The Objectivity of the Quran
We define objectivity as a state of existence that has its cause outside the human mind. The sun’s existence, for example, is objective because it exists whether we recognize it or not. Since the sun’s existence is objective (part of objective reality) it is also real or true— one might say that the sun embodies the truth ( al-Haqq). The fact that we have to die is an objective fact, whether we recognize it or not.
We do not say: ‘Death is allowed or forbidden’. We say: ‘Death is real’. Death is the truth. The force of gravitation, the end of this world, the Day of Resurrection—these are real, objective facts which occur whether we like it or not. We will die even if we deny the existence of death. We will fall down from the roof even if we deny that the force of gravitation exists. And we will be resurrected from death even if we reject such a possibility. These things will occur objectively: their cause is outside the human mind.
In contrast, we define subjectivity as existence that depends on the state of affairs inside the human mind. The entire field of human behavior is subjective because it is influenced by what we think and feel. Prayers, fasts, pilgrimages, charity work, games of chance, loans on interests, bad or good governance, and such, the entire sphere of social, political, religious, aesthetic, economic, and other activities does not exist objectively but depends on how we think about it.
Whereas the subjective sphere of human behavior cannot exist without the objective reality, the opposite is not the case. Even if, to take an extreme example, all humankind had been eradicated, by a nuclear inferno, it would not dramatically affect the universal laws of existence and the movements of planets and the expansion of the galaxies. The truth exists whatever we make of it. As pointed out earlier, the Quran represents this objective, absolute reality that exists outside the human mind.
The study of this reality can only be done within the parameters of objective, scientific research, such as in physics, chemistry, biology, astronomy, in addition to metaphysics, which is the epitome of objectivity. Humanities and social sciences, for example, religious studies, law, sociology, the political and educational sciences, and psychology, cannot produce anything substantial or beneficial in our endeavor to explore the Quran.
In contrast with the objective Quran, the umm al-kitab expresses subjectivity. Allah’s command, for example, to treat parents with respect cannot be carried out independently of the human mind. If we do not attend to Allah’s command, respect for our parents disappears because we have decided not to treat them respectfully. If we decide not to pray, to fast, or go on a pilgrimage, these rituals will simply not happen.
‘His word (qauluhu) is the truth…’,An’am:73, but nowhere in the umm al-kitab is Allah’s word (qaul ) attached to a command, as for example: ‘He said (qal a): do fast…’ or ‘He said (qala): do pray…’. Why? Because if He had said so, prayer and fasting would be parts of the objective, absolute truth, and we would pray and fast objectively, that is, automatically, whether we want it to or not, just like the process of digestion starts when we eat or like our pulse increases when we are excited.
If the Quran represents the objective reality of the universe, and if the umm al-kitab embodies the subjective behavior of humankind, it follows that the Quran exists independent of the umm al-kitab and that it serves to confirm the umm al-kitab’s subjectivity.
Let us explore this relationship a little further by looking at the term ‘spirit’ (al-ruh) in Allah’s Book: [Prophet], they ask you about the spirit al-ruh]. Say: ‘The spirit is part of my Lord’s domain [amr rabbi]. You have only been given a little knowledge.’ (Israa”:85)… Traditional exegetes thought that ‘spirit’ in this verse stands for ‘secret of life’. We cannot accept this interpretation because it reflects a misreading that was quite common in early tafsir. Let us look at verses that contain the term ‘soul’ (al-nafs): Nor can a soul [li-nafs] die except by God’s leave [bi-ithn Allah], the term being fixed as by writing (al ’Imran:145) It is God that takes the souls (of men) [al-nafs] at death… (Zumar:42).
We notice that souls die and souls return to God after a period ‘fixed as by writing’ (kitaban mu”ajjalan). None of this ever applies to the spirit (al-ruh). Life and death cannot affect the spirit. In no way can spirit mean ‘secret of life’, as this would assume synonymity between ‘soul’ and ‘spirit’, and this is unacceptable. The verses about Allah’s creation of humankind give us a clue as to how to interpret ‘spirit’. They tell us that Adam was chosen by Allah to become the ‘father of the human race’; The way Allah chose Adam was to ‘breathe spirit (al-ruh) into him’ (‘and breathed into him of My spirit (min ruhi)…’, hijr:29).
Equipped with Allah’s spirit, human beings were blessed with two things that other aspects of creation did not have: knowledge and legislation (‘And He taught Adam the names of all things…’ [that is to distinguish the sounds and shapes of everything in nature], Baqara:31). It qualified human beings to become God’s vicegerents on earth (“I will [let come forth] a vicegerent (khalifa) on earth”, Baqara:30) and to build airplanes, submarines, computers, digital cameras, and so forth; also to create nation-states, governments, and civil society.
The ‘spirit of God’ enabled nations to write their history self-reflectively and use historiography to enhance humankind’s historical consciousness. By giving human beings knowledge and legislation, Allah initiated a qualitative jump in history: creatures turned into human beings through the acquisition of God’s spirit. The following verses show that the spirit came ‘by God’s command’ (amr Allah): He sends down the angels with the spirit by His command [min amrihi] upon whom He pleases of His servants… (Nahl:2).
So We have revealed a spirit to you [Prophet] by Our command [min amrina]: you knew neither the Scripture nor the faith… (Shara:52) … [Prophet], they ask you about the spirit [al-ruh]. Say: ‘The spirit is part of my Lord’s domain [amr rabbi]. You have only been given a little knowledge.’ (Isra”:85).
We note that the ‘spirit’, unlike the ‘soul’, does not possess any corporality.
Allah gave us the spirit from Himself, not from objective reality or the material world of the universe. The umm al-kitab comes directly from God. The rules, injunctions, and commandments of the umm al-kitab are Allah’s spirit. They have no corporal identity but are expressed as human behavior. They do not exist on their own but are exemplified in our daily social and moral conduct. If the human race disappeared, so would Allah’s spirit in the form of the umm al-kitab because it can only be manifest in relation to humans’ conscious activities and their efforts to comprehend it.
The spirit is therefore the common denominator between human beings and God. It embodies human capacity to think and legislate on an ever broader epistemological and humanist level. We may thus define al-ruh as the ‘secret of human progress’. When Allah ‘breathed His spirit’ into Adam it caused the angels to prostrate themselves in front of human beings, it liberated humans to enjoy their role as God’s vicegerents on earth freely, and allowed them to determine their affairs independently. God knows best—because His knowledge coincides completely with objective reality—but human beings constantly learn to know more and they will come closer to His knowledge.