Tafseer Surah Abasa
When the blind man came to him
Before studying this surah it is important first to consider how we talk about the Messenger (saw). This is a very sensitive matter to the extent that in the Medinan Quran Allah (swt) teaches the companions Islamic mannerisms and of the correct etiquette of speaking to the messenger (saw). Allah (swt) send down verses threatening them to be careful and warns them of not being to casual in their speech, not even insulting him (saw), but just being too casual in their speech.
For example, in Surah Hujuraat there are Bedouins who come outside the home of the Messenger (saw) and call out for him in a rough manner as they wanted to speak to him. These Bedouins were not city dwellers and were somewhat rough around the edges and harsh as was customary for Bedouins, so it is important to bear in mind that this tone was not harsh to them, it was just how they spoke. When Allah (swt) saw this, He (swt) gave them a warning: ‘Don’t you raise your voice and call him like you call each other, he’s not the same. If you do this all of your good deeds may be seized and you would not even realise.’ In the same surah, Allah (swt) threatens ‘you better know that especially in your midst (meaning the companions) is the messenger of Allah’. In this same verse Allah says that ‘No doubt it is Allah who has made imaan beloved to you and beautified it in your heart’. So the verse begins with regard for the messenger and concludes with beautification of imaan in our hearts. There is no mention of imaan in Allah (swt) or the angels or the books but only regard and honour and sensitivity in how we speak of the messenger (saw).
This is an important message for us to take heed of when we speak of the messenger (saw). One of the things that we must accept and which is from our Aqeedah and there is consensus on this is that the messenger is free from sin and does not disobey Allah. Allah has purified and cleansed his heart and made it firm and made him the golden standard of human character and so he is free of sin.
Moving on to this surah now, it was revealed as the messenger was involved in an important dawah mission and when he had approached the leaders of the Quraysh to invite them to Islam. During this important discussion a blind companion came to the messenger (saw) and disturbed him. The messenger (saw) subsequently frowned and turned away from the companion. One of the final themes of the previous surah was that everything Allah (swt) mentioned was a lesson for those who had fear and in this surah an example is given of someone who fears Allah (swt). This surah also gives an example of the transgressors who in the previous surah were described as preferring the life of this world. There is also similarity in the ending where the state of two different types of people is highlighted. Furthermore, in the previous surah we learnt of when the overwhelming calamity comes and in this surah we learn of when the great screaming comes. So, you could say that An-Naziat lays down the principles and foundations which this surah gives practical examples for. An-Naziat spoke of the dawah of Musa (as) to Fir’aun and in this surah we see the dawah of the messenger (saw) to the Quraysh. Additionally, one of the major lessons of this surah is how Allah (swt) teaches the messenger (saw) to outweigh matters and to understand the benefits and harms of a situation. Another is to explain and clarify the qualities of those people who reject the faith and those who accept it.
On this particular occasion that the messenger (saw) was speaking to some of the leaders of Quraysh, it appeared that they were actually listening to him. In many other surahs and narrations they are poking fun at him or are being sarcastic about the akhira but this time it appears they were actually engaged in some kind of discussion with the messenger (saw). Abdullah ibn Um-Makhtoom was a cousin of Khadeeja (ra) and so was close to the prophet as he was family. He is also known to have been blind and one of the first to believe in the message.
Some scholars have commented that when a person is blind they often raise their voice as they cannot be sure if people can see them or not. This is a natural consequence of being blind due to one of your sense being taken away. Furthermore, the blind person is not conscious that he may be speaking loudly. Abdullah (ra) came to the messenger (saw) while he was in discussion with the Quraysh and according to one narration asks the messenger (saw): ‘Teach me from what Allah taught you’. He said this over and over again and because he did not hear the messenger (saw) respond immediately he thought that perhaps he had not heard him.
The messenger (saw) at that moment is engaged in conversation with the Quraysh in a rare moment when it seems they are listening to him. There are some strategic problems that the messenger (saw) is presented with here. Something which has always been one of the complaints of the leaders of the disbelievers, not just with the Prophet Muhammad (saw) but other messengers too, is that the disbelievers always question why they should accept their message when the lower rung of society and lower class are always attracted to it. The Quraysh did not want to associate with these people as they felt it diminished their elite status. So, they were prepared to speak to the messenger (saw) separately. In this situation it appears the messenger (saw) has gone to the Quraysh to speak to them.
Dawah is to invite someone to the message but tableegh is to get the message out. In this exchange as the messenger had gone to speak to the Quraysh this part of his work was tableegh. In this scenario, one of the problems the messenger (saw) was faced with was that if the Quraysh so much as saw Abdullah (ra) they would walk away and the dawah would be invalidated, as they would not want to be seen in his presence. Another issue is that the messenger (saw) feels like he (saw) is finally getting somewhere. Abdullah (ra) is a true believer and is not going anywhere and thus his questions can wait. What could not wait was the golden opportunity to get the message to the Quraysh who for the first time appeared to be listening.
So, if you look at this from the strategic point of view there is nothing wrong with the messenger’s (saw) actions. Also, remember that Abdullah (saw) is blind. If you frown at someone they can only be offended if they see it. Allah (swt) does not mention the companion by name in this surah just that he is blind. It is not good to refer to someone by their faults and Allah (swt) is not doing this to belittle this person but rather doing it as a form of identification. In another indication of the innocence of the messenger (saw) we learn that he (saw) is not expressing frustration verbally rather we learn about him expressing it on his face as he turns away slightly in order to finish off his conversation. Can the companion notice him turning away – no. So, firstly understand that he did not offend a believer.
However, if there is no problem why are these verses coming down? It is important to understand that the standards set for a messenger of Allah (swt) are far higher than the standards Allah (swt) has set for the believers and we can never compare our standards to those of the messenger Muhammad (saw). Allah is extremely sensitive to every intricate mannerism and minute gesture of the messenger (saw). On one occasion the messenger (saw) looked at the sky and Allah (swt) noticed and revealed a verse – ‘We saw your face turning to the sky in aspiration in missing the Kaba’. So there is an incredibly intricate relationship between Allah (saw) and the messenger Muhammad (saw). For us, the standard is prayer five times a day but for the messenger (saw) qiyaam-u-layl was mandated for half the night as a minimum. Similarly, although the work of dawah is meant for all Muslims, for the messenger (saw) it was mandated all the time, one from which he could not take a break.
Bearing this in mind, Allah (swt) commanded Musa (saw) to come to the valley to meet him in order to receive revelation and out of his zeal and enthusiasm to get started on his mission Musa (saw) came early. Similarly when the messenger Muhammad (saw) was given revelation he (saw) was in such zeal to receive the revelation he would try to memorise it quickly so much so that Allah (swt) revealed a verse calming him (saw) down – ‘Don’t rush your tongue to acquire the Quran quickly, We have tasked ourselves to compile the Quran for you’.
Scholars consider this address of Allah (swt) to the messenger to be a type of correction, a rebuke or censure even. Allah (swt) has put the messenger on an amazing platform of manners so we have to speak of him with excellent manners. The messenger (saw) is infallible when it comes to receiving the message and conveying it but it is possible for him to commit errors in day to day things for example forgetting how many rakats he prayed.
This is a lesson for everyone who gives or receives dawah that you should treat people according to the level of their faith. Is frowning really a reason to reveal a whole surah. If this was a normal Muslim or another companion would Allah (swt) reveal a whole surah? The messenger has reached a high level of manners and this is not expected from him so Allah (swt) treats him according to his level. The messenger (saw) would rarely slip up and when he did Allah (swt) would correct him. In the battle of Tabuk there were a group of companions who did not fight and the messenger (saw) did not accept their excuses for not participating. From amongst this group was the eminent companion Ka’ab ibn Malik (ra). Muhammad (saw) did not speak to Ka’ab for fifty days and would not even reply to his salaam until Allah (swt) revealed that he accepted his repentance. So, although Allah (swt) is correcting the messenger (saw) He is also praising him due to the high level that of character and manners that he had reached. Many people entered Islam after the conquest of Makkah and after the battle of Hunayn much of the war booty was distributed to the new Muslims who had not witnessed Badr or Uhud or made sacrifices like the Ansar and the Muhajirroon. The messenger did this as he knew the new Muslims were weak in faith and that the companions were strong in faith. The insignificant material things of this life were given to them to win them over. Similarly, Ibn Makhtum was one of the Muadhins. Muhammad (saw) was confident in his faith and did not regard ignoring him for a short period of time as a problem.
Appreciate that the companion was blind but that he could hear and could have heard that there was a conversation going on. Thus, technically the messenger (saw) is not in the wrong but is still being chastised. This reinforces the idea that when you are addressing someone of very high character you have to be even more stringent with them. That’s why he was not excused from missing the night prayer. So from one perspective he is chastised and from the other his status is elevated. Another reason the word blind is mentioned is to reinforce that it does not matter what status a man has as he can still be on the truth and this is why Allah (swt) says in surah Hajj that it’s not the eyes that grow blind but the hearts in the chest of men that grow blind. So even though his eyes were blind his heart was alive and so this was a rebuke to the Quraysh. This verse also serves as an encouragement to poor people to enter Islam. A whole surah was revealed for this man and just as verses were revealed for the righteous like Abu Bakr (ra) they was also revealed for the weak. We also learn from this that if we see someone in a conversation we should not interrupt.
Also, understand that the messenger (saw) is not just giving dawah to the Quraysh or to the Makkans. Muhammad (saw) understood that the dawah that he (saw) was giving had implications for the rest of humanity, as he was fully aware that he (saw) was the last of the messengers and that there were no more to come after him. So he has the weight of the world on his shoulders and wanted to make sure the message was broadcast as far and wide as possible. He (saw) also understood that if even one of these leaders had an inkling of Islam they could strengthen it and maybe others would follow. The messenger (saw) would often target the leaders of tribes because if the leadership came to Islam then the whole tribe would. Thus, he (saw) was constantly concerned about taking Islam to the next step and of reaching certain milestones and this was a golden opportunity to achieve that and this is why he turned away.
This is why some scholars have commented that it is more important to teach the person who is not Muslim but is interested in Islam rather than teach a Muslim because the Muslim can wait. So for example, if a non-Muslim walks into a mosque and wants to ask the imam some questions and then a Muslim walks in after with some questions about hajj or salaat for example, the Muslim can wait as the non-Muslim might not come back and by talking to him he may come to Islam. There could be many benefits of him coming to Islam for example for the community or maybe many more people would come to Islam through him. So, there is good in giving dawah to both Muslims and non-Muslims but there is more good in speaking to a non Muslim in the event where both options present themselves.
As an aside, it’s interesting to re-iterate that Allah (swt) reprimands the messenger (saw) here. For those who say that Muhammad (saw) wrote the Quran, why would he reprimand himself? No person would openly criticise themselves. So, this in itself is an indication that the Quran is not the word of Muhammad but the word of Allah (swt) which was revealed to him.
Whenever the messenger (saw) met Abdullah (ra) after this event he (saw) would say to him ‘Welcome to the one my Lord called me out on (corrected me on)’ and this would not be out of sarcasm or jest. He (saw) would welcome him and take special care of him. The companions also noted that the messenger (saw) had special regard and honour for Abdullah (ra) after this event. Aisha (ra) said that if Muhammad (saw) was to conceal anything from the revelation it would have been this verse but obviously he would not do that. So it’s important to note that the messenger (saw) was not upset with Abdullah (ra). In Arabic there are different words for frowning. There is kallaha; kalh is when you are so upset that you can almost see the person’s teeth grinding. A step above this is basr where in addition to the teeth grinding you can also see a person’s face bulging and the face is said to be turning into an ugly face due to this disturbance. The kind of perturbed expression that lasts only between your eyes in the middle of your forehead and which has no indication on your face or voice is called abas. So of all the words that could be used for frustration when the messenger (saw) directed his frustration at a blind companion he expressed the minimal level of frustration humanly possible and even that Allah (swt) noticed and recorded. As we have already mentioned the mission was the messenger’s (saw) top priority which is why he exhibited frustration.
There is another reason for the reprimand and that is because the messenger (saw) is a role model in many capacities, as a father, as a neighbour, as a judge etc. One of those capacities is as a leader. In a cohesive group that is united the people are aligned with that leader because he shows love to them. If the leader makes the people feel unimportant the cohesion of that group starts falling apart. We find amongst some of the companions that each of them was convinced that the messenger (saw) loved them the most. It is possible that one of the weaker members of society from among the Muslims, the weak or poor or oppressed might have see this from a distance and seen the messenger (saw) paying greater attention to the elite and undermining the importance of one of his own. As this would undermine his status and importance as a leader, Allah (swt) lets the companions know they are important they by addressing his messenger (saw) saying abas.
This is an example of Allah (swt) coming to the aid of the companions which happens many times in the Quran. For example, Allah says in the Quran: ‘Don’t turn your eyes away from them’. Some of the toughest verses in the Quran are in defence of the companions. In surah Imran, Allah (swt) tells us that it is only by Allah’s (swt) mercy that the messenger (saw) is lenient towards them. Allah (swt) says it is by his (swt) mercy that the messenger (saw) is lenient towards the companions because if he (saw) were tough and hard hearted they would have run away from him (saw):
“It was by the mercy of Allah that you were lenient with them (O Muhammad), for if you had been stern and fierce of heart they would have dispersed from round about you. So pardon them, and ask forgiveness for them and consult with them upon the conduct of affairs.”
Surah Imran 3/158
Say, (O Muhammad, to mankind): If you love Allah, follow me; Allah will love you and forgive you your sins. Allah is Forgiving, Merciful. Say: Obey Allah and the Messenger! But if they turn away, Allah loves not the disbelievers (in His guidance).”
Surah Imran 3-3/32
The importance Allah (swt) shows to the companions is apparent here as he counts the leniency that the messenger (saw) shows them as one of Allah’s (swt) mercies on him. Considering other mercies Allah (swt) has shown his messenger (saw) like the revelation, the isra’ and miraaj, Al-Kauthar, the conquest of Mecca it is weighty indeed. Allah (swt) tells the messenger (saw) to consult the companions and to forgive them and ask Allah (swt) to forgive. But why would the messenger need consultation when he receives revelation from Allah (swt)? This again makes the companions feel included even though in the end the decision lies with the messenger and not consensus.
This is part of the work of the messenger specifically with those who have disappointed him (saw) because Allah (swt) says forgive them and ask Allah (swt) to forgive them which means these are followers who have disappointed their leader, yet still the messenger (saw) is supposed to ask them for their opinion. This is the highest calibre of leadership which requires a lot of patience and tough character. Faced with so many challenges and problems the messenger (saw) was a hugely patient leader to the extent that he did not even express this on his face.
We also know that Abdullah (ra) when addressing the messenger (saw) said ‘O Muhammad’ many times over and over and was calling him by his name. Even in the Quran we do not find the messenger (saw) addressed by name (O Muhammad), we only find for example, O Nabi or O Rusool. The only exception is in surah Muhammad where his name is highlighted, everywhere else we find his (saw) elevated status. So even in Abdullah’s (ra) speech we can see that it is casual which is perhaps because he was close in family and also because this is an early Meccan surah and that the companions have not been totally cultured and Islam is still new to them.
And so Muhammad (saw) turns away from him. Anyone else would say look I am busy right now give me two minutes and I will get back to you. The messenger (saw) does not even say that as he is that cautious of hurting the feelings of his companion. All he does is show a brief bulge or frown on his forehead and the verses are revealed. Allah (swt) is so merciful to his messenger (saw) that he does not say ‘you frowned’ he says ‘he frowned’ – he used the third person. In Arabic when you reprimand someone in the third person you are going easy on them and when you reprimand in the second person you are going hard on them and so even in the language we can see that Allah (swt) is showing the messenger (saw) mercy and going easy on him. Imagine you are in a classroom and there is one pupil you want to reprimand, if you say ‘a student did not do very well’ the pupil will not feel as bad even though he knows it is him and if you say ‘Abdullah you messed up’, he will feel much worse. So when Allah (swt) revealed his criticism he used the third person. The major concern of the messenger (saw) was how Allah (swt) viewed him and whether he was pleased with him or not. For Allah (swt) to say in the second person ‘you frowned and you turned away’ would be very difficult for the messenger to receive. The verses in this surah also gradually reveals whom Allah (swt) is referring to as the first verse does not make this explicitly clear and this is also done as a result of the care and concern of Allah (swt) towards his messenger in wanting to break the news gently to him.
Another example of this is in Surah At-Tawbah. In the battle of Tabuk the messenger pardoned the hypocrites who did not participate in the battle As a result Allah (swt) pardons the messenger for this and then questions why he gave them permission for not participating. Normally, when someone makes a mistake they are first questioned about the error and then pardoned. However, here the forgiveness is mentioned before mentioning the error and this is because this would be very hard for the messenger (saw) to take. Thus, Allah (swt) first forgave the messenger so that he does not worry and then elaborates. Such is the care and concern that Allah (swt) shows the messenger so that his heart remains at peace. Words can be sharper than swords; cutting not just into the flesh but the heart and this is a lesson for us when we deal with others to always try to be sensitive to them.
Jaa’a means to come but is a strong word which means he came with a lot of enthusiasm and as he is blind the companion could not see what was going on and that there was a discussion taking place between the messenger (saw) and the Quraysh.
How could you tell that he might have sought to better and cleanse himself?
Ma yudreeka from idra means what means or tools do you have that you can use to get information, for example the internet is a tool we use to get information. Allah (swt) is addressing the messenger (saw) here and telling him that he has no tools at his disposal whatsoever to find out whether the blind companion was coming with good intentions or not. In defence of the messenger (saw) and in order to come close to him, Allah (swt) has switched from the third person and makes clear that the messenger (saw) has not been given the license to judge what is inside a person and whether they have an inclination to cleanse themselves or not.
This surah is connected in many ways to Surah An-Naziat and continues some of the themes discussed in it. In surah An-Naziat, Musa (saw) makes an offer to Fir’aun and asks him whether he has any inclination inside himself to cleanse himself. Despite all Fir’aun’s transgressions Musa (saw) does not judge what is inside of him. We see the same word tazakka is now used in this surah when Allah (swt) tells the messenger (saw) that he had no means to find out that perhaps the blind companion’s motive was to cleanse himself and try to become a better person.
One of the fundamental objectives for us as Muslims and why we study Islam is to better and cleanse ourselves. In Arabic grammar you would say that yazzakka and yatazakka mean the same thing but in the Quran there is a difference. When something is partial and not full we see the fused word where letters are fused together as in yazzakka. When the context is complete then the complete spelling structure is used. In other words in one sitting or one question someone is not going to attain complete purity, he will get some purity and cleanse something of himself. Yatazakka would be more complete meaning that the person would become a better person in one question or one halaqa or sitting.
He may have got a reminder and that reminder may have benefited him
Dhikr is remembrance and ad-dhikra is a powerful remembrance. This illustrates that whenever the messenger (saw) speaks to someone that in itself is not just a reminder but a powerful reminder. The messenger (saw) is being told here that even if you addressed him a little it would have been a powerful reminder for him. The idea is that the Quran is meant to be a powerful reminder for anyone who wants to get that reminder. When Allah (swt) says aw yadhukkur here he is indicating that the companion himself wanted to make an effort to remember and fa-tan-fa’ahu ad-dhikra and that as a result of this he would have got a powerful reminder which would have been of benefit to him.
When knowledge benefits you it is considered tazkiyyah and reminders are when knowledge partially benefits you. Reminders are for people that are weak in faith and for when people need an iman boost. You can approach knowledge for either total character reformation or for a temporary fix. Often when people receive reminders and their iman is boosted the effect of it subsequently recedes over time as the knowledge has not penetrated their hearts and has not gone further than the ears. When we go and seek knowledge the intention should be to totally reform ourselves and not just to seek a temporary fix.
As for him who thinks himself self-sufficient
Istighna comes from the word ghani which means someone who is so rich they are not worried about the bills or money or expenses and people who live in complete luxury have ghina. One of Allah’s (swt) names is Al-Ghani because he is free of need and does not need anything. As for the person who has istighna he is someone who is heedless, carefree and does not worry about anything. Allah (swt) is referring to the people of Quraysh here and that they are apathetic to the information that the messenger (saw) is giving them.
The messenger (saw) does not know that they do not care as he is not able to determine whether they have any good in them or not. Musa (saw) did not know if Fir’aun did until the end. So the messenger (saw) is giving them dawah but Allah (swt) exposes them and passed his fatwa on them and calls them the ones who feel free of need, do not care and are reckless in their attitude. A person who wants to talk to you about Islam, not because they want guidance, but because they like having philosophical discussions and talking for the sake of talking.
Tasadda comes from sada which means an echo that bounces off a wall and you hear it over and over. Tasadda means to be relentless with a matter and to go back to it over and over again. The messenger (saw) is being told that he goes back to the Quraysh over and over again. Allah (swt) here says fa anta lahu tasadda and not fa-tasadda. This indicates that it is the messenger (saw) that turns back to them over and over and not the Quraysh who have the istighna in the previous verse. So, although the messenger (saw) is taking this very seriously they are very lax about it. Take for example a salesperson who is trying to sell a product to someone not interested, the salesperson in this case will come across desperate and will give the upper hand to the customer. Allah (swt) does not want it to seem like the messenger (saw) does not have the upper hand over the Quraysh or that he is desperate to give them guidance as neither the messenger (saw) nor Allah (swt) needs them.
Yet the fault would not be yours if he will not become pure
Allah (swt) advises the messenger (saw) that there will be no consequence on him (saw) if they don’t accept Islam or purify themselves. It is the responsibility of the person to cleanse themselves as the messenger (saw) is only a warner to them as mentioned at the end of the previous surah. Allah (swt) exposes these kuffar who may have just been pulling the leg of the messenger (saw) and tagging him (saw) along with no intention of taking onboard the dawah by making it a statement of fact in the wording that they have no intention of purifying themselves. So, Allah lets the messenger know that these people have no intention of cleansing themselves. This is the same dialogue that happened between Fir’aun and Musa (saw) in the previous surah. Just like Fir’aun the Quraysh are showing that they have no interest or need of the message. So it was not just a story but one which is manifesting itself in the situation of the messenger (saw).
The ma could either be a rhetorical question i.e. ‘what blame is on you if he does not purify himself’ or it could be the ma of negation which means that there is nothing upon the messenger (saw) if this person does not reform himself. This indicates the eagerness of the messenger (saw) to invite people to Islam and Allah (swt) subsequently tells him to calm down.
The word yasa’ was used in the previous surah to describe Fir’aun pacing and rushing out of arrogance. Here, the pacing is out of humility and the fear of Allah (swt). They are both pacing in opposite directions. This is also Allah’s correction and would have made the messenger (saw) feel bad as Allah (saw) says that the blind man rushed to him for advice.
And is afraid (of Allah and His punishment)
Allah (swt) does not say ‘wa yakhsha’, He (swt) says ‘wa huwa yakhsha’ – it is he who fears. When this pronoun is used in this way it gives emphasis and by this Allah (swt) is telling us that there is someone else who does not have khashiya. It is the companion who has fear and not the audience that you (saw) are talking to. In the previous surah Allah (swt) said that the messenger (saw) is a warner for those who have fear so by the sentence structure Allah (swt) is indicating that the leaders of Quraysh have no fear.
Of him you are neglectful
Talahha comes from lahuw which translates as entertainment but originally means to be engaged with something that keeps you away from a more important task. So Allah (swt) is saying that in engaging with these leaders of Quraysh, the messenger (saw) is engaged in an activity which is not as important as engaging with the companion. Allah (swt) has looked in their hearts and they have no khashiya only istighna and have no inclination of cleansing themselves – don’t waste your time with them, if there was any hope this would have been a more important case. We said earlier that if you are giving dawah to a non-Muslim and there is hope it is a better use of your time but Allah (swt) has looked into the hearts of the leaders of Quraysh and exposed them to the messenger (saw).
Nay, (do not do like this); indeed it (this Quran) is an admonition
Kalla here can mean two things, to rebuke or to negate something previously mentioned. Also whenever the word kalla appears in a surah you can assume that it is makki as makki surahs deal with the arguments of the mushrikeen in particular with their rejection of faith, tawheed and akhira etc. There are however some places in the Quran where kalla does not convey this meaning. For example in verse six of surah Mutaffifeen the kalla is more suitably translated as indeed. So in this surah it can also be considered as being used for emphasis. Some have considered this is a zajrah (a scolding) and that Allah is scolding the kuffar here i.e. go away the messenger (saw) does not have to waste time with you or that He (swt) is telling the messenger (saw) – ‘no, no more, do not waste your time with them anymore, don’t turn away from the companion for them’. This reminder the Quran is something extremely honoured and exalted and so time should not be wasted on these people.
If we take this to be a rebuke to the messenger (saw) not to frown then it is very strong as kalla in of itself is a very strong word and with this the rebuke has moved from being soft in the beginning to becoming tough. We can also consider that it was not for a sin but rather to guide the messenger (saw) to the better option from the two choices that he had. For example, if someone were reading Quran between the adhaan and the iqaama you would advise him to make dua instead. This is a rebuke not for a sin but rather advice to work for something which is better.
The haa here refers to dhikra, the powerful reminder in the previous verse. Allah (swt) is saying here that the Quran is not just a powerful reminder it is an incredibly powerful reminder. A reminder that is not just for the Quraysh but for the whole of mankind. The messenger (saw) was hugely affected by these verses and it is reported that he never frowned in the face of any poor person from there on and nor did he pay much attention to the disbelievers if it meant ignoring the believers. As mentioned earlier, reminders can affect people temporarily whereas tazkiyyah makes one grow spiritually and we can see that the messenger (saw) was affected to a very high level by these verses.
Tadhkira is the strongest possible word for reminder. Why does the Quran call itself a reminder as a reminder is something old which you already know? Thus, if the Quran is new revelation why is it calling itself a reminder? All human beings made a covenant will Allah (swt) before they came on this earth that Allah (swt) is his Lord. In surah Araf man bears witness that Allah (swt) is his Lord. So, the belief in Allah is something that we are all predisposed and pre-programmed with and is a part of our nature. Every newborn is born on a predisposed nature or fitra that Allah (swt) fashioned people into. In our fitra is Islam but due to the environment people are brought up in, the religion of your family or culture a person can be forced away from Islam.
So, the Quran is reminding you of something that is already deep in your heart. The people who will benefit from the reminder are the people who have something from their fitra left, a little bit of hope and light left. The people mentioned in this surah have no inclination left. Sometimes when you try to convince someone of an idea but they remain unconvinced you can sometimes feel that maybe there was something missing in your argument or a shortcoming. But Allah (swt) gives the messenger (saw) confidence by convincing him (saw) that his (saw) reminder is the most powerful reminder with nothing missing in it and if someone does not take advantage of it then it is through no shortcoming of his (saw).
Whoever wants may take some remembrance from it
The haa here now is hoo which is masculine and refers to the entire Quran. This teaches us two things that the Quran is the most powerful means of delivering a reminder and whoever wants can make mention of it i.e. the messenger (saw) is being told ‘you deliver it and warn people and they will be responsible for whether they take it or not’. The person who is truthful and wants to believe will be influenced and admonished by these verses and this is another reminder to us to focus on people who will benefit from these reminders and to prioritise when giving dawah. If the verse was haa then it would refer to the tadhkira in the previous verse whereas the hoo refers to the Quran. By having first haa and then hoo we have reference first to the admonishment and then to the Quran thereby capturing the best of both worlds.
(It is) in Records held (greatly) in honour
Suhoof literally means scriptures and comes from saheefah which is something that is spread out like paper which you write on and in ancient language is also used for scrolls, so Allah (swt) is speaking of the Quran in its original form. This suhoof refers to the sacred tablet in which Allah (swt) has recorded down the Quran and all things that are to occur and it is kept above the seven heavens. It is something that is so high and honoured and these people are so low that if these people are not accepting it and showing arrogance to it you should not be desperate to give it to them. So Allah (swt) exalts the status of the verses of the Quran and that the Quran is far above showing desperation to the arrogant kuffar to the extent that we plead with them to take Islam. The attitude of powerlessness when you give dawah should only be exacted to the Muslims but we do not show powerlessness when giving dawah to the kuffar as the message itself has integrity in itself.
The Quraysh are listening to these verses and it apparent that they should feel honoured that they get to listen to this sacred, honoured and elevated text yet still it has no effect on them. By honouring the status of the message like this the kuffar are belittled. The messenger (saw) who was so serious in delivering his message in the face of the kuffar who were so casual and thought they had the upper hand is now given the upper hand by Allah (swt). We learn that the Quran is elevated in two ways, in its status and in that it is physically above us. The significance of this is that it is untouched by any impurity. The Quran creates an imagery of anything that is high and elevated as being pure and clean and anything that is low as being degraded. This is why mutahhara, which means to be cleansed of impurities and protected from any corruption, additions or subtractions, is mentioned immediately afterwards as once its elevated it is pure.
Safarah means scribes and sifr means a book that unveils things. Safar is translated as travel because it makes apparent new places and also your personality. It is very easy to hide your true character around brothers for a short length of time but not when you are travelling with them as you can become tired and frustrated and that is when your true qualities will be displayed. One interpretation of this verse is that these are the scribes that take record from the Quran and then unveil it to the messengers. Some scholars comment that this is all those who record the Quran meaning the manuscripts of the companions, the manuscripts of the prophets. The majority opinion however is that these are angels and this is supported in the language of the words in the next verse. If it does indeed refer to the companions who recorded the Quran on parchment and bones then it is praise from Allah (swt). Allah (swt) is almost describing them as ambassadors. When they were in Mecca they were small in number, maybe less than a hundred, and so this was maybe a foretelling that these people will become ambassadors to the rest of mankind. After the death of the messenger (saw), Islam spread rapidly through the efforts of the companions and so this could be considered as being almost glad tidings to the believers.
Barara is the plural of barr and also the plural of baar. Barr means goodness and someone who is extremely good. Baar is also someone good but is not as powerful as the word barr. The plural of baar is abraar which is the normal expected plural but a more powerful plural is barara. One linguistic opinion is that barara is multitudes in plurals and abraar is not as powerful a plural. That would be applicable to angels because the righteous of the human beings are far less than of the angels as the angels are all righteous. So the entities who get to handle this revelation, which is a very high, noble, elevated, purified and cleansed, are of highest ranked of the angels, the scribes from amongst the angels and the most noble. So if you the kaffir does not take from this it’s their loss and the messenger (saw) should not feel any grief over it.
It is for this reason that Allah would constantly remind the messenger (saw) – ‘Are you going to overrun and kill yourself with grief because they wont turn to Islam?’. The messenger (saw) as we mentioned at the beginning has the weight of the world on his shoulders and can’t help it. Allah (swt) is constantly lightening his burden but it still weighs heavy on his mind. It is out of this concern that even with the hypocrites; Allah (swt) said that even if you ask Him (swt) to forgive seventy times Allah (swt) would not forgive them. And so the messenger (saw) said he would ask more than seventy times such was the concern that he had for humanity.
Perish man! How ungrateful he is!
This is a very sharp scolding and criticism and literally means the human being has destroyed himself. Ma akfarah means how incredible is his disbelief and his capacity to deny. This is a format used in the Arabic language to express shock, anger and amazement at something. So, the human being has destroyed himself with his relentless and incredible disbelief. In the previous surah Allah (swt) gave the worst possible example of kufr in Fir’aun and in this surah he is speaking of the entire human race that follows Fir’aun’s legacy in denying the truth. In An-Naziat Allah (swt) tells us that Musa (saw) showed Fir’aun the ultimate sign and that he still disbelieved and sowed amazing capacity to disbelieve. In this surah Allah (swt) talks of the ultimate sign in the Quran and again mankind amazes in its capacity to disbelieve. Also, consider that Allah (swt) rebukes the messenger (saw) in a very gentle way but look at the strong way in which Allah (swt) rebukes the disbelievers. Qutila is always used for the disbelievers in the Quran as it is a very strong word and this phrase is almost a dua.
Allah (swt) brings back the subject of arrogance that the disbelievers show – for what exactly does he think he was made out of?
From discharge He created him and proportioned him
Kharasa in Arabic means to make a wild projection like in the stock market. In comparison taqdeer means to make a projection based on extremely precise calculation and Allah (swt) says about the human that he took this fluid that people are embarrassed of and made taqdeer i.e. determined how tall you are going to be, what colour skin you will have, whether your eyes are going to work, what diseases you are going to have, what job will you have – all of this is precisely calculated. His whole legacy is calculated. So Allah (swt) says to the kaffir how amazing it is that you can disbelieve, look at where you came from and how pathetic your creation is and how I am in charge of it, yet, you are still oblivious to this and disbelieve. In An-Naziat Allah (swt) put the human in his place to when he asked who is tougher to create – humans or the sky. There man is put in his place by being compared to the sky that Allah (swt) created and here is reminded about where he came from. In both Allah (swt) puts down the arrogance of the human being.
Then he makes his path easy for him
Ulema comment that sabeel is the passage of the child coming out of the womb of the mother. Allah (swt) opened this path for you so that you could come into this world. How pathetic man is that he could not go down this path himself. The baby comes out of such a small passage that seems impossible but Allah (swt) facilitated this and made it easy for man. Scholars also comment that in addition this sabeel and path that Allah (swt) opened is also talking about the path to guidance that He (swt) made easy for us by giving us access to messengers, the clearest revelations, the most powerful of reminders and man’s natural fitrah and disposition which all contributes to guiding us to the correct path. All of this is facilitated for us to make it easier for man to believe yet still he disbelieves and how incredible is his capacity to disbelieve.
Then He causes him to die and puts him in his grave
After making the path into this world and guidance easy for man Allah (swt) causes him to die and made sure he ends up in his grave. Thus, man is not in control of his death let alone his life. Thumma is used as death happened a long time after life and the fa is then used as he is immediately buried after death. Qabr in Arabic means to be entered into the earth regardless of whether you are cremated and your ashes are scattered or you have a proper grave, ultimately all creatures will decay and be entered into the earth. So man came from something pathetic (nutfah) and then will be reduced to something you wash off your clothes (dirt). So, Allah (swt) puts the human in his place here.
Much after and whenever He (swt) wants He (swt) will raise him back up immediately with no process. For our growth from a baby to an adult there is a process we go through to grow into adulthood but our resurrection will be immediate with no process. In the Quran there are three words used for resurrection. The first is ahya and means to take something dead and bring it back to life. Ba’atha means to raise something and to send it forward meaning that Allah (swt) will not just raise us but gather us and send us forward to the place that we are supposed to meet on the day of resurrection. Nashara literally means to spread or scatter and when speaking of a corpse means that it has decayed to the extent that its remains have dispersed into the earth. When we come out of our graves it will be as if we are scattered insects all in one instant not one by one. So Allah (swt) is saying that He (swt) will raise man and then spread him out meaning all humans will be spread out and eventually gathered at the land we are supposed to gather.
Qada means to fulfil a responsibility in such a way that you are no longer responsible for it, a one time task. Allah (swt) is saying that the human being after all these reminders has still not got his act together and fulfilled his duty but there is still hope for him. If we take kalla to mean a rejection of a statement that came before then what Allah (swt) is rebuking the disbelievers for is not explicitly stated but it implicitly implies that the disbeliever has not fulfilled the rights of Allah (swt).
The disbeliever will not accept verse seventeen which says that he is ungrateful as he is adamant that he has not left his duty unfulfilled, as he does believe in Allah (swt). The problem however is that the disbelievers have associated partners with Allah (swt) and this verse is driving the point home that they have not fulfilled the rights of Allah (swt) and worshipped Him alone. Another opinion is that this is an admonishment of the disbelievers insistence that there will be no resurrection and emphatically insists that there is. Many mufasirroon say that this verse has been directed at Muslims as well as disbelievers as Allah (swt) has commanded us with many things that we neglect to fulfil. Most translations translate this as indeed and not the fact that it’s a refutation of a statement that came before and that’s partly because it is not easy to translate into the English language.
The particle lamma is used to negate and it is ordinarily used in the present tense. There is a difference between using ‘lamma yaqdi’ and ‘lam yaqdi’. The usual way of negating a verb in the past tense would be with lam, which would render the translation ‘he has not’. Lamma yaqdi adds the additional meaning of expectation rendering the translation as ‘he has not yet’ implying that there is some hope for him. This is also something lost in translation and some translations will make one think that man is doomed, as he has not fulfilled Allah’s rights, however, in reality with the particle lamma we learn that there is still yet time.
If this is not enough Allah (swt) emphasises it by saying let man look carefully and observe and stare at his food and think about it in order to remind him that he has responsibilities. In the previous section we saw how Allah (saw) created man and in particular He (swt) mentioned those blessings such as proportioning him perfectly and making the path easy for him and of giving him life. All this focuses on man himself. Allah (swt) now mentions the blessings that are external to him but still have a relationship to him. This can also be considered a detailed explanation of the previous verse detailing how deficient man is in recognising Allah’s favours on him. Nazar can have the meaning of looking but also of reflecting and this directs man to think about his food. When you use ila with nazar it means to physically look. The objective is not only to study food itself, to take a piece of fruit for example and study its taste, texture, colour, qualities, but to in fact study the stages that food has gone through. For example, an apple came from a seed buried in the ground nourished by rain to form a tree that eventually bore fruit. The next few verses explain these stages.
Allah (swt) says he pours water down abundantly. Sab literally means to pour a bucket over somebody so Allah (swt) pours heavy rain and is in charge of this process. It is Allah (swt) that sends that water down. Water is the first stage to the process of having food. A bucket of water is not light and is difficult to carry yet we have clouds above us seemingly light and fluffy yet what holds these up and how do they collect water. There is a switch from the third to the first person and this is to illustrate the magnitude of Allah’s favour upon man.
Shaq means to cut open or split apart something that you do not think of cutting open and something that was one unit. For example, you would not use shaq to describe opening a door as a door is separate to the frame but to take away part of a wall to make a doorway fits in more with the intense kind of opening meant by shaq. Allah (swt) says he split the earth open here. After water descends into the ground and comes into contact with a seed, the seed splits open the earth when it grows. This also makes man reflect on resurrection, as just like a seed comes out of the earth so too we will come out of the earth.
And We caused therein the grain to grow
When we cracked it open we sprouted in it and allowed the growth of grain. Allah (swt) now mentions eight different types of growth or foodstuffs. Inbaat is to ensure the growth or something meticulously and is also used to describe raising a child that matures quickly. Habb is a grain like wheat and barley and is used to refer to seeds. The word muhabba is derived from habb as just like a seed is the central point of a fruit, love too is within the centre of a human being and the key to growth. If you want a seed to grow you have to nurture it and likewise for muhabba. For example, in a marriage the love cannot be expected to be in a continual state. Through hardship and difficulties the love between a husband and wife may begin to wane and need some attention, care and water. Grains form the basis of staple foods and Allah (swt) begins this list with the staple foods.
The grapes and the vegetation
The most important vegetation is mentioned first – grain and all types of grain are included in this. In old English corn (and not the corn we think of today) is what we call grain today, so some of the older translations need to be updated to grain. ‘Inab is grapes and Qadb is all types of vegetation and mostly that type of vegetation that grows under the earth so that animals eat the top part like the leaves and humans the bottom part that grows under the ground such as the carrot. Grapes have more than one benefit. They can be eaten fresh or preserved as raisins and vegetation can be used to make medicine and feed animals.
The olive and the date palm
These are luxuries. So we’re moving from essentials to more exotic types of food. Olives can be used for food and made into oil but can also be used for a number of other functions not associated with food like medicine. Allah (swt) did not say dates here but rather date palms and date palms are the trees the give dates. What is the wisdom behind naming the olive but not the date? This is because there are many benefits behind the date palm itself. The pips can be crushed and can be used for fodder for animals. The leaves can be used for shade and can also be used to make ceilings and fans. At the time of the messenger (saw) the Quran used to be written on date palm leaves. Furthermore, the trunk of a date palm tree is very strong and the wood can be used for a number of things. So from a staple diet we have branched out to many other foodstuffs with secondary and tertiary benefits.
Well guarded lush gardens where the trees are thick and the branches intertwined. All of these aforementioned things are found in gardens. Aghlab is used to describe someone or a camel that has a thick neck and is used here in reference to tree trunks that are wide and dense.
And fruits and (green) pastures
Faakiha means delicious fruit and comes from the verb fakiha which means to be overjoyed as a person feels good when he eats fruit. Faakiheen is also used for people in Jannah who will be overjoyed everytime they take a bite of something. Ab is used for grass typically used for pasture. The foods that came before were for humans. So, Allah (swt) is saying that the fruits are for us but the grass is for the animals. Allah (swt) accommodated many different Arabic dialects when he revealed the Quran and so there were some words that were unknown to certain tribes. Ab can have so many different meanings in terms of vegetation that Abu Bakr (ra) was afraid to comment on what it was specifically. In this regard he asked which sky would shelter him and which earth would keep him above the ground if he were to say something about the word of Allah (swt) that he did not have knowledge of. All of these verses are geared towards compelling us to look toward food and its development and benefit as that alone should lead one towards belief in a Creator.
(To be) a provision and benefit for you and your cattle
Allah (swt) mentions first man and then animals as the verses preceding have been speaking mainly about food for mankind. The previous verses end with a fatha and you expect a continuation of that with this verse but instead it comes to an abrupt end with a sukoon, introducing the next verse which is a shock to the system.
Then when there comes the loud sound (the second blowing of the trumpet on the Day of Resurrection)
In verse 23 Allah (swt) issues a threat and a scolding to man and says how dare man disbelieves but He (swt) also then says that man has not yet fulfilled his responsibility. In other words we are told there is still hope. Allah (swt) reinforces this positively by encouraging man to think about all the provisions available to him and that man’s gratitude should lead him to Islam and make him fear rebelling his Master. Not just reflection on revelation but just reflection on your food and gratitude alone should lead you to Islam. Allah (swt) now says that if even this is not enough then know that the final warning is coming. This surah began with a discussion of people who are arrogant and take the message casually and listen but do not listen. Then there is the one who really wants to listen. As-Saakhkhah is a loud sound or scream that is so loud that whoever comes into hearing of it turns deaf and so it is a deafening loud scream. So you can avoid the warnings and message now but As-Saakhkhah is coming and you won’t be able to avoid that.
The day on which a man will run away from his brother
A number of relationships are mentioned in the coming verses. There are a number of reasons given for this order one of which that it is put together in accordance with one’s level of attachment. Farra is a word which means running and is used when you run away from something that terrifies you. So the human will run in terror from his own brother. Normally when in terror a man will run towards his family but here he will run away from them. This is because your family are who you stay in contact the most and when you deal with someone more you have a greater chance of violating their rights. It is easier for you to be nice to someone you do not know. All relations on that day will be cut off and no one will care about anyone but themselves. Every breastfeeding mother will drop that which she used to feed such is the terror of that day. Thus, when he sees his brother and mother he is afraid he has violated some of their rights. Also, the family members might ask for some of man’s good deeds. The parents or brother might ask for some of man’s good deeds so man runs from them.
And from his wife and his children
He will run from the wife he shared a bed with and the children that he used to protect. How ironic how Allah (swt) has switched things. When a man’s spouse passes away witness the trauma he goes through, how he misses her and remembers her yet on that day he will run from her. There is brotherhood based on blood and brotherhood based on faith. There may be people that we grew up with but we lose touch with them as our responsibilities grow in life. In our youth our connection with our parents is strong but when they pass away the main connection you have is with your wife and children. In life whenever one is in a difficult situation he remembers the people who are closer to him in terms of relationship at that time. Allah (swt) is reminding us of the beginning of the surah where people were dismissive but he (swt) informs us here that this is not an intellectual exercise or a joking matter. This is serious, so serious you will be running away from the people you love.
Ragl means man where bravery is highlighted. Imro’u comes from chivalry and selflessness where man is willing to give up part of himself for others. Allah (swt) is saying that this man who was so chivalrous and helpful will be involved in a very important task. Sha’n is a matter or issue which is very important to oneself. The task will be to remember what they worked towards. They will be so involved in this it will have the affect of forgetting about everything else. This is in contrast to the beginning where the kaffir found the message unimportant. On that day he will be unconcerned about everything else.
Some faces on that day shall be beaming
Some faces on that day will be lit up as though a smile was hiding behind a veil and it is unveiled. Safara in Arabic means to unveil. Large books are called Safar because they unveil knowledge. Safeer is an ambassador because he divulges information about and the intent of his nation. Safar also means travel as it unveils new territories. So Allah (swt) implies here that maybe the believer experienced a difficult life and now there will have lots of reasons to smile for him. The brightness of the face will be two-fold from happiness but also from a physical light that will appear on their faces.
Daahika means uncontrollable laughter. The previous surah was a description of hearts and this surah is a description of the face. So the two surahs complement each other by talking about what is going on in the inside and on the outside. Istibshaar means to be full of delight because of good news that comes to you. It comes from bishr which means skin and bashara means to peel skin like an orange or a banana. Istibshaar thus means you are so happy it’s as if the sadness has been peeled away from your face and the happiness is revealed
Ghabara is dust which flies around and lands on things and settles. So some faces will have that dirty dishevelled look and this is not just physical dust. Imagine the sadness and depression of that day on the one who does not literally have dust on him but will look as if he has dust on his face and his skin tone has changed such are the pressures of that day
Rahaq is something which forcefully overshadows or climbs over something else. Qatara is used for smoke which comes out of burning wood and is used for the smoke emitted when you barbecue something. So, this black smoke will force itself on them and they won’t be able to take if off. So there is dust and on top of that this black smoke on them
Such will be the Kafarah (disbelievers in Allah), the Fajarah (wicked evildoers)
These are the disbelievers that think themselves free of need of anything. Fajara means the ones who disobey Allah (swt) in the worst ways, openly and viciously.
In the beginning we saw those who think himself free of need and the one who comes to the prophet (saw) out of fear of Allah (swt). At the end of this surah Allah (swt) turns the tables. The ones who were afraid in dunya will have a bright smile on that day and the one who has a big smile now and does not taking anything serious will be the one with stress and humiliation on his face. The dunya is the prison of the believer and the jannah of the disbeliever. Aisha (ra) would say that if there was one surah the messenger (saw) could conceal it would be this one but Allah (swt) eases his feelings. Although he said his face was frowning Allah (swt) at the ends says there will be two groups. One of them will be of people with faces bright and shining and amongst will them be the messenger (saw) and this consoles his feelings and eases his emotions.