Here is a paradox for a modern age which seeks to do away with the Divine, to remove it from their frame of reference and erase it from the public sphere: "Those who have no belief set up rivals to their Lord" (Qur'an 6:1). But how can those who disbelieve in God set up rivals to their God?
When we do away with God, when we eliminate connection with the unified domain of Spirit, we make this whole lower world, this vast ever-shifting multiplicity into a plurality of rivals to the Divine. In the absence of one God, entire pantheons of conflicting, battling, rival gods appear in the form of an endless abundance of systems and ideologies. A ceaseless, multitudinous, up-swelling of mini-idolatries, each of which have their moment of existence, their small or vast group of adherents and worshipers, their limited moment in the sun before they are displaced by other gods more recently born. Continuous distraction, continuous conflict and battle for advantage, for hegemony, endless desires, perpetual change, a world where men are as gods, where even the creations of their minds are gods if only for a moment in time, before they are displaced by new gods - no metaphysics required. What activity, what an immeasurable, self-perpetuating frenetic domain this world "free" of one God and frothing with the incessant motion of a kaleidoscope of new gods, appears to be. A god-eat-god world where no god goes unchallenged and no god endures.
The seemingly vital life and activity perceived by those who favor this brave new world free of constraint, is simply the psychic apperception of the speed and motion of an accelerated fall away from the Divine, away from transcendence - of the rapid collapse of matter upon itself when the energy, the light, the Divine spirit that supports it departs, and matter, left to itself, rushes towards its destiny, its disintegration. It is a state of blind free-fall in which those falling to their destiny imagine that they are weightless, gloriously free of gravity's influence, of its supposed "oppression", unaware that its invisible force is unabated, unchanged, and that it is their own perception of their state and destination which is flawed. They perhaps continue in this mistaken apprehension until their impact with the fate towards which they plummet.
The phrasing of the Qur'anic verse is interesting - it states that those without belief set up rivals to "their Lord". The absence or rejection of belief has no impact on the reality of the situation - God remains their Rabb (Lord) whether acknowledged or not. He encompasses all systems and He has set the rules by which all systems operate and by which they will be judged. The change brought about by the disbelief is simply the emergence of an idolatrous impulse which turns the human focus downward entirely towards this lower world, and towards the self and its numerous manifestations and creations - a process of mental self-veiling, of the donning of blinders which block all vision except that which looks down away from God.
The next verse confirms this self-idolatry by reminding mankind that God created them of earth, of a base clay - just as they in the past created their idols and artifacts from clay, from inert matter. It is a reminder of humble origins and of the fact that our clay without spirit is inanimate, dark - so our material foundation must not be our exclusive focus. "He it is Who created you from clay, then He decreed a term...." (Qur'an 6:2) So there is a term, a set of conditions or a period of time after which the matter from which we are made will inevitably return to its constituent components. Devoid of the ruh (spirit), it will decay downward - the once living limbs, organs, and cellular material eaten away from the inside, the flesh consumed and transformed by multitudinous organisms frothing in miniature motion, engaged in a vast feast that will continue its frenzied repast until the return to the earth is accomplished. Even death and decay are replete with activity.
So also with a society - once it has broken its bond with higher principles, turned away from that which sustains and generates its existence - once it has consciously, purposefully, determinedly cut the cord of spirit and shown its back to God, it has embraced spiritual death. It continues on as a conglomerate entity but it has unleashed from within its own guts all manner of activities that were once held at bay. All the forces of decay, which drag downward, which work remorselessly to return it to its worldly origin - to earth, to clay, to dust, to inert components - begin their feverish, tireless consuming task, dismantling its organizing structures and vital principles, till, over time, only a society's bones, it's ruins and artifacts remain as traces.
"Travel in the land, then see what was the end of those who threw aside the truth." (Qur'an 6:11)
Irshaad Hussain is a contemporary Islamic thinker and author of Islam from Inside