Inner Meanings of the Qur'an

Inner Meanings of the Qur'an

By: Shaykh Fadhlalla Haeri

Nothing in existence takes place unless there is a reason behind it. Our scientific endeavors and technical achievements have all progressed because of the search for cause and effect, building up the information base for what is now our contemporary, modern society, with its far-reaching programs probing further into outer rather than inner space. Whatever we pursue in our intellectual life, using our brain capacity, is based on a sharable pattern that we can understand within the context of a language or culture. Whenever we are shocked, disappointed, afraid, or uncertain, it is because a discontinuity has taken place in our thought pattern. If someone suddenly begins speaking in a language one cannot understand, there will be an immediate freeze in the communication. So discontinuity is what we do not accept or like, by our innate nature.

The fundamentals in the source-book (the Qur`an) came down in one instant upon the Prophet of Islam and unfolded outwardly over twenty-three years. These two apparently opposing statements are not incompatible because the Book has always existed. The Book of Creation existed before the creation was made manifest. An analogy is to reflect upon any outer program. Before we embark on the construction of a house, the design already exists somewhere, maybe in the mind of the potential owner or the architect, and it unfolds in a pattern that is outwardly visible. And so with Qur`an: it is a pattern, a map, like a transparency which one can take and superimpose on any aspect of existence to see it's meaning. It is as if one needs a gradational or topographical presentation which collates the map of life in a fashion that is understandable to us. If the knowledge of the map is alive and available, one will see Reality wherever one looks, and it will never change. God says in the Qur`an in Surat al-Mulk:

He who created the seven heavens in one above another; you see no incongruity in the creation of the Beneficent God; then look again, can you see any fault? Then turn back the eye again and again; your look shall come back to you confused and fatigued. (67:3-4)

There is no fault in the original design. This does not mean that there is no fault in the situation created by the human element. In other words, the designer's intention is the perfect connectedness of it all, but we are given limited freedom to act. Within that limitation we will bring about injustice. So injustice in this world is our doing, inadvertently. This will continue until we realize that we have no option but to be in submission, to be in Islam, to give in to the decree of the Creator. Once that process has begun, then we have started an the path that was intended for us, by choice.

The Prophet Adam, peace be upon him, had no choice -- he was in the Garden. There was nothing other than uniformity so he could only be obedient -- he had no other choice. He learned the meaning of disobedience by obediently listening to that vibration called Shaytan. Now here we are in this Reality which is based on duality. We find ourselves born wanting to live forever seeking friendship, and abhorring enmity, seeking security and fearing insecurity, having varying degrees and different contexts of love and hate. We are all the same. The Qur`an says:

We created you from one self. (4:1)

The manifestation of hatred, insecurity, fear or love differs from one person to another, indeed from time to time for the same person. Before breakfast the manifestation of the desire for the person who has awakened hungry is to eat a good breakfast. After breakfast, if he is sensible, the last thing he wants is a second course. We find ourselves in a situation that hinges on duality, and yet there is a thread in it for all of us which we may refer to as humankind or humanity. We are one lot, we are one people, homosapiens -- there is a common denominator.

Let us now look at the inner meaning of the Qur`an. There cannot be an inner unless there is an outer and the outer is a true reflection of the inner. Therefore, from the Qur`anic point of view, all things in this existence, whether they are material, intellectual or even subtler elements, are interconnected. From this point of view everything is divine, having emanated from the same Divine Source. So truly speaking, there is no such thing as a visible element of our way of life separated from the invisible element.

To put it another way, in reality there is no difference between the traditional and the mystical way of Islam. Where does one end and the other begin? How can you differentiate between the outer and the inner? The outer has an inner reality, and the inner will manifest in the outer realm. An intention will eventually manifest itself in an action. Where is the boundary that prevents that continuum? Where does the atom end and the physical reality of matter begin?

There are interspaces between these systems. As you know, scientists can describe various systems according to different scientific theories. We can describe a gravitational system in detail in the science of physics, but when you come to thermodynamics or the subatomic world, there is another system we can still describe. We know the interrelationships between these systems and yet we cannot define them precisely. So we must refute this separation of the outer and the inner.

God says in the Qur`an:

He is the First and He is the Last. He is the Evident and He is the Hidden. (57:3)

Where is it that He is not? So if we are talking about a unified state, the foundation of all inner sciences, then wherever we begin, we are bound to end up at its opposite. If one begins with outer concern such as the ritual of purification, one will eventually end up with inner concern. If one begins by cleaning the house from the outside, a time will come when the inside will be cared for. And the Qur`an makes this point in one ayah, if not in many. The Qur`an says:

And purify your clothes. (74:4)

We must understand that the purification of outer garments is superfluous unless one is concerned about the purification of one's body, mind and heart, for they all interconnect. A man is known by how he lives, what he eats, and his immediate environment. The prophetic tradition tells us that one who keeps the company of a people for forty days becomes like them. Inadvertently their characteristics are imbibed.

If one has an inner eye, reflecting upon the outer meanings of the verses of the Qur`an will lead one to their inner meanings. Existence is entirely balanced on opposites -- life and death, man and woman, good and bad, sleep and wakefulness, health and disease -- and we want at all times to be in the middle. Imbalance results from not being in the middle. Let us examine the virtue known as courage. On one side of courage is cowardice, and on the other is recklessness. Courage is that very fine point right in the middle. Every other virtue is the same -- balanced between two extremes. Regarding this, the Qur`an Says:

And we have created you a middle nation. (2:143)

This nation is the people of unification, people who want to know the truth, and whose Qur`an is every breath of life.

Let us share one short surah (chapter) of the Qur`an, Surat al-Shams (The Sun), so that we may see how the inner and the outer are totally connected.

I swear by the sun and its brilliance, And the moon when it follows the sun (91:1-2)

God -- Glory, Majesty, and Might are His alone -- is reminding us by the effulgence of the sun in the form of an oath, swearing by it. By the radiant sun which gives us warmth and heat. God has started by giving us a physical proof of one of the major causes of life on this earth - - the sun. By the fact that there is this self-fusing, self-perpetuating light which is the sun. And by the moon which reflects the sun's light.

And the day when it exposes it, And the night when it draws a veil over it. (91:3-4)

Here God reminds us of the other two opposites -- day and night. The description is very beautiful even from a poetic point of view, that this incredible effulgent day suddenly has something thrown over it to hide and cover it. Allah now reveals another pair of opposites to strengthen the oath even further.

And by the heaven and Him who made it, and by the earth and Him who extended it. (91:5-6)

And then Allah comes to us:

And by the self and Him who made it perfect (91:7)

A related derivation of the word for self is nafas which means 'breath'. We are hanging on air, inhaling and exhaling -- again two opposite states, yet we become arrogant and forget this fact. Do we really identify ourselves with these physical forms, walking about!

God immediately brings us from the cosmic story to the microcosmic story. We are the reflectors of the macrocosm. The subtle implication, the inner meaning of the verse, is that this self must contain all the double elements that were mentioned in the preceding verses. Its arrangement is fithrah, innate, preprogrammed subgenetically form within. That preprogramming develops through stages and time in a contiguous fashion. The root meaning for innate (fitrah) is 'to crack'. The child breaks into this world with a cry of despair at being dislodged from the aqueous, contented, mild situation of the preceding nine months, where it knew only the mind of the mother's heart. Suddenly the child is ejected into a gaseous environment and disconnected from that umbilical situation. Immediately the programmed unfoldment of the self begins. The child is born wanting to connect. The first connection is physical. The first worship is to maintain the body -- that is the temple that the child knows innately, and the mother's breast is the object which fulfils that need. In time, if one grows in consciousness, one recognizes that the breast is the earth from which we take our physical sustenance.

And by the self and Him who made it perfect. (91:7)

implies that the self has within itself perfection and completeness of the inner and outer, a combination of visible and invisible realities.

Then God says:

Then He inspired it to understand immorality and piety. (91:8)

He who is pious is aware at times that he is hanging between these two opposites and that at any moment he may slip. Thus he wants to be in such a wakeful state that his inner and outer are completely connected, otherwise he knows he will slip into the abyss, the abyss of suspicion, doubt, inner hatred, or any of the other abysses that we can inwardly suffer from. It could even be the abyss of outer misbehavior, such as falling asleep behind the wheel of a car for ten seconds in traffic! Piety (taqwa) is that perpetual, spontaneous, continuous and natural awareness. The word does not have a dualistic sense. Immorality or decadence, the opposite of piety, takes one far away from reality. Yet how can we know nearness unless we know what is far? There must be recognition of what is far so that we may then, by our own will, seek nearness. Man can sink to a level of decadence and degeneration lower than any other created thing. And yet the Qur`an tells us that the Angels prostrated themselves to the Adamic consciousness.

These Angelic powers or energies are fully programmed in their own channels but we are unable to penetrate them. It is another world to that which we cannot gain full access for our own sake. Think of our own physical world. If we had eyesight good enough to observe all the creational activity going on around us, we would not be able to place things in the middle perspective. Likewise, if we could receive all the other invisible signals that are going on, angelic or otherwise, call them Angels, radar or infra-red or whatever, untestable, unmeasurable, unseeable, untouchable energy waves so to speak -- if we were sensitive to all those energy bundles or waves -- we would be so encumbered that, in all probability, we would lose our sanity. Right now, around us, there are millions of waves going back and forth. Fortunately, we have been endowed with selective perception and our horizon is limited. Within this limited horizon we can subjectively test and realize the unlimited horizon that contains it.

So, on the one hand, we have immorality and decadence and on the other, piety and complete awareness. The choice is ours. We make that choice according to the degree of our desire for knowledge. The successful one is he who purifies himself.

He will indeed be successful who makes it grow in purity. (91:9)

The verbal root of the word for 'succeed' is 'to plough, till, or cultivate'. Success then implies turning over the soil of the self so that it is aerated and soft and then becomes conducive for the growth of success.

The same is true of the heart. The root of 'heart' in Arabic is qalb. The verb qalaba means 'to turn'. If the heart is attached to a specific thing then that is the limit of cognizance. If the heart turns, however, then it can select what is most appropriate.

Another meaning for the Arabic word which means 'to purify' is 'to increase'. If the impurities of a substance are removed, substance actually increases, not in quantity but in quality. Also, a derived noun, zakah, means charity. Purification of the self is a consequence of giving away and leads to increase. Allah prescribes for us precisely through the example of His Prophet that of the great beings who followed him, so that we may know even in the most vulgar circumstances, how to give justly. Within this system nobody is overlooked.

Those who completely and utterly know in themselves that they have no right to own anything in this world, and are at best the guardians of a few things for a short while, are accommodated. Those who think they will take their few possessions to the grave must also be accommodated. All are God's creation.

Regarding the purity of the self and the inner and outer, we can never know anyone's heart. No one has the right to do so. The prime example is from the Battle of Badr, when the Muslims were being attacked, and someone was under Zayd's sword. As he was about to slay the man with his sword, the man shouted out "There is no god but God." Zayd then killed him. The blessed Prophet told Zayd: "You have killed a Muslim." Zayd said: "He was a liar." The Prophet answered: "And do you know what was in his heart?"

We can only judge one another by our outer behavior. We cannot question another's intentions, only his actions. If we purify the outer and continue, eventually we will end up connected with the inner. This will save us a lot of dissipated energy. If one knows what one wants and is sincere about it, one is happy and pure without expectations. If one's intention is free from arrogance or any other lower tendency, then most of one's energy is preserved. Clarity, efficiency and success are the promised results.

And he will certainly fail who buries it. (91:10)

We must not conceal the truth that within us lies the potentiality of the best and the worst. Within us lies arrogance, fearfulness, forgetfulness, and selfishness, and also generosity, patience and sacrifice.

Now the surah shows us how, on an individual level, if we do not awaken and rise inwardly towards unity, we will be destroyed even as nations are destroyed. So the Qur`an gives us the example in the next verses:

The people of Thamud denied the truth by their unrestrained actions, when the most unfortunate of them broke forth with mischief. (91:11-12)

God calls our attention to the people of Thamud, a great nation, and a great civilization. They followed the worst amongst them, those who were most arrogant. God says in the Qur`an that when the time has come for a town, village or culture to be destroyed, the most arrogant and villainous amongst them will become their leaders. The truth will then prevail against them and they will be destroyed.

So the Messenger of God said to them: This is God's she-camel, so give her drink. (91:13)

God says: No people, no civilization, no culture will be destroyed without first being warned as to the purpose of their existence so that they may live honorably, nobly and fully, manufacturing in this life the key to the Garden. If they struggle outwardly to do their best, inwardly they will be totally content. Outwardly, they will never be content because there is always something to be done. One of the main names of God is Rabb. Rabb is He who raises or brings up fully. The people of Thamud were interested in earth-shattering, miraculous events, so they asked the prophet Salih, who said: "I will ask God to aid me with a miracle, but then you must abide by the rules." They consented, so a she-camel appeared from the rocks. The prophet Salih told them: "There are certain rules regarding this she-camel. One day she is to drink water and the next day you may drink. And you must not molest her, otherwise, you will be destroyed." The people were shocked by this event.

Many of the prophets coupled their natural, simple messages to humankind with a miracle in order to attract the attention of those people who were not yet as sophisticated intellectually as we are today. They needed a jolt. In the case of the Seal of the Prophets, the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), humankind had reached a point in development where there was no need for that outer jolt. The pronouncement of truth itself was the greatest of all miracles.

But they called him a liar and slaughtered her, therefore their Lord crushed them for their sin and leveled them. (91:14)

They denied the truth, even when there was a visible physical miracle. Something came from the unseen to the seen and they denied and acted against it, therefore they were destroyed.

And He fears not its consequence. (91:15)

Allah is not concerned about what we may consider to be an appropriate outcome. This means that it is of no consequence if a whole nation or nations are destroyed in order to restore equilibrium. And God says in the Qur`an:

And you shall not find any change in the course of God. (33:62)

Illness is a manifestation of mercy, so that one's physical balance is restored, so that one seeks help, cognizance and reasoning to bring oneself back to physical balance. Then the body, which is the container of that subtle reality, the spirit, is fit to contain the spirit. The body is basically the vehicle upon which the spirit rides during it's journey on earth, the few years of upbringing to prepare the spirit to inhabit, once again, the infinite reality from which it came. If the body is not fit, the inner subtler aspect cannot be fit. Therefore, our priority starts from the outer. We must be fairly well physically and content mentally so that we are balanced. Then we can reflect the true light within us, taking from reality what is useful and beneficial. From this balanced state we can then study branches of science which are analytical and divisive. Such studies require an observer and an observed. That is another system, one of causality with its laws and conditions. And it is important as part of our existence.

In a sense, we are born deficient in order to be able to develop our scientific, causal attitude. But this aspect of ourselves is encompassed within another reality which possesses a unifying factor. If we do not allow our causal knowledge to operate in conjunction with this unifying factor, then we will merely have a great deal of outer knowledge but no inner vision.

We find in nature that a child's simple, physical disposition is accepted, because all he understands is physical unification. When an older person, however, possesses no inner wisdom or spirituality we tend to dismiss him. In our eastern societies the youngsters traditionally kept company with the elders for this was the right balance. The child physically has few limits, where as the old man is physically limited but inwardly almost limitless, because he is approaching the Limitless. The two are in the right balance. Increasingly in western societies, the older people are shunned, put away in old people's homes. They do not see children, it is a separatist or compartmentalized society. I am not condemning the West or upholding the East, for the East is now becoming like the West. What matters is that everything must be in its rightful place.

As we cannot allow our causal knowledge to operate without unific knowledge, so we cannot exclude causal knowledge, for the causal realm is the realm of God's means. Let us examine an Islamic tradition about the Prophet Musa. On one occasion he was very ill, and refused to take medicine from the Jewish doctors because he was so disgusted with them. He made a vow that he would only accept God's direct intercession, for he was in direct communication with Allah. The doctors felt sorry for him and were dimly aware of how much trouble they had caused him, so they came with their medicines, but he refused. He became increasingly ill and was on the verge of death when he asked Allah: "Oh Allah! What shall I do? I was depending on you." God answered him saying: "Just because you are near to Me, do you expect Me to abrogate the means of My wisdom? Those who came to you are My means." So Musa accepted the help of the doctors.

This is how God unifies outwardly. This is how God softens people's hearts towards each other. If we do not recognize the means, we will never recognize the source behind the means. Our Prophet says: "If you do not thank those who have given you something, you have not thanked the real Giver." So we must thank God for giving us this incredible gift called life, which manifests in so many lives and yet is one life. We must thank God for having given us the opportunity to share amongst ourselves. We must ask God to give us the opportunity to ignite that inner flame whose lamp already exists within us, for He says:

The heavens and earth do not contain Me, but the heart of a trusting believer contains Me.

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