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Using Arabic Grammar to Understand the Qur’an

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Which deeds are most beloved to Allah?

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بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

The Qur’an is a treasure trove of gems and jewels. For the one who diligently seeks them, it can provide any or all of the following priceless blessings required for spiritual growth and rejuvenation: knowledge, insight, understanding of reality vs. illusion, the ability to identify causes of day-to-day situations and human reactions to them, a variety of psychological behavioral traits displayed by people in any era of time, and a deep grasp of the concepts of life, death and the afterlife.

Not just this, but the Qur’an also details numerous past, real-life, historic events accompanied by dialogues that actually took place centuries ago between people, necessitating the student of knowledge to dig deeper into the context behind the revelation of its verses, and to consult other reliable sources for details of the events in the lives of previous prophets and bygone nations, with the most authentic of these sources primarily being hadith collections.

Last but not least, one of the greatest gems that can be extracted from this Glorious Book is the immense enjoyment of communicating directly with Allah through un-rushed, beautified and deliberate recitation of His كلام – His own spoken word. Such recitation results in the subsequent descent of, and the feeling of being enveloped by, His Divine mercy or رحمة.

All of the above are blessings and treasures that can be derived from this ‘treasure chest’ – the Glorious Quran – to name but a few.

Yes, the Quran is indeed a treasure trove of gems, but only for the one who seeks them from this trove with the correct intention, and via correct branches and sources of knowledge, which include the rules of tajweed and other supplementary subjects.

One of the most popular – and also often the most feared – subjects that a student of knowledge pursues to understand the Quran better is Arabic Grammar. Comprising mostly of a set of lexical rules derived to help understand Arabic as a language, Grammar is sometimes a difficult nut to crack. Nay, it is many a students’ most ardent nemeses!

I admit that I have heard some extremely polarized views about this subject from different people, be they experienced teachers or frazzled students at their wits end; students ready to pull their hair out over sincere but futile efforts to memorize the complex, multidimensional tables of Arabic pronouns, nouns and verbs!

Some are of the opinion that Arabic Grammar makes it difficult and confusing for a student of knowledge to get a grasp of the language. They opine that memorization of tables does not help if, at the end of the day, the student cannot apply its basic concepts to comprehend the actual Quranic text.

Others stand by the claim that memorization of the complex noun and verb tables of Arabic Grammar is one of the secrets to unlocking the deeper meanings of the comprehensive yet compact (جامع) words in the Quran.

As a work-in-progress student of knowledge, I admit that I hold the latter opinion. I have benefited tremendously by studying basic Arabic grammar. However, my primary concern was never memorizing the tables just to get good marks in tests, but rather, to apply the knowledge of grammar to the Quran’s Arabic text in order to scoop out meanings from it that simple language translations did not adequately convey.

Below, I will attempt to express the importance of studying Arabic Grammar by explaining 3 examples of words found in different places in the Quran.

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُواْ آمِنُواْ بِاللّهِ وَرَسُولِهِ

O you who believe! Believe in Allah and His Messenger..” [Quran – 4:136]

The above portion of this verse carries 2 Arabic words that sound incredibly similar to each other, and they occur consecutively. In fact, the only difference between the two words آمَنُواْ and آمِنُواْ, is changing the fathah (فتحة) on the “م” into a kusrah (كسرة):

آمَنُواْ           آمِنُواْ

The change of that single fathah into a kusrah changes the entire meaning of the same set of letters. Whereas the word “آمَنُواْ” means “those people who have believed” and is a verb or action-word, the word “آمِنُواْ” means, “Believe, you all!” and it is not a verb per se but rather, “a command verb” i.e. an action word that is meant as a command to someone. In grammatical lingo, it known more formally as the “imperative verb”, but I prefer referring to it as the “command verb”, because it is known in arabic as فعل امر.

You can understand it with this analogy: we say, “Eat!” to someone when commanding them to eat, but we also say the word “eat” as a verb in other contexts, e.g. “We will eat in an hour”.

The beauty of the Arabic language is that it uses separate combinations of the same set of root letters (in this case, these letters are: م , ا , and ن), with different sounds for those letters, denoted by vowels, to openly display these differences in meaning very beautifully.

(Please click here for a more detailed, word-for-word, grammatical analysis of the above verse.)

For the next example, here is a verse from Surah Aali `Imran:

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُواْ اصْبِرُواْ وَصَابِرُواْ وَرَابِطُواْ وَاتَّقُواْ اللّهَ لَعَلَّكُمْ تُفْلِحُونَ

O you who believe! Persevere in patience and constancy; vie in such perseverance; strengthen each other; and fear Allah. That you may prosper.” [Quran – 3:200]

In the above verse, again, two very similar words come right one after another. They are:

اصْبِرُواْ         صَابِرُواْ

In this case, both these words are command verbs ordering a group to a certain action. However, their form is different by a single Arabic letter or consonant, the alif (ا). In the first word, “اصْبِرُواْ”, the alif comes before the ص. In the second word, “صَابِرُواْ”, the alif comes after the ص.

This single, apparently very slight, difference in writing the same set of consonants, results in two command-verbs that convey completely different meanings.

The command verb “اصْبِرُواْ” means, “be patient (you all)”, whereas the command verb “صَابِرُواْ” means, “exhort each other towards patience (you all)”.

Isn’t it obvious how powerful the language of the Quran is? How beautifully it conveys different meanings by adding or moving around just one consonant/letter in a word, or the vowel on it?

Now let’s look at the third example. This one will present how knowledge of Arabic grammar helps in pondering more deeply on the verses of the Quran, to get a more detailed picture of what is being said:

خُذُوهُ فَغُلُّوهُ

Lay hold of him, and shackle him” [Quran – 69:30]

This verse of the Quran contains two command-verbs which have the pronoun “هُ” appended at their end. Both the words, “خُذُوا” and “غُلُّوا” are command-verbs directed at several masculine recipients, or a group of men. This is apparent because of the “وا ُ ” appearing at their end.

This presents an interesting insight into this verse. The English translation says, “Lay hold of him“, but analysis of the Arabic command verb “خُذُوهُ” reveals that, actually, several beings are being addressed to “lay hold of him”, not one person.

This unveils knowledge of a bone-chilling scene that shows us a picture of what will happen to wrong-doers in the Akhirah: numerous angels will be commanded by Allah to hold and shackle one sinning human being, and then thrust him into the Hell-Fire!

The next verse, shown below, completes the terrifying picture:

ثُمَّ الْجَحِيمَ صَلُّوهُ

And then let him enter hell;” [Quran – 69:31]

Another command-verb “صَلُّوا” occurs in this verse, having the pronoun “هُ” appended at its end. The meaning is the same: an order from Allah to several angels to throw the person referred to by the pronoun “هُ”, into the Hell Fire.

ثُمَّ فِي سِلْسِلَةٍ ذَرْعُهَا سَبْعُونَ ذِرَاعًا فَاسْلُكُوهُ

And then thrust him into a chain [of other sinners like him – a chain], the length whereof is seventy cubits.” [Quran – 69:32]

Finally, using the command-verb “اسْلُكُوهُ”, Allah commands the numerous angels to pass the sinner onto a chain of others like him.

Tafsir Ibn Kathir explains the above verses thus:

Allah’s words, “Seize him and fetter him; then throw him in the blazing Fire” mean that He [Allah] will command the guardians of Hell to forcibly remove him from the gathering place, fetter him – meaning put iron collars on his neck – then carry him off to Hell and cast him into it, meaning they will submerge him in it.

Then fasten him on a chain whereof the length is seventy cubits!” – Ka`b Al-Ahbar said, “Every ring of it will be equal to the entire amount of iron found in this world.”

Al-`Awfi reported that Ibn `Abbas and Ibn Jurayj both said, “Each cubit will be the forearm’s length of an angel.”

Ibn Jurayj reported that Ibn `Abbas said, فَاْسْلُكُوهُ (“then fasten him“) “It will be entered into his buttocks and pulled out of his mouth. Then they will be arranged on this (chain) just like locusts are arranged on a stick that is being roasted.”

Al-`Awfi reported from Ibn `Abbas that he said, “It will be ran into his behind until it is brought out of his two nostrils so he will not be able to stand on his two feet.”

End quote Tafsir Ibn Kathir.

Arabic Grammar thus enables us to understand certain things whilst reciting or reading the Arabic text of the Quran directly, without needing an accompanying translation or consulting a tafsir.

As shown above, the tasfir makes it clear that several angels – in the role of the guardians of Hell – will be taking hold of, fettering and thrusting each Hell-dweller into either (i) a chain of other sinners headed for Hell, or (ii) an extremely huge iron chain that will be passed through his body like a skewer. This terrifying picture of several harsh, stern angels working together in a group on one sinner at a time sends chills down the spine.

We seek refuge with Allah from the torments of the Akhirah. Ameen.

I hope I have been able to effectively convey and present the ease that is provided to a student, by studying Arabic Grammar, in understanding lexical technicalities in the Quran’s Arabic text, which does away with the need to always consult a translation.

I know that studying Arabic grammar can be a challenge at times. Here a few tips that can help:

  1. Constantly renew your intention of studying this branch of Islamic knowledge to make it solely for the pleasure of Allah, as it will aid you to understand His Glorious Book better, because of which you will acquire His closeness and more taqwa, insha’Allah.
  2. Do not worry if the conjugation tables and difficult descriptive terms overwhelm you at first. Keep trying to apply the knowledge of the rules to verses of the Quran.
  3. Do not focus just on memorizing grammatical concepts, terms and their definitions to pass exams. Rather, it is alright, for example, if you forget the complex definition of فعل امر but can identify it when you read or recite the Quran’s arabic text and see how it is tying in with the meaning of the text.
  4. Consider your pursuit of knowledge a blessed action worthy of great reward.

When you proceed like this, keeping a positive approach and a never-give-up attitude that transcends official courses and classroom lessons taken under teachers, Allah’s help will come in the form of ease and barakah, insha’Allah, granting you insights into the language of the Quran, which you never anticipated that you could experience!

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.

26 Comments

26 Comments

  1. Avatar

    sharmeen

    April 8, 2011 at 1:10 AM

    it gives me courage to learn arabic language with more enthuthiasm.

  2. Avatar

    Hibah

    April 8, 2011 at 1:20 AM

    AlhamduliLlahi, there are several readily-available resources online to help in learning nahw (grammar), sarf (morphology), etc. Personally, Shariah Program (shariahprogram.ca) is my favorite – Mufti Yusuf Mullan’s program is second to none. I’m in my first semester and I’ve learned more in these first weeks than I have in all my years as a Muslimah (13+ years) studying off and on, plus the university-level Arabic studies before Islam. Trust me, the frustration CAN be over with access to a great program.

    Another great resource: Qibla Academy (aka Sunnipath.com). And, of course, there are so many others…Bayyinah and so on.

    Thank you so much for posting this. There may be many translations of the Qur’an, but the part that cannot be translated is the miracle of the Qur’an which is encoded in the special usage of the language itself. And the way to access that miracle is through deeper study of the language. Jazaakum Allahu khairan.

    • Avatar

      Umm Ibraheem

      April 8, 2011 at 12:57 PM

      Totally agree, Shariah Program is one of the best online courses out there.

      • Avatar

        iqra

        April 8, 2011 at 11:40 PM

        There’s also Fawakih Institute’s summer program and the new Zaytuna College which offers a degree in Arabic and general Islamic sciences. Along with Bayinnah and Shari’a Program, there’s no need to go overseas, at least for now!

  3. Avatar

    Quran

    April 8, 2011 at 3:41 AM

    The Quran is not a book like any other; it is a timeless guide for life, death and the The Arabic Grammar thus enables us to understand certain things whilst reciting or reading the Arabic text of the Quran directly, without needing an accompanying translation or consulting a tafsir.so through arabic grammer you can understand quran easily.nice post thanks for sharing it.

  4. Avatar

    Dreamlife

    April 8, 2011 at 4:33 AM

    JazakAllah for the encouragement. I often wonder – if the Quran was revealed in English, what it would read like to us ENglish speakers nowadays. How sublime the language would be. If we could hear – just for a few moments- in our own language, how amazing the words are, would it give us more encouragement to learn Arabic?

    But we’ll never know – unless we learn Arabic and truly understand the Quran in its original language.

  5. Avatar

    sifat

    April 8, 2011 at 6:20 AM

    Thanks a lot for this invaluable information!
    I have at least got some idea of the difference between straightforward translation and an insightful translation.
    May Allah help me to understand Quran better and hence Islam!

  6. Pingback: Using Arabic Grammar to Understand the Qur’an | QuranNews

  7. Avatar

    Naveed

    April 8, 2011 at 9:00 AM

    I second to Hibah about the resources available online for learning Arabic Grammer. I would also like to share the site where you can download the excellent lectures on Arabic learning especially for the beginners.

    Please go on http://www.lqtoronto.com/

    This lectures based on Dr. Abul Rahim Medina Books 1,2 and 3. (Medina University Saudi Arabia)

  8. Avatar

    Amatullah

    April 8, 2011 at 10:07 AM

    Jazaki Allahu khayran for this fantastic article Sadaf!

  9. Avatar

    mariam

    April 8, 2011 at 11:59 AM

    asalamOalekum warehmatullah

    MashAllah very informative . The reference links are excellent too. I am once again feeling like giving grammer a try with new courage and enthusiasm :) after all its never too late .
    Jazakillah khair. Love n envy ur brain and ur knowledge MashAllah !!
    Keep me in ur prayers .

    love hugs n duaz
    regards.

  10. Avatar

    Mezba

    April 8, 2011 at 1:33 PM

    When I started to learn the Quran, the thing that impressed me most about the Arabic language was that how much of an exception exceptions were! For example in the English language goose is singular, moose is plural, but this doesn’t apply to moose! i before e and all that. Arabic was so much simple.

    Another fact I feel is that people rely on tafsirs that are done keeping a certain time and place in mind, but Quran applies to all time and all place. For example Surah Quraish may be talking about the Quraish, but it’s a lesson to ALL powerful nations that are secure, have treaties, are provided food and shelter by Allah but is denying Him.

  11. Avatar

    Sister

    April 8, 2011 at 2:07 PM

    Assalamualykum sr.Sadaf,

    Jazakillahu khairaan kaseera for encouraging us .Still a long way for me to master this.May Allah make the path of ilm easy for all of us.

  12. Pingback: Using Arabic Grammar to Understand the Qur'an | MuslimMatters.org | Find Best Information about Islam on Internet

  13. Pingback: Using Arabic Grammar to Understand the Qur'an | MuslimMatters.org | al-mukhtar.com

  14. Avatar

    abu abdAllah Tariq Ahmed

    April 8, 2011 at 9:33 PM

    Great article, mashaAllah!

  15. Avatar

    anon

    April 10, 2011 at 12:22 AM

    mashAllah great article, I have another example which i found myself when studying arabic, alhamdulilah even though im only a beginner ,I really appreciate how much grammar helps me with understanding quran

    1. When prophet yusuf alaihisalaam narrates the dream رأيت is used (ماضي, but when the prisoners and the king narrate the dream they use مضارع (different tense) أرى and أراني

    it gets translated as “I saw “for all three in the english translations of the quran..

    the reason for that is the ulamaa of the arabic language mention that the present tense denotes continuity…thus would mean the King saw the dream over and over again- thus it became a point of worry and concern…

    The past tense does not allude to continuity and thus would imply Yusuf AS seeing the dream once…

    Allah knows best.

  16. Avatar

    Cartoon M

    April 10, 2011 at 11:27 AM

    I finished the free arabic grammar lessons on Bayyinah, but then school started and I forgot it all =[.

    By the way, can the arabic font be made larger?

  17. Avatar

    Farhan

    April 10, 2011 at 2:12 PM

    I can’t wait til Fawakih or Bayyinah come back in town!

  18. Avatar

    Gamal

    April 11, 2011 at 7:29 PM

    Jazaakallaahu Khairan, this was a nice article. It has given me great encouragement to keep studying.

    lqtoronto is an excellent resource if you are doing the madeena books

    also abu taubah at http://myfiks.org/ offers the ultimate arabic course

    you can check out some of his videos on youtube

  19. Avatar

    Abdul-Qadir

    April 11, 2011 at 8:52 PM

    Assalamualaikum,

    MashaAllah, this is turning into a great Arabic learning resource.

    In my opinion, the best FREE Arabic source for beginners is http://www.understandquran.com. In less than 30 days, you will understand half the words on a page of Quran, as well as basic gammar as well. I went through it and I have seen great improvements in my understanding. Tarawih is so much more enjoyable.

  20. Avatar

    Mulla Jiwan

    April 11, 2011 at 9:10 PM

    This is an excellent article. But the author disappoints in one crucial place when she says: “When you proceed like this, keeping a positive approach and a never-give-up attitude that transcends official courses and classroom lessons taken under teachers.”

    I appreciate the author’s ability to self-study and their zeal to set an example that self-study is acceptable. But does self-study really have to be presented as “transcending” courses and teachers? This is a very typical al-huda / old school salafi (not MM!) mentality where there seems to constantly be a need to jab at formal instruction and take a better-than-thou stance to all others.

    Again, note the author’s implication in her words: “However, my primary concern was never memorizing the tables just to get good marks in tests, but rather, to apply the knowledge of grammar to the Quran’s Arabic text in order to scoop out meanings from it that simple language translations did not adequately convey.”

    Here again, she seems to feel the need to suggest and insinuate that formal students of courses under teachers learn grammar “just to get good marks in tests.” This is the worst form of su-e-zann and one-upmanship. Sister, you shouldn’t feel the need to put others down in order to feel good about yourself. You should have husn-e-zann that EVERYONE who studies arabic grammar, including those who follow the classical method of formal instruction, their “primary concern” is indeed to “to apply the knowledge of grammar to the Quran’s Arabic text in order to scoop out meanings…”

    Without these unfortunate slants, the article would have been even more beautiful and untinged by arrogance. There is no need to present one as unique and above the mainstream. Indeed, in addition to the grammar of the Qur’an, one needs to adopt the humility of the Qur’an.

    All my love and support for those studying at Bayyinah, Shariah Program, Sunni Path, and others as well as those sincerely trying to do the best on their own, while having the humility and honesty to acknowledge that self-study can never be a replacement to formal instruction, let alone glorified above it.

    I hope the moderators and commentators will not come to a spirited and uncritical defense of the author but rather will allow for some peer-to-peer tarbiyyah and islah!

  21. Avatar

    Brent

    April 16, 2011 at 2:49 PM

    الله يحفظكم

  22. Avatar

    Afrin gilani

    June 25, 2011 at 8:43 PM

    I really very much liked the article.This was very informative article.This article was very helpful in studying by merely sitting on net.This article inspired me to study & understand more about QURAN.Its a better option to study and understand principles of QURAN, rather than being guided by a teacher.Its better than attending afternoon islamic classes.THANKYOU.

  23. Pingback: Using Arabic Grammar to Understand the Quran - IslamiCity | IslamiCity

  24. Avatar

    Farzana

    May 6, 2016 at 6:57 AM

    Brilliantly explained. I will definitely join.

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Lessons From Surah Maryam: 1

Shaykh Furhan Zubairi

Published

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Which deeds are most beloved to Allah?

Alhamdulillah, by the blessings of Allah (swt) and readers like yourself, MuslimMatters has been an independent platform for our best thought leaders to educate us in our faith and catalyze change through powerful, necessary conversations. Since our humble beginnings as a basic wordpress blog in 2007, our content has remained free.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support us with a monthly donation of $10 per month, or even as little as $1. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

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

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

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

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

The Surah can be divided into 8 sections:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Verse 1: Kaf, Ha, Ya, ‘Ayn, Sad.

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

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

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

1) To grab the attention of the listeners.

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

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

4) To prove the inimitable nature of the Quran.

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

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Lesson 13 From Surah Al -Kahf

Last verses of Surah Kahf

Shaykh Furhan Zubairi

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Surah Kahf
Which deeds are most beloved to Allah?

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Alhamdulillah last session we were able to cover the meanings of verses 83-98. InshAllah tonight we’ll explore the meanings of verses 99-110, which will bring us to the end of this noble and beautiful Surah. Just as a quick reminder, the last set of verses related the story of Dhul Qarnain, who was an upright and God-conscious ruler who ruled over the entire known world of his time. He was a righteous servant of Allah to whom Allah granted might, power and sovereignty over the world along with knowledge and wisdom. He was a special servant of God. We’re told about his journeys to the east, west, and north as well as his building of a huge wall to prevent Ya’jūj and Ma’jūj from escaping. This story highlighted the fitna and trial of might, power, leadership, and authority and showed us that the way to deal with it is through faith and sincerity. Dhul Qarnain was tested with a lot of wealth and power but it was unable to corrupt him because of his faith and sincerity. The Surah follows the story of Dhul Qarnain with a scene from the Day of Judgment.

Verse 99: And We shall leave them, on that day, to surge over one another like waves. And the trumpet shall be blown, and We shall gather them together.

The first part of this verse is referring to Ya’jūj and Ma’jūj and the second part refers to resurrection, when the Angel Isrāfīl will blow into the horn bringing all creation back to life. On that day, is referring to the day near the end of times when Ya’jūj and Ma’jūj will break through the barrier and surge down the mountains like waves upon humanity destroying everything in their way. As Allah ﷻ tells us in Surah Al-Anbiya, “Until when [the dam of] Gog and Magog has been opened and they, from every elevation, descend…” They will wreak havoc for a period of time known to Allah until they will be destroyed.

As we’ve covered before there will be two instances when the trumpet will be sounded. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) has appointed the Angel Isrāfīl to blow into the trumpet. This will happen twice. The first time every single thing will be destroyed. The second time every single thing will be brought back to life. This is how the day of Resurrection will start. The sūr, which is a trumpet or a horn, will be blown and all of mankind will rise from their graves and come towards the plain of judgment. That’s what Allah ﷻ is mentioning here in this verse, “And the trumpet shall be blown, and We shall gather them together.”

The Surah then describes a scene from the day of Judgment that’s specific to the non-believers. Those who received the message and consciously chose to reject it and rebel against God and His messengers.

Verse 100-101: And We shall present Hell, on that Day, as an array before the non-believers, those whose eyes were veiled from the remembrance of Me, and could not hear.

Meaning on the Day of Judgment Allah ﷻ will show the non-believers Hell Fire, exposing it to them so that they can see it with their own eyes. They will see it with their own eyes and hear its raging and frightening sounds even before entering it. Allah then describes the non-believers with 3 characteristics, which are essentially three reasons why they will be punished in the hereafter:

1) “Those whose eyes were veiled from the remembrance of Me, and could not hear.” They weren’t able to understand the truth when it was presented to them because they were spiritually blind and deaf. They were blind to the signs of Allah’s existence and power all around them spread throughout the universe, so they never thought or reflected over them. On top of that, they weren’t able to understand what was being recited to them. Meaning, they consciously chose to ignore the message and turn away from it. Here Allah is contrasting their condition in the hereafter to their condition in the life of this world. In this world, they chose to turn away from belief in the fire and in the hereafter, they won’t have the option to turn away. The veil over their eyes will be removed and they will see the consequences of their choice.

2) The second is that they worshipped others besides Allah.

Verse 102: Do those who disbelieve reckon that they may take My servants as protectors apart from Me? Truly We have prepared Hell as a welcome for the disbelievers!

Allah is scolding them and showing them their mistake. Did they really think or believe that they could take created beings or inanimate objects as protectors apart from Me? Did they really believe that worshipping idols, angels or people would benefit them or help them in any way? There’s no help or protection except with Allah, who deserves to be worshipped alone without any partners. As Allah ﷻ says in Surah Maryam, “No! Those “gods” will deny their worship of them and will be against them opponents [on the Day of Judgment].” Allah then tells us that their punishment is Jahannam, which has been prepared as a resting place for them. “Truly We have prepared Hell as a welcome for the disbelievers!”

3) The third quality that the non-believers are described with is that they are fools for thinking that their actions in this world will be of any benefit to them in the Hereafter.

Verse 103-104: Say, “Shall We inform you who are the greatest losers in respect to their deeds? Those whose efforts go astray in the life of this world, while they think that they are virtuous in their works.

In this verse, Allah ﷻ is addressing the Prophet ﷺ directly and he’s telling him to pose this question to the non-believers. “Shall We inform you who are the greatest losers in respect to their deeds?” Do you want to know who the greatest and biggest losers are with respect to their deeds? They are the ones who did good deeds and put in effort, but all of it went to waste. Those individuals who were misguided in the life of this world so their actions were guided by their wants, desires, and pleasures. Their actions were misplaced and not guided by faith in Allah. The reason why all of their efforts will go to waste is their disbelief or absence of faith. As Allah says,

Verse 105-106: They are those who disbelieve in the signs of their Lord, and in the meeting with Him. So their deeds have gone to waste, and on the Day of Resurrection, We shall assign them no weight. That is their recompense, the Jahannam, for having disbelieved and for having taken My signs and My messengers in mockery.

The greatest losers with respect to their deeds are those who reject the signs of Allah in this world. Those who refuse to accept the oneness, might, power and magnificence of Allah, those who refuse to believe in life after death and accountability. Their deeds will go to waste and on the Day of Judgment, they won’t have any weight. We know from multiple verses and narrations that our deeds are going to be weighed on the Day of Judgment. And on the Day of Judgment, it’s not about the number of deeds but the quality. That’s why on the Day of Judgment our deeds won’t be counted but they will be weighed. It could be that the weight of one action or deed is more than a thousand other deeds.

Those actions that are devoid of faith and sincerity will have no weight whatsoever. As Allah ﷻ says in Surah Al-Furqān, “And We will regard what they have done of deeds and make them as dust dispersed.” Their recompense is the fire of Jahannam, and that is the ultimate justice and fairness. They get punishment as recompense because of their rejection and disbelief and mockery of Allah’s signs and His messengers. Allah ﷻ then contrasts the punishment of the non-believers with the reward of the believers in Paradise.

Verse 107-108: Those who believe and perform righteous deeds, theirs shall be the Gardens of Paradise as a welcome. Abiding therein forever, they don’t seek any change from it.

Just as Hell is a “welcome” for the non-believers, Paradise is a true “welcome” for the believers. Meaning, those who believe in the existence and oneness of Allah, believe in the Prophet ﷺ and life after death and that faith expresses itself through their actions, their reward will be Gardens of Paradise. Again we see this formula being mentioned, faith + righteous deeds. This is the simple formula to achieve success in this world and the next. Our faith has to be real and practical; it has to translate into action. If we do so then our reward will be Jannah al-Firdaws, which is the highest and most virtuous level of Paradise. The Prophet ﷺ said, “When you ask Allah for Paradise ask Him for Al-Firdaws. It is the highest level of Paradise, the middle of Paradise and the rivers of Paradise flow from it.”

  • إذا سألتم الله الجنة، فاسألوه الفردوس، فإنه أعلى الجنة، و أوسط الجنة، و منها تفجر أنهار الدنة.

In another narration, the Prophet ﷺ said, “In Paradise, there are a hundred levels, what is between every two levels is like what is between the heavens and the earth. Al-Firdaws is its highest level, and from it the four rivers of Paradise are made to flow forth. So when you ask Allah, ask Him for Al-Firdaws.”

  • “‏ فِي الْجَنَّةِ مِائَةُ دَرَجَةٍ مَا بَيْنَ كُلِّ دَرَجَتَيْنِ كَمَا بَيْنَ السَّمَاءِ وَالأَرْضِ وَالْفِرْدَوْسُ أَعْلاَهَا دَرَجَةً وَمِنْهَا تُفَجَّرُ أَنْهَارُ الْجَنَّةِ الأَرْبَعَةُ وَمِنْ فَوْقِهَا يَكُونُ الْعَرْشُ فَإِذَا سَأَلْتُمُ اللَّهَ فَسَلُوهُ الْفِرْدَوْسَ ‏”‏ ‏.

They will be in Paradise for all of eternity, enjoying all of its pleasures and not wanting or desiring anything other than it. Allah (swt) then tells us about the extent and vastness of His knowledge. That his knowledge is infinite. This is also a description of the greatness and status of the Qur’ān.

Verse 109: Say, “If the ocean were ink for the words of my Lord, the ocean would be exhausted before the words of my Lord were exhausted, even if We brought the like thereof to replenish it.”

“The words of my Lord” may be a reference to Allah’s infinite knowledge or wisdom or the meanings of the Qur’ān. Meaning that if the oceans were turned into ink and the words of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) were to be written with this ink, then the ink would run out and the words of Allah (swt) would still be left, even if more ink were to be brought. This is an example to make us understand the vastness of Allah’s knowledge, wisdom, and secrets. This example is being given to make us as human beings recognize the infinite nature of Allah’s knowledge as compared to or finite and limited knowledge.

The ocean is the largest and richest creation known to us as human beings. It takes up more than 70% of the surface of the Earth. And we use ink to document and record our knowledge, which we think is vast and amazing. So Allah gives this example of the ocean as ink being used to write and record His words. The entire ocean is used up and then it’s replenished but the words of Allah are still being written. This example is trying to help us comprehend the difference between the infinite and the finite. “And if all the trees on earth were pens, and if the sea and seven more added to it were ink, the words of Allah would not be exhausted. Truly Allah is Mighty, Wise.” This example should allow us to recognize the greatness and magnificence of Allah ﷻ as well as humble us as human beings as well.

We as human beings should never be deceived or fooled by our own intellect and abilities. No matter how much we learn and how advanced we become scientifically and technologically, it’s nothing compared to the infinite knowledge and wisdom of Allah ﷻ. Our knowledge compared to the knowledge of Allah is like a drop of water compared to all the oceans. Allah ﷻ then ends the noble Surah by reminding the Prophet (saw) about humility and us about the path of true salvation.

Verse 110: Say, “I am only a human being like you. It has been revealed to me that your God is one God. So whosoever hopes for the meeting with his Lord, let him perform righteous deeds and make no one a partner with his Lord in worship.

Allah ﷻ is speaking directly to the Prophet ﷺ. He’s telling him to tell his nation, his community, that he is a human being just like them. He’s not an Angel nor is he divine in any way. He eats, drinks, walks, talks and sleeps just like them. The only difference is that he ﷺ receives revelation from above from the Most High. It has been revealed to him that there is only one God, alone without any partners. So whoever believes in the meeting with their Lord, meaning they believe in the last day, resurrection, accountability and judgment. They know that the life of this world is temporary and finite and that the life of the hereafter is eternal and infinite, should “perform righteous deeds and make no one a partner with his Lord in worship.”

Righteous deeds include fulfilling all of our obligations, obeying the commands of Allah and staying away from His prohibitions. It includes all voluntary acts of worship such as praying, fasting, reading Quran, making dua, dhikr and charity. It includes being kind to our parents, spouses, children, relatives, neighbors, and co-workers. It even includes smiling at someone. There are multiple paths of righteousness in Islam.

We’re then reminded to not associate partners with Allah in our worship; to not commit shirk. There are two types of shirk: al-shirk al-akbar and al-shirk al-asghar. Al-Shirk Al-Akbar is associating partners with Allah; it’s an act of disbelief. Al-Shirk Al-Asghar refers to ostentation and showing off or not having sincerity in acts of worship. The Prophet ﷺ referred to ostentation as “the lesser idolatry.” The Prophet ﷺ said, “I do not fear that you will worship the sun, the stars and the moon, but I fear your worshipping other than Allah through ostentation.” The Prophet ﷺ said, “What I fear most for my community is doing things for other than the sake of Allah.” Ibn al-‘Arabi quotes his shaykh, “Let not the hours of your dear life pass away confronting contemporaries and socializing with friends. Watch out! Allah concluded His statement on the following verse…”

Alhamdulillah that brings us to then end of this noble and beautiful Surah. A Surah that has a special and unique status because the Prophet ﷺ encouraged us to recite it specifically on Fridays. Through four stories the Surah focuses on four different types of trials we’re going to face in this world and how to respond to them.

1) The story of the people of the cave represents the trial of faith. And we’re taught that one of the best ways to deal with it is through good company; surrounding ourselves with people of faith and righteousness.

2) The story of the owner of the two gardens is representative of the trial of wealth. And we’re taught the most powerful way to deal with it is by recognizing the reality of the life of this world.

3) The story of Musa (as) with Khidr is representative of the trial of knowledge and the way to deal with it is through seeking knowledge and humility.

4) The last story, the story of Dhul Qarnain is representative of the trial of power. The solution is sincerity and righte

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