The Humble "I"

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5 Cornerstones of Islam’s Bigger Picture

general-islamic-wallpapers-01What follows are five cornerstones that lie at the heart of Islam’s bigger picture of life. They concern: (i) What is life’s higher purpose? (ii) Who has the right to our ultimate love and loyalty? (iii) The obligation of faithfully keeping covenants and contracts, (iv) Loving the sacred law and thanking the Lawgiver, (v) Fatwas: between ease, strictness and compromise. These cornerstones, if watered down; left; or misunderstood, could steer us on a course to confusion, chaos, or even kufr! That is to say, they are concerns we cannot afford to ever forget.

1. Don’t forget that the primary reason and higher purpose for why Allah created us is: li na’lam wa li na’bud – “to know Him and to worship Him.” Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali says: ‘Allah, exalted is He, created creation and brought them into existence that they may worship Him with reverent fear, hope and love of Him. Allah, exalted is He, declares: I created jinn and men only that they may worship Me. [51:56] However, Allah can only be worshiped after knowing Him and becoming familiar with Him. For this He created the heavens, the earth and whatever lies in between, so that by them His oneness and glory can be inferred. Allah said: Allah it is who created seven heavens, and of the earth a similar number. His command descends amidst them, that you may know Allah has power over all things and that He encompasses everything in knowledge. [65:12]’1

So amidst the dramas of life; amidst the ever-growing temptations which defile souls, the Qur’an asks us to know our Maker and live out our lives in mindfulness of Him. Those who worship Allah with such an awareness, according to His revealed ways, are led by it to an even deeper awareness and to endless bliss. Those who don’t, choosing instead to ignore Allah’s signs; follow their whim and inner pathologies; and be led by their ego-driven intellects, then: Those who are too arrogant to worship Me shall enter Hell, disgraced. [40:60]

2. Let us not forget that whenever the love, longing, loyalty and submission which are due to Allah, are focused upon other than Him, or others along with Him, then this is shirk – idolatry; setting-up partners with Allah. For as Islam sees things, whoever loves something, desires it, values it, and centres their hopes; fears; love and loyalty around it, submitting to it independently of Allah, then this, for them, becomes a deity, a god, an object of sacrilegious worship. Some there are who make a god of wealth. Others make gods of celebrities. Still others make a god of their own egos or desires. Asks the Qur’an: Have you seen him who takes his whims for his god? [25:43] We have indeed! On this very note, Ibn Rajab explains: ‘Whoever loves something and obeys it, loving and hating for its sake, then that is his god (ilah) … Whoever’s loving or loathing revolves around his whims, forming allegiance or enmity upon its basis, then these desires are his god that he worships.’2

Today’s Monoculture, for all its talk of tolerance, demands that we bow to its beliefs, values and worldview – even if it has to drag us there kicking and screaming. Wisdom enjoins that we engage with it; even partake in its political processes (for the Muslim collective benefit or a national interest). But let’s not forget the Monoculture exists, not for God, but in spite of Him; and even in brazen defiance of Him. That being the case, one engages with it from a position of dislike, not admiration.3 Belief in Allah’s all-embracing knowledge, wisdom and care for creation, and loyalty to His lordship, require nothing less: Who is better in judgement than Allah for those who have certainty of belief? [5:50] In a world that insists we render our ultimate loyalty to liberal ideals, let’s recall that shirk isn’t only bowing to idols of wood or stone. Egos, desires, people and even political systems can be deified too!

3. Lest it be misconstrued, we should never forget that being faithful to our promises, contracts and covenants is a cardinal Islamic virtue and moral obligation. This is the case be it to Muslims or non-Muslims, government or the governed. The Qur’an says: Keep your covenants, for you will be held to account for your covenants. [17:34] O you who believe, fulfil your undertakings! [5:1] Indeed, every pact, promise or contract made is a pact before Allah, to be faithfully kept: And fulfil the pact of Allah after you have entered into it. [16:91]

Although Muslims should be prepared to swim against the current of an increasingly profane Monoculture and assert their conviction in revealed truths, that’s not to say they can play fast and loose with pacts and promises made with others: whether that be with employers, businesses, the state, or domestically. Instead, Muslim faithfulness to his or her promises must be beyond question. The Sunnah, the prophetic guidance, expects nothing less. To do otherwise would be to act treacherously; and Islam abhors treachery. One hadith informs: ‘The signs of a hypocrite are three: when he speaks, he lies; when he makes a promise, he breaks it; and when he is trusted [with something], he betrays that trust.’4 Another states: ‘Every treacherous person will have a flag at his backside on the Day of Resurrection, which will be raised according to the level of his treachery.’5 To be clear, dissenting against secular profanities is one thing; treachery is another matter altogether.

Our voice of dissent against the idolatries or inequities permeating the Monoculture must be conditioned by recognising the good to be found in it. Our voices of protest cannot be as outside observers of society, but as sincere participants in it. Moreover, our language of protest must be employed carefully: for it mustn’t involve incitement to violence, betraying pacts, endangering public security, or causing further injury to the call to tawhid and the image of Islam.

To live or be born in Britain (or any other country, for that matter) is to be born into, or reside under, a ‘social contract’: a covenant between citizens of a society to behave with reciprocal responsibility in their mutual relationships, under state authority. Ibn Qudamah wrote about Muslims entering non-Muslim lands with a pledge of security, saying: ‘As for behaving treacherously towards them, this is expressly forbidden. For they only granted him security on condition that he not betray them and that they be safe from his harm: if this is not stipulated explicitly, it is implicitly set forth … This being so, it is unlawful for us to be treacherous to them: for this is betrayal and our religion has no place for betrayal. The Prophet ﷺ said: “Muslims fulfil their contracts (al-muslimun ‘inda shrutihim).”67 If this is the case for those entering the country, it’s even more so the case for those who are born or reside here. As for those who twist the texts to justify their political treachery and terrorism, putting the lives of others and the integrity of Islam in harms way, then we ask that Allah guide them aright and rectify their affairs, or else break their backs.

4. Let’s not forget that the Sacred Law (shari‘ah), in terms of the halal and haram, is a necessary measure in order to guide people, regulate their affairs, prevent them from straying, and dissuade them from harming themselves or others. By recognising the shari‘ah boundaries exist to protect us, to safeguard us from dangerous and unhealthy pastures, we can attain to a reasonable balance in this life, and joy in the next. Those Muslims who choose to remain ignorant and insensitive to Allah’s care for us all often see the shari‘ah as an irritant, an impediment, an imposition of sorts. For such people, very little is clearly halal or haram. Their preferred lifestyle choice is to sweep as many things as possible under the “grey area” carpet, allowing freer rein to the ego’s caprice. However, the Prophet ﷺ said: ‘The lawful (halal) is clear and the unlawful (haram) is clear and between the two are doubtful matters about which not many people know. Thus he who avoids doubtful matters clears himself in terms of his religion and his honour. But he who falls into doubtful matters falls into that which is unlawful, like a shepherd who pastures around a sanctuary all but grazing therein. Truly, every king has a sanctuary, and truly Allah’s sanctuary is His prohibitions.’8

Those gifted with knowledge of Allah’s law view the shari‘ah with joy and gratitude: a gratitude which turns into loving praise of Allah as the journey to Him deepens. For such believers bathed in the lights of divine obedience, knowledge of the Sacred Law reveals the love and solicitous care Allah has for His servants; it ‘reveals the generosity of the Lawgiver, Who has placed us in broad pastures, and established boundaries to protect us from the wolves.’9 Yet their firm commitment to the outward dimension of the religion in no way equals an obsession with it. As for their inward lives, they hover around the prophetic supplication and yearning: Allahumma inni as’aluka hubbaka wa hubba man yuhubbuka wa hubba ‘amalin yuqarribuni ila hubbik – ‘O Allah, grant me Your love and the love of those whom You love, and the love of those deeds which will draw me closer to Your love.’10 It is this love for Him, and this love in Him, that forms the basis for loving goodness for others, loving to bring ease to them, and loving what they each have the God-given potential to become.

In his advice to those seeking to live the devotional life, the venerable Hanbali scholar and spiritual master, Ahmad ibn Ibrahim al-Wasiti wrote:

‘If, O my brother, you desire to be saved from the terrors of that Day, then prepare for it with piety (taqwa). This is done by avoiding what Allah has forbidden and fulfilling whatever He has enjoined in terms of those duties that have been codified in the fiqh manuals where the lawful and prohibited, prescribed punishments, and other rulings are stipulated. This, so that nothing the Sacred Law demands from you remains due from you. For there should be no obligation that remains unfulfilled by you: neither a missed prayer, fast, zakat, or backbiting a Muslim without a valid reason, or any feud, grudge or enmity without lawful justification. Discharge the responsibilities that fall within your sphere concerning those rights (huquq) between you and Allah, as well as between you and others. In doing so, you will be joined, Allah willing, to the company of the righteous.’11

5. Don’t forget that while the principle of ease (taysir) is rooted in revealed texts – the Qur’an informs us: Allah desires for you ease; He does not desire for you hardship. [2:185] and we read in one hadith: ‘Make things easy for the people and do not make things difficult. Give them glad tidings, do not drive them away.’12 And: ‘Indeed this religion is [one of] ease.’13 – we must ensure that the principle of ease does not become one of adulteration; especially in today’s desacralised world.

From the earliest days of Islam, a core aspect of a mufti’s remit was not only to inform the unqualified masses of the Islamic ruling on any given issue, helping them to keep their feet firmly upon the path of piety and mindfulness of God. It was also to extend a lifeline in extenuating circumstances; especially to those weak in faith cast adrift in the stormy seas of divine disobedience. Imam Sufyan al-Thawri stated: ‘In our view, knowledge entails [granting] legal concessions (al-rukhsah). As for being strict, anyone can do that.’ 14 Indeed, part of the mufti’s arsenal are legal tools like rukhsah, ‘azimah and hiylah. Each must be deployed wisely so as to steer people away from heedlessness and towards the Divine Presence. ‘Azimah refers to a “strict” ruling – a ruling as it is in its original form, without any attendant circumstances that could soften its original force. By contrast, rukhsah is a “concession” in the law; an exception to the rule. It is a concessionary ruling brought about by mitigating circumstances so as to bring about ease in difficult situations.15 The Prophet ﷺ said: ‘Allah loves that His rukhsahs are taken, just as He loves His ‘azimahs are obeyed.’16 Azimahs, then, are norms. Rukhsahs are exceptions whenever there are justified needs to warrant them.

As for hiylah, it is a “legal stratagem” used to circumvent a divine order or divine aim, or for ta‘lim al-makhraj – providing an exit for one in difficulty, while keeping Allah’s order and intent uppermost in mind. For most legalists, the first is the forbidden type of hiylah; the second, the lawful type. Ibn al-Qayyim explains: ‘If the aim is good then the hiylah is also good, if it is bad then the hiylah is also bad. If the aim is obedience and worship then the hiylah is likewise, while if the aim is disobedience and iniquity so is the hiylah.17 In other words, the legality of hiylahs, both as a genre and as a legal technique, are tied to the individual purposes they serve. Of course, there’s often been a very fine line between the two types of hiylahs, with accusations and clear instances of abuse abounding throughout the legal history of Islam.

I’ve purposely omitted to give examples of these legal devices, so as to not prolong the discussion more than needed. For I merely wished to highlight the legal tools a mufti has at his or her disposal in order to facilitate ease and alleviate hardship. That muftis have such legal devices at their disposal begs for the mufti to be a person of integrity and piety, scrupulously avoiding ambiguities. Dubious rukhsas or over-lenient fatwas must be avoided at all costs. For a mufti is, as it were, a spokesperson; a signatory, on behalf of Allah. Having discussed rukhsahs, and the lawful and unlawful hiylahs, Ibn Hamdan, a highly-acclaimed Hanbali jurist, writes that a mufti must not give a fatwa if ‘his heart is occupied or deflected from a state of balance.’18 ‘Fatwa,’ he says: ‘is not to be given in a state where the heart is preoccupied or inhibited from examination or careful deliberation; because of anger, hunger, thirst, sadness, grief, fear, melancholy, overwhelming joy, sleepiness, fatigue, illness, irritating heat, intense cold, or needing to answer the call of nature.’19

If, as can be seen from above, pretty much any debilitating emotional or physical state renders giving a fatwa a no no, what about the state where a mufti is under relentless socio-political and psychological pressures to get Islam to conform to the essentially atheistic, liberal landscape? Or the case where a mufti’s mind and moods of the heart have already been significantly colonised by the attitudes of the dominant [Western] monoculture? How will that affect the quality, integrity and correctness of the fatwa? To think this does not already happen is to live in a cocooned or naive state. How else can one explain why proposed maqasid-based reforms to the shari‘ah so often seem to be of Western inspiration. ‘The public interest (maslahah, maqsad),’ says Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad, ‘always turns out to take the form of what is intelligible and desirable to those outside Islam.’20

Undeniably, muftis must be well acquainted with the conventions, customs and needs of the society in which they live and operate. Undoubtedly, they must have an overall awareness of society’s levels of faith and its struggles with piety. Unquestionably, they must be qualified and schooled in the sacred art of ifta – of giving fatwas. Along with this, we ask that today’s muftis be spiritually rooted too, not just legally well-versed. For the ego’s tricks are never as damaging as they are in matters of sacred knowledge and fatwas.21

As for whether stricter fatwas are a truer reflection of religiousness, or whether such a distinction belongs to fatwas of a more lenient and flexible nature, it’s an unhelpful bone of contention; a red herring. It’s been said before, but I’ll say it again regardless: Does the fatwa (be it strict or lenient) deepen one’s connection to the Divine Reality, or diminish it? Does it clarify halal from haram, or blur the line between them? Does it promote piety, or weaken it? That’s probably how the appropriateness of any fatwa should be assessed. After all, piety and seeking the Divine Presence is what ultimately counts. All other considerations must take a lower priority.

Wrapping-up then. The desire to bring religion to people and make it easy for them is truly noble. But the means cannot justify the ends. It cannot justify diluting the truth for the sake of meeting sin or misguidance halfway. If people have drifted away from the shores of safety, into the raging seas of heedlessness, then charity requires they be extended a helping hand and be pulled back to shore. To expect people to swim out to them, however, while they stay exactly where they are, is foolhardy and more than a little destructive. This much we’d do well not to forget.

1. ‘Istinshaq Nasim al-Uns min Nafahat Riyad al-Quds,’ in Majmu‘ Rasa’il al-Hafiz Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali (Cairo: al-Faruq al-Hadithah, 2003), 3:292.

2. Jami‘ al-‘Ulum wa’l-Hikam (Beirut: Mu’assasah al-Risalah, 1998), 1:524.

3. ‘It is better to engage fully with the Monoculture from a position of dislike than to engage partly with it from a position of admiration.’ Cf. A.H Murad, Contentions, 13/6, at: masud.co.uk

4. Al-Bukhari, no.33; Muslim, no.59.

5. Muslim, no.1738.

6. Al-Tirmidhi, no.1352.

7. Al-Mughni (Saudi Arabia: Dar al-‘Alam al-Kutub, 1999), 13:152.

8. Al-Bukhari, no.52; Muslim, no.1599.

9. Murad, Commentary on the Eleventh Contentions (Cambridge: The Quilliam Press, 2012), 26.

10. Al-Tirmidhi, Sunan, no.3490, where he said: ‘This hadith is hasan gharib.

11. Miftah Tariq al-Awliya (Beirut: Dar al-Basha’ir al-Islamiyyah, 1999), 30-31.

12. Al-Bukhari, no.69; Muslim, no.1734.

13. Al-Bukhari, no.39.

14. Cited in Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr, Jami‘ Bayan al-‘Ilm wa Fadlihi (Saudi Arabia: Dar Ibn al-Jawzi, 1994), no.1467.

15. See: Kamali, Principles of Islamic Jurisprudence (Cambridge: Islamic Texts Society, 2006), 436-38.

16. Ahmad, Musnad, no.5866; Ibn Hibban, Sahih, no.354; Tabarani, al-Kabir, no.10030. It was graded sahih, due to its collective chains, by al-Albani, in Irwa al-Ghalil fi Takhrij Ahadith Manar al-Sabil (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, 1979), 3:13, no.564.

17. Ighathat al-Lahfan (Saudi Arabia: Dar Ibn al-Jawzi, 1999), 659.

18. Kitab Sifat al-Mufti wa’l-Mustafti (Saudi Arabia: Dar al-Sumay‘i, 2015), 195.

19. ibid., 195.

20. Commentary on the Eleventh Contentions, 42.

21. Also cf. the discussion on western muftis in M. Nizami, ‘Thoughts on the Modern Mufti’ at: http://nizami.co.uk/thoughts-on-the-modern-mufti/

Pilgrimage of Reason: Proofs for God’s Existence [1/2]

dsc_0014As anyone familiar with anti-religious polemics knows, the core criticism by today’s New Atheists is that, allegedly, belief in God is both infantile and irrational. It is, they say, a childish delusion that ought to have died out as humanity reached its maturity. In the New Atheism’s canon, belief in God is likened to believing in the Tooth Fairy or Santa Claus: as you grow up, you’ll grow out of it. But is belief in God really irrational? Is it so at odds with what Antony Flew (who until quite recently was ‘the world’s most notorious atheist’) calls: the ‘pilgrimage of reason’?1

Traditionally, Muslims have agreed that there are indeed good rational arguments to support the belief in the existence of God. Religion, as Islam teaches, does not require abandoning reason, nor does it instil evading the evidence. Classical Islamic theology demonstrated the “proofs” for God’s existence in two ways. One of these ways is very abstract, demanding a fair degree of intellectual theorising. The other, by comparison, is far more straight forward and intuitive, and is rooted in the simplicity of everyday experience. Moreover, it mirrors the Qur’an’s style of reasoning on the matter.

The first has come to be known as the “argument from contingency – dalil al-huduth.” In Christian natural theology, this proof is called the kalam-cosmological argument. The second proof is akin to the teleological argument (also called the argument from design) in Christian natural theology. Natural theology also offers the ontological and moral arguments; the gists of which are given in the second part of this post. But here in the first of two parts, let’s engage the more abstract proof: the kalam-cosmological argument.

I’ve divided the post into four sections. The first two tackle the issue of what is meant by kalam and its place in Muslim theological discourse. The third explains the actual kalam cosmological argument. The fourth is where some contemporary objections to the argument are addressed:

I

1. The kalam-cosmological argument is so called because its origins lie in the Muslim kalam tradition. Kalam (‘speech’ or ‘discourse’ about God using reasoned-based proofs and rational arguments – in other words, discursive theology) found its way into early Muslim thought via the philosophical legacy of Aristotle. The earliest Muslim sect to bring reason to bear upon certain theological issues were the heterodox Mu‘tazilahs. Their deviancy was to give primacy to reason – to subordinate the texts of the Qur’an and the Sunnah, on certain theological conundrums to do with the nature of God; His Attributes; and free will and predestination, to the dictates of reason. Such enemies of the Sunnah were known to dismiss, distort and play fast and loose with Revelation; if it didn’t fit in with their conjectures, delusions or ego-driven rationalisations.

2. The early religious authorities, the salaf, recoiled from kalam with great vehemency. Their opposition to it was unanimous, or almost unanimous. For example, typifying this stiff opposition, Imam al-Shafi‘i averred: ‘We are not people of kalam.2 Also from him: ‘Do not oppose the Imams; indeed the practitioner of kalam will never prosper!’3 Imam Abu Yusuf stated: ‘Whosoever seeks knowledge by way of kalam shall become a heretic (man talaba’l-‘ilm bi’l-kalam tazandaqah).’4 As for Imam Ahmad, his assertions on the matter include: ‘The practitioner of kalam shall never prosper; and nor do you ever see anyone looking into kalam, save that in his heart is corruption.’5 And: ‘Do not sit with the people of kalam, even if they are defending the Sunnah.’6

3. In contrast to the large volley of reports from our early Imams against indulging in kalam, there are a handful of statements from some of them that seem to imply kalam could be allowed, provided it was used to prop-up the conclusions of Revelation and the consensus of the salaf, rather than to subjugate, falsify or twist them. From them are these words of al-Shafi‘i: ‘Every person of kalam upon the Qur’an and the Sunnah possesses diligence; every other upon the foundation of other than the Book and the Sunnah is delirious.’7 After relating this, as well as other comparable words from him, Imam al-Bayhaqi then stated: ‘In these reports is a proof that what is reprehensible of kalam is that which is not rooted in the Book and the Sunnah.’8 He also wrote: ‘In this is an indication that it is undesirable, according to those of our Imams who stipulated it, to argue via kalam – for the reasons we have shown; and because the reprehensible type of kalam is that of the innovators who oppose the Book and the Sunnah. As for the kalam which conforms to the Book and the Sunnah, and is elucidated rationally and wisely, then such kalam is praiseworthy and desirable when called for. Al-Shafi‘i utilised it, as did others from our Imams – may God be pleased with them – whenever it was needed; as we have mentioned.’9

4. The distinction between the blameworthy and praiseworthy type of kalam began to gain traction among scholars. Eventually, pro-kalam theology prevailed within Sunni Orthodoxy: as represented by the Ash‘ari and Maturidi schools of theology. However, there remained a voice of dissent from many of the more purist Salafis/Atharis. This purist approach itself ranged from a total rejection of kalam; to a shy flirtation with it; through to a guarded, tempered acceptance of it.10 In asserting the middle ground on the matter, Ibn Hajr al-‘Asqalani had this to say about employing kalam: ‘So fortunate is he who clings to what the salaf were upon and avoids what the latecomers (khalaf) innovated. If he cannot, then let him take from it only that which is required; and let the original way be his intended goal (wa yaj‘al al-awwal al-maqsud bi’l-asalah).’11

5. Of all scholarly groupings, the outright rejection of kalam is usually associated with the Hanbalis. Now as prevalent as this notion is, by no means is it the entire story. Ibn Hamdan, one of the leading Hanbali authorities of his age, explained: ‘The science of blameworthy kalam (‘ilm al-kalam al-madhmum) is when the articles of faith (usul al-din) are spoken about using only reason, or contravene clear-cut textual proofs. But if it is spoken about using textual proofs alone, or textual proofs accompanied by reason which supports them, then this is the [true] usul al-din and the path of ahl al-sunnah and its adherents.’12 Ibn Muflih, another towering authority of the school, discussed the Hanbali school’s stance on kalam at some length. After quoting an imposing salvo of reports from Imam Ahmad in terms of his dhamm al-kalam, or ‘censure of kalam’, the pro-kalam arguments are then made. Here, Ibn Muflih cites Ibn Abi Ya‘la saying that ‘the correct view in the madhhab is that the science of discursive theology (‘ilm al-kalam) is prescribed and sanctioned’ so as to refute the innovators. Such was the view of a party of the school’s verificationsists (muhaqqiqun), including Qadi Abu Ya‘la and al-Tamimi. He noted how Imam Ahmad himself wrote, al-Radd ‘ala’l-Zanadiqah wa’l-Qadariyyah, ‘in which he relied upon rational arguments’ to demolish the false ideas of the deviants. Ibn Abi Ya‘la then says: ‘What the earlier scholars held to of Ahmad’s words were abrogated. Ahmad said, as reported by Hanbal: “We used to order silence. But when we were called to the affair, it was incumbent for us to defend it and clarify the matter.”‘13 Even then, the Hanbali use of kalam tended to be much more guarded than that of others.

6. Those who employed kalam contended that in order to confront the arguments of various non-Muslims in the vastly expanding Islamic empire, and to engage with the polemics challenging orthodoxy over the nature of divinity and faith, the rationalising methods of heterodox sects like the philosophers and Mu’tazilites needed to be used so as to rebut them on their own turf. Ibn Khaldun says about the kalam which came to be associated with Sunni orthodoxy: ‘This is the science which involves arguing in defence of the articles of faith, by utilising rational proofs, in refuting the innovators who have deviated in their beliefs from those of the salaf and Sunni Orthodoxy (ahl al-sunnah).’14

II

7. Kalam theology has as its cornerstone the concept of “atomism” – that the cosmos is made up of atoms (jawahir, sing. jawhar), bodies (ajsam, sing. jism) and accidents (a‘rad, sing. arad), all of which are contingent (hawadith, sing, hadith) – that is to say, they originate in time. More importantly, the atom – in kalam lingo – is an indivisible particle that occupies space (tatahayyaz); is subject to change (taghayyur); and has no innate power of duration (thubut, baqa’), but endures directly because of God through each moment of its existence. Futhermore, it is not just the atom which is indivisible. Time itself, in kalam atomism, only comes in finite units: it also having no intrinsic ability to endure. Again, it is God’s continuous act of creating these discrete units of time that allows it to actually “flow.”

8. It’s important not to confuse the kalam “atom” with the concept of atom in modern science. What kalam is stressing is that nothing in the cosmos is eternal or infinite. Every thing is contingent and is finite. The smallest, indivisible unit of matter being termed as the “atom” or jawhar. As for modern science, it has shown the tiny atom is divisible; that at its core are even tinier particles called protons and neutrons. These particles, in turn, are made of smaller particles still: quarks. So the kalam atom would, according to the Standard Model of particle physics, be equivalent to quarks (or, if we are to believe the disputed String Theory, to tiny one dimensional entities, “strings”, vibrating in eleven dimensional spacetime). The point is that the kalam atom refers to the smallest, indivisible substance possible; whatever science may call it.

9. Kalam atomism has one chief goal: God’s omnipotence. ‘For it denies, at each point in the duration of anything non-divine, that it has any intrinsic power of existence. God alone has such a power.’15 In other words, nothing endures without God. For the mutakallimun, for that’s what practitioners of kalam were called, the basis of atomism was rooted in both reason and revelation.

10. Reason, and a fair amount of mental theorising, show that the universe has to be finite. The argument runs like this: If you have a sequence of events, each one caused by the event preceding it, stretching way way back in time – can such a sequence be infinite; can it go on forever? An infinity may seem straightforward, but it throws up all sorts of problems. For instance, infinity plus one is still infinity, even though you have added to it. Or, for example, when you take today’s events and combine it with past events, these will increase; without today’s events, they’ll decrease. But increase or decrease in what is infinity is incoherent; irrational, even. So this would seem to suggest that infinities do not exist and that the series of events are finite, temporal, having a beginning. Undoubtedly, mathematical (some call them ‘potential’) infinities do indeed exist. However, physical (or ‘actual’) infinities do not.

11. Revelation, as per the mutakallimun, states this too. And He knows the number of all things, says the Qur’an [72:28] And He created all things and ordained for them a precise measure. [25:2] Thus all things have a finite number and measure. These verses, and others like them, affirm the temporal existence of all things and their finite number. This implies that neither matter nor time are infinitely divisible: they too are of finite sizes.

12. Interestingly, quantum physics posits the quantum of time, or Planck time. This is the smallest measurement of time to have any meaning. It is equal to 10-43 seconds (in other words, that is a number with forty-three zeros after the decimal point). No smaller division of time has any possibility or reality in the physical world, within the framework of physics as understood today. Time less than one Planck time apart can neither be measured and nor can any change be detected.16 The implication here for atomism is certainly worth exploring, although to pursue it here is beyond the paper’s remit and the author’s ability.

13. One final matter. In kalam theology, a thing is either qadim – eternal, timeless; or it is hadith – contingent, coming into existence (wujud) after non-existence (‘adm). All that comes into existence, after not existing, must have a cause for its existence. To put it another way: Every entity that exists, either exists by itself; by its own essence and nature, or it does not exist by itself. If it exists by its own essence, then it exists necessarily and eternally, and explains itself. It cannot not exist. But if an entity exists, but not by its own essence, then it needs a cause outside of itself for its existence. The kalam theologians state that God alone necessarily exists, while all contingent things owe their existence to Him.

III

14. So how does all of this tie in with the cosmological argument for God’s existence? Well, the preamble to the kalam argument may be presented as follows: [i] An actual infinite number does not exist; [ii] therefore the series of causes for the cosmos to be as it is now cannot be infinite in sequence: that is, it must be finite; [iii] therefore the cosmos was brought into existence at some point in the past.

15. The final conclusion in the above argument (that the universe came into existence at some point in the past) not only follows logically from the initial two premises, it also finds support in science. Cosmologists are now certain that the universe actually did have a beginning: the Big Bang. But to be clear, the logical conclusion of the above argument is still valid and true, regardless of the empirical proofs for the Big Bang.

16. From here it’s a short step to teasing out the kalam-cosmological argument (dalil al-huduth), which can be set out thus: [i] Everything that begins to exist must have a cause for its existence; [ii] the universe began to exist; [iii] therefore the universe has a cause for its existence.17 There is an implicit fourth premise, namely: [iv] The cause for the existence of the universe is God.

IV

17. The above argument, as rational as it is, has been critiqued on a few grounds. One objection states that the argument’s premise [i] – everything that begins to exist must have a cause – although intuitively obvious, seems to be false. For quantum physics appears to show that electrons can pass out of existence at one place and re-appear elsewhere. This, as physicist Paul Davies has argued, violates premise [i] and hence the entire argument collapses.18 One reply to this states that although electrons do just that, they can only do so because of what is called a “quantum vacuum.” A vacuum, in quantum physics, isn’t “nothing at all”. It is a state of minimal energy, seething with “virtual particles.”19 It is this vacuum which gives rise to electron fluctuations, says the laws of quantum physics. Which is to say, the vacuum’s existence is the cause for electrons to exist, disappear and re-appear. Premise [i], therefore, still holds.

18. If everything has a cause, runs another objection, then what caused God? To this age old demur, Muslim theologians have repeatedly stressed that God is musabib al-asbab – “the [Uncaused] Causer of all things.” Conventional notions of time and space simply do not apply to God, for: There is nothing like unto Him, says the Qur’an [42:11]. ‘He is preexistent without beginning, eternal without ending,’20 is orthodoxy’s voice. God has no cause, He necessarily exists (wajib al-wujud). Though God is the author of time and space, He is distinct and beyond both. To quote the formulations of Islamic orthodoxy again: ‘The six directions do not contain Him as they do created things.’21 Hence, since the universe is contingent and brought into existence, and contingent things are not capable of generating themselves, theologians inferred that ‘they are dependant upon an agent who belongs to another order of being (min ghayri jinsiha), namely, a deity who is eternal.’22 Moreover, the kalam-cosmological argument states: Everything that begins to exist must have a cause. God, however, is beginningless; and so has no cause. ‘As He was in pre-existence possessed of His attributes, so shall He remain throughout all eternity.’23

19. Yet another criticism runs: why does the Uncaused Cause of all things have to be a single Deity? Why not many deities? Here the kalam theologians respond by drawing directly from the Qur’an, to infer from some of its verses “the argument from mutual interference” – dalil al-tamanu‘. Two such Quranic verses are: If there were gods in the heavens and earth, besides God, there would be chaos and disorder. [21:22] And: God has not chosen a son, nor is there a god with Him. For then each god would go away with his own creation, and some would overcome others. [23:91] What these verses tell us is that the existence of multiple gods is a self-evident logical absurdity. The actual argument from mutual hindrance, or interference, goes like this: If there were two deities and they disagreed over a matter, such as one wanting to bring a thing into existence and the other did not want to, then logically, there are only three possibilities: Either the will of both are carried out; or the two wills cancel each other out; or the will of one trumps the will of the other. The first case is an impossibility, as this would imply the existence of two mutual opposites; the second is also ruled out since that implies the thing neither exists nor doesn’t exist. It would also imply deficiencies in their wills and creative acts, and thus disqualify them as being the true Deity. Lastly, if the will of one is victorious, but not that of the other, then only this deity deserves to be God.24 Now whether such logic constitutes a highly persuasive proof that is open to a few fragilities (dalil iqna‘iyyah), or one that is definite and watertight (dalil qat‘iyyah), is the subject of some debate among classical Muslim theologians.25

20. Other concerns have been voiced about the kalam-cosmological argument, which may seem to some like a desperate attempt to clutch at straws. One contention states that since we’ve no experience of the origins of universes, we therefore have nothing to tell us that universes don’t come into existence without a cause. In response to this piece of conjecture it could more reasonably be argued that in our entire experience of the world, and of the cosmos at large, we’ve yet to find anything that exists without a cause. And there is no solid or empirical ground to conclude that the universe is an exception. I’ll wrap up with a more recent criticism of the first premise, from Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow who insist that: ‘Because there is a law like gravity the universe can and will create itself from nothing.’26 But this is a very lacklustre and unsatisfactory answer. For physical laws, by themselves, cannot create anything: they are just abstract mathematical equations which describe what usually happens under any given set of conditions. Furthermore, leave aside the fact that such laws of physics are inferred from real material events, and therefore such laws would be meaningless if they had nothing real to describe, there’s an even more fundamental question to ask here: Who created the law of gravity? Who indeed!

Just how far the kalam cosmological argument ‘proves’ the existence of God is open to discussion. The argument is certainly coherent, logical and decisive as a theological doctrine (thus giving a lie to New Atheism’s allegation that belief in God is irrational). Although it rarely seems to be effective at convincing those who do not believe in God that He in fact exists. This is especially so when its premises are highly abstract and theoretical, relying upon only logic and syllogism. A more appealing proof, therefore, comes via the teleological argument and the Quran’s instance to reflect on the ‘signs’ of God. These will, God-willing, be taken up in the final part of the blog.

1. Flew, There is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind (New York: Harper One, 2007), 85.

2. Cited in al-Harawi, Dhamm al-Kalam wa Ahlihi (Madinah: Maktabah al-‘Ulum wa’l-Hikam, 1996), 6:102; no.1161.

3. ibid., 6:109; no.1172.

4. As per Ibn Qutaybah, Ta’wil Mukhtalif al-Hadith (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, 1999), 113; al-Khatib al-Baghdadi, Sharafu Asahab al-Hadith (Cairo: Maktabah Ibn Taymiyyah, 1996), no.2.

5. See: Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr, Jami‘ Bayan al-‘Ilm wa Fadlihi (Saudi Arabia: Dar Ibn al-Jawzi, 1994), 942; no.1796.

6. Ibn al-Jawzi, Manaqib Imam Ahmad b. Hanbal (Saudi Arabia: Dar al-Hajr, 1984), 210.

7. Al-Bayhaqi, Manaqib al-Shafi‘i (Cairo: Dar al-Turath, 1970), 1:470.

8. ibid., 1:470.

9. ibid., 1:468.

10. The pro-kalam argument is offered in Ghazali, Iljam al-‘Awwam ‘an ‘Ilm al-Kalam, translated as: A Return To Purity In Creed (Philadelphia: Lampost Productions, 2008). The anti-kalam view is robustly expressed in Ibn Qudamah, Tahrim al-Nazar fi Kutub Ahl al-Kalam, translated as: Ibn Qudamah’s Censure of Speculative Theology (England: Gibb Memorial Trust, 1985); and despite his kalam leanings, Ibn al-Jawzi critiques it in Kitab Akhbar al-Sifat, translated as: A Medieval Critique of Anthropomorphism (Leiden-Boston: Brill, 2002), 104-20.

11. Fath al-Bari bi Sharh Sahih al-Bukhari (Cairo: Dar al-‘Alamiyyah, 2013), 16:251.

12. Kitab Sifat al-Mufti wa’l-Mustafti (Saudi Arabia: Dar al-Sumay‘i, 2015), 225-6. Due to reason having the final say over Revelation, this blameworthy kalam may be rendered into English as: “speculative theology”. As for the kalam where reason is anchored to revealed proof, and so contours and supports it, this may be translated as: “discursive theology”.

13. Ibn Muflih, al-Adab al-Shar‘iyyah (Beirut: Mu’assasah al-Risalah, 1996), 1:219-29. As for the pro-kalam arguments, they commence on p.226.

14. Ibn Khaldun, Muqaddamah (Beirut: Dar al-Fikr, 1998), 440.

15. T. Mayer, ‘Theology and Sufism’ in The Cambridge Companion to Classical Islamic Theology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 273.

16. J. Gribbin, Q is for Quantum: Particle Physics from A to Z (London: Phoenix Giant, 1998), 350.

17. For a fuller treatment of the argument, consult: Ibn al-Jawzi, A Medieval Critique of Anthropomorphism (Leiden-Boston: Brill, 2002), 82-85; Juwayni, A Guide to Conclusive Proofs for the Principles of Belief (Reading: Garnet, 2000), 19-28; Ayman Shihadeh, ‘The Existence of God’ in The Cambridge Companion to Classical Islamic Theology, 204-214; W. L. Craig, The Kalam Cosmological Argument (London: Macmillan, 1979).

18. P. Davies, Superforce (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1984), 200.

19. See: Gribbins, Q is for Quantum, 511.

20. The Creed of Imam al-Tahawi (USA: Zaytuna Institute, 2007), §.5.

21. ibid., §.47.

22. Ibn al-Jawzi, A Medieval Critique of Anthropomorphism, 92.

23. The Creed of Imam al-Tahawi, §.14. I have modified the translation here somewhat.

24. Ibn Juzayy, al-Tashil li ‘Ulum al-Tanzil (Beirut: Maktabah al-‘Asriyyah, 2003), 3:47.

25. As to just how conclusive or not the argument is, see: al-Maydani, Sharh al-‘Aqidah al-Tahawiyyah (Dar al-Bayruti, 2005), 32-34.

26. Hawking & Mlodinow, The Grand Design (London: Bantam Books, 2011), 227.

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