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November 7, 2015

God: A Brief Introduction

Prof. Dr. Mohamed Elmasry

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Creative works in music, literature, film, theatre or painting usually come with little or no comment by their originators; it is left up to the person receiving the art to reflect and form a personal impression of it.

The greatest creators in any medium also need little or no introduction; biographies may be interesting, but for most, the ultimate achievement is that their works can speak volumes on their own.

Sometimes I feel that God can be regarded in a similar way as The Creator.

The wonders of the universe are everywhere for us to gaze upon, to enjoy, to praise, to study, to discover, to marvel at, to take care of, and to keep as a trust for future generations. Indeed God’s creations speak volumes!

In fact, God never stops speaking to us through the myriad creations around us; they inspire us to listen, care, respect and try hard to follow His wisdom.

Like the finest human creators, God leaves us to form our own impressions regarding His being (which, despite the often-used male pronouns, is gender-less for monotheistic faiths). We have been given the free will, the mental capacity and the amazing perception of our physical and intuitive senses through which to make up our minds.

Most holy books, or divinely inspired scriptures, include four main topics:

1. A short introduction to the Creator; 2. Detailed descriptions of the created world or universe; 3. Words of wisdom to live by (often forgotten in our rushed 21st-century lives); and 4. The potential rewards and benefits of following the divine wisdom-teachings of scripture – along with warnings about the suffering that results if we don’t.

But what if you do not believe in any holy book, or have no religion? And if you don’t believe in God, will God simply go away? Can you live God-free? Interestingly, it is research scientists (rather than theologians) who are now probing and answering this pivotal question.

In their best-selling book Why God Won’t Go Away, Andrew Newberg and Eugene D’Aquili explain that humans cannot live God-free because the religious impulse is rooted in our biology.

Dr. Newberg, an American neuroscientist, is Professor and Director of Research at the Myrna Brind Center of Integrative Medicine at Thomas Jefferson University and Hospital in Philadelphia. Dr. D’Aquili was a research psychiatrist who died in 1998.

They document their pioneering explorations in the field of neurotheology, a discipline dedicated to understanding the complex relationship between spirituality and the brain.

They bridge faith and reason, mysticism and empirical data. “The neurological basis of how the brain identifies the ‘real’ is nothing short of miraculous,” they write. “Most secular thinkers believe that religion is an entirely psychological invention – born out of confusion and fear – to help us cope with the struggles of living and comfort us in the face of the terrible certainty that we will die.”

Then they add, “The inescapable conclusion is that God seems to be hard-wired into the human brain.”

In Islam, the Holy Qur’an introduces God as the One Almighty, the Creator and Sustainer of All.

Being the Sustainer is emphasized in the Qur’an because some people 1,400 years ago (and up to this day) believed that God, although the prime Originator, has nothing to do with creation.

Described in the 18th century as a celestial watch-maker, God was said to have wound up the cosmic timepiece and then simply walked away to let it run on its own; thus we humans, according to the once-held divine laws of non-interference, would not be held responsible for our deeds in this life or in the Hereafter (if such existed).

The Qur’an, however, teaches very differently about the Divine Law of Justice, stating also that God is the Most Merciful, the Most Loving, the Most Forgiving, Infinite and Absolute in power, wisdom, justice, etc.

In fact, there are 99 attributes mentioned in its pages, but the broad understanding is that God’s attributes are truly infinite, beyond symbolic counting. We humans are encouraged and enjoined to emulate God in as many attributes as we are able; for example, in being merciful, loving and forgiving to one another.

The Qur’an introduces God through the marvels of creation itself, stating that real scientists know God more intimately than anyone else. (Qur’an 35:28)

The Qur’an contains beautiful verses about these marvels, noting that we cannot even enumerate them all (Qur’an 16:18) and emphasizes the variety and beauty of many examples, such as plants, with their vast spectrum of color, smell, taste and shape.

God did not just create once, but continues to create around and through us every moment (Qur’an 36:81), either through His laws of Physics that are bound by time and space, or through the instant command, “Be.” (Qur’an 2:117)

In addition to creating the Heavens and the Earth, or the Cosmos as we know it, God created humans from humble soil (Qur’an 3:59), water (Qur’an 21:30) and the life-giving heat of the sun (Qur’an 15:26). In fact, the creation of every living creature depends upon water as its main ingredient. (Qur’an 21:30)

There is a general reference in the Qur’an that God also created plants, insects, birds, fish, animals, rain, rivers, seas, mountains, valleys, the wind, the sun, the moon, and the stars, all for us to use in both survival and in the enjoyment of marveling at their beauty. Every entity of creation is its own miracle, but all too often we take this for granted.

In its list of creations, the Qur’an also makes specific reference to figs, olives, grapes, beans, dates, lentils, onions, garlic, ginger, other vegetables and fruits, honey, milk, cattle, elephants, lions, wolves, cattle, camels, horses, donkeys, mules, goats, sheep, dogs, crows, hoopoes , ants, bees, mosquitos, spiders, flies, and worms, among others.

Inspired by the Qur’an’s eloquence in describing God’s creation, pre-medieval Muslim scientists and scholars excelled in medicine, physical sciences, mathematics, social sciences, architecture, literature, poetry, the fine arts and music while much of the rest of the known world stagnated in the Dark Ages.

In terms of Divine Wisdom, God addresses all humans, saying: “Remember you will die one day and you will return to Me.” (Qur’an 29:57)

And finally for the consequences of following, or not following, God’s  Wisdom, the Qur’an (in 99:1-8) states the simple Divine Rule; that those who do even an atom’s worth of good will be well rewarded in this life and in the Hereafter, while those who do an atom’s worth of evil will also be dealt with accordingly in both lives.

This is just the briefest of introductions to God, but of course it can never be complete, perfect or definitive because only God is all those things … and unimaginably more.

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