Monday, July 29, 2013

Does praying to God mean we should not appeal to causes?

If we should only seek help from God, our Creator, does that mean we should sit at home and pray when we're sick and not go to the doctor or take any medication, waiting for, perhaps, death?

As soon as I read this question I thought of this passage:
It is the beginning of the chapter "The First Addendum to the Twenty-Fourth Letter" from the book "The Letters" by author "Bediuzzaman Said Nursi", my favorite 20th century Qur'anic commentator. I especially like that he makes the matters of the Qur'an more understandable to our modern minds afflicted by materialism, naturalism, secularism and consumerism and thus helps us reach conviction in our beliefs, by the will of God the Hadi (Guide).

The summary of the relevant part of this chapter is that there are different sorts of prayer/supplication:
1-the tongue of latent ability (the gathering together of causes is a supplication for the creation of the effect.)
2-the tongue of innate need (the desires and needs of all creation is a supplication to Allah)
3-the supplication of conscious beings, which is of two kinds (the first kind is akin to the first and second sorts of supplication) (the second kind takes two forms: by action and by word)

To apply this to the example provided above, when I am sick:
-my body is praying by the tongue of innate need for shifaa (healing) from the Creator of healing, the Shaafi (Healer)
-I can consciously supplicate "by action", by going to the doctor, taking necessary medications, etc.
-I can consciously supplicate "by word", by praying "Ya Shaafi, O Healer, provide me with your merciful healing!"
-By the tongue of latent ability: When I gather the causes (for ex: eating healthy, sleeping plenty, drinking enough water, avoiding stress, keeping a positive and grateful attitude, practicing patience with prayer, etc), all these causes are praying to their Creator to create the effect: improved health.

When in my previous post I had said, and I quote: "think of how often we place our hopes in doctors, science and medication to cure our illnesses and solve our problems, instead of God, the Healer (Shafi)"

The point was NOT to avoid doctors or science or medication etc. Instead it was to realize that it is not the doctor who heals me, but that God the Healer Shaafi sends me healing through the doctor. The medication is ignorant of my body and my sickness, there is no knowledge or power or healing within the medication (the herb or pill) itself, but we observe shifaa coming after we take the medication: this shows us that the shifaa (the effect) cannot be from the medication (the apparent cause) itself, but if anything, the medication is a vessel for us to observe the creating hand (figuratively, of course) of the Creator of both the medication and the shifaa from the medication. Thus the Causer of all causes is the Creator of the Universe.

With this understanding, when I switch to a healthier diet, I am taking better care of my body, the amanat (the entrusted) of Our Creator who let us be responsible of such small tasks. (Think that we're not responsible of making our hearts pump every second, we're not responsible to make our stomachs digest our food, we're only responsible to choose healthy and halaal food and wash to keep clean and such minor tasks.) By keeping a healthy diet with this understanding, I am acknowledging that both the food I eat, and the information necessary to differentiate healthy food from the harmful, and the decision making ability to prefer in action what I know to be healthier, are all from God.

The tree doesn't give me the fruit, but the Creator of the tree creates the nutritious, beautiful fruit from dead wooden branches. By acknowledging that both the food and my abilities required to find and choose the food are from God, my eating can be transformed into a prayer to God: O God! Make this fruit nutritious and beneficial and satiating to me! O God! Bless me with better health, for I am making the necessary choices for it. O God! Thank you for the good taste and nice smell of this fruit and its beautiful colors pleasing the eye, alhamdulillah!

We observe in this universe that creation doesn't happen haphazardly. We live in a world where we can expect that the sun will rise tomorrow at a certain exact minute, or we can expect that if we plant a seed with good earth, water and sunshine, a plant will grow out of it, etc. Sometimes we get too used to this system Allah put into place and start thinking that the sun is rising, "of course, because it has to rise whenever it is 5:30am"; when in fact, there is nothing that obligates the Sun to rise, nor would we anticipate it had we not experienced it before. Or, we start thinking, "of course, "naturally", the tree will give fruit, because it is summertime and it got enough water&sunshine!", when in fact, had we not seen fruits on a tree before, seriously, who would expect food to grow on a bunch of wood???

This is similar to the parable of an invisible generous host of a house who prepares for you a delicious breakfast on the kitchen table every morning at 7a and puts on some beautiful lighting and music at 5pm (or whatever) and when we don't see the host but we start getting used to the routine, we start saying "breakfast is ready, because the clock shows 7a" instead of saying, "my generous host offers me breakfast at 7a every morning." This is an example my mother (a theoretical physicist) likes to give, to show how the naturalistic fallacy is ridiculous. Notice little children will find everything awing, surprising, interesting and as we grow into adults, unfortunately we start taking for granted the miracles found in nature.

The understanding of "continuous creation" can inshaAllah (by the will of God) break this attitude of thinking what happens in the universe, "just happens" because "that is how the system works". Instead we should realize, "baby me" is gone, "little me" is also gone, "teenager me" is also gone, right now Allah is creating the "adult me". My yesterday is gone, my last hour is gone, right now Allah (TheOneGod) is creating me anew, giving me a new body, a new understanding, new emotions, etc. The clouds 5 minutes ago are gone. Right now Allah is creating a new universe, and the next moment this universe disappears to make room for Allah creating yet another new universe. My life so far, doesn't necessitate my life in the next moment. The existence of the universe so far, doesn't necessitate its existence in the next moment. The only constant in the universe, is its transience. Seriously, what can stop the universe from disappearing in this instant, but by God creating it again and again, in a new form?

If I was healthy until now, does it mean I will be healthy in the next moment? Not necessarily. I should be thankful for Allah who provided me health yesterday and who provided me with health again today. With this understanding, when I am healthy or when I am sick and I go to the doctor, either way, I only pray to Allah for health, and I always acknowledge that the Creator of health is none but Allah.

When I am hungry, I follow God's guidance that I should go and eat food to satisfy my hunger (a form of revelation), but I know that both my hunger and the food and the satisfaction after eating, is all from none but Allah, the Creator of my hunger, the Creator of the food and the Creator of my satisfaction. Notice in this verse (Qur'an 78:24 (Asad) Neither coolness shall they taste therein nor any [thirst-quenching] drink.) Allah reminds us that it is not the drink I drink that quenches my thirst, and God forbid, if in this world I drink water expecting water itself to quench my thirst, in the next world, I would be given water, and its true state will be revealed to me: that water is unaware of me or of my thirst and is unable to create anything, let alone quenching my thirst, and thus I could drink it and drink it and it would only increase my thirst. If, on the other hand, I drink water saying "Bismillah (In the name of God), O God, You are the Creator of my water"; and "Alhamdulillah (All praises belong to God), O God, You have quenched my thirst and made the water beneficial to me", then inshaAllah (by the will of God) by God's Mercy, God will say "Here is a pure and tasty drink to quench your thirst". (Qur'an, 76:5 (Asad) [whereas,] behold, the truly virtuous shall drink from a cup flavoured with the calyx of sweet-smelling flowers).

As in the illustration of Said Nursi, what we see in this world are like tiny bubbles on the surface of a river. We see each bubble forming and popping out right away. Then we see more bubbles forming and dying. But in each bubble, we see the light of the Sun shining. Every bubble reflects the Sun's light, yet by popping out and dying a moment later, they reveal to us that the light we see in them is a mere reflection and not from the bubbles themselves. Every thing in this world is brought to existence, changed into different forms and finally taken away with death. Their transience like the bubbles, shows that the light we see in them (beauty, grace, healing, mercy, art, etc) is not from them, but is a mere reflection of the "Beautiful Divine Names" or "attributes of perfection" (Asma'ul Husna). (Qur'an, 59:24 (Asad) He is God, the Creator, the Maker who shapes all forms and appearances! His [alone] are the attributes of perfection. All that is in the heavens and on earth extols His limitless glory: for He alone is almighty, truly wise!) Thus, all that exists are mirrors reflecting the attributes of God (Allah) (also an illustration of Said Nursi), the Creator (Khaaliq), the Shaper of forms (Bari'), the Artist (Saani'), the Wise (Hakeem), the Loving (Wadud), the Healer (Shaafi), the Beautiful (Jameel). When we observe the universe, if we study the universe without considering the meaning it has to offer, we would resemble people who are studying a curtain's intricate design, all the while being blind to what is behind the curtain (again, an illustration of Said Nursi, on the current state of secular science). On the other hand, the science a mu'min (one who affirms revelation) does, is for the purpose of getting to know the Creator of the universe better: (Qur'an, 50:6 (Asad) Do they not look at the sky above them - how We have built it and made it beautiful and free of all faults?)

As an example, let's consider these verses: (Qur'an, 80:24-32 (Asad) Let man, then, consider [the sources of] his food: [how it is] that We pour down water, pouring it down abundantly; and then We cleave the earth [with new growth], cleaving it asunder, and thereupon We cause grain to grow out of it, and vines and edible plants, -and olive trees and date-palms, and gardens dense with foliage, and fruits and herbage, for you and for your animals to enjoy.) Notice how it doesn't say, "the water pours down", but it says "We pour down water"="the water is made to rain by its Creator". It doesn't say "grains grow out of earth", but it says "We cause grain to grow"="the grain is made to grow by our Creator".

I pray that this post is a means for us to increase our imaan (belief with conviction, certainty) by the will of God, the Hadi (the Guide, the One who offers guidance). I tend to think by talking or writing, so I find that writing this message is a beneficial meditation for myself, by the will of God the Wise.

Ramadan Mubarak!

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