The Value of Study of the Natural Phenomena

Aside from all of this, the question worthy of consideration is whether the Quran, besides its emphasis on the study of the creatures of earth, water, and air, allows other ways of approaching the issue, or if it closes all other doors. The question is whether the Quran, even as it invites people to study the signs of God (ayat), also welcomes other modes of intellectual endeavour. Basically, what is the value of inquiry into the works of creation (an inquiry which the Quran urges us, explicitly or implicitly, to undertake), from the viewpoint of initiating us into the awareness and consciousness which this heavenly Book aims to cultivate?

The truth is that the measure of assistance provided by the study of the works of the creation in understanding the problems explicitly pointed out by the Holy Quran is quite restricted. The Quran has propounded certain problems of theology which are by no means understandable through the study of the created world or nature. The value of study of the system of creation is limited only to the extent to which it proves that the world is governed by a Power which knows, designs, plans, and administers it. The world is a mirror, open to empirical experiment, only to the extent that it points towards something that lies beyond nature and discloses the existence of a Mighty Hand which runs nature's cosmic wheels.

But the Quran is not content that man should only know that a Mighty, Knowing, and Wise Power administers this universe. This may perhaps be true of other heavenly scriptures, but is by no means true of the Holy Quran, which is the final and ultimate heavenly message and has a great deal to say about God and the reality transcending nature.

Purely Rationalistic Problems

The most basic problem to which the mere study of the world of creation fails to provide an answer is the necessity of existence and uncreatedness of the Power which transcends nature. The world is a mirror in the sense that it indicates the existence of a Mighty Hand and a Wise Power, but it does not tell us anything more about Its nature. It does not tell us whether that Power is subservient to something else or not, or if it is self-subsisting. And if it is subject to something else, what is that?

The objective of the Quran is not only that we should know that a Mighty Hand administers the world, but that we may know that that Administrator is "Allah" and that "Allah" is the indefinable: (There is nothing like Him), whose Essence encompasses all perfection, or in other words, that "Allah" signifies Absolute Perfection and is the referent of, (His is the loftiest likeness). How can the study of nature give us an understanding of such notions and concepts?

The second problem is that of the Unity of God. The Quran has stated this issue in a logical form and used a syllogistic argument to explain it. The method of argument it has employed in this regard is what is called 'exclusive syllogism' or 'reductio ad impossible' (burhan al-tamanu'). On occasion it eliminates the possibility of multiplicity in the efficient cause as in the following verse: [6]

If there had been (multiple) gods in them (i.e. the earth and the heaven) other than God, they would surely go to ruin ... (21:22)

At other times it argues by eliminating the possibility of multiplicity in the final cause:

God has not taken to Himself any son, nor is there any god besides Him; for then each god would have taken off that he created and some of them would have risen up over others ... (23:91)

The Quran never suggests that the study of the system of creation can lead us to the knowledge of the Unity of the Godhead so as to imply that the essential knowledge of the transcendental Creator be considered attainable from that source. Moreover, such a suggestion would not have been correct.

The Quran alludes to various problems as indicated by the following examples:

No thing is like Him ... (42:11) And God's is the loftiest likeness ... (16:60) To Him belong the Names most Beautiful. (20:8) And His is the loftiest likeness in the heavens and the earth ... (30:27) He is God, there is no god but He. He is the King, the All-holy, the All-peaceable. the All-faithful, the All-preserver, the All-mighty, the All-compeller, the All-sublime ... (59:23) And to God belong the East and the West; whither so ever you turn, there is the Face of God ... (2:115) And He is God in the heavens and the earth; He knows your secrets, and what you publish ... (6:3) He is the First and the Last, the Outward and the Inward; He has knowledge of everything. (57:3) He is the Living, the Everlasting ... (2:255) God, is the Everlasting, [Who] has not begotten, and has not been begotten and equal to Him is not any one. (112:2-4)

Why does the Quran raise such issues? Is it for the sake of propounding mysterious matters incomprehensible to man, who, according to al-Nadawi, lacks the knowledge of its essential principles, and then asking him to accept them without comprehending their meaning? Or, the Quran actually does want him to know God through the attributes and descriptions that have come in it? And, if this is true, what reliable approach does it recommend? How is it possible to acquire this knowledge through the study of the natural phenomena? The study of the creation teaches us that God has knowledge of the things; that is, the things that He has made were created knowingly and wisely. But the Quran expects us not only to know this, but also stresses that:

Indeed God has the knowledge of everything. (2:231) And not so much as the weight of an atom in earth or heaven escapes from thy Lord, neither is aught smaller than that, or greater, but in a Manifest Book. (10:61) Say: "If the sea were ink for the Words of my Lord, the sea would be spent before the Words of my Lord are spent, though We brought replenishment the like of it. " (18:109)

This means that God's knowledge is infinite and so is His power. How and wherefore is it possible through perception and observation of the world of creation to reach the conclusion that the Creator's Knowledge and Power are infinite? The Quran, similarly, propounds numerous other problems of the kind. For instance, it mentions al-lawh al-mahfuz (the Protected Tablet), lawh al-mahw wa al-'ithbat (The Tablet of Expunction and Affirmation), jabr and ikhtiyar (determinism and free will), wahy (revelation) and ilham (intuition), etc.; none of which are susceptible to inquiry through the empirical study of the world of creation.

It must be admitted that the Quran, definitely, has raised these problems in the form of a series of lessons and has emphasized their importance through advice and exhortation. The following verses of the Quran may be quoted in this connection:

What, do they not meditate in the Quran? Or is it that there are locks upon their hearts? .... (47:24) (This is) a Scripture that We have revealed unto thee, full of blessing, that they may ponder its revelations, and that men of understanding may reflect. (38:29)

Inevitably, we are forced to accept that the Quran assumes the existence of a reliable method for understanding the meaning of these truths, which have not been revealed as a series of obscure incomprehensibles which lie beyond the reach of the human mind.

The scope of problems propounded by the Quran in the sphere of metaphysics is far greater than what can be resolved or be answered through the study of physical creation. This is the reason why the Muslims have pursued these problems, at times through spiritual and gnostic efforts, and at other times through speculative and rational approach.

I wonder whether those who claim that the Quran considers the study of nature as the sole, sufficient means for the solution of metaphysical problems, can give a satisfying answer in regard to the multifarious problems propounded by it, a characteristic which is special to this great heavenly Book.

'Ali's sole source of inspiration in his exposition of the problems mentioned in the previous chapters is the Holy Quran, and the sole motive behind his discourses is exegetical. Perhaps, had it not been for 'Ali ('a) the rationalistic and speculative aspects of the Quran would have forever remained uninterpreted.

After these brief introductory remarks on the value of these issues, we shall go on to cite some relevant examples from the Nahj al-balaghah.