In my days as a wavering agnostic, when searching after the truth, I used to say to myself and others, “I must believe with absolute certainty.”
Later, in my early days as a Muslim when simplistic apologetics appeared persuasive, I would continue to talk of my faith being about conviction and certainty. To my youthful mind it was convincing, as I shunned philosophy and the musings of theologians, whom I arrogantly considered pompous fools. I was a fundamentalist and proudly so.
But the reality is that faith is at root about belief, trust and hope, for we are dealing with the unseen: we cannot see our Creator, nor can we physically experience events that occurred in the past or that will happen in the future.
Of course, the work of scientists and historians show that it is quite possible to develop a level of certainty in the unseen based on signs, experiences or historical evidences. We might point to James Clerk Maxwell’s theories on the existence of radio waves towards the end of the nineteenth century, which set the stage for Heinrich Hertz to actually demonstrate their existence experimentally. This is the root of the scientific endeavour.
The Quran invites us to come to belief on the basis of evidences on the horizons and within ourselves. I reflected on this the other day when attending a hospital appointment, where the surgeon sketched out the inner workings of the ear: we take our hearing for granted, but it is a phenomenal piece of engineering when you’re faced with the mechanics that translate sound waves into signals that our brains can understand. The same is true of our eyes or taste buds.
When I reflect on my ability to see, hear, smell, taste and perceive the world around me, my belief in God is unshakable. Or when I reflect on the numerous preconditions for life that came into being to enable me to sit here and write all of this, I am utterly awestruck: that the sun came into being, and that a planet capable of sustaining life orbited it, with a gravitational pull and atmosphere that would enable strings of amino acids to come together, let alone complex life forms. To me our very existence is mind-blowing; on the level of probabilities alone it breaks mathematics itself.
God does not unveil Himself before us, but asks us to explore and ponder deeply on the heavens and earth, on natural phenomenon, on our own existence and on signs within ourselves. It is worth reflecting on that fact the Quran uses the word ulama for those who study the human being and the world around us: it indicates the importance of these areas of study.
This is perhaps the verse that most touched me at the age of 21 and to this day:
“Have not the unbelievers then beheld that the heavens and the earth were a mass all sewn up, then We unstitched them and of water fashioned every living thing? Will they not believe?”
Another concerned the resurrection on the Day of Judgement:
“Does man think that We will not reassemble his bones? Yes, We are even able proportion his fingertips.”
Small signs, perhaps, but they were capable of reigniting a tiny flame of faith in the existence of God and revelation that would lead me on for two decades to come. This is what it means to have faith: to believe and trust and hope in the promise of God.