by Mateen A. Khan, Piscataway NJ
A version of this article was first published in Al-Madania Magazine.
In the previous articles of this series, we discussed the obligation of recognizing Allah (ma`rifah) and the means of acquiring practical knowledge (asbāb al-`ilm) from the lens of Islamic Kalām scholars. We summarized it by saying: It is impermissible that Allah remains unknown to a person gifted with intellect. We also discussed that in our current time a need arises to defend principles of belief using logic and reasoning.
The ma`rifah of Allah can come through many ways. For example, it may occur innately as a part of a pure natural disposition (fiṭrah salīmah). Everyone is born with a fiṭrah that calls to his or her Creator.
فَأَقِمْ وَجْهَكَ لِلدِّينِ حَنِيفًا ۚ فِطْرَتَ اللَّـهِ الَّتِي فَطَرَ النَّاسَ عَلَيْهَا ۚ لَا تَبْدِيلَ لِخَلْقِ اللَّـهِ ۚ ذَٰلِكَ الدِّينُ الْقَيِّمُ وَلَـٰكِنَّ أَكْثَرَ النَّاسِ لَا يَعْلَمُونَ
So [Prophet] as a man of pure faith, stand firm and true in your devotion to the religion. This is the natural disposition Allah instilled in mankind- there is no altering Allah’s creation- and this is the right religion, though most people do not realize it. 30:30
When this disposition is uncorrupted, it seeks out its Creator. It calls on Him more so when it is met with severe distress.
وَإِذَا مَسَّكُمُ الضُّرُّ فِي الْبَحْرِ ضَلَّ مَن تَدْعُونَ إِلَّا إِيَّاهُ
When you get into distress at sea, those you pray to besides Him desert you. 17:67
In other words, even a non-Muslim forgets everything else he worships and calls on the one Creator alone. This is a connection forged from our very beginnings. When this natural disposition becomes corrupted, then the call becomes muffled or mute. As societies have moved away from fostering a pure fiṭrah, we find this mode of ma`rifah rare today.
Divine guidance in the form of Messengers and Books has also been a source of ma`rifah. It fosters this through gentle arguments, practical examples, and show of miracles.
وَقَالُوا لَوْ كُنَّا نَسْمَعُ أَوْ نَعْقِلُ مَا كُنَّا فِي أَصْحَابِ السَّعِيرِ
They will say, “If only we had listened, or reasoned, we would not be with the inhabitants of the blazing fire.” 67:10
This verse highlights the regret of those who rejected the Messengers. If only they had listened to what the Messengers said and contemplated their words. Additionally, the verse points to a third method of ma`rifah, rational arguments. There are several rational arguments for the existence of Allah including personal or communal experiences, the perfection of the Universe’s design, and a cosmological argument. Each one is a well-trodden path towards recognizing the Creator.
In this current article, we focus on a cosmological argument only and in doing so, come to know fundamental aspects of the Universe and a logical path to the ma`rifah of the Creator. A cosmological argument is a strong intellectual argument for the existence of a Creator. Its structure includes two premises and a conclusion:
P1: The Universe is contingent.
P2: Every contingent must have a cause.
C: The Universe has a Cause. That Cause is Allah.
The Universe is Contingent
In the broadest of terms, there are two types of existents, the originated (ḥādith) and the pre-eternal (qadīm). The originated are those things which are preceded by non-existence. In other words, originated things were first non-existent and then became existent. The Universe and all it contains are originated. As we will see, all originated things are dependent on something for their existence.
Contrastingly, pre-eternal refers to a thing that must always exist i.e., its nonexistence is inconceivable. The cause of the Universe must be pre-eternal. Unlike originated things, pre-eternal things cannot be dependent on another for their existence. This division of originated and pre-eternal is essential and illustrates the fundamental difference between the creation and its Creator. With this difference between originated and pre-eternal existents understood, we must further classify all originated things as contingent, or in other words, possible (as opposed to necessary). Both existence and non-existence for originated things are equally probable. The contingency of a thing can be proved in many ways, but let’s take one example: proof by infinite regression.
Imagine as you walk into a room, you find a lone individual there saying, “… three, two, one, zero. I just finished counting down from infinity!” You would know instinctively that this is not possible because the individual would have had to say an infinite number of numbers to reach zero. Had this been the case, he would not have reached zero. Only a fixed starting point would have allowed him to end up at zero. Likewise, the universe exists as a series of events. Each event preceded by another and another and so on. The fact that we exist in our current time means that a finite number of events took place before us. Had an infinite series of events taken place, we would not have reached our current point in time. (`Ilm al-Kalām 46) This is called an infinite regression – a theoretical situation in which an actualized infinite series of events has taken place in the past. Logically, it is an impossibility. It proves that the Universe and everything in it must have had a starting point.
Currently, the most widely accepted scientific theory of the universe places its beginning with the “Big Bang,” an infinitely small starting point for everything we know occurring ~14 billion years ago. Although the logical argument of the Universe having a starting point does not rest on the theory of the Big Bang, it is helpful to think of it as a way of understanding the concept, especially for those already familiar with the theory. All events in the Universe should be traceable to the Big Bang. Thus, the Universe did not exist at one point and then came into existence with a, quite literal, bang. It is contingent.
Naturally, when something comes into existence, one wonders where it came from or how it came to be. To assume a cause in every occurrence except for the Universe, as many tend towards, is illogical and inconsistent.
Every Contingent Must Have a Cause
Anything which comes into existence, every contingent, must have a cause. This is true for several reasons. First, to think of something coming into existence without a cause is absurd. Equally absurd is the idea that something created itself.
أَمْ خُلِقُوا مِنْ غَيْرِ شَيْءٍ أَمْ هُمُ الْخَالِقُونَ
Were they created without any cause? Were they the creators (of themselves)? 52:35
This verse makes a rhetorical point that is intuitively obvious (ma`lūm bi al-ḍarūrah). Everything has a cause. In other words, it is self-evidently true and does not require further evidence for a sane mind. Further, the notion that things just pop into existence is absurd. It has not been observed in the entirety of our existence. In this way, the cumulative experience of humanity makes for robust inductive proof.
Said another way, the existence of a contingent and its non-existence were equally possible. Everything originated is first nonexistent. When it comes into existence, some cause must have made its existence preponderant over its non-existence. (al-Kifāyah 59)
The Universe Has a Cause
Once we’ve established that the Universe is contingent and that every contingent must have a cause for its existence. We are logically forced to accept that the Universe must have had a cause for its existence.
This is true for the Universe as a whole and any of its characteristics like movement, direction, and size. Returning to our earlier discussion of the originated and the pre-eternal, the Universe must be originated. It was brought into existence after having been non-existent. It is entirely dependent on a Cause for its existence. The Cause or the Creator must be pre-eternal, its existence necessary. Necessary primarily for two reasons. First, without an ultimate first cause, we would fall into an infinite regression, and the Universe could not have existed today. However, since it does exist, there must be a first cause. Second, being of the Universe, space and time are originated and contingent too. Their existence rests upon a Creator who must be outside of the Universe and not bound by it. A Creator not bound by time is not in need of a cause. Let that sink in.
In summary, the Universe is originated and contingent. The very existence of anything contingent requires a Creator that is neither originated nor contingent. If the Creator was either, He would necessitate a creator who would also necessitate a creator and so on, leading to an impossibility. (al-Kifāyah 59) All of creation traces its existence back to the Creator. (`Ilm al-Kalām 43)
وَأَنَّ إِلَىٰ رَبِّكَ الْمُنتَهَىٰ
The end is to your Lord. 53:42
Hence, the Creator must be pre-eternal and uncaused – requiring nothing for His own existence.
فَإِنَّ اللَّـهَ غَنِيٌّ عَنِ الْعَالَمِينَ
Allah does not need the Universe. 3:97
The Creator is who the Prophets referred to as Allah. In the next article, we will discuss some of what we know about Him. Lastly, I would caution the dear reader that rational proofs might enlighten the mind and awaken the fiṭrah, but other things are needed to keep the flame going. One must engage in the many `ibādāt – both mandatory and supererogatory – prescribed in the Sharī`ah and implement its rulings. In shā Allah, these will solidify belief, beautify it, and remove any traces of doubt.
أَفِي اللَّـهِ شَكٌّ فَاطِرِ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ ۖ يَدْعُوكُمْ لِيَغْفِرَ لَكُم مِّن ذُنُوبِكُمْ وَيُؤَخِّرَكُمْ إِلَىٰ أَجَلٍ مُّسَمًّ
Can there be any doubt about Allah, the Creator of the heavens and earth? He calls you to Him in order to forgive you your sins and let you enjoy your life until the appointed hour. 14:10
 It is worth noting, the mutakallimūn have preferred an argument based upon the originated nature of accidents (al-a`rāḍ) and their necessary association with substances (al-jawāhir). Although this is a strong argument, l left it out because of its complexity.
Al-Kifāyah fī al-Hidāyah lī al-Shaykh Nūr al-Dīn al-Ṣābūnī
`Ilm al-Kalām lī Mawlāna Muḥammad Idrīs Kāndhalwī
Jamal min Usūl al-Dīn lī al-Imām Abū Salamah al-Samarqandī