We are surrounded by the wonders of Allah’s creation, and are witness to the everyday miracles of life on this planet. It is no surprise, therefore, that contemplation is a much-emphasized theme in the Quran. Allah repeatedly exhorts us to reflect, ponder, give thought, reason, consider, and discern. The Quran, however, does not require us to adopt an ascetic lifestyle or engage in mystic practices; the type of contemplation enjoined by the Quran is something anyone can practice at any time. It simply consists of thinking about our present world and beyond, and striving to attain deeper faith and self-improvement through it. In fact, Allah encourages us to frequently engage in this type of contemplation; He states that the intelligent people are those “who remember Allah while standing or sitting or [lying] on their sides and give thought to the creation of the heavens and the earth, [saying], ‘Our Lord, You did not create this aimlessly…’” (Quran 3:190-191)
What to Contemplate and Ponder
What exactly is it that merits our contemplation? The Quran points to various aspects of our creation and the wider universe that are especially worth reflecting upon. Let us discuss seven of these themes in the light of the Quranic verses.
1) The Wider Universe
“Do they not contemplate the realm of the heavens and earth and all that Allah has created…?” (Quran 7:185)
Think about how the rotation of the earth on its axis causes the night and the day; how the sun keeps us warm and provides daylight; how the stars help us navigate the earth; and how the moon enables us to track the passage of time, and keeps the earth’s climate stable. Moreover, the precision of the distance between the sun and the earth, in order to sustain life on the latter, is astonishing! Think about the number and sheer size of the planets, the stars, the solar systems, and the galaxies that we know so little about. It is only Allah who has designed all of this and who regulates the continuous functioning of the universe. Reflecting on the outer space reveals not only the majesty of Allah but also His perfect creative ability.
2) The Water Cycle
“And have you seen the water that you drink? Is it you who brought it down from the clouds, or is it We who bring it down? If We willed, We could make it bitter, so why are you not grateful?” (Quran 56:68-70)
The water cycle is another amazing phenomenon that reveals the flawless functioning of nature by Allah’s command. Think about how the rainwater washes the surface of the earth and gathers in lakes and rivers to enhance our fresh water supply. Then some of this water evaporates into vapor form. In the atmosphere, the vapor then condenses to form clouds. And these clouds are finally driven to distant places by the winds where they cause rainfall. This complex system is critical to supporting life on our planet; fresh water is not only directly necessary for survival but it is critical for our crops and vegetation.
3) Crop Cultivation
“And have you seen that [seed] which you sow? Is it you who makes it grow, or are We the grower?” (Quran 56:63-64)
Take another example: the growing and harvesting of crops, some of which are edible when cooked while others provide us commercial value. What is worth pondering is the fact that we merely plant the seed – it is Allah who causes the seed to emerge from the ground in the form of a plant overtime. Think about how these crops flourish into something so valuable – and how a tiny seed sprouts into a lofty fruit-bearing tree despite minimal human effort involved: “He causes to grow for you thereby the crops, olives, palm trees, grapevines, and from all the fruits. Indeed in that is a sign for a people who give thought.” (Quran 16:11) Moreover, the diversity of plants and animals – with their millions of species, and varying colors and characteristics – points to a grand order in nature that only Allah is capable of evolving.
4) Our Progression in Life
“Do they not contemplate concerning themselves?” (Quran 30:8)
Think about how a single cell develops overtime into a fully-grown human. The Quran talks in detail about the various stages of embryonic development: from a “sperm-drop” to a “clinging clot” to a “lump”; and the lump is then covered with bones and flesh, eventually turning the organism into a “new creation” (Quran 23:13-14).
What happens after birth? The baby gradually adapts to the new atmosphere, learning to eat, interact with others, and use his or her senses to get a feel of this world. In the following years, there is a progression from childhood to youth to middle ages. The person gathers strength, encounters unfamiliar circumstances, and establishes new relationships, until after reaching the pinnacle of life, the person’s physical strength begins to decline once more with the onset of the old age. “And he to whom We grant long life We reverse in creation; so will they not understand?” (Quran 36:68) Finally, death approaches, causing the deceased to leave everything behind other than their deeds. This should remind us to use our time efficiently and strive to perform the best deeds.
5) Diversity of Humankind
“Had Allah willed, He would have made you one nation, but [He intended] to test you in what He has given you; so race to [all that is] good.” (Quran 5:48)
In addition to the contrast in our laws and social norms, the human diversity is very much evident in our different colors, languages, and ethnicities: “And of His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth and the diversity of your languages and your colors. Indeed in that are signs for those of knowledge.” (Quran 30:22) It is also worth reflecting upon how each person is different from another. Each one of us has a unique personality, and no two humans are alike. Moreover, no two fingerprints are the same, even on the same individual! How is it that out of the billions of humans that inhabit the earth, no two persons are completely alike? This is again a manifestation of Allah’s ultimate wisdom and inventiveness.
6) The Verses of the Quran
“Then do they not reflect upon the Qur’an?” (Quran 4:82)
Another sign of Allah is the Quran itself – free of ambiguity or discrepancy. It contains the Word of Allah revealed in portions to Muhammad ﷺ, and preserved in its original form. Hence, we must carefully consider the teachings, injunctions, examples, arguments, and dialogues presented in the Quran. Never be in a hurry to finish the Quran, but pause frequently to reflect on its verses, especially those detailing righteous conduct. Focus on quality rather than quantity; pondering over a short passage of the Quran may be better than reading all of it without understanding. Allah clarifies the purpose of the revelation of the Quran as follows: “[This is] a blessed Book which We have revealed to you that they might reflect upon its verses and that those of understanding would be reminded.” (Quran 38:29)
7) Historical Narrations
“So relate the stories that perhaps they will give thought.” (Quran 7:176)
History teaches us about civilizations, human progress, and the impact of human choices and actions. The Quran gives certain accounts of previous nations for us to reflect on and learn lessons from. The communities that disregarded Allah and indulged in corruption perished, while the righteous and just nations earned His favor. The Quran also details the challenges faced by the prophets and their followers, and how they sought to overcome them. These narrations inspire us to adopt good conduct, stay resolute in the face of hardships, and embrace the temporary nature of this life. Reflect on each story and personality mentioned in the Quran, and derive practical lessons from it: “There was certainly in their stories a lesson for those of understanding.” (Quran 12:111)
Warning against Not Using Reason
“He brings disgrace on those who do not use their reason.” (Quran 10:100)
Allah has blessed humanity with a high intellect, and this is what makes the human superior to even the angels. Hence, neglecting the use of the intellect is not only a folly, but sheer ungratefulness to Allah. He chastises those who do not ponder or use their intellect – comparing them to “livestock” (Quran 25:44) – and especially those who blindly follow others without thinking on their own. Rejecting reason and taking this life for granted is a characteristic of the disbelievers in Allah, whereas, the prophets would always urge people to think critically to arrive at the truth. Allah has a stern warning for those who do not contemplate: “Indeed, the worst of living creatures in the sight of Allah are the deaf and dumb who do not use reason.” (Quran 8:22)
Benefits of Contemplation
“Thus Allah makes clear to you the signs that you might give thought.” (Quran 2:219)
Let us conclude by summarizing some of the benefits of contemplation and purposeful reflection as prescribed in the Quran:
- Contemplation makes us attain greater wisdom and mindfulness, allowing us to be at peace with our surroundings.
- Reflecting on the sheer size of the universe helps us recognize Allah, appreciate His creative ability, and better comprehend His dominance over all that exists.
- Thinking deeply about nature causes us to appreciate our own insignificance, leading to humility and gratitude.
- Contemplating our progression through life makes us question the purpose of our creation, channeling us towards a more meaningful life.
- Reflecting on the Quran improves our conduct, enabling us to better empathize with others and maintain a more positive demeanor.
“Then will you not use your reason?” (Quran 10:16)