Sunday, September 30, 2007

An Important Principle in the Contemplation of the Qur'an

Assalamu 'alaykum warahmatullahi wabarakatuh

The aayaat in the Qur'an do indeed comprise a system of interconnected signs - a system which in turn is connected with other systems of interconnected signs or aayaat both in the universe and in ourselves. The closest analogy that comes to mind to explain this amazing Qur'anic phenomenon is the stars and other celestial bodies in the Universe. Stars all group to form galaxies which in turn group together to form clusters of galaxies, and so on. A galaxy, according to the Concise Oxford English Dictionary, is "a system of millions or billions of stars, together with gas and dust, held together by gravitational attraction". The only difference, I would say, is that the individual parts of the Qur'an (whether words, phases, clauses, verses, or even chapters) are even more interconnected so as to form a web or intricate network of continuously crisscrossing parts. This network of crisscrossing parts in turn communicates with networks of signs that are external to it, such that everything becomes one Huge Macro Network, the parts of which all sing and celebrate the praises of the One Who created them, and they all attest to His Absolute Unity and Oneness. As the poet says:

وفي كل شيء له آية تدل على أنه واحد (and in everything there is a sign that points to the fact that He is One)

This is what the Qur’an itself is all about: it points us to Allah, because it itself comes from Allah, and then tells us that everything else in the Universe (including ourselves) also points to Allah, because it is the Creation of Allah – and the creation speaks volumes of its Creator.

Just to digress a little. The above definition of a galaxy is quite interesting in that the Qur'an describes to us some of the major events leading up to Qiyamah. One of these events is that the stars will be scattered (وإذا الكواكب انتثرت) "and when the stars / celestial bodies are scattered" (82:2). The verb used here is انتثرت (intatharat) which comes from the root ن - ث - ر which means 'to scatter or disperse'. The interesting aspect in the use of this verb is that it is the exact opposite of انتظم (intathama) which comes from root ن - ظ - م which literally means 'to string beads together so as to form a necklace'. The act of الانتثار (scattering / dispersing) obtains when you cut the string and the beads scatter or fly in all different directions. This is why poetry is often called "nathm" and prose "nathr" as the former is more governed by a system of meter and the latter is free from any such restrictions.

Now, this is the interesting part: the use of the verb انتثر (to be scattered / dispersed), implies that prior to this action of the stars / celestial bodies they are held or strung together by something that connects them all. This 'something' is the gravitational force / attraction mentioned in the definition above. On the Day of Qiyamah, the "gravitational string" holding all celestial bodies together will be severed or cut as it were and total chaos will ensue. This could also maybe extended to other forces in the Universe holding things together.

Anyway, coming back to my original topic of how everything in the Qur'an as well as the Universe is somehow interconnected. For example, we don't find a particular Qur'anic theme being exhausted in one part of the Qur'an never to be mentioned again elsewhere. Instead we find often a theme is mentioned several times throughout the Qur'an, and every time it is mentioned a different aspect is introduced that is very specific to the context of the chapter in which it occurs. In other words, it feels and reads differently in different parts of the Qur'an. A case in point is the Story of Musa ('alayhi al-salam), or the Resurrection, and so on.

Other very salient examples which make very interesting material for contemplation are:

(1) the different Names and Attributes of Allah, and how each Name or Attribute highlights a different aspect of the Divine Reality

(2) the different names and attributes of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) himself

(3) the different names and attributes of the Qur'an itself, and how each name or attributes reveals a different aspect of the Qur'an

(4) the different names and attributes of Qiyamah ("the different faces of Qiyamah"), which is very powerfully and with great effect used in the Qur'an.

These are only a few instances. When you read the Qur'an, you find that it stimulates you differently all the time.Then apart from cross-referencing aayaat within the Qur'an there is also cross-referencing with the aayaat in the universe, and it is very significant that both are referred to as "aayaat" in the Qur’an. An "aayah" points to something, and the Qur'an encourages us to find out what that "something" is, what is at the end of the aayah, what is the direction that it points you into, and so on. This makes the whole experience a full-on and total experience, that cause many a contemplator just to fall down in prostration crying or just utter "Allah" or "Allah Akbar" or as the Qur'an says "Subhanak" as if something deep, very deep inside his soul has been stirred.

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