Prepared by Kabir Helminski, August 2007
Signs for Those Who Use Their Intelligence
Truly, in the creation of the heavens and of the earth,
and the succession of night and day:
and in the ships that speed through the sea with what is useful to man:
and in the waters which God sends down from the sky,
giving life thereby to the earth after it had been lifeless,
and causing all manner of living creatures to multiply thereon:
and in the change of the winds,
and the clouds that run their appointed courses between sky and earth:
these are messages indeed for people who use their intelligence.
[ Sürah al-Baqarah 2:164]
This passage is one of the many in which the Qur°än appeals to those who use their intelligence ( yaªqil ün ) to observe and reflect upon the wonders of nature, including the evidence of man’s own ingenuity ( the ships that speed through the sea ), as so many indications of a conscious, creative Power pervading the universe. Everywhere there are signs that call us to wake up and notice how miraculous this life is. People with intelligence can have their hearts filled with awe and thus be led to what is essentially a religious consciousness. Faith and intelligence can serve each other. (The Book of Revelations, p. 26)
Truly, God is the One Who splits the grain and the kernel apart,
bringing forth the living from the dead,
and He is the One Who brings forth the dead out of that which is alive.
This then, is God: how then can you be so deluded?
He is the One Who causes the dawn to break,
and Who has made the night to be a source of stillness,
and the sun and the moon for reckoning
by the order of the Almighty, the All-knowing.
And He it is Who has made the stars for you so that you might be guided by them through the darknesses of land and sea:
clearly have We detailed Our signs for people of inner knowing.
And He it is Who has brought you all into being
out of a single soul,
and so designated for each of you a time-limit on earth
and a resting-place after death:
clearly have We detailed Our signs for people who can grasp the truth.
It is He Who sends down rain from the skies:
with it We produce vegetation of all kinds.
From some We produce green crops,
out of which We produce grain, heaped up.
Out of the date palm and its sheaths,
clusters of dates hanging low and near.
And gardens of grapes, and olives, and pomegranates,
each similar in kind yet different in variety: when they begin to bear fruit,
feast your eye with the fruit, and the ripeness thereof.
Behold! In these things there are signs for people who keep the faith.
[ Sürah al-Anªäm 6:95-99]
No vision can encompass Him,
but He encompasses all human vision:
for He alone is Subtle Beyond Comprehension, All-Aware.
Means of insight have now come to you
from your Sustainer through this divine Message.
Whoever, then, chooses to see,
does so for the benefit of His own soul;
and whoever chooses to remain blind,
does so to His own harm.
[ Sürah al-Anªäm 6:102-104]
Here is an example of the deep and subtle metaphysics of the Holy Qur°än. No vision can encompass Him, but He encompasses all human vision might be paraphrased as “no seeing, no human mode of perception can fully grasp God, but God surrounds, encompasses, and enables human beings to perceive.” We derive our seeing from His Seeing, but He is never the object of our perception, because He is not a thing.
This may seem to contradict the notion in Sürah al-Baqarah 2:115 that wherever you turn is the Face of God. But this äyahtells us that God’s essence can be witnessed in every particle of existence and not as an object or entity distinct from everything that exists.
This is made clear in the part of the äyah that says He is the Subtle, the Aware. It could be said that He is the subtlest state of everything and the final and most complete Awareness operating in the universes.
The practical meaning of this for us is that the human being as God’s khalïfah may share in this power of subtle awareness. Through taqwä , mindfulness of God, through dhikralläh , remembrance of God, we are developing the spiritual side of our being, which is our capacity to bring God’s subtle awareness into every detail of our lives. Elsewhere it is said, God is the light of the heavens and the earth [24:35]. In other words, Alläh enables perception in both the material world through the experience of our senses, and in the inner world through the heart and all our subtle faculties: self-awareness, insight, and inspiration. (The Book of Revelations, p97-98)
He whom God guides, he alone is truly guided:
whereas those whom He lets go astray—
it is they, they who are the losers!
And most certainly have We destined for Hell
many of the invisible beings and men
who have hearts with which they fail to grasp the truth,
and eyes with which they fail to see,
and ears with which they fail to hear.
They are like cattle—no,
they are even less conscious of the right way:
it is they, they who are the truly heedless!
And God’s alone are the attributes of perfection;
invoke Him, then, by these,
stand aloof from all who distort the meaning of His attributes.
[ Sürah al-Aªräf 7:178-180]
Say: “I only follow whatever is revealed to me by my Sustainer:
this revelation is a means of insight from your Sustainer,
and a guidance and grace to those who will have faith.
And so when the Qur°än is voiced, pay attention to it,
and listen in silence, so that you might be graced with God’s mercy.”
And remember your Sustainer humbly within yourself and with awe,
and without raising your voice,
in the morning and in the evening;
and don’t allow yourself to be one of the unaware.
Those who are near to your Sustainer do not disdain to worship Him:
They celebrate His praises and bow down before Him
[ Sürah al-Aªräf 7:204-205]
O you who have attained to faith!
If you remain conscious of God,
He will endow you with a standard by which to discern
the true from the false,
and will clear evil from you,
and will forgive you your mistakes:
for God is limitless in the abundance of His blessing.
[ Sürah al-Anfäl 8:29]
Discernment is the innate capacity within the human being to make distinctions, especially to discern the good and the true from the bad and the false.
In the realm of our own experience we can come to discern the qualities of the Spirit from the qualities of the compulsive ego. The ego is most concerned with its own survival, comfort, and vanity. The ego is the source of envy, resentment, pride, hypocrisy, guilt, and blame.
Spirit, on the other hand, is inwardly supportive, patient, forgiving, generous with no strings attached, humble without being weak, loving yet impartial.
The individualized Spirit, which we call the soul, can learn to see beyond its immediate identifications in the material and psychological worlds and resonate with Spirit.
Spirit possesses us; we don’t possess It. We become aware of It and join with It. We become in Love with It. Eventually and incredibly, the ego, which had been such a tyrant, begins to lose its power and becomes a willing servant.
As we become familiar with Spirit, the material world—with all its diversity, with all that can be gained and lost—becomes secondary. It is not less important, but secondary in priority. We become less dependent on circumstances for our sense of well-being. We feel connected to Life and Spirit.
What may appear as a loss, for instance, in the material world is seen differently in the world of Spirit where nothing can be lost. This does not mean that our grief just disappears—losses are still losses. The sorrows of life embitter some, and shatter others. Yet these same sorrows may set all of life against the backdrop of eternity, and become a fountain of refreshment, a living energy to draw on. The agony of Jesus, the pain of Mary, the submission of Muåammad and ªAlï are reminders that suffering cannot be avoided . . . and yet we are blessed.
The same Life that gave before will continue to give. We know and are aware that the Giver of Life, the Provider, the Generous One, the Beloved can take any shape. People and events do not lose their significance; they become witnesses and evidence of Spirit, transparent to the radiance of Spirit. We begin to see the qualities of the Creator in the creation. The heart is the manifesting part of the Spirit. It is activated through the unconditional love of life around us. Together with others we increase our life.
If it weren’t for the presence of Spirit, this world would truly be a prison. But with Spirit and the faculty in humans that can perceive It, the world displays the infinite attributes of the One. (The Book of Revelations, p 122-123)
He it is Who has made the sun a source of radiant light
and the moon a light reflected, and has determined for it phases
so that you might know how to compute the years and to measure time.
None of this has God created without an inner truth .
Clearly does He spell out these messages to people of knowledge.
For, truly, in the alternating of night and day,
and in all that God has created in the heavens and on earth
there are messages indeed for people who are conscious of Him!
[ Sürah Yünus 10:5-6]
Literally, God has not created this otherwise than in accordance with truth —i.e., to fulfill a definite purpose in consonance with His planning wisdom, implying that everything in the universe—whether existent or potential, concrete or abstract—is meaningful, and nothing is “accidental.” Compare 3:191 : O our Sustainer! You have not created anything of this without meaning and purpose ( bäöilan ) and 38:27: We have not created heaven and earth and all that is between them without meaning and purpose, as is the surmise of those who are bent on denying the truth. (Asad, p. 289) [The Book of Revelations, p.135]
When affliction befalls man, he cries out to Us,
whether he be lying on his side or sitting or standing;
but as soon as We have freed him of his affliction,
he goes on as though he had never invoked Us
to save him from the affliction that befell him!
Thus do their own doings seem fair
to those who waste their own selves.
[ Sürah Yünus 10:12]
Can, then, he who knows that whatever has been bestowed
from on high upon you by your Sustainer is the truth
be deemed equal to one who is blind?
Only they who are endowed with insight are mindful:
they who are true to their bond with God
and never break their covenant;
and who keep together what God has bidden to be joined,
and stand in awe of their Sustainer
and fear the most evil reckoning;
and who are patient in adversity
out of a longing for their Sustainer’s countenance,
and are constant in prayer,
and spend on others, secretly and openly,
out of what We provide for them as sustenance,
It is these that shall find their fulfillment in the hereafter:
gardens of perpetual bliss,
which they shall enter together with the righteous
from among their parents, their spouses, and their offspring;
and the angels will come to them from every gate [ and will say ]:
“Peace be upon you, because you have persevered!”
[ Sürah ar-Raªd 13:19-24]
The central meaning of this passage is that some people have insight into the essence of things and thus have faith, while others are simply blind. Only they who are endowed with insight are mindful . Only those with °albäb , insight, seeing into the kernel ( lubb ) of things, can truly remember and be aware of God. Their fulfillment will be gardens of perpetual bliss. In other words, this state is not just blind belief or indoctrination, but a living insight into the way things truly are. (Helminski) (The Book of Revelations, pp 147-148)
This Book We have bestowed upon you from on high
in order that you might bring forth all mankind,
by their Sustainer’s permission,
out of the depths of darkness into the light:
onto the way that leads to the Almighty,
the One to whom all praise is due . . . .
And never have We sent forth any Messenger otherwise than
in his own people’s tongue,
so that he might make the truth clear to them,
but God lets go astray him that wills to go astray ,
and guides him that wills to be guided—
for He alone is almighty, truly wise.
And, indeed, have We sent forth Moses with Our messages:
“Lead your people out of the depths of darkness into the light,
and remind them of the Days of God!”
Truly, in this there are messages
for those who are firmly patient and constant, grateful and appreciative
[ Sürah Ibrähïm 14:1, 4-5]
And consider how your Sustainer has inspired the bee:
“Prepare for yourself dwellings in mountains and in trees,
and in what men may build [ for you by way of hives ]:
and then eat of all manner of fruit,
and follow humbly the paths ordained for you by your Sustainer.”
And there issues from within these a fluid of many hues,
wherein there is health for people.
In all this, behold, there is a message indeed for people who reflect!
[ Sürah an-Naål 16:68-69]
The expression He has inspired ( awåä ) is meant to bring out the wonderful quality of the instinct which enables the lowly insect to construct the geometrical masterpiece of a honeycomb out of perfectly-proportioned hexagonal, prismatic wax cells—a structure which is most economical, and therefore most rational, as regards space and material. Together with the subsequently mentioned transmutation, in the bee’s body, of plant juices into honey, this provides a striking evidence of “God’s ways” manifested in all nature. (Asad, The Book of Revelations, pp. 404-405)
And now that We replace one message by another—
since God is fully aware of what He bestows from on high, step by step—
they [who deny the truth] are wont to say, “You but invented it!”
Nay, but most of them do not understand it!
Say: “Holy inspiration has brought it down from your Sustainer by stages,
setting forth the truth,
so that it might give firmness to those who have attained to faith,
and provide guidance and a glad tiding
to all who have surrendered themselves to God.”
[ Sürah an-Naål 16:101-102]
We replace one message by another: i.e., by substituting the message of the Qur°än for the earlier dispensations—and not, as some Muslim scholars maintain, “abrogating” one Qur°anic verse and replacing it by another.
Step by step: the gradualness of revelation (implied in the verbal form yunazzil ) corresponds to God’s plan, according to which He has gradually unfolded His will to man, substituting one dispensation for another in the measure of mankind’s intellectual and social development, bringing it to its culmination in the message of the Qur°än.
Holy inspiration ( rüå al-qudus ) occurs in three other places in the Qur°än (2:87, 2:253, 5:110). To my mind, it’s a Qur°anic synonym for “divine revelation.” However, a literal rendering, spirit of holiness —is also possible if one applies this term to the angel who communicates God’s revelations to the prophets. (In 16:2: He causes the angels to descend with this divine inspiration where the word rüå is translated as divine inspiration.) (Asad, p. 412) ( The Book of Revelations, p.172)
Blessed is the One Who
sent down Discernment to His servant
that it might be a counsel to all the world.
[ Sürah al-Furqän 25:1]
The blind and the seeing are not alike,
nor are the depths of darkness and the light,
nor are the shade and the heat of the sun;
nor are alike those that are living and those that are dead.
God can make any that He wills to hear;
but you cannot make those hear who are buried in graves.
You are nothing but a warner.
Truly, We have sent you with truth as a bearer of joyous news
and as a warner;
and never has there been a people
without a warner having lived among them.
[ Sürah al-Fäöir 35:19-24]
And paradise will be brought near to the God-conscious,
no longer will it be distant:
“This is what was promised for you—
to everyone who would turn to God
and keep Him always in remembrance—
who stood in awe of the Most Compassionate though unseen
and brought a heart turned in devotion to Him;
Enter here in peace and security; this is the Day of eternal Life!”
There will be for them there all that they may wish
and yet more in Our Presence. . . .
In this, behold, there is indeed
a reminder for everyone
whose heart is wide-awake—that is,
who listens and witnesses. . .
Bear then with patience all that they say
and celebrate the praises of your Sustainer
before the rising of the sun and before its setting
and in the night also celebrate His praises
and at the end of prostration.
And listen for the Day
when the Caller will call out from a place quite near.
[ Sürah Qäf 50:31-35, 37, 39-41]
Witness: the God-conscious will be amid gardens and springs,
taking joy in that which their Sustainer gives them
because before then they had lived a good life:
they would sleep only a little at night
and from the core of their hearts they would pray for forgiveness;
and of all that they possessed would grant a rightful share
to the one who asked and the one who was not able.
On the earth are signs for those with inner certainty,
just as within your own selves: will you not then deeply see?
And in heaven is your sustenance
and all that which you are promised.
Then by the Sustainer of heaven and earth, this is the Truth—
as true as the fact that you are able to speak.
[ Sürah adh-Dhäriyät 51:15-23]
It is God Who sends to His servants clear signs
that He may lead you out of the depths of darkness
into the Light.
And truly, God is to you most Kind and Merciful.
[ Sürah al-Åadïd 57:9]
This short selection has vast implications if only we could take it to heart. It describes our essential relationship to God: we are being guided out of darkness and into the light. It is our responsibility to strive, for we have nothing but what we have striven for, and, at the same time, it is up to God to guide us in our striving. Of this we can be sure: if we turn to Him, His guidance will not fail us. We will be shown clear signs and we will not be left in the darkness. In this life we have difficulties and we have problems. They are not the same. Difficulties are obstacles and challenges to be faced. Through them our souls develop new qualities and strengths. Problems, however, are those situations where we do not necessarily know what the right answer is, what we are to do. Our task, then, is to remember to ask both for His guidance, and then for the strength to follow it. (Helminski) The Book of Revelations, p.346.