By Dr Syed Zafar Mahmood
Taj Mahal is known all over the world for its singular beauty and as a symbol of ardent love. But, the third aspect of its celestial revelatory panorama remains mostly obscure from the public cognizance.
- On the gigantic double arches in all four sides of the Taj facade, carefully selected verses from the holy Quran are calligraphed each beginning from lower right side going all the way up, running to the left and creeping down till the left lower side. The calligraphy is made by jasper inlaid in white marble panels. Higher panels are written slightly larger to reduce the skewing effect when viewing from below. Inside the main chamber also such verses as well as ninety nine Arabic names of God are inscribed.
- From the mausoleum’s 223 feet height and 112 feet width one can make out the dimensional enormity of the eight marble arches on which the Quranic calligraphy is inscribed. Additionally there is similar marble inscription around the outer red stone gates each of which is 70 feet high.
Adam, other Messengers and Books
- As per the message mirrored by Taj Mahal, Adam was the first man and the first messenger of God. As humanity progressed, God appointed fresh messengers in different parts of the world and in various phases of human history. To some of them He revealed His message that can be broadcast in the form of a scripture.
- Each such message was meant for the entire humanity though these were clothed in the respective local languages of the recipient communities. Quran is in Arabic which was the language of Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) and his contemporaries in Arabia. Names of some of the earlier messengers and books have been mentioned in the Quran and many have not. Twenty-five messengers and three revealed books are mentioned by name.
- When chronologically appraised, the list of messengers begins from Adam and includes, among others, Abraham, Isaac, Ishmael, David, Jacob, Joseph, Moses and Christ. The books mentioned are Psalms, Old Testament and New Testament. Yet, God says that the human beings should believe in and revere all the messengers and all the revelations. This injunction verbatim forms part of the Quran (2.285).
The Preserved Tablet – Sanctum sanctorum of all revelations
- It is understood from Quran that even before God created life outside the heavens, He caused to be written, in what is known as the Protected Tablet (Lauh Mahfooz), His grand comprehensive message that was set to be revealed to humanity – intermittently and repeatedly – through a battery of messengers during the millennia to come. On the eve of beginning the earthly creation, this comprehensive message was brought down to the worldly sky. From there, it was revealed to God’s messengers at various global locations in different languages, many times over, in different phases of human history. Thus, the Preserved Tablet is the sanctum sanctorum of all revelations.
Purpose of creating humanity
- God goes on to explain that humanity was created by Him to test the comparative levels of righteousness among the human beings, or absence thereof. Worldly life is temporary and insignificant, it is only a trial. The award or punishment for good or bad deeds done here will be given in the next life which will be everlasting and permanent. The final dwelling place will be either Heaven or Hell. That would be decided on the Day of Judgement when all human beings will be resurrected.
- The moral of the story is that the human beings should try to be more and more righteous during their limited tenure in this world.
Shahjahan’s service to mankind
- This realization seems to have intensely dawned upon Emperor Shahjahan after the immature death of his beloved queen. So, in addition to creating a long lasting memorial for her – in brick, mortar and marble – the monarch also used the edifice to telecast his supernatural realization for the spiritual pleasure and benefit of the upcoming generations of humanity.
- He expanded his architectural project to include imparting to the millions of prospective visitors to the shrine – and today’s online surfers sitting in the cozy comfort of their houses and offices the world over – some nuances of God’s Message to humanity. Proper appreciation thereof is sufficient to keep the day to day activity of human soul altruistically attuned toward the service of the fellow creatures, elevating it to a level much above the confines of mundane passion.
Bill Clinton on Taj Mahal
- President Bill Clinton had one said that there are two kinds of people in the world, those who have seen the Taj Mahal and those who haven’t. But, even Clinton didn’t know that appreciating mere marble beauty is not the full realization of the Taj. It’s intrinsic beauty is the Beauty of God manifested through its widespread Quranic calligraphy that was created by the Persian calligrapher Abdul Haq who came to India from Shiraz, Iran, in 1609. Shah Jahan conferred the title of “Amanat Khan” upon him as a reward for his dazzling virtuosity.
- In the coffee table book published in 2018 by Zakat Foundation of India umpteen specific camera views of the Taj Mahal have been presented that focus the calligraphic beauty of the wonderful monument. Along side each photo view the theme of the Quranic engraving has been briefly summarized. For this purpose cues have been taken from well known translations and commentaries; may God bless the noble authors and their associates. Some of these divine injunctions are given as follows.
Code of conduct for human behavior
- Among the Quran’s chapters enshrining the Taj is Surah Ikhlas (ch 112) which establishes the Oneness of the Creator i.e. the doctrine of Tawhid. It says that God is without equal, without origin and unlike anything else that exists. The fourth line, ‘Nothing is like Him’ is a fundamental statement of ‘tanzih’ i.e. divine exclusivity and inimitability – God as the incomparable. This surah was also inscribed on the Dome of the Rock at Jerusalem by Abd-al-Malik ibn Marwan .
- In Surah Al-Takvir (ch 81) female infanticide has been declared punishable. Besides, through many Surahs the divine scheme and code of human conduct have been elucidated. The scripture say: God has breathed His spirit in each one of the human beings (38.72) casting duty upon him or her to imbibe some godly qualities. Over every possessor of knowledge there is one knowing more (12.76); thus nobody should be proud of what he knows.
- God likes us being good hosts (12.59). God also likes prostration as expression of thanks to Him (2.58). In an individual’s wealth his needy relatives have a right (17.26). Contracts must be fulfilled, these will be asked for (17.34). On the day of judgement no intercession will be accepted from anybody (2.48). One should fear only God, none else (16.51, 27.10, 28.31).
- God talks of His great plan of networking the holiday humanity into prophetic communities and books to many of them (2.38). Before accepting a supplication God wishes the believer to exhaust all worldly effort (2.60). One is under divine command to lower the wings of humility to the parents (17.24). Before advising others for righteousness one should practice it oneself (2.44).
- Out of one’s earning and wealth one should keep for self only as much as is required for comfortable life, balance should be incurred on others’ well being (2.219). Extended family and neighborhood are basic units of society for utilitarian proactivity (2.177, 4.36, 17.26, 30.38, 33.6, 47.22). Wealth must keep on circulating in the society rather than remaining confined in a few hands (59.7). Duly observe the rights of the wombs that bore you (4.1). God helps those who help His cause (22.40).
- Thus, a visit to the Taj should not be limited to appreciating its temporal charm commemorating somatic love between two humans but it should encompass learning and cherishing the divine injunctions inscribed on the monument and thus imbibing qualities of head and heart thus making oneself a better human being and a more useful world citizen.
- As per the Poet of the East, Dr Sir Mohammad Iqbal:
Kuchh aur hi nazar aata hai kaarobaar-e jahaan
Nigaah-e shauq agar ho shareek-e beenaee.
One finds the world to be an altogether different phenomenon,
When one includes Nigaah-e-Shauq in one’s canvas of perception.
(Iqbal’s concept of Nigaah-e-Shauq means perceiving Godly design in all that one sees.)
Dr Zafar Mehmood is a retired IAS Officer, is an activist, runs many institutions including Zakat Foundation of India and was Officer on Special Duty, Prime Minister’s High Level Committee for Muslims (later popularly known as Sachar Committee)
Urdu version of this article appeared in Rashtriya Sahara, 4 January 2018. Translation has been provided by the author.