In section Araf (cognizant), we last studied on how we should not hide behind our self-claimed identities such as “I am a Muslim and I believe in the prophet Muhammad (pbuh). Since I am a member of his community, he (pbuh) will intercede for me and I will be saved.” We discussed that we have to live according to our claims by following the teachings of prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and holding onto our responsibilities in our practical living. It is only by practicing our belief that we can be saved. Let’s continue on the same theme by looking into the following verse:
وَٱلَّذِينَ يُمَسِّكُونَ بِٱلْكِتَـٰبِ وَأَقَامُوا۟ ٱلصَّلَوٰةَ إِنَّا لَا نُضِيعُ أَجْرَ ٱلْمُصْلِحِينَ
7:170 “As for those who hold fast to the Book and are constant in prayer. We will not fail to reward those who do what is right.”
One can claim anything in order to have an identity. Everyone seeks an identity; no one wants to live a meaningless life and thus associates with a group sharing the same identity formed around a certain understanding. We are created as human beings to live in a community where our Creator has put a need within us to have a community life (Refer to the Qur’an, 49: 13).
The verse is mentioning that if I hold on to a claim by identifying myself with a religion then I must “hold on fast to the Book”. The book (kitab) has many meanings such as the book of principles and rules not necessarily referring to only the practical rituals such as permissions and prohibitions. In most of the places in the Quran and in this context, it has a meaning with respect to the main teachings of the book which is the belief system. It addresses the human questions: How do we understand our existence and that of the universe? This verse is indicating that we should hold on to the teachings of the book that gives meaning to our existence. If the meaning makes sense, I should confirm it and live by it, i.e. act on those teachings. Claims would just be baseless claims when not acted upon; they don’t bring any benefit to our lives.
The phrase “وَأَقَامُوا۟ ٱلصَّلَوٰةَ” is translated as “constant in prayer”. By the time that this verse was revealed, the regular ritual prayers were established in the community around the approximate 7th-8th year of the prophetic mission. The prophet (pbuh) was practicing some sort of prayer around Kaba without paying attention to the idols there, not on a regular basis though and the people were becoming familiar with it. With time, the practice matured into the five times daily prayers. During that time, the elementary ingredients of prayer were introduced to the believing community.
The word “salah” as prayer has many meanings related to connecting ourselves with our Creator. It can be asking God to provide something for us to satisfy our needs. In prayer we devote ourselves to an intimate connection with our Creator, indulging ourselves in a very serious relationship with Him. The original word of “salah” has the connotation of roasting meat by putting it on fire. The connection with my creator in prayer is not “put on fire” but it must be a very tight connection, an important one where I have to be careful not to lose my connection with my Creator. I should know when I am praying that I am doing something important and must be careful to not lose my connection with God. We may not have that concentration but it should not disappoint us to give up on our prayers. At least we have to bear this in mind that the act of performing “salah” fundamentally means declaring my reality that I am created and have a Creator who is the Lord of the universe (Rabbul Alameen). I am just presenting my conclusions to my Lord by observing what the reality of my being together with this universe is. While performing prayers, I should concentrate on my being; I cannot imagine God being in front of me. Within the reality of acknowledging my createdness, I am acknowledging the Creator.
When I am physically bowing in prayer, I declare “subhana rabbiy al azeem”. I exalt and declare the perfect qualities of my Creator who is an Awesome being. I concentrate on His greatness (azamat) in my bowing. I cannot comprehend the capacity of my Creator but by expressing my insignificance compared to His greatness I understand that He is beyond anything I imagine.
While prostrating I am declaring “subhana rabbiy al ala”, that I have no superiority, no high position than just being a needy created being. I acknowledge my Lord’s Highness beyond the limitations of this created world.
First, we have to hold fast to the content of the book, realizing what my Lord is teaching. I reason to see that the teachings make sense for me to follow them. Not only that I believe in God’s book but I should practice it as well. Second, I should be constant in prayer as is mentioned above. When we do this, our good actions will not be wasted. The phrase “إِنَّا لَا نُضِيعُ أَجْرَ ٱلْمُصْلِحِينَ” is translated as “We will not fail to reward those who do what is right”. In this world, God will respond back to our realization of His Supremacy, His Lordship, His Ownership of the universe. I am rewarded by feeling secure in my existence; I am satisfied that I have a purpose in my creation. I have a Lord, an Owner with Infinite Power, who owns the whole universe which is at His disposal. I wouldn’t despair that my Owner would send me to non-existence on giving death. This understanding is the most satisfactory reward in one’s life.
The temporary things that we gain in this world are passing, we know that every day is going and we cannot get it back. There is no permanence in this world. Human beings cannot be satisfied with transient things that slip away but need eternal satisfaction. The reward in this world is the peace and serenity in our existence which is obtained by acknowledging our Creator, confirming His book, obeying Him, by keeping contact with Him. In the hereafter the reward would be according to the capacity of the Creator, an Absolute, Infinite being. He will reward our good deeds, our appreciation of His qualities, our being thankful for whatever we are receiving from His grace as we are benefitting from this universe. When I appreciate His mercy, God says that “I will give you more according to the capacity of the expectations of your feelings”. My feelings want perfect satisfaction which only an Absolute being can satisfy; matter cannot satisfy them. Accordingly, I would be rewarded at the end of my life in this world. I may be given death at any time but my Creator never dies as He is the creator of death.
Those who deny the creator of the universe cannot expect any reward, their reward would be lack of satisfaction. They did not recognize the Creator of the universe while living, they did not connect with Him by benefitting from the grace received in this world. If one denies the existence of God then God says that “I will treat this person according to his understanding”. Their reward will be a lack of satisfaction in their existence. May Allah protect us from falling into this category.
وَإِذْ نَتَقْنَا ٱلْجَبَلَ فَوْقَهُمْ كَأَنَّهُۥ ظُلَّةٌۭ وَظَنُّوٓا۟ أَنَّهُۥ وَاقِعٌۢ بِهِمْ خُذُوا۟ مَآ ءَاتَيْنَـٰكُم بِقُوَّةٍۢ وَٱذْكُرُوا۟ مَا فِيهِ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَتَّقُونَ
7:171 And [remember] when We raised the mountain over them as if it were a cloud and they thought it would fall on them. [We said,] “Hold firmly to that [Scripture] which We have given you and observe its teachings so perhaps you will become mindful [of God].”
This verse has been challenging to commentators of the Quran where some scholars commented on this event being a miracle that happened in history where a mountain was risen. This might have happened in the past but why does God mention this to me, what does it have to do with me now?
The latter part of the verse mentions to hold on to the Scripture firmly as we discussed above. It further elaborates to observe the teachings of the Scripture that is coming from the Lord of the universe. Observe its teachings, i.e. pay attention to them, practice them. In a way, the verse is speaking to those who are aware of revelation from God and of the prophets employed by God. The verse is reminding me to keep remembering what the Scripture is telling me, observe its teachings by applying it into my life, i.e. practicing the teachings as well. The scholars agree that the phrase “خُذُوا۟ مَآ ءَاتَيْنَـٰكُم بِقُوَّةٍۢ” translated as “hold firmly to that [Scripture]” refers to God’s revelation, i.e. to what has been given as guidance. Every community is given guidance. For example, the children of Israel are given the Torah, later on reinforced by the teachings of prophet Jesus. For this time, it is the Quran and its teachings.
Let’s looks at the phase “وَإِذْ نَتَقْنَا ٱلْجَبَلَ فَوْقَهُمْ كَأَنَّهُۥ ظُلَّةٌۭ” translated as “and [remember] when We raised the mountain over them as if it were a cloud”. First let’s try to understand the mountain (ٱلْجَبَلَ). Most of the classical commentators mention a miracle where a mountain was raised. It makes sense where the one who creates the mountain can raise it up. It might have happened in the past but why does God mention this to me now? I don’t see any mountain raised over me. What could it mean? The verse also likens the mountain to a cloud which makes me question even further. Soon after mentioning this, the verse continues with “hold on to the Scripture” meaning “observe its teachings” to become mindful of God. This mountain and cloud must have something to do with the teachings of the Quran for me now.
I can understand that the “mountain” is the message of my Creator all over me. It means that I have to understand the reality of creation under the description of the teachings of this mountain, the Scripture, like heavy responsibility on me and I have to observe its teachings. If I don’t observe the teachings of the Scripture then it becomes a mountain that burdens me. If I do observe then it becomes a cloud that brings rain, the mercy of God on me. By not observing the teachings of the Scripture, I will feel the responsibility over me because my conscience acknowledges the reality, truthfulness of the teachings that this world has an owner, sustainer, administrator, creator. I cannot take it freely as if the universe is coming randomly, reducing its value to a lump of matter.
I have been given feelings and the universe also has its spiritual angelic side (malakut) that brings the news of the qualities of their Creator through the way that they are created . The same goes with the message of the Quran where if I don’t benefit from the meaning it carries, it becomes a collection of paper. Without getting the meaning, I am carrying paper which becomes a burden on me. If I do not confirm its teachings everything turns in my mind into just a lump of matter and it becomes a burden to carry this material body for me. If I realize and study the Creator’s guidance and benefit from it, I become enlightened, and I become aware of the teachings. I get the meaning of my life from its teachings where I will feel secure in my existence. To feel secure in one’s existence, one has to see the meaning in his existence.
I may play the role of a happy man and smile at people, saying “good morning”, “I am good” but deep down I may be suffering from a meaningless understanding of life. Just to compensate for that burden of meaninglessness, I may act with an artificial smile. I realize that everything I have is slipping away, I am aging, and there is nothing to hold on to anything in this world. Nothing wrong with greeting “good morning”, but my feelings need eternal satisfaction. I need to search for the source of eternal satisfaction and not replace it with some artificial source of satisfaction from this world. Temporary, superficial satisfaction is something I just make up which cannot provide eternal satisfaction. Why do I live in this world if the end result is zero? Why do I bear with it? Who put me in this position, gave me the consciousness to look for eternal satisfaction? If I understood that the Scripture is a guidance for me. It provides meaning and purpose to my life to satisfy my feelings which are craving for satisfaction. The revelation teaches me those feelings are given to me by my Creator and only He can provide the satisfaction they seek. Otherwise, I would be carrying a mountain of burden in my life.
This mountain (jabal) as we discussed has to do with revelation and according to my observation if I disregard the teachings, it will become a heavy mountain or if I pay heed to the teachings, the mountain will become a cloud that will shower with God’s mercy to flourish my feelings. My feelings are thirsty for the eternal source of satisfaction just like a seed is thirsty for the water to flourish into a tree.
The mountain represents many things in the Quran:
- The place of manifestation of revelation.
- Where God manifested His qualities on the mountain. In the example of prophet Moses where he fell swooned on seeing the sudden manifestation of the mountain crumbling. We don’t see this drastic manifestation but see gradual changes which we are familiar with. Imagine if a seed immediately turns into a tree loaded with fruits, it would be a shocking experience for me as I am used to seeing the gradual growth of the tree even without realizing that it is continuously growing. As a result of His Absolute Mercy, God reveals His qualities slowly and gradually so that we develop familiarity and live comfortably in this world.
- Represents the Scripture directly. Our attitude to the Scripture, if denied or neglected, becomes a burden. If I don’t benefit from the Scripture, I would be living in a transient world which is difficult to bear, as there is no source of eternal satisfaction within the world. If I take the Scripture to my heart, analyze it, understand it and take its teachings on how to live in this world in the best way, then the teachings become a means of mercy. I receive the mercy of God by realizing that my Creator is an Absolute Merciful One. The mountain becomes a cloud full of rain. Otherwise, if I do not benefit from the teachings of revelation, the cloud will remain as a cloud becoming a burden. My life becomes gloomy and meaningless. The mountain and cloud are representations of God’s revelation in the form of Scriptures and in the way that the universe is created. This can be extended to the teachings of the prophets as the bearers of the revelations. Do I listen to them and benefit from their teachings, or do I disregard their message and make the prophets as burdensome mountains? This is a human psychological analysis in terms of how we feel if we submit to the truth and when we don’t submit to the truth. Do I accept what my reality is or deny and reject it?
The Scripture and the way that the universe exists, conveys the news of its Creator. Their very existence keeps reminding me of their Creator. However, when I deny this news then I am contradicting the reality. I cannot turn deaf to their reminding and keep carrying the burden of my denial of the truth they keep conveying to me. This human psychological stress is likened in this verse to “the mountain raised over me.” This may explain why those who do not want to surrender to the teachings of the prophets and the message they present to them, continuously strive to stop the prophets from spreading their message. As they keep hearing the reality of human beings and everything around them, it is necessary to confirm that we are created beings and we must submit ourselves to the will of our Creator. If one does not submit himself to these message bearers he turns them into a burden on himself as long as he denies them.
This human psychological stress can be seen in the attitude of those who strive to deny the meaningful side of the universe and anything in it by making up imaginary explanations about their existence.
This beautiful way of describing the psychology of denial is through the analogy used in this verse وَإِذْ نَتَقْنَا ٱلْجَبَلَ فَوْقَهُمْ كَأَنَّهُۥ ظُلَّةٌۭ translated as “and [remember] when We raised the mountain over them as if it were a cloud” may be summarized as follows:
“Mountain is raised above them” refers to two types of denial:
1- if denied, Scripture becomes a burden on the deniers and they want to stop it from being conveyed to them. This explains why some people try to expel the prophets from their town or kill them. They are not comfortable at all to hear the message because it keeps reminding the deniers of the truth and their conscience recognizes it and keeps disturbing the denier that he has to submit. As long as they do not submit to the Scriptures that the prophets convey to them, the meaningful message becomes an unbearable mountain like burden on their conscience.
2- Those who study the universe and deny the meaningful side of it also are under the burden of the reality that the universe keeps reminding them that they are contradicting their conscience. The burden of this contradiction forces them to make up imaginary explanations, like the nature of randomness about the existence of beings in the universe, and by extension, their own existence. They cannot escape from their own reality that they need to be created. They have to carry the burden of denial. To take revenge they try to fight against those who remind them of the meaningful side of the things that carry the message of their Creator to us. For this reason, they do not let these people who refer the results of their scientific researches to the Creator of the universe publish their scientific papers in the Science Journals. They even go to this extreme reaction to these people to fire them from their position and try to deny their acquired title as Dr. or Professor.
Tags: A'raf Series, Al-Araf, Belief, Feelings, human qualities, Life, Lord, Quran, Worship