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Lesson 15

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Lesson - 15

Al-Baqara

"O men, serve your Lord Who created you and those before you, so that you may guard against evil." Ch. 2:21

Message of the Quran is for all nations

This verse contains the first commandment of the Holy Quran. I, therefore felt obligated to include it in our Quranic study. The first point to note is that it addresses all of mankind in the words, "Yaa-ayu-han-naaso (O men)." All religions prior to this were meant to be for a particular nation, for example, the Israelites, or the Indo-Aryans etc. Their concept of the Divine Being was also that of a tribal, or national deity; such as the God of Israel, or the various Hindu deities whose domain was confined to India only. As we have already seen in our discussion of the Al-Fatihah, that in Islam the concept of the Divine Being is of the Lord of the Worlds, that is Allah is the Lord of all nations and nationalities, in fact the whole universe, and He nourishes unto perfection whatever is within it. Science, today accepts that there is one single Universe, within which prevail the same universal laws, therefore its Creator, Master, and Sovereign is One. In the verse I have quoted for this lesson, the Holy Quran addresses the whole human race. Further on in the Quranic text, the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) is mentioned as the messenger to all of mankind as in the verse:

"Say: O mankind, surely I am the Messenger of Allah to you all" (7:158).

This concept of world prophethood was completely novel, and therefore totally invalidates the objection of some non-Muslim critics that the Holy Prophet had copied ideas from previous revealed scriptures. This universal concept was altogether new and unique, as it was presented at a time when the human race was divided into nations separated by vast distances. In fact, it was even new and unacceptable for the Arabs who were the immediate recipients of the prophetic message. The Arabs of those days would have been much happier if the religion being revealed was only for them, and not for all the nations whom they considered inferior. Today, when the world is becoming rapidly unified, the birth of such an idea, could be labeled as a result of the social environment. In those days, however, such a concept could only be acquired through Divine revelation, and in it was contained the great prophecy for the future, that the world would one day be united under the banner of the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), by the grace of Allah Almighty.

Service with humility

The first commandment given by the Holy Quran, therefore was to the whole human race, "O men, serve (na-bu-du, verb of ibadat) your Lord Who created you." In Al- Fatihah, commenting on the word Ibadat, I have explained its meaning as service with humility. The word used for prayer in the Holy Quran is salaat. This difference has been clearly elaborated in the verse, "So serve Me (fa-bud-ni), and keep up prayer for My remembrance (wa-aqimis-salaata li-ziqri)" (20:14).

If we carefully think about it, we reach the undeniable conclusion, that the whole world is serving the Creator with humility. It is completely subservient to His laws and follows His command. If and when He desires, He can bring it to an end. We can observe a graphic illustration of this exhibited by the instantaneous destruction of stars in the universe billions of times larger, and more powerful than our planet earth. The sun, also has explosions with energy equivalent to millions of hydrogen bombs every minute, and it manifests fearsome and gigantic flames of flagrant firestorms. Although it is hundreds and thousands of times larger than the earth, yet it is bound to serve life on it in such a precise manner that there is not a seconds delay in its rising, nor does it stray an inch away from its orbit. Scientific discovery, today has recognized that this universe, the extent, immensity, and the power of which is hard to imagine, is made up of the same type of matter, and follows with complete obedience and humility the same type of laws laid down by its Creator.

This subject matter is very extensive, and I would now like to refocus on my original discussion. In the human organism itself, all the body organs such as the musculoskeletal system, the liver, stomach, intestines, heart, lungs etc., share a similarity with other animals in that they follow completely the guidance, and program laid down by their Creator. Mankind is totally helpless in this matter, and even a doctor can only intervene by following the laws laid down by the Creator. When Allahís command of death comes, both the doctor and the patient are helpless and the human body gives up its life.

Observe the animals and you will notice that their bodies are functioning a hundred percent in accordance with the laws laid down by their Creator. As far as the animals are concerned, their eating and drinking, locomotion, social interactions etc., are all governed by their instinct. There is no way an animal can go against its instincts. A lion for example, will never eat grass, nor a goat will become carnivorous. Animals are guided by their intrinsic computer, pre-programmed by the Creator for each animal species individually.

Freedom of Will

If Allah had so desired, He could have bound human beings by a similar design, however, He chose not to do so. This is such a great act of benevolence towards mankind that he should be thankful every moment of his life towards His Great Benefactor. All of nature and its forces are bound in obedience to the Creator. Man is the only creation Allah has empowered with the freedom of will. This power in the whole universe belongs only to Allah, as mentioned in the Quranic verse:

"He does what He intends" (2:253).
When Allah created mankind, and appointed him as His vicegerent on earth (2:30), He also gave him the freedom of will. An emperor appointing a Viceroy, or a Governor General gives him some executive powers, but at the same time carefully observes the deployment of these powers by his appointee, and intervenes, in case of abuse of such authority. Similarly Allah, by giving mankind some power through freedom of will, has not Himself become totally powerless. Whenever He deems appropriate, He uses His power to intervene.

Power to suppress animal instincts

Instinct, in mankind is similar to animals. However unlike like an animal, it does not tie him down to make him a powerless slave. Man can thus, suppress his instinctive drive when he so desires. For example, he can control his anger. In fact, going quite contrary to his instinct, he can forgive the one who he is angry at, and thus remove the rancor from his own heart. He can actually go a step beyond this, and do good to such a person. The Holy Quran teaches us the method to suppress our animal instincts in the verse:

"And those who restrain (their) anger and pardon men. And Allah loves the doers of good (to others)" (3:133).
It is easy to suppress minor degree of anger, but very difficult to control overwhelming anger or rage. A person who can do so is capable of controlling all his emotional outbursts. The Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him ) said it very well, "The real strong person is the one who can control himself during extreme anger." In another Hadith it is stated, "Whosoever controls his rage, Allah will fill his belly with (the sustenance of) tranquillity and faith." The Quranic verse quoted above enjoins not only suppression of anger, but also forgiveness. An even higher moral standard is, that one should not only suppress his anger and forgive, but in addition do good to the one who is the object of his wrath. The Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him ) has sworn by three things: wealth does not decrease by giving away in charity; those who forgive others, Allah increases their respect and honor; and whosoever adopts humility and meekness for the sake of Allah, his spiritual status is elevated in return by the Almighty. This in reality is teaching man Divine attributes.

Allah is Aware of all the misdeeds committed by humanity; if He was not the One to suppress His anger, and forgive mankind as indicated in verse:

"And He pardons much" (42:30),
this world would be destroyed in a split second. On the contrary, He continues to give worldly blessings to the non-believers, the atheists, the evildoers, even those who disrespect Him. The heart of a man that does not reflect the spirit of Divine tolerance, fails to recognize the Divine within itself.

We can therefore, conclude that if mankind like other animals was subject to the control of his instincts, he would seek retribution immediately when angered. Those who do so are at the level of animals. Allah wants to raise mankind above this level, so that he is capable of not only controlling his natural instincts, but also of acting quite contrary to them when necessary.

Guidance for proper usage

Sometimes, however it is appropriate to utilize the natural instincts. For example, if one does not get angry, he would be unable to fight gallantly in war, or on other occasions in self-defense, against murderers and thieves. He may also become extremely shameless, if somebody tries to molest his wife, or sister, he acts like a swine, and instead of showing revulsion and anger he actually encourages such advances. What then is the proper use of animal emotions? A man, who gets overwhelmed by his emotions cannot make the appropriate decision in this regard. One may then ask, why has Allah not tied down manís nature to follow only the path of goodness? This is because a task accomplished through force cannot be called a good deed, or quality. A good deed can only become so when man has the opportunity to commit evil, but he controls himself, and goes against the evil suggestion of the devil by suppressing his evil tendencies. Honesty can only be called a virtue when one has the opportunity to be dishonest, and despite the need for monetary gain, chooses to be honest. In short, moral qualities evolve only when man does good while fighting evil with his own free will, and not under duress.

Angels, are programmed for goodness under Divine command as shown in the verse, "But do as they are commanded" (66:6), i.e., by nature they do as commanded by Allah, not having the freedom to act even slightly contrary to it, and therefore remain in a static state of development. Man, on the other hand, in the course of resisting evil evolves spiritually, and becomes the one to whom angels submit. Thus, by giving man the freedom of will, Allah has not only given him a great honor and a portion of His complete omnipotence, but also created the means of his spiritual development, and the realization of the Divine within him, provided he uses this freedom appropriately. I have already illustrated this with the following example. By controlling his rage, forgiving people, and doing good to them, man partakes of a Divine attribute; the very same attribute of Allah which is working every moment in this world. If this was not the case, man would have been eliminated a long time ago as a result of his misdeeds. The Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him ) laid down this very objective before us when he said:

"Create the qualities of Allah within yourself,"
and the Holy Quran states:

"Allahís color, and who is better than Allah at coloring" (2:138);
color meaning the attributes of Allah. The words of this verse that follow, tell us how these attributes can be developed in mankind, "And we are His worshippers (aa-bi-doon)" i.e., serve Him with humility. Commentary on this will follow shortly.

We now return back to the initial statement made in the verse under discussion today, "O men serve(with humility) your Lord (Rabb)." Rabb is the One Who gradually evolves His creation from the lower to the higher stages of development. Manís attention is thus drawn to the fact that the command to serve with humility does not benefit the Creator, but is for his own benefit. Almighty Allah will evolve him from the lower animal stage to the level where he will be able to reflect the Divine attributes within himself. The injunction of service with humility is worth pondering upon. The individual who serves his Benefactor with humility, stands to benefit from His nurturing sustenance, unlike the one who is critical and disrespectful. For example, the pupils who are disrespectful and insolent, do not fully benefit from the guidance of their teachers or parents. On the other hand, those who consider their teachers and parents as their well-wishers and benefactors, and obey them with respect and humility, are the ones that fully benefit from their guidance. Who is a greater Benefactor of mankind than Allah?


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