I VONA Check-In

I haven’t been regular with posts these past couple of weeks. Rest assured I have drafted multiple Field Notes for the Millennial Quran Study Project, and have diligently worked on some other posts. Its just I have had to really buckle down and get out of the way something that I have dragged my feet on, and for all intents, that has been a major personal blockage to forward momentum in my life.

Confronting my personal demons on this is a sordid affair. Requiring a commitment that has been difficult to muster up. Its an epic battle of classical proportions, Homer could probably write a whole new Odyssey on my journey if he were alive today. And if he was my therapist.

Besides the excitement of Ramadan, but honestly its sadness on my part because my epic battle continues through a portion of Ramadan, I am really excited to share that I got accepted to VONA/Voices Workshop at the University of Miami.

For those not familiar with VONA/Voices, the acronym stands for Voices of Our Nation Arts Foundation. It was created as a visceral response to and realization that the culture found in a Masters on Fine Arts (MFA) program were toxic for minority writers. At the time, the 1990’s, many MFA candidates and teachers from minority backgrounds found their stories marginalized-  with professors and teachers alike demanding that minority writers take out the Spanish dialogue that characters mixed into their language, or worse, to add stereotypical depictions of minority groups to make them “relatable.” Instead of the MFA being a space to explore and push literatures boundaries it created and recast dominant White realities of [North] America and people of color.

With this shared experience, Elmaz Abinader, Junot Díaz, Victor Díaz and Diem Jones created VONA in 1999. Voices are workshops put on by VONA each summer for writers of color. Bringing experienced minority writers and fledgling writers of color from the margins to a community where their work is centralized and honored, and a place where they can explore the their craft, hone in on their skills, and receive guidance on pursuing their authentic voice in their writing.  

I am thrilled about this opportunity. This whole journey kicked off a year ago while I was at the Millennial Leadership Conference at Union Theological Seminary in New York City.

While there I was challenged by my peer group to recognize that I was in fact a creative hiding behind my activist title. I also vicariously lived through my friends, a majority of whom were all creatives pursuing their creative interests, but I had excuses for not pursuing that for myself. Last summer in New York City I got called out for this, and in turn it put me on this path to explore an outlet for my creativity.

I never considered myself a “writer” and would not have ever considered doing an MFA. In fact, this blog, it is a hobby, not an outlet for my creative writing. At least, thats how I’ve viewed it for the past ten plus years.

I always saw it as something I enjoyed doing, so I kept the blog going, almost like a journal, except very public. Yet, this was me being a “writer”, or pretending to be one anyway. For me, Voices, provides an opportunity to explore that creative avenue, without having to commit to an MFA.

Reading the descriptions for the various Voices workshops I was immediately pulled by the statement “Every time folks of color leave the house, we travel.” Travel Writing with Faith Adiele was the workshop I decided to pursue because this statement is true of my own experiences.

I have always shared how I would transition from one culture to another, from the Urdu language to English, when I stepped outside the home. I have constantly done this, and it was a few years ago that I realized that I had stopped dreaming in Urdu. My dreams were in English, always English. This realization made me sad, but it also brought to the surface that I had stopped living between continents in one aspect of my life, my subconscious dream state.


I once read a quote by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, a Colombian novelist I very much admire, that got me thinking about my writing, inadvertently.

He said, on providing advice to a young writer, “I would say to write about something that has happened to him.”

Yet, for me, I always felt my experiences were not only boring, but they weren’t relatable to [white] people, therefore, I never felt compelled to “write from experience”. I don’t think I stopped myself to step back and ask, who these “people” were, let alone to reflect on how human experiences, no matter what the experience, when boiled down to the universal core, become universally relatable. Maybe, because I didn’t see myself as a “writer”, I never took that step to try to boil down my experiences, and felt it wasn’t my job.

Two things that stand out- almost a year and half ago I had already began to recognize that this blog was more then a hobby, and that maybe I was a writer?

The second thing from this past post was that I saw that I was not embracing my authentic voice in writing, but rather writing about what others told me or I read about.

The problem was that I was struggling to embrace this idea of being “creative” and being a “writer”. Labels, they really bother me. Yet, as I am learning, labels are important to refine the essence of something, especially when you’re like me and you skirt around the thing but never really acknowledge the thing to be a thing- does that even make sense!?!

In this vein, travel writing was of particular interest to me because it recognized that travel was not just a physical journey, but it was a genre of writing concerned with (internal) cultural encounters as well as (external) physical journeys (and I do a lot of internal journeying while external moving around from place to place).

The workshop allows participants to explore moving back and forth between language and culture, like my experience; embarking on roots journeys or road trips; living as an expat or multicultural family member; being a nomad; climbing from working to middle class; our family’s escape/ exile/ emigration/ immigration and even discovering that not to far removed a generation lived as refugees in a new foreign place; leaving home or dropping out of college; setting out on pilgrimages or spiritual quests; going abroad to study/ research/ witness/ do reportage/ volunteer; walking the road to recovery every day. Travel writing fits the genre of writing that allows me to do curiosity and exploration, adventure and journey, quest and discovery.

All of these things encompass, in one way or another, my life story- in Marquez’s’ words my experience- and the sort of stories I wish to share with others deal with these experiences in that I want to share with people what I learned. Through the workshop I hope to collect, reflect, and write all (maybe some, at least to begin with) of my adventures- around the world and locally, in the National Parks and navigating the diversity that makes up California- into compelling narratives.

I don’t expect to write a novel, or a travelogue.  But at the very least, I hope the workshop is the beginning of the process toward delivering meaningful content on this blog. I do wish to make this blog more then a passing hobby, especially since I have kept it going for a decade now.

Hello TomTom Spark Cardio?

Sometime ago I wrote about how I had to retire my Nike+ TomTom digital watch. A bit triumphantly, maybe? A bit of a tumultuous journey later, here I am getting the TomTom Spark Cardio. Bummer extraordinaire that I hadn’t just stuck with the Nike+.

I actually was never pleased with the tech that followed- JawBone and FitBit– yes I know I am a fitness tech junkie. (My brother is still using his FitBit, and even after his band broke after two months of use, he got a replacement and is using it.) But from the looks of it, Nike is no longer in the business of making (or licensing?) sport tech, like the watch.  Right from the get go it appears to lack the Nike signature swoosh logo, even name. The watch appears on the Nike website and I came to own it through a Nike voucher program (more on that later).

But I have a Nike+ voucher to use. Nike was generous enough to take back the broken Nike+ TomTom (which you can still get over Amazon!) sports watch I wrote about a year ago. In its place they gave me a voucher for 133 bucks which I could use only on the Nike website. With free shipping on Nike products and comparable Amazon prices, I was limited to two options- the Garmin Forerunner 235 or TomTom Spark Cardio sport watch. The Garmin is ridiculously priced, at 330 bucks, which got me to buy the TomTom Spark Cardio.

How Do You Choose?

What is clear is that Nike still interfaces with the TomTom watch the same way that the Nike+ watch did, with the added feature of not requiring the sensor pod. There just is a robust offering of tracking methods (Nike+ was for runners, this Spark has the ability to track swimming, rowing, cycling), the added sensor to track heart rate, along with probably the main reason it costs 250 smackers- a large memory cache to hold, and play, your favorite music and listen to it via bluetooth headphones (which explains why Apple may be getting rid of the headphone jack!).

I don’t much care for the music feature. Most of my running and rowing are done indoors while I watch TV, and while for cycling I like to use Strava app on my iPhone.  What I would prefer is that TomTom offer a product sans music, therefore I don’t have to pay the extra hundred bucks, but with the same features. Que?


Well you can go for the TomTom version that lacks music capacity, however, you then loose the ability to track your heart rate, which is one version. There is yet another version which, as the first version, has that same trade off, making it seems that TomTom couples heart rate tracking sensor with the extra music storage/playback capacity.

Also, with music you need good way to actually hear what you have on the device. One issue I have always had with bluetooth technology was that it requires line of sight to keep the signal strong. I can’t imagine how a watch and pair of headphones patched together by bluetooth will keep a strong signal when any sport requires the constant movement of the body with various parts going in different directions. TomTom is being unrealistic here, especially since it would mean that I buy another set of headphones that are bluetooth only.


I was irked by these issues with the music, paying for something I didn’t want obviously, before I bought the watch. However, I drew some solace from RizKnows and other Nike website reviews regarding the awesome nature of the watch. Riz chose the watch as his 2016 Editors Choices (with many of the Garmin products coming in well ahead of the watch). That made me feel comfortable buying the product, however, I should have stuck with my instincts.

The folks on the Nike website, it appears, all won the Cardio Spark in a sweepstakes, so they were over the hill about their free watch, as I would be!, and I suspect that Riz also was getting his trial watch at some special TomTom event somewhere, maybe.

The watch was a great size and I loved the simplicity of the watch display. However, the charging system was a bit awkward and I was surprised to have the watch face come out of the watch band casing, like completely. This makes for charging easier but at the same time I can totally see the two things becoming separated.


Anyway, I returned my Spark. I had the following issues, and I couldn’t resolve keeping the watch when better products were on the market:

  • I couldn’t get the bluetooth to pick up and therefore I couldn’t really do the sort of things I was paying for.
  • I had a horrible time with the battery. Even with the sensors all turned off, my battery didn’t last more then 20 hours. That is absolutely ridiculous. While it totally pulls a charge quickly, having to do this every day really threw wrench into my workout schedule.
  • The watch has a user interface that is not friendly whatsoever. I ran two runs without capturing any of the data. I had to go back to the manual and read through the features in order to figure out how to properly use it, but by that time I had given up on the watch (two weeks) due to the battery situation.

I returned it and got the Garmin Forerunner 235, along with the Garmin Index Smart Scale. I just got mine this past week and am still playing around with it, will let you know if its worth the price (and the hype!).






MQSP: Field Notes #8

This is Part III, and will be the second to last portion of the chapter Al Qalam, covering verses 17 to 33. The previous field notes, FN#7 Part II, covers Surah Al-Qalam, verses 8-16. To recap from the beginning check out FN#2 Part I.

By the time these verses of Al-Qalam are revealed the message of the Quran was being openly propagated by the Prophet. This open propagation was returned with stiff opposition by the Quraysh.

First Impressions: Fables of Ancient Times

These verses represent to me, by far, the most complete narration of a “parable” or Quranic story with a message related to it. The story is related about the “Garden Cultivators” and partly out of that reason I have chosen the featured image above which I took at Red Rock Canyon, a California State Park I visited and camped out at last year, read more about it here and here. The scenery there reminds me of a place where there once was abundant water- and there are large quantities of fossils to be found here!- but now lies barren and dry.

  • Basically a righteous man amongst this group of Garden Cultivators reminds the rest of his group that everything that they grow is from God and that they should give to those less fortunate then them out of fear of God’s wrath. They all refuse and instead plot to get to the fields earlier in the morning so that they can pick off more of the crop, leaving less, or nothing, for the poor. With this idea in mind they retreat back to their homes.
  • I love how greed is funneled here. It connects with the earlier verse from this chapter, verse 13 discussed in FN#7, that discusses greed as a symptom of someone cruel.
  • When these gardeners get out to their fields, they found that over night nothing is left for them to pick. This particular parable thought does not end with them standing desolate, but rather on a redemptive note where that singular righteous man tells the others in V32 “But it may be that our Sustainer will grant us something better instead: for verily, unto our Sustainer do we turn with hope.” Hope lies with God.
  • V33- goes into “suffering in the Hereafter” and makes me wonder if V.32-33 are a form of a “redemptive ultimatum” – is that even a thing?- where God says like here is your choice, the easier path though is redemption, now choose.

Maududi Notes

  • In his notes, Maududi offers that this “Parable of the Owners of the Two Gardens” is actually found extensively in Chapter Kahf, verses 32-42. I honestly don’t remember this from there, and I actually read and pursue through that chapter frequently, so I feel a bit perturbed.
  • These Owners of the Two Gardens were so confident in their power and authority of the Earth and the produce it brings in their garden that they didn’t bother to recognize Allah’s will over their matters.
  • When they spoke about the future harvest they spoke as though they had full control over it, that it was all their hard work solely that produced it. So they struck out a deal amongst themselves to harvest the fruit of the garden in a way that made it “hard” for others to get any of it- the poor, especially, as well as other animals. The word “hard” in Arabic is used for “hindering and withholding, for the purpose and resolution, and for making haste” according to Maududi’s translation.
  • So when these gardeners were arrogantly talking bout picking the fruits, someone from them reminded them to REMEMBER GOD, but they shrugged this person off like a fool and decided that they were going to set out to not give any of their harvest away. They were once more reminded by the fool “remember Allah and to desist from evil intentions,” but they persisted and were wholeheartedly resolved to go through with their plan.
  • According to Maududi these particular verses were a reminder to the Meccan chiefs (leaders), that their guarantee of bounties in this life were not guarantees of a a successful Afterlife, as they had erroneously argued when presented with Islam. The blessings they were enjoying.

Asad Notes

Asad has three specific lessons to convey from this parable. They are as follows:

  1. The first lesson is complete reliance and conviction in God. If God Wills, is not just a phrase but a way of thinking, and he emphasizes this point in particular with the mention of how “hope lies in God.”
  2. He states that this parable is an example of the continuation of the Biblical theme that continues here as the understanding that “the poor have a right to a share in the harvest of the fields and gardens owned by the more fortunate.” This extends to th present day as being an awareness that what we have is from God, and that there is a clear claim by the poor on a portion of it. Asad goes further to state that cruelty based on greed can be equated as a “societal sin” which I interpret as being a sin that extends beyond the individual. Which presents a really interesting point of reflection, can sin be shared even if one is not partaking in the sin but rather living in a society where the sin is socially rearing its head? Asad, however, does no
  3. Finally the third lesson is drawn from the Arabic grammar, where Asad delves into the term banun, which is “often used in the Quran metonymically, denoting ‘popular support’ or ‘many adherents’ in conjunction with the term mal (worldly goods).” The usage illustrates “a certain mentality which attributes a pseudo-religious significance to wealth and influence, and regards these visible signs of world successes post-factum evidence of ‘righteousness’ of the person concerned, and, hence, of his not being in need of further guidance.” This is an important point because an argument of the Meccan Arabs was that “We are rich, obviously God favors us. Therefore, if there is a hereafter, God will grant us paradise there as well.” I find it interesting that Asad points this out, but doesn’t go that one step further to drive home the point that greed rises out of cruelty, therefore, it is not always the case that one given wealth can have paradise.


MQSP: Field Notes #7

FN#7 covers Surah Al-Qalam, verses 8-16, and its Part II (this is long-er chapter). To recap, check out FN#2 Part I. By the time these verses of Al-Qalam are revealed the message of the Quran was being openly propagated by the Prophet. He was also facing stiff opposition.

Opposition…there’s the external sort, and then the internal sort. I personally am feeling a bit overwhelmed by the project currently. Its that internal oppositional self doubt I was hoping to share before diving in.

Every time I sit down to do the reading, write up my notes, jot down reflections, I am reminded that I need to sit down to blog about it. The blogging part is getting to be a bit cumbersome. I wonder if people really even want to read any of this. When so many Muslims haven’t bothered reading the Quran, why would people want to follow along with my process? And even more importantly, honestly, there are such a great deal of learned wisdom dripped onto pages and pages regarding the Quran, what I have to offer isn’t even  fraction of a fraction of a fraction worthy of being jotted down.

My motivation is the idea that I can only leave three things behind that will benefit me after I die. So far, this is probably the most tangible thing I can leave and potentially continue to get the blessings for. If even one person stumbles on the site and finds it meaningful, I find I’ve accomplished something.

First Impressions- Faith: Uncompromising

I guess my confusion on revelation order continues. I am beginning to fully appreciate the differences of opinions on when what revelation came. It appears to me that differences of opinion are based on a deep understanding of the Prophets life and on the Quran, its just not a matter of saying this appears to fall here and that over there. I find myself questioning the revelation order I am following, but in a good way. In the way a person engages with the subject matter and deeply enjoys the challenge presented by the engagement.

One of the first messages I take away from this reading is that there is no compromising faith. Islam is not a barter system, to believe in the Oneness of God is to fully commit to that standard, a “firm standing. as the verse refers to here. However, there is this idea that one who becomes a practicing Muslim becomes harsh to others, and to themselves. There is an intensity of faith in not compromising. This creates a situation of being mean toward others, of not being merciful to others, or oneself. I would like to read more verses that go into that aspect, and would like to read about how you balance these two situations.

The verses, again are referring to a specific antagonist. There is no way these are just generalized. Who is this person, that is going to be “branded on their snout”- like literally?!?- if not Abu Lahab? I did this mistake before, I thought the verse from Surah al-Mudathir (FN#5) was talking about Abu Lahab, the Prophets uncle and main antagonist of Islam in Mecca.

Muadudi Notes

  • In his notes on this chapters verses, Muadudi says this of compromise, “if you become inclined to effect some changes in your Faith to suit these people, they too would effect compromise with you.” Which is a strong message, however, I feel like it lacks qualification. There are so many genuine disagreements within Islam, from scholarly perspectives. There is room for flexibility in opinions, obviously room for compromise. however, here, the qualification that seem critical to understanding the verse is the fact that the Pagan Arabs gave the Prophet a deal, negotiating with him on believing certain parts of Islam’s monotheistic principles, while retaining certain pagan pantheistic practices.
  • Speaking to my question about who the person being “branded on their snout” is, Maududi discusses the Arabic word zanim, saying that in Arabic it is used to describe someone of illegitimate birth, who does not, “in fact belong to a family but has joined it.” Maududi relates that Said ibn Jubair and Sha’bi say that the word is used for a eprosn who is notorious among his people for evil doing, he is an out right evil doer. Maududi speculates that there could be three people this verse is referring to
    1. Walid ibn Maghirah, someone I spoke about relating to another (few) verse(s) found in FN#5 
    2. Aswad bin Abdi Yaguth
    3. or Aenas bin Shurayq
  • If you notice, none of these are Abu Lahab! But there is no discussion on this idea of “branding of the snout” which is a significant thing!

Asad Notes

  • The tack Asad takes is significantly different. Asad in regards to the above discussion on who God is pointing out in the verse, goes for a gernealization that allows him to discuss the broader appeal of the verse and its applicability to present times. He focuses on the translation used to suggest that those who are “cruel” are “possessed by greed” therefore cruelty is driven by greed and this quality is signaled out in this verse as being unique and special. Something Muslims should be cognizant of. Again Asad does not speculate as to who this person might be, which I find interesting because he didn’t do it for the {earlier verse identifying Walid ibn Mughirah} either.
  • Again Asad doesn’t really discuss the “branding of the snout” which is something I find completely strange. Do both Asad and Maududi take this as literal? Is this a thing to happen in this life, or the hereafter? Is there a consensus opinion on this verse that seems to be a given, therefore, neither of them throughly discusses it?
    • Going back to the text, I found that I didn’t fully write out my notes on this verse but rather left this note (see verse) in the margins. Asad says that this verse is an “idiomatic phrase” and has “strictly metaphorical meaning, namely, ‘We shall stigmatize him with indelible disgrace.’ (quoting both Raghib and Taj al’Arus).”
  • Asad has a discussion on the Arabic word zany string that there are divergent views explaining what this word refers to in this verse. He says that the word is “derived from zananamah” which are the fleshy potrusions of skin hanging below the skin of the ears of a goat, and serves no physiological purpose, and therefore, it signifies, to Asad, that its “someone who seres no purpose”, a person so “socially useless” is “the logical assumption” that Asad derives.

MQSP Bibliography

I guess I need to put together a list of resources I am using for the Millennial Quran Study Project. This post is a collection, which I will continue to update as the project goes along, of resources I am using.

Quran and Tafsirs



MQSP: Field Notes #6

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?

Maududi Notes

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.

Asad Notes

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.


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.”

Millennial Quran Study Content Guide

This is the place where I hope to consolidate all the posts I have on the Millennial Quran Study Project (MQSP), which was formally known as the Quran Year Project (QYP), and the tagging of posts with #OccupyQuran.

Logistical Posts

Logistical Posts are related to the planning and execution of the MQSP endeavor. These would be posts that bring in outside references and hold the citations and material that I am drawing on to make this project something meaningful. These notes also will lay out my own thought process not he project.

  1. Introducing the Quran Year Project
  2. QYP: Is Revelation Order Important?
  3. Project Bibliography

Field Notes

Field Notes are the posts that have my running notes on what I am gleaning, unfiltered to an extent, from the project. It serves as the first order of learning from this project for me. As such, I hope you view these particular blog posts as “Cliff’s Notes” to the project and can draw from them your own inferences and gems.

Meccan Revelations

Phase I

Phase II

Medinan Revelations

Reflection on MQSP

Reflection posts will deal with the transformational understanding I have gleaned from this project. The deeper more personal learning. Usually following form some theme informed by my own experiences, current affairs, or other learning opportunities. These are, hopefully, the more interesting posts from this.

MQSP: Field Notes #3

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.

First Impressions

  • “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.


MQSP: Field Notes #4

The Shrouded One

I mentioned that I learned that the Quran revelation from God stopped for a period of time after the first five verses of Surah Al-Alaq in my MSQP Field Notes (FN) #1. This actually was news to me. I was under the impression that once revelation began it was continuous, without fail. But it appears that after the first verses of Al-Alaq there was a period of time that no revelation came to the Prophet. What must of that felt like?

First Impressions

When revelation did start again, it occurred in dramatic fashion. Angel Gabriel appeared in the broad day while the Prophet was walking about. He sat on a throne between Heaven and Earth.  Upon seeing this the Prophet returned home and covered himself up with a cloth or blanket. Then Allah addressed him.

Once this revelation initiated, it would never cease for the next twenty-three years. The floodgates of monumental historical and radical spiritual revolution were unleashed on humanity, yet from where these verses picked up, they themselves are humble and pocked with ridicule of the man that would carry the message.

What is interesting is that from this point there is disagreement as to which chapter came next. The order seems to be a bit convoluted (read here about revelation order, or tanzil) where there was revelation of portions of three chapters followed by a break. Muadudi suggests that the “Muslim Umma unanimously agree” that the earliest revelation to Prophet “consisted of the first five verses of Surah Al-Alaq.” Clarifying his opinion that “what is established by authentic traditions it that the after this first revelation, no revelation came down to the Prophet for quite some time. Then, when it was resumed, it started with these verses of Surah Al-Mudathir.”

  • Verses start by describing the Prophet as one who “lies enwrapped”, needing goading to “arise and warn” and “proclaim the greatness of your Lord.”
  • Transition towards the physical appearance of one who does this rising and warning as being someone who “keep garments pure” and “avoid filth”;
  • Then a list of qualities in character required to carry out this mission- “Be Just” and have patience; that’s all this revelation consisted of.

Maududi Notes

  • Allah is calling the Prophet out of his solitude, away from soul searching and toward a mission. This was Divine Intervention.
  • The primary duty identified was that you have to proclaim God’s greatness- Allahu Akbar, the Arabic saying for “God is Great!”
  • The verse about “pure garments” has an interesting explanation, Maududi says that pure garments are a reflection of a pure spirit, “…for the purity of the body and the garments and the purity of the spirit are interlinked and interdependent.”
  • Also I found this explanation of the instruction Allah gives to the Prophet insightful to this particular set of revealed verses- “The demand of the unique mission that you have to perform now is that your life should be pure in every respect and you should carry out the duty of reforming your people sincerely irrespective of any gain.”

Asad Notes

  • Asad elaborates on the “purity of garments” by stating that “a pure spirit and an unpure body with impure garments cannot live together.” This is why EVERY HADITH and FIQH book begins with the injunctions and instructions on taharat (purity), which distinguishes between purity and impurity and gives minute details about the methods and means of obtaining purity.
  • Basically, the focus on this idea of purity of garments in both Asad and Maududi can be summed up as the lesson that “what you wear introduces to others your tastes and temperament,” so what would this look like for one who is calling people to Allah?

The above image is from www.stuckincustoms.com, a website featuring the adventures and photography of the very talented Mr. Trey Ratcliff. He puts these images out there into the world under a copyleft and I have been amazed by his photography, as well as incredibly inspired. This particular picture spoke to me in regards to the content of this set of revealed verses regarding the “calling out of solitude and internal searching” that the Prophet was engaged in during this time of his life. I always imagined this solitude to be in a place such as this, high up in the mountains away from direct worldly engagement and interaction.

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