Peace, one and all…
One of the things most people notice when they first read the Quran is just how different from the Bible it is. For those used to reading the Bible, with its broadly chronological approach, the Quranic text can appear to be disturbingly confused. Passages extolling the majesty of God sit side by side with descriptions of ethical values, stories of ancient prophets and legal pronouncements on a wide range of topics.
In part, this is caused by our expectations as readers. We approach the Quran with a biblically-influenced idea of what a religious text should be and look like – and thus the very different format and style of the Quran can cause confusion. A common reaction is that the Quran thus lacks unity, being little more than a confused jumble of different materials. But, this is to expect one book to behave like another.
A closer reading demonstrates all sorts of thematic, stylistic and spiritual unities. As I was reading the Quran recently, I came across one such example. I offer my own reflections on these two passages as I found them both profound and helpful.
And Allah knows best…
‘O you who have attained to faith! Be patient in adversity, and vie in patience with one another, and be ever ready [to do what is right], and remain conscious of God, so that you might attain to a happy state!’ (3:200)
Ya ayyuha allatheena amanoo isbiroo wasabiroo warabitoo waittaqoo Allaha laAAallakum tuflihoona (transliteration)
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُواْ اصْبِرُواْ وَصَابِرُواْ وَرَابِطُواْ وَاتَّقُواْ اللّهَ لَعَلَّكُمْ تُفْلِحُونَ
‘O MANKIND! Be conscious of your Sustainer, who has created you out of one living entity, and out of it created its mate, and out of the two spread abroad a multitude of men and women.  And remain conscious of God, in whose name you demand [your rights] from one another, and of these ties of kinship. Verily, God is ever watchful over you!’ (4:1)
Ya ayyuha alnnasu ittaqoo rabbakumu allathee khalaqakum min nafsin wahidatin wakhalaqa minha zawjaha wabaththa minhuma rijalan katheeran wanisaan waittaqoo Allaha allathee tasaaloona bihi waalarhama inna Allaha kana AAalaykum raqeeban (transliteration)
يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ اتَّقُواْ رَبَّكُمُ الَّذِي خَلَقَكُم مِّن نَّفْسٍ وَاحِدَةٍ وَخَلَقَ مِنْهَا زَوْجَهَا وَبَثَّ مِنْهُمَا رِجَالاً كَثِيرًا وَنِسَاء وَاتَّقُواْ اللّهَ الَّذِي تَسَاءلُونَ بِهِ وَالأَرْحَامَ إِنَّ اللّهَ كَانَ عَلَيْكُمْ رَقِيبً
The first passage is the last verse from the third chapter. This verse comes amid a number of verses referring to the difficulties faced by the earliest Muslim community in Medina, under intense pressure from both the Meccan elite and some of the surrounding tribes. It exhorts the Muslim community to patience in the face of adversity. Indeed, it urges that Muslims vie with each other in being patient – to make patience (sabr) their very watchword. Bearing the stresses and strains of life with patience helps to create a quiet, still space in the centre of our hearts that we might be ever conscious of God – and attain to a goodly state.
The next verse is the first of the fourth chapter (Surah al-Nisa). Amongst other things, this surah deals with all sorts of legal injunctions regarding marriage, inheritance and the care of orphans. A number of very detailed injunctions are given – all of which are designed to promoted justice and fair dealing within the primordial Muslim community, a task that requires both immense patience and that small, still space within the heart (where the unfolding plan may be thoroughly thought about and reflected upon).
The verse starts off by naming its audience as the whole of humanity: ‘O Mankind! Be conscious of your Sustainer…’. If the last verse begins with an appeal to the Muslim community, in its specific attempts to live through trying circumstances, this verse is aimed at the whole of humanity. That is, here humanity as a whole is asked to reflect upon both its shared origin and shared connections. It is this shared humanity which should inform how we interact with each other. And beneath this shared human heritage lies the very same small, still space – consciousness of God (taqwa).
Dealing with the demands of others requires patience, especially in maintaining strong family relationships. Allah! The ties of kinship require patient care and attention, rather like a gardener’s constant husbandry. And, when we think of demanding our rights, we should vie with each in patience, aware at all times that God sees all that we do, think and feel.
Patience, then, is crucial to spiritual growth. So is gratitude. To be conscious of God, in the terms explored in these verses, is to be conscious of all that we have been given. Acting with patience is thus an act of gratitude in itself – in which we show our thanks to God by acting patiently in both good times and bad. To be patient with life and to be grateful for all that it offers are thus the deeper themes alluded to so powerfully in these verses. Allah!
Wa akhiru da’wana an il hamdu lillahi rabbil alameen.