By Ruqayya Ali
The 29th juz’ of Al Qur’an contains 11 chapters that were revealed in Mecca. They begin with a powerful description of the extent of Allah’s sovereignty over the heavens and the earth and a confirmation of the prophethood of Muhammad. There is a multi-dimensional exposition of the traits of a believer, beautiful descriptions of the place of rewards in the next life, and quite palpable accounts of the place of punishments.
This juz’ represents a step forward for students wishing to memorize the entire Qur’an. After one finishes the last 30th, they embark upon this section. My earliest memory of Surah al-Mulk is learning to read it from a Qur’an with large Arabic script not long after I had my first Arabic lessons in 1969. We would hold peer-to-peer practice sessions. “Ta baa ra kal la dhee be ya di hil mulk.” Each syllable spoke not only of the greatness of the Lord and the book that He sent down but also of our search, our quest for this new life that we had embraced and wanted to pass on to our children.
Those elementary lessons turned into daily recitations of the chapters that were recommended to be read after each prayer. My life had transformed from being a carefree college student with a busy social life and activist activities on the Howard University campus in the ’60s to being a stay-at-home wife and mom to a growing family in the ’70s. Assured that certain chapters guaranteed one’s daily bread and provision, I read those surahs every day – the chapter Yasin after Fajr and Al Waqi’a after Maghrib. We began the habit of reading the chapter, “The Kingdom” after the night prayer for protection in the grave and numerous other benefits.
My earliest memory of Surah al-Mulk is learning to read it from a Qur’an with large Arabic script not long after I had my first Arabic lessons in 1969.
The chapter, Mankind or The Time, has exquisite, heart-opening descriptions of the Garden of Paradise. It stimulates my intellect with its opening question, “Has there ever been a time that man was a being that was not remembered?” (76:1) It also connects us to the Ahlul Bayt of Rasulullah. Ali bin Abi Talib, his wife, Fatimah, their children, and their Ethiopian maidservant, Fizza, willingly gave up their precious iftar. “They give food, despite their need of it, to the needy, the orphan, and the captive” (76:8). It joins the two requisites of the sincere believer: worship and service. This sura is a positive, inspiring way to start the day. Rasulullah often recited it in the Dawn prayer.
In the chapter Al Muzzammil, we gain intimate knowledge of Prophet Muhammad’s worship in the night and practical guidance to perfect ours. I am encouraged that Allah gives plenty of leeway in the length of the recitation in the Tahajjud, that He accepts whatever I can give, and that just two raka’at in the night can be sufficient. This nightly retreat, this aloneness with my Lord is a welcome refuge from the day’s activities.
In Al Muddaththir, I see the call to service once worship is completed. “Rise and warn!” is Allah’s command to the messenger and to us as well. The challenges of carrying the message of Truth and the consequences that occur from its rejection are highlighted as well as the trials that are met in As Saqar. Our minds are occupied with the contrast and detail presented here. The closing ayahs of these two chapters emphasize Allah’s forgiveness and mercy and His sole ownership of the taqwa that my soul desires. I needed these assurances in my early years as my conscience sought tawbah, the repentance that I felt was so necessary after leaving the life of unbelief. Allah has not failed in the promises that were my lifeboat in those days.
This nightly retreat, this aloneness with my Lord is a welcome refuge from the day’s activities.
I love the almost biographical account of Prophet Nuh found in the chapter bearing his name. We listen to his conversation with his Lord and his admittance that his efforts were not working but instead had the opposite effect. He looked only to Him to resolve his difficulty. His love and concern for the few believers he had with him led him to ask Allah to put an end to the wrongdoers who would only corrupt them.
The longevity of his mission, 950 years in his lifetime of 2,500 years, is an example to the Black American Muslim community. The longevity of our efforts may not guarantee success in the way we intend but we can be assured that they will eventually bear fruit. We see, in our struggle in these United States, that progress occurs in small increments, even seeming to go backwards before advancing again. The 50-year-old battle for universal voting rights is now being re-fought. We see nothing but justice in Al Qur’an and we must hold on to the fact that it eventually materializes in a way that we may not be able to predict. If his mission to his people was unsuccessful, except with a few, Noah, himself, was successful in the example he left of endurance and the flexibility of methods he used to call them. The ark remains as a reminder that Allah carries through in all that He promises.
I am challenged by Sayyidina Nuh’s prayer to terminate the adversaries of truth once and for all (71:26-28) as contrasted with Rasulullah’s tolerance and forbearance with them, even as they persecuted him at Taif. Nuh saw their existence and their progeny as perpetuating corruption whereas our master Muhammad had hope that their coming generations would believe, as did indeed happen.
Certainly, in these chapters and others in this juz’ there is the guidance, assurance and prophetic example that the traveler to Allah seeks.
This reflection is part of Sapelo’s Ramadan 2021 series. To read other reflections in the series click here.
Ruqayya Ali was a romance language major at Howard University in the ’60s when she accepted Islam. Her thirst for learning the language of the Qur’an and Islamic spiritual disciplines took her and her family to many teachers and communities in the U.S. and finally to Indonesia where she lived for seven years. She now lives in her hometown of Philadelphia, Penn., where she continues to study and facilitate classes in Arabic and Islamic studies. She works in the causes of mental health, purposeful aging and food justice.