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Variations by Tariq Mehanna

Step “outside” here on this first day of spring, and you’ll find the scene to be a strange one: You can look up directly at the Sun shining millions of miles above the walls surrounding you, but those walls conceal everything on the very planet you’re standing on.

Over a thousand years ago, the Iraqi mathematician Ibn al-Haytham claimed in his book ‘Kitab al-Manadhir’ (The Book of Optics) that we see things because rays of light pass from objects into our eyes. He wrote this in an era when most Western thinkers believed the opposite: that our eyes shoot rays at objects. But Ibn al-Haytham was proven right, as modern science shows that what we see is light reflected from our surroundings. The retina is a thin layer of tissue lining the sides & back of each eyeball. It contains millions of sensitive cells that absorb this light and convert it into electrical signals that travel into the brain, which then organizes and interprets them into colored images. This is how you see {“what He created for you on Earth in a variety of colors…”} (16:13)

While the colors emerging with spring are concealed from view in here, the fact that colors even exist reveals a thing or two.

Deeper in the same surah, Allah describes a bee’s honey stomach, from which {“there comes a drink in a variety of colors…”} (16:69) Honey exists in a spectrum of colors ranging from white to dark amber, depending on the plants from which the bee obtained its nectar.

Plants themselves exist in a spectrum of colors, as Allah asks: {“Don’t you see that Allah sent down rain from the sky, caused it to penetrate the earth, then caused it to spring up as water-springs, and then produced from it crops in a variety of colors?”} (39:21)

Elsewhere in the Qur’an, He asks if we see that from the same rainfall, {“I produce fruits in a variety of colors?”} He adds that {“there are mountains with streaks that are white, red, and a variety of colors, and others that are very black,”} and also that {“there are people, animals, and cattle that likewise come in a variety of colors…”} (35:27-28)

Details as intricate as our colors & languages are placed as a sign side by side with the infinitesimal Universe: {“And from His signs is the creation of the heavens and the Earth, and the variety in your languages and colors…”} (30:22)

Each ayah quoted above ends by connecting the existence of colors to knowledge: “a sign for people who remember,” and “a sign for people who reflect,” and “a reminder for those who understand,” and “only those who have knowledge,” and “signs for those who have knowledge,” respectively. While most people think nothing of this, the intelligent one will recognize the meaning in a spectrum of colors being given to both nature & people. Just the slice of the Ummah constituting at-Ta’ifah al-Mansurah today includes the palest Chechens, the darkest Nigerians, and everything in-between – despite, as ash-Shawkani wrote, “you all being descended from a single man & woman, and you all being connected through a single race (humanity) & a single criterion (the ability to speak). You became distinct from one another to the point that no person is completely identical to another. Rather, each of you possesses traits that distinguish you from others. This is an example of the power to create that none comprehend except those with knowledge, and none understand except those who think.”

Those who think also think about the beauty given to both nature & people, to the point that the Prophet (sall Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) described in an authentic hadith that during the Mi’raj, “I passed by Yusuf, and I found that he’d been given half of all beauty.” Yusuf was so handsome that Ibn Mas’ud described his face as resembling “a glimmering light, such that when a woman approached him for a need, he’d conceal his face out of fear that she’d be tempted by him.” Indeed, when a group of women saw him, they concluded that {“this isn’t a human being. This is a noble angel.”} (12:31) ash-Shawkani wrote that “they negated his humanity because he was astonishingly handsome on a level unprecedented in humanity. No observer had ever laid eyes on another human being who even came close. When they negated his humanity for this reason, they then described him as an angel. Despite having never seen one, intuition told these women that they’re superior to humans in appearance, essence, attributes, and every other respect.”

When describing the Prophet himself, al-Bara’ bin ‘Azib said that “I never saw anything more beautiful than him.”

He in turn ensured that the Sahabah looked good, as it’s authentically reported that he personally dressed ‘Abd ar-Rahman bin ‘Awf in a black turban, tying it such that the tail hung down his back at four fingers’ length, and explained that “this is better and more beautiful.”

Upon hearing the Prophet recite Surat ‘ar-Rahman,’ one of the kuffar (Qays bin ‘Asim al-Minqari) likened it to a blossoming plant. He then converted to Islam: “I swear by Allah that it’s covered in beauty, and it has a sweetness. Abundant water is at its base, sprouting fruits are at its apex, and these aren’t the words of a human being. I bear witness that there’s no true god but Allah, and that you’re the Messenger of Allah.”

He in turn told us to “beautify the Qur’an with your voices,” and in another narration, to “beautify your voices with the Qur’an.”

A lack of variety & beauty makes prison prison. But with nothing more than a Mushaf & a cell with decent acoustics, Muslim prisoners can add great beauty to dark days simply by hearing themselves recite the Qur’an. This beauty we tap into sitting in our cells can’t be described in words. It reminds us of how difficult it is in the outside world to let the Qur’an affect us on an emotional level.

Its conveyer shares in this beauty, as the Prophet described in an authentic hadith that when he saw Jibril in his original form, “his wings were dripping with multicolored gems whose nature is known only to Allah,” and in another authentic narration, “his feathers were dripping with multicolored pearls and rubies.”

This sighting was at Sidrat al-Muntaha, whose beauty the Prophet described in another authentic hadith: “He then took me to Sidrat al-Muntaha, and it was covered in colors that I couldn’t recognize” – noteworthy, because the human eye can distinguish roughly ten million colors.

While Sidrat al-Muntaha is located up in the sixth heaven, the beauty of the heavens extends all the way down to the first, as Allah {“beautified the nearest heaven with lamps…”} (67:5)

When you view one of these stars through a prism, its white light splits up into a spectrum of various colors. As it burns, each element that makes up the star gives off a signature color that marks itself along the spectrum accordingly. Analyzing the spectrum through a spectroscope is how scientists tell exactly what each star conceals. Just like light reveals colors & their source, colors thus reveal much about light & its source. The Qur’an is a light (64:8). Its source is Allah, and He repeatedly mentions His creation of colors partly to reveal in detail about Himself what His Messenger summarized in one phrase: “Allah is beautiful and loves beauty.”

This is such that He made it the defining feature of an entire season, as Ibn Rajab wrote that “spring is the most beautiful season of the year. It brings to mind the delights of the Jannah and the pleasure of living in it… One of the Salaf would go out to the marketplace on the days that aromatic plants and fruits were being sold and stop, reflect, and then ask Allah for the Jannah.”

Of the fruits that blossom in late spring are grapes. In a speech he gave after Salat al-Kusuf, the Prophet described having just seen the grapes in the Jannah before his eyes. He tried to grab the grapes but couldn’t reach them, explaining to the Sahabah that “had I grabbed a bunch or handful, you would’ve kept eating from it as long as this world exists.” But of the millions of tons of grapes harvested in this world annually, manufacturers use the majority to produce wine! In this way, a single fruit leads people to diverse destinations: some to the Jannah, and others to Jahannam. Similarly, a single source of water leads to diversity in the grapes themselves, as Allah describes {“gardens of grapes, crops, and date palms growing into two or three from a single stem root or otherwise, watered with the same water. And I make some of them taste better than others…”} (13:4)

So just as identical fruits display a spectrum of colors, they conceal a spectrum of tastes.

Such is the case with people, as Shaykh Hafidh al-Hakami wrote in ‘Ma’arij al-Qabul’ that “people reach various levels in the Din according to the various levels of Iman in their hearts. Accordingly, some are better than others. The best & highest of them are the Messengers of strong resolve. The lowest of them are the people of Tawhid who mix good deeds with bad. Between these two ends of the spectrum are levels & degrees known only to Allah, Who created & provided for them all.”

He then explained that “just as they vary in the Iman in their hearts, they vary in physically manifesting that Iman. In fact, I swear by Allah that they vary when it comes to a single action that they all perform in the same place at the same time!

For example, the jama’ah for Salah is lined up in rows. As far as the eye can tell, everyone is standing, bowing, and prostrating; they’re all going down & coming up; they’re all making the same takbir, tahmid, tasbih, and tahlil; they’re all reciting the Qur’an & other adhkar, going through the same motions, in the same masjid, at the same time, and behind the same imam.

But between them is a vast divide. For one person, Salah is his source of pleasure that he wishes would last as long as his very life; another considers himself to be trapped in the most suffocating prison that he wishes would end quicker than the blink of an eye. He may wish to leave it, and even regret having joined it in the first place! One person worships Allah while aware of His presence and surveillance, as if he can see Him. Another’s heart is out in a field somewhere, travelling down winding roads such that he has no idea what he’s saying, doing, or even how many raka’at he’s prayed. All of this occurs while a casual observer sees them performing it identically. But if the veil is lifted, he’ll see variation that can’t be grasped except by Allah, Who observes each person & what he does, has knowledge of everything, and from Whom nothing can be concealed.”

He continued: “This also applies to Jihad. You see a group of people going out for it under the same leader, fighting the same enemy, following the same religion, and apparently identical in their strength & preparation. But one person is fighting out of blind partisanship, another is fighting to show off & make a name for himself as a brave man, and another is fighting with no concern but to have a share of war spoils. Another, however, is fighting to raise the Word of Allah, and this is the Mujahid in the path of Allah and nobody else. This is the one for whom each movement, each moment of stress, and each moment of hunger is credited as a good deed.

This also applies to Zakah, Sawm, Hajj, commanding the good, prohibiting the bad, and every other act of Iman. People vary in this, some being better than others. This is all determined by the level of knowledge & certainty settled in their hearts.”

This world is thus nothing but a collection of spectrums & variations – as is the next, as the Shaykh continued by concluding that “this level also determines how you’ll die.

It determines how you’ll be resurrected.

It determines how much sweat you’ll stand in at the Mawqif.

It determines the scrolls of your deeds and their weight on the Mizan.

It determines how much light you’ll receive on the Sirat.

It determines how fast you’ll cross it – and you won’t be sped up by lineage if your actions slow you down.

It determines how fast you’ll run towards the Jannah.

It determines how much your ranks will be raised within it.

It determines your proximity to Allah on the day you see Him in it.

It determines the size of your kingdom in it & the joy it’ll contain.

And through His mercy, Allah distinguishes whoever He wishes…”

Written by: Tariq Mehanna
Friday, the 29th of Jumada al-Ula 1436 (20th of March 2015)
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