I made some goals for this Ramadan, one of them was to read the Quran in its entirety during the month. Today I got to the 23rd volume which contains Surah Az Zumar, which in English means the Chapter on ‘The Throngs”. So far I had not experienced the internalization of the Quran. Like having the Spirit possess you at a Church Revival, reading and listening to the Quran affects the heart and often people who are affected break down crying. I have been fortunate to have these experiences in past Ramadans, however, this time around it took 23 days and me reading Surah Az Zumar to simply choke up, break down and be left unable to read a single word because of how I was crying.
Which got to ponder why Surah Az Zumar? Why did it take me until this chapter to break down like this? There are all these other points where I should have technically felt the “sweetness of faith” and had this response. Whatever the reason I felt I needed to explore the context, meaning and purpose of the individual verses.
Surah Az Zumar was a revealed in the middle of the Mecca period, while things weren’t extremely bad, it was getting to a point where the Prophet and his followers persecution was mounting a new phase. The name of the chapter derives from the incidental mention of “the throngs” in verses 71-73, but for the most part God’s central theme is to present the evidence of His existence and oneness as found in nature. The chapter is quite interesting in that it goes back and forth between the idea of “ascribing partners to God” in various forms- God having a son, God sharing his powers, having intercessors between yourself and God- suffering in the pits of Hell and believing in the Divine Oneness of God which is rewarded by a place in paradise. The reader, me, is taken on a trail up and down mountains verbally speaking that involves these grueling switchbacks, each time being put to the test and then rewarded. No wonder I broke down while reciting this Surah, the reader goes between ‘fire and brimstone punishment’ to ‘cool and pleasantness of Paradise’.
The first part where I broke down was the verse “Behold, I would dread, were I to rebel against my Sustainer, the suffering which would befall me on that awesome Day of Judgement.” That verse is quite powerful affect on me because of the use of the word “rebel” though prior to reading the Arabic I didnt know that “rebel” even featured in the group of verses. However, when I was reading it I picked up on “Qul” which means “Say” and usually it indicates God teaching Muslims and/or the Prophet SAW how to worship, request, believe, etc. Further, the verses all talked about being a “servant”, having patience, believing, and awaiting the rewards of Judgement. To end on a note where God says “adhaba yawmin azim” after all this good stuff about believing was something that knocked me off my feet, it caught me off guard sort of to speak. Why would God talk all this good stuff about noble patience and perseverance only to hand out a stark warning about the “AWESOME PUNISHMENT on the Day of Judgement”.
My breaking down I feel is connected to the idea of “rebellion” since I self describe myself as a rebel, rebel rouser etc. The idea of rebelling against God in the slightest of forms is indicative in the overall context of the chapter. Pretty much God tells us that there is a fine line between tawheed– the belief in the Oneness of God and the loss of it. Most telling is the beginning of the chapter where God categorically lists what is not tawheed and then proceeds to break it down further as you read the Surah. In the third verse God says “And yet they who take for their protectors aught beside Him [are wont to say], “We worship them for no other reason than that they bring us nearer to God.” The idea of Saints and intercessors is a central component to South Asian Islam, specifically Sufi tareeqah’s. While I myself dont condone it, and definitely don’t participate in those practices, I have softened up on my view towards those that do because I have come to better understand the historical context from which these things have developed and also the role they play in society, but more importantly the failure of Muslim society to bring up the level of not just Islamic competency but literacy in general. An educated mind is a mind on the path of God consciousness and we as Muslims have failed our own society’s by not provided even the fundamental basic provisions of education. (End social and political commentary here.)