Commentary of Surat ul-Ankabut on advent of Zaman - Versese 41-50
- :Shaykh Fadhlalla Haeri
41 The parable of those who take guardians besides Allah is as the parable of the spider that makes for itself a house; and most surely the frailest of the houses is the spider's house - did they but know.
42 Surely Allah knows whatever thing they call upon besides Him; and He is the Mighty, the Wise.
The spiderweb is totally exposed to the elements of heat, cold, wind and rain. In fact, the web does not protect the spider from any thing. Its main function is to provide for the animal its biological continuance by capturing other insects for food. It is the least secure and the least stable of mechanisms. Any human being who believes he is secure in what he has inherited in terms of cultural habits which are not in line with the divine decree, is then dwelling on as flimsy a premise as that of a spider's web.
One's attachments, phobias and habits are as brittle as the thought that repeatedly brings them about. The ultimate refuge is with Allah. And man takes refuge in Allah if he pursues the knowledge of Reality by realizing that everything other than Allah is relative and unsatisfactory -like the house of the spider; when the rain comes, the web becomes heavy and breaks apart.
Taking refuge in Allah, man leaves what is relative and insecure and orients himself towards what he knows to be the source of everything. He makes himself a refugee from ignorance to knowledge of Allah. The closer he gets to that knowledge, the more he discovers the relativity of everything. Discrimination and wisdom enable him to handle the laws that govern existence more correctly. He finds them simple to deal with and therefore has the least trouble in this existence.
The easiest way to become familiar with the laws of existence is to try to step out of what one is emotionally enmeshed with in one's spiderweb. The web is what a person may weave and consider to be of importance to his heart. If he leaves all of that then his heart has no connection to the illusions. The heart's function is then natural; it is fitra (innate). Someone who finds he has become too attached to a place or situation, will feel as though his heart has been stripped from him when it is taken away. This is only his imagination.
The spider leaves the torn web behind and spins another one with little trouble. Man will sit and weep and claim bad luck. He has, however been given the additional faculty of consciousness. With it he can become aware of being afflicted. He can be conscious of being conscious. If he delves into pure consciousness he can then dwell with the pure Source.
From traditions we know that one hour's reflection is better than the worship of seventy years. Reflecting upon creation is one of the highest actions one can perform in this existence. Prayer, fasting, and all the pillars of the life transaction are necessarily helpful in the same way as the structure and foundation of a house are helpful to its occupant. Living in the house joyfully is the ultimate purpose and is attained by deep reflection. The best time for one to reflect is when one has been jolted, when one's spiderweb has been torn by the affliction of leaning for support upon something that has disappeared.
Observing the lives of the Prophets, Imams and the awliya' (friends of Allah), one finds they were much afflicted. But in their states they recognized their nearness to Allah. It was for them a great blessing and joy. The Prophet, salla-llahu `alayhi wa alihi wa sallam, on his death bed had only a handful of people around him. The majority of his friends and companions were involved in the arguments and discussions of succession. His affliction was truly great. For people of haqiqa, for people who want to see the inside of things, his inward state is what was important. Was he dependent upon the flimsy network of the so-called sahaba (companions) or was he dependent upon the Creator of the network?
43 And (as for) these parables, We set them forth for men, and none understand them but the learned.
The further one moves along the path, the greater are the afflictions that come from the outside. It is the sunna (way) of Allah. The purpose of afflictions is to make man dependent only on Allah and to thereby increase his knowledge. In a sense, Allah is the most jealous. He does not want man, even occasionally, to think that he is benefitting or depending upon anybody else. Yet the courtesy is to thank one who is the vehicle of help, knowing that at any moment he may become his enemy. This is the state of the arif (one who knows Allah). This is the true inner meaning of one's din. All the outer practices are a preparation for inner sight. When the inner sight is correctly set, the outer practices become the reflection of correctness. If the inner is right then the outer is right. If the outer is right then the inner is right.
"And these parables ... none understand them but the learned." They seek to see Allah behind everything. Whenever something manifests they want to know its root, they want to see its cause and not to be taken by its effect. For example, if a dear friend turns out to be your enemy, can you be immediately grateful or not? Think of how merciful Allah is that He has caused you to discover this new enemy now, rather than ten years from now. But if you have considered the friendship as a house of `ankabut (spider), as an abode of safety, then the discovery tears you. As a positive human being you admit your error, otherwise the ankabut is better than you, because it goes on without looking back and builds another place of safety while you continue to establish friendships with wounds and negative memories.
The laws of Reality are to be lived by and made into a life pattern, not simply to be talked or written about. Submission is only meaningful for the people of submission, not for those who talk about it. Islam is for those who are in the dar (house) of Islam, not for those who study it. If he allows himself - if he is alim (knowing, wise), if he is acquiring knowledge, man can fit into the pattern of submission because its essence is within him.
44 Allah created the heavens and the earth with truth; most surely there is a sign in this for the believers.
"Allah created the heavens and the earth with truth." There is a sign in every creational entity. Every breath is a stepping stone along the path of knowledge. Everywhere one looks there is a sign from which to learn.
45 Recite that which has been revealed to you of the Book and keep up prayer; surely prayer keeps (one) away from indecency and evil, and certainly the remembrance of Allah is the greatest, and Allah knows what you do.
"Recite (read) that which has been revealed to you of the Book."
The command applies to all who follow in the Prophet's footsteps; take what comes to you of knowledge and apply it so that it becomes internalized, then move towards Allah. If one tries to take more than one step at a time one is likely to fall. Missing a step on the path is always a weakness. The seeker should move with what is in front of him in the belief that it is the best for him. Then he will benefit from the step or the state and his movement will be as fast as his sureness and absorption. Prayers are a proof and an acknowledgement of glorification and gratitude to this magnificent gift from the Creator.
"And certainly the remembrance of Allah is the greatest." Whatever state man is in, he punctuates it with Allahu akbar (God is most great). He may be in absolute exultation of Reality when he is in ruku` bowing in prostration) saying, subhana rabbi-l-`azimi Wa bihamdih, seeing beyond his frailty and forgetfulness the magnificence of the Creator through His creation; but when he stands up he says, Allahu akbar.
There is always Allahu akbar. No matter what openings man has, Allahu akbar. Allah is greater than what you imagine. No matter what knowledges come to man, Allahu akbar, because it is still only within Allah's ocean of knowledge. Allah's remembrance of man is greater than man's remembrance of Him and Allah's remembrance of the believer is greater than the believer's remembrance of Allah - Allahu akbor.
46 And do not dispute with the followers of the Book except by what is best except those of them who act unjustly. And say: We believe in that which has been revealed to us and revealed to you, and our God and your God is One, and to Him do we submit.
This is enjoined upon the Muslims not to argue or discuss with the people who have had a book revealed to them, such as the Christians or the Jews. The Prophet, salla-llahu 'alayhi wa alihi wa sallam, recommended that his followers neither confirm nor deny what they say be cause his message, the Qur'an, would eventually become evident and supercede the knowledge of the Christians and Jews.
An example of this is the simple case of the stoning of the adultererwhich was enjoined by the Prophet lbrahim, `alayhi-s-salam, and reconfirmed by the Prophet Musa, `alayhi-s-salam, and then by the Prophet `Isa, alayhi-s-salam. But in the traditions of questionable authenticity that have been handed down to the Christians, the Prophet `Tsa, alayhi-solam, dismissed the adulteress who was brought to him by witnesses. He asked them: Which one of you is righteous and has no sin? When none of them could answer, he dismissed the woman. `Isa's criterion for freeing the woman was not complete.
The Prophet, salla-llahu 'alayhi wa alihi wa sallam, clearly established the law that there is a need for four sinless, righteous men to have actually observed the act. Recognizing the law transmitted by Muhammad, salla-llahu 'alayhi wa alihi wa sallam, as the perfect law, there is no question of discussion or argument. The Muslim follows what he regards to be the ultimate and perfect law. All that he can do is to say that his Lord and their Lord are one. Diving into the ocean of tawhid, he hopes that they will recognize the perfection of the path of submission.
A book is not necessarily contained within pages. Muslims and seekers must not judge against other paths which do not have one visible book or one visible prophet. A book means a way of conduct.
From this point of view the Buddhists may be considered people of the book, (ahl al-kitab). A book reveals the nature of Reality and indicates the way towards understanding it. Many cultures of the world have a book, such as the people of China and India. The Christians and Jews are mentioned in the Qur'an while the Buddhists and Taoists are not, because the former were there at the time and in the region in which the Qur'an was revealed.
The correct behavior towards the people who believe or have had a message from a Prophet is that one should discuss things with them in the best possible way. There are no differences in what the Prophet Muhammad, salla-llahu 'alayhi wa alihi wa sallam, brought and what the other Prophets brought before him. The message is one but it may be distorted or ignored.
The Qur'an says to tell the people who follow other religions, other books, that all the paths are but one path. There has been only one path and that is the path of Islam, which is unquestioning submission. By questioning, one cannot get to the source of the question; one remains at the level of hearing the question and decoding its outer manifestation.
47 And thus have We revealed the Book to you. So those whom We have given the Book believe in it, and of these there are those who believe in it, and none deny Our communications except the unbelievers.
The first stage of getting the book is physically receiving the message through the ears. Today getting the book is taking out some thing called a book from a library, getting an outer appearance, an outward message. Man will not get it unless its seed or essence is within him. He will acknowledge an outer experience only if he has the faculty and the ability to comprehend it inwardly. If the ability is not there, no matter what sound is made outside, it will not make an impact on him. If the essence is not within his conscious faculties, the Book or any book for that matter, will not make sense to him. He must unify with the message.
Those who have been given the book are those who have received the message and understood it. They have unified the outward message or teaching with their inner reflection and awakening. Their belief cannot be taken away from them. An outer sound has connected to an inner resonance. An outer message has connected with an inner call that had been dormant. The outer message activated the inner light and made it obvious to them. It was Allah's gift to their fitra (innate nature); it was in their genes.
Once man comprehends the message of tawhid, he sees the one connecting factor in everything and it ends his confusion. Thereafter he will always connect the cause and the effect of events. He will have contentment because he perceives meaning in events. The seeker who has had a taste or a glimpse of the fact that that which he sees outside of him is also inside him, is helped until he discovers this phenomenon in every aspect of existence. He becomes more confirmed in the science of tawhid and thereby moves closer to the real awakening in his heart.
The majority of people who say that they believe in Allah and the Prophet Muhammad, salla-llahu `alayhi wa alihi wa sallam, are hopeful believers. They have consciously put themselves in a situation where real belief is likely to occur. They say: ashhadu an la ilaha illa-llah wa ashhadu anna Muhammadan rasalu-llah. They have accepted the hypothesis. The proof of it will only come when belief is actually experienced. The path is about Allah and nothing changes this. The purpose of creation is to enter into belief. Nothing is wrong with action in the world provided it does not cause harm, but rather leads one closer to higher knowledge.
Once one comes to know the laws that govern creation, nothing comes as a surprise. No event is bewildering anymore because the essence of `peace of mind', that is already ingrained in man, has been brought to consciousness. Man does not like to be disturbed unnecessarily or unjustly. The natural laws themselves are, in fact, a continuum 'of action and reaction. They are one ripple after another, one cause leading to another effect.
The nature of this world is to be in upheaval, and if you do not recognize the basis upon which the final revelation to mankind descended in its complete form, you will be in continual upheaval. The nature of Reality that is beaming within man makes him desire to be timeless, eternal, forever-living, ever-sustaining, ever-independent. These are attributes of God. If he acts according to his capacity, why should he be afflicted with upheaval? The nature of dunya (world in a negative material sense) is to repeatedly be torn like the house of the spider. There is no end to the dynamic rise and fall of the movement of events.
No bird has ever gone up but that it has come down. No one gains affection but that soon he gains hatred. No one builds a house and family but that he loses them. If he does not lose them during his life, he will lose them at his death - this is the cycle. Man has come to die. Experiencing death in the now is the final and absolute confirmation of the message of submission. If man submits to it totally, he finds nothing wrong with the secondary reality or that which has come from Reality.
If man does not submit, he finds anger and disappointment within himself. It is an expression of ignorance of existence. He wants to make the rules of this world, but because he is not God, he cannot. The din tells him to stop his anger now because its nature is fire. One does not simply suppress anger allowing it to manifest later. Anger is suppressed in the hope that the reason for the anger will be reflected upon.
48 And you did not recite before it any book, nor did you transcribe one with your right hand, for then could those who say untrue things have doubted.
The Prophet, salla-llahu `alayhi wa alihi wa sallam, did not copy anything. He could not physically read that which came before through other prophets. He was an orphaned desert boy who, early on in his life, had cared for his own existential needs. But he was endowed with discrimination and soon realized that the ways to knowledge existing around him were actually ways of transgression and loss, so he avoided them. Then, through the purest of hearts, the tree of knowledge bore fruit within him and gave provision to everyone around him. Outwardly, he did not have access to historical information and knowledge that came before him, but in his breast he had the heart of a man of knowledge able to contain the final glorious message to mankind.
Following the Prophet, salla-llahu alayhi wa alihi wa sallam, is the path of Islam. It is a pure, easy and direct path, if one does not complicate it by intellectualizing. If one claims to follow in the Prophet's footsteps then it is up to him to cleanse his breast of debris and make it available to receive that which it is fit for, the root of which is already there in its fitra. Guidance does not come from outside. Allah permeates everything: He is Muhit (the All-Encompassing). Anything in man's breast which he considers important, is an idol, and clearing it from the heart facilitates the growth of original, innate knowledge.
49 Nay! these are clear communications in the breasts of those who are granted knowledge; and none deny Our communications except the unjust.
50 And they say: Why are not signs sent down upon him from his Lord? Say: The signs are only with Allah, and I am only a plain warner.
Adapted from the book: "The Mercy of Qur'an and the Advent of Zaman" by: "Shaykh Fadhlalla Haeri"
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