Increasing Our Faith (Iman) through Allah’s Signs
Transcript of the Khutbah delivered by Dr. Munawar Haque on March 3, 2017
Brothers and sisters! The ayat 190 to 194 of Surat Aal ‘Imran are very significant in terms of understanding the subject matter of iman and learning to increase one’s iman through contemplation (tafakkur). InshaAllah in today’s khutbah, I’ll be briefly discussing the tafsir of these ayat. It is reported that one day Bilal (RA) came to alert the Prophet (SAW) for the Fajr prayer and found him crying. Bilal (RA) said, “O Messenger of Allah! What makes you cry, while Allah has forgiven you your previous and latter sins?” The Prophet (SAW) replied,
“O Bilal! What prevents me from crying, when this night this ayah was revealed to me. And then he recited this ayah of Surat Aal ‘Imran.
إِنَّ فِي خَلْقِ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ وَاخْتِلَافِ اللَّيْلِ وَالنَّهَارِ لَآَيَاتٍ لِأُولِي الْأَلْبَابِ
After that, he said: وَيْلٌ لِمَنْ قَرَأَهَا وَلَمْ يَتَفَكَّرْ فِيهَا “Woe to the person who recites it but does not ponder over it.”
What does the creation of the heavens and the earth mean? It means that there are, in the creation of the heavens and the earth, great signs of Allah (SWT). The expression 'the alteration of the night and day' means that the night goes and the day comes and when the day goes, night comes. It could also be taken to mean increase or decrease in the length of the day and night. For example, during winter, the night is long and the day is short; while during the summer, the order is reversed. Similarly, the difference between the night and day is also caused by the difference in the geographical location of countries. The phenomenon of succession of the night and the day is not only a great sign but also a means of tremendous benefits. Human beings experience sunlight, shade, heat and cold. Sleeping time and working time are organized. Time is compartmentalized into days, hours, minutes, and seconds. These in themselves are such fundamental points of benefit.
What is the meaning of the word, ayat? Ayat is the plural of ayah, which has more than one meaning. A miracle is known as ayah. It also means a proof. It is also referred to as a sign. The verse of the Qur’an is called an ayah. The ayah under discussion is telling us there are signs of Allah and the proofs of His power .
We instinctively believe in Allah’s existence. This belief, however, at times gets weak and blurred in our memory because of the negative influences of the environment and because of not following Allah’s commandments. One of the ways to increase our faith (iman) in Allah (SWT) is to start observing and pondering over the signs of Allah (SWT) spread around us—the sky, the earth and what it produces, the oceans, the mountains, the sun, the moon, the plants, the animals…etc that are all subservient and beneficial to mankind in their own ways. These signs can help us understand the reality of the Creator and His creation provided we observe the phenomenon of nature thoughtfully.
This ayah speaks of the Ulul-Albab. Albab is the plural of lubb, which means the essence of something. And, the intellect—the pure and clear mind is the essence of human nature. Thus, Ulul-Albab means people of wisdom, people of understanding, or people of sound intellect. Their reflection into the creation of the heavens and the earth and into what has been created in them leads to their knowing, obeying, and remembering Allah. It is they who are wise, because the Qur’an has given the following sign of the people of wisdom.
الَّذِينَ يَذْكُرُونَ اللَّهَ قِيَامًا وَقُعُودًا وَعَلَى جُنُوبِهِمْ وَيَتَفَكَّرُونَ فِي خَلْقِ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ رَبَّنَا مَا خَلَقْتَ هَذَا بَاطِلًا سُبْحَانَكَ فَقِنَا عَذَابَ النَّارِ
“Those who remember Allah, standing, sitting and lying down on their sides, and ponder over the creation of the heavens and the earth: Our Lord, You have not created this for nothing. Glory be to You! So safeguard us from the punishment of the Fire.”
In other words it means that they are engaged in the remembrance of Allah under all conditions and at all times. Also worth attention at this point is the fact that the Shari'ah of Islam has not enjoined abundance in any other modes of worship except dhikr. About dhikr, the command is:
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آَمَنُوا اذْكُرُوا اللَّهَ ذِكْرًا كَثِيرًا
“O you who believe, remember Allah as often as you can.” (al-Ahzab, 33:41)
The reason is that all modes of worship, other than dhikr, have some conditions and rules without observing which those acts of worship are not considered to have been duly performed. This is contrary to dhikr which can be performed at all times and under all conditions whether standing, sitting, or lying, with or without wudu. The second sign of the people of wisdom given in this ayah is: وَيَتَفَكَّرُونَ فِي خَلْقِ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ “And they ponder over the creation of the heavens and the earth.”
The Arabic words, fikr and tafakkur literally mean to ponder, to deliberate and think about something which is an effort to arrive at its reality. From this ayah, we find out that this act of pondering is also an act of worship and very much like the dhikr or remembrance of Allah. The difference is that the objective of dhikr is the remembrance of Allah (SWT) and His attributes, while the objective of fikr and tafakkur or thinking and deliberation relates to His creation. There are signs in what Allah (SWT) has created. One should think about these signs. But, one should not ponder upon or delve into the Essence or Being of Allah (SWT) for that is beyond one's reach.
As rightly said, “Ponder upon the signs of Allah, and do not ponder upon the Being of Allah.” By pondering over the creation, the wise people get to know their Creator and are personally convinced of the impermanence and temporary nature of the physical world. On the other hand, there are those people who do not ponder over the creation of Allah (SWT). Like everybody else, they become physically mature, but do not reach that level of intellectual maturity where they begin to reflect upon the signs in Allah’s creation. They are heedless of these signs.
وَكَأَيِّن مِّنْ آيَةٍ فِي السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ يَمُرُّونَ عَلَيْهَا وَهُمْ عَنْهَا مُعْرِضُو نَ
“And there are many signs in the heavens and the earth that they pass by and give no heed to.” (Yusuf, 12:105).
May Allah make us among those who reflect and ponder over the signs of Allah and not among those who do not do so and remain heedless.
أَقُولُ قَوْلِي هَذَا وَأَسْتَغْفِرُ اللَّهَ لِي وَلَكُمْ وَلِسَائِرِ المُسْلِمينَ وَالمُسْلِمَاتْ فَاسْتَغْفِرُوهْ إِنَّهُ هُوَ الْغَفُورُ الرَّحِيمُ
الحمد لله رب العالمين والصلاة والسلام على سيد المرسلين وعلى آله وأصحابه أجمعين.
Brothers and sisters! The outcome of pondering over the signs of Allah's creation is that those who understand call out:
رَبَّنَا مَا خَلَقْتَ هَذَا بَاطِلًا سُبْحَانَكَ فَقِنَا عَذَابَ النَّارِ
“Our Lord, You have not created all this in vain.” (Aal ‘Imran, 3:191)
A close observation of the system of the universe leads them to praise their Lord, to deny that He has created everything in vain and without purpose, and to reach the conclusion that most surely there is a life in the Hereafter with its rewards and punishments. The system itself speaks of the wisdom that underlies it. So it follows that the All-Wise Creator must have a definite purpose in the creation of man.
Moreover, the very fact that He placed everything at man’s disposal and has endowed him with a moral sense to discriminate between good and bad clearly shows that man must be accountable to God for the choices he made and whether he utilized his God given faculties to fulfill the purpose of his creation—to worship and obey his Creator. Consequently he should be awarded for the good he does and punished for the evil he does in this world. This thinking leads one to the conclusion that there must be a life after death, where one will be accountable for one’s deeds. This realization fills man’s heart with fear of punishment in the Hereafter, and he spontaneously prays to Allah to save him from the hell-fire.
Further on, from verses 192 to 194, there appears a set of pleas and prayers from such people who realize that this universe is no exercise in futility and that it is full of open proofs of the great power and wisdom of its Creator. So, once they know their Creator and Sustainer, they submit before Him.
رَبَّنَا إِنَّكَ مَنْ تُدْخِلِ النَّارَ فَقَدْ أَخْزَيْتَهُ وَمَا لِلظَّالِمِينَ مِنْ أَنْصَارٍ () رَبَّنَا إِنَّنَا سَمِعْنَا مُنَادِيًا يُنَادِي لِلْإِيمَانِ أَنْ آَمِنُوا بِرَبِّكُمْ فَآَمَنَّا رَبَّنَا فَاغْفِرْ لَنَا ذُنُوبَنَا وَكَفِّرْ عَنَّا سَيِّئَاتِنَا وَتَوَفَّنَا مَعَ الْأَبْرَارِ () رَبَّنَا وَآَتِنَا مَا وَعَدْتَنَا عَلَى رُسُلِكَ وَلَا تُخْزِنَا يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ إِنَّكَ لَا تُخْلِفُ الْمِيعَادَ ()
“Our Lord, those You cast into the Fire, You have indeed disgraced. The wrongdoers will have no helpers. Our Lord! We have heard someone calling us to faith: ‘Believe in your Lord’ and we have believed. Our Lord! Forgive us our sins, wipe out our bad deeds, and grant that we join the righteous when we die. Our Lord, give us what You promised us through Your Messengers, and do not disgrace us on the Day of Resurrection. You do not break Your promise.” (Aal ‘Imran, 3:192-194)
The first request they make is: Save us from the Fire. The second request is: Save us from the disgrace of the Hereafter for whoever is condemned to the Fire stands humiliated before the whole world on the Day of Judgment. The third request is: We have heard the message of the Messenger and we believe that the way of life preached and prescribed by him is the only right way. So forgive us our sins, wipe out our bad deeds, and make us join the righteous when we die. These three requests are aimed at safety against punishment and pain and loss. The fourth request is about the promised blessings—the blessings of Paradise promised through the noble prophets. This prayer for blessings is being made with the added request that there be no disgrace on the Day of Judgment. In other words, the prayer is for outright mercy and forgiveness. The purpose of this submission is to say: O Allah, enable us to become deserving, and a beneficiary of this promise made by You.
May Allah grant us the ability to ponder upon, and to understand whatever we read from the Qur’an, and to act according to its teachings as long as we live, so that when we meet Him, the Qur’an becomes a proof for us and not against us; ameen.