In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate.
Let not the life of the world beguile you, nor let the deceiver beguile in regard to God. (35:5)
KNOW, O ONE WHO INVITES Muslims to the worldly life, a plaything of sleep and sport, urging them to leave the lawful sufficient for them to satisfy their needs and desires for the forbidden, as well as some public symbols of Islam or even the religion itself. You resemble a drunk who cannot distinguish a wild, ravenous lion from a docile horse, a hangman’s noose from a child’s skipping rope, a gaping wound from an opening rose. You suppose the lion to be the horse; the noose to be the skipping rope, and the open wound a red rose. Despite this, you think that you are putting things right.
You resemble one who sees a person in a dreadful condition—a lion behind him waiting to attack, a gallows in front of him, and two grievous wounds on either side of his body. He has two kinds of medicine that will change the wounds into two red roses; two talismans (one in his tongue, the other in his heart) that will cause the lion to change into a horse that will carry him to the presence of his munificent master, who invites him to the abode of peace to feast. The hangman’s noose dangling from the tree of decay and mortality will, by God’s grace, carry him through continuously changing scenes to increase the pleasure taken in the renewal of their beauty, forms, and favors through the days and seasons, years and centuries.
You say: “Leave those talismans and medicine, and let’s amuse ourselves.” The person replies: “The talismans and medicine are enough for me, for only they bring pleasure and happiness. Can you kill the lion of death that will die only in Paradise90; remove decay and mortality and so change Earth into something other than itself; heal my wound (of impotence) and so change my fleeting, perishable life into a permanent, everlasting one; and cure my other wound of poverty and destitution into perpetual richness?
If you can, I will do as you say. Otherwise, leave me alone! You can deceive only other drunks who cannot distinguish between laughing and crying, permanence and transience, remedy and ailment, and deviation and guidance. God is sufficient for me. How good a Guardian He is, and how good a Helper.
KNOW, O FRIEND, that students of corrupt, misguided civilizations and philosophies are driven by greed and various passions. They invite Muslims to follow foreign traditions and customs, to abandon their public symbols radiant with the light of Islam. Students of the Qur’an respond: “If you can remove decay and death from the world, and impotence and poverty from humanity, then you may be indifferent to religion and its public symbols. Otherwise keep silent, for your words are no more than a fly’s buzzing compared to the thunder-like cry of the four things mentioned above. The laws of creation and life, [as well as human psychology and sociology,] also proclaim the necessity of religion and of following its public symbols.” When the Qur’an is recited, give ear to it and pay heed, haply so you will find, and be treated with, mercy (7:204).
The lion of the appointed hour of death is behind us, waiting. If you believe the Qur’an, that lion will change into a horse, and separation (from those we love) will become a Buraq (a mount of the Unseen world) to carry you to the Mercy of the All-Merciful, All-Compassionate, to the Presence of our Master, the All-Affectionate, All-Munificent. Otherwise, that lion will rip us apart and eternally separate us from what we love. Decay and transience are also before us in the form of alternating day and night, and perishing and separation as seasons and years.
These things—death and separation, decay and transience—are gallows set up to hang us together with all our beloved ones. If we follow the Qur’an, all of these become a mount for a pleasant journey on the stream of time and ocean of the world to observe the operations of Divine Power through successive seasons following one another by the sun’s wheel and Earth’s rotation wrapping around its head the turban of days and nights and wearing the garments of summer and winter one over the other. During that journey, we can observe the continuous renewal of the Divine Names’ on moving objects, in changing mirrors and on altering tablets (anything changing in parallel with the changing of days and seasons) through the alternation of days and nights.
Moreover, on our right side is the wound of infinite poverty. We are poorer than all other animate beings, while our power to satisfy all our material and spiritual needs is lesser than that of a sparrow. If we cure our wounds with the Qur’an, our painful, innate poverty changes into a pleasure-giving zeal to sit at the feast of Mercy, and into a pleasant appetite for the fruits of the Mercy of the All-Merciful, All-Compassionate. The pleasure of feeling one’s poverty and impotence before the Almighty is much greater than that of being apparently rich and powerful. Otherwise, we will suffer the pain of need and the humiliation of begging from and bowing before whoever we expect to satisfy our needs.
On our left side is the deep wound of infinite impotence despite unending hostility and danger. The pain of fear destroys the worldly life’s pleasure. But if we submit to the Qur’an’s call, our impotence leads us to trust the Absolutely Powerful One and secures us against all hostility. Otherwise, we will continue to suffer hostility and danger in our boundless impotence.
Furthermore, our journey extends through the grave and the Resurrection to eternity. Neither the world nor human reason can illumine the veils of darkness enveloping the way, nor do they provide the necessary food. Our way is illumined only by the Qur’an’s light and the food from the All-Merciful One’s treasury. If you have something that will prevent our journey, provided that it is not misguidance, declare it. Otherwise, keep silent and let the Qur’an say what it says. While we are “reading” these five “verses” in the book of creation—that is, the world’s decay and ephemerality, as well as each individual’s death, impotence and poverty, and long journey— how can we follow you, O conceited, deceived one, especially after we hear the verse: Let not the life of the world beguile you, nor let the deceiver beguile in regard to God (35:5). Only those drunk with the wine of politics or passion for fame, ambition for praise, ethnic or tribal preferences, atheism, or modern dissipation follow you.
The blows we receive must bring us to our senses. Unlike animals, who suffer only the present’s pain, we suffer the present’s pain, the future’s anxiety and grief, and those of the past as well.
If you do not want to remain the most wretched, foolish, and misguided of all animals, keep silent and listen to the Qur’an:
Assuredly, God’s friends no fear shall come upon them, neither shall they grieve. They believe and refrain from sins in fear of God. For them is good tidings in the life of the world and in the Hereafter. No change can there be in the words of God; that is the supreme triumph. (10:62-64)
* * *
90 A Tradition says that on the Day of Judgment, death will appear as a ram and be slaughtered between Paradise and Hell. Thus, there will be no death in Paradise or Hell. Sahih al-Muslim, hadith no. 2849. Also recorded in Sahih al-Bukhari. (Tr.)