Epistemological and practical aspects of Islamic realistic conception of the world 1

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A. Epistemological and practical aspects of Islamic realistic conception of the world
Islam is realistic religion. The word “Islam” means submission. This indicates that the first condition of being a Muslim is to submit to the realities and truths. Islam rejects kind of obduracy, stubbornness, prejudice, blind imitation, bias and selfishness, and regards all of them as contrary to realism and realistic approach to truth. From the point of view of Islam a man who seeks truth, but fails in his efforts may excused, but the acceptance of truth by virtue of imitation or heredity by a man who is otherwise stubborn and arrogant has no value. A true Muslim, whether a male or a female eagerly accepts truth wherever he or she may find it. As far as the acquisition of knowledge is concerned, a Muslim shows no bias. He may go even to the farthest corner of the world for acquiring knowledge. His efforts to gain knowledge and to find truth are not confined to any particular period of his life nor to any territorial region. Nor does he insist to knowledge from any particular person. The Holy Prophet has said that to seek knowledge is the duty of every Muslim, whether a man or a woman. (طلب العلم فریضة علی کل مسلم و مسلمة). He has also asked the Muslim to receive it even from an idolater. (خذ الحکمة و لوکان من المشرک ). There is another saying of the Holy Prophet which exhorts the Muslim to seek it even if they have to go to China for that purpose. He is also reported to have said: “Continue to seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave.” (اطلبوا العلم من المهدالی اللحد). Superficial and partial notions of the problems, blind imitation of the forefathers and submission to the absurd hereditary traditions, beings contrary to the spirit of submission to truth, are censured by Islam and regarded as misleading.

A) Man as a realistic being from the beginning of creation
Man is realistic being. A new born human child from the very first moments of its life, while looking for its mother’s breast, seeks it as a reality .Gradually the body and the mind of the infant develop to the extent that it can distinguish between itself and other things. Though the new-born child’s contact with other things is established though a series of its thoughts, it knows that the reality of the things distinct from that of the thoughts which it entertains and uses as a medium only.

B. The characteristics of perceived realities though senses
The realities which man can perceive though his senses and which we call the world, have the following integral characteristics:

Everything perceptible, from the smallest particle to the biggest star has spatial and temporal limitations. Nothing can exist outside a particular apace and a particular period of time. Certain things occupy a bigger space and last longer while some others occupy a smaller space and last comparatively for a shorter time. But in the final analysis they are all limited to a particular portion of place and a particular period of time.

Everything is subject to a change and is in durable. Nothing perceptible in the world is in a standstill state. It is either growing or decaying. A material and perceptible being throughout the period of its existence passes through a constant course of change as part of its reality. It rather gives something or takes something or gives as well as takes. In other words, it either takes something out of the reality of other thing and adds it to its own reality or gives something out of its reality or performs both the actions. In any case, there is nothing that remains static. This characteristic also is common to all things existing in this world.

Another characteristic of the perceptible things is their attachment. We find that they all are conditional. In other words the existence of each one of them is attached to and conditional on the existence of one or more other things. None of them can exist if those things do not exist. If we look deeply into the reality of the material and perceptible things, we will find that many “ifs” are attached to their existence, We do not find a single perceptible things which may be existing unconditionally and independently. The existence of everything is conditional on the existence of something else, and the existence of that something else in its turn is also conditional on the existence of something else, and so on.

The existence of all our perceptible things depends on the fulfillment of the numerous conditions attached to it. The existence of each of these conditions again depends on the fulfillment of a series of some other conditions. There is no perceptible things which may exist independently, i.e.in the absence of the conditions on which its existence depends. Thus dependence pervades all existence things.

All perceptible things are relative as regards to their existence as well as to their qualities. When we attribute to them greatness, power, beauty, antiquity and even existence, we say, so in comparison to other things. When we say, for example, that sun is very large, we mean that it is larger than the earth and other planets of our solar system. Otherwise this very sun is smaller than many other stars. Similarly when we say that such and such ship or such animal is powerful, we compare it with man or something weaker than man. Even the existence of a thing is comparative. Whenever we speak of any existence, perfection, wisdom, beauty, power or grandeur, we take into consideration a lower degree of that quality. We can always visualize a higher degree of it also and then a further higher degree. Each quality as compared to its higher degree is changed into its opposite. Existence becomes non-existence, perfection is changed into defectiveness. Similarly wisdom, beauty, greatness and grandeur are changed respectively into ignorance, ugliness and despicability.

C. Movement of the thinking power from cosmology to theism
The thinking power of man, the scope of which, contrary to that of the senses, is not confined to the exterior features, but also penetrates what is behind the screen of existence, tells us that existence is in no way confined to these perceptible things which are limited, changing, relative and dependent.

The scenery of existence which we observe appears on the whole to be self- existing and –dependent. Hence there must be an everlasting, unconditional and ever-present absolute and infinite truth behind it on which everything much depend. Otherwise this scenery of existence could not stand so firmly. In other words nothing would have existed at all.

The Holy Qur’an describes Allah as Self –existing and Self-dependent, and thus reminds us that all existing, being conditional and relative, are in need of a Self-existing truth to support and sustain them. Allah is Self- dependent because everything else depends on Him. He is Perfect, for everything else is hollow from within and needs a Truth which may fill it with existence.

The Holy Qur’an describes the perceptible things as signs. In other words everything in its turn is a sign of an Infinite Being and His knowledge, power and will. Form the viewpoint of the Holy Qur’an the world is like a book composed by a wise and sagacious being, every line and every word of which is a sign of the wisdom and sagacity of its author. From the point of view of the Holy Qur’an, the more a man comes to know the reality of the things, the more he gets acquainted with Divine wisdom, power and blessings.

From one angle every natural science is a branch of cosmology. From another and from a deeper way of looking at things, it is branch knowledge (recognition) of Allah.

To elucidate the Qur’anic point of view in this respect we quote here just one verse of the Holy Qur’an out of so many similar verses. Surely in the creation of the heavens and the earth, the alternation of night day, the ships which sail on the sea with (cargoes) beneficial to man, the water that Allah sends down from heaven with which He revives the earth after it is dead and replenishes it with all kinds of animal life, in the movement of the winds and in the clouds held between the sky and the earth, there are signs for the people who have sense. (Surah al-Baqarah, 2:164) ((ان فی خلق السموت والارض و اختلاف الیل و النهارو الفلک التی تجری فی البحر. بما ینفع الناس و ما انزل الله من السماء من ماء فاحیابه الارض بعد موتها وبث فیها من کل دابه و تصریف الریاح و السحاب المسخربین السماء و الارض لایت لقوم یعقلون. (164: 2)).

In this verse the Holy Qur’an invites the attention of the people to general cosmology, to the ship- building industry, to tourism and its financial advantages, to meteorology, to the origin of winds and rain, to the movement of clouds, to biology and zoology. It regards the pondering on the philosophy of these sciences something leading to the recognition of Allah.

Note: In the next section, God’s attributes, monotheism and practical aspects of Islamic realistic world conception, will be mentioned.


Man and Universe- part Monotheistic conception of the world - pages: 59to63


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