Prof. Dr. Nazeer Ahmed
Humankind is unique in creation in that it stands at the confluence of the physical and the spiritual. The physical attributes of man are confirmed by everyday experience. He is an earthling, made of the same elements as clay. He possesses mass and is subject to gravity. His body is electromagnetic. The electromagnetic field of his heart is so powerful that it can be measured at substantial distances from his body. His brain, consisting of millions of charged neurons, is responsible for command and control functions in the body. When these charges are aligned and coherent, the body is healthy. When they are incoherent, the body is sick. The human is subject to the vagaries of time. He is conceived, is helpless as a baby, blossoms into the fullness of youth, matures, then grows old and dies and is discarded into the elements. He is a creature of space-time and defines himself as such.
It is also undeniable that man is more than his body. If man was merely his mass, electromagnetic force, gravity, bulk and size, he would be like stones and dust. He is a thinker and is endowed with a mind that penetrates the very depths of the heavens. He has a sense of the Self. He has a free will and makes choices. He is endowed with that sublime attribute, the heart that is a reflector of Divine Grace and a container of the Divine Name. Above all he is infused with the Spirit that sustains his existence on earth and bestows upon him life, knowledge and power. Animated by the Spirit, he walks where angels dare not tread.
This unique creation, humankind, is sustained in a niche in the solar system, itself tucked away in a corner of the cosmos. Protected by layers of shields from the ravages of a hostile space, the planet earth floats like a speck of dust in a cocoon of heavenly Grace. A philosopher may ask: For what purpose was this genre created? The Qur’an answers it thus: “I created not beings of clay and beings of energy except to serve (worship) Me”. The purpose of human life is to know, serve and worship the Creator. Humankind was offered a Divine Trust. In its passion for the love of the Compassionate, humankind accepted it: “I offered the Trust to the heavens and the mountains and the earth, but they declined being fearful thereof. Humankind accepted it. Indeed it was transgressing and unknowing.” And what was that Trust? Was it his free will? Was it the knowledge of the Divine Names he was taught? Was it the Divine Word? Philosophers will debate about the essence of the Trust. It was all of the above, a composite treasure consisting of many gifts. As if to confirm the Trust, the all- Compassionate took a covenant. “Am I not your Sustainer”, asked the Divine Voice. “Yes, indeed, You are (and it is a Test)”, answered humankind in unison. Thus was sealed a contract between the Creator, and humankind was anointed His Trustee on earth.
This sublime creation, the human, entrusted with the Divine Trust, honored with the mandate to serve, lived for eons in the serenity of Divine Grace. Honor invokes jealousy. And so it was in heaven. The honor bestowed upon the human invoked the jealousy of Iblis who enticed him to disobey the Divine command and made him descend to the banality of life on earth. Faced with Divine displeasure, man repented and asked for forgiveness. Divine Compassion turned to Him with the promise that heavenly Guidance would descend to him from time to time to guide him on the path back to Divine pleasure.
Thus it is that humankind finds itself on earth, enticed by Iblis but rescued from his temptations by Divine Guidance. This Guidance surrounds humankind inside and out. It appears as Signs in nature, in history and within the innermost recesses of the Self:
سَنُرِيهِمْ آيَاتِنَا فِي الْآفَاقِ وَفِي أَنْفُسِهِمْ حَتَّى يَتَبَيَّنَ لَهُمْ أَنَّهُ الْحَقُّ
أَوَلَمْ يَكْفِ بِرَبِّكَ أَنَّهُ عَلَى كُلِّ شَيْءٍ شَهِيدٌ
(Soon we shall show them Our Signs on the horizon and within their own Selves, until it is clear to them that it is indeed the Truth. Is it not sufficient for your Rabb that He is witness over all things?” (The Qur’an, 41:53) Surah al Fussilat, Ayah 53)
The enormous expanse and majesty of the cosmos collapses before the majesty of the Creator and becomes a mere Sign for humankind to witness and reflect upon. So does the struggle of man on earth as well as the grandeur of the historical process, in which there are lessons for people of insight. The external is a reflector of the internal. There are Signs for people of wisdom in the innermost recesses of the human soul which beckon them from the banality of earthly existence to the sublime heights of the illuminated heart.
This Tafseer is undertaken to provide a perspective that integrates the physical and the spiritual. Ancient man looked at nature with awe and worshiped it. At the other extreme, western man separated the physical from the spiritual and made it secular. The price for this separation was enormous. Modern man accepts this separation between the sacred and the profane. As a result, he dangles between the heavens and the earth, shivering in the loneliness of a cold, purposeless cosmos, sans purpose, sans destiny. Some Muslim commentators, suspicious of secular science, either denigrated the physical to “duniya” and stayed away from it or mystified it. Neither approach is consistent with the message of the Qur’an. The approach of the Qur’an is empirical. It offers Signs “on the horizon” and “within their own Selves” as markers and guides towards Tawhid (Unity of Being). Truth is One and Indivisible. The Word points to this Truth. Nature is not secular, neither is it holy. It is a Sign, a source of knowledge and power for humankind so that mankind can discharge its responsible as the Trustee on earth. Man is both matter and spirit and stands at the confluence of both. This exalted station separates him from the beast. The Self is a glass between the Dominion and the Spirit which becomes transparent to the Light of the Compassionate when the human surrenders to the Divine and effaces his Ego. This is the message of the Qur’an, and this is what this Tafseer intends to capture.
- Surah Al Mulk (The Dominion)
- Surah Yusuf
- The Hajj, Al Baqra (2:196)
- Allah creates and repeats the creation, Ar-Rum (30:11)
- Stars as guides, Surah Al-An’am, (6:97)