Human beings and the vastness of space

Among the comedies of misunderstanding which can arise between people of different cultures none is more frustrating than the situation in which two people say the same thing in almost the same words and mean quite different things by what they say. The occidental, looking up at the night sky and reflecting on astronomical space will confess, sometimes with a shiver, how insignificant he feels in the midst of such distances. The Muslim readily acknowledges his insignificance before God – La ilaha illa ‘Llah! – but he never feels alone in an alien universe. The Muslim will also say that the natural world was created for man; the occidental agrees with enthusiasm and proceeds to tear up the earth with his bulldozers.

The Muslim does not feel dwarfed by the immensities of nature because he knows himself to be the viceregent of God standing upright in the midst of these immensities. We, though small in stature, see the stars; they do not see us. We hold them within our consciousness and measure them in accordance with our knowledge; they know us not. We master them in their courses. Immensity cannot know itself; only in human consciousness can such a concept exist. In this sense man is the eye of God and is therefore the measure of all things, and they, far from being alien (and therefore menacing), have existence within our awareness of them and are therefore like extensions of our being.

– from Islam and the Destiny of Man by Gai Eaton pp 100-101



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  1. Funnily enough, I was reading about the occidental perspective that Gai Eaton refers to here in the form of Albert Camus’ ‘The Myth of Sisyphus’. What’s most interesting about comparing the two perspectives (For those who don’t know Camus was an atheist who in the book writes about what is the purpose of life from that perspective) is in how similar they are in terms of seeing beyond the everyday routines we can so easily get lost in and thus ignore the wondrous and terrifying mystery that lurks just a little bit beyond them.

    Although Camus would reject God as the answer perhaps for the same reason as Freud, seeing it as nothing more than our ‘nostalgic’ and ‘absurd’ desire to project our own experience of life onto the stars and so on since after all we know nothing else other than our own existence. This is my biggest personal concern when it comes to Gods existence, being aware of the limits of reason and even scientific pursuits, leading to poetry and an absence of objective knowledge.

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