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What Does Allah Care About? | Sh Ahsan Hanif

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In verse 77, the final verse of the 25th chapter of the Qur’an; Sūrah al-Furqān, Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) says,

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“Say, ‘What would my Lord care for you if not for your supplication?’ For you [disbelievers] have denied, so your denial is going to be adherent.”

It is as if Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) is stating in this verse that He does not care about certain attributes and measures, to which we, perhaps, in our worldly state pay great attention. Allah’s subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) scales are different to our scales. Yet there is no answer to this question. The verse is the end of the Sūrah, and as such, it seems that a topic that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) just began is left without answer.

However, due to the importance of this question and the whole topic of what Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) considers to be important, so that we too in turn, may pay greater attention to it, Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) dedicates the whole next Sūrah to answering this question. Sūrah al-Shu‘arā’, the 26th chapter shows us what Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) does and does not care about, in the most beautiful and eloquent of ways. The Sūrah mentions the stories of a number of past nations and the different attributes each nation was known for, and whether those achievements were sufficient in gaining them salvation. In between each story, Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) repeats two verses showing how we should heed the lessons in this Sūrah,

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“Indeed in that is a sign, but most of them were not to be believers. And indeed, your Lord – He is the Exalted in Might, the Merciful.”

Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) begins with the story of Mūsā 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) and Pharaoh. Pharaoh, the tyrannical and oppressive ruler who is bent on attaining and maintaining his power, to the extent he would claim divinity for himself. Pharaoh, who said to Mūsā, as Allah relates in the Qur’an,

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“If you take a god other than me, I will surely place you among those imprisoned.” (26:29)

Pharaoh, who with that power would subjugate a whole nation of people and place them in bondage and slavery. Pharaoh, who mad with his power would issue a decree to kill every male born child of Bani Isra’il.

Yet did his power, influence and armies help before Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) when he rejected His worship? Rather, his power would be the source of his destruction. While chasing Mūsā and his people, Pharaoh would see the sea split before him, but would think that it has split for him rather than Mūsā, so he rushed into it along with his armies until he was drowned. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) does not care about powerful leaders and kings when that power is not based on piety and God-consciousness.

“Indeed in that is a sign, but most of them were not to be believers. And indeed, your Lord – He is the Exalted in Might, the Merciful.”

Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) then mentions the story of the Prophet Ibrāhīm 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) and his call to his father and his people. The relationship of Āzar to Ibrāhīm, and the bond between a father and son would not be enough to save Ibrāhīm’s father when he rejected Allah. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) does not pay heed to one’s parents, spouses, children, relatives, tribes or castes when judging them.

“Indeed in that is a sign, but most of them were not to be believers. And indeed, your Lord – He is the Exalted in Might, the Merciful.”

We then have the story of the Prophet Nūḥ 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him). Nūḥ’s people were known for their nobility and highborn lineage. They would look down arrogantly upon those who were of lower birth. Thus, when Nūḥ’s followers were from the poor and general folk, they would remark,

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“Should we believe you while you are followed by the lowest [class of people]?” (26:111)

Yet this lineage and nobility would not benefit them before Allah when they rejected Nūḥ and Allah’s worship. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) did not care about this.

“Indeed in that is a sign, but most of them were not to be believers. And indeed, your Lord – He is the Exalted in Might, the Merciful.”

Next we have the story of Hūd and the people of ‘Ād. ‘Ād who were known for the military strength and might, who would conquer lands and build fortresses, as Allah mentions,

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“Do you construct on every elevation a sign, amusing yourselves. And take for yourselves and fortresses that you might abide eternally?

And when you strike, you strike as tyrants.” (26:128-130)

However, when they rejected Allah’s worship and their Prophet, Hūd, none of this would profit them. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) did not care for their strength and military skill.

“Indeed in that is a sign, but most of them were not to be believers. And indeed, your Lord – He is the Exalted in Might, the Merciful.”

The Prophet Ṣāliḥ was sent to his nation of Thamūd. Thamūd who were famed for their technological and engineering skill as Allah says,

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“And you carve out of the mountains, homes, with skill.” (26:149)

Those houses which we can still witness today in places like Petra, where huge abodes were skillfully carved within mountains thousands of years ago. Yet when they rejected Allah’s worship and their Prophet, Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) did not care for their skill and technique.

“Indeed in that is a sign, but most of them were not to be believers. And indeed, your Lord – He is the Exalted in Might, the Merciful.”

Allah then mentions the nation of Lūţ. Lūţ was a foreigner who had traveled and settled in this land. The people he was calling to Allah were the indigenous inhabitants. This is why they respond to the message of Lūţ by saying,

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“If you do not desist, O Lūţ, you will surely be of those evicted.” (26:167)

However, when they would reject Allah’s worship and the Prophet Lūţ, Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) would not pay heed to their indigenous status, for Allah does not care for such things.

“Indeed in that is a sign, but most of them were not to be believers. And indeed, your Lord – He is the Exalted in Might, the Merciful.”

Finally, Allah relays to us the story of the Prophet Shu‘ayb and his nation of Madyan. The people of Madyan who were known for their economic might and prosperity, and would seek wealth by hook or by crook. Allah says,

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“Give full measure and do not be of those who cause loss. And weigh with an even balance.” (26:181-182)

Yet this wealth and affluence would not save them when they rejected Allah’s worship and their Prophet.

“Indeed in that is a sign, but most of them were not to be believers. And indeed, your Lord – He is the Exalted in Might, the Merciful.”

Thus, if Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) does not care about the power possessed by Pharaoh, the close relationship of Āzar to Ibrāhīm, the nobility of the people of Nūḥ, the military strength of ‘Ād, the technological skill of Thamūd, the indigenous state of the nation of Lūţ or the economic might of Madyan, what does Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) care for and more importantly, what grants people Allah’s divine care?

Allah concludes Sūrah al-Shu‘arā’ with the answer to this.

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“And indeed, the Qur’an is the revelation of the Lord of the worlds. The Trustworthy Spirit has brought it down. Upon your heart, [O Muhammad].” (26:192-194)

Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) loves and cares for those who worship Him, follow His Messenger and revelation and live their life in servitude to Him. Thus, the above-mentioned attributes by themselves are not considered important by Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), it is when they are coupled with faith and righteous action that a person or nation attains Allah’s subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) divine care and love.

Shaykh Ahsan Hanif, PhD, was born and raised in Birmingham, UK. He memorised the Qur’an at a young age and at the age of 17 received a scholarship to study at the Islamic University of Madinah, Saudi Arabia. As well as attaining an ijazah in the Qur’an and a diploma in Arabic, Shaykh Ahsan graduated from the Faculty of Shari’ah Studies in 2006. Upon his return to the UK he attained his PhD from the University of Birmingham. He is currently an imam at Green Lane Masjid, Birmingham as well as the head of the Qur’an & Hadith Studies Department for AlMaghrib Institute. He has spoken at Islamic conferences in various countries, published translations of Arabic works and is a presenter of IslamQA for Islam Channel.

12 Comments

12 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Hedieh

    July 1, 2016 at 6:29 PM

    Love ur web ❤
    Thanks

    • Avatar

      J. Paul Ogden

      July 18, 2016 at 12:39 AM

      God is merciful, first of all, because He loves us – all of us. He does not love all that we do. Secondly and simultaneously, He cares for us in our efforts to learn how to Love Him which includes prayer, worship, faith, obedience, etc. We will fail often, but not ultimately until and unless He, the final judge, reconciles our actions and intentions within the bounds of all that He was constantly teaching us during our mortal sojurn here. If we endure to the end and live to be His faithful subjects – the jewels of His creation – His mercy can be our reward.

      He obviously has had a plan for us which involves this time while we are here together. Surah 77 v 25, 26. We cannot judge here and now who is exempt or who is to be imprisoned, cut off from His influence or abandoned in disdain. That is exclusively His right as supreme judge. George MacDonald commented on our disobedience concisely: “The instant a soul moves counter to the will of its prime mover, the universe is its prison.

  2. Avatar

    Badr

    July 3, 2016 at 9:52 AM

    Jazzaka Allah khairan Sheikh, very significant article.

  3. Avatar

    Zain Zubair

    July 4, 2016 at 5:25 AM

    JazakAllah!! Amazing Article
    “Our Lord!
    We have wronged our own souls:
    If You forgive us not and bestow not upon us Your Mercy, we shall certainly be lost ”
    Al Qur’an 7:23

  4. Avatar

    saki

    July 7, 2016 at 2:49 AM

    nice blog too informative. looking and reading your points its so impressive. doing more blog like this. i really appreciated doing like this.

  5. Avatar

    Umm Jehan

    July 8, 2016 at 2:29 AM

    What Allah likes most is that we obey Him and turn to Him at all times. Read Blossoms an inspiring online monthly magazine about how people turned to Allah and He resolved the most impossible problems.

  6. Avatar

    Lucifer

    July 8, 2016 at 1:31 PM

    Excuse me, friends, I’m not a Muslim,but I’ve been engaged in a spirited discussion with a member of another site who has challenged me to ask you all for your views on matters of rationality versus faith.

    He argues that certain rights are endowed by a creator, but neglects to specify what they are and why they don’t seem to apply evenly, or consistently.

    He argues:
    “A system that declares human rights are “endowed by their Creator” establishes that said rights are not bequeathed by the generosity of a government and therefore cannot be legitimately taken away by that government. It is up to the governed to ensure they are upheld.”

    He defines “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” (as per the Declaration of Independence) as those rights endowed by a creator.

    What I would like to know is:
    1)What mere mortal could dare deign to attempt to define the creator’s will and intent?

    2)Why would an omnipotent creator leave it in the hands of his creations to ensure that his given rights are protected?

    3)If these rights are indeed endowed by a creator and must be upheld at all costs, then what is the punishment for our failure? And as we have failed, numerously and continuously; If these things are so important to him why doesn’t he just take over?

    4) If he is in control, why does he ever allow his will to be broken?

    5) If the rights in the Declaration are an absolute account of rights endowed, then why has the creator not ensured that: A) No man go hungry, or thirsty, or without shelter, or good care?(Life); B) That no man be a slave?(Liberty); C) That everyone is allowed a say in their self-determination? (Pursuit of happiness)

    I understand that these may be an unsettling set of queries. Understand that I do not pose them to be incendiary. I would simply like your thoughts and opinions on the matter.

    • Avatar

      Maruf Sajjad

      July 12, 2016 at 10:45 AM

      Hello Lucifer, I will try to put my opinions regarding the questions you have asked. Know that these questions are nothing new, rather our prophet (peace be upon him) was also quizzed about some of these questions by his companions and throughout the history of Islam, many people asked these questions and there are a great deal of scholarly works done for answering these topics.
      Although you have asked 5 questions, they belong to the same category of the attributes of a God. This is a fundamental aspect of our faith to know about the names and attributes of Allah.
      The answer to your first question is, no, no mortal being defined the Creator’s wills and intent, rather it is the Creator who sent His defined rules and intents to us mortals. This was made very clear in the very beginning of our Quran, in Sura 2 verse 2-4 –
      ‘(2) This is the Book about which there is no doubt, a guidance for those conscious of Allah,(3) Who believe in the unseen, establish prayer, and spend out of what We have provided for them,(4) And who believe in what has been revealed to you, [O Muhammad], and what was revealed before you, and of the Hereafter they are certain [in faith]. ‘
      Now note that it explicitly declares that this book will guide those, who takes it for granted that there is a God, and He send revelations to His creations. This book will not argue with you whether there is a God or not, rather it is for those who accept that there is a divinity. SO if you agree with me upto this point, we can move to the next questions.
      Question 2,4 and 5 are basically asks the same question. Allah explicitly said it many times in the Quran that He could have made us in a way that there is no disobedience,there is no problems in the world, there is no hunger etc. etc. (refer to sura 5 verse 48 for example which says
      ‘… He would have made you one nation [united in religion], but [He intended] to test you in what He has given you; so race to [all that is] good. To Allah is your return all together, and He will [then] inform you concerning that over which you used to differ.’
      And He answered it saying that how He will create and maintain his creation is His business,not us. We cannot impose our conditions on how should God create or not. It completely depends on Him. If you know, the angels meet the criteria of those you have asked. The angels never disbelieve, the have no hunger,poverty etc etc, they are not given the power to disobey Allah’s command. They are above these. Allah created the type you have mentioned. So there is actually no point in arguing on this.
      Now question 3. It is a great question. As a matter of fact Allah knows that we will fail numerously and continuously, so He gave us the assurance of His forgiveness provided that we gave our efforts. Allah said us that He is ‘Al Gaffar’ and ‘Al Gafur’, two names to describe His forgiveness. Why is that? Interestingly, The difference between Al-Ghaffar and Al-Ghafur has been explained by various means. Traditionally, Al-Ghaffar is translated as “The Forgiving”. This type of forgiveness is a continuous and repetitive action. No matter how many times a person may sin, God can continually forgive him/her for his/her sins. Al-Ghafur, on the other hand, is understood as forgiving a sin no matter how large the sin may be.
      So, it the sincere effort that counts, the result is on the hand of Allah.
      I hope you got your answers. Thanks :)

  7. Avatar

    asdf

    July 8, 2016 at 6:10 PM

    Hello Lucifer, welcome to this site. I am very confused as to the nature of your inquiry and of why you are asking it on a Muslim website, as your queries seem to be from the American Declaration of Independence, not an Islamic source. It seems like you are trying to ask a question about free will in Islamic theology, of which, opinions are very divided.
    Please clarify.
    Thanks.

  8. Avatar

    AvidRetainer

    July 13, 2016 at 10:36 PM

    Great article. I memorized and learned the meaning of Surah Shu’ara but I never really understood the connection between these two surahs. JazakumuAllahKhairan for this fascinating article. May Allah guide you to put up more articles about the order of the Quran.

  9. Avatar

    Abdul Sammad

    July 26, 2016 at 7:48 PM

    thanks
    very fine artical. Its very helpfull.

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#Islam

The Spirituality Of Gratitude

Shaykh Tarik Ata

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Gratitude

The Quran tells the reader of the importance of gratitude in two ways. First, worship, which is the essence of the relationship between man and the Creator, is conditional to gratitude “and be grateful to Allah if it is [indeed] Him that you worship” (2:172). The verse suggests that in order for an individual to truly worship Allah then they must express gratitude to Allah and that an ungrateful individual cannot be a worshiper of Allah. The second verse states the following “And be grateful to Me and do not deny Me” (2:152). The Arabic word used, translated here as ‘deny,’ is kufr which linguistically means to cover up. The word was adopted by the Quran to refer to someone who rejects Allah after learning of Him. Both the linguistic and Quranic definitions are possibly meant in this verse and both arrive at the same conclusion. That is, the absence of gratitude is an indicator of one’s rejection of Allah; the question is how and why?

What Does Shukr Mean?

Understanding a Quranic concept begins with understanding the word chosen by the Quran. The word shukr is used throughout the Quran and is commonly translated as gratitude. From a purely linguistic definition, shukr is “the effect food has on the body of an animal” (Ibn Qayyim v. 2 p. 200). What is meant here is that when an animal eats food it becomes heavier which has a clear and visible effect on the animal. Therefore, shukr is the manifestation of a blessing or blessings on the entirety of a person. From here, spiritualists understood the goal of shukr and added an extra element to the definition and that is the acknowledgment that those blessings are from Allah. Thus, the definition of shukr as an Islamic spiritual concept is “the manifestation of Allah’s blessings verbally through praise and acknowledgment; emotionally on the heart through witnessing the blessings and loving Allah; and physically through submission and servitude” (Ibid).

Based on this definition, the goal of shukr can be broken into five categories. First, gratitude that brings about the submission of the individual to his benefactor. In order for an act to be worthy of gratitude, the beneficiary must conclude that the benefactor’s action was done for the sake of the beneficiary – thus making the benefactor benevolent. In other words, the benefactor is not benefiting in the least (Emmons et al 2004 p. 62). When the individual recognizes his benefactor, Allah, as being completely independent of the individual and perfect in of himself, one concludes that the actions of the benefactor are purely in the best interest of the beneficiary resulting in the building of trust in Allah. The Quran utilizes this point multiple times explicitly stating that Allah has nothing to gain from the creations servitude nor does he lose anything from because of their disobedience (Q 2:255, 4:133, 35:15, 47:38). Through shukr, a person’s spirituality increases by recognizing Allah’s perfection and their own imperfection thus building the feeling of need for Allah and trust in him (Emmons et al 2002 p. 463).

Gratitude in Knowing That Allah Loves Us

The second category is love for the benefactor. Similar to the previous category, by identifying the motive of the benefactor one can better appreciate their favors. “Gratitude is fundamentally a moral affect with empathy at its foundation: In order to acknowledge the cost of the gift, the recipient must identity with the psychological state of the one who has provided it” (Emmons 2002 p. 461).[1] That is, by recognizing Allah’s perfection one concludes that his blessings are entirely in the best interest of the beneficiary despite not bringing any return to Him. Thus, the Quran utilizes this concept repeatedly and to list a few, the Quran reminds the human reader that he created the human species directly with his two hands (38:75), he created them in the best physical and mental form (95:4), gave him nobility (17:70), commanded the angels to prostrate to him out of reverence (38:72-3), made him unique by giving him knowledge and language (2:31), exiled Satan who refused to revere him (7:13), allowed him into Paradise (7:19), forgave his mistake (2:37), designated angels to protect each individual (13:11) and supplicate Allah to forgive the believers (40:7-9), created an entire world that caters to his needs (2:29), among plenty of other blessings which express Allah’s love, care, and compassion of the human.

The remaining three categories revolve around the individual acting upon their gratitude by acknowledging them, praising Allah for them and using them in a manner acceptable to Allah. In order for gratitude to play a role in spirituality the blessings one enjoys must be utilized in a manner that connects them with Allah. Initially, one must acknowledge that all blessings are from him thus establishing a connection between the self and Allah. This is then elevated to where the individual views these blessings as more than inanimate objects but entities that serve a purpose. By doing this one begins to see and appreciate the wisdoms behind these created entities enlightening the individual to the Creators abilities and qualities. Finally, after recognizing the general and specific wisdoms behind each creation, one feels a greater sense of purpose, responsibility, and loyalty. That is, engaging the previous five categories establishes love for the benefactor (Ibn Qayyim v. 2 p. 203). Observing the care and compassion of the benefactor for his creation establishes the feeling of loyalty towards the one who has cared for us as well as responsibility since He created everything with purpose.

Blessings Even in Hardship

One may interject by referring to the many individuals and societies that are plagued with hardships and do not have blessings to appreciate. No doubt this is a reality and the Quran address this indirectly. Upon analysis, one finds that the blessings which the Quran references and encourages the reader to appreciate are not wealth or health; rather, it is the sun, the moon, trees, and the natural world in general. Perhaps the reason for this is what shukr seeks to drive us towards. There are two things all these objects have in common (1) they are gifts given by Allah to all humans and all individuals enjoy them and (2) humans are dependent upon them. Everyone has access to the sun, no one can take it away, and we are critically dependent upon it. When the Quran draws our attention to these blessings, the reader should begin to appreciate the natural world at a different level and Surah an Nahl does precisely that. This chapter was likely revealed during the time of hijrah (immigration); a time when the companions lost everything – their homes, wealth, and tribes. The chapter works to counsel them by teaching them that the true blessings a person enjoys is all around them and no matter how much was taken from them, no one can take away the greater blessings of Allah.

In sum, these verses bring light to the crucial role shukr plays in faith. It serves as a means to better know Allah which can be achieved through a series of phases. First, the individual must search for the blessings which then leads to a shift in perspective from focusing on the wants to focusing on what is available. This leads to greater appreciation and recognition of the positives in one’s life allowing the person more optimism. Second, the person must link those blessings to the benefactor – Allah – which reveals many elements of who He is and His concern for His creation. Once this is internalized in the person’s hearts, its benefits begin to manifest itself on the person’s heart, mind, and body; it manifests itself in the form of love for Allah and submission to him. Shukr ultimately reveals the extent of Allah’s love and concern for the individual which therein strengthens the trust and love of the individual for Allah and ultimately their submission to Him.

Allah knows best.

Emmons, Robert A., and Charles M. Shelton. “Gratitude and the science of positive psychology.” Handbook of positive psychology 18 (2002): 459-471.

Emmons, Robert A., and Michael E. McCullough, eds. The psychology of gratitude. Oxford University Press, 2004.

Jawziyyah, Ibn Qayyim. madārij al-sālikīn bayn manāzil iyyāka naʿbud wa iyyāka nastaʿīn مدارج السالكين بين منازل إياك نعبد وإياك نستعين [The Levels of Spirituality between the Dynamics of “It is You Alone we Worship and it is You Alone we Seek Help From]. Cario: Hadith Publications, 2005.

[1] Islamically speaking, it is not befitting to claim that Allah has a psyche or that he can be analyzed psychologically.

Download a longer version of this article here: The Sprituality of Gratitude

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Lessons From Surah Maryam: 1

Shaykh Furhan Zubairi

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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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