Surah 56:1-7 – the occurrence

إِذَا وَقَعَتِ الْوَاقِعَةُ

When occurred the occurrence

لَيْسَ لِوَقْعَتِهَا كَاذِبَةٌ

There was not, of its occurrence, any denying

خَافِضَةٌ رَّافِعَةٌ

abasing, elevating

إِذَا رُجَّتِ الْأَرْضُ رَجًّا

When the earth is shaken with a severe shaking

وَبُسَّتِ الْجِبَالُ بَسًّا

And the mountains shattered into shards

فَكَانَتْ هَبَاء مُّنبَثًّا

so that they become as scat­tered dust 

وَكُنتُمْ أَزْوَاجًا ثَلَاثَةً

and you all are of three kinds.

There is no particular reason to stop here. One can keep on reading. I don’t always pause here. But for this blog I think I should. What did I just read? I read about some “occurrence” which is undeniable. The first two sentences leave me saying: “well, I don’t find myself quite as sure about this occurrence as you [the speaker] seem sure of it! And what kind of occurrence?” The third verse raises the stakes for me: its an occurrence that is tied to being abased or elevated. Hmmm. Being abased doesn’t sound nice to me. But for now, my question is: what occurrence? and is it really no denying that it has come to pass? or will come to pass?

Then the verses speak of a time and the condition of things at that time, which is not the way things are in general: a severely shaking earth and mountains getting shattered into shards. Although, what I call volcanic eruptions and earthquakes are not too distant as analogies for me to imagine what it may be like. Its destruction and a reversal of the order as I generally experience it, which is a stable and un-shaking earth and tall, strong, almost indestructible mountains.

But as a human being, if I am being honest, I have had the earth shaken beneath my feet and my mountain-like pillars of support and strength shattered into pieces. I am familiar with the feeling of unease and anxiety occasioned by the collapse or shaking of things whose stability grounds my own existence – health, livelihood, friends, the wellbeing of loved ones, the support and love of others, freedom from oppression and so on. More often than not, I have found a way to “overcome” or “manage” such upheavals. Nevertheless, my maker is painting a picture of severe shaking and collapse that is not how I generally experience the world but that is also not entirely unfamiliar. There is a resonance of something serious, terrifying serious and unsettling, that comes to mind. Can the earth be shaken? Can mountains be shattered? Who or what keeps the earth stable beneath my feet? Who made the mountains? If I think “forces of nature” [as if ‘nature’ is some inherent source of forces that act with purpose to make the earth and mountains as they are] can do this, then I certainly would have found a source of power other than, and additional to, the One who is the source of power. Nature is a word I made up (people like me made up) and then attributed powers and forces to it. It is philosophically silly to do so. There is no evidence whatsoever that the One keeping the earth stable and the One who makes mountains stable can be multiple forces which can act independently or that have any knowledge or wisdom so that they act to produce a wise and compassionate outcome: a stable earth and stabilizing mountains. The One who made the earth and who keeps it stable is the One who must also have power and knowledge over the mountains so that He makes them exist together in a wise and purposeful way. At any rate, if you think nature made you and mature makes the earth stable and the mountains stable, seek from this nature what you need and see what you get as an answer! Nature and natural laws are descriptions of phenomenon not explanations thereof. The mind asks: is earth able to keep itself stable or are there “natural laws” that keep it stable or there must be One who has power over the whole cosmos so that he keep the earth stable and “his keeping the earth stable in a consistent way [but with exceptions lest we think the earth itself does it or absolute and inviolable natural laws do it]” we call, as descriptions of His actions, “natural laws”. This much is clear to the mind and only those with axes of various kinds to grind will waste time arguing whether nature creates and sustains things or God does. It is neither. To say “God” can be as much a “black box” as “nature”. What is reasonable is to say that there must be a One who must have knowledge of and power over both the earth and the mountains for the earth to bear mountains and for mountains to be stable structures.

I feel it is relevant to think about the default assumption I have that the earth must be stable, as if it has to be by some logical necessity. And the mountains are strong by some inherent, non-contingent strength that no one can overcome. The maker points out a shaking of the earth and shattering of the mountain to draw my attention to my assumption – and asks me to question it. As soon as I question it, I find that I do not have any logical or rational grounds to be sure that the earth shall never be shaken and mountains never destroyed. They cannot make themselves and cannot give themselves their power and stability. Neither can some other created being or blind and powerless “natural laws” [which are names/descriptions that some silly people pretend are forces that can act and create….and a world full of unthinking people now are naturalists, imagining they are supporters of rational “science” over irrational “religion”]. A thinking person can say that whoever has made them this way (the earth, the mountain) has the power to unmake them! I am entirely and constantly depending on this One to keep the earth stable for me and the mountains intact so that I (and all other creatures) can live and thrive on this earth. The earth and mountains exist bi-ismillah, the Quran claims in many ways in different places. And I would need to confirm this claim by checking it against other explanations (naturalism/materialism being the main one) and choose the one that makes sense to me. To me personally, naturalism is a foolish and vacuous idea, although immensely popular. It is the bent of mind that is a default and unless one gives up the self-harming and life-denying perspective of naturalism and accepts revelation’s alternative, which is bi-ismillah (in summary), one is a naturalist whether one knows it or not. It seems to me that naturalism is the respectable name we give today to what has always been an irrational and evidence-less attribution (often inadvertently and unthinkingly) of qualities such as knowledge, power, mercy etc. to contingent, unconscious, powerless-on-their-own, created beings/causes.

So what then is the occurrence that cannot be denied? Whatever else it may be, I understand that it includes the occurrence of the realization that the earth and the mountains and all else are made and kept stable by the One who made them. That there is someone who orders this world in this way. That this order depends on Him. That creation is with purpose. Why is it thus ordered? What am I to do with the realization that this order can be changed? It seems that I should be ready to accept that when the maker of this order tells me that a new order will be created and that what I do here in the present order matters for whether I will be abased or elevated in that new order, I should pay attention! I can ignore this One only by taking the present order for granted, as if no one has made it and as if there is no real purpose to it so that it does not matter what I do in this order or with this order. The Quran says, the present order points to the One who creates with purpose and knowledge. This One is telling of an occurrence that is the destruction of this order. I see no reason not to pay attention. When I agree to pay attention, my maker speaks of three kinds of people or conditions that I could find myself with. He speaks to me about these three conditions so that I can i) witness and confirm here and now that these conditions He speaks of are real and true – I should ask to be shown the signs that these conditions exist as the outcomes of choices that I can make and ii) I can be reminded to make the choices that I witness, here and now, lead to elevation and prosperity and not those that lead to abasement and suffering.

IF my maker had told me: “the earth will be shaken and mountains shattered and all things destroyed that that will be that! Thats it! Just telling you my plan. thats all. Go on now. Just keep living till you die. You may live to see me destroy the earth or not. But in the end, I am going to destroy it and thats that. I would have already destroyed you with death so everything meets the same end: annihilation and destruction. It call comes to that.” I would have said: “if that is the end of all this, why did you make all this then?” To break and destroy it? To annihilate and plunge it all into non-existence? Is the order there so that it will be destroyed? Is that it? Is the earth stable so that it can then be shaken? This would make me question the purpose of the present order and the sanity and wisdom of the one who made this order. It would contradict the knowledge and wisdom and power shown in the order and stability of the earth and the majesty indicated by the mountains. And so it is consistent with the order and wisdom of the One I see maintaining the present order that he speaks of a new creation and speaks of the purpose of the present order as it relates to that new creation. The end or goal of “this” order (and this life) is “that” new order. This makes sense to me. So this chapter is going to talk about three conditions in which people are in the new order and evidence for the existence/creation of the new order.

to be continued…

Published by Faraz Sheikh

Faraz Sheikh

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