Friday, 21 October 2016

Metaphorical Meaning of Sun, Moon and Stars in the Holy Qur'an

In the Name of Allah, the Entirely Merciful, the Especially Merciful
In this entry I would like to begin a new series involving a deep introspection and study of the inner meaning of the Book of Allah, the Holy Qur’an.
Many deluded individuals and those effected by the excessively literalist thought claim that the Holy Qur’an must only be understood upon its apparent meaning. They further allege that the Holy Qur’an contains no inner meanings, and label those who hold the contrary view as Batiniyya (esotericists). For example, Jawed Ahmad Ghamidi, a contemporary modernist, writes:
“It is evident from the foregoing discussion that what makes the Qur’an a document having one definite meaning and which resolves all differences of interpretation and thus verifies Imam Farahi’s words الْقُرْآنُ لَا يَحْتَمِلُ إِلَّا تَاْوِيْلاً وَاحِداً  (There is no possibility of more than one interpretation in the Qur’an) about it is the coherence it possesses.” (Principles of Understanding Islam; p.56)
*Note: Hamid Uddin Farahi (1860-1930) was a modernist scholar. His ideas were inherited by Jawed Ghamidi via Amin Ahsan Islahi (1904-1997).
However, this idea that there is no possibility for multiple interpretations of the Holy Qur’an is false in light of the proceeding statement of the Prophet Muhammad (Sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam):
أُنْزِلَ الْقُرْآنُ عَلَى سَبْعَةِ أَحْرُفٍ ، لِكُلِّ آيَةٍ مِنْهَا ظَهْرٌ وَبَطْنٌ
“The Qur’an was revealed in seven dialectic modes. Every Ayah (verse) of it has an apparent and a hidden (meaning).”
In fact, the Holy Qur’an itself issues an important disclaimer that it contains two kinds of verses, the Muhkamaat which are foundational and unambiguous verses that are the “mother of the Book”, and the Mutashabihaat, or verses that are allegorical, whose true meaning is known only by Allah and those who are firmly grounded in knowledge (Sura 3:7).
Even a cursory reading of the Holy Qur’an will make it quite evident to the reader that it is a Book filled with parables, literary expressions, metaphors, and religious symbolism.
One example I would like to focus on for this entry is the repeated mention of the sun, moon, and stars throughout the Holy Qur’an.
The vision of the Prophet Joseph (peace be upon him) where he saw eleven stars, the sun and moon making obeisance to him (Sura 12:4) is a key to understanding the reality of this subject. The sun and moon were Joseph’s parents, the sun symbolizing his father Prophet Jacob (peace be upon him), and the eleven stars symbolizing his eleven brothers (Sura 12:100).
Based on this we are given a strong indication that sun, moon and stars, as used in the Holy Qur’an, connote Prophets and saintly people.
Keep in mind that this is not a denial of the apparent meaning of sun, moon and stars, and no doubt, these words have also been used in their apparent sense. But the beauty and salient feature of the Holy Qur’an is that its words have both an apparent and inner meaning, and both should be studied and accepted whole-heartedly.
In many Ahadith, the Prophet (Sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam) has elucidated on the inner meaning of sun, moon and stars;
أَوَّلُ زُمْرَةٍ تَدْخُلُ الْجَنَّةَ عَلَى صُورَةِ الْقَمَرِ لَيْلَةَ الْبَدْرِ وَالَّذِينَ عَلَى إِثْرِهِمْ كَأَشَدِّ كَوْكَبٍ إِضَاءَةً قُلُوبُهُمْ عَلَى قَلْبِ رَجُلٍ وَاحِدٍ
“The first batch (of people) who will enter Paradise will be like the full moon, and those upon the trace of their steps will be like the brightest star, their hearts will be like the heart of a single man…” (Sahih al-Bukhari)
Regarding the illustrious Sahaba (companions of the Prophet may Allah be pleased with them) there is the Hadith:
أَصْحَابِي كَالنُّجُومِ بِأَيِّهِمُ اقْتَدَيْتُمُ اهْتَدَيْتُمْ
“My Companions are like the Stars, whoever of them you follow you will be guided.”
In describing the ‘Ulamaa (scholars) of his Ummah, the Prophet (Sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam) said:
هُمْ عُلَمَاءُ أُمَّتِي الْكَوَاكِبُ زِينَةُ السَّمَاءِ ، وَالْعُلَمَاءُ زِينَةُ أُمَّتِي
“The Ulema of my Ummah are the Stars which adorn the sky, and the Ulema are the adornment of my Ummah.” (Tarikh Jarjan; no. 215)
This Hadith in particular correlates to and helps to explain the inner meaning of the verse of the Holy Qur’an:
إِنَّا زَيَّنَّا السَّمَاءَ الدُّنْيَا بِزِينَةٍ الْكَوَاكِبِ
Indeed, We have adorned the Heaven of the world with an adornment of Stars (Sura 37:6)
These and many other Ahadith demonstrate for us that saintly and pious people like the Prophets, the Sahaba, and the Ulema, have been described as the shining objects in Heaven that glitter with light, i.e., sun, moon and stars.
The 53rd Sura of the Holy Qur’an is called Al-Najm, or the Star, because it begins with Allah drawing out attention to the Star when it descends:
وَالنَّجْمِ إِذَا هَوَىٰ ۝
مَا ضَلَّ صَاحِبُكُمْ وَمَا غَوَىٰ۝
By the Star when it descends. Your Companion (Prophet Muhammad) has not strayed, nor has he erred. (Sura 53:1-2)
Since the subject matter of the Sura is the Mi’raj (ascension) of the Prophet (Sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam), for this reason Islamic exegetes have understood the descending star as referring to the Prophet as he descended back into this world at the conclusion of his experience of the Mi’raj. Imam Sahl al-Tustari (818-896 C.E) and the eminent Sufi, Abdul Karim al-Qushayri (986-1074) have mentioned this in their respective Tafsirs.
Reference: Tafsir Tustari; p. 261 and Tafsir Qushayri; v.3, p.247

Let us now re-examine some selected verses of the Holy Qur’an keeping this inner meaning in mind:
وَالشَّمْسَ وَالْقَمَرَ وَالنُّجُومَ مُسَخَّرَاتٍ بِأَمْرِهِ
The Sun, the Moon and the Stars, subjected by His command (Sura 7:54)
The inner meaning is that here Allah is stating that the Prophet, the Messiah, and the saintly and learned people of this Ummah are in a state of willing subjection to His command.
أَلَمْ تَرَ أَنَّ اللَّـهَ يَسْجُدُ لَهُ مَن فِي السَّمَاوَاتِ وَمَن فِي الْأَرْضِ وَالشَّمْسُ وَالْقَمَرُ وَالنُّجُومُ وَالْجِبَالُ وَالشَّجَرُ وَالدَّوَابُّ وَكَثِيرٌ مِّنَ النَّاسِ
Do you not see that to Allah prostrates whoever is in the Heavens and whoever is on the Earth and the Sun, the Moon, the Stars, the Mountains, the Trees, the moving creatures and many of the people (Sura 22:18)
While it is certainly true that the inanimate and unconscious objects of the cosmos and nature are in a state of subjugation or prostration before Allah, the inner meaning is also quite profound. Here Allah has mentioned that those who prostrate to Him are the Angels, and those who are on the Earth, such as the Sun (the Prophet), the Moon (the Messiah), the Stars (saintly and learned believers), the Mountains (great nations), the Trees (tribes or clans based on their lineages), beasts meaning perhaps beastly individuals, and many ordinary people.
Similarly, the Stars, both Al-Nujum and Al-Kawakib have been mentioned throughout the Holy Qur’an, but particularly in a sense of being vanished, effaced, scattered, or dimmed (see 52:49, 77:8, 81:2, 82:2).

The profound inner meaning of the vanishing or dimming of the Stars is a prophecy that as Judgment Day approaches the saintly and pious believers will become scarce or of a lesser degree than those who preceded them.

1 comment:

  1. Note: Interestingly, one of the meanings for the root N-J-M, from which the word Najm (star) is derived is, "to tell the future" (Arabic-English Dictionary of Qur'anic Usage, p.919). The function of a Prophet (Nabi) is to reveal matters from the unseen, including future events, such as the Signs of Judgment Day. Hence the verse وَالنَّجْمِ إِذَا هَوَىٰ "By the Star when it descends" (53:1), with the meaning "By the Prophet when he descended (from the Mi'raj)".


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