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Chapter 3: Signs (Ayat) of God

سَنُرِيهِمْ آيَاتِنَا فِي الْآفَاقِ وَفِي أَنْفُسِهِمْ حَتَّىٰ يَتَبَيَّنَ لَهُمْ أَنَّهُ الْحَقُّ أَوَلَمْ يَكْفِ بِرَبِّكَ أَنَّهُ عَلَىٰ كُلِّ شَيْءٍ شَهِيدٌ

Soon will We show them our signs in the (furthest) regions (of the earth), and in their own souls, until it becomes manifest to them that this is the Truth. Is it not enough that your Lord is a witness over all things? (Quran, Surah Fussilat, 41:53).

The fundamental mistake made by those who reject the existence of God is that they compare Him with other physical entities like themselves. People say we cannot see, touch or hear God. We cannot point to where He is. We do not know when He came into existence and what brought Him into existence. Based on our discussion from the last chapter “Knowledge about God”, all of these questions are fundamentally wrong, and cannot be asked about God as “there is nothing like Him.”

However, if God exists then there must be evidence for His existence. For us to believe in Him our intellect must point towards Him and be convinced of His existence.

People are at different levels in regards to the degree of conviction in God’s existence. On the one hand, we have people who are convinced that God does not exist. But on the other hand, we have those friends of God (awliyaʾ Allah) who are at such a high level of conviction that they do not see anything in existence other than God:

وَلِلّٰهِ الْمَشْرِقُ وَالْمَغْرِبُ ۚ فَأَيْنَمَا تُوَلُّوا فَثَمَّ وَجْهُ اللّٰهِ ۚ إِنَّ اللّٰهَ وَاسِعٌ عَلِيمٌ

And to God belongs the East and the West, and wherever you turn, there is God’s countenance. Indeed, God is All-Embracing, All-Knowing. (Quran, Surah al-Baqarah, 2:115).

In his famous supplication, known as the Supplication of the Day of ʿArafah, the 3rd Imam, Husayn (‘a) has been quoted as saying:

How can You be figured out through that whose existence relies on You? Can anything other than You hold a (kind of) manifestation that You lack, and thus it may act as an appearance for You? When have You ever been absent so that You may need something to point to You? When have You ever been far off so that traces may lead to You? Blind be the eye that cannot see You watching it.1

For the friends of God this question that, ‘does God exist’, is a bit amusing. A human being whose existence is no more than a dot on the surface of the earth and we know what the size of the earth in relation to the entire universe, and whose life span is no more than a moment compared to age of the universe, has the audacity to ask the question that does God even exist? Even this comparison with the universe is not accurate as we are comparing human beings to the physical universe and not God, who is eternal with no limitation!

As it has been said in the work, Light Within Me:

There is nothing in existence except God and His manifestations.2

God is the fundamental and absolute Reality in existence (al-Haqiqa). He is the only Being who is Alive (al-Hayy) and everything other than Him is as if it never existed or is dead.

Imam Khomeini explains that a simple way to understand the parable of the relationship between God and the creation is that of the sea and its waves.3 The reality is the sea, and the waves are nothing but a manifestation of the sea’s existence. Waves have no existence independent from the sea. Similarly, everything other than God is perpetually dependent upon Him for their very existence. Moreover, all of the attributes possessed by creation whether their beauty, power, light, majesty, knowledge or mercy are nothing but a manifestation of God’s attributes:

أَللَّهُ نُورُ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ

God is the Extensive Light of the heavens and the earth... (Quran, Surah al-Nur, 24:35).

The entire creation is nothing but signs (ayat) of God pointing towards Him. The creation is like a giant mirror reflecting God’s attributes. Each locus manifests them per its capacity and shares in them. There is perpetual poverty in all of creation in relation to God:

يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ أَنْتُمُ الْفُقَرَآءُ إِلَى اللّٰهِ ۖ وَاللّٰهُ هُوَ الْغَنِيُّ الْحَمِيدُ

O mankind! You are the poor in your relation to God; and God is He who is the Self-Sufficient, the Praised One. (Quran, Surah al-Fatir, 35:15).

To believe in the existence of God is something fundamental to mankind. We are programmed to seek God and nothing except for Him.

Ask yourself, what do people seek? Knowledge, beauty, power, permanence, control, honor, love, perfection. Aren’t all of these attributes of God? We all seek Him, some consciously and others unconsciously. Even the atheists seek nothing but God as there is nothing else to seek. But we seek them in different objects. When we do achieve what we are seeking we get bored quickly from it because we are programed to seek perfection - perfection of beauty and perfection of knowledge, but these can only be found with God. Hence those that seek God seek the Reality whereas others are caught up in the shadows of that reality.

While all of us seek God, atheists claim that God does not exist. This false ideology of atheism can be completely demolished by a very small sign (ayah) from the Qur’an:

أَمْ خُلِقُوا مِنْ غَيْرِ شَيْءٍ أَمْ هُمُ الْخَالِقُونَ

Or were they created without there being anything, or are they the creators? (Quran, Surah al-Tur, 52:35).

Nothing can create itself because as it has to exist prior to doing the act of creation. Equally absurd is the notion that the universe came spontaneously from non-existence as some have suggested. Atheism has no rational answer to the question of how does the universe exist? Some go on to ask if God created the universe then who created God? This again shows shallowness of their understanding. God is Eternal and was never non-existent that He would require a cause to come into existence.

It is so simple to grasp the idea that God exists that even children can understand it. However, the degree of conviction in God varies based on a person’s own efforts and capacity. In this chapter I will attempt to give rational reasons for God’s existence for those who want to rely on pure reason to find God.

Rational reasons provide a common platform for those who accept God’s existence and those who deny Him to share their ideas. By using sound rational arguments an idea can either be accepted or rejected with a degree of certainty.

Rationality is our basic operating system which allows us to interpret our sensory and imaginary experience. Still the rational approach is for those who lack vision of the heart and want to search for Him like a blind man trying to find his way using a stick, but for those who have already tasted the reality their conviction is much stronger than that can be obtained by using rational proofs alone.

There are two rational ways of demonstrating God’s existence:

a) Proving God by Himself

b) Proving God through His creation

Proof of God by Himself

In his supplication for the morning, the Commander of the Faithful, Imam ʿAli (‘a) prays to God in the following way:

O He Who demonstrates His Essence by His Essence, and transcends from congeniality with His creatures and is exalted beyond conformity with His qualities.4

Most of the discussion in this section has been adapted from a book called Bidaya al-Hikma – The Elements of Islamic Metaphysics written by the late ʿAllama Tabaʾtabaʾi, and from the lectures of my teacher Shaykh Mansour Leghahei.5

Let us start the discussion by describing some terms and concepts.

1. Existence (Arabic: Wujud)

The concept of existence is a self-evident reality. Existence is the most fundamental concept prior to any other concept. It is so fundamental that it can’t even properly be defined.6 Everyone perceives existence instinctively and there is nothing more obvious than existence.7 I exist, this book exists, the universe around me exists.

If you doubt existence of yourself or the universe around you, then I don’t think you need to read any further. Please seek help to sort this out for you. If you need some evidence for your existence and existence of the universe around you, then a simple method is to go and gently step on the tail of a dog or a cat and you’ll get your evidence!!

2. The Concept of Existence is Univocal

The concept of existence in our mind is the same for different objects, whether it is a man, a car, a mountain or even God. When we say that a man exists, a car exists or God exists, then in terms of concept of existence there is no difference between these different examples. When atheists claim that “God does not exist,” their denial of “existence” of God in terms of its meaning is the same when they affirm existence to other things.

We can divide existence into different categories such as existence of the necessary being or a contingent being, or existence of days of the week into separate days, and this ability to divide existence points towards the unity of what is being divided. So in terms of the concept of existence there is no difference between different objects. The opposite of existence is non-existence which is also a univocal term as there is no categorization in non-existence.

3. Existence (Wujud) and Quiddity (Mahiyyah)

When we perceive something in the external world we form two concepts about it:

1) What is it?

2) Does it exist?

The first question is about its quiddity, and second is about its existence. For example, if we see a dog we will perceive the concept of an “animal” which will be its quiddity, and then the second concept will be that the animal (dog) exists.

Quiddity and existence are two separate concepts in our mind. This is a self-evident fact and paying attention to it will make this clear. Moreover, we may have quiddity of something in our mind which may or may not exist. For example, if someone asks me: “Do you believe that aliens exist?” My answer will be “No, aliens do not exist”. In this conversation “alien” is the quiddity, and the fact that it exists or does not exist is an additional attribute to it. Thus, existence is in addition to quiddity.

4. The Principality of Existence

According to transcendental wisdom of the 17th Century Muslim Philosopher, Mulla Sadra, existence in the external world is principle i.e. source of all external properties and quiddity is its derivative or mental construct. The quiddities are delimitations of one reality which is existence. Existence is common to all the quiddities.8

We know that different objects like water, fire, man and animal exist in the external world, and their existence is the source of unity between them, and their quiddity or “whatness” is the source of their diversity. Also, when quiddity exists externally, then it manifests properties expected of it, whereas a mere mental concept of quiddity does not lead to any manifestations of its properties, e.g a mere concept of a fire does not lead to the heating up of the mind, but its existence in the external world does lead to the generation of heat. Thus, existence is principally real, i.e. it exists by itself, and quiddity is a derivative from it.

5. Existence is One Reality in Different Degrees

According to the transcendental wisdom of Mulla Sadra, there is gradational unity of existence, i.e. existence is one reality in different degrees in terms of imperfection and perfection, weakness and intensity.

For example, light is one reality which can come from a candle, a bulb, flood lights in a stadium, or from the sun representing different degrees of the same reality which is light. The difference between them lies in their degree of their existence.

Similarly, numbers from 1 to 20 or so on represent one reality but in different degrees, the number 20 represents a higher degree of existence as compared to number 19 or the lower numbers.

Similarly, from a seed to a tree, or from a drop of sperm to an adult man – these all represent one reality in different degrees or stages of perfection and imperfection. The more perfect existence is more value able, cape able and more independent than a less perfect beings.

The highest degree in existence is the most perfect existent called the Necessary Being which lacks limitations or deficiency and is perfect in every sense.

6. Division of Existence into Necessary, Contingent and Impossible

Existence can be divided into categories based on its causality.

a. Essential Necessary Being

The essential necessary being exists by itself and does not need anything else for its existence.

b. Contingent Being

The contingent being needs something else for its existence. Once that factor is available then the contingent being comes into existence. Everything in existence besides the essential necessary existence falls into this category. A contingent being is dependent not only for its coming into existence, but is dependent even for its continued existence.

c. Impossible Existence

Something which is not possible for it to exist, is impossible for non-existence to exist.

This division is again self-evident and needs no further proof. An everyday example to understand this concept is that sugar is essentially sweet (doesn’t need anything else to become sweet), tea is possibly sweet (depends on addition of sugar to become sweet) and salt is impossible to be sweet.

Based on the above mentioned concepts we can develop rational proofs of God as follows:

1. Existence is a reality;

2. Existence is one and graded reality in different degrees, from the lowest degree of existence to the highest degree;

3. This graded reality must reach a point which is the highest degree and the most perfect existence;

4. God is a perfect Being without any limitation;

5. The highest degree and most perfect existence is the essential necessary being which is without any limits and and does not depend on anything else for its existence, it exists by itself and is God.

Another proof provided by Mulla Hadi (a Muslim Philosopher from Mulla Sadra’s school of thought) follows along the same line and is even simpler:

1. Existence is a reality;

2. Reality of existence cannot be its contradiction which is non-existence;

3. An existence that is impossible to be non-existence must be essentially necessary existence;

4. Reality of existence is the essential necessary existence i.e. God.

7. Essential Necessary Being is One

The Essential Necessary being has to be only one and unique. Having two will put some limit to each of them or unique distinction lacking in the other which signifies imperfection. Similarly, it cannot be three and one at the same time (e.g. trinity) as it will signify there must be something common (i.e. Divinity) and something distinct between the three. This suggests a composite being which is dependent on its parts for its existence. The parts have to exist first before the whole can come into existence and is thus a dependent being and not essential Necessary being. Hence Essential Necessary being is One Unique being with not components

The essence of the necessary being is its existence and it has no quiddity. If the essential necessary being had a quiddity then its existence would be accidental and in addition to its essence. Anything which is accidental needs a cause which is contradictory to it being an essential necessary being. Thus, all beings are nothing but existential relations to the Absolute which is both simple and all-comprehensive.9

Proof of God through His Creation

1. The Necessary and Contingent Beings

As explained earlier we can divide existents into the necessary being which exists by itself, or the contingent being which exists by something else.

Let’s take the example of A. There are only three possibilities for A to exist:

a) A exists by itself;

b) A exists by B;

c) A does not exist.

If A exists by itself and does not need a cause for its existence, then it is a necessary being which exists by itself and is thus God.

If A does not exist, then it is non-existent and we do not need to worry about it.

If A exists by B, then B is either self-existing or is caused by C. If B is self-existing then it is God, if it is caused by C then the same questions apply to C and we go into an infinite regress.

We know that A i.e. the universe, exists and it cannot exist by itself, as it is a composite structure (depends on its individual components to exist). In other words: If A=B+C, then A is a composite structure and needs B and C to come into existence. Thus A (universe made up of different things) cannot self-exist as it needs B and C to come into existence. Thus A (the universe) needs something outside of it which is self-existing i.e. God.

Some people who do not follow the argument pose a question, “Then that who made God?” Well they are missing the point. As discussed in Chapter Two and Three, God never came into existence that we may ask what brought Him into existence, He is Eternal in His existence and exists by Himself. Please ponder over it! Do not apply characteristics of creation on the Creator. The creation can never be like the Creator or vice versa. The creation can manifest God’s attributes in its limited capacity however God does not share human attributes, we manifest His attributes.

2. The Order of Composite Structures

إِنَّ فِي خَلْقِ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ وَاخْتِلَافِ اللَّيْلِ وَالنَّهَارِ لَآيَاتٍ لِأُولِي الْأَلْبَابِ 190 الَّذِينَ يَذْكُرُونَ اللّٰهَ قِيَامًا وَقُعُودًا وَعَلَىٰ جُنُوبِهِمْ وَيَتَفَكَّرُونَ فِي خَلْقِ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ رَبَّنَا مَا خَلَقْتَ هَٰذَا بَاطِلًا سُبْحَانَكَ فَقِنَا عَذَابَ النَّارِ

Most surely in the creation of the heavens and the earth and the alternation of the night and the day there are signs for men who understand. Those who remember God standing and sitting and lying on their sides and reflect on the creation of the heavens and the earth: Our Lord! You have not created this in vain! Glory be to You; save us then from the chastisement of the fire. (Quran, Surah Ale ʿImran, 3:190-191).

What would happen if we took a dump truck full of sand, drove it to the edge of a cliff and unloaded all of the sand from the top of the cliff? Simply put, a pile of sand would collect at the bottom. If we repeat this exercise multiple times, we would get nearly identical results.

What if we now filled this truck with all of the individual parts of a car like the engine, tires, body parts, chassis, steering wheel, etc. What if we now dropped all of these thing from the hill top. Will we see an assembled car at the bottom, or will we see a pile of car parts? If we repeat this experiment a thousand times will we eventually get an assembled car or not? The answer is obviously no.

This small experiment tells us that it is against the laws of physics for complex structures to assemble by themselves into a composite orderly structure, especially into something which is functional as well. This is not how the physical universe works.

So the question is why is it that the universe appears to be arranged in highly complex and sophisticated functional structures and systems? One scientific explanation is that at least in the biological system, evolution by natural selection is responsible for the gradual increasing complexity of existing beings (see Chapter 14 for more details) eventually resulting in intelligent beings like us who are probing how did the universe come into existence.

Can a non-intelligent universe give rise to intelligent beings? Can lifeless organic matter give rise to life containing bacteria, plants and animals? Can higher human consciousness evolve from bacteria who have no or little consciousness? The answer is no. I cannot give you what I do not have, e.g. I cannot give you a million dollars if I myself do not have a million dollars. I cannot teach you mathematics if I do not know it myself and you have the potential to learn it. A non-intelligent universe cannot give rise to intelligent beings. Lifeless organic matter cannot give rise to life containing bacteria. Unless the primitive bacteria already have the potential to become adult humans they will not be able to even after millions of years of evolution. So unless primitive bacteria at inception have this potential that one day they will reach adult humans through the process of natural selection which requires foresight and planning by an outside agent - such will not happen. (See Chapter 14 for other details) To argue otherwise is irrational.

The universe is governed by rules and natural laws. In our daily life we also observe rules and laws to facilitate a process e.g. traffic laws. Traffic laws are not only designed, but are actively enforced for them to achieve their objective. Through the same analogy, rules and laws of nature must not only be conceived by someone but also enforced for nature to work properly. To think otherwise is an escapist argument, trying to deny the obvious and look for an alternative explanation for why the universe is governed by laws if not intended to be so by someone.

The complexity of the universe is such that it is improbable for such a universe to come into existence by chance alone. However, if God designed the universe, then God will be even more complex and sophisticated than the universe - so who designed Him? The probability of such a complex being coming into existence will be even slimmer slimmer than the universe!?

There are several fallacies in these arguments. The foremost is that God by definition does not need a designer or creator. He exists by Himself and this is what makes Him unique as compared to everything else. The second point is that God is not a complex structure otherwise it will also imply a composite structure made up of smaller units which is impossible viz-a-viz God. The third point is about the extremely low probability of existence of such a unique being as God even if He is not highly complex and the probability of His existence being even lower than a sophisticated universe. Well this is also a frivolous argument as God was never non-existent that He may have needed to come into existence, and we may need to estimate the probability of such an event. He is Eternal in His existence and so there is no probability of Him coming into existence. Non-existence for God is impossible!

We as humans are the most advanced species in terms of knowledge and intelligence on the face of this earth. There is clearly more knowledge and intelligence at play in the functioning of the universe than what can be attributed to mankind. So what is the source of this supra-human knowledge and intelligence? I will leave the answer to you.

• In this chapter I have attempted to give rational reasons for the existence of God. Now many people after reading them will disregard them, find faults in the arguments or may not accept them even though they may not have an answer for them. This is up to them. Nevertheless, one thing should become clear that belief in God or conviction in His existence is not an irrational idea or a delusion or just based on “blind faith,” but it is based on very sound rational arguments and reasoning.

  • 1. Mafatih al-Jinan, Duʿa al-ʿArafah.
  • 2. Khumayni, Light Within Me.
  • 3. Ibid.
  • 4. Mafatih al-Jinan, Duʿa al-Sabah.
  • 5. Taba’taba’i, Muhammad, S. Husayn al-, Bidaya al-Hikmah – The Beginning of Islamic Philosophy.
  • 6. Meisami, Sayeh, Mulla Sadra, One World Publication, 2013, London, England.
  • 7. See www.mullasadra.org.
  • 8. Meisami, Mulla Sadra.
  • 9. Meisami, Mulla Sadra.