SeekersNotes: Exploring the Qur’an with Shaykh Yahya Rhodus – Class 1 Notes

Exploring the Qur’an with Shaykh Yahya Rhodus – Class 1 Notes

Notes by Sister Shagufta Pasta

Today was the first session of the new Seekers Guidance course with Shaykh Yahya Rhodus titled “Exploring the Qur’an. In today’s session, Shaykh Yahya not only taught us about Surah Naba, but he also discussed the importance of constant reflection, the wisdom and knowledge contained within different languages, how we should interact with those who are struggling with faith, the value of good sleep, and how salawat is a powerful way to combat feelings of anxiety and stress, among many other topics. As always, being in his class was a reminder to strive to orient one’s own personal and family life around the principles of constantly learning, reflecting, spending time in nature and seeking to bring about the good, and I’m very very grateful to SeekersGuidance to providing this course in such an accessible format. If you can, please support their Bricks and Mortar campaign here: Selections from my notes are below.

  • The recitation of the Qur’an is profound, and even more so when we delve into its meanings. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said,  ”The best worship of my ummah is the recitation of the Qur’an, with or without meaning.” Listening intently, reciting, all of this has an impact on us. It literally changes a person’s spiritual DNA. It transforms them in the deepest of ways. Imam Haddad said: The very best and first way for us to strengthen our certainty is to reflect on the words of Allah, subhana wa ta’ala. We are starting this course with Juz Amma, as these are oft recited surahs and many people have memorised surahs from this juz. There is wisdom in that fact that Allah made these surahs the short chapters.

First Surah to be discussed:  Surah Naba (Surah 78), which can be translated as The Tidings, or the Announcement.

  • The word Naba has the connotation of news. But in order to be considered naba, has to be momentous news. Something that is of the utmost importance. Prophets are called Nabi because they receive news that other people do not receive. This is the purpose of messengers, because there is only so much knowledge that we can receive through the senses and intellect. We have never had a dichotomy of rational and empirical knowledge in our tradition, both are incorporated into tawheed. But there is knowledge that is about the true reality, knowledge that is beyond the knowledge we can get through our senses or the intellect. That is the kind of knowledge that Allah singled out the Prophets with.

Note: In the Qur’an there is  a correlation between certain chapters. There is a relationship between different chapters and between verses.

  • Q :How do we understand the correlation of Juz Amma with the other 29 chapters?
  • A: The last two juz are the summary of the Qur’an, they are the summary of the details that come before. Because they are recited often, as you expose yourself to these meanings you are exposing yourself to meanings that come before. There is something special about these surahs that moves the heart. Most of these surahs are Makkan surahs, ie- they were revealed before Hijrah, though may have been revealed outside of Makkah. The focus on Makkan surahs is on faith, the affairs of the next world. There is wisdom in this because faith is the foundation of everything else.  So we learn from this that when dealing with someone, where they may be doing things that are inappropriate, the way they are going to change their life is through faith. So  if you focus on someone’s mistakes instead of faith, you often will push them away. Once they’ve strengthened the state of their heart and faith, then naturally their practice will improve.
  • Surah Naba is similar to Surah Mursalat in that it has similar themes. But also details in Surah Naba that are left general in previous chapter.
  • Major theme in this surah is evidence of God’s power
  • The Surah opens with a question: Concerning what are they disputing?

Note: not all questions are real questions. Some questions are a way of asking “what’s wrong with you.

  • Religious people have been marginalized all throughout history. This is a historical constant. But one of the things that we need to do in our communities is to normalize virtue so that people feel empowered through virtue, and are able to detach themselves from the opinion of others. Allah is the One who Gives Honour, and the One who Debases. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) was the essence of honour even when entrails were being thrown on him (peace and blessings be upon him) while prostrating. If that happened to the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), why is it so hard for us to pray in a place when people are walking past, such as  when we’re at the airport or some other place? Nowadays people don’t even really say anything if they see someone praying in a public space, so why do we find it hard? Despite Islamophobia of our times, compared to previous times, we have it very very easy.
  • Allah gave us a deen that doesn’t oppose culture in and of itself. Culture is necessary for human beings, but Islam prunes culture. An example of that is names. So it is ok to have an Urdu name, or a Swahili name, or a Farsi name that doesn’t have a religious connotation.There is an idea that one has to change their name and if you don’t, your conversion isn’t proper. The best names are derivation of hamd and abd. So yes, there are better names, but that doesn’t negate the permissibility of other non religious names.
  • Verse 3 is about the heart of the matter. The afterlife. Some among the Quraysh were confirming, some are doubting, some were negating. Important to remember that Allah could have done whatever He wanted to do. He could have made reincarnation a reality, He could have made death the end, but He made it that we have a pre earthly life, a life, death, the barzakh. all those stages.
  • Verse 4/5 use the word Kal-la : word that has the connotation of rejection with rebuke. Can translate it as nay, but people nowadays are so disconnected with the meaning of that word. In grammar when repeat something, emphasizes it.  It’s a way of emphasis. Verses 1-5, all dealing with initial topic of disbelief of pagan Makkans where they did not believe, and were questioning the affair of the resurrection.
  • Then Allah going to mention a series of things that He created. Allah will mention nine things that He brought into existence. Certain things are wajib for Allah, like His necessary existence. His is the only existence, necessarily existent. It’s so important to study aqeedah, creed because it pertains to everything. Everything can be turned to the sacred if we approach it in the correct way. The cognitive frames that we have, to borrow Dr Umar’s word, will often determine what you do, and the right cognitive frame is the first step to the correct behaviour.
  • If you are in dire straits, recognize that Allah can easily provide you with what you need.
  • Reflection is also so important. Reflection is an integral part of intelligence. Unfortunately we are being dumbed down quite literally.  A book to read about this is called “Dumbing us Down”. We are sentient beings and we have been created to think and reflect. Thinking and reflecting is like a muscle, so like running, you need to practise and train. To improve your memory, you need to practise and train. If you are a physician and you leave it for two years, may find that you have lost your edge. As religious people who are supposed to be engaged in reflection, if we do not think and reflect, this ability becomes dull and stagnant. When you practise, then you become more aware of meanings.
  • There are over 6000 languages in the world. each language is a window through which we understand something about the world. Arabic is the best language, but every language is a sign of God. Language is amazing. Good to study linguistics and learn the impact of language on the brain. How we produce language is incredible. Allahu Akbar! How do we see? We see something, understood and processed by brain. How do we hear? All of this is amazing.

And (have We not) created you in pairs. (Verse 8)

  • Think about this amazing blessing of being able to come together, and having the blessing of family life.

And made your sleep for rest (Verse 9)

  • Sleep is one of the great gifts of Allah. Think about how many people have sleep problems, have insomnia. Think about this blessing, that we sleep and are refreshed. Some people they have a few hours of sleep, and then they are back to the grind, up at 6:30 and have a twelve hour days.
  • How to have good sleep – lavender oil. Also good to cut down on sleep gradually. 15 minutes, every two months.

And we made the night as a cover. (Verse 10)

  • Beautiful to experience a natural day. In Mauritana we prayed Maghrib and many students would stay in mosque from Maghrib to Isha, and by Isha it was pitch black. Praying in a natural day, praying when its dark at Fajr time, then seeing the sun at Zuhr time, then Asr, all of these have profound psychological impacts.

And made the day apportioned for work (Verse 11)

  • Can see here two pairs that Allah has given us that indicates his uniqueness and the opposites we see manifesting in the world. When we recognize that everything has a wisdom and a purpose, deduce that life itself has a purpose.
  • We see the seasons, which are tied to human condition. Spring, which is about youth and energy, summer, which is the 1st stage of maturity, fall, which is in between decrepitude and dying. Each one of these seasons relates to the human being. When we see this, recognize that there is a qadr. We reflect on these signs, and this creates an experiential certainty. This moves into a witnessing that goes in the heart, and then other stages.
  • Rain is generally associated with mercy. Just as there is mercy, rains of mercy that come into heart.

Reminder:  the more sincerity and tranquility you have in religion, the stronger the religious impulse comes in you, and the easier it will be to sleep. One of the easiest ways to ease anxiety is dhikr and particularly salawat on the Prophet.