Thursday, February 18, 2010

Death by the Qur'an

Abu Ishaq al Ta'alabi, never known as a Mystic, rather a Shafe'i Qur'an commentator, a traditionalist and the author of a well-known edifying History of the Prophets, wrote a small book about 19 people, almost all from the early Islamic centuries ( 2nd-3rd centuries of Hijra) which were already significantly under the influence of asceticism, who were so affected by Qur'anic recitation that they died on the spot. Their behavior and their utterances make them recognizable as Sufis or at least as forerunner of the Sufis.

The places of these occurrences are most often Basra, Kufa or Nishapur which were centers of the ascetic movement of early Islam, and in the case of the first two cities, renowned for their masterly Qur'an recitators.

Of the 19 stories, most relate death as resulting from terror due to listening to Qur'anic verses describing the Day of Judgment or the torments of Hell. The 14th story is different:

"It is related that a relative of the Ummayad Governor Muhallab ibn abi Sufyan ( d.702) was on his way home to Basra after a business trip accompanied by 2 servants, a male and a female. While traveling by boat on the Tigris River, he saw a man dressed in ascetic clothes on the shore of the river. He felt compassion for him and invited him to travel on his boat. During the trip, the host offered the Ascetic food which the latter accepted only after long insistence.The host wanted to give further pleasure to his guest and asked his female servant to sing accompanied by the 'Oud. (a string instrument)

Following that, the host asked the ascetic: "Can you do anything so beautiful"? The ascetic answered:" Yes, I can. I can do something far more beautiful" and started reciting with a "beautiful voice"

from Surat al-Nisa' 4: 77-78
"Have you not turned your vision to those who were told to hold back their hands (from fight) but establish regular prayers and spend in regular charity? When (at length) the order for fighting was issued to them, behold! a section of them feared men as - or even more than - they should have feared Allah: They said: "Our Lord! Why have You ordered us to fight? Would You not Grant us respite to our (natural) term, near (enough)?"Say: "Short is the enjoyment of this world: the Hereafter is the best for those who do right: Never will you be dealt with unjustly in the very least! Wherever you may be, death will overtake you, though you should be in raised-up towers. And if a good thing visits them, they say, 'This is from God'; but if an evil thing visits them, they say, 'This is from you.' Say:'Everything is from God.' How is it with this people? They scarcely understand any tiding. "

At this, the host threw the goblet he held in his hand in the river and said: "I confess that, this is the most beautiful thing I have ever heard. Is there anything else like it?"

The young man recited from Surat al-Kahf, 18: 29
 "Say, "The truth is from your Lord": Let him who will believe, and let him who will, reject (it): for the wrong-doers We have prepared a Fire whose (smoke and flames), like the walls and roof of a tent, will hem them in: if they implore relief they will be granted water like melted brass that will scald their faces, how dreadful the drink! How uncomfortable a couch to recline on!"

Those words left a deep impression in the heart of the host, he threw the pot in the water and broke the Oud, then asked: "Young man, do you have anything that could also make one feel happy?"

The ascetic recited from Surat al-Zummar 39: 53:
"Say: "O my Servants who have transgressed against their souls! Despair not of the Mercy of Allah: for Allah forgives all sins: for He is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful".

The host let out a loud cry and fell unconscious, by the time they reached him, Death had overtaken him. "

Translated from : Navid Kermani " Gott ist schön, Das ästhetische Erleben des Korans"-and–
al-Ta'alabi, Abu Ishaq Ahmad ibn Muhammad:" Kitab Mubarak yudhkar fihi qatla al Qur'an al-'Azim alladhina sami'u al-Qur'an wa matu bi sama'hi"

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