وَجَاءَكَ فِي هَٰذِهِ الْحَقُّ وَمَوْعِظَةٌ وَذِكْرَىٰ لِلْمُؤْمِنِينَ
And there has come to you, in this, the truth and an instruction and a reminder for the believers.
(Sūrat Hūd, No.11, Āyat 120)
Continuing the verse from the previous week’s reflection, the second part of the verse talks about other benefits of historical narrations. Tafsīr Majma‘ al-Bayān says the words ‘in this’ can refer to in this Sūra, or it could be in this world, or in these stories.
The verse states that apart from strengthening the heart of the Prophet sallal-lāhu ‘alayhi wa-ālihi wasallam, historical narrations also do the following:
1) Bring the truth. These narrations show the reality of life. They bring out real and lived experiences of the past. People can make up stories and imagine events which never occurred. They can whitewash details, gloss over things, and make things look good for their protagonists. Much of today’s history is like that. It is often written from a one-sided perspective. The narratives of the Quran are from God, the Lord of all things. He narrates history as it really happened.
The truth in the narratives of the Quran is about the origin of mankind, their life in this world and the return to Allah ‘azza wajall. It shows the established ways of Allah; how He sends Prophets, gives them messages to deliver, how people respond to those messages, and what happens to the people.
‘Allāmah Tabātabā’ī says that this bringing of the truth is a benefit for the Prophet (s) himself, as the verse says: there has come to you. The narratives tell the Prophet (s), the real truth, something he was not aware of before.
2) Instruct and advise the believers. Through these stories, believers can take heed. The eventual outcomes in the stories are warnings for them and can prevent them from sinning and turning away from Allah subhānahu wata‘ālā . Reflecting on real stories of people like us can be of great help in how we lead our lives. There are many lessons to be learned from these narratives.
3) Remind the believers. Within the human being is the fitrat – the natural instinct created by the Almighty which innately inclines a person towards the truth. This is inner guidance given to the human being by Allah (swt). The Prophets and Heavenly books are outer guidance, sent to strengthen the ‘fitrat’. Historical narrations remind believers about things they already knew but had forgotten or ignored.
Lessons from historical narratives of the past help us understand ourselves and our lives better. We see patterns of behaviour and can trace the same patterns in our lives. Studying history makes the past come alive. Amīrul-Mu’minīn Imam Ali ‘alayhis-salām explains his study of history thus: Even though I have not reached the age which those before me have, yet I investigated their behaviour and thought over events of their lives. I walked among their ruins till I was as one of them. In fact, by virtue of those of their affairs that have become known to me it is as though I have lived with them from the first to the last. I have therefore been able to discern the impure from the clean and the benefit from the harm. (Nahjul-Balāghah, Document 31)
This verse shows us the benefits of narratives in the Quran. Keeping those benefits in mind will help us gain more as we read the narratives.
Sources: Shaykh Tabarsī, Tafsīr Majma‘ al-Bayān; Allāmah Muhammad Husayn Tabātabā’ī, Tafsīr al-Mīzān; Āyatullāh Nāsir Makārim Shirāzī (Ed.), Tafsīr-e Namūneh
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