أَلَمْ تَرَ إِلَى الَّذِينَ قِيلَ لَهُمْ كُفُّواْ أَيْدِيَكُمْ وَأَقِيمُواْ الصَّلاَةَ وَآتُواْ الزَّكَاةَ فَلَمَّا كُتِبَ عَلَيْهِمُ الْقِتَالُ إِذَا فَرِيقٌ مِّنْهُمْ يَخْشَوْنَ النَّاسَ كَخَشْيَةِ اللّهِ أَوْ أَشَدَّ خَشْيَةً وَقَالُواْ رَبَّنَا لِمَ كَتَبْتَ عَلَيْنَا الْقِتَالَ لَوْلا أَخَّرْتَنَا إِلَى أَجَلٍ قَرِيبٍ قُلْ مَتَاعُالدُّنْيَا قَلِيلٌ وَالآخِرَةُ خَيْرٌ لِّمَنِ اتَّقَى وَلاَ تُظْلَمُونَ فَتِيلاً
“Have you not seen/considered the ones…”
If my maker says/asks this, how should i understand it? If you listen to me, understand it as referring to something in you that you don’t see and are being asked to see. That is how I read it. The maker speaks about what he has made (and is making). The people are mentioned in an ayah/sign…they point to something in me. I have not literally seen people to whom it was said “curb your hands”…have you? I doubt it. But I can (perhaps) see this attitude in me. Indeed, only if I see it and can witness it can I confirm/know that the text tells the truth. But of course, if my approach to revelation is not one of affirming its truth claims but simply accepting them without knowing if they are true or not, then i am not reading revelation (as far as i am concerned) and i am only interested in Quran as revelation here. anyways..you have to check with yourself and ask why you read the Quran and how do you know what it says is truth from your Maker and whether it is or isn’t important/necessary that I should be able to confirm truth and reject as false what is false…
So what is at stake in this verse? What is the message? What is the bottomline, the alternative that is being offered as the solution to the problem being described? In my view, the main point or punchline is that “say…the akhira is better for the one who is aware [of God, the lasting source of all that you try to grab and that you offer, which is pure when it is from Him and which you give and take in HIS name to others so that your hands are “tied” or “restrained” from claiming it is from you and He is glorified in what is taken and given….]” I have added the parenthesis to indicate how the offered alternative relates to what the text claims is my ideal situation [my hands are tied, i am established on blessings [that glorify the source, God] and what i give takes me back to God so that it does not lessen or vanish but becomes, in my soul’s eyes, eternally and perfectly accessible to me. Now let me spell this out a bit, for my own sake.
The verse says to me: look at yourself and see what your reality is! you are being told, by the way your maker is making you, that He is the One giving you all that you have. When your hands are tied i.e. when you DO NOT think you are going to take/grab what you want (e.g. life), then getting it (e.g. being alive) will become, for you, a witnessing to the truth that you are being blessed with life by God. In living, you are not “living your life, as if you are grabbing it” but glorifying life as a blessing being given to you at every moment. Even that what you give, e.g. help, compassion, love etc. to others do not become transient beauties that wound and defile you as they pass. Insofar as they glorify God – it is His compassion you see, His help you see – these “givings? take you to God, bring you to His presence and to the eternal source of these beauties. They are real and not ephemeral anymore. The soul is not wounded by them, not burdened and hurt by its longing for them. This removal of hurt and burden is the “purifying” that it experiences when it gives in His name and finds Him blessed in what it gives. This is the ideal that revelation thinks I can realized.
And then it claims to tell me the condition i often (or sometimes) find myself in (when it is “written” i.e. when i find myself existing in the following condition): I fear losing what I love! And my attitude towards it is to want to have it for just a little bit longer. When I am faced with a loss or the prospect of a loss (it is loss of life mentioned in the verse because all that i love is attached, as if like a fruit, to the tree of life). The verse uses this example/mithal of a person asked to fight another. He sees in it a risk of “losing HIS life”. He wants to live just a little more. But in this attitude, he shows (he is a sign) that he feels he is going to lose his life with death. He sees the other person as capable of depriving him of life altogether and is more afraid of him than he is of the One who (in his view) only gave him life but now has no ownership or power over to sustain it! There is no Eternally Living Source of life for such a person. Since he sees life as subject to total loss, and he knows that loss would be inevitable, the best he can ask is that he be allowed to enjoy life for just a little bit more! But this petition is an expression of contradiction and pain and insecurity: he accepts that he is going to lose what he loves but simultaneously protests the loss!
To this dilemma facing me as a human – I feel trapped in a situation where I am loving something that I am losing and I cannot help lose what I love and cannot help love what is being lost – the bearer of a message from my maker is asked to speak to me and say:
Faraz! it is inevitable that you will see life in a “lower” form when you love it as something that is limited and finite and that you will lose (and that is yours to lose) to never have it again. This limited and finite life is what makes it lower for you. If you love it in this form only, it will be something that is subject to loss in your eyes. And you will find much oppression and cruelty in this! BUT should you choose to be aware that the life you have here is coming from an Ever-living source of Life, that there is a realm where there is Life in Eternal form, unending and perfect – if you were aware of this realm here and now and lived life, for instance, “bi-ism-al-Hayy” – you lived in the name of the Living One, life would not be yours to lose. It will not be only limited to this realm. It will not longer be “low” (because not limited and exhaustible) actually (it will be excellent/hasana when seen as having an eternal dimension – that is what the words “grant us excellent in this lower realm and excellent in akhira” point to – that excellent in this world is only possible when it is available eternally to me). I am asked to confirm (or reject) whether I suffer from feelings of loss and inadequacy when I see that the source of life must an eternally Living One and this lower realm is a fraction of the real existence of Life that extends eternally – an unending loooong period sometimes quantified for my limited mind to have something tangible/numeric to work with – one day is 1000 years etc!!! yay! thats long! just saying “eternity” doesn’t always cut it for a counting creature like me).
The verse claims that if I were to be aware that life of this lower realm is meant to last only a short period of time and then continue eternally in a realm which is with the Source of it. This is the Akhira – the other realm to which one passes from this one. The one who is aware is not losing anything here – such awareness does not go along with the sense of loss and the resulting petition that one be allowed to enjoy a little longer (as if the enjoyment of life is at its end). And with an awareness of continuity into the eternal realm of perfection, there is no “zulm” or oppression for the soul as it struggles to, for instance, stay alive. Such a person is wanting what it wants – Life. In this realm, it wants life. And if it is being taken from him in this realm, he looks forward to having it in the other/next realm. His attitude is not the wish to have it “just a little bit longer”. His attitude is more greedy (in a good way): I want it forever! The way to get it is not to try to grab it and hang on to it more firmly WITHOUT an awareness of Eternal life. To try to perpetuate life in the name of the Living, for the love of the Living One, is what one does. One’s hands are tied and one’s love/struggle to live is “aqim-us-salat” i.e. it is an ode to the Living One’s glory – how much one loves Him as the Living One, as the owner of Eternal Life. Instead of fearing loss of life, one dies to a life that is not the act/command (be!) of the Living One and one exists as a glorification, a word being spoken by God, the Living One. When it is not spoken here, he is spoken in another realm but as His word and creature, there is no real death for him only the inevitable passing from the lower/limited realm (in his consciousness while still here) to finding security in the awareness of the other/eternal realm. There is no oppression and loss for the one who found this security. I hope I will choose to be aware of the other realm as much as I can so as to save myself from the oppression I would otherwise cause myself and that my maker does not want me to cause myself.