THE HISTORICAL MOVE FROM THE SUPERNATURAL TO A UNIVERSE BASED ON LAWS

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LAW and RELIGION


"Sunnaniah " (Nomotheticism)

The Qur'an is full of historical laws (or patterns),1 thus testifying that human history has emerged from the era of the supernatural to "Sunnaniah," the era of nomotheticism; and those with knowledge and call for justice have replaced those from the world of prophecy. People were able to emerge from the supernatural into historicity by tracing the decline of nations and understanding the factors that led to their rise and fall. Even though an orientation toward a universe based on laws was present in all prophetic traditions, the reality of a social life based independently on laws, and departing from the supernatural, arrived late to the lives of people in all societies.

When we compare the testimony of the people of knowledge with divine revelation as we have it, we encounter a startling conclusion: people have reached a new moment in the reception of truth. Unlike critical moments of truth in the past, modern people receive the word of God not primarily through prophetic symbols but through observation of events and the results of history. As those with knowledge inherited the world of prophets when prophecy ended and knowledge remained, so after the scientific came to coexist with the supernatural, the supernatural dissolved and the scientific remained.

Signs of the External World and Verses of the Book

As I have previously suggested, the symbolic signs and external reality are inseparable, for there is no way of grasping reality without the means of symbolic signs. These are the signifier and signified. The Qur'an connects signs of the external world with signs and verses from the Book.2

The Qur'an considers the universe, human events and the symbols that intercept them all signs to increase human mastery over existence and even over humanity, permitting humans to understand how to use laws for good and not ill. The Qur'an says it will show us the universe and historical events to provide evidence for divine order and its role in bringing out human potential. Hence, what has been revealed to prophets from the heavens and what those of knowledge discover by exploring the world will validate one another: "Soon will we show them our signs in the horizons, and in themselves, until it becomes manifest to them that it is the truth. Is it not enough that your Lord does witness all things?" (Surah 41 Fussilat: 53)3

Yet, unlike the ancient prophets, modern people of knowledge do not support each other's causes in calling forjustice. In fact, the Qur'an foreshadows this crisis in human history, even as it records human fears about the coming of the moment of knowledge.

It recites what happened when those who lived as contemporaries of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) asked him for the supernatural, for miracles, like those brought by previous prophets. We hear the Qur'an's answer: this book is enough evidence for you. As the Surah warns:

They say: `Why are not signs sent down to him from his Lord?' Say: `The signs are indeed with God: and I am indeed a clear (articulate) warner.'

And is it not enough for them that We have sent down to you the Book which is recited to them? Verily, in it is mercy and a reminder to a people who believe. (Surah 29 A1 `Ankabut: 50-51)4

Those who refuse this answer, demanding miracles, repudiate the prophetic chain through which the end of the era of prophecy is joined with the beginning of the era of knowledge. The Qur'an tells us to travel through the history of the nations to see what happened to those liars who refused justice among the people. Using historical evidence and reference points as our guide, we see God's condemnation of those of knowledge who give lie to the important truth of the prophetic chain. This chain repudiates any privileged access to special sources of knowledge unavailable to others: "Patterns (laws) have passed away before you: travel through the earth, and see what was the end of those who were liars." (Surah 3 Ali `Imran: 137)5

These liars deny a critical moment in human history, the moment of the seal of prophecy, which is an absolute, final departure from the metaphysical, &om a style of receiving knowledge through transcendental means to a scientific method, historical knowledge based on evidence. If we can trace this chain of prophecy, we are empowered to leave the world of the supernatural and enter a scientific world with laws and patterns.

The prophets founded and established the idea of monotheism in their own prophetic style, undergirded by prophetic unity. Those with knowledge are similarly under the sacred obligation to incorporate the central ideas of monotheism into a methodical science and practice. The unity of prophethood is evidenced in the way the prophets confirmed and consolidated each other's messages, predicting those prophets who would follow them just as scientists predict what findings could follow from their experiments. To confirm their unity, the prophets would take a pledge, asking for allegiance from their people, asking them to have faith, to believe and support the coming one. The Qur'an demands no less of them today:

Behold! God took the Covenant of the Prophets, (saying): `I give you a Book and wisdom; then comes to you a messenger, confirming what is with you; Do you believe in him and render him help?' God Said: `Do you agree, and take this my Covenant as binding on you?' They said: `We agree.' He said: `Then bear witness, and I am with you among the witnesses'.
If any turn back after this, they are then the perverted transgressors. (Surah 3 Ali `Imran: 81-82)

Footnotes

1 Historical or natural laws are referred to in the Qur'an with the word (sunnah). One of the verses that deals with the immutability of the laws of the universe reads: "[A]re they but looking for the law (sunnah) the ancients were dealt with? But no change will you find in God's law (sunnah); no shitting will you find in God's law (sunnah)." Surah 35 Fatir: 43.

2 In the Bible we read:

Beware of false prophets, who come to you dressed up as sheep (in sheep's clothingl, but undemeath they are savage wolves. You will recognize them by their fruit. Can grapes be picked from briars, or figs from thistles? A good tree always yields sound fruit, and a poor [corrupt] tree bad [evill fiuit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, or a poor tree sound fruit. A tree that does not yield sound fruit is cut down and thrown on the fire. That is why I say you will recognize them by their fruit. Matt 7:15-20.

The content of this message, if we could specify it, could be the basis to resolving many problems of humanity. Thus, exposing these texts with historical inputs could clarify them more.

3 17. This indicates that evidence from the natural world and historical events validate the message of prophets. The Qur'an reads:

Behold! In the creation of the heavens and the eatth; in the alteration of the night and day; in the sailing of the ships through the sea for the profit of humankind; in the rain which God sends down from the skies, and the life which he gives therewith to an earth that is dead; in the beasts of all kinds that He scatters through the earth; in the change of the winds, and the clouds which trail between the sky and the earth-are indeed signs for a people that reason. Surah 2 A1 Baqarah: 164.

Behold! In the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the alteration of night and day-There are indeed signs for those of hearts. Surah 3 Ali `Imran: 190.

And in Surah 26 A1 Shu'ara', eight historical events are presented with the following comment after each case: "Verily in this is a Sign. But most of them do not believe." This statement is repeated 8 times following these verses: Surah 26 A1 Shu'ara': 8-68, t03-121 139¬158, 174-190. These same historical events are presented in detail in Surah 7 A1 A'raf, and briefly in Surah 26 or only in names in Surah 50. "Before them derued the people of Noah the companions of the Russ, Thamud. The Ad, Pharaoh, the brethren of Lut, The companions of the Wood, and Tubba'. Each one of them rejected the messengers, and our warning was duly fulfilled." Surah 50 Qaf: 12-14.

4 18. It is said, at other places, this cry for miracles is also rebuked:

Say those without knowledge: `Why does not God speak unto us? Or why does not come unto us a sign? So said the people before them words of similar import. Their hearts are alike. We have indeed made clear the signs unto any people who hold firmly their belief.' Surah 2 A1 Baqarah: 118.

`Nay,' they say, `(these are) medleys of dreams!' `Nay, he forged it!' `Nay he is (but) a poet! Let him then bring a Sign like the ones that were to (prophets) of old!' Surah 21 AI Anbiya': 5.

They said: `We shall not believe in you, until you cause a spring to gush forth for us from the earth. Or (until) you have a garden of date trees and vines, and cause rivers to gush forth in their midst, carrying abundant water. Or you cause the sky to fall in pieces, as you claimed, against us, or you bring God and the angels before (us) face to face. Or you have a house adorned with gold, or you mount a ladder right into the skies. No, we shall not even believe in your mounting until you send down to us a book that we can read.' Say: `Glory to my Lord! Am I aught but a human messenger?' Surah 17 A1 Isra': 90-93.

Now are they but looking for the way the ancients were dealt with? But no change will you find in God's pattern (law). No turning off will you find in God's pattem (law). Surah 35 Fatir: 43.

5 By using this style of deduction, the evidence and reference point are based on history. In this style, the Qur'an's reference is historical results:

Do you not see how your Lord dealt with `Ad. Of the (city of) Iram, with lofty pillars, The like of which were not produced in (all) the land. And with Thamud, who cut out rocks in the valley. And with Pharaoh, Lord of stakes. (All) these transgress~ beyond bounds in the lands. And heaped therein mischief (on mischief). Therefore did your Lord pour on them a scourge of diverse chastisements: For your Lord is (as a guardian) on a watchtower. Surah 89 A1 Fajr: 6-14.

Such were the villages (populations) we destroyed when they committed iniquities; but We fixed an appointed time for their destruction. Surah 18 A1 Kahf: 59.

And We sent Moses, with our (clear) signs and authority manifest, Unto Pharaoh and his chiefs: but they followed the command of Pharaoh was no right guide. He will go before his people on the Day of Judgement, and lead them into the fire but woeful indeed will be the place to which they are led! And they are followed by a curse in this (life) and on the Day of Judgement: and woeful is the gift which shall be given (unto them)! These are some of the stories of communities which We relate unto you: of them some are standing and some have been mown down (by the sickle of time). It was not We that wronged (were unjust to) them: they wronged themselves. The deities, other than God, whom they invoked profited them no wit when there issued the decree of your Lord: nor did they add aught (to their lot) but perdition! Such is the chastisement of thy Lord when He takes communities in the midst of their injustice: grievous indeed, and severe is his chastisement. In that is a sign for those who fear the penalty of the hereafter: that is a day for which mankind will be gathered together: that will be a Day of Testimony. (Surah 11 Hud: 96-103).

If the Qur'an mentions the ends of nations that were unjust, then the ends of many other nations after the era of the Qur'an provide many historical lessons equally. The message of the historical tales in the Qur'an is clear: if the following lessons were not enough, wait for the coming ones. The law of God does not change in the rise and fall of nations who mistreat people and are unjust to them:

Such were the populations We destroyed when they committed iniquities; but We fixed an appointed time for their destruction. (Surah 18 A1 Kahf: 59).

And how many populations We destroyed, which exulted in their life (of prosperity)! Now those habitations of theirs, after them, are destroyed-all but a few. And We are their heirs. Surah 28 A1 Qasas: 58.

Nor was thy Lord the one to destroy the towns (a population) until He had sent to its center a messenger, reciting to them our signs: nor are We going to destroy town (a population) except when its members are unjust. Id. at 59.