Some Core Concepts
in Islam – Part I
Islam Is Easy
If you have wondered why there is so much confusion and frustration among Muslims on so many different fronts, the explanation is simple: Muslims just don’t get some of Islam’s core concepts right.
Yes, it is absolutely true that there is so much to unite the Muslims in one solid and cohesive local, regional and global Ummat, perhaps more so than any other people or nation on earth. And yes, at a certain level, a basic understanding of their Deen – Islamic way of life – is part of most Muslims’ mental make-up.
Yet, one of the biggest Muslim problems is that Muslims just don’t get it. That means getting some of the core Islamic concepts right is the greatest challenge facing Muslims in all times and places. As a result, even non-Muslims have difficulty developing a clear understanding of Islam, meaning, since many Muslims don’t understand Islam well enough and clearly enough, they are not able to explain or project Islam to non-Muslims in a clear and persuasive manner.
This is in spite of the fact that the key ideas of Islam are simplicity itself. And we have divine guarantee that God has made Islam -- and the Qur’an -- easy and simple for us to understand, to follow and to put into practice.
Wa Laqad Yassarnal Qurana Liddhikri.
In Aayat after glorious Aayat, Allah emphasizes that he has made the Dhikr – Qur’an and by extension and implication all things Islamic – easy. Yet Muslims have all kinds of problems getting some of Islam’s core concepts and ideas right.
Here is some food for thought: Basmalah. It simply means saying Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim! Meaning, in the name of Allah the most merciful, the most merciful! Did you ever think about it? Allah means God.
Allah is the name used for God in the Arabic Bible. So, both Christians and Jews call God Allah in Arabic, and not just Muslims.
For quite sometime now – how many decades, I don’t know – I have wondered about the correlation between the two Arabic words Arrahman and Arrahim in the Qur’an and their common English equivalents used by translators of the Qur’an — and by Muslims in general: the beneficent, the merciful, the compassionate, the gracious and the rest if any.
Muslims are so happy parading these expressions, but what they don’t bother to explain is why the repetition. And that is the question I have been asking myself: Why? Why the repetition of Arrahman and Arrahim?
I don’t know how the English expressions the beneficent, the merciful, the compassionate, the gracious are different from one another. As for the Arabic Arrahman Arrahim, they are in a class by themselves. They are unlike anything we know – most likely in any language.
They are repeated, in many places as a pair and not even an “and” or a “waaw” to separate the two. What could be some of the reasons for this extraordinary, some would say strange, or to me miraculous, juxtaposition of two words with more or less the “same” meaning?
Synonyms, or even equivalents, of each other, are they? Redundant, would you say – a foretaste of Jannat as in Wa utoo bihi mutashaabihaa? Or are they oceans and worlds apart? Did you ever think about Arrahman Arrahim? How intensely and how frequently did you do so?
Think about them first and we will talk, Inshallah.
In the meantime let us all be positive, constructive and focused. And let us be productive, useful and helpful. And let us all be kind, compassionate, nice — and altogether Islamic. For, Islam is all those things. And Islam is everything that is good. For, those are part of the blessings Islam confers on us. And those are the attitudes and behaviors Islam expects of us.
So, I see breathtaking repetition here, even though not one grain of sand or one drop of rain is redundant in the divine scheme of things, each being a unique and special creation of God Almighty.
Yet, repetition hits you in the face as you recite and ponder over and over: Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim! So, “In the name of Allah, the most merciful, the most merciful,” that is how I have been translating it for quite some time now, acknowledging the obvious repetition as it meets the eye and quietly marveling at the infinite uniqueness and special meaning that lies buried in each expression.
From an Arabic linguistic point of view, or from the point of view of the various Tafaaseer, I am, Alhamdulillah, not unaware of the shades of difference in the Arabic usage of those two expressions Arrahman and Arrahim. I understand full well that entire books can be written explaining the difference between these two expressions in Arabic, in the Qur’an and using the Ahaadeeth.
But when it comes to their English translations or equivalents, “the most merciful” is where I am at – at least for the time being. For both Arrahman and Arrahim. I don’t know what other expression to use.
At the same time, I now see, Alhamdulillah, things in this repetition that I had not seen before: that this is no ordinary human speech. Human beings don’t write like that.
This is the glorious Qur’an throwing down the gauntlet right from the word “Go!” and alerting its readers that they were now face to face with God’s own word. They were now looking directly at a miracle. This book was going to be unlike anything they had seen or read before.
That is one thing this repetitive statement seems to be saying right at the beginning, before the Qur’an even begins.
But there is something extremely important even before we get to the stage of opening our mouth and saying Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim. And that is, before we get thus far in the Qur’an, we have to go through some major security clearances. One, Wudu, assuming we didn’t need Ghusl, and assuming of course we had Iman.
Wudu of course means washing up; Ghusl means full ritual bathing; and Iman means strong belief in God and all that he requires we believe in.
The other is reading A’oodhu Billah: seeking Allah’s protection from the devil.
Yes, we pretty much invented the concept of safety belts and security clearances – Islam did that is. God of Islam, your God and my God, did. Our Allah did. And how comprehensive and thorough these arrangements are the way Allah taught them to us!
And the way he made them available to all humanity and to all the worlds.
Thus, the first security clearance we must seek is cleaning and protecting the body – and the mind and the soul – from all hostile influences, forces and elements through Ghusl (bathing) and Wudu (washing).
Next comes erecting the impenetrable wall of Allah’s powerful protection around us from all evil and hostility that could flow from the invisible enemy Shaitan – and his many visible minions right here in this world.
It is then that we are allowed the privilege of entering the Qur’an and saying Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim! – picking it right out of the pages of the Qur’an.
Bismillah! That one word now unlocks the door to the world of worlds that the Qur’an is. To ‘Aalamul Ghaib wash-Shahaadah: to all that we see and all that we don’t.
We are now in direct interface with infinity – in meaning; in complexity; in simplicity; in clarity; in richness; in elegance; in grace; in power; in glory; in majesty; in beauty; in sheer divine light – layers upon layers of light.
Noorun alaa noor!
What we get out of this infinite ocean of light and glory that the Qur’an is, is not a function of the ocean now lapping at our faces and at our souls, it is a function, rather, of the container we bring to it. Buckets and teacups will haul away only what they can hold. And those that have holes in them will leak and lose what they are given.
The Real Miracle
For anyone with eyes to see, these are miracles upon miracles, each more compelling and spell-binding than the other.
The miracles began way back when an unlettered man in a cave in the burning Arabian desert mandated both bathing (Ghusl) and washing (Wudu) with mind-boggling frequency and regularity.
Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam!
That was the real and original miracle of all. Then other miracles followed in quick succession, each more impressive and powerful than the other.
Muslim or non-Muslim, humanity must now deal with those miracles: either make sense of them in a worldly sense and explain them away or accept them as divine signs, arguments and evidence beckoning us to come to Allah and believe in His prophet, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam, and His book the Qur’an.
Thus, for anyone with eyes to see, Prophet Muhammad, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam, was the greatest miracle of all. And for all the creation of Allah, his presence was the greatest Rahmat or mercy of all.
Watch this most amazing confluence of words and expressions in the Qur’an: His sender was Rabbul ‘Aalameen – master of the worlds. And he sent him as Rahmatul-Lil-‘Aalameen – mercy to the worlds. And the Qur’an, this most amazing book that the Prophet Rahmatul-Lil-‘Aalameen Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam brought from God Rabbul ‘Aalameen – master of the worlds – is Dhikrul-Lil-‘Aalameen – something for all the worlds to notice, to pay heed to, to read, to learn, to contemplate, to memorize, to remember, to discuss, to chant, to use and to practice.
If this set of words is not a miracle then what is?
If you were looking for internal evidence, right from the pages of the Qur’an, for the true, divine and revelatory nature of the Qur’an, look no farther. All you need is these three expressions taken together and held against the background of the man Muhammad, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam.
And then all you need to do is to ask yourself how a man of that background could possibly have cooked up all by himself these absolutely magical and breathtaking formulations either taken individually, one at a time, or all three taken together as a group?
Only one conclusion emerges: Either he was himself God or he was sent by God. It is part of his Rahmat or mercy that instead of proclaiming himself God, he called himself a slave and messenger of God and instead of teaching his followers to call him Master, he referred to them as his Companions.
And then the miracles get bigger and better as we go deeper in the Qur’an. And the symmetry and consistency of the Qur’anic expressions and Ayats on various subjects gets more spell-binding with every new page.
It was this power of the language and meaning of the Qur’an that made many stalwart non-believer masters of original Arabic language and culture during the lifetime of Prophet Muhammad, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam, cry out spontaneously, upon hearing the Qur’an, that these words could not be of human making.
With their superior knowledge and intelligence, they were able to see in a flash that there was something or someone way beyond human power, skill, talent or ability speaking through those words and expressions. Their superior courage, honesty and integrity led many of these skeptics and free-thinkers to embrace Islam on the spot.
This is no ordinary human speech, they decreed. La Ilaaha Illallah, Muhammad Rasulullah, they declared: there is but one God and Muhammad is his messenger.
That is how Islam marched forward in its early lonely, persecuted days with the unstoppable momentum of a juggernaut.