Nun, Spiritual Heart, Living Conviction
Issue 876 » January 8, 2016 - Rabi Al-Awwal 28, 1437
Al-Qalam (The Pen) - Chapter 68: Verse 1
"Nun. By the pen and that which they inscribe."
Nun is the Arabic letter n and is among the separated letters (al-muqattaat) at the beginning of several surahs, whose meaning is not specified outwardly and, according to many, is known only to God. This is the earliest surah in the chronological order of revelation in which the separated letters appear.
In light of its cup-shaped form in Arabic script, others say it refers to the “inkwell” from which the pen draws the ink with which it inscribes. In Islamic metaphysics, the Pen is often taken as a symbol for the Divine Intellect or Logos, through which God brought all things into being. What is “written” by the Pen then means existiation of beings in the created order, and the nun is seen to symbolize the reservoir that contains all the possibilities that are manifested in creation.
According to al-Qurtubi, pens are of three principal types: the one that God commanded to write all that would be until the Day of Resurrection; those with which the angels record the deeds of human beings; and those with which human beings write.
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Muslim scholars of the caliber of Imam al-Ghazali say that diseases of the heart are related to human nature, the scholars also say that this manifests itself as human inclination. Also, Muslims do not believe that this inclination is a result of Adam’s wrongdoing or that Adam brought upon himself (and his children) a permanent state of sin that can only be lifted by sacrificial blood. Adam and Eve erred, but they also turned in penitence to God, and God accepted their repentance and forgave them both. This is the nature of God’s forgiveness. There was no blemish passed on to their progeny. But this fact does not negate the existence of base instincts among humans.
This whole matter points to the heart as a spiritual organ. The unseen aspect of the heart contains a seed that has the potential of becoming like a cancer that can metastasize and overtake the heart. The bacterium responsible for tuberculosis, for example, lives latent in the lungs of millions of people. When its carriers age or succumb to another disease that weakens their immune system, tuberculosis may start to emerge. The analogy is that there is a dormant element in the human heart that, if nurtured and allowed to grow, can damage the soul and eventually destroy it. The Prophet stated, “If the son of Adam sins, a black spot appears in the heart. And if the person repents, it is erased. But if he does not, it continues to grow until the whole heart becomes pitch black.”
Incidentally, this notion of associating the color black with sin is not racist in its origins. The attribution has been long used even among black Africans who refer to a person who is wretched as “black-hearted.” A black person can have spiritual light in his face and a white person can have darkness and vice versa, depending on one’s spiritual and moral condition.
Imam al-Ghazali considers ailments of the heart to be part of the Adamic potential. He believes one is obliged to know this about human nature in order to be protected. Other scholars simply consider these ailments to be predominant in man; that is, most people have these qualities, but not necessarily everybody.
It is interesting that Imam Mawlud says it is impossible to rid oneself of these diseases completely. This implies that purification is a life-long process, not something that is applied once and then forgotten. Purity of heart never survives a passive relationship. One must always guard his or her heart.
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Humanity needs three things today — a spiritual interpretation of the universe, spiritual emancipation of the individual, and the basic principle of a universal import directing the evolution of society on a spiritual basis. Modern Europe has no doubt built idealistic systems along these lines, but experience shows that truth revealed through pure reason is incapable of bringing that fire of living conviction that personalised revelation can bring. This is why pure thought has so little influenced men while religion has transformed societies. The idealism of Europe, as Iqbal wrote, “never became a living factor in her life, and the result is a perverted ego seeking itself through mutually intolerant democracies whose sole function is to exploit the poor in the interest of the rich”. Iqbal continued: “The Muslim, on the other hand, is in possession of these ultimate ideas on the basis of a revelation, which, speaking from the innermost depth of life, internalises its own apparent externality and manifests the most spiritually emancipated on earth.”
In its current predicament, the humanistic ideals of Enlightenment can hardly survive the assault from unrestrained quest for economic profit, technological domination and manipulation of the environment. Islam can render a meaningful service to modern humanity through its affirmation of the ideals of human dignity, universal equality, and revelational vision of material/profane. Islam’s self-understanding of Iman, Islam and Ihsan (faith, submission and grace) can scarcely be accomplished within the perimeters of reason alone. Yet to realise its objectives, Islam cannot afford to change itself to imitationist modernity’s demands. It has to observe its own truth if it is to make a meaningful contribution to modern humanity.
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