Allah in the Quran and Abstract Thought

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As mentioned frequently on this website, “thinking” is mentioned in the Quran itself so often that its significance as an imperative is indisputable. Thinking, in Arabic the verb form of ‘aql  which in modern Arabic means “mind” or intellect, is used in parallel with “faith” or “to have faith in/ believe”, implying that without thinking there can be no faith. This stands in direct opposition to the Christian concept of a “leap of faith” in which the believer accepts “absurdity” — precepts that contradict one’s own logic — and therefore “leaps” over or sidesteps the intellect in favor of a particular belief, such as the confounding of human with divine in the deification of Jesus. Some Islamic movements such as the salafi,  reject the use of the mind in favor of unquestioning adherence to a dogma based on certain hadeeths or sayings of Prophet Mohammad, and narrow interpretations of Quranic text, in effect creating an Islam much like “evangelical” Christianity: dogmatic, rigid, and hostile to logic or scientific or abstract thought, which are viewed as dangerous.

The Quran clearly admonishes the exact opposite: freedom of thought and faith arrived at by one’s own inquiry and inherent logic, based on a clearly elucidated tenet that faith in Allah is the logical conclusion of deep and unadulterated (by compulsion) meditation and intellect-based thinking which at its core is reverence for Allah. Thinking, in the Quran, takes place in the heart, where it sorts out intuition, experience, emotions, ideas, and uses logic.

Quran 7:179

وَلَقَدْ ذَرَأْنَا لِجَهَنَّمَ كَثِيرًا مِّنَ الْجِنِّ وَالْإِنسِ ۖ لَهُمْ قُلُوبٌ لَّا يَفْقَهُونَ بِهَا وَلَهُمْ أَعْيُنٌ لَّا يُبْصِرُونَ بِهَا وَلَهُمْ آذَانٌ لَّا يَسْمَعُونَ بِهَا ۚ أُولَٰئِكَ كَالْأَنْعَامِ بَلْ هُمْ أَضَلُّ ۚ أُولَٰئِكَ هُمُ الْغَافِلُونَ

And We have certainly created for Hell many of the jinn and mankind. They have hearts with which they do not think, they have eyes with which they do not see, and they have ears with which they do not hear. Those are like livestock; rather, they are more astray. It is they who are the heedless.

Here we see the reference for qalb, a word only used for “heart”, as being something with which one “thinks.” Often translated “understand,” one can also say that understanding is a form of thinking . But I used “think” to show the same exact word is used, which is important to convey the various ways and contexts in which the word is used, helping us learn about not only its meaning, but the relative significance of that meaning. In this case, thinking is so significant that it’s linked with faith.

Quran 45:3
إِنَّ فِي السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ لَآيَاتٍ لِّلْمُؤْمِنِينَ

Indeed, within the heavens and earth are signs for the believers.

Note the use of the word “believers” or al-mu’mineen. Without faith, even the intellect may not recognize those signs.

Quran 45:5
وَاخْتِلَافِ اللَّيْلِ وَالنَّهَارِ وَمَا أَنزَلَ اللَّهُ مِنَ السَّمَاءِ مِن رِّزْقٍ فَأَحْيَا بِهِ الْأَرْضَ بَعْدَ مَوْتِهَا وَتَصْرِيفِ الرِّيَاحِ آيَاتٌ لِّقَوْمٍ يَعْقِلُونَ

And [in] the alternation of night and day and [in] what Allah sends down from the sky of provision and gives life thereby to the earth after its lifelessness and [in His] directing of the winds are signs for a people who reason.

Note the word translated “reason” here is the same word y’aqiloon, or “think.” Each aya shows various aspects of earthly life and the creation as signs for believers, then (not quoted here but in the same vein Quran 44:4) “people who are certain.” That is to say, fully convinced of and sure in their faith. The aya quoted above shows thinking people to be on the side of faithful and believing people. In fact, they are in a higher plane in the progression; first belief, then certainty, and finally understanding or the union of faith and thought.

We take this then a step further to discover that thought ultimately means, for human beings, abstract thought, concepts. Language is in a real sense derived from abstract thought, replacing pointing to objects with using a name for them, a word existing foremost in the mind, its physical manifestation, the written word, being interpreted by the mind, which is its actual domain.

Allah is not reducible to a mere idea, but rather is the ultimate power and living presence and source of all life whom we can never fully comprehend in the sense of “define” which would limit Him. In the Quran, Allah is unlike anything else. So we have no way to know or grasp who Allah Himself (to Him be all glory), except as He shows us in words in the Quran, using both logic and imagination to reach one’s intuition, the faculty of bringing to mind that for which one has no actual physical referent. We are told that Allah is One——a number, and unlike anything else by definition. Faith in Allah requires abstract thought founded on reverence and a recognition of Allah’s presence, and the ability to be guided by rules set forth as ideas expressed in words. Allah’s revelations are books. The first word sent from the Quran was “Read!” What set Adam apart from even the Angels, to where Allah commanded the angels to prostrate to Adam (showing deference/ willingness to serve) was that Allah taught him “the names”: language.

For logic and language to function, honesty is a prerequisite. Technically speaking, this means words and their meanings should be universally clear, not muddied waters. There should be no divergence between words and their meanings, as a shared language. Multiplicity of meaning in individual words is not only possible but importantly used in the Quran, when it can be clarified by grammar and usage, for example context. But to say, for example, evil is good or charity is wrong would be muddying the waters by lies and deceit.

This is becoming more common in modern life with the advent of “fake news” where facts are portrayed as lies and lies promoted as truth, or the “prosperity gospel” where narcissism and greed are promoted as superior to compassion and charity. In the Quran, disbelievers are liars and vice versa; the word disbeliever or kafir means literally “one who covers up” or “denier” of the truth. The word “kafir” even sounds similar to “cover.” Lies are indeed a “covering up” of the truth. And if one covers up or hides the truth long enough, one will likely start believing those lies to some extent, often convincing others of them in order to create a social comfort zone for the lies. And what is the antidote to such lies and such kufr? Truth. And reverence, a deep respect for what is sacred. Since the Quran is a divine text sent to humankind as a sourcebook for truth, the Quran then would be the perfect antidote to “cure” those willing to be cured of falsehood and lies.

This also presupposes that the existence of Allah is supported by logic. Logic supported by intuition and a clear intellect, not by solely empirical evidence whose scope is limited. Once one considers the truth of Allah, one realizes that Allah is to us ineffable, having “nothing whatsoever similar” and therefore beyond our experience —- of the empirical world. But even scientists, examining the universe without prejudice, discovered a cosmic constant that is fine-tuned for life, so fine-tuned it had to have been created by an intelligent, all-powerful Creator; one who is also all-merciful, having made he universe life-friendly. And for those who think with the light and guidance of intuition, this makes sense. And making sense is itself transformative. Even thinking itself is an act of worship in this sense, when used not for short term gains but for learning the truth and with reverence that we and the universe around us are not created for no reason or randomly. Allah who created us to think and taught Adam abstract thinking would surely not send a religion where people are forced to accept faith by “the sword”: violence and war. Rather The Way is Allah is itself mercy, a way of living without oppressing others or oneself. To be free, having free will, but not be lost and without guidance or direction. If one wishes to find the truth, or for example to verify a particular hadeeth, the only logical choice is to compare it to the Quran; does it contradict the Quran or create potential conflicts within Islam? We have in the Quran truth itself; time spent reading and studying it, rather than outside texts, calls us to awaken our own intuition and think for ourselves with our own God-given intellects. Will you not then understand??

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2 thoughts on “Allah in the Quran and Abstract Thought

  1. Abdulla

    Bismillah!

    Brother, this message is to you a humble yet serious warning. A warning to please not speak about Allah Swt in a way that He, The Almighty, didn’t speak of Himself.
    I’m unsure if you are making all your studies of the Holy Qur’an under a trustworthy scholar. If you aren’t and are coming to these conclusion by self study, then please speak to an A’lim regarding the aqeedah that you are propagating in this blog of yours.

    You have in this post made statements that can be considered as literally Borderline Kufr.
    The Very dangerous sentences in your post include :

    1) “Allah is the ultimate abstract idea”
    2) “Allah is to us the most abstract concept”

    Naudhubillah!

    You have literally tried to fit and describe Allah The Almighty within the western Philosophical thought and framework.

    Now, Lets look at the most common definition of what the word “Abstract” even means in Western Philosophical thought.
    Abstract : (adj) / existing only in thought, feeling or as an idea but not having a physical or concrete existence.
    Example of something Abstract : Justice, Redness of the color red, Numericals, happiness, etc.

    So an Abstract object or concept or an idea exists only in the constructs of the human’s mind.
    The abstract object / idea by itself does not have any Independent existence nor does it possess a “Will” of its own. An abstract concept also is not a “Living” existent.
    It merely exists in the Mind of the person.

    To liken Allah The Almighty to an abstract Object or an Abstract concept / Idea is nothing short of utter Blasphemy!

    Please understand that Allah is neither an Idea nor a concept. And He is without a shred of doubt NOT Abstract.
    Our Lord and Creator, is as He has described Himself.
    He is ‘Al – Haqq’.
    He is the One who is ‘The Undeniable Truth’ and the One who is ‘Truly Existing’.
    Allah, may He be Glorified, is also ‘Al – Hayy’. The Ever-Living.

    To liken Allah to being an Abstract concept is to essentially deny His Divine Attributes which is nothing short of clear cut Kufr.

    Allah is without a doubt, Unimaginable and Unfathomable to His creation. But He is not an Abstraction.
    He, The Almighty, is the One Un-perceivable entity and He is The undeniable Supreme existing Reality.

    PS : I’am not an Islamic Scholar.

    Also, this is not an attack to your person. This is just a sincere advise and a warning. Lest you unknowingly mislead yourself and others.

    • Thank you so much, brother, for your astute and very important reply! I agree with your point 100% and will change my post to reflect that. Astaghfir Allah I don’t think or believe at all that Allah (glory to Him in the highest) is a mere thought, God forbid, but rather that when we try to think of Him, there is nothing to compare Him to, and therefore we must not think of Allah as similar to us, as in Christian theology where they wrongly believe the Gospel said (this was a wrong translation) that God made humans in His “image” (far be it from Him) instead of the correct meaning that Allah created humans in the shape or image (which is to say physical appearance) He chose i.e., His choice. So it requires “abstract thought” on the part of humans to avoid thinking of Allah in any particular “image.” Muslims historically have never given an image to the Almighty in art or otherwise, and as a side effect of this (and other things), flourished in mathematics and other fields which require abstract thinking. But I went too far afield in my discussion and I cannot thank you enough for pointing this out and taking the time to read and respond so thoughtfully to what I’ve written. You don’t have to be a “scholar” to attain knowledge that brings true understanding and therefore non-idolatrous and deeply reverent faith. Indeed your faith is better than that of many scholars because your understanding of the truth is obviously based in reverence for Allah the Almighty and All-Merciful. Jazak Allah khairan fi’aldunia wa alakhira insha’Allah.

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