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Lesson 17

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Lesson - 17

Al-Baqara

"Who made the earth a resting place for you and the heaven a structure, and sends down rain from the clouds then brings forth with it fruits for your sustenance; so do not set up rivals to Allah while you know.

And if you are in doubt as to that which We have revealed to Our servant, then produce a chapter like it and call on your helpers besides Allah if you are truthful." Ch. 2:22,23.

Purpose of manís creation

In the preceding verse I had explained, mankind was commanded to serve his Lord (Rabb) with humility. Only the Creator of man knows best the purpose for which He has created him and the course he needs to follow in order to achieve this objective. The Arabic word Rabb (upon which I have commented in Al-Fatihah), indicates that just as Allah has physically and intellectually developed man from a lowly stage to a higher stage of development, He also wants to evolve him morally and spiritually. He wants to raise man from an animal level of existence, to the heights of moral development, and by nurturing him spiritually, wants to bestow upon him that higher life which is everlasting and is to continue after death In this way man can achieve happiness and contentment in his temporal life, and the life Hereafter. This moral and spiritual upbringing can be accomplished satisfactorily only if man serves Allah with humility. For example, the obedient child who humbly complies with his parents and teachers wishes, benefits the most from their guidance, unlike the one who is disinterested and rude. The humble servant, thus benefits from the nurturing of Allah, for He is a far greater Benefactor of mankind than his parents and teachers.

The Metaphor of spiritual sustenance

In the verses under discussion today, Allah has drawn our attention towards the external means He has created for our physical existence, in order to explain the internal and spiritual resources He has provided for our development. This is a distinctive excellence of the Holy Quran that it uses analogies from the extrinsic milieu to illustrate the internal truths for man, who possesses only vision capable of observing his external surroundings. Thus, we are told to observe how Allah Almighty has spread out the vast earth for us like a carpet, although in fact it is round. Although it is spinning fast on its axis, and also revolving around the sun, He has made it a stable resting place for us. In the last verse of the section from which these verses have been quoted, it is stated:

"He it is Who created for you all that is in the earth" (2:29).
For the earthly existence and the physical development of mankind, He has made the essential provisions and has bestowed upon him countless blessings beyond the power of his estimation.

Seven realms of spiritual development

Attention is then drawn towards the heavens that they are not a mere scattered collection of stars, but a structure made with order and organization. Today, after fourteen hundred years of Quranic revelation modern scientific thought has corroborated this, that in fact the starry creation is divided into galaxies and a systematic arrangement exists throughout the universe. Towards the end of this section it is further elaborated that after creating for you in the earth what is above and beyond your imagination:

"He directed Himself to the heaven, so He made them complete seven heavens; and He is Knower of all things" (2:29).

In the physical universe we do not see the seven heavens, nor does scientific technology shed light on it, however, the Holy Quran and the Hadith both give us knowledge of seven levels of existence in the spiritual realm, or the life Hereafter. The verse under discussion today, therefore gives us a hint, that after giving you all the provisions and blessings for this worldly existence, Allah has made for you seven superior levels of spiritual existence in the life Hereafter. After death, spiritual progress through Divine nurturing (Rabubiyat) continues within these seven levels of the spiritual heavens. It should be remembered that during the Mi‘raj (spiritual ascension), the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) saw people, in fact even the prophets were divided into seven levels of heavenly existence. Glory be to Allah, all praise is His! Glory be to Allah Who is incomparable in greatness! How Great is the Lord, and how magnanimous a Benefactor of mankind He is. In the verse being discussed today, making of the earth as the resting place also indicates that manís abode on the earth is temporary. Using the word structure for the heavens signifies that the earthly mode of existence is the foundation on which the edifice of heavenly life is raised. The way man leads his temporal life fashions his heavenly existence; that is why the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said, "The world is the cultivating ground for the life Hereafter." Whatsoever one sows in this world, he shall reap its harvest in the life to come.

Once again after drawing attention towards an external phenomenon, an internal spiritual secret is revealed in the Divine words:

"And (Allah) sends down rain from the clouds then brings forth with it fruits for your sustenance."

The flow of heavenly rainwater stimulates the earth to generate its sustenance, and its fruits and flowers bloom. If rain were to stop, the rivers and waterways would dry up leaving mankind without food or life giving water, ultimately leading to his demise. Likewise in the spiritual realm, if there was no revelation (which has been repeatedly likened to rainwater in the Holy Quran), spiritual sustenance would not be produced, and man would die spiritually. Just as the rain water enlivens the dead earth to produce fruits and flowers responsible for the physical maintenance, and the development of the human species, revelation of the Divine word generates life in the dead souls of men, and provides the sustenance needed for the maintenance of their spiritual life. With it spring out the fruits and flowers which were previously lying dormant. These fruits and flowers are those fine qualities and excellent attributes that evolve in every righteous person who guards against evil, and become such an apparent part of his character, that they are perceived even by those who are of a worldly disposition. Although physical sustenance and produce, is created by Allah, man is duty bound to utilize the rainwater, soften and shear the land with the plow, sow the God given seedling, and put in the sweat and toil so familiar to the farmer. In a like manner, spiritual rainwater (revelation), the soil of manís inner soul, the seedlings of his good deeds, moral and spiritual blessings, and the spiritual exercise in facing trials and tribulations of destiny and heaven, all combine together to evolve a man spiritually, and produce the fragrant flowers, and the fresh fruits within his inner soul.

Revelation a source of life for the spirit

Just as the rain in the physical world provides the link between the heavens and the earth, revelation is the bond between the earthly and the heavenly life of man. Divine revelation gives all the essential news of the world Hereafter, and improves the worldly life of man in such a manner that it leads to improvement in his life after death. Allah has created such excellent means for nurturing the worldly and heavenly existence of mankind, that even if he spends every moment of his life in thanksgiving, praise and glorification of his Lord, it will not suffice. Therefore, it is stated, " Do not set up rivals with Allah while you know," i.e., you are commanded not to set up associates with Him, while possessing knowledge that Allah is your sole Creator, and the One Who nourishes you unto perfection. Any worldly idol, be it an effigy of stone, a prophet, or a spiritual, or a worldly leader raised to divinity, did not create man, nor was it responsible for the magnificent nurturing of manís worldly and heavenly existence that I have just briefly touched upon. In fact, like other human beings they too were dependent on Allah for their development. What a gross injustice it is to raise them to divinity, or as partners with God! The Holy Quran further expresses this in the verse:

"Surely ascribing partners to Allah is a gross iniquity" (31:13).
There can be no greater self-inflicted injustice for the human soul, because man thereby deprives himself of the unparalleled worldly, and the everlasting heavenly source of Divine nurture.

A challenge for the critics of Divine Revelation

Revelation is essential for the moral and spiritual development of man in this world, to elevate him from an animal level of spiritual existence to that of a civilized human being, and to bless him with inner tranquillity. It is also necessary for the everlasting progress of the life Hereafter. This is fully expressed in the Divine words:

"And if you are in doubt as to that which We revealed to Our servant, then produce a chapter like it, and call on your helpers besides Allah if you are truthful."

Critics find Divine revelation as an easy target for their criticism. This is something they cannot visualize descending from heaven. They do readily admit to the fine and noble qualities of the Holy Prophetís character, and no fair minded person can object to the reasonable and excellent teachings of Islam. Those who did object to Quranic injunctions on certain issues, (such as defensive warfare and matters of divorce) have had to shamefully retract their statements, by practically following the same direction in their own practical conduct in these matters. In the case of revelation, as it cannot be perceived visually, objections were raised during the time of the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) and, can even be put forward today. One, for example, can cast suspicion on the Holy Quran not being the revealed word of God, but a creation of the mind of the Holy Prophet (we seek refuge in Allah from saying so). A very simple and forceful reply to this is given by the Holy Quran that Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) was illiterate. The Holy Quran further challenges the skeptics that there exist many educated and knowledgeable persons amongst them, (as do exist in large numbers in Europe and America today) and if this is not the case, then they can enlist help from all over the world.

In Arabia, during the Prophetís time, there were certainly many persons highly skilled and knowledgeable in the Arabic language. All of them, the modern and the ancient are collectively challenged by the Holy Quran to bring the likeness of its single chapter. Historically, in the text of the Holy Quran the challenge put forward initially was to bring forth a book like the Holy Quran. When this challenge went unanswered, the equivalent of ten chapters was demanded. When even this was not met, it was further reduced to what is demanded in this verse:

"Then bring a chapter like it."
It must be remembered that in the Holy Quran, while there do exist many lengthy chapters, there are shorter ones consisting of three or four verses like Al-Kausar and Al-Ikhlas. Can the entire world of critics with its large numbers of scholars and language experts even produce the equivalent of these three or four Quranic verses? What a baseless objection it is then to say (we seek the refuge of Allah from saying so) that an unlettered inhabitant of Arabia, 1400 years ago crafted the whole Quran himself and put it forward as the word of God The skeptics were, however, as dumbfounded towards this challenge 1400 years ago in the time of the Holy Prophet as they are today. This challenge of the Holy Quran stands for the whole world today as it did fourteen centuries ago.

It must be noted that this challenge is not only in the matter of eloquence and the quality of language, for which the Holy Quran remains, and has always been the standard authority. It is in fact a challenge to match the knowledge, wisdom and the light of guidance that the Divine revelation contains. It was through the miraculous effect of the Holy Quran, that within a short span of twenty three years, a nation sunk into the depths of depravity was raised not only to the level of decent human behavior, but found closeness with God. To comply with all these requirements, will really amount to meeting the challenge of the Holy Quran. In the verse under consideration today the word Ab-di-na i.e., our humble servant, is proof in itself that the Holy Quran is the word of Allah, and not of Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). In this one word, the Holy Quran has encoded a sea of Divine wisdom. It is pointed out, that do you not observe that Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) is the first and foremost servant of Allah, who follows this guidance revealed to him with complete obedience and humility. Could any liar or fabricator act upon his self created guidance in the manner the Holy Prophet(peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) did? He used to say, "I am the first of the Muslims," meaning, "I am the first of those who submit to Allah." He was so conscientious of his status as a humble servant, that in all the formulae of faith, the word humble servant was placed before the word Messenger. He was more proud of being the humble servant of Allah than of being His Messenger. The sense of honor of Allah Almighty, in the matter of the Holy Quran is so great, that after putting forward this challenge, He has given the critics permission to call upon helpers, but has categorically stated, "Besides Allah." He has thus expressly forbidden them to call upon Him. We shall discuss this further in the next lesson.


 
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