Is zeal/reverence enough? (13:19 & 25:72-73)

I understand from the Quran that I get from it what I ask for and I ask for what I need to understand and I need to understand only that which I can acknowledge I don’t already understand and acknowledging I don’t understand is like acknowledging one does not see what one wants to see or that one thinks I should see because of all that one knows and what one has been told. To acknowledge that one does not see, one has to (implicitly or explicitly) say “no” to what one had taken to be something valuable and “yes-worthy”. Many find this difficult. A false, unthinking excitement seems to many to be more pious and acceptable to God than a rejection of what is false and then, upon rejection of the false, to witness or affirm the truth. But those who try to find ease in the remembrance of whatever their forefathers, their scholars, their tradition, their culture or the Quran (without them knowing if its true or not) tell them as worthy and valuable and meaningful cannot find, if I understand the Quran’s claim correctly, guidance and light from what is revealed in the Quran. They have not approached revelation with the requisite sincerity and humanity. If someone is ready to say yes to everything without reflection or confirmation, they cannot honestly and meaningfully say yes to anything because they wouldn’t know the difference! I am speaking of the first-person perspective. I am not calling people liars. I am saying that when a person does this, they find themselves this way.

I see all around me all the time the disease of constant repetition of Quranic verses without understanding. People have convinced themselves that they do not have to know that what is revealed in the Quran is true or not. They think they can repeat what the Quran says (so for instance when the Quran says, God created everything with a purpose, people find it acceptable to repeat, “yes! God created everything!” without feeling that such repetition does nothing to help them know if the revealed claim is true or not. It is, as if, people have already despaired of the possibility of telling truth from falsehood, as if their maker has not given them this ability and as if He just wants them to repeat the Quran’s verses and say that they believe. They imagine this is being guided by revelation. When they should have asked “is the world created?” And what does it mean that “everything” is created by a single source?” I ought to have first asked if that this is not how I experience the world or understand it already? If I already live as a created being and if I am already aware of all things being created, I don’t need anyone to tell me this. And if not, then I need to acknowledge that I am someone who does not see how anything is actually created? What does it mean for a thing to be created?

I should then be moved to reflect on each thing and ask if it does or does not have the ability, power, capacity, wisdom etc, to exist and to remain in existence and to perform the tasks it does and, in my own case, to feel the needs and desires that I find in myself etc. In short, the claims of revelation need to be known to be true. This is a reasonable expectation (at least agreeable to my reason) that the Quran makes explicit in 13:19 in no uncertain terms.

أَفَمَن يَعْلَمُ أَنَّمَا أُنزِلَ إِلَيْكَ مِن رَبِّكَ الْحَقُّ كَمَنْ هُوَ أَعْمَى إِنَّمَا يَتَذَكَّرُ أُوْلُواْ الأَلْبَابِ

Is the one who knows that whatever has been bestowed from on high upon you by your Sustainer is the truth equal to one who does not see this? This is what they remember, the one’s who think and reflect.

So it is clear to me, and reasonable to me, that the Quran expects its addressee to think about its claims and see/know the truth of its claims instead of being blindly loyal to it. If you need a more direct reference to Quran’s view on how it is not to be engaged, listen to this (I have a feeling you haven’t heard this verse much from those who are apparently excited about the Quran). 25:72-73 say,

الَّذِينَ لَا يَشْهَدُونَ الزُّورَ وَإِذَا مَرُّوا بِاللَّغْوِ مَرُّوا كِرَامًا

And [know that true servants of God are only] those who never bear witness to what is false,  and [who], whenever they pass by frivolity, pass on by way of dignity;

وَالَّذِينَ إِذَا ذُكِّرُوا بِآيَاتِ رَبِّهِمْ لَمْ يَخِرُّوا عَلَيْهَا صُمًّا وَعُمْيَانًا

and who, whenever they are reminded of their Sustainer’s messages, do not throw themselves upon them unthinkingly and blindly.

There is hardly anything more damagingly frivolous to me than people repeating culturally learned stories, mixing those unverifiable stories (e.g. Muhammad being in some cave) with literally repeating verses from the Quran (e.g. the heavens and earth accepting or rejecting some trust when it was offered to them at the beginning of time). Such speech, no matter how well-intentioned and no matter how beloved a person’s mouth it issues from, is meaningless and frivolous to me. And I choose to pass by it and preserve the dignity of meaning and truth. If there is a verse in revelation about heavens and the earth being offered a trust, I have to read this in a way that I can confirm it as a truth from my Lord here and now. What guidance does it’s truth offer me here and now? I cannot separate guidance from truth. If its not verifiably true, I can’t be honestly guided by it no matter how much I wish or claim to be guided by it. To excitedly, devotedly, piously BUT blindly (without really hearing and seeing the truth of the verses) throwing myself upon the verses in baseless adoration and excitement is not something I find agreeable in my soul and not something I find agreeable to the One who speaks in the Quran.

If you are reading this and you are someone excited about the Quran and excited about finding guidance and truth through it, be careful not to let this excitement blind you to what the message asks of you: knowing that it is truth from your Sustainer. Every sign and every verse would need to be affirmed as true for my claim (that I find truthful guidance in it) to be an honest claim and not a lie and not frivolous speech that brings no security to the heart.

Published by Faraz Sheikh

Faraz Sheikh

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