Nature & Creation: Reflections on the convergence of faith and scientific knowledge
Whether we realise it or not, nature continuously evolves according to the course charted by the Almighty. As Muslims, we understand mankind’s duty as caliphs of the land ordained by Allah SWT. However, this duty seems to constantly slip our minds as we seek to fulfill our worldly desires and other activities that distract us. Allah SWT mentions in Surah Ad-Dukhan, verse 38-39:
وَمَا خَلَقْنَا ٱلسَّمَـٰوَٰتِ وَٱلْأَرْضَ وَمَا بَيْنَهُمَا لَـٰعِبِينَ
مَا خَلَقْنَـٰهُمَآ إِلَّا بِٱلْحَقِّ وَلَـٰكِنَّ أَكْثَرَهُمْ لَا يَعْلَمُونَ
We did not create the heavens and the earth and everything in between for sport.
We only created them for a purpose, but most of them do not know. (The Qur’an, 44:38-39)
As we are constantly reminded in sermons and religious classes that this Earth is a test for us, we should never forget our duty to protect it and learn from its many wonders for the benefit of mankind. Our observations and discoveries should reinforce our belief in Allah’s might in crafting His most intricate of designs on Earth and the cosmos as we know it.
Among the very closest elements of the natural world that affect us is the weather. In Singapore especially, with its tropical climate, we have to deal with the immense heat on some days and torrential rain on others. Lightning and strong winds from the sea are normal occurrences. With an excellent public infrastructure that has more or less shielded us from the elements all the time, we often forget to be thankful to Allah for such a blessing. Many of us complain whenever rain falls because we think it will be troublesome to travel from one place to another. Yet, it is that same particle of rainwater that will reach our taps back at home for our showers and thirsts. There is a verse that details the formation of rain in Surah Ar-Rum, verse 48:
ٱللَّهُ ٱلَّذِى يُرْسِلُ ٱلرِّيَـٰحَ فَتُثِيرُ سَحَابًا فَيَبْسُطُهُۥ فِى ٱلسَّمَآءِ كَيْفَ يَشَآءُ وَيَجْعَلُهُۥ كِسَفًا فَتَرَى ٱلْوَدْقَ يَخْرُجُ مِنْ خِلَـٰلِهِۦ ۖ فَإِذَآ أَصَابَ بِهِۦ مَن يَشَآءُ مِنْ عِبَادِهِۦٓ إِذَا هُمْ يَسْتَبْشِرُونَ
It is Allah who sends the winds, which then stir up (vapour, forming) clouds, which He then spreads out in the sky or piles up into masses as He wills, from which you see rain come forth. Then as soon as He causes it to fall on whoever He wills of His servants, they rejoice. (The Qur’an, 30:48)
MashaAllah. How detailed and magnificent is Allah SWT in His craft to bring us the providence we need. And the fact that it is easy for him to do it is beyond what the human mind can truly comprehend in this world. Thus, we should not remain heedless of His commands and be grateful to Him. One way to express our gratefulness is to make du’a the same way our Prophet SAW. did when it rained. It is narrated from Aisyah RA. that when it rained the Messenger of Allah SWT would say:
اللَّهُمَّ صَيِّبًا نَافِعًا
"O Allah, make it a beneficial rain."
The next closest thing among the elements of nature is the presence of the food that we eat. I find it amazing to learn about the lengthy process from producing raw food from crops, livestock, and aquatic animals to the dishes that we eat on our dining tables. This is another sign of Allah’s greatness and might. Our early ancestors ate raw food like fruits and cattle to survive. Over generations and multiple brilliant inventions from those who came before us, we enjoy the dishes we can cook and eat every day. Alhamdulillah, we are blessed to be able to gain the sustenance from Allah today. Let us not forget one of the most famous Qur’anic verses in Surah At-Talaq, verse 2-3:
وَمَن يَتَّقِ ٱللَّهَ يَجْعَل لَّهُۥ مَخْرَجًا
وَيَرْزُقْهُ مِنْ حَيْثُ لَا يَحْتَسِبُ ۚ وَمَن يَتَوَكَّلْ عَلَى ٱللَّهِ فَهُوَ حَسْبُهُۥٓ ۚ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ بَـٰلِغُ أَمْرِهِۦ ۚ قَدْ جَعَلَ ٱللَّهُ لِكُلِّ شَىْءٍ قَدْرًا
And whoever is mindful of Allah, He will make a way out for them, and provide for them from sources they could never imagine. And whoever puts their trust in Allah, then He (alone) is sufficient for them. Certainly, Allah achieves His Will. Allah has already set a destiny for everything. (The Qur’an, 65:2-3)
I am reminded of families I have learned about in the past who have had days when they would not know where their next meal was going to come from. By God’s will, they received food from neighbours, friends, and others whom they had never known. I was moved by such stories. Allah is Ar-Razzaq (The Sustainer/Provider). Never should one doubt Allah SWT's ability to provide. He provides and continuously provides, and it is easy for Him.
Almost all of us are familiar with the fact that trees within jungles and forests are the ‘lungs of the Earth’. In a process called photosynthesis which happens in the light of day, carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is converted into oxygen. This process is one of the many processes on Allah’s earth that provide balance for all life on it to exist. And it is through this food-making process that we enjoy the bounties of the earth Allah SWT has set for us. Allah SWT mentions in Surah Ar-Ra’d, verse 4:
وَفِى ٱلْأَرْضِ قِطَعٌ مُّتَجَـٰوِرَٰتٌ وَجَنَّـٰتٌ مِّنْ أَعْنَـٰبٍ وَزَرْعٌ وَنَخِيلٌ صِنْوَانٌ وَغَيْرُ صِنْوَانٍ يُسْقَىٰ بِمَآءٍ وَٰحِدٍ وَنُفَضِّلُ بَعْضَهَا عَلَىٰ بَعْضٍ فِى ٱلْأُكُلِ ۚ إِنَّ فِى ذَٰلِكَ لَـَٔايَـٰتٍ لِّقَوْمٍ يَعْقِلُونَ
And on the earth, there are (different) neighbouring tracts, gardens of grapevines, (various) crops, palm trees—some stemming from the same root, others standing alone. They are all irrigated with the same water, yet We make some taste better than others. Surely these are signs for those who understand. (The Qur’an, 13:4)
The sort of diversity that is seen in the plant kingdom is magnificent. Modern-day botanists are amazed at the number of plant species that thrive on land and in the water including trees, flowering plants, ferns, mosses, seaweed, and algae. Yet, Allah has already mentioned this diversity in the Qur’an more than 1400 years ago
In Singapore alone, according to Nparks, we have around 2,200 plant species on record. Most of us do not know the plants that are native to this country. However, if you take a closer look at the plants at Botanic Gardens, Gardens by the Bay, and Hort Park, we can learn more about these local species and appreciate these adornments of the earth that continuously glorify Allah.
Trees, ferns, and grass all provide the necessary resources to sustain life, especially for animals. Many birds build their nests on trees as the height is important to protect their young against predators. The leaves of plants and trees are food for insects and plant-eating mammals. In Singapore’s forests, common furry animals that can be seen residing on trees include bats, Plantain squirrels and long-tailed macaques. Colugos and the Raffles’ banded langur are rare but can still be found in our local nature reserves. I have come across long-tailed macaques on many occasions in the past and managed to get selfies with them too! One thing to note though: If you have any food with you, keep it inside your haversack bag and zip it up. You never know when these naughty friends of ours will snatch your things away from you.
Long-tailed Macaque at Central Catchment Nature Reserve
Besides animals that swing, jump, or fly from tree to tree, there are also numerous animals that roam the forest floor. Singaporeans may be familiar with the wild boar which may be terrifying to some, and the lesser mousedeer or kancil as it is known in Malay. I have personally seen these two creatures at the Central Catchment Nature Reserve and Chestnut Nature Park. If you are fortunate enough, you may be able to get a good picture of the lesser mousedeer searching for food on the forest floor. They are pretty small so do keep your eyes peeled for them if you visit the nature reserves.
Wild boar at Macritchie Reservoir Park
Wild furry animals do not just live in the forests. They dwell in water bodies, riverbanks, and beaches too. Singaporeans are all too familiar with the few groups of otters that roam the canals, ponds, and rivers in the city. They have achieved celebrity-like status such that everyone who comes across them will surely fish out their phones and film them. I managed to get a good shot of a lone otter which was swimming along East Coast beach at midday and stopped at shore for a short nap.
Lone otter at East Coast Park
While otters always catch our attention every time they are in town, another commonly found animal roams the towns’ canals and water bodies. They are no stranger to many of us. However, some of us may not know how big they can get. This is the water monitor lizard. Adult males can grow up to 2 metres in length. I chanced upon a considerably huge one at the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve and another at Little Guilin. Glad I kept a distance as I was taking pictures of the two beauties.
Water monitor lizard at Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve
Water Monitor Lizard at Little Guilin
I am convinced of the fact that monitor lizards are the descendants of certain species of dinosaurs which live both on land and in the water millions of years ago with their sharp hook-like claws and dragon-like features. I have always been fond of the monitor lizard due to its competition with another species of reptile that dwell in certain remote areas of Singapore. That is the estuarine crocodile which I managed to capture a picture of from afar the last time I was at Sungei Buloh. It is known that the monitor lizards will eat the eggs of crocodiles if they ever find them. That runs the risk of getting devoured whole by the mother crocodile.
Estuarine Crocodile at Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve
It is fascinating to ponder about the nature of these animals. They are constantly conscious of Allah SWT and not a single action is done without Allah’s knowledge. All animals are under His protection and we as humans have a duty to protect the habitats in which they live. Science has proven that the ecosystems are in balance because of the symbiotic relationship between the plants and creatures.
Allah SWT mentions in Surah Al-Baqarah verse 164:
إِنَّ فِى خَلْقِ ٱلسَّمَـٰوَٰتِ وَٱلْأَرْضِ وَٱخْتِلَـٰفِ ٱلَّيْلِ وَٱلنَّهَارِ وَٱلْفُلْكِ ٱلَّتِى تَجْرِى فِى ٱلْبَحْرِ بِمَا يَنفَعُ ٱلنَّاسَ وَمَآ أَنزَلَ ٱللَّهُ مِنَ ٱلسَّمَآءِ مِن مَّآءٍ فَأَحْيَا بِهِ ٱلْأَرْضَ بَعْدَ مَوْتِهَا وَبَثَّ فِيهَا مِن كُلِّ دَآبَّةٍ وَتَصْرِيفِ ٱلرِّيَـٰحِ وَٱلسَّحَابِ ٱلْمُسَخَّرِ بَيْنَ ٱلسَّمَآءِ وَٱلْأَرْضِ لَـَٔايَـٰتٍ لِّقَوْمٍ يَعْقِلُونَ
Indeed, in the creation of the heavens and the earth; the alternation of the day and the night; the ships that sail the sea for the benefit of humanity; the rain sent down by Allah from the skies, reviving the earth after its death; the scattering of all kinds of creatures throughout; the shifting of the winds; and the clouds drifting between the heavens and the earth (in all of this) are surely signs for people of understanding. (The Qur’an 2:164)
Scholars contend that ‘the people of understanding’ in the above verse refer to those who observe the patterns in the world including natural scientists, biologists, physicists, meteorologists, astronomers, and cosmologists. They are people with knowledge about the natural world. Indeed, Allah SWT tells them directly in the Qur’an about His signs. May Allah guide them all.
Speaking of scientists and science, I am reminded of scientific discoveries and inventions that have benefitted humankind over the past few decades. The rise of artificial intelligence technology as a tool to help aid humans in their lives has spurred a debate on whether scientists will be able to create life and intellect. Muslims know that only Allah SWT gives and takes life from His creations. It is truly interesting how scientists try so hard to go so far in trying to create life and prevent death. Just last year in 2021, American billionaire Jeff Bezos launched an investment into a biotech start-up that aims to prevent cellular aging by programming cells. If the project succeeds, they will be able to claim that modern science has made immortality possible. Subhanallah. We know that such a scenario is unthinkable. Allah has mentioned in Surah Ali ‘Imran, verse 185:
كُلُّ نَفْسٍ ذَآئِقَةُ ٱلْمَوْتِ
Every soul shall taste death… (The Qur’an, 3:185)
Anyone who believes they can defy death is foolish. May Allah guide us to the right path.
Another recent discovery that made headlines more than a decade ago was the slime mould network. Researchers from Japan and England set up an experiment in which oat flakes are placed in a pattern similar to the locations of the Japanese cities around Tokyo. Remarkably, the slime moulds constructed a network of nutrient-channeling tubes similar to the Japanese rail system. This amazing discovery has enthralled scientists and urban planners. How magnificent and brilliant is this creation of Allah SWT. It is brainless and has no awareness of the problem, yet it can design its network in the most efficient way possible.
Slime Mould Network; retrieved from wired.com
Many lessons can be learned from such discoveries in the natural world. Indeed, Allah has created a sea of knowledge on Earth for us to gain. What is stopping us from learning at every step of the way in our life? The concept of ‘ilm (knowledge) is repeated 750 times in the Qur’an, the third concept with the most mentions after ‘Allah’ and ‘Rabb’. Our Prophet SAW. commanded us to seek knowledge as far as we could reach and at all times, making the action an obligation for us all. May Allah make us among those who continuously seek knowledge on the face of this Earth. Amin.
One of the greatest advantages of living in Singapore definitely has to be its excellent education system and ubiquity of learning opportunities. Religious classes are available at the masjids, many with a structured curriculum, while the secular education system has lifted many out of illiteracy since independence. Our environment is conducive for learning with many children able to be supported beyond their basic needs. There are also upskilling courses for those who feel they have lost their relevance in the workforce but still need to either support themselves or pass time in their old age. Indeed, the opportunities for learning are always there. We ourselves have to make the effort to improve our learning and skills.
In conclusion, I hope readers have found something meaningful from my reflections on nature and Allah’s creation. I just love to take nice photographs of animals for my collection, and I am happy to share them with you. The natural world is fascinating to me, and I hope most of us get to share the experience of being in nature and observing the creations of Allah SWT in great detail. We can ponder and learn a lot just by observing. If you are curious about a particular natural phenomenon, read up about it. There are tons of books and articles online and at the library waiting for you to open and read. May Allah make us among the people of understanding. Amin Ya Rabbal ‘Alamin.