This series explores the relationship between religion and science, discussing whether the two are compatible or mutually contradictory. The articles in this series touch upon various strands of science, and discuss whether our modern age of advancements has strengthened or weakened the case for God. This article, following on from Alex Borthwick’s previous article, gives an Islamic perspective on how an individual can gain personal certainty as to whether God exists.
Religion enables us to transcend the material and seek the Divine; to understand the answers to questions beyond our intellectual reach; to ascertain the meaning of our lives and establish a relationship with a Living God. To truly investigate whether the claims of religion are true, however, requires adopting the appropriate method. This article will outline a framework to find God based on the teachings of Islam, a religion which claims to represent the pinnacle of religious evolution.
Preliminary Measures: Checking Motive & Intellectual Investigation
The first preliminary step in exploring the truth of religion is to check your motive. Consider a philosopher; they exercise their intellectual faculties to ascertain whether there is a Creator or not. In other words, their aim is to quench their thirst for knowledge, but not to know or worship the Creator. They only undergo intellectual effort to satisfy intellectual curiosity. Thus even if such a philosopher comes to believe that God does exist, their effort and reward will stop there. God will not wish to establish a relationship with a person who has no desire to know Him. If religion’s teachings instruct us in how to establish a relationship with God, the philosopher’s motive has rendered this mute. Success in spiritual endeavour comes through a commitment to persist in efforts to establish a relationship of love with and obedience to God. This is the correct motive, and if one has the incorrect motive, all efforts will only lead to exhaustion and annoyance.
After checking our motive, we must reflect and ponder over the world around us – its origin, its wise design, its fleeting nature. This pondering over the heavens and earth is necessary, but it only leads one to the stage of ‘there should be a Creator’. Reason prepares the ground for faith, but does not produce it. Unfortunate is the case that many who reach this stage are taught that this is as far as the method of religion goes, and turn on their heels. A true path to God must lead to certainty, not mere speculation. At the beginning stages, before one has even decided to truly follow the practice of religion, it is reflection and reasoning which is required to ponder over the initial evidence religion puts forward. This is dealt with extensively here at Rational Religion. However, rational inference can only take us so far. As Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as), the founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, said:
‘Whoever wants to find God through mere intellect is certainly mad, because the hidden ways of His access are beyond the reach of mere comprehension.’
Step 1: Spiritual Practice
After one has reflected and pondered over the need for a God, and analysed the beauty and perfection of nature, the next step is to attempt to actually find Him. This is done in two main ways, through spiritual practice and by living a moral life. Both should be done concurrently, and both are deeply interrelated. However, for simplicity’s sake, we will tackle them separately.
Worship is essential to developing a relationship with God, and through it He turns from a theoretical possibility to a prominent part of one’s life.
Worship is divided into the five categories:
- Salat, or prayer;
- Dhikr, or remembrance of God;
- Pilgrimage to Mecca; and
These outward expressions must include an inner expression. If one only performs the outward act, they wish only to be seen of men. Sincerity is key! Hypocrisy is the runner’s wall. The Holy Qur’an not only accepts this principle but particularly emphasises it. It says:
‘Woe to those who pray but are unmindful of their prayers, and pray in order to be seen.’
Likewise, the second Caliph of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community alludes to this as follows:
“We observe that a lover’s face betrays a peculiar emotion when his beloved’s name is mentioned in his presence, or when the beloved appears before him, so that even a stranger is able to perceive his love. Again, although nobody can doubt the love of parents for their children, the former very often demonstrate their affection by kissing or caressing their little ones. Similarly when two friends meet, they express their pleasure by clasping each other’s hands.”
Nonetheless, these outward acts have a significant impact on the inner state. Just like the outer shell interacts with the inner kernel, the body takes the soul where it goes, and the soul influences the body where it goes. For example, the prostration in prayer reflects the inward submission of the soul. Prayer aims to increase one’s awareness of God, to understand one’s helplessness and dependence on God. Two people become greater friends the more they give each other their undivided attention; such is the case with the Creator and His servant. Remembrance of God, the second form of worship, is the spiritual drink that keeps the traveller going. It is a constant means of keeping attached to God, and increasing one’s knowledge of Him. Fasting inculcates will-power and self-control, the ability to refrain from evil and of doing good. Both pilgrimage to Mecca and animal sacrifice serve a similar purpose (as to those of salat and fasts); leaving one’s home and relatives and the sacrificing of an inferior creation reminds the believer to sacrifice their own selves for the greater cause governing the universe. It reminds one that they must transcend their own selfish desires.
Step 2: Moral Progression
What is moral progression? How does the follower of a true religion carry out that test?
To begin with, true religion must be accessible to people of all capacities. No matter where they are on the moral spectrum, a true religion must be able to teach people how to progress from vice towards virtue. To do this, Islam has envisioned moral progression as a gradual path, describing different grades of moral qualities. This way its followers can know when they are slipping down and climbing up the ladder.
The ladder is defined as consisting of three rungs of virtue and three rungs of vice. The virtues are:
- ‘Adal – equitable dealing; a person returns what’s done to them with equal measure
- Ihsan – beneficence; the person returns a greater amount than what they were given
- Ita’i dhil qurba – unconditional compassion; the person does good irrespective of whether anything is done for them
The vices are:
- Fahsha’ – secret vices; evil which is not publicly seen
- Munkar – the evil actions which are seen by others, but do not harm them
- Baghyi – actions are now injurious to others
With the knowledge of these, the student of Islamic morality can know where to go and when they are falling behind.
However, true religion does not wish to simply point out good and bad morals, it wishes to aid people in adopting good morals and disregarding bad ones, and thereby improving their spiritual connection to God. True religion has always brought manifestations of God’s Attributes through His Messengers and righteous people. These people are a moral demonstration as well as a representation of the stages of spirituality those morals can get you to.
Islam claims that all people are born pure. Our choice in actions from the very outset add either good or evil to us. However, a person never loses his original purity completely. Thus the aim of moral progression is to return to that pure state and then add more virtue to it.
There are other actions Islam recommends to aid our moral progression. Repentance, which is to feel remorse for past errors/sins, to ask for forgiveness and then reform oneself accordingly, is one such step towards moral reformation. Sins are defined through the ordinances of God, to which humans already have a natural aversion. Another guideline given by Islam is to keep company with the righteous and to reduce bad influences. All this is a means to attain righteousness.
One further step needed for the student to take is to recognise what is prohibited and lawful according to God. Alcohol and gambling are social and spiritual vices which Islam cuts off at the root. Islam acknowledges that some good can be found in these, but that their harm greatly outweighs their benefits; hence complete avoidance is the only way to wipe clean any darkness put on the soul. Islam also gives dietary guidelines such as a prohibition of eating pork, the consumption of which is taught to have an injurious physical and spiritual effect. There are many such guidelines which the seeker of God is advised to follow.
True religion is not dependent on simply the thoughts and sentiments of any individual. Rather, it requires a practical demonstration of moral and spiritual reformation. Like anything worthwhile in life, we must persist in it if we hope to find Truth. When we do so, God begins to unveil Himself to us. Through the answering of prayers and vivid spiritual experiences, our soul awakens to the reality of God. Seeking God is a ladder, and the higher we climb, the greater the certainty that we are given. By following the steps outlined in this article, one can truly test the hypothesis of God’s existence. Without following the path of spiritual practice, the hypothesis that God exists remains fundamentally untested. To become a spiritual scientist, we ourselves must become the test sample, and willingly undergo the spiritual method.
Alex Borthwick is a Physics masters student and convert to Ahmadiyya Islam with an interest in the interfact between science and religion.