We will continue to study the story of Abraham as presented in the Quran by benefitting from the following verse from section “Baqara” (cow) in the Quran.
وَإِذْ قَالَ إِبْرَٰهِـۧمُ رَبِّ أَرِنِى كَيْفَ تُحْىِ ٱلْمَوْتَىٰ ۖ قَالَ أَوَلَمْ تُؤْمِن ۖ قَالَ بَلَىٰ وَلَـٰكِن لِّيَطْمَئِنَّ قَلْبِى ۖ قَالَ فَخُذْ أَرْبَعَةًۭ مِّنَ ٱلطَّيْرِ فَصُرْهُنَّ إِلَيْكَ ثُمَّ ٱجْعَلْ عَلَىٰ كُلِّ جَبَلٍۢ مِّنْهُنَّ جُزْءًۭا ثُمَّ ٱدْعُهُنَّ يَأْتِينَكَ سَعْيًۭا ۚ وَٱعْلَمْ أَنَّ ٱللَّهَ عَزِيزٌ حَكِيمٌۭ
2:260 “And when Abraham said, “My Lord, show me how You give life to the dead.’” He said, ‘Do you not believe them?’ ‘Yes, said Abraham. ‘but just to put my heart at rest.’ So, God said, ‘Take four birds and train them to come back to you. Then place them on separate hilltops, call them back, and they will come flying to you: know that God is Almighty and All-wise.’”
A request is being made by Abraham to God: please show me how you resurrect or give life to dead things again. This is known as resurrection which is not only the human body but the body of everything in the universe. We can generalize the notion of body such that the universe as a whole is a body as well and will die; it has a beginning and an end. To give the dead body life can be understood as to create the body again with a higher quality than the current life. We hear that the human body will be resurrected again which is correct, but it doesn’t mean that we should understand “the dead body” as relating to human beings only.
We cannot expect other interpretations to be doing this generalization. Some may be able to generalize it or may not but we are expected to learn the principles of understanding the Quran. We should bear in mind that the Quran speaks to human beings and their capacity is a created kind. We should see the createdness of everything, i.e. rather than starting with transience we have to understand first that they are created, they have a beginning and have an end. The capacity of everything is created and is transient, i.e. createdness necessitates transience. The Quran gives the example which is available for me, to experience it, to look into it.
Abraham asked God to show him how He gives life to the dead. The reply from God is: “Don’t you believe?” How do I make sense of this exchange of dialogue? Can’t the creator of the universe who displays me this universe do anything as He wants, as He chooses? I realize that the universe has been arranged and taken care of by the One who gives existence to the whole universe. Abraham says, “Yes I do, but to put my heart at rest”. This is the crux of the matter which is to be convinced. Believing is an intellectual activity. Most of the people on earth believe in a Creator but may attribute it to something else. Many are not exposed to the revelation of God who lives in some other parts of the world. They only know a certain tradition that explains the existence of the universe within the universe itself and have not been exposed to revelation. In the USA, everyone is familiar with the word God but it all depends on what they understand from it. Those who are not exposed to revelation cannot think of a creator who is not the nature of this universe. For example, when looking at the existence of a thing, their mind does not go beyond the limitations of the universe. One has to be trained from revelation that there must be a cause of existence of the thing that I am wondering on which must be beyond the limitations of the universe. This conclusion is a logical necessity. We have to be introduced to this idea.
For example, an event took place in the life of the prophet which mentions that a believing companion came to the prophet saying that my slave is a believing lady where she says she believes in God. Shall I let her be free as I do not want to have a believing person as my slave? The prophet asks this person to bring her to him. The companion brought the lady and the prophet (pbuh) asked the lady that you said that you believe in God? The lady replied yes. He (pbuh) asked her where is God? She pointed her finger to the sky and then the prophet turned to his companion approving that she believes in God. This tells us the minimal level of belief in God, i.e. not attaching divinity to the thing itself but above and beyond it. This is a kind of first stage in belief in God. Saying that He is above and beyond but may not see that God is beyond the capacity of the universe. His nature cannot be described within the conditions of the universe. A higher intellectual exercise is needed to come to this understanding. For example, a college student comes to me, not educated in theology or religion. When I ask: “Do you believe that a cell just develops within itself, by itself? Or do you think that there must be another factor that gives existence to it?” This question is a good food for thought. Nowadays people may put the label of “nature” to the existence of the thing. We have to see the capacity, cultural background of the people to see if they have been exposed to the revelation or not and not label innocent people as unbelievers as they have not been exposed to revelation properly.
The Quran speaks to us within our capacity as much as we can experience right now; it speaks to me right now as a universal message by giving examples of the miracles of the prophets like the Abrahamic miracles. In Abrahams’s time, he was not trained in understanding the universe as much as we are now able to understand with all the different disciplines we are deeply studying.
In the verse Abraham says that I believe but need to put my heart at rest, i.e. my feelings must be satisfied. How can my feelings be satisfied? The revelation from God answers this question.
Someone may say that prophet Abraham is asking to witness a miracle from God where the birds came back to him. Did God change His order for the miracle? Can that change in His order apply to me? The Quran doesn’t use the word miracle but we witness that everything in this world comes into existence miraculously. Should I ask God now as you and I experience this world, after having accumulated all the information that we have now, to break His order operating in the universe? Is this possible? Changing His order is not mentioned in the verse but some of the verses of the Quran mention that “He can choose and create whatever He wills” (24: 45; 3: 40; 11: 107; 28: 68 etc.). When we look at the Quran and the miracles that are mentioned, they do not mention the breaking of His order. Everything is taking place within the order. There are many things we may not have experienced in creation. The order of the universe includes in it the miraculous unaccustomed way of creation given to the prophets at the time of their historical context. The people at that time had not experienced for example Noah’s ark, Solomon’s flying in air – are these events breaking the order of the universe?
Perhaps I can ask for a miracle? The Abrahamic example is what we can take for ourselves. In order to believe in resurrection, a higher level of existence of the body that is decorated with human life and spirit. The universe is alive and dynamic but when we compare it to the level of human life, it doesn’t seem to be alive. We have to refresh our understanding that everything in the universe is alive within its own capacity. The levels of existence are different such as the human level is decorated with spirit, feelings, intellect, etc. Then there is the animal level which are animated beings but have a different capacity. There is also the plant level which may seem to be static but very slowly change in their life and existence. Study what is going on in the cell where thousands of reactions are continuously happening in a cell. Everything has different levels of life. According to the descriptions of the Quran, the whole universe will face death and everything will get a higher level of existence referred to as paradise.
Let’s focus on the point that the heart must be satisfied as prophet Abraham was asking. We can understand that the whole body of the universe needs to be given existence by a One who is not part of the universe and can confirm this logically. Is that enough? No, my human capacity does not consist of logic only, it includes the heart as well which comprises feelings, not necessarily the spirit which includes intellect as well as the egoistic tendencies. All of these make up a human being. My feelings must also be satisfied. Logical conclusions must be reevaluated. From our mind, we take it into our spirit which needs to be reconfirmed and our feelings must be satisfied with it. For example, in practical terms, when someone offers me food, I love it! When I eat it, I get the taste and when my stomach is full, it informs my spirit to stop eating. Can all this activity be of logic and reasoning only? All human senses, intellect, reasoning, emotions and feelings must be satisfied.
We notice that expecting from God to demonstrate physical examples of resurrection in the universe is encouraged, even if we may be convinced that the Creator of the universe must be able to recreate everything again in another form since we notice that the universe is being continuously renewed. The request of Abraham is welcomed. In this way the Qur’an teaches us that the matters of belief need to be demonstrated in the physical existence in this world. We have to search for the evidence of belief matters demonstrated in creation of this world so that we can utilize this evidence and arrive at a logical conclusion that confirms what the Qur’an asks its audience to believe.
The verse continues with the phrase “Take four birds and train them to come back to you. Then place them on separate hilltops, call them back and they will come to you.” I can take birds and can train them which is all part of His order operating in the universe. The word “جُزْءًۭ”, which is translated as “separate” is also translated as “a part or portion”, meaning not altogether. The word is understood as to cut it, also understood as one by one. This word is a matter of dispute among scholars but they all regard it as a miracle. Some said it took place by changing the order of the universe, the others it is a miracle because it was not known to anyone in their time but in fact it is just revealing what is not yet known of the order but is waiting for human beings to uncover.
The phrase “ثُمَّ ٱدْعُهُنَّ يَأْتِينَكَ سَعْيًۭا ۚ”, translated as “then place the birds on separate hilltops”, i.e. separately and not altogether. “They will come flying to you.” Let’s pay attention to the phrase “فَصُرْهُنَّ إِلَيْكَ”, translated as “train them”. Train the birds to come back to you. Learn the nature of the birds, how they can be trained. The one who creates the universe has created it in such a way that we can get familiar with the nature of the things. When I train myself on something, I become familiar with it, what its nature is. Everyone has some specialty in some way which was developed over time. For example, how to fix a car, repair teeth, fix plumbing pipes, which are all on how to arrange and rearrange the created things. Get familiar with their nature, i.e. the way they are created, and they will come back to you. If someone tries to repair laptops, it would be hard in the first year but over time they will become familiar with it and will become experts in repairing laptops. Same with the recitation of the Quran, one can train and become familiar with it. That is what the order in the universe demonstrates to me. The one who is recreating everything for my intellect, logic, can I not understand that He can recreate everything within the capacity of my experience? I can accept and confirm the One who is giving life to every being and then recreating, continuously renewing their existence at every moment. Can He not do this again? I am experiencing this here. I don’t have to ask for a miracle to be created for me. To create miracles for the prophet is within the order that was not experienced before. For people who lived a couple of centuries ago the internet system was not even imagined, but it is real now for everyone. The telephones and other technological devices were possible only by uncovering the details of the order of the universe. They are not an addition to the order neither are they possible without obeying the order of the universe. The order is established in such a way that provides all these rules in it but they are needed to be uncovered by human investigations. This is how we become more and more amazed with the fine and perfect details in creation, therefore of the Infinite capacity of the Creator of the universe.
Another way of understanding the “separation of the birds” is that everything in the universe is so delicately distinguished from each other that there is no confusion between things. Thousands of seeds are put in the same soil and watered, what happens is that every seed comes up with its own way that was meant for it. The external factors such as sunlight, water have no effect but each cell is coded in a meticulous way so as not to cause any confusion. Everything is distinguished in the universe. Thus, the birds are separated and come back means that they keep their nature, because their Creator has made them in this way. When we investigate the order of the universe with an unbiased mind we understand the one who created this world in such a way that we are experiencing endless examples of resurrection of beings which are continuously renewed in their existence with no difficulties and confusions. This can only be possible by attributing it to an Absolute Source of Existence.
Tags: Abraham, Birds, Conviction, Feelings, Heart, Intellect, Lord, Quranic examples, Resurrection