A Dialogue That Started with a Firefly

Jan 31, 2011

How does one answer a three-year-old and even ourselves questions about God?

“Show me Allah!” he asked me while looking towards the night sky with a slight tinge of peevishness in his babyish accent.

I was having the routine after-dinner stroll with Ahmed and Muhammad (my three-year-old twins) on my sides. Three of us decided to move out without their mother who was glued to the telephone in an unusually long conversation. I was aimlessly conversing, teaching them silly things like how to walk on the wayside, when the bunch of fireflies in a nearby frontyard caught my attention. Kids were unable to pick them up from some distance so I decided to take them closer in order to have a better look.

The glow was captivating enough for me, too; however enthrallment on their faces was completely obvious. Ahmed, the more talkative among the duo, asked me to let him have an even closer look. I carefully picked one of them and fearful that I might hurt the restless insect, bent my palms to make a hollow cup. As I showed them the glowing abdomen, they excitedly tried to touch it with their little hands, moving me ultimately to release the little creature. This triggered our brief dialogue which might grew them up as thinking persons and which surely matured me as a parent.

This was enough to make me realise that a three-year-old cannot possibly be satisfied with any more biological reasons.

“Why does it glow?” Ahmed asked me inquisitively, not interested in touching it anymore. Having no clue how to explain him the phenomena, I escaped with a quick reply that there is some luminescent powder under their bellies.

“Why is it there?” he quickly responded with another question. This was enough to make me realise that a three-year-old cannot possibly be satisfied with any more biological reasons.


369 Flight of a firefly (Photo by apple_sauced on Flickr)


He did not actually want the “reason” why nocturnal beetles do what they do; rather, through a completely natural mechanism, he was just trying to simplify the world around him. At least, that is what I thought at that moment and told him that it is called a firefly (Jugnoo in Urdu) and Allah has made it as such. I didn’t want to engage his mind at that time with my own questions and was completely caught by surprise when he asked me where is Allah.

Keeping quiet, I did not reply for few moments as he repeated his question several times. “What should I tell him!” I asked myself as my mind restlessly moved in various domains.

I instantly remembered the slave girl of Muawiah ibn al-Hakm whose incident is recorded in Muwatta of Imam Malik (and I believe in Muslim’s Sahih too). In response to a similar question by the Prophet, she pointed towards the heavens silently or said fi al-sama (in the sky), according to a different version.

I thought about the Quran which mentions that Allah is closer to us than our jugular veins. The face of that pious-looking old man also came to my mind who used to recite Allah’s 99 names on television in Ramadhan transmission in a studio with heavenly background and who was God according to most of us when we were very young.

I had a vague memory that she somehow made us believe that God is everywhere.

I remembered asking my mother similar questions when I was growing up. I couldn’t remember exactly what she said but I had a vague memory that she somehow made us believe that God is everywhere. “How is he everywhere?” is a question that we never thought to ask her in those days.

In that continued state of helplessness, I did a miserable job and told him that Allah is above in the heavens. As a result, his present demand was pretty logical. Like all the parents, I came out of this situation as a winner, telling him that nobody can see God and he will understand it when he’ll grow up. Not interested anymore in the dialogue, he turned his attention somewhere else.

In his own cute little way, he understood, and probably got the first lesson of suspending judgement.

I got my own lessons, too.

Since that night, I couldn’t get those questions off my mind for too long. How many of us do believe REALLY in an invisible, always communicating, governing and law-sending God, each and every second of our lives? How many of us are unable to do without a Creator-Hypothesis when we sit to calculate various probabilities that concern our lives each day? Are we completely at home with notion of a providing Creator?

To put it simply, how many of us can describe God to an innocent’s intellect whose raw logic is not yet trained to impulsively deal with universals.


This post was originally published on Nonskeptical Essays in April 2007.