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Carry the Flag

“The final Hour will not come until time becomes compressed. So, a year will seem like a month; a month will seem like a week; a week will seem like a day; a day will seem like an hour; and an hour will pass like the time it takes for a palm leaf to burn up.”

In this authentic hadith describing the state of the world near the end of time, the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) foretold of a phenomenon that we can now all attest to. Time passes faster than ever, whether you’re thinking of how quickly your children have grown before your eyes, thinking of your own life in retrospect, thinking each night about how there weren’t enough hours in the day to accomplish all that you’d intended – or thinking about how inconspicuously you are now being approached by the month of Ramadan.

As a month which commemorates the revelation of the Qur’an, many articles written for the occasion of Ramadan deal with the rewards of reciting the Qur’an, how often the Salaf would recite it in the month, etc. – none of which are the focus of this article. Rather, our focus is something deeper. Imagine a plain metal box in front of you – at first glance, it is not worth more than the metal from which it was constructed. Your view of the box changes, however, once someone walks by and flips open the lid to reveal gold filling it to the brim. It has now become much more than a box. Likewise, the Mushaf you hold in your hand deceptively appears as paper and ink. But if you properly investigate its contents, you’ll uncover immense power hidden within. It is this power which captivated people like al-Imam ash-Shafi’i, and magnetized him into reciting the entire Qur’an sixty times in Ramadan. It is this power that I want to highlight from a number of angles: the power of the Qur’an to change you. 

Some thoughts:

1) Ponder over how the Qur’an could affect a mountain: {“If We had sent down this Qur’an upon a mountain, you would have seen it humbled and crumbled from the fear of Allah. And We present these parables to people for them to ponder.”} [59:21] 

ash-Shawkani explained that this is “…because of its importance, its greatness, its eloquence, its strength of expression, and the lessons it contains that soften hearts. Because of all this, were it to have been sent down upon any of the mountains on Earth, you would have seen that mountain – no matter how solid and massive – crumbling to pieces from humility before Allah, from caution of His punishment, and from fear that it would not be able to give due respect to His Words. So, with this vision and parable, one grasps the loftiness of the Qur’an and how deeply it affects the heart.”

In other words, if this is how a solid, hulking, inanimate mountain would be changed by the Qur’an, imagine its potential in changing your tender, living heart and soul…

2) Ponder, now, over how it physically affected the one upon whom it was sent (peace be upon him).

Open up ‘Sahih al-Bukhari’, go to the second narration of the first chapter, and you’ll find that the Prophet was asked: “How does the revelation come to you?” He explained: “Sometimes, it comes to me like the ringing of a bell. This is the most difficult of all…” ‘A’ishah then added: “Indeed, I saw the Prophet receiving revelation on a very cold day, and I nonetheless saw sweat dripping from his forehead.” (Ibn Hajar commented: “What can be understood from this is that, in fact, all of the revelation was immensely difficult for him to receive.”) Following this is the Prophet describing in his own words how, just seconds before the very first verses of the Qur’an were revealed to him in the cave of Hira’, Jibril “took hold of me and squeezed me so hard that I could not bear it” – and then did it a second time, and then a third time (Ibn Hajar pointed out that another authentic narration found elsewhere specifies that “…he took me by the throat.”). Two narrations later, Ibn ‘Abbas summarized: “The Messenger of Allah endured great difficulty while receiving revelation.” (As Ibn Hajar quoted in his commentary, “this is because strong words are introduced in a manner which announces their strength, in order for people to pay attention.”)

So, the intensity of the content of the Qur’an is reflected even in the physical intensity the Prophet endured just to receive it.

It is likewise reflected in the extent to which many have suffered for it. Two and half centuries after those first verses were revealed (in the year 231 H), the great scholar Ahmad bin Nasr al-Khuza’i found himself standing on a leather executioner’s mat, his hands and feet tightly bound in rope. As he stood waiting, a razor-sharp sword was suddenly swung into his neck. It was left there for a few seconds before being withdrawn, and then brought crashing down on the top of his head. It was finally plunged into his stomach, after which he fatally collapsed onto the mat. He was then decapitated, and his headless body was transferred to an area near Baghdad and crucified in a public square. His head was impaled on a spike and put on display for the public in Baghdad itself. This man had been executed by the Mu’tazilah for no reason other than his persistence in affirming a single fact: that the Qur’an is the speech of Allah. Ironically, his execution took place right on the eve of Ramadan.

3) A book so powerful and touching was designed to affect the entire planet.

In his introduction to ‘Tafhim al-Qur’an’, al-Mawdudi reminds us that “the Qur’an is neither a book of abstract theories and cold doctrines which the reader can grasp while seated in a cozy armchair, nor is it merely a religious book like other religious books whose secrets can be grasped in seminaries and oratories. Rather, it is the blueprint and guidebook of a message, of a mission, of a movement. As soon as this Book was revealed, it drove a quiet, kind-hearted man from his isolation and seclusion, and placed him upon the battlefield of life to challenge a world that had gone astray. It inspired him to raise his voice against falsehood, and pitted him in a grim struggle against those carrying the banner of disbelief, or disobedience to Allah, of deviance and error. One after another, it sought out everyone who had a pure and noble soul, gathering them together under the flag of the Messenger. It also infuriated all those who, by their nature, were bent on evil and drove them to wage war against the bearers of Truth. This is the Book which inspired and directed that great movement which began with the preaching of a message by an individual, and continued for no fewer than twenty-three years, until the Kingdom of God was truly established on Earth.”

So, the Qur’an once changed the planet. And as we can see, it is in the process of doing so again. 

4) But it changes the world by first changing the people who live in it. 

al-Fudayl bin ‘Iyad said: “The memorizer of the Qur’an carries the flag of Islam. He shouldn’t waste his time in vain amusement, distractions, and pointless matters with those who do so, out of respect for the Qur’an.” Such a person implements by opening up the Qur’an and seeing, for example, that the believers “turn away from pointless matters” (23:3) and “if they pass by pointless matters, they pass by while dignifying themselves above them” (25:72), while on the other hand seeing that “among the people are those who purchase pointless talk” (31:6). Looking at this, you ask yourself: where do I want to stand? Then you make a choice.

You come across those who “do not encourage feeding of the poor” (89:18) and “have an extreme love of wealth” (89:20), but also those who “don’t feel in their hearts any need for what they’ve been given, and prefer the welfare of others over themselves even if at the risk of poverty” (59:9). 

You find those who, “if they stand up to pray, do so lazily and for show, and don’t remember Allah except little” (4:142), but also those who “are humble and focused in their prayers” (23:2). 

You come across shallow disbelievers who simply “indulge in this life, and eat like cattle eat” (47:12), but also the deep thinkers who “reflect over the creation of the heavens and Earth” (3:191). 

You come across “he who takes his own desires as his god” (45:23), but you’ll also meet those who “intensely love Allah more than anything else” (2:165). 

And you even find the Qur’an telling the story of today’s world – our story. You come across the leaders and governments who are “tyrannical on Earth, and made its people into subjugated groups, oppressing a group of them by slaughtering their sons” (28:4), who threaten them with prison if they refuse to submit (26:29), and who target Muslim women and children with fire (85:5) for “no reason other than that they believe in Allah” (85:8). These tyrants claim to represent the civilized world, and are materially wealthy and technologically advanced (28:76). Thus, those who are duped by this world choose to ignore their disbelief and oppression of others to instead admire them, their society, and culture with awe, thinking to themselves “if only we had what has been given” to them (28:79). A few sincere scholars stand up to try to open people’s eyes (28:80). As a result, some Muslims wake up and migrate to the lands of Islam after their suffering in the lands of the enemy (16:110). A few of them are even inspired to “fight in the path of Allah, and the oppressed men, women, and children,” to defend them in various parts of the world (4:75). But many choose to remain in the land of the enemy, who is ever-increasing in oppressing them (4:97). Not only this, but such house slaves, “while sitting back, they say to their brothers: ‘If only they had listened to us, they wouldn’t have been killed'” (3:168). As if that wasn’t bad enough, and despite the fact that the tyrants are clearly “allies of one another” (5:51, 8:73, 45:19), and want to tempt us into watering down Islam (68:9), and will only be pleased with us if we totally abandon it and follow their ways (2:120), and do not love us even though some of us love them (3:119) – despite all this, the scholars-for-dollars assure their disbelieving allies from the People of the Book that they are their reliable partners in the War on Terror until the end (59:11). But because they are “swaying between this and that, not fully here or there” (4:143), they of course also assure us that they are believers (2:14) and sort of, kind of want victory for the Ummah. So, you have to put up with he who, “if tested, turns back on his heels” (22:11), but you also have the pleasure of meeting the “men who have remained true to their covenant with Allah” and “have not changed in the least” (33:23).

Thus, when you read the Qur’an, you are presented with a wide array of characters and their characteristics, ranging from the very best of humanity to its very worst. And al-Hasan al-Basri said: “Those who came before you saw the Qur’an as a collection of messages from their Lord. They would ponder over them by night and implement them by day.” So, now ask yourself: which of these people do I want to be? What choice am I going to make? This is the challenge that the Qur’an puts before you.

5) As the Qur’an builds you in this way, consider the fact that during your days in Ramadan, you basically replace one form of nourishment for another: you are prohibited from food & drink at the same time that you are pushed to delve deeper into the Qur’an. Think about the wisdom in this. The point is for you to confirm for yourself that your body can survive even on a minimal amount of food & drink, and that the source of true life – the nourishment you cannot do without – is found only in the Qur’an. 

I recently experienced this myself. Following my sentencing in court, I was immediately moved from Boston to Rhode Island, to Brooklyn, to Manhattan, back to Brooklyn, to Oklahoma City, and finally to my current location in Indiana – a process which lasted approximately six weeks. Because of my frequent flyer status, I was never in any one place long enough to obtain an Arabic copy of the Qur’an. It was the single longest period of my life in which I didn’t have access to the Qur’an, and I could feel it. When I finally arrived here and got hold of one, I felt replenished.

6) This brings me to my last point: take advantage of the Qur’an while you have access to it, because there will come a time when nobody will have access to it. In another authentic hadith, the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) warned us that right before the end of time, “Islam will fade away like color fades from fabric, to the point that nobody will know of fasting, prayer, the rites of pilgrimage, or charity. And the Qur’an will be lifted up and vanish overnight, such that not a single verse of it will remain on Earth…”

Written by: Tariq Mehanna
Friday, 21st of Rajab 1434 (31st of May 2013)
Terre Haute CMU 

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