This short life, beginning with birth and culminating in death can be divided into periods. We are all bound by the human life cycle. Those who regard themselves as different and unique are also governed by the phases of the same life cycle. From the temporal to the spiritual, everyone and everything falls within this spectrum. For instance, the pleasures of the flesh and the delights of the mind may seem totally apart but in essence are similar. Even positive and negative responses may seem different but in the final analysis both are the same.
The most widespread division of the stages of life is the Hindu Asharma system, which divides life into four phases. The first twenty-five years is called the Brahmacharya Ashram, the stage of youth. The second twenty-five years, is called the Grihastha Ashram or householder phase during which one focuses on family and work. The third section is the Vanaprastha or the hermitage phase where one gradually withdraws from others for contemplation. The fourth and final is the Sannyasa or renunciation phase in which one withdraws completely from the world and dedicates himself to the pursuit of spiritual truths.
This view of the stages of life has influenced almost every society in the world. The outcome of this is that we allocate the last period of our lives to focus on the fundamental and ultimate reality of existence, a stage of life which cannot be guaranteed that we will reach. How can someone who sets aside the final years of his life (when his sensory faculties become weak and his mental faculties debilitated) to solve the ultimate priority of life claim that he is intelligent? Is it not incumbent on the human race to find out how and in which capacity they should live their lives? Instead of focusing on this core question, contemporary thought has become self-absorbed. In this expansive universe we notice only ourselves. We claim that there is no firm evidence pointing to a power greater than Man, a force that could have brought this cosmos into being. We alone matter: everything else is irrelevant!
Our knowledge of the universe is extremely limited and rudimentary. Leaving aside the entire cosmos, we have not even mastered the understanding of phenomena which exist upon Earth and within its atmosphere. But this does not stop us from acting as though we are the inheritors of the universe. Without observing reality in an objective manner, the blind intellectuals of secularism refuse to accept the possibility of a reality lying beyond physical matter, or hints of life beyond the grave. This denial is based on the fact we cannot observe such a reality, therefore it does not exist. However, is it the case that thoughts, ideas and imaginations are all based on visible evidence? If it were so, the novelist would not be able to produce a new line of literature, nor could the poet create flights of fancy. The scientist studies the relationships between things. He is totally unaware of the reality of things. Clutching a few facts and figures, like Shylock, Man writes off all metaphysical facts as presumptions. Despite this, he is compelled to accept the noblest qualities of Man, his creative capacities and intellectual ideals, but declares that they have no basis in reality. Secular Man has developed an intellectual contempt for all non-physical reality and suffers from a schizophrenic disorder that convinces him of his own greatness. He wants to be the final authority on deciding on matters of life and how it should be lived.
However, the credentials of the secular scientific community in fulfilling this role are open to question. There are many whose intellectual standard is below average. Their approach to a range of issues pertinent to life is dismissive, ignores the facts and is at times absurd. No scientist has to this day answered the fundamental question relating to human life: do we possess absolute freedom or are we subject to a higher authority? Consider for yourself, is this not an investigation of vital importance, with major implications for the human race. It is a question of human freedom or servitude. Do we control our entry and exit into life or are these governed by some force external to us?
Assuming for a moment that we have absolute personal freedom, does this entitle us to impose our tastes and ethical outlook on others? If this were the case then life in general would be driven by the basic reptilian instinct of self-obsession. Each person ruthlessly protecting their own interests, imposing their ideas on others regardless of any higher values. The strong would dominate the weak, resulting in a state of tyranny and perpetual strife. Should this assumption not be scrutinised? Are we really free to do whatever we like or are we answerable to some higher force who has blessed us with all of our faculties? It is the moral and intellectual duty of all human beings to answer this basic question in the early part of their life so that they are able to fulfil the responsibilities which come with being human.
The greatest obstacle in considering this question is the concept of God, as it will determine whether we are absolutely free or have obligations to someone greater than Man. If God exists then we are not free.
We have not shown much interest in finding out about the greatest adversary whose potential existence threatens our freedom, the force which claims to have created the Earth and the skies, a Being which, from the genesis of time through to eternity, is upholding and overseeing the order of the Earth, its physical and natural resources, its population, the rise and fall of its inhabitants, and the consequences of war and disputes between them. This invisible intelligence has set up the systems we take for granted; the changing seasons, ethnic and family groupings, children and offspring. It regulates our livelihoods and commercial success, determines our health and sickness, our sadness and joy.
It declares that the devastating gale force winds, the gentle morning breeze, the dazzling dew drops caressing the cheeks of the tulip and the rose, the dry and dying bright yellow leaves of autumn, the snow-capped peaks of distant mountains, the mighty clouds bursting with rain, the deep and mysterious oceans, the still and silent mountains, and the merciless cycle of life and death, all these are just a few glimmers of its influence and control over the universe. In the presence of such a force how can we ever be free? Are we not helpless in front of it? Our power, our arguments, our efforts, our hopes, our knowledge and intelligence, our science or any other human quality or achievement cannot interfere with its control over us.
Has any philosopher, scientist or self appointed spokesman for mankind ever made an attempt to answer the fundamental question at the heart of human self-awareness? Is there anyone who has dedicated their life to the pursuit of God and concluded their research with the declaration “Mankind you are totally free for I have objectively established that God does not exist”.
In matters of religion, scientists were mean and frivolous. They were blinded by a very basic caricature of religion and everything associated with it. For instance, they failed to distinguish between the timeless truths of religion and the corrupt gatekeepers of faith who exploited the name of God for their own ends. They cast aside their high standards of objectivity and did not apply these to the realities claimed by religion. It is not uncommon for a scientist to dedicate his entire life researching a single phenomenon, spending twenty to fifty years in the pursuit of one equation. The pharmacologist Alexander Fleming occupied years of his life looking at dishes of bacteria which led to the discovery of Penicillin; and after years of mental and mathematical training Isaac Newton was able to formulate the Law of Gravity. We find one scientist spending his entire life engrossed in the motion of heavenly bodies and another obsessed by the search for a fungus which will save lives.
However, when intellectuals and popularisers of science, such as Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) and Carl Sagan (1934-1996) turned to religion they displayed a strange, irrational and reactionary approach to the study of religion. In scientific matters they maintained their integrity and objective approach, but were conspicuously biased when it came to religion. If they were around today one could ask: if the study of a simple phenomenon of nature requires the dedication of a whole lifetime, then is it right that the study of the All-knowing and All-Wise intelligence and force behind the Cosmos should be left to casual comments, unsupported by research, and an intellectual approach more characteristic of children than sincere scientists? It is even more astonishing that when scientists approach the study of natural phenomena they are strictly opposed to undertaking research clouded by personal feelings, hidden assumptions and subjective reasoning. These things are so abhorrent that any scientist who allows personal biases to influence their research becomes the target of criticism and ridicule. Yet the speed and foolishness of their knee-jerk response to metaphysical realities is beyond belief.
Leaving aside the giants of science, there are mediocre professors who oppose religion solely on the grounds of personal choice and freedom of expression. They fear that an objective study of religion might destroy the imaginary demon of religion they have created and placed in front of the people; a monster which feeds on basic human fears, instincts and ethnic differences. To maintain this myth they deliberately present religion as irrational. However, they are keen to preserve religion as a symbolic totem which will permit them in times of need to visit a shrine, to supplicate at the door of a holy man, or to fall at the feet of a religious healer. How could anyone follow such a religion or worship a God who is dumbfounded and confused by a handful of facts based on empirical research?
Is God still stuck in the past? Has He not been able to advance His understanding? It seems that modern science has shattered the foundations of hypothetical faith and left it in a quandary in the desert of scepticism. The Devil (Shaytaan) is no fool; his strategy is to portray God as undesirable and pathetic. Is it not strange for a God, who does not have a limited understanding of the basic branches of science, to claim that He is the originator of all creation? A God, still living in a bygone era dependent on outmoded means, who trembles in awe at modern Man’s intellectual and technological advances. Like Gulliver, He has been brought down and pinned to the ground by the tiny Lilliputians. The Emblem of power and majesty, possessing absolute wisdom has lost His nerve in the face of a few scientific facts and is content to accept that His existence is only a supposition which has no basis in reality. This is precisely the view of God held by secular scientists. What else do you expect from this kind of intellect? The distinction between what is conceptual and what is real is of huge importance to scientists. It is also the biggest stumbling block in their approach to God. The assumption that God does not exist distorts their research. Of course they will acknowledge the concept of God but will never accept even the remotest possibility that He could really exist. Why is this the case? Has there never been anyone who has specialized in the reality of God; or dedicated their entire life in the pursuit of God? Did the desire to fathom the reality of the cosmos not take hold of any human being? Has the intellectual garden of the human mind never witnessed the blossoming of a divine flower rooted in objective research and enquiry? Has the concept of God always been bereft of intelligence and reason? Have those who claim to be certain of God’s existence relied purely on blind emotion and feeling? Perhaps religion was only destined to last for a specified time in human history, and when the sun of reason reached its zenith, the only way for religion to survive was for it to suspend itself upside down, like a totally blind bat, and withdraw.
The idea that Divine knowledge should not be delved into, for the fear that it might prove to be primitive in the light of modern science, is ludicrous. There are many scientifically minded individuals who are adamant that we must not search for scientific ideas and inspiration in the book of God (Quran). What would these people do if God did decide to reveal scientific realities in His divine revelation? Perhaps they have forgotten that although a revealed book is not a book of science it is definitely a book of creation. It is impossible to imagine that such a book will not contain the laws and principles relating to the origin of the universe, the mystery of life, the end of the cosmos, and causal effects and outcomes. If you feel that it is your duty to investigate then, do so. Remember that a human can make a thousand mistakes and still retain his status as a human being, but if God makes a single mistake He can never keep the title of God. Here we have God claiming that the Quran is His data. This is a brilliant opportunity for mankind to set up an objective test to prove or disprove God. The myth of God could be buried forever if we are able to find one single flaw in His data. Surely we can find a tiny flaw in the book of God!
This is an open challenge to mankind from God. All we have to do is to undertake a detailed study of the Quran in the same objective and diligent manner as we would a piece of scientific research. We can then declare with credibility that God’s understanding of basic scientific facts is flawed and that His knowledge of the cosmos is limited. We could conclude that God is merely a storyteller who accompanies the desert caravans to relieve the boredom of the weary travellers by transporting their imaginations into the realms of supernatural fantasy. You may notice that I have specifically referred to the Quran when inviting you to challenge God. This is because it is the most perfectly preserved religious scripture and it is the only book that God Himself has guaranteed to preserve. He has given a personal guarantee that each phrase and sentence and every fact within it is His direct speech. All one needs to do is to pinpoint one error and that is the end of God! How simple it is to cure this phantom that has haunted mankind for centuries!
However, the intellectuals who undertake the critique of the Quran must demonstrate that they possess the capacity to conduct such an enquiry in accordance with the highest standards of scientific research. They cannot sit in a comfortable armchair and declare their conclusions. The issue at stake is far too important. This research and investigation will be long and arduous. It is not like the approach of the sociologist whose concept of God is of an idea people have made up in order to cope with the harsh realities of life, a concept created in response to the terror and helplessness of their situation. God is escapism!
If such an expert concludes that the mental turmoil experienced by those who believe in God is itself proof that He is merely a supposition, then he must go back and check his research methodology. Our expert is not actually researching God. In fact he has no inclination to find out about God or to understand Him and then give a considered opinion based on his findings. What he is actually doing is giving an anthropological assessment of how people relate to society’s concept of God. This is not the same as researching God. This is probably true for most scholars involved in social research. Their concern is on mundane matters such as how a particular community engages with food and hunting; how settlements grow and the dynamics of family and tribal units; and how myths and beliefs are utilized to maintain tradition and culture. They are not really interested in God, but in the idea of God as it is found in the minds of a particular social unit. As any anthropologist will tell you there is no escape from the concept of God; it keeps raising its head like an uncontrollable weed in prehistoric and later civilizations.
What I find fascinating in the study of sociology and anthropology is that prehistoric Man who did not know how to wash his face or clean his teeth; who had no idea of how to cook meat and food; who had no knowledge of how to build houses and dwellings; who had no concept of having a courtyard or a living room; who was not familiar with the practice of growing vegetables, let alone irrigating land, sowing seeds and harvesting crops; whose physical form evolved from Homo Habilis (earliest Hominid known to use tools) into Homo Erectus; who spent day and night like wild predators swinging from tree tops; and who did not experience any feeling or emotion other than sexual gratification: how strange it is that the first thing that such a creature should do is to start searching for a higher reality (God). The earliest human settlements were religious in character. In fact, all Palaeolithic civilizations were priestly societies with religious rituals and symbolism. The dead were buried with formal rites of passage; prayers said, flowers scattered and offerings made in places as far flung as Mesopotamia and China.
How can one explain this aspect of prehistoric civilization? Did these helpless and unintelligent human beings have access to some alien life form which taught them these metaphysical realities? Perhaps the slightest threat on the human intellect forced it to acknowledge the power of an Almighty God? Could it be possible that human consciousness was gradually being guided by some external agency to adopt practices and ideals which supported human existence and perfection? It is hard to avoid the conclusion that some external agency or force has been supporting mankind in meeting all their physical, social and spiritual needs. We observe that when our ancestral mother was not yet aware of the nature of her feminine form, she is ‘instinctively’ taught how to sever the umbilical cord of her newborn child. Threatened by wild and predatory animals, our human ancestors are guided to place one brick on top of another and build secure dwellings. Having created systems to satisfy his physical needs we find these same ancestors being directed towards perfecting the art of communication through the use of rhetorical devices and deep understanding of language and grammar. How could all this and more have been independently developed by our uncivilized and prehistoric human ancestors who were driven only by animal passions and the need for survival?
Based on archaeological evidence alone it is difficult to establish that some external agency or force was involved in human progress and development. Such an idea is hard for secular scientists and philosophers to swallow; their minds reach breaking point if they have to accept that the concept of God is as ancient as humanity itself. Their minds are already in mental anguish. The certainties that the scientists have established after painstaking endeavour did not last the course of a century. The certainty of Newton’s universe was shattered by Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. The certainty of Einstein’s universe is in turn being eroded by modern discoveries and research. It seems that uncertainty is intrinsic to the scientific process. In fact, some of the latest discoveries in the field of quantum mechanics have left scientists bewildered. The number of subatomic particles in addition to neutrinos, quarks, muons is growing, not to mention other particles such as the tachyon, which can travel faster than the speed of light. We cannot claim to have mastered the understanding of our galaxy, let alone the cosmos. At every turn we are faced with a reality that we cannot completely fathom: black holes, parallel universes, dark matter, and antimatter. All this suggests an intelligence and power greater than that of Man, yet modern Man insists there is nothing greater than him! We find it difficult to acknowledge the limitations of our intellects and the understanding of life which this generates.
We focus on the here and now and neglect to ponder on the final outcome of the universe; the expansion of the universe is an established fact but its contraction and end is an occurrence which does not seem to concern us much. Our origin was in a specific moment of time in the past but our future has no endpoint. The stakes are high. Are we willing to barter a few decades of life at the expense of eternity? Science has certainly made life more convenient for us, giving us toasters, ovens, cars, trains and planes. It has also made life more dangerous by providing chemical weapons, smart bombs, ballistic missiles and nuclear warheads. However, it has neglected to focus on the fundamental question of the purpose of life. Perhaps science does not have the tools for this. The paradigm established by science to understand reality is as fleeting as the playful dance of the morning breeze on the buds; it then fades away with the dawning of the new day. Time is indeed relative!
By this point you might be forgiven for thinking that I am like a disgruntled teenager who is making mockery of the learning and experience of respected authorities: far from it. I would describe myself as a lost traveller in the desert who finds that all the landmarks and signposts he was given were mirages and guesses. He feels angry and betrayed by his intellectual and knowledgeable superiors, and in this state expresses his frustration in a cultured and respectful manner.
(Translated from Muqaddama-tul-Quran (pp.20-29)
An English Edition of Muqaddama-tul-Quran by Prof.Ahmad Rafique Akhtar