“The Issue of God” FB Ali

Eye_of_god We did offer the Trust to the skies and the earth and the mountains, but they were afraid to accept it. Human beings, however, undertook to bear it, but surely they have ignored it, and indeed they have failed to accord it its rightful due (33:72).

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Furrukh B. Ali  2007

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24 Responses to “The Issue of God” FB Ali

  1. JfM says:

    Col, yer far afield..if I understand what you have put before us. What to say? God, if he is paying attention, must be terribly disappointed with our performance here…often in his/her name. Why do we think and act as if only this moment is important when we should see and realize our participation in a greater continuum? We have a real responsibility to what will come after us…possibly long after us… and certainly have a debt to what has gone before. This is all very metaphysical and is born from a set of particular assumptions, but to make this world worthy to pass on to what comes after us and to pay homage to what has gone before, then we must accept our responsibility.

  2. Cloned Poster says:

    There is eternal life. It is called DNA and it is our children and their children. What a mess we have left them.

  3. Babak Makkinejad says:

    FB Ali:
    The issues that you have raised are not new; they are only new to the extent that Muslims have become aware of them again; in my opinion.
    Al Ghazzali a millennium ago was grappling with the same issues and his response was “do not think rationally”; i.e. suspend your rational faculties when it comes to Religion.
    Many Shia Mudjtahids have been aware as well but their fear of social chaos and anarchy has kept them silent.
    Christians (and to a limited extent Jews) in the West have been grappling with these issues for the last 400 years and there has been an enormous amount of literature on these issues in the European languages.
    In my opinion, I think it will be a good idea for Muslim thinkers to take advantage of these writings so that they won’t go over the same grounds again and again.
    The existence of God is only a secondarily important issue – the primary one is “Does God care about Man?” And this is where Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (and their derivatives) are on one side and all other religions are on the other. Those religions that came from under the mantle of Abraham answer in the affirmative – every one’s life is valuable and important in the eye of God from the prince to the pauper. For Hinduism, as much as I understand that enormous body of knowledge & practice, the answer is negative – all is a game that the Supreme Being is playing for his own amusement over and over gain. And that gulf also exists between Buddhism and the faith of Abraham.
    For it is this absolute faith of Abraham in a Living God for Whom All is Possible that is at the core of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. And with this faith Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son since he knew God would/could resurrect him. That is the reason, in my opinion, that the story has been recapitulated in the Quran. It is this Faith that causes men to be Free – a frightening idea of Freedom. That is, with that Faith, enormous possibilities for human action and freedom open up.
    But this Faith does not require the idea of resurrection; that came from elsewhere and certainly Moses and Abraham do not mention it. The idea of resurrection, as far as I know, comes from Zarathustra of Iran and was not germane to the Abrahamic Faith; in my opinion.
    There is a theorem in Statistical Physics called Poincaré Recurrence Theorem. The purport of which is that an isolated mechanical system – left to itself – will come back to its initial state (after a very very long time). It is a kind of resurrection for isolated mechanical systems built on basis of Classical Physics. No Quantum Mechanical counter part exists and we know that Nature is both Quantum and non-Quantum. But my point is this: our sciences give us glimpses of the possibility of resurrection – why cannot we extrapolate from that basis and conclude that an enormously more power being could resurrect us if he wills it?
    What distinguishes us from East Asia and Africa is the Revelation and the Philosophical response to that Revelation. Now the Western people are still grappling with the significance of the Revelation one way or another. [Some Western people, with their glib talk of the Death of God etc. are like lost children in the woods; in my opinion.] The Muslim people, on the other hand, stopped the critical dialogue with & the thinking about the Revelation (excepting Shia Iran) centuries ago. [Many Muslim, with their insistence on putting their minds on auto-pilot, are like children who do not wish to leave their little village fearing the woods; in my opinion.]
    It is interesting that you quoted the 33:72 verse of the Quran. I have often wondered about its interpretation. The Arabic word, “Amanat” “امانت” means something that belongs to God and not to Man and which will be taken away at some unspecified time. Is that “Life”, or “Freedom”, or “Consciousness”? I have not seen any interesting interpretations though from the Scholars of Islamic Sciences, are you aware of any?

  4. jonst says:

    Oh, how I yearn to be a a ‘lost child in the woods’ than go on in this monstrous world of monotheists and their utter contempt, for both man, and doubt.

  5. taters says:

    Thank you FB Ali.

  6. Babak Makkinejad says:

    “When you hear men of heart
    Don’t call it faulty.
    You don’t know the worth of that speech
    There lies the fault”

  7. jonst says:

    I know very little of men of heart, nor do I know much about men’s hearts. I know of their words, deeds, and consequences of said deeds. That is what I know. The rest I suspect, and therefore, IS suspect. That is what I know.

  8. Babak Makkinejad says:

    You have been spending your time in the wrong circles apparently.
    I think it will be a good idea to look into a change in your setiings.

  9. FB Ali says:

    Babak M
    As you say, these issues are not new. In each age scholars have sought to come up with answers based on the best thinking and knowledge of their time. I am putting forward a thesis that enables one, if someone so chooses, to hold a belief in God that conforms to the modern positions and projections of both science and reason. Further, I point to some implications that it is possible to rationally derive for this concept, which provide us with a basis for living our individual and collective lives. A basis that goes beyond the purely materialistic one.
    The Abrahamic religions that you extol do not seem to support your contention that “(t)he existence of God is only a secondarily important issue”. As you yourself say a little later: “For it is this absolute faith of Abraham in a Living God for Whom All is Possible that is at the core of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism”. Faith requires one to close one’s eyes and mind to evidence and reasoning that contradicts the object of belief; that is why religions require from their followers “blind belief”. That is not the stance worthy of a human being to whom have been given “ears and eyes and minds” (Quran 67:23; also 16:78, 22:46, 23:78 and 32:9). As the Quran also mournfully notes, “Little use you make of them”.
    The word “amanat” does not mean what you say it means. It is a simple Arabic term that means something entrusted to someone, i.e., a trust (my English dictionary defines the latter as “a responsibility that somebody has”). Why would you want to turn to “Scholars of Islamic Sciences” to understand the meaning of this simple term?

  10. Babak Makkinejad says:

    FB Ali:
    Proofs of the existence of God and indeed the existence of God are of secondarily importance because if God were to not care about every single individual human being that has ever lived, or lives, or is going to be alive, then the life of that human – an indeed all of humanity – is devoid of meaning and reason. Hinduism believes in a God, a Supreme Being, but that God does not care about Man; all of humanity is only illusion and a game.
    Reason, indeed human Reason, is incapable; even in principle, into comprehending the Universe let alone the Creation and God. The modern empirical sciences have no such claims although individual scientists – with their anti-clerical bent – have often claimed that they can shed light on this mystery. I am deeply skeptical of such claims; there are limits to human knowledge and there are problems that we have not been able to resolve even after so many hundreds of years. For example: Chance & Necessity.
    In fact, this point about the inscrutable ways of God has been emphasized in the Book of Job and also in Quran 18:65-82.
    My point about Amanat was this- what could be meant by this “Trust” – if it is a “Trust” then it can be taken away at some time in the future.
    Since I respect the Tradition, I would first like to see what the Muslim scholars have deduced based on Arabic philology and other Religious Sciences before venturing my own interpretations.
    And these terms may be simple but how do you know that the contemporary meaning is the same as that which was in use at the time of the Prophet?

  11. Ingolf says:

    There’s no intention that I can see in this paper of providing any proof for the existence of God. Indeed, the very possibility of any such proof is ruled out. Nor does he unduly extol reason’s powers to finally untangle the universe.
    As Furrukh noted in his earlier reply, the intent was rather to present a view of God which makes it possible ” . . . if someone so chooses, to hold a belief in God that conforms to the modern positions and projections of both science and reason.”
    Whether or not one then chooses to hold such a belief becomes a matter of choice. As does whether one chooses to believe that such a God cares about each individual life.

  12. jonst says:

    You wrote
    >>>Reason, indeed human Reason, is incapable; even in principle, into comprehending the Universe let alone the Creation and God<<<< Of course it is not since there are no agreed upon meaning of the words "comprehending the Universe", nor "Creation", nor "God". You act as if there is some agreed upon definition that one can look up on google. 'oh, sure, god, its on page 5'. What does "comprehending" mean as you employ it? I will hazard an answer....it means what you say it means. Enough said.

  13. Babak Makkinejad says:

    And my point was that the modern positions and the projections of both the empirical sciences and human reason cannot serve as the touchstone of belief and faith. Nor should they have any bearing since these modern positions, human reason and sciences are based also on unproven assumptions and metaphysical models that cannot, in themselves, be verfied.
    Furthermore, I wanted to make sure that it was understood that Revelation is the keystone of the intellectual foundations of the Muslim and Christian Civilizations. Without Revelations and the dialogue with it over the last 2000 years (1500 years in case of Islam) the existing civilizational orders of Islam and Christianity (a.k.a. Western) could not and would not exist.

  14. Mark Gaughan says:

    There is no God.
    Shit happens.

  15. Ingolf says:

    I hope this question in no way comes across as offensive, but have you actually read the whole paper?

  16. Arun says:

    Babak wrote:
    For Hinduism, as much as I understand that enormous body of knowledge & practice, the answer is negative – all is a game that the Supreme Being is playing for his own amusement over and over gain.
    The Supreme Being is not in need of amusement. The Supreme Being doesn’t care and doesn’t not care (in any human sense anyway).
    More to the point, the God we do not believe in.
    Thomas Paine is worth looking at too, just one of many points about so-called revelation.

  17. zanzibar says:

    Another question to ask is “what is God”?
    Is God a human likeness or something else?
    From my limited knowledge of Hinduism it is different from the traditions of Abraham in that there is no separation between Man & God. Each individual soul is a manifestation of God with a free will and to prevent rebirth and to become one with God – one’s belief and actions should reflect that divinity. The focus seems to be release from the trappings of materiality. A very appealing concept, IMO as it provides a blueprint for actions in this life.
    The difficulty I’ve had with my religion of Christianity is the notion of God being judgmental when He created everything in His likeness.

  18. Babak Makkinejad says:

    I see what you mean.
    I read the paper but perhaps missed the nuances of it.
    I tried to point out that the approach is not new, the issues are not new and that one needs more study.
    I also have a difference of opinion with the invocation of the empirical sciences in the paper. They are irrelevant to the question of Faith. The empirical science, and indeed modern scholarship in all fields, cannot be useful in helping us making choices reagrding Faith and non-Belief. Their place is in the interpretation of Revelation itself not in acceptance or rejection of that Faith itself. God is God; he can do what he wants and does not need to conform to our sciences.
    The men who live 2000 years ago considered themselves quite sophisticated; yet many of them hears the Son; so to speak.
    Some one gave a copy of the Quran to Cat Stevens and “it spoke to me”.
    I do not think that Faith is a matter of rational willful choice; it is non-rational and emotional.
    And I also cannot take seriously this idea of the guardianship of the natural environment; it is a passing fad and fashion in my opinion and I cannot accept that the Quranic statement was specifically in this regard.
    As far as I have been able to understand, there is no religion today that can explain the purpose of the Creation or the Creation of Man; in my opinion.
    I am sorry that I have been less than clear earlier; my differences of opinion with FB Ali are quite numerous and I did not want to raise issues with every sentence of that essay.

  19. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Thank you for your comment.
    And that is the gulf between Hinduism and Islam, Christianity, and Judaism – the Faith that God cares about every single unique human individual and that he has some purpose in the Creation.

  20. DH says:

    “As far as I have been able to understand, there is no religion today that can explain the purpose of the Creation or the Creation of Man; in my opinion.”
    What is your best guess?

  21. Babak Makkinejad says:

    I have no guess.
    How can I hope to explain the Creation, its origin and purpose when I cannot account for my own thoughts?

  22. Ingolf says:

    Thanks for the more indepth reply.
    I can’t of course speak for him but I don’t have the impression Furrukh is suggesting his thesis is in any real sense “new”. These are not, after all, exactly unploughed fields. Nor do I think he’s invoking the empirical sciences directly in relation to faith. What prominence they have in the paper is surely the result of a wish to reconcile the evidence of our senses and reason with the manner of our belief.
    Like you, I’m inclined to feel that belief, or faith if you like, is more an emotional matter than one born of cool reason. Nevertheless, attempting to dismantle or circumvent the obvious barriers that modern empirical knowledge has placed in the way of traditional beliefs seems to me both a necessary and valuable endeavour.
    The steady waning of faith in the last century or so seems intimately connected to the growing realisation amongst everyday people that traditional forms of belief were in irreconcilable conflict with the scientific understanding that blossomed during those years. Is it better then to ignore this problem, or to retreat into a powerfully irrational fundamentalism as quite a few are now doing, or is it best to attempt, as Furrukh does in this paper, to suggest a way forward where neither need do violence to the other?
    As you say, God is necessarily God, if indeed He is there at all. This is merely a truism. It does not, however, naturally lead to the view that “he does not need to conform to our sciences.” The word “need” here merely serves to confuse, I think, as does the word “our”. If indeed, as Furrukh (and many others) have suggested, God set the whole thing in motion and in doing so set the laws by which it would function and evolve unhindered by Him, then the whole basis of science is “His”, not “ours”. We are merely uncovering more and more parts of the mystery He created. That these laws could have been set differently (or even could be changed now) seems to me a rather pointless hypothetical.
    Finally, I’d be the last to claim that I know why we are here. Still, if one is to believe in a God who is personally concerned with us at all, I must say I can much more easily imagine one who is interested in how “we” gradually learn to use the full faculties of this mind which has evolved out of the conditions precedent He set, than one who takes any pleasure in ritual obeisance rooted in fear and ignorance. As a species we are, I fear, in early adolescence at best. Whether we survive to some sort of maturity may depend in no small part on how well we can find an appropriate sense of humility and compassion and combine it with a striving to make the best use of the talents we have been granted.

  23. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Thank you for your comments & reply.
    My impression was that FB Ali was citing known issues that pertained to both to Judaism and Christianity in the case of Islam. I was trying to state that Islam was a new-comer to these issues and others have been grappling with them before contemporary Muslims.
    And I do not believe Faith & Reason can be reconciled; there is a mystery here (in the Religious sense) that cannot be resolved; in my opinion. We just have to learn to live with it.
    The weakening of the Faith in the Western Civilization has to do with the Arrogance of Power more than any firm intellectual challenge. Indeed most Hindus I have met are indeed quite religious even though they have had a modern Western-inspired education.
    I agree with you regarding the inadequacy of the traditional forms of religion; Shia have a tradition to the effect that when the Mahdi emerges and starts to preach Islam, people think that he has brought a new religion!
    I personally disagree with the view that “God set the whole thing in motion”. The reason I disagree is because I do not accept the Medieval doctrine of substance; I think Spinoza’s doctrine provides a more robust and a richer doctrine of substance than what is alluded to in the quotation above.
    I do not know if God cares about the Human species as a collective going through Time; the Revelation only seem to indicate caring about every man; from the caveman to the spaceman.
    And I do not know what Human Maturity would mean; does the acceptance of a the hope for “Perfectibility of Man”? Which would contradict the idea of the Fall of Man.

  24. Ingolf says:

    I believe Islam in its earlier days was powerfully engaged in these sorts of issues, was indeed far ahead of the west for quite some time. However, as Furrukh was at pains to point out earlier this year in his paper Rediscovering Islam, that is certainly not the case now nor has it been for many centuries past. Still, I don’t think the broader issues he raises in this latest paper are by any means exclusive to Islam.
    I don’t think for a moment that faith and reason can be entirely reconciled, merely that there is great value in looking for ways of being and believing in which they no longer need do violence to each other. The ultimate mysteries of course remain and in my view always will. At no stage have I got the impression that Furrukh’s view on this would be any different.
    Arrogance, hubris, the will to power, no doubt all of these (and much more) contributed to the decline of religion. Nevertheless, these qualities are hardly unique to the last 3-4 centuries. No doubt they were strengthened by the confidence that grew out of better understanding the world around us, but it was the rapid growth of scientific knowledge that was truly new. Regrettably, most established religions fought a more or less constant and often bitter rearguard battle against its march. Had they not done so, I suspect belief would have survived the whole experience in much better shape.
    You are reading far more into “God set the whole thing in motion” than I did or ever intended. It was simply a relatively short and hopefully mildly poetic way of stating what seemed to me the obvious for anyone who accepts the notion of a creator at all.
    When I said “a God who is personally concerned with us”, I had certainly intended, and thought it was fairly clear, that I meant concerned with us personally. That is, as individuals. If He is concerned in this way, then by default so is he in our totality.
    The use of the word “maturity” was metaphorical, as was the notion that we are currently in early adolescence at best. I think we could all usually agree on whether a given individual was acting with some sense of responsibility, with consideration, with some compassion, perhaps even with a little wisdom. If so, then we could reasonably describe him as mature. A similar set of criteria can be applied in regard to our behaviour as a species. That’s all I meant. I don’t see the “Fall of Man”, which again is at best a metaphor, as a prediction, as a fate for which we are predestined. It is however probably a reasonable description of part of the path each of us end up traversing in our lives as we grapple with our conflicting impulses, desires and beliefs. Whether we end up staying there is perhaps the more interesting question.

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