57 Iron: Poems based on the Qur’an with exegesis
This is a beautiful Surah filled with visual imagery through the use of metaphors and analogy. The first section praises Allah’s attributes such that the heart is moved to respond in praise:
“All that is in the heavens and the earth magnifies God; He is the All-mighty, the All-wise. To Him belongs the Kingdom of the heavens and the earth; He gives life, and [death], and He is powerful over everything. He is the First and the Last, the Outward and the Inward; He has knowledge of everything. It is He that created the heavens and the earth in six days then seated Himself upon the Throne. He knows what penetrates into the earth, and what comes forth from it, — -what comes down from heaven, and what goes up unto it. He is with you wherever you are; and God sees the things you do. To Him belongs the Kingdom of the heavens and the earth; and unto Him all matters are returned. He makes the night to enter into the day and makes the day to enter into the night. He knows the thoughts [within your hearts] (1–7)
Everything magnifies the Lord — the entire Creation is a reflection of His Glory and Goodness. He knows every molecule, atom and particle of our beings which vibrate in a pattern of love that only He can respond. All things in His creation have the structure of the outward encompassing the inward — the physical with the infilling of His Spirit. It is the physical world, being breathed into existence by His Spirit, for it is His breath that enlivens us to reach upwards towards His light, like a tree being drawn to the sun, and raising its branches towards life. For life is not just for this world, but a constant drawing upward towards Allah in growth and beauty. Physical matter in and of itself does not behold itself in beauty, but only the Beloved. All matter is returned to Him, the Creator who turns the day into night and the night into day. He holds the light and determines the darkness. He opens the eyes of the blind so they may follow His light into His kingdom. “It is He who sends down upon His servant signs, clear signs, that He may bring you forth from the shadows into the light” (9). Do you not want to see the Light? His Light is filled with compassion and mercy, full of love and tenderness. His Light is not just temporal but spiritual as well — it is felt and not just seen. He holds you in His loving hands, do you not see?
When you see the believers in Paradise, they will have “their light running before them, and on their right hands” (12) It is the light of righteousness that is before them, as it reveals the straight path leading up to the Kingdom of the Almighty. The right hand is the hand of cleanliness which signifies purity. However, the disbelievers will not understand the way of truth and will beg the believers for the truth when it is too late, but they will be turned away from the Kingdom and when they turn to go out, they will not be able to return for the door inward is the door of mercy for those believers who “walked in the light.” “Return from where you came, and look for a light. Allah will provide you a light so that you may see the way” (v. 28) (paraphrase of translation for clearer understanding). They will no longer be able to obtain the truth, for the truth had already been given to them with a clear message from their messenger. This is an indication that the disbelievers are to obtain their light on earth, and will not be able to obtain it in the hereafter. The light is brought to the world of shadows by Allah’s revealed truth on earth. Once a person is brought to belief, their eyes will be opened to fuller understanding and they will be able to “see” the truth. “He will appoint you a light whereby you shall walk, and forgive you; God is All-forgiving, All-compassionate” (28).
“God manifested Himself in the theophany through His Light to that Dust, which called the People of Reflection.” ~ Ibn Al-’Arabi
It is mentioned four times that those who give from a loving, sincere heart for Allah’s purpose on earth will have blessing returned to them, for “God is bounty abounding” (v. 29). Those believers who are blessed by Allah will reside in paradise with gardens that have flowing rivers underneath (v. 12). It is the deeper underground rivers which don’t dry up like the rivers flowing on the surface of the earth that constantly supplies water. This is a metaphor for the deeper wisdom from Allah which produces depth of spiritual understanding which flows eternally. Greater wisdom and deeper truths are found within the esoteric realm of the Qur’an. One must penetrate the outer layer of shallow understanding by study, reflection and prayer to derive the truth. For do we not obtain the best nourishment from our food by pealing back the outer layer whether it is grains, nuts, vegetables, or fruits? That which is best for us is by going inside by first removing the outer layer which is the identifier and form which holds it all together.
Understand disbelievers, “that God revives the earth after it was dead” (v. 17) — you need to look deeper and reflect to understand the signs that have been provided for you. These are spiritual symbols that awaken different levels of consciousness. The present life is full of material blessings that delight you and provide status and power to delude you with the deception of the ego, but it is only temporary. “It is like a rain that provides abundant vegetative flourishing, but once it becomes dry the vegetation dries up and no longer produces” (v. 20) [paraphrased]. However, “the present life is but the [false] joy of delusion.” When the heart’s focus is on the material things of the world, the veils of the physical world hide Allah’s truth from being viewed. Ibn Khaldun writes, “Prayer helps the soul, being as food which makes it grow. This grows an increase which continues until knowledge gives way to contemplation, the veil of sensation falls off and the soul fully actualizes its essence by achieving understanding.” The “veil of sensation” is a description of attending outwards utilizing the senses, as opposed to turning inward to use reason, intuition, reflection and prayer with the intentional purpose of obtaining spiritual knowledge to grow our souls.
“No affliction befalls in the earth or in yourselves, but it is in a Book, before We create it; that is easy for God” (v. 22), reveals that Allah through His Determination has already decided the path and destiny of humankind. He knows all things at once, so with prescience knowledge has decided what is need for our spiritual well being. “The Book and the Balance” were sent so that human beings would establish justice in fulfillment of His will and purpose for the world (v. 25). All the universe is established by Allah in balance, and it is the responsibility of humans to use their “heart of understanding” to uphold, and maintain justice so that balance creates civilizations with the welfare and rights of all humans acknowledged through fair and equitable practices. Sachedina, “…Islamic universal discourse sought to defend itself by legitimizing individual autonomy within its religiously based collective order by leaving individuals free to negotiate their spiritual destiny without state interference, while requiring them to abide by public order that involved the play of reciprocity and autonomy upon which just rights are based.” It is the synthesis of reciprocity and autonomy that creates social balance and better enables all humans to be treated with dignity as Allah intended.
Allah provided iron so that men could use it in defense of revealed truth, or to defend the balance of justice. This is “so that God might know who helps Him, and His Messengers, in the Unseen” (v. 25). For the person who will use whatever necessary tools Allah has blessed humans with in defense of His truth thereby standing firm in that same self truth will be blessed in His Kingdom. It is the ultimate sacrifice to be willingly to give all, including one’s life to advance His Kingdom.
The Prophet (pbuh) mentions the errors of Christian monasticism in which monks used extreme, bizarre actions in an attempt to please God and seek His forgiveness, such as inflicting pain on the body, laying in thorn bushes for 40 days, etc. So, the Surah closes with the knowledge that the People of the Book don’t have power over Allah’s grace, that His Mercy is entirely in His Will, and there is no action humans may take to obtain that Grace. It is a free gift from Allah. One needs to ask why the Qur’anic revelation included the error of monasticism in this Surah. Is it possible there were Muslim believers influenced by the spread of Christianity and monasticism in the area that felt the need to earn Allah’s attention and mercy by modeling themselves after monks for the forgiveness of sins? It must be remembered that prior to the onset of Islam was idol worship where it was common to offer sacrifices, including human sacrifice, in an attempt to appease the gods. Any developing religion that comes in contact with other religions is at risk for syncretism.
(1) Arab Philosophy of History, p. 175
(2) Islam and the Challenge of Human Rights, Abdulaziz Sachedina p. 152
We have no being
except for Your Being,
our thoughts are Your Thoughts,
our lights are Your Light —
the light of intellect is only possible
by Your Will and Power.
It is the darkness of flesh
which holds the light
shining like a star
in a dark blanket of space.
The majesty of brilliant light
is revealed all the more clearly
by the deepness of the dark
so that all may see.
We are ex nihilo
and You are ALL.