by Giovanni Herran
Bismillah ar-Rahman ar-Rahim.
The mere reflection on the Qur’an universalizes the study of the Qur’an in the sense that, the Qur’an directly counsels every one of us, at our level, for our need, and throughout the flow of our dynamically changing contingencies, our stormy lives, and our capricious states. The reader in this sense is not like the indispensable topographer, making sense of the signposts in a generalizable manner for future reference, but more like the mountain climber grasping much needed firm ground. For this reflection of the eleventh juz’, I will focus on just a few ayahs that have resonated with me as I reconnect with The Guidance, within The Book, which is a cure for all the ailments of the heart.
The first ayah that grabbed me appears in Surah al-Tawbah. In it, Allah, (SWT), says,
Indeed, there has come unto you a Messenger from among you. It heavily weighs upon him that you may suffer. He is full of concern for you, and full of compassion and mercy towards the believers. —9:128
This compassionate inclination about the suffering of others is a prophetic inheritance and archetype of chivalry, which has often eluded me. We are suffering! Most of us, I presume, are emerging from the reign of an imperialist world order whose guiding ideologies include racism, hyper-masculinist expansionism and competitive materialist freedom. And so again I repeat, we are suffering. Sadly I am not referring to life at the extremities of oppression, where no livelihood exists and human dignity is by all worldly-powers stripped of our fellow humans. Rather, I am thinking closer to home. I am thinking of broken structures and of our struggling brothers and sisters in Camden, North Philly and Trenton, as fruits of a most crooked design—the legacy of a parasitic relationship and institutionalized theft and torture, embodied here, in slavery, there, in prisoner leasing systems. I am referring to massive apparatuses of cultural production, and reproduction, editing a barrage of propaganda, carnivalesque narratives, and grotesque fantasies about the other: where we routinely denigrate our women as being either completely subservient to our needs or as sexual prospects who must be conquered and then slandered (i.e., slut shaming). I am thinking of young Arab high school men, telling me, as their teacher, how “hot” Latinas are and how their girlfriends are Latinas; and after I question them, they respond that it’s all good cause later they’re gonna marry a good Egyptian virgin. I am thinking of my sisters, our women, Meztisas, Mulattas, and Africanas who were forced an alien, enemy script, which designated them as the imaginary and physical subservients of the European “adventurers.” I am thinking of the Boricuan women whose instrumental use was not only as sexualized objects of the gaze and the grab, but also as sexualized objects of science, to be poked, prodded and sterilized. I am thinking of South Asian women from Edison, New Jersey who were forced to burn the top layers of their skin in hopes of exposing lower layers, as of yet, “unspoiled” by the sun; to be repeated periodically. I am thinking of men who were systematically emasculated, prevented, many times by the threat of death, from developing the true beauty of masculinity. I am thinking of the women whose menfolk were wounded through systematic emasculation, who put up with swollen masculinities. I am thinking of my young students who were no strangers to spousal abuse. I am thinking of their mothers when I saw them during parent-teacher conferences. I am thinking of whole nations, who were stripped of the road to water, stripped of the Shariah and of its legacy of scholars, sages, and saints; and who in turn, focused fastidiously on the only domain left to rule, Women—seeking to regain their masculinity, their legacy of protection over the dignity and honor of their kinfolk through an inflamed masculinity.
We are in so much pain. Although my tongue has been spouting these issues, my heart lacks the compassion and sincere worry that weighed heavy on our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAW). As an ex-leftist, disillusioned by activism as a vehicle of change, I have ignored the activists who are speaking out against the oppressors about their suffering. To those airing their grievances, suffering, and their righteous anger, no matter your alliance to some form of “ism” or social philosophy, I recognize your suffering. Our suffering and our awareness thereof is certainly tied to our position, our embodiment and our experience. This is the difficulty of being sincerely and acutely concerned for another’s suffering: it is not your suffering, we have no immediate, or certain knowledge of it, and so are prone to dismiss it. This prophetic legacy of concern for another’s suffering I believe presupposes a type of standpoint theory that acknowledges the embodiment of knowledge through experience. And so I am more willing to listen and learn.
From among the beauties of the Qur’an is its balance. We objectify, abstract and incline in such a way that our conceptions tend towards imbalance. Many of us seek the tyranny of all justice and no mercy or the decadence of its opposite. The Qur’an transcends this. In this very juz’ I blindly and blessedly grasped at another jewel to balance the above reflection. In Surah Yunus, Allah states,
Those who do not believe that they are destined to meet Us say, “Bring us a discourse other than this, or alter this one. —10:15
The Prophet responded that it is inconceivable to recreate the Qur’an, and that he dreaded the thought of such disobedience. To recapitulate, I want to acknowledge our suffering, their suffering. And I admit that they are privy to facts, occurrences and subtleties of social knowledge that I have little-to-no access to. I am willing to listen and learn. However, my desire and willingness is tempered by an understanding that the desire of some activists for justice does not align with the healing message found in the Qur’an, rather for many, paradise is to be sought in a material freedom and in autonomous morality. And for them I offer this ayah from Surah Yunus:
Whoever chooses to follow the right path follows it but for his own good; and whoever chooses to go astray, goes astray to his own hurt.—10:108
I thank Allah that hunger has provoked a desire to imitate the mercy of genuine and loving concern for the other, all the while tempered by the desire to imitate the unflinching confidence in the revelation as the Guidance and path to freedom, and not instrumental social consensus. Jazakallah khair.