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Between the unknowable and the inimitable

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“With Him are the keys of the invisible. None but He knows them… Not a leaf falls, but he knows it, not a grain amid the darkness of the earth, nor anything …but is recorded in a clear Book”. (Q6:59)

Brethren, in my never-ending search for the meaning of life, I am constantly humbled by the reality of my origin. Each time I contemplate my own children, they remind me of the truth that I am equally a child of another person and that that other person is also a child of another person. But what matters in this introspective exercise is not that I belong to a long chord in the seemingly unending chain of life and living but that I and my forebears share the same origin.

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Those who bore me were once like my humble self- a dirty spermatozoid agent that became mixed with blood in order to become a weak and seemingly inconsequential object (Q23:12-13). Those who bore me, like the children I claim are mine today (in reality how valid is that claim to what I actually did not create?), were once kept away in three levels of darkness which they could not by themselves illuminate. The Quran refers to that darkness as a triad- the darkness of the stomach, the darkness of the womb, and the darkness of the amnion fluid in which the fetus is tucked away and protected from the exigencies of life of the bearer of the womb (Quran 39: 6). Thus each time I contemplate how the fetus of yesterday has become the man and woman of today, each time I ponder the miracle in the birth of man, in his growth and ultimate death, I become attentive to the fact that all of us are actually signs (ayaat) from and of the inimitable creation of the Almighty. We are all programmed (scientists would call this the genetic code), to be what we are today- to age and die.

Thus this sermon is interested in pondering the inner meaning of the choice you and I did not have in coming to the world (Q28:68), in determining where to be born and which womb to bear us. These realities function in reminding me of my destiny, in making me aware of my station and my ultimate destination. My destiny and yours, brethren, is in the first instance, enframed in between the knowable and the unknowable.

Dear brother, if it is true that none of us came to the world by choice, it means none of us would leave the world by choice; if it is true that authority took charge of our being from non-being, it is only proper that the same authority should take charge of our ultimate transition from being to non-being. But dear sister, is it not true, and strange at the same time, that the moment we are in this world, we begin to plot ways by which we can outlive the world? Is it not true that as soon as we emerge from non-existence to existence, we forget the essence of our being and the consequence of our existence?

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Yes. We are entities destined to pursue the unknowable; to lust after the obtainable. By the unknowable, the Quran refers to the experience of the ultimate reality; it gestures to that moment you and I would exit the world. By the obtainable, the Qur’an reminds us that we are created to act and be acted upon; that we have to work in order to eat; that the heavens would not rain gold; that you cannot plant yam and expect to harvest maize. As subjects that are destined for extinction, we shall continue to pursue the attainable and the unattainable until the unknowable intervene to transmit us to the Inimitable.

the above explains why we have been imbued with the capacity to ‘take charge’ of our destiny, of our ‘station’, in preparation for our destination. But some among us do not know their destiny; others are oblivious of their station; some conflate the ‘station’ with the destination. The reason this happens is our failure to understand our origin.

Brethren, contemplate your origin and those of your children. Though we all know the role we played in bringing them to the world, we are utterly unable to account for how ‘nothing’ became ‘something’. We all know that to the ‘farmer’ belongs the task of tilling and planting the ‘seed’; how the seed would grow and germinate belongs to the Almighty.

Eventually I became located in the womb of my mother. I became like a tendril – I was engrafted unto the womb of my mother by a power beyond me. I had no independent existence. I needed to breathe; I did that through my mother. I needed to eat; she was my food supplier. I needed a fine bed to sleep in; nothing proved more luxurious than her womb. Where exactly was I? I never know. Was my mother’s womb my destination or station?

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