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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.