by Zohair Abdul Rahman MSc.

This article will build on the previous and provide a phenomenological perspective on how we are meant to interact with the signs of Allah in His Book (Articulated) and His Creation (Unarticulated).

Ayaat Masmoo’ah: Articulated Signs and the Determinate World

The bipartite division of the signs of Allah as articulated and unarticulated and the interaction between the two represent a deeply fundamental reality of life. The articulated signs of Allah explain to us how we are meant to live our life. The Quran informs us of our purpose in this world, our mission in life, our responsibilities and obligations. It shapes our perceptions, emotions and identities as we traverse the path it has laid out for humanity known as Seerat al-Mustaqeem (The Straight Path). At its root, the articulated signs construct the appropriate determinate world that we are meant to inhabit. The determinate world of an individual is comprised of a series of motivational ‘mini-worlds’ that are organized in a hierarchy based on a person’s values.[35] Each motivational state has an undesired starting point and a desired end-point.[36] The end-points represent our goals and aspirations.

In a person’s life, every action they take is necessarily directed toward some objective. Nobody can move without a purpose or aim. Ibn al-Qayyim categorizes these goals into extrinsic or intrinsic.[37] Extrinsic goals are those that are sought after because they will bring about another desired goal.[38] For instance, an extrinsic goal for most people is consuming food. It is done for goals of preserving life, increasing energy or averting hunger. Intrinsic goals are sought after for themselves. An intrinsic goal is the ultimate Truth that organizes all extrinsic goals. It represents the purpose of your life. It unifies all a person’s aims to provide clarity, meaning and purpose to all a person’s pursuits. This unification of life’s pursuits under one ultimate purpose is the essence of Tawheed (Unification of the Divine).

“Say: My prayers, my sacrifice, my life and my death are all for Allah, the Master of all the realms.”[39]

The intrinsic goal is the god that a person worships in this world, even if they do not affirm a transcendent God. As Allah mentions in the Quran, “Have you not seen the one who takes his desires as his God.”[40]

Extrinsic goals necessitate an intrinsic goal by virtue of the problem of infinite regress (I am doing action A because of X, which is done because of Y, which is done because of Z, Which is done because of Q, which is done because of W etc.) and circularity (I do action X because of Y, which I do because of X). Furthermore, if there is no intrinsic goal, then extrinsic goals are rendered meaningless, since there is nothing external to it that is intrinsically valued. It is necessary that there is a foundation to everyone’s value hierarchy that fundamentally operates as a god. It is what is loved, valued and perceived as the source of ultimate benefit. A person without a clear conception of God is doomed to wander the world pursuing meaningless extrinsic pursuits, being pulled in every direction. The Quran captures this reality, “Verily your pursuits are dispersed[41]

The articulated signs of Allah determine the hierarchy of goals in relation to their relevance to the only intrinsic goal worthy of pursuit – Allah, Himself. The emotions we experience and the strength of our various identities are all in relation to the hierarchy of motivational mini-worlds that combine to produce our determinate world.[42]

The meaning found in the articulated signs of Allah are too profound and vast for humanity to completely excavate. Whatever a person can understand from it determines their determinate world at that particular point in time. This determinate world is termed as the Seerat al-Mustaqeem.[43]

Ayaat Mashooda: Unarticulated Signs and the Indeterminate World

What is the purpose of the unarticulated signs if the articulated signs are sufficient in producing the determinate world that can guide us to Allah? The problem lies with the psychology of the human being. From a neuropsychological perspective, there is constantly an interchange between our cognitive systems (‘aql) and the pleasure system of our brain (hawa) that combine to determine the motivational states we experience in life. Ibn al-Qayyim explains this tension by describing the struggle between the nafs ammara bis-soo’ (nature within our soul that inclines to evil) and the nafs mutma’inn (the nature within our soul that inclines towards a higher existence) in vivid detail.[44] When we integrate these two perspectives together, we can understand this phenomenon as the nafs mutma’inn constructing motivational mini-worlds in a hierarchy toward Allah. Conversely, the nafs ammara bis-soo’ attempts to destroy the motivational worlds that are constructed from revelation and reconstruct its own motivational worlds to reach its blameworthy end-points. Thus, the determinate world is constantly under threat and distorted as we struggle to get through life. The unarticulated signs of Allah challenge us to re-examine our lives and transform our worlds into a better representation of the Divine Will (the intended determinate world) expressed in the Quran. They emerge from the indeterminate world, a construct that represents the ignored complexity of the world.[45] This ignored complexity can be conceptualized as the signs of Allah in nature that are beyond the capacity of language expression and are hence, unarticulated. This is because, at its highest level, these signs communicate to us the Divine Names and Attribute that are beyond human comprehension and cannot be expressed through language. Additionally, the unarticulated signs of Allah can be understood as ignored complexity that can potentially become comprehensible through the form of a test or trial.

Involuntary Encounter of the Unarticulated Signs

The encounter with the unarticulated signs of Allah can be involuntary or voluntary. Involuntary encounters are the tests and trials that a person faces in life. They direct us to look to the articulated signs of Allah for the guidance necessary to enhance, fix or reconstruct our Seerat al-Mustaqeem or our Divinely Ordained determinate world. The process of the test and its intended results are described in the Quran,

“And We will surely test you with something of fear, hunger, loss of wealth, life and fruit. Congratulate those who have sabr (patience, perseverance, resolve). Those who say, when a disaster strikes them, ‘Indeed we belong to Allah, and indeed to Him we will return.’ Those are the ones upon whom are praises from their Lord and mercy. And those are the ones who are guided.[46]



The end of the verse makes clear that the purpose of the test was to guide the individual. The process of obtaining guidance from the calamity is outlined as 1) Sabr and 2) returning to Allah. This can be understood as first having the strength and courage necessary to confront the test, rather than be controlled by it and second modify one’s determinate world to return it back to the straight path towards Allah. When a person engages in this process they receive mercy from Allah and are guided as a result, back to him.

This is a very important cycle of life that constantly renews and enhances a person’s journey in life. The concept of unarticulated signs of Allah coming in the form of trials and calamities so that mankind can return to Him is mentioned in several places in the Quran,

And We tested them with good times and bad times perchance they may return.[47]

Corruption has appeared throughout the land and sea because of what humanity has done. This is so that they can taste a portion of their own actions and so that they may return.[48]

And we will surely let them taste the lesser punishment before the greater punishment so that they may return.”[49]

We have certainly destroyed cities surrounding you and diversified the signs so that they may return.[50]

The other way that a person can encounter the unarticulated signs of Allah is through voluntary exploration of the indeterminate world. This process is described as a spiritual pursuit by Jordan Peterson, a personality psychologist, in his discussion of the determinate and indeterminate worlds.[51] The Quran describes it as the process of contemplating the signs of Allah in Nature.[52]


Voluntary Encounter of the Unarticulated Signs

This voluntary exploration of the unarticulated signs of Allah can result in different layers of meaning based on the cognitive pursuit.

The first order of meaning emerges from the empirical features of the unarticulated signs. It requires the sensory system of the mind to be able to perceive. The meanings associated with it are in the domain of Khabar (description). For instance, a particular rock formation can be explained scientifically by merely describing its appearance, shape, colour and composition. This is meaning that has emerged from the sign in the form of khabar.

The second order of meaning arises from rational deliberation of the sign and is known as ‘ilm (knowledge). Cognitive processes are required to abstract meaning in relation to the etiology (‘Illah) or purpose (Hikmah) of a particular natural phenomena embedded in a wider context. Continuing from the previous example, explaining the geological processes that lead to the rock formation along with its current role in the ecosystem of that area would all qualify as second order meanings. Second order meanings have resulted in great technological advancement throughout history, especially in the recent centuries.

The third and final order of meaning arises from a myriad cognitive processes along with psycho-spiritual states as described in the Quran. Distraction and vice also hinders a person’s ability to recognize this order of meaning. The Quran consistently explains the signs of Allah as only being able to be perceived by people with faith, conviction, knowledge and intellect through the action of contemplation, remembrance, deliberation, listening and seeing. The fundamental cognitive process that occurs in this order of meaning by all people capable is known as Qiyaas bil-Awlaa (High-ordered Analogy). Terminologicaly, it refers to argumentum a fortiori – recognizing that a conclusion applies even more strongly in an analogous case. Pyshologically, it has wider implications and Qiyaas bil-Awlaa allows extension of the perceived reality to metaphysical constructs. Relying on purely literal and syllogistic (Aristotelian) thinking will blind a person from this order of meaning. Qiyaas bil-Awlaa enables the process of abstracting values (moral, intellectual and spiritual) from the natural world and appropriately recognizing their ontological and epistemological dependence and source from the Divine (Ma’rifah). The values that are abstracted are Divine Names and Attributes manifested in a limited form in this reality. The beauty, majesty and awe that arises from gazing upon the rock formation, along with the recognition of the metaphysical basis for these values in the Divine is the essence of this highest order of meaning.

Processing Third-Order Meanings

The processing of this meaning primarily occurs through the heart as described earlier. The heart can also distort light that shines forth at this level. The Quran gives the metaphor of the heart as glass,

Allah is the light of the heavens and the earth. The metaphor of his light is like a niche in which is a candle and the candle is encased by a glass, shining…”[53]

As Ibn Qayyim explains, the glass is referring to the heart, and the candle is the light of faith that illuminates the soul[54]. One of the reasons why glass is used as an analogy for the heart is because of its clarity. Ibn al-Qayyim says, “By its clarity, (the believer) sees truth and direction”[55]

Thus, we can conceptualize the heart as a glass through which the light abstracted from the signs of Allah in the external world project through. The image that results from the interaction of the light and the glass is projected onto our consciousness. This “image” is not physical, but the meaning, significance, knowledge and truth that we abstract from the Divine Signs. It is comprised of light, but the end-product is determined by its interaction with the projector that is the heart. The “image” can be distorted if the heart is tarnished. Ibn al-Qayyim says, “And if this tarnish builds up, blackens and envelops the heart completely, the heart’s reflective quality and perception will be totally lost, so that it will neither accept what is true nor reject what is false.”[56]

The Quran often describes the psycho-spiritual state of people who are unable to perceive the light that emerges from the signs of Allah. In fact, this reality is first expressed as early as the third page of the Quran,

Certainly, those who reject faith, they are indifferent to your warnings and will never believe. Allah has sealed their hearts and ears and veiled their sight. For them is a painful punishment.”[57]


Integrating All Orders of Meaning

 The scientific pursuit abstracts the first two orders of meanings from nature, while disregarding highest orders. It is important to note that science is not capable of deriving all aspects of these orders due to its limitation of empiricism. It will not be able to discuss all aspects regarding purpose and role within environments beyond observation, such as spiritual or moral purposes and roles. Mythology and religious symbolism attempts to abstract higher order meanings while ignoring the lower order meanings on which it should be based on. If taken in isolation, both represent epistemological extremes that has resulted in the iconic clash between religion and science.

The Islamic worldview provides an understanding of the highest order of meanings that builds upon the lower orders, resulting in harmony rather than conflict. They are meant to be seen as connected, rather than separate. This linkage can be further expounded by appreciating that reality, the subject of all knowledge, is a manifestation of the Divine Will. Thus, any meaning that emanates from reality, emerges from the Will of Allah. Knowledge of the natural world is knowledge of the Divine Will manifested through the intelligible systems of ecology, biology, chemistry, physics and mathematics. Ibn al-Qayyim calls components of the natural world as Ayaat Mashooda (empirical signs) because of the meaning (or light) that emerges from it[58]. The entire discipline of natural science is a sign of Allah’s hikmah (wisdom and purpose), ‘ilm (knowledge) and qudra (power). This is alluded to by Paul Davies as quoted earlier, “All science proceeds on the assumption that nature is ordered in a rational and intelligible way.”[59] The ordering (qudrah of Allah), rationality (hikmah of Allah) and intelligibility (ilm of Allah) of nature are constantly being abstracted and reaffirmed (tasdeeq) through every advancement of science.

Furthermore, the scientific endeavour rests on the assumption of a specifically monotheistic conception of God.[60] The constancy of natural patterns and laws is what enables meaning to be abstracted from the universe. If there were multiple gods acting as divine agents of the universe, there would be chaos and a constant alteration of reality. The Quran mentions,

Had there been gods other than Allah in the heavens and earth, it would have resulted in the corruption of the universe. Thus, Allah is exalted, the Lord of the Throne, above what they assert.[61]

Allah has not taken a son, nor is there a god besides him. If this were the case, each god would have a portion of its creation and attempt to invade other territories, exalted is Allah above all they assert concerning Him.”[62]

Science proceeds from the assumption that the patterns in nature are intelligible, and thus consistent. Competing patterns stemming from diverse wills over the universe would have resulted in an unintelligible chaotic universe that would be an inviable canvas for scientific investigation. Therefore, the success of science as seen in technological advancements is a testament to the unity of the divine (tawheed) manifested in the intelligibility of the consistent patterns found in nature.

The knowledge that exists in the world is certainly not limited to natural science. The entire corpus of social sciences, humanities, anthropology and history also emanate from the Divine Will as explained in the Quran,

(This is) the established way (Sunnah) of Allah with those who passed on before, and you will not find in the established way of Allah any alteration.[63]


Unarticulated Signs and The Determinate World

The third order of meaning is what enables a person to achieve guidance for their determinate world. It strengthens the nafs mutma’inn (Part of the self that inclines toward God) in its battle against the nafs ammara bis-soo’ (Part of the self that inclines toward evil), enabling the person to defend distortion and corruption to their path toward Allah. The process of voluntary exploration and the guidance that resulted is described in the Quran,

In the creation of the heavens and the earth and the alternation of the night and day are signs for people of intelligence. Those who remember Allah standing, sitting and lying on their sides, thinking about the creation of the heavens and the earth. (They conclude) ‘Our Lord you have not created this without purpose, exalted are you above that, so save us from the punishment of the fire.[64]

The pre-requisite to abstracting guidance from the unarticulated signs of Allah is having a consciousness filled with the remembrance of Him. The unarticulated signs can be conceived as being immersed in darkness. In fact, the domain of nature and the indeterminate world is symbolized as chaos, disorder and darkness.[65] Just as the sun is the necessary source of light for the darkness of the physical world, consciousness of Allah in the heart is the source of light necessary within the individual to illuminate the darkness of the indeterminate world, allowing the unarticulated signs to manifest. The Quran (articulated signs of Allah) is another light that interacts with the existing light in the heart to produce a phenomenon described in the Quran as ‘light upon light’.[66]


The Meta-Religion: Deen Hanif

The voluntary and involuntary process of encountering the signs of Allah and deriving meaning and guidance for one’s life is the primordial way of life for all of humanity known as Deen Hanif (The primordial religion) in the Quran,

So turn your face toward the primordial religion (deen hanifah). It is the primordial way of Allah that He has originated mankind upon and there is no changing in the creation of Allah. That is the true path but most of mankind do not know.”[67]

Interestingly, Jordan Peterson, who is also a mythologist, explained the process of encountering the indeterminate world and incorporate its lessons into one’s determinate world as the meta-narrative of all religions and cultural myths.[68] Ismail Faruqi, a 20th century Muslim philosopher also theorized that the meta-narrative behind all of mythology and religious ideology can be conceptualized as the deen hanif.[69] The obvious pagan notions embedded across all mythology and religions are later aberrations, but despite that, they have retained the basic hanif structure. Ismail Faruqi comments, “It is the conviction that the diversity of religions is due to history with all its affecting factors, its diverse conditions of space and time, its prejudices, passions and vested interests. Behind religion diversity stands al-din al-hanif (the primordial religion of God) with which all men are born before acculturation makes them adherents of this or that religion.”[70]

The deen hanif that stems from the fitrah (natural disposition of man) is so strong that it can’t help but manifest across cultures, myths and religions. Jordan Peterson explains that this is also the necessary structure to the archetypal hero story that is told through folklore, mythology, novels and modern day film. The hero must either voluntarily or involuntarily confront an anomaly emerging from the indeterminate world to achieve some treasure or lesson that makes the determinate world better. A person who lives their life according to this narrative is following the deen hanif. This inclination toward the deen hanif is found within each human being and is the necessary light that must be taken into the darkness of the indeterminate world to abstract truth from the unarticulated signs of Allah. The Quran most commonly associates the deen hanif with the way of Ibrahim.[71] The stories of Ibrahim in the Quran exemplify the most intense of trials sent to human beings. Being isolated from his family, kicked out of his own home by his father, thrown into a pit of fire, walking away from his family leaving them homeless and being willing to sacrifice his own son with his own hands are some of the immense tests faced by this great man. He faced them all with courage and submission to Allah, prioritizing the Truth over all other pursuits in life. Through his sabr and submission, he emerged from these encounters better than before, as the hero all of humanity is meant to aspire toward. His journey to Truth and his fierce commitment to it, is the essence of the deen hanif.



[35] Peterson, JB. (2007). The meaning of meaning. International Journal of Existential Psychology & Psychotherapy, 1(2).

[36] Ibid

[37] Ibid, p. 68

[38] Ibid

[39] Quran, 6:162

[40] Quran, 25:43

[41] Quran, 92:4

[42] Ibid

[43] The ideal form of this path is also termed as Shari’ah and our limited understanding of it is our Fiqh.

[44] Kitaab ar-Ruh, p. 328.

[45] Peterson, JB. (2007). The meaning of meaning. International Journal of Existential Psychology & Psychotherapy, 1(2).

[46] Quran, 2:157.

[47] Quran, 7:168

[48] Quran, 30:41

[49] Quran, 32:21

[50] Quran, 46:27

[51] Peterson, JB. (2007). The meaning of meaning. International Journal of Existential Psychology & Psychotherapy, 1(2).

[52] Quran, 3:191.

[53] Quran, 24:35

[54] The Invocation of Allah: Al-Wabil al-Sayyib min al-Kalim al-Tayyib, p. 64.

[55] Ibid

[56] Ibid, p. 47

[57] Quran, 2:6

[58] Miftah Dar as-Sa’adah, p. 537


[60] Ismail Faruqi, Al-Tawhid: Its Implications on Thought and Life, p. 53

[61] Quran, 21:22

[62] Quran, 23:91

[63] Quran, 33:62

[64] Quran, 3:191

[65] Peterson, JB. (2007). The meaning of meaning. International Journal of Existential Psychology & Psychotherapy, 1(2).

[66] Quran, 24:35

[67] Quran, 30:30

[68] Peterson, JB. (2007). The meaning of meaning. International Journal of Existential Psychology & Psychotherapy, 1(2).

[69] Faruqi I, Tawheed and its Implications for Thought and Life, p. 47

[70] Ibid

[71] For example, Quran, 4:125, 16:123

Share This