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October 5, 2019

Reflections on faith: Answering my dear friend, the philosophy professor

Prof. Dr. Mohamed Elmasry

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Today, dear readers, I am not asking you to believe what I believe, but instead will try to communicate the faith that works for me, and why.

Like many of you, modern technology enables me to interact digitally with vast numbers of people, but what I value most is a core group of good friends with whom I regularly converse online about a variety of interesting subjects, including faith.

In microcosm, this group represents a broad cross-section of human diversity – Jewish, Christian and Muslim; men and women; young and old; Canadian by choice, Canadian by birth, citizens of Egypt, and citizens of other nations.

For some years now, I have written a weekly op-ed article for both mainstream and alternative media, tackling various subjects. Faith has always been of particular personal interest as I am a traveling Imam, invited to give Friday sermons (Khotbas) to Muslim congregations all across Canada.

I am blessed to be fluent in both English and classical Arabic, the original language of the Qur’an, and have an extensive library of books in both languages.

I also travel widely outside Canada and have seen many historical copies of the Qur’an; the oldest of these was in Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan in central Asia. Regardless of age or format, all are identical in content to my personal Qur’an at home in Waterloo, Ontario. Unlike the holy scriptures of other world religions, the Qur’an comes in only one “version” – that which was divinely revealed to the Prophet Muhammad more than 1,400 years ago.

Commenting on one of my articles, a dear friend who is a professor of philosophy asked me a challenging question: “Do you believe that the Qur’an contains the actual words of God?

My answer was “Yes.” Now, let me explain the why of my conviction.

To do so, I will focus on only two values that are repeatedly emphasized throughout the Qur’an which have convinced me that it is truly God's Word: those universal values are beauty and mercy.

Both of them exist along an infinite continuum. To begin, let us consider the following summary of creation:

Our universe is a system of systems. And among them is humanity, of which each individual – you and I, everyone – is again an integrated system of systems. We did not, and could not, design ourselves; we could not even design a fly. Functionally, our universe it is so complex and interdependent that it must have an originating and ongoing intelligent Grand Designer.

The preceding paragraph is actually the Qur’an in a nutshell, paraphrased by a microchip designer, me.  

The Qur’an repeatedly gives examples from within ourselves, explaining in striking accuracy for example how we humans evolved from water and dust, to a live sperm fertilizing an egg, to a fetus, then to a baby, a child, youth, and adult, ending in the physical frailty (but also accumulated wisdom, if we are blessed) of old age, and ultimately the body’s death but not the soul.

Its chapters and verses also describe in detail the grand design of animals, plants, sun, moon, solar system, the planetary alternation of day and night, the power of wind, the seasonal life cycles of plants, the galaxies, interstellar bodies, the ever-expanding cosmos, etc. And none of these statements found in the Qur’an contradicts today’s scientific discoveries.

But what makes the words of the Qur’an so special to me is the concept that the divine Designer of all things is both an infinitely skilled engineer and an artist who has instilled strokes of amazing beauty into every facet of creation.

The Prophet says: God is Beauty and loves whomever is beautiful on the outside and the inside.

As monotheists, Muslims (like Jews and Christians) believe that God has no equals and has both pre-existed everything and will continue to exist infinitely; forever creating, forever caring for what has been, and will be, created.

Thus God encompasses all that mathematicians call the “necessary and sufficient conditions” of a complete and sustaining system. For example as we know that everyone and everything will eventually die or cease, we also know that the universe must be ordered and maintained by a Living Being who is infinite and absolute in knowledge, power, beauty, and all other attributes of virtue.

In all of creation, we are the only beings who know we will die one day. We are also the only creatures who can study ourselves and the entire universe. But with these abilities comes responsibility.

Through God’s teachings in the Qur’an we are for example encouraged to work collectively to care for and sustain this world, by alleviating suffering, poverty, war, greed, discrimination, etc., all signs of ugliness. 

We read that God created everything on Earth for us to use, as well as to enrich our senses and souls with beauty.

I am so grateful for this when I read the Qur'an, for I feel that these verses are being revealed to me today as truly as when they were revealed to the Prophet more than 1,400 years ago.

Through the Qur’an I am inspired to appreciate beauty in nature and in people, on the outside and the inside. And in my own life I try hard to be beautiful in both ways.

The second value revealed in the Qur’an is that of mercy.

God is repeatedly described as The Merciful, and The Forever Merciful. Although God is also described as Loving, I feel mercy is more encompassing, as it includes infinite nuances of love, compassion, kindness, understanding, forgiveness, generosity, grace, and appreciation, to name only a few.

The first verse of Qur’anic chapters urges the faithful to: Read, in the Name of God, the Most Merciful, the Forever Merciful. And a common Muslim greeting is: May God’s Peace, Mercy, and Blessings be upon you.

The Prophet once asked his Companions (disciples): “Do you think this mother would ever toss the baby on her shoulder into fire?” They immediately responded, “Of course not!” and he continued, “Remember, God is far more merciful to people than even this mother to her baby.”

The message of the Qur’an, as revealed to Prophet Muhammad, is the same one revealed to all of God’s Prophets and Messengers, including Jesus, Moses and Abraham.

We must not only come to know God in concept, but work to experience the Divine through all of our senses. This is where the related values of beauty and mercy can be of great help.

As God is Beautiful and Merciful we should be conscious and try every day our best to be both, for the Qur’an teaches that way we shall be in heavenly bliss both here and in the hereafter. And that, my dear philosopher friend and all of you, is why I believe that the words of the Qur’an are the words of God.

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On July 7, 2024 in Toronto, Canada, Dimitri Lascaris delivered a speech on the right to resist oppression.

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