By Sabeen Mansoori
A cursory reading of any translation of the Qur’an leaves one wondering why Allah (swt) repeats the stories of the Prophets so many times. It is related that Prophet Musa `alayhi sallatu wa sallam (may Allah send His peace and blessings on him) throws down his staff which swallows up the snakes of the magicians, and a few chapters later the same episode is related again. Similarly, we read about Shaytan’s flagrant disobedience several times in the Qur’an. This dry textual reading of the Qur’an is an injustice to this miraculous book. It must be approached not as a two dimensional script, but as a 3D world which embraces with its light those that enter it seeking guidance.
As you turn the pages of the Qur’an, Allah (swt) invites you to be friends with His Messengers and His righteous slaves. He wants you to become familiar with their personal traits and experience, their trials and triumphs. We are invited into their homes; we accompany them on their travels and we are with them in their most private conversations with the Creator.
In Surah Hud Allah (swt) relates how the angels are sent to Prophet Ibrahim’s (as) house to give him the news of a righteous son and grandson. They also inform him that the people of Lut (as) are to be punished. Allah (swt) mentions that Prophet Ibraheem (as) serves his guests a roasted lamb. On reading this story, one should be able to smell the mouth watering aroma of the roasted meat, feel the luminescence of the angelic visitors, and experience the deep concern in Prophet Ibrahim’s (as) voice as he argues for the people of Lut (as); a nation most undeserving of mercy. But this is Ibrahim (as) the Khalil (friend) of Allah, about whom Allah (swt) says:
Indeed, Abraham was forbearing, grieving and [frequently] returning [to Allah]. (Qur’an, 11:75)
Like family members or close friends, we are there when Maryam (as) withdraws to a faraway place to deliver her baby. No one is there to share in her mental and physical anguish, but we are there to experience some portion of her distress. She prays that she were something forgotten, until an angel is sent to comfort her and tells her to shake the trunk of the palm tree and drink the water. Taste the sweetness of those fresh dates and relish the coolness of that water. The most pious of women ever to live considers with extreme dread the prospect of walking into town with a baby and having accusations hurled at her. Allah (swt) saves her from having to defend herself by making her son miraculously come to her rescue.
Feel the boat rock under your feet and hear the waters swell as Prophet Nuh (as) calls out to his son to join the believers on the boat and be saved. His son refuses his father’s desperate request and Prophet Nuh (as) helplessly watches his son drown with the disbelievers. With great humility he mentions the intense mercy of Allah and the loss of his son, then immediately withdraws the unspoken plea when he senses the displeasure of Allah (swt).
“And it sailed with them through waves like mountains, and Noah called to his son who was apart [from them], “O my son, come aboard with us and be not with the disbelievers.”
[But] he said, “I will take refuge on a mountain to protect me from the water.” [Noah] said, “There is no protector today from the decree of Allah, except for whom He gives mercy.” And the waves came between them, and he was among the drowned. “ (Qur’an, 11: 42-43)
The episodes are too numerous to recount here, but each glimpse into their lives leaves one in awe of their humility, their patience, their faith, their gratitude, and their essential humanity. They never whine or give up hope. Even their mistakes are accompanied with such sincere repentance that the mistakes become a source of elevating their status with Allah (swt).
Allah (swt) in His infinite mercy also introduces us to His righteous slaves at different stages in their lives. There is the young Ibrahim (as), respectfully attempting to convince his father to abandon idol worship, and then there isYa’qub (as) giving his sons a legacy on his death bed. The mother of Musa (as) places her trust in Allah (swt), putting her newborn baby in a basket in the water. The righteous slaves of Allah (swt) are young and old, men and women, husbands and wives, kings and poor travelers, teachers and students. There is surely someone whose struggle you and I can identify with, who we can befriend, and whose example we can emulate. In these wretched times when there are none worthy of being placed on pedestals, these are shining examples who have received the stamp of approval from Allah (swt).
Watch any young boy who has just finished watching a superhero cartoon. He will be bouncing off the walls, imitating the character’s sounds and actions. We naturally replicate in our demeanor and attitudes those that we spend time with. If we spend time in the company of the Qur’an, and every few pages these amazing examples of courage and faith are recounted to us, there is hope that we will also mold our lives to their personalities and consequently become worthy of His forgiveness.
Those were the ones upon whom Allah bestowed favor from among the prophets of the descendants of Adam and of those We carried [in the ship] with Noah, and of the descendants of Abraham and Israel, and of those whom We guided and chose. When the verses of the Most Merciful were recited to them, they fell in prostration and weeping.” (Qur’an, 19:58)
On reading this verse we are required to fall into prostration just as they did. Time and space melt away for a few seconds as we synchronize our action with the action of the beloved slaves of Allah. We place our faces on the same earth that they placed their foreheads on thousands of years ago. The prostration is recommended, but the weeping goes a step further. As our faces come in contact with the ground, we should also weep as they wept. Tears of gratitude: for the miraculous words of the blessed Qur’an have allowed us to make contact with a people whose company we are truly not worthy of.