Unlike my two colleagues, I have never had any problems reconciling religious faith with scientific method. This is a cultural distinction, I imagine, for as we spread worship of the one God (glory be to Him) through Europe and Asia, we brought along with it an enlightenment – mathematics, geometry, science, fretted instruments, the cultured life. We are far from being the barbarians portrayed in Western propaganda of the period.
Did not the Prophet (blessed be he) say in his great and holy book that we should be tolerant of those who have found other ways to God, and did he not speak of such People of the Book with great love and understanding, while chiding them for straying from the true path laid down by their forefathers, the first of the Prophets (blessed be they)? Would that their missionaries came into our lands with equal sensitivity for the culture and traditions of others!
God has given us a wondrous world for our study and fascination, and I find the Western inability to link together observation of that world and respect for its Creator hard to understand. So I know that when I absent myself from experiment or disputation to bow my head to the east, they wait impatiently for my return, forcing themselves to tolerate what they see as a contradiction, when the antagonism between inner and outer worlds lies within their own hearts.
Indeed, to me prayer is a kind of experiment, and the scientific method a form of prayer. One knows that if one heats carbon in a flame it will combine to form carbon dioxide; why should one not also seek salvation by another kind of cause and effect, namely by praying five times a day as it has been laid down for us?
So while my colleagues had to perform great feats of intellectual tightrope-walking to reconcile what was happening in the sky with the evidence of our instruments, I could relax in the knowledge that the glory of God is infinite, while man’s understanding is limited by the material world, where scientific equipment must work within the limitations of the inaccuracy of our instruments, and the observer himself is also part of the experiment.
This is not to say I was not as puzzled as the other two by what my senior colleague persisted in calling the anomaly, and indeed the entire scientific establishment of the university who had delegated to the three of us the task of investigating it. Clearly, the source of the electro-magnetic radiation which was focussed on a spot a few hundred metres from our own building lay outside the parameters of our existing knowledge, since it was transparent to radar. But I was able to look forward with rather more equanimity to the revelation of what new wonder we were about to discover in God’s universe, glory be to Him.
The anomalous phenomena are detailed in the official reports of our investigations, but since these have been declared classified – for reasons which I suspect have more to do with political expediency than military security, as usual – perhaps I should recapitulate their nature, if I can do this without offending our masters, the intelligence units who so govern our lives in this strife-torn world.
The centre of disturbance appeared to be in a small temporary building erected on the car park of a nearby public house. Naturally, though I pass the building frequently, I have never been within it, since the questionable delights of alcohol are denied me by the injunctions of the Prophet, blessed be he. However, the centre – actually, I prefer the word epicentre, since the phenomenon did indeed appear to be a sort of earthquake in the fabric of space/time – had moved to this spot during the earlier evening, in a roughly eastward direction. This we had been able to observe as the passage of a brilliant column of light, apparently originating in the meagre cloud base at several thousand metres above ground level, and moving at a speed of a hundred metres a minute or so.
However, whatever was originating the light beam was transparent to radar, as I have said, and impervious to any other kind of observation, whether from optical or radio telescopes.
The precisely defined shape of the light was all the more remarkable because it was accompanied by a spectacular aurora display, unusual for these latitudes. This was unaccompanied by any particular increase in sunspot activity, which is usually a feature of the aurora, and there was a complete lack of the increased ultra-violet radiation also usually to be found at such times.
As we passed through the university gates in the four-wheel drive, I wound down the offside window to look at the sky and I was struck by the fact that there was also an audio aspect to the phenomenon: it sounded like singing, though in no tongue I could recognise, and there were subsonic pulses that I could feel deep in my chest. Acoustics is not my field, but I know certain frequencies and intervals can affect our psychological state. This was no doubt why the sound filled me with a strange elation, similar to the effects of incautious inhalation of nitrous oxide gas. However, my head was quite clear, and when I checked my intellectual balance by running through some of the theorems of the special theory of relativity, I seemed to be thinking as lucidly as ever.
My junior colleague was attempting to record this new phenomenon upon a portable audio machine, but apparently with no success. At the time, I assumed that this was due to the rather intrusive roar of our vehicle’s diesel engine, but we were astonished later to discover no recorded signal whatsoever upon the magnetic tape. Either we were being plagued by a level of equipment malfunction that lies outside the bounds of random probability, or the nature of the phenomena excluded observation by normal scientific criteria.
For some reason, as we pulled into the car park, I found myself repeating the words of the sura denying that God would beget a son: he has merely to tell a thing to be, and it is so. Glory be to him. And as we entered the shed, I discovered why this text had been put into my mind, for the superstitious populace were indeed gathered round as if to worship.
They were a motley crew: uniformed police and soldiers, a woman no older than the mother, with the tight dress and defiant eyes of a harlot, some degenerates from whose breath I could smell the stink of intoxication, even a priest of the established church, an educated man by the looks of him, on his knees beside the rest of them.
The object of their veneration was a mother and child, from whom a light even greater than that from the sky seemed to emanate. The woman was young, rather simple-looking, but with a serene countenance that filled my heart with joy, even as the scene of which she was an essential part made me tremble with trepidation.
The child was truly remarkable: though clearly but an hour or so old, he looked around the rude building with clear eyes and a steady gaze as if he recognised us all. For a moment, he locked eyes with me, and after a moment I found myself unable to gaze back at him, and I looked away, down at my feet. When I looked up again, he was still regarding me, but an almost imperceptible smile crossed his lips. He nodded, slightly, as if acknowledging me, and then his gaze passed to my companions.
The effect upon my senior colleague was truly astonishing. I would have described him as the supreme sceptic, and yet his face was suffused with the very same joy that I felt. He pulled out a bit of some selenic mineral salt from his pocket, which I recognised as an astronautic trophy which normally had a place of honour in his laboratory. He placed it before the young woman and her son, and then got down on his knees as if to join the hobbledehoys in their obeisance.
I am ashamed to say that I felt a powerful compulsion to do likewise.
All my life, I have been proud to acknowledge only one lord over my life, glory be to Him, and it is this which makes people of my faith the greatest of all democrats. We are forbidden to make graven images of our heroes, and though the leaders of some ostensibly God-fearing states ignore this commandment, it is central to my own refusal to call any man master.
The music outside had become almost deafening, and I could feel its undertones resonating in the pit of my stomach, replacing elation with a sort of vertigo, accompanied by nausea, while the overtones set the very fillings in my teeth shrieking in sympathy.
I staggered, and lost my balance. Even as I shook my head in an unspoken negation of what I was doing, I found myself on my knees beside my colleague.
The priest lent over and put his arm over my shoulders to whisper in my ear. “Every knee shall bow,” he said, “every tongue confess him lord.”
I flung his arm off and stumbled out of the hut, my head spinning.
I knelt again out there on the asphalt, confessing my unwitting blasphemy, facing the east and recalling the eight fundamentals of prayer, my palms upon my knees and my brow upon the gritty ground.
Calm returned to me and after five minutes or so I raised my head. The light blazed out of the little hut, blinding me with its brilliance, between me and the object of my prayer, streaming onwards, like a path up into the heavens.