By Syed Akbar Hassan
The Qur’ān (31: 16-19) says: “My dear son! If there be something which is no more than the weight of a grain of mustard seed, and though it be hidden in a rock, or in the skies, or in the earth, Allah will bring it forth. Allah is Gracious, All-Aware. My dear son! Attend regularly to prayer, and enjoin the doing of what is right and forbid the doing of what is wrong, and endure with fortitude whatever befalls you. These are matters that require strong resolve. Do not turn your cheek away from people in false pride, nor walk haughtily on earth. Allah does not love anyone who is arrogant, boastful. Be of modest bearing in your walk, and lower your voice; for the most hideous of voices is the braying of the ass.”
The ayah mentions Luqman’s counsel that relates to the hereafter and its accurate reckoning of people’s deeds and its just reward. This reality is not, however, presented as bare facts. It is shown against the panoramic scene of the universe, in an image that makes the human conscience tremble as it reflects on Allah’s detailed and perfect knowledge. A grain of mustard seed, without weight or value, misplaced deep in a rock where it cannot be seen or found! Or it could be ‘in the skies’, in that vast, endless structure where a huge star appears no more than a little dot or a floating particle! Or it could be ‘in the earth’ lost in its sand and dust with nothing to indicate it. Nevertheless, “Allah will bring it forth.” His knowledge traces it and His power does not let go of it.
Our imagination continues to follow that mustard seed in those deep and vast areas so we reflect on Allah’s knowledge which never loses sight of it. Thus, our hearts are filled with awe and we turn to Allah, appreciating His knowledge of all that is beyond the realm of our perception. Thus, the truth the Qur’ān wants to drive home is established in our minds.
Having established the faith in man’s conscience and clarified its main essentials, Luqman now speaks about attending to prayer, advocacy of the faith and perseverance in the face of inevitable difficulties: “My dear son! Attend regularly to prayer, and enjoin the doing of what is right and forbid the doing of what is wrong, and endure with fortitude whatever befalls you. These are matters that require strong resolve.”
After teaching his son to show gratitude to Allah, this ayah teaches him the results of this gratitude that should arise in a person’s life. The first of these is the prayer. It is the foremost and the greatest manifestation of gratitude to Allah. All prophets of Allah and all divine religions unanimously have taught people to pray. It means that we should not only adhere to the prayer ourselves, but make arrangements for others also and we should also urge others to prayer.
The word maruf encompasses all things that relate to fulfilment of rights; for example, spending in the way of Allah, helping orphans, the destitute, neighbours and all other people in need and similar acts of kindness which are well known in every good society and which every person grateful to his Lord tries to do, at the same time he also directs his son to abstain from things which are opposite to the maruf. These, for example, include stinginess, usurpation of rights, injustice, breaking promises, conceit, etc.
Enjoining good and forbidding evil is not easy. When we start to do it, we find difficulties at every step; if we do not exercise patience, we will not be able to take a single step ahead. If we have to succeed in this test, we must face all adversities with patience and perseverance. These tasks cannot be carried out half-heartedly. Only the people who stand up with full force and perseverance and put their life at stake to succeed in them can accomplish them. In surah Al-Asr, it is precisely for this reason that showing steadfastness and patience on the truth is mentioned.
Such is the way of faith: declaring Allah’s oneness, knowing that He sees all, aspiration to His reward, trust in His justice and fear of His punishment. This is followed by a call to people to maintain the right path, enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong. Prior to all this, however, we should ensure that we have the right equipment for the battle against evil: we should worship Allah alone, address prayers to Him, and remain steadfast despite adversity. Adversity can take many forms from deviation to stubbornness, turning away as well as verbal and physical abuse, loss of property and wealth, as also physical hardship: “These are matters that require strong resolve.” Such strong resolve allows no hesitation after a decision has been firmly taken.
Luqman speaks about the manners that should be characteristic of advocates who call on people to practise the divine faith. Such advocacy does not permit behaving arrogantly towards people under the pretext of leading them to what is of benefit. Needless to say, arrogant behaviour that is not accompanied by the advocacy of goodness is even worse and more abominable.
In drawing this image of arrogance, the surah uses the Arabic term tusair which is translated as ‘turn your cheek away’. This term is derived from the disease şaar which affects camels, causing them to involuntarily turn their necks sideways. How apt the surah chooses this term in order to describe the repugnance of turning one’s cheek away from people in a gesture similar to what camels affected by this disease do. Walking haughtily is another type of behaviour suggesting carelessness about people and their feelings. This is again a gesture that is disliked by Allah. It is a sign of a sick mind and a self-centred person: “Allah does not love anyone who is arrogant, boastful.”
The order not to walk haughtily on earth is coupled with a statement about the proper way of walking: “Be of modest bearing in your walk.” Such modesty connotes economy and definite purpose. The economy aspect is the need not to waste energy in a boastful, arrogant gait, and the purposeful walk is one which does not waste time; rather it moves towards its goal easily.
Luqman’s admonition also urges his son to lower his voice, which is a mark of politeness, self-confidence and reliability. Only an impolite person, or one who has self-doubt or uncertainty about what he says, resorts to speaking loudly as he tries to disguise such doubts by raising his voice. The surah shows this behaviour as disgusting.
Though these pieces of advice from Luqman are effective for every person, the advice given by him here to his son was meant to make him understand the responsibilities of leadership.