Understanding and internalising them should create an immense passion for connecting with Him. When you get to know the One that made you, you cannot help but lovingly worship Him. God is the source of all goodness hence why worshipping him is the greatest Good.
Say [to them], ‘Call on God, or on the Lord of Mercy– whatever names you call Him, the best names belong to Him.’, do not be too loud in your prayer, or too quiet, but seek a middle way and say, ‘Praise belongs to God, who has no child nor partner in His rule. He is not so weak as to need a protector. Proclaim His limitless greatness!’ The Qur’an, Chapter 17, Verses 110-111
Indeed the very purpose of our life is to have a relationship with God. The relationship is one of friendship, love, gratefulness and submission, all of these concepts are covered by the practice of worship as taught to us by the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)
‘And I did not create the jinn and mankind except to worship Me.’ The Qur’an, Chapter 51, Verse 56
In awe of God
When we see amazing displays of skill by one of our sporting heroes, or when we observe great feats of courage, or when we listen to a motivational speech—we are compelled to praise what we have experienced. We stand. We clap. We give an ovation. We are moved, inspired, encouraged, elated and overwhelmed by what we have experienced. We never forget these moments in our lives. Just think back to the last time you experienced such a moment and how your reaction to praise was the only just and necessary reaction.
Now let’s draw our attention to our universe; we live in this amazing universe. We hope, love, seek justice and believe in the ultimate value of human life. We reason, feel, reflect and discover. We live in a vast universe with billions of stars, galaxies and planets. The universe contains sentient beings that have a unique stream of awareness. We have an immaterial mind that interacts with the physical world. The universe has laws and a precise arrangement that, if different, would have prevented the emergence of conscious life. We feel—deep down inside—the wrongness of evil and the rightness of good.
In our universe, we have animals and insects, such as the ant that can withstand their own body weight many times over, and seeds that can germinate from the heat of a fire. We live on a planet with thousands of languages and millions of species. We live in a universe where the human mind can discover weapons that can wipe out the Earth, and produce ideas that can prevent those weapons from firing. We live in a universe that if one of its innumerable atoms is split, it can release an immense amount of energy. We live on a planet which, if hearts are united, can bring peace to the world.
Yet some of us are not compelled to give God—who created the entire universe and everything within it—a standing ovation; to stand, glorify and praise Him.[i] We cannot give thanks to the creator of every moment, every situation and interaction? We are deluded, deceived and forgetful of God, the one who created us:
O mankind, what has deceived you concerning your Lord, the Generous? The Qur’an, Chapter 82, Verse 6
God is truly great, He is the greatest. He is worthy of our love, obedience, and acts of worship. If you haven’t already understood why, here are three key reasons.
1. God’s right to be worshipped is a necessary fact of His existence
The best place to start is to understand who God is. God by definition is the One who is entitled to our worship; it is a necessary fact of His own existence. The Qur’an repeatedly highlights this fact about God,
Indeed, I am God. There is no deity except Me, so worship Me and establish prayer for My remembrance. The Qur’an, Chapter 20, Verse 14
Since God, by definition, is the only Being that whose right is our worship, then all of our acts of worship should be directed to Him alone.
God is uniquely one without any partners. In the Islamic tradition, we are made aware that he is perfect, as perfect as perfect can be. He possesses all the perfect names and attributes to the highest degree possible. God is described as the The-Loving, and this means that His love is the most perfect love and His love is the greatest love possible. It is because of these names and attributes that God must be worshipped.
We always praise people for their kindness, knowledge and wisdom. However, God’s kindness, knowledge and wisdom are to the highest degree possible with no deficiency or flaw. Therefore, He is worthy of the most extensive form of praise and praising God is a form of worship. God is also the only One entitled to our supplications and prayers. He knows best what is good for us, and He also wants what is good for us. Such a Being with these attributes must be prayed to, and to be asked assistance of. God is worthy of our worship because there is something about God that makes Him so. He is the Being with the most perfect names and attributes.
An important point regarding worshipping God is that it is His right even if we are not recipients of any type of comfort. If we were to live a life full of suffering, God is still to be worshipped. Worshipping God is not dependent on some kind of reciprocal relationship; He gives us life, and we worship Him in return. Do not misunderstand what is being said here, God showers us with many blessings (as is discussed below); however, He is worshipped because of who He is and not necessarily because of how He decides—via His boundless wisdom—to distribute His bounty.
2. God has created and sustains everything
God has created everything; He continually sustains the entire cosmos and provides for us out of His bounty. The Qur’an continually repeats this reality in many ways, which evokes a sense of gratitude and awe in the heart of the listener or reader:
It is He who created for you all of that which is on the Earth. The Qur’an, Chapter 2, Verse 29
Do they indeed ascribe to Him as partners things that can create nothing but are themselves created? The Qur’an, Chapter 7, Verse 191
O mankind, remember the favour of God upon you. Is there any creator other than God who provides for you from the heaven and Earth? There is no deity except Him, so how are you deluded? The Qur’an, Chapter 53, Verse 3
Therefore, everything we use in our daily lives, and all of the essential things that we require to survive, are all due to God. It follows then that all thanks belong to him. Since God created everything that exists, He is the owner and master of everything, including us. Hence, we must be in a sense of awe and gratitude towards Him. Since God is our Master, we must be His servants. To deny this is not only rejecting reality, but it is the height of ingratitude, arrogance and thanklessness.
Since God created us, our very existence is solely dependent on Him.
How can you disbelieve in God when you were lifeless and He brought you to life; then He will cause you to die, then He will bring you [back] to life, and then to Him you will be returned. The Qur’an, Chapter 2, Verse
We are not self-sufficient, even if some of us are deluded into thinking that we are. Whether we live a life of luxury and ease or poverty and hardship, we are ultimately dependent on God. Nothing in this universe is possible without Him and whatever happens is due to His will. Our success in life and the great things that we may have achieved are ultimately because of God. He created the causes in the universe that we use to achieve success, and if He does not will our success, it will never of happened. Understanding our ultimate dependence on God should evoke an immense sense of gratitude and humility in our hearts. Humbling ourselves before God and thanking Him is a form of worship. One of the biggest barriers to Divine guidance and mercy is the delusion of self-sufficiency, which is ultimately based on ego and arrogance. The Qur’an makes this point clear:
But man exceeds all bounds when he thinks he is self-sufficient. The Qur’an, Chapter 96, Verses 6-7
There is the one who is miserly, and is self-satisfied, who denies goodness—We shall smooth his way towards hardship and his wealth will not help him as he falls. Our part is to provide guidance. The Qur’an, Chapter 92, Verse 9-12
3. God provides us with innumerable favours
And if you should [try to] count the favours of God, you could not enumerate them. Indeed mankind is [generally] most unjust and ungrateful. The Qur’an, Chapter 14, Verse 34
We should be eternally grateful to God because we could never thank Him for His blessings. Take the heart for example. The human heart beats around 100,000 times a day, which is approximately 35,000,000 times a year. If we were to live up to the age of 75, the number of heartbeats would reach 2,625,000,000. How many of us have even counted that number of heartbeats? No one ever has. To be able to count that many times, you would have had to start counting each heartbeat from the day you were born. It would also mean not being able to live a normal life, as you would always be counting every time your heart started a new beat.
However, every heartbeat is precious to us. Anyone of us would sacrifice a mountain of gold to ensure that our hearts would function properly to keep us alive. Yet we forget and deny the One who created our hearts and enables them to function. This example forces us to conclude that we must be grateful to God, and gratitude is a form of worship. The above discussion just refers to heartbeats, so imagine the gratitude we must express for all the other blessings God has given us. From this perspective, anything other than a heartbeat is a bonus. God has given us favours we cannot enumerate, and if we could count them we would have to thank Him for being able to do that too.
To conclude, lovingly worshipping God and peacefully submitting our will to Him is fulfilling the purpose of our existence.
Imagine one evening you receive a call from David, one of your old school friends you used to sit next to during science lessons. You haven’t spoken to him for years, however, what passes your mind is the weird questions he used to ask you. Although you found him pleasant, you were not a fan of his ideas. the classicaReluctantly you answer. After a brief exchange of greetings, he invites you to have lunch with him. You half-heartedly accept his invitation.
During lunch, he asks you, “Can I tell you something?” You reply positively, and he begins to express to you something that you haven’t heard before, “You know, the past — like what you did yesterday, last year, and all the way back to your birth — it didn’t really happen. It’s just an illusion in your head. So my question to you is, do you believe the past exists?”
As a rational person, you do not agree with his assertion and you reply, “What evidence do you have to prove that the past does not exist?”
Now rewind the conversation, and imagine you spent the whole meal trying to prove that the past is something that really happened.
Which scenario do you prefer?
The reason you prefer the first scenario is because you — like the rest of the reasonable people out there — regard the reality of the past as a self-evident truth. As with all self-evident truths, if someone challenges them, the burden of proof is on the one who has questioned them.
Now let’s apply this to a theist-atheist dialogue.
A theist invites his atheist friend for dinner, and during the meal the atheist asserts, “You know, God does not exist. There’s no evidence for his existence.” The theist replies with a barrage of different arguments for God’s existence. However, has the theist adopted the right strategy?
Before we present a positive case for God’s existence, shouldn’t we be probing why questioning God’s existence is the assumed default question? It shouldn’t be, ‘does God exist?’ Rather, it should be ‘what reasons do we have to reject His existence?’
Now, do not get me wrong. I believe we have many good arguments that support a belief in God, but the point I am raising here is that if there are no arguments against God’s existence, then the rational default position is the belief in the Divine. Otherwise, it would be tantamount to questioning the reality of the past without any good reason to do so. From this perspective, atheism is unnatural.
We consider many beliefs to be self-evidently true. This means the belief can be described as natural or true by default. Some of them include:
– The uniformity of nature
– The law of causality
– The reality of the past
– The validity of our reasoning
– The existence of other minds
– The existence of an external world
When someone questions these truths, we do not blindly accept their conclusions, and we usually reply, “What evidence do you have to reject them?”.
These truths are self-evident because they are characterised by being:
- Universal: Not a product of a specific culture; they are cross-cultural.
- Untaught: Not based on information transfer. They are not acquired via information external to your introspection and senses. In other words, they are not learnt via acquiring knowledge.
- Natural: Formed due to the natural functioning of the human psyche.
- Intuitive: The easiest and simple interpretation of the world.
God: a self-evident truth
Just like the belief that the past was once the present, the existence of God is also a self-evident truth. What is meant by ‘God’ here is the basic concept of a creator, a non-human personal cause or designer. It does not refer to a particular religious conception of a deity or God. The following discussion explains why the belief in this basic idea of God is universal, untaught, natural and intuitive.
The basic underlying idea of a creator, or a supernatural cause for the universe, is cross-cultural. It is not contingent on culture but transcends it, like the belief in causality and the existence of other minds. For example, the idea of other people having minds exists in all cultures, a belief held by most rational people. The existence of God or a supernatural cause is a universally held belief and not the product of one specific culture. Different conceptions of God are held in various cultures, but this does not negate the basic idea of a creator or nonhuman personal cause.
In spite of the number of atheists in the world, the belief in God is universal. A universal belief does not mean every single person on the planet must believe in it. A cross-cultural consensus is enough evidence to substantiate the claim that people universally believe in God’s existence. Evidently, there are many more theists than atheists in the world, and this has been the case from the beginning of recorded history.
Self-evident truths do not need to be taught or learnt. For example, for me to know what spaghetti is, I require information about western cuisine and Italian culture. I cannot know what spaghetti is merely by reflecting on it. By contrast, you do not require any information, whether from culture or education, to know a creator for things exists. This may be the reason why sociologists and anthropologists argue that even if atheist children were stranded on a desert island, they would come to believe that something created the island. Our understanding of God may differ, but the underlying belief in a cause or creator is based on our own reflections.
Some atheists exclaim, “God is no different than believing in the spaghetti monster”. This objection is obviously false. Self-evident truths do not require external information. The idea that monsters exist, or even that spaghetti exists, requires information transfer. No one acquires knowledge of monsters or spaghetti by their own intuitions or introspection. Therefore, the spaghetti monster is not a self-evident truth; thus, the comparison with God cannot be made.
Belief in some type of supernatural designer or cause is based on the natural functioning of the human psyche. The concept of God’s self-evident existence has been a topic of scholarly discussion in the Islamic intellectual tradition. The classical scholar, Ibn Taymiyyah, explained that “affirmation of a Maker is firmly rooted in the hearts of all men… it is from the binding necessities of their creation….” As well as the Islamic position, a wealth of research in various fields supports the conclusion that we are meant to see the world as created and designed.
The academic, Olivera Petrovich, conducted research concerning the origins of natural things, such as plants and animals, and she found that pre-schoolers were about seven times more likely to say God created them rather than adults. In her popular interviews, Petrovich concludes that the belief in a non-anthropomorphic God seems to be natural and that atheism is an acquired cognitive position.
Sociological and anthropological evidence
Professor Justin Barrett’s research in his book, Born believers: the science of children’s religious belief looked at the behaviour and claims of children. He concluded that the children believed in what he calls “natural religion”. This is the idea that there is a personal Being that created the entire universe. That Being cannot be human—it must be divine, supernatural:
“Scientific research on children’s developing minds and supernatural beliefs suggest that children normally and rapidly acquire minds that facilitate belief in supernatural agents. Particularly in the first year after birth, children distinguish between agents and non-agents, understanding agents as able to move themselves in purposeful ways to pursue goals. They are keen to find agency around them, even given scant evidence.
Not long after their first birthday, babies appear to understand that agents, but not natural forces or ordinary objects, can create order out of disorder… This tendency to see function and purpose, plus an understanding that purpose and order come from minded beings, makes children likely to see natural phenomena as intentionally created. Who is the Creator? Children know people are not good candidates. It must have been a god… children are born believers of what I call natural religion….”
The existence of a creator is the most intuitive interpretation of the world. It is easy to understand without explicit instruction. Human beings have an affinity to attribute causes to things all the time, and the entire cosmos is one of those things. Not all intuitions are true, but evidence is required to make someone depart from their initial intuitions about things. For example, when someone perceives design and order in the universe, the intuitive conclusion is that there is a designer. To make that person change their mind, valid evidence is required to justify the counter-intuitive view.
The belief in a God, creator, designer or supernatural cause is a self-evident truth. It is universal, untaught, natural and intuitive. In this light, the right question to ask is not: does God exist? The right question should be: why do you reject God’s existence?. The onus of proof is on someone who challenges a self-evident truth. When someone claims that the past is an illusion or that other people do not have minds, he or she would have to shoulder the burden of proof. Atheists are no different. They have to justify their rejection of a cause or creator for the universe.
The innate disposition: fitrah
God as a self-evident truth relates to the Islamic theological concept concerning, what is referred to in Arabic as, the fitrah. Theologically, the fitrah is the natural state or the innate disposition of the human being that has been created by God with an innate knowledge of Him and with the affinity to worship the Divine. This is based on the authentic statement of the Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him which states, “every child is born in a state of fitrah. Then his parents make him a Jew, a Christian or a Magian….”
This Prophetic tradition teaches that every human being has this innate disposition, but external influences such as parenting – and by extension society — change the human being into something that is not based on the innate knowledge of God.
In spite of the fact that the fitrah is a natural state, it can be ‘veiled’ or ‘spoiled’ by external influences. These influences, as indicated by the above Prophetic tradition, can include parenting, society and peer pressure. These influences can cloud the fitrah and prevent it from acknowledging the truth. When the natural state is clouded with other influences, the person may require other evidence for God’s existence.
From the perspective of Islamic epistemology, it is important to know that conviction in the existence of God is not solely inferred from some type of inductive, deductive, philosophical or scientific evidence. Instead, this evidence awakens and unclouds the fitrah to acknowledge the innate knowledge of God. The truth of God’s existence and the fact that He is worthy of our worship is already known by the fitrah. However, the fitrah can be clouded by socialisation and other external influences. Therefore, the role of rational arguments is to ‘remind’ us of the truth that we already know.
To illustrate this point, imagine I was cleaning my mother’s loft. As I move old bags around and throw away unwanted objects, I find my favourite toy that I used to play with when I was 5 years old. What happens to me at this point is that I am reminded of something that I already have knowledge of. In my mind, I think: “Oh yeah. I remember this toy. It was my favourite.” The truth of believing in God and the fact that He is worthy of our worship is no different. Rational arguments serve as spiritual and intellectual awakenings to realise the knowledge that is contained in our fitrah.
Other ways the fitrah can be unclouded include introspection, spiritual experiences, reflection and pondering. The Qur’an promotes questioning and thinking deeply about things:
Thus do We explain in detail the signs for who give thought. The Quran, Chapter 10, Verse 24
Indeed in that is a sign for a people a people who give thought. The Quran, Chapter 45, Verse 13
Islamic epistemology views rational arguments as a means and not an ends. This is why it is very important to note that guidance only comes from God, and no amount of rational evidence can convince one’s heart to realise the truth of Islam. God makes this very clear:
Indeed, you do not guide whom you like, but God guides whom He wills. And He is most knowing of the [rightly] guided. The Quran, Chapter 28, Verse 56
Guidance is a spiritual matter that is based on God’s mercy, knowledge and wisdom. If God wills that someone is guided through rational arguments, then nothing will stop that person from accepting the truth. However, if God decides that someone does not deserve guidance—based on a Divine wisdom—then regardless of how many cogent arguments that are presented, that person will never accept the truth.
To conclude, the belief in God’s existence is a self-evident truth. As with all self-evident truths, when someone challenges them, the onus of proof is on them. The only way the belief in God can be undermined if there is any positive evidence for the non-existence of the Divine. However, the few arguments that atheists have against the existence of God are weak and philosophically shallow. The self-evident truth of God was addressed in the Qur’an over 1,400 years ago:
“Can there be doubt about God, Creator of the heavens and Earth?” The Quran, Chapter 14, Verse 10
Reasons to Believe
Imagine you woke up one morning and walked to the kitchen to prepare your breakfast. As you approached the kitchen table, you found two pieces of toast with your favourite chocolate spread all over them. However, the spread has been arranged into the words ‘I love you’. You are surprised, but why? Do you think that the pieces of bread somehow managed to toast themselves, and the chocolate spread was able to arrange itself in such a way—all by chance? Or do you assume that your loved one decided to wake up a little early and prepare the toast in advance? Every rational human being on this planet will deny that it happened without any intention or cause; blind chance does not suffice as an explanation.
The universe is no different. It has an orderly and precise cosmic architecture that points towards purposeful design. The universe has the right set of laws to permit the existence of life, and it is ordered in a particular way to allow humans to flourish. If the laws were different or the universe did not contain a life-sensitive arrangement of stars, planets, and other physical things of varying sizes, you would not be here reading this book. In fact, there would be no human life at all.
Consider another analogy. Imagine you are an astronaut working for NASA. The year is 2070, and you will be the first human being to visit an Earth-like planet in another galaxy. Your mission is to search for life. You finally land, and as you get out of your spaceship, you see nothing but rocks. However, as you continue your travels you eventually find something that looks like a huge greenhouse. Inside it you can see human-like creatures walking around, eating, playing, working and living normal productive lives. You also notice plants, trees, and other vegetation. As you approach the structure, friendly ambassadors receive you and invite you in.
During your initial meeting with these friendly ‘aliens’, they tell you that the structure has the right levels of oxygen. It also has adequate amounts of water and chemical compounds to facilitate the production of food and life-supporting vegetation. Amazed by what you hear, you ask them how they managed to create a fully functioning ecological system that sustains life. One of the ambassadors responds, “It happened by chance”.
Immediately your mind starts to comprehend the implications of such a ludicrous statement. The only possible explanation for the structure is that it was designed by an intelligent being, not some random physical process. As these thoughts run through your mind, another ambassador interrupts and says, “He is only joking.” Everybody laughs. If a small ecological structure on a rocky planet evokes the conclusion that it must have been designed, then imagine what we should conclude about the whole universe.
The universe and everything within it obey physical laws. If these laws were different there would be no complex conscious life. The universe contains billions of stars and galaxies. Among the countless galaxies occur innumerable planets. One of these planets is our home, Earth. Our planet contains trillions of conscious creatures. Creatures like us that can think, plan and reflect.
The inevitable conclusion from all this is simple, yet profound: There must be a creator behind all this design.
Everything around us points to God. Reflecting on all this creation should create an immense sense of awe and gratitude to God.
Indeed, in the creation of the heavens and the Earth and the alternation of the night and the day are signs for those of understanding. The Quran, Chapter 3, Verse 190
The next section covers how we know the Quran is the word of God.
So far, we have argued that God is the necessarily existing creator, designer, and moral lawgiver of the universe. However, that only tells us so much about the God. The next natural question is: How do we know the Quran is from God?
Below is a simple and logical reason why the Quran is the word of God. Before we delve into the main argument two ways of acquiring knowledge will be explained.
Most of what we know is based on the say-so of others. This holds true for facts we would never deny. For many of us, these truths include the existence of Amazonian native tribes, photosynthesis, ultraviolet radiation, and bacteria. Consider this thought experiment. How would you prove to a stranger—that your mother did in fact give birth to you? As bizarre as this question sounds, it will help clarify a very important yet underrated source of knowledge. You might say “my mother told me so”, “I have a birth certificate”, “my father told me, he was there”, or “I have checked my mother’s hospital records”. These responses are valid; however, they are based on the statements of other people. Sceptical minds may not be satisfied. You may try to salvage an empirical basis for your conviction by using the ‘DNA card’ or by referring to video footage.
The conviction that your mother is who she says she is isn’t based on a DNA home test kit. The reality is that most of us have not taken a DNA test. It is also not based on video footage, as you still have to rely on the say-so of others to claim that the baby is actually you. So why are we so sure? The only reason you have is the say so of others, in other words testimony. Testimony is a vital but unnoticed source of most of our knowledge.
2. Inference to the best explanation
Another way of acquiring knowledge is a process known as ‘inference to the best explanation’. Many of our beliefs are based on a form of reasoning which begins with a collection of data, facts or assertions, and then seeks the best explanation for them. Let’s welcome your mother back briefly again. She is heavily pregnant with you inside her womb and the due date was last week. Suddenly, her waters break and she starts having contractions, so your father and the relevant medical staff safely assume that she’s started labour. Another example, some years on, your mother notices an open packet of biscuits and crumbs around your mouth and on your clothes.
She infers that you opened the packet and helped yourself to some biscuits. In both examples, the conclusions are not necessarily true or indisputable, but they are the best explanations considering all of the facts available. This thinking process is known as inference to the best explanation.
Using the concepts above, a case will be put forward that the Quran is an inimitable expression of the Arabic language, and that God best explains its inimitability. What is meant by inimitability is that no one has been able to produce or emulate the Quran’s linguistic and literary features.
The Miracle of the Quran
The Quran was revealed in Arabia to the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) in the 7th century. This period was known as an era of literary and linguistic perfection. The 7th century Arabs were socialised into being a people who were the best at expressing themselves in their native tongue. However, when the Quran was recited to them they were dumbfounded, incapacitated, and stunned into silence. They could not produce anything like the Quranic discourse.
It got worse. The Quran challenged these linguists par excellence to imitate its unique literary and linguistic features, but they failed. Some experts accepted the Quran was from God, but most resorted to boycott, war, murder, torture and a campaign of misinformation. In fact, throughout the centuries, experts have acquired the tools to challenge the Quran, and they too have testified that the Quran is inimitable, and appreciate why the best linguists have failed.
How can a non-Arab or non-expert of the Arabic language appreciate the inimitability of the Quran? Enter now the role of testimony. The above assertions are based on an established written and oral testimonial transmission of knowledge from past and present scholars of the Arabic language. If this is true, and the people best placed to challenge the Quran failed to imitate the Divine discourse, then who was the author? This is where testimony stops and the use of inference begins.
In order to understand the inference to the best explanation, the possible rationalisations of the Quran’s inimitable nature must be analysed. These include that it was authored by an Arab, a non-Arab, Muhammad (peace be upon him) or God. Considering all of the facts that will be discussed, it is implausible that the Quran’s inimitability can be explained by attributing it to an Arab, a non-Arab or Muhammad (peace be upon him). For that reason, God is the inference to the best explanation.
A summary of the argument is as follows:
1. The Quran presents a literary and linguistic challenge to humanity.
2. The 7th century Arabs were best placed to challenge the Quran.
3. The 7th century Arabs failed to do so.
4. Scholars have testified to the Quran’s inimitability.
5. Counter-scholarly testimonies are not plausible, as they have to reject the established background information.
6. Therefore (from 1-5) the Quran is inimitable.
7. The possible explanations for the Quran’s inimitability are authorship by an Arab, a non-Arab, Muhammad (peace be upon him) or God.
8. It could not have been produced by an Arab, a non-Arab or Muhammad (peace be upon him).
9. Therefore, the best explanation is that it is from God.
1. The Quran presents a literary and linguistic challenge to humanity.
“Read in the name of your Lord”. These were the first words of the Quran revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) over 1,400 years ago. Muhammad (peace be upon him) who was known to have been meditating in a cave outside Mecca, had received revelation of a book that would have a tremendous impact on the world we live in today. Not known to have composed any piece of poetry and not having any special rhetorical gifts, Muhammad (peace be upon him) had just received the beginning of a book that would deal with matters of belief, legislation, rituals, spirituality, and economics in an entirely new genre and literary form.
The unique literary and linguistic features of the Quran have been used by Muslims to articulate a number of arguments to substantiate their belief that the book is from the Divine.
Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti, a prolific 15th century writer and scholar, summarises the doctrine of the Quran’s inimitability:
“… when the Prophet brought [the challenge] to them, they were the most eloquent rhetoricians so he challenged them to produce the [entire] likes [of the Quran] and many years passed and they were unable to do so as God says, Let them then produce a recitation similar to it, if indeed they are truthful. Then, [the Prophet] challenged them to produce 10 chapters like it where God says, Say, bring then ten chapters like it and call upon whomever you can besides God, if you are truthful. Then, he challenged them to produce a single [chapter] where God says, Or do they say he [i.e. the Prophet] has forged it? Say, bring a chapter like it and call upon whomever you can besides God, if you are truthful… When the [Arabs] were unable to produce a single chapter like [the Quran] despite there being the most eloquent rhetoricians amongst them, [the Prophet] openly announced the failure and inability [to meet the challenge] and declared the inimitability of the Quran. Then God said, Say, if all of humankind and the jinn gathered together to produce the like of the Quran, they could not produce it—even if they helped one another….”
According to classical exegesis, the various verses in the Quran that issue a challenge to produce a chapter like it daringly calls for the linguistic experts of any era to imitate the Quran’s linguistic and literary features. The tools needed to meet this challenge are the finite grammatical rules, literary and linguistic devices, and the twenty-eight letters that comprise the Arabic language; these are independent and objective measures available to all. The fact that it has not been matched since it was first revealed does not surprise most scholars familiar with the Arabic language and of the Quran.
2. The 7th century Arabs were best placed to challenge the Quran.
The Quran posed a challenge to the greatest Arabic linguists, the 7th century Arabs. The fact that they reached the peak of eloquence is affirmed by western and eastern scholarship.
The scholar Taqi Usmani asserts that for the 7th-century Arab “eloquence and rhetoric were their life blood.” According to the 9th-century biographer of the poets, Al-Jumahi “verse was to the Arabs the register of all they knew, and the utmost compass of their wisdom; with it, they began their affairs, and with it, they ended them.” The 14th-century scholar Ibn Khaldun highlights the importance of poetry in Arab life: “It should be known that Arabs thought highly of poetry as a form of speech. Therefore, they made it the archives of their history, the evidence for what they considered right and wrong, and the principal basis of reference for most of their sciences and wisdom.”
Linguistic ability and expertise were a highly influential feature of the 7th-century Arab social environment. The literary critic and historian Ibn Rasheeq illustrates this: “Whenever a poet emerged in an Arab tribe, other tribes would come to congratulate, feasts would be prepared, the women would join together on lutes as they do at weddings, and old and young men would all rejoice at the good news. The Arabs used to congratulate each other only on the birth of a child and when a poet rose among them.”
The 9th-century scholar Ibn Qutayba defined poetry as the Arabs saw it, “the mine of knowledge of the Arabs, the book of their wisdom… the truthful witness on the day of dispute, the final proof at the time of argument.”
Navid Kermani, a writer and expert in Islamic studies, explains the extent to which the Arabs had to study to master the Arabic language, which indicates that the 7th century Arab lived in a world that revered poetry: “Old Arabic poetry is a highly complex phenomenon. The vocabulary, grammatical idiosyncrasies and strict norms were passed down from generation to generation, and only the most gifted students fully mastered the language. A person had to study for years, sometimes even decades under a master poet before laying claim to the title of poet. Muhammad (peace be upon him) grew up in a world which almost religiously revered poetic expression.”
The 7th century Arab lived in a socio-cultural environment that had all the right conditions to facilitate the unparalleled expertise in the use of the Arabic language.
3. The 7th century Arabs failed to do so.
Their linguistic abilities notwithstanding, they collectively failed to produce an Arabic text that matched the Quran’s linguistic and literary features. Professor of Quranic Studies, Angelika Neuwrith, argued that the Quran has never been successfully challenged by anyone, past or present: “… no one has succeeded, this is right… I really think that the Quran has even brought Western researchers embarrassment, who weren’t able to clarify how suddenly in an environment where there were not any appreciable written text, appeared the Quran with its richness of ideas and its magnificent wordings.”
Labid ibn Rabi’ah, one of the famous poets of the Seven Odes, embraced Islam due to the inimitability of the Quran. Once he embraced Islam he stopped composing poetry. People were surprised for “he was their most distinguished poet”. They asked him why he stopped composing poetry; he replied, “What! Even after the revelation of the Quran?”
E. H. Palmer, Professor of Arabic and of the Quran, argues that the assertions made by academics like the one above should not surprise us. He writes, “That the best of Arab writers has never succeeded in producing anything equal in merit to the Quran itself is not surprising.”
Scholar and Professor of Islamic Studies, M. A. Draz, affirms how the 7th century experts were absorbed in the discourse that left them incapacitated: “In the golden age of Arab eloquence, when language reached the apogee of purity and force, and titles of honour were bestowed with solemnity on poets and orators in annual festivals, the Quranic word swept away all enthusiasm for poetry or prose, and caused the Seven Golden Poems hung over the doors of the Ka’ba to be taken down. All ears lent themselves to this marvel of Arabic expression.”
A powerful argument that supports the assertion that the 7th century Arabs failed to imitate the Quran relates to the socio-political circumstances of the time. Central to the Quranic message was the condemnation of the immoral, unjust and evil practices of the 7th century Meccan tribes. These included the objectification of women, unjust trade, polytheism, slavery, hoarding of wealth, infanticide and the shunning of orphans. The Meccan leadership was being challenged by the Quranic message, and this had the potential to undermine their leadership and economic success. In order for Islam to stop spreading, all that was needed was for the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) adversaries to meet the linguistic and literary challenge of the Quran.
However, the fact that Islam succeeded in its early, fragile days in Mecca testifies to the fact that its primary audience was not able to meet the Quranic challenge. No movement can succeed if a claim fundamental to its core is explicitly proven false. The fact that the Meccan leadership had to resort to extreme campaigns like warfare and torture to attempt to extinguish Islam demonstrates that the easy method of refuting Islam—meeting the Quranic challenge—failed.
4. Scholars have testified to the Quran’s inimitability.
Multitudes of scholars from western, eastern, religious and non-religious backgrounds have testified to the Quran’s inimitability. Below is a non-exhaustive list of the scholarship that forms the testimony that the Quran cannot be emulated:
Professor of Oriental Studies Martin Zammit: “Notwithstanding the literary excellence of some of the long pre-Islamic poems… the Quran is definitely on a level of its own as the most eminent written manifestation of the Arabic language.”
Orientalist and litterateur A. J. Arberry: “In making the present attempt to improve on the performance of predecessors, and to produce something which might be accepted as echoing however faintly the sublime rhetoric of the Arabic Koran, I have been at pain to study the intricate and richly varied rhythms which—apart from the message itself—constitutes the Koran’s undeniable claim to rank amongst the greatest literary masterpieces of mankind.”
Professor Bruce Lawrence: “As tangible signs, Quranic verses are expressive of an inexhaustible truth, they signify meaning layered with meaning, light upon light, miracle after miracle.”
Professor and Arabist Hamilton Gibb: “Like all Arabs, they were connoisseurs of language and rhetoric. Well, then if the Koran were his own composition other men could rival it. Let them produce ten verses like it. If they could not (and it is obvious that they could not), then let them accept the Koran as an outstanding evidential miracle.”
The above confirmations of the inimitability of the Quran are a small sample from the innumerable testimonies available to us.
5. Counter scholarly testimonies are not plausible, as they have to reject the established background information
The testimonial transmission concerning the inimitability of the Quran would be the most rational to adopt. This does not mean there is a complete consensus on the issue, or that all scholarship asserts that the Quran is unchallenged. There are some (albeit in the minority) scholarly opinions that contend against the Quran’s inimitability. If valid testimony does not require unanimity, why would someone accept one testimonial transmission over another?
The testimony concerning the Quran’s inimitability is more reasonable, due to the fact that it rests on strong background knowledge. This knowledge has been discussed in premises 1, 2 and 3.
6. Therefore (from 1-5) the Quran is inimitable.
It follows from points 1 to 5 that the Quran’s inimitability is justified.
7. The possible explanations for the Quran’s inimitability are authorship by an Arab, a non-Arab, Muhammad (peace be upon him) or God
To articulate the Divine origins of the Quran without referring to specifics about the Arabic language, the use of testimony and inference are required. What has been discussed so far is that there is a valid testimonial transmission that the Quran is inimitable and that the possible explanation for its inimitability can be explained by attributing its authorship to an Arab, a non-Arab, Muhammad (peace be upon him) or God.
8. It could not have been produced by an Arab, a non-Arab or Muhammad (peace be upon him).
To understand who could have possibly produced the Quran, a breakdown the three main theories is needed.
There are a few key reasons why the Quran could not have come from a 7th century Arab, which we have already demonstrated, but what about today’s Arabs?
Well, to assert that a contemporary Arabic-speaking person might emulate the Quran is unfounded. A few reasons substantiate this point. Firstly, the Arabs in the 7th century were better placed to challenge the Quran, and since they failed to do so, it would be unreasonable to assert that a linguistically impoverished modern Arab might surpass the abilities of their predecessors. Secondly, modern Arabic has suffered from greater linguistic borrowing and degeneration than the classical Arabic tradition. So how can an Arab who is a product of a relatively linguistically degenerated culture equal to an Arab who was immersed in an environment of linguistic purity? Thirdly, even if a contemporary Arab learns classical Arabic, his linguistic abilities could not match someone who was immersed in a culture that mastered the language.
The Quran could not have come from a non-Arab, as the language of the Quran is Arabic, and the knowledge of the Arabic language is a prerequisite to successfully challenge the Quran. This has been addressed in the Quran itself: “And indeed We know that they [polytheists and pagans] say: ‘It is only a human being who teaches him (Muhammad).’ The tongue of the man they refer to is foreign, while this is a speech Arabeeyun mubeen [clear Arabic].”
What if a non-Arab learned the language? This would make that person an Arabic speaker, and I would refer to the first possible explanation above.
Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)?
It is pertinent to note that the Arab linguists at the time of revelation stopped accusing the Prophet ﷺ of being the author of the Quran, after their initial false assertion that he became a poet. Professor Mohar Ali writes:
“It must be pointed out that the Quran is not considered a book of poetry by any knowledgeable person. Nor did the Prophet (peace be upon him) ever indulge in versifying. It was indeed an allegation of the unbelieving Quraysh at the initial stage of their opposition to the revelation that Muhammad (peace be upon him) had turned a poet; but soon enough they found their allegation beside the mark and changed their lines of criticism in view of the undeniable fact of the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) being unlettered and completely unaccustomed to the art of poetry-making, saying that he had been tutored by others, that he had got the ‘old-worst stories’ written for him by others and read out to him in the morning and evening.”
Significantly, the Prophet (peace be upon him) was not considered a master of the language and did not engage in the craft of poetry or rhymed prose. Therefore, to claim that he somehow managed to conjure up a literary and linguistic masterpiece is beyond the pale of rational thought. Kermani writes, “He had not studied the difficult craft of poetry when he started reciting verses publicly… Yet Muhammad’s recitations differed from poetry and from the rhyming prose of the soothsayers, the other conventional form of inspired, metrical speech at the time.”
9. Therefore, the best explanation is that the Quran is from God.
Since the Quran could not have been produced by an Arab, a non-Arab or the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), then it follows that the best explanation is that it came from God. That provides the best explanation for the Quran’s inimitability because the other explanations are untenable in light of the available knowledge.
The Quran teaches that we must believe in all the prophets and messengers and that they were all chosen to help guide humanity to the ultimate truth of God’s oneness and our servitude to Him. The Quran mentions the stories of Abraham, Moses, Jesus, David, John, Zacharias, Elias, Jacob and Joseph, may God’s peace be upon them all.
The role of these messengers and prophets is to be a manifestation of what has been revealed to them. For instance, they will be role-models and examples of God-consciousness, piety and compassion. Since messengers have been given God’s revealed word, their role also includes teaching the correct interpretation and understanding of what God has revealed. Additionally, messengers and prophets act as a practical and spiritual example as they embody the meaning, message and values conveyed by the Divine text. From this perspective, the Divine revelation tells us what to do and the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) life shows us how to do it.
The Quran mentions the Prophet Muhammad’s (peace be upon him) name five times and confirms that the book was revealed unto him via the angel Gabriel. The Quran affirms that Muhammad (peace be upon him)is God’s final messenger. From this perspective, intellectually affirming this status of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)is quite simple. Once the Quran has been established as a Divine book, it necessarily follows that whatever it says will be the truth.
Since it mentions Muhammad (peace be upon him) as God’s messenger, and what comes from truth is true, then the fact that Muhammad (peace be upon him) was a recipient of Divine revelation is also true. Despite this undeniable conclusion, the fact that the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was the final messenger of God can also be deduced from his experiences, teachings, character and the impact he has on the world.
The Prophet Muhammad’s (peace be upon him) life experiences are one of the strongest arguments in support of his claim—and by extension the Quran’s claim—that he was God’s final messenger. Once an analysis of his life is performed, to conclude that he was lying or deluded would be tantamount to concluding that no one has ever spoken the truth. To be brutally honest, it would be the epistemic equivalent of denying that the person you call your mother gave birth to you.
The teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) cover a wide range of topics including spirituality, society, economy and psychology. Studying his statements, and taking a holistic approach to his teachings, will force any rational mind to conclude that there was something very unique and special about this man. Significantly, scrutinising his character in the context of a myriad of difficult situations and circumstances will facilitate the conclusion that he had unparalleled levels of tolerance, forbearance and humility—key signs of a prophetic character. Muhammad’s (peace be upon him) life and teachings, however, not only influenced the Arab world, but they also had a tremendous impact on the whole of humanity. Simply put, Muhammad (peace be upon him) was responsible for unprecedented tolerance, progress and justice.
Denying Muhammad (peace be upon him), Denying your Mother
The only real source of knowledge we have to confirm that the lady we call our mother gave birth to us is testimonial knowledge. Even if we claim to have a birth certificate, hospital records, or a DNA test certificate, these still are all examples of testimonial knowledge. You have to believe in the say-so of others. In this case, the one who filled in the birth certificate, the one responsible for the hospital records, and the person who completed the DNA test certificate. Fundamentally, it is just based on a testimonial transmission; there is not a shred of physical evidence that you can empirically verify the claim that your mother gave birth to you. Even if you can do the DNA test yourself (which is highly unlikely), your conviction now that she gave birth to you is not based on the fact that you can potentially acquire the results.
The irony is that the only reason that you believe that you can use a DNA test to verify your mother gave birth to you is based on the testimonial transmission of some authority telling you because you haven’t done it yourself yet. So, from an epistemic perspective, the basis for your belief that your mother gave birth to you is based on a few instances of testimonial transmission. Since we have far more authentic testimonial evidence to conclude that the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was the final prophet of God, then to deny Muhammad (peace be upon him) would be equivalent to denying your own mother.
The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) claimed prophethood over 1,400 years ago with the following simple, yet profound message: There is none worthy of worship but God, and the Prophet Muhammad is the final messenger of God.
The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) became a prophet at the age of 40, after spending some time meditating and reflecting in a cave outside Mecca. The dawn of prophethood began with the revelation of the first verses of the Quran. Its message was simple: our ultimate purpose in life is to worship God. Worship is a comprehensive term in the Islamic spiritual tradition; it means to love, know, obey, and dedicate all acts of worship to God alone.
To test whether his claim to prophethood and his message was true, we must rationally investigate the historical narratives and testimonies concerning the life of the Prophet (peace be upon him). Once we do this, we will be in a position to come to a balanced conclusion in this regard.
The Quran provides a rational approach to testing the claim of the Prophet (peace be upon him). It argues that the Prophet (peace be upon him)is not a liar, mad, astray, or deluded, and denies that he speaks from his own desire. The Quran affirms that he is indeed the messenger of God; therefore he is speaking the truth:
“Your companion has not strayed; he is not deluded; he does not speak from his own desire.” The Quran, Chapter 53, Verses 2 to 3
We can summarise the argument in the following way:
– The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was either a liar, or deluded, or speaking the truth;
– The Prophet (peace be upon him)could not have been a liar or deluded;
– Therefore the Prophet (peace be upon him)was speaking the truth.
Was he a Liar?
Early historical sources on the Prophet Muhammad’s (peace be upon him)life illustrate the integrity of his character. He was not a liar and to assert as much is indefensible. The reasons for this abound—for instance, he was known even by the enemies to his message as the “Trustworthy”.
He was persecuted for his beliefs, boycotted and exiled from his beloved city—Mecca. He was starved of food and stoned by children to the point where blood drenched his legs. His wife passed away and his beloved companions were tortured and persecuted. Further proof of the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) reliability and credibility is substantiated by the fact that a liar usually lies for some worldly gain. Muhammad (peace be upon him) suffered tremendously for his message and rejected outright the riches and power he was offered to stop promulgating his message. He was uncompromising in his call to God’s oneness.
Montgomery Watt, the late Emeritus Professor of Arabic and Islamic Studies, explores this in Muhammad at Mecca and argues that calling the Prophet (peace be upon him) an impostor is irrational: “His readiness to undergo persecution for his beliefs, the high moral character of the men who believed in him and looked up to him as a leader, and the greatness of his ultimate achievement—all argue his fundamental integrity. To suppose Muhammad an impostor raises more problems than it solves.”
Was he Deluded?
To claim that the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)was deluded is to argue that he was misled to believe that he was the messenger of God. If someone is deluded, they have a strong conviction in a belief despite any evidence to the contrary. Another way of looking at the issue of delusion is that when someone is deluded, they speak falsehood whilst believing it to be true. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) had many experiences during his career that, if he were deluded, he would have used them as evidence to support his delusion.
One example is the passing away of his son, Ibrahim. The boy died at an early age and the day he died there was a solar eclipse. Many Arabs thought that God made the eclipse happen because His prophet’s son passed away. If the Prophet (peace be upon him) were deluded, he would have used such an opportunity to reinforce his claim. However, he did not and rejected the people’s assertions. The Prophet (peace be upon him) replied to them in the following way: “The sun and the moon do not eclipse because of the death of someone from the people but they are two signs amongst the signs of God. When you see them, stand up and pray.”
The Prophet (peace be upon him)also foretold many things that would occur to his community after his death. These events occurred exactly as Muhammad (peace be upon him) foretold, and this is not consistent with a deluded individual. For example:
The Mongol Invasion
Six hundred years or so after the death of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), the Mongols invaded the Muslim lands and massacred millions of people. A significant milestone in the invasion was the ransacking of Baghdad. At that time, it was known as a city of learning and culture. The Mongols arrived in Baghdad in 1258 and spent a whole week spilling blood. They were hell-bent on demolishing the city. Thousands of books were destroyed and up to one million people were killed. This was a major event in Islamic history.
The Mongols were non-Arabs who had flat noses, small eyes, and their boots were made of hair; the Mongols had fur covers over their boots called degtii. This was foretold by the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) hundreds of years before the Mongol invasion: “The Hour will not be established till you fight with the Khudh and the Kirman from among the non-Arabs. They will be of red faces, flat noses and small eyes; their faces will look like flat shields, and their shoes will be of hair.”
Competing in Constructing Tall Buildings
“Now, tell me of the Last Hour,” said the man. The Prophet (peace be upon him) replied, “The one asked knows no more of it than the one asking.” “Then tell me about its signs,” said the man. The Prophet (peace be upon him) replied, “That you see barefoot, unclothed bedouins competing in the construction of tall buildings.” Notice the detail in the prophecy: a specific people (the Arab Bedouins of the region) were identified. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) could have easily played it safe by using more general language such as “That you see competition in the construction of tall buildings….”, which of course would be flexible enough to be applied to anyone in the world. Today we find in the Arabian Peninsula that the Arabs who used to be impoverished herders of camels and sheep are competing in building the tallest tower blocks. Today the Burj Khalifa in Dubai is the world’s tallest man-made structure at 828 metres. A short time after it was completed, a rival family in Saudi Arabia announced that they would build a taller one (1,000 metres) the Kingdom Tower. Thus they are literally competing with each other over who can build the tallest building.
Now, what is remarkable is that until only 50 or 60 years ago, the people of the region hardly had any houses at all. In fact, most of them were still Bedouins, living in tents. The discovery of oil in the 20th century led to the transformation of the region. If not for oil, chances are the region would still be the barren desert that it was at the time of the revelation of the Quran. If this were mere guesswork on his part, the discovery of oil would represent a massive stroke of luck. Moreover, if Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) were merely guessing, wouldn’t it have made more sense to relate this prophecy to the superpowers of his time—Rome and Persia—who (unlike the Arabs) already had a tendency to construct extravagant buildings and palaces?
He Was Speaking the Truth
Considering what has been discussed so far, the most reasonable conclusion is that the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was speaking the truth. This conclusion is echoed by the historian Dr William Draper: “Four years after the death of Justinian, A.D. 569, was born in Mecca, in Arabia, the man who, of all men, has exercised the greatest influence upon the human race… To be the religious head of many empires, to guide the daily life of one-third of the human race, may perhaps justify the title of a messenger of God.”
The Teachings, Character and Impact of the Prophet (peace be upon him)
The teachings of Muhammad (peace be upon him) are also not that of someone who is deluded or a liar. Amongst many of his teachings, he taught humanity about compassion and mercy, humility and peace, love and how to benefit and serve others. The Prophet’s (peace be upon him) character was one of perfection. He reached the summit of virtues; he was compassionate, humble, tolerant, just, and showed great humanity, forbearance and piety. His guidance also had an unprecedented impact on the world. The Prophet’s (peace be upon him) profound leadership and sublime teachings on tolerance, justice, progress and freedom of belief and many other areas of life strongly indicate that he was not deluded; rather he was a man of truth. Below are some of the sayings of the prophet Muhammad.
Mercy and Compassion
“The Merciful One shows mercy to those who are themselves merciful [to others]. So show mercy to whatever is on Earth, then He who is in heaven will show mercy to you.”
“God is compassionate and loves compassion.”
“He is not of us who has no compassion for our little ones and does not honour our old ones.”
“May God have mercy on a man who is kind when he buys, when he sells, and when he makes a demand.”
Contentment and Spirituality
“Richness is not having many possessions. Rather, true richness is the richness of the soul.”
“Indeed, God does not look towards your bodies nor towards your appearances. But, He looks towards your hearts and your deeds.”
“Do not talk too much without remembrance of God. Indeed excessive talking without remembrance of God hardens the heart. And indeed the furthest of people from God are the harsh-hearted.”
“The servant of God does not reach the reality of faith until he loves for the people what he loves for himself of goodness.”
“Love for the people what you love for yourself and you will be a believer. Behave well with your neighbours and you will be a Muslim.”
“The best deed after belief in God is benevolent love towards people.”
Community and Peace
The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)was asked: “What sort of deeds or traits of Islam are good?” He replied: “To feed others, and to greet those whom you know and those whom you do not know.”
“All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over a black nor a black has any superiority over a white, except by piety and good action.”
“The believer is not he who eats his fill while his neighbour is hungry.”
Charity and Humanitarianism
“Visit the sick, feed the hungry and free the captives.”
“Make things easy, and do not make them difficult, and give good tidings and do not make people run away.”
“Every act of goodness is charity.”
Character and Manners
“The believers who show the most perfect faith are those who have the best character, and the best of you
are those who are best to their wives.”
“[God] has revealed to me that you should adopt humility so that no one oppresses another.”
“He who truly believes in God and the last Day should speak good or keep silent.”
“The best among you is he who has the best manners.”
Environment and Animals
“If a Muslim plants a tree or sows seeds, and then a bird, or a person or an animal eats from it, it is regarded as a charitable gift (sadaqah) for him.”
“Removing harmful things from the road is an act of charity.”
“Whoever kills a sparrow or anything bigger than that without a just cause, God will hold him accountable on the Day of Judgment.”
Muhammad’s (peace be upon him) Impact on the World
The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was truly a mercy to mankind. This assertion is not only justified by his message and his teachings, but it also includes his unprecedented impact on our world. There are two key reasons why his teachings on a social level were so transformative: the justice and compassion of Islam.
Compassion and justice are its central values, expressed through a sincere belief in the existence and worship of one God. By singling Him out for worship and being conscious of one’s accountability, a Muslim is encouraged to act compassionately, fairly and justly. The Quran clearly states in this regard:
“O you who believe, be steadfast in your devotion to God and bear witness impartially: do not let the hatred of others lead you away from justice, but adhere to justice, for that is closer to being God-conscious. Be mindful of God: God is well-acquainted with all that you do.”
“O you who believe, uphold justice and bear witness to God, even if it is against yourselves, your parents, or your close relatives. Whether the person is rich or poor, God can best take care of both. Refrain from following your own desire, so that you can act justly—if you distort or neglect justice, God is fully aware of what you do.”
“What will explain to you what the steep path is? It is to free a slave, to feed at a time of hunger an orphaned relative or a poor person in distress, and to be one of those who believe and urge one another to steadfastness and compassion.”
The key reason the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was able to directly influence such tolerant and compassionate societies was because affirming the Oneness of God, pleasing and worshipping Him, was the spiritual and moral basis of his life and the lives of those who loved and followed him. The Prophet Muhammad’s (peace be upon him) trustworthiness, high moral character and the impact he has had on the world establishes a strong case for his being the final messenger of God. Studying his life and understanding his teachings in a holistic and nuanced way will lead to only one conclusion: he was a mercy to the world and the one chosen by God to lead the world into Divine guidance and light.
The Islamic position concerning life’s trials and tribulations is one that is extremely empowering. Calamities, disasters, and tragedies — all forms of suffering and hardship—are viewed as divinely-sent tests. This life is not meant to be one giant party, rather, we have been created with a noble purpose — to worship God. Tests are an inevitable part of this purpose. These tests serve as a reminder of our greater purpose, as a means of purification, and, ultimately, as a way to draw closer to God. Tests are actually seen as a sign of God’s love. In fact, the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said,
“When God loves a servant, He tests him.” 
Why would God test those He loves? Trials and tribulations are an avenue to achieving Divine mercy; a means to entering the eternal bliss of paradise. God clearly states this in the Qur’an, saying,
“Do you suppose that you will enter the Garden without first having suffered like those before you? They were afflicted by misfortune and hardship, and they were so shaken that even [their] messenger and the believers with him cried, ‘When will God’s help arrive?’ Truly, God’s help is near.” 
The beauty of this is that God has empowered us with all the necessary means to overcome these trials. Indeed,
“God does not burden any soul with more than it can bear.” 
Generally speaking, any evil or suffering experienced in life is the exception and not the rule. Illness is relatively short-lived in comparison to good health, as are earthquakes in comparison to the age of the earth. Moreover, just because we may not be able to understand the wisdom behind something, doesn’t mean it isn’t there. For instance, in some cases, sickness results in the buildup of immunity; earthquakes relieve pent up pressures within the earth; and volcanoes spew out minerals resulting in rich fertile soil for agriculture. There is an ancient wisdom that states, “Out of the snake’s poison comes the antidote”. How else can one appreciate ease without having first experienced hardship? Would it be possible to appreciate good health if illness did not occur? It is said that,
“evil in the world is like the shaded spaces in a painting; if you come close to it you’ll see these as defects, but if you draw back to a distance you will discover the shaded areas are necessary in fulfilling an aesthetic function within the artwork.”
Sceptics may focus on the negative aspects, claiming that evil and suffering do not serve a greater purpose. Muslims, on the other hand, believe that trials and tribulations are an inevitable part of establishing their ultimate purpose. The Qur’an emphasizes this concept, stating,
“The One who created death and life, so that He may put you to test, to find out which of you is best in deeds; He is The Almighty, The All-Forgiving.” 
In some religions, a person’s good status in the world is seen as an indication that God is pleased with him or her. For instance, if a person has a good job or a nice house the inference made is that God loves him or her. However, in Islam, health, wealth, poverty, sickness, etc., are not signs of success or failure: they are a means of testing the individual to determine his or her response to a particular situation.
There is no denying the amount of evil and suffering that exists in the world, and we should all be concerned with how we can make the human experience more peaceful. Some argue that the existence of all of this evil and suffering undermines God’s existence. However, putting emotions aside, is this a convincing argument?
The argument can be summarised in the following way:
“It is unbelievable that a good, all-powerful God exists with all the evil and suffering in the world.”
In its logical form:
- A good, all-powerful God exists
- Evil and suffering exist
- Therefore a good, all-powerful God doesn’t exist
A basic lesson in logic will make one realise that this argument is not deductive. The conclusion doesn’t necessarily follow from the previous two statements. Rather, the conclusion is probably true; essentially, it is a probabilistic argument. The problem of evil argument is a very weak one due to it being based on two major false assumptions.
- God is only good and all-powerful
- God has not given us any reasons to why He has permitted evil and suffering
God Is Only Good And All-powerful?
The problem of evil argument misrepresents the Islamic concept of God. God is not just good and all-powerful; rather, He has many names and attributes, all of which are understood holistically. For example, one of His names is The-Wise. Since the very nature of God is wise, it follows that whatever He wills is in line with wisdom. If something has wisdom behind it, there’s a purpose for it. In response, sceptics typically reply in the following way:
“Why does he have to test us in such evil ways?”
This response misrepresents the Islamic position and commits the fallacy of arguing from ignorance. The point here is that just because the wisdom cannot be understood, doesn’t mean there isn’t one. This reasoning is typical of toddlers. Many toddlers get told off by their parents for something they want to do. For example, wanting to drink an enticing brown-gold liquid, also known as whisky. The toddlers may cry or have a tantrum because they are thinking how bad Mummy and Daddy are for not letting them drink it. They don’t yet realise the wisdom behind them not being allowed to consume it.
The Qur’an uses profound stories and narratives to instil this understanding in the reader’s mind. Take for instance the story of Moses and Al-Khidr:
“And they found a servant from among Our servants to whom we had given mercy from us and had taught him from Us a [certain] knowledge. Moses said to him, ‘May I follow you on [the condition] that you teach me from what you have been taught of sound judgement?’
He said, ‘Indeed, with me you will never be able to have patience. And how can you have patience for what you do not encompass in knowledge?’ [Moses] said, ‘You will find me, if Allah wills, patient, and I will not disobey you in [any] order.’ He said, ‘Then if you follow me, do not ask me about anything until I make to you about it mention.’
So, they set out, until when they had embarked on the ship, Al-Khidr tore it open. [Moses] said, ‘Have you torn it open to drown its people? You have certainly done a grave thing.’ [Al-Khidr] said, ‘Did I not say that with me you would never be able to have patience?’ [Moses] said, ‘Do not blame me for what I forgot and do not cover me in my matter with difficulty.’
So they set out, until when they met a boy, Al-Khidr killed him. [Moses] said, ‘Have you killed a pure soul for other than [having killed] a soul? You have certainly done a deplorable thing.’ [Al-Khidr] said, ‘Did I not tell you that with me you would never be able to have patience?’ [Moses] said, ‘If I should ask you about anything after this, then do not keep me as a companion. You have obtained from me an excuse.’
So they set out, until when they came to the people of a town, they asked its people for food, but they refused to offer them hospitality. And they found therein a wall about to collapse, so Al-Khidr restored it. [Moses] said, ‘If you wished, you could have taken for it a payment.’ [Al-Khidr] said, ‘This is parting between me and you. I will inform you of the interpretation of that about which you could not have patience.
As for the ship, it belonged to poor people working at sea. So I intended to cause a defect in it as there was after them a king who seized every [good] ship by force. And as for the boy, his parents were believers, and we feared that he would overburden them by transgression and disbelief. So we intended that their Lord should substitute for them one better than him in purity and nearer to mercy. And as for the wall, it belonged to two orphan boys in the city, and there was beneath it a treasure for them, and their father had been righteous. So your Lord intended that they reach maturity and extract their treasure, as a mercy from your Lord.
And I did it not of my own accord. That is the interpretation of that about which you could not have patience.’” 
Commenting on the above verses, the classical scholar of Qur’anic exegesis, Ibn Kathir, explained that Al-Khidr was the one to whom God had given knowledge of these realities, and He had not given it to Moses. With reference to the statement:
“Indeed, with me you will never be able to have patience,”
Ibn Kathir writes that this means,
“You will not be able to accompany me when you see me doing things that go against your law, because I have knowledge from Allah that He has not taught you, and you have knowledge from Allah that He has not taught me.”
In essence, God’s wisdom and knowledge are unbounded and complete, whereas we as human beings have its particulars: in other words, limited wisdom and knowledge. Hence, Ibn Kathir explains that the verse:
“And how can you have patience about a thing which you know not,”
“For I know that you will denounce me justifiably, but I have knowledge of Allah’s wisdom and the hidden interests which I can see but you cannot.”
The view that everything that happens is in line with a Divine wisdom is empowering and positive. This is because God’s wisdom does not contradict other aspects of His nature, such as His perfection and goodness. Therefore, all evil and suffering is ultimately part of a greater Divine plan. This evokes positive psychological responses from believers, because in the end, all evil and suffering serves a purpose that is both wise and good. The 14th century classical scholar Ibn Taymiyya summarises this point, saying,
“If God – exalted is He – is the Creator of everything, He creates good and evil on account of the wise purpose that He has; in that by virtue of which His action is good and perfect.”
Has God Not Given Us Reasons?
A sufficient response to the second assumption is to provide a strong argument that God has justified reasons to permit suffering and evil in the world. The intellectual richness of Islamic Theology provides us with many reasons, some of which include:
- The primary purpose of the human being is not to enjoy a transitory sense of happiness, but to achieve a deep internal peace through knowing and worshipping God. This fulfilment of the Divine Purpose will result in everlasting bliss and happiness. If this is our primary purpose, other aspects of the human experience are secondary. God states: “I did not create either jinn or man except to worship Me.”
- As already mentioned, God created us for a test; an inevitable part of this is being tested with suffering and evil. The Qur’an mentions, “The One who created death and life, so that He may put you to test, to find out which of you is best in deeds: He is the Almighty, the All-Forgiving”.
- Having hardship and suffering enables us to realise and know God’s attributes such as ‘The Victorious’ and ‘The Healer’. For example, without the pain and suffering of illness, we would not appreciate the attribute of God being ‘The Healer’. Knowing God is a greater good, and worth the experience of suffering or pain—as it will mean the fulfilment of our primary purpose.
- Suffering allows 2nd order good. 1st order good is physical pleasure and happiness, and 1st order evil is physical pain and sadness. 2nd order good is elevated goodness, such as courage. Courage is appreciated in the presence of cowardice.
- God has given us free will, and free will includes choosing evil acts. This explain personal evil, which is evil or suffering committed by a human being. One can argue the following: why doesn’t God give us the choice to do good or evil but always ensures that we choose good?
The problem here is that good and evil would lose their meanings if God were to always ensure we chose good. Take the following example into consideration: someone always points a loaded gun to your head and asks you to give charity. You obviously give the charity, but does it have any moral value? It doesn’t.
A number of responses to the perceived problem of evil have been discussed herein. Ultimately, the absence of any evil or suffering would point towards absolute perfection, but this is something that is reserved for God alone. Life on earth cannot ever be a flawless paradise: this state can only be earned by those who pass the test of this worldly existence.
References Narrated by Tirmidhi.
 Qur’an 2:214
 Qur’an 2:286
 Islamic Theology vs. the Problem of Evil, by Abdal Hakim Murad.
 Qur’an 67:2
 Qur’an 18:65-82
 Tafsir Ibn Kathir
 Minhaj As-Sunnah 3:142/2:25
 Qur’an 51:56-57
 Qur’an 67:2