Take a moment.
Feel the welcoming embrace of a bed of grass. Allow the gentle breeze to whisper the secrets of the universe into your ear. Let the cool droplets of rain leave soft kisses against your skin. Sit in nature and just breathe.
See how the sweetness of nature is matched by the ferocity of its strength – the ground shudders, the winds rage, and the waves crash. A cheetah tears a zebra to shreds, devouring the fallen creature with no thought given to the sanctity of the life it has just taken. The unknown depths of the ocean are comparable only to the all-encompassing darkness of space.
And yet even these seeming horrors of nature inspire a sense of awe. Within what appears to be savagery and chaos, there is design and intent if we only but reflect. For all this could not have been made by any random chance. No, there is something, some power, behind it – a creator who chose to fashion it all in this most perfect of ways. And who could it be but Allah, The Originator, The Fashioner, The Best of Planners, The Most High, and the one who alone has knowledge of even the most minute details: “Have they not looked at the heaven above them – how We structured it and adorned it and it has no rifts? And the earth – We spread it out and cast therein firmly set mountains and made grown therein of every beautiful kind, giving insight and a reminder for every servant who turns [to Allah]” (Qur’an, 50:6-8).
The Beauty of Nature
Nature is one of the means by which Muslims, and really anyone who’s attuned to their spirituality, can grow closer to and maybe, just maybe, begin to barely understand the majesty of the Creator. For it is only a Being of unimaginable power, limitless knowledge, and an all-powerful will that can fashion this vast universe. He alone possesses the power to create the orbits of all the planets and galaxies. He alone knows where and how to place each organ of the human body in order to maximize survival. He alone simply wills “‘Be’ and it is” (see Qur’an 36:82).
And there is something in nature that calls out to every one of our souls, beseeching us to marvel at the prowess of our Lord. The farmer finds beauty in the scent of freshly-tilled soil, in the bleating of baby goats, in the golden colors of a successful harvest. The scientist sees beauty in analyzing the properties of chemicals, in the never-ending diversity of species, in the miracle of the microscopic cells, supporting and interacting with each other to produce all manner of life. The businessman finds beauty in the supply chain of life – in how tiny seeds transform into giant trees that, even if not able to bear fruit, can provide lumber, paper, wax, and rubber, until finally they decompose only to then facilitate the growth of new trees, thus creating an endless supply to fulfill the demands of their dependents. The mathematician sees beauty in observing the perfect structures of the universe, in scribbling and poring over the calculations of the forces allowing our planet to continue to orbit, in witnessing patterns of Fibonacci numbers and golden ratios in flowers, bone structures, and even snail shells. And the artist? Oh, the artist sees beauty in everything. The artist even sees beauty in the darkness of a cloudy night, in the just-healed scars over deep gashes, in the pangs of childbirth that give rise to new life.
Remembering Our Rabb
No matter where you see this beauty, this order, this simultaneous simplicity and complexity – it all serves one purpose – to call us to the remembrance of our Creator. We witness through the Qur’an itself how nature is used as this means of bringing people back to the Master. Allah SWT narrates to us the story of the Prophet Zakariyya (s), who was the guardian of Mariam. When he entered the home of his ward, he found her supplied with an abundance of fresh fruits and provisions, many of which weren’t even in season. So, understandably, he inquired about them, and she reminded him that all sustenance comes only from Allah. Upon hearing her wise words, Zarakiyya (s) immediately called upon His Lord with the most beautiful and heartfelt of prayers (see Qur’an 3:37-39). And so, nature can be one of the means through which even the Prophets were reminded that almighty power belongs only to Allah.
We also have the story of the Prophet Ibrahim (s) when he debated with a tyrannical king who refused to accept the truth of Islam. After a little bit of back and forth, finally Ibrahim left the arrogant man in complete shock by presenting him with the most powerful of challenges that makes clear the limitations of human power: “Allah causes the sun to rise from the east. So, make it rise from the west” (Qur’an 2:258). Thus, we see nature being used as proof for the power and might of our Lord. The rising of the sun, an occurrence we see every day, was utilized as major evidence for a greater Designer of the whole system.
We also see how nature is used as a way of testing and punishing those who have begun to go astray. The Qur’an narrates the story of two men, one with a humble abode, and the other who owned the finest of gardens with palm trees and grapevines and even a river flowing through it. But this second man was arrogant and continued to be boastful, even when his poorer neighbor reminded him to be appreciative of his blessings. So, Allah SWT sent down a raging storm that left his gardens in complete destruction. And finally realizing the gravity of his sins, the man turned back to His Lord in repentance and regret (see Qur’an 18:32-43). So, nature, and specifically the more destructive side of nature, was also a means employed by Allah SWT to cast fear into the hearts of people, and thus, bring them back to His remembrance.
Fulfilling Our Purpose
Modern science informs us that spending time in nature, even if it is only a few hours over the course of the week, has a significant positive impact on both one’s physical and psychological health. Being in the great outdoors is known to reduce anxiety and lower blood pressure, increase immunity, and enhance higher brain functions such as creativity. Most people have probably experienced this themselves at one point or the other; after a long day of classes or work or being cooped up inside, sometimes just stepping outside for a breath of fresh air is – well, like a breath of fresh air. Ironically enough, Muslims have known for centuries of the blessing that nature holds. The scholars of old highly encouraged being outside, spending time in contemplation, and using the natural world as a means of coming closer to God. For what is the purpose of our existence but to build that relationship with Him? Allah SWT tells us “I did not create jinn and mankind except to worship Me” (Qur’an 51:56). If marveling at the perfection and beauty of nature is a way to fulfill that purpose, to worship Allah SWT through pondering over His Signs, then why not take advantage of this simple but powerful way of gaining His pleasure?
So take a moment.
Breathe in the fresh air.
And ask yourself – “Which of the favors of your Lord will you deny?” (Qur’an 55:13).