A Look at the Main Current Misconceptions.
I will discuss the main misconceptions in the same order of their mention in the General Map, pointing out that the discussion here is brief. Readers who want to go deeper should consult other reference works. However, some of what I mention in answering these misconceptions is sufficient. As said earlier, current misconceptions are of two types: some are raised to undermine the essence of Islam while others try to undermine the fundamental principles of Islamic law but not Islam itself.
The first type branches out into several classes that we have already mentioned. The first class includes misconceptions about belief in God and His perfect actions. Before answering the problems in this area, I will mention two main principles that form the basis of response to any objections. The first principle includes the evidence confirming God’s existence and the second focuses on the purpose of God’s actions.
Evidence confirming God’s existence
One: Human nature
Human nature points to the presence of the Creator in three ways. The first is that all humans have essential prior knowledge which they neither studied in a book nor learnt at school. Such knowledge is born with them and implanted in their minds. We are speaking here of principles such as: when something occurs, someone or something must have caused it to happen. Also, each part of something is smaller than the whole of that thing. Such knowledge proves the existence of God in two ways. The first is the identification of evidence.
We look at the world around us, humans and other creation. We recognise that they occur and happen. Our essential prior knowledge tells us that since every happening must have some cause for it to happen, therefore, the universe and all creation in it must have a creator, and this creator is God. Secondly, the very existence of such prior and natural knowledge indicates that it has been placed in man by someone, since it did not come about through learning or acquisition. Again, this confirms the Creator’s existence.
The second way human nature indicates God’s existence is the innate need to worship, or the necessary acknowledgement of the need to believe in the Creator. Human nature feels this need to acknowledge the presence of a power beyond the perceptible realm and that this power can give him what is beneficial and protect him from harm. He needs to believe in such a power which he implores for help, particularly when facing difficulties.
All communities throughout human existence and in all areas established places of worship. They addressed their worship to different beings, including the sun, planets, fire and statues, hoping that their worship would bring them benefit and spare them harm. All this is due to the fact that by nature, man needs to believe in a deity who will fulfil his spiritual needs and aspirations. However, man’s environment may contribute to a blurring of his vision as to the true objective. Therefore, he will believe in deities which he will logically recognise to be false.
Different prophets were sent to various communities, but the essence of their message was not the provision of proofs confirming God’s existence, because most communities accepted this generally, even though some people needed to be reminded of that essential fact. The essence of the message of all prophets was to call on people to believe in God’s oneness and to address all worship to Him alone.
Their address was a reminder of this essential truth, so as to revive in people their innate belief, not to plant something of which they had no idea. Take for example the following verse: ‘Said the messengers sent to them: “Can there be any doubt about God, the Originator of the heavens and the earth? He calls you, so that He may forgive you your sins and grant you respite for an appointed term”.’(14: 10)
This is to remind the addressees, not to give them a concept that was unknown to them.
Some groups of people deny this natural need, but it is undoubtedly implanted in human nature. Denying its existence is due to arrogance or to the corruption of nature through some external influences. God says in the Qur’an: ‘Set your face steadily towards the true faith, turning away from all that is false, in accordance with the natural disposition which God has installed into man. Nothing can change God’s creation’. (30: 30)
The Prophet said: ‘Every child is born with pure nature, but its parents make it a Jew, a Zoroastrian or a Christian’Related by al-Bukhari
Ibn Taymiyyah said: ‘Acknowledgement of the Creator is both natural and needful in people’s minds. Some, however, suffer what may corrupt their nature and they will need to consider and contemplate so that they will realise’Ibn Taymiyyah, Majmoo
It may be asked: Can nature be corrupted? What evidence do we have in practice to support this claim? The answer is that some people do really deny basic logical principles, believing only in the senses. This has led them to say things that were ridiculed even by children. For example, one of them was asked this question: a 20-story building has ten windows in every story. How does one window compare to the whole building: is it larger or smaller? He said that he could not tell until he had seen the building and looked at it. Only then could he give an answer.
By reference to one whose primary logical knowledge has been impaired due to some doubt or erroneous idea that corrupted his natural response, we can say that it is possible that the natural sense that confirms the Creator’s existence may suffer some impairment. Primary logical knowledge is also natural. Indeed impairment of human nature with regard to recognising God’s existence is more likely than in the case of primary logical knowledge, because of the more numerous misconceptions that affect the one than the other.
Instincts and moral values represent the third way nature indicates the existence of the Creator. In man and animal there are natural instincts that are not acquired from society or the environment. They are present in man and animal without any effort on their part. We see some animals immediately find the teat of their mothers to suckle. The mother makes no effort to guide the baby to it. Likewise, when a woman puts her newborn on the breast, the child knows how to suckle.
The same applies to other instincts, such as the attraction between man and woman, the sexual instinct, the love of one’s child, etc. Abd al-Wahhab al-Misiri wrote some beautiful thoughts about the reasons that made him abandon his materialist outlook. One of the more important factors was his observation of the great attachment between his wife and their daughter. He thought that the attachment far exceeded normal material causes. He wondered: could it all be due to enzymes?
Other instincts given to man include fine moral values, such as stating the truth, justice, the rejection of oppression, murder, torturing children, etc.
It is not possible to explain the existence of goodness in man as the result of random events. It can only be understood as part of the design of the Creator who created man and showed him the two ways of good and evil.
This evidence looks to what happens. When something occurs, the mind naturally looks for the one who caused its occurrence. The evidence takes the following order: 1) The universe happened, and everything around us came into being after they were not there; 2) Whatever occurs is caused by something; 3) Therefore, the universe and all it contains are the work of a Creator who brought them into existence.
The principle that ‘whatever occurs has someone or something that causes its occurrence’ is practically recognised by all people, even though some may say that they do not. We always look for the cause of anything that has newly happened. Doctors search for the causes of a disease that was unknown, and they spend a lifetime researching the causes, acknowledging the logical principle of causality. Psychologists and sociologists undertake research to find out the causes of psychological and sociological problems.
You see a very young child turn when it hears some sound, looking for its source. Ibn Taymiyyah said: ‘It is essentially known that whatever occurs must have someone or something that causes its occurrence. This is naturally known even to children. A child who is hit by someone it cannot see will say: ‘Who has hit me’? If this child is told that no one has hit it, its mind will not accept that the hit came about by itself, without someone doing it’.Ibn Taymiyyah, ibid,
In view of all this, if we listen to our own nature, we will not need more than looking at the world around us and the different types of creation and let our reason make its natural and necessary conclusion of acknowledging God as the Creator of all. God says: ‘Were they created out of nothing? Were they the creators?’(52: 35)
‘Does not man remember that We earlier created him, when he was nothing?’(19: 67)
That the universe came into existence at one time is no longer a difficult issue. In scientific circles few, if any, continue to think that the universe was always there and did not come into existence. Atheist scientists no longer deny this as a consequence of their denial of God. They tend to explain the origin of the universe differently from the religious explanation.
A detailed discussion of the scientific evidence that the universe came into existence at some time is beyond the scope of this book. It may be studied in any relevant book of science under the heading of the expansion of the universe, or the second law of heat dynamics.
Abdullah al-Ujayri’s book, Shumoo‘ al-Nahar, is an important book work that discusses God’s existence and the evidence of human nature and reason.
So far, the human mind has confirmed the existence of the Creator on the basis of the evidence that creation occurs and all created beings have come into existence. There is now another evidence that makes things absolutely clear and puts an end to all doubt. These beings do not just merely come into existence; they are made in the best of forms. Indeed, their perfection is beyond human ability and cannot be emulated. The human mind will then cry out that such perfection cannot come about by mere chance, or in a haphazard way. It must be the work of God, the wise who knows all and is able to accomplish what He wills.
Aspects of perfection and fine balance in the different species are too numerous to reckon. To explain them would take a great voluminous work. The more we reflect on man, animal, the earth and what it contains, and the wider world, the more convinced we are that such perfection could never have come about by chance.
One of the best ways of strengthening one’s belief in God is to reflect on His creation and the perfection they demonstrate. Documentary programmes give us a rare chance for better reflection and contemplation.
We can also benefit by scientific books that speak about the functions of each part of our bodies, the cell and its components, DNA, etc. All these show that miraculous perfection appears in all God’s creation. God says in the Qur’an: ‘We shall show them Our signs in the wide horizons [of the universe] and within themselves, so that it will become clear to them that this [revelation] is indeed the truth’.(41: 53)
He also says: ‘On earth there are signs for those with sure faith, and in yourselves too: can you not see?’(51: 20-1)
One very useful book in appreciating the perfection of creation is The Evidence of God in an Expanding Universe compiled by forty American scientists.
This evidence strengthens the two previous ones, namely, creation and perfection. It reasserts the existence of the Creator, who is Wise, All-Knowing and bestows abounding grace on His servants. Although this evidence may be considered as part of the perfection of God’s creation, it deserves to be treated separately, as it concerns the relation between man who is created in the best form and other creatures which are perfectly created. Although they all demonstrate such perfection, they are made to benefit man who uses them to get what he needs of food, medicine, transport, grazing, fighting, building and in various industries.
Care is taken of man in a planned way, starting with the provision of a suitable place for him when he is a mere pregnancy. When a child is born, its needs of nourishment are provided in its mother’s breast. Further care is provided through the love of its mother. After that, plants and animals are made subservient to him in a way that meets his needs. The earth is made suitable for him to live on, and the sea to travel through. Minerals are placed in the earth and made possible to extract. The world around him, including the sun, the moon and planets are made suitable to man’s needs, as also the succession of day and night. Furthermore, man is given the ability to understand the world around him and to build life on earth. Aspects of care go far beyond all this, and they can be appreciated through contemplation and reflection.
God’s Actions, Wisdom and Justice
Answers to those questions relating to God’s attributes and justice, as well as the purpose of His actions are not complete unless we accept a number of beliefs based on clear proof. I will mention these in the proper order.
One: A total belief in God. We have already mentioned some of the evidence proving His existence.
Two: Belief in His absolute perfection, in Himself and His actions. This is based on what we see of the perfection of His creation. It is normal to base our judgement of people on some of their qualities.
A painting gives us a clear idea as to whether it is done by an expert, professional painter or by a beginner who still has much to learn about this form of art.
Three: Acknowledgement that a created being has limited ability, knowledge and wisdom, while the Creator’s ability, knowledge and wisdom are absolute and limitless. Man continues to learn what he did not know. A later expert corrects what was formerly thought to be absolutely true. We discard what was upheld and we build on what was destroyed. A new theory may invalidate what was accepted as true. All this is due to the fact that man has limited power and knowledge. On the other hand, the Creator has produced what human beings cannot produce and determined what they cannot refuse. Every particle in the universe, in the parts we know and those we do not know, is subject to His will.
He listens to and answers supplication, supports the oppressed and destroys their oppressors, gives provisions, takes away authority from, or assigns it to whomever He wills, doing all these at the same time.
The actions of the Creator are attendant on His absolute knowledge while those of a created being are based on his limited knowledge. Therefore, objections to the Creator’s actions by those who are created cannot be based on solid ground.
Man’s inability to understand what relates to other created beings is certainly clear. It stands to reason that such inability is even greater in relation to the Creator. We cannot understand God’s nature or attributes. We know of Him only what He has chosen to tell us.
Four: Belief that God has sent messengers and given them revelations to enable people to know their Creator and the purpose of their creation. He supported His messengers with what confirms their true status, including their fine morality, true speech, fine conduct, absence of people’s doubt in them, in addition to some miraculous signs He has given them to reassure others of their status.
No one knows the answer to those questions relating to the purpose of God’s actions better than God Himself. He has stated such answers in his Book which He revealed to His Messenger in order to provide people with guidance and light.
True knowledge in this area comes only from the divine source, not from limited human knowledge.
Understanding all the above truths makes our belief in, and acceptance of what the Qur’an and the sunnah say about the purpose of God’s actions a proper attitude based on reason. Such acceptance is not then an avoidance of the truth, but it is based on rational proof. Here is a practical example:
Suppose that you pick up a mobile phone handset made by a company which is famous for its products, such as Apple or Samsung, and you discover that it has a part or an application which you cannot determine its use. Certainly you will not say outright that it is useless and serves no purpose. On the contrary, you will try to find out what it is for and why the company added it to your phone. You take this attitude because of your prior knowledge of that company’s products and that it does not just put things in there for no particular purpose. This great universe has been built with perfect order, and the created beings that live in it are created in perfect shapes and forms. The entire system of creation is most perfect and has no flaw or defect. They all indicate that their Creator is perfect in knowledge, power and wisdom. Is it right, then, to say about anything that we might not understand its purpose that it is useless and serves no purpose? No right mind will accept that. The analogy, then, is certainly correct.
Having stated these two preliminary notes on God’s existence and perfection, we will deal with all misconceptions about Him and the purpose of His actions in their light. It is wrong to deal with any question about God’s wisdom and purpose in isolation from the main principles we have outlined.