Surah 13 Thunder (Al-Ra’d): Poems based on the Qur’an with exegesis
Abdel Haleem translation: http://www.kaskas.com/home/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/Quran-Abdel-Haleem-Translation-1.pdf
“The universe comes from God, and hence it is full of His signs, and it will return to God, because He is the One unique reality that determines all relative reality.” (1)
The Surah begins with “These are the signs of the Scripture.” The outward signs of Allah’s hand beautifully forming creation are its incredible complexity and multiplicity of forms. However, the beauty isn’t just evident with what we can see with our eyes and understand with science, but is hidden within what is not so easily apparent like pearls that must be searched for after diving into the ocean’s depths. In one example, the real treasure of a woman’s worth oftentimes is not the shallowness of outward beauty, but the inward beauty which is expressed through a loving heart. This is a sign in and of itself — we must and should always look deeper — the fulfillment of Allah’s spiritual promise must be searched for and examined carefully to discover its hidden depths.
Allah “raised up the heavens with no visible supports and then established Himself on the throne,” all Glory be to Allah, the all Majestic (ayat 2). For, he is far above us in His Majesty and Sovereignty, and “regulates all things” including providing clear revelations through His Prophets so that we may know Him better and understand His will for humanity. He “spread out the earth,” (ayat 3) placing mountains and rivers on it. Ayat 2 presents Allah in a vertical position high above His creation, while ayat 3 transitions into the horizontal — that which is below His sovereignty manifested as His Creation. He made “two of very kind of fruit…” which reveals the multiplicity of His act of creation — all living things were designed to reproduce as a myriad of diversity in an ever expanding movement of uniqueness from His unity of Being. “He draws the veil of night over the day,” and then the Surah states, “there are truly signs in this for people who reflect.” The night symbolizes that which is unseen, or not readily apparent— we must think and reflect upon Allah’s revelation in the Qur’an to ascertain the hidden meanings. However, it is as Allah willed it; not all spiritual truth is manifested immediately, but will remain unseen or unrevealed until His perfect timing or until His Light makes it manifest.
The next section is allegorical and again ends with “there truly are signs in this for people who reason” (ayat 4), which as noted, refers to the use of reason instead of reflection as in the previous mention of signs in ayat 3. “There are, in the land, neighboring plots, gardens of vineyards, cornfields, palm trees in clusters or otherwise, all watered with the same water. We make some of them taste better than others…” The underlying symbolism is the contrast between the person who didn’t tend their garden as well as their neighbor. The neighbor who spent time and care tending to their garden is blessed with better tasting fruits and vegetables. The “same water” refers to the same knowledge received from the Qur’an, but one person may tend their garden of truth by reading, studying, reflecting, and praying over the Qur’an’s knowledge so they may please the Lord and intentionally work towards changing the inner condition of their heart, while the other type of person will spend minimal time with the Qur’an thereby not using their reason to obtain even the most external level of understanding. Subsequently, this person will not take the time to use either “reflection” or “reason” for effective comprehension. Hence, their “garden” will reveal their lack of attention to that which is spiritually important for their growth. The fruit from their garden will not taste good. According to Sufi mysticism, “tasting” (dhawq) refers to the first stage of Allah’s self-disclosure. “Those who have not tasted do not know. Without direct tasting there can be no Knowledge of Allah.” (2)
There is a well known story regarding Abu Sa’id (Sufi Mystic-1049) and Avicenna (Islamic Philosopher-1037), who meet and dialogue for three days after which one of the disciples asks them questions regarding their discussion. Avicenna responded, “Well, everything I know, he sees.” Sa’id replied, “It is true, everything I see, he knows.” This is the contrast between the mystic who perceives inner, esoteric truths as in “seeing” which entails use of intuition with intellect, and that of the philosopher who understands with only their intellect and rational mind. Abu’l Qasim al-Qushayni (1072) states “The gnostic is above what he says, but the possession of learning is below what his says.” (3) Exoteric knowledge (‘ilm) is the foundation for the esoteric which is symbolically vertical as esoteric truth seeks understanding of the nature of Allah, while knowledge based learning is horizontal due to its direct applicable nature of guiding the behavior of believers. Therefore, reflection pertains more to the nature of pursuing the hidden or esoteric truths, and reasoning uses the logical, rational aspect of thinking to deduct truth.
Those who deny Allah, and question the resurrection are the ones who will “wear iron collars around their necks” (ayat 5). The disbelievers are on a short chain being led by Shaytan as his slaves. Typically they are enslaved to Shaytan because of fear, not quite understanding that if they simply release their fear, and put their faith and trust in Allah he will lovingly release them from the dungeon of their hidden sins. Additionally, the disbelievers question the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) why he doesn’t display miracles as proof of his prophethood, but the Prophet Muhammad(pbuh) is told that he has only been sent to warn — earlier communities were guided, but still disbelieved and were subsequently destroyed by Allah. This is expanded in ayats 38–40, “we sent messengers before you and gave them wives and offspring; no messenger was given the power to produce a miracle except with God’s permission. There was a Scripture for every age: God erases or confirms whatever He will, and the source of Scripture is with Him. Whether we let you [Prophet] see part of what We threaten them with,or cause you to die [before that], your duty is only to deliver the message: the Reckoning is Ours.”
Ayat 8 discusses Allah’s knowledge of every detail of a woman’s pregnancy, as “He knows what is not seen as well as what is seen…” (ayat 9), and he knows everything that is said either aloud or silently, whether someone is “hiding under cover of night or walking about in the day” (ayat 10). These verses continue the theme seen in ayat 3 regarding Allah drawing the veil over the day with the night , referring to that which is unseen as opposed to that which has been made manifest. The person who is hiding under the cover of night is a person concealing sin by the use of deception which can only remain hidden from other people, but is never hidden from Allah. It is Allah’s determination whether He will make manifest a person’s hidden sins or not — the outcome of His decision will always be for the benefit of a person’s soul. Additionally, a community that turns away from Allah has not been directed away from Allah by Himself, but only by their own foolish desires. Hence, the consequences of not submitting to Allah is of their own choosing, whether it is of natural consequences or Allah’s direct punishment, for “God does not change the condition of a people [for the worse] unless they change what is in themselves, but if He wills harm on a people, no one can ward it off — apart from Him, they have no protector” (ayat 11).
The next few ayats use beautiful imagery to symbolize the creative and destructive force of fire and water which metaphorically expands the above verse, “…if He wills harm on a people, no one can ward it off…”
“It is He who shows you the lightning, inspiring fear and hope; He builds up the clouds heavy with rain; the thunder sounds His praises, as do the angels in awe of Him; He sends thunderbolts to strike whoever He will. Yet still they dispute about God — He has mighty plans” (ayats 12–13). [I just realized at the very moment I am writing these verses it is raining extremely heavy and thundering outside.]
The rain brings flourishing while maintaining productive growth, but it can also bring destructive floods. I observed after the above mentioned thunderstorm that the temperature had cooled off considerably and there was a freshness in the air which allowed refreshing not just for plants, but for humans and animals as well.
All of Allah’s creation is for His benefit and purpose. The lightning can be the harbinger of much needed rain which can mean the difference between life and death for many people presently on our planet who are experiencing drought and starvation. All of creation praises the Creator, the Giver of Life, so must fear and respect the One who can take it all away. The thunder can be the sound of rejoicing because it is evidence of possible rain, or it can be sadness and mourning from the affects of its destructive nature; fires from lightning, with possible injury and death to those who are struck by its thunderbolts. All things are in the control of Allah. And yet those who honor and raise up things (idols) before Allah don’t seem to understand that their prayers to those things are no better than the one who attempts to take a drink of water by reaching out their hands to receive it — it will run through their fingers. Additionally, this symbolizes their inability to understand spiritual truths — they will not be able to understand so will remain spiritually bereft and suffering from lack of meaning in their lives.
The knowledge and wisdom from Allah is a stream that never runs out, and continually replenishes those who seek it spiritual goodness. Those who put idols before Allah will die of thirst in the wilderness of lostness, being so spiritually weak they will continually lose sight of the One True God: “…the prayers of the disbelievers are all in vain” (ayat 14). “All that are in heaven and earth submit to God alone, willingly or unwillingly, as do their shadows in the mornings and in the evening” (ayat 15).
All of Allah’s creation will return to Him, whether it is their choice or not as we are only in existence because of Allah’s determination. Our shadows in the morning and the evening are the sun’s rays reflecting off our physical bodies and casting shadows behind us. The sun is always shining, and the shadows of our bodies are proof that the light comes from the sun and not from ourselves. We can erroneously state the sun doesn’t exist, but the evidence of its existence is right before us and all around us. We have no control over the movement of the sun, hence we have no control over the position of our shadows — it is entirely dependent upon the sun’s position. It is the same way with Allah — His position to our physicality whether it is close or far away is entirely dependent upon His Beneficent and Mercy.
“Man is the dividing line between the shadow and the sun. This is his reality. So he has absolute perfection in temporality and eternality.” (4)
The next section addresses those who worship idols and assign partners to Allah. The Prophet Muhammad is told to tell the disbelievers, “Are the blind equal to those who can see? And are the depths of darkness equal to the light?” (ayat 15) Can idols create anything? Look at the evidence of His signs, “He sends water from the sky that fills riverbeds to overflowing, each according to its measure. The stream carries on its surface a growing later of froth, like the froth that appears when people melt metals in the fire…the froth disappears, but what is benefit to man stays behind — this is how God makes illustrations” (ayat 17). Everything is according to Allah’s determination and all truth based knowledge comes down to us from Him as the rain falls from the sky to replenish life. It is His truth that creates a pure heart, and anything that is impure based from our physical natures will be left behind. For those who submit to Him are transformed by His streams of ever flowing eternal truth, with the refining of His fire. It is only those who go through this process who will be prepared for His Kingdom. Husayn b. Mansur al-Hallaj (922), states that Allah strikes humans against the “touchstone of trial to show them to themselves” and additionally, “He threw something into them and made it their kiblah, so they turned their face to it, rather than to him…No one spoke to Him, and the path of seeking Him stayed empty.” (5) Therefore, we are tested with those things that we should be turning away from to reveal our own particular weaknesses. Spiritual strength is only gained by standing firm and resisting temptation. Also, to understand Allah’s “illustrations” means to look beyond the surface symbolic meaning.
Humans were made vice-regents [of Allah] which means we have a responsibility towards its creatures and the earth itself. Disobeying God results in corruption and ruin of the earth itself. (6)
Ayat 18 emphasizes the importance of submitting to Allah, concluding that those who “do not respond would willingly give away the earth’s contents twice over if they had it, in order to ransom themselves…” And indeed, it is greed which is presently destroying our planet. Those who are entirely self driven will ransom their very souls to rape the earth’s abundance to the detriment of humanity. Hence, humanity is doing an extremely poor job of being the “vice-regents” of our planet.
A recent article in the New York Times states that due to increased population, climate change, soil degradation, erosion, poaching, global food prices, and affluence the use of usable land has decreased significantly causing violent conflicts across Africa. NASA satellites are showing extreme degradation of agricultural land with a prediction the issue is only going to worsen. Famine is already striking Somalia, Nigeria and South Sudan creating risk of starvation for more than 10 million people. (7) Our oceans marine life has been significantly decreasing such that in the past 40 years there has been a 39% reduction of marine species with the Mediterranean and Black Sea showing out of 85 stocks of fish, about 88% are over fished.(8) Additionally, the planet has worsening problems with various types of pollution, species extinction at alarming rates, lessening potable water availability, rain forests significantly decreasing due to deforestation thereby reducing biodiversity, and a host of other problems.
Regarding animal extinction, The Center for Biological Diversity reports our planet is in its sixth mass extinction of plants and animals within the last half-billion years. This is the worst case of species extinction since the dinosaur extinction 65 million years ago. The natural extinction rate (termed background rate) is about one to five species a year, but scientists are reporting the planet is losing species at “1,000 to 10,000 times the background rate, with literally dozens going extinct every day. It could be a scary future indeed, with as many as 30 to 50 percent of all species possible heading toward extinction by mid-century.” (9) The planet is also facing total annihilation by the proliferation of nuclear warheads which are being developed into bigger, more powerful bombs as tools in the global power struggle. The recent rhetoric by various countries leaders (including our own) threatening to use nuclear bombs is the first step towards increasing acceptance of the use of the bombs — it is a dangerous desensitization technique.
Another growing concern is the significant number of genocides going on around the world today. According to Genocide Watch there are at least 8 countries presently in genocide emergencies, with at least one country on genocide watch. A genocide emergency is declared when genocide is actually underway and a watch is when the early warning signs are indicating high risk for mass killings. (10)
“To God belong the east and the west; wherever you turn, there is the face of God; God is All-Embracing, All-Knowing” (2:115), and “He is the First and the Last, the Manifest and the Nonmanifest” (57:3).
This Surah states that those who are directly destroying life for their own self driven purposes will have “Hell as their home, and their bed wretched.” A friend told me recently that she believes Allah placed the solar systems far enough apart so that intelligent life on its livable planets wouldn’t be able to effect other solar systems with its destructive capabilities. However, we must remember before the significant population increase on our planet, communities lived far enough apart to not negatively influence neighboring communities. Therefore, Allah sent messengers to specific communities with subsequent destruction if they refused to believe and obey the messengers warnings. The circle of time represents a completeness of a final age for humanity when globalization has reached its peak with the effects of one nation’s greed and corruption affecting other nations, and even with the possible far reaching effects of not just effecting other nations, but all of the world. This is the tipping point for the earth physically and spiritually. Since earth has become a global community the consequence of turning away from Allah has catastrophic affects for all living things including ourselves. When humanity is submitted to Allah, then wisdom increases with technological growth so that our helpful advances are constructive and not destructive. Presently, profit driven greed and the need for power and control is on a increasingly faster destructive path, and unless humanity returns to Allah annihilation is assured.
William C. Chittick in discussing the Qur’an’s emphasis on human’s harmony with the cosmos states:
“The microcosm and macrocosm are united through the divine link that was established when God made man His viceregent. The clear import of the Koranic anthropology is that, among the creatures, man alone can destroy the earth. Still, man is bound to the earth in an intimate union, so that the outward state of the cosmos reflects the inward state of his consciousness. Subject and object are inseparable, although the former take the active role. Hence the ‘illness’ of one side of the relationship can only be a sign of the illness of the other side, while responsibility for ‘corruption’ remains with the active partner.” (11)
Chittick concludes the chapter by emphasizing that those who are ungrateful and refuse to acknowledge Allah’s signs who treat the world and its religions (“sent by God”) with anything but “reverence and gratitude” is to become the same as an unbeliever (“And those who disbelieve in the signs of God — for them awaits a terrible chastisement” (3:4). (12) Full submission to Allah will be the only resolution to humanity’s present path. This will bring deeper understanding for the significant need to learn to get along with each other for each other’s benefit and the survival of all of humanity. We will either strive to learn from our mistakes, and pray for help from Allah, or humanity’s time here on the beautiful planet Allah provided for our benefit will come to its end in the fullness of time.
Ayat 20 states that those “who join together what God commands to be joined” will be blessed, and alternatively in ayat 25 those “…who break apart what God has commanded to be joined and who spread corruption of the earth: there is the dreadful home…” Allah creates togetherness and unity, while Shaytan drives apart thereby spiritually weakening humans. We were created to be in community, and when a community is united in its submission to Allah, nothing can stop His Will from being accomplished on earth.
The Surah mentions in ayats 26 and 33 the importance of understanding the temporary nature of physical life compared to eternal life. This includes falling into temptation thereby not be mindful of Allah, and choosing the conditions of your eternal life.
The Qur’an was to establish unmovable faith in Allah, such that “If there were ever to be a Qur’an with which mountains could be moved, the earth shattered, or the dead made to speak [it would have been this one]” (ayat 31). The ayats before ayat 31 refer to previous communities that were destroyed for not listening to the warnings of Allah through their messengers. This is clear reference to the destruction at the end of time, and the warning from the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) as revealed in the Qur’an. Obviously, there is inference that a specific community won’t be destroyed like previous communities, but it will be the destruction of the entire earth. That is the significant message for the Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) time period, and our time now.
“There was a Scripture of every age: God erases or confirms whatever He will, and the source of the Scripture is with Him” (ayats 38–39). The Logos or Word of Allah is a guidance for all generations and nations, and it is important to understand all spiritual wisdom for our benefit derives from Him only — He is the All-Knowing, the All-Powerful. Ayat 41 mentions Allah’s power to send a people against disbelievers and to “shrink” the land of its peoples borders to expand the knowledge of the One True God, so no people can overtake the purpose and will of Allah with whatever plans they devise against believers, as “the overall scheme belongs to God: all knowledge of the Scripture comes from Him” (ayat 42). He will guide us in all things, and provide us with the knowledge and wisdom we each uniquely need to defend the faith. The Qur’an was sent in the Arabic language “to give judgement,” as none of the Arabs who were exposed to its revelation will be able to make excuses — that will be their judgement; to either believe or not believe its words.
(1) William C. Chittick, In Search of the Lost Heart, p. 305
(2)The Language of the Future: Sufi Terminology, Murshid F. A. Ali ElSenossi (http://www.almirajsuficentre.org.au/qamus/app/single/304)
(3) Ibid, p. 19
(4) Ibn al-’Arabi, quoted by Jami, Naqd, p. 106
(5) al-Hallaj (922) quoted by Chittick, p. 65
(6) Chittick, p. 282
(7) The New York Times, Loss of Fertile Lands Fuels Looming Crisis Across Africa, July 30 2017
(8) Facts and Figures: The Cold Hard Facts About Overfishing (http://www.fishforward.eu/en/topics/facts-figures/)
(9) The Extinction Crisis (http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/programs/biodiversity/elements_of_biodiversity/extinction_crisis/)
(11) Chittick, p. 295
(12) ibid, p. 296
(13) Essay by painter, Dr. Taha Malasi:
This painting is about earth and us. We are happily digging a hole in Noah’s ark and we expect everything will be fine. The painting shows planet Earth revolves and a (humans) baby obliviously sleeping on top. It shows extinct species and many others on their way. Powerful governments, businesses, and famous scientist betrayed their integrity and profession for few dollars, deny global warming, putting the earth and all those on it in danger of extinction!!!
Using our intelligence and creativity combined with our greed we are consuming earth to extinction!?
Intelligence is the highest currency that humans value in our sophisticated societies, but so far we use it to destroy the earth environment and life. If Intelligence is the result of natural selection and evolution, should we then consider (Intelligence) the dumbest of all natural creations!?
We like to see ourselves as humane, caring, protecting and civilised so we deliberately distort facts we don’t like and gloss over our horrible history. It is ironic that the more (civilised) a nation in history, it tops all others in the acts of war, exploitation of weaker humans as well as exploiting everything else on earth. I suggest we should replace the term (Civilised) by the term (sophisticated). A country or people that possess great power and use it to invade other countries with brilliant and fantastic weapon is (sophisticated) but can hardly call itself civilised. Apart from lethal weapons It wickedly use sophisticated knowledge and media to deceive the people of the world, including their own, presenting lies as facts, death as life.
Undoubtedly we are creative, inventive and possess amazing abilities. However as much as we like to deceive ourselves, so far we used our abilities with greed and deception. Our history on earth is littered with dishonourable, destructive and vicious inhumane acts. Now we are killing ourselves, the animals and plants and the earth itself, are we going to change? And for once become less greedy!!!???
Viceregents destroying Allah’s earth
the tears of Creation flow death
into hazardous kill zones
where the power of greed
sings it mournful songs
for wisdom’s call
and Peace’s dove —
The Nonet is a French poetry form that is a nine line poem with 9 syllables in the first line, 8 syllables in the second line, 7 in the third, until the last line ends with a one syllable word.