Quran presents Tasbeeh as a universal phenomenon. Tasbeeh literally means glorifying and exalting Allah who transcends error and defect. All creatures, human and nonhuman participate in the practice of Tasbeeh.
“The seven heavens and the earth, and all beings therein, declare His glory: There is not a thing but celebrates His glory: and yet you understand not how they declare His glory.”[17:44]
“See you not that all beings in the heavens and earth do celebrate the glory of Allah; and the birds with wings outspread? Each one knows its own prayer and tasbeeh.”[24:41]
“And thunder glorifies Him and repeats His praises, and so do the angels, with awe.”[13:13]
Although humans join other creatures in glorifying their common Creator, there is a significant difference between the two. The heavens and the earth, the angels, the birds and thunder do their Tasbeeh as a constitutional component of their creation. Quran describes their action of Tasbeeh either in the past tense (fait accompli) or in the present tense (fact or habit): “Whatever is in the heavens and on earth declared the glory of Allah.” [57:1] “Whatever is in the heavens or on earth do declare the glory of Allah.”[62:1]
When it comes to humans, they have to be reminded and commanded to make Tasbeeh. “Then celebrate with praises the name of your Lord, the Supreme.” [56:96] “Celebrate with praises the name of your Lord, the Most High.” [87:1]
Humans are inherently kneaded with the tendency to commit errors or mistakes. Prophet Mohammad said: “Every descendent of Adam is subject to error, and the best among them are those who repent.”
As humans interact and learn about other creatures in this existence they learn from them how to perfect their Tasbeeh and live in harmony with them. “Subhana-Allah” becomes the method for humans to connect with Allah (Who does not err) in order to transcend their own mistakes, weaknesses, and shortcomings. Human Tasbeeh is a conscious and active process. It is not a lip service but reflects their serious determination to make a change, and they have to initiate the change: “Verily never will Allah change the condition of a people until they change it themselves.” [13:11]
Let me share with you three situations where Tasbeeh plays an important role in the process of change:
- Greed was and continues to be a major cause for social disparity, class discrimination, and disenfranchisement. The story of the owners of the garden that was narrated in Surah Al-Qalam is a good model in tracing, facing, and erasing greed. Here is a group of siblings who inherited a garden or an orchard after the death of their father. They ignored the legacy of their righteous father who always saw a right for the poor and the needy in his harvest. The children, the new owners, resolved to neglect the poor and the needy for no reason except greed: “And they opened the morning, strong in unjust resolve. But when they saw the garden they said: We have surely lost our way. Indeed we are shut out.” [68:25-27] What is the solution? How did they deal with their greed? “The more just among them said: Didn’t I say to you why not glorify Allah?” [68:28] Greed, like other social ills, disturbs the balance and equilibrium of society, and only the people who are deeply conscious of balance and equilibrium are capable of restoring them. The just among them warned them before, but they were heedless of his warning. His warning came in the form of “Tasbeeh.” These kids imprisoned themselves in their garden and its fruits. “Subhanallah” became the key of the prison gate for liberation and freedom. Outcomes change behavior and the driving ideas behind the behavior. They wanted their garden back. Therefore, they had to change their behavior and reclaim the legacy of their righteous father- the legacy of charity, purity, generosity, and sensitivity to the problems of hunger and poverty.
- In the experience of Prophet Jonah, after he gave up on his people he had to face a more difficult challenge: being swallowed by the whale. “Subhana-Allah” was his visa to exit out of the prison of the whale and the prison of the error: “Had it not been that he glorified Allah, he would certainly have remained inside the whale till the Day of Resurrection.” [37:143,144]
- It is easier to see Tasbeeh as a tool to prevent a mistake or to transcend one. But it is also important to see Tasbeeh as a tool to free us from the prison of victory the same way it liberates us from the prison of the error: “When comes the help of Allah, and victory, and you see the people enter Allah’s religion in crowds, celebrate the praises of your Lord, and pray for His forgiveness: For He is Oft-returning.” [110:1-3]
The celebrated Historian Arnold Toynbee reached a similar conclusion and encapsulated his comprehensive study of human cultures and civilizations in four words: “Nothing fails like success.” Individuals, societies, and civilizations are at risk of falling and failing when they are imprisoned in their state of success and take it for granted. Tasbeeh is a way to keep us moving and continuing the journey.
By Walid Khayr