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Praising the Lord of Creation

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PRAISING THE LORD OF CREATION

Commentary on Chapter 67: Surat al-Mulk
from
"Living Islam East & West"

By: Shaykh Fadhlalla Haeri

Part II

God's creation has come from oblivion, from a point of non-descriptiveness. In other words, it has come from an eternal void. From this void it exploded and is still expanding. At the proper time that expansion will stop. That will be the first call, as the Qur`an describes it.

The beginning of the expansion of creation has been compared to jelling around what we call a building block. But the more we search to find the building block, the more emptiness we encounter. Ultimately through science we come to the same notion that is described in the Qur`an, that the creation is built upon opposites – there is a seen and an unseen. The unseen might be called the black hole, a phenomenon made popular by modern science.

The exploding, expanding cosmos is an event we have undergone in the womb before our birth. We are duplicating the cosmic story. On a cellular level, our cells are exploding: growing up, reaching a point of maturity, and then declining to death. Likewise, the universe is reaching a point of maturity; it will also decline and collapse ushering the Second Call, the Second Shout, on the Day of Reckoning. The Afterlife creates the reverse of this waveband, this life. Imagine a wave that is created in a pool. As it travels towards the edge of the pool, it represents this life; once it strikes the poolside and bounces back it represents the next life. Everything which you see here in this life, according to our tradition, according to the Qur`an, will be reversed in the next life. What we hide now will be evident, will be suhufun manshurah (pages spread out) in the next life. Our inner will become our outer. Everybody will have a halo, so to speak, of his or her former body. We will recognize each other through the heart by what each has inscribed upon his self in this life through his actions, thoughts and intentions.

And certainly We have adorned this lower heaven with lamps and We have made these missiles for the Shaytans, and We have prepared for them the chastisement of burning. (67:5)

This world of ours is the melting pot where deviation occurs. In the early period of creational development there was a great deal of discord. After a time, the energies became more and more stable, the earth cooled. The lowest of all, water, became the substance upon which the throne or dominion of God (`arsh) settled. There is nothing more degraded than water: it is the smallest atom, hydrogen, oxidized by oxygen. Degrading a substance in this existence usually requires oxidation: it is the substance's final collapse. Anything oxidized is actually recycled. Hydrogen oxidized is degraded to the lowest of all lows. And the entire world is based on that. In this lowest of heavens there are numerous possibilities for Shaytan, or for us acting as instruments of Shaytan, to abuse seen and unseen powers.

We are informed that if we do not behave ourselves properly in this lowest heaven we will receive the "chastisement of the burning fire" (22:4), of which there are levels. There is a small Qiyamah (Day of Reckoning) and there is a big Qiyamah. When it is mentioned in the Qur`an that there is "the Great Fire" (87:12), it is implied that there is also a Small Fire (al-nar al-sughra). We all know the sensation of fire. Unfortunately, we have also had occasion to experience the bitterness of an inner fire of anger, jealousy, envy and hatred. Sometimes the inner fire is good and blessed; such as in the case of being angry with injustice, ignorance and anything that is out of line with God's laws. Such anger is good but, nevertheless, still anger. It can spur one to positive action or it can result in an ulcer.

We are given many glimpses of the Fire and the Garden in the Qur`an. About the Garden of the next life the Qur`an says:

And whoever believes in Allah and does good deeds He will cause him to enter gardens beneath which rivers flow, to abide therein forever. (65:11)

We do not how the rivers are fed because they are allegorical and exist within the context of a parable (mithal).

All of creation is worshipping al-Latif (the Subtle One):

Whatever is in the heavens and the earth declares the glory of Allah, and He is the Mighty, the Wise. (57:1)

We have to call upon the Latif for everything. The invocation (dhikr) of "Ya Latif" (O Subtle One) is a very important one, especially for the Chisti Sufis, as well as for many other turuq (paths of worship in Islam). The path of worship cannot be trodden except through the help of the Subtle. Subtlety, in the physical sense, means making something which is solid, fluid. For example, we mix the earth with water in order to establish an alchemical situation that will induce a seed of germinate and later bear fruit. We have to appeal to the Subtle at all times.

We are programmed to move from the gross (kathif) to the Subtle (al-Latif) irrespective of what we do. Though you may have a good home, wife, children, the aspiration towards that which fosters the intellect to find self-satisfaction does not die. Social psychologists claim there is a hierarchy of self-actualization. As Muslims we see that man moves towards greater subtlety, naturally, and the perception of this does not require the elaborate theories of modern psychology. We are all veering towards God, towards His Glorious Names (al-Asma al-Husna). We wish to take on the attributes of al-Basit (the Expander), al-Qabid (the Constrictor), al-Rafi` (the Bearer). But if we do not have the right courtesy towards these attributes we become demi-gods, wanting to play the role of the Giver, the Taker, the Powerful, the Knowing. We all want God and His attributes. God says:

Surely We have shown him the way: he may be thankful or unthankful. (76:3)

Concerning our situation in this life, we are either thankful or unthankful. If we are in the state of gratitude (shukr), we are content. When we are in this state, we are able to live in the present. If we are somewhere else, not present, our projections and imagination dissipate our energies.

The lower heaven is the melting pot to test our mettle. Just as a gold coin is tested to show its metal, so are we tested by Allah to prove our worth. The trial (fitnah) here on earth will reveal whether or not we shall rise to our origin and heritage, prepared for its finality, for ourselves, by ourselves. The trials and temptations in this life are a part of a cybernetic system which the self perfects as it moves through experiences and time. Constantly we are caught, unveiled, revealed to ourselves.

Performing a good action enables us to see our intention. The Qur`an says we may do it either openly or secretly. So how is it to be performed? If our nafs, the self, prefers to keep it a secret, we should do the reverse, in order to disappoint the self. At other times, the self may be completely neutral so that performing a good action openly would be a good example to others even though inwardly we see ourselves as showing off. So, this is the state of the heavens we inhabit. This is the condition of the creational reality at the physical level.

And for those who disbelieve in their Lord is the doom of Hell, and evil is the resort. (67:6)

Rabb is often translated as Lord. Unfortunately, when using English, biblical Christian terminology perverts the original meaning contained within the Arabic text. Rabb is that which is responsible for what is below it. For example, rabb al-bayt is 'the lord, owner, or the one who is responsible for the household', implying that He knows what is in the household. Rabubiyah (lordship) implies knowledge of what is below it. Rabb is essentially One who is responsible for bringing what is below it to its full potential. Those who deny their Lord are in the punishment of hell.

Jahannam  (fire) has several meanings. The most common one comes from the word jahnim meaning 'a bottomless pit'. In the Qur`an it is described as the worst situation:

Then therein (in Jahannam) he shall neither live nor die. (87:13)

It is a 'no man's land', in constant flux, a state undesirable to man. We are programmed by our innate disposition (fitrah) to want confirmation and firmness. We want to be free of the unknown. If we do dive into the unknown, it is only to experience the joy of the unknown that lies at the end of the journey. Jahnim means 'the pit'. It is that state in which noting gels. One neither lives nor dies. In the pit or fire, caught between life and death, there is constant agitation which is the situation of the kafir (the one who denies the truth). The kuffar (plural of kafir) cannot accept that the fact that there are still Muslims whom they have not overcome. The war which the kuffar wage against the Muslims is a human challenge, not a political conspiracy. Muslims are not permitted to live within Islam by the kuffar because Islam makes their consumerism, materialism and idolatry clear and obvious.

Late in the last century, until about 1880, there existed many Muslim enclaves, perhaps twenty, which extended from North Africa to parts of China. The Muslims in these enclaves never cared to know what was happening to the people in Europe whom they regarded as barbarians. They assumed that if any of them were any good they would come to them and embrace Islam. They closed themselves up in their city-states, never looking outward. It was always the Europeans who were looking across their borders into the Islamic East. Finally, the Europeans penetrated the citadels of Islam by the practice of medicine. In the West, an impressive medical science based upon cause and effect was developed and this science, together with the European system of education, was the bait that attracted the Muslims and broke their trust in God and His religion. The western medical practice was attractive, giving quick results. But look at the medical situation now in the West: its cost is greater and its effect is minimal. It is based entirely on materialism. Man is treated like a machine whose organs are cut out or replaced with little thought.

Those who deny the state of loss in which the so-called modern civilization is in, are in al-Jahannam (the Fire), or versions of it, here and now.

...and evil is the resort (67:6)

Ultimately, the deniers will be in the final Jahannam which is in non-time. Here within the brackets of time, they run from one satisfaction to another, consumers are never satisfied because, quite naturally, the more the senses are fed, the more they demand. One's concern for the beautification of a room becomes a concern for an entire house; then the environment, the landscape, one's city, one's country. So we are ransacking the entire world for the sake of beauty. The consumers, the kuffar, flee to this world seeking their destiny. There is no time to reflect; it is not permitted. Even physical reflection is limited. Mirrors are put on the front door, permitting one moment of reflection as they dash out. Because of this situation, it is easy for gurus to fool them. The kuffar are easily cheated because they are cheating themselves. Every now and then you hear of a great spiritual movement. But these movements eventually collapse because they are not based on the fundamental principles which form the basis of Islam.

When they shall be cast therein, they shall hear a loud moaning of it as it heaves. (67:7)

Fara means 'to boil over, froth at the mouth'. Businessmen may be seen foaming at the mouth if their business deals have not gone through.

Almost bursting for fury. Whenever a group is cast into it, its keeper shall ask them: Did there not come to you a warner? (67:8)

Fawj is 'group', specifically, a battalion. Here we are given a parable of the next life, of Jahannam – the ultimate fire. Whenever a group of energies is flung in to the fire, it meets its destiny according to the ultimate balance of action and reaction. Its keeper is the entity, the reality, the energy which keeps the state, the black hole, which is the Jahannam. Khazana is 'to store, to safeguard, to look after'. The keepers ask, 'Didn't you hear the warning?'

They shall say: Yea! Indeed there came to us a warner, but we rejected (him) and said: God has not revealed anything; you are only in a great error. (67:9)

This is a clear declaration of kufr, the denial of the truth. As you know there are degrees of kufr and degrees of shirk (association with other than God), and the latter is included in the forms. Every kafir (denier) is a mushrik (one who associates with other than God Alone). Any sate that occurs to us which is not completely supported upon the platform of "la ilaha illa 'llah Muhammadun rasulu'llah' (there is no god but God and Muhammad is His messenger) clearly is an act of kufr and shirk. But we are optimists, we do not want to be reminded at all times of our faults, rather, we wish to be encouraged. The Prophet said, "Be optimistic about goodness and you shall find it." If we say:

God has not revealed anything... . (67:9)

then we have denied that anything has descended upon us and that there is a possibility of ascent. To this human condition Allah says: "Surely man is at a loss." If we do not see a descent of guidance from the Creator to us, then there is nothing other than the dunya, the life of this world, and we are worse than animals because then we have become isolated from one another and selfish. Actually, we have become lower than the animals because while both the life of man and that of an animal consists of eating, sleeping, and fornicating, only the animal is content with his situation – man is not, he is troubled. We are already programmed not to be content with the hypothesis that,

God has not revealed anything... . (67:9)

It is God's mercy upon us. We are already programmed in our innate disposition to call upon God, to want to know God, to be with God, and to not go any way but the way of God.

And they shall say: Had we but listened or pondered, we should not have been among the inmates of the burning fire. (67:10)

Often, we find in the Qur`an that sam`, the sense of hearing, occurs in a man before basr, the sense of sight. One of the reasons why this is so is because biologically, genetically, man hears first before he sees. In the womb we only hear, we do not see. It is only later, after our birth, that we begin to see.

So they shall acknowledge their sins, but far will be (forgiveness) from the inmates of the burning fire. (67:11)

Sahaqa in Arabic means 'to pulverize, to crush into the smallest possible state'. The situation in the next life will be such that they will be pulverized to almost nothingness and yet they will be something, mashruq (powder) – something which cannot be made smaller.

This ayah describes the state of being which has no reality, no possibility. It is a non-entity. The inmates of the Fire did not hear, nor did they use their reason concerning Allah's commands. Allah has created and has established His Command. It is up to us to bring into fruition the recognition of Allah's question to His slaves "Am I not your Lord?" Allah has done His part, we have to do the rest. The test which we must endure in this life cause us to examine whether or not we acknowledge Allah's part and the part that we must play in the events of this life. The people of the Fire did not examine the position of Allah and their own part while they had the opportunity.

(As for) those who fear their Lord in secret, they shall surely have forgiveness and a great reward. (67:12)

So God,

Blessed is He in Whose hand is the Kingdom... . (67:4)

first gives us warning of chastisement for those who do not ponder the message that is sent to them. In this ayah Allah has given us the good news: the people of the Path "fear their Lord in secret." The Qur`an uses the word al-ghayb (the unseen, unknown), therefore, the rightly guided fear what may come to them because of what they have not seen. The trust that what Allah has revealed to them is true even though they have not yet come to know it. In other words, they accept what Allah has promised just as the scientist accepts any hypothesis or theory that is proven in the physical sciences. He first accepts a hypothesis, then tries to disprove it. If he cannot disprove it, it remains accepted as true. Here our assumption is the reality of the Unseen. As believers, we accept the fact that we have come from the unknown, are sustained by the unknown, and return back to the unknown. Our life journey's purpose is to come to know the unknown. To do this we start by seeking to understand what is in front of us. Allah's way is to take us through trials. Indeed, Allah says that He pulls many to the Garden on bleeding knees. Often, it is by passing through a time of trouble that we are made to turn towards the nature of reality. In these moments of difficulty we ask ourselves, 'Why am I unhappy? Why am I miserable?' The prophets were often found to be among people who were desperate. The drunkard finds drink to be a remedy for his incessant worrying. That is what that drug does – it stops you being the clobbered, down-trodden fellow of yesterday. Surely what he wants is forgetfulness of his yesterday so that he is freer to act in his tomorrow. We are the same, wanting to do our best for the sake of our future in the knowledge that whatever comes is the ultimate outcome according to the laws of the Creator. We seek to be in the here and now, inwardly totally drunk, outwardly totally sober. Inwardly, we want to be absolutely free, outwardly, absolutely constricted.

And conceal your word or manifest it, surely He is Cognizant of what is in the hearts. (67:13)

One of the meanings of sharada is 'to bring near what appears to be far'. Tashrih is 'dissection – looking at something closely, to make something evident'. Allah says in a Hadith Qudsi:

The heavens and earth do not contain Me but the heart of the mu'min (the believer) contains Me.

If the sharh (the elucidation) has occurred then we see the Mercy of Allah everywhere, even when it hits us on the head time and again. If a stone should fall on your head, it is the Mercy of Allah reminding you that the law of gravity is a reality which, if it were not so, would cause the world to fly this way and that way in complete chaos. When some misfortune befalls us, usually it is because we were unaware. We did not reflect or ask the right advice. We went somewhere we were not supposed to be.

So, whether we keep what we do a secret or talk about it, Allah knows. Maqam al-ihsan the upholding of goodness, is an ongoing state in which we act, work, and live as though Allah sees us at all times, with every breath. We act as though we are constantly, perpetually under surveillance. Therefore, in the true Islamic situation there are no privacies. For that reason, the Qur`an admonishes the rough and aggressive people around the Prophet not to scream at him nor shout at his door. They were told to have some courtesy. Generally, those who are the true followers of Muhammad are exposed, they have nothing to hide and are available at all times. But without the right courtesy, these men of service will be abused by those around them. They will not be permitted the proper time to carry out their responsibilities to their families, and so on. If we are with Allah, He will show us what is relevant to us at the relevant time. The Prophet said: "Oh God, give me useful knowledge (`ilm an-nafi`an)".

If we are truly in abandonment, in iman (faith, trust, belief), God will show us what is relevant. The Prophet 'Isa (Jesus) said, "I came to a people who are desiring the Garden and said, 'You will avoid what you fear.' I came to a people who were worshipping for the sake of worship and I said 'You are my people'." If we are true men of abandonment, we have nothing to ask from God for we acknowledge that He is giving us what we need whereas we do not know what we need because we are separate from Him.

And the last of their cry shall be: Praise be to Allah, the Lord of the worlds. (10:10)

"Praise be to Allah, the Lord of the worlds" is a statement of fact. When we say "In the Name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful, Praise be to Allah," we mean that by Allah's creational laws, the praise belongs to Allah. Al-hamd is the 'glorification, the praise'. Whatever we may praise in creation, ultimately, we are praising not it but its Creator. It is the Decree of Allah that praise belongs to Allah. Actually, we are not bringing praise into being by our saying it. It is an absolute statement which existed before we were born, as we were born, as we die. Al-hamdu lillah is very different from al-shukru lillah (the thanks belong to Allah). When shukr is proclaimed there is a separation between the one who is proclaiming his thankfulness and Allah. Shukr should not be said too often during the prayer because it is a statement of separation and salat is a statement of unification (tawhid). Shukr implies the thanker and the thanked. It means that I recognize something that is bringing me contentment, whether it is knowledge, food or whatever. It is bringing me tranquility so I say 'al-shukru lillah'. Al-hamdu lillah is abstract. Allah says of Himself:

Whatever is in the heavens and the earth declares the glory of Allah, and He is the Mighty, the Wise. (57:1)

It is a final statement.

End of the Surah

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Beginning's End ] Commentary on the Qur`an ] Cosmology of the Self ] Eid Talk ] Forty Windows ] A Gift From Shaykh Fadhlalla ] Journey of the Universe as Expounded in the Qur`an ] Living Islam East & West ] Poems by Shaykh Fadhlalla Haeri ] Ripples of Light ] Seven Patterns of The Self  The Veil ] Son of Karbala ] The Elements of Islam ] The Elements of Sufism ] The Inner Meanings of Worship in Islam ] The Journey of the Self ] The Light, Love and Peace of Islam ] Origin of Islam and Its Universal Truth ] The Pilgrimage of Islam ] The Sufi Way to Self-Unfoldment ] The Wisdom of Ibn Ata'Allah ] Kashkoal e Ikram ] In Memory of Shaykh Ikram ] Adab (Courtesies) of the Mureed ] Poems by Hajj Mustafa Ali ]