MQSP: Field Notes #5

There were two phases of revelation. After the first phase there was a period where no revelations were received. This worried the Prophet incredibly. When revelation began, it was with the first seven verses of Surah Al Mudatthir. Once this second phase began it would be relentless and only end with the death of the Prophet.

First Impressions

I broke up the remainder of Surah al Mudatthir in order to easily go through the readings. If I did it in one go, there would just be too much to report back on. So this is Part I, which goes from verses from eight to thirty-seven; Part II, will finish the chapter off through verse fifty-six. I actually ended up just typing out all of the notes for this portion of the revelation of this chapter. I realized my notes were jumbled because there was a lengthy discussion and internal reflection I had written up, along with lots of questions to follow through on, that probably won’t make sense in the notes without significant editing and contextualizing, or just putting the entire passages of Maududi’s and Asad’s discussion on the subject in question.

  • The first seven verses focus on what I assume is a specific person. The references here are not generic. The person sounds like they have caused a great deal of anxiety for the Prophet and by doing so brought upon them Allahs anger. The assumption I am making is that these verses are about Abu Jahl, the uncle of the Prophet who was vehemently against the Prophets message from the get go.
  • Verse 16 introduces Hell, however there is this reference to 19 Angels that keep Hell, and the whole number seems odd to me and doesn’t immediately make sense. Diving into the knowledge I have, I can’t remember anyone ever mentioning this point in a Khutbah, or lecture, or in any of the books I have read. Whats interesting is that in the following verses Allah says that the “number is a trial for the disbelievers.” So apparently this was something, when revealed, made the pagan Arabs in Mecca confront Islam as not making sense to them, or wasn’t easily explainable. Regardless they got caught up in the numerical meaning of the thing just as I did. (May Allah protect us from this sort of trial!)
  • Verse 23 speaks of a “strange parable,” however, I am missing the reference as to what “parable” was even presented so far. I am wondering if the translation I am reading is wrong somehow.
  • Besides that “strange parable” aspect I love verses 23-24 because God takes immediate responsibility of “faith”, lifting what I assume was a burden on the Prophets conscious to the sort of response he was getting from his Uncle, who’s opposition was turning people away from Islam without them even hearing the message of the Quran. Here in the verses, Allah says that the Prophet is responsible for preaching, to instruct and warn, and acting upon the message. Allah is ultimately responsible for the soul of individuals, their ability to have faith or to not have it, not the Prophet. I imagine the Prophet having incredible anxiety, and feeling relief when these verses came instructing him on his (as well as our) responsibility.
  • Verse 25– Allah says that there are ‘extraterrestrial life’- AMAZING!
  • Verse 30 says that “Every person is a pledge for his own deeds” and a clear indication that from the beginning, in conjunction with verse 23-24, when it came to faith and individual deeds, there is a clear line of responsibility that we need to understand. God is the one that opens the heart to faith or closes the heart to it. We are responsible for our own deeds that occur from that point forward. No clergy, no sufi saint, or an elder, no thing can intercede on our behalf, unless its connected with our deeds (e.g., a long hadith narrated by Anas ibn Malik which begins with waves of people on the Day of Judgement seeking out Adam to intercede for them, see al-Bukhaari, 7510. Intercession is split into two categories, that which is unacceptable intercession and that which is acceptable on the Day of Judgement. Read more here.) Simply put the most fundamental lesson this verse teaches is that EVERYBODY has a direct dial to Allah. Nobody needs to go through an operator to get a connection. “No wrong number…or missed connection” as PK puts in the Bollywood original movie, “PK.”
  • Verse 35 is amazing to me, because, again right from the beginning of revelation, Muslims are being taught precisely what they need to do in order to avoid the punishment of Hell. In these verses Allah shares that the residents of Hell fire respond with the things that they neglected to do, and ultimately why they landed in Hell, as being:
    1. they neglected to offer their salat;
    2. they refused to feed the poor;
    3. they indulged in idle talk (possibly specific to religion, not sure if its expansive though?);
    4. and they refused to believe in the Day of Judgement (which I assume it also implies that if you believe in the Day, then you also have to act, or live your life, with that mentality).

These are incremental lessons. Not the whole of Islam thrown on a persons head at one time, but rather, look start with these; implement them; stumble, try again; and keep moving on to the next level.

  • In verse 37 Allah talks about these people interacting with the Prophet, or I assume the message of the Quran, as “wild asses fleeing a lion,” asking why do they believe this way when it comes to the Prophet conveying the message?

Maududi Notes

Maududi reflects that these were the best instructions that could have been given to the Prophet at the beginning of the mission, {in the first seven verses}. “In these he was told what he was required to do, what kind of life, morals, and dealings he should adopt, and taught with what intention, mentality and mode of thought he should go about his mission and also forewarned what kind of conditions he would meet with in the performance of his mission and how he would have to face and overcome them.” The rest of the notes are as follows:

  • Here Muadudi identifies the person I thought these seven verses were referring to as Abu Lahb, to actually being Walid bin al-Mugirah, go figure. The Prophets maternal uncle is not the one being singled out, yet. This Walid characters historical reference point is important, because he was the father of Khalid bin Walid, a prominent figure in the later part of Islam’s history. He was also the father of Irhama, or Umara, who was given as an exchange to the Prophets Uncle Abu Taleb, so long as the Meccans were allowed to take the Prophet and do with him as they pleased (kill), read here on my discussion from Adil Salahi’s Seerah regarding this exchange (get Salahi’s Seerah here). What is interesting to note about Walid bin al- Mugirah (Walid) is that he heard the Quran, and accepted its message, yet he needed to turn against the Quran because he couldn’t find profit from believing in it. Greed! Arrogance! Social climber of the worse sort! So Walid was the first one to concoct and sell the notion to the Quryash leadership that the best label to apply to the Prophet was that of a “sorcerer”, according to Walid, nothing else would fit to “pursued people coming for the Pilgrimage from interacting with Muhammad.” Maududi says of Walid, “[i]t becomes obvious his heart had become fully convinced of the Quran being the Divine Word, but in order to save his position as a chief of his people, he wasn’t prepared to affirm faith.”
  • The issue with the 19: turns out it is a significant discussion, one that deserves it own separate reflective post. In summary, Maududi is quick to end the discussion with the idea that just because humans don’t know the strength or quality of Allah’s creation, doesn’t mean that they are equivalent to humans in traits and characteristics, segueing into verse 25 about extraterrestrial life- “He created the universe, only Allah knows what different kinds and types of creatures there are” and that Hell itself is a great “sign of His power.” The lesson here is to stop being pompous arrogant fools and accept that we are limited in our ability to comprehend creation an our place in it.
  • Maududi goes on to explain that the real failure of those in Hell, as well as the Meccans who accuse the Prophet of sorcery, is not that they failed to affirm faith, but rather they are fearless of the hereafter. They view, and invested in, the idea that this life is an end in itself. They do not have any idea that there is another life after this worldly life, and maybe even worse for me, they believe that they won’t be held accountable for their deeds.
  • Finally to end this chapter, the final verses are elucidated by Maududi to explain the idea that “no act of man takes a concrete shape solely by his own will, but each act is implemented only when the will of God combines with the will of man. This is a very delicate question”, the failure to understand has led human thought to falter. To explain I quote Maududi extensively here:

If in this world every man had the power to accomplish whatever he wanted to accomplish, the system of the world would be disturbed. This system continues to hold only because the will of God is dominant over all other wills. Man can accomplish whatever he wants to accomplish only when God wills that he be allowed to accomplish it. The same is also the case guidance and error. Only mans desiring to have guidance is not enough for him to have guidance; he receives guidance only when God also takes a decision to fulfill his desire. Likewise, only man’s desiring to go astray by itself is not enough, but when God, in view of mans desire, decides that he be allowed to wander into evil ways, then he wanders into the evil ways in which God allows him to wander. As, for example, if a person wants to become a thief, only his desire is not enough that he may enter into any house he likes and make away with whatever he likes, but he can fulfill his desire only at the time and to the extent and in the form that God allows him to fulfill it, according to his Supreme Wisdom and expedience.

Asad Notes

  • Probably one of the most awkward discussion I have run into thus far on my Millennial Quran Study journey is this one. Asad utilizes Razi (?) in order to explain the logic of the 19 Angels that guard Hell. I found Asad trying to explain away something he can’t intellectually comprehend, so grappling with it he uses Razi’s construct that “advances the view that we may have here a reference to the physical, intellectual and emotional powers within man himself: powers which raise man potentially far above any other creature, but which, if used wrongly, bring about a deterioration of his whole personality and, hence, intense suffering in the life to come. According to Razi (Fakhruddin Razi) the philosophers (arbab al-hikmah) identifies these powers as faculties with firstly, the seven organic functions of an animal, therefore human body…and, lastly, the emotions of desire or aversion”- cutting to the point- “thus bringing the total of the powers and faculties which reside over man’s spiritual fate to 19.” When these powers combine we get super-human-Angel-like-Grandmaster-of-destiny-Muslim. I kid, but thats how it reads to me and I had a really hard time digesting all of that. I almost feel like why rationalize something like this?
    • Regardless, I will try to do a separate reflective post at a later time on this, as mentioned above, since Asad and Maududi approach this really critical verse in such a diverse way!
  • One point that I totally missed all through this is the idea of prayer, it comes up frequently as a reference, such as praying Tahajood in Al Muzzammil. As I forgot to fully process this while being stuck on the “19 Angels” Asad points it out in Note 26- “In view of the fact that at the time of the revelation of this very surah, salah had not yet been made obligatory on Muslims, its reasonable to assume that in the above context his term is used in its widest sense, namely, conscious belief in God.”
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