Alhamdulillah, last session, we were able to complete the story of the people of the cave as it’s mentioned in the Qur’ān. InshAllah, today we’ll discuss some of the many lessons and morals that we can take from it along with verses 27-31.
Lessons from the story of the people of the cave:
There are several lessons, morals, and guidance that can be derived from the story of the people of the cave. I know that we talked about some of them briefly in the last session and I just want to highlight and stress some of the most important ones.
1) This story serves as a consolation, comfort, and support for the Prophet ﷺ, his companions and us as believers. Trials, tests and difficulties and specifically those related to faith and religion. We will be tested in our faith.
2) The story also serves as a proof of Prophethood and the miraculous nature of the Qur’ān – the only way possible for the Prophet ﷺ to know these details regarding their story was through revelation. This is part of the miraculous nature of the Qur’ān.
3) Proof of the infinite might, power, glory, and magnificence of Allah ﷻ and proof of resurrection. It’s amongst the “signs” of Allah ﷻ that indicate towards His Existence, Oneness, and power (strengthens our faith/relationship with Allah)— symbolic parallels between their story, death, and resurrection.
4) Concern for faith and religion.
5) Being dedicated to faith and religion in one’s youth – The famous hadīth of the Prophet ﷺ about seven groups of people who will be shaded on the Day of Judgment (شاب نشأ في عبادة الله). There’s a unique relationship between youth, faith and bringing about change in society.
6) Importance of righteous companionship.
7) Faith, tawakkul (reliance), patience and their relationship with Allah’s mercy, care, and protection.
8) The concepts of Hidāyah and dalalah
9) Parallels between their seeking refuge in the cave and the Prophet ﷺ and Abu Bakr seeking refuge in the cave during migration.
10) Speaking truth to power.
11) Avoiding useless discussions that have no relevance or importance to one’s life, salvation, faith or relationship with Allah ﷻ.
12) Not discussing topics without knowledge!
13) The importance of saying InshAllah and recognizing the will of Allah.
According to Syed Qutb: “Every action a human being does or omits to do, indeed every breath a human being takes, is subject to God’s will. The curtains hiding the future are stretched in full so as to hide everything beyond the present moment. Our eyes cannot discern what is behind that curtain, and our minds are finite, no matter how advanced our knowledge may be. Hence a human being must never say that he is definitely doing something tomorrow unless he attaches his intention to God’s will. This is because tomorrow belongs to the realm that lies beyond the reach of human perception. As such, it is known only to God. Hence, we do not make any assertion about it.
This does not mean that man should be fatalistic, giving no thought to the future and making no plans for it. He should not live for the present moment, cutting himself off from his past and future. No, this is not what the directive implies. Rather, what is implied is that every human being must make an allowance for what God may will in his case. He may intend to do whatever he wants, always seeking God’s help, feeling that His will is in full control of everything. It may well be however that God may decide something different to what he intends. Should God help him to put into effect what he intends, then all well and good. But if God’s will moves in a different direction, he should not despair or be sad. All matters belong to God at the beginning and at the end.
What this means in practice is that every person should think and plan as they wish, but they must always remember to rely on God’s help and guidance. They should realize that they only have the faculties of thinking and deliberation God has given them. This should not lead to laziness or disinterestedness. On the contrary, it should give us more strength, confidence, reassurance and resolve. Should events reveal that God’s will has moved in a direction different to what we planned, we should accept this with contentedness and reassurance. We submit to God’s will, because it is beyond our knowledge until God makes it known.”
Now the next set of verses deal with issues of general guidance in a very beautiful way. Allah ﷻ says,
- Verse 27: Recite what has been revealed to you from the book of your Lord. There is nothing that can alter His words. And you will never find refuge other than with Him.
In this verse, Allah ﷻ is speaking directly to the Prophet ﷺ. He’s instructing His messenger to continue to recite the noble Qur’ān and remain steadfast in conveying its message to his community. To recite what has been revealed to him and follow what is in it in terms of its commands and prohibitions. This was one of the responsibilities of the Prophet ﷺ as a prophet and Messenger; to recite the actual words of revelation to his community. To convey the word of God to his family, friends, neighbors and all of society. And when the Prophet ﷺ would do so he would face all sorts of challenges. Some people would turn away and others would mock and ridicule him. They would even ask him to bring a different Qur’ān or to alter it according to their wishes.
As a response, Allah reminds them, “There is nothing that can alter His words.” The Qur’ān is divinely protected. No one can change, alter or distort its meanings and no one can add or delete anything from the Quran. If someone were to try to do so then they would find no one to help them or protect them. “And you will never find refuge other than with Him.” This is the first instruction found in this passage; to recite the Qur’ān and act upon it.
Next Allah ﷻ reminds the Prophet ﷺ to stay in the company of those who are sincere and have faith despite their economic status.
Verse 28: Make your soul patient with those who call upon their Lord morning and evening, desiring His Face. Don’t turn your eyes away from them, desiring the adornment of the life of this world, nor obeying one whose heart We have made heedless of the remembrance of Us and who follows his caprice and whose affair exceeds the bounds.
This verse has a specific background or context in which it was revealed. One day ‘Uyaynah, one of the chiefs of Makkah, came to the Prophet ﷺ while he was sitting with some of the less well to do Muslims. One of them was Salman Al-Farsi who was wearing clothes made of wool and a turban filled with sweat. Others amongst the poorer companions were luminaries like Bilal, Suhaib, ‘Ammār, Khabbāb and ibn Mas’ūd. So ‘Uyaynah being arrogant and prideful asked the Prophet ﷺ, “Aren’t you bothered by their smell? We are the leaders of Makkah. If we accept Islam then people will follow and accept as well. The only thing preventing us from following you is your closeness to these people. Leave them so we can follow you, or at least make separate gatherings for us.”
In response Allah ﷻ revealed this verse, telling the Prophet ﷺ not to follow the advice of the rich leaders of Makkah. Don’t pay attention to what they’re saying and don’t be influenced by their idea or suggestion. Meaning, keep the company of those who remember Allah ﷻ, praise Him, glorify Him and ask only Him day and night regardless of whether they are rich or poor. Their only intention is to seek and earn the pleasure of Allah ﷻ. Allah then further emphasizes this point by telling the Prophet ﷺ, “and let not your eyes overlook them, seeking the splendor of the worldly life.” Meaning, don’t look towards others for help and support besides them. Don’t seek to replace them with people who have wealth and status. The Prophet ﷺ wanted ‘Uyaynah and the leaders of Quraysh to accept Islam so that the others would follow them. But Allah is reminding him that their acceptance or rejection won’t affect the cause. Although outwardly it seems like the rich and wealthy accepting Islam would strengthen the cause, in reality there’s no need for them. True strength comes from the strength of the faith of your followers; not from material means.
Allah then further emphasizes this point by saying, “And do not obey the one whose heart We have made heedless of Our remembrance, and who has followed his desire and whose behavior has exceeded the limits.” Don’t pay attention to those people who are heedless and lost, who have preferred this world over religion. Those people who follow their desires and exceed all the limits set by Allah ﷻ. This is a very comprehensive description of those people who exceed the limits of Allah. Meaning, exceeding the limits set by Allah is the end result. It starts with heedlessness, which turns into following desires, which then results in disobeying Allah.
Lesson: Islam is the religion of equality. It doesn’t differentiate between rich and poor, powerful and weak in any aspect. Everybody is equally held accountable and responsible in the sight of Allah. Islam places all human beings on the same level, in front of God. They do not claim a position on the basis of their wealth, lineage or social standing. All these are transient. The real criterion to distinguish people is their standing with their Lord, which is determined by their sincerity in seeking His pleasure and their dedication to His cause. As the Prophet ﷺ told us, “Truly Allah doesn’t look at your appearances or your wealth. Rather He looks at your hearts and your actions.” Another narration mentions that as soon as this verse was revealed, the Prophet ﷺ stood up looking for these people, the poor Muslims. He found them at the back of the Masjid busy in the remembrance of Allah ﷻ. When he found them he said, “All praise is for Allah, who has not taken my life until he commanded me to remain content with men from my nation. With them is life and with them is death.”
Throughout the Prophetic tradition, we find narrations that encourage us to honor and respect the weak and poor; to treat them with kindness, compassion, sympathy, generosity. But most importantly to spend time with them and interact with them. As a matter of fact Imām Al-Nawawi in his famous collection of hadīth has almost two entire chapters dedicated to this subject. For example, Abu al-Darda said, “I heard the Messenger of Allah ﷺ say, ‘Seek me among the poor and weak. Truly, you are given victory and provided for on account of the poor and weak among you.” [Abu Dawud] The Prophet ﷺ didn’t just honor the weak and poor, he loved them and wanted to be among them. He used to supplicate: “O Allah! I ask You for the means to do good, to avoid evil, and to love the poor, and I beseech You to forgive me and have mercy on me.” (Tirmidhi)
Our beloved Prophet ﷺ lived by his values. He was given the choice to live a life of ease and comfort or the life of hardship and difficulty. And the Prophet ﷺ chose a life of hardship and difficulty; a life of extreme simplicity. His simplicity is awe-inspiring. Whoever reads about the lifestyle of the Prophet ﷺ can’t help but be moved and have their hearts softened. His wife, Aisha narrated that after he made this choice, the Prophet ﷺ never ate while reclining, saying: “I eat like a servant eats and I sit like a servant sits.” We know that he could have lived the life of a millionaire, but rather he was more generous than the free blowing wind.
Next, Allah ﷻ directs the Prophet ﷺ to declare that the truth has come from Allah and that it is absolutely clear.
Verse 29: And say, “The truth is from your Lord. Now, whoever so wills may believe and whoever so wills may deny.” Verily We have prepared for the wrongdoers a Fire whose canopies will encompass them. And if they will beg for help, they shall be helped with water like molten lead that will scald the faces. Vile is the drink, and how a resting place.”
In the first part of this verse Allah ﷻ tells His messenger ﷺ to announce that the truth has come from Him and that it is absolutely clear and straightforward. Meaning, O Muhammad! Tell the people that what you are preaching is the truth from your Lord; there is no doubt about it whatsoever. This truth, Islam, is the best way of life. So you can choose to believe in it or choose not to believe in it. Everybody will be held accountable for their own decisions on the Day of Judgment. Some of the commentators mention that this verse was also revealed in connection to the previous incident.
The statement, “Now, whoever so wills may believe and whoever so wills may deny,” is meant as a severe warning. The Prophet’s ﷺ responsibility is simply to convey the message. Once the message has been conveyed he’s no longer responsible. The individual who receives the message must make the conscious decision to either accept or reject the truth. And whatever they choose to do they will bear the responsibility of their choice.
The last part of the verse that describes some of the unimaginable torments of hell shows that the first part is meant to be a warning. “Surely, We have prepared for the wrongdoers a fire…” The fire of hell is described as taking the form of canopies that will surround them. They will be surrounded on all sides above and below. “And if they will beg for help, they shall be helped with water like molten lead that will scald the faces. Vile is the drink, and how evil a resting place.”
Then Allah ﷻ describes His promise of reward to those who believe.
Verse 30-31: “As for those who believe and do righteous deeds, -of course, We do not waste the reward of those who are good in deeds. Those are the ones for whom there are eternal gardens, rivers flowing beneath them. They will be adorned therein with bracelets of gold, and they will be dressed in green garments, made of fine silk and thick silk, reclining therein on couches. Excellent is the reward and beautiful is Paradise as a resting-place.”
Faith and action are always mentioned together; they are inseparable… Our faith, our iman, has to be something that’s real; something that translates into action. And it’s this faith coupled with action that will earn us the mercy of Allah ﷻ. “Gold jewelry, fine silk garments, and raised couches would all have signified immense luxury, particularly in the context of Arabian desert life, where rough woolen garments and sitting on the ground were the norm.”
The Spirituality Of 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). 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.
 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
Lessons From Surah Maryam: 1
Alhamdulillah, it’s a great blessing of Allah that He has given us both the opportunity and ability to come here tonight to study and explore the meanings of His words in Surah Maryam. I’m truly grateful for this opportunity. May Allah accept this effort from all of us and place it on our scale of good deeds.
Alhamdulillah, in our last series we were able to complete the tafsir of Surah Al-Kahf. InshAllah, in this next series, we’ll be exploring the meanings, lessons, and reminders of Surah Maryam. Tafsīr is an extremely noble and virtuous discipline. The reason why it’s so noble and virtuous is that it’s the study of the divine speech of Allah . As mentioned in a hadith the superiority of the speech of Allah over all other speech is like the superiority of Allah over all of His creation. There’s nothing more beneficial and virtuous than studying the Quran. And by doing so we’ll be counted amongst the best of people. As the Prophet said, “the best amongst you are those who learn the Quran and teach it.”
All of us need to build a stronger relationship with the Quran. The Quran is full of wisdom and guidance in every single verse and word. It’s our responsibility to seek that guidance, understand it, contextualize it and more importantly act upon it. Tafsīr is such a unique science that it brings together all of the other Islamic sciences. While exploring a Surah a person comes across discussions regarding Arabic grammar and morphology, rhetoric, Ahādīth, fiqh, sīrah and all those studies that are known as the Islamic Sciences. One scholar described the Quran as an ocean that has no shore, بحر لا ساحل له. The more we study the Qur’ān the stronger our relationship with it will become. We’ll become more and more attached to it and will be drawn into its beauty and wonder. The deeper a person gets into tafsir and studying the more engaged and interested they become. They also recognize how little they truly know. It develops humility. That’s the nature of true knowledge. The more we learn the more we recognize we don’t know. May Allah ﷻ allow us all to be sincere and committed students of the Qur’ān.
Surah Maryam is the 19th surah in the Quran. It is a relatively long Makki surah made up of 98 verses. Some commentators mention that it’s the 44th Surah to be revealed, after Surah Al-Fatir and before Surah Taha. It has been given the name Maryam because Allah mentions the story of Maryam (as) and her family and how she gave birth to Isa miraculously at the beginning of the Surah. Just like other Makkan surahs, it deals with the most fundamental aspects of our faith. It talks about the existence and oneness of Allah , prophethood, and resurrection and recompense.
The Surah is made up of a series of unique stories filled with guidance and lessons that are meant as reminders. One of the main themes of this Surah is mercy… It has been mentioned over 16 times in this Surah. We’ll find the words of grace, compassion and their synonyms frequently mentioned throughout the sūrah, together with Allah’s attributes of beneficence and mercy. We can say that one of the objectives of the Surah is to establish and affirm the attribute of mercy for Allah . That’s why all of the stories mentioned also have to do with Allah’s mercy.
Another objective of the Surah is to remind us of our relationship with Allah ﷻ; the concept of Al-‘Ubūdiyyah. These are the two major themes or ideas of this Surah; the concept of Rahmah and the concept of ‘Ubūdiyyah (Mercy and Servitude).
The Surah can be divided into 8 sections:
1) Verses 1-15: The surah starts with the story of Zakariyya (as) and how he was given the gift of a child at a very old age, which was something strange and out of the ordinary.
2) Verses 16-40: mention the story of Maryam and the miraculous birth of Isa without a father and how her community responded to her.
3) Verses 41-50: The surah then briefly mentions one part of the story of Ibrahim , specifically the conversation he had with his father regarding the worship of idols. The surah then briefly mentions a series of other Prophets.
4) Verses 51-58: Mention Musa and Haroon , Ismail and Idrees to show that the essence of the message of all Prophets was the same
5) Verses 59-65: compare and contrast the previous generations with the current ones in terms of belief and actions.
6) Verses 66-72: Allah addresses the Mushrikoon rejecting their false claims regarding life after death and judgment.
7) Verses 73-87: continue to address the Mushrikoon and warn them regarding their attitude towards belief in Allah and His messengers. They also mention the great difference between the resurrection of the believer and the resurrection of the non-believer.
8) Verses 88-98: contain a severe warning to those who claim that Allah has taken a child. They also express that Allah is pleased with the believers and mentions that one of the objectives of the Quran is to give glad tidings to the believers and to warn the non-believers.
From various narrations, we learn that this surah was revealed near the end of the fourth year of Prophethood. This was an extremely difficult time for Muslims. The Quraysh were frustrated with their inability to stop the message of Islam from spreading so they became ruthless. They resorted to any method of torture that they could think of; beating, starving and harassing. When the persecution became so severe that it was difficult for the Muslims to bear it, the Prophet gave permission to migrate to Abyssinia. “For in it dwells a king in whose presence no one is harmed.” 10 men and 4 women migrated in the 5th year of Prophethood secretly. After a few months, a larger group of 83 men and 18 women migrated as well. This migration added more fuel to the fire. It enraged the people of Quraysh.
Umm Salamah [rahna]narrated, “When we stopped to reside in the land of Abyssinia we lived alongside the best of neighbors An-Najashi. We practiced our religion safely, worshipped Allah without harm and didn’t hear anything we disliked. When news of our situation reached the Quraysh they started to plot against us…” They decided to send two delegates to persuade An-Najashi to send the Companions back by offering him and his ministers’ gifts. The plan was to go to each minister with gifts and turn them against the Muslims. So they went to each minister with gifts and said, “Verily, foolish youth from amongst us have come to the country of your king; they have abandoned the religion of their people and have not embraced your religion. Rather they have come with a new religion that neither of us knows. The noblemen of their people, from their fathers and uncles, have sent us to the king asking that he send them back. So when we speak to the king regarding their situation advise him to surrender them to us and to not speak to them…” The minister agreed.
Then they went to the king, offered him gifts and said the same thing… The ministers tried to convince him as well. An-Najashi became angry with them and said, “No, by Allah, I will not surrender them to these two and I don’t fear the plotting of a people who have become my neighbors, have settled down in my country, and have chosen me (to grant them refuge) over every other person. I will not do so until I summon them and speak to them. If they are as these two say I will give them up, but if they aren’t then I will protect them from these two and continue to be a good neighbor to them as long as they are good neighbors to me.”
al-Najāshī then summoned the Prophet’s ﷺ Companions. When his messenger informed the Prophet’s Companions that they were to appear before the king, they gathered together to discuss what they should do. One of them asked, “What will you say to the name (al-Najāshī) when you go to him?” They all agreed on what they would say to him, “By Allah, we will say what our Prophet ﷺ taught us and commanded us with, regardless of the consequences.” Meanwhile, al-Najāshī called for his priests, who gathered around him with their scrolls spread out before them. When the Muslims arrived al-Najāshī began by asking them, “What is this religion for which you have parted from your people? You have not entered into the fold of my religion, nor the religion of any person from these nations.”
Umm Salamah [rahna] narrated, “The Person among us who would speak to him was Jaʿfar ibn abī Ṭālib [rahnu] who then said, “O king, we were an ignorant people: we worshipped idols, we would eat from the flesh of dead animals, we would perform lewd acts, we would cut off family ties, and we would be bad neighbors; the strong among us would eat from the weak. We remained upon that state until Allah sent us a Messenger, whose lineage, truthfulness, trustworthiness, and chastity we already knew. He invited us to Allah – to believe in His oneness and to worship Him; to abandon all that we and our fathers worshipped besides Allah, in terms of stones and idols. He ﷺ commanded us to speak truthfully, to fulfill the trust, to join ties of family relations, to be good to our neighbors, and to refrain from forbidden deeds and from shedding blood. And he ﷺ forbade us from lewd acts, from uttering falsehood, from wrongfully eating the wealth of an orphan, from falsely accusing chaste women of wrongdoing. And he ﷺ ordered us to worship Allah alone and to not associate any partners with him in worship; and he ﷺ commanded us to pray, to give zakāh, and to fast.” He enumerated for al-Najāshī the teachings of Islam. He said, “And we believe him and have faith in him. We follow him in what he came with. And so we worship Allah alone, without associating any partners with Him in worship. We deem forbidden that which he has made forbidden for us, and we deem lawful that which he made permissible for us. Our people then transgressed against us and tortured us. The tried to force us to abandon our religion and to return from the worship of Allah to the worship of idols; they tried to make us deem lawful those abominable acts that we used to deem lawful. Then, when they subjugated us, wronged us, and treated us in an oppressive manner, standing between us and our religion, we came to your country, and we chose you over all other people. We desired to live alongside you, and we hoped that, with you, we would not be wronged, O king.” al-Najāshī said to Jaʿfar [rahnu], “Do you have any of that which he came with from Allah?” Jaʿfar [rahnu] said, “Yes”. “Then recite to me,” said al-Najāshī. Jaʿfar [rahnu] recited for him the beginning of Surah Maryam. By Allah, al-Najāshī began to cry, until his beard became wet with tears. And when his priests heard what Jaʿfar [rahnu] was reciting to them, they cried until their scrolls became wet. al-Najāshī then said, “By Allah, this and what Mūsa (as) came with come out of the same lantern. Then by Allah, I will never surrender them to you, and henceforward they will not be plotted against and tortured.”
Describing what happened after the aforementioned discussion between al-Najāshī and Jaʿfar [rahnu], Umm Salamah said, “When both ʿAmr ibn al-ʿĀṣ and ʿAbdullah ibn abī Rabīʿah left the presence of al-Najāshī, ʿAmr [rahnu] said, “By Allah tomorrow I will present to him information about them with which I will pull up by the roots their very lives.” Abdullah ibn Rabīʿah who was more sympathetic of the two towards us said, “Don’t do so, for they have certain rights of family relations, even if they have opposed us.” ʿAmr said, “By Allah, I will inform him that they claim that ʿĪsā ibn Maryam is a slave.”
He went to the king on the following day and said, “O king, verily, they have strong words to say about ʿĪsa (as). Call them here and ask them what they say about him.” al-Najāshī sent for them in order to ask them about ʿĪsa. Nothing similar to this befell us before. The group of Muslims gathered together and said to one another, “What will you say about ʿĪsa when he asks you about him?” They said, “By Allah, we will say about him that which Allah says and that which our Prophet ﷺ came with, regardless of the outcome.” When they entered into his presence, he said to them, “What do you say about ʿĪsa ibn Maryam?” Jaʿfar said, “We say about him that which our Prophet ﷺ came with – that he is the slave of Allah, His messenger, a spirit created by Him, and His word, which he bestowed on Maryam, the virgin, the baṭūl.”
al-Najāshī struck his hand on the ground and took from it a stick. He then said, “ʿĪsa ibn Maryam did not go beyond what you said even the distance of the stick.” When he said this, his ministers spoke out in anger, to which he responded, “What I said is true even if you speak out in anger, by Allah. (Turning to the Muslims, he said) Go, for you are safe in my land. Whoever curses you will be held responsible. And I would not love to have a reward of gold in return for me hurting a single man among you. (Speaking to his ministers he said) Return to these two (men) their gifts, since we have no need for them. For by Allah, Allah did not take from me bribe money when He returned to me my kingdom, so why should I take bribe money. The two left, defeated and humiliated; and returned to them were the things they came with. We then resided alongside al-Najāshī in a very good abode, with a very good neighbor.”
The response was simply amazing in its eloquence. A believer puts the needs of his soul before the needs of his body. Allah starts the Surah by saying,
Verse 1: Kaf, Ha, Ya, ‘Ayn, Sad.
Allah starts Surah Maryam with a series of five letters. There are many different saying or explanations regarding these five letters. The most correct opinion is that these are from the broken letters. There are 29 different Surahs in the Quran that start with the broken letters. Only Allah alone knows the meanings of these letters. They are a secret from amongst the secrets of Allah , meaning that no one knows what they truly mean. Only Allah knows their meanings so they are from amongst the Mutashaabihat, those verses whose meanings are hidden.
However, we do find that some great Companions, as well as their students, sometimes gave meanings to these words. For example, it’s said that it is in acronym and each letter represents one of the names of Allah . Kaf is for Al-Kafi or Al-Kareem, “haa” is for Al-Hadi, “yaa” is from Hakeem or Raheem, “’ayn” is from Al-‘Aleem or Al-‘Adheem, and “saad” is from Al-Saadiq. Others said that it is one of the names of Allah and it’s actually Al-Ism Al-‘Atham or that it’s a name of the Quran. However, these narrations can’t be used as proof or to assign definitive meanings. They offer possibilities, but no one truly knows what they mean.
Now the question should come to our mind that why would Allah start of a Surah with words that no one understands?
1) To grab the attention of the listeners.
2) To remind us that no matter how much we know there’s always something that we don’t know.
3) These letters are the letters of the Arabic language and the Quran was revealed at a time that was the peak of eloquence of the language and it was their identity. The Quran was revealed challenging them spiritually and intellectually. The Arabs never heard these letters being used in such a majestic way.
4) To prove the inimitable nature of the Quran.
Allah then starts the story of Zakariyya . Zakariyya was one of the Prophets sent to Bani Israel. He was the husband of Maryam’s paternal aunt. He was also one of the caretakers or custodians of Baitul Maqdis.