As human beings we live amidst the magnificent features of nature such as green grass, leafy trees, mountains, hills, ponds, lakes, fresh air, open blue sky and the seas. In the broadest sense, these are referred to as nature, which is the material world surrounding mankind and existing independently of human activities. We take nature for granted and live our lives without any reflection.
Allah (swt) created this great wondrous universe and everything within it and He (swt) in the Qur’an repeatedly invites mankind to contemplate about His creation. The Qur’an is full of verses that seek to draw our attention to Allah’s creation. Moreover, the Prophet Muhammad (saw) said, “one hour’s contemplation is better than one year’s worship”. Islam therefore placed enormous importance in thinking about and reflecting upon Allah and His creation so that mankind could reach the truth about man, life and the universe with certainty and thereby live in accordance with the commands and prohibitions of the Creator, Al-Khaliq. This article seeks to draw together a few verses of the Qur’an with a similar theme and derive some of the lessons which are often missed due to lack of proper thought and reflection.
The invitation to reflect
Allah (swt) in the following verses says:
إِنَّ فِي خَلْقِ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالأَرْضِ وَاخْتِلاَفِ اللَّيْلِ وَالنَّهَارِ لآياتٍ ِلأَولِي الأَلْبَابِ
“Indeed! In the creation of the heavens and the earth, and in the alternation of night and day, there are indeed signs for men of understanding” [Al-Imran: 190].
أَفَلاَ يَنْظُرُونَ إِلَى الإِبِلِ كَيْفَ خُلِقَتْ
وَإِلَى السَّمَاءِ كَيْفَ رُفِعَتْ
وَإِلَى الْجِبَالِ كَيْفَ نُصِبَتْ
وَإِلَى الأَرْضِ كَيْفَ سُطِحَتْ
“Do they not look at the camels, how they are created? And at the heaven, how it is raised? And at the mountains, how they are rooted and fixed firm? And at the earth, how it is spread out?” [Ghashiyyah: 17-20].
اللَّهُ الَّذِي خَلَقَ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالأَرْضَ وَأَنزَلَ مِنْ السَّمَاءِ مَاءً فَأَخْرَجَ بِهِ مِنْ الثَّمَرَاتِ رِزْقًا لَكُمْ وَسَخَّرَ لَكُمْ الْفُلْكَ لِتَجْرِيَ فِي الْبَحْرِ بِأَمْرِهِ وَسَخَّرَ لَكُمْ الأَنهَارَ
وَسَخَّرَ لَكُمْ الشَّمْسَ وَالْقَمَرَ دَائِبَيْنِ وَسَخَّرَ لَكُمْ اللَّيْلَ وَالنَّهَار
وَآتَاكُمْ مِنْ كُلِّ مَا سَأَلْتُمُوهُ وَإِنْ تَعُدُّوا نِعْمَةَ اللَّهِ لاَ تُحْصُوهَا إِنَّ الإِنسَانَ لَظَلُومٌ كَفَّارٌ
“Allah is He Who has created the heavens and the earth and sends down water (rain) from the sky, and thereby brought forth fruits as provision for you; and He has made the ships to be of service to you, that they may sail through the sea by His Command; and He has made rivers (also) to be of service to you. And He has made the sun and the moon, both constantly pursuing their courses, to be of service to you; and He has made the night and the day, to be of service to you. And He gave you of all that you asked for, and if you count the Blessings of Allah, never will you be able to count them. Verily! Man is indeed an extreme wrong-doer, – a disbeliever” [Ibrahim: 32 – 34].
The Prophet’s reflection
The Prophet (saw) once came to the house of A’ishah (ra), his wife. In the depth of night, he made wudu and stood up in prayer wherein he was weeping so much that his beard became wet. Thereafter, he went to sujud and was crying so much that the ground became wet. He then laid down upon his side and continued to weep. As dawn approached, Bilal (ra) came to call for Fajr adhan when he came to alert the Prophet (saw) and saw him crying, whereupon Bilal (ra) asked: “O Prophet of Allah, why do you cry even though your past and present sins have been forgiven”. The Prophet (saw) said, “Woe to you Bilal. Who will prevent me from crying? Allah has just tonight revealed this verse [Surah Al Imran: 190]. Woe to him who reads this verse and does not contemplate”.
It is evident from this incident that the Prophet (saw) did not take such verses lightly. To the contrary, the mighty weight of these verses struck fear and awe in the Prophet’s heart such that he cried profusely. In spite of his guaranteed position in Paradise, he (saw) was weeping because Allah (swt) criticises those who do not reflect upon His creation.
How should we reflect upon and approach the above verses?
Points of reflection
In these verses, Allah (swt) is inviting His creation, man, to explore and examine Allah’s other creations such as the vast sky and the earth, which prove Allah’s power, magnificence, majesty and greatness. In the interest of brevity, let us reflect upon some of the words in the aforesaid verses.
Those who reflect and reach the correct conclusion about Allah’s existence and attributes and follow His Shari’ah, Allah (swt) declares them as “li-ulīl-albāb” (men of understanding). Such ‘men of understanding’ are people who are intelligent and of sound mind. They are not from amongst the metaphorical deaf and mute who do not take heed from the phenomenal creation of Allah (swt). This is indeed a worthy status because such person is on a path to secure his or her eternal abode in Jannah in the hereafter.
If we examine some of the words in the verses from surah Ghashiyyah, it is noteworthy that the camel until recently was a critical part of the desert lifestyle. It was the most common domestic animal of the Arabs. The camel is a powerful and strong animal that carries heavy loads. The Arabs used to conduct their trade from one part of the world to another with the aid of camels. The camel is an animal that is large yet gentle and harmless; it allows itself to be subjected to the dictates of man, who is considerably smaller in size to the camel. This in itself is a miracle of Allah (swt). This is why Allah drew the Arabs’ attention to this animal as something they could relate to at the time the Qur’an was revealed.
As for the mountains, how they are raised on earth; they act as pegs so that the earth remains stable and the creatures within the earth can live without being swayed. Again, the mountains have many other geological benefits, e.g. they possess certain minerals and types of soils which are not found elsewhere. The importance of mountains cannot be overstated for their role in providing geological stability.
Allah is also pointing to the sky, its height and vastness; and the earth, its breadth and how it rotates around other planets. Allah describes how the night follows the day and vice versa. If one contemplates over this alternation of night and day for a moment, it is amazing that in summer the days are longer whilst in winter the nights are longer. There are few days in a year when the night and the day are of very similar length. Such amazing phenomena are repeated year after year! Do these take place without the will of Allah (swt)? Surely not!
Allah invited the Bedouin to contemplate over what he saw as he travelled around the deserts. The camel which he rode, the sky above his head, the mountains ahead of him and the earth beneath him, all of which prove the power and majesty of the Creator, Al-Khaliq.
Imam Ibn Kathir (may Allah be pleased with him) said in his tafsir,
“These things should lead him [man] to see that He is the Lord, the Most Great, the Creator, the Owner, and the Controller of everything. Therefore, He is Allah other than whom none deserves to be worshipped”.
Furthermore, in the aforesaid verses of surah Ibrahim, Allah reminds us that He has prepared the earth in a suitable condition for us with the correct climate such that it is neither too hot nor too cold for us to live in it. Allah sends down rain, without which man will be destroyed. We are too familiar with the threat of drought in the southern parts of England this year. The Horn of Africa suffers from drought regularly and the images of dead animals and man alike are beamed across the globe via news networks, which truly remind us of the importance of rain. Allah has brought forth innumerable fruits and vegetation as our provisions which need the rain and rivers for their sustenance and irrigation.
How can these be accidental occurrences? Indeed, such complex planning and organisation could only occur by Allah’s leave. As Allah proudly attests, mankind can never count His blessings, nor thank Him enough for these blessings that include whatever man asks of wealth, offspring, health, luxuries and refinements.
Sayyid Qutb (may Allah be pleased with him) mentioned in his tafsir of these verses,
“God enumerates His favours, which He grants to all mankind, believers and unbelievers, righteous or unrighteous, God-fearing and wrongdoers. God is most certainly compassionate and merciful when He grants such favours to unbelievers, disobedients [sic] and wrongdoers in the same way as He grants them to the faithful who strive for His cause.”
Allah’s prophets and messengers understood the inability of man to thank Allah for such blessings. Prophet Dawud (as) used to say in his dua, “Oh Allah! How can I ever thank you enough, when my thanking you is also a favour from you to me”? Allah the Exalted replied, “Now you have thanked me sufficiently, O Dawud”, meaning, when Dawud (as) admitted that he will never be able to thank Allah enough.
Undoubtedly, Allah’s biggest favour and blessing upon mankind was to guide mankind through divine guidance be sending prophets and messengers.
In verse 34 of surah Ibrahim, Allah says, “innal-insāna laẓalūmun kaffar” i.e. “Man is indeed an extreme wrong-doer, – a disbeliever”. Allah reminds mankind that despite His blessings, man chooses the path of disobedience. Man becomes arrogant and proceeds on a path so as to ascribe partners with Allah, directly or indirectly. Allah strongly criticises those who look to the wonders of creation, yet do not contemplate. Allah says,
وَكَأَيِّنْ مِنْ آيَةٍ فِي السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالأَرْضِ يَمُرُّونَ عَلَيْهَا وَهُمْ عَنْهَا مُعْرِضُونَ
وَمَا يُؤْمِنُ أَكْثَرُهُمْ بِاللَّهِ إِلاَّ وَهُمْ مُشْرِكُونَ
“And how many a sign in the heavens and the earth they pass by, while they are averse therefrom. And most of them believe not in Allah except that they attribute partners unto Him [i.e. they are Mushrikun]” [Yusuf: 105-6].
When Allah says, “innal-insāna laẓalūmun kaffar”, this is not a condemnation upon just individuals but upon mankind as a collective. The Muslims who accepted the message of the Qur’an are as much guilty of this charge as the non-Muslims because the Muslims abandoned the Shari’ah of Allah.
Today, the Qur’an and the Sunnah of Allah’s Prophet have become redundant. By ruling by other than what Allah has revealed, the Ummah has fallen in disobedience. This can only be reversed if the Ummah reverts to the rule by the Kitab and the Sunnah and govern by the divine guidance revealed from the heavens.
Every one of us ought to seriously reflect upon these verses and question ourselves about the directions of ourselves and the societies in which we reside. Indeed reflection upon these potent verses is no easy task. Yet, man is ordained to reflect.
Islam came to raise the level of man’s intellect to the highest level. Allah calls this Ummah the best nation amongst mankind. This is indeed a very noble and honourable title. These verses teach us that we need to gain closeness to Allah by following His message, His Shari’ah. We must worship Allah by obeying His Shari’ah in all aspects of our lives, not just in salah and fasting. Like the Prophet (saw), we need to contemplate about the wrongs and injustices in our midst and work to change them so that the deen of Allah prevails.
The Prophet (saw) reflected upon these mighty verses and set out on a mission to change the Meccan society, to bring it out of the darkness into the light of Islam.
الر كِتَابٌ أَنزَلْنَاهُ إِلَيْكَ لِتُخْرِجَ النَّاسَ مِنْ الظُّلُمَاتِ إِلَى النُّورِ بِإِذْنِ رَبِّهِمْ إِلَى صِرَاطِ الْعَزِيزِ الْحَمِيدِ
“Alif-Lam-Ra. (This is) a Book which We have revealed unto you (O Muhammad) in order that you might lead mankind out of darkness into light by their Lord’s Leave to the Path of the All-Mighty, the Owner of all Praise” [Ibrahim: 1].
This mission is indeed no mean task; yet we are charged with the obligation to reflect so that we may change ourselves and the society around us. Let us make this a time for change, that is, change in us and in society, because both are intertwined and interdependent.
Wakil Abu Mujahid