Seeds of Change (part 1). How the earliest revelations contain the blueprint for five dimensions of transformation.
Divine revelation – means for change
The revelation is a vehicle of change – inward and outward transformation. We are shown the blueprint for the five dimensions of change in the first five Quranic revelations.
1. Acquiring knowledge is the first step towards change
The first verse of Surat al Alaq is Iqra (read). Since the beginning of the Revelation, the very first communication between the Prophet (peace be upon him) and the angel, Jibril was about knowledge and the acquisition of knowledge. Allah Almighty could have revealed any other verse such as: “Connect with your Lord,” or “improve people’s life”. However He chose the word Iqra on purpose to emphasise the importance of knowledge from the very first day.
The first transformative step for any individual, community or nation is thus based on sacred knowledge, as well as literacy and education. The Quran came to unite and advance a fragmented and warring community at the time of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him) which was fundamentally ignorant, and propel it to become one of the most successful and largest global civilisations that spanned well over a millennium.
The global civilization created by Islam succeeded in activating the minds of believers, converting unknown nomadic Arabs into future torch-bearers of science and learning. Islam particularly flourished from 8th century to the 13th century CE. Muslims were at the forefront of great advances in philosophy, science, law, medicine, art, architecture, engineering, and technology. And of course, as it spread, a vast trade network was established.
As Islam promotes knowledge – seeking it, cataloguing, transmitting it and preserving it, separating fact over supposition, it enabled significant advancements in the fields of science, maths, geometry, medicine, and astronomy.
During this time, Muslims acquired the knowledge of how to make paper in the 10th century and realised its potential to collate, disseminate and transfer knowledge from individuals to communities. With the prolific output of books and manuscripts by scholars, and the translation of classic works of antiquity from the ancient Greek, Roman, Persian, Chinese, Indian, Egyptian, and Phoenician civilizations, knowledge was preserved and extended. Centres of learning were founded – libraries, institutes and academies, such as the Library of Alexandria and the Imperial Library of Constantinople housed new works of literature.
Under Islamic rule, the building of great cities were initiated, and there many advances in architectural construction, and mosques, tombs, palaces, and forts. In addition, many forms of art flourished, including ceramics, metalwork, textiles, illuminated manuscripts, woodwork, and calligraphy.[i]
Knowledge is the way forward. Connecting with Allah through knowledge, connecting with people through knowledge, planning with knowledge. This is the first step: transformation from ignorance to knowledge, which was a paradigm shift focusing on the importance of knowledge.
Indeed Surat Qalam, the second revelation, bears the name ‘The Pen’, which is symbol of knowledge, the tool by which it is transmitted. As Allah stated in Surat al Alaq, He is the One ‘Who taught by the pen’ (96:4).
Allah Almighty swears by the Pen to emphasise that He has honoured knowledge. When He bestowed knowledge on the Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him), He elevated him from someone who was illiterate to the most honoured of all creation.
2. Personal development
In the first few verses of Surat al Qalam, transformation is envisaged through personal development. This is the sequence: knowledge leads to improving one’s character.
The core of the surah is telling the Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him) that he has the best character.
And you are truly ˹a man˺ of outstanding character. (68:4)
The Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him), throughout his life, exhibited kindness, generosity and selflessness. He was fair, honest and trustworthy. He demonstrated patience and forgiveness. He was gentle, cheerful and optimistic. His biography is filled with consistency in his beautiful behaviour towards others, making him (peace be on him) the best role model from every facet – as a husband, father, companion, community leader and so on.
Thus the Quran shows man how to improve himself, and to emulate the example of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) who confirmed this, saying:
“I have been sent to perfect good character.” (Muwatta)
The miracles of the prophets ended at their death but the miracle of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him) is lasting. It is the legacy of his character for humanity to emulate.
Abu Darda (may Allah be pleased with him) reported that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said:
“Nothing is heavier upon the scale of a believer on the Day of Resurrection than his good character. Verily, Allah hates the vulgar and obscene.” (Tirmidhi)
He himself taught the importance of this, saying:
The best among the believers in their belief are those who have the best character. (Tirmidhi)
Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her narrated that the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said:
By his good character a believer will attain the degree of one who prays during the night and fasts during the day. (Abu Dawood)
When Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her) was asked about the character of the Prophet (peace be on him), she replied that he was the live, walking manifestation of the Quran.
Qatadah reported: I said to Aisha, “O mother of the believers, tell me about the character of the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him.” Aisha said, “Have you not read the Quran?” I said, “O course.” Aisha said, “Verily, the character of the Prophet of Allah was the Quran.” (Muslim)
The Prophet (peace be on him) said:
The best among the believers in their belief are those who have the best character. (Tirmidhi)
The second step is thus personal development – to bring out the best qualities in oneself and refine them.
The third revelation chronologically was Surat al Muzzammil, in which Allah mentions spirituality:
“Oh you who are wrapped in clothes, stand up during the night prayer all but a small part in it”.
This ayah is about one’s spiritual transformation, the establishment of one’s relationship with Allah. This is the third area of transformation. After this revelation, the Prophet (peace be upon him) started to rise in the night to pray, and the angel, Jibril came to teach Him how to do this. This is the first year of revelation, when prayer was not yet obligatory for believers.
Spirituality is one’s connection with the Divine. It gives one internal strength. If you are strong internally, you can bear any external challenge. When one has a strong link with Allah, this can offload any burden from one’s shoulders.
The inward dimension is the very important. Through it one finds tranquility, light, and solace.
It gives on the ability to override one’s desires, and find balance in a material world. To have awareness of the divine and of accountability, consequences and one’s ultimate purpose enables one to see beyond what is petty, temporal or transient to what is significant, and eternal. In times of fear or despair, it gives one courage and hope.
In Surat Tawbah, the Prophet (peace be on him) calmed his companion, Abu Bakr who was scared that the enemies who had been sent to kill them would find them, saying,
“Be not sad (or afraid), surely Allah is with us.” (9:40)
3. Social transformation
In the fourth revelation, Al Mudatthir, Allah Almighty said:
“Oh you cover up yourself, stand up and call” (74:1)
This is the social transformation which concerns the one’s relation with others. Islam came to teach us how to get on better with each other, by strengthening the family, through establishing justice, having transparency in transactions, and by promoting cooperation, trust and showing us how to build harmonious societies. It instructs mankind how to deal with crime as well as how to extend care to the vulnerable in society.
Through a system of fairness, it chalks out everyone’s rights and responsibilities. A proper functioning society is the one where everyone’s rights are fulfilled. Those rights can only be fulfilled when everyone carries their fair share of the responsibilities.
Interact with ALL People with Goodness
Man’s dealings are based on birr (goodness) towards all people – Muslims and non-Muslims. This relationship has to be based on loving goodness for everyone, regardless of their faith. The Prophet (peace be on him) said:
None of you [truly] believes until he loves for people that which he loves for himself. (Musnad Ahmad)
Then we have a multitude of narrations in hadith on how to deal with our blood ties (arhaam), beginning with siblings, spouses and close family, then extending beyond. These interlinked strong bonds connect the family and extended family. Parents at the top of the list, and have been given a special status.
Worship Allah and associate nothing with Him, and to parents do good, and to relatives, orphans, the needy, the near neighbour, the neighbour further away, the companion at your side, the traveller, and those whom your right hands possess. Indeed, Allah does not like those who are self-deluding and boastful. (4:36)
4. Psychological shift
The fifth revelation is Surah Al Fatiha, which is a summary of the whole Quran, which concerns one’s psychological transformation. It is a transformation of one’s mindset and attitude. It is a surah of gratitude, which once grasped, enlightens one’s vision and towards life. This mental transformation shows one the bigger picture and one’s hugely privileged and honoured status in the world. As Allah Almighty stated in Surat Luqman:
Do you not see how God placed at your service everything in the heavens and the earth? How He showered you with His blessings, both outward and inward? Yet among the people is he who argues about God without knowledge, without guidance, and without an enlightening Scripture. (31:20)
In the opening of the surah, which is also the opening of the Quran, we are taught the phrase ‘alhamdulilah’ meaning ‘all praise to Allah.’ It is not just any praise, but all praise. It means that anytime any praise we say the real recipient of that praise is Allah Almighty. It is the most perfect and unlimited praise.
It is a deep lesson and recognition that absolutely everything we have is from Allah. So while praise is not usually synonymous with gratitude, alhamdulilah is not an empty phrase but an attitude. It’s an attitude of gratitude. It is the realisation and acknowledgment of the fact that He provided us with everything we have – material and otherwise, including knowledge, happiness, relationships, security and health.
Whenever the Prophet (peace be upon him) would say, ‘alhamdulillah’, it would fill his entire heart with His name and this would bring him tranquility. This is far removed from the expression that life is ‘OK, not bad’. Instead, we accept that whatever situation we face, no matter how challenging or bitter it may seem, there is ‘khair’ (goodness) in it and for this we are grateful. Alhamdulilah is not just admiration of Allah Almighty’s greatness but also recognition of His favours. It is an ongoing basis of our relationship, as we express thanks to Him for everything that is happening in our lives. Without Him, we have nothing, so our gratitude deepens into humility and submission.
The true meaning of hamd is expressed when our hearts, tongues and bodies are all engaged in fulfilling the purpose for which they were created. We should use all our faculties in His service, and every single cell praise Allah Almighty for His countless provisions.
Real praise is when we utilise Allah’s blessings in His way. Whether we spend in charity, spread knowledge, feed the poor for Allah Almighty’s sake, or remember Him, raise our children to serve His message and so on. Every action performed with the correct intention and with ikhlas (sincerity), is transformed into an act of worship, and an act of praise.
This is why the true expression of hamd is through three aspects: inner praise, which is with the heart; verbal praise, with the tongue; and practical/physical praise, which is with the limbs. We should implement these ourselves and teach them to our children.
To summarise the five transformations for mankind and society from the first five revelations are:
1. Transformation from ignorance to knowledge
2. Character Perfection
3. Spiritual transformation
4. Social transformation
5. Psychological transformation
Shaykh Haytham Tamim delivered to Movement for Islamic and Cultural Awareness (MICA) Nigeria – Oct 2021
Transcribed by Zahra Hrifa
November 26, 2022
November 24, 2022