That the Qur'an is a monumentally well-integrated Book must be borne in mind when attempting tafseer (explanation), and this becomes amazingly evident in examination of the last two Suras of the Qur'an, Al-Falaq and Al-Nass. The Qur'an's dynamic symmetry bears the stamp of the Creator: the never-ending dynamics of symmetry which is both clarifying and stupefying. Analysis of Qur'anic structural patterns is also probably one of the most revealing techniques one can use in gaining a more profound understanding of the Qur'an. So the first structural pattern evident in Surat Al-Fatiha, the dynamic symmetry/interaction of the complementary/opposite names Al-Rahman, Al-Raheem in the initial invocation, as well as the fact that those were pairs, is matched again in these two final Suras, clearly forming a "pair", and exhibiting the same kind of dynamics between the same complementary/ opposite pairs.
The two Suras have always traditionally been considered as a pair, to be read together, and there are many hadeeths to this effect. But we like to examine the Qur'an itself, and draw our conclusions from the Qur'an with no outside references as much as possible. What specifically makes these two Suras a pair, and what significance does this fact bear on the meaning of the content? And are there pairs within each Sura, and do they bear any relationship or resemblance to the pairs found in, for example, Al-Fatiha, and how would this affect our interpretation? As we shall show, these connections are invaluable in helping to understand the meaning of expressions and the significance of usage of words in these Suras.
Both Suras begin with the exact phrase "Qul (say) aaoothu (I seek refuge/protection) birubb (in the Lord) al- (of the) ..." Both Suras, after "filling in the blank" following that exact phrase, continue with the expression "min sharr (from the harm of) ..." followed by "filling in the blank" following that phrase. So essentially the two Suras follow the same sentence structure. They are also, in content, Suras of supplication to Allah for protection from various specified types of danger/ harm. Generally speaking, Surat al-Falaq seeks refuge from external danger/harm, and Surat Al-Nass seeks protection from internal danger/harm, in the form of Satan the whisperer.
However, in Surat Al-Falaq, the first "blank" is filled in with one word: falaq or "the dividing line" or "the split/cut zone" dividing two sides of something. Creation is the total and definite transformation of one thing into an entirely different thing. So the area/time between transformations (i.e., the two sides in the transformation, the "before" and "after" as it were), are called in Arabic "falaq". "Rabb al-Falaq" therefore refers to the Lord of the Divide between different things, a "realm" over which Allah alone has authority, since this is the most "central" element of creation - that is, the division between totally different things, and the transformation of one into another. [Al-Imran 3:27] "You merge the night into the day, and merge the day into the night. You produce the living from the dead, and produce the dead from the living, and You provide for whomever You choose, without limits." He transforms, even between "being" and "nothingness", but we creatures only participate in the processes and events of those transformations, with no real control, except within the scope of limited choices we must make.
The differences between the two Suras also form a matching symmetry with ayat in Al-Fatiha. In Surat Al-Fatiha, each aya contains either matched or unmatched pairs, the "matched" pairs being diametrical opposites and the "unmatched" pairs being exactly that: having no particular symmetrical relationship but only a logical or linguistic relationship. We explained in our tafseer (explanation) of that Sura that the "matched" pairs represented the "left" or "intuitive" or responsive side (of the self or even of the brain), and the "unmatched" pairs represented the "right" or "active/logical/decision-making" side (of the self or the brain), and the content of the corresponding ayat perfectly correlates to this hypothesis. Now with the last two Suras of the Qur'an, we have a pair of Suras: the first, Surat Al-Falaq, consists of five ayat (an odd number) whose content progresses logically from the first to the last aya to form a complete concept without symmetrical repetition or matching elements; and the second, Surat Al-Nass, consists of six ayat (an even number) whose content forms matched pairs. Consistent with this observation, Surat Al-Falaq, whose structure is logical and progressive, concerns outer/external dangers, those things which are best protected by proper use of the logical/ analytical part of the mind; while, on the other hand, Surat Al-Nass, whose structure is based on repetition and the opposition of matched pairs, concerns inner/internal dangers, those things within the mind/soul of the person which are best protected by use of the intuitive/clairvoyant part of the brain.
Now by analyzing the structural elements of these suras and their relationship to the content, meanings of terms contained within these suras can be determined on the Qur'an's own terms, rather than relying upon outside sources such as dictionaries, hadeeths or traditional tafseer (explanation) literature. One such example in this case is the expression "annafathati fee al-'uqad" , literally "those who blow on knots". This expression is most commonly explained to mean "sorcery", referring to a traditional interpretation that in the period of Prophet Mohammad, sorcerers used to blow on knots as a method of performing their sorcery. More recent interpreters have disputed this view and interpreted the expression to have a more general meaning such as "troublemakers" (Rashad Khalifa), taking it to be more of an idiomatic expression than a definitive reference to sorcery . But how would our interpretation of this expression be affected by the structural analysis of these two suras?
The answer to this question must begin by analysis of the Sura in which this disputed expression occurs, namely, Surat Al-Falaq. As we said, this Sura contains unmatched pairs in logical progression. What, then, is this "logical progression"? The first aya, consistent with the structural similarity in the two suras, is an imperative command to "say" or "declare" seeking protection from the Lord - in this case, "of the divide", as explained above, referring to the central element in the Creator's control over creation: His sole and exclusive ability to transform one thing to a totally different thing and to cause anything to "pass through" the "divide" that separates and distinguishes different things. The first "sharr" or "harm" from which we should seek protection is the general harm of "ma khalaq" or "that which is created". This category is not only general, but is inclusive of everything except Allah, glory to Him in the highest. The first "divide" or distinction, then, is between Creator and creation, and the first possible "harm" to the creation or part of it is from the creation itself or another part of it. Thus, it is made clear that all harm or danger comes from creation, but not from the Creator.
The first subcategory under "creation" is "ghasiqin itha waqab" or "darkness as it spreads". This is significant in that "darkness" refers to that which prevents visibility or perception. Darkness is the opposite of light, which illuminates and makes visible and perceptible. Allah is the light of the heavens and the earth, and in this expression (from Surat al-Nur), we are thus informed that it is the Creator who makes things clear and visible. The correlary would logically be that darkness must be from the creation, not the Creator. And this sura confirms this fact, making darkness the first "harm" specified under the category of creation.
The fact that the darkness "spreads" is also significant in that the time of day of least visibility is not night, when lights can illuminate (such as the light of fire or artificial light, or even moonlight), but rather dusk, when darkness is "spreading", and the time is neither fully light nor fully dark, and cannot be properly illuminated. This further relates to the expression "falaq" or "divide", in that this is the transitional time dividing day and night, over which Allah alone presides (as Transformer).
Darkness and lack of visibility/perception are obviously harmful in that they can cause accidents and mistakes due to lack of control on the one hand, and can encourage crimes and harmful acts by people with bad intentions whose bad deeds can be more easily accomplished in the dark, which covers and protects them from detection both by their victims and by those who seek to protect others from being victimized, or who could catch and punish those criminals. This shows both the danger and moral significance of the change between light and darkness. As mentioned above, logic and use of the mind can assist in protecting against this harm, for example, by inventing ways to illuminate and enhance visibility. In a sense, the development of telescopes and mathematical means of calculating the distance of stars helped enhance our visibility of the universe and hence, our understanding of it, thus making it both more impressive a marvel in scope and design, and at the same time more "accessible" to our control and understanding, and making us less vulnerable to erroneous beliefs and mythologies regarding creation and the universe. These are merely two of many examples of ways Allah has given humankind to combat the harm of impaired visibility.
The next subcategory under "harm" from "creation" is the controversial "innafathati fee al-'uqud" whose meaning we are trying to determine. Given the logical progression of the first two categories, this must be the next specific category in line. But why "blowing on knots"? There is so much danger in the universe - why limit this to sorcery? Note that the key word here is "falaq" or "divide". "Knots" are the "connection" or, more accurately, "re-connection" of something divided or cut off. One can also make knots in a whole rope or string, not only in cut ones, but the knots then form a "divide" of their own, preventing the rope or string from being passed through a hole that it could have passed through were there no knot. So knots both connect that which is divided and divide that which is connected! This is significant because a knot here, then, clearly represents "crossing over" or "passing through" a divide or "falaq" - either by creating a distinction or impasse or by forming a bond where there was previously impasse and disconnect.
Now that we have determined the significance of the knots, what is meant by blowing on them? Blowing also has significance in the Qur'an. When Adam was created, Allah "blew into him from" His "spirit", and immediately thereafter the angels prostrated before Adam, a sign of Adam's high status resulting from this "blowing". "Blowing" is also associated with "breath", which is the first essential requirement of life - the means of obtaining oxygen, air. It is a "spiritual" act, in that it forces "air", the element that most closely symbolizes "spirit" due to its invisibility (note this: its "invisibility"!), onto the recipient of the "blowing". Sorcery could be described as "spiritual", in that it is a means of affecting physical reality with means that are not fully perceived. Note this: not fully perceived - and recall the discussion above regarding lack of perception, and you have the sense of "logical progression" we were looking for. The concept of spirituality in the Qur'an is not entirely the same as the Western concept, in that the Qur'an generally treats the soul as being a separate but actively combined element with the physical reality in life, which separates from the body at death, but continues to live in "suspended animation" until Judgment Day, when it is revived in another physical reality, one that has been totally transformed from the previous one. The soul is also the morally active and directive part, that with which one's self is identified, the body being also active but only insofar as the soul activates it and thus stimulates an interactive dynamic relationship called "life".
For something to be "spiritual" in this case means that it transcends physical limitations but still has physical interactions and effects. It is to the realm of this divide, between the spiritual and the physical, that this aya refers. Those who "blow on knots" are those who cause a spiritually activated effect on the physical reality of "falaq" or the distinctions between things, and thus can create havoc with life. For example, it could refer to sorcery as a means of spiritually affecting the "knot" between husband and wife, creating discord. It could refer to the "blowing" by too much talk (words are associated with "blowing" and creation - as Allah says "be" and it is as a means of creation - and also with spirit in that it is words that Allah taught Adam and thereby impressed the angels with Adam's worthiness for his high status) on the knots connecting family or friends (such as in backbiting and gossip), or the knots securing a person's reputation and status from slipping into disrepute, or the knots connecting one's logic with certain beliefs (e.g., talking someone out of faith or talking them into an irrational fear).
Thus, the sorcery interpretation fits the expression, but is too limited and only one small example of the larger category delineated beautifully by this very distinct and well-placed expression. This expression refers, rather, to the entire scope of actions that interfere or seek to interfere with the sensitive areas of relationships and the distinction between things by using spiritual power over physical existence in a harmful way. It is a further progression of how limited visibility - in this case, the physical realm's limited visibility of the spiritual realm - can be used specifically to harm others in a wide range of venues. It is also one more "subdivision" in the progression of such subdivisions, each dividing the previous category into more specific subcategories.
The final category is "hasidin itha hassad" or "the envier when he envies". This aya needs to be re-examined as well, since envy is not considered much of a power in Western thought, and the idea of its being given much consideration is even viewed in the West as "backward", relegated to irrational fears by third world cultures of the "evil eye" in the camera, etc. Upon analysis, however, the profound significance of this final aya in this sura will be shown to break through such misconceptions. The question is, what is "hassad" or "envy"? It is the strong feeling or emotion of desire on the part of one party to have or even to be what another different party has or is. It simultaneously also implies dissatisfaction with what the original "envying" party has or is. That dissatisfaction is usually the direct result, rather than the cause, of wanting what the other party has or is. The envier first perceives that another person has something he/she does not, or is something that he/she is not, and then becomes overwhelmed by an inordinate desire to possess or become that perceived "something", causing the envier to look upon himself/herself as somehow lacking and deficient. The envier becomes unstable, discontent and possessed by a powerful motivating force to act upon others in a destabilizing way. Persons content with themselves and their lot are stable, and do not disturb others, having no need or desire to do so. Envy, on the other hand, leads to disruptive actions and thoughts that affect the object(s) of envy in a powerful and harmful way. Envy is also an emotion, a desire, but one that has serves no positive purpose, that has no "good side". It could even be descibed as the "bad side" of desire and emotion: love becomes unstable and destructive when tinged with envy, and the same holds true for anger and even fear (fear can cause one to take beneficial safety precautions, but when tainted with envy, the primary goal becomes destruction of the object of one's fear).
The "first world war" between Qabeel (Cain) and Habeel (Abel) was sparked by nothing other than envy. Even more telling, the "fall" of Satan and his disobedience to Allah was triggered solely by his envy of Adam, to whom Allah gave a higher status than Iblees (satan's name before the fall). So this, the final "category" of "harms" discussed in this Sura, is also the specific "harm" which led to all human misery. All satanic whisperings and misleadings are the result of satanic envy of human exaltation (when obedient to Allah). One could almost say that envy is the root of all evil, or at least the ultimate motivating force. People do wrong things that are not envy-based, such as people lying about Allah, worshipping Jesus as an idol. But although the person's motive for this idolatry may not be envy per se, envy was the ultimate motive for the invention of this lie in the first place, and followers of this envy-based "cult" are following an unstable path that cannot be "straight" or "direct" (requires stability). The worship of any human being could even imply one "envies" Allah himself and His authority and power, then falsely attributes such authority or power to a human being like himself.
Thus, the first "division" is the distinction between Creator and creation; the second "division" is the distinction between darkness and light, and specifically asks for protection against the "twilight zone" where one changes into the other and visibility is least; the third "division" is the distinction between body and soul, the physical and the spiritual, and asks for protection against those who perform acts in the "gray area" between the two, where spirit affects physical bonds and unseen "spiritual" forces act upon the very knots with which we cement or conduct our physical existence; and the final "division" is the distinction between the stable and the unstable, specifically asking for protection from those whose instability, "radiating" from them as an active force which is envy, causes them to cause harm to those around them.
Going down to another level of examination, we can also see that a description or even definition of al-shaytan or "satan" emerges from the logical progression of this Sura. First, harm must come from "creation", not Creator. Second, the greatest dangers come from the area of least visibility, acting in cover of darkness and never in the light, using the disability of perception to cause harm. Third, even greater dangers come from the situation where lack of perception creates a "spiritual" realm that transcends normal physical limitations and thus can amplify the harm or extend its reach or power. Fourth, and finally, the greatest danger comes from instability, in the form of envy, which is a non-physical (hence, "spiritual" in some sense) force that causes harmful action to be taken, both deliberately and as an uncontrolled energy that "radiates" "bad vibrations". Satan is described as a spiritual creation outside the range of our perception, hence invisible, and most distinctively, eminently envious of humankind, prominently and primarily acting out of this envy as the motivating force behind satanic action. All of the "harms" mentioned in this sura apply to satan, and even fit perfectly the definition of satan derived from the Qur'an directly.
This analysis further shows that the "harms" from which we seek protection in this Sura are not random, or simply selected because people tend to fear these specific dangers, but for a profound reason, directly relating to the design and message of the Qur'an. They show the most potent danger from which we need Allah's direct and powerful protection is the danger of satanic influence/control. In each case, logic and thoughtful reasoning, combined with faith in Allah as One (the ultimate Logic), can assist in protecting against these dangers. Knowledge of the creation by observation and logical interpretation helps us to overcome irrational fears of the creation, and to have better control over it. Knowledge is a light that can overcome the lack of perception which darkness or a "twilight zone" can produce. Knowledge and logical use of the mind break through "occult" powers when they are used in combination with the light of faith in Allah alone, rendering such "powers" ineffectual. And it is the mind's logic that leads us to understand the inherent weakness of instability, the greater power of stability against the destabilizing force of envy, and can assist us in taking measures to avoid increasing the envy or contact with the envier. But ultimately in all cases, we truly cannot protect ourselves and need Allah's transcendent protection from all these "harms".
Which brings us to the beginning of this Sura again: we are told to ask Allah (alone) as "Lord of dividing (separating into two)" for protection from these dangers or "harms" using these very words. This logical progression, these specific descriptions, these very words, have a powerful effect on the danger which culminates in what is described as "satan", the destabilizing and occult forces of darkness. The power of words, particularly of du'aa or supplication directly to Allah alone, is frequently mentioned in the Qur'an as being of great efficacy and help in many situations and dangerous circumstances. Prophet Yunus was given a specific du'aa to save him from the belly of the whale or "sea creature". Had he not implored using this du'aa, he would have stayed in the belly of the sea creature until Judgment Day (10: ). Adam was given a specific du'aa with which to implore Allah after "the fall" and his sin in obeying satan and disobeying Allah. This du'aa was answered by forgiveness from Allah and a chance at redemption, something not possible for satan. The Qur'an also gives us many du'aa to use in imploring Allah, and encourages us to use them specifically. These two Suras, Surat al-Falaq and Surat al-Nass, form a powerful pair of du'aa to protect us from a full range of danger and harm, and at the same time enlighten us as to what is dangerous and evil and what is not by defining "satan", the ultimate evil, and showing us specifically what it is about "satan" that constitutes his evil or danger.
It is therefore even more appropriate that this Sura be followed by Surat al-Nass, a Sura specifically seeking protection from the "inside", from the influence of satan, i.e., from our own weakness. In this case, this refers to spiritual weakness, susceptibility to the "whisperings" (again, note the close relationship in terms of physical semblance between the idea of whispering and the idea of blowing as in "blowing on knots") of Satan from within ourselves or from satanically-motivated people.
The most striking difference between Surat al-Falaq and Surat al-Nass one notices at the outset is that Surat al-Falaq implores one name for Allah in seeking protection against four "harms", while Surat al-Nass implores three names for Allah in seeking protection against one "harm" described at greater length. Why is this? The four "harms" mentioned in Surat al-Falaq are "outer" dangers, that is, dangers from outside ourselves, and the realm of Allah as Creator (the name "Lord of the Divide" relates to His role as Creator) easily takes care of all outside dangers, including any harm that coud come from the entire creation. On the other hand, the danger of our own inner weakness in succumbing to evil influences is an "inner" danger, coming from within ourselves. It is a matter of our own soul and our own will and nothing external, except in the sense that Allah has "externalized" Satan for us by naming this influence as a character whom we can take as an enemy and fight against, thus "doing battle", as it were, with our own "bad side". And it is we ourselves who now ask for protection from ourselves, or the "bad side" of ourselves, our weakness or potential for weakness against evil influence. Note again: we are imploring and therefore in that very imploring are doing something to fight against "Satan" or against evil influences. So in this Sura, the imploring itself is multiplied or strenthened by the increased usage of names of Allah, and these names are used in the order and specific meanings of each one with logic and purpose here.
First, we call upon "rabb al nass" or "Lord of the people". The word "Lord", as we described in tafseer Surat al-Fatiha, is a relationship word, one that can be used with possessives as in "my Lord" or in Arabic, which is our concern here as it is the language of the Qur'an, "rabbi". It not only connotes authority over the people but also a certain closeness, implying the One who "raises up" or who supervises the "upbringing" of those for whom He is "Lord". Even the word "lord" as used in old English in reference to the feudal relationship between lord and servant has a positive emotional content, where loyalty is a deeper bond between the two that yet also maintains the distinct class levels of superiority of lord and inferiority of servant without degradation of the latter (the servant is considered uplifted morally by his relationship to the lord). So here we call upon the first relationship with Allah where we feel comfortable, the "natural" first imploring.
The second name, "malik al nass" or "King (ruler) of the people", distances Allah by emphasizing His authority and power as "ruler", not only on a one-on-one basis as implied by "Lord" but over all people collectively.
The third name, "ileh al nass" or "God of the people", invokes Allah's true and ultimate authority as God, that is, as the Omnipotent, the Almighty, the Creator and Sustainer of all that exists, as the One to be worshipped. Worship, of course, is the exclusive proprietary expression of submission to a god, not a king or lord, even in the vernacular of interhuman expression. Therefore, this is the final and ultimate culmination of our understanding of Allah and our calling upon Him. Note that I said "our" understanding - for we are fighting ourselves here, and so the imploring itself is what is important, and it is what can effectively help "win" the battle of good vs. evil within ourselves. "Imploring" means, in Arabic, du'aa - and as we described above, in du'aa, the words are what counts, are of greatest significance. The progression from one on one "closeness" to the ultimate distinction of Creator also helps support our intuitive understanding of Allah in a thorough and complete way which further supports our "good side", the side that calls upon whom we know to be Allah and in so imploring do not deny, but affirm. So the change in words, i.e., change in names, forms the complete du'aa that the Omniscient chose for us to implore Him with effectively against this most potent and insidious danger.
That danger is further elaborated for our own understanding of what's involved. First is "al wiswas al khanass" , the "whispering" of the "sneaky whisperer" - the act of influence itself is here described as verbal, since whisperings are usually voiceless words, but only air (remember "spirit" and "blowing" described earlier) and nearly silent, in lower tones, as if to "cover" themselves with the "darkness" of inaudibility or near-inaudibility and limit perception of them by any but the intended victim - also reminiscent of the covering of perception alluded to in Surat al-Falaq). The words also imply "sneaky" or deviousness on the part of the "whisperer". This makes total sense, since the effort described here is an effort of a person to deceive himself, "externalized" by giving a personality to the person's "bad side", against whose influence the person's "good side" can resist and stand firm. By clearly distinguishing ("falaq") the "bad side" from the "good side" of a person's internal makeup, it is possible for such resistance to take place, and this itself helps overcome efforts at self-deception.
Thus the "whisperer" is further described as "ilethi yuwaswisu fee sudur alnass" or "who whispers into the chest of the people". "Chest" or "sudr" here refers to the area of the body containing the heart, the "seat" of influence and emotion, from which can arise desire and motivation. It is also the "seat" of the "self". So it is the most vulnerable part of the human being, and has influence on that less vulnerable part, the mind. It is through the heart that a bad influence can wear away at logic or understanding, even causing a motivation that goes against one's own intuition or what "feels" right. This aya shows us where our vulnerability lies. From there we can deduce that the less-vulnerable mind could be a starting place to help conquer this bad influence. But first we must re-establish self-trust and reliance on our basic intuition. First we must "cure" the "disease" of bad influence in the heart. (Note the Qur'an frequently warns against "those in whose heart is a disease".)
One last description completes the image of this influence: "min al jinnati wa alnass" or "of the jinn or of the humans", that is, this influence could be from unseen "jinn" or spiritual sources both residing in ourselves and outside ourselves or could be from human beings themselves whose bad influence can also affect us profoundly, should we allow it to. We are thus warned against both jinn and humans as sources of this influence against which we must be strong and alert. Knowing that Allah is "Lord, King and God" over all "people", including the "people" called "jinn" whom we cannot see but nonetheless exist, supports our standing firm against bad influences knowing that good is always in authority over evil, always the stronger, always the superior, always more powerful and always victorious.
Just as these two suras are a "pair", defending us against outer and inner danger to our selves, so the opposite pair of good and evil is the one we must ultimately learn to distinguish to save ourselves from damnation. Knowing this is the act of a mind, but also is intuitive God-given knowledge. It is enough knowledge and faith to stand against any internal onslaught, against the tendency to be deceived, because what is weak, inferior, powerless and a loser can only appear but not actually be successful or powerful - can only influence by creating a false illusion. It is our responsibility not to be "taken" by such deception, to stand firm and not be weak against something that is in fact even weaker and more vulnerable than we are, against something that in fact is already doomed with no hope for redemption. And yet the Qur'an informs us that most people doom themselves by the incredibly mindless act of allowing evil influences to affect them with "free reign", without even the simple but powerful act of calling upon their own Creator to protect them from themselves. And with this, the Qur'an leaves us to decide our fate.
By W.H. (firstname.lastname@example.org)