Qur'an and "natural" phenomena

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How does The Qur'an approach "natural" phenomena and why does it sometimes mention insignificant-seeming events as if they have great importance?

In the Name of God, the Merciful the Compassionate.

When We said unto the angels, ‘Prostrate yourselves before Adam,’ they fell prostrate, all save Iblis. (2:34)

God commands you to sacrifice a cow. (2:67)

Yet after all this your hearts were hardened and become like rocks or even harder. (2:74)

In the wise Qur’an there are many apparently insignificant events behind each of which is hidden a universal principle, and which are presented as the tip of a general law.

For example, the verse,

(He) taught Adam the names of all of them [the things]. (2:31)

mentions that Adam was taught ‘the names’ as a miracle of his to demonstrate his superiority over the angels in being favored with God’s vicegerency on the Earth—improving the Earth and using things in accordance with the rules God has laid. This is, in appearance, a small and particular event but it constitutes a tip of a universal principle which is as follows:

On account of his comprehensive nature, man was taught (or given the potential to obtain) lots of information, and many sciences concerning all aspects of the universe, and extensive knowledge about the Creator’s Attributes and acts, which gave him superiority over not only the angels but also the heavens and earth and mountains in bearing the Supreme Trust, and made him the ruler of the earth in the name of God.

Likewise, the prostration of the angels before Adam by contrast with Satan’s rejection is a small, particular event in the Unseen. However, it is the tip of a most comprehensive, universally observed principle, and suggests a most extensive truth which is as follows:

By mentioning the angels’ obedience and submission before the person of Adam and Satan’s haughty refusal, the Qur’an makes understood that most of the material beings in the universe and their spiritual representatives are subjugated to man and are ever-ready to satisfy all the needs and desires of all of his faculties. In addition, the Qur’an warns man against the evil beings and their immaterial representatives and the devilish inhabitants of the earth, who corrupt his potential for perfection and seduce him into wrong paths, and it reminds him what terrible enemies and great obstacles in the path of his progress toward perfection they are. Thus, while narrating a particular matter pertaining to a single individual—Adam, upon him be peace —the Qur’an of Miraculous Expression holds an elevated discourse with the whole creation and all mankind.

Another example:

The land of Egypt is a part of the Sahara Desert. Yet it is a fertile, arable land owing to the bounteous gifts of the blessed Nile. Such a blessed, paradise-like land being found adjacent to the hellish Sahara made farming and agriculture most sought after by its people and so established it in their nature that while agriculture was sanctified, the cow and the bull, the means to agriculture, were elevated to the level of objects of worship. In fact, the people of Egypt of that time, the time when the Prophet Moses, upon him be peace, was raised as a Prophet, considered the cow and bull to be so sacred as indeed to worship them. As it is understood from their making a calf to worship years after the Exodus, the children of Israel of that time, who grew up in Egypt, were influenced by that tradition.

So, the wise Qur’an explains through the sacrifice of a cow that through his Messengership, Moses, upon him be peace, eradicated the concept of cow-worship which had become an inherent part of that nation’s character. Thus, through this apparently insignificant event, it points to a universal principle with an elevated miraculousness; it expounds it also as a most essential lesson of wisdom for everyone at all times.

Know, by analogy with that, certain minor incidents which the wise Qur’an mentions in the form of historical events, are the tips of universal principles.

Conciseness is one of the foundations of the Qur’an’s miraculousness, which uses ordinary-seeming events to teach universal truths and train hearts and minds.

Yet after all this your hearts were hardened and became like rocks, or even harder: for indeed there are rocks from which rivers gush, and indeed there are some from which, when they are cleft, water issues; and indeed there are some which fall down for awe of God. God is not unaware of what you do. (2:74)

The Qur’an present profound, universal truths to ordinary people in simple and familiar terms

Conciseness is one of the foundations of the Qur’an’s miraculousness, and bountiful enlightenment and beauty of explanation are a part of the light of its guidance. These qualities require that universal truths and profound and general principles should be presented to those ordinary people who make up the majority of those addressed by the Qur’an, in simple and familiar terms, and that, because of the simplicity of their minds, only the tips and simple forms of great truths should be shown. Also, all the events in the universe, each of which is a Divine operation whose extraordinary character is veiled by habituation to it and familiarity, should be pointed out briefly. Thus, it is because of this subtle reality that the wise Qur’an means by the verse above:

O Children of Israel and sons of Adam! What has happened to you that your hearts have become harder and more lifeless than rocks? For do you not see that those very hard lifeless, large rocks formed in vast strata under the earth are so obedient and submissive before the Divine commands and so permeable and opened up to the acts of His Lordship that as easily as the Divine operations occur in the formation of trees in the air, so too under the earth, and with the same ease and order and perfect wisdom, and without any resistance, water is carried through to them, like blood circulating in veins, in well-arranged water channels and veins through hard, deaf rocks?6 Also, just as the branches of trees and plants spread easily in the air, so too, the delicate veins of roots spread with the same ease, without encountering any resistance in the rocks under the earth.

Using simple-seeming phenomena, the Qur’an teaches comprehensive truths

The Qur’an points to this fact and teaches a comprehensive truth through that verse, and so by allusion it says to the hard-hearted:

O Children of Israel and O sons of Adam! Despite your weakness and impotence, what sort of hearts do you have that in their hardness they resist the commands of the Divine Being? Whereas the huge strata of hard rocks carry out their subtle tasks perfectly in darkness in utmost submission to His commands. They show no disobedience. Indeed, those rocks act as a source for the water and other means of life for all the living creatures on the earth in such a way, and as means for their division and distribution with such wisdom and justice, that they are as malleable as wax or even air in the hand of Power of the All-Wise One of Majesty; without resistance, they prostrate before the vastness of His Power. For almost the same well-arranged occurrences and wise and gracious Divine operations as those which we observe on the face of the earth take place beneath its surface. Moreover, the Divine wisdom and favor are manifest there in a way more wonderful and more strange than they are on the surface of the earth. Look! How soft, like wax, are those most hard and unfeeling huge rocks towards God’s commands in the creation and operation of the universe, and how unresisting and flexible to the pleasant waters, delicate roots, and silk-like veins, which act under the command of God. Like a lover, the rock smashes its heart at the touch of those delicate, beautiful things, and becomes soft earth in their path.

Also, through the sentence and indeed there are some which fall down for awe of God, the Qur’an shows the tip of a tremendous truth which is as follows:

As in the event when the Prophet Moses, upon him be peace, asked for a vision of God, and the mountain at the foot of which he was standing crumbled at the Divine manifestation and its rocks scattered through the awesome manifestations of Divine Majesty in the form of earthquakes and other similar geological events, the rocks fall from the high summits of mountains, which are mostly like huge monoliths formed of thickened fluid, and are shattered. Some of these crumble and become earth for plantation. Others remain as rocks, and are scattered down to the valleys and plains. They serve for many purposes in the works of the earth’s inhabitants, as in their houses, and in utter submission to the Divine Power and Wisdom for certain hidden purposes and benefits, they stand ready to be used in accordance with the principles of the Divine Wisdom. It is neither in vain nor accidental nor at random that, out of awe of God, they leave their positions at the summits and choose the lower places in humility and become the means of those significant benefits: the evidence that all these take place by the wise operation of an All-Wise and All-Powerful One, and that there is a wise order invisible to the superficial eye in such seemingly chaotic events, are the purposes and benefits attached to the rocks, and the perfect order and fine artistry in the ‘garments’ adorned and embossed with the jewels of fruits and flowers with which the ‘body’ of the mountains down which they roll are clothed.

Thus, you have seen how valuable these three parts of the verse are from the viewpoint of wisdom. See the Qur’an’s fine manner of expression and miraculous eloquence, how it shows through the three well-known and observed events in the three parts of a verse, the tips of the comprehensive and significant truths mentioned above. Also, by reminding in the same three parts of three further events which are each a means of taking a lesson, it offers a fine guidance and restrains in a way that cannot be resisted.

The Qur’an trains hearts and minds by means of ordinary-seeming events

For example, its the second part of the verse, it says:

and indeed there are some from which, when they are cleft, water issues;

By referring in this sentence to the rock which was cleft with ‘complete eagerness’ with the striking of Moses’ staff, upon him be peace, and poured forth twelve streams from twelve sources, it means:

O Children of Israel! While large rocks become tears out of either awe or joy, how is it that you are so unjust as to be obstinate in the face of all Moses’ miracles, and not weeping, with eyes so dried and hearts so hard?

In the third part, it says:

and indeed there are some which fall down for awe of God.

By recalling in this part the well-known event of the huge mountain crumbling and the rocks rolling down all round out of awe at the manifestation of Divine Majesty, which took place in Mount Sinai at the supplication of Moses for the vision of God, it gives the following lesson:

O People of Moses! How is it you do not fear God while the mountains formed of rocks crumble in awe of Him? Although you witness that He held Mount Sinai above you in order to receive from you a solemn promise to be loyal to Him, and that on Moses’ prayer for the Divine vision, the mountain crumbled, how is it you are so bold as not to tremble out of fear of God, and you keep your hearts so hard and unfeeling?

In the first part, it says:

for indeed there are rocks from which rivers gush;

The Qur’an uses “natural” phenomena to teach God’s universal rules and acts

By recalling though these words rivers like the Nile, the Tigris, and Euphrates, which gush out of mountains, it points out how wonderfully and miraculously rocks are susceptible and subjugated to the Divine commands of creation, and it means to awakened, attentive hearts:

It is not possible that the mountains could be the actual source of such mighty rivers. For supposing the mountains comprised water from top to bottom and were each a conical reservoir, they could last only a few months in providing for the swift and abundant flow of those big rivers. Also the rain, which only penetrates about a meter into the earth, cannot be sufficient income for that high expenditure. This means that no ordinary reason or natural cause or chance can explain the sources and flow of these rivers. The All-Majestic Creator makes them flow forth in truly wonderful fashion from an unseen ‘treasury’.

Thus, in reference to this truth, it is narrated in a hadith: ‘Every minute a drop falls from Paradise into each of those three rivers. That is why they flow abundantly’. In another hadith [recorded by Muslim and Ibn Hanbal] it is said: ‘The source of these three rivers is in Paradise’.1 What is meant by these narrations is that since physical causes are not enough for their abundant flow, their sources must be in an unseen world; they must be originating in a hidden treasury of Mercy, so that the balance between incoming and outgoing water is maintained.

Thus, by drawing attention to this meaning, the wise Qur’an gives the following instruction: O Children of Israel and sons of Adam! Through your hardness of heart and lack of feeling, you disobey the commandments of such a One of Majesty, and through heedlessness you close your eyes to the light of knowledge of such an Everlasting Sun, that by making gush forth from the mouths of ordinary, solid rocks mighty rivers like the Nile, which makes the land of Egypt like a paradise, He produces for the heart of the universe and the mind of the earth miracles of His Power and witnesses to His Oneness as strong and abundant as the gushing forth and flow of those mighty rivers, and makes them flow to the hearts and minds of jinn and men. Further, while it shows the All-Majestic Creator as the sunlight shows the sun, that He makes some hard, unfeeling rocks the objects of the miracles of His Power in such wonderful fashion,2 how is it that you are blind to the light of His knowledge and do not see the truth?

So, see how eloquently these three truths have been expressed; take notice of the guidance of that eloquence! I wonder what hardness of heart and lack of feeling can resist the ‘heat’ of the guidance of this eloquence and not melt?

If you have understood it from the beginning to this end, see one guiding gleam of the wise Qur’an’s miraculousness, and offer thanks to God!

Glory be to You, we have no knowledge save what You have taught us. Surely, You are the All-Knowing, the All-Wise.

O God! Enable us to understand the mysteries of the Qur’an as you like and approve, and grant us success in the service of it. Amen, through Your Mercy, O Merciful of the Merciful!

O God! Bestow blessings and peace upon the one to whom the wise Qur’an was sent, and upon all his family and Companions.

1. Like one of the main branches of the Nile rising in the Mountains of the Moon, the main branch of the Tigris rises in a cave in the district of Mukus in the province of Van. Likewise, one of the main streams of the Euphrates has its source at the foothills of a mountain in the region of Diyadin. It is scientifically established that the origins of mountains are rocks solidified from liquid matter. One of the glorifications of the Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings—Glory be to the One Who spread out the earth on solidified liquid—decisively testifies that the original formation of the earth is as follows: some liquid matter solidified at Divine command and became rock. By Divine leave, the rock became earth. That is, the liquid matter was too soft to settle on, and the rock was too hard to benefit from. Therefore, the All-Wise and Compassionate One spread the earth over the rock and made it the place of habitation for living beings.

2. It is only fitting that the Qur’an should explain the three important tasks which the Majestic Creator entrusted to the rock strata, the foundation of the magnificent, moving palace we call the earth.

  • The first task: Just as the earth acts, by the Power of the Lord, as a ‘mother’ to plants and raises them, so also by the Divine Power, the rocks act as a ‘nurse’ to earth and ‘raise’ it.

  • The second task: They serve the orderly circulation of water in the body of the earth, like the circulation of blood.

  • The third task: They act as ‘treasurer’ to the appearance and continuation with well-ordered balance of springs and rivers, sources and streams. Truly, the rocks ‘write’ and sprinkle over the face of the earth the evidences of Divine Unity which they make flow with all their strength in ‘mouthfuls’ in the form of the water which serves life.


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