The night and day and the sun and moon are (only) some of His signs. So do not bow before the sun and the moon, but bow in homage to God who created them, if you truly worship Him.
It is easy to be overwhelmed by the immensity of a mountain, the grandeur of a river, the beauty of nature. But neither the mountain, nor the river, nor nature as a whole should be regarded as God Himself. In certain religions they are sometimes given divine qualities but that is only so because God shines through them just in the same way that he shines through qualities of the soul such as love, generousness and balance. No quality should be equated to God however – everything is simply a part of His creation in which He can be discovered. Even the saintliness of saints is but a remembrance of the One Divinity at the core of existence.
We shouldn’t, therefore, worship love as such, but recognize love as an act of worshipping God. We shouldn’t bow to the river itself but intensely marvel at it as a way to bow to the One Divine Life that flows through it.
What Christians can learn
The Qur’anic request, which often returns in the Holy Book, not to confuse worship of God with worship of His images obviously poses one of the fundamental spiritual questions for Christians: is Jesus only an image of God or God Himself?
This question is of course centuries old and many Christian theologians as well as Muslim scholars have offered their answers to it. The great Al Ghazali put forward a very strong argument, for example. He wrote that “Christians are mistaken when they say Jesus and God or one and the same. They are as mistaken as the one who looks into a mirror and sees in it a colored image yet thinks that this image is the image of the mirror, and this color is the color of the mirror. Far from it! For the mirror has no color in itself; its nature is rather to receive the image of colored things in such a way as to display them to those looking at the appearance of things as though they were the images of the mirror - to the point where a child who sees a man in the mirror thinks that the man actually is in the mirror.” To Al Ghazali then, Jesus mirrors God but he isn’t God Himself.
Both historical and present day Christian scholars would of course refute Al Ghazali’s claim with similarly strong arguments. And I certainly do not want to reopen a discussion on the topic itself. I simply would like to point out that every Christian should, at least once in his life, reflect very thoroughly on the matter. And guided by what wise scholars had to say about it, Christians should formulate their personal answer. For even though many answers can be given, it remains relevant to ask the question.
Questions for Muslims
A very good Muslim friend of mine one day said to me: “A lot of Muslims are trying too much to be like the prophet. We should find solutions for our lives and society with our reason as well and we shouldn’t think we can solve everything merely by trying to act and look like the prophet and the first Muslims. Of course Mohammed can serve as a spiritual example. But we don’t have to imitate him in an absurd way. We should understand that Mohammed was indeed a prophet in his time. So when we understand his actions in their context, we can learn from him. But his prophethood finished when he died. Strangely enough it seems that Christians, who say of Christ that he lives forever, imitate him a lot less while some Muslim brothers and sisters, for who the prophet should be a person just like any other, attribute to him an almost divine status.” I believe there is much truth in what he said.