Alhamdulillah, last session we were able to cover the meanings and lessons of verses 50-53. InshAllah, tonight we’ll be exploring the meanings of verses 54-59 and some of the lessons we can learn from them. In the last set of verses, Allah ﷻ very briefly mentioned the story of Adam (as) and Shaytān’s refusal to prostrate before him. We talked about how this story is mentioned in several places throughout the Qur’ān and that each time that it’s mentioned, it’s mentioned for a different purpose. Here it was mentioned to highlight the evil nature of kibr; pride, arrogance, and haughtiness or thinking that we’re better than others because of some quality that we possess. The passage also highlighted the consequences of disbelief in the Hereafter.
In this next set of verses, Allah ﷻ covers a number of different topics. He starts off by describing one aspect of the Qur’ān by saying,
Verse 54: And indeed We have employed every kind of parable for mankind in this Qur’ān. And man is the most contentious of beings.
This is a very beautiful verse in which Allah gives us a holistic understanding or a macro understanding of the Qur’ān. “And indeed We have employed every kind of parable for mankind in this Qur’ān.” A parable is an example or a metaphor that is used by Allah in the Qur’ān to provide us with lessons and guidance. They are known as amthāl al-Qur’ān. They provide us with reminders, lessons, encouragement, reprimand, reflection, contemplation, ease understanding, and illustrate difficult concepts with something tangible. Allah ﷻ uses amthāl to help us understand concepts such as faith, patience, gratitude, morality, ethics, values, reliance, life, death and resurrection.
In this verse, Allah ﷻ is telling us that He has clearly explained and clarified every single thing that we as human beings need to know, both worldly and religious affairs, in the Qur’ān so that we can know and recognize the path of truth and guidance. The Qur’ān contains guidance for every single thing we need to know as human beings in order to achieve success in this life and more importantly in the life to come. Allah ﷻ describes the Qur’ān is Surah Yusuf as “an elaboration of all things.” The full verse is, “Certainly in their stories is a lesson for those possessed of intellect. It is not a fabricated account; rather, it is a confirmation of that which came before it, and an elaboration of all things, and a guidance and mercy for a people who believe.”
The Qur’ān is our book of guidance; it’s our roadmap to happiness in this world and salvation in the hereafter. That’s why it’s so important for us to have a real, daily, practical and intimate relationship with the Quran. We have to read it, contemplate over its meanings and internalize its message. That’s why the Quran was revealed. To reflect, ponder and contemplate over its meanings. Ali (ra) said, “Indeed there’s no good in worship without fiqh, there’s no good in knowledge without understanding, and there’s no good in recitation without contemplation.” The more we engage with the book of Allah, the more we learn and the more we understand.
It’s such a book that its wonders are never-ending, it never becomes boring through repetition, whoever speaks from it will speak the truth, whoever rules with it will be just, and whoever holds fast to it will be guided to the straight path. That’s why ibn ‘Abba (ra) said, “If I lost the rope of my camel I would find it in the book of Allah!”
Despite the fact that the Qur’ān is a book of guidance and that it contains everything we need as human beings, Allah tells us why some people still fail to take advantage of it or benefit from it. “And man is the most contentious of beings.” Meaning, despite the clarity of the Qur’ān, despite its guidance, despite its light and details human beings still choose to oppose and argue against the truth. Even though Allah (swt) has explained everything necessary in detail, mankind is still predisposed to argument and dispute. That is why we find a lot of people who choose to reject the truth and disbelieve.
Allah ﷻ then tells us that oftentimes people refuse to believe because of two reasons: 1) they are waiting for punishment or 2) they wanted to see the punishment of the hereafter with their own eyes.
Verse 55: And nothing prevents men from believing when guidance comes to them and from seeking forgiveness from their Lord, except that [they wait] for what befell earlier generations to come to them, or the punishment to come upon them face to face.
This verse is referring specifically to the non-believers of Makkah but is applicable to anyone who rejects and denies the truth after it has been clarified to them. Allah ﷻ is telling us that nothing prevented the non-believers of Makkah from accepting faith after having witnessed clear signs and proofs regarding the existence and oneness of Allah and the messengership of Muhammad ﷺ, and seeking forgiveness from their Lord except for two things:
1) Being afflicted with punishment and destruction like the previous nations or 2) Seeing and experiencing the punishment of the hereafter with their own eyes. Meaning, they’re waiting to see if the same worldly punishment that befell earlier people will come upon them as well or to witness the punishment of the hereafter with their own two eyes. What this means is that they won’t believe or accept faith until they are punished. Everything has already been explained to them; there’s no reason for them to reject or deny the truth. They have received guidance in plenty, which should have been sufficient for them to believe and follow Allah’s orders. But they demanded for themselves the sort of suffering that befell nations of old. They made such a demand thinking that Allah’s punishment would never overtake them, or they did so in mockery. Sometimes they modified their demands, asking for the punishment to be shown directly to them. That, they argued, would prove what the Prophets preached and then they would believe in them. However, punishment comes from Allah, not the Messenger, and that’s why Allah says next,
Verse 56: And We don’t send the messenger except as bearers of glad tidings and as warners. And those who disbelieve dispute falsely in order to refute the truth. They take My signs and that which they have been warned as mockery.
The word mursalīn is translated as messengers and refers to all of the previous prophets and messengers that were sent by Allah ﷻ throughout history. This verse is telling us that their role or function was to convey the message. That included giving glad tidings of forgiveness, reward and paradise for those who believed and warnings of punishment and sin for those who rejected the truth. However, despite receiving the message and recognizing its truth they decided to argue against it. “And those who disbelieve dispute falsely in order to refute the truth.” They argue against it not because they’re right; rather, because they want to refute the truth. And since they’re unable to they resort to mockery and derision. “They take My signs and that which they have been warned as mockery.” They treat the Qur’ān, revelation, miracles, evidence, and proof as a joke; something to be taken lightly and made fun of. This is the worst kind of rejection and denial. It’s an attitude of arrogance and ignorance. Imagine hearing the truth, recognizing it and then rejecting it through mockery and ridicule because of pride, arrogance, and stubbornness.
After explaining the reason for their disbelief and their mockery, Allah describes the non-believers with some characteristics that bring them disgrace and dishonor.
Verse 57: And who does greater wrong than one who has been reminded of the signs of his Lord, then turns away from them and forgets that which his hands have sent forth? Surely We have placed coverings over their hearts, such that they understand it not, and in their ears a deafness. Even if you call them to guidance, they will never be rightly guided.
There is no injustice greater than disbelief, especially after witnessing the signs and evidence of the truth and then turning away from them. On top of that, they are heedless and careless of what they do in this world. Oftentimes we forgot how great of a sin and injustice disbelief truly is; we don’t recognize the gravity of rejecting and refusing to accept the truth. There’s no sin greater than disbelief. The rhetorical question mentioned at the beginning of the verse, “and who does greater wrong than the one who has been reminded of the signs of his Lord, then turns away from them and forgets that which his hands have sent forth”, is repeated throughout the Qur’ān. It’s usually asked in relation to those who deny the signs of Allah ﷻ. So Allah ﷻ is telling us that there’s absolutely no one worse or more disgraceful than a person who turns away from His signs that invite him towards the truth, success, and salvation.
On top of that, they forget about the consequences of their actions or they don’t care about the consequences of their actions. They say what they want and do what they want without any thought or apprehension. This is the absolute most unjust type of person; they’re not just to themselves nor are they just in their relationship with Allah ﷻ. As a consequence of their disbelief, rejection, stubbornness, and disobedience Allah places a seal over the hearts and ears. “Surely We have placed coverings over their hearts, such that they understand it not, and in their ears a deafness. Even if you call them to guidance, they will never be rightly guided.” Their hearts are covered.
The heart within this Islamic tradition has been given a lot of importance. It’s considered to be the center of understanding and enlightenment. It’s the center of faith, belief, reliance, and true comprehension; true recognition of the truth. Modern science attributes this to the mind and the intellect but we understand it to be the heart. The heart is “a subtle tenuous substance of an ethereal spiritual sort, which is connected with the physical heart. This subtle tenuous substance is the real essence of man. The heart is the part of man that perceives and knows and experiences; it is addressed, punished, rebuked, and held responsible…” The heart in the Islamic tradition is the center of being, intellect, and consciousness. So those who turn away from Allah, reject the truth and engage in sin and disobedience, a seal is placed over their hearts. They’re no longer able to perceive and recognize the truth; they can’t tell right from wrong.
Similarly, a “deafness” is placed in their ears. Meaning they hear the truth being spoken but they’re unable to understand and comprehend. That’s why Allah then consoles and comforts the Prophet ﷺ by telling him that if you invite them towards guidance they will never be guided. Again this is a result and consequence of their own actions and choices. Allah ﷻ tells us this elsewhere in the Qur’ān as well. For example, in Surah Al-Mutafifīn Allah says, “Nay! But on their hearts is the Ran (covering of sins and evil deeds) which they used to earn.” “Allah has set a seal on their hearts and on their hearings, (i.e. they are closed from accepting Allah’s Guidance), and on their eyes, there is a covering. Theirs will be a great torment.” “These people who treat what Allah has bestowed from on high with mockery and who ridicule His warnings cannot understand the Qur’ān or comprehend its message. Hence, Allah places over their hearts screens which prevent them from understanding it. In their ears, He causes a sort of deafness so that they cannot hear it. He has also willed that, because of their deliberate refusal and willful turning away from His guidance, they will never be guided. For guidance to penetrate people’s hearts, such hearts must be open to receive it in the first place.”
Despite their pride, arrogance, ignorance, stubbornness, and refusal to accept the truth Allah ﷻ in His infinite mercy delays their punishment. He gives them time to reflect, ponder, think, recognize their mistakes and repent.
Verse 58: And your Lord is Forgiving, Possessed of mercy. Were he to take them to task for that which they have earned, He would have hastened the punishment for them. Nay, but theirs is an appointed time, beyond which they shall find no refuge.
Allah ﷻ is Al-Ghafūr, the All-Forgiving, the Possessor of infinite and limitless mercy. He forgives regardless of how much a person has sinned or how major or grave the sin is. And He continues to forgive as a long as a person turns back to Him in forgiveness and repentance. And His mercy is infinite; it encompasses every single thing in this universe. If Allah ﷻ wanted to He could have held people accountable for what they’ve done immediately. If that were the case he would have brought punishment upon them in this world without any delay. As Allah ﷻ tells is in Surah Fātir, “And if Allah were to punish men for that which they earned, He would not leave a moving (living) creature on the surface of the earth, but He gives them respite to an appointed term, and when their term comes, then verily, Allah is Ever All-Seer of His slaves.” Instead, Allah ﷻ has set an appointed time for their punishment, which can come in this world or the next. It’s up to Allah.
Verse 59: And those towns, We destroyed them for the wrong they did, and We set an appointed time for their destruction.
Allah is reminding them of the past nations that were destroyed because of their rejection and disobedience such as, ‘Aad, Thamūd and the people of Lūt (as). The Qur’ān repeatedly refers to the destruction of whole towns as a result of their disbelief and wrongdoing. All of these references are found in Makkan revelation because they’re mostly intended as warnings for the Quraysh of Makkah.
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.