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(Sura 6: verse 151 to 153) - Basic Commandments and the straight path

 Added Jan 14, 2004

These verses (6:151-153) appear in the context of a dialogue between the Prophet and the Jews and Christians. As such, the verses are laying the groundwork or foundation of a type of behaviour and character that should be commonly acceptable to Muslims, Jews, and Christians.

6:151 Say: Come, I will recite unto you that which your Lord hath made a sacred duty for you: That ye ascribe no thing as partner unto Him and that ye do good to parents, and that ye slay not your children because of penury - We provide for you and for them - and that ye draw not nigh to lewd things whether open or concealed. And that ye slay not the life which Allah hath made sacred, save in the course of justice. This He hath command you, in order that ye may discern.

6:152 And come not nigh to the orphan's property, except to improve it, until he attain the age of full strength; give measure and weight with (full) justice;- no burden do We place on any soul, but that which it can bear;- whenever ye speak, speak justly, even if a near relative is concerned; and fulfil the covenant of Allah: thus doth He command you, that ye may remember.

6:153 Verily, this is My way, leading straight: follow it: follow not (other) paths: they will scatter you about from His (great) path: thus doth He command you. that ye may be righteous.

The word "ta-aa-law" translated as "come" or "come forward" (in verse 151), has the meaning of raise yourself up, raise your level - rise to something better, come towards something better.

"Say: "Come (ta-aa-law), I will rehearse what God hath made a sacred duty for you": Join not anything as equal with Him...."

A more accurate translation might read: "Come, raise your level, I will rehearse what God...." So this series of verses begins by informing us that what will be recited to us will raise our level, if we pay attention to it and practise it.

We our told not to join anything as equal to God. In other words, refrain from "shirk". The qur'anic term "Shirk" means to share, to associate, to make someone share in, to make someone a partner. It appears in seventy five verses and is the opposite of tauhid. Tauhid (God's unity) is the first principle of Islam and is affirmed in the first sentence of the shahadah (testimonial), which must be recited to even be a Muslim. Since we can sometimes discern characteristics of a thing through its opposite, such as day through night, and night through day - so too by understanding shirk and staying away from it we can approach closer to understanding Tauhid. We can raise our level away from shirk and towards Tauhid.

It is interesting that we are not directly asked to observe Tauhid, but instead to stay away from shirk. This is because Allah has tauhid (comprehensive unity), but we are the ones who associate. Rather than get to know a property of Allah (which we may never fully comprehend) we are asked instead to control our own thoughts, to become self-aware of the content of our minds and hearts - to not commit shirk - something which it is in our control to do or not do. Deviation in religion and character comes from within us - so we are asked to control ourselves.

Shirk is to see two or more where there is only one. It is to have more than one authority, more than one Lord in your life. It is to blind oneself to the essential unity which underlies all existence and which is the source of all existence. When that happens then the world falls prey to a situation where the world is full of opinions, and any opinion is as good as any other opinion, and since there is not a higher principle or source to relate things to, the world becomes increasingly divided into more and more rival opinions. Each opinion becomes like an authority or a lord which is followed and the result is disorder, dispersion and eventually conflict, since the opinions must inevitably conflict.

The qur'an also links following of caprice, of whims and desires, to shirk. It says, "Have you seen him who has taken his own caprice to be his god?" (25:43) The word for caprice is "hawa" which is similar in derivation to the word for "wind". Caprice is an internal wind that blows this way and that, according to the inclination or the mood of the moment. If you allow this shifting wind, this caprice, to lead you then you are making your caprice into your Lord. Even the very knowledgeable can be led astray by their caprice because the aspect of willpower, connected to knowledge, is necessary to bring it under control. It is said that people who follow caprice are the opposite of the steadfast. They make gods of their moods, their whims, their emotions. If this wind is allowed to keep blowing, the Qur'an tells us it will take a person with it to destruction.

It says in the Qur'an (in one of its most famous verses) that all of Adam's children from the first to the last, were brought in front of Allah (on another plane of existence) and were asked "Am I not your Lord?" (7:172). This indicates a pre-existence at some level for every human being who has ever been born or ever will be born. The recognition of Tauhid lies in the original human nature (the fitra) since God took this shahada affirming His Lordship from all human beings before they entered into existence on the earth. They are asked, "Am I not your Lord?" and they affirm Allah's Lordship. So the recognition and affirmation of Tauhid is woven into a human beings very substance. This is why shirk is considered a great sin. Because it goes against that covenant we made with God before our earthly existence, and because it betrays a fundamental aspect of human nature - it is the overturning of one fundamental aspect of what makes us human.

Verse 6:151 continues: "do good to your parents;"

The word used here for good, is ihsan, meaning good or beautiful - so the phrase may be translated as "do what is beautiful toward parents". Ihsan derives from husn which is the quality of being good and beautiful. "Husn means in general, every positive quality (goodness, goodliness, beauty, harmony, symmetry, pleasingness etc.) It's opposites are qubh (repulsiveness) and su (ugliness or evil)." (pg. 268 Vision of Islam).

In the verses that describe the creation of human beings, God says he has made human beings in a beautiful form. Because of this, human beings have an obligation to behave in a beautiful way in their lives and in their relationships. By doing so they will be acting in accordance with the form and nature with which God has created them. The Qur'an says: "Do what is beautiful, as God has done what is beautiful to you." (28:77)

When someone behaves in an ihsan manner, in a beautiful manner - the benefit is not to God, who is above all harm or benefit. Rather they do ihsan to themselves, to their own souls because such behaviour conforms with the true form in which they have been created - there is a harmonizing between what they create with their actions and the deep nature with which they have been created. "If you do what is beautiful, you do what is beautiful to your own souls, and if you do what is ugly (asa), it is to them likewise." (17:7)

So husna (beauty) is the reward for those who behave with ihsan. The Qur'an says, "say: As for him who has faith and does wholesome works, his recompense shall be the most beautiful." (18:88) Here also we see that beautiful behaviour is recompensed with something even better, with an increase in beauty. "Those who do what is beautiful will receive the most beautiful and increase." (10:26)

But this is not to say that because our creation and our form and our nature was with beauty, that this beauty appears automatically in our behaviour and character. It requires awareness, consciousness, and a following of God's guidance. We make the effort towards this through increasing our consciousness about everything we come into contact with. God provides the fulfillment as a blessing, a baraka. This is the intention of the dua which says: "O God, You have made my creation (khalq) beautiful, so also make my character (khuluq) beautiful too." (hadith)

Unselfish parental love is a shadow, in some ways, of God's care of us. In many Qur'anic verses, as well as in this one, the first beautiful act that is required of human beings after refraining from shirk and observing tauhid, is to do what is beautiful and good to their own parents. It is through parents that we receive our creation, that we come into existence. Parents are the means that God employs in creating people. By the demand of Tauhid, God is the actual, foundational source of creation, but parents are the means employed for that creation. Parents are the touchstone, the portal, through which we enter the world and they are the protectors and helpers who can provide without thought of return to their children. We are as dependant on them in our early years as the embryo that clings to the side of the womb which gives it life.

And just as God made human beings as a whole emerge from the womb of the universe so also he makes individual human beings emerge onto the stage of this world through the medium of parents. They have a noble function, a high role, which is also a very fundamental, basic role that is in accord with the very nature with which Allah has created humans. The parents (as a pair) have participated in and fulfilled a profound act that symbolizes with what takes place in Allah's creation as a whole.

When the qur'an describes something descending from another world, another level of existence to this world, it uses the word tanzil (descent). In this sense, revelation descends, and in fact the type (or archetype) of everything that exists has descended from "Allah's storehouses" or treasuries to this world. The qur'an also uses the word tanzil to descibe the rain descending down from the skies. The mingling of the rain with the soil is referred to as "a marriage" (nikah). This is used figuratively to describe the coming together of various aspects of creation. It is said that the act of marriage courses through all of creation. From this intimate mingling something new springs forth - the earth brings forth flowers, herbage - it opens to new creations, new life, new potentials and also nurtures them to fruition. The marriage of the rain and the soil is the first step in this act of creation, this act of of parenting. The act of marriage, and of parenting, according to the Qur'an courses through all things.

Now, it says in the Qur'an that all of Adam's children from the first to the last, were brought in front of Allah and were asked "Am I not your Lord?" (Qur'an 7:172). This, as already indicated, implies a pre-existence at some level for every human being who has ever been born or ever will be born. The point of entry for these human souls to come into the world, is their parents. The parents are the conduit, the means through which a human soul descends from that other plane of existence to this world. So the parents are the means by which tanzil (descent) occurs - by which the human soul descends and enters this world and begins its material existence.

There is a powerful use of symbols and phrases in the Qur'an which, taken together, make it more clear why exactly the Qur'an places beautiful behaviour towards parents right after the necessity for tauhid. The very concept of parenting as an act which resonates with other acts that occur throughout the creation becomes apparent. 

Verse 6:151 continues: "kill not your children on a plea of want;- We provide sustenance for you and for them;"

We move from the beauty of parents and the beautiful behaviour required towards them, to its opposite - the ultimate betrayal of parental duty - the overturning of what it is to be a parent - to destroy your own children on a plea of want. The killing of children is called a great evil or great sin in verse 17:31 which is an elaboration of the current verse.

When Allah sends down rain on the land, the land produces gardens, and fruits, and crops, and all kinds of bounty. It is natural and good that this is the result. When a parent kills its child, it is like denying and destroying a bounty of God - it is like razing a garden to the ground, uprooting a tree, throwing poison upon clean waters - there is no good in such destruction, however we may try to justify it.

The situation is like the verse which says: "when evil touches him, he is desperate and loses hope." (41:49) If it is through desperation that we commit such acts then God tells us it His task to provide sustenance for the children and for the parents, and the parents duty to strive to their utmost. There is a dua in the Qur'an (3:27) where we are told to supplicate God saying: "You give sustenance to whom you please, without measure."

The Qur'an also tells us that Safa and Marwa are symbols of God. Safa and Marwa are two small hills in Mecca - they mark the boundaries between which Abraham's wife Hajar ran searching for water for her young son. "Behold! Safa and Marwa are among the symbols of God." (2:158) And the story of Hajar, left in the desert, who ran between Safa and Marwa desperate to obtain water for her son is a beautiful symbol of God's sustenance and how it can arrive even where there is seemingly no hope.

The sustenance need not only be food and drink but can also be a spiritual sustenance which Allah can also provide without measure. We should be careful not to kill our children mentally or spiritually, to stifle or restrict their growth in those directions because we feel we are unable to provide them with that kind of sustenance. God provides all sustenance.


Verse 6:151 continues: "come not nigh to shameful deeds. Whether open or secret;"

Shameful deeds are the sign of one who has fallen prey to shaitan. The Qur'an says: "For he (the evil one) commands you what is ugly and shameful..." (2:169) and "follow not the footsteps of Shaitan...he will but command what is shameful and wrong." (24:21)

Shaitan's sign is arrogance - it is the philosophy of placing the demands of the self, the ego, and the pulse of desire before the request of God. When asked to prostrate before Adam, Shaitan said "I am better than He!" and refused. So his attribute is "do your own thing" - follow your caprice, follow your desire, your lust, your ego - your whim and your desire are superior to revelation, to religion, to the commands of God. When you submit to commit shameful deeds, it is as if you worshipped Shaitan - in other words you not only committed shirk but you substituted Shaitan for Allah. The Qur'an says: "Did I not make a covenant with you, Children of Adam, that you should not worship Shaitan - surely he is a clear enemy to you - and that you should worship Me? This is a straight path." (36:60-61)

Also, the wrongness or shamefulness of a deed is not dependant on its secrecy or openess, rather it is dependant on the fact that it is a submission to a desire that is against what God has revealed. So the shame of it is not only in others finding out about it, but in making such a god of your desire that you do not restrain yourself to quenching your desire lawfully, within limits, but let it lead you to what you know is forbidden. Such actions are also described by the Qur'an as "opening the road to other evils" (17:32)

Verse 6:151 continues: "take not life, which God hath made sacred, except by way of justice and truth:"

Human life in principle is sacred so the taking of a human life except in the course of carrying out justice or acting in accordance with the truth of the Qur'an, is forbidden. Some commentators extend this prohibition to animal life as well saying that animals may be killed only for the necessities spoken of in the qur'an and then also they must be killed according to the dictates of the shariah, with mercy.

The qur'an tells us that it was known from the beginning that men will unjustly kill one another. It says:

"Behold, thy Lord said to  the angels: "I will create a vicegerent on earth." They said: "Wilt Thou place therein one who will make mischief therein and shed blood? - whilst we do celebrate Thy praises and glorify Thy holy (name)?" He (Allah) said: "I know what ye know not." (002.030)

Adam was not long on the earth when Cain killed Abel, the first murder took place, and the truth of the verse became apparent. So the strength of the prohibition comes from the fact that there is something within man that makes shedding blood relatively easy for him. His response to that which disturbs, scares, or threatens him or his desire toward gaining what he lusts for, is to strike out. So a strong prohibition has been placed on taking life.

Verse 6:151 continues: "thus doth He command you, that ye may learn wisdom."

The verse ends with a statement that all of the above is a command, not merely an option to consider, and that it is also at the same time in full accordance with aql (reason/intellect). These commandments are ones which are clearly and obviously beneficial to society (except it may not be so clear to a society that has, as a whole, lost the defining line between intellect and desire, balance and consumption, revelation and the profane.)

006.152  "And come not nigh to the orphan's property, except to improve it, until they attain the age of full strength; give measure and weight with justice;- no burden do We place on any soul, but that which it can bear;-"

The orphans property is to be left untouched unless we are going to increase it. Orphans and their rights are very strongly protected in the Qur'an. They have no parents, so it is as if God is their guardian (their parent) and anyone who abuses them or their rights will be answerable before God. "Those who eat up the property of orphans, eat up a fire into their own bodies..." (4:10)

"No burden do we place..." indicates that "we are not expected to behave with mathematical exactness" in being fair (but to do so to the best of our ability towards this ideal). (see the tafsir on Sura 4:1 for more info)

Verse 6:152 continues: "whenever ye speak, speak justly, even if a near relative is concerned;"

When you give testimony, speak with justice and don't be swayed to favour relatives or favorites. Favoritism, lending an ear to special interest groups, being swayed by lobby groups can lead to corruption of justice. (see the tafsir on Sura 4:135-136 for more info)

The verse continues: "and fulfil the covenant of God: thus doth He command you, that ye may remember." 

The bond or covenant with God is not only the covenant that he makes with us through commands and prohibitions but also the bond that is in our very nature such as the covenant He took from us before sending us to the earth through our parents. His commands are reminders to awaken that awareness or remembrance within our nature. (see the article on "Time in the Qur'an" for more on the concept of remembrance in the Qur'an)

006.153  Verily, this is My way, leading straight: follow it: follow not (other) paths: they will scatter you about from His (great) path: thus doth He command you, that ye may be righteous.

Now we become aware that all that has gone before is a description of the sirat-ul-mustaqeen (the straight path). The straight path is the shortest, quickest way between two points. There may be other ways to get between the two points but there is only one shortest way and that is the straight path. Here it is alluded that this path is a great path - like a broad highway which can bring many safely to their destination. And the straight path is the path which will create the character and behaviour required to arrive speedily to the goal. A hadith states that "the straight path is the one that falls short of excess, rises above deficiency, and follows what is right, not deviating toward anything false."

Now each human being, each human soul is on a journey to a destination - the hereafter. So every soul is, in some respect, on a path to the other world and may also be said, to itself be a path to the other world. So men's souls are paths to the hereafter. Some are direct, some wandering, some straight.  some go haltingly, some slowly, some speedily. Among the straight ones, there are some that arrive at the goal and others that stop short or become inactive. Of the ones that arrive, there are some that do so speedily and others more slowly. The most perfect of these "straight paths" is the soul of the Prophet. If we take him as an example and the qur'an as a guide, the straight path will be clarified for us.

-Irshaad Hussain (14 May, 2000)

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