How Do We Know God?
The first philosophical issue that is raised concerning Islam and Islamic monotheism is how does a man with his limited capabilities come to know God? To be specific we are concerned with the concept of ‘knowing’- how does he know God? What strategies are used in the knowledge and what forces are used to reach the full knowledge of God in Islam?
We do not really have to venture far to get basic insightful knowledge and information not only about God but also concerning other things. The human being is created with a natural pure disposition to realize his Creator. I’m not talking about science or about prophets or revelations.
Even on a very fundamental level we find that throughout history there is a very strange phenomena that people of different backgrounds, living in so many different parts of the world at different points in time, have always had this strong urge within themselves to look and to yearn for the Creator. They see that there is some power, a magnificent and merciful power that is sometimes interpreted in a mistaken way by materializing that in some form or other (i.e. idols).
The basic yearning has always been there. Even in places where there is no recorded history of a particular prophet there, people have yearned for a Creator. That’s what I’m referring to as an innate nature. The Arabic term is ‘fitrah’. Fitrah literally translates to: something that one is created with or created in accordance with: this innate nature.
An example of this is a verse in the Qur’an says:
So set thy face steadily and truly to the natural faith. (Ar-Rum 30:30)
Notice the term here “natural faith”. It’s not some concocted doctrine. Natural faith is established by God. God’s handiwork according to the person he has made mankind. No change in the creation of God that is the standard religion but most among mankind don’t understand.
The Qur’an relates the story of Prophet Abraham (peace be upon him) when his people deviated from the worship of God. He simply addresses them by saying, “Is there any doubt about God?” In other words he’s not arguing or trying to provide equations or different kinds of approaches.
If you really think about it, honestly, is there any doubt about the existence or presence of God instinctively even or innately?
Even Atheists Know God
The other thing that is quite observable is that it has been shown over and over again that even atheists, those who reject God, at some time or other when they are in real difficulty remember God.
You might have seen the writings about what happened to people during the second World War, for example, where an atheist who doesn’t believe in God or a person who just doesn’t believe period has a problem with his parachute would say, “Oh my God!” Why would he remember that now? That shows there’s something even despite of themselves that causes them to turn to this supreme power.
Many of us in our own human experience sometimes become ill (or know someone who is ill) and is really suffering or in pain and says something to the effect, “Oh if I’m just cured, I’ll try to be better! I’ll be good!” But of course once we get over that we forget our promise.
That’s why the Qur’an analyzes this weakness in human nature. For example, in one verse it says, basically, that when people go on ships and then there’s a problem and the ship is about to sink suddenly those on board remember and they pray to God to save them. But once they get to shore, they forget. This is the kind of indirect proof from our nature, as humans, that we know God.
Knowledge of Right & Wrong
Finally, another thing that can be relevant here is derived also from the Qur’an. The Qur’an tells us that beyond this basic knowledge of the existence of the Creator, that a person is inspired with the basic knowledge of right and wrong.
One passage in the Qur’an says that God has fashioned the soul and He inspired into it the fundamental knowledge of right and wrong.
And by the soul and that (Power) which designed it, and inspired it with knowledge of evil and piety. (Ash-Shams 91:7-8)
This knowledge of course could be perverted through the influence of personal reasons or other social pressure.
So human being, by his or her nature and in his or her purity, recognizes some of these points. And these, to me, are quite legitimate sources of information.
It is not scientific in a sense that you can put it in a test tube, but it is so common and so one cannot really overlook it.