Quran Reflections – Juz Twenty‏

July 18th, 2014

Juz Twenty

Friendships

وَيَوْمَ يَعَضُّ الظَّالِمُ عَلَىٰ يَدَيْهِ يَقُولُ يَا لَيْتَنِي اتَّخَذْتُ مَعَ الرَّسُولِ سَبِيلًا. يَا وَيْلَتَىٰ لَيْتَنِي لَمْ أَتَّخِذْ فُلَانًا خَلِيلًا. لَّقَدْ أَضَلَّنِي عَنِ الذِّكْرِ بَعْدَ إِذْ جَاءَنِي ۗ وَكَانَ الشَّيْطَانُ لِلْإِنسَانِ خَذُولًا
And (be mindful of ) the Day the wrongdoer will bite his hands saying, “ Would that I had taken a path along with the Messenger! Oh, woe to me! Would that I had not taken so-and-so for a friend! He did lead me astray from the Message (of Allāh) after it had come to me! Ah! Satan is but a traitor to man! (Al-Furqān 25:27-29).

This is the last sūrah revealed before hijrah; its āyah 85 was revealed when the Prophet ﷺ had already started his journey to Madinah. This was a heart breaking departure and he was consoled that Allāh would be bringing him back to this city as a conqueror. This happened within a decade although at that time there were no apparent clues leading to this result.

In preparation for the encounter with Jews in Madinah, the first 43 āyahs give a detailed account of the life of Prophet Mūsā not given anywhere else in the Qur’ān. The parallels between the lives of Prophet Muḥammad ﷺ and  that of Prophet Mūsā are unmistakable.  Prophet Mūsā had also left his home when his life was threatened. He was later brought back and ultimately the Pharaoh was drowned. The account thus provides assurance for the Prophet ﷺ and admonishment for the unbelievers.

Qārūn (Korah) and Others of His Ilk

إِنَّ قَارُونَ كَانَ مِن قَوْمِ مُوسَىٰ فَبَغَىٰ عَلَيْهِمْ ۖ وَآتَيْنَاهُ مِنَ الْكُنُوزِ مَا إِنَّ مَفَاتِحَهُ لَتَنُوءُ بِالْعُصْبَةِ أُولِي الْقُوَّةِ إِذْ قَالَ لَهُ قَوْمُهُ لَا تَفْرَحْ ۖ إِنَّ اللَّهَ لَا يُحِبُّ الْفَرِحِينَ. وَابْتَغِ فِيمَا آتَاكَ اللَّهُ الدَّارَ الْآخِرَةَ ۖ وَلَا تَنسَ نَصِيبَكَ مِنَ الدُّنْيَا ۖ وَأَحْسِن كَمَا أَحْسَنَ اللَّهُ إِلَيْكَ ۖ وَلَا تَبْغِ الْفَسَادَ فِي الْأَرْضِ ۖ إِنَّ اللَّهَ لَا يُحِبُّ الْمُفْسِدِينَ. قَالَ إِنَّمَا أُوتِيتُهُ عَلَىٰ عِلْمٍ عِندِي ۚ أَوَلَمْ يَعْلَمْ أَنَّ اللَّهَ قَدْ أَهْلَكَ مِن قَبْلِهِ مِنَ الْقُرُونِ مَنْ هُوَ أَشَدُّ مِنْهُ قُوَّةً وَأَكْثَرُ جَمْعًا ۚ وَلَا يُسْأَلُ عَن ذُنُوبِهِمُ الْمُجْرِمُونَ. فَخَرَجَ عَلَىٰ قَوْمِهِ فِي زِينَتِهِ ۖ قَالَ الَّذِينَ يُرِيدُونَ الْحَيَاةَ الدُّنْيَا يَا لَيْتَ لَنَا مِثْلَ مَا أُوتِيَ قَارُونُ إِنَّهُ لَذُو حَظٍّ عَظِيمٍ. وَقَالَ الَّذِينَ أُوتُوا الْعِلْمَ وَيْلَكُمْ ثَوَابُ اللَّهِ خَيْرٌ لِّمَنْ آمَنَ وَعَمِلَ صَالِحًا وَلَا يُلَقَّاهَا إِلَّا الصَّابِرُونَ. فَخَسَفْنَا بِهِ وَبِدَارِهِ الْأَرْضَ فَمَا كَانَ لَهُ مِن فِئَةٍ يَنصُرُونَهُ مِن دُونِ اللَّهِ وَمَا كَانَ مِنَ الْمُنتَصِرِينَ. وَأَصْبَحَ الَّذِينَ تَمَنَّوْا مَكَانَهُ بِالْأَمْسِ يَقُولُونَ وَيْكَأَنَّ اللَّهَ يَبْسُطُ الرِّزْقَ لِمَن يَشَاءُ مِنْ عِبَادِهِ وَيَقْدِرُ ۖ لَوْلَا أَن مَّنَّ اللَّهُ عَلَيْنَا لَخَسَفَ بِنَا ۖ وَيْكَأَنَّهُ لَا يُفْلِحُ الْكَافِرُونَ.
Indeed Qārūn (Korah) was from the people of Mūsā, then he rebelled against them. And We had given him treasures such that the very keys of them were too heavy a burden for a company of men endowed with strength. (Remember) when his people said to him, “Do not exult. Surely, Allāh loves not those that exult. And seek the (betterment of ) the Ultimate Abode with what Allāh has given to you, and do not neglect your share from this world, and do good as Allāh did good to you, and do not seek to make mischief in the land. Surely, Allāh does not like the mischief-makers.” Answered he: “This (wealth) has been given to me only by virtue of the knowledge that is in me!” Did he not know that God had destroyed (the arrogant of ) many a generation that preceded him—people who were greater than he in power, and richer in what they had amassed? But such as are lost in sin may not be asked about their sins (for ascertaining their sins). And so he went forth before his people in all his pomp; (and) those who cared only for the life of this world would say, “Oh, if we but had the like of what Qārūn has been given! He is a man of great fortune indeed!” But those who had been granted true knowledge said: “ Woe unto you! Merit in the sight of Allāh is by far the best for any who attains to faith and does what is right: but none save the patient in adversity can ever achieve this (blessing).” And thereupon We caused the earth to swallow him and his dwelling; and he had none to help him against Allāh, nor was he of those who could defend themselves. And on the morrow, those who but yesterday had longed to be in his place exclaimed: “Alas (for our not having been aware) that it is indeed Allāh (alone) who grants abundant sustenance, or gives it in scant measure, unto whichever He wills of His creatures! Had not Allāh been gracious to us, He might have caused (the earth) to swallow us, too! Alas (for our having forgotten) that those who deny the truth can never attain to a happy state!” (Al-Qaṣaṣ 28:76-82)

The account of Qārūn (Korah in the Bible) is given at the end of the sūrah. Qārūn is the personification of the possible evils of wealth. He was given tremendous wealth, which got to his head. He believed, as many do today, that his economic success was the result of his own knowledge and smarts. Little did he realize that for every smart person who has struck it rich, there are many smarter people who have not. How many are the economically successful who can see that their success was the result of simply being at the right place at the right time? Failure to comprehend that our wealth or lack thereof is a test decreed by Allāh according to His plan leads to the other common evil. The surplus wealth begs to be put on display to advertize the superiority of those who hold it. Qārūn did the same. And it did take its toll on the shallow people who are captivated by this world and have not received the revealed knowledge. (Such are the people being produced by our education systems today). They said Qārūn had got it made and wished they had the same. The people of knowledge (i.e revealed knowledge) tried to talk sense to them telling them the real important things were faith and virtue. The truth of this was finally realized by the first group when Qārūn was buried alive along with his wealth.

Wealth also took another toll on the poor Qārūn. He belonged to a colonized people (Bani Israel) and had accepted to work for the Pharaoh as his agent to control his own people. He betrayed his people and became an oppressor for them— because his narrowly conceived vested interests dictated so.
We can see the dark character of Qārūn, the agent, in the history of colonized people to this day. We can also see the character of Qārūn, the filthy rich, in every society.

Successful Personality

تِلْكَ الدَّارُ الْآخِرَةُ نَجْعَلُهَا لِلَّذِينَ لَا يُرِيدُونَ عُلُوًّا فِي الْأَرْضِ وَلَا فَسَادًا ۚ وَالْعَاقِبَةُ لِلْمُتَّقِينَ
As for that Ultimate Abode (the Hereafter), We assign it to those who do not intend haughtiness on earth nor mischief. And the (best) end is for the God-fearing. (Al-Qaṣaṣ, 28:83)

The eternal success belongs to the good people. Their defining characteristic is that they seek neither oppression of others nor corruption. They are a God-fearing people or muttaqī in the special Qur’ānic terminology.

Nurturing of taqwā is a central Islamic goal. The Qur’ānic guidance is beneficial only for those who have taqwā. The purpose of fasting is also to develop taqwā. All acts of virtue are performed by the muttaqīn (plural of muttaqī). Paradise has been created for the muttaqīn.

Limits of Parental Rights

وَوَصَّيْنَا الْإِنسَانَ بِوَالِدَيْهِ حُسْنًا ۖ وَإِن جَاهَدَاكَ لِتُشْرِكَ بِي مَا لَيْسَ لَكَ بِهِ عِلْمٌ فَلَا تُطِعْهُمَا ۚ إِلَيَّ مَرْجِعُكُمْ فَأُنَبِّئُكُم بِمَا كُنتُمْ تَعْمَلُونَ
We have charged man to do good to his parents. But if they insist upon you that you associate with Me that of which you have no knowledge, then do not obey them. To Me is your return; then I shall tell you what you were doing. (Al-ʿAnkabūt 29:8)

The persons who have the  greatest right on  us are our parents. Yet when this right impinges on the right of Allāh to be worshipped alone, it will be disregarded. It follows that rights of other people will be disregarded even more when they conflict with the commands of Allāh. There is absolutely no obedience to other people that results in disobedience to Allāh.

A Great Reassurance

وَالَّذِينَ جَاهَدُوا فِينَا لَنَهْدِيَنَّهُمْ سُبُلَنَا ۚ وَإِنَّ اللَّهَ لَمَعَ الْمُحْسِنِينَ
But as for those who strive hard in Our cause—We shall most certainly guide them onto paths that lead unto Us: for, behold, Allāh is indeed with the doers of good. (Al-ʿAnkabūt, 29:69)

This āyah holds great reassurance for all those who may find hurdles in obeying Allāh. When doors seem to be locked and all options look bad, let us have faith. We should turn to Allāh seeking His help and do the best we can under the circumstances. And we will find a way out with help from totally unexpected sources. The Qur’ānic words are very emphatic. Let us find comfort in their great promise. If we keep this āyah in front of us, we’ll never lose hope, no matter what the current circumstances.

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Quran Reflections – Juz Nineteen‏

July 18th, 2014

Juz Nineteen

Friendships

وَيَوْمَ يَعَضُّ الظَّالِمُ عَلَىٰ يَدَيْهِ يَقُولُ يَا لَيْتَنِي اتَّخَذْتُ مَعَ الرَّسُولِ سَبِيلًا. يَا وَيْلَتَىٰ لَيْتَنِي لَمْ أَتَّخِذْ فُلَانًا خَلِيلًا. لَّقَدْ أَضَلَّنِي عَنِ الذِّكْرِ بَعْدَ إِذْ جَاءَنِي ۗ وَكَانَ الشَّيْطَانُ لِلْإِنسَانِ خَذُولًا
And (be mindful of ) the Day the wrongdoer will bite his hands saying, “ Would that I had taken a path along with the Messenger! Oh, woe to me! Would that I had not taken so-and-so for a friend! He did lead me astray from the Message (of Allāh) after it had come to me! Ah! Satan is but a traitor to man! (Al-Furqān 25:27-29).

This is direct reference to the case of ʿUqbah ibn Abu Muʿayṭ, who accepted Islam then turned back and even spat on the face of the Prophet ﷺ under the pressure of his friend Ubayy ibn Khalaf. Both of them reached an evil end.

But the wording is general and is a reminder that we should never accept as friends those people who may lead us away from the path of the Messenger ﷺ. If we do we’ll get nothing but regrets in the end. We should choose friends who will be a positive influence on us, whose friendship will make it easy for us to follow the path of piety and righteousness. A hadith makes it very clear: “Everyone is influenced by his friends, so watch out whom you are befriending.”

The Qur’ān and Us

وَقَالَ الرَّسُولُ يَا رَبِّ إِنَّ قَوْمِي اتَّخَذُوا هَٰذَا الْقُرْآنَ مَهْجُورًا
And (on that Day) the Messenger will say: “O my Sustainer! Behold, (some of) my people have come to regard this Qur’ān as a thing to be shunned” (al-Furqān, 25:30)

The reference in my people (qawmī) is to the mushrikīn of Quraysh. But the general wording should give pause to the Muslims whose behavior fits the description. Today we have severed the link between the Qur’ān and our daily life. We do not read it, try to understand it, reflect on it, and make it the guiding light for the individual and collective affairs of our life as we ought to do. To the extent that we are deficient in these obligations, we are liable to be accused as mentioned here. May Allāh protect us from the Qur’ān and the Prophet ﷺ becoming our accusers.

Portrait of Believers

This sūrah ends with another snapshot of the character of believers. As mentioned  in  the  reflections on  Sūrah al- Mu’minūn, these should not be seen as so many disjointed commands, but as pointers to the desirable personality. These are the people who can affectionately be called the servants of the Most Merciful.

It is also to be noted that the qualities are listed not as goals but accomplishments. These āyahs are not saying, “O believers do this.” Rather they are saying, “Believers are already doing this.” At other places in the Qur’ān believers have been praised for virtuous acts though they were not commanded to do them anywhere in the Qur’ān. Reflecting on this will enlighten us about both the role of the Prophet ﷺ and that of the Companions. The Companions  either learned these qualities directly from the Prophet ﷺ or as a result of Prophetic training, they developed that mindset that automatically led them to the praiseworthy course of action.

Qualities:
They walk humbly.
They avoid arguments with the ignorant people.
They spend the nights in worship of Allāh.
They follow the path of moderation in economic matters. They are neither spendthrift nor stingy.
They respect sanctity of life.
They do not commit fornication or adultery.
They do not bear false witness.
They do not turn deaf and dumb to the words of Allāh.
They seek and pray for raising a family based on piety and virtue.

Pharaoh and “Political Islam”

قَالَ لِلْمَلَإِ حَوْلَهُ إِنَّ هَٰذَا لَسَاحِرٌ عَلِيمٌ. يُرِيدُ أَن يُخْرِجَكُم مِّنْ أَرْضِكُم بِسِحْرِهِ فَمَاذَا تَأْمُرُونَ
He (Pharaoh) said to the chiefs around him “This man is certainly an expert sorcerer”. He wants to expel you from your land with his sorcery. So what do you suggest?” (Ash-Shuʿarā’ 26:34-35)

The encounters of Prophet Mūsa with the Pharaoh are reported in several places in the Qur’ān including  here.  It is obvious that both Pharaoh and his expert  advisers were looking at the “problem” of Prophet Mūsa as a political problem. For them it was all about a power struggle. They painted Prophet Mūsa as the leader of a “political Islam” that threatened to drive them from power and fashioned their strategy and propaganda campaigns accordingly. In  sūrah Taha we see them calling Prophet Mūsa as a threat to their superior lifestyle. “Said they, ‘Certainly, these two are sorcerers who wish to drive you out from your land, and do away with your excellent way of life.’”

This preoccupation with political analysis became the big barrier that kept the Pharaoh and his advisers from seeing the Truth.

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Quran Reflections – Juz Eighteen‏

July 16th, 2014

Juz Eighteen

Surah al-Mu’minun

Reflections on Falaḥ (Success)

This sūrah begins with the promise of falāḥ for the believers who have certain qualities. It  ends with  the  categorical assertion that non-believers will not get falāḥ. The first eleven āyahs specify the type of person who will definitely achieve falāḥ. Translated  as success, falāḥ signifies a state where a person’s every wish comes true and at the same he is protected from everything undesirable. This point is also made explicit in other āyahs. “We have been your friends in the worldly life, and (will remain as such) in the Hereafter. And for you here is whatever your souls desire, and for you here is whatever you call for.” “And there will be whatever souls desire and that which eyes enjoy. And you will be living in it forever.” The point to ponder is that if everyone can get all their wishes fulfilled, this could also potentially lead to chaos.

People, after all, are capable of harboring wild wishes! The answer is that only those people will be admitted to Paradise who can handle such a privilege with responsibility, who have purified themselves thoroughly and developed a personality that is qualified to get such a blank check. Paradise is an exclusive place. Not in the sense that it is reserved for a specific race or nationality or color or economic standing. But in the sense that it is meant only for those who have developed the required personal qualities. It is a beautiful place, more beautiful than the most beautiful place the human mind can even imagine. It is meant for people who have developed an inner beauty. Unlike physical beauty which may be inherited, this is the beauty of the soul which is to be acquired—through the purification of one’s intentions and actions.

The  qualities mentioned  in  this  sūrah  (āyah 1-11) should be read with this perspective in mind. This is not a disjointed list of some things that believers are supposed to do; the qualities paint the portrait of the God fearing and God conscious personality that is always seeking good and avoiding evil. We should be judging ourselves not only on the specific qualities listed here but also on how close we are to that ideal personality to see how far we are from true and eternal success.

Qualities for Attaining Falaḥ

The listed qualities are:
A) They are believers. This is the key quality. The success in the Hereafter belongs only to the believers. The point is further emphasized in the end of this sūrah, where it says: “Lo! Disbelievers  will not  be successful.” Paradise is not something that will be given away to those who do not even believe in it and are not even seeking it.
B) They concentrate their attention in humbleness when offering ṣalāh (prayers). This is the state of their prayer. Concentration  and  humbleness mark  it,  and  with  the frequency of ṣalāh in their daily life, make these the overriding parts of their personality.
C) They keep themselves away from vain things. They stay away not only from sins, but also from vain pursuits and useless and purposeless activities. They know the value of their time and their resources and do not waste any of them on things that will not contribute to their success.
D) They are performers of Zakāh. This refers to self purification  as well as the purification of one’s wealth through the charitable donation normally known as Zakāh.
E) They guard their chastity. They stay away from all extramarital  sex and things that can lead to it.
F) They honestly look after their trusts and covenants. They are a people for whom talk is not cheap. When they give their word, they honor it. Their pledges are solid. They are honorable people in their dealings with everyone.
G) They (strictly) guard their prayers.The desirable traits are bracketed with references to ṣalāh, thus indicating that it is the pillar of the successful personality. A Muslim negligent in his prayers is far from the model of success that Islam espouses.

Surah an-Nur: Hijab

One of the key qualities for eternal success mentioned in the previous sūrah was guarding chastity. This sūrah further amplifies on it and gives commands both for the preservation of that chastity and for the punishment when it is violated. It begins with the punishment for fornication, followed by punishment for slandering a chaste woman or man. These are two of the four Ḥudūd laws, which are not subject to any change with the passage of time. The other two Ḥudūd Laws deal with punishments for theft and consuming alcohol.

It also deals with the slander of Sayyidah ʿĀ’ishah by the hypocrites, rebuking them and testifying to her chastity. It  continues to  give commands for  the  preservation of ḥayā in the social life of the Muslim community. This forms the essential Islamic “sex education” course. And a key component of that course is contained in the following two āyahs.

قُل لِّلْمُؤْمِنِينَ يَغُضُّوا مِنْ أَبْصَارِهِمْ وَيَحْفَظُوا فُرُوجَهُمْ ۚ ذَٰلِكَ أَزْكَىٰ لَهُمْ ۗ إِنَّ اللَّهَ خَبِيرٌ بِمَا يَصْنَعُونَ
Tell the believing men that they must restrain their gazes and guard their chastity; it is more decent for them. Surely Allāh is All-Aware of what they do. (An-Nūr, 24:30)

وَقُل لِّلْمُؤْمِنَاتِ يَغْضُضْنَ مِنْ أَبْصَارِهِنَّ وَيَحْفَظْنَ فُرُوجَهُنَّ وَلَا يُبْدِينَ زِينَتَهُنَّ إِلَّا مَا ظَهَرَ مِنْهَا ۖ وَلْيَضْرِبْنَ بِخُمُرِهِنَّ عَلَىٰ جُيُوبِهِنَّ ۖ وَلَا يُبْدِينَ زِينَتَهُنَّ إِلَّا لِبُعُولَتِهِنَّ أَوْ آبَائِهِنَّ أَوْ آبَاءِ بُعُولَتِهِنَّ أَوْ أَبْنَائِهِنَّ أَوْ أَبْنَاءِ بُعُولَتِهِنَّ أَوْ إِخْوَانِهِنَّ أَوْ بَنِي إِخْوَانِهِنَّ أَوْ بَنِي أَخَوَاتِهِنَّ أَوْ نِسَائِهِنَّ أَوْ مَا مَلَكَتْ أَيْمَانُهُنَّ أَوِ التَّابِعِينَ غَيْرِ أُولِي الْإِرْبَةِ مِنَ الرِّجَالِ أَوِ الطِّفْلِ الَّذِينَ لَمْ يَظْهَرُوا عَلَىٰ عَوْرَاتِ النِّسَاءِ ۖ وَلَا يَضْرِبْنَ بِأَرْجُلِهِنَّ لِيُعْلَمَ مَا يُخْفِينَ مِن زِينَتِهِنَّ ۚ وَتُوبُوا إِلَى اللَّهِ جَمِيعًا أَيُّهَ الْمُؤْمِنُونَ لَعَلَّكُمْ تُفْلِحُونَ
And tell the believing women that they must restrain their gazes and guard their chastity, and must not expose their adornment, except that which (necessarily) appears thereof, and must wrap their bosoms with their shawls, and must not expose their adornment, except to their husbands or their fathers or the fathers of their husbands, or to their sons or the sons of their husbands, or to their brothers or the sons of their brothers or the sons of their sisters, or to their women, or to those owned by their right hands, or male attendants having no (sexual) urge, or to the children who are not yet conscious of the private parts of women. And let them not stamp their feet in a way that the adornment they conceal is known. And repent to Allāh O  believers,  all  of  you,  so  that  you  may  achieve  success.  (An-Nūr, 24:31)

The first step toward preserving chastity is the creation of the environment in which temptations are minimized. A woman’s beauty is not public property to be enjoyed by one and all. It is a private treasure that has to be kept private. Both men and women have to restrain their gazes so the looks that can potentially start lusts are nipped in the bud. But women have to do more by covering themselves as detailed above.

Haya’

Islam’s laws about hijab, its ban against free mixing of men and  women, its teachings about  gender-relations—all  of these reflect a deep concern for ḥayā. The only people who will try to water down these injunctions are those who are not fully cognizant of ḥayā’s central place in Islamic life and the destruction caused in the society by its absence.

What is ḥayā? It is normally translated as modesty or inhibition but neither word conveys the same idea as ḥayā. Modesty suggests  shunning indecent behavior but  it also implies bashfulness based on  timidity.  That  is why the adjective based on  its opposite, immodest, is sometimes also used as a compliment suggesting courage. Inhibition is defined as: “Conscious or unconscious mechanism whereby unacceptable impulses are suppressed.” This is a very neutral definition with no reference to right or wrong. Thus one finds psychiatrists “helping” their patients overcome inhibitions.

In contrast to the moral ambiguity of these words, ḥayā refers to an extremely desirable quality that protects us from all evil. It is a natural feeling that brings us pain at the very idea of committing a wrong.

Along with its unique connotation comes the unique value of ḥayā in Islam. Prophet Muḥammad ﷺ said: “Every religion has a distinct call. For Islam it is ḥayā.”   Another famous hadith says: “There  are more than seventy branches of Īmān (faith). The foremost is the declaration that there is no god except Allāh and the least of it is removing harmful things from the path. And ḥayā is a branch of Īmān.” As some Muḥadithīn point out, the number seventy is a figure of speech. What the hadith tells us is that the declaration of faith is the most important part of Īmān but that is not all. Īmān also has to reflect itself in all kinds of actions in real life. Moreover, ḥayā is a centerpiece of most of the actions that Īmān calls for. It is the basic building block of Islamic morality. When it is lost everything is lost.

Restraining Gazes

The command to restrain gazes is seen today in wholesale violation. In fact women feel they are a greater target of stares on the streets, say, in Karachi or Istanbul than they are in Los Angeles or London. This sad reality then leads some to question the very restrictions  being violated. Maybe we can have better morality if all the restrictions are removed?

We need to put this delusion to rest. What we are seeing in Los Angeles or London are better manners and not better morals. The alarming rates of sexual improprieties at every level of the society, from the President on down, at the same time that sexual impropriety  is being constantly redefined and narrowed down, are sufficient to put an end to this fanciful thesis.

However it does show that when believers violate Allāh’s commands, they may become worse than anybody else in their manners as well. This should not detract us from the fact that the goal of the believers is to excel in both manners and morals. This can only be achieved by turning back to Allāh. Once again, we need to start listening to the Qur’ān to get out of this terrible mess.

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Quran Reflections – Juz Sixteen‏

July 15th, 2014

Juz Sixteen

Sūrah Al-Kahf

This sūrah starts in the fifteenth juz and is concluded in the sixteenth. It is highly recommended that we recite it every Friday. Several ahadith promise that those who do so will be protected from the deceptions of Dajjāl. The Dajjāl will be a person who personifies deception. His will be an era of extreme trials and tribulations for the believers. We are asked to always pray for protection against those trials. While the Dajjāl has not yet appeared, we are indeed living in an age when dajjālic deceptions are increasingly manifest all around us.

The story of the People of the Cave is narrated in āyahs 9-26. These were young people for whom their faith was all important. They lived at a time when the people of faith were being persecuted by a ruthless king. They could not fight him, nor could they surrender to him. So they took refuge in a cave. They put their affair in the Hands of Allāh and He saved them from persecution through a miraculous sleep that lasted for three centuries.

The story of Prophet Mūsā and Khiḍr is narrated in āyahs 60-82. Its most important moral is that things are not always what they appear to be. We should not be deceived or disheartened by the events that unfold before us every day. What seems to be an imperfect world is  actually a perfect testing ground.

The story of Dhul Qarnayn is told in āyahs 83-98. He was a powerful, just, and Allāh fearing king. Two actions of his are specially highlighted.

1) His declaration that he would punish the unjust and deal kindly with the virtuous. This makes moral purpose and virtue as the yardstick with which to measure any ruler. In contrast secular western democracy holds that the government has no business deciding morality or virtue.
2) He refused to tax the people for a national project even when the tax was offered by the people. This was obviously not for the purpose of improving his chances of reelection; it was the extension of morality and virtue to the economic field.

Here are reflections on some āyahs from this sūrah.

InshāAllāh

َلَا تَقُولَنَّ لِشَيْءٍ إِنِّي فَاعِلٌ ذَٰلِكَ غَدً إِلَّا أَن يَشَاءَ اللَّهُ ۚ وَاذْكُر رَّبَّكَ إِذَا نَسِيتَ
And never say about anything, “I shall surely do this tomorrow,” without (adding), “If Allāh so wills.” And remember your Lord if you forget. (Al-Kahf, 18:23-24).

Here is the background for this āyah. The account of the Seven Sleepers, the encounter between Prophet Mūsā  and Khiḍr, and the story of the king Dhul  Qarnayn  were unknown to the Arabs. The Quraysh of Makkah were advised by Jewish scholars in Madinah to ask the Prophet ﷺ about them as a test of the authenticity  of his prophethood. He promised to answer the question the next day expecting the revelation to come by that time. This sūrah was the answer. (This was a most brilliant answer that not only gave details about them, but also applied their stories to the situation at hand to show that the Quraysh were on the side of wrong in the stories about right and wrong. Unfortunately obstinacy kept the Quraysh and the Jews from accepting the Truth.)

This sūrah was the answer, but it was delayed by two weeks. The two anxious weeks were a Divine reminder of an important message mentioned in this āyah. We should never announce plans about the future as if we control it. Rather we should qualify these by the words, inshāAllāh (If Allāh wills). There was a time when in the Western world, the phrase God willing, carried the same message. Today the secularized discourse shies away from acknowledging that we do not control the  future. And even when it  does acknowledge that, it refuses to acknowledge that the control belongs to God. So “God willing” is replaced by any number of clumsy expressions, whose common concern is to avoid mentioning God, like “If fate decrees,” “If the wind blows right,” “Hope it’s my lucky day,” “Barring some unforeseen (circumstance/ incident/accident),” “If things work out,”  and  “If things go according to plan.” Superstition also reigns supreme as people normally  say “knock on wood” or “keep your fingers crossed.”

We should not give in to this secular madness. We need to bring inshāAllāh2  (and God willing) back to our everyday discourse—on  every continent and in every language of the world. For wherever we are and whatever language we speak, the future is always totally in the Hands of Allāh.

Extremism

وَاصْبِرْ نَفْسَكَ مَعَ الَّذِينَ يَدْعُونَ رَبَّهُم بِالْغَدَاةِ وَالْعَشِيِّ يُرِيدُونَ وَجْهَهُ ۖ وَلَا تَعْدُ عَيْنَاكَ عَنْهُمْ تُرِيدُ زِينَةَ الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا ۖ وَلَا تُطِعْ مَنْ أَغْفَلْنَا قَلْبَهُ عَن ذِكْرِنَا وَاتَّبَعَ هَوَاهُ وَكَانَ أَمْرُهُ فُرُطًا
Keep yourself content with those who call their Sustainer morning and evening, seeking His countenance, and let not your eyes overlook them, seeking the splendor of the worldly life. And do not obey the one whose heart We have made heedless of Our remembrance, and who has followed his desire and whose behavior has exceeded the limits. (Al-Kahf, 18:28)

Here is the most profound—and ignored—truth about extremism. Those who do  not  remember Allāh end  up following their own desires and go to extremes in satisfying them. It  all starts from a single minded devotion to the splendor of this worldly life. Extremism is thus a direct and inevitable result of materialism and unbelief. And turning to Allāh—and away from obedience to our lusts and greed—is the only way to fight it.

Recently the spelling of this expression has received undue attention due to some misconceptions about the meaning of the phrase when “inshā” is written together in English (as opposed to “in shā”). The fact is that readers of English tend to pronounce and understand it in the same manner when written as “inshallāh” or “inshāAllāh» or «in shaa Allāh.» In all cases they clearly understand it to mean «If Allāh wills.» So all are valid forms as affirmed by many scholars.

The Life of this World.

وَاضْرِبْ لَهُم مَّثَلَ الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا كَمَاءٍ أَنزَلْنَاهُ مِنَ السَّمَاءِ فَاخْتَلَطَ بِهِ نَبَاتُ الْأَرْضِ فَأَصْبَحَ هَشِيمًا تَذْرُوهُ الرِّيَاحُ ۗ وَكَانَ اللَّهُ عَلَىٰ كُلِّ شَيْءٍ مُّقْتَدِرًا
Set forth to them the similitude of the life of this world: It is like the rain which we send down from the skies: the earth’s vegetation absorbs it, but soon it becomes dry stubble, which the winds do scatter: it  is  (only)  Allāh  who  prevails  over  all  things.  (Al-Kahf,18:45)

All the pleasures and riches of this world are short-lived. Here today, gone tomorrow. How foolish that one should make them the yardstick to measure success in life. This comment follows the  account of the  encounter of two characters: a rich non-believer and a poor believer. The latter was not at all impressed by the riches of the former and was much concerned about his unbelief and ungratefulness towards Allāh. The former refused to listen to him and was destroyed. This āyah captures the moral of the story. That encounter continues today and so does the need for remembering the story and its moral.

The Greatest Loss

قُلْ هَلْ نُنَبِّئُكُم بِالْأَخْسَرِينَ أَعْمَالًا. الَّذِينَ ضَلَّ سَعْيُهُمْ فِي الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا وَهُمْ يَحْسَبُونَ أَنَّهُمْ يُحْسِنُونَ صُنْعًا. أُولَٰئِكَ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا بِآيَاتِ رَبِّهِمْ وَلِقَائِهِ فَحَبِطَتْ أَعْمَالُهُمْ فَلَا نُقِيمُ لَهُمْ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ وَزْنًا
Say, “Shall We tell you about the greatest losers in respect of (their) deeds? Those are the ones whose effort in the worldly life has gone in vain, while they think they are doing well. Those are the ones who rejected the signs of their Sustainer and (the concept of ) meeting with Him, so their deeds have gone to waste, and We shall assign to them no weight at all.” (Al-Kahf, 18:103-105)

Good deeds without the right motives are a waste. Motives are the soul of every action. In turn motives are driven by belief. When belief in Allāh and the Hereafter is absent then one’s good deeds are soulless. This is an all important reminder that we need to purify both our intentions and our actions. If we do not seek rewards from Allāh in the Hereafter, we’ll surely not get them.

The Blessed People

أُولَٰئِكَ الَّذِينَ أَنْعَمَ اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِم مِّنَ النَّبِيِّينَ مِن ذُرِّيَّةِ آدَمَ وَمِمَّنْ حَمَلْنَا مَعَ نُوحٍ وَمِن ذُرِّيَّةِ إِبْرَاهِيمَ وَإِسْرَائِيلَ وَمِمَّنْ هَدَيْنَا وَاجْتَبَيْنَا ۚ إِذَا تُتْلَىٰ عَلَيْهِمْ آيَاتُ الرَّحْمَٰنِ خَرُّوا سُجَّدًا وَبُكِيًّا
Those are  the  people  on  whom  Allāh  bestowed  His  grace,  the prophets from the progeny of ’Ādam, and of those whom We caused to board (the Ark) along with Nūḥ, and from the progeny of Ibrāhīm and Isrā’īl ( Jacob), and (all of them were) whom We guided and selected. When the āyahs of The Raḥmān (The All-Merciful) were recited before them, they used to fall down in Sajdah (prostration), while they were weeping. (Maryam, 19:58)

In sūrah al-Fātiḥah we make the dua to be shown the path of those on whom Allāh bestowed His grace. Here the same exact word is being used to tell us that the prophets were the people who were so favored. So anyone sincerely looking to find Allāh’s true favors and blessings should be following in the footsteps of the prophets.

And the thing to note in their behavior is their attitude toward the words and commands of Allāh. Falling down in sajdah with tears of love and awe in their eyes captures  their willing and loving devotion to Allāh and His commands.

We can judge where we stand with reference to Allāh’s true blessings and grace, by seeing where we stand in relationship to Allāh’s words and commands.

Reflections on Āyahs of Sajdah (Prostration)

This is one of the fourteen āyahs of sajdah in the Qur’ān. These āyahs are themselves a reminder of the miracle of the Qur’ān. When reciting any of these āyahs, or listening to their recitation, inside the ṣalāh or outside, believers always perform sajdah. That simple act of prostration that we do not think much of is in reality an extraordinary event. To realize that we can ask if anyone can produce a book such that whenever readers reach a certain point in it they will perform a prescribed act of devotion. All of them. All the time. We can challenge the multibillion dollar publishing empires to pool all their resources and marketing talents to produce such a book. They will fail. For only the Words of Allāh can command such devotion.

There is another important  message  here. We cannot approach the  Qur’ān  as  another  book,  to  be  critically evaluated and judged and selectively  accepted or rejected based on one’s understanding. This is the way an Orientalist will approach the Qur’ān. But for a Muslim these āyahs set the tone for all our interaction with it; it is one of total and loving submission.

Importance of Ṣalāh

فَخَلَفَ مِن بَعْدِهِمْ خَلْفٌ أَضَاعُوا الصَّلَاةَ وَاتَّبَعُوا الشَّهَوَاتِ ۖ فَسَوْفَ يَلْقَوْنَ غَيًّا
Then came  after  them  the  successors  who  neglected  Ṣalāh  and followed their lusts and desires. So they will soon face Destruction. (Maryam, 19:59)

This emphasis on Ṣalāh came in Makkah (in the 5th  year of Prophethood) about five years before the five daily prayers were ordained. After narrating the stories of many prophets, we are told how deviations came in their followers. The prophets had shown the Straight Path. With the passage of time, their followers were overcome by lusts and turned away from this path. And the first error they committed, which finally led to this tragic result, was being negligent in ṣalāh. A famous hadith gives the same message. Ṣalāh is the pillar of dīn, the Islamic way of life. Whoever destroys it destroys his dīn. In other words one cannot build an Islamic life, an Islamic community, an Islamic institution,  or an Islamic government while neglecting or weakening this pillar.

In one of his circulars Sayyidnā ʿUmar ibn al-Khaṭṭāb sent instructions to all his administrators saying,  “In my opinion, ṣalāh is the most important of your obligations. Whoever takes good care of it and safeguards it safeguards his religion and whoever neglects it will neglect other things even more.” He then added instructions about the times for the five ṣalāhs and admonition against dozing off before Isha.

This letter from the ruler of a vast empire to the officials of his government—shall we call it Executive Order?—gives us a lot to reflect upon. For ṣalāh is among the most emphasized

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Quran Reflections – Juz Fifteen‏

July 15th, 2014

Juz Fifteen

This juz begins with Sūrah al-Isrā’ (also known as Sūrah Banī Isrā’īl). The very first āyah establishes the permanent, irrevocable  importance of Masjid al-Aqṣā for Muslims. It refers to the miraculous night journey of Prophet Muḥammad ﷺ from Makkah to Jerusalem and from there to the high heavens for a meeting with Allāh, Most High. The  second part of this journey is known as Mi’rāj  or  Ascension. This second part is mentioned later in Sūrah an-Najm (53). The five daily prayers were ordained  during Mi’rāj and are referred to in āyah 78 in this sūrah.

This event took place toward the end of the Makkan period and signified the beginning of a new era where Islam would be established as a state. Thus important commandments for collective life were given in this sūrah in āyahs 22-39. The beginning and ending āyahs of this section are given below.

Tawḥīd

لَّا تَجْعَلْ مَعَ اللَّهِ إِلَٰهًا آخَرَ فَتَقْعُدَ مَذْمُومًا مَّخْذُولًا
Do not set up any other deity besides Allāh, otherwise you will find yourself disgraced and forsaken. (Al-Isrā’, 17:22)

ذَٰلِكَ مِمَّا أَوْحَىٰ إِلَيْكَ رَبُّكَ مِنَ الْحِكْمَةِ ۗ وَلَا تَجْعَلْ مَعَ اللَّهِ إِلَٰهًا آخَرَ فَتُلْقَىٰ فِي جَهَنَّمَ مَلُومًا مَّدْحُورًا
This is  part  of  that  knowledge  of  right  and  wrong  which  your Sustainer has revealed to you. Hence, do not set up any other deity besides Allāh, lest you be cast into hell, blamed (by yourself ) and rejected (by Him)! (Al-Isrā’, 17:39)

The list begins and ends with the reminder that we must not worship anyone except Allāh alone. Corrupt practices have corrupt ideas behind them and to remove the corruption from our lives, we must begin with the purification of our ideas and beliefs. Thus tawḥīd is the all important belief. A talk of “good deeds” is meaningless without it. Tawḥīd is the cornerstone of Islamic life, and shirk (polytheism) is its exact opposite. It follows that it must be a Muslim’s top most concern to avoid shirk of all forms in his beliefs and practices.

Parental Rights

وَقَضَىٰ رَبُّكَ أَلَّا تَعْبُدُوا إِلَّا إِيَّاهُ وَبِالْوَالِدَيْنِ إِحْسَانًا ۚ إِمَّا يَبْلُغَنَّ عِندَكَ الْكِبَرَ أَحَدُهُمَا أَوْ كِلَاهُمَا فَلَا تَقُل لَّهُمَا أُفٍّ وَلَا تَنْهَرْهُمَا وَقُل لَّهُمَا قَوْلًا كَرِيمًا. وَاخْفِضْ لَهُمَا جَنَاحَ الذُّلِّ مِنَ الرَّحْمَةِ وَقُل رَّبِّ ارْحَمْهُمَا كَمَا رَبَّيَانِي صَغِيرًا
Your Sustainer has decreed that you worship none but Him, and do good unto your parents. If any one of them or both of them reach old age, do not say to them: uff (a word or expression of anger or disgust) and do not scold them, and address them with respectful words. And, out of kindness, lower to them the wing of humility, and say: “My Sustainer! Bestow on them your Mercy just as they cherished me in childhood.” (Al-Isrā’, 17:23-24)

These āyahs set the bar for kindness to parents so high that no one can ever be complacent about it and think that they have done all that they should have done. And to compensate for our shortcomings, we should be regularly praying for our parents as mentioned in the second āyah. It should be kept in mind that parents have rights even when they are non-Muslims. In the hierarchy of rights, parental rights are the greatest among all the rights of other human beings. But they are subservient to the rights of Allāh. Thus one cannot revoke obedience to Allāh under the command of his or her parents. Although even in that situation politeness is required.

Being Spendthrift

وَآتِ ذَا الْقُرْبَىٰ حَقَّهُ وَالْمِسْكِينَ وَابْنَ السَّبِيلِ وَلَا تُبَذِّرْ تَبْذِيرًا. إِنَّ الْمُبَذِّرِينَ كَانُوا إِخْوَانَ الشَّيَاطِينِ ۖ وَكَانَ الشَّيْطَانُ لِرَبِّهِ كَفُورًا
And render to the kindred their due rights, as (also) to those in want, and to the wayfarer: But squander not (your wealth) in the manner of a spendthrift. Verily spendthrifts are brothers of the satans; and the Satan is very ungrateful to his Sustainer. (Al-Isrā’, 17:26-27)

There are two related terms used in the Qur’ān regarding improper spending. Tabdhīr, used here, is spending on projects for which no spending is justified. Isrāf, mentioned elsewhere, is spending extravagantly on projects which are in themselves permissible. Both are condemned. Unfortunately, both are very common in the Muslim world today. The extravagant spending in weddings and celebrations, so common today one might think that it was normal or fine, is just one example of this epidemic.

Killing Children for Fear of Poverty

وَلَا تَقْتُلُوا أَوْلَادَكُمْ خَشْيَةَ إِمْلَاقٍ ۖ نَّحْنُ نَرْزُقُهُمْ وَإِيَّاكُمْ ۚ إِنَّ قَتْلَهُمْ كَانَ خِطْئًا كَبِيرًا
Do not kill your children for fear of poverty. We provide sustenance to them and to you, too. Killing them is a great sin indeed. (Al-Isrā’,17:31)

This also refers to abortions. While the āyah refers to the economic motive, as it was the common motive in pre- Islamic Jāhiliyyah, it is obvious that killing for other reasons is no more permissible. Birth control for fear of poverty, as a personal or national project, is also prohibited in Islam.

Adultery and Fornication

وَلَا تَقْرَبُوا الزِّنَا ۖ إِنَّهُ كَانَ فَاحِشَةً وَسَاءَ سَبِيلًا
Do not even go close to fornication. It is indeed a shameful act, and an evil way to follow. (Al-Isrā’, 17:32)

Islam does not just prohibit all extramarital  sex, it also closes the doors that may lead to it. That is why what is prohibited here is getting close to fornication. This means it is obligatory to stay away from things that  can excite the desires and situations that can make extramarital sex possible or easy. The problem today is that while societies still claim that they want to eliminate adultery, they insist on leaving open all the channels that lead to it. Their strategies make as much sense as putting a pot full of water on the stove and turning on the stove, then prohibiting the production of steam.

Today’s media based commercial and cultural propaganda campaigns have put all their energy in exciting sexual desires because they help sell. The same can be said about the music industry, fashion industry, film industry, and all sorts of businesses that make money from exploitation of lust. This is the first time in history that the inviting picture of a woman has been placed on every square inch of available space. Coeducation and free mixing in general which have become commonplace today and are considered as marks of human progress, all stoke the fires that lead to fornication and adultery and all sorts of sexual perversions. The pot is full and the heat setting is at the highest level. Is it any wonder that steam production is also at the highest levels?

Quite expectedly those who have chosen to declare fueling the fires as a fundamental human right have taken fornication off the list of crimes. This makes the statistics not look as bad, but does not change anything in reality. The destruction of family life, which has reached epidemic proportions, is a direct result of this attitude.

Islam’s call is to end this fatal contradiction and self delusion. Solve the problem at its roots. Close the doors that lead to sexual anarchy. It is a shame that the Muslim world, in large parts, has also become deaf to this Qur’ānic message with the result that the graphs of incidents of sexual crimes are at an all time high and going up. This is another reminder that our problems will not be solved until we start listening to the Qur’ān.

Murder

وَلَا تَقْتُلُوا النَّفْسَ الَّتِي حَرَّمَ اللَّهُ إِلَّا بِالْحَقِّ ۗ وَمَن قُتِلَ مَظْلُومًا فَقَدْ جَعَلْنَا لِوَلِيِّهِ سُلْطَانًا فَلَا يُسْرِف فِّي الْقَتْلِ ۖ إِنَّهُ كَانَ مَنصُورًا
And do not take any human being’s life—(the life) which Allāh has willed to be sacred—otherwise than in (the pursuit of ) justice. Hence, if anyone has been slain wrongfully, We have empowered his heir (to exact a just retribution); but even so, let him not exceed the bounds of equity in (retributive) killing. Surely, he will be helped (in a just retribution). (Al-Isrā’, 17:33)

Killing is permitted only in the execution of a legal sentence,in a just war, or in legitimate self-defense. The overriding concern for justice demands that we avoid excesses in both directions: in letting murderers go unpunished, or going beyond limits in punishing the murderer and even others merely suspected of capital crimes. We see both extremes in the world today. Murderers go unpunished as capital sentence is considered too harsh. Yet killing men, women, and children on mere suspicions using remote killing mechanisms (like drones) is considered legitimate, even virtuous.

Vain Pursuits

وَلَا تَقْفُ مَا لَيْسَ لَكَ بِهِ عِلْمٌ ۚ إِنَّ السَّمْعَ وَالْبَصَرَ وَالْفُؤَادَ كُلُّ أُولَٰئِكَ كَانَ عَنْهُ مَسْئُولًا
And pursue not that of which you have no knowledge; verily, (your) hearing and sight and heart—all of them—will be called to account for it (on Judgment Day). (Al-Isrā’, 17:36)

This is banning idle curiosities, vain pursuits, and all pointless uses of our faculties of sense and intellect. This is the stuff that fills up most of the modern media and countless hours in Internet surfing, chatting, and texting. Social networks have taken this human weakness to an entirely new plane. This is a reminder that our use of our faculties must be made with a heavy sense of responsibility and accountability before Allāh. Only this sense of ultimate accountability can prevent us from misusing these God given faculties.

Arrogance

وَلَا تَمْشِ فِي الْأَرْضِ مَرَحًا ۖ إِنَّكَ لَن تَخْرِقَ الْأَرْضَ وَلَن تَبْلُغَ الْجِبَالَ طُولًا
And walk not on earth with haughty self-conceit: for, verily, you can never rend the earth asunder, nor can you ever grow as tall as the mountains! (Al-Isrā’, 17:37)

This is meant to cut the megalomaniacs of all grades to size. A six foot tall human being walking arrogantly on the face of this vast earth, in comparison to which he is nothing more than a speck, makes an interesting spectacle. Let us be honest—and be humble.

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Quran Reflections – Juz Thirteen‏

July 11th, 2014

Juz Thirteen

Sūrah Yūsuf

Sūrah Yūsuf is unique among Qur’ānic narratives as the entire sūrah is devoted to the story of Prophet Yūsuf. Further, his story, unlike other stories, is not mentioned anywhere else. The sūrah is filled with moral lessons, for which a good tafsīr should be consulted. Here are only some of those lessons.

In-between Muslims

اقْتُلُوا يُوسُفَ أَوِ اطْرَحُوهُ أَرْضًا يَخْلُ لَكُمْ وَجْهُ أَبِيكُمْ وَتَكُونُوا مِن بَعْدِهِ قَوْمًا صَالِحِينَ
“Let us kill Yūsuf, or throw him at some place on earth, and thus your father’s full attention will be devoted for you alone, and after doing that, you may become a righteous people.” (Yūsuf, 12:9)

The brothers of Prophet Yūsuf  were Muslims. They were driven by jealousy and not by an ideological conflict. But this jealousy led them to commit serious wrongs. Torn between their negative emotions and their sense of right and wrong, they were the in-between Muslims. They must have felt the pricks of conscience in formulating their evil plan. This is how they assuaged their guilt feeling. “Do this one wrong now, and afterward lead a virtuous life.” Anyone resorting to the same justification for any wrong should realize the hollowness of this logic.

Human Nature

This sūrah gives extremely valuable insights into  human nature. It also tears apart the idea that good people are above lusts and desires or that there can be such a thing as platonic love. This idea only helps remove the safeguards  thereby making succumbing to those desires easier. This is the story of a Prophet, whose innocence is attested to by the Qur’ān. Yet it also says clearly that he could have succumbed to the lust, except for the help from Allāh. The following āyahs make it very clear.

وَلَقَدْ هَمَّتْ بِهِ ۖ وَهَمَّ بِهَا لَوْلَا أَن رَّأَىٰ بُرْهَانَ رَبِّهِ ۚ كَذَٰلِكَ لِنَصْرِفَ عَنْهُ السُّوءَ وَالْفَحْشَاءَ ۚ إِنَّهُ مِنْ عِبَادِنَا الْمُخْلَصِينَ
She certainly desired him, and he might have desired her, had he not seen the proof from his Lord. Thus We did, to turn evil and lewdness away from him. Surely, he was one of Our chosen servants. (Yūsuf, 12:24) 

قَالَ رَبِّ السِّجْنُ أَحَبُّ إِلَيَّ مِمَّا يَدْعُونَنِي إِلَيْهِ ۖ وَإِلَّا تَصْرِفْ عَنِّي كَيْدَهُنَّ أَصْبُ إِلَيْهِنَّ وَأَكُن مِّنَ الْجَاهِلِينَ
He (Yūsuf ) said, “My Lord, the prison is dearer to me than what these women invite me to do. If You do not turn their guile away from me, I might yet yield to their allure and become one of those who are unaware (of right and wrong). (Yūsuf, 12:33)

وَمَا أُبَرِّئُ نَفْسِي ۚ إِنَّ النَّفْسَ لَأَمَّارَةٌ بِالسُّوءِ إِلَّا مَا رَحِمَ رَبِّي ۚ إِنَّ رَبِّي غَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌ
And yet, I am not trying to absolve myself: for, verily, man’s inner self does incite (him) to evil, and saved are only they upon whom my Sustainer bestows His grace. Certainly, my Sustainer is the Most- Forgiving, Very-Merciful. (Yūsuf 12:53)

In the first āyah Allāh is saying that Prophet Yūsuf might have desired her. In the second āyah Prophet Yūsuf  is seeking Allāh’s help against their seduction since without that help he might yield to their allure. The third āyah is a general observation about human nature which  has  inclinations to evil.

The idea that human beings can be reformed against their nature is a fantastic one. This story should liberate us from such illusions. The proper moral reform consists in recognizing human nature and eliminating the opportunities for it taking the wrong course. The attraction between the sexes is an important force of nature, which makes family life possible, which is the basic unit of society. When it spills outside marriage, it becomes a destructive force, which must be curbed. And the way to do that is to restrict the exposure and opportunities for interaction between the sexes in those situations. Hence the laws of hijab and the restrictions against free-mixing, which are based on a perfect knowledge of the human nature. All those who try to water them down are working against the forces of nature.

It should also be noted that Zulaykha was older than Prophet Yūsuf. He had entered their house as a child to be possibly adopted as a son. This removes any grounds for relaxation of the requirements of hijab for an older (as opposed to an old) woman. As long as the two are of marriageable age, the restrictions are to be observed.

Sermon in the Prison

قَالَ لَا يَأْتِيكُمَا طَعَامٌ تُرْزَقَانِهِ إِلَّا نَبَّأْتُكُمَا بِتَأْوِيلِهِ قَبْلَ أَن يَأْتِيَكُمَا ۚ ذَٰلِكُمَا مِمَّا عَلَّمَنِي رَبِّي ۚ إِنِّي تَرَكْتُ مِلَّةَ قَوْمٍ لَّا يُؤْمِنُونَ بِاللَّهِ وَهُم بِالْآخِرَةِ هُمْ كَافِرُونَ. وَاتَّبَعْتُ مِلَّةَ آبَائِي إِبْرَاهِيمَ وَإِسْحَاقَ وَيَعْقُوبَ ۚ مَا كَانَ لَنَا أَن نُّشْرِكَ بِاللَّهِ مِن شَيْءٍ ۚ ذَٰلِكَ مِن فَضْلِ اللَّهِ عَلَيْنَا وَعَلَى النَّاسِ وَلَٰكِنَّ أَكْثَرَ النَّاسِ لَا يَشْكُرُونَ. يَا صَاحِبَيِ السِّجْنِ أَأَرْبَابٌ مُّتَفَرِّقُونَ خَيْرٌ أَمِ اللَّهُ الْوَاحِدُ الْقَهَّارُ. مَا تَعْبُدُونَ مِن دُونِهِ إِلَّا أَسْمَاءً سَمَّيْتُمُوهَا أَنتُمْ وَآبَاؤُكُم مَّا أَنزَلَ اللَّهُ بِهَا مِن سُلْطَانٍ ۚ إِنِ الْحُكْمُ إِلَّا لِلَّهِ ۚ أَمَرَ أَلَّا تَعْبُدُوا إِلَّا إِيَّاهُ ۚ ذَٰلِكَ الدِّينُ الْقَيِّمُ وَلَٰكِنَّ أَكْثَرَ النَّاسِ لَا يَعْلَمُونَ
I have abandoned the way of those who do not believe in Allāh, and who are deniers of the Hereafter. And I follow the creed of my forefathers Ibrāhīm (Abraham), Isḥāq (Isaac), and Yaʿqūb ( Jacob). It is not conceivable that we should (be allowed to) ascribe divinity to anyone beside Allāh: this is (an outcome) of Allāh’s bounty unto us and unto all mankind – but most people are ungrateful. O my companions in imprisonment! Which is more reasonable: (belief in the existence of numerous divine) lords, each of them different from the other—or (in) Allāh, the One God, who holds absolute sway over all that exists? All that you worship instead of Allāh is nothing but (empty) names which you have invented—you and your forefathers—(and) for which Allāh has bestowed no warrant from on high. Sovereignty belongs to none but Allāh. He has ordained that you shall not worship anyone but Him. This is the only right path. But most of the people do not know. (Yūsuf 12:37-40) 

This is a very powerful sermon that  passionately appeals to our ingrained sense of truth and falsehood to show the truth of the universal call of Islam. Prophet Yūsuf, like all prophets, is constantly on the lookout to call people to Allāh. He gets an opportunity when the inmates approach him for interpretation of their dreams. With great wisdom and passion he uses the occasion to deliver them the message. It is a penetrating question, which can  be  posed to all the polytheists of the world: “Which is more reasonable: (belief in the existence of numerous  divine) lords, each of them different from the other—or (in) Allāh, the One God, who holds absolute sway over all that exists?”

It  is telling that  this important  part  of the  story is completely missing from the narrative in the Torah, which otherwise has many historical details (names, places, numbers) not mentioned in the Qur’ān. Such details are a characteristic of human  story telling. On  the  other  hand  the  Qur’ān ignores such details and focuses totally on telling the stories to highlight the guidance for humanity inherent in them.

Tawakkul

وَقَالَ يَا بَنِيَّ لَا تَدْخُلُوا مِن بَابٍ وَاحِدٍ وَادْخُلُوا مِنْ أَبْوَابٍ مُّتَفَرِّقَةٍ ۖ وَمَا أُغْنِي عَنكُم مِّنَ اللَّهِ مِن شَيْءٍ ۖ إِنِ الْحُكْمُ إِلَّا لِلَّهِ ۖ عَلَيْهِ تَوَكَّلْتُ ۖ وَعَلَيْهِ فَلْيَتَوَكَّلِ الْمُتَوَكِّلُونَ
And he said, “O my sons, do not enter (the city) all of you from the same gate; rather, enter from different gates. And I cannot help you in any way against (the will of ) Allāh. Sovereignty belongs to none but Allāh. In Him I place my trust, and all those who trust should trust in Him alone.” (Yūsuf, 12:67)

For security reasons Prophet Yaʿqūb (Jacob) asked  his sons not to travel together. But after advising them of  the necessary precaution, he made it very clear that his trust was not in his prudence but in Allāh. This is a lesson in the very important concept of tawakkul: We should take the  best steps needed based on our knowledge and  understanding, then leave the results to Allāh. Tawakkul means making and executing the plans to the best of our ability and then putting our trust in Allāh to make our plans and actions bring out the desired outcomes. This is Islam’s middle way between the extremes of taking matters completely in our hands or leaving them altogether and  hoping for desired outcomes without any effort. Tawakkul  ends worries and  anxieties without compromising on our plans and actions.

Forgiveness

قَالَ لَا تَثْرِيبَ عَلَيْكُمُ الْيَوْمَ ۖ يَغْفِرُ اللَّهُ لَكُمْ ۖ وَهُوَ أَرْحَمُ الرَّاحِمِينَ
He  said,  “No  reproach  upon  you  today!  May  Allāh  forgive  you, and He is the Most- Merciful of all those who show mercy. (Yūsuf, 12:92)

قَدْ أَحْسَنَ بِي إِذْ أَخْرَجَنِي مِنَ السِّجْنِ وَجَاءَ بِكُم مِّنَ الْبَدْوِ مِن بَعْدِ أَن نَّزَغَ الشَّيْطَانُ بَيْنِي وَبَيْنَ إِخْوَتِي
(My Lord) favored me when he released me from the prison, and brought you from the countryside after Satan had caused a rift between me and my brothers. (Yūsuf, 12:100)

This is the greatness of the Prophetic character, an example in both forgiveness and thankfulness. After all the ordeals through which his brothers had put him as a young child, he forgave them. And the forgiveness referred to in the first āyah mentioned above was really meant as we can see in the second āyah quoted above. Prophet Yūsuf, instead of blaming his brothers, simply referred to whatever  happened to the inspirations of Satan.

When  Prophet  Muḥammad  ﷺ conquered  Makkah and he was in a position to take revenge from the Quraysh leaders who had left no stone unturned in hurting him and his followers for more than a decade, he used the same words to forgive them.

Prophet Yūsuf  had faced three great  tribulations. First, he was mistreated by his brothers. Second, he had to withstand long separation from his  parents. Third, he was unjustly put in prison. Here in summing up his story he is giving a profound lesson in thankfulness. First, he reversed the order making the last incident the most important and the first, which had started it all and for which his brothers were directly responsible, the least. Second, he focused not on the ordeal but on the ending of the ordeal. He thanked Allāh for helping him get out of the prison, and for bringing back his parents and family. No complaints about his long ordeal, no ill feeling about his brothers. Only thanks and rejoicing.

Knowledge, Wisdom, Blindness

أَفَمَن يَعْلَمُ أَنَّمَا أُنزِلَ إِلَيْكَ مِن رَّبِّكَ الْحَقُّ كَمَنْ هُوَ أَعْمَىٰ ۚ إِنَّمَا يَتَذَكَّرُ أُولُو الْأَلْبَابِ
Now, can the one who knows that whatever has been revealed to you from your Lord is the truth, be equal to one who is blind? But only men of understanding heed. (Ar-Raʿd, 13:19)

Allāh’s guidance has been mentioned in many places as the light. This light makes the believers see the truth as truth. Others are in utter darkness and therefore they cannot see it. That is, they are blind to it.

Worldly Provisions

اللَّهُ يَبْسُطُ الرِّزْقَ لِمَن يَشَاءُ وَيَقْدِرُ ۚ وَفَرِحُوا بِالْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا وَمَا الْحَيَاةُ الدُّنْيَا فِي الْآخِرَةِ إِلَّا مَتَاعٌ
Allāh expands the provision for whom He wills and narrows it (for whom He wills). And they (who are given abundance) rejoice in the life of this world—even though, as compared with the life to come, the  life  of  this  world  is  nothing  but  a  fleeting  pleasure.  (Ar-Raʿd, 13:26)

Too  many  people get deceived into  thinking  that  their economic achievements are a result of their own smarts. This āyah should help destroy this myth. A person who truly believes in this statement will always be thankful to Allāh for all his provisions and earnings, will not be tempted by ḥarām sources of income, and will be a contented person.

Peace of Mind

الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَتَطْمَئِنُّ قُلُوبُهُم بِذِكْرِ اللَّهِ ۗ أَلَا بِذِكْرِ اللَّهِ تَطْمَئِنُّ الْقُلُوبُ
The ones  who  believe  and  their  hearts  are  peaceful  with  the remembrance of Allāh. Listen, the hearts find peace only in the remembrance of Allāh. (Ar-Raʿd, 13:28)

This is the real recipe for achieving that elusive peace of mind. Remembrance of Allāh (dhikr) brings one closer to Allāh. And as one gets closer to Allāh his worries and anxieties are replaced by tranquility and contentment.

Dhikr is the food for the soul. Nothing else would satisfy a healthy soul. On the other hand a sick soul may not be able to digest it, but it will find nothing else either that can provide proper nourishment for it. That is why the āyah first says that the guidance of Allāh is for those whose hearts find peace in the remembrance of Allāh. In other words those who have healthy souls. Then it tells that real peace lies only in the remembrance of Allāh.

Conquering Nature?

اللَّهُ الَّذِي خَلَقَ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضَ وَأَنزَلَ مِنَ السَّمَاءِ مَاءً فَأَخْرَجَ بِهِ مِنَ الثَّمَرَاتِ رِزْقًا لَّكُمْ ۖ وَسَخَّرَ لَكُمُ الْفُلْكَ لِتَجْرِيَ فِي الْبَحْرِ بِأَمْرِهِ ۖ وَسَخَّرَ لَكُمُ الْأَنْهَارَ. وَسَخَّرَ لَكُمُ الشَّمْسَ وَالْقَمَرَ دَائِبَيْنِ ۖ وَسَخَّرَ لَكُمُ اللَّيْلَ وَالنَّهَارَ
It is Allāh Who has created the heavens and the earth and sends down rain from the skies, and with it brings out fruits wherewith to feed you; it is He Who has made the ships subject to you, that they may sail through the sea by His command; and the rivers (also) has He made subject to you. And He has made subject to you the sun and the moon, both diligently pursuing their courses; and the night and the day has He (also) made subject to you. (Ibrāhīm 14:32-33)

Here is the cure for the delusion of modern science that it is conquering nature. We constantly hear how man  has conquered the earth and is now out to conquer space. The apparent control over rivers and seas, mountains and deserts, and plants and animals that mankind seems to exert, the astounding ability with which the powers of the sun and the moon have been harnessed to serve human needs, the wonderful inventions that seem to put gigantic forces of nature at our disposal-all of these result from His Will. It is Allāh who created the universe and it is He who has granted us control over it. (And whenever He wills, He takes it back as well.) Instead of congratulating ourselves for “conquering” it, we should be thanking Allāh for granting us this domination.

The disasters that modern science has produced, especially the  environmental disaster, are a  result of  its  delusion. A scientist informed by this āyah will be freed from this debilitating sickness  that is threatening the humanity. He would act responsibly, knowing that he is accountable before Allāh for how he uses the domination given to him as a test. He would be a grateful and humble servant of Allāh instead of the mad scientist out to maximize his power and profits. He would know that Allāh created the universe to serve us and created us to serve Him.

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Quran Reflections – Juz Ten‏

July 8th, 2014

Juz Ten

Nurturing Īmān Before Issuing Commands

This juz begins with the following āyah:

وَاعْلَمُوا أَنَّمَا غَنِمْتُم مِّن شَيْءٍ فَأَنَّ لِلَّهِ خُمُسَهُ وَلِلرَّسُولِ وَلِذِي الْقُرْبَىٰ وَالْيَتَامَىٰ وَالْمَسَاكِينِ وَابْنِ السَّبِيلِ إِن كُنتُمْ آمَنتُم بِاللَّهِ وَمَا أَنزَلْنَا عَلَىٰ عَبْدِنَا يَوْمَ الْفُرْقَانِ يَوْمَ الْتَقَى الْجَمْعَانِ ۗ وَاللَّهُ عَلَىٰ كُلِّ شَيْءٍ قَدِيرٌ
And know that whatever spoils you receive, their one fifth is for Allāh and for His Messenger, and for kinsmen and orphans and the needy and the wayfarer, if you do believe in Allāh and in what We sent down upon Our Servant on the Decisive Day, the day when the two forces encountered each other. And Allāh is powerful over everything. (Al-Anfāl, 8:41)

This is an answer to the question which was mentioned right in the beginning of sūrah al-Anfāl itself, forty āyahs ago. That āyah said:

“They ask you about the spoils. Say, “The spoils are for Allāh and the Messenger.” So, fear Allāh, and set your relations right, and obey Allāh and His Messenger, if you are believers.”

The question was about the distribution of the spoils of war. In the tribal society the soldier who laid his hand on the spoil kept it. The rules were to be changed now. But it is extremely significant that after mentioning the question, the answer was delayed while mention was made of the special favors of Allāh that led to the decisive victory in the highly unequal battle of Badr for which Muslims were not even prepared. Mention was also made of the qualities of the true believers, whose hearts tremble upon the mention of the name of Allāh, whose īmān increases upon listening to the Words of Allāh, and who put their trust in Him.

The ruling regarding distribution was given after the minds had been prepared to accept it. Today a mention of rulings—in all areas of life—elicits  arguments instead of compliance because of the lack of this preparation. Unless Islamic education carefully nurtures īmān and creates strong conviction  about  Islamic beliefs and  teachings, simply imparting knowledge of commandments will not  change the behavior. Today the sources of this nurture are neither in the formal education nor in the environment created by the media. Parents and educators can continue to ignore this point only with disastrous results.

The Wealth of the Hypocrites

فَلَا تُعْجِبْكَ أَمْوَالُهُمْ وَلَا أَوْلَادُهُمْ ۚ إِنَّمَا يُرِيدُ اللَّهُ لِيُعَذِّبَهُم بِهَا فِي الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا وَتَزْهَقَ أَنفُسُهُمْ وَهُمْ كَافِرُونَ
Let not, then, their wealth and their children excite your admiration. In fact, Allāh intends to punish them with these in this lowly life and that their souls should depart while they are disbelievers. (At- Tawbah, 9:85)

Sūrah Tawbah contains much commentary about the hypocrites. This āyah is also about them. The hypocrites were men of wealth and position. In fact their possessions, and their undue love for them, were the main cause of their hypocrisy. This āyah reminds us that the wealth of a hypocrite or non- believer should never engender envy in the believer. We must not be dazzled by the lifestyles of the rich and famous. Net worth estimates should not excite us. Accounts of the richest men should not attract us. If we realize the troubles in the Hereafter caused by disbelief, we’ll feel pity rather than envy.

Hypocrites versus Believers

الْمُنَافِقُونَ وَالْمُنَافِقَاتُ بَعْضُهُم مِّن بَعْضٍ ۚ يَأْمُرُونَ بِالْمُنكَرِ وَيَنْهَوْنَ عَنِ الْمَعْرُوفِ وَيَقْبِضُونَ أَيْدِيَهُمْ ۚ نَسُوا اللَّهَ فَنَسِيَهُمْ ۗ إِنَّ الْمُنَافِقِينَ هُمُ الْفَاسِقُونَ
The hypocrites, males and females, are all alike. They enjoin vice and forbid virtue and withhold their hands (from doing good). They are oblivious of Allāh, and so He is oblivious of them. Surely, the hypocrites are the sinners. (At-Tawbah, 9:67)

وَالْمُؤْمِنُونَ وَالْمُؤْمِنَاتُ بَعْضُهُمْ أَوْلِيَاءُ بَعْضٍ ۚ يَأْمُرُونَ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ وَيَنْهَوْنَ عَنِ الْمُنكَرِ وَيُقِيمُونَ الصَّلَاةَ وَيُؤْتُونَ الزَّكَاةَ وَيُطِيعُونَ اللَّهَ وَرَسُولَهُ ۚ أُولَٰئِكَ سَيَرْحَمُهُمُ اللَّهُ ۗ إِنَّ اللَّهَ عَزِيزٌ حَكِيمٌ
The believers, male and female, are protectors one of another: they enjoin virtue and forbid vice and establish Ṣalāh and pay Zakāh and obey Allāh and His Messenger. On them will Allāh pour His mercy. Surely, Allāh is Powerful, Wise. (At-Tawbah, 9:71)

These two verses compare and contrast believers and hypocrites and invite deep reflection. More often than we realize we are engaged in persuading others or are being persuaded by them about big and small things in life. It is a very powerful force. That is why marketers yearn for word of mouth  publicity and  powerful media machines long for becoming the talk of the town.

Concerned with good as it is, Islam gives this tremendous social force a purpose. It must be used for promoting good, truth and justice and checking evil and injustice. That is the essence of amr bil maʿrūf wa nahi ʿanil munkar. And the Qur’ān declares it as the defining mission for this Ummah. A believer may commit sins, but he cannot be on the side of promoting them. In the Islamic society sin is a private weakness, not a public cause.

Today we seem to be doing exactly the opposite. There are Muslim women who have been pressured out of observing hijab by friends and relatives. Men and women are enticed into riba transactions by family and friends. All innovations (bidʿah) and  false social practices continue  under  social pressures. Bribery, backbiting, corruption, indecency, and dishonesty flourish under social approval. It is frightening to see how our real life matches the description given for the hypocrites. For we are warned that if we persuade others to commit a wrong we’ll add to our burden of sins by the same amount. It is one thing to commit a wrong out of weakness. It is totally different to advocate the wrong and willingly multiply our burden of sins.

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Quran Reflections – Juz Nine‏

July 8th, 2014

Juz Nine

Hardships and Ease

 وَمَا أَرْسَلْنَا فِي قَرْيَةٍ مِّن نَّبِيٍّ إِلَّا أَخَذْنَا أَهْلَهَا بِالْبَأْسَاءِ وَالضَّرَّاءِ لَعَلَّهُمْ يَضَّرَّعُونَ. ثُمَّ بَدَّلْنَا مَكَانَ السَّيِّئَةِ الْحَسَنَةَ حَتَّىٰ عَفَوا وَّقَالُوا قَدْ مَسَّ آبَاءَنَا الضَّرَّاءُ وَالسَّرَّاءُ فَأَخَذْنَاهُم بَغْتَةً وَهُمْ لَا يَشْعُرُونَ
We did not send any prophet to a town, but We seized its people with hardship and suffering, so that they might humble themselves; then We transformed the affliction into ease of life, so that they thrived and said (to themselves), “Misfortune and hardship befell our forefathers as well”—whereupon We took them to task, all of a sudden, without their being aware (of what was coming). (Al-Aʿrāf, 7:94-95)

This sūrah narrated stories of many Messengers whose nations refused to  listen to  them and were ultimately destroyed. Here is then a general statement about their behavior. The hardships and ease of life were created by Allāh as a way of shaking them out of their complacency with their ignorant ways. They are not accidents that just happen randomly, nor are they ultimately the result of just the local and apparent causes. There is a Divine plan behind everything that  is happening in the world. People of wisdom can see the Hand of Allāh in their afflictions as well as their prosperity and use both to come closer to Him and to submit to Him. Others fail—even refuse—to  see it that way and are destroyed. This is a very important reminder for developing the right outlook about the news of the day.

Blind Imitation

وَجَاوَزْنَا بِبَنِي إِسْرَائِيلَ الْبَحْرَ فَأَتَوْا عَلَىٰ قَوْمٍ يَعْكُفُونَ عَلَىٰ أَصْنَامٍ لَّهُمْ ۚ قَالُوا يَا مُوسَى اجْعَل لَّنَا إِلَٰهًا كَمَا لَهُمْ آلِهَةٌ ۚ قَالَ إِنَّكُمْ قَوْمٌ تَجْهَلُونَ. إِنَّ هَٰؤُلَاءِ مُتَبَّرٌ مَّا هُمْ فِيهِ وَبَاطِلٌ مَّا كَانُوا يَعْمَلُونَ
We made the children of Isrā’īl cross the sea, then they came across a  people sitting in devotion before their idols. They (the Israelites) said, “O Mūsā, make a god for us like they have gods.” He said, “You are really an ignorant people. What these people are engaged in is sure  to  be  destroyed;  and  false  is  what  they  are  doing.”  (Al-Aʿrāf, 7:138-139)

This is after the Israelites had been rescued from the Pharaoh’s oppression. Long years of slavery had taken their toll on their ways of thinking and this can be seen in the slavish mentality showcased here. Blind imitation of the other (as can be seen in the vast areas of the Muslim world today regarding the West) is a serious disease. We want the same objects of devotion, days of celebration, and pursuits and patterns of life as those who we think to be successful.

Ibn ʿAṭiyyah says, the children of Israel perhaps were not proposing idol worship per se; they might have been rationalizing that the statue would help them visualize and thereby do their worship of God with more concentration. If true, it only shows that such rationalizations camouflaging a slavish mentality—so common today as a result of colonial experience—have a long history. Let us not forget that the children of Israel did end up doing calf worship after all.
In any case the reply of Prophet Mūsā is so fitting and it can help rid us of this debilitating sickness.

The Prophet and His True Followers

الَّذِينَ يَتَّبِعُونَ الرَّسُولَ النَّبِيَّ الْأُمِّيَّ الَّذِي يَجِدُونَهُ مَكْتُوبًا عِندَهُمْ فِي التَّوْرَاةِ وَالْإِنجِيلِ يَأْمُرُهُم بِالْمَعْرُوفِ وَيَنْهَاهُمْ عَنِ الْمُنكَرِ وَيُحِلُّ لَهُمُ الطَّيِّبَاتِ وَيُحَرِّمُ عَلَيْهِمُ الْخَبَائِثَ وَيَضَعُ عَنْهُمْ إِصْرَهُمْ وَالْأَغْلَالَ الَّتِي كَانَتْ عَلَيْهِمْ ۚ فَالَّذِينَ آمَنُوا بِهِ وَعَزَّرُوهُ وَنَصَرُوهُ وَاتَّبَعُوا النُّورَ الَّذِي أُنزِلَ مَعَهُ ۙ أُولَٰئِكَ هُمُ الْمُفْلِحُونَ
Those who follow the Messenger, the Ummī (unlettered) prophet whom they find mentioned in their own (scriptures), in the Torah (law) and the Injīl (Gospel), and who bids them what is fair and forbids what is unfair, and makes lawful for them good things, and makes unlawful for them impure things, and relieves them of their burden, and of the shackles that were upon them. So, those who believe in him and support him, and help him and follow the light sent down with him, those are the ones who are successful. (Al- Aʿrāf, 7:157)

This is a concise introduction to Prophet Muḥammad  ﷺ and his message. He commands what is fair, just, and good. He  forbids what is unfair, unjust, and  evil. He  declares permissible what is clean and pure. He declares impermissible what is unclean and unhealthy. He liberates humanity from the shackles that it had put upon itself—those of customs, traditions, superstitions and man-made laws. His is the most empowering and  liberating  message that  leads to  eternal success. This success is  only  for those who reject all the competing heroes and  exemplars for the light of guidance brought by him.

The Sabbath-Breakers

وَاسْأَلْهُمْ عَنِ الْقَرْيَةِ الَّتِي كَانَتْ حَاضِرَةَ الْبَحْرِ إِذْ يَعْدُونَ فِي السَّبْتِ إِذْ تَأْتِيهِمْ حِيتَانُهُمْ يَوْمَ سَبْتِهِمْ شُرَّعًا وَيَوْمَ لَا يَسْبِتُونَ ۙ لَا تَأْتِيهِمْ ۚ كَذَٰلِكَ نَبْلُوهُم بِمَا كَانُوا يَفْسُقُونَ
Ask them about the town which stood by the sea, when they used to transgress in the matter of Sabbath, when their fish came to them openly on the Sabbath, and did not come when they did not have Sabbath. In this way, We put them to a test, because they used to act sinfully. (Al-Aʿrāf, 7:163)

Muhammad Asad writes: “The story of the Sabbath-breakers (alluded to  in  several places in  the Qur’ān) is a general illustration of the  tendency, so often manifested by the children of Israel, to offend against their religious laws in pursuit of their passions or for the sake of worldly gain.”

Unfortunately the description of the past of the children of Israel fits the present of much of the Muslim world with all sorts of economic justifications being offered for putting Allāh’s  commands on the side. Those who put forward or accept such fancy justifications, sometimes in highly academic language, should realize that  when economic gains result from breaking Allāh’s commands, then the situation is itself a punishment for our transgressions. And the proper thing to do is to throw away the balance sheets and turn to Allāh in repentance.

Innate Sense of the Creator

وَإِذْ أَخَذَ رَبُّكَ مِن بَنِي آدَمَ مِن ظُهُورِهِمْ ذُرِّيَّتَهُمْ وَأَشْهَدَهُمْ عَلَىٰ أَنفُسِهِمْ أَلَسْتُ بِرَبِّكُمْ ۖ قَالُوا بَلَىٰ ۛ شَهِدْنَا ۛ أَن تَقُولُوا يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ إِنَّا كُنَّا عَنْ هَٰذَا غَافِلِينَ
(Recall) when your Lord brought forth their progeny from the loins of the children of Ādam, and made them testify about themselves (by asking them,) “Am I not your Lord?” They said, “Of course, You are. We testify.” (We did so) lest you should say on the Day of Judgment, “ We were unaware of this.” (Al-Aʿrāf, 7:172)

According to the Qur’ān, as explained further by several ahadith, all human beings who will be born until the Last Day had a prior existence when the witnessing referred to above took place. Our innate sense of our Creator and our obligation to worship and obey Him is a result of that event. That is why belief in a deity and acts of worship have been a common phenomenon in all human societies. Another hadith informs us that all human beings are born in the state of fiṭrah, which is in perfect harmony with Islam, and only later parents and environmental influences make them deviate from that path.

The awareness  may be obscured from our conscience and buried deeply under false ideas but it comes to the surface at extraordinary times. Thus at times of great calamities people of all persuasions suddenly remember God.

The Prophet and the Knowledge of the Unseen

قُل لَّا أَمْلِكُ لِنَفْسِي نَفْعًا وَلَا ضَرًّا إِلَّا مَا شَاءَ اللَّهُ ۚ وَلَوْ كُنتُ أَعْلَمُ الْغَيْبَ لَاسْتَكْثَرْتُ مِنَ الْخَيْرِ وَمَا مَسَّنِيَ السُّوءُ ۚ إِنْ أَنَا إِلَّا نَذِيرٌ وَبَشِيرٌ لِّقَوْمٍ يُؤْمِنُونَ
Say, “I have no power to bring a benefit or a harm to myself, except that which Allāh wills. If I had the knowledge of the Unseen, I would have accumulated a lot of good things, and no evil would have ever touched me. I am but a warner, and a herald of good news for a people who believe.” (Al-Aʿrāf, 7:188)

Prophets receive communications from God and speak to the people for Him, but they are not God. Many people have difficulty in comprehending this distinction. Non-believers, including the mushrikeen of the pre-Islamic Jāhiliyyah said that if the Prophet did not have divine powers then he could not be the Prophet. Ignorant followers  later claimed that he indeed had full knowledge of the unseen. This āyah sets the record straight. The Prophet is a human being, but he is appointed by Allāh to speak for Him to humanity. His knowledge of the unseen world exceeds that of other human beings, because it has been given to him by Allāh. But this is not the all encompassing knowledge of the unseen, which is held by no one except Allāh.

Listening to the Qur’ān

وَإِذَا قُرِئَ الْقُرْآنُ فَاسْتَمِعُوا لَهُ وَأَنصِتُوا لَعَلَّكُمْ تُرْحَمُونَ
When the Qur’ān is recited, hearken unto it, and listen in silence, so that you may be blessed. (Al-Aʿrāf 7:204)

This is the proper etiquette regarding Qur’ānic recitation. The Qur’ān should command our attention and devotion unlike any other word, as this is the Word of Allāh. Disrespect here will deprive us of the mercy contained in it. Consequently a person should not recite it audibly at a place where people are busy in other activities and will not be able to listen to it attentively. Unfortunately in the media age this situation has become more common. Electronic devices make recitation easy but many a time the required attention is lacking. We should remember that the Qur’ānic recitation should never form the background sound for our activities. We should either listen to it with full attention or turn it off. For the same reason using it as a ring toner in mobile phones is an act of disrespect.

When the Qur’ān is recited in tarāwīh, the spirit of this āyah requires that we listen to it and not leave in the middle without a good reason. Even worse would be to engage in socializing and ignore the recitation of the Qur’ān. Unfortunately these are becoming a common trend in our communities, and especially amongst the youth in the West.

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Quran Reflections – Juz Eight‏

July 8th, 2014

Juz Eight

Slick Talk

وَكَذَٰلِكَ جَعَلْنَا لِكُلِّ نَبِيٍّ عَدُوًّا شَيَاطِينَ الْإِنسِ وَالْجِنِّ يُوحِي بَعْضُهُمْ إِلَىٰ بَعْضٍ زُخْرُفَ الْقَوْلِ غُرُورًا ۚ وَلَوْ شَاءَ رَبُّكَ مَا فَعَلُوهُ ۖ فَذَرْهُمْ وَمَا يَفْتَرُونَ
So it is that, for every prophet, We have set up enemies—the devils of mankind and jinn—who whisper unto one another flowery discourses in order to deceive-Had Allāh willed, they would have not done it. So, leave them alone with what they forge. (Al-Anʿām, 6:112)

The key phrase here is “zukhraf al-qawl ghurūrā” which can be translated as “embellished speech or varnished falsehood by way of deception.” This is the slick talk that has been developed into perfection in the age of the media, sound bites, and spin doctors. These forces of deception will remain there; the task of the truth seeker is to be aware of their ways and not allow himself to be deceived by them. The next āyah tells us that it is really those who do not believe in the Hereafter that will be persuaded by them. It says: “and (they seduce one another) in order that the hearts of those who do not believe in the Hereafter may incline to it.”A belief in the Hereafter that is alive and a concern for our accountability before the All-Knowing Allāh will protect us from their deceptions.

The Majority Says…

وَإِن تُطِعْ أَكْثَرَ مَن فِي الْأَرْضِ يُضِلُّوكَ عَن سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ ۚ إِن يَتَّبِعُونَ إِلَّا الظَّنَّ وَإِنْ هُمْ إِلَّا يَخْرُصُونَ
If you obey the majority of those on earth, they will make you lose the way of Allāh. They follow nothing but whims, and they do nothing but make conjectures. (Al-Anʿām 6:116)

This again emphasizes that matters of truth and falsehood cannot  be decided through  democracy or  opinion polls. Further, the views of most people on fundamental questions of life are based on conjectures and speculation, not on certain knowledge, which can only come through revelation.

Inward and Outward Sins

وَذَرُوا ظَاهِرَ الْإِثْمِ وَبَاطِنَهُ ۚ إِنَّ الَّذِينَ يَكْسِبُونَ الْإِثْمَ سَيُجْزَوْنَ بِمَا كَانُوا يَقْتَرِفُونَ
Forsake the outwardness of sin and the inwardness thereof. Lo! those who garner sin will be awarded that which they have earned. (Al-Anʿām 6:120)

The outward sins are the content of our outward actions like telling lies, backbiting, failure to perform obligatory acts of worship, and failure to follow the commands of Allāh in all dealings and transactions. The inward sins are the thoughts, ideas and motives we hide in our heart like arrogance, malice, jealousy, and desire to show off.

The Islamic discipline of fiqh deals with the first; that of tasawwuf (although it is greatly misunderstood these days) deals with the second. The āyah makes it clear that both are important; reforming both our actions and our motives and thoughts are equal obligations.

Halal Slaughter

وَلَا تَأْكُلُوا مِمَّا لَمْ يُذْكَرِ اسْمُ اللَّهِ عَلَيْهِ وَإِنَّهُ لَفِسْقٌ
Do not eat that (meat) over which the name of Allāh has not been pronounced. This is surely a sin. (Al-Anʿām 6:121)

Taking a life, even that of an animal that has been created to feed us, is something that we cannot do on our own authority. That is why it is of utmost importance that we slaughter that animal by pronouncing the name of Allāh and only in the way prescribed by Him. When the pronouncement is left out intentionally, or done by someone who does not believe in Allāh in the first place, then that meat is not permissible for consumption.

In this sūrah, which deals basically with the wrong beliefs of the mushrikeen of Makkah and is meant to explain and assert the truth of Islamic beliefs, it is interesting that the issue of ḥalāl and ḥarām meat has been discussed in no less than ten āyahs. This again makes it clear that this is not a secondary or peripheral issue.

Hearts, Open and Constricted

فَمَن يُرِدِ اللَّهُ أَن يَهْدِيَهُ يَشْرَحْ صَدْرَهُ لِلْإِسْلَامِ ۖ وَمَن يُرِدْ أَن يُضِلَّهُ يَجْعَلْ صَدْرَهُ ضَيِّقًا حَرَجًا كَأَنَّمَا يَصَّعَّدُ فِي السَّمَاءِ ۚ كَذَٰلِكَ يَجْعَلُ اللَّهُ الرِّجْسَ عَلَى الَّذِينَ لَا يُؤْمِنُونَ
So, whomsoever Allāh wills to guide, He makes his heart wide open for Islam, and whomsoever He wills to let go astray, He makes his heart tight and constricted, (and he feels embracing Islam as difficult) as if he were climbing unto the skies. In this way, Allāh lays abomination on those who do not believe. (Al-Anʿām, 6:125)

A hadith explains the signs of this wide opening of the breast: “Turning to the eternal abode, turning away from the abode of deception (this world), and preparation for death before it comes.” Such a person would accept the commands of Allāh with an open heart. There is much to ponder here for those Muslims who habitually show allergic reactions to different commands of the Sharīʿah. The roots of this behavior is the sickness of the heart mentioned here.

At higher elevations atmospheric pressure is low, making breathing difficult. (That is why airplane cabins are pressurized). What a fitting illustration of the constriction of the breast.

A Muslim’s Pledge

قُلْ إِنَّ صَلَاتِي وَنُسُكِي وَمَحْيَايَ وَمَمَاتِي لِلَّهِ رَبِّ الْعَالَمِينَ. لَا شَرِيكَ لَهُ ۖ وَبِذَٰلِكَ أُمِرْتُ وَأَنَا أَوَّلُ الْمُسْلِمِينَ
Say, my worship and my sacrifice and my living and my dying are for Allāh, Lord of the Worlds. For Him there is no partner. And thus I have been commanded, and I am the first one to submit.” (Al-Anʿām 6:162-163)

This is the definition of the Muslim—one who surrenders completely and as a result loves and hates; and lives and dies for the sake of Allāh. As the Qur’ān explains in several places, this was the call of all the previous prophets as well.

Dress Code

يَا بَنِي آدَمَ قَدْ أَنزَلْنَا عَلَيْكُمْ لِبَاسًا يُوَارِي سَوْآتِكُمْ وَرِيشًا ۖ وَلِبَاسُ التَّقْوَىٰ ذَٰلِكَ خَيْرٌ ۚ ذَٰلِكَ مِنْ آيَاتِ اللَّهِ لَعَلَّهُمْ يَذَّكَّرُونَ
O Children of Adam! We have bestowed raiment upon you to cover your shame, as well as to be an adornment to you. But the raiment of righteousness,- that is the best. Such are among the Signs of Allāh, that they may receive admonition! (Al-Aʿrāf, 7:26)

While all other animals have a skin that  provides them protection against the elements, human beings don’t. Monkeys can live without clothing; human beings cannot. Why? It is not that our bodies did not develop our skin—so thin and fur free that it requires external covering for protection—because of  some unexplained evolutionary accident. Rather,  our Creator designed it this way so we will always need clothing. He also put in us the sense of shame that forces us to cover ourselves. At the same time, He provided us with the means and abilities for producing nice clothes. On the other hand, the first act of Satan was to cause Adam and Eve to expose themselves as explained in the āyahs preceding this one.

The address here is to all humanity, emphasizing thereby the universal human need to cover ourselves properly. The Qur’ān then warns that Satan was not finished after his first attempt for the next āyah says: “Oh Children of Adam! Let not Satan seduce you in the same manner as he got your parents out of the Garden, stripping them of their raiment, to expose their shame.”

Those who design, promote, and  use the  fashions— especially women’s  fashions—that develop new  ways of not covering the body are thus obedient servants of Satan, whether they realize it or not.

Homosexuality

وَلُوطًا إِذْ قَالَ لِقَوْمِهِ أَتَأْتُونَ الْفَاحِشَةَ مَا سَبَقَكُم بِهَا مِنْ أَحَدٍ مِّنَ الْعَالَمِينَ. إِنَّكُمْ لَتَأْتُونَ الرِّجَالَ شَهْوَةً مِّن دُونِ النِّسَاءِ ۚ بَلْ أَنتُمْ قَوْمٌ مُّسْرِفُونَ
And (remember) Lūṭ, when he said unto his people: “Do you commit abominations such as none in all the world has ever done before you? Verily, with lust you approach men instead of women. You are indeed a people transgressing beyond bounds.” (Al-Aʿrāf, 7:80-81)

The story of the people of Prophet Lūṭ (Lot) is mentioned in more than ten sūrahs in the Qur’ān. This is a story of crime, defiance, and punishment. Unprecedented crime, extremism in  insisting on  that  crime, and  exemplary punishment. Anyone who reads this narrative with an open mind can have not the slightest confusion about Islam’s attitude about homosexuality.

The first thing the Qur’ān mentions is that homosexual practice was invented by the people to whom Prophet Lūṭ was sent as a messenger. The Qur’ānic word is al-fāḥishah, which means lewdness, shameful act, indecency. Fornication and adultery (zinā) are also mentioned  as examples of fāḥishah in the Qur’ān. But here the definite  article al is added to show the even more serious nature of this act. Homosexual act is not fāḥishah but al-fāḥishah. It is not just a shameful act but the shameful act, the lewdness, the abomination.

Secondly in telling that no one before them committed this act, the Qur’ān uses the word min in addition to aḥadin. Without this, it would still mean that no one did it before you. But with min emphasis is added. In other words, no one whosoever ever did this act among all the creatures. This is an outright rejection of the claim that this tendency is an inborn and ingrained part of nature for which no person should be held accountable. Prophet Lūṭ accuses them of having invented this shameful act. And the Sodomites do  not say that they are helpless because it is a call of nature.  Rather they say, “You know very well what we want.” And that the Prophet would be added to the list of people who have been expelled from their city for objecting to their practices if he does not cease and desist from criticizing their way of life. They are the inventors of this perversion and fully committed to use of violence to defend it.

This Qur’ānic account regarding the  genesis of  this perversion is attested to not only by the Bible and the Talmud but also by the terms used to describe this act in languages around the world. It is sodomy in English, sodomie and sodomiser (the doer) in French, sodomia and sodomizar in Spanish and sodomi in Norwegian. Sodomie in German and sodomia in Polish also refer to variant forms of sexual perversion.  All point to the fact that it was invented in Sodom, which was the principle city of these people. In Arabic and languages influenced by it like Urdu the term used is liwatat or aml qaum lut, referring to the practice of the people of Prophet Lūṭ. Again it is pointing to the same date and place of invention. The date is about four thousand years ago. For thousands of years before that no one ever felt the urge for this perversion. Obviously if it was in human nature then some people in earlier times should also have expressed this inclination. The place is the area now submerged under the Dead Sea. This was a very prosperous and rich fertile land. Then the punishment came in the form of a huge earthquake and rain of brimstones and fires that turned their world upside down. The area then became the lowest point on the face of the earth, being about 1300 feet below sea level. It was submerged under the ocean and turned into a desolate place where little life exists. Its harsh environment permits neither fish or other sea animals nor aquatic plants. It was as the Qur’ān said: “And verily of that We have left a clear sign for people who have sense.”

Sodomites committed other crimes as well like highway robbery and performing shameful acts in public as mentioned in one place in the Qur’ān9  But their biggest crime was homosexuality, which is mentioned repeatedly. And then there was defiance. When Prophet Lūṭ warned  them about divine retribution, they challenged him to  bring it. Their fate was thus sealed by their own demand. That was before the angels arrived at the scene. Their invasion of the house of Prophet Lūṭ for the explicit purpose of molesting the angels who appeared in the guise of beautiful young men was thus just the last nail in their coffin. It was not the primary reason for their punishment.

Some people have tried to distort the Qur’ānic account by claiming that their crime was rape not homosexuality. Others have surmised that the problem was that they were targeting young children, otherwise it would be fine. The Qur’ān does not leave the slightest possibility of such interpretation. In the āyah quoted above it says: “Verily, with lust you approach men instead of women.” It is rijāl (men) not aṭfāl (children). It is for the act itself, without any mention of compulsion, that they are called as musrifūn (going beyond limits).

Also significant is the role of Prophet Lūṭ’s  wife. While in the entire town only one house was saved, that of Prophet Lūṭ, even in that house there was an exception. It was the wife of the Prophet, who was killed with the rest of the people. Her fate is mentioned repeatedly so it does not remain just a footnote to the story. Why was she punished? Not for committing homosexual acts but for betraying her husband. She betrayed the cause of her husband by being an active sympathizer  with the people and therefore shared their fate.

When the people invaded the house of Prophet Lūṭ, and he was at the point of despair, the people were blinded by the angels. We can see a figurative blindness  in the people who try to make a case for approval of homosexuality in Islam. A most bizarre argument that has been forwarded by some of them is that the Qur’ān mentions the presence of young boys as servants in Paradise. Interestingly it is the same people who argue that the modern homosexual affair is between consenting adults and that they also agree that sex with young boys is wrong. Yet that is what comes to their lustful minds when they read the accounts of the servants in the Qur’ān.

If they had maintained their sensibilities, they would have realized that this Qur’ānic account actually gives exactly the opposite message. In Paradise women will not be in the public places. They will be in the private space, where they will not face the attention of anyone except their husbands (“houris, cloistered in cool pavilions”). Young boys will be in all the public places, because those who enter Paradise will not look at them with any sexual desires. They will have nothing to worry as those who could look at them with desire will not be in Paradise at all. They will be in the exact opposite of Paradise, a small manifestation of which was given to the people of Prophet Lūṭ.

Self-Righteousness

وَمَا كَانَ جَوَابَ قَوْمِهِ إِلَّا أَن قَالُوا أَخْرِجُوهُم مِّن قَرْيَتِكُمْ ۖ إِنَّهُمْ أُنَاسٌ يَتَطَهَّرُونَ
But his people’s only answer was this: “Expel them (Lūṭ and his followers) from your township! Verily, they are folk who make themselves out to be pure!” (Al-Aʿrāf, 7:82)

The people of Prophet Lūṭ not only invented the heinous practice of homosexuality, they also fashioned a propaganda weapon for fighting those who would try to stop them. As quoted above they blamed Prophet Lūṭ and his associates of being self-righteous. We can hear the echoes of this blame even today. If someone dares to say that what someone else is saying or doing is wrong or un-Islamic, he will be immediately convicted of being self-righteous. And there is no sin greater than that. With this one word anyone can be stopped from pointing out any wrongs.

Needless to say the term does not belong in the Islamic discourse. Muslims have had lots of debates in their history on the actions and words of each other. But you do not find the use of this word in these debates. The proper response to an accusation of wrongdoing is to show that the act in question is not wrong. But those using a counter accusation of self- righteousness are in effect saying: “How dare you accuse us of doing anything wrong.” Instead of answering the accusation, they aim at silencing it. So we should make it clear that the term is not acceptable in the Islamic discourse. In fact the entire institution of amr bil maʿrūf wa nahi ʿanil munkar, so central to Islam, can be disbanded if we continue to allow the use of this term.

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Quran Reflections – Juz Seven

July 6th, 2014

The Tyranny of the Majority

قُل لَّا يَسْتَوِي الْخَبِيثُ وَالطَّيِّبُ وَلَوْ أَعْجَبَكَ كَثْرَةُ الْخَبِيثِ ۚ فَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ يَا أُولِي الْأَلْبَابِ لَعَلَّكُمْ تُفْلِحُونَ
Say, “The corrupt and the good are not equal, even though the abundance of (what is) corrupt may attract you. So, fear Allāh, O people of understanding, so that you may be successful.” (Al- Mā’idah, 5:100)

The term khabīth applies to  all forms of corrupt things, people, and ideas. When applied to things, the āyah means that a little wealth from ḥalāl sources is far better than a whole lot of it from ḥarām sources. Referring to this Sayyidnā Abū Hurayrah said, “One dirham from ḥalāl income that I give in charity is more beloved to me than a hundred thousand dirhams from  ḥarām  income.” ʿUmar  ibn  ʿAbdul ʿAzīz invoked this āyah when government revenue  was reduced considerably after his economic reforms that eliminated unjust taxes. Some functionaries were concerned about the running of the government. Not he. His response: Fill your rule with justice just as it was filled with injustice before, and Allāh will take care of us. Today we witness wholesale violation of this message in the running of everything from small organizations to big governments. We think that a hundred bucks are better than one, regardless of how they were earned.

The message is general and  cautions us that  in  any situation we should not be swayed by numbers alone. This is the antidote to the tyranny of the majority and the claim to truth of the prevalent. We should never be the ones that go with the flow. We judge all things based on their own merit and not on their popularity or preponderance. Good is what Allāh declared to be good, no matter what the opinion polls say. Wrong is what He declared to be wrong, no matter how many pundits line up in its favor.

Self Reform

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا عَلَيْكُمْ أَنفُسَكُمْ ۖ لَا يَضُرُّكُم مَّن ضَلَّ إِذَا اهْتَدَيْتُمْ ۚ إِلَى اللَّهِ مَرْجِعُكُمْ جَمِيعًا فَيُنَبِّئُكُم بِمَا كُنتُمْ تَعْمَلُونَ
O you who believe, take care of your own selves. The one who has gone astray cannot harm you, if you are on the right path. To Allāh all of you have to return. Then He will tell you what you have been doing. (Al-Mā’idah, 5:105)

Our first responsibility is to reform ourselves for we will stand accountable to Allāh for our own actions and inactions, not of others. Our normal conversations consist of criticizing others. This has a place in the proper scheme of things, when it is part of our conscious effort to promote good and prohibit evil and when it is guided by the Sharīʿah limits on such conversation. But when this becomes our sole occupation, to the exclusion of our self monitoring and accounting, there is a serious problem.

This is not a negation of our responsibility to enjoin good and forbid evil. Rather it assures us that when we have done our job in promoting good, yet people do not listen, then we will not be responsible for their actions. Saʿīd ibn al-Musayyab said: “When you have enjoined good and forbidden evil, and you are following the right path, then the going astray of a person despite your efforts will not harm you.”

Denying Life after Death

وَقَالُوا إِنْ هِيَ إِلَّا حَيَاتُنَا الدُّنْيَا وَمَا نَحْنُ بِمَبْعُوثِينَ. وَلَوْ تَرَىٰ إِذْ وُقِفُوا عَلَىٰ رَبِّهِمْ ۚ قَالَ أَلَيْسَ هَٰذَا بِالْحَقِّ ۚ قَالُوا بَلَىٰ وَرَبِّنَا ۚ قَالَ فَذُوقُوا الْعَذَابَ بِمَا كُنتُمْ تَكْفُرُونَ
They say, “There is nothing but this worldly life of ours, and we are not going to be raised again.” If only you could see when they will be made to stand before their Lord! He will say, “Is this not a reality?” They will say, “Of course, by our Lord, it is.” He will say, “Then, taste the punishment, for you used to disbelieve.” (Al-Anʿām 6:29-30)

This was revealed in Makkah and documents the belief of the pagans regarding the Afterlife. The great intellectuals, scientists, professors, and authors of today who hold and promote this view are no better or  different than  the  ignorant people of the  pre-Islamic Jāhiliyyah society quoted here. All corruption arises from this basic premise that there is no life after this one. If this life is all there is to it, then might must be right because it works and moral principles are meaningless because they require you to give up immediate gratification and many a time go unrewarded in this world.

The second āyah tells us that visualizing the utter shock of those who subscribe to this view when they come face to face with reality after death is the best answer to their philosophies.

Limits on Interactions with the Non-Believers

وَإِذَا رَأَيْتَ الَّذِينَ يَخُوضُونَ فِي آيَاتِنَا فَأَعْرِضْ عَنْهُمْ حَتَّىٰ يَخُوضُوا فِي حَدِيثٍ غَيْرِهِ ۚ وَإِمَّا يُنسِيَنَّكَ الشَّيْطَانُ فَلَا تَقْعُدْ بَعْدَ الذِّكْرَىٰ مَعَ الْقَوْمِ الظَّالِمِينَ
When you see men engaged in vain discourse about Our signs, turn away from them unless they turn to a different theme. If Satan ever makes you forget, then after recollection, sit not in the company of those who do wrong. (Al-Anʿām, 6:68)

This ayah sets the  limits on  interaction with  the  non- believers. If in any gathering, truth is ridiculed, blasphemy is perpetrated, or someone is making fun of Allāh and the Prophet, we must not sit in such company, watch or listen to such a program or participate in the chat. If we find ourselves in it, as soon as we realize it, we must show our disapproval by leaving. If this is isolationism then be it. We must isolate ourselves from evil environments  for our own protection.

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