By Syed Akbar Hassan
The Qur’ān (31:20-22) says: “Are you not aware that Allah has made subservient to you all that is in the heavens and the earth, and has lavished upon you His blessings, outward and inward? Yet some people argue about Allah without having any knowledge, without guidance, and without any light giving revelations. When it is said to them, ‘Follow what Allah has revealed’, they say, ‘No; but we will follow only what we found our forefathers believing in.’ Why, even if Shaitan is beckoning them to the suffering of the blazing fire. Whoever submits himself to Allah and excels in good deeds has indeed taken hold of a most firm support. With Allah rests the final outcome of all events.”
These remarks occur repeatedly in the Qur’ān. Conveyed in different ways, it appears new every time, because the universe appears new whenever we contemplate its secrets and reflect on its unending wonders. Indeed, it takes far longer than man’s lifetime to review these wonders. Yet every time he looks at them, they appear to have a different colour and a different tone.
The surah portrays these from the viewpoint of harmony between man’s needs and the construction of the universe. This leaves no possibility for such harmony to have been achieved by mere coincidence. It is inevitable, therefore, that we should acknowledge the single will that makes such harmony a reality.
Planet earth is no more than a little particle when compared to the universe. Moreover, the earth contains forces as well as animate and inanimate beings in comparison to which we appear no more than a tiny creature in size, weight and strength. By His grace, however, and by breathing into us of His own spirit and honouring us above many of His creatures, Allah, the Exalted, has given us a special position in the universal system. Indeed, He has given us the ability to use many of the forces and resources of this universe. This is what the surah describes as “making things subservient” to man within the context of granting him countless blessings that are subtle and apparent, inward and outward. These blessings go beyond making things in the heavens and earth subservient to man. Mere human existence is a blessing, as are man’s powers, abilities, talents and skills. Sending human messengers with divine messages is an even bigger and greater blessing. The breathing of Allah’s spirit into man at the time of his creation is also an aspect of blessing. Indeed, every breath we draw, every heartbeat, every sigh, sound, feeling and thought is a blessing which we could not have had without Allah’s grace.
Allah has made what is in the skies available and subservient to man. Thus, he is able to benefit from the sun’s rays, the moon’s light, the guidance provided by the stars, rain, air and birds that fly. He also enabled us to benefit and use what is on and in the earth. This is even easier to reflect upon. We are placed in charge of this vast kingdom, and given the ability to use all the resources, some of which are clear and apparent while others are subtle and hidden; some are known fully to us, some we know only by their effects, and some we benefit from without even knowing what they are. Every moment we are given the great abundance of Allah’s blessings, the extent and form of which we do not fully know. Yet in spite of all this, some people are ingrate, do not reflect on the world around them and do not appreciate the blessings they enjoy.
Considering that Allah’s grace is so great and abundant, man’s denial looks both absurd and ugly. Both human nature and conscience find it repugnant. The type of person who argues about the truth of Allah, and what this means, is deviant, unresponsive to the inspiration the universe shines with, denies Allah’s grace, and unashamedly argues about the One who has granted all these blessings. What is worse is that in their argument, such people do not rely on any true knowledge, have no proper guidance, and refer to no guiding revelation.
“When it is said to them, ‘Follow what Allah has revealed’, they say, ‘No; but we will follow only what we found our forefathers believing in.’” This is their only basis and evidence! It is nothing other than blindly following traditions which lack knowledge and intelligent thinking. Islam wants to free them from such blind imitation, so as to set their minds free. It wants them to be able to think, reflect and benefit by the light, but they adamantly hold on to the chains of their deviant past.
Islam means freedom of conscience, active feelings, aspiration for enlightenment and a new way of life that is free of blind tradition. Yet such people turn their backs on it, rejecting its light and guidance. They argue about Allah without knowledge or guidance. Hence, the surah looks upon them with ridicule, making a subtle reference to the end such attitudes lead to: “Why, even if Shaitan is beckoning them to the suffering of the blazing fire.” Indeed their attitude is nothing less than an invitation by Shaitan leading them to Allah’s punishment. Will they persist with this despite the end which they will be certain to have? This last remark should at least alert them to the difficulty of their position.
The surah then refers to the proper attitude that should result from reflecting on the universal evidence and Allah’s countless blessings. Together with good deeds, what is required is total submission to Allah. We should feel reassured of Allah’s will, obey His commands, fulfil the duties He requires, have confidence in His mercy, trust His care, and so enjoy total contentment. All this is grouped under the heading of submission to Allah.
“Whoever submits himself to Allah and excels in good deeds has indeed taken hold of a most firm support.” This support is a bond that is never severed. It never lets down anyone who holds to it, whether in situations of ease or difficulty. No one who holds to it will ever be lost, even though his road is rough, dark and beset by hardships. This firm support is the close, confident link between the submitting believer and his Lord. It gives the believer the sort of reassurance that keeps him calm and confident as he faces all events.
Our journey is long, hard and full of danger. The danger posed by luxury and affluence is no less than that arising from misery and deprivation. Hence the need for firm and ever-present support. The firmest support is that which comes about from submitting oneself to Allah and doing good deeds. “With Allah rests the final outcome of all events.” With Him all journeys end, and to Him we all return. Hence, it is better for us to submit to Him from the start, so that we move along his journey with confidence, reassurance and guidance.