According to Muhammad Asad, Al Sayuti claimed that these seven verses from Qalam came after the first five verses of revelation in Al-Alaq. Yet, there is a bit of a disconnect in scholarship on this. The authentic tradition holds that Surah Mudatthir was the second revelation. Which view can one take when reading the Quran in the order of revelation?
I originally read the order with Surah Mudathir being the second revelation, however, I was a bit distracted. The contents of that chapter display a degree of opposition to the Prophet that indicated significant revelation and propagation of the message had taken place. Yet, how can that be, given that the contents of the first revelation, verses one through five of Al-Alaq, gives scant information on a mission and purpose of Prophethood? To me, reading Mudathir after revelation from Qalam and Muzzammil, made more sense, that is why I present it in the order I do here.
The Pen, or Surah al Qalam, came down after the exhortation from God to “Read!” According to Asad. A casual observation of the title of this chapter and the contents from the first revelation would suggest a clear connection between Reading, Writing, and Knowledge. All three were from the deep ocean that is Divine Wisdom. What a magnificent foundation for religious belief!
- One of the first times that a single Arabic letter, in this case “Noon”, begins the chapter. There is this whole Sufi, numerology, mysticism that takes root with this. What does the letter represent? No clue, nor do I indulge in that type of specculative scholarship. I leave it to Allah to let me in on the big secret.
- Allah gives strong support for the Prophet, who is apparently being referred to by the Quraysh as a “madman.” Allah tells the Prophet that there is “no compromise in faith, be steadfast” and then reiterates that the Prophet should not “bargain with what faith is and is not” in an apparent nod to the fact that people at the time were offering to practice certain aspects of Islam and to reject other parts in favor for their religious practices. To that end, Allah flat out tells the Prophet that propagating the religion of Islam requires a “High and Noble” character, not some madman fancies for self approval from those around him.
- Its interesting that there is a verse referencing the fact that Allah knows those who “go astray and those Rightly Guided” which makes me wonder if this verse were general and/or specific to someone. But what is clear is that those who go astray have an “ugly character” because to have good character means one has high faith and such a person does not yield to those with ugly characteristics.
- Maududi points out the connection between the claim of the Prophet being a “Madman”, made by the Quryash, and that of compromising- Basically the Quryash were saying that if the Prophet would compromise on the message of Islam, they would in turn stop referring to him as a madman. To this Allah sent the stern message that there is no compromise on this issue of what the core message of Islam is, to propagate the message the Prophet, i.e. Muslims to come, need to maintain a “High and Noble” character.
- When it came to what this “High and Noble” character looked like, the Arabic word being khuluq, Maududi introduces a statement made by Aisha RA*, the wife of the Prophet, some years after his death to illustrate this characteristic- “The Quran was his (SAW^) character; what the Quran enjoined SAW was first to practice in his life, what was forbidden, SAW first to shun and avoid it.”
- Asad’s prose is much more meaningful, and moving, then Maududi, whose work was translated from Urdu to English. I fear that the translation was not altogether well done. I decided to pull two notes word for word as they elaborated on the two points I gleaned from Maududi but could not quote extensively because of the length of passages required to get them across.
- “[…]the above passage relates – as is so often the case with the Quran – not merely to the Prophet SAW but also to all who followed or will follow him: In this particular instance, to all who base their moral valuations on their belief in God and in life after death.”
- expanding on khuluq Asad writes “rendered ‘way of life’ is based on the explanation of the above verse by Abd Allah ibn Abbas (as quoted by Tabari) stating that the term is here synonymous with din (faith): and we must remember that one of the primary significances of the latter term is ‘a way [or manner] of behavior or ‘of acting’” which was followed by the same quote by Aisha RA about the Quran being the character of the Prophet.
* RA refers to the honorary blessing that is given to the companions of the Prophet.
^ SAW refers to the Arabic honorary blessing rendered in English as “May Gods Peace be upon him”
The accompanying picture is from the talented calligrapher and nomad Josh Berer. He has extensive travel adventures pursuing Arabic, calligraphy, and craftmanship. Josh blogs about his adventures and projects at Nomad Out of Time and was gracious enough to let me use his photographs for my post. He posted a video made for Holstee Hamsa where he described the pursuit of an “impossible perfection” that calligraphers chase after, a Divine Beauty. Its definitely worthwhile video to watch if you are interested in calligraphy.