42 Consultation (Al-Shura): Poems based on the Qur’an with exegesis

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The first part of this Surah is praise to Allah, with the use of the metaphor of the heavens almost breaking apart due to the angel’s constant proclamation of the “praises of their Lord,” and asking forgiveness for those of us on earth. It is a beautiful, visual picture of heaven, and a reminder of the importance of praising Allah, and thanking Him for His mercy. To understand there are angels interceding in our behalf should bless our hearts with peace, and to motivate du’a which intercedes in the behalf of others. For every blessing we are given from Allah, we are called to bless others.

Additionally, Allah being the only protector is skillfully interspersed throughout the Surah. The idol worshipers sacrificed to their idols for protection from calamity and various other causes, without understanding no true protection comes from false gods. Subsequently, the reasons why Allah is the Only Protector are also provided so that polytheists would come to an understanding that Allah is All Powerful, and their idols have no power. “the evildoers will have no one to protect or help them. How can they take protectors other than Him? God alone is the Protector; He gives life to the dead; He has power over all things” (vs. 8–9).

The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is told the Qur’an was revealed in Arabic so that he would be prepared to warn “the mother of cities,and all who live nearby” (Mecca). It is thought this Surah was revealed during a time period when the Quraish Tribal Chiefs were going to be addressed by some of the residents of the city regarding their ongoing negative treatment of the Prophet Muhammad(pbuh) and his teachings. The residents of Mecca are to understand Allah is is the only Protector, and not the idols with false gods that are worshiped. For, Allah “…is the All Hearing, the All Seeing” and “the keys of the heavens and the earth are His” (v.11).

The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is told that Noah, Abraham, Moses and Jesus were given the same message, which was to “uphold the faith and do not divide factions within it”(v. 13). Furthermore, those who created divisions did so out of rivalry, and then those after them developed doubt regarding the validity of the Qur’an. It is highly likely some of the idol worship beliefs and practices were being combined with the knowledge from the Qur’an in a syncretic manner which led to arguments and division. This is not an unusual occurrence when a new religion is being established among an existing religion(s). Hence, the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is told to call people to the true faith as was revealed to him, and not to follow the desires of those who are misleading others with truth mixed with falsehood. The Prophet (pbuh) is “commanded to bring justice between you,” (v. 15) based upon Muhammad’s authority as the one who was blessed with Allah’s direct revelation. Furthermore, Allah sent down the “Scripture with Truth and Balance” (v. 17).

Balance” is that which is fair and just. For a community to represent Allah, it is important for the behavior of the community members to display the truth as presented in the Qur’an. This means egalitarian treatment for everyone. When one group is oppressed, and is not treated in an impartial manner with full understanding of Allah’s expectations for justice in social interactions, then the community of believers does not function well, and becomes a dysfunctional system. Abdulaziz Sachedina (Professor, IIIT Chair in Islamic Studies at George Mason University, Virginia) states regarding justice, “The ideal of justice in a divinely ordained community is a natural outcome of the belief in an ethical God who insists on justice and equality in interpersonal relations as part of the believer’s spiritual perfection.” (1) The Qur’an’s teachings based upon revelations from Allah are balanced, so that the Ummah may be balanced. Sachedina also writes:

“…the purpose of revelation is to guide rather than govern humankind. Accordingly, the Qur’anic valuation of human beings is not limited to honoring humankind as the vice-regent of God. It is about believing in the abilities and potential of humankind, the value of time, the authority of the human mind in pursuing the truth, and the future of humankind. The critical evaluation of inequalities between men and women, the degradation of human resources, and the disregard of human experiences provide the Muslim thinker with an opportunity to restate human values in an Islamic context and to restore balance with other considerations such as nation interest, priorities, and traditions.” (2)

For Allah gave all humans potential and it is His will that everyone may be given the opportunity to fulfill their divinely blessed potentials which entails the intentional enabling for every individual, instead of oppression which blocks the way of human expression. The structure the Qur’an provides for an effective operating community based upon justice and morality incorporates not just universal moral laws, but laws and regulations that were relative to the culture they lived in during that time period. The challenge for modern Islamic leaders today is to transpose those cultural laws so that the underlying foundation of justice is relevant and applicable to contemporary times. What created balance in that culture, is not necessarily creating balance within the present Ummah.

The representation of Allah’s power is presented as Allah determining whether a person receives much or little in material and spiritual blessings. Furthermore, if a person only focuses on producing abundance in this life, there will not be abundance in the Hereafter, but “if anyone desires a harvest in the life to come, We shall increase it for him…” (v. 20). And in verse 23, “If anyone does good, We shall increase it for him,” and then an explanation of what happens when people are given too much for their own good, “If God were to grant His plentiful provision to [all] His creatures, they would act insolently on earth, but He sends down in due measure whatever He will, for He is well aware of His servants of watchful over them: it is He who sends relief through rain after they have lost hope, and spreads His mercy far and wide. He is the Protector, Worthy of All Praise” (vs. 27–28). Allah controls all things and will withhold material blessings for our spiritual good. Additionally, due to the way our civilizations were established, it is expected of all believers to provide from their material blessings for those who are not so blessed — this too is a test. Does not everything come from Allah? Do not hold onto too tightly to what you believe is yours, or you will lose everything. The Prophet (pbuh) was told to tell the people that he is not expecting any type of worldly reward, but his actions stem primarily from his “affection for you as kin” (v. 23). In other words, it is because of the love and caring he has for his believing brothers and sisters that he wants them to understand the truth, so they don’t go astray and lose their souls to Satan.

Signs are mentioned with the underlying teaching of how all things are under Allah’s control. “Among His signs is the creation of the heavens and earth and all the living creatures He has scattered throughout them: He has the power to gather them all together whenever He will” (v.29). He who has scattered all of life has the power to gather them back to Himself. This is a recurring theme in the Qur’an of the expanding multiplicity of Allah in manifold levels of diversity which will then return back to the One. And again, the focus returns to Allah being the only Protector: “…you cannot escape Him anywhere on earth: you have no protector or helper other than God” (v. 29).

Those who trust in the Lord are those “who shun great sins and gross indecencies; who forgive when they are angry; respond to their Lord; keep up the prayer; conduct their affairs by mutual consultation (amruhum shura baynahum); give to others out of what We have provided for them; and defend themselves when they are oppressed” (vs. 36–38). The principle of amruhum shura baynahum is an important component of the Islamic community in assuring fair dealings with everyone. This significance of amruhum shura baynahum is that it effectively prevents one person from making all the decisions regarding the complexities of the application of the Qur’an’s teachings within a Muslim community. Additionally, others opinions regarding a matter are to be taken with due consideration, as well as the election of the person who will oversee their collective affairs. Javed Ahmad Ghamidi succinctly states it thus,

“ Centuries before the thinkers of the present age, the Qur’an had declared: اَمْرُهُم شُوْرٰی بَينَهُمْ (42: 38) (the affairs of the Muslims are run on the basis of their mutual consultation, (42:38)). This clearly meant that an Islamic government would be established through their consultation, everyone will have equal rights in this consultation, whatever done through consultation will only be undone through consultation and every individual will become part of the consultative process. Moreover, if a decision cannot be reached through a consensus or total agreement, then the opinion of the majority shall be accepted as the decision.” (3)

The importance of consultation or amruhum shura baynahum leads to protection of a community or politic body from corruption or oppression by powerful leaders. Sachedina states, “The Qur’an warns human beings about the egocentric corruption that can weaken the determination to carry out divine purposes for humankind. Human pride can infect and corrupt undertakings in politics, scholarship, everyday conduct, and theology. The last is the most sinful aspect of egocentric corruption because it is done in the name of God.” (4) This is the ideal in democracies, but as is seen in the present time in the U.S., the consequence of an egocentric leader in a position of power not listening to advisors while rashly continuing to make poor decisions will eventually cause the downfall of our Republic.

Verse 40 states that harm should “be requited by an equal harm,” but what is better is forgiveness and resolution. Revisiting verse 38 (“defend themselves when they are oppressed”) gives better understanding to a harm for a harm. One should not allow oppression or corruption to go unchecked. And in verses 42–43, it is stated, “…but there is cause to act against those who oppress people and transgress in the land against all justice — they will have an agonizing torment — though if a person is patient and forgives, this is one of the greatest things.” It appears as if there is a contradiction between giving equal harm, defending against oppression, acting against those who oppose people and transgress against justice, and having patience and forgiveness. The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is stating patience and forgiveness is the better way, but in occasions where the conditions are not favorable for resolution and forgiveness, then action needs to be taken to protect the welfare of the community. This doesn’t necessarily mean just using violence, but in using various techniques to defend against injustice such as non-violence strategies, the law and court system, demonstrations, etc. such as what was seen during the Civil Rights Movement.

The next section again addresses the issue of protection: “Anyone God allows to stray will have no one else to protect him…” (v. 44). Imagine being a polytheistic idol worshiper, and even new believers hearing the Qur’an being recited for the first time. It is repeating themes intermittently interspersed through the Surah which is what will be remembered the most. In this case, the message of Allah being the only protector is a point that is repeatedly provided. It is almost like hearing subliminal messages in a commercial, or the use of suggestion in an attempt to reach the innermost layers of the conscious. For example, when you listen to a lecture, you should, upon leaving the lecture be able to recite the lecturer’s primary points. This is because an effective lecturer will repeat their primary points numerous times throughout the lecture. However, this is supernatural wisdom providing the most important point in a repetitive manner so that the Qur’an’s listeners will be able to remember and understand what was emphasized during the Surah.

And in verses 49–50, “…He creates whatever He will — He grants female offspring to whoever He will, male to whoever He will, or both male and female, and He makes whoever He will be barren: He is all knowing and all powerful.” Female infanticide was a common occurrence during pre-Islamic times, but most likely continued during early Islam in reduced numbers. This verse is significant in pointing out that it is Allah alone who determines what gender offspring people are given, so it is their responsibility to care for that which they have been given. The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) overtly spoke out against female infanticide, or killing children because of familial poor economic conditions. For it is the community’s responsibility according to the truths of the Qur’an to help each other in need. This also pertains to the importance of the sanctity of life, for it is Allah who gives life, and subsequently it is not for an individual to place themselves above the power and decisions of Allah to take the life of an infant of child because of their gender. For what does verse 50 say? That Allah is “all knowing and all powerful.”

The last section of this Surah addresses the responsibility of the Prophet, which is not to be the people’s guardian, but his primary duty being to just deliver the message. As Sachedina explains, “…the aspect of revelatory guidance that regulates the God-human relationship is concerned with ‘reminding’ and ‘warning’ people to heed the divine call through ‘submission’ to God’s will. As the head of the community, the Prophet could not use his political power to enforce a God-human relationship that is founded upon individual autonomy and human agency. In fact, the Qur’an repeatedly reminds the Prophet that his duty was simply to deliver the message without taking it upon himself to function as God’s religious enforcer” (also in 17:54 and 50:45). (5)

God does not speak to any human except through revelation or “from behind a veil,” or by the use of a messenger. The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was blessed with the truth through “a spirit” so that he could “give guidance to the straight path, the path of God, to whom belongs all that is in the heavens and earth: truly everything will return to God” (vs 51–52). Allah also communicates to those He designates or calls by the use of angels, other heavenly beings, His Spirit, visions and dreams. It is the express purpose of those Allah has chosen to only relay His message and warning to a community, or to humanity. Divinity does not reside in human flesh, but it must be understood that those whom Allah has chosen speaks Allah’s intent through divine revelation for the purpose of helping humankind reach their greatest spiritual potential through His Will.

(1) The Role of Islam in the Public Square: Guidance or Governance? p. 13
(2) p. 9
(3) Al-Mawrid United States Scholar
(4) p. 12
(5) p. 15

Poem

Do not seek protection
through the idols
you have set up —
it will be your downfall.
There is no protection from fortresses,
fortune, status or power,
for Allah the Almighty is the only true Protector.
He will protect those who are submitted,
but can easily destroy
all those who sought protections
other than Him.

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Sheryl Martin

It is suffering that shoots streams of creativity out of my heart, and the brokenness of life that explodes my heart into its soul.