Come and Greet Your Messengers: Reading Sura Yasin 1
Sura Yasin, Chapter 36 of the Quran, after invoking the wisdom of the Quran (v.2), starts to talk about messengers of God, first about messengers more broadly (verses 3-13), and then about the story of three messengers sent to a town (14-30).
Messengers of God are a blessing, they reveal the presence of our Creator to us and lead us to a path of dignity. Isn’t it amazing that the verse emphasize that the messengers are sent from Aziz and Rahim, two beautiful names of God (v.5). Rahim means the Merciful One, and Aziz comes from the same root of izzah, dignity. The prophets are sent from the source of dignity, power and mercy! In their call, we are invited to a dignified life. How so? For, while we are vulnerable creatures fully dependent on the Creator, admitting this is not at all humiliating. For, by heeding the prophets, and recognizing our Creator, we find a genuine refuge for our needs, a source of mercy, which liberates us from worshiping mere creatures like ourselves. Belief is dignifying to human being.
When we think of messengers mentioned in the Quran, we immediately think of selected human beings who have conveyed Divine messages to people in different times and places of history, including Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, the last messenger sent to all humanity with an ever-fresh call till the end of time. Such understanding is of course true. But why not also think of messengers of God in another sense as well? After all, the Quran uses the term “aya” in two senses: (1) as messages of God brought by prophets in history and (2) anything in the heavens and the earth that point to God. So we can read the term messenger not only in the sense of actual historical figures but also as signs in the world that we encounter throughout our life journey. Needless to say, without messengers in the first sense, we could not quite decipher the messengers in the second sense.
With such a more comprehensive understanding of messengers, I can take the message of the Quran as directly speaking to me. The messenger sent to me personally is Prophet Muhammad (who of course affirms all the previous prophets), who discloses to me all the other personal messengers that I encounter in my unique life journey as an individual creature of God. With this understanding, let us look at verse 6. This verse notes that the prophet is sent so that he may “warn people whose forefathers had not been warned, and who therefore are unaware.” Elsewhere, the Almighty says that people resisted the messengers with the excuse that they have never heard that from their forefathers such messages. (See Quran, 23:24, 28:36, 38:7, etc. ) Until recently, I used to think that this verse refers exclusively to final prophet, Prophet Muhammad, and to his immediate pagan community. As a result, I used to feel “well, I do not come from a pagan family, so this verse does not quite apply to me.”
In contrast, when I see the messages and messengers of God in a more broader sense, then I can appreciate that we do each have personal signs sent to us. Each of us encounter a specific constellation of events, people and other creatures, this is no chance at all. Rather, all are calling us to our Creator in a way that best fits our needs and circumstances. And, I should be receptive to what these messengers are saying, instead of being heedless to them, living through my life steeped in ghaflah or in forgetfulness.
Thus, when the Quran refers to”forefathers who have not been warned before”, I can understand that my unwarned forefathers are my past moments spent unaware. The reference to the prophet being sent to such people translates into the fact that I may be awakened to a sign of God, after having missed it for so long beforehand. Just because I was unaware beforehand does not mean that I should resist the messengers whom I see now. In reality, many of us resist positive changes in our lives simply because we find it unattractive to admit that what we have done so far was wrong. The verse is saying to me that while we may now see that what we have done in the past was misguided, we should not misdirect such regret. Why let remorse become a block to transformation here and now? Whenever you encounter the boat of dignity and mercy, you may just board on, why dwell in the past and allow it to block you from getting on board?
Yamina Bougenaya (with thanks to Isra Yazicioglu for editing)