WHEN Galileo (c.1600 AD), saw the universe with his elementary telescope, he was so impressed with his discovery that he proudly announced that he had increased the horizon of human vision by a hundredfold. Little did he know that not far from his time, a day would dawn when man would perceive the universe enlarged a hundred thousand, nay a hundred million times greater and vaster than what he observed. He could compare his discoveries and inventions only in relation to the past from his vantage point. But how transitory man's exultations over his achievements so often prove.
The tragedy of Galileo's last days, which ended in total blindness, is a sad illustration to prove the point. In one of his letters written to a close friend he laments the fact that he, the inventor of the first telescope, who had 'broadened the horizon of the universe' as he thought 'a hundredfold', was himself reduced to the mere confines of his own body.
This lay heavy on his heart and embittered his life unbearably. This poignant expression of frustration by Galileo leads us to another aspect of the unseen. If Galileo had not been familiar with the faculty of sight prior to his blindness, it would have been impossible for him to visualize what lay beyond the earth he trod. Nor could he have ever distinguished between light and darkness. The best he could do was to have faith in what he heard of the reality of light, but that too only in an obscure indescribable way. Although, in matters of colours and light he could not have ascertained by any direct measure the truth of his faith, yet it could not have been dismissed as unreal, merely for the reason of it being hearsay. The illustration we have given above is only applicable to a specific context. We are visualizing the dilemma of a blind man surrounded by those who are gifted with the faculty of sight. He has at least something to go upon, on which to build his faith. But visualize a society of men who are all blind. Could they also have faith in the existence of light and the faculty of sight? Most certainly not. It takes a seeing man to try to help the blind to perceive the existence of things which lie beyond the reach of their senses. It is here that the supremacy of revelation over the secular quest of knowledge can be demonstrated effectively.
Man with his limited number of senses, however wise and enlightened he may be, cannot overstep the boundaries of his senses. Yet the possibility of there being more senses cannot be ruled out. It is God alone who can inform man about the realities which lie beyond his scope.
THE NATURE OF the Hereafter which the Holy Quran attempts to portray belongs to just that area of the unknowable which has been referred to. With reference to it, the Quran has coined a charming phrase expressing the hopelessness of the situation. After mentioning such subjects as are in reality incomprehensible for man, it ends with this expression of exasperation: whatever can make you (O man), understand what it really is? Following are a few more illustrations of the same:
And what should make thee know what the Day of Judgement is!
Again, what should make thee know what the Day of Judgement is! 82:18-19
What is the Inevitable?
And what should make thee know what the Inevitable is? 69:2-4
Him shall I cast into the Hellfire.
But what can make thee understand O man, what the Hellfire is? 74:27-28
In fact the problem does not relate as much to God's inability as it does to the limitation of human senses. Naturally anyone who is deficient in one or two of the five senses can by no means grasp the true nature of anything which pertains to the missing senses. The deaf cannot grasp the idea of sound and the blind cannot visualize what sight is. Yet others who can hear and see do make attempts to help them grope for the idea which for them is ever elusive. Likewise when the Quran speaks of the hereafter and warns man that he cannot truly understand the nature of what is being described, it is the inadequacy of man and not that of God which is being highlighted. The implication is loud and clear. There have to be some new senses added in the hereafter to the senses we possess here on earth. All our present knowledge of the hereafter, therefore, is at best a shadowy vision of some unknown realities like that of a blind man who has some concept at least of what colour and light may have been. What can really make you understand (O man) what it really is?
The broadening of our senses, whenever it will take place, will perhaps completely transform beyond recognition the perception of what we seemed to have already experienced here on earth. We think we know what love is and we think we are familiar with suffering but what love would be in the hereafter and what suffering would be, one shudders to visualize. No wonder that the Quran reminds us that despite the vivid picture of heaven it portrays, no eye has ever seen and no ear has ever heard the like of it. So also, despite clearly describing the chastisement of hell, it hastens to warn 'but what can make thee understand O man, what the Hellfire is?' The more one ponders over the meaning of the unseen, the more avenues of undreamt of possibilities begin to loom before one's vision. But to grasp what lies beyond in the unexplored avenues of hidden realities, man shall always stand in need of Divine revelation. The limitation of our perception, however, is not the only hindrance which impedes our enquiry. Even within the domain of our senses what lies hidden from us is far more than what we see. Whatever the belief in the unseen is, it is certainly not a belief in nothingness. A belief in nothingness is only a rejection of the belief in the unseen.
This article is excerpted with permission from Revelation, Rationality, Knowledge and Truth