Part of me wanted to wait until university to write on this topic. But whenever inspiration comes, I must yield to it. It will choke my mind with ideas until I do so – until I surrender to it. So, here goes: not a dissertation, but a blog article on varying conceptualisations of God.
I have noticed, in my almost-two-decades on this very planet, that when theists speak of God, almost everyone has a different kind of conceptualisation of Him. Some speak of Him as if He were a close friend of theirs; others speak of Him as if he were like a type of superhuman – somewhat like us, but really not… and invisible, too. Some speak of Him as if He is a force that is interwoven throughout the fabric of the universe, as necessary but abstract as time and space themselves.
“Allah will hit you if you do that!” a young child may exclaim.
“It’s okay – if I pray really hard, Allah could change what I’ve written in my answer booklet,” an anxious teenage student may claim [this is genuinely what a friend of mine told me, in earnest].
God is not a physical being: to be physical means to be finite and consisting of parts. God exists outside of space and time. He knows all; we can only create, know, think, imagine, communicate and more, because we have been imbued with diluted subsets of these divine qualities.
When I was younger, I imagined God in my head to be [Astaghfirullah] a brown bearded man on a prayer mat. It is hard for a child to not instinctively imagine something that an adult strictly tells them, can not be imagined.
Human frames of reference are so unbelievably limited. Everything we can conceive of comes from experience; we cannot imagine a reality that is timeless or spaceless or colourless. Just try it for a second: try to imagine colourlessness for a second – just the nonexistence of colour. You cannot: you may conceptualise white, or black, in your mind. This is the closest we can come to an unseen abstract concept, based on our own sensory experiences.
Pretty much every conceptualisation we come up with, of God, in our minds, is certainly false. We may know of His attributes, but we will never be able to piece them together in order to know the nature or the ‘appearance’ of our Lord.
And I firmly believe that everyone believes in God – it is in human nature. The Fitrah; what evolutionary psychologists term the ‘God spot’. See, humans have been imbued with learning/rational faculties; faculties of curiosity and of learning. This leads all of us to God – even atheists.
Hear me out: conceptualisations of God vary massively from person to person, and from group to group. Muslims believe God is One; for Christians, He is three. Jews sort of reconcile the two: for them, He is basically Two. For Hindus, He is essentially Many. For atheists, well… He is zero.
But I maintain that atheists believe in God. They have used their Fitrah, and have responded to its impulses, to ask questions about where we have come from. Our origins; our sustenance, and more… For them, the ‘traditional’ notion of God is not satisfactory. The foundational notion of God (and what is encapsulated by the uniquely Arabic word Rabb) refers to whatever came First; whatever Created everything (be this a creative Being, or a series of unguided happy accidents); whatever continues to Sustain. Thus, atheists, too, subscribe to the foundational idea of God. Just as it is impossible to conceive of colourlessness, it is impossible to conceive of Godlessness: a universe that has had no beginning, that has no process that ensures its sustenance, a universe that is not.
I find it extremely interesting to hear theists speak of God. Children speak of Him very differently to how older people do. Native Bengalis speak of Him in very different ways to how a Philosophy student in a lecture hall may speak of Him. It is all so fascinating, and yet slightly infuriating… we will not know Truth until we are forced to see it.
Sadia Ahmed, 2020