Swelling Foam, Beneficial Anger, Polish for the Heart
Issue 971 » November 3, 2017 - Safar 14, 1439
Al-Rad (The Thunder) Sura 13: Verse 17
"He sends down water from the sky, so that riverbeds flow according to their measure, and the torrent bears a swelling foam. Likewise, from what people smelt in the fire to make ornaments or utensils rises similar foam. Thus does God illustrate truth and falsehood. The scum is cast away, while that which is of benefit to mankind abides on earth. Thus does God set forth His parables."
The pouring down of water from the sky to make riverbeds flow and swell testifies to the great power of God, the Almighty. The fact that each river flows according to a measure that fits its capacity and needs also testifies to God's elaborate planning that includes everything God creates. That is one of the main themes of the surah. However, this is only a framework for the parable God sets for people, drawn from their practical environment which they see at all times, but rarely contemplate.
When water pours from the sky causing the riverbeds to flow, it gathers along the way a swelling foam that floats on the surface as scum which at times is so thick that it forms a screen covering the water. This foam continues to rise and swell, but it is no more than scum. The water flows underneath, tranquil and peaceful, but it is the water that brings life and benefit. The same is seen with metals that are melted in order to make jewellery, as with gold and silver, or to make useful tools or utensils, as with iron or lead. The scum may float on top covering the metal itself, but it is merely scum that brings no benefit to anyone. It soon disappears to leave the pure and useful metal in place.
This is what truth and falsehood are like in this life. Falsehood may rise and swell so as to look in full control, but it is no more than foam or scum. It is soon ignored or cast away as it has no substance. The truth remains quiet and tranquil, to the extent that some people may think that it has disappeared, or died or has been lost, but it is the one which stays firm, like the water bringing life, or the pure metal that is full of benefit. And thus God determines the eventual outcome of beliefs, advocacy efforts, actions and verbal statements. He is the One who has power over all things, and who determines what happens in the universe and the destiny of all life. He knows what is apparent and what is hidden, truth and falsehood, what remains firm and what vanishes without trace.
"In The Shade of The Quran" - Sayyid Qutb, Vol. 10, p. 145
There are basically four reasons people get angry. One is related to primal needs, such as food, shelter, and life. When these are threatened, a normal person feels vulnerable and responds with anger. If someone threatens one's life or family, the person needs to respond. This anger is not blameworthy. If humans were incapable of a response, we would have a society indifferent to crime and transgression. This would spell doom for human civilization. This is part of the wisdom behind the Quranic commandment to enjoin what is right and forbid what is evil.
The second reason is related to position, dignity, and protecting one's honor. Human beings are born with sensors that detect when others try to belittle them or when they are the object of contempt and scorn. The other side of this is when people view themselves with hubris and manufacture delusions of grandeur. They grow angry when they interpret normal and acceptable behavior towards them as beneath their dignity.
The third cause of anger is related to specific people and their particular sense of values. If, for example, a scholar sees that a book is being abused, he will become angry. An illiterate farmhand may not be vexed about the abuse of a book, though he may curse a man who breaks a pitchfork.
Finally, the fourth cause is ghira, commonly translated as jealousy. God has placed jealousy as part of human nature. If men did not have jealousy for their women, relationships would fall into dissolution. It is natural for a man to have this protective sense of jealousy regarding his wife, as long as it is not expressed in the form of oppressing her, which unfortunately happens frequently.
With regard to these causes of anger, Imam al-Ghazali says the first one (related to material needs) is healthy if it is not taken to an extreme, in which case a person steals from others in order to secure his food and shelter. The second one (related to dignity) is also healthy, with the similar caveat of avoiding two extremes, haughtiness and abject humiliation. The Prophet said, "The believer does not humiliate himself." [Ibn Majah]
One should not grow angry when there is no benefit in doing so. The Prophet praised a man named Abu Damdam who never became angry when people spoke ill of him, for when one speaks ill of another, the speaker not only acquires misdeeds, but his own good deeds transfer to the account of the victim.
"Purification of the Heart" - Hamza Yusuf
Polish for the Heart
Transformation sometimes begins with a fall. So never curse the fall. The ground is where humility lives. Take it. Learn it. Breathe it in. And then come back stronger, humbler and more aware of your need for Allah. Come back having seen your own nothingness and His greatness. Know that if you have seen that Reality, you have seen much. Deprived is the one who has never witnessed his own desperate need for God. Reliant on his own means, he forgets that the means, his own soul, and everything else in existence are His creation. Seek God to bring you back up, for when He does, He will rebuild your ship. The heart that you thought was forever damaged will be mended. What was shattered will be whole again. Know that only He can do this. Seek Him. And when He saves you, beg forgiveness for the fall, feel remorse over it—but not despair.
Ibn ul Qayyim (may Allah have mercy on his soul) has said: "Satan rejoiced when Adam (peace be upon him) came out of Paradise, but he did not know that when a diver sinks into the sea, he collects pearls and then rises again."
There is a powerful and amazing thing about tawbah (repentance) and turning back to Allah. We are told that it is a polish for the heart. What's amazing about a polish is that it doesn't just clean. It makes the object that is polished even shinier than it was before it got dirty. If you come back to God, seek His forgiveness, and refocus your life and heart on Him, you have the potential to be even richer than if you'd never fallen at all. Sometimes falling and coming back up gives you wisdom and humility that you may never otherwise have had.
"Reclaim Your Heart" - Yasmin Mogahed