I’m going to be posting something interesting about the Qur’ān every day during Ramaḍān, the month the Qur’ān was revealed.
Back to Sūrah al-Baqarah, the second chapter of the Qur’ān, this time with verses relating metaphors of the Islāmic baptism of fire and water.
“These are they who have taken error in exchange for guidance; but their traffic has brought them no gain, nor are they rightly guided.
Their case is like the case of a person who kindled a fire; and when it lighted up all around him, Allah took away their light and left them in thick darkness; they see not.” (2:17-18)
These verses are describing the munāfiqīn (the hypocrites) during the time of the Prophet (sa), who would outwardly appear as Muslims but inwardly were plotting to destroy Islam.
The verse says that their case is similar to ‘a fire’ (نار). In Arabic the word nār has a main meaning of ‘fire’, however it may also refer to wahī (divine revelation), or war. Elsewhere in the Qur’ān it says that Moses (as) was given wahī when he saw a fire near Mount Sinai (28:30-31). Also as explained in Day 4 of this series on the Qur’ān, it was explained that some humans such as the Prophet Muhammad possess such extraordinary spiritual potency that they are near to being lit up spiritually even without divine revelation (as it is described in 24:36 as ‘light upon light!’). In addition, in 5:65, the Jews are said to have lighted the nār (fire) of war, therefore nār also means war.
This verse may therefore mean two things:
1.) If the word nār is taken to mean wahī, then this means that they initially accepted the Prophet of Islām’s (sa) wahī of the Qur’ān but when its light grew in intensity and lit up the surroundings, the disease in their hearts got the better of them and they lost the light and were left in spiritual darkness.
2.) If the word nār is taken to mean war, this means that the hypocrites kindled the fire of war against the Muslims, and “it lighted up all around them” meaning they were winning against the Muslims, but then “Allah took away their light and left them in thick darkness” meaning that against all odds they actually lost to the Muslims and war was stopped. This is a prophecy hidden within a metaphor.
It is also interesting to note that the word nār is in its singular form while the word darkness, zhulumāt (ظلمات) is in its plural form and therefore actually means ‘darknesses’. This indicates that the light of revelation brought unity to people while the hypocrites were divided and lacked any unity whether physical or in their hearts.
“Or it is like a heavy rain from the clouds, wherein is thick darkness and thunder and lightning; they put their fingers into their ears because of the thunder-claps for fear of death, and Allah encompasses the disbelievers.” (2:20)
In this verse, in juxtaposition to fire as in the previous verses, now water is used as a metaphor for another class of hypocrites; those who are inwardly Muslims but were weak in faith and practice and became upset whenever there was a threat of attack by the enemy or whenever sacrifice was required of them. They tried to maintain good relations with disbelievers in secret correspondence and by supplying information about the Muslims at the time of the Prophet (sa). They consoled themselves that as Islām was a true faith from God, its victory was assured in spite of anything they might do.
In effect they are like people who hear a rainstorm with thunder and lightning and become timid and scared of it. The ‘thunder’ and ‘rain’ in this verse may refer to hardships, and a true Muslim knows that even these have a purpose and is not upset by them. Just as the rain, which gives life to the earth, is accompanied by darkness and thunder and a temporary screening of the sun, even so the trials which accompany the advent of Prophets only presage the dawning of a new era in even greater splendour and effulgence.
The word ra’d (رعد – thunder) in this verse may refer also to war while barq (برق – lightning) may refer to the spreading out of war. This would explain why such hypocrites would cower at the sight of defensive battles by the Muslims and stay at home, and for this reason were excommunicated by the Prophet (sa) for a time.
The words kasayyib min al-samā’ meaning ‘rain from the clouds’ (كسيصب من السماء) may also refer to wahī (revelation).
Why both fire and rain have been used to refer to wahī (revelation) is seen by the fact that they are the two greatest forces of the elements in the world and show the powerful nature of wahī, and the fact that both may be used to purify substances in a similar way to how wahī is used to purify humans.