ON THE QUR`AN
The Arabic word
surāh, translated as chapter, is derived from the verbal root
which means to enclose or surround. It also means a stage in the
construction of a building. This implies that the Qur`an is based
on stages which have come one after the other, separate from each
other in form but related by a unified theme. The essence of the
Qur`an is unity (tawhīd), for it is revealed from
Allah, the One.
The first twenty
verses (ayāt) of this chapter are general and profound.
They describe, define and differentiate those who submit to Realty
and Truth and those who cover up Reality. Those who submit with
faith and sincerity are known as Muslims and those who cover up
the spiritual essence of existence are referred to as
The next thirteen
verses describe the nature of the diseased heart which is not
unified. That disease, which may be described as unbelief, denial,
rejection, or in a more complex sense, as hypocrisy (nifāq),
is a sickness which is not cured unless it is treated. Allah does
not tyrannize His creation, but one of His unchangeable laws is
that if one does not overcome a chronic disease by eliminating its
causes, the disease will, by its nature, infect and beset one with
more and more affliction.
The heart (qalb),
as spoken of in the Qur`an, is that entity whose nature is to
turn. Qalb is not a physical organ but an inner faculty. It
is derived from the verbal root qalaba, which means to
turn. It also means 'to change, transform and transmute'. In a
spiritual sense the heart is the pivotal point for inspiration and
deeper perception. Like the physical organ, it must allow an
uninterrupted flow, purity and openness, or it will become blocked
and damaged. If it becomes attached to anything, it will be fixed
and its efficiency reduced, no matter what it is set on, no matter
how good the cause. Even those working sincerely for charity will
come to experience disappointment and dislocation if their
original intention contained any kind of attachment. Once the
heart is attached, agitation and friction set in, and it loses its
freedom and readiness for inspiration. The test of a healthy heart
is that it is able to reflect truth from beyond reasoning and
rationality. The extent of the reduction in the efficiency of the
heart's higher function is directly proportionate to the extent of
one's lower attachments and expectations.
The first part of
Surat al-Baqarah describes Allah's creation of man as His
representative (khalīfah), and the meaning of Shaytān.
Man naturally desires knowledge of his origin. He wants to know
why he is destined to be born in this world only to die later.
We are told about
Adam, the first of humankind, put together from the elements of
the earth. All is part of the perfect oneness, a chain reaction
with a beginning and an end. Described within this chapter is the
deception of Adam, which is essentially man's veiling from his
sublime origins. Man is distinguished from all creation, because
all the unseen angelic entities were made submissive to him. All
the angels prostrated themselves to him, except one: Shaytān.
The verbal root of shaytān is Shatana,
'to be cast out
of the mainstream'.
As soon as man came into existence as part of this stream of
creational expansion, another element raised itself from within
the creational stream and said:
'I am better!'
This aspect of arrogant self-assertion is from an expansive
attribute which has necessarily gone out of the mainstream. Its
creation by Allah was necessary for the full development of human
awareness. As long as man continues to say
without the recognition that he has only come to journey back to
his essence, trouble is the inevitable result.
Man functions well
only if he remains unattached. The moment the lower self, with its
qualities of separation and rebellion, comes to dominate, man is
doomed. All of his individual and social problems stem from the
dominance of this ego. Thus, the seeker of true knowledge
continually renews his actions
'in the name of
Unifier, the One to Whom submission and obedience are due. From
this remembrance eventually arises a total, absolute,
uncontradicted awareness that everything emanates from the One and
is sustained by the One.
The seeker who wishes
to awaken to this knowledge must be aware and alert all the time,
physically and mentally. Any state other than a fully conscious
presence must be instantly rectified. Delay results in stagnation,
and this renders change more difficult to achieve. One must be
available for any situation as a fully developed human being, with
faith, good opinion, optimism and the inner realization that one
has come from Allah and to Him one will return. In between the
womb and the tomb, existence is but a tiny flicker, combining
matter and meaning, the seen and the unseen.
The ongoing domination
of man by his ego is echoed by Shaytān in the Qur`an
when he promises to assail man from every direction and divert him
from the true nature of Reality. Allah allows him this derived
power, but He makes an exception: those who are righteous and are
constantly in remembrance (dhikr) of Him. Over these
Shaytān has no hold, because they have knowledge of his
ways and are constantly aware of him in order not to be ensnared
by his artifices. At least five times a day they anchor their
continual remembrance with standing, bowing and prostrating
themselves before their Creator in prayer. In this way Shaytān
is kept at bay.
In the creation of
Adam, we find an allegory of those who befriend Shaytān,
that is, those who fall into the trap of the self and its
domination. Nothing has changed in principle since the time of
Adam. Adam was given inspiration, spontaneous guidance and freedom
through submission. Originally, he had no mental anxieties,
concepts or desires. He was in that unseen Garden beyond the realm
of ordinary comprehension. The Garden, described in the Qur`an as
being fed and sustained by underground, unseen rivers (jannāt
tajrī min tahtihā al-anhār), is the realm of spirits (arwāh)
and pure energies. In this non-physical realm where time and space
have no permanency, no creational growth or destruction exists.
Adam and his feminine counterpart, Eve, were in that infinite
were warned of shaytānic deception and a certain
tree – a creation inappropriate to the eternal Garden. They had to
leave the Garden to enter a different realm, one which contains
the experience of time and change, mental disturbances and
attachment. That tree must relate to desire and discontentment,
for it is there that Shaytān lurks.
Adam's heart, focused
as it was on the outer curiosity of the tree, became distracted.
Realizing the gravity of his error, he turned to his Lord in an
attempt to reclaim his heritage as a free being with a
heart. The story of Adam is a parable for our own affliction and
testing in life, so that we can reclaim our original condition
through direct effort and proper direction. We must, therefore,
move from being afflicted by mental desires and attachment to
freedom by submission to the will of Allah. This is the deep
meaning of Islam.
The story of the
of Adam is then repeated in terms of communities and nations. The
tribe of Israel experienced great turmoil because of their
disobedience and insensitivity. They brought about tyranny and
trouble upon themselves, thereby creating a demand (again in their
hearts) to be saved. That demand was at the root of the creation
of Moses. He came to them from among them; one opposite brings
about another. But soon they were in doubt and confusion again,
for they saw Moses as an ordinary being like themselves. They
wanted to be convinced by more miracles, although the whole event
of Moses was a miracle. The entire creation is a miracle, but
humankind cannot see this!
The tribe of Israel
evolved by following the guidance of Moses, until he left them (in
the charge of his trusted and divinely guided brother), to answer
the call of Allah. He was gone for forty days. Upon his return he
found his people worshipping a golden calf. To overcome their
deviation and wrong actions, they were later required to sacrifice
a cow. One symbolic meaning of sacrificing a cow was to destroy
the foundation of worshipping the calf or a desired possession.
The tribe of Israel, however, lapsed into arrogance and began to
argue in order to avoid carrying out the simple outward act of
sacrificing a cow, because, in fact, their intentions had not
changed. They asked,
'What sort of
cow? What color is it? Where can we find it? There are too many
cows, we are confused!'
This is their ongoing state of bickering, vanity and disobedience.
This is the condition of deception and disbelief.
Humankind always seeks
the Garden (jannah). The verbal root for Garden is janna,
in reference to the grounds of the garden hidden by lush foliage.
One must qualify for the hidden or inner Garden. We were dropped
into this worldly condition in order to be proven, to evolve
through faith (īmān), trust and correct action stemming
from pure intentions. The result is that one experiences a freedom
and inner joy and certainty, whilst still experiencing a worldly
condition contaminated with change, anxieties and confusion. This
is why Allah commanded Adam,
from it, some of you enemies of others!'
implying that enmity and disagreement are veils over the pure,
original state of tranquility and peace.
Even after man's
repeated disobedience Allah is Ever-Forgiving. The Children of
Israel were forgiven on numerous occasions. Whenever a messenger
was sent to them, they rebelled; but they would be forgiven again
and again. The deeper meaning of forgiveness is spontaneous
knowledge, which brings about protection from wrong actions. The
sincere person will learn what is going to cause him harm from his
mistakes. Thus, he will avoid committing the same errors in the
future. This avoidance of error by knowledge is called
oneself with fearful awareness',
known in the Qur`an as taqwā.
The situation of the
tribe of Israel is common to other communities. Their constant
doubt, bickering and love of the world can be seen also in the
later disobedience of the Muslims during the time of the Prophet
Muhammad, and throughout the following centuries. The chapters
that follow Surat al-Baqarah describe the hypocrisy of some
of the Muslims who were with the Prophet as his companions.
Most people want to
secure and render permanent the situation and habits which they
are used to. The majority of the world is caught in repetition and
dogma; and prejudice and dogma are due to insecurity, and the
human search for permanency. Yet creation is in constant flux,
moving at high speed, like a film which moves quickly through the
camera and produces much slower images. Nothing can be fixed. The
contemplative person wishes it all would stop so that he could get
a really good look at it, but there is no stopping the living
continuum of change. In fact, his very existence is based on
motion. The desire for the permanent is in its essence based upon
love for the Creator's attribute of eternity. Outwardly, we
experience age, decay and change, and inwardly we can be certain
of a non-changing reality connecting the soul to its next
experience beyond time and space.
The reason that people
of kufr are against Islam is because the real Muslim cannot
be enslaved to the material world. However, the Muslim does have
respect for matter, because matter is Allah's creation. He has
respect for existence, for relationships and for the law of the
land in which he lives. The Muslim is in outer revolution and in
inner evolution. What is the point of changing the government, or
the head of the government, when the people persist in ignorance
and do not want to awaken? Materialist non-believers are much more
afraid of reality, because they know that with its establishment a
transformation will occur that favors social equity over selfish
acquisitiveness and power.
There are no fast
cures. There are limitations in every system, although our
jet-age has over-stretched many systems beyond their limits. Fast
food, fast travel, fast marriage and fast divorce, and fast wealth
(with its inevitable fast poverty) exemplify this. The cure for
this over-indulgence can only be found in restraint, and this is
the meaning of the fast in Islam. The word
has totally opposite meanings. Where there is sickness, there is
also the cure. 'Ali ibn Abi Talib said,
'Your cure is in
you, but you do not discern it.'
He also said, 'You are the clear Book. By its
signs the obscure becomes clear.'
In Surat al-Baqarah
the plea is repeated: 'Do you not use your
reason?' (afalā ta'iqlūn). 'Can
you not see? Can you not hear? Do you not use your intellect?'
The sound of the name 'Allah'
was already heard in the womb. The fetus hears the pulsating sound
of the name 'Allah,' exactly as it is
pronounced in spiritual invocation and dhikr. The mother's
heart has already sung it for the unborn baby.
constantly reminds us of our state before consciousness and after.
'Do you not remember? Do you not recall? Do
you not reflect?' (afalā tadhakkarūn). The basis of
spontaneous and genuine remembrance is faith (īmān): faith
that life is not without purpose. We have not come into this world
just to run about like fools in order to compete and survive, and
then end up being devoured by worms, decaying in dust. Faith is
the good news, which leads to the knowledge that we are from
Allah, and to Allah we are journeying by Allah's grace.
Faith will initiate
one into the way of inner joy, but faith without knowledge and
awakening is meaningless and barren, like a seed without soil,
lighter and water. The seed of faith must interact with virtuous
actions. By so doing it rubs off the sheath of the ego (nafs),
pushes down roots into the heart, sends forth the stem of
knowledge, and in the spring produces the fruit of intimacy and
knowledge of the Real. Faith (īmān) can only take root and
manifest its meaning by virtuous, 'free'
deeds. In the Qur`an, the term for faith (īmān) is
invariably coupled with good deeds (salihāt).
lies squarely on our own shoulders. If one moves towards
knowledge, it is for oneself; and if one does not move, then one
remains in darkness and ignorance. No one is accountable for
anyone else. We have obligations to one another, but no control or
accountability over others' misdeeds. A man's accountability is to
his own sincerity of intention – from which his actions cannot be
One cannot understand
one's true state or situation without sincere questioning, and
time to reflect and contemplate higher things. It is not
sufficient to become occupied with self-knowledge merely in
occasional spiritual gatherings or meditation. Maximum learning
occurs when one is in the most difficult times, because it is
precisely at these times that what is concealed becomes manifest.
This manifestation allows for recognition and change.
The prophets were the
greatest spiritual teachers, and the cause of transformation and
enlightenment, for man cannot learn how to free himself without a
teacher who fully knows the 'spiritual'
ropes. This knowledge has always been passed on to the most
capable men, who fulfilled the prophetic legacy in the absence of
the prophet himself. There is nothing higher or purer than the
relationship between the master and the seeker, especially in
The condition placed
upon spiritual teaching from time immemorial is that it must be
given free. Many teachers have even cared for the needs of their
students. Those who teach the path of unity (tawhīd)
cannot but care for every aspect of their students' lives, because
the path is holistic. The student, however, must reciprocate with
respect and sincere application of the teaching, otherwise there
will be no benefit. The closest people to the teacher have always
been those who need him most and have recognized their need. The
seeker, will, on occasion, find himself resentful of his teacher,
and his dependency on him. This
is natural, for within the student is the inherent tendency to
depend only on Allah and not on creation. The enlightened teacher
is not surprised by such rebellion and ingratitude.
As we found in
Surat al-Baqarah that man's nature is rebellious, so we find
that spiritual seekers often tend to be rebellious, and in fact,
the difficult ones are often kept close to the teacher. It takes a
teacher who is patient and wise, and who acts in the way of Allah
carefully to channel doubt and rebellious energy towards higher
things. The teacher may in fact be more cautious and concerned
about the student who is always obedient, well-behaved and never
causes a ripple; somebody who thinks he really is
When Adam experienced
disgrace, Allah prescribed the option of repentance by which His
could be obtained. The people of Mecca could not have been more
belligerent than they were to the Prophet during the early years
of his mission. His forgiveness and compassion were immense, for
he was a perfect man whose action reflected the perfect Creator.
Look at Allah's love
for his creation. He gives humankind the option to rebel and
disobey, yet His own response is none other than generosity and
clemency. Man has the option of being foolish, selfish, and
greedy, but Allah will never reject him the moment he truly
beseeches His forgiveness. The whole affair hinges on approaching
one's Lord with a wholesome heart.
Attributes such as
selfishness, foolishness, jealousy, meanness, greed and lust find
their origin in fear of poverty and ignorance of the way of Allah.
This is clearly indicated in the Qur`an. Allah says that it is
Saytān, who causes fear and anxiety for a possible lack
of provision; thus, if one is generous to others, one opposes this
restrictive tendency of the ego and will find as a result that
everything one needs is already there. Even if one is only
interested in being generous to one's own family and does so
genuinely, a greater energy somehow comes forth, and the
possibility of giving on a larger scale occurs. The process must
begin somewhere; the tap must be turned. To begin with, it merely
drips; eventually it flows in a steady stream.
One's inwardness will
eventually become manifest outwardly. Inward abandonment leads to
appropriate outer action. The Prophet of Islam was the true model
of inward abandonment and outer perfect action. He married, cared
for his family, and for all those around him.
The test of the Garden
(jannah) is clearly described in this chapter: it is based
on willingness to abandon and die. The Jewish rabbis said,
enter the Garden of Paradise except those who are Jews',
so Allah answered them: 'Tell them then to
wish for death!' The Qur`an is talking to men of
understanding, sensitive beings who can read the signs in
themselves and on the horizon. If one is not willing to die, then
one is not qualified for the Garden of freedom, because the
qualification for this state is non-attachment.
One may have a family
and all the things that go with a conventional life, and yet one
must be willing, at a moment's notice to drop whatever one is
concerned with and leave it. One should bear outer
responsibilities without their becoming a burden to one's heart.
Strive diligently outwardly, and keep one's heart in the cave of
divine presence. Thus the heart is to be kept empty and pure.
Although we often find
that people's hearts yearn for a palace, yet most people, even the
wealthy ones, live in confusion and moral squalor. Allah says,
'We have sent you to give them the good news
and the warning.' The good news is that the heart is like
an eternal bird which must learn how to fly. The cage door will
open once the heart is free from attachment. Otherwise, one will
remain incarcerated by the lower self.
The Qur`an says in
Surat al-Baqarah: 'And you will not be
asked about the inhabitants of the Fire.' One comes alone
to this world and will depart alone; be wary of the day when
nobody can help anybody else. One must live in this body fully,
connected outwardly to creation, yet disconnected inwardly from
creation and in submission to the Creator. One will then find the
Garden of permanent beauty, and everything is according to the
laws of Allah.
Some of the laws of
the Creator are explained in this chapter. One is told how to
behave in a community, the meaning of marriage, the meaning of
caring for the weak and orphans. One is told how to conduct
business transactions and loans, and the unjust nature of usury is
explained. The boundaries of the outer, divine law are made
Women's rights and
obligations are carefully emphasized. Prior to Islam, women were
regarded as sex objects, and were accorded no respect. This was
put right by the laws of Islam. As an equal (in the way of Allah),
women should be looked after, respected and protected, not treated
or abused as a play-object or body toy, to be replaced when worn
out. The husband's responsibility is to provide for the woman in
order to help her attain a state of tranquility so that she may
evolve spiritually. If he cannot do this, he should limit his
limitations to her and be prepared to release her so she can
perhaps marry someone who can fulfill her needs. Men, who are
generally speaking physically, biologically and emotionally
slightly steadier than women, are given a greater responsibility
and therefore greater power. In his last public discourse, the
Prophet stressed the rights of women as the most important aspect
In the phrase,
'We made you a middle community', the
Qur`an gives a description of the true Muslim community which must
always remain in the middle, steering a course of moderation away
from all extremes. 'Ali ibn Abi Talib said:
'The best of affairs is the middle course.' This is the
balance between opposites in the creational realm of duality,
within which lies all that is conducive to humankind. Opposites
must exist, or there would be no creation. The prime example of
duality is the creation of the heavens and earth: they are
opposites, but one cannot exist without the other. Unity manifests
itself in diversity. The Qur`an says that these are the signs for
people who have intellect, who reflect. The real Muslim is in the
middle. At all times, he has access to inner joy but is also
willing to shoulder his outer responsibilities.
There are several
verses which are concerned with what to avoid, for example
intoxicants and gambling, and also with what is considered
appropriate food to eat. We learn that the divinely revealed
natural laws are for our benefit, not for our repression and
restriction. Therefore, if we are truly in trouble, not wanting to
harm ourselves by going against the law, but having no other
choice, we can, as an exception, eat what is necessary to stay
We are told in this
chapter that the self 'will receive that which
it has earned'. We get what we deserve, not what we desire.
Action and reaction are equal and opposite. Life is founded upon
mercy, and the laws of creation apply to all of creation at all
times. By going against them, one creates havoc with oneself,
one's family and community.
We are informed about
the month of Ramadan, the door to expansion. If we wish to expand,
then according to the law of opposites, we must restrict, limit
and contract. The door to increase is through decrease. By finding
out what one's outer limitations are, one will discover one's
license for limitless inner expansion.
We are ordered to
observe the fast of Ramadan, and we must pay the zakāt, a
tax of about 2.5% on income. Also, we must attempt the arduous
journey to Mecca (Hajj), if we are financially and
It is necessary to
experience difficulty in order that we may appreciate ease, as
Allah says: 'Indeed, with difficulty comes
ease, indeed, with difficulty comes ease' (94:5). We must
always keep up our prayers and be on time for them. If one does
not perform these duties, the rest is useless. The true essence,
or reality (haqīqah), without adherence to the laws
pertaining to the outer aspects of life (Sharī'ah), is not
attainable. Likewise, the outer law without the inner reality is
worthless; it is like a body without a soul. The two are branches
of the same tree. Surat al-Baqarah is completely balanced
between the two. These are the boundaries of Allah.
'And fight in the way of Allah' (2:190): the meaning of
Islam is peace. The main door to the mosque of the Ka'bah in Mecca
is called the Door of Peace; but inner peace can only occur if one
struggles and fights outwardly. The outer and inner battles are
against both injustice and tyranny. Outwardly, the struggle is
against social injustice and oppression, while inwardly it is
against the tyranny of the lower self.
The Prophet Muhammad
described the fight against the self as being the greater struggle
of the two. Upon doing battle with the self, one will end with the
victory of a heart at peace. Fighting ignorance within the self
will give one strength to fight ignorance outside, until mercy and
knowledge prevail throughout the world. Life is a struggle. With
outer struggle, there is inner contentment. Outwardly, one is in
perpetual toil and turmoil, while inwardly, one is calm and
contended. That is the way of Allah.
'The life of this world is made to appear beautiful for those who
disbelieve and deny [the existence of Allah]' (2:212). This
world is superficially decorative: its attractiveness is a bait
through which people are hooked – and then suffer affliction
because of their attachment to it. Desiring permanency in an
impermanent world, people become attached to all manner of things.
They start collecting but do not know where to put all this
intrinsically useless stuff or how to insure its safety. One works
for one's entire life towards things which are essentially of no
value or even burdensome.
Breaking from one's
attachment is an important aspect of flight or migration (hijrah).
Historically, this is exemplified by the Prophet Muhammad's
departure from Mecca to Medina in 622 A.D. This date marks the
beginning of the Islamic lunar calendar. Migration in the way of
Allah is the highest act, because a person leaves behind all that
he loves. Those who have faith and have traveled in the way of
Allah are seeking mercy, by avoiding that which is not conducive
to spiritual growth. One tries to change a situation and to
improve it: when one cannot, then one must leave it behind.
Allah relates to us
the story of David and Saul so that we may understand how a small
band of good and firmly committed people can triumph over a larger
group. From this we see that one must not judge quantitatively
matters which have to do with Allah. The qualities of David
embraced both kingdoms: he was the king of the outward and the
king of the inward. This is how we, as followers of the Prophet
Muhammad, expect a leader to be. The perfect ruling and
representation of Allah occurs when a leader combines sovereignty
over both the outer and the inner kingdoms.
Man is naturally
confused and in doubt, and doubt is a stimulus which can bring
about knowledge. We are given the example of Abraham when he asked
Allah how the dead are brought to life. He wanted to know, just as
some of us rationally ask how certain things happen. Abraham asked
only to confirm it in his heart, for he was a human being and
human nature seeks knowledge and confirmation. It is important to
understand the humanity of the prophets and
'those established in knowledge', their inheritors. Because
of our culturization we often visualize them as rabbis or in a
theatrical sense; they were in fact the most human of men, and
that deep humanity was a sign of their great illumination.
ends with the profound call that the Lord has granted His slave.
'Our Lord, do not punish us for our
forgetfulness and mistakes. Do not overburden us with what we have
not the strength to bear. Pardon us, protect us and have mercy
upon us, inwardly and outwardly. Unify us and grant us strength
against the denial and rejection of Your One true Realty.'
There is no god but
Allah, the Master, the Clear Truth. May the tongue of Reality
bless the seal of Prophecy, the first light of creation, the
beloved of Allah, the Prophet Muhammad, and his purified family,
companions and devoted followers, according to the number of all