Man and universe in the Qur’an *
By Sardar Hayat Khan
Man for ages past has been trying to understand the vast universe into which he has been cast - its character and its general structure and how he is related to it. What place he occupies in relation to other creatures. The knowledge that our presence in the universe represents a fundamental rather than incidental feature of existence offers a deep and satisfying basis for human dignity.
Scientific materialists say that nature is the cause of the creation of universe. They detest the idea of super-consciousness and super-intelligence playing any part in the creation of the universe. They put so much trust in their own intelligence that they will not give any credence to the super-intelligence which gave them their limited intelligence. They will accept that Newton conceived the idea of gravity by the falling of an apple. But they will not acknowledge that super-intelligence inspired this idea in the mind of Newton. Inspiration is a spark that is struck from flint - the flint being man and the striker God. The spark of gravity was struck by God in the mind of Newton. Revelation, on the other hand, is the spark which is struck by God Himself, that is God directly speaking to His chosen Prophets revealing the mysteries of the universe. Man can try to unravel the mysteries of the universe if he contemplates the word of God contained in the revealed Books. As for the Qur’an, it repeatedly announces that it will at all times yield guidance to man in the matter of unravel1ing the mysteries of the universe and His creations.
According to the Qur’an, the universe came into existence at the command of God. When God creates a thing He says it to “Be” and it becomes. The question that arises is whether God issues this command “Be” to an existing thing or to a non-existing thing. The Qur’anic view is that the command is issued by God to what is in His knowledge to call it out into the world of manifestation (Zahir). God is “Zahir” (manifest) as well as “Batin” (hidden). The question is how to reconcile His hiddeness with the world in which He manifests Himself. The manifested world borrows whatever reality it has from the divine command (Amr). A distinction has to be drawn between the command of God which has brought the creation into being and the creation itself. This is the distinction which corresponds to the world of Amr and the world of Khalq.
Ibn-al Arabi in his book, “Wahdat-al-Wajud,” projects the doctrine that things pre-exist as ideas in the knowledge of God whence they emanate and whither they return. The universe is merely the outer aspect of God.
Fred Hoyle discussing the role of mind and intelligence concludes that crucial genetic bombardment is ultimately under the guidance of a Supreme-intellect operating within the physical universe and manipulating our physical as well as biological environment. Aristotle maintains that there exists a cosmic blueprint. The universe was regarded as a sort of gigantic organism unfurling in a systematic and supervised way towards its prescribed destiny - God’s design for a universe. Let us now consider what the Qur’an has to say regarding the creation of man.
“We made a beginning of your creation and then fashioned you into shape”. (Surah 8)
“I am going to create a mortal” (Surah 15)
The above verses imply that the creation of man was an act in the future unlike the act of God in the creation of all other things expressed in the word “Be.”
According to the Qur’an, the constitution of man is made up of two elements: one is the created element, namely, the biological and the other that which God has given of Himself, namely, His Holy Spirit. As regards the biological aspect of the early beginning of man, the Qur’anic view is not different from the scientific view.
“And certainly We created man of dried clay derived from black fermenting mud.” (Surah 15).
It may be noted here that Graham Cains Smith of the University of Glasgow holds the view that first life forms might not have used carbon-based organic compounds at al1 but clay. Some clay crystals can perform a rudimentary form of replication and could provide sufficient complexity for genetic storage - primitive clay organism.
“Surely there passed over man a long age when he was a thing not to be noticed or mentioned.” (Surah 76).
The above verses refer to the organic origin of man, that is, the body of man which was, of course, in the beginning physical and biological in origin. But through long evolutionary process man was being “fashioned into shape” til1 he attained intel1ectual and spiritual faculties raising him from his merely biological state into a thinking and conscious human-being. How and when did this happen? Natural selection can provide no answer because what is involved here is not organic, physical evolution but the development of mind, intellect and consciousness. Therefore, we have to turn to the unseen universe of spirit for an answer. The Qur’an provides guidance in the following verse:
“And when your Lord said to the angels ‘Surely I am going to create a mortal from dried clay (derived) from black fermenting mud. So when 1 have made him complete and breathed into him of my Spirit, fall down in obeisance to him. ’” So the angels made obeisance all of them together. (Surah 15).
And He began the creation of man from the dust. Then He made his progeny of an extract of water held in low esteem.
“Then He made him complete and breathed into him His Spirit and created for you hearing, and sight and hearts. How little do you give thanks.” (Surah 32).
And when your Lord said to the angels, “I am about to place a Vicegerent in the earth, they said wilt Thou appoint there in one who will make mischief and shed blood while we chant Thy praise and sanctify Thee? He said surely 1 know that which you do not know. (Surah 2).
The words, “so when I have made him complete,” refer to the stage in the creative evolution of man when God having guided the physical development of man through the long process of evolution considered that this physical development has reached a stage when it is time for God to give man his mind and consciousness. The words, “breathed into him of My Spirit,” and “placing a vicegerent in the earth” refer to the emergence of a thinking and conscious human-being with the development of mind.
The angels noted that a special being was emerging over the course of time. They were required to bow in obeisance to him when he was fashioned into final and perfect shape. The Angels had no pre-knowledge of God’s future hidden plan of entering His divine spark into man thus making him His vicegerent on earth. It is in this way that the other element - the uncreated spiritual element - came into the constitution of man. Man is thus microcosm, that is, he is the whole universe in miniature, comprising as his constitution does, al1 elements and aspects of the whole universe. But there is something in him which the universe does not possess - the breath of his Lord. It is this spark in us that remembers the Divine source.
The development of mind and consciousness in man and the transformation of biological man into a thinking and conscious human-being could not be the result of only organic evolution but it was “God implanted.”
Sir John Eccles, who won the Nobel Prize for medicine for his work in demonstrating of electrical impulses in the brain, says that evolution cannot explain human consciousness. According to him, brain and mind are two different and separate entities, the former being the product of genetic evolution and the latter being the product of the transcendental agency of God. In other words human-beings embody a non-material thinking and perceiving self that “entered” the human brain sometime during evolution. It was through the intervention of the transcendental Agency of God that biological man was transformed into a thinking and conscious human-being.
There is indeed a cosmic blueprint. The present nature of things, including the existence of human-beings, is part of a pre-conceived plan designed by an all-powerful deity - a super-intellect operating within the physical universe and manipulating the physical as well as the biological cosmic environment of man towards a higher and higher spiritual evolution of man. For this purpose God sent down from time to time, Prophets and Messengers to raise man to a higher stage which may be called the “Omega point” representing communion with God.
Originally published in the Summer 1992 print edition ofThe American Muslim