By Sayyid Qutb
Translated by M. Adil Salahi
To live “In the Shade of the Qur’an” is a great blessing which cannot be appreciated except by a person who has actually experienced it; one which elevates and purifies life. I praise Allah, for he favoured me with living “In the Shade of the Qur’an” for a period of time, during which I enjoyed what I had never tasted before, namely, this life-elevating and purifying blessing. I, an insignificant servant of Allah, have gone through this period listening to Allah (praised be He) addressing me with the Qur’an. What a grace bestowed on Man. What a blessing to life is given by this revelation. What a high position is given to Man by his Bounteous Creator.
“In the Shade of the Qur’an” I lived for a period looking from above at Ignorance spreading and thriving on earth, and at the petty interests of the inhabitants of the earth; contemplating the pride the people of Ignorance take in the scanty knowledge they possess and the childish ideas they entertain, in the same manner as a grownup would consider children’s play and children’s efforts. I wondered a great deal how can people sink so low, and remain unmindful of the Divine call which elevates life and purifies it with its blessing.
“In the Shade of the Qur’an” I contemplated the Islamic comprehensive and pure concept of existence, the goal of existence as a whole and the goal of human existence, in comparison with the Ignorant concepts adopted by people in the East and the West and in the North and the South. I could not help asking: How can humanity live in such a stinking swamp and endless darkness when they have, freely available to them, such a sublime garden and bright light?
“In the Shade of the Qur’an” I felt the beautiful harmony between man’s movement, as Allah would like it to be, and the movement of the universe created by Allah. I then looked around to see the confusing muddle suffered by humanity as it pays no heed to the Laws of nature, and the terrible contradiction between the evil teachings imposed on humanity and the upright human nature moulded by Allah. I could not but wonder: what accursed devil is leading the footsteps of humanity to such misery?
Alas for mankind!
I lived “In the Shade of the Qur’an” feeling that, existence is far greater than its visible aspects; it is greater in essence and its multisided nature. It is not limited to the world which we can see and perceive; it ‘comprises the world of the perceptible and the imperceptible. It is not confined to this life alone; it includes the life to come as well. Human existence stretches its roots in this infinite horizon. Death is not the termination of life’s journey, it marks only a stage. What man receives in this life is not his full share, it is only a part of that share. What he misses here he will definitely receive there. There can be no injustice and no stinting of rights and dues. Yet the stage man travels while he lives on this planet is a journey in an inhabited and friendly world, a world with a responsive soul which worships the one Creator to whom the believer humbly prostrates himself;
“All who are in the heavens and on earth prostrate themselves to Allah, willingly or unwillingly, as do their shadows morning and evening”.
“The Seven Heavens, the Earth and all who are in them give glory to Him. There is not a thing but celebrate his praises”
What comfort, what friendly and easy atmosphere, what confidence are generated by this comprehensive and perfect concept of existence within Man’s soul.
“In the Shade of the Qur’an” I realised that man is much more noble then any position assigned to him by any human concept that prevailed before the advent of Islam or since. His humanity is the result of the spirit Allah has breathed in him:
“When I have fashioned him and breathed of My spirit into him, fall you down prostrating yourselves to him”.
With the Divine spirit in him Man is assigned his mission:
“When your Lord said to the Angels: I am placing on earth a vicegerent”
Everything on earth is put at his service:
“He subjected to you all that is on earth “
‘Because man is so much elevated and so much noble Allah has made the link derived from breathing the Divine spirit in him the basis on which human communities are established. It is the link of believing in Allah. Faith gives the believer his homeland, his nation and his family. Hence human society is built on this link alone, leaving no place for the ties which group together flocks and herds of animals such as food, pasture and farms.
The believer has a noble lineage stretching far back in history. He belongs to that noble procession martialled and led by such great personalities as Noah, Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Jesus and Mohammed, peace be on them all.
“Surely this community of yours is one community, and I am your Lord,. so fear me alone”.
As clearly apparent “In the Shade of the Qur’an” the procession of the faithful encounters throughout history similar attitudes, problems and trials despite the changes in time, place and community. It encounters deviation, blindness, tyranny, prejudice, persecution, injustice, threats and destitution. Despite all that it continues along its well defined path with a steady step, reassured heart, confident that Allah will grant it victory, and expecting at every moment the realisation of Allah’s unfailing promise:
“The disbeliever’s said to the messengers sent to them: we will certainly drive you out of our land unless you return to our faith”.
Allah, however, revealed to them:
‘We shall certainly destroy the wrongdoers and let you dwell in the, land after them’
‘ This is for him who dreads My eminence and fears My threats”
It is always the same attitude, the same trial, the same threat, and the same faith. It is also the same promise to whoever joins the noble procession, and the same end awaited by the believers as they endure persecution and injustice.
“In the Shade of the Qur’an” I learned that this existence does not admit of any blind coincidence or passing whim:
“We have created everything according to a measure”.
“He has created everything and given it its appropriate measure”
Everything is there for a purpose, but the true and deep wisdom behind the existence of something or the occurrence of an event may not be readily apparent to the human eye:
‘It may well be that you hate something which Allah may yet make a source of abundant good”.
“It may well be that you hate something although it is good for you, and love something although it is bad for you. Allah knows, whereas you do not know”
Causes familiar to us may and may not be followed by their familiar consequences. Seemingly inevitable results may or may not follow certain actions or events. For consequences and results are not originated by causes or actions; it is the absolute will of Allah which originates these consequences and results in the same way as it originates causes and actions:
“You never know,. it may be that Allah will after that bring something new to pass”.
“Yet you cannot will except by the will of Allah”‘
A believer takes all the preliminary and necessary steps and takes all precautions because he is ordered to do so, but it is Allah who determines their consequences and results. To trust to Allah’s mercy, justice, wisdom and knowledge is the only secure refuge and the best safeguard against worries and evil thoughts:
“Satan promises you poverty and bids you to commit indecency, whereas Allah promises you his forgiveness and bounty. Allah is Munificent, All Knowing”.
“In the Shade of the Qur’an” I, therefore lived a life of contentedness and reassurance. I could see Allah’s hand in every event and in everything. I lived under His eye and realised the active nature of His attributes:
“Who else answers the constrained when he cries out to him and who relieves affliction?”
“He is Omnipotent over His servants. He alone is Wise and all Knowing”.
Allah prevails in His purpose,”though most men do not know it”.
“Know that Allah stands between man and his own heart and that unto Him you shall be gathered”.
“Performer of what He wills”
“He who fears Allah, Allah will appoint a way out for him, and He will provide for him from whence he never reckoned. To him who puts his trust in Allah, He is all sufficient. Allah is sure to bring about what He decrees”.
“There is not a creature that moves but he takes it by the forelock”.
“Is Allah not all sufficient for his servant? Yet they threaten you with those who are subject to Him”.
“He who is disgraced by Allah has none to honour him”.
“Truly, he whom Allah leaves to stray has none to guide him”.
The Universe is not left to be run by mechanical rules which are dumb and blind. Behind the rules and laws of nature there are Allah’s careful planning and absolute will. Allah creates and selects whatever He wills. I also learnt that His hand is permanently in action, although it acts in its own way. We cannot hurry its action, nor can we propose anything to Allah.
As it appears “In the Shade of the Qur’an”, the Divine method is devised so that it operates in any environment and in all stages of human existence, as well as in all conditions experienced by any single human soul. It is a method devised for man who lives on earth, and it takes into consideration man’s nature, his capabilities, his strength and weaknesses, and all the phases he goes through in his life. It does not despise man or belittle his role on earth, or disregard his value in any stage of his life, whether as an individual or as a member of a community. Neither is it idealistic so as to elevate man above his true station or assign to him a mission higher than that with which Allah has charged him. It does not assume that the various elements which constitute human nature are superficial or can be emphasised or cancelled by a piece of legislation.
Man is the very being we know with his familiar nature, tendencies and abilities. The Divine method takes him by the hand to elevate him to the highest level of perfection he can possibly achieve, considering his nature and mission. It respects his nature and his constitution as it leads him along the way to perfection. The Divine method is therefore devised for the long term, known to Allah who has created man and revealed the Qur’an. Hence it is neither arbitrary nor too hasty in trying to achieve its higher aims. Its prospect is broad and open, not limited to an individual’s lifetime.
The aims are, therefore, not precipitated by the hasty desires of someone who fears that death might overtake him before he achieves what he has set out to achieve, as is the case with human doctrines when their advocates try to achieve everything in one human generation, In their impatience they bypass man’s steady nature. Their arbitrary ways, lead therefore, to bloodshed, massacres, chaos and the collapse of values. Eventually they themselves are destroyed as are their feeble doctrines which cannot stand up to human nature.
As for Islam, it goes along its smooth way, hand in hand with human nature, giving it a push here and restraining it there, straightening it when it tries to deviate but never breaks or destroys it. It adopts an attitude of patience which cannot be maintained except by one who is absolutely assured of achieving his end. Its philosophy is that what cannot be achieved this time will be achieved next time or the next or at the tenth attempt or even the hundredth or the thousandth attempt. Time goes on and the objective is clear and the way to the higher end is a long one. An oak tree starts very small but as it stretches its roots in the soil its branches spread out and thicken.
Similarly, Islam spreads out slowly but steadily and reassuredly. Nothing can happen except by the will of Allah. Sand may gather over the little plant, worms may eat parts of it, it may be burnt by the sun or may be stifled with over irrigation. The wise farmer, however, knows that it is there to stay and to grow, that it will combat all sorts of disease as time goes on. So he does not worry or resort to arbitrary measures; neither does he try to make it ripen by any means other than those of easy and steady nature. It is the same Divine method that works in the universe as a whole:
“You shall find that Allah’s ways can never change”.
According to Allah’s method, truth is inherent in the structure of the universe; it is not the result of a lucky coincidence. Allah, the Glorious, is Truth. Every creature derives his very existence from the existence of Allah:
‘It is because Allah is truth and all that they evoke beside him are falsehoods. He is the most high, the supreme one”.
Allah has created the universe with the truth; falsehood cannot cast its shadow over his creation:
“Nowise did Allah create all this save with the truth”.
“Our Lord, you have not created all this in vain, Glory be to you”.
Truth is indeed the mainstay of this universe. Should it deviate from the truth, it will decay and fall away:
“Had the truth followed their caprices, the heavens, the earth and all who are in them would have surely been corrupted”.
Hence truth must prevail, and falsehood will undoubtedly vanish. If appearances lead anyone to believe differently the reality will eventually become manifest:
“Nay, but we hurl truth against falsehood and truth crushes it and falsehood vanishes away”.
Like truth, goodness and righteousness are inherent in this universe:
‘He pours down water from the sky and riverbeds flow each in its due measure, and the torrents bear a swelling foam. Similar scum also rises when they kindle fire to make ornaments or tools. Thus Allah depicts truth and falsehood. The scum is cast away, but that which is useful to man remains on earth. Thus Allah sets forth comparisons”.
“Do you not see how Allah draws a comparison: a good word is like a good tree? Its roots are firm and its branches are in the sky,. it yields its fruit in every season by the will of its Lord. Allah sets such comparisons for men so that they may take heed. A bad word is like an evil tree uprooted from the earth, with no root to stand on. Allah will strengthen the faithful with the word which is firmly established, both in this life and in the life to come. Allah leaves the evil doers to stray, Allah accomplishes what he wills”.
Great are indeed the reassurance and contentedness that are generated within the human soul by this concept of life. Infinite is its consequent confidence in goodness, truth and uprightness. Limitless are the feelings of strength and dignity experienced by the faithful as they view their limited environment.
The period I lived “In the Shade of the Qur’an” left one with a firm belief that mankind can have neither rest nor contentment, that our planet can experience no happiness or elevation or purity and that we can have no harmony with the rules of the universe or with upright human nature except by going back to Allah.
As it is crystal clear “In the Shade of the Qur’an”, going back to Allah can be accomplished only in one way: the organisation Of life on the basis of the method Allah has led down for mankind in his blessed book. It is the implementation of the principles outlined in this book and the acceptance of its edicts, on all aspects of life, as final. Otherwise there can only be corruption on earth, misery to mankind, and the spread of ignorance which leaves men enslaved by their caprice:
“If they do not respond to you, know that they only follow their caprices. And who is in greater error than he who follows his own caprice without guidance from Allah. Allah does not guide the Transgressors”.
To accept the divine method as outlined in Allah’s book as the final arbiter is not something we do voluntarily, nor is it a matter of choice. It is the essence of true faith. Lack of such acceptance means that we have not accepted faith:
‘It is not for any believer, man or woman, when Allah and his messenger have decreed a matter to have any choice in the affair”.
“Now We have set you on a clear way of religion; follow it then and do not follow the caprices of those who are devoid of knowledge. They surely can avail you nothing against Allah. Surely the unjust are patrons to each other, while the righteous have Allah for their patron”
It is then a very serious matter; it concerns the very roots of faith and it aims at the achievement of happiness for mankind.
Man, who is made by Allah, cannot open the secrets of his nature except with a key made by Allah, His illnesses cannot be treated except with medicine He Himself (praised be He) prepares. Allah has included in His method alone the keys for all secrets and the cures for all illnesses;
“The Qur’an We reveal is a healer and a mercy to true believers”
“This Quran guides to what is most upright”.
Men, however, do not want to give the lock to its Maker to open, neither are they willing to seek the cure for the ill from their Creator. They adamantly refuse to apply in their very lives what they readily accept concerning their tools and appliances. When any small machine needs repairs they call its manufacturers’ engineer to repair it. But strangely enough they do not apply this principle to man himself. They do not seek the advice of the great inventor who has made this great and remarkable human machine so carefully and so meticulously, and who is the only one who knows this machine inside out:
“He certainly knows what is in your inmost souls. ay: He who has created not know? He is indeed Gracious and all Knowing”.
Hence the terrible misery erring and confused humanity finds itself in. Humanity will not find guidance, comfort, and happiness unless it gives human nature to its great Maker to repair, in the same way as it gives a small machine to its manufacturer to maintain.
The removal of Islam from the position of leadership was a terrible event and a fatal setback in the history of mankind, incomparable to any other disaster that has ever befell humanity. Islam assumed leadership at a time when corruption was widespread, human life stained, and humanity suffering a great deal from its corrupt leaders; at a time when
“corruption has become rife on land and sea in consequence of what men’s hands have wrought”.
Islam assumed leadership armed with the Qur’an, the new concept outlined in the Qur’an and the law derived from this concept. That amounted in fact to a rebirth of man which is greater in reality than the original physical birth of man. The Qur’an has given humanity a new concept of existence, life, values and laws. It also provided for it a unique social reality which man could have never imagined before. Indeed that reality was so pure and beautiful, so sublime and elevated, so simple and easy, so practical and positive, so well balanced and coherent that no man could have entertained its achievement even in his dreams. But Allah has given it to man and made it possible in his life, in the Shade of the Qur’an, its method and law.
Then came the disaster and Islam was removed from the position of leadership of humanity. Ignorance, in one of its many forms, was in the driving seat again. The new image of ignorance was materialism which is widespread today. We see how materialism makes men take pride in their possessions in the same way as children feel superior to one another if they have better clothes or more colourful toys.
There are a group of crooked deceivers, enemies of mankind who try to set the divine method against human material progress, They pose the choice for man between the adoption of the way of life laid down by Allah accompanied with abandonment of all material progress achieved by man on the one hand and the reaping of the fruits of human knowledge accompanied with the abandonment of the divine way of life on the other. This is indeed wicked deception. The choice cannot be posed like that at all. The way of life laid down by Allah is not hostile to human progress. In fact it is the originator of such progress which gives it its straight direction, to enable man to play his role as Allah’s vicegerent on earth. This is the role assigned to man by Allah who has given man the abilities and skills which enable man to fulfil his role. He has also subjected to man a variety of natural laws for this purpose. He (praised be He) has struck harmony between the makeup of man and the makeup of the universe so that man can live, work and fulfil his creative ability. Whatever man achieves can be in itself a form of worship of Allah and a means of offering thanks to Him for His abundant grace and numerous blessings. Man, however, must observe the provisions outlined in the contract of his vicegerency, namely, the work and act within the limits of what pleases Allah. But those who pose the divine way of life and material human progress as two diametrically opposed alternatives are wicked and full of bad intentions. They chase humanity to prevent it from listening to good counsel which would give it a chance to enjoy a life of rest and peace, following the divine method whenever, weighed down by confusion and error, it seeks a way out.
There are others who do not lack good will but lack a comprehensive outlook and a sound penetrating judgement. These are dazzled by what man has uncovered of natural forces and laws. They are awed at what man has achieved in the material field. Consequently they feel that there is a gap between natural forces and religious concepts and values and their practical influence on life and the universe. They, therefore, assign a separate sphere for natural laws and another for religious values. They imagine that natural laws work in isolation of religious concepts and values, and that they yield their results whether people believe or not, whether they implement the divine law or give supremacy to their own caprices.
This is indeed self-delusion. It separates between two kinds of divine laws which are in reality inter- related. The religious values and concepts are part of the divine laws in the universe, and in this they are no different from natural laws. The results and effects of the two are in full interplay. Hence there is no justification for separating between them. This is indeed the concept implanted in man’s consciousness by the Qur’an as it speaks of the people of earlier revelations and their deviation from what was revealed to them and the eventual effect of their deviation:
“Had the people of earlier revelations believed and been God-fearing, we would have pardoned them their sins and admitted them to the gardens of bliss. Had they truly observed the Torah, the Gospel and what was revealed to them they would I have been given abundance from above and from beneath”.
We discern this concept as we read of the promise Noah made to his people:
‘He said.. seek forgiveness of your Lord. He is ever ready to forgive. He will loose heaven upon you in torrents and bestow upon you wealth and children, and will provide you with gardens and flowing rivers”.
The concept is firmly led down as the Qur’an links what is in men’s hearts with what happens to them:
“Allah does not change a people’s lot unless they change what is its their hearts”.
To believe in Allah, to worship Him with sincerity and to apply His code in Society are all modes of implementation of Allah’s laws. These laws have positive effects and they are derived from the same source as all natural laws whose practical effects we see and experience. When we notice the following natural laws leads to success despite contravention of religious values and concepts we may sometimes form a mistaken conclusion that the two are not inter-related. It may happen that such contravention does not produce any results initially, but eventually its results are only too apparent. This is what has happened to the Islamic Society itself. Its rise started at the point of convergence in its life of natural laws arid religious concepts and values. Its decline on the other hand started at the point of their divergence. It continued to decline with the widening of the angle formed by the two lines of direction until it reached its lowest depth when it ignored both natural laws and religious values.
Material civilisation, on the other hand, stands today like a huge bird flapping with only one great wing, but alas, its other wing is broken. Its advancement in the material field is as breathtaking as its backwardness in the field of the humanity of man is obvious. The society it has built is encumbered by restlessness, confusion and psychiatric and neurological diseases which make the more open minded among its people scream for a remedy.
The only cure, however, is to follow the divine way of life which is indeed part of the general law he has led down for the universe, To put this way of life into practice will undoubtedly have its positive effect in achieving harmony between human life and the life of the universe. The Islamic way of life is indeed nothing but the fruit of faith; so it cannot work if it is cut off its origin, It is laid down to be implemented in an Islamic society, and to help bringing about such society. It fits in perfectly with the Islamic concept of the existence of the universe and the existence of man, and with the immediate correlates of this concept: fear of God, conscientiousness, purity of feelings, superiority of ideals, better morals and upright behaviour. Hence there are noticeable perfection and harmony between all kinds of divine laws, what we call natural laws and what we call religious values.
Man is also a force in the universe. His action and will, his faith and behaviour, his worship and activity are also forces which have their positive effects in life, and they are all related to the overall divine law which governs the universe. All these forces work in harmony, and they yield their best fruit when they work in conjunction with each other. When they diverge and clash their effects pull in opposite directions and life becomes unhappy and man suffers endless misery:
‘Allah would never withdraw a grace he has bestowed on a certain people unless they change what is in their hearts”.
Hence there is constant and close inter-relation between man’s actions and feelings on the one hand and the course of events that take place within the overall divine law. Whoever suggests that the wilful break-up of this inter-relation does not ruin that harmony, and does not put man in conflict with Allah’s laws of nature is indeed an enemy to man. Such people should be rejected as mankind try to follow the way which will win them the pleasure of Allah.
These are some of my feelings and impressions that I have experienced in the period I lived “In the Shade of the Qur’an”. I pray to Allah to make them useful and beneficial.
“You cannot will except through the will of Allah “.
February-April 1980 [The introduction above would have been written by Sayyid Qutb in the late 1950s]