Deep Tafsirs

Undercurrents in Surat Yunus

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Four months, and the vague contours of this chapter are finally infused with meaning. Suddenly it all makes sense-—the chapter’s steady undercurrent on “life and death”; the stories of prophets Nuh, Musa and Yunus, all of whom faced turmoil above turbulent seas; the oft-repeated phrase الذين لا يرجون لقائنا “those who do not hope to meet Us” pulsing through the pages; most of all, the continuous stretch of nautical scenes, shipwrecks and rescue: “It is He who enables you to travel on land and sea, until you are in ships and sail in them by a good wind … then comes a storm wind and the waves encroach them from all sides, and they believe that they are surrounded, supplicating Allah, sincere to Him in religion, “If You should save us from this, we will surely be among the thankful.” These verses about shipwreck are the beginning brushstrokes of a scene: people sinking and groping for life, with none but Allah to call for safety. Allah continues: “But when He saves them, at once they commit injustice upon the earth, without right. O mankind,” Allah addresses you and I, “your injustice is only against yourselves, [being merely] the enjoyment of worldly life…” Amazing, isn’t it? The paradox of our human condition is that amid turbulent waves, a certain spiritual calm settles within us; that without this turbulence, we sink into heedlessness. And sinking into heedlessness is a graver calamity than sinking into sea, into your death.

Perhaps you already knew this. For myself, it inspired a rueful realization about my own recovery. We make duʿā for something just above our reach: a loving spouse, a strong body, steady money. By His raḥma, He subjects us to struggle so that most of our life is spent skirting the edges of our destination. We may never live to reach it. Or perhaps we do, but our time therein is short-lived. Were many of us to reach wealth, beauty, comfort, prestige, we may live long enough for these luxuries to corrupt us. Perhaps this is why the Prophets’ highlight reels-—the victorious finales of their mission-—surface so subtly in Qur`ān. In fact, they’re footnotes in our historic timelines.

The souls of the righteous depart this world whilst in their loftiest states, accomplished, yet humbled by years of perseverance. You may never achieve influence and fame; or acquire that athletic body, that new home, that phD. And that’s alright. Scholar Ḥayāt Ibn Sharīḥ, raḥimahu Allāh, reminds us, الله أعلم بما يصلح عباده “Allāh knows what [worldly] conditions are best for His servant.”

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