Peace, one and all…
Insha Allah, I wanted to take up the question of reflection in the Quran once again, as I was interrupted last night.
A Tradition of the Prophet (saw) states that ‘He who knows himself knows his Lord’. This is a particularly profound hadith and raises a large number of interesting possibilities. On a personal note, I must confess that I do not feel qualified to explore these topics in great detail. However, this tradition does at least highlight the importance of self-knowledge. That is, in order to progress and move forward, a person has to have some knowledge of their strengths and weaknesses. Imam al-Haddad underlines this when he refers to the development of yaqin (certainty) within the human heart. How can you have certainty of faith, when you are unaware of the contents of your own soul?
But, having understood the significance of self-knowledge, how are we to proceed? In other words, how do we begin to understand ourselves and our motivations? Although the Islamic tradition prescribes a number of practices in this regard, perhaps the most important is reflection or contemplation. That is, in order to familiarise ourselves with the contents of our own hearts, we have to explore them and reflective thought is the primary means of achieving this.
As with all things Islamic, our primary resource has to be the Quran. That being the case, what advice does the Quran offer? Or, to put it another way, what does the Quran say about reflection? Well, as you might imagine, the Quran refers to reflection, contemplation and careful thought in a truly vast number of places and contexts. The aim of this post is to explore some of these places and contexts in greater detail.
As we know, the Quran was revealed over a period of 23 years. In an important sense, therefore, Quranic statements are thus part of a wider ‘conversation’ or dialogue. There are thus some 200 ayat which begin with Qul (or ‘say’). These verses offer God’s response to human thought. And, furthermore, these ayat expect us to think through their consequences and to then act upon them.
A famous example of this is God’s prohibition of alcohol. The relevant passage states:
They ask you concerning wine and gambling. Say: ‘In them is a great sin, and some profit for me; but their sin is greater than their benefit…Thus does Allah make clear to you His signs: in order that you may consider [la`alakum tatafakkarun]’ (2:219)
As well being a direct prohibition, this verse explicitly requires us to reflect upon its wisdom. In other words, we are called to contemplate the wisdom behind banning intoxicating substances. Similarly, the Quran asks us to reflect upon the significance of creation, in all its manifest diversity.
‘The seven heavens and the earth and all beings therein declare His glory: there is not a thing but celebrates His praise: and yet you understand not [la yafqahuuna] how they declare His glory! Indeed, He is Oft-Forebearing, Most Forgiving!’ (17:44)
In another passage, we are asked to reflect on our own creation:
‘It is He who has produced you from a single person [nafs, ‘soul’]; Here is a place of sojourn and a place of departure: we detail Our signs for people who understand [li qawmin yafqahuun]’ (6:98)
Failure to reflect results in a fundamentally flawed orientation:
‘Of a truth you are stronger [than they] because of the terror in their hearts, [sent] by Allah. This is because they are people devoid of understanding [qawmun la yafqahuuna]’ (59:13)
Reflection is thus about thinking through the fundamental meaning of things. Grimmett et al., within the context of education, make this point abundantly clear:
‘The purpose of the endeavour [reflective practice] is the pursuit of meaning as distinct from the pursuit of truth or fact … Because teaching involves the interaction of complex human beings capable of creating an inordinate number of ways of characterizing phenomena experienced within a diverse social and linguistic culture, questions of meaning precede questions of truth’ (Grimmett et al., 1990, 20)
Again, I think I’ve reached a natural pause. More later, insha Allah.