I had an informal discussion a few days ago with former Muslim from Chennai who had become an atheist and the first question he asked me was why Allah created human beings and this world. So, I suggested to him that, perhaps there was an even bigger question that he should ask, as the earth and its inhabitants are less than a speck in the galaxy, which is itself only a speck in the universe. I proposed that, instead, it would be better to ask why Allah created.
The atheist from Chennai then said to me, "Okay, so why did God create?" I responded saying, "He created because He is the Creator. Creators create. Creation is the natural consequence of having the attribute of being the Creator." A creator who creates is superior to a creator who doesn't create. For example, if someone told you that she was a painter and you asked her to show you one of her paintings and she said she hadn't painted any, you would probably think to yourself, "Is she kookoo, or what?" He still wanted to ask, "Okay, but why did He create?" I wanted to ask him, "Why did the Sun shine? Isn't that just what suns do?" But he switched the topic back to why did God create human beings, before I could verbalize my thought.
The purpose of telling the atheist that Allah created because He was the Creator - that the act of creation is a manifestation of His attribute of being the Creator, was to remove the concept of creation out of need from the discussion. As human beings, we make or create things out of a need we have for them. Allah, the Almighty Creator, has NO NEED. All creation needs Him and depends on Him for their existence, sustenance, etc. However, in spite of making that clear from the beginning, we will find the atheist coming back to this point, time and time again in the course of our discussion.
So the atheist from Chennai cut my response and asked me, "Let's go back to the original question, 'Why did Allah create human beings?' " I told him, "God created human beings for Paradise, but He gave them a free will to choose to go or not to go." However, because that was a fair reason and the act of a benevolent God, he went to the answer he wanted to hear me say, "I thought God created humans to worship and serve him? Isn't that what the Qur'aan says?" I answered, "Yes. That is true, but it should be understood within the context of His creating them for Paradise." He tuned out the second part of my answer and then said what he wanted to say from the very beginning of our conversation, "I can't believe in a God that needs people to worship him. Like a dictator who takes pleasure in his subjects blindly obeying him or a like tyrant who, due to his own insecurities, forces his people to bow down and worship him."
I reminded the Chennai Atheist that I had already pointed out earlier that God did NOT create out of a need. Creation is only a manifestation of His attribute of being the Creator. Furthermore, tyrants and dictators demand obedience for their own aggrandizement and material benefit, and what they demand obedience to is mostly not good. On the other hand, Allah prescribed worship, which is a way of life and not merely prayers, in order for people to live good lives and thereby facilitate their paths to paradise for which they were created.
The atheist then digressed saying that there was no need for obedience to religious laws as all countries now had legal systems. So I pointed out to him that many man-made laws are subjective and not objective. Each ruling party makes laws in their own interest, and when they are overthrown, the new party or ruler changes the laws to suit their own interests. Only God, who created humankind and knows their natural needs can make laws which are truly objective, as He has no bias or special interests.
The Chennai Atheist then changed the topic to the concept of evil in a world created by a good God. He asked, “How do you explain AIDS babies? What fault is it of theirs that their parents had AIDS and they are born into this world in suffering only to die before maturity? What did they do to deserve such punishment?” I responded saying that I agreed with him that AIDS was not the child’s fault. The AIDS babies become a test for the adults around them. Either the challenge of looking after such babies will bring out their higher human qualities of love, care, sympathy and concern for the welfare of the less fortunate - which would earn those who displayed them immeasurable rewards - or it was a wakeup call for those who had become heedless to the realities of life in the same way that death sometimes wakes people up, or it was a punishment for those who had caused their infection due to their corrupt lifestyle. However, it was not a punishment for the children as they had done nothing to deserve it.
“How is that fair?” the atheist asked, “How is that fair that an AIDS child suffers and dies in childhood?” I thought for a moment, “In the larger scheme of life, we really don’t know what would have happened if the child grew up. We have no idea of what evil he or she might have done later or what greater evil might have happened to them, so that dying early spared others from their potential evil or they were spared from the potential evil of others.” But before I could discuss this thought, the atheist from Chennai went on to another related point, “Some people are put on an easy track to paradise by being born in Muslim families, while others are put on a swift track to hell by being born in non-Muslim families. How is that fair?” I responded saying, “Being born in a Muslim family is no guarantee of Paradise, because Islam cannot be inherited like a nationality or ethnicity. Islam is a spiritual choice and decision which each and every Muslim must make for it to be real and of benefit. Due to the fact that so many Muslims today are cultural Muslims who only practice Islam externally according to custom oftentimes mixed with shirk (worshiping others besides God or along with God), finding real Islam may be even more difficult for a “born-Muslim” to find than for a non-Muslim. As quiet as it is kept, there will be many many people in Hell with the names, Muhammad and Fatimah.”
I went on to explain that the Prophet (pbuh) had explained that at the end of the world, while the mass of humankind are being resurrected for judgment, all those children who died before puberty and maturity along with all others who did not hear the true message of Islam – whether in the times of the previous prophets (may God’s peace be upon them all), or after the time of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) – those who were retarded, deaf or senile, or to whom the message came so garbled that they could not possibly understand its truths, all would be resurrected together in the prime of their youth and with all of their faculties. After their resurrection they would see before themselves a wall of blazing fire and a messenger will come out from the fire and explain in detail the main message of all the prophets of God; to worship God alone through obedience to His commands. Following that, he will instruct them to enter the fire from which he came, and they will all move towards it, but its roaring heat and burning flames will turn many back. In spite of that, some people will walk into it and appear to be burned up completely. Others will try to enter repeatedly, each time running back from fire’s ferocity. Eventually, when all who entered were finished and only those who did not remained, those who remained will stop trying and simply refuse to enter. The Prophet (pbuh) explained that those who entered would go straight on to paradise, while those who refused to enter are those who, had they received the clear message in this life, would have rejected faith and died disbelievers.
Bilal Philips Collected by Aboo Ya‘laa and al-Bazzaar and authenticated in Silsilah al-Ahaadeeth as-Saheehah, vol. 5, p. 603, no. 2468. Collected by at-Tabaraanee, Ibn Hibbaan and Ahmad and authenticated in Silsilah al-Ahaadeeth as-Saheehah, vol. 3, pp. 418-9, no. 1434. Collected by at-Tabaraanee in al-Mu‘jam al-Awsat and al-Mu‘jam al-Kabeer (20/83/158) and authenticated in Silsilah al-Ahaadeeth as-Saheehah, vol. 5, pp. 604-5. Collected by Ibn Abee ‘Aasim in Kitaab as-Sunnah, no. 404, p. 188 and authenticated by al-Albaanee.
The atheist from Chennai then questioned the validity of Islam in general saying, “Islam existed only 1400 years ago, so why should we follow this message which has obviously been extracted from previous older books of Christianity (2,000 years ago) and Judaism (5,000+ years ago)?” I replied, “According to Muslim belief, Islam did not come into existence 1,400 years ago with Muhammad (pbuh), but with the first human beings. It is the same manual of life given to the father and mother of humankind, and reintroduced whenever people strayed from the message over the generations of human existence. As to the Qur’aan being extracts from Torah and the Gospels, that is one possible interpretation of the similarities. The other interpretation is that due to all of them coming from the same source, there will be shared information. At any rate, higher criticism of the Bible and modern research have revealed that the “Torah” was written by more than one author and contains many contradictions, and the over 5,000 manuscripts of the Gospels have no two manuscripts agreeing on all the details. Furthermore, these manuscripts are in Greek, and Jesus and his disciples spoke Aramaic and the very authors of the Gospels are unknown. On the other hand, the Qur’aan, which has only one version, has withstood all academic scrutiny thereby confirming its originality. Also, the Qur’aan’s many verses containing modern scientific data strongly and clearly point towards its divine origin. So following it instead of the earlier revelations which have become distorted and changed simply makes good sense, if one is to choose a revealed book to follow. Finally, if one were to look historically at what happened to Christianity in terms of following the teachings and practice of Jesus (peace be upon him), it would become very clear that Christianity is a different religion from what Jesus (pbuh) brought and taught. Islam on the other hand, has remained virtually unchanged over the centuries. The way Muslims pray today is the same way that Muhammad (pbuh) taught his followers 1,400 years ago. Likewise, the way Muslims fast, perform pilgrimage, etc. have all remained in their original form. The final revelation of Islam has remained in its original form and will remain that way until the end of this world.”
The final parting question which the Chennai atheist asked me questioned the logic of the Qur’aan’s divine preservation. He said, “If God is all powerful, why didn’t he preserve the previous books of revelation when he could have easily preserved all of them?” I responded saying, “Of course if Allah wished to preserve all of them He could easily have done so, just as He could have prevented Satan from tempting Adam and Eve. However, because the earlier prophets (may God’s peace be upon them all) were sent to particular people, in particular locations for particular periods of time, and prophets were sent after them, there was no need to preserve them. Allowing them to change the texts of the earlier scriptures was part of the test faced by the earlier generations. However, since Allah decided to end the line of prophets with Muhammad (pbuh), his book of revelation had to be preserved along with his living interpretation of the scripture called his “way” (Sunnah), in order for the eternal message of Islam to remain accessible to humankind until the end of the world. Furthermore, the final scripture was also divinely preserved as the Last Prophet’s standing miracle for people of this world until the Last Day. The main miracles of the earlier prophets, which were tangible proofs to the people of their own era that they were in fact prophets of God, can no longer be witnessed today (e.g., Noah’s Ark, Moses’ staff, parting of the Red Sea, etc. and Jesus’ revival of the dead, giving sight to the blind, etc.). So, Allah made the main miracle of the final prophet, a literary miracle which would remain as proof for all the generations of human beings and the Jinn to come.”
Time ran out, and the Chennai atheist and I parted gracefully. No, he did not return to Islam as far as I know, as this discussion took place only a few weeks ago. Do pray for him. At any rate, the goal on my part was not his conversion, but merely providing reasonable and logical Islamic answers for his Islam-related questions which he could not find previously. Whether, he accepted them or not, was not my responsibility, as Allah told Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and all the believers, “You cannot guide those whom you would love to guide. Allah guides those whom He wishes.” (Soorah al-Qasas, 28:56) And He also said, “Your responsibility is to convey the message, and it is I who will take people to account.” (Soorah ar-Ra’d, 13:40)