Sickness is Not Punishment From God

Only a single connotation of the certain Quranic terms is used in the daily language and these terms are only known with this aspect. Foremost among them, used in the Turkish language, is the term ceza. In fact, the meaning of ceza is both an award and a punishment that is to say, reciprocity.

The words fitne (sedition), bela (trouble), beliyye (calamity), musibet (tribulation) are always used with negative connotations in Turkish. However, for example, musibet actually means hitting the mark perfectly. In addition, the terms fitne and bela mean to be tested/trialed. Consider a teacher who “tests” their students. Once the test is completed and the scores are posted, there will be both high-scoring and low-scoring students. The test is an opportunity for the students to have them recognize their level of learning. They acknowledge the points they were not aware of previously. How beautiful! A prevalent example is the hurdle race. Every obstacle is a bela (trouble). However, these obstacles are not to harm or trap the horse but to develop its agility.

All of them are means for training or education. They are opportunities extended to human beings for their learning. Each and every one of them provides opportunity for the human being to enhance their potentialities. They are all beautiful, beneficial, and opportunity for us to get to know the reality of our creation. It is imperative to make use of them all.

Only bad teachers test the students in order to punish them or since they do not know the level of learning at which the students are, they would test the students to find out. Good teachers give tests to their students which comprise puzzled sections of the topic in order to teach them the points to witch they are supposed to pay attention. At the end of this test, students recognize the points which they do not fully comprehend. Speculating that the Creator of the human being and the whole universe wants to learn about the level of understanding of the human being or thinking that the Creator takes revenge from the human beings by torturing them contradicts the witnessing of the universe and the feelings entrusted to the human being.

To my understanding, if we interpret the Quranic verse that translates as “My Mercy is extended to all things.” in a way that includes the terms like fitne, bela, musibet etc., we will understand that there is mercy associated with these instances of creation. Just as there is Mercy in the creation of the Hell as well. I would not choose to go to the Hell; however, there is Mercy in the creation of it. I do not wish to find myself in agony and unpleasant circumstances but there is Mercy for me in the very creation of these situations.

I do not prefer to find out that the fruit I bought turns out to be rotten; however, there is Mercy in the creation of the fruit’s ability to decay. I should not object to this capability.

As someone who experiences how unbearable it is not to trust Him and how excruciating it is to disbelieve in God, I do not choose the disbelief but how beautiful it is the creation of the painful disbelief as an option. This is the very reason why I flee from it and do not desire it.

In conclusion, agonies and tribulations in no way can be understood as “punishment”. The creation of the illnesses is very beautiful. And it is absolutely the right choice not to desire to become sick.

Sickness is not desired but the creation of sickness is a mercy for me which originates from the Absolute Merciful.

Dr. Ali Mermer


“O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other (not that ye may despise each other). Verily the most honored of you in the sight of Allah is the one who is most deeply conscious of Him. Behold, God is all-knowing, all-aware.” (Qur’an, 49:13)

God emphasizes the common biological origin of humanity. We all belong to one human family without any inherent superiority of one over another. Formation of “nations and tribes” is meant to foster rather than to diminish their mutual desire to understand and appreciate the essential human oneness underlying their outward differentiations; and, correspondingly, all racial, national or tribal prejudice (‘asabiyyah) is condemned in the Qur’an.


The Prophet (pbuh) said: “He is not of us who proclaims the cause of tribal partisanship (asabiyyah); and he is not of us who fights in the cause of tribal partisanship; and he is not of us who dies in the cause of tribal partisanship” (Abu Da’ud, on the authority of Jubayr ibn Mut’im). When he was asked to explain the meaning of “tribal partisanship”, the Prophet answered, it means helping your own people in an unjust cause”


Speaking of people’s boasting of their national or tribal past, the Prophet (pbuh) said: “Behold, God has removed from you the arrogance of pagan ignorance (jahiliyyah) with its boast of ancestral glories. Man is but a God-conscious believer or an unfortunate sinner. All people are children of Adam, and Adam was created out of dust.”[1]


”And so it is that thy Sustainer would never destroy a community for its wrongdoing so long as its people are still unaware [of the meaning of right and wrong].” (Qur’an, 6:131)


God does not punish a community for its wrongdoing so long as its people are still unaware [of the meaning of right and wrong]: for all shall be judged according to their [conscious] deeds.


“And verily We have raised in every nation a messenger, (proclaiming): Worship God and shun false gods. And among those [past generations] were people whom God graced with His guidance, and among them were those upon whom error was [deservedly] decreed. So travel through the earth, and see the nature of the consequence for the deniers!” (Qur’an, 16:36)


“And for every nation there is a messenger, and when their apostle has come [and delivered his message] a decision is made between them in all equity; and they are never wronged.” (Qur’an, 10:47)


This verse stresses the continuity of religious revelation in mankind’s history and the fact that in the long run no community, period or civilization has been left without prophetic guidance.


“All mankind were one single community, and God sent Messengers as heralds of glad tidings and as warners, and through them bestowed revelation from on high, setting forth the truth, to judge between people in matters wherein they hold divergent views; but the People of the Book, after the clear Signs came to them, did not differ among themselves, except through mutual jealousy. But God guided the believers unto the truth about which, by His leave, they had disagreed: for God guides onto a straight way him that wills [to be guided].” (Qur’an, 2:213)


By using the expression ummah wahidah (“one single community”) to describe the original state of mankind, the relative homogeneity of instinctive perceptions and inclinations characteristic of man’s primitive mentality and the primitive social order at birth. Since that homogeneity was based on a lack of intellectual and emotional differentiation rather than on a conscious agreement among the members of human society, it was bound to disintegrate in the measure of man’s subsequent development. As his thought-life becomes more and more complex, his emotional capacity and his individual needs, too, become more differentiated, conflicts of views and interests comes to the fore, and mankind cease to be “one single community” as regards their outlook on life and their moral valuations: and it was because of this that divine guidance become necessary. The Qur’an does not propound, as might appear at first glance, the idea of a mythical “golden age”.


“If your Lord had so willed, He could surely have made all mankind one single community: but [He willed it otherwise, and so] they continue to hold divergent views.” (Qur’an, 11:118)


That is, divergent views about everything, even about the truths revealed to them by God. The unceasing differentiation in men’s views and ideas is not incidental but represents a God-willed, basic factor of human existence. If God had willed that all human beings should be of one persuasion, all intellectual progress would have been ruled out, and they would have been similar in their social life to the bees and the ants, while in their spiritual life they would have been like the angels, constrained by their nature always to believe in what is true and always to obey God.


All mankind was but one single community, and only later did they begin to hold divergent views. And had it not been for a decree- that had already gone forth from your Lord, all their differences would indeed have been settled between them.” (Qur’an, 10:19)


This verse alludes to the fact, repeatedly stressed in the Qur’an, that the ability to realize God’s existence, oneness and omnipotence is innate in man, and that all deviation from this basic perception is a consequence of the confusion brought about by man’s progressive estrangement from his inborn instincts. (The estrangement comes from our own choices and external factors do not have any power over us. See 15:42; 14:22; 12:40; 7:71 and 53:23.)


“And if your Lord had willed, surely all those who are in the earth would have believed, all of them; will you then force people till they become believers?” (Qur’an, 10:99)


He has given man the freedom to choose between right and wrong, thus raising him to the status of a moral being (in distinction from other animals, which can only follow their instincts).


“Say: that the final evidence [of all truth] rests with God alone; and if it had been His will, He could indeed have guided you all.” (Qur’an, 6:149)


And We have revealed to you the Book in truth, confirming that which preceded it of the Scripture and determining what is true therein. So judge between them by what Allah has revealed and do not follow their inclinations away from what has come to you of the truth. To each of you We prescribed a law and way of life. And if God had so willed, He could surely have made you all one single community: but [He willed it otherwise] in order to test you by means of what He has given you; so race to [all that is] good. Vie, then, with one another in doing good works! Unto God you all must return; and then He will make you truly understand all that on which you used to differ.” (Qur’an, 5:48)


The term shir`ah (or shari’ah) signifies, literally, “the way to a watering-place” (from which men and animals derive the element indispensable to their life), and is used in the Qur’an to denote a system of law necessary for a community’s social and spiritual welfare. The term minhaj, on the other hand, denotes an “open road”, usually in an abstract sense: that is, “a way of life”. The terms shir’ah and minhaj are more restricted in their meaning than the term din (deen), which comprises not merely the laws relating to a particular religion but also the basic, unchanging spiritual truths which, according to the Qur’an, have been preached by every one of God’s apostles, while the particular body of laws (shir’ah or shari’ah) promulgated through them, and the way of life (minhaj) recommended by them, varied in accordance with the exigencies of the time and of each community’s cultural circumstances.


“For, had God so willed, He could surely have made you all one single community; however, He lets go astray him that wills [to go astray], and guides aright him that wills [to be guided]; and you will surely be called to account for all that you ever did!” (Qur’an, 16:93)


Or: “God lets go astray whomever He wills, and guides whomever He wills”. All Qur’anic references to God’s “letting man go astray” must be understood against the background of 2:26-27 – “none does He cause to go astray save the iniquitous, who break their bond with God”. That is to say, man’s “going astray” is a consequence of his own attitudes and inclinations and not a result of an arbitrary “predestination” in the popular sense of this word. In his commentary on the above verse, Zamakhshari stresses this aspect of free choice on the part of man and points out that “God does not cause anyone to go astray except one who, as He knows, will never attain to faith; and He does not guide anyone aright except one who, as He knows, will attain to faith. Thus, He does not forsake anyone except those who deserve to be forsaken, and does not bestow His favour upon anyone except those who deserve to be favored. God makes the issue dependent on [man’s] free choice (al-ikhtiyar), and thus on his deserving either [God’s] favor or the withdrawal of [His] aid … and does not make it dependent on compulsion [i.e., predestination].”

Zamakhshari rounds off his views on this problem in these words: “If [it were true that] God compels [men] to astray or, alternatively, to follow His guidance-why should He have postulated their deeds as something for which they will be held responsible?


“If God had so willed, He could surely have made them all one single community. But He admits unto His Mercy him that wills [to be admitted] whereas the wrongdoers shall have have no protector nor helper.” (Qur’an, 42:8)

Verily, [O you who believe in Me,] this community of yours is one single community, since I am the Lord of you all: worship, then, Me [alone]!” (Qur’an, 21:92)


“But they have torn their unity wide asunder, all are returning unto Us.” (Qur’an, 21:93)

“And, verily, this community of yours is one single community, since I am the Lord of you all: remain, then, conscious of Me! But they have torn their unity wide asunder, piece by piece, each group rejoicing in its belief.” (Qur’an, 23:52-53)


“Each group rejoicing in its belief,” literally, “in what they have [themselves]”. In the first instance, this verse refers to the various religious groups as such: that is to say, to the followers of one or another of the earlier revelations who, in the course of time, consolidated themselves within different “denominations”, each of them jealously guarding its own set of tenets, dogmas and rituals and intensely intolerant of all other ways of worship. In the second instance, however, the above condemnation applies to the breach of unity within each of the established religious groups; and since it applies to the followers of all the prophets, it includes the latter-day followers of Muhammad as well, and thus constitutes a prediction and condemnation of the doctrinal disunity prevailing in the world of Islam in our times. The well-authenticated saying of the Prophet quoted by Ibn Hanbal, Abu Da’ud, Tirmidhi and Darimi: “The Jews have been split up into seventy-one sects, the Christians into seventy-two sects, whereas my community will be split up into seventy-three sects.” (It should be remembered that in classical Arabic usage the number “seventy” often stands for ‘‘many” – just as “seven” stands for “several” or ‘‘various’’ – and does not necessarily denote an actual figure; hence, what the Prophet meant to say was that the sects and divisions among the Muslims of later days would become many, and even more numerous than those among the Jews and the Christians.)


Contrary to popular belief, the purpose of Islam is not about forcing humanity to live under one religion. Islam accepts diversity. It accepts people of different races, backgrounds and faiths. It does not force anyone to follow the word of God and forbids its followers from doing the same. A great proof of this is evident in verse 10:99 of the Quran which states:


“And [thus it is:] had thy sustainer so willed, all those who live on earth would surely have attained to faith, all of them: dost thou, then, think that thou couldst compel people to believe,” (Asad)


In this verse, Allah is addressing Prophet Muhammed (pbuh) and telling him that he cannot force mankind to believe in Allah or the message of the Quran, because if Allah wanted, His creation would have believed in Him, but He willed otherwise. This “otherwise” is usually where most become confused: What does it mean that Allah willed otherwise? Did He will that some of his creation should not follow Him, and thereby be subjected to punishment? The simple answer is no. What Allah means is that He does not wish to force His creation to believe in Him or to accept Him and all the goods that He has bestowed on them. He has given them free will instead of force. He wants them to be able to choose whether or not they believe in Him, and realize and accept that they are His creations, that the world they inhabit and the food they eat and the water they drink to sustain themselves and the elements which they use to create materials and structures for everyday living ultimately come from the Almighty. It is not anyone’s place, not even Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) to coerce people to believe in their Creator and Sustainer, it is the people’s own choice. And that is the beauty of Islam: The freedom of choice. This same freedom of choice is what creates diversity: people can either choose to believe or not choose to believe, they can believe every part of the truth, some parts of the truth, or no part at all, and all of this is covered in Islam.   Further proof lies in verse 16:93 which states,


“For, had God so willed, He could surely have made you all one single community; however, He lets go astray him that wills [to go astray], and guides aright him that wills [to be guided]; and you will surely be called to account for all that you ever did!” (Asad)


In other words, if Allah wanted to, He could have compelled all of His creation to believe in Him, making them a single community, but He instead chose to give them their freedom and allowed them to choose for themselves whether they want to believe or not. This freedom of choice is what permits an individual to be different from another, in their belief, actions and choices. At the end though, as the Quran states in the above verse and repeats several times, everyone will be held accountable for the choices that they have made in life and all will be judged with justice.




[1] Fragment of a hadith quoted by Tirmidhi and Abu Da’ud, on the authority of Abu Hurayrah.

ISLAM, “A Prophetic, Dissenting Witness Within The Reality Of The Modern World”: A Response To Basit Koshul

Yamine Mermer
Certainly, a conversation between western modernity and Islam[1] is desperately needed and the role of Muslims in evincing a conversation that is fruitful and benefitial to all is crucial. Muslims have first hand experience of western modernity whereas the West is quite uninformed about Islam. What is prevalent in the West, particularly among Western intellectuals of Islam is a general tendency to explore Islam not from „within‟, but from its own vantage point. Thus, the view that argues that the West tends to project Islam as its inverse image, as professed by Edward Said is quite compelling in its general thrust. What the West has portrayed as Islam is often a rather distorted image of it. As Kinberley Patton and Benjamin Ray observe, in the context of western modernity, “to compare is to abstract, and abstraction is construed as a political act aimed at domination and annihilation; cross-cultural comparison becomes intrinsically imperialistic, obliterating the cultural matrix from which it “lifts” the compared object.”[2] In this case at least, the so-called „universalism‟ of the West would be more appropriately described as imperialistic Westernization of the world. The very notion of religious pluralism in Europe was the result of increased exposure to evidence from the „exotic‟ and/or „primitive‟ societies under colonial rule. Charles Long notes that the history of the study of religion, which finds its roots in the rationalism and naturalism of the European Enlightnment, is the dramatic story of the violent reality experienced by people and cultures that were colonized by Europeans.[3]
This last point is significant. What went wrong with the enlightenment project? SR[4] practitioners are interested in answering such questions in order to identify the nature and origins of the problems of modernity, which they seek to address with aim of searching for remedies. The ideals of European Enlightnment, such as the diginity and freedom of human beings and their equality before the law, are truly „sacred‟ principles but the problem is that they remained to a large extent only „ideals.‟ At the socio-cultural level, the encounter of the West with the „other‟ has often been one of oppression and despotic subjugation as the horrors of colonialism and two terrible World Wars attest. Where capitalism was not available for modernization, the state stepped in to realize it by totalitarian means. In “freeing” society from religion, the Machiavellian political philosophies of modernity legitimized absolute power. The two World Wars led to question the notion of science and technology as unmixed blessings, and the ecological crisis caused many to reconsider the Enlightnment‟s concept of progress. Likewise, totalitarianism pointed to a dark side of modernity; something in modernity‟s worldview – including its alleged concern for human life and well-being– was fundamentally flawed. For totalitarianism was a consequence of modernity itself. As Foucault has argued, without efficient technologies of surveillance, control, and extermination, despotism could not have developed into totalitarianism. I may have gone to extremes in highlighting the dark side of the „enlightement‟. However, this is dictated in part by the context and topic of our discussion: My aim behind this is to bring into relief the fact that the „enlightenment‟ is not a „given‟ of universal value and certainly not a universal historical „fait accomplit.‟
Basit Koshul mentions three ideals at the heart of the Enlightnment, a) the irreducible dignity of the human being, b) equality of all human beings before the law and c) the value/worth of the material / profane worlds. How much has the West established human dignity? What is human
dignity if the subject has no value except as an instrument, if he is no more than an object, a stranger to himself and to his environment? One could argue that religion dignifies human beings more than secular laws. Were not these laws human to the extent they borrowed from traditional religion? France, a major advocate of the Enlightenment, acclaimed “liberte, egalite et fraternite” while massacring hundred thousands people in its colonies. Marshall Berman states that the very self-identity of the modern individual has become acutely problematical. The modern individual does not know who he is, “he knows only how to live outside himself, in the judgment of others: indeed, it is only from the judgment of others that he gains consciousness of his judgment of his very existence.”[5] Have not sociology and religious studies defined the self as a set of roles „performed‟ in the stage of social life? What is then the meaning of equality of men without genuine selves[6], and without purpose in life? According to Rousseau, philosophe of the Enlightnment, all individuals would “become equal, but only because they are nothing.” [7] In addition, what is the value of the material world if it has no significance beyond itself? For the pre-moderns, the world was not alien, it carried divine meaning; post-modernism however, predicts the end of hermeneutics.
In a fundamental sense, the crisis of modernity is a crisis of meaning: it rejects depth; it rejects signs because they refer to a transcendent realm and consequently it rejects the possibility of meaning. Nature is tamed and secularized so as to impede basic moral and existential concerns, which are considered as disturbing because the secular reason of the Enlightenment cannot answer them and because they may lead individuals to question the system itself. However, the desacralization of the world only serves to aggravate the situation. The organization of modern social conditions is such that they drown the individual into a routine of labor and consumption, which gives him the impression that his daily life is under control and is somehow predictable. In other words, the hope is that this routine will sustain a sense of ontological security. Yet, that very routine is often experienced as “empty” practices, which lack moral meaning. Personal meaninglessness and the feeling that life has nothing worthwhile to offer dominate. This feeling of meanninglessness has haunted twentieth century intellectuals. Modernity “is caught up in an increasingly complete eradication of meaning.” Logically, this would lead to the point when modernity itself loses meaning and abolishes itself so to speak: if everything is empty and worthless, then there is no sense in modernity either! This, in Nietzsche‟s words, is „nihilism.‟
Given the crisis of meaninglessness, how can Islam engage modernity in a meaningful way? Can Islam assess crittically modernity on the grounds of reason? From an SR perspective, the answer is not straightforward. Prof. Ochs says, “SSR appears to have arisen specifically in response to the great failing of Intelligence in the modern world. Our shared sense, in this Society, is that the dominant paradigms of reason both in the university and in our seminaries are deeply flawed.”[8] I will argue that the secular reason of the Enlightenment is very far from being in harmony with the Qur‟anic concept of reason; it constitutes more of an area of conflict than a commonality. We should keep in mind that an important result of the Enlightenment was the deification of reason at the expense of faith. Reason was elevated to the status of an absolute. This Promethean reason commanded skepticism toward religion (Christianity ) primarily, but eventually, we could doubt everything except reason itself. In other words, reason became dogma. On what grounds did we accept reason accepted as ultimate arbiter, if not blind faith in reason itself? Anthony Giddens observes, “Modernity is not only unsettling because of the circularity of reason, but because the nature of that circularity is ultimately puzzling. How can we justify a commitment to reason in the name of reason?”
What can we say about Qur‟anic reason? Koshul quotes the Qur‟anic verse, “Shame upon you and that which you worship besides God! Will you not, then, use your reason? (21:67) According to the logic of this
verse, reason is that which confirms that the worship of idols is groundless. Koshul cites verse 45:5 also:
And in the succession of night and day, and in the means of subsistence which God sends down from the skies, giving life thereby to the earth after it had been lifeless, and in the change of the winds: (in all this) there are signs (ayat) for people who use their reason.
According to this verse, the use of reason concurs with perceiving the signs in the so-called natural phenomena. Put differently, to be inattentive to the signs is incompatible with the use of reason. Thus, it is clear that the Qur‟anic notion of reason is quite different from the Enlightenment‟s reason. In fact, the dogma of the self-sufficient reason of the Enlightenment feeds on the dogma of „meaning in itself.‟ [9] Once it is claimed that the meaning of things is in themseves only; that they do not point to anything beyond themselves; i.e. that they have no signative meaning, then reason can supposedly „discover‟ that meaning. It becomes ostensibly „self-sufficient‟ i.e. it does not need a criterion outside itself to have access to the meaning of things precisely because it has decided from the onset that they have no other meaning (or at least no other meaning that is worth finding out) other than what it itself has invented. In other words, such a „hermeneutical understanding‟ moves inside a vicious circle. Within this paradigm, the individual does not understand things for what they are in reality but projects his own „understanding‟ of them; as Gadamer says, “Understanding understands itself.”[10] In other words, the interpreter makes up a “meaning.” Thus, within this context „meaning‟ is so relative (a modern substitute for „arbitrary‟) that ultimately it is not very different from „meaninglessness.‟ Methodologically, they end up having equivalent status, that is the „dialectic of Enlightenment‟ appears as „a process whereby reason turned into its opposite.‟ SR practitioners are inclined to see the disasters of modern Western society as the outcome of this „awful dialectic.‟ “The purpose of SSR is, from the midst of modern thinking… to recover the practices of hearing God‟s speech that both preceded and still provide the terms for modern thinking.” [11]
The Qur‟an calls this reason, which equates meaning and meaninglessness hawa. The following verses highlights that the Qur‟an is not unaware of this type of debate, and it underscores that the prophet was not encouraged to pursue it under confusing terms.
Say:”Produce, then, (another) revelation from God which would offer better guidance than either of these two (i.e.the Torah and the Qur‟an) – and I shall follow it, if you speak the truth!” And since they cannot respond to your challenge, know that they are following only their hawa (their own likes and dislikes under the claim of following reason) and who could be more astray than he who follows his own likes and dislikes (hawa) without any guidance from God? (28:49-50)
The Qur‟an mentions the deification of hawa, and contrasts it to the use of reason. Immediately after, it mentions the signs of the multitude favors of the Maker towards man and concludes by noting his ingratitude, thus relating the deification of hawa to an ontological state of ingratitude:
Have you ever considered the one who makes his hawa (his own desires) his deity? Could you then be held responsible for him? Or do you think that most of them listen and use their reason? Nay, they are but like cattle-nay, they are even less conscious of the right way! Are you not aware of your Sustainer –how He causes the shadow to lengthen (towards the night) when, Had He so wiled, He could indeed have made it stand still: but then, We have made the sun its guide; and then, We draw it in towards Ourselves with a gradual drawing in. And it is He who makes the night a garment for you, and (your) sleep a rest, and causes every (new) day to be a resurrection. And He it is who sends forth the winds as a glad tiding of His coming grace; and (thus too) We cause pure water to descend from the skies, so that We may bring dead land to life therby, and give to drink thereof to many (beings) of Our creation , beasts as well as humans. And indeed, many times We have repeated this unto men so that they might take it to heart: but most men refuse to be aught but ingrate. (2543-50)
The problem is how one can have access to the meaning of the external world without recourse to any source other than reason when the world is both external and alien according to that very
reason. How can this reason make sure that its interpretation of the world is in conformity with the reality of the world, and not merely a distortion of the world? The need for a criterion is indispensable in the face of the pervasiveness of doubt, a distinctive feature of so-called critical reason, which permeates so many aspects of modern daily life, at least as background phenomena.[12] In absence of a universal criterion, all claims to understanding remain arbitrary for there would be no way to check whether interpretations of the world conform to to the reality. Unless it starts with self-examination, the relentless search for a critical perspective in the modern world is bound to remain unsuccessful. The challenge that always confronts the claim of understanding without reference to a universal criterion of reality outside itself is that it has no means to apprehend or capture the meaning of things. It is bound to see things through its prejudices. Gadamer explains that things have no meaning independently of the interpreter‟s prejudices. Meaning comes into being only through the happening of understanding.[13] It follows that the modern subject is enclosed in his own paradigms.He is forever prisoner of his prejudices. He has no means to see the world except within his own „horizon.‟ In Gadamer‟s view, “the horizon is, rather, something into which we move and that moves with us,”[14] and that is supposedly evidence for the openness of the horizon. In fact, it is just the opposite: if my horizon moves with me, it means I cannot get out of it. From the point of the Qur‟anic worldview, this „hermeneutical emprisonment‟ is rooted in modernity‟s existential predicament. It is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of being, which is itself the result of the perception of the self vis á vis the world and vis a vis its own Maker.
The dogmas of modernity are rooted in a paradigm where everything is visualized as owning itself and existing of itself independently of its Maker (eventhough the existence of God may not be denied). This afficted paradigm takes ontological awareness for granted; routine activities sustain it but cannot ground it: „being‟ has meaning only as opposed to „non-being;‟ one exists because he is not non-existent. In „ordinary‟ circumstances, modern man feels relatively in control of his life; he knows what to do and how to act. His framework of security is based on the feeling that things around him are real and permanent but its lacks any ontological foundations and hence it is extremely fragile. When routines are disturbed, existential crises are likely to occur. At such moments, moral and existential questions present themselves in pressingly. He is forced to confront concerns, which otherwise are kept away from consciousness with the smooth working of daily activities. At such moments, modern man comes face to face with reality: he realizes that in fact nothing is under his control, nothing is essential to him, not even his own existence. In other words, he realizes that the „rationality‟ of modernity is baseless and unjustifiable; it contradicts the ontological reality of the world.
The modern individual may experience his ontological reality as dreadful to the extent he has been existentially secluded from the moral and spiritual resources needed for him to find out the meaning of life. He may choose to escape it and avoid rethinking fundamental aspects of his existence. Indeed, without answers, the threat of personal meaninglessness becomes a source of unspecific and pervasive anxieties. For our answers to existential questions constitute our framework of reality without which we cannot answer even the simplest query. Without such framework of reality, modern man needs constantly to keep himself busy in order to „put aside‟ the strong feelings of anxiety arising from his unanswered questions. However, whenever „things go wrong‟ and he is compelled to confront the fictive character of his world, his sense of security is likely to come under immediate strain. If such an individual comes face to face with death for instance, he is likely to experience shock. Death seems unintelligible to him because it contradicts his taken –for-granted view on existence. Death reminds him that contrary to what modern society assumes, existence is not intrinsic to him, it is not under his control. That is death reminds him that he is ontologically unsecure. An individual in this position is always on the brink of a crisis of meaning. He perceives
everything that reminds him his transience (and everything is transient) as a threat, because it reminds him of the meaninglessness of his life; it reminds him that he lacks that point of support that human consciousness yearns for. As Helen Lynd says, “We have become strangers in a world where we thought we were at home. We experience anxiety in becoming aware that we cannot trust our answers to the questions, “who am I?”, “Where do I belong?” …with every recurrent violation of trust we become again children unsure of ourselves in an aalien world.”[15]
To be ontologically secure is to possess well-founded answers to fundamental existential questions, questions that deal with our sense of self, our aims, our values, etc. In pursuing answers, values, we are inescapably confronted with problem of meaning, with the issue of what life is all about. Ultimately, we are faced with questions, which we need to answer in order to acquire an ontological understanding of reality and of self-identity: who am I? Where did I come from? Where am I going? In the view of Charles Taylor, “In order to have a sense of who we are, we have to have a notion of how we became, and of where we are going.”[16] Self-knoweldge is important because it is the point of reference for knowledge of the „Other.‟ How can one claim to know the world when he does know his own self? Similarly, according to what can reason be self-sufficient when it is ontologically contingent and limited?
Given the dogmatism of „critical reason,‟ it would make no sense that Islam affirms this dogma. Quite the opposite, Islam needs to engage modernity, and confront its dogmas. In particular, it needs to question self-sufficient reason with the hope of „reconstituting the practices of modern Intelligence as practices of reflecting on the rules of scriptural reasoning,‟[17] for there is not much possiblity for modernity to reform itself if it does not wake up to the irrationality and circularity of its dogmatic Promethean reason. Moreover, the Islamic spirit of wisdom and mercy requires that the deconstruction of modern reason should include the seeds of restitution. At this point, I should call to attention that the dogmas of modernity are the dogmas of the Muslims too, in as much as they are part of modernity and modernity is part of their reality and thus the „squaring of the circle‟ needs to proceed in the manner of the „circling of the square.‟ As A. Murad has elegantly put it, Islam can play the crucial role of “a prophetic, dissenting witness within the reality of the modern world.”[18]
Basit koshul rightly points out that the possibility of a meaningful dissenting voice within the modern world requires that the dissenting voice shares some common ground with the modern world. He argues, with reason, that the common ground cannot be religion; I will add that it cannot be dogmatic reason either. Islam need not “show consideration for the Enlightenment enshrinement of reason.” Its task is rather to debunk this very „rationality,‟ using a language that it understands but certainly not its categories, for the secular reason of the Enlighenment is at the root of the problems of modernity and its antagonistic attitude towards the Divine. If we conceded to this reason, not only would we fall in clear contradiction with our project of scriptural reasoning, but also we would not find the means to start a meaningful conversation, we would only perpetuate the confusion of the modern world. As I have previously stated, this Promothean reason is in conflict with the intellect or the faculty of reasoning mentioned in the Qur‟an. From the point of view of Qur‟anic logic, a „rationality‟ that disparages revelation is simply irrational because unaided reason cannot hope to solve the problems of life without help from the Granter of life. As The Qur‟an expounds it:
Is man, then, not aware that it is We who create him out of a (mere) drop of sperm, whereupon he becomes an open contender in argument! (36:77 See also16:4) Concerning those who deny the fact of divine revelation, the Qur‟an says, Is it their minds that bid them (to take) this (attitude) or are they simply people filled with overweening arrogance? Or do they say, “He himself has composed this (message)? Nay but they are not willing to believe! But then (if they deem it the work of a mere mortal) let them produce another discourse like it, if what they say be true! Have they themselves been created without anything (that might cause their creation)? Or were they perchance, their own creators? And have they created the heavens and the earth? Nay, but they have no certainty of anything! (52:32-36).
The Qur‟an challenges the addressee, but in doing so, it asks questions that help him check himself if he is ready to „listen;‟ it teaches him to ask the right questions and the way to the answers. The Qur‟an shows the circularity and absurdity of a „reason that is not grounded in ontological reality.‟ From this aspect, the Qur‟an is a source of both wisdom and mercy. It constantly says that there are signs in everything and it points to those signs in many ways,
Let man, then, observe out of what he has been created. (86:5)
And now ask those (who deny the truth) to enlighten you: were they more difficult to create than all those (untold marvels) that we have created? For behold, We have created them out of (mere) clay commingled with water. (37:11)
It is We who created you, why then, do you not accept the truth? Have you ever considered that which you emit? Is it you who create it or are We the Creator? We have indeed decreed that death shal be (ever-present) among you: but there is nothing to prevent Us from changing the nature of your existence and bringing you into being anew in a manner (as yet) unkown to you. And (since) you are indeed aware of the (miracle of your) coming into being in the first instance, why, then, do you not bethink yourselves? Have you ever considered the seed which you cast into the soil? Is it you cause it to grow, or are We the cause of its growth? (For), were it to Our will, We could indeed turn into chaff, and you would be left to wonder (and lament)….Have you ever considered the water which you drink? Is it you who cause it to come down from the clouds, or are We the cause of its coming down? It comes down sweet but were it Our will, We could make it burningly salty and bitter: why then, do you not give thanks? Have you ever considered the fire which you kindle? Is it you who have brought into being the tree that serves as its fuel, or are We the cause of its coming into being/ It is We who have made it a means to remind (you of Us), and a confort for all who are lost and hungry inn the wilderness (of their lives). Extol then, the limitless glory of your sustainer‟s mighty name! (56:57-74)
The Qur‟an puts the answers in the mouth of the prophet Abraham (peace be upon him), who is also refered to as a model for the believers,[19]
(Abraham) said, have you, then, ever considered what it is that you have been worshipping you and those forbears of yours? Now (as for me, I know that) verily, these (false deities) are my enemies, (and that noneis my helper) save the Sustainer of all worlds, who has created me and is the One who guides me, and when I fall ill, is the One who restores meto health, and who wil cause to die and then will bring me back to life, and who, I hope, will forgive me my faults on Judgment Day! (26:75-82)
Yes, we need to start from a common ground and we actually do share a common ground. But it is imperative to realize that the conversation is not with modernity or the enlightenment as ideologies but with modernity as a condition that includes all of us; our addressees are people shaped by modernity like us. Moreover, all people share the fitra (innate nature). The Muslim scholar al-Ghazali (d.1111) observed that the term „intellect‟ („aql) refers to an innate (bi al-tab‟) intellect and to an acquired (bi al-iktisab) intellect. He explains that “the first, namely the innate (matbu‟) intellect, was intended by the Prophet when he said,”God has not created a more honored thing than the intellect („aql).” The second, namely the acquired intellect, was intended by the prophet when he said, “When you draw near unto God through righteousness and good works, you draw near unto Him through your learning.” [20] It is the first innate intellect that all humans share and it is from there that the conversation can start. Islam is actually in a unique position to launch such a conversation for the Qur‟an addresses this innate intellect, and it draws its evidence from the physical world, which we also all share. It restores man his dignity as the addressee and guest of the Divine, and reinstate the world its significative value by disclosing the sign- nature of everything. Moreover, by addressing all humanity[21] in a way all understand, the Qur‟anic message declares the equality of all before the divine law of mercy and wisdom. From the vantage point that the Qur‟an provides, we can see that the secular rationality of modernity is ontologically untenable. This will prepare the stage for us to appreciate that a scriptural basis can give a „rational‟ account of what the reason of Enlightenment has attempted to explain. We should note though that „rational‟ here means not only cogent, sound reasoning and logic but more importantly that which is in accordance
with the fitra (human nature) and human beings most ultimate and essential concerns such as the meaning of death, final destiny, etc.[22]
The role of the „prophetic, dissenting voice‟ has two main dimensions: wisdom and mercy. Wisdom because the prophetic witness needs to question the prejudices and claims of the existing dominant paradigm in order to establish the validity of the divine message. In doing so, he appeals to the „innate intellect‟ of his addressees and cultivates it into a „scripturally acquired intellect‟, an intellectus fidei (or „aql imani). In this sense, we can say that “the prophetic witness offers a revelatory affirmation of some of the real but dormant aspirations and potentialities at the very heart of its socio-cultural environment, whose emergence and maturation is being forestalled by neglect and forgetfulness.” (Basit, p. 9) However, the prophetic witness does not speak in terms of the existing dominant paradigm. The prophet typically questions the prevalent social values and feels deeply dissatisfied with them. Next, he makes hijra (migration, self-separation from one‟s fellows); that is he feels very deeply the inadequacy of the prejudices and claims which stem from the dominant existing paradigm, he rejects them as inconsistent and false but does not claim that he has the answers. In the Qur‟an, Abraham says, Verily, I shall (leave this land) and go wherever my sustainer will guide! (inni dhahibun ila rabbi sayahdin 37:99). He is like saying to his people, “I do not know yet, but I am sure that the beginning is to leave you and that which you worship.” The prophet trusts in God and submits to Him and this assuredly an essential element of the practice of hearing God‟s speech. As he realizes his need for help from an external source, he becomes receptive to the divine speech, which he confirms and believes in.
Then he returns to his people to heal them with compassion and the society with the teaching of wisdom. He invites his people to “migrate unto God,” and strive in His way: Verily, they who have attained to faith, and they who migrate unto God, and are stiving hard in God‟s cause- these it is who may look forward to God‟a grace: for God is much forgiving, a dispenser of grace. (2:218; see also 8:74) He does not compromise the content of the message but looks for compassionate ways of delivering it. He returns out of mercy but he returns as „a dissentic prophetic voice from within‟. The scripture teaches that, “They would love to see you deny the truth even as they have denied it, so that you should be like them. Do not, therefore, take them for allies until they migrate unto God for the sake of God.” (4: 88) At this point, looking back into history, it may be said that the failure of Muslims was not because Islam didn‟t “complete rationalization and integration of the resources in the Enlightenment ideals into relevant institutions” (Basit, p. 16-17) but because they didn‟t find the resources to confront modernity and deliver the message of Islam. The very notion of “institutionalizing” values belongs in modernity. “Institutionalization” is not only about the establishment of values but also about monopolizing them using those values to legitimize any activity; hence it opens up the possibility of exercising oppression and domination under the mask of liberation. In Islam, values are embodied; they are lived, experienced and practiced. They are not mere „ideals‟ but ontological realities. In fact, it is precisely because Islam „failed‟ to adapt itself to the Enlightenment, that it has preserved its purity; a feature that puts it in a unique position vis a vis the plight of modernity. If we are going to break the circularity of modernity and come up with solutions, we need to realize that conversation is not about adjusting the message to modernity but about how we could make those resources of wisdom, compassion, and healing available to those who need them and seek them. This „failure‟ might be a means for the preservation of the traditional worldview until it finds its aspiration again. This „failure‟ is perhaps what protected Islam from the fate of Christianity and Judaism, which were disemboweled and made into „modern liberal religions‟ in the service of a secular modernity. “They became shallow reflections of enlightenment ideals and supplied superficial prooftexts to legitimate
and not challenge the new modern economic, political, social, and cultural order. “ (S. Kepnes, last page)
My reading of the story of the fall as it occurs in the Qur‟an begins with an important factor, which koshul‟s narrative did not pick up. He correctly asserts that the fall is not “some catastrophic tragedy in some absolute ontological sense;” (Koshul, p. 25) the fall with its possibility of freedom made goodness and faith possible. However, there are two conditions for the fall to be transformed into goodness. First, one has to be aware of the state of fall, but this is not sufficient, it is essential that the individual be penitent, that he repents and asks for forgiveness. The Qur‟an relates that after they had disobeyed and tasted the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve could not sense their fall and thus could not find the way out of it until God brought it to their attention, inspiring them with the prayer of tawbah (repentance),
The two replied, “Our sustainer! We have sinned against ourselves and unless you grant us forgiveness and bestow your mercy upon us, we shall most certainly be lost!” (7:23)
Prior to their repentance, the Qur‟an narrates how God revealed to Adam his „predicament‟, his powerlesness vis-à-vis this predicament, and inspired „some words of prayer to say to that effect. This point is crucial: even the awareness of the fall is divinely inspired! The Qur‟an says that after the fall,
Adam learned from his Lord words of inspiration, and his Lord turned towards him; for He is Oft-Returning, Most Merciful. We said: “Get down all from here; and if, as is sure, there comes to you Guidance from me, whosoever follows My guidance, on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve. But those who reject Faith and belie Our Signs, they shall be Companions of the Fire; they shall abide therein. (2:37-39)
According to the Qur‟anic narrative, Adam‟s “transgression was forgiven” but on condition of accepting the guidance from God and following it. If man does not realize his state of fall and does not repent and give up the arrogance of self-sufficiency, how can he find his way out? The fall is not ontologically evil; it is a source of good but under which conditions? As Iqbal says, “The Fall does not mean any moral depravity; it is man‟s transition from simple consciousness to the first flashes of self-consciousness,” (quoted in Basit, p. 25) But from a scriptural reasoning point of view, this is only possible with the help and guidance of revelation. Certainly, the Qur‟anic narrative opens up possibilities for self-enhancement because of man‟s predicament. However, it is unlike the existentialist argument, which is based on the axiomatic: as man falls, he awakens. It is not obvious that man knows that he is falling and the danger is that he may not awake at all. I reiterate that it is the compassionate critique of self-sufficient reason under the guidance of the scriptures that can clear the heedlessness dormant in its operation and consequently bring about awakening and healing. SR is in a sense the representative of the dissenting prophetic voice from within. It follows the example of Adam in that it wants to go back to the scriptures to listen out for God‟s guidance in order to find out a solution to our predicament, which is not peculiar to modernity as the story of the fall of Adam indicates; it is a basic human condition.
Modern man needs to realize that he is falling. He need to falsify logically and ontologically the claim of the Promethean reason. When that is done the fitra (human nature) will seek a point of support. It is will be brought to a state of listening to revelation because it reaches the state of searching for a source outside itself, namely the ghayb (the unseen transcendent). To see degeneration and criticize it as so is not sufficient. One needs to repent. Adam and Eve were forgiven because as soon as they were prompted to realize their fall they repented. Their awareness of their fall is not to be confused with secular existentialism. To critique modernity and condemn some of it ills is not evidence for the awakening from the fall. One could well criticize modernity superficially i.e. without
questioning its ontological basis. For instance, Rousseau saw the degeneration as a fact, which for him was an existential predicament, but he attempted to solve it without having recourse to the notion of the fall, which inherently points towards a transcendent origin. His „solution‟ was neither theological nor metaphysical: it was modern. He accepted degeneration (the fall of man) but attributed it neither to man himself nor to God. He invented a new agent of degeneration: society. Hence, social contract was the source of salvation. “The meaning of life was in social justice.” But how could justice be established if there was no ontological ground for morality? Freud described the rational Ego as “an island floating on a sea of irrationality,” while professing rationalism. With Freud, reason, that single principle behind the organization of personal and collective life, came to be identified as an element of the human psyche, something not so rational; but whatever the name, man was still self-sufficient. In none of these cases, the critique is followed by repentance because these philosophers did not accept that man was falling away from his divine origin; it is just an „existential fall‟ if we may say. They attempted to come with a solution from themselves, thus perpetuating that Promethean state so characteristic of the fall. “In fact one may argue that the logic of existentialism is not much unlike Cartesian logic in that in the end it does not rid itself of „self-sufficient reason; for while the latter‟s famous dictum is “ I think therefore I am”, the former seems to say: “ I am falling therefore I exist””[23]
No doubt, we may certainly view the present cultural and intellectual conditions as good omens for renewal (tajdid) but it is incumbent on seeing the Enlightenment for what it is, i.e. an un-enlightened go at the prospects! It is true that the open possibilities cannot be pursued by following the examples of the traditional schools of philosophy, which have short-circuited the very „reason‟ they have to engage. Similarly, they cannot be pursued by simply accepting that the Enlightenment has an inherently good side to it. Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, makes it clear that although abstract rational enquiry made it look as though it may be possible to reconciliate secular reason with scriptural wisdom, “the social and political upheaval that shook history and undermined society with a schoking effect on humanity refuted the possibility of such combination. “[24] According to Nursi, the fact that “the Enlightenment‟s stance towards non-Enlightenment paradigms is one of critique-condemn-replace” is not a fortuitous result. This attitude, he asserts, is the logical concomitant of its philosophy. Nursi‟s conclusion is the result of an analysis of the very essentials of the Enlightenment, both logically and ontologically. The fact that the modern predicament of mankind contains the seeds of great goodness is momentous. To realize this possibility, the mission of the Qur‟an is to confront, engage, compel and debunk not only the rationality of the Enlightenment, but also its sources of knowledge , which are wanting in relation to the project it whishes to implement. Koshul proposes a “redeem, reform, embrace” approach to the Enlightenment, perhaps to remain in a Qur‟anicaly reasoned context, we might suggest a comdemn/redeem, critique/reform, replace/embrace at the same time for one can summon all the courage there is but never know in which context he is, within or without?


[1] My understanding is that if we analyze Islam as a socio-cultural reality then consistency requires that the Enlightenment also be evaluated from a socio-cultural perspective. But if we treat Islam as a form and the Enlightnment as „essential‟ than we will definitely run into unsolvable problems. It would particularly be misleading to consider the form of Islam from the perspective of modernity. We should also keep in mind that Muslims have been so much immersed in modernity― whether willingly or not― and they are often so ignorant of the Islamic tradition except as a modern socio-cultural phenomena that they are seldom aware of the challenge that the West poses for religious understanding in the metaphysical front. Finally, I believe that at an initial stage a socio-cultural analysis with all its complexities will not be very helpful in initiating a conversation. I will rather consider both Islam and the West at the
ontological level. Yes we recognize a sickness at its symptoms but treatment is about identifying its underlying causes. Hence in order to address the cause of the sickness of modernity, we need to examine the ontological foundations behind its form.
[2] K. C. Patton, B.C. Ray, A Magic Still Dwells: Comparative Religion in a Modern Age (Berkely: UCP, 2000), 2.
[3] C.H.Long, Significatio: Signs, Symbols, and Images in the interpretation of religion (Aurora, Colo.: Davies Group, 1999), 3-4.
[4] SR stands for „Scriptural Reasoning.‟
[5] Quoted in M. Berman, The Politics of Authenticity: Radical Individualism and the emergence of Modern Society (New york: Atheneum, 1970), 141.
[6] Modern institutions engineer their own settings of action, which act as a mechanism for the suppression of genuine identity. The more daily life is emptied of its traditional content and reconstituted in terms of modernity‟s own dynamics, the more individuals are induced to negotiate lifestyle choices among the options enforced on tehm. Conditions of modernity intrude deeply into the very heart of self-identity and personal feelings. They impose on individuals how to think, feel and behave, what to wer and what to eat and many other things. Erich Fromm expresses this conditioning as follows, “The individual ceases to be himself, he adopts entirely the kind of personality offered to him by cultural patterns…this mechanism can be compared with the protective coloring some animals assume. They look so similar to their surroundings that they are hardly distinguishable from them.” E. Fromm, The Fear of Freedom (London: Routledge, 1960), 160.
[7] Quoted in Berman, The Politics of Authenticity (New York: Atheneum, 1970), 155.
[8] P.Ochs, “SSR: The Rules of Scriptural Reasoning,” 1999 Program for the NSSR, April 1999, p.1. See,
[9] As Gadamer acknowledges, “hermeneutics has to see through the dogmatism of a meaning-in-itself in just the same way as critical philosophy has seen through the dogma of experience.”Gadamer, Truth and Method, (London: Sheet and Ward. 1988), 430.
[10] H. G. Gadamer, Truth and Method, 235.
[11] Ochs, “SSR: The Rules of Scriptural Reasoning,” 2.
[12] As modern secular science and philosophy could not ground knowledge, they insist that all knowledge is uncertain; it is always open to revision and at some point, it may even be abandoned. However, according to what is it abandoned? It is not clear. “Knoweldge” depends on the “methodological principle” of doubt! This issue is existentially disturbing to both the philosopher and the layman.
[13] H.G.Gadamer,”The Problem of Historical consciousness” in Interpretative social Science: A Reader, ed. P. Rabinow and W.M.Sullivan (Berkely: University of California Press, 1979), 159.
[14] Gadamer, Truth and Method, 271.
[15] H.M.Lynd, Shame and the search for Identity (London: Routledge, 1958), 46-47.
[16] C.Taylor, Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Self (Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press, 1989), 4
[17] Ochs, “SSR: The Rules of Scriptural Reasoning,” 2.
[18] Murad, A. (2002) “Faith in the Future: Islam After the Enlightenment” at
[19] Indeed, you have a good example in Abraham and those who followed him, when they said unto their idolatrous people: “Verily, we are quit of you and of all that you worship instead of God:we deny the truth of whateer you believe; and between us and you there has arisen enmity and hatered , to last until such a time as you come to believe in the One God! (60:4)
[20] Al-Ghazali, The Book of Knowledge, Trans. N.A. Faris (Lahore: Ashraf press, 1962), 228.
[21] Just as the Qur‟an is a universal address to all humanity, The Prophet of Islam too said, „Every prophet was sent to his own people; but I am sent to all mankind‟ (bu„ithtu li‟l-nasi kaffa).
[22] In the Qur‟an the intellect is mentioned (in the verbal form) as a function of the heart, i.e. the seat of feelings and emotions, Have they, then, never journeyed about the earth, letting their hearts reason and gain wisdom?( 22:46)
[23] R. Ameur, personal discussion.
[24] T. Abdel Rahman, “The Separation of Human Philosophy from the wisdom of the Qur‟an” in Islam at the Crosroads, ed. I. M. Abu rabi (Albany: SUNY, 2003), 201-202.

Principles of Qur’anic Hermeneutics

Dr. Yamina Mermer

In Islam the „testimony‟ (shahaada) to the truth of the unity of divinity (tawhid),[1] i.e. to bear witness that “There is no deity save God,” is central to faith. In the definition of islam (surrender to the divine Will as it is conveyed by the divine Word), the shahaada is the first act required of muslims. It also defines the content of faith, whose primary element is faith in God. The one who surrenders (muslim)[2] himself to the truth is supposed to actually observe[3] how every thing in the observable world, the world of testifying („alam al-shahaada), indicates this truth of tawhid, and consequently testifies to the truthfulness of the Qur‟anic message. The Qur‟an[4]  refers very often to the universe and to the things and events in it and describes them as symbols, indicators or signs (ayat).[5] It invites the addressee to ponder[6] over the meaning of those signs in order to testify to the veracity of the teachings of the Qur‟an. But it also mentions stories of prophets and of their miracles, which are obviously not observable. What is their significance? How is it possible to “testify” to the truth of something that cannot possibly be observed? In order to answer these questions we need some indispensable knowledge of the principles of Qur‟anic hermeneutics. After setting up some basic rules, I will briefly apply them to a few examples. It turns out that those stories of the prophets and their miracles are particular events but they are signs that point to universally observed principles. They are like the tips to general laws that can be observed and experienced here and now. Hence, although those events themselves cannot possibly be observed, their truth can nevertheless be confirmed.

According to the Qur‟an, the verses of the Qur‟an as well as things and events are signs (ayat). God speaks through Qur‟anic signs as well as cosmic signs. The cosmos with all its activities is a kind of speech. Each being, each event, each change is like a word and their being in constant motion is like speech. It is as though the universe has been made to speak with constant change and renewal.  [7] In the words of the Qur‟an, “They will reply: God, Who gives speech to all things, has given speech to us (as well).” (41:21) That is, just as the Qur‟an is God‟s speech with words, the cosmos is God‟s speech with act. This situation led the Muslim scholar Said Nursi to define the Qur‟an as “the eternal translator of the mighty book of the universe and the interpreter of the various tongues reciting the verses of creations.”[8] He explains that from one point of view the Qur‟anic signs translate the cosmic signs according to our understanding and make them speak; i.e. the meaning of the Qur‟an unfolds in the cosmic signs. The Qur’an actually explains how every being or event is a sign pointing to the existence of God and making Him known with all His names and attributes of perfection. Nursi asserts that each Qur‟anic verse encompasses all the other verses and contains all of the aims of the Qur‟an because it is the word of One Who encompasses all.[9] God, in His infinite mercy has included the whole in the parts, like a hologram, so that man with his limited capacity may grasp the meaning of the whole Qur‟an in each of its parts. The same is true for the cosmic signs: each being, each thing or event is related to all the others and has meaning only within that web of relationships. For instance, an eye is an „eye‟ and sees only when it is in the head, which is part of the body, which is ultimately part of the cosmos. Hence the maker of the eye can only be the maker of the head, the body, and the whole cosmos because the eye can only exist together with all of them.  [10] The crucial point is that the Qur‟anic ayat (verses/signs) and the cosmic ayat (signs/verses) are accessible to human understanding precisely because of their aforementioned characteristic. Accordingly, although man cannot comprehend the whole, he can reach universal understanding by focusing on universal particulars.

From another perspective, it can be said that the cosmic signs disclose the reality of Qur‟anic signs. That is, God creates as he „speaks‟ the Qur‟an. For instance, He creates food and at the same time, He says in the Qur‟an that He is the merciful and generous sustainer. He describes His acts of creation to both “eye and ear”; He describes His act while performing it, and explains his gifts of mercy as He bestows them.[11] Thus, with the Qur‟an, word and act are combined: the creation is made to speak through the Qur‟an. That is, just as God makes His existence and presence known and perceptible through deeds, He also communicates His presence through speech.[12] The response of muslims to God’s speech is to learn by listening.[13] Accordingly, in order to understand and confirm the truth of Qur‟anic signs we need to “keep an eye” on the cosmic signs, i.e. on things and events, and if we want to comprehend the cosmic signs we should „keep an ear‟ on the Qur‟an. In other words, we are supposed to observe the universe while listening to the Qur‟an and vice versa, for just as the universe is the Creator‟s speech through deed; the Qur’an is His speech through word.

Another rule of usul al-tafsir (methodology of Qur’anic exegesis) is that speech derives its power of meaning from four sources: the speaker, the form of the speech, the addressee, and the purpose of the speech.  [14] If for instance, speech is in the form of command or prohibition, it looks to the speaker‟s will and authority, in accordance to his position. Consider a commander who utters the words “Forward, march.” These words represent a command and are binding if the addressees are subject to the authority of the speaker. If the same words are uttered by a soldier for example, we may conjure that he is joking; in any case, no one would take his words as a command. So although the two statements are the same in form and content, they are different in meaning. That is both the speaker and the addressee are crucial in determining the meaning of speech.. In the case of the Qur‟an, since the claim is that it is the word of God, then I need to consider it as the word of God if I don‟t want to alter its meaning. Indeed, „who the speaker is‟ determines the meaning of the content. It would be methodologically inappropriate to assume that the Qur‟an is the word of a man while it claims to be the word of God, because that assumption would modify the alleged meaning. For instance the Qur‟an says, Whenever We will anything to be, We but say unto it Our word “Be!” and it is” (16:40).[15] In order to understand this verse it is important to know who the speaker is and who he is addressing and what its purpose is. The Qur‟an says that it is the Creator of all things speaking to created human beings in order to teach them the cosmic reality of tawhid and its relevance to the human condition.. Now if I read it as the word of the messenger who brought it, i.e. Muhammad, then I would be reading something other than the Qur‟an, a product of my own imagination. Yes, the content would be the same, but it would not be the same message.

Methodologically, we[16]are supposed to consider a document as it claims to be unless proved otherwise and read it accordingly. Now the messenger who brought the Qur’an never claimed to be its author; he asserted that it was revealed to him by God. The Qur‟an itself professes to be an address of the Creator of the heavens and the Earth.  [17] Consequently, we will regard each verse of the Qur’an as the word of God. But if after that it does not make sense; if it is inconsistent in itself or in relation to the universe to which it often refers, then we will have the right to suspect its claim. If however from the beginning we reject the claim that the Qur’an is God’s word, then what we will read will not be the “Qur’an”[18], anymore, but some text allegedly written by Muhammad. And Muhammad would no longer be the messenger of God but an impostor who lied in the name of God.[19]

In addition, it should be noted that the Qur’an condemns blind imitation. It repeatedly condemns the blind following of the tradition of forefathers, But when they are told, “Follow what God has bestowed from on high,” some answer, “Nay, we shall follow that which we found our forefathers believing in and doing.” Why, even if their forefathers did not use their reason at all, and were devoid of guidance? ….Deaf are they, and dumb, and blind: for they do not use their reason (2: 170-171) The Qur‟an persistently says, “So will you not think?” and refers what it says to reason. It invites those who refuse to consider its proposition as reasonable on its merits to „produce an evidence for what they claim.‟[20] The believer is over and over invited to think and ponder over the evidences in the universe in order to confirm his iman (belief) in the truth of the Qur’anic message.

It is also important to realize that the messenger Muhammad, who was also the first teacher of the Qur’an, taught that God speaks to everybody, at all times through the Qur‟an.[21] It addresses the most common people and the elite; all may listen and benefit from its teachings. Nursi likens it to “a repast at which thousands of different levels of minds, intellects, and spirits find their nourishment. Their desires are fulfilled and their appetites are satisfied.”[22] Surely, if the Qur’an is God‟s universal address to all humanity as it claims to be, it should transcend time and space and it should make sense to everyone, at all time. It should speak to its addressee here and now. As to the main goal of the Qur‟an, according to the consensus of the scholars of Qur‟anic exegesis, it is the major pillar of faith, i.e. tawhid (divine unity). In other words, the Qur‟an‟s most important aim is to teach its addressee how to „translate‟ the language of the cosmic signs in order to testify to the truthfulness of divine unity. Tawhid does not simply refer to belief in one God as opposed to two or three. The Qur’an asserts that human beings have been created in such a way that they innately recognize the existence of one Creator.[23] It narrates the

Prophet[24] Abraham’s search for his Lord in celestial bodies (stars, moon, and sun), his recognition that transient created things could not be gods and eventually his seeking for God’s guidance; Then when he beheld the moon rising, he (i.e. Abraham) said, “This is my sustainer!”- But when it went down, he said, “Indeed, if my Sustainer does not guide me, I will most certainly become one of the people who go astray!” (6:77). As he understood and admitted his limitations, he was made to realize the transcendent and comprehensive existence of God. By doing so he became the locus of God’s love, and “a good paradigm” (60:4) for the believers as the Qur’an states, And who could be of better faith than he who surrenders his whole being unto God and is doer of good withal, and follows the creed of Abraham, who turned away from all that is false – seeing that God exalted Abraham with His love? (4:125).[25] Because Abraham surrendered himself wholeheartedly, he attained a state of receptivity to revelation and hence revelation was bestowed unto him.

According to the Qur’an, man knows intuitively that there must be a Creator and he understands what the Creator is not, but in order to know Him, he needs revelation. The Muslim scholar Ibn ‘Arabi (1165-1240) explains that the only knowledge about God that we can acquire through rational means is the knowledge of the existence of God and of what God is not. That is, we can grasp God’s incomparability as illustrated in the story of Abraham, but we cannot gain affirmative knowledge of God. Only revelation can inform us about what God is rather than what he is not.  [26]   Furthermore since the Qur’an instructs man to strive to know God when he already knows His existence, it must be referring to another kind of knowledge that exceeds man’s acquired knowledge.[27] That is, revelation does not just state the obvious; it teaches what cannot be learned without having recourse to its teachings. If, for instance we understand divine unity as meaning no more than ‘there is only one God,’ then we can rightly conclude that Divine revelation is superfluous and unnecessary. The point however, is that the Qur’an teaches who that God is and what his purposes in creation are; it teaches how to know God with all his names and attributes of perfection and hence to love and worship nothing beside Him.[28] In other words the purpose of the Qur’an is to teach that all that is lovable and valued in things and beings proceeds from the Divine attributes of perfection; they all belong to their Enduring Creator alone and not to the transient created things themselves by means of which they are made manifest in this world. In other words, all created things point, beyond themselves, to the meanings of the divine attributes of perfection. They are signs speaking of their Maker.

When we reflect upon this reality of the created world and testify to its truth in our life (as the Qur’an bids us do), then our love for the world and the things in it is transformed into love for their creator,[29] and that is the core of tawhid (divine unity) as it is expressed in the Qur‟anic verse, God, there is no deity (i.e. there is nothing worth worshipping and loving) save Him, indeed to Him alone belong the attributes of perfection (20:8). The Muslim scholar Said Nursi (1886-1960) compares beings in the universe to a huge orchestra celebrating the Divine names. With their very mode of existence, they act as mirrors to the Divine attributes of perfection in many respects: they declare their maker‟s power though their intrinsic weakness, His riches and grace through their inherent neediness and poverty, and His everlastingness through their ephemerality. Each being, each event proclaims that nothing possesses deity but He, and attest that the Qur‟anic truths are not mere metaphysical ideals but cosmic realities.  [30] Every thing is like a mirror reflecting the divine attributes of perfection and thus making its Maker known and glorifying Him.[31]

In order to participate in this glorifying, one needs to acknowledge that his existence is dependent on a „wholly other‟ and that the continuance of his existence is due solely to the creativity of that other. Then he realizes that everything else also owes its existence to that same creator. That is, he sees the weakness and neediness of all things to the extent he admits his own weakness and neediness; and as a result he becomes aware that all grace and mercy, all attributes of perfection – reflected on himself or on beings – belongs to that creator alone. This awareness is the beginning of „glorifying‟ God and concurrently the beginning of „understanding‟ the reality of existence, for they are related in accordance with the Prophet Muhammad‟s saying, act upon what you know and God will teach you what you do not know. That is, as he purifies his ego following the teachings of the Qur‟an and realizes that he is not the real master in his sphere of disposal, i.e. as he gives up the illusion that his existence is essential and independent, the meaning of revelation starts unfolding itself to him as it is alluded in the following verses, Behold, it is a truly noble discourse (Lit. qur‟an) (conveyed unto man) in a well-guarded writ (kitab) which none but the pure can touch (56:77-79).[32] That is to say, to testify to the truth of tawhid, the foremost aim of the Qur‟an, entails the authentication of its reality in the universe,  [33] a task that can be accomplished to the extent one participates in that cosmic reality and experiences tawhid in his own life.

Let us consider the following Qur‟anic verse, He taught Adam the Names, all of them (2:31). According to the above rules of exegesis, this verse addresses us here and now and teaches us how to testify to the cosmic reality of tawhid and as a result to the truth of the Qur‟anic message. It is not just narrating the story of a prophet called Adam, for the Qur‟an does not claim to be a book of history and the Prophet Muhammad did not read it as such. In fact the Qur‟an reduces the stories of the prophets to their essential features precisely because it does not want the addressee to get drowned in unnecessary information and deviate from the aim of the message taught in those verses. But how is the teaching of the names to Adam mentioned in this verse relevant to my situation here and now?  Moreover, given that the Qur‟an instructs the readers to use their reason, how is it possible to understand this incident rationally? And lastly, what is the wisdom in the Qur‟an‟s mentioning particular events like this? The answer is in the Qur‟an itself, in accordance with a very fundamental principle that I have applied so far but without spelling it explicitly. This is that all of the Qur‟anic “statements and ordinances are mutually complementary and cannot therefore be correctly understood unless they are considered as parts of one integral whole.”[34] Hence in order to understand what „Adam‟ and „names‟ refer to, we need to consider them within the Qur‟anic context.[35]

In verse 2:31, “Adam” refers to the whole human race as is clear from the preceding verse 2:30, where Adam is referred to as “one who shall inherit the earth” and as one “who will spread corruption on earth and will shed blood.” More important, however, is verse 7:11. In the verses following 2:30, the Qur‟an mentions how all the angels prostrated before Adam except Iblis (Satan).  [36] In 7:11, it recounts the same event but with definite reference to all mankind as the preceding verses clearly demonstrate, O( people) We have given you a (bountiful) place on earth, and appointed thereon means of ivelihood for you: (yet) how seldom are you grateful! (7:10). We have created you, and then formed you, and then we said unto the angels, “prostrate yourselves before Adam!”- Whereupon they prostrated themselves, except Iblis (7:11). From this aya, it is obvious that the name Adam symbolizes the whole human race as all commentators on the Qur‟an have unanimously agreed. So when the Qur‟an says that He taught Adam the Names (al- asma‟), all of them, it is actually saying that all human beings have been taught all the Names. But what are these names? The Arabic for „names‟ is asma‟, and its singular form is ism. The term ism primarily denotes the intrinsic attributes of a thing under consideration. In other verses (7:180; 17:110; 20:8 and 59:24), the term asma‟ has been combined with the term al-husna which is the plural form of al-ahsan (that which is best or most goodly). The combination al-asma‟ al-husna, a term reserved in the Qur‟an for God alone, is often rendered as “the attributes of perfection,”[37] e.g. And God‟s (alone) are the attributes of perfection (al-asma‟ al-husna); invoke Him, then, by these, and stand aloof from those who distort the meaning of His attributes (asma‟) (7:180).

Thus the names refer to the divine attributes of perfection that constitute the reality of all things as indicated above. The „teaching of the names‟ alludes to man‟s comprehensive disposition in learning countless sciences and acquiring knowledge about the Creator‟s attributes and qualities through those sciences, all of which are signs to the Divine Names. Nursi writes that “All attainments and perfections, all learning, all progress, and all sciences, each have an elevated reality which is based on one of the divine Names. On being based on the Name…the sciences and the arts find their perfection and become reality. Otherwise they remain incomplete and deficient.”[38] Accordingly, medicine for instance, finds its perfection and becomes reality when it relies on the divine name Healer and sees „its compassionate manifestation in the vast pharmacy of the earth.‟

So in fact, the minor event of the teaching of the names to Adam is actually the tip of a universal observed principle namely the teaching of all the attainments with which mankind has been inspired. Nursi asserts that “through this minor event, the Qur‟an expounds a universal principle which is essential instruction in wisdom for everyone at all times.”[39] This verse teaches that this ability and the resulting attainments are to be consciously used to ascend to the divine Names, which are the realities and sources of those attainments. In Nursi‟s view, the verse says:

Come on, step forward, adhere to each of the names, and rise! But your forefather was deceived one time by Satan, and temporarily fell to the earth from a position like Paradise, Beware! In your progress, do not follow Satan and make it the means of falling into the misguidance of „Nature‟ from the heavens of the divine wisdom. Continuously raising your head and studying carefully my attributes of perfection (or My divine Names), make your sciences and your progress steps by which to ascend to those heavens. Then you may rise to my Names, which are the realities and sources of your science and attainments, and you may look to your sustainer with your hearts through the telescope of the names.  [40]

Therefore although verse 2:31 mentions the miracle of Adam, an event that the addressee has not seen, it is possible for him to testify to its truthfulness and confirm it because it refers to a universal truth that he can observe in the universe and experience in his life. This is how the cosmic signs help the Qur‟an‟s addressee witness to the truthfulness of the Qur‟anic verses (signs), which interpret and expound the cosmic signs. The same analysis may be applied to different verses of the Qur‟an related to the stories of the prophets.

R.W.J. Austin states that “the Koran places the prophets outside history, within the framework of the Unitarian message of Islam; it speaks in both general and universal terms, as it were.”[41] The central theme in the Qur‟anic reference to the stories of the prophets is the teaching of the reality of tawhid. In accordance with the Prophetic tradition, the different prophets correspond to various spiritual types and consequently, to different ways to reach knowledge and love of God.[42] For instance, the miracle of the staff of Moses, is referred to in the verse 2:60, And We said, strike the rock with your staff. Nursi reminds us that the roots of plants and trees spread through hard rock and earth just as easily as branches spread in the air. He says, “Like the Staff of Moses, each of those silken rootless conform to the command of, And We said, strike the rock with your staff, and split the rock.” [43] This way Nursi plays off the fact that revelation and creation witness to each other: the observed facts show that the miracle of the Staff of Moses points to a universal law, and the verse tells us that those observed facts are not „natural‟ events that happen haphazardly but rather „miracles‟[44]  of Divine power and mercy. Nursi also mentions how delicate and fine green leaves retain their moisture for months even when it is extremely hot, as in the summer. It is as though those leaves recite the verse, O fire be coolness and peace for Abraham! (21:69) against the heat of the sun, like the limbs of Abraham did against fire. Again the cosmic signs are juxtaposed to the Qur‟anic signs/ verses.[45]

From the above principles of Qur’anic exegesis, it is clear that understanding the Qur’an entails that the interpreter engages the Qur’anic signs as well as the cosmic ones. Understanding is given to him to the extent he succeeds in internalizing the meaning those signs convey. This process however is not arbitrary. It has been taught by the messenger Muhammad to whom the Qur’an was first revealed and as a matter of fact by all the prophets as the Qur’an teaches.  [46] In the Qur’anic context, the messenger Muhammad epitomizes the excellent Man (al-insan al-kamil) in the sense that he realized his createdness at the highest level and admitted his inherent weakness and neediness before His Creator and consequently became receptive to Divine revelation. He evinced a tawhid journey that reaches its apogee through purification of the ego from its false claims of existing by itself and from itself, and of conceiving of itself as a source of perfection including true understanding of the world. As one purifies one‟s ego and surrenders himself to the reality of his createdness, he can share in the cosmic reality of tawhid and therefore testify to its reality in his own life.

Subsequently, the muslim (the one who surrenders himself) may say like the prophet of islam (surrendering), “I only follow whatever is being revealed to me by my Sustainer: this (revelation) is a means of insight from your Sustainer, and a guidance and grace unto people who believe. Hence, when the Qur‟an is read, hearken unto it, and listen in silence, so that you might be graced with (God‟s) mercy” (7:203-204). „Silence‟ has been traditionally understood to refer to the fact that none other than the Creator knows the reality of creation, hence when God speaks in the Qur‟an, the wisest stand is to give up prejudices and preconceptions as much as possible and listen so that „true understanding‟ – which is also mercy – may be bestowed upon one. The Sustainer‟s favor and mercy dwells in the purification of the ego that yields proper listening and relying on the dynamic of gift of everything including understanding of the true meaning of the divine speech. The same law of ihsan (munificence and gift) is at work in the domain of divine creativity i.e. both in nature and in revelation. Divine mercy and all other attributes of perfection manifest themselves in the form of a beautiful fruit or a drop of water and also in meaningful words. All are divine speech, all are signs and symbols whose meanings are disclosed to us when we listen rather than merely project our „understanding‟ onto them. It seems therefore that listening is an important rule of Qur‟anic reasoning (QR). In order to practice QR one needs to trust the Qur‟anic text, listen to it, and allow it to disclose its reasoning to him. Otherwise if he simply „plays‟ with the text he may end up reading himself rather than the Qur‟an. QR is certainly not merely cogitation but a living interaction with the scripture for it has a fundamental ontological element that makes it more than just experiential or historical in the sense that it can at least be generalized if not universalized.



[1] The term tawhid is a verbal noun, the gerund form of the root w –h-d (to unite). It carries the connotation of a continuous, dynamic process rather than to a static state of being. Thus, although it is usually translated as „unity,‟ it is better rendered as „unification.‟ (NB: Most Arabic words stem from roots that consist of three or less often four consonants. Thus the meaning of any one word is related at its root to many other words.)

[2] The term muslim is the active participle of the verb aslama (to surrender). Aslama is the fourth derived form of the root s-l-m (to be safe, secure). Note that the verbal noun i.e. gerund of the first form salima is salaam (peace, peacefulness).

[3] In Arabic the words „observe‟ or shaahada and „testimony, testifying, witnessing‟ or shahaada are semantically related. Shaahada (to observe) is the third derived form of the

root sh-h-d, while shahaada is the verbal noun (gerund) of the first form i.e. shahida (to witness).

[4] The Arabic term qur‟an is a verbal noun, the gerund form of the root q-r-„. It thus carries the meaning of a continuous reading, a message that is repeatedly recounted. It may be translated as „recitation‟ or even „teaching.‟

[5] In lisan al-„Arab (the Tongues of the Arabs),the lexicographer Ibn Manzur (d.1311), defines aya as „alama (sign), a term which is etymologically related to the verb „allama (to teach). This corresponds to the teaching of the Qur‟an that the purpose of these divine signs, whether Qur‟anic signs or cosmic signs, is to teach the nature of the divine reality.

[6] The verb „aqala (to use one‟s reason/intellect) appears 47 times in the Qur‟an, e.g.

And He has made the night and the day and the sun and the moon subservient (to His laws, so that they be of use) to you; and all the stars are subservient to His command; in this behold, there are signs (ayat) indeed for people who use their reason! (16:12)

And in the succession of night and day, and in the means of subsistence which God sends down from the skies, giving life thereby to the earth after it had been lifeless, and in the change of the wind; (in allthis) there are signs (ayat) for people who use their reason (45:5).

The verbs fakkara and tafakkara (2nd and 5th forms of the root f-k-r) both meaning to ponder, reflect, and think, appear 18 times in the Qur‟an; e.g.

Verily, in the creating (creation) of the heavens and the earth, and in the succession of night and day, there are indeed signs (ayat) for all who are endowed with insight (and) who remember God when they stand and when they sit and when they lie down, and (thus) reflect on the creation of the heavens and the earth: “O our Sustainer! You have not created this without meaning and purpose. Limitless are You in Your glory!” (3:190-191)

And it is He who has spread the earth wide and placed on it firm mountains and running waters, and created tereon two sexes of every (kind of ) plant; ; (and it is who) causes the night to cover the day. Verily, in all this are signs (ayat) indeed for people who think! (13:4)

[7] Bediuzzaman Said Nursi,”The letters,” in Risale-i-Nur Collection (Istanbul: Sozler Publications, 1994), 339-340; Risale-i Nur Kuliyati, 481.

[8] Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, “The Words” in Risale-i- Nur Collection (Istanbul: Sozler Publications, 2002), 376- 377.

[9] Nursi, The Words, 454. [10] Nursi, The Words, 577. [11] Nursi, The Words, 444. [12] Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, The Supreme Sign (Berkley; Risale-i-Nur Institute of America, 1979) Trans. H. Algar, 49-50.

[13] The Qur‟an encourages its addresses to “listen to God‟s ayat (verses/signs) when they are recited,” and to not “become arrogant, as though (they) had not heard them.” (45:8)

[14] Nursi, The Words, 443-444; Risale-i-Nur Kuliyati, (Istanbul: Nesil basim yayin, 1996), 2019.

[15] Note again the close relationship between speech and deed: “We say “Be” and it is”! Deeds are a manifestation of speech.

[16] “We” here refers to those interpreters of the text who do not wish to impose their understanding on the text but rather to allow it “to speak for itself” as Toshihiko Isutzu says. (T.Isutzu, Concepts in the Qur‟an, (Montreal: McGill Unversity Press, 1966), 3.

In the modern academic study of religion, there are two dominant positions: The so-called hermeneutics of charity, which in the social sciences is identified with Max Weber, and the hermeneutics of suspicion which is identified with the tradition of Emile Durkheim. Here “we” refers to none of them because in either of these two approaches a choice needs to be made whether to listen to the self-description of the object of study (here the Qur‟anic text) or to ignore it in favor of models provided by academic theory. The hermeneutics of charity is not, as it is often assumed, inherently aligned with emic discourse. Often it appropriates the other as material for modern Western academic theories. The attempt to understand often turns into colonial eisegesis. [See K. Patton, A Magic Still Dwells : Comparative Religion in the postmodern Age (Berkeley: Univ. California Press, 2000), 2.] Also the bracketing of the subjective required in the hermeneutics of suspicion does not necessarily challenge emic discourse.

[17] The Qur’an says, “Or do they say: He himself has composed this (message)”? Nay, but they are not willing to believe! But then,(if they deem it the work of a mere mortal,) let them produce another discourse like if- if what they say is true! (52:33-34).

[18] See footnote 34.

[19] And who could be more wicked than he who attributes his own lying inventions to God or gives the lie to His signs? Verily such evildoers will never attain to a happy state


[20] And yet they choose to worship (imaginary) deities instead of Him! Say: “Produce an evidence for what you are claiming: this is a reminder (unceasingly voiced) by those who are with me, just as it was a reminder (voiced) by those who came before me.” But nay, most of them don‟t know the truth, and so they stubbornly turn away (from it) (21:24).

[21] Hundreds of verses of the Qur‟an point to this fact; they start with „o people‟ or end with „these are examples for people who think.‟ For instance,

O people! Worship your Sustainer, who has created you and those who lived before you, so that you might remain conscious of Him, who has made you the earth a resting place for you and the sky a canopy, and haas sent down water from the sky and thereby brought forth for you sustuneance: do not, then, claim that there is any power that could rival God, when you know (2:21-22).

And among His wonders is this: he displays before you the lightning, giving rise to (both) fear and hope, and sends down water form the skies, giving life thereby to the earth after it had been lifeless: in this, behold, there are signs indeed for people who use their reason! (30:24).

Also in the hadith, the prophet Muhammad is reported to have said that „Every prophet was sent to his own people; but I am sent to all mankind‟ (bu„ithtu li‟l-nasi kaffa). See Bukhari, Tayammum, 1.

[22] Nursi, The Words, 402.

[23] Verse 30:30 says, And so, surrender your whole being steadfastly to the ever-true faith, turning away from all that is false, in accordance with the disposition (fitra) which God has instilled into people: for not to allow any change to corrupt what god has thus created –this is the (purpose of the) ever-true faith; but most people know it not.

“The term fitra rendered here as „disposition‟, connotes in this context man‟s inborn, intuitive ability to discern between right and wrong, true and false, and thus, to sense God‟s existence and oneness… (it) consists in man‟s instinctive cognition of God and self-surrender (islam) to Him” (M. Asad, The Message of the Qur‟an (Gibraltar:Dar al- Andalus, 1980), 621).

[24] “We should point here that the words ‘prophet’ and ‘Prophecy’ may not convey precisely the same ideas in the three monotheistic religions. …According to the Koran, each prophet, including Christ, is a messenger sent by god to a particular people. This view …presumes that the prophet has reached the spiritual heights of human nature and that he is, like Adam, “God’s representative on earth.” The Koran places the prophets outside history, within the framework of the Unitarian message of Islam; it speaks in both

general and universal terms, as it were. Its prophets run the gamut from Adam to Mohammad and include not only the prophets and patriarchs of the Old Testament, but also an indefinite number of messengers sent by God to ancient Arabic and non-Arabic nations. The Bible stories linked to various prophets reappear in part in the Koran, but reduced to their essential features and, as it were, crystallized into symbolic accounts” (R. W. J.Austin in the introduction to his translation of Ibn’Arabi’s The Bezels of Wisdom (NJ: Paulist Press, 1980), xii).

[25] Literally, “God chose Abraham to be His beloved friend (khalil).”

[26] W.C. Chittick, The Sufi Path of Knowledge: Ibn al-‘Arabi’s Metaphysics of Imagination (Albany: SUNY Press, 1989), 159.

The Qur‟an points to this fact, How could it be that He who has created all should not know all when He alone is unfathomable in His wisdom, all-aware! 67:14. The Qur‟an also says, Hence, place your trust in the Living One who dies not, and extol His limitless glory and praise: for none is aware of His creatures‟s sinsas He- He who has created the heavens and the earth and all that is between them in six aeons, and is established on the throne of His almightiness: the Most Gracious! Ask, then, about Him, the One who is truly aware (25:59). That is, ask God Himself since He alone is aware of the mysteries of the universe. This is usually understood that “it is only by observing His creation and listening to His revealed messages that man can obtain a glimpse, however distant, of God‟s Own reality.” Asad, The Message of The Qur‟an, 557.

[27] S.Hakim, “Knowledge of God in Ibn ‘Arabi” Ed. S. Hirtenstein and M. Tierman, Muhyiddin Ibn ‘Arabi: A Commemorative Volume (USA: Elements, Inc, 1993), 270.

[28] Nursi, The Words, 299-300.

Nursi explains that only revelation can teach true unity of God (tawhid), “which is to see the stamp of His power, the seal of His Lordship (rububiya); it is to open a window directly onto His light from everything and to confirm and believe with the certainty of seeing it that every thing emerges from the hand of His power and in no way has He any partner or assistant in His Godhead or in His Lordship or in His sovereignty, and thus to attain a sort of perpetual awareness of the divine presence.” Nursi, The Words, 300.

[29] “The heart loves whatever the source of loveliness is” B. S. Nursi, Risale-i-Nur Kulliyati, 611.

[30] Nursi, The Words, 342-343.

[31] The Qur‟an says, He is God, the Creator, The Maker who shapes all forms and appearances! His alone are the attributes of perfection; all that is in the heavens and on earth extols His limitless glory: for He alone is almighty, truly wise! (59:24) There are

many other verses that teach that all beings glorify their Maker with praise. See for instance, 17:44; 58:1; 59:1 etc.

[32] The commentators understood that from one perspective, this verse means that „only the pure of heart can truly understand and derive benefit from the Qur‟anic revelation.‟ Note also that the word „Qur‟an‟ refers to God‟s address to humanity and cannot be confined between the folds of a scroll or the covers of a codex. As Daniel Madigan explains in his work, The Qur‟an‟s Self-Image: Writing and Authority in Islam‟s Scriptures (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001), from the Qur‟an‟s refutation of the proof value of written texts, as well as from the absence of a significant role for written material in the early history of the Qur‟an and in Islamic ritual, it can be inferred that scrolls and codices were not perceived as evidently important, and certainly not as constitutive of the authority of scripture. Madigan construes that the notion of kitab (scripture or writ) as evidenced in the Qur‟anic discourse exhibits an extraordinary elusiveness, which makes it impossible to understand scripture as a fixed, closed corpus. For once a book is produced, it exist independently of its author. The Muslim community however, has always had a lively sense that the Qur‟an‟s author remains engaged with his audience. The appeal of tradition to kalam Allah (speech of God) as the key to understanding revelation is probably a means to avoid the term scripture, which is often associated with the mushaf (codex). It is significant to note that although scripture occupies a central position in the faith and practice of Muslims, their approach to scripture is almost totally oral. Furthermore, the evidence indicates that they coalesced around the Qur‟an while it was still oral, still in process as the pledge of God‟s relationship of guidance to them rather than as a clearly defined and already closed text.

According to Madigan, the Qur‟an refuses resolutely to behave as an already closed and codified text since its role is to address people and situations as they arise. It insists on remaining open and responsive and makes it clear in its form and statements that it prefers to function as the voice of God‟s continuing address to humanity. Madigan presents a compelling semantic analysis of the Qur‟an‟s self-awareness. He argues that the Qur‟an views itself not as a completed book, but as an ongoing process of divine writing and re- writing; as God‟s active engagement with humanity. In fact the Qur‟an does not identify itself with the kitab (scripture or book) , to which it refers in the third person when proclaiming, defending, and defining it. Yet it does not speak of the kitab as something already fixed and separate but primarily as a symbol, for the Qur‟an (discourse) is the very mode by which the kitab is made manifest and engages with humanity.

The Qur‟an presents itself and is conscious of itself in a distinctive manner: it is not so much interested in writing as a mere description of the form of the divine word as in the source of its composition, authority and veracity. The Qur‟an‟s claim to being a kitab is a symbol for God‟s knowledge and authority rather than a simple statement about its eventual mode of storage. As kitab, it intended to be the locus of continued guidance. The Qur‟an‟s kitab cannot be mistaken for a book since it has no fixed boundaries: it is not made completely clear whether this text, i.e. the Qur‟an, is the whole kitab or part of it,

one of several kutub (plural form of kitab) or the only one. As a matter of fact, the implicit claim to totality and completeness contained in the word „book‟ may lead to the identification of the limits of the God‟s kitab with the boundaries of the text. Such understanding may become perilous for it opens the possibility of „possessing‟ the kitab and claiming hegemony over understanding it rather than listening to it and relying on the givenness of understanding.

[33] The antithesis of tawhid is shirk or ascribing partners to God not only in His godhead but in all His attributes of perfection. Shirk is defined in another verse as ascribing the attributes of perfection to things and beings themselves, And God‟s alone are the attributes of perfection; invoke Him, then, by these and stand aloof of those who distort the meaning of His attributes (by applying them to others); they shall be requited for all that they were wont to do! (7:180). Hence to ascribe power and creativity to causes, to Nature, etc is, by the Qur‟anic criterion of tawhid, shirk and idolatry.

[34] Asad, The Message of the Qur‟an, 261.

[35] Nursi says, “Seek the meanings of the Qur‟an in its luminous words, rather than those gimmicks and artifices you sneak in the back-pocket of your mind.” Nursi, Risale-i Nur Kulliyati, 1989.

[36] And When We told the angels, “Prostrate yourselves before Adam!”- they prostrated themselves except Iblis. 2:34.

[37] M.Asad, The Message of the Qur‟an, 231

[38] Nursi, The Words, 270. [39] Nursi, The Words, 254. [40] Nursi, The Words, 270 [41] R.W.J. Austin, Introduction to Ibn „Arabi‟s Bezels of Wisdom (NJ: Paulist Press, 1980), xii.

[42] Ibid.

[43] Nursi, The Words, 17.

[44] The Arabic word for „miracle‟ is „mu‟jiza‟. It does not refer to a „marvelous event that is attributed to a supernatural cause. Mu‟jiza is derived from the root „a-j-z, which means „to be incapable.‟ Something is a mu‟jiza in the sense that all causes, all things are incapable („ajiz) of making it. Thus it is not used only for the miracles of the prophets. Since, the Qur‟an holds that for one single thing to be, the whole universe must be there,

i.e. it exist only within the universe and therefore to make one thing is equivalent to making everything. The creator of one thing can only be the creator of all the universe. Causes themselves are being made and they cannot create. As far as creatorship is concerned, they are all „ajiz, , but as far as being made is concerned they are all mu‟jiza or miracle.

[45] Nursi, The Words, 17.

[46] The Qur‟an refers to all prophets as paradigms to be followed in reaching knowledge of God. Each one of them represents a different aspect of divine wisdom and as such their paths are relevant to man in different situations of his life. He can identify with their ways at various moments of his life. See also note 11.

Published in: Journal of Scriptural Reasoning

Number 5.1 April 2005

Title Page | Archive © 2004, Society for Scriptural Reasoning


Passing From the ‘Self-Other’ Relationship to ‘Us’ in the Context of Belief in the Angels 

Dr. Mustafa Ulusoy

In his consulting-room, a therapist often works with people who complain of emptiness, meaninglessness, and loneliness.(1) They describe the feeling of emptiness as a subjective experience that is painful and discomforting. People who say they suffer from loneliness, often speak of feelings of emptiness. One out of every four Americans say they are “chronically lonely.” While in France, the same percentage of people say they frequently feel lonely, and 54% say they have suffered from loneliness at some time in their lives.(2) Zeldin states that this is not a modern sickness, but that loneliness pre-dates this era.(3)

“The subjective experience of emptiness represents a temporary or permanent loss of normal relations of the self with object-representations, that is, with the world of inner objects that fixates intrapsychically the significant experiences with others and constitutes a basic ego identity and, therefore, a stable integrated self and a stable integrated world of internal objects.”(4) Existential psychotherapists define the feeling of emptiness as “existential isolation.”(5) “Existential isolation refers to an unbridgeable gulf between oneself and any other being.” “It refers too to an isolation even more fundamental-a separation from the world.” Yalom asserts that even if a person has most satisfying relationships with other people, complete self-knowledge, and a sense of wholeness, existential isolation is still something he cannot overcome.

E. Fromm agrees with the existential therapists who consider existential isolation to be unavoidable and inevitable. He says: “The awareness of his aloneness and separateness, of his helplessness before the forces of nature and of society, all this makes his separate disunited existence an unbearable prison.”(6) “The experience of separateness arouses anxiety; it is indeed the source of all anxiety. To be separate means to be helpless, unable to grasp the world -thing and people- actively; it means that the world can invade me without my ability to react.”(7)

“A defamiliarization occurs when meanings are wrenched from objects, symbols disintegrate, and one is torn from one’s moorings of ‘at homeness.'”(8) These sentences express perfectly the sense of emptiness. The two concepts most closely related to the sense of emptiness and existential isolation are meaninglessness and alienation.

A person can only know himself and other things when they have meaning. He can only have relations with the things around him when he learns of their meaning and gets to know them. Kurt Reinhardt describes as follows the alienation caused by the loss of meaning:

“Something utterly mysterious intervenes between him and the familiar objects of his world, between him and his fellowmen, between him and all his ‘values.’ Everything which he had called his own pales and sinks away, so that there is nothing left to which he might cling. What threatens is ‘nothing,’ and he finds himself and lost in the void.”(9)

Even if he sees this as inevitable and unavoidable, Yalom still asks: “How does one shield oneself from the dread of ultimate isolation?” In his view: “One may take a portion of the isolation into oneself and bear it courageously or resolutely.” The second solution Yalom proposes is relationship. Relationship does not dispel the sense of loneliness and basic isolation, but it alleviates it.

It is precisely on this point that the schools of psychology, like Yalom, have come to an impasse. Is man condemned to existential isolation and loneliness? Can he not be saved from the subjective experience of loneliness? What I shall attempt in this paper is to seek the answer to these questions. For reference I shall use the Risale-i Nur, in which I shall search for hints of the answers.

The subjective experience of emptiness was a feeling Said Nursi was familiar with. The Sixth Letter is a good example of this.(10) He experiences several sorts of exile or separation one within the other. Separation from his friends and relations, separation from the place he was born, separation from the beings who abandoned him and departed, separation from all beings lost in the darkness of the night, and finally the separation of beings on their deaths. The separations all produce a sense of exile or strangeness, which in my view expresses very aptly the sense of not belonging anywhere. Not belonging to a place means being alienated from the other beings there.

Just as Said Nursi himself experienced a sense of emptiness or futility, so he frequently uses it when comparing the points of view of belief and unbelief. In many places in the Risale-i Nur one encounters expressions like “… since he imagines the pages of beings to be confused and meaningless…”(11)

I shall leave the solutions Said Nursi offered for the subjective experience of emptiness to the second and third categorizations of human beings that attempted below, for at this point I think one has to ask the following: what is it that a person loses due to the subjective experience of emptiness? If it describes the awareness of a sense of emptiness, there must have been something that previously disappeared from within him. The most useful clue to this is found in Kernberg psychiatry, which provides the best definition of emptiness: “The subjective experience of emptiness represents a temporary or permanent loss of the normal relations of the self with object-representations.”(12) This is an excellent definition. What are the self-representations and object-representations in man? Seeking the answer to this question will assist us greatly in gaining a good understanding of the sense of emptiness.


Man does not begin life as a ‘tabula rasa.'(13) “The infant is equipped with basic feelings, as well as the basic ability to communicate them through expressive-motor mechanisms that are mainly concentrated in the face system.”(14)

Although babies are equipped with numerous senses, they have to develop them in many respects. The Risale-i Nur emphasizes the great difference between the ways men and animals are sent to this world: “… when animals come into the world, they come complete in all points in accordance with their abilities as though having been perfected in another world; that is, they are sent.”(15) “As for man, he needs to learn everything when he comes into the world; he is ignorant, and cannot even learn completely the conditions of life in twenty years. Indeed, he needs to go on learning till the end of his life. Also he is sent to the world in a most weak and impotent form, and can only rise to his feet in one or two years. Only in fifteen years can he distinguish between harm and benefit.”(16) Said Nursi explains the reason for this as follows: “This means that man’s innate duty is to be perfected through learning and to proclaim his worship of God and servitude to Him through supplication.”

Thus, the human being begins life in “undifferentiated” form.(17) The chief characteristic of this is the fact that the ‘I’ is not developed. Since particularly in the first six months of life, he is not aware of his “self,” he is not aware of “the other.”

One who is not conscious of his own being, will not differentiate between himself and “the other,” that is, beings outside himself. But this does not mean that the infant is in a passive position. It can perceive various stimulants and respond to them. These stimulants are perceived and responded to within the sense of “we,” rather than differentiating between the self and the other.

The infant lives with an “us” system, formed with its mother, without being aware of any distinction between the self and the other. This gives a strong sense of security to the child, who is created absolutely helpless. He feels like a drop in the ocean (ocean feeling). He perceives himself and all beings outside himself, particularly his mother, as not completely distinct from each other, and as beings closely tied to each other within a single system.(18) This close interconnection is to a large extent biological.

At around two years of age, as the infant’s awareness develops, it becomes more aware of itself, and so its world begins to be divided into two. The first thing it encounters with its unfolding consciousness is his “self.” With his developing “I,” it is as though he starts slowly to emerge, becoming aware of himself. And becoming aware of himself, he becomes more aware of “the other” outside himself. The world has then become divided into “the self” and “the other.”

Another very important mechanism starts to function with the development of the infant’s consciousness: internalization and the formation of self and object-representations. The child experiences innumerable interactions with the other, especially with his mother. He introjects the representation of the self in interaction with that object, the representation of an object, and the affective colouring of both the object-image and the self-image at the time of the interaction.(19) When he reaches around two and a half years of age, he internalizes his own function, the function of the other with whom he is interacting, and the feelings he experiences in this interaction. This stage is the “identification” stage. What the child internalizes is his own image, the other’s image, and his own function and that of the other.(20) “Just as the world settles in the child’s inner world, so the child’s inner world starts to become established in the world.”(21)

On reaching puberty, a person has completed his development from the point of view of internalization. Being created animate, man has consciousness as well as life. “Life is the summit and foundation of everything.”(22) “Life is the light of existence.” If something is without life, “it is a stranger, alone.”(23) A lifeless being, for example, a stone, has no relations with other things. When life enters a body, it causes it to have relations with others. Since birds, bees, and trees have life, they have their own web of relations. However, they are unaware of these. Life is “illuminated” through consciousness.(24) A living being becomes aware of his own being and that of others through consciousness. The sentence “a human being is able to move through the rooms of his house through his consciousness and mind, which are the light of life,”(25) explains that man can as though internalize himself. Man becomes aware of himself through consciousness and mind. He gains awareness of all the branches of his own house-of all existence, and he comes to know his spirit, consciousness, body, intellect, and various senses and feelings. He conceptualizes himself. He reaches conclusions about himself and values. Through consciousness and mind, man has a “self.” He encompasses his “self” and includes it. The image (temess?l) of himself is reflected in the mirror of his spirit, forming a representation (temsil) of himself in his own spirit. Man’s perfect creation does not remain at this; “that conscious and animate being may go in spirit as though as a guest to those worlds.”(26) On this journey, he interests himself with the beings and worlds of the outer world. Moreover, “those worlds too come as guests to his mirror-like spirit by being reflected and depicted there.”(27) His consciousness and intellect convey the things with which he has formed relations to the mirror of his spirit.They are reflected in the mirror of his spirit, and their representations formed. In this way, a man is constructed who is “a universal within particularity, and a world within … insignificance,”(28) and who internalizes everything. “One man’s spirit is worth the whole cosmos.”(29) The aim is “to make man understand all His names and experience all the varieties of His bounty…” Man was first of all given life, then consciousness, and thus he gained “comprehensivness.” “For with the comprehensiveness of his nature, man can understand and take pleasure in all the divine names.”(30) By virtue of this, man has relations with all the universe, in both its inner and outward aspects. “… by reason of his comprehensiveness, man is like a tiny index and miniature specimen of the universe and so displays the embroideries of all the names.”(31)

The representations of beings taking form in the mirror of his spirit disposes man to reflect the manifestation of divine oneness and be vicegerent on the earth. The manifestation of divine oneness is the simultaneous manifestation in one thing of the Creator’s endless names, which are manifested in all things; it includes the duties of beings, which constitute representations by forming images in the mirror of man’s spirit.(32) The universe, which is ‘established,’ is also established in man through the consciousness that has been given him. For man is the divine vicegerent on earth.(33) Man’s representation of the glorifications and worship of God performed by all beings is realized primarily on the inner level. For man to be able to represent their worship and glorifications, he has to know them, and be aware of them, and not only that, must internalize them. In order to be able to establish the outside world within himself, man has been given the ability to internalize the representations of all the things with which he has relations.


With the development of consciousness up to the age of puberty, man gradually becomes aware of his “self.” The more he becomes aware of it, the more he is differentiated from “the other.” “Consciousness is an aspect of existence according to which beings are distinct from one another.”(34) The “ocean feeling” of infancy disappears, as though the ocean separated into millions of droplets. “To extent to which the child emerges from that world it becomes aware of being alone, of being an entity separate from all others. This separation from a world, which in comparison with one’s own individual existence is overwhelmingly strong and powerful, and often threatening and dangerous, creates a feeling of powerlessness and anxiety.”(35)

There is no separation for beings without consciousness. Because a stone or a tree has no self-perception, it cannot experience a sense of separation from “the other.” However, although consciousness gains an individuality for beings, so it recaptures things that have become separated, and ties things together that are far apart.” Consciousness and intellect want to establish relations between everything. “The realms of beings in the universe are so interwoven they have made the universe into a totality.”(36) Man therefore wants to be reunited within a framework of meaningful ties between his self and the other, and to live as part of the universe’s system. “Bringing forth a coherent world is the first and last condition for having a consistent self-identity.”(37) Man always searches for that “ocean feeling” he has lost. He wants to establish relations both with himself and with all the other things from the ocean. However, now he wants to belong to the ocean not biologically, but within the framework of meaningful ties.

Kernberg and other pyschiatrists do not go beyond saying that man’s inner world is filled with the object-representations of the universe and self-representations. How do the two basic points of view of belief and misguidance, one of the matters most emphasized in the Risale-i Nur, determine the structure and contents of the object-representations that are formed in the mirror of man’s spirit? What sort of connection is there between belief in the angels and self-representations and object-representations? What is the connection between the points of view of belief and misguidance and the feeling of emptiness? From now on I shall focus on these questions? The method I want to follow is this: firstly I shall describe the categorization of representation (reflection) (temess?l) in the Risale-i Nur. Then, imagining how three different people observe the same tree, I shall investigate how the tree is represented differently in each of the people.


Said Nursi says that there are three sorts of representation or reflection.(38, 39) The first of these is how the tree in the example is reflected and represented in a person who looks from the point of view of misguidance; the second sort is how it is reflected and represented from the point of view of belief; and in the third sort it is seen how, from the point of view of a profounder belief and with the addition of the dimension of belief in the angels, the representation of the same tree differs.

The First Sort of Representation (temess?l): This is the reflection of dense, physical objects. An example of this would be the reflection of a tree in a mirror, or water, or on a shining surface. Said Nursi says that reflections of this sort are “are … other than the thing reflected; they are not the same, and they are dead, without life. They possess no quality other than their apparent identity.” I want to stress here that the reflection is both other than thing itself, and not the same, and dead. The image of a tree reflected in a shining object is certainly not the same as the tree itself. It is completely different to it. The tree’s image is dead. All they have in common are the visible characteristics.

This sort of reflection may explain how the tree is reflected and its representation formed in the mirror of the spirit of a person who looks at himself and the tree from the point of view of misguidance. The representation formed in accordance with the view of misguidance is lifeless and dead like the representation in the mirror. There is no relation between the image of the tree and tree outside, except an apparent similarity. The image of the tree in the spirit of a person who holds this view, is dead.

First Person

He sees the ‘I’ as ‘I’, and says “I own myself.”(40) He accords himself a meaning as he thinks fit. He gives himself and everything outside of himself meaning in accordance with his own wishes. He denies creation. The ‘I’ is something that functions in its own name and whose sole duty is to satisfy its own physical wishes and desires. Such an ‘I’ will not form a connection with the Creator and does not want to do so. The person with such an ‘I’ does not want to accept that he was brought into existence. He thinks he exists of himself. He imagines he possesses power. He wants to realize his own existence, and receives a narcissistic pleasure from this. He attributes his existence to himself and to causes. In reality his existence does not belong to himself, he is the work and art of his Creator. According to this idea, the person’s “self,” whose representation is formed in the mirror of his spirit, has no relation with his “self” as it is in reality. Like the image of the tree in the mirror. Whatever apparently exists in the ‘I’ was given it by the Creator, so an ‘I’ness that perceives the ‘I’ as ‘I’, in reality is broken off from its own “self.”

The consequence of the person perceiving himself in this way is that a dead image in the mirror of his spirit, the representation of which is also dead, takes on the form of a dead representation. There is no true relation or connection between his self which is reflected in the mirror of his spirit, and his actual self.

The person who sees his ‘I’ as ‘I’, will see the tree as only a tree. “For the man who says ‘I own myself’ must believe and say: ‘Everything owns itself.'”(41) “It imagines books and meaningful missives to be common, meaningless inscriptions.”(42) The tree has no meaning, it is only something that produces fruit. It has no connection with the Creator. There can be no ties between a tree and other beings if it is not situated within a particular framework of meaning. Everything is separate and independent. There are no meaningful relations between them. The others are perceived in this way because the ‘I’ is perceived thus.

Now, the person’s consciousness and intellect will convey both his own self and other beings (the other) to the mirror of his spirit, and there, being reflected in the mirror of the spirit, representations and images will form. In his view, the tree is something without meaning, whose functions look to itself, is broken off from other things in the universe, and bears no meaning. The tree’s reflection in this person, and its representation, are entirely divorced from its reality, and are completely different to it. The tree’s representation, its reflection in the mirror of the spirit, and the form it has acquired there are lifeless and dead. Since the tree reflected in this way has not conveyed any meaning to the person’s spirit, his spirit cannot establish communication with the tree. In reality the tree is meaningful and has functions, and in this respect it is living. But here the only connection between the tree itself and its reflection in the mirror of his spirit is the similarity in appearance. Such a conception of a tree and a tree reflected in the spirit cannot nourish or sustain the spirit. For the person has not penetrated to the fact that the tree is created. The tree reflected in the mirror of the spirit by means of consciousness and intellect is not the tree as it is in actuality in the outside world. The tree is reflected in a way unrelated to the tree as it is in reality.

The tree’s being completely different to the image of it that takes form in the person’s spirit, and his not having penetrated to the tree’s reality, give rise in him to a sense of alienation. He is a stranger to the tree, he is not acquainted with it. The tree he has internalized is not the tree as it was created by its Creator, it is a tree that has taken on the colour of his own ‘I’ness, and has become meaningless. He thus never gets to know the tree. He is alienated from all other things, which are exemplified by the tree. ‘I’ and the other are two separate beings. They do not recognize or know one another. The sense of alienation towards the other, or to put it another way, not knowing it, is a source of serious anxiety and fear. The unknown other frightens and alarms man, so he is in permanent expectation of danger.

The person becomes alienated from his own internalized being. For the self that has been internalized and reflected inwardly in the mirror of his spirit, is not his true self as shaped by the Creator. While it should be he himself who is closest to man, he becomes the one most alien to himself. This is a significant cause of pain. If the ‘I’ sees itself as meaningless, the self that it has internalized and reflected becomes meaningless. Having loaded this alienation on himself, he then adds to it the alienation of the other. The internalized other also becomes lifeless, dead, and meaningless.

Even if the person lives amid boundless existence, the object-representations he has internalized and have accumulated in his spirit are lifeless, soulless, and as though dead. In this case, there are also no ties between the object-representations reflected in his spirit. They have no total meaning. The absence of relations between them causes his spirit pain. The representations also continuously disappear. The image of a withered tree in the mirror of the person’s spirit causes his spirit pain and distress. The tree withered up and died, and like the tree disappeared, so does its representation. In this respect, since the person anyway considered the tree to be meaningless, or because he did not arrive at a meaning that conformed to the reality of its createdness (we could also call this an imaginary meaning), the dead tree together with its role representation (the tree’s meaning that should be reflected in the person’s spirit) vanish from his spirit.

This point of view completely ’empties out’ a person, filling his world with utter loneliness and emptiness. For his internalized self and the inward representations of the beings of the outside world have no shared point other than an apparent similarity. To put it another way, because there is no relation between the inner representations of the outer things and himself, he experiences a sort of nothingness. There is nothing within him that is related to the things outside him. Nothingness means existential emptiness. The representations of things in the mirror of his spirit being without life, spirit, and meaning, means that his spirit is unnourished. An unnourished spirit continuously experiences a sense of existential emptiness. The spirit of such a person suffers constant distress. This “chronic meaninglessness” leads him to look on himself as though he had nothing within him at all. His spirit suffers distress because the representations reflected in his mirror are without life and meaning and are dead. He is filled with dead things. The self within him is dead and without life. Like a dead child in the womb. Just like the psychological distress suffered by a woman carrying within her a dead child, the person who bears within himself his dead self and the dead other, experiences terrible suffering.

For the person who thinks his existence is from himself and denies that he is created, relations are severed with the other and he is completely separate from them. There is no link whatsoever between ‘I’ and the other. The ‘I’ who is alien to his self is alien to the other. The ‘I’ and “the other” are two unconnected beings.

The Second Sort of Representation: The second sort of representation in Said Nursi’s categorization is “the reflection of physical luminous objects.”(43) By way of example, he cites the sun’s reflection in shining objects. Here, the sun’s reflection in the mirror is not identical with the sun outside, but it is not completely different either. Said Nursi says that the sun reflected in the mirror does not resemble the actual sun in essence, but that it possesses most of its characteristics and may be thought of as living. Light and the seven colours in light, which are attributes of the sun, are found in its reflection in the mirror. Also, heat radiates from the sun which is reflected in the mirror. The actual sun however is not present in the mirror, only some of its characteristics are found in it.

This sort of representation is a good analogy for helping us to understand how the tree may be represented in a person who looks at his “self” and the tree (the other) with “the consciousness of belief.”

The Second Person

The person’s ‘I’ accepts that he was given existence. He says: “I am the creature and artefact of the All-Glorious Maker. I manifest His mercy and munificence.”(44) He sees himself as a work of art of his Creator. His existence is not from himself but from the Creator. The reason for his existence is to recognize the Creator and know Him, and to serve Him as a mirror to the manifestation of His names. The representation of an ‘I’ that perceives himself thus in the mirror of his “self’s” spirit will be like the representation of the sun in the mirror. The reflection and representative of his “self” in the mirror of his spirit are fairly close to his own reality.

An ‘I’ such as this sees the tree not as a tree but as a means of communication bearing its Creator’s message. “When he obtains information about the universe, he sees that his ‘I’ confirms it. This knowledge will remain as light and wisdom for him…”(45) In his mind, the tree is something meaningful. Accepting the fact it is created, he forms a relation with its Creator. This relation leads him to ‘read’ the tree (the other) in the light of his tie and relation with the Creator. The tree is saved from the darkness of meaninglessness by being related to the Creator. It is the Creator’s work of art, and is read as a mirror reflecting His names. Being read in this way the tree becomes related to all other beings. Its reality is its being its Creator’s work, art, and a mirror to His names. Because this sort of reading draws close to its reality, the tree is transformed into something living and charged with duties. The intellect and consciousness of a person holding this view convey the tree to mirror of his spirit. The representation and reflection of the tree perceived in this way are like the reflection of the sun. The tree’s reflection is not the tree itself, and it is not different to it. The tree’s representation in the person’s spirit is living. It constantly speaks with him. For him, the tree is a living missive by which he may communicate with his Creator. It informs him about its Creator’s attributes, and makes Him known.

Since, thanks to this point of view and knowledge of God, the tree outside becomes luminous like the sun, the tree’s representation in the person’s spirit also gains luminosity. And that luminous, living tree nourishes the person’s spirit.

The representations of things in the mirror of the person’s spirit are related to one another, each of them (all the others) is a mirror to the works, art, and names of his own Creator.

Here, the thing whose representation is formed is the tree’s meaning within itself, its function (role representations). If the tree dies, it will cause no pain to the person’s spirit. For when that happens, its representation remains in the mirror of the spirit, and is living. For the tree is not independent or something that exists in its own name. It exists through its Creator and in His name. The tree may die, but just as the message contained in a torn up letter does not have to be erased from the reader’s memory; so the role representation-function representation in the person’s spirit persists. This prevents the person’s object-representations in the universe being lost. He does not suffer from such a problem. If the Creator exists, everything exists. If the Creator exists, everything has meaning and everything exists as representations and role representations in the mirror of his spirit.

The person’s personal universe is full of living representations of the things in the universe. These living representations nourish the spirit. The representations of things in the mirror of his spirit are not identical to the things ‘outside’ but they are not different to them either. This prevents the person suffering from an existential emptiness. His inner world is full of the representations of beings and these are living. In his spirit are innumerable living representations of things with which he can form relations. Man cannot be nourished with the image of fruit on the tree in the mirror, but just as a person may be warmed and illuminated by the sun reflected in the mirror, so too the spirit and heart may be nourished by the object-representations, which are living and meaningful. A nourished heart and spirit are saved from chronic existential emptiness and a feeling of meaninglessness, and the distress they cause.

Having the same Creator makes man the friend and companion of other beings. He sees himself and the others all together within a totality created by the same Creator. For man, who with his consciousness has been given the opportunity to know the other, is equal to it both in respect of createdness, and in the inability to be a god or object of worship. This awakens in man a warm feeling of belonging to one. All beings are transformed into things he knows. He is filled with the sense of living in a stable world, “like his own home,” in which all beings and things are bound to one another many times over. He lives in a friendly environment that might be described in terms of “All other things are letters carrying messages to me from my Creator.”

The state of this second person resembles that of a woman bearing within her a living child. The child is alive, not dead like with the first person, and it has ceased being a danger to the mother. He is not an “alien” who has to be saved from himself. Promising hope to the mother, the child expresses a meaning in her spirit. In one respect it is still not a human being who lives outside, on the planet. The mother still has not established full relations with it. She knows it partially. The child does not have the consciousness to be addressed fully. There are still some things missing.

Although the second person has formed a relation and connection with the Creator and his relationship with the tree is within the framework of this, there is still something deficient in the dimension of the relationship. What is it that is missing?

Man is a conscious being, and consciousness forms relations with consciousness. In this second point of view, man formed conscious relations with his Creator. This gave rise in him to a ‘belief consciousnessness.’ The consciousness afforded by belief saved “the other” from meaninglessness, allowed him the opportunity of reading the Creator’s art on the other. Reading things by virtue of the relation of knowledge of God established with the Creator, Who is absolute consciousness, secured an important leap forward. However, there are still some things missing in the other.

If the things with which man has relations are also conscious, it adds an important dimension to the relationship. Just as man reads the other with his consciousness, and is aware of it, and discovers it; so too he wants to be read by the other, and discovered, and known by it. Man reads the tree (the other) with the consciousness that springs from belief in the Creator, but there is still something missing in the tree.

The third sort of representation: This is the reflection of luminous spirits. The reflection of spirit beings, the creatures of the unseen worlds like the angels, is identical to the beings themselves.(46) That is to say, if the angels and other spirit beings are represented somewhere, they are present as they are in actuality. Said Nursi also emphasizes that the reflection in representations of this sort is living. However, since the representation appears in relation to the capacity of the mirror, he points out that there is a difference between the spirit being and the representation, and that the reflection is not the same in essence.

Who can be included among these? Said Nursi puts the angels in this group, the other beings of the unseen world and the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). This is the reason Said Nursi uses the expression “whose essence is light and selfhood, luminous.”

This sort of representation may explain how the representations of things will change when belief in the angels is articulated, in the spirit of a person if he and other beings are addressed with knowledge of God.

The Third Person

The third man is articulation of the second. What is deficient in the second man’s relationship with the tree is the tree’s lack of consciousness. Man is aware of the other (the tree) through his consciousness. He recognizes its existence. He establishes a relation with it. He internalizes the other by way of consciousness.

If beings have no consciousness, two major problems emerge. The First Problem: The function of all beings is to act as mirrors to the Creator’s infinite names. But if with his consciousness man is not aware of the Creator’s endless names, or they cannot be understood by man’s consciousness, or if although he is aware of them he cannot read them properly, the manifestation appears to us as unnecessary. For the decorations, beauty, and inscriptions of beings “self-evidently require the gazes of thoughtful admirers and wondering, appreciative lovers; it demands their existence.”(47) The Second Problem: Man’s perceiving with his consciousness that the tree is unconscious and is unaware of him, reduces the relationship to a single dimension. A relationship is communication between two beings. For a full relationship to be established between man and the tree, the tree also has to be conscious, and it has to be able to recognize and know man. If in respect of createdness, man sees himself as equal with the tree, and is friendly and familiar with it, he will want to be known consciously by “the other” in the dialogue he has set up with it.

If the attributes such as art, beauty, order, perfection, knowledge, power, intention, and care that are to be observed on the tree are not perceived by anyone, or even if they are perceived, are met with the sort of attitude of the first person above, they lose all meaning. If they are not recognized by consciousness and read as they should be, it is meaningless that they should be on the tree. “… creatures exist for conscious beings, and find their perfection though conscious beings, and rejoice through conscious beings, and are saved from futility through conscious beings…”(48) “Although external beings are outwardly inanimate and unconscious…”(49) However, the attributes observed on the tree demonstrate certainly an intention and purpose. The tree is raised most consciously in most purposive form, it is taken from stage to stage. “…they all perform extremely vital, living, and conscious duties and glorification.” If the tree’s passing from stage to stage occurs consciously, there must be a conscious being who will read it (the other) with his consciousness, and understand the names manifested on it, and study them.

It is here that the impossibility becomes clear of explaining beings without the angels. If the purpose of the existence of an unconscious being like a tree is not known by a conscious being, the being becomes meaningless, as though a non-thing. It is the angels who understand the duties of worship that unconscious beings perform and the glorifications they offer, and state them and represent them in the inner worlds, and offer them to the divine court. “Just as the angels are their representatives expressing their glorifications in the world of the inner dimension of things, so are they the counterparts, dwellings, and mosques of those angels in the external and manifest world.”(50) Like men, the angels are “spectators of the palace of the universe, the observers of the book of creation, and the heralds of the sovereignty of dominicality.”(51) In this way, through the angels, unconscious beings are saved from being meaningless, as would be the case if there was no one to observe and study them or to proclaim the duties they perform. Since the angels have undertaken the task of presenting the duties of beings “knowingly at the divine court,”(52) all beings perform their functions consciously and with awareness.

Because of the angels, our concept of “the other” changes. All the beings (the other) in the manifest world have to have angels. The angels belong to the unseen worlds, and for the reasons I tried to set out above, their existence is necessary. If there is a tree, there has also to be an angel. If there are no trees without angels, there will be significant differences concerning this point in our definition of existence. In the Twenty-Ninth Word it is said: “… beings are not restricted to this manifest world.”(53) This is an important step forward for man and for his understanding of existence. In the continuation it says “existence is not limited to it.” That is, beings are not limited to the beings we see here in the manifest world. The definition of “the other” is thus greatly expanded. “There are numerous other levels of existence in relation to which the manifest world is an embroidered veil. Furthermore, since, just as the sea is appropriate for fish, and the world of the unseen and the world of meaning appropriate for spirits, and this necessitates their being filled with them; and since all commands testify to the existence of the meaning of the angels…” Thus, angels and other spirit beings are included in existence, expanding the concept. The angels are created beings, charged with the duties of conveying the divine names to the manifest world, who themselves have no power to create.

The concept of “the other” is not only expanded with the angels and other spirit beings; visible beings also gain consciousness with them. With the angels the tree (the other) takes on another meaning. It is saved from the meaninglessness of being unconscious, and its duties being unknown and unrecognized.

Our first problem is thus solved with the existence of the angels. Now, man is not the only conscious being. The angels and spirit beings are creatures that have been given consciousness in the inner world. All beings have an angel, and these angels observe and gaze on the divine names manifested on the beings, and represent their duties in the name of beings which appear to be unconscious when it is supposed there are no angels.

Now there are no beings without consciousness. All beings are conscious by virtue of their angels. Neither is there an unconscious “other.” All “others” are conscious. They now cease to be mere meaningful missives, and become conscious envoys. In the view of the second person, the tree was the Creator’s missive. It has now as though become by means of the angels a conscious, conversing addressee. The angels are living, conscious envoys who come as guests to our spirits. The angel envoy is not one who comes bringing a letter, and goes taking another. He is an envoy who himself speaks. The tree consists of the words in the manifest world of the conscious, speaking angel. “… the All-Wise Maker causes all the realms of beings in the universe to speak.”(54)

The tree and the angel being perceived together forms another link between the ‘I’ and “the other,” and this will solve our second problem as well. When inanimate beings are thought to be without angels, they are lifeless and unconscious. This gives rise to an absolute loneliness. Being unknown is to be completely alone. Now, with each being is an angel who knows it and recognizes it, who watches it performing its functions, and acts as the herald of these duties. Every part of the universe is inhabited, and it is inhabited with life and consciousness. A universe without life and consciousness is dead. The stars, which hang suspended in the skies, whose aloneness frightens man have now become the vehicles of the conscious angels. With their consciousness they ponder over the face of the earth and observes the duties of beings. “… the universe is seen to be full of angels, spirit beings, and intelligent beings.”(55)

Since through his consciousness, man can internalize the other, be aware of the other, and experience his relations with the other consciously, he wants also to be known by the other, and to be internalized by it. This is one of man’s basic needs. For he internalizes the relations he forms with the other as much as he internalizes the other itself. It is clear that the internalization of relations formed with a conscious other will be very different to internalization of relations formed with an other who is unconscious.

On man internalizing the other itself and his relations with it and internally representing them, he is in a sense making firm and stable the other and his relationship with it. On the other becoming conscious by means of the angel, man also is perceived and known by the angel. In this way the angel too makes man firm and constant, as well as the other’s relationship with man. The relationship continues also in further dimensions. The angels loves those men who are aware of them and have as their viewpoint that of the third person. They pray to their Compassionate Sustainer for them, seeking their forgiveness, and calling down blessings on them.(Qur’an: 33:56; 40:7, 8, 9.)

The tree has now ceased to be something with which man has formed a one-way relation. Apparently unconscious, by means of its angel it responds to the person who is its addressee. There is now two-way conscious communication. The relationship has become a two-way process and a true relationship.

The contact of a person who has feeling for the tree, makes contact with it, knows that it is affected, and knows that it knows it is recognized and felt through the angel, who is the tree’s consciousness. By means of the angel the tree also knows that contact has been made with it, and will understand and feel that it has been pondered over. By means of its angel the tree will even feel a gratification particular to angels.

The tree’s nature has now changed having gained consciousness through its angel. Its representation and reflection will also change in the mirror of the person’s spirit, who through belief in the angels sees the tree together with its angel. I stated above that in the third sort of reflection investigated in the Risale-i Nur, the representations of the angels and spirits are identical [with their actual beings]. Whatever the tree is, when perceived together with its angel its representation in the person’s spirit is the same. Through belief in the Creator in the second point of view the representation acquires life; then with belief in the angels another dimension is added to it, and it acquires consciousness as well. The tree represented in the mirror of the person’s spirit is identical with the external tree. The tree which is reflected inwardly in man, is now a tree that is a mirror to its Sustainer’s names, that glorifies Him, and has become conscious with its angel, which, being a conscious being perceives the manifested names and glorifications, represents them and offers them to the divine court. Now, by means of their angels, all external beings are conscious, and in all inwardly-reflected beings are conscious. The person’s spirit is now full of the reflections of conscious beings. He establishes conscious relations with all beings. He represents their duties, while their angels represent his reflections.

A sense of “us” is born from the equality of both the ‘I’ and the other being created; but this sense cannot be attained completely with an other that has no angel. The sense of “us” is a sense of shared belonging, with all beings on both sides knowing each other. It is a basic existential need for man.(56) Throughout his life man searches for the “ocean feeling,” which he lost when he grew out of babyhood. In order to say “us creatures,” all beings have to be able to say “we.” The tree (and inanimate beings) proclaim their createdness through the tongue of disposition only, but with the consciousness it gains through the angel, who by virtue of its consciousness is aware of the tree’s createdness and proclaims it, it becomes possible for it to consciously say “us.” Through this relationship, which is established between the ‘I’ and the other through createdness, mutual recognition, and knowledge of each other’s duties, the person acquires a sense of “us” without losing his own individuality.

To return to the analogy of the child in the womb: the child has now been born. Mother and child are now talking with one another and getting to know one another. Both are responding to each other, that is, they are able to establish full mutual communication.

For the person, all beings (the other) in the universe together with the angels are now not just acquaintances, they have founded a friendship between two conscious beings who know each other. It is not a one-sided familiarity and acquaintanceship with the beings in the universe, but a familiarity in which both sides know each other. The split between ‘I’ and the other resulting from the viewpoint with no Creator, was healed on one side with knowledge of God. Then, with belief in the angels, the split was completely healed, and the second side of the relationship, that of the other, was included. When the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “Uhud is a mountain; we love it and it loves us,” he was pointing out this two-sided relationship.

At the same time, the universe is the scene of the constant renewal of all beings (the other), and their passing from state to state, and vanishing and new beings replacing them. For the third person, who faced a dead tree with knowledge of God and belief in the angels, the tree’s death will cause his spirit no pain. The tree’s leaves may wither up and fall, or even rot, but the tree’s angel continues its existence, without dying or rotting. The representation of the tree’s angel in the person’s spirit may persist, even if the tree dies and rots. It still represents the tree’s glorifications. It still may be light and sustenance for the person’s spirit through the glorifications it represents. Even if the tree dies, the representations of its duties continue in the spirit. In any event, this is the tree’s duty as far as man is concerned. Although beings pass from state to state, and flow on and depart, the angels hold in their hands the names manifested on them, and their duties and glorifications. Thus, the person understands that nothing at all goes to nothing.

Man’s companionship with the angels continues after death. Death is not a journey he makes alone. It is a journey made in the companionship of angels, who are familiar friends. Azra’il, the angel of death, who represents the glorifications man offers at the moment his spirit leaves his body, ceases to be an object of fear, and becomes a friend together with whom he makes the journey.(57)

* Psychotherapist and psychiatrist.

** The brackets are mine.

1. I. Yalom, Love’s Executor and Other Tales of Psychotherapies (Basic Books), 3.

2. T. Zeldin, ?nsanl???n Mahrem Tarihi [Turk. trans.] (Ayr?nt? Yay?nlar?, 1998) 67.

3. Zeldin, ?nsanl???n Mahrem Tarihi, 68.

4. O. Kernberg, S?n?r Durumlar ve Patolojik Narsisizm [Turk. trans.] (Metis Yay?nlar?, 1999), 192.

5. I. Yalom, Existential Psychotheraphy (Basic Books, 1980), 355.

6. E. Fromm, The Art of Loving (New York: Bantum Books, 1956), 7.

7. Fromm, TheArt of Loving, 7.

8. Yalom, Existential Psychotheraphy, 358.

9. K. Reinhardt, The Existential Revolt (New York: Frederick Ungar, 1957), 235.

10. Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, Letters 1928-1932 [Eng. trans.] (Istanbul: S?zler Publications, 2nd. edn. 1997) 42 ff.

11. ?

12. Kernberg, S?n?r Durumlar ve Patolojik Narsisizm, 192.

13. V. F. Guidano, The Self in Process (The Guildford Press, 1991), 17.

14. Guidano, The Self in Process, 18.

15. Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, The Words [Eng. trans.] (Istanbul: S?zler Publications, new edn. 1998), 324.

16. Nursi, The Words, 324.

17. N. G. Hamilton, Self and Others: Object Relations Theory in Practice (London: Jason Aranson, 1988), 36.

18. Hamilton, Self and Others: Object Relations Theory in Practice, 38.

19. O. Kernberg, Object Relations Theory and Clinical Psychoanalysis (London: Aranson, 1995) 29.

20. Kernberg, Object Relations Theory and Clinical Psychoanalysis, 38.

21. D. M. Orange, G. E. Atwood, R. D. Stolorow. Quoted by, Cahit Ardal? and Yavuz Erten, Psikoanalizden Dinamik Psikoterapilere (Alfa, 1999), 88.

22. Nursi, The Words, 523.

23. Nursi, The Words, 523.

24. Nursi, The Words, 523.

25. Nursi, The Words, 524.

26. Nursi, The Words, 524.

27. Nursi, The Words, 524.

28. Nursi, The Words, 338.

29. M. D. Unamuno, Ya?am?n Trajik Duygusu (Istanbul: ?nkilap Kitabevi, 1986).

30. Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, The Flashes Collection [Eng. trans.] (Istanbul: S?zler Publications, new edn. 2000), 456.

31. Nursi, The Flashes Collection, 458.

32. Nursi, The Words, 523-4.

33. Nursi, The Words, 115.

34. J. Kovel, Tarih ve Tin: Özg?rle?me Felsefesi ?zerine Bir ?nceleme (Ayr?nt? Yay?nlar?, 1991), 95.

35. E. Fromm, Escape From Freedom (Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1941), 29.

36. Nursi, The Flashes Collection, 415.

37. Guidano, The Self in Process, 15.

38. Nursi, The Words, 210.

39. Bedi?zzaman Said Nursî, Mesnevi-i Nûriye [Turk. trans. Abd?lmecid Nursî] (Istanbul: S?zler Yay?nevi, 1977), 113.

40. Nursi, The Words, 560.41. Nursi, The Words, 560.

42. ?

43. Nursi, The Words, 210.

44. Nursi, The Words, 320.

45. Nursi, The Words, 559.46. Nursi, The Words, 210.47. Nursi, The Words, 522.

48. Nursi, The Words, 98.

49. Nursi, The Words, 530.

50. Nursi, The Words, 530.

51. Nursi, The Words, 191.

52. Nursi, The Words, 531.

53. Nursi, The Words, 528.

54. Nursi, Letters, 339-40.

55. Nursi, Letters, 342.

56. Yalom, Existential Psychotheraphy, 362.57. Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, The Rays Collection [Eng. trans.] (Istanbul: S?zler Publications, 1998), 277.

Islamic Philosophy of Science

By Dr. Yamina Mermer and Dr. Eren Tatari

Science is the systematic study of the behavior of certain phenomena (that is, regularities, uniformities) in the physical universe. Scientific study is based on observation, experiment, measurement, and the formulation of universal laws that describe these facts and phenomena in general terms and enable prediction.

Science has two aspects: the ‘research’ aspect and the practical aspect (e.g. cell phones, cars, technology, etc). The process of describing regularities (i.e. things that happen in a particular way) is incomplete & never exhaustive because regularities are not exact and deterministic. There is actually quite a lot of approximation and simplification involved in this process. Some fields that are influenced by this approximate process include life science, and non-linear and linear equations. If an exact equation is desired, then these scientific laws, which are useful for prediction, must be formulated in mathematical terms; this represents the whole business of science. The equations obtained are usually non-linear. These non-linear problems can only be dealt with using powerful computers. The problems being analyzed are typically those regarding small measurements where broad approximations would not work.

The popularity of science stems from its practical uses as well as the way it makes use of the world’s regularities to produce technology. The use of science affects virtually all aspects of daily life, hence its practical importance. In other words, the huge popularity of science is due to its practical results, such as the previous technological examples stated previously. Science is about studying regularities in the material world and describing those regularities in order to make predictions and the technology that we use daily possible.

It is important to stress that describing and making use in regards to science is not explaining, but rather using it to make sense of something; description is not to be confused with explanation. Therefore, science is about describing, not explaining. The moment a scientist talks about the meaning behind a law or regularity in nature, and our ability to benefit from it, that is no longer science and he is venturing into the realm of metaphysics and the philosophy of science. Just because someone is a great scientist, it does not mean that he has a deeper insight into the meaning of the laws of the physical world and universe; he may know how to utilize the laws, but that doesn’t mean he knows what they signify. So there is science which deals with the description of phenomena, and there is something beyond science that entails explanation and it is known as the philosophy of science.


Philosophy of Science

Science does not answer questions of meaning, questions of agency (like who is doing what for what reason?  What is responsible for this regularity?), and we cannot criticize science for not dealing with these questions. They may be important questions but it’s not the responsibility of the field of science to answer these questions. For example, consider the Law of Gravity. I drop my pen and the pen falls. Why did it fall? Because of gravity.

I observe that my pen always falls when I lift it and drop it and my mind does not record any exception to this experience. Then I call the connection or conjunction between performing an action (dropping a pen) and its regularity (fall) the law of gravity. This means that the law of gravity is simply the name we gave to this regularity, to this phenomenon; however, it does not mean that the pen is falling because of gravity. In other words the physics we create to describe this experience is called ‘Gravity’ and we cannot later use this physics to explain the very same phenomenon. Gravity is the name given to the process, not an explanation for it, but in our minds both the name and the explanation for the phenomenon have become one and the same.

Other examples in our world that we can consider are the seasons. Think of spring for instance; what does it refer to? It refers to the season and the physical changes and conditions that accompany the season, i.e., weather, flowers blossoming, etc. If in April the weather gets warmer (in the North) and I ask why it got warmer, someone may say because it’s Spring. But is that an explanation? Why is it Spring? What is Spring? ‘Spring’ is the name of the occurrence, not the explanation. Words such as ‘Spring’ are the names attributed to the occurrence but not the explanation. Therefore the question arises: Is it logically justified to explain an experience through a causal law that is derived through the same experience? In the beginning, when scientists started asking these questions, it was unclear what the difference was between description and explanation. For a long time science was thought to be a venture competing with religion in providing answers for life.

Regarding natural laws, 19th century American philosopher Charles Peirce stresses the point that natural laws serve as a description of natural events, not as explanations of these very events: “no law of nature makes a stone fall, or a Leyden jar to discharge, or a steam engine to work.”[1]

A law of nature left to itself would be quite analogous to a court without a sheriff. A court in that predicament might probably be able to induce some citizen to act as sheriff; but until it had so provided itself with an officer who, unlike itself, could not discourse authoritatively but who could put forth the strong arm, its law might be the perfection of human reason but would remain mere fireworks, brutum fulmen. Just so, let a law of nature- say the law of gravitation-remain a mere uniformity-a mere formula establishing a relation between terms-and what in the world would induce a stone, which is not a term nor a concept but just a plain thing, to act in conformity to that uniformity? [2]

In the same way, the law of gravity is just a formula, just a name. It cannot make, a stone for instance, act in accordance to it. In other words, Charles Pierce is saying that a law of nature is not an agent out there that makes things obey such regularities, it is only a description, “a mere formula,” coined by an observer in order to express a particular regularity in nature. It is important to note that the notion of law is closely related to issues of agency and also to the affinity of the human mind to perceive natural phenomena and the possibility of finding patterns in nature beyond science (how is it that we are so in tune to what is happening in the world that we can pick up all these regularities?). These issues announce the ‘bigness’ of science. When it comes to the affinity of the human mind to realize recurrent patterns in the universe, Peirce says that:

. . . the mind of man is strongly adapted to the comprehension of the world; at least, so far as this goes, that certain conceptions, highly important for such a comprehension, naturally arise in the mind; and, without such a tendency, the mind could never have had any development at all.[3]

There would be no science if one could not grasp the regularities.

In our scientific inquiry, we are justified in searching out these regularities and hoping that they will, for the most part, remain stable, but we cannot assume that we have explained how or why such regularities / laws are in effect. We are justified in saying that there are regularities and hoping that these regularities and the so-called universal laws are going to be in the effect in the future so that technology can be made from predictions. There can only be hope, and not certainty, because science is based on observation and there may be some instances where the same observation may not occur. So, although scientific law is advanced and deals with exactitude, there is still that portion of hope/faith that is not logically grounded.

However, it is not being said that the philosophy of science is not completely separate from science because whatever worldview is held by scientists, different meanings are ascribed to the experiments; some may even refuse to do certain works as it deals with something they don’t agree with.

A scientific law states a repeated observation about nature.  How do we come to the conclusion that we have a scientific law? Several events occur, (not just to the researcher) that hold to the certain regularity, according to a certain pattern and a generalized statement is formed. The process of generalization from a limited number of observations to form a universal statement or law is called the process of induction, or looking at a certain number of events and saying that it is going to happen all the time. The assumption under the process of induction is that the more observations made about a particular phenomenon the more it will reinforce the law. My certainty in how something happens will increase. This is related to the feeling of providing a logical reason for this way of thinking.

There is only one way for this to be true, and it has nothing to do with the number of observations. We assume a relationship or connection between the object and what occurs, the cause and effect. The assumption is that there is a necessary connection between the cause and the effect. One must be able to explain this connection in a logical way, not as something that depends solely on observation but something that necessitates the event. If this is unable to be done, if it is only based on observations, then induction is a problem. In formulating a scientific law, generalizations made through the method of induction are a problem.

The method of induction in science is well known: we observe an event repeated again and again across time and we judge this regularity to be something we can rely on. Each individual observation reinforces our belief in a characteristic of the world that perseveres beyond a specific time and circumstance. On the basis of these laws, I presume that both an observation has been occurring and that it will continue to be observed on other occasions by other people forever. In other words, these universal scientific laws offer some kind of certainty to my individual observations; what I see on each occasion is grounded by scientific rules. In short, these laws tell me how the world necessarily is, and as a result I trust in this inductive process.

Thus, the basic application of our inductive reasoning is twofold: firstly we think we can describe what we have seen by the use of universal laws, and secondly, that we can use these established laws in predicting what we will see. There is however a problem with the mechanics of the inductive process. Are we justified in formulating these universal laws simply on the basis of a discrete number of past observations that have been made?

For example, based on the scientific observation of planetary motion, we could suggest that ‘the sun will rise every day’. However, just because the sun has risen in the past, it does not mean that it will continue to do so either tomorrow or the next day. So the induction based off the number of occurrences of a particular phenomenon is illogical. There is no guarantee that we will ever see the sun rise again. The sense of faith we have in the scientific laws of planetary motions is based on the supposition that some kind of necessity has caused the sun to rise in the past and will therefore continue to cause the sun to rise in the future. Somehow we assume that whatever causes the sun to rise does so necessarily, all the time, under all circumstances. We assume that the connection between the cause and the effect are necessarily related. To use another common example, everyone in Europe thought that ‘All swans are white’ was true because every swan that they had ever seen was white. However, when travelers came back from Australia and New Zealand they reported having seen black swans thus providing real life example of how, just because every swan you’ve ever seen is white, it doesn’t mean that it is necessarily true. This observation negated the previous generalizations.This brings us to the issue of causality.

Causality is the relationship between an event (the cause) and a second event (the effect), where the second event is understood as a consequence of the first. In relation to one another, Induction only has to work sometimes, Causality always has to work. It has little to do with the number of occurrences; it has to work for each cause-effect relationship. A law would not be made from one experiment because somehow we know that causes and effects are not necessarily logically related to each other. The consequence of this model of the world is that empirical knowledge is connected to the causal relations between objects and events. According to this view, the logic of scientific discovery is inductive. In other words, it infers universal laws from particular statements.

These inductive universal statements, it is claimed, constitute knowledge par excellence. From a logical point of view however, it is far from obvious, that universal statements can be inferred from particular ones, no matter how numerous they are. Inductive inferences can only be justified if the causal relation between cause and effect is necessary i.e., a purely logical truth. However, the relation between cause and effect is empirical and can only be established a posteriori through observation.

The logic of induction proceeds as follows: First, it conjectures that induction is valid, and then concludes that causation is true. Whereas, from the point of view of logic, it is just the other way around; induction can be justified only by proving that causation is logically valid i.e., that the relation between cause and effect is necessary. Induction is therefore logically not a justified method to attain to universality. As the Australian-British philosopher of science Sir Karl Popper observes, scientific induction is “logically inadmissible,” scientific “theories are, therefore, never empirically verifiable.”[4] The problem is that any certainty we think we can obtain from an induced scientific law turns out to be of no more use to us in guaranteeing the truth of the world than any individual observation from the point of view of logic.

Can we count on the laws of nature? It depends. We can have faith in them; we can hope that they will continue to hold in the future but there exists no logical certainty. But we cannot prove that they will remain true because we cannot observe something that will occur in the future (the dogma of the experiment).

The British philosopher Bertrand Russell calls the dogma of induction, the “biggest scandal of philosophy.” He provides the example of a farmer and his chicken. The chicken noticed that the farmer came every day to feed it. It predicted that the farmer would continue to bring food every day. According to the principle of induction each feeding event added justification to its prediction. Then one day the farmer came and wrung the chicken’s neck. Russell’s point is that induction cannot justify any conclusions! In other words, just because something is observed to happen over and over again, it in no way necessitates that it will carry on like that forever.

Critical problems with the method of induction have been in discussion long before the more recent debates, and are often connected with the concept of causality. The same issue was also at the center of a heated debate among Muslim philosophers and theologians as early as the 12th century. Those who held the purse-strings (the majority of those involved in the discussion) debated heatedly and it was the minority that was for induction because it has to be necessary, or else what of the laws of science, the laws of nature? This critical problem with the method of induction was also pointed out earlier by the 18th century Scottish philosopher David Hume. Hume stated that when we observe two events to be causally related, say a seed (A) resulting in the growth of a shoot/ tree (B), what we in fact observe is only a contingent conjunction of two events. That is, the causation that we think we perceive is not actually ‘out there in the world’ for us to observe. When we see two events and judge them to be causally related, it is merely through a habit of the mind, something we project onto the world. A necessary causal link, as such, is not guaranteed. Hume writes:

Were any object presented to us, and were we required to pronounce concerning the effect, which will result from it, without consulting past observation; after what manner, I beseech you, must the mind proceed in this operation? It must invent or imagine some event, which it ascribes to the object as its effect; and it is plain that this invention must be entirely arbitrary. The mind can never possibly find the effect in the supposed cause, by the most accurate scrutiny and examination. For the effect is totally different from the cause, and consequently can never be discovered in it.[5]

This means that causal laws of nature are not true logically and there is no concrete evidence that these will continue to hold in the future. If we return to our example of the sun rising every day and the related scientific ‘explanation’ in terms of the causal effects of planetary motions,  Hume’s objection takes the following meaning: Whatever scientific explanation I give regarding the observation of regularities in planetary behavior, no number of observations gives me the right to postulate a universal law. There is no built-in necessity with which we can observe that tells us the planets will always move in such a fashion, and that the sun will thus appear to rise every day. We simply cannot postulate universal laws that tell us the way the world irrefutably is and will always be unless we have  some good reason to trust such generalizations. And even if we could trust such universal laws as ‘the sun will always rise’, it is not clear how many times we would need to see the sun rise in order to justify proposing this law. How many ‘repeated observations’ will be enough to allow for certainty that something is going to continue to occur, either in everyday life or in the lab? Scientific observation, although detailed and informative, has no claim to being the irrefutable truth of the matter. And if the scientific method is restricted to induction, it seems our claims to operational knowledge are not as certain as we may think they are.


The Solution?

Sir Karl Popper offered a potential solution to this problem by thinking about the way we do science in a new light. Essentially, Popper turned science on its head by claiming that we are looking at science in the wrong way. Instead of looking to science to provide us with theories that are definitely true, Popper said that we should be looking to science to provide us with theories that we have failed to prove false for a very long time. This approach to science is called Falsificationism. Less of a solution and more of a shortcut, it is a tool we’re allowed to use in the game of science. He describes the Falsification approach thusly: for the scientific method to be rational, it must make claims to knowledge that is logically sound. That is, science is not about making grand universal laws, but about the examination of individual observations. According to the model of falsification, science is concerned with evaluating and refining. What we commonly think of as scientific claims to knowledge, are only hypotheses that we accept till they are proved wrong.

Fundamentally, Popper accepts that science can never provide us with complete 100% certainty but, he claims, this is not really a problem because that is not actually science’s job. Science’s purpose is simply to provide us with a theory that is likely to be true based on the fact that we haven’t yet managed to prove it wrong. One unfortunate consequence of this, however, is that you can only ever be certain of the things that you have proved wrong. We know, for example, that the world definitely is not flat. The problem with this fact is that, although certain, it is not particularly  useful to know that something is definitely false. The practice of induction goes beyond what is strictly logical. This does not mean that it is irrational, but rather that it is non-rational or non-logical. And so, for Popper, the best we can hope for is that a given claim is corroborated at one instance in time and if we presume otherwise, we are begging the question of the uniformity of nature: that what has always been, will (for apparently no good reason) continue to be.

To recapitulate, science does not deal with explanation; this is the realm of metaphysics.  How we explain things depends on our beliefs and world view (which we rationalize later, as Max Weber explains).

Islam and Science

When I attempt to answer questions of agency, causality and universality from an Islamic perspective, then what I am doing may be referred to as the Islamic philosophy of science. In answering these questions from an Islamic perspective, there are hundreds of verses in the Qur’an talking about the world, about computing, and observing the universe that can be drawn from.

In the case of Islam, the Qur’an does not separate between the physical and the spiritual, or between matter and meaning. They are all on one continuum. Matter is the vehicle conveying meaning like the material of a book for instance, the paper and ink and shapes of the letters etc., all mean something; they convey meaning and there cannot be meaning without the matter.  From the Qur’anic perspective that is what nature is about. Everything is seen as a sign or a symbol meaning something pointing to a transcendent reality, i.e. something that transcends the material, transcends what is here. There is an ontological continuity with the world to the very concept of God.

And this connection between the spiritual and the physical, the Divine and the Creator, imparts a certain degree of sanctity to the world of nature. Just as the scripture is sacred, so the world is sacred in the Islamic interpretation. In fact, just as the Qur’an presents the world of nature as a sign, it also calls its own verses signs, using the same words. The verse in the Qur’an is talking about natural phenomena; it means both the verse and what the verse relates to in the outside world.  This semantic connection is further strengthened through various Qur’anic descriptions.

According to the Qur’an, God communicates by ‘sending’ His signs. There is basically no essential difference between linguistic and non-linguistic (phenomenological) signs; both types are equally divine signs. All that we usually call natural phenomena, such as rain, wind, the structure of the heaven and the earth, alternation of day and night, the turning about of the winds, etc., all these would be understood, not as simple natural phenomena, but as the many ‘signs’ or ‘symbols’ pointing to the Divine intervention in human affairs, as evidences of the Divine Providence, care and wisdom displayed by God for the good of human beings on this earth.[6]

God speaks through words in the scriptures and through actions in the world; both of these are seen as modes of communication. That is why nature is also called the cosmic Qur’an in the Islamic tradition. God speaks through verbal speech and through creative activity. Both of them are signs and one does not exist without the other because the Qur’an always refers to the world out there. God speaks as He creates and in order to understand His verbal speech, one needs to observe the creational activity in the world. The reverse is also true: in order to understand what’s going in the world, one needs to listen to the scripture (verbal speech). Like a movie and its script, if the movie is in another language or there is no sound, how are you to understand? That would be the same as looking at nature without scripture. Inversely, if we were to hear the sound of the movie but the screen was blank, that would be like listening to the scripture but not being involved in the world. As nature is viewed as the cosmic Qur’an, the two must be read together. It is viewed less as a book and more as a speech; there’s the idea that everything is dynamic and constantly in creation.

The Qur’an has a very clear view of nature and a coherent view of causality. It tells of the causal relationship of science that is assigned to the Divine Attributes. For instance, the difference between seeing an inanimate egg versus seeing a living, flying bird that has come from something apparently lifeless, makes one wonder. Because of the polarity between the two i.e. the cause being very simple yet the outcome is dynamic, the relationship and the connection is seen to exist.

The Qur’anic text mentions  the heavens 310 times, the earth 451 times,  the process of rain, the clouds and water more than 50 times etc…it talks about seas, trees, vegetation, the formation of the human embryo, etc.

Behold, in the heavens as well as on earth there are indeed signs for all who are willing to believe And in your own nature, and in [that of] all the animals which He scatters [over the earth] there are signs for people who are endowed with inner certainty. And in the succession of night and day, and in the means of subsistence which God sends down from the skies, giving life thereby to the earth after it had been lifeless, and in the change of the winds. These signs of God do We convey unto you, setting forth the truth. In what other tiding, if not in God’s signs, will they, then, believe? (45:3-6)

IT IS GOD who has made the sea subservient [to His laws, so that it be of use] to you so that ships might sail through it at His behest, and that you might seek to obtain [what you need] of His bounty, and that you might have cause to be grateful.  And He has made subservient to you, [as a gift] from Himself, all that is in the heavens and on earth. In this, behold, there are signs indeed for people who think! (45:12-13)

Behold! in the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the alternation of night and day,- there are indeed Signs for people of understanding who celebrate the praises of  God, standing, sitting, and lying down on their sides, and contemplate the creation in the heavens and the earth,  “Our Lord! You have not created this without meaning and purpose! Glory to Thee! …..  (3:190-191)

And are they not aware that We have set up firm mountains on earth, lest it sway with them and [that] We have set up the sky as a canopy well-secured? And [do they fail to see that] it is He who has created the night and the day and the sun and the moon – all of them floating through space! (21:31-33)

Verily, We have created [every one of] you out of dust, then out of a drop of sperm, then out of a germ-cell, then out of an embryonic lump complete [in itself] and yet incomplete and you can see the earth dry and lifeless – and [suddenly,] when We send down waters upon it, it stirs and swells and puts forth every kind of lovely plant! All this [happens] because God alone is the Ultimate Truth. (22:5-6)

It also makes ample use of phrases like, “So look at…,” “Do they not see…?”, “Do they not think…?”, calling repeatedly on its audience to look at the world.

Say: “Go all over the earth and behold how He originated creation.” (29:20)

Let the human look at his food! And how We pour the water generously.  Then we split the soil open. We grow in it grains. Grapes and pasture. Olives and palms.  A variety of orchards.  Fruits and vegetables. To provide life support for you and your animals. (80:24-32)

Do they not look at the Camels, how they are made? And at the Sky, how it is raised high? And at the Mountains, how they are fixed firm? And at the Earth, how it is spread out? (88: 17-20)

There is less interest in ‘why’ but rather in ‘how’. Thus science, as a systematic study of nature that developed in Islamic civilization, could not treat nature and its study as an entity separate from the Islamic worldview; this includes the sciences that were inspired by the very worldview of Islam – the concept of time, space, functions (everything is relational). These things all happened in the 12th century; functions like sine, cosine, all have a background to a particular worldview. The regularities, the laws of nature are actually mirroring the laws of the Divine Names.

In this Qur’anic view, nature is a dynamic system rather than an inert body. Nature accepts and acts upon Divine Commands, like all else between the heavens and the earth. This view of nature grants it distinct metaphysical qualities. Rather than being self-subsisting, autonomous, or random, nature is described by the Qur’an as a sophisticated system of interconnected, consistent, uniform, and highly active entities, all of which are ontologically dependent on the Creator and exalt Him in their own specific ways. As the Qur’an often repeats “The seven heavens and the earth and whatever is between them sing the glories of God”.

This dependence and subservience of nature to God however does not occur haphazardly, since God’s ways and laws are unchanging (Qur’an, 33:62). Actually, that is how the Muslim is supposed to reach belief in the divine i.e., through observing the uniformity of nature, which is a sign to the divine activity. Thus the entire world of nature operates through immutable laws that can be discovered through the investigation of nature. Since these laws are both uniform and knowable, and since nature points to something higher than itself—indeed, to the Creator Himself—it follows that the study of nature leads to an understanding of God, and is in fact a form of worship.

Historian of science Professor Briffault wrote about the scientific enterprise as it was carried out centuries ago in the Muslim civilization:

The method of continuous observation was systematically carried out-some observations extending over twelve years- at the observatories of Damascus, Baghdad, and Cairo. So much importance did they attach to accuracy in their records that those of special interest were formally signed on oath in legal form. (Briffault, 143)[7]

He also wrote:

Not only did the Arabs create those mathematics which were to be the indispensable instrument of scientific analysis, they laid the foundation of those methods of experimental research which in conjunction with mathematical analysis gave birth to modern science (Briffault, 144-145)

Actually the emergence of science within the Islamic civilization is interconnected to the phenomenon of the Qur’an which provides a clear conception of nature, the laws of nature and causality, thus giving a coherent view of the subject of scientific investigation (i.e. nature). Sciences that emerged in Islamic civilization can be shown to have intrinsic links with the Islamic worldview including Islamic rituals such as five daily canonical prayers and the pilgrimage to Mecca.

Many branches of science were directly related to Islamic practices and emerged from a specific view of nature anchored in Islam: astronomy used to determine the distance and direction toward Makkah (the direction Muslims face for their obligatory prayers five times a day); geography; cartography, and more. At the time, when the earth was generally thought to be flat, Idrisi (12 century) drew it as spherical.

Muslim scientists were concerned more with the infinite than the finite. Time and space were no longer static concepts (Greeks), but dynamic. Since God reveals himself in this world at every moment of existence, and this world is continuously coming into existence, they regarded the universe not as finite, not as being, but as becoming. They expressed this conviction by elevating numbers to the status of functions that imply movement, dynamism, and relational connections (rather than separate, static entities).

The Qur’an continuously states in the clearest terms that nothing at all other than God possesses the attributes of Divinity, and that under whatever name, no cause has attributes like maker, creator, giver of sustenance, bringer down of rain from the skies, and raiser of plants from the earth.

Say: “Who is it that sustains you [in life] from the sky and from the earth? Or who is it that has power over hearing and sight? And who is it that brings out the living from the dead and the dead from the living? And who is it that rules and regulates all affairs?” They will soon say, “God.” Say, “Will you not then show piety [to Him]?”[8]

The universe exists in order to make the Creator known. By considering the manner in which beings are created, those who think may find attributes which pertain to their Creator. These divine attributes are known in the Islamic traditions as the Beautiful Names.  As such, Muslims are supposed to study the universe in order to get to know their Sustainer through it. Both causes and effects, and particularly their orderly relationships, mirror the Divine Names.

The Qur’an points out the numerous and significant benefits in the effects so that it will be understood that unconscious causes are infinitely distant from intending the effects. It may also be understood that causes are only veils and these wise aims are the work of One Who is All-Knowing, Wise, and Powerful, possessing infinite knowledge, wisdom and power etc. In this way, the Qur’an dismisses causes from owning their effects. A Muslim scholar explains this point with a metaphor: when seen from afar, mountain peaks on the horizon appear to be adjacent to the sky. But as one approaches, it is understood that there is an infinite distance between the earth and the sky. Similarly he says, when seen from afar, that is, when seen superficially without questioning, causes and effects appear to be adjacent. But on drawing close, and scrutinizing the relationship intentionally, it may be realized that there is a great distance between the cause and the effect. That is, it is understood that even an apparently powerful cause such as the sun has not the slightest influence on a most simple effect.

The so-called cause of the effect does not possess the knowledge and will necessary for the occurrence of the effect. Cause and effect occur together but they have no relationship by which they affect each other. In fact their purposeful arrangement is a sign from the Creator that has created them side by side. The Qur’an says that should all causes unite even they would be powerless to create the least significant being, for instance a mosquito.

The general logic of the Qur’an concerning causality is that:

i. Since causes are extremely commonplace and powerless and the effects attributed to them are significant and full of art, this dismisses causes.

ii. And the aims and benefits of effects also discharge ignorant and lifeless causes, and hand them over to an All-Wise Maker.

iii. Also, the adornment and skill on the face of effects indicates a Wise Maker Who wants to make His power known to conscious beings and desires to make Himself loved.[9]

This conception of the world by no means denies the uniformity of the world. It’s actually quite the opposite; order is itself a proof of unity. Each relation between cause and effect is itself considered to be a sign pointing to the Maker and ascribing all the rest of creation to Him. The crucial point is that these relations are vertical and directly connected to the Maker. The remarkable ordering of the universe is understood to proceed from God’s Wisdom. The rules and ordinances of the creation proceed from the Divine Attributes. The uniformity of sequence of cause and effect is also a sign (aya) pointing to God and making Him known with His Names and Attributes.

Given the inherent relationships between God, humanity, and nature it is impossible in Islam to conceive of nature as an independent, self-subsisting entity. Likewise, science—as an organized enterprise that studies and explores the natural world—is conceived as an entity integral to Islam. In fact, the lack of separation of state and religion in Islamic polity is applicable to all other domains, as Muslims believe that Islam is not merely a set of commandments and rituals but a complete way of life, encompassing all domains of knowledge and human activity. This worldview is based on the principle Tawhid, the Oneness of God, a concept that lies at the heart of the Islamic tradition. Oneness or Tawhid unifies all realms of being and of knowledge, making them branches of the same tree. Everything is interconnected and stems from One Unique source. It may be difficult for the modern Western mind—accustomed to regarding religion solely as set of personal beliefs—to understand this aspect of Islam.

Meaning of phenomena and regularity is intentional and there is mercy in this. Order is not a given but is a gift and sign of care and love. When a baby comes out of the womb, mother’s milk is ready. There is always the same arrangement for any baby’s life; it is a given. This is where philosophy and science begin to ‘touch’ one another, and where Islam provides a philosophy to what science observes.

[1] Online Past Masters text, The Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce, (University of Virginia E-text Center), 1.323. (The online texts is drawn from The Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce,  Vols. I-VI ed. Charles Hartshorne and Paul Weiss (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1931-1935), Vols. VII-VIII ed. Arthur W. Burks (same publisher, 1958).

[2] Ibid., 5.48.

[3] Ibid., 6. 417.

[4] Popper, Karl. (1959). The Logic of Scientific Discovery. Hutchinson & Co. (Original work published in 1935).

[5] Hume, David. (1772).  An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. Hackett Publishing Co.

[6] Toshihiko Izutsu. God and man in the Koran: semantics of the Koranic Weltanschauung. Keio Institute of Cultural and Linguistics Studies, 1964, 142–143.

[7] Robert Briffault. The Making of Humanity. G. Allen & Unwin Ltd, 1928.

[8] Qur’an, 10:31; see also, 13:16; 29:61; 39:38; 43:9; 15; 87; 12:105-6.

[9] Nursi, The Words, 435-6.


Why Study the Qur’an?

By Dr. Eren Tatari[1]

“According to the Qur’an, man knows intuitively that there must be a Creator and he understands what the Creator is not, but in order to know Him, he needs revelation… furthermore, since the Qur’an instructs man to strive to know God when he already knows His existence, it must be referring to another kind of knowledge that exceeds man’s acquired knowledge. That is, revelation does not just state the obvious; it teaches what cannot be learned without having recourse to its teachings.”[2]


What is religion? What is Islam? And why should anyone study the Qur’an? When asked “So, what is Islam?” most Muslims usually begin by listing the pillars of Islam: we pray five times a day, fast during the month of Ramadan, etc.  This is not a sufficient or adequate explanation of Islam. If someone asks me “so who is Lauren really?” and I start describing her height, hair color, occupation, etc. I would be describing the outside, but omitting talking about the essence of the person.

The question “what is Islam?” could be answered through a secular paradigm (which emphasizes the dos and don’ts without the essentials of the why) or a servanthood/faith/iman paradigm (which I try to lay out in this book). An overwhelming majority of people in the world receive secular education, and therefore have secular mindsets and perspectives on life. Tragically, we do not realize that we view even religion from a secular perspective, emphasizing deeds (amal) and treating our relationship with God as a business transaction of costs (sins) and benefits (rewards). Alternatively, we could answer this question through the faith/servanthood (ubudiyyah) paradigm, which emphasizes the real essence of belief.

The servanthood paradigm is based on how we define ourselves and how we answer the question “Who am I?” Since I am not creating myself, I am a created being (an abd). Thus, there is a Creator. Then, the next question becomes, “What is the relationship between me and my Creator?” The relationship between the following words, derived from the same three-letter root, is crucial:


Arabic term

Common English Translation


abd servant We are continuously being created by God; are dependent on Him for everything, and cannot exist independent of Him
ubudiyyah servanthood Acknowledging that we are abd; living our servanthood
ibadah worship Feeling, thinking, acting with the acknowledgement that we are abd in every second of our life


Unfortunately, when we look at all the Abrahamic traditions today, we see the emphasis on the outside (the form or the shell) rather than the inside (the essence) of the message. For example, the current state of Muslims and the predominantly Muslim countries suggests that there is something wrong somewhere. The first few centuries after the advent of Islam, Muslim scientist and scholars took the lead in the world in mathematics, natural sciences, philosophy, etc. They were the vanguard to western civilization. Now, predominantly Muslim countries are behind in all arts and sciences; their economies are suffering; and laziness, corruption and moral degeneration took over like a disease. When young and progressive Muslims see this situation they take on a constructive process of self-criticism and point out the need for an Islamic renaissance. The question is: where did we go wrong? What did we miss and how did we end up here? Of course the answer is exclusively tied to how much we betrayed the spirit of Islam, and how much we deviated from the real essence of the Qur’anic teachings.

Social revival depends on the spiritual revival of individuals. Our goal should be to live with this faith/servanthood paradigm. It has to be ingrained in our minds, hearts, and characters. All our thinking process, reasoning, feelings, reactions to things, way of looking at things must be shaped by the Qur’anic iman education. We have to discipline our ego (nafs) and transform our hearts.  Religion is a burden if our ego is not transformed. We do the mechanics but our ego does not allow us to enjoy the worship and seeks ways to avoid it.

The ultimate goal of Islam is to struggle to become the perfect human being (al-insan al-kamil). God explains the purpose of our creation in the Qur’an as “We have not created jinn and men but to worship (ibadah) us” (Qur’an, 56:57). We have been created to know God, to love God, and to obey God. Again, note that the word ibadah encompasses an overall state of being, continuously acknowledging that we are created beings that cannot exist independent of God. We may never become the perfect human being but the goal is to be on that path by getting to know God. Yet, how can we actually know God? We get to know God through His Divine Attributes (Asma al-Husna) that are manifested in the creation and explained through the scriptures and the prophets.

The first pillar of faith in Islam is the shahadah, which literally means witnessing.  So, what are we to witness? We are to witness that there is one God. But how and where are we to witness, for witnessing entails seeing? We are to witness the manifestation of God’s Attributes and God’s oneness in the creation. This is significantly different than having blind faith in something we do not see. We witness God’s existence and the manifestations of His Attributes in our self, in every aspect of our life, and in the universe by reading the book of signs.[3]

Unfortunately, as secularism and positivism crept in, religion has been reduced to being a Sunday mass or a Friday prayer. It is even reduced to remembering God five times a day in the prescribed prayers or other prescribed ways of worship as if we are taking a pill or a crash-course on how to be a good muslim (submitter). Yet, if we comprehend the actual meaning of witnessing (shahadah), then God and religion does not become one aspect separated from everything else in our life. To the contrary, we strive to live with God consciousness every second of every day. We strive to live as perfect servants (abd) of God and fulfill the purpose of our creation.

The person after learning these truths of iman and embarking on the process of inner transformation has to be different than the person before. If I am not gradually becoming a better person, then all that I am doing is increasing the amount of factual information in my brain. The criteria of what constitutes a “better” person must also be set out by the Creator and not by the transient trends of society. This information does not become knowledge that shapes my feelings, reactions, attitudes towards hardships in life, my personality, and finally my behavior. If I am still the same person, then, all that has happened is that the adjective in front of my name has changed from say a not-so religious person to a religious, observant one without a substantial change in my essence. Of course, the transformation is not going to happen overnight.  In fact, it is a process of transformation that will not end until our last breadth. The goal is to be on this path. It will take a life time, but this is the process that is the struggle (jihad) we have to undertake.

If we define belief (iman) as merely saying “I witness there is no deity but God and I witness that Muhammad is his servant and his messenger,” then iman cannot be increased. Once you say the shahadah, you are done and there is nothing more that can be done on the faith front. Why then did Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and his companions pray that they would die with iman? They were believers, so why would they not have iman when they are dying? Obviously, there has to be another connotation or a nuance that we are missing.

We also sometimes say we hope to increase our iman. Is it increased by reading more Qur’an? Praying more? Fasting more? Eating less? Sleeping less? How exactly can we increase our iman? The short answer is, we can increase our belief by internalizing the Qur’an, undergoing Qur’anic iman education to be transformed, and living as Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) did, for he was the Qur’an in flesh (the perfect example/student of the Qur’anic education). However, we have to understand what kind of a thing iman is in order to figure out how to increase it.

First of all, iman is not a steady thing. If I were to say I have so much of iman, I have to know that it is not a fixed thing but a slippery ground where you can either go up or down. Hence, I have no guarantee that tomorrow I will have the same level of iman. Belief needs to be constantly nurtured and increased. Otherwise it will decrease. Imagine a balloon: If you support it with your hand, you can keep it in the air and can evern push it higher. The moment you stop exerting some force, it comes down…

Why does it decrease if I still say I believe in God and Islam as the true religion? Well, God creates human beings with a nature of nisyan, which means to forget. In fact, the Arabic word for human (insan) comes from the same root as nisyan. We do not necessarily forget that there is a God, but we do forget in the sense of living oblivious to the fact that there is a God. Is it possible to know that there is God and, and that islam (submission) is the truth and still live as if there is no God? Yes, it is. That’s exactly what we do when we are negligent of our reality as abd, and feel/think/act as if we are our own boss, we are independent of God, and we are the best judges of what we need to make us happy in this life, etc.

It is all in the heart. Even if I may follow all the halal-haram guidelines outwardly, in my heart, I may still be in disbelief (kufr). Kufr and iman are in the same heart. Until we become that perfect human being (al-insan al-kamil), we will always sin (being in the state of kufr). The literal meaning of kufr is to conceal or to cover something up. In this sense, kufr is concealing the truth, the truth that God is the Creator of everything. Tomorrow when I get sick and have to see a doctor, if in my heart I am expecting that doctor to heal me, I am in a state of kufr. Whereas if I am aware that God creates the doctor, his knowledge, the pill, and the healing, I am in a state of iman.

A muslim must act as a submitter, no matter what. Even if the other person involved in the situation is doing wrong, we have to always be a muslim. We cannot respond to wrong with wrong. It results in more wrong! The point is, if we are a submitter, which means we are undergoing the inner transformation, we cannot act as anything else, other than a muslim. Submission would become our nature/fitrah/character and we would not have any other choice but to submit.

When, Abu Sufyan, one of the worst enemies of Islam and Muslims in the time of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) came to him, some companions wanted to treat him badly. Yet the Prophet welcomed him with respect and behaved kindly to him, hosting him in his own tent. In the Prophet’s tent, Sufyan declared that he became Muslim, but outside, he secretly professed he was not. If at that time, the followers of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) did not treat all unbelievers nicely, would they have been heeding the message of the Qur’an? God says in the Qur’an:

“God does not forbid you, as regards those who do not make war against you on account of your Religion, nor drive you away from your homes, to be kindly to them, and act towards them with equity. God surely loves the scrupulously equitable” (Qur’an, 60:8).

On the same token, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) teaches us “O servant of God, let your love and hate be for the sake of God, because no one can attain to the wilayah (guardianship) of God without that, and no one shall find the taste of faith without that, though his prayers and fast be great in number.”[4]This saying has a gist to it that makes the entire meaning different. You love the mu’min characteristics and you hate the kafir characteristics. A non-Muslim may have muslim characteristics and you love the person and the good characteristics; a Muslim may have kafir characteristics, and you dislike those characteristics. Likewise, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said “Help your brother, whether he is an oppressor or he is an oppressed one.” People asked, “O Allah’s Apostle! It is all right to help him if he is oppressed, but how should we help him if he is an oppressor?” The Prophet said, “By preventing him from oppressing others.”[5] When he is a zalim (oppressor) you are beside him to help him to correct himself, not to defend his zulm (oppression)!


[1] Dr. Eren Tatari is the author of Surrendering to God: Understanding Islam in the Modern Age  (Tughra Publications, December 2012).  She is an Assistant Professor at Rollins College, FL focusing on Islam and Muslims in the West.

[2] Mermer 2005.

[3] What does it mean for the Divine Attributes to be reflected in human beings, the universe, and the revelations? Please read the Commentary on “God has created man in His image.”

[4] Majlisi 1983, Vol. 27, p. 54.

[5] Sahih Bukhari, Volume 3, Book 43, Number 624.

The Nature of Divine Scriptures

By Dr. Eren Tatari[1]

1. Descent from God to human beings: When we read the Qur’an we must not forget this fact that it is the word of God, expressed for our understanding. It is coming from the Absolute, Infinite, Unlimited One, yet we understand within our capacity, because the One sending it knows that it is us who will read it. However, it is a mistake to think that since it is reduced/simplified to my level, I can understand it easily. It is still originating from the Absolute. For instance, if Einstein comes to an elementary school and speaks to the first graders, he will try to simplify his teachings for their level. Likewise, the Qur’an is the Absolute One’s teachings explained at our level. When people write commentaries on the Qur’an, it is their interpretation/understanding: we are swimming in an ocean, yet all of us have our way of swimming. That is why in principle, if two Islamic scholars contradict on one subject, their opinions are respected and still rewarded for their effort to understand God’s words.

We must be aware that we are swimming in the ocean, so we are only swimming in our path, we cannot swim everywhere in the ocean at once. We understand the Qur’an as much as our capacity allows us. The Qur’an is published with no name on it, but when there is a translation or commentary, one can see the scholar’s name on it. Most of the commentaries are subjective interpretations. Even if it is written by the best scholar, it is still her translation and her commentary; not the original. Hence, translations of the Qur’an are not called the Qur’an

2. Purpose in sending the revelations: What is the purpose of God speaking to us through the scriptures?

a) To disclose/explain Himself: to make Himself known to us, teach human beings who their Creator is.

b) To answer our existential questions and to teach us how to interpret the creation: we cannot find the answers on our own, but if someone explains to us, we are able to use our reason and other faculties to make sense of it, to judge if it is true or not.

c) We cannot get out of our own paradigm (or bias): so we need another source, an all-encompassing conscious to guide us with an unlimited knowledge, and to teach us how to interact with the things around us, what to do with our lives, etc.

3. Book of education: Given these purposes, the Qur’an is an educational text; it is intellectual and can transform us. Sometimes, we read the Qur’an not as an educational text that will transform our inner being, but just to carry out the dos and don’ts without reflecting on them. In a way, this attitude is out of reverence for the Qur’an: we take a verse from the Qur’an and say “since this verse says so, it must be so.” This is not reading the scripture to learn something from it or to be transformed by it. Reading it as a book of prayer is fine, but it must also be read as an educational text. We should not read the scripture to condition ourselves, to brainwash ourselves. We are told to memorize and recite the national anthem to fortify our already existing prejudices, to condition ourselves. Is it wise to read the scripture like this? We have to read the Qur’an, as if we are listening to our teacher, to learn from it, not to imitate it. We tell ourselves we have to “read in the name of our Lord who created us” but what if we do not know how to do this?

To actually benefit from the Qur’an, we must ask ourselves: Is it really true? Is it possible to read in the name of our Creator? What does it really mean? We need to educate ourselves through its teachings. We will be drawn out of some ignorance. If we are not familiar with this approach, we exclaim, “God says so in this verse so it must be so.” But the real question is: What did you understand from it and how did it transform you? From which state to which state you were transformed? When we recite the verse, we must not speak on behalf of God. After we complete our education at the nursing school, we go to the hospital and practice, because we have already been educated. If someone is my nurse and she takes care of me perfectly, I ask: where did you learn this? They tell the name of the school. Likewise, we must learn from and be transformed by the Qur’an, and practice what we learn, so when someone asks how and where you learned this from, we refer them to the Qur’an.

Sometimes people just “shoot” a verse from the Qur’an to back-up a point they are making. Since they are reciting the Qur’an, they feel as if the argument is over because you cannot “argue” with God’s word.  If we cite verses from the Qur’an, without being transformed by them, or give evidence from the Qur’an to prove the truth of the Qur’an, this is a literalist attitude. Just relating a verse from the Qur’an and saying “I am not saying anything God is saying it,” is not neutral. You put your interpretation onto it. In a particular context, topic, someone relates a verse, but it is our interpretation that God is meaning this in this context. You, narrating the verse at that moment is an interpretation. When a doctor performs a medical procedure, she is practicing what she learned in medical school. In reality, it may or may not be what she was actually taught at school: she may be remembering it wrong; she may be adding her own take to how the procedure must be done, etc.

There was an argument between two communities during the time of Ali’s leadership. One side’s position was something like: “Let’s make the Qur’an a witness to our argument. Let the Qur’an decide about who is right. Let the Qur’an be the judge.” Ali, as a very wise man brought up in Prophet Muhammad’s household, brought the mushaf, the book containing the Qur’an. He explained that this book does not speak for itself, it stays there, you make it speak. This is in fact the first hermeneutic approach. When we come up with a verse in an argument, we make the verse speak as we understand it, we locate it into our paradigm and use it in a specific context. This is the literalist attitude into which we fall commonly. It is a crucial but extremely fine point that is often overlooked. This literalist approach, no matter which religion it is framed as, is wrong/deceptive.

Another example is the war between Ali’s supporters and Muawiya’s supporters. Towards the end of the war, when Muawiya’s supporters were about to be defeated, he ordered his soldiers to attach pages from the Qur’an, knowing that Ali’s supporters were extremely respectful to the Qur’an and that they would not fight. Indeed, Ali’s supporters ceased fighting. As a result of this incident, a well-known phrase came about: “you never put the Qur’an to your spear!” meaning that you do not use the Qur’an to support your point. Nursi says:

Do not hide yourself behind the Qur’an, and read the verses to justify your own paradigm, ideas. But put the Qur’an behind you if you are a brave man, and come up as yourself to defend yourself. Say this is my understanding of the verse, if you do not like it, it is because of me. Yet the literalists say if you criticize what I say, it is what God says, so you are a heretic. If the nurse does a wrong injection, and paralyzes the patient, and says I graduated from such university… Do not blame the educator, blame yourself. Accept that your interpretation is wrong. Say I have not got good education, I was not a good student, but that university teaches very well.”

So when we read the Qur’an, we must be humble and admit that this is our understanding. If someone disputes our interpretation, we can say: “maybe, it is possible that my interpretation is wrong. Let’s go back to the source and try to get educated by it. Let’s study together, admitting that we are both students trying to understand the text/teacher.” But the literalist says, “I am not saying anything; God says this in the Qur’an. Speaking on behalf of the Qur’an, and if you oppose me, you are a heretic, an infidel.” Our personal approach and ideas should not be equated with the original text. We cannot narrate the text to justify our argumentation and claim that this is the ultimate meaning of the verse.

4. Qur’an needs to be confirmed by the reader: When we read the scripture, we must always keep in mind that we are its students and it is our teacher. The student listens to his teacher, hears something that he does not know already and needs to learn. Our goal in the classroom, while God is speaking to us, is not to be a parrot, we are expected to understand and confirm. When the teacher says 3×3=9, some students just repeat and memorize it while others process it in their minds. These students are not judging the teacher, but they need to confirm it for themselves. The confirmation comes a few minutes later. One of the pillars of belief in Islam is to believe in the Qur’an as the word of God: this means to confirm (tasdiq) it.


[1] Dr. Eren Tatari is the author of Surrendering to God: Understanding Islam in the Modern Age  (Tughra Publications, December 2012).  She is an Assistant Professor at Rollins College, FL focusing on Islam and Muslims in the West.

How to Approach the Qur’an

By Dr. Eren Tatari[1]

When we are studying the verses of the Qur’an, we must keep in mind that while the author of the Qur’an is God, He is speaking directly to us to teach something. When we approach the message, we must be aware that each and every verse is addressed to us by our Creator. Since we know that God is speaking to us to teach us the purpose of our creation, we must try to see how each verse is educating us about our purpose.

For instance, God says in the Qur’an, “We have not created the heavens and the earth and all that is between them in vain…” (Qur’an, 38:27). We need to study the creation in order to confirm this claim. When we observe creation, we realize that everything is created (and is being created every instance) to make us know who our Creator is and the purpose of our creation. Thus, we are surrounded by purposeful creation and infinite letters bringing us messages from our Creator. When we study the creation, we observe that nothing comes into existence by chance and their existence points to infinite power and wisdom. Created beings demonstrate that their Creator can only be the Absolute One through the various qualities they have been given.

Our understanding of each verse must be the result of a conscious effort to comprehend God’s speech sent to guide us. In the same way, even if a verse may be seemingly simple, when we bear in mind that it is God who is talking, then our expectations and attitude towards it changes. The same is true for God’s revelation in words (scriptures) and God’s revelation in action (the creation).

For example, let’s look at a fig. Do we realize that a single fig has to be created by the One who has absolute power? Unbelievers would take the fig lightly and thus not get its real profound meaning. This particular attitude of unbelievers is deliberate. Since unbelievers do not want to submit to a higher being, they do not accept that created beings have an owner/maker. With this attitude, a fig becomes only a means to nourish living beings. This is equivalent to saying it is created in vain. The Creator of the fig did not create it only to feed us. Its ultimate purpose of creation is to bring news from its Creator and make the Creator known to us.

For instance, if God suggests keeping our houses clean this suggestion should not be taken lightly at face value, thinking that the only reason is, say to be healthy. We must approach this suggestion in such a way as to help us build and secure our belief. When we are reading each verse, we have to be mindful of the ultimate aim of the Qur’an, and try to understand each sentence in light of the bigger picture. In a sense, every verse must take us to the transcendental world. Interpretations of Qur’anic verses that lack this attitude have shortcomings and are bound to be misleading.

Before reading the “Speech of God,” we need to define what “Speech of God” really means. God speaks in two ways: a) with words (scriptures), and b) with action (creation). God says in the Qur’an:


“They will ask their skins, “Why have you borne witness against us?” They will answer: “God who makes everything speak has made us speak.” It is He Who has created you in the first instance, and to Him you are being brought back” (Qur’an, 41:21).


These two kinds of speech support each other. God’s speech is not historical, it is universal; it addresses all humanity, at all times, and in all situations. When we read God’s speech we need to bear in mind the following principles:


1. Who is speaking?: The Creator of the universe

2. To whom is He speaking?: All humanity

3. Why is He speaking?: To answer basic existential questions

4. In which capacity is He speaking?: As a merciful God


The general principles of exegesis are:

1. Reading the Scripture to check if it is really God’s word

2. Reading the Scripture as a potential elucidator of the meaning of life

3. Abstaining from drawing hasty conclusions; we need to interpret every single verse within the context of the above four principles

4. The stories of the lives of the prophets and their miracles need to be interpreted in a way that would not contradict the universality of the Scripture

5. Information about the hereafter is to be interpreted in order to organize our lives here in this world

When studied in light of the above principles, four overarching themes emerge from the Qur’an:

1. The Oneness of God

2. Existence of the hereafter

3. Messengership

4. Justice and worship

What is the nature of the Qur’an or in general all scriptures? And how should our attitude be towards them? What are the particularities of a text for it to be called scripture? Scripture means the holy or sacred text; God’s word as revelation (not inspiration). Prophets received revelation, as well as inspiration. For the prophets, revelation is when the meaning and the words are from God, where as inspiration is when the meaning is from God, but the words are not.

So there is the Qur’an, hadith qudsi, and hadith (sayings of Prophet Muhammad). Revelation comes to messengers via angels, because nothing from the world of the unseen (alam al-ghayb) is translated to the world of witnessing/creation (alam al-shahadah) without angels. We cannot experience the World of the Unseen as it is. The Qur’an is the word of God, brought to a Prophet through Angel Gabriel, and no one has the right to change the words. But when it is Prophet Muhammad’s sayings through inspiration, it is called hadith qudsi (sacred/inspired sayings): the meaning is from God, the words are from Prophet Muhammad. Additionally, there are the sayings of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), hadith, uttered by the best student of the Qur’an: the word and the meaning are from Prophet Muhammad. The teacher for us in the Qur’an is God. In the latter two, the teacher is Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), but he is not the source of the wisdom or the message. During Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) time, it was forbidden to write down hadith qudsi and hadith in order to avoid potential mix-up with the Qur’an. Hence, only the Qur’anic verses were written down during his lifetime.

When we are reading a hadith we need to know the historical event related to it. If not, we may read a saying of Prophet Muhammad (hadith) that was from, say 617, the Meccan period, and if we do not know the verses of the Qur’an revealed prior to this event, we cannot interpret this saying properly. So Prophet Muhammad might have acted at this event according to the tradition of the society, since certain verses of Qur’an were not revealed yet at that time. Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) sayings as such do not establish the religion. He is not the founder of religion. We can find a Christian, Jewish or Meccan tradition at that event, because when there was no revelation about the matter, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) applied the common tradition of the place.

Tedrij, gradual development, implementation, establishment of religion is a principle of Islam. The human tendency is that everyone wants to elevate their leader as much as possible, but we should not exaggerate. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was honest to his nature, followed the monotheistic (haneef) tradition of Prophet Abraham, and did not participate in any polytheism. As a man, he was an honest man, did not do anything deliberately wrong. Yet still, he was not the founder of the religion. However pure his personality is, he was not the establisher of the religion, but he was the best student and the teacher of the religion, because he was the person chosen to present God’s religion. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) taught his community what God taught him. So, Islam is not Muhammadanism, but the religion of God.

All of the misunderstandings and quarrels among the Muslim community arise from the avoidance of this principle of gradual establishment (tadrej). Studying the Qur’an and the hadith requires scholarship, expertise in history, and knowledge of the entirety of the matter. The most developed science in Islam is hadith, followed by the interpretation of the Qur’an.


[1] Dr. Eren Tatari is the author of Surrendering to God: Understanding Islam in the Modern Age  (Tughra Publications, December 2012).  She is an Assistant Professor at Rollins College, FL focusing on Islam and Muslims in the West.

Education (Tarbiyah) of the Qur’an

By Dr. Eren Tatari[1]

Islamic scholars unanimously agree that the primary message of the Qur’an is tawhid. Tawhid is an Arabic word that is commonly translated as Oneness of God. Yet, the closest translation of the grammatical form of tawhid is “unifying God.” In other words, tawhid means continuously affirming or confirming that God is One. This mission is also summed up in the declaration of faith Lailaha illallah (there is no deity but God). At first it seems like a simple message that there is only one God as opposed to two or three. But is it really that simple? If it was that simple, what were the companions of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) struggling to understand for 23 years (the duration of Qur’anic revelations and his prophethood), sitting beside the Prophet (pbuh) to be educated (tarbiyah) by the Qur’an? Indeed, tawhid is at the heart of our relation with our Creator. The truth is simple, thus the statement is simple. Yet, surrendering one’s self to this truth is not an easy task that can be accomplished overnight. The following verse may be referring to this fact:

“(Some of) the dwellers of the desert say: “We believe (amanna).” Say (to them): “You have not believed (yuminu). Rather, (you should) say, ‘We have submitted (islamna) (to the rule of Islam),’ for faith (iman) has not yet entered into your hearts.”…” (Qur’an, 49:14).

Even though the companions changed their intentions fast and decided to surrender to God’s Will, it took them 23 years of education to transform their paradigms and completely surrender; and they were still praying that they would die as mu’min (believers)!

An overwhelming majority of people today do not claim that there are two or three gods. Yet, one of the major problems of human beings is assigning Divine Attributes to causes. If we see an egg, and assuming that we have never seen a chick coming out of an egg, could we ever imagine that out of this solid, lifeless thing a creature will pop out? There is seemingly no relation whatsoever between these two beings, a chicken and an egg. So causes are not even apparently effective in producing the outcomes, i.e. the effects. Yet, how is it that we fall into the trap of thinking that the egg “produces” the chicken? God creates everything in the same manner with the same order: for example, He always creates chickens from eggs, never from acorns…[2] So when we observe the same sequence of occurrences continuously, we come to forget the Judge (Hakim) and the Creator, thus attributing the Creatorship to the egg.

What are causes then? If God is indeed the All-Powerful and the All-Knowing, can He not create the tomato directly, without the causes? Yes, He could have. But it is part of the big picture/the divine plan to create the causes and the effects, and to make the causes a “veil” to His Divine Attributes. Let us think of the common message of the scriptures: all of them are reminding us that we have a Creator, and they expound on Divine Attributes of our Creator in a sense introducing Him to us. God teaches us in the Qur’an over and over again to ponder upon the signs (ayah) in the creation of things in the universe, and then in ourselves. In a sense, this is our life-long struggle (purpose of our creation) to see, think, feel, and act in the name of the Creator: Not to attribute the qualities of things to themselves; not to act in our name, appropriating our qualities, thinking “I am intelligent, I love, I do, etc.”

In this struggle, causes play an important role in helping us understand that there is One God. We observe the egg and the chicken, the atoms, and everything else to confirm this truth. We realize that an egg cannot in itself produce a chicken in a million years. We confirm that none of these things own any of the qualities they manifest. After we confirm that even the things that seem to be the most intelligent and superb cannot do a single thing on their own, we turn to ourselves and acknowledge that nothing in us is from ourselves. These processes are steps of submission that lead to certainty (iman) in belief in God’s existence and oneness.

Let’s discuss another example. Each of us is a sign pointing to the Divine Attributes of the Creator. For instance, if I act mercifully, I am only choosing with my partial-freewill to act as a mirror to the mercy of the Most-Merciful God. Also, I am created with an intrinsic quality to love what is beautiful. A flower is a sign pointing to the Divine Attributes of the Creator as well. It has been created beautifully by the Most-Beautiful One; it has been fashioned and designed in the most perfect manner by the Fashioner and the Designer. Moreover, me loving the flower (aka. the relation between me and the flower) constitutes another sign out of these two seemingly unrelated signs. When one ponders upon my reaction to the flower (feeling of love), there is absolutely no way to explain this feeling by materialist philosophy. Why would a creature, made up of flesh, blood and bones (just as a chicken is) suddenly have this feeling upon seeing a flower (whereas a chicken would eat the flower rather than appreciate and love its beauty)?

I just “claimed” that our feelings are also given by God. The discipline of medicine explains feelings through chemical reactions, which are only the causes created by God that cannot create the effects by themselves. The other alternative would be us creating them somehow, or them being created by themselves, or by chemical reactions. All the alternatives connote infinite, divine powers to causes and hence do not make sense.

Yet, one may ask: if God is creating all the feelings in us, what is the point of anger or jealousy, or for that matter any other feelings that we might perceive to be undesirable? The essential point is this: indeed these feelings are created and given to us by God, but these feelings, say anger, is not given so we say “I am an angry person, what can I do?” We observe purpose and wisdom in the creation of everything in the universe, thus we confirm that the Creator is the Most-Wise and does not create anything in vain. Hence, we conclude that there must be a wise purpose behind the creation of anger as well. Let’s say that we get angry at something. Since we have partial-freewill, are we going to carry on with this anger or are we going to control it? This is the struggle for self-discipline, hence training our ego/nafs to accept the reality as it is and not to have false claims of ownership over our intelligence, feelings, existence, etc. This discipline culminates in the fulfillment of our humanity.

Same is true for love also. No feeling, be it anger or love, is absolutely good or absolutely bad. It is how we use it that renders it good or bad in different instances. Just as a knife may be used to murder someone, it may help save a life when used appropriately by a surgeon. Thus, we must try to use these feelings, which are “tools”, with our partial-freewill to better ourselves, and understand that they are gifts from our Creator given to us for a wise purpose. For instance, anger is meant to be used against injustice or oppression.

How does this all tie back to tawhid and the education of the Qur’an? God teaches us in the Qur’an how to look at the signs to increase our knowledge of Him (marifatullah). Yet, the purpose of this knowledge is not just to increase our ‘information’ about Him. This knowledge is to transform us, to educate us in the way of tawhid, which is the only way to live peacefully without contradicting ourselves because tawhid is accepting the reality as it is. We are to confirm the Unity of God constantly by observing the outward and inward signs. And as we confirm His Divine Unity, we are to submit and surrender to the truth with all our being: our feelings, thoughts, and actions.


[1] Dr. Eren Tatari is the author of Surrendering to God: Understanding Islam in the Modern Age  (Tughra Publications, December 2012).  She is an Assistant Professor at Rollins College, FL focusing on Islam and Muslims in the West.

[2] What we call mu’jiza (miracle, literal translation is something that makes you [feel] helpless; makes you realize that you are helpless) is God creating something out of the “normal” order that He always does. For instance, He always creates babies from an egg and a sperm. Jesus’ birth to Virgin Mary is a miracle. It is in fact no more or no less “difficult” to create a baby without a sperm than it is to create one from an egg and a sperm. Both require infinite power and knowledge, and the One who possess infinite power and knowledge can do both.