Every human being who comes into the world must deal, at one level or another, with the question of what constitutes Reality. Consciously or otherwise, each one of us lives with his own individual understanding of what makes up the totality of existence. This reality concept determines to a great extent how we relate to the universe, our comprehension of the purpose of our existence, and what role we play in this world.
Is the physical universe — what we can see, touch, measure or perceive with our faculties or instruments — all there is, or is there something more? Where did we come from, and where do we go from here? Is it all the result of blind chance and randomness, or is it part of a purposeful, meaningful scheme and plan?
Is there Someone in charge of it all Who is Himself the Ultimate Reality or not? Does the human being’s life itself have any reason or ultimate significance, or is the human being just a perishable physical entity who will cease to exist like all other living things? Is this life the only life, or will it be followed by some other state of existence, and if so, of what kind?
In fact, an individual’s conception of Reality –his answers to these and many other related questions—is nothing less than his basic orientation to the universe, his perception of his place and the role he is to play in it. Upon this conception rests, in effect, all that a human being is and strives to become, his relationship with himself, with others and with the world around him, and above all, with his Creator.
At this time in history many people are asking: “Is there really Anyone out there or not? And if there is, does it really matter?”
Such questions are a mirror of the modern person’s total alienation from himself and from his Source, and, as a result, from the universe and his fellow human beings as well. The technology oriented, mechanized environment of the Western world has trained many people to disbelieve in what is termed “the supernatural,” even though they may profess to believe in God.
Science, one of the greatest of present-day deities, has taught us to regard as having reality only that which can be seen, observed, measured or perceived through our senses, mental capacities or inventions. Consequently, while many people in the Western world today may not absolutely deny the existence of what they are unable to perceive, in practice they often act as if it does not exist by ignoring it altogether, or feeling that even if it does exist it has no relevance or importance in the scheme of things.
Although many people profess to “believe” in God, this is often a static belief, a mere opinion that God exists rather than that He does not exist which has no significant practical consequences and does not in any affect the way they live their lives. Others do believe, and very strongly in the “supernatural.”
However, their beliefs are incomplete and unreliable, depending largely on guesswork. The accuracy and validity of such beliefs cannot in any way be depended upon since they are based on ones own or others’ subjective experiences; hence they cannot be taken seriously as a means of gaining accurate knowledge of the ultimate Reality of existence, especially of God as the Center and Source of that Reality, nor as constituting valid guidance for the living of life. The current preoccupation with extrasensory phenomena may be a step in the direction of acceptance of a Reality greater than the physical universe, but it consists largely of speculation coupled with the attempt to subject non-material phenomena to scientific analysis which must, in the long run, due to the nature of the material under study, be self-defeating; moreover, it cannot by any means address itself to the question of God’s nature or attributes, or even His existence. That many psychic phenomena are related to and inspired by satan rather than being spiritual experiences connected to God seems a strong probability, and hence such phenomena are a very uncertain and risky foundation for either beliefs or for living.
Islam deals in a clear, straightforward manner with all these issues. In fact, Islam itself poses the questions asked above and many more, insisting that meaningful answers to them, compatible with the observed phenomena of the universe and with reason, must be sought by anyone who possesses a mind.
There is a realm of existence, Islam proclaims, which is not accessible to human sense or awareness nor bound by the limitations of the human intellect. This realm, which is beyond the human being’s perception, is termed al-ghaib , that is, the Hidden or Unseen, while that which is known and perceptible is termed ash-shahadah, the Evident or Witnessed. And in Islam belief in this unseen realm is a prerequisite for belief in and understanding of God and of that part of His creation which the human being’s senses and faculties cannot perceive but which is nonetheless of fundamental importance to his existence. The section which follows, concerning Islam’s articles of faith, deals with these Unseen Realities.
Islam asserts that what is visible and perceptible to human faculties —ash-shahadah — is only a part, and perhaps a very small and insignificant part, of the totality of what exists.
Although the human being cannot grasp the totality of existence, this does not in any way negate the reality of more than he is able to grasp any more than, say, an ant or an elephant can determine the totality of what exists on the basis of its limited experiences and perceptions. The fact, which it is often strangely painful for many of us to admit, is simply that the human being is a quite finite, limited being with faculties and understanding which are equipped to take in and comprehend just so much and no more.
Yet the “more” is there nevertheless, that wider Reality, the totality of which is known only to its Creator. For the existence of this wider Reality, although it cannot be perceived directly, is much evidence which is known to us all.
Among these is the physical universe itself, which speaks in endless volumes about the unimaginable power, wisdom and creativity of God. The human being is another striking evidence. He comes from somewhere, from non-being into being, and when he dies it is obvious that the most vital part of him is gone. In his spiritual feelings and aspirations, too, the human being’s longing for something deeper and higher than the material sphere, there are clear intimations of the existence of a non-material realm of the greatest importance, to which the human being is in some unknown way so intimately bound up that to ignore or reject it must inevitably result in very serious consequences to the individual and his society. Religious feelings, expressions and movements are common to all human beings, and many of them possess
similar features and characteristics. In particular, the great monotheistic religions — Judaism, Christianity and Islam — demonstrate very striking similarities, pointing unmistakably to their common origin in the same Source, God Most High. And finally, various extrasensory phenomena, among which we may include dreams and premonitions relating to future events and many other striking manifestations of the existence of a nonmaterial realm, provide us with some dramatic clues concerning the Unseen Reality.
In Islam, God is the center of that Reality; indeed, He is the Reality. God is the One Who does everything, the Creator and Sustainer of all that exists, the Provider of all things with their sustenance. He is the Alternator of night and day, the One Who creates what He wills in the wombs of the mothers, Who renews the earth after it is dead and brings out of it, by means of rain from the sky and nourishment within the ground, the growing things which constitute food for human beings and beasts. And it
is He Who gives a term of life to His creatures as He sees fit. It is He Who will bring forth the bodies of human beings from their graves and join them to their souls on that awesome day, concerning which there is no doubt, when He will bring the universe to an end, and it is He Who will judge them according to the most absolute and impartial standards of justice and mercy. He is the Supreme, the Irresistible, the All-Knowing and the All-Wise, the One Who is accountable to no one but to Whom all things are accountable, Who does what He wills with His creation, and before Whom all things bow in submission, and at the same time He is also the Merciful, the Gracious, the Loving and the Forgiving.
This is Islam’s view of Reality, the view of Reality held by countless Muslims throughout the world. Such concepts form a vital part of the Muslim’s consciousness, beginning in early childhood. He grows up with the awareness of God’s reality and power, His beneficence and kindness to His creation: with the realization that this life is only a very small part of a Reality so vast that the mind of a human being cannot conceive of it except in an extremely limited manner; and with the knowledge that it is not the final stage of his existence, but a continuous one, as there was a time when, in the words of the Quran, the human being was “a thing not (even) mentioned.” (76:1) God brought him out of non-being into existence: from a sperm and an egg in the bodies of his parents into an embryo growing in his mother’s womb, then into independent life when he was born into the world; from helpless infancy into childhood, and from maturity into old age during which he becomes like a weak, helpless child all over again: and from thence into another life which will be the final state of all human beings. In that life, those who acknowledged God as their Lord, followed His guidance and strove to please Him will be in a condition of enduring happiness and felicity beyond the capacity of the human mind to imagine, while those who denied Him and devoted themselves to deities other than God, rejecting His guidance and living for themselves or for their lusts and passions, will be in an unimaginably fearful state of agony and torment in keeping with the state of their own souls.
Islam also proclaims that human nature has its own reality. While various Western philosophies or theories concerning the human being conceive of him as a glorified machine, a being who reacts mechanically as “programmed” by his emotions, environment or biochemical processes, or, conversely, as a higher kind of animal, the Islamic conception is very different. Such materialistic approaches are seen as extremely false, misleading representations of the true nature of the human being. For the
human being, Islam asserts, is a unique creation of God’s possessing an obvious, outward aspect — the physical body — and a hidden, inner aspect — the mind, emotions and soul. The uniqueness of the human being’s nature lies in the fact that he has been endowed with freedom of choice and judgment between right and wrong, capacities for thinking, transmitting knowledge, feeling and acting which have not been given to other creatures, and an immortal soul which lives on after the death of the physical body. Thus the human being is a composite of many aspects, levels and functions, the totality of which represents the reality of human nature.
God has created the human being with this complex and multi-faceted nature, Islam asserts, not so that there may be war and strife between the various elements but in order that they may foini a smoothly functioning, harmonious whole. This in itself constitutes the great task, the ultimate challenge of being human. Each element of the human being’s nature has its role and function, its legitimate needs and right to satisfaction; but in order to bring about the harmony which God intends among them, the individual must exercise the power of his will and govern them according to the laws which God has laid down for his wellbeing, thus achieving synthesis, integration and balance within his personality. This is why Islam concerns itself not merely with “religious” and “spiritual” matters but with all aspects of human life, all of which fall within the framework of religion in the Islamic sense of the term, treating the human being as an indivisible, organic whole in keeping with the reality of his uniquely human nature.
Such a correct understanding of the human being’s true nature and his place in the scheme of things is of vital importance in the Islamic framework. By means of God’s guidance conveyed through the prophets, the human being has been shown how the reality of his nature fits into the total Reality and has been informed what is expected of him in relation to that Reality, the center and focus of which is God Most High. In this way he will be able to live in harmony and balance rather than in conflict and chaos during his brief journey from one phase of this Reality this earthly life — to the next, that is, the enduring life of the Hereafter, thereby achieving true worth and true success both in this world and in the world-to-come.
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