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100: Al ‘Aadiyaat

Tafseer Surah Al ‘Aadiyaat

Allah (swt) dedicated the previous surah Az-Zalzalah to one catastrophic event in which the earth is going to shake and reveal its content. This surah justifies the events of the previous surah and describes what led to this eventual consequence. We learn in this surah of the things that humans do when they do not fear the consequences of their actions.

The message of the Quran is actually very straightforward but it is the delivery of that message that is extremely powerful. This surah is a stellar example of how Allah (swt) presents an argument by setting up the mind of the listener in a powerful way. This is important because a powerful speech is not just about the message but also about the way it is delivered. This is one of the surahs in which Allah (swt) begins with an oath. In the Quran there are essentially two components when Allah (swt) takes an oath – the object and the subject of the oath. For example, in the statement, ‘I swear by my family, I will take revenge’, the object is ‘family’ and the subject is ‘revenge’. The basic principle in the Quran is that the object of the oath is preparing you for the subject of the oath. However, the mufassiroon did not always keep in line with this principle. Some said that the object and subject do not necessarily have to have anything to do with each other. The stronger argument though is that the object is always rhetorically related to the subject. One of the purposes in ancient Arabic for taking an oath is to indicate seriousness. Another function is to draw someone’s attention. A speaker needs to attract the audience’s attention before delivering his message so that he can be sure that the listener is interested. If the audience is not paying attention and the message being conveyed is important then the point will be lost. The point of delivering a message is to convey it in such a way that it affects you and that won’t happen until you pay attention. Thus, Allah (swt) uses oaths in this surah to grab the attention of the Kuffar who are not paying attention to the prophet (saw) and in order to get someone’s attention you first have to talk about something they want to hear. The first five ayaat of this surah are oaths and are dedicated to getting the attention of the Arab.

 

100:11) By the charging steeds that pant

The Arabs at the time of the Prophet (saw) lived in the desert. They were rough around the edges and broke into fights, which sometimes lasted generations, easily. The Arabs also had an entertainment industry. Their entertainment was poetry and it reflected their interests just like music reflects people’s interests today. The Arabs at that time were fascinated by stories and poetry to do with battles and warfare. They were also obsessed with horses just like people today are obsessed with cars. This surah begins with a series of oaths that are dedicated to two things – battle horses and the battlefield. Allah (swt) swears by ‘aadiyaat which comes from the word ‘aduw, which means to have animosity. The masculine form, ‘aadi, is used for someone who is running in battle against an enemy, moving at great speed because of animosity. In a battle when someone is running towards the enemy they do not look left or right and they care about nothing other than attacking. That is the form of the word that has been used here. The word ‘aadi can also be a group that is on standby for pillaging and warfare, ready and waiting to attack. All of the implications are of moving fast and being aggressive against an enemy. Allah (swt) is taking an oath by battle horses that are racing forward with animosity. This is something that would absolutely get the attention of the ancient Arab. For him it is almost like the equivalent of a movie trailer for an action movie in our time. In movie trailers you are shown a short clip of the movie which is intended to build your interest and then right when they get to the most interesting part of the trailer they cut it off. This scene is similarly being built up excitingly by Allah (swt). The feminine plural form has been used for the horses which indicates that Allah (swt) is not swearing by male horses but rather by females horses – mares. This is because mares are faster in battle and so were more preferred and coveted by the Arabs. In our times you would say that this is not just some ordinary car, rather, it is a super car. The word also refers to a small number of horses numbering less than ten. Thus, Allah (swt) is setting the tone as an action scene straight from the beginning of the surah.

Allah (swt) then adds the word dabhan. Dabh describes the breath or panting of the horse when it is galloping really fast. The use of this word indicates that the horse is travelling as fast as it can towards the enemy. The Arab who has a wild imagination is imagining this scene almost as if he can hear the panting of the horse. By using the word ‘aadiyaat in the active participle (ism faa’il), Allah (swt) is saying that these horses were designed to be used in battle and are finally doing what they were meant to. For example, a really fast car sitting in a parking lot or in traffic was not designed for that purpose. It is when it is driven at full throttle and using its full potential that you get to see it doing what it was meant for. This dabhan at the end emphasises that the horse’s panting is continuous and that the horse is not taking a break. The linguists have commented that the word dabh in Arabic is not originally used for horses. It was originally used for wolves. Wolves do not typically attack an enemy that it thinks is stronger that itself. Rather, they attack an enemy that is considered weaker and one that can be destroyed. We learn from this that Allah (swt) is comparing these battle horses to a pack of wolves. This comparison shows the confidence of these horses, which are going after their enemies like wolves go after their prey.

There is a difference of opinion amongst the mufassiroon over the interpretation of the word ‘aadiyaat. Some have actually said it refers to camels specifically in the season of Hajj when they have to work incredibly hard. There are two evidences that can be used to counter this. Firstly, the rest of the language does not support this argument. Secondly, the entire surah has nothing to do with Hajj and nor is it a Madani surah, which is the period in which the injunctions of Hajj came down. This surah is actually an early Makki surah and so this notion does not follow with the rhetoric of the rest of the surah. This opinion is found in some tafseers because the methodology of connecting the object with the subject is absent. Some people did not accept that methodology, which can result in many different opinions on what this could be because it becomes possible for this to be anything that pants and moves fast. However, if you can connect it with the rest of the surah it gives direction to the surah and it enables the mufassiroon to comment on it with precision.

 

100:22) And strike sparks with their hooves

The first thing to notice is that the ayah beings with fa whereas the first ayah began with wa. This is an important and subtle concept in understanding oaths in the Quran. There are certain letters that are called huroof al ‘adf. These are letters that connect one sentence to another. If this ayah had also begun with a wa then it would mean that it was a different scene to the first ayah (e.g. surah at-Teen begins like this). A wa followed by a fa, however, indicates a continuation of the previous scene. Thus, we are now receiving further details about the same scene. Notice that the third, fourth and fifth verses also commence with fa, which means that all of these beginning verses refer to one continuous scene. The word mooriyaat is another ism faa’il and feminine plural and further describes the same team of horses. The word mooriyaat comes from the word eeraa and is used to describe when sparks fly due to something being struck. There are numerous words used in the Quran for starting a fire and this is one of them. This word is used specifically when two things are rubbed against one another to encourage sparks in order to start a fire e.g. flints. So, Allah (swt) is saying that these horses are running so fast they are causing sparks when their hooves strike the ground. This is adding intensity to the scene by describing the horses as literally blazing a trail behind them. Qadh in Arabic is a violent strike that is very loud and this implies that the horses are making a loud thunderous noise every time their hooves hit the ground.

 

100:33) Who make dawn raids

The word ighara in Arabic means to ambush and the word mugheeraat means that these horses were taken right on top of the enemy. We learn from this that these horses after galloping towards the enemy have now reached them and are at the point of contact ready to ambush. The rider has been taken right on top of the enemy almost like the enemy is on the ground and the rider is above him with a spear. Some mufassiroon say that these verses are talking about the companions but this is wrong. Firstly, this is a Makki surah and at this period there was no battle. Secondly, the subject of the oath, which is coming, is about disbelievers and not believers. This opinion exists because amongst some mufassiroon there was an opinion that if Allah (swt) swears by something then it must be because that object is something sacred or noble. However, this is an opinion that is not based on any direct evidence. The counter argument is that Allah (swt) is swearing by the object but the point will be made in the subject of the oath and this overshadows the point that the object may or may not be sacred. Additionally, the word ighara is used when you go against an enemy with the intent to kill or to rob or pillage. These are all crimes and examples of criminal behaviour and the people being described here are bandits, which is another reason why we would not consider this to be referring to the companions. Allah attributed ighara as a noun to these people and when a noun is used it means that whatever you are talking about is known for that quality.

The word subhan tells us that the enemy was ambushed in the morning. This further adds intensity to the description of these raiders. In the morning there is a lot of moisture on the surface of the ground and things like rocks. Yet, the horses are galloping to the point that sparks fly off the moist ground. The word ighara linguistically means to go deep into something i.e. deep into the woods. By using this word for ambush we learn that these men don’t just attack but rather they go deep into the enemy lines, or into the heart of the town, in their ambush. Typically, when someone wants to attack an enemy they will prefer to attack secretly or at night when they have the element of surprise and can use the darkness to their advantage, as the enemy will not be able to see them coming. However, we learn here that these raiders are attacking in the morning in a brazen attack. If you are attacking an enemy in the morning it means you want them to know you are coming and that you don’t even care. Just like wolves do not fear their prey. This is the kind of confidence these raiders have.

 

100:44) Raising a cloud of dust

In this ayah from a linguistic perspective there is a transition from noun to verbs, which implies that the action is intensifying. The verb athara in Arabic is to cause something to rise and here it is naq’a that is being caused to rise. The word naq’a is one of three words used in the Quran for dust. Naq’a is used when something is travelling very fast, like a car or horse, to the extent that it causes a cloud of dust to rise behind it. Thus, the horses in this surah are galloping so fast they are causing a cloud of dust to rise up behind them. One of the implications of the pronoun bihi used here is that it could be referring to the scenario where there is so much dust flying around when the action commences that you cannot even see your enemy. You are completely engulfed in the dust and cannot see in front of you. It could also be referring to the morning and the fact that although it is morning and the ground is damp and moist and not conducive to being unsettled, the battle is so intense that the dust is rising anyway. This pronoun could also be referring to the dust being caused to rise because of the striking of the horses that is causing the dust to rise. Abu Ubaydah had an opinion that naq’ means to raise the voice and this is rhetorically connected because when you get lost in a cloud of dust you cannot be seen and can only be heard by raising your voice, which serves to further intensify the scene. The horses are charging forth and raising dust clouds that engulf people to the point that you lose sight of them and can only hear their screams.

 

100:5
 5) And plunging into the midst of the enemy

Now we come to the final oath. The word wasat in Arabic means to penetrate right through the middle of something. The usage of the feminine plural tells us that all the horses penetrate right into the midst of their foes using the cloud of dust to their advantage as cover. It is worth bearing in mind that the people under attack here are prepared to meet their attackers. They have seen in the morning light the sparks flying and the cloud of dust rising from these horses. Thus, you can assume they are waiting in formation with their spears raised to defend themselves. Yet, despite this the attackers throw caution to the wind and fearlessly attack through the centre. Furthermore, when attacking you will normally send a first wave of attackers and then a second. However, here the attackers show no regard for military strategy and, despite their small number, send all their cavalry in at once with no fear of the consequences and with no backup support to come to their assistance. None of them stayed behind. The whole wolf pack attacked the enemy without betraying each other. The word jam’a means altogether and it could mean that all the horses penetrated into the very heart of the gathering by smashing their way in through the middle. It could also allude to the fact that previously the enemy was in front of them but now that they have burst through the middle, the enemy is all around them and they are surrounded in the heart of the battle.

 

100:66) Man is, indeed, very ungrateful to his Lord

For the first five verses of this surah there has been no religious instruction. There has been nothing pertaining to the stories of the prophets, or the day of judgement, or of halal and haram, or of Tawheed – nothing. The result of this is that by talking about what the Arab listener really wants to hear, the listener is gradually being drawn in and his attention is fully focused on the Quran. The Arab is listening in anticipation, wanting to know what happens next and it is at this point that Allah (swt) says what He wanted to say all along. The agenda is never the object. The agenda is the subject and now Allah (swt) will present it. If the subject were presented earlier the disadvantage would have been that no one would have paid any attention. At this point the Arab has stopped listening to everything else and you now have their undivided attention. The ancient Arab loved horses and would make poetry about them. They loved horses and obsessed over them the way people love cars today in our modern time. In particular the listener would have appreciated the loyalty of the horses in these verses to their master. Animals have a survival instinct which means that when they see danger they run away from it and in a battle the spear will normally strike the horse first but here but this horse is so loyal to its master that it is willing to give up its own survival and betray its survival instinct for its owner.

It is at this point that Allah (swt) says that there is no doubt that the human being is truly disloyal to His master. The Arab was amazed at and admired the horses’ loyalty to its master without realising that he himself is a slave and that Allah is His master and that in contrast to the horse he is a disloyal slave. How intricately this argument has been constructed. An unexpected curveball is thrown at the listener, which hits him in the heart and leaves him speechless. The listener just a few seconds ago was imagining himself riding the warhorse and admiring how loyal she was to him. Then suddenly he is given a wake up call – YOU are the slave, and YOU have a Master, to whom you are not loyal to at all. Most mufassiroon say that kanood means to be ungrateful to a favour. Allah (swt) has given man so much ability, intellect and favours so that they can use it to benefit them to the extent that even animals submit themselves to man. Allah (swt) gave man this ability so that he would obey Allah (swt) on this earth and be thankful to Him. Yet, people would rather disobey Allah (swt) to the extent that when robbery is spoken about they become excited, like the listener in this surah. People take corrupt ideas and elevate them. We do this in the modern world too where movies are made that glorify criminals and gangsters, where movies are made about bank robberies and heists. Allah (swt) uses this twisted sense of morality to entertain these people and then attacks them when they were least expecting it.

The word kanood also means to cut apart and to separate or to disassociate and so it could refer to how man separates himself from slavery to Allah (swt) unlike the horse that does not separate from his rider. The word kafoor also means to be ungrateful and appears a number of times in the Quran in contrast to kanood which is mentioned only once in the Quran. The difference is that kanood used here means to be extremely ungrateful and is comparable to the kind of person who only makes mentions of his problems but never his blessings. The kind of person who only complains when asked how they are. The kind of person who has a fridge full of different types of food but complains because the food they wanted is not there. Instead of showing gratitude for what we have people are ungrateful and moan about what they don’t have. The owner of the horse demands loyalty in return for the food, shelter and care it receives. Whenever we own something we expect something from it. Allah (swt) owns us and has complete mastery over us and this is unlike any other ownership because when we own something it comes with conditions. For example, you cannot extend your home without first seeking planning permission and you cannot drive your car without first making sure it is roadworthy according to the law. In contrast Allah (swt) owns us and has full authority over us. Furthermore, Allah (swt) gives and gives but does not punish us and in return we become ever more ungrateful and disloyal.

 

100:77) And He is witness to this

Allah (swt) is saying that man is a witness to his own disloyalty and ingratitude. In Arabic the word shahid means witness but in this verse the word shaheed is used. The difference is that the word shahid is used for something that is happening at one time and shaheed is used for something that happens all the time. So, the listener has come to the realisation that he is a witness to his disloyalty for all times. Normally in courts of law a witness is brought to testify against the defendant but on the day of judgement the defendant himself will testify against himself. This surah is not about intellectual or philosophical arguments or abstract discussion. This surah speaks to the deeply rooted nature of the human being. If you have any ounce of gratitude and loyalty in your heart you will feel this message and it will hit home. When a person sins they know in their heart that they have been ungrateful and disloyal. Some will try to ignore it but it still lingers in our hearts and minds.

 

100:88) He is truly excessive in his love of wealth

The word ‘li’ is a preposition that means ‘for’ and it is used to give purpose to something. Allah (swt) is saying that these people are excessive in their love for wealth. The word hub in Arabic is defined as being engaged in the relentless pursuit of something desirable. It is when one sees something that they think is good for them and so they do whatever they can to acquire it as a consequence. However, Allah (swt) did not use the word ‘wealth’. The word khayr means good but almost every mufassiroon has said that in this ayah it is referring to wealth. Allah (swt) is describing people who are intensely focused on the maintenance of their wealth. The word ashadda in Arabic means to tie a rope and shadeed is to be strongly tied to something just like the people being referred to in this ayah are tied up in pursuing wealth. Allah (swt) chose not to explicitly say ‘wealth’ and instead chose the word ‘good’ because wealth is something that can be good or bad. In this ayah Allah (swt) is translating the mindset of the kaafir because for him all wealth is good. Allah (swt) is being sarcastic here. This is what you have so much love for? This wealth that people chase comes from the earth and it will be to the earth it returns. In the previous surah of az-Zalzalah Allah (swt) told us that when man is resurrected the treasure he chased in this world will be unearthed with him and he will see the reality of what he chased after.

 

100:9
 9) Does he not know that when the contents of graves burst forth

The verb ba’thara means to turn something inside out in order to find something. For example, if you have a box with things in it and you are delving into it and yanking things out in order to find a particular item. Allah (swt) uses this verb to describe what is going to happen in the graves. People will be hauled out from their graves like junk from a box. Allah (swt) says that whatever is in the graves will come out and He says this because people love wealth. In the beginning of this surah there were people who were willing to ambush, kill and pillage for wealth. On the day of judgement not only will the perpetrators of crimes like this come out of the ground but so too will the people they put into the ground. Throughout human history and until today people have been and are being killed for wealth. Nations go to war for wealth and to secure precious resources like oil and water. The innocent victims who were killed and placed into mass graves will also come out. The people who put them into these mass graves thought they were safe because there was no record of a mass grave and no one knew the names of the victims. No human rights group came after them. Yet, on that day everything in the graves will come out and no evidence will remain buried.

 

100:10
10) And all that is contained in the hearts will be exposed

The verb hussila means to peel something in order to extract what is inside. For example, a banana is peeled to extract the fruit. Allah (swt) uses this word to describe how the chest will be peeled so that whatever is inside can be brought out. The previous surah mentioned how the smallest deeds people carried out would be shown to them and this surah goes even further by exposing what the human is hiding in his heart, his motives and his inner testimony. In this surah we learn that it is man’s disloyalty to Allah (swt) and his love of wealth. Therefore, Allah (swt) is showing that He has the full picture of what is on the outside and on the inside.

 

100:1111) Their Lord, that day, will be fully aware of them all

This ayah is a continuation of the threats from the previous surah in which Allah (swt) said that man himself will see his actions. The word khabeer means to be fully aware of something inside and out. This surah began with the carefree Arab who pillaged and robbed without any concern of the consequences and who thinks that no one knows or will keep record. However, the surah ends with Allah (swt) informing us that He has full news and is fully aware of everything on the internal and external of what people do.


99: Az-Zalzalah

Tafseer Surah Az-Zalzalah

This surah deals primarily with the last day. The people who denied the hereafter had three criticisms with the concept of an afterlife. Firstly, how could the sky or the earth, this incredibly stable element of our life, ever collapse and come to an end. Secondly, how could there possibly be a record of every single thing every person has ever done. Thirdly, even if we assume these two things to be true then we will still be safe, as we have been worshipping entities that are supposed to have a good connection with Allah (swt). Thus, even if we go to Allah (swt) with bad deeds, these entities are going to make a case for us and intervene for us. This is a good insight into the psychology of shirk (associating partners with Allah). People do not commit shirk because they necessarily deny that Allah (swt) is one. Rather, it is because they want someone in between who can deal with Allah (swt) and handle their problems. A person they can hide behind and a person who will protect them from Allah’s anger. This is at the very heart of Christian thought where they believe Jesus will make a case for them. This is the concept Islam came to destroy. Allah (swt) in this surah shatters all three of these myths. Even within the Muslim community, even if this blatant shirk does not exist, the psychology still does. For example, when we ask people to make dua for us because we think they are closer to Allah (swt) or more pious than us.

 

99:1

1) When the earth is shaken violently in its (last) quaking

Most words in Arabic come from a three-letter root but zalzala is a four-lettered root, which is not the norm. However, some linguists argue that four-letter roots are simply the enhanced form of the three-letter root. This would mean that zalzala comes from the word zalla, which means to slip. When syllables repeat themselves as they do in the word zalzala it indicates repetition in the meaning. The repetition of the root letters implies that the earth will shake and then stop, shake and then stop and will continue in this way. This is common to words with quadrilateral roots, which represent actions that begin and stop repeatedly. For example, waswasa is a word which means the whisperings from Shaytan which are repeatedly used to try to harm and cause confusion and doubt amongst people. Allah (swt) does not just say that Shaytan whispers, rather, he keeps whispering. So, Shaytan will whisper, go away and then approach again to whisper evil again, repeatedly. The silence between each syllable of the word signifies a stop, almost like some form of relief from the whispering or shaking, but suddenly it begins again as signified by the repeating of the syllable. When it stops you think you have relief only for it to begin again. So, zalzala is when someone keeps slipping over and over again. This is why zalzala is translated as an earthquake in Arabic as this is a time when one does not have stable footing and keeps slipping. Thus, Allah (swt) alludes to a day, the Day of Judgement, on which the earth will become unstable for anyone on it. Similarly in surah Hajj, Allah (swt) uses the same word to describe the earth as shaking violently on a day on which people will seem intoxicated without being intoxicated due to them being unable to keep upright (Surat Al-Hajj 22:1-2). Earthquakes are described in the Quran in different ways. The word rajj is used in the Quran for a shaking which happens all of a sudden. An initial jerk where something that was originally stationery suddenly gets put into motion. The ulema have commented that this is the first moment of the experience of an earthquake. Rajaf is a kind of movement or shaking which can change the state of something. For example, it is a shaking that cause ripples to appear in a sheet when you shake it or which causes ripples to appear on the surface of water when a pebble is thrown across it. This is also the word Allah (swt) used to describe the munafiqeen because they were a disturbance in the peace of Medina (see Surat Al-‘Aĥzāb 33:60).

Whilst the previous surah ended with the end of the end and the final endings for the righteous and disbelieving persons (i.e. hell and paradise), this surah begins with the beginning of the end. The journey to paradise or hell begins with the Day of Judgement (i.e. the end of the world and Judgement). The word ‘when’ in English is sometimes used to talk about something in the past and sometimes the future e.g. ‘when I helped you last year’, ‘when I call you next week’. In Arabic the word for ‘when’ in the past is idh and idha for the future. Therefore, this ayah is referring to something in the future. Furthermore, the word idha is also used to remind someone of something that is bound to happen but they keep forgetting. By saying idha Allah (swt) made the event of the Day of Judgement a certain reality. Notice also that Allah (swt) did not say when He will shake the earth; rather, He said when it will shake. This is the passive form where the subject is not mentioned and where the action and the object of a sentence, rather than subject, is emphasised. There are a number of rhetorical benefits of this. The passive in Arabic is used for an action that is very easy to do. For example, when someone says ‘it’ll get done’ they are essentially implying that this is such an easy task that it does not even need to be mentioned who is going to perform the task. So by using the passive form Allah (swt) is telling us how easy it is for Him to cause that violent shaking that is bound to come.

In Arabic we have special verbal nouns that serve to emphasise the meaning of the main verb (Maf’ul Mutlaq). For example, darabtu means ‘I hit’ but darabtu darban, which is the verbal noun literally means ‘I hit with a hit’. In Arabic though repeating the word emphasises the action and so this would actually result in the meaning being ‘I hit him really hard’ or ‘I beat the life out of him’. This is the technique that is used in this verse and suggests that this earthquake will be an incredible earthquake that is violent, continuous and does not end. Earthquakes are amazing events that do not occur often but Allah (swt) goes out of His way to take something which is already incredible and enhance it by adding the word zilzaalaha. However, grammatically zilzaalan would ordinarily be used in maf’ul mutlaq and not zilzalaaha like we have in this verse. Allah (swt) adds the feminine pronoun ha which refers back to the earth in which we find our safety and refuge. The rhetorical benefit of this is that this is an intense earthquake the likes of which will never occur after it and have never occurred before it and one that will shake the whole earth. When an earthquake happens today it is localised. Part of the earth shakes whilst other parts do not. By using the ha pronoun though Allah (swt) is alluding to the entire earth. There is not a patch that will not feel the effects of this violent earthquake. It cannot shake anymore than Allah (swt) will shake it on that day. So, the ha implies that Allah (swt) will shake it in a way that exhausts it and that there will be no inch of it that does not shake on that day. Embedded in the ha could also be a promise. By saying it’s earthquake there is an implication that the earth has made a promise to Allah (swt) that it will shake on that day and fulfil that promise. Another implication is that the earth was always meant to shake and its shaking is the fulfilment of it’s destiny and purpose for which it was created. It was not created for people to enjoy. Rather, its real purpose is not in its journey but in its destination, which is the Day of Judgement. For example, it’s the end of the journey that matters the most to the traveller and not necessarily the journey itself. In the same way the purpose of the earth from the beginning was to shake violently and lead to the Day of Judgement.

 

99:2
 2) When the earth throws out its burdens

The word akhraja is used in Arabic to extract and to take something out. It can also mean to expel or to deport someone from a city. Barraza is another word used in the Quran and means to take something out and then to place it in front of someone (see Surah An-Nazi’at 79:36). Another word is taradda which means to push something that you find unacceptable or degrading away. For example, to push away someone you find beneath you or annoying. The messenger (saw) is commanded not to do this to other believers regardless of their status. It is used in the ayah ‘And do not send away those who call upon their Lord…’(Surah An’am 6:52). Allah (swt) says that the earth will pull out its burdens (athqalaha) and this is the first of two times in this surah that burdens is mentioned. Linguistically, in Arabic thiqal is used for two things. Firstly, it refers to the items you have in your home which make it heavy, for example, your furniture, the items in your cupboards, the curtains etc. If one were to see the belongings in their home strewn outside they would be in a state of shock. Allah (swt) is telling us that on this day those things which you expected to remain on the inside of the earth, like those who have died, will be expelled. It is also used to refer to one’s luggage when they travel. The traveller will not always carry his luggage. At some point it will be released. The earth is also on a journey and it will eventually release its burdens. This is the linguistic meaning.

The meaning in tafseer is that it includes the dead but also the treasures that people spent their whole life chasing, whether it is water, or precious metals or oil. People spend their whole life searching for riches but on that day they will not have to search for it as it will be thrown out. The difference is that no one will run towards it or care because they will realise they were running after the wrong thing all along. It will also bring forth a report of what people have been doing on top of the earth as Allah (swt) made the ground beneath us a witness. If you are not fearful enough to realise that Allah (swt) is watching because He is from the unseen then know that the earth from the seen is also watching. Just like the person who vomits due to excessive eating, the earth is getting loaded on the sins of man until the point that it becomes saturated and a day comes when it gets to throw up. The word takhalla is used in Arabic to describe a mother who is finally able to gasp from relief at giving birth. Allah (swt) used this word in to Surah Inshiqaq to describe how the earth will finally be relieved of the sins of man, the pain which weighed it down, ‘And has cast out all that was in it and become empty’ (Inshiqaq 84.4). Sometimes the earth releases some of its burden through minor earthquakes or other disasters, ‘Corruption has appeared throughout the land and sea by (reason of) what the hands of people have earned so He may let them taste part of (the consequence of) what they have done that perhaps they will return (to righteousness)’ (Surah Ar-Rum 30:41). Allah (swt) through such disasters gives mankind a taste of some of the things they have done. Another opinion is that the real burden on earth are the humans and jinn. In surah Ar-Rahman Allah (swt) says, ‘We will attend to you/We shall turn to reckon with you, O you two heavy ones! (mankind and jinn)’. Ultimately the earth will discard mankind and jinn.

 

99:3

3) When man cries, ‘What is happening to it?’

On that day humans will ask what is happening to the earth, as they are not used to seeing it like this. People will ask what is wrong with it almost as if they did not know this day was coming. Yet, mankind knew it was coming as we have been reminded of this over and over through the generations but on that day, through utter shock at the sight of it, we will forget. The word insaan is different to nafs, which also means a person. The word insaan comes forms nasiya which means to forget and so this is the most appropriate word to use here on a day when man’s resurrection, which he had forgotten about, will stun him. The word naas is used later in the surah and it is a plural that refers to many people whereas insaan is an individual word. In other words we are learning that on that day we will be alone. That day will witness the largest gathering of humans there has ever been, as every generation of the earth will be brought up at the same time. Every single generation from Adam (as) to the last human being will all be standing at the same time. It is narrated from the prophet (saw) that one will not even have the space to move. The only space available will be to plant your two feet. Yet, the irony is that despite this congestion, everyone will be alone on that day. We won’t be in groups, or in tribes or nations. We will be alone. Ordinarily, when one is in a large crowd they feel protected and safe, however, on that day we will never have felt more alone. In Surah Yasin Allah (swt) says, ‘They will say, “O woe to us! Who has raised us up from our sleeping place?” (The reply will be), “This is what the Most Merciful had promised, and the messengers told the truth”’ (Surah Yasin 36:52). It is commented that because of this ayah in Surah Yasin, the ayah we are studying in Surah Az-Zalzalah does not refer to all human beings, rather it only refers to the disbelievers. So, in fact according to this opinion it will only be the disbeliever who asks what is happening on that day because the believer knows what is happening all along. When the disbeliever will be asking what is happening the believer in response will say that this is what Allah (swt) promised and that the messenger (saw) was speaking the truth all along.

 

99:4
4) On that Day, it will tell all

In the first ayah the word idha was used to allude to a time and in this ayah the word yawma-idhin is used which also does this but is even more hyperbolised. In other words we are now getting to a part of the surah in which Allah (swt) is angrier than He was at the beginning of the surah. Yawma-idhin in of itself is a warning and is used for when you warn someone e.g. the day I find you! The word hadath in Arabic is the existence of something that was not there before and the word hadatha means to make someone aware of something they did not previously know. Another meaning of the word is when you tell someone something they completely forgot so that when they hear it they feel like they are hearing it for the first time. A third meaning is when the speaker speaks about a topic and uses language that assumes people in the audience have never heard this topic before. For example, a teacher who recaps a lesson in full detail as he assumes you missed the previous class. This is the way this word is used for the earth on that day. The earth will speak and give every last detail of the deeds people committed and may have forgotten about. Another implication is that when the earth reminds us of our deeds it will feel as if we are hearing it for the first time. The shock of it will be like the shock of some new event. There are many words used in the Quran that mean to inform but the specific word Allah (swt) uses here to depict the psychological reality on the day of judgement is hadatha. People will come into contact with the things they did and the shock they get will be because they will feel like they are hearing this for the first time. This shock is described in Surah Al-Kahf, ‘And the record (of deeds) will be placed (open), and you will see the criminals fearful of that within it, and they will say, “Oh, woe to us! What is this book that leaves nothing small or great except that it has enumerated it?” And they will find what they did present (before them). And your Lord does injustice to no one’ (al Kahf 18:49).

In this ayah the word akhbaar is used for news and not naba’, which also means news. Both are translated into English as news but in the Quran Allah (swt) sometimes uses naba’ and sometimes akhbaarNaba’ is something that you could never have known unless someone gave you that news. This is why a prophet is called a nabi (from naba’) as he teaches you things you could never have known. In contrast khabar is something that you can figure out. The second difference is that naba’ could be something pertaining to the past, present or future whereas khabar is not used for the future, only for the present or the past. The third difference is that naba’ is something that you could not expect whereas khabar is something you can expect. Allah (swt) talks about the day of judgement in different places in the Quran. In Surah Naba’ He (swt) tells us that the trumpet will be blown, mountains will sail, the sky will be cracked open. These are not things one would expect. However, this surah talks about an earthquake, which is something we can expect as we are familiar with them which is why khabar is used. Thus, the usage of words in the Quran is very precise.

There seems to be a contradiction between tuhadithu and akhbaaraha as tuhadithu is used for something that appears to be new to you whereas akhbaar is something already known to you. However, the two combine to imply that the human will come into contact with his actions on that day when the earth speaks and even though his deeds are familiar to him, it will still be a shocking event and hit him like it is something new. There is difference of opinion between the mufassiroon on the tafseer of this ayah. Ibn Mas’ud (ra) was of the opinion that the earth will actually have a tongue and speak on that day. Allah (swt) will make it speak and it will testify on every single person in regards to the actions they had done on its back. One interpretation is that the earth will speak to the people themselves and another is that it will speak to Allah (swt) complaining of what people had done atop it. Both opinions exist in Ahlus Sunnah wal Jama’ah. Some commentators who were rationalists argued that this made no logical sense and so they opined that the earth releasing its contents is its actual abstract form of speech. However, the majority of the ulema disagree as the literal speaking of the earth is proven in hadith literature. On that day the nature of everything will change and things we never expected to speak will speak such as our limbs.

 

99:5
 5) Because your Lord will inspire it (to do so)

The word wahy, which comes from the verb awha, is translated as revelation. However, this is one of its religious implications. Linguistically, the word awha means to hint something to someone secretly about something secret. This is the kind of language sometimes spoken in the military where a commander will say something to his soldier and the soldier will know exactly what to do. It is used several times in the Quran. For example, in Surah An Nahl where Allah (swt) instructs the bee on where to go, ‘And your Lord inspired to the bee, “Take for yourself among the mountains, houses, and among the trees and (in) that which they construct’ (an Nahl 16:68). Another example is in Surah Maryam where the word is used to describe a subtle hint dropped when the Prophet Zakariah instructs the people to make dhikr‘So he came out to his people from the prayer chamber and signaled to them to exalt (Allah) in the morning and afternoon’ (Maryam 19:11). Also, in Surah Al Qasas when the mother of Musa (as) was inspired, ‘And We inspired to the mother of Moses, “Suckle him; but when you fear for him, cast him into the river and do not fear and do not grieve. Indeed, We will return him to you and will make him (one) of the messengers”’ (Al Qasas 28:7). The implication here is that the thought came into her mind and then she knew exactly what to act out. The word is even used to describe the shayateen dropping hints to their human friends so that they can then use it to debate with the believers, ‘And indeed do the devils inspire their allies (among men) to dispute with you’ (extract Al ‘An`ām 6:121).

When this hint is given both the one giving it and the one receiving it share an understanding with the latter knowing exactly what to do thereafter. This word is used in this ayah to let us know that all Allah (swt) has to do is make an indication for the earth to know that it needs to empty itself out. The words wahy and ilhaam are similar in that they both share the meaning of inspiration or revelation. However, there does exist a difference from a language point of view. The word ilhaam is usually calling to some kind of action, ‘And inspired it (with discernment of) its wickedness and its righteousness’ (Ash-Shams 91:8). These inspirations are of action, such as in guidance in showing the opposing good and bad ways. In contrast awha is more a reminder or wisdom. These two words can apply to both humans and jinn. The words hamazaat and waswasa though are only used for the shayateen, ‘And say, “My Lord, I seek refuge in You from the incitements of the devils’ (Al Mu’minūn 23:97). See also Surah An-Naas, ‘From the evil of the retreating whisperer’ (An-Naas 114:4).

Thus, the earth will articulate every piece of news it holds on that day because Allah (swt) inspires it to do so. Allah (swt) does not say rabbaha (it’s Master); rather He (swt) says rabbaka (your Master) and so He (swt) is talking to the messenger (saw). Thus far this surah has been presented in the third person but here Allah (swt) all of a sudden switches to the second person when the messenger (saw) is mentioned to show His closeness to him. This shows the special status of the messenger (saw) on the day of judgement who we know from many narrations will be given the right of intercession. This closeness also serves to show that His Messenger is safe on that Day from all these calamities. He (saw) will be made a party to all these events but distant to the calamities of them. When a verb is used it comes with a preposition. For example, in English you would not say ‘I spoke him’. You would say, ‘I spoke to him’. In this example ‘spoke’ is the verb and ‘to’ is the preposition. The verb must be accompanied by the correct preposition. For example, you would not say, ‘I spoke in him’. In this ayah Allah (swt) says awha-laha and not awha-ilayha. The expected preposition associated with awha is not la; it is ila. The preposition ila is used all over the Quran with awha but in this ayah la is used. When two verbs are used in a sentence two prepositions are also expected. In Arabic it is possible to shorten such a sentence by using the second preposition with the first verb. The ancient Arab is smart enough to know that this combination means that the speaker wants me to think of the verb and the preposition that was not mentioned. It is a remarkable feature of the Quran that Allah (swt) embeds words like this. Ibn Kathir states that the preposition la goes with the absent verb idhan. The meaning embedded in this ayah is that in addition to giving the earth a hint it is also given permission by Allah (swt). Allah (swt) will give the earth the instruction to speak and also the permission. What is the difference? If you give someone an instruction it is because they may not necessarily want to perform the task and they are only doing it because you told them to. However, if you give them permission then the implication is that they wanted to perform the task. Therefore, we learn from this that the earth always wants to quake and speak. It is waiting restlessly for the day on which it can release its burden. Allah (swt) has given it a huge task and it has to wait patiently until that day when Allah (swt) finally gives it permission.

 

99:6

6) On that Day, people will come forward in separate groups to be shown their deeds

The word yawma-idhin appears again demonstrating how the day is getting even tougher. The word sadr in Arabic means to go somewhere and to then later return and the saadir is the person who, for example, left home to collect water and then came back. We have heard and known about the day of judgement since we were young and are constantly reminded of it. Allah (swt) talks about it in the Quran extensively but somehow makes it seem like it is a new subject every time. In this ayah Allah (swt) says people on that day are going and coming back but where are they going and what are they coming back to? Allah (swt) is saying that this world is where we began our lives and then we go to our temporary graves and spend time there before coming back to this earth. When we are in this world it is the time to perform deeds and when we return to this world after spending time in our graves, it is to suffer the consequences of our deeds. When we go into the ground the earth will be something we recognise but when we return to it, it will be unrecognisable. The first time we are in this world is to act and perform deeds and the second is the time to witness those acts. We will be in a helpless state, unable to move or speak. In fact our tongue will speak against us and our limbs will be moved for us. When we were here the first time we were seemingly in control but on that day Allah (swt) will have authority. There is a tafseer of this ayah that NAK does not find convincing. In it some have interpreted that the starting point is the grave after which one is judged before going to paradise or hell. The problem with this is that when you come back you are not coming back to where you started, which is the meaning of sadr linguistically. Secondly, in order to make that meaning work you cannot just say that they were taken to show their deeds. Their tafseer consequently assumes that you have to also show them the reward and punishment of their deeds as they are going to paradise or hell. However, why would the next ayah then mention it again that they will see the good and bad in their deeds. It seems from the text and the spirit of the surah that the concept of seeing what you have done is being highlighted.

In our time in this world we live amongst our family and friends and also amongst other Muslims and non-Muslims within the greater society. In contrast when we leave for our graves we leave alone. When we come back to this world, however, we come back ashtaatan, which comes from the word shattaShatta is when something that was once one breaks into many pieces. In other words humanity was one, one neighbourhood, one community, town or village but when we come back we are all broken up into different categories. Allah (swt) used this word in the Quran to describe the disbelievers, ‘You would think they are united, but their hearts are divided’ (Al Hashr 59:14). It is commented that this breaking up will be according to everyone’s degree of good and evil deeds and that people will be joined by others who scored in the same percentile. Some argue that there will only be two large groups, of believers and disbelievers, whilst others say that the plural ashtaat indicates that even within the believers and within the disbelievers there will be multiple groups of people categorised by their deeds. Others argue that ashtaat means that everyone will be by themselves because of the ayah, ‘(It will be said to them), “And you have certainly come to Us alone as We created you the first time’ (Surah Al-‘An`ām 6:94). Therefore, this breaking up implies that everyone is broken up from all their human connections and they are standing all alone. Another interpretation is that people will emerge from their graves and spread out eventually stopping at the space that they are supposed to stand at. They will be unable to move until their judgement is over and the people become aware of who is successful and who is not. ‘Some faces on that day shall be beaming, Laughing, rejoicing at good news, Some other faces on that day shall be covered with dust, Darkness will cover them, Such will be the Kafarah (disbelievers in Allah), the Fajarah (wicked evildoers)’ (Surah Abasa 80:38-42).

People will be broken up into groups so that they may be shown their deeds. Two words frequently used in the Quran for deeds are ‘aml and fi’l. The word ‘aml used in this ayah is used to describe an act that is done consciously whereas fi’l is an act done subconsciously. For example, breathing is not an ‘aml; it is a fi’l. In contrast hearing is a fi’l as one just does it. Listening carefully and intently though is an ‘aml. Similarly, when you open your eyes the fact that you see is a f’il. What you choose to look at though is an ‘aml. Therefore, in this ayah we learn that people will be shown their ‘amaal. Some mufassiroon comment that people will actually be shown the reward of their deeds. Others disagree and opine that this is not the place where the rewards are spoken about; rather, this is the place where the deeds are spoken about and shown. These deeds will be shown almost as a record of all the good and bad deeds one has performed with a balance at the bottom displaying which deeds were accepted and which were not. A list of one’s entire life choices.

 

99:7
7) Whoever has done an atom’s-weight of good will see it

In Arabic fa can be used as a conclusion to a discourse and so it is as though the actual lesson of this surah is beginning now. Ordinarily, the word ya’malu would be used in a sentence such as this but by saying ya’mal instead the sentence becomes a conditional statement. The response to the condition is yarahu. Thus, we learn that if one were to perform a good deed then he shall see it. In this surah we had the word athqaal, which means burden. From the same root we find another word used in this ayah. The word mithqaal is a tool by which one thing is weighed against another (physical or conceptual). For example, if you have a set of scales with fruit on one side and weights on the other then the mithqaal is the weight. This weight in of itself has no value except to tell you what something else is worth. In Arabic when a word begins with a meem and then has an alif in the middle, like miftaaah (key), then it is a tool. Similarly, mithqaal is a tool by which the worth of an item on the other end of a scale is known. The word dharra in Arabic refers to the smallest thing imaginable and in the experience of the Arab the smallest thing they could see was the egg of an ant, which is why they called it dharraDharra is also defined as the small fibres or dust that one sees floating in a ray of sunlight. In our times we would think of an atom or a spec of dust as a dharra and naturally the smaller something is the less weight it has. Thus, in this ayah we have the word mithqaal, which is used to measure weight, mentioned alongside something that one does not really associate weight with. A comparison is being drawn here to the good deeds one does. The word khayr here could be one of two things. It could mean that whoever does a good deed will see it even if that deed is equal to a tiny spec. Or it is a distinguisher on a scale with a spec or atom on one side and one’s deed on the other. Either way, the meaning is very close. In Arabic khayr is something that is easily distinguishable as being good. It is something that does not require defending, as it is inherently good. For example, one does not need to convince someone that telling the truth is a good thing or that saving someone’s life is a good thing, as these things are naturally known.

There are many different words for seeing in Arabic. The word ra’a, which yarahu comes from, is used for when you see something literally and figuratively. For example when someone comprehends something and he or she says ‘I see’. What this person is really saying is that they understand. Therefore, when Allah (swt) says that he will get to see every spec of deed, this means that the person will see it, see it’s worth and understand why it is worth that. There will be no confusion on that day. When one deals with lawyers the language of the court system can often appear complicated such that the person does not know what is happening. It is very important for one on trial to understand what is going on and sometimes people can end up confused about what they did or end up incriminating themselves. By Allah (swt) using the word yarahu He (swt) clarifies that no one will be in confusion on that day or feel the need to ask themselves why they are going to hell or say to themselves that they did not think they were that bad. They will clearly know and understand what they did and also understand the implication of what that deed will bring them.

 

99:8

8) And whoever has done an atom’s-weight of evil will see it

The word sharr in Arabic comes from sharaara, which means a spark of fire. Sharr is something that is universally understood to be evil such as stealing or killing. Allah (swt) is not talking about what will be rewarded and what will be punished. Allah (swt) is talking about what will be seen. You will see your deeds in every last detail – even the things Allah (swt) forgave. We will see it in such detail that the Quran says about the people, ‘And the record (of deeds) will be placed (open), and you will see the criminals fearful of that within it, and they will say, “Oh, woe to us! What is this book that leaves nothing small or great except that it has enumerated it?” And they will find what they did present (before them). And your Lord does injustice to no one’ (Al Kahf 18:49). This will make us appreciate the mercy and forgiveness of Allah (swt) even more. If someone forgives you for something you once did, but you cannot remember what you did or when you did it, you would not care about their forgiveness. By Allah (swt) reminding you of what you did before He (swt) forgives you, you will be even more grateful and appreciative of His (swt) forgiveness. On top of this Allah (swt) will remind you of a tiny deed you once did that seemed as insignificant as a spec of dust in your eyes and then multiply it making you even more appreciative of His (swt) mercy. On our bad deeds we need Allah’s forgiveness and on our good deeds we need His (swt) mercy. Our good deeds are in fact so pathetic it is only by Allah’s mercy that they actually count for anything because even in our salah our mind is all over the place. We have shortcomings in all our actions including our acts of worship and it’s through Allah’s mercy that He (swt) compensates them by multiplying them and putting barakah in them. And Allah is the Forgiving (Ghafoor), Merciful (Raheem). He (swt) covers our sins and compensates our good deeds. When Allah (swt) increases our reward in the month of Ramadan it is because of His (swt) mercy and not because or our accomplishments. We could have never performed eighty-three years of or a thousand months of consecutive worship.

Seeing the record in of itself on that day will be a terrifying thing and it can be an amazing or terrifying experience based on the results we get. The companions were extremely worried about the small deeds because these are deeds that are steadily accumulated without one realising. There is an experiment involving a frog that is placed into boiling water. Upon impact the frog jumps out of the water immediately. When you place a frog into water at a normal temperature though it stays in and is happy. If this water is then slowly heated until the water reaches boiling point the frog dies, as it does not jump out. Our sins can be thought of in the same way. People can recognise major sins straight away and never go close to them. Small sins however appear insignificant and people will sometimes treat them flippantly and without the same level of caution. When you gradually end up in a bad situation you don’t even realise it. Our minor sins can sometimes seem microscopic but they can add up to the point they become large. Finally, it is one of the styles of the Quran that Allah (swt) sometimes begins a surah with something small and ends with something big or vice versa. In this surah Allah (swt) begins with something huge – the entire earth being shaken violently. The end of the surah in contrast ends with the smallest of specs and this is part of the beautiful contrast of this surah.


98: Al Bayyinah

Tafseer Surah Al Bayyinah

Surah Al Alaq dealt with the subject of how the revelation began whilst Al Qadr dealt with the subject of when it began. This is the third surah in that series and it discusses what the essence of revelation is and what impact it had once it came down. The first three or four ayaat of this surah are considered to be some of the most difficult ayaat in tafseer according to many mufassiroon. This is the nature of the miraculous Quran. Some of the ayaat can be very simple and easy to understand and anyone can get benefit from them whilst at the same time there are ayaat or words that can perplex the mufassiroon for generations.

 

98:1

1) Those who disbelieve among the People of the Book and the idolaters were not about to change their ways until they were sent clear evidence

There is a strong difference of opinion between the mufassiroon on whether this is a Makki surah or Madani. One group of mufassiroon comment that the majority say it is Makki whilst another group say that the majority say it is Madani. When we turn to the opinions of the companions we find similar confusion. For example, we get two conflicting narrations from the same companion Ibn Abbas (ra). In one narration he said it is Makki and in another that it is Madani. The narration in which he says it is Makki is the one, which is mostly taken and accepted so maybe there is some weakness in the other narration. Aisha (ra) was very strong in her opinion that it is Makki. Nouman Ali Khan’s opinion is also this because the athar from the companions also seem to indicate that the surah is Makki. The reason some scholars say the surah is Madani is because it is talking about the people of the book. However, the messenger (saw) only came into real interaction with the people of the book in the Madani seerah and not the Makki seerah. Furthermore, from the language of the surah it could be suggested that the surah is late Makki. In the late Makki stage there was increased interaction with the people of the book. For example, surah Al ‘Isrā’ and Al Kahf are Makki surahs which deal with the people of the book who come up later in the Makki seerah before the migration to Madina.

A simplistic translation of the word bayyinah at this point is the clearest truth but it is the word munfakkeen which gives this ayah complexity and the word which comes under a lot of discussion. There are two ways of understanding this word. The first is that those who disbelieved from the people of the book and the people who associate partners with Allah (swt) have separated and cut themselves off. The second meaning is that these people would not discontinue or stop what they were doing until the clearest proof came to them. However, Allah (swt) does not mention what they quit doing and this is the question the mufassiroon grappled with. What is it that the disbelievers were not going to quit until this revelation came? The word infakka means to stop doing something and the word infikak means to free a slave. Infakka al adhm is a phrase which means to be painfully separated from something. For example, a bone which is in its correct joint but due to a weakness or impact, it gets moved from its place resulting in a painful removal i.e. a dislocated shoulder.

Imam al-Wahidi said that this ayah is the most difficult of what is found in the noble Quran in terms of its sequence and structure and also in terms of its interpretation and it has caused confusion to a number of great scholars. This complication stems from the use of the word hatta. It is used in English for something that was not the case until a certain point and then it was the case. For example, ‘I didn’t eat until/hatta five o’clock’. This means I ate after five o’clock. Therefore, if the ayah is saying that the disbelievers were not going to stop their shirk and practices of disbelief until the revelation comes and corrects them then it should imply that after revelation came they abandoned these practices. However, it is apparent from the seerah that after the revelation came many did not stop. Al-Zamakhshari was a Muʿtazilite scholar who is not accepted by Ahlus-Sunnah but his linguistic analysis is accepted and is almost the gold standard in the analysis of the Quran. His view is very different from other mufassiroon when understanding the complexity of this ayah. His view is that Allah (swt) is elaborating the stance of those who disbelieve and that the verse is also being put in the form of a question – are they saying that they will never leave what they are doing until a clear proof comes to them? He cites as evidence other places in the Quran where the people of the book and the mushrikeen make this challenge. For example, in surah ‘Āli `Imrān the people of the book came to the messenger (saw) and said that they were not going to believe until a sacrificial animal was brought and consumed by a fire from the sky as a sign from Allah (swt), ‘(They are) those who said, “Indeed, Allah has taken our promise not to believe any messenger until he brings us an offering which fire (from heaven) will consume.” Say, “There have already come to you messengers before me with clear proofs and (even) that of which you speak. So why did you kill them, if you should be truthful?” (‘Āli `Imrān 3:183).

Al-Zamakhshari was of the view that maybe this ayah was another example of people demanding a proof like the people in surah ‘Āli `Imrān. The mushrikeen also made demands too, ‘And they say, “We will not believe you until you break open for us from the ground a spring. Or (until) you have a garden of palm tress and grapes and make rivers gush forth within them in force (and abundance). Or you make the heaven fall upon us in fragments as you have claimed or you bring Allah and the angels before (us). Or you have a house of gold or you ascend into the sky. And (even then), we will not believe in your ascension until you bring down to us a book we may read.” Say, “Exalted is my Lord! Was I ever but a human messenger?” (Al ‘Isrā’ 17:90-3). This was some of the demands of the mushrikeen and this in their minds was bayyinah – a proof you cannot argue with, a proof so clear that there is no room for argument left. Thus, Al-Zamakhshari was of the view that the first ayah of this surah is not Allah (swt) giving a statement of fact but rather a narration of the point of view of the Kuffar. The second ayah of this surah is then Allah’s response in the deliverance of bayyinah, a magnificent messenger who recites purified scriptures.

Others did not accept this opinion and opined that the word min (from) is also key here. The meaning of the verse would then be ‘Those who disbelieve from the people of the book’ meaning that not all the people of the book were disbelievers. Thus, we cannot say that everyone from the people of the book disbelieved. Rather, the ayah is talking about a group from among them who would not leave their disbelief even after receiving the clear proof. Another opinion is that the verse is talking about those who did leave their kufr. A group of people who would never have walked away and separated themselves from their disbelief until bayyinah came. A group of people who were so committed to their tradition that it had to be something very powerful that takes them away from their disbelief. Al-Ghazali explains that people were set in their tradition of shirk and disbelief for generations and when people are firmly set in their ways then it requires something powerful to take them away from that. Just like bones are set in their place (infakka) and are painful to move, so too are people. Allah (swt) says that they would have never left their kufr until something really powerful like the bayyinah came to cause them to leave their traditions. It is apparent from studying the seerah that people who were mushrikeen for generations left shirk for good. Even when Islam spread to the Roman and Persian empires where the people had been firm on their traditions for centuries, the impact of this proof was so powerful that it was enough for them to be separated from their own legacies conclusively in a way which it could never be reconciled again. The previous surah taught us that the Quran was revealed on the Night of Power and in this surah we see that the power of this Quran separated entire nations. As Islam spread this ayah became more and more true such as when Islam spread to the Indian subcontinent where people who had practiced shirk for generations became Muslims, separated from their old ways and traditions, never to return to them.

The verse is also considered to be attributed to the people of the book who were very committed to their book and claimed it to be the truth. They would fight with the polytheists but lose and so would then warn them that they have a messenger promised in their book whom Allah (swt) has promised victory to. The irony is that although they boasted about the messenger, when he (saw) came they disbelieved in him. When the clearest proof came to them this was the time to hold onto their book and its message but instead this was the time they abandoned even their own scripture. Kafara in the Arabic language is used for those who deny and reject and the phrase aladheena kafaroo is used for those who reject the truth. Yet, what are they rejecting because Allah (swt) is calling them the ones who disbelieve even before the revelation came? Usually aladheena kafaroo is used after the revelation comes because it is at this point it is either accepted or rejected. When you reject it, then you become one of those who disbelieve and if you accept, then you are from those who believe and accept the truth. We have to understand this in more depth and understand what kufr they were in before the revelation came.

The word kafara also means to bury a seed deep in the ground which means it is planted into darkness. Every society that has not received the light of revelation is in the darkness of kufr and it is Allah (swt) who brings people out of darkness and into the light, ‘Allah is the ally of those who believe. He brings them out from darknesses into the light’ (Al-Baqarah 2:257). No society is all good or all bad. Even the worst societies have some good in it and in fact you could say that in the period before the messenger (saw) arrived although there was a lot of evil and bad habits in the society of the Quraysh, there was also some good there too. For even among criminals like Abu Lahab and Abu Jahl, there were people like Abu Bakr and Waraqah Ibn Nawfal living in the same society who did not take much time in recognising that Muhammad (saw) was a messenger. To understand this surah better we are going to make four categories of people in a society in which no revelation has come yet. Firstly, there are people who have goodness on the inside which shows on the outside e.g. Abu Bakr. Secondly, people who may have good on the inside but it is not apparent on the outside due to the society which rubs off on them e.g. Hamza and Umar ibn al Khattab. The third category or people are those whom everybody likes and thinks are great but on the inside they are very corrupt despite their apparent goodness on the outside. An example of this type of person is Abu Jahl, a brave and chivalrous person, whom everyone loved to the extent that he was called ‘Abu Hakam’ (the ‘One of Wisdom’), someone who was sought for advice. Lastly there is the worst of the worst. The person who has no good on the inside or the outside e.g. Abu Lahab. These people are all living together in the same society together and are not separated from one another. Yet, when Allah’s messenger and message comes both are forceful enough to separate between these people and it becomes abundantly clear who is actually good and who is bad. So people like Abu Bakr and Umar are on one side because they had goodness on the inside and people who looked good externally like Abu Jahl or had power like Abu Lahab were cut off and separated on the other side because Allah (swt) exposed that they had no good on the inside. This was something that no one could have known. The only thing that could have clarified this was the revelation that was given to the prophet (saw) causing the society to become compartmentalised and separated into camps.

In Surah Al-‘Anfāl this concept is powerfully explained in that this separation enables truth to come forward as truth and falsehood as false. This is so that it can become absolutely clear that Umar (ra) is good and as impressive as Abu Jahl is, let it become clear that there is no good on the inside. In surah Al-‘Anfāl Allah (swt) says, ‘But (it was) so that Allah might accomplish a matter already destined – that those who perished (through disbelief) would perish upon evidence and those who lived (in faith) would live upon evidence; and indeed, Allah is Hearing and Knowing’ (Al-‘Anfāl 8:42 excerpted). The ones who get destroyed, get destroyed on account of the clear proof and the ones who get to live blissful lives, get to live it based on the bayyinah. So, this revelation came and distinguished and clarified people. Why was it important to separate people and why could people not live side by side? The Arabs were an example of a pluralistic society in which there were many different Gods in the Haram and everyone could worship what they wanted to without anyone being declared wrong or right. However, Allah (swt) did not just send a culture of tradition, He (swt) sent the truth and when you have convincing evidence that shows the other side as false it starts to become offensive to all the other religions. This is because Allah (swt) does not say that you can become Muslim and not worry about what everyone else is doing. Rather, Allah (swt) attacks shirk and the people of the book for hiding the truth. Allah (swt) goes after them and in addition the Quran is very uncompromising and offensive to shirk because falsehood does not frighten the truth. Thus, this bayyinah came and separated people because whosoever accepts this truth cannot quietly ignore falsehood, they have to speak out and separate themselves from it, just like the messenger (saw) had to separate himself.

This separation has always existed between truth and falsehood, ‘There has already been for you an excellent pattern in Abraham and those with him, when they said to their people, “Indeed, we are disassociated from you and from whatever you worship other than Allah. We have denied you, and there has appeared between us and you animosity and hatred forever until you believe in Allah alone” except for the saying of Abraham to his father, “I will surely ask forgiveness for you, but I have not (power to do) for you anything against Allah. Our Lord, upon You we have relied, and to You we have returned, and to You is the destination’ (AlMumtaĥanah 60:4). If you go further you will find the benefit of this separation. Allah’s destruction will fall upon those who do not accept this truth and His help will be in the favour of those who accept this truth. However, in a society when falsehood is mixed with truth, falsehood cannot be destroyed. Furthermore, Allah (swt) will never destroy a people whilst the messenger (saw) is amongst them. Once the believers are separated from the disbelievers only then is the truly filthy exposed, ‘(This is) so that Allah may distinguish the wicked from the good and place the wicked some of them upon others and heap them all together and put them into Hell. It is those who are the losers’ (Al-‘Anfāl 8:37). The Quraysh had many different evils in the society mixed with the good but once the two were separated, all the filth could be piled up. Disbelief can be made up of many different component beliefs but it is in its entirety one falsehood that can get piled up together just like dirt is brushed into one corner. This is what munfakkeen is. In the Arabic language when a word begins with fa it usually has the meaning of cutting off or separation and opening up e.g. fajr (opening up the darkness to reveal the sunlight). Munfakkeen is the separation of the people of Quraysh. They were not longer just Arabs. Their tribal and family lines disappeared. The only dividing line now was the testimony of faith which divided people up into believers and disbelievers. This is what bayyinah did, the criterion and separator. Bayyinah means to put distance between two things and we can see that bayyinah clearly came to separate two groups from each other when previously they were all a mixture of people in one society.

 

98:2

2) A messenger from God, reading out pages (blessed with) purity

What is the bayyinah and clear proof? The proof is in this ayah and is the messenger himself, a messenger from Allah (swt). Ordinarily, one would say rasoolullah but here the words are separated by the word min. In addition the word rasool has a tanween on it making it rasoolun. This results in the translation becoming a magnificent messenger from Allah (swt) that reads onto people purified scriptures. Thus, bayyinah is made up of two components, the messenger and the message. It is important to understand that Islam is not just a theory or an idea because a theory or concept in of itself is not good enough unless you see it in action. This is the biggest obstacle to dawah in our time. You can show people the proofs and wisdom of Islam but when you look at the practice of the Muslims it undermines all your dawah. If this book is so good and perfect then why don’t Muslims live by it? Why don’t Muslims conduct trade and business like the Quran tells us too? Or treat women like the Quran and Sunnah tells us too? Ultimately a clear message is one which sounds convincing in theory and in practice can be observed. This is absolute proof. So, Allah (swt) says that the absolute proof is not just the Quran but a magnificent messenger from Allah (swt) who is reciting purified scrolls and scriptures. This is the ultimate hurdle to the dawah of Islam in our time. We invite people to Islam by giving them literature and media all of which is theory and empty until they see the practice and honesty of the Muslims. Otherwise the theory is just one side of the picture which is not enough and not real dawah and so Allah (swt) makes it clear that you cannot separate the messenger from the message. The carrier of the message should reflect the teachings of that message and our speech must match our actions. This is something that we see throughout the life of the messenger (saw) and in surah Al Qalam, Allah (swt) exalts the character of the messenger (saw), ‘And indeed, you are of a great moral character’ (Al Qalam 68:4).

The word yatloo means ‘he reads’ and comes from the word tilawa which means to narrate and read. Literally tilawa means to follow because of the the way a reader’s eyes follows the lines on a page. The same word is used for the sun following the moon. However, we know that the messenger (saw) was not able to read and yet Allah (swt) says he is reading. This can be explained by the fact that the Quran has a three-step journey. The first part is in writing in al-Lauḥ al-Maḥfūẓ (the Preserved Tablet). In surah Abasa Allah (swt) tells us that the revelation to Muhammad (saw) started its journey in purified ennobled scriptures held in the company of scribes who were the highest ranked angels. ‘(It is recorded) in honoured sheets, Exalted and purified, (Carried) by the hands of messenger-angels, Noble and dutiful’ (Surah Abasa 80:13-16). They gave it to Jibreel (as) who then brought down to Muhammad (saw) a certified copy of al-Lauḥ al-Maḥfūẓ and read it to him. The prophet (saw) said that when the revelation would come down it was as though it was written on his heart. Thus, when the messenger (saw) is reading in this ayah he (saw) is reading from his heart the purified scriptures which came down upon it. We learn in different narrations that the heart of the messenger (saw) was purified (once when he was a child and the second time on his journey of Israa’ wal Mi’raaj (Journey to Palestine and to the Heavens), because it had to be cleansed to be able to store the pure revelation that was being placed there.

 

98:3
 3) Containing true scriptures.

The word kutb in Arabic can actually mean ahkaam (laws) as well as books. In fact it is more often used for law than it is for books. For example, in the Quran Allah (swt) says, ‘decreed (kutiba) upon you is fasting’ (excerpted Al Baqarah 2:183). Sometimes this is translated as fasting was written on you but it actually means that fasting was made binding law upon you. Even in English we have the phrase ‘the judge threw the book at him’ which essentially means that the judge used the full extent of the law against him. In another example people will also say phrases such as ‘I’m driving by the book’ i.e. law. The meaning of this ayah is that the scriptures came and within the scriptures there are laws, which implies that there are other wisdoms too and more than just law. Sometimes Muslims reduce our deen to just halal and haram, do this and don’t do this but Allah (swt) says fee ha kutb. In those scriptures there are indeed laws but there is more than that. However, Allah (swt) is highlighting the laws here and we will see why in the coming ayahs. The word qayyimah means established and upright laws and comes from the word qayyim, which means something that stands straight and also when something crooked is set straight. In other words this is the establishment of the upright wisdoms of Allah (swt) which takes all of the crookedness in society and sets it straight.
98:4

4) (Yet) those who were given the Scripture became divided only after they were sent (such) clear evidence

In the first ayah Allah (swt) mentioned two groups of people, the people of the book and the mushrikeen. In this ayah though He (swt) only mentions the people of the book, which makes this a special case in the middle of the surah. Most mufassiroon comment that this ayah is talking about the people of the book and the bayyinah in this ayah is the messenger Esa (as). Allah (swt) is giving an example of a historical event when Esa (as) came to the people of the book to unite them only for them to fall into division amongst themselves. This is the first implication of the text. The second is of the amazing contrast in this ayah. In the first ayah Allah (swt) was talking about a transition from darkness to light when bayyinah brought people from kuffar into belief. In this ayah there is the opposite transition from light to darkness. This is because this ayah refers to a people who were knowledgeable but fell into division and darkness.

This is a dangerous concept that Muslims need to understand and occurs many times in the Quran. These people did not fall into disagreement until after the clearest proofs came. Allah (swt) is teaching us the social reality that religious knowledge is a weapon and means of empowerment. When someone has a lot of religious knowledge they attain a certain level of respect and status in society. This status gives them a public voice where people are able to listen to them. However, knowledge is not a safeguard against having bad character. One can have a lot of knowledge but still be corrupt because knowledge does not keep someone safe from corruption. Praising people of knowledge and placing them on a pedestal can serve to inflate their ego. It is sometimes the case that a person has a façade of a scholar on the outside but on the inside there is a very arrogant person brewing. When people begin to listen to someone more knowledgeable it takes attention away from that scholar to the extent that he views the other scholar as competition and starts to attack the other saying he is lying. This is not because they want to promote the truth but rather because they want to promote themselves and inflate their own ego.

This happened to the ulema of Banu Israel who were very powerful. Allah (swt) sent them Esa (as) who was more knowledgeable than them on their scripture and exposed their corruption. The humble thing to do would have been to accept your mistake and accept Esa (as) as the messenger but in order to protect their status they fell into dispute amongst each other. This is why those who were ‘given the book’ are mentioned and given more emphasis because they had the knowledge but they didn’t follow it, which is worse than being ignorant like the polytheists in the first ayah. So, Allah (swt) is talking about the people of the book who even after the proofs and the knowledge came to them fell into disagreement because the desire to dominate others and to preserve their ego was so strong. We see elements of this even in the Muslim community where sometimes a speaker or group falls into dispute with another speaker or group. Sometimes the reason is not to hold onto or protect the truth but rather to preserve the ego. It is ironic that the people of the book did not disagree until the clearest proof came to them because the clearest proof is actually what should make you want to lose your disagreements. Jealousy and insincerity only leads people further into disagreement.

 

98:5
5) Though all they are ordered to do is worship God alone, sincerely devoting their religion to Him as people of true faith, keep up the prayer, and pay the prescribed alms, for that is the true religionThe very next ayah talks about insincerity because the root problem of disagreement amongst people of knowledge is a lack of sincerity. They fell into disagreement because they were not able to humble themselves to two things – the messenger and the message. Humbling yourself before a messenger in all matters can be very difficult when you see him as just a man. This is because in life sometimes it is difficult to obey someone who has authority over you and there can be a natural tendency to want to be free from that authority. For example, sometimes people dislike their boss or the police or traffic wardens or the government or their teacher, as these are people who have authority over other people. However, the messenger from Allah (swt) demands absolute authority and unless you are truly sincere to Allah (swt) you will not be able to overcome your ego and will end up questioning why you should obey the messenger when he is just a man. There are even people who decide to obey the message but not the messenger. They obey the Quran but not the Sunnah and they reject ahadith. This is symptomatic of an ego. These people are trying to separate the bayyinah even though it is two according to Allah (swt). When Esa (as) was no longer on the scene the people of the book found it easy to make changes to the book themselves. So on the one hand they are not listening to the messenger and on the other they are corrupting the message.The clear proof is a responsibility of the one making the claim and the oath is on the one the claim is made against. For example, imagine two people make an agreement where one borrows money from the other but later denies it. The one who lent the money is making a claim and so he has to produce the evidence. If the proof cannot be produced then the one who took it has to swear he did not take it and then the curse of Allah (swt) is on him. If an audio recording is produced of the time the person borrowed the money then this would be clear and irrefutable proof after which the case is closed because there is no counter argument left. This is what the revelation combined with the messenger is – a clear and irrefutable proof after which there can be no counter argument. This is what bayyinah means. If someone still falls into disagreement then it is because of a lack of sincerity.Allah (swt) gives us in this ayah what is essentially a summary of the entire deen and this is one of the beauties of this surah. This surah summarises the teachings of the Quran, the mission of the messenger (saw) and the entire purpose of the Quran into one small statement – this ayah. Ibn Taymiyyah says that there are five conditions to being a slave of Allah (swt). The word ‘ibadah is commonly translated as worship in English. Yet, there is a gap between the Arabic word ‘ibadah and the English word worship that needs to be understood else there will be something missing in our understanding of the Quran. The word worship in English is a word that is very specific in its meaning. It is used for specific acts of worship that are offered at particular times by specific religions. For example, Christians have their own mode of worship, as do Muslims. To an English speaker the word worship can conjure up the image of someone kneeling down or bowing at a church or synagogue. Thus, because we are translating from Arabic to English we have to be careful about the words we use and the images they conjure up in the minds of the people who speak that language. The meaning of ‘abada in Arabic includes the meaning of worship but it also has another distinct connotation which is of slavery. The word ‘aabid means worshipper and ‘abd means slave. In English there is a huge difference between a worshipper and a slave. Someone who is worshipping may not be a slave and someone who is a slave may not be worshipping. When we use the word ‘ibadah in Arabic, however, we combine the two concepts of worship and slavery together. Thus, if we translate this ayah as ‘they were commanded to worship Allah’ then we are missing the other half that is implied. The opposite of ‘abd in Arabic is rabb (master) but ‘abd is one of two things – either the slave or the one who worships. If you think of it in the meaning of slave then the opposite of it is the word rabb and if you think of it in the meaning of worshipper then the opposite is illah (God). So, we have two separate antonyms one from the meaning of worship and one from slavery but both are meant when Allah (swt) uses the word ‘abd in verbal or nominal form.Slavery is different from worship because slavery has no time associated with it whereas worship does as it is performed at particular times. The slave is a slave at all times as it is a state of being. In contrast someone can be a worshipper at certain times but they are not always a worshipper. Also, in order to be politically correct the word slave is often translated into English as servant, which comes from the English word service. For example, an accountant serves his firm and this service is an exchange where one expects payment for providing a service. Furthermore, if you are an accountant you cannot be expected to wash the windows. However, in slavery the slave is commanded to do everything that the master says. Secondly, one never enters into slavery voluntarily; it is something forced upon someone. In contrast worship is always voluntary. No one applies to be a slave whereas people do apply to be part of a service industry. Furthermore, the slave will always desire freedom. Despite the fact that slavery has so many negative images associated with it we cannot abandon the term and must be true to the text and fully explain the concept. In this slavery Allah (swt) is the master and He is nothing like His creation and is far above them. In every other slavery another human being is the master but in this slavery Allah (swt) is the master and He is unlike any other master. In surah Al Fatiha before we call Allah (swt) rabb we first praise Him and show gratitude to Him. No master is shown praise and gratitude by his slave other than Allah (swt). Every master is complained about. Therefore as this is a different kind of master it means we must be a different kind of slave. Every other slavery is coerced but this slavery is willingly accepted by the slave. This is the uniqueness of Allah’s mastery; we enter this slavery willingly driven by our love for our master and not hatred.

Ibn Taymiyyah says that there are five conditions to being a slave of Allah (swt). The first of the five conditions is that you have to love Allah (swt). You cannot be considered His slave until you love Him and that means everything else you love must be less than the love you have for Allah (swt) and every other thing you love must be dictated by the love you have for Him. So, you cannot love your wife or your children unless that love is underneath and in submission to the love you have for Allah (swt). The second condition of slavery is obedience. The prophet (saw) said that ‘There is no obedience to the created in disobedience to the creator’ (Ahmad). In other words we have to obey traffic laws and the like but none of those things can be obeyed in disobedience to Allah (swt) as obedience to Him comes first. The third condition is sincerity, which means that everything you do, you do as a slave for the sake of Allah (swt). Because if you are a worshipper then only your salah is for Allah (swt) and everything else is for you but if you are a slave then everything is for Allah (swt). Allah (swt) teaches us that the prayer, sacrifice and life and death are all for his sake, ‘Say, “Indeed, my prayer, my rites of sacrifice, my living and my dying are for Allah, Lord of the worlds”’ (al An’am 6:162). So, when we make career or family or business goals then our ultimate agenda should be to do it for the service of our master. Most Muslims reduce Allah’s request for slavery to a request simply for worship when He is actually asking for something far greater. Fourthly, one must have tawakkul (trust) in our master. Whatever He (swt) does you have to trust it is good for you and whatever He gave you, He gave because it is good for you and whatever He didn’t give you, He didn’t give because it was good for you. When you place your trust in creation you will always be disappointed but when you place your complete reliance and trust in Allah (swt) then nothing will disappoint you. Finally, in every relationship there are terms in which every party has responsibilities. For example, a teacher has responsibilities to his student and vice versa. In our relationship with Allah (swt) the terms of this slavery is not dictated by us. Rather it is dictated by our master Allah (swt). The definition of what it means to be a good slave comes from Him (swt) and we have no say in it. This is the problem most people have in their relationship with God. People would prefer to say that their heart is clean rather than accept Allah (swt) as their master and submit to Him, which is the essence of our deen.

There are those who worship Allah (swt) and become slaves of Allah (swt) but they do not make the religion sincerely only for him. They do some things for him and other things for themselves. This is what the previous ayah was talking about. The people of the book had knowledge but they fell into disagreement because they expected respect. Muslims can also be in danger of this. When Muslims volunteer their services for Islam sometimes Shaytan makes us lose our sincerity and causes us to fight one another because of our ego. When one does this then they are no longer doing it for Allah (swt) anymore. There are many times when someone does something for Allah (swt), which no one appreciates or says a word of thanks for and sometimes they are even insulted. All of these are things which can discourage one from continuing. This person should ask themselves why they are there in the first place. To be appreciated? So that people will say you are a nice guy? Were your expectations from Allah (swt) or from the people? Duat who speak publicly will be appreciated on most occasions but sometimes people don’t and call the speaker misguided or a deviant. When someone is used to being praised all the time and then they are criticised it can cause different emotions to flare up in that person. However, it should be remembered that the Prophet Muhammad (saw) was the ultimate daee but most of the time he was not praised, rather he was ridiculed and criticised. Furthermore, this was not light criticism; rather, it was harsh ridicule and insults. Yet, he had amazing sincerity because he only every expected from Allah (swt). Iblees worshipped Allah (swt) for years and years and then he disobeyed Him because he was fighting for religious recognition. This problem has entered our ummah too amongst the people of knowledge.

Allah (swt) gives an adjective to these mukhlisseen (sincere believers) calling them hunafaa. The root word hanaf means to incline away from misguidance towards being upright and committed without being distracted by others. This is the attribute that was given to Ibrahim (as) as he was solely dedicated to Allah (swt) and nothing could distract him. The Sunan and the Musnad compilers recorded that Allah’s Messenger said, ‘I was sent with the easy Hanifiyyah (Islamic Monotheism)’. This ayah is the essence of the deen that has always been there from the earliest revelations. The core of the deen has always been to become Allah’s slave, establish prayer and give Zakah. The ulema looked at this and said that Zakah is a service to people in need, which is done sincerely for Allah (swt) whilst salah is a service to Allah (swt). The phrase deenul qayimah is literally translated as established religion. Other scholars say that it is the religion of the established nation and that by saying this Allah (swt) is implying that those who sincerely work to establish the deen will have victory in the end, if not in this world then the next. This ayah begins with what is on the inside – sincerity and then moves onto what is happening on the outside – prayer and Zakah. Our entire deen is this. If you clean yourself on the inside then it will naturally manifest on the outside.

98:6
6) Those who disbelieve among the People of the Book and the idolaters will have the Fire of Hell, there to remain. They are the worst of creation.
The surah is now connecting itself with what it began with. It began with the discussion of those people who would never have separated themselves from their disbelief until bayyinah came. The surah now informs us that the fate of those who even after bayyinah came chose to stay in their kufr, whether they were from the people of the book or polytheists, would be the fire of hell. Jahannum is a Persian word originating from the word Jahnaam which is a torture chamber and khuld in Arabic is to remain somewhere permanently. The word bariyyah comes from the word bara’a and it literally means to bring something into existence. Thus, anything that exists would be counted under bariyyah. Allah (swt) is saying that these people will be in the fire of hell permanently because they are the worst of all existence. They are the worst because Allah (swt) gave them the bayyinah, a proof that no one can justifiably ignore, but they still persisted in their kufr.
98:7

7) Those who believe and do good deeds are the best of creation

In contrast those who believe and act righteously are the best of creation. Note that Allah (swt) first mentions belief, which is internal, and then good deeds, which is external. This is the same order that was mentioned in ayah five where Allah (swt) mentioned ikhlaas first and then salah and zakah. When Allah (swt) uses the particle inna at the beginning of an ayah it is a good indication of the audience. Inna in Arabic is used when the audience at hand is confused and unsure and so they need to be given certainty. Therefore, one can get a good insight into the audience by the kind of language that Allah (swt) uses. Allah (swt) is therefore removing any doubt that the audience here may have and putting their minds at ease that this will indeed happen.

98:8

8) Their reward with their Lord is everlasting Gardens graced with flowing streams, where they will stay forever. God is well pleased with them and they with Him. All this is for those who stand in awe of their Lord.

It is apparent from this ayah that the slave of Allah does not expect to get paid until they are with Allah (swt). They don’t expect it in the dunya and they are happy with this. Jannah is often described in the Quran as gardens at the foot of which rivers flow yet we never stop and reflect on this. The most expensive houses and most prime real estate are those that have swimming pools, or a nice lawn or are beachfront properties. It is a human obsession. Even when we go on vacation we choose to go to places where this is a lot of greenery and water. Some ‘intellectuals’ claim that the Quran motivates people towards things that are primitive such as gardens and rivers because it was talking to a desert people who of course did not have this. They say that the Quran was not talking to a sophisticated philosophical mind that would naturally require something far higher. Yet, these are the very people, who just like everyone else in these modern times, are obsessed with nice homes, gardens and water. People, especially when they become older, begin to enjoy the pleasures of gardens, walking through parks and enjoying nature and serene environments. Allah (swt) therefore offers us what we have always wanted and what is pre-programmed in us – but it has to wait.

The people of Jannah will reside in it permanently. Interestingly, the word abadan is used to describe Jannah as never-ending but a different word (khuld) was used to describe Jahannum previously in the surah. This has happened in two places in the Quran (see also surah At-Taghabun 64:9). Some scholars (including Ibn Taymiyyah) believed that hellfire would eventually come to an end because abadan is mentioned for Jannah but not for hell in these two citations. This is a rare opinion. The majority of scholars differed and pointed out that abadan has also been used to describe the hellfire (see surah Al ‘Ahzab 33:64-65). They explained that sometimes Allah (swt) gives more detail on hellfire than paradise and sometimes He (swt) gives more detail on paradise than on hellfire. When they are in equal proportion Allah (swt) uses abadan for both and when one is given more information than the other the wording is more elaborate, which is the case here. In this surah greater detail is given on the people of Jannah and so the description of abadan is given. This is the style of the Quran and the justification for abadan. They will remain in it permanently which speaks to human nature because we want nothing more than permanent residence in so many things. For example in residency and citizenship, in the desire to own property and not rent it and in the desire to have stability and settle down. In Jannah there will be no bills or taxes or plumbing or electrical problems. In this life we often find that the more beautiful the thing is we possess, the more problems and costs we take on in order to maintain them. The dunya fails in comparison to whatever Allah (swt) offers in Jannah. Allah (swt) motivates us by giving us what is at the heart of every human desire – a nice house. One that is stable and peaceful without any form of hardship whatsoever.

This is the small gift though. The ultimate gift is that Allah (swt) will be pleased with them. This is Allah’s promise to those who fulfilled ayah five by establishing salah and zakah. Furthermore, unlike any other slave, the slave will be completely satisfied with his master too. Radaa in Arabic means to be pleased with someone such that you have no complaints or issues and there is no room for improvement. For example, in contrast children are never happy with their parents even when they buy them gifts. There is always something more you could have bought. Similarly, sometimes one’s husband or wife or parents are never completely happy with you. However, Allah (swt) will be. This gift from Allah (swt) will make you forget about the house in Jannah. Allah (swt) build up the gift of a home in Jannah and then tells you about an even bigger gift. No other desire will come into your mind. The word khashya is to fear something greater than yourself. This is all for the one who truly feared his Master and worshipped Him (swt). The surah began with a description of how the world was not going to be divided into those who believed and those who did not until the clear proof came down on the Night of Power. The believers painfully disconnected themselves from the ways and legacies of their forefathers and society due to the clear proof which convinced them. This was not easy because their families and society had been living like this for thousands of years. Their respect and dignity and citizenship rested on their religious identity, yet, still they walked away from it without any fear of the consequences. This was simply because they feared Allah (swt) more. This was a separation that would never have happened other than from a people who truly feared their Master.


97: Al Qadr

Tafseer Surah Al Qadr

There are a number of relationships between this surah and the previous one. Surah al Alaq explains how revelation began whilst this surah tells when it began. In the previous surah Allah (swt) taught man with the pen what he could not have known and in this surah Allah (swt) gives the messenger (saw) knowledge of the Night of Qadr, knowledge that he did not have before. In the last ayah of the previous surah Allah (swt) says prostrate and come close to Him and in this surah we learn of the Night of Qadr which is that night where it is possible for one to come closest to Him. In the previous surah the messenger (saw) is instructed to recite the Quran – the Quran that came down on the Night of Qadr.

There is a big discussion on when laylatul qadr is. The ahadith that talk about the blessings of laylatul qadr are many and there are many narrations on which night it falls upon but this is not the place to discuss these. However, we must mention it to an extent. Most Muslims understand it to be one of the odd nights. It is interesting that this surah has five ayaat and that there are only five odd nights on which this night can fall. Ibn Abbas (ra) had two opinions on this. In one place his opinion was that it falls on the twenty-third night and in another place that it was the twenty-seventh. In fact the opinion most in number is that it falls on the twenty-seventh, however, these are all opinions and not in of itself absolute evidence. Ibn Abbas (ra) gave some interesting reasons to Umar ibn Khattab (ra) when explaining his rationale behind his opinion that it falls on the twenty-seventh. He said that the laylatul qadr has nine letters (Lam, Ya, Lam, Ta [marboota]. Alif, Lam. Qaf, Daal, Ra) and laylatul qadr itself is mentioned three times in this surah and nine times three is twenty-seven. We do not take numerology as evidence but it is interesting that he presented this rationale to Umar (ra). Another thing he said is that this surah has a word count of thirty just like there are thirty days in a month but the twenty-seventh word is hiyya, which means ‘it’. Hence, he was of the opinion that the hiyya may be a clue and refers to the night itself.

This tafseer is not going to be about what night it actually is. We just wanted to present the different and variety of opinions. The safe position to have is that it falls on one of the odd nights. Ustadh Nouman Ali Khan’s personal opinion is that due to the fact that it is common for there to be disagreements on when Ramadan actually started, the safest thing to do is to take the last eleven nights very seriously. It is common for people to exert themselves at the beginning of Ramadan only to exhaust themselves to the point that they are too tired to seek the real treasure of laylatul qadr. In fact people can get so lazy that they end up taking a leave of absence from the masjid only to turn up on the twenty-seventh night and then return home in the hope that maybe that was it. This is not a healthy attitude. We should save our energy for the last ten nights and not get burnt out. Ustadh Nouman Ali Khan’s personal advice and not fatwa is that to avoid getting burnt out, the effort should be moderate in the beginning. One should pray as much as one can but at the onset of tiredness a break should be taken, as this is not a fard. It is better to remain consistent than to attend in completeness for the first few days only to miss the remainder. Some people even complain that their masjid recites to slowly. Well, too bad. The Quran is meant to be recited slowly. It is not meant to be recited at speed to the point that one does not even have any idea what is being recited, just so that they can tick the box and say that they got it done. This is the last thing that will give someone khushoo’ in the salah and the whole point of salah is to remember Allah (swt). Yet, how can one remember Allah (swt) if they can’t even keep up with the words and don’t know what it being recited? Thus, the entire spirit of the prayer is lost. ‘Indeed, I am Allah. There is no god except Me, so worship Me and establish prayer for My remembrance’ (Taha 20:14).

 

97:1
 1) We sent it (the Quran) down on the Night of Glory

Allah (swt) uses the pronoun ‘We’ for Himself. Why did He not use ‘I’? The pronouns that occur for Allah (swt) in the Quran are ana (I), nahnu (we), anta (you) and huwa (he). Of these only nahnu is plural whilst all the others are singular. The response to those who think that this ‘We’ cannot refer to a monotheistic God is two fold. Firstly, if it were really meant to be plural we would have seen the other pronouns in their plural form i.e. anta and antum, huwa and hum. Secondly, the word nahnu is used in Semitic and other languages as an illustration of formality, power and royalty. For example, a monarch will use this to demonstrate his royalty and position over others. When Allah (swt) speaks of His majestic powers of creation or of the provision of food and water for His slaves we find this pronoun used. It is especially true with water and indeed Allah’s throne is above water and so water is a symbol of His kingship in the earth. Furthermore, whenever the word nahnu is used for Allah (swt) in the Quran the word Allah or rabb is found next to it. As both of these words are in the singular form it is clear that only the one true creator is being referred to. The pronoun ana is used in two instances in the Quran. It is used either when Allah (swt) is extremely angry or when He is extremely merciful. So, one can say that nahnu is used in formal and majestic speech whereas ana is used in informal speech that is more personal and has more emotional charge in it. For example, when the followers of Esa (as) asked for a table spread from the sky, Esa’s first response was ‘Fear Allah’. This response was appropriate because Banu Isra’il had been asking for a miracle for generations and after seeing the most amazing things they still didn’t have imaan and their hearts were still hard. So, then Allah (swt) said that He will send it down but He (swt) sent a warning with it. The warning was that if anyone disbelieves after this then it is ‘I’ who will punish him with a punishment that none has ever been tortured with (Al Ma’idah 5:112 – 115).

Is this night noble and blessed because the Quran came down in it or was it already blessed and then the Quran came down in it? It is commented that this night was made noble and majestic by Allah (swt) even before the Quran came down and its dignity was enhanced after the Quran descended which is why the name laylatul qadr was used. In this ayah the pronoun hu refers to the Quran. However, in language you do not use a pronoun unless the audience already knows what it is being used for. For example if your wife sends you to get groceries she would not say ‘make sure you don’t forget it’ without first clarifying what ‘it’ is. There are several benefits to using the pronoun hu as opposed to saying the Quran was sent down. Firstly, the pronoun is used because when something is known such that it is deeply embedded in one’s heart, the name does not even have to be said. This is only done in the context where everyone knows what you are talking about or when the subject matter is so universal and so important that its name does not even have to be mentioned for one to appreciate it. This dialogue came down in a context in which there were two reactions. On the one hand were the believers who were obsessed with the Quran and willing to die for it and on the other the disbelievers who hated the Quran so much that they were willing to kill out of hate for it. So, when Allah (swt) says he sent it down both the disbeliever and the believer are very clear what is being referred to.

This surah and the previous surah are a bit of a departure from what we learnt before. In these surahs Allah (swt) makes it a point to take credit for the Quran Himself. Previously, we learnt that Jibreel (as) brings these words to the messenger (saw), ‘Indeed, the Qur’an is a word (conveyed by) a noble messenger’ (At Takwir 81:19) but in this one and the surah before it is stressed that these are Allah’s words and that He is the source. There are two words for sending down in the Quran, anzala and nazzala. In this ayah anzalnahu is used and not nazzalnahu. In common English both translations would be ‘We sent it down on laylatul qadr’. The difference in Arabic though is huge. Anzala implies that something is sent down at one time whereas nazzala would imply that something is sent down over a period of time. This would mean then that Allah (swt) sent the whole Quran down on laylatul qadr. In contrast though Allah (swt) has used nazzala to describe the revelation being sent down elsewhere, ‘He has sent down upon you, (O Muhammad), the Book in truth, confirming what was before it. And He revealed the Torah and the Gospel’ (Al ‘Imran 3:3). In this ayah it was the Quran that was revealed over time and the Torah and Gospel that were revealed at one time. We know that the Quran was revealed to the prophet (saw) over the course of twenty-three years. So, why use another word in this surah which suggests that it came down all at once?

The predominate view from Ibn Abbas (ra) was that Allah (swt) sent the Quran down from the Preserved Tablet in the seventh heaven to the first heaven, Bayt al-‘Izzah, which is the heaven of this world, on laylatul qadr. Then it came down in parts to the Messenger of Allah (saw) from Jibreel (as) based upon the incidents that occurred over a period of twenty-three years. Thus, Allah (swt) beautifully conveys to us the journey of the Quran through the manipulation of the Arabic language. The kuffar would complain and question why the Quran did not come down all at once. The answer can be found by simply observing how overwhelmed a new Muslim can become when he is given a copy of the Quran. What this person needs more than this is to study Islam one lesson at a time. Just like Allah (swt) took time to teach and culture the prophet (saw) and his companions. The Quran should be a long-term project of study and reflection for ourselves and that is part of the Sunnah. The Quran is not something you can causally read through like a newspaper or textbook. It takes time to internalise and requires deep study.

Laylatul qadr is commonly translated as the night of power. In English translations it is not possible to appreciate what exactly Allah (swt) means by calling it this. The explanation found in a hadith and in many athar of the companions is that it is called this because qadr means determination. People set themselves their vision or goal for the coming year or even have a long-term vision of where they see themselves in thirty years. Allah (swt) already knows everything but only lets His angels know on this night what the plan is for the upcoming year and what has been decreed for people. Qadr not only means determination but it also means honour and dignity which is why this night is called the Night of Dignity. It is also called the night of appreciation because it is on this night that people obey Allah (swt) and He really appreciates the worship of His slave. He (swt) so appreciates this effort that He counts this night’s worship as being better than a thousand months. The word qadr in Arabic has one more meaning in the Quran and that is constriction and congestion and to be stuck in something. This tightness is also part of the meaning because on this night angels descend on the earth in huge numbers such that space on earth becomes tight. There are other words that could be used to describe the characteristics of this night but in selecting the word qadr Allah (swt) has chosen a word which has all these meanings embedded in it. Allah (swt) used the perfect word to capture all of these implications at the same time without compromising the integrity of the meaning.

 

97:2
 2) What will explain to you what that Night of Glory is?

One of the purposes of maa in Arabic is to give a sense of awe and gravity to something and to surprise even. Allah (swt) is essentially asking what in the world could make you realise what laylatul qadr really is. This is different to asking when it is. A lot of our discussion on this night is centred on when it actually is but the question Allah (swt) is highlighting is not when it is but what it is. Allah (swt) uses two formats in putting forward a question like this, maa udreeka (what will tell you) and maa adraaka (what would have told you). The former is in the present future tense and the latter in the past tense. The mufassiroon are in agreement that whenever the present future tense is used, Allah (swt) does not give the answer. This is something that only Allah (swt) knows and whenever He (swt) uses the past tense, He (swt) usually gives the answer. The fact this ayah is in the past tense indicates that the messenger (saw) is given the answer and actually the rest of the surah answers this question.

As the Quran was revealed on this night and because this is a special event Allah (swt) gives it a form of speech that has not been used anywhere else in the Quran. There is a principle in Arabic that using a noun is more powerful that just alluding to it or using a pronoun instead of it. Specifically mentioning the noun is more powerful. For example, saying ‘Ahmed is here’ is more noble than saying ‘He is here’. In Surah At-Tariq Allah (swt) says, ‘And what will make you know (maa adraaka) what the night visitor is. It is the star that pierces through darkness’ (86:2-3). And in Surah Al Humazah, ‘And what can make you know (maa adraaka) what is the Crusher? It is Allah’s kindled fire’ (104:5-6). In these two examples Allah (swt) answers his question in the following ayah and He (swt) does so without repeating the subject (at-tariq and al hutama). In other words the next ayah is not at-tariq is or alhutama is. The second ayah is not a complete sentence; it is just a predicate of the sentence. In this surah we find something unique, as this is the only part of the Quran where part of the question is repeated. If this surah followed the pattern of all the others the next ayah would say khairum min alfee shahr (better than a thousand months). However, it doesn’t, it says laylatul qadr khairum min alfee shahr (The Night of Qadr is better than a thousand months). This is the only part of the Quran where part of the question is repeated again which serves to add emphasis over all the other places where this style is used. What is being highlighted in the other places is the importance of Allah’s creation and the fire of Hell, which are all magnificent creations but none of them compares to the night in which the Quran was revealed. The name laylatul qadr occurs three times in this surah which further highlights the importance of this night in the sight of Allah (swt).

Imam al-Qushayri who wrote a complete commentary of the Qur’an entitled Lata’if al-isharat bi tafsir al-Qur’an wrote something beautiful about this night: A beautiful night which Allah decreed for His close friends. The worshippers of Allah realise their worth to Allah, through the quality of their worship in this Night (meaning the people who take advantage of this night realise what they are worth to Allah because if you are not worth anything to Allah you sleep through the night and don’t take any advantage of it). And those who truly aim to seek and recognise Allah, they appreciate their servitude to the One they are seeking (in this Night). There are many benefits to not knowing what night in particular laylatul qadr falls on. One of these is to prevent people from being lazy in Ramadan by not exerting themselves throughout the month until the night itself. Another benefit we learn is from the hadith of the prophet (saw) when he instructed Ali (ra) to wake up a Bedouin sleeping in the masjid for salah. Ali (ra) asked the prophet (saw) why he did not take up the opportunity for the good deed himself. The prophet (saw) replied that if he had woken up the Bedouin and consequently the Bedouin did not obey him then the Bedouin would have been in deep sin, which would not be the case if he just disobeyed Ali (ra). Therefore, the fact that the messenger (saw) sent Ali (ra) was a mercy to the one who was sleeping. The fact that we don’t know when laylatul qadr is perhaps protects the one who is negligent of this night from blame, the one who even after knowing when it is still doesn’t appreciate it.

 

97:3

3) The Night of Glory is better than a thousand months

The mufassiroon says that when Allah (swt) says that laylatul qadr is better than a thousand nights it means the deeds you do in this night are better than the good deeds you could do in a thousand months. This is approximately eighty-three years. The average lifespan for women at its peak in the US is eighty and at its peak for men is seventy-four. So Allah (swt) goes beyond our average lifespan for one night, a night where we can take control and actually earn good for an entire lifespan. This is a very powerful thing that Allah (swt) has offered us. In much of the Muslim world the average lifespan is forty and in some places such as starving nations it is as low as thirty-three. For those places Allah (swt) is offering twice their lifespan per year. The surah began with a question that asked what laylatul qadr is. The answer is that it is something we could never have earned ourselves, a night of amazing reward. This is where we find the narration that is attributed to the prophet (saw). The messenger (saw) was afraid that his ummah were going to live short lives in comparison to the nations that had come before enabling them to perform many more good deeds. Allah (swt) gave the gift of laylatul qadr as a result so that members of the messenger’s ummah could catch up and be ahead of all the other nations because imagine if one takes advantage of laylatul qadr every year for just ten years then that is almost a millennium one has in his favour.

Others say that this khayr means that you can accomplish more good in this night than you would be able to do in other, not just in ibaadah but also in other types of good meaning that the barakah of your deeds in this night is unlike any other. A lot of ulema said based on this that if you have family problems, have been fighting with your wife or have not spoken to your brother in ten years then this is the time to bury the hatchet and make it up because the good that is going to come out of this night is unlike any other so take advantage of it. Furthermore, Allah (swt) did not say it is like a thousand months. Rather, He (swt) said it is better. The Arabs used to mention a thousand months in a lot of their statements as a means of hyperbole. For example, the Arab may say ‘I’ll be your friend for a thousand months’, which is akin to us in English saying ‘I’ll be your friend forever’. Therefore, there is a concept of infinity in this expression and so Allah (swt) has used an expression that the Arabs used to refer to something forever meaning the Night of Qadr is better than all times.

 

97:4

4) On that night the angels and the Spirit descend again and again with their Lord’s permission on every matter (task)

The Quran is precise in its speech right down to the way a word is spelled. In English we often have a short form of a word and a full form, for example, the word demo and demonstration and maths and mathematics. We use both forms of the words interchangeably but anyone who speaks the language knows that both mean one and the same thing. There is a parallel in the Arabic language where a word can be spelled in its full form and in its partial form. In this ayah the we see the word tanazzalu which is the partial spelling of the word tatanazzalu. The actual word has two tas in it but in Arabic we can drop one of the tas and just say tanazzalu and both words would mean the same thing. In classical Arabic though the more spelled out a word is the more it alludes to in its meaning. This ayah is referring to the descent of angels and we see the truncated form of the word. However, elsewhere in the Quran where it also mentions the descent of angels we see the full version of the same word, ‘Indeed, those who have said, “Our Lord is Allah ” and then remained on a right course – the angels will descend (tatanazzalu) upon them, (saying), “Do not fear and do not grieve but receive good tidings of Paradise, which you were promised’ (Surat Fuşşilat 41:30).

The ulema have explained that when the word is fuller in its spelling it implies that there is more of something in that particular context. The ayah in Surat Fuşşilat is talking about angels descending at the time of death. This is something that happens every minute of every day. In the ayah in this surah angels are also coming down but they come down on laylatul qadr which occurs once a year and so its occurrence is far less than that of the previous example. Surat Fuşşilat was the place where more needed to be mentioned and so the fuller form of the word was used and this surah was the place to use the word which implied less in comparison and so the truncated form is used. The messenger (saw) did not read the Quran to people out of a book – he recited it. To the disbeliever this was not writing, it was just speech. This intricacy in language is so subtle and refined. Can someone really be conscious in their speech of what they are saying to this extent or of what they are going to say years later compared to their former statement? Is that even possible for us? The usage of just this one ta in this ayah is a miracle and shows us the precision and marvel of the Quran and this is something that occurs all over the Quran. Another consequence of this missing ta is that it causes the word to be pronounced quicker which is another feature of the rhetoric of the Arabic language. Its quick pronunciation implies speed and indicates that the angels come down very fast. So we learn that the angels come down secretly and quickly in this night. These are interesting nuances in the language which you will not notice in a casual reading of the Quran but rather in careful readings as some of the great ulema have done and have picked up on these intricacies by doing so.

In this ayah Allah (swt) says the mala’ikah (angels) and ar-Ruh (the spirit Jibreel). By ijma’ (consensus) Muslim scholars agree that ar-Ruh is the Angel Jibreel (as). This order occurs in a number of places in the Quran but there is one verse in Surah An-Naba’ where Allah (swt) reverses the sequence and ar-Ruh comes first and then the angels. This sequencing is something very subtle and beautiful about the Quran. Many of the verbs used with angels are verbs of movement because an action is taking place but when we find Jibreel (as) in the Quran we find language to the contrary. Jibreel (as) is associated more with stillness or with doing a specific action of responsibility. For example, in surah At-Takwir Allah (swt) says, ‘(Who is) possessed of power and with the Owner of the Throne, secure (in position)’ (81:20). In Surah An-Naba’ we find the order reversed in the following ayah, ‘The Day that the Spirit (Jibreel) and the angels will stand in rows, they will not speak except for one whom the Most Merciful permits, and he will say what is correct’ (An-Naba’ 78:38). Jibreel (as) is associated more with stillness as he has a station under the throne of Allah (swt) and so when the stationary verb is mentioned Jibreel (as) is mentioned first and when movement is mentioned in this ayah the angels are mentioned first. This is all part of the subtlety and beauty of the Quran. So, in this ayah the angels and Jibreel (as) descend which is again part of the honour of this night. Jibreel (as) brought the Quran down to the prophet (saw) and every year he repeats his Sunnah which began on this night with the revelation of the Quran, which gives this night honour.

The literal translation of bi idhni rabbihim means by the permission of their master. It is said that the angels are desperately looking forward to seeing the believers who take advantage of this night which counts for a thousand nights on earth. So, they seek permission from their lord so that they may meet and greet the believers who are worshipping their lord and send salaam upon them. When the permission is given they descend rapidly to give that salaam. The last part of the ayah says min kulli ‘amr. The word min in Arabic is commonly translated as from but in classical Arabic it has multiple usages. One such meaning is ‘because of’ and so this ayah would then mean that the angels descend because they come with the commands which Allah (swt) has issued to them for that coming year. This is further explained in Surah Ad-Dukhan where laylatul qadr is also mentioned, ‘Indeed, We sent it down during a blessed night. On that night is made distinct every precise matter – (Every) matter (proceeding) from Us. Indeed, We were to send (a messenger) (Ad-Dukhan 44:3-5). Allah (swt) says that the angels descend and have been given responsibilities divided up into all sorts of wise decisions that He (swt) has given to them. Whenever Allah (swt) says angels’ come down He always makes it clear where the command came from, from Allah himself. We know the commands are from Allah (swt) but they are specifically attributed to Him because there are a lot of religions on earth based upon shirk with the angels. In Catholicism, instead of worshipping Allah (swt) people call on certain angels. In some pagan religions people call upon the angel assigned for mountains for example without appreciating that it was Allah (swt) who gave the angel power to move the mountain. So Allah (swt) makes sure that you understand that the angels cannot do anything without His permission and that they descend on this night with his permission. The angels come with all the commands that Allah (swt) has issued them with, for them to be executed from this night to the repetition of this night the following year.

 

97:5

5) (There is) Peace that night until the break of dawn.

The closest translation of this verse in English is ‘peace it is until the break of dawn’. Some mufassiroon have taken salaam to be an extension of the previous ayah meaning that in every single decision Allah (swt) makes on this night there is peace and in every single decision executed there is peace. The first interpretation of this verse is that this is a night of absolute peace in which there is no intervention of the shayateen. However, this statement has been considered weak by some ulema because we know that in the month of Ramadan the shayateen are already chained up. Others opine that there is no evil whatsoever on this night because when Allah (swt) sends the angels down, there is only peace in every single thing they do. On other nights there is peace also but not total peace and you will always find something to disturb the peace but on laylatul qadr the night is entirely peaceful. Another interpretation is that this is a night on which not even a human being can embark upon an evil task. Others say that it is called salaam because it is the night on which the angels are constantly saying salaam to the people who spend their nights in the masjids from the setting of the sun until the break of dawn. They pass by every believer and say ‘peace be upon you’. In a long narration captured in Ibn Kathir an entire battalion of angels and Jibreel descend and go to every single masjid and to every believer to give salaam. The long journey these angels take just to send salaam upon the believers is an incredible honour that Allah (swt) gives to the believers on this night.

By majority this is a Makki surah. When one reads about the virtues of this night of worship it is typically something that believers benefit from and not disbelievers. Disbelievers have no appreciation of the value of laylatul qadr and they are not going to ask the prophet (saw) more about it. However, in the Makkan context the primary audience are disbelievers and yet we get this remarkable surah which you would think pertains primarily to believers. The work of dawah is like sales in that you are trying to give someone a product or message and hope they will like it. In sales the customer has the power, which is, called buying power and the salesman often appears desperate. The buyer knowing this will often try to make extra demands on the seller. In dawah the prophet (saw) is desperately giving the message to the Quraysh and the disbelievers think that they are like the customers and in a position of power. However, Allah (swt) does not accept this and makes sure that the messenger (saw) knows that he is never in a position of weakness and always in a position of power. Thus, he should be in no desperation to sell this to them. If they take it then it is for their benefit and if they do not then it is their loss and not the prophets. The only reason the prophet (saw) is so concerned is because of his love and genuine concern for humanity including the disbelievers who he fears for. This serves to give integrity to the Quran because in the previous surah the prophet (saw) was being attacked by Abu Jahl and these verses highlight the nobility of the Quran, which does not need to be marketed to such people. There is no need to desperately call people to Islam because these ayaat were sent down on the noble night of laylatul qadr and people should be honoured that they get to hear them. These ayaat are giving us an appreciation of how awesome the Quran is. Those who accepted the messenger (saw) are the best of all generations and those who rejected him are the worst of the disbelievers. The disbelievers of his time are worse than the disbelievers of todays. This is because today’s disbelievers are rejecting the Quran but the former rejected the Quran and the messenger (saw) to his face.

The surah begins with the descent of the Quran, then the angels descend and then peace descends until the time of Fajr, which is the best time to recite the Quran, as it is actually a witness for you then. Thus, the surah began with Quran and ends with the Quran. Allah (swt) says in the Quran, ‘Establish prayer at the decline of the sun (from its meridian) until the darkness of the night and (also) the Qur’an of dawn. Indeed, the recitation of dawn is ever witnessed’ (Israa’ 17:78). The previous surah ended with an instruction to come close and the best opportunity to come close to Allah (swt) is on laylatul qadr. Just like the previous surah emphasised reading, this surah is almost like a manual on how to come close by encouraging us to read the Quran in worship on this night as one of the best forms of worship.

May Allah give us the blessing in seeing and following laylatul qadr in the upcoming years and give us love and understanding of the Quran and its implementation. May Allah send peace and blessings upon His Messenger (saw). Ameen.

 


96: Al Alaq

Tafseer Surah Al Alaq

Towards the end of the previous surah there was a strong rhetorical question – what kind of person would lie against the prophet (saw) after all the evidence has been presented to them? Half of this surah is dedicated to such a wretched person and this person is unanimously understood to be Abu Jahl. Allah (swt) asks in the previous surah, ‘Is Allah not the Greatest Ruler of all the rulers?’ The word hakim is rooted in two things. The first is to do with wisdom and the second has to be with being a judge and having the power to pass judgement on someone. Both become relevant in this surah. A judge will prescribe a punishment to the one guilty of committing a crime and in this surah as a judge Allah (swt) orders a punishment. The other meaning was wisdom and as the Owner of all wisdom it is only becoming that Allah (swt) reveals some of that wisdom in the Quran, which the messenger of Allah is instructed to read at the beginning of this surah.

In the previous surah we saw a natural sequence between imaan (belief) and good deeds. When you have imaan you do good deeds and when you do good deeds your imaan increases, which leads to more good deeds. This is a cycle and the first part of this cycle was mentioned in verse six of the previous surah, ‘Except for those who believe and do righteous deeds, for they will have a reward never ending’. In this surah Allah (swt) says prostrate which is a good deed that causes one to increase in imaan and become closer to Allah (swt). However, coming closer to Allah (swt) is not a deed, rather it is a state of imaan. So really the state of imaan is mentioned second and the action first which is converse to the previous surah. The previous surah spoke in a more general way whereas this surah deals in specifics. For example, the previous surah alluded to the messenger (saw) but in this surah he is specifically spoken about. Similarly, the previous surah explains that man was created in the best form and in this surah we learn what specifically made him the best of creations. We also learnt in the previous surah that man was created the lowest of the low and in this surah we learn what specifically led him to being the lowest of the low. It was a disbeliever in generality in the previous surah that denied the message and in this surah we are given a specific example in Abu Jahl.

Allah’s final Messenger came after a long dark age. The last messenger before Muhammad (saw) was Esa (as) and the gap between them was approximately six hundred years. This period in which humanity was in complete darkness was lifted with the arrival of the ultimate revelation. Most mufassiroon say that the first five verses of the surah are the first to have ever been revealed. In a long narration, narrated by Aisha (ra), in Sahih al Bukhari and Muslim the beginning of the revelation is described. Aisha (ra) said that it began by the prophet (saw) seeing dreams that would come true and manifest exactly as he saw it in his dreams. This is almost as if he was being prepared for the message. Solitude then became beloved to him and he would spend many nights alone in the cave of Hira’ away from people almost as if he wanted to wash off the evil influences of Makkan society. A lot of people wonder what he (saw) thought about. One line of reasoning is that he was thinking about meaning of life.

In our times we have numerous charitable organisations and all of them at the end of the year issue a progress report. We often learn from these that despite the best efforts of these charitable organisations the problem they are tackling, such as hunger, just seems to get bigger and bigger. These people can sometimes feel depressed because no matter what they do the problem does not appear to have an end in sight. No sooner have they helped people in one conflict area, another conflict starts. This humanitarian can feel despondent and think that the human race is beyond all hope. In the period before revelation came the messenger (saw) would help slaves and those oppressed. In fact he (saw) could even be considered a humanitarian and human rights activist judging by the words of his wife Khadijah (rh) who consoled the prophet (saw) when he rushed to her terrified after encountering Jibreel (as). She consoled him by questioning how he could possibly be in any trouble due to all the good he had done for society, for orphans and for the oppressed. Yet, despite the best efforts of the prophet (saw) in this period before revelation descended, slavery only ever increased as did those who were oppressed and in need. A person of high intellect like the prophet (saw) was desperately trying to identify how to rid the world of hunger and not just feed the hungry, how to rid the world of all oppression and not just help the oppressed. The answer to the question of how to help humanity is something that thinkers have been grappling with their whole life. To this day despite all the advancements mankind has made, humans only seem to be becoming less human. Allah (swt) provided the answers to both problems the messenger (saw) had by giving the Quran, a solution for humanity which provides perfect guidance on how to be connected to your master.

There is a saying in Arabic that a true compliment is one that comes from the enemy. For example, if a Muslim says something good about the messenger (saw) then that is to be expected but when non-Muslims speak highly of him then that it is a huge compliment. The prophet (saw) was ranked top in a list of the most influential persons in history because he was the only human figure to be supremely successful in both spiritual and secular fields such as the realm of governance, social justice and social order. The difference between a philosopher or intellectual and a messenger is that philosophers or intellectuals are people who claim to have solutions for humanity such as democracy or capitalism. The messengers also bring solutions. However, the difference between philosophers and messengers is that philosophers come up with these ideas themselves and can be arrogant and interested in promoting themselves and their ideas. Messengers in contrast bring solutions not from themselves but from a higher source and never take credit for it. They are the greatest examples of humility and humble themselves before Allah (swt), which we will learn in this surah.

 

96:1
 1) Read! In the name of your Lord who created

This is one of the few surahs which begins with a command. The prophet (saw) is in the cave of Hira’ where he sees the angel Gabriel who instructs him to read. The first word chosen by Allah (swt) to be communicated to humanity was ‘Read’. Reading has always been a part of every intellectual society. Yet, this command was not given to a society full of libraries and universities or a society with a history of books. The prophet (saw) was unlettered as were the vast majority of people in this society. Poetry was a feature of their society but even then it was seldom in a written form, rather, it was memorised. To this society Allah (swt) gave the commandment of reading and amazingly in response to this command the Muslims became one of the most educated civilisations in history. The way maths education spread in the Muslim ummah is unlike any other. The PhD system in the western world comes from the ijazah system in the Muslim world and so higher academics and research is something rooted in Islamic civilisation. This book that Allah (swt) gave in the form of oral transmission became the mother of books more than any other in history. It gave birth to entire libraries across continents. Through the generations every book of fiqh, aqeedah, tafseer and Islamic history all lead back to the source book of the Quran.

Very soon after the corruption of the Christian tradition one of the ways society was kept in check was through average people not being allowed to read the bible (the protestant movement was a result of this policy). So, Catholics were not able to read and interpret the bible for themselves and as a result did not have anything resembling bible studies. So at the time of the revelation of the Quran, the idea that an average person would be able to directly read and have access to religious texts was unheard of. People were disconnected from religious texts, which were essentially made classified documents, resulting in no one being able to question the religious authorities in their control of the masses, as they had no access to this knowledge. In modern times people say that religion is a means to oppress people in the name of religion. This happened because there was always this idea of a clergy in every major religion. So essentially, there is god, the people and then the official authority between the two leading to a means of controlling people. Islam came and told us that the only people between Allah (swt) and us are the humble messengers that asked us to read for ourselves which changed the entire structure and model of corrupt religion.

The ‘bismi Rabbika’ has been interpreted in a number of ways. One interpretation is that it is an instruction to read the name of your Master, which is probably the weakest opinion. Another interpretation is that it is to read what has been revealed to you from your Master. From the moment this command was given until the passing of the prophet (saw) twenty-three years later, he was continuously answering that one command by reading and reciting the Quran. The word bi adds the meaning of reading with the help and support of your Lord. The ayah is also interpreted to mean an instruction to read in the name of your Lord and Master meaning that when you recite you let the people know whom it is from, which is why we say the basmalah before reciting the Quran. Every time the prophet (saw) would recite the Quran, he (saw) would let people know that this was not his word and that he was reading in the name of the One who gave it to him. This was also a way of making it clear to people that rejecting the Quran was not a rejection of the prophet (saw); rather, it was a rejection of the verses of Allah (swt), your Lord and Master. Ibn Taymiyyah said that every time you say the basmalah when reciting the Quran it is to highlight that what you are saying is not from you or on behalf of Jibreel (as) who gave it to you to read. It is from Allah (swt) himself and both Jibreel (as) and Muhammad (saw) are vehicles through which the words of Allah (swt) are delivered.

Allah (swt) revealed to us the Quran but the Quran had a three-stage journey. The first stage of the Quran is in the form of a written book recorded in the Lawh al Mahfoodh. The second stage came in the form of speech recited by Jibreel (as) to the messenger (saw) who recited it to others. The third stage was its compilation into a book once more. The fact that Allah (swt) chose to reveal the Quran in speech form is important because there are fundamental differences between speech and written documents. The way one speaks is not the same as the way one writes. In speech one may make numerous grammatical mistakes whereas in a written document one would check and double check the document to make sure there were no mistakes or repetitions. A published book will often have multiple editions due to revisions that have had to be made. Also, even in single edition books there will often be an acknowledgements section where the author thanks those who helped edit the book. In speech, however, there is no editorial process. This means that speech is far more prone to mistakes because in speech you only have one chance. Once something has been said it is out and cannot be taken back. The messenger (saw) is given the Quran in the form of speech but Allah (swt) let him know from the very beginning that this is not actually speech. Rather, it is a book because the first word is a command to read and you don’t read speech you read a book. In fact, when this revelation was given the prophet (saw) said that he felt as though it was written on his heart. This is something that baffled the Arabs. They could not believe how perfectly the messenger (saw) spoke, with no mistakes, as if what he is saying was coming from a book. Those who disbelieved came up with theories to explain this and one was that someone was writing it down for the prophet (saw). Yet, how could the prophet (saw) have access to a book when he was unlettered? Allah (swt) explains in the Quran, ‘And you did not recite before it any scripture, nor did you inscribe one with your right hand. Otherwise the falsifiers would have had (cause for) doubt’ (Ankaboot 29:48). Allah (swt) says that Muhammad (saw) was just as unlettered as the day he was born and that he was sent as a messenger from amongst an unlettered people to almost prove that there was no way he could have possibly brought the Quran from himself. This is highlighted by the fact that the disbelievers struggled to explain the speech of the Quran.

Allah (swt) does not just say read in the name of your lord, He (swt) says something in addition – the One who created. A relationship is being established between the Master and creation. Allah (swt) attributed His mastery with His act of creating because of all His acts this is the one that establishes his lordship more than anything. This is because when you make something, you establish your ownership and rights over it. The fact that Allah (swt) says created means he has full rights over all and so the idea of Allah (swt) being the master and the creator is combined in this ayah. There is another benefit in Allah (swt) instructing the messenger (saw) to speak in His name. The messenger (saw) has no political power at all and it is only when one has power and authority that they can take the podium and speak. When the messenger delivers the message people call him insane and the bullies think he has no power and authority. In this situation Allah (swt) gave him this powerful word and told him that when he speaks to people, he should speak in Allah’s name and not his own. The power in your word will not come from your mouth but from Allah’s. When you clash against the ideas of the people know that Allah (swt) is the One who created those very people. What did he create? There is no mention meaning there is no limit to it.

 

96:2
 2) He created man from a clinging substance

By not mentioning what Allah (swt) created in the previous ayah the implication is that He (swt) created everything and in this ayah He (swt) specifically created the human being. From the general Allah (swt) goes to the specific. In this surah there is also a transition from the first person (used in the previous surah i.e. We created) to the third person (He created). The difference from a rhetorical point of view is that the first person is close but the third person is far and so this is Allah (swt) distancing himself from this human being. In addition the tone of this surah, except for the beginning, is very negative and takes a sterner third person position. The word ‘alaq comes from ‘aliqa which means to cling and to hang off something. The word is also used in the context of marriage where one is married to their wife but not taking care of her so she is left hanging, almost like she is clinging to her husband but not really associated to him. The word mu’allaqaat also stems from this word and was the title for famous poems that were written, and hung off (mu’allaq) the Ka’ba by the pre-Islamic Arabs. In this ayah some have interpreted ‘alaq to mean a clot of blood. However, it perhaps more accurately describes the way sperm hangs off the egg early in the human fertilisation process. This is something discussed in modern embryology and could not have been known in such detail at the time of the prophet (saw). There are other places in the Quran that talk about embryology but this particular word is of key interest because it alludes to Allah’s profound knowledge in the most secret of things. We don’t know what is inside of us the way that Allah (swt) does, ‘We will show them Our signs in the horizons and within themselves until it becomes clear to them that it is the truth. Is it not enough that your Lord witnesses everything?’ (Fussilat 41:53).

Whenever Allah (swt) mentions the creation of the human being the purpose is to highlight certain things. There are at least three intended lessons behind it. The first lesson is to establish the resurrection and the knowledge that the One who created you from a drop of fluid also has the power to recreate you from the ground. Secondly this fluid, which appears insignificant and purposeless, gradually evolves into something of intricate design and purpose with the potential established in the previous surah of being the best of the best. When something has an advanced function the idea is that it should do higher tasks and when something has limited capability it can only do lesser tasks. So, Allah (swt) has created man with amazing intricacies making it possible for him do higher things and fulfil his higher purpose. Thirdly, it is a means by which Allah (swt) humbles the human being when he becomes arrogant by reminding him of his humble origins and how he was created from a fluid that one considers filthy. In the previous surah Allah (swt) honoured and aggrandised the human being and highlighted his higher purpose and said that man was created from the best of the best whereas in this surah it is from a clot which in Arabic literally means a wet, sticky fluid which hangs off or sticks onto something. Thus, Allah (swt) distances Himself from mans humble beginnings but when you live up to the expectations He has of you, He brings Himself closer.

 

96:3

3) Read! And your Lord is the most Generous

Karam in Arabic is something that should be respected intrinsically. This is a quality that humans do not have. We do not have any intrinsic nobility. It is Allah (swt) who honours us. After reminding us of our humble origins from a clot, Allah (swt) mentions His nobility and how He is the most noble of all. This is in contrast to the previous surah where He (swt) lauded the nobility of the greatest prophets. Allah (swt) says iqra’ a second time with the purpose of encouraging the prophet (saw) to read – almost like a pat on the back. This is like the teacher who encourages the nervous pupil. Allah (swt) is the most generous and noble and does not want to place hardship on the prophet (saw). Making the prophet (saw) read is a gift, an act of nobility from Allah (swt), which ennobles the prophet (saw). Later on in the surah we find that Abu Jahl humiliates the prophet (saw) and at that time it becomes important for the prophet (saw) to remember why he was reciting this. It was because his noble Lord gave him nobility by choosing him, above all else, to be the one to recite these words, words that gave him strength in his times of difficulty.

 

96:4

4) Who taught by the pen

This has been interpreted in a number of ways. The first interpretation is derived from the hadith where the prophet (saw) said, ‘The first thing Allah created was the pen, and He told it to write’. The understanding from this is that everything that has been created is a manifestation of Allah’s written word. Others say that it has a more worldly meaning in the sense that all knowledge we have in the world today is due to someone writing knowledge down and then passing that knowledge onto later generations. Allah (swt) has thus far said iqra’ (read) twice and ‘alam-ma (learn) twice. Thus, we can see in the beginning of this surah that there is a strong emphasis on learning and teaching. Reading and writing are two activities in education which cover both aspects of learning. Reading enables one to benefit oneself with knowledge directly and writing enables one to benefit oneself and others. Allah (swt) honours the pen and made it a means by which knowledge is preserved and delivered. It is so powerful that Allah (swt) even swore by it in surah Al Qalam, ‘Nun, By the pen and what they write’ (68:1). Allah (swt) used the pen to preserve His revelation and also makes His angels preserve records of our actions through the use of the Pen. This idea of the pen being powerful as a means of preserving and delivering knowledge is therefore something meaningful in both the dunya and in the unseen.

In another hadith the prophet (saw) said, ‘Whoever takes up a path in which he is trying to acquire knowledge, Allah will facilitate for him a road to jannah’. The prophet (saw) also said that, ‘The best of you are the ones who learn the Quran and teach it’. Learning the Quran is a Sunnah of the prophet (saw). He was the first one to learn it and so when we learn it we are doing what he did. Furthermore, teaching the Quran is not only a Sunnah of the prophet (saw) but also a Sunnah of Allah (swt) Himself. Allah (swt) taught the Quran and so imagine the honour in mimicking both the messenger (saw) and Allah (swt) by both learning and teaching the Quran. Some have deduced the use of the word qalam in this ayah to mean that Allah (swt) will pen and document the Quran and not leave it solely to be committed to speech.

 

96:5

5) Who taught man what he did not know

One of the things that makes the human so honourable is the intellect that Allah (swt) has gifted. This intellect is highlighted in this surah where man is taught with the pen what he did not know. In the previous surah we learnt that man was created in the best possible fashion and in this surah we learn that one of the things what makes man the best is his intellect and ability to learn. The intellect of the human being is divided into three parts. The first part of the intellect is information attained via the five senses, i.e. fire is hot, the carpet is soft etc. Next is inferred knowledge. So, if one observes smoke in the distance then they don’t actually need to see the fire to know that there is a fire i.e. there is no smoke without fire. The third kind is the knowledge of the heart meaning Allah (swt) gave us knowledge before we even developed our senses and when we were in our mother’s wombs. That higher knowledge is in the soul and the resting place of the soul according to most scholars is in the heart. In different societies they don’t exactly use the terms we use but they use interesting alternatives such as intuition, sixth sense etc. It is this higher sense of morality and awareness that Allah (swt) put in the human. The knowledge of the heart is of two types. The first is the type you get from istikhara, true dreams. The second is revelation, which came upon heart of the messenger (saw). When Allah (swt) spoke about the revelation He (swt) said that it was sent upon the heart so that you may be from those who have imaan and so the Quran is a higher brand of knowledge. This knowledge is knowledge of the unseen world that we could not have attained ourselves. This knowledge of the angels and of the Day of Judgement could only have become known from revelation. We are all students of revelation but the first student of this revelation was the prophet (saw). First he is Allah’s student and then our teacher.

Words like knowledge, learning and the pen are the last things you would associate with someone who cannot read or write. Yet, this is part of the miracle of how Allah (swt) enlightened the ummah. When Europe lost its intellectual civilisation and went into the dark ages they had to travel to the Muslim world for knowledge where European texts had been translated into Arabic. From a background of illiteracy our ummah became the people of the pen and the intellectual capital of the world. Sadly though, today all the universities in the Muslim world combined number less than the number of universities in the state of California or in France. Furthermore, the universities we do have come nowhere close in terms of quality and infrastructure. It is easy to praise our history and be proud of it but we cannot ignore our present situation. Muslims must do something positive about it before our legacy is totally forgotten. The societies we live in teach us to think only of ourselves. Our financial plans, our plans for the next five years, our career goals etc. People spend their whole life in debt and excess paying back only the minimal amount due, because when they die, their debt will be someone else’s problem. Instead of leaving the future generation something better, people are leaving them with their problems. However, Muslims are not meant to think like this. We are supposed to think and plan generations in advance and work to benefit our future generations and humanity as a whole. The Muslim plants a seed even though he will never see the tree but because maybe someday someone will benefit from it. Allah (swt) showed us the way forward and how to prepare our future generations, the way forward is education. These first five verses are considered to be the first given to the prophet (saw). Others considered the first revelations to be the first few verses of surah Al Muddathir and others considered it to be surah Al Fatiha. However, this can be reconciled by understanding that Al Muddathir was the first revelation after the gap in revelation that came after Al ‘Alaq and secondly that surah Al Fatiha was the first surah to be revealed in its entirety whereas the other two only had the first few verses revealed.

 

96:6
 6) But man exceeds all bounds

In the previous surah Allah (swt) honoured and aggrandised the human being and highlighted his higher purpose but in this surah Allah (swt) does the opposite. This surah talks about how man rebels and how he thinks he is free of need. This surah has three passages and now we are moving to the second which is tied to the previous surah where Allah (swt) said that the human being is the lowest of the low. This happens when people become morally bankrupt with no goodness on the inside enabling them to perpetrate the crimes they do. Now we see an observation by Allah (swt) on the practical side of how man rebels and thinks he is free of need. Kalla is used for emphasis and to proclaim something for certain. Another usage is to emphasise to someone that they need to take heed. It is also a means of yelling at someone because they were ungrateful for the favour of Allah (swt), which in the previous ayah was revelation. Tughyaan does not just mean to rebel. It means to know what ones limits are but to make it a point to cross them anyway. It is also used to describe a flood when water exceeds its limits. So, this is strong language used for excessive rebellion and Allah (swt) uses this word to describe the human. On the one hand Allah (swt) the most gracious taught man what he could not know with the pen and created him in the best possible fashion and on the other the reality of the human, despite all these honours, is that he rebels and recognises no authority over him. This ayah provides a good insight on why some people don’t accept Islam. On the surface they will express intellectual doubts over the authenticity of the Quran or ahadith (something Muslims also do). The reality though is that they love to rebel and live free of any restrictions or controls upon them. The ultimate result of ignorance is rebellion and the previous verses were all about fighting ignorance through reading. Muslims do this when they show no interest in studying their religion, when they don’t care and just don’t want to know in order to avoid having to change their ways.

 

96:7

7) When he thinks he is self-sufficient

Allah (swt) now tells us what makes such a human rebel. The raw meaning of this is ayah is that this is a person who assumes he is free from the need of anyone. Allah (swt) inspired man to know what is good and what is bad without needing to be told. When someone does something wrong deep down they already know it is bad. So, why do people do bad things? People stop at red lights and pay their taxes because they are afraid of the consequences. This is because people actually do understand that they are not completely independent and free of need. If you were totally independent you would not care about anyone but yourself and would not follow any rules. There would be complete chaos if people thought they were free to do as they pleased with no one to control them. If a person had limited finances he or she would be very unlikely to be a spendthrift or spend money or useless things. If one had an endless supply of money though they would become carefree in their spending habits. Thus, Allah (swt) is saying that the root cause of rebellion is when someone thinks they are free of need.

It is commented that there are two types of law in this world – physical and moral. Physical laws include things such as gravity, which pulls you down, and fire, which will burn. One cannot rebel against physical laws, as they are always operational. Moral laws, however, are inside your heart and when you rebel against them your punishment does not come straight away. For example, if you lie, lightning does not strike your tongue. Or, if you steal something, your hand does not drop off. Therefore, people tend to respect physical laws whereas they take advantage of moral laws. When people break such moral laws and see no consequence it makes them think that they are free to do as they please. However, the One who created the physical laws also created the moral laws and the One who punishes you for breaking the physical laws with immediacy is also the One who can delay giving you the punishment for breaking the moral laws. All restrictions on man whether they are physical or moral come from Allah (swt). Allah (swt) says in the Quran, ‘Verily, those who unjustly eat up the property of orphans, they eat up only a fire into their bellies, and they will be burnt in the blazing Fire!’ (an-Nisa’ 4:10). Eating an orphan’s wealth will not fill your stomach with fire now but it will later and it is this delayed punishment that makes someone think that everything is fine and that they are free to do as they please. The next ayah explains how people can be prevented from becoming excessively shameless, lewd and vulgar.

 

96:8
 8) Indeed, to your Lord is the return

Until you believe in and are convinced that there is an akhirah and that you will pay for everything you did, including the things you think you got away with, you will not change morally. There are two types of people. The majority who need laws to follow and then those who are at a higher level of morality who do not do good because they want to go to Jannah or because they are afraid of punishment. They do it because they have a higher goal of wanting to please Allah (swt). Most people are not at this level and need to reflect upon the consequences of their actions until such point that they achieve maturity in their good deeds. If you were to do something terrible that your mother, or your parents, or your husband or brother found out about you would be embarrassed to the point that you would stop doing whatever you were doing no matter how strong the desire. This is because it was humiliating that a loved one saw you. When someone develops a love for Allah (swt) they develop a sense of shame and could not possibly entertain the idea of doing something wrong when Allah (swt) is watching. You would develop a consciousness of Allah (swt) but before this level is attained one needs to attain a consciousness of the hereafter. To your master is the return implies both punishment and reward.

Every time the third person is used in this surah it is addressing other than the messenger (saw) and when the second person is used it is mostly addressing the messenger (saw). In this ayah there is a transition from the third to the second person. This is a feature of the Quran whereby Allah (swt) creates impact and shocks the audience by switching persons. For example, imagine a teacher that walks into an exam hall aware that a pupil is cheating. He declares to the pupils that he is aware that there is someone in the room cheating. The pupil feels somewhat safe in the knowledge that he specifically has not been identified. Until suddenly the teacher calls him by his name specifically and beckons him to come up to him. This is a tactic that shocks this person, as he was not expecting this. Another example is when someone says ‘the glass dropped’. The person responsible has not been identified here and his identity protected. He would have felt a lot worse had the person said ‘Ahmed dropped the glass’. Talking in the third person creates a disassociation of responsibility. After saying that man rebels Allah (swt) says that the return will be to your Lord. The audience previously would be thinking that man in general is being spoken of until this ayah where in a very powerful way the audience suddenly realises that it is them that is being referred to.

 

96:9
 96:10
9) Have you seen the man who forbids

10) Our servant when he prays?

Now we come to the ayaat relating to Abu Jahl. There are three celebrity enemies of the prophet (saw) highlighted in the Quran. These three are Abu Lahab, Waleed ibn al Mugheera and Abu Jahl and they are highlighted over the other disbelievers from the seerah of the prophet (saw). There are a number of differences between them. Abu Jahl, even though he was a wicked enemy of Islam, was considered to be the most noble of these three according to polytheist Arab standards at the time. Abu Lahab was known to be a coward and at the battle of Badr he did not even participate electing to hire a couple of soldiers to fight on his behalf instead. This is in contrast to Abu Jahl who actually did participate and was subsequently killed. In death his arrogance and pride came to the fore when he requested that his neck was cut in such a way that he would be recognised as a tribal leader. He was chivalrous and generous compared to Abu Lahab who was cheap. Waleed ibn al Mugheera falls in between Abu Jahl and Abu Lahab. He was a strategist who preferred reconciliation and compromise with the prophet (saw) as he recognised that the Quran was something quite impressive. Waleed’s story is discussed in surah Al Qalam and Al Muddathir and Abu Lahab’s in Surah Al Masad.

The prophet (saw) made a famous dua where he asked that Allah (swt) strengthen Islam with whichever of ‘Umar ibn al Khattab or ‘Amr bin Hisham (Abu Jahl) was dearer to Him. This means that the prophet (saw) saw in Abu Jahl something that was worth saving and that he knew that if he had accepted Islam he would have been an amazing asset for the deen. In fact, the wording of the hadith is such that if had accepted Islam he could have been another Umar – he had that kind of potential. In the previous surah there were two ayaat which spoke of man being created in the best possible fashion before being reduced to the lowest of the low. Abu Jahl was one such example of a person created with so much potential that the prophet (saw) even made dua that he might become Muslim. However, he did not live up to this potential and thereby reduced himself to the lowest of the low. ‘Umar ibn al Khattab (ra) accepted Islam and Abu Jahl did not. Thus, in surah at-Teen the general concept was given and now in this surah the practical example is given.

Abu Jahl actually greatly like the Quran and was addicted to it as the following narration shows: Ibn Ishaq narrates that Az-Zuhri said that Abu Jahl, Abu Sufyan Sakhr bin Harb (before he became Muslim) and Al-Akhnas bin Shurayq once came to listen to the Prophet reciting the Qur’an at night, but these three men were not aware of the presence of each other. So they listened to the Prophet’s recitation until the morning, and then left. They met each other on their way back and each one of them asked the others, “What brought you?” So they mentioned to each other the reason why they came. They vowed not to repeat this incident so that the young men of Quraysh would not hear of what they did and imitate them. On the second night, each one of the three came back thinking that the other two would not come because of the vows they made to each other. In the morning, they again met each other on their way back and criticised each other, vowing not to repeat what they did. On the third night, they again went to listen to the Prophet and in the morning they again vowed not to repeat this incident. During that day, Al-Akhnas bin Shurayq took his staff and went to Abu Sufyan bin Harb in his house saying, “O Abu Hanzalah! What is your opinion concerning what you heard from Muhammad?” Abu Sufyan said, “O Abu Tha`labah! By Allah, I have heard some things that I recognize and know their implications. I also heard some things whose meaning and implications were unknown to me.” Al-Akhnas said, “And I the same, by He Whom you swore by!” Al-Akhnas left Abu Sufyan and went to Abu Jahl and asked him, “O Abu Al-Hakam! What is your opinion about what you heard from Muhammad?” Abu Jahl said, “We competed with Bani `Abd Manaf (the Prophet’s subtribe) and so we fed as they fed and gave away as they gave away. So, when we were neck and neck with them, just as two horses in a race, they said, `There is a Prophet from among us, to whom revelation from the heaven comes.’ So how can we ever beat them at that? By Allah we will never believe in him or accept what he says.’ This is when Al-Akhnas left Abu Jahl and went away.”

Thus, Abu Jahl, for all his good qualities, was destroyed by his arrogance and pride. Umar before Islam was proud of his tribe just like Abu Jahl was. However, the difference was that Abu Jahl had a huge ego in addition. Islam can remove concepts such as nationalism and tribalism but an ego can only be removed by the individual. This desire for greatness was an obstacle that Abu Jahl was not able to succumb causing him to become a great enemy of Islam whereas ‘Umar (ra) humbled himself and submitted to Islam and became a giant.

Verses nine and ten were revealed with regards to the below incidents which show how Abu Jahl tried to stop Allah’s slave, the prophet (saw), from praying (‘abd has been used in the Quran for occasions where the messenger (saw) has been honoured). It is narrated by ‘Abdullah bin Mas’ud in Sahih Al Bukhari, Once the Prophet was offering prayers at the Ka’ba. Abu Jahl was sitting with some of his companions. One of them said to the others, “Who amongst you will bring the abdominal contents (intestines, etc.) of a camel of Bani so and so and put it on the back of Muhammad, when he prostrates?” The most unfortunate of them got up and brought it. He waited till the Prophet prostrated and then placed it on his back between his shoulders. I was watching but could not do any thing. I wish I had some people with me to hold out against them. They started laughing and falling on one another. Allah’s Apostle was in prostration and he did not lift his head up till Fatima (Prophet’s daughter – who was only a young girl at that time) came and threw that (camel’s abdominal contents) away from his back. He raised his head and said thrice, “Allahumma alayka bi Quraysh. (Oh Allah, it is upon you [to deal] with the Quraysh).” So it was hard for Abu Jahl and his companions when the Prophet invoked Allah against them as they had a conviction that the prayers and invocations were accepted in this city (Mecca). The Prophet said, “O Allah! Punish Abu Jahl, ‘Utba bin Rabi’a, Shaiba bin Rabi’a, Al-Walid bin ‘Utba, Umaiya bin Khalaf, and ‘Uqba bin Al Mu’it (and he mentioned the seventh whose name I cannot recall). By Allah in Whose Hands my life is, I saw the dead bodies of those persons who were counted by Allah’s Apostle in the Qalib (one of the wells) of Badr.

In a second incident Abu Jahl saw Allah’s Messenger (saw) standing in prayer. Abu Jahl told ‘Uqbah ibn Abi Mu’it to get a shawl and put it around the Messenger of Allah’s and choke him. ‘Uqbah came up behind him and put a piece of cloth around his neck and began choking him. Abu Bakr heard the commotion and rushed forward to defend the prophet (saw) and shoved ‘Uqbah away saying, ‘Do you kill a man just for saying my Lord is Allah?’

It is narrated in Al-Bukhari that Ibn `Abbas said, “Abu Jahl said, `If I see Muhammad praying at the Ka`bah, I will stomp on his neck.’ So this reached the Prophet, who said, ‘If he does, he will be seized by the angels.’ This hadith was also recorded by At-Tirmidhi and An-Nasa’i in their Books of Tafsir. Likewise, it has been recorded by Ibn Jarir. Ahmad, At-Tirmidhi, An-Nasa’i and Ibn Jarir, all recorded it from Ibn `Abbas with the following wording: ‘The Messenger of Allah was praying at the Maqam (prayer station of Ibrahim) when Abu Jahl bin Hisham passed by him and said, `O Muhammad! Haven’t I prevented you from this’ He threatened the Prophet and thus, the Messenger of Allah became angry with him and reprimanded him. Then he said, `O Muhammad! What can you threaten me with By Allah, I have the most kinsmen of this valley with me in the large.’ Then Allah revealed, ‘Then let him call upon his council. We will call out the guards of Hell!’ Ibn `Abbas then said, “If he had called his people, the angels of torment would have seized him at that very instant.” At-Tirmidhi said, “Hasan Sahih.” Ibn Jarir recorded from Abu Hurayrah that Abu Jahl said, “Does Muhammad cover his face with dust (i.e., from prostration) while he is among you all” They (the people) replied, “Yes.” Then he said, “By Al-Lat and Al-`Uzza, if I see him praying like this, I will stomp on his neck, and I will certainly put his face in the dust.” So the Messenger of Allah came and he began praying, which made it possible for Abu Jahl to stomp on his neck. Then the people became surprised at him (Abu Jahl) because he began retreating on his heels and covering himself with his hands. Then it was said to him, “What’s the matter with you” He replied, “Verily, between me and him is a ditch of fire, monsters and wings.” Then the Messenger of Allah said, ‘If he had come near me, the angels would have snatched him limb by limb.’

 

96:11

96:12

11) Have you seen whether he is rightly guided

12) Or encourages true piety?

The word ra’aa means to see not just physically but also with insight. For example, when you understand a complex issue you would say ‘I see’. This does not mean literally, rather, it means you understand the issue. Allah (swt) asks did you realise his potential and that if he had been committed to guidance what an amazing person he would have been. When Umar (ra) committed himself to guidance it also led to him commanding others to taqwa too. So, he did not just take the guidance on for himself but he became a means by which he delivered guidance and taqwa to others too. This is an elaboration of the prophet’s own supplication in regards to Abu Jahl and the amazing potential he had.

 

96:13

13) Have you seen whether he denies the truth and turns away from it?

This cursed man had potential like Umar (ra) had he only realised that potential. Instead he turned bad and now Allah (swt) asks can’t you see the harm and destruction that he will bring about as a result? The word ra’aa is used in this ayah to show that the messenger (saw) has amazing foresight and can analyse things in a deep way to see the benefit, harm and long-term consequences of things. We are also being taught to think like this by trying to determine what good in the future can come about as a result of our actions today.

 

96:14

14) Does he not realize that Allah sees all?

Abu Jahl thinks he is only violating the messenger (saw). However, he has gone so far astray that the thought that Allah (swt) is watching him did not occur to him. This is important because, like most mushrikeen, he believed in Allah (swt). This is the attitude of a person who becomes such a deviant criminal that he does not care anymore. A person so evil that even when his victim invokes the name of Allah (swt), he does not stop to think twice about this plea. In the first passage of this surah Allah (swt) said that He (swt) taught the human what he did not know. One thing that man is taught is that here is that Allah (swt) is always watching. A criminal will be dissuaded from carrying out his crime if he thinks he is being watched. Similarly, people stop at red lights due to cameras and are careful when driving past speed cameras. So Allah (swt) taught the human that he is being watched. If man truly appreciated this fact he would not engage in immoral, illegal and indecent behaviour. The one who indulges in sin, even Muslims, should reflect on this fact and internalise it so that they become fully cognisant of Allah (swt) at all times. People rarely misbehave in front of their parents or slack at work in the presence of their manager. If you were to suddenly realise they were watching you, you would quickly check yourself and apologise.

 

96:15

15) No! If he does not stop, We shall drag him by his forehead

The ayaat that talk about Abu Jahl are interestingly placed right after the ayaat that talk about knowledge. The irony is that the Arabs used to call him ‘Abu Hakam’ – the ‘One of Wisdom’. When ‘Abu’ is placed before an adjective it does not necessarily mean ‘Father of’, rather, in English we would say that this is a ‘person of’. For example, if someone is obsessed by cars, we would call him ‘the car guy’. So, Abu Jahl, as one of the leaders of Quraysh and senior statesmen, used to be recognised as the person to turn to for guidance and counsel. However, due to his rejection of the true knowledge of Allah (swt), he was named him Abu Jahl (the One of Ignorance), which is how he has been remembered throughout history. Thus, the ayaat of knowledge are followed by the polar opposite, the verses on the one of ignorance.

What is the relationship between knowledge in the first passage and the arrogant Kaafir in the second passage? The connection is firstly that knowledge is supposed to be a means of humility. Someone who has knowledge is compared to the branches of a tree that lowers when it bears fruit meaning the more knowledge one has, the more humble they should become. The lack of knowledge or rejection of knowledge will lead one to arrogance. Thus, when someone humbles themselves, Allah (swt) elevates them and when someone exhibits arrogance and haughtiness, Allah (swt) brings them down. This is the contrast we are learning in these ayahs. It is apparent that the central theme of the beginning part of this surah is the importance that Allah (swt) gives to seeking knowledge. If this is such treasured knowledge that we could only have known it from Allah (swt) then what kind of person could it be that would have no value for this knowledge. Allah (swt) gives his diagnosis in the second passage. Such an incredible treasure could only be rejected by one that does not heed the demand to submit and sees himself as being free of need for this knowledge. When you declare Allah (swt) as your master then you must submit to Him as a consequence and become His slave, which is why this person rejects this knowledge. After the passages on knowledge and the reasons for the rejection of knowledge we came to the part which discussed the behaviour that occurs when one rejects the knowledge and we described some of these incidents. This is now followed by the ayaat of consequences where Allah (swt) warns of the consequences of rejecting this knowledge.

Allah (swt) responds by talking about Abu Jahl but not to him. As opposed to saying ‘if you don’t stop’, Allah (swt) says ‘if he does not stop’. There are two benefits to this. Firstly, by doing this Allah (swt) distances himself from Abu Jahl. Secondly, the prophet (saw) needs to hear this because he is the one being attacked. Allah (swt) comes to the prophet’s defence with his words by informing him that there will be consequences if Abu Jahl does not stop. If Abu Jahl dares to continue then he will be grabbed and dragged by the forelock (lock of hair on the forehead). The word safa’a means to grab something and to pull it so hard that it comes out of its roots. It is usually an animal that is grabbed from the front when its owner is angry (e.g. horse’s mane). A child can be grabbed from the front too when an adult is being abusive to him. Also, once in a moment of rage Musa (as) grabbed Haroon (as) by the hair. Allah (swt) says in this ayah, ‘We will grab by the forehead’. This is very powerful because Allah (swt) did not say ‘We will grab Him’, as Abu Jahl is not worth mentioning especially when the subject of the verse is Allah (swt). The first part of the ayah is hypothetical (if) but the latter is a matter of certainty. If Abu Jahl dares to continue then there will be consequences as a matter of surety.

The forelock or forehead in Arab tradition was the place of one’s pride and dignity and even in our times today we can appreciate this, which is why people wear hats and turbans as a mark of honour and respect. It is a place where the mind and knowledge rests and it is of course the knowledge presented in this surah that Abu Jahl rejects and so it is fitting that he is dragged by the forehead. Two things led him to disbelief, his ignorance and his arrogance. His ignorance to the message and his arrogance which led to his rejection of it. Furthermore, this surah ends with an ayah of prostration and when you do this you place your forehead on the ground. Thus, in the end the messenger (saw) is being told put his head down in prostration for closeness to Allah (swt) and even if Abu Jahl does not put his head down in this life, ultimately, he will be dragged down into the hellfire in humility by his head in the next life. The word for forelock has also been used elsewhere in the Quran, ‘The Mujrimun (polytheists, criminals, sinners, etc.) will be known by their marks (black faces) and they will be seized by their forelocks and their feet’ (ar-Rahman 55:41). In other places Allah (swt) talks about the one whose face is on the ground, ‘Is he who walks cast down, fallen, on his face more rightly guided, or he who walks upright on a straight path?’ (Mulk 67:22). Some mufassiroon understood this to describe the scene on the day of judgement when some people will be dragged by their forehead and others who lived righteous lives will walk upright. We ask Allah to make us of the upright ones, ameen. Also, consider the occasion when Abu Jahl approached the prophet (saw) to stomp on his neck whilst he was praying. Abu Jahl quickly retreated upon seeing a creature that scared him. An angel had already come to grab him by the forehead. The prophet (saw) was thus strengthened by these ayaat that Allah (swt) sent down to reassure him.

 

96:16

16) His lying, sinful forehead

Allah (swt) uses two adjectives to describe Abu Jahl’s forehead. Allah (swt) firstly calls it a lying forehead. This is an insult and a humiliation for one of the leaders of the Quraysh and it is important to appreciate the political ramifications of this. There is an imbalance of power in that the messenger (saw) is already the subject of ridicule and physical persecution and now he is given words that are not at all apologetic or submissive but rather they are calling out Abu Jahl as a liar to his face. For he heard the Quran and knew it was true but still rejected it for untrue reasons. Therefore, Allah (swt) exposed Abu Jahl as having already accepted that this was the truth internally and that he refused to humble himself. The word khaati’ah means to make a mistake whose consequences one does not know. Abu Jahl rejected and attacked the messenger (saw) without being able to appreciate the consequences or significance of this. The consequence is an extremely painful punishment awaiting him.

 

96:17

17) Let him summon his comrades

Allah (swt) now comes back to this life and issues Abu Jahl a challenge. First, He (swt) said that if he does not stop he would get grabbed. Now Allah (swt) goes further and basically calls him out and tells him to summon his gang. In Arabic a nadi is a public place where there are many listeners. Abu Jahl used to sit in such a public place with his entourage. The word nad’u means to call upon for help and so Allah (swt) is telling the messenger (saw) to tell Abu Jahl to call the people he calls upon. It is important to appreciate that although Allah (swt) is speaking here, the Kaafir only hears and sees the messenger (saw). Furthermore, when he (saw) speaks, because they are disbelievers, they do not think this is Allah’s word. Rather, they think it is the messenger words. Thus, essentially from their perspective it looks like the messenger (saw) has come up to them, a bunch of tough and hardened men, stood in front of them and said bring it on.

 

96:18

18) We shall summon the guards of Hell

Zabaaniyyah is the plural of zibniya which means a security guard and the word zabana means to protect and guard something with force such that if someone tries to break out they will be attacked. Allah (swt) says you call your gang and I’ll call my guards. Thus, on one hand there are gangsters and thugs and on the other is Allah’s security force. There is no contest. Furthermore, we know this happened in the incident where Abu Jahl ran back from his attempt to stomp on the prophet’s neck after Allah (swt) released his army.

 

 

96:19

19) No! Do not obey him. Prostrate (in worship) and draw near (to Allah)

This is the last passage of the surah. The first was on knowledge, then the person who rejects it, then the behaviour of the one who rejects it which was followed by the consequences of rejecting this knowledge. The prophet (saw) was engaged in the work of giving dawah despite being up against constant animosity towards his noble efforts. It is demoralising being physically and verbally abused like this. Thus, at the end of this surah Allah (swt) disregards Abu Jahl and turns to talk to his messenger (saw). The word kallaa is a means by which something is completely disregarded. Almost like Allah (swt) is saying don’t worry about him, this guy is not a big deal, don’t stress. The word itta’a has a number of meanings. It can mean to follow or to pay attention to or to succumb to something. Allah (swt) tells the prophet (swt) to not pay any attention to Abu Jahl. Rather, he should prostrate and come close to Allah (swt). Allah (swt) says prostrate but does not say prostrate to Him or to Allah. This is because it is obvious it is about Him (swt). Allah (swt) began the surah by telling us that He (swt) taught man what he could not know. Man is taught another thing now which he could never have known.

There are people who believe in god and want to please and worship him but they don’t know what to do or what makes him happy or how to serve Him. This can lead to people developing their own philosophies and practices. Some people practice shirk in the assumption that god will be happy with this. In fact some pre-Islamic Arabs would even take off their clothes and dance naked around the Ka’ba because they thought this would please Allah (swt) and that this was how He was meant to be worshipped. The human who wants to worship Allah (swt) and come close to Him is shown how to through Allah’s guidance. Allah (swt) teaches us to come close to Him by making sajda to Him.

This surah began with a command to read and it ends with another command. The two ends of the surah also deal with salah. Muslims recite the Quran in salah and also prostrate in salah. Furthermore, the Quran is recited in salah when one is standing at full height just like it was instructed it at the top of this surah and when one is at his lowest and prostrates, the slave of Allah (swt) is at his closest to Allah (swt). Thus, the beginning of the surah is worship and so is the end. It is also interesting to note that the first commandment of the surah was to read and to seek knowledge but the ending is a commandment of worship. This sequence shows that there is a relationship between knowledge and practice and that one should worship Allah (swt) based on knowledge. How comprehensive the arguments of this surah are presented. And all praise is for Allah (swt).