to women? 7:81”, the word ‘approach’ refers to acts that may or may not be sexual.

Pondering 26:165-166 as a context of “min dooni alnnisa-I” in 7:81 and 27:55, we can translate the phrase here as “besides women” as well as “instead of women” and even better as “in preference to women”.

Now, let us consider three possible scenarios of the phrase “for you really approach men with desire in preference to women? 7:81 (cf. 27:55)” – to find out the best possible scenario.

SCENARIO 1. Here Lot is referring to only a sexual crime (male gang rape), while addressing only men. This is the least possible scenario as it creates too many problems. Why would Lot address/judge only gays and forget lesbians? In other words, if female homosexuality is equally an issue, as one would expect, then why is it totally ignored? And, if it is not equally an issue, why is it not? Is it because it is okay women approaching women, but not men approaching men? But again, if male homosexuality is the issue, then why was it Lot’s wife, out of all his spiritual family, who lagged behind (7:83, 11:81, 15:60)? And why was the entire community, with children and women, doomed (7:84, 11:82, 27:58)? And if women, as exemplified by Lot’s wife, were co-offenders with men, then why would Lot address only men, and not both men and women?

SCENARIO 2. Here Lot is referring to only a sexual crime (male gang rape), while addressing his whole community that includes both men and women. This too creates several problems. Why is it necessary to interrogate both men and women if male homosexuality is the issue? And, if “approaching men with desire/lust in preference to women” is wrong, then does it imply that it is wrong for both men and women to approach men with desire, in preference to women? Or that it is okay for women to approach women, but not men, with desire?

SCENARIO 3. Here Lot is referring to various crimes, not only sexual, while addressing his whole community that includes both men and women. Here BOTH MEN AND WOMEN of his community were “approaching” men, but NOT because they found them sexually more attractive compared to women (“for you really approach men with desire in preference to women? 7:81”; cf. 27:55; note: Most women approach men out of attraction, in preference to women, but this is not the actual reason Lot’s women were “approaching” those male outsiders.). They were approaching them with hate and inhospitality – to commit serious xenophobic crimes like robbery, physical violence and gang rapes (29:28-29). I think, taking all the related verses into account, this appears to be the most possible scenario and overall seems to fare okay, with no issue. BOTH men and women perfectly fit into this description, especially if we consider that NOT all their crimes were of sexual nature.

Related articles:

Lot’s people assaulted ‘men from other nations’

The story of Lot condemns xenophobic hate, not homosexual love

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Note 1

The word qawm recurrently appears throughout the story of Lot and almost always refers to his whole community that includes both men and women (7:80, 7:81, 7:82, 15:58, 21:74, 26:160, 26:166, 27:54, 27:55, 27:56, 29:28, 29:29, 29:30, 54:33). The word indicates males only in 11:78 in the context of a specific crime scene of homosexual gang rape. Also, qawm refers to the visiting messengers in 15:61-62.

Note 2

In 26:165-166, unlike 7:81 and 27:55, the word ‘desire’ doesn’t occur, while ‘men’ and ‘women’ are replaced by ‘males’ and ‘MATES’ (not by ‘females’). Like here, one can sense ‘same sex MATES’ and ‘same sex pairs’ also in the Quranic assertion that humans are created as ‘zawjayn’ (two mates/ two pairs, 75:39, 51:49, 53:45; cf. human and his/her mate, 2:35; cf. two pairs in every fruit, 13:3).

Meaning of sujud

Meaning of sujud

In our study Why SUJUD is NOT physical prostration, we noted what sujud is not. Now we will see what sujud is.

We get a precise meaning of sujud from Quranic references, e.g.:

See they not all the things that God has created, how their shadows incline to the right and to the left, doing SUJUD (complying) to God and they remain obedient?/ And to God do SUJUD (comply) whatsoever that is in the Heavens and that is in the Earth, of living beings as well as of the controllers, and they are not arrogant./ They reverence their Sustainer high above them, and do whatever they are ordered to do. 16:48-50

Above the Quran draws our attention to the way how everything in the Universe is in sujud, while describing the essence of their sujud: They remain obedient (wa hum dakhirun) as they possess no ego (wa hum la yastakbarun), while doing as they are ordered to do (wa yaf’aluna ma yumarun).

So sujud is obediently complying with (acting in accordance with) the wishes, rules, commands, orders or instructions of one in authority.

It is traditionally thought that only God knows the sujud of the living and the non-living worlds. However, this doesn’t seem to be the case, since the Quran here calls on us to easily observe (“See they not …”) the sujud throughout the Universe. We can easily observe that all creation – from the flowers blooming in their seasons to the fruits falling on the ground, from the animal moms taking care of their offspring to the birds flying in the sky … and from the celestial bodies whirling in their orbits to the electrons spinning inside an atom – all are strictly abiding by divine rules, or laws of nature:

Whoever is in the Heavens and the Earth does SUJUD (comply) to God, willingly or unwillingly, as do their shadows at morning and evening. 13:15

The Sun and the Moon are with a calculation./ And the Stars and the trees do SUJUD (comply). 55:5-6

Now look into the verse below, which further confirms that the universal act of sujud is not anything unobservable, but is well observed by us (“Do you not see that …”). Yes, we do witness that everything in the Universe is in constant sujud/compliance to God as they obediently act in accordance with His commandments, without ever refusing to do so:

Do you not see that to God do SUJUD (comply) all things that are in the Heavens and on Earth and the Sun and the Moon and the Stars and the mountains and the trees and the moving creatures, as well as many among humans, and many (or, but there are many) unto whom the penalty is justly due. 22:18

It is important to note that ‘many among humans’ as well as ‘many unto whom the penalty is justly due’ are also described here as being in sujud. On one hand, all humans are constantly in sujud to God in the sense that, unconsciously or subconsciously, they all are incessantly subjected to divine laws throughout their lives. On the other hand, due to the free will gifted to humans, ‘many among humans’ are in conscious sujud/compliance with divine laws, while ‘many unto whom the penalty is justly due’ are consciously non-compliant with these laws. As evident, sujud doesn’t mean physical prostration in any of these connotations.

Final thoughts

SUJUD to God means complying with, or acting in accordance with, the divine rules/laws, whether they are scribed in a revealed Book or in the Book of nature. This meaning applies to everything and everyone, including humans.

Here is an in-depth study on the word sujud: http://mypercept.co.uk/articles/meaning-of-SuJuD-from-Quran.html

Why SUJUD is NOT physical prostration

Why SUJUD is NOT physical prostration

1. If SUJUD (comply, act accordingly)1 implies physical prostration, then how do everything and everyone in the Universe as well as their shadows do sujud willingly or unwillingly, without doing any physical prostration (13:15, 16:48)?

2. If sujud implies physical prostration, then how would everything and everyone in the Universe – including sun, moon, stars, mountains, trees, creatures, controllers, many humans and even those deserving penalty – physically prostrate to God (22:18, 16:48-50, 55:6)? What form of prostration is performed by stars and trees (55:6)?

3. If sujud involves a physical posture of ritual salat, then how can all who are in the Universe, including the flying birds, glorify God and perform their own salat without doing this physical posture (24:41)?

4. If sujud implies physical prostration, then how can one become among those who do sujud without any such physical action (15:98, cf. 24:41)?

5. If sujud implies physical prostration, then how did the controllers prostrate, or the Devil who was made of fire refused to prostrate, before Adam/human (2:34, 7:11-12, 15:29-33, 17:61, 18:50, 20:116, 38:72-76)?

6. If sujud implies physical prostration, then how did the headless, spherical celestial bodies prostrate before Joseph (12:4)?

7. If sujud implies physical prostration, then how would Joseph have let his parents prostrate themselves before himself, besides God, after raising them to the highest rank of honour2 (12:100)?

8. If sujud implies physical prostration, then how could the Pharaoh’s illusionists make a declaration of faith whilst they “were cast down in sujud” (“were cast/made/reshaped in compliance”; note the passive perfect verb ul’qiya, 20:69-70, 7:120, 26:46; cf. alqi, cast/throw, in 20:69)?

9. If sujud implies physical prostration, then how did the Children of Israel enter the gate of a town in a prostrating position (2:58, 4:154, 7:161)?

10. If sujud implies physical prostration, and if ta’ifeen, ’akifeen, rukka’ and sujood in 2:125 and ta’ifeen, qa’imeen, rukka’ and sujood in 22:26 refer to separate ritual actions, then why does sujud in both instances occur only as an adjective to describe ruku, and not as another noun separated from it by wa (“and”)?

11. If sujud implies physical prostration that needs to be done literally whenever the Quran is recited (84:20-22, 19:58, 17:107, 32:15), then how would the audience continue listening to the recital during the prayer without constantly throwing themselves prostrate on the ground?

12. If ‘fall’ (kharra, Kh-Ra-Ra) in sujud (19:58, 32:15) implies literally falling down on the ground, then how could Joseph’s parents ‘fall’ in sujud sitting high on the throne (12:100; fall down in prostration before their son!!)?2 And how could David ‘fall’ in ruku, without falling down on the ground (38:24)? And why doesn’t ‘fall’ (kharra) necessarily mean physical fall in verses like 7:143 and 25:73?

13. If sujud implies physical prostration, then how can “Those who have been given the knowledge before the Quran, when it is recited to them, fall to their chins, prostrating” (sujud, 17:107; cf. 17:109)? How can someone fall to their chins (note: “fall to”, not “fall on”), and also fall when they are prostrating – if the narration is not idiomatic/figurative? And why is sujud described here only as a qualifier (adjective) of fall, rather than as a separate action?

14. If sujud implies physical prostration, then why did the hoopoe “found” (wajad) the Queen of Sheba and her people ‘prostrating’ to the Sun instead of ‘prostrating’ to God (27:24-25) – in contrast to Joseph’s dream where he “saw” (raay) eleven planets and the Sun and the Moon ‘prostrating’ to him (12:4)?

15. If sujud implies physical prostration within a strict ritual sequence, then why does sujud appear before ruku in 3:43, while occurring before qiyam without sitting in 25:64 and 39:9?

16. If sujud implies physical prostration during prayer, then how can the Prophet ‘move around’ among those who ‘prostrate’ during their ‘prayer’ (26:219)?

17. If sujud implies physical prostration, then how would some people be called upon to prostrate on the day when their very being shall be exposed to the bone (68:42-43)?

18. If sujud implies physical prostration, then how were the warriors at the Prophet’s salat doing physical prostration, by carrying dangerous, sharp and heavy weapons, such as swords, shields, arrows, bows and spears (4:102)?

19. If sujud implies physical prostration, which must precede sitting as part of a mandatory sequence of four ritual postures, then how can salat in 4:102 become complete after prostration, without requiring sitting, the next compulsory posture?

20. If sujud implies physical prostration, which traditionally must be two per rakat – followed by sitting, then followed by the next rakat – then how is the salat in 4:102 completed with a ‘single’ prostration without sitting and so without proceeding to a second rakat?

21. If sujud implies physical prostration, and it left physical marks on the faces3 of the Prophet’s followers whereby they could be recognized (48:29), then why did some of these followers remain unrecognized by some others (48:25)?

22. If sujud implies physical prostration, then why does its root sjd, in most of its total 92 occurrences in the Quran, indicate something else rather than physical prostration? And why does sjd never precisely mean physical prostration, not even in a single instance?

Related article: Why salat is NOT ritual prayer

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Note 1

SUJUD to God means complying with, or acting in accordance with, the divine rules/laws, whether they are scribed in a revealed Book or in the Book of nature. This meaning applies to everything and everyone, including humans. Here is an in-depth study on the word sujud: http://mypercept.co.uk/articles/meaning-of-SuJuD-from-Quran.html

Note 2

Sujud cannot mean physical prostration in 12:100: And he raised his parents upon the throne, and they fell before him in sujud/compliance. He said, “My father, this is the interpretation of my old dream. …”. It is impossible that Joseph would have let his parents prostrate themselves before himself, besides God, while raising them to the highest rank of honour. In fact, the verse refers to his eleven brothers and two parents, all of whom did sujud before him, i.e. complied with his authority, whereby his dream became fulfilled (“I did see eleven planets and the Sun and the Moon: I saw them doing sujud unto me! 12:4”; cf: “He said, “My father, this is the interpretation of my old dream.” 12:100).

Note 3

We need to understand the words sujud and wujooh (root waw-jiim-ha; cf. 2:177, 13:22, 55:27) in 48:29 in a deeper sense: You see them as ones who heed (rukka’an, noun), complying (sujjadan, adjective); they seek God’s bounty and pleasure. Their distinction mark (sima) is in (note: in, not on) their countenances/faces (wujooh; note: faces, not foreheads), from the result of compliances (sujud, noun, plural). 48:29. As Asad notes, “The infinitive noun sujud (“prostration”) stands here for the innermost consummation of faith, while its “trace” signifies the spiritual reflection of that faith in the believer’s manner of life and even in his outward aspect. Since the “face” is the most expressive part of man’s personality, it is often used in the Qur’an in the sense of one’s “whole being”.” The marks in their ‘whole beings’, resulting from their compliance, are perceivable signs and gestures in their actions and behaviour, such as kindness, modesty and simplicity.

Hell is temporary, heaven is unending

Hell is temporary, heaven is unending

In our study Hell and its duration, we made two important observations: first, fire/hell is not a locality but a state of existence, a metaphor for the corrective experience of self-consciousness. Second, with the Final Judge just and merciful, there cannot be eternal doom in Islam.  

Here we will go through the Quranic guidance and will note the reasons why hell is temporary, while heaven is unending:

God, first of all, is most Merciful, most Compassionate

The God as portrayed in the Quran is mainly an infinitely merciful and all-forgiving god rather than a cruel, vengeful deity. In fact, MERCY is the principal attribute of Islamic God – a concept that is constantly repeated through the formula Bismillah al-Rahman al-Rahim and is expounded all over the Quran1 (1:1-3, 6:12, 6:54, 7:156, 40:7).

God fully knows our minds and is most understanding

The Quran illustrates God as the one who is ‘closer to us than our jugular veins’ and ‘nearer to us than all our nearest’ (50:16, 56:85). So God is not only the ultimate witness over everyone and everything (13:33, 22:17), He is also fully aware of what is in our minds (2:235, 3:29 …)2. God, thus depicted, must be a most understanding entity, rather than a judgemental, resentful deity.

God is unto all people Merciful and Compassionate

God is Compassionate to ALL people3, irrespective of their station in life or their belonging to a certain category (2:143, 12:87, 38:54, 39:53, 40:7, 42:5, 22:65; cf. 16:4-7, 17:110).

God’s mercy encompasses all, including sinners and hell-dwellers

The very opening verses of the Quran assert that God, the Sustainer and Evolver of the entire Universe (the Sustainer of all the worlds. 1:2), takes care of all things with loving tenderness (the Mercygiving, the Merciful. 1:3; ‘Rahman’, ‘Raheem’), just as a mother’s womb (‘rahm’; cf. 3:6) nourishes the foetus with love and care. So, evidently, it is impossible that the same God would make His creation to punish them, since His mercy encompasses all things, including sinners and hell-dwellers4 (7:156, 12:87, 39:53, 40:7).

Everything will be brought to divine justice where nothing will be wasted or ignored

It is important to appreciate that God is not only Merciful but also Just and His justice also extends to just retribution. One can therefore logically expect that they would be recompensed for what they have earned, which is a fundamental teaching of the Quran. In other words, fire/hell is not a mode of retaliation by a cruel, vengeful deity, but it is the result of one’s own wrongdoing that naturally leads to its negative consequences. While assuring absolute divine justice for everyone, purely based on one’s DEED rather than one’s CREED (2:286, 3:25, 6:160, 28:84, 36:54, 46:19; cf. 18:7, 46:19, 49:13-14), the Quran insists that, irrespective of one’s position or station in life, even the smallest details of all the actions of every human will be brought to divine justice where nothing will be wasted or ignored (4:40, 6:164, 13:33, 45:22, 53:36-42, 91:7-10, 99:7-8).

God’s chastisement is proportionate to the extent of one’s wrongdoing

The Quran describes the penalty of an evil deed as proportionate to the extent/like of it (6:160, 28:84). Thus all divine chastisement will be in exact accordance to the measure of the wrongdoing and not an atom’s weight of injustice will occur5 (2:286, 3:25, 4:40, 6:132, 10:27, 36:54, 78:22-26, 99:7-8).

The final judgment will be based on absolute justice tampered with divine mercy and compassion  

The Quran further cheers us up with the reassurance that, since the Judgment belongs to God alone (6:57, 6:159, 12:40, 40:12), His final judgment will be based on absolute justice tampered with divine mercy and compassion (18:88, 21:92-94, 28:77, 41:30, 46:13, 95:6).

Hell has numerous layers, to recompense the numerous levels of wrongdoers

The Quran at many places alludes to the ‘abode of the wrongdoers’ as a multifaceted place which is geared to fit the various levels of evils they commit. It is not a place where everyone will be given the same chastisement.

And for all such, hell is the promised abode./ With seven6/many gates leading into it – each gate receiving its share of wrongdoers. 15:43-44

To each will be degrees according to what they did; He will recompense them and they will face no injustice. 46:19

Hell is a home, but not an eternal abode

The idea of eternal hell, probably a traditional Christian import to early Islam via hadiths and tafsirs, found its support in Quranic exegesis largely through two overtranslated Quranic words: khalada (root kh-l-d), and abadan (root a-b-d). Both words essentially mean stay, dwell or abide, often for a long time, without necessarily referring to perpetuity7. Now, while both words occur for both hell and heaven to describe their durations, there are verses that specifically place a limit on the duration of hell, though no such limit is placed in the case of heaven. Thus, traditionally overinterpreted as eternity, the actual description the Quran sometimes uses for the nature of fire/hell as an abode is a permanent address or residence, which simply means a home, rather than a temporary lodge. In fact, this is an allegorical expression in accord with the reality of long-lastingness of fire/hell that derives from the very definition of fire/hell as a part of akhirat or lasting, as opposite of ajilat or fleeting.  

Hell lasts shorter than heaven

Though both khalada and abadan occur in the Quran for both hell and heaven to describe their durations, and though both words sometimes occur together (as ‘khalidina fiha abadan’) to emphasise the long-termness of both heaven (64:9) and hell (4:169), there is an interesting subtlety here. When heaven and hell are contrasted together, the duration of the inhabitants of heaven is described as ‘khalidina fiha abadan’, while the duration of hell is limited to ‘khalidina fiha’ without the elaboration ‘abad’:

He will admit them to Gardens beneath which rivers flow, to abide therein lastingly (khalidina fiha abadan). That will be the supreme achievement./ But those who reject and deny Our messages, such are dwellers of the fire, to abide therein (khalidina fiha): what a miserable destination! 64:9-10

Hell is only for a limited period of time

The extent of the duration of hell is specified by the Quran itself to mean only a period of time (78:23, 6:160, 28:84; cf. 6:128, 7:46, 7:156, 11:45, 11:106-108, 18:60, 57:13, 101:9). Here again, our concept of physical time of this world may not be sufficient in such discussions about the incomprehensible dimensions of ‘hereafter’. For example, in the following passage, the use of the word ahqaba, which only means a limited period of time, clearly indicates that the duration of the punishment in hell is not unceasing, but limited (cf. Moses’s persistence for huquba, i.e. long time, 18:60):

For the transgressors it is a dwelling/ In it shall they remain for ages (ahqaba, root h-q-b)/ … A requital proportioned. 78:22-23, 26

A period of hell is extendable and therefore cannot be infinite

In the following verse we note a punishment being prolonged or extended. This would arguably be in contradiction with the idea of eternal punishment, simply because a period that can be extended cannot be infinite.

Nay, We will record what he says, and We will extend (namuddu, root m-d-d) his punishment extensively. 19:79

Hell ends, but heaven continues

Now please read the following verses:

As for those who are miserable, they will be in the fire; in it for them is a sighing and a wailing./ Abiding therein as long as the Heavens and the Earth exist, unless thy Sustainer wills it otherwise: for thy Sustainer does as He pleases./ As for those who are happy, they will be in the Garden; abiding therein as long as the Heavens and the Earth exist, unless thy Sustainer wills it otherwise, a gift unceasing. 11:106-108

Here the phrase “as long as the Heavens and the Earth exist” clearly refers to the duration of a New Universe, because our current Universe will be dismantled for a new one with different dimensions8 (14:48, 21:104, 25:22, 39:37, 50:44, 69:16, 70:9).

Now, while the phrase occurs for both hell and heaven to describe their durations in this New Universe, there is some difference in these descriptions.

In the case of hell, a limit is placed on its duration by the subsequence of the phrase “unless thy Sustainer wills it otherwise” (cf. 6:128)9, an action that becomes accomplished by the immediately following, strong announcement of its implementation: “for thy Sustainer DOES as He pleases”.

In the case of heaven, however, no such limit is placed as it is reassured that heaven, the default destination, is a gift that will never end (41:8, 84:25, 95:6), i.e. unless God wills to bestow on man a yet greater reward. In other words, the duration of heaven will exceed the duration of the New Universe or unless He opens up to man a new, yet higher stage of evolution.

Unlike heaven, hell is never described as unending

The reference to heaven as ‘a gift unceasing’ in 11:108 is reinforced in the Quran with a similar and repeated expression ‘a reward that will not end’ (41:8, 84:25, 95:6; cf. 68:3). No such expression has been used with reference to hell10, which points to a clear distinction between the duration of heaven and the duration of hell.

Surely those who acknowledge and promote reforms shall have a reward that will not end (ajrun ghayru mamnoon). 41:8

Hell, as a mother’s womb, is only a stage of development towards rebirth and a sign of divine mercy

The Quran depicts hell as a nursing mother to the ‘sinners’ till they are reborn after they are evolved and completely cleansed of the taint of ‘sin’. A mother’s womb or a nursing mother’s lap is only a stage of development and the child doesn’t stay in it forever.

But he whose scale of good deeds is light/ The Abyss shall then be a nursing mother (umm) to him. 101:8-9

Hell will be connected through a door with the chamber of mercy

The Quran informs that a wall with an exit will be placed between heaven and hell, which suggests a potential passage out of the punishment and therefore access to divine mercy:

On that Day, the hypocrite males and the hypocrite females will say to those who acknowledged: “Wait for us! Let us absorb some of your light.” It will be said: “Go back behind you, and seek light.” So a wall will be placed between them with a door, its interior containing MERCY, but on the outside of it is torment. 57:13; cf. 7:46

The myth of infinite punishment is dismissed by a simple arithmetic:

Reward for a good deed is TENFOLD and requital for a bad deed is only to its extent

The traditionalists’ myth of infinite punishment, by a cruel irrational deity, is categorically dismissed by one single verse – with the assertion that the reward of a righteous work is to be ‘multiplied by ten’ whereas the penalty of a bad action is ‘only with the like of it’ (6:160). This is further confirmed by verses like 28:84 and 10:27.

Whoever brings a good deed will receive a tenfold reward. And whoever brings an ill deed will be requited only with the like of it. And no one will be wronged. 6:160

Whoever brings forth a good deed, he receives a better reward than it. And whoever brings forth an evil deed then the retribution for their evil deeds is only to the extent of their deeds. 28:84

With the Final Judge just and merciful, there cannot be eternal doom in Islam

The Quran describes God as the ‘most just of judges’ (11:45). It is impossible that a just judge would impose an endless punishment for limited wrongdoings committed in such a short span of life.

Since the final judge is a just and merciful God, there cannot be such thing as eternal doom in Islam. To believe otherwise is insult to our God-given intellect.

Summary

Above we went through the Quranic guidance and noted the reasons why hell is temporary, while heaven is unending: ♦ God, first of all, is most Merciful, most Compassionate ♦ God fully knows our minds and is most understanding ♦ God is unto all people Merciful and Compassionate ♦ God’s mercy encompasses all, including sinners and hell-dwellers ♦ Everything will be brought to divine justice where nothing will be wasted or ignored ♦ God’s chastisement is proportionate to the extent of one’s wrongdoing ♦ The final judgment will be based on absolute justice tampered with divine mercy and compassion  ♦ Hell has numerous layers, to recompense the numerous levels of wrongdoers ♦ Hell is a home, but not an eternal abode ♦ Hell lasts shorter than heaven ♦ Hell is only for a limited period of time ♦ A period of hell is extendable and therefore cannot be infinite ♦ Hell ends, but heaven continues ♦ Unlike heaven, hell is never described as unending ♦ Hell, as a mother’s womb, is only a stage of development towards rebirth and a sign of divine mercy ♦ Hell will be connected through a door with the chamber of mercy ♦ The myth of infinite punishment is dismissed by a simple arithmetic: Reward for a good deed is TENFOLD and requital for a bad deed is only to its extent ♦ With the Final Judge just and merciful, there cannot be eternal doom in Islam.

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Note 1

MERCY is the principal attribute of Islamic God – a concept that is constantly repeated through the formula Bismillah al-Rahman al-Rahim and is expounded all over the Quran:

With the attribute/s of God, the Mercygiving, the Merciful. 1:1. This appears routinely at the beginning of every chapter in the Quran (except 9); cf. 1:1-3.

Say: Unto whom is all that is in the Heavens and the Earth? Say: To God, who has ordained MERCY on Himself. 6:12

Your Sustainer has ordained MERCY on Himself. 6:54

But My MERCY encompasses all things. 7:156

Our Sustainer, You encompass all things with MERCY and knowledge. 40:7

Note 2

The Quran insists that God is not only the ultimate witness over everyone and everything (13:33, 22:17), He is also fully aware of what is in our minds (2:235, 3:29, 3:119, 3:154, 5:7, 5:99, 8:43, 11:5, 28:69. 29:10, 33:51, 35:38, 39:7, 40:19, 42:24, 50:16, 57:6, 64:4, 67:13, 67:14, 84:23).

Note 3

God is Compassionate to all people, irrespective of their station in life or their belonging to a certain category:

Most certainly God is unto mankind Merciful and Compassionate. 2:143

Such is Our provisions, it does not run out. 38:54

Say: O My servants, who have transgressed against their own selves, despair not of God’s MERCY: behold, God forgives all sins – for, verily, He is the Forgiver, the Merciful. 39:53

Our Sustainer, You encompass all things with MERCY and knowledge. 40:7

The Heavens are about to rent asunder from above themselves; and the controllers hymn the praise of their Sustainer and seek for­giveness for those on Earth: Behold! Verily God is the Forgiving, the Merciful. 42:5

He withholds the Heaven from falling on the Earth except by His leave: for God is Compassionate, Merciful to all people. 22:65

Note 4

God’s mercy encompasses all things, including sinners and hell-dwellers:

He said, “My chastisement, with it I afflict whom My law involves – but My MERCY encompasses all things.” 7:156

And never despair from God’s spirit/reviving MERCY: surely none despairs from God’s spirit/reviving MERCY except a people who are rejecters/ingrates. 12:87

Say: O My servants, who have transgressed against their own selves, despair not of God’s MERCY: behold, God forgives all sins – for, verily, He is the Forgiver, the Merciful. 39:53

Our Sustainer, You encompass all things with MERCY and knowledge. 40:7

Note 5

The Quran insists that all divine chastisement will be in exact accordance to the measure of the wrongdoing and not an atom’s weight of injustice will occur:

God does not burden any self beyond its capacity. In its favour is what it earns, and against it is what it earns. 2:286

Every self shall receive what it has earned, and no injustice will be done to anyone. 3:25

Verily, God does not wrong by as much as an atom’s weight. 4:40

For all shall be judged according to their deeds – and thy Sustainer is not unaware of what they do. 6:132

As for those who earn evil, the recompense of evil will be evil like it. 10:27

This Day no person will be wronged in the least, nor will you be requited for other than what you were doing. 36:54

For the transgressors it is a dwelling/ In it shall they remain for ages/ … A requital proportioned. 78:22-23, 26

Then anyone who has done an atom’s weight of good, shall behold it./ And anyone who has done an atom’s weight of evil, shall behold it. 99:7-8

Note 6

While “seven/many gates leading into it” alludes to the numerous degrees of ‘hell’ that await the ‘sinners’ in accordance with their numerous levels of ‘sinning’, it also alludes to the numerous ways of wrongdoing that lead to inferno. Interestingly, the concept of ‘hell’ as such is referred to in the Quran under seven different names, all of them metaphorical (necessarily so, because they relate to what the Quran describes as al-ghayb, “something that is beyond the reach of human perception”): namely nar (fire, which is the general term), jahannam (hell), jahim (blazing fire), sa`ir (blazing flame), saqar (hell-fire), laza (raging flame), and hutamah (crushing torment). From Asad’s note on 15:44. We can compare this with heaven, which also has many ranks (58.11) in accordance to the measure of one’s deeds (76:16).

Note 7

The verb ‘khalada’ derives from the root word kh-l-d, which occurs in the Quran in multiple shades with primary meaning stay, dwell or abide. Then the word ‘abadan’ derives from the root word a-b-d, which in Arabic simply means remain, stay or dwell. The word kh-l-d has been used to describe the time period for both the dwellers of heaven (3:107) and hell (16:29), while it is accompanied with a-b-d also both for heaven (64:9) and hell (4:169). It is important to note that both kh-l-d and a-b-d may also imply duration, often a long duration, with or without a limit.

Note 8

New Earth and New Heavens: The day the Earth is replaced with another Earth, as are the Heavens, and they will appear before God, the One, the Irresistible. 14:48 (cf. the Old Testament, Isaiah 65:17 & 66:22).

Note 9

Please note the phrase “unless thy Sustainer wills it otherwise” (illama shaa rabbuka) in 11:107 and 11:108. Obviously, as God has appointed ‘a due measure’ or unchangeable law for everything in the Universe (17:30, 30:37, 39:52), and as His Rule is therefore the Rule of law, here as well as many other places in the Quran, ‘divine will’ infact means ‘divine laws’ (or what we humanly perceive as ‘natural laws’), and should not be misconceived in mortal terms as the erratic whim of a muddle-headed despot. These laws are dialectical and deterministic as we observed elsewhere.

Note 10

Some people cite these verses in support of eternal hell: And they said: “The Fire will not touch us except for a few number of days.” Say: “Have you taken a pledge with God? If so, then God will not break His pledge. Or do you say about God what you do not know?”/ Indeed, whoever earns evil and is surrounded by his mistakes; those are the people of the Fire, in it they will abide. 2:80-81. In fact, there is nothing in these verses to say that hell is eternal. Here is Asad’s note: “According to popular Jewish belief, even the sinners from among the children of Israel will suffer only very limited punishment in the life to come, and will be’ quickly reprieved by virtue of their belonging to “the chosen people”: a belief which the Qur’an rejects.” Regarding the word “khalidoon” in 2:81, as Joseph Islam observed, “restricting the meaning to its present common usage ‘eternal’ is not correct from a classical Arabic or Quranic perspective.”

Origin and development of traditional Muslim prayer

Origin and development of traditional Muslim prayer

Question: What is salat and how did the earliest Muslims perform it?

Answer: In its most occurrences in the Quran, the word SALAT simply means contact or COMMUNICATION – and, more specifically, communication with a guide – for reminding/remembering (zikr) of God’s messages.

During the time of the Quranic revelation, this guide was the messenger himself, who used to conduct regular salat/communication sessions with his followers as part of his duty to deliver the message. These sessions were mainly about pondering over the words freshly revealed along with discussing the important issues of the community. Besides, people were persistently instructed to “establish this on-going communication/salat in practice” (“aqeemoo alssalata”) for establishing order in personal and collective life.

This is how at least the sahaba performed their salat, as we know from the Quranic evidence.

Question: But isn’t the traditional ritual prayer as observed today same as the salat sessions during the Prophet’s time?

Answer: No. Since those prophetic congregations were primarily intended to deliver and disseminate the messages – and because their audience were therefore urged to understand and assimilate them by thinking and reasoning – they essentially differed from the ritualistic prayer services traditionally misperceived as salat.

Question: In what way does the traditional ritual prayer differ from the original salat?

Answer: Sadly, today’s ritual prayer is a mindless ritual developed over time mimicking the original salat, by annexing to it certain repetitive mechanical movements and robotic chanting, mostly devoid of any real sense or benefit, while entirely overlooking the quintessence of salat and its actual objective – thus reducing it into an act of mockery, to put it bluntly.

Question: Then why does the current Muslim ritual prayer look so similar to the earliest Muslims’ salat as described in the traditional sources?

Answer: Trying to understand how the earliest Muslims performed their salat is not really helpful if we view the issue through the lens of traditional sources as they are based on unreliable, unverifiable hadith hearsays.

Question: Then could you explain how the traditional view of salat may have been developed?

Answer: Unfortunately, very little research has been done so far on the way the earlier generations of Muslims gradually conceived and developed the ritual prayer. The topic itself is a difficult area to study, largely because of the insufficient written record about prayer ritual in the sixth and seventh century religious traditions in the region. A relatively reasonable study in this regard is “The origins of Muslims prayer: sixth and seventh century religious influences on the salāt ritual”, a thesis produced by Justin Paul Hienz. It employs the theory of syncretism while considering the possible sixth and seventh century religious influences on the origin and initial development of Muslim prayer.

The thesis maintains that the evolving prayer that was practiced by the earlier Muslims was most probably a syncretized form of ritual that slowly merged within itself the religious rituals observed in Jewish traditions (ritual cleaning, direction faced during prayer), Zoroastrian traditions (ritual washing, five times prayer), Monophysite Christian traditions (number of prayer times) and various traditions indigenous to the sixth to seventh century Arabian Peninsula (prostration).

The thesis claims that prostration was NOT borrowed from the Jews during the time of the Quranic revelation, because prostration was most likely NOT practiced by the Jewish communities with whom Muhammad had contact since it had fallen out of use by then. Thus it differs from Khaleel Mohammed’s suggestion in his essay “The Foundation of Muslim Prayer” that early Muslim prayer was essentially the same as Jewish prayer in the Arabian Peninsula.

Then some other studies suggest that Muslim prayer was influenced by Zoroastrian traditions in a much later period, probably during the Abbasid reign, when, in line with several other adjustments, prayers were switched from earlier two to three to Zoroastrian five times a day. For example, according to Tom Holland, the five daily prayers were actually imported into the Islamic tradition from Zoroastrianism well after the death of Muhammad and after the Muslims had conquered the greater Middle East. Holland argues that, in the mid eighth century, Zoroastrian converts to Islam in southern Iraq, especially Zoroastrian priests or mowbeds in Kufa, brought with them five daily prayers from their own religion. In support of his claim, he cites the observation allegedly made by Rav Yehudai, a Jewish scholar of that time living near Kufa.

Yet, mainly because of the incomplete written record and a shortage of verifiable historical data on the exact origin and development of the ritual prayer practiced by the earlier Muslims, it remains difficult to be certain to what extent all the above conclusions are factual or not. While I personally have no problem in generally accepting their claims, including the theory of syncretism, we should obviously keep ourselves open to any other or further study on this issue.

Question: I am finding it hard to explain how we have all of the different types of Muslims, including four Sunni Schools, two Shia Schools, and the Ibaadhis, all understanding the salat to mean 5 ritual prayers and even praying the same amount of rakat (prayer cycles). Seeing that these schools are politically at odds with each other, how did they agree on this from a historical standpoint?

Answer: Once again, not enough research has been done on the actual reasons why the ritual prayer among various Muslim factions remains largely similar. The most possible scenario, however, seems the following: The shaping of the Muslim ritual salat was somehow finalised as an officially standardised version of five daily prayers during the early Abbasid period (750–850) when its imposition in Islam, as shown by researchers like Goldziher, was implemented mainly by the then-authority in power who were strongly influenced by Zoroastrian ideas and practices. It appears that this officially standardised version of ritual prayer established itself as a common corpus that was shared by Muslims in general, before it became consolidated and codified, along with expected variations, by the growing sects and madhabs through their corresponding hadiths and clerical opinions. Many other areas of the ritualised Islam, such as dual shahada and traditional azan, evidently underwent a similar course of evolution.

Question: Some people cite Muwatta of Malik Ibn Anas, the eighth century collection, to prove that the earliest Muslims used to pray the way they pray today. What do you think about it?

Answer: If the dates reported about Muwatta Imam Malik are correct, then Muwatta was compiled by Imam Malik towards the end of the eighth century (779-795 CE, 163-179 AH), i.e. during the early Abbasid period, allegedly at the request of the Abbasid Caliphs al-Mansur and Harun al-Rashid. As the above link suggests, Imam Malik was instructed to follow specific guidelines set up by the authority of Caliph al-Mansur himself, who was particularly notorious for oppression of Islamic scholars and muting of all the dissenting voices. This state-sponsored suppression of the differing Islamic schools, and the expected annihilation of their works, can largely explain the sole, uncontested existence of the officially standardised version of the Muslim ritual prayer and the resulting conformity as we find it today. It is important to note that the Abbasid period, starting from al-Mansur, was marked by its reliance on Persian bureaucrats and its adoption of Persian customs and Zoroastrian traditions. Harun al-Rashid’s administration was virtually controlled by the Barmakid Persians.

Question: So the Abbasid Caliphs coerced everyone throughout their empire into following the one standardised, state-sponsored version of prayer, seemingly for the sake of unity and conformity. I note that the Abbasid period remarkably experienced serious butchering of dissenting factions along with distortion of oral traditions and scribal errors. These reports are very interesting and demand further study. On the other hand, in my further note, since Imam Malik was born in the late Umayyad period and derived his views from scholars in Medina, he must have been drawing his knowledge from an existing but evolving tradition that was probably looser and less formal. Now, the ways we are expected to interpret his views are based on subjective texts from his disciples who spread out in different countries while carrying with them versions that often lacked agreement, both in content and in interpretation. But, despite all this, it appears that a skeletal text with a core concept of ritual prayer must have been already extant during the late Umayyad period. I think the key might be then is to uncover what really happened during the reign of the Umayyad Caliphs Abdul Malik to Umar ibn Abd al-Aziz, rulers who are said to have established unity and reform. Do you agree?

Answer: What you are saying makes sense. Yes, in order to better understand how the Muslim ritual prayer was gradually shaped into the current form, researches need to shed more light on the major events occurring during the Umayyad period, with special focus on the time of Abdul Malik onwards. These events were unfolding in a specific environment – under the pressure of various socio-economic, political and psycho-theological factors – in order to serve the needs of this period of Arab expansion, including unity, stability and reform.

Here is a brief list of the important events of that time: establishment of Arabic as the lingua franca of the empire; introduction of a single Islamic currency in place of Byzantine and Sasanian coinage; reunification of the Caliphate with key administrative reforms; suppression of all active domestic opposition; military response to the Byzantine-Christian resurgence; criticism of Muslim scholarly circles; establishment of Kaaba as the common qibla, reconstruing it as a physical direction for prayer; development of ritual prayer; development of dual shahada as a well-devised politico-theological formula; ritualizing Islam into a structured religion of five pillars and so on.

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By Siraj Islam (based on an online discussion with Corey Balsano)

The Universal Flux

The Universal Flux

The Quran describes the reality of matter in a way that appears consistent with the current quantum concepts. Let us take this passage as an example:

Everyone that is thereon is passing away,/ But there remains forever the Self of thy Sustainer, majestic and glorious./ Which then of the bounties of your Sustainer will you deny?/ Of Him asks everyone that is in the Heavens and the Earth: Every moment is He in action. 55:26-29

Now, in quantum physics, since matter = energy = action, any object is merely a series of events or actions. So everything is made of zillions and zillions of quanta of action. This means that the only way anything can ever exist is through incessant action.

Thus every moment, in every tiniest fraction of every micro-second, the unfolding Universe including the evolving life in it is in flux (‘Everyone that is thereon is passing away’; cf. 27:88, 28:88, 39:21, 55:26-27, 57:20, 84:16-20).

In this universal flux, the apparent solidity and immobility of the mountains is only an illusion, as the Quran spotlights it.

This continuous change or motion of all matter, including the transformation of quantitative changes into qualitative, is the basis of all creation and evolution. The Universe therefore is the sum total of the whole process from past to present to future.

However, this Quranic reasoning, which affirms the Heraclitean idea “Panta Rhei” (“Everything flows”)1 and the Buddhist philosophy of universal flux, doesn’t stop there. It goes beyond. …

It goes on arguing that the whole Universe is not only in flow; but every moment absolutely everything – from the most infinitesimal particle or event of microcosm to the most colossal superstructure or event of macrocosm – ultimately depends for existing and functioning on the Divinity (‘Of Him asks everyone that is in the Heavens and the Earth’; cf. 6:14), who is constantly in action (‘Every moment is He in action’; or, ‘Every moment is He in something new’, which suggests a creative evolution; cf. 35:1).

The mode whereby God is “constantly in action” is clarified by a set of statements throughout the Quran, e.g.: When He wills a thing to be, He but says unto it, ‘Be’ – and it becomes (2:117; 3:47, 6:73, 16:40, 19:35, 36:82, 40:68; cf. 54:49-50). This implies that there is no time lag between the divine willing of a creation and the creating, i.e. His willing and creating are concurrent (Surely We have been creating everything according to a measure./ And Our command is but one, as the twinkling of an eye. 54:49-50). This places divine command beyond any dimension of time.

So this flowing existence, which is possible only through an incessant ‘series of quantum of action’, is constantly springing from the eternal divine command BE (kun, or creating) and is going through an unceasing temporal process of BECOMING (‘and it becomes’, fayakoon, or the created), which is simultaneous and same as the being. This is how being exists only through becoming.

In other words, the spaceless-timeless instruction BE, veiled as the underlying primordial information, manifests itself into the material domain of space-time as a series of actions, which is a process of BECOMING and which appears in our illusory perceptions as ‘matter’.

The Quran keeps on relating to the ever-changing nature of the material Universe, to remind us, through contrast, of the ‘changeless and eternal’ reality of the essential Being, the ever-lasting reality of God2, or ‘the Uncreate’, as Buddha defines it (‘But there remains forever the Self of thy Sustainer, majestic and glorious’; cf. Everything is perishing except His Self. 28:88).

Besides, while thus stressing on the transitory nature of our present existence as a manifestation of God’s infinite creative power, the Quran asks us to acknowledge this bountiful creativity as on-going and hence extending throughout the Transcendent3 (‘Which then of the bounties of your Sustainer will you deny?’).

This takes us to the opening verses of a few chapters of the Quran (57:1, 59:1, 61:1), such as: All that is in the Heavens and the Earth FLOWS4 for God. And He is the Almighty, the Wise. 57:1

Final thoughts

The whole Universe is not only in incessant flow; but every moment everything depends for existing and functioning on God, who is constantly in action. This bountiful creativity of God is on-going and so extends throughout the Transcendent.

Related article: Mountains are passing like clouds

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Note 1

For Heraclitus, “Everything is in flux” (Panta Rhei), “Everything flows and nothing is left” and “All things are in motion and nothing remains still or unchanged”. He is known for his alleged notion that “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it is not the same river and he is not the same man.” We can easily witness this all-encompassing flow by delving into the physical bodies of visible matter: they all are made of atoms; and all atoms are made of subatomic particles, like electrons, protons, neutrons and quarks; and all subatomic particles are made up of energy bundles; and all the energy bundles are waves in a cosmic dance of constant transformation and flux. While describing this universal phenomenon, Friedrich Engels cited human body as an example: “Every moment, it assimilates matter supplied from without, and gets rid of other matter; every moment, some cells of its body die and others build themselves anew; in a longer or shorter time, the matter of its body is completely renewed …”. He concludes, “All nature, from the smallest thing to the biggest, from a grain of sand to the Sun, from the protista to man, is in a constant state of coming into being and going out of being, in a constant flux, in a ceaseless state of movement and change.” (Dialectics of Nature)

Note 2

While observing this transitory world – where everything is constantly coming into being, and ceasing to be, where being exists only through becoming, and where everything is ephemeral and nothing lasts – Abraham’s quest for God cannot accept anything temporal as God (‘I love not setting ones 6:76’; cf. 6:75-79) and eventually settles in and submits to the ‘changeless and eternal’, the One (6:78). This awareness is summarized here: And do not call besides God any god; there is no god but He. Everything is perishing except His Self. To Him belongs the judgment, and to Him you are being returned. 28:88

Note 3

Here is another call to witness that nothing is ever at a standstill as everything at every moment is moving unceasingly from one state of being into another: But nay! I do call to witness the sunset’s afterglow, / And the night and its unfolding,/ And the Moon as it grows to its fullness:/ You are surely moving onward from stage to stage./ What then is the matter with them that they acknowledge not? 84:16-20. After referring to the unfolding of the regular observable events of change and motion in our Solar system – including Sun the star (‘sunset’s afterglow’), Earth the planet (‘night and its unfolding’ due to Earth’s rotation) and Moon the satellite (‘Moon as it grows to its fullness’) – the Quran reminds us that we ourselves are also in a journey of gradual ascension, from plane to plane (‘You are surely moving onward from stage to stage‘). As the inexorable movement of all that exists, from stage to stage and from one condition into another, corresponds to a fundamental law evident in all creation, the Quranic wisdom finds it irrational to assume that human self – which is otherwise designed with divine wisdom and plan – alone should be any exception, and that his onward journey should cease at the moment of his physical demise, or wouldn’t be followed by a change-over into another state of being, differently dimensional than the current one: And whatever you are given is only the passing recreation of this current life, and its glitter; and what is with God is better and everlasting. Will you not then reason? 28:60

Note 4

All that is in the Heavens and the Earth FLOWS for God. And He is the Almighty, the Wise. 57:1 Sabbaha lillahi ma fee alssamawati waal-ardi wahuwa alAAazeezu alhakeemu 57:1. Rendered here as flows – though traditionally translated as glorifies – the word sabbaha derives from the root Siin Ba Haa, which originally means to swim, roll onwards, glide, flow (like celestial bodies swimming in orbit, 21:33, 36:40, 79:3), the act of swimming (79:3), occupation or performance of a daily course (73:7) etc. The reason the Universe remains in existence is that it is constantly in flux as every moment God keeps creating it anew. This understanding of 57:1 is fully consistent with its following context (57:2-6) that describes cosmic evolution.