Orbits by Tariq Mehanna

Cage – n. 1. a boxlike enclosure having wires, bars, or the like, for confining or displaying birds or animals. 2. anything that confines or imprisons; prison.

Over the years, I’ve had the pleasure of viewing the interiors of a variety of steel cages. I’ve been locked in cages in the basements of Boston courthouses; I’ve been caged across from a barn and stacks of hay in Oklahoma; I’ve enjoyed the view from rooftop cages surrounded by New York City skyscrapers – I was once even held in a cage on the other side of a wall from a softball field, where I could hear and smell people having a cookout. In total, I estimate that I’ve spent over 2,000 hours in one cage or another over the past five years.

What most of you dread is, for me, a getaway. One experiences things while locked in a cage that cannot be experienced while locked in a cell. For example, it’s the place to go when interested in fresh oxygen. And although the view is generally obstructed by razorwire and steel mesh, you can turn your sight to the heavens and think…

It’s a cool autumn night here in the Midwest, and the cage has been left unlocked past its scheduled closing time (they lock it early as the days get shorter, since we apparently can’t be properly surveilled in the dark). As I walk out, I look up at the sky: {“You will see no discrepancy in the creation of the Merciful. Look again: do you see any rifts? Then look again and again – your sight will come back humbled and unable to find such rifts.”} (67:3-4) Commenting on these verses, the great Yemeni scholar Muhammad ash-Shawkani wrote that when looking at the natural world around you, “you won’t see any contradiction or disparity, crookedness or inconsistency. Rather, it is all smooth, consistent, firmly structured, and proof of the existence of its Creator. Even though the various parts of creation vary in form and detail, they are all nonetheless bound together in perfect harmony in this way.”

If you stop and reflect, you’ll find that everything in the Universe indeed shares a common structure. This is true from the submicroscopic level all the way to the stellar:

We and everything around us are composed of incalculable atoms. Each atom contains a nucleus, around which electrons orbit billions of times every millionth of a second; we likewise make tawaf around the Ka’bah on Earth; the Moon is likewise orbiting the Earth; as you are reading this, our planet is likewise orbiting the Sun at over 62,000 miles an hour; the Sun is likewise orbiting the center of the Milky Way at 136 miles each second; the Milky Way, composed of over 200 billion other stars, is part of a cluster of over thirty other galaxies (known as the Local Group), and is orbiting the center of this cluster at 372 miles each second; the Local Group is part of a larger family of over a hundred other such clusters (known as the Virgo Supercluster), and is orbiting the center of this supercluster; the Virgo Supercluster, over 110 million light years wide (one light year equaling roughly six trillion miles), is part of an even larger cluster of superclusters (known as the Pisces-Cetus Supercluster Complex), and is orbiting the center of this complex, and so on. And in a reversal of direction to our benefit, it’s through the explosions of such faraway stars upon death that every life-essential chemical element buried in the Earth (e.g., carbon, oxygen, etc.) got to us.

Our lives share this structure with the Universe, consisting of seemingly unrelated events which likewise orbit in expanding rings around a nucleus. I can give plenty of examples from my own experiences, but suffice it to say that Allah has subtly embedded this pattern in the Qur’an, leaving us to discover this secret that unlocks the mysteries of so much that each of us encounters daily. In the story of Prophet Yusuf, for example, the nucleus is his shirt. The major events of his life orbit around this nucleus: As a young boy thrown in the well and separated from home, his shirt was taken to prove a lie to his father – his authority at the time (12:18); the circle expands to shortly before his imprisonment as a young man, when his shirt disproved a lie to al-‘Aziz – his authority at the time (12:25-28); the circle expands again to after his release from prison, and to a reversal of direction to his benefit where his shirt was used to finally reunite him with his parents in Egypt – where he was now an authority (12:93).

As I begin to walk around in the cage, rain begins to fall. When the Prophet would see rain, he would say that “it is a mercy,” and he would fold back some of his clothing to allow the raindrops to touch his skin. Water is a nucleus around which the very life of the Ummah revolves:

It’s a condition for the existence of life itself (21:30, 24:45); purification with water is a condition for the acceptance of Salah; the opening du’a’ of the Salah mentions water as a purifier of sins (“O Allah, wash me of my sins with water, snow, and hail”); the kuffar attacked the Prophets & their followers for being “people who purify themselves” (7:82); it’s therefore fitting that water be used to purify the Earth of them, as occurred in the eras of Nuh and Musa. In fact, the major events of Musa’s struggle against Fir’awn revolved around water: As a baby being hunted by Fir’awn, Musa’s life was saved when his mother hid him in a river (28:7); the circle expands to him as a grown man and fugitive again being hunted by Fir’awn, finding refuge at a Madyan watering place (28:23); the circle expands again to Musa as the leader of an entire ummah, and to a reversal of direction to his benefit where he watched the seawater drown Fir’awn & his entire army (28:40). Thousands of years later, Allah sent rain upon the Mujahidin at Badr (8:11) – a battle which ended with the killing of “the Fir’awn of this ummah”; before ‘Isa bin Maryam rules the world at the end of time, the Prophet described that Allah will send rain which “will wash the ground clean until it is left as shiny as a mirror.”

Water is thus a precursor to life, to Salah, and to the establishment of Allah’s rule on Earth. And just as Allah teaches us to thank Him for the ability to purify ourselves for Him (5:6), He teaches us to thank Him when He purifies the Earth for us:

Ibn Kathir wrote that the first Friday khutbah at al-Masjid al-Aqsa after Salah ad-Din retook it from the Crusaders was given by a man named al-Qadi Muhi ad-Din az-Zikki (grandfather of the great scholar Ibn ‘Asakir). The very first words spoken in that khutbah were the following verse: {“So, the oppressors were obliterated, and praise be to Allah, the Lord of the Universe.”} (6:45) The significance of the verse, ash-Shawkani pointed out, is that “it teaches the believers to thank Allah when blessings come their way. From the greatest of these blessings is the destruction of the oppressors who corrupt the Earth rather than rectify it, as they are more damaging to the believers than anything else.”

Expanding on this theme of purification, Sayyid Qutb commented on the same verse by asking: “Could Allah be thanked for a gift greater than that of purifying the Earth of oppressors? Could He be thanked for a mercy greater than His mercy towards His worshippers in carrying out such a purification? Allah destroyed the nations of Nuh, Hud, Salih, and Lut – just as He destroyed the Pharaohs, the Greeks, the Romans, and others – through this sunnah: the sunnah of istidraj (gradual entrapment). Behind the blossoming-then-destruction of their civilizations lies that hidden secret of Allah’s power, this manifest portion of His sunnah, and this divine explanation of known historical events.”

He continued: “Those nations possessed such culture, power, and luxury that they in some ways exceeded what today’s nations enjoy as they drown in their own authority and luxury, deluded by their possessions, and deluding others who are clueless as to the sunnah of Allah when it comes to hardship and ease. These nations are unaware that such a sunnah even exists, and they are unaware that Allah is gradually entrapping them in accordance with this sunnah. Those who swim in the orbit of such nations are dazzled by their temporary power; they are impressed by their abundant wealth; and they are deluded by the fact that Allah leaves these nations untouched for awhile despite their refusal to worship or know Him, instead rebelling against His authority, claiming for themselves godlike attributes, corrupting the Earth, and oppressing other people after having transgressed against the authority of Allah Himself.”

Sayyid then summarized his experience in America: “When I lived in the United States of America, I saw for myself a confirmation of Allah’s words: {“So, when they ignored all of the warning signs sent to remind them, I opened for them the doors of every worldly pleasure…”} (6:44) The scene depicted in this verse is one of an outpour of endless resources and goods that are unlikely to exist anywhere on the planet as much as they do there (i.e., America). I saw those people deluded by their opulence, thinking it to be the rightful inheritance of the white man. I saw the arrogance and brutality with which they treated people of color, and the conceit with which they dealt with all of the other peoples of the world… especially if such colored people were Muslims. I would see all of this, and I would recall this verse and await the implementation of the sunnah of Allah, practically seeing its precursors make their way towards these heedless people: {“… until, when they became arrogant and boastful with what they had, I suddenly seized them, and they were plunged into despair. So, the oppressors were obliterated, and praise be to Allah, the Lord of the Universe.”} (6:45)

He then observed that “although Allah has ceased His sunnah of completely wiping out nations since the mission of His Messenger (peace be upon him), He has left other types of punishment to remain. Humanity – particularly the nations which have had the doors of every material pleasure opened for them – tastes quite a bit of this despite the high level of productivity and wealth in their societies. The psychological, mental, and spiritual distress, the queer sexual practices, and the moral depravity suffered by these societies today – all of this drowns out the enjoyment resulting from that productivity and wealth. These punishments stain the lives of its citizens with depression, anxiety, and sadness.”

It’s as if he’s living amongst us today…

And over a half century before the establishing of the Dawlah (may Allah continue to give it victory), Sayyid Qutb concluded: “But it should be pointed out that Allah’s sunnah in destroying falsehood is that the truth is first manifested on Earth in the form of a nation. Through this nation, Allah then smashes falsehood, thereby annihilating it. So, the people of truth shouldn’t sit lazily, waiting for events to run their course with no effort on their part. In such a case, they wouldn’t actually be representing the truth or be from its people. The truth isn’t manifested except in a nation that establishes Allah’s rule on Earth, and repels those who violate it and claim for themselves godlike attributes.”

On that note, the circle around water expands one more time, finally transcending this world and reaching into the next:

While the kuffar will be denied even a drop of water in Hell (7:50), the Prophet confirmed that the shuhada’ who gave their lives throughout history to purify the Earth enjoy plenty of it as we speak, as they await their eventual entrance into Paradise. In an authentic hadith, he said: “The shuhada’ are at Bariq (a river at the gates of Paradise), in a green domed structure. Their provision is brought out to them from Paradise day & night.” Noting the disparity between the Muslims & kuffar in this context, Shaykh ‘Abdullah ‘Azzam commented that these provisions for the shuhada’ “are presented to their souls such that they feel refreshed & happy, just as Fir’awn’s people are exposed to the Fire day & night such that they feel pain (referring to 40:46).” Another source of pain for them will be water (6:70), while it’s water that will physically illuminate us in the future, as the Prophet said that on the Day of Judgment, “I will look ahead of me, behind me, and to my right and left, and I will recognize my ummah amongst all the others.” A man asked him how he would recognize them, to which he explained: “Their faces and limbs will be shining with the traces of wudu’, and nobody else will be like that…”

Having spotted no rifts whatsoever, I turn my sight back down from the sky, and I walk out of the cage.

Written by: Tariq Mehanna

Wednesday, the 5th of Muharram 1436 (29th of October 2014 – don’t forget to fast the Day of ‘Ashura’)

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