Ask Sadia: Evil & Suffering

Screenshot 2020-04-20 at 10.00.29

Dear Mia,

Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

The presence of evil and suffering in the world does not ‘disprove’ God at all. Firstly, our ideas of ‘good’ and ‘evil’: from an atheistic standpoint, such ideas have no objective value, and all we really care about is survival and reproduction. However, the Islamic view maintains that our notions of good and evil have been prescribed for us and, to a large extent, have also been imbued in us from God. It is, in our view, foolish to morally criticise the very originator of morality. What is good is good because God has deemed it to be so; what is evil, the same principle applies.

In fact, the presence of evil and suffering does much to fortify the Islamic worldview. For starters, we do not believe that this world is all there is. This world is only a prequel, so to speak, to the world of the afterlife. And here, we will face difficulties and we will encounter evil.

In the Qur’an, God tells us that He created this world to test us – to see which of us do much evil, and which of us do much good.

Much of the human being’s capacities to do good are actually reliant on the presence of evil and suffering. The job of a doctor, for instance, would be rendered quite pointless if human sickness did not exist. Acts of charity, too, are only meaningful because poverty exists. And God does also tell us that He will ‘test some of us through means of others’.

And the ones who suffer: firstly, if they are destined to go to Heaven, there is a lovely Hadith – a saying of the Prophet (SAW) – that tells us that such a person will be asked, in Heaven, if they had ever suffered in this world. Due to the sheer ongoing joy and comfort that Heaven will facilitate, the person who suffered here will reply, “No”. 

We believe that the life of the Akhirah – what follows this worldly life – is like an entire ocean. And the life of this world – whether in terms of suffering, or in terms of happiness – is ‘but a drop’ upon one’s fingertip.

And, in terms of questions of evil and suffering, we human beings are extremely limited. Limited in knowledge, limited in our abilities to understand things beyond our currently-accessible frames of reference…

But just because we cannot access Divine wisdom, does not mean it does not exist.

One of my favourite Muslim academics, Hamza Tzortis, says the following on the matter:

“This reasoning is typical of toddlers. Many children are scolded by their parents for something they want to do, such as eating too many sweets. The toddlers usually cry or have a tantrum because they think how bad mummy and daddy are, but the child does not realise that the wisdom underlying their objection (in this case, too many sweets are bad for their teeth). Furthermore, this contention misunderstands the definition and nature of God. Since God is transcendent, knowing and wise, then it logically follows that limited human beings cannot fully comprehend the Divine will. To even suggest that we can appreciate the totality of God’s wisdom would mean that we are like God, which denies the fact of His transcendence, or implies that God is limited like a human. This argument has no traction with any believer, because no Muslim believes in a created, limited God. It is not an intellectual cop-out to refer to Divine wisdom, because it is not referring to some mysterious unknown. Rather, it truly understands the nature of God and makes the necessary logical conclusions. As I have pointed out before, God has the picture, and we have just a pixel.”

Although I empathise with their concern and anguish at the suffering inflicted on fellow sentient beings, some atheists suffer from a veiled type of egocentrism. This means they make special effort not to see the world from any perspective other than through their own eyes. However, in doing so, they commit a type of emotional—or spiritual—fallacy. They anthropomorphise God and turn Him into a limited man. They assume that God must see things the way we see things, and therefore He should stop the evil. If He allows it to continue, He must be questioned and rejected.

I would truly recommend that you read the rest of this article (entitled, ‘Is God Merciful? Islam’s Response to Evil and Suffering’) here.

On the topic of murders and genocides, we do not believe at all that people simply ‘get away with’ these things. These yearnings for justice that we human beings tend to have: they will be satisfied, eventually!

From an atheistic, Darwinian perspective, however, these justice-related inclinations are not very meaningful at all. For instance, if a woman were raped and then forced to carry a resulting baby to term, under this perspective, the ultimate objective of reproduction is being met. So what is it, within us, that makes us vehemently object to such things? It is a higher sense of Justice, surely.

Next, on what you were saying about doing ‘good for the sake of God’. Without God, the truth is, people do things in line with their own personal whims and fancies. There is nothing, under atheism, to morally distinguish between the ‘value’ of things that are done out of empathy, or things done out of, say, greed. Why? Because there is no objective morality. So we respond to our own personal instincts, which atheists tend to believe is for the ultimate purpose of self-preservation, survival of the fittest, reproduction.

The Muslim view is that we cannot rely on our own inner instincts and desires for us to behave morally – because some of these instincts will be moral; others will not. There is a clear distinction, but only religion can give this distinction any actual meaning. We believe that our highest connections are not to ourselves and to the matter of our own pleasure and preservation: our highest connection is the one we maintain with our Creator. So even on the days when we don’t ‘feel like’ (i.e. our inner instincts do not push us towards) doing good, we should endeavour to ‘do good’ regardless.

And on what you said about ‘evil [just being objectively] evil’. How does atheism seek to justify this, I ask you?

Religion – Islam, at least – certainly does not detract from our abilities to appreciate this world, nor does it, at all, discourage us from helping others in the ‘here and now’. Quite the opposite, actually: we are constantly encouraged to reflect on the world, on the beauty of God’s creation. We are taught to be grateful, kind, and more. And we are incentivised by our religion to not be self-serving, but to serve the people.

And from these facts – the Islamic instructions that we are to a) reflect upon, explore, and bask in the wonders of God’s creations, and b) that we improve the lives of others, much intellectual and societal beauty did arise. The first hospital that served ill people – wealthy and impoverished alike – for instance, was established in the 8th Century, in Damascus. Many of the developments and discoveries that emerged during the Islamic Golden Age were inspired by these very Qur’anic and Prophetic instructions.

Finally, homophobia and LGBT considerations may be something I touch upon in a future article, Insha-Allah (God-Willing)!

Please do let me know if you have any more questions and/or contentions…

Sincerely,

 

Sadia

Ask me a question (or tell me what’s on your mind) here


Sadia Ahmed J., 2020

 

Reasons to Believe: a brief exploration of matters of faith and religion. 

You exist. Yes, you. How very wonderful it is that there is a ‘you’ that exists, and that this ‘you’ has eyes with which to read, and faculties of intellect so as to comprehend, and capacities of memory through which to remember. And you – yes, you – your body, your brain, your being – are absolutely, stunningly, jaw-droppingly complex and awe-inspiring. From the microscopic facts of your conception to the mind-boggling complexity of your nervous system; the life cycle you have followed until now, and which you will continue to follow – and everything in between, humankind is extraordinary. But from whence did all this come? From something, or from nothing? And are we just here with no objective meaning? Are these unwinding miracles of our lives simply as a result of a series of blind evolutionary processes, during which our respective ‘selfish genes’ start off by acting in accordance with their own blind whims, only to betray the rest of our persons, causing us to die, while their material goes on, replicating itself in variation, over and over again?
Why are we here? Heck, why are we even able to ask after why we are here? [I bet apes aren’t susceptible to plummeting into existential crises, like we Homo Sapiens are…]
We know that the universe is physical. And physical things are, a) finite, and b) composed of parts. Since we know that the universe is finite, we also know that it must have had a beginning.

And, though some atheists claim that it is possible for a universe to be born in and of itself (like a mother giving birth to herself) surely it must logically follow that the universe had a cause? Now, deists here posit a safe ‘middle-way’ argument. They believe that the Universe was caused by a Higher Power (God) but that this God, after creating the universe, subsequently became wholly indifferent to it: they maintain that He is not involved in it, and does not intervene in it.

But the Muslim argument is that we were not created in vain. The positive, noble sentiments that we are able to feel – like those of Love and Mercy – are diluted subsets of pure Divine qualities (absolute Love and Mercy, among others). We believe that God is the Cause, but that He is also the Provider, the Sustainer, and more, of our universe.
Do make sure you check out the ‘Further Reading’ section at the end of this article, after reading it!
What is the reality of this life? Well, truth be told, it is evident that, for so many of us, much of it is centred upon things like materialism, competition, continued restless dissatisfaction, and escapism.

“Know that the life of this world is only play and amusement, pomp and mutual boasting among you, and rivalry in respect of wealth and children, similar to plants after rain, thereof the growth is pleasing to the cultivator; afterwards it dries up and you see it turning yellow; then it becomes straw. […] The life of this world is only a deceiving enjoyment.”
– Qur’an, (57:20)

The Qur’anic verse above reminds us about the truth of this world. It is a “deceiving enjoyment”, and it is fundamentally fleeting in nature . See, after new life takes its very first breath in this world, only one other reality, as we know, must follow, and this is that the life will, someday, come to an end. The (metaphorical) greenery that we invest so much of our time and energies into will eventually shrivel up, “turning yellow”, and then “[becoming] straw”.
So what do we do with this information? What do we do with our natural inclinations towards questioning things? Do we simply bury them all somewhere deep in a less-attended-to part of our psyches, declaring “business as usual” with everything else?
I tell you now: if you are a rational, decently intelligent person who goes on to choose to attempt to live in ‘blissful ignorance’ by entombing these urgent questions of existence somewhere in the back of your mind, they will undoubtedly catch up with you someday, as ferocious and pressing as ever. This may occur at a time of severe illness, or during a period of deep grief, or while the creeping fragility of old age beckons you to your grave. Morbid, I know. But thus is inescapable reality.

 

And We will surely test you with something of fear and hunger and a loss of wealth and lives and fruits, but
give good tidings to the patient – Who, when disaster strikes them, say, “Indeed we belong to Allah, and indeed to Him we will return.”
– Qur’an, (2:156-7)

 

Now, I write this article primarily to serve as a summary of why I am Muslim – why I choose to believe in Allah (SWT) and in the paradigmatic example that had been given us through the final prophet (SAW), and which had been encouraged by his predecessors, such as Jesus, Moses, David, and Noah. But this article is also partially in response to a particular episode of a podcast I listen to, which is hosted by a friend of mine. The podcast is entitled Blackings [do go and check it out!] and the second episode is about … you guessed it… matters of faith and religion.
Some words of warning in advance: mainly due to the dual intended objectives of this particular article, it will almost certainly be quite a lengthy one.
I have spoken about this in previous articles – and indeed, ‘in real life’ with my friends, and certain family members and such – many a time. Questions of existence, and of God, and of religion have always been of huge importance to me. I have been a devout Muslim, by nature of my upbringing. I have been moderately agnostic [I started writing ‘questions to God’ in my journal at the age of twelve]. This was followed by a period of deep agnosticism, which then witnessed me sinking into an ideology that was intensely, angrily, atheistic, and which had been coupled with a very unhealthy bout of nihilism.
I think it is crucial to put such questions, in addition to the answers that different groups of people propose, under a microscope of deep thought. To me, personally, the concept of utter ‘blind faith’ is of very little value. If there is truth, I want to come to know it as much as I possibly can. To this end, I have found myself deeply exploring atheism, Islam [e.g. via lectures, conversations with learned individuals, and more], Christianity [e.g. via conversations with my former neighbour, who is a priest, and by reading the theological literature he had lent – (Christian pun intended?) – to me], Judaism, Zoroastrianism and more.
Yes, I was born a Muslim. It could be argued that I am therefore, by ‘nurture’, predisposed towards favouring Islam as being ‘the most likely to be the Truth’. But anybody who was at least relatively well-acquainted with me during my ‘atheistic-nihilistic’ period would be able to tell you just how much I (in retrospect, out of ignorance, and as a result of mistakenly confusing unfavourable cultural views and norms with those peddled by the Islamic tradition) had come to despise things like Prophetic teachings, as well as the hijab I had been conditioned to wear. I had fallen entirely out of love with the Qur’an. I had no faith left whatsoever; it had been a year or so since the last time I had placed my forehead on a prayer mat, asking for God’s mercy and favour, if He was there.

In Islam, the concept of blind faith is not necessarily promoted. Rather, we believe in endeavouring to reach a state of ‘Yaqeen’ (conviction) as a direct result of seeking knowledge – and this, preferably through valid sources and actual scholars, as opposed to via ‘Sheikh’ Google… Truth be told, I am fed up of people – Muslim, Christian, or otherwise, alike – engaging in theological discourse, but being unable to really justify why they may believe in what they do. “I believe Jesus is God [Astaghfirullah!] because he just is. Oh, and he also happens to be God Himself too.” [Once again, following on from the earlier example of the notion of a universe having given birth to itself, here we find yet another example of a parent begetting… themselves].
How can one claim to be a true Muslim, or a true Christian, or a true atheist, without a sense of Yaqeen in whatever one chooses to believe in? In Islam, for instance, faith devoid of knowledge, Yaqeen and associated deep spirituality just declined into becoming an ongoing affair of ritual actions and empty words.
I think it is truly lazy and unproductive to almost entirely base one’s religious beliefs atop things like “I love my father and he is a Christian, therefore, I, too am Christian”, or “I love going to the mosque every Friday therefore I think Islam is the truth”.
And another thing: it irritates me when people are unable to detach things like ideas and arguments from the people who may agree with, or ‘represent’, them. So when I attempt to understand, say, Christianity, by cognitively dissecting it and by truly challenging its central beliefs, I am not (I hope) disrespecting all Christians. Likewise, I want for people to actively challenge what I believe in. How else am I going to reach a state of utter Yaqeen, except as a result of deeply questioning, exploring, and by finding satisfactory responses to those who criticise, the foundations of my faith? One can be polite in debate. One can ask questions, and one can attempt to meaningfully answer them, without becoming hot-headed, defensive, and consequently avoidant. In healthy discussions about such things, both defendant and respondent can focus more on the abstract matters at hand – like whether Muhammad (SAW) could have truly been a prophet, or about the logical implications of the ‘Trinity’ – without making things personal per se.

Faith and Truth
What, really, is faith? And what might its opposite be? Is the opposite of faith doubt, or is it certainty? This brings into question things like the nature of truth and knowledge. [These things fascinate me, so very much. Tangential point: I can’t wait to read Philosophy at uni, Insha-Allah!].

Essentially, we know that, as human beings, we are very able in many ways, but we are also quite limited. For example, we can see, but only through the (though awesome,) limited numbers and types of photoreceptors within our eyes. [What do things look like objectively, outside of human eyes, and outside of how we may perceive things?]. And, in the episode of Blackings that I made reference to earlier in this article, Joseph (one of the three presenters) brings up the issue of Pascal’s Wager – that well-known philosophical argument that posits that human beings bet with their lives that God [and, therefore, Heaven and Hell and other aspects of theological belief] either exists or does not.

This is true. We do, at least to some extent, bet with our lives on all this. If we imagine a spectrum, with absolute uncertainty and ignorance on one end, and absolute Truth on the other, we know that we are limited in our perceptive abilities and such. We can only come to know what we are able to (possibly, humanly) come to know. So the Truth end of the spectrum can only really be reached after death – when the Truth [whether or not there is one] is revealed to us. But we also know that this does exist as a spectrum. We can argue, debate, conduct experiments, decode religious scripture, and attempt to get as close to the Objective Truth end as we can.

After all, all human ‘truths’ are reached as a direct result of experiential knowledge followed intersubjectivity – validation by others. [Brace yourself, people: it’s Waffle time]. For example, how is a scientific truth obtained? The scientific method is carried out. Scientist A conducts an experiment rather meticulously, and this is later corroborated by Scientist B. But even within these processes, we know that both scientists are human, and that the scientific method itself may have limitations, and that these individuals are using their limited eyes to observe what is happening, and to then draw conclusions. Although we do not have access to pure, undiluted, not-prone-to-human-error Truth, we seek to come as close to it as possible, anyway.

“Are those who have knowledge and those who have no knowledge alike? Only those of understanding are mindful.”

– Qur’an, (39:9)

The Qur’an and Hadith recurrently instruct us to seek knowledge, and to reflect on God’s signs in the universe, on Earth, and in ourselves, and these very verses are what had spurred the Islamic Golden Age between the 8th and 14th centuries. This is how we can reach a state of Yaqeen – and how we thus come to be as close to Objective Truth as we possibly can, in these limited wordly states of ours. 

“My Lord! Enrich me with knowledge…”

– Qur’an, (20:114)

 


Humankind
There are some physical parts of us that resemble those of chimpanzees. Opposable thumbs, for one thing. Chimpanzees, like us, laugh. They wage wars; they cultivate friendships. And yet we are so very different from our primate ‘cousins’.

We, for one, can keep them in cages. They defecate outside; we prefer the civilised privacy of bathrooms. We clothe ourselves; we find shame in public nakedness. The whites of our eyes are just that – white, while their sclerae are rather dark. They swing from trees; we browse through social media on our iPhones.

It is clear that, even in comparison to our closest relatives in the animal kingdom, we are ennobled beings. There are some parts of us that are animalistic – our base instincts. There are some parts of us, too, that are noble, civilised, (and, as a Muslim, I would argue) diluted subsets of Divine qualities.
We are able to think deeply about our own thinking [this is known as meta-cognition]. We are able to create things. We are able to love in such ways that transcend mere considerations of who would appear to be a suitable mother or father for our future offspring. We look not only for food and sex; we look up at the stars and ask profound, albeit at times troubling, questions about our existence.
But what was it that ennobled us in such ways, in the first place? Was it a series of blind evolutionary processes, or the guidance of a supreme and supremely self-aware, all-powerful Being? What caused us; what facilitated our getting to be as awesome as we are?
The Qur’an, in Surah At-Tur, asks those of us who refuse to believe in God:

“Or were they created by nothing, or were they the creators [of themselves]?”

It thereby addresses the only other two possibilities. We were either created a) by God, b) by nothing, or c) by ourselves. Those who believe – have faith in – both evolutionism and atheism subscribe to both b) and c). Nothing caused us, really. And then, the components that make us – like atoms, and our genes – caused us. This is logically unsound.

The nature of God, and the Fitrah
As aforesaid, we are creative, self-aware, relatively ennobled creatures. We care about things like justice, mercy, purity. We learn and we teach. Essentially, our better qualities can be seen as limited forms of divine attributes – of which there are ninety-nine that we know of. God is the Most Merciful, the Owner of Dominion, the All-Wise, the Praiseworthy, the Giver of Life, the Originator of everything, the Self-sufficient, the First, the Last, the Sustainer, the All-aware…
We need others; He does not. We have a beginning and (on a material level) an end. He does not. We exist within the dimensional constraints of time and space; we have no frames of reference that allow us to imagine what existing outside of these boundaries must be like. God does not exist under any such restraints. We are limited – in many, many ways. He is not.

According to modernist and postmodernist theorists, the concept of God is a manmade one – a mere manifestation of the ‘superego’. Why, then, do psychologists – even secular ones – maintain that we are naturally predisposed towards believing in a Creator [although some argue that this is, yet again, as a result of the culmination of a bunch of blind evolutionary happenings].
What these psychologists (and psychological anthropologists) argue is actually in direct agreement with Muhammad (SAW)’s descriptions of the human ‘Fitrah’ – the ‘original disposition’ of the human being, the ‘natural constitution’, our ‘innate nature’.
Dr. Justin Barrett, an experimental psychologist, and senior researcher at the University of Oxford’s Centre for Anthropology and Mind, says:

“[Children] have an amazing conceptual receptivity to [believing in only one God], as if it’s just waiting for the right cultural input to sort, of, be locked in there.”

And a Hadith – a saying attributed to the Prophet Muhammad (SAW), from over 1400 years ago – validates this idea:

“No child is born but that he is upon natural instinct [the human Fitrah]. His parents make him a Jew, or a Christian, or Magian.”

Thus, we can imagine the Fitrah to be something comparable to a puzzle-piece shaped gap of sorts, awaiting (what Dr. Barrett refers to as) “the right cultural input” to substantiate it.

Realistically, logically, the idea of a universe that gave birth to itself and was, from then on, wholly indifferent and not conscious does not appeal to the innate human intuition. Nor does any concept of a pantheon – a number of humanlike ‘gods’ who are many and who are like us, but bigger and better. I do not think the notion of Trinity is something that the Fitrah happily accepts, either. I am yet to hear any convincing argument that gives true weight to it.
Now, back to the nature of God Himself: some people struggle with accepting the existence of a self-aware First Cause, an omnipotent being, the Unmoved Mover. Indubitably, a conceptual barrier that prevents people from being able to accept that this is likely to be the truth is this: humanly-invented (i.e. artistic) conceptualisations of Him. Him as an old white guy in the sky, for instance, as a grander version of His ‘human form’ [Astaghfirullah once again] in the form of Jesus. But Islam clearly states that God, among other things, is wholly unlike His creation, and has no partners in association. The First, The Last. We human beings, in all our limitations, in our inability to conceive of things beyond the frames of reference we are, and have been, exposed to, cannot imagine what God’s nature truly is. We can only know what we can know.

“Say, “He is Allah [who is] One,
Allah, the Eternal Refuge,
He neither begets nor is born,
Nor to Him is there any equivalent”
– Qur’an, (112)

There is a spoken word poem online that I am particularly fond of, and it makes reference to some of the above verses from Surah Ikhlas, as well as a few other topics that are explored in the Qur’an. The poem is entitled ‘The Meaning of Life’:

And here is its transcript [although I would really recommend watching the video!]:

What are we doing here, and where are we gonna go? 
It's like we just woke up one morning, and then it's 'welcome to the show'.
Don't ask any questions - just 'go with the flow',
Make as much money as you can, and -
Try your best not to get broke.

Copy what you see on the TV, from the hairstyles to the clothes, 
And don't think too often - just do exactly as you're told.
And if you ever get confused, then just turn toward the alcohol -
You still hear your thoughts? then just turn up the radio, 
As you learn to live a lifestyle of drugs, sex, and rock 'n' roll,

But in all honesty, I just need to know: 
Is there more to the cycle than just growing and getting old?
Living and dying just to leave behind a happy home and 
a whole lot of property that somebody else is going to own?

I just really need to know
before the casket's closed
'cause I'm not ready to gamble with my soul
nor am I willing to take any chances

These are just simple life questions, 
and I'm just searching for some answers.

Like what are we doing here? What is our purpose?
How did we get here and who made us so perfect?
Or what happens once we go, for is this world really worth it?
Questions we don't answer, because apparently we don't really have to
There's no purpose to this life and our existence – it’s merely natural

Then in that case, please let me ask you:
Did you create yourself? Or was it somebody else who had fashioned you?
‘Cause you're a being that's impeccable, faultless, unparalleled
You're a product of supreme intelligence, and I’m merely being rational
For there isn't a camera on this earth that comes close to the human eye
nor a computer that can compete alongside the human mind
And if the whole world were to come together, we wouldn't be able to create a single fly -
So many signs, and yet we still deny

As science tries to justify that all this could come from none
When it's a simple sum: zero plus zero plus zero cannot possibly ever give you one
So from where did all this order come?
For everything has its origins, a maker, a creator of its own -
I mean, the only reason you're watching this video because somebody had to press upload
So we can believe in the big bang but I would rather believe in He who caused it to explode


Allah! The creator of everything along with every single soul
The ever-living, the master, the only one who is in control,
Unlike His creation, beyond our imagination
And no! He's not a man nor does he has any partners in association: He's on His own -
and no, He did not ever leave us alone.
Just like every manufacturer, He left us with an instruction manual
The Qur'an and Islam and I’m sorry to jump to conclusion but it’s the only one possible

The only definition of God is the One and Only, supreme being. It's logical!
A book with zero contradictions, with miracles that are both scientific and historical - 
all revealed over 1400 years ago…
Like the detailed description of the human embryo


"The descriptions of the human embryo in the Qur’an cannot be based on scientific knowledge in the 7th Century" - (a scientist in the video)


To the mountains as pegs holding firm the earth below
And the two seas that don't mix in a complete separate flow
To the planets in orbit, alternating night and day as they stay in flow
The expansion of the universe and the creation of everything from H2O to the stories of the past and the preservation of pharaoh
To identifying the lowest point in land where the Persia defeated Rome,
The gushing fluid that created man in the glands between ribs and the backbone

And not a word has changed: it’s still the same. So please explain how all this was known -
Over 1400 years ago, to a man who couldn't read or write, as he would recite whatever the angels spoke
And if you still don't believe, please try to come up with something that's even close
but you can't. So we took god as a mockery and his messenger as a joke,
Dismissed these scriptures as legends and as tales of the ancient folk –

As we live life according to our whims, desires and hopes
Saying this life is the only home we would ever know. We will live and die and simply turn to bones
YOLO. Correction: after the grass dies, the rain arrives and it re-grows
And Allah promises to do this same thing to your very soul
And bring you back from your very fingertips to your toes


As the all-seeing supreme being watches us so close, and we are surely being tested
In our wealth, our health, in our self and everything that we've been blessed with.
So believe for we will surely be resurrected,

And be brought back to our Lord
and account for every single deed as he hands us our books (of our deeds in this world) and orders us to read!


From the bad to the good and everything in between
You yourself are sufficient for your own accountability
So don't be mad at me: you were the one who thought who wouldn't come back to me
I gave you a whole life long to search after me, but you were busy in all that which was temporary

So read! And glad tidings to all those who believe. And if you disbelieve, then read!
And don't let that day (when you die) be the first day you find out what your life really means. Read!

Morality
What is ‘good’? And who decides what is to be considered ‘good’ and what is to be considered ‘evil’? Is it all, yet again, a grand game of ‘inter-subjectivity’ – whereby popularity of opinion determines truth? We humans ask ourselves such questions all the time. This in-built propensity towards asking questions of morality, and these moral reasoning faculties that humans in general have… are they yet another mere (objectively quite meaningless) evolutionary by-product?

There is so much to explore when it comes to questions of theology, and these in relation to ideas of morality. But something I would like to touch upon in this article [which is, by no means, a holistic set of ‘reasons to believe’. It is, more so, a primer of sorts] is how some – many, actually – centre their contentions of religion on how its teachings can be ‘immoral’, or how some of proponents act immorally. But what is rather ironic about this is that often, militant atheists (who essentially do not – can not – believe in objective morality) use notions of morality introduced into Western discourse (and legal structures etc.) from the Christian tradition. Ideas of equality, for example: when left to our own devices, and without an external set of moral structures, certain groups of human beings try to assert superiority over other groups. But Moses, Jesus, Muhammad (SAW) and all the prophets who preceded them told, reminded, their people that, in terms of intrinsic worth, we are all equal in the eyes of God. 

Furthermore, and since this point fits under the subtitle of ‘morality’, morals and ethics are yet more things that are quite fickle and intersubjectively decided, when the God factor is taken out of it all. Without external, absolute morality, what is there? There are whims and desires, and there are consequent shifting moral paradigms.

I guess an example that really sticks out to me is this one, and primarily because many Christians have attempted, in debate, to shut down reasonable Islamic arguments by saying, “but Muhammad was a pedophile“. I know that my opinions on this particular issue may prove to be controversial, but do hear me out. In Islam, I would like to begin by stressing, forced marriage is expressly forbidden. Both the man and the woman involved must give clear and independent consent for a marriage to be Halal and valid. Child marriage – when the girl involved has not passed the age of puberty (and is unable to give pressure-free consent) – is Haram (explicitly forbidden), even though it is practised in a number of third-world countries worldwide. But with regard to ‘Aisha (RA) and Muhammad (SAW)’s marriage, and all those who, today, express their personal qualms with it: it must be known that ‘Aisha had passed the age of puberty at the time of the validation of the marriage. In Islam, we believe in objective morality, and that the best indication of having reached adulthood is the biological one: that is, the passing of the age of puberty. The age of eighteen is widely used here in the west because, on average, white European girls (both now and throughout history) tend to reach womanhood far later than the average Arab or Asian girl, and because we collectively later decided that eighteen is when children become far better at making lifestyle decisions and such. In reality, nurture elements give way to delayed ‘maturity’ outside of biological indicators being a truth. History is littered with individuals accomplishing remarkable ‘adult’ things, all below the age most countries would consider to be the age of the onset of adulthood, today. Nowadays, our education systems, ways of thinking and more are centred around the age of eighteen being ‘the age of majority’, so we act accordingly.

Maturity levels vary greatly from person to person. I do not propose that we part with the whole ‘eighteen’ thing – it is too entrenched now, into our culture and the way we do things, to part with now – however I will say that it has its limitations as a blanket indicator. Some girls hit puberty at the age of nineteen, for example. So, though legally able to consent to sex at eighteen, biologically, they are still pre-pubescent [Quite a few of the fellow Asian women I know hit the age of puberty at eleven, while many of my white female acquaintances reached this age far later]. ‘Aisha (RA) also reached puberty fairly early, and she was married to a prophet, and she was known to have been very smart  indeed – arguably the greatest scholar of Islam of all time.

A bit more on Science

Some people act as though ‘science’ and ‘religion’ must be dichotomous – inherent opposites. I say this is fundamentally untrue. Science – and the scientific method – are undoubtedly really, really useful, when it comes to finding out the connections between certain things, and about our world, and about how we function. But we cannot, using the scientific method, answer any ultimate questions of Why. 

What’s more, many atheists argue that science is far more ‘logical’ than religion because, according to them, religion relies on an aspect of faith while science relies on proof. False. Both religion – in this case I refer to Islam – and science (and they are not, by nature, antithetical, although some do appear to take science itself as their religion) rely on proof and faith to achieve a sense of conviction. Islam, for instance, constantly encourages the pursuit of knowledge and the posing of questions, and the diligent study of the messages of the Qur’an, and more. But it relies on some faith too, since we have not yet seen God. And science depends on systems of proof, but at a certain point, it, too, relies on faith. We can say X occurs because of Y. But why? Because… Why? Because… Why? We can keep posing these questions and answering them, until we ask something about the start like, why did the Big Bang occur? Without the ability to transport ourselves back in time to see what happened and why, we rely on proofs, and we have faith when it comes to piecing them together. This is true in matters of Deen – of religion – also.

Christianity

Of course, when it comes to Jesus (May God’s Peace and Blessings be upon him) Muslims do not wholly dismiss his importance. Those who choose to fully dismiss him and his demonstrations of divine support as false are essentially saying that he was somehow able to delude (en masse) all the people around him who believed in him, and who respectively claimed to have seen the miracles he had been able to carry out. We do not see Jesus as having been a fraud, some grand illusionist. We actually see him as being a very important figure – as an ennobled ambassador of God. But he was a human being. He was not God. He told us to pray to God; He was not God Himself.

[The first attempts at defences of the ‘Trinity’ came about in the 3rd Century – almost two hundred years after the birth of Jesus. He never instructed his people to worship him. And there were some things that he had explained to his people that only God knew, like the time of the final Hour.]

There are some verses in the Qur’an that directly address Jesus and those who took him to have been God:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CVXwq1YKkXU&t=1s

If there is a Christian person reading this, who would be able to explain the Trinitarian Doctrine to me, and to support these ideas with proof, as well as other Christian ideas that I find great difficulty with the comprehension of (like intra-Biblical contradictions), please do get in contact with me!

A few (more direct) responses to the questions raised in the mentioned podcast episode 

In the episode of Blackings I spoke about earlier, one of the presenters makes a number of really valid points, and which I felt were quickly dismissed and disregarded by the other two presenters. I think the issue lay in the fact that the other two presenters (one of whom is a beloved friend of mine. Hi Yinka!) are ardent Christians. Christianity, like Islam, can often be practised primarily a religion ‘of the heart’. They took these (rather reasonable, clever) questions to heart.

One of the questions raised was about Heaven and Hell. One is a physical manifestation of the choice to turn away from God, and to arrogantly stray from His guidelines, His path. One of God’s attributes is wrath (yet another sentiment that we humans possess a diluted, different version of. But whereas our anger tends to be a sympathetic nervous response, we cannot conceive of the true nature of Divine anger). According to the Islamic tradition, God has informed us that His ‘mercy overcomes [His] wrath’ [Hadith]. The other place is a physical manifestation of all the difficult choices and decisions it takes to curb our base desires, and to lead lives in accordance with God’s way.

One exists as a form of deterrence and punishment; the other, as a form of motivation and reward. A life of eternal pain, compared with a life of eternal bliss.

I know that these are difficult concepts to grasp. And I am not quite done with finding answers to all the questions in my head, with regard to matters of the Akhirah – of the eternal life that follows this one. However, I do know that these topics are intrinsically linked to philosophical questions of morality, and of blameworthiness and sin being linked to the knowledge of ‘right and wrong’ one possesses, and more. And I also know that the presence of questions in one’s mind does not mean that the subject of these questions should simply be dismissed altogether. Rather, it should be looked into even further. So perhaps you can look forward to reading an article on these issues during or after the completion of my degree in Philosophy, Insha-Allah!

Furthermore, in further response to the contents of this podcast episode, it is true that people have a tendency to ‘believe’ in what they are most able to ‘connect with’, which tends to be what they are most accustomed to. But we also have faculties for rational and critical thinking. And, from my Muslamic perspective, I know that Islam has pretty much reached every corner of the globe. Information, for many of us, is very easy to gain access to. We can read; we can explore; we can debate. We make choices as a result of our God-given free will. We decide if we want to stick to what is comfortable simply because it is comfortable and not because we find it satisfactory in terms of philosophy, or if we are more committed to the pursuit of truth, even if this is accompanied by much unlearning, to make space for new learning. According to the Qur’an and Islam, each (capable, understanding) soul is directly responsible for him- or her- self – for the knowledge he or she individually seeks or finds, and what they then go on to choose to do with this knowledge.

And you could well say that certain religions appear to only truly be suited to certain geographical locations. Hinduism is undoubtedly quite an ‘Indian religion’, whilst Islam seems to be most appropriate for Middle Easterns.

What’s important to note about Islam in juxtaposition to, say, Hinduism or Zoroastrianism, is that Islam does make rational sense. I do not think it is logically sound to say that just because numerous variations on the theme of religion (which can be defined as the worship of and obedience to a Creator) exist, religion itself must wholly be a fairytale. This could be compared to, say, the presence of numerous propositions of solutions to something like, say, heart disease existing. One person might say, “say Abracadabra on it, then push a needle through it!” and another might propose proper surgery, using sterilised equipment and such. Just because numerous answers to the question of the ailment exist (some clearly being more reasonable and probable as solutions than others) does not mean that any single one of these proposed solutions cannot be the correct one.

In fact, from an Islamic historical viewpoint, the presence of many religions can help to boost the narrative that we adhere to: that all ‘religions’ came from the purest one – the Hanif tradition (pure monotheism, which had been preached by Adam, Idris, Noah, Jacob, David, and so on). But certain human beings altered scripture, and were either heedless of, or even contaminated, the message over time. In more recent terms, we went from Judaism to Christianity, and then back to the confirmation of the Hanif message: Islam.

The presence of many religions is also apt evidence for the existence of the human Fitrah. We want to worship, just like how we want to be respected, and to have fun, and to reproduce. But where the Hanif message became eroded over the years, newer religions sought to fill the gap. These days, however, the Islamic tradition is one that is globally widespread and known. We have the knowledge and the means to seek truth; we have a choice.

However, that being said, it is important to note that in Islam, we do not consider those who have had no exposure to the message of Islam as being, in any way, blameworthy for their ignorance. 

It is also true that, like how English is the main language of the Western world, Arabic happens to be the lingua franca of the Muslim one. Our Holy Book is written in the language. It is a truly beautiful, deeply fascinating language. And one could argue that this fact – that Arabs are clearly most able to connect with the core of the religion – renders the way of life itself an ‘Arab Man’s’ one.

In truth, however, we find that the traditions of Islam were re-introduced [and, thus, the Hanif tradition reinvigorated] in (modern-day) Saudi Arabia because this happened to have been the most degenerate society of the time. Economically, morally… Families used to bury newborn daughters; women used to walk around practically naked; men would freely abuse women; idol worship was rampant. Not even the mighty and ever-advancing Romans wanted to claim it!

And these days, there certainly exists a weird widespread sense of Arab supremacy, and a number of Arabs perceive themselves to be racially and religiously superior to, say, African and South Asian Muslims, primarily on account of the facts of the origins of Islam. But they forget about why their lands had been chosen to have been the first incubator of modern-day Islam. And they almost certainly also forget about this Hadith: 

“No Arab has any superiority over a non-Arab, nor does a non-Arab have any superiority over an Arab.  Nor does a white man have any superiority over a black man, or the black man any superiority over the white man.”

…and about this Qur’anic Ayah:

“Mankind! We created you from a single soul, male and female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may come to know one another. Truly, the most honored of you in God’s sight is the greatest of you in piety. Surely Allah is Knowing, Aware”

(49:13)

Islam is meant to be a palimpsestic religion. Its dress code, for instance, are meant to inspire feelings of equality and purity [read: men and women in draping black or white gowns, in Makkah]. But ‘Abayas are not a distinctively Saudi Arabian thing. Under Muslim women’s ‘Abayas, you will find that Saudi Arabian dresses and traditions are easily distinguishable from Bengali ones, and from Moroccan ones, and from Nigerian ones… The fact of the matter is, although religion is meant to be taken more seriously than ethnic tradition, God did deliberately make us “into [different] nations and tribes”. We were never meant to wholly dispose of our ethnic cultures; we are meant to appreciate and celebrate them. Islam is meant to be practicable for anyone, regardless of geographical location and ethnic identity.

And as a language, the Arabic one was probably used by God also due to its intrinsic richness [classical Qur’anic Arabic is quite different to its modern forms, however]. Classical Arabic is one that allows much linguistic beauty and poetry, but it is also quite concise. It can be (and, as shown in the verses of the Qur’an) simultaneously very stern and very melodious in its encapsulation of messages and meaning.

Interesting tangent: in English, there is only one word to describe a ‘camel’. In Arabic, there are roughly three hundred different individual words to describe a ‘camel’: the Arabic language has a word to describe a male camel, and another one for a female camel, and another one for a pregnant she-camel, and another for a pregnant she-camel in her final trimester of pregnancy, and, well, you get the picture… See how concise and broad Arabic can be, in comparison to – English?

What’s more, according to many professors of linguistics (like my fave, Noam Chomsky) there is evidence to suggest that all human languages came from one. This, yet again, gives weight to the Islamic view – that the first language was the Adamic one. Linguists also say that the Arabic language is likely the closest we have to this original ‘primitive’ language, today! 

A question was also raised about why the ‘most praying’ countries also happen to tend to be some the poorest, the least economically developed.

Firstly, as I am sure you will easily agree, the answer to this question needs to take into account things like colonial history, and the origins of the contemporary ‘Western world’. And many of the so-called ‘Christians’ who carried out the associated acts of invasion and subjugation were unlikely to have truly been acting with their own religious moralities in mind.

But, and once again, I approach this from an Islamic perspective: we were never meant to fall in love with this world the way we often do. We cannot make heaven on earth, but this is what people attempt to do by hoarding wealth, and by making their highest objective ‘economic growth’ and development. We Muslims (should) believe and remember that this world is a means to an end, and a place of tests. Here, we are just meant to do our part. Eat, sleep, work, worship, have families… and all without worrying too much about being extremely ‘wealthy’, or about attempting to enact ‘paradise’ here on Earth.

Rather tellingly, many of the countries where things like depression and personal dissatisfaction levels are highest also happen to be those that boast the highest levels or rates of economic growth. The USA, China, India… And people who (truly, soulfully) practise Islam tend to be the most content – with their lives, with their levels of wealth, with their ‘lot’. Although Western criteria (the ‘American Dream’) promotes the view that indicators of success are to be found in cars, houses and titles, we find that, in truth, one – and countries – can be extremely outwardly ‘wealthy’ and yet very inwardly deprived… 

The mark of a really good Muslim is that his or her main desire, in this world, is to ‘pass the test’, and to demonstrate excellent character, and to achieve a unique closeness to God. Those who do not have such aims are ‘freer’ to pursue more worldly gains…

That being said, however, Islam does not encourage fatalism. We are not just meant to pray everything away. We are meant to ‘tie [our] camels’ (i.e. carry out the necessary actions, in response to problems or desires) first and then have Tawakkul (trust in God). We believe this life is a test; without the necessity of individual actions, this test would prove to be a rather meaningless one indeed.

We have been given these amazing, remarkable abilities to perceive and to think – through our senses, via all these amazing and highly complex neural pathways and such. Human beings have a Fitrah. We also have ‘Aql (intellectual faculties), which we can use in order to question, and to read, and to debate. We pose questions of where we came from, and why we are here. We also get to decide what to believe in: did we come from a) God, b) nothing, or c) from ourselves? Options b) and c) lead to unhappy circular arguments. Option a) is the only option that is satisfactory to the human Fitrah. So do it: decide.

Islam is there for all those who wish to explore it further, and for those who eventually choose to embrace it. [There is so much to discover. The truths of Muhammad (SAW)’s prophecies. The perfect preservation of the Qur’an. And so on. To better understand these and more arguments for Islam, I would really, really, really, recommend this book, available for free online!] All it takes is a willingness to find answers to one’s questions, and a deep sense of humility, combined with sincerity – outstretching one’s hands, or placing one’s forehead on the floor in prostration, and asking for Allah (SWT)’s guidance.

And may He (SWT) grant it to you, dear reader. Ameen. 

 


Further Reading

YouTube

 

  • DARWINIAN DELUSIONS (Suboor Ahmad). Some examples of his (highly informative, interesting) videos – which explore such things as atheism, Darwinian evolution, and morality – include:
    o Is Atheism A Religion – Subboor Ahmad vs Atheist | Speakers Corner
    o God, Myth or Reality by Subboor Ahmad
    o Why Islam
    o Why Islam Why not Islam
    o The Blind, Irrational Faith of Atheism – Subboor Ahmad vs Rob | Speakers corner
    o Atheist SMACKS Muslim with…
    o Suboor Ahmad vs Aron Ra – Speakers Corner Debate

 

 

  • DUS DAWAH (Shamsi). Many of his videos are about arguing for Islam using even Biblical scripture.
    • Christian accepts Islam in Speakers Corner with Shamsi
    • Man changes his mind about the Beginning of Creation
    • American Christian: Islam makes logical sense!
    • Prophet Muhammad (SAW)’s Name in the Bible

Books

  • ETERNAL CHALLENGE : A JOURNEY THROUGH THE MIRACULOUS QUR’AN by Abu Zakariya. Available for free PDF download here.
  • THE DIVINE REALITY : GOD, ISLAM AND THE MIRAGE OF ATHEISM by Hamza Tzortis.

Random webpages 

 

Please share with others, if you found this post beneficial / think others might!

 


Sadia Ahmed J., 2020