25 The Differentiator (Al-Furqan): Poems based on the Qur’an with exegesis
The Arabic word, “iabarak” is translated here by Abdel Haleem as “differentiator” while other translators have translated it as “blessed” or “criterion.” “Al-Furqan” is another name of the Qur’an which refers to, “that which differentiates right from wrong.” Abdulaziz Sachedina explains, “…the Qur’an anchors moral norms in the reflective process and invites human beings to deliberate about the consequences of their actions and to learn to avoid any behavior that leads to perilous ends. Moreover, it appeals to the human capacity for learning from past destructiveness in order to avoid it in the future. The assumption in the Qur’an is that there is something concrete about the human condition that cannot be denied by any reasonable person endowed with the ‘heart to understand,’ that is, the conscience to judge its consequences.” (1) Sachedina makes an important point about reflecting on what is being read to more effectively establish spiritual transformation. A book teaching “right from wrong” is useless unless the reader is able to apply the teachings to their own behaviors for correction purposes.
Allah created all things in “exact measure” (v. 2). Meaning all things were predetermined by Allah to conform to the structure and process of His determination which is an ongoing process of perfecting creation for His glory. So, why would idol worshipers deny the One True God who created all things and worship those gods who can‘t create, “and are themselves created, that can neither harm nor help themselves”(v. 3), when Allah has control over even death, life, and resurrection? Additionally, those who questioned the validity of the Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) prophethood will find themselves forced into a narrow tunnel chained to other disbelievers crying out for relief by death, but will instead will be told “Do not cry out this day for one death, but for many” (v. 14), for the soul does not die nor does the flame ever die out. Furthermore, when the idol worships are gathered together to Allah, they will be asked, “Was it your [false gods] who led these creatures of Mine astray, or did they stray from the path by themselves?” (v.17) Those gathered will reply that Allah “granted them and their forefathers pleasures in this life, until they forgot [His] Reminder and were ruined” (v. 18). This theme is again repeated in verse 27, “On that Day the evildoer will bite his own hand [out of frustration] and say, ‘If only I had taken the same path as the Messenger. Woe is me! If only I had not taken so and so as a friend — he led me away from the Revelation after it reached me. Satan has always betrayed mankind” (vs. 27–29). Do you perceive the pattern of blaming? The false gods led them astray, or it was because of the pleasures in life that Allah Himself granted them (in this case they are blaming Allah), a friend, and Satan, who always betrays humans. These are the typical responses of the chronic sinner to blame something or someone else for leading them away from Allah. In order to continue sinning, the one who is culpable must utilize denial to block the signals from the conscience, for “human beings are created with intuitive reason and an innate capacity to know right from wrong.” (2) Subsequently, they use deception in an attempt to defend themselves, not realizing they are adding judgement upon judgement upon themselves.
The next section begins with, “No messenger have We sent before you [Muhammad] who did not eat food and walk about in the marketplace” (v. 20). Verse 20 appears to be a response to verse 7, “What sort of messenger is this? He eats food and walks about in the marketplaces!” The expectation of a leader is that they wouldn’t be seen in such a lowly place at the market because they would have underlings to take care of such things. Kings were never seen in the marketplace with the commoners, so if Muhammad (pbuh) was a leader why would he be shopping in the marketplace? It must be remembered that the Arabian Chiefs were wealthy, and had the expectation that a leader would be wealthy and powerful. However, Allah hardly ever raises up spiritual leaders or prophets who have wealth, status and advanced education. It is the world’s perception that a person who advances into a leadership position must have some sort of credibility — for example, if it is a spiritual leader, then the expectation is of advanced scholarly education at the best schools. In this way, they prove by their excellent academic background their ability, and so others will assume because of the distinguished, elitist background that their skills are superior. But, Allah is a miracle worker and wants us to marvel at His the work of His Hands. The person He prepares to lead is being directed by Allah and His heavenly hosts. They typically don’t have any worldly credibility, but will significantly advance the Kingdom of Allah on earth because they are only prepared and empowered by Allah. Additionally, the Surah states that all messengers were mortal, and not spirit beings as the disbelievers are inferring they should be in order for Muhammad’s prophethood to have credibility of belief.
Directly following verse 20 is, “But we have made some of you a means of testing others — will you stand fast? Your Lord is always watching.” There is an inference of temptation — a test to determine if Muhammad will allow the self-centered trap of his ego to increase his standing and position in the community. And, in verse 30, “The Messenger has said, ‘Lord, my people treat this Quran as something to be shunned,’ but We have always appointed adversaries from the wicked, for every prophet: Your Lord is [a] sufficient guide and helper.” The adversaries are meant to strengthen the Prophet in standing firm in defense of Allah’s Word that has come through the Prophet. The tests sent by Allah are not meant to be easy so the Prophet can be adequately prepared as an example and witness of strength to lead His people in holding firm to the truth, even if it means being willing to give up their lives in defense of that same truth. The disbelievers attempt to refute the validity of the Quran by asking Muhammad why it wasn’t sent to him all at once, and the response is that it was gradually sent to strengthen Muhammad’s heart. “They cannot put any argument to you without Our bringing you the truth and the best explanation” (v. 33). In other words, many Surah’s were revealed in a timely manner for responses to direct concerns or incidents that were happening to the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and his community during the years of revelation. In speaking about the disbelievers who continually questioned the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) about his validity as Prophet, and the Qur’an as the actual Word of Allah, “It is those driven [falling] on their faces to Hell who will be in the worst place — they are the furthest from the right path” (v. 34). For, “who can provide for you if He withholds His provision? Yet they persist in their insolence and their avoidance of the Truth. Who is better guided, someone who falls on his face, or someone who walks steadily on a straight path?” (67:21–22) “Falling on their faces,” is a metaphor for those who refuse to acknowledge the truth — they have no guidance, so will stumble and fall into a place of shame.
The Surah now mentions those communities who rejected their prophets and refused to acknowledge Allah’s signs through the Prophets (Moses, Noah, Ad, Thamud, al-Rass, “and many generations in between”). “To each of these We gave warnings, and each of them We destroyed completely. These believers must have passed by the town that was completely destroyed by the terrible rain — did they not see it?” (v. 40) The warners who were sent to various communities who were subsequently destroyed due to unbelief are mentioned frequently throughout the Qur’an as proof of the consequences of unbelief. Because of the significantly lower population numbers, and reduced contact between communities, more messengers were sent to various communities at different times to provide revelation of the One True God and to warn them of future destruction if they refuse to believe. In our present time of globalization, there will not be messengers for different “communities,” but one Prophet who will be responsible for warning all of humanity of the pending storm that will be leashed upon the earth. As these communities should have listened to their messengers, so it is humanity’s responsibility to understand the warnings in Allah’s Books, and to pay attention to the present signs. The time is near, so now is not the time to deny the truth that is being presented. When the time is at hand, it will already be too late. The Surah tells the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) to think of the person who takes “his own passion as a god,” so is it Muhammad’s responsibility to closely guard and watch over those he has given the message and warning to? If they refuse to listen and understand by not acknowledging the truth, then the destruction will come upon them unawares even though they were warned. “They are just like cattle — no, they are further from the path” (v. 44) Even cattle will follow the same path to a water source, so those humans who refuse to listen wander haphazardly through their lives, and are not able to use their reason to follow the path that is apparent to those who believe.
The next section addresses various signs from nature, which again is a recurring strategy used in the Qur’an. Ibn Arabi writing about “signs,” “The Cosmos is an infinite display of ayat, or signs, the intelligent interpretation and contemplation of which leads one, inevitably back toward the absolute and unitive truth of God.” (3) The Surah mentions shade, “Do you see how your Lord lengthens the shade? If He had willed, He could have made it stand still — We made the sun its indicator — but we gradually draw it towards Us, little by little” (45–46), and the day being like a resurrection, the winds as a herald of Allah’s mercy of rain, and the rain so that it “can revive a dead land with it.” Al-Arabi bids us to look closer at the hidden symbolic meaning in nature which represents a spiritual truth. Nature is like scripture which can be viewed and perceived in its external layer with its outer, basic truth, or through reflection and reason to obtain the deeper truth. There are patterns within patterns, and symbols which expand wisdom and knowledge to further spiritual progress on the Straight Path. Additionally, as whales use echolation to create a three dimensional view of their environment by the use of awareness of returning sound waves, so do humans have the similar ability of discernment to perceive that which is beyond normal human senses to guide us closer to Allah.
Allah made the sun the shade’s indicator — the shade is gradually drawn towards the center of a physical object at noon. According to Al-Arabi, this symbolizes humans physicality which blocks the Spirit, and subsequently creates a shadow or darkness. We live in shadowlands not able to fully apprehend the glory and love of Allah’s light. “…but We gradually draw it towards Us, little by little,” — reflect on this after the above explanation of the symbol of shade. Allah gradually draws our darkness towards Him, so that we may know Him, and His light is more fully able to transform us into the true image of His being. For when the darkness is removed, we not only are filled with light, but reflect His incredible light outwards to others. When this happens we will find that people will be drawn to us like moths to the light because they sense the goodness and love of the light. Deep inside everyone of us is the yearning and great need to be loved unconditionally. Close your eyes, and imagine every person you interact with loving you without judgement, blame, or criticism. Can you feel your very being expanding into its full potential because now the light is able to reach your heart to allow you to grow? And, yes it is another symbol from the natural world…just like plants and trees need the light to grow upwards, so do we.
Think of living in a desert environment where water is scarce and whether there is rain or not can bring life or death. Imagine a drought, which makes it more difficult to find water, but can cause starvation. You feel a wind blowing towards you, and lift up your nose up to sniff the air. The wind has moisture in it which you can smell, so you prostrate yourself before the Almighty Lord because you know he has answered your prayers, for it is Allah who has sent you the wind to let you know His life saving rain is coming. Look deeper…just like the desert in Saudia Arabia which encroached more and more on what once a green flourishing area, we too are seeing the dry desolation of the desert encroach upon our world. When we too begin to suffer from the pain of experiencing too much violence and corruption, we will lift up our heads and pray. We are experiencing a severe drought, and the water is drying up such that we are not being nourished with spiritual food and water. He will hear your prayers and send the wind to let you know change is coming. His Spirit blows over the earth, and flourishes and guides us to make Himself known. The physical wind also blows seeds and pollen so that new growth is possible. And, His Spirit will plant seeds of faith and hope to a dying world to bring it back to spiritual life. Every symbol represents His Resurrection — it is in a constant cycle of being reborn again, do you see? Look at the signs, pay attention, and praise Him for His Bounty and Mercy. “Many times We have repeated this to people so that they might take heed, but most persist in their ingratitude” (v. 50). Throughout the Qur’an we are told again and again to pay attention to the signs, so look deeply into your hearts and ask yourselves what your spiritual condition is, and what you want the spiritual condition of the world to be, because Allah has the power to transform our entire world into a paradise, but we must be willing to submit to Him — Islam! Let thankfulness rise up in your hearts for all of Allah’s creation and His blessings, this is what Gabriel is telling us — Allah loves us and wants what is best for us — He delights in us, He blesses us out of His loving kindness, and yet many of us are still ungrateful.
“Bow down before the Lord of Mercy” (v. 60), and yet the disbelievers turn away from the very Creator who created them…“Exalted is He who put constellations in the heavens, a radiant light, and an illuminating moon — -it is He who made the night and day follow each other — so anyone who wishes may be mindful or show gratitude” (vs. 61–62). Oh, Praise Him, Praise Him for His glorious Creation! The Surah closes with a description of “the servants of the Lord of Mercy,” who pray to their Lord, “Make us good examples to those who are aware of You” (v. 74), yes indeed, transform us so that we may be a witness to You, The Holy One. Transform us so that our lives will draw others who desperately need Allah’s love and hope in their lives. For Allah has even blessed us with the tools to seek and understand Him:
“The purpose of creating human beings, accordingly, is to develop their fitra in such a way that they attain moral and spiritual perfection through the guidance that God bestows in two forms: first, in the form of practical intelligence (al-aal al-’amali) in order to fortify the soul to fathom the purpose of its creation, the second, in the form of the right path for the individual in order to achieve salvation in the hereafter.” Sayyid Qutb (4)
(1) Islam and the Challenge of Human Rights, Sachedina, p. 50
(2) p. 12
(3) Bezels of Wisdom, p. 96
(4) Fi zilai al-qur’an (Beirut: Librairie du Liban, 1968, part 6, p. 2416
That which is hidden in the deep
calls out to one another
in tonal waves
expanding and returning
Praise Allah for His Creation!
Teaming with life
but apparently barren,
the cold, bare Arctic landscape
desolate and alone
is touched by the Sun.
Praise Allah for His Creation!
The dripping wet rain forest
hiding secrets of healing,
explodes in fecundity
reaching higher and higher
creating canopies of light and darkness.
Praise Allah for His Creation!
The Mountains majesty
filled with diversity,
teaming with life,
tumbling water down boulders
from melted snow
streaming onto the plains.
Praise Allah for His Creation.
And yet we destroy
that which Allah has created;
The sea life is dying,
the arctic ice is melting,
the rain forest is being burned away,
and pollution hangs over the Rockies.
Who did Allah make as stewards over His Creation?
Beg Allah for His Creation.