NOUMAN ALI KHAN – DIVINE SPEECH PROLOGUE – PART I
Our speaker today is Nouman Ali Khan. He is the head of Bayyinah Institute – the largest and fastest growing Arabic studies programme in the country. He has previously served as Islamic studies teacher at Muslim Center, chaplain for the Adelphi University, Arabic professor at Nassau community college and director of education at Masjidaru-l-Qur’an. Currently, brother Nouman is busy ensuring the growth and sustainability of Bayyinah which has crossed a 6000-students mark – alhamdulillah! He is involved in numerous translations and research projects all revolving around classic Arabic curriculum development, linguistic analysis and tafseer of the Qur’an. Brother Nouman’s understanding of the language and tafseer has been influenced by numerous scholars, scholarly resources: both classical and contemporary. He has retained his focus on the Qur’an related studies for a number of years and considers himself as an intermediate student of the language and a beginner student of the Qur’an.
Without further due I would give you brother Nouman
Assalyamu ‘alaykum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuhu
Alhamdulillahi Rabbi-l-‘alameen, wa-S-Salyatu wa-s-salyam ‘ala ashrafi-l-anbiyai wa mursaleen wa ‘ala aalihi wa sahbihi wa maa nistanna bihi sunnatihi ilya yaumi-d-deen
Allahumma j’alna minhum wa mina-l-ladheena aamanu wa ‘aamilu-S-Salihat wa tawasaw bi-l-Haqq wa tawasaw bi-S-Sabr.. amin ya rabbi-l-‘alameen
Thumma amma ba’d fa a’uudhu biLlahi mina-sh-shayTaani rajeem
Haadha balyaaghu li-n-nas wa li yundhiru bihi wa li yaghlamu annamaa ilaahun waaHid wa li yaddakara uulu-l-albaab
Rabbi shrah lee Sadri wa yassirli amri wahlul ‘uqdatan min lisaani yafqahu qaulee
Wa Allahumma thabitna ‘inda-l-maut bi la ilaha illa Allah.. amin ya rabbi-l-‘alameen
I have a monumental task before me today to share with you in two parts – two parts of this presentation broken up with a break in the middle – a huge subject. And I was given a different title before and I requested it to be changed even though the subject is very similar. I was given the title “Miracles of the Qur’an” and that’s too big a title for me to handle. So I changed it to “Literary characteristics of the Qur’an” those of you who saw the advertising materials. There is a reason for which I’ve chosen this title and I’d like to share with you why in this introductory phase of my talk. I’ll center it around one thing. I’ve taken the Arabic portion, small portion of the ayah that I recited to you in the beginning: “haadha balyaaghu li-n-nas” – Allah speaks about the Qur’an. And he says: “This is a “balyaagh”, and I am not gonna translate that yet, it is a “balyaagh” for people, “balyaagh”. “Balyaagh” in Arabic means that which reaches someone else, a communication, a communicate. This Qur’an is meant to reach people. It is a message to people. Now, because Allah calls it a means of communication or a communicate, a message. I want to speak to you today first, about the essential components of communication. I want to keep this very-very simple. I am not going to try to bother you with heavy grammatical terms or Arabic terminology because that’s not my intention today. What I want you to be exposed to is this dimension of an appreciation of the Qur’an that is almost lost entirely upon people who are not students of the Qur’an and Arabic which is the majority of Muslims and, perhaps, all of mankind in addition. They don’t appreciate one dimension of the Qur’an that I’d like to highlight for you.
When we communicate, there are essentially three components that you have to keep in mind. There are three aspects to communicating. The first of them is the speaker himself. You know, when I am talking to you there is already, before I even open my mouse, because of my appearance, my gender, my age, all of that which you see with your eyes, you haven’t even heard me speak yet, but you’ve already passed some judgement. You’ve already passed some sort of predisposed conclusions about how I’m going to speak or what I’m going to talk about. Think about this way. I have kids, right, and, you know, when tax season come around I go to speak to my friends that are accountants and I’m taking their financial advice, whatever. What if my six-year-old came to me and gave me tax advice – really good tax advice. But it came from my six-year-old, would I take it seriously? No. Not because what she says is wrong, but because it’s coming from the source that I don’t really acknowledge for that content. I don’t expect it from her. Now if I get that same exact financial advice from a financial adviser, from an accountant, from an auditor – will I take that advice seriously? Sure! It’s going to completely change the way I perceive that information, so the speaker is a big deal. I’ll give you a more relevant example as far as the religion is concerned. My kid doesn’t give me a financial advice by the way. You come to a khutba. You go to a masjid – you are attending a khutba. You got there little late so you didn’t get into the main hall. You sat outside by the shoes or something. So you didn’t see the khatib. The khatib happened to be this young guy wearing jeans and a T-shirt, baseball head on backwards, barely a beard on his face. And he gives the most killer khutba you’ve ever heard in your life. The people that are sitting in the front row as they are listening to the khutba, you know what they are thinking: “Man, I better repeat my salah right after he’s done.” And the people that are outside that haven’t seen him, that heard this khutba, you know what they’re thinking: “I wonder where the sheikh studied? I wonder where he’s from? That was amazing! What was the sheikh’s name?” WHY? Because the one who speaks, the one who speaks, certainly affects how we understand what they are saying. This is a human’s flaw but nonetheless it’s there, it’s there. Is this applicable even in the Qur’an? Absolutely! The Qur’an as we go forward, you going to see, the Qur’an elicited two kinds of responses – either people were mesmerized by this book, and fell in love with this book and were willing to change their entire life when they heard this book – it had that power on them. On the other hand, you had people that were so annoyed with this book. They had such a deeply rooted hatred for this book that they would do anything to stop it from being spread across to other people. Two responses – there was no apathy. There was nobody that heard the Qur’an and said “ah, sounds interesting” – that didn’t exist. There were only one of these two responses.
Now I want to share with you something on this – about “who speaks” component of the communication briefly. You know in the Qur’an Allah says: “DarabaLLahu mathalyan” – Allah stroke an example. Now just to see if you’re paying attention – who stroke the example? Allah. Allah. So who’s the speaker therefore? Allah is – clear. Allah strikes the example, and of course when you are a believer – I say to you: “I give you an example”. You say: “Ok, yeah, nice example.” But if I say Allah gives an example, Allah strikes an example, don’t you pay more attention? You do. Because what did we take into consideration? The speaker, Allah! But the disbeliever, on the other side, on the other side of the spectrum, who the messenger is communicating the same Qur’an to, if he hears Allah stroke an example he already tunes his ears out. He says: “I don’t want to hear that, what Allah has to say, I’ve heard enough already. You’ve been telling me for a decade now. I don’t want to hear that anymore.” You understand? The only reason he is refusing to listen to the example is what? The speaker. The same reason for which the believer will pay extra attention is the same reason for which the disbeliever will be extra deterred, you follow? , In surat-ul-hajj.. Now in madanee Qur’an sura-t-tahreem Allah strikes an example.. Madanee Qur’an, Baqarah, Allah struck an example – “darabAllahu mathalyan”.
But then when you come to surat-ul-hajj – it’s a Makki surah. The majority of communication is taking place between the Messenger and the vast majority of people that don’t believe in what he has to say yet. Allah says to them: “Ya ayyuha-n-nas” – People, listen up! Duriba mathalun, now listen to the rough English translation carefully. Allah says: “People, an example has been struck”. He says: “An example has been struck”. Who has been omitted from this discussion? The speaker. He didn’t say Allah struck an example. What did he say? An example has been struck. He took the speaker out of the picture. You know why? Because when the disbeliever would hear the speaker is Allah out of all of sudden the rest of the text would be irrelevant – they would tune out. So Allah, ‘azza wa jal, in that ayah instead of emphasizing the speaker he emphasizes something else. And that’s the next component of communication – what is being said, the speech itself, simple words – the content. Two components so far of speech – the speaker and the content, two things: the speaker and the content. So when Allah says an example being struck, what’s he emphasizing? The content. Listen to the example, forget where it’s coming from – don’t judge the speaker, judge what? The speech. Judge the words themselves, right? So there’s a difference in communication. There’s a difference in communication Now this is, of course, taken in consideration consistently throughout the Qur’an. This is just one small example that I shared with you but there’s something very consistent, you know, the Qur’an is very conscious of this problem of communication to the point we find an interesting statement – almost an axiom. ‘Ali, radyAllahu ‘anhu, a companion of the Messenger, salAllahu ‘alayhi wa salyam, who said something very interesting, I’ll paraphrase it in English for you: “We judge the speech before we judge the speaker.” He says we judge what is said before we judge who says it. Because it’s perhaps from the most unlikely source that you will find the truth, you’ll find the truth. One of the reasons for rejecting Muhammad, salAllahu ‘alahi wa salam, is that he was an orphan and he wasn’t a celebrity in the town and he wasn’t one of the two great leaders that anybody already looked up to. This was one of the reasons that the kuffar gave who is he to speak, why should we listen to him? And this is actually recorded in the Qur’an, you know. One of the two men – “min-al-qaryatayni ‘adheem”, one of the two great men from the towns, why weren’t they picked? Why would this man be picked to deliver a message? So two components so far, let’s see if you’re paying attention, what are they? The speaker and the speech.
Here is the third component – how do they say it. It’s who says, what they say, and the third part how do they say it. If I give you advice: “Study harder”, right? Your exams are coming over, coming upon you and your mom comes to you, your best friend comes to you and says: “You such a loser! You’re wasting all your time. You are pathetic, you know.” And they mean to tell you – study! Now they gave you good advice but the way in which they gave it made it ineffective, it made it ineffective. So it’s not just that you have a speaker and the content but the way in which you present the content has to be effective. Otherwise the effect is lost. The communication is lost. In the end, the point of communication is to influence the audience not just to have them listen to some things or see some things but to actually influence them, to influence a change in them. You can’t do that if you don’t speak effectively even if you have something good to say.
Let me give you another example. You listen to a khutba – increeedible content, incredible content. But the way in which it is delivered is extremely monotone, it’s extremely monotone. Now the content itself is profound: ayaat of Qur’an are being quoted, ahadith are being quoted, really powerful statements are being stated but the way in which they’re being stated is so boring that you will find half the audience passed out, you will. And there’s wrong with the content because the content is divine. There may be even nothing wrong with the speaker, but what’s the problem that time? The mode of speech, the style of speech – how something is being presented.
Three components of speech: the first one – the speaker, second one – the content, the speech, the third one – the style, how they speak – the medium. In media studies this is given so much importance the first axiom you learn when you study media is (that) the medium is the message. The way you present is equally important, if not more important than how you present – it’s equally important.
So now, with that basic introduction, when we turn to the Qur’an then we ask ourselves, and we ask ourselves revisiting the question, the Qur’an is a miracle. We believe this. The Qur’an is remarkable. We believe this. The Qur’an is, you know, it’s stunning in its beauty. We believe this. And it’s stunning as communication. But it’s stunning in three ways. It’s remarkable and incredible in three ways. It’s remarkable in that the speaker is incredible, the speaker himself. What else is incredible? The speech. What else is incredible? The style. There are three things.
Now let’s turn to the speaker briefly, ok? The speaker in the Qur’an is who? Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala. But additionally, additionally, I want you to think about this. The disbeliever who hears the Messenger reciting Qur’an does not believe that it’s from Allah. Who does he believe the speaker is? The disbeliever believes or he thinks that the speaker is Muhammad, salAllahu ‘alahi wa salam. For the believer, he knows that the Messenger is only a medium by which the words are being delivered; and the words belong to Allah. So the Messenger is actually quoting, salAllahu ‘alahi wa salam, he is quoting Allah. But the disbeliever says these are not Allah’s words. Cause if he’d said that he’d be a Muslim already – he wouldn’t be a disbeliever anymore. So, now think of it from this point of view. The believer understands that the actual speaker is Allah which is miraculous enough for the believer. But let’s look at it from the disbeliever’s point of view. From the disbeliever’s point of view who’s the speaker? Muhammad, salAllahu ‘alahi wa salam. Now keep that perspective in mind – this is important. Because Allah says this is a communication not just for believers but for who? How did I begin this talk? This is communication for all people. And vast majority of people believe already that these are not words of Allah, these are the words of Muhammad, salAllahu ‘alahi wa salam. Even then it is miraculous. What about Muhammad’s background, salAllahu ‘alahi wa salam? Gives away that he’s not, he can’t be the speaker, he can’t be the speaker. And if he is, there’s something, you know, unusual, taking place. There’s knowledge of the history of Banee Israil.
Just a side note, this is not the subject of my speech – it’s just a side note. Muhammad, salAllahu ‘alahi wa salam, comes and he starts giving this information that exists in the classified texts of the people of the book. By the way, the people of the book now thump Bible studies. They want you to read the Bible. Jehovah’s witness will come to you with the little pamphlet: “What does the Bible really say”, right? But the ancient Christian was not well-read in the Bible. Bible studies was limited to Biblical scholars. And if you had a question about the Bible you didn’t go and look it up yourself, where did you go? You went to the priest; you went to the rabbi for the Old Testament. It was classified information. It’s almost like, it was considered so high-class, or so difficult to access for yourself it’s kind of like reading United States Constitution for yourself. You go to a lawyer to interpret it. You go to somebody who studied that stuff. It’s their thing, it’s not your thing, right? The Messenger, salAllahu ‘alahi wa-s-salyam, starts saying things, that existed only in their classified documents and only their high-level scholars would discuss them. And he is just uttering those words. So already they knew that he is actually not the speaker. They realized very quickly that he can’t possibly be a speaker. He can’t be. Just on this point, just a side note. The historicity of the Qur’an, the historical integrity of the Qur’an.
Hamaan. You know who is Haman in the Qur’an? He is the minister or one of the ministers of who? A fir’awn. Hamaan is mentioned in the Qur’an about six times. And Allah tells us about Hamaan that fir’awn commanded him to build him a tower. Fir’awn commanded him to build him a tower. Now, is there a mention of Hamaan in the Bible? Sure. Is there a mention of Hamaan building a tower? Sure. But Hamaan in the Bible didn’t work for fir’awn. Hamaan in the Bible worked for another king named Xerxes in a Biblical Book of Esther. So the Catholic scholars in sixteen hundreds who were first getting in orientalist studies Islamic studies. They look this thing in the Qur’an and said: “Ahaa, we found a mistake in the Qur’an. Look. They are talking about Hamaan working under fir’awn while the Book of Esther tells us that Hamaan worked under the king named Xerxes a thousand years after the pharaoh in Babylon not even in Egypt and he built him a tower. You ever heard a story of the tower of Babylon?” So they challenge the historical integrity of the Qur’an, ma’adhAllah. They said, from the disbelievers’ point of view: “Oh, Muhammad must’ve been plagiarized it from the priest and made a mistake because he mixed up the story of the tower of the Bible and the story of Xerxes with the story of pharaoh and he is confused between the two of them. That’s what he did.” Misquotation in the Qur’an. What’s really interesting is in the late eighteen hundreds the Catholic scholarship, the body of Catholic scholarship unanimously denied the Book of Esther as a valid source of history. They acknowledged that their own book, they acknowledged their own book unanimously is legend – just stories made up, names made up. The Jewish encyclopaedia even now tells you the Book of Esther has no historical value, none whatsoever. But then it remains, this one question remains. The Qur’an tells us, that this Qur’an tells Banee Israil about the things that even they disagreed in. Even they disagreed in some stuff and this Qur’an tells them. This speaker is giving this to you – he can’t be the speaker then. This knowledge is coming from somewhere else.
Now check this out. You know Maurice Bucaille. He is a famous Muslim who wrote “Bible, Qur’an, and Science”. Before he got into that subject he was a historian. He wanted to study Islamic history. When he came across this problem presented by catholic priest, he did a research. You see what happened in late eighteen hundreds was the Egyptian hieroglyphics were now being revived as a language. Because hieroglyphics had died about almost two thousand years ago before the Prophet, salAllahu ‘alahi wa-s-alyam, Egyptian hieroglyphics had died as a language; and they were revived by German and French scholars. The study is called Egyptology. They travelled to Egypt, they studied the hieroglyphics and they developed a scheme of, you know spelling of those images and turning them to pronounceable words and all this stuff, ok. It’s started about a hundred and twenty, a hundred and thirty years ago. So they got into this study. And they made documentations of who the ministers that are mentioned in the documents of the Egyptians, what their roles were etc. etc. Morris travels to France, goes to an Egyptologist and asks him: “By the way, in your records did you see any name Hamaan? And he says: “Well, I would not you have to go to Germany but where did you get the name Hamaan?” He said: “Well, there’s a messenger, a man, who claims to be a messenger in the 7th century, who says that there was a minister of pharaoh whose name was what? Hamaan. And he told him to build a tower.” He said: “That’s impossible.” Nobody could have had access to any names from that time cause the language has already died at the prophet’s time for how long already? 2000 years. So he travels to Germany to look up the names of different architects and constructors and ministers under the pharaoh. Specifically under the pharaoh at the time of historical era of Musa, ‘alayhi salyam, of Moses. What does he find? Hamaan, a minister of the stone queries, construction. This name is discovered in the nineteen hundreds. They actually have a statue in Austria, I believe, Hamaan written on it underneath it. They’ve revived it from Egypt. His name is Hamaan. In Austria – the statue is sitting there. Now we don’t know for sure if that’s the Hamaan of the Qur’an but still the name exists, the fact that he’s in charge of construction exists and this is something they didn’t have but which speaker had? The Messenger of Allah. But actually the speaker is who then? Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala. This is just from a historical point of view. Something that they used to laugh at the Muslims came back and blew up at their own face. Subhan Allah!
This is just one dimension. But the dimension I want to focus on with you today is not the first or the second. The second is the content, the content. But it’s the third. Not what Allah says, not just that alone but how he says it. What makes the Qur’an so unique in the way in which it communicates, the way in which Allah says stuff is so powerful and so incredible. You see, the Qur’an when it’s translated maybe, maybe, you’ll get the content of what he says, maybe. What will you definitely not get a 100% – how he said it. That’s lost. What he said, maybe you get something out of translation, maybe. But how he said it is gone. That’s it. Because how he said it exists in what language? In Arabic. Even if he explained it to somebody in Arabic in your own Arabic it’s still not how he said it. You understand? So the creative beauty, the unique beauty, the unparalleled majesty, really, of Allah’s words – they cannot be translated. Something from the meaning can be translated. But the actual impact that the original words have nothing else can have in appreciating this gap between our attempts to translate the Qur’an and Allah’s own words. Appreciate this gap. You know what Suyutee (rahimuhumullah) said. He said if you can appreciate the distance between Allah and his creation, meaning how far above Allah is from his creation, then you have some idea of the distance between the word of Allah and the word of the creation. What is translation? It is the word of creation. It can never be a substitute for the word of Allah. It can’t be. This is not a lecture on what is lost in the content. We could talk about that too. There’s a lot lost in the content too. But I want to talk to you about what is lost in the beauty and the style and how can we, as non-Arab speaking audiences, as people that aren’t exposed to the Arabic language, at least, even begin that journey of appreciating the Qur’an and that light. That is something that has been held dearly by Muslims for a very, very, very long time and is almost entirely lost upon the Muslims in our times. You see, when we hear that the Qur’an is a miracle, as we heard in the introduction before I got up here. How is the miracle of the Qur’an presented? Mostly, if you Google it, the first thing you’ll get is a scientific phenomenon in the Qur’an, isn’t that true? Another thing you might get is some crazy number 19 theory, right? You’ll get that – some statistics. Another thing you might get is that Qur’an had predictions like Rome was dominated but it’ll come back and take over again, predictions in the Qur’an. But do we believe that every ayah of the Qur’an is a miracle? Do we believe that? Is it a miracle from the very time it was revealed or later on? From then, from its inception – the very first communication we had with the Qur’an, the first interaction human beings had with the Qur’an. Every last ayah of the Qur’an is a miracle. This is what we believe. How many ayats of the Qur’an are predictions? Very few. How many ayats of the Qur’an are dedicated to scientific phenomena? Very few. How many of these things were even known to the Arabs of that time? Almost nothing! So what is it that mesmerized these people? What is it that every time the Messenger opened his mouth that they would be, salAllahu ‘alaihi wa-s-salyam, they would be dumb out – they didn’t know what to say.
Three stories and I’m done with the introduction in shaa` Allahu ta’ala. This is the question we’re going to try to answer in the second part.
The first story, very interesting, is the story of Tufayl ibn Amr ad-Dawsi. Interesting fellow, he was the leader of his tribe. He was also a very skilful poet; and he decided to pay his respects to Makkah to visit and make tawaf of the house. All Arabs had shared regard for what city? For Makkah. So to show his dedication he came as the leader of his tribe. The leaders of Quraysh realize that he’s coming and when he comes he might hear the Prophet’s, salAllahu ‘alaihi wa-s-salyam, reciting Qur’an. And if that happens he might get “enchanted” so we better protect another tribe leader from falling at the hand of Muhammad, salAllahu ‘alaihi wa-s-salyam. Because when a tribe leader becomes Muslim who also follows? The hole tribe. So we’ve got to take care of business. They go to meet him outside Makkah before he even comes in. They say to him: “Listen, we’ve got a problem in the city right now. There is this man. He says these words and they cast spells on people. It turns father against son, husband against wife, brother against brother. It is causing disunity in our tribe. These people are being possessed by demons when he speaks to them. We think you are an important figure for your tribe. We think that your integrity is going to be compromised if he’s able to cast his spells on you. We would advise you to go back. We don’t want you to come into Makkah.” He is hesitating to go but he says: “No, I came all this way. I am at least going to go and make tawaf. I’m going to pay my respects to the house and then go.” They say: “Fine, but at least take this cork.” They gave him a couple of plugs. For what? “If you see him, you’ll recognize those words. And when you hear those words, just plug your ears and run.” This is the advice they gave him. He goes in. He’s paying his respects to the house. The Messenger of Allah, salAllahu ‘alaihi wa-s-salyam, is there praying, reciting Qur’an. He hears the sweetness of the words and he recognizes immediately. “This must be what they were talking about.” So what does he do? He plugs his ears and makes a dash from it. And halfway in his jog, he stops. And he thinks to himself: “I am the leader of my tribe. I am the pride of my people. I’m one of the most skilful poets in all of Arabia. Some words are going to overpower me? I can take this.” He unplugs his ears. He goes back to the Messenger, salAllahu ‘alaihi wa-s-salyam. He listens to the Qur’an. He takes the shahadah; and then tells this story. Subhan Allah! That’s how we know the story.
It was alluded to before, Abu Jahl, Abu Sufyan, Akhnas ibnu Shurayq, these three people would hate on the Messenger, salAllahu ‘alaihi wa-s-salyam. They were the elders of the Quraysh. They were the seniors. They were the think-tank. And they would sneak in the middle of the night and put their ears on the Prophet’s apartment, salAllahu ‘alaihi wa-s-salyam. They were listening to the Qur’an being recited. And then they would sneak back before morning. And what happened the first night was? They ran into each other; and the other didn’t notice the other was there. So the first guy: “What are you doing here?” And the other says: “What are you doing here?” They knew what they were doing there. So they swore they will never come back. They caught each other the next night. They swore they won’t come back. They caught each other the third night. They catch each other the third night; and they swear by their mothers, by the Lord, by their lives – they never going to come back again. So they don’t come back. But Akhnas, he’s curious. He goes to Abu Sufyan and he says to him: “We’ve been listening for three days. What do you think? Is this the truth?” Abu Sufyan says to him, by the way Abu Sufyan became a Muslim much later. This is an early seerah. “Of course this is the truth. What else can it be?” “Okay, let’s go talk to Abu Jahl. He’s been listening too, right?” So the two of them go and they talk to Abu Jahl. “What do you think?” “Of course this is the truth.” Abu Jahl says of course this is the truth?? But then he explained: “You see, we are Banu ‘Amir. And he is Banu Hashim.
Right there, before I tell you anymore of what he said. What did he take into consideration: the speech or the speaker? The rejection of the disbelieve came at the fact that these words as powerful as they are, as true as they are, as flawless as the content is, as mesmerizing as the style is – we are not willing to accept this person. Because when Banu Hashim gives charity we match them. When they fight we match them. When they show bravery we match them. When one of theirs comes up with these words we will never match them. So they have one forever. We can’t let that happen. That was the reason. Subhan Allah! This is a different take on history. Even those who hated the Qur’an were mesmerized by the Qur’an. Even they were mesmerized by the Qur’an!
Last story. This is one of my favorites. ‘Utba ibn Rabee’a.
You can think of ‘Utba ibn Rabee’a as the Sean Hannity back in the day, ok? Expert debater, very insulting to those who oppose him in public discourse. He was a negotiator on behalf of conflicting tribes. He was hired for that, it was a consultant, you could say. That would go in and make demands and get the thing done, you know. These are the kind of people that the Quraysh, when they said: “This war of words we’re losing. So we got to get somebody who’s really good at the words. Somebody really good at debate and discussion and negotiation.” So they hired ‘Utba. And they say: “Go ‘Utba. You talk to Muhammad.” He is sitting there, salAllahu ‘alaihi wa-s-salyam. Of course they didn’t say “salAllahu ‘alaihi wa-s-salyam. “You go, talk to him. You make some demands on him, figure out what he wants. Humiliate him, by the way. We will watch from a distance.” Nowadays, we watch football games from a stadium or from the, you know, our couches on TV. This was their sport to watch one go against the other in this debate, right? So they’re watching from a distance. They don’t want to get too close but they’re about to enjoy this match-up between ‘Utba ibn Rabee’a and who? Muhammad, salAllahu ‘alaihi wa-s-salyam.
‘Utba goes – very insulting, extremely condescending: “Ya, Muhammad, what do you want? You want wealth? We’ll give you money! You want women? We’ll give you women! You want shared power? We’ll give you some power too. What do you want? Make your demands!”
Now, by already saying that, he is not judging the content of what Muhammad says, salAllahu ‘alaihi wa-s-salyam. He never made any demands of money nor of anything else. He is not judging anything but the intentions of the person. This is called a character assassination. The best thing, the best way you can dismantle somebody or somebody’s credibility is that you attack their motives. Why are you really presenting this message? You must have some alternative agenda hiding underneath – which is why you’re talking this way. So he rats off, barks like a dog at the Messenger, salAllahu ‘alaihi wa-s-salyam. The messenger listens carefully and silently, patiently. And when he’s done, in very soft tones the Messenger says to him, salAllahu ‘alaihi wa-s-salyam: “Are you done? Are you finished?” He says: “Fine, your turn.” The Messenger, ‘alayhi salyatu wa-s-salyam, did nothing but recite Qur’an. He recites from surat Fussylat:
“A’udhu biLLahi minash-shayTani-r-radzheem, Ha Meem, Tanzilu mina-r-Rahmanu-r-Raheem”.
The first thing he says – it is a revelation, rough translation, of course. I can’t match what Allah says but the rough translation. It is something that has been sent down from the exceedingly merciful, the constantly merciful. The intention when the attack came from ‘Utba, the idea was: “These are your words and you’re just trying to get something out of it.” The first thing the Qur’an says in response is what? This is not my words. Where they’re from? Up there. You are not negotiating with me. Who are you debating right now? Allah ‘azza wajal. You’re not fighting me, you’re fighting Allah’s words. These are his. They are sent down to me.
“Tanzeelu min-ar-rahmaani-r-raheem, kitaabun..” It’s a book. It’s actually a book. Right now it’s been presented at words. But where that come from? From “kitaab”. “Fussilat ayatuhu” – whose “ayaat” – whose demands have made been made absolutely clear. Remember he asked about demands, right? What do you want? Allah says the ayaat are absolutely clear. The ayaats make certain demands. Now what are demands in? Are there in clear language?
“Qur’anan ‘arabiyan li-qaumun yaghlamuun”
An Arabic Qur’an for a nation that seeks to know. You want to know what we want? You know what Allah wants, you want to know what, what the demands are? Here they are. They’re coming. Then Allah, ‘azza wajal, he reveals the ayah: “basheeran wa nadheera”.
This Qur’an came. Its two main functions “basheer”. You know what that means? Something that gives good news. It comes with good news for you. It’s got a good proposition for you.
“Wa nadheerah” – and a warning, a threat – “wa nadheerah”.
“Fa a’rada aktharuhum fa hum lya yasma’uun” – but most of ignore it on purpose.
“I’raad” is to ignore something on purpose. “I’raad” is to ignore something on purpose.
They don’t even listen; and they are the ones that they are the ones who are actually not listening. They think you’re not listening to them. But the real dumb, the real, you know, people incapable of hearing are those people over there. They are the ones that are not listening.
“Fa hum lya yasma’uun” So Allah is responding to his negotiation with ayat of Qur’an. And as the ayats are being revealed, the people are watching from a distance, right? They don’t hear what’s going on but they see what’s going on. They see the face of ‘Utba changed. They see his face changed. Then what they noticed? He’s crying. ‘Utba started crying – their expert negotiator, kaafir, hater of Islam, insulter of the Messenger, salAllahu ‘alaihi wa-s-salyam. LyaghanuhuLlah!
He listens to the Qur’an and he starts crying. He cried so much as the ayaat go on; and they get stronger and stronger in their wording that he tries to grab the mouth of the Messenger, salAllahu ‘alaihi wa-s-salyam. “Please stop, can’t take anymore.” The Messenger kept on reciting, salAllahu ‘alaihi wa-s-salyam, until he reached the ayah of sajdah. And he made sajdah. He comes back. ‘Utba walks back from this “debate”. This expert negotiator of the Quraysh, who their hopes were lying in, and he comes back; and they say: “Your face doesn’t look the same that you left with. This is not the face you went with.” And he comes back and says: “Whatever this man has to say will become an enormous event. Whatever this man has to say will become an enormous event.”
Now, this is important. Because the ayaat of Qur’an – the ayaat that the Messenger was reciting, we don’t have time to go into all of them but at least the last one, – “fa in a’radu” this is towards the end of the passage, “fa in a’radu” and if they continue to ignore deliberately, if they’ve done so. “Fa qul” – then you tell them. Now, who’s you? Muhammad, salAllahu ‘alaihi wa-s-salyam. By the words ‘Utba realizes he’s not talking to Muhammad, rather Allah is not dignifying ‘Utba. Allah is telling the Messenger, salAllahu ‘alaihi wa-s-salyam, to tell him. Allah’s not telling him directly. Allah could’ve said “andhartukum” – I am warning you but he said “fa qul andhartukum” – You tell him that I am warning all of you. All of you of what? “Saa’iqatan” – a powerful explosion. “Mithla saa’iqati ‘aadin wa thamud” – just like the explosion that occurred with who? ‘Ad and Thamud. This is something the Arabs knew. They knew that this has happened in the past. And now ‘Utba sitting there, just realized he has been issued a direct threat from Allah himself, from the words of the Messenger that have been given to him by Allah himself. He was overpowered. He comes back and says: “Whatever this man has to say, I suggest you take it seriously or it’s going to be “sayakuuna naba-an ‘aDHeema” – he says, soon it’s going to become a huge event. They say to him: “sahhara” – he did magic on you too. He cast his spells on you too. He said: “Say what you will it’s not magic. But I’m not talking to him anymore.” He gave up on the Messenger, salAllahu ‘alaihi wa-s-salyam.
I shared this with you for one reason – to illustrate a tragedy. And that tragedy is the disbelievers at the time of the Prophet, salAllahu ‘alaihi wa-s-salyam, and the believers shared one thing. They shared one thing – they were both overpowered by what? The Qur’an. They were both overpowered by the Qur’an. But the believers, on the other hand, the believers of our times not to mention the disbelievers, even the believers don’t appreciate the power of the Qur’an. They are not stunned, mesmerized, overwhelmed by the words of Allah even in comparison to the way that the disbelievers used to be mesmerized back then. And that’s a tragedy. That’s a real tragedy. That that affect of the Qur’an is something that is lost. And it’s lost to the point where people can actually make absurd kinds of questions about the Qur’an. Say things about the Qur’an – “How come it says this? How come it says that?” It shows that you are not overpowered. I want to give you a visual before I start doing examples in shaa` Allahu ta’ala.
You see, if you and I were fortunate enough to live in the time of Musa, ‘alayhi-s-salyam. And we were standing next to him when Allah commanded him to strike the staff and the water started parting. Would you ever question Musa, ‘alayhi salyam, again? Would you ever doubt? Would you ever have any wavering in your faith? I don’t think so. That’s a pretty heavy duty experienced to go through – to watch that happen, to escape from the very clutches of death by Allah’s miraculous intervention. Our belief, as Muslims, as believers in the message of Muhammad, salAllahu ‘alaihi wa-s-salyam, is that Allah gave him the final, the lasting, and the most powerful of all miracles. Which is what? The Qur’an. As a result, if we were to appreciate this Qur’an as a miracle right now, most of us, we appreciate it as a religious text, as a book of guidance, as a book of knowledge. We appreciate those things. But if we added to our appreciation, its taste as a miracle of Allah, as profound words that are supposed to change lives just by their impact – their power – then we would have an entirely different sensation of iman. Iman before this and iman after this are two different things. You see, when the sahabah heard Qur’an they heard two things at the same time. They heard a reminder, advice, guidance – all of that. At the same time they also experienced a miracle from Allah. When we hear Qur’an today, at the most, what do we hear? We hear the reminder. What’s missing? The miracle – the other side.
I want you to visualize that you lived, I don’t know, thousands of years ago in some society. And when you lived in that society you had a neighbour. And your neighbour knocked on your door one day. And he says to you: “Uh… an angel came to my house. He told me that I am the messenger of god. And I’m supposed to deliver this message to all of mankind. I’ve already delivered it to my family and they’ve rejected me. And since you’re my neighbour, the right of the neighbour is that, I tell you. And by the way, I’m a messenger of God. And everything I say isn’t actually my own words. They’re words of who? Of God – of the Divine. Let’s say Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala – they’re the words of Allah. And following me actually doesn’t mean that you’re following me. It means you’re obeying Allah.”
There are two problems with this statement. The neighbour who opens the door and listens to all of this says: “Wait, so first of all you are asking me to believe that an angel talked to you? That God speaks to you? You, my neighbour that I’ve known for 20 years AND this is a hard enough to believe but on top of that you want me to change everything about my life based on every word you say?” Two things that are very hard to do. One to believe that, especially when your own family says you’re what? You’re crazy. Your own family says you’re crazy and you want me to believe you and I not only should I believe what you’re saying I should follow you in everything that you do. And the more I follow you the more people not just call YOU crazy, who else are they going to call crazy? They going to call me crazy. Eeh, I’ll think about it, thanks”. Close the door.
And I am giving this to you because the messengers of Islam, the messengers of Allah, that were sent to different nations, we know that they gave da’wa to their people, but it’s not like our da’wa. We have it easy – we are in the millions, we are in the millions – it’s not easy. When you are the only one who believes something in entire city, you know what you are? You are crazy. What did the people call the messengers, have you ever read? What did they call them? Insane! They called them insane. You say all those evil people they call them crazy, they call them insane. How could they do that? Put yourself in their shoes. How easy is it to accept if no one around you believes. If no one around you, everybody around you is sceptic. No one believes. This is a very, very difficult thing to believe. It’s not easy. The sahaba are the best of people, the best generation for a reason. Their iman was the hardest bridge to cross. When someone takes the shahada today it is way easier than the bridge they had to cross – much, much more difficult. And the hardest, the hardest of all is the work of the Messenger himself, salAllahu ‘alaihi wa-s-salyam. Because, you know, Allah chose the most intelligent people on the face of this Earth to be his messengers. They’re the most intelligent people and they’re smart enough to know that when they go around knocking doors and telling people that they get revelation from God what should they anticipate practically? They should anticipate that people are going to say that they’re insane. They’re going to lose their credibility. People are going to laugh at them, even hurt them, even be annoyed with them. They’ll lose the touch, touch with their families. That’s all going to happen. A smart person can figure that out for himself. They knew this is going in to this message but they didn’t have a choice because they didn’t take this up as a hobby. This was given to them as a responsibility. They had no choice in the matter. Put in this impossible position these messengers, ‘alayhimu salyatu wa-s-salyam. And to help them and only to help them deliver this message Allah would give these messengers something that would make their claim more believable. What was that thing? The miracles. Allah would give his messengers miracles. So that the sceptics would be quite silenced. So the reason for not believing him is not that they didn’t see any proof, the reason is I am too arrogant to follow him. That’s the only reason left. The reason isn’t intellectual anymore, that’s the only reason left. And how do you eliminate the first reason – the intellectual problem? You eliminate it by giving the people something that can only be from Allah. It can’t be from a human being. It can’t be the product of the human mind. It can’t be creation. It has to be something beyond. It can’t be something that can just occur naturally, you see. Which is why when we read about the miracles of different prophets: the blind person being able to see again, the dead coming back to life; the clay bird turning into a living bird – all of these things are clear signs that this man is not talking on his own behalf, he’s speaking on behalf of Allah, ‘azza wajal. But Allah gave this nation the ultimate miracle of all. He gave this nation, this Muslim ummah, and for the rest of mankind, He gave them Qur’an. The staunch difference between the Qur’an and all the other miracles is what? All the other miracles were for the eyes to see. You could see that guy come back to life – you could see it. You could see the body of water parting – you could see that. But the Qur’an was not for the eyes. The Qur’an was for what? You see something – it penetrates your heart. That’s with the previous messengers. With the Qur’an: “innaa sami’na Qur’anan ‘ajaba, fastami’uu lahu, sami’naa wa ata’naa.” What is Allah saying? Listen, listen to it! “Yaa ayuhannas Duriba mathalyan fastami’u lahu” – listen to it carefully, listen to this Qur’an, it’s a miracle for ears. It’s different. All the other miracles were for what? The eyes. When I was explaining this to my fifth grade classroom back in the day one of my students, I repeat this off, and he said: “Oh, man..” I said: “What happened?” He says: “It’s not fair, brother Nouman.” “What’s not fair?” He says: “All these other prophets got such a cool stuff. We just got a book!” I know it sounds blasphemous but he’s got a point. It is different. We do claim that a book sitting on the shelf in the masjid is the ultimate miracle of God, the ultimate miracle of Islam. The proof of Islam sitting on each bookshelf, this mushaf. So there has to be some basis that has to be explored. On what basis do we make this claim? And why subhanahu wa ta’ala He changed the direction of the miracles? He didn’t make it something for the eyes to see. When people saw the water parting they told their children about it: “I saw it with my own eyes!” The kids were listening. Then their kids told their kids, and their kids told their kids until it passed on to us; and we tell our kids at Sunday school: “Hey by the way Musa, alayhi salyam, what did he do?” (yearning) “Aah he passed the water, yeah, something about water.” It’s just a story now. For the people who were there was it just a story? No, it was a miracle. But for the people after them it’s just a matter of faith. It’s not a miracle to them except it’s a matter of faith but not of a miracle. Because a miracle is something you could see, something you could experience and something you could taste. So now the atheist comes, the disbeliever comes, to the Christian or to the Jew and he says to him: “You believe Jesus turned, you know, the dead guy back to live or, you know, the bird came back to life, things like that you believe that??” He says: “Yes!” He says: “Why?” “Cause the Bible says so!” “Were you there when it happened? Did anybody record it? Is it on Youtube? Why do you believe it?” What does the Christian say? “It’s in my heart.” It’s all he has to say. The same atheist, the same kafir, the same disbeliever comes to the Muslim: “Do you believe the Qur’an is the word of God?” “Yeah” “Oh, yeah, so did you see the angel come down?” “No, no, I didn’t.” “So how do you know that that’s the word of God?” “Well let’s come study the Qur’an, let me show you. Let me show. Let me show you why this can’t be human.” That next part when I say “let me show you” that’s what we need to know. We need that part for ourselves and for others. We really need it for ourselves cause there’s no boost in iman like the boost you get when you experience a miracle of Allah. There’s nothing like it. And we need that to be able to illustrate it to others because then they, the question will probe them – they won’t go to sleep at night: “Man, I didn’t come up with an answer to that guy. I got to look this up!”
I have a friend who was an atheist, who would go around at MSA programs all over the country just to mess with the speakers. And he would go and ask them question, ask them questions until he came to one sheikh and he gave him a miracle of Qur’an. And he says: “Oh yeah, well, I’ll do my research.” And he did his research, and he did his research, and he did his research. And he couldn’t find anything until he had to give up, literally give up, and he took the shahadah. And he says when I say: “I am Muslim”, you know what Muslim means, right? – The one who submits. He said I literally submitted. I had to say give up I couldn’t fight anymore. I didn’t have anywhere else to go, subhan Allah! That is the thing that we need to revive, that is something that we need to appreciate.
I’ll just give you one example, one example of the Qur’an as a profound miracle from the literary point of view. Now you guys have taken literature classes, right? You’ve taken Shakespeare, you’ve taken, you know, the Plato’s Republic you’ve read, you’ve the Odyssey, right? You’ve read all this stuff. I won’t call that garbage. Everything has some benefit but whatever. You’ve read this stuff. These are the landmarks of world literature, the products – the ultimate products of the human mind, right? Our belief is that the Qur’an is the ultimate literature compared to any language. The Qur’an is the ultimate literature. But that’s a subjective thing. If you’re a literature student, I think it’s a science school. But literature is not objective. It is what? It is subjective. So you say it’s beautiful I say it’s ugly, right? You like that poem I don’t like that poem. You like this song I don’t like that song. I don’t listen to songs but I’m saying. Or you like this painting I don’t like that painting – it’s subjective. So you could argue that literature is what? It’s subjective. But I began by saying Allah says that the Qur’an is “balyaagh”. It is a means of communication. And the purpose of communication is to influence the audience. So we will judge what is better literature by what? What’s the measuring stick? – What influence does it have? what impact does it have on the world? What change does it cause? How does it change people? How does it influence behaviour? How does it modify people’s behaviour? How does it command over people – that will be the judge. That’s a practical judge of the power of any speech, any literature. You could say it’s wonderful but I don’t, I think it’s just fiction. Or you could say it’s wonderful and it’s changed my life – the way I live. And if you study this fact historically no society went through a transformation based on a single text the way in which the Muslims went through with what? With the Qur’an. No society in human civilization – never. And in how many years did that society get transformed? 23 years. This is even orientalists agree. Okay, the Qur’an is being claimed as revelation. I won’t say it is a revelation from the kafir’s point of view – we know it’s revelation. He says being claimed at his age of forty and it stops at the age of what? 63 – 23 years. In 23 years this man starts at single, single-handedly, one person and by the end of these 23 years what change have these words and this man, this speaker, this speech and this style of speech what have they influenced? You see the way people eat – did it change? The way people sleep – did that change? Did the way people deal with their family change? Did the way people schedule their day change? Did the way people speak to each other change? Did the way they do business change? Did the way they go to the bathroom change? Did the way they dress change? The question isn’t what changed? You know what the question is? What didn’t change? Everything changed, everything changed. Whenever there’s quote and quote “revolution in society” – it’s either economic or it’s political, right? There’s a political change. There’s an economic change, there’s a military change but the way the people live on a day-to-day basis that doesn’t change. They don’t change the way they deal with their families depending on the government changing or a new system coming into power. That’s still the same. That’s still the same person. But this change that the Qur’an brought – unparalleled in human history. What exactly changed wasn’t just societal, wasn’t just on the macro level it even change the way people think. Changed everything – everything – from the very individual level to the collective level and every, every spectrum in between. This in itself is an evidence of the unparalleled power of the Qur’an, the unparalleled power of the Qur’an. It’s unparalleled in this way..
In shaa Allahu ta’ala after the break all I’m going to talk to you about is just examples from the Qur’an one after another of different aspects of the Qur’an as literature.
We take a break now. SubhanahuLlahu wa bihamdik nashhadu an laa ilaha illa anta nastaghfiruka wa natubu ilaik..