A Framework is Set
In the name of God, the Beneficent, the Merciful
“Praise be to Allah, who has created the heavens and the earth, and brought into being darkness and light; yet those who disbelieve ascribe equals to their Lord. It is He who has created you out of clay, and then has decreed a term (for you), and there is another term known only to Him. Yet you are still in doubt. He alone is Allah in the heavens and on earth. He has full knowledge of all that you keep secret and all that you reveal. He knows what you earn”.
(Cattle, Al-An’aam: 6;l-3)
These three verses at the beginning of this surah strike the basic notes as they lay the foundation for the subject matter of the surah, namely, faith. The surah starts with praising Allah and glorifying Him as He deserves to be praised and glorified, being the creator and originator of all things. Thus’, the initial touches stress the foremost -quality of god-hood, namely, creation, To start with it refers to creation in the widest two expanses of existence, heavens and the earth. It then adds the two greatest phenomena that result from the creation of the heavens and the earth according to a deliberate plan, namely, darkness and light. This initial touch, then, takes into views the magnificent stars and planets which we see in the universe, the unimaginable distances which separate them and the numerous phenomena which result from their movement in their orbits. It then wonders at people who behold this awesome existence, which testifies to the infinite ability of the Supreme Creator and His faultless planning, and yet refuse to believe in Allah, acknowledges His Oneness or praise Him. Instead, they associate partners with Him who they allege to be His equals: “Praise be to Allah, who has created the heavens and the earth, and brought into being darkness and light, yet those who disbelieve ascribe equals to their Lord.” All this clear evidence in the universe is thus made to lose its effect on the human soul. The irony is of the same magnitude as the ‘stars and the planets,’ the endless distance separating them and the all-enveloping phenomena that result from their creation. Indeed, it is great.
Idleness and Movement
This is followed by a touch on human existence which comes second to the existence of the universe and the two phenomena of darkness and light. It is a remarkable ‘touch which takes them from the darkness of clay to the light of active life. We perceive here full artistic harmony with the “darkness and light” mentioned at the outset. Another touch intertwined with it is the reference to a first term two contrasting touches on idleness and movement in the same way as dull clay is contrasted with the life created by Allah. The gap between each two contrasting things is as wide as we can imagine. All this should have inspired every human heart with unshakable faith that it is all part of Allah’s scheme and that we will all be gathered to Him. Those who are addressed by this surah continue to have doubts: “It is He who has created you out of clay and then has decreed a term for you, and there is another term known only to Him. Yet you are still in doubt.” A third touch in these short verses combines the two previous ones within the same framework as it establishes the fact that Allah is the only deity in the whole universe and in human life: “He alone is Allah in the heavens and on earth. He has full knowledge of all that you keep secret and all that you reveal. He knows what you earn.”
The one who has created the heavens and the earth is the only God in them. All attributes and qualities of godhood belong to Him alone and they acknowledge them without hesitation. That acknowledgement is seen in their submission to the laws Allah has operated in them and in their willing fulfillment of His commandments. The same should apply to human life. Allah has created man as he has created the heavens and the earth. In his initial making is the clay of this earth. All his qualities which combine to make of him a human being have been given to him by Allah. His physical entity is subject to the laws of nature Allah has set in operation. Man has no say in all that. He is created and given his existence by Allah’s will not by his parents’ design.
What Man Keeps Secret
Man is born according to the law Allah has established for the term of pregnancy and the condition of childbirth. He uses for breathing the air Allah has placed over the earth in the quantities and ratios He has willed. His breathing conforms to the quantity and the method Allah has chosen for him. His feelings, instincts and actions and indeed his life, must follow Allah’s law. He has no say in any of that. In all this he is in the same position as the heavens and the earth. Moreover Allah knows what man keeps secret and what he reveals. He knows what he earns, whether it is made in secret or in the open.
It is more befitting for man that he should follow Allah’s laws in that area of his life over which he has been given full control. This includes concepts of faith, values and practices. If he does that, he achieves harmony between his natural life which is subject to Allah’s law and his free choice where he is given a choice. Thus, he precludes internal conflicts and saves himself from being pulled in opposite direction by two unequal laws: One set by Allah and one made by man. The two cannot be placed on the same level.
This powerful opening of the surah addresses the heart and mind of man pointing out the evidence derived from creation and from life, since man is able to see all around him and within himself, it is an address which moves away from theology and philosophy in, order to awaken human nature as it portrays the movement of creation according to a deliberate scheme in a manner which states facts and does not make an argument. The creation of the heavens and the earth and their organization according to a clear system and the creation of life, the most important aspect of which is human life and its movement along its definite course, put human nature face to face with the Oneness of Allah which is the question the whole surah and indeed the whole Qur’an aims to establish.
Deviation from the Logical Conclusion
The polytheist Arabs addressed initially by this surah did not deny Allah’s existence altogether. Indeed, they acknowledged His existence and that He was the Creator who provided sustenance to His creation, and who owned the universe and caused life and death. They acknowledged many of His attributes as the Qur’an states. The reason classifying them as polytheists was their deviation from the logical conclusion, of their acknowledgement of Allah’s existence, namely, that Allah must be given authority over their whole lives, without associating any partners with Him in that, and to implement His law as the only acceptable law in human life. It was not enough for them to acknowledge Allah’s existence and to give Him those attributes to make them believers. Here at the beginning of this surah, the fact that Allah has created the universe and created man, and that He governs both and has full knowledge of men’s secret thoughts and their overt actions and what they hide and reveal are stated as an introduction which leads to the inevitable conclusion that to Him alone belongs all authority to legislate.
Both sets of evidence concerning creation and life were perfectly suitable to confront the polytheists in order to establish the major concept of the Oneness of Allah and His authority to legislate. Both are also perfectly suitable to confront the new hollow and ignorant concepts which deny Allah’s existence.