The following are excerpts from a reflection released by the author in Ramadan 2020. To view reflections from the Ramadan 2021 series click here.
By Adeyinka Mendes
All praise and thanks belong to God who revealed the Gracious Qur’an in which is healing, gentle guidance, compassionate love and light for all human beings.
In Contemplating the Qur’an, Shaykh Ahmed Saad al-Azhari identifies the major theme of each of the 30 parts of the Gracious Qur’an. The main theme of the 26th juz’ is the necessity of humankind’s use of their God-given powers of body, mind, self, and spirit to build rather than destroy. God calls us to use our incredible faculties and resources to build a world of justice, balance and sacred living rather than the world of death and destruction we currently find ourselves in, not fully dead but not truly living either. A world in which Mother Earth has been poisoned with toxins, entire ecosystems have been lost, and countless human lives have been wasted and sacrificed at the altars of boundless Progress, Control, and Profit.
In my reflections on this juz’, I was drawn to the Chapter of the Private Chambers, verse 13 (49:13):
“O humanity, indeed We created you all from a single male and a single female, and made you peoples and tribes of common ancestry in order that you deeply know one another. Verily, the most noble of you, in the sight of God, are the most reverent of you: God is All- Knowing, All-Aware.”
This verse contains the fundamental changes in our self-knowledge, values and consciousness as a species needed to build the more beautiful, just, safe and sacred world that our hearts yearn for, upon which our survival depends, and which our minds know is possible with courage, hard work, global cooperation and divine grace. Recognizing our common origins as human beings is key to building societies with sound and sustainable ecologies and economies. Within the masculine and feminine energies are signs of the Majestic and Beautiful attributes of God that point to His Divine Perfection and are reflected upon the horizons of nature and within human souls.
This verse is also a cure for the arrogance at the root of the racism, tribalism, nationalism and blind patriotism that has led to systemic oppression and genocide in recent and past human history. It also speaks to the abuse and misuse of the social power in our lineages and cultures. The great spiritual guide, master poet, statesman and theologian Imam Abdullahi dan Fodio explains in his four-volume Qur’anic commentary, The Light of Interpretation Concerning the Meanings of the Revelation (Diya at-Ta’wil fi Ma’ani at-Tanzil), that the purpose of lineage is that it should serve to strengthen bonds of kinship and settle bloodwit in cases of unintentional murder and culpable homicide. It is not for one group to baselessly claim ancestral, tribal or racial supremacy over another, for the greatness of a human being is based on his or her degree of taqwa.
This verse contains the fundamental changes in our self-knowledge, values and consciousness as a species needed to build the more beautiful, just, safe and sacred world that our hearts yearn for, upon which our survival depends, and which our minds know is possible with courage, hard work, global cooperation and divine grace.
The late Shaykh Muhammad al-Amin al-Oromi, from the ancient sacred city of Harar, Ethiopia, sites a narration in his monumental work, the encylopedic 32-volume commentary on the Qur’an, Gardens of Refreshment and Fragrant Herbage Regarding The Fertile Hills of the Science of the Qur’an, that this verse was revealed regarding the simultaneous honoring and disparaging of another Ethiopian, the enlightened sage and scholar-warrior Bilal, son of Rabah, the first muezzin and treasurer of Prophet Muhammad.
This verse was revealed when the Prophet ordered Bilal to make the call to prayer after the liberation of Mecca. He ascended to the roof of the Kaaba and chanted the call to prayer. Attab, son of Asid, who was from the Banu Umayya clan, granted amnesty and said quietly, “Praise and thanks to God who took the soul of my father so he was spared from seeing this day!” and Harith, son of Hisham, remarked privately, “Couldn’t the Messenger of God have found someone besides this black crow to make the call?”
Although the handmade idols of the Meccans had been destroyed, it is clear that the conceptual idols of racism and classism still remained in the hearts and minds of some of the Meccans. So Prophet Muhammad had the noble Bilal put their most sacred symbol and edifice (the Kaaba), under the soles of his blessed black feet.
What those Meccans of the past as well as so many loyal adherents to the evil culture and system of White and Brown arrogance today do not realize is that within the Blackness of Bilal and every Black woman, man, girl and boy who has lived and will ever live are divine signs. God says in the Qur’an, “And from His signs is the creation of heavens and the earth and the diversity of your languages and complexions, indeed in that are clear signs for knowledgeable beings.” (Qur’an, The Byzantine Romans, 30:22). About this sign, Shaykh Sayed Nurjan Mirahmadi, indicated in his discourse titled The Most Hidden Realities (Akhfa): The Noble Bilal and the Spiritual Station of Ahadiyya – Divine Unicity:
[I]n Black people is the divine sign of the Black Light on earth.
“…from the levels of the heart and from the understandings of the highest levels of the heart which they call the Akhfa, the most hidden reality, or fifth station of the heart. Its secret is in the color black. In the reality of blackness, and black is a colour which absorbs everything because colors are what reflect back to you. The green you see is what did not get absorbed and so reflects back to your eye. The color black, it absorbs everything. It is the reality and station of fana, the station of spiritual annihilation in the Divine Presence. The color black is significant in our reality. It is the shadow that always accompanies you. Our master Bilal represented this Akhfa Reality, and it is the secret of why blackness is under so much difficulty in this world. It is the shadow of that Divine Presence. And all the world wants to do is to make it suffer, enslave it, and crush it.”
In other words, in Black people is the divine sign of the Black Light on earth. Dr. Seyyed Hossein Nasr elucidates the nature of the Black Light in his important work on Islamic Spirituality, The Garden of Truth, “In this science [of the Divine Names] a distinction is made first of all between God’s Essence, His Names and Qualities, and His Acts (al-Dhat, al-Asma’, and al-Sifat and al-Af’al in Arabic). Although the Essence Itself is beyond all names and determinations, being the black light, which is black because of the intensity of its luminosity, certain Names pertain to it and it alone and never to His Acts, which constitute His creation; such Names include huwa (the Essence), al-Rahman (the All-Good), al-Rahim (the Infinitely Merciful), and al-Ahad (the One).”
As an African-American Muslim man, son, brother, husband and father, I greatly connect with this verse of the Qur’an because it connects so many historical, religious, socioeconomic and metaphysical dots for me. On the night many Muslim scholars believe could very well be the auspicious Night of Power that is superior to one thousand months, the eve of the 27th day of Ramadan, I, God willing, will call upon God through the divine names at the end of this verse, the All-Knowing (al-Alim) and the All-Aware (al-Khabir), to grant humans deep knowledge of our shared spiritual origin and unbreakable spiritual kinship as well as to grant us a vast awareness of our most hidden inner realities, the divine signs in our tongues and the colors that make up what Indigenous Americans call the Four Nations. So we can, in order that we finally unite to use our unique powers to build communities dedicated to reverence for God, justice for all, and compassion towards all beings and the planet from which we were all created.
Adéyínká Mendes is the founder of the Bilal Spiritual Center for Peace and the Arts and co-founder of the African-American Healing, Ancestry and Development (AHAD) Collective. He is an educator, author, translator of sacred literature, and spiritual activist who has traveled the world studying Qur’anic exegesis, prophetic narrations, classical Arabic, theology, sacred jurisprudence, contemplative arts and the science of spiritual illumination with living masters. He has been teaching these and other sacred sciences since 2001 and speaks internationally on Qur’anic spirituality, youth and adult rites of passage, peace-building, and the healing wisdom of Black Muslim cultures and civilizations. Adéyínká is a recipient of the Center for Global Muslim Life’s “2020 Spiritual Impact Award” and his latest work, The Spirits of Black Folk: Sages Through the Ages, is due to be released in 2021. He lives with his wife, Rukayat Yakub, an author and educator, and their children in New Jersey.