“We send down from the sky rain charged with blessing, and We produce therewith Gardens and Grain for harvests, and tall and stately palm trees, with shoots of fruit stalks, piled one over the other as sustenance for God’s servants-and We give new life to land that is dead-such is the resurrection.”
Very often when we read the Qur’an, we come across recurring themes or ideas that attract our attention and turn it towards God. Repetition is a common method of teaching that even today is employed by educators in attempts to drive home certain basic ideas that are the foundation for greater learning. The resurrection is such a theme in the Qur’an. It is one of the basic concepts that God addresses in various ways, and within different contexts, yet mostly for the same reason, that being that we might grasp the concept of rebirthing that follows death, over and over again. This is not a reference to reincarnation, rather it refers to the fact that sin is killing us, and God’s mercy is allowing us to stay alive, and resurrected and resurrecting daily until we reach our term. Each day represents a Mercy, in that we are allowed to improve ourselves, and to come closer to human perfection, according to our own choice and desire.
Another meaning of resurrection might not have much to do with our physical state, as in sleeping and awakening, and might have more to do with learning from mistakes, and benefiting from knowledge. In this way, knowledge is sustenance and realization might be resurrection, or an awakening from ignorance, which is like death, or meaningless, ineffectual existence.
In one verse of the Qur’an, the prophet Abraham asks God to teach him about the resurrection. God asks Abraham, “don’t you believe?” and Abraham answered God and said something like, “Yes, I do believe, but my heart longs for understanding.” Then God said to Abraham, “take some birds and train them to recognize your voice, and respond to your commands, then place them on the hills, and call, and they will return to you.” Interestingly this verse does not mention death, not as a physical, nor as a metaphysical experience. This should cause us to ask why God, in this verse, has explained resurrection, and not limited it by linking it to the physical death, and why in the chapter Qaf, God has said to us that resurrection is the result of mercy and nourishment that is harvested from a land that was dead? Perhaps this is due to the fact that we are earth. It could also possibly mean that the force of God’s will alone, perpetuates the cycle of life and death, and not merely time, or the passing of time. This is important, since it seems that God is teaching us in the Qur’an that His Will, or command regulates every aspect of our existence. It is observed very easily as natural law, or the laws of the universe, physics, or in other ways that explain the non-volitional behavior of living things that is not intellectual, intuitive, on instinctive, such as in plants, orbits of planets, etc. To date, as far as I know, no one has explained the force that pushes the stem of a plant from its root through the surface of the ground, or why this pattern of growing seldom deviates in nature in respect to plants. Scientists have attempted to explain the ordering of planets, and the force that causes them to orbit, or move, yet they cannot explain to us conclusively the logic of the order, rhythm and harmony of galaxies. What some would call the mysteries of life, others know as God, and in the scriptures of the various Holy Books, He has explained Himself, and His creation in many beautiful, powerful and hope filled ways. The resurrection is only one way that we know God, and it is also perhaps one of the most hope filled way. The verses of Surah Qaf seem to convey such hope, and it does so in a way that makes us remember God as our unrivaled and unequaled sustainer, and lover of mankind, and He is also our only source of life.
This knowledge is a great power, since it saves us from wasting our time attempting to attract the favor of the other dependents, and makes us understand that the only favor that is needed by the created things is the favor of God. This is freedom and independence and self-sufficiency. God has taught us that it is His command that righteous man seek sustenance only from Him, if we desire the complete and perfect benefit from God’s bounties. This is a baby step towards the realization of Tauhid as God reliance, and not only God awareness, or confession of God as faith, and One God. It is a place in proximity to God, where His servants find satisfaction. Sustenance is given to the dead who are living, and to the living who have been brought forth from death. The difference is that one is not benefiting, and so he or she is like the dead, while the other is benefiting, and drawing nearer to God through dependence upon Him, an act that requires humility, but also recognizing His command, his will, and His voice (law and guidance), which means to be obedient.
One of the noted saints of the past used to pray, “and save me from the help of the wicked,” and another prayed, “some rise in the morning with hope in other than thee, yet I rise with hope in only thee and no other,” which says to us that the resurrection is not the same for all people, and neither is the hope, and the thing hoped for, or what is attained.
God limits the sustenance of the wicked and makes them dependant upon the people, so that people can humiliate them, and demand worship, and despise and hate them because they are weak and poor. Then God asks in His way, “Were they worthy of your worship” and “Could you depend upon them?” and “Are they suitable to be your god?” One pious man acknowledged the power of God reliance, when He said to God, “Anyone who asks from other than thee is ruined. Glory be to thee, and High art thou Exalted.”
God has made the righteous free of need from creatures, and dependant upon God only. He is their source and their center. When we fear poverty, we must immediately remember what God said to His friend Abraham, and ask ourselves whether we have been responding to God’s commands, keeping His laws, perhaps one of the most important of which is to depend upon God Only, ask Him, and not others. One pious saint used to say in his prayers, ” How can one who is dependant benefit from one who is also dependant?” or perhaps even more appropriately, “Should the blind lead the blind?” The Qur’an says, “It is God who has created you, further, he has provided for your sustenance, then He will cause you to die, and again give you life. Are there any of your partners who can do any single one of these things? Glory to He, and high is He above the partners they attribute to Him” (30:40). This verse might be saying to us that God has already commanded our sustenance and instilled within it our health, and progress, and development. If that is true, it could also mean that to fear poverty is tantamount to weakness of faith, which is probably the most common spiritual malady, and one that is easily cured since success is what causes certainty, one of the highest forms of faith. Certainty leads to tranquility, and God said in the Qur’an that the believers were entitled to certainty and tranquility, and worthy of it. The Qur’an also says that with this tranquility is self restraint, which could mean discipline, which could mean that in times of trial the righteous are tranquil and disciplined, and this leads to victory. They are seeking God through prayers, listening for His commands, which are the law, and guidance, and obeying their leaders. The struggle for liberation is recognition of the fact that the most difficult struggle and threat to freedom is one’s own nafs, and to gain mastery over the desires and to minimize as much as possible the needs. It is great sacrifice, and requires greater discipline.
Some years ago, it was my great fortune to read in a book by Imam Sayyed Ali Khamene’i, that there were two trees, one that came from a seed that took root in a soft and shady spot in the forest, and another that took root on a shore. The first tree, according to the Sayyed, grew to be tall and beautiful, yet at the first heavy winds and strikes of lighting, it was destroyed, because it did not have the strength to withstand hardship, and its roots were in shallow and in soft ground. He wrote that the seed that took root on the river’s shore, had to develop long and hard roots to stand, because the soil beneath and around its roots would shift and erode, always threatening to wash the tree away. That tree also had long and strong branches that reached high into the sky since it had been exposed for so many years to the harshness of the sun, and its trunk was huge and thick from swaying and turning so often in the wind, and it was covered with a deep, strong and flexible bark. When the storms came, the old tree by the river was steadfast, and never broke, and it was never washed away. It could weather any storm. Many of us would prefer to be the tree that took root in the comfort of the soft and mossy ground, and under the shade of other trees. Few of us would like to be the tree that took root alone on the shore, and that suffered from exposure to the harshness of nature, until we realize that the trials suffered were God’s way of making the tree by the river, a most perfect example of a tree, while the soft and delicate tree had been nice to look at, but due to its weakness it was soon destroyed by its trials.
When an oppressor wants to coerce, or to destroy you, if he cannot do so openly, he will do so secretly, identifying the weaknesses, and divisions. Using greed and natural desires of the people against them is one way, because when these desires are left unanswered for too long, it will cause the people to turn against one another, to collaborate with enemies, and even to surrender. This will happen in most cases unless the people can show self-restraint, and achieve tranquility while simultaneously undergoing trial. Note that in Sura al-Fath, that God said, He is the one who gave the tranquility and the self-restraint as a reward to those who had persevered in patience.
Make the spiritual development of the ummah the priority, and we will be like the trees on the shores. If we become beggars, slaves to our desires and make compromises with our enemies, or show weakness for material things, and surrender to evil hoping to satisfy our cravings, we will be destroyed. It has been said that the prophet Muhammad said, upon returning from the battlefield, that the physical fighting was the small struggle, and that the great struggle which would follow, the struggle against the human imperfections, is the greater struggle. This great struggle for some might be something as simple as not asking other than God for our needs and desires, and then expecting to get what we asked for, and having such confidence that it is coming, that if it is delayed we ask God “why?” and “where is it?” so that he might explain through a messenger, or in other ways, tell us what we are doing wrong, and direct us to where we want to go, thereby putting us on the right path. We must trust and believe God with heart and soul.
The Muslim world is facing so many serious challenges that it is hard to imagine that every Muslim heart is not burdened with pain and aching, since some parts of us are in pain. It is also hard to imagine that every eye is not filled daily with tears. It is hard to imagine that we are not supplicating night and day, praying for the Ummah, and those under trial. It is hard to imagine that we are not repenting and abstaining from, and avoiding sins, fasting and cleansing our hearts and homes of filth and idols, establishing the salah, paying the zakat, giving in charity, and making umrah and hajj. The Qur’an commands, and guides us saying:
“So give glory to God when you reach evening, and when you rise in the morning. Yes, to Him belongs your praise in the heaven and the earth; and the late afternoon and when the day begins to decline. It is He who brings out the living from the dead, and brings out the dead from the living, and who gives life to the earth after it is dead; and thus shall you be brought from the dead. Among His signs is that He created you from dust, and behold, you are men scattered far and wide. And among His signs is that he created for you mates from among yourselves that you might dwell in tranquility with them, and He has put love and mercy between your hearts, verily in that are signs for those who reflect.
And among His signs are the creation of the heaven and the earth, and the variations in your languages and colors, verily in that are signs for those who know. And among His signs is the sleep that you take by night and by day, and the quest that you make for livelihood out of His bounty; verily in that are signs for those who hearken. And among His signs, He shows you the thunder and lightening by way of both fear and hope, and He sends down rain from the sky and with it gives life to the earth after it is dead; verily in that are signs for those who are wise.
And among His signs is that heaven and earth stands by His command; then when He calls you by a single call from the earth, behold, you straightway come forth. To Him belongs every being that is in the heavens, and on earth; all are devoutly obedient to Him. It is he (God) who begins the process of creation, then repeats it, and for Him belongs the loftiest similitude in the heavens and earth; for He (God) is exalted in might and full of wisdom” (Holy Qur’an 30:17-27).
In these verses of Qur’an, God has called upon us to reflect, and to know, then to hearken (unto Him), and He declared all of this, wisdom, and said in the Surah Inshirah, 5-8,
“Verily after every difficulty, there is relief, verily with every difficulty there is relief. Therefore when you are relieved, still labor hard, and to thy Lord turn all of your attention.”