Reflections on God’s Guidance and Iman bil-Ghayb. Surah al-Baqarah
Updated: May 29, 2020
The first five verses of Surah al-Baqarah are as follows: “This is the Book; there is no doubt in it. It is a guide for those who are mindful of God, who believe in the unseen, and are steadfast in prayer, and spend out of what We have provided them with; those who believe in the revelation sent down to you and in what was sent before you, and firmly believe in the life to come – they are the people who are rightly following their Lord and it is they who shall be successful.” (2:1-5)
The Quran is a guide for those who are mindful of God. This means that the Quran becomes a guide for those who are sincere and earnest in their search for the truth. The discovery of truth is essentially a journey. It begins by having sincere desire to search for the truth. Finding truth is the outcome of this entire process through which a person goes through. Faith is not given or received. It is self-discovered truth. This is how the Prophet of Islam gained guidance by going through this process. He would spend hours in the Cave of Hira, thinking and contemplating about the Creator, the universe and the reason and purpose of existence. At the end, God blessed Him with His guidance. He was not leading a life of heedlessness, but a life of conscious search for a higher reality which could explain the nature of existence to him. Surah al-Zuha says that the Prophet was zallan (wandering). This word ‘zallan’ is used for a traveller who has lost his way and is frantically seeking the path that would lead him to his destination. This was the state of the Prophet. Then God sent down His blessings to him. So faith is preceded by a process, a quest, a pursuit. That’s how it transforms into conviction by which a person lives.
Iman bil-ghayb – faith in the unseen. This essentially means surrendering our will to God even if He is in the unseen. God, the Hereafter, angels, Paradise and Hell: these are fundamental tenets of Islam and they are in the unseen. They are not visible to us. Often people ask how can we have faith in an unseen God. Many atheists even critique religion on the point that it rests on requiring faith in God who is not visible. They explain the world through physical laws and forces governing the universe. Many think that belief in these would exempt belief in the Creator or Beginner of the cosmos. Pursuing this notion, the famous scientist, Stephen Hawking, put forward a model of the cosmos which was self-contained and did not require any outside Creator. After proposing Hawking admitted that he was puzzled that these were just models and equations. What breathed fire into these equations? So, equations themselves can’t do the magic, can’t resolve the puzzle of existence. This points to the existence of an entity who is powering the laws to bring the world into existence. This is affirmation of God in the unseen. We conclude that Iman bil-ghayb (faith in the unseen) is not unscientific. It is indeed a logical way of explanation of the universe.
Spending out for God’s cause has a lot of meaning. A person is attached to wealth. He can give it out for a strong reason. This is a higher purpose. It has been established in psychological studies that having a purpose with which you can associate yourself, a purpose which is beyond you, is a very important in giving meaning to your existence. The renowned psychologist Martin Seligman says meaning comes from belonging to and serving something beyond yourself. The Quran here is asking us to make the Book of God and God’s mission the purpose for which we live. God’s mission is to understand the wisdom of the Quran and take the spiritual and peaceful message of the Quran to humanity, be well-wishers for people and have positivity for them in spite of all odds. This is a supreme purpose which the Quran gives to us. For this we are required to spend out of our wealth, use our best resources, and expend our best energies.