Islamic Wisdom

Imam Jafar as-Sadiq (a. s.) and Abu Shakir

Jafar as-Sadiq (A. S.) was one of the most patient and tolerant teachers of his time. He used to give lectures on Islamic theology every day. After his lectures, he would listen and reply to the objections of his students and critics. He had asked his students and critics, who attended his lectures, not to interrupt him during his lectures. They were quite free to ask him any question or raise any objection after the classes were over.

 

 
This is a debate between Imam Ja’far Sadiq (A.S.) and an atheist named Abu Shakir.
 
Atheist (Abu Shakir):
Would you allow me to say something and ask some questions?
 
Imam:
Yes, you can.
 
Atheist:
Is it not a myth that there is Allah?
You want people to believe in a thing which does not exist. If there was Allah, we could have felt his existence through our senses…
You may say that we can perceive the presence of Allah by our intelligence and not through our inner or outer senses.
But our intelligence also needs the assistance of our five outer senses, without which it cannot function.
We cannot make any reasoning or come to any conclusion without the help of our senses.
 
By your imagination you have created a being, which is of your own image. Since you see, talk, hear, work and rest, He also does exactly what you do.
You do not show Him to anyone. To maintain your hold on the people you say that He cannot be seen.
I have heard that there is an idol in India, which is hidden behind a curtain and is not allowed to be seen by the Hindu devotees. The custodians of the idol say that it is out of mercy that their god does not appear before them, because whoever casts his eyes on it, would instantly die.
 
Your Allah is also like the veiled god of the Hindus…
You say that the universe was created by Allah, who did not talk to anyone, except to the Prophet of Islam.
As a matter of fact the universe came by itself.
 Does anyone create the grass, which grows in the field? Does it not grow and get green by itself?
Does anyone create the ants and the mosquitoes?
Do they not come out by themselves?
 
I know that some people, who have been deceived by you, believe in your invisible Allah, but you cannot deceive me and make me believe in Him.
You deceive innocent people by saying that your imaginary Allah has created the universe, but I do not deceive anyone. No one created the universe. There was no need of any god to create it. It came by itself. God cannot create anything. He is himself is our creation.
I created him (my idol god) by my hand and you by your imagination.
By introducing your invisible Allah to the people, you want to acquire wealth and position and have a respectable, comfortable and luxurious life. These are my last words. I do not want to say anything more.
 
Imam Ja’far Sadiq:
l would like to start with the last part of your speech.
Your accusations that I want money, position and a comfortable life would have been justified if I was living like a caliph.
You have seen today that I have eaten a few morsels of bread only and nothing else. I invite you to my house to see for yourself what I will have for dinner and how I live.
 
Abu Shakir, if I wanted to acquire wealth and have a good life, as you say, I was not obliged to teach and preach to get rich.
I would have earned money and got rich by my knowledge of chemistry.
Another way to get rich was to do business.
 
I have more knowledge' about foreign markets than any merchant in Medina.
I know what goods are produced in different countries and where to sell them for profit. I also know how to bring them here to reduce the cost of transport. Our merchants import goods only from Syria, Iraq, Egypt and some other Arab countries.
They do not know what goods are available in Isphahan, Rasht and Rome, otherwise they would have imported them and sold them with profit.
Abu Shakir, you have said that I ask the people to worship Allah to deceive them and to get rich.
 
I must tell you that I have never taken anything from anyone, except some fruits as presents.
One of my friends sends to me every year fresh dates from his garden and another some pomegranates from Taif. I accept these presents so that they may not get offended.
I have heard, O Abu Shakir, that your father was a pearl merchant.
 
Perhaps you may have some knowledge about pearls.
But I know all about pearls and precious stones.
I can also appraise their market value. If I wanted to get rich I would have worked as a jeweler. Can you test and recognize a precious stone?
Do you know how many kinds of rubies and emeralds there are in the world?
 
Atheist:
I know nothing about them.
 
Imam Ja’far Sadiq:
Do you know how many kinds of diamonds there are and what colors they have?
 
Atheist:
I do not know.
 
Imam Ja’far Sadiq:
I am not a jeweler, but I know all about the pearls and precious stones. I also know where they come from. All jewelers must know about gems, what I know, but few of them know their sources. Do you know what makes a diamond shine?
 
Atheist:
How can I know why diamonds shine?
 
Imam Ja’far Sadiq:
Diamonds are obtained from the beds of rivers and streams. Rough diamonds are cut by experts. This is the cut of a diamond, which gives it its brilliance. Those who are experts in cutting diamonds are trained from the childhood in the profession of their fathers and forefathers. Cutting a diamond is a very delicate and difficult art. A diamond is cut only by a diamond.
 
Abu Shakir, I have said all this simply to show to you that if I wanted to accumulate wealth, I could have done so by making use of my knowledge about jewels.
I have replied to your accusations and now I shall deal with your objections.
Abu Shakir, you have said that I have fabricated stories and ask the people to worship Allah, who cannot be seen.
You refuse to acknowledge existence of Allah, because He cannot be seen. Can you see inside your own body?
 
Atheist:
No, I cannot.
 
Imam Ja’far Sadiq:
If you could have seen what is inside you, you would not have said that you do not believe in Allah, who cannot be seen.
 
Atheist:
What is the relationship between seeing within one's own body and the existence of your unseen Allah?
 
Imam Ja’far Sadiq:
You have said just now that a thing, which cannot be seen, touched, tasted or heard, does not exist.
 
Atheist:
Yes, I have said that and I believe it is true.
 
Imam Ja’far Sadiq:
Do you hear the sound of the movement of blood in your body?
 
Atheist:
No, I do not. But does blood move in the body?
Imam Ja’far Sadiq:
Yes, it does. It makes a full circuit of your body. If the circulation of blood stops for a few minutes, you will die.
 
Atheist:
I cannot believe that blood circulates in the body.
 
Imam Ja’far Sadiq:
It is your ignorance, which does not let you believe that your blood circulates in your body, and the same ignorance does not let you believe in the existence of Allah, Who cannot be seen.
Have you seen the tiny living beings, which Allah has created in your body?
It is because of these small creatures and their wonderful work that you are kept alive.
They are so small that you cannot see them.
 
Since you are a slave of your senses, you do not know about their existence.
If you increase your knowledge and decrease your ignorance, you will come to know that these small beings in your body are as large in number as the particles of sand in the desert.
These small creatures are born in your body, multiply in your body, work in your body and die in your body.
But you never see them, touch them, taste them or hear them in your life time.
 
It is true that one who knows himself knows his Allah. If you had known yourself and had the knowledge of what is going on inside your body, you would not have said that you do not believe in Allah, without seeing Him.
Abu Shakir, do you see the stone…?
 
To you it seems lifeless and motionless, because you do not see the brisk motion, which is inside the stone. Again it is lack of knowledge or your ignorance, which would not let you believe that there is motion inside the stone. The time will come when the learned people would see the motion which is in the stone.
 
Abu Shakir, you have said that everything in the universe came by itself and has no Creator.
You think that the grass in the field grows and gets green by itself.
You must know that the grass cannot grow without seeds and seeds would not germinate without moisture in the soil and there would be no moisture if no rain falls. The rain does not fall by itself.
First the water vapors rise and gather above in the atmosphere in the form of clouds.
 
The winds bring the clouds. Then the water vapors condense and fall down as rain drops.
The rain must also fall at the right time, otherwise no grass will grow and become green.
Take the seeds of ten kinds of herbs and put them in a closed jar, which has sufficient water, but no air. Would they germinate? No, in addition to water, seeds need air also. It is possible to grow grass, herbs and fruits in hot houses, when it is very cold, provided there is sufficient air. Without the presence of air no grass will grow in the fields and get green. If there is no air, all plants and animals, including human beings, would die.
 
Abu Shakir, do you see the air, on which your very existence depends?
You only feel it when it moves. Can you refuse to believe in the existence of air? Can you deny that to grow and get green the grass needs many things like seeds, soil, water, air, a suitable climate and above all a strong managing power, which may co-ordinate the action of these different elements?
That Managing and Co-coordinating Power is Allah.
 
You say that everything comes by itself because you are not a scientist. No scientist would ever say that. All scientists and all scholars believe in the existence of a creator, albeit, they may call Him by different names. Even those, who do not believe in Allah, believe in a Creative Force.
 
Abu Shakir, it is not because of one's knowledge, but it is due to his ignorance that he does not believe in Allah. When a wise man thinks of himself, he finds that his own body needs a controller so that all its organs and systems may function properly. He then realizes that this vast universe also needs a controller or supervisor so that it may run smoothly.
You said just now that both of us create our own gods - you by your hands and I by my imagination. But there is a big difference between your god and my Allah.
Your god did not exist before you made him out of wood or stone, but my Allah was there before I could think about Him. I do not create my Allah by my hands or by my brain. What I do is to know Him better and think of His Greatness.
 
When you see a mountain you try to know more about it. It is not creating the mountain by imagination. That mountain was there before you saw it and it would be there when you are gone.
You cannot know much about the mountain because of your limited knowledge. The more your knowledge grows, the more you will learn about it. It is impossible for you to find out when and how that mountain came into being and when it would disappear.
You cannot find out what minerals are there inside or underneath the mountain and what is their benefit to mankind.
 
Do you know that the stones, out of which you make your idols came into being thousands of years ago and shall exist for thousands of years more.
These stones have come here from a distant place. They could travel that long journey because different parts of the earth are always moving, but this movement is so slow that you do not feel it.
There is nothing in the universe, which is not in motion. Rest or motionlessness is meaningless. We are not at rest even when we are sleeping. We are in motion because the earth is in motion. Besides, we have a motion inside our own bodies.
 
Abu Shakir, if you had any knowledge about the piece of stone, out of which you carve an idol, you would not have denied the existence of Allah and said that I have created Him by my imagination. You do not know what a stone is and how it came into being. Today you can handle it as you like and cut it into any shape or form, but there was a time when it was in liquid state. Gradually it cooled down and Allah solidified it. In the beginning it was quite brittle and would have broken into pieces in your hand like a piece of glass.
 
Atheist:
Was it in a liquid condition before?
 
Imam Ja’far Sadiq:
Yes, it was.
 
Atheist:
(Abu Shakir burst into a peal of laughter. One of the students of Jafar as-Sadiq got angry and was about to say something when he was stopped by his teacher (Imam Ja’far Sadiq (AS).)
I am laughing because you say that the stones are made of water.
 
Imam Ja’far Sadiq:
I did not say that the stones are made of water. What I had said was that in the beginning they were in a liquid state.
 
Atheist:
What difference does it make? The liquid and water are the same things.
 
Imam Ja’far Sadiq:
There are many liquids which are not water. Milk and vinegar are liquids, but they are not water, although they have water content in them.
In the beginning the stones were liquid like water and they flowed like water.
Gradually they cooled down and became hard so that you could cut them and make them into idols. The same hard stones will turn into liquid, if they are heated.
 
Atheist:
When I go home I will check the truth of your statement. I will put the stone in the fireplace and see if it turns into liquid or not.
 
Imam Ja’far Sadiq”
You cannot liquefy stone in your fireplace. Can you liquefy a piece of iron at home? A very high temperature is required to turn solid stone into liquid.
Do you realize how you could make the idols out of stones? It was Allah, who made the stones.
It was He Who created you and gave you the hands with the unique fingers, which enabled you to handle tools and chisel out the idols from the stones.
Again it was He who gave you power and intelligence, which you used in making the idols.
 
Abu Shakir, do you think that the mountains are only heaps of stones? The Great Allah has created them to serve some very useful purpose. They were not created so that you may take stones and turn them into idols. Wherever there is a mountain there is flowing water. Rain and snow which fall on the mountain tops produce streams of fresh water. These streams combine together to form big rivers, which irrigate farms and fields. The people who live in the valleys, through which the rivers flow, are assured of constant supply of water. People who can afford it, go to the mountains during the summer season to escape the heat of the plains.
 
The mountains work as a great bulwark and protect towns and villages, which are in their valleys from the devastation and destruction of hurricanes.
Green mountains provide good grazing grounds for sheep.
When scorching heat burns the pastures down in the plains and no fodder is left, the shepherds take their flocks of sheep to the mountains and stay there till the end of summer.
Mountains are also habitats of birds and animals, some of which are a good source of food for those, who live there. Even the mountains, which are not green, are not without some use. If the people try, they may discover in them mines of metals and minerals which are useful for mankind.
 
Abu Shakir, I am too small and too weak to create Allah with my brain.
It is He, who has created my brain, so that I may think of Him and know Him - my Creator.
He was there before I came into being and He would be there when I am no more.
I do not mean that I would be totally destroyed. Nothing in the universe is totally destroyed. Everything is subject to change. It is only Allah, Who does not change.
Abu Shakir, please tell me sincerely to whom will you turn for help when you are in trouble? Do you hope that the idol you carve out of stone can come to your succour? Can it cure you when you are sick; save you from mishaps and calamities; save you from starvation and help you pay your debts?
 
Atheist:
I have no such expectations from the stone, but, I think there is something inside the stone, which will help me. Moreover, I cannot help worshipping it.
 
Imam Ja’far Sadiq:
What is inside the stone? Is it also stone?
 
Atheist:
I do not know what it is. But it cannot help me if it is also stone.
 
Imam Ja’far Sadiq:
Abu Shakir, what is inside the stone and is not stone and can help when you are in trouble is, Allah.
 
Atheist:
(After pondering over the subject for a while)
Is Allah, who cannot be seen, inside the stone?
 
Imam Ja’far Sadiq:
He is everywhere.
 
Atheist:
I cannot believe that a thing may be everywhere but remain unseen.
 
Imam Ja’far Sadiq:
Do you know that the air is everywhere but cannot be seen?
 
Atheist:
Although I cannot see the air, I can, at least, feel it when it moves. But I can neither see your Allah nor feel his presence.
 
Imam Ja’far Sadiq:
You do not feel the presence of air when it is not moving. The air is only a creation of Allah. He is everywhere, but you cannot see Him or feel His presence by your senses. You have admitted just now that although you do not see it, but your instinct or your soul tells you that there is something inside the stone, and is not the stone, which can help you. That something is Allah. Your instinct also tells you that you cannot live without Allah and without worshipping Him.
 
Atheist:
It is true. I cannot live without worshipping idols.
 
Imam Ja’far Sadiq:
Do not say idols. Say Allah.
It is He, Who is worthy of worship.
Just like you everyone is obliged to worship Him. One, who does not worship Allah has no guide and no guardian. He is just like one, who cannot see, cannot hear, cannot feel and cannot think.
He does not know where to go and on whom to depend when in trouble.Worshipping Allah is a part of living.
 
Every living being worships Him instinctively. Even the animals cannot live without worshipping Him. We cannot ask them and they cannot tell us that they worship Allah, but their well regulated and orderly life is sufficient proof that they worship Him.
I do not say that the animals believe in Allah and worship Him just as we do. But there is no doubt that they obey the laws made by their Creator faithfully, which means they worship Him. If they were not obedient to their Creator, they could not have such an orderly and regulated life.
We see that just before the advent of spring the titmouse (a kind of small bird) always comes at the same time and sings, as if to give us the tiding of the new season.
 
The itinerary of these migratory birds is so regulated and their schedule so fixed that even if the last days of winter are still cold, their arrival is not delayed for more than a few days.
When Chilchila (a migratory bird) returns after covering a distance of thousands of miles, it builds its nest at the same place, where it had built it last spring.
Was it possible for these small birds to have such a well-organized life if they did not obey the laws of Allah and worship Him?
 
Abu Shakir, even the plants obey the laws made by Allah faithfully and worship Him. Out of 150 species of plants, which are further divided into hundreds of sub-species you will not find even one plant, which has a disorganized and disorderly life.
Abu Shakir, just like us the plants also do not see their Creator, but they worship Him by obeying His laws instinctively.
I know that you will not accept, or perhaps you do not understand, what I say. A man must have sufficient knowledge to understand complicated problems.
 
Abu Shakir, not only animals by their animal instinct and plants by their plant instinct obey Allah and worship Him, the lifeless and inanimate objects also, with whatever instinct they have, obey Allah and worship Him. If they did not worship Him, they would not have followed the laws made by Him. As a result, their atoms would have broken apart and they would have been destroyed.
The light which comes from the sun also worships Allah by obeying his laws, which are very stringent and exact. It comes into being by the combination of two opposite forces. These forces also obey the laws of Allah and worship Him, otherwise they cannot produce light.
 
Abu Shakir, if there was no Allah there would have been no universe and no you and me. The sentence, "There is no Allah', is meaningless.
The existence of Allah is a must. If attention of Allah is diverted, even for a moment from the affairs of the universe to something else, it would break up. Everything in the universe obeys His laws, which are permanent and eternal.
 
Because of His absolute wisdom and knowledge, He could make such wonderful laws, which will last for ever. Each and every law, made by Him serves some special and useful purpose.
(When the Imam concluded his discourse, Abu Shakir fell into a deep reverie as if he was greatly inspired.)
Do you now believe that Allah, who cannot be seen, does exist and what you worship is the unseen Allah?
 
Atheist:
I am not yet convinced. I am in a quandary. I am full of doubts and misgivings about my faith and my convictions."
 
Imam Ja’far Sadiq:
The doubt about idol worship is the beginning of the worship of Allah.
Note: The Atheist couldn’t understand some things because he was living in 700’s C.E. while we are living in the modern age and we can understand what the Imam is talking about (cells, atoms, light fusion, continental drift, blood circulatory system, etc.)
 
References
The Great Muslim Scientist and Philosopher, 
Translated and published by Kaukab Ali Mirza
Publisher, Willowdale, Ont. ISBN: 0969949014,
Second Edition, 1997.