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Justice: The Absolute | Principle Guidelines for Scholars in Political Engagement

Shaykh Hasib Noor

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The closest companion of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) and his first successor, Abu Bakr raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) accepted Islam for one of the most powerful reasons the Prophet was sent with – to establish justice.

قَالَ أَبُو بَكْرٍ رَضِيَ اللَّهُ عَنْهُ: «كُنْتُ جَالِسًا بِفِنَاءِ الْكَعْبَةِ، وَكَانَ زَيْدُ بْنُ عَمْرِو بْنِ نُفَيْلٍ قَاعِدًا، فَمَرَّ بِهِ أُمَيَّةُ بْنُ أَبِي الصَّلْتِ، فَقَالَ: كَيْفَ أَصْبَحْتَ يَا بَاغِيَ الْخَيْرِ؟ قَالَ: بِخَيْرٍ، قَالَ: هَلْ وَجَدْتَ؟ قَالَ: لَا، وَلَمْ آلُ مِنْ طَلَبٍ، فَقَالَ: كُلُّ دِينٍ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ إِلَّا مَا قَضَى اللَّهُ وَالْحَنِيفَةُ بُورُ، أَمَا إِنَّ هَذَا النَّبِيَّ الَّذِي يُنْتَظَرُ مِنَّا أَوْ مِنْكُمْ، أَوْ مِنْ أَهْلِ فِلَسْطِينَ، قَالَ أَبُو بَكْرٍ: وَلَمْ أَكُنْ سَمِعْتُ قَبْلَ ذَلِكَ بِنَبِيٍّ يُنْتَظَرُ، أَوْ يُبْعَثُ، قَالَ: فَخَرَجْتُ أُرِيدُ وَرَقَةَ بْنَ نَوْفَلٍ، وَكَانَ كَثِيرَ النَّظَرِ فِي السَّمَاءِ، كَثِيرَ هَمْهَمَةِ الصَّدْرِ، قَالَ: فَاسْتَوْقَفْتُهُ، ثُمَّ اقْتَصَصْتُ عَلَيْهِ الْحَدِيثَ، فَقَالَ: نَعَمْ يَا ابْنَ أَخِي، أَبَى أَهْلُ الْكِتَابِ وَالْعُلَمَاءُ إِلَّا أَنَّ هَذَا النَّبِيَّ الَّذِي يُنْتَظَرُ مِنْ أَوْسَطِ الْعَرَبِ نَسَبًا، وَلِي عِلْمٌ بِالنَّسَبِ، وَقَوْمُكَ أَوْسَطُ الْعَرَبِ نَسَبًا، قَالَ: قُلْتُ: يَا عَمِّ، وَمَا يَقُولُ النَّبِيُّ؟ قُلْتُ: يَقُولُ مَا قِيلَ لَهُ، إِلَّا أَنَّهُ لَا ظُلْمَ وَلَا تَظَالُمَ، فَلَمَّا بُعِثَ النَّبِيُّ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ آمَنْتُ وَصَدَقْتُ»

رَوَاهُ ابْنُ الْأَثِيرِ وَابْنُ عَسَاكِرَ

Abu Bakr raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) said,
“I was sitting down in the courtyard of the Ka’bah, when I heard Zaid ibn ‘Amr ibn Nufail and Ibn Abi As-Salt engaged in a conversation.

I heard one of them say that the time was drawing near when a Prophet would be sent to mankind. Abu Bakr said “Prior to that time, I had never heard about a Prophet that was about to be sent (to mankind). I went to Waraqah ibn Naufal, a man who would frequently stare at the sky and who would often whisper prayers to himself. When I saw him, I inquired from him and told him about what I had heard.

He said, ‘Yes, O son of my brother. I am a person who is familiar with (revealed) books and (divinely revealed) knowledge. Indeed, this Prophet that is awaited has the noblest lineage among all Arabs. I have some knowledge about genealogy, and I know that your people have the best lineages among all Arabs.

I said, ‘O my uncle, what does a Prophet say?’ He said, ‘He says what is spoken to him (by the angel Jibril). He does not do injustice; he does not help others perpetrate injustice; and he does not tolerate injustice.’ Then when the Messenger of Allah was sent, I believed him and had faith in him.” (Ibn Al Athir, Ibn Asakir, Al Suyuti in Tarikh Al Khulafa)

There has been in recent days many articles and posts by individuals on the topic of scholars and political engagement. What seems to be missing from the discussion is what actually are guidelines for political engagement? What are red lines that can never be excused, what ‘nuances’ cannot be justified, or elaborate explanations given to foundationally wrong stances?

This discussion, of course, needs a long introduction and can span several detailed sciences that requires understanding of roughly all of the supplementary and objective sciences of Islam (alat and ghayat), but this requires as relevant understanding of political-social realities, as well as political-social science.

A scholar, who may be one of the most adept in the sciences of Islam (alat and ghayat), can also completely miss the boat in judgment and cause detriment to the community due to their lack of understanding, wrong estimation, or false judgment on realities: political realities, social, etc.

This is based on a very well-known principle in the science of derivative judicial law (usul):

حكم العالم مبني على الإجتهاد الظني ولا القطعي

The rulings given by a scholar in these matters are Dhanni (interpretative) and not Qat’i (definitive).

They are bound to make wrong judgments of course, and perhaps even on wrong political estimations. Great scholars in history have fallen into such mistakes: they range from justifying seeking positions of leadership, to attacking other Muslim nations, to even justifying the death of family members of a ruling party to preserve rule, establish order, and cull fitnah (insurrection, sedition).

Do Not Commit Oppression

Though an entire book can be written on this (and perhaps someday can be), there is one major principle that is the overarching guideline for scholars in political engagement.

This is the guideline in which God brings about justice and balance. With it, empires were established, and others were debased. Kings & sultans were given strength through it, and others were humiliated. The principle is the ultimate principle in which God’s Divine Laws function:

عَنْ اَلنَّبِيِّ ‏-صَلَّى اَللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ‏-‏- فِيمَا يَرْوِي‏ عَنْ رَبِّهِ‏- قَالَ:

يَا عِبَادِي! إِنِّي حَرَّمْتُ اَلظُّلْمَ عَلَى نَفْسِي, وَجَعَلْتُهُ بَيْنَكُمْ مُحَرَّمًا, فَلَا تَظَّالَمُوا
أَخْرَجَهُ مُسْلِمٌ.‏

The Prophet ﷺ narrated from Allah, the Most High that He has said,

“O my servants! I have made oppression (dhulm) unlawful for myself and I have made it unlawful among you, so do not oppress one another.” Muslim 1537

لَقَدْ أَرْسَلْنَا رُسُلَنَا بِالْبَيِّنَاتِ وَأَنزَلْنَا مَعَهُمُ الْكِتَابَ وَالْمِيزَانَ لِيَقُومَ النَّاسُ بِالْقِسْطِ ۖ وَأَنزَلْنَا الْحَدِيدَ فِيهِ بَأْسٌ شَدِيدٌ وَمَنَافِعُ لِلنَّاسِ وَلِيَعْلَمَ اللَّهُ مَن يَنصُرُهُ وَرُسُلَهُ بِالْغَيْبِ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ قَوِيٌّ عَزِيزٌ

We sent Our messengers with clear signs, the Scripture and the Balance, so that people could uphold justice (qist): We also sent iron, with its mighty strength and many uses for mankind, so that God could mark out those who would help Him and His messengers though they cannot see Him. Truly God is powerful, almighty. Quran 57:25

And our Beloved Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) would be asked about what he has come for, and he would say

وَأُمِرْتُ لِأَعْدِلَ بَيْنَكُمُ

“…and I have been commanded to establish justice among you…” Quran 42:15

Establishing Adl , Qist – Justice, & Removing Dhulm – Injustice, Oppression

This is the ultimate guideline in which all of the objectives of Islam revolve around.

عن قتادة أو الحسن أو كليهما قال : الظلم ثلاثة ظلم لا يغفر وظلم لا يترك وظلم يغفر فأما الظلم الذي لا يغفر فالشرك بالله وأما الظلم الذي لا يترك فظلم الناس بعضهم بعضا وأما الظلم الذي يغفر فظلم العبد نفسه فيما بينه وبين ربه

مصنف عبد الرزاق 11/183

AlHasan/Qatadah said

“Dhulm (oppression/injustice) is three
1.  Oppression that is not forgiven
2. Oppression that can never be left
3. Oppression that can be forgiven

The oppression that is not forgiven is associating partners with God.

The oppression that can never be left is of people oppressing others.

The oppression that can be forgiven is a servant oppressing themselves with sins that is between them and their lord.”

Ibn Al Qayyim went so far as to even say,

فإن الله أرسل رسله وأنزل كتبه ليقوم الناس بالقسط وهو العدل الذي به قامت السماوات والأرض فإذا ظهرت أمارات العدل وتبين وجهة بأي طريق كان فثم شرع الله ودينه والله تعالى لم يحصر طرق العدل وأدلته وعلاماته في شيء ونفي غيرها من الطرق التي هي مثلها أو أقوى منها بل بين ما شرعه من الطرق أن مقصودة إقامة العدل وقيام الناس بالقسط فأي طريق استخرج بها العدل والقسط فهي من الدين لا يقال إنها مخالفة له فلا تقول إن السياسة العادلة مخالفة لما نطق به الشرع بل موافقة لما جاء به بل هي جزء من أجزائه ونحن نسميها سياسة تبعا لمصطلحكم وإنما هي شرع حق
بدائع الفوائد 3/153

“Allah sent the message to the messengers and sent the books so that justice can be established for humanity. Due to this justice the heavens and the earth were established. If any sings of justice become clear, in any form, or in any way then that is the law of Allah and His faith. Allah did not limit the paths of justice, its evidences, or signs in anything. Nor did he reject any form of establishing such justice in other than it or stronger than it. Rather the establishment of justice is what is the objective and establishing it among humanity with diligence. Any way that reaches this justice is from the religion. It is never said that it is against it, and you cannot say that it is from just politics that can be against Divine law. Rather it is in accordance with it! It even is a part of it and we can call it politics to fit your terminologies but it surely is part of the divine law and truth.” Badai Al Fawaid 3/153

Siding against oppression and with the oppressed is what the Prophets came with.

Even God subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) says in more than one place to side with justice even if against your own selves, even if against your own, even if against your own families and kin.
Quran 4:135, 5:42, 10:47.

God even Says that the establishment of a divine just society MUST exist as this is what the Prophets have been sent with, and when it does not exist, and justice ceases to exist then the very REASON humanity was chosen for succeeding this world, and believers chosen to succeed the true faith of God and commissioned to pass the message to the rest of humanity – will have failed their mission and they will be replaced.

يَا دَاوُودُ إِنَّا جَعَلْنَاكَ خَلِيفَةً فِي الْأَرْضِ فَاحْكُم بَيْنَ النَّاسِ بِالْحَقِّ وَلَا تَتَّبِعِ الْهَوَىٰ فَيُضِلَّكَ عَن سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ ۚ إِنَّ الَّذِينَ يَضِلُّونَ عَن سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ لَهُمْ عَذَابٌ شَدِيدٌ بِمَا نَسُوا يَوْمَ الْحِسَابِ

O Dawud (David)! We have made you a successor on Earth. Judge fairly between people. Do not follow your desires, lest they divert you from Allāh’s path: those who wander from His path will have a painful torment because they ignore the Day of Reckoning.’ Quran 38:26

فَإِن تَوَلَّوْا فَقَدْ أَبْلَغْتُكُم مَّا أُرْسِلْتُ بِهِ إِلَيْكُمْ ۚ وَيَسْتَخْلِفُ رَبِّي قَوْمًا غَيْرَكُمْ وَلَا تَضُرُّونَهُ شَيْئًا ۚ إِنَّ رَبِّي عَلَىٰ كُلِّ شَيْءٍ حَفِيظٌ

But if you turn away, then I have conveyed the message with which I was sent to you, and my Lord will replace you with other successors. You cannot do Him any harm: it is my Lord who protects everything.’ Quran 11:57

Ibn Taymiyyah summarizes saying:

إن الله يقيم الدولة العادلة وإن كانت كافرة؛ ولا يقيم الظالمة وإن كانت مسلمة
مجموع الفتاوى 28/ 145-146

Allah will Establish a just country even it disbelieves, and Establish an oppressive country even if it is Muslim.

We will conclude with three statements on how Allah Established this absolute unequivocal principle in political engagement that the companions of the Prophet established the just society with. It is an absolute that cannot be ignored, it is based on this principle that the righteous succession of the Prophet (peace be on him) lasted for thirty years and many Muslim nations were established with, and it is also due to this principle that many of them were debased when they ceased to apply it.

Among the first things our Prophet taught eleven scholars from his companions who he sent to teach a nation whom had just accepted Islam, “The Prophet ﷺ sent Muadh to Yemen and said, “Be afraid, from the supplication of the oppressed as there is no screen between his invocation and Allah.”

Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman, Ali, and Al Hasan stood for this principle and lived by it.

عن أبي بكر الصديق، رضي الله عنه ، قال‏:‏ يا أيها الناس إنكم لتقرءون هذه الآية‏:‏ ‏{‏يا أيها الذين آمنوا عليكم أنفسكم لا يضركم من ضل إذا اهتديتم‏}‏ ‏(‏‏(‏المائدة ‏:‏ 105‏)‏‏)‏ وإني سمعت رسول الله، صلى الله عليه وسلم، يقول‏:‏ “إن الناس إذا رأو الظالم فلم يأخذوا على يديه أوشك أن يعمهم الله بعقاب منه‏”‏ ‏(‏‏(‏رواه أبو داود، والترمذي، والنسائي بأسانيد صحيحة‏)‏‏)

Abu Bakr As-Siddiq (May Allah be pleased with him) reported:

“O you people! You recite this Verse: ‘O you who believe! Take care of your ownselves. If you follow guidance and forbid what is wrong no hurt can come to you from those who are in error.’ (5:105)

But I have heard Messenger of Allah ﷺ saying: “When people see an oppressor but do not prevent him from (doing evil), it is likely that Allah will punish them all.” Abu Dawud, Tirmidhi

Ka’b ibn Ujrah said: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, came to us while we were a group of nine and said,

“Indeed tyrannical rulers will come after me and whoever affirms their lies and supports their oppression has nothing to do with me and I have nothing to do with him, and he will not drink with me at the fountain in Paradise. Whoever does not affirm their lies and does not support their oppression is part of me and I am part of him, and he will drink with me at the fountain in Paradise.”Sunan An-Nasa’i 4207

عَنْ كَعْبِ بْنِ عُجْرَةَ قَالَ خَرَجَ عَلَيْنَا رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ وَنَحْنُ تِسْعَةٌ فَقَالَ إِنَّهُ سَتَكُونُ بَعْدِي أُمَرَاءُ مَنْ صَدَّقَهُمْ بِكَذِبِهِمْ وَأَعَانَهُمْ عَلَى ظُلْمِهِمْ فَلَيْسَ مِنِّي وَلَسْتُ مِنْهُ وَلَيْسَ بِوَارِدٍ عَلَيَّ الْحَوْضَ وَمَنْ لَمْ يُصَدِّقْهُمْ بِكَذِبِهِمْ وَلَمْ يُعِنْهُمْ عَلَى ظُلْمِهِمْ فَهُوَ مِنِّي وَأَنَا مِنْهُ وَهُوَ وَارِدٌ عَلَيَّ الْحَوْضَ

4207 سنن النسائي كتاب البيعة ذكر الوعيد لمن أعان أميرا على الظلم

المحدث ابن حجر العسقلاني خلاصة حكم المحدث صحيح

Our Prophet peace be on him also said

إِنَّ اللَّهَ يُؤَيِّدُ هَذَا الدِّينَ بِالرَّجُلِ الْفَاجِرِ
صحيح مسلم 111
“Indeed Allah aids this faith even by a sinful person.” Muslim 111

But God will never give success, succession, or aid to anyone that aids in any form of oppression.

And Allah Knows Best.

 

Hasib Noor is an instructor and researcher that specializes in History, Islamic Heritage & Law, alongside other Islamic disciplines. Founder of Prophetic Legacy & Foundation dedicated to researching and teaching Islamic history, heritage, and archaeological sites. He resides in Madinah.

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Saleem

    January 2, 2019 at 5:00 AM

    Beautiful.

  2. Avatar

    Mustafa

    January 3, 2019 at 10:24 AM

    I think there is a typo in the Ibn Taymiyyah quote, seems it should say Allah will NOT establish an identity oppressive group even if Muslim

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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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Heart Soothers: Idrees Al Hashemi

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