The Ultimate Prayer

For years I would read the following verse in Sura 10 verse 10 with the understanding that the ultimate prayer of a person is “Praise be to God, Lord of the universe,” as in this is the best prayer one could make.

الْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ رَبِّ الْعَالَمِينَ

But the word “ultimate” has multiple meanings in English. One meaning of the word ultimate is: the best achievable or imaginable of its kind. If this was the correct interpretation of the verse then my understanding would have been correct. But the other meaning of the word ultimate is: being or happening at the end of a process; final. So which definition is the right definition to apply to this verse?

To understand this, let’s first look at the context of the verse. According to the previous verses, this is the series of events that take place for those who make it to Heaven.

[10:9] As for those who believe and lead a righteous life, their Lord guides them, by virtue of their belief. Rivers will flow beneath them in the gardens of bliss.

So now, let’s look at the Arabic of 10:10 to understand the meaning of ultimate. The first part of the verse states:

The word دَعْوَاهُمْ can be translated as “their prayer” but also as “as their invitation. Therefore, the person who makes it to Heaven will have an invitation that states: “Be You Glorified, our god.”

دَعْوَاهُمْ فِيهَا سُبْحَانَكَ اللَّهُمَّ

The second part of the verse states, that their life or greeting once they arrive to Heaven be will “Peace.” The word: وَتَحِيَّتُهُمْ which can be translated as both as “and their life” or “and their greeting”.

And then the last part of the verse states:

The word “وَآخِرُ” is in reference to ultimate as in last or final, such that their final call or prayer in Heaven is: “Praise be to God, Lord of the universe.”

Therefore according to 10:10 the people in Heaven are first invited, then they are greeted upon their arrival, and finally they say:

What is the meaning of وَاضْرِبُوهُنَّ in 4:34 of Quran?

There is a lot of debate around the meaning of 4:34 in the Quran. The proponents against the Quran will claim that this verse advocates to beat one’s wife, while some other individuals will claim that the verse is improperly translated. So let’s first take a look at the verse and determine if the verse is properly translated.

[4:34] The men are made responsible for the women, and GOD has endowed them with certain qualities, and made them the bread earners. The righteous women will cheerfully accept this arrangement, since it is GOD’s commandment, and honor their husbands during their absence. If you experience rebellion from the women, you shall first talk to them, then (you may use negative incentives like) deserting them in bed, then you may (as a last alternative) beat them. If they obey you, you are not permitted to transgress against them. GOD is Most High, Supreme.

الرِّجَالُ قَوَّامُونَ عَلَى النِّسَاءِ بِمَا فَضَّلَ اللَّهُ بَعْضَهُمْ عَلَىٰ بَعْضٍ وَبِمَا أَنْفَقُوا مِنْ أَمْوَالِهِمْ فَالصَّالِحَاتُ قَانِتَاتٌ حَافِظَاتٌ لِلْغَيْبِ بِمَا حَفِظَ اللَّهُ وَالّٰتِیۡۤ تَخَافُونَ نُشُوزَهُنَّ فَعِظُوهُنَّ وَاهْجُرُوهُنَّ فِي الْمَضَاجِعِ وَاضْرِبُوهُنَّ فَإِنْ أَطَعْنَكُمْ فَلَا تَبْغُوا عَلَيْهِنَّ سَبِيلًا إِنَّ اللَّهَ كَانَ عَلِيًّا كَبِيرًا

The word that is translated above as “beat them” is وَاضْرِبُوهُنَّ. Let’s start by breaking down the meaning of this word in Arabic before we get to the proper meaning of this word. God willing I will try to color code the text for clarity. 

The وَ at the beginning of the word means “and”

The next three letters following the alif ضْرِبُ constitute the root of the word which we will look at later:

The second و shows that this is the plural “you” as in “you all” making this a command to the reader of the Quran

the last two letters هُنَّ means “them” and is feminine. 

So this word وَاضْرِبُوهُنَّ so far is translated as “and ضْرِبُ them (women) [you all]”

So now let’s look at the at the root of the word. The Arabic word وَاضْرِبُوهُنَّ used in 4:34 comes from the root ﺽ ر ب which like many Arabic roots has multiple meanings, but in the Quran consistently takes one of three meanings. It can mean to strike (see 2:60, 2:73, 4:94, 7:160, 8:12…), or to travel (because when we walk our feet strike the ground) (see 2:173, 3:156, 4:101, 5:106…), and lastly to set forth or cite an example (see 14:24, 39:29, 66:10). That being said how do we know which would be the proper meaning for 4:34?

When the Quran uses the root ضَرَبَ as setting an example it consistently follows with the word مَثَلًا which means example or at a minimum actually sets an example (see 16:112, 18:45, 47:3, 66:10) . This is not the case with 4:34, so therefore وَاضْرِبُوهُنَّ can not mean “to cite” or “to set forth” in the context of an example.

Now, what if we apply the definition of travel. Then this would be translated as “and travel them (women) you all”. Again, this does not make any linguistic sense.

Therefore, the proper translation of وَاضْرِبُوهُنَّ is “and strike them [you all].”

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So now the question is God being Most Gracious, Most Merciful how does it make sense that God would allow a husband to strike their wife who He has designated him as her protector?

Before jumping into that, it is worth going just ten verses ahead for a valuable lesson:

[4:44] Have you noted those who received a portion of the scripture, and how they choose to stray, and wish that you stray from the path?

The purpose of the Quran is to bring out our true convictions. God places many items in the Quran that can be abused by people whose hearts are polluted and He will lead them on. 

[3:176] Do not be saddened by those who hasten to disbelieve. They never hurt GOD in the least. Instead, GOD has willed that they will have no share in the Hereafter. They have incurred a terrible retribution. [3:177] Those who choose disbelief, instead of belief, do not hurt GOD in the least; they have incurred a painful retribution. [3:178] Let not the disbelievers think that we lead them on for their own good. We only lead them on to confirm their sinfulness. They have incurred a humiliating retribution. [3:179] GOD is not to leave the believers as you are, without distinguishing the bad from the good.

Even if we look at 4:43, we find another verse that people abuse when trying to find a loophole in the Quran to justify their sinful behavior. 

[4:43] O you who believe, do not observe the Contact Prayers (Salat) while intoxicated, so that you know what you are saying.

Many people read this verse an assume that as long as they are not doing Salat therefore they are allowed to be intoxicated, and by doing so they neglect other verses in the Quran, most notably:

[5:90] O you who believe, intoxicants, and gambling, and the altars of idols, and the games of chance are abominations of the devil; you shall avoid them, that you may succeed. [5:91] The devil wants to provoke animosity and hatred among you through intoxicants and gambling, and to distract you from remembering GOD, and from observing the Contact Prayers (Salat). Will you then refrain?

Notice that God uses some of the strongest injunctions against intoxicants in the above verses. It doesn’t say to just not use them, but to avoid them. This is similar to the commandment God gave Adam when he told him not to approach the one tree in Paradise. 

The reality is that the Quran is not a single verse it is 6346 verses that all have to be taken into consideration for anyone who truly wants to follow the word of God. 

Similarly, we see that as a follower of the Quran that we are forbidden from being an aggressor and that oppression is worse than murder. So a person should never get to a point that they would ever resort to beating their wife, because if they did they would be a transgressor. 

[2:190] You may fight in the cause of GOD against those who attack you, but do not aggress. GOD does not love the aggressors. [2:191] You may kill those who wage war against you, and you may evict them whence they evicted you. Oppression is worse than murder. Do not fight them at the Sacred Mosque (Masjid), unless they attack you therein. If they attack you, you may kill them. This is the just retribution for those disbelievers. [2:192] If they refrain, then GOD is Forgiver, Most Merciful. [2:193] You may also fight them to eliminate oppression, and to worship GOD freely. If they refrain, you shall not aggress; aggression is permitted only against the aggressors.

So why would God do this? Is it only to trick people? No, God does this because He is the best psychologist and is giving people a path to redemption. There are many sins that people who come to the path are probably already committing, God is creating a mechanism for the alcoholic, the wife-beater, the slave owner, the ill-tempered, the impatient, the gossiper to find their path back to the right way. 

[19:75] Say, “Those who choose to go astray, the Most Gracious will lead them on, until they see what is promised for them—either the retribution or the Hour. That is when they find out who really is worse off, and weaker in power.” [19:76] GOD augments the guidance of those who choose to be guided. For the good deeds are eternally rewarded by your Lord, and bring far better returns.

If you want to learn more about this topic here are two episodes entitled The Best Psychology Part I and Part II which goes into more detail about these topics.

Most of them are unappreciative

It is interesting that Satan’s claim to God when he challenged God’s authority, was not that he would prove that most people are idol worshipers, hypocrites, or disbelievers, but instead that most people are unappreciative.

[7:17] “I will come to them from before them, and from behind them, and from their right, and from their left, and You will find that most of them are unappreciative.”

The Arabic for this verse states:

In Arabic the word for unappreciative and disbeliever is the same. Therefore it is impossible to call ourselves a believer if we are unappreciative. The two cannot mix.

[2:152] You shall remember Me, that I may remember you, and be thankful to Me; do not be unappreciative.

فَاذْكُرُونِي أَذْكُرْكُمْ وَاشْكُرُوا لِي وَلَا تَكْفُرُونِ

[14:7] Your Lord has decreed: “The more you thank Me, the more I give you.” But if you turn unappreciative, then My retribution is severe.

 وَإِذْ تَأَذَّنَ رَبُّكُمْ لَئِنْ شَكَرْتُمْ لَأَزِيدَنَّكُمْ وَلَئِنْ كَفَرْتُمْ إِنَّ عَذَابِي لَشَدِيدٌ

The paradox of appreciation is the more people have the more unappreciative most people become. There is a quote I like that summarizes this paradox:

No food one problem. Lots of food, many problems.

We live in a time with more abundance than ever, yet these numerous blessings often turn into our own curses as it just provides more reason for complaining and turning unappreciative. A remedy for this is through deprivation. By temporarily suffering loss for something that used to be in abundance it allows us to come to terms of the value for the blessings we have.

While sometimes God imposes this on the people unwillingly for their own good:

[16:112] GOD cites the example of a community that used to be secure and prosperous, with provisions coming to it from everywhere. But then, it turned unappreciative of GOD’s blessings. Consequently, GOD caused them to taste the hardships of starvation and insecurity. Such is the requital for what they did. [16:113] A messenger had gone to them from among them, but they rejected him. Consequently, the retribution struck them for their transgression. [16:114] Therefore, you shall eat from GOD’s provisions everything that is lawful and good, and be appreciative of GOD’s blessings, if you do worship Him alone.

The best solution is for us is to impose it upon our selves willingly as a form of exercise for our souls. I believe this is one of the major benefits of Ramadan. By temporarily refraining from food and drink from dawn to sunset we relearn the absolute blessing we have of being able to eat such a variety of delicious foods and protect ourselves of becoming habituated to such luxuries and turning unappreciative.

Today the world suffers as much from over eating as it does from lack of food, but like the example above if we forget about what a tremendous blessing this is, then for our own good the hardships of starvation and insecurity may be forced upon us against our wills in an attempt to get us to relearn appreciation. So before it comes to that, let us relish in this beautiful month and praise God for providing us such outlets to refresh our souls and strengthen our appreciation muscles.

Mecca – A Plantless Valley

The following verse informs us that Mecca since the time of it’s founding by Abraham has been a plantless valley.

[14:37] “Our Lord, I have settled part of my family in this plantless valley, at Your Sacred House. Our Lord, they are to observe the Contact Prayers (Salat), so let throngs of people converge upon them, and provide for them all kinds of fruits, that they may be appreciative.

 رَبَّنَا إِنِّي أَسْكَنْتُ مِنْ ذُرِّيَّتِي بِوَادٍ غَيْرِ ذِي زَرْعٍ عِنْدَ بَيْتِكَ الْمُحَرَّمِ رَبَّنَا لِيُقِيمُوا الصَّلَاةَ فَاجْعَلْ أَفْئِدَةً مِنَ النَّاسِ تَهْوِي إِلَيْهِمْ وَارْزُقْهُمْ مِنَ الثَّمَرَاتِ لَعَلَّهُمْ يَشْكُرُونَ

Some people claim that the expression غَيْرِ ذِي زَرْعٍ just means that Mecca was without cultivation, but not that it was plantless or non-cultivatable. But does this claim have any standing?

If we look at the word by word breakdown we see the following:

رَبَّنَا“Our Lord!rabbanā
إِنِّيIndeed, Iinnī
أَسْكَنْتُ[I] have settledaskantu
مِنْfrommin
ذُرِّيَّتِيmy children / progeny (family)dhurriyyatī
بِوَادٍin a valleybiwādin
غَيْرِnot*ghayri
ذِيpossessing*dhī
زَرْعٍcrops / plants (*plantless / non-cultivable)zarʿin
عِنْدَatʿinda
بَيْتِكَYour Housebaytika
الْمُحَرَّمِthe Sacredl-muḥarami

What we see is that the word cultivation is not even in the verse. Instead the word by word analysis shows us that the expression is “not possessing crops/plants”. The word that is used for plants is زَرْعٍ this word comes from the root ز ر ع and means crops and plants, but a deeper look gives more insight into this word.

This root occurs fourteen times in the Quran (6:141, 12:47, 13:4, 14:37, 16:11, 18:32, 26:148, 32:27, 39:27, 39:21, 44:26, twice in 48:29, and twice in 56:64). Analyzing the verses that this root is used we come to understand that this word is typically used in the early stages of a plant as a seedling, and never in the terms of harvest. 12:47, 48:29.

Secondly we see that this verse is used for both crops that are planted intentionally by men, and also when they grow organically on their own without human intervention. See: 6:141, 12:47, 13:4, 16:11, 18:32, 32:27, 39:21.

In contrast when the Arabic word حَرْثَ is used it is used exclusively for crops harvested intentionally by men. See 2:71, 2:205, 3:14, 3:117, 6:136, 6:138, 56:63, 68:22. This is the reason I believe 42:20 uses this same root in context to the rewards of the Hereafter, as this is based on the efforts we do in this world.

Because of this 14:37 is informing us that Mecca did not posses plants/crops either planted by men or done organically without human intervention. Therefore it was a plantless valley, and one that could not be cultivated.

Salat – Word by Word

بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَٰنِ الرَّحِيمِ
Bismillaahi Rahmaani Raheem
In the name of GOD, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.
الْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ رَبِّ الْعَالَمِينَ
Alhamdu lillaahi Rabbil ‘aalameen
Praise be to GOD, Lord of the universe.
الرَّحْمَٰنِ الرَّحِيمِ
Ar-Rahmaani-Raheem
Most Gracious, Most Merciful.
مَالِكِ يَوْمِ الدِّينِ
Maaliki Yawmid-Deen
Master of the Day of Judgment.
إِيَّاكَ نَعْبُدُ وَإِيَّاكَ نَسْتَعِينُ
Iyyaaka na’budu wa lyyaaka nasta’een
You alone we worship; You alone we ask for help.
اهْدِنَا الصِّرَاطَ الْمُسْتَقِيمَ
Ihdinas-Siraatal-Mustaqeem
Guide us in the right path;
صِرَاطَ الَّذِينَ أَنْعَمْتَ عَلَيْهِمْ
Siraatal-ladheena an’amta ‘alaihim
the path of those whom You blessed;
غَيْرِ الْمَغْضُوبِ عَلَيْهِمْ وَلَا الضَّالِّينَ
Ghayril-maghdoobi ‘alaihim wa lad-daaalleen
not of those who have deserved wrath, nor of the strayers.

[95:4] We created man in the best design.

There is no question that everything God does is perfect, including everything that God physically designs. In the following verse we see that God created the human being in the best design, but is this verse in reference to the physical design or the spiritual design?

[95:4] We created man in the best design.

If we investigate the Arabic of 95:4 it states:

لَقَدْ خَلَقْنَا الْإِنْسَانَ فِي أَحْسَنِ تَقْوِيمٍ

If we break this down word by word it would translate as the following:

لَقَدْ = Indeed
خَلَقْنَا = we created
الْإِنْسَانَ = the human being
فِي = in 
أَحْسَنِ = best
تَقْوِيمٍ = ??

The word تَقْوِيمٍ comes from the root ق و م which means to be upright both physically or spiritually. It is also used as a term to address a community of people “الْقَوْمَ”, like the people of Lot, or to observe “أَقِيمُوا” Salat, or as in the straight “الْمُسْتَقِيمَ” path. 

From this context, I believe that 95:6 is indicating that God created the human being in the best design, as in our spiritual design, much like an upright citizen. The word  تَقْوِيمٍ could be understood to mean that God created the human being in the best model as in a model employee as opposed to a physical model. This would correspond better with the understanding of the word تَقْوِيمٍ.

When we read the following verses it provides a little more clarity to the meaning of this verse, and specifically this word. 

[95:5] Then turned him into the lowliest of the lowly. [95:6] Except those who believe and lead a righteous life; they receive a reward that is well deserved.

If 95:4 was in regards to the physical form of the human being then it would not appear to corroborate with the following verses, as it would not make sense that God created the human being in the best physical design but then turned him into the lowliest of the lowly, except for those who are righteous. If this was the understanding then the design of the physical human being would be completely exclusive from turning int the lowliest of the lowly. But instead if we understand to mean our spiritual design it makes more sense.

The 95:5-6 are informing us that we were created as a model citizen in the heavenly society, but when we fell by disobeying God, we became among the lowest of the low, except for those who redeem themselves by leading a righteous life. 

We see this exact occurrence in the history of Adam. First, God created Adam with certain qualities that even the angels did not possess.  

[2:31] He taught Adam all the names then presented them to the angels, saying, “Give Me the names of these, if you are right.” [2:32] They said, “Be You glorified, we have no knowledge, except that which You have taught us. You are the Omniscient, Most Wise.” [2:33] He said, “O Adam, tell them their names.” When he told them their names, He said, “Did I not tell you that I know the secrets of the heavens and the earth? I know what you declare, and what you conceal.” [2:34] When we said to the angels, “Fall prostrate before Adam,” they fell prostrate, except Satan; he refused, was too arrogant, and a disbeliever. [2:35] We said, “O Adam, live with your wife in Paradise, and eat therefrom generously, as you please, but do not approach this tree, lest you sin.”

But then, despite these qualities, Adam was duped by the devil and fell from paradise to this world. Interesting to note, that the word for “world” in Arabic “الدُّنْيَا” also means “the lowest” see 37:6

[2:36] But the devil duped them, and caused their eviction therefrom. We said, “Go down as enemies of one another. On Earth shall be your habitation and provision for awhile. 

Finally, Adam received words from his Lord whereby he was redeemed back to God’s kingdom. 

[2:37] Then, Adam received from his Lord words, whereby He redeemed him. He is the Redeemer, Most Merciful.

From this analysis, if we now look at 95:4-6 under the context of a spiritual design the verses tie together much better, than if we understood this as a physical design.

[95:4] We created man in the best design. [95:5] Then turned him into the lowliest of the lowly. [95:6] Except those who believe and lead a righteous life; they receive a reward that is well deserved.

Is 91:15 addressing God or the human being?

When we look at most translations of 91:15, most all translations address the verse towards God.

Clear Quran:
[91:15] And He does not fear its sequel.

Yusuf Ali:
[91:15] And for Him is no fear of its consequences.

Pickthal:
[91:15] He dreadeth not the sequel (of events).

Shakir:
[91:15] And He fears not its consequence.

Sher Ali:
[91:15] And HE cared not for the consequences thereof.

But when we look a the translation from Rashad Khalifa we see the following:

Khalifa:
[91:15] Yet, those who came after them remain heedless.

So why is it that Rashad’s translation is so different from the others?

To understand this let’s look at the Arabic. The Arabic for 91:15 is:

وَلَا يَخَافُ عُقْبَاهَا

To break this down word by word would be the following:

وَلَا = and not
يَخَافُ = he/He fears
عُقْبَاهَا = its consequences

So is the “he” in reference to God or to the people? If we interpret that the “He” is in reference to God, then it is indicating that God does not fear the consequences. This appears to be kind of a strange statement if that was the case. Why would the Almighty, All-Powerful fear anything, let alone have fear of consequences?

Additionally, consequences typically have a bad connotation as if it is the outcome of doing something potentially wrong. None of this should ever apply to God. Nevertheless, it could be loosely interpreted that this verse just means that God does what He wants. Fair enough.

But does that interpretation have better standing than the alternative? If we associate the “he” as in the human being, the statement makes much more sense. This is particularly true based on the context of the previous verses.

When we look at the previous verses it is discussing the people of Thamud who slaughtered the camel and therefore were annihilated. Yet despite this warning, most people do not fear the consequences of their own actions. Instead most people continue to go down the path of destruction despite the examples from previous generations laid out for us by God in the Quran.