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How To Build People Up, Not Destroy Them While Teaching Faith

Dawah strategy for these troubling times based on the superiority of asserting Allah’s perfection (saying: Alḥamdulillāh) to glorifying Him above imperfection (saying: SubḥānAllāh)

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In the name of Allah, the Most Merciful, the Grantor of Mercy. All praise be to Allah, Lord of the worlds.

A Golden Principle

When the Prophet ﷺ entered Mecca victorious, after 20 years of abuse and rejection by the Meccans, he recited the following blessed verses as he removed the idols from around the Ka‘ba, “And say truth has arrived, and falsehood has perished. Indeed, falsehood is bound to perish.” {17: 81} And from that moment onward, people flocked from every direction to embrace Islam in waves. Of course, a person may wonder: if falsehood is “bound” to perish, then why did it remain for so long? It is because truth had not yet arrived, at least not in equal force. Once the truth of Islam became manifest, allotting it an equal playing field with falsehood, there was no contest. Badiuzzamān Nursi (d. 1960), the great Turkish reformer and author of Rasāil-i-Nur (a 5,000 page commentary on the Quran), predicated his awe-inspiring contributions towards restoring Islam in modern Turkey on this golden principle; Muslims are more in need of building what is absent than demolishing what is present.

This is the Quranic formula for returning the ummah to health; focus on developing the good, more than destroying the evil. Similarly, when Allah listed for us which specific elements make this ummah so great, He said, “You are the best community ever raised for humanity – you promote good, forbid evil, and believe in Allah.” {3: 110} It should beg our consideration how the Quranic sequence always places promoting good before combating evil, perhaps hinting again that just as they must work in tandem, one should be a greater priority than the other. Our call to Allah – to be Quranic – must primarily cultivate good in people and society, and secondarily demolish the evils that plague them. If these proportions are not observed in our efforts, we will continue to struggle at transforming people’s hearts and minds the way the Quran once did, and the fruits of our labor will continue not resembling those of our Prophet (ﷺ). If this ratio is observed, perhaps we will soon realize – with many people, at least – that the presence of evil was merely a symptom of their problem, while the absence of good was its root cause.

Online and in-person, we often find ourselves hurriedly responding to falsehood in uncalculated ways, squandering true opportunities for incremental positive change by the lure of a presumed quick-fix. Too often do we overlook the prophetic “haste is from Shayṭān” rule, lock ourselves into a cycle of reactionary rhetoric, and allow our protective passion for Islam skew our strategy. In management, experts commonly stress the importance of avoiding the ‘firefighting’ approach, where you are always consumed by the emergency at hand. It is a horrible approach, not only because it stunts progress, but more importantly because its endless nature renders it unsustainable and will eventually fail. Similarly, they say in sports that the best defense is a good offense because a boxer blocking in the corner will inevitably find a punch landing past his defenses. Likewise, the maxim in medicine has always been that prevention is better than any cure, because even effective treatment may leave behind irreparable damage.

The Awe of God

Our Prophet ﷺ brought the world a Quran that invested the bulk of its narrative in establishing God’s oneness, not in delegitimizing polytheism (though it certainly does). This Quran also nurtured in its reader’s spirit the magnificence of God, far more than it illustrated the futility of idol-worship, all because deepening your understanding of who Allah is will always outperform identifying who Allah is not, and because the second will naturally happen once the first has been secured. Similarly, Muslim theologians would traditionally highlight how consistently the Quran tends to assert the perfection of God in detail while negating imperfection from God in brevity, for obvious wisdom. Among this wisdom is that lingering on qualities wrongly attributed to God, even for the purpose of refuting them, can actually confer a degree of validity to them – for only if they were imaginable would they need to be disproven at such lengths. If while lauding a king or emperor, you began saying amidst your flattery, “Your highness, you are not a lowlife, nor a heathen, nor an idiot, nor a sewage worker, nor sexually impotent, nor are you repulsively ugly…” you may find yourself dismissed from the royal court for an extended tour of the dungeons below. ‘Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) once flogged a poet for slander because he would say in his poetry, “And my two parents are not fornicators”. Though his words may seem to be defending his parents’ honor, volunteering them prematurely insinuates the possibility of this being imaginable about his parents, and hence required addressing. This would be identical to a child out-of-nowhere swearing he did not eat the chocolate in the cupboard, before anyone ever accused him, drawing by that great suspicion around himself.

Returning to the discussion on God, the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ informed us that the “best of duā’” is asserting Allah’s perfection (saying: Alḥamdulillāh), deeming it superior to glorifying Him above imperfection (saying: SubḥānAllāh). I personally cannot help contrasting that model with the divinity polemics so prevalent in Muslim forums today, where too much of the discussion is a lifeless, doctrinal, checklist approach geared more towards offering sectarian membership than spiritual vigor.

The Love of Materialism

The Quranic method for rescuing people from the shackles of materialism was by flooding them with reasons to have a superior love for God, His company, and His reward. Consider the profound wisdom in not asking the human being to hate the pleasures of this material world, when Allah created this very human being with a hedonistic (pleasure-seeking) nature, and when he or she has not yet familiarized itself with any other form of fulfillment. Instead, what the Quran does is remind them of God’s perfect nature, His delicate dealings, His countless favors, His unique unparalleled nearness – evoking in people firm resolve to prefer Him and His pleasure over any inferior short-lived thrill. Ibn al-Qayyim raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) says in this regard, “If it proves too difficult for them to abandon sinning, then dedicate yourself to making Allah beloved to them by mentioning His favors, grace, kindness, perfect qualities, and majestic attributes. This is because the hearts were disposed upon loving Him, and so once a heart becomes captivated with loving Him, giving up sins becomes easy for it… The acquainted (with God) calls people to Allah by [devotion] through their material world, making it easy for them to comply. The ascetic, on the other hand, calls them to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) through abandoning their material world, making it hard for them to comply because being weaned off a breast that a person has been nursing from since he first came to his senses is extremely difficult.” [Al-Fawā’id: 1/169]

The Dilemma of Doubts

Solidifying faith in a person’s heart is exponentially more useful than eradicating doubt since the latter will never fully happen. Doubts are many time just blind spots in people’s understanding, and the things that we human beings understand will never surpass the things we do not; “and you not been given of knowledge but little” {17: 85}. It would be a perpetual project to dismantle every last doubt, as our lives are too short and our capacities too limited. This is not a call to blind faith or the illegitimacy of any doubt, but rather a recognition that some doubts can only be untangled by specialists and others may only be knowable to God. Therefore, the pragmatic solution is to verify the points of certainty and be anchored by those convictions as I learn further, so that life does not come to a screeching halt every time a new doubt surfaces in our minds. Our certainty would outweigh our doubt in those cases, and liberate us from the painful anxiety of always needing an immediate answer each time. We must focus on supplying ourselves and others with the concrete reasons for believing in the truth of Islam, as only that will immunize us against being rattled by doubts without end.

Numbness to Immorality

Perhaps many would agree that hardly any vice in our times contends with the hypersexuality that seems inescapable in every last movie, song, and advertisement. How then do we protect our families and communities from eventually finding this shamelessness normalized in their hearts? Certainly, cautioning against every last song and movie will not work, as the endless nature of this bombardment will outlast anyone’s endurance, and even his or her life. The only solution is in immunizing such hearts by cultivating in them the values of modesty, honest shame before God, and fear of His anger, through education and role-modeling. These may indeed be long-term solutions, but they far outperform the manual policing and constant condemnations that continue to fail us. We must trust that only this Quranic approach will deliver the desired results.

To that point, ‘Aisha raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) said,

“The first to be revealed was nothing else than sūras from the mufaṣṣal (shorter chapters), which contain mention of Paradise and Hellfire. Then, once the people became inclined to Islam, the lawful and unlawful were revealed. If the first thing to be revealed was ‘do not drink wine’, they would have said, ‘We will never give up wine’. And if ‘do not fornicate’ was revealed [first], they would have said, ‘We will never give up fornication’”. [Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhāri: 4707]

Da‘wah: An Invitation

In the arena of calling non-Muslims to Islam, many sincere da‘wah veterans often express their regrets about spending much of their strongest years – their youth – in fiery argumentation. Their focus on identifying the inconsistencies of false beliefs dwarfed their effort in showcasing the marvelousness of Islam, and only decades later did they realize the futility of the former and the efficacy of the latter. As one prominent international caller said, “When someone has worthless sand in their palm and you attack it, this convinces them of its worth and increases their protectiveness of it. But when you simply present your diamonds, they usually tuck their sand-filled hand behind their back in shame and quietly loosen their fingers.”

In fact, this is precisely what the Prophet ﷺ would often do; when ‘Utba b. Rabi‘ā came offering the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ fortune, women, leadership, physicians, and anything else necessary to end his call – what was the prophetic response? He ﷺ was not thwarted by this array of personal offenses from his call to God, nor was he tempted to immediately disprove – though the Quran sometimes did – these baseless accusations of greed, lust, and insanity. Instead, he simply and respectfully said, “Have you concluded, O Abu al-Walīd? Then hear me out…” and proceeded to recite the opening verses from Surat Fuṣṣilat. ‘Utba did not just fail at the negotiation but was so moved by the Quran that he leapt at the Prophet ﷺ and placed a hand over his mouth, pleading with him in defeat to not recite any further. Considering the fact that we should all be calling to Allah in one capacity or another, we should critically consider if this Prophetic ratio of sharing-revelation versus crafting-refutation is reflected in our technique.

We must anchor the good more than we destabilize the evil

The Prevailing Paradigms

We must also trust this process when encountering the various secular philosophies of our modern era. Unfortunately, it is rare to find a Muslim focused on persuading people of the merits of a God-centric lifestyle, while many can be found fixated on combating atheistic liberalism head-on. Similarly, too few Muslims are dedicated to crafting compelling illustrations of how Islam best actualizes gender justice and social harmony, while many have endless energy solely for deconstructing secular feminism. Of course, we all see what this inverted strategy produces each time it is employed; more defensiveness and less willingness to embrace God’s guidance. Is this the desired result, or a bull’s eye on the wrong target? If we are truly invested in people’s wellbeing and salvation, we must recognize that it is not enough to critique the dominant narrative; we need to offer a better narrative. Colonialism and its foreign ideas, for instance, only invaded our worldviews after the collective Muslim heart and mind became colonizable. It was only after we deteriorated spiritually and intellectually did the political debacle of our civilization take place and the ideological invasions ensued. Recognizing this allows us to administer the proper remedy; reintroducing the reality of Islam and tirelessly reminding others about it, not attacking their current convictions and assuming they know better and are simply stubborn and defiant, or assuming that they will take a ‘leap of faith’ and resign to a directionless void before a superior alternative worth subscribing to is identified. It is noteworthy here to highlight the sad transitioning of the Muslim (and non-Muslim) world from one sociopolitical dogma to another in the past century, further proving that our vulnerability to endless -isms is more our disease than whichever particular ideology we are currently experimenting with.

Our righteous predecessors would prioritize educating the masses about the Sunnah, as teaching it will leave no room in Muslim practice for the infiltration of bid‘ah. But if we are duped into predominantly fighting each newly emerging bid‘ah, the few times we triumph may be followed with yet another bid‘ah replacing it to fill the void. It is also like telling our children “no” all the time, in that without detailing out for people where the “yes” spheres are, they will continue to expend their energy and curiosity in ways that you must object to, which further frustrates them towards rebellion, and the downward vicious spiral continues.

Final Thoughts

This is the way of Allah, and the way of His Messenger ﷺ, and I pray you develop your narrative around it as well.

Just as our testimony of faith contains negation (no God) and affirmation (but Allah), our narrative must never become one that is exclusively deconstructive or reconstructive. It must be a tandem, but in the proportions argued above – whether at a dinner table, on social media, or a podium. We must anchor the good more than we destabilize the evil. We must be credible and conversant in denouncing falsehood, but even more so in promoting truth. We must continue to be disapproving of darkness, but be even better at lighting candles. So much of our preaching falls short in that, and so much of our Islamic work is stifled by our delusions about its reality; a backbreaking feature of our ummah in the past century.

We must continue to be disapproving of darkness, but be even better at lighting candles.

It may be a simple oversight, but more likely the nature of our tense times and our pride for Islam tainted with egotism, which has produced this imbalance in us. The cure is to dig deep with difficult questions that nobody can answer for us; questions on our sincerity, the depth of our spiritually, and our distance from Prophetic compassion at heart.

May Allah help us stop seeing kindness as an endorsement of wrongdoing, and stop seeing sensitivity to people’s respective paces as compromise of our principles. May He accelerate positive change for this blessed ummah on our hands, and forgive us all for hindering that, especially the writer of these words whose actions that do not always match them, but reminding of the ideal will keep us feeling conflicted and working towards it inshā Allāh.

Graduate of English Literature; Translator for IIPH, AMJA, and Mishkah; Da'wah Director @ Muslims Giving Back; Student @ Mishkah University. More blessed than I know, and more than I deserve.

5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Sara E Huizenga

    April 26, 2019 at 11:38 PM

    This is so beautiful and true and I read this and comment here as a Christian, but more importantly as a believer in God and a part of all of His humanity. Thank you for the hope – may God and His goodness turn more hearts especially right now towards of most current importance the 1.5 million innocent children in Idlib, Syria whose lives are horrifically endangered by a godless global apathy world that focuses on division and betrays our most precious innocent gifts.

  2. Avatar

    Umm Al-Ameen

    May 2, 2019 at 9:33 PM

    Great article. Jazakumllah khayr.

  3. Avatar

    fouzia

    May 4, 2019 at 5:05 PM

    This is Alhumdulillah….May Allah reward the sincere intention..Ameen.

  4. Avatar

    Nunu

    May 5, 2019 at 8:36 AM

    Hamd allah Hamd Allah Hamd Allah
    Sub7an Allah Sub7an Allah Sub7an Allah

  5. Avatar

    Tahmina Haque

    May 7, 2019 at 1:57 AM

    Excellent article MashaAllah! Jazakumullah khair.

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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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