The Qurʾān is not a storybook of wondrous tales and ancient fables, isolated from the realities and complexities of real life. Each verse, in fact, each letter is miraculously precise in meaning, succinct in message and pure in sound.
Those of you who follow me on Twitter will already be familiar with my short points of insight into Sūrat ṬāHā (#TafseerTaHa). The life lessons that can be gleaned from any Sūrah are amazing, but in my opinion Sūrat ṬāHa, in particular, is unique in this regard.
Recently I undertook teaching a course on ‘Tafsīr Sūrat ṬāHā: the Chronicles of Mūsā’, with AlKauthar Institute, that discusses the life lessons we can derive from Sūrat ṬāHa, the 20th chapter of the Qurʾān, which chronicles the life of Mūsā .
The life lessons that may be derived from the Qurʾān are infinite. The more one contemplates it, approaching it with a sincere heart and giving it one’s full attention while recognizing its magnificence, the more one’s heart connects with the Almighty.
This post is the second instalment of what I hope will be many discussions on this life changing sūrah (the first part of which may be accessed here.
In verse 17 of this sūrah Allah, the Most High, asks Mūsā a question and is answered:
وَمَا تِلْكَ بِيَمِينِكَ يَٰمُوسَىٰ (١٧)
“And what is that in your right hand, O Moses?”
قَالَ هِىَ عَصَاىَ أَتَوَكَّؤُا۟ عَلَيْهَا وَأَهُشُّ بِهَا عَلَىٰ غَنَمِى وَلِىَ فِيهَا مَـَٔارِبُ أُخْرَىٰ (١٨)
He said, “It is my staff; I lean upon it, and I manage my sheep with it and I have therein other uses.”
-Surah ṬāHā, [20:17-18]
1- Allah can see you right now.
Allah, the Most High, asks Mūsā what is in his right [hand]. The implication being that Allah is observing Mūsā at that very moment; moreover the question is not simply, ‘What is in your hand?’, rather Allah specifies which hand also. The question serves to reconcile the supernatural and miraculous conversation he is having with Allah with Mūsā’s temporal and earthly reality, emphasizing that Allah is Near to him with His Power, Order, Sight and Speech while transcending the physical proximities of His creation.
It behoves you then that in your life you remain equally conscious that Allah observes and sees you and all that you do. Consider then what it is that you have in your right hand, what is playing on your Mp3 or your TV etc., what you have downloaded on your phone and what you have buried in your heart; Allah is witness to it all.
2- Allah knows & provides you with the means to your success
Mūsā utilizes a wooden staff to aid him in herding his flock, to lean on and to facilitate his travels through the rugged terrain that he is traversing. This same ‘ordinary’ staff is then given wondrous traits by Allah that Musa could not have imagined.
Likewise, in your life, what you are in possession of and have authority over today may be the means to your greater success in the future in a way that you cannot yet comprehend. Work towards this success by aiming to achieve the maximum benefit of your skills, possessions and authority and remain open to a world of possibility in the future, possibilities rooted in your means of today. And remember that for Allah all things are possible, such that the transition of day to night may witness an opening to success that you failed to comprehend.
3- Full Disclosure
The revealed scriptures characterize the righteous as people of truth and honesty. Mūsā was asked a simple question for which a one-word-answer would have sufficed; yet, he responded with full disclosure.
In your life understand that half the truth is falsity and that there is no honour in duplicity. Mūsā’s response here demonstrates why he is fit for leadership and a position of trust, he states clearly what is in his hand and for what purpose. Our Messenger, Muḥammad sala Allahu alihi wasSalam, was the same, particularly when his action might otherwise be misconstrued.
In Saḥīḥ al-Bukhārī it is reported from ʿAlī ibn al-Ḥusayn that Ṣafiyya, the wife of the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, reported to him that she went to visit the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, while he was in iʿtikāf, in the mosque, during the last ten days of Ramaḍān. She spoke to him for some time and then got up to return home. The Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, also rose, accompanying her to the door – near the door of Umm Salama. During this time two men of the Anṣār passed by and greeted the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, who said to them, ‘Don’t be hasty! It is Ṣafiyya bint Huyayy.’ They were affected by the Prophet’s clarification and exclaimed, ‘Glory be to Allah, O Messenger of Allah!’ The Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, explained, ‘Shayṭān gets to wherever a man’s blood gets to and I feared he might cast something into your hearts.’
4- Wooden Staff – ʿaṣā عَصا
A wooden branch is limited in its uses. Presumably, it can be used for firewood or put to use as a cane or staff to lean on, or as something to point with. When found lying on the side of a road, one’s curiosity would generally not be aroused by it, nor would one covet its possession. Yet, this lifeless piece of wood was previously a living branch to a breathing plant. It bore leaves, fruits and flowers and provided sustenance and shelter for those who sought shade under it. Being cut away from the tree rendered it hollow, lifeless and worthless. Such is Sin. Sin (ʿiṣyān), ‘rebellion’ and ‘wilful sinfulness’, originates from this same concept.
Equally then, in your lives bear in mind that you are whole and your sins destroy this ‘wholeness’ and pollute your existence. Sincere repentance, however, brings you back from the brink of being a lifeless piece of wood, a description with which Allah, the Most High, designates the hypocrites:
كَأَنَّهُمْ خُشُبٌ مُّسَنَّدَةٌ
“[The Hypocrites are] as if they were pieces of (dead) wood propped up.”
–Sura Al-Munafiqun [63:4]
5- Service of Others
Mūsā explains, in detail, the primary uses of his staff. He begins with “I lean on it.” He would rely on his staff in three ways:
1. (a) To prevent injury he sought its support when traversing rugged terrain.
(b) When worn out and physically exhausted he would leanon it.
(c) When injured he would push along and remain upright and attentive to the needs of his family and flock.
2. To prevent injury to his flock, he would utilise his staff to remove brambles/thorns.
3. To facilitate finding sustenance he would utilise his staff to beat down fruit, etc.
Keep in mind that shepherding a flock has been the vocation of every prophet of Allah and as such it is a term often used to describe one’s responsibility to family and society. We are all shepherds over something having responsibilities over them. Mūsā possessed the traits of successful leaders: he was resilient, strong, patient, and clement in the service of those under his care.
6- Justice is Life
Mūsā would separate the larger, horned rams from the weaker, younger ones during their grazing and watering. So much so that when he observed one sheep ate more than others he would drive it away with his staff. His life was built on seeking justice and the pursuit of maintaining equity – even amongst his livestock.
Seek to establish justice whenever you encounter an imbalance in your life. Justice is one of the lofty aims of revelation, and Islam as exemplified through the Sunnah, the way of life of the Prophet Muḥammad, seeks balance in its purest form. This balance is justice, especially when it is difficult to accomplish. When the world is in shambles and our day seems like night, balance is re-established through justice! Allāh equates His Divinely revealed scripture and the clear evidence of its manifest Truth with balance that maintains justice (Read more about these themes here.
7- Maximize your benefit, even from a lifeless piece of wood
Mūsā calculates what he has to gain from his staff. He states that there are many other benefits that he has utilized it for in the past, and possibly more, unknown ones, in the future.
In your life always aim to seek maximum benefit, even from precarious situations that may outwardly appear a complete loss and even from objects that others would overlook. Think outside the box and be industrious and remain open to new, innovative, possibilities.
The Qurʾān refers to a wealth of human experience, seeking to enrich our lives on earth before our eventual return to our Maker, the Most High. As we proceed with our insights into Sūrat ṬāHā, I pray that our benefit increases.
The Prophet was commanded to follow his righteous predecessors and take heed from their trials and inspiration from their eventual and divinely-ordained triumph.
Allāh, the Most High, instructs us to contemplate the final Word and benefit from its lessons and parables:
وَلَقَدْ صَرَّفْنَا فِى هَٰذَا ٱلْقُرْءَانِ لِلنَّاسِ مِن كُلِّ مَثَلٍ ۚ وَكَانَ ٱلْإِنسَٰنُ أَكْثَرَ شَىْءٍ جَدَلًا (٥٤)
And We have certainly diversified in this Qur’an for the people from every [kind of] example; but man has ever been, most of anything, [prone to] dispute.
-Surah Al-Kahf [18:54]