Luscious green groves with bright yellow daffodils, white tulips, red roses and an array of daisies and dandelions. These delights not only provide a sensation to the landscape, nor are they only for the pleasure of our sight; they do not only provide nectar to the bee, nor pollen to the butterflies; but instead, they are all this and much more. The green fingered horticulturalist has before him the laborious task to ensure the survival of the planet, and in these delights of the meadow, grove and field, the flora provides it with an apparel of celestial light. The celestial light that keeps our souls nourished and our planet’s heart pulsating.
Likewise, the task of the gardener is ever more multiplied as the consequences of not ensuring the survival of the plants may well lead to the loss of the planet. The plant kingdom is overwhelmingly interlinked with the animal kingdom that the loss of the former results in the loss of the latter. Human beings are not exempt from this rule. And it is because of this we find the Lord Almighty schooling us to take refuge from inherent evils of ourselves and of the world around us just like a gardener is cautious in taking care of his seedlings. Only then can the seedling grow to its potential and bear colour, fragrance, and fruit.
The final two chapters of the Quran, surahs as they’re referred to in Arabic, encapsulate these instructions of how we are to beseech the Almighty to shield us from the vulnerability of life’s stern strife. The penultimate surah reads as follows:
“Say: I take refuge with the Lord of Daybreak”
The daybreak heralds the coming of a new day, a new beginning. Refreshing, restoring, and replenishing our energies, and thus nourishing our bodies and souls. It fills them with zest, gusto and flavour. And so, it befits us to seek the refuge of the Lord, Cherisher and Sustainer, whose hands control the orbit of our planet and its rising sun that is a harbinger of a new beginning.
“From the evil of what He has created.”
Taking our gardening analogy further, we can see that the gardener has before him several tasks. First, after sowing the seed, he must net the strawberries, sprinkle slug-killing pellets and erect a scarecrow to cry away the ravenous starlings. These pests have no ill-will of their own. They’re not sworn enemies of the gardener, but, are merely fending for food for their own survival. Here the words: “from the evil of what He has created”, alludes to this inherent natural disposition of theirs. Not evil incarnate, but evil in a relative sense that may be potentially harmful to the gardener’s seedling. And so, likewise, snakes, scorpions, lions, tigers and bears, amongst a number of other predators, can become obstacles to security for our bodily and spiritual growth. For our frail mortal frames cannot reach its optimum when there is nothing left to grow. “From the evil of what He created” is the first line of petitioning our Creator in prayer to ensure our security in this earthly existence.
“From the evil of darkness when it outspreads.”
The dangers do not solely lie with predators. The world is a constant motion of cause and effect. Deprived of ample sunlight, water, and nutritious soil, the seedling cannot grow even without the danger of slugs and birds. And so, the gardener makes use of the dung-pit and the water-tank. This ensures the natural causes to take on their natural course of action. The Arabic word ghāsiq can denote the sun, moon, or darkness, any of which coupled with the verb waqaba – meaning concealed, absent and hidden: aptly fits our gardening analogy. The sun disappears and is concealed at night: the darkness outspreads, and the moon appears causing a cessation to the supply of heat, warmth and energy. The sun is also concealed when there are dark overheard clouds or misty fog and thus prevents the nurturing environment so needed to ensure a good harvest. Likewise, we too in our fragile state, forever need shielding from adverse conditions that may hinder our physical and spiritual growth. Just as husbandry requires breaking backs, hardening hands, sweat, and toil, so too do we. – and so we are taught to supplicate: “From the evil of darkness when it outspreads.” To beseech His omnipotent power to bestow all the wordly and spiritual causes needed to grow to our full potential.
“From the evil of those who blow on knots”
Magick was a common belief in days of old, and here the verse teaches us to seek protection against all such practises of the occult. It was commonplace in Arabia when witchcraft was used, to blow upon knots after reciting specific incantations. Here the gardening analogy helps us further. For the husbandman also makes use of cold-frames, water tanks and greenhouses to protect the seedling from unseasonal, extreme weather conditions that can occur unexpectedly. Morning dew can turn to frost and destroy the lettuce. Snow can fall and ruin the runner beans. Heavy rain can finish off a crop of strawberries. The use of cold frames and greenhouses ensures that these unexpected conditions do not ruin the crop. And so, akin to this is the practice of witchcraft which hinders the natural growth and the normative cause-effect relationship in this world, we are taught to ask His protection from the onslaught of such evil practices.
“From the evil of the envier when he envies.”
In the final verse of this surah, having sought protection from predatory pests; asked that the natural elements procure their normative causal affect; sought protection from unnatural, unexpected environmental conditions; we arrive at the final hurdle of externalities that may befall our budding gardener: the rival. The jealous neighbour. The envying allotmonteer. How many a begonia have been jealously destroyed by a covetous competitor at a garden competition? A large pumpkin stolen because someone else wanted to hold the trophy? Likewise, humankind’s growth may be halted, hindered and prevented from progressing further by a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, jealous, covetous rival. And so the surah in its final verse schools us in seeking His refuge against “an envier when he envies.” And so the surah ends.
But this is not the end of the story. Having sought and safeguarded our seedlings from all such externalities, there remains a hidden, often concealed predicament: the bad seed. Bad seeds lead to bad crops. Yielding a much less harvest of 50%, 40%, 30% or worse still: a nil harvest. This is an internal problem which no cold-frame or greenhouse can protect against; and which no amount of horse manure can solve. If they’re bad, the only solution is to throw them out. Replace them.
This surah is a supplication unto our Lord to assist us in ensuring the suitability of our inner seed. A prayer asking Him to protect us from internal feeders that feed on whole grains where the larvae live inside the kernels and seeds causing damage, laying eggs and rendering a once wholesome grain into a hollow void of nothingness.
And because the danger is subtle, discreet and often unnoticeable, the prayer begins by invoking God’s attributes. Whereas in the foregoing surah, only one Divine Attribute was invoked – “Lord of Daybreak” – here, three Divine Attributes are invoked: alluding to the enormity and grave consequences that can result of such inner feeders.
قُلۡ أَعُوذُ بِرَبِّ ٱلنَّاسِ
“Say: I take refuge with the Lord of Men”
“The King of Men”
“The God of Men”
The subtle nature of these inner workings of weevils demands that we supplicate to the One, Knower of All, from whom none and nothing is hidden. And hence our faith requires us to behold God through three lenses: acknowledging Him as Nourisher, Sustainer and Lord Supreme; acknowledging Him as King and Ruler par excellence – more than any earthly king; and as the Absolute God – to whom humankind is held accountable. It is through these three aspects of God’s Divine nature that we are taught to seek His protection.
مِن شَرِّ ٱلۡوَسۡوَاسِ ٱلۡخَنَّاسِ
“From the evil of the slinking whisperer”
ٱلَّذِي يُوَسۡوِسُ فِي صُدُورِ ٱلنَّاسِ
“Who whispers in the hearts of Men”
The subtle and alluring net of the devil insinuates in a myriad of evil, insidious and deceptive ways so as to sap all good from Man’s inner soul. Akin to how the weevil renders the most perfect seed completely hollow and unable to bear any fruit.
مِنَ ٱلۡجِنَّةِ وَٱلنَّاسِ
“Of Jinn & Men”
This final clause amplifies the sources of these weevils from which emanate the satanic whispers: they may be men you see or invisible spirits you do not. When something is so obviously marked and plain for all to see one can become blinded to its existence. Likewise, the invisible is hard to detect. And so, this verse tells of our double-blinded myopia – not seeing evil as evil in the form of evil men, and not detecting the subtle deceptive, alluring acts of the invisible. So long as we constantly put ourselves before God’s protection, evil cannot touch us.
These two surahs, point to the necessity of seeking God’s protection against both external and internal factors affecting our bodily and spiritual growth. The verses are all-encompassing and taught to us by the Knower of All. To shine God’ light on the darkness around us we must first let it shine in our own true selves. These two surahs are the first steps in accomplishing this goal.