The aims of the Qur’an and its valuables

The aims of the Qur’an and its valuables

From Imam al-Ghazzali’s رَحِمَهُ ٱللَّٰهُ  ‘The Jewels of the Qur’an’

In the name of God, Most Gracious, Ever Merciful

After mentioning the name of God, I glorify Him with His praise which should constitute the beginning of every book. May His blessings be upon His messengers!—a prayer which should form the completion of every discourse.

I then wish to rouse you from your sleep, O you who recite the Qur’an to a great length, who take its study as an occupation, and who imbibe some of its outward meanings and sentences. How long will you ramble on the shore of the ocean, closing your eyes to the wonders of the meanings of the Qur’an? Was it not your duty to sail to the midst of the fathomless ocean of these meanings in order to see their wonders, to travel to their islands in order to gather their best produce, and to dive into their depths so that you might become rich by obtaining their jewels? Do you not feel ashamed of being deprived of their pearls and jewels by your persistence in looking at their shores and outward appearances?

Has it not come to your knowledge that the Qur’an is [like] an ocean and that it is from the Qur’an that the sciences of the ancients and the moderns branch off, just as rivers and brooks branch off from the shores of an ocean? Why do you not emulate those people who waded through their waves and thus gained red brimstone, dived into their depths and thus drew out red corundum, shining pearls and green chrysolite, travelled along their coasts and thus gathered grey ambergris and fresh blooming aloe-wood, and became attached to their islands and thus derived from their animals the greatest antidote and the strongest musk? Take notice that, fulfilling the duty of [Islamic] brotherhood and hoping the blessing of your prayer to God, I now wish to guide you to the manner of the journey of these people, of their diving and of their swimming.

 

The aims of the Qur’an and its valuables

The secret of the Qur’an, its purest pith, and its ultimate aim consist in calling people to God, the Most Powerful, the Lord of this world and the Hereafter, the Creator of the heavens above and the layers of earth below, and of whatever is between them and whatever is under the moist subsoil. For this reason the sūrahs of the Qur’an and its verses are limited to six types of which three are precedents and important principles and [the remaining] three follow them, enrich them and complete them.

As to the three important divisions, they concern the definition of God to Whom men are called, the definition of the straight path perseverance in which is required in advancing towards Him, and the definition of the condition at the time of attaining to Him.

As to the three divisions which enrich them and complete them, one describes the conditions of those who answer to the call to God, and His delicate dealings with them, the secret and the purpose of this being to excite [in others] a desire [for the attainment of these conditions] and to encourage them [to it]. It also describes the conditions of those who shrink from answering to the call and the manner of the suppression and punishment of them by God, the secret and the purpose of this being to provoke consideration and fear. The second division narrates the conditions of those who deny God, and reveals their disgrace and their ignorance in disputing and arguing against the truth. The secret and the purpose of all this being, on the side of falsity, to make manifest and to create aversion, and, on the side of truth, clear apprehension, confirmation and constraint. The third division defines the stages of the path to God and the manner of taking provision and preparation for it.

 

An explanation of the six aims of the Qur’an

The first division of Qur’anic verses concerns the definition of the One to Whom men are called. It is an explanation of knowledge (ma‘rifah) of God (may He be exalted!), and it is the red brimstone. This knowledge comprises knowledge of the essence of the True One, knowledge of His attributes, and knowledge of His works, and these three are to be called corundum, since these are the most special of the benefits derived from the red brimstone.

Just as corundums have grades—among them are red, bluish-grey and yellow; some of them are more precious than others—so these three forms of knowledge are not of the same grade. On the contrary, the most precious of them is knowledge of God’s essence, and hence this should be called the red corundum. Next to this is knowledge of God’s attributes, and this is the bluish-grey corundum. Contiguous to this is knowledge of God’s works, and this is the yellow corundum.

As the most precious of these corundums is the greatest and the most rare to find, and because of its rarity [even] kings can only get possession of a little of it whereas they may sometimes gain much of what is inferior to it, so also knowledge of divine essence is the narrowest in scope, most difficult to acquire, most puzzling to thought, and furthest from receiving discussion. This is the reason why the Qur’an contains only notes and indications of this knowledge, and references to it amount to [a] the mention of absolute sanctification such as the words of God (may He be exalted!), “Like Him there is nothing” (لَیْسَ كَمِثْلِھِ شَيْء )ٌ , and the Sūrah of Sincerity (سُورَةُ الإِخْلاَص )ِ ,  and [b] the mention of absolute greatness such as His words, “Glory be to Him! High be He exalted above that which they [i.e. polytheists] describe of Him! The Originator of the heavens and the earth!” ( سُبْحَانَھُ وَتَعَالَى عَمَّا یَصِفُونَ ■  بَدِیعُ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالَْأرْض  )

As to the divine attributes their scope is wider, and the girdle of speech concerning them is broader. This is the reason why the verses describing divine knowledge, power, life, speech, wisdom, hearing, seeing, and so on, are numerous.

As for divine works they are [comparable to] a sea the shores of which are very broad and the bounds of which cannot be ascertained by inquiry. Rather there is nothing in existence except God and His works. All that exists besides Him is His works; the Qur’an, however, includes the obvious of them existing in the visible world such as the mention of the heavens, the stars, the earth, mountains, trees, animals, seas, plants, sending down of sweet water [from the clouds] and all other means of maintaining plants and [other forms of] life. These are the divine works obvious to the senses. The noblest of His works, the most wonderful of them, and those which point most clearly to the glory of their Maker are those which are not obvious to the senses, but belong to the invisible world (‘ālam al-malakūt). They are the angels, the incorporeal beings, the spirit, and the soul, i.e. that part of man which knows God (may He be exalted!); these last two are also among the sum total of the unseen and invisible world and are outside the world of possession and sense perception. Among the divine works not obvious to the senses are the terrestrial angels entrusted with [the care of] mankind, and they are those angels who prostrated themselves before Adam. Among them are also the devils who have been given power over mankind, and they are those who refused to prostrate themselves before Adam. [Further,] among them are the celestial angels the highest of whom in rank are the archangels (al-karūbiyyūn) who are secluded in Paradise (ḥaẓīrah al-quds) giving no attention to human beings; rather they give no attention to anything other than God (may He be exalted!) because of their absorption in the beauty of His Lordly Excellency and its glory; they confine their gaze to Him, glorifying Him day and night without tiring. Do not consider it improbable that among the servants of God there may be someone whom His glory diverts from giving attention to Adam and his children. Man cannot magnify himself to this extent. Truly, the Messenger of God (may He bless him and greet him!) said, “Surely God has a white earth where the journey of the sun is of thirty days similar to the days of this world; it is filled thirty times more [than this world] with creatures who do not know that God is disobeyed in the earth, nor do they know that God (may He be exalted!) has created Adam and Iblīs. Ibn ‘Abbās  narrated this Tradition. The kingdom of God is indeed wide!

Know that the majority of people are not aware of most of the works of God, especially the noblest of these works. Rather their understanding is confined to the worlds of sense and imagination, which form the last of the results of the invisible world and are like the rind most distant from the purest pith. One who has not gone beyond this stage has, as it were, seen nothing of the pomegranate except its rind, or of man’s wonders except his outward shape.

These, then, constitute the sum total of the first division of Qur’anic sūrahs and verses, and in them are present different types of corundums. We shall soon recite to you the verses revealed concerning them especially, since they are the essence of the Qur’an, its heart, its pith, and its secret.

The second division concerns the definition of the path of advancing towards God (may He be exalted!). This is by devoting oneself to the service of God as He (may He be exalted!) said, “Devote yourself to Him very devoutly” (وَتَبَتَّلْ إِلَیْھِ تَبْتِیلً ا ). Devotion to Him is achieved by advancing towards Him and turning away from things other than Him; and this is expressed in His words, “There is no God but He; so take Him for a guardian.” (لَا إِلَھَ إِلَّا ھُوَ فَاتَّخِ ذْهُ وَكِیلً ا )  Advancement towards Him can only be achieved by perseverance in remembrance of Him, while turning away from things other than Him is effected by opposing passion, by cleansing oneself from the troubles of this world, and by purification of the soul from them. The result of this purification is prosperity in the Hereafter as God (may He be exalted!) said, “He indeed has achieved prosperity who has purified himself and remembers the name of his Lord and so performs the ritual prayer”

(قَدْ أَفْلَحَ مَن تَزَكَّى  ■ وَذَكَرَ اسْمَ رَبِّھِ فَصَلَّ ى)  Thus the path is supported by two matters, namely, perseverance and opposition—perseverance in remembrance of God (may He be exalted!) and opposition to that which diverts from Him. This is the journey (al-safar) to God.

In this journey to God there is movement neither from the side of the traveller nor from the side of Him to Whom he travels, since both are together. Have you not heard the words of God (may He be exalted!)—and He is the most truthful of all those who speak—“We are nearer to him [i.e. man] than his jugular vein  (  الْوَرِیدِ وَنَحْ نُ أَقْرَبُ إِلَیْھِ مِنْ حَبْلِ )

The truth is that the seeker and the Sought are comparable to a picture present in a mirror: The picture is not revealed in it because of rust on its surface; when, however, you polish the mirror the picture is revealed in it, neither by the movement of the picture towards it nor by its movement towards the picture, but by the removal of the veil. God (may He be exalted!) is revealed by His essence and is not concealed, for concealment of light is impossible, and by light everything which is concealed becomes obvious, and God is the light of the heavens and the earth. The concealment of light from the pupil of the eye is only caused by one of two matters—either by turbidness in the pupil of the eye, or by weakness in it since it is unable to tolerate the great dazzling light just as the eyes of bats are unable to tolerate the light of the sun. Nothing, then, is incumbent upon you except to cleanse turbidness from the eye of the soul and to strengthen its pupil. In that case God will be in the soul as the picture is in the mirror, so that when He suddenly reveals Himself in the mirror of the soul you hasten to say that He is inside the soul and that the human nature (nāsūt) has put on the divine nature (lāhūt), until God strengthens you with the firm word[23] so that you realize that the picture is not [really] inside the mirror, but [only] reflected in it. If the picture were to rest inside the mirror it would be inconceivable that it could be reflected in many mirrors at one time; rather [the case would be that] at that time when it rested inside one mirror, it moved from another. Such, however, is not the fact in the least, for God reveals Himself to many of the gnostics at the same time. It is true that He reveals Himself to some mirrors [of the soul] most perfectly, most obviously, most directly and most clearly, and to others most secretly and indirectly, and this [difference] is commensurate with the clarity of the mirror, its polish, the correctness of its shape and the right width of its surface. This is why the Prophet (ṣ) said “God certainly reveals Himself to people generally, but to Abū Bakr especially.”

Knowledge of advancement [towards God] and attainment of Him (wuṣūl) is also [like] a deep sea from the seas of the Qur’an. We shall soon gather for you the verses which will guide you to the path of advancement [towards God] so that you may reflect over them in their entirety. It may be that what should be opened will be opened to you. This division [of Qur’anic sūrahs and verses] constitutes the shining pearls.

The third division defines man’s condition at the time of attaining to God. It includes the mention of repose and delight which he will encounter. The word which is comprehensive of all the types of repose is Paradise, and the highest of these is the pleasure of looking upon God (may He be exalted!). It [also] includes the mention of humiliation and punishment to be suffered by those who are veiled from Him through neglecting to traverse [the path to Him]. The word which is comprehensive of all the types of pain is Hell, and the most intense of them is the pain caused by the veil (ḥijāb) [from God] and removal to a distance (ib‘ād) [from Him]; (may God protect us from it!). For this reason He mentioned it first in His words (may He be exalted!), “No indeed. On that Day they will most certainly be veiled from their Lord. Then they shall roast in Hell.”

This division further includes the mention of the preceding conditions of both groups, [i.e. the people of Paradise and the people of Hell]. These conditions are expressed as resurrection, raising of the dead, reckoning, the balance, and the bridge. These have obvious outward meanings, which occupy the place of food, for common men; these have [also] obscure secrets, which occupy the place of life, for the special people. A third part of the verses of the Qur’an and its sūrahs concerns the details of these. We do not intend to gather them [in this book], because they are more than can be gathered and counted. In their case there is scope for thought and search. This third division constitutes the green chrysolite.

The fourth division [of Qur’anic sūrahs and verses] concerns the conditions of those who have traversed [the path to God] and those who have denied Him and deviated from His path. The conditions of the former are [expressed in the] stories of Adam, Noah (Nūḥ), Abraham (Ibrāhīm), Moses (Mūsā), Aaron (Hārūn), Zachariah, John the Baptist (Yaḥyā), Jesus (‘Īsā), Mary (Maryam), David (Dāwūd), Solomon (Sulaymān), Jonah (Yūnus), Lot (Lūṭ), Enoch (Idrīs), Khaḍir, Shu‘ayb, Elias, Muḥammad (ṣ), Gabriel, Michael, [other] angels, and so on. The conditions of those who have denied God and have deviated from His path are like the stories of Nimrod, Pharaoh, ‘Ād, people of Lot, people of Tubba‘, men of the Grove (Aykah), infidels of Makkah, worshippers of idols, the devils, and so on. The benefit of this division lies in the arousal of fear, the giving of warning and the promotion of consideration. This division also includes secrets, indications and hints, which require prolonged reflection. Grey ambergris and fresh blooming aloe-wood are to be found in the description of the conditions of these two groups of people. The verses revealed concerning them are so many that there is no need to seek them and gather them.

The fifth division [of Qur’anic sūrahs and verses] concerns the arguments of the infidels against the truth, clear explanation of their humiliation by obvious proofs, and the striking disclosure of their falsehood and self-deceit. Their falsehood is of three kinds: One consists in speaking of God (may He be exalted!) in terms which do not befit Him, such as that the angels are His daughters, that He has a child, that He has partners, and that He is ‘a third of the three’. The second is to consider God’s Messenger (ṣ) as a sorcerer, soothsayer and a liar, to refuse to believe in his prophethood, and to say that he is a man like other people so that he does not deserve to be followed. The third is the denial of the Last Day, the denial of the resurrection, raising the dead, Paradise, Hell, and the denial of the consequences of obedience and disobedience to God. In His (may He be exalted!) arguments substantiated with proofs against the infidels are present subtleties and realities in which a great antidote is to be found. The verses concerning this [fifth] division also are obviously numerous.

The sixth division [of Qur’anic sūrahs and verses] defines the fulfilment of obligations at the stages of the path [to God] and the manner of taking provision and of seeking preparedness by making ready the weapons which will repel the bandits and brigands at the stages. The explanation of this is that the world is one of the stages of those who travel to God[29] (may He be exalted!), and the body is a vehicle. The man who neglects the management of the stage and the vehicle cannot complete his journey. So long as he does not set in order the affairs of his livelihood, the task of complete devotion to God (may He be exalted!) which is identical with traversing the path to Him, cannot be attained. This devotion [in turn] cannot be complete until his body is sound and his offspring continued. These two become complete by the means of preservation of their existence and by the means of repelling those things which corrupt them and destroy them. As to the means of preservation of their existence, they are eating and drinking which are for the continuance of the body and for sexual intercourse which is for the continuance of offspring. Food is created as a means of life, and females as a means of continuation of species. But edibles and women are not special for some eaters [and some men] on the authority of their innate quality. Should this  matter be left without defining the rules of making them special [for some only], people would have neglected it and fought among themselves, and this would have diverted them from traversing the path [to God]; indeed this would have led them to destruction. The Qur’an, therefore, has explained the rules of speciality in regard to wealth in the verses dealing with sales, usury, giving and receiving of loans, division of inheritances, the causes of required expenditures, the division of booty, charities, marriages, emancipation of slaves, kitābah, the possession of slaves and the taking of prisoners in battle. The Qur’an has [also] defined the manner of speciality in regard to wealth, at the time of accusation, by confession, oaths and witnesses. As for speciality with regard to females, it is described in the verses concerning marriage, divorce, withdrawal from divorce, the legal period of retirement assigned to a widow or divorced woman before she may marry again, khul‘, dowry, īlā’, ẓihār, li‘ān, and also in the verses concerning those women with whom marriage is unlawful because of blood relationship, suckling, and relationship through marriage.

The means of repelling those elements which corrupt both the soundness of the body and the continuance of offspring are the punishments which restrain man from those elements. These punishments are like war with the infidels and unjust people and incitement to it, penalties, indemnities, reproofs, atonements, blood-ransoms and retaliation. Retaliation and blood-ransom are prescribed as a deterrent from [a man’s] effort to destroy the life and limb [of another]. The penalties for theft and highway robbery are prescribed as a means of repelling that which destroys wealth, which is the means of livelihood. The penalties for adultery, homosexuality and false accusation are prescribed as deterrents from that which disorders the matters of offspring and lineages and corrupts the means of the continuance of the human species and successive generations. War with the infidels is enjoined as repelling that which will be caused by the deniers of truth, namely, disorder of the means of livelihood and worship, by both of which the [task of] attaining to God is accomplished. War with unjust people is ordered to repel the confusion which will appear when the disobedient people slip from the control of the religious government which is entrusted to the one [i.e. the king] who guards those who traverse [the path of God] and support the righteous, as a deputy of the Messenger of the Lord of all the worlds. The verses revealed concerning these matters are not hidden from you. They embody fundamental principles, advantages, wisdom, and benefits, which all are comprehended by the one who reflects upon the beauties of the revealed law which describes the bounds of judgements concerning the matters of this life. This sixth division [of the Qur’anic verses also] include that which is termed lawful, unlawful, and the bounds of God. It is in the verses falling under this division that the strongest musk is to be found.

These [six divisions] then form the confluence of those teachings which are contained in the sūrahs of the Qur’an and their verses. Should you thread these six divisions together with their intended branches on one string, you will find that there are ten types. [They concern] the divine essence, divine attributes, divine works, the life to come, the straight path (َ الصِّرَاطَ الْمُسْتَقِیم ) i.e. the purification and beautification [of the soul], the conditions of the saints, the conditions of God’s enemies, [His] arguments with the infidels, and [finally] the bounds of legal judgements.