The Quran on Fossil Fuels and Modern Travel – New Tafsir

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There are still many scholars who insist we should not “re-interpret” the Quran but only take the interpretations of prior scholars from hundreds of years ago. Whereas finding new relevant additional interpretations that are applicable to our current developed world (and could not have been known in prior eras) show the timeless, eternal applicability of the Quran to all eras, acknowledging that each era changes and therefore has its separate circumstances. Therefore it is imperative to be able to understand how the Quran is relevant to people of each “world” and timeframe, taking into account how it applies to one’s own time and place. To deny such interpretations is to deny that change occurs or that we are living in a world of time which is indeed ever-changing. So will they not use their minds? Or would they prevent us from using ours?? 

Among the fascinating new applications for Quranic ayat are these from Surat Ya Seen 36 and Surat Al-Waqi’a 56 below, referring generally to the benefits Allah gives to humankind from trees, specifically how they are used as fuel to ignite fire. In a modern context this meaning is expanded even further.

The Green Tree Becomes Fuel

ٱلَّذِى جَعَلَ لَكُم مِّنَ ٱلشَّجَرِ ٱلۡأَخۡضَرِ نَارًا فَإِذَآ أَنتُم مِّنۡهُ تُوقِدُونَ

[It is] He who made for you from the green tree, fire, and then from it you ignite. (Ya Sin 36:80)

The word تُوقِدُونَ tu’qidoon means to “ignite,” and its root also means “fuel.” The words “green tree” does not mean the wood must itself be burned when it is green, but rather is described this way in context to show us how something green and alive is then altered so we can use it as fuel. This aya is surrounded by ayat discussing how Allah the Creator is capable of resurrecting us alive after we were bones that disintegrated. So the “green” tree is emphasizing something alive then drying up and becoming fuel, altered just as after death we become physically altered, and from that “not-alive” state of wood from the tree, becoming ash, is produced energy for the living to benefit from in various ways, as fire. Thus Allah shows that he brings “the dead from the living” — wood as fuel (“fuel” being “not alive”) from a living tree — and “the living from the dead” as in resurrection, but here, the “dead” wood/fire benefits the “living.” As in Aal-e-Imran 3:27: “You bring the living out of the dead, and You bring the dead out of the living. And You give provision to whom You will without account.” 

So now we connect the aya Ya Seen 36:80 to Al-Waqi’a 56:71-3, which refers to the very same thing but in a different context.

أَفَرَءَيۡتُمُ ٱلنَّارَ ٱلَّتِى تُورُونَ

And have you seen the fire that you ignite? (Al-Waqi’ah 56:71)

ءَأَنتُمۡ أَنشَأۡتُمۡ شَجَرَتَهَآ أَمۡ نَحۡنُ ٱلۡمُنشِـُٔونَ

Is it you who produced its tree, or are We the producer? (56:72)

نَحۡنُ جَعَلۡنَٰهَا تَذۡكِرَةً وَمَتَٰعًا لِّلۡمُقۡوِينَ

We have made it a reminder and provision/ ease/benefit for the travelers, (56:73)

The translation above from Saheeh International only uses the word “provision,” certainly one of the possible meanings. I have added the additional possible meanings, which do not really contradict one another, for a more expanded interpretation. To show how this is correct, I investigated how this word is used in its various forms and contexts in the Quran. The word مَتَٰعًا is derived from mut’a or متع benefit/ease/enjoyment, or provision. As per references, the following ayat show how it was translated in different locations by the same translation: 4:24 “benefit;” 6:128 “profited;” 9:69 “so they enjoyed,” “you have enjoyed,” “enjoyed;” 46:20 “and you took your pleasures;” 2:196 “took advantage;” 11:65 “enjoy yourselves;” 14:30 “enjoy;” 15:3 “and enjoy;” 16:55 “then enjoy your;” 29:66 “and they may enjoy;” 30:34 “then enjoy;” 39:8 “enjoy;” 47:12 “they enjoy;” 51:43 “enjoy yourselves;” 77:46 “and enjoy yours;” 2:126 “I will grant him enjoyment;” 2:236 “and make provision;” 10:98 “and we granted/gifted;” 11:3 “He will let you;” 11:48 “We will grant;” 15:88 “We have bestowed.” These are the various meanings derived from this root in translation. 

In the above aya 56:73, the travelers benefit because fuel from trees (in this case wood) provides (also kinds of “provision”) heat, use in cooking, and also illumination as they prepare for sleep. Prophet Musa was drawn to the fire of the “burning bush” where Allah the Exalted spoke to him after that — and the Quran mentions there that he tells his family he sees fire:

Ta Ha 20:10

إِذۡ رَءَا نَارًا فَقَالَ لِأَهۡلِهِ ٱمۡكُثُوٓاْ إِنِّىٓ ءَانَسۡتُ نَارًا لَّعَلِّىٓ ءَاتِيكُم مِّنۡهَا بِقَبَسٍ أَوۡ أَجِدُ عَلَى ٱلنَّارِ هُدًى

When he saw a fire and said to his family, “Stay here; indeed, I have perceived a fire; perhaps I can bring you a torch or find at the fire some guidance.”

Again, fire is seen as a benefit. But here the emphasis is on illumination: “torch,” “guidance.” Whereas in the ayat above, the idea of trees as fuel is given emphasis relating to other possible uses “for travelers,” noting that Musa at the time mentioned above was traveling with his family. 

Recall that the “fuel” that came from “green trees” became altered to be used as fuel, to “ignite.” Green wood does not burn easily, and so it would have been dried, perhaps twigs fallen down were used as kindling, etc. And now, we also use (and refine) petroleum, a fossil fuel derived from trees but in an altered state to be used as fuel, to ignite! And even more applicable, in Surat Al-Waqi’a 56, we find the use for this petroleum: for travelers! In cars, trains, even airplanes, certainly a “benefit” and even “enjoyment” and provision from Allah. 

This is why I showed the various interpretations of mut’a because “enjoyment” becomes especially applicable for cars and other forms of transportation. Of course, Allah the Eternal knows what will happen in the future, and thus His ayat accurately describe a benefit applicable to each era, including our own. 

Remember Our Responsibility, Beware of Unchecked Profit

Another highlight here is that Allah the Exalted mentions again the tree as an original source of the fuel. Its processing and the manufacture of cars is left to us. But He reminds us that without those essential resources, none of this development could have occurred. And even the knowledge itself eventually enabling humankind to produce such vehicles and refine their fuel is from Allah who “inspires” people with insights that over time build a momentum of knowledge that enabled even space flight. But we need to be reminded, because as humanity develops using their minds, they gradually increase in arrogance, taking all the credit for what they’ve accomplished and ignoring and distancing themselves from their Source and Sustainer, the Lord of All Worlds. So these questions He asks in the ayat above is also a reminder for us as humans alive NOW — are we going now to forget?

That question, remembering Allah sent us here to “take care of the earth,” is especially vital in its relationship to the very fossil fuels that are a “benefit to humankind” and give us enjoyment. Always such reminders of Allah are also reminders that we are responsible and must not act heedlessly of our significance as “caretakers” of the planet He created to sustain us. Always the punishment of Allah is connected to what we earn, hence warning us against greed and unchecked ever-expanding profit, which is the modern goal of life according to those whose sight is never set beyond this temporary world and their own egos. So it is an extremely relevant and modern issue.

For those debunkers, deniers, and trolls who claim Islam is a “7th Century” and “backward” religion, this is another example of many that shows their ignorance and futility. And reveals to us again how timeless and relevant the Quran truly is. 

For True Success Look Higher

Islam is guided by constant reminders to build and establish not just material things for this life, but our connection with the Supreme Power Almighty without Whom none of this could exist and upon Whom we still rely, regardless if we acknowledge or deny it. The Quran reminds us that even denial is temporary — once this life ends, every person will see Reality, and cannot deny the Reality of God/Allah Almighty All-Merciful. And everything the rejecters denied will become present. All existence will submit to Allah. Everything promised in the Quran will be enforced. And those who were mindful and remembered Allah, and spent time and what resources they had to help others and the life around them, with reverence and patience, will find the ultimate relief, joy, and bliss in Allah’s unimaginable Light and Presence. 

فَسُبۡحَٰنَ ٱلَّذِى بِيَدِهِۦ مَلَكُوتُ كُلِّ شَىۡءٍ وَإِلَيۡهِ تُرۡجَعُونَ

So exalted is He in whose hand is the realm of all things, and to Him you will be returned. (Ya Sin 36:83)

فَسَبِّحۡ بِٱسۡمِ رَبِّكَ ٱلۡعَظِيمِ

So exalt the name of your Lord, the Most Great. (Al-Waqi’ah 56:74)

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