Who or what is my Pharoh? What detains and enslaves me? What seas drown me? What kind of loyalty and what vision of strength and power enchants me and makes me feel secure? Can I count on my powers, my leaders, my knowledge, my tradition, my “joining forces against some common enemy” to provide me purpose and security as a human being? What do I trust to deliver me to safety? Do I see that I am in need of a power/strength that is also merciful? What kind of power and mercy do I need to be delivered from things that enslave and, should I try to break free from them, torture and incapacitate me?
The first 67 verses of surah al-shu’ara (chapter 26) raise a lot of questions for me. When I read them, I feel I need to reflect about myself, what kind of creature I am, what limitations and constraints and insecurities I find myself subjected to and what can help me reach security. The verses about the party of Moses and Pharoh, about the liberation of those with Moses (ashab al-Musa) and the destruction of the others (al-akhirin) are signs for me to reflect about. A scene is painted for me and each aspect of it indicates (or rather, should indicate) truths that I can witness and that therefore guide me. In this sense, I find myself first and foremost interested to see if I am indeed among the bani israel of the Quran, with a Pharoh as my deity/ilah and if what Moses offers to me is a liberation I want. Is it true that I am among the people of Pharoh and is it true and better that I am, with Moses and among those following Moses, saved by the clear signs (ayat bayyinat) Moses shows to me.
The first two verses 26:1-2 indicate that, Firstly, signs are to be expected in what follows and that I, the addressee, can understand them and relate to them. These signs point clearly to (and reveal the reality of) my existence and how I find myself in this world. They should the book of my life clearly. Now, as a reader, I find that the book of my life is not at all clear to me. Everything is rather obscure. I am not sure what to make of myself and my life. I don’t know what to make of my attachments and hopes and fears. The reality and purpose of my life is not at all clear to me and so the text’s claim that I should expect signs of a book that is clear i.e. that will clarify what is not clear to me resonates with me. This is what I expect from revelation to do. I am the revelation’s door for clarification really. I am asking my maker – can you please clarify what you are doing, because I can’t make much of it. “Ayat al-kitab al-mubin” is a claim that the verses of this book are signs, should I understand and follow them, will clarify things for me so that, if they do, I can confirm that these are verses of the clear book. If the book clearly indicates the truth, the indications will be, for me, the indications of a clear book. I understand that my maker tell me these are signs of a clear book to acknowledge that I am looking for clarity and freedom from opacity and confusion. The Quran will make my life and my existence speak to me and I should see if it makes my existence speaks less obscurely than it currently does. If my life is made to speak clearer by the signs of this book, then I should/will confirm that these are signs of a clear book. The clarity of the book that is the Quran is to be confirmed by the clarity that its “signs” (the things it points to) bring to my life.
Secondly, I don’t understand the “mu’minin” of the second verse to simply mean “believers.” What does “believer” mean? Since I understand iman to mean security or safety, I understand the verse’s reference to “they do not attain security” no matter how much I, the addressee, kill myself, to mean that none of my many insecurities and obscurities and hopes and needs find security or safety no matter how much I torment myself and how much I try to resolve them on my own. I am tortured by my inability to find security. The verse asks me to check with myself: am I secure? Do I feel secure that all my heart’s needs and my humanity’s needs and desires will be met? Am I troubled and tortured here? Do I find myself looking for security and fulfillment of all my desires and needs and none find that safety and fulfillment no matter how much I wish that they do. And my answer is Yes! I indeed wish I was not tortured and I could feel safe that all that I can get all that I want (or rather find myself wanting) and this includes everyone else getting all they want. It is part of my wants that all others also get what they want. I do not want any deprivation of any kind for anyone, human or otherwise. So the mu’minin is both all aspects and needs of mine that want safety and all others who also want, but lack, safety, not matter how much I want it for them. The verse also means that whoever is God’s messenger, it/they are tortured at my lack of finding security. It seems the messengers are there to bring me to safety. For me to not find safety therefore is, as if, a failure of their mission and purpose. The “torture” of the messenger in the face of lack of security/iman is mentioned so that, from it, I understand that the purpose of the messenger is really to bring me to safety in all the ways that i want safety. I expect, then, deliverance unto safety from this message. This matches my expectation from revelation from my maker.
Why did you do this to me, my maker, I ask? Why don’t you just make things clear for me and relieve me? Why do I find myself insecure and abandoned and left with wishes that I find no way of realizing fully?
The third and fourth verses make a claim, I think, as an answer to my question. They say: if only [youm Faraz, saw everything] as willed by me! If only, for you, it was “We” who sent down signs. If only it was, for you, ME/WE sending down all things (material or otherwise) as signs pointing to me, as reminders of MY compassion and mercy for you and if only you didn’t turn away from these ever-renewed reminders and just received my signs in humility and acceptance (of my compassion), you would have been just fine! you would not be tortured and insecure as you are now. But you didn’t see them as willed by Me. You turned away from the reminder/sign. You used my creation in another way, not as signs sent by me, pointing to me.
Verse 5 says to me: You know, this was not a small or inconsequential error. You gave a lie to my signs and it is, as if, you derided them, saying to them “you are no signs! you are just you. here now and then gone!” you are frivolous beings, coming and going. You have no purpose with which anyone sent you to me. My signs came to you bearing messages about me and you told them “get lost! you bear no message! ha ha ha” You trivialized existence so that produced your torture: when you made everything nothing and purposeless, you too became purposeless in your own eyes. Your life and your desires and hopes became a torture for you – you think they have no purpose and yet they do not leave you alone. You cannot stop suffering from purposelessness and absurdity. Can you?
Interestingly, verse 7 and 8 point to the blessed pairs of all kinds of growth on earth, related to the water, a “sign” that He sends down all the time as a sign of His mercy, which I regularly disregard as mere rain and “mere/natural” vegetation, plants and animals. With these pairs, I could have seen how the One who creates, creates in pairs (each need is created with that which meets that need). I would have seen that my need for security and all my needs look to His compassion and mercy for their fulfillment. They point to Him. That it was His power and mercy that my needs were to be “paired” with in order for me to find safety and security. It was the sustainer, the One who created the plants in pairs (male and female) on the earth, as I can observe, that was the One who was almighty and compassionate. Whoever grew plants in pairs was both powerful over each species of beings and merciful so that it paired them to demonstrate He can make a thing whole, that He can meet the needs He creates, that the Whole (perfection, completion) is in His hands and from His compassion. BUT, many (like myself) do not see this and do not find security in these signs! The signs are indeed there but I don’t see them. Why? What do I do to myself that I do not see the signs? Well, in short, I give deity to other than the One who creates and wills all things into being and sends every-renewed messages. And so my maker narrates to me signs about Moses and Pharoh. More on this later….