THE SECRET OF THE ORDER
At the end of the Sacred Letter to humanity, the Holy Quran, we find the three chapters: the Chapter of Victory and Opening, the Chapter of Masad, and the Chapter of Sincerity.
Masad is a chapter that speaks of the uncle of the Prophet, who was known as Abu Lahab – “the father of flames,” and his ultimate abode in the flames of hellfire. Given the beauty of the two chapters on either side of this chapter about hellfire, at first glance we might find the middle chapter in this series to be “out of place.”
We might expect to go straight from the Chapter of Victory and Opening to the chapter of Sincerity.
When I was a child, that’s exactly how I felt.
I found it somehow strange: to go from hearing about God’s Grace and Blessings as expressed in the Chapter of Opening, to hearing about the evildoer Abu Lahab and his punishment along with those who aid him – and then to return to hearing about God and His Unmatched Uniqueness and Beauty. It always struck me as a tumultuous sort of passage – and one day I asked my father, who is a scholar – about the matter.
“Should this chapter about Abu Lahab not be placed in another location in the Holy Letter?” My father then explained to me that the order of the Chapters of the Holy Letter (the Quran) is not a matter of later ijtihad (effort) by scholars, as I had thought. He explained to me that the chapters of the Qur’an were placed in their order by the Prophet himself – may the light of God continue to nourish his soul and our connection to him. Thus, the order is not up for discussion. Rather, there are immense secrets in the ordering of the chapters, as in all things that are done by the Guide to the End of Times and beyond – may the light of his light reach our hearts always.
I left it at that, trusting that of course there is truth in this matter. But it was only recently that the secret of the order of the last three chapters of the Holy Scripture started to make itself apparent to me. It took a life experience to get me to that place of understanding.
Surat al Masad
When did Abu Lahab come into the life of the Prophet as an enemy? It wasn’t from the beginning of Prophecy – in fact, Abu Lahab was one of his closest family members, and someone in whom the Apostle of God had the greatest hope of accepting the message of faith.
At the beginning of the Message, Abu Lahab stayed silent – not declaring his views or opinions on the matter of the Message and the Prophethood of his nephew. However, all along he kept and held to his denial of the message. He was just biding his time for the “right” moment to express his position.
When the Night Journey and Ascension took place, it was an immense victory and opening in the life of the Prophet – coming after years of hardship. The Prophet, may the light of God continue nourish his being and our connection to him, went straight to Abu Lahab to share this great victory, hopeful that this miraculous occurrence would bring Abu Lahab to belief.
Initially, Abu Lahab showed great interest in what the Prophet recounted to him. Abu Lahab decided to gather all of the nobles of Quraysh in order to hear the Prophet’s narrative about this miraculous journey. When they had gathered, he asked the Prophet to repeat his story in front of them.
Hearing the narrative, many of the Quraysh nobles were amazed and confirmed the factual truth of the Prophet’s description of the places he had visited in his night journey to Jerusalem, being businessmen who had travelled the same route in with their trade caravans. These elders, who had held out til now with regards to the Message of Muhammad, were softening and their hearts opening. The Prophet could see that they were moving towards uttering the words of faith and placing trust in his Prophethood.
Abu Lahab could see that as well. And it was not what he wanted.
At this crucial moment, before the final opening of the hearts and the uttering of the decorations of faith, Abu Lahab spoke up. He was interrupting that precious process of blossoming.
He began to admonish the Prophet publicly, chastising him for having told the people in the gathering such a story. Abu Lahab was actively destroying, in one fell swoop, the positive energy that had been gathering in that gathering. That night, the elders walked away with the faith in their hearts having been aborted by Abu Lahab’s vile and invasive intervention.
Abu Lahab was an interrupter. And he went on to carry out an entire campaign of slander against the Guide and Teacher, Muhammad – may the light of God continue to enhance his soul and strengthen our connection to him. Slander is there to interrupt faith, to interrupt the opening of faith that occurs in people’s hearts. It is of little consequence to those who already dislike a person, and will not shake those who already like and love a person, but it is of grave consequence to those who were beginning to like someone, or had a little inclination that made them feel something good for someone. It is those who are the most shaken and affected.
Abu Lahab is the epitome of that interruption and everyone who slanders a person, is playing that same role as Abu Lahab best embodied and is commemorated in the Holy Scripture.
God describes flames, in the Sura of Abu Lahab, Surat al Masad, because the slander he made and the interruption he caused was like a fire he lit in the midst of a peaceful and safe space, causing everyone to scatter.
Indeed, he was an arsonist, who let loose on the seeds of life coming to blossoming in the hearts of people, after being exposed to the light of the Prophet. The blaze he tried to set was meant to cloud out that light with smoke. But he was not successful and no one who slanders will ever be. And so Abu Lahab has gone down in history as the arsonist.
We can take it as a rule, and as a Divine Promise – after every great opening and victory from God, we should expect to find a manifestation of Abu Lahab, someone or several people seeking to set fire to all the good that God has offered, before it can reach maturity.
WHEN YOU ARE GRANTED VICTORY
After great openings and victories, we often find people rushing to recite the Chapters of Refuge – the final two chapters of the Qur’an, which come after the Chapter of Sincerity. In these verses, we seek refuge in God from the evil of the enviers, and from the whisperings of Satan.
But the additional secret that we can learn from the order of the chapters is this: after the victory and opening, expect to find Abu Lahab – because that experience of being attacked by firebrands is the very bridge to your sincerity.
So do not be taken by surprise when, following great blessings, there comes the trial of those who would seek to undo those blessings. They try to do this by interrupting the message coming from those blessings to the people around you: that those people around you need to recognize God’s gifts as His gifts. The smoke that the slandeers make is all to stop that recognition from taking place, and to stop people from praising God. You see that all the time – where slander becomes more attractive to people than praise and prayer of the Creator.
The slanders create smoke to prevent people from seeing the Manifest Victory of the Lord.
We must know that in the end, the victories and openings God grants us won’t be destroyed by the flames of the slanderers, and the smoke will be cleared away by His Hand.
Rather than being destroyed, the recipients of blessings – put under great heat – find their blessings becoming concentrated and distilled. The dross is being burnt off, things are coming into focus, and in sha Allah, sincerity is being reached. When you find that very few people come to stand by you and overlook the smoke, you have no choice but to get real about why you are doing what you are doing, and who you are doing it for. When slander touches you and people who know better refuse to stop it, you find that you have no choice but to hunker down and set your gaze upon God and God Alone. That is the process of sincerity. The ego now has no access to people’s praise, and finds people only turning away from it – and so it resigns itself and finds no pleasure – no share – in the blessing of the Opening received. Now the heart comes to fore and takes its place – still able to delight in the blessing of God without any fanfare, and even in the midst of flaring flames.
WALK THROUGH FIRE
It is encountering Abu Lahab that will help us to reach sincerity – ikhlas – purity. To reach ikhlas, we must go by way of al Masad. We must walk through fire.
On the other side, we reach sincerity – al Ikhlas.
And then, we find Surat al Falaq and Surat an Naas – the last two chapters of the Holy Scripture. These are chapters that entrench us in the earth of seeking God’s Protection against all evil. For after sincerity, the race is still not done. One must protects the gift of sincerity that God so generously bestows by seeking His protection once more.
Thus, even after trials and tribulations, you will still need to ask God for protection, in order to save the sincerity those trials have brought you to. And so, even the order of the Chapters of the Quran is a mighty lesson for those who are permeable to it.
Always remember, dear friends: any time God gives a believer a manifestation of victory and opening, expect Abu Lahab – along with his firewood carriers, who feed the flames of destruction.
This is a pattern repeated again and again in the lives of the Prophets and the friends of God – and I encourage you to pay attention to this pattern in their lives and in the lives of contemporary people of God.
Read and observe these narratives well – and when it happens to someone in your life, choose wisely which side you wish to be on at the moment the smoke starts to rise.