In its capacity to manifest Divine Names and the many duties assigned to it, earth is as worthy as all the heavens. Each time the outer crust of the earth comes into contact with the atmosphere, it undergoes a mysterious process of formation, layer after layer, to warmly embrace plants and animals so they can exist and survive. Earth is prosperous, mothering billions of lives even in a single milligram of its mass. It is magnanimous, housing tons of bacteria, tiny insects, and worms which constantly penetrate it to fulfill their assigned duties. It is a mirror of countless Divine manifestations, a magnificent workbench, and a fascinating laboratory of chemistry and biology.
It can be said, thus, that earth is the most valuable asset and the most magical part of the whole universe, particularly of our planet. Air, water, and light, as it were, sustain with it and exist for it. This is why, this “down-to-earth” yet “significant-beyond-the-heavens” element, in whose embrace we and millions of other beings arise and grow, is mentioned quite often in the Holy Qur'an. It is virtually held equal to all the heavens, glorified as our origin, and presented to our attention as a bridge, a port, a launching platform that leads to the worlds beyond. In between the lines of verses, one is reminded of the knowledge the wisdom, and the blessing and favor of God:
“And after that He has spread out the earth. Out of it, He has brought forth its waters and its herbage. And the mountains He has set firm.” (an-Naziat 30-32)
Many verses in the Qur’an remind us of the relationship between the earth and the atmosphere, the precise arrangement of the layers of the Earth's crust that enables them to preserve water inside them, then the spouting of that water according to a certain order and balance, the formation of that water into rivers, the irrigation of vineyards and gardens with these rivers, and finally the vaporizing of all these sources of water so that they are ready for service once again.
Earth displays special care and diligence in terms of its content and richness, and it has been made a place of joy through life and has been made valuable beyond all else, especially through human life. This can be seen as the most significant of events and happenings in our world—in fact, in the whole universe. Even so, these features and the system of order and wisdom, balance and Divine aid that these features embody have not been comprehended in full, but God Almighty, in His timeless declaration, always emphasizes these features and their different dimensions, and reminds us and other conscious beings of His profound and endless bounties. He opens gateways in our world of reflection and contemplation, gateways to existence and to what is beyond the veil of existence, taking us out on a stroll in the peaceful and prosperous environment of belief and contentment. “And it is He Who has spread the earth wide and set therein firm mountains and rivers, and of fruit of every kind He has made mated pairs. He covers the day with the night. Surely in that are signs (manifesting the truth) for people who reflect” (ar-Ra’d, 3).
It is possible to point out many more verses from the Holy Qur'an in which these features are expressed in different styles and manners. Nearly every one of these verses shows us that in order for the world to be a suitable and convenient place for human life, the earth has had to undergo constant change and transformation. The Infinitely Powerful One blessed with joy every different phase of this long process with living beings of sorts of species dwelling on the land. He manifested His Divine attributes of knowledge (‘ilm), free will (irada), and life (haya) to make the rivers and seas into cascades of life, and specifically turned the layer of earth, both under and above the soil, into a place of exhibition and gathering for all living beings.
Earth has a magical content and internal structure. It’s possible to view it as a single living being, or a live chemistry or biology lab. Indeed, earth is the point of convergence and cohesion between air, water, and light. It is the operator and central line through which all of these are transported to us in a useful and rewarding way. And finally, it is a factory of transformation in which everything is made into a useful substance and presented to us for our benefit and enjoyment. In this respect, we can see it as the focal point of everything else—the most vital part of life. Gases and lava, the foundational elements of the planet, reached their first phase of perfection through becoming earth and completed their natural ascension by transforming into it. At the end of that process, the road leading to the human being started with earth, finished with earth, and, by attaining a state above earth, turned the human into a celestial being.
With its colorful prairies and meadows, breezy gardens and vineyards, its mountains and hills that make you tremble, and its seas and rivers that send a wave of astonishment to our hearts, the earth has almost always reminded us of the heavens we have been separated from and has always been a source of consolation against the passionate longing of our hearts for their true home. Looking at its features, we have always become sorrowful, remembering the heavens we lost, and, at the same time, we have found consolation in it, thinking of the gardens and vineyards of the Hereafter, which the earth’s enchanting beauty brings to our minds.
It has taken millions of years for the earth covering the face of our world to reach its present stage in the hands of the All Powerful One. It has taken millions of years for it to become ornate with a cover of vegetation and plants, to fill with the joy of living beings. Through human beings, earth has become something that is felt, life in it truly experienced, sharing with us everything it possesses.
Nowadays, right when it has reached the right consistency to reflect the grandeur of the heavens, I wonder if those who are turning its balances upside-down and destroying its harmony are aware that they are destroying the result of a process that has taken billions of years—billions of years of manifestation of the Divine. The destruction has reached a stage beyond imagination, and with the elimination of certain important elements from the face of the earth, the balance between the living and non-living elements that were left behind has been altered. Once again “mother earth” has come face to face with the betrayal of her own children.
Indeed, the fact that the overall balance has been altered through the extinction of certain living and non-living species—whether intentional, due to economic inevitability, or caused by ignorance—it is an outright betrayal to the world in which we have come into existence and grown. It is nothing more than turning our own shelter into a place in which we cannot sustain our lives. Sooner or later, the laws of creation will respond to this betrayal and will certainly punish us for this atrocity. It will punish and completely turn away from us, and, living or non-living, every single being will take its share from this resentment. The atmosphere will weaken due to harmful gasses. Rains of acid will fall from the skies in place of mercy and abundance, and when rain does fall it will sweep the soil in front of it and will drive it into the seas. The vegetation and plants will be scattered to and fro with the gusts of autumn, taking with them our every expectation of spring. And our Earth, always more compassionate than a mother, will let itself go, turning into a hell-like desert and sending its children to and fro as if trembling from a blow of the horn of Israfil.
By nature, earth, which stands shoulder-to-shoulder with air and is locked in a close embrace with water, has always, as part of its duty, cosseted us like a mother. With its prairies and meadows, its gardens and vineyards, its silver streams and golden pastures, it has stood with the strength of a father in the face of our mistakes, and it is such a warm, faithful, and sincere source of life that has kept alive the thoughts of Paradise we once lost. Those who have failed to see the fact that earth is actually an officer on duty ready at our disposal with firm loyalty, have associated it with a kind of mystery and magic beyond what it actually possesses. Just as the people of the Ganges Basin have sanctified the Ganges River, and the people of the Amazon have deemed the Amazon sacred, and certain natives of Canada have associated Niagara with certain Divine features, they have accepted the earth as having the power to create.
Both our world and the layer of earth covering it are merely mirrors of Divine manifestations, and the brilliance we witness in them are the embodiment of Divine possibilities. According to Bediuzzaman, just as the Earth is the heart of the universe, the element earth is the heart of our world. Earth is the symbol of the roads that lead human beings to the grandest of goals, roads such as modesty and humility. In fact, when compared to the highest of skies, earth is a more direct way of reaching the One who has created those skies: for earth is the most appropriate, the most convenient foundation for the manifestations of the names Hayy and Qayyum (the One who gives life and sustains it) and for the signs of God Almighty’s Lordship throughout the universe and the head-spinning events that are carried out through His Eternal Power. God Almighty’s superiority in mercy is manifest in water, and His superiority in life and giving life is manifest in earth—and earth is the most brilliant, the most lucid mirror for every manifestation of the Divine.
The more delightful and pleasant the mirror is when held to an opaque substance, the more visible the shapes will be that form in that mirror. The more opaque the mirror held to a heavenly and graceful being, the brighter it will reflect the manifestations of the Divine Names. For example, only a weak radiance of light from the sun is visible in the air; in the mirror of water, however, there is an even brighter reflection. When earth reflects the light, one can witness the seven different colors of sunlight.
Despite its profound content and richness, earth, or the soil, has always been a sign of humility and modesty, and its lips have always been at the soles of our feet. There are those who feel the humility and modesty of the earth in their very souls and who connect their feet and head at the same point, forming a kind of circle; the earth kisses them on their foreheads and lets their souls fill with the secrets of being close to the Ultimate True One. It whispers these poetic phrases to those who wish to turn their hearts into gardens of roses: Be like earth so that you can grow roses, for it is not possible for anything other than the earth to truly nurture roses.
Hopefully, the days are near when a fresh breath of air will embrace our souls; when trees, humans, earth, water, land, and sky will flow into our hearts and take us to a new wedding with the Beloved.