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All the verses revealed in the Qur’an have some background, a knowledge of which is very often necessary for a full understanding of the Qur’anic message. Certain verses of this kind appear in the chapter Al-Muddaththir (Wrapped in his Cloak), one of the early revelations of the Qur’an. This chapter was revealed in about 610 AD when the Prophet was in Makkah. The city was at that time

under the domination of idol-worshippers, who had placed 360 idols in the Kaaba—a place of worship of the one God, built by the Prophet Abraham. The Prophet found this situation highly objectionable, but the first thing revealed to him was not the injunction: ‘Purify the Kaaba of idols.’ On the contrary, the Prophet received the following verses in the chapter Al-Muddaththir: You, wrapped in your cloak, arise and give warning! Proclaim the glory of your Lord; purify your garments; shun uncleanness; do not bestow a favor in the expectation of receiving more in return; and for the sake of your Lord, be patient. (74:1-7)

The message of these verses was very clear: remain patient regarding the idols in the Kaaba, ignore this problem, and spread the message of God by unilaterally keeping the peace. This piece of wisdom can be summed up thus: Avail of the opportunities to perform the task of dawah and leave the problem pending. Here ‘pending’ means waiting for something to happen. In terms of the situation, it meant that although the presence of idols was undesirable, the idols should not be touched. Instead, all efforts should be made to peacefully spread the ideology of monotheism (tawhid), in the hopes that this formula would work and that someday the problem of the idols would be solved in due course, possibly without any direct intervention.

This formula revealed in the Qur’an was apparently religious in its application, but it applies equally to secular problems. Based on the law of nature, it gives us a proper starting point, the most important aspect of any problematic situation. The right starting point leads you to your goal, while the wrong starting point leads you nowhere. Start from what is possible today and you will attain, by tomorrow, what is apparently impossible.

All difficult situations have their problems, but at the same time, there are always certain opportunities in-built in these situations. If you start your task by harping on your problems or obstacles, then it is like putting the cart before the horse. In this world, there is only one starting point, and that is based on opportunities rather than on problems. Choosing to start with a problem is an act of emotional reaction while launching out from the basis of opportunities shows great wisdom. It means: Start from what is possible today and you will attain, by tomorrow, what is apparently impossible. Leaving the problem pending is not inaction. It is, in fact, based on deep wisdom. By adopting this method you can save yourself from futile confrontation and can devote all your energy to achieving your goal. This formula is based on practical wisdom, and practical wisdom is the only workable formula in this world.

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