Not all questions are of equal weight; some are frivolous and others have grave consequences. Then there is the ultimate question on which hinges the happiness of thousands of years without end: What is the purpose of life? What possible value can we assign to this question! Man is not like the Satan of Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’ who has given up all hope of entering paradise and is content to suffer eternally. He is not willing to take such a big risk and gamble away his future in a fit of drunken madness; nor is he foolish enough to claim that he believes in God and at the same time turns a blind eye to His commands. Man will never willingly declare that He deserves to dwell in hell: by nature he is averse to pain. Yet we are continuously gripped with fear, anxiety and worry. Do you not think that it is incumbent upon us to find a way to put an end to this mental torment? The presence of this question hangs over us like the sword of Damocles and drives away our peace of mind.
The way to achieve this is simple. Like Abraham we have to establish a methodology that will allow us to test the reality of God and determine whether he exists. God and Man are two distinct entities. Man is a mix of errors and mistakes. These same flaws in the make-up of Man are the reason why he was blessed with the faculties of reason and consciousness. Despite his shortcomings and errors a member of the human race is still to be regarded as a human being. This status cannot be taken away from him regardless of his actions. As humans we all have the potential to sink to the depths of animal depravity or rise to the heights of beauty and divinity: we all pass through these levels and experience the consequences of reward and punishment. You can call those who succumb to the level of beasts and animals any lowly name that you wish, but the fact remains they will still be regarded as human beings.
While this may be true for humans, the same cannot be said about God. All the attributes of God point to His perfection and infallibility, not a single one casts a shadow of doubt on His right to be God. This doesn’t mean that ‘God’ is a projection of the human mind, a mythical human ideal free from all errors and imperfections, injustice and oppression, tyranny and despotism, miserliness, anger and rage. In other words, a ‘Conceptual God’ whose qualities the human race should aspire to attain. This is not the kind of God that should be the subject of our research. A real God, whoever He may be, will be able to demonstrate that these qualities are an intrinsic part of Him, and that His perfection and sublime nature are not contingent upon anything external to Him. He should possess ultimate wisdom and intelligence, rank and status. He will exercise power with fairness, as He will not be in the debt of anyone, or have any ties of kinship or friendship. He will not be influenced by human wants and needs. He is the Creator, the Absolute, free from all errors and faults. He is there at the end of every road. He is the answer to every question. He is the station of reality. He is the subject of all research. He is the ultimate point of knowledge and wisdom. It is why He is God.
This is God’s claim.
Is this an imaginary claim or does it have a basis in reality and observable fact? Can it be proved? If so, how? It has to be said that it is not possible for Man to attribute fault to God. To do this we would have to acquire understanding and insight equal to God’s, and our knowledge would have to encompass every reality and place of the cosmos. In reality only God can know if He has any shortcomings. Our quest to prove or disprove God must therefore rely on observable facts and, according to established scientific practice, must centre on a researchable hypothesis. For instance, Abraham established the hypothesis that ‘God cannot wax or wane’, therefore anything that claims that it is God must not experience decline.
What we need is a more robust hypothesis that takes into account the intellectual and scientific standards of modern times, a hypothesis that will enable us to put God to the test and establish the truth or falsehood of His claims. More than this it will provide a definitive answer to the question of God’s existence. The hypothesis to test is this: ‘God can never make a mistake’. If we can show a slight possibility of God making a mistake then any being that claims Godhood cannot be called ‘God’. If you think about it, the ultimate question that has haunted Mankind can be solved simply and effectively. All we need to do is to pinpoint one error and God’s claim to Godhood is in tatters!
Before going further, it is important to note that all the proofs of God’s existence that have been provided by theologians so far have been abstract and particular. They lacked absolute authority, and the possibility of doubt always remained. For instance the cosmological argument states that God was the ‘first cause’ who created the cosmos. The opponents of this claim have argued that ‘Nature’ can be regarded as the Creator and if the design of the universe is attributed to God, it can equally be ascribed to a ‘chance event’. The ‘teleological argument’ points to the complex order and design of the universe as evidence of God. In response some have claimed that the matter of the universe has evolved over time and has become more refined and complex. If the theologians point to the orbits of the planets and stars to show the fine planning that must be behind all this, their opponents simply argue that this system arose from chaos and chance collisions and upheavals led to the natural order we see today.
All these philosophical arguments cannot definitively prove that God exists. Thus life is the result of the interaction between various gases and acids, and there is a range of forces, such as gravity, that explain the creation of the cosmos. The paradox is that we equally do not have a definitive argument that disproves God! In fact there are many incidents that make us feel the existence of an invisible power or force. There is only one way to get out of this dilemma. If we can find some positively certified data that is ascribed to God. All we have to do then is to scrutinise this data using our hypothesis and with finality lay to rest the ghost of God!
At first glance all revealed scriptures appear to be the words and data of God. They contain his ordinances and commands. However, not a single scripture has satisfied the complex critique expected by modern standards. The Vedas and the Ancient Upanishads for example display great philosophical insights, but fall short when discussing the creation of the universe and the world. Their teachings are no more than accepted ideas of the educated people in ancient times. In the same way, we find a sublime and unparalleled ethical framework in the Torah, Psalms and the New Testament that hints to their divine origin. But at the same time we find facts that are flawed and have no basis in reality. They leave the suspicion that this book cannot be ascribed to an infallible God. All these scriptures claim divine origin. However, the key question is: has God Himself claimed any of these books as His infallible data?
The answer is a categorical no.
God is aware of the intellectual confusion and shortcomings that have crept into His scriptures. He knows that large parts have been distorted or have been mixed with limited human ideas. In the Quran He categorically disassociates Himself from these books. He acknowledges that they were His message but points out that they have been corrupted, and the facts of reality have been either wiped out or intentionally substituted. This is the reason why God refuses to be judged on the basis of scriptures that he no longer regards as His true data. The only divine scripture that God makes an explicit claim to is the Quran. Without any doubt or wavering He declares that this is His data. Not only does He attribute every word and letter of this book to Himself, He invites Mankind to verify its contents based on their standards of research and investigation. God goes a step further and declares that the statements of the Quran are for all times and not specific to a historical period. He takes personal responsibility to ensure that it is completely safeguarded from corruption. He lays this book open to be challenged and to be held to account.
One fact that over the centuries supports God’s claim to the Quran to be true is His guarantee that He will protect it. No other book can claim that every letter and sentence within it has been preserved as it was over a period of 15 centuries, not changing even by a dot! Having verified this claim we are obliged to regard the Quran as the word and data of God for the purposes of our research. Every word and claim made within it has to be scrutinised on the basis of intellectual and scientific standards. You may find it astonishing that God Himself invites us to use our intellects to think and reflect and regards blind faith equal to the herd mentality of cattle. Adopting this approach means that there is no need for Man or God to collude with each other. Man is completely free to scrutinise this book without any sense of devotion, loyalty or obligation. He should muster all his intellectual faculties and without fear or favour approach the Quran. The goal of this research is simple: to show that God has made a mistake. He only has to find one mistake to prove that God’s claim is not true and therefore He cannot be God. The chances of not finding a single mistake in such a large book are slim. However, if there really is not a single error in it, then its author must be regarded as infallible, his statements accepted as true, his claims to be real, and that He has the right to be God.
The Quran is not a book that consists only of commands and prohibitions. It encompasses all aspects of life and discusses social, ethical, historical and scientific realities. Its statements are not presented as conjecture and speculation but as final and definitive facts. However, God does not demand blind acceptance but verification of His claims. Suppose a person has failed to understand the social or ethical laws of God and as a result refuses to submit to His command. God has no objection against such a person since as humans we will only follow something once we have understood and accepted the thought behind it. Our acceptance of God’s commands are contingent upon the state of human knowledge. In some branches of science, such as ethics and sociology, we have only begun to make inroads. In these matters we cannot scrutinise the Quran’s claims since our own knowledge has not reached its completion. However, there are other areas of knowledge in which we can claim to have reached some level of finality from a human perspective. There are established and accepted facts that can be used as a benchmark to test the claims of the Quran.
During our research we must be careful not to let our biases come in the way of understanding the Quran. Prior to our own investigation and discussion of a particular topic we must first establish the basic principles and views that exist around this issue. In other words we must undertake a review related to the research question to fully put into perspective the Quran’s claim. The Quran is not the first or the last book in the history of writing. Of course, it is the last revelation of God, but it is not the last in the long catalogue of books that have adorned the bookshelves of Mankind. Many manuscripts predating the Quran have been preserved, and since Mankind began to think and observe, many theories and assertions had began to circulate amongst the collective mind of Man. The philosophers of Greece are famous and renowned to this day. The research and investigation of Roman thinkers and scientists have been preserved. The collective human understanding of the world in the fifteen centuries before the Quran and after the Quran is accessible to us even today.
Our research methodology should include a detailed and comprehensive analysis of all the human knowledge that existed before the Quran, including early scientific research. This will allow us to verify the claim that the Quran repeats the views and understanding of people in ancient times. The views of the ancients regarding life and the world should be compared with the statements of the Quran relating to the origin of life and the universe. If the statements of the Quran match those of antiquity we can conclude that it is the product of a human mind and not of God. More importantly, we must also bear in mind the scientific advances over the last two centuries that have produced a torrent of discoveries and data never known before to Man. These should also be compared with the Quran’s declarations. We must adopt the same principles and methodology when researching the Quran as we do with any object of research in our higher institution of learning. The stakes are high. The danger of not reading the Quran is great, but the consequences of misunderstanding it are even greater. The mistakes of the Quran are God’s mistakes. If this is the case, and we must be absolutely certain that it is, then the human race will be able to rid itself forever from the concept of God, or at the very least the God we worship will be a creation of our mind, like the gods of ancient times.
There is one other consideration when approaching the Quran. We must make sure that we have the qualifications and capacity to understand it. A primary school child will not be able to grasp a textbook written for a Masters student, let alone claim a right to clarify its meanings. In my view there are at least two intellectual levels by which we can approach the study of the Quran. Both of these fundamental standards are beyond narrow religious teachings. The first is the benchmark that God has set for the Quran. This requires that we have absolute God-like understanding of the Cosmos in order to verify the claims of the Quran. The extent to which we can participate with this standard is limited. The second benchmark is that which God expects from Mankind and the ways in which we can acquire the capacity to understand the Quran. Our main focus will be on this standard. A closer inspection of the book reveals that not only does it require deep reflection it also demands a high degree of intelligence and learning. Since it deals definitively with a wide range of subjects it is necessary that the person who researches the Quran should also be a final authority in his field with the knowledge and understanding that this necessitates.
As for those verses that deal with developments in the future, research into these must be postponed until human knowledge advances to a stage that allows it to verify these realities. For instance the Quran talks about realms and dimensions that the human mind has not yet been able to gain access to, such as multiple universes with numerous human populations, the expansiveness of Paradise, the calamities of the day of Judgement, the existence of non-physical beings such as Angels and Jinns and the complete and complex order of the higher regions of the cosmos, the entering and exiting of life and the reality of life after death. It is clear that for Mankind to give an opinion on these realities would be regarded as intellectually premature.
However, there are many other facts in the Quran which can be analysed, judged and verified according to modern standards of research and criticism. There is plenty of scope to expect some sort of error or mistake. God discusses the genesis of the universe and the origins of life. He talks in detail of the orbits of heavenly bodies. A detailed description is given of the creation of Man and the formation of life. The movements of mountains are mentioned and that the Earth is being reduced at the edges (plate tectonics). God also refers to the fact that the universe is expanding, and how the birds and clouds remain suspended in air. In fact there are so many facts that at any time you could find a settled scientific view on that topic and compare it with the conclusions of the Quran. This raises a question: whom should we rely on to understand and explain the Quran to us? If the opponents of the Quran are armed with the latest research and education, should we not expect someone who is able to understand the teachings of the Quran without any doubt or wavering in the way that God intended it to be understood, and to provide the required clarifications demanded by the modern age?
Unfortunately, there is no contemporary or past scholar who has a comprehensive understanding of non-religious sciences as well as a complete grasp of Quranic sciences and who is also familiar with the research methodology of Western intellectuals. The honour and respect which is currently enjoyed by the Western Mind is not based on intellectual insight but on the social and economic progress which is a result of the practical application of western scientific research. They have become so engrossed with acquiring physical benefits that they are unable to even consider the possibility of any non-physical reality. What is more, until now they have never attempted to scrutinise the Quran to verify its claims or perhaps they have been prevented from doing so. If they were to rise above their personal prejudices and climb out of the depths of religious bigotry would they be able to accomplish this research task? I am sure that if Bradlow and Bacon had studied the Quran in detail they would not have become secularists. Besides, it is pointless to commiserate over something that God’s providence had not decreed to be their lot!
Today, Europe and America are attempting to instil a sense of inferiority in the minds of Muslims, an inferiority complex whose basis is not knowledge and learning but power and wealth. This has led to the creation of a totally erroneous approach to reality in the minds of some Muslim intellectuals. If political power and control of resources are the signs that one is following the truth, then for thirteen centuries the Muslims dominated global politics and were therefore on the truthful path. A period of a hundred years in the ascendancy is not decisive in the polity of nations. Is there any intellectual or thinker who is willing to guarantee that this brief domination of the West will be everlasting? Is there a single Western nation which does not feel threatened by the emergence of a powerful Islamic entity; and which does not fear its own demise?
The speed with which the secular system of the world is reaching its final conclusion is visible for all to see. Time and again history has witnessed that secularism has given birth to a society characterised by religious extremism (with the exception of the early Muslim community, which was unique because it was founded on the principles of the golden mean and its outcome was based on moderation). In contrast, the unfettered moral freedoms that are currently the legacy of the West will lead to the inevitable destruction of the current social order within fifty years if current trends are to continue. Its death will be like that of a parasitic plant that becomes separated from its host plant and gradually withers away. When the Roman philosopher Cicero predicted the decline of the Roman Empire the conditions of society were much the same. The demon of freedom to indulge in excess was niggling away at the moral fibre of society. Cicero’s prophecy was fulfilled before its time. If you look at the pace of social decline it’s not far fetched to say that the coming years will put a final seal on the insanity of human excess.
This makes it all the more vital for us to find a conclusive answer to the core questions of the human condition. Who are we? What is the point and purpose of human life? To what extent are we free? To what extent are we bound and limited?
The outcome of the life of this world is plain to see. But is anybody concerned about the long period of life that is contingent upon the existence of God? It is vital for us to establish whether there is such a life. Our rejection or confirmation must be based on objective evidence. Ignoring this question may be fatal if the evidence points to the contrary. We cannot simply dismiss God as a product of a crazy mind or as a result of religious passion that presents folklore as fact. Nor can we accept without question the blatantly dismissive slogans bandied about by the secularist or the claims of the scientist and philosopher that God is a figment of the imagination. Anybody who does not accept this view is irrational and illogical. We are talking about a reality on which depends centuries upon centuries of our future life. The fundamental stumbling block between Man and God is the issue of existence. God is not a sweet pill of the mind who makes it easy for us to swallow bitter reality or the fruit of insanity. God is the King of the Cosmos, Absolutely Powerful, every decision and choice rests with Him. There is only one way in which we can bypass the reality of God and that is if He does not exist. The only way to prove that he does not exist is to show that He has made an error, and this can be done by proving that He has made a mistake in His book. This is not possible at all except by scrutinising the Quran.
An English Edition of Muqaddama-tul-Quran (pp.172-181)
An English Edition of Muqaddama-tul-Quran by Prof.Ahmad Rafique Akhtar