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Conversation with Qays Arthur on Faith and Guidance 5b

  • Blog Post by: Fedwa Wazwaz
  • September 8, 2012 - 5:51 AM
"To David We gave Solomon (for a son),- How excellent in Our service! Ever did he turn (to Us)! ... And he enjoyed, indeed, a Near Approach to Us, and a beautiful Place of (Final) Return."  (Qur'an 38:30...40)
 
Due to the length of this conversation, I split it into parts.  In the first part, we introduced Prophet Solomon, upon him peace and the Queen of Sheba.  The introduction can be read here.
 
Before I continue, let me clarify something.  There is a difference in the understanding and view of the Prophets in the Qur'an and the Bible.  According to Islamic teachings, the prophets are sinless and the negative attributes and actions associated to them are not accepted as true.  The Qur'an tells their stories, so Muslims can learn from them how to be true and follow in their footsteps as the Prophets are the light and the way to God.  There are two articles on SeekersGuidance that help to clarify the view that Islam has of them:
 
 
Whenever we seek to learn anything, we always study or seek out the experts.  From math, sports or to cooking, we seek out the best in the field if our aim is to be the best in that field.  Likewise, in faith.  Studying and reflecting on what extremists do, does not help one to understand Islam.  To understand faith - the conversations must engage in depth on the journeys and inter realities of the prophets, truth seekers and those brought near to God.  Hence, let us continue with the conversation.
 
Wazwaz: The Queen of Sheba, whose name is Bilqis comes with a gift, to meet Prophet Solomon, upon him peace.  In this verse, Prophet Solomon was not moved by the "abundance in wealth." Throughout history and today, narcissists wage wars to steal the resources of towns or countries. The internal reality of both, Bilqis and Solomon, upon him peace, was seeking to benefit the other, and not enslave or abuse the other. He is not, like typical kings, thinking of how he can take over and make the noblest the weakest. How do you understand his response?
 
Now when (the embassy) came to Solomon, he said: "Will ye give me abundance in wealth? But that which God has given me is better than that which He has given you! Nay it is ye who rejoice in your gift! (27:36)
 
Shaykh Qays: Some of it has to do with diplomatic protocol of the time. When monarchs engaged with each other they sent/brought gifts to solidify their intent since the default position was war. If a nation was not fighting it was preparing itself for the next fight. That was the historical and political reality. Lavish gifts were often goodwill gestures, peace offerings or not-so-subtle indicators of the wealth and power of the sender. Such offerings were either accepted or rejected according to the party’s perceived intent and how the relationship was developing. 
 
Sometimes corrupt rulers would kill the emissary and seize the gift. Whatever the response the sending party would know what kind of rulers they were dealing with. Solomon, upon him peace, rejected the wealth and indicated his intent to march and conquer in God's way. He would not be appeased by what he saw as a pompous show of wealth to which he was unattached being a prophet and a man of deep spirituality
 
The important point here, again, is his directed-ness to God. The abundance of wealth was meant to impress him - but it did not impress him or sway him. Queen Bilqis had an apprehension regarding what kind of King he was from his peculiar letter with a clearly religious intent. Much of what she did was to test him. Likewise, he was testing her.
 
Wazwaz: We hear a lot of criticism regarding the verse in the Qur'an in chapter 9 where, in a battlefield, Muslims were ordered to subdue their enemy to the rule of law. If we reflect on the description of the political reality of oppression-- to quote the Queen of Sheba: "Kings, when they enter a country, despoil it, and make the noblest of its people its lowest thus do they behave" --we find that when true faith has power, - it repairs that social oppression. Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad gives more depth in the lectures here.  When true of faith are given power it brings the worst of people to follow the rule of law. The word in chapter 9, which most Islamophobes use to argue that Islam seeks domination, is saghiroon (to make small). Here Prophet Solomon (upon him be peace) uses that same word.
 
Based on Queen of Sheba's description of kings, one can understand many rulers at the time were corrupt because they acted without any sense of accountability to anyone. They are oppositional in nature and attached to power. Prophet Solomon, upon him peace is dealing with people who are aggressive and defiant in nature, so they have to be put in a humbled state to bring law and order and subdue their aggressive nature.
 
"Go back to them, and be sure we shall come to them with such hosts as they will never be able to meet: We shall expel them from there in disgrace, and they will feel humbled (saghiroon)." (27:37)
                                                                                                                
Do you agree?
 
Shaykh Qays:  Well, rulers of the past didn't have the instruments of state that are available after several industrial and technological revolutions. Modern instruments of state that rely on quantum leaps in technological advancement facilitate an unprecedented levels of control that obviate, for the most part, the use of trauma, humiliation, and fear to establish rule and control. In the past, conquerors had to establish rule by force to bring law and order. There was no UN or nation-states or, might I add – corporations - as we know today. The rule of a ruler, whether just or otherwise, was only enacted after subjugation of those he conquered. That subjugation could come by way of consensus because the people are organized and they have a leader and the leaders submit or through more traumatic means. Queen Bilqis' people were organized having had a court and a leader. But often - there were only loose tribal structures where any political change or disruptions quickly lead to chaos. War not only destroys physical structures but social ones as well. Today, we see it now for example in Libya. Libya was not a firmly established state by modern standards. Qaddafi had his own Arab, pseudo-socialist system in place. The institutions were not as well organized and structured as other modern states. So when he was removed – pandemonium quickly spread. Past rulers generally operated in a similar manner, so to prevent chaos and anarchy after conflict it was necessary to exert sheer power to subdue everyone to order.
 
So saghiroon may be said to refer to a post-modern form of rule of law but the context needs to be understood. The Qur'an is giving guidance concerning the political reality of war and chaos in pre-modern conflict and warfare and that does still often apply today. The term “rule of law” is a loaded term with distinctly modern implications, and there may be some misunderstanding if saghiroon is applied to it without properly unpacking and contextualizing the discussion. 
 
So for someone to take such verses and say they indicate that Muslims seek to subjugate people, is simply not fair. If the Qur'an said nothing about such matters – then we would be without needed guidance addressing the reality of conflict and war and people would not know the limits. Through the exchange between the Queen of Sheba and Solomon (and through many other incidents and verses) the Qur'an expounds on how nations fight, as opposed to how they ought to fight and win and establish rule. The difference is that the believers are directed to God like Prophet Solomon, upon him be peace, and are told to observe the limits of God. The limits of God are the higher rules of war, peace, and everything in between. 
 
Wazwaz:  You discussed how the Queen was testing him, and now let us discuss how he was testing her.  He asks for his forces to bring her throne - to test her. And it is a beautiful test. He does not test her to see if she has ever said a wrong word or did a wrong deed. He does not test her to see if she is like him and thinks like him and is willing to assimilate to his culture. It is a beautiful test. He hides the image of her throne - its beauty, its grandeur and honor. In reality, she is being tested to see if she is true to her people or one who seeks power and glory. Notice, he also puts her throne in front of the palace - leading one to understand that he was not seeking to dethrone her. Faith, true faith does not fear a woman in power or a person of no faith in power. The antagonism is directed toward people who are oppressors, as faith has a responsibility to repair the social oppression of narcissists and little people.
 
Her response shows that she was also testing King Solomon, upon him peace to see if he was interested in elevating her and her people or seeking power over them and their resources. When she found her throne it spoke volumes to her that he was not seeking to make the noblest of her people into the little people - hence she embraced Islam. Can you reflect on the following verse:
 
Said one who had knowledge of the Book: "I will bring it to thee within the twinkling of an eye!" Then when (Solomon) saw it placed firmly before him, he said: "This is by the Grace of my Lord!- to test me whether I am grateful or ungrateful! and if any is grateful, truly his gratitude is (again) for his own soul; but if any is ungrateful, truly my Lord is Free of all Needs, Supreme in Honour!" (40) He said: "Transform her throne out of all recognition by her: let us see whether she is guided (to the truth) or is one of those who receive no guidance." (41) So when she arrived, she was asked, "Is this thy throne?" She said, "It was just like this; and knowledge was bestowed on us in advance of this, and we have submitted to God (in Islam)." (42)
 
 
Shaykh Qays: He was testing her character and she was doing likewise as Imam Baghwi and others mentioned in our books of Tafsir. Both parties were sincere and genuine and by that point they were both directed to God. Queen Bilqis' empire was symbolized in her beautiful throne. She was not attached to her throne and recognized it despite the change to its appearance. Furthermore, she was not moved by its presence where it was not supposed to be. She was somewhat casual yet cautious in her response, saying “it seems/is like it” which the scholars of Tafsir mention showed the strength of her intellect as well as non-attachment to the world since she stopped short of expressing certainty when what was apparent didn't indicate certainty. 
 
Wazwaz: Can you expand on
 
"It was just like this; and knowledge was bestowed on us in advance of this, and we have submitted to God (in Islam)." (42)
 
Shaykh Qays: We find a reference to knowledge in Solomon's court and in the court of the Queen of Sheba. The Queen's testing Prophet Solomon was like Salman al Farisi when he came to Medina with foreknowledge to test Prophet Muhammad, upon him peace and blessings. He was given knowledge of what to look for from the Christian priest. Similarly, she was given knowledge of how to test him from her spiritual advisers. We do not know what it was in its entirety but Imam Razi and other mention that signs and the conduct of Solomon himself were taken into account - but it was to test his sincerity, genuine and truthfulness and by the time the Queen reached Solomon and beheld her own thrown she was already convinced of the truthfulness of his claim of prophet hood. Everything that she knew and was advised to look for was there so she did what a sincere person of integrity does - when the writing is on the wall - you submit to it.
 
That is a journey of faith - it is not acting on a lust for power, oppositional or defiant tendencies or a desire to retain power. Someone like Pharaoh would have denied the whole thing even though his advisers gave him sincere advice on what to look for. He was advised and saw the writing on the wall, but he rejected it. His was a severe, twisted egoism. The Qur'an calls it arrogance. Arrogance needs props to reinforce the self and promote the ego. That is why power is sought and the more the ego gets, the more it craves. Then after excess upon excess and persistent immortality the spirit and the heart dies and the truth becomes meaningless to it.
 
In contrast to Pharaoh and his power, Prophet Solomon was not attached to the power he was given. In contrast to Pharaoh and his arrogance, when Queen Sheba saw the truth she submitted.
 
Wazwaz: If we take another look at the same verse - and again reflect on Prophet Solomon's inner reality: gratitude. The argument of no faith in a nutshell is reliance on the self, whereas the argument of faith in a nutshell is reliance on God. Prophet Solomon was himself tested with his own power - which was given to him by God. Can you comment on his response?
 
"This is by the Grace of my Lord!- to test me whether I am grateful or ungrateful! and if any is grateful, truly his gratitude is (again) for his own soul; but if any is ungrateful, truly my Lord is Free of all Needs, Supreme in Honour!" (27:40)
 
Shaykh Qays:  Often in the Qur'an - gratitude is associated with faith and is contrasted with lack of faith which is associated with ingratitude. What we see in the verses you mentioned is power and knowledge joined with faith and gratitude, not delusion and ingratitude. We see in the actions and states of Solomon that the limits of God are heeded.
 
Anyone who learns anything has to be on guard regarding arrogance, since knowledge enables power, as we mentioned earlier with regard to the ego. What we learn from Solomon is only by being sincere, by constantly remembering God, being directed to Him and being grateful that guidance will come from the gaining of knowledge and the exercise of power. 
 
Wazwaz: What are some your final comments given our discussion? Anything you like to add?
 
Shaykh Qays:  This discussion is important to emphasize the importance of integrity in faith. Muslims need to have integrity and be people of true virtue when tested with the glitter of this world if our claim to faith is to be proven true as individuals and collectively.
 
When rituals and rites are practiced as they ought to be, with a directed-ness to God, and the decisions that we take in life – shall we consume interest or not, shall we cheat a little here and there or not, shall we break our contracts or simply ignore them or not – also have that directed-ness and when we repent for our moral failings and move on from them. We need to follow the footsteps of righteous people like Queen Bilqis, and Prophet Solomon.
 
Faith requires such integrity and perpetuates it - at the individual level first and then at the collective level. What perpetuates integrity isn't merely reason, but rather it comes when the human being can act outside of himself and his immediate self-interests and gaze at the Eternal. Solomon said, “O my Lord! So make me that I may be grateful for Thy favors.” When the human can smash idols of self, tribe, power, wealth or anything which, like he or she, is created and return instead to God with gratitude, hope, and longing - that is Religion.
 
So the Islamic testimony of faith, “There is no deity but God” is about that kind of human integrity. It is a declaration that there is no ultimate goal, entity or ego that I will turn myself to internally and externally apart from God, who is entirely unlike His creatures. It calls us beyond ourselves and the frustrating, stress-inducing transience of this world to the Perfect, the Divine who we are created to recognize as the Queen of Sheba recognized. For she was a person of integrity who knew, and acted like she knew, that life is about much more than the “stuff” we see around us like her throne.
 
And we ask Allah for guidance, success and bliss eternal.
 
#end

Additional resources regarding Warfare in the Qur'an can be found in PDF files located at SeekerGuidance here.  Both Qibla and SeekersGuidance offer classes for anyone wanting to explore the journeys of other truth seekers in Islam.  You are also welcome to visit your local Mosques and have face to face conversations with local teachers and Muslims.

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