Friends I am quickly coming to the end of my first Field Notes memo book. While I planned this activity to be trailing my actual reading, note taking, and reflective process, that too is a shrinking margin. Part of the challenge for me is to keep focused on the task. Except, I am also realizing that there are lots of resources out there that I haven’t taken advantage of; or, I start exploring and realize that it doesn’t work for me, and that puts me behind on my actual reading.
For example right now I am deep diving in to “The” -contentious- “Study Quran.” I had imagined that it was the answer to my ADHD/OCD approach to this project. Also, I had come to the realization that both Maududi and Asad had significant baggage that they brought into their tafsirs that I was having a hard time unpacking. (Which is insane because I feel like I am so early in the process still!)
The Study Quran (TSQ) represented a collection of multiple commentaries on the Quran packed into one convenient place. I am not putting TSQ down, but rather, I am trying to make my own opinion of it, and more specifically, how I will utilize it in this process. I don’t have any illumination on this latter aspect, so until I do, I just thought I would give a heads up.
But for now, every Field Note I have done is from my initial methodology. Meaning it does not contain any information from TSQ. For Field Notes #6, on the remaining verses from Surah Muzzammil, I draw on Maududi and Muhammad Asad solely.
First Impressions: Setting Out on a Lifelong Journey
If you remember from Field Notes #3, Surah Muzzammil’s initial revelation were the first nine verses. These nine verses make up what is considered the first phase of revelation. For verses ten, eleven, and twenty, you should know that they were not revealed at the time of the revelation that I will be covering right now. Only verses twelve through nineteen were revealed to the Prophet, and this makes them Meccan verses.
- After our initial introduction to Hell in Al-Mudathir (Part I) revelation, we really get a mother load of descriptions from these verses. Starting with the first verse revealed, 12, the reader is told that the fire will be “blazing”, that there will be punishment, and everyone will be judged on the Day of Judgement.
- We are given the first mention to Moses, albeit indirectly, through the mentioning of Pharaoh, at which point the reader is reminded about the horrors of Judgement Day through the imagery of a “child’s hair turning grey” and of the “sky going asunder.” All of this is the first description given to Muslims, readers, and listeners that this is the experience of Judgement Day. But I wonder in regards to the story of Pharaoh and Moses, were the Arabs of Mecca that familiar with the Biblical story that they would know what was being mentioned by the noun Pharaoh. To me its somewhat like the first verses in Surah Iqra, God says “this is Me, the one you’ve been searching for”, without really any description or introduction except, “the one who taught you to read.”
- This verse struck me for its sternness- “This verily, is a reminder: let him who wills, then, set out on a way to his Sustainer.” The part about “set out on a way” conjures up the idea of a “journey” and something that “takes a long time”, a lifetime, perhaps. God is throwing down a challenge, yet, I am also remembering verses from Surah al-Mudathir, see Field Notes #5, on God alone having power over faith. So how can one will, when God might not will? Maududi pointed out that “one who simply wishes to believe, can’t just believe unless God wishes that for him.” So then what happens to this lifelong journey? And I wonder how this verse reflects on the earlier verse, in this revelation, leaving me to question, is it really up to the individual to “set out on a way to his Sustainer?“
The notes are sparse from Maududi. The majority of time was spent discussing the issue of “standing in prayer at night”, from Field Notes #3, and the rest of the verses were brusquely run through. There wasn’t much for me to take notes on from this.
- Initially standing in prayer at night, tahajood prayer, was obligatory for Muslims in the early parts of Islam, and according to Aisha RA, (approximately) a year later when these verses came down, they were made voluntary.
As with Maududi, Asad had spent more time discussing other aspects of this chapter, leaving the rest of the verse sparse with commentary. The following two points were what I had in my notes.
- In Note 9, Assad points out that this is the earliest mention of earlier prophets in the Quran. This is a sign of the “historical continuity in mankind religious experience” implying that the Quran is not a new faith but represents a continuation of the message, and very soon we will find out that this is the final message to humanity.
- Continuing the theme on judgement and accountability, the story of Moses is referenced not directly by Moses but rather by Pharaoh, and his rebellion “against the Apostle, where upon We took him to task with a crushing grip.” This continues on the same notes as al-Mudathir Part I, Verse 35.