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An unusual opening

Published: 14/05/2010 01:31:00 AM GMT
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Published: May 14, 2010 01:18 Updated: May 14, 2010 01:18

In the name of God, the Lord of Grace, the Ever Merciful A Surah which We have bestowed from on high and which We have ordained; and in it have We bestowed from on high clear revelations, so that you may keep them in mind. (Light, Al-Noor: 24: 1)

Light is mentioned as an essential attribute of God: “God is the light of the heavens and the earth.” It is also mentioned in respect of its effect on people’s hearts and souls. Such effects are reflected in human morality and manners of individuals, families and communities. They give human life a bright color that enlightens hearts and makes consciences transparent.

The Surah Al-Noor begins with an emphatic declaration of the fact that it is bestowed from on high, and that it is decreed with all that it contains of directives, commandments and morality: “A Surah which We have bestowed from on high and which We have ordained; and in it have We bestowed from on high clear revelations, so that you may keep them in mind.”

This opening reflects the importance the Qur’an attaches to the moral aspect of human life, and its central position in the Islamic faith and the Islamic concept of life in this present world.

The central theme of the entire Surah is the education of the Muslim community. At times, the methods employed by the Surah increase in their stiffness so as to culminate in prescribing mandatory punishments. And at other times they take a soft and refined approach filling hearts and feelings with God’s light and inviting us to reflect on the numerous signs God has placed everywhere in life and the universe. The aim of both stiff and soft approaches is the same: To cultivate people’s consciences, enhance their sensitivity and refine their moral standards to the highest degree. Good manners concerned with the individual, the family, the community and the leadership of society are all intertwined as they all have the same source, which is belief in God, and shine with the same light received from God. In essence, these manners combine light and transparency with brightness. Thus the education the Surah aims to achieve derives all its aspects from the basic source of light in the heavens and earth; that is, God’s light that dispels all darkness in the universe, as well as in people’s hearts and souls.

The Surah may be divided into five parts, all tackling its basic theme. The first gives at the outset a decisive declaration outlining the status of this Surah, and follows that with giving the details of the mandatory punishment for adultery. It denounces this crime in clear terms, making clear that adulterers have no place in the Muslim community. It also explains the punishment for false accusation of adultery, and the reasons for the severity of this mandatory punishment. Couples are exempted from this punishment when they take the prescribed oaths that end up with their permanent separation. It then comments on the falsehood story. At the end it makes clear that men and women flock with their likes: The good with the good and the evil with the evil.

The second part is concerned with crime prevention and the methods of reducing the temptation of sin. It begins with an outline of good manners when approaching homes and the need to seek permission before entry. It commands Muslims to lower their gaze and not to reveal women’s charms and adornments to anyone other than their very close relatives whom they are not lawful to marry. There is also in this part a clear encouragement to facilitate the marriage of young women, and a stern warning against forcing slave girls into prostitution. All these are preventive measures that aim to promote purity of feelings and chastity in general. They aim to prevent what stirs up physical desire and afflicts people who are keen to maintain their chastity in their attempts to resist temptation.

In the middle of the list of good manners outlined in the Surah, the third part provides a link between all these manners and God’s light. Here the Surah speaks of the people whose hearts are brightened with God’s light and who always frequent mosques. By contrast, the unbelievers and their deeds are shown as though they are a mirage, or like layers of darkness. In this part we see different aspects of God’s light throughout the universe: How all creatures glorify God; how clouds are sent through; the succession of day and night; the creation of every walking creature out of water and how they acquire their different shapes, forms, types and roles. All these are there for people to look at and contemplate.

In the fourth part the hypocrites are seen to neglect the proper manners people should show when dealing with the Prophet (peace be upon him). The most important of these are obedience to the Prophet and the implementation of any judgment he makes in disputes put to him for arbitration. By contrast, the believers are seen to maintain the appropriate standards in speaking to the Prophet and obeying him. In return, they are promised to have power, be able to establish and implement their faith and to attain victory over the unbelievers.

The final part turns back to the good manners within the Muslim community, highlighting the need of seeking admission when visiting relatives and friends, hospitality to guests, and the fine manners that make the whole Muslim community a single family, led by God’s messenger (peace be upon him).

The Surah concludes with a declaration of God’s ownership of all that is in the heavens and earth, His knowledge of people and what they harbor in their breasts, and their ultimate return to Him. They will have to face His reckoning on the basis of His knowledge of their deeds. Needless to say, His knowledge encompasses everything. ¬

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