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Lesson - 16

Al-Baqara

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

Guidance for all Nations

In my previous lesson, I discussed the first portion of this verse, "O men, serve your Lord." As pointed out this first commandment of the Holy Quran addresses not only the Muslims, or the believers, but all of mankind. Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) was the messenger of Allah to all of mankind, and the Holy Quran was revealed to him for the guidance of all nations; the Divine objective being unification of the human race in peace and harmony within Islam. Due to deterioration of previous religious orders, people had gone astray and were involved in religious conflict and warfare. The human race was, therefore given the same commandment that applies to the creation in general, that is to serve their Lord with humility. All of creation observes this Divine command in the form of natural laws, and serves with humility to the fullest possible extent.

Purpose of Divine Guidance

The Ďbody,í which is the physical part of man, follows the command, or law of his Lord without the slightest deviation. On the other hand, the Ďspirit,í which Allah has breathed into man, and which forms the basis of his personality has been given the freedom of will by Divine wisdom. This leads to the development of moral and spiritual values in mankind. Without the freedom of will, and the ability to do good or evil, these qualities would fail to evolve. Only by having the freedom to lie, and choosing not to do so, can one nurture the quality of telling the truth. If there was no opportunity to be dishonest, honesty would not be a virtue. The command to serve oneís Lord was, therefore given; Lord (Rabb) being the One Who nurtures gradually, from the lower to the higher stage of development. Manís ability for action is motivated by the animal desires and emotions generated in his body. This is something that he shares in common with other animals, that is why doctors test medicines in animals before using them on human beings. Without Divine guidance man would continue to follow his low desires, and fail to rise above the animal state. We commonly see this today, in the western oriented materialistic culture. In fact, man falls even below the animal level, because animals do not commit acts that are against their nature. Such unnatural behavior is commonly observed in our civilized western societies, at times with the sanction of the law. In addition, drug usage which is detrimental to our health has become rampant. Animals on the other hand, would never consume anything that is harmful to their health. This is because they are fully controlled by their instinct, unlike mankind, which has been given the freedom of will. By proper utilization of this privilege, spiritual and moral values can be nurtured, as I just pointed out. Guidance to man for proper utilization of his desires and emotions, could only have been given by the Creator. This is the reason why in this verse man has been given the injunction to serve his Lord (Rabb) with humility.

The Creator, alone knows best, the purpose of manís creation, the appropriate use of the faculties and capabilities He has given him to achieve this goal, and the course of action to avoid. It is essential to follow His commandments, for He is not only the Creator, but also the One Who nourishes unto perfection (Rabb). He has not deserted His creation after bringing it into existence. He is nurturing it continuously to evolve it from a lower to a higher stage of existence. The rest of His creation, by manifesting unquestionable loyalty to His guidance, benefits from His nurturing (Rabubiyat), and continues to evolve and fulfill the purpose of its creation. Man, as already mentioned was given the freedom of will in order to evolve spiritual and moral qualities. This evolution would be impossible without being given the opportunity and freedom to commit good or evil. Man, therefore should also serve and obey his Creator and Lord (Rabb — One Who nourishes unto perfection) with humility, so that he can benefit from His guidance and reach the goal of his creation, which is recognition of the Divine Being. This purpose can obviously not be accomplished without perpetual nurturing and guidance by Allah Almighty. I have repeatedly mentioned the word Ibadat or Abudiyat, which means service with humility. Only the one who follows guidance with humility benefits from it, and not the one who submits only with reluctance and disrespect. We see an example of this in the nurturing provided by parents, or the education given by a teacher. The child who considers his parents and teachers as well-wishers and benefactors, accepts their guidance with humility, and derives the proper and complete benefit from it. On the contrary, the reluctant and disrespectful pupil fails to take advantage of these opportunities. The question one may ask is, who is a greater benefactor, and well-wisher of mankind than Allah?

Uniqueness of manís physical and spiritual faculties

We need to contemplate further on the words:

"Who created you."
Manís creation is both physical and spiritual as stated in the verse:

"He is Allah; the Creator, the Maker, the Fashioner" (59:24).
If we observe the physical creation of mankind, no two individuals would be found alike. From the top of the head, to the bottom of the feet, each individual human being is a distinct entity. Modern scientific research has determined that even the hair of each person has unique characteristics. In London for example, a thief got convicted on the basis of evidence provided by a strand of his hair in his cap which he forgot at the scene of crime. The forensic expert in this case, by microscopically analyzing the hair, provided the testimony that the hair belonged to the person who was eventually convicted for the crime. The footprints of individuals are also distinct, which accounts for the success of experts in tracking people down. Fingerprints and thumbprints are also unique to each human being, that is why such evidence is accepted in court. Even the body odor of every individual is unique, thus making it possible for blood hounds to hunt down criminals. Scientists, today have also confirmed that the DNA pattern of each human cell is also distinctly individualized. In short the Creator, Who is incomparable in greatness, has for this temporary worldly abode, bestowed upon each individual member of the human species, a distinct physical identity. How could the human spirit which is everlasting, not be blessed with such a distinction? The human spirit is, therefore also truly individualized in its capabilities and other characteristics.

The nurturing unto perfection (Rabubiyat), which is specific for every human body, is also uniquely designed for the human spirit. This spirit, within its abode in the human body is called the Nafs, and with its separate upbringing, an individual forms a distinct personality. For this spiritual advancement it is absolutely essential that the human spirit should obey its Creator and Lord (Rabb), and thus achieve the objective for which it was created. This is the reason why man is enjoined in this verse to serve his Lord with humility, Who not only created him but, is the only One Who can nurture, and evolve him into the unique being he is meant to be.

Manís tendency to follow the religion of his forefathers

The verse then goes on to say, "And those before you," i.e., Allah Who has created you, also created your forefathers. Man has a strange weakness; in matters of religion he blindly obeys and follows his forefathers, without using his own reasoning to make the appropriate decision for himself. A Christian today, is a Christian because his parents and grandparents were Christians. For the same reason a Hindu professes Hinduism, even though the religion may not appeal to him, and this applies to all people of different national origin. In our society today, much is made of the generation gap, and it is put forward as an excuse frequently to disobey the parents. Strangely enough, in matters of religion, people blindly hold on to the faith of their forefathers, even though they may not practically follow it; hence the Divine word that He not only created you, but also your ancestors, and guided them likewise. It was their own fault that they formed associates with God, and became involved in all kinds of wrong beliefs, as indicated in this verse:

"Mankind is a single nation. So Allah raised prophets as bearers of good news and as warners, and He revealed with them the Book with truth, that it might judge between people concerning that in which they differed" (2:213).

Allah gave all prophets similar type of teachings so that He may decide between the people, regarding that which they differed in. In spite of Divine guidance, disagreements arose between them again.

The fact that all prophets were sent with similar teachings, is further elaborated in the verse:

"And We sent no messenger before thee but We revealed to him that there is no God but Me, so serve Me" (21:25).

In the verse under discussion today, it is therefore clearly stated that Allah created your forefathers and ordained upon them the same teachings He has given you. They got involved in religious strife, and did not follow Divine guidance; why then are you embarked upon a similar self destructive course?

The consequences of following and ignoring Divine Guidance

The verse concludes with the statement:

"So that you may guard against evil."
The purpose of Divine guidance in other words is that mankind may guard against evil. Those who do not follow the Divine Guidance revealed in His Book, the Holy Quran, would then submit to their low desires and emotions. This in turn tends to cloud their judgment, and leads them to all kinds of loss and suffering in the form of evil. We see an example of this in our western societies today. If these Christian nations followed the edicts of the Bible, however faulty they may be; would those evils and cardinal sins that are being openly committed today in these societies be existent? Every act of man can have either a good, or evil form. On the basis of his emotional involvement and desires, man is unable to decide when a good action becomes evil. For example, the search for and acquisition of wealth is in itself not a bad deed. Allah has called it His blessing, and enjoined that one should pursue it, but man on account of his lust and greed, fails to perceive when such an acquisition becomes detrimental to him. Wealth, after it is earned can be spent on good and evil deeds. The wealthy man cannot distinguish between the good and evil course of such an action on his own. This is to be determined by the Greatest Being Allah, Who is Free of all Faults (Subhan).

One meaning of taqwa is the keeping of ones duty. The duty of each individual towards another is a matter which cannot be decided upon by the parties involved. For example, there is always a disagreement between men and women regarding their individual rights, and a consensus has never been reached. The Holy Quran has, therefore discussed the rights of men and women in detail. To recognize these rights, and fulfill them is also keeping oneís duty (taqwa), and no one can decide upon them other than Allah, the Best of judges. He created both men and women so that they could live together, and He ordained upon them their rights towards each other.

Before closing this lesson, I would like to point out that in both these lessons stress was laid on serving Allah with humility. The natural question that arises in oneís mind is; how should he serve Allah? The answer to this question is given in the subsequent verses which tell us that the obedience of Allah lies in following the Quranic injunctions.


 
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