"No man can reveal to you aught but that which already lies half asleep in the dawning of your knowledge. The teacher who walks in the shadow of the temple, among his followers, gives not of his wisdom but rather of his faith and his lovingness. If he is indeed wise he does not bid you enter the house of his wisdom, but rather leads you to the threshold of your own mind.”
--Khalil Gibran, The Prophet
In previous blogs, I began a conversation with Shaykh Qays Arthur, titled, Toward Understanding Islam and Muslims. Currently, Shaykh Qays gives private lessons on worship and Islamic beliefs at his home in Amman, Jordan and via the website QaysArthur.net. In the conversation, we addressed monotheism, including several spiritual aspects on faith and guidance. This blog will address the issue of surrender or submission in Islam, and it will complete the section on faith and guidance.
Surrendering to God requires knowledge, and not just knowledge, but more importantly self-knowledge. In truth, you cannot surrender to God without knowledge. In this blog – I want to first explore the concept of surrendering to God, or submission, which has been misunderstood as nurturing a mindset of blind obedience, an inferiority complex or irrational belief.
Many of the conversations in the Qur’an aim to take us to the threshold of our own mind, the part that lies asleep, so we can stop, reflect, remember and understand. I found the conversations to be quite unique and upon reflection, God removes the masks we wear to expose our inner reality, layer by layer, to help us see ourselves and our arguments with more precision and reflection. Hence, as I explore surrender or submission to God, I will focus mainly on the importance of self-knowledge.
This conversation will focus in on a few verses of the Qur’an. The conversation is quite detailed and requires some thought and reflection. It is not meant for easy quick reading. It is quite long and will be posted in parts. If you can hold your questions til the end, as the conversation will first try to reconcile the previous discussions and then fully explain submission in Islam. I will address civil questions at the end.
Wazwaz: Shaykh Qays, I want to share with you some verses in the Qur’an regarding two groups of people and if we can focus on them for this conversation. Can you share your initial comments on the following?
(Qur’an al-Waqia: 80-86)
“A Revelation from the Lord of the Worlds. Is it such a Message that ye would hold in light esteem? And have ye made it your livelihood that ye should declare it false? Then why do ye not (intervene) when (the soul of the dying man) reaches the throat,- And ye the while (sit) looking on,- But We are nearer to him than ye, and yet see not,- Then why do ye not,- If you are exempt from (future) account,- Call back the soul, if ye are true (in the claim of independence)?”
(Qur’an Ta-Ha: 14-16)
"Verily, I am Allah: There is no god but I: So serve thou Me (only), and establish regular prayer for celebrating My praise.”Verily the Hour is coming - My design is to keep it hidden - for every soul to receive its reward by the measure of its Endeavour. "Therefore let not such as believe not therein but follow their own lusts, divert thee therefrom, lest thou perish!"
Shaykh Qays: From my reading the commentary on both, the verses in al-Waqia address a group of people who live in a world of rejection, and denial of the obvious. The Qur'an calls people to reflect on things that they are familiar with that ought to bring them to correct conclusions regarding truth. But people who are bent otherwise don't see it.
So the Qur'an advanced its argument to remind people about what it is that they ought to see by way of meanings as they experience life. One of the things I found interesting in the commentary of the verses in chapter Al-Waqia is how the Qur'an calls people to reflect on the moment of death. This was not an uncommon experience in the past but it has become something of a rarity in contemporary society. Such things as death are taught and seen from a “scientific” point of view. There is no reflection on it. Like living, death, we are taught, goes back to functions of systems: the nervous, circulatory, respiratory systems simply stopped functioning due to some mechanical cause. The philosophical assumption being that the human being is a machine in a universe that is a machine. But the Qur’an speaks to the meaning of it all, beyond the mechanics. And it speaks to people who see themselves not as machines but as human beings who are creatures of purpose and meaning. It calls us back to a distinctly pre-modern mindset based on the grit of real life and, in this case, the death experience. I find this to be something that is extremely powerful and needed.
People now, perhaps more-so the young, need to come back to fundamental questions like that of purpose. Such questions require real knowledge to answer; not trials, studies, and theories. Contrary to what many of us are taught we are not merely machines. This we learn from Revelation, the highest source of knowledge we have. The fact that we are similar to machines in terms of how we function does not mean that is the reality of who we are. The Qur'an calls us to be aware of ourselves, aware of our circumstances, connected to reality; mere machines can’t do what the Qur’an asks. Our circumstance - what does it mean? This verse of the Qur'an is calling humanity to look at or rather recall the theater of death, if you will. It reminds us about something that is traumatic and humbling in its certainty, that tells us about our reality, and is worthy of reflection.
So it may be said that what revelation is doing is teaching us to read the signs that Allah has placed within us, and around us. That is perhaps, in today’s world, the most needed type of literacy and education.
Wazwaz: In Al-Waqia - verse 82 – there is an emphasis on negating something in an obsessive manner. I read it as defining your life on negating something that you do not believe is true instead of acting on what you believe is true. Do you agree?
Shaykh Qays: Well an obsessive approach is not necessarily bad in itself - artists and craftsmen are sometimes said to be obsessive about their craft. Neither is rejecting something in itself bad. For example, God says to those who believe, love God more than anything else. Those who believe could thus be said to have an obsessive love for Allah, while those who disbelieve have obsessive love for their idols. Also, God describes believers as those who reject falsehood while those who disbelieve reject truth. I don’t see it as saying simply that believers have a positive approach that focuses on affirmation while disbelievers have a negative approach that focuses on rejection which seems to be what you are saying unless I misunderstood you.
Wazwaz: Let me clarify. What I am referring to is the lack of self-knowledge in people mentioned in the set of verses of Al-Waqia versus the people mentioned in Ta-Ha. One group is obsessed with rejecting and promoting the other as standing on falsehood, whereas the other people are focused and aware on what they believe. Is that clearer?
Shaykh Qays: The disbeliever strives to act on what he believes, not unlike the believer. And the disbeliever also strives to reject what they do not believe, like the believer. In our declaration of faith, for example, we start by rejecting or negating - there is no deity - then affirmation - except God - There is no deity except God. Our declaration of faith begins with an active rejection of all deities. Both groups, believers and unbelievers, engage in rejection and affirmation. The distinction between the two is that one group denies falsehood and affirms the truth while the other group denies truth and affirms falsehood.
Another clear distinction is in what you referred to as self-knowledge. One group is honest and submits to the truth, and is not in an oppositional state of mind when it comes to the truth. This is manifested in that they are people who are humble servants who accept who they are, while the other group is arrogant, stingy, self-serving and concerned with their livelihoods in this world and accumulation of wealth, and/or fame, prestige, or power in this world.
To say that the overall state of the believer is constant positive action on what he believes while the state of the disbeliever is constant negating is a partial truth since they both engage in rejecting and affirming.
(To Be Continued...)
This conversation is meant for education only. The internet is saturated with misinterpretations of the Qur'an and the term kafir, or disbeliever. Some ignorant Muslims also have done damage by also interpreting the verses based on their own ego and their own pathology.
According to Islamic teachings: "God will ask us about ourselves, not about what He should do with others." It is strictly NON-INVOLVEMENT. Saints and Prophets who are given Divine permission to appeal on behalf of others, appeal ONLY for DIVINE MERCY, not punishment. While they had tremendous desire to see people in heaven and saved, they did not deceive humanity, and clearly said they have NO POWER to protect anyone from God. They are given Divine permission to appeal for those who accept their station, and strive to follow them.
At the level of individuals, it is a major question as to what reaching and rejecting faith entail. This is why as Muslims, we cannot judge whether individual non-Muslims are in Hell — or, for that matter, in Heaven. Likewise of Muslims. As Muslims, we must also check ourselves if we are hypocrites or believers. Likewise for me, I cannot say I am destined for Heaven. I cannot say I am saved. I do not know my state. It is with awareness and not delusion that we read the Qur'an and reflect on our inner reality. For references to help understand this conversation see the following links from SeekersGuidance: rejecting faith 1, rejecting faith 2 and rejecting faith 3.