O men, worship your Lord – who created you and those before you, so that you may become God-fearing – who made the earth a bed for you and the sky a roof, and sent down water from the sky, then through it brought forth, out of fruits, provision for you. So, do not set up parallels to Allah when you know. (Qur’an 21-22)
A review of verses linked together
The second verse of the Surah ‘Al-Baqarah’ provides the answer to the prayer made in the Surah Al-Fatihah: “Guide us in the straight path– that is to say, the guidance man has prayed for is present in this book, for the Holy Qur’an is from the beginning to the end a detailed account of the straight path. Then, the Surah proceeds to divide men into three groups according to whether they accept the guidance of the Holy Qur’an or not. Three verses speak of the true and God-fearing Muslims, who not only accept but also act upon the guidance, and the next two verses of those disbelievers who oppose it openly.
Then come thirteen verses dealing with the hypocrites who are hostile to this guidance, but, for the sake of petty worldly interests or in seeking to harm the Muslims, try to keep their disbelief concealed and to present themselves as Muslims. Thus, the first twenty verses of the Surah, in dividing men into three groups on the basis of their acceptance or rejection of the guidance, indicate that the proper criterion for dividing men into groups is neither race or colour, nor language nor geography, but religion. Hence those, who believe in Allah and follow the guidance He has provided in the Holy Qur’an, form one nation, and those who disbelieve form a different nation – the Holy Qur’an calls the former the ‘party of Allah’ and the latter – ‘the party of Satan’ (Qur’an 58:19-22)
Then, the present verses (21 and 22), addressing the three groups together, present the message for which the Holy Qur’an has been revealed. In asking men to give up the worship of created beings and to worship Allah alone, they adopt a mode of expression which not only makes an affirmation but also supports it with arguments so clear that even an average man, only if he uses his common sense, cannot help being convinced of the Oneness of God.
In starting the address, verse 21 uses the Arabic word An-nas, which signifies man in general, or man as such – so, the word covers all the three groups we have just mentioned. And the message delivered by the verse “Worship your Lord.” The Arabic word ‘Ibadah (worship) connotes expending all energies one has in total obedience to somebody, and shunning all disobedience out of one’s awe and reverence. (Ruh-al-Bayan) We have earlier explained the meaning of the word Rabb (one who gives nurture). Let us add that the choice of this particular name from among the Beautiful names of Allah is very meaningful in the present context, for the affirmation has thus been combined with the argument in a very short sentence. The word Rabb indicates that only He is, or can be, worthy of being worshipped, He is the final and absolute Cause of nurturing man – Who changes man through gradual stages of development from a drop of water into healthy, sentient and rational being, and Who provides the means for his sustenance and growth. This truth is so obvious that even an ignorant or intellectually dull man would, on a little reflection, not fail to see and admit that such a power of nurturing can belong only to Allah, and not to a created being. What can a creature do for man, when it owes its very existence to the Creator? Can a needy one come to the help of another? And if it appears to be doing so, the act of nurturing must in reality and ultimately belong to the One Being on whom both have to depend in order to exist at all. So, who else but the Rabb can be worthy of adoration and worship?
The sentence is addressed to all the three groups of men, and for each it has a different meaning. “Worship your Lord”: the phrase calls upon the disbelievers to give up worshipping created beings and to turn to the Creator; it asks the hypocrites to be sincere and true in their faith; it commands the sinning Muslims to change their ways and try to be perfect in their obedience to Allah; and it encourages the God-fearing Muslims to be steadfast in their worship and obedience, and to make a greater effort in the way of Allah (Ruh-al-Bayan).
The two verses proceed to enlarge upon the theme by specifying 6 certain special qualities of the Rabb: “He created you and those before you.” This is a quality which one cannot even imagine to belong to a created being, for it can pertain only to the Creator – that is, the quality of giving existence to what did not exist before, and of producing from the darkness and filth of the mother’s womb a creature as lovely and noble as man.
In adding to the phrase: “who created you” the words, “and those before you,” the verse shows that Allah alone is the Creator of all mankind. It is also significant that the verse mentions only “those before you” and not “those who will come after you”, and through this omission suggests that there will not be any Ummah (a traditional community formed by all the followers of a prophet) to succeed the Ummah of the Holy Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam), for no prophet will be sent down after the Last Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) , and hence no new ‘Ummah‘ will arise.
The final phrase of verse 21 has been translated here as “so that you may become God-fearing”. It may also be translated to mean “So that you may save yourselves from hell”, or “So that you may guard yourselves against evil.” But the point is that one can hope to attain salvation and paradise only when one worships Allah alone, and does not associate anyone else with Him.
Before we proceed, we must clarify a very important doctrinal point. The phrase La’allakum Tattakhun which has been translated here as “so that you may become God-fearing” employs the Arabic particle I’alla which indicates an expectation or hope, and is used on an occasion when it is not definite that a certain action or event would necessarily be actualized. Now, if one does really possess ‘Iman (faith) and does really believe in tauhid, one would, in consequence definitely attain salvation and go to Heaven, as Allah Himself has promised. But here the certainty has been expressed in terms of an expectation or hope in order to make man realize that no human action by itself and in itself can bring salvation as a necessary reward. One can attain salvation and go to Heaven only by the grace of Allah alone. The ablility to perform good deeds, and ‘Iman itself is only a sign of divine grace, not the cause.
The next verse recounts some other qualities of Allah with regard to the act of nurturing, with the difference that while verse 21 spoke of the bounties of Allah pertaining to the human self, verse 22 speaks of those pertaining to man’s physical environment. Since man’s being basically has two dimensions, one internal (Anfus) and the other external (Afaq) the two verses, in a summary way, encompass all the kinds of blessings that descend on man from Allah.
Among the cosmic bounties, the first to be mentioned is the earth which has been made a bed for man. It is neither soft and fluid like water on which one cannot settle, nor hard like stone or steel that should make it difficult to be harnessed for man’s purposes, but has been given a middle state between the soft and the hard for man to utilize it conveniently in his daily life. The Arabic word, Firash (bed), which literally means ‘somethings spread out’, does not necessarily imply that the earth is not round, for the great globe of the earth, in spite of being round, appears to be flat to the onlooker, and the usual way of the Holy Qur’an is to describe things in an aspect which should be familiar to an average man, literate or illiterate, city dweller or rustic.
The other bounty is that the sky has been made like an ornamented and beautiful ceiling. The third is that Allah sent down water from the sky. This, again, does not necessarily mean that water comes down directly from the sky without the medium of clouds – even in everyday idiom, a thing coming down from above is said to be coming from the sky. The Holy Qur’an itself, on several occasions, refers to Allah sending down water from the clouds:
“Did you send it down from the clouds, or did We send it?” (Holy Qur’an 56:69)
“And- have sent down from the rain-clouds abundant water.” (Holy Qur’an 78:14)
The fourth bounty is to bring forth fruits with this water, and to provide nourishment to man from them.
The first three of these bounties are of an order in which man’s effort or action, his very being even, does not enter at all. There was no sign of man when the earth and the sky already existed, and clouds and rain too were performing their functions. As for these things, not even an ignorant fool could ever fancy that all this could be the work of a man or an idol, or of a created being. In the case of producing fruits and making them serve as nourishment for man, however, a simpleton may, on a superficial view, attribute this to human effort and ingenuity, for one can see man digging the earth, sowing the seed and protecting the plants. But the Holy Qur’an has, in certain verses, made it quite clear that human effort has nothing to do with the act of growing trees and bringing out fruits, for human activity accomplishes nothing more than removing the hindrances to the birth and growth of a plant, or protecting it from being destroyed. Even the water which feeds the plant is not the creation of the farmer – all he does is to make the water reach the plant at the proper time in a proper quantity. The actual birth and growth of the tree, and the putting forth of leaves, branches and fruits is the work of Divine Power, and of no one else. Says the Holy Qur’an :
“Have you considered the soil you till? Is it you that give them growth or We ?” (Holy Qur’an 56:63)
The only answer which man can find to this question posed by the Holy Qur’an is that undoubtedly it is Allah alone who makes the plants grow.
In short, this verse mentions four qualities of Allah which cannot possibly be found in a created being. Having learnt from these two verses that it is Allah, and no one else, who brings man into existence out of nothingness, and provides the means of his sustenance through the earth, the sky, the rains and the fruits, one cannot, if one possesses a little common sense, help acknowledging that Allah, and no one else, is worthy of all worship and obedience, and that the ultimate iniquity is to turn away from Him who made man exist and gave him the means of survival and growth, and to prostrate oneself before others who are as helpless as man. Allah has put man at the head of all His creatures so that the universe should serve him, while he should totally devote himself to the worship and remembrance of Allah and obedience to Him without distraction. But there are men so given to their indolence and ignorance that they forget the One God, and in consequence, have to serve a billion gods.
In order to rescue men from this slavery to others, the Holy Qur’an says at the end of this verse:
“So, do not set up parallels to Allah when you know.”
That is to say, once one has understood that, in reality, Allah alone is the Creator and the Provider, one will have also understood that no one else can be worthy of worship and of being associated with Allah as an equal or rival god.
To sum up, these two verses call men to what is the esseni-tial purpose of sending down all the Divine Books and all the prophets – Tauhid, or the affirmation and the worship of the one God.
Tauhid is a doctrine which has an all-pervading and radically transforming impact on every sphere of human life, internal as well as external, individual as well as collective. For, once a man comes to believe that there is only One Being who alone is the Creator, the Lord and Master of the universe, who alone is all-powerful and ordains the slightest movement of the smallest atom, and without whose will no one can harm or do good to another – such a man, rich or poor, in joy or sorrow, would always look only towards that One Being, and gain the insight to discover behind the veil of apparent causes the workings of the same Omnipotence.
If our modern worshippers of ‘energy’ only had some understanding of the doctrine of Tauhid, they would easily see that power resides neither in steam nor in electricity, but that the source of all powers is the One Being who has created steam and electricity. To know this, however, one must have insight. The greatest philosopher in the world, if he fails to see this truth, is no better than the rustic fool who saw a railway-train move at the waving of a green flag and stop at the waving of a red flag, and concluding that it was the power of the green and red flags that controlled the movement of the huge train, made an obeisance to them. People would laugh at the rustic, for he did not know that the two flags are merely signs, while the train is actually run by the driver, or, better still, by the engine. A more perceptive observer would ascribe the function to the steam inside the engine. But he who believes in the One God would laugh at all these wise men, for he can see through the steam, the fire and the water even, and discover behind the appearances the might of the One and Only Being who has created fire and water, and whose will makes them perform their allotted functions.
The Doctrine Of Tauhid : A source of peace in human life
Tauhid, the most fundamental doctrine of Islam, is not a mere theory, but the only effective way of making man a man in the real sense of the term – it is his first and last refuge and the panacea for all his ills. For the essence of this doctrine is that every possible change in the physical universe, its very birth and death is subject to the will of the One and Only Being, and a manifestation of His wisdom. When this doctrine takes hold of a man’s mind and heart, and becomes his permanent state, all dissension ceases to exist and the world itself changes into a paradise for him, as he knows that the enmity of the foe and the love of the friend equally proceed from Allah who rules over the hearts of both. Such a man lives his life in perfect peace, fearing none and expecting nothing from anyone: shower him with gold, or put him in irons, he would remain unmoved, for he knows where it comes from.
This is the significance of the basic declaration of the Islamic creed, or La Ilaaha Illallaah (there is no god but Allah). But, obviously, it is not enough to affirm the Oneness of God orally; one must have a complete certitude, and must also have the truth always present close to one’s heart, for Tauhid is to see God as one, and not merely to say that He is one. Today, the number of those who can respect this basic formula of the Islamic creed runs to millions all over the world – far more than it ever did, but mostly it is just an expense of breath: their lives do not show the colour of Tauhid; or otherwise, they should have been like their forefathers who were daunted neither by wealth nor by power, awed neither by numbers nor by pomp and show to turn their back upon the Truth – when a prophet could all by himself stand up against the world, and say: “SO try your guile on me, then give me no respite” (Al-Qur’an 17:195).
If the blessed Companions and their successors came to dominate the world in a few years, the secret lay in this Tauhid, correctly understood and practised. May Allah bless all the Muslims with this great gift!