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It’s Not Mother’s or Father’s Day but… Imam Omar Suleiman

Imam Omar Suleiman

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“The most important thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother.” This is a quote I first heard in 3rd grade. I remember the day very well. My teacher, Mrs. Smith, said it to my father as he brought me to school and updated her on the status of my mother (may Allah have mercy on her) as she was in an unresponsive coma.

Men like my dad are rare. My mom fought through diseases, strokes, partial deafness, cancer, and so much more throughout my childhood. Throughout that process, I watched my dad demonstrate what it means to be a devoted husband. He stood by her side, literally carried her around the house at times, never made her feel like a burden, and was the anchor of our home.

I remember the “suggestions” being made to my dad during that time period by uncles who claimed they were looking out for him. I cringed but held my silence as they thought I didn’t know what they were saying. They spoke of my mom as if she was damaged goods and my dad needed to be “happy.” But to him, happiness was in my mom still being able to smile despite the many close calls. It was in us having as normal of a childhood as possible, considering that our mom who showed us limitless love was unable to do things that other moms could do.

This to me didn’t just teach me to respect my father more, but the faith that he had to keep him going. My dad was and, still is, an important man in the community. He sat on the masjid board, helped found an Islamic school for which he served as chairman for a decade, gave khutbahs, represented the Palestinian cause in debates, participated in interfaith dialogues, participated in local politics, and so much more. Not to mention, he had a lofty academy career as a distinguished tenured Professor of Chemistry, an admirable laboratory, serious research credentials, and impressive inventions and publications. But with all of that, he was always dedicated to my mom and us. Due to his unique circumstances and my mother’s health, he would have to come home and still do plenty of work. But he never complained or showed an ounce of ingratitude. My mom was not a charity case to him, she was his queen. She was his wife who married him when he was a broke graduate student (sorry dad :-) ), and she was the mother of his children.

We all know how much Allah honors mothers in the Quran, as did the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) through the Sunnah. But do we only attribute that honor to the wombs that bore us? What about the mothers who gave us our own children? The mothers who gave us our sadaqa jariya (continuous charity) and most precious investment. The mothers who literally flirted with death in labor while giving birth to our children. Imagine if someone gave you a million-dollar investment with your name on it. How would you treat that person? Yet still we find the nerve to show cruelty to the women that have given us investments in our names that will far outlive us. Not only that, they refine those investments for us by teaching them the religion and upright character that they may grow to supplicate for their parents and pass on this legacy that we’ve inherited from our messenger ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him)

There is a reason that the Prophet (SalAllahu alayhi wa salam) mentioned of the many favors of Khadijah raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) to him that “she bore my children.” Fatima raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her), Al Hassan raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him), Al Hussein raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him), the Mahdi that will eventually come that is of their descendants, etc. All of that is a favor of Khadijah raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) to the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him)  and he did not fail to acknowledge that. So when Allah chides the ungrateful child who dares even to say “uff” to his mother or roll his eyes at her, what then of the man that antagonizes and belittles the women who gave him his own children.

So thank you mom for being the most loving mother that a child could ask for. Even though you were physically limited for most of my childhood, your overwhelming love and compassion made up for all of that.

Thank you dad for teaching me how to be a husband and father. Your example of unconditional devotion gave me no excuse to fail. When I questioned my faith, I was brought back partly due the amazing demonstration of it that I saw in you. Thank you for never failing to remind me to do the same with my own family

Thank you my lovely wife for being an incredible companion, my greatest supporter, and the mother of my two children. Without you, they literally wouldn’t exist. And without you, they would not be the lovely children that they are today.

And yes, I’m pretty sure my dad loves my wife, who has become a daughter to him, more than me. And for good reason :-)

It’s not mothers or fathers day, but make sure you thank all of the mothers and fathers in your life today.

Our Lord, grant us from among our wives and offspring comfort to our eyes, and make us an example for the righteous. Forgive our parents as they raised us when we were young, and forgive us and help us as we raise our young ones. Ameen

Imam Omar Suleiman is the Founder and President of the Yaqeen Institute for Islamic Research, and an Adjunct Professor of Islamic Studies in the Graduate Liberal Studies Program at SMU (Southern Methodist University). He is also the Resident Scholar at Valley Ranch Islamic Center and Co-Chair of Faith Forward Dallas at Thanks-Giving Square. He holds a Bachelors in Accounting, a Bachelors in Islamic Law, a Masters in Islamic Finance, a Masters in Political History, and is currently pursuing a Phd. in Islamic Thought and Civilization from the International Islamic University of Malaysia.

43 Comments

43 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Humera Fatima

    July 25, 2016 at 1:48 PM

    Ameen, what a great man your father is Alhamdulillah!!

    • Avatar

      Faiza Ahmed

      July 25, 2016 at 3:36 PM

      SubhanAllah, this brought tears in my eyes. As for someone who never had a dad, I absolutely admire your dad. May Allah cure your mom fully and may Allah reward your amazing dad for that he did and grand all of our parents the highest level of Jannah. Aamiin

    • Avatar

      Usman Ali

      July 25, 2016 at 4:05 PM

      This is the way we should lead our lives for an example for the young ones to come. Great lovely story based on the Islamic values.

    • Avatar

      Afshan

      July 26, 2016 at 12:46 AM

      I was very moved on reading this post. SubhanAllah so much love n respect for ur parents! It reflects ur upbringing n character. Thats why i am a great follower of ur lectures n dawah!
      May Allah preserve u n ur family n the happiness u share. Ameen

    • Avatar

      Asma

      July 26, 2016 at 2:48 AM

      Firstly I want to make dua for u May Allah bless ur mother best of health and keep in his protection Ameen
      I admire u for ur love and respect for ur parents and May Allah guide every child and husband Ameen

  2. Avatar

    Zahida Raja

    July 25, 2016 at 1:50 PM

    Speechless! I hope this reaches every single man. I hope it reforms them.

  3. Avatar

    Nayissa

    July 25, 2016 at 2:05 PM

    Beautifully lined..Well this is my imam!.. Ameen thumma ameen. stay blessed.

  4. Avatar

    Jaye

    July 25, 2016 at 2:14 PM

    MashaAllah may Allah bless your family!

  5. Avatar

    Hamida Bithi

    July 25, 2016 at 2:39 PM

    ma shaa Allah, Al’hamdulillah, it was so beautiful so read!
    May Allah bless all of us, our family members, and grant all of us Jannat-Al-Firdous, Ameen.

    • Avatar

      issack

      July 25, 2016 at 4:23 PM

      sadaqtaa hamida

  6. Avatar

    Iddris

    July 25, 2016 at 2:41 PM

    Mashaa Allah! Soo touching,
    Nice piece.

  7. Avatar

    Amina Ishaq

    July 25, 2016 at 2:52 PM

    I pray that this reaches every man and touches some cord in their hearts. To love the way your father did is truly rare. May Allah elevate the rank of your mother in jannatul firdaus and may your father always be blessed in di yah and akhirah. Ameen!

  8. Avatar

    Mehboob

    July 25, 2016 at 2:52 PM

    Most beautiful words, coming from heart and going into hearts.

    Jazak Allah khair

  9. Avatar

    nouranbintamin

    July 25, 2016 at 2:54 PM

    Mashallah. Beautifully said, I hope I can learn from the example of you and your father imam.

  10. Avatar

    Hajira

    July 25, 2016 at 2:58 PM

    I love to read reminders like this because it gives me hope, that even though I have no personal experience of such a father figure, my future husband and I can through our own examples show our children how to be the best of parents and spouses. That devoted husbands and loving relationships DO exist and they are something that Islam not only encourages but demands. Thank you for sharing this beautiful piece with us Sheikh. :)

  11. Avatar

    Faraash

    July 25, 2016 at 3:11 PM

    Incredibly beautiful, mashaaAllah. May this mindset implement in all of us, ameen.

  12. Avatar

    SHELEEZA DEEN

    July 25, 2016 at 4:56 PM

    SubhanaAllaah Alhamdulillah Allaahu Akbar!!! What an amazing example you had. May Allaah SWT continue to bless you entire family. May we all thrive to be better persons with all the different hats we wear fisabilillah!

  13. Avatar

    Najma

    July 25, 2016 at 5:33 PM

    Your parents raised a gracious son. What a lovely tribute to your parents!

  14. Avatar

    Farhan

    July 25, 2016 at 5:54 PM

    Subhan Allah May ASWT bless you and your family and your parents.
    JZK for the beautiful reminder about the importance of our wives and parents. May Allah SubhanAllah waTallah also make us better husbands and children.

  15. Avatar

    Aziza

    July 25, 2016 at 6:49 PM

    Beautiful masha Allah. This is a story i must share with my family. Insha Allah. May Allah reward ur dad abundantly and grant ur mom a high abode in Jannah. AAMEEN

  16. Avatar

    Shehana

    July 25, 2016 at 6:51 PM

    Ameen. Beautifully said.

  17. Avatar

    Somayah

    July 25, 2016 at 7:44 PM

    Ma sha Allah.
    ذرية بعضها من بعض
    May Allah keep you blessed, safe and sound and may He make us and our children follow the steps of our blessed Prophet (pbuh) and yours.

  18. Avatar

    Ali

    July 25, 2016 at 8:20 PM

    Masha Allah Beautiful Story. Your dad is a great man and your mum is a great woman coz she would have also lived on the teachings of Allah and our prophet (SalAllahu alayhi wa salam) with your dad in order for your dad to love, adore, and cherish her the way he did. I only pray and hope that when women want a man to learn a lesson from this story and be like your dad then men also want women to learn lesson & live on the teachings of Allah and our prophet (Sal Allahu alayhi wa salam) and to love, adore, and cherish your man and to show it – “Actions speaks louder then Words”

  19. Avatar

    Shiaz

    July 25, 2016 at 9:59 PM

    As it was written about good investment, reading this whole para was only again a good investment, yes you have got a blessed person as your father and role model to copy paste. Subahanalla

  20. Avatar

    Sajiya

    July 25, 2016 at 10:38 PM

    Alhumdulillah, beautiful.
    May Allah bless you and your family more. Thankyou for sharing a part of your life with us. May Allah Allow us to understand and benefit. Aameen.

  21. Avatar

    Mansoor Ahmed

    July 26, 2016 at 12:18 AM

    My dear brother,You are an Inspirational person. This personal story of your family is worth reading and extracting many points to implement in our life’s may Allah S.w.t bless your family and unity you all in Jannah again.Aameen

  22. Avatar

    Mohammed Ibrahim

    July 26, 2016 at 12:34 AM

    Your esteemed parents MA blessed with the greatest beauty of the life in this world instilling the abundant and the most admired qualities, noble and gentle behaviour. In Shaa Allah they would also enjoy the life in Jenna with all the amazing beauty and blessings of their life and with their Saleh children and everlasting bliss and happiness! AH

  23. Avatar

    Elisa

    July 26, 2016 at 12:44 AM

    Ameen ya Rabb.
    Thank you for these so inspiring written words. May Allah bless your family and unite you in Jannah. Ameen

  24. Avatar

    Mahmood Akhtar

    July 26, 2016 at 12:54 AM

    It is real Islam. Islam demands devotion. Unfortunately we have limited religion to only a few things. Rarely our Imams & preachers talk about this beautiful culture of Islam. They seldom talk about real family issues. I never listened any Imam ever stressing for love of ailing wife. Rarely they talk about common nuisance in our society like misuse of roads & foot paths, noise pollution and even corruption. That is why we have dual personalities, one inside mosque and just opposite one outside mosque. Imams are the institution for keeping our society clean free of social evils.

  25. Avatar

    NuhaSara

    July 26, 2016 at 3:19 AM

    Sounds good..! Nicely pictured the role and duty of members in Islamic Family which’s major goal is attaining Jannah while getting Allah’s satisfaction. Yah.. Its your family.! Barakallah.. May Allah bless your family and forgive your visionary parents…. Exactly your Parents are Lucky to give birth for a son like you…!!

  26. Avatar

    Arinola

    July 26, 2016 at 4:31 AM

    Awesome, emotional. Your dad is just like my dad. Very selfless. I am inspired by your post. My Dad wasn’t privileged to be the breadwinner of our family but he was there and is still there in ways money could never equate to. May almighty AlLah have mercy on our parents.

  27. Avatar

    AZ

    July 26, 2016 at 5:03 AM

    Masya Allah! He earned my respect!

  28. Avatar

    Shajia

    July 26, 2016 at 8:41 AM

    Inspired me just like your speech”My role model”
    May Allah Jannatul Firdous to your mom ,and may He (SWT) shower His blessing upon you and your family . Aameen

  29. Avatar

    Maureen McLallen

    July 26, 2016 at 10:28 AM

    This is such a beautifully written article I have seen on social media. Thank you for sharing and God bless you and your family.

  30. Avatar

    Aqeel siddiqui

    July 26, 2016 at 11:51 AM

    Subhannallah, your father is an angel. A role model for all men.

  31. Avatar

    Uj

    July 26, 2016 at 2:13 PM

    What a beautiful piece of writing . You realy are a sadqa jaria for your parent mashaAllah.

  32. Avatar

    Abdul Sammad

    July 26, 2016 at 7:38 PM

    Ameen
    Very Nice subhan Allah

  33. Avatar

    Abdul Sammad

    July 26, 2016 at 7:40 PM

    Ameen
    Very Nice subhan Allah
    your father is roll model for u.

  34. Avatar

    Badr

    July 27, 2016 at 6:51 AM

    Allahuma Ameen Ya Sheikh….it all comes down to the very Core unit of our Ummah, The Family. If it’s not right then the Ummah is not right.

  35. Avatar

    Tuffah Nurein

    July 28, 2016 at 7:58 AM

    So touching… This article brought tears into my eyes, mainly so I remembered how my dear father (rahimahu ‘Llah) was, and how much he was taking care of my mother (may Allah give her good health), similarly as same as what you have explained to us. Oh Allah… I’m so touched by this story. Oh yes… my father was amazing! This truly is how Islam has taught us in both ways as regards father and mother. But my father was ‘a m a z i n g’.May he be granted the best place in Jannat, A’miin.

  36. Avatar

    Muhammad Siddique

    August 5, 2016 at 5:09 PM

    Is this the same Imam Omar Suleiman who shared the stage with George Bush, Jr. et. al after the fatal shootings of cops in Texas by an African American?

  37. Avatar

    Sayed M. Husaini

    August 8, 2016 at 2:11 PM

    I’m impressed by the main theme, yet I find the below part disturbing.
    Quote: There is a reason that the Prophet (SalAllahu alayhi wa salam) mentioned of the many favors of Khadijah raḍyAllāhu ‘anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) to him that “she bore my children.” Fatima raḍyAllāhu ‘anha (may Allāh be pleased with her), Al Hassan raḍyAllāhu ‘anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him), Al Hussein raḍyAllāhu ‘anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him), the Mahdi that will eventually come that is of their descendants, etc. All of that is a favor of Khadijah raḍyAllāhu ‘anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) to the Prophet ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) and he did not fail to acknowledge that.
    Unquote.
    Sayyidah Khadija bore Sayyidah Zainab, Ruqayyah, Umm Kulthoom, besides Fatimah.
    Also, any reference about him (slaw) mentioning al-Mahdi as a favor from Sayyidah Khadeejah?

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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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