The Philosophy of the Teachings of Islam – Part 10No Comments | October 2011
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We have already explained that the word Kafur has been used in this verse for the reason that the Arabic word Kafara means suppression and covering up. This is an indication that these people have quaffed the cup of cutting asunder from the world and turning to God with such sincerity, that their love of the world has become quite cold. It is well-known that all passions originate in the heart, and when the heart withdraws altogether from all undesirable fancies and never reverts to them at all, these passions begin to decline until they disappear altogether; that is what is conveyed in this verse, that is to say, that such people draw far away from the passions of self, and incline so completely towards God that their hearts become cold to worldly pursuits, and their passions are suppressed as camphor suppresses poisonous matter. Then it is said: They will be given to drink therein of a cup tempered with ginger. The Arabic word for ginger (Zanjabil) is a compound of Zana’ and Jabal. Zana’ in Arabic idiom means ascending and Jabal means a mountain, thus Zana’ Jabal means: He ascended the mountain.
It should be remembered that after a person recovers from a poisonous disease he passes through two stages before he is restored to full health and strength. The first stage is when the poisonous matter is completely overcome and dangerous tendencies are reformed, and poisonous conditions are safely averted and the attack of the fatal upsurge is completely suppressed; but the limbs are still weak, strength is lacking and the patient treads wearily. The second stage is when the patient is restored to full health and his body achieves full strength, and he feels that he can climb hills and run along the heights. This condition is achieved in the third stage concerning which God Almighty has said, that godly people of the highest rank drink of cups that are flavoured with ginger; that is to say, that arriving at the full strength of their spiritual condition they can climb high mountains; meaning that they carry out great projects and make great sacrifices in the cause of God.
The Effect of Ginger
It should be remembered that one of the qualities of ginger is that it strengthens the system and relieves dysentery and warms it up so that a person becomes capable, as it were, of climbing a mountain. By placing camphor and ginger in juxtaposition it is intended to convey that when a person moves from a condition of subordination to his passions towards virtue, the first reaction is that the poisonous matter from which he suffers are suppressed and the surge of passions begins to subside, as camphor suppresses poisonous matter. That is why it is found useful in the treatment of cholera and typhoid. When poisonous matter is completely suppressed and the patient recovers his health to a degree in which he still feels weak, the second stage is that he derives strength from a drink flavoured with ginger. In spiritual terms, this drink is the manifestation of Divine beauty, which is the nourishment of the soul. When he derives strength from this manifestation he is enabled to climb high mountains, that is to say, he performs such surprisingly difficult feats in the cause of God, that no one whose heart is not inspired by the warmth of love can perform. In these verses, God Almighty has employed two Arabic terms to illustrate these two conditions; one term is camphor, which means suppression, and the other is ginger, which means climbing.
These are the two conditions, which are encountered by seekers after God. [The Qur’an states] that for the disbelievers who have no inclination towards accepting the truth, we have prepared chains and collars for the neck, and the burning sensation of a blazing fire.1 This means that for those who reject the truth and have no inclination towards accepting it, God has prepared chains and collars and a blazing fire. The meaning is that those who do not seek God with a true heart suffer a severe reaction. They are so involved with the world as if their feet are secured by chains, and they bend down so much towards worldly pursuits, as if there are collars round their necks which do not permit them to lift their eyes towards heaven. They have a burning desire for the things of the world: property, authority, domination, wealth, etc. As God Almighty finds them unworthy and committed to undesirable pursuits, He inflicts them with these three sufferings. This is an indication that every human action is followed by a corresponding action on the part of God. For instance, when a person closes all the doors and windows of his room, his action is followed by a Divine action whereby the room becomes dark. All the inevitable consequences of our actions that have been appointed by God Almighty under the law of nature are all God’s actions, inasmuch as He is the Cause of causes. For instance, if a person swallow’s poison, his action would be followed by the Divine action that he would suffer death. In the same way if a person acts in some improper way which attracts an infectious disease, his action would be followed by the Divine action that he would be afflicted with that disease.
Thus, as we observe clearly that in our worldly life, there is an inevitable result for every action of ours, and that result is the act of God Almighty. The same law operates in religious matters also. For instance, it is said that in consequence of the full striving of a person in seeking God, the inevitable act of God is to guide him along the ways that lead to Him.2 As a contrast it is said: When they deviated from the right course and did not desire to tread along the straight path, the Divine action followed in that their hearts were made perverse.3 To illustrate this even more clearly it is said: He who remains blind in this life will be blind in the hereafter also, and even more astray.4 This is an indication that the virtuous see God in this very life and they behold their True Beloved in this world. The purport of this verse is that the foundation of the heavenly life is laid in this very world, and that the root of hellish blindness is also the vile and blind life of this world. Then it is said: Give glad tidings to those who believe and work righteously, that for them there are gardens beneath which rivers flow.5 In this verse, God Almighty has described faith as a garden beneath which rivers flow, and has thus indicated that faith is related to righteous action, as a garden is related to the water of the river or stream. As a garden cannot flourish without water, faith cannot survive without righteous action. If there is faith but no righteous action that faith is vain; and if there are actions but not faith, the actions are mere show or display.
The reality of the Islamic paradise is that it is a reflection of the faith and actions of a person in this life, and is not something that will be bestowed upon a person from outside. A person’s paradise is developed inside him and everyone’s paradise is his faith and his righteous actions, the delight of which begins to be tasted in this very life, and one perceives the hidden gardens and streams of faith and righteous action which will become concretely manifest in the hereafter. God’s holy teaching instructs us that pure and perfect and firm faith in God, His attributes and His designs, is a beautiful garden of fruit trees, and righteous actions are the streams that irrigate the garden. The Holy Qur’an says that a word of faith that is free from every extreme defect and falsehood and vanity, and is perfect in every way is like a tree, which is free from every defect.6 The root of that tree is firm in the earth and its branches spread into heaven. It brings forth its fruit at all times and at no time are its branches without fruit. Thus, it will be seen that God Almighty has described a word of faith as a tree that bears fruit at all times, and has set forth three of its characteristics.
The first is that its root, that is to say, its true meaning should be firm in the earth, meaning that its truth and reality should be acceptable to human nature and conscience.
Its second characteristic is that its branches should spread out into heaven, meaning that it should be supported by reason and should be in accord with the heavenly law of nature which is the work of God. In other words, the law of nature should furnish arguments in support of its correctness and truth, and those arguments should be beyond the reach of criticism.
Its third characteristic should be that its fruit should be permanent and unlimited, that is to say, the blessings and effects of acting upon it should continue to be manifested at all times, and should not cease to be manifested after a period. Then it is said:
The case of an evil word is like that of an evil tree, which is uprooted from the earth and has no stability; meaning that human nature rejects it and it cannot be established by reason, nor the law of nature or human conscience.7 It has no more stability than an idle tale.
As the Holy Qur’an has said that the trees of true faith will appear in the hereafter as grapes and pomegranates and other good fruits, in the same way the evil tree of faithlessness is called Zaqqum, as is said: Are the gardens of paradise better entertainment or the tree Zaqqum which We have made a means of trial for the wrongdoers? It is a tree that springs forth from the root of hell, that is to say, it grows out of arrogance and self-esteem. Its fruit is, as if it were, the heads of Satan, meaning that he who eats it would be ruined.8 Then it is said: The tree of Zaqqum is the food of the deliberately sinful. It will boil in their bellies like molten copper. The sinful one will be commanded: Now suffer this, thou who didst hold thyself mighty and noble.9 This is a wrathful expression meaning that if he had not been arrogant and had not turned away from the truth out of pride and a false notion of his dignity, he would not have had to suffer in this fashion. This verse indicates that the word Zaqqum is compounded of Zuq, meaning taste it, and Am, which is formed by the first and last letters of the remaining portion of the verse.10
Thus, God Almighty has described the words of faith uttered in this life as the trees of paradise. In the same way He has described the words of faithlessness uttered in this life as the tree of hell, which He has called Zaqqum, and has thus indicated that the root of paradise and of hell is laid in this very life. At another place hell is described as a fire, the source of which is the wrath of God and which is kindled by sin and overcomes the heart.11 This is an indication that at the root of this fire are the sorrows and grief’s and torments which afflict the heart. All spiritual torments arise in the heart and then envelop the whole body. At another place it is said: That the fuel of the fire of hell, which keeps it blazing, is of two types.12 One, those men who turn away from God and worship other things, or who require their own worship; as is said: False deities and their worshippers will all be thrown into hell.13 The second type of fuel of hell is the idols. If there had been no false gods and no idols, nor any worshippers of these, there would have been no hell. All these verses show that in the Holy Word of God, heaven and hell are not like the physical world. Their source is spiritual, though it is true that in the hereafter they will take on concrete forms, and yet they will not belong to this world.
Means of Establishing a Perfect Spiritual Relationship with God
The method of establishing a perfect spiritual relationship with God that the Holy Qur’an teaches us is Islam, meaning devoting one’s whole life to the cause of God and being occupied with the supplications which we have been taught in Surah Fatihah [opening Chapter of the Holy Qur’an]. This is the essence of Islam. Complete surrender to God and the supplication taught in Surah Fatihah, are the only methods of meeting God and drinking the water of true salvation. This is the only method that the law of nature has appointed for man’s highest exaltation and for his meeting the Divine. Those alone find God who enter into the spiritual fire of Islam and continue occupied with the supplication set out in Surah Fatihah.
Islam is the blazing fire that burns up our life, and consuming our false deities, presents the sacrifice of our life and our property and our honour, to our Holy God. Entering it, we drink the water of a new life and all our spiritual faculties establish such a relationship with God as subsists between kindred. A fire leaps up from our inside like lightning, and another fire descends upon us from above. By the meeting of these two flames all our passions and our love for anything besides God are totally consumed and we become dead vis-à-vis our previous life. This condition is named Islam in the Holy Qur’an. Through our complete surrender to the will of God our passions are killed, and through supplication we acquire new life. This second life is signalised by the receipt of revelation. Arriving at this stage is interpreted as meeting with God, in other words beholding God. At this stage, a person establishes a relationship with God by virtue of which he becomes as if he were beholding God, and he is invested with power and all his senses and his inner faculties are illumined, and he feels the strong pull of a holy life. At this stage, God becomes his eye with which he sees, and becomes his tongue with which he speaks, and becomes his hand with which he assaults his enemy, and becomes his ear with which he hears, and becomes his feet with which he walks. This stage is referred to in the verse: Allah’s hand is above their hands.14 In the same way it is said that: it was not thou who didst throw, but it was Allah Who threw.15
In short, at this stage there is perfect union with God and His holy Will pervades the soul thoroughly, and the moral power that had previously been weak becomes firm like a mountain, and reason and intelligence are sharpened to the extreme.16 This is the meaning of the verse; at this stage the streams of love for and devotion to Him surge up in such a manner that to die in the cause of God and to endure thousands of torments for His sake, and to become disgraced in His path, become as easy as breaking a small straw. One is pulled towards God without knowing who is pulling. One is carried about by a hidden hand, and to do God’s Will becomes the purpose of one’s life. At this stage God appears very close, as He has said: We are closer to him than his jugular vein.17 In this condition the lower relationships of a person fall away from him, as ripe fruit falls away automatically from the branch of a tree. His relationship with God deepens, and he draws far away from all creation and is honoured with the word and converse of God. The doors of access to this stage are as widely open today as they were at any time, and Divine Grace still bestows this bounty upon those who seek it, as He did before. But this is not achieved by the mere exercise of the tongue, and this door is not opened by vain talk and boasts. There are many who seek but there are few who find. Why is that so? It is because this stage demands true earnestness and true sacrifice. Mere words mean nothing in this context. To step faithfully onto the fire from which other people run away is the first requirement of this path. Boasts avail nothing; what is needed is practical zeal and earnestness. In this context God, the Glorious, has said: When my servants enquire from thee concerning me, tell them I am close. I respond to the call of the supplicant when he calls on me. So should they seek me through their supplications and have firm faith in me, that they may be rightly guided.18
Continues in the next edition
1. Verily, We have prepared for the disbelievers chains and iron-collars and a blazing Fire. (Ch.76:V.5)
2. And as for those who strive in our path—we will surely guide them in Our ways… (Ch.29:V.70)
3. …So when they deviated from the right course, Allah caused their hearts to deviate… (Ch.61:V.6)
4. But whoso is blind in this world will be blind in the Hereafter, and even more astray from the way. (Ch.17:V.73)
5. And give glad tidings to those who believe and do good works, that for them are Gardens beneath which flow streams… (Ch.2:V.26)
6. Dost thou not see how Allah sets forth the similitude of a good word? It is like a good tree, whose root is firm and whose branches reach into heaven. It brings forth its fruit at all times. (Ch.14:Vs.25-26)
7. The case of an evil word is like that of an evil tree, which is uprooted from above the earth and has no stability.(Ch.14:V.27)
8. Is that better as an entertainment, or the tree of Zaqqum? Verily We have made it a trial for the wrongdoers. It is a tree that springs forth in the bottom of Hell; The fruit thereof is as though it were the heads of serpents. (Ch.37:Vs.63-66)
9. Verily, the tree of Zaqqum. Will be the food of the sinful, Like molten copper, it will boil in their bellies, like the boiling of scalding water……‘Taste it! You did consider yourself the mighty, the honourable. (Ch.44:Vs.44-47, 50)
10. You did consider yourself the mighty, the honourable. (Ch.44:V.50)
11. It is Allah’s kindled fire, Which rises over the hearts. (Ch.104:Vs.7-8)
12. …whose fuel is men and stones… (Ch.2:V.25)
13. ‘Surely, you and that which you worship beside Allah are the fuel of Hell… (Ch.21:V.99)
14. The hand of Allah is over their hands… (Ch.48:V.11)
15. …And you threw not when you did throw, but it was Allah Who threw… (Ch.8:V.18)
16. …and whom He has strengthened with inspiration from Himself… (Ch.58:V.23)
17. …and we are nearer to him than even his jugular vein. (Ch.50:V.17)
18. And when My servants ask you about Me, say: ‘I am near. I answer the prayer of the supplicant when he prays to me. So they should hearken to me and believe in me, that they may follow the right way.’ (Ch.2:V.187)