Tate: The Islamic Worldview and God’s Omnipresence

The foundational belief in the Islamic worldview is that all things are created by God, and therefore God is present in all things. However, for all of God’s nearness, tashbih, God is almost equally defined by his undeniable distance, tanzih, from humanity and the world on account of his sheer incomprehensibility. This paradoxical nature of God’s relationship with humanity and all earthly things informs much of Islam’s worldview.

Islamic beliefs on innate human nature are a key part of the religion’s broader worldview. The teachings of Islam claim that human beings are born into this world with an innate understanding of the Trust, that God has loaned everything to you and that everything must be returned to God, and the Covenant of Alast, a covenant made by the children of Adam that human beings would worship no god but God. Through societal distortions and distractions, however, humans stray from this innate knowledge and must be reminded of it and fight with themselves to retain it. In this way, anything and everything is a servant to God since everything must give back what is borrowed from God. The key is whether this servitude is voluntary or involuntary.

The conditions of innate human nature and how humans may stray from it is illustrated in the Koranic version of the Fall of Adam. Iblis, the angel who refused to prostrate himself in front of Adam, swore to God that he would lead humanity astray from God’s teachings and will. In this action, Iblis committed a sin far greater than any human could on account of the motivation behind his disobedience; while Iblis knowingly defied God’s will, humans are simply heedless or ignorant to God’s will when they commit sin. This is where the Koranic version of Adam’s “fall” differs from that of the Bible. In the Koran, Adam’s sin was a felix culpa, for it allowed him to be sent to Earth as a paradigm for human behavior. Adam repented for his sin immediately, and God forgave him. It follows that there is no concept of original sin in Islamic faith of which one must be absolved; Adam knew what was right, was lead astray by Iblis, repented, and did not sin again. Thus, human beings possess free will while on Earth, though after death, God is the final arbiter when it comes to who is saved and who is damned, and those who have lived in ignorance of their tawhid will be unable to deny it.

This brings us to another, perhaps even more fundamental part of the Islamic worldview: the pervasiveness of God’s mercy. God’s mercifulness is directly related to one’s nearness to God. God’s wrath is exacted upon those who are far from God, and his mercy is bestowed upon those who are close. Since God created all things and nothing exists outside of God, his nearness and mercy overpowers his distance and wrath. The Islamic God is so merciful, in fact, that he may be negotiated with with regards to a soul’s fate in paradise or hellfire when one’s good and bad deeds are weighed against each other on the day of judgment. Accordingly, humans must also show mercy to one another and request and grant forgiveness for the transgressions they commit against one another.

For all the free will it allows, the Islamic worldview also contains in it a certain amount of predestination. According to Muhammad’s testimony in the Koran, all earthly things are a manifestation of God’s “measuring out,” or qadar. This measuring out encompasses good and evil, which is on some level perplexing given that God is primarily merciful. One explanation offered for this by the Koran is that God puts our faith through trials, not for himself to see whether or not one is faithful, but for one to realize for oneself the level of one’s faith, so that one will understand one’s fate on the day of judgment. Another explanation holds that what may be evil for one may be good for another, and yet another holds that evil is a manifestation of tanzih, and that God’s attribute of tanzih makes the world contain evil inherently. This last one is the most prevailing viewpoint found in the Koran. All the goodness and gains in one’s life can be attributed to God’s nearness, while the evilness and losses in one’s life can be attributed to God’s distance. However, this is not a completely satisfactory answer, and the Koran itself recognizes that God’s “measuring out” is full of logical contradiction.

Islamic eschatology and beliefs about the next life reveal interesting notions about life on earth. It is said that the day of Judgment will bring absolute transparency; all falsehoods and facades one has constructed about oneself will fall away, leaving only one’s true self and deeds to stand unobscured before God. Moreover, group identity disappears and one is left with pure individuality. In this same vein, one is absolutely accountable for all of one’s actions. The fact that attributes are stripped away after death suggests that, in Islam, the Earthly world is, to a degree, untrue. It clouds our true sense of self, it allows us to cover up and deny our actions, it allows us to forget God’ laws or even his existence. This belief that the material world is untrue gave birth to the Sufi mystic movement, which seeks to strip away the facades that the world allows us to construct while still in this life. This ancient distrust of the Earthly carries over into a distrust of modernity and all of the distractions and deceptions that this increasingly complex and globalized earth brings. This distrust, however, presents again the paradox of free will and predestination. If everything exists solely in God, how can one justify distrusting something simply for its quality of existence?

God’s simultaneous qualities of tashbih and tanzih make the Islamic worldview a difficult thing to navigate since it is predicated on the belief that God is the sole creator of all things. However, we can surmise that it is ultimately optimistic about the human condition since we are assured by the Koran that God’s mercy overpowers his wrath and that all humans are born with an innate knowledge of God’s existence and power.

 

Work Cited

  1. Murata, S. and Chittick, W.C. (1995) The vision of Islam (visions of reality. Understanding religions). New York, NY: Continuum International Publishing Group. (pg. 66-83, 103-116)