When I am engaging with my maker and seeking guidance from him, there aren’t any shallow and deep ends really. Concepts are connected and its only deep – Lord/sustainer, resurrection, angels, spirit. The order in which I present my engagements in this blog or in other blogs is not the same order in which I came to understand these things. So many questions need to be asked, so many choices need to be made. So much here and elsewhere is based (partially or totally) on ideas and interpretations that I heard from others and found to be compelling and true for me. The main point for me here is to see if there are truth and guidance for me from my maker in what the Quran says. I thought I’d start talking about this chapter of the Quran by something my brother experienced recently and shared with me. He looked at a picture of his two-year old daughter (who is now a teenager) that someone shared on our family whatsapp group and it made him tear up and cry- how quickly she had grown old, did he do all he could have done for her, what will happen next and, well, what is this life – beautiful things pass and leave, never to return, never to be found again and miss them so much etc. These are also my thoughts whenever I think about my life and my son and see old family pictures. The heart aches and breaks at the thought of not being able to bring back time or people who are now older or far or have died. What is the meaning of all this? That idea that people “live on” in the good things the do or in the memories of people who love and remember them is no consolation for me. It does nothing to heal my wounds. It is escapist and does not satisfy me as a human being. I turn to my maker for help.I write below as if I was my brother.
This is a longish read and it includes many interpretations of many Quranic verses and invokes, implicitly, many concepts in the Quran. Take the time you need to read it. It is long and perhaps likely not well-written. But it is important to me that I record what makes sense to me about what the Quran says to me, how it coheres (for me) with what it says elsewhere, how it guides me and heals me with what it says here and now allows me confirm the truth of its claims. Perhaps for you, my musings will be no more than curious but ultimately far-fetched and fanciful interpretations. That is fine. They make a lot of sense to me and addresses me where I feel the most need to be addressed by my maker. And all the alternative interpretations that I have encountered so far make far less sense to me than what I share below.
I sat there, looking at a picture of my daughter when she was around two. Now she is a teenager. She was so sweet, little. So young. Her little hands, innocent smile, sparkling eyes. Learning to talk. Seeking love and attention and giving love in return. Where is she now? That two year old! How time has flown by. I am older. She is older. Both different people. All that was so wonderful and full of life and youthful and joyful now a distant memory, a picture. And news of much more time that will fly by. Change that I wish I could stop. Time I wish I could stop. None of it I can do. I cannot live in the past so I keep walking to the drumbeat of time. Older, weaker, with less power to change more and more of my life which is sprinting away into a past. Young one’s getting busier with their own lives. I find myself weak, afflicted, wanting to hope, wanting to preserve all that was and is and will be beautiful but find not any of this in my power. Whether I close my eyes to escape into a brighter world I can imagine or I keep my eyes wide open to my reality, it is dark. Yes, it is very dark. And the clouds of darkness are the dark clouds of my impotence and utter helplessness before my needs. My heart cries for its many losses and separations. It longs for life, for beauty, for love, for peace. And it is this darkness that I bring to my maker.
He says ‘Indeed I made it descend on the night of power’! “Night of Power” is, to me, a contradiction in terms. My night is a night of weakness, of immense need, of deep wounds of loss and separation that change and death sear onto my heart every day. But it is curious and it draws my attention. A night of power! What do you mean? The second verse strikes me harder and I respond, “So you actually know that I have no idea what you are talking about!” My night is not one of power my maker, I respond. What am I missing here? You tell me! Tell me what to make of my tears and feelings as I look at the picture of my two year old daughter who is now a teenager, will tomorrow be older and is and will be in a world, will face all manner of things, and I won’t be able to protect her and be there for her in everything. And my daughter is one person. My house is dark. It is dark with so much impotence and powerlessness and helplessness. It is dark with an acute sense of not having the power to make everything right all at once when that is what I want, not only today and for everyone but make it right and good for all who ever lived anywhere and all who will ever live anywhere…even cats and dogs and plants and butterflies. Everything. My wounds stretch beyond my own lifetime and this place. These wounds they seem timeless and placeless. It is my soul that is hurting and is in darkness and suffocated not just my body. My life, which I did not give to myself, is a terrible struggle and a tragic story of broken promises, betrayal and loss. I was made to fall in love with beauty and made to love everything and made to love justice and so much else and then it was all taken away from me until at last I shall lose my life as well and will all the things that I love. From birth to death – a cruel joke! A tragedy that makes the heart weep until it breaks, only to re-assemble so that it can break again. What have you done my maker! What are you doing?
And he says, “this night of power I tell you about, it is better than a thousand months – a lifetime” So if I understood what it is, I respond, a lifetime of misery (or even more) could be addressed/healed/fixed? How? What descends on the “night of power”? Are you doing something that I need to see? My night of weakness and impotence can become a night of power? How?
And my maker says, “Malaika/angels and the spirit/al-ruh descend in it, with their sustainer’s leave and with commands that are peace/salam until the breaking of dawn/fajr”.
Now it isn’t immediately clear what I should make of this but if I am careful and think about what angels and “ruh”/spirit are in the Quran, I can say with some confidence and clarity and that they are the bearers of divine commands (amr) – they are the face of existence that looks to its maker and sustainer. They prostrate to Adam (me) so that Adam/I can witness glimpses/signs of the absolute and eternal Sustainer that they glorify and extol while I am still in a limited world of limited things. They are the interface between the limited and unlimited realm. They are, so to speak, the angelic, meaning-bearing aspect of things. They are the ‘soul’ of things, the meaning of things and messengers bearing a message from their maker and about their maker. If the flower is material substance, the beauty of the flower is a non-material reality that speaks of the one who makes is with beauty and the love or pleasure I feel in relation to this beauty is also an immaterial, angelic reality. The beauty of the flower or my daughter, insofar as it prostrates to me and tells me about maker of the flower/daughter as the owner, sustainer and the source of the beauty I love, it is represented in Quranic language by “angels.” When I love the same beauty as the beauty of the flower itself or the beauty of the relation between me and my daughter for instance, this attitude disconnects me from the source of that beauty and leaves me wounded when the flower dies or as my daughter grows old because, from such a perspective, the beauty disappears along with the thing and nothing is left. The heart finds this dark and intolerable – seeing such wonderful and meaningful things and disappear into non-existence is a disturbing tragedy. The powerlessness of beauty-bearing things to sustain themselves and my powerlessness to to do are my night. In this night, “it” is revealed. To me, the message of revelation is revealed in such a moment – to a heart in the throes of darkness.
Angels are also the commands of the maker – the Quran presents the world as the speech of its maker. Things are not the outcome of their own self-production or produced by the world or blind and powerless causes or the past or time. It is being brought into being and kept into being and changed and re-made with the ease and swiftness, with all its parts intact and perfectly fitting with the rest, as if it were a command getting fulfilled – as if (to use an analogy) a single command by a basketball coach gets all the players lined up and ready to play. It is this understanding of reality – the unseen command becoming manifest as world – that turns all beings in the world – including my two year old daughter – into outcomes of an eternal command. They make things into words being spoken by their maker and sustainer. Their “being” (ongoing existence, death and resurrection) is the word of their maker – all beings are words of the eternal and ever-living one, the come from Him as speech and constantly return to Him. Whatever is weak and dying and passing declares, when the Quran makes it speak to me, that it is not the source of its existence but rather it is actually a soul/spirit or meaning and is the result of the command of an eternally existent One who sustains it and is the source of all its qualities. What appears to pass is preserved, from this perspective (a bismillah perspective really) in the command and knowledge and qualities of the One who is their sustainer. Through the night of my helplessness and powerlessness to preserve the life and beauty of things that I love and the powerlessness of those things to sustain and preserve themselves, a window opens for me to look for and find the One whose knowledge, will and power and whose acts of sustaining and resurrecting are the source of a thing’s existence and whose beauty is the beauty manifest by all the things that I love as beautiful. The beauty that is from such a One returns to such a One. It does not go into non-existence. As a thing bearing beauty passes, the Beautiful One lives and the thing and their beauty return to the source of Beauty, whence it came/descended as a command and act of will, as angels and meaning/spirit.
My two year old daughter (everything that I love and treasure about her and about our relation), all that was beautiful yesterday and all of existence is preserved eternally. My five year old me is dead but not non-existence. When I see things existing and displaying their beloved faces to me as angels carrying the commands of their maker, I find myself in the presence of the eternal life-giver, sustainer, preserver, the beautiful One, the beloved here and now. The dawn/light of His eternal existence becomes accessible to me and I find myself and all of existence encompassed by his peace. The night of weakness is when the message of the Quran descends upon me. When nothing is the source of its own being and existence for me – if it were, it could keep itself in existence but it can’t and dies – and when I see all things as being brought into existence with all their qualities and sustained by the One whose Life, Power, beauty and all other qualities they make known and beloved (my daughter for instance) to me, my night becomes a night of power. My weakness and transience of things connects me to the living source of all beings and the source of all that is beloved in them. My love of my daughter is my love of the Ever-living, the everlasting, the all-beauteous source of all beauty. My love of all beautiful things is actually my love of Him and his names if I choose to love those things in His name, as the Quran asks me to do. That is to say, if I see that what I love about things and in things are indeed His names and not the qualities of the things themselves – I would find the peace that nothing goes into non-existence. Everything that comes from a beautiful One’s will is preserved in that will. When this meaning is revealed to me – and it is revealed on account of my night/weakness and the weakness of things to keep themselves in existence – I find my night to be a night of power and better than even the longest life whose end is non-existence and a life in which all beautiful and beloved things perish and leave me wounded. My life too passes but the One I have found does not pass or die. In him, all beauty is forever preserved for me insofar as I relate all things to the One who sustains them and who is the source of their beauteous and beloved qualities.
The night of power is possible. I can be aware of the angelic and resurrectionary nature of reality – it is being sustained constantly by the command of the One who must have power over all things at once – and the form of its existence and the relations between things in this world (for instance between me and my daughter) are making known the beautiful names of their sustainer which are, in Quranic language, the angels glorifying God. All the scattered and passing beings in the world now appear to me as signs to their maker and owner and sustainer and they make known this maker, my maker, to me and all my loves are united in Him so nothing is scattered and everything gathered and preserved in Him. In my relation and connection to him, my awareness of him, I find peace. When beings exist as words being spoken by the eternal, living and beauteous one, they do not perish but return, from my perspective, to their speaker. One moment of this realization is better for me than a thousand months of life and beauty that just happen to be and then pass into nothingness.