Surah Al-Layl, the Night, is among the early revealed verses of Quran in Mecca. It starts by an oath: “By the Night as it conceals the light. By the Day as it appears in glory. By what created male and female.” [92:1-3]
Allah is swearing by the night moving smoothly towards deep darkness, by the day moving smoothly towards total clearance of darkness and sharpening our vision, and by the mysterious first human cell differentiating from the early moments of creation to become a male or a female human being. Why?
Allah invokes night, day, and the mystery of gender- phenomena indicative of change and diversity- as witnesses and testimonies to the diversity of the human strive. “Verily, the ends you strive for are diverse.” [92:4]
This is a true and well-crafted statement: Human beings are smoothly moving and incessantly striving to define themselves who they are and what they want to be. All their hard work, the expression of their potentials and capabilities, and the direction they give to their actions are going to answer this critical and challenging question: Is the human soul rising or falling?
“So, he who gives and exercise taqwa, and testifies to all that is better- We will indeed make smooth for him the path to bliss.” [92:5-7] This is the portfolio of the rising souls: They give in different manners- from their wealth, time, knowledge, ethics, and expertise in management and governance. Taqwa represents the direction given to all their actions. Taqwa is the inner torch that enlightens their path and transforms the darkness of the night into the light of the morning. Taqwa is the inner compass by which they navigate through the challenges and temptations of this world. Taqwa adds consciousness to the act of giving and liberates those who give from the prison of avarice and the world of things. So, they give to everyone who needs help without discrimination.
The actions of the rising souls affirm their very grammar of ascent or “tasdiqتَصْدِيق”: truth-telling, verification, adjustment, and calibration. Al-husna الحْسْنى, the plural of al-ahsan الأحْسَن, points to everything that is better and capable of raising them into higher spiritual levels and altitudes. Here we see a clear promise from Allah: Those who sincerely exercise “tasdiq”, Allah will make their path smoother and their journey to His bliss much easier.
Yusra يًسْرى, the plural of aysarأَيْسَر, points to everything that is easier and smoother and brings them closer to ultimate bliss in a perpetual manner. The rising souls of the piety-minded people find comfort, ease, and satisfaction in their daily strive.
Let us examine the portfolio of the falling soul. “But he who is a greedy miser and thinks himself self-sufficient and gives the lie to the best- We will indeed make smooth for him the path to misery.” [92:8-10]
Here we see strive of different nature and direction: Greed, shying away from giving and sharing, the illusion of self-sufficiency, imprisonment in the world of things, and alienation of the other. The falling souls disbelieve in mercy, compassion, and charity. They do not see the value of these virtues in creating the best environment to raise and produce qualitatively different but better human beings. This is their choice; and with the freedom of choice comes the responsibility for the consequences of such choices and decisions. Hence, we see the falling souls, bereft of wisdom or control, moving smoothly in the direction of weakness and accelerating towards the abyss. Their spiritual immunity is impaired, and their prisons are multiplied. They have devoured their human essence and almost reached the bottomless pit.
“Al-osraالْعُسْرى”, the plural of “al-aasarالْأَعْسَر”, points to everything that is harder and more difficult. It is interesting to notice that Quran uses the same verb “noyassirنًيَسِّر” to describe the Divine response to both types of strive. This means that Allah will make the freely chosen path smooth whether it is in the direction of easiness or hardship. A very important psychosocial phenomenon can be inferred from the above discussion. The verses we have discussed so far allude to the process of habit forming or “habitus.” As human beings exercise the good actions and morals of “al-husna” and experience the path of “yusra”, such manners become their second nature and ingrained habits to the point that they experience tremendous difficulty going in the opposite direction. Similarly, bad morals become ingrained in those who choose the path of “osra” treading it over and over again. They reach a point where they experience tremendous difficulty practicing and enjoining goodness. Ibn Khaldun described the same phenomenon of habit forming and applied it to the raising of children and educating pupils and also to statecraft and governance of nations. Listen to his description of the pernicious effects of domination inside the family, at school, or in the political institutions: “A harsh and violent upbringing, whether of pupils or servants, has its consequence that violence dominates the soul and prevents the development of the personality. Energy gives way to indolence, and wickedness, deceit, cunning, and trickery are developed by fear of physical violence. These tendencies soon become ingrained habits, corrupting the human quality which men acquire through social interaction and which consists of manliness and the ability to defend oneself and one’s household. Such men become dependent on others for protection; their souls even become too lazy to acquire virtue or moral beauty. They become ingrown (innate)…. This is what has happened to every nation which has been dominated by others and harshly treated.”
The case of the fallen souls is further explored and deliberated: Who is going to save their souls?
Quran is saying it loudly and clearly: wealth accumulated in this life will not save a fallen soul.
“Nor will his wealth profit him when he falls headlong.” [92:11]
“Taraddaتَرَدَّى” implies an accelerated fall into the pit. Wealth and all the world of things are not going to reverse the course. The falling souls have imprisoned themselves in their wealth and their world of things. How come the prisons will come to their rescue? They have lost control over the very things they have earned and gathered by their own hands.
The path to salvation starts by shifting the paradigm and asking the right questions:
Where do human beings like to see themselves?
What are they striving for?
What path they must choose?
Who is in control, their souls and intellect or their lusts and desires?
Quran lays out the answer in a statement that does not require any argument. “Verily We take upon Ourselves to guide.” [92:12]
Two comments can be deservingly made:
First, the verse is stating that the path guided by Allah is the desired path. Second, the statement itself is promising and comforting. Allah takes it on Himself to guide those who seek and ask for guidance. Interestingly, the following verse tells us: Believe in this existential fact the same way you believe that this life and the hereafter belong to Allah and He has dominion over them. “And verily unto Us belong the End and the beginning.” [92:13]
Like in previous Quranic messages we see the continuity and overlap between this life and life after death. Failure or success, falling or rising of our souls in this life is a miniature picture or a mirror image of our final outcome in the Day of Judgment. “Therefore, I do warn you of a fire blazing fiercely. None shall reach it but those most unfortunate ones who give the lie to truth and turn their backs.” [92:14-16]
The sorrow, sadness, and misfortune of those who lived a life of lies, oblivion, and mendacity will extend into the next life in hellfire. “Ashqaأَشْقَى” implies that the situation goes from sadness into more sadness in a perpetual manner. Allah has given us all the capacities and the guidance to rise above fire. The piety-minded who strive to move into higher levels of goodness and righteousness will be protected from the hellfire. They give back generously with the expectation of reward only from Allah. They work selflessly and for no special interest. They give to anyone who needs help and assistance without discrimination. Allah will be very pleased with their performance, and they will attain their ultimate satisfaction and pleasure with His reward. “But the pity-minded shall be removed far from it- those who spend their wealth for increase in self-purification, and have in their minds no favor from anyone for which reward is expected in return, but only the desire to seek for the countenance of their Lord Most High; and soon will they attain complete satisfaction.” [92:17-21]
By Dr. Walid Khayr