THE TWENTY-NINTH LETTER
FIRST POINT: Some people claim that the Qur’an’s mysteries are unknown, and that its interpreters have not perceived its truths. This claim has two aspects, and those who make it fall into two groups. The first group comprises the people of truth and investigation. They say that the Qur’an is a boundless treasury and that all people, regardless of time, receive their share from its complementary, implicit truths (without interfering with the shares of others) after they acknowledge its principles and unchangeable commands.
The Qur’an becomes better understood over time and in more detail, and the dimensions of its meaning are clarified. However, this does not mean that we should doubt its literal, explicit truths expounded by our righteous predecessors, for belief in the certain and incontrovertible truths forming the fundamentals of the Qur’an and Islam is obligatory.
The Qur’an explicitly states that it was revealed in clear Arabic (in plain language) so that its meaning could be understood. The Divine address concentrates, reinforces, and elaborates on these meanings. Rejecting them means contradicting God Almighty and the Messenger’s understanding. The explicit meanings forming the fundamental Qur’anic truths were derived from the source of Messengership and transmitted through established reliable channels. This cannot be doubted. An interpreter like Ibn Jarir al-Tabari383 related each verse’s meaning to the source of Messengership through reliable chains of transmission, and wrote a most comprehensive interpretation of the Qur’an.
The second group comprises either single-minded friends who make matters worse while trying to help, or devilish enemies who oppose Islam’s commands and the truths of belief. They want to make a way through the Qur’an’s fortified suras, which you say are like a steel citadel around the Qur’anic truths. They spread their false claims to cast doubt upon the truths of belief and the Qur’an.
SECOND POINT: God Almighty swears by many things in the Qur’an. There are numerous mysteries and subtle points in these oaths. For example: By the sun and his morning brightness (91:1), points to the truth expressed in The Eleventh Word and presents the universe as a palace or a city. Ya Sin. By the Wise Qur’an (36:1-2) reminds us that the Qur’an’s miraculousness is so sacred that it is worth swearing by.
By the star when it sets (53:1) and: No! I swear by the locations and fallings of the stars, a mighty oath if you but knew! (56:75-76), point out that falling stars signal the banning of jinn and devils from hearing news of the Unseen. This ends any doubt about the Revelation’s authenticity.384 These oaths also remind us of the great power and perfect wisdom needed to establish the stars, those mighty heavenly objects, in their places in perfect order, and in turning the planets with an amazing speed.
In oaths by angels responsible for winds: By the scattering and winnowing (51:1) and: By the emissaries sent (77:1), our attention is drawn to the significant wisdom in whirling winds and air waves. We are reminded that such supposedly “randomly moving” elements are, in fact, used for important services and subtle purposes.
In short, Qur’anic oaths contain many subtleties. As I have no time to explain all of them, I only point out one point in: By the fig and the olive (95:1). Through this oath, God Almighty reminds humanity of His Power’s greatness, His Mercy’s perfection, and His important bounties. This oath also points out that people heading toward the lowest rank can use thanksgiving, contemplation, belief, and good deeds to begin a spiritual evolution that eventually will allow them to reach the highest rank.
The fig and the olive are mentioned for a specific reason: These useful fruits contain many noteworthy subtleties. Olives are important in social and commercial life and are nutritionally rich. Figs are wonderful miracles of Divine Power (God encapsulates a huge fig tree within its sand-particle-sized seeds) that display many aspects of Divine Providence by lasting longer than most other fruits consumed by people. They also have many other beneficial properties that should be studied by scientists.
THIRD POINT: The abbreviated letters at the beginning of several Qur’anic suras (al-huruf al-muqatta‘at) are Divine ciphers through which God reveals some signs of the Unseen to His particular servant, the Prophet Muhammad. The key is in his hand and the hands of his true successors.
Since the Qur’an addresses every level of understanding in every age, all people, regardless of level and time, can comprehend it according to their level. The righteous predecessors had and disclosed the primary share. Saints and seekers of truth find therein many indications relevant to their spiritual journey toward the Unseen. In my Isharat al-I‘jaz (Signs of the Qur’an’s Miraculousness), I explain those letters from the viewpoint of their miraculous eloquence at the beginning of Surat al-Baqara.
FOURTH POINT: The Twenty-fifth Word proves that a true and exact translation of the Qur’an is impossible. Its sublime style, an element of its miraculous meaning, cannot be imitated. Even explaining the truth and pleasure derived from its sublime style is impossible. However, I cite a few points to present a glimpse to understand it, as follows:
And of His signs is the creation of the heavens and Earth and the variety of your tongues and colors. (30:22)
And the heavens shall be rolled up in His Right Hand. (39:67)
He creates you in your mothers’ wombs, creation after creation in threefold shadows. (39:6)
He created the heavens and Earth in 6 days. (7:54)
God comes between a person and his own heart. (34:3)
Not an atom’s weight, or less than that or greater, escapes from Him in the heavens or in Earth. (8:24)
He makes night pass into day, and makes day pass into night. He knows all that is in the breasts (hearts). (57:6)
In these verses, the Qur’an sublimely and miraculously portrays the truth of God’s creativity. It shows that the universe’s Builder puts all particles in their places, even in the eye’s pupil, with the same instrument and at the same time as He fixes the sun and moon in their places. He makes and places the eyes and removes their veils according to the same measure and using the same immaterial instrument as that with which He uses to arrange and unfold the heavens. The Majestic Maker puts a person’s unique facial features and outer and inner senses in their places with the same immaterial hammer used to fix the stars in the sky.
A verse also indicates in one part of it how the Majestic Maker, in order to have the eyes see and the ears hear His acts while He is at work, strikes a particle and puts it in their place, and in the other part, how He strikes the sun at the same time. Such a sublime style shows His absolute Oneness (in that the One Who creates and controls a particle is also He Who creates and controls the sun and the whole universe); His infinite Majesty within His infinite Grace; His boundless Might in His infinite Subtlety; His universal, all-encompassing Care without neglecting even a single, tiniest thing; His infinite Grandeur within His infinite Compassion, and His creatures’ endless distance from Him in His infinite nearness to each of them. He demonstrates all opposites’ ultimate unity. Although regarded as impossible, such a unity’s existence is absolutely necessary for the universe’s existence and life, and absolutely easy for God. Before such sublimity, the greatest literary figures can only prostrate in admiration.
The sublime Qur’an demonstrates the majesty and grandeur of His Lordship’s Sovereignty through: And of His signs is that the heaven and Earth stand firm by His Command; then, when He calls you once and suddenly out of the ground, you shall come forth (30:25). In other words, the heavens and Earth resemble the barracks or training grounds of magnificent armies. Lying behind the veils of non-existence and mortality, they appear in the Place of the Supreme Mustering with a perfect speed and in perfect obedience to a trumpet blast or the command: “Rise for the Last Judgment!”
This verse, which refers to the universe’s final destruction and the Resurrection in a miraculously exalted style, contains the following convincing proof: Seeds covered by and rotted away in the ground, as well as water evaporated and concealed in the atmosphere, reappear in this world every spring with perfect order and speed. This mimics the Resurrection, for the dead will be resurrected in the same way after the universe’s final destruction.
Compare the degree of eloquence in other verses to those quoted above, and decide whether or not the Qur’an can be translated accurately in all its fullness. All that can be done in the name of “translation” is to make either a brief or a relatively long verse-by-verse interpretation.
FIFTH POINT: For example: Al-hamdu li-llah (All praise be to God) is a Qur’anic sentence meaning, according to Arabic syntax and semantics, that every praise that has been or ever will be uttered by any being to anyone else is, in reality, for and deserved by the Necessarily Existent Being: God.
The meaning every derives from al (the). The meaning by any being derives from hamd (praise), for the original Arabic is in the infinitive form. Arabic expresses a general meaning if the infinitive has no subject. Besides, as this sentence contains no object either, although it is addressed to someone (or something) who is either present or absent, its meaning is also general. Therefore, we derive to anyone else from this short sentence.
That has been or ever will be comes from the rule that transitioning from a verb clause to a noun clause indicates persistence and duration. For and deserved by are expressed in the preposition li (to or for God), which specifies and expresses deserving. Since Allah is the Divine Being’s Greatest Name, and since existence is essential and indispensable to the Divine Being and is a tableau to help reflect on the Majestic Being, Allah necessarily connotes the Necessarily Existent Being. If this is the explicit, briefest meaning of such a short sentence, which is agreed upon by linguists of Arabic, how can it be translated to another language with the same strength and miraculousness?
Only one other language resembles Arabic in its syntax, but it cannot compete with Arabic in comprehensiveness. Given this, how can the Qur’an’s sacred words, revealed in Arabic and therefore having a syntax and comprehensiveness displaying an All-Encompassing Knowledge penetrating everything at the same time, be translated into other languages with all of its subtle meanings, allusions, and miraculous style? In reality, each letter in the Qur’an is such a rich treasure of truths that its explanation could cover at least one page.
SIXTH POINT: To express this meaning better, I describe an event that enlightened me. Once I pondered over we in You alone do we worship and You alone do we ask for help (1:5), and tried to understand why we was preferred to I. The congregational prayer’s merits suddenly dawned upon me, and I noticed that every member of the mosque’s congregation was a kind of intercessor for me, a witness and supporter of the causes and truths I declare in my recitation. I felt encouraged to offer my faulty prayer to the Divine Court in the company of the congregation’s comprehensive prayer. Another veil dropped, and I imagined all of Istanbul’s mosques as one mosque, and their worshippers as one huge congregation. I felt included in their supplications and confirmations.
Afterwards, I imagined myself in the circular lines of worshippers around the Ka‘ba, and said: Al-hamdu li-llah, Rabb al-‘Alamin (All praise be to God, the Lord of the Worlds),” seeing that I had so many intercessors repeating and confirming every word of my prayer. This thought led me to see the Ka‘ba as the prayer niche (mihrab). Entrusting to the blessed Black Stone my confession of faith: “I bear witness that there is no deity but God, and I bear witness that Muhammad is God’s Messenger,” which the whole congregation said, I noticed that the congregation comprised three circles, as follows:
The first circle was the mightiest congregation formed by all believers and monotheists. The second circle was composed of all creatures engaged in a most comprehensive prayer and glorification of God, each species supplicating and praising in its own ways. Their services, called the “functions or duties of things,” are the form of their worship. Aware of this, I said: Allahu akbar (God is the All-Great) and bowed my head in wonder.
The third circle was my body, an amazing and yet seemingly slight and insignificant world, but in reality a very great and significant world due to the task it performs. Each part of it, from the cells to the outer senses, is busy with worshipping and giving thanks. In this circle, I felt the spiritual faculty in my heart reciting on that congregation’s behalf: You alone do we worship, and You alone do we ask for help, as my tongue did on behalf of the other two congregations.
In sum, the we in You alone do we worship refers to those three congregations. Still in this state, I imagined that the spiritual personality of God’s Messenger, the conveyor and transmitter of the Qur’an, assumed its grandest form in Medina, which could be regarded as his pulpit in this world, and was reciting: “O people, worship your Lord.” I imagined the three congregations obeying him by reciting: You alone do we worship.
Then, according to the rule of “When something is established, it is established with all that is needed for it to be established,” the following truth came to my mind: The Lord of the Worlds addresses all people and, through them, all creatures. God’s Messenger then communicates that speech of honor to humanity, to all beings having spirit and consciousness, regardless of time. As the past and future thus can be regarded as the present, all people [regardless of time and place] listen to this address as a congregation composed of various lines.
This truth showed me that each verse has a miraculous radiance in its subtle style, eloquence, and fluency. All of these come from the Eternal Speaker of Infinite Grandeur and Majesty through the illustrious transmitter who has the greatest rank of being beloved by God, and from the variety and multitude of its listeners. This makes the entire Qur’an, even each of its words, miraculous. I said: “All praise be to God for the light of belief and the Qur’an” and, emerging from the imaginal world I had entered through the letter nun (n),385 understood that in addition to the Qur’an’s verses and words, even some of its letters, like the n in na‘budu, are radiant keys to significant truths.
When my heart and imagination came out of this state, my reason said: “I want my share. I cannot fly like you. I walk on the feet of evidence and argument. You should show me the way to the Creator, the Worshipped One, Whose help is asked for, through We worship and We ask for help so that I can accompany you.” In response, I told the heart to say to the bewildered reason:
See how all creatures, whether animate or inanimate, worship God by doing their duties in perfect order and obedience. Some of them, despite being unconscious or dumb or unfeeling, perform duties in perfect order as if they were conscious and worshipping God. This means that the One, Truly Worshipped and Absolutely Commanding, employs them to worship Him.
Look again, and see that all creatures, especially animate ones, have countless needs and demands that must be met if they are to exist and survive. They cannot meet even their most insignificant need on their own, and yet we see that their needs are met regularly, on time, and from an unexpected place.
Such infinite poverty and neediness, along with such an extraordinary satisfaction of their needs by the Unseen and the aid of Mercy, shows that they have an absolutely Rich, Munificent, and Powerful Protector and Provider to Whom all things turn for help, especially living beings. In other words, through the language of asking for help, they say: You alone do we ask for help.
Reason responded: “I also believe and affirm.”
SEVENTH POINT: Then I said: Guide us to the Straight Path, the path of those whom You have favored with true, perfect guidance (1:6-7). Immediately among all the caravans of humanity, I saw the illustrious caravan of the Prophets, loyal and truthful ones, martyrs, saints, and pious people pass into eternity along a straight highway, removing all darkness from the future. This supplication guided me to join that caravan. I suddenly said: “Glory be to God!” Anyone should be able to see what a great loss and perdition it is not to join that illustrious caravan progressing in utmost security to illuminate the future. Where can those who turn away by introducing un-Islamic innovations into Islam find light? What can they follow to salvation?
God’s Messenger, who is our guide, declared: “Every innovation is a deviation, and every deviation leads to Fire.”386 What benefit do such evil scholars who offer and attempt to change the nature of Islam’s self-evident marks or public symbols or rituals hope to gain? On what principle can they base their opposition to those public rituals (e.g., adhan [call to prayer], recitation of the Qur’an and adhan in their original Arabic language, sacrificing animals on the Festive Day of Sacrifice, and Jumu‘a and other congregational prayers)? How can they consider them changeable? They must be deluded by a transient, illusory light caused by an aspect of their meaning.
For example, a peeled fruit may show its delicacy more clearly but all too briefly, for it is soon bruised and begins to rot. In the same way, the Prophetic and Divine expressions and concepts in Islam’s public symbols or rituals are like a living and protecting skin. When removed, such as reciting the adhan in another language, its blessed meaning may seem brighter or more understandable. But it soon loses its freshness and spirit, leaving its “carcass” in dark minds and souls. Its light is extinguished, and only smoke remains.
EIGHTH POINT: The law has two spheres: individual rights and public law. Both are found in the Sharia. This latter group, which is also regarded as the rights of God, contains Islam’s “public symbols or rituals” or “banners.” Since all Muslims are concerned with these symbols, any interference without their consent transgresses their rights. Even minor symbols, like the commended duties, are just as important as Islam’s most fundamental matters. Those who try to change or abolish these symbols, as well as their supporters, should understand that such matters concern all Muslims, for they are the radiant links joining all Muslims to Islam and each other since the Age of Happiness. They should understand that they are committing a most grievous sin. Anyone with even a bit of consciousness should tremble at the inevitable dire consequences.
NINTH POINT: Some Sharia matters are related to worship. Being independent of human reason, the cause for their performance is God’s command. Other Sharia matters are the result of preferring a purpose or a comprehensible benefit. Nevertheless, the real cause for their legislation is the Divine command.
Public symbols related to worship cannot rely on any imagined or fancied benefit, regardless of the supposed beneficial results. No one can interfere with them. In addition, the wisdom in or Divine purposes for their legislation or the resulting benefits are not restricted to their known benefits. For example, why does the adhan summon Muslims to prayer when firing a gun would achieve the same result? We should realize that the adhan has far more benefits than just this one. Firing a gun might achieve the same result, but how could it substitute for the adhan, which is also a means of declaring God’s Unity on behalf of that area’s people, the greatest purpose and result of creating humanity and the universe? It also expresses their servanthood and worship for Divine Lordship.
In short, there is a reason for Hell. Many things going on today make one want to say: “Long live Hell!” Paradise does not come cheap, but rather at a very high price. Remember: The inhabitants of the Fire and the inhabitants of Paradise are not equal. The inhabitants of Paradise—they are the triumphant (59:20).
383 Al-Tabari (c839-923): Scholar and author of enormous compendiums of early Islamic history and Qur’anic exegesis. He condensed the vast wealth of exegetical and historical erudition of earlier Muslim scholars, and is renowned as a historian, faqih (jurist), and interpreter of the Qur’an. (Ed.)
384 In pre-Islamic times, mediums and seers tried to acquire limited news of the Unseen through jinn and devils. This door was closed when the Qur’an began to be revealed. (Ed.)
385 Nun is prefixed and suffixed to a verb in different tenses to mean we, as in na‘budu (we worship).
386 Muslim, Jum‘a, 43; Abu Dawud, Sunna, 5.