23 – Wonderment and Hope

The young and the less successful did not by any means all accept the Divine message forthwith; but at least complacency had not blocked their hearing against the sharpness and vehemence of the summons, which had broken upon their little world as with the notes of a clarion.The voice that ‘Uthman had heard crying in the desert “Sleepers awake” was akin to the message itself and for those who now accepted the message it was indeed as if they had awakened from a sleep and had entered upon a new life.

The disbelievers’ attitude, past and present, was summed up in the words: There is naught but the life of this world … and we shall not be raised.[1] To this came the Divine answers: Not in play did We create the heavens and the earth and all that is between them[2] and Deem ye that We did but create you in vain and that ye shall not be brought back unto Us?[3] For those in whom disbelief had not crystallized, these words rang with truth; and so it was with the Revelation as a whole, which described itself as being a light and having in itself the power to guide. A parallel imperative cause for accepting the message was the Messenger himself, a man who was, they were certain, too full of truth to deceive and too full of wisdom to be self-deceived. The Message contained a warning and a promise: the warning impelled them to take action, and the promise filled them with joy.

Verily those who say: “Our Lord is God”, and who then follow straight His path, on them descend the Angels saying: “Fear not nor grieve, but hearken to good tidings of the Paradise which ye are promised. We are your protecting friends in this lower life, and in there Hereafter wherein ye shall be given that which your souls long for, that which ye pray for, in bounty from Him who is All-Forgiving, All-Merciful“[4]

Another of the many verses about Paradise which had now been revealed was one which spoke of the Garden of Immortality which is promised to the pious. Of this it said: For them therein is that which they desire, for ever and ever -a promise that thy Lord hath bound Himself to fulfill.[5]

The true believers are defined as they who set their hopes on meeting Us, whereas the disbelievers are they who set not their hopes on meeting Us, and who are satisfied with this lower life and find their deepest peace therein, and fail to treat Our signs as signs.[6] The believer’s attitude must be the opposite in every way. An aspect of the dreamlike illusion in which the infidels were sunk was to take for granted the blessings of nature. To be awake to reality meant not only shifting one’s hopes from this world to the next but also marveling in this world at the signs of God which here are manifest. Blessed is He who hath placed in the heavens the constellations of the zodiac, and hath placed therein a lap and a light-giving moon. And He it is who hath made the night and the day to succeed one the other, as a sign for him who would reflect or give thanks.[7]

The leaders of Quraysh had asked defiantly for signs such as the descent of an Angel to confirm the prophethood of Muhammad, and the rising of Muhammad up to Heaven. On one occassion, a night of the full moon, not long after it had risen, when it was to be seen hanging in the sky above Mount Hira’, a body of disbelievers approached the Prophet and asked him to split the moon in two as a sign that he was indeed the Messenger of God. Many others were also present, including believers and hesitants, and when the demand was made all eyes were turned towards the luminary. Great was their amazement to see it divide into two halves which drew away from each other until there was a half moon shining brightly on either side of the mountain. “Bear ye witness,” the Prophet said.[8] But those who had made the demand rejected this optic miracle as mere magic,[9] saying that he had cast a spell over them. The believers, on the other hand, rejoiced, and some of the hesitants entered Islam, which others came nearer to doing so.

This immediate heavenly response to a derisive challenge was an exception. Others of the signs demanded by Quraysh were in fact given, but not exactly as they had asked, and not in their time but in God’s. There were also many lesser miracles which only the believers witnessed. But such wonders were never allowed to stand in the center, for the revealed Book itself was the central miracle of the Divine intervention now taking place, just as Christ had been the central miracle of the preceding intervention. According to the Qur’an, Jesus is both Messenger of God and also His Word which He cast unto Mary, and a Spirit from Him;[10] and as it had been with the Word-made-flesh, so now analogously, it was through the Divine Presence in this world of the Word-made-book that Islam was a religion the true sense of bond or link with the Hereafter. One of the functions of the Word-made-Book, with a view to the primordial religion that Islam claimed to be,[11] was to reawaken in man his primeval sense of wonderment which, with the passage of time, had become dimmed or misdirected. Therefore when Quraysh ask for marvels the Qur’an’s main response is to point to those which they have always had before their eyes without seeing the wonder of them:

Will they not behold the camels, how they are created?
And the firmament, how it is raised aloft?
And the mountains, how they are established?
And the earth, how it is spread?[12]

The wonderment and hope demanded of the believer are both attitudes of return to God. The sacrament of thanksgiving, to say Praise be to God the Lord of the worlds, includes wonder and takes the thing praised, and with it the praiser, back to the Transcendent Origin of all good. The sacrament of consecration, to say In the Name of God, the Infinitely Good, the All-Merciful, precipitates the soul in the same direction upon the stream of hope. On this path of return the basic prayer of Islam is centered, al-Fatihah, the Opening, so called because it is the first chapter[13] of the Qur’an:

Praise be to God, the Lord of the Worlds,
The Infinitely Good, the All-Merciful,
Master of the day of judgement.
Thee we worship, and in Thee we seek help.
Guide us upon the straight path,
the path of those on whom Thy grace is,
not those on whom Thine anger is,
nor those who are astray.

Also basic as a perfect and concentrated expression of the doctrine of Islam is the Surat al-Ikhlas, the Chapter of Sincerity, which is placed at the end of the Qur’an, the last surah but two, and which was revealed when an idolater asked the Prophet to describe his Lord:

say: He, God, is One,
God, the Self-Sufficient Besought of all.
He begetteth not, nor is begotten,
and none is like Him.

[1] Qur’an 6 : 29
[2] Qur’an 21 : 16; 44 : 38
[3] Qur’an 23 : 115
[4] Qur’an 41 : 30 – 32
[5] Qur’an 25 : 15 – 16
[6] Qur’an 10 : 7
[7] Qur’an 25 : 61 – 62
[8] B. 61 : 24
[9] Qur’an 54 : 1 – 2
[10] Qur’an 4 : 171
[11] Qur’an 30 : 30
[12] Qur’an 88 : 17 – 20
[13] FIrst in order of final arrangement but not of revelation. Its place in the Islamic liturgy ensures that it is recited at least seventeen times every day.
[14] Qur’an 1 : 2 – 7
[15] Qur’an 112

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