O those who are given the book… (4:47)

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ أُوتُواْ الْكِتَابَ آمِنُواْ بِمَا نَزَّلْنَا مُصَدِّقًا لِّمَا مَعَكُم مِّن قَبْلِ أَن نَّطْمِسَ وُجُوهًا فَنَرُدَّهَا عَلَى أَدْبَارِهَا أَوْ نَلْعَنَهُمْ كَمَا لَعَنَّا أَصْحَابَ السَّبْتِ وَكَانَ أَمْرُ اللّهِ مَفْعُولاً

O you who have been granted the book, be safe on account of what send down, [such that] there is confirmation of the truth of all that is with you, before We efface hopes and turn faces around or [that is to say] We curse them people in the manner are cursed those who deem themselves owners of time [i.e. the days of their lives]: and this [i.e. the effacing of hopes of those who claim ownership over things and their lives] is God’s command that is done [i.e. if you think about it, you can confirm this truth].

Who is the one given the book? what is the book? the one given the book is addressed. Insofar as I am the addressee of this address, I ask myself: what book have I been given? I am reading a book in which this verse occurs. So I could understand the verse talking to me as a recipient of this book i.e. the Quran. I can also say that since the speaker in the book is my maker, when He calls something a book, His creation i.e. my life is also like a book that He is authoring. When a maker or creator refers to the “book” he is giving to someone, it is understood that whatever this maker has made is part of the “the book” that He is writing. Since I come to the book called Quran in order to find the meaning of the book of my life, I think the verse is telling me: ‘Faraz, I know you want to make sense of your life and the world…it is like a book for you that you need to make sense of…it is like words and sentences but I know you struggle to understand what these words mean…if you are such a person..if you are someone for whom life and existence are like a book that need to be deciphered and whose meanings you need to understand, i am addressing you…’

The next three words represent the revelatory core of the verse…it says, ‘I know you are looking for safety and security..existential security…your condition is one of trauma and anxiety and loss….and let me tell you why you shall (and the end of the verse emphasizes that you MUST) always remain insecure and unsafe as a human being…it will be because you will try to find security in things themselves..in life itself…in the world itself..in things themselves…and when you do this, you will end up insecure..e.g. if you try to secure life for yourself by counting on your life itself, it will efface your hopes…and you know why?’

The verse presents to me a description of my problem or rather a claim about the source of all my insecurities and disappointments and thwarted hopes and turning of my joys into sorrows and pains (the following verse crystalizes this source of problems as ‘shirk’).

The three words, “find safety with/through what We send down” is offered as the solution this problem.

If I live by “my life” or “life itself” and try to be safe in such living i.e. try to keep living, i shall fail. Life which is mine or which is life itself, without being Life that is BEING SENT by One who must therefore be the Eternally Living One, shall pass. It shall abandon me. I shall lose it. I am always losing this kind of life. My hopes of living are thwarted. I cannot find safety in living a life that I am sure to lose. BUT, the verse claims, I CAN and SHOULD find safety in living LIFE as LIFE-That-the-EVERLiving-One is sending down. SUCH a life i.e. a life that is being sent by the Living ONE i.e. Life as it belongs to the Living One can be lived with safety because it cannot be lost. Life as lived “in the name of” the Living One is not lost and can be lived in safety. All of existence understood as being “sent” and thus always in the hands of the Absolute, Wise, Powerful Creator can be experienced as emissaries of the Ever-existent One with whom all of it is eternally preserved. To drink water as a messenger sent to quench my thirst and tell me about the merciful, living and life-giving maker is to drink water in the safety of realizing that one’s maker is merciful and intends to provide for one’s needs.

The Quran claims that the things that I do on a daily basis can either become a curse for me [as far as i can tell, the one’s who interact with things in the name of things themselves and do not see them as “being sent” by the maker are referred to as “the people of sabath] or they can be a means to attain security and safety that comes with being aware of the sender of those things.

The “rest” of sabath and the “holiness” of sabath are the rest and holiness that are related to seeing all things as being done/sent by the One who owns them. It is to see things in His name i.e. revealing who He is. It is to find one’s life to be safe with the Eternally Living One, all of one’s loves and desires to be safe with the One who owns those desires and all the things and beauties that would fulfill those desires and loves. It is to find the source of the things ‘as’ a sender of the things one sees and experiences and interacts with (including of course one’s own feelings and emotions). For instance, my anger takes away my safety if its just my anger. But an anger that is “sent”, for instance against something I see an unjust, brings news to me about the Just and Merciful One. It brings me the safety of having a source and owner who is just, who sees injustice and does not approve it and judges it wrong. In relating my anger as messenger of such a One, i find safety for myself and for those who may be suffering injustice before my eyes.

The curse of the people of sabath (which is me) is the curse that necessarily attaches to anyone who does not find safety in what is sent but tries (and fails..thats why it feels like a curse) to find safety without relating the thing to its sender, its source, God.

All human beings are people of sabath. That is to say, we are created in a way that we find rest in seeing an Ever-living One as the source of the life we live. We find safety in living when we live by life HE is sending to us. When we find Him, we no longer can lose life for we are now connected to the source of Life. We see the sender! Death is also something “sent” by Him. It is under His command. It is a created thing and not some unfortunate, dark force that ends life, as if randomly or without anyone’s knowledge or will or command. Our peace and rest and blessedness lies in seeing all things done by Him, in seeing that we (or other things) are not the REAL doers of what they do. Life cannot produce itself. It is being “sent” by someone. The Quran asks us to reflect and see that the One who is sending life to all things must be a Living One.

I have picked “Life” as what I may see as being “Sent” or as just there and not being sent. One can think of love, beauty, mercy, compassion, order, power and so many other things in the same way. Do I see these “being sent” and do I then find the One who sends them and find safety in Him (Iman billah) or do I see things as sources of their own qualities, not as being “Sent” (even as I may claim to believe in God etc) and therefore put myself in a situation of loss and misery?

Published by Faraz Sheikh

Faraz Sheikh

%d bloggers like this: