Posts

The Hamlet in Ruins: Similitudes and Parables in the Qur’an II

Shaykh Jamir Meah discusses the parable of the Hamlet in Ruins – a profound, existential parable in the Qur’an on death and resurrection.

One of the most striking parables in the Qur’an is what is sometimes referred to as the Hamlet in Ruins. This simple yet profound parable touches upon the essential theological and existential questions that man, in every place and time, necessarily reflects upon.

The parable is found in Sura al Baqara 2:259:

Or (take) the similitude of one who passed by a hamlet, all in ruins. He wondered, ‘How could Allah bring this back to life after its destruction?’ So Allah caused him to die for a hundred years then brought him back to life. Allah asked, ‘How long have you remained [in this state]?’ He replied, ‘Perhaps a day or part of a day.’ Allah said, ‘No! You have remained here for a hundred years! Just look at your food and drink — they have not spoiled. [But now] look at [the remains of] your donkey! And [so] We will make you a sign for the people. And look at the bones [of the donkey], how We bring them together then clothe them with flesh!’ When this was made clear to him, he declared, ‘[Now] I know that Allah is Able to do all things.’

Commentary

Believer or skeptic, man is never more certain of anything more than the fact that he will one day die, and for man, earthly life and demise are only understood within the framework of time.

Time is a created concept only understood by change, such as change in motion. Because all creation is subject to change, the passing of time reveals the true limited nature of all temporal creation, whose state is in constant fluctuation, waxing and waning, blossoming and withering, living and dying.

Just as the cycles of all things in the created universe are constrained by time and change, all created things are limited in nature and ability.

This is in complete contrast to the Eternal Being, who is free from the notion of time and space, change and limitations. He is the Possessor of absolute perfection, whose Knowledge and Omnipotence are boundless, incomparable, and inconceivable.

Such was the firm belief of the pre-Islamic monotheist (Hanif), Quss bin Sa’idah, when he addressed the people at the fair at Ukadh,

Whoever lives dies,
Whoever dies perishes,
And whatever is bound to happen, will happen …
Everything is mortal,
Immortality lies only with the Almighty,
Who is One, without partners, without a like …
There is many a passage to enter the river of death,
But alas, no way out!

– Al Bayhaqi, Dala’il al Nubuwwa

The Parable

The hamlet in the parable is said to be Jerusalem, which was laid siege to in 589 BC and raised to the ground by the Babylonian King, Nebuchadnezzar. The passerby on his donkey, is said by some exegesis, to be Uzayr, one of the righteous slaves of Allah, associated with the biblical Ezra.

Looking at the absolute destruction of what was once a populated and thriving town, Uzayr ponders, “How will Allah bring this town back to life after such utter ruin and annihilation?”

Little did the passerby expect that the answer to his innocent question would come in extraordinary fashion, that would become a parable for all mankind (“We will make you a sign for the people”), for God caused the man to die for a hundred years!

God then spoke to Uzayr through the intermediary of an angel, who asks him, “How long did you stay in that [death] state?” Uzayr replied, “A day,” and then he looked around and noticed that the sun was still out and had not set, so he added assumingly, “Or part of a day.” It was then made known to him that, “No, rather you remained in such a state for a hundred years!”

Now, if you and I woke up from what we thought was a short nap at noon, and our spouse, husband, or child, walked in and we asked them “What time is it?,” and they told us that it was Maghrib time, we’d get a shock! Assuming we don’t have a clock in the room, what would be the first thing we would do to ascertain if what they are saying is really true, or whether an impish trick was being played on us? We would look around.

The reason why our first reaction would be to look around is to observe any changes that may have taken place since we were last awake (or in Uzayr’s case, since he was last alive).

If we find that the things around us are roughly the same, or slightly changed as we would have expected them to be in a short passage of time, then we confidently assume that not much time has passed. So if we were to see the sun still high in the sky and the sky bright blue, and hear the normal sounds of movement in the street etc. we would assume that very little time had passed and we were only asleep for a short time. This is what Uzayr presumed when he looked at the sun.

The angel then turns his attention to his food, “Look at your food and your drink — they have not spoiled.” Uzayr turns to his food, which he had had with him on his prior travel, which is said to have been grapes, figs, and juice, and he notices they too are unchanged and fresh, confirming his initial assumption that only a short amount of time must have passed.

But then he is told, “Look at your donkey.” Uzayr turns to where his donkey once stood, but unlike his food and his own self, the donkey was nothing but old bones. The 100 earthly years had passed on the donkey as normal.

At this juncture, a most wondrous miracle takes place; “And look at the bones” says the angel, “How We raise them and then We cover them with flesh.” Before Uzayr’s very eyes, the decayed bones of the beast are gathered together and assembled in perfect order, then the skeletal frame is connected and covered with cartilage, tendons, and flesh, organs developed, nerve pathways formed, the raw body clothed with skin, and then hair is grown, the heart pumps, the blood flows, the eyes move, and thus life is bought back to it, just as it was before death!

The closest you and I would get to observing such a miracle is through CGI animation on a computer screen. One can only imagine the sight of this taking place in real life, before one’s very own eyes.

Lessons

1. To Give Life and Cause Death Belongs to Allah Alone

The first lesson to take away from the parable is that the power to give and take life, in its true sense, is in Allah’s hands alone.

This is made clearer by the related verses preceding the parable, which relates the dispute between Sayyidna Ibrahim, peace be upon him, and, according to most Qur’anic exegesis, Nimrod, the Babylonian King.

Contesting the rightful claim to Lordship, Sayyidna Ibrahim says to Nimrod, “My Lord is the One Who has power to give life and cause death.”

According to some commentators, it is said that Nimrod’s response to this was to order two men be bought forth. He then ordered the execution of one of the men and spared the life of the other, and then fallaciously asserted, “I too have the power to give life and cause death,” knowing full well the meaning that Sayyidna Ibrahim had meant by giving life and causing death.

Seeing Nimrod’s folly and rebelliousness, Sayyidna Ibrahim throws down the gauntlet, with a marvelous challenge to silence the king once and for all, “Allah causes the sun to rise from the east. So make it rise from the west.”

There was no response this time from the king, for the Quran tells us, “The disbeliever was dumbstruck.” One can only imagine the embarrassing predicament Nimrod was in at this point, especially in front of his entire court.

Whether it is faith in deities besides Allah, belief in our own intellect and power, faith in science, in nature; none of these possess the power to give life and cause death in its true meaning, in the same way that none of these things have any power over the government of the universe.

2. Believe in the Resurrection

The narrative of Sayyidna Ibrahim and Nimrod establishes that only Allah Most High has the power to give life and cause death. This is then followed by our parable, which takes this understanding and builds up on it, introducing the concept of the Resurrection; giving life again after death.

The resurrection is a central tenant of Islam, as it is in all Abrahamic religions. The idea of a resurrection is a mighty “leap of faith” for those who claim to be atheists, given that they have trouble believing God gives life once, let alone twice!

Naturalists, who believe that only natural laws govern the universe, and the majority of philosophers of both East and West, who maintain that everything in existence is built on a cause and effect relationship, necessarily deny the concept of a Resurrection.

Such theories hold that time is infinite and forever moves on, never to be interrupted. Since resurrection is bringing to life that which is dead and decomposed, this is impossible, for what natural force or law of nature brings rotten remains to life? Or what cause would bring the effect of decaying bones gathering, assembling, bodies forming, and breathing back into existence?

These theories are in direct contradiction to the creed of the believer, who believes not in the power of nature, nor cause and effect, but in the Omnipotent Power of the Sovereign Creator, who wills whatever He wishes, and does whatever He wills.

He is the Architect of the laws of nature and the causal relationships in His creation. Should He so wish, He could turn these laws and relationships on their heads, or do away with them all together, a fact which will be made terrifyingly clear to those who live to see it, by one of the greatest apocalyptic signs; the rising of the sun from the West (which if we recall, is the very challenge Sayyidna Ibrahim presented to Nimrod).

Uzayr was of course not a disbeliever or skeptic, far from it, he was among the most righteous. However, the utter obliteration of the town he saw caused him to wonder how revivification was possible. Through the event, God made Uzayr “a sign for the people” – a reminder of the coming Resurrection and that Allah Most High is capable of all things.

On a subtler note, one may view the Resurrection as a symbol of hope. Terrifying as the Resurrection will be, it is also the Day when true justice will be served. For those who suffered, for those who were oppressed, for those whose earthly life was full of sadness and forbearance, the Resurrection marks the beginning of one’s real life which after the initial upheaval of the Day, admits no grievance nor sorrow, only sheer comfort and happiness for those who were faithful and patient.

3. Time

Time and space began with the beginning of the universe, as is also attested to by modern physics and cosmology. Time does not apply to Allah Most High, the Creator of the cosmos.

We mentioned that time is a created concept only understood through change. The passing of time affects things only according to God’s Will and He is able to do as He pleases.

Change does not occur due to nature, habit, nor cause and effect. This is pointed out in the parable, for God showed Uzayr that while he, and his food, were preserved after 100 years passed, his donkey had perished with the passing of time. For that which never changes, time cannot be understood, while time is only understood through that which changes.

Ibn Kathir mentions that one of the ways that Allah made Uzayr a sign, was that when Uzayr returned to his people, he was younger than his children!

Just as Uzayr reckoned he was dead for a day or part of a day, on the Day of Judgement, mankind will have only a vague recollection of time or space. People will be asked on the Day of Rising, ‘How many years did you remain on earth?’ They will reply, “We remained [only] a day or part of a day.” (Sura al Mulk 23:114-115)

4. Power and Ability

Despite modern scientific and technological advances, we should not forget that ancient civilizations, particularly Babylonian, were very advanced in the sciences and arts, and the mysteries of life baffled scientists then, as it is does scientists now. However, religion has always provided definitive answers to these mysteries and is always accessible for those who sincerely seek the truth.

Man holds powers, rank, and ability and these are relative only among creation. While he may have advanced a great deal when compared to his basic roots, man must necessarily acknowledge that his intellect, power, abilities, and resources, are nothing compared to the limitless Power and Ability of his Creator. In fact, our powers and abilities are only through Allah, so, therefore, to take pride in them is folly, and to use them to transgress the limits of Allah is both ingratitude and rebelliousness.

But for those who have faith, who seek to rise beyond the limits of the finite, who ponder upon the wonderful and magnificent signs of God in themselves and all around them, surely they will respond with exactly the same conclusion of Uzayr, “[Now] I know that Allah is Able to do all things.”


What Are the Scriptures of Ibrahim?

Answered by Sidi Wasim Shiliwala

Question: The Qur’an mentions the book of Abraham, but it doesn’t seem we know as much about it as the Bible and Torah.  Could you clarify this a bit?

Answer: Walaikum As-salaam wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakatuhu,

May Allah reward you for your concern with learning about the details of your religion.

The Scriptures of Abraham (upon him peace)

As you noted, the scriptures of Abraham (upon him peace) are mentioned twice in the Qur’an:

“Or has he not been informed of what is in the scriptures of Moses and Abraham…” [53:36-37]

“Verily, this is in the earlier scriptures, the scriptures of Abraham and Moses” [87:18-19]

The reason we do not hear as much about the scriptures of Abraham (upon him peace) as we do about the Bible, Torah, or Psalms is because, unlike the others, very little is known about them, nor does any major religious community claim to have a copy of them. So all we do know about them comes from the Qur’an itself as well as a few isolated reports.

One such report claims that these scriptures contained educational parables, such as one wherein a tyrant king is rebuked by God for his amassing wealth, as well as general pieces of advice, such as the encouragement for people to divide their time between worship, remembrance and reflection, and worldly matters such as the acquisition of livelihood and fulfilling one’s needs [Uthmani, Ma`ariful Quran] It is also reported that this scripture was revealed on the first day of Ramadan. [Musnad Ahmad]

Aside from this, not much else appears to be known about this scripture.

Abrogated Revelations

While it is lamentable that we do not have much knowledge about this scripture, we should also remember that it, like all other scriptures prior to the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him), were abrogated by the Qur’an. Furthermore, we believe that these other scriptures have been altered and distorted, so even the “surviving” and published copies of these scriptures cannot be taken to be reliable representations of the original scriptures brought by Jesus, Moses, and David (upon them peace).

However, what we do know is that all Prophets (upon them peace) come with a similar message, so we can imagine that the scripture that Abraham (upon him peace) brought was similar, at least in its messages, to the Qur’an. After all, this is what the Qur’an itself affirms when it says that these same messages are found in both the scriptures of Moses and Abraham (upon them peace). [87:18-19]

In other words, the messengers and scriptures may be different, but the central message – that of worshiping God and God alone – remains the same.

May Allah give us the tawfiq to follow the path of His Prophets, including Abraham, Moses, and our beloved messenger Muhammad, upon them be peace!

Jazakum Allahu Khairan,
-Wasim

Checked & Approved by Faraz Rabbani

The Loss of a Child: Seeking & Turning to Allah in Difficult Times

Answered by Sidi Tabraze Azam

Question: Can you recommend any duas to restore strength or hope for parents who have lost a child through miscarriage or by stillbirth?

Answer: Assalaamu alaykum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh,

I hope you are in the best of health and spirits insha’Allah.

Firstly, take recourse with the words of Allah, Most High, “So truly with hardship comes ease. Truly with hardship comes ease.” [94:5-6] This is the promise of Allah.

Further, as we mentioned in a previous answer, “in times of difficulty, follow the Qur’anic advice, ‘Seek help through patience and prayer’ [2:45]. In such situations, it is call and a reminder from Allah to turn back to Him, be grateful for one’s blessings and to re-focus one’s heart to Allah.”

Turning to Allah in Supplication

Allah Most High states in the Qur’an, “If My slaves ask you about Me, I am near. I answer the call of the caller when he calls on Me.” [2:185] There are a number of prophetic supplications that one can make in this situation, such as:

أَسْأَلك الْهُدَى وَالتُّقَى وَالْعَفَاف وَالْغِنَى

“O Allah, I ask You for guidance, fearful awareness, chastity and self-sufficiency.”

اللهم أصلح لي ديني الذي هو عصمة أمري، وأصلح لي دنياي التي فيها معاشي، وأصلح لي آخرتي التي فيها معادي، واجعل الحياة زيادةً لي في كل خيرٍ، واجعل الموت راحةً لي من كل شر

“O Allah, put right for me my din in which lies the protection of my affair and put right for me this world in which lies my livelihood and put right for me the Next World in which is my future. Make life increase in every good thing for me and make death a rest for me from every evil thing.”

One should remember to make one’s supplications in a heartfelt manner, in absolute need of Allah and with a living heart that is engaged in intimate discourse with the Divine. Don’t feel obliged to make your supplications in Arabic, use any language you feel comfortable with and ask as He loves to be asked.

The Day of the Eclipse and the Passing of Sayyiduna Ibrahim (Allah be pleased with him)

It is related that al-Mughira ibn Shu’ba said, “There was a solar eclipse in the time of the Messenger of Allah, Allah bless him and give him peace, on the day that Ibrahim died and the people said, ‘The sun is eclipsed because of the death of Ibrahim.’ The Messenger of Allah, Allah bless him and give him peace, said, ‘The sun and the moon do not eclipse because of anyone’s life or death. Rather they are two of the signs of Allah. When you see them, pray and make supplication to Allah.'” [Bukhari]

This hadith shows us how even the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) was tested, the leader of the Prophets and the beloved of Allah. However, even therein he remembered and took recourse with his Lord. Therefore we should remember that we are being tested because Allah knows that we can handle it. “Those who believe, and whose hearts find satisfaction in the remembrance of God: for without doubt in the remembrance of God do hearts find satisfaction. [13:28]

The Intercession of the Child for their Parents

Scholars have mentioned that the children who pass away at a young age will be waiting for their parents on the day of judgement so they can take their parents by the hand into gardens of bliss.

Jabir ibn ‘Abdullah said, “I heard the Messenger of Allah, Allah bless him and give him peace, say, ‘If anyone has three of his children die young and resigns them to Allah, he will enter the Garden.’ We said, ‘Messenger of Allah, what about two?’ ‘And two,’ he said.” Mahmud ibn Labid said to Jabir, “By Allah, I think that if you had asked, ‘And one?’ he would have given a similar answer.” He said, “By Allah, I think so too.” [Bukhari, al-Adab al-Mufrad]

Khalid al-‘Absi said, “A son of mine died and I felt intense grief over his loss. I said, ‘Abu Hurayra, have you heard anything from the Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, to cheer us regarding our dead?’ He replied, ‘I heard the Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, say, “Your children are roaming freely in the Garden.” [ibid.]

Sahl ibn al-Hanzala, who had no children, said, “I would prefer to have a miscarried child while I am a Muslim and resign that child to Allah than to have the entire world and what it contains.” [ibid.]

This is an honour and a mercy to the parents and the child for which one should seek to be grateful, as thankfulness and patience increase one’s reward tremendously, ‘If you are grateful, I will surely increase you.’ [14:7] If we only knew the reality, we would be drowning in joy.

Afflictions and the Muslim

Abu Yahya Suhayb ibn Sinan said, “The Messenger of Allah, Allah bless him and give him peace, said, ‘What an extraordinary thing the business of the believer is! All of it is good for him. And that only applies to the believer. If good fortune is his lot, he is grateful and it is good for him. If something harmful happens to him, he is steadfast and that is good for him too.'” [Muslim]

Abu Hurayra reported that the Messenger of Allah, Allah bless him and give him peace, said, “Believers, both men and women, will continue to be afflicted in respect of themselves, their children and their property until they meet Allah without any wrong actions at all.” [Tirmidhi]

This life is one of affliction, trials and tribulation and the next life will be one of tremendous bounty, everlasting happiness and eternal paradise for the one who attains it. There will be such bounty in paradise that when the inhabitants will be asked if they had any difficulty in the life of this world, they will say no, O Lord. Such will be there state in clothes of silk in gardens under which rivers flow. We say as our master Sayyiduna Ibrahim said to his Lord, ‘And place me among the inheritors of the Garden of Delight’ [26:85] May Allah make us all from amongst them. Amin.

And Allah alone gives success.

wassalaam,
Tabraze Azam

Checked & Approved by Faraz Rabbani

Sidi Tabraze Azam was born and raised in Ipswich, England where he memorized the entire Qur’an.  He was awarded a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science and Management from the University of Leicester where he also served as the president of the Islamic society. In 2009, after a few years of private study, he left for Jordan for advanced studies of the Islamic sciences. He currently resides in Amman where he studies Arabic, fiqh, `aqidah, and tajwid, attaining ijaza in the recitation of Hafs.