This next surah is named “Scattering Winds” because of the frequent mention of the sky and wind as witnesses to the power and truthfulness of Allah.

By those [winds] that scatter far and wide, and those that are heavily laden, that speed freely, that distribute [rain] as ordained! (51:1)

By the sky with its pathways. (51:7)

On earth there are signs for those with sure faith — and in yourselves too, do you not see? — in the sky is your sustenance and all you are promised. (51:20-22)

We built the sky with Our power and made it vast. (51:47)

I find it interesting that the central image appealed to here is wind.  That is very a pros pos.  Wind is every bit as invisible as God.  Yet, it is every bit as real as God, too.  Wind cannot be seen, but the results of the wind can be.  Wind can’t be seen, but it can be felt.  It is rather ridiculous at this point to deny the existence of the wind, a sentiment the Prophet would have said was true about the existence of Allah too.  It is not a perfect analogy.  Wind is still more physical than God, and therefore easier to accept as a reality.  However, it is an interesting choice of image.

I also find it interesting that central story in this short surah is the visit of honored guests to the tent of Abraham.  These guests prophesy the future, miraculous birth of a son for Abraham and Sarah.  They also foretell the destruction of the Cities of the Plain.  For those who know the Bible, this is a familiar story.

The interesting aspect is this: In the Qur’an, these are simply “guests.”  There is an implication that these are angels.  But this is not Allah.  That would be far too familiar, too immanent.  Allah does not do that sort of thing in the Qur’an.

The original story is told in Genesis 18.  Here is says 15 times that this is “the LORD,” that is the Christian God.  Abraham and Sarah are visited by God Himself in a theophany.  This sort of thing is not uncommon in Genesis.  Moreover, when Christians read this same biblical story they cannot help but see the Trinity all over it.  Throughout the entire chapter of Genesis 18 there is only one character, “the LORD,” speaking and interacting with Abraham and Sarah.  However, the story starts this way:

The LORD appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day.  Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby.  When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground. (Genesis 18:1-2)

Abraham is visited by one LORD and by three men.  Christians cannot help but see the three aspects of God here in this story all wrapped up in the one LORD who visits with Abraham.

A big theme in today’s short surah — “Kneeling” — is the fact that God has placed evidence of Himself in nature.  The body of this post is entirely a string of quotes from the surah that send this message.  The pictures included are from my three favorite places on this planet (so far), places that confirm for me the existence of One Great and Powerful God. 

Sunrise in Cades Cove, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, TN

“There are signs in the heavens and the earth for those who believe: in the creation of you, in the creatures God scattered on earth . . . in the alteration of night and day, in the rain God provides, sending it down from the sky and reviving the dead earth with it, and in His shifting of the winds there are signs for those who use their reason. . . . It is God who made the

Fall in Grand Teton National Park (taken by WordPresser Tim Jennings)

sea of use to you . . . He has made what is in the heavens and the earth beneficial to you, all as a gift from Him.  There truly are signs in this fo those who reflect. . . . God created the heavens and earth for a true purpose. . . . Control of everything in the heavens and the earth belongs to God. . . . So praise be to God, Lord of the heavens and earth, Lord of the worlds.  True greatness in the heavens and earth is rightfully His.” (45:3-5, 12, 13, 22, 27, 36-37)

From Old Baldy Lookout across the Beaver Valley, Ontario

This new surah, named “The Creator,” is one of those surahs where Dean’s sentiment expressed here a few weeks ago that he often finds a similar message in many surahs but each with a different slant or focus really proves true. 

Same message:  God is in control of all things.  Don’t worry.  He will reward or punish people justly based on their decisions about Him.  Muhammad, don’t worry if they call you a liar; they did the same to earlier messengers too. 

But true to the surah’s naturalistic name, this common message is brought home here by weaving in many mentions of nature as evidence of God’s power and control. 

So I today I will produce a string a nature quotes together from this surah and pair those with beautiful pictures of nature.  Enjoy! 

Praise be to God, Creator of the heavens and earth. (35:1)

Is there any creator other than God to give you sustenance from the heavens and earth?  There is no God but Him. (35:3)

It is God who sends forth the winds; they raise up the clouds; We drive them to a dead land and with them revive the earth after its death: such will be the Resurrection. (35:9)

No female conceives or gives birth without His knowledge. (35:11)

The two bodies of water are not alike — one is palatable, sweet, and pleasant to drink, the other salty and bitter — yet from each you eat fresh fish and extract ornaments to wear, and in each you see the ships ploughing their course so that you may seek God’s bounty and be grateful. (35:12)

He makes the night merge into the day and the day into the night; He has subjected the sun and the moon — each runs for an appointed term. (35:13)

Have you [Prophet] not seen how God sends water down from the sky and that We produce with it fruits of varied colours. (35:27)

If God were to punish people [at once] for the wrong they have done, there would not be a single creature left on the surface of the earth, but He gives them respite for a stated time and, whenever their time comes, God has been watching His servants. (35:45)

Cottonwood Creek and the Tetons, GTNP

I love nature.  Hiking through the woods of Southern Ontario.  Standing at the base of the majestic Tetons in Wyoming.  Falling asleep to the constant, calming rhythm of ocean waves.  Climbing over boulders at the base of a remote waterfall in the Smokies.  “These are a few of my favorite things,” to quote Julie Andrews.  Get me to a place far from the maddening crowd, far from the concrete jungle!

Jackson Lake and Mt. Moran, GTNP

I find nature greatly restorative.  It is as if I can connect with God better in nature.  I am not alone in this; since the beginning of time people have left whatever they deemed to be civilization to find “God.”  Native Americans would leave the camp for a vision-quest.  Hike through the bush of the Far North of Canada and you will find piles of rocks shaped with a human figure called inukshuks in places where the Inuit sensed a stronger connection to the divine; these are usually some distance from development.  Whether it was the pagans of Canaan, the ancient Greeks, the builders of Machu Picchu, the Buddhists of the Himalayans, or the Japanese who revered Mt. Fuji, mountains have always been deemed holy places because of there proximity to the “heavens.”  Think about the Bible.  Abraham had to leave Ur to follow God.  He was lead away from camp to Mt. Moriah to worship God.  Moses finds the burning bush on the backside of a remote mountain while tending sheep.  Israel was refined in the Desert.  Elijah meets God in the Kerith Ravine and at the mouth of a mountain cave on Mt. Horeb.  God disgraced Baal at the top of Mt. Carmel.  People left Jerusalem to find John the Baptist at the Jordan River.  Jesus was tested in the Desert as well.  The apostles were fishermen not artisans, politicians, or religious leaders.  Jesus spent most of his ministry in small fishing villages, rolling foothills, and on the Sea of Galilee not in Sepphoris, the developed Hellenized city ten miles away.  Salvation was purchased through crucifixion “outside of the city.”

Old Faithful, YNP

Many are realizing that the further we pull ourselves from nature, the more strained our own souls become.  It is as if we, creatures, are tied to Creation.  The cities we have created and the technology we have discovered are great blessings in many cases.  But they also allow us to think of ourselves as Creators and tease us to pull away from the Original Creator of all things.  One trip down a raging river, one tree falling on your house, one mudslide that flattens a million dollar, state-of-the-art house in Malibu and we are reminded that there is a Power above ourselves.

Thunderhead, YNP

It is this impulse that is being appealed to in today’s reading.  This new, short Medinan surah derives its name — Thunder — from the thunder in ayah 13 that praises God with its power and awe.  People are rejecting the words of Muhammad.  He comes speaking of a singular God who creates all things, not the provincial pagan gods the Arabs had grown up with.  The people should leave these inferior gods and worship the one true Creator.  The vast majority reject Muhammad’s preaching and dare his God to bring on the punishment Muhammad claims comes with disbelief (13:6).  The people ask for a miracle as an inducement to believe (13:7).  Allah tells Muhammad to point simply to the vast created world as evidence to His reality and power.  See the heavens, the sun, the moon, the mountains and rivers of the earth, self-propagating fruit, the consistency of night and day, the fertility of soil, human reproduction, lightning and thunder, heavy rain clouds, and the water cycle and its natural purifying capability.  Muhammad’s message is simple:

There truly are signs in this for people who reflect . . . [and] reason. . . . This is how God works illustrations. (13:3-4, 17)

Of course, the drawback to using nature as an evidence for God is that it is entirely subjective and immensely impersonal.  The same hike that moves my soul to praise makes someone else beg for air-conditioning and bug spray.  The Grand Canyon makes one person marvel at God’s power and for another it only further proves the ongoing evolutionary formation of our planet (not to imply that a belief in God is necessarily incongruent with some form of evolution).  You might see love in the way nature is so wonderfully balanced that provision is almost always there and available.  You certainly would see order and power.  We can tell much about God from nature, but how would you see righteousness or holiness?  How would you determine the best way to live life from a mountain’s grandeur?  How would you ever get Jesus from Niagara Falls?  Nature screams the existence of a Higher Power, a Creator, a Sustainer.  But which Higher Power?  A personal one?  A god who reveals its will in some way?  A personal God who is interested and involved in one’s everyday life?  Nature is a fantastic place to begin an apologetic, but more is needed.

(All of the pictures used in this post were taken last summer in Wyoming on our family vacation to the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone.  Beautiful!)

Do Muslims do apologetics?  I have only had a chance to search a tiny bit but it seems there are a few Islamic apologists out there.  Most of the websites I found were actually Christian sites arguing against Islam.  Apologetics is a field more popular with Christianity, a religion heavily influenced by Aristotelian logic and Enlightenment rationality.  Christians are known for their doctrine, and Muslims for their actions.  So, maybe Islam is not as inclined to lay out a reasoned defense of their religion.  Let me know what you find out. 

Today’s passage, however, seems rather apologetic to me (and I don’t mean someone’s sorry!)  Today we begin a new surah entitled “Jonah,” the first of several surahs named after traditional Bible characters.  Jonah will make an appearance in this surah, but he won’t be a main character.  As I read the first few ayahs it struck me that Muhammad is called to warn a disbelieving city (Mecca) in hopes that they would turn towards God.  Sounds a lot like Jonah.

When Muhammad shows up in Mecca fresh from his first encounter with the angel Gabriel with the first of his revelations, remember that he is a familiar face.  This is good ole Muhammad.  They had just traded wares with him last week.  Their families knew each other.  They had grown up together.  Muhammad was that neighbor down the street.  And now he claims to have a special message from the same God those Jews and Christians talked about, but his message is a new one.  Moreover, this radical monotheism he is talking about is going to overturn the apple cart of our culture. 

Can we trust him?  How do we know he isn’t pulling a fast one?  What proof does he have for his claims?  How do we know his God is real? 

Today’s passage offers the following reasons, woven comfortably into a sermon of sorts, as good apologetics usually are:

  1. This natural world didn’t just come from nowhere; this God created it (10:3). 
  2. The intricate bodies we have were a creation of this God (10:4).
  3. Have you noticed how the sun and moon are on finely-tuned cycles by which we can keep time and order life (10:5)?  That didn’t come from nowhere either. 
  4. Pain and hardship even have a way of moving people towards God instead of away, as if we know instinctually we need a power outside ourselves and that such a power does in fact exist (10:12).
  5. There are also recitations (the Qur’an) that testify to this God.  He can be found there, if we will read, listen, and obey (10:15). 
  6. Last, just use your God-given gift of reason (10:16).  Belief in this God is logical. 

That’s not a bad list.  As a Christian, I would point to all of the same things to testify to God.  As a teacher of apologetics, I have used all these arguments as evidence for God. 

Nestled in this passage is another truth: all of the best arguments and convincing proofs will not win over someone who does not want to be convinced:

Those who do not expect to meet Us [Allah] [in the Hereafter] and are pleased with the life of this world, contenting themselves with it and paying no heed to Our signs, shall have the Fire for their home because of what they used to do (10:7-8).

But there is ample evidence if you want to see it.