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10 Quranic Gems from Nouman Ali Khan

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Omar Usman is a founding member of MuslimMatters and Qalam Institute. He teaches Islamic seminars across the US including Khateeb Workshop and Fiqh of Social Media. He has served in varying administrative capacities for multiple national and local Islamic organizations. You can follow his work at ibnabeeomar.com.

7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. Avatar

    MR

    November 3, 2008 at 2:19 PM

    I got videos of some of these gems! :-D

    coming soon to halal tube!

  2. Avatar

    Bint Islam

    November 3, 2008 at 7:01 PM

    These are awesome masha’Allah!! JazakumAllahu khairun for whoever was involved in compiling them.
    I’d like to see more if these types of articles around here… they really increase your reverence towards the book of Allah, alhamdulillah :)

  3. Avatar

    abu abdAllah, the Houstonian

    November 3, 2008 at 11:01 PM

    mashaAllah, the gems in our Arabic class were a wonderful part of the course, always reminding us of the treasure that Allah offers those who strive to understand and appreciate the Qur’an. and what better motivation to study the language of the Qur’an than to be of those who are better-able to experience the miracle of the Qur’an in each and every rakat of salat!

    alhamdolillah, the storm of Qur’anic Knowledge just keeps washing away ignorance here in Houston:

    (1) we just finished 10 days of Qur’anic Arabic — 30 hours out of an eventual 100-120 hours of Bayyinah courses in the language of the Qur’an.

    (2) now we get ready for two weeks of Ulum-ul-Qur’an with Shaykh Yasir Qadhi starting this weekend at UH! here’s what i wrote about this upcoming class at another site:

    Qur’anic Sciences answers so many questions, mashaAllah, such as “What proof is there that the Qur’an is a miracle,” “Why is the Qur’an called the Speech of Allah,” “Why is Qur’an different from Hadith Qudsee,” “How was the Qur’an revealed to Muhammad, sull Allaho alayhi wa sallam,” “What are the ‘Causes of Revelation,'” “If the Qur’an was revealed in pieces, how did we end up with the Qur’an we have today,” “Is there more than one way to read the Qur’an,” “Has anything ever changed in the Qur’an,” “Are tafseers, translations, and the opinions of orientalists all equally valid interpretations of the Qur’an?” Shaykh Yasir has literally written a (thick — over 400 pages, alhamdolillah) book on Qur’anic Sciences, mashaAllah, so if you ever had a question about the Qur’an, this is the class to take to try to get it answered!

    (3) then inshaAllah, Bayyinah is coming back to Houston at the end of November for a class on Tajweed — the science of proper recitation of the Qur’an, essential for Arabs and non-Arabs alike.

    (4) in December we have TDC — and Nouman is scheduled to be there, too — inshaAllah

    (5) and last (for now) but not least, in April, Nouman intends to bring his newest Bayyinah class to Houston: a whole weekend of nothing but appreciation for the miraculous qualities of the text of the Qur’an, of the Speech of Allah. if the 10 links on this page get you excited, wait, inshaAllah for this class. it should be fantastic, inshaAllah!

  4. Avatar

    aarij

    November 4, 2008 at 2:00 PM

    ma sha Allah, that is one of the best blogs. lots of beneficial ilm, alhamdulillah.

  5. Avatar

    Munira Kapasi

    June 19, 2009 at 11:35 AM

    Jazakallah Khair for posting such a rare and precious piece of knowledge. It certainly helps to receive guidance and strenghtening of Imaan.

  6. Avatar

    Binti Younnus

    December 13, 2010 at 12:22 AM

    AsSalaamu Alaikum wa Rahmatullah

    Just this morning driving in I listened to a CD on “Understanding the Qur’aan” and this slave of Allah explained why it is important to understand the Qur’aan in the light that it was revealed in and not on our own very very limited understanding of Islam and the events that occured in the time of the Sahaaba and our Rasul S.A.W. Another point made was that in order to FULLY appreciate Al-Qur’aan we need to understand or make an effort to learn Arabic so that when we read we make that connection… Masha Allah and it seems like this is exactly what you are doing. I really wish we had more of these programmes and as readily available in my country.

    Allah bless you all. Khair Insha Allah.

  7. Avatar

    Binti Younnus

    December 13, 2010 at 12:23 AM

    Aaaaah, this post is older than two years old. Hehe. Well anyway, it might be old but NOT irrelevant.

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#Islam

The Prophet’s Golden Rule: Ethics of Reciprocity in Islam

Prophetic Love

In the name of Allah, the Gracious, the Merciful

The ethics of reciprocity, known as the “golden rule,” is any moral dictum that encourages people to treat others the way they would like to be treated. Although the term was originally coined by Anglican ministers such as George Boraston, the principle can be found in the sacred texts of the world’s great religions, as well as the writings of secular philosophers. Due to its ubiquity in many contexts, it has become an important focal point for interfaith dialogue and the development of international human rights norms.

The rule often appears as a summarizing principle of good conduct, the supreme moral principle of right action between human beings. Though not always understood literally, as it is often qualified by competing moral imperatives, it generally functions as an intuitive method of moral reasoning. Despite the different formulations, wordings, and contexts in which the rule appears across religions and traditions, Jeffery Wattles argues that there is enough continuity in meaning and application to justify describing the ethics of reciprocity as the golden rule.

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Some philosophers have scoffed at the rule, noting that a crude, literal adherence to the outward phrasing can lead to moral absurdities. Harry J. Gensler reponds to this criticism by formulating the rule in these terms: “Treat others only as you consent to being treated in the same situation.” Context matters in the process of moral reasoning; what the rule demands is not rudimentary application as much as it is ethical consistency vis-à-vis human beings, as the first principle from which the morality of an action is analyzed. It is the locus of one’s conscience, a guide for everyday behavior.

Moreover, application of the rule ought to be informed by a balanced collection of principles and values that manifest the rule in action. For this reason, writers throughout history have used the rule “as a hub around which to gather great themes.”  Notions of justice, love, compassion, and other virtues have all been related to the rule by various religious traditions. Accounting for all of these considerations and responding to common objections, both Wattles and Gensler have convincingly defended the golden rule from its detractors and have presented it as a viable principle for a modern moral philosophy.

Islam, as a world religion with over one billion followers, has an important role to play in facilitating dialogue and cooperation with other groups in the modern world. The golden rule in Islamic traditions has been explicitly invoked by numerous Muslim leaders and organizations towards this end. Recently, hundreds of Muslim scholars and leaders have signed the A Common Word interfaith letter, asserting that the Abrahamic faiths share “the twin golden commandments of the paramount importance of loving God and loving one’s neighbor.” The initiative grew into several publications and conferences, including the important and high-profile Marrakesh Declaration in early 2016, which cited A Common Word in its text as evidence of the compatibility between Islamic tradition and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The Golden Rule in Islam

The Qur’ān ascribes a number of “beautiful names” (asmā’ al-ḥusnā) to God conveying virtues that Muslims, by implication, should practice, “The most excellent names belong to Him.”  Among the relevant names of God are Al-Raḥmān (the Merciful), Al-Wadūd (the Loving), Al-Ghafūr (the Forgiving), Al-Ra’ūf (the Kind), Al-‘Adl (the Just), Al-Karīm (the Generous), and so on. Embedded in this description of God are many of the moral themes traditionally associated with the golden rule.

The distinguished Muslim scholar and mystic, Abū Ḥāmid al-Ghazzālī (d.1111), locates the golden rule within God’s loving nature as expressed in the verses, “My Lord is merciful and most loving,”  and again, “He is the Most Forgiving, the Most Loving.”  He authored a treatise on the names of God in Islamic tradition, discussing their theological meanings and his understanding of the proper way in which Muslims should enact those names. God, in his view, benefits all creatures without desiring any advantage or benefit in return:

Al-Wadūd – The Loving-kind – is one who wishes all creatures well and accordingly favors them and praises them. In fact, love and mercy are only intended for the benefit and advantage of those who receive mercy or are loved; they do not find their cause in the sensitivities or natural inclination of the Loving-kind One. For another’s benefit is the heart and soul of mercy and love and that is how the case of God – may He be praised and exalted – is to be conceived: absent those features which human experience associates with mercy and love, yet which do not contribute to the benefit they bring.

In other words, God should be understood as entirely and selflessly benevolent towards His creatures, without any need or desire for repayment. God does not benefit from the worship of His servants, nor does He take pleasure in punishing the wicked. Rather, God only prescribes worship and righteous deeds for the benefit of believers. By reflecting this divine nature in action, believers should unconditionally want for others the same as they want for themselves:

One is loving-kind among God’s servants who desires for God’s creatures whatever he desires for himself; and whoever prefers them to himself is even higher than that. Like one of them who said, ‘I would like to be a bridge over the fire [of hell] so that creatures might pass over me and not be harmed by it.’ The perfection of that virtue occurs when not even anger, hatred, and the harm he might receive can keep him from altruism and goodness.

Allah love

Commentators of the Qur’ān often found the rule implied in several verses. When ‘righteousness’ (taqwá) is first mentioned in Qur’ān (when reading cover-to-cover), classical exegetes typically define it by appealing to traditional wisdom-sayings. Abū Isḥāq al-Tha’labī (d. 1035) narrates several exegetical traditions to define and explicate the meaning of righteousness. The early authorities Sufyān al-Thawrī (d. 778) and Al-Fudayl ibn ‘Iyāḍ (d. 803) say that the righteous man (al-muttaqī) is “he who loves for people what he loves for himself.” Al-Junayd ibn Muḥammad (d. 910), on the other hand, disagreed with them and took it a step further, “The righteous man is not he who loves for people what he loves for himself. Rather, the righteous man is only he who loves for people greater than he loves for himself.” In Al-Junayd’s telling, true righteousness is not simply the equality implied in the golden rule, but rather a definite preference to benefit others that amounts to altruism (al-īthar).

In contrast, the Qur’ān severely rebukes cheaters in weights and measurements, “Woe to those who give short measure, who demand of other people full measure for themselves, but give less than they should when it is they who weigh or measure for others!” That is, they demand full payment for themselves while they give short-change to others. The golden rule was understood by Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī (d. 1209) to be the clear implication of this passage, as he reports the saying of the early authority Qatādah, “Fulfil the measure, O son of Adam, as you would love it fulfilled for yourself, and be just as you would love justice for yourself.”

Most of the explicit golden rule statements in Islamic tradition are found in the Ḥadīth corpus, the sayings and deeds of Prophet Muḥammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him). According to Anas ibn Mālik (d. 712), the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said:

None of you has faith until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself.Click To Tweet

This is the most prominent golden rule statement in the Ḥadīth corpus. The two leading Sunni Ḥadīth scholars, Muhammad ibn Ismā‘īl al-Bukhārī (d. 870) and Muslim ibn al-Ḥajjāj (d. 875), both placed this tradition in their “book of faith,” near the introductions of their respective collections. The implication is that the lesson in the tradition is essential to true faith itself, not simply a recommended or value-added practice.

Commentators sometimes mention that “all good manners” are derived from this tradition and three others, “Whoever believes in God and the Last Day, let him speak goodness or be silent,” and, “It is from a man’s excellence in Islam that he leaves what does not concern him,” and, “Do not be angry.” Like many religious writers and philosophers, Muslim scholars took note of the summarizing function of the golden rule as a broad principle for good conduct.

A key question for the commentators was the meaning of ‘brother’ in the tradition of Anas raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him). It is generally agreed upon that ‘brother’ refers to Muslims, but several commentators expanded the meaning to include non-Muslims or unbelievers. Prolific author and Shāfi’ī jurist, Muḥyī al-Dīn al-Nawawī (d. 1277), explained the tradition this way:

Firstly, that [tradition] is interpreted as general brotherhood, such that it includes the unbeliever and the Muslim. Thus, he loves for his brother – the unbeliever – what he loves for himself of embracing Islam, as he would love for his brother Muslim to always remain upon Islam. For this reason, to pray for guidance for the unbeliever is recommended… The meaning of ‘love’ is to intend good and benefit, hence, the meaning is religious love and not human love.

Al-Nawawī’s concept of “religious love” (al-maḥabbat al-dīnīyah) parallels the distinction Christian writers made between agape (ἀγάπη) and eros (ἔρως). The highest form of love, according to him, is that which is purely benevolent for God’s sake, in opposition to sinful passions, caprice, or ordinary types of love.

Although inclusion of non-Muslims in a broader brotherhood of humanity was not universally accepted, proponents of this interpretation found a strong case for their position in all of the permutations of the golden rule in the Ḥadīth corpus. Even from the traditions of Anas alone, inclusive language was used by the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) often enough to justify a universal golden rule:

None of you will find the sweetness of faith until he loves a person only for the sake of God.Click To Tweet

None of you has faith until he loves for the people what he loves for himself, and only until he loves a person for the sake of God, the Great and Almighty.

The servant does not reach the reality of faith until he loves for the people what he loves for himself of the good.

In particular, a variant in Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim reads, “…until he loves for his brother – or he said his neighbour – what he loves for himself.”  In this version, Anas raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) is unsure if the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said ‘brother’ or ‘neighbor.’ If neighbors are included, the term would certainly apply to non-Muslims as well.

Muḥammad ibn Ismā’īl al-Ṣanʻānī (d. 1768), a Yemeni reformer in the Salafi tradition, includes in his legal commentary a chapter on “the rights of the neighbor,” in which he employs some of the broadest language of the late classical to early modern period. Based upon the word “neighbor” in the version of Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim, he concludes:

The narration of the neighbor is general for the Muslim, the unbeliever, and the sinner, the friend and the enemy, the relative and the foreigner, the near neighbour and the far neighbour. Whoever acquires in this regard the obligatory attributes of loving good for him, he is at the highest of levels.

Perhaps most significant is Al-Ṣanʻānī’s inclusion of enemies (al-‘aduw) in the list of people covered by the golden rule. In this case, the rule has at least some kind of application to every single human being.

The servant does not reach the reality of faith until he loves for the people what he loves for himself of the good.Click To Tweet

‘Abd Allāh ibn ʿAmr (d. 685), who is said to have been one of the first to write down the statements of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), narrates his version of the golden rule, “Whoever would love to be delivered from Hell and admitted into Paradise, let him meet his end believing in God and the Last Day, and let him treat people as he would love to be treated.” The rule here is a means of salvation and is expressed in terms of good behavior, rather than religious love.

Abū Hurayrah (d. 679), the most prolific narrator of Ḥadīth, also shares what he heard from the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), “Love for people what you love for yourself, you will be a believer. Be good to your neighbour, you will be a Muslim.” Like the tradition of Anas, the rule is associated with both true faith and good treatment of neighbors.

Sometimes Ḥadīth traditions do not explicitly state the golden rule, but it is drawn out by the commentators. Tamīm al-Dārī (d. 661) reports that the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said three times, “Religion is sincerity.” The companions said, “To whom?” The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) replied, “To God, to His book, to His messenger, and to the leader of the Muslims and their commoners.” Ibn Daqīq al-’Īd (d. 1302) explains at length the meaning of sincerity or good will (naṣīḥah) in each context. As it relates to common people, he writes that sincerity is “to take care of them with beautiful preaching, to abandon ill will and envy for them, and to love for them what he loves for himself of good and to hate for them what he hates for himself of evil.”

Al-Nuʿmān ibn Bashīr (d. 684) relates the Prophet’s ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) parable of the faith community as a single body, “You see the believers in their mercy, affection, and compassion for one another as if they were a body. When a limb aches, the rest of the body responds with sleeplessness and fever.”  A variant of this tradition reads, “The Muslims are like a single man. If the eye is afflicted, the whole body is afflicted. If the head is afflicted, the whole body is afflicted.”  The idea is that Muslims should have empathy for one another by sharing the burden of each other’s pain, as stated in another tradition, “The believer feels pain for the people of faith, just as the body feels pain in its head.”  Abū ʿAbd Allāh al-Ḥalīmī (d. 1012) inferred the golden rule from this parable:

They should be like that, as one hand would not love but what the other loves, and one eye or one leg or one ear would not love but what the other loves. Likewise, he should not love for his Muslim brother but what he loves for himself.

Later commentators would develop this idea further. Ibn Daqīq draws upon the parable of the faith community in his commentary on the tradition of Anas, writing, “Some scholars said in this tradition is the understanding that the believer is with another believer like a single soul. Thus, he should love for him what he loves for himself, as if they were a single soul.”  Ibn Ḥajar al-Haythamī (d. 1567) makes the same connection, saying that to love one another means “that he will be with him as one soul (al-nafs al-waḥīdah).”

Yazīd ibn Asad, another one of the Prophet’s ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) companions, recalls that he said to him, “O Yazīd ibn Asad! Love for people what you love for yourself!” In a variant of this tradition, the Prophet (ṣ) asks him, “Do you love Paradise?” Yazīd says yes, so the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) replies, “Then love for your brother what you love for yourself.”  In yet another variant, Yazīd’s grandson quotes the sermon of Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) upon the pulpit, “Do not treat people but in the way you would love to be treated by them.”

Failure to live up to the golden rule could result in dreadful consequences in the Hereafter, especially for Imams and authorities. Ma’qil ibn Yasār, while on his deathbed, recounted what he learned from the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), “No one is appointed over the affairs of the Muslims and then he does not strive for them or show them good will but that he will never enter Paradise with them.” In another wording, the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him)said, “He does not protect them as he would protect himself and his family but that Allah will cast him into the fire of Hell.” In this regard, a Muslim leader must necessarily treat their followers as they would treat themselves and their own families, if such a terrible fate is to be avoided.

Abū Umāmah al-Bāhilī (d. 705) tells the story of a young man who came to the Prophet (ṣ) to ask for permission to indulge in adulterous intercourse. The Prophet engages him in an imaginative role-reversal, asking a series of Socratic questions and appealing to the young man’s conscience to convince him against it, “Would you like that for your mother? Would you like that for your sister?” The young man, naturally, expresses his disapproval had someone else committed adultery with the women of his household. The logical conclusion, as stated by the Prophet, is to consider the golden rule, “Then hate what God has hated, and love for your brother what you love for yourself.”

Hatred for the sake of God is a fine line to walk, between righteous indignation and unjustified malice. At least some of the earliest Muslims adopted the familiar refrain: love the sinner, hate the sin. According to Mu’ādh ibn Anas, this is how the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) defined hatred for the sake of God, “The best faith is to love for the sake of God, to hate for the sake of God, and to work your tongue in the remembrance of God.” Mu’ādh said, “How is it done, O Messenger of God?” The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, “That you love for people what you love for yourself, hate for them what you hate for yourself, and to speak goodness or be silent.” The noble form of hatred is simply the inverse of the golden rule; if one sees another sinning, hatred should be for the evil deed because it harms its doer. At the same time, one loves good for the sinner by hoping for their repentance and divine forgiveness.

“Do not hate each other, do not envy each other, do not turn away from each other, but rather be servants of God as brothers.”Click To Tweet

Ibrāhīm Ad’ham (d. 782) remembers during his travels that he overheard a pair of Muslim ascetics discussing the love of God amongst themselves. Intrigued, he interjects himself into the conversation to ask, “How can anyone have compassion for people who contradict their Beloved [God]?”

The unnamed ascetic turns to him, saying:

They abhor their sinful deeds and have compassion for them, [pray] that by preaching to them they might leave their deeds. They feel pity that their bodies might be burned in hellfire. The believer is not truly a believer until he is pleased for people to have what is pleasing to himself.

The commentator ‘Abd al-Raḥmān ibn Rajab (d. 1393) corroborates this interpretation, which he ascribes to the righteous predecessors (al-salaf al-ṣāliḥ). Hence, it not correct for a Muslim to carry malicious hatred in the sense of desiring to harm others. A believer ought to love for sinners to repent, to be guided, and to be forgiven. In this regard, the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) admonished us, “Do not hate each other, do not envy each other, do not turn away from each other, but rather be servants of God as brothers.”

Conclusion

The irreversible march of globalization is producing an urgent need for people of different backgrounds and beliefs to find common ground. As the world grows closer together, with it grows the imperative to recognize each other as members of one human family. The ethics of reciprocity – the golden rule – is the best conceptual vehicle to advance this necessary intercultural dialogue and cooperation.

Islam is one of the world’s great religions, with over one billion followers living on every continent and speaking hundreds of languages. If peace on earth is to be actualized, Islam and Muslims must be a partner in it. Muslims need an entry point for understanding non-Muslims, just as non-Muslims need a way to begin understanding Muslims. Islam’s golden rule can provide a bridge between these worlds.

It is not reasonable to expect that the golden rule by itself can solve all the conflicts of the modern world, but what it can do is activate the innate conscience of human beings in a process of collective, intercultural moral reasoning. By accepting at the outset the premise of human equality and the obligation of moral consistency, we can work together to develop the mutual understanding and respect needed for people of different beliefs to live together in harmony. The golden rule itself is not the answer per se, rather it is the right question at the start; it is the first step in a journey we must take together, the first conversation in a dialogue we must have.

Success comes from Allah, and Allah knows best.

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The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

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Lessons From Surah Maryam: 1

Alhamdulillah, it’s a great blessing of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) that He has given us both the opportunity and ability to come here tonight to study and explore the meanings of His words in Surah Maryam. I’m truly grateful for this opportunity. May Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) accept this effort from all of us and place it on our scale of good deeds.

Alhamdulillah, in our last series we were able to complete the tafsir of Surah Al-Kahf. InshAllah, in this next series, we’ll be exploring the meanings, lessons, and reminders of Surah Maryam. Tafsīr is an extremely noble and virtuous discipline. The reason why it’s so noble and virtuous is that it’s the study of the divine speech of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). As mentioned in a hadith the superiority of the speech of Allah over all other speech is like the superiority of Allah over all of His creation. There’s nothing more beneficial and virtuous than studying the Quran. And by doing so we’ll be counted amongst the best of people. As the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, “the best amongst you are those who learn the Quran and teach it.”

All of us need to build a stronger relationship with the Quran. The Quran is full of wisdom and guidance in every single verse and word. It’s our responsibility to seek that guidance, understand it, contextualize it and more importantly act upon it. Tafsīr is such a unique science that it brings together all of the other Islamic sciences. While exploring a Surah a person comes across discussions regarding Arabic grammar and morphology, rhetoric, Ahādīth, fiqh, sīrah and all those studies that are known as the Islamic Sciences. One scholar described the Quran as an ocean that has no shore, بحر لا ساحل له. The more we study the Qur’ān the stronger our relationship with it will become. We’ll become more and more attached to it and will be drawn into its beauty and wonder. The deeper a person gets into tafsir and studying the more engaged and interested they become. They also recognize how little they truly know. It develops humility. That’s the nature of true knowledge. The more we learn the more we recognize we don’t know. May Allah ﷻ allow us all to be sincere and committed students of the Qur’ān.

Surah Maryam

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Surah Maryam is the 19th surah in the Quran. It is a relatively long Makki surah made up of 98 verses. Some commentators mention that it’s the 44th Surah to be revealed, after Surah Al-Fatir and before Surah Taha. It has been given the name Maryam because Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) mentions the story of Maryam (as) and her family and how she gave birth to Isa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) miraculously at the beginning of the Surah. Just like other Makkan surahs, it deals with the most fundamental aspects of our faith. It talks about the existence and oneness of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), prophethood, and resurrection and recompense.

The Surah is made up of a series of unique stories filled with guidance and lessons that are meant as reminders. One of the main themes of this Surah is mercy… It has been mentioned over 16 times in this Surah. We’ll find the words of grace, compassion and their synonyms frequently mentioned throughout the sūrah, together with Allah’s attributes of beneficence and mercy. We can say that one of the objectives of the Surah is to establish and affirm the attribute of mercy for Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). That’s why all of the stories mentioned also have to do with Allah’s mercy.

Another objective of the Surah is to remind us of our relationship with Allah ﷻ; the concept of Al-‘Ubūdiyyah. These are the two major themes or ideas of this Surah; the concept of Rahmah and the concept of ‘Ubūdiyyah (Mercy and Servitude).

The Surah can be divided into 8 sections:

1) Verses 1-15: The surah starts with the story of Zakariyya (as) and how he was given the gift of a child at a very old age, which was something strange and out of the ordinary.

2) Verses 16-40: mention the story of Maryam and the miraculous birth of Isa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) without a father and how her community responded to her.

3) Verses 41-50: The surah then briefly mentions one part of the story of Ibrahim 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him), specifically the conversation he had with his father regarding the worship of idols. The surah then briefly mentions a series of other Prophets.

4) Verses 51-58: Mention Musa and Haroon 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him), Ismail 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) and Idrees 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) to show that the essence of the message of all Prophets was the same

5) Verses 59-65: compare and contrast the previous generations with the current ones in terms of belief and actions.

6) Verses 66-72: Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) addresses the Mushrikoon rejecting their false claims regarding life after death and judgment.

7) Verses 73-87: continue to address the Mushrikoon and warn them regarding their attitude towards belief in Allah and His messengers. They also mention the great difference between the resurrection of the believer and the resurrection of the non-believer.

8) Verses 88-98: contain a severe warning to those who claim that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) has taken a child. They also express that Allah is pleased with the believers and mentions that one of the objectives of the Quran is to give glad tidings to the believers and to warn the non-believers.

Story

From various narrations, we learn that this surah was revealed near the end of the fourth year of Prophethood. This was an extremely difficult time for Muslims. The Quraysh were frustrated with their inability to stop the message of Islam from spreading so they became ruthless. They resorted to any method of torture that they could think of; beating, starving and harassing. When the persecution became so severe that it was difficult for the Muslims to bear it, the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) gave permission to migrate to Abyssinia. “For in it dwells a king in whose presence no one is harmed.” 10 men and 4 women migrated in the 5th year of Prophethood secretly. After a few months, a larger group of 83 men and 18 women migrated as well. This migration added more fuel to the fire. It enraged the people of Quraysh.

Umm Salamah [rahna]narrated, “When we stopped to reside in the land of Abyssinia we lived alongside the best of neighbors An-Najashi. We practiced our religion safely, worshipped Allah without harm and didn’t hear anything we disliked. When news of our situation reached the Quraysh they started to plot against us…” They decided to send two delegates to persuade An-Najashi to send the Companions back by offering him and his ministers’ gifts. The plan was to go to each minister with gifts and turn them against the Muslims. So they went to each minister with gifts and said, “Verily, foolish youth from amongst us have come to the country of your king; they have abandoned the religion of their people and have not embraced your religion. Rather they have come with a new religion that neither of us knows. The noblemen of their people, from their fathers and uncles, have sent us to the king asking that he send them back. So when we speak to the king regarding their situation advise him to surrender them to us and to not speak to them…” The minister agreed.

Then they went to the king, offered him gifts and said the same thing… The ministers tried to convince him as well. An-Najashi became angry with them and said, “No, by Allah, I will not surrender them to these two and I don’t fear the plotting of a people who have become my neighbors, have settled down in my country, and have chosen me (to grant them refuge) over every other person. I will not do so until I summon them and speak to them. If they are as these two say I will give them up, but if they aren’t then I will protect them from these two and continue to be a good neighbor to them as long as they are good neighbors to me.”

al-Najāshī then summoned the Prophet’s ﷺ Companions. When his messenger informed the Prophet’s Companions that they were to appear before the king, they gathered together to discuss what they should do. One of them asked, “What will you say to the name (al-Najāshī) when you go to him?” They all agreed on what they would say to him, “By Allah, we will say what our Prophet ﷺ taught us and commanded us with, regardless of the consequences.” Meanwhile, al-Najāshī called for his priests, who gathered around him with their scrolls spread out before them. When the Muslims arrived al-Najāshī began by asking them, “What is this religion for which you have parted from your people? You have not entered into the fold of my religion, nor the religion of any person from these nations.”

Umm Salamah [rahna] narrated, “The Person among us who would speak to him was Jaʿfar ibn abī Ṭālib [rahnu] who then said, “O king, we were an ignorant people: we worshipped idols, we would eat from the flesh of dead animals, we would perform lewd acts, we would cut off family ties, and we would be bad neighbors; the strong among us would eat from the weak. We remained upon that state until Allah sent us a Messenger, whose lineage, truthfulness, trustworthiness, and chastity we already knew. He invited us to Allah – to believe in His oneness and to worship Him; to abandon all that we and our fathers worshipped besides Allah, in terms of stones and idols. He ﷺ commanded us to speak truthfully, to fulfill the trust, to join ties of family relations, to be good to our neighbors, and to refrain from forbidden deeds and from shedding blood. And he ﷺ forbade us from lewd acts, from uttering falsehood, from wrongfully eating the wealth of an orphan, from falsely accusing chaste women of wrongdoing. And he ﷺ ordered us to worship Allah alone and to not associate any partners with him in worship; and he ﷺ commanded us to pray, to give zakāh, and to fast.” He enumerated for al-Najāshī the teachings of Islam. He said, “And we believe him and have faith in him. We follow him in what he came with. And so we worship Allah alone, without associating any partners with Him in worship. We deem forbidden that which he has made forbidden for us, and we deem lawful that which he made permissible for us. Our people then transgressed against us and tortured us. The tried to force us to abandon our religion and to return from the worship of Allah to the worship of idols; they tried to make us deem lawful those abominable acts that we used to deem lawful. Then, when they subjugated us, wronged us, and treated us in an oppressive manner, standing between us and our religion, we came to your country, and we chose you over all other people. We desired to live alongside you, and we hoped that, with you, we would not be wronged, O king.” al-Najāshī said to Jaʿfar [rahnu], “Do you have any of that which he came with from Allah?” Jaʿfar [rahnu] said, “Yes”. “Then recite to me,” said al-Najāshī. Jaʿfar [rahnu] recited for him the beginning of Surah Maryam. By Allah, al-Najāshī began to cry, until his beard became wet with tears. And when his priests heard what Jaʿfar [rahnu] was reciting to them, they cried until their scrolls became wet. al-Najāshī then said, “By Allah, this and what Mūsa (as) came with come out of the same lantern. Then by Allah, I will never surrender them to you, and henceforward they will not be plotted against and tortured.”

Describing what happened after the aforementioned discussion between al-Najāshī and Jaʿfar [rahnu], Umm Salamah raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) said, “When both ʿAmr ibn al-ʿĀṣ and ʿAbdullah ibn abī Rabīʿah left the presence of al-Najāshī, ʿAmr [rahnu] said, “By Allah tomorrow I will present to him information about them with which I will pull up by the roots their very lives.” Abdullah ibn Rabīʿah who was more sympathetic of the two towards us said, “Don’t do so, for they have certain rights of family relations, even if they have opposed us.” ʿAmr said, “By Allah, I will inform him that they claim that ʿĪsā ibn Maryam is a slave.”

He went to the king on the following day and said, “O king, verily, they have strong words to say about ʿĪsa (as). Call them here and ask them what they say about him.” al-Najāshī sent for them in order to ask them about ʿĪsa. Nothing similar to this befell us before. The group of Muslims gathered together and said to one another, “What will you say about ʿĪsa when he asks you about him?” They said, “By Allah, we will say about him that which Allah says and that which our Prophet ﷺ came with, regardless of the outcome.” When they entered into his presence, he said to them, “What do you say about ʿĪsa ibn Maryam?” Jaʿfar raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) said, “We say about him that which our Prophet ﷺ came with – that he is the slave of Allah, His messenger, a spirit created by Him, and His word, which he bestowed on Maryam, the virgin, the baṭūl.”

al-Najāshī struck his hand on the ground and took from it a stick. He then said, “ʿĪsa ibn Maryam did not go beyond what you said even the distance of the stick.” When he said this, his ministers spoke out in anger, to which he responded, “What I said is true even if you speak out in anger, by Allah. (Turning to the Muslims, he said) Go, for you are safe in my land. Whoever curses you will be held responsible. And I would not love to have a reward of gold in return for me hurting a single man among you. (Speaking to his ministers he said) Return to these two (men) their gifts, since we have no need for them. For by Allah, Allah did not take from me bribe money when He returned to me my kingdom, so why should I take bribe money. The two left, defeated and humiliated; and returned to them were the things they came with. We then resided alongside al-Najāshī in a very good abode, with a very good neighbor.”

The response was simply amazing in its eloquence. A believer puts the needs of his soul before the needs of his body. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) starts the Surah by saying,

Verse 1: Kaf, Ha, Ya, ‘Ayn, Sad.

Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) starts Surah Maryam with a series of five letters. There are many different saying or explanations regarding these five letters. The most correct opinion is that these are from the broken letters. There are 29 different Surahs in the Quran that start with the broken letters. Only Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) alone knows the meanings of these letters. They are a secret from amongst the secrets of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), meaning that no one knows what they truly mean. Only Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) knows their meanings so they are from amongst the Mutashaabihat, those verses whose meanings are hidden.

However, we do find that some great Companions, as well as their students, sometimes gave meanings to these words. For example, it’s said that it is in acronym and each letter represents one of the names of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). Kaf is for Al-Kafi or Al-Kareem, “haa” is for Al-Hadi, “yaa” is from Hakeem or Raheem, “’ayn” is from Al-‘Aleem or Al-‘Adheem, and “saad” is from Al-Saadiq. Others said that it is one of the names of Allah and it’s actually Al-Ism Al-‘Atham or that it’s a name of the Quran. However, these narrations can’t be used as proof or to assign definitive meanings. They offer possibilities, but no one truly knows what they mean.

Now the question should come to our mind that why would Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) start of a Surah with words that no one understands?

1) To grab the attention of the listeners.

2) To remind us that no matter how much we know there’s always something that we don’t know.

3) These letters are the letters of the Arabic language and the Quran was revealed at a time that was the peak of eloquence of the language and it was their identity. The Quran was revealed challenging them spiritually and intellectually. The Arabs never heard these letters being used in such a majestic way.

4) To prove the inimitable nature of the Quran.

Allah then starts the story of Zakariyya 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him). Zakariyya 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) was one of the Prophets sent to Bani Israel. He was the husband of Maryam’s paternal aunt. He was also one of the caretakers or custodians of Baitul Maqdis.

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