In the Shade of the Quran (part 30)

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  • In the Shade of the Quran (part 30)

  • Surah 86 The Night Visitor - at Tariq

    In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful.


    By heaven and by the night visitor. Would that you knew what the night visitor is! It is the star of piercing brightness. For every soul there is a guardian who watching over it. Let man then reflect of what he is created: he is created of gushing water which issues from between the loins and the chest bones. Allah is well able to bring him back (to life). On the day when men's consciences are tried, he shall be helpless, with no supporter. By the heaven with its returning rain, by the earth ever splitting with verdure, this is surely, decisive word; it is no frivolity. They try and scheme against you, but I too have My schemes. So give respite to the disbelievers; leave them alone for a while.



    It has been stated in the introduction to this thirtieth part of the Qur'an that its surahs are like continuous loud and violent knocks, or like shouts addressed to people who are fast asleep. Both knocks and shouts repeatedly strike their senses with the same message and the same warning:

    Wake up! rise! reflect! look around! think! consider! There is a God. There is an organisation and a deliberate system of creation. There is trial and liability, reckoning and reward, severe chastisement and endless happiness.

    The present surah is a typical example of these qualities. Its tone is sharp. The scenes portrayed, the rhythm chosen, the sounds of the individual words and their meanings all contribute to this sharpness of tone. The scenes include the night visitor, the star piercing with brightness, the gushing water, the returning rain and the splitting earth. The meanings include watching over souls: "For every soul there is a guardian who watches over it"; the lack of strength and help: "On the day when men's consciences are tried, he shall be helpless, with no supporter"; the complete seriousness: "This is surely a decisive word; it is no frivolity. "The same characteristics apply to the warnings given in this surah: They try and scheme against you, but I too have My schemes. So give respite to the disbelievers; leave them alone for a while.

    There is complete harmony between the scenes of the universe portrayed in the surah and the facts it states. The harmony becomes abundantly clear when the surah is carefully considered. 'By heaven and by the night visitor. Would that you knew what the night visitor is! It is the star piercing with brightness. For every soul there is a guardian who watches over it. " This oath includes a scene of the universe and a fact of faith. It opens by mentioning heaven and the night visitor and fact that statement by the form of exclamation made familiar in the Qur'an; "Would that you knew what the night visitor is!" This form of exclamation gives the impression that it is mysterious, beyond explanation!

    The Qur'an then states its nature and form: "It is the star of piercing brightness." It pierces darkness with its penetrating rays. The description applies to all stars. There is no need to attach it to a particular star. Generality is more useful in this kind of context. It makes the meaning read like this: "By heaven and its stars which pierce darkness and penetrate through that veil covering all things." Thus, this reference sheds its own light on the facts outlined in this surah and the scenes it portrays, as will be discussed later on.

    Allah swears by heaven and its piercing stars that every soul has an observer appointed by Allah to watch it: "For every soul there is a guardian who watches over it." This particular mode of expression implies a strong assertion that there is an agent appointed by Allah to watch every soul and to keep a record of its actions and thoughts. The watch is over the soul because it is there that thoughts and secrets which are responsible for action and its reward lie. Thus, people are not left to roam about over the earth, or to do as they wish without someone to watch what they do. On the contrary, an accurate and immediate record is kept, on the basis of which the reckoning is made.

    The awesome inference becomes clear as the soul feels that it is never alone even when without company. There is always the watcher who remains nearby even when one hides from all and is secure against any visitor or intruder. There is the watcher who penetrates all covers and has access to all concealed things, in the same way as the piercing star tears through the night cover. For Allah's method of creation is the same with regard to human souls and the wide horizons. This touch which unites the human soul with the universe is followed by another which emphasises the truth of organised creation and deliberate planning to which Allah has sworn by heaven and the night visitor The early stages of man's creation constitute a proof of this fact and suggest that man is not forgotten as an insignificant lost item: Let man then reflect of what he is created: he is created of gushing water, which issues from between the loins and the chest bones.

    Let man consider his origins and what has become of him. It is a very wide gulf which divides the origins from the final product, the gushing water from man the intelligent, rational being with his highly sophisticated organic, neurological, mental and psychological systems. The reference to this great gulf which the gushing water crosses in order to be made into a communicating being suggests that there is a power beyond the province of man which moves that shapeless and powerless fluid along its remarkable and impressive journey until it is shaped into its magnificent ultimate form. It implies that there is a guardian appointed by Allah to look after that moist germ, and to guide it through its remarkable journey, which is full of wonders much greater than those met by man throughout his life.

    This one fertilising cell, of which there are millions in every gush, is hardly visible under the microscope. It is a creature without support, reason or will. But as soon as it settles in the womb it proceeds to search for its food. The guarding hand of Allah equips it with a quality which enables it to convert the lining of the womb around it into a pool of blood, to supply it with fresh nourishment. Once it is sure of the availability of food it starts another process of continuous division to produce new cells. This shapeless and powerless creature which has no reason or will, knows exactly what it is doing and what it wants. The guarding hand watching over it provides by with guidance, knowledge, power and will to enable it to know its way. It Is charged with the task of making every group of the newly produced cells specialise in building a part of the magnificent structure of the human body. One group proceeds to produce the skeleton; another group forms the muscles; a third the nervous system; a fourth the lymphatic system. The same applies to every major part of the human structure. But the matter is not as simple as that: it involves a higher degree of specialisation; for every bone, every muscle and every nerve is unique and dissimilar to every other. The structure is accurately planned, and has a wide range of functions. Hence, as every group of cells proceeds to fulfil its appointed task in building this structure. it learns to break up into specialised subdivisions, each having its particular function in the general set up. Every little cell proceeds knowing its way, destination and function. Those cells entrusted with the task of forming the eye know that the eye must be in the face, and that it cannot be situated in the abdomen or the foot or the arm, despite the fact that any of these localities is a suitable place for forming an eye. If the first cell charged with making the eye was taken off course and planted in any of these localities, it would have fulfilled its mission and made an eye there. But when it sets out on its mission it simply goes to the exact spot specified for the eye. Who then has told this cell that this structure needs its eye to be that particular spot? It is Allah the watching Guardian who guides it, looks after it and shows it its way.

    All the cells work individually and collectively within a framework set for them by certain elements functioning inside the cells. These elements are known as the genes which preserve the general characteristics of the species and the distinctive traits of the parents and forefathers. When the eye cell divides and proliferates in order to form the eye, it endeavours at the same time to preserve Its shape and particular features so that it turns out to be a human eye and not an eye of any animal. Furthermore, it endeavours to make it an eye of a human being whose forefathers had certain features and characteristics which distinguished their eyes. The slightest error in designing that eye, whether in shape or qualities, forces the forming cell out of its set course. So who has endowed power, ability and knowledge to this insignificant cell which has no reason, will or power of its own? It is Allah Who taught it to design and produce what all mankind can never design or produce. For mankind cannot design an eye or a part of it, if they are charged with this task, while an insignificant cell or group of cells in the human body can accomplish this great mission.

    This is merely a quick glance at parts of the remarkable journey which transforms the gushing water into the communicative human being. But there is indeed a great multitude of wonders in the physiological functions of the various organs and systems. It is beyond the scope of this work to trace these wonders but they all constitute evidence of the elaborate planning and organisation and bear the stamp of Allah's guarding, helping and guiding hand. They emphasise the first fact in the surah sworn to by heaven and the night visitor, and prepare for the next fact, namely, the resurrection, which was not believed by the polytheists who were among the first to be addressed by the Qur'an. Allah is well able to bring him back, on the day when men's consciences are tried, he shall be helpless, with no supporter.

    Allah, Who has created him and looked after him, is well able to bring him back to life after death. The first creation is evidence of His ability as well as His elaborate planning and organisation. Unless there is a return for a trial of the secrets in order to accord everyone his fair reward then the highly sophisticated and wise creation would be in vain . On the day when men's consciences are tried.

    The Arabic terms used by the Qur'an have much wider connotations than "conscience and trial. " They suggest that that part of the human soul where secrets are safely deposited will be thrown open, searched and exposed in the same way as the night visitor penetrates the covering darkness of the night. As the guarding watcher penetrates through the soul hidden under multiple covers, secrets are tried when man finds himself powerless and without support: He shall be helpless, with no supporter.

    Standing bare with no cover and being without strength adds to the strains and hardships of the situation. The description has a deep effect on the reader's perception, as it moves from talking of the universe and the human soul to man's creation and his remarkable journey, until he reaches the end when his secrets are exposed and he stands alone, powerless and without support. By the heaven with its returning rain; by the earth ever splitting with verdure; this is surely a decisive word; it is no frivolity.

    The rain which comes from the sky again and again and the vegetation which splits the earth and springs out are two images describing one of the many manifestations of life, the life of plants and their origins. Water which pours down from heaven and verdure which springs out from the earth, are akin to the water gushing between loins and the breast bones and to the embryo springing out from the darkness of the womb. It is the same life, the same scene, the same movement. It is one system indicating a Maker Who has no competitors. The rain and verdure scene is not dissimilar to that of the night visitor, the piercing star as it splits covers and curtains. It is also similar to the scene of consciences being searched and all concealment's being thrown open. It is again the same style of structure which tells of the Maker. Allah swears by these two creations and their two events, the heaven of the returning rains and the earth splitting with verdure. The impact of the scene portrayed combines with the rhythm to strike a strong note of finality and decisiveness. The oath is that this word, or the Qur'an generally, which states that there is a return and a trial, is the decisive word which admits of no frivolity. It puts an end to all argument and to all doubts and uncertainties. It is a true and final word, to which both the heaven of the returning rain and the earth splitting with verdure are witnesses When this final statement of the return and trial is made, there follows an address to Allah's Messenger. At the time of revelation he was with the few believers who supported him in Makka. They were suffering the brunt of the hostility of the polytheists and their plots against the Islamic call. The polytheists were tirelessly trying to smother the call. The address is made to the Messenger to encourage and reassure him, and to disparage what the schemers devise. It states that the scheming is temporary; the battle is in Allah's hand and under His command. So, let the Messenger persevere and be patient, and let him and the believers be reassured: They try and scheme against you, bur I too have My schemes. So give respite to the disbelievers; leave them alone for a while.

    Those people who are created out of gushing water issuing between the loins and the breast bones, brought forth without any strength, ability or will of their own, guided along their long journey by the Divine power and destined to that return when the secrets are searched and tried and where they have no strength or support - are devising a scheme against the Prophet and the Muslims! I - the Creator who guides, preserves, directs, brings back to life and puts to trial; the Able; the Victor Who has made the sky, the night visitor, the gushing water and man; the Maker of the heaven with its returning rain and the earth splitting with verdure, I, Allah, am devising a scheme of My own. So, there are the two schemes and a battle. It is, in truth, a one-sided battle but described as one between two sides for the sake of sarcasm.

    So give respite to the disbelievers; leave them alone for a while." Do not be impatient. Do not precipitate the end of the battle when you have seen its true nature. There is a wisdom behind this respite and delay which is short even though it may take up the whole length of this first life; for how short this life appears when compared with a life of limitless duration. Allah's benevolent and compassionate attitude to His Messenger is noticeable in the final verse:

    So give respite to the disbelievers; leave them alone for a while. He is addressed here as if he were the final authority, or as if he were the one who decides or approves that they may have a short respite. But the Messenger has no such authority; it is merely an expression of kind and benevolent tenderness which blows an air of compassion over his heart. It is a Divine tenderness which suggests that the Messenger has a say in the whole matter as if he had a share or an interest in it. It lifts all barriers between the Messenger and the Divine domain, where all matters are judged and settled.


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