These notes are extracted from Sheikh Omar Suleiman’s 2016 Ramadhan Series entitled “Quran 30 for 30”. Full notes (in PDF) can be downloaded at: https://goo.gl/LErWn0
★ The Beginning of the Qur’an: Du’a
All the praises and thanks be to Allah, the Rabb of the ‘Alamin. The Most Gracious, the Most Merciful. The Only Owner of the Day of Recompense. You (Alone) we worship, and You (Alone) we ask for help. Guide us to the Straight Way. The Way of those on whom You have bestowed Your Grace, not of those who earned Your Anger, nor of those who went astray.
The Noble Qur’an begins with Surah Al-Fatihah, in which Allah s.w.t. gives us a beautiful and important du’a. Rasulallah s.a.w. said: “Supplication (du’a’) is itself the worship.” [Sunan Abi Dawud]
The Qu’ran did not begin with a story of the prophets, or about someone else’s relationship with Allah. But the very beginning of this Manual for all mankind is Du’a, which shows us the nature of the relationship that Allah s.w.t. wants us to have with Him – that we can always approach Him directly, without any intermediary.
★ Supplication For Guidance
Surah Al-Fatihah is a supplication for guidance. Therefore the Qur’an begins with us speaking to Allah s.w.t. for that guidance. And immediately after our supplication, notice how the next Surah eloquently begins with:
Alif-Lam-Mim. This is the Book (the Qur’an), whereof there is no doubt, a guidance to those who are Al-Muttaqun
(the pious and righteous persons who fear Allah much and love Allah much).
As soon as we ask for guidance in Surah Al-Fatihah, Allah s.w.t. immediately answers that supplication in the beginning of Surah Al-Baqarah. Allah s.w.t. responds: Here is the Book, the Qur’an, in which is the guidance that you’ve asked for. This is a beautiful correlation between the two Surahs.
In summary, Allah tells us in Surah Al-Baqarah: what guidance is, why we should seek guidance, how to be sincere in that pursuit of guidance, then Allah s.w.t. tells us the stories of those who fell off the path of guidance and the factors that led them to such so that we don’t fall in the same trap, and Allah s.w.t. affirms that this Message is one that requires dedication from us believers, and if we are sincere, then Allah will constantly see us through our obstacles.
★ The Entire Qur’an is Guidance for Those Who Believe in The Unseen
In the early part of Surah Al-Baqarah, notice that Allah s.w.t. mentions those who believe in the unseen:
This is the Book, whereof there is no doubt, a guidance to those who are Al-Muttaqun. Who believe in the Ghaib (unseen) and perform As-Salat (the prayers), and spend out of what we have provided for them.
[Al-Baqarah 2: 2-3]
And at the end of the Qur’an, Allah tells us in Surah An-Naas to seek refuge with Him from Shaitan – and amongst the functions of Shaitan, are the unseen whispers and doubts that he brings to us:
Say: “I seek refuge with (Allah) the Rabb of mankind. The King of mankind. The Ilah (God) of mankind. From the evil of the whisperer (devil who whispers evil in the hearts of men) who withdraws (from his whispering in one’s heart after one remembers Allah), who whispers in the breasts of mankind, of jinn and men.”
[An-Naas 114: 1-6]
The Qur’an begins by saying that this is the guidance for those who believe in Allah and the unseen, and the Qur’an ends by saying how we have to constantly fight the unseen attacks of Shaitan by seeking refuge in the One who sent the guidance in the first place. So we are constantly in this struggle, and for that struggle, Allah s.w.t. has already given its solution in and between from the very beginning of the Qur’an until the end of the Qur’an, subhanallah.
★ The Story of Adam a.s. and Iblis
In the next passages of Surah Al-Baqarah, Allah s.w.t. gives us briefly the traits of 3 types of people, how they responded when the guidance was brought to them:
- Those who believe in Allah and wants to sincerely accept the guidance
They are on (true) guidance from their Rabb, and they are the successful. [Al-Baqarah 2:5]
- Those who purposely and arrogantly turn away from guidance – and because they turn away, Allah seals their hearts, eyes, and ears
Verily, those who disbelieve, it is the same to them whether you (O Muhammad s.a.w.) warn them or do not warn them, they will not believe. [Al-Baqarah 2:6]
- The hypocrites who are not sincerely seeking guidance, but instead they use it for their lowly, worldly, material benefit whenever they see fit.
And of mankind, there are some (hypocrites) who say: “We believe in Allah and the Last Day” while in fact they believe not. [Al-Baqarah 2:8]
Then Allah s.w.t. gives us their stories – and we usually think that the stories in the Qur’an are random. They’re not random at all. Look how Allah s.w.t. first gives us the story of the first man, Adam a.s., and what caused him to fall. Allah also gives us the story of Iblis who fell away from guidance. So Allah is showing us how Adam a.s. fell and how Iblis fell, but to a much different and greater degree. So here we learn 2 reasons how a person can turn away from guidance: Desire and Pride.
In the case of the fall of Adam a.s., it was his simple desire, which temporary disconnected himself from the guidance of Allah. Therefore shahwat / desire is a means where we can miss out on guidance, if we let our desires get the best of us.
But in the case case of Iblis, it was his pride / kibr. When a person suffers the disease from pride, they will find it much harder to come back to Allah than a person who suffers from a simple desire. For Iblis, it was his destructive characteristic, his flaw of pride which causes Iblis to permanently turn away from guidance. Whereas in the case of Adam a.s., he came back to Allah and to guidance. Hence why Allah s.w.t. says:
“We said: Get down all of you from this place (Paradise), then whenever there comes to you Guidance from Me, and whoever follows My Guidance, there shall be no fear on them, nor shall they grieve.”
★ The Story of Bani Israel and Fir’aun
Then there is a transition to the story of Musa a.s., Fir’aun, and Bani Israel. Bani Israel initially turned away from Allah due to their desires, but as they insisted upon their desires, that itself became a form of pride on its own. But we learnt in the Qur’an that they kept wavering – at times they did came back to Allah, but at other times they arrogantly turned away. Here Allah s.w.t. is giving us an example of when our desires get the best of us – they can lead us far, far, really far astray.
But in the case of Fir’aun, this is an example equivalent of Shaitan in the form of a man – a man who insisted and literally put his pride before guidance, before humanitarian, before empathy. He worshiped himself and expected everyone to worship him in every true sense of the word.
So Fir’aun insisted on pride, while Bani Israel insisted on desires. Some of the Bani Israel came back to Allah like how Adam a.s. repented to Allah after he erred, but some of the Bani Israel insisted on their desires to a point that their hearts were hardened until it became a form of pride. So subhanallah, we have these 2 divergent paths that start with guidance, then how the audience in general receives the guidance, then the story of Adam and Iblis, and then Bani Israel and Fir’aun – all in correlation to one another.
★ The Story of Sulaiman a.s.
Then Allah s.w.t. mentions to us Sulaiman a.s. But wait, why is he so significant in this theme? Because Sulaiman a.s. had access to his desires the way that Bani Israel could only dream of having access to, and he had ALL the elements that usually would make a person full of pride, he had a kingdom GREATER than the kingdom of Fir’aun – he had EVERYTHING that usually would leave someone astray. YET he a.s. took all of these and channelled them in a way that would bring him closer to Allah s.w.t. He used these to make him a means of a beacon of guidance, rather than a person who turns away from guidance.
★ The Story of Ibrahim a.s.
The Qur’an next mentions our father, Ibrahim a.s., who is significant for many reasons. But in this context, it is about a uniqueness of the children of Adam a.s. who follow the ways of Ibrahim. Allah s.w.t. praises Ibrahim’s character – he a.s. is an epitome who is truthful to Allah, who always seeks guidance, and who – no matter what is thrown at him – constantly responds in a way that is pleasing to Allah. He is an example of complete submission to the guidance, and he does not feel any sense of pride by the great position that Allah gave him, never show preference of his desires but always prefers the commandments of Allah and what is pleasing to Him s.w.t., not questioning Allah, not looking for loopholes like what Bani Israel did. Ibrahim a.s. represents everything that a person would want to achieve in coming close to Allah. And this is also what he wanted to see from his offsprings and nation.
And who turns away from the religion of Ibrahim (i.e. Islamic Monotheism) except him who befools himself? Truly, We chose him in this world, and verily in the Hereafter he will be among the righteous. When his Rabb said to him: “Submit (i.e. be a Muslim)!” He said: “I have submitted myself (as a Muslim) to the Rabb of the ‘Alamin.” And this (submission to Allah, Islam) was enjoined by Ibrahim upon his sons and by Ya’qub (saying): “O my sons! Allah has chosen for you the (true) religion, then die not except in the Faith of Islam.”
This is one of the reasons why Ibrahim a.s. made this du’a for his offsprings and nation:
“Our Rabb! Send amongst them a Messenger of their own (and Allah answered this invocation by sending Muhammad s.a.w.), who shall recite unto them Your Verses and instruct them in the Book (this Qur’an) and Al-Hikmah (the Sunnah of Rasulallah s.a.w.) and purify them. Verily! You are the All-Mighty, the All-Wise.”
We might wonder: Purify from what? Purify from the elements that took people away from guidance – the desires that people take preference over Allah’s commandments, and the pride that cause people to permanently insist on misguidance until they meet a humiliating end. This is what Ibrahim a.s. wants to see in the ummah of Rasulallah s.a.w.
Then Allah s.w.t. mentions the change of the Qiblah – the change of the direction of the prayer from Jerusalem to Ka’bah. This is a beautiful imagery, because Allah first mentions about Ibrahim and Ismail a.s. making du’a to Allah to send a prophet that would live up to THE expectation and standards, while they were building the Ka’bah, and right after then, Allah mentions that very same prophet s.a.w. coming and his ummah being commanded to face that very Ka’bah that was being built by them.
Verily! We have seen the turning of your (Rasulallah s.a.w.) face towards the heaven. Surely, We shall turn you to a Qiblah that shall please you, so turn your face in the direction of Al-Masjid- Al-Haram (at Makkah). And wheresoever you people are, turn your faces (in prayer) in that direction. Certainly, the people who were given the Scriptures know well that, that (your turning towards the direction of the Ka’bah at in prayers) is the truth from their Rabb. And Allah is not unaware of what they do.
So we face the way of Ibrahim a.s. both physically and spiritually, and we are expected to adopt that standard that Ibrahim a.s. wishes to see in his progeny and the ummah of Rasulallah s.a.w.
★ Ramadhan: Taqwa and Gratitude for Guidance
And then Allah mentions:
O you who believe! Observing As-Saum (the fasting) is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you, that you may become Al-Muttaqun (the pious and righteous persons who fear Allah much and love Allah much).
Remember earlier, in the beginning of Surah Al-Baqarah, Allah s.w.t. also mentions:
…a guidance to those who are Al-Muttaqun… [Al-Baqarah 2:1-2]
So fasting is a means to attain taqwa so that we can properly bring guidance into our lives. Not only do we gain taqwa, but as we finish the month of Ramadhan, we glorify and praise Allah, we declare His greatness, and we thank Him for the guidance He gave us. Allah s.w.t. says this guidance is not imposing, it’s not harsh, it’s not to cause us stress or anxiety, but it gives us the best of this world and the best of the next.
The month of Ramadhan in which was revealed the Qur’an, a guidance for mankind and clear proofs for the guidance and the criterion (between right and wrong). So whoever of you sights the month, he must observe Saum (fasts) that month, and whoever is ill or on a journey, the same number (of days which one did not observe fasts must be made up) from other days. Allah intends for you ease, and He does not want to make things difficult for you. (He wants that you) must complete the same number (of days), and that you must magnify Allah [i.e. to say Takbir (Allahu-Akbar)] for having guided you so that you may be grateful to Him.
★ How Should We Seek Guidance?
And when My slaves ask you (O Muhammad s.a.w.) concerning Me, then (answer them), I am indeed near (to them by My Knowledge). I respond to the invocations of the supplicant when he calls on Me (without any intercessor). So let them obey Me and believe in Me, so that they may gain guidance [يَرۡشُدُونَ]
Notice that Allah s.w.t. uses the word [Yarshudun / Rushd] for ‘guidance’ instead of [Hidayah]. [Rushd] means a level above hidayah – it’s a GREATER guidance, it’s when guidance manifests itself in one’s actions as well. Some scholars said that hidayah is guidance towards knowledge, while rushd is guidance in our actual actions. This is why our righteous khulafa are called Ar-Rashidun Al-Mahdiyun – they are guided in both their action (rushd) and knowledge (hidayah). So in this ayah, Allah says that when we call upon Him AND when we answer His call, we will achieve guidance in every single way (rushd).
O you who believe! Enter perfectly in Islam (by obeying all the rules and regulations of the Islamic religion) and follow not the footsteps of Shaitan. Verily! He is to you a plain enemy.
So do not follow the footsteps of Shaitan like Fir’aun, like the way Bani Israel insisted on doing which made them earned their destruction. But follow the way of Ibrahim a.s., the way Adam a.s. who came back to Allah immediately once he erred, the way of Musa a.s. who did not let any obstacle in life deterred him. Enter into Islam altogether, enter fully and completely into submission.
★ This Guidance Is Not Overbearing
At the end of the Surah, Allah s.w.t. says:
Allah burdens not a person beyond his scope. He gets reward for that (good) which he has earned, and he is punished for that (evil) which he has earned. “Our Rabb! Punish us not if we forget or fall into error, our Rabb! Lay not on us a burden like that which You did lay on those before us; our Rabb! Put not on us a burden greater than we have strength to bear. Pardon us and grant us Forgiveness. Have mercy on us. You are our Maula (Supporter, Protector, etc.) and give us victory over the disbelieving people.”
Allah does not burden us beyond our scope – this guidance is not overbearing. Allah did not give Adam a.s. something he could not handle, Allah did not give Bani Israel what they could not handle. This guidance is not beyond our scope – Allah will not give us more than what we can handle and therefore He expects us to submit to it completely.
★ It’s All About Guidance
The Qur’an starts with a du’a for guidance.
Then Surah Al-Baqarah tells us that Allah has sent us that guidance, and how to be guided.
Then Allah mentions Ramadhan is the month in which we really learn to value guidance.
Then Allah mentions du’a again in the last ayah of Al-Baqarah.
So in Al-Fatihah, we ask for guidance, and at the end of Al-Baqarah, we ask Allah to keep us firm on that guidance.
See the beautiful correlation? Subhanallah, they all come together.
Everything in Al-Fatihah and Al-Baqarah is about guidance. As long as we submit wholly to it, we can ask Allah s.w.t. and He will guide and answer our supplications.
We ask Allah s.w.t. to guide us and make us firm upon His guidance. Ameen.