Sunday, September 09, 2012

53. The Star

When something is complex, yet simple, we call it beautiful. My mathematician friends call maths 'beautiful', but I don't usually see it, because I never stopped to think about the layers in mathematics. I just wrote the steps as they were taught, and that was enough for me. I have used it to describe visually complex things though (as most people do). For example, sunsets have always been beautiful to me. The way the world seems to slow down, the way the colours change gradually, yet, right before your eyes, that nostalgia you feel in your heart - that's what makes it 'beautiful'. So I suppose, beauty lies in the way something makes you feel. It lies in the complications which excite your emotions. Things that you cannot exactly put your finger on at the first go, but eventually realise that it all makes sense.

What made me think about beauty today is a chapter from the Quran - chapter 53. For a few days, I have been feeling very distracted when I try to engage in spiritual practices. I know why and when this happens. I need my feet planted right on the ground and also reach for the sky in order to grow properly. I think I have been floating around way too much and haven't stopped to put things in perspective. Its important to understand the purpose behind everything that you do and to be convinced that whatever you are doing is going to be of some use in order for you to completely 'want' to do it. So, since my head has been everywhere, I did not have my purposes set out in front of me, which led me to feel distracted.

So, my realisation is this: whenever you 'read' something, its not enough to just 'read' it. You must understand it, have a picture in your head and do something with it. If you don't, then either, whatever you're reading isn't worth it, or, you are not fulfilling the purpose of reading it. Given this premise, when it comes to the Quran, you are not giving it justice if you are just 'reading' it without understanding it. Although, there are blessings in everything about the Quran, including just reciting it. But, the Quran's purpose extends beyond recitation. Some level of understanding must be derived from it in order to even attempt at fulfilling its purpose.

The more you understand the Quran, the more 'beautiful' it would seem. There are verses in there that are easy to understand. Verses that provide comfort without you having to think about it twice. But, when you do think about it twice, it provides more comfort. There are verses that would apparently seem to go on in a logical progression, but when you think about them, you can see the logic. There are verses that make absolutely no sense when you read them at first. But when you look into them, you can see how coherent they are with the overall message and the context. For me, this particular chapter was like that. When I first read it, it seemed very similar to a lot of other chapters. A lot of familiar ideas seemed to be just placed together.

But here's the story: Muhammad (pbuh) came to a society which was at the pinnacle of moral decline. Any talk of morality that didn't comply with the society was faced with open ridicule. Since the message of Islam was starkly different to the prevalent ideas, the prophet invited people secretly for the first five years. (Although, oppression already started in Makkah, and some people migrated to Abyssinia (Ethiopia) because of it.) These verses were the first verses to be announced publicly. After he finished reciting them, majority of the people in the gathering fell to prostration, believers and disbelievers. The words were so eloquent, that even those who did not believe were shook up with them.

The chapter begins with defending Muhammad (pbuh). I find it amazing that God of the entire universe revealed verses to comfort and defend a man. And those verses, although it was meant for him at that time, are still there, and the Quran is for us, so, those verses are actually for us now. Allah knows how frustrating life can get when you are trying to do the right thing against all odds. It goes on to refute some other arguments of the disbelievers. The refutations work on their premises, not the premises set by the speaker. This is interesting, because, its a good reminder to us to work from where other people are, speak their language. When someone is passionate about a cause, its so easy to get carried away in their own little world, disregarding whether anything is absorbed by the listener or not. Another very interesting thing mentioned is the fact that arguments must be based on solid knowledge, not assumptions. This is just one of the many places in which Islam encourages seeking knowledge, being aware of reality, facing the truth; not hide away in our little boxes in pseudo comfort.

"Those who avoid the major sins and immoralities, only [committing] slight ones. Indeed, your Lord is vast in forgiveness. He was most knowing of you when He produced you from the earth and when you were fetuses in the wombs of your mothers. So do not claim yourselves to be pure; He is most knowing of who fears Him." (53:32)

I found this verse very interesting because it appeals to our core, the innermost selves in us. The fact that Allah knows us. The fact that we can't hide away, at all, we can't lie to Him, and no matter what happens, in the end, its between Him and every single person, individually. The following verses reinforce this.

The bit that actually led me to take an interest in the entire surah is this:

"And that it is He who makes [one] laugh and weep." (53:43)

Just yesterday, I was feeling very annoyed with myself. I had no idea (except for a tiny bit, maybe) why, and since I had very little idea, I couldn't do anything to get rid of the feeling. And I realised, people are absolutely helpless. You can take a thousand measures, but, there is no guarantee that you will stop feeling a certain way. And if you want to get rid of some negative feeling, the best you can do is make dua. At the end of the day He is the only one with complete control over what's in your heart.

The surah goes on to mention other points in which we actually are completely helpless at, then Allah poses the question - which of these favours can we doubt. That's the thing. If we accept everything we have in life as favours, if we can change our attitude so that the results don't annoy us, so that we can truly know in our hearts that every single thing that happens happens for a reason, we would be happy. And at the same time, knowing that Allah alone can bring justice, Allah alone will bring justice, to us and to others, makes you extremely scared and comforted, at the same time. And while you are at the height of emotions, Allah ends the chapter with the command of prostration.

That was a very short run down of the chapter, a very short and shallow run down. Yet, the fact that so many people fell to prostration to God after listening to this makes sense to me. Because, the basic ideas in itself are amazing. Now, adding layers of meanings that would be added due to the language and a more detailed version than the watered down summary, would make it beyond perfection. It would truly have been 'beautiful' - something that you can't quite put your fingers on, but something that makes sense.

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