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The Question of Cosmogenesis - Seyyed Hossein Nasr

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Islamic thought has always considered the question of cosmogenesis to be religious and metaphysical, not merely extrapolation of the natural sciences. A constant feature of Islamic schools of thought has been the basic ontological dependence they accord the world vis-a-vis the Creator. In contrast to modern speculations on questions of cosmogenesis, absolute creative power and dominion are exclusively of God, Who is known in the Qurban as Khaliq, Fatir, Barib, Musawwir, etc. Creation thus must be regarded as a sign of His existence and wisdom.
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  This is a chapter of a book by the author entitled Towards the Islamic Philosophy of Science  that has not as yet been completed. Seyyed Hossein Nasr is the University Professor of Islamic Studies at The George Washington University, Washington DC  and President of the Foundation for Traditional Studies; Gelman Library   709R, 2130 H Street, NW  , Washington DC 20052 , USA  . Email: zsirat@gwu.edu.  Islam &   Science,  Vol. 4  (Summer 2006 ) No. 1© 2006  by the Center for Islam and Science. ISSN 1703-7603 (Print) ; ISSN 1703-7602X (Online)43 T HE  Q UESTION   OF  C OSMOGENESIS — THE  C OSMOS    AS    A   S UBJECT   OF  S CIENTIFIC  S TUDY Seyyed Hossein Nasr Islamic thought has always considered the question of cosmogenesis to be religious and metaphysical, not merely extrapolation of the natural sciences.  A constant feature of Islamic schools of thought has been the basic ontological dependence they accord the world vis-a-vis the Creator. In contrast to modern speculations on questions of cosmogenesis, absolute creative power and dominion are exclusively of God, Who is known in the Qur ba n as  Kh  a liq,  F   at  ir, B  a  r  ib  , Mu  s  awwir , etc. Creation thus must be regarded as a sign of His existence and wisdom. Keywords: cosmogenesis; sacred cosmology; the role of God in Islamic and modern cosmogenies; an Islamic approach to the study of nature; nature as  a  yah . The study of the cosmos involves the question of its srcin, and there is no school of the philosophy of science—whether ancient or modern, Eastern or Western—that has not dealt in one way or another with this problem. Islam and the sciences cultivated in its bosom are no exception. In fact, the Noble Qur ba n insists over and over upon the ultimate significance of the question of the genesis of the cosmos for the religious life itself, and directs all veritable Islamic thought to concern itself, after the study of the Divine Principle, first of all with the question of the srcin of the  world before turning to the possibility and manners of its study. Moreover,  44  n  Islam  & Science n    Vol. 4 (Summer 2006) No. 1 Islamic thought, basing itself on the Qur ba n, has always considered the question of cosmogensis to be a religious and metaphysical one, the answer to which comes from the truth of revelation and not simply from an extension and extrapolation of the sciences of the natural and physical order. The Islamic attitude to this question stands therefore at the antipode of the modern Western scientific view, which considers cosmology and cosmogenesis as simply extensions of physics, astrophysics, and other branches of the natural sciences. Islam insists that the cosmos, no matter how vast quantitatively, is but a speck of dust before the Divine Reality which alone is absolute and infi-nite. All that is  m    siwa’Ll    h  (that is, other than Allah), and is as nothing before the Majesty of the Divine.Moreover, within the created order itself, the archangelic and angelic  worlds are of such immensity that the visible and physical world pales into insignificance before them. This is the implication of many  a    d    th  con-cerning the angels, such as the one concerning the Angel of Death whom God has veiled with a million veils and who is more immense than all the heavens and the two earths (that is, East and West). 1 The physical part of the cosmos that is the subject of study by natural sciences has a beginning and an end. It is the lowest level of reality which is encompassed, metaphorically speaking, by worlds immensely greater than it. And all of these worlds are in turn but as a dust-mote before the Divine Throne.The Qur ba n affirms over and again that the world was created and did not come into being by itself. 2  It insists on the ontological dependence of the world upon God and the fact that all the coherence, regularity, and 1.  According to a    ad    th , “When All a h created the Angel of death, He  veiled him before creatures with a million veils. His immensity is  vaster than the two earths (East and West), and the eastern and  western countries here below in the territorial world are between his hands like a dish on which all things have been set”. Schuon, Frithjof,  Dimensions of Islam , trans. by P. Townsend (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1970), 116. 2.  Some  a    d    th  refer to angels as light. The well-known    ad    th  upon which al-Ghazz a l   commented in his  Mishk   t al-Anw    r  and which contains a whole cosmology is as follows: “God has seventy veils of light and darkness; were He to lift them, the august glories of His face would burn up everyone whose eyesight perceived Him”. See Buckman, David, trans. and ed., Al-Ghaz a l  , The Niche of Lights  (Provo: Brigham University Press, 1998), 1.  Seyyed Hossein Nasr n 45 harmony of the natural order is a result of the nature of the Creator and His Wisdom, which is reflected in His creation. The Qur ba n repeats in many verses that God is the Creator (  al-Kh   liq ) of the world.  Recite, in the  Name of thy Lord who created 3 ; Your Lord is Allah, who created the heavens and the earth in six days. 4  He is also creator in the sense of  al-F     ir. Lo! I have turned my face toward Him who created the heavens and the earth 5 ; and Your  Lord is the Lord of the Heavens and the earth, Who created them . 6 Man in fact addresses God as O Thou Creator  (F a ir) of the heavens and the earth! 7  Moreover, the Qur ba n emphasizes that God created not only the heavens and the earth but everything within them. We created the heavens  and the earth and what is between them . 8  There is also an insistence that the duality of the masculine and feminine observed in all of creation in one form or another is the result of God’s creation and not the consequence of some cosmic or biological process, for We have created you male and female. 9  There is also more general reference in the Qur ba n to God’s creation of pairs. 10  Not only is God the Creator, but He is the only  Power who can create. He created the world through His Will: He said “Be” (  kun ), and there  was. 11  The Divine Word is the srcin of the entire created order. Moreover,  within this order God creates what He Wills, as is repeated so often in the Qur ba n. 12  And it is He who bestows upon things their nature and the laws and order that govern them: Our Lord is He who gave everything its nature, then guided it aright . 13 Being the srcin of the world, God is also its end, and creation returns to Him. God srcinates creation, then brings it back again 14 ; The Day when We  shall roll up the heavens, as a recorder rolleth up a written scroll—and We began 3.    al- c  Alaq : 1. 4.   Y   u  nus : 31. 5.    al-An ca  m : 80. 6.    al-Anbiy  ab : 56. 7.   Y   u  suf  : 101. 8.   Q   a  f  : 39. 9.    al-  H   ujur  a t : 13. 10.    al-Zukhruf  : 12. 11.   Y   a  S  i   n : 82. 12.  See for example  an-Na  h l : 20, 40, 48;  al-Anbiy  ab : 117. This doctrine is of the utmost importance for the understanding of the Islamic conception of nature and its relation to its Creator. 13.   Ta  H   a : 50. 14.   Y   u  nus : 35.  46  n  Islam  & Science n    Vol. 4 (Summer 2006) No. 1 the first creation. We shall bring it back again. 15  He can also destroy the world and create a new one, for  hast thou not seen that Allah created the heavens and the earth with truth? If He Wills, He can remove you and bring (in) some new creation. 16  As the Creator, God established laws and order that man cannot al-ter, for there is no altering the laws of God’s creation 17 ; and although He has given man the possibility of knowing the cosmos, it is only God who knows all creation 18  and has knowledge of everything in the universe, from the movement of the stars to that of an ant within its hole. The Islamic cosmos comes from God, is governed by Him, and returns to Him. It is not an autonomous and independent reality with an unknown or simply material beginning and end. Nor are its laws developed by chance or by its own in-ner workings, or are the changes and transformations taking place within it solely dependent upon its own forces and energies. Creative power al- ways belongs to the Creator, not the created order, although that power has manifested itself in countless ways in the cosmos throughout its long history and God has acted through various agencies.Different schools of Islamic thought, basing themselves on the ter-minology of the Qur ba n and     ad    th,  have developed a rich technical vo-cabulary concerning creation in order to bring out different meanings of this term. Later Qur ba nic commentators and Muslim thinkers have distinguished between  khalq, fi   r,    un   ,   ibd     and      ud   th , each of which possesses an exact meaning in various schools of commentary ( tafs     r ), the-ology, Sufism, and philosophy. The Qur ba n itself refers to these terms in one form or another as well as to the creative function of God as the producer (  al-B    r   ) and as the Form-giver (  al-Mu    awwir ), as in the verse,  He is God, the Creator (al-Kh a liq), the Producer (al-B a r  ),  and the Form-giver (al-Mu  awwir). 19  The diversified terminology of the Qur ba n has caused 15.    al-  H   ajj : 104. See also  A  li c  Imr  a  n : 47;  an-N   u  r : 45;  ash-Shu c  ar  ab : 68;  ar-R  u  m : 54; and  ash-Sh  u  r  a : 49. 16.    Ibr  a  h  i   m : 19 and  al-F   at  ir : 16. 17.    ar-R  u  m : 30. 18.   Y   a  S  i   n : 79. 19 .  al-  H   ashr : 24. See also  ar-R  u  m : 11 and 27. There is in fact a hierarchy in such Divine Names as  al-Kh   liq ,  al-B    r   , and  al-Mu    awwir ,   as seen in the order in which they are mentioned in the Qur ba nic verse  al-  H   ashr : 24.  Kh   liq  refers to God’s Power to conceive the realities of creation in the Divine Intellect. As  al-B    r    He gives these realities existence and produces them. Then, as  al-Mu    awwir,  He gives them form. See Burckhardt, Titus,  An Introduction to Sufi Doctrine , trans. by D. M.
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