Now remember this: i am the one in need of guidance because i am hurting. the “guidance” is, the Quran claims, is the messenger’s perspective that, again the Quran claims, I need to have/follow to stop hurting myself and to find peace and security.
Solomon is the messenger here. Where is Solomon? It is a perspective. So it is, for now, in the text, until I, the reader, take it as my perspective. It is in the ayat of the quran.
Can I track this perspective? can I understand it? do I find myself addressed by and in need of such a perspective? how can I get it? what do i need to do to have this perspective? what is involved in attaining it? what is the outcome? is the outcome of having this perspective something that I , as a human being, needed and wanted?
As to what is involved? birds and their speech is involved. A bird, Hudhud and its absence and re-appearance is involved. Hudhud’s description of what it saw “while away from Solomon” is involved, a ruler/queen, her officials and her people are involved, the sun is involved, prostrations to the sun are involved, an invitation/message from the messenger is involved, an offer of gift and its rejection (from the messenger’s perspective) are involved, a claim of irresistible power of the messenger (i.e. a messenger’s perspective) is involved, an illusion of sorts is involved (the expanse of water that is glass), bared legs are involved and a queen’s declaration is involved. Many things are involved. And it all begins with me. I am the one in front of this text as a person looking for peace. Looking to NOT hurt. I should be ready to not only bring my human hurt to my maker, i must bring the willingness to understand myself and my hurt through His description. I must be willing to put on the messenger’s glasses and look at myself and my pain in that light. THEN i can decide to throw away the glasses if I dont like what I see. But I can’t say: first show me why I should put on these glasses, then I will put them on. I cannot see except what I already see, except what other beings can show me. And what they show me does not satisfy me. It is precisely because of my despair with human explanations of their own predicament (and hence mine) that I am turning to my maker. He should describe and I must listen to the description (i.e. put on the glasses he offers to me) to see what he is showing me. Only after I have seen it can I really honestly decide if I want to keep those glasses on or throw them away. The one who does not proceed in this way is bound to repeat his own already-existing understandings even if they appear to be “reading” revelation or using terms/words/stories that occur in the text. They have closed themselves to the possibility of a transformation of perspective from the very start, despite their vociferous claims about how much they really want to and how much they actually take “guidance” from the quran. anyways, i have to worry about myself. And i am clear about this much: i need to be ready to see what the messenger, my maker’s messenger, is here to show me.
Since I will have to spread discussion of these verses over a couple or more blogs, i have time here to say the following:
One, i realize and hope you do too that there are a LOT of things involved here – the bird, the queen and so on. There is a level of difficulty and detail here that can put off the casual reader, drive away or make tired the person who does not have everything, their wellbeing and life, at stake in understanding the message or guidance here. It also (mis)leads the casual reader (a reader not before the text because of matters of ultimate significance) to focus on the “story” and the “characters” and, in short, literary appreciation/gratification. To those who take those routes, those may be excellent things to do. For me, these are salutary features of a message that makes me question myself: “do you really want to do this?” c’mon. this is too much. who knows what these things really mean! just give up. go somewhere else. ask someone else. the maker’s speech is too obscure! there is no way I can get the “real” meaning” etc etc. My answer to these suggestions is: I am here to either prosper or perish. I am not going to turn away from my maker to what he has made. the meaning i need is for me, for my questions and my hurt, not some “objectively” true meaning or exegesis that I can wow people with or hit people on their head with…whether i am going too far with the text or not is something will be determined by my sense of my problems and whether i can be sure that my maker is talking to me here and saying something that actually helps me when i understand x and this and y as that. I refuse to be overwhelmed by the apparent difficulty or complexity of the message.
Second, i realize that faced with complexity, one prominent human response is to seize the opportunity to develop “expertise” and “experts”. The expert will tell me what all this means. And to this i say this: surely time and effort are needed to make sense of anything. not all my have them equally. so some may say things about a text that others will hear or read. but the truth is that even if you hear someone else’s understanding of a text (such as these verses) and even if you agreed with their views, you would still need to map those understandings onto your life and questions and that will be your work to do. and if find yourself disagreeing with what someone says, it will be your task to find the meanings that do bring guidance to you. in short, don’t listen to anyone (including me here) to follow. you can’t even if you tried. someone else’s answers cannot be yours. you cannot copy someone’s else’s meaning for their life. you CAN try to replicate if you like what the meaning they have or modify etc. SO, even if you found the text too complicated and forbidding to relate to your life and problems and you want to hear another’s engagement, remember that after you have heard it, you have just seen an example of ONE way the text speaks to someone (me in this case). You must still ask the text to speak to you (either in the same way, if you like what how it speaks to me or in some different way if you don’t like what you hear etc).
just one tip that i have for myself and you: the whole should still make sense. so let’s not interpret specific things in ways that we can’t put the whole together in any coherent way. To give a simple example, dont interpret the queen of sheba as your aunt who, in your view, “worships money” and then find yourself incoherent about how/when said aunt exposed her legs or which officials she was consulting etc. the elements should cohere otherwise the specific meanings, no matter how compelling, will eventually lose their appeal and will not make sense.