Fear and Hope; Envy, Deceit, Hatred; Fairness and Justice

Issue 1040 » March 1, 2019 - Jumada al-Thani 24, 1440

Living The Quran

Fear and Hope
Al-Sajda (The Prostration) Sura 32: Verse 16

"whose sides shun [their] beds, calling upon their Lord out of fear and hope, and who spend from that which We have provided them."

This verse was reportedly revealed with regard to some Companions of the Prophet who would stand in prayer from after the sunset prayer (maghrib) until the time of the night prayer (isha), while others say it refers to those who pray the night vigil (tahajjud). Given that they shun [their] beds, the second interpretation is more plausible.

In this context, fear is understood to mean fear of punishment and hope is understood to mean hope for mercy. From a spiritual perspective, it can be understood to mean the fear of being separated from God and the hope of meeting Him. Al-Maybudi writes, "Sleeplessness and wakefulness at night are the cause of nearness to the Truth and evidence of the perfection of love, for the first degree of love is seeking conformity, and the attribute of the Truth is that neither slumber overtakes Him nor sleep [2: 255]." In this vein, the Prophet is reported to have said, "My eyes sleep, but my heart waketh".

As the reference to prayer is understood by most to mean the supererogatory night vigil, the reference to spending is understood to mean charity (sadaqah) beyond the required alms tax (zakah). Spending of what God has provided is extolled alongside prayer and belief in several verses (e.g., 2: 3; 8: 3; 4: 39; 35: 29), and human beings are called upon to spend of that which We have provided you before death comes upon one of you and he says, "My Lord, wouldst that Thou grant me reprieve until a term nigh, that I might give charity and be among the righteous!" (63: 10; cf. 2: 254; 14: 44).

Compiled From:
"The Study Quran: A New Translation and Commentary" - Seyyed Hossein Nasr

Understanding The Prophet's Life

Envy, Deceit, Hatred

Abu-Hurayrah, may God be pleased with him, said that God's Messenger, may God's peace and blessings be upon him and his family, said, "Do not envy each other. Do not shill-bid each other. Do not hate each other." Reported by Muslim.

The statement of the Prophet, may God's peace and blessings be upon him, "Do not envy each other," means do not wish for others to lose the blessings that they have. This is haram. In another hadith, the Prophet says, "Do not envy each other for envy eats good deeds the way fire eats firewood or timber.[Abu Dawud]" Jealousy, on the other hand, is wishing to have what others have without wishing them not to have what they have. Sometimes the word envy is used in place of the word jealousy since they are close in meaning. For example, the Prophet, may God's peace and blessings be upon him, says, "People shouldn't envy anyone except two: a wealthy person who spends the wealth to do good deeds, and a wise person who uses the wisdom to be just and who teaches the wisdom to others.[Bukhari]" "People shouldn't envy anyone except two" means people shouldn't be jealous of anyone except two.

The statement of the Prophet, may God's peace and blessings be upon him, "Do not shill-bid each other," means do not deceive each other by artificially raising the price of goods. Ibn-Qutaybah said that the word shill-bidding (in Arabic) comes from the word deception. A hunter is called a shill-bidder because it deceives its prey.

The statement of the Prophet, may God's peace and blessings be upon him, "Do not hate each other," means do not do wrongful acts that make you hate each other. Hatred corrupts the religion.

Compiled From:
"Ibn-Daqiq's Commentary on the Nawawi Forty Hadiths" - Ibn Daqiq Al-Eid


Fairness and Justice

One of the most fascinating, and understudied, aspects of the Quranic text is its discourse on the idea of justice. The Quran connects the idea of bearing witness upon humanity with the idea of balance. For instance, the Quran states in part: "Thus, We have made you [Muslims] a nation [that must be] justly balanced, so that you may bear witness over humanity." [2:143, 22:78] Elsewhere, the Quran interchanges the obligations towards justice with the obligations towards God. For instance, it states, "O you who believe, stand firmly for God as witnesses for justice, and let not the hatred of others to you make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice," [5:8] and then, "O you who believe, stand firmly for justice as witnesses for God, even as against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, and whether it be [against] rich or poor."[4:135]

It seems that standing firmly for God or standing firmly for justice are one and the same, or, at least, coexist in the same moral plane. Furthermore, without being themselves morally balanced, Muslims cannot discharge their obligation to bear witness upon humanity, let alone to bear witness upon themselves. It strikes me as unjust to bear witness upon others according to a balance that is neither accessible, nor understandable, nor accountable to those others. If Islam is a universal message, its language of morality and justice ought to make sense beyond the limited confines of a particular juristic culture in a particular cultural setting. I am not advocating a universal law, and I am not advocating the abolition of all cultural particularism. But, at a minimum, it seems that serving God means serving justice, and serving justice necessarily means engaging in the search for the just, moral and humane. The test and the challenge to our sense of balance and equanimity is, regardless of the socio-historical circumstances, or textual and doctrinal indicators, to try always to pose the questions: is it fair? Is it just? And, at the end of every conscientious and diligent process, to close with, "And, God knows best."

Compiled From:
"Speaking in God's Name: Islamic Law, Authority and Women" - Khaled Abou El Fadl