The first thing Almighty Allah communicated to mankind through their final messenger, Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him), were the words:
Read! In the name of your Lord who has created (all that exists)(Al-‘Alaq, 1).
This is the first verse (ayah) of the surah or chapter Al-‘Alaq (the Clot). The surah ends with the words:
Fall prostrate and draw near (to Allah)!(Al-‘Alaq, 19).
This means that the beginning, as well as the total dynamism and disposition, of life should be anchored in a vibrant culture of reading and everything that goes with it such as exploring, researching, questioning, discovering and innovating.
The process applies as much to individuals and their personal development as to communities and their collective cultural and civilizational consciousness and evolution.
The net results of such processes should be in support of attaining, internalizing and applying the truth. They should help a person understand himself, life and his Creator better. They should make him draw closer to his Creator and Master, and make him submit his total being to His Will, with the prostration representing the ultimate sign of such an advancement and conformity.
Life Between Reading and Submission
Man’s life purpose and mission reside and unfold between the parameters of the heavenly instructions to read – as the first word of the surah Al-‘Alaq – and to humbly submit and prostrate to Allah and so, constantly draw closer to Him – as the last two words (instructions) of the same surah.
Reading leads to knowledge and wisdom, which in turn lead to certainty and the truth. Reading enlightens. It is believing, and believing is doing.
Reading is intangible and intellectual. Its results need to be transported into the realm of palpable realities.
Reading is to be an act of devotion. At the same time, it is to lead to the sphere of supreme and ultimate devotion, equating itself with it.
In a sequential order, man is created to read, know and worship his Creator. He is created to acknowledge and follow the truth. He is to become its epitome.
No form of devotion is acceptable without reading and knowledge, just as reading and knowledge without devotion are untenable. The truth is the life force of all life dimensions.
The truth is life, and life is the truth. In the midst of both of them, man as Allah’s vicegerent on earth has been thrust. His life is an embodiment of meaning, import and accountability.
Reading here means reciting, studying, internalizing, interpreting and applying the signs (ayat) of Almighty Allah. Doing so connotes the foundation of all knowledge and wisdom. It is the soul of culture and civilization.
Reading the Revelation and Creation
Those signs (ayat) are to be found at two levels: the level of revelation and the level of creation.
That also means that there are two books of signs to be read: the book of revelation, which is the Holy Quran; and the “book of creation”, which is the universe with all its proceedings and phenomena.
The two books could further be named al-Qur’an al-tadwini (the Qur’an or scripture revealed to the Prophet Muhammad) and al-qur’an al-takwini (the ontological “qur’an” or “scripture” whose pages and lines are the worlds of animate and inanimate beings, occurrences and affairs).
Both books are replete with signs (ayat) which attest to and authenticate the omnipresence, omnipotence and benevolence of the Creator and Sustainer of man and the universe. They are the media through which Almighty Allah speaks and conveys the truth about Himself, man and life.
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