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"These are announcements relating to the unseen which We reveal to you, you did not know them - (neither) you nor your people before this; therefore be patient; surely the end is for those who guard (against evil)." (Qur'an 11:49)
"And to Ad (We sent) their brother
Hud. He said: O my people! serve Allah, you have no god other than He;
you are nothing but forgers (of a destructive path)." (Qur'an 11:50)
Verse 49 refers back to earlier verses about Nuh (Noah) and forward to upcoming verses about Hud. It indicates that the Qur'anic telling of the story of Noah contains nuances and elements that are not found in earlier scriptures. "These are announcements relating to the unseen...." (Qur'an 11:49) And it indicates that the same is true for the verses relating to the Prophet Hud, which follow verse 49.
The story of the civilization of Ad and the prophet Hud are not related in any significant manner in any previous scripture or history and are not stories whose essence and details were known by the Arabs. "...You did not know them (these stories) - (neither) you nor your people before this...." (Qur'an 11:49) They were revealed in their essence for the first time in the Qur'an and cast into the mind and heart of the Prophet opening for him a conduit to unseen knowledge, to a full and detailed visionary understanding, a portion of which he related to others.
According to Ibn Abbas, when Prophet Muhammad (s.a.), travelling with his companion Abu Bakr, passed by the Valley of Usfan, nearly 80 kilometers north of Mecca, he turned to his companion and said, “Hud and Salih have (ages ago) passed through (this valley) on red camels whose bridles were of braided palm fibers, their lower garments coarse cloths, their upper garments striped cloths, uttering the talbiya, going on pilgrimage to the Ancient House.” (Ahmad, Musnad, #2067)
The prophet's knowledge of past events and histories was deep, his ability to read and perceive the minute invisible traces that connect a place to it's spiritual history was through the connection of his own being to the plane of the unseen. The Qur'an relates the essentials of the story of Hud - whatever is required for guidance, but the prophet's own link with higher levels of existence enabled him to perceive with clarity the detail and richness of events that had transpired - down to their minute individual elements. When God opens for the Prophet a portion of the knowledge of the unseen, that knowledge is available to the Prophet in it's full depth. A part of this is passed on to us in the verses of the Qur'an, but it's full living reality is opened up to the Prophet, so he witnesses it in its totality and with the impact of the visionary presence that it contains within it. We decode verses intellectually and through studying the constructs of the language and grammar of the Qur'an and through research of traditions and history linked to the verses. But the Prophet lives and walks simultaneously in his world and time and in the unseen spiritual worlds that are above and beyond time and which encompass all times and all places. He walks in a reality that we can only intellectually attempt to understand. He experiences while we theorize.
The Prophet said, referring to the weighty realities conveyed in
the verses of Hud that appear in the Qur'an and to the spiritual
reality of the hardships borne by prophet Hud, realities that he knew
through his connection with the unseen, - he said: "Hud and it's sisters have whitened my
hair." The sisters of sura Hud are said to be: Sura 56 "the terror", sura 77 "the envoys", sura 78 "the tiding", and sura 81, "the darkening". For us, we read
the Qur'an and through our intellect try to take lessons from it and
through our imagination try to take it's meanings into our hearts. For
the Prophet, the Qur'an is a living reality inhabiting his heart (and
continually unfolding there),
connecting his awareness and consciousness to unseen worlds where
existence is more intense, more concentrated, and understanding is keen
because the separation between knowledge and reality is obliterated.
Like the tree described in the Qur'an
his "...roots are in this
earth but (his) branches are in the highest heavens." (Qur'an 14:24)
Our distance from spiritual realities and our rootedness in this world makes this only an abstraction for us - and so our reaction is a dampened reaction. The messages of revelation seem far distant and vague (strange histories and invisible realms), while the reality of this world encompasses us, surrounds us and fills our perceptions and thoughts and occupies our attention, time, and effort. The Prophet lived and walked in that higher spiritual reality so his actions here were informed by his ever-present vision of the deep unseen structure which undergirds and encompasses this world. But his encounter with that reality was, in some instances, so intense that it "whitened his hair" (from visionary knowledge of the heavy truths and attendant responsibilities conveyed by the verses of Hud) - while we live on unaffected, unaltered - believing in the message but with a belief bereft of real presence or vision.
Many follow religion as a formula, a series of
ceremonies that have been handed down to them and which are followed
without full depth of understanding. There is comfort (and real
benefit) in performing rituals but the goal of a ritual is not the
ritual itself. Ceremonies and rituals are symbols, they are indicators
or shadows of greater realities - there is profound intellectual
content behind them, underlying them. They provide a sagacious method,
a map to follow, and an invitation to embark on the road to discovery
of greater realities - to knowledge of what the symbol represents and
the place to which the map of ritual is meant to lead - to experience
of and verification of these
realities - to personal knowledge of them.
Anyone who reads the Qur'an is likely to be struck by the unique
nature of its construction, its unusual and constantly shifting rhythms
and the sudden transmutations and displacements in its subject matter.
At first this ever changing literary terrain seems an obstacle to
understanding, but the more time one spends with this book, the more
organic, the more natural the flow of its words feel. It is almost
like flying over an ever-changing landscape - rolling valleys
punctuated by jagged rocks, forests and plains giving way to upthrust
mountains, high plateaus broken by deep lakes, deserts sprinkled
with oasis' and cleft by canyons. Despite the variety of the forms,
despite the startling contrast of adjacent features, a complex organic
beauty underlies and unites all the various elements. These "tafsirs"
emerged from numerous brief scattered notes made while reading the
qur'an (along with numerous commentaries and the works of various
scholars whose profound analyses strongly effected my views) and
reflecting on its content. As well, for a number of years
I have participated in a hallakha, a qur'anic study circle, and many of
tafsirs presented here were originally researched for presentation at