A QURANIC VIEW OF
LONGFELLOW'S 'A SONG OF LIFE'

Muhammad Jahya


The Quran is the Word of God expressed in Arabic in poetic form with a rhythmv and rhyme as it was chanted by memory in the prayer of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). The original sound of the words, the rhythm and rhyme of them, is destroyed in the translation process (Arabic to English etc.) This destruction lead Thomas Carlisle in a well publicized lecture to dismiss the Quran as a "wearisome, confused jumble, crude, incondite; endless iterations, longwindedness, entanglement; most condite, insupportable stupidity in short."

One way out of the translation difficulty is to take a well-known English poem, ("A Song of Life") and give it a Quranic exegesis. For a holistic understanding (intellectual, emotional and physical) read the combination of the poem and the exegesis slowly and thoughtfully. After contemplation of the Quranic meaning, recite the entire poem out loud (in a group and by memory if possible), paying full attention to the sounds of the words, and their rhythm and rhyme.

The Word of God is a poem carefully and artistically recited from memory by a group of the faithful. This is Quran!


Tell me not in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream!
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.


The human being has both a spiritual nature and an animal nature. Material appearances such as violence, immorality, and suffering are not the complete story. In reality faith in Allah, the creator of the heavens and the earth and human beings is the foundation of life itself.


Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.


Life does have have meaning. Allah has given us the discernment and the responsibility to make right rather than wrong actions. We are accountable and we will answer to Allah both during our lifetimes and after the death of our physical bodies.


Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
Is our destined end or way:
But to act, that each tomorrow
Find us farther than today.


We must follow our God-given consciousness. In our actions we must not follow the pleasure-pain principle which is usually self-centered and hedonistic. We are responsible for our spiritual paths, our families and loved-ones, those without families, sick, oppressed and uprooted peoples, and all the charitable and right-governing institutions on the planet.

We are created by Allah to be moral agents acting in co-operation with other faithful human beings taking into full account all organic and inorganic forms on our planet. We live and act from a creation theology.


Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
And our hearts, though stout and brave,
Still like muffled drums are beating
Funeral marches to the grave.


Our time span on earth this lifetime is limited. The art of Self-Realization takes much care and time. As we live our lives only partially knowing ourselves, we act from an illusionary self-centered confidence. We do not know who we are! -- Allah's representatives on earth. We keep our heads in the sand practicing the full range of psychological defenses and denial. Self-centeredness and denial is no excuse! We are accountable to Allah for our ignorance and failure to act.


In the world's broad field of battle,
In the bivouac of life
Be not like dumb, driven cattle!
Be a hero in the strife!


We must try and strive in life. We are accountable! We practice the greater Jihad as we make extra efforts to know ourselves. We practice the lesser Jihad whether by thoughts, words, or deeds as we combat ignorance and immorality in the outer world. Death and suffering are part of our destiny. Fear of these experiences does not stop our efforts.


Trust no future, howe'er pleasant!
Let the dead Past bury its dead!
Act,-- act in the living Present!
Heart within, and God o'erhead!


The past and future are common illusions. Our greater Jihad is to be aware and discard our false selves and identifications. We must experience our true Heart-Centered Selves. Remember the words of the messenger Jesus (PBUH): "Love Allah and love thy neighbor as thyself. Upon these two commandments rest all the Law (Shariah) and the Prophets".


Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime
And, departing, leave behind us
Footsteps on the sands of time;


The foundation of following a spiritual life is Intentionality. We are created with free will, just like Socrates, Buddha, Jesus, and Muhammad (PBU all of Them). Upon our bodily deaths we must stand naked before Allah. We alone are accountable to Allah. Prophets, priests, humans who have true faith in Allah cannot stand in our place before Allah. Believing and God-fearing human beings are important to us in our learning about Allah and His Plan. They show us that we can indeed be responsible representatives of Allah. It is up to us to carry out that Plan in our daily lives.


Footsteps, that perhaps another,
Sailing o'er life's solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again.


Again the spiritual leaders of our planet can help us see our lost situation and assist us to find our ways back to the love of Allah and our neighbor.


Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor and to wait.


Let us have faith in Allah and rid ourselves of all obstacles to that faith. Let us serve our fellow human beings and teach them how to return to the Pure God-given Faith. May Allah grant us the greatest of patience and perseverance! In the words of Surah 103 0f the Quran:


By the token of time through the ages,
Truthfully humankind is lost!
Except those who have Faith in Allah.
And do righteous deeds,
And join together in the teaching
Of Truth, and of Patience, and of Constancy.