Divine messages in our own self

Divine messages in our own self

 
The Quran calls on us to read the divine messages (ayat) in our own self

And in the Earth are MESSAGES for those who are convinced. 51:20

And in your own selves: Do you not then see? 51:21

Reading these verses in context

To better understand the interesting passage above, it is important that we read it in its context. The latter highlights God’s infinite creative power manifested throughout the Universe (‘Heaven’, 51:7, 51:22, 51:23, 51:47) through numerous messages or ayat scripted all over the Heaven and the Earth as well as our own self (51:20-23):

By those that scatter with scattering; 51:1

And those that bear the heavy weights; 51:2

And those that speed along with gentle ease; 51:3

And those that apportion the affair; 51:4

Verily, what you are promised is true indeed. 51:5 …

By the Heaven knit with ways and waves, 51:7

Surely you are of diverse opinions. 51:8

And in the Earth are MESSAGES for those who are convinced. 51:20

And in your own selves: Do you not then see? 51:21

And in the Heaven is your sustenance and what you are promised. 51:22

Then, by the Sustainer of the Heaven and the Earth, it is the very truth, as true as that you speak! 51:23

And it is We who have built the Heaven with power; and most surely it is We who are expanding. 51:47

And the Earth have We spread out wide – and how well have We ordered it! 51:48

And in everything have We created oppos­ites, so that you might bear in mind (that God alone is One). 51:49 …   

And I have not created the invisibles and the humans but to serve Me alone. 51:56

I seek no sustenance from them, nor do I want them to feed Me. 51:57

Surely God is the Provider of sustenance, the One with power, the Strong. 51:58

The chapter 51 starts with a reference to divine controllers, i.e., natural forces or agents operating throughout the Heaven, such as wind that drives clouds or gravitation that governs celestial bodies (51:1-4). Next it equates the infinite diversity and depth of the physical Heaven1 with those of our mind’s Heaven (51:7-8, 51:20-23; cf. 23:17-32). Next it affirms that Heaven contains both our sustenance and what we are promised (51:22-23). It then, towards the end of the sura, comes back to the Heaven (note the ring structure in the recurrence) and relates the ever-expanding Universe to its primal origin, probably alluding to Big Bang (51:47-48), while portraying cosmic evolution as a dialectical process (51:49). The latter points to the duality of everything sustained and so to the oneness and uniqueness of its Sustainer (51:49, 51:23) who seeks no sustenance from anything, while on Him depends sustenance of everything (51:56-58; cf. 35:15-17, 3:97, 29:6).

Heaven, which is thus an embodiment of divine almightiness (‘And it is We who have built the Heaven with power. 51:47’), is depicted here as the source of our provisions (‘in the Heaven is your sustenance … 51:22’). The vital role of the Heaven for our sustenance is both physical and spiritual. Physical, e.g., with galaxies that sustain our solar system and hence our planet Earth and the life on it, or e.g., with heavenly gifts of CO2, water and sunlight for photosynthesis that produces our food. Also spiritual, e.g., as an endless canvas for painting of our imagination and an inexhaustible source of food for thought that guides us to wisdom (cf. 15:16).

However, the subsequent phrase ‘and what you are promised. 51:22 (cf. 51:5), in contrast, refers to future tense. It insists that God’s endless creative power and wisdom, thus manifested in our perceivable Heaven, must potentially transcend and extend to other Heavens and to further horizons – to the dimensions of the Transcendent (al-akhirat, the End, the whole, holistic).

The truth of God’s infinite creative power, including power to re-create – evident all over the Heaven and the Earth as well as in our own self (51:20-22; cf. 7:172, 16:13) – is thus linked with the Transcendent that represents the holistic truth about the totality of this purposeful creation (51:22-23; cf. 51:5).

This certainty about the Transcendent, thus based on God’s omnipotence and omniscience, is then assertively compared with the certainty about our own existence, something that we are absolutely, axiomatic­ally conscious of – as it is instantly witnessed by us by our awareness of our own mind through our ability to think conceptually (‘as true as that you speak! 51:23).

Here we come across a foundational axiom of modern philosophy: cogito ergo sum (‘I think, therefore I am’), also expressed as Dubito, ergo cogito, ergo sum (‘I doubt, therefore I think, therefore I am’). In other words, if I doubt whether I exist or not, then something or someone must be doing the doubting, therefore the very fact that I doubt proves my existence.

Though the above Quranic reasoning affirms this Cartesian logic, it doesn’t stop there. It goes beyond, as we will observe below …

Awareness of our own self leads to awareness of God and the Transcendent

The reasoning in the Quran about God and the Transcendent evolves as follows:

Finite cannot stand on itself. It requires the ultimate support of the infinite. It is because finite is not self-sustaining; to explain the deepest reason of its existence, it has to eventually go back to ask the independent, infinite (55:26-29, 51:49, 52:35-38). Obviously, our ‘finite existence’ would not sustain if it was not based on and fed by an ‘infinite existence’ (6:14, 35:15, 51:56-57, 55:29, 3:109).

Thus our awareness about our own being (‘I think, therefore I am.’ – Descartes; cf. ‘as true as that you speak! 51:23) rationally demands our awareness about the greatest being (5:116, 6:75-79) who, by holistic logic, must be ‘absolutely One and Independent’ (112:1-4; 35:15, 3:97, 29:6). This should lead us to the acknowledgement (iman) of one God’s infinite existence (2:255).

However, this holistic awareness about an inexhaustible Divine demands the related awareness about the ‘Whole’ of divine manifestation; not only in space and time, but also in all possible dimensions (30:7). In other words, our awareness about our Creator involves our awareness about the logical necessity of seeing everything within the grand context of the totality of His creation up to its completeness (30:7, 51:22).

But if the entire creation is devised by the same architect – whose omnipotence and omniscience are manifested through the rational order of the cosmic affairs – it cannot be a meaningless jumble (51:1-4, 47-48). It has to be a divine masterpiece with aim and direction rather than an accident or a detached incident of blind matter engaged in aimless motion (20:50). In other words, this magnum opus, fashioned by the best fashioner and springing from His infinite knowledge and power, must essentially contain in its innermost fabric serious wisdom, profound purpose and complete fairness (30:7-8, 59:24, 75:36, 87:1-3).

And thus the acknowledgement of God should lead us to the acknowledgement of the Transcendent (al-akhirat, the End, the whole, holistic, bigger picture, ultimate, long-term, permanent, eternal, transcendent; 2:8, 2:62, 2:126, 3:113-115, 95:6), which must incorporate in itself the inevitable idea of divine justice and perfect sense (3:25, 4:40, 46:19, 99:7-8).

This explains why the Quran constantly associates the Truth of God – i.e., the truth of His oneness and greatness and His infinite creative and re-creative power evident throughout the universe as well as in human’s own self (51:20-21; cf. 7:172, 16:13) – with the Truth of the Transcendent (al-akhirat), which represents the totality of this purposeful creation up to the end (51:23; cf. 51:5, 30:11).

The central messages in our own self: “Remember God and the Transcendent

The Quran identifies these truths about God and the Transcendent (al-akhirat) as the central messages in our own self (30:7-8, 51:20-23) and hence as the moral axioms or permanent values that eventually dictate our thoughts and actions. Let us see how.

Acceptance of God implies, in metaphorical terms, acceptance of the oneness of the Divine, and therefore the oneness of nature, and therefore the oneness of life, and therefore the oneness of humanity, and so on.

And acceptance of the Transcendent (al-akhirat) implies, in metaphorical terms, acceptance of the bigger/whole picture that transcends – i.e., extends beyond the instant and the immediate and beyond the ordinary range of perception – and therefore also acceptance of our accountability before God.

Both these ‘beliefs’, i.e., iman in Allah and akhiratacceptance of ‘the Oneness’ and ‘the Transcendent’ – when held rationally and sincerely, drive us towards a spiritual awakening that demands from us seeking knowledge and doing justice.

No wonder the Quran constantly places such great emphasis on these inner messages in our own self that it defines these axioms as the basis of all morality and ethics and hence as the fundamental tenet of Islam, which, accompanied with good work, is declared as sufficient for ‘salvation’ (2:8, 2:62, 2:111-112, 2:126, 3:113-115, 5:69, 95:6).

The call to contemplate on the inner messages in our own self remains grave and persistent:

They only know the outward of the immediate life: but of the End they are heedless./ Do they not reflect in their own selves? Not but with truth and for a destined end did God create the Heavens and the Earth and all between them. 30:7-8

Most certainly in the Heavens and the Earth are MESSAGES for the acknowledgers./ And in your own nature and in what He spreads out of the living creature there are MESSAGES for a people being convinced. 45:3-4

 

Related articles:

Divine messages in physical sciences

Divine messages in life sciences

Divine messages in human sciences

 

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Note 1

The word ‘samaa’ throughout the context of ch 51 (51:7, 51:22, 51:23, 51:47) is a metaphor for divine almightiness and includes spiritual connotations that transcend physical sky. This wider meaning of ‘samaa’ is better covered here by the word ‘Heaven’ (sky, universe, spiritual abode, divine domain etc) rather than ‘sky’.

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Abraham’s four birds

Abraham's four birds

 
This popular verse is a thought experiment of Abraham1 who is the Quranic epitome of questioning minds:

And when Abraham said, O my Sustainer, show me how you give life to the dead, He said: Have you then no faith? He said: Yes, but that my mind be reassured. He said: Then take four BIRDS, then fashion them towards you; then place them separately on every hill; then summon them: they will come flying to you; and know that God is Mighty, Wise. 2:260

It responds to the human curiosity about how life originates and regenerates from the non-living, and how God could potentially resurrect the dead.

Please look into the phrase “take four birds … then place them separately on every hill”. Here four birds remind us of the four basic elements (fire, water, air, earth) that the ancients believed the world and life to be composed of. Also, the number four reminds us of the four directions (east, west, north, south) and hence of all directions. Apparently, the phrase refers to the scattering of the moving particles/four basic elements, which constitute life2, into four/all directions after death.

Thus the four birds trained by Abraham symbolize the numerous atoms and molecules which, when rightly assembled, generate life and which – when the living matter dies and disintegrate into its original organic and inorganic constituents – go scattered in nature.

Here, like many other places, the Quran essentially portrays ‘self’ and ‘life process’ as an assembly of flying creatures/birds, i.e., an organization of moving particles arranged in a specific order (cf. 2:260, 19:93-94; 34:3, 34:7, 34:9, 34:22; 72:28).

This is in line with the Quranic position that life arises from death/dead material, while ‘living’ dialectically recycles with ‘non-living’ (3:27, 6:95-96, 10:24, 10:31, 16:65, 22:5-6, 22:73, 30:11, 30:19, 30:20, 30:24, 30:27, 43:10-12), a concept that is consistent with the current biochemical knowledge about life’s origin through a purely natural process from inorganic and organic particles.

What is more, the verse eventually argues from a metascientific perspective that is beyond the scope of science: Since all these flying creatures/birds/particles are allegedly ‘tamed’ by the divine law (note: “fashion them towards you”), they are always ready, as expected, to gather and re-assemble instantly under its ‘call’3 (“then summon them: they will come flying to you”; cf. 30:25). Evidently, an Omnipotent, Omniscient God is well able to bring the dead back to life, if He so wills (“know that God is Mighty, Wise”).

Then, because ‘BIRD’ in the Quran essentially refers to self and mind, as noted elsewhere, Abraham’s birds may also symbolize the individuals in a society, who, when reorganized by right guidance and reform, can as easily create a civilization out of ruins through their conscious, collective effort. This interpretation seems reasonable when we read 2:260 together with The Parable of the Town in Ruins in its preceding verse 2:259 (cf. 2:258) that deals with social resurrection as it illustrates how God’s infinite creative power revives the dead, while giving life to a dead town or society4.

Remarkably, through this thought experiment, the Quran encourages scientific inquisitiveness and its associates – experiencing, experimenting and reasoning – as important steps towards attaining conviction.

 

Related articles:

Hearing, sights and senses as flying birds

Meaning of ‘BIRD’ in the Quran

The Parable of the Town in Ruins

 

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Note 1

A literal reading of 2:260 has led traditional Muslims to understand the story as an instant, physical miracle where God made the birds alive, after they were cut into pieces, to demonstrate His power to Abraham. However, this understanding violates the consistent Quranic message that highlights the absurdity and futility of such instant miracles, because – not only that a temporary, physical miracle, though may serve only as a proof for those who witness it, means little to others – previous messengers were rejected by people despite those alleged miracles (17:59). Although, like any story, this story is also narrated in the past tense, it is actually a timeless parable with certain moral intent.

Note 2

When flying creatures/birds/particles are scattered (or separated from each other “on every hill”), they stay in nature as individualized dormant potential. According to the Quran, consciousness to various degrees is an intrinsic attribute of all created things (41:11, 41:21). Also, plants have life (35:9, 43:11, 7:57).

Note 3

Asad’s note on 2:260: My rendering of the above parable is based on the primary meaning of the imperative surhunna ilayka (“make them incline towards thee”, i.e., “teach them to obey thee”). The moral of this story has been pointed out convincingly by the famous commentator Abu Muslim (as quoted by Razi): “If man is able – as he undoubtedly is – to train birds in such a way as to make them obey his call, then it is obvious that God, whose will all things obey, can call life into being by simply decreeing, .Be!”‘

Note 4

This parable could have yet another meaning, if applied to individual level. By knowing and aligning the essential elements that constitute our existence, we experience life. When the same go scattered, this equals death. Then when we can call them back, after having been able to harness them, we get revived.

Arguments for the existence of God

Arguments for the existence of God

“Whether they admit it or not, my experience with atheists is that they usually have a single experience with religion and divinity, usually of a very conservative variety, that they are rebelling against. Usually their parent’s.

Often they are so ignorant as to think that this one kind of theism is all there is to theism.” Jeff Kesselman

 

Here we will briefly present a few arguments for the existence of God in light of modern philosophy.

We will also observe how the traditional theistic arguments remain actually unscathed by the objections raised by the atheists.

 

Cosmological argument

This, also known as the First Cause argument, goes as follows:

For any event to occur, it is necessary that an event had to precede it in the past. For example, for rain to fall, a cloud in the sky should have been formed first. Thus, any state of the Universe in a given time entails that many past states occurred before it.

Now, if we consider the Universe as past-infinite, an infinite series of events had to occur before any event A. So a series of infinite events had to end for A to happen. This is obviously self-contradictory, since an ‘infinite’ cannot end.

In other words, a series of causes preceding an event cannot be infinite because it has to end (so has to become finite) 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.

Therefore, while an eternal Universe (or existence) can be imagined, it cannot be a Universe (or existence) in which events keep taking place. In a temporal Universe like ours, there has to be a starting point for events. No temporal entity, and hence no multiverse, seems to solve the puzzle.

This leads us to the concept of the first cause, or the unmoved mover, popularly known as God. This uncaused cause, which is beyond the temporal Universe, must be the cause of all other causes.

We are not looking to explain everything; we are only looking to explain the temporal Universe where everything requires a cause. Since the first cause is not a thing of the temporal Universe, there is no reason why it should require a cause.

The cosmological argument was further refined by modern philosophers like William Lane Craig, who also promoted the current version of the Kalam Cosmological argument.

So, yes, cosmological argument remains logically valid as always, despite all the attempts to discredit it by its challengers.

Ontological argument

This, also known as the Greatest Concept argument, goes as follows:

Finite cannot explain itself without eventually asking the infinite. Thus 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. Since this conception of the greatest being derives as a logical induction from the awareness of our own existence, the greatest being (God) must exist.

Originally conceived by St. Anselm, this argument has been reformulated and defended by Alvin Plantinga, Robert Maydole, Brian Leftow and others. Here is the version of the argument as stated by Plantinga, one of its most respected contemporary proponents:

It is possible that a maximally great being exists. Then a maximally great being exists in some possible world. Then a maximally great being exists in every possible world. Then a maximally great being exists in the actual world. Therefore, a maximally great being exists.

How atheists and agnostics have been unable throughout the ages to really tackle this argument can be summoned up by Bertrand Russell’s own struggle with it: “But it is easier to feel convinced that it must be fallacious than it is to find out precisely where the fallacy lies.”

The more sophisticated versions of the ontological argument are nowadays presented 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.

Teleological argument

This, also known as the Intelligent Design argument, goes as follows:

Evidence of design implies a Designer. If we found a clock and examined the mechanism within it, we would probably think that this intricate mechanism was not the outcome of mere chance, that it had been designed.

Now 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? Surely, this enormously complex mechanism has been designed – by a divine Designer.

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. Also, we cannot overlook the evident force that drives the Universe to more complex levels of consciousness as opposed to entropy that seems to permeate the Universe. All these appear to suggest an all-round creative evolution driven and guided by a mastermind. One may choose to ignore them, that is one’s prerogative, but this choice is not rational.

Thus, a teleological argument by its very nature remains based on a solid rationale, in defiance of the atheists’ dismissive assertion that this argument is illogical.

Metascientific argument

While contemporary science provides abundant evidence that point to a creator and intelligent designer, science itself doesn’t speak about God.

It is because science only deals with the things of the temporal world. As God is not a thing of the temporal world, God remains out of the scope of scientific investigation. But in no way does it mean that science refutes or rejects God. It simply means that science doesn’t bother to accept or dismiss God in the way a theist or an atheist does.

Thus the only reason God doesn’t appear in scientific discussion for postulation or study is because by the very definition God is a concept that is not meant to be proved or disproved in laboratory or through scientific methodology and so doesn’t meet the specific criteria to be presented as a scientific hypothesis or theory. Although this view is held by many theologians such as the scientist and theologian A.E. McGrath, it has not curbed man’s quest for God. Modern theologians are now attempting to balance the anthropocentric view of a personal god presented by organised religions with the need to provide a spiritual path and a guide to an ethical and meaningful way of life.

Otherwise, from a metascientific perspective, all nature extols divine glory, as the Quran insists, so every single thing bears God’s fingerprints in creation. Hence, for a profound observer, every single thing in the Universe presents a perceivable ‘proof’ for the existence of God (17:44, 57:1), who is both hidden and manifested (57:3).

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 of these experiences have been perceived as divine revelation. This direct experiencing the divine from within, by an awakened soul, is of a different quality to sensory experience or intellectual discovery, and therefore beyond the domain of physical sciences. We all may experience the divine directly through our own existential experience and our spiritual awareness.

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.

Also, there is the perspective of those who define God as The Reality. To different people this 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. Once we define God as The Reality, God’s existence becomes self-evident by the definition itself and requires no further proof.

For example, according to Rudolf Bultmann, God is not a person but the Reality personified. 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.

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)? Frank Parmir observes: “It is odd that we are willing to use the words ‘intelligent and intentional’ to describe our functioning, but we are unwilling to use those words to describe The Reality that thrusts us forth …. as if the effect can somehow be superior to and independent of The Cause …. as if the effect could comprehend The Cause …. as if the effect could manipulate The Cause. It’s weird.”

Now, there is no point in arguing about God’s existence before clarifying what you mean by God: what God is and what is not; just like anti-something doesn’t make sense unless you know what the ‘something’ is. Otherwise, when someone says God doesn’t exist, they have to explain what is what doesn’t exist. Thus, before any debate about God’s existence, we need to grasp some nuances of characteristics of God first. A discussion based on different theologies can be quite different in this regard.

For example, atheism doesn’t make sense when placed in a context of non-Judaeo-Christian theology, like Jainist or Buddhist or Taoist theology. Who can trash ‘the divine’ as defined in Buddhism – ‘the Eternal Absolute Uncreate’ that is beyond yin and yang, before separation of Heavens and Earth, resides in all beings, and can’t be seen by eyes and does not have birth or death?

 

Further reading: William Lane Craig’s The New Atheism and Five Arguments for God

Will God send disbelievers to eternal hell?

Will God send disbelievers to eternal hell


Question
:

Why would God send those who do not believe in Him and hereafter to hell to burn for eternity?

Answer:

Before trying to answer a question like this, it is important that we keep in mind the unique literary style of the Quran as a scripture and a masterpiece of classical literature.

In line with this idiosyncrasy, the Quran often speaks in a language that uses a range of literary devices including symbols, idioms, metaphors, parables and allegories in order to present deeper and complex ideas, a fact confirmed by the Quran itself (3:7, 2:26).

Then, there is an insistence in the Quran itself that we understand these expressions and accounts figuratively rather than literally so to capture their inner essence veiled behind their outer coverings (17:89, 12:111, 15:75; cf. 12:7, 23:30, 24:34-35, 25:33, 39:27).

However, in violation of the above, some literalist commentators of earlier generations worked very hard to transmute many of the common nouns, adjectives and verbs of the Quran into specific, rigid terminologies, often impregnating them with distorted or speculated meanings which are not necessarily contained in or consistent with the Quran. Besides, they often misinterpreted the Quranic parables, allegories and metaphorical expressions, mishandling them as absurd stories and crude literal accounts. And thereafter they went on using hadiths and other unreliable secondary materials in order to justify and further solidify their position.

Now, focusing on the above question, we think a most serious cause of our current problems with understanding the Quran is the centuries-old fossilization of the traditionally accepted ‘meanings’ of its words and narrations.

A social psychologist can better explain why it may be quite difficult for us to get rid of these ‘imposed meanings’ as they became deep-rooted in the preconditioned minds of the unquestioning millions!

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Examples of such manipulations by earlier commentators include the ‘imposed meanings’ of some of the words used in the above question:

Why would God send those who do not believe in Him and hereafter to hell to burn for eternity?

Below we will ponder on the words ‘God’, ‘send’, ‘believe’, ‘Him’, ‘hereafter’, ‘hell’, ‘burn’ and ‘eternity’.

Yes, once we start reading the Quran more holistically, and therefore less literally, keeping our mind free from the shackles of traditions, we find that the more consistent meanings of these words significantly differ from their traditional renderings. Thus, for example:

Manifestly as well as veiled behind the allegories, the God in the Quran is infinitely greater than any personal god of any organised religion. Thus, He is high above all the personalized, humanized versions of a petty, myopic, irrational, judgmental, despotic god – a mere idol carved by humans in their own image as a projection of their limited needs, fears, and desires.

God wouldn’t really send anyone to hell but it is one’s own wrong doing that naturally leads one to its negative consequences, namely hell. This is a spontaneous, on-going cause-and-effect chain rather than an enforced future event. No wonder all the verses referring to hell, due to their flexibility in grammatical construction, are equally translatable in the present tense, instead of future.

We are not asked to believe anything blindly (17:36, 56:57) but to acknowledge the evident truth, which is to be grasped through a continuous process of observing, reasoning and learning (20:114, 39:33, 43:3-4, 49:14-15, 70:26). Usually but inadequately translated as ‘belief’, the word ‘iman’ is related to ‘amanat’ (trustiness) and thus actually means acknowledgement of a fact that is based on evidence (also see: Why belief in God and akhirat is so important).

The pronoun Him in the Quran doesn’t refer to God as a male or a person. Confined by anthropomorphic conception of God, and further influenced by a patriarchal background, traditional monotheists subconsciously perceive God as a human-like person with masculine gender. This sexually biased perception of God has seriously affected many classical commentaries of the Quran, which have been thereby misused by male chauvinists and misogynists.

More than hereafter, the word ‘akhirat’ has a rich plethora of meanings (end, whole, bigger picture, ultimate, long-term, permanent, eternal, transcendent) and appears in the Quran as an antithesis of ‘ajilat’ (immediate, instant, short-term, fleeting, transitory, present, partial, temporal; 75:20-21). In conjunction with various related allegories and graphics that facilitate human comprehension, ‘akhirat’ functions as a prophetic reminder of ‘the bigger picture’ and our personal accountability in the face of divine justice that includes also the law of recompense or karma. The Quran makes real sense when it warns about the limitations and perils of ‘the temporal’, and calls us to prevail over them by turning our vision towards the depth and endurance of ‘the Transcendent’ that extends beyond the ordinary range of perception.

Hell is not a locality but a state of existence. It is not a pit of everlasting torment inflicted by a vengeful deity, but a metaphor for the corrective experience of self-consciousness (104:6-7) which ‘may make a hardened ego once more sensitive to the living breeze of Divine Grace’. Here it is important to understand that, from a standpoint of the Quran, hell doesn’t necessarily belong only to the hereafter, but also belongs to the present reality when hell is a metaphor for the personal and social sufferings as a result of spiritual ignorance (3:103, 4:10).

Hell burns not with physical fire but with ‘the painful realization of one’s failure’ as a human. Here one may argue that, when hell or paradise refers to afterlife, they are real stuffs of a real future world. Then again, the reality of afterlife and its dimensions can only belong to a domain that is very different from the physical world we live in. It must be absolutely impossible for a human mind to grasp that unknown realm (al-ghayb), which is beyond all the perceptions and definitions of our current existence. It is due to this reason that, though the Quran describes the ‘space’, ‘time’ and ‘events’ of afterlife as real, the descriptions themselves are completely allegorical in nature. In issues like this, the Quran seems to have used allegories in order to express in a figurative manner ‘things’, which, because of their very complexity, cannot be adequately expressed in direct terms or propositions and, therefore, can be also grasped only intuitively, as a general mental image, and not as a series of detailed “statements”. It is like describing various colors of a beautiful rainbow to a person born blind who does not know what it is like to see.

Often understood as eternity, the actual description the Quran sometimes uses for the nature of hell as an address is a permanent abode, 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 hell that derives from the very definition of hell as a part of akhirat or lasting, as opposite of ajilat or fleeting. However, this seeming eternity is then clarified by the Quran itself to mean only a period of time (78:23, 6:160; cf. 18:60). Here again, our concept of physical time of this world may not be sufficient in such discussions about the incomprehensible dimensions of ‘hereafter’. Elsewhere, the myth of infinite punishment is dismissed 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). Since the final judge is a just and merciful God, there cannot be such thing as eternal doom in Islam.

At this point we will first observe, from a Quranic perspective, Why belief in God and akhirat is so important.

Then we will come back to the original question, paraphrased: “Why would people who do not accept God and akhirat are predisposed to incur suffering in a lasting hell?” Put differently, How disbelief in God and akhirat leads to hell.

God and the Transcendent

Abraham’s observation of the Universe

This story of Abraham is an allegory of mankind’s spiritual journey in search for the ‘Ultimate’ behind the laws and harmony of nature – and behind the unity within its diversity.

Why belief in God and akhirat is so important

The Quran describes the truths about God (‘the Oneness’) and akhirat (‘the Transcendent’) as the ‘messages in our own self’ and, hence, as the moral axioms that eventually dictate our conduct and actions.

How disbelief in God and akhirat leads to hell

Disbelief in God and akhirat means unawareness of ‘the Oneness’ and ‘the Transcendent’. This leads to the inferno of individual and collective sufferings in various ways.

The famous light verse

Awareness of God’s oneness is like a self-glowing lamp that illuminates our mind’s Universe by generating multi-layered consciousness.

How disbelief in God and akhirat leads to hell

How disbelief in God and akhirat leads to hell2


We are called to accept the ONENESS and the TRANSCENDENT

The Quran constantly calls on us to accept Allah and akhirat, along with doing good works.

The concept ‘Allah’ can be understood as ‘al (the) + ilah (divine)’, i.e. ‘the only Divine’. Thus, if Allah is translated as God (with big ‘G’), then acceptance of God implies acceptance of ‘the oneness of the Divine’.

It means accepting the oneness of The Reality, and therefore the oneness of nature, and therefore the oneness of life, and therefore the oneness of humanity.

So, acceptance of God implies, in metaphorical terms, acceptance of the ultimate ONENESS.

Accepting the oneness of the Divine further demands from us the related acceptance of the oneness of the divine manifestation – including the on-going creation and so the total creation up to its completeness. This important unitary concept is held in the Quran by the multiple-meaning word ‘akhirat’.

So, acceptance of ‘akhirat’ implies, in metaphorical terms, acceptance of the TRANSCENDENT (or, the whole picture).

It means accepting the bigger picture of divine manifestation that transcends – i.e. extends beyond the immediate and the present, and beyond the ordinary range of perception – and therefore also accepting our accountability before God. Here, to better cover the multiple connotations of the Quranic term ‘akhirat’, we will use the word ‘Transcendent’, rather than the traditional rendering ‘hereafter’.

Both these ‘beliefs’ – the Oneness and the Transcendent – when held rationally and sincerely, drive us towards a spiritual awakening that demands from us seeking knowledge and maintaining justice and balance.

Then, disbelief in God and akhirat means rejection of these most central moral axioms: the Oneness and the Transcendent.

At this point, we come across a query related to an important issue recurrent throughout the Quran: How disbelief in God and akhirat leads to hell?

The meaning of hell

Hell is something we carry around with us (104:6-7, 2:81). Not somewhere we go. Moreover, from a Quranic perspective, hell doesn’t necessarily belong only to the hereafter, but also belongs to – and is a continuation of – the present reality when hell is a metaphor for the personal and social sufferings as a result of spiritual ignorance (3:103, 4:10).

With our psychosensory confines, this inferno within our current existence is the only hell we can comprehend. The all other possible or potential hells, where otherworldly dimensions are involved, remain entirely out of our mortal grasp. In issues like this, any attempt of any real description must be futile (32:17), where, we must confess, one can only try to stick to an allegorical portrayal. The Quran itself calls its ‘descriptions of paradise and hell’ as ‘parables’ (2:24-26,17,23; 4:10; 7:44-50,176,177,194; 13:35; 17:48,60,89; 32:17-20, 37:61-67; 47:15; 74:31; 76:12-23).

Considering the above, here we will stay within the limits of the hell we can perceive, while reflecting on how this inferno of individual and collective misery (3:103, 4:10) is brought about by the rejection of God and akhirat.

How rejection of God and akhirat leads to hell

Rejection of God implies rejection of the ultimate ONENESS.

When we do not accept this ultimate Oneness, our lives are in conflict with the natural laws and moral values – which are based on the oneness of nature and the oneness of humanity and which have their foundation on the oneness of the Divine.

Thus when we are not in harmony with the natural laws due to our unawareness of the oneness of nature, we reject science and logic; we are lost in primitive darkness where ignorance, unreason and superstitions prevail; we remain deprived of material prosperity and scientific-technical development; we are denied access to the divine treasures of the universe (39:63, 55:7-10, 2:205).

And when we are not in harmony with the moral values – kindness, justice, pluralism, tolerance and cooperation – due to our unawareness of the oneness of humanity, we live in a state of moral bankruptcy; we are reigned by supremacists and psychopaths; we suffer from all sorts of social ills: sectarianism, racism, xenophobia, caste and class discrimination, misogyny, sexism, jingoism, cultural and religious chauvinism, exploitation of the weak by the strong and so forth; we subsequently plunge into socio-politico-economic turmoil and spiritual downfall (35:28, 49:13, 22:46, 30:1-22).

In brief, when we do not accept the ultimate Oneness, we lack the compass and we live in the chaos of a living hell (3:103-105, 4:10).

Then, rejection of akhirat implies rejection of the TRANSCENDENT (or, the whole picture).

When we do not accept this holistic vision that transcends – i.e. extends beyond the immediate and the present, and beyond the ordinary range of perception – our lives are in conflict with the existential accountability related to the Transcendent.

Here it is important to understand that, rendered by us as Transcendent, the word ‘akhirat’ has a rich plethora of meanings (end, whole, bigger picture, ultimate, long-term, permanent, eternal, transcendent) and appears in the Quran as an antithesis of ‘ajilat’ (immediate, instant, short-term, fleeting, transitory, present, partial, temporal; 75:20-21).

Thus ‘akhirat’ refers not only to the hereafter (29:64) but also to its other undertones including the sum total (75:20-21), the long-term (93:4), the next (2:220, 29:20), the later (26:84), the last or the final (5:114, 10:10, 17:7, 28:70, 38:7, 53:25, 57:3, 79:25), the end (92:13), the ultimate (3:85, 5:5, 16:109), the deeper ends of the things (30:7-8), the higher level of existence (2:86), the eternal life (87:17), the end result of a completion (34:1), the continuing creation (34:1), the whole or the bigger picture (6:92, 6:113, 6:150, 17:19) and so on.

Looking at the bigger picture is essential in order to overcome the pitfalls of short-sightedness.

When someone commits a serious crime, s/he is driven by a short-term impulse without considering its impacts of long-term (akhirat). Smoking causes fleeting pleasure but leads the smoker to a lasting hell, i.e. permanent health damage like cancer. These are some of the countless examples that clarify the important Quranic position that akhirat is ‘higher in degree and greater in excellence’ than ajilat (17:21, 17:10-21).

But, aren’t all atheists and non-Muslims going to hell?

Not really. The Quran assures absolute divine justice for everyone, purely based on one’s DEED, rather than one’s CREED (2:286, 3:25, 4:40, 6:160, 18:7, 46:19, 49:13-14, 99:7-8).

Now, when a so-called atheist or a non-Muslim performs righteous acts, does s/he believe in ‘God’ and ‘akhirat’?

In a true sense, YES. As s/he does good, it means s/he esteems the moral axioms of the Oneness and the Transcendent. It means s/he subconsciously ‘believes’ in ‘God’ and ‘akhirat’ – or at least some of their aspects – though in a way different from the traditional Muslim understandings of these words.

Then, when a so-called Muslim commits evil acts, does s/he believe in God and akhirat?

In a true sense, NO. As s/he does bad, it means s/he violates the moral axioms of the Oneness and the Transcendent. It means s/he subconsciously ‘disbelieves’ in ‘God’ and ‘akhirat’ – or at least some of their aspects – though s/he remains deluded in her/his claim of belief.

We observe that the apparent insistence in the Quran on belief is not for belief itself but for all the righteous acts it naturally generates. Otherwise, the actual insistence is on action, and nothing but action.

At the end of the day, it is not the belief but the actions that will be rewarded.

Believers and non-believers and Muslims and non-Muslims are labels only. It is impossible to imagine that an all-wise, infinitely just God would descend so low to judge small humans on the basis of these small labels.

 

Related article: Why belief in God and akhirat is so important

Why belief in God and akhirat is so important

Why belief in God and akhirat is so important1

 
The reasoning in the Quran about God and the Transcendent (al-akhirat) evolves as follows:

Finite cannot stand on itself. It requires the ultimate support of the infinite.

It is because finite is not self-sustaining; to explain the deepest reason of its existence, it has to eventually go back to ask the independent, infinite (55:26-29, 51:49, 52:35-38).

Obviously, our ‘finite existence’ would not sustain if it was not based on and fed by an ‘infinite existence’ (6:14, 35:15, 51:56-57, 55:29, 3:109).

Thus our awareness about our own being (‘I think, therefore I am.’ – Descartes; cf. ‘as true as that you speak! 51:23) rationally demands our awareness about the greatest being (5:116, 6:75-79) who, by holistic logic, must be ‘absolutely One and Independent’ (112:1-4; 35:15, 3:97, 29:6).

This should lead us to the acknowledgement (iman) of one God’s infinite existence (2:255).

However, this holistic awareness about an inexhaustible Divine demands the related awareness about the ‘Whole’ of divine manifestation; not only in space and time, but also in all possible dimensions (30:7).

In other words, our awareness about our Creator involves our awareness about the logical necessity of seeing everything within the grand context of the totality of His creation up to its completeness (30:7, 51:22).

But if the entire creation is devised by the same architect – whose omnipotence and omniscience are manifested through the rational order of the cosmic affairs – it cannot be a meaningless jumble (51:1-4, 47-48).

It has to be a divine masterpiece with aim and direction rather than an accident or a detached incident of blind matter engaged in aimless motion (20:50).

In other words, this magnum opus, fashioned by the best fashioner and springing from His infinite knowledge and power, must essentially contain in its innermost fabric serious wisdom, profound purpose and complete fairness (30:7-8, 59:24, 75:36, 87:1-3).

And thus the acknowledgement of God should lead us to the acknowledgement of the Transcendent (al-akhirat, the End, the whole, holistic, bigger picture, ultimate, long-term, permanent, eternal, transcendent; 2:8, 2:62, 2:126, 3:113-115, 95:6), which must incorporate in itself the inevitable idea of divine justice and perfect sense (3:25, 4:40, 46:19, 99:7-8).

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This explains why the Quran constantly associates the Truth of God – i.e., the truth of His oneness and greatness and His infinite creative and re-creative power evident throughout the universe as well as in human’s own self (51:20-21; cf. 7:172, 16:13) – with the Truth of the Transcendent (al-akhirat), which represents the totality of this purposeful creation up to the end (51:23; cf. 51:5, 30:11).

The Quran identifies these truths about God and the Transcendent (al-akhirat) as the central messages in our own self (30:7-8, 51:20-23) and hence as the moral axioms or permanent values that eventually dictate our thoughts and actions.

Let us see how.

Acceptance of God implies, in metaphorical terms, acceptance of the oneness of the Divine, and therefore the oneness of nature, and therefore the oneness of life, and therefore the oneness of humanity, and so on.

And acceptance of the Transcendent (al-akhirat) implies, in metaphorical terms, acceptance of the bigger/whole picture that transcends – i.e., extends beyond the instant and the immediate and beyond the ordinary range of perception – and therefore also acceptance of our accountability before God.

Both these ‘beliefs’, i.e., iman in Allah and akhirat – or acceptance of ‘the Oneness’ and ‘the Transcendent’ – when held rationally and sincerely, drive us towards a spiritual awakening that demands from us seeking knowledge and doing justice.

No wonder the Quran constantly places such great emphasis on these inner messages in our own self that it defines these axioms as the basis of all morality and ethics and hence as the fundamental tenet of Islam, which, accompanied with good work, is declared as sufficient for ‘salvation’ (2:8, 2:62, 2:111-112, 2:126, 3:113-115, 5:69, 95:6).

Related article: How disbelief in God and akhirat leads to hell