In the name of God, the Lord of Grace, the Ever Merciful
Ha. Mim. A revelation from the Lord of Grace, the Ever Merciful: a book, the verses of which have been clearly spelled out as a discourse in Arabic for people of knowledge. It gives good news as well as a warning. Yet, most of them turn away, so that they do not hear. They say: “Our hearts are veiled from whatever you call us to, and in our ears is deafness, and there is a barrier between us and you. So do you what you will, and so shall we.” Say: “I am but a human being like yourselves. It has been revealed to me that your God is the One and only God. Therefore, take the straight path to Him and seek His forgiveness. Woe to those who associate partners with Him.” (Clearly Expounded; Fussilat: 41: 1-6)
The surah opens with the two separate letters, Ha, Mim. We have explained on several occasions the reason why many surahs start with separate letters of the Arabic alphabet. That this is often stated fits in with the Qur’anic method of repeating references to the facts it wants our hearts to internalize. By nature, the human heart needs such repetition because it tends to forget with the passage of time. In order to instill a fact in one’s conscience, one needs to have it repeated in a variety of ways. The Qur’an addresses the human heart with all the qualities instilled in its nature in accordance with its Creator’s knowledge.
It is as if the two letters with which the surah starts, Ha, Mim, are a name given to the surah or to the Qur’an. The two letters constitute the subject of the first sentence while the predicate forms the next verse: “Ha. Mim. A revelation from the Lord of Grace, the Ever Merciful.” Choosing to identify the divine attributes of grace and mercy in connection with the revelation of the Qur’an highlights the quality that is most characteristic of this revelation, namely divine mercy. There is no doubt that the revelation of the Qur’an is an act of mercy for all mankind. It is a mercy for those who believe in it and implement it as also for other creatures, not merely humans. The Qur’an defines a code of living that brings good results for all. It has had a profound impact on the life of humanity, its concepts, values and course of action. Its impact is universal and consistent, ever since it was revealed. Those who study human history with true objectivity, following its course in its wider perspective, which includes all facets of human activity, are able to recognize this truth. Many of them have also recorded this in clear terms.
“A book, the verses of which have been clearly spelled out as a discourse in Arabic for people of knowledge.” Spelling out the verses, clearly and distinctly, according to purpose, people’s nature and mentality, generations, communities, psychologies and needs is a major characteristic of the Qur’an. Its verses are indeed clearly expounded for people who are ready to learn and receive knowledge. In this way the Qur’an gives good news to believers who put their faith in practice, and delivers warnings to those who reject its message and entertain evil. It also explains why such good news and warnings have been given in a fine Arabic style to Arabic speaking people. Most of them, however, refused its message, receiving it cooly: “Yet, most of them turn away, so that they do not hear.”
This is indeed what they did, turning away so as not to hear or be exposed to the powerful logic of the Qur’an. As the surah later informs us, they tried hard to persuade others not to listen to the Qur’an. Of those that did listen their attitude was the same as those who did not: they all resisted the influence of the Qur’an on their hearts. Thus they were like the deaf, deprived of their hearing faculty.
“They say: Our hearts are veiled from whatever you call us to, and in our ears is deafness, and there is a barrier between us and you. So do you what you will, and so shall we.” Such was their stubbornness. They hoped that the Prophet would despair of them ever responding to him and that he would, therefore, stop calling on them to believe. They did so because of the powerful effect of what he said when they deliberately wanted not to believe. Thus, they said to the Prophet: our hearts are covered over so as not to allow your words any penetration, and the deafness in our ears prevents us from hearing you, and the barrier between you and us allows you no interaction with us. Therefore, leave us alone and do what you will. We will go our own separate way. Equally, they might carelessly have said: we will neither listen to what you say nor heed your warnings. You may do what you please. We will continue to follow our own ways, caring nothing for what you do or say.
This is just one example of what the first advocate of the message of Islam had to face. Yet, still he continued to call on people to accept his message, allowing no element of despair to creep into or disrupt his work. He never hastened the fulfillment of God’s promise to him or the infliction of punishment on those who denied him. He acted instead upon instruction, declaring to people that putting the warnings into action was not up to him. He was no more than a human being receiving revelations and delivering a message. His task was to call on people to believe in God’s oneness and to adhere to His message. He was also mandated to warn the idolaters. Once he had done this, matters were left to God while he himself had no say in what was bound to happen: “Say: I am but a human being like yourselves. It has been revealed to me that your God is the One and only God. Therefore, take the straight path to Him and seek His forgiveness. Woe to those who associate partners with Him.”