CHAPTER XI / An Abrupt or a Prepared Switch?

An Abrupt or a Prepared Switch?

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Someone may yet say that the transition remains abrupt, unprepared. The fact is that it is not so.

There has been proper and sufficient preparation at the conclusion of the final verse in the previous section.

That conclusion may be rendered in translation as follows:

“To forgo what is due to you [of specified dowry] is closer to being righteous. Do not forget to act benevolently to one another. Truly, God sees all that you do.”

(2: 237.)

This conclusion serves as a perfect passageway placed at the right spot, after the long and detailed discussion of rights and duties within the family home.

This passageway leads us from the atmosphere of conflict and persistent demands to that of benevolence and forgoing one’s rights.

It, thus, takes us a step higher on the virtue ladder, and prepares us to be elevated to an even higher level.

Consider the instruction:

“Do not forget to act benevolently to one another.”

Every letter here suggests that these are the words of a dear one who is departing after having stayed with us for a while to arbitrate in our disputes.

He is now folding his book of rules in order to turn to something more important.

As he folds it, he advises us to stop bickering over such trivial details and to sort them out on the basis of righteousness and benevolence.

This is far more suitable and more superior to strict justice and insisting on taking one’s full rights.

He further tells us to turn to far more important matters which need our greater resolve and to place these in their rightful place at the top of our preoccupations.

He is just telling us: you have had enough about the rights of spouses and offspring. It is time to discuss your duties towards God and your community.

Attend to your prayers; spend your money for God’s sake and fight to serve His cause.

It is timely to consider whether the reference to prayer made here is a major and independent issue or merely part of a larger issue.

To answer this point properly we need to refer back to the verse that outlined aspects of righteousness (2: 177) and to consider how these are treated in subsequent verses,

right up to the final part of the surah. We need to compare how much care each aspect is given in this glorious Qur’an.

A proper look at these parts will show us that the two qualities of spending one’s money and exerting one’s efforts to serve God’s cause, i.e. jihad,

are repeatedly highlighted at the opening and at different junctures, when the surah speaks of general matters and detailed ones.

Such frequent emphasis gives a clear indication that it is the prime objective of legislation in this surah.

In light of this, if we reflect on the social environment where these revelations took place and the events leading to them,

and if we picture in our minds the community to which such legislation was sent down, we paint a picture of a camp preparing for a struggle requiring financial and physical sacrifice.

At the head of this camp we find an alert and caring leader, who takes notice of every little detail of the affairs of his soldiers, whether personal or general.

He gives them advice and issues orders concerning all such matters.

Whenever he finishes with incidental or temporary matters, his discourse turns back to their central mission.

When we put this military picture in front of our eyes, we are not surprised that jihad emerges now as the principal topic after the legislation on family matters has been completed.

In fact, it has never been far from the drift of the discussion. If the surah now returns to it and gives it full attention, this is only natural.

It continues what has already been there from the start. There is no need to justify raising it anew.

But what are we saying? And why are we referring to jihad when the surah is about to discuss prayer and the waiting period of a widow?

Well, in fact, the surah does now concentrate on jihad.

The reference to prayer and other matters is addressed to fighters for God’s cause in this particular capacity.

It addresses problems raised by the very condition of jihad, before giving them the express order to fight for God’s cause.

The first problem concerns prayer at a time of war.

Does jihad and fighting constitute a concession exempting Muslims from the duty of prayer or at least enabling them to postpone it?

The answer given in the Qur’an is that no exemption from, or delay of, prayer is permitted in peace or war, in times of security or fear:

“Attend regularly to your prayer, particularly the middle prayer.”

(2: 238).

The only concession in time of fear relates to the method and form of offering prayer:

“If you are in fear, pray walking or riding. When you are again secure, remember God since He has taught you what you did not know.”

(2: 239.)

As we know, prayer enhances moral strength and serves as an important element that is essential for the achievement of victory.

Hence, it is only wise that those who are preparing for jihad should tap its beneficial moral before they are given the express order to fight.

At the same time, prayer purges the worshipper’s soul of ill manners and unbecoming traits such as being mean and stingy.

God describes man as follows:

“When good fortune comes to him [i.e. man], he selfishly withholds it [from others]. Not so, however, those who attend properly to their prayers.”

(70: 21-22.)

Thus, it is only right that this order should come here to reinforce the earlier advice on showing benevolence in all our dealings.

Thus, the talk about prayer here has a dual benefit: it serves as a cure and spiritual nutrition at the same time.

It looks both backwards and forwards. We may even say that it has a triple benefit, because when it looks back, it does not only look at the preceding verse only;

it also looks at the earlier verse that summed up righteousness to give more details on this aspect.

When you appreciate the finer elements of style which enable the easy flow from one purpose to another,

and the fine structure which ensures perfect harmony between earlier and later points and topics, you are certain that no abrupt departure occurs as the surah picks up the point on prayer.

However, when we compare the gentle and relaxed transition from the first to the second sections with the quick and sudden transition made here, we may think that this is not sufficiently prepared.

In fact, a jerk is felt here at the sudden turn imposed. Yet this rapid move is intended, not least because it contributes to the instruction of the believers.

The sudden turn shows what a true believer’s attitude should be when he or she hears the call to attend to their spiritual duty while they are totally absorbed with life’s affairs.

Thus, the surah practically tells us that believers do not require much struggle in order to elevate themselves above their preoccupations with family and children.

They can always lift themselves immediately in order to attend to their superior duty.

In this they say to the whole world, ‘Leave us alone; we want to offer our worship.’

This is, indeed, the characteristic of believers as the Qur’an describes them:

“They are impelled to rise from their beds [at night] to call out on their Lord in fear and hope.”

(32: 16.)
Page X

Striving for God’s Cause

Jihad is the main theme in the next part of the surah. A soldier in war is preoccupied with two worries at least.

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