Saturday, April 28, 2007

Understanding the miracles all around us

I recently read "Charlotte's Web" to my daughter, and the following passage stuck out to me. Fern is the little girl who took care of Wilbur, the pig. This is from a scene in Chapter 14 when Fern's mother, Mrs. Arable, is talking to Dr. Dorian because she is concerned that her daughter believes the animals are talking.

"I've been hearing things about that pig," said Dr. Dorian, opening his eyes. "They say he's quite a pig."
"Have you heard about the words that appeared in the spider's web?" asked Mrs. Arable nervously.
"Yes," replied the doctor.
"Well, do you understand it?" asked Mrs. Arable.
"Understand what?"
"Do you understand how there could be any writing in a spider's web?"
"Oh, no," said Dr. Dorian. "I don't understand it. But for that matter I don't understand how a spider learned to spin a web in the first place. When the words appeared, everyone said they were a miracle. But nobody pointed out that the web itself is a miracle."
"What's miraculous about a spider's web?" said Mrs. Arable. "I don't see why you say a web is a miracle-it's just a web."
"Ever try to spin one?" asked Dr. Dorian.
Mrs. Arable shifted uneasily in her chair. "No," she replied. "But I can crochet a doily and I can knit a sock."
"Sure," said the doctor. "But somebody taught you, didn't they?"
"My mother taught me."
"Well, who taught a spider? A young spider knows how to spin a web without any instructions from anybody. Don't you regard that as a miracle?"
"I suppose so," said Mrs. Arable. "I never looked at it that way before. Still, I don't understand it, and I don't like what I can't understand."
"None of us do," said Dr. Dorian, sighing. "I'm a doctor. Doctors are supposed to understand everything. But I don't understand everything, and I don't intend to let it worry me."
Mrs. Arable fidgeted. "Fern says the animals talk to each other. Dr. Dorian, do you believe animals talk?"
"I never heard one say anything," he replied. "But that proves nothing. It is quite possible that an animal has spoken civilly to me and that I didn't catch the remark because I wasn't paying attention. Children pay better attention than grownups. If Fern says that the animals in Zuckerman's barn talk, I'm quite ready to believe her. Perhaps if people talked less, animals would talk more. People are incessant talkers-I can give you my word on that."

There are two points this passage brought to my mind:

(1) Miracles can be seen all around us, just like an ordinary spider's web. As Paul wrote, "since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities - his eternal power and divine nature - have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse." (Romans 1:20) Human nature is to take things for granted that we are accustomed to. When we see something day in and day out, we lose sight of just how miraculous the entire universe really is. In a class I taught recently I asked everyone if they wanted to see a miracle. I promised I could show them one right then and there. When they said they wanted to see one I walked over to the window, pulled up the blinds and pointed outside. Look out the window. There's a miracle! Just because something is part of our everyday experience does not make it any less miraculous when you consider how incredibly unlikely it all is to exist at all. I apologize for not being able to remember who said this (I want to say it was C.S. Lewis, but don't quote me on that), but a slow miracle is no less miraculous than a quick one. Regardless of how long you believe it took for the universe as we know it to be created, the fact that it exists at all is still a mind-boggling miracle.

(2) Mankind has a somewhat egotistical desire to feel like we know (or are capable of knowing) everything. Probably one of our biggest failings is our inability to see our own shortcomings. We don't understand everything. But like Dr. Dorian, we have to realize that we don't know everything and not let it bother us. God is infinite. There is no end to any of His qualities. Man is finite. It is impossible for us to fully understand all there is to know about God. Unfortunately, too many people refuse to accept God (or else they redefine Him and make Him finite) because since they cannot fully comprehend an infinite God, they decide that His existence cannot be proven. In fact, if God is infinite, it is perfectly logical that we should not be able to understand everything about Him. The moment we think we have fully understood Him, we would have proven that He was NOT infinite. Job demanded that God tell him why he was suffering. When God replied to Job, he pointed out just how much Job did not understand, but took for granted and accepted anyway. But for some reason, even though so much of God can be understood, we are still not willing to take for granted and accept those things we cannot understand, just like Job did not understand why he was suffering.

"Then the LORD answered Job out of the storm. He said:
'Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge?
Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me.
Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation? Tell me, if you understand.
Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth? Tell me, if you know all this.
What is the way to the abode of light? And where does darkness reside?
Can you take them to their places? Do you know the paths to their dwellings?
Surely you know, for you were already born! You have lived so many years!'"
(Job 38:1-3, 18-21)

Job repented and acknowledged that God gives us more than enough information to justify faith in Him. But sometimes there are questions we will face in this world to which we won't get an answer. We just have to trust Him. After all, He knows far more than we do, and we're in good hands.

God bless.


Anonymous said...

Mecca before Islam
As it is known Holy Muhammad (pbuh), the messenger of Allah and the last prophet sent as a grace to the universe was born in the city of Mecca within the Hejaz region on the west of Arabian peninsula which is in the center of the Asian continent, European continent and African continent known as the old world. For this reason, it will be useful to mention about the history of Mecca along with Kaaba and Quraish with their main features.

The known history of Mecca goes back to the period of Holy Abraham, yet there is not much information as to its previous history. After Holy Abraham brought His son Ishmael who was at an early age and His mother Hagar to Mecca with the order of Allah, He left them there to go back to Palestine.

Mecca Valley described as an “uncultivable valley” (Abraham 14/37) had an area of desert quality and its climate was hot and dry. Thus, the mother and son soon encountered with the problem of thirst. According to religious accounts, just as Hagar was running along the Safa and Marwa Hills in order to find water and became desperate and gave up on her son’s life, with the order of Allah a source of water sprung from where her son stood. The source which had abundance of water was called the zamzam and became the halting place of caravans. After a certain time, Jurhum tribe coming Yemen settled in outer sections of Mecca. Ishmael learned Arabic from them and married with a girl from this tribe.

Holy Abraham who was living in Palestine from time to time paid visits to Hagar and Ishmael. In His third visit to Mecca, Holy Abraham in accordance with the order of Allah began to construct Kaaba with His son Ishmael. It is understood from certain verses of Holy Qur’an (al-Baqarah 2/127; Al-Imran 3/96; Al-Hajj 22/26) that Kaaba existed before the time of Holy Abraham; however it was destroyed and its location was lost within time until Holy Abraham found its place and rebuilt it.1 Although there is no information about who built Kaaba before Abraham, yet it is recorded in some sources that it was built by Holy Adam or His son Seth. When Holy Abraham completed the construction of Kaaba, the archangel Gabriel appeared to him and taught Him how to perform the hajj worshipping.

The administration of Mecca and Kaaba was passed to Jurhum tribe one generation after Ishmael. Jurhum tribe first accepted the religion conveyed by Ishmael, but they deviated with time, performed immoral acts, stole gifts brought to Kaaba, and did not treated the people well who came to the city for Hajj. After a certain time, Khuza’ah tribe who migrated to Mecca from Southern Arabia defeated Jurhum tribe in a battle and removed them from the city. Jurhum tribe returned back to Yemen, their homeland, after removing Hajarul Aswad (Black Stone) from its place and covered the Zamzam Well to disguise its place. Ishmaelites did not take part in the battle due to their small number and they continued to stay in the city by reaching an agreement with Banu Khuza’ah. When Amr bin Luhay, one of the leading figures of the Khuza’ah tribe, broke the tauhid tradition and caused the emergence of idolatry when he took over the administration of Mecca and Kaaba.

Quraishis under the leadership Qusay bin Kilab, grandfather of the Holy Prophet from the fifth generation, took over the administration of Mecca in the first part of the fifth century by fighting against Khuza’ah tribe. Accordingly, Kaaba services which represent great honor and respect passed to the Quraishis. Qusay gathered Quraishi branches together which were living sparsely around Mecca, and he placed them around the Kaaba. Also by performing necessary regulations, Qusay gained control of the following services: administration of Mecca (administration of Darunnadwa), command-in-chief (kiyada), flagmanship (liva), maintenance of the Kaaba, security of the Kaaba’s door and keys (hijaba or sidana), supply of water to the pilgrims (sikaya), accommodation for the pilgrims (rifada). Darunnadwa which was built by him continued its existence up to Islamic period as a meeting place where important issues were discussed and various ceremonies were held.

The administration of Mecca and Kaaba services were continued by sons and grandsons of Qusay bin Kilab after his death. Hashim bin Abdumanaf, the grandson of Qusay and grandfather of the Holy Prophet from the third generation, worked hard to provide food and water for both pilgrims who came to Mecca and Quraishi tribe. Hashim, known for his generousness and his brothers Abdushems and Nawfal made trade agreements with Byzantine, Yemen, Ethiopia and Iran. They also signed nonaggression treaties with the tribes on the trade route. Accordingly, Mecca trade gained an international importance. Quraishis began to make trade purposed travels safely to Yemen and Ethiopia in winters, and to Syria and through Anatolia in summers with the prestige gained from performing the Kaaba services. Hashim married Salma, daughter of Amr bin Zayd from Najjarian, in Yathrib (Medina) where he stayed for a while on his way to Syria. Abdulmuttalib (Shayba), grandfather of the Holy Prophet, was born as a result of this marriage. Hashim died in Gazza in Palestine during his travel, and he was buried there. Abdulmuttalib stayed in Medina for eight years and later was brought to Mecca by his uncle Muttalib. Abdulmuttalib was raised by his uncle and his uncle transferred his tribe leadership duty to him before his death. Upon a dream, Abdulmuttalib located the place of the Zamzam Well that was covered by Jurhum tribe before they left Mecca, and he reopened the well. He undertook the duty of bringing food and water to the pilgrims.

Due to the fact that Mecca was a religious and commercial center apart from its geographic location, it caught the attention of the states such as Byzantine, Iran (Sassanian) and Ethiopia. Abraha, autonomous Yemen governor to the Kingdom of Ethiopia, built a church in San’a to prevent the visits of Arab to Kaaba. When he failed to do this, he decided to destroy Kaaba and abolish the religious center status of Mecca by invading it and stop the trade activities of the people of Mecca. Abraha came up to the surrounding area of Mecca with his army and stayed there. Abdulmuttalib, the leader of Hashimites branch of Quraishis and grandfather of the Holy Prophet, met Abraha and reminded him that his Owner would protect Kaaba, which was known as the House of Allah (Baytullah). Abraha ordered his soldiers to strike but the elephant in front of his army never take a step towards Kaaba. According to the Al-Fil surah (105/1-5) his army was smashed down by the small stones thrown by the birds sent by Allah. This incident was called the Elephant Incident, and the year in which it occurred was called the Elephant year. The fact that Abraha’s attempt failed caused Arabs to give more importance to hajj worshipping that was never seen before. The prestige of Mecca and Quraishis was raised.

Of the three prominent cities of Hejaz region, Mecca was the leading one. (other two; Yathrib (Medina) and Taif). Mecca, the intersection point of the roads leading to Yemen in the South, Mediterranean in the North, Persian Gulf in the west, Red Sea port Jeddah in the west, was located at a very strategic point in terms of economy. Moreover Kaaba, thus the city itself was the religion center of Arabia. People from all parts of Arabia would come to visit Kaaba during certain months of the year and provide vibrancy to the trade activities of the city. People would set fair grounds and poem competitions would be performed. As Mecca was unsuitable for agriculture due to geographical conditions, the trade constituted the essence of the business life.

Like the rest of the Arabian Peninsula in general, the idolatry was also prevalent in Mecca. The number of idols in Kaaba and its surroundings was 360; the biggest of these idols was Hubal which was the most significant idol of Quraish. In addition to this, there were idols in most of the houses. Arabs accepting Allah as the creator and ruler of the skies and the earth, worshiped idols which they thought would make them closer to Allah and which would be constitute a graceful quality before Him. They deviated from the belief of tauhid which ordered the sole devotion to Allah and thus they committed shirka by associating with Allah Moreover, although their numbers were not many in Mecca, there were also Hanifs of the tauhid belief which was formed by the Holy Abraham.,en/

Ten Minas Ministries said...

Thank you for joining the dialogue. Was there some particular point you wanted to bring out by this story? Obviously, you can probably guess that we may disagree about a bit of this history. Was there something specific about this particular post that you wanted to address (i.e., understanding the miracles all around us)? Thank you for your input.