Lecture by Yasir Qadhi | Transcribed by Sameera
[The following is the video playlist and transcript of part 1 of Shaykh Yasir Qadhi’s lecture series “The Best of Stories: Pearls from Surah Yusuf.” The transcript includes slight modifications for the sake of readability and clarity.]
I welcome you all to the first of a series of halaqat that we will have about the tafsir or the explanation of one of the most interesting, powerful, and moving surahs in the entire Qur’an, which is Surah Yusuf. This surah is a very, very unique surah in the Qur’an, and a one-of-a-type of surah.
Firstly, it is the only place in the Qur’an where the story of the Prophet Yusuf (‘alayhi salaam) is mentioned. No other surah mentions the story of the Prophet Yusuf (‘alayhi salaam). If you compare this to, let’s say, the story of the Prophet Musa (‘alayhi salaam), the story of Prophet Musa is mentioned in over 25 different locations. The story of our father Adam (‘alayhi salaam) is mentioned in over half a dozen locations. The story of ‘Isa (‘alayhi salaam) is mentioned almost a dozen times. The story of the Prophet Yusuf (‘alayhi salaam) only exists in this surah. In fact, even the name of the Prophet Yusuf occurs only once or twice in passing in Surah Al-An‘ām and Surah Ghaafir, but there is no story at all. The stories about what happened with the Yusuf (‘alayhi salaam) only occur in this particular surah.
Secondly, it is the only surah in the Qur’an that has a unified story as its theme from the beginning to the end. The whole surah is nothing but a story. There is no other surah of length in the Qur’an – we are not talking about the small surahs at the end of Juz ‘Amma, but we are talking about any surah basically more than 10-15 ayahs – there is no surah in the whole Qur’an that is a unified story from the beginning to the end. This is something that we all know. Read Surah Al-Baqarah, Surah Ale-‘Imran, and Surah Yunus you will find the stories of lots of people in one paragraph or one page or sometimes even five pages, but there is no place in the whole Qur’an where an entire 15 pages is dedicated to one story. It is a chronological story from the beginning to the end. This is not just very rare but unique. There is no other place like it in the whole Qur’an.
Revelation of Surah Yusuf
We do not know the exact date of when this surah was revealed, but we know roughly that it was revealed around the tenth or eleventh year not of the hijrah but of the years of the daw’ah.
In other words, with the hijrah of course we begin the Madinan phase. Before the hijrah, what do we call it? Some scholars used the term ‘BH’ (before hijrah) just like the Christians have ‘AD’ and ‘BC’, Muslims have ‘AH’ and ‘BH’. So if you look at ‘BH’, 1 BH means one year before the hijrah and 2 BH means two years before the hijrah. Surah Yusuf is revealed around 2 or 3 BH, in other words right at the end of the Makkan era and the Makkan message.
The timing of revelation is very crucial. Surah Yusuf was revealed after the famous year called the Year of Sorrow / the Year or Regret / the Year of Difficulty (‘aam al-huzn). In that year, three things happened one after the other which were the most painful for the Prophet Muhammad (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam), and there was no time in the seerah where the Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) was more demoralized than this period, which is why the scholars of seerah call this period ‘aam al-huzn, the Year of Grief. The Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) was feeling grief throughout that year.
What happened? What makes it worse is that these three things happened one after the other. The first of these three devastating things was the most personal and intimate, and that was the death of Khadijah (alayhi salaam). Khadijah (alayhi salaam) was his supporter and his moral source of strength. As they say, behind every great man there is a great woman, and this is exactly applying to the Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) and Khadijah. She was his source of comfort and support. Whenever anything happened and even when the wahy came down and he was scared, he went running back to Khadijah (alayhi salaam) to be calmed down. “Zambilooni! Zambilooni! (Cover me up! Cover me up!)” Khadijah was his source of comfort and his source of support. When a man has that comfort and love inside the house, he is able to face a lot outside. When that is deprived of him, then the problems outside become more difficult to bear. The death of Khadijah (‘alayhi salaam) was something that was very difficult for him.
Within five or six weeks, a second death followed and that was the death of his uncle Abu Talib. Abu Talib was his support in society. Abu Talib sacrificed his own reputation and prestige in order to protect the Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam). When the Quraysh came to bribe, threaten, and intimidate the Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam), initially Abu Talib was scared and went to him (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) and told him to stop doing this. The Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) said, “If they were to give me control of the sun and the moon, I would not give up what I am doing.” Abu Talib said, “Oh son of my brother, oh my nephew, do as you please, I am never going to come to you again to tell you not to do this.” He was a man of his word for ten years, and not once did he approach the Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) after that. He never came and said ‘why did you do this?’ / ‘look what I have to face now.’ Not once. He was a man of his word.
Abu Talib did everything he could, so much so that when the Quraysh boycotted the Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) and told him he must leave Makkah, Abu Talib went with the Muslims to live in the valleys outside of Makkah. Abu Talib was not a subject of that boycott because he was a pagan and a Qurayshi and a mushrik, but because he was a part of his nephew and loved him so much, he voluntarily went to live with the Muslims at the time of the boycott.
He was the only non-Muslim to live with the Muslims at the time of boycott. He voluntarily gave up his privileges and his house in Makkah and gave up everything and suffered along with the Muslims because he felt that this was injustice and that he had to do this as the uncle and protector of the Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam). He did everything he could. As long as Abu Talib was alive, they could not do anything else to harm the Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam). With his death, the persecution reached its max, which is why eventually the Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) had to leave for Madinah because he could not live in Makkah anymore.
Khadijah was his internal support in the house. Abu Talib was his external support in society. The both of them died one after the other, and it was a very difficult time for the Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam). To make matters worse, he suffered the single most depressing or difficult day of his whole life after the deaths of Khadijah and Abu Talib. As if there could be no low, there was one low after that, which was the incident of Ta’if.
Aisha (radhi Allahu ‘anha) said, “Oh Messenger of Allah, was there any day that was more difficult for you to bear than the Day of Uhud?” He (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) said, “Yes.” Aisha was too young to know anything about Makkah and did not remember Makkah. She knows Badr, Uhud, and Tabuk and the problems of Madinah and that the worst problem of Madinah was Uhud, so she asked, “Was there any day more difficult for you than Uhud?” Immediately without thinking, the Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) said, “The most difficult day for me was the day when I was rejected by the chieftains of Ta’if.” You all know the story, and we will talk about it in a lot of detail insha’Allah in the lectures we will start on the seerah. The Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) was humiliated and publicly scorned and the children of Ta’if stoned him. This day was the most difficult for him.
These three incidents occurred within six weeks of one other – within two months, as if things could not get any worse. At this point in time, Allah (subhanahu wata’ala) revealed Surah Yusuf. When we understand this frame of revelation, all of a sudden the significance of Surah Yusuf increases many times. Why? Surah Yusuf is meant to uplift his spirits (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) and console him and strengthen him at a time of such trials and tribulations. Surah Yusuf is the light that will lead him out of this depressing time and time of pain and anguish. This is hope for us when we are feeling down and suffering from problems of society. This is the surah that we can turn to for an uplifting moment and to find some solace and comfort, which is why Allah revealed it to our Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam).
Scholars also mention a number of incidents that also led to the revelation of this surah. Of these incidents is: as the persecution of the Muslims increased and the sahabah in Makkah were feeling more and more overwhelmed by all of the pressures, they came to the Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) and said, “Oh Messenger of Allah, why don’t you tell us the stories of those before who also suffered?” When they wanted these stories, Allah (subhanahu wata’ala) revealed this surah. It was perfect timing – when the persecution reaches its maximum, and that is why the hijrah occurs two years after this surah because they could not live in Makkah anymore. An assassination squad was sent for the Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) the night before the hijrah and surrounded his house. Allah miraculously saved him (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam). One of the direct causes of the revelation was that the sahabah wanted something to uplift their spirits as well.
Another direct cause of revelation: it is said that the Quraysh wanted to try to outwit the Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) and show that he was not truly a prophet. They sent a delegation to the Yahud of Yathrib (the name of Madinah before it was Madinah), and they asked the Yahud, “Tell us a question that only a prophet would be able to answer. Give us a trick question that we can show once and for all that this man is not a prophet. Tell us a question that you know the answer to but nobody else knows.” Even though the Yahud were a different religion than the Quraysh, the Quraysh felt that the Yahud were superior because of their Book. The Quraysh did not have a holy book or scripture or revelation. The Yahud had a revelation, and the Quraysh felt a sense of inferiority that the Yahud were the people of the book and had knowledge that they did not and believed in prophets while they did not know any prophets from amongst them.
The Yahud said, “Ask him about the story of Yusuf and his brothers. Nobody knows this.” This is an interesting point that we will come to again. In Makkah, there were no Christians and Jews. In Makkah, there were only idol worshippers and pagans. There were no centers of Christianity and Judaism. There were one or two private / secret converts to Christianity like Waraqah ibn Nawfal and others, but they were not inviting others to it and not preaching Christianity. There were no libraries of Christian or Jewish theology. Nobody in Makkah knew these stories. The people in Makkah had not heard of Yusuf because he was not their ancestor. They were descendants from Isma’il and not of Ishaaq, and the tribes of Isra’il had nothing to do with the Makkans and people of Quraysh. They don’t know these stories. The Yahud knew this and said, “Ask him if he truly is a prophet to tell you what happened with Yusuf and his brothers because nobody knows this of your people. This is something we know.” The Yahud lived far away in Yathrib, so how would anybody in Makkah know this?
The Quraysh went to the Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) and asked him, “Tell us the story of Yusuf and his brothers if you are truly a prophet.” Allah (subhanahu wata’ala) answered that question and revealed Surah Yusuf. In one of the last verses of the surah, Allah (subhanahu wata’ala) says, “This is of the ‘ilm al-ghayb that We sent down to you.” In Surah Yusuf, Allah (subhanahu wata’ala) is telling the Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) that He is giving them ‘ilm al-ghayb and that he (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) and his people did not know the story until this surah came down to him.
Huroof Al-Muqatta’at (Broken Letters)
This surah begins with the letters alif-laam-ra. We all know that there are a number of surahs in the Qur’an that begin with letters. Alif-laam-meem, ha-meem, ‘ayn-seen-qaaf, noon, qaaf, kaf-ha-ya–‘ayn-saad, ta-ha, ya-seen. These letters are called huroof al-muqatta’at (broken letters) by the scholars of tafsir. They are called the broken letters because they do not form words. Ha-meem is not a word. Alif-laam-meem is not a word. Scholars of tafsir call them huroof al-muqatta’at – broken letters put together.
Scholars have wondered about the meaning of the huroof al-muqatta’at since the very beginning of time. Since the time of the tabi’un and taba tabi’un, they began wondering what these letters mean. There are over fifteen opinions about what these letters represent. Some of these opinions include that these letters represent the Names of Allah (subhanahu wata’ala), so alif is for Allah, laam is for Al-Lateef, meem is for Al-Muhaymin. They have different opinions, but this does not seem to have a strong basis.
One opinion is that we will never know what these huroof al-muqatta’at mean. This is a valid opinion in so far as that we will never know for sure and only Allah knows for sure, but we can try to think and come forth with some type of opinion because why did Allah reveal these letters? There must be a wisdom. We can try to think of wisdoms of why Allah (subhanahu wata’ala) revealed these letters at the beginning of these surahs.
One thing that we notice which is very interesting is that almost all the time in the Qur’an when Allah begins a surah with these letters, the very next phrase has something to do with the Qur’an. Think about all of the surahs you know. Ya-sin. Wa’l-Qur’an al-hakeem. Kaf-ha-ya–‘ayn-saad. Dhikru rahmati rabbika… “This is what I am telling you in the Book.” Alif-laam-meem. Dhaalika kitabu la rayba feehi… Alif-laam-ra. Tilka aayaatu’l-kitabi’l-mubeen. Ha-meem. Wa’l-kitabil-mubeen.
There are some exceptions where it is not the second verse but it is the third or fourth verse. Every single time Allah mentions huroof al-muqatta’at within the first few verses, something to do with the Qur’an is mentioned. Therefore, it would make sense that these huroof al-muqatta’at have something to do with this magnificent Qur’an. Every time, the Qur’an is praised after the huroof al-muqatta’at. It is logical to make some connection.
What is this connection? Scholars have tried to think about this and have compiled all of these huroof al-muqatta’at. The huroof al-muqatta’at number exactly 14 letters. How many letters are in the Arabic alphabet? 28. There are 28 letters in the Arabic alphabet, and 14 is exactly half of 28, so some scholars have read in some type of symbolic meaning that Allah (subhanahu wata’ala) is showing us that the Qur’an is composed of our letters and the language that we speak, and yet, mankind cannot produce something similar to it. It is as if Allah is taunting the rejecters of the Qur’an by showing them that these are their words and letters, so produce a surah / ten surahs / a Qur’an similar to it if they are able to it.
There are five verses of challenge (ayaat at-tahaddi) in the Qur’an. In one of these verses, Allah says, “…bring the whole Qur’an.” In another verse, Allah says, “…bring ten surahs.” In another verse, Allah says, “…bring something.” In two verses, Allah says, “…bring one surah if you can.” In these verses of challenge, it is as if there is a linkage with the huroof al-muqatta’at and these verses of challenge. It is as if Allah is saying ‘here is half of the alphabet, bring the other half and bring something similar to the Qur’an.’
One of the wisdoms that scholars have tried to derive from the huroof al-muqatta’at is to show the miraculous nature of the Qur’an. The Qur’an is composed of words that we speak, language that we know, and letters that we write, yet mankind is not able to produce something similar to this. Allah knows best. We will never know for sure the meaning of the huroof al-muqatta’at, but it does appear that there is some relationship with the beauty and the majesty and the miraculous nature of the Qur’an.
“…these are the verses of the clear / lucid Book.”
Tilka is an Arabic word which means ‘this/these.’ There is a difference between tilka and haadhihi, which both mean ‘this/these.’ Haadhihi is used for something close. Tilka is used for something far away.
Allah (subhanahu wata’ala) is talking about the Qur’an with the far away word. He (subhanahu wata’ala) does this not only here but also in Surah Al-Baqarah: “Alif-laam-meem. Dhaalika kitab la rayba feeh.” Kitab is masculine, so the word dhaalik is used. Aayaat is feminine, so the word tilka is used. Feminine and masculine aside, there is a difference between haadha / haadhihi versus tilka / dhaalika. We would say “haadha kitab” for a book here, but to point to something far away, you say tilka (over there, far away).
Allah ‘azza wa jall talks about the Qur’an in the pronoun that refers to something far away. Why does Allah mention the far away pronoun when the Qur’an is in our hands? To show the status of the Qur’an is exalted and to show that the Qur’an is worthy of being something majestic. Even if you have it, we should thank Allah that we have it, but its status is a high and noble status. Allah says, “Tilka aayaatu’l-kitabi’l-mubeen.”
An ayah is a verse. This shows us that Allah has Himself divided the Qur’an into ayat. Where does this division come from? From Allah (subhanahu wata’ala). What about into surahs? Allah (subhanahu wata’ala says, “…when a surah comes down…” Allah mentions the word surah and the word ayah. Many other scriptures including the New Testament have man-made divisions. For us, the Qur’an is from Allah, and even the divisions within the Qur’an (meaning surah and ayah) are from Allah. An ayah also means a sign / indication / miracle. A verse is a sign, and a verse is a miracle. Allah uses the term that is loaded with meaning. What does ayah mean? Allah calls the miracles of creation ayah. Allah says that in your creation there is an ayah, and in the sun and the moon there is an ayah. Allah calls the verses of the Qur’an an ayah. It is not a coincidence, and Allah knows what He is saying, and no one is more eloquent than Allah. The meaning here is that every verse of the Qur’an has a message for you and an indication and a miracle.
Mubeen is a description of the book. Allah calls the Qur’an many different names, but there are two names that are the most common: kitab and Qur’an. Kitab and Qur’an both occur around 75 times to describe our Book. Kitab and Qur’an are complementary to each other and put together tell us what this book is. Kitab means something that is written down, and Qur’an means something that is recited. The Qur’an is something that is written down and recited simultaneously. No other book from Allah has been preserved to this level. The Qur’an has been written down by the commandment of Allah, and it has also been recited by Allah, Jibreel, and the Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) and is recited to this day, which is of the miracles of the Qur’an that no other book has. All of the other books were written down by men and scribes and people after the times of the prophets. As for us, the Kitab and the Qur’an are complementary.
Al-mubeen can have two meanings. The first meaning is the Book itself is a clear Book. Allah says in the beginning of Surah Al-Baqarah: “dhaalika kitab la rayba feeh.” There is no doubt / no ambiguity in it. The Book is clear. What does it mean that the Book is clear? It means that anybody who approaches the Qur’an will be able to get some message from it and find some level of benefit from it. What this means is that the Qur’an is a Book that is meant to be contemplated by every single Muslim. It is not something that only the elite have access to and is not something that only the scholars should read. Even the basic, average Muslim can benefit from the Qur’an. There is no doubt that the average Muslim can only benefit a certain level, and the more they grow in knowledge, the more they can benefit. This is a common misconception that alhamdulillah is getting more and more minimal these days, but once upon a time, it was very common to hear: “Oh, anybody can interpret the Qur’an. I can open up the Qur’an and interpret it.” No – interpretation requires knowledge, but simple hidayah can be obtained immediately and even from a translation. Anyone can read the Qur’an for personal benefit and personal guidance. There are levels of meaning. Qul huwAllahu ahad. Alhamdulillahi rabb’l-‘alameen. You understand these, but if you want to go deep and dissect why Allah said hamd and not shukr, then you need ‘ilm. The average Muslim can benefit from the Qur’an, so the Qur’an is mubeen.
Another meaning of Allah calling the kitab mubeen is that this Book is a clear message from Allah, and you do not have any doubt where it is from. Mubeen doesn’t refer to the language but to the origin and the source of the Book. The Book has a clear-cut source, and everybody knows where this Book is from. There is no ambiguity in this Book. This may surprise you, but to this day, nobody knows who wrote the New Testament, and no one knows the biographies of these people. They were not the actual disciples of Christ but were anonymous people living in the second or third generation after Jesus Christ. To this day, nobody knows who wrote the Old Testament; it is completely shrouded in mystery. The Orthodox Jews believe that Musa wrote it, but no other group believes this because the Old Testament mentions the death of Musa and who buried Musa. People don’t know who wrote it.
Allah is saying that this is a mubeen Book – you know the origin, you know the source, and everything is clear about it. There is no question mark. I cannot stress for you – O Muslims – that we take this for granted as if it is something that is no big deal. There is no other religious scripture on the face of this earth that is as unambiguous and as clear and demarcated from Al-Fatihah to Al-Nas in the origin of language as the Qur’an.
There is such a massive confusion about the Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, and Jewish scriptures. In many religions, you do not even know what the scripture is. In almost all religions, the language is not the language spoken by the prophets. The original New Testament was written in Greek, and ‘Isa (alayhi salaam) spoke Aramaic and not Greek. I am trying to stress to you that we take these things for granted. Our Qur’an has no versions. To this day, the Orthodox Christians, Protestants, and Catholics have different Bibles. They are completely different books and different additions and subtractions and different versions. You can belong to any sect of Islam and differ in theology, but the Qur’an is exactly the same from Al-Fatihah to An-Nas, word for word, letter for letter, harakah for harakah – you can purchase a Qur’an in India, here, or Timbuktu or the hand-written manuscripts. Alhamdulillah this is such a blessing from Allah that we take for granted that our holy Book is clear. All of this proves that as Allah says in a previous surah in the Qur’an: “We have revealed this scripture and will protect it.”
Another way to understand this is that Allah is saying this surah in particular is something that is clear. You need nothing else besides this surah. This indicates the importance of this surah. To emphasize this point, Allah says in the second verse:
“We have sent this Qur’an down as an Arabic Qur’an so that you may understand.”
A question that many Muslims ask is: ‘why does Allah refer to Himself in the plural?’ In fact, many non-Muslims ask this question. There are two primary interpretations of this. The first of them is that the ‘We’ is a royal plural, the plural of majesty, and the plural of ‘izzah. It is allowed in the Arabic language that a singular person (one man) will say ‘we’ when he is worthy of it, meaning king or royalty. Even in the English language, the Queen of England always says ‘we’ and never says ‘I’, which is the ‘we’ of royalty. When she says ‘we’, she doesn’t mean her and her family, but she means ‘I’. She says ‘we’ to indicate that majesty. In Arabic, this is called the royal plural. It is a permissible interpretation.
Ibn Taymiyyah has another interpretation and says that every time there is a plural in the Qur’an, it is a reference to Allah (subhanahu wata’ala) along with the command of the angels. Allah tells the angels to do something. That is why – and this is interesting – Ibn Taymiyyah says that never in the Qur’an does Allah say ‘worship us,’ but He always says ‘worship Me.’ Allah says, “We revealed the Book” because the Book comes down via Jibreel. Allah says, “We send the rain” because every single drop of rain has an angel taking it right to where Allah said it is going to go. Allah says, “We are the ones who blow the winds” because the angels are the ones who take the winds. Allah said, “We are the ones who take the souls” because the angel of death comes and takes the souls. This is an interesting interpretation, which also seems to make sense. When Allah says “We”, He means, “I am doing this and I am telling the angels to execute this command.” The Qur’an comes down at the Command of Allah by the hands of Jibreel. Jibreel is the one who brings it down. This is one interpretation as well, and it has a good basis to it.
Anzalah means ‘to descend.’ Nazalah means to go down / to descend. This shows that the Qur’an physically came down. We know that the Qur’an did not come down onto a mountain and the book was there. What does it mean? There are a number of meanings here. Firstly, that Jibreel came down with the recitation of the Qur’an. Literally, the Qur’an is coming down with Jibreel in his memory, and Jibreel is reciting it to the Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam). Secondly, we learn from a hadeeth in the Mustadrak of Al-Hakim that on laylat al-qadr Allah ‘azza wa jall physically sent down a divine copy of the Qur’an (a book), a part of Al-Lawh al-Mahfud. There is a copy of the Qur’an in Al-Lawh Al-Mahfud. According to one hadeeth, which is authentic, on laylat al-qadr, Allah says “inna anzalnahu fi laylat al-qadr,” and in one interpretation, this Al-Lawh al-Mahfud portion of the Qur’an was literally sent down to the lowest heavens on laylat al-qadr before the wahy began upon the Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam). Jibreel (alayhi salaam) would take from there as well. There is a physical descent of a divine copy of the Qur’an, and so Allah says anzalah. There is also a metaphysical descent, meaning within Jibreel that he brings it down. This is also one of the many evidences that Allah is above us, which is why the Qur’an is coming down. If the Allah was not above us, then the Qur’an would not need to come down and nor would the Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) have to go up in isra’ wa’l-miraj to speak to Him. The Qur’an is coming down. “We have sent down this Qur’an.”
Sometimes Allah says, “We have anzalah” and sometimes He says, “We have nazzalah”. What is the difference between these? There is a minor difference, but it is also very profound and deep. Anzalah means to send down at once. Nazzalah means to send down bit by bit. The Qur’an is referenced with anzalah and with nazzalah because both occurred. The Qur’an is sometimes anzal and sometimes nazzal – how is this? Because both occurred. The Qur’an came down in its entirety on laylat al-qadr, which is anzalah. For the next 23 years, Jibreel brought it bit by bit, which is nazzalah. Allah speaks the exact truth, and both of these things are valid.
“inna anzalnahu Qur’anan arabiyyan…”
“We have revealed this as an Arabic Qur’an.” This is a very, very interesting verse. There are exactly 11 verses in the Qur’an that characterize the Qur’an as being Arabic. Allah says in 11 verses “We have revealed an Arabic Qur’an.” From this, there is unanimous consensus amongst all of the scholars of Islam that the Qur’an can only be in Arabic. Allah describes the Qur’an as being an Arabic Qur’an. This means that when we read a translation, we are not reading the Qur’an. We all know this, and this is an evidence of this. What this means is that when we stand up in salah, we cannot say “All praise be to Allah, Lord of the worlds.” If we do so, our salah is null and void. We have to say, “Alhamdulillahi rabb’l-‘alameen.” If we were to recite it in a non-Arabic language, it is not Qur’an but is a translation.
This shows us as well that the Qur’an has been revealed in the language that Allah ‘azza wa jall spoke. This is a deep theological point, and I don’t want to go to deep. Ahl al-sunnah wal-jama’ah believe that the Qur’an is the kalamullah. Other groups deny this and said it is not kalamullah. What does it mean that it is kalamullah? It means that literally Allah ‘azza wa jall spoke and recited the Qur’an, and Jibreel heard this recitation and brought this recitation down to the Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam), and the Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) recited it after he heard it from Jibreel. From Jibreel to the Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) and from the Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) to the sahabah up until this day we have a continuous chain, non-stop, and it is from Allah ‘azza wa jall the recitation begins. This means that when Allah says, “We have revealed an Arabic Qur’an,” then that recitation was done in Arabic as well. When we recite the Qur’an, what we feel is something that is divine even if you are not Arab. When you recite the Qur’an, you feel that it is an amazing speech and a divine speech. When you understand Sunni theology, you understand where this came from. We believe that this recitation was recited by Allah ‘azza wa jall; therefore, when we recite it, there is something divine about the Qur’an. The Qur’an must be respected – you cannot put it on the floor and show disrespect to it – and it is sunnah to respect the Qur’an. You should put it in a high place in the room, and you should have wudu’ when you touch it. There are so many aspects of respect because the Qur’an is not just any book but is kalamullah and has a certain status that no other book has.
Allah says, “inna anzalnahu Qur’anan arabiyyan…” (“We have revealed it in an Arabic Qur’an.”) Another question arises: does this mean that all of the words in the Qur’an are Arabic? There are clearly words in the Qur’an that come from Persian, Greek, and even Roman. There are clearly words in the Qur’an that are not Arabic such as istabrak and abaareeq. There are Roman, Persian and sometimes even Sanskrit words. There are even words from Latin. These Latin words have also worked their way into English, which is an interesting point. We are native speakers of English, and English is based on Latin, and Latin is a very ancient language. Some words from Latin made their way to the Arabs as well. What is a word that is Qur’anic and English at the same time? Story – al-saateer (this is not a pure Arabic word but is a Latin word). The English word ‘story’ is from the Latin that also made its way to the Arabs and we find in the Qur’an. There are other words as well. The word ‘justice’ in Arabic is qistaas. It is from the same root as the Latin root. This is just a side point and something for your benefit.
Allah says that this is an Arabic Qur’an. The sahabah and tabi’oon and taba tabi’oon read the Qur’an and said that not every single word is Arabic, so what do they do? Imam Shafi’i, said, “Anybody who says there is a single word of non-Arabic in the Qur’an is a jahill and does not know what he is talking about. How can there be a non-Arabic word in the Qur’an when Allah says ‘inna anzalnahu Qur’anan arabiyyan‘?” His love for the Qur’an was so much that he did not listen to any argument and said that every single word had to be Arabic. What do we do with these words from other languages? He said that they took the words from the Arabs. With all respect, it doesn’t work that way. Later scholars said that there are lots of non-Arabic words in the Qur’an and it is not a problem. Imam Al-Suyuti wrote a book, and over 250 words in this book are claimed to be non-Arabic. He said sundus is a Farsi word. There are words from Aramaic and the Ethiopian language such as istabrak.
How do we reconcile this? A great scholar Abu Ubayd Al Qasim ibn As-Salam (d. ~230 AH) said, “Both groups are right. Every language interacts with other languages, and it incorporates words from the other language into its own and substitutes the letters of those languages with the letters of its own and changes the word to suit its own grammar. The word becomes a fluent Arabic word so much so that when an Arab uses the word, no one thinks of its Greek or Latin or Aramaic origin. It is an Arabic word even if it came centuries ago from another language.” For example: Story becomes as-saateer and justice becomes qistaas. This is the way languages work; you bring in words from other cultures and then they become part of your language. They are Arabic words even if they were taken from non-Arabic languages. Allah has spoken the truth when He said ‘inna anzalnahu Qur’anan arabiyyan.’ Imam Al-Shafi’i has said the truth when he said that every single word was Arabic even though his interpretation was a little incorrect.
“…la’alakum ta’qiloon.” (“So that you may understand…”)
So that you may understand what? The sentence is not complete. Why? When you leave the sentence blank, then you encompass all meanings. If you finish the sentence, you limit it. When you leave it blank, it means “so that you may understand [everything]”, and it doesn’t need to be limited. This also shows us that there is a reason why Allah chose the language of the Arabs, which is because His Prophet is an Arab prophet and his immediate people are an Arab people. This tells us very frankly that the Arabic language is the most eloquent language. The opinion of Imam Al-Shafi‘i and Ibn Taymiyyah and many scholars, including non-Arabs, is that the Arabic language is the best language. Even as non-Arabs we must acknowledge this. The Arabic of today is not that language, and this is referring to fuhsa (Qur’anic Arabic). Modern Arabic is a different language altogether and is not the language of that era. We are talking about that language, and that language was the most eloquent language, and we must believe this as a part of aqeedah. Imam Al-Shafi‘i said, “This is our aqeedah.” Some of the scholars were very strict. In those days, the only other language that the Muslims spoke was Farsi. If anyone spoke Farsi in front of Imam Maalik, he would have him kicked out of the Prophet’s Masjid (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) and say, “This is a place where we speak Arabic.”
Those were different times, and there is nothing wrong with speaking another language. They wanted to preserve the language of the Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam). I say this as a non-Arab: we should learn Arabic. It is not wajib to learn Arabic, but subhanAllah, this is our religion. The Qur’an and Sunnah are our religion, and learning Arabic is a big part of our religion. You cannot become a true student of the Qur’an until you learn Arabic. This is a simple fact. Reading a translation is meaningless. You have not read the verse yet, much less the tafsir, if you have to read the translation to understand it. Allah says, “I have revealed this kitab al-mubeen in an Arabic language so that you can understand it.”
If somebody were to say, ‘It is not fair that the non-Arabs do not understand the Qur’an. What do we do as a non-Arab and what are non-Arabs supposed to do with the guidance in the Arabic language?’, the response to this is:
- One language had to be chosen, logically. Even if Allah chose another language, then people of other languages would have said the same thing. This is not a solid response to criticize the revelation in Arabic.
- Also, we say that Arabic is the most eloquent of all languages. All of the languages we know of that Allah revealed Books in are Semitic languages. He (subhanahu wata’ala) revealed books in Hebrew and Aramaic and probably in Syriac (the language of Dawud (‘alayhi salam)). Semitic is a family of languages: Hebrew, Aramaic, Syriac, Arabic. There are Indo-Aryan languages, which is Latin and Sanskrit. If you study the differences between those two branches, you will find a world of difference. [Tangent: Nahw and sarf are a blessing because they show the structure and precision of the language. It is not found in English grammar and Latin grammar. Sarf is taking a three letter verb and adding an alif, a wow, or a meem. It is said from one verb you can derive 250 words. Once you learn one word in the Arabic language (one three letter root), you can instantaneously derive at least 250 words if you know sarf properly. This is an amazing language. This does not exist in English or any other language.]
- The third response is even if you do not understand its full beauty in Arabic, a translation will give you a glimpse of it. We give non-Muslims a translation of the Qur’an, and there is no problem with this whatsoever. Some stricter Muslims say that we should not give them a translation of the Qur’an. [Refutation:] The Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) wrote to the Emperor of Rome, and in the letter, he wrote a verse of the Qur’an. When the Emperor received the verse, it was translated in front of him into Latin. This was the first time in history that the Qur’an was translated. This was in the lifetime of the Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam). How can anybody say that it is not allowed? It was in the lifetime of the Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam), and he knew it was going to be translated. The Emperor of Rome did not speak Arabic, and the Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) wrote to him in Arabic. It is our duty to translate the Qur’an into other languages. The Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) had no problem doing it. It is not the Qur’an anymore, but the glimpse of beauty will remain.
Why is Allah beginning this surah by mentioning that He has revealed the Qur’an to the Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam)? One of the reasons Allah (subhanahu wata’ala) is mentioning this is to remind the Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) of the favors that He has given to him. This is a standard motif of the Qur’an. Surah Al-Dhuha: “Your Lord has not left you, nor has He abandoned you…Didn’t We find you as an orphan and take care of you?” Allah is reminding the favors He has done to the Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam). It is human nature that when you are spiritually down, you need somebody to cheer you up. Allah ‘azza wa jall is telling the greatest positive thing: He has revealed the Qur’an to him (one person), and this is the greatest blessing.
“We will be narrating to you the best of all stories…”
Nahnu (the plural) occurs because of Allah and the angels. “We recite to you the stories.” What stories? Ahsana’l-qasas. “The best of all stories.” What is a qisah? The word qisah comes from qasah, which means to follow the footsteps in the sand. When the bedouins found somebody’s footsteps, they would follow them in order to catch up to that person. Allah says about Musa in the Qur’an in Surah Kahf [v. 64]: “…Musa and Yusha followed their own qassasah (footsteps) back.” Why does a story come from following the footsteps? You are walking in their footsteps and following them. When I tell you the qisah, what happens to you? You are living it. Why does everybody love a story? A story is mesmerizing. A person never grows too old to listen to a story. No matter how old you are, you love to listen to a story. What do we do when we put children to sleep? We tell them a story, and this is what children love. All of us are children in this regard, and we love stories. Allah is saying, “We are going to give you the best of stories.” It is called a qisah because we are walking the walk. When we hear the story it is as if we are following their footsteps. Allah is saying, “We will give you the best of stories.”
If you read any book of how to speak and how to give an effective talk, there is always a chapter dedicated to the story. In one of the latest books that I read, it says to always begin a lecture with a personal anecdote or personal story. Why? Because it grabs the attention of the audience. It is human nature that stories are attractive. Stories are something that you like to listen to. Also, the lessons in stories are manifested. If I open up Riyadh Al-Saliheen and tell you the benefits of patience, masha’Allah it is good, but now I get to the story of the mother of Anas and how she reacted when her son died. Now those ahadith are brought home. It is not the same as saying, “Whoever is patient, masha’Allah he has good iman.” When I show you a story, those stories remain with you, and you are affected by them more, which is human nature. Allah ‘azza wa jall is telling us stories.
Another benefit of a story is that they are ‘aqeedah (theology) in action. It is one thing to say that you put your trust in Allah, but when we hear the story of Ibrahim when he is going to be thrown into the fire and he puts his trust in Allah, it is theology shown in action. ‘Aqeedah is manifested.
Another benefit of the story is that it is the reality of what has happened in the past. It is a real thing and not theory anymore. We know this happened to the previous prophets, and so we sense it more. Another benefit is that stories teach us that Allah’s Sunnah is repetitive and what has happened in the past will happen again. What is the purpose of a fable or story we tell our children? There is always a moral to the story. There is always a lesson to be learned. The lessons of Allah and these rules of Allah are permanent. When we hear these stories, the rules are reinforced. One of the fundamental rules of the story of Yusuf is that righteousness will win in the end, and evil can never succeed in the long run. This is one of the main themes of Surah Yusuf. We are going to come to this. When we read the story, we see this manifested and in real life; therefore, this maxim is then implanted in us that righteousness will win out in the end, and that is why Allah says in the Qur’an: “We will send you down stories to strengthen your resolve.” It is not childish to find motivation in stories, but it is part of our iman. Reading the stories of the prophets and reading the seerah of the Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) is one of the greatest ways to increase iman. Reading the stories of the sahabah brings about a sense of taqwa and iman and courage in us. Stories are a part of the Qur’an and Sunnah and part of human nature. This whole surah is a story.
“We will be narrating to you the best of all stories.” This has two meanings to it. First, every single Qur’anic story is the best of its kind. This is for many reasons:
- They are all true and not legends or fables. A true story is always better than an imaginary story.
- They have the best morals. No other story will give you those types of morals.
- The eloquent manners of presenting these stories. There is no story that can be more eloquent than the Qur’anic one.
- Every story that a man writes will have details and information that is not needed, and it distracts from the story and the moral. Allah ‘azza wa jall will tell you exactly what you need to know and not more or less. This is one of the biggest differences between the story of Yusuf in the Qur’an and the story of Yusuf in the Old Testament. The Old Testament gives so many details that you get lost. The story of Yusuf [in the Qur’an] even a ten year old can read cover to cover and will understand everything. The details are not there that will cause you to become lost.
Every story in the Qur’an is the best. A second meaning that has been derived is the fact that Allah has mentioned this verse in Surah Yusuf is an indication that Surah Yusuf is the best of all stories. There are two meanings that we derive: 1) Qur’anic stories are better than all other non-Qur’anic stories, and the Qur’an re-emphasizes this; it is pretty obvious. 2) The story of Yusuf is the best of all of these stories. This is why Allah begins the surah with “nahnu naqussu ‘alayka ahsana’l-qasas.” “We are the Ones who will tell you the best of all qasas…”
“…bimaa awhaynaa ilayka…”
Bimaa means ‘because / through this revelation We have given you the Qur’an.’ In other words, ‘because We are revealing the Qur’an to you, it is Our duty to tell you the best of all stories even though before the Qur’an came down you were from the ghaafileen.’ Ghaafil means you did not have knowledge. Ghaflah means to not have knowledge, and sometimes that ghaflah is intentional, and sometimes it is unintentional. In this case, it is unintentional. The Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) did not have access to knowledge. Allah calls the Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) ghaafil because he didn’t have the knowledge, not because he did not study but because he could not have studied. Allah is saying, “Because We have revealed this Qur’an to you, it is Our duty to give you the best of stories.”
Notice: Allah calls the Book Qur’an, and in the previous verse, He called it kitab. Kitab and Qur’an are complementary. The kitab is written, and Qur’an is recited, and the two put together form the reality of our Book. Allah mentions both in the beginning of this surah.
“We have revealed to you the best of all stories because of Our relation to the Qur’an even though before the Qur’an came down you were from the ghaafileen.” This shows us a number of points, and with this insha’Allah we will conclude:
- The Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) despite being the greatest human being before the wahy came down did not know these details. What does that show? This is a very profound point for modern philosophers and scientists. The Qur’an is the ultimate source for all of our guidance. We will never know ultimate truth from falsehood and good from evil without the Qur’an. The modern philosophy is that if you sit in a cave and meditate – I’m being a bit sarcastic here – and if you use your intellect, you will be able to derive all of the wisdoms you need to know. You will be able to figure out what is right and wrong and what is the best way to govern and what is the best way to judge and what the best ruling is. The Qur’an tells us that even before the Qur’an came down, the Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) despite being the best of human beings was ghaafil. If our Rasool (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) could not have known all of these truths before the Qur’an came down, do you think that me or you or someone else would ever know the realities? Allah says in the Qur’an: “You didn’t choose to know what was iman, what was the Book.” Allah says in the Qur’an, “Wa wa jadaka daalan fahada (You were not on the path.)” [Surah Dhuha: 7] The meaning of daal here is not misguided; the Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) was never misguided. Daal means, “you weren’t on the path.” You can be misguided or just not have a path, and in the case of the Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam), he did not have a path yet. This was the state of the Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) before the wahy (revelation) came down, so what then is the state of other than the Rasool without wahy? There is no guidance without the Qur’an, and this is a fundamental belief of all Muslims. This is why the Qur’an is a hidayah and siraat al-mustaqeem and kitab al-mubeen and kitab al-hakeem. You will never be able to achieve ultimate truth without the Qur’an. Allah says, “Even though before the coming of the revelation, you were from the ghafileen.”
- Allah is saying, “You didn’t know these surahs before I revealed them to you, and you were ghaafil about them, so how did you know about them?” We mentioned this before. How did he living in Makkah without access to any library and without any Old or New Testament and without access to Jews and Christians know about the story of Yusuf? There is only one source and that is Allah (subhanahu wata’ala). This is of the greatest miracles that we as Muslims many times neglect and do not appreciate. Our Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) was living in an environment of complete illiteracy and complete ignorance. There were no libraries, and there were no universities and there were no scholars. The people in Makkah were bedouins. Imagine: in our times with the internet and cell phones, it is difficult to imagine. For those of you older than fifteen or twenty remember the time before cell phones – imagine in that era coming across a tribe in Brazil or in the jungles of Africa, which are completely cut off from civilization, and they have amongst them a man who is talking about the histories of Rome and Persia and the stories of the Old and New Testament, and he is in the complete middle of the jungle, and the people can’t even read and write. They are literally backward tribesmen, let’s say, but they have a man amongst them who knows all of these things. Isn’t this something we can’t imagine? It is a miracle of miracles. This was the case of our Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) in Makkah. He came forth with stories, issues, and statements that people had no access to. The only access could have been from Allah, and this is one of the clear signs that the Qur’an is indeed from Allah.
Lessons From Surah Maryam: 1
Alhamdulillah, it’s a great blessing of Allah 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 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 . 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 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 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 mentions the story of Maryam (as) and her family and how she gave birth to Isa 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 , 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 . 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 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 , 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 , Ismail and Idrees 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 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 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 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 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 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 starts the Surah by saying,
Verse 1: Kaf, Ha, Ya, ‘Ayn, Sad.
Allah 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 alone knows the meanings of these letters. They are a secret from amongst the secrets of Allah , meaning that no one knows what they truly mean. Only Allah 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 . 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 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 . Zakariyya 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.
Heart Soothers: Idrees Al Hashemi
Lesson 13 From Surah Al -Kahf
Last verses of Surah Kahf
Alhamdulillah last session we were able to cover the meanings of verses 83-98. InshAllah tonight we’ll explore the meanings of verses 99-110, which will bring us to the end of this noble and beautiful Surah. Just as a quick reminder, the last set of verses related the story of Dhul Qarnain, who was an upright and God-conscious ruler who ruled over the entire known world of his time. He was a righteous servant of Allah to whom Allah granted might, power and sovereignty over the world along with knowledge and wisdom. He was a special servant of God. We’re told about his journeys to the east, west, and north as well as his building of a huge wall to prevent Ya’jūj and Ma’jūj from escaping. This story highlighted the fitna and trial of might, power, leadership, and authority and showed us that the way to deal with it is through faith and sincerity. Dhul Qarnain was tested with a lot of wealth and power but it was unable to corrupt him because of his faith and sincerity. The Surah follows the story of Dhul Qarnain with a scene from the Day of Judgment.
Verse 99: And We shall leave them, on that day, to surge over one another like waves. And the trumpet shall be blown, and We shall gather them together.
The first part of this verse is referring to Ya’jūj and Ma’jūj and the second part refers to resurrection, when the Angel Isrāfīl will blow into the horn bringing all creation back to life. On that day, is referring to the day near the end of times when Ya’jūj and Ma’jūj will break through the barrier and surge down the mountains like waves upon humanity destroying everything in their way. As Allah ﷻ tells us in Surah Al-Anbiya, “Until when [the dam of] Gog and Magog has been opened and they, from every elevation, descend…” They will wreak havoc for a period of time known to Allah until they will be destroyed.
As we’ve covered before there will be two instances when the trumpet will be sounded. Allah has appointed the Angel Isrāfīl to blow into the trumpet. This will happen twice. The first time every single thing will be destroyed. The second time every single thing will be brought back to life. This is how the day of Resurrection will start. The sūr, which is a trumpet or a horn, will be blown and all of mankind will rise from their graves and come towards the plain of judgment. That’s what Allah ﷻ is mentioning here in this verse, “And the trumpet shall be blown, and We shall gather them together.”
The Surah then describes a scene from the day of Judgment that’s specific to the non-believers. Those who received the message and consciously chose to reject it and rebel against God and His messengers.
Verse 100-101: And We shall present Hell, on that Day, as an array before the non-believers, those whose eyes were veiled from the remembrance of Me, and could not hear.
Meaning on the Day of Judgment Allah ﷻ will show the non-believers Hell Fire, exposing it to them so that they can see it with their own eyes. They will see it with their own eyes and hear its raging and frightening sounds even before entering it. Allah then describes the non-believers with 3 characteristics, which are essentially three reasons why they will be punished in the hereafter:
1) “Those whose eyes were veiled from the remembrance of Me, and could not hear.” They weren’t able to understand the truth when it was presented to them because they were spiritually blind and deaf. They were blind to the signs of Allah’s existence and power all around them spread throughout the universe, so they never thought or reflected over them. On top of that, they weren’t able to understand what was being recited to them. Meaning, they consciously chose to ignore the message and turn away from it. Here Allah is contrasting their condition in the hereafter to their condition in the life of this world. In this world, they chose to turn away from belief in the fire and in the hereafter, they won’t have the option to turn away. The veil over their eyes will be removed and they will see the consequences of their choice.
2) The second is that they worshipped others besides Allah.
Verse 102: Do those who disbelieve reckon that they may take My servants as protectors apart from Me? Truly We have prepared Hell as a welcome for the disbelievers!
Allah is scolding them and showing them their mistake. Did they really think or believe that they could take created beings or inanimate objects as protectors apart from Me? Did they really believe that worshipping idols, angels or people would benefit them or help them in any way? There’s no help or protection except with Allah, who deserves to be worshipped alone without any partners. As Allah ﷻ says in Surah Maryam, “No! Those “gods” will deny their worship of them and will be against them opponents [on the Day of Judgment].” Allah then tells us that their punishment is Jahannam, which has been prepared as a resting place for them. “Truly We have prepared Hell as a welcome for the disbelievers!”
3) The third quality that the non-believers are described with is that they are fools for thinking that their actions in this world will be of any benefit to them in the Hereafter.
Verse 103-104: Say, “Shall We inform you who are the greatest losers in respect to their deeds? Those whose efforts go astray in the life of this world, while they think that they are virtuous in their works.
In this verse, Allah ﷻ is addressing the Prophet ﷺ directly and he’s telling him to pose this question to the non-believers. “Shall We inform you who are the greatest losers in respect to their deeds?” Do you want to know who the greatest and biggest losers are with respect to their deeds? They are the ones who did good deeds and put in effort, but all of it went to waste. Those individuals who were misguided in the life of this world so their actions were guided by their wants, desires, and pleasures. Their actions were misplaced and not guided by faith in Allah. The reason why all of their efforts will go to waste is their disbelief or absence of faith. As Allah says,
Verse 105-106: They are those who disbelieve in the signs of their Lord, and in the meeting with Him. So their deeds have gone to waste, and on the Day of Resurrection, We shall assign them no weight. That is their recompense, the Jahannam, for having disbelieved and for having taken My signs and My messengers in mockery.
The greatest losers with respect to their deeds are those who reject the signs of Allah in this world. Those who refuse to accept the oneness, might, power and magnificence of Allah, those who refuse to believe in life after death and accountability. Their deeds will go to waste and on the Day of Judgment, they won’t have any weight. We know from multiple verses and narrations that our deeds are going to be weighed on the Day of Judgment. And on the Day of Judgment, it’s not about the number of deeds but the quality. That’s why on the Day of Judgment our deeds won’t be counted but they will be weighed. It could be that the weight of one action or deed is more than a thousand other deeds.
Those actions that are devoid of faith and sincerity will have no weight whatsoever. As Allah ﷻ says in Surah Al-Furqān, “And We will regard what they have done of deeds and make them as dust dispersed.” Their recompense is the fire of Jahannam, and that is the ultimate justice and fairness. They get punishment as recompense because of their rejection and disbelief and mockery of Allah’s signs and His messengers. Allah ﷻ then contrasts the punishment of the non-believers with the reward of the believers in Paradise.
Verse 107-108: Those who believe and perform righteous deeds, theirs shall be the Gardens of Paradise as a welcome. Abiding therein forever, they don’t seek any change from it.
Just as Hell is a “welcome” for the non-believers, Paradise is a true “welcome” for the believers. Meaning, those who believe in the existence and oneness of Allah, believe in the Prophet ﷺ and life after death and that faith expresses itself through their actions, their reward will be Gardens of Paradise. Again we see this formula being mentioned, faith + righteous deeds. This is the simple formula to achieve success in this world and the next. Our faith has to be real and practical; it has to translate into action. If we do so then our reward will be Jannah al-Firdaws, which is the highest and most virtuous level of Paradise. The Prophet ﷺ said, “When you ask Allah for Paradise ask Him for Al-Firdaws. It is the highest level of Paradise, the middle of Paradise and the rivers of Paradise flow from it.”
- إذا سألتم الله الجنة، فاسألوه الفردوس، فإنه أعلى الجنة، و أوسط الجنة، و منها تفجر أنهار الدنة.
In another narration, the Prophet ﷺ said, “In Paradise, there are a hundred levels, what is between every two levels is like what is between the heavens and the earth. Al-Firdaws is its highest level, and from it the four rivers of Paradise are made to flow forth. So when you ask Allah, ask Him for Al-Firdaws.”
- “ فِي الْجَنَّةِ مِائَةُ دَرَجَةٍ مَا بَيْنَ كُلِّ دَرَجَتَيْنِ كَمَا بَيْنَ السَّمَاءِ وَالأَرْضِ وَالْفِرْدَوْسُ أَعْلاَهَا دَرَجَةً وَمِنْهَا تُفَجَّرُ أَنْهَارُ الْجَنَّةِ الأَرْبَعَةُ وَمِنْ فَوْقِهَا يَكُونُ الْعَرْشُ فَإِذَا سَأَلْتُمُ اللَّهَ فَسَلُوهُ الْفِرْدَوْسَ ” .
They will be in Paradise for all of eternity, enjoying all of its pleasures and not wanting or desiring anything other than it. Allah (swt) then tells us about the extent and vastness of His knowledge. That his knowledge is infinite. This is also a description of the greatness and status of the Qur’ān.
Verse 109: Say, “If the ocean were ink for the words of my Lord, the ocean would be exhausted before the words of my Lord were exhausted, even if We brought the like thereof to replenish it.”
“The words of my Lord” may be a reference to Allah’s infinite knowledge or wisdom or the meanings of the Qur’ān. Meaning that if the oceans were turned into ink and the words of Allah were to be written with this ink, then the ink would run out and the words of Allah (swt) would still be left, even if more ink were to be brought. This is an example to make us understand the vastness of Allah’s knowledge, wisdom, and secrets. This example is being given to make us as human beings recognize the infinite nature of Allah’s knowledge as compared to or finite and limited knowledge.
The ocean is the largest and richest creation known to us as human beings. It takes up more than 70% of the surface of the Earth. And we use ink to document and record our knowledge, which we think is vast and amazing. So Allah gives this example of the ocean as ink being used to write and record His words. The entire ocean is used up and then it’s replenished but the words of Allah are still being written. This example is trying to help us comprehend the difference between the infinite and the finite. “And if all the trees on earth were pens, and if the sea and seven more added to it were ink, the words of Allah would not be exhausted. Truly Allah is Mighty, Wise.” This example should allow us to recognize the greatness and magnificence of Allah ﷻ as well as humble us as human beings as well.
We as human beings should never be deceived or fooled by our own intellect and abilities. No matter how much we learn and how advanced we become scientifically and technologically, it’s nothing compared to the infinite knowledge and wisdom of Allah ﷻ. Our knowledge compared to the knowledge of Allah is like a drop of water compared to all the oceans. Allah ﷻ then ends the noble Surah by reminding the Prophet (saw) about humility and us about the path of true salvation.
Verse 110: Say, “I am only a human being like you. It has been revealed to me that your God is one God. So whosoever hopes for the meeting with his Lord, let him perform righteous deeds and make no one a partner with his Lord in worship.
Allah ﷻ is speaking directly to the Prophet ﷺ. He’s telling him to tell his nation, his community, that he is a human being just like them. He’s not an Angel nor is he divine in any way. He eats, drinks, walks, talks and sleeps just like them. The only difference is that he ﷺ receives revelation from above from the Most High. It has been revealed to him that there is only one God, alone without any partners. So whoever believes in the meeting with their Lord, meaning they believe in the last day, resurrection, accountability and judgment. They know that the life of this world is temporary and finite and that the life of the hereafter is eternal and infinite, should “perform righteous deeds and make no one a partner with his Lord in worship.”
Righteous deeds include fulfilling all of our obligations, obeying the commands of Allah and staying away from His prohibitions. It includes all voluntary acts of worship such as praying, fasting, reading Quran, making dua, dhikr and charity. It includes being kind to our parents, spouses, children, relatives, neighbors, and co-workers. It even includes smiling at someone. There are multiple paths of righteousness in Islam.
We’re then reminded to not associate partners with Allah in our worship; to not commit shirk. There are two types of shirk: al-shirk al-akbar and al-shirk al-asghar. Al-Shirk Al-Akbar is associating partners with Allah; it’s an act of disbelief. Al-Shirk Al-Asghar refers to ostentation and showing off or not having sincerity in acts of worship. The Prophet ﷺ referred to ostentation as “the lesser idolatry.” The Prophet ﷺ said, “I do not fear that you will worship the sun, the stars and the moon, but I fear your worshipping other than Allah through ostentation.” The Prophet ﷺ said, “What I fear most for my community is doing things for other than the sake of Allah.” Ibn al-‘Arabi quotes his shaykh, “Let not the hours of your dear life pass away confronting contemporaries and socializing with friends. Watch out! Allah concluded His statement on the following verse…”
Alhamdulillah that brings us to then end of this noble and beautiful Surah. A Surah that has a special and unique status because the Prophet ﷺ encouraged us to recite it specifically on Fridays. Through four stories the Surah focuses on four different types of trials we’re going to face in this world and how to respond to them.
1) The story of the people of the cave represents the trial of faith. And we’re taught that one of the best ways to deal with it is through good company; surrounding ourselves with people of faith and righteousness.
2) The story of the owner of the two gardens is representative of the trial of wealth. And we’re taught the most powerful way to deal with it is by recognizing the reality of the life of this world.
3) The story of Musa (as) with Khidr is representative of the trial of knowledge and the way to deal with it is through seeking knowledge and humility.
4) The last story, the story of Dhul Qarnain is representative of the trial of power. The solution is sincerity and righte
14 Short Life Lessons From Studying Aqidah
Mass Shootings in America: All of the Above
Ten Things You Didn’t Know About The Kaaba- Video
OpEd: Why We Must Reconsider Moonsighting
Kashmir: Gateway in Turmoil
The Day I Die | Imam Omar Suleiman
A New Eid Tradition: Secret Gift Exchange
Muslims for Migrants | A Joint Letter By Imam Zaid Shakir & Imam Omar Suleiman
Were Muslim Groups Duped Into Supporting an LGBTQ Rights Petition at the US Supreme Court?
Bipolar Exiled: Oscillating between the Mind’s Terrain and Physical Boundaries
#Islam4 weeks ago
The Day I Die | Imam Omar Suleiman
Uncategorized4 weeks ago
A New Eid Tradition: Secret Gift Exchange
#Islam2 weeks ago
Muslims for Migrants | A Joint Letter By Imam Zaid Shakir & Imam Omar Suleiman
#Current Affairs3 weeks ago
Were Muslim Groups Duped Into Supporting an LGBTQ Rights Petition at the US Supreme Court?