Scott Tyson: Cosmos of God’s Will

The Qur’anic cosmological view can be best understood as an affirmation of God’s supremacy over the universe, and accordingly a call for humankind to behave faithfully. Aspects included in Qur’anic text such as the non-ultimacy of nature, the complexity and order of nature, as well as man’s free-will in relation to nature, all contribute to this moral imperative of heeding God’s omnipotence. These aspects are expressed throughout the Qur’an in the form of signs, through which humanity might identify the magnificence of the divine.

Within the Qur’an, God is said to have complete power over the creation of the universe, and is to be constantly destroying and restoring its inhabitants. The world fluctuates between a state of complete realization and complete annihilation where all creatures are sacred, or in some way dependent on the divine.[i] As Fazlur Rahman addresses this non-ultimacy, “the world and whatever God decided to create in it came into existence by His sheer command […].” [ii] This aspect is vividly expressed in examples of divine signs working through natural causes, such as the following:

“And you see the mountains and think them solid [and stationary] but they are fleeting like the clouds – the creation of God who has well completed [the creation of] everything. (27:88).” [iii]

Here it is expressed that, under God’s control, what might be considered chiefly permanent in the universe is in fact just as changeable and impermanent as a cloud. God’s magnificence as the decider of the universe’s fate is expressed in the extent to which he controls natural properties central to humankind’s orientation in the world. In this way, humankind is to consider that, just as the world is non-ultimate, so too is the human’s experience in the world, and man is therefore encouraged to act righteously in accordance with the divine mandates of the Qur’an.

The complexity and order of nature is yet another element of the Qur’anic cosmology which prompts the Muslim’s veneration of God’s influence over the universe. In the Qur’an “[…] nature’s magnitude and utility for man, as well as the stability and regularity of natural phenomena, are stressed.” [iv] Humankind is to be in awe of the great intricacy of the universe, and how, by God’s creation, it provides for a prosperous life. “It is He who created all kind of creatures, and provided you with ships and cattle which you ride […].” [v] This perfection of creation accounts for many elements which allow humankind to be nourished and sustained. “It is to serve man by meeting his vital needs.” [vi]God’s creation is not only bountiful in volume, but also in the balancing of each component of life. Creation is well-measured — there is no randomness in the application of each existent. [vii] The world suits man because it rests in this delicate balance. Such an emphasis in Qur’anic text inspires praise for God, as the bringer of the natural world out of chaos and into order and purpose. Humankind is therefore inspired to act in good faith in appreciation of this divine gift.

An additional element of the Qur’anic vision of the cosmos, as a means for inspiring the moral imperative of faith, is humankind’s condition of being free in a finite world. In contrast with the rest of creation, in the Qur’an humans are granted free choice. Humans are in control of their own actions within in the limited bounds of the natural world. What arises from this condition is a dualism in which humankind is split between those who act in accordance with the word of God, the pious, and those who sin in disregard for the divine, the blasphemous.

Despite mankind’s temporal prerogative, the Qur’an insists that God will undoubtedly hold each individual accountable for their behavior on a “day of awe”[viii] when God will save the faithful and damn the faithless. “Those who oppress faithful men and faithful women,/ And do not repent, / There await them the punishment of hell […].” [ix] Those who are blasphemous might be masters of the “delights of [the] present life,” [x] but will be condemned for their disobedience to God. He is omniscient in this respect, endlessly perceptive, constantly judging the moral legitimacy and loyalty of humans. The Qur’an contains signs which account the decision of God towards those who stake dependence on the secular. Regarding the story of the Exodus, Sells writes of the Pharoah and Thamud, “They did not realize, in their denial of God, that God is ever present and surrounds them in their denial.” [xi] This establishes that the freedom of humankind to choose how to live is conducive of a condition where humankind must be encouraged to strive towards “the good and not to ‘corrupt the earth,’ a phrase repeated in the Qur’an.” [xii] God is constantly judging, and has ultimate control over humankind’s salvation, forcing acceptance of divine, moral law.

Ultimately, the cosmos as envisioned in the Qur’an is a world in which humankind is permanently dependent on God’s will, yet vulnerable to the deceptions of sin. Signs of the natural world present a lens through which humankind experiences the supernatural, and is encouraged to embrace a moral standard of loyalty for the divine. The Qur’an and the revelation as a whole might be considered the most effective and culmination of these signs. They provide a historical context for God’s judgement, yet stress the immediate power of God’s command over of the natural world – a provision that, if accepted wholeheartedly, will lead to human prosperity in this life and the next.

[i] Mahallati, Muhammad. “Ritual and Recitation.” Lecture, Oberlin College, Oberlin, OH, February 18, 2016.

[ii] Rahman, Fazlur. Major Themes of the Qurʼān. Minneapolis, MN: Bibliotheca Islamica, 1980. 65

 

[iii] Rahman, Major Themes, 68

 

[iv] Rahman, Major Themes, 68

 

[v] Khalidi, Tarif, trans. The Qurʼan: A New Translation. New York: Viking, 2008. 43:12

[vi] Sells, Approaching the Qur’an, 79

[vii] Mahallati, Muhammad. “Ritual and Recitation.” Lecture, Oberlin College, Oberlin, OH, February 18, 2016.

 

[viii] Sells, Michael. Approaching the Qur’an: The Early Revelations. White Cloud Press, 2007. 65

 

[ix] Khalidi, The Qur’an, 85:10

[x] Khalidi, The Qur’an, 43:35

[xi] Sells, Approaching the Qur’an, 67

[xii] Sells, Approaching the Qur’an, 79