This is a general, overall reflection on chapter 96 of the Quran. Not a verse by verse translation but an overall response to the signs mentioned therein.
As someone made but so often not aware of his own contingent, created and dependent existence, I come to realize I am far…far from being able to meet my almost endless needs. This chapter is asking me to come nearer to meeting my needs by bringing me near to my source of existence.
Without revelation, I tend to think of myself and my situation in this way: I am going to acquire knowledge of what I need, knowledge about how those needs are fulfilled and then, with my knowledge and the collective knowledge of humanity, I shall secure my needs – material and emotional and ethical etc. I will relieve suffering. I will help others. I will take care of myself. I will love and be loved. I am knowledgeable and I will be enough! We, human beings, together, will be enough.
I toil and work hard. This self-interpretation as a self-sufficient, knowledge-able (capable of knowledge) being, aware of its needs, asks me to glorify my abilities and trust them to fulfill the needs I have as a human being. I put my trust in my knowledge because it does feel to me that it is my knowledge, that I have gained it and that it is under my control, at my disposal and there is no limit to what I can solve or attain with this knowledge. So it seems or so I imagine, scared of admitting how weak and vulnerable I am. To this self-interpretation, the Quran presents my maker’s description of me. Then, I am left to choose which I find true and meaningful. Chapter 96 is one place where my maker does this:
In chapter 96, he seems to say that I should read/gather meanings in the name of my sustainer who created. I am asked to see myself as a created being, by a maker who is sustaining me. This maker is the One who has the power, knowledge, wisdom needed to turn a clot of blood into a living, thinking, feeling, talking, conscious, spiritual human being! If I care to know who my maker is, I can look at myself and look at a clot of blood. I can see if that clot of blood has the knowledge, power, wisdom and mercy to create and then sustain a living being such as myself. If I do not find the clot able to do this (and the clot represents to me all the apparent ’causes’ I think are sustaining me – time, natural laws, my own body, air, water, enzymes and all kinds of entities without life, knowledge or any other abilities which I find with myself but which they do not have and could not endow me with), I am asked to realize that whoever sustains these (my life, my knowledge and all other qualities that are with me) is a bounteous lord. His is the knowledge with which I take care of the needs that He gives me. Whatever I learn or become aware of is being taught to me by this source of knowledge – my awareness of my needs is sustained by him, the One who meets those needs. He is the One who teaches me what I know. Whenever a need of mine is met – including the continuation of my existence and life – it is his knowledge of my need (he sees what I need and hence is able to fulfill it perfectly) that is responsible for it. His compassion and knowledge and bestowal are glorified in my needs being met (this is what Lordship or sustainership means). If I see air as the compassionate source that meets my need for life, air is my lord. And so on. In the Quran’s view, air (and other causes) are the “pens”, if you may, that write the meaningful words (e.g. life) for me to read. These words i.e. what is “taught by the pen” signify His lordship and compassion to me. The causes are the means not the sources of the meanings I gather. Should I glorify air as the source of life, I will be disappointed because air will not listen to me and cannot sustain my life as I get old and die. It is itself a created being, in need of being sustained in existence. It does its job but cannot exceed its limits. Thus I am asked to “return” to my Lord and see him and glorify him as the One who is sustaining me – meeting all the needs that He gives to me. I am asked to check and see which perspective on myself and my needs being sustained is the one that matches with my reality. Which one I, as a human being, find true. Is there any other being, other than the One who sustains all things at once, that I can count on for what I need? Am I not constantly brought back to the One who is the source of all things, things that themselves need to be sustained, so that through them my needs are met? I am asked to call out to all the things that I may take to be the sources of my sustenance (life, knowledge, wisdom, love, worth) and ask them if I shall be closer to meeting all my needs if I glorify them as sources of my existence or whether my placing my trust in them will lead me further away from securing my needs?
The Quran says that only the One who sustains all things, the One who has the reins of all things in his hands, is the One that is source worthy of my trust and glorification. It asks me to accept this One as my sustainer and as the One who is glorified in all kinds of sustenance that I receive (physical, emotional, intellectual). In prostrating to this One, instead of knocking on the doors of apparent causes, I am nearest to finding the sustainer who I can securely trust for meeting all my needs eternally. Only such a one, the one whose knowledge and power and mercy are constantly at work, serving me and helping me meet my needs, is the one I want to be close to. My prostration to this One is my refusing to see other things as the source of the sustenance I need. It is this prostration – laying all my needs at the feet of the One who is the source of all sustenance – that brings me closest to meeting my needs.
So what am I being asked to do? I am being asked to think about what or who I trust to fulfill my needs as a dependent and needy being. Who gives me these needs? Who sustains them? Why is there this dialectic – the creation of a need and then a meeting of it? What do relations between needs and the meeting of those needs tell me? The Quran says they tell me about the One, the sustainer, I need to (and can) get close to so that I can feel secure that all my needs, given by him, shall be met. I can come to know and trust him as the sustainer who meets all my need. I should look around and see all the sustenance taking place in the world in all its spheres – physical, emotional, spiritual – as signs to, and glorifications of, the One who is performing all the acts of sustenance. In the bird finding a worm, in my desire for pleasure at finding beautiful things, in the acts of injustice finding the requisite resistance and indignation – all acts of “sustenance” are His acts and can tell me who He is. And if I see all things and read them in His name i.e. revealing His names, I would find him glorified, I would glorify him and trust him and would want to be close to him.
what do you trust for the needs you find in yourself and why?