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Welcome!

Welcome to Halal Thoughts! This portfolio is a collection of my artworks discussing the role of arts and aesthetics in shaping Islamic culture and experiences around the world.

When discussing the Islamic faith, many people who do not possess a nuanced Islamic background, such as unfamiliar non-Muslims, or even many Muslims who are uneducated in the faith, tend to characterize Islam as a monolith, a uniform, ideological box, with a singular perspective on the faith and outlook on life. In certain ways, this may be true, for example in fundamental theological beliefs, such as the belief in the Oneness of God, the prophethood and spiritual authority of Muhammad, the basic pillars (rituals) of the faith, and universal Islamic values: seeking knowledge, combating injustice, engaging with others peacefully, etc.

In a majority of ways, however, interpretations within the faith vary tremendously, for example in differences between the main communities of interpretation (Sunni and Shi’i), to the mystical Sufi orientation, to differences in gender dynamics . A Bosnian Muslim’s perspective  and experience is not necessarily that of a Pakistani Muslim, and a Chinese Muslim’s perspective and experience is not necessarily that of an Australian Muslim or a Sierra Leonean Muslim. Not all of these differences in interpretation necessarily originate from the faith itself, but are by-products of cultural, political, social, and economic dynamics.

When individuals fail to examine the faith through this holistic lens, they fall prey to generalizations and oversimplifications, which, more often than not, result in negative consequences for Muslims, and even those who appear to resemble Muslims, such as Sikhs. Islam is monothilized and demonized, and its adherents are othered, brutalized, and deemed as incompatible with the “West” and Western values. Perceptions of the faith are influenced and distorted by political propaganda, hearsay, or certain media snapshots of certain Islamic communities or those who claim to speak on behalf of all Muslims, and nuance is thrown to the wind. Most significantly, human connection and empathy are thrown to the wind.

Art is an incredibly powerful tool in combating ignorance. Art is used to capture one’s subjective experience and convey it to others in sensory, comprehensible way. From illustrious paintings, to profound poetry, to elaborate dances, art allows people to step into the shoes of the artist’s life and experience the world, however briefly, the way that they do. This creates an empathetic connection, a human connection, with individual perspectives on a level that simply cannot be obtained by hearing descriptions of the faith from outside sources or reading a textbook.

Islam is profoundly a multisensory experience. From hearing the adhan broadcast five times a day in the mosque, to listening to Qur’anic recitation during prayers, to whirling and chanting with Sufi mystics, to gazing at intricate calligraphy designs that adorn mosques, to engaging with the community over suhoor (morning meal) and iftar (evening meal), Islam is primarily experienced through the senses, and it experienced in a different way for every individual.

Throughout each of my blogs, I strove to depict this message of utilizing art media to convey a multidimensional experience, though not comprehensive by any stretch, but a diverse array of experiences, for who wish to take glimpse in the life of a Muslim. I am an African-American, first-generation Sierra Leonean, Sunni Muslim from Rockville, Maryland, and I am thoroughly aware that my experiences and perspectives are far from universal. However, this blog is not meant to highlight my interpretations of the faith perse, rather it is a brief snapshot of the history, themes, and traditions that I have engaged with throughout this course.

My first blog, Surah Najm (The Star) involves Qur’anic recitation. I connected this blog to Al-Ghazali’s Recitation and Interpretation of the Qur’an: Al-Ghazali’s Theory, in which he discusses external rules of Qur’anic recitation.

Muslims believe the Qur’an to be the Holy word of God, revealed by the Archangel Jibreel (Gabriel) to prophet Muhammad over twenty years of his life, partially during his life in Makkah (13 years) and Madinah (23 years). The Qur’an is considered one of the greatest miracles given to Muhammad, for a number of reasons. Its poetic beauty and rhythmic elegance was utterly unmatched in the Arab world, during a time when poetry was valued as one of the highest and remarkable skills one could possess. One of the greatest allures of the Qur’an was its aesthetic power, one that utterly captivated the hearts and minds of those who heard it, recited it, and studied its meanings. The Qur’an has a number of different recitation styles, which were all utilized by the prophet when he was alive, and reflected variations in Arabic phonetics throughout the various dialects of the surrounding region.

Recitation of the Qur’an has a certain set of stipulations, or conditions. Ghazali lays them a few of them out in detail. One must be ritually pure, as commanded by Allah: “None may touch it, save those who are pure” (56:79). To achieve ritual and spiritual purity, we perform wudu, or spiritual ablution, and physically wash certain areas of our body with clean water. We must also recite the Qur’an in a steady, rhythmic manner, not rushing or mumbling over words: “And recite the Qur’an with tartil (a slow and distinct manner)” (93:4). Furthermore, we must recite the Qur’an with passion and concentration, pondering its meanings and examining it in light of our own lives. If we don’t understand the meanings, we can read the translation as well. Reading the text passionately and contemplating upon it is of such significance that the prophet Muhammad famously said: “Read the Qur’an and weep. If you do not weep naturally, force yourself to weep.”

The Qur’an presents a number of varying themes, stories, and lessons throughout its text. Revealed in 114 chapters, each verse (or set of verses) was revealed at a particular point during the prophet’s life, with specific context and significance surrounding its revelation. The Qur’an tells stories of prophets and nations of previous times, from Adam, Abraham, Moses, to Mary, to Jesus, and so many more. It describes Paradise, Hell, and the events of the Day of Judgement in great detail. It also contains various legislative verses, which were mostly revealed in Madinah, when the Muslim community was growing sustainably and independently, and interacting with different tribes and members of different faith backgrounds. Interpreting the Qur’an is a diverse science known as tafsir. Before one can give legal rulings or remotely definitive rulings based on the translations of the Qur’an one must first be thoroughly educated in the science of tafsir.

My second post discusses traditions honoring prophet Muhammad. Different cultures honor the prophet in a variety of styles and art forms, from visual art, to nasheeds (songs), to South Asian poetry. This post was inspired by Ali Asani’s  In Praise of Muhammad: Sindhi and Urdu Poems. This article discusses the various genres of Sindhi poems created to eulogize the prophet, which originated in Sind, a province in southern Pakistan. Of these, the maulud, madan, and majat, are among the most prominent. The maulud, which translates to “newborn child”, honors the prophet’s birth and his honorable characteristics as an adult. Both the madan and majat are honorary, celebratory poems composed of about fifty verses or more, and are similar in meter and rhyme scheme. The former places more emphasis on praising the prophet, while the latter places more emphasis on the reader’s supplication for the prophet.

My third post discusses a fundamental Islamic concept of no compulsion in religion. I connected this artwork to Ali Asani’s Infidel of Love, which explores Muslim understandings of Islam, fundamental concepts, themes, and values of the faith, and contemporary political relevance within America. My connection was the fact that regardless of one’s interpretation of the Qur’an and its messages, it is impermissible to impose on anyone but themselves, as this would be in direct contradiction with the fundamental values of the faith.

My fourth post discusses the Sufi tradition, as well as the various art forms this Islamic orientation has espoused. I connected this artwork to Carl W. Ernst’s The Shambhala Guide to Sufism, which discussed various art forms that originated from the Sufi tradition. Ernst discusses the interesting role of music and dance within Sufism, which is quite controversial topic throughout the Islamic world. Many more traditional scholars condemn music as prohibited by Islam, and many Muslims cultures deem it as un-Islamic, despite the fact that is is not prohibited in the Qur’an.

Ernst also discusses the origins and types of sama, or chanted poetry. The types of sama are distinguished by the levels of the listener’s longing for God and creation.The first is known as lawful, in which the listener is totally longing for God and not longing at all for the created. The second is known as permitted, in which the listener is mostly longing for God and only a little for the created. The third is disapproved, during which there is much longing for creation, and a little for God. The fourth type is the forbidden, in which the listener is longing totally for creation and not at all for God. These nuances in intentions are completely between God and the worshipper, and not to be judged by others. In order to listen to the music and chanting in a manner longing for God, one must purify themselves spiritually, performing ritual ablution, and focus on understanding the words from a spiritual perspective, rather than a worldly, sensual perspective.

My fifth post discusses the pluralistic nature of Islam, and touches on its relation to other faith communities, particularly those of monotheistic varieties, such as Judaism and Christianity. This post was inspired by an excerpt from Malcolm X’s autobiography, in which he narrates his journey to Makkah for the annual Hajj, the Holy Pilgrimage. On this journey, Malcolm details his experiences interacting with people of all shades, ethnicities, and socioeconomic levels, yet every one of them treated him like a brother. Contrasted heavily with his experience in the United States, where racism, discrimination, and violence against minorities were quite rampant and destructive, and no Caucasian person had treated him with the slightest ounce of respect, he sees his journey as one highlighting the true nature of Islam, where all humans are treated equally, and with respect. On a broader level beyond Islam, Muslims are encouraged to treat all human beings with dignity and compassion, and uplift those who are oppressed, regardless of their background or religious affiliation.

My final post discusses God’s attribute of An-Noor (The Light). This post was inspired by Muhammad Iqbal’s The Complaint and The Answer, during which the first speaker, the complainer, voices the grievances of Muslims from several Muslim countries around the world who had witnessed the tragic decline of Muslims politically, economically, and spiritually. The second half of the poem, The Answer, details the response of the Creator to the narrator’s complaint. Critical of the human impudence, the Creator reproaches the narrator, citing how Muslims have abandoned the Qur’an and Islamic values.

I interpreted this exchange as the speaker’s lamenting the loss of God’s light from the Earth, which stems from a notion of divine affirmation through political power. One theme that is heavily present throughout Islamic spirituality is that God’s allocation of physical resources to His creation is not necessarily reflective of His love of certain individuals. The fact that some people or nations are poorer or wealthier than others is not a reflection of their faith level, moral superiority, or favor from God. It is simply God’ will, and a test. As Allah says in Surah Saba, the chapter of Sheba: “And they said, ‘We are superior in riches and children, and we are not going to be punished.’ Say, ‘In fact, my Lord extends provision to whom He wills, and restricts it (for whom He wills), but most of the people do not know.” (34:35-36). In these verses God highlights the erroneous assumption made by those who denied the truth of His message, that their material resources are indicative of their favor with God and their superiority over the prophet. In reality, God’s light, guidance, and mercy is bestowed upon those who strive to live righteous lives and uplift those around them. As He says: “O mankind! We have created you from a male and a female, and made you into races and tribes so that you may identify one another. Surely, the noblest of you in the sight of Allah are the most pious. Indeed, Allah is All-Knowing, All-Aware” (49:13).

One of my main takeaways from this course was the power of art, not only in shaping people’s experiences with the faith, but in giving people a voice, a platform to express their views and convey them to others in a profound and powerful, yet personal and intimate fashion. Another big point is that religion does not exist in a vacuum, as many people fail to realize. Religion evolves with the times, and is heavily influenced by socio-political and economic factors. Furthermore, every individual has a unique, valid experience which shapes their outlook on the faith differently, and once people begin to examine Islam through a cultural studies-based, holistic approach, they will finally begin to understand it is not just a static set of rules–it dynamic, complex, and personal. It is a way of life.

 

Light Upon Light

“Allâh is the Light of the heavens and the earth. The parable of His Light is as (if there were) a niche and within it a lamp, the lamp is in glass, the glass as it were a brilliant star, lit from a blessed tree, an olive, neither of the east (i.e. neither it gets sun-rays only in the morning) nor of the west (i.e. nor it gets sun-rays only in the afternoon, but it is exposed to the sun all day long), whose oil would almost glow forth (of itself), though no fire touched it. Light upon Light! Allâh guides to His Light whom He wills. And Allâh sets forth parables for mankind, and Allâh is All-Knower of everything.” (24:35)

 

This is the Verse of Light, from which the name of the 24th chapter of the Qur’an is derived: An-Nur, or The Light. An-Nur is also one of the 99 Names and Attributes of Allah. Its connotes a variety of meanings: the brilliance of Truth in a world of darkness and confusion, the light of His divine revelation that guides us on our journey to Him in this life and the next, His warmth that radiates throughout creation, and so much more.

 

This surah was revealed to the Muslim community of Madinah during a time of great turmoil. Shortly after returning from an armed conflict with a tribe called Bani Al-Mustaliq, Muhammad’s army set up camp a distance away from Madinah. A’ishah, his wife, left the campsite to go relieve herself, but when she returned, she realized she had dropped her necklace. She left in search of it, and in her absence, the army had moved on. She had been traveling in a special closed carriage designed to sit on top of her camel, but due to her light weight, her carriage-bearers had failed to notice her absence. Lost and distraught, she waited for a search party to retrieve her and fell asleep.

 

She was later awoken by a companion called Safwan bin Mu’attal Sulmani, who recognized her, realized the situation, and promptly escorted her back to Madinah, allowing her to ride his camel while he pulled it, out of modesty. The sight of the two individuals returning alone after a prolonged isolation in the desert prompted an ill-intentioned individual known as Abdullah ibn Ubayy ibn Salul to instigate a shameless slander on the honor of the prophet’s wife and his companion.

 

After being shunned by slanderers, and distanced by many individuals who believed the slander, A’ishah began to give up hope that her reputation would be ever be restored. After a month of turmoil and uncertainty, revelation was sent down, clearing the names of A’ishah and Safwan, condemning the originators of the slanderer, and reprimanding the Muslim community on not assuming the best of their fellow brother and sister. This connotation of Allah’s Light of Truth shining down and clearing away the haze of darkness is quite apparent, particularly in light of the events surrounding the revelation of this surah.

 

And Allah knows best.

 

Embracing Differences

 

During the first week of our course, we opened up our discussions on the Islamic faith utilizing the cultural studies approach. We focused on the role of the arts as tool to engage with differences in people. This approach allows for a more personal connection with the faith, rather than monolithic generalizations many unfamiliar people are prone to make. Just as important as religious literacy, is literacy of social, political, and economic, contexts of Muslim communities, which are crucial to understanding how different environments shape people’s interpretations and views of Islam. Rather than simply asking, “What does Islam say about such and such?”, we should ask “Whose Islam are we talking about?”, “What is the context of the people we are discussing?”, and “What tools are they using to interpret the faith?” By focusing on individuals, communities, and cultures we can begin to break hegemonic and monolithic norms of Islam that exist due to patriarchal power structures, politicization, Arabization, and other factors.

 

In all facets of life, humans are hard-wired to see differences, be they the colors of our skin, the shapes of our bodies, or the foods we eat. This predisposition is incredibly pronounced when engaging with religious and cultural differences. In our rapidly globalizing world, where differences are literally and metaphorically staring us in face within our societies, it is extremely crucial to approach religious discourse from a pluralistic viewpoint. Religious pluralism, is a multidimensional term that refers to the acceptance and freedom of religion provided within a community setting. It also refers to the idea that various truths exist within multiple faiths, simply in different forms and applied to different contexts and cultures. Simply because we are used to thinking a certain type of way does not negate different communities of interpretation.

 

As referenced during our play, our various faith communities have deep, intrinsic value systems that are far more similar than they are different. The sooner we begin embracing those values, the sooner we will realize it is not about what specific faith we adhere to, but how we express that faith in our interactions with our fellow humans that give it true value.

 

And Allah knows best.

 

P.S. In light of my entire post, I understand how the above statement looks at first glance. It is in no way a negation of other communities’ interpretations of the ultimate truth. It is merely my way of acknowledging my human fallacy as well as my deference to an Omniscient Being. I don’t have all the answers. But I will do my best to seek them out.

 

The Whirling Dervishes

During the eighth week of our course, we discussed the Sufi traditions of Islam, as well as the roles music and dance play across various cultures. Sufism refers to the mystical, esoteric orientation of the Islamic faith which focuses heavily on connecting with the unseen, netherworldly aspect of reality. The exact origins of this orientation are not clear, but some believe it dates back as far as prophet Muhammad’s time. Sufi individuals strive to achieve spiritual enlightenment, under the instruction of a certified guide, known as a shaykh or pir. During this journey, individuals discipline themselves to let go of the ego, and embracing divine love.

 

A key narrative underscoring the Sufi outlook is that of the Day of Alast, the day when Allah gathered all of Adam’s unborn progeny and directly spoke to them. The story is highlighted in Surah Al-A’raf, verse 172: “When thy Lord drew forth from the Children of Adam—from their loins—their descendants, and made them testify concerning themselves, (saying): “Am I not your Lord (Who cherishes and sustains you)?”— They said: “Yea! We do testify!” (This), lest ye should say on the Day of Judgment: “Of this we were unaware.” This moment symbolizes the mankind’s original state of peace and presence in God’s divine love, a nostalgic moment all Sufi individuals strive to return to on their spiritual journey.

 

There are a wide variety of artworks and ritual practices specific to the Sufi traditions, most notably the sama’ and the ghazal. The sama’, which translates to “listening”, refers to the ritual listening to chanted poetry, sometimes accompanied by music. Sometimes the emotive power of the voice, in addition to the powerful messages of the words, prompts individuals to dance, possibly culminating in a state of ecstasy. During this state, the listener is beyond their senses, utterly enraptured in an otherworldly experience of divine love. The ghazal, or love lyric, refers to a poem, structured as a series of couplets which are usually independent in thought, but unified in their rhyme and meter. The ghazal, which was also popularized in Persian tradition, was heavily utilized by certain Sufi poets, who wrote poems on divine love. These poems would often contain wine imagery, which is prohibited legally in Islam, but symbolizes the individual’s non-rational, incommunicable experience when enraptured by divine euphoria.

 

A particular Sufi branch that has captured the attention of the West is that of the Mehlevi, founded by Jalal ad-Din Rumi’s son, Sultan Walad, in the thirteenth century. They are notable for their characteristic style of sama, during which individuals clothed in flowing white gowns spin in circles, which earned them the title “The Whirling Dervishes”. During this ritual, one hand is extended palm down to the ground, while the other is extended palm up to the sky, symbolizing that whatever provision comes from God from above, should be shared with all people on earth.  With each rotation, the dancer repeats the name “Allah” over and over, in a meditative state.  I have drawn a sketch of this particular ritual at the top of this post. Banned by Kemal Ataturk in 1925 as part of his efforts to secularize Turkey, the ritual was later reinstated only as performances for tourists. However, the ritual still thrives to this day. On a broader scale, the Sufi outlook and traditions have endured and thrived across the ages and across cultures, from the ghazal reciters of southern Asia to the pirs and shaykhs of western Africa.

 

And Allah knows best.

 

No Complusion

 

During the first week of our course, we were introduced to fundamental Islamic concepts. We discussed the origins of the Islamic ideology, its relation to other monotheistic faiths, and its permeation across cultures of almost every variety.

For this post, I painted an excerpt from Verse 256 of Surah Al-Baqarah (The Cow). It translates as follows: “There is no compulsion in faith [or religion]”. Simply put, Muslims are prohibited from forcing other people, Muslims or otherwise, to comply by any aspects of the Islamic faith, for any reason, whatsoever.

Throughout certain academic discourses, global media, domestic and global politics, and even within day-to-day interactions, extremist narratives of Islam have been perpetuated, normalized, and generalized to label all adherents of the faith, at the expense of millions of practicing Muslims around the globe.

A primary example of this phenomenon can be seen with the hijab (veil), a widely controversial topic among many critics of Islam, as well certain adherents of the faith. Throughout certain verses of the Qur’an, both Muslim men and women are instructed to dress modestly and act honorably when engaging with one another, but there are differing interpretations on the specifics of dress.

A verse from Surah Nur (the Light) covers one aspect of dress for Muslim women, relating to interactions with family members vs. non-family members:

“And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what (must ordinarily) appear thereof; that they should draw their khimār (head cover) over their breasts and not display their beauty except to their husband, their fathers, their husband’s fathers, their sons, their husbands’ sons, their brothers or their brothers’ sons, or their sisters’ sons, or their women, or the slaves* whom their right hands possess, or male servants free of physical needs, or small children who have no sense of the shame of sex; and that they should not strike their feet in order to draw attention to their hidden ornaments” (24:31)

In another verse, Muhammad is to instructed to tell Muslim women to cover themselves in order to protect themselves from lewd stares and harassment in public:

“Those who harass believing men and believing women undeservedly, bear (on themselves) a calumny and a grievous sin. O Prophet! Enjoin your wives, your daughters, and the wives of true believers that they should cast their jalabiya (outer garments) over their persons (when abroad): That is most convenient, that they may be distinguished and not be harassed. And Allah is most Forgiving, most Merciful” (33:58-59)

Essentially, Qur’anic scripture instructs Muslim women to cover their bodies and head (read: not face), to preserve their modesty. Men are also instructed to cover themselves and act modestly when interacting with women. Far more important than physical appearance and dress, however, is moral, honorable behavior when engaging with different genders.

Throughout centuries of patriarchal interpretations and cultures, the wearing of the hijab has been enforced by some countries by law, patriarchal structures, and cultural norms. Regardless of the interpretations of these verses, these mandates are in direct violation with a fundamental concept of Islamic faith: no compulsion in religion. Women are free to choose to wear a hijab or not, end of discussion. Some may abstain due to personal preference, fears for their personal safety, or simply differences in belief. In certain countries, the headscarf and/or veil have been banned because certain government officials believe they impede on personal liberty. Since the atrocities of 9/11, American Muslim women have increasingly reported harassment, discrimination, and assault within schools, professional environments, and public settings, for the simple fact that they choose to wear the headscarf. Interesting how an object originally intended to safeguard against harassment is now provokes such harassment itself, but I digress.

Regardless of how certain individuals, scholars, or institutions interpret Islamic scriptures or texts, faith is primarily and unequivocally an independent relationship between the human and God. It is beyond our authority to judge or control others’ actions in this life, unless they are actively causing harm. No person can carry another’s burden or take responsibility for another’s actions in the face of God. No one certainly has the right to compel another to act a certain way.

And Allah knows best.

 

 

*Slavery within this setting does not refer to race-based slavery, as this was prohibited in Islam, but it was common practice among the Arabs to take prisoners of war as servants. In addition, consenting individuals who owed debts and could not find another way to pay them off would work as servants for a period of time to those whom they were indebted. However, Muslims who chose to take servants were instructed to treat them with respect, compassion, and justice.

Mawlaya

For greater convenience, I have attached a link to the English translation of the lyrics, as well as the original version sung by Maher Zain: http://lybio.net/maher-zain-mawlaya-arabic-version-english-translation/pop-music/

During the fourth week of our course, we discussed prophet Muhammad as a paradigm of morality for humanity. Part of the Islamic ideology hinges on belief in Muhammad as God’s final messenger to all mankind. Muslims throughout the centuries, from his first companions to contemporary Muslims, have expressed their love and devotion for the prophet in a myriad of ways across a variety of cultures, from intricate poetry to beautiful songs to illustrious artwork.

For this blog, I recorded a cover of Maher Zain’s “Mawlaya.” Mawla is a polysemous Arabic word, which in the context of this song translates to “lord” or “master.” The singer calls upon his/her/their Lord (i.e. Allah) to send peace and blessings forever upon His beloved (i.e. Muhammad), and the rest of the song continues with beautiful praises of Muhammad’s noble character, as well as fervent desires to be united with him in the Hereafter, in Paradise.

Muhammad’s role within the Muslim community was multi-faceted. In addition to delivering the words of God, he was a spiritual guide to the community, a political leader and uniter, a peacemaker between tribes, an intercessor on behalf of the mankind, and, just as importantly, a father and husband.

One of Allah’s 99 names is An-Nur, the Light. Allah’s describes Muhammad as a vessel for His light: “a light (nur) from God” (5:15) and “a radiant lamp (siraj munir)” (33:46). Allah also describes him as “a beautiful model [of character]” (60:6), the ultimate paradigm for morality and good character. Allah also confirms Muhammad’s divinely-ordained spiritual authority: “He who obeys the Prophet, obeys God” (4:80, 4:64). Ultimately, Muhammad’s mission to humanity is not simply a call to follow a certain faith or ideology, but his presence is a manifestation of God’s mercy and light to mankind: “And We have not sent you [O Muhammad] except as a mercy to the world” (21:107).

 

 

Surah Najm – The Star

In the interest of conserving space on this blog post, I have included a link to the Arabic text, English translation, and English transliteration for listeners to follow along with the audio.

https://www.islamicfinder.org/quran/surah-an-najm/?translation=english-muhammad-taqi-ud-din-al-hilali-and-muhammad-muhsin-khan

During the second week of our course, we studied styles of Qur’anic recitation throughout different countries, cultures, as well as the origins of the revelation and compilation of the Qur’an. We also studied the the power of the aesthetic allure of the Qur’an, how its beauty has endured over times, and how it has been preserved in the minds of Muslims for over 1400 years.

For this blog, I recited surah An-Najm, The Star (chapter 53). The chapter gets its name from the fact that Allah opens up by swearing by the star. The chapter has three main sections. During the first section, Allah addresses the people of Makkah, admonishing them for their doubt in the validity of the Qur’anic message, as well as their claims that Muhammad has made up the verses and spoke out of delusion. Allah explicitly states “And he (i.e. Muhammad) does not speak out of (his own) desire. It is but revelation revealed (to him). It is taught to him by one (angel) mighty in power” (verses 3-5), and so forth.

In the second section, Allah affirms his absolute sovereignty and knowledge over the entirety of the universe, far above the idols fashioned by those who have strayed from the universal message of submission, sent to previous nations.

Doubtful of this seemingly new message from God, the people of Quraysh (Muhammad’s tribe) initially turned away from the message. In the third section, Allah reiterates that His message has been sent to mankind before, through the scriptures of Musa (Moses), Ibrahim (Abraham). Previous nations may have been given different commandments, but they are all inspired by the same source: islam, submission to the One God.

After presenting these various themes, Allah concludes by warning mankind of the impending Hour, which no one can avert, the Day when all souls will return to Him and stand before Him to be judged in the afterlife. The concluding verse “So fall in prostration and worship (Allah)” (verse 62) is one of 15 verses of prostration throughout the Qur’an. Upon recitation of such a verse, the reciter of the Qur’an immediately falls into prostration and makes a special dua (supplication), provided their current condition allows.

According to a hadith recorded by Al-Bukhari and narrated by Hadrat Abdullah Ibn Al-Mas’ud, this surah was the first that the prophet Muhammad recited publicly, in front the Ka’bah, for all present to hear. Upon reciting the final verse of prostration, the entire assembly present, both believers and non-believers, fell in prostration, including the chiefs of the Quraysh who had previously discredited his message. Utterly captivated by the beauty and power of the recitation, none were immune to the power of the Qur’anic words. This story is just one of many stories that exemplify the mysterious power of the aesthetics of the Qur’an, the likes of which the Arabs had never encountered before. After Muhammad’s death, the recitation was passed on for generations, and remains the most well-preserved text in human memory on the planet.

That being said, our primary responsibility as Muslims, far more important than rote memorization is the proper application of its message in order to live lives of peace, empathy, and service, and this task requires good intentions, proper guidance, and consistent humility.

And Allah knows best.

 

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