Today I would like to focus and reflect upon a favorite prayer of mine from the Qur’an which I came in Sura Al-i-Imran in my recitation cycle.
قُلِ اللَّـهُمَّ مَالِكَ الْمُلْكِ تُؤْتِي الْمُلْكَ مَن تَشَاءُ وَتَنزِعُ الْمُلْكَ مِمَّن تَشَاءُ وَتُعِزُّ مَن تَشَاءُ
تُولِجُ اللَّيْلَ فِي النَّهَارِ وَتُولِجُ النَّهَارَ فِي اللَّيْلِ ۖ وَتُخْرِجُ الْحَيَّ مِنَ الْمَيِّتِ وَتُخْرِجُ
SAY: “O Allah! Lord of Power (And Rule), You give power to whom You please, and You strip off power from whom You please: You endue with honour whom You please, and You bring low whom You please: In Your hand is all good. Verily, over all things You has power. (26)
YOU make the night to pass into the day and You make the day to pass into the night, and You bring forth the living from the dead and You bring forth the dead from the living, and You give sustenance to whom You please without measure. (27)
Background with preamble
There are many prayers that Allah Subhanahu has taught us directly in his own words. Naturally, these prayers have a special status given the status and words of the Teacher. Prophet Mohammad (salla Allahu alaihi wasallam) was taught this prayer after Ghazwa (war in which the Prophet directly participated) of Ihzaab when he predicted that Muslims will concquer Persia… At this prediction, the non-believers of those times taunted Muslims. To appease His prophet and disciples, Allah ta’ala sent a reply to the taunts in the form of this prayer.
The properties of a prayer
Some of the ‘heaviest’ prayers mentioned in the Qur’an are in the form of a plain statement, rather than as an imperative sentence. I share two instances here, both of which are actually injunctions of great prophets:
حَسْبُنَا اللَّـهُ وَنِعْمَ الْوَكِيلُ
ALLAH is sufficient for us and most excellent is the Protector. (in Al-i-Imran, 173)
لَّا إِلَـٰهَ إِلَّا أَنتَ سُبْحَانَكَ إِنِّي كُنتُ مِنَ الظَّالِمِينَ
‘THERE is no deity but You. Glory be to You! I was indeed wrong.’ (in Al-Anbya, 87)
In context, the Al-i-Imran one was quoted as invocation of a group of Muslims who followed the instructions of Prophet Mohammad (salla Allahu alaihi wasallam) after Ghazwah of Badr, despite extreme fatigue, tough circumstances and people’s taunts. However, tafseer informs us that these words (replacing the plural pronoun with the singular one) were the ones spoken by Hazrat Ibrahim (alaihi-s salaam) when he was about to be thrown into Nimrod’s fire. As a result of these words, Allah Ta’ala order the fire to go cold on him and to let him stay in peace (in Al-Anbya, 69).
The second quote is the well-known prayer of Hazrat Younus (alaihi-s salaam) when he had made a decision beneath his station of prophethood. To correct him, Allah Ta’ala made him end up in the belly of a whale where he stayed for a considerable period such that his skin was all vulnerable as a result of being treated by the acids in the belly. Finally, he used the above words for forgiveness and repentance and Allah Ta’ala ordered the whale to throw him up on a beach (references throughtout the Qur’an).
Both these prayers were made in instances of intense ordeals, when an ordinary person is very likely to loose his mind in desperation. Both these prayers are characterized by a simple and straightforward acknowledgment of a fact — the fact of supreme trust on God, in one case, the fact of His lone Divinity and of the supplicant’s being in the wrong, in the other. Also, no specific end is sought after in these prayers, even though the extremeness of circumstance in each case merits yearning for a specific relief from adversity.
Another instance of such a prophet-prayer that comes to mind is that of Hazrat Yaqoob (alaihi-s salaam) when following the long-term separation from his beloved son Hazrat Yousuf (alaihi-s salaam), he was given the sad news of separation from his youngest son Bin-Yamin:
إِنَّمَا أَشْكُو بَثِّي وَحُزْنِي إِلَى اللَّـهِ
‘I ONLY complain of my anguish and my sorrow to God.’ (in Yousuf, 86)
Here, the Prophet merely puts his case before Allah with a frankness that only those can procur who truly sustain a true mental relationship with their God.
All these prayers show a highness of belief that Allah Ta’ala is listening to all our statements at all time, and that His being turned to in a worry is a must for His subjects, and He knows best of the turmoil and ordeal the supplicant is going through. Thus these prayers are bereft of an ordinary supplicative style, powered by the consciousness that merely invoking His Being by acknolwedging His Status and the status of one’s own relationship with Him is enough to grant hearing from that High court and enough to bear the fruit that Allah sees best for the caller.
Similarly, today’s chosen prayer is the one in the same manner taught by Allah Subhanahu Himself. It, along with announcing the High merits of the Al-Mighty God, invokes His attention towards power, honor, and rizq without directly asking for any of these.
The High Merits of God
Allah Ta’ala is the Lord of all Power. Power of creation and destruction, of sovereignty, of death and life, of giving and taking; more basically, Power to do anything He wants anytime! The different, most important and global facets of this Power are covered in the various statements of the two ayahs in the prayer. Whereas the first ayah mentions facets of power, that are more relevant to human life on this earth (and also more relevant to the context in which the ayaats descended), the second one mentions more universal and wonderous and awe-inspiring powers. These are such powers that considering them aids us in confirming our belief in God and finding solace in being His subject. By implication, by invoking Allah Subhanahu Ta’ala’s attention with such amazing and all-encompassing range of His powers, we feel sure and secure of gaining hearing in His court. By the same token, we feel sure of getting a response and relief in the earthly life (in addition to rewards in the hereafter); for its worth-noting that the objects mentioned in this prayer are more of an earthly (though not necessarily of ‘wordly’) nature. So let us consider what the objects of these prayers are:
The high objects of the prayer
Mulk, in Arabic, means command, control, capability, and authority. Although the specific context of the ayah is concerned with rule over land, but the word is general, and its use here also seems to be general (in fact, its a general rule of the Qur’an that most statements retain a general interpretation despite specific circumstances of their descendence).
Izzah, means strengh, severity and conquest. The property defines one who is invincible, who cannot be overwhelmed. The picture is of extreme honour with someone possessive of control within and without.
Khair, means all goodness, material and otherwise.
Rizq means all kinds of provisions that a provider can grant us. It ranges from food, through worldly possessions to capabilities, talents and honorable traits.
Thus, this prayer combines, at one go, invocations for all the things anyone could desire for. It just does not limit to ‘things’ in the worldly sense, but asks for everything that is noble, honorable and desirable at all levels of human existence. Moreover, it also implicitly asks for protection from the opposite of the scenario: inferiority.
Nobility vs Abasement
The word used here is one that us Urdu-speakers are highly familiar with: Zillah.
Zillah entails all the horrible concepts of ‘lowness’ that our minds-in-terror could conjure up. Humiliation, degradation, humble submissiveness, disrepute, weakness, despice, wretchedness.. May God save us from all of it!
The strong contrast of izzah vs zillah in the first ayah of the prayer reminds us that a life without the noble blessings of God is indeed a life spent in zillah. We can look at this point from many angles and instances.
The extreme example of zillah is being zaleel in God’s own eyes. Think of a son who has made himself low and inferior in his parent’s eyes. Imagine what kind of deeds he must have done and what kind of treatment he must have given to his parents to fall that low? Now multiply this scenario thousands of times! See how Allah Ta’ala speaks of the capable, intelligent, and inherently noble creature Allah so proudly created and had angels bow before him, but who through his stubbornness and willfulness has turned away from that Loving Creator and goes out in the word for the mean purposes of making his selfish ends meet at the expense of others, of straying people from a life of true nobility, and even to destroying (or at least making hard) the pathways and channels that aid in finding true nobility:
إِنَّ شَرَّ الدَّوَابِّ عِندَ اللَّـهِ الصُّمُّ الْبُكْمُ الَّذِينَ لَا يَعْقِلُونَ
يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ أَنتُمُ الْفُقَرَاءُ إِلَى اللَّـهِ ۖ وَاللَّـهُ هُوَ الْغَنِيُّ الْحَمِيدُ
So let us turn toward the Highest of all beings, with the high words He Himself endowed on us, and ask for that human highness of character He wants to see in us, for every moment of our lives.