The Parting of the Ways, part 1 – Abdassamad Clarke

By , August 17, 2011 1:08 am

Momentous things are afoot. The world is in motion and no one knows how things will turn out. People brought up as Muslims are embracing all the values of people who were brought up as non-Muslims: democracy, science and banking etc., while people brought up as non-Muslims are flocking into Islam. A friend recently returned from Egypt told me that all of the young people take alcohol and different types of recreational drugs. Of course, there is no way for him to verify that in every single case, but it is perhaps a snapshot, a glimpse, as when someone turns the light on suddenly and you get a picture of people caught in unexpected poses. As everything swirls, we also catch a glimpse of some of the more dangerous currents that carry people off and over the edge of the precipice. One is the apparent solidity and certainty of science.

There is little doubt that in reading the Qur’an or many things from the Muslim tradition there are things that are difficult for someone imbued with the Newtonian mentality to accept. But even a cursory glance would show one that these are not archaic elements or bits of superstition that need to be stripped away in order to be left with something that the modern man can be at ease with, but that rather they are very direct challenges to the core of modernity, the science which is arguably modernity’s theology.

When the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, was asked early on during his prophethood for a sure sign, he showed the people of Makkah the moon split in half above them. Even for pre-Newtonians this was a challenge to everything they knew; even pagan idol-worshipping Makkans. It is still a challenge to us. But it is meant to be a challenge, because it is absolutely physically impossible that the moon could have been split in half. Nothing in science, and nothing in all the work of those who are so desperate to prove that the Qur’an is scientific can possibly explain how this could have been so. But that is the point. Only a prophet and messenger of Allah could have been given such a sign, since it is something that only the Creator of the universe could have done. Only the Creator can suspend physical law. And this is the parting of the ways.

For the Newtonian, he has discovered how the universe works, how things cause other things and the forces involved in all of that. Thus, for him, even for Isaac Newton who was widely regarded as having been a believing Christian and even a Unitarian one, the splitting of the moon is a physical impossibility and thus cannot have happened. And this is a theology. The equations seem to prove the point. We have certainty about it just as we have certainty that two and two is four. But this is the very problem. Because we have such certainty that two and two is four, we then begin to believe the equations written in the language of two and two is four, the language of mathematics. But what we have failed to spot is that the language of mathematics explains nothing, but describes everything. With equations it is very possible to describe with great exactness things that happen, indeed with an astounding accuracy. And it is this exactness of description that leads us to have such awe of the scientist when he speaks even when he is no longer using the language of two and two is four. And when Newton spoke he said, “There is a force of gravity that exists between every two objects in the universe, no matter how far apart. It extends from the furthest quasar to the meanest pebble on earth. Given the masses of the two objects and the distance they are apart, we are able to calculate the force between them, the gravitational force.” And he produced an equation that did just that, and it worked astonishingly well and continues to do so even though we have now had a paradigm shift and no longer accept that explanation of gravity. Einstein describes gravity now as a curvature of space-time. But then no one has ever believed really that there is a force between every two objects in the universe, because that would require two objects so distant from each other that light can take billions of years to travel from one to the other to act instantly upon each other. And no one could ever conceive that that was possible. But the equations worked. So what is happening here is that the equations describe something very well, but we do not know what it is.

Now this is precisely what is happening with science generally. The equations describe superlatively well, but we cannot necessarily say that we know what is happening or why it is happening. Muslims have an explanation for that: we do not think that things cause other things. Allah causes things, but He has set up creation as if things cause things. Fire doesn’t burn of itself, but it is Allah Who causes the burning. Nevertheless He has set up creation in such a way that ordinarily and almost invariably fire seems to burn. If it were not the case, then the universe would be so disorderly that we could not survive it. But the rules are not concrete, and occasionally Allah lifts the veil so that we can see that He alone is the cause. Not the cause of the secondary causes, but the actual cause directly of all. And when He does that for one of His prophets or messengers, He is in effect saying, “This is My slave who speaks the truth in all that he conveys from Me.” And so He split the moon for Muhammad, peace be upon him, as a sign that he is His Prophet and Messenger.

Part 2: In for a Penny, in for a Pound

2 Responses to “The Parting of the Ways, part 1 – Abdassamad Clarke”

  1. Jaafar El-Murad says:

    A beuatifully written piece Sidi, thank you.

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