Thursday, September 14, 2023

The Beneficent: Majesty and Splendor

 كل من عليها فان

All life upon (earth) will perish
و يبقى وجه ربك ذو الجلال و الإكرام
and your Lord's face remains: majestic and splendid.

Our Lord, Al-Rahman (the Beneficent), has manifestations of majesty and manifestations of splendor. 
تجليات جلال و تجليات جمال

We may wish to experience only the latter, but we cannot avoid the former. Last week, we witnessed terrifying manifestations of majestic power: An earthquake in Morocco that took several thousand lives, followed a few days later by flooding in Libya that took many more thousands of lives.

But the refrain in this chapter, Al-Rahman, continues:

فبأي آلاء ربكما تكذبان
So, which of the bounties of your Lord do you deny, you two?

How is it possible that those manifestations of overwhelming power, causing pain and suffering, are still bounties? The repeating refrain tells us that they are, in the grand scheme of things, beyond time. The verses that follow explain this to us. 

We have to pass through those manifestations of power to get to manifestations of beauty. We can't reach heaven without experiencing the painful loss of others or at least our own painful death, leaving loved ones behind in grief.

Of course, those of us who have the means to help others in their hour of need must do their best. Help is desperately needed, and may reduce some of the suffering, but it cannot relieve the deep pain of losing loved ones, which we all experience or cause, sooner or later. 

يسأله من في السموات و الأرض كل يوم هو في شأن

Everyone in heavens and earth implore Him; every day He manages some affair.

We pray that Allah will be merciful to those who have lost their lives, assist those who are still stranded, and give comfort and support to people who loved them

فبأي آلاء ربكما تكذبان
So, which of the bounties of your Lord do you deny, you two?

سنفرغ لكم أيها الثقلان

We shall turn our full attention to you two weighty species.

The Lord warns ominously that He will turn his full attention to us. Nothing can be more terrifying.

فبأي آلاء ربكما تكذبان
So, which of the bounties of your Lord do you deny, you two?

يا معشر الجن و الإنس إن استطعتم أن تنفذوا من أقطار السموات و الأرض فانفذوا لا تنفذون إلا بسلطان

O families of jinn and humans, if you can escape the boundaries of heavens and earth, then escape. You cannot escape without permission.

We cannot escape the manifestations of power, however painful they may be. Nor can we escape accountability on the day of judgment. 

This does not mean that we have no agency. When `Umar (r) led an expedition toward Damascus, news arrived that there was an epidemic in the city. He consulted his companions and then decided to return to Madinah. Abu `Ubaydah ibn Al-Jarrah (r) questioned his decision: "Are you escaping from God's decree, Umar?" `Umar replied: "I wish someone else would have asked this question. Yes, we escape from God's decree toward God's decree نفرّ من قدر الله إلى قدر الله." That was a good illustration of the Prophetic saying that if there were to be inspired people محدّثون among Muslims, `Umar would surely be one.

فبأي آلاء ربكما تكذبان
So, which of the bounties of your Lord do you deny, you two?

يرسل عليكما شواظ من نار و نحاس فلا تنتصران

[If you try to escape], you will be bombarded by flames and molten brass; and you will fail.

فبأي آلاء ربكما تكذبان
So, which of the bounties of your Lord do you deny, you two?

Now, comes a terrifying vision of the Day of Judgment.

فإذا انشقت السماء فكانت وردة كالدهان

So, when the sky is torn and looks like an oil-painted rose.

For a vivid illustration, see any telescope picture of a nebula. One of my favorites is the Cat's Eye Nebula picture from the Hubble Telescope. A dying star sends out burning hydrogen and dust that we see thousands of light years later as pinkish red. Those pictures are beautiful in the grand scheme of things, with the benefit of time and distance (thousands of light years), but they are violent emissions that would destroy us completely if we were close in time and space.

This is the paradox of manifestations of power and beauty. The same phenomenon is horrifically violent up close, but beautiful when viewed from a 3000 light year perspective. 

فبأي آلاء ربكما تكذبان
So, which of the bounties of your Lord do you deny, you two?

فيومئذ لا يسأل عن ذنبه إنس و لا جان

On that day no human or jinn will be asked about their sins.

فبأي آلاء ربكما تكذبان
So, which of the bounties of your Lord do you deny, you two?

يعرف المجرمون بسيماهم فيؤخذ بالنواصي و الأقدام

Transgressors will be identified by their features, and carried away head to foot.

How humiliating?

فبأي آلاء ربكما تكذبان
So, which of the bounties of your Lord do you deny, you two?

هذه جهنم التي يكذب بها المجرمون

This is the hellfire that transgressors deny;

يطوفون بينها و بين حنين آن

they oscillate between its flames and boiling water.

فبأي آلاء ربكما تكذبان
So, which of the bounties of your Lord do you deny, you two?

Now that we have passed through the frightening manifestations of majestic power, we receive the comforting news that if we nurture proper fear of immorality, we may receive beauty, which is the proper reward for beauty هل جزاء الإحسان إلا الإحسان!

Beautiful reward is described in great detail. No commentary is needed. 

و لمن خاف مقام ربه جنتان

But the one who feared his Lord's watchfulness will have two gardens

فبأي آلاء ربكما تكذبان
So, which of the bounties of your Lord do you deny, you two?

ذواتا أفنان

With many branches

فبأي آلاء ربكما تكذبان
So, which of the bounties of your Lord do you deny, you two?

فيهما عينان تجريان

Therein are two running water springs

فبأي آلاء ربكما تكذبان
So, which of the bounties of your Lord do you deny, you two?

فيهما من كل فاكهة زوجان

Therein are two pairs of every fruit

فبأي آلاء ربكما تكذبان
So, which of the bounties of your Lord do you deny, you two?

متكئين على فرش بطائنها من استبرق و جنى الجنتين دان

Reclining upon couches lined with thick silkas the garden's fruits get draw to their hands

فبأي آلاء ربكما تكذبان
So, which of the bounties of your Lord do you deny, you two?

فيهن قاصرات الطرف لم يطمثهن إنس قبلهم و لا جان

Therein are maidens with full attention to them, untouched before them by any human or jinn 

فبأي آلاء ربكما تكذبان
So, which of the bounties of your Lord do you deny, you two?

كأنهن الياقوت و المرجان

As if they were rubies and coral.

فبأي آلاء ربكما تكذبان
So, which of the bounties of your Lord do you deny, you two?

هل جزاء الإحسان إلا الإحسان

What is the reward of goodness other than goodness?

فبأي آلاء ربكما تكذبان
So, which of the bounties of your Lord do you deny, you two?

Wednesday, August 02, 2023

Navigating Existential Hypocrisy: Aleph Lam Meme

1. Aleph Lam Meme

ذلك الكتاب لا ريب فيه هدىً للمتقين

2. This Book is free of suspicion; it guides the God-conscious

Free of suspicion also means free of doubt:
روى الترمذي و أحمد و النسائي عن الحسن بن علي. قال صلعم

"دع ما يريبك إلى ما لا يريبك فإن الصدق طمأنينة و إن الكذب ريبة"

[Al-Tirmidhi narrated on the authority of Al-Hasan ibn Ali (r) that the Prophet (p) said:

"Leave what you suspect for what you do not suspect; truth begets serenity and falsehood begets doubt"]

الذين يؤمنون بالغيب و يقيمون الصلاة و مما رزقناهم ينفقون

3. Those who have faith in the Unseen, pray regularly, and spend of our provisions to them;

These are the criteria of Islam. 

و الذين يؤمنون بما أنزل إليك و ما أنزل من قبلك و بالآخرة هم يوقنون

4. And they have faith in what was revealed to you and revealed before you; and they are [becoming] certain of the hereafter.

These are the criteria of Iman (true faith). They require certainty rather than merely faith in the hereafter. As a post-enlightenment person, this type of certainty is not available to me most of time: certainty equal to that about one's own death: و اعبد ربك حتى يأتيك اليقين. This quest for certainty is a lifelong journey. 

أولئك على هدىً من ربهم و أولئك هم المفلحون

5. Those are guided by their Lord and they are the felicitous.

May we be among them.

After three verses on Islam and Iman, two verses warn us against the other extreme, which is total and irremediable rejection of faith.

إن الذين كفروا سواء عليهم ءأنذرتهم أم لم تنذرهم لا يؤمنون

6. Those who rejected faith will not acquire it whether or not you admonish them;

ختم الله على قلوبهم و على سمعهم و على أبصارهم غشاوة و لهم عذاب عظيم

7. God has sealed their hearts and ears, and their eyes are masked. They will receive great punishment.

This is obviously figurative: Their physical sight may be fine, but their insight may be masked/blinded, hence they have no access to the unseen.

Thirteen verses follow to describe people between the two extremes of total faith and total rejection. 

Most exegetes call them hypocrites (munafiqin), in specific reference to those in Madinah who pretended to have accepted the faith but conspired against the Prophet (p) and the faithful.

But the descriptions fit the vast majority of people, myself included, at least some of the time. 

و من الناس من يقول آمنا بالله و باليوم الآخر و ما هم بمؤمنين

8. Then there are people who profess faith in God and the hereafter without being faithful.

يخادعون الله و الذين آمنوا و ما يخدعون إلا أنفسهم و ما يشعرون

9. They aim to deceive God and the faithful, but they only deceive themselves, and they don't feel it.

في قلوبهم مرض فزادهم الله مرضا و لهم عذاب أليم بما كانوا يكذبون

10. Their hearts were sick so God made them sicker, and they will be punished severely for their lies.

The hypocrites of Madina intentionally tried to deceive God and the faithful for worldly advantages. 

This is not our condition today, but thinking honestly: There are many issues on which I disagree with the majority of Muslims today, and we do not have access to the Prophet (p) to ask him who is right. I follow along in public, to the extent that I can, but I still don't agree with them. Whom am I deceiving?

و إذا قيل لهم لا تفسدوا في الأرض قالوا إنما نحن مصلحون

11. When told not to corrupt in earth, they say: "but we are reformers."

ألا إنهم هم الفاسدون و لكن لا يشعرون

12. Verily, they are the corruptors, although they don't feel it.

This sounds familiar. As the world has changed over the centuries, many people have tried to discover how to live fully in their time and still be authentic to the teachings and example of the Prophet (p). 

Today's Salafism in all its forms is clearly no solution to the problem of modern Muslims: Salafists merely invented a mythical society and proceeded last century to create highly disfigured versions thereof.

At the other extreme: acquiescing to the extreme materialism of secular modernity is not reform either. We have seen many examples of emulation of the worst aspects of consumerism and materialism, which no person can honestly reconcile with authentic Islam.

و إذا قيل لهم آمنوا كما آمن الناس قالوا أنؤمن كما آمن السفهاء

ألا إنهم هم السفهاء و لكن لا يعلمون

13. When told to have faith like others, they say: "shall we believe like the foolish?" Truly, they themselves are the foolish, but they know not.

Herein lies a conundrum. We surely cannot have the same type of faith as illiterate people who lacked even a rudimentary understanding of science and mathematics. Nonetheless, we should not denigrate them as foolish, since we may ourselves be the foolish for failing to find an authentic reconciliation between Islam and modernity. 

و إذا لقوا الذين آمنوا قالوا آمنا و إذا خلوا إلى شياطينهم قالوا إنا معكم إنما نحن مستهزئون

14. When they meet the faithful, they say: "we are faithful," but alone with their demons, they say: "we are [still] with you, but we only mock them."

الله يستهزئ بهم و يمدهم في طغيانهم يعمهون

15. [Consequently,] God mocks them and lets them proceed blindly in their transgression.

أولئك الذين اشتروا الضلالة بالهدى فما ربحت تجارتهم و ما كانوا مهتدين

16. Those have sold guidance for misguidance. Their trade is not profitable and the will never be guided.

This is the state of false reconciliation between Islam and modernity: showing different faces to different people. It is a losing trade even if it gives us some temporary utility.

Two examples follow to describe the limitations of potential means of access to the unseen, using the recurring Qur'anic parable of light.

مثلهم كمثل الذي استوقد ناراً فلما أضاءت ما حوله ذهب الله بنورهم و تركهم في ظلمات لا يبصرون

17. Their example is like one who exerted effort to light a fire, but when the fire illuminated his surroundings, God took away their [inner] light and left them blind in layers of darkness.

صم بكم عمي فهم لا يرجعون

18. They are [thus] deaf, dumb, and blind -- so they cannot return;

The first example points to conscious efforts of the intellect that we possess, which can shed some light on the immediate surroundings, including science, mathematics, and ethics. However, this limited intellect cannot pierce the veil of ignorance to give us reliable access to the unseen realm (metaphysics). We need access to Divine inspiration for authentic knowledge of the latter عالم الملكوت.

أو كصيب من السماء فيه ظلمات و رعد و برق يجعلون أصابعهم في آذانهم من الصواعق حذر الموت و الله محيط بالكافرين

19. Or like a storm with dark clouds, thunder and lightening: They put their fingers in their ears for fear of death, and God knows well the affairs of the unfaithful.

يكاد البرق يخطف أبصارهم كلما أضاء لهم مشوا فيه و إذا أظلم عليهم قاموا

و لو شاء الله لذهب بسمعهم و أبصارهم إن الله على كل شيء قدير

20. Lightening almost blinds them, but with each flash, they walk a bit, and then they stop with the ensuing darkness. Had God wished, he would have taken their hearing and sight; God has power over all.

The second example points to sporadic insights of the unseen that we may receive during times of tremendous stress. We instinctively reach out to the unseen for support and comfort, and the mercy that we receive gives us a glimpse of that unseen, but it is only a brief flash of light, and we revert back to our state of dark ignorance.

يأيها الناس اعبدوا ربكم الذي خلقكم و الذين من قبلكم لعلكم تتقون

21. So, people, worship your Lord who created you and those before you, perchance you may attain God-consciousness.

This gives us the recipe: Worship your Lord, and perhaps you will proceed in the direction of greater God-consciousness, and then verses 2 and 5 tells us that scripture will guide us to salvation.

And we find comfort in the very last verse of the chapter:

لا يكلف الله نفساً إلا وسعها لها ما كسبت و عليها ما اكتسبت
286: God does not encumber any soul beyond its capacity; it earns its credits and deserves its debits

followed by the most beautiful supplication:

ربنا لا تؤاخذنا إن نسينا أو أخطأنا
Lord: Do not make us accountable for our forgetfulness or error
ربنا و لا تحمل علينا إصراً كما حملته على الذين من قبلنا
Lord: Do not encumber us with the same heavy burden of our predecessors
ربنا و لا تحملنا ما لا طاقة لنا به
Lord: Do not encumber us beyond our capacity
و اعف عنا و اغفر لنا و ارحمنا
Disregard our sins, forgive us, and shower us with mercy
أنت مولانا فانصرنا على القوم الكافرين
You are our Lord, so make us prevail over the faithless