ON THE LAST SECTION QUR`AN
Chapter 81: Surat At-Takwir
The Folding Up
the name of Allah,
the Beneficent, the Merciful
This surah begins on a
"When the sun is
rolled up, when the stars shrink, and when the mountains are
it shifts to a human one:
"And when the
girl-child that was buried alive is asked for what sin she was
killed." Then it
focuses on the inner life:
"And when all the
secrets are opened."
It starts with the cosmos, returns to man, and then refers to the
open manifestation of all hidden things in order to expose us
inwardly and outwardly so that we find the unity in ourselves.
When the sun is folded up,
"to make into a
ball, to compress, to fold something upon itself, to roll up."
A kurah is a
Takwīr is the act of something collapsing upon itself in a
The knowledge that the
sun is explosive and expansive was obviously already present at the
time of the revelation of the ayah since this is a reference to the
reversal of this solar process, the end of the creational expansion.
As far as the sun is concerned, it is in constant explosion. The
same process occurs in a hydrogen bomb, that is, fusion or constant
self-explosion. When the self-exploding creation comes to an end,
the sun will completely collapse upon itself.
And when the stars
from the verbal root kadura, which means
"to be muddy,
cloudy, turbid, swarthy".
According to some sources, inkadara means to shoot or swoop
down. Man is expansive; he reflects in his own being the
expansiveness of the entire cosmos. The Qur`an is a manual of
existence; it is concerned with man's role and state in creation.
The Prophet Muhammad's own inner reality pulsated out in words,
salla-llāhu 'alayhi wa ālihi wa sallam, as a revelation
for all mankind. Therefore, if the Qur`an is not regarded as a
manual of existence, as something we can understand in our current
state -- or in any other state we may be in -- then we have not
unraveled it and made it useful to us. We must resonate the Qur`anic
reality in our day-to-day existence; we must take from it as much as
can be of use to us. At every stage of life, the Qur`an is able to
remove some of the tarnish which has covered the source of knowledge
in us. That source of knowledge is in us, and the purpose of the
Qur`an is to bring us into a state of awareness.
dislikes collapse, because he is a reflection of the expansion of
the cosmos. We are lovers of Allah's attributes, and Allah's
attribute in creation is expansion. None of us likes to lose; we
only like to succeed, and success nowadays means expansion.
Sometimes, however, success lies in contraction. Since man is always
dying, his success lies in shrinking away to nothing before he dies.
Life, his essence, continues so he should not be concerned with his
own personal death. The essence lasts forever; why, therefore,
should he be miserable? All that is needed is the right attitude.
This ayah refers to the
collapse of the stars. The implication here is that the stars are
all held together by the centrifugal, electromagnetic, gravitational
forces between them, making up one complete entity which is in a
state of expansion. When the expansion forces are interfered with --
which will occur because of the advent of a certain phase in the
process of the whole story of creation -- they will collapse.
Anything that is created must end in due time, whatever it may be.
This surah is a description of how this end will occur on a cosmic
scale, starting with the most expansive and general, then shrinking
to the scale of the individual.
We can also look at the
meaning of the ayah from the microcosmic point of view. As far as
the individual is concerned, the sun is his rūh
(spirit), and the najm (star) is his nafs (self). When
the sun, or the spirit, stops giving nourishment to the nafs,
or the self, which is the star, and when the star subsequently
shrinks or collapses upon itself, the self will submit because at
that time it will be darkened, that is, smothered and obliterated.
And when the
mountains are moved,
derived from sayyara, which means
"to set in motion,
start up, send out."
When the mountains begin to move, they will not do so with a single
jolt, but in a continuous movement. How will a mountain move in this
way, unless the turning and hurtling process of the earth in space
stops? Since we are hurtling through space at so many thousands of
miles an hour, when the end comes and the earth is seized and
brought to a sudden stop, the mountains will, of course, be wrenched
from their places and shattered. One only has to stop suddenly in a
car going 20 miles an hour to experience this process. This, then,
is a description of the end of our little drama on this tiny earth.
And when the
pregnant camels are abandoned,
Mountains moving and
animals left untended are unusual occurrences. They depict a picture
of opposites instantaneously combining. 'Ishār is a camel
that is ten months pregnant. For the desert Arab in those times, it
symbolized a most desirable possession. If camels are neglected with
nobody to care for them, it means the normal course of events that
usually holds desert life together is no longer in operation. The
verbal root of 'uttilat means
"to neglect, leave
without care, discontinue, stop."
that is, a break in one's normal routine. When the natural
creational processes are disrupted, there will be a total breakdown
in the life-process.
There are three phases
in the total life process: creation, maintenance, and destruction.
The maintenance phase is particularly characteristic of a woman's
inclination. Women usually want to achieve stability, whereas men's
roles are, generally speaking, more creative. A man builds the house
and starts up the home, and the woman maintains it, because she is
responsible for the process of continuation on this earth. Her role
is the key -- she is the center of the universe. The word for
"mother" in Arabic is umm, and also means "source, origin,
foundation, essence." Ummah means "community, nation,
people," the linguistic root of which is the same as that of umm.
The third phase in the
life process is that of destruction, an act of which man is quite
capable. The reference in this ayah is to the process of stopping.
What has been created will also come to an end and stop. In other
words, nothing more will occur at an initial creational level: there
will be no more pregnancies. When the world comes to its end, no
sane person will go to tend a camel!
And when the
wild beasts are herded together,
All wildlife will gather
close to each other. Hashara means
assemble, crowd (together)."
This again reflects the nature of creation. Everything is by nature
expansive. Even though all wildlife tend to move together in herds
and groups, they do not press too closely together; they maintain
their wildness, their expansiveness. On the day when all systems of
life come to an end, they will act in a way that is against their
nature, and out of fright they will not scatter but huddle together.
And when the
seas are set on fire,
Sajjara, the root
of sujjirat, means
overflow," and in
its first form sajara means
"to fire up, burn,
boil over." Often
when something ends, one gets a glimpse of what it was at its
inception. In other words, this ayah may mean that there will
actually be fires bursting out of the ground at the end of creation
just as there were when the earth was first created. The earth began
as a fireball which later cooled as the creational process unfolded.
The allusion to water
that is on fire may refer to volcanoes erupting from the seas,
setting the whole sea on fire or even to the flaming infernos at sea
caused by oil-carrying supertankers that have caught fire. Whatever
its exact meaning may be, the reference to the sea being set alight
implies that the ordinary is replaced by the extraordinary.
coolness and calmness, but here we are told that it is going to boil
over. Things that we take for granted as being different and
separate are joined to their opposites. All of these occurrences are
events which will take place when the on-going process of life
And when the
souls are united,
Nafs (self) here
could mean rūh (spirit). Zuwwijat (united)
comes from the root zawwaja, which means
"to pair, couple,
unite." The ayah
could mean that the soul will be united with what it gathered
together or with what it has known, or that the rūh
will be joined with that with which it appears to be united, that
is, the body. In the cosmos, pairing constantly takes place; the
opposites meet. Man is made up of two aspects: a bodily form which
is part of the entity of the so-called "I" and something
indiscernible which is called rūh (spirit or psyche).
We may reflect on the rūh's existence by asking,
"Where am I in deep sleep? Where am I when I dream?" We say, "I
walked up a steep mountainside while I was asleep," and yet, the
physical body did not move. In other words, the rūh is
another entity in man which has its own experiences. Perceiving this
unification of the two opposites, body and spirit, is one way of
looking at the meaning of the ayah.
Another way of looking
at it is that we are not in a state of unification because of the
diverse states arising from our nafs. Our various
expectations, desires, and needs must be fulfilled if we are to be
neutralized and to experience unity. That is why, in the most gross
way, man has to be rehabilitated by what is called "marriage."
Marriage is a means of fulfillment and it is not always something
wonderful; on the contrary, it is often miserable. Nevertheless, in
most cases it is positive, especially when both parties have respect
for each other, knowing that human beings have come into the world
alone and will go out of the world alone. If they help each other to
reach self-fulfillment during this sojourn, they will have achieved
Thus, there are two
possible ways of looking at this ayah. When one's nafs is
shattered, it is joined to its opposite. Everything in life exists
at the level of duality; there is good, and there is also evil.
Everything that can be imagined, touched, tasted or in any way
perceived, exists in one of two modes. All of us are searching for
the One, because we can never be satisfied by duality.
The implication of this
ayah is that duality will come to an end. In this life duality will
come to an end when man reaches a state of complete self-abandonment
and when nothing can fulfill him because he is already fulfilled.
This will also occur when man understands the true nature of reality
at the point of death. In reality there is only God, there has been
only God, and there will be only God. This knowledge comes through
inner, experiential realization; it is not necessary that it be
The Qur`an is concerned
with deep spirituality. It is concentrated and absolute; it is like
a spring whose source, when reached, is bitter. If a person wants to
reach its essence, he can only do so by being willing to abandon
everything -- and that means death. He has to be in fanā`
(annihilation). If not, he is still caught up in the affliction of
duality and the realm of wisdom that is only, at best, superficial
and existential. Many men of knowledge, therefore, often end up in a
little cave somewhere so as to lessen the effects of duality, and
truth-seekers must seek them there.
When a person arrives at
the Qur`an, he finds that it is vast. The essence of man, however,
is itself vast. Understanding depends on how forceful and honest one
is. The Qur`an says,
"Read what is easy
of the Qur`an" (73:20).
Read what? What does this mean? We read what is already written,
what is written in us. This statement is made only to sharpen us, to
unravel what is already in us.
In this ayah we read,
the souls are united,"
meaning when we are united with our opposite or when we are
neutralized. At the present moment we are not neutralized. We are
always craving something, constantly shifting from one aspect of
duality to another by changing our external circumstances. This
tendency, however, will ultimately be of no avail. We ourselves must
change and that is much more difficult than trying to change the
We live in duality, and
we seek to neutralize, but how do we neutralize? We neutralize our
nafs by remaining silent, genuinely and positively. In that
silence we have direct knowledge of the meaning of the Black Stone
which is set into the corner of the Ka'bah in Mecca.
Few Muslims know the
meaning of the Black Stone, even though they perform the rite of
circling it and kissing it during the Hajj
pilgrimage every year. Black contains all the colors -- it
symbolizes death, from which comes life. Life cannot be understood
unless one is willing to die. The meaning of jihād
(literally, utmost exertion, and by extension defensive war against
kufr) is not blood and misery; it is the willingness to stand
fearlessly for life, the life of the spirit. The Prophet, salla-llāhu
'alayhi wa ālihi wa sallam, did not desire war and the death it
brought. He used reason to avoid it. He was fearlessly rational,
because he used his 'aql (rationality, intellect), and he
departed from the polytheistic heritage of his family as a guide for
seekers of the right path to the one God.
Sayyidna Hasan, 'alayhi-s-salām,
when he abdicated the khilāfah (caliphate). Sayyidna Hasan
had thousands of troops, but he knew that they were unlikely to
withstand and persevere. Therefore he considered it unwise to lead
them into a war which they could not sustain, because they lacked
Disloyalty will often
come from those closest to a person. Man is born wanting to be one,
and basically everyone is dependent on the one and only Reality,
Allah. The saying "he bites the hand that feeds him" arose because
when a person perceives himself to be dependent upon another, he
will often strike out, "biting the hand" that provides for him, as a
means of asserting his independence. The reaction is also due,
however, to an inner recognition of our ultimate dependence only on
Ignorance comes about
when one is not being thankful to creation. It is in man's very
substance, because everything contains its opposite. The part of man
that wants to live also contains his own ultimate destruction. We
all will die and must see the beauty of perfection in this fact.
Although we may still echo love of the Bāqī (the
Everlasting), the perfection of man's life and death lies in the
knowledge that they are just a cycle from which awakening occurs.
We will know who we
truly are when we arrive at the state of true unification. That
understanding is why we are, in reality, all seeking tawhīd
(divine unity). There is only Oneness, only Allah, but to reach this
realization we must progress through stages. First comes the stage
in which a person believes in unity and is then able to say, "I am
beginning to understand!" As long as there is "I", however, we are
in shirk (associating other-than-Allah with Allah). When the
"I" drops away, we see nothing other than Allah, nothing other than
His attributes, and that is the ultimate peace from which action
emanates. This peace is dynamic, not static or dead, nor is there
any drama and affliction in it. The outsider may see affliction, but
the muwahhid (the unifier) sees no affliction; he sees
nothing other than love. At that point everything else will be
acceptable and will be seen as perfection. The outward existential
situation may not be desirable as the human being perceives it, but
it is perfection. It may not be desirable for us to take a bitter
medicine, but its perfection lies in returning us to a state of
health, tranquility, and balance. This stage, however, is very
subtle and should only be revealed in the most intimate company.
The meaning of this
ayah, then, is that man's essence is one, and there is only one
essence. He starts by shirk, by saying, "My essence is one",
and then "There is only essence, there is only Allah."
And when the
girl-child that was buried alive is asked
For what sin she was killed.
The Arabs at the time of
the Prophet, salla-llāhu
'alayhi wa ālihi wa sallam, had such arrogance and outer
pride that a woman was always frowned upon. They forgot that man
himself was the result of woman! They were afraid women would
dishonor them by being unchaste and dishonorable. In looking back at
that culture, we see that the ayah talks about the worst thing we
suffer from, fear of the unknown. Everything that drains away our
energy is fear of the unknown. All of our anxieties come to that one
point. If we can say tawakkaltu 'ala'llāh, "I depend on
Allah," and then recognize our condition of slavery in relation to
Reality, all our anxiety will stop.
Maw`udah is a
young girl or female baby that has been buried alive. Wa`ada
bury a girl-child alive."
In old Arabic wa`ada also means
"to emit the sound
of a wall crumbling down."
The sound of a wall collapsing suggests that the murder of a baby is
a very grave crime, and it implies that the world is coming to an
end: a life is being finished without letting it fulfill its
rightful destiny. In other words, at the end of time, the true
nature of everything will be revealed. The arwāh (the
spirits, plural of rūh), no longer exercise their
worldly right of emitting spiritual light as the sun and the stars
do or as the nafs, in its essence, does. The rūh,
that spark of inner light, is extinguished by man's crime, by his
fear, by his kufr, by his lack of trust in Allah and the
generosity of Reality. Now the soul is being asked, and is asking
itself, what crime it has committed. By doing so, it is announcing
that it committed no crime, that there was no reason for it to be
extinguished. It was man's kufr that caused this life to be
cut off. The buried girl-child questioning the reason for her death
is a mithāl (a metaphor) of there being no possibility in
this experience or the next to suppress something and forget about
it forever. We cannot silence something forever simply because it
cannot react in this world. Soon everything will be totally out in
the open. The spirit is being brought as a witness.
The Qur`an poses the
"What have you done to deserve being slaughtered?"
From the point of view of sharī'ah (revealed Islamic code of
conduct), the Arabs had no right to slaughter the girl-children. But
what could have been the motive behind it from the point of view of
haqīqah (truth)? That motive continues to be a source
of dispute even now, although it is covered up as much as possible.
According to sharī'ah, however, man is accountable for his
actions; he cannot escape them. If he kills someone wrongly, it is
final, no matter what the intention was.
Outwardly, we are
accountable to sharī'ah, and in this realm of existence,
sharī'ah prevails over haqīqah. What a number of
people or a consensus of society see -- provided they are not
hallucinating -- is what is considered to be true. If everyone
agrees on the identity of the killer, that judgment is considered to
be valid. As far as sharī'ah is concerned, the hukum
(the judgment) governs the action and the action must be considered
murder. The rest is between the killer and Allah. If he killed
someone one hundred percent fī sabīli` llāh (in the way of
Allah), then even if the people submit him to the sword, he should
be happy. He should say, "The sooner I free myself from these people
and go to meet my Lord, the better!"
In the next life
haqīqah will prevail sharī'ah; the
subtle will prevail over the gross. In this world, however, the
gross prevails over the subtle, and we start with the gross in order
to arrive at the subtle. We start by being correct, by applying sharī'ah,
by feeding and maintaining ourselves well. If we do not do that, we
are mad. If we say we do not care for the world, we are only trying
to escape our responsibilities. At the beginning of the journey, we
do care. We want to have sufficient clothing and a reasonable diet.
This attitude is a healthy one. If from the beginning we do not care
for physical needs, we indicate that we cannot attain them, that we
have no understanding of them, or that we do not see their use. In
having this attitude, we are actually denying Allah's creation. How
can we, therefore, understand the meaning of inner kufr
(covering up) if we are in outer kufr from the beginning?
And when the
pages are laid open,
is the plural of sahī'fah, which means
"a scroll, a
that can be made flat and upon which something is written. It also
because it is flat. Mashaf also means "Qur`an." These
pages refer to pages of news or to the pages of a man's heart in
which his intentions are laid open.
There is no point in
hiding our intentions. The more we hide them, the more we will
eventually have to remove them in order to be able to release
ourselves. We use such things as drinks, drugs, and other stimulants
in order to give ourselves relief. Human nature is concerned with
relief; life is nothing but seeking relief and freedom.
Our basic human
attribute is inner freedom. Inner freedom can be reached through
outer discipline, but outer discipline has to be lived willingly; it
cannot be forced. For this reason, Muslims insist on being around
people of the right orientation, on having proper companionship. All
seekers seek each other, and people who want to know truth collect
together. If a man keeps the company of thieves for forty days, even
if he is decent and honest, he will end up by being affected by them
because he does not want to be in isolation. Insān, the word
derives from the verb anisa,
companionable, friendly, to like to be together."
Uns, from the same root, means
wants to connect; he is a muwahhid (a unifier), and he
wants to be in tawhīd whether he realizes it or
In reality there is
neither inward nor outward, only Allah manifesting Himself as inward
and as outward. At the moment, we are in confusion because we are in
duality and see things only from that perspective. Sayyidna 'Ali,
"The best of
affairs are in the middle."
The best place to be is in the middle. Most people cannot survive at
the extremes. The Muslim must combine sharī'ah and
haqīqah; we cannot have one without the other. In
most of the Muslim world, we are at a loss and are struggling
because we are not combining the inward and outward in our daily
lives. We talk about islām, but we do not live it, and for
this reason our youth are at a loss and reject traditional values.
We have to be in the middle. In the middle both ends of the horizon
are in view and so we are strong.
A vast amount of sharī'ah
haqīqah is like a giant ship heavily laden with
goods but with no sail to catch the wind; it sways and flounders in
the sea. Sharī'ah exists for making distinctions, for
differentiation. The business of sharī'ah is to
differentiate among things and let us choose correctly between the
alternatives that life presents to us so that we can knowledgeably
state what is right and wrong. The distinction must be clear. The
nature of sharī'ah is divisive because it is about
hukum, which means both justice and wisdom. Justice means
that one kind of action is correct while another kind of action is
incorrect. From the point of view of
haqīqah, everything is always in harmonious
perfection because everything naturally generates its opposite. If
one is balanced in the middle, he has both extremes at his command.
In the same way, inner
reality (haqīqah) without outer Law (Sharī'ah)
is like a ship with a huge sail but with no goods in it. It will
capsize. If a Muslim says, "I am only concerned with the inward," he
is lying. The true Muslim is the man who is in the middle, who is an
interspace (barzakh), an intermediary link simultaneously
combining both the outward and the inward.
And when the heaven has its covering removed,
"to remove, take
of -- a cover".
The implication is that everything manifested is only an outer
covering. From our point of view, the whole creation was created for
us; otherwise, it would have no significance. What is of
significance is man. Man's existence is only meaningful, however, if
he keeps to his purpose, which is to know the cause of his
existence. The purpose is to gain knowledge of Allah. The entire
creation came by Allah in order for man to know Allah. The
apparent heavens which are in constant explosion and expansion are,
from the point of view of the Creator, mere fantasies: all the
billions of galaxies do not amount to even a grain of sand by His
reckoning. When the heaven has its covering removed, or is skinned,
we will then see its insignificance. The most significant thing, the
sky, is described in the most belittling way to show us the
independent wealth of Allah. The heavens are only a skin, a facade,
a show, which will eventually be stripped away.
And when the fires of hell are lighted,
Everything in existence
was originally created from one dense mass and greatly expanded by
burning, after which all the stars and planets and all of creation
burst forth over a period of billions of years. That dense beginning
is the equivalent of absolute power or qudrah. It cannot
really be called density because it is beyond density and because
one might imagine that Allah Himself was dense; may Allah preserve
us from that view. It is a point of power, total and absolute, not
related in any way to anything else.
This ayah describes a
new situation which is inaccessible to our conscious understanding
because conscious understanding cannot comprehend Absolute Power.
Great power is understandable, but not Absolute power. There is an
intermediary link, a barzakh, between absolute and very high
power. Absolute zero temperature cannot be achieved because all the
laws of thermodynamics would be disturbed, but one can get very
close to it, and from that limited point on one can have a
subjective understanding or experience of it.
Similarly, one can get
only so close to the knowledge of Reality, beyond which it is:
diligence or striving -- a gift from the Generous, the Compassionate
Giver to the slaves"
(From the Fayturiyyah of
Shaykh Muhammad al-Fayturi). One
can only go so close to this knowledge, and passing beyond that
point is not a matter of human endeavor.
This same experience is
reproducible by those who follow in the footsteps of a perfect man
and who imitate him as much as they are outwardly able to. This
proximity can also be attained by those who take on the
responsibility of being sālihūn (those who set
things right by their example), who put themselves in the shoes of
the sālihūn, and who bring about islāh
(establishment of peace, happiness and order). They take themselves
as far as they can toward that point by living as though they were
in the constant companionship of the Prophet, sallā-llāhu
'alayhi wa ālihi wa sallam. They are in the maqām al-ihsān
(the station of excellence). They live in the knowledge that they
are constantly watched: they do not see Allah, but they know that
Allah sees them.
Attaining such a state
is the most one can achieve through his own effort. States beyond
this are "a gift from the Generous, Compassionate" and come either
in this life or at the moment of death. We can and must do our best:
there is nothing more we can do. After that we will become like open
conduits, and we will be in harmony with the true meaning of
islām, the inner meaning of submission. We will be completely
and utterly enacting our destiny; there will be no more resistance
between ourselves and the decree. As far as it is humanly possible,
we must be in a state of perfect submission because that state is
the only one in which we can have an experience of the one and only
Perfect One. If we are not in that state of perfect inner
abandonment, anything else we speak will be mere religiosity.
And when the Garden is brought near,
Those who love the
ākhirah (the next world) already have the key to jannah
(the Garden) in their heart. Those who love Allah love the
ākhirah, because there will be nothing there but the truth for
them. In fact, jannah is available to us now. The Qur`an is
clear about this; it does not say that it will only happen later,
after death, because it describes the people of jannah as
those who say,
"We remember all
this! It is similar to that which we have already experienced!"
Thus, we have access to that condition here and now by avoiding what
brings us to the opposite state. This way is the only one; there is
We have all experienced
trouble; we all know what it is and how it comes about -- by fears,
expectations, lusts, and so on. But if we are aware of it
spontaneously, then we will no longer be troubled. At that point of
recognition we will be at the edge of jannah, and the key to
the Garden will become more and more clearly shaped in our hearts
until our hearts are pure; and since the pure heart will be with the
Maker of the Garden, it will be beyond jannah itself.
Jannah will no longer interest us since we will be with its
Maker, with our Maker, Allah.
Our heritage, which we
are all seeking, is the Garden. We all love the Garden, the state
that the Garden gives us, tranquility, fullness, abundance,
protection, security, and enjoyment of all the good things of life.
A visible, physical garden on this earth helps us to enter into that
mood of contentment, generosity, and helpfulness. The Garden of
bliss is our real and natural heritage and is to be found by
following our hearts. We must be honest about it and recognize that
it is there. There is nothing closer to us than truth, and our
essence is truth. In our essence is the lover of the Garden, of
tranquility and peace. Our essence is neither life nor death: it is
that from which both have come, the Creator. This is the bishārah
(the good news).
"And when the
Garden is brought near"
refers to the beginning of self-abandonment. In fact, there is
nothing other than the Garden. The Qur`an says that the Garden's
width is the expanse of the heavens and the earth, so why are we in
misery here? Obviously we are miserable because we are not receptive
to the station of self-abandonment. We can receive only that to
which we are receptive. When we become receptive to the Ever-Living
Eternal, nothing else will exist for us, and we will live fully from
moment to moment. When the end of time draws near, we will find it
easier to experience full self-abandonment.
Every self will know what it has brought with it.
In our lifetime we may
not see this, but our individual ends will come, and as far as we
are concerned, our end is the end of the cosmos. We do not care if
there are more or less stars up above. The rational man understands
that he sees creation according to his interpretation: he is its
center. From a rational point of view, he also knows that his end
does not mean the end of the total cosmos. It is quite probable that
at our individual death other people will continue their experience
of life, and it will not be the end of the outer cosmos, but it will
be the end of our cosmos, the end of what we experience.
When we remember that
the end may come at any minute and we remember that we are suspended
in air (one word related to nafs is nafas, meaning
breath), we become more human. The Prophet, sallallāhu 'alayhi
wa ālihi wa sallam, said,
asleep, and when they die they wake up."
True seekers want to die while being awake -- they want to enter a
state of total silence. All the practices of the men of Allah from
time immemorial lead man, the seeker, to inner death while still
alive. If, while we are conscious, aware, and scintillating with
life, we can enter a state of self-abandonment, then we will
understand what inner death is. If we cannot reach this state, then
we will remain in the turmoil of sa'y, that is, running
between Safa and Marwah in Mecca, or moving ceaselessly around and
around. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with that because we
are made that way; man is born in kabad (trouble, misery). If
he recognizes his reality, then that kabad becomes like a
game, and the trouble becomes most useful. The word kabd,
from the same root, means
man's most important organ because it is the purifier of his blood.
The liver checks any potential trouble the body may experience from
a build-up of toxins.
When any sort of event
befalls one, a person should say, "al-hamdu li'llāh." Such a
person is already in the Garden: he is laughing as does a man of
knowledge. Man is only qualified to laugh after he has wept; he is
only qualified to live after he has died. Before he was born, he was
dead, and the so-called "I" had no life. Man came from death; thus,
in order to know his essence, he has to die inwardly, and he has to
be in silence.
Recently, studies have
been made of people who have died and were immediately resuscitated.
At the point of death, they reported experiencing a rapid review of
their entire lives. Everything they had ever done instantly appeared
before them. Upon entering death, we take with us what this entity
called nafs has earned in this life. Everything is as good as
it ends, which is why the Qur`an always talks about the ākhirah.
It is for this reason that we want to educate our youngsters to do
things which will have a positive effect in the ākhirah. In a
material sense, we like them to invest in something which has a good
return. In relationships, we advise them to keep the companionship
of people who are good to them and to whom they also are good. In
other words, they should invest in something worthwhile.
We all long for the end
because we want a better life at the end, and for this better life
we are willing to put up with inconveniences now. The Qur`an says
that every self knows what it brings with it into death because we
ourselves know that what we are taking with us is in our hearts and
our psyches. Even now we are preparing ourselves for the end.
It is only when the
experience of death occurs to the nafs that
"every self will
know what it has brought with it."
If the sun, the "I," is extinguished, and we are brought to a state
of extinction which is what fanā` (annihilation) is, then we
will know our nothingness. We will know that whatever we did was out
of ignorance, and that, at best, we could have behaved as decent,
conscientious human beings. We are only qualified to act if we have
surrendered the power to act, if the sun in us has collapsed
But no! I swear by the stars
That run their course and hide themselves.
The surah now moves into
another phase. Uqsimu means, "I
swear by (something)."
Lā here is actually a negative article which emphasizes and
positively affirms what follows it. Here what is affirmed is the
evidence of khunnas (stars in general). Qur`anic scholars
also take khunnas to refer to the five planets that are
closest to earth. Jawār is the plural of jāriyah,
Ark," and in
older usage, "running
verbal root is jarā, which means "to
flow, run, happen,"
and here signifies the stars that run their course.
is a name that is given to the stars, especially to those planets
which occasionally hide themselves in the sun's rays, because they
are close to it. The verbal root of kunnas is kanasa "to
lie hiding in wait."
The relationship between khunnas and kunnas comes
about because all the planets have a retrograde as well as a direct
motion. The implication here is that these stars or planets are
hidden in darkness. The planets closest to us are not visible most
of the time, but they are there nonetheless. This ayah is indirectly
telling us to be open-minded and a little more imaginative, since,
as we see these planets some of the time, we know that they are
there at other times when we cannot see them. They are then in the
ghayb (the unseen). The ayah is saying, "see how these five
planets are not visible most of the time, even though they are your
And the night when it darkens.
And the morning when it breathes --
Then, when the night
comes, with its utter darkness and silence, we do not see anything.
Night implies silence and incubation, darkness and hibernation. Then
"And when the morning breathes,"
because after hibernation we start "taking in," and as we do this we
inhale. The reference here is to those cycles which go from quiet
stillness to life and movement. The juxtaposition of these two āyat
shows the duality of existence: one state being inertia, the other
We can also draw a
parallel with the earlier reference to the sun and the stars to
arrive at the inner meaning of the ayah which states,
"But no! I swear
by the stars."
This refers to those aspects in us, those stars in us, which
suddenly appear after being hidden. The luster in us, the
generosity, the compassion, and selflessness in us which were not
obvious before, suddenly appear, like stars burning with the same
fire as that of the sun, which is the equivalent of our rūh.
The night is like a state of darkness that often overcomes us, and
the day is like the time when we are bright and cheerful. The
macrocosm, which is evident in the Qur`an, is reflected in the
microcosm, which is our selves.
Surely it is the word of a noble messenger --
The possessor of strength, established in the presence of the
Lord of the Throne,
One (to be) obeyed, and trustworthy.
The reference here is to
the words of the noble Messenger, a man of power whose power was
from the Possessor of power, He Who in His almightiness is firmly
ensconced on the 'arsh (throne, foundation, support). The
Prophet, salla-llāhu 'alayhi wa ālihi wa sallam, was,
however, not obeyed then, and we may ask if he is obeyed even now.
What this ayah means is that what he says is the absolute truth. He
is obeyed by truth, by reality itself. He is united with destiny,
with the absolute Decree. He is obeyed by the orchestration of all
existence. If we are not in harmony with this orchestra and only
listen to our own inner cacophony, we are disobedient.
At the time when these
surats came, the Prophet had only a few followers. The Qur`an says,
multitude of those of old and a few of those of later times"
Qur`an always speaks about the few. It speaks about quality not
quantity. This is a natural law. From a sharī'ah point of
view, from the creational point of view, this is the truth.
And your companion is not mad.
is not veiled, he is not talking obscurely."
As the Qur`an says,
"it is nothing but
a reminder and a clear reading-out" (36:69).
There are no aspects of his intellect which are hidden. Majnūn
(from janna, to cover, veil, hide) in Arabic means "madman,"
but the reason it mean "madman" is because it refers to someone
whose intellect is hidden, whose discriminative quality is not
evolved but is covered and shaded over and does not express itself
outwardly in the form of 'aql (rationality, intellect). The
ayah means that he is not hiding things, he is not uncertain. He
does not say one thing and mean something else; he is not unclear.
This ayah assures us
that this Prophet is not mad. We need this reassurance because we
have invested in our own system of understanding and when someone
tells us that we do not own anything, that we are nothing, that we
have come from nowhere and will return to it again, and that we must
give up everything, we naturally want to declare this person insane.
And certainly, he saw him on the clear horizon.
And he is not avid for the Unseen,
Nor is it the word of Shaytan, the accursed outcast.
So where then are you going?
An outer meaning of the
twenty-third ayah is that it refers to the Prophet's having seen the
angel Jibra'il on Mt. Hira, peace be upon them both. The Prophet saw
the truth, saw the message as it came to him, and saw the truth on
the horizon, which comes to man from a distance, from the other side
of his heart, as is described in Surat Ya Sin.
"And there came,
from the farthest part of the city, a man (i.e., prophet) running"
(36:20). This is
because if truth had been near, it could have also been clear from
the beginning. The implication is that when the message comes, it
must come from far away. The mercy of Reality showed Jibra'il to the
Prophet in a visible form so that he would not be confused about
"inner voices" and "inner visions," which could lead to excesses and
abstractions. The Prophet, salla-llāhu 'alayhi wa ālihi wa sallam,
always had a direct, outer sign, in the form of a man, Jibra'il, who
appeared to him, because he was in a state of tawhī'd.
The word shaytān is from the verb shatana,
"to be obstinate,
perverse, to be cast off a path, to be distanced."
driven away with stones,"
Then the surah continues,
"where are you
from the womb, going to the tomb, we are caught in this interval. We
are simply a vibrating thread between that beginning and that end;
there is nowhere to go.
This is the meaning of
surrender, of islām. It means to surrender to this reality
which is in our hearts. We can only do our best, be available every
minute, every second, willing to put our faces in the dust from
which we have come and to which we return.
If we reach that state,
we will be closer to hearing the joy of the song of the Qur`an, and
all of it will be clear to us. We can touch it, however, only if we
are pure, which means pure of heart, and have no expectations, Our
suffering and misery are the result of our own
expectations. We believe certain things will happen, and when they
do not, we suffer and blame other people. Nobody is to be blamed but
ourselves for having had those expectations in the first place. If
we come with no expectations, then the whole drama of existence is a
beautiful piece of theatre. We enjoy it, do our best, play our part.
We cannot experience it in this way except by being pure, so we must
start purifying ourselves from the outside-in, the outside being the
easier point from which to begin.
This is nothing but a reminder to all the worlds --
To whomever of you wants to go straight.
The root of its verbal form is qāma and means
"to stand fast or
important words are derived from this root. Al-qiyāmah, which
from the same root. AI-qā'im, literally,
upright, certain to come,"
is an epithet of the Mahdi, Imam az-Zaman, 'alayhi-s-salām.
It means that he is forever present. Qum, also from the same
"stand up, be
ready" and is the
name of what is now a famous city in Iran. The words related to
qāma imply stability, and if one is stable, one is alert.
Alertness does not come when our heads are heavy, dull, and low, but
rather when we stand up straight and our heads are held high. If our
heads are drooping low, our thoughts will not flow well. It is for
this reason that when we do dhikr (remembrance -- here,
actual practice thereof in which the Divine Names are invoked) our
backs have to be straight and our heads must be held in their
And you do not will except what Allah wills, the Lord of all the
Man cannot wish for
anything other than what has been wished for by the Creator. The
Creator's law is that man has a choice:
"Surely we have
shown him the way; he may be thankful or unthankful" (76:3).
If man is in shukr (gratitude) he is content and happy, and
if he is happy he is efficient and alive, available, drunk with
light. This, then, is the worship of free men who are as near as
possible to being absolute, free by being absolute slaves. We cannot
have one without the other. The root of freedom lies in servitude.
But whoever is in a
state of kufr (covering up, denial, ingratitude) covers up
and makes excuses for not taking action now. He does not realize
that every second is auspicious and every breath a blessing. If we
regard each breath as the final one, then all our debts will be
settled, we will behave correctly, we will not disbelieve, and we
will be generous. We will give only joy to others. If we have no
expectations, we will not talk to people who do not want to listen.
We will be like the bird who just sings for the sake of its song.
The free bird has no expectations; it sings whether one feeds it or
not. That is its nature, its mission; that is its reality.
Rabb is that
entity which brings every system to its full potential. Rabb
Creator, the Lord, the Sustainer."
He gives a being what is due to it in order to cause its growth and
full blossoming. When we pray, we surrender to that entity, to that
power or force which brings everyone to his full potential, and that
full potential is jiwār ar-Rabb (closeness to the Lord).
Allah says in the
are nearer to him than his jugular vein" (50:16).
Where are we then? Are we in jiwār (closeness), or have we
separated ourselves from Him? Allah is omnipresent; there is nothing
other than Allah. Since this is true, why are we not encompassed and
taken over by that Reality? The answer is that we have identified
ourselves with this so-called "I." The Qur`an is here only to remind
us that this so-called "I" has only come in order to die and that we
should give it up quickly and enter into the enjoyment of lordship.
Through tasbī'h (glorification of God), man enters
into that which encompasses all, and this tanzī'h (worship
having no association with a created or anthropomorphic thing) is
something which is pure beyond imagination, totally untarnished. Man
must bring himself to that state and be sustained therein, and that
is the meaning of closeness. One must live outwardly to his utmost
according to the sharī''ah, and be true to his word, because
every second counts. In this way, he will reach haqī'qah.
End of the Surah