Lecture by Yasir Qadhi | Transcribed by Sameera
This lecture is brought to you by the Memphis Islamic Center (MIC). For more information about MIC, please visit www.memphisislamiccenter.org
For those who came late, that was the recitation of Warsh, and that is not the usual recitation that we are used to.
We have basically come to the conclusion of Sūrah Yūsuf. In these last verses, we had begun talking about the fact that Allāh 'azza wa jall is telling the people that this story is a story that clearly indicates that this is a Qur'ān from Allāh, that the Prophet (ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam) is a true prophet, and yet, “the majority of people, even if you want to, ya Rasūlullāh, will not be believers. Even if you want them to be believers, your eagerness is not going to cause them to believe.”
“This is despite the fact that you are not asking for any reward from them. This is only a dhikr (reminder) for all of humanity.”
In other words, remember what is the conclusion of Yūsuf. Why is Allāh 'azza wa jall going into this conclusion? Allāh 'azza wa jall is linking the sūrah to the message of our Prophet (ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam). He is linking the stories to the life and times of Rasūlullāh (ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam) and is telling the people: “Where do you think this sūrah is coming from? Where do you think this Qur'ān is coming from? You did not know these stories. The story of Yūsuf and his brothers was unknown to you, and it is an accurate story that is being revealed in the most eloquent language to an illiterate, unlettered man. Where did it come from?”
Then Allāh is proving the fact that this is a book from Allāh and is saying, “Your sincerity is clear. You have no motivation.” Now Allāh gets to the issue of motivation. It is human nature that we do everything for a motive. Everything that we do has a motive to it. You go to work for a reason. You do everything in your life for a reason. Even in a court of law, if you establish certain evidence, you also have to say what is his motive for the crime and why he did it because it is human nature that there is a motive for everything that is done.
Allāh 'azza wa jall in this āyah is challenging the people to think why would a man start to go against his whole nation and preach a doctrine that will bring about initial persecution and humiliation. What is in it for him? Does he want power? He is being humiliated and is almost going to lose his life and you are trying to kill him. Does he want prestige? What prestige is he getting when you are mocking him all over the world and when any caravan comes and you stand outside the city and say that there is a madman, a sāḥir, a majnūn. What is his motivation? Do you think he wants money? He is not asking you for money.
This is one of the Sunan of Allāh 'azza wa jall. Allāh has Sunan and Rasūl has sunan. Allāh's Sunan are mentioned in the Qur'ān. Allāh has Sunan. What is the Sunan of Allāh? It is the custom of Allāh and the manner of Allāh. Allāh has a custom that He shows in humanity. A part of the custom of Allāh is that the messengers never get any reward in this world. They don't get money. They don't get any reward in this world, and, therefore, every prophet comes and says the same message: “I am not asking you for money. I am not asking you for power. I am not asking you for any reward.” Because their motivation has been negated except for sincerity – in other words, any possible motivation has been negated. “I'm not asking you for anything other than this message and call.”
There is no question that when a person has no monetary motivation and he does something, you feel better about it and feel, “Oh man, this guy must believe in his cause.” There is no question about this. Therefore, the prophets of Allāh, to demonstrate the perfection of their sincerity, have been refused to get any money, so much so that it is ḥarām for Rasūlullāh (ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam) to be given zakāh and for the descendants of Rasūlullāh to receive zakāh because this is not befitting the messengers that anybody doubt their intention for this reason. It is not allowed for them to do so.
Here Allāh 'azza wa jall is saying, “I am not asking you for any reward to do so.” I find this personally fascinating as a person who studies in academia and the Western study of Islam. As you know, I am specializing in this. This has always fascinated researchers from the medieval times that why did the Prophet (ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam) do this. In medieval times, they would give the most ludicrous of excuses: power, fame, and sensuality. This was propaganda. In the last 100 years when people have tried to be a little bit fairer and a little bit more honest, they realized the Prophet (ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam) did not benefit even when he became the “king” of the Arabs. Even when he became the leader of the Arabs, his lifestyle did not move up. He still lived in the exact same house, slept in the exact same bed, and did not own any extra camels.
SubḥānAllāh, when we get a pay raise, the first thing we do is upgrade our status of living. We earn 10% more and khalās, the car comes in, the house gets expanded, we build the room. Here Rasūlullāh (ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam) starts his life literally as a shepherd, which is the lowest, if you like, menial labor that he can have, and when he passes away, his standard of living has not increased at all significantly.
You all know the famous ḥadīth of 'Umar b. Al-Khaṭṭab. He walks in and finds the Prophet (ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam) does not even have a mattress, meaning a soft cloth, to lie on. They had soft cloths and mattresses, and he began to cry and said, “Ya Rasūlullāh, surely you deserve better than the kings of Rome and Persia. At least have a comfortable living.” He (ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam) was sleeping on basically what we would call the frame of the bed. This is in our vernacular. He is sleeping on the palm tree leaves and the fibers of the palm tree. This is the frame and not the mattress on the frame, and he is sleeping on that. 'Umar begins to cry because when the Prophet (ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam) gets up, you see the marks of the frame. He says, “Ya Rasūlullāh, at least look at the kings of Persia and Rome.” Instead of saying, “You know, you're right, maybe just get me a soft cloth,” what does he say? You all know. He says, “O 'Umar, what is the matter with you? Aren't you thinking straight? Don't you want to have the ākhirah and let them have this world?”
It is clear that he doesn't desire money. The day he is gifted a new cloth and the reason somebody gave him the cloth is that they saw patches and spots here and there and felt sorry that how could the Rasūl (ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam) be dressed like this, so they gave him a brand new cloth. For the first time he (ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam) is coming out wearing this cloth. A ṣaḥābi came and said, “O Messenger of Allāh, gift me this cloth.” He literally wore it for two minutes and is walking outside and somebody comes and says, “Ya Rasūlullāh, give me this cloth. Gift it to me.” The Prophet (ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam) said, “I will do it.” It is the only cloth he is wearing. He goes back home and dresses in the patched garments again and comes out again and leads the ṣalāh. When he goes back, all of the ṣaḥābah get angry with this person. “Are you crazy? Are you out of your mind? Have you no shame? You know that the Prophet (ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam) never refuses a request. How could you have asked him for the cloth that he was gifted?” So he says, “I didn't do it for my dunya. I wanted to be buried in this garment so that I can plead with Allāh 'azza wa jall about the generosity of the Prophet (ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam) that he gave this to me. I wanted this to be my kaffan, and that is why I asked it from him.”
The point being that it is clear that he has no worldly motivation. He doesn't have a motivation for dunya, power, or prestige. This is what the āyah is saying. As I said, I find it fascinating that to this day, there is not a solid excuse that they have managed to discover. They have long ago stopped saying things like he wants power or he wants greed. Now they try to be fair in our times. A hundred years ago you didn't have to be fair and could smear the Prophet (ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam). In our times, you cannot say any of this. By and large, most people think he had worked himself up into the belief that he is a prophet. In other words – astaghfirullāh – he is delusional that he is a prophet and sincerely thinks he is a prophet. Basically this goes back to the claim in the Qur'ān that the Quryash said that he is majnūn. They cannot outsmart the Qur'ān. They cannot go outside what Allāh said. They use the same excuses. Some of them said he is a fancy poet. Some of them said he is a sāḥir. Some of them said he is a magician and some of them said he is majnūn. These are the classical excuses, and the Qur'ān mentions all of them and refutes all of them.
My point is that modern researchers cannot go outside of these few excuses. Every one of them Allāh has explicitly mentioned and refuted. Also, for the claim that he is delusional, really you are claiming that a man has lived the sanest life in every field – he has been a commander, a military leader, and family person – and yet you think that in one aspect that he is a messenger of God he has somehow become delusional. Wallāhi, this doesn't make any sense. Even non-Muslim biographers and analysts have to conclude that he thought he was sincere. Nothing else explains his lifestyle other than the claim that he genuinely believed himself to be a prophet. Of course for us, he genuinely believed himself to be a prophet because he was a prophet.
This is why Allāh is saying, “You are not even asking even money from them.” This is a powerful tool that we can use when we talk about Islam: go study the life of the Prophet (ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam) and go see for yourself why he would preach this. What did he gain? The message is simple, powerful, and rational. The messenger is flawless. What can you say?
“This is only a dhikr for all of the world.”
'Ālam generally is translated as world and means every community, every group. In one sense, 'ālam means the world of men, the world of jinn, the world of animals. In another sense, 'ālam means the world of nations – the nations of the Romans, the nations of the Persians, the nations of the Chinese. 'Ālam literally means a genus or category of people. Allāh is saying that this Qur'ān is a dhikr for any category, whether it is humanity versus the jinn or even within humanity there are many different groups.
This Qur'ān is a dhikr. What does dhikr mean? Dhikr means a remembrance or a reminder. This is one of the most common names of the Qur'ān. The Qur'ān has many names. The most common names are the Qur'ān and the Kitāb – these two are the most common names in the Book of Allāh. Alḥamdulillāhi'lladhi anzala 'ala 'abdihi'l-kitāb [18:1] — so Kitāb is mentioned. Qur'ān is mentioned. Both of these are mentioned around 75 times.
The two names are complementary. Qur'ān means that which is recited, and Kitāb means that which is written. The Qur'ān and the Kitāb are complementary because Allāh has promised to preserve the recitation along with preserving the writing. You always need the recitation along with the Book. The ḥāfiẓ has the Qur'ān and uses the kitāb. Both are complementary names. One is the recitation and the other is the speech.
The third most common name of the Qur'ān is Dhikr. This is what is used over here. Dhikr here means that it is meant to remind and meant to bring about something that you already know. This is a powerful message that the message of the Qur'ān is not unique and you should know it.
I repeat – what I said is so simple, but I want you to understand the implications. What is Allāh saying by using the word dhikr? By using the word dhikr, Allāh is implying that the basic message of the Qur'ān you should know, and when the Qur'ān comes down, it should remind you of that basic message. You guys are following this point, right? The Qur'ān is a dhikr, meaning that it is nothing new.
What is not new? The basic message that there is One God who is All-Perfect and worthy of being worshipped. This is a message you don't need to be taught; you know it already. How does mankind know this message? Because we believe as Muslims that Allāh ingrained in every human being the inherent capacity to know God and to believe in God. That is why even the most primitive societies were religious. I don't know if you know this or not – atheism is a very, very modern phenomenon. In fact, the first devout atheist is actually in the 19th century – 150-200 years ago. Atheism was unknown in humanity because it is in your nature to affirm a God. It is in your nature to believe that this world came out of something. It is nonsensical to claim that this world came out of nothing. Therefore, atheism is a very modern trend. Allāh created mankind to know the truth. What is the truth? There is only One God. Most of mankind had deviated from this truth by believing in multiple gods, and so the thrust of the Qur'ān is use your fiṭrah and your intelligence and understand that there is not multiple but there is one God. This is why the Qur'ān is called Dhikr because dhikr means it is reminding you of a message you should know.
Of course, dhikr also means that it is going to remind you over and over and over again. It is always going to be a reminder and is never going to go away. It is here to stay. Yet a third meaning of dhikr is a matter of prestige, it will bring about your remembrance. That is not the meaning in this verse, but it is the meaning in another verse. Allāh says in the Qur'ān: “This Qur'ān shall be a dhikr for you and your nation.” What is the meaning here of dhikr? One of the meanings is: “This Qur'ān will take you places. You will become remembered in the world. You will have an 'izzah because of this Qur'ān.” This is exactly what happened. The Arabs used to be the mockery of the Romans and the Persians and used to be considered the most backward civilization at the time and were so barbaric and Bedouin. As I said, they didn't have a unified government, language, script, or civilization. They were so backward the Romans and Persians didn't even see the need to conquer them. It is like the people living in the jungles – why should we go and conquer them? Who cares? The mighty empires of Rome and Persia have no need to descend down and conquer the warring Arabs. They didn't care about oil back then, so what is the purpose of invading Arabia? There was nothing for them to gain.
Yet this nation managed to destroy the Persian Empire in 20 miracles. Wallāhi, this is miracle we don't understand. The Sasanid Empire collapsed. Also within 20 years half of the Roman Empire was carved up. Muslims conquered the seats of Christianity, and that is Damascus and North Africa. Alexandria is where Christian theologians met. The Council of Nicaea, where Christianity was invented, was in Turkey. Within another 500, 600, 800 years, there was more and more expansion until finally it conquered the seat of the Byzantine Empire and that is Constantinople, which is Istanbul.
This civilization of backward nomads who did not even have a culture, language, or script became the leader of civilizations. Europeans would come to Andalus to study medicine, engineering, optics, and physics and then go back and began the Renaissance in the 17th century.
Allāh is saying, “This book will take you places.” That is one of the meanings of dhikr. Dhikr in that context means: you will be remembered and you will leave a legacy because of this book. These are some of the meanings of dhikr, and Allāh 'azza wa jall here is saying “This is a dhikr for all of humanity.”
The fourth most common name is Furqān. You should memorize these names: Qur'ān, Kitāb, Dhikr, and Furqān. These are the four most common names of the Qur'ān in the Qur'ān. Furqān means the criterion. Furqān means that which separates good from evil, truth from falsehood, īmān from kufr.
In this verse, once again, the concluding verses all mean to prove the truthfulness of the Prophet (ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam) and the religion of Islam. Allāh then says,
“How numerous are the signs in the heavens and the earth that they continually pass by and they are oblivious to these signs and don't think about these signs.”
Allāh (subḥānahu wa ta'āla) is saying, “Ya Rasūlullāh, you have clear signs. You are truthful, have miracles, and have no motivation. You are not the only sign. They have plenty of other signs. If they are ignoring you, ya Rasūlullāh, get some consolation that they have been ignoring other signs long before you came on the scene. You are not the only sign. How many are the miracles in the heaven and the earth.”
The miracles of the heavens are the sun, the moon, the stars, and the creation. On this earth you have the natural and the man-made. Of the natural [miracles is], of course, the beauty of the oceans and the mountains and valleys and irrigation and cultivation. When it comes to man-made, you have the remnants of the nations of old. The Arabs had plenty of ancient civilizations, which to this day are marvels to humanity. The people of 'Ād, the people of Thamūd, those who carved things into the mountains. To this day, we have no idea how they built palaces. Have you ever seen pictures of the Nabiteans, the people of Thamūd? There are pictures you can see online and maybe some of you have been there and visited. They literally have palaces carved into the mountains. Their house is in the mountain. They have bunk beds carved into the mountains. They have rooms carved inside the mountains. The Arabs were very familiar with these cultures. To this day we have no idea how this happened just like the pyramids in Egypt.
Allāh is saying, “Look at these signs. You are not the first civilization, and you are not going to be the last. How many are the signs they have walked by and they don't even think about it.”
Notice the beautiful choice of verb here: yamurrūn. Murūr literally in Arabic today means traffic. Yamurrūn means they are walking without thinking. Marra means just to pass by. Allāh 'azza wa jall uses a very precise word. They walk by it without even thinking about it. They are completely turned away from it even though they are walking by it. While they are walking by, it is as if they have turned away. While they go right by it, they don't even see it. This, of course, is the reality of humanity. We see the beautiful signs around us – natural signs and miracles – and we don't think about it.
Then Allāh (subḥānahu wa ta'āla) consoles the Prophet (ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam) once again.
“Most of them don't believe in Allāh 'azza wa jall properly. They commit shirk along with this belief.”
This again is a very profound verse. For the majority of the Quraysh, their problem was that they believed in Allāh but along with Allāh they believed in multiple gods. Here Allāh 'azza wa jall is pointing out a fundamental fact of our religion: to believe in Allāh is not the essence of īmān. The Quraysh also believed in Allāh. The Quraysh believed Allāh created them and will resurrect them and Allāh is All-Powerful, but that did not make them Muslims. This is a very important point in our times. There are people who do believe in all of these things, but they are guilty of very grave crimes of shirk. By explaining to them that the Quraysh believed in Allāh but committed shirk, we can explain to some of our fellow Muslims who have gone to excessive practices.
So, for example, common practices that we find sometimes is that people are invoking the dead and making du'ā' to those whom they call the 'awliyah. They go to the grave and say, “Ya Fulān… Ya AbdulQadir…. Ya Chistie…, forgive me, give me a child, grant me this and that.” They make du'ā' to this person. If you were to ask them, “Akhi, how could you make du'ā' to this person? Aren't you a Muslim?” He would say, “Of course I am a Muslim. Astaghfirullāh. I believe in Allāh and I believe Allāh created me and will resurrect me.” All that he has just said is exactly what they Quraysh would say, and this verse clearly shows it. Most of them believe in Allāh and Allāh says, “They have īmān in Allāh but they do shirk along with that belief.”
Ibn 'Abbās explained this verse. He said, “This verse means if you ask them, 'Who created you?' They would say, 'Allāh,' but when it comes to what they need, they ask other than Allāh.” The sad reality is that we find the exact same attitude letter for letter, word for word, dot for dot in some minority segments of our fellow Muslims. They say, “I am too sinful. I cannot approach Allāh directly. I have to go through the wali. I believe in Allāh. I am a Muslim.”
Even Iblīs believes in Allāh. Does Iblīs deny Allāh exists? Is he an atheist? No. Didn't Iblīs make a du'ā' to Allāh “Qāla Rabbi…”? What does “qāla Rabbi” mean? My Rabb. Iblīs is saying, “Allāh is my Rabb. Allāh is my Lord. Allāh is my Creator.” Iblīs even makes du'ā' to Allāh, “O my Lord, allow me to live until the Day of Judgment.” Does that make Iblīs a mu'min because he believes in Allāh? Of course not.
A lot of us Muslims don't know our own religion and think that if we believe in Allāh then we are a Muslim. Iblīs believes in Allāh. Abu Lahab believed in Allāh. By the time testimony of the Qur'ān: “They have īmān in Allāh.” What did they do? They would ask others besides Allāh for what they need. They would go to their idols and say, “O idol, save me. O idol, give me a child. O idol, forgive my sins.” They thought that these idols would then take their requests up to Allāh. They used these idols as stepping stones and as intermediaries. SubḥānAllāh, the exact same mentality 100% is found in those people who go to the graves and the saints. They say the exact same thing: “We believe in Allāh, but we need to go through [them].”
This is the beauty of Islam. There is a direct channel. You don't go through the operator. There is a direct line between you and Allāh (subḥānahu wa ta'āla). Going through individuals is the essence of shirk. This is a beautiful verse that we can use to prove that believing in Allāh is not sufficient to be a Muslim. You can have īmān in Allāh and still be a mushrik. Allāh says, “They have īmān and they do shirk.” When you have īmān and do shirk, the shirk cancels the īmān and it is not accepted by Allāh 'azza wa jall.
Allāh 'azza wa jall is saying, “Their problem is that they worship others besides Allāh.”
“Do they feel secure that a ghāshiyah will not come to them from the punishment of Allāh?”
What is ghāshiyah? Ghāshiyah is that which covers up and that which envelops. Every single punishment is called ghāshiyah because you are enveloped in it. SubḥānAllāh we seek Allāh's refuge from all of Allāh's punishments. Look at what is happening now with the tsunami and earthquakes and what not. This is a type of ghāshiyah because you are overwhelmed and everything is neglected other than this. Ghāshiyah means you are covered up in it and you cannot think of anything else. Look at these people now. May Allāh make the situation easy and protect us from any fitan. This is exactly what a ghāshiyah is.
Allāh is now threatening the Quraysh. “The signs are so clear, the truth of the Prophet is manifest, I've given you so many miracles. What is left? Do you not worry that a punishment from Allāh (subḥānahu wa ta'āla) will come that will overwhelm you?”
“Or the Day of Judgment will come and you are not even expecting it.”
“If I don't punish you in this world immediately, then the only other alternative is the Day of Judgment. Between these two there is no third alternative. Either you are going to get a punishment that will destroy you and immerse you in it, or you will have to face the wrath of Allāh 'azza wa jall in the Day of Judgment.”
The Day of Judgment will come suddenly. The primary meaning is the real Day of Judgment. However, the Prophet (ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam) said, “Death is the minor Day of Judgment.” It is the individual Day of Judgment. There is a reference here that: “If you don't correct your act, I will either punish you with a punishment that will destroy you or you will die a death you weren't prepared for and will have to face Me. Choose which one of these you want. Are you not worried?” Afa' aminu means do you feel safe that Allāh is not going to harm you?
This clearly shows us, brothers and sisters – and I have to say this honestly – in our times, when we give da'wah to people, we ignore this tangent of the Qur'ān. The Qur'ān has a carrot, but it also has a stick. The Qur'ān entices with bashīr, reward, Jannah, and mercy, but it also has punishment. If you reject, you are going to have to face your Lord. The fact of the matter is that in our times, we consider it politically incorrect to talk about the fire of Hell. We say when we give da'wah let's not talk about “if you refuse, you have to face the wrath of your Creator,” whereas the Qur'ān has both. Human beings need both. You need the carrot and you need the stick. If you concentrate on one to the exclusion of the other, you get problems. By always mentioning the carrot and no stick, people will say, “Okay fine, I'll think about it.” Tell a person directly, “Are you prepared to meet your Lord?” This type of question: “Are you ready to die and meet your God?”
By the way, there is nothing wrong with using the term “God.” I think I mentioned this before. We should have no problem, and when we speak to non-Muslims it is in fact better to use “God” for them because “God” means the Creator. Amongst ourselves of course we use “Allāh,” but when we speak to non-Muslims, in the beginning we talk about God because we believe in God. Allay says, “Our God and your God is one.” Ilah is “God” and Allāh calls Himself ilah. There is no problem using the term “God.” Some Muslims are a little bit sensitive about this.
We tell them, “Are you prepared to meet your God? Are you prepared to meet your Creator? Are you willing to defend your beliefs and your lifestyle?” Wallāhi I have tried this in my da'wah with people, and so many times you see the faces of people change because you are not threatening him but you are threatening him with his Creator. You are saying, “Are you prepared to meet your Lord?” This really throws a person into shock. A lot of people have never been asked this question, and this is exactly the question Allāh is asking directly. “Are you not worried that a punishment of Allāh will come or death will come and you are not even ready for it?” If Allāh 'azza wa jall can ask this question directly, it is our job to spread this āyah as well. Of course we change it in a manner that befits them and say, for example, “Are you ready to meet your Lord? Are you ready for death and resurrection? Your Lord will ask you, 'What did you do with your life? What did you do with the blessings I gave you?'” Leave it at that. Say, “Don't answer me. I'm not going to judge you, but are you ready?” Leave the question at that. I have tried this myself a number of times, and I've seen the effect. The effect that this has is a very different effect than debate and quoting verses of theology. That has its place but this also has its place, and the Qur'ān uses both of them.
After mentioning the carrot and the stick, if you like, and after mentioning so many miracles of the Prophet (ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam) and creation, the Prophet (ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam) is then told to say:
“Say: This is my path. I am calling to Allāh.”
The path of Islam is a path that links you to Allāh (subḥānahu wa ta'āla). The path of the Prophet (ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam) and the job of the Prophet (ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam) is to call people to this path. How does he do this call? 'Ala baṣīrah means upon a clear knowledge. “I'm not calling you based upon ignorance. I'm not jāhil. I know what I'm calling you to.”
Baṣīrah is from baṣarah, which is to see. Baṣīrah means it is crystal clear. The Prophet (ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam) said in one ḥadīth, “I have left you upon the shining path. Its night is like its day. No one can deviate from this path except that he wishes destruction.” The path is clear.
“I am doing this [calling upon baṣīrah] and those who truly follow me also call.”
This is a beautiful message here. Whoever claims to be a follower of the Prophet (ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam) had better be calling to his path because this āyah demonstrates and characterizes the followers of Rasūlullāh (ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam) as being of those who call to this path.
“I and all those who follow me all call to this path upon knowledge.” This shows us that on some level, calling others to Islam (da'wah) is on some level farḍ 'ayn. What do I mean by 'some level'? Our biggest problem when it comes to da'wah is that we don't know what da'wah is. We think that da'wah is always intellectual debate and basically being a Zakir Naik or Ahmed Deedat. This is the biggest misconception of da'wah. Da'wah, or calling others to Islam, is not only about intellectual arguments and debates. Throughout this story we have always been mentioning the number one stepping stone to da'wah is manners. The number one stepping stone to people's heart is: “We have seen you from the ṣāliḥīn. Tell us the interpretation of the dream. We think you to be a good man.” The king says this, the interpreter says this, everybody says this: “We see you to be a righteous person, help us out.” This is the primary way of da'wah. Every one of us has to give da'wah simply by being a good Muslim in our characteristics and manners. This is the best da'wah and far better than intellectual debate and argumentation.
Some people can go to the intellectual side and debate side and talk about theology and what Christianity and Judaism says. This is for the educated in the sciences of religion. On some level, every Muslim has to call others to Islam not by the tongue and not by knocking on the door and giving pamphlets – this, in my opinion, is not the best da'wah – but simply by humanizing yourself to your neighbors and to your coworkers and showing them that your life is the meaning of Islam. This is the best da'wah. Your relationship with Allāh 'azza wa jall, your religiosity, your akhlāq. And when you do so, you are opening up doors that arguments can never open up.
Also notice that Allāh 'azza wa jall mentions the path to Allāh in the singular. Qul hādhihi sabīl. Ihdinas ṣirāṭ'l-mustaqīm. The path to Allāh is one. Whatever opposes it is in the plural. “Don't follow the paths because then you will be misguided from the one path.” “Allāh takes them out of the darknesses to nūr.” Allāh takes them out from multiple darknesses to the one light. Notice truth is one. Falsehood is many. This is a clear point in our religion. These days people don't like to say truth is one and instead say truth is relative – you have your truth and I have my truth. No, this is not the Qur'ānic message. Truth is one. Allāh is the Truth. The way to Allāh 'azza wa jall is one and is the ṣirāṭ and the sabīl.
Once the Prophet (ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam) sat down in the sand and drew a straight line and said, “This is the straight path of Allāh 'azza wa jall and leads to Allāh.” Then he drew lines that go out in the sand. By the way, this shows us that it is of the Sunnah and the methodology of teaching to employ diagrams and charts. The Prophet (ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam) is the greatest teacher, and you can go into a tangent about how he used to teach. He would draw diagrams and charts. He is drawing diagrams and saying, “These are the paths that lead away from the one path.” The path to Allāh is a straight path and one path. All that opposes it are multiple paths.
“I am upon a knowledge.”
This shows you that if you want to be a true follower of the Prophet (ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam), you have to have knowledge. If you are a jāhil, you can never get to that level of following. A true follower of the Prophet (ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam) knows his religion.
“I do this, and all those who follow me. And all exaltation is due to Allāh 'azza wa jall, and I am not of the idol worshippers.”
In other words, “this is my path; I am calling to Allāh.” By saying, “subḥānAllāh,” it is as if he is saying, “And while I am on this path, I praise and glorify Allāh.” That is what it means here. “As I am on this path, and as I am calling to Allāh, I make it a ritual to praise Allāh (subḥānahu wa ta'āla) as well, and I am never going to be of those who worship others besides Him.
“There has never come before you prophets except that they have been men whom We have inspired from the towns/cities.”
The characteristics of the prophets are that they have been men that have been inspired from the cities. What does this mean? The point of saying this is to say the Prophet (ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam) has all of the characteristics the previous prophets had as well. “You have the exact same characteristics. You are not alone.”
This is a message to the Prophet (ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam) to console him. Remember this sūrah was revealed at a relatively depressing point in the life of the Prophet (ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam). He is being reminded: “You are not the only person that has suffered. Many are the prophets before you that We have sent.” SubḥānAllāh, it is human nature that when you find somebody who has suffered the same calamity as you, you feel a little bit of relief that you are not alone. Our Rasūl (ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam) is being reminded, “You are not alone. There have been many prophets before you that have come.”
His people are being reminded, “Why are you so shocked? What are you amazed at? The characteristics of the Prophet (ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam) are the exact same as the prophets before him.”
This also shows us some theological points. All prophets have been men. This is the standard position of ahl'l-sunnah wa'l-jamā'ah. There have been no female prophets. We firmly believe this even though there is a small minority opinion that Maryam ('alayhi'l-salām) was a prophet, but it doesn't appear to be the case. Rather, she saw an angel, and angel communicated with her, but she did not receive waḥy. She did not receive a book from Allāh 'azza wa jall. Angels can come to women and can appear in front of women, but this does not make them prophets. Prophets means you get a revelation from Allāh, waḥy, and the dominant opinion has always been [all prophets have been male], and it is quite clear from this verse. This is because for a woman to become a prophet, it would be more difficult for her to be accepted in any society, especially a patriarchal societies of old. Also, a woman has her own issues – such as if a man is attracted to her. It is not going to be the same as a man being a prophet.
No doubt, in our society it is politically incorrect to say that men and women are slightly different. We believe that they are different and spiritually equal. We don't believe that men and women are equal physiologically or emotionally. It doesn't mean that men are better or women are better. It is that Allāh has created each one for a role and a purpose, and Allāh 'azza wa jall has made prophecy amongst men. By the way, if any Christian or Jew argues with you, you can ask them to look at the Old Testament, which is full of male prophets. There is no female prophetess over there either.
This is something that we firmly believe: they have been men. And they have been men who live in cities. There have been no bedouin prophets. Bedouins (people who don't live in the cities) are, generally speaking, more uncouth and harsher and more gruff. They don't have manners and don't know how to talk. You all know the ḥadīth of the bedouin who walked into the masjid and lifted his pants in front of all the other men and urinated. This is what a bedouin does because he doesn't live amongst other men, so he is not used to interacting with other men.
Of the characteristics of the prophets is that they come from cultures of the cities. They have manners, akhlāq and morals. The Prophet (ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam) came from the Quraysh, and the Quraysh were the most noble of all the Arabs.
“Haven't they traveled in the land and seen the fate of those who were before them?”
Of course the Arabs knew the fate of the people of Ṣāliḥ, and in our times we have the pyramids and Petra in Jordan and the Herculaneum of Rome and Pompeii. We have so many signs and Allāh (subḥānahu wa ta'āla) is asking, “Haven't they seen these signs? Haven't they gone through the earth and seen the fate of the people of before?” SubḥānAllāh, it is the Sunnah of Allāh that every nation and society thinks that it is the pinnacle. Every nation believes they are the most powerful and they think that they have reached the pinnacle of civilization. Such was the case of the people of Pompeii. Such was the case of the people of Rome and the emperors of Persia. Such was the case of the pharaohs of Egypt. Every single civilization and society said, “We are the lasting legacy. We have achieved what no other society achieved.”
We still the same sentiment in our time as well, yet Allāh (subḥānahu wa ta'āla) is telling the Quraysh and people around them you are not the first, and you are not going to be the last. Stop being so arrogant. Allāh 'azza wa jall has created so many different societies and nations. Learns from the lessons of those before. Where are they now? Where is their power now? Where is their fame? Where is their might? All of it has now gone. You don't even see except for the remnants you visit in museums and see one house out of thousands that used to stand. Don't you learn that your civilization one day will also be the same? It will be a lesson for other societies, so take advantage and benefit before the end comes to you.
“Surely the house and the abode of the Hereafter is better. Don't you think and understand this?”
You are seeing the abodes of the people before and marveling at them. The pyramids, the people of Ṣāliḥ and Thamūd and the grand palaces of Petra. You marvel at that.
The meaning here is that after setting up the stage for the miracles of the prophets, the sincerity of the prophets that most of the people have rejected that the prophets have been preaching, all of these verses when you read them initially you think every verse is different, but when you actually study it, you see a beautiful message is in the background. You just need to understand it. What is that message?
“Ya Rasūlullāh, you are not the first prophet. You have a message, you have a methodology, you have miracles. Many people before you had the same miracles, and they were all rejected.” What was the end result?
“Until finally when the messengers gave up hope (of their people believing), and the messengers thought that they had been rejected.”
Kadhaba means to reject. Kudhiba means they have been rejected. Depending on how you recite the verse, kudhibu or kudhdhibu.
Khudhibu means the people thought that the promises of the prophets were false. The people thought that here is a man telling us that Allāh is going to punish us if we don't believe, but we haven't believed, so where is the punishment? He must be lying. The people thought that the prophets are telling lies. When the people thought that the prophet was telling lies, that was when Allāh's safety came to save the people of the faith and punishment came for the disbelievers.
In the other qirā'a, “and they thought that their nations had rejected them.” The prophets came to the realization that their nations would not believe.
These are the two meanings. Who is the one doing the thinking and doing the assuming? If it is the people, then the people have assumed that the prophets are telling lies. If it is the prophets, then the prophets have realized that the people will not believe.
SubḥānAllāh, both of them are correct. One of the principles of Qur'ānic recitation is that all of them are equally valid and both of them are correct. When both have become exasperated, when the prophets are fed up of their people and the people are fed up of their prophets – basically it is a two-way street. They are allowed to preach until this exasperation is reached. What happens then?
“The prophets receive Our Aid. They are saved.”
Once again there are two qirā'a: nujjiya and nunji, and both of them are authentic. Both of them add complementary meanings? Why? Again, not to go into too much detail, one of them is in the past tense, and one of them is in the future tense. Allāh (subḥānahu wa ta'āla) is saying that the people of the past when Allāh's Command came, We saved them, and as for the ẓālimīn, they will get there punishment. In the other recitation, which is in the future, it is a reference to our Prophet (ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam) that a time will come when We will save you and you will be saved from the clutches of them, and they shall be punished by the punishment of Allāh (subḥānahu wa ta'āla).
Both the past tense and the future tense play in perfectly. Our Prophet (ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam) was saved multiple times. He was saved on the night of hijrah and the assassination attempt. He was saved in the battle of Badr when there was very little hope otherwise. He was saved in the battles of Aḥzāb and Uḥud. Every single one of these battle situations became very tense. “We will save (or We had saved – meaning the previous prophets).” Once again, it is the perfect choice of two qirā'at here. Allāh is saying, “We saved the people of the past. Surely We will save you as well.”
“Our punishment will never be averted from the wrongdoers.”
No one has the power to come between Allāh and the decree of Allāh. Now we get to the final verse.
“Indeed, in their stories there is an 'ibrah for those of intelligence.”
'Ibrah comes from 'abara which means to cross over. You cross over the bridge, let's say. 'Ibrah is a benefit you derive at a deeper level. You cross over to the hidden or inner meaning. You think about it, cross into an inner meaning, and get an 'ibrah, a piece of wisdom. Here Allāh is saying, “In their stories, indeed…”
Laqad always means an emphasis. I have said this ten times, and I will say it again. The whole chapter of emphasis in Arabic is lost in English because we don't have this chapter in English. When we say it, it sounds ridiculous. Indeed, surely, verily. It doesn't sound modern, whereas in the Arabic language there is a whole chapter of tawqīd and emphasis. There are ways to emphasize. When you emphasize, it adds elegance and you pay attention. Laqad means indeed, for sure. But again in English it is not something we use.
Notice here – this is the last verse of the sūrah – how beautifully the beginning and the end are linked together. What does Allāh 'azza wa jall say in the very beginning of the sūrah? Naḥnu naquṣṣu 'alayka aḥsan'l-qaṣaṣ. “We are going to narrate to you the best of all qaṣaṣ.” Then the ending is: laqad kāna fi qaṣaṣihim. “Indeed in their stories…” The [third āyah] has the present tense and here is the past tense because now the story has finished, so Allāh is saying, “In their stories there was…” Kana is like a type of past. In the beginning, Allāh is saying, “Pay attention! You are about to hear some good stories.” Then it is concluding. Allāh is saying, “In these stories you just heard.”
This is beautiful. Human beings cannot construct such eloquence. This is a divine eloquence that only when you think about it you see it, otherwise if you tried to, you could not bring about such a beauty.
Another beauty here – and wallāhi this is just amazing; think about this – in the beginning Allāh (subḥānahu wa ta'āla) says, “In the story of Yūsuf and his brothers, there are āyāt for those who ask.” Here we are being told “In their stories there is 'ibrah for those of intelligence.” Now surely Allāh is doing this for a reason. Why is there āyātu li'l-sā'ilīn in the beginning and then 'ibrah li'uli'l-bāb in the end. Which one is a higher level? Uli'l-bāb. The one who thinks, the one who ponders. The one who is asking shows that he is interested and paying attention and has an open heart and open mind. If you have that attitude of wanting to benefit, you will find miracles, āyāt, points, but when you really think about the story, you will go beyond āyāt and will go to 'ibrah – morals, wisdoms, lessons.
Notice in the beginning Allāh mentions the lower level because it is human nature that the first reading is a cursory reading. You are paying attention and want to know the story, the plot, and the ending. In the beginning, Allāh 'azza wa jall says just be interested, sā'il, and you will get a lot of benefit. In the very last āyah, Allāh says, “Now you have read the story. If you really want to benefit, you have to ponder over it āyah by āyah, verse by verse, and you will discover 'ibrah.” Beautiful. In the beginning, you will benefit if you just pay attention. In the end, now that the story is over (in the past tense) Allāh is saying laqad kāna, meaning there was indeed and now that you have done it you should go back. There is an incentive being given now. That is what I am trying to get at here. There is a strong incentive being given. Now that you have finished the story, now is the time to go back and try to do 'ibrah if you truly are a person of contemplative intelligence.
This is really the beauty of the ending here that it links up directly to he beginning and tells you, “You haven't come to the end. This is just the beginning. You need to now go back.” Notice Allāh says qaṣaṣihim, which is plural, because there are lots of stories. It is not just one story. We call it the story of Yūsuf, but the fact of the matter is it is composed of multiple stories all put together. Allāh 'azza wa jall is telling you, this is just the beginning, and now the real journey begins to go back and find these 'ibrah and to derive these benefits and wisdoms. Therefore, inshā'Allāh ta'āla, next week we will obey Allāh's command and go back to the beginning, not āyah by āyah, but we will summarize perhaps fifty fawā'Īd, let's say, overall holistically. I am not going to recite āyah by āyah – I have done that at a basic level. We will summarize as many as we can do, but it is going to be different from what we have done. So we will say “of the benefits of the sūrah is this,” and I will mention where we get the benefit from. This is what Allāh (subḥānahu wa ta'āla) commands us to do, and He concludes this by saying,
“These stories are not fabricated fairy tales.”
When we hear a fairy tale, we listen to it from a very different perspective. When we hear a real story, psychologically and subconsciously we listen and hear with a different mind. SubḥānAllāh we all understand. When we watch a Hollywood movie versus a documentary, what is our attitude? Hollywood movie: entertainment. Documentary: it affects you, and you are seeing real images and this is not acting. Sorry for being so crude, but we understand now.
Allāh is saying this isn't a Hollywood movie and isn't a fairy tale. These are real stories. Look at it as you would the way you would look at a real story and a documentary.
“These stories prove all that has come before and is a clarification for all you need to know. It is a guidance and mercy for those of īmān and faith.”
May Allāh (subḥānahu wa ta'āla) make us amongst the people of īmān and faith. May He make us amongst those who follow the footsteps of the Prophet (ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam) as he calls people to the path of Allāh 'azza wa jall. May He make us amongst those who contemplate this sūrah in particular and extract the wisdoms and benefits and finds the 'ibrah and make us of the uli'l-bāb. May Allāh 'azza wa jall make us benefit from the wisdom of Ya'qūb and the patience of Yūsuf and the tawbah of the brothers of Yūsuf. May Allāh 'azza wa jall make us of the people of the Qur'ān.
Everything I have said that is correct and authentic of the interpretation of this sūrah is all from the blessings of Allāh 'azza wa jall. Anything I have said that was incorrect, a mistake, an incorrect judgment, all of this is from my whisperings and the whisperings of Shayṭān. Allāh and His Messenger have nothing to do with those mistakes.