Monday, June 20, 2011

Surah At-Teen and What it Means to Us - Part II

Part 1 here

Just a quick recap - The previous verses spoke about blessed objects and places and how they allude to blessed Prophets. These were things that Allah was swearing by. These were the objects of the oath ("I swear by these things..."). Now we're going to find out what is the subject of the oath (the subject meaning what comes next in the sentence). What is this great thing that Allah wants to tell us that He is swearing on all these blessed things?

The Verses

Verily, We created Man of the best stature (mould)
Laqad khalaqna al-insana fee ahsanitaqweem

The “la” here is the pronoun that signifies the highest level of emphasis. “La” is usually translated as “verily” but we rarely speak in this kind of English anymore. To put it colloquially “la” in this sense is akin to saying “for sure!”

Remember that Allah is al Khaliq, the Creator. He created everything and He created all of this from nothing. We, as human beings, we only fashion something new from what already existed. Going by the literal understanding of the four objects Allah is telling us to look at the signs of His creation, how they benefit Man so much. Allah is telling us that He has provided for us everything that we need to live.

He is also telling us that He created Man, and not only did He just create Man, He honoured Man by creating him in “the best stature”. But what does this mean? “Fee” in this verse implies immersion. What was Man immersed in? “Ahsan/ihsan” which means excellence or perfection. But that’s not it. Allah also mentions the word “taqweem”. This word implies making something upright, to put multiple parts together and to balance them so they are straight, and to design something perfectly in the way you intended to make.

SubhanAllah! Look at how Allah created us! For sure Allah created us immersed and designed to such perfection and balanced, exactly how He intended for us to be!

Now look at this verse and think back to the five characters Allah has sworn by. Allah mentioned five prophets whom we already know were great human beings but then Allah said He created ALL of mankind which such excellence. Think about not just your perfect creation but the lineage you have. We can be told that we were created perfect but sometimes it’s hard to see that perfection and beauty. Allah reminds us of the greatest human beings and reminds us that because ALL of mankind was created this way, we too are capable of great things.

Then We reduced him to the lowest of the low
Thumma radadnahu asfala safileen

Thumma” has been translated as “then” but in it implies that a time period has passed. So it is not immediate, it refers to events that take place over time.

Radad” means to return, reject or to lower on the basis of the object being unacceptable.

Some scholars have the opinion that “asfala safileen” refers to old age, when one is weak and unable to do many things. In this light the previous verse could be referring to one’s youth where one is full of energy and able to do many physical things and then you get older and you have to slow down.

Another opinion is that “the lowest of the low” refers to people with the absolute worst moral character. A further opinion is that it refers to the Hellfire.

Thus this verse is rhetorical. Allah created mankind pure and upon the fitrah only for mankind to stray from His teachings over a period of time, refuse to repent, become unacceptable and because of that Allah reduces mankind to the worst possible position.

Save those who believe (in Islamic Monotheism) and do righteous deeds, then they shall have a reward without end (Paradise).
Illa alladheena amanoowa ‘amiloo assalihati falahum ajrun ghayrumamnoon

Belief and righteous deeds come hand in hand. We know in Islam it is not enough to have iman, it must be translated into good deeds. So this is our medicine. When we are in are lowest of the low positions our belief and righteous deeds will carry us out. And what is our reward (“ajr”)? Allah tells us our reward is “ghayru mamnoon”, without discontinuation and without limit.

Then what (or who) causes you (O disbelievers) to deny the Recompense (i.e. Day of Resurrection)?
Fama yukazhibuka ba’du biddeen

After all of the previous verse, Allah tells us mankind is great and He tells us even if we sin there is a way back to Him. Not only is there a way back but the reward of that way is greater than we can ever imagine. After all of this He asks us “WHAT?” The “what” (“ma” in Arabic) in this verse has the effect of incredulousness.

The word that has been translated to “deny” is “yukazhibu” which has a notion of knowing the truth but lying against the religion anyway.

“WHAT on earth would cause you to lie against yourself and deny the Recompense?” Allah asks.

Is not Allah the Best of judges?
Alaysa Allahu bi-ahkami alhakimeen

The phrasing of this question is more to prove a point rather than to expect an answer. It’s like someone saying “Didn’t I tell you so?”

The words "ahkam" and "hakeem" come from the words hikmah (wisdom) and hukm (judgement). Thus “ahkami alhakimeen” can take several meanings.

  • The wisest of the wise
  • The most appropriate judge of the wise
  • The most appropriate judge of all judges
  • The wisest of all the judges

In the next section we’ll recap the surah’s meaning and highlight some lessons for us to learn.


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