ON THE QUR`AN
Chapter 3: Surat Al-'Imrān
The Family of 'Imrān
the name of Allah,
the Beneficent, the Merciful
Just as creation
appears to have a physical structure, so does the Qur`an. From
non-existence the letters come into being by a stroke of the
pen. The letters are the foundation of the words which make up
its sentences and thus impart meaning, just as the variegated
forms of creation are contained within various systems that also
provide meaning. From the One comes an infinite number of
creational possibilities which indicate their truly infinite and
Allah, [there is] no
god but He, the Living, the Self-Subsisting by Whom all things
The chapter begins
by affirming what is most important in creation, namely (tawhīd),
that is, unity, the Oneness of Allah. The Qur`an asserts that
there is only one Creator from whom creation emerges. The most
exalted definition and highest description of this Creator is
that He has no other partner. There is no deity but Allah, the
of Allah is that He is forever sentient or living. How can we
experience life and death unless there is an immutable
foundation, forever holding both in Its grasp. How is it that we
are alive? We must be deriving life as well as all our other
attributes (singular sifah) from a Reality which contains
all these attributes. The reason that man seeks to prolong his
life unnaturally is, in fact, because he is worshipping – albeit
misguidedly – the Everlasting Who is within un. All attributes
are from Allah, through whose grace everyone is constantly given
the opportunity of knowledge and awakening. The Qur`an says,
'All that is
in the heavens and the earth glorify Allah, the Sovereign King,
the Sacred, the Mighty, the Wise' (62:1).
Every created entity
in this existence is glorifying, worshipping and adoring the
Attributes of Allah, the Controller of all. Everyone wants to
possess these Attributes, because man desires Allah; yet we
already have Allah, we are already in the embrace of Allah.
There is no escape from that One Reality; there is no escape
from the laws of Allah which are the manifestation in creation
of His Attributes.
It is up to us to
experience His laws, not in a dualistic or fragmentary fashion,
but as a totality, until we see nothing but Allah manifesting
Himself through His difference Attributes. If a particular event
seems to be incongruous, we need only reflect upon its cause to
understand it. If the event conforms to its context, then it has
followed His laws. If we were to think, hear and see correctly
and naturally, then everything around us would be coherent.
Whatever appeared incomprehensible, once examined, would reveal
its inner meaning.
Every cause has an
effect, and every effect stems from a cause, except for the
One-and-Only Source, Allah. Allah is Self-Subsisting, beyond
cause and effect. Everything except Allah falls within laws that
can be understood. All of creation emanates from a root, from a
cause that encompasses and controls it all without being
tarnished, touched or affected by it. This is the puzzle into
which we are born, and we are given our entire lifetime to solve
it. Its solution is its dissolution.
By submitting and
dissolving the self into the truth that lies within, we unify
our actions and intentions fully. Then we will find that every
experience is covered by the mercy of Allah, thereby deepening
our faith along the path. By this faith our certainty will be
increased, and we will be led to the realization that this life
is an emanation indicating its source and its natural return to
it. Life then becomes an experience to be valued and respected,
because one respects the Giver of the experience. Life is not
acceptable unless it is put experientially into the right
perspective. Life is only a training-ground where man may come
to know the meaning of the words,
is no god but Him, the Living, the Self-Subsisting, by Whom all
He has truthfully
revealed the Book to you, verifying that which came before;
and He revealed the Torah and the Gospel.
In this verse the
Prophet Muhammad and all who truly follow him are addressed by
Allah. The Qur`an as revealed to Muhammad confirms the truth of
the earlier books of the Torah and the Gospels. The message of
these divinely inspired Books is from the same One Source, but
revealed at different times, for different civilizations or
cultures. The books of Moses and Jesus were adequate for their
time, and the teachings of Jesus superseded what remained of the
oral Talmudic tradition.
The Qur`an of Muhammad
supersedes all previous revealed teachings. It is the final
message, as it encompasses the collective prophetic consciousness.
The Arabic language of the Qur`an and the continuous chain of
transmission of its teachings ensures its authenticity and
safeguards it. Attempts to interpret the Qur`an and the Prophetic
path in order to justify a personal prejudice, or wrongly
reinforce unjust actions, continue. Despite this, Islam remains
preserved as it was originally and the behavior of Muslims can
always be judged against it by whoever has been given its light.
guidance for mankind, and He revealed the Discrimination.
Surely, those who disbelieve in the revelations of Allah shall
suffer a severe punishment. And Allah is Mighty, the Lord of
The Qur`an has several
names, two of which are
(al-Furqān). The Book of Knowledge and understanding is
based on discrimination, the differentiation between what is right
and what is wrong. By reading this Book, we learn to differentiate
between truth and falsehood, transience and permanence.
What is emphasized in
this verse is that the knowledge of Allah is the highest priority.
Whoever denies the signs of Allah, whoever denies the proof of the
existence of the Creator, whoever denies the interconnectedness of
everything in this creation, whoever denies the one power from
which stem different manifestations and apparently opposing values
or attributes, is in a state of affliction and pain, that is,
shadīd). Ignorance underlies all pain. Once the reason behind
the outcome of a given situation is known, immediate relief and
comfort are found, though the difficulty of the situation may not
yet be resolved. Through thorough knowledge of any situation,
acceptance becomes possible, and with this acceptance positive,
successful action can be undertaken.
acceptance are aspects of discrimination, of recognizing what is
what. If one fails to see the one thread behind the many woven
patterns, the result is continual suffering, difficulty and
Surely nothing in the
earth or in the heavens is hidden from Allah.
Self-Subsistent Reality (al-Hayy al-Qayyūm) is also
the All-Hearing, All-Seeing and All-Knowing Reality. Nothing is
hidden from Allah. Where can one turn that Allah and His
manifestations do not exist? Where can one hide from that which
gives one life? Wherever one goes, one's life-support system is
already there. How can one say that one has no knowledge of Allah
– for where is it that Allah is not? The answer is truly that such
a place does not exist. Anyone who recognizes this fact knows that
wherever one turns there is the face of Allah. If man is at all
times aware that Allah sees what is in his heart, he will
naturally labor to purify his heart. He will seek to reveal what
is in it so that it might thereby be rendered wholesome and
pleasing to Allah, for there is nothing more purifying than
revealing one's heart to someone who is willing to listen.
The hypocrisy (nifāq)
of one who knows that nothing is hidden from Allah will evaporate
by continual exposure to air and light. The Arabic verbal root
from which the word for hypocrite springs means
Like a mole in a tunnel the hypocrite cannot be easily caught,
because the tunnel has more than one exit hole. It is a secret
underground tunnel which one may enter by one hole and come out
through another. One is always justifying one's prejudices and
veils – never catching the self out. By recognizing that Allah
knows everything, the labyrinth is unearthed. A technique for
reducing hypocrisy is to think of one's heart, one's inner
thoughts and motivations as exposed. In truth, every cell within a
man reflects his true intentions. Nothing in the heavens or on the
earth is hidden from the Reality which encompasses them both, and
yet is beyond them.
He shapes you in the
womb as He pleases; there is no god but He, the Mighty, the Wise.
Man himself is a form,
a picture (sūrah), a representative of Reality. He
is an example of Reality, because he encompasses within himself
the meaning of everything that he experiences; he is a microcosm
of creation. If man did not contain within himself the potential
to understand everything outside himself, how then could he
understand the external world? There is within us a micro-world
which enables us to reflect the macro-world outside. This is how
'shaped you in the womb'.
The Arabic verbal root for
'to be merciful
(rahima). The womb with its function of propagation
is a great manifestation and direct proof of Allah's ongoing
mercy. The word for
kinship'. It is
important for everyone to extend mercy and generosity to their
family. The person who has embraced Islam, but whose family has
not, should try to share his faith with his family, not by forcing
it upon them, but by gentle words and guidance whenever possible.
The enemy is not the family itself but the ignorance based on
culture and habit that has been allowed to take hold over the
family. It is actions that are evil, not people.
There are seven
factors which affect the make-up of the individual. The first is
to do with the character of one's parents: there is no doubt that
one inherits physical and other characteristics from one's
predecessors. Another factor is the act of conception itself; this
relates to the love between the parents and the depth of their
relationship. The third factor is the mother's diet and overall
physical, mental, emotional and spiritual state while the child is
developing in the womb. The fourth factor concerns the conditions
at the moment of birth; the way in which this transition occurs is
critical. To be born under the glaring lights of a hospital
operating theatre, surrounded by unknown people who are
preoccupied with their own problems, is not the best way to enter
life. Traditionally, in the past, children were born at home,
where the mother was at ease in her own environment, with her own
people who treated her lovingly. The fifth factor is the child's
treatment during the first two years, including the diet, love,
attention and warmth that the mother gives it, the love that
exists between both the parents and the baby. The sixth element is
the child's upbringing, grooming and social environment. A child
who is brought up in a criminal environment is more likely to take
to crime, while one brought up in an environment of love, honesty
and harmony is more likely to repeat aspects of the same pattern.
The seventh factor is
the most important one: a person's power of will and clarity of
objective in life. One may have inherited genetically certain
weaknesses or physical handicaps or been born into a deprived or
criminal environment. One may be aware of all this and yet have
the strength and determination to go through life, overcoming the
past and rising above those limitations.
Man is like a
holographic image: he is potentially a reflection of Reality, if
he chooses to be. A holograph is an image produced on a
photosensitive plate through the use of a laser beam; a
holographic image not only reflects the object from which it is
made, but it also behaves as if it were the object itself. The
degree to which man can reflect the highest Reality is as accurate
as the degree of his willingness to submit, surrender and be
committed to Allah.
He it is Who has
revealed the Book to you in which are decisively clear verses, the
basis of the Book; others are allegorical. Those whose hearts are
distorted follow the part which is allegorical, seeking
dissention, and seeking to give it [their own] interpretation; but
none knows its interpretation except Allah. And those who are
firmly rooted in knowledge say: We believe in it, it is all from
our Lord. None remind except those who have innermost
If the Qur`an is
regarded as a whole, there is no obscurity in its allegories or
doctrine. The Qur`an is a clear book in which there is no doubt;
doubt exists only in the minds of men because of their veils of
(umm) also means
implying that these verses are the source or foundation of the
Book. Mecca was called
'the mother of
al-qurā), because it was a trading center. A closely related
word in the Qur`an means
(plural ummīyīn), meaning those who have not had a book, in
particular the people of Mecca before Islam. It also refers to the
inability of most of the Arabs of that time to read and write.
Unlettered also means not formally taught, for the Prophet,
according to tradition, had not been taught to read or write at
the time the revelations of the Qur`an began. It is known that the
Prophet spoke numerous dialects and understood foreign languages,
and encouraged the teaching of reading and writing. Many prisoners
captured by the Muslims in battle were offered the opportunity of
gaining their freedom by teaching the Muslims to read and write.
It is said that in each of the nine mosques of Medina there was at
all times someone available to teach people to read and write.
hearts are distorted'
deviate by turning away from Reality. Through knowledge one sees
that there is no turning away from the path of Allah, for there is
no other way. Man has come from Allah, he is sustained by the
grace of Allah, and he is returning to that everlasting Source. If
the heart is not completely at one with Reality, it will remain
confused. If the heart is not fused to that awareness then it
People who study the
Qur`an without the correct courtesy of humility and openness of
heart will not derive benefit. They see only what is doubtful,
which increases their own confusion. They are seeking
because they are subject to temptations which cause distraction.
If man recognizes what has confused him, he is able to avoid it
the next time he is confronted by a similar situation.
There is no dispute or
doubt about the real way once one is fully on that path. The
Prophetic life-transaction (dīn) is not open to discussion.
Those who are true to Islam, who have surrendered to Reality,
cannot be in discord. Dispute arises because of lack of accord,
hence discord. A man who has submitted to Allah is in the hand of
Allah, the hand of absolute justice. If someone has entered into
an argument, it is because he did not possess full discernment or
discrimination (furqān) in the situation. Islam is truly
the house of peace based on love and justice. It is at peace with
its inhabitants and at war with those in ignorance and those who
Those whose hearts are
wandering will cause distraction, confusion and dissension
'by seeking to
give it their own interpretation (ta`wil)'.
They talk according to their own whims,
'but none knows
its interpretation except Allah'.
No one knows the roots of a thing except He who puts forth the
'those who are
firmly rooted in knowledge'.
The ones who are firmly rooted in their trust in Allah will come
to know more and more about the meanings of the manifestations of
Reality. All power, actions and attributes come from the Lord and
Sustainer. His mercy pervades all creation.
Knowledge and wisdom
are but the beautiful and subtle veils of a higher reality. They
produce a greater state of awareness and deeper understanding. The
Prophet has said,
'The leaders of
guidance are among my progeny (Ahl al-Bayt) and some of my
He whose right actions are clear, whose tongue always speaks the
truth, whose heart is straight, and who guards his stomach and his
sexual urge is one who is firmly established in knowledge. These
people were not confused or in doubt. Confusion is a result of
one's ignorance of cause and effect and the inconsistent
relationship between intention and action. The confused person can
only blame himself, seek knowledge and then take refuge in
When Umm Salamah heard
the Prophet repeat the supplication,
'O Lord Who
turns the heart, establish my heart in Your way (dīn)',
'O Messenger of
Allah, will the hearts turn again?' 'Yes,'
'Allah has not created man from the children of Adam but that his
heart is between His two fingers. If He wills He makes it straight
and if He wills He makes it deviate.'
Man cannot be arrogant about his faith (īmān). One can
never claim that one knows (for higher knowledge is limitless), or
that one's knowledge is complete. Allah says,
'But none feels
secure from Allah's plot [i.e. subtle ways], except those who are
at a loss' (7:99).
Man must be constantly vigilant and diligent. The worst situation
is to gain a little knowledge and then to feel arrogantly secure.
All that we experience
(Rabbanā). The Lord is that entity which brings us up to
our full potential. A related word from the same root word as Lord
'upbringing, education, edification'
(tarbīyah), but there is no equivalent word for
in the English language that can adequately convey the idea of
nurturing, and the process of gaining wisdom and fulfillment
through being fostered and guided by Allah's Attribute of
except those who have innermost understanding.'
The word for
(lubb) also means
Sometimes it connotes an understanding connected to the heart, but
in the case of this verse it has the further connotation of
achievement. The ability to remind depends on the ability to
remember, to recall the original sub-genetic information that man
is dependent upon Allah, Who has created out of love. If man is
continually concerned about external manifestations in the realm
of duality, he cannot reflect upon the One Source. The inner
meaning of all our activities is life relates to discovering this
truth, through surrender and understanding.
In the Qur`an some
verses are absolutely clear and some are allegorical, appearing to
be obscure. Qur`anic commentators often conjecture as to whether
certain verses are allegorical or not. When the Qur`an is examined
as a whole there is no obscurity; there is metaphor and symbolism,
but there is no obscurity:
'These are the
verses of the Qur`an, the verses of a clear Book' (27:1).
The leaders of the Prophetic House related that
understanding of the Qur`an is by the Qur`an, because parts of the
Qur`an explain other parts'.
The Qur`an is complete unto itself and contains the entirety of
meaning within itself.
Allah tells us that
the clear verses are the basis of the book. What is allegorical or
obscure may be understood in the light of what is clarified
elsewhere. As we stated earlier, the word for
as well as
foundation, essence, matrix'.
A closely related word means
'one who remains
in the natural condition of his surroundings'.
This word came to refer to the Arabs in particular, and because
they did not read or write, it came by extension to mean
When this word was used in the Qur`an (7:157) to describe the
Prophet Muhammad, the ordinary meaning was that he was not taught
in any formal sense, but that he had a natural connection to life
and its source, and had therefore a primal, natural ability to
The Qur`anic description of
also emphasizes that the Prophet was not formally educated, but
that his authority was based upon revealed knowledge.
One of the meanings of
the Arabic word translated in this verse as
If, for example, on a cloudy day someone comments that it is a
good day, he probably means that in his opinion the day will be
full of benefit. The listener, on the other hand, may interpret
what he said as sarcastic, because the sky is obviously overcast.
The first person might then say to the listener he has
misinterpreted the speaker's words, (awwalta kalāmī),
implying that the listener has read into them what he wanted to
hear. Personal opinions regarding the meanings of the Qur`an must
be guarded against. Some of the verses do not allow for
interpretation while others lend themselves to a great number of
meanings, both broad as well as deep. There are many pitfalls in
interpreting according to one's own opinion.
An explicit example of
a clear verse is,
'O you who
believe, fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for
those before you, so that perhaps you may guard yourselves with
fearful awareness' (2:186).
There is no doubt about the interpretation of this verse, nor room
for different opinions about its meaning. An example of an
allegorical verse is, 'Looking
toward their Lord' (75:143).
One may ask how this is possible, for Allah cannot be seen, as He
established with Moses:
'You will never
see Me' (7:143).
The intellect allows one to understand that
refers to knowledge of Allah. The latter verse forces one to look
deeply into the meaning of
towards' in the
former verse thereby finding that it also means
Prophetic traditions may also be used to reinforce the
understanding of the Qur`an. In this case a famous sacred
'The eyes cannot
see Me, but the heart of the believing slave sees Me.'
Many verses that use
worldly or linguistic terms are inadvertently given a physical
interpretation. For example, the word for
('arsh) in the verse,
[Allah] established himself on the throne'
(Thumma istawā 'alā al-'arsh, 10:3). The mind conjures up
a giant-like being acting as puppeteer for the whole world,
seated on an enormous throne. If we delve into the meaning of
the Arabic word for 'throne'
we will find that it means
which everything rests',
indicating a foundation. Another example, mentioned many times
in the Qur`an, is that Allah possesses all riches. Because man
treasures his own insignificant trinkets, he may imagine an
enormous treasure box, full of Allah's glittering treasures. In
reality, however, Allah's treasures comprise the entire
creation, comprising that which man comprehends as well as what
he cannot comprehend.
There is a story
related about an inquirer who asked Imam Ja'far al-Sādiq
to explain a certain verse on three different occasions. Each
time he received a different answer. Finally he queried the Imam
about the differing interpretations and the Imam answered him
'O Jābir, the Qur`an has an inner lining, and for that inner
lining there is another inner lining, and for that inner there
is another inner and yet another. O Jābir, there is nothing
further from the intellect of man than the interpretation of the
Ja'far al-Sādiq's explanation illustrates that many
verses can be interpreted from different angles and in subtle
ways. While all of the interpretations are correct, at the same
time care must be exercised so that one's opinion does not
conceal a true reflection of the universality of the verse.
The entire Qur`an is
a continuous exposition of the different facets of Reality. In a
sense it is like man's life, the beginning, the middle and end
of which may be very different, yet interconnected. Likewise,
the lives of individuals may appear to be radically different,
but if we look at this multiplicity as a manifestation of a
reality that has unchanging boundaries, we find written therein
decrees which cannot be changed, decrees such as birth and
death. There is a limit to the freedom we can exercise because
of the natural boundaries that have been determined.
How can man
comprehend his cause except by allegory (mithal) and deep
reflection which results in the remembrance of his origin? The
Qur`an is not meant to confuse us, but a person whose heart is
not clear reflects the confusion contained therein. A man or
woman of Allah does not see anything other than clarity in the
Qur`an. If there are areas within it which are not understood,
it could be that either the verse has been abrogated or that it
contains an unfamiliar aspect of divine law. It could also be
unclear because it requires more reflection before the various
of certain parts is the foundation for wider understanding: it
is by means of light that we can distinguish shades of light.
The way to approach the Qur`an is to take from it what is
understandable and put it to use; if this is not done, one will
not progress. If one fails to transfer the teachings into
physical action, then our approach to the Book is faulty and we
will be further deprived of knowledge.
Our Lord, do not
allow our hearts to deviate after You have guided us, and grant
us mercy from your Presence. Surely, You are the Generous
People who have
tasted the sweetness of faith pray to their Lord and Sustainer
for their hearts to be guided. Having tasted this sweetness and
having seen the light of guidance (hudā), they guard
themselves. Their prayers are a reflection of their intention to
protect themselves and keep their hearts safe. They beseech
their Lord not to let them be misguided after they have seen the
mercy (rahmah) of guidance, for they recognize
this guidance as a gift from Allah, which, if lost, can never be
Our Lord, surely You
are the Gatherer of mankind on a day about which there is no
doubt. Most certainly Allah will not fail to keep [His] promise
of the appointed time.
The people of faith
have no doubt about the signs of Allah, nor do they give in to
their whims. By remembering the Day of Reckoning, they remain
aware at all times of the transient nature of this life.
Remembrance of death is a means to freedom from the veils of the
self and from constant justification of one's habitual actions.
It is quite natural for us to continue our past habits and find
good reasons and explanations for us to do so. The self has the
knack of justifying what it wants. Without going back to the
source as a reference point, one will find a justification for
any action. That reference point can only be activated if we are
in submission to Allah and in a state of spontaneous awareness.
If, while experiencing anger, suspicion, greed or confusion, one
is able to shut everything out and go into total inner silence
and submission, one would be able to improve one's actions.
Neutralization from within will bring about a positive result in
This verse relates
to us that those who have faith (īmān) and are
established in knowledge (rāsikhūn fī al-'ilm) constantly
remember that they will be gathered up on the Day of Reckoning.
A person who lives with such remembrance will live in a manner
which is detached but still present, exposed to his Creator and
open to judgment at all times. He will not be enslaved by the
world, and its attachments or its attractions. He lives as a
free man because he is a slave only to Allah.
The wealth and
children of those who disbelieve will not avail them against
Allah. They are fuel for the Fire.
In direct opposition
to the way of life led by those who believe is the way of life
of those who deny Allah. They fail to recognize the profundity
of death, and have little or no belief in the reckoning after
death. Whoever denies that this creation has come from, is
sustained by, and is accountable to one Creator, has no refuge
in his wealth or in his offspring – he is
'fuel for the
al-Nār). Man's entire experience in the outer world is
subject to unstoppable change. Because of this, some seek
security in material accumulation. Certainly, such accumulation
may bring about a certain element of comfort or pleasure, but
once a person succeeds in gathering material wealth, insecurity
and problems from other quarters will creep in.
knowledge and behavior is very much subject to the condition of
our hearts. The more hardened the heart, the more mechanistic
and uninspired our lives become.
Like the people of
Pharaoh and those before them. They rejected Our signs, so Allah
destroyed them because of their wrong actions. And Allah is
severe in requiting wrong action.
The people of
Pharaoh and those who came before them denied the supreme
sovereignty of Allah. Every effect has its cause, and this
effect in turn becomes the cause of another effect. Life's
experiences are all interrelated in a network. The transgression
and disbelief of these people and their abuse of physical power
and wealth resulted in a natural punishment. Their diligence was
directed only towards their materialistic pursuits, and though
the level of their outer technology was very high, it
nevertheless did not save them: their inner technology –
spiritual enlightenment – was missing.
Say to those who
disbelieve: You shall be overcome and driven to Hell. What a
miserable place of rest!
Tell the people who
deny that Allah pervades, prevails over and controls all, that
if they do not pursue a life that leads to the acknowledgement
of this truth, they will experience the torment and agitation of
the Fire. There is no resting place within fire, which is the
description of Hell. Those who have not awakened in this life
will be very rudely awakened on the Day of Reckoning.
If one is not aware
of one's own basic motives and actions, it is unlikely that one
would be aware of Allah's justice in all situations. The term
'luck' really implies our lack of knowledge of all the
parameters that determine a desirable outcome. When a person
describes an occurrence as luck, it means that his or her
individual path crossed favorably with an overall environmental
direction, and this conjunction was conducive to bringing about
the end which he or she desired. Bad luck is the reverse of this
process. A person has a certain objective, but does not know all
the factors at play in the situation; at a certain point there
is a clash with powerful, unknown factors which are in
opposition to the achievement of the desire. These factors
prevail, the objective fails – and we call this bad luck! The
more one is aware and has knowledge, the less one sees 'good
luck' or 'bad luck'. Rather, one sees efficiency or
The ignorant seeks
to protect his ego, and is both unwilling and unable to see the
situation as it is. The person who does not know and knows that
he does not know is far better off than the person who thinks he
knows, because he is more open to knowledge.
A prophetic saying
the enemy of what they do not know'.
Man by nature loves knowledge ('ilm). The search for
knowledge is a great motivating factor in life. Indeed, man
loves the Attributes of Allah, and one of His main Attributes is
the All-Knowing (al-'Alīm). The egotistic and selfish
person will gloss over his areas of ignorance rather than admit
he does not possess knowledge. If one does not start with
knowledge of one's own self and inner state then one has not yet
begun the process of spiritual growth.
Indeed there was a sign for you in the two armies [which]
encountered each other. One party was fighting in the way of
Allah and the other was an unbelieving force who saw the former
as twice as many as themselves. And Allah strengthens those whom
He pleases with His aid. Surely, there is a lesson in this for
those who have insight.
The Qur`an moves
back and forth in time, while its central message is timeless.
It does not allow one to fall into the trap of historical
perspective, for its truth is for all time.
The chapter of The
Family of 'Imrān was revealed soon after the Battle of Uhud,
which occurred in the third year after the Migration (Hijrah)
from Mecca to Medina. The Battle of Badr was still fresh in the
minds of the people. Historical references estimate that the
Prophet had 313 men with him at Badr and that they had eight
swords, six shields and two horses. On the other hand, the enemy
was estimated to number about a thousand, all on horseback. The
Muslims were ill-equipped outwardly but well-equipped inwardly,
trusting that this life was only one fleeting moment in the
manifestation of eternity. Without being suicidal, they were not
afraid of death: they were men of Allah and therefore unafraid
of Allah's creation.
Of the two groups
fighting, one was fighting for Allah's sake. The other group was
made up of clans who imagined the Muslims were greater in number
than they actually were. The courage and fearlessness of the
Muslims caused them to appear far more numerous. The light of
Allah will prevail with the people who serve the cause of Allah
and who always strive to move towards higher values. This is
lesson for those who have insight'.
Anything that is
done outside the laws of nature and of what is permissible is
transgression. Shaytān (Satan) means one who is
'cast out,' or has 'exceeded the bounds' of Allah. In the
garden, where there was no duality, Adam did not know what a lie
was. When the Shaytān arose to entice him, Adam
assumed that his voice was true Reality and therefore believed
him. He did not believe the Shaytān to be an
enemy, because the realm of opposites, of duality, had not yet
The love of desires, of women and sons, hoarded treasures of
gold and silver, well-bred horses, livestock and tilth, is made
fair-seeming to mankind. This is provision for the life of the
world, while with Allah is the more excellent abode.
This verse is a
compelling statement about the nature of man. Worldly desires
seem attractive in his eyes. Man naturally loves gold and silver
because they are signs of wealth.
horses and tilth'
were also signs of wealth in the Prophet's time. Nowadays,
however, man's wealth is measured by pieces of paper or
electronic numbers. The strongest desire in a normal man is for
intimacy with a woman, because in that state he becomes almost
mindless, or to put it another way, with her he can experience a
selfless bliss. A similar state is attained by emptying the mind
in meditation. It is understandable that when one's mind is
disturbed one seeks a physical form of relief. Disturbed men
often have a stronger sexual drive than those who are in inner
peace, but eventually that disturbance may take them to a point
where they become sexually impaired.
Recreation and play
are necessary in life. The fact that we have been created in
order to know the Creator and then die can be searing if
contemplated unceasingly. Play should, however, be contained,
otherwise man will only bring harm to himself and others. The
boundary in the case of relationships between man and woman is a
contract within which each party fulfils their part. She accords
him authority in exchange for protection and support. A man's
responsibilities are different from a woman's. If they were the
same, then role confusion would ultimately dismantle the normal,
primal family structure. Much of what we are experiencing with
the troubled youth in the West today is a result of role
confusion and the dilution or loss of traditional family values.
The glamorous image of the working woman in the factory or
office has been created to make available a cheap work-force and
to increase material productivity. Family culture, meanwhile,
has broken down. Today children come home from school to an
empty house and a microwave oven, instead of to a mother and
companionship. Is it any wonder that drugs, alcohol and sexual
promiscuity are ravaging the youth of today? When the biological
process of birth takes over within the woman, the man, if he is
of noble disposition, understands, protects and loves her so
that the child who comes into the world will be someone who will
live a life worthy of Allah's highest creation.
The Prophet said,
people, you are in a house of truce.'
In this short life war is being waged between right and wrong,
between this life and the next. The intentions and resultant
actions of each individual will decide the outcome. Therefore we
live in a state of truce. When asked, the Prophet explained that
in the house of truce people are informed about the news of the
purpose of creation, and they are encouraged to cut themselves
off from this world by weaning themselves away from their love
Excessive love and
attachment to worldly desires are the cause of enslavement. The
cure is moderation and taking the middle road until the desires
are fulfilled or have fallen away from one's heart. For example,
man is not necessarily disrespectful of Allah because he loves
gold, for it is a material which exists naturally in His
creation and inherently possesses noble qualities. What is wrong
with possessing gold is the danger of arrogance, power and
deprivation of others that its hoarding and accumulation bring.
'Alī ibn Abī Tālib said,
'The one who
is abstemious (zāhid) is not one who owns nothing;
rather, he is the one who is not owned by anything.'
There is no merit in possessing nothing, but there is great
merit in not being owned by anything.
attraction are natural phenomena which cannot be resisted. Every
person wants to increase his or her wealth. If we are willing to
reflect honestly upon our motives, then, through experience, we
will recognize the affliction that results if our motives are
not pure. If we use the provisions (matā) of this world
as useful tools for this short journey, then we are likely to be
spared the agony of separation from them. What matters is our
intention rather than the action itself. Those who forget that
there is an end to this world, and a life to come after it, are
described elsewhere as follows:
Shaytān has made their deeds fair-seeming to them and
thus turned them from the way' (27:24).
Allah also says,
'The evil of
their actions is made fair-seeming to them; and Allah does not
guide the unbelieving people' (9:37).
Actions have a way of justifying themselves; a person's ugly
deeds may be small at first, but if unchecked, they will
increase with each day.
seekers often go to the desert, where life can be lived more
frugally. When the need for clothing and food is less, one can
turn one's attention away from the world more easily. In a cold
climate, however, one is totally enslaved to the elements, and
because outer protection and order must be established first,
the outer prevails over the inner. Purification starts from the
outer layer and works its way inwardly to the subtle core, until
one finds that the outer and the inner are totally connected.
One who has attained inner peace will naturally avoid situations
which are not conducive to one's spiritual growth.
'With Allah is
the more excellent abode.'
Allah has given us a long rope which we may use either to return
to Him or to strangle ourselves. The man of insight (basīrah)
does not see grey areas; he sees people either covering up
reality (which is the meaning of kufr) or being
intoxicated by the experience of unity (tawhīd).
Distinction between these two states becomes clearer as one's
insight or inner vision sharpens.
We return to the
place where we began: the excellent abode. Through a highly
intricate and natural electro-chemical process, we originated
from earthly elements. Our bodies were sustained by food from
the earth, and to that earth they will return. The other part of
our being, our spirit, is meant to be purified, to become aware
of duality – of good and bad, health and sickness, poverty and
wealth – and to recognize that there is one force from which all
Say: Shall I inform you of what is better than all that? For
those who guard fearfully are gardens with their Lord beneath
which rivers flow – they abide in them forever – and pure mates,
and Allah's pleasure. Allah perceives mankind.
This verse relates
to the previous verse. The love of possessions, the desire to
increase one's wealth and the number of one's offspring, all the
things that are part of this worldly existence, have been made
attractive to man. But the worthiest abode is where there is no
change, where there are none of the transient afflictions of
this world. Possessions are like treasures put into a boat. The
more weight in the hull, the greater the risk of sinking in a
stormy sea. A strong and efficient mast and sail – analogous to
spiritual strength – are needed to carry it to the destined
shore. Possessions are neutralized by spiritual strength.
On the other hand,
if the boat has a strong mast but carries little in its hold, it
can travel swiftly across the sea, but it will arrive empty. The
Muhammadan path is the middle road:
'And thus We
have made you a middle nation' (2:143).
It is not a path of outer asceticism or renunciation. The world
is to be interacted with; its positive aspects are to be made
use of directly, while its negative aspects are out of bounds
and to be avoided. The Prophet is the teacher from whom we learn
where the boundaries lie, as well as how to avoid transgressing
Better than the love
of worldly things are the gardens in the presence of the Lord
those who guard fearfully'.
The word taqwā means
oneself with fear and caution so as to avoid being led astray'.
Caution implies prior exposure to a similar situation, thus
those who guard fearfully have already been afflicted in the
world: they have tried to find solace and comfort in the stuff
of this world and have been disappointed. They are cautious
about every situation in order to prevent an undesirable
outcome, and, because of their sincerity, they are forgiven if
they inadvertently participate in an unfortunate situation.
Those who continue to take refuge in some aspect of the world –
its wealth, its people, its political power – are continually
plagued by the nagging fear that one day the security to which
they are holding on will no longer be there. Their plastic cards
will be redundant because of a massive and universal power
beneath which rivers flow'
are gardens of meaning, condition or state. In this life the
experience of physical gardens can give us a taste of a
paradisical inner state, a sense of being in a marvelous and
fulfilling ambience. The experience however, does not endure,
and people in the midst of the most wonderful and fabulous
experiences can be miserable and sad. Something within tells
them that the moment of pleasure is not going to last, that they
will have to leave. The pleasure is recognized as transient, and
thus they cannot totally abandon themselves to it. The heavenly,
which is to say permanent, garden is forever fed by subtle and
hidden underground rivers. Those invisible waters are preserved
forever in the Garden of the next world.
(azwāj mutahhara) implies no duality in the
Garden; the opposites (zawj, means a pair) are joined. In
this world man seeks woman, the poor seeks wealth and the ill
seeks health. In the next life all seeking is finished. The
opposites are continued in pairs; there is no longer any
conflict of the two. If a man of faith (īmān)
harbored any unfulfilled desires, those desires would be
neutralized to bring about an ultimate equilibrium.
The state of the
Garden is described as being like receiving gifts one had not
imagined possible. Reality knows the condition of everything,
where it is deficient and why. Deficiencies of this world exist
in order that we will strive for efficiency, which arises from
wisdom and is achieved through the use of the intellect ('aql).
One learns how to safeguard one's being and how to be
successful. Efficiency clearly indicates the boundaries of
action: one is free to act, but only within the limits of
general laws which prescribe the paths of action in this world.
If one transgresses these bounds, one's freedom is curtailed. If
one abuses nature beyond a certain point, the ecology will
collapse. The destruction may be so great as to annihilate us in
order to effect a return to normal. Allah's will is that we
discover that this creation is Allah's, and that we are nothing
other than His beloved slaves.
Love of this world
can only end in disaster. If the disaster does not occur as
several minor or major setbacks or disasters in this life, it
will occur as one final calamity at the moment of one's death,
because whoever loves this world will not want to leave it.
Disappointments in this life caution us against investing in
what is transient. The things of this world are a provision, not
to be renounced, but to be used and consumed along the journey.
For this reason the people of self-knowledge ('irfān)
constantly avoid forming habits. A seeker on the path of
self-knowledge may even change the place where he lays his head
at night every few days in order not to become complacent in his
behavior. A state of continual change prevents him from becoming
too familiar with his surroundings, and so he constantly
remembers that his life is transient, that at any given moment
he may die. The point of this remembrance is not to produce
anxiety or discomfort, but to be grounded in a deeper state of
inner peace and tranquility, irrespective of one's outer
struggle or circumstance.
A verse of the
'O you who
believe! Answer Allah and the Messenger when you are called to
that which gives you life. Know that Allah intervenes between
man and his heart, and that to Him you shall be gathered' (8:24).
Allah is talking to the people of this world, implying that this
physical existence is only an example of the real life which is
eternal. Each one of us wants to live forever, a desire whose
source is divine, but the One who lives forever is the
one-and-only Ever-Living (al-Hayy al-Qayyūm). As
created beings we are perishing, but the source of the
Ever-living is within us. Once we discover the truth of this, we
understand that what we are really adoring and worshipping is
the Ever-Living, though this worship of the Eternal is sometimes
transformed into actions which are limited to self-preservation.
Naturally, it is incumbent upon everyone to preserve their
physical well-being as much as possible, for whoever loves the
Creator will love what He has given into one's care, yet with
the light of intellect one must realize that the body is born to
perish. We must therefore strive to live a balanced life, taking
care of both our existential and spiritual needs, of both body
Those who fearfully
guard themselves (muttaqīn) say that they trust in Allah
through reason and natural instinct (fitrah). They
understand that there can be no major conflicts in nature that
will not be resolved by one force dominating another. For
example, we all recognize that we are dying even though we do
not want to die. This is a conflict which will not be resolved
until we become disillusioned with the nature of our ego-self (nafs).
When the lower self is surpassed by the higher self through
self-knowledge and enlightenment, the conflict is resolved.
The greatest crime
one can commit against oneself is to become forgetful of Allah
and the truth of His Book. Forgetting Allah comes from
forgetting death. When a person says that he has discovered the
truth, he is really admitting that the truth was there all the
time, but the path he was previously following did not lead to
it. He has also discovered that he can never find total
fulfillment with any human being. Speaking of humankind, the
'One of you is
an enemy to the other' (2:36).
Within us are the forces of both evil and good. If one does not
act to purify the self, the forces within will produce a Jekyll
and Hyde syndrome – with Hyde eventually taking over.
As man grows in
faith, his worldly wisdom and sense of discrimination also grow.
He becomes more diligent with his use of time and the tools he
has been given to work with. His increased sensitivity produces