By Imam Adeyinka Muhammad Mendes
Through the Name of Allah, the Compassionately Loving, the Ever-loving.
May Allah send blessings and peace upon our beloved leader Muhammad and the prophets before him, along with their noble families and companions.
O humanity! There has indeed come to you spiritual counsel from your Nurturing-Master, a healing for what is within the hearts, a gentle guidance, and compassionate love for the faithful. — 10:57
Every Ramadan, I discover anew what captured my heart as a new Muslim almost 25 years ago, the realization that the wisdom of the Qu’ran is medicine for what ails humanity physically, emotionally, socioeconomically and spiritually. As a 17-year-old African American man looking for a path to knowledge of the Creator in harmony with reason, looking for the restoration of all that had been stripped from the enslaved Africans brought to the New World, and looking for a spirituality that embraced all human beings as one family, the Qur’an spoke directly to my soul. We have an over 1,000-year history of Muslims from every corner of the planet effectively applying this revealed medicine to bring individuals, communities and polities to wellness and wholeness, while sharing this gift with neighbors from other spiritual traditions.
In the United States, our African American Muslim communities have continued this legacy and witnessed the healing benefits of living a Qur’anic lifestyle through sincere striving for its embodiment by members of the Moorish Science Temple, the Nation of Islam, the communities of Imam Wali Akram, Shaykh Ahmad Tawfiq, Shaykh Daoud Faisal, Imam Warith Deen Mohammed, Imam Jamil al-Amin, and countless others. Guided by the Qur’an, we have been able to shatter the inner idol of White supremacy, reclaim our noble ancestry, rebuild our communities, as well as purify our bodies, intellects and souls in order to receive enlightenment from God Himself. We experienced the reality of God’s statement,
He it is who sends blessings upon you, as do His angels, so that He takes you from darknesses into the Light. He is to the faithful, Ever-loving. — 33:43
The great scholar, statesman and spiritual master, Imam Abdullahi ibn Fodiyo (d. 1827), in his Diya’ at-Ta’wil fi Ma’ani at-Tanzil (The Blazing Light of Interpretation of the Meanings of the Revelation) wrote that the blessings of God refers to “His compassionate love for you or His taking particular care to rectify your circumstances” and the blessings of the angels means that “they seek forgiveness for you and are concerned with that which rectifies you.” These meanings indicate that the upliftment of our people, and ultimately of humanity, is being overseen by higher realities that we only need invite into our lives. One of the greatest means of inviting such blessings is through invoking divine blessing upon Muhammad, Beloved of God (peace and blessings rest upon him) who said, “Whoever will send one blessing upon me, God will send blessings upon him tenfold” (Narrated by Muslim).
The aforementioned ayah (pl. ayat) is found in the first chapter of twenty-second juz’ or section of the Qur’an; this section is especially dear to me because it contains key ayat for social and moral transformation as well as spiritual transcendence in its first three chapters—The Confederates (al-Ahzab), The Kingdom of Sheba (al-Saba), and The Originator of Creation (al-Fatir)—as well as in its concluding chapter, Ya Sin, about which our beloved Prophet Muhammad (God bless his soul and give him peace) reportedly said, “Truly everything has a heart, and the heart of the Quran is Ya Sin” (Narrated by al-Tirmidhi).
Among the themes of the first chapter in this section (al-Ahzab) is knowledge of the status and function of the beloved Messenger (Divine peace and blessings rest upon him):
Muhammad is not the father of anyone from your men; he is God’s Messenger and the seal of the prophets: God is All-knowing of everything.
O you who have been faithful, remember God with abundant remembrance
and mention His transcendence morning and evening:
He it is who sends blessings upon you, as do His angels, so that He takes you from darknesses into the Light. He is to the faithful, Ever-loving.
When they meet Him they will be greeted with ‘Peace’- and He has prepared a generous reward for them.
Prophet, We have sent you as a witness, as a bearer of good news and a warner,
as one who calls people to God by His leave, as a light-giving lamp.
Give the believers the good news that great bounty awaits them from God.
Do not give in to the disbelievers and the hypocrites: ignore the harm they cause you and put your trust in God. God is enough to trust. — 33:40–47
Here, we have a program of daily spiritual practice: meditating on the station of Messengership and its function in our lives; remembering God abundantly at the start and end of our days; hope of Divine reward; counsel to reject the commands and disregard the aggression of those whose deeds belie any reverence for God; and trusting in God alone for our safety, sustenance and salvation. These ayat remind us that our ability to successfully resist a social order built on the denial of God and withstand the harm of its agents is directly connected to the depth of our daily spiritual discipline.
As a citizen of what is currently the most materially powerful country in the world, I could not help but reflect deeply upon the ayat almost midway through the second chapter in which God relates the story of a great nation that He blessed with economic prosperity. That nation then chose the path of ingratitude to the Divine resulting in economic scarcity. This is an admonition for those living in nations blessed with great wealth who refuse to recognize that such wealth is an act of Divine beneficence and not the result of their material effort alone.
But they paid no heed, so We let loose on them a flood from the dam and replaced their two gardens with others that yielded bitter fruit, tamarisk bushes, and a few lote trees.
In this way We punished them for their ingratitude — would We punish anyone but the ungrateful? — 34:16–17
There is a principle indicated in these ayat that reoccurs throughout the Qur’an, namely, that human beings are not so much punished by God for what they do as they are punished by what they do. In other words, we punish ourselves through deeds that distance us from the Divine Presence.
Among the passages for our reflection in the third chapter (al-Fatir) of this section is God’s categorizing of believers saying,
We gave the Scripture as a heritage to Our chosen servants: some of them oppress their own souls, some adopt a middle course, and some, by God’s leave, are foremost in good deeds. That is the greatest favor. — 35:32
One of the greatest scholars and gnostics of the 20 century, Shaykh al-Islam Ibrahim Niasse (d.1975), comments on these ayat in his Fi Riyadh at-Tafsir (In the Meadows of Qur’anic Commentary):
By God (blessed and exalted is He) bestowing upon us the Scripture we [humans] were named Chosen despite the abundance of our injustice, thus we have not been excluded from the domain of elite divine selection through an immense grace from Him (blessed and exalted is He)…for he for whom divine help is written will not be harmed by his crime. The foremost is he who acts on what he knows and teaches others, guiding them to right action, such is the foremost; he who adopts a middle course is he who acts according to what he knows most of the time, while the oppressor is deficient in right action. God (blessed and exalted is He) forgives the oppressor and enters him into the Garden, and does the same with he who adopted a middle course, but says to the foremost “You remain here and intercede for whomever you desire” and so he intercedes on behalf of created beings.
The section ends with Ya Sin (36:27), a chapter that is memorized and regularly recited by millions of Muslims. It was most certainly a chapter that many of the enslaved Africans brought to the Americas would have recited in secret on slave ships and on plantations. Upon visiting Sudan many years ago, I was blessed to visit the blessed city of Mabruka, an international intentional community of about 30,000 residents devoted to Sacred Knowledge and Prophetic Spirituality. In Mabruka the men, women, and children gathered daily after the dawn and sunset prayers to recite Ya Sin in congregation. Some commentators mention that Ya Sin is referred to as the heart of the Qur’an because it contains the essence of its message to humanity regarding the invitation to attain certain knowledge of: a) the absolute uniqueness, knowledge, power, and authority of the Divine Being; b) the truthfulness of His messengers; c) the significance of the Divine signs observed in the natural world, human history, and within our souls; and d) the realities of Judgment Day, Heaven and Hell.
These four chapters — The Confederates (al-Ahzab), The Kingdom of Sheba (al-Saba’), The Originator of Creation (al-Fatir) and Ya Sin — gather jewels and pearls of wisdom and counsel that enrich souls and societies. May God make them and the remaining chapters of the Qur’an the Springtime of our innermost heart, the Light of our outermost heart, the Remover of our grief and the Dispeller of our anxiety.
Adeyinka Muhammad Mendes is the founding-director of SacredService for Peace and Freedom and the Association for African American Healing, Ancestry, and Development (A.H.A.D). These organizations are dedicated to building economies and communities of peace and self-actualization. In addition to teaching the poetry of Rumi and Prophetic Meditation, he serves as a community Imam, and shares the healing wisdom found in the spiritual, scholastic and sociopolitical legacies of African and African American Muslims with audiences around the world. He currently resides in Atlanta, Ga., with his wife and children.