Before a mission can be given, there must be preparation for it. The Prophet had spent significant time secluded from society, searching in this solitude for the Divine. When the Divine finally answered his prayers the message came down first as an acknowledgement that human capacity is limited unless it is coupled with knowledge of the Divine, as found in the first five verses of Surah Al Alaq. Then came the message that the Prophet had to “arise and warn” humanity in the first seven verses of Al Qalam.
Surah Al Muzzammil- Get Off Your Bum (and Pray)!
Yet even this message found in Surah Al Qalam’s first seven verses was limited to describing what characteristics it would require to carry out such a mission, BUT there was no established mission. Then came down Surah al Muzzammil, its first nine verses, simply expressing instruction on training oneself for carrying out ‘the mission’ (yet no mission). This is where there would be a break in revelation, after which point the Prophet would not receive further messages until the first seven verses of Surah al Mudathir is revealed.
- “Enwrapped” conjures up comfort, sleeping, security, yet at the same time it also makes me think about the idea of bracing yourself, propping yourself up, either against the wind, the cold, the elements. Either way, the verse is giving the impression that if you accept this “mission” then the time for security is over. “You believe in something, that belief requires discomforting yourself” and in return Allah promises Divine “comfort.” This verse conjures similar description to the beginning of Surah Al Mudathir, where Allah refers to the Prophet as the one “lying enwrapped.”
- Also the whole idea of “waking up from sleep” goes back to the idea of the embryo and spiritual infancy found in Surah Al Alaq, by waking up (accepting the faith) you need to take steps to grow, those initial first steps are to recite the Quran “calmly and distinctly” AND to concentrate on the meaning of the Quran (‘attuned to its meaning’ found in verse four), doing this especially while everyone else is in the comfort of their own sleep.
- Verse 9- this is the first time that Divine attributes are spelled out in the revelation distinctly and clearly, calling the Prophet (and Muslims) to “ascribe to [the Divine] alone the power to determine thy fate” connected to the idea that the Prophet (and Muslims) need to do what needs doing and stop worrying about the Macro-Level issues, its basically giving orientation for carrying what the next verse calls the Prophets (and Muslims) “weighty message.”
- What I find particularly interesting is that Allah gives Muslims a discretion, pray “half the night, a little less, or more” (but do this!) as to when one should remember “your Lord”, yet hints that the late night/early morning (Tahajood) prayer is far better for preparing oneself for “carrying the weighty message” and that during the day a person is occupied with life, whereas at this odd hour you’re in solitude with Allah exchanging your comfort for this intimacy in knowing the Divine.
- Muadudi really gets into the explanation of what it means to be in one’s comfort zone, sleeping comfortably, and what the Quran teaches us about propagating the message in our lives first. He says that the language and style of the Arabic verses clearly delineate that “half the night in prayer” is what is prescribed explaining that “you need the night prayer because ‘we are sending down a heavy message’ that need you to prepare yourself to carry” it and “you can only develop this power by abandoning your ease and comfort of the night.”
- Ibn Abbas is quoted by Maududi to indicate the importance of this time for prayer- “That it is the most suitable time for man to ponder over the Quran” (Abu Daud).
- The Quran is the “weighty word” and Maududi calls it the means by which “revolution in the entire system of belief and thought, morals and manners, civilization and social life” is brought about, which is a task that makes it the “weightiest task any human being ever has been charged with.” – I get the sense that this is “the activist” interpretation that is so exemplary characteristic of Maududi and his contemporaries.
- Going off of the spiritual embryonic theme, that I am fascinated with, and moving to this idea of a cocoon, Asad speaks of the verse “Oh thou enwrapped one” as implying “a call to heightened consciousness and deeper spiritual awareness on the Prophet” in the sense of a transformation that has occurred that was triggered by the beginning of revelation.
- Regarding Verse 9- Asad makes a similar observation as me, but says the following: “The sustainer of East and West [is He]: there is no diety save Him: hence, ascribe to Him alone the power to determine thy fate, (V10) and endure with patience whatever people may say [against you] and avoid with a comely (?) avoidance.”- I obviously missed the part about “bearing with patience.” It does indicate that there was a level of hostility leveled against the Prophet early on in his Prophethood. I had imagined that it would be some time later in the revelation, like after Surah al Fatiha, before the Prophet shared with his family at this dinner he invites them too, but apparently it happened early on, within the very first few revelations!
Lead graphic is a picture of a painting by Pablo Picasso called The Tragedy, 1903. I did not take it, but rather got it from Wikipedia. I was lucky enough to see this piece at the National Art Gallery (in the West Building) in Washington DC, where I found myself transfixed by the work. I keep thinking about this particular painting when imagining the “enwrapped” and “seeking comfort” the beginning of these verses describe. This work by Pablo Picasso is in the public domain in the United States because it was first published before 1923, however, it is not in the public domain in its host country, or country of origin, until 2044 and therefore can not be posted or presented without infringing on the copyright.