Whether We Look Inwards or Outwards, There Is Only Submission

يا أَيُّهَا الَّذينَ آمَنُوا اتَّقُوا اللَّهَ حَقَّ تُقاتِهِ وَلا تَموتُنَّ إِلّا وَأَنتُم مُسلِمونَ

“O’ you who have faith! Have piety of God, as is His right due to Him and do not die except as those who submit to God’s will (Muslims).” — Qur’an 3: 101

There persists great difficulty and controversy over the meaning of the Arabic word, “Islam”. Popular definitions often hover over “peace”, undoubtedly to dodge accusations of Muslims, the practitioners of the religion Islam, being inherently and exceptionally violent. Other dictionary definitions suggest “to abandon”, suggesting when one becomes a Muslim (yet another definition from the verbal root, aslama, which Islam is derived from) he or she “abandons the world and all its illusions” in favor of God. And while there may be others, I’ll highlight a third here: “submission”.

This third definition, which I feel is the best translation for most usages of the terms Islam and its root, aslama, in the Qur’an, is perhaps why many westerners balk at the notion of “submitting to God’s will”, not only because this requires humility (which westerners are no more or less in short supply than other cultures) but also due to the method of how we look at the cosmos. If one is wedded to empiricism (i. e., science) as the only means of understanding the universe then it’s quite understandable that one would refuse to submit to that which one cannot “see”. However, as J. M. Kuczynski says in his book, Empiricism and Its Limits,

“we will find that empiricism is not in its strictest form a defensible doctrine and that, consequently, at least some knowledge has a non-perceptual (therefore non-empirical and non-scientific) basis.”1

That which we understand through our senses is the beginning of understanding, neither the end or even a boundary. In fact, our perception of reality would be total chaos if it were not for the so-called existence of universals, what Kuczynski calls “categories”:

“Sense-perception discloses only particulars to us—particular objects having particular property-instances. But we understand and describe the world in terms of categories or, as they are sometimes called, ‘universals.’ These can be thought of as natures, essences, or ‘ways of being,’ that, although exemplified by the particulars that we encounter in sense-perception, are not themselves to be sense-perceived, and, though they presumably exist, do not exist in space-time.”2

However, if one is willing to concede that empiricism, the mighty tool that it is, is but one instrument of understanding amongst others then one can move beyond the crass ideology that infects much of scientific discourse today. As a result, many feel they must go all in with science if they are to truly understand the world and cosmos around us. Sadly, this has only increased an overall sense of dread and depression amongst moderns in light of science being incapable of truly illuminating our lives.

Religion, on the other hand, or more specifically, Revelation, is also a tool for understanding, the only tool, I advocate, for truly being able to answer the enduring questions that haunt modern man (“Why am I here?” “Who made us?” “What is the purpose of life?”) for the simple reason that, like a hammer, it’s not the right tool if one wishes to make a soufflé. Likewise, empiricism is a great tool for exploiting our environment (making airplanes, bridges, buildings, etc.) but is simply incapable of being applied to those enduring questions about because it was never meant for that application in the first place.

But let us return to the topic of submission. A wonderful short film takes us on a journey, though the powers of ten, and shows us that while empiricism can serve as a vehicle that can aid on the “how” of the journey, it is not any better at telling us “where we should go” than Google maps can today.

1. Kuczynski, J M. Empiricism and Its Limits. Amazon Digital Services LLC, 2014.

2. Ibid.

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