“What you see and hear depends a good deal on where you are standing; it also depends on what sort of person you are.”
-C. S. Lewis
Philosophers and writers have often discussed the importance of perspective and contemplation when it comes to understanding any issue; to not impulsively form an opinion without careful and thoughtful consideration.
For us as Muslims though, while we can appreciate and find common ground in such quotes, we have something far more insightful and full of wisdom – the Qur’an. The recent crisis in Gaza has afforded the Muslim world a host of lessons and reminders elaborately addressed in the Qur’an, if only we would stop to consider them. Gathering from much of what I have been blessed to learn from different scholars of this noble deen, I have noticed some common mistakes widespread in the Ummah when it comes to facing crisis.
- Having a Negative Opinion about Other Muslims based mainly on News from Dubious Sources
- Generalizing regarding an entire population based on the actions a small minority.
- Mistaking success for defeat due to a lack of perspective on life.
The sad reality about every single one of these mistakes though, is that each one is addressed in the Qur’an and was faced at one point or another by the Prophet (saas) and his companions. In this article, we will try to analyze each of these mistakes in detail specifically as they relate to the current crisis in the Muslim world and then understand how we can correct our perception, insha’Allah.
Not to Trust the Corrupt Without Inspection
I recently read a very powerful and eye-opening article written by Johann Hari, a non-Muslim columnist for the London Independent, titled, You Are Being Lied to About Pirates (here). Of course, the general trend in all media outlets regarding the whole Somali pirate issue over the past several months is that these pirates are nothing more than lawless bandits with no regard for international law or civility. No one ever questioned the rise of these so-called pirates and what was the motive behind their brazen attacks. It was assumed that extreme poverty and the lawless atmosphere of Somalia had driven these “terrorists” to seafaring robbery for their own corrupt gains and nothing else. But educated people should realize that nothing in the human psyche is ever that simple.
What Mr. Hari astutely discovered in the course of his research was the hidden truth of a shocking crime of outrageous magnitude. To quote from his article,
In 1991, the government of Somalia – in the Horn of Africa – collapsed. Its nine million people have been teetering on starvation ever since – and many of the ugliest forces in the Western world have seen this as a great opportunity to steal the country’s food supply and dump our nuclear waste in their seas.
Yes: nuclear waste. As soon as the government was gone, mysterious European ships started appearing off the coast of Somalia, dumping vast barrels into the ocean. The coastal population began to sicken. At first they suffered strange rashes, nausea and malformed babies. Then, after the 2005 tsunami, hundreds of the dumped and leaking barrels washed up on shore. People began to suffer from radiation sickness, and more than 300 died. Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, the UN envoy to Somalia, tells me: “Somebody is dumping nuclear material here. There is also lead, and heavy metals such as cadmium and mercury – you name it.” Much of it can be traced back to European hospitals and factories, who seem to be passing it on to the Italian mafia to “dispose” of cheaply. When I asked Ould-Abdallah what European governments were doing about it, he said with a sigh: “Nothing. There has been no clean-up, no compensation, and no prevention.”
At the same time, other European ships have been looting Somalia’s seas of their greatest resource: seafood. We have destroyed our own fish-stocks by over-exploitation – and now we have moved on to theirs. More than $300m worth of tuna, shrimp, lobster and other sea-life is being stolen every year by vast trawlers illegally sailing into Somalia’s unprotected seas. The local fishermen have suddenly lost their livelihoods, and they are starving. Mohammed Hussein, a fisherman in the town of Marka 100km south of Mogadishu, told Reuters: “If nothing is done, there soon won’t be much fish left in our coastal waters.”
Personally, after reading this I was furious that such a crime could be happening to our already weary brothers and sisters in Somalia! I mean how low can these people get – stealing the only livelihood from one of the poorest nations on Earth right now while dumping their toxic waste in the source of that very livelihood? But that feeling of exasperation was quickly followed by shame; shame that I had been so gullible to believe the whole story that was being sold to us by the European nuclear crime cartel responsible for this scandal. I never questioned what was happening, I never gave those poor people any benefit of the doubt and I bought whole-sale the lies and deception about them. I had forgotten Allah’s words wherein He said (what means):
O you who believe! If a corrupt person comes to you with any news, verify it, lest you harm people unintentionally, and afterwards become full of remorse for what you have done. [49:6]
I had made the same mistake that some of the noble Companions had made when they heard the ifk – the lie about ‘Aisha committing zina. I had assumed the worst about my fellow Muslim by not investigating the news brought to me by a corrupt source well-known for its brazen lying, deception and wanton distortion of the truth – the media.
So, in the face of the latest crisis in Gaza, I was careful to not make the same mistake. The media desperately wanted to sell an idea so that we would believe that Israel was justified in its aggression against the civilian population of Gaza. They wanted us to believe that these were not human beings, but a society – 1.5 million people in fact – of hateful terrorists. They wanted us to believe that Israel had tried so hard to make peace, had been so patient, since 2006 when the people of Gaza democratically elected their leadership. It was those evil people in Gaza who couldn’t abide by the treaties they signed. It was those terrorists to the South who were hell-bent on killing civilians with wanton disregard. They needed to be put in their place. Israel needed to show these people that they had voted for the wrong group and punish them for their “mistake”.
So, it was unfortunate to see a number of Muslims following this line of “opinion”. Had they looked a little deeper into reality, they would have discovered a number of disturbing facts. Firstly, even before officially being elected in 2006, Hamas had agreed to stop suicide bombings and had succeeded in doing so for a period of 18 months into late 2006. During that same period of time, Israel refused to ackowledge them as a political entity and continued a campaign of abductions and assasinations (here). June 2008 brought the latest cease-fire into play in which Hamas and Israel agreed to the following conditions: 1) Hamas was to stop rocket attacks on Israel, 2) Israel would open blockades of relief supplies into impoverished Gaza and 3) Israel would not attack territories in Gaza. Amazingly, Hamas didn’t fire a single rocket for much of the duration of this cease-fire, but it was Israel that continued to keep most of the routes into Gaza blocked in effect continuing its strangle-hold upon the Gazan civilian population and violated the cease-fire on, of all days the US presidential election day, November 4th. It was on that day that Israel entered into Gaza where they killed six Hamas “militants” as reported by the Associated Press (AP).
AP stories November 5th and 6th discussed the possible collapse of the cease-fire based on these attacks, but they went largely unpublished in the US where media attention was focused almost entirely on the historic presidential election. Moreover, a Nexis search found no reference to the raid in the transcripts of any television news broadcast during the period. It is nothing short of amazing how deceptive the media can be in such circumstances, especially when partnered with an equally deceptive news-maker. Wallahu musta’aan.
The solution to this disease of the heart is two-fold:
- Maintaining benefit of the doubt and generally a positive idea regarding your fellow Muslim
- Careful inspection into any matter in which they are accused which must include getting the perspective of the Muslim
Indeed, Allah has said what means:
The believers are nothing else than brothers. So make reconciliation between your brothers, and fear Allah, that you may receive mercy. [49:10]
And among the many beneficial hadith on this matter which must cause us to reflect upon the rights that our oppressed brothers and sisters around the world have upon us are the following:
Ibn Umar (ra) reports that he heard the Messenger of Allah (saas) say, “The Muslim is the brother of the Muslim; he should not oppress him nor forsake him (when he is oppressed).” (Bukhari and Muslim)
Abu Huraira (ra) reported Allah’s Messenger (saas) as saying, “He who alleviates the suffering of a brother out of the sufferings of the world, Allah would alleviate his suffering from the sufferings of the Day of Judgment, and he who finds relief for one who is in difficulty, Allah would make things easy for him in the Hereafter, and he who conceals (the faults) of a Muslim, Allah would conceal his faults in the world and in the Hereafter. Allah is will support and help a servant so long as the servant supports and helps his brother ….” (Muslim)
So have we given our fellow Muslims in Gaza their rights? Have we been just to them by trying to understand their actions, by seeking the truth about what is really happening – or have we forsaken them and oppressed them by just accepting the “news” that is fed to us by a distorted media? How many a statement can we find right now from those claiming imaan wherein they seem so focused on the mistakes of their brethren that are microscopic when compared to the atrocities of their attackers? Have the people of Gaza committed sins? Yes they have – but then again, so have we all. Has their leadership possibly taken too much license in certain areas of Islamic law when it comes to the defense of thir own people? Yes they have, but when any other military force does the same thing, we have been far more forgiving of their excuses than we are for these people who are struggling to raise the banner of Islam and to promote the Sunnah in this blessed land.
So what then should our response be when we see some things from oppressed Muslim communities that appear to be contrary to the teachings of Islam? Let us again refer back to the hadith:
Narrated Anas (ra) that Allah’s Messenger (saas) said, “Help your brother, whether he is an oppressor or if he is an oppressed one.” People asked, “O Allah’s Messenger! We can understand how to help him if he is oppressed, but how should we help him if he is an oppressor?” The Prophet (saas) said, “By preventing him from oppressing others.” (Bukhari)
And the great scholar of hadith Abdullah ibnal-Mubaarak also says, “The believer is he who gives his brothers an excuse, and the hypocrite is he who seeks their slips.”
Does this mean that we should excuse them even in the face of indefensible actions? Absolutely not! Remember the justice with which Allah commands us in the Quran where he says what means,
O you who believe! Stand out firmly for AllAh and be just witnesses and let not the enmity and hatred of others make you act without justice. Be just: that is nearer to taqwa, and fear Allah. Verily, Allah is Well-Acquainted with what you do. [5: 8]
So our understanding is that our position must be one of justice first, while at the same time seeking to find an excuse for the sincere Muslim who’s action may not be outwardly understood. If in fact no excuse can be found and it is clear that this Muslim has indeed transgressed the bounds set by Allah, should we then forsake him? No! What would you wish for yourself if you were in an impossibly difficult situation and your desperation led you to disobey Allah? No doubt, you would wish for His forgiveness. But are we asking Allah to forgive the trespasses of our brothers and sisters in Gaza? Are we asking Him to guide them and guide others through them? Are we asking that Allah cause their leaders to be just and upright? The last reminder I wish to give myself and the reader before moving on to the next point is to remember the beautiful statement of the Prophet (saas):
Abdullah ibnu ‘Amr ibnul-‘Aas (ra) reports that the Prophet (saas) said, “Those who have mercy will receive the mercy of the Most Merciful. Have mercy on those who are on earth, the One in the Heavens will have mercy on you.” (Tirmidhi ).
Generalizing About an Entire Population
As often as it happens to us as Muslims today, you would think that generalization would be the last mistake that we would ever make. But we have been slow to heed the warning of the Prophet (saas) wherein he said:
Abu Sa’id al-Khudri (ra) reported that Allah’s Messenger (saas) said, “You will indeed tread the same path as was trodden by those before you, inch by inch and step by step, so much so that if they were to enter into the hole of the lizard, you would follow them in this also“. We said: O’ Messenger of Allah, do you mean the Jews and Christians (by your words)” those before you”? He said: “Who else (than those two religious groups)?” (Bukhari and Muslim)
He (saas) warned us that we will indeed follow their behaviors, even ones that make no sense whatsoever (think of those Muslims who had “rat-tail” hairstyles, hang their pants so low that their underwear is on full display like “gangstas”, and other assorted absurdities) which is among the meanings of following them into a lizard’s hole. So it is no real surprise to see us following them also in the practice of generalizing about entire populations of people. How do we do this?
When was the last time the imam in your local masjid prayed against the Jews? Did the Prophet (saas) ever make du’a against an entire people like this? How often do we hear some Muslims generalizing about how Jews are this and that of one bad attribute or another? Can such accusations be found in the Quran and Sunnah? Let us briefly review some of the many ayaat just in surat Aali-‘Imraan in the Qur’an that deal with the People of the Book to see indeed how they are described by Allah, the Most Just. He says what means (emphasis is mine):
A party of the People of the Book (Jews and Christians) wish to lead you astray. But they shall not lead astray anyone except themselves, and they perceive not. [3:69]
Among the People of the Book (Jews and Christians) is he who, if entrusted with a great amount of wealth, will readily pay it back;and among themthere is he who, if entrusted with a single silver coin, will not repay it unless you constantly stand demanding, because they say: “There is no blame on us to betray and take the properties of the illiterates (Arabs).” But they tell a lie against Allâh while they know it. [3:75]
You [the generation of the Prophet (saas) and all who follow their way in general] are the best of peoples ever raised up for mankind; you enjoin all good and forbid all evil, and you believe in Allah. And had the People of the Book (Jews and Christians) believed, it would have been better for them; among them are some who have faith, but most of them are disobedient and rebellious against Allah’s Command. [3:110]
Not all of them are alike; a party of the People of the Book stand for the right, they recite the Verses of Allâh during the hours of the night, prostrating themselves in prayer. [3:113]
And there are, certainly, among the People of the Book (Jews and Christians), those who believe in Allah and in that which has been revealed to you, and in that which has been revealed to them, humbling themselves before Allah. They do not sell the Verses of Allah for a little price, for them is a reward with their Lord. Surely, Allah is Swift in account. [3:199]
But don’t be fooled into thinking that this pattern exists only in this noble and grand surah, for indeed it is found throughout the Qur’an:
Verily, those who disbelieve from among the People of the Book (Jews and Christians) and the pagans will abide forever in the Fire of Hell. They are the worst of creatures. [98:6]
Thus, Allah in His infinite Justice differentiates between those among the People of the Book who are righteous and trustworthy and those who are disbelievers and treacherous in their dealings. He does not generalize regarding them.
In the Sunnah of the Prophet we see this in practice where the Prophet (saas) would deal with some of the Jewish tribes harshly after their betrayals, but among others he was kind, generous and forgiving. How many a Jewish person accepted Islam simply due to the kindness and excellent character of the Prophet (saas), and how many a Jewish person even till today has accepted Islam for similar reasons. The behavior and attitude of a number of Muslims today is a sad departure from the Sunnah of our beloved Prophet and the righteous Companions who also displayed care and concern for the non-Muslims under their governorship.
We should be just in the realization that even in Israel there are those who are very distressed by what is happening not only now, but on a daily basis. There are entire organizations devoted to helping the Palestinian people live a better and safer life, people who stand at checkpoints and yell at their own soldiers for the mistreatment of Palestinians, people who bravely go on the record voicing their opposition of the discriminatory and oppressive practices of the Israeli occupation. These people have displayed one of the greatest acts in Islam, to speak the word of truth before an oppressive ruler and as such they are people who may very well be open to the message of Islam if they could see it in practice first.
The reason that the People of the Book have a distinguished status among the general category of disbelivers in the message of Islam is because they are the closest people to this belief. Our articles of faith are nearly identical and as such it doesn’t require much of a change for them to adopt Islam. For the Christian people, particularly in the West, we have been very accomodating in our dawaah, but ever since the Israeli occupation, our dawah to Jewish people has been lacking. It is wrong that due to the oppressive actions of a group of them that we deprive others of hearing the good of Islam and deprive ourselves of the natural cooperation in goodness that is allowed to us in Islam.
There is no doubt that Israeli policies are such that it is clear that they generalize against all Muslims. We are all equally bad in their myopic vision, but let us not stray from the Sunnah of our beloved Prophet by behaving the same way against them. This can only happen when we give every Jewish person that we meet the benefit of the doubt in regards to their character as did the Prophet. There is no contradiction between having caution when dealing with someone and also being open to the good that they might have. This is what the Prophet (saas) demonstrated and what the Companions acted upon. Another aspect of this justice is to specify in our du’a that Allah aid the believers against those People of the Book who have disbelieved and spread corruption on the Earth as opposed to making du’a against all of them, wallahu a’lam.
Beyond simply generalizing against the Jewish people in du’a, there is a far more dangerous habit that occurs not only among Muslims, but in all human societies – extremism. Shortly after the atrocities against the people of Gaza began, a Dutch of Arab lineage was arrested after he wounded two Israelis in a shopping mall in Holland with a hand-gun. Around the same time, a relatively unknown (I found a total of nine lectures by this Imam online whereas “popular” shuyookh have over 500) and elderly Imam in one of the Muslim countries issued a “fatwa” wherein he encouraged Muslims to attack Israelis and Israeli interests all over the world “in defense of Gaza”. Any rational person can see that these two individuals, amidst the hundreds of millions of Muslims world-wide, acted out of rage and unchecked emotion. Their actions are not representative of Islam or Muslims, but they represent a dangerous trend of the human personality which can be seen globally in different expressions (“road rage” killings, “crimes of passion”, “going postal” work place killings, etc.). Some people, be they Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Atheist or any other “ism”, do not control their anger and instead act upon it in terrifying ways.
The Islamic teaching on this matter is clear though as can first be demonstrated from the Qur’an:
And race towards the way (which leads to) forgiveness from your Lord, and for a Paradise as wide as are the heavens and the earth, prepared for the pious. Those who spend (for the sake of Allah) in prosperity and in adversity, who repress anger, and who pardon men; verily, Allah loves those who excel in doing good. [3:133-134]
Ibn Kathir states in regard to the latter portion of these ayaat,
“for when they are angry, they control their anger and do act upon it. Rather, they even forgive those who hurt them. Imam Ahmad recorded that Abu Hurayrah (ra) said that the Prophet said, “The strong person is not he who is able to physically dominate people. The strong person is he who overcomes his rage when he is angry.” [Also Bukhari]
Also from guidance of the Prophet (saas) is the following hadith:
Abu Hurairah (ra) reports that a man said to the Prophet (saas), “Advise me.” “The Prophet (saas) said, “Avoid rage (sometimes translated as “Don’t get angry“)” The man asked (the same question) again and again, and the Prophet said in each case, “Avoid rage.” (Bukhari)
Furthermore, when it comes to doing any deed for the sake of Allah we must remember that our sole motivation must be only the pleasure of Allah and in accordance with His limits. Emotion must always be removed from the equation lest it over-ride our primary intention of pleasing Allah and submiting to Him. An example of this concern and control is well illustrated in the story of when Ali ibn Abi Taalib (ra) was in a battle and was about to kill his opponent when the other man spat in his face. Immediately after this happened, Ali pulled away from him and walked away from him. The man, surprised, asked him why he didn’t kill him although he had the chance. Ali replied, “I have nothing personal against you. I was fighting you solely for the sake of Allah. If I had killed you after you spat on my face, then it would have become my personal revenge which I do not wish to take.” So as Muslims, we need to always remember that our actions are for the purpose of justice and good for mankind in submission to Allah and that we do not act on anger, revenge or any other emotion.
Mistaking Success for Defeat
This pervasive mistake in our Ummah today is most representative of our collective disregard for the Qur’an; Allah grants victory and we somehow see defeat. How so? One of the reasons is what I call “romantic comedy syndrome”.
The Romantic Comedy Syndrome is very typical in younger generations although with the general collapse in morality throughout the world today, it can be found in people in their 40’s and 50’s as well. The source of the problem is watching romantic comedy movies where the typical storyline is that of two star-struck “soul-mates” find their perfect match in one another in hopelessly romantic settings and events. I’m not saying that its completely impossible that a wealthy entepreneur couldn’t find his long lost soul-mate in a street prostitute with a “heart of gold”, but I don’t recommend that as a way of meeting promising marriage prospects for even non-Muslims. The end result is that we have this vaulted idea of love – or any other ideal – that is based entirely upon fantasy, which prevents us from having a normal relationship. For many young people seeking marriage, this leads them on a mythical quest for “the one” which most often results in finally “settling” for a distant second choice in their late twenties or early thirties because their “perfect” match was never found. For others, they are so deep in their fantasy world that they believe they indeed have found “the one” or their “soul-mate” and when that magical romance dies 1-2 months into their marriage then they seek divorce or resolve to an unhappy marriage.
So how does this apply to crisis in the Muslim world? We have an unrealistic and vaulted idea about what victory means. For many people, victory would mean that the Gazans would overcome surmountable odds and defeat Israel whereby the Jewish people would be once again living under a Muslim rule. This of course would happen simultaneously with the return of the khilaafah and money falling from the heavens. The time expectation for these events would be next week at the latest. These ideas are clearly the result of complete ignorance of Qur’anic ayaat and historical precedent. To better understand how the help of Allah comes and why, let us return to the Qur’an first:
Those of you who turned back on the day the two hosts met (at Uhud), it was Satan who caused them to backslide (run away from the battlefield) because of some (sins) they had earned. But Allah, indeed, has forgiven them. Surely, Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Forbearing.
O you who believe! Be not like those who disbelieve (hypocrites) and who say to their brethren when they travel through the earth or go out to fight: “If only they had stayed with us, they would not have died or been killed,” so that Allah may make it a cause of regret in their hearts. It is only Allah that gives life and causes death. And Allah is All-Seer of what you do.
And if you are killed or die in the Way of Allah, forgiveness and mercy from Allah are far better than all that they amass (of worldly wealths, etc.).
And whether you die, or are killed, verily, unto Allah you shall be gathered.
And by the Mercy of Allah, you dealt with them gently. And had you been severe and harshhearted, they would have broken away from about you; so pass over (their faults), and ask (Allah’s) Forgiveness for them; and consult them in the affairs. And when you have taken a decision, put your trust in Allah, for certainly Allah loves those who put their trust in Him.
If Allah helps you, none can overcome you; and if He forsakes you, who is there after Him that can help you? And in Allah (Alone) let believers put their trust. [3:155-160]
Ibn Kathir explains these very important ayaat by reporting:
(Those of you who turned back on the day the two hosts met, Shaytan only caused them to err because of some of what they had earned) [3:155], because of some of their previous errors. Indeed, some of the Salaf said, “The reward of the good deed includes being directed to another good deed that follows it, while the retribution of sin includes committing another sin that follows it.” Allah then said, (but Allah, indeed, has forgiven them), their giving flight …
As for Allah’s statement, (And if you are killed or die in the way of Allah, forgiveness and mercy from Allah are far better than all that they amass.) [3:157], indicating that death and martyrdom in Allah’s cause are a means of earning Allah’s mercy, forgiveness and pleasure. This, indeed, is better than remaining in this life with its short lived delights. Furthermore, both the one who dies and the one who is killed will each return to Allah in any case, and He will reward him if he has done good deeds, or will punish him for his evil deeds …
Allah then addresses His Messenger and reminds him and the believers of the favor that He has made his heart and words soft for his Ummah, those who follow his command and refrain from what he prohibits. (And by the mercy of Allah, you dealt with them gently) means, “With Allah’s mercy you became this kind.” Al-Hasan Al-Basri said that this, indeed, is the description of the behavior that Allah sent Muhammad with …
(And had you been severe and harsh-hearted, they would have broken away from about you;) The severe person is he who utters harsh words, and, (harsh-hearted) is the person whose heart is hard. Had this been the Prophet’s behavior, “They would have scattered from around you. However, Allah gathered them and made you kind and soft with them, so that their hearts congregate around you.” `Abdullah bin `Amr said that he read the description of the Messenger of Allah in previous Books, “He is not severe, harsh, obscene in the marketplace or dealing evil for evil. Rather, he forgives and pardons” …
As for Allah’s statement, (Then when you have taken a decision, put your trust in Allah,) means, if you conduct the required consultation and you then make a decision, trust in Allah over your decision.
How do these ayaat relate to the current crisis some might ask? Let us take each ayah into closer consideration as it relates to our time.
The first ayah gives us a very clear understanding of one of the major obstacles to success and progress when Allah says what means (it was Satan who caused them to backslide because of some sins they had earned). Our adherence to Allah’s boundaries is a very real ingredient to success, and our disobedience of His commandments is a direct pathway to failure both in this life and the Hereafter. This matters very much today in our community globally because of the widespread lack of concern for obedience to Allah. I personally found it very shocking when I was recently in Egypt to be standing outside praying Isha’ on a reed mat extension of one of the smaller musallas as people walked by the rows chatting to one another as if nothing was the matter. They expressed absolutely no shame for not being among those who pray, and there were many who had no problem playing music loudly or shouting to their friends while the prayer was in session. This is unfortunately not limited to Egypt. In Ramadan, people may actually abstain from food and drink during the day, but they erase any good they may have attained from their action in the day by sinning all night in “Ramadan parties” where they eat and drink until about 1-2 hours before fajr and then go home to sleep until the mid-afternoon. Are they the people whom the Prophet (saas) described as getting nothing more from their fasting than thirst and hunger? Yes, there is to a degree some “awakening” among our youth, but there is an entire other subset of youth who are ten times more astray and more sinful than the last generation. All of this contributes to our collective failure as an Ummah in so many endeavors.
The second ayah describes another scene ripped directly from many bloglines and comments today, where Allah says what means (Be not like those who disbelieve [hypocrites] and who say to their brethren when they travel through the earth or go out to fight: “If only they had stayed with us, they would not have died or been killed,“). Today, there are a number of people who make statements like, “Had not Hamas launched rockets then these people would not have died. If only they would stop then these people’s lives would be saved!” These people have unknowingly made two great mistakes. Firstly, it is Allah who gives life and death and when Allah decrees for a soul to die then it shall die no matter where it is or what the circumstances are. The people who have died in Gaza have met their decree – were they not killed by Israel, they would have died another way. Secondly, it should be very clear to those who closely analyze the news reports that the recent actions of Hamas have little bearing on today’s situation. It has been confirmed in numerous news reports that Israel had been planning this ground invasion into Gaza for close to six months now. Certainly, it feels that it has more of an “excuse” now, but had things been different there is little doubt that another reason would have been manufactured. Why?
The current invasion and relentless bombing campaign have the removal of Hamas as their ultimate goal. This has been stated in black and white terms. Why does Israel wish to remove this government democratically elected by the Palestinian people and replace it with another? It is simply because this government has not submitted to them like every other regional government. They have submitted to Allah and attempts to buy them off have failed. They have declared their loyalty to Islam and to the Sunnah and they have made great efforts to stick to this creed. This is of great concern to Israel because of its implications both to Israel and to the surrounding nations whose populations grow more and more fed up with dictatorships whose loyalty is to everything else but their own people’s interests. If Hamas can succeed then this may cause significant ripples in the pond of Middle East nations. For this reason, they must be demonized in every way possible. They must be dehumanized in the media until no one cares if they are killed or not. They must be stopped at all costs and this is what we see now.
The third ayah brings us to the issue of perspective, where Allah says what means (And if you are killed or die in the Way of Allah, forgiveness and mercy from Allah are far better than all that they amass of worldly wealth). There is a difference between what we see and what many of the people of Gaza see, a difference between our understanding and theirs. We see people dying needlessly in a horrifying attack that respects no standard of human decency or international law. They see people dying in the cause of Allah and attaining the greatest status with Allah.
The people of Gaza are a people, who in their own words, have chosen to stay in this land even though they know it will be difficult for them. They could leave, but they have chosen to raise their children in this land even though they know that they may lose them due to the aggression of the occupiers. They could leave, but they have stayed in this land remembering that it was this same land upon which thirty thousand of the Prophet’s companions were martyred in their quest for Jerusalem. To live in this land requires the heart of a lion and a will of iron. But life in this land also affords the ultimate status with Allah. It is ribaat – the guarding of the frontiers and its immense reward – and it is more. They have chosen to face the inhumanity of those who have mercilessly occupied them and slaughtered them so that they can be the standard bearers of Islam upon this blessed land. They stand strong in the face of their enemy shouting with their presence that you can take away our homes, our lands, our crops and even our lives but you can never take away our faith and the honor of maintaining the Islamic presence upon this hallowed ground. They want what is with Allah and they prove it daily with their lives.
The fifth ayah is also very descriptive of these noble people. Their leaders come from among them, and every time Israel kills or abducts them, they are replaced from the same pool of believers. They consult with their people by virtue of the fact that they are their people. And as a nation, they have made their decision to face Israel and have put their collective trust in Allah. They have been cut off from the whole world through the blockade placed on them. Their reliance upon Allah only increased when this happened as they realized that no one would help them except Allah. The governments of Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, for all their strength would do nothing – not even to open their borders to allow in much needed food or other humanitarian aid. No, it was Allah who allowed them to be cut off from the world so that thier trust and reliance upon Him would be pure and complete.
Through this they came to the ultimate realization, (If Allah helps you, none can overcome you; and if He forsakes you, who is there after Him that can help you? And in Allah (Alone) let believers put their trust.). They know the history of this embattled area and they know that it takes time for ultimate victory to come. The Prophet (saas) left Makkah after thirteen years of persecution and returned eight years later in victory. He was not victorious overnight even though he was the Messenger of Allah and even though he was aided by the very Angels. It took Saluhuddin twelve years to unite many of the Muslim lands (Egypt, Syria, Mesopotamia and Palestine), and tens of thousands of lives, before succeeding in overcoming the Crusaders to take back Jerusalem after it had been in their hands for 88 years. As such, Jerusalem will not return to Muslim governance in a few weeks or months. It will not happen without lives lost and without difficulties. The people of Palestine have understood this well – they understand that they may be blessed with either one of two victories; to take back Jerusalem or to die for the sake of Allah in the effort. To this end they have put their trust in Allah and their hope in His mercy, His help and His reward. In this there are a great many lessons for us to learn in our individual struggles and should cause us to increase our love for these noble people of Honor (‘Izzah). And Allah knows best.
Disclaimer: As a citizen and resident of the United States, I am bound to respect the rules established by this government. At the time of this writing, the United States continues to maintain Hamas on their list of terrorist organizations despite the fact that they were democratically elected by their people in free elections. This thus prohibits any American citizen from knowingly providing material support or resources to Hamas, or any other organization listed.
The State Department website states: “The term “material support or resources” is defined in 18 U.S.C. § 2339A(b)(1) as “any property, tangible or intangible, or service, including currency or monetary instruments or financial securities, financial services, lodging, training, expert advice or assistance, safehouses, false documentation or identification, communications equipment, facilities, weapons, lethal substances, explosives, personnel (1 or more individuals who maybe or include oneself), and transportation, except medicine or religious materials.” 18 U.S.C. § 2339A(b)(2) provides that for these purposes “the term ‘training’ means instruction or teaching designed to impart a specific skill, as opposed to general knowledge.” 18 U.S.C. § 2339A(b)(3) further provides that for these purposes the term ‘expert advice or assistance’ means advice or assistance derived from scientific, technical or other specialized knowledge.” To further explore this matter please see the State Department website here.
Thus, I wish to clarify that the purpose of this article has been specifically aimed at religious education and that although Hamas has been mentioned, at no point in time (presently or in the past) have I encouraged or recommended any material support or resources to be directed to them until such time as they are removed from this list. I believe that adherence to the law of the land is a confirmed part of Islam and as such I have made all efforts to make this clear in my writing and speaking. Their mention in this article or elsewhere in my writings has been solely for educational purposes.
Lesson 13 From Surah Al -Kahf
Last verses of Surah Kahf
Alhamdulillah last session we were able to cover the meanings of verses 83-98. InshAllah tonight we’ll explore the meanings of verses 99-110, which will bring us to the end of this noble and beautiful Surah. Just as a quick reminder, the last set of verses related the story of Dhul Qarnain, who was an upright and God-conscious ruler who ruled over the entire known world of his time. He was a righteous servant of Allah to whom Allah granted might, power and sovereignty over the world along with knowledge and wisdom. He was a special servant of God. We’re told about his journeys to the east, west, and north as well as his building of a huge wall to prevent Ya’jūj and Ma’jūj from escaping. This story highlighted the fitna and trial of might, power, leadership, and authority and showed us that the way to deal with it is through faith and sincerity. Dhul Qarnain was tested with a lot of wealth and power but it was unable to corrupt him because of his faith and sincerity. The Surah follows the story of Dhul Qarnain with a scene from the Day of Judgment.
Verse 99: And We shall leave them, on that day, to surge over one another like waves. And the trumpet shall be blown, and We shall gather them together.
The first part of this verse is referring to Ya’jūj and Ma’jūj and the second part refers to resurrection, when the Angel Isrāfīl will blow into the horn bringing all creation back to life. On that day, is referring to the day near the end of times when Ya’jūj and Ma’jūj will break through the barrier and surge down the mountains like waves upon humanity destroying everything in their way. As Allah ﷻ tells us in Surah Al-Anbiya, “Until when [the dam of] Gog and Magog has been opened and they, from every elevation, descend…” They will wreak havoc for a period of time known to Allah until they will be destroyed.
As we’ve covered before there will be two instances when the trumpet will be sounded. Allah has appointed the Angel Isrāfīl to blow into the trumpet. This will happen twice. The first time every single thing will be destroyed. The second time every single thing will be brought back to life. This is how the day of Resurrection will start. The sūr, which is a trumpet or a horn, will be blown and all of mankind will rise from their graves and come towards the plain of judgment. That’s what Allah ﷻ is mentioning here in this verse, “And the trumpet shall be blown, and We shall gather them together.”
The Surah then describes a scene from the day of Judgment that’s specific to the non-believers. Those who received the message and consciously chose to reject it and rebel against God and His messengers.
Verse 100-101: And We shall present Hell, on that Day, as an array before the non-believers, those whose eyes were veiled from the remembrance of Me, and could not hear.
Meaning on the Day of Judgment Allah ﷻ will show the non-believers Hell Fire, exposing it to them so that they can see it with their own eyes. They will see it with their own eyes and hear its raging and frightening sounds even before entering it. Allah then describes the non-believers with 3 characteristics, which are essentially three reasons why they will be punished in the hereafter:
1) “Those whose eyes were veiled from the remembrance of Me, and could not hear.” They weren’t able to understand the truth when it was presented to them because they were spiritually blind and deaf. They were blind to the signs of Allah’s existence and power all around them spread throughout the universe, so they never thought or reflected over them. On top of that, they weren’t able to understand what was being recited to them. Meaning, they consciously chose to ignore the message and turn away from it. Here Allah is contrasting their condition in the hereafter to their condition in the life of this world. In this world, they chose to turn away from belief in the fire and in the hereafter, they won’t have the option to turn away. The veil over their eyes will be removed and they will see the consequences of their choice.
2) The second is that they worshipped others besides Allah.
Verse 102: Do those who disbelieve reckon that they may take My servants as protectors apart from Me? Truly We have prepared Hell as a welcome for the disbelievers!
Allah is scolding them and showing them their mistake. Did they really think or believe that they could take created beings or inanimate objects as protectors apart from Me? Did they really believe that worshipping idols, angels or people would benefit them or help them in any way? There’s no help or protection except with Allah, who deserves to be worshipped alone without any partners. As Allah ﷻ says in Surah Maryam, “No! Those “gods” will deny their worship of them and will be against them opponents [on the Day of Judgment].” Allah then tells us that their punishment is Jahannam, which has been prepared as a resting place for them. “Truly We have prepared Hell as a welcome for the disbelievers!”
3) The third quality that the non-believers are described with is that they are fools for thinking that their actions in this world will be of any benefit to them in the Hereafter.
Verse 103-104: Say, “Shall We inform you who are the greatest losers in respect to their deeds? Those whose efforts go astray in the life of this world, while they think that they are virtuous in their works.
In this verse, Allah ﷻ is addressing the Prophet ﷺ directly and he’s telling him to pose this question to the non-believers. “Shall We inform you who are the greatest losers in respect to their deeds?” Do you want to know who the greatest and biggest losers are with respect to their deeds? They are the ones who did good deeds and put in effort, but all of it went to waste. Those individuals who were misguided in the life of this world so their actions were guided by their wants, desires, and pleasures. Their actions were misplaced and not guided by faith in Allah. The reason why all of their efforts will go to waste is their disbelief or absence of faith. As Allah says,
Verse 105-106: They are those who disbelieve in the signs of their Lord, and in the meeting with Him. So their deeds have gone to waste, and on the Day of Resurrection, We shall assign them no weight. That is their recompense, the Jahannam, for having disbelieved and for having taken My signs and My messengers in mockery.
The greatest losers with respect to their deeds are those who reject the signs of Allah in this world. Those who refuse to accept the oneness, might, power and magnificence of Allah, those who refuse to believe in life after death and accountability. Their deeds will go to waste and on the Day of Judgment, they won’t have any weight. We know from multiple verses and narrations that our deeds are going to be weighed on the Day of Judgment. And on the Day of Judgment, it’s not about the number of deeds but the quality. That’s why on the Day of Judgment our deeds won’t be counted but they will be weighed. It could be that the weight of one action or deed is more than a thousand other deeds.
Those actions that are devoid of faith and sincerity will have no weight whatsoever. As Allah ﷻ says in Surah Al-Furqān, “And We will regard what they have done of deeds and make them as dust dispersed.” Their recompense is the fire of Jahannam, and that is the ultimate justice and fairness. They get punishment as recompense because of their rejection and disbelief and mockery of Allah’s signs and His messengers. Allah ﷻ then contrasts the punishment of the non-believers with the reward of the believers in Paradise.
Verse 107-108: Those who believe and perform righteous deeds, theirs shall be the Gardens of Paradise as a welcome. Abiding therein forever, they don’t seek any change from it.
Just as Hell is a “welcome” for the non-believers, Paradise is a true “welcome” for the believers. Meaning, those who believe in the existence and oneness of Allah, believe in the Prophet ﷺ and life after death and that faith expresses itself through their actions, their reward will be Gardens of Paradise. Again we see this formula being mentioned, faith + righteous deeds. This is the simple formula to achieve success in this world and the next. Our faith has to be real and practical; it has to translate into action. If we do so then our reward will be Jannah al-Firdaws, which is the highest and most virtuous level of Paradise. The Prophet ﷺ said, “When you ask Allah for Paradise ask Him for Al-Firdaws. It is the highest level of Paradise, the middle of Paradise and the rivers of Paradise flow from it.”
- إذا سألتم الله الجنة، فاسألوه الفردوس، فإنه أعلى الجنة، و أوسط الجنة، و منها تفجر أنهار الدنة.
In another narration, the Prophet ﷺ said, “In Paradise, there are a hundred levels, what is between every two levels is like what is between the heavens and the earth. Al-Firdaws is its highest level, and from it the four rivers of Paradise are made to flow forth. So when you ask Allah, ask Him for Al-Firdaws.”
- “ فِي الْجَنَّةِ مِائَةُ دَرَجَةٍ مَا بَيْنَ كُلِّ دَرَجَتَيْنِ كَمَا بَيْنَ السَّمَاءِ وَالأَرْضِ وَالْفِرْدَوْسُ أَعْلاَهَا دَرَجَةً وَمِنْهَا تُفَجَّرُ أَنْهَارُ الْجَنَّةِ الأَرْبَعَةُ وَمِنْ فَوْقِهَا يَكُونُ الْعَرْشُ فَإِذَا سَأَلْتُمُ اللَّهَ فَسَلُوهُ الْفِرْدَوْسَ ” .
They will be in Paradise for all of eternity, enjoying all of its pleasures and not wanting or desiring anything other than it. Allah (swt) then tells us about the extent and vastness of His knowledge. That his knowledge is infinite. This is also a description of the greatness and status of the Qur’ān.
Verse 109: Say, “If the ocean were ink for the words of my Lord, the ocean would be exhausted before the words of my Lord were exhausted, even if We brought the like thereof to replenish it.”
“The words of my Lord” may be a reference to Allah’s infinite knowledge or wisdom or the meanings of the Qur’ān. Meaning that if the oceans were turned into ink and the words of Allah were to be written with this ink, then the ink would run out and the words of Allah (swt) would still be left, even if more ink were to be brought. This is an example to make us understand the vastness of Allah’s knowledge, wisdom, and secrets. This example is being given to make us as human beings recognize the infinite nature of Allah’s knowledge as compared to or finite and limited knowledge.
The ocean is the largest and richest creation known to us as human beings. It takes up more than 70% of the surface of the Earth. And we use ink to document and record our knowledge, which we think is vast and amazing. So Allah gives this example of the ocean as ink being used to write and record His words. The entire ocean is used up and then it’s replenished but the words of Allah are still being written. This example is trying to help us comprehend the difference between the infinite and the finite. “And if all the trees on earth were pens, and if the sea and seven more added to it were ink, the words of Allah would not be exhausted. Truly Allah is Mighty, Wise.” This example should allow us to recognize the greatness and magnificence of Allah ﷻ as well as humble us as human beings as well.
We as human beings should never be deceived or fooled by our own intellect and abilities. No matter how much we learn and how advanced we become scientifically and technologically, it’s nothing compared to the infinite knowledge and wisdom of Allah ﷻ. Our knowledge compared to the knowledge of Allah is like a drop of water compared to all the oceans. Allah ﷻ then ends the noble Surah by reminding the Prophet (saw) about humility and us about the path of true salvation.
Verse 110: Say, “I am only a human being like you. It has been revealed to me that your God is one God. So whosoever hopes for the meeting with his Lord, let him perform righteous deeds and make no one a partner with his Lord in worship.
Allah ﷻ is speaking directly to the Prophet ﷺ. He’s telling him to tell his nation, his community, that he is a human being just like them. He’s not an Angel nor is he divine in any way. He eats, drinks, walks, talks and sleeps just like them. The only difference is that he ﷺ receives revelation from above from the Most High. It has been revealed to him that there is only one God, alone without any partners. So whoever believes in the meeting with their Lord, meaning they believe in the last day, resurrection, accountability and judgment. They know that the life of this world is temporary and finite and that the life of the hereafter is eternal and infinite, should “perform righteous deeds and make no one a partner with his Lord in worship.”
Righteous deeds include fulfilling all of our obligations, obeying the commands of Allah and staying away from His prohibitions. It includes all voluntary acts of worship such as praying, fasting, reading Quran, making dua, dhikr and charity. It includes being kind to our parents, spouses, children, relatives, neighbors, and co-workers. It even includes smiling at someone. There are multiple paths of righteousness in Islam.
We’re then reminded to not associate partners with Allah in our worship; to not commit shirk. There are two types of shirk: al-shirk al-akbar and al-shirk al-asghar. Al-Shirk Al-Akbar is associating partners with Allah; it’s an act of disbelief. Al-Shirk Al-Asghar refers to ostentation and showing off or not having sincerity in acts of worship. The Prophet ﷺ referred to ostentation as “the lesser idolatry.” The Prophet ﷺ said, “I do not fear that you will worship the sun, the stars and the moon, but I fear your worshipping other than Allah through ostentation.” The Prophet ﷺ said, “What I fear most for my community is doing things for other than the sake of Allah.” Ibn al-‘Arabi quotes his shaykh, “Let not the hours of your dear life pass away confronting contemporaries and socializing with friends. Watch out! Allah concluded His statement on the following verse…”
Alhamdulillah that brings us to then end of this noble and beautiful Surah. A Surah that has a special and unique status because the Prophet ﷺ encouraged us to recite it specifically on Fridays. Through four stories the Surah focuses on four different types of trials we’re going to face in this world and how to respond to them.
1) The story of the people of the cave represents the trial of faith. And we’re taught that one of the best ways to deal with it is through good company; surrounding ourselves with people of faith and righteousness.
2) The story of the owner of the two gardens is representative of the trial of wealth. And we’re taught the most powerful way to deal with it is by recognizing the reality of the life of this world.
3) The story of Musa (as) with Khidr is representative of the trial of knowledge and the way to deal with it is through seeking knowledge and humility.
4) The last story, the story of Dhul Qarnain is representative of the trial of power. The solution is sincerity and righte
Qur’an Contemplations: Openings of Timeless Truths | Sh Abu Aaliyah Surkheel
From the outset, the Qur’an establishes a link between worshipping Allah and knowing Him. The first half of the ‘Opening Chapter’ of the Qur’an, Surat al-Fatihah, states:
.الْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ رَبِّ الْعَالَمِينَ. الرَّحْمَنِ الرَّحِيمِ. مَالِكِ يَوْمِ الدِّينِ. إِيَّاكَ نَعْبُدُ وَإِيَّاكَ نَسْتَعِينُ
All praise be to Allah, Lord of the worlds. The All-Merciful, the Compassionate. Master of the Day of Judgement. You alone we worship, and Your help alone do we seek. [Q.1:1-4]
The first three verses teach us who Allah is, so that hearts may love, hope, fear and be in awe of Him. Only then does Allah ask us to declare our singular devotion and worship of Him. It is as if the Qur’an is saying: ‘You can’t worship or adore whom you don’t know.’
Thus in the first verse, Allah describes Himself as rabb – ‘Lord’. In the Quranic language, rabb is Master, Protector, Caretaker, Provider. And just as water descends from above as blessings and rises again to the skies as steam or vapour, so to the sending down of divine blessings and gifts; they are transformed into declarations of loving thanks and praise that ascend to the Lord of the Worlds. Reflecting on Allah’s care and kindness to us, as rabb; as Lord, then, nurtures an abiding sense of love for Allah in our hearts.
Allah then reveals that He, by His very nature, is al-rahman – the All-Merciful, and by dint of His divine act is al-rahim – the Compassionate. It has been said that al-rahman is like the blue sky: serene, vast and full of light; a canopy of protective care over us and over all things. The divine name, al-rahim is like warm rays, so to speak, touching, bathing and invigorating lives, places and events with this life-giving mercy. Those who flee from this joyous warmth, and opt to cover themselves from the light, choose to live in conditions of icy darkness. Knowing Allah is al-rahman, al-rahim, invites optimism; it instils hope (raja’) in Allah’s impulse to forgive, pardon, pity, overlook and, ultimately, to accept what little we offer Him as needy, fragile and imperfect creatures.
The Prophet ﷺ and his Companions once saw a woman frantically searching for a person among the warn-out and wounded. She then found a babe, her baby. She picked it up, huddled it to her chest and gave it to feed. On seeing this, the Prophet asked if such a woman could ever throw her baby into a fire or harms way? They all resoundingly replied, no; she could never do that; her maternal instincts of mercy would never permit it! The Prophet ﷺ went on to tell them:
لَلَّهُ أَرْحَمُ بِعِبَادِهِ مِنْ هَذِهِ بِوَلَدِهَا – ‘Allah is more merciful to His creation than that mother is to her child.’ [Al-Bukhari, no.5653]
The final name of Allah that we encounter in this surah is: Malik – Master, King, Owner of all. It is Allah as Master, as King of Judgement Day, who stands at the end of every path. All things come finally to Him to be judged, recompensed and given their final place for the beliefs that defined who they are, the deeds that defined what they stood for and the sins that stand in their way. To know Allah as Malik, therefore, is to be wary, as well as apprehensive. It is a reason for hearts to be filled with a certain sense of fear (khawf) as well as trepidation concerning the final reckoning and one’s ultimate fate.
The Prophet ﷺ once visited a young boy on his death bed and asked him how he was. The boy replied: ‘O Messenger of Allah, I am between hoping in Allah and fearing for my sins.’ To which the Prophet ﷺ said:
لاَ يَجْتَمِعَانِ فِي قَلْبِ عَبْدٍ فِي مِثْلِ هَذَا الْمَوْطِنِ إِلاَّ أَعْطَاهُ اللَّهُ مَا يَرْجُو وَآمَنَهُ مِمَّا يَخَافُ
‘The like of these two qualities never unite in the heart of a servant except that Allah grants him what he hopes for and protects him from what he fears.” [Al-Tirmidhi, no.983]
Only after being made aware of these four names of Allah which, in turn, instil in hearts a sense of love, fear and hope in Allah, are we led to stating: You alone do we worship, and Your help alone do we seek. In other words, the order to worship comes after the hearts having come to know Allah – the object of their loving worship, reverence and adoration.
The surah concludes by teaching us to give voice to the universal hope, by asking to be guided to the path of Allah’s people and to help steer clear of the paths of misguidance and perdition:
اهْدِنَا الصِّرَاطَ الْمُسْتَقِيمَ. صِرَاطَ الَّذِينَ أَنْعَمْتَ عَلَيْهِمْ. غَيْرِ الْمَغْضُوبِ عَلَيْهِمْ وَلاَ الضَّالِّينَ
Guide us to the Straight Path; the path of those whom You have favoured; not of those who incur wrath, nor of those who are astray. [Q.1:5-7]
Lesson 12 From Surah Al-Kahf
Tafsir of Verses 83-98
Alhamdulillah last session we were able to explore the meanings of verses 71-82. InshAllah tonight we’ll cover the meanings and lessons of verses 83-98. Just as a quick reminder the last passage of the Surah dealt with a very unique and interesting episode from the life of Musa ; the story of his encounter and journey with a man of God known as Khidr or Khadir. There are a number of very beneficial and practical lessons that we can learn from this particular story. That’s why it’s important for us to recite it, reflect over it and try to relate it to our daily lives.
In this next set of verses, Allah tells us the story of Dhul Qarnain, a just and righteous king who ruled over the entire known world of his time. He was a righteous servant of Allah to whom Allah granted might, power and sovereignty over the world along with knowledge and wisdom. He was a special servant of God. We’re told about his journeys to the east, west, and north as well as his building of a huge wall to prevent Ya’jūj and Ma’jūj from escaping. This narrative is the answer to the third question that the Quraysh asked the Prophet ﷺ after consulting with the Jews of Madinah. If you remember at the beginning of the Surah we talked about the sabab al-nuzūl or the circumstances and background in which the Surah was revealed.
Ibn ‘Abbas narrated that the Quraysh sent two men, Al-Nadr ibn Al-Hartih and ‘Uqbah ibn abi Mu’ayt, to the Jewish scholars of Madinah. The Quraysh told these two men to ask the Jews about Muhammad (saw), his characteristics and to inform them about some of his teachings because they knew more about Prophets since they were people of the book. So they arrived in Madinah and told the Rabbis about Muhammad (saw), about his characteristics, his message and his teachings. They said ask him three questions; if he answers them correctly then he is a prophet and a messenger. If he doesn’t answer them then he is a fake.
- سلوه عن ثلاث، فإن أخبركم بهن فهو نبي و إن لم يفعل فالرجل متقول
Ask him about the young men who left their city in the distant past and what happened to them, because this is a unique event. Ask him about the person who traveled the East and the West and what happened to him. Ask him about the spirit and what it is.
So they came back and posed these three questions to the Prophet ﷺ. The Prophet ﷺ told them that he would reply to them the next day expecting Allah ﷻ to send down revelation, but he forgot to say inshAllah. Allah ﷻ didn’t send down any revelation for the next fifteen days (one narration says 3) and the Quraysh began to assume that he didn’t know the answers and that his claims to prophethood were false. After 15 days Allah ﷻ revealed the entire Surah and reminded the Prophet ﷺ to always say InshAllah.
This is the fourth story mentioned in the Surah after the story of the people of the cave, the owner of the two gardens and the story of Musa (as) and Khidr. Allah ﷻ introduces the story by saying,
Verse 83: They ask you about Dhul-Qarnain. Say, “I shall now recite to you an account of him.”
Meaning the Quraysh asked you about Dhul Qarnain after consulting with the Jews of Madinah so tell them you will now recite some of his story to them that will answer their question.
Who was Dhul Qarnain?
The Quran doesn’t tell us the exact identity of Dhul Qarnain, why he was given that name, and what time period he lived in or the exact location of his travels and rule. All these details are extra and unnecessary and immaterial; no aspect of our belief or action depends on knowing these details. However, the commentators do get into discussions regarding these details in an attempt to present historical facts. So we’ll go through a brief discussion about who he was and his time period.
Some historical narratives mention that there were four people who ruled over the entire known world of their respective times, 2 believers and 2 non-believers. Throughout history, there have been a few people who were given the name Dhul Qarnain and interestingly they all had the title Alexander as well. Some people held the opinion that the Dhul Qarnain mentioned in the Quran is the famous Alexander the Great, the Greek who had Aristotle as his teacher. Although he fits the description of having ruled the East and the West he can’t be the Dhul Qarnain mentioned in the Quran because he was a non-believer. This is the conclusion of ibn Kathīr.
According to ibn Kathīr, Dhul Qarnain lived during the time period of Ibrahim (as) and he also mentions that Khidr was his minister. Other researchers are of the opinion that the Dhul Qarnain mentioned in the Quran is the ancient Persian king Cyrus the Great. In modern times this theory has been given more weight because of supporting evidence. As for the name Dhul Qarnain, it literally means “the person with two horns”. The name is due to his having reached the two ‘Horns’ of the Sun, east and west, where it rises and where it sets” during his journey. The following is what the Quran tells us about him.
Verse 84: Surely, We gave him power on earth and gave him means to (have) everything (he needs).
Meaning, Allah gave him all the material instruments and resources, knowledge, insight, and experience needed to be an effective ruler. Allah gave him everything he needed to maintain just rule, establish peace and extend his area of influence.
Verse 85-86: So he followed a course until when he reached the point of sunset, he found it setting into a murky spring, and found a people near it. We said, “O Dhul-Qarnain, either punish them or treat them well.”
He traveled towards the West until he reached where the sun sets, to the extreme west beyond which there was only an Ocean, which was most likely the Atlantic. There he found the sun setting into dark, muddy spring, meaning that it looked as if the sun were setting into the Sea. Depending on our own geographic location the sun seems to set into different places within the horizon. For example, from our perspective sometimes it looks like the sun is setting into the ocean, or behind a mountain or into the sand.
At this location, there was also a nation of disbelievers. So Allah told him through Ilham (inspiration) that he has a choice. He can either punish them for their disbelief or he could deal with them kindly, invite them to the truth and teach them. Then reward those who believe and punish those who choose to disbelieve. He chose to invite them to belief first and then reward the believers and punish the non-believers.
Verse 87-88: He said, “As for him who does wrong, we shall punish him, then he will be sent back to his Lord, and He will punish him with severe punishment. As for the one who believes and acts righteously, he will have the best (life) as reward, and we shall speak to him politely in our directions.”
This is an expression of his justice; Dhul Qarnain was a just ruler who ruled according to the dictates of faith, belief, and righteousness. Those who were presented with the truth, Islam, and then chose to consciously reject it would be punished in this world and then Allah will punish them in the next. And as for those who accept Islam, who affirm faith in Allah, His prophets and the last day and do righteous deeds will be rewarded. When those who do well in the community, pursuing a fair line of action in all their pursuits, receive a good reward for their actions, and when the unjust and oppressors receive a fair punishment and humiliation, then the whole community is motivated to follow the line of goodness. But when matters go wrong, and the unjust, oppressor and corrupt people are the ones who enjoy favor with the ruler, while those who are good and fair are persecuted, then the ruler’s power becomes no more than a tool of corruption and misery for the whole community. Nothing remains fair. The whole society sinks into chaos. He established peace and justice and this location and then decided to travel towards the East.
Verse 89-90: Thereafter, he followed a course until when he reached the point of sunrise; he found it rising over a people for whom We did not make any shelter against it.
Then he travelled towards the East and there he found a group of people who were not used to the ways of advanced people. They didn’t have homes or shelter or clothes to protect against the sun. These people were also non-believers so he dealt with them in the same way as he dealt with the previous people. He employed the same policy of fairness and justice and building a society on faith.
Verse 91: Thus it was, and Our knowledge fully comprehends whatever (wealth and equipment) he had with him.
Ibn Kathīr writes that the early commentators Mujahid and As-Suddi said, “This means that Allah knew everything about him and his army, and nothing was hidden from Him, even though they came from so many different nations and lands. For, ﴿لاَ يَخْفَى عَلَيْهِ شَىْءٌ فِي الاٌّرْضِ وَلاَ فِى السَّمَآءِ﴾ truly nothing is hidden from Allah in the Earth and in the heaven. After establishing justice and peace he decided to move north.
Verse 92-93: Thereafter he followed a course until he reached between the two mountains, he found by them a people who were almost unable to understand anything said.
Then he traveled towards the North until he reached a point between two mountains. There he found a nation of people who were barely able to understand what he was saying because of their foreign language. They said to him through a translator or through some other means.
Verse 94: They said, “O Dhul-Qarnain, the (tribes of) Ya’jūj and Ma’jūj (Gog and Magog) are mischief-makers on the earth. So, should we assign a payment for you on condition that you make a barrier between us and them?”
These people recognized that Dhul Qarnain was a fair and just ruler so they asked him for help against the menace of Ya’jūj and Ma’jūj. Ya’jūj and Ma’jūj is the name of a tribe of people. There’s a lot of speculation regarding who exactly they are and what area or region they’re from, but nothing can be said with certainty. They complained to Dhul Qarnain saying that they spread mischief and corruption in our lands by killing and destruction. If we pay you some money will you build a barrier between them and us to prevent them from reaching our town?
Verse 95: He said, “What my Lord has (already) given in my control is better (for me than the payment you are offering to me), so help me (only) with strength, and I shall make a barrier between you and them.
Basically, he told them that he doesn’t need their money, but he will need their help. Meaning, Allah ﷻ had given him such great wealth and power that he had no need of what they could offer him. He would provide this service simply for the sake of righteousness and doing good.
Verse 96: Bring me big pieces of iron.” (They proceeded accordingly) until when he leveled (the gap) between the two cliffs, he said, “Blow.” (They complied) until when he made it (like) fire, he said, “Bring me molten copper, and I will pour it upon this.”
So they brought pieces of iron and filled the space between the two mountains with it. Then they made this iron really hot and poured molten copper over it making a huge metal structure.
Verse 97: So they (Ya’jūj and Ma’jūj) were not able to climb it, nor were they able to make a hole in it.
They weren’t able to climb it because of its height nor were they able to make a hole in it because of its depth and strength. After building this giant barrier Dhul Qarnain said,
Verse 98: He said, “This is a mercy from my Lord. Then, when the promise of my Lord will come, He will make it leveled to the ground. The promise of my Lord is true.”
Meaning his ability to build such a strong and impenetrable barrier was a mercy from Allah ﷻ; it had nothing to do with his own strength or ability. The “promise of my Lord” is referring to the onset of the events that will lead to the Hour; the Day of Judgment. This includes the trials of Dajjāl and the return of ‘Isa . One of these events will be that the barrier will crumble to dust and Ya’jūj and Ma’jūj will wreak havoc across the Earth. And once their barrier is opened and they’re let loose they will descend from every elevation, attacking humanity from every single corner and angle. They will come rushing down the mountains in huge groups like waves crashing down upon the people while destroying and killing everything in sight.
There are many sings of the Day of Judgment mentioned in the Quran and Ahādīth of the Prophet . Some of them are minor and some of them are major. Some of them will happen further away from the Day of Judgment and others will happen very close to the Day of Judgment. For example, the Prophet being appointed the last and final Messenger is one of the signs that the Day of Judgment is near. As the Prophet told us, “I and the Last Hour have been sent like this and (he while doing it) joined the forefinger with the middle finger.”
- عَنْ أَنَسٍ، قَالَ قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم “ بُعِثْتُ أَنَا وَالسَّاعَةُ كَهَاتَيْنِ ” . قَالَ وَضَمَّ السَّبَّابَةَ وَالْوُسْطَى .
Hudhaifah narrated that once the Companions were sitting together in the middle of a discussion and the Prophet (saw) came and asked what they were talking about. They said they were talking about the Day of Resurrection. The Prophet said, “Indeed the Hour will not come until you see 10 signs before it.” He mentioned the smoke, Dajjal, the beast, the rising of the sun from the west, the return of ‘Isa ibn Maryam (as), Ya’jūj and Ma’jūj and three land-slides (sink holes); one in the East, one in the West and one in the Arabian Peninsula, at the end of which fire would burn forth from Yemen, and would drive people to the place of their assembly.”
Two of the greatest trials, greatest fitnahs, this Ummah will face before the Day of Resurrection is the fitnah of Dajjal and the attack of Ya’jūj and Ma’jūj. Both of these are major signs of the Day of Judgment and will happen very close to each other. There’s a very lengthy hadīth recorded in Sahīh Muslim narrated by Al-Nawwās ibn Sam‘ān that gives the details of these two specific trials, meaning the trial of Dajjal and Ya’jūj and Ma’jūj. Basically, the narration tells us about the details of the fitnah of Dajjal; his description, how long he will stay and how exactly he’s going to test us. He will stay in this world for a period of forty days; but the first day will be equivalent to one year, the second day to one month and the rest of the days will be normal. He will move extremely swiftly across the Earth spreading his mischief and asking people to believe in him. He will continue to misguide and test people until ‘Isa (as) is sent back to this world. ‘Isa (as) will search for him until he catches up with him at the eastern gate of Ludd, located in Palestine, where he will kill him.
Allah will then reveal to him, “I have brought forth from amongst My creatures people against whom none will be able to fight. Take My servants safely to mount (Tūr).” Then Allah will send Ya’jūj and Ma’jūj, as Allah says: “And they, from every elevation, will descend.”
Another narration from Abu Sa’eed Al-Khudri describes what they will do when they descend upon the people. They will be seen coming down from the mountains like waves of people overwhelming humanity, killing and destroying everything in sight. ‘Isa (as) along with his companions will take refuge on Mount Tūr and the other Muslims will retreat to their own cities and strongholds. They (Ya’jūj and Ma’jūj) will drink all the water of the land until some of them will pass a river and drink it dry, then those who come after them will pass by that place and will say, “There used to be water here once.” Then there will be no one left except those who are in their strongholds and cities. Then one of them will say, “We have defeated the people of the earth; now the people of heaven are left.” One of them will shake his spear and hurl it into the sky, and it will come back stained with blood, as a test and a trial for them.
The narration of Al-Nawwās tells us that while this is happening, ‘Isa (as) and his companions will turn to Allah asking him to remove their distress. Allah will answer their prayer and send an epidemic that will completely wipe Ya’jūj and Ma’jūj out. Allah will send some sort of insect that will attack their necks, and in the morning they will all perish as one. Then `Isa and his companions will come down and they will not find a single spot on earth that is free from their putrefaction and stench. Then `Isa and his companions will again beseech Allah, and He will send birds with necks like those of Bactrian camels, and they will carry them and throw them wherever Allah wills. Then Allah will send rain continuously for forty days to cleanse and purify the earth. The earth will be washed clean until it looks like a mirror. Then it will be said to the earth: bring forth your fruit and restore your blessing. On that day a group of people will be able to eat from one pomegranate and seek shade under its skin, and everything will be blessed. A camel will give so much milk that it will be sufficient for a whole group of people, and a cow will give so much milk that it will be sufficient for a whole clan, and a sheep will be sufficient for an entire household. (This period of extraordinary peace, protection, and blessings will last for forty years) At that time Allah will send a pleasant wind which will reach beneath their armpits and will take the soul of every Muslim — or every believer — and there will be left only the most evil of people who will commit fornication like mules, and then the Hour will come upon them.”
From other narrations, we learn that Ya’jūj and Ma’jūj have already made a hole in their wall. Zainab bint Jahash narrated that once the Prophet woke up from sleep saying, “There is no being worthy of worship except Allah; there is a destruction in store for Arabia because of turmoil which is at hand, the barrier of Gog and Magog has opened so much. And Sufyan made a sign of ten with the help of his hand (in order to indicate the width of the gap) and I said: Allah’s Messenger, would we perish in spite of the fact that there would be good people amongst us? Thereupon he said: Of course, but only when the evil predominates.”
- عَنْ زَيْنَبَ بِنْتِ جَحْشٍ، أَنَّ النَّبِيَّ صلى الله عليه وسلم اسْتَيْقَظَ مِنْ نَوْمِهِ وَهُوَ يَقُولُ ” لاَ إِلَهَ إِلاَّ اللَّهُ وَيْلٌ لِلْعَرَبِ مِنْ شَرٍّ قَدِ اقْتَرَبَ فُتِحَ الْيَوْمَ مِنْ رَدْمِ يَأْجُوجَ وَمَأْجُوجَ مِثْلُ هَذِهِ ” . وَعَقَدَ سُفْيَانُ بِيَدِهِ عَشَرَةً . قُلْتُ يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ أَنَهْلِكُ وَفِينَا الصَّالِحُونَ قَالَ ” نَعَمْ إِذَا كَثُرَ الْخَبَثُ ” .
In a narration recorded in Tirmidhi Abu Hurairah narrated that the Prophet (saw) said: Ya’jūj and Ma’jūj continue digging through the wall built by Dhul Qarnain. Every day the dig so much that they reach the farthest part of the iron wall. They’re so close that light from the other side is almost visible. But at that point, they stop digging and decide that they will complete the task the following day. However, Allah makes the wall just as thick and strong as it was before so when they come back they have to start all over again. This cycle of digging and re-building will continue as long as Allah wills. Then one day when it has been decreed for them to be released they will dig all the way to the end and say, “If Allah wills we will cross it tomorrow. So when they return the next day they will find the wall just as they left it and break through wreaking havoc on the Earth.
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