What does it mean to truly have certainty in God? It’s quite a difficult thing. We Muslims always talk about having faith in Divine wisdom with respect to all that happens. But when it comes to daily practice, very few of us seem to be able to apply this faith that is so often talked about. I believe that this stems from a misunderstanding of how to apply Creed in our lives.
In Islam, God is very much an interventionist one. This stems from the understanding that God is creating every instant as a new creation. For example, when you look at yourself in the mirror, you’re not looking at yourself now. You’re actually looking at how yourself was in the past. This is due to the time it took for light to travel and deflect from the mirror and eventually arrive at your eye lens. It then took additional time for your brain to process the image and tell you that you’re looking at yourself. By the time you realize this, your past self is no longer existing. Yet you’re still around. This is a result of a constant creation and re-creation cycle that goes on until the moment we die. After which there is a pause button that’s pushed until the Day of Resurrection when we’re re-created once again to stand before our Lord.
The creation/re-creation cycle has implications on the notion of cause and effect. In Western tradition, the negation of cause and effect is typically attributed to Hume. He asserts that cause and effect are associated together not as a result of a logically deduced conclusion, but as a result of the habituation of the mind. For example, if a piece of paper is thrown into a fire, it burns. Our previous experience gets us to say: the fire burned the paper. However, Hume pointed out that there is really no logical basis for making such a statement because it relies on inductive reasoning and it’s simply based on prior experience. There is actually no logical reason to stop us from saying that it wasn’t really the fire that burned the paper. Resorting to previous experience as evidence can in fact be considered a form of logical fallacy.
While Hume is the one cited for the notion of causation, it was Imam Al-Ghazali that discussed this matter over 600 years prior to Hume. In fact, this subject has been a matter of discussion among Muslim theologians for a while and by the time Hume came along, the issue with cause and effect from an Islamic perspective has been quite settled. The key for it is in understanding that God is the Ultimate Cause behind every instant that passes in the universe.
One of the Divine Attributes of God in the Islamic Tradition is Al Khal’laq (الخلاق). This Attribute is usually translated as ‘The Creator”. However, this translation to English takes away from the meaning it entails. In Arabic, Al Kha’liq (الخالق) is more appropriately “The Creator”. But Al Khal’laq is an exaggerated form that refers to one who creates and re-creates many multitudes of creation and does it abundantly. This name appears in the Quran twice:
Surely your Lord is Al Khal’laq of all things, the Knowing – Al-Hijr, 86
Is not He Who created the heavens and the earth able to create the like of them? Yea! And He is Al Khal’laq (of all), the Knower – Ya’seen, 81
The creation and re-creation has been mentioned in several verses, one of which is:
God originates the creation, then reproduces it, then to Him you shall be brought back – Ar-Room, 11
So how does this relate to causation and overall to certainty in God?
Given that the Islamic understanding is that God creates every instant, when we see events such as the burning of paper after being thrown into a fire, Muslim theologians would say here: “God has established the usual chain of events in His creation” (أجرى الله عادته في خلقه). This usual chain of events can be negated by God’s creation of an instant that does not conform to usual sequences of events, which would be called a miracle. For example, as narrated in the Quran, the Prophet Ibrahim peace be upon him was thrown by his people into the fire to burn him alive, and the Divine Command was:
We said: O fire! Be a comfort and peace to Ibrahim – Al-Anbiya, 69
Having an understanding of the Divine Attribute Al Khal’laq will surely adjust your outlook on life. It’s the knowledge that all the events that took place ever since you were born were ultimately set up together for you by the All Wise and All Knowing. Reading this last statement might get most people to think of material matters and opportunities. But this goes much deeper. Most of us feel like our own efforts got us to where we are today. Most of us think that our late-night studying, our hard work, our hustle, etc. is why we have the positions in life that we have today. If this is indicative of anything, it’s indicative of a state of arrogance in front of God.
God is the One who put us in the positions we’re in. He’s the One who allowed us to succeed in our studies and get the grades we received. He’s really the One who got us the career we have. He’s the One who handled our affairs for us and continues to do so until we die. This does not negate that we need to take the means to achieve our goals and aspirations. You have to study, and apply for that position you want, and struggle to succeed. In fact, it’s completely reprehensible in Islam for one to sit around and pray for things to happen without doing the work. This is about recognizing our weakness and helplessness and need for the One who is Everlasting and Self-Sustaining. Our problem is in our egos that got fooled by our minds, which saw the sequences of events as effects following causes and became deluded into thinking we have control.
Certainty in God is the conviction that anything that takes place in our lives was created by Him and for a purpose. Nothing happens in vain and only the heedless will miss the point behind it:
What! did you then think that We had created you in vain? – Al-Mu’menoon, 115
Your ultimate relationship is with God and if you truly understand that every instant is created by Him, you’ll see the big picture. The ultimate purpose for man’s creation was to know God:
And I have not created the Jinn and Mankind except that they should know and serve Me – Adh-Dhariyat, 56
Everything that happens in your life is a created instant that is a form of communication from God to you. He gave you the skills you have in order for you to do something meaningful with them. He put you in the position you’re in right now in order for you to effect positive change in the way you can. He put all kinds of people in your path to deliver messages to you from Him. Remember that person that said something about you that you found offensive and ended up disliking them for it? That was actually a created instant from God to turn your attention to a shortcoming you have. Sometimes instants are created to test your nature to bring the best out of you that God knows is deep in there. Other times instants are created to bring blessings your way. The best created instants are the ones that resemble difficulties from the Prophet Muhammed’s life peace be upon him. The person you are, the relationship you have with God, and your certainty in Him are all a result of how you respond to these Divine messages.
The sequence of created instants that makes up the universe and this life are God’s way to talking to us. All created instants in your life are about God showing His love for you. You just have to be awake to notice them so you can take part in your own personal Divine conversation.