By August 28, 2023 Read More →

Section Al A’raf – Part 59


In verse 171 of section Al-Araf (the Cognizant) in the Quran, we studied that the mountain was raised over the people who have received the revelation from God. Although it was within the context of the children of Israel as having received revelation and being among the people of the book, in fact, anyone who is given the Scripture is among the people of the book (ahlul kitab). The verse continued with mentioning that one should hold firmly to the Scripture that has been given to them and hold on to its teachings, i.e. take the message to one’s heart and apply it practically. We understood that the raising of the mountain in the verse referred to God’s Scripture. If we do not benefit from the Scripture it becomes a heavy burden on us like a mountain on our shoulders with its weighty meaning that keeps disturbing our conscience. When we pay attention to the teaching and benefit from it, then we climb up the mountain and receive the message in our hearts. Our journey can be likened to the example of Moses who received, in the narration of the Scripture, the message of God. The language of the Scriptures must not be understood literally but by taking into account the nature of their teachings through using various figures of speech.

We will continue with our study of section Araf of the Quran below.

وَلَوْ شِئْنَا لَرَفَعْنَـٰهُ بِهَا وَلَـٰكِنَّهُۥٓ أَخْلَدَ إِلَى ٱلْأَرْضِ وَٱتَّبَعَ هَوَىٰهُ ۚ فَمَثَلُهُۥ كَمَثَلِ ٱلْكَلْبِ إِن تَحْمِلْ عَلَيْهِ يَلْهَثْ أَوْ تَتْرُكْهُ يَلْهَث ۚ ذَّٰلِكَ مَثَلُ ٱلْقَوْمِ ٱلَّذِينَ كَذَّبُوا۟ بِـَٔايَـٰتِنَا ۚ فَٱقْصُصِ ٱلْقَصَصَ لَعَلَّهُمْ يَتَفَكَّرُونَ

7:176 Had We so willed, We could have used those [messages] to raise him high but he always clung to the earth and followed his own desires. He was like a dog who pants with his tongue hanging out whether you drive him away or leave him alone. That’s the image of those who reject Our messages. Tell this story so that they might reflect on it.

The word “لَرَفَعْنَـٰهُ” is translated as “to raise him high”.  The same action of “to raise” is used in this verse similar to how it was used in verse 171 with the mountain referring to the revelation. The phrase “وَلَوْ شِئْنَا لَرَفَعْنَـٰهُ بِهَا”, translated as “Had We so willed, We could have used those [messages] to raise him high”. If the people who are addressed in this verse which includes us, if they used the message as was mentioned in verse 171, they would be raised high but they didn’t. There is a metaphorical teaching by saying that “وَلَـٰكِنَّهُۥٓ أَخْلَدَ إِلَى ٱلْأَرْضِ وَٱتَّبَعَ هَوَىٰهُ ۚ” which is translated as “but he always clung to the earth and followed his own desires”. The phrase continues “فَمَثَلُهُۥ كَمَثَلِ ٱلْكَلْبِ إِن تَحْمِلْ عَلَيْهِ يَلْهَثْ أَوْ تَتْرُكْهُ يَلْهَث”, translated as “He was like a dog who pants with his tongue hanging out whether you drive him away or leave him alone”. The example of the person who doesn’t heed the Scripture and practice it is likened to a dog. This is not an insult to the dog which is created to fulfill its purpose but the likening is a description to highlight the capacity to be a human in the form of an analogy. Whatever you do to the dog, call him or drive him away, the dog having the tongue out doesn’t change its position and continues panting. This is a reminder to us to benefit from the scripture, take it to heart and practice it, rather than following our self-centered desires without paying attention to what the Scripture is telling us. This is how the human value is elevated to a higher level than being an animal. 

However, the verse says that they clung to the earth and man follows his desires, meaning that one doesn’t look at the meaning in the message. They don’t elevate themselves as a human, they are lost in their falsehoods and worldly affairs. They don’t think in a wider perspective and ask “what is the purpose of my existence here, what am I doing here running after worldly things only? They never considered it. Living in this life as an animal being satisfying the bodily needs, never having any higher purpose in life. This is a reminder for me: What am I doing with the message? 

The term “ayat” here refers to the sentences of revelation as a sign pointing to the truth, the creation as a sign pointing to the same truth, the human feelings also point to that truth. Another sign are the prophets coming with the message and presenting the benefit of the message to fulfill our purpose of existence. The prophets also demonstrated to us how to live in this world which is not only to satisfy our bodies in this world but our human spirit. They are employed to show us the value of being a real human being, to be elevated to that reality. If I don’t pay heed to these signs then the consequence would be as presented in the verses as what happened to those people that distanced themselves from revelation in one’s life:

سَآءَ مَثَلًا ٱلْقَوْمُ ٱلَّذِينَ كَذَّبُوا۟ بِـَٔايَـٰتِنَا وَأَنفُسَهُمْ كَانُوا۟ يَظْلِمُونَ

7:177 What an evil example of those who denied Our signs! They only wronged their own souls.

If we deny God’s signs then we can only wrong ourselves. We will be the losers, not anyone else. When I die, I would die with my own account and would not be responsible for anyone else’s account. I have to take these messages to myself and share with anyone who wants to listen.

مَن يَهْدِ ٱللَّهُ فَهُوَ ٱلْمُهْتَدِى ۖ وَمَن يُضْلِلْ فَأُو۟لَـٰٓئِكَ هُمُ ٱلْخَـٰسِرُونَ

7:178 Anyone whom God guides, he alone is truly guided; whereas those whom He lets go astray- it is they, they who are the losers.

Let’s refresh our minds on such verses which can cause confusion. If God lets me go astray then it is not my responsibility. Why would I be a loser when God decided on it? From one end, God is telling me to take the Scripture seriously, take it to my heart, practice it and on the other end He has already decided on whom He guides and whom He doesn’t. This doesn’t make sense.

By looking at the universe, I can see that the maker of the universe is a Just One., a Wise One, a Merciful One. That means God doesn’t arbitrarily do something to torture people. He doesn’t arbitrarily take control of the human being as God Himself wants, we know that we are left free to choose as we want to. These kinds of phrasing must be read as: God guides only those who look for guidance and try to be on the path of guidance. He guides those who make the effort by using their free will to receive the guidance and apply it to their lives. The results of the guided person’s choices would thus be created accordingly. We all know that in this world we choose from among the options already created in the world and presented to us, but we cannot create the results of our choices. For instance, by following the way the Creator is creating the world, we can use the soil, water, sunlight, air, seed and sow the seed in the soil and water it when there is no rain, then wait for the plant to be created by the Establisher of the order of the universe.

Another example may be given, I will try to learn something from the means available, like books or videos. I will try to read the book, watch the videos but at the end the information will be in my mind. I don’t know how the knowledge as information remained in my memory. It is only after I made the attempt to learn that I am created with the knowledge in my memory. I chose to learn that knowledge which is how the result was created in my memory. I cannot create the result, I can only choose it. 

These kinds of verses let me know that I am not the creator of my actions. I cannot guarantee what will happen to me in future but I am expected to confess that all the need for guidance, means to learn to educate myself, to nourish my body and to satisfy my feelings are created by God including my free will which I use to appeal to the Creator of the universe, God. The important point to realize is that the free will is given to be used freely. That is my responsibility, whether I use the means to get guidance or not is up to me and is of my choosing. If I attempt to do something, I follow the order in creation, it is God who creates the result, not me. I am only the one who is waiting for the results of my choices to be created. I cannot give existence to anything which did not exist before. If I use the means to reach guidance, then guidance will reach me and I will be created as a guided person. If I don’t use the means to get guidance, I will deprive myself from being guided. For example, the sense of thirst is given to me, I am informed by the sense of the need of water. The senses and water both are also created. If I drink water, the thirst is satisfied where this satisfaction is also created. If I don’t drink water, then I deprive myself from the satiation and remain thirsty. Here is the mistake we usually fall into: God says in the Scriptures that “it is Me who makes you thirsty or satiated.” That means “I am the one who creates the result.” If we are not careful about what we really mean, we may think that  by drinking water we created the satiation or by not drinking water we remain thirsty. But we all are well aware that neither me nor my cells of my body have any ability to give existence to anything, they themselves are in need of being given existence as the Qur’an says: “أَيُشْرِكُونَ مَا لَا يَخْلُقُ شَيْـًٔا وَهُمْ يُخْلَقُونَ” (Will they ascribe any power to things that cannot create even anything since they themselves are in need of being given existence?) (7: 191)  

If I use the means to be guided and find myself to be guided, I should not be proud of it but be thankful. The means to be guided, the free will to choose, the sense to be guided, the satisfaction and pleasure from guidance are all given to me by my Lord. I should not claim any ownership of anything, I just made the choice and the functioning is all created by my Lord. We need to be humble and cannot be falsely proud of our good deeds. We cannot put the blame on God that He let me go astray.  I cannot say that because I have made the choice and the result is created by Him. With choosing the right option I would benefit and with the wrong option, I hurt only myself and would suffer. All the motivations of using the right choice are also created by Him. The sense of happiness when I do something good and feeling guilty when I hurt someone’s feelings unjustly are all created within me by the One who created me within the context of this universe. I can never say that I am the creator of my feelings, nor can I claim that my body cells have the power, knowledge, freedom of choice… to be the creator of feelings which has nothing to do with material substance.

وَلَقَدْ ذَرَأْنَا لِجَهَنَّمَ كَثِيرًۭا مِّنَ ٱلْجِنِّ وَٱلْإِنسِ ۖ لَهُمْ قُلُوبٌۭ لَّا يَفْقَهُونَ بِهَا وَلَهُمْ أَعْيُنٌۭ لَّا يُبْصِرُونَ بِهَا وَلَهُمْ ءَاذَانٌۭ لَّا يَسْمَعُونَ بِهَآ ۚ أُو۟لَـٰٓئِكَ كَٱلْأَنْعَـٰمِ بَلْ هُمْ أَضَلُّ ۚ أُو۟لَـٰٓئِكَ هُمُ ٱلْغَـٰفِلُونَ

7:179 We have created many Jinn and humans bound for Hell. They have hearts with which they don’t understand. They have eyes with which they don’t see. They have ears with which they don’t hear. They are like cattle; in fact, they are worse. It is they who are heedless.

This doesn’t mean that all of the Jinn and humans are bound for hell. The word كَثِيرًۭا “Kaseeran” indicates “many” among the jinn and humans. Who are they? They have hearts with which they don’t understand. There are two verses in the Quran with the same structure where one says hearts with which they don’t understand and the other verse mentions that they have hearts with which they don’t reason. Now, reasoning comes first followed by understanding something. We can understand this verse as they have hearts with which they don’t reason and thus don’t understand. The word يَعْقِلُونَ “ya’qiloon” has the meaning of using one’s reasoning and intelligence, i.e. doing some brain activity to understand and preserve into memory what has been learned. Here in this verse the term  يَفْقَهُونَ “yafqahoon” is used, which has the meaning of understanding the purpose in the existence of anything and comprehending what it means for our lives. The verse is implying that hearts have been given to them but they don’t use their brains to understand the reality of this world. The word “heart” in the Quran signifies human qualities within a being which includes consciousness, reasoning, intelligence, feelings and free will. 

What makes a human being in the broader term is the spirit which has all the qualities and these qualities differ in capacity from that of animals. Animals also eat, breathe, live for a certain time, sleep, have relationships with their species, have a community, and know how to find food and shelter. Animals are programmed in their creation with these qualities, they have no free will, no responsibility to think, to learn and develop like human beings have. Whereas human beings are given the responsibility to think, reason, learn and thus develop to become a full-fledged human being by using their capacity to choose with their free will. The phrase “They have hearts with which they don’t understand” has this meaning that human beings have the capacity to understand why they are here in this world and what they are expected to do. We usually think reasoning is only done with the brain but it also has to do with our consciousness, conscience, feelings, intelligence and free will. The Quran refers to the “Qalb”, which is the heart as a representation of the human side. 

We are aware of what our reality is. In this world we are expected to always use our human side. Our value comes from using our human side, on how we utilize them. The Quran reminds me: Why do you not use your feelings, reasoning, intelligence? The next phrase says that they have eyes with which they don’t see. Once I see something, I use my consciousness, reasoning and feelings to see what it is, what kind of qualities it has. If I don’t see then how can I question the value of color, the design, form, beauty and art that is manifested on each being. These are the ways that I have to use, use my eyes to see what is going on in the world, what qualities are being manifested, how are they coming into existence, who is bringing these qualities that are on them? Can they happen randomly? If I use my eyes only to see the appearance of things, not what qualities they have in their existence and what these qualities mean for me, the Qur’an reminds me that this seeing activities are done by animals as well. What is the difference between you and an animal? Do not reduce your human values to a level of only being an “animate being.” The verse continues with they have ears with which they do not hear. The Quran uses the word “hear” as relating to hearing the message that the prophets delivered. At our time, we read the message and should pay attention to it, listen to what it is saying. The act of hearing is the means to listen to the message. For example, when someone tells me something, if I don’t pay attention to it then, although I hear the voice, I don’t benefit from it. The verse is indicating to use the heart and physical means to get the understanding of the message both in the universe and the message that the prophets bring. 

Those who are bound for hell do not utilize their human qualities, don’t use the means to get the message. The Quran mentions that they are like cattle. This is not to belittle any being or insulting anyone. We understand that if someone doesn’t use their human qualities and only thinks of eating, drinking, struggling for this world only and entertaining their bodily desires, pursuing transient things, then that is similar to how the animals also live. Animals also eat food, drink water, seek shelter and engage in reproductive activities. In fact, humans if they only live that way are worse than cattle. Why worse? If a child in primary school learns what was taught to him in school, then he has fulfilled his purpose, because he used his capacity fully. However, if a college student is proud of his primary education skills such as multiplication at the primary level, then this student is worse than the primary school student since he has not made any progress as an advanced student by benefiting from his capacity. This verse is not blaming the animals, they are created perfectly fulfilling the purpose of their existence as they are. However, if a man behaves like an animal then he is worse than the animal. 

The verse continues with “ أُو۟لَـٰٓئِكَ هُمُ ٱلْغَـٰفِلُونَ”, translated as “They are people who are heedless”. They haven’t paid attention to their human qualities. They never wondered as an individual why am I given all these human qualities? I have to be aware of my human qualities as I am given consciousness. If one doesn’t pay attention to them, then they would be worse than the cattle and be among the heedless.

This verse tells me that I have to watch out and use my human qualities. If the verse is taken at face value, one would say that there are some people created that would go to hell. I would ask the question, why bother creating them? For example, if a teacher knows that a student is lazy and not doing any of his assignments. The teacher wants to make the student aware of what is lacking and gives him opportunities to learn till the end of the semester and only then gives out the final grade. Based on the effort of the student, the student will get the grade and not be resentful by getting what is deserved. The Quran speaks to human feelings right now which is why the Quran has to explain the matter in this way, i.e. it is for a reason that some people are bound for hell, sending them to hell is not an arbitrary choice of God but according to His absolute wisdom and justice.

وَلِلَّهِ ٱلْأَسْمَآءُ ٱلْحُسْنَىٰ فَٱدْعُوهُ بِهَا ۖ وَذَرُوا۟ ٱلَّذِينَ يُلْحِدُونَ فِىٓ أَسْمَـٰٓئِهِۦ ۚ سَيُجْزَوْنَ مَا كَانُوا۟ يَعْمَلُونَ

7:180 All the Most Perfect Names belong to God alone. So, call upon Him by them, and keep away from those who distort His Names. They will be punished for what they used to do.

Anyone born into a Muslim culture would be aware of God’s beautiful names known as “ٱلْأَسْمَآءُ ٱلْحُسْنَىٰ”. How do we know God’s names, what is behind them? How can I confirm them? We have to go back to evidence which is the universe, human feelings and the messages we receive from revelation and the message represented by the prophets. I can make sure that the creator of the universe must be the creator of the prophets, where He demonstrates himself to human beings so that the human heart will benefit from them and confirm the message accordingly. For example, by looking at a piece of art, one can see the qualities of the artist in that art. Another example, when I say I love listening to Mozart’s music. It’s not a love for the dead person but the qualities manifested in his music. 

The Arabic phrasing “وَلِلَّهِ ٱلْأَسْمَآءُ ٱلْحُسْنَىٰ” indicates that “the Most Perfect Names belong to God alone”. All the beautiful qualities manifested in the universe are perfect. There is nothing existing in whatever state it is in that is not perfect. For example, a rotting banana is perfect in its creation. A newly born baby is perfect in his existence as a baby, a young human is perfect as a young human, and an old man is perfect as an old man. We should be careful to make the distinction between our effort to become more  and more, and at every stage of our existence being perfect. The power, beauty, organizing quality, arranging quality, decorating, knowledge, wisdom, justice qualities are all perfect and they belong to their Creator, God alone. I have to call upon Him by those Names as recommended in the verse “فَٱدْعُوهُ بِهَا ۖ”. For example, when I look at the creation of a mosquito, I must remember an Absolute Power can bring it into existence; the quality of Power can belong to its creator, God alone. We cannot describe God or His essence, but we can acknowledge His manifested qualities and connect with Him through them.

I have to keep away and not distort His names. How do I distort them? When I don’t acknowledge that the manifestations of qualities belong to Him and claim that they are accidental or natural, that means I have distorted the qualities manifested in them by attributing it to some fictitious concepts like “nature” or “accident.” Do things have their own power and will? For example, by looking at the piece of art, seeing the qualities in them and saying that it happened like that over time randomly, qualities accidentally developed. Every being becomes perfect over time accidentally, by themselves? This is the distortion of the names of God for the petty reason of avoiding to submit to the Creator of the universe who must be conscious with absolute qualities, the reflections of which I see in the existence of every being in the universe. I need a creator and I must be thankful to Him. I should accept that He is my Lord and admit my neediness of Him in every aspect of my life.

وَمِمَّنْ خَلَقْنَآ أُمَّةٌۭ يَهْدُونَ بِٱلْحَقِّ وَبِهِۦ يَعْدِلُونَ

7:181 And among those whom We have created there is a community who guide others by means of the truth and with this truth establish justice.

If I want myself to be guided or want someone else to be guided so that they can enjoy their life as I am enjoying my life through the guidance I receive. How do I guide others? By means of the truth, “يَهْدُونَ بِٱلْحَقِّ”. If we don’t present them the truth according to their capacity: reasoning, questioning capacity, using their free will, paying attention to their human needs and their feelings. If I insult them, or get angry, presenting the message in an exaggerated way that disturbs their human feelings is not the way to guide them. 

The phrase “وَبِهِۦ يَعْدِلُونَ” is to spread the message with justice. The word justice is very important as in not going into extreme too much or too little but be balanced, i.e. in a just way. Do not exaggerate as if the prophet was a super being. The person would say: “I don’t know as I am not a super being but am an ordinary human being”. On the opposite end, presenting the prophet as a sage, a very knowledgeable and wise person which is ignoring to emphasize the fact that he (pbuh) received the message under the guidance of the Creator, his messenger aspect as the bringer of news from God, mentioning that nothing belongs to him, he is employed by God in all that he does.  For example, prophet Jesus in the proponents of Christian faith became a divine being. Whereas in the view of some Jews, he is regarded as an illegitimate child.  We should not mix the truth with our own emotional involvement, our own personal preferences; we should give the right to the person in the right way. We should treat ourselves with truth and justice and also treat others the same.

At the same time, the Qur’an asks us by using  the term with it [this truth] establishes justice,” we are expected to deal with the creation, animals, plants including inanimate beings with justice. Not only destroy them and harm them but to admit their functioning in their creation that they are there to manifest the qualities of their Creator and treat them justly, do not insult them by claiming that they are beings developed in the course of time randomly by themselves. By doing so, we will be unjustly accusing them of being meaningless idling beings. That is why the Qur’an declares that:

 “…فَمَا بَكَتْ عَلَيْهِمُ ٱلسَّمَآءُ وَٱلْأَرْضُ ” “Neither heaven nor earth wept over them…” (44: 29) When those who are denying the duty of the creatures and insulting them by claiming that they are meaningless, purposeless beings die, the heaven and earth will not weep on them. That means that they will be happy from relieving themselves from their unjust insults when they die.


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