ON THE QUR`AN
Chapter 3: Surat Al-'Imrān
The Family of 'Imrān
Those who say: Our Lord, surely we believe, so forgive our
faults and save us from the punishment of the Fire.
The real meaning of
forgiveness can be decoded from the Arabic root for forgiveness
(istighfār), which is ghafara meaning
Seeking forgiveness means seeking protection from the results of
past errors, and safety from continuing to act erroneously and
therefore harmfully. We know the meaning of fire as a physical
manifestation without which we cannot survive. Even our nervous
system is based on electrical impulses which are a subtle form
of fire. Without the fire of the sun, the ecological balance of
the earth could not survive. Inner fire is tasted by everyone in
the form of anger, anguish, mistrust, greed, hate and jealousy.
When time stops, as it eventually will, the experience of this
Fire, if it has been fuelled or fed continuously in this life,
will then be an ongoing experience in the next level of
consciousness. In that zone one will not be able to act, only to
be acted upon, because the next life is the realm of non-change.
Only in this life do we have a measure of freedom to take the
meaningless unless there is constriction. Similarly, a person
cannot know the meaning of truth unless he knows what a lie is.
While Adam was in the state of the Garden he did not know the
duality of truth and falsehood. When the Shaytān
made him experience the meaning of a lie, it was through this
event that consciousness rose. The fall of Adam was in one
sense, therefore, his rise. Had he not fallen, he would have
remained in a state of hapless and undiscriminating bliss,
similar to that of animals. But once he recognized the trap, he
was also shown freedom. As the children of Adam we come into
this life in order to gain this recognition experientially.
Though we often claim to act for Allah, we know that essentially
our obedience to Him is motivated by our own desires:
'if you do
good, you do good for your own souls; and if you do evil, it
shall be for them' (17:7).
The patient, the truthful, the humbly obedient, those who spend
and those who ask forgiveness before dawn.
is of two types, negative and positive. Being patient with evil
whilst one is able to overcome it is to misuse patience. Only
when it is impossible to take any action against evil should one
wait until the right time or else remove oneself from the
One should be
patient with one's aspirations and expectations. Past habits
cannot be changed in a few days just as bad posture which has
developed over a lifetime cannot be put right in a week.
Everything has its own time for healing and reaching fruition.
Allah has indicated this by the analogy that He created the
heavens and earth in six days (periods). Everything must follow
its course, once it has emerged from the uncreated state.
Once one has begun
to tread a positive path, patience is very important, because
the lower self regularly returns to trick us. Shaytān is
always present and in order to overcome him we must learn his
tricks. Sometimes he comes to us through our emotions, sometimes
through reason which encourages us to act wrongly. The secret of
being patient is to be impatient with the self, impatient with
our faults, our lack of awareness, our heedlessness, greed and
laziness. Where we must exercise particular patience is with
other people's faults, teaching them with compassion and
'Those who are
means those who are awakened to their original, naturally noble
disposition. Our origin is truth, which each one of us is
programmed to seek. When a person knows himself he is steadfast
in moments of weakness as well as in moments of strength. With
this in mind, one recognizes that gratefulness is especially
necessary in moments when life is difficult, when one is most
vulnerable and has no outward security. These are in fact the
best times. When those times have passed, one looks back upon
them as the foundation of one's inner strength. The truth is
that we have come from the unknown and we are returning to that
unknown; during this journey it is our duty to come to know. If
we always keep this in mind, if we admit to our ignorance and
face our weaknesses diligently, positively and joyfully, we will
overcome them. If instead we hide them, by blowing up the
balloon of the ego, death will eventually explode the myth we
have created. But if we are constantly able to deflate the
ego-self, then death will pose no fear, because, like the
transition from sleep to wakefulness, the transition of death
will be apparent. The soul simply leaves the body behind and
moves into a domain where neither time nor space exists.
from the verbal root of the word meaning
'those who are
It is as though by giving charity one is confirming the truth
that one owns nothing. When beggars in the East come to any
'Give us from
the wealth of Allah!',
they may sound rude and presumptuous, but what they ask for is
their due. Wealth belongs to Allah. Those who are entrusted with
it are given the great responsibility of using it properly to
help those to whom it has not been given. The beggar in his
demand asks how the householder dares to sleep while excess
surrounds him and how, when he dies, he will account for it.
Alms means giving in order to reflect the truth of Allah's
generosity, which is infinite.
are those who express their servitude to Allah. The act of
lifting the hands in supplication (qunūt) is an outer
manifestation of obedience to and humility before Allah. If a
person inwardly obeys the natural laws, accepts them and works
within them, not against them, his inner attitude will be
expressed outwardly in gratitude, submission and contentment.
wealth and energy on what matters, give what they cherish, not
what they no longer want. For example, a parent may take a
dreadful job in order to give his son a good education only to
find that after his graduation the boy runs away from home. The
son may have done so because the father did not spend of what
matters: compassion, understanding, love and attention, rather
than money or formal education. We often give what we think is
important, not what the situation requires.
'Those who ask
forgiveness before dawn.'
Ashār is the last part of the night before dawn,
when all is quiet and inner focusing is easy. But what is the
use of supplicating, praying and meditating at that time if,
during the rest of the day, we are in turmoil and confusion?
Before dawn all the outer elements are still. The time lends
itself to deep and subtle reflection. The Qur`an says,
prayer from the declining of the sun to the darkness of night
and the morning recitation; surely the morning recitation is
Allah bears witness that there is no god but He, as do the
angels and those who possess knowledge, maintaining justice.
There is no god but He, the Mighty, the Wise.
There is nothing
worthy of worship but Him. He is the unique Singular (Ahad).
He is not just the One (Wāhid), for one implies a
second and is the beginning of enumeration. Singularity precedes
this, being that Reality from which all manifestation and action
have come. Reality witnesses Itself, being Self-sustaining,
Self-supporting, Self-knowing and Self-hearing. Allah is the
witness to Himself. If we truly want to witness, then we must
stop witnessing anything other than Him, for anything other is
only a manifestation of Him. The angels witness that there is no
god but He because they have no option. They are the powers or
forces that participate in holding together the visible parts of
this cosmos. Those who have faith and search within themselves
come to know with certainty that the existence of anything other
than Allah is unacceptable, for it is untrue.
and those who possess knowledge'
establish justice (qist). Justice within creation
is based on a measure (qadr), as the Qur`an states:
we have created everything according to a measure' (54:49).
Justice implies that laws govern both what is visible and what
is invisible. Without these laws there would be chaos.
Surely the life-transaction with Allah is Islam. Those to whom
the Book had been given differed only after knowledge had come
to them, out of envy among themselves. And whoever disbelieves
in the revelations of Allah, then surely Allah is quick in
The message and the
knowledge that was revealed to all the prophets was the same: it
was a map of the path of submission and knowledge of Reality.
(dīn) is usually translated as 'religion'. The word is
related to 'dayn' which means 'debt'. The verb means 'to
take a loan, borrow, be obligated or humbled'. Thus the correct
is to honor the debt owed to the Creator. The life-transaction
that existed before the Qur`anic revelation was the same.
The people of the
revealed books, the Jews, Christians and others, did not differ
except in a cultural or historical way. Later many distorted and
transgressed the message given to them in the past. Love and
attachment to this world led them to interpret the message
according to their own fancies. All people are subject to this
corruption by taking from the original teaching what is
convenient for them to justify their actions or accuse others of
wrongdoing. Whatever man does repeatedly becomes attractive and
is justified to himself as he is a creature of habit. This is
one of the veils which separates the living from the knowledge
of the essence of life.
If we look for
faults, we will find faults, and if we look for perfection, we
will see perfection. If we use our inner sight we will find
perfection in every creation, whereas if we use the outer eye we
will find no end to fault in creation. The man of Allah is a man
of inner harmony and contentment and of outer struggle and
striving at the same time.
No one is
independent or separate from this world. The world is what we
have made of it, and we cannot escape our responsibility for it.
In a nuclear disaster we shall all suffer. Whoever exists as a
part of a society which has ruined its environment will suffer
that ruin along with everyone else. In the meantime, if one has
been diligent and has tried to do one's best, at least one is
more prepared for and accepting of what is to come.
The person who can
look at his actions and intentions and be willing to account for
them is indeed fortunate. The willingness to be exposed to one's
inner 'balance sheet' helps to bring about spontaneous
self-correction. If we are aware of our actions and know why we
do them at the moment of their performance, no account is kept;
nothing is hidden from moment to moment.
So if they dispute with you, say: I submit myself entirely to
Allah and so do those who follow me. And say to those who have
been given the Book and the unlearned people: Do you submit?
Then if they submit, they indeed follow the right way, and if
they turn away, then your obligation is only to deliver the
message. And Allah sees all mankind.
If on some pretext
or another a person is faced with an argument or dispute, he
could reply by saying that he has submitted to Allah and follows
His way. Either one accepts and understands or one does not.
Discussing Islam with an egotistic, ignorant person is like
discussing different colors with a blind man.
refers to the people of Mecca. They had no book or messenger who
had risen from among them. On the other hand the majority of the
people of Medina were people of the book, the Jews and
Christians of that time. The Prophet encouraged people to read
and write. 'Ali was the first to record what the Prophet said,
and the Companions wrote down and recorded the revelations of
Allah tells us in
this verse that if people embrace Islam they will realize that
it is the way to guidance; if they do not, then it is only
incumbent upon us to give them the news, to inform in a manner
best understood by the listener. It is the Muslim's duty to
share the good news; it may be rejected, but that is something
over which he has no control. The word used in this verse for
'delivery of the message'
(balāgh) implies deep, profound wisdom. Inherent
eloquence (balāghah) comes from the same root.
Those who disbelieve in the revelations of Allah and slay the
prophets unjustly, and slay those among mankind who enjoin
justice, announce to them a painful chastisement.
A prophet's task is
to bring the news. He himself has received the revelation and is
immersed in a state of knowledge of unity (tawhīd).
Those who deny the news because it is incongruous to them either
wish to kill the envoy – to destroy what he represents – or seek
to destroy his words. If a man has based his entire security on
material wealth and is then informed that he has lost it, he
would be inclined to disbelieve the news.
There is always a
polarization among people around men of knowledge. No prophet
ever lived who had the support of the majority of his community
early in his lifetime, nor has any master of the path to Allah
had an easy time of it. A common saying among people of unity is
that no spiritual guide is fully established in his station
unless hundreds of good men renounce him. What this means is
that there are many degrees of faith and understanding and
degrees of truth and submission. The real believer (mu`min)
trusts that whatever situation he is confronted with has been
sent by Allah for him to learn from. With this trust he is able
to move on positively without wasting time criticizing and
complaining, because he sees nothing other than Allah in all
things. If he finds fault with anything, it is with himself:
with his wrong judgment, his lack of wisdom, awareness and
diligence, and his heedlessness. He blames all of these faults
upon himself in order to improve himself.
They are among those whose actions are futile in this world and
the Hereafter. They shall have no helpers.
The news reaches
them from the outside that they are going to have trouble. Their
work and their actions are futile (habata)
and will thus be nullified. If a person does not follow the
direction of nature, his or her actions will have no
beneficially lasting result. Actions that are not undertaken
with the intention of leading one to submission – and to the
knowledge that arises from that submission – are worthless. If
we envisage one day as a complete cycle of life, at the end of
the day we should be content to die, all of our accounts being
clear. Such is the state of an awakened being, not of one whose
actions are futile.
Once a Bedouin came
to 'Alī ibn 'Abī Tālib and said, 'I accept everything
that you teach, and I accept your logic, but what if there is no
Hereafter? 'Alī said: 'If there is no Hereafter, then at least I
will have had the best life in the world, for I could not have
acted better in this life.' The Bedouin responded, 'That is good
enough', and embraced Islam.
Have you not seen those who are given a portion of the Book?
They are invited to the Book of Allah that it might decide
between them. Then a group of them turn away and they withdraw.
'A portion of
refers to incomplete messages. Before the advent of the Qur`an,
man had not reached the stage where he could be given all the
divine laws. The Qur`an itself was revealed in stages, and its
revelation was not completed until just a few months before the
death of the Prophet. When we apply the complete message we must
use reasoning, trust and submission, otherwise our inappropriate
approach might distort the meaning.
People who have
received part of a book or message, or have had some openings of
knowledge, are asked to read the whole book to come to the full
truth. The reason they do not is because the self finds logical
excuses not to. Some believe that their transgressions and
wrong-doings will always be forgiven, as happened to the people
of Moses. Though they were chastised for a prolonged period of
time for their transgressions they still returned to
There is a
traditional story about two men who entered a mosque. One of
them was a scholar, while the other was a known sinner. When
they came out of the mosque the sinner was on his way to the
Garden but the scholar was on his way to Hell. The reason for
this was that the scholar came before Allah arrogantly, with the
assumption that he was complete in his piety and knowledge,
while the sinner came in shame and humility to pray for
redemption, which was granted. The formal worship of the scholar
did nothing for him, because it was like any other routine act
during the day. The moral is that we cannot always judge a book
by its cover; we do not always know what the hidden truth is,
what is in the heart. Allah may well be forgiving, but we have
no guarantee how, when and to whom forgiveness may be given.
Many people commonly ask others to pray for them, but do they
pray for themselves? Have they first taken responsibility for
their own actions?
This is because they say: The Fire shall not touch us but for a
certain number of days; and what they have fabricated deceives
them in their life-transaction.
Destruction does not
come out of the blue. What happens when we forget the natural
and correct way is that we fall into deception (ghurūr)
and false relationships. Shaytān is always
there, ready to fill the gap of ignorance and forgetfulness.
Laxity, like a vacuum, tends to attract what will fill it, even
though the result may be undesirable. It is for this reason a
seeker is to avoid idleness at all costs: whatever one does, be
it resting, reading, eating, reciting, praying or sleeping, one
must do it with conscious awareness. Allah says elsewhere in the
'And when We
wish to destroy a town, We send Our commandment to the people
who lead luxurious [and frivolous] lives, and transgress
therein; thus the word proves true against it; so We destroy it
with utter destruction' (17:16).
Then how will it be when We shall gather them together on a day
about which there is no doubt, and every soul shall be fully
repaid for what it has earned. They shall not be dealt with
At the end of time
each action will be justly requited – the truth will be exposed.
The Qur`an says,
'You shall not
be rewarded except for what you did' (36:54).
There is no separation; we are our actions personified. For
example, our physical health is the result of our healthy or
unhealthy attitudes and actions. We prescribe our future life
through our intentions and actions in this life and the final
result will be tasted in the Hereafter.
not be dealt with unjustly':
there is injustice in this world, but it is the injustice of
man, not Allah's injustice. Allah has created the world in
perfect balance and with set boundaries. By keeping to those
boundaries we find justice. If we do not keep to them, however,
others will appear who will uphold them and will therefore
supersede us. In this way cultures and civilizations rise and
fall; and people will be shown their hypocrisy when others come
who are better than they.
Say: O Allah, Sovereign Master of the Kingdom! You grant the
kingdom to whom You please and take the kingdom away from whom
you please; You exalt whom You please and abase whom You please;
in Your hand is the good. Surely, You have power over all
Allah is the
Sovereign Master of all the created kingdoms (Mālik al-mulk).
Appropriate to this verse is the speech given by Zaynab, the
sister of Imam Husayn, at the court of Yazīd in Damascus
after the martyrdom of her family. The women who survived the
massacre were driven through the desert to his court. There she
addressed him: 'Do you imagine, O Yazīd, that because you have
taken this vast kingdom and have driven us like slaves, as
prisoners of war, that Allah desires evil for us and honor for
you? As a result of your victory your arrogance has increased.
You have become pleased with yourself and your affairs appear to
be smooth. You think now that you have usurped what is our due,
and that you are safe. But I am patient. Do you forget what
"And do not
think that to those who are in disbelief we give goodness, we
only give them this goodness so that they increase in their
criminality, and for them is great pain."'
martyrdom in Karbala was a great act of sacrifice, and of
defiance of a usurper of 'spiritual leadership' who within his
three-year reign had ransacked and destroyed Medina and Mecca.
All goodness and
blessing (khayr) come from Allah, and Allah's mercy
encompasses everyone. Thus, we must expect the best at all
times, as our inherent nature (fitrah) expects the
best for everybody else. After putting ourselves in other
people's shoes, we then become responsible for everything as
everything interconnects and relates. The Prophet Moses could
not escape all the afflictions which descended upon his people.
He was one of them and he shared their suffering.
You cause the night to pass into the day and the day to pass
into the night; You bring forth the living from the dead and You
bring forth the dead from the living; and You give sustenance to
whom You please without measure.
The night penetrates
into the day and the day penetrates into the night; goodness
penetrates into evil and evil into good. The secret and root of
everything lies in its opposite. If we want to appreciate good
health, we should both remember and avoid illness. If we want to
appreciate the wisdom of tranquility we should catch ourselves
at the moment of anger.
The living are
brought forth from the dead, and the dead form the living. There
is in reality only one source from which everything emanates,
but creation appears in pairs and opposites. Man has but one
conscience, but two options: right and wrong.
given sustenance to whom You please without measure.'
In its general sense, this means sustenance (rizq) from
the gross, outer world. But as soon as one has enough food,
shelter and clothing, one wants more. The highest sustenance,
however, is the knowledge of Allah, and the greatest deprivation
is denial, disbelief (kufr) and associating anything with
Allah (shirk). A true seeker has no objective but to be
in the pleasure of Allah. The more a man feeds his desires, the
greater they grow. He may imagine that satisfaction will come to
him through a given event or possession, but he will inevitably
find that this assumption is false. Occasionally, if he finds it
impossible to control himself, he should give in to the desire.
When he has had enough, he must take himself firmly in hand
again. Through this experience he will learn his own specific
habits, and with that knowledge become better equipped to keep
himself in check.
sustenance to whom You please without measure'
refers to outer and inner gifts, the highest of all being the
knowledge of Allah Himself. Those who do not deserve it are
those who do not have complete trust. They trust themselves
rather than their Creator. This knowledge is a great secret, an
open one, which takes great courage to obtain. Allah cannot be
touched, smelled, tasted, seen or heard in a physical sense. He
will be known in every way once our attention is directed only
towards Him. If a man asks how he can be sure of His existence,
he is obviously not ready for it. That certainly is the ultimate
gift, which requires the ultimate degree of surrender and
submission. When man moves one step towards Allah, Allah moves
ten steps towards him.
Let not the believers take the non-believers for friends rather
than believers; whoever does this shall have nothing from Allah.
But you should guard yourselves against them carefully. Allah
cautions you about Himself; and to Allah is the final
are different from those without faith, for they have attached
themselves to the ever-connecting factor in both this existence
and the next. The believer has no will of his own: whatever he
does is an aspect of submission and transition into the highest
realm of consciousness and inner state. The believer regards
this life as a prelude and preparation for the next. He
delegates all his needs and fears to his Creator, realizing that
any strength he has is derived from his Creator – he is the true
The non-believer (kāfir)
denies all this; he is dependent upon himself, and disconnected
from Allah's unifying forces. He does not see the one hand of
unity behind what appears to be duality and thus suffers from
the discordant conflict of opposites. It is impossible for the
believer and the non-believer, with such different outlooks and
inner states, to be connected in a deeply friendly manner. If
they are, then either the believer is not in a state of true
faith, or the unbeliever is not really in a state of denial.
should guard yourselves against them.'
Allah tells us to have caution by examining and concerning
ourselves with the overall circumstances. We have been given an
arena in which to act, but we are warned that if we detach
ourselves from those who believe, problems will arise. Allah
warns us thus: 'Man is a witness upon himself though he may give
excuses' (75:14-15) while Allah is the Witnesser of all that we
do. If we find ourselves in a compromising situation, we must
extricate ourselves from it urgently. This is particularly true
of those who are not strong in spirit. In situations where the
only course of action is to dissimulate one's faith, one must
know one's strength, for after a short time the weak person will
take on the color of the people with whom he associates.
'And to Allah
is the final destination.'
Every being returns to Allah together with their intentions and
their actions. We must therefore question ourselves at every
step, because Allah is questioning us. Each one of us is fully
responsible for the extent of our truthfulness or our
appeasement with the non-believers. If we spend time with people
other than the believers, we should recognize that in some way
we have compromised ourselves, and so must ask ourselves how
long we are going to continue doing so.
No truly Islamic
life can be established unless there is a community, and no
community can be established unless the people who constitute it
have achieved a certain level of commitment and knowledge. This
knowledge cannot come about unless people rally around the best
and most knowledgeable among them. Their loyalty can only be as
good as the strength of their faith (īmān), which in turn
is dependent upon the state of their hearts. There is no escape
from these conditions. If the believers are people who live this
life fearlessly and joyfully while preparing for the next, then
their actions have direction under the protective umbrella of
Thus the quality of
any community is shaped according to their knowledge and
leadership. Every community can potentially be as good as the
early community of the Prophet.
It must be
remembered that all life is a journey back to the Reality from
which we have come. Successful arrival leaves no leeway for
straying from the path. This verse is also about subtle
hypocrisy (nifāq): we must always ask ourselves why we do
the things we do. We are not obliged to judge other people's
actions, but we are responsible for our own. Hypocrisy is a very
subtle and corrupt vice which needs to be eschewed at all costs.
Constant awareness of our inner state is a permanent priority,
for death may occur at any time and what we carry with us into
the next life is our present inner state.