Micah Vriezelaar: Liminality and the Cosmos of the Qur’an

Through the knowledge that the Qur’an imparts, humans have a continued sense of the intensity by which God has created and curated the world. The very existence of the Qur’an and the knowledge that Muhammad existed as the Prophet and guide to humanity serves, within one statement, to show that humanity’s own flawed existence is within itself divine in the cosmology of Islam. Three simple signs of the nature of the Qur’anic cosmology are the existence of choice in humanity, the notion of infinite and finite, and the continued, neverending consciousness of nature.

Humans exemplify choice, and we are God’s creations for the very purpose, the embodiment of choice. Compared to the rest of God’s creations, humans represent a masterpiece of creation for the very fact that choice is natural to us, and everything else under the purview of God obeys simply by volition.i Not only that, but the existence of choice in a system giving us only one moral imperative—to worship God and only God—is recognized as false. Humans must be awed into faith for our fear in God and our choice to worship God to mean anything, as a rebuttal to the nonbelievers who would cite a blind faith in God to come from the mere compulsion of being a creation of God.ii We are created in the very image of the Divine, who naturally also has choice; being created with that possibility of choice both endows us to evil and makes humans the holiest of God’s creations.

While God is naturally infinite and without limit, existing external to all aspects of human life, humans and all of the creations of God are decidedly finite. God exists in an infinite chain of action, to “guide, command, [and] measure,”iii and with this chain of action and the choice to worship God, humans follow the Qur’an. The Qur’an represents the finite scope of God’s creation in its simplest form, being the messages of God translated into a form with an end, and unto that end, humanity must use the same chain to “guide, command, measure” its fellow man to ensure proper obeisance before the Day of Judgment. Between the fact that the Qur’an is primordial, created from any time of human history to be delivered at any time of human history, and the fact that the Qur’an itself is a book with an end, wherein God proclaims Muhammad to be the last prophet, the infinity of God is not challenged. Sura 55 of the Qur’an itself proclaims both this point and the aforementioned, referring to the choice of humanity (“So which of your Lord’s blessings will the two of you deny?”) and the very end of the world (“That Day none shall be questioned regarding their guilt”).iv

Continuining the finitude of all of the Divine’s creations, the entirety of nature is conscious; to that end, nature is renewed every second by the externality of God. Sura 55, The All-Merciful, depicts the purity of creation and contrasts it with the ugliness of human denial, simultaneously showing the endless beauty of the gardens of Paradise with the sharpness of the Day of the Calamity.v While all of nature is conscious and the world is finite, the continued existence of cosmological duality—this presentation of all of the wonders of life in pairs, evokes a sense of humanity and God’s creations existing as living poetry. The creations of God exist with the continued upkeep of God’s attention and love, meaning that despite existing as wholly created and outside of the realm of the eternal and still entirely finite, all of God’s creations are “caught between the joy of union and the sorrow of separation.”vi The constant creation that the finite undergoes under the care of God can be viewed from different viewpoints theologically or mystically: whereas the former would attest to a continual creation, wherein God has never finished creating the world humans live in, only shaping it against its own collapse until the Day of Calamity, the mystical viewpoint would argue instead that the world exists in a state of wavering back and forth from its own fiery, cataclysmic end, to being created and reformed by the hand of the Divine. Again, this same cosmological duality is present.vii

While duality identifies separate but closely related divine pairs within the same system, the notion of ‘divine union’ attempts to show the interconnectedness of existence. It is not enough that God simply created humans, or that God continues to create humans, but in a way, that God is unified with humans through the bonds of love. Divine union does not simply place elements at odds with one another to be identified as a singular unit, but rather stresses the connection between the two, fulfilling the inner purpose of its existence. Sura 39 of the Qur’an, Throngs, stresses that “[God] created the heavens and earth in truth… He made the sun and moon subservient…”viii to show that the connection between the two is as important to the nature of life and faith as the two elements themselves. This can be seen again in sura 85, The Constellations; if the Day of Calamity and Judgment is not witnessed both by Heaven and Earth, who can say as to the nature of its existence, or the manner by which it should exist?ix Some branches of Sufi mysticism stress the love that exists between God and humanity, and in some ways, it is the truest miracle: not infinite, not finite, liminal, and indestructible.

iLecture 2/16.

iiTarif Khalidi, The Qur’an: A New Translation (Penguin Press, 2009), p. 225, chapter 17, verses 46 to 50.

iiiLecture 2/16.

ivKhalidi, The Qur’an, p. 442, chapter 55, verse 39.

vIbid, p. 443, chapter 55, verses 42 to 61.

viLecture 2/18.

viiIbid.

viiiKhalidi, The Qur’an, p. 373, chapter 39, verses 5-6.

ixIbid, p. 505, chapter 85, verses 1-3.