ON THE LAST SECTION QUR`AN
Chapter 80: Surat 'Abasa
the name of Allah,
the Beneficent, the Merciful
Each chapter (sūrah)
was revealed on a specific occasion and has direct relevance both to
that instance and to posterity as well, because words of divine
wisdom are timeless. The occasion for this chapter arose whilst the
Prophet was sitting one day with some important Quraysh leaders who
were against Islam, against being in positive submission, when he
was interrupted by a blind man. This blind man, 'Abd Allah ibn Umm
Maktūm, was of excellent character. Whenever he came upon the
Prophet, he would ask him, 'Give me from what God has given to you.'
The Prophet would then try to illumine his heart and give him the
good news. On this occasion, however, the Prophet frowned at the
interruption, since he was in all likelihood about to achieve a
breakthrough with these leaders of the Quraysh, an event which would
have strengthened the position of Islam among them and increased the
number of Muslims. This chapter came down to him as he returned to
his chamber after the interruption.
He frowned and
Because a blind man came to him.
And what do you know that he may purify himself?
The third verse is a
reference both to leaders of the Quraysh and to the blind man.
Yazzakkā is from the verb
purification must take place in order to make salāt
(prayer), which is one of the pillars of Islam. Salāt
not only means prayer, but also recharging and connecting; and this
is done five times a day until one is permanently connected. Related
to yazzakkā is tazkīyah which means purification, and
that implies increasing or enhancing the quality of something. For
example, the quality of water is enhanced by purifying it; one
purifies oneself by paying the alms tax (zakāt).
The whole subject of
life is purification, for if there is purity there is peace. Man
always seeks to purify his mind and actions in the best way he can.
The purification of some people's actions may come about through
taking an action to its extreme, whereupon a balance will be
recognized and the lesson will be learned. Some scholars say that
this verse refers to the Quraysh while others say that it refers to
the blind man since it is not about quantity but about purification.
Or become reminded so that the reminder should profit him?
All the practices of the
men of Allah are attempts to be in a state of remembrance and
awareness. We may ask remembrance of what? Remembrance of what
causes fulfillment and of what causes lack of fulfillment. We all
suffer from a lack of fulfillment that we ourselves bring about.
Each person, as an individual, prescribes that fulfillment will
occur only if certain events happen. If they do not happen, then he
is miserable. He is therefore the author of his own fulfillment, and
nobody else can help him from the womb to the tomb. So dhikr,
from the verb dhakara, which means
is the beginning of reflection; it is not even meditation.
Remembrance is difficult in the modern world because we are always
in such a hurry that we do not even take time to look at our
reflections in a mirror.
This fourth verse refers
to positive remembrance. If remembrance is only a romantic notion,
then what use is it? That is why we say we must neither dwell on
yesterday nor concern ourselves with what comes tomorrow, but only
do our best today. Today, the moment, is all we have. If our
energies are preserved, then each day will be the best possible one,
because we will always be alert and available. Unfortunately, most
of us are not able to do this.
As for him who considers himself free from need,
derived from ghaniya, which means
'to be rich, to be
free from want'.
There is no independence, but only the Independent. Total separation
in reality does not exist: everybody affects everybody else. One fly
affects the whole cosmos, even though its effects are minute. Some
of us, however, think we have recently discovered ecology. Only
after having caused the extinction of dozens of species do we
discover an imbalance in the ecology of nature. There is no freedom
from want or need. We neither own nor possess anything, for all
power and life emanates from Allah.
So you address yourself to him.
Though it is translated
is from the verb
'to occupy oneself
with someone, to turn to someone, oppose, resist'.
As for those who appear to be self-sufficient, they will have
obstacles thrown in their way. They will be intercepted.
And it is not upon you for him to be purified.
The job of a true
messenger is to deliver the message to others. He can only try to
share his state. It is an essential element of the human condition
to want to share those aspects which we ourselves like. Yet the
messenger cannot purify another and the burden of rejection does not
fall on him. He can only provide the means and the example.
As we have seen in verse
three, the verb for
'to be purified'
has two main meanings: one is 'to
grow', and the
Zakāt (the alms tax), which is derived from the same root as
yazzakkā is therefore the name given to the 2.5 % tax on certain
kinds of wealth that is distributed to the needy. Outwardly,
zakāt involves giving. Inwardly, it is to abandon and purify
oneself, because it indicates the recognition that whatever a man
possesses is going to tie him down. Since he is already tied down by
his body and out of necessity has possessions, he must give zakāt.
Zakāt is obligatory from a Shari'ah (divinely revealed
law) point of view. It is equally obligatory from an inner
standpoint, for if the outer practice does not move towards the
inner meaning, it is of no use.
And as for him who comes to you striving hard,
This verse refers to
this blind man who came to the Prophet seeking knowledge, Sa'ī
(running seven times between the hills of Safa and Marwah, as a rite
of the Islamic Pilgrimage) is derived from the same verbal root as
yas'ā and means
'to move quickly,
to strive for'.
Sa'ī is what we perform on Hajj (Pilgrimage),
and is symbolic of what we, as intelligent human beings, do every
day of our lives. In all our attempts we are struggling.
And he fears,
Whoever has come to him
with a firm resolve to find knowledge like that blind man is fearful
of anything that is not conducive to his fulfillment. He does not
come out of fear alone, but out of a cautious fearfulness of
whatever hinders his progress or his enrichment.
And you are distracted from him.
The verbal root form of
talahhā is lahā, which here means
'to be heedless,
distracted, or oblivious'.
Other meanings include:
'to amuse oneself,
fritter away, pass time, savor, enjoy, try to forget'.
Nowadays, a malhā has come to be known as a nightclub.
Originally, however, it meant anything that distracts. Anything that
distracts one from pursuing a goal is lahw (amusement,
diversion), except inner abandonment, and outer abandonment is only
useful if it is inner-directed.
No! Surely it is an admonishment.
(certainly not, no) appears in the Qur`an, it is used in order to
reinforce the point. A reminder such as this one extends beyond
time. Looking back over the past year, can we remember an occasion
when we had clear intentions and were moving towards fulfillment? If
we cannot, then can we claim that we were even alive? Those years
should be counted against us, because they were only years in passed
time, not years in actual experience. This verse is a reminder for
us to become sensitive, alert and active.
Any action without clear
intention requires correct action. This reprimand reminds us of all
the normal tendencies we share in giving preference to certain
actions rather than keeping in focus the service of Allah as our
primary goal. The tendency to follow certain assumptions or patterns
of preferential behavior is a natural preserve of the lower self.
This exists in all created beings. In the perfect Prophetic being
this tendency does not manifest itself outwardly, for divine
guidance is in absolute control. The voice is not directed against
the Prophet's actual action, for the Prophet was infallible.
Therefore, although the verse sounds like a reprimand, it merely
echoes a warning of this tendency within all servants of Allah. It
is as though Allah is saying, 'If you were left without guidance,
you would have given preference to the Qurayshite, i.e., My
So let whoever wishes heed it.
The choice is in our
hands. Reality has manifested itself in just this way and in no
other. There is nothing other than mercy in this system, and it is
so vast and enveloping that it is possible for even our own wrong
actions to look good to us. The verse says whoever wishes to
remember will do so. The choice is up to each individual, because
each of us, as a human being, is the highest creature in creation.
We are that pinnacle in the creational reality which has been given
the opportunity of trying to live in defiance of Allah's laws even
though we are not, in reality, separate from our Creator. There is
no separation, no two. The Qur`an states:
'The way has been
shown to him whether he is in gratitude or in denial' (76:3).
Thus, he is either in a state of gratitude, fulfillment, and inward
drunkenness, or one in which he covers up, makes excuses, and
becomes fossilized. Man must choose! As soon as he comes into being,
he is faced with duality, with alternatives. If we are aware, our
own direct experiences will make us remember to avoid whatever is
not conducive to our happiness. We shall become fearful of causing
harm to ourselves by simply remembering what already exists within
In honored pages,
is the plural of sahīfah, which means
'a page of a book'.
A sahīfah in current Arabic parlance means
'newspaper'. The function of a newspaper is to spread news, to show
the situation. Suhuf mukarramah means
which have the stamp of the creational reality. This refers to the
honored writing which is inscribed in our genes from the beginning
of creational time, not to something written by a wise man called
What is written is what
is inherent in creation. The Divine Tablet is that which contains
the creational direction and destiny. Within it lie all the laws
that bring about all experiences and connect the seen with the
unseen. We are all conditioned in that we are each given a certain
physical disposition as well as an emotional one, and, on a deeper
level, a spiritual one. Whatever forms they may take, our overall
disposition exists within an even greater disposition with which we
are interacting all the time. Allah's decree is such that there are
certain destinies that cannot change and others which change with
corrective actions or intentions. The overall resulting experiential
destiny of a individual is an outcome of his actions, thoughts and
intentions interacting with the world at large.
That scripture, reality,
or genetic encoding, is high and pure. But what is absolute purity?
The degree of purity mentioned here is immeasurable; it cannot be
captured or gauged. There is no truth, for example, in describing
something as pure electric current, for there is no purity in it.
The electricity is actually dissipating itself since it is flowing
against resistance. As long as something can be measured it is not
pure, and as long as man exists he is not pure. This verse alludes
to that abstract encoding which is in the Tablet.
are exalted and high for all gross things go downward, being subject
to the laws of gravity. Anything that is heavy goes down, while
anything that is light, moves upward. That is why when we address
God we unthinkingly look up and not down.
In the hands of the scribes,
Safarah is the
plural of sāfir, meaning
Safar, from the same verbal root, is
while safīr is
emissary, or mediator'.
Hands are instruments of action. The voice of Reality says that this
encoding, which is absolutely abstract and pure, has come about or
been created through the medium or hands of emissaries. A true
ambassador fully represents his embassy. Divine will is implemented
through totally loyal agents and emissaries.
These words describe the
powers of execution which bring about this creational reality. We
must bear in mind that the Qur`an joins the echo of eternity with
humanity. The Prophet was that vibrating, pulsating entity who said
it in words into which we can dive deeply in order to reflect on
them. We cannot examine them superficially. Kirām bararah,
therefore, does not only mean
generosity'. If a
man is totally generous, then he is a conduit through which things
pass, whether in the form of wealth, knowledge, or any other
manifestation of generosity. If he is karīm (generous), he
will only be an instrument, while he himself is absent. This is
generosity in its ultimate form.
The root of bararah
is barra, which means
'to be pious,
from the same root, is defined in Arabic dictionaries as
reverence, or devoutness',
but this is only partially correct. It also means to be loyal,
faithful and consistent.
Kirām bararah are
those forces which executed the creational reality without
interference. Only the human being, as the culmination of creation,
is given the choice of being either foolish enough to think that he
is something special or wise enough to be desperate for inner
Accursed is man! How ungrateful he is!
Qutila is the
passive form of the verb
and, as such, changes its meaning slightly to being cursed with
strong connotations of being doomed.
The Qur`an has just
taken us to a very subtle point and then suddenly brings us back to
our human grossness. Kufr, the noun from the same verbal root
as akfara (to be ungrateful or unfaithful), is covering up
the truth in order to justify the antics of our ego. Everything in
life is perfection – we get what we deserve, not what we desire.
Because we have expectations we are usually frustrated. The whole
world moves in one direction, but our expectations veer off in
Killing implies the end
of possibility. The truth is that life emanates from one divine
source, and therefore each person's individual existence is founded
by the grace of that source, so our true heritage is divine. But is
that being acknowledged by us? Most of us live in desperate
separation, rather than tasting the unity.
From what thing did He create him?
From a small life-germ, He created him, then He shaped him
according to a measure.
From what has man been
created? He has been created from a sperm.
'Then He shaped
prepare, devise or determine something according to a measure'.
Qadr, which is related to qaddara means
decree'. A decree
This verse indicates
that the complete encoding of man is to be found in that sperm. What
remains is for man to emerge into gross manifestation, interact with
the rest of existence, and find his way back to his source. The
Qur`an takes us up into absoluteness and then brings us back to this
earthly reality in order to shake us up so that we may then dissolve
Then the way – He has made it easy.
Again, this refers to
the positive. Sabīl means
'road or path'.
Why do we all seek a path in life? The sabīl is sought in
order to avoid the pitfalls of not being on a clearly marked road.
may be one of a transactional situation, a marriage, a business, a
holiday, and so on. We seek a clear path because we have strayed due
to the bad choices we have made in our ignorance and obscurity.
Let us look at the
Arabic word for obscurity or darkness, zulam or
zulumāt. Darkness is described in the Qur`an as a shield
which should be removed because the essence of everything is light.
Light is knowledge; thus we have the description:
'Allah is the
light of the heavens and the earth' (24:35).
Zulam, in covering that light, can occasionally become
a blessing. Everything is a blessing, but we do not always perceive
it as such. If, for example, a person knew that ill-health would
befall him in the near future, he would be sick with anxiety from
now until then. The darkness that covers his knowledge of what is to
come is, therefore, a blessing.
level, pave, make easy'.
Yusr from the same root, means
as well as
'left hand'. In
all cultures, during periods of great spirituality, the right hand
symbolized positive action and the left hand negation. Man takes,
gives and eats with the right hand. He discards and does away with
superfluity with the left. He knows what is positive by negating the
At first, however, he
does not know what is positive. He may not know, for example, that
it is a positive action to avoid an electric socket: he simply
negates the negative. Wisdom is already there; all that must happen
is for it to unfold. Unfolding is uncovering. That is why Muslims
fold themselves up in salat (ritual prayer), in order
to disappear, to fold up the so-called 'I'. While they prostrate
they maintain the lowest profile. Whoever fails to understand any of
these meanings is not truly fulfilling the outer practices. Every
action is as good as its intention. Therefore, if a person carries
out these practices in good faith, even though in ignorance, some
benefit will be derived from them.
The path has been made
quite easy. Allah says in the Qur`an that the path towards
realization, towards inner knowledge, is easy. Why is it easy? The
implication is that we must simply avoid what we have already
experienced as being not conducive to our well-being. The
(the man who has faith, who trusts that he will reach his reality in
its totality) will not fall into the same hole twice'.
Then He causes him to die, then buries him.
The whole biography of
man is encapsulated in these three verses, one after the other. From
a sperm we have been created, measured; the way has been made easy
for us, if only we would desire to be awake and in constant
remembrance; then we die and are buried! If we think of this whole
process when we are angry, how hilarious our anger will appear, how
ridiculous the whole scene will become.
your heart is made tranquil',
says the Qur`an, because man does not accept that this life is the
whole story. The only thing which every one of us, at any time, in
any situation, can claim is that we are dying. At the moment of
birth, if a baby could speak, it would say, 'Each moment I am closer
to the grave.' This is the only rational statement anybody can make,
regardless of whether he himself is rational.
The second true
statement which only rational people can make is: 'I don't want to
die.' When we are exasperated with the whole world some of us may
wish that we would die, but that flippant desire is not made from a
point of balance. The second statement, therefore, can only be made
when in a rational state of mind.
Here then we have a
conflict. Yet how can there be a conflict? Allah is Merciful, and
there is no mercy in conflict. The only possible implication is that
this entity sees life and death only as aberrations, echoes of
something which is permanent, and is therefore seeking permanence.
Each one of us seeks permanency in all aspects of our lives, in
wealth, relationships, or in the objects we desire. We worship life;
therefore we worship the Creator of life. Each one of us is a
worshipper, and all that is necessary for true worship to occur is
to extricate ourselves from that perversion of worship which looks
to what is transient, and instead to subsist in the absolute
permanency of the Creator.