By February 17, 2020 Read More →

Who is the star in your story?

We all love a good story that we can relate to.  Sometimes, we have favorite stories that we keep re-reading, re-listening to and re-watching as being streamed.  What is it about these stories that excite us? Is it the main character or star that we like to resonate with? “Put yourself into the shoe of the character”, that is how elementary education starts developing the reading comprehension process in young adolescents.  Since human beings learn life lessons through stories that are shared, let us look into the possible meaning behind the stories or parables that are presented to us in the scriptures. Let us take the following verse as our exemplar:

“When the night covered him over, He saw a star: He said: “This is my sustainer.” But when it went down, He said: “I love not those things that go down.” Quran (6:76)

Why does the Creator of the universe speak to me through stories?  Is it because we all have our personal life stories and so mentioning a generic story will help everyone make sense of their personal life stories?  That is the only plausible explanation one can think of.  

There are two main approaches to reading the stories in the Quran. One is to see the story as a story that happened in the past, and then take lessons from it.  Just like an author or a historian writing about what happened in the past and expecting the reader to take a lesson from what happened in the past. That is how we approach any story, don’t we?  There is nothing wrong with this approach but some of the stories or parables mentioned in the scriptures may distance us from the actual purpose of the story. The actual purpose of the story is for me to take lessons from it in a way where I make that story “my story” i.e. 100% applicable to me.  Every character mentioned in a story is a possible character that I can be or I am. Can I only reduce myself as the main character in a story? No. I need to go beyond the apparent and extract meaning from the story as my life is happening right now. This is the second approach where the story is happening within me LIVE and not external to me i.e. it is my story happening to me right now within my life conditions.  I have the traits of both the good character (referred to as “hero”) and the bad character (referred to as “villain”). I have to check myself if I am acting like the villain and make sure that I refrain from such an attitude. At no point can I alienate myself with some traits from a story saying that it is not applicable to me. For example the flood that came to the people of Noah, that story may be relevant to some people but not me.  Excuse me, but everything is applicable to me!  Do you not see a flood that is about to come?  Are you not preoccupied with your financial situation, career prosperity and family matters?  Are you given existence to pay bills only until retirement and awaiting social security? Where is your flood?  Think about it?!

The purpose of mentioning these stories is not to tell us a tale but to further emphasize to us the point being made at that specific point in the Quran where one has to keep checking themselves, their human reality constantly i.e. I am a totally needy and impotent individual.  I cannot give existence to anything here. I just use whatever is available for me here.  

The stories or parables in the Quran are mentioned piece by piece all over the place, not within a set chronological order. This signifies that I cannot just read the story as a source of information only.  The scholars unanimously agreed that the purpose of the story is not to tell us about what happened in the past and to increase us in information but to educate us to increase us in knowledge about our position in this universe, who we are as created creatures (human beings) and what can be my Source of Existence.  Unfortunately this is not an approach many people take.

The expectation from the Quran is that when a story is mentioned to you, you have to put yourself in the story. For example, in the story of Prophet Abraham (peace be upon him), Abraham does something, acts a certain way, and speaks a certain way.  Since you are Abraham in your life story, ask yourself: “Am I speaking like Abraham? Am I acting like him? Am I speaking to my father the same way as Abraham?” Now, when Azar is mentioned in the story, you can flip the question and ask: “Am I acting as Azar did?”

This is a different way of approaching the Quran and this way has such beneficial results pertaining to understanding one’s existence here and NOW, that it needs to be reminded constantly and shared.

So to further make it clearer, let us study the verse from the Story of Abraham in the Quran as mentioned earlier: “When the night covered him over, He saw a star: He said: “This is my sustainer.” But when it went down, He said: “I love not those things that go down.” (6:76)”

Everything in the Quran has a meaning attached to it.  “Day” means something and “night” means something. What does “the night” signify in the Quran here?  Well, let’s see. Day signifies light, meaning, a sense of direction and value to one’s existence. Your own existence means something now, you feel comfortable, relaxed, you are enlightened and content.  So when light is taken away and the night covers us, it means that we are in darkness. Abraham could not find the meaning in his existence, he could not find any value for his existence. Existence points to its Giver, a Source of Existence.  Once you cannot find meaning in your existence, what reason do you have to live?  In other words, if you take the Source of Existence out of the picture, can you find any reason for you to exist?  To climb the corporate ladder and make more money? To buy a vacation house in the Hamptons? To raise a happy family?  For what? Everything will be going into non-existence and you will die and rot away. That is what it means when you are covered by the night. You cannot find the source of your existence and so your life, your existence becomes absolutely meaningless; you are covered in darkness.

Now, put yourself in Abraham’s shoes when you are in darkness.  Don’t you feel hopeless at times? Don’t you feel as if something is missing in your humanity?  Don’t you feel sad and uncomfortable at times? That is darkness or being covered by the night. People might think that they are not in darkness.  “I have a rewarding career, loving family and we are saving up to buy a beach house.”  There are endless degrees of darkness, although we may or may not realize it. The feeling of wanting enlightenment pertaining to the purpose of my existence is always there whether you recognize it or not.

Feeling hopeless at times is very human but the Quran is speaking to you directly through this story.  The Source of your existence (referred to as God) is saying to you:  “Look, I know that you are in this situation as the story describes, this story is for you right now in your time. This speaks to your human need, I know that you are in need of guidance.”  Otherwise, why would the Giver of Life (God) create death and make me hate death?   Why would the Giver of Happiness make me sad with a need to want Eternal Happiness?  Why does the Source of my Existence make me want hope when I am hopeless? These are human questions and now the Quran becomes a source of guidance for you, an answer to your human existential questions.

If you say that I am not in darkness, then you are claiming to be already enlightened and the Speech of God will not speak to you. The Quran is a source of guidance and if you feel that you are already guided, then you cannot benefit from the Quran.  Here are some principles to go by:

  1. First, you have to admit that you are in need of meaning to your existence, then you become eligible to be guided.  We have to humble ourselves!  
  2. Never read any stories from the scriptures to gain information and disseminate it to other people without making it applicable to your own existence first and foremost.  
  3. Never compare stories from different scriptures to put down certain people born into a certain faith by saying that I am right and you are wrong.  Avoid competitions as that is not the purpose of any Speech of God! 
  4. Reading a story and believing in it does not save anyone. After buying the ticket, we all have to hop on the train to experience the Abrahamic journey for ourselves i.e. your own life journey.  That is the only way to gain meaning from one’s existence here.

Every journey starts in darkness, every search for an answer has to start with questions; without questions there will be no answers.  When you are not hungry, even if delicious food is in front of you, will you pay attention to it? If you are not hungry and you eat the food, then it becomes a burden for you.

Now, going back to Abraham, he is looking for a source of meaning to his life and he sees a star.  Besides the shining objects glittering up in the sky, what does star represent for me? My passion for watching “dancing with the stars” on Netflix?  My tendency to chat with friends on social media when bored? Perhaps my habit of listening to love songs when I have existential pains. We can all answer that question for ourselves.  Anything that keeps us away from searching the meaning of our existence becomes “our star”. These things may act as a replacement for what the human spirit is searching for, an Eternal Lover.

Then Abraham says: “this is my sustainer.” There is a difference between “my creator” and “my sustainer”.  Concluding something to be my Creator is from a logical stand-point. Example: I find myself existing and being created, therefore, I must have a Creator.  On the other hand, “my sustainer” means someone who sustains me, takes care of me, is there for me to take care of my needs. Creator is from a logical perspective and sustainer is from a more loving perspective.  You feel love towards the sustainer not the creator.  Your Sustainer takes care of you, sustains your life, knows your hopes and aspirations and gives meaning to your life.

Abraham was looking for anything in his life that could seem to make his life meaningful. For example, when you say: “I am bored, my life is meaningless and so, let me get a job and immerse myself in my job, to keep myself busy”.  Do you think your job will give meaning to your existence and sustain you?  Notice that the star is not referred to as the Creator but as the Sustainer.  We are in need to be taken care of, loved and sustained, just to name a few needs out of our endless needs.  We will find every way possible to give meaning to our lives with a job or any other activity. Anything that we may seem to be the source of our happiness becomes “our star” or an object of desire/worship.  If I have a stable job, then I will be happy, relaxed, and comfortable. Nobody says that my job is my creator, rather we say that my life will be much happier if I have a job.  So what is your star?  

  • Put yourself in the story and find out what you take as your star?

But he says that “I do not love those things that go down.”  The star may seem to give temporary satisfaction and my heart does not remain satisfied. I do not like things that go away, Abraham is saying while searching for true LOVE.  Most people say that Abraham is logically coming to the conclusion of God but this need for true LOVE is not logical here, it is a matter of feeling. He is feeling a need for an Eternal Lover because he is explicitly saying “I do not LOVE those things that go down”, rather than “I do not believe in things that go down.”  This is a fine detail to the usage of words.

What does all this tell us?  We cannot stop our existential journey at the Creator stage.  Yes, I can easily conclude that the universe must have a Creator.  Now what? I am created and my Creator left me here, I don’t love this God.  Rather, this Creator must be my Sustainer, my Lord, It must be the source of my hope in every moment.  This Sustainer must always be the source of my happiness, must always be the source of meaning of my life.  This Sustainer takes care of me now and is always providing for me and knows me. This Sustainer is my Lord and I LOVE this God.  Therefore, all those created transient things that may seem to give me satisfaction will not always be with me, they will leave me and I will be alone again.  Yes, food will give me satisfaction for the moment, but after I eat it, it will go away and I will be left alone.  Another practical example, I really want that A grade in class for I’ll be happy if I get that A. After you get that A, it will not take care of you. It will not be there for you to fulfill your human needs.  Only my Lord takes care of my needs wherever I am. Only my Lord sustains me and must always provide meaning to my life. My Lord didn’t create me and left me alone here because I am being taken care of in my existence Here and NOW. 

Anything that does not fulfill my human needs or anything that cannot sustain my existence as my Lord, I do not love them.  Anything created cannot satisfy me. It is easy to say this and so, after something is being created for us, we must look for its Source of Existence. We must not stop at understanding that there must be a Creator.  Some common practical pitfalls to watch out from:

  1. God created me but the cow is giving me milk.
  2. God created me but my parents are taking care of me.
  3. God created me but the tree is giving me fruits.
  4. God created my skills but my job is taking care of me.
  5. God created me but the money is taking care of me.

These are stars they go down.  We must not take stars as our Lord!  We need to further proceed in our journey that I love my Sustainer who takes care of me.  It is innate within us to love our sustainer. Finally, we must not take the stars as our sustainers but our Creator as the Sustainer of the whole universe (including you and I in it).

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