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Quran and Sunnah

Lessons From Surah Yusuf – Part 1: Sibling Rivalry

lessons from surah yusuf


Part I| Part II| Part III

The unique quality about the story of Prophet Yusuf [علیہ السلام] is that it has been narrated in one go in the Quran, and it has been described by Allah as “Ahsan Al-Qasas” –  the most beautiful of stories. This is because it has a beautiful example of human nature that can guarantee us success should we choose to adopt and follow it in our personal lives.

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The way it has been narrated, providing dialogue and details of what happened to Prophet Yusuf at the different phases of his life, throws light on the ways people dealt with him throughout his young years, and how his consistently good reactions to their actions ultimately worked in his favor and led to his success.

Yusuf was one of twelve sons of Prophet Yaqoub [علیہ السلام]. His ten older brothers felt envious of the love and affection felt for him and his younger brother by their father.

إِذْ قَالُواْ لَيُوسُفُ وَأَخُوهُ أَحَبُّ إِلَى أَبِينَا مِنَّا وَنَحْنُ عُصْبَةٌ إِنَّ أَبَانَا لَفِي ضَلاَلٍ مُّبِينٍ

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Now [Yusuf’s brothers] spoke [thus to one another:] “Truly, Yusuf and his brother [Ben Yamin] are dearer to our father than we, even though we are so many. Behold, our father is surely suffering from a clear misguidance!” [12:8]

A few points to consider when evaluating the cause of this situation: It could be that Prophet Yaqoub actually did express more love and affection for his youngest two sons. However, given that he was a Prophet of Allah, this is highly unlikely. First, he already had 8 older sons – so why would he feel especially inclined towards the youngest 2? Second, why would he display open affection for Yusuf and Bin Yamin, when he was well aware of his older sons’ nature? This knowledge of his is obvious when he replies to Yusuf about the latter’s dream of future success and high worldly status (including becoming a Prophet):

 قَالَ يَا بُنَيَّ لاَ تَقْصُصْ رُؤْيَاكَ عَلَى إِخْوَتِكَ فَيَكِيدُواْ لَكَ كَيْدًا إِنَّ الشَّيْطَانَ لِلإِنسَانِ عَدُوٌّ مُّبِينٌ

[Yaqoub] replied: “O my dear son! Do not relate your dream to your brothers lest [out of envy] they devise an evil scheme against you; verily, Satan is man’s open foe! [12:5]

The sons of Prophet Yaqoub were in the habit of thinking negatively, and prone to envy. It is clearly observed among people that some may possess stronger emotions than others, or a negative trait that another may not have at all. For example, some people are more short-tempered – easily flying into a rage at trivial matters. Others are impatient; they cannot stand waiting for what they want; they desire immediate gratification. Still others are extremely emotional – they jump to conclusions about things and get depressed, euphoric, despondent, or grief-stricken at the drop of a hat. It is highly likely that, having raised his older sons, Prophet Yaqoub had identified their envious nature.

Not only that, but as Yusuf flowered into a handsome, talented youth, Prophet Yaqoub recognized his imminent prospects of success: wisdom, knowledge, lofty manners, gracious conduct when dealing with others, and last but not least, physical beauty. It is also probable that, even before hearing the account of Yusuf’s dream, he had a strong inkling that Yusuf would be chosen as a Prophet. His intuition was confirmed when his beautiful son confided his dream to him.

As a parent to young children, I can testify to the fact that a person’s future  personality, comprising positive as well as negative traits, which they will display as an adult, is apparent to his or her parent from a very young age. For example, qualities such as neatness and organization, pro-activeness in accepting and discharging responsibilities, eloquence and effectiveness of verbal expression, empathy and compassion for the lesser privileged, whole-hearted, unprompted sharing and giving, and eagerness to obey elders – these and other positive traits are apparent as early as age 2.

Therefore, we can conclude that it was not that Yusuf tried to outshine his older brothers. He just did, because he had been blessed with numerous positive qualities from his Creator. This was something that his father recognized very early on.

Lastly, sibling envy/rivalry is an innate human emotion and weakness, especially when it involves competing for the attention, love or approval of a parent. Throughout my teen years, I have had friends who had issues with siblings. Being one of two children myself, there were times when I too, flew into a rage when my brother got something that I did not have. Even if I knew that he had taken our mother out for errands and they had lunch at some fancy place, I felt a pang of envy. I’d also half-jokingly tell Mum that she owed me a lunch at the same place with her, too. :)

Sisters might  sometimes secretly rival each other over good looks, clothes, accessories and popularity in school. Sadly, I have also had the very painful experience of watching two sisters, who had been otherwise extremely close (akin to bosom buddies), grow apart to the point of not speaking a word to each other, over a guy in their college. I also personally know of two other sisters belonging to the previous generation, the younger and prettier one of whom got involved with, and eventually married, the fiancé of the older one. They did not speak for years.

Therefore, everyone can vouch for the fact that when siblings fight, they mostly do because one is covetous/envious of the other’s possessions – this starts from a very young age. It is the reason why, a 2-year-old will try to pinch, hit, or bite the newborn sibling that has just arrived, because he or she has never seen his or her mother loving, feeding and carrying around anyone younger than himself. Similarly, that is why a girl in her early twenties will forbid her prettier younger sister from appearing before a family visiting their house to negotiate a prospective marriage proposal. And, that is why, a young guy will sulk in a corner when his older brother graduates summa cum laude from the prestigious institution of his dreams, into which he did not qualify enough to gain admission.

Envy blinded Yusuf’s brothers’ sense and judgment, until they devised a plan to eliminate – yes, eliminate – him from their lives. It is obvious throughout the narration of Surah Yusuf that they had not inherited their father’s intrinsically pure, good Prophetic nature, relentless fortitude and positive thinking. How could anyone plot to kill off another, no matter how much envy he feels? However, a little reflection reveals that the first ever murder of mankind was also committed by one of two blood brothers, and its basis was one’s envy at the acceptance of his brother’s sacrifice by Allah, combined with rage at having his own sacrifice rejected [reference- 5:27].

Therefore, the potential harm of sibling envy or rivalry cannot be undermined. The motive Yusuf’s brothers hoped to achieve by his murder was having their father’s exclusive attention and love (“wajh”), which they felt was more inclined towards Yusuf than them:

 اقْتُلُواْ يُوسُفَ أَوِ اطْرَحُوهُ أَرْضًا يَخْلُ لَكُمْ وَجْهُ أَبِيكُمْ وَتَكُونُواْ مِن بَعْدِهِ قَوْمًا صَالِحِينَ  

[Said one of them:] “Kill Yusuf, or else drive him away to some [faraway] land, so that your father’s regard may be for you alone: and after this is done, you will be [free to repent and to live once again as] righteous people!” [12:9]

However, as most negative thoughts deplete a person of rationality or wisdom, they did not pause to think that adopting the beautiful character, manners and conduct that Yusuf embodied would have been the recommended and praiseworthy route to achieving the same objective. Rather, Satan suggested the negative and destructive route to them, and they fell into his trap:

مِن بَعْدِ أَن نَّزغَ الشَّيْطَانُ بَيْنِي وَبَيْنَ إِخْوَتِي

[Yusuf said]… “after Satan had sown discord between me and my brothers.” [12:100]

The lesson for us in this incident is that envy – particularly that which is felt towards a sibling who is more talented, morally upright and physically beautiful – is a negative and destructive trait that can cause us to commit a major sin if not curbed in time.

The most effective way of curbing envy and repelling the negative thoughts that it causes, is to (i) focus on our own strengths, instead of comparing ourselves with our sibling/object of envy, and (ii) proactively work hard to polish our talents to achieve success in the niche that Allah made us to naturally excel in. Allah’s help descended for Yusuf when one of the plotting brothers themselves, who was an active part of their murderous scheming, suggested that Yusuf not be killed, but thrown into a well and picked up by passing caravans.

The important lessons we can glean from the initial portion of Surah Yusuf are thus:

Envy is an extremely destructive emotion, which can rip apart even close, familial relationships within a home. The worst harm it inflicts is on the envier himself, who is prevented from personal improvement and professional advancement because of constantly monitoring, observing, and plotting and planning against the object of his envy.

Parents need to be very careful when expressing their love towards their children. If they praise one, they should express some form of love or praise for the other children present, within the same time-frame and physical setting, in order to prevent envy from being born in their hearts.

The same can be said about favoring some children over others whilst giving gifts. Prophet Muhammad [صلی اللہ علیہ وسلم] forbade giving a gift to one child/adult offspring without giving the same to the others:

Nu’maan ibn Basheer said: “My father gave me a gift of some of his wealth, but my mother, ‘Amrah bint Rawaahah, said, ‘I will not approve of it until you ask the Messenger of Allah [صلی اللہ علیہ وسلم] to bear witness to it.’ So my father went to the Prophet to ask him to bear witness to the gift. The Messenger of Allah [صلی اللہ علیہ وسلم] said to him, ‘Have you done the same for all of your children?’ He said, ‘No.’ He said, ‘Fear Allah and treat your children justly.’ So my father came back and took back that gift.”

[Sahih Al Bukhari, Muslim]

How often we see parents deliberately choose to give the best clothes and jewelry (usually the precious family heirlooms) to their eldest (or most beloved) daughter, if they have only girls (of course it is anybody’s guess who will get the family heirloom if they have a son!). Or, when they choose the most well-qualified, well-placed, highest-earning son to bequeath their house to after all their children are married off, so that they can dwell therein with him in their old age, as his job has the best medical plan for dependents? Or the most common scenario (at least here in the Asian and IndoPak region:) when parents choose their son to get the family business as a bequest, while the daughters get just a few appliances, jewelry, clothes and furniture at their weddings as compensation/consolation? In some Muslim families, its common to see the son get the more pricey education (as an investment), whilst daughters are made to sit at home beyond high school or Intermediate, waiting to get married, even if they are more talented or if they want to pursue higher education.

How often parents ‘pick and choose’ which of their children to give which blessing/asset to, solely out of selfish motives geared towards safeguarding their own future interest? Is it not a grave error, one which they should fear Allah about? Will they not stand before Him one day, answerable about why they chose to give one child something better than the other children?

Parents should, therefore, fear Allah regarding their children, in order to not just obey Prophet Muhammad’s command, but also to prevent any deep-rooted, psychological impact on their children’s psyche caused by envy and malice, and not give preference or more love to any offspring more than his or her siblings, as a personal “future investment”.

If you are talented, religiously practicing, gifted, physically very good-looking, charismatic in nature, and enigmatic in persona, you are bound to be the object of others’ envy throughout your life. Very few people can tolerate someone who “has it all” – the love of people, worldly success, all-around popularity, a picture-perfect family, a charming and attractive personality, multi-faceted talents, superfluous wealth, spotless character and reputation, unflinching guidance towards the Haqq, and Islamic deeds that are at par with the scholars of the era. For such people, facing the sometimes illogical and unexpected antagonism of close relatives and old “friends” gives a great blow to their psyche and confidence, because they do not expect their own kith and kin to turn against them. However, it happens.

Whenever it does, the example of the young Yusuf should be brought to mind, who was mercilessly tossed into a well by ten of his own blood brothers! Nay, before that they even considered murdering him, proceeding to plot how to go about it. In front of his calamity, our own circumstances automatically pale in comparison.

Further, Yusuf’s case should strengthen our trust in Allah, that even if a group plots against us, Allah can inspire any one of them to avert a bad end for us, just the way one of the ten brothers himself suggested that instead of murder, kidnapping should be carried out. Allah says in the Quran:

قَالَ قَآئِلٌ مَّنْهُمْ لاَ تَقْتُلُواْ يُوسُفَ وَأَلْقُوهُ فِي غَيَابَةِ الْجُبِّ يَلْتَقِطْهُ بَعْضُ السَّيَّارَةِ إِن كُنتُمْ فَاعِلِينَ

Another of them said: “Do not slay Yusuf, but  rather – if you must do something – cast him into the dark depths of this well, [whence] some caravan may pick him up.” [12:10]

Last but not least, this portion of Surah Yusuf teaches us about staunch, unending positivism – the strategy of turning your ardent enemy into a best friend. This strategy is seen in the reactionary demeanor of Prophet Yaqoub, when his sons did what he had feared – they eliminated Yusuf from their lives. He said:

قَالَ بَلْ سَوَّلَتْ لَكُمْ أَنفُسُكُمْ أَمْرًا فَصَبْرٌجَمِيلٌ وَاللّهُ الْمُسْتَعَانُ عَلَى مَا تَصِفُونَ

[But Yaqoub] exclaimed: “Nay, but it is your [own] minds that have made [so terrible] a happening seem a matter of little account to you! But [as for myself] patience in adversity is most goodly [in the sight of Allah]; and it is to Allah [alone] that I pray to give me strength to bear the misfortune which you have described to me.” [12:18]

He did not stoop to their level of deception and crime. Instead, He turned to ask Allah for help, whom he knew to be the real caretaker of Yusuf’s and his affairs.

In the next post, in particular, we will see how Yusuf was further tested and how Allah planned for him to be rescued from the well, insha’Allah.

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Sadaf Farooqi is a postgraduate in Computer Science who has done the Taleem Al-Quran Course from Al-Huda International, Institute of Islamic Education for Women, in Karachi, Pakistan.11 years on, she is now a homeschooling parent of three children, a blogger, published author and freelance writer. She has written articles regularly for Hiba Magazine, SISTERS Magazine and Saudi Gazette.Sadaf shares her life experiences and insights on her award-winning blog, Sadaf's Space, and intermittently teaches subjects such as Fiqh of Zakah, Aqeedah, Arabic Grammar, and Science of Hadith part-time at a local branch of Al-Huda. She has recently become a published author of a book titled 'Traversing the Highs and Lows of Muslim Marriage'.For most part, her Jihad bil Qalam involves juggling work around persistent power breakdowns and preventing six chubby little hands from her computer! Even though it may not seem so, most of her time is spent not in doing all this, but in what she loves most - reading.



  1. Avatar


    January 4, 2010 at 1:55 PM

    Brilliant article!! I’m glad you touched on the issue of favoritism and sibling rivalry that is so common amongst the Indo/ Pak subcontinent people. And more often parents don’t even realise they’re doing it. But psychologically it is destroying, especially the favoring of sons over daughters.

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    January 4, 2010 at 2:38 PM

    Mashallah , great article covered this topic of sibling rivalry , very well which plagues our society. Jazakallah Khair sister.

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    January 4, 2010 at 2:39 PM


    jazakillah khair sadaf! as usual, love your posts! I love the ending..positivism. Subhanallah…turning to Alllah and being consoled by Him is unlike any other consolation you can get from any human beings.

    • Avatar

      Sadaf Farooqi

      January 5, 2010 at 10:13 PM

      Jazakillahu khairan, Juli!
      Prophet Yaqoub [علیہ السلام] was just amazing. How he could have known what his sons did with Yusuf and still gone on living with them normally, despite being blinded by his tears of grief, but turning only to Allah for consolation….? Is that even humanly possible? Just think about it!
      Truly, from the Prophets lives, we learn the amazing lesson of relentless fortitude and positivism! Perhaps that is why Allah discusses their actions and life events so much in the Quran.

  4. Avatar


    January 4, 2010 at 4:56 PM

    I have a brother who’s 2 yrs younger than me & we were just 1 grade behind in school. We were the best of friends and there times when we got into some serious fights too. We were extremely competitive when it came to sports, it was best if we were on the same team, opposite teams meant trouble :P

    i always thought he got the best of gifts & that everyone loved him but only later on I learned that he felt that i got the best gifts & was the favourite. The fact was that we were treated & loved equally but the sibling rivalry blinded us to the reality.

    We don’t get jealous of gifts any more but put us on the basketball court & the rivalry’s back :)

    The strangest part for me is that despite the sibling rivalry between us, we are the best of friends and only times I cried was when saying goodbye to him for a long period of times and it happens to this day despite being married & having kids. Sibling rivalry mite not necessarily mean lack of love for each other.

    Regarding favourites, my youngest sister in the favourite. She’s 15 yrs younger than me & 2nd youngest sister is 5 yrs older than her. She was everyone’s favourite, every sibling wanted to be with her and defended her when she made mistakes, that made my parents less strict with her :) Favouritism or not, again depends of each household & family structure. If my youngest sister had a rival then favouritism wouldn’t not have been rite but it was the siblings that encouraged it on my family.

    • Avatar

      Sadaf Farooqi

      January 5, 2010 at 9:38 PM

      Yes you are right – every family structure is different, and it is that in addition to the nature and taqwa of everyone which determines the quality of its mutual relationships.
      Jazakillahu khairan for your comment; it has added to the points made in the article.

      • Avatar

        vasifa Ibrahim

        November 14, 2015 at 8:41 AM

        Jazakillah khair sister. It was beautiful reading and a lot of insight. it really broadened my way of looking.

  5. Avatar


    January 4, 2010 at 5:49 PM

    Thanks for enlivening the best of stories in our hearts. Great reminder!

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    January 4, 2010 at 9:43 PM

    MashaAllah, love the article. the story is one I’ve read and listened to the recitation of so many times…subhanAllah it never gets old. i’ll be checking back for your continuing parts…keep ’em coming!

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    January 5, 2010 at 7:04 AM

    Sibling rivalry is awful and as a poster above said, blinding. My younger sister is known as the prettier one and all eyes are on her in family gatherings, while I’m left to the sidelines, ignored completely! I guess my compensating factor would be my academic ability. I only learned later in life that she was jealous of my grades, while I was jealous of the fact that she got more attention due to looks. A lot of arguments between us may have even been fueled by a subconcious envy at the time. Just awful.

    Thanks for the interesting article! This is certainly a topic that needs to be addressed.

    • Avatar


      January 5, 2010 at 7:43 AM

      You bring up an interesting situation that is probably much more applicable between sisters than brothers (usually guys aren’t that bothered about their looks). I think this is where good parenting may also come into play. And as human base instincts go, looks get more attention than intellect, which is quite unfortunate considering the fact that intellect or other “inner-beauty” will get a person much further in life (and hereafter), in relationships, etc. than looks.

      Question is how does one react in the situations you describe (social gatherings) and what would the role of parents or other confidante be in helping alleviate those situations? Can witty talk bring the attention back (or at least spread it out more fairly)?

      • Avatar


        January 5, 2010 at 8:46 AM

        In my experience, parents and other confidantes can play a huge role in alleviating this sort of rivalry between sisters especially. I remembered my mom telling me that although my sister had fairer skin (typical desi equation for beauty), I had better features. I also remember after I got praised for “inner beauty” stuff, my sister called me ugly in front of a social gathering to which my uncle responded with: “She is not ugly at all, I think she has been blessed with beauty.” These sort of things reassure the child that they aren’t completely out of the picture.

        Witty talk usually does not spread out the attention more fairly or bring it back. Usually, it back fires and everyone accuses you of being jealous or seeking attention. A pretty person always gets attention without trying, but when you open your mouth for attention, everyone knows you’re begging for it.

        In the end, I think the best thing would be to have good manners, respect elders and everyone else, smile and be positive – because everyone likes friendly and positive people :) Parents can help by not exacerbating the whole attention scenario (such as giving one child more attention in front of the other child), especially when it comes to family or social gatherings.

        Forgive me if I’ve talked too much.

        • Avatar

          Sadaf Farooqi

          January 5, 2010 at 9:46 PM

          No, your input has been extremely relevant! Jazakillahu khairan for being so honest and candid. This was the response I was hoping for – honest, real-life experiences of sibling discord or dissension.
          By your comment, I was reminded of a few friends of mine during my teens who had similar issues with sisters. And though we like to think that it all fades away and everything becomes alright, the fact of the matter is that sometimes, it doesn’t. The deep-rooted psychological impact of this young rivalry, especially if parents perpetrate it by careless remarks throughout their children’s youth, lasts throughout the siblings’ lives, and causes even greater dissensions later on.
          I wrote an online article on jealousy and the most feedback I have received on it was from adult women who had problems with their sisters’ jealousy – even at ages where their own children were now adults.
          As this above article points out, it is not something small for siblings to continue to harbor negative feelings for each other even after becoming adults, and those who escape this are very fortunate to have had good parents. :)

  8. Umm Reem

    Umm Reem

    January 5, 2010 at 10:17 AM

    Me and my elder sister used to fight A LOT when we where young to the point that we wouldn’t even talk to each other…
    But, our fights were superficial because our fights ended when we got married and were separated…now we are very close!

    to be honest, I don’t even remember why we fought, I just remember that we fought over any and everything..but I never liked anyone else getting mad at her (my parents or brothers). My mother was very sick of our fights…one day she got very angry at both of us and said, “I’m gonna marry off one of u in India and the other one in Pakistan!” LOL

    and subhanAllah coincidentally my sister got married to an Indian and I am married to a Paki!! (warning: mothers should watch out what they say in anger, because their du’a is accepted for their children)

    Now, my elder two fight…and they fight a lot, but I don’t’ see any serious jealousy between them, alhamdulliah…I think sometimes siblings rivalry is there just because they never get a break from each other! :)

    • Avatar


      January 5, 2010 at 11:12 AM

      I know what you mean Umm Reem! My older sister and I used to disagree on just about everything, and still sometimes do.

      Our personalities are complete opposites subhanAllah (literally, next to nothing is similar between us) I think that’s why.

      Jazaaki Allahu khayran once again Sadaf for the great article!

      • Avatar

        Sadaf Farooqi

        January 5, 2010 at 9:50 PM

        Yes siblings fighting during youth is completely natural. I have noticed that the closer siblings are in age, the more they fight, but the more emotionally close they are eventually in adult life.
        Same with my brother and I. Alhamdulillah now the fighting has decreased a lot, but the old jibes still come out sometimes, including the ‘harmless’ name-calling (childhood nicknames derived from vegetables and animals)….aah, astaghfirullah!

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      January 8, 2010 at 8:32 AM

      “mothers should watch out what they say in anger”
      this reminds me of what my teacher said of Sheikh AbduRahman Sudai’s interview…where he said he was quite naughty in his childhood days…recalling what his mother would say when she went mad at him he said,((she would say “May Allah make you the Imam of Masjid-Al-Haram” ))….

  9. Avatar

    Arifa Hassan

    January 5, 2010 at 11:15 AM

    well written, an eye opener for us.

  10. Avatar


    January 6, 2010 at 12:28 AM

    Assalamu alikum
    My oldder sisiter is the one who gets attention due to her sweet talk..
    i cant say that i m jealous of my sister…i love her and i m very proud to b her sis but my problem is with my a kid i always felt that she gave her all the attention and her confidence. Now that she is married and my mother needs me to give her time as my older sis used to give her… I find myself sometimes not giving her time as if i m taking revenge of her not giving me time….astaghfirullah …i m scared of this feeling but i know its there
    I would love your advice in this matter ..jazakallah khair

    • Avatar

      Sadaf Farooqi

      January 6, 2010 at 1:22 AM

      Wa Alaikumus Salam Fatima,

      The “first child syndrome” or the “older child affection tendency” should be documented by psychologists – I have personally seen people get irrversibly affected by it so much so that they literally change as people. I myself had to consciously make sure my second born got the same love and care as did my first, because its human nature – usually its the first child, but it can also be the first daughter, or the first son, or the youngest child that came after a long gap – parents CAN get fixated on one child, because that child arrived at a special time in their lives or because he or she has special qualities which they always admired, thus they fall totally in love with him or her to the extent of undermining the other children.

      Parents mostly do not even realize that they are doing it. They need to be subtly told by someone at par with them in age. However, if another one of their own children tells them about it, its prone to backfire and be labelled as “jealous cribbing”.

      You can practice what the “high road” is – to be patient and take immense care of your mother/enjoy her company. This is a test for both you and she. Allah wants to see if you do ihsan with your mother or not, as He has exhorted us in the Quran. Ihsan means giving to others more than what is due.

      Please try to overlook what she did to you and just be good to her – I know this is very difficult. In fact, you should cash in on this exclusive one-on-one time with her that you probably never got because of your sister’s presence. Who knows, maybe one day you’ll also get married and move away from her, and regret not benefiting from this time you once had to be good to her.

      What happened with you is not at all uncommon. I pray that Allah guides you to the best of actions.

    • Avatar


      January 6, 2010 at 8:33 AM

      I think I know what you mean. In my home, I’m the eldest and I’ve got two sisters, three and six years younger than me, respectively. I’ve always noted that there is a special, undeniable bond between a mother and her first child. Perhaps it happens so because the mother usually turns to her eldest child for advice and discussions in important decisions. My mother and I have spent a lot of time talking on all kinds of subjects. She’s confided in me things she doesn’t even bring up in front of my younger siblings. After all these years, I’ve started realizing the fact that it’s not related to the child’s age either, it’s just about being the eldest.

      From my perspective, mothers don’t do it intentionally. In fact, many times, they do not want to discuss sensitive matters and family issues with the younger siblings, for several reasons. Plus, the younger children are always “children” to mothers, they don’t really “see” how each child has grown up. It’s very natural… my youngest sister is soon to be 18 but my mother doesn’t like to insist upon her to wash up after dinner, etc. It’s somehow a mother’s nature that she sees her younger children as eternally “young”.

      With your mother, perhaps the same thing came to happen? With the elder child in the house, the role of senior confidante and advisor couldn’t really be taken up by the younger one. Now, you do have a chance to step into your sister’s shoes and “enjoy” your new-found role. Your mother would probably enjoy a change of views and ideas. Really, I’m the eldest and I discuss things with my mother a lot, but I’m sure she’d benefit from hearing more than one point of view! :) Show your mother how you’ve matured too, you can be a close friend just as much her younger child. (Let me tell you though, it ain’t all peaches all the time, even if it may seem so!)

      On retrospect, a lot of what passes as “sibling rivalry” can be easily explained and you realize how trivial those issues were, seen in the right context. If only we knew those as kids! :)

      • Avatar


        January 6, 2010 at 4:24 PM

        Jazakallah Khair Sr. Sadaf and Ameera for your sincere and beautiful advice. I know that I have a lot of positive to think about my mother than negative. But sometimes we just need sincere advice to get on track :)

        • Avatar


          January 6, 2010 at 7:04 PM

          Wa-iyyaki! :) You are so right, we really do need to hear it from someone else! The mother-daughter relationship is quite, um, “multi-faceted” (don’t want to use the word “complex”). I’ve got my own issues too and reading up on this issue makes it easier to judge the right course of action, Insha’Allah.

  11. Avatar


    January 6, 2010 at 3:47 PM

    This doesn’t happen in my family but i have seen where mothers treat their sons better than their daughters (especially in the desi culture). My friend had this problem. I always saw how her mother would tell everyone her faults and hide the faults of her son…even though her son did many bad things. I think this partly contributed to my friend rebeling away and marrying whom she wanted against her parents’ wishes Allahu Alim.

    • Avatar

      Sadaf Farooqi

      January 7, 2010 at 10:37 PM

      I always saw how her mother would tell everyone her faults and hide the faults of her son

      Innaa lillahi wa inna ilahyi raji’oon.
      Girl or boy, whenever a parent exposes their child’s faults in public – without any just cause – it is a situation bound to cause harmful effect on the child in question. Its the most hurtful experience a child an go through. I have myself been inadvertently guilty of this, but alhamdulillah, one of my sincere friends pointed it out to me, when I did this to my 2 year old daughter. I was telling my friend about the sibling rivalry my daughter was going through after my son’s birth. She said to me, “Never say negative things about her when she is there, listening; if you need to discuss an issue about her to seek advice for it, discuss it when she cannot hear.”

      Wise words that have helped me check myself since then! I guess I hadn’t realized that my 2 year old could understand my conversations by then and was no longer a baby. :)

  12. Avatar


    January 7, 2010 at 7:23 AM

    Dr. Hesham al-Awadi produced a highly insightful series on this, entitled “Yusuf (AS) – Exploring the Chapter of Joseph in the Holy Quran”.
    In one of the CDs he focuses on sibling rivalry and its all consuming nature at times. Highly recommended.

  13. Avatar


    January 7, 2010 at 3:25 PM

    Salaam, great article. I just had one question. You translated Ahsan Al-Qasas as a beautiful story. I always understood that as the best of stories. Is their a difference, and which one is more precise. jazakhallah khair

    • Avatar

      Sadaf Farooqi

      January 7, 2010 at 10:18 PM

      You are right; that was an error. I have corrected it. Jazak Allahu khair. “Ahsan” is a word that is based on the superlative degree in Arabic grammar, which implies “more or most beautiful”. But “best of stories” is also correct.
      Allah knows best.

  14. Avatar


    January 7, 2010 at 4:46 PM

    my husband is one of four but the only son. In his (pakistani) family the daughters were favoured more thanthe son. He didnt do well academically but his siters did.

    I hav given up on reminding him of the importance of keeping ties as he dosent keep in touch with them as he should. I hav come to realise that his family dont giv him much importance/ authority and thats why he dosent make the effort.

    • Avatar

      Sadaf Farooqi

      January 7, 2010 at 10:26 PM

      Actually I know such a son too. He had many sisters and one brother older than him. His parents sent him off abroad at a young age to live with an aunt and study, and he subsequently faced many hardships alone. Today he has very little emotional attachment with his family.
      Each family is different, but parents should fear Allah when raising their children. As the article points out, the harmful effects of sibling rivalry can manifest themselves later on in life.

    • Amad


      January 8, 2010 at 1:25 AM

      Odd… usually it’s the opposite… esp. being the only son!

  15. Avatar


    January 7, 2010 at 5:09 PM

    i am the second child in my family. i hear many people call the second child the rebellious child. i objcted to my mothers favouring my brothers over us sisters but my sisters never objected.
    I stopped objecting many years ago not that things have changed but i have changed . i now understand that my mother comands respect and that i should avoid objecting to any of her actions. That she may do as she pleases. it still hurts though!

    • Avatar

      Sadaf Farooqi

      January 7, 2010 at 10:27 PM

      it still hurts though!

      Yes, it does.

    • Avatar

      Safia K R

      January 11, 2010 at 12:00 PM

      I am glad someone mentioned the 2nd child. Sadaf Baji mentioned the 1st child syndrome, but a middle child syndrome also exists. This is what leads to the 2nd child becoming rebellious. Parents spend more time with (and on most occasion not deliberately) the oldest (studies, events etc) and then the 3rd who is the youngest of the family especially when there is less age difference amongst them. The middle child is left ignored or tagging along.

      We as parents need to be well aware that we have been given the privilege by Allah to do tarbiyah of our children. Children are an amanah on us. Our deen talks about justice and we think justice/equality/fairness is only a court scene, but justice is in our everyday lives. We live it but need to be aware of it. Surah Maidah talks about justice and says that if we are to judge then we should decide with a balance. This is definitely applicable when dealing with children and when a parent gives one child more attention than the other, we are doing khianat in our amanat by dealing improperly with them. We are accountable for it. How we deal with our young children today has deep rooted long term impact so we need to it with hikmah and sensitivity. This also involves helping our children rid of the jealous or envious nature if they are like that as was the case of Yousuf (AS)’s brothers. We as parents know our children.

  16. Avatar


    January 7, 2010 at 8:02 PM

    As Salamo alaikum

    Masha Allah very nice article, as usual. You bring valid points – as usual – about parents picking and choosing who to give gifts to out of their own interest, but what is wrong with that, as long as the other siblings are not dealt with unjustly?

    Why is it unjust – for example – for a father of 4 daughters and 1 son to give each daughter appliances and the family business to the son? He has not been unjust to the daughters (he would have been if he gave them nothing or next to nothing).

    The sons inherit more because – and Allah knows the complete wisdom – they are financially responsible for the females of the family. Keeping that in mind, why is it such a crime if a daughter is only educated till high school and the son is educated till university, keeping in mind that the son will eventually provide for the entire family and the daughter won’t?

    BTW, Do you know that some of the scholars have said in the commentary of the verse “لِلذَّكَرِ مِثۡلُ حَظِّ ٱلۡأُنثَيَيۡنِ” “for the male there is twice the share of the female” (surah nisaa) that the same thing applies to gifts as well? My teacher told me this when explaining the ahadith from Adabul Mufrad and I couldn’t believe it when I heard it the first time. But he said that this was not the majority opinion. Yet, this opinion classically exists?

    Another point that can further be used to strengthen the case for “biased” spending towards boys is that the aqiqah for the boy is twice that of the girl. And this is the first “gift” that the parent gives for the child.

    Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating an extreme bias or injustice towards girls, but it is something understandable, especially for families that are not so well off. To write it all off – like you have done unfortunately – as bias and injustice is not correct. WAllahu alam.

    Another thing regarding Yaqub’s [AS] love towards Yusuf [AS]: there is nothing wrong even if he loved Yusuf more. It doesn’t make him any less of a person in any way nor does it take away anything from him. This is because love is an action of the heart and something that is sometimes beyond human control.

    Case in point: 1) the Prophet صلى الله عليه Ùˆ سلم loved Fatima [RA] more than others and is reported to have said “She is part of me”, whereas he is not reported to have said that about the other daughters. 2) the love of Aisha [RA] was far more intense in the heart of the Prophet صلى الله عليه Ùˆ سلم than the other wives and that was well-known. As long as the love doesn’t lead to any actions that are unjust, its all good. WAllahu alam.

    • Avatar

      Sadaf Farooqi

      January 7, 2010 at 11:29 PM

      Wa Alaikumus Salam

      You bring up some interesting points. Well, each parent is different and what I wrote about the spending on sons was based on my own opinion plus the blatant injustices that are done to girls in the geographical region where I live, in the name of “investing” in the sons’ future as a provider.

      However, what can I say to what your teacher said about the same rule applying to gift-giving as the law of Islamic inheritance that gives the son a double portion? The hadith is clearly there – Prophet Muhammad [صلی اللہ علیہ وسلم] prohibits giving one thing to an offspring without giving the same to the others – in type or value. He cautioned us to fear Allah in giving to our children; we can either do that, or find cases for bias from the Quran and Sunnah. Either way, Allah will be our judge for our actions.

      Keeping that in mind, why is it such a crime if a daughter is only educated till high school and the son is educated till university, keeping in mind that the son will eventually provide for the entire family and the daughter won’t?

      Her choice should be the decider of the issue. If she wants a good education, and has the intellect and desire for it, then not letting her get educated to the same level as the son would be an injustice. The parents do not know the future – many a son who were expensively educated go on to not fare well in their careers, whereas some daughters who were not educated, go on to study after marriage and do well – at business, teaching, or community work. The point is that when parents do not consult their children before deciding what to give to each, negative feelings develop in the latter and get nurtured over time.

      I personally know some elderly couples who either have no children, or have only one or several daughters, and masha’Allah, Allah is providing for them so well through their own halal incomes and long-term investments that they are still providing for their children – even after the latter’s marriages. I know of a family that has 4 sons and one daughter – they are still supporting 2 of their sons themselves, whereas the other two sons spend their whole income on their own wives and children. Yes, a son has to provide for his wife and children in the future – but the daughters cannot be denided a good education which they want just for the sake of gaining knowledge, just because they will not need to financially provide for anyone in the future.

      In Islam, if two goats are slaughtered when a son is born, then there is also an apparent “bias” at the time of marriage, when the wife has to get some wealth from the husband, whilst she is not obliged to give him anything. Also, she can spend her own wealth as she chooses, without it being bindingly obligatory upon her to spend on her family (excepting old parents who need support), not even on her children, whilst the Muslim man is committing a haram action by not spending on his wife and children. So the differences are there – Allah in His infinite wisdom chose the laws, and we submit to them. In some cases, he preferred women, especially whenever I compare myself to my husband in financial spending matters. 99% of what he earns gets spent on family and dependents, whereas whatever Allah gives me, in any form (gifts, inheritance, or my own earning), is – unless I choose to spend it – for myself to keep. I feel that Allah has given me, as an adult, married Muslim woman, preference over my husband – an adult, married Muslim man – in this regard.

      However, if our Prophet [صلی اللہ علیہ وسلم] advised us to do something, we should try to obey him as much as we can. A few electronic appliances, fancy clothes, jewelry and furniture can not equal a thriving business and its value. Nowadays, and even since the time of Khadijah Bint Khuwaylid, women have been good at owning and operating businesses. Perhaps the parents can consult their children before bequeathing different types of wealth to each of them on their own. They can ask a son or daughter whether he or she would prefer jewelry or a share in the business, instead of making their own decisions unanimously and making their children feel like some unfair prejudice or discrimination took place. Consultation can work wonders for children’s morale.

      I personally know of a sister who told her parents that, on her wedding, she’d prefer to receive a laptop instead of a couple of the many sets of jewelry they were bent on giving her (which is mostly for show-off purposes anyway, to satisfy the family’s aunties, when they ask the girls’ parents pointed questions such as “How much gold did she get? What did she bring?” at the wedding); her parents, however, didnot buy her the laptop. That’s the kind of issue I was talking about when I mentioned the “dowry” that daughters recieve; its mostly not a gift for them, but more for showing to the world, so that no one says anything. But we should leave dowry for a separate post. :)

      The love a person feels in his heart for their different children – yes, I suppose there is nothing wrong with loving one child/wife more than another, as long as outwardly no injustice is done to both – as you say – especially if that child is more pious and obedient, and the other is rebellious and disobedient. However, I think that when Prophet Muhammad [صلی اللہ علیہ وسلم] said about Fatimah [radi’Allahu anha] that “She is part of me”, it was in a particular context – regarding a decision Ali [radi’Allahu anhu] was considering. Fatimah was his youngest daughter who outlived the others. Were his older daughters alive when he made this statement? I wonder. Some seerah expert please help me with this!

      As for the aqiqah, is it really the first “gift” the parents give to their child/baby? Its rather an expression of gratitude to Allah for the blessing and a sadaqah for the family and needy. I don’t think any baby has ever had any of the meat on its own aqiqah! *That was a joke!* The reason 2 goats are slaughtered could be that a son is a future financial supporter of his parents (however, daughters are too; they have to spend their money on their parents in old age if the latter need the money) but mostly because he carries forth the blood line i.e. through him the family name carries on and the next generation comes. Why do you think none of Prophet Muhammad’s sons survived? What would have happened if they had?

      Its anybody’s guess. Allah’s wisdom reigns supreme.

      And only Allah knows best.

  17. Avatar

    Abu Ayyoob

    January 24, 2010 at 8:03 PM

    SubhanAllah. I only wish this had been posted about half a decade earlier when I had had some major issues in dealing with my sibling.

    Also it is interesting to note how perspectives can change how you view something. In this post, the brothers of Yusuf alayhis salaam seem to be menacing and evil(and that is usually how we were taught in the sub-continent as well). Yet Dr. Reda Bedeir(who has actually done one of his Ph.Ds in Surah Yusuf) when he was explaning the story to us, told us of how the brothers were actually good people who in a state of jealousy got blinded momentarily. He points to a number of examples such as them deciding to kill Yusuf alayhis salaam, yet upon further discussion, decide to abandon him in a well(thereby losing the resolve to commit such an heinous crime as killing someone unjustly).

    InshAllah I will also listen to the Surah Yusuf lecture series by Hesham al Awady(I loved his other cd sets)

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  21. Avatar

    zarina ahsan quadeer

    February 22, 2010 at 9:23 AM

    Beautiful insight!
    Why does a parent feel more inclined towards one child?
    The simple answer that comes to my mind is sometimes we have no control over our heart. Our Holy Prophet S.W.S pbuh, treated all his wives equally, but did say, O’ Allah Tallah Forive me, I have no control over my heart! sometimes a particular child, one like Hazrat Yusuf A.S, wins this just by being more pious and obedient. So the key words here are ‘piety’ and ‘obedience’ aren’t they?
    Sadaf, your solution of focussing on one’s strengths is really effective. Patience in adversity, easier said! May Allah SWT Grant this ‘Sabr’ to all of us ameen. Yes, it takes tremendous effort but Hazrat Yaqoob A.S. did change his foes to friends, no doubt it needs a prophet’s fortitude but then these are our role models! May we learn to make them so. May Allah SWT Give us strength to try this effectively in our own lives too ameen.
    I enjoyed Ayesha’s comment on how Sheikh Abdur Rahman Sudias Sahib’s mom, even when angry scolded him with a dua, how often mothers in a fit of anger, tend to use such harsh words, I do so believe we should be careful with our words, who knows an ameen from a farishta could well make it come true! Also sometimes, even when pleased with a child it is a ‘rivaj’ to say, “bada Shaitan ho gaya hai”, are we aware of what we are saying for the dearest person in our life?
    Sadaf, your valuable advice to Fatima, on cashing in on the exclusive time with her mom, one-on-one! is beautiful, Mashallah, May Allah Tallah Reward you for it! nodoubt in addition to ajar from Allah Tallah, her mother will discover her mistake and children, the ever silent observers will follow the same Inshallah.
    Jazakallah not only to Sadaf, but to all those whose comments and responses, I enjoyed reading. Alhamdullilah.

    • Avatar

      Sadaf Farooqi

      March 6, 2010 at 1:06 PM

      Jazakillahu khairan to you too, for your valuable input. :) It added to the ongoing discussion and provided us with food for thought, alhamdulillah!

  22. Pingback: Sibling Rivalry and Jealousy - IB Islamic Forum

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  24. Avatar

    Hayat Yusufzai

    September 11, 2016 at 12:42 PM

    This can’t be right.
    Why would Allah create such an injustice?
    Really? The better looking sibling, the more talented, etc. only threat in this dunya is being the subject of envy?
    You know what makes this era a lot worse?
    In the past decade, especially now more than ever, narcissism is the new cool.
    Living in a big city I can see how despite which economic background one is in, poor or rich, there is always that sense of narcissism
    The one who is not as good looking ( MEN or FEMALE, it actually matters just as much for guys now due to social media and celebrities and sexual freedom which allows women to openly ridicule men who don’t look like super models), not as talented, not as social, etc. is considered a “loser”. I’ve had to go through that since I was a kid all the way to my teen years, that’s 25 years of torture, does that not warrant a sense of justice? They gloat it, and they’re vain about it, do they not deserve punishment?

    Just because I don’t have as many friends, just because I’m not as good looking, I’ll always be a shadow of my younger brother. Even the woman I was going to marry, the woman I’ve been engaged with for a year, had suddenly changed her mind a week after meeting my family and younger brother for the first time. Fast forward a couple of months later, and now she’s engaged with my younger brother! They were talking the whole time. She saw a picture of him and that’s all it took, she contacted him through social media, and has been dm’ing him back and forth, obsessed with him. For something SO superficial. Where have the good women gone? Could you believe that? Now he has her too! He’s taken everything from me! And he wants to make me the best man for his marriage?! The audacity!!

    Now he chooses to reach out, pretending like I’m someone worth having in his life because I have a career and I make money. That’s when people really care huh?
    Allah is the most just, he taught us justice. People like that deserve to be punished. Insha’Allah he will get one punishment, worth 10 times more than the 25 years of torture I had go through. Because of this piece of shit, I’ve made a life-long commitment of getting those 25 years of torture back. I’m 27 years old now, without a single wrinkle, or gray hair, and I’m very fit, with a successful career, yet I am still unhappy, because he’s lived a youth I have not, for the bullying I’ve gone through. I pray he ages bad, and I hope his soon-to-be-wife leaves him one day. Thanks to these days and the coming decade, research is already on in its clinical trials for anti-aging, eye color change, bone to cartilage conversion to open epithyseal growth plates for further height growth/stem cell method of height growth. Him being 6’3″ with green-blue eyes while me being 5’10” and brown eyes, in this age of superficiality we live in, what an injustice. I will win, and he will lose, Insha’Allah. He’s not even religious, he never prays, he drinks alcohol, a secret I’ve kept for him, not telling my parents, the latter and the whole world think he’s the perfect handsome, religious, talented man, well he no longer will Insha’Allah. The truth will come out and I will be better. I empathize for Prophet Yusuf’s brothers. Imagine, because of Yusuf’s existence, nobody loved them. They were essentially lonely, they were just objects to envy Yusuf for the grand story that is being told today. Then they are told NOT to envy? They don’t want to BE him, they want a sense of equality and acknowledgement. Of course they weren’t, Yusuf had to take everything from them, even their worth as people. Now they’re being used as an example for negative traits? What do you expect them to do? Bend over to Yusuf, be comfortable with knowing Yusuf is more loved by Allah ( because he was chosen as a Prophet and blessed with all of these traits), be comfortable with knowing their wives don’t love them and secretly dream of being with Yusuf? Be comfortable with being next to nothing compared to Yusuf in front of their father?

    Allah taught us justice.
    Siblings like that deserve the equivalent psychological torture we had to go through so they can process an understanding. Understanding bridges to a solution, and to a level of peace.

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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.

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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.”


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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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).

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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.


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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Heart Soothers: Idrees Al Hashemi


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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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