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Belief in the Unseen

Faith in the unseen means belief in a relationship between oneself and the unseen and not thinking of the two as totally separate

Those who believe in the unseen and perform the prayer, and expend of that we
have provided them … (2:3)

It is customary for us to call an individual believer a mumin by which is meant
that he is a devout person who has faith in that he performs all the obligatory
acts of devotion as well as recommended acts. In the same way, another person is
said to be without faith. There is no harm in using those words like this but
the Quran, too, uses the same words meaning: Having belief in religion or lack
of belief in religion. So we must begin our discussion by considering beliefs as
a matter of heart.

The Quran, speaking of a group of nomadic Arabs who came to the Prophet to say,
"We believe," says "You believe not, rather say, ‘We surrender,’ for belief has
not yet entered your hearts. " (49:14)

Is this a belief in God or His Attributes or in His Prophet and revelation or
resurrection? All these are parts of belief but the Quran sums all these up in
the first verse of Sura two: "That is the Book, wherein is no doubt, a guidance
for the God-fearing who believe in the unseen.." (2:1)

Unseen means hidden. Hidden from what? In this enclosed area what is behind
these walls is hidden from us but if we feel sure of what is happening behind
them, it is faith in the unseen? No, tomorrow it is hidden from us but if we can
predict what is going to happen tomorrow, is this a faith in the unseen? Again,
no. What is the unseen then?

In this world, there are things which could be understood through the senses of
sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste. We call things perceptible if our senses
enable us to know them. Animals, too, possess these senses which are sometimes
stronger than man’s . Some animals possess a sharper sight than man. A dog has a
very sensitive ear and power of smell. The tiny ant can easily find its way to a
piece of meat by its strong power of smell. But these powers are not related to
the unseen. Belief in the unseen means admitting that in the world of existence
there are certain facts which we cannot distinguish by our senses, even if they
are present before us. The senses given to living creatures are only limited
means of contact with the world outside each being. The eyes are given to
distinguish form, color and direction. The ears are meant to distinguish waves
of sound. The other senses, too, are bestowed for various purposes. But if we
cannot distinguish other facts beyond the senses, can we say that they do not
exist?

No. This is wrong. The greatest mistake made by the human being is to suppose
that all the senses that one has are adequate for understanding whatever exists
and to negate what is not distinguishable for one. All the things which a human
being should believe in are expressed by the Quran under the heading of the
unseen. If we cannot distinguish them through the senses, how should we accept
them? Other ways and means are placed at our disposal to believe in the unseen.
The verse of the Quran concerning faith in the unseen does not mean that we
should accept every hidden matter simply because we have faith. If an exorcist
claimed that he had an army of jinn, we should not believe him simply because he
speaks of the unseen. But we must not deny the unseen altogether.

If we were asked what are the ways of believing in the unseen, we would say that
there are stages. The first stage is to distinguish the various signs which make
it impossible to deny it. It means entering from the stage of denial into the
stage of doubt.

Let me give you an example. In the past, the only wave which was recognized in
the space was the sound wave, which was compared to the waves created by
throwing a stone into a pool. But today, science has discovered other waves
which are not distinguishable by our ears or any of our other senses such as
electric waves or radio waves which are not sound waves. For if they were sound
waves it would take a space of time similar to sound waves in order to be heard.
It is sometimes said that the sound of Big Ben in London is heard all over the
world before it is heard by the people in the area near it.

How can one distinguish various waves in the space which are not sound waves?
Only by scientific conjecture, not by the senses. Thus the denial of the
existence of such waves shows only ignorance.

Is faith in the unseen a belief in God, in the angels, in the Book and
revelation, in the Resurrection? No. It is higher than that. It means belief in
a relationship between oneself and the unseen and not thinking of the two as
totally separate. When in our prayer we say, "You only do we serve; to You alone
do we pray for succour." (1:5) we show that we worship hidden God and beg His
assistance since we believe that all powers are in His hand. In a supplication
you ask His aid to give strength to your body, your resolution and your thought.
But what is that for?

It is said that the difference between divine philosophy and religion is that
the former may at most believe that there is God apart from the universe, while
the main thing in religion is the relationship between a creature and its
Creator, between us and the unseen that it establishes and which inclines us to
action and effort to serve and, at the same time, tells us that because of our
relationship with the unseen we are somehow helped through our supplications to
attain our goal. It tells us to be charitable, for it removes calamity . It
tells us to supplicate. Of course, the prayer requires certain conditions in
order to be fulfilled. We cannot sit down and beg for assistance from the
unseen.

The Quran speaking of the Prophet says, "Remember God’s blessing upon you when
you were enemies and He brought your hearts together so that by His blessing you
became brothers. You were upon the brink of a pit of fire and He delivered you
from it … " (3:98-99)

This is assistance from the unseen. Sometimes you feel that if you follow a
certain goal appointed by God, you receive some hidden aid and support beyond
what you think or understand, and such a belief gives one a footing which is
most necessary in life.

I remember something about Ayatullah Burrujerdi, a truly virtuous and fine
authority to be imitated in religious matters. He was a monotheist of the
highest rank and had a deep conviction and trust in God’s aid to man. He had
vowed that if he was cured after a surgical operation, he would make a
pilgrimage to Mashhad. He announced his intention to his companions one day and
asked who would accompany him. We discussed it among ourselves and did not think
it advisable for him to make this visit since at that time he was not so
well-known and we did not think he would receive the welcome he deserved there.
We thought this vow could be fulfilled one or two years later when conditions
were more favorable.

Another day when he repeated his invitation, one of us told him that as he was
recovering from his illness, it was too soon to go on a long journey by car. He
understood the real reason why his friends did not advise the journey. He was
aroused enough to say that for seventy years God had favored him, not because of
his own deliberations but because it was his lot. He said, "I have always
thought what my duty is in the way of God. I have never considered whether it is
above or below my dignity to act in a certain way. Whatever happens is my
destiny. It is unbecoming to plan my steps at the age of seventy when I have God
and His Favor. When I look upon myself as His servant, He will not forget me.
Yes. I will depart." And we knew that he arose to the highest point of respect
and appreciation by all Muslims.

God has never left the world without a master. Whenever mankind is in real
danger, He saves them through a human being.You know how pessimistic the
enlightened people of the world have become concerning the future of mankind. Do
you know that this pessimism is fitting by the standard of apparent causes and
factors? We Muslims do not appreciate this blessing so that, like our ancestors
of a hundred years ago, we say the world will last another thousand or a hundred
thousand years more. Some enlightened people claim that the downfall of humanity
is near and Einstein is one who believes in this. He says that man will in all
probability destroy himself with all the skill at his command for western
scientific progress has given the power to destroy mankind.

In the past, this power of destruction was very limited. Hajjaj ibn Yusif
managed to kill 30,000 people. Nero burned Rome but could he burn the whole
world? Today, however, a mad dictator could annihilate the whole of humanity.
Hitherto in a war, one side has been victorious and the other side, defeated.
But in the next world war, there will be no victory and defeat for both sides
will be destroyed. These apparent reasons make us agree with the pessimist .

There is, however, an inspiration that we receive from religion. We see that in
the past great dangers have occurred on smaller scales proportionate to the size
of tribes, countries or regions. But God has always protected mankind and even
when a danger appears on a world wide scale, again God is there to save it.
Gandhi says that Europe is full of both madness and genius at the same time.
Their madmen are geniuses and their geniuses are madmen.

The logic of religion tells us that we should not worry about the future of
mankind. God has given us the promise of a time when wisdom will rule and life
will be longer and health and security more complete. The earth is so full of
hidden resources that it can provide for many times more than four or five
billion people.

The world that is promised to us is a wide and clear space beyond the dark
tunnel which is our present world. There is no probability of corruption and
vice ruling the whole world. The aid of the unseen for a person is on a personal
scale; for communities on a social scale and, the world, on a universal scale. A
single world government will establish wholesale justice, security, welfare,
progress and goodness.

I pray to God to grant us faith to wait for the Iman who is our savior, and
faith in the rightfulness of the Prophet’s household and make us familiar with
the truths of the holy religion of Islam.


Selected excerpt from "Spiritual Discourses" by Ayatollah Shaheed Murtadha
Mutahhari.

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