By Rasul Miller
And indeed, We have bestowed upon you seven of al-Mathaani (the seven repeatedly recited verses of Surah al-Fatihah) and the Grand Qur’an. Look not with your eyes ambitiously at what We have bestowed on certain classes of them (the disbelievers), nor grieve over them. And lower your wings for the believers. And Say (O Muhammad SAW): “I am indeed a plain warner.” — 15:87–89
Today’s reflection is on the 14th Juz of the Qur’an, which comprises Surah Hijr (The Rocky Tract) and Surah Nahl (The Bee). I have chosen to focus on Surah Hijr, but the two surahs present many of the same themes. Both recount some of the innumerable favors that our Lord has bestowed upon humanity, both make mention of created beings, whether human or jinn, who have disobeyed Allah out of arrogance; both recount stories of societies of old who have brought upon themselves Allah’s catastrophic punishment; and both provide us with guidance and instruction on how to deal with those who are hostile to our community of believers. This most beautiful guidance provides us with perfect instruction to navigate the climate we face today.
Surah Hijr tells us what our outlook should be concerning those who mock our faith right in its beginning, in the second and third verses:
How much will those who disbelieve desire that they were Muslims! Leave them to eat and enjoy and let them be preoccupied with (false) hope. They will come to know! — 15:2–3
What stood out to me about the early verses of this surah is that they strike right at the heart of the disagreement between people of faith and people who attack religion in the present day. Allah recounts how the enemies of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAW) called him crazy and challenged him to present to them angels to validate his claim. Today, people who attack religion in general continue to question the sanity of people of faith; and those who attack Islam in particular claim that our insistence on using Divine revelation and Prophetic instruction as sources for guidance in things like commerce and governance makes us a threat to the safety and stability of society. Those who arrogantly demanded that the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) present them with angels mocked the Muslims’ belief in the unseen. Likewise, many people today find fault with our epistemology — with our fundamental view of the nature of existence. For them, our belief in things beyond the material world makes us irrational and, therefore, dangerous.
Some folks are so stubborn that they would persist in this attitude even if the Creator showed them something miraculous. Allah points this out for us:
And even if We opened to them a gate from the heaven and they were to keep on ascending thereto. They would surely say, “our eyes have been dazzled. Nay, we are a people bewitched!” — 15:14–15
One of the overarching lessons from this surah is to remain firm when confronted with people who attack our community and what we believe. Reflecting on this lesson, I am reminded of a statement made by the renowned 20th century West African Islamic scholar Shaykh Ibrahim Niass (RA). To paraphrase, Shaykh Ibrahim stated that the best of his community would be those who could mix with people who do not believe what we believe and benefit from them, without losing anything in the process. This description fits the person who has taken the lessons of this surah to heart. Such a person can be in the company of non-believing people, be it in a classroom, business meeting or anywhere he or she is required to be, without it negatively affecting his or her behavior and without developing the feelings of inferiority that many Muslims develop when their faith is constantly challenged or mocked.
As a person who studies the history of Black Muslims, I would argue that this ability to thrive is one of the greatest characteristics of our communities for much of our history. Our Black Muslim foremothers and forefathers had radical faith in Allah and His Prophet (SAW), which cost many of them their livelihood, their families and their standing in society. They watched as people who championed the interconnected evils of materialism and white supremacy accumulated wealth and power. They could have easily succumbed, as many do today, to the notion that “the white man’s ice is colder,” or that Islam is antithetical to societal progress and personal financial gain. Their ability to maintain confidence in their way of life as Muslims and in their inherent value as people of African descent in a society that affirmed neither their religion nor their race provides a meaningful example of excellent Muslim character from our own history that we can strive to emulate.
Surah Hijr further instructs us to not to allow our own struggles or what may appear to be the success of people who advocate oppression to cause us to despair. In verse 56, Prophet Ibrahim (AS) receives the news that he will have a child despite his old age. While initially taken aback, his faith ultimately allows him to recognize that such a miracle is indeed possible for the Most High and asks “who despairs of the Mercy of his Lord except those who are astray.”
This Surah teaches us to find comfort and reassurance by praising our Lord, and remembering His favors on all of us. When we encounter corrupt people who seem to be rewarded with luxury gain, we are reminded not to grieve. In the end, their account, and ours, is with Allah. Also rather than exert our energy attempting to please them or win their acceptance, we are instructed to turn our attention to serving and supporting those who strive to do the right thing.
Of course, this stance is not always an easy one. Even the Prophet (SAW), the very best of humanity, found himself at times bothered by the mocking of the disbelievers. As a man concerned with the spiritual welfare of the people, he did not take pleasure in seeing some people follow a path toward their own ultimate destruction. The Surah closes with a final message of reassurance for him (SAW) and us:
Indeed, We know that your breast is straitened at what they say. So glorify the praises of your Lord and be of those who prostrate themselves to Him. And worship your Lord until there comes unto you the certainty. — 15:97–89
Rasul Miller is a PhD student in History and Africana Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. His research interests include Muslim movements in 20th century America and their relationship to Black internationalist thought and West African intellectual history.