Shaykh Jamir Meah discusses the parable of the deaf, mute, and blind who reject the truth of revelation in this first part of his series on Parables and Similitudes in the Qur’an.
There are various ways a human being gains knowledge. For a special few among humanity, chosen by God, revelation or spiritual inspiration can descend upon them, be transmitted, or cast into the heart. The other paths to knowledge are more general. Through the process of reflection and thinking, being informed, and via the outwards senses. From the five senses, two are crucial in understanding the world around us and our existence: hearing and seeing.
Without these two senses, gaining any meaningful knowledge and understanding is near impossible without further aid. Without these two senses, one cannot learn human speech. If we do not have the faculty of vision to witness and observe, nor hearing to receive information, then the only way to acquire knowledge is through the limited senses of touch, smell and taste. In terms of gaining religious and spiritual understanding, these restricted senses do not suffice. For this reason, there is no outward responsibility for a person who is both blind and deaf to have faith.
In Sura al Baqara, God begins the chapter by describing the God-fearing believers. Next, our attention is turned to the description of the disbelievers. And then to the description of the hypocrites: those who feigned their faith from the start, or those who first believed and then rejected the truth. In the description of these two latter groups, Allah Most High highlights the faculties of hearing and seeing, as well as the capacity of the heart to understand and believe, because it is through these faculties that understanding is achieved and faith is made possible.
The human faculties possess not only physical forms, but spiritual dimensions as well. And it is by using the external and internal meaning of vision, hearing, and the heart, that Allah Most High furnishes us with a similitude of those who reject faith.
They are the ones who trade guidance for misguidance. But this trade is profitless, and they are not [rightly] guided. Their example is that of someone who kindles a fire, but when it lights up all around them, Allah takes away their light, leaving them in darknesses, unable to see. They are [willfully] deaf, dumb, and blind, so they will never return [to the Right Path]. (Sura al Baqara 16:18)
Spiritually Deaf, Mute, and Blind
Those who reject the truth, although they may have the physical organs and faculties for believing, seeing and hearing, are akin to the blind and deaf person, only worse, because “seals” are placed over the spiritual insight of the heart, eyes and ears, due to their obstinate rejection of the truth. As Allah Most High tells us in a preceding verse, “Allah has sealed their hearts and their hearing, and their sight is covered. They will suffer a tremendous punishment.” (Sura al Baqara 2:7)
Unlike the physically born blind and deaf person who is not held into account for not having faith, the spiritually blind and deaf person is held accountable on the Day of Reckoning and is subject to the most grievous of punishments, as testified in the above verse. On that Day, the rejecter’s eyes, ears, heart and even skin, will testify against him for what he saw and heard to be true, yet stubbornly denied. Indignantly, he will desperately cry out to his body parts: “‘Why have you testified against us?’ They will say, ‘We have been made to speak by Allah, Who causes all things to speak.’” (Sura Fussilat 41:21)
In this similitude of the hypocrites, God gives us the image of a people who light a fire in the dark. The light of the fire affords them the ability to see, to ward away danger, and the fire provides warmth and protection against the elements. They take comfort from it and find safety in it – able to see any approaching danger beforehand. Then all of a sudden, the light is totally extinguished! They are left in pitch-black and fearing for their lives. They have no recourse to restart the fire, nor any other source of light, so they remain there, in darkness, in the cold, and vulnerable to imminent danger.
There are layers of meaning in the picture. These are those who “trade guidance for misguidance” (2:175), who after seeing the light and security of truth and believing in that which was revealed to them in the Qur’an and through the blessed Prophet, turned away, preferring social standing, the status quo, personal gain and interest, and other worldly benefits. They turned from belief to disbelief, from spiritual insight to spiritual blindness, from guidance to misguidance, from safety to peril, and from light to darkness.
The light which the fire afforded, and that they took for granted, is symbolic of the light they were given by the Qur’an, the noble Prophet sent to them, Allah bless him and give him peace,and of the light of faith ignited in hearts.
Darkness, cold and danger represent the evil which comes from rejection of the truth, and the misguidance and confusion that ensues. What path to safety in the wilderness can a person in pitch black find? How different is the person who bears a bright torch to see the way and the one who gropes and stumbles blindfolded in the dark?
Yet, it is such a person who extinguishes the light by their own hands and willfully chooses darkness over light, so “They are [wilfully] deaf, dumb, and blind.” Deaf because they can no longer hear the good, mute because they cannot say that which would benefit them nor call for help, and blind because they are unable to see the straight path and follow it.
While fire provides light and warmth, it is also a tremendous destructive force and serves as a reminder of the great Fire that awaits all persistent rebels and sinners.
Ibn Qayyim extracts a few gems of understanding in the similitude worth mentioning. “Notice the words of God Most High ‘Allah takes away their light’ and not ‘their fire.’ Fire consists within it light and burning, so Allah causes only the ‘light’ of the fire to be taken away and what is left is only burning! … And notice how He says ‘Allah takes away their light;’ ‘light’ being in the singular, and then He says ‘leaving them in darknesses.’ ‘Darknesses’ being in the plural. This is because truth is only one and it is the straight path of Allah, of which no path arrives except it, in contrast to erroneous paths, for they are many and divergent.’”
Fire is a physical element and only affords physical light. It flickers and flames, dances and blazes for a time, but eventually, as is inevitable with all temporalities, it must die. Like the fleeting fire, all worldly gains and success will inescapably fade away, and each person is left alone, both in the darkness of the grave and on the Day of Resurrection, when one will have no helper. In these “moments of truth,” those who rejected the truth will remain in their abject state, never knowing what awaits them next, groping in the dark; deaf, dumb, and blind.
The light of truth, on the other hand, is very different. Far from being a physical light, it is a spiritual force, and with every word and deed that confirms the truth, it grows and rises until the whole person is imbued with the light of truth and encompassed by the Divine Love and Mercy, at which point God becomes, in a sense, his hearing with which he hears, his seeing with which he sees, his hand with which he strikes and his foot with which he walks.’ (Bukhari)
While the similitude discusses the sorry state of the hypocrites, believers can also reflect upon it. Believers come in many states and levels of faith and practice. Even to the most heedless or sinful believer, God often inspires in the heart the urge to reconnect with Him, to repent from bad habits and heedlessness, and instills in him a desire for change.
This inspiration is a light that should never be ignored, suppressed, or put out, for one does not know when or if ever, God will cast it into the heart again, in the same way, one does not know if one will live to see tomorrow.
Instead, when the believer becomes aware of this light within them, and the inclination to change and turn towards God arises in his consciousness, he must nurture it through shunning bad thoughts, acts, and deeds, and turning to good works with sincerity. The one who earnestly continues on such a path becomes overtaken by the light until it guides him to see, hear, speak, and do, only that which is pleasing to God. The light grows in the heart until it becomes a flame, and the flame grows into a fire which burns and yearns for God, and the heavenly abode.
In contrast to those who turned away from the light of truth, those who let their hearts sincerely be guided by it are never alone nor despair. When dark times occur, whether in the tumults of earthly life or the darkness and loneliness of the grave, they are guided by the very same light of truth they held firm to previously.
It is this light that will keep the believer safe and comforted when all other lights go out.