When you look at a river from a distance and when you're swimming inside it - understanding Qur'an is like that

Shams murmured, as if talking to himself, “The Qur’an is like a shy bride. She’ll open her veil only if she sees that the onlooker is soft and compassionate at heart.” Then he squared his shoulders and asked, “Which verse is it?”

“Al-Nisa,” I said. “There are some parts in it where men are said to be superior to women. It even says men can beat their wives…”

“Is that so?” Shams asked with an exaggerated interest that I couldn’t be sure whether he was serious or teasing me. After a momentary silence, he broke into a soft smile and out of memory recited the verse.

“Men are the maintainers of women because Allah has made some of them to excel others and because they spend out of their property; the good women are therefore obedient, guarding the unseen as Allah had guarded; and (as to) those whose part you fear desertion, admonish them, and leave them alone in sleeping-places and beat them; then if they obey you, do not seek a way against them, surely Allah is High, Great.”

When he finished, Shams closed his eyes and recited the same verse, this time in a different translation.

“Men are the support of women as God gives some more means than others, and because they spend of their wealth (to provide for them). So women who are virtuous are obedient to God and guard the hidden as God has guarded it. As for women who feel averse, talk to them suasively; then leave them alone in bed (without molesting them) and go to bed with them (when they are willing). If they open out to you, do not seek an excuse for blaming them. Surely God is sublime and great.”

“Do you see any difference between the two?” Shams asked.

“Yes I do,” I said. “There whole texture is different. The former sounds if it gives consent for married men to beat their wives, whereas the latter advises them to simply walk away. I think that is a big difference. Why is that?”

“Why is that? Why is that?” Shams echoed several times, as if enjoying the question. “Tell me something, Kimya. Have you ever gone swimming in a river?”

I nodded as a childhood memory returned to me. The cold, thirst quenching streams of the Taurus Mountains crossed my mind. Of the younger girl who had spent many happy afternoons in those streams with her sister and her friends, there was now a little left behind. I turned my face away and I didn’t want Shams to see the tears in my eyes.

“When you look at a river from a distance, Kimya, you might think there is only one watercourse. But if you dive into the water, you’ll realize there is more than one river. The river conceals various currents, all of them flowing harmony and yet completely separate from one another.”

Upon saying that, Shams of Tabriz approached me and chin between his two fingers, forcing me to look in his dark soulful eyes. My heart skipped a beat. I couldn’t even breathe.

“The Qur’an is a gushing river,” he said. “Those who look at it from a distance see only one river. But for those swimming in it, there are four currents. Like different types of fish, some of us swim closer to the surface while some in deep waters below.”

“I’m afraid I don’t understand,” I said, although I was beginning to.

“Those who like to swim close to the surface are content with the outer meaning of the Qur’an. Many people are like that. They take verse too literally. No wonder when they read a verse like the Nisa, they arrive at the conclusion that men are held superior to women. Because that is exactly what they want to see.”

“How about the other currents?” I asked.

Shams sighed softly, and I couldn’t help noticing his mouth, as mysterious and inviting as a secret garden.

“There are three more currents, the second one is deeper than the first, but still close to the surface, as your awareness expands, so does your grasp for the Qur’an. But for that to happen you need to take the plunge.”

Listening to him, I felt both empty and fulfilled at the same time.

“What happens when you take the plunge?” I asked cautiously.

“The third undercurrent is esoteric, batini, reading. If you read the Nisa with your inner eye open, you’ll see that verse is not about women and men but about womanhood and manhood. And each and every one of us, including you and me, has both femininity and masculinity in us, in varying degrees and shades. Only when we learn to embrace both can we attain harmonious Oneness.”

“Are you telling me that I have manliness inside me?”

“Oh, yes, definitely, and I have a female side, too.”

I couldn’t help chuckle. And Rumi? How about him?”

Shams smiled fleetingly. “Every man has a degree of womanliness inside.”

“Even the ones who are manly men?”

“Especially those, my dear,” Shams said, garnishing his words with a wink and dropping his voice to a whisper, as If sharing a secret.

~ from Elif Shafak's novel The Forty Rules of Love

The Quran was revealed and reveals itself. Its revelation was completed in the past and its self-revelation remains active until the Last Day.

~  Shaykh Abu Madyan al Gawth

"Revelation does not occur without a context." It is our aqidah that the Word of Allah contains guidance for every possible situation and scenario that can arise in the experience of every intelligent being endowed with free will, from the beginning till the end of phenomenal existence. This is the context of its (completed) revelation! The context of its on-going revelation is the actual particular and individual situation in which we feel the need for guidance, and if we ask for it in sincerity and humility we will find Him - Subhanahu wa Ta'ala - Responsive and Liberal (Mujib & Shakur), and this does not depend on our maturity but on our sincerity.

~ Shaykh Muhammad Harun Riedinger at Quran Salon Forum

While reading the signs (ayah) from the Quran, first the traditional and literal translation as mentioned in Elif Shafak's novel Forty Rules of Love, and then how Shams re-translated it which is the second layer of meaning. After that he says, go deeper and you will find that this verse is not only about individual men and women but about manhood and womanhood, masculine and feminine which co-exists in every human being and only when we embrace both aspects we can become whole, we journey towards completion of our being.

Here is a third level translation of the same ayah that came to my mind while reading imaginal but truthful conversation of Shams and the character Kimya.

This is from the perspective of Purusha and Prakiti, the Cosmic Man (Masculine Consciousness), the self and the Original Nature, the Feminine.

Purusha, the Self, is in charge of Prakiti, because the Divine Lord has made one of them to excel the other, because Allah has given (strength) over other and because one provide support for the other.

So Prakriti, nature is obedient (in full submission to Divine Will), guarding the secret signs that which Allah has guarded (within nature). As when prakriti (within you, the passion) from whom you fear overtaking the self, command it, then turn away from the ego (do not obey it), leave it alone (don't resist). Then when the prakriti is again under the command of the self (if it obey), be harmonious with it. Surely the Divine One is ever Sublime, Ever Greater (than the mind can ever conceive).

- A translation on a different level of Surah an-Nisa 4:34

Here is a small explanation of this re-interpretation and know that the freshness of the Quran's revelation reveals itself to each and also will for you, God willing.

In the world of appearance what is expressed in the gender of men and women, the higher and spiritual reality of them are two aspect known as Cosmic Man or Purusha and Nature, Natural State or Prakiti, also translated as Divine Feminine. One dimension of them are jalal (awesomeness) and jamal (grace and beauty) in Sufism but just stopping there wont help in understanding.

Within human being (and by extension within the universe), the Consciousness or the Self is the Cosmic Man, Moner Manush in Baul term. This is the Higher Self. And as you can understand we use the term "higher" because it is designed in that way by the Grand Designer. In duality, one has to excel other to create contrast. Thats what the Quran says one having superiority, higher precedence, excellence over the other. The Self is higher, thats why its called Higher Self when referring in spiritual discourse.

And the Self supports the Original Nature of being. Prakriti is the Feminine aspect which also means nature. And how is Prakriti made, it is made obedient; obedient to what? Obedient to Divine Laws. Thats what we see in the cosmos as well as in the nature that everything submit to the Divine Command / Law which we see through our limited understanding that from atom to the galaxies they are all obeying the same physical laws without slight exception. Same is true for nature. A tree is always a tree, keeping true to its function, every obedient to its role.

Prakriti also has another role, it guards the unseen reality by Allah's command (hafizatun lil ghaybi bima hafiza Allah). Thats what nature does. With our arrogant ignorance we may like to "discover" by dissecting a flower, want to understand its chemical composition; yet the secret of its beauty, grace and charm remains hidden within itself which no amount of probing within will unveil.

Women are thus symbol of God's grace veiled, hidden within.  The secret flow of mother's love for her child can not be defined or logically interpreted with some chemical functions within the brain. Everything sublime about women can not be understood by undressing and uncovering her, because it is guarded by the Highest Command.

Within the context of a human being Prakriti is also responsible for the passion of body, for the impulses of the self because those are also part of who we are, part of our "nature." And that means it sometime will be rebellious (temptation in Christian term), and then what is to be done is also expressed in this aya of the Quran.

First advise, warn, admonish, command (ʿiẓūhunna) it and then turn away (iḍ'ribūhunna) from it, this is not to obey the passion of the self, the whispering, the lower impulses of the ego, the demand of the senses alone and finally to strike them out, to be rigorous against the lower self.

And when it again become obedient to the Self, be harmonious with it, dont seek excuse because it is there within the self by the Will of God and for very specific purpose just as in the scheme of things, both masculine and feminine are necessary.

And the ayah ends with a gnosis of the Divine Self which is Sublime and Greatest (Aliyyan Kabiran).

~ Sadiq M. Alam / Dhaka / 16 Jan 2014

Understanding both the Purusha and the Prakriti part of our self is extremely important towards the gnosis of the self. This understanding is also key towards harmonious development of family, society and humanity as a whole. Within the self, Prakriti is the creative energy, creative force. It wants to create, it loves abundance, it loves diversity. It has wants.

The Purusha is opposite of all of it. It is empty, it is silence, it is meditative, it possess nothing and desire noting yet it holds everything. It is giving, it sustains and provide and nourishes. Characteristics of Purusha is transcendence where as Prakriti is immanence.

Purusha when not balanced can be over dominating, too controlling and abusively authoritative.

Prakriti when not in balance and unchecked can cause many negative symptoms of the self. Our materialistic tendencies, never ending wants, our over indulgence of the senses, our desire to hoard, our desire to create and create more, our very desire itself that has to do with procreation, our talkative nature (desire to create words), our impulsive over-thinking (desire to create thoughts), our false pride over our intelligence, our judgment of others (desire to create judgment) all come from the imbalanced prakriti or shadow side of the feminine within.

When that happens, we are asked first to acknowledge and admonish and command it. If we just let our self to be carried away with our desire, impulses, temptation, every single demand of every single sense, then our Purusha or the Cosmic Man becomes weak and cripple.

Remember the Self has been given excellence over the Nature, the Heart and Mind over Matter, the Haven over Earth.

May Allah grant us the ability to see reality as it is and open inner vision for our eyes and our heart. Indeed He has Command over all things, indeed the Grand Self has Command over all Prakriti. With Your Amazing Grace and Will, so be it. Ameen Ya Rabbil alamin.

# Related:
* Is Islam Inherently Misogynistic? An Interview with Laleh Bakhtiar
* Quran Salon: an open forum created as a venue for its members to share their personal experiences and understanding of the Quran as a whole and its individual ayats.

# On Divine Feminine:
* Women's specially hidden relationship with God
* She is a Hidden Treasure, and Her Mysteries are unveiled only to those who are hidden, and honor Her Sanctified Mysteries
* Feminine Spirituality | Inspirations and Wisdom
* Mystery of Woman | the Feminine Soul
* Secret of Female Soul
* Divine Feminine in Islam and Fatima | part 1
* Divine Feminine in Islam and Fatima | part 2
* Esoteric Inner Meaning of Virgin Mary
* The Role of The Divine Feminine And How It Translates Into Women’s Wisdom: Past, Present And Future - a paper by Naila Amat-un-Nur



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Technology of the Heart: When you look at a river from a distance and when you're swimming inside it - understanding Qur'an is like that
When you look at a river from a distance and when you're swimming inside it - understanding Qur'an is like that
34th Verse of Surah an-Nisa of the Quran where men is portrayed as superior of women, when read with very limited understanding can sound extremely offensive to many, but only if we miss its deeper meanings.
Technology of the Heart
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