Surat An-Najm

What is the Qur'an About?

Tafsir Ishraq al-Ma`ani
Syed Iqbal Zaheer

تفسير إِشراقُ المَعَاني
سيد إقبال ظهير


What is the Qur'an About?
The Qur'an is the Word of Allah and a Book of Guidance. It can be asked, guidance to what? The answer is: “Guidance to Allah Most High, His Attributes, His Will, and the way in which one may conduct oneself to obtain that approval (rida) of Allah after which there is no anger." Imam Shafe`i perhaps had the first part of this statement in mind when he said:

"All that (the scholars of) the Ummah have to say is nothing but the exposition of the Sunnah. All that is in the Sunnah is the exposition of the Qur'an. And the whole of the Qur'an is nothing but the exposition of the Names and Attributes of Allah" (Zarkashi: Al‑Burhan Fi `Ulum al‑Qur'an).

This guidance to Allah, the knowledge of His Attributes and Will, and the guidance to right conduct cannot be obtained by any means other than the Qur'an and its complementary, the Sunnah, (the sayings and practices of Prophet Muhammad, peace be on him).
The Qur'an is also the only source of guidance. Someone who is unaware of its existence, but is a seeker of Truth, (on account of his innate faith in God and disillusionment with the world), will be led to this Book, one way or the other. The Qur'an says (29: 69): "Those who strive in Us, We shall surely guide them unto Our paths."

What is Guidance?
From another angle, it might be said that being on the guidance is to know, acknowledge, and, live by the Truth. In the context of this life, it is
a) the knowledge of what one is required to do, in the right measure, at any particular moment, and
b) the will to live by that knowledge.
In one sense, then, Guidance is knowledge, and in another, the will to act by it. The ‘will to act' is not the same as the ‘power to act.' That is because man has been granted will (or the freedom of choice) in a limited framework, while all power is Allah's. The power, or ability to act ‑ referred to as tawfiq in Islamic terminology ‑ is granted when willingness is demonstrated.
Further, since there is no such thing as half‑guidance, both are essential for salvation: knowledge without the will to act is only an evidence against one's self (hujjah), and deeds (however pretty their appearance), are grains thrown in the sand if they go without the acknowledgement of the Truth.
The Qur'an guides in both the senses. It bestows knowledge (or 'ilm wa 'irfan), giving the seeker the proper concept of the truth, as well as the will‑power and the moral courage to produce a living model of that concept in his own person, overcoming the obstacles he might encounter from within or without.
No other book, writing, philosophy, or person can achieve this. There should be no doubt about it; for any ambiguity in this regard can deprive one of the fruits of study and application.
The above definition illustrates and emphasizes the external, physical, and ephemeral aspect. Guidance has an esoteric, transcendent, and eternal meaning also, which is the fruit and essence of the external aspect. It is that state of mind and soul in which the other world becomes dearer than this one, in which, one eagerly awaits to be transported to the other world in order to heal that pain in the heart, and quench that thirst of the soul which only the company of those on High can heal and quench.
It is when one begins to ‘wait for the next salah after the last one,' when one ‘remembers Allah in his seclusion and the remembrance brings tears to his eyes,' when Allah becomes so dear that one begins to ‘love for Allah and hate for Allah,' and, when ‘the state of sabr and shukr become one and the same,' then it is that a person can said to be, in the words of the Qur'an, "on a guidance from his Lord."

The Path of Knowledge
A hadith of the Prophet (saws) says: "I am leaving behind me two things. So long as you hold fast unto them, you will not be misguided: they are Allah's Book and my practices." Nevertheless, this oft‑quoted hadith is rarely treated seriously. People apply themselves with great fervor to books, writings, speeches and ideologies presented by the scholars of Islam, but not as often do they leave them and their influences aside to turn directly to the Qur'an in complete seriousness. They do not seem to realize that they are not guided by those books and writings but to the extent that they themselves contain the Qur'an and the Sunnah in their pure form and unadulterated meaning.
Further, even when the Qur'an is studied, it is mostly done through the eyes, minds, and explanations of the scholars. The knowledge derived is, therefore, at best second‑hand, vicarious, and not wholly trustworthy. Again, a study of the Qur'an after a lot of other literature has been read has the disadvantage of the earlier readings embossing on the mind impressions that do not allow for the new ones to take place in their pristine form. The result is a jumble of concepts, true, half true, and false.
Alternatively, the Qur'an is read with pre‑conceived ideas. Human ideas are then taken for Divine ideas with citation of Qur’anic verses as evidences.
There are a few other characteristics that distinguish the Qur'an from all other kinds of writings. Firstly, the knowledge that the Qur'an imparts is the true and infallible knowledge. Secondly, the Qur'an succeeds in communicating the ideas it holds. That is, the reader cannot miss the meaning that it intends to communicate. Provided one is sincere, no one can miss its guidance, or, led to a meaning and understanding not intended. That happens with writings other than the Divine; humans say one thing, and the audience understand another thing. Moreover, through its intricate sequencing of the texts, the Qur’an answers to the doubts that arise, so to say, on the spot, and registers its meaning and message without adulteration of doubts menacing the mind, or skeptical notes lying beneath like snakes in the grass.
Therefore, to obtain true knowledge and right guidance from the Qur'an the requirement is to do away with preconceived ideas and study it with the firm intention to live by the meaning as it unfolds itself. With that kind of intention, the student is qualified to receive the true meaning. The meaning obtained is also accompanied by an urge to live by it, which then is the next requirement. That accomplished, that is, the meaning translated into action, the reader demonstrates purity of intention. In consequence, he qualifies to receive a fresh set of true meaning which unfolds themselves with further reading. This goes on until the student reaches that state which has been described in a hadith by Allah (swt) Himself in words, “I become the hands of the slave with which he grips, the feet of the slave with which he walks ... (to the end of the hadith).” But if he fails, that is, he is not true to himself at any given phase, or discontinues the process, then the tawfiq is held back until he amends his ways. The Qur’an has said (7: 146):

{سَأَصْرِفُ عَنْ آيَاتِيَ الَّذِينَ يَتَكَبَّرُونَ فِي الْأَرْضِ بِغَيْرِ الْحَقِّ وَإِنْ يَرَوْا كُلَّ آيَةٍ لَا يُؤْمِنُوا بِهَا وَإِنْ يَرَوْا سَبِيلَ الرُّشْدِ لَا يَتَّخِذُوهُ سَبِيلًا وَإِنْ يَرَوْا سَبِيلَ الْغَيِّ يَتَّخِذُوهُ سَبِيلًا ذَلِكَ بِأَنَّهُمْ كَذَّبُوا بِآيَاتِنَا وَكَانُوا عَنْهَا غَافِلِينَ} [الأعراف: 146]

“I shall turn away from My signs those who wax proud in the land without cause. If they witnessed all the signs, they will not believe in them, and, if they see the path of righteousness, they will not accept it as a path. But if they see the deviated path, they will accept it as a path. That, because they gave a lie to Our signs and were heedless of them.”

How to Obtain the Right Verbal Meaning?
It is to seek guidance, in the sense delineated above, that one should read the Qur'an. That should be the intention in every session with it.
Dr. Muhammad Iqbal's father well illustrated this point when he asked his son, who was reciting the Qur'an, as to what he was reading. The young son, knowing that the father was aware what he was reading, responded with an indifferent answer. “Who was it revealed to?” was the next question. The embarrassed son replied that it was revealed to Prophet Muhammad (on whom be peace). “This way, my son,” said the father, “you will never profit from the Qur'an. You will only if you read with the belief that the Revelation has just come down, that it has been sent down specifically for you, and that it is you who has been addressed. It is only then that this Book will open itself to you.”
In other words, one should take it as a message unto himself, and allow each verse of the Qur'an free and unhindered access to the mind and heart with the will to be led where it will lead.

In contrast to other revealed Books and religious literatures, in whatever form and language they may exist, the Qur'an should not only be read by oneself, directly, but also in its own language ‑ Arabic. No commentary, however comprehensive, and no exegete, however erudite, can impart what the Qur'an itself can. The following reasons will illustrate the point.

The Miraculous nature of the Qur'an
It is well known that the Qur'an is a miracle. In fact, it is a living miracle; although the true nature of the miracle is not always understood. We cannot elaborate on this point extensively at this juncture. But it might be pointed out that the miracle expresses itself both in its form as well in its content. Both are powerful, unique to the Qur'an, which defy translation. The Prophet said: "Every prophet before me was given a miracle. I have been given the Qur'an. And I hope to have a greater following by its virtue than any prophet of the past."
Consequently, thousands of people from all over the globe are led to Islam every year through their study of the Qur'an. When a non‑Muslim asks a Muslim about Islam, all that he does in most cases is to hand him over a copy of the Qur'an. Invariably, even that mangled thing called ‘the translation of the Qur'an' leads the person to Islam. That is the miracle of the Qur'an. And of course, miracles cannot be translated.
Let us look into a few reasons that make impossible to communicate what the Qur'an itself communicates.

The Qur'an is in Arabic. It is neither in prose nor in verse but a unique combination of both, unsurpassed in its effect on the mind and soul by any other writing. In the words of John Alden Williams:

"...the Arabic of the Qur'an is by turns striking, soaring, vivid, terrible, tender, and breathtaking ... It is meaningless to apply adjectives such as ‘beautiful' or ‘persuasive' to the Qur'an; its flashing images and inexorable measures go directly to the brain and intoxicate it.
It is not surprising, then, that a skilled reciter of the Qur'an can reduce an Arabic‑speaking audience to helpless tears" (Islam: p.2, Washington Square Press '69).

In the words of Arberry:

"... to produce something which might be accepted as echoing however faintly the sublime rhetoric of the Arabic Koran, I have been at pains to study the intricate and richly varied rhythms which ‑ apart from the message itself ‑ constitute the Koran's undeniable claim to rank amongst the greatest literary masterpieces of mankind" (The Koran Interpreted, Intr. p. x, Oxford Univ. Press '64).

It is this inimitable beauty that challenges mankind to produce its equivalent: in sublimity of language, its instructions, and its sublime effect on the mind and soul. The Qur'anic challenge has remained unanswered by the humans (2: 23, 24):

"O People! If you are in any doubt concerning what We have sent down on Our slave (Muhammad), then produce a piece similar to it (in all its merits). And call (to your aid) your witnesses apart from Allah, if you are true (in your allegation that it is the work of Muhammad). But if you cannot do it ‑ and you can never do it ‑ then beware of the Fire whose fuel is human beings and rocks: prepared for the unbelievers."

The Qur'an then is inimitable and, therefore, untranslatable. Any translation, however accurately done, and however close to the original, cannot reproduce the sense and beauty of the original. Therefore, when one is reading a translation, he is not reading the Qur'an per se. No surprise then that the best effects are lost. No wonder also that the scholars of old would not allow translation of the Qur'an. This is also Ibn Taymiyyah's opinion. In fact there is a consensus of opinion among the scholars that the Qur'an should not be quoted in ‘sense' or ‘meaning' but always in its original textual words. How can then one be allowed to translate the Qur'an and call it the Qur'an?
Accordingly, if permission to translate the Qur'an has been granted due to modern exigencies, it is on condition that sufficient notes are supplied to overcome the deficiencies arising out of the translation. Further, it is required that the new work be called "interpretative translation of the Qur'an" (tarjumah tafsiriyyah), or, "the translation of the meaning of the Qur'an," rather than "the translation of the Qur'an" or, what would be more audacious, "the meaning of the Qur'an," since none of these are within human power (Manahil al `Irfan, Zarqani).

Linguistic Difficulties
There are many linguistic difficulties that make the Qur'an untranslatable. In Arabic one expresses sense rather than meaning. A beautiful Arabic sentence that can enrapture the mind and touch the soul becomes insipid in another language. Not only sentences or words, even single consonant letters are hard to translate. For example, the "fi" of Arabic has a depth that is lacking in the "in" of English. One needs a whole ugly, terse, and unmusical word in English to translate mere letters such as:

و ف إنَّ

Obviously, the complications with the words are far greater than those with the letters. Arabic is a language in which words are based on consonantal roots, from which are derived scores of words in various forms giving out various meanings but remaining, even if loosely and distantly, connected in sense and letter‑content to the root. `Ayn for instance can mean: an eye, a spring, a spy, a group of people, evil‑eye, honor, a flag, a girl, etc. `Afw stands for effacement, obliteration, elimination, forgiveness, amnesty, boon, kindness, favor, surplus, and others. The translated word must on the one hand give out the basic meaning and, on the other, convey several nuances the original carries. Obviously, to achieve that is well‑nigh impossible.
Let us take an example (4: 4):

وَآتُوا النِّسَاءَ صَدُقَاتِهِنَّ نِحْلَةً [النساء : 4]

"Give the women their dowries (as a gift) spontaneous,"
In this example, the word saduqat is derived from the root sadaqa ( صَدَقَ ) which means, with the addition of various suffixes or prefixes: ‘to speak the truth, to be sincere, to prove to be true, to come true, to fulfill one's promise,' and so on. Now, a true translation of the derived term saduqa, (plural: saduqat صَدُقات ), should carry in its overtones the sense of truth and sincerity. That is, ‘a gift that is offered (by the groom to the bride), as an expression of his sincerity toward her and the relationship he is proposing.' To render it as dowry, with the connotation that the language and culture of the readers carry, is to mutilate it.
In addition to the problem of words that yield several meanings, the complex structure of the Qur'anic verses admit of many interpretations (well described by Muhammad Asad as unfolding of "layer upon layer of meaning") from which the translator can choose but one, without necessarily being right in his choice. This means that, granted the translator did not err, the translation conveyed only one meaning out of the several contained in the Qur'an.
As another example, the following is speaking of the unbelievers (11: 20):

يُضَاعَفُ لَهُمُ الْعَذَابُ مَا كَانُوا يَسْتَطِيعُونَ السَّمْعَ وَمَا كَانُوا يُبْصِرُونَ [هود : 20]

"For them the chastisement shall be doubled; (for) they could not hear, neither did they see."
It can be translated in at least six different ways, three of them depending on how the letter "maa" is treated: whether of the same meaning as "lamu kayy," ( لامُ كَي ); as a synonym of "ila," ( إلى ); or as a negative "maa". Obviously such possibilities, which occur quite often, can leave the translator baffled as to his own choice during translation.
Another linguistic difficulty is that many Arabic and Qur'anic terms do not have proper equivalents in other languages, especially the languages of the occident. Allah, al‑Rahman, al‑Rahim, jihad, salah, zakah, sadaqah, `ibadah, al‑ghayb, kufr, nur, fisq, taghut, nabiyy, rasul, ghaniyy, are a few examples from a long list.
If, to the above are added the difficulties of `ijaz (ellipticism), rhetoric, alliteration, resonance and rhythm (all of them present in the Qur'an in their most excellent forms and in the highest degree of expression), then the job of translation becomes a hopeless task.
But the impaired meaning is not the only casualty. The loss in terms of beauty, charm, appeal, elation and the ecstasy that a reader feels on reading the Qur'an in its original is immeasurable.
Therefore, it can be safely said of a person who has always read the Qur'an through translations alone, that he did not read the Qur'an once.

Trying to understand the Qur'an with the help of commentaries is no less hazardous. Some reasons are as follows.
Essentially, commentaries are of two kinds. Those that are based on the Qur'an itself, supported by the hadith and opinions of the Companions, or their next‑generation Followers (tabe`iyyun). These are known as al‑tafsir bi 'l ma'thur ( التفسير بالمأثور ) i.e., interpretation based on report or tradition.
The other category is the one in which the commentator offers an interpretation, based not on a specific accepted source ‑ a Qur'anic verse, a hadith, or a remark of a Companion or one of their Followers ‑ but his personal opinion based on his intellect, knowledge or intuition. This kind of commentary is known as al‑tafsir bi 'l ra'yi ( التفسير بالرأي ). al‑tafsir 'l‑ishari [ التفسير الإشاري ] falls under the same category).
As for the first kind of tafsir, i.e., al‑tafsir bi 'l ma'thur, it can be fully appreciated only when read in Arabic. Many concepts and ideas of the Qur'an are closely tied up with the Arabic language. Further, those concepts and ideas are so subtle that their explanations fall flat and lose their import in another language. The commentaries of Ibn Jarir or Ibn Kathir, for example (which are good examples of the al‑tafsir bi 'l ma'thur) fail to have their impact on the reader in their translated version. Besides, some basic knowledge of hadith classification, fiqh and other disciplines, which in turn require knowledge of Arabic, is necessary to appreciate this kind of commentary.
In short al-tafsir bi ‘l ma’thur does not help much in understanding the core meanings of the Qur’anic texts. The profound part is often missed.
On the other hand, if one tries to understand the Qur'an with the help of the other kind of tafsir, viz. al‑tafsir bi 'l ra'yi, he faces the following hazards.
Firstly, to be able to correctly comment on the Qur'an, one has to have, in addition to the Revealed texts, a thorough knowledge of all the physical and metaphysical sciences and disciplines that have been developed by the humans. The Qur'an deals with history, law, social affairs, morality, worship, economy, psychology, state affairs, spiritual development, eschatology, divinity, and many other disciplines ‑ all in one go. Obviously, since it is beyond one man's capacity to master so many disciplines in a life‑time, it is beyond him also to write a commentary of the Qur'an that conveys the true intent of the Qur’an.
Further, every commentator is a product of his own age, genre, intellectual atmosphere, and cultural background. His problems are the problems of his time ‑ not necessarily of all times. His view of life is from a certain angle ‑ not necessarily the ecumenical and transcendental view of the Qur'an. (So, we often hear from such commentators that “the Qur’an lays down the way of life”: which immediately reduces its message to mundane level. Had they said it lays down the ways to moral and spiritual life, they would have been closer to truth). Such commentators are led, and cannot help but be led, by their personal predispositions and bent of mind, appealing to those of similar dispositions, and not necessarily reaching out to all the inquisitive minds and thirsty souls. Finally, whatever a commentator’s caliber, he remains subjective. True objectivity is not the share of man.
For example, if he is of a sufi bent of mind he detects suggestions that may or may not exist. If he subscribes to a certain philosophy, he may emphasize a certain point, which might be there in the text, but might not be it focal point. Thereby he distorts the overall view. Or, if his interpretation of life is materialistic and earthly, he is quite likely to rush through verses that are, so to say, mawarid al zam'an (watering places for the thirsty), and the hovering grounds of the restless soul, concentrating instead on the wonderful capabilities of Islam to promote material growth and development on earth and bring back to the Muslim Ummah its lost glory!
In short, he is a human dealing with the Word of Allah. To do justice to it is not in his power.
Finally, it is agreed by the scholars of Islam that there are two aspects to the meaning of the Qur'an: the external and the internal. The external or the obvious meaning is that which has come down from the authorities: the hadith, the opinions of the Companions, their next‑generation Followers and the meaning unanimously accepted by the scholars of Islam through and through the ages. The internal, hidden or the secret meaning of the Qur'an comes from deep reflection and a sustained exercise of the mind and soul coupled with righteous living. To take an example, it is reported that the verse (5: 3): "This day I have perfected your religion for you and completed My favor unto you, and have chosen for you as religion al‑Islam," brought tears into the eyes of `Umar ibn al-Khattab The Prophet asked him the reason. He replied: "So far we were witnessing a continuous rise of Islam. Now that it has been completed (i.e. it has reached its zenith), it can only follow a downward direction, as it happens with anything that has achieved its zenith." The Prophet (saws) agreed with him.
Imam Ghazali writes in his eighth book of Ihya' `Ulum 'l‑Din:

"The truth is that to everything pertaining to reflective and intellectual matters, which have become ambiguous to men of reflection, and in which people have differed, there are indications and implications in the Qur'an which can be observed by men of understanding. How can these indications and implications be completely conveyed by translations of its outward meanings and its (outward) exegesis?"

Further down he writes:

"The man who imagines that the Qur'an has no meaning except that which the outward exegesis has translated (and described), is acknowledging his own limitations; he is right in his acknowledgement (because he knows only this measure and is not aware of that which lies beyond this), but is wrong in his judgment which places all other people on the same footing as himself." (The Recitation and Interpretation of the Qur'an: Al-Ghazali's Theory by Muhammad Abdul Quasem, p. 87, 88).

Nevertheless, the scholars are also in agreement that the internal meaning can be attained only after a complete mastery of the external has been achieved. Zarkashi writes:

"The Book of Allah: it is the bottomless sea, whose meaning cannot be unfathomed but by the well-versed in (religious) knowledge; he who fears Allah in open and secret, and gives due esteem to Him in places where he comes across the ambiguous. Its subtleties and truths cannot be grasped but by one who (as the Qur’an said) ‘lends his ear and is attentive...'"

He adds a little further,

"All knowledge can be summed up as that of the ‘Acts' and ‘Attributes' of Allah. The Qur'an contains the knowledge of the Acts, Attributes, and the Essence of the Supreme Being. This fact leads us to another, viz., the field of knowledge is immensely vast. There is room for much more than what is obvious to the mind. The exegesis therefore, that has been passed on to us (by the authorities) do not lay down limits for the attainment of knowledge. Yet, it is not possible to jump over to the hidden without mastery of the obvious. Indeed, the knowledge of the external is absolutely essential to step into the internal and the hidden. Whoever claims to have knowledge of the secret part of the Qur'an while lacking a proper understanding of the external and the obvious, is like he who claims manhood at the threshold of his house (to which he has just crawled) although he has not yet stepped out of the door."

In brief, the Qur'an has two levels of meaning: the external and the internal. It should be obvious, therefore, how difficult it can be for a person to get to the second level, while his first level of understanding is suspect due to his ignorance of the language which leads him to take the words of men for the words of God.
These are some of the reasons why neither a translation nor a commentary can be substituted for the original.
It should not be surprising therefore to note that according to Imam Shafe`i, learning of the Arabic language is obligatory on every Muslim. Imam Abu Yousuf and Zufar, both students of Imam Abu Hanifah, went a step further. They stated that it is makruh (undesirable) for two Muslims who can manage some Arabic, to speak with each other in another language. Ibn Taymiyyah is also of the opinion that learning Arabic is a religious requirement since what is necessary to realize an obligation (wajib) is itself obligatory (wajib).

Pre‑conceived Ideas
In contrast, neglect of the language and study and reliance upon a single commentary of the al-tafsir bi 'l‑ra'yi type, can lead a student of the Qur'an to hold questionable opinions despite long study and painful application. Many of those who could become connoisseurs ended up dilettantes. Imam Ghazali writes about this class of people:

"The sufis have said that knowledge (`ilm) is a veil (between man and God), and by this knowledge they have meant those beliefs (`aqa'id) which most people have been firmly holding either by dogmatically following an authority or by mere reliance on casuistic sentences written by zealots of schools of thought and delivered to them. As for the real knowledge which is the uncovering of the actual condition of the thing known and which is a vision by the light of spiritual insight, how can it be a veil, seeing that it is the ultimate object of desire?
Pure dogmatic following of an authority is sometimes false (in itself) and is, therefore, an obstacle to the understanding of the meaning (of the Qur'an). An example of this is a man who has a (purely dogmatic) belief in Allah's istawa' on the Throne as His being settled on it physically. Then in the case of (the divine name) ‘the Holy One' (al-Quddus), for example, there comes to his mind the meaning that He is pure from all that is ascribable to His creation: but that purely dogmatic belief of his does not make it possible for this meaning to be firmly implanted in his mind. Had it become strengthened in his mind it would have led to a second meaning and a third, which could be inter-connected. But he hastens to drive this meaning away from his mind, because it contradicts his false belief which is held purely dogmatically.
Sometimes purely dogmatic following of an authority is true (in itself), but it too becomes an obstacle to understanding (the meaning of the Qur'an) and to unveiling of them. The truth in which man is obliged to believe has stages and grades, and it has an external beginning and an internal end. Concentration of man's nature on the external aspect prevents him from reading the internal end" (source cited above, p.70, 71).

Finally, every commentator is influenced by the ideas of his time that seem to be so powerful, and therefore of great consequence, which could be so during a particular epoch, but prove not to be so with the passage of time. Moved by those ideas or forces, a commentator might try to give the verses of the Qur'an a new meaning, sometimes at the expense of certain basic and universal truths. This can seriously affect the way in which his readers understand the Qur'an.
The conclusion therefore is that anyone who has not done a course of study in the tafsir of the approved type, but, instead, applies himself to the other type ‑ the tafsir bi 'l‑ra'yi ‑ runs the great risk of ending up with ideas that might not be true, half true or altogether wrong.
Therefore, every serious student of the Qur'an must learn enough Arabic to be able to read the Qur'an himself, directly, and without dependence on a translation to an extraordinary degree. It is only after he has spent sufficient time with the Qur'an (and, in addition, the Sunnah), that he can turn his attention to the translations and commentaries as further aids. It is only those for whom it is beyond their capacity to learn the language that might resort to dependence on translations and commentaries alone, although, to remain in consultation with the scholars is a necessary requirement for not getting misled on concepts.

Al-Tafsir bi 'l Ma'thur
The safest way to derive the right meaning of any part of the Qur'an is to seek its explanation within the Qur'an itself. What is stated in brief at one place is detailed at another, and what is ambiguous at one point is supplemented with elaborations elsewhere. Also, the Qur'an deals with a subject in a variety of ways, at different points, and with emphasis on different aspects in different contexts. The complete meaning can only be obtained by collecting together, either on paper or in the mind, all relevant verses, seeking connections that become apparent with contemplation. The Qur'an then should be understood in the first instance with the Qur'an itself.

The Hadith
Next, one should turn to the hadith. The ahadith are in reality a commentary on the Qur'an. Allah (swt) not only revealed the Word to the Prophet but also its meaning. A verse (4:105) says, "Surely We have sent down a Book to you (O Muhammad) with Truth so that you may judge between the people by what Allah shows you (as its true meaning)."
But it is not only the meaning as expressed in the words of the Prophet (saws) that has to be learnt. It is also the meaning as expressed in his actions that should be applied to one’s own life, to gain an understanding of the Qur'an. The Prophet lived according to the Message he received, not deviating from it in the least. In other words his life was the Qur'an interpreted: "Have you not read the Qur'an?!" was the answer given by `A'isha (ra) when asked about the Prophet's conduct in everyday life.
An example will illustrate how well the Prophet understood and lived by the Qur'an.
The Qur'an uses the term rih (in the sense of ‘winds') in two ways. In some places in the singular form as rih, and in others in the plural form as riyah. In all, it has used these terms on 29 occasions. Now a careful study reveals that when the occasion is the announcement of a punishment or chastisement from Allah, the word is used in its singular form (rih). In contrast, when the context is announcement of a glad tiding, it is the plural form that is chosen (riyah). [The odd deviation from the rule can be explained].
Now, keep the Qur'anic rule in mind and consider the prayer‑words of the Prophet, who, with every stormy weather supplicated in the words:

اللَّهُمَّ اجْعَلْهَا رِيَاحًا وَلا تَجْعَلْهَا رِيحًا

"O Lord! Make it winds (riyah) for us and not wind (rih)."
Another example can be cited. The Qur'an said (9: 103): "Accept (O Muhammad) of their wealth a free-will offering, to purify them and to cleanse them." This injunction came after the declaration that the free-will offering of the hypocrites was not acceptable; and the reference is to the zakah on wealth. The free-will offering, of course, is collected by the State and is distributed following another injunction (9: 60) that cites eight categories of people as the deserving recipients.
However, following the clue that zakah (and sadaqat by implication) purify and cleanse the people ("to purify them and cleanse them"), and, reasoning that the purifying agent cannot itself be clean after its purifying operation (another example is ablution water dropping down a man), the Prophet declared his kinsfolk as undeserving of a share in the zakah (and sadaqat) funds. He told them that the zakah funds were a dirt of the hand and hence unsuitable for them.
The above stray examples demonstrate not only how well the Prophet understood the Qur'an and the extent to which he applied it to himself, but also, how important it is for a reader to gain mastery over the two: the Qur'an and the Sunnah texts, to understand either.

The Companions and their Followers
Any clarification required after the first two sources have been exhausted, should be sought in the opinions of the Prophet's Companions; especially those who were close to him, received his special attention, and specialized in the Qur'an during his life‑time: such as the four khulafa', Ibn `Abbas, Ibn Mas`ud, `Abdullah ibn `Umar, Ubayy b. Ka`ab and others, or those of the Followers who became the pupils of these Companions, such as: Mujahid, `Ikrimah, Sa`id ibn Jubayr, Masruq, `Ata' ibn Rabah, Hassan al Busri, Sa`id ibn al Musayyib, Qatadah, Dahhak, Abu al `Aliyyah and others.
The differences in their opinions, however, should not disturb a student. For, as Ibn Taymiyyah has pointed out in his Muqaddimah fi Usul al Tafsir, in most cases they express the same meaning in different words. The word "hafadah" for instance, has been explained as "daughters" by Ibn Mas`ud and Sa`id b. Jubayr; as "grandsons" by Ibn `Abbas; as "in‑laws" by Ibn Mas`ud; while `Ikrimah, Mujahid, and Hasan al‑Basri say it stands for "servants." They are all of course expressing one or the other aspect of the meaning of the word. For "hafadah" is plural of "hafid" and in its singular form it means "he who is made to serve." At the time the verse was revealed, the word was used in all those senses in which it was adopted by different authorities.
Tafsir bi 'l ma'thur derives its basis from ‑ apart from others ‑ a hadith which says that when the Prophet was deputing Mu`adh ibn Jabal to Yemen he asked him how he was going to judge between the people. "With the Book of Allah," replied Mu`adh. "But what if you do not find (a lead) therein?" the Prophet asked. "With the Sunnah of Allah's Messenger," he replied. "But if you do not find (a lead) therein also?" he asked him. "Then," Mu`adh replied, "I will work out my own opinion." The Prophet expressed his approval (Muqaddimah, Ibn Taymiyyah).
A word of caution however, about this kind of tafsir should be in place. What is recommended is the methodology as enumerated above, and not the entire content of the books of tafasir that have followed this methodology. In some of these works massive amount of Jewish material and comments of the early exegetes have been included without verifications of their authenticity. If not read critically, these can have their own pitfalls. Naivety, for instance, can be perceived in those who rely on these alone and have failed to step into the modern age in intellectual terms.

Al-Tafsir bi al Ra'yi (Personal Opinions)
As stated above, sometimes a commentator uses his intelligence, knowledge, intuition or inspiration to bring out a point in language, history, law, etc. Some of such comments are acceptable, while others are not. Take for example verse (2: 102): "Sulayman blasphemed not, but the Satans blasphemed." A question arises. We know that a prophet does not blaspheme. Why then did the Qur'an have to say that Sulayman (asws) did not blaspheme? For an explanation we have to look into the Bible which alleges that Solomon became an idolater during the last days of his life (Majid). Though not based on an athar, it is a valid explanation and also corroborates with what details classical commentators (such as Ibn Kathir) have recorded as coming from Suddi and Sa`id b. Jubayr.
To take another example, the Qur'an says (2: 273): "(Alms are) for the poor who are restrained in the way of Allah, who can not journey in the land (for trade). The ignorant supposes them rich because of their restraint. You will know them by their mark. They do not beg of people with importunity. And whatsoever of good things that you spend, surely, Allah will know it."
Commenting on the verse, Thanwi says that the words, ‘(Alms are) for the poor who are restrained in the way of Allah,' are telling us that those who are working in the way of Allah deserve to receive first priority in aid. Further, the clause ‘who cannot journey in the land' signifies that it is desirable for those engaged in the path of Allah that they may suspend their efforts at livelihood, if need be, although there is no contradiction between the two (i.e. engagement in the path of Allah, and search for livelihood). Finally, the words ‘the ignorant supposes them rich,' implies that it is undesirable to put on appearances that will distinguish a man from the common people.
This is the kind of Tafsir bi 'l ra'yi that is acceptable since such statements can be corroborated in other ways also. What can be proved as valid either directly through deductions from the Qur'an, Sunnah, opinions of the Companions, their immediate Followers, or that which, in the least, does not contradict any of the above, in word or spirit, is valid and acceptable.
The permission for this kind of interpretation is based on the supplication (du`a) which the Prophet made for Ibn `Abbas. He said:

اللَّهُمَّ فَقِّهْهُ فِي الدِّينِ وَعَلِّمْهُ التَّأْوِيلَ

"O Allah, grant him knowledge of the Qur'an and teach him the interpretation."
Contrary to this is the unprincipled interpretation that has its basis neither in the sources cited above, nor does it agree with the spirit of Islam as understood by the scholars at large.
To explain, any opinion with reference to a Qur’anic text that contradicts with that of the Salaf, in matters involving the Shari`ah, values, morals or spiritual affairs, is Tafsir bi al-Ra’yi, and stands rejected outright. It is about such an interpretation that the Prophet remarked: "Whoever speaks about the Qur'an without knowledge, may seek his abode in the Fire."
The Companions and their Followers were quite careful about offering an interpretation that did not have a Qur'anic verse or hadith in its support. Abu Bakr (ra) used to say: "Which heaven will shelter me, and which earth will support me if I said about Allah's Book, that which I have no knowledge of." Abu Yezid said: "We used to ask Sa`id ibn al‑Musayyib about the ‘lawful' and the ‘unlawful' and would find him the most knowledgeable of men. But when we asked him about a verse of the Qur'an as to how it was to be understood, he would be quiet, turning a deaf ear to us."

Al-Tafsir 'l‑Ishari (Allegorical Interpretation)
By nature, man is awed by the mysterious. It is the inexplicable, the symbolical, and the mysterious that engage his attention. The obvious and the clear‑cut escape him. To seek a solution to a riddle or the meaning of an allegory is a task he undertakes with enthusiasm. The allegorical verses of the Qur'an have provided grist to the minds of its scholars and there have been several interpretations proffered to explain them. Some of these are not readily acceptable and raise controversies. The best course of action about them when they are authentically quoted, by authoritative people, but which seemingly contradicts ideas of the Salaf, is to make no judgment about their acceptance or rejection.
In this work the use of Tafsir 'l Ishari has been restricted. It is inadvisable to read them without the guidance of a specialist. Thanwi’s Masa'il al‑Suluk as footnotes to his Urdu Bayan al‑Qur'an, is of this class. So are Alusi’s notes under this heading.
Nevertheless, it should also be borne in mind that every passage whose meaning is not obvious is not necessarily of the allegorical type, nor is the Qur'an entirely without them. There are some portions of the Qur'an whose true meaning the human mind might never be able to unravel. Ibn `Abbas has said: "There are four kinds of meanings: a) that which is apparent to the Arabs because it is in their language, b) that whose meaning no one can deny on the pretext of ignorance, c) the meaning that is the share of the scholars alone, and, d) the meaning that no one knows save Allah and His Messenger."
Further, one may note that there are Qur’anic texts whose meanings would be understood at the time of death, or subsequent to it.

Following the Qur'anic method, we might end with what we started with. Application is part of the study. One will not travel much on the road if he failed to live by the instructions and inspirations that he received with the study. The Qur'an is the Word of Allah. It has been sent to guide the people. But it guides only those who are willing to be guided. As Rumi has said, the Qur’an is a closed book except for the true ardent seeker; to which we might add, ‘those who would care to apply.’
A further condition is to avoid sins of all kinds. The following is reported to have been said by Imam Shafe`i:

شكوت إلى وكيع سوء حفظى * فأرشدنى إلى ترك المعاصى
وأخـبرنى بـأن العـلم نور * ونور الله لايهدى لعاصى

I complained to Waki` of my forgetfulness
He guided me to give up sins
And taught me that knowledge is Light
And Allah’s Light is not shown to the sinner

The student of the Qur'an will have to develop his mind in such a way as to be skeptical of everything that the senses report, doubt every opinion that is formed by the intellect, and question every information that comes from non‑revealed sources. In the next step, he will have to test all of them against the Qur'an and reject any that contradicts it in word or spirit. Ibn Mas`ud (ra) said: "During the life-time of the Prophet, we used to take ten verses of the Qur'an for study and would not move on to the next ten until we had lived by those ten." It is reported of `Umar ibn al‑Khattab (ra) that he finished surah al‑Baqarah in seven years. According to a report he was so happy at its completion that he slaughtered a camel and invited his friends to a feast.
We can conclude with Zarkashi's remarks. He writes in Al‑Burhan fi `Ulum al‑Qur'an:

"In the final analysis, the derivation of the meaning of the Qur'an is largely dependent on a man's own thoughts and reflections. Let it be known, therefore, that the true meaning of the revelation and the secrets of the veiled knowledge will never be the share of a man whose heart is filled with innovations, or who insists on a sin, or in whose heart resides pride or base desires or love of the world, or that he be of an uncertain faith, or poor of discernment, or dependent on the opinions of a mufassir who has knowledge only of the externals (`ilm al-zahir), or gives precedence to his own thoughts and ideas (during the process of thinking). All these are veils and obstacles, some of which are of greater impedance than others.
"(In contrast), if the man pays full attention to the words of His Lord, is receptive to the meaning that the Attributes of the One addressing him unfold themselves, is always aware of His powers, abandons his own self-established conclusions based on reason and intellect, renounces his own powers and abilities, is ever mindful of the greatness of the Speaker, beseeching Him the grant of the meaning: and all this from a personal state of integrity, a good-natured heart, with the power of knowledge, of a calm disposition to gather the meaning, and to wait for the missed meaning seeking (Divine) help through Prayers and Supplications, (the supplications themselves) presented with the weakness (of the human against Powers of the Divine), and observing patience while waiting for the mind to be opened by Him who is the Opener, the Knowing; and he who strengthens these qualities with a recitation during which his mind is fully attentive to the verbal meaning and bears witness to the Attributes of the One addressing him by anxiously waiting for the promises (of the opening of the heart coming true), and fearing the calamities (that may befall him for his failings), and who warns forcefully .. such is the one who has a good voice for the Qur'an and it is about him that Allah Most High has said (2:121): ‘Those to whom we have given the Book, read it in the manner it should be read. It is these who believe in it'" (p. 180-81, vol.2).

The Methodology in this Work
It has been this writer's endeavor to present in this work, principally, the meaning of the Qur'an as understood by the classical scholars. That is, in the light of the Qur'an itself, traditions of the Prophet and statements of the Companions and their followers. To achieve this, the author first consulted Ibn Jarir Tabari. Since Ibn Jarir was a Muhaddith himself, he did not cite sources to the hadith, or to statements of the Companions that he quoted. Citing the sources was done by Ibn Kathir. Therefore, Ibn Kathir was next consulted. However, Ibn Kathir did not cite sources to the statements of the Salaf. This was done, to some degree, by Shawkani. So, he was consulted next. Although Ibn Kathir cited hadith sources, he did not state the authenticity-status of ahadith. In such cases, this author tried to search the opinion of Hadith Doctors, to add a note about their reliability. Further, if there were differences in opinions over the meaning of a certain verse, Ibn Kathir preferred to adopt the opinion of Ibn Jarir, which, this author indicated. Thus, a meaning emerged as of the Salaf. The translation of the verses reflects this meaning. The author suppressed his own opinion, for whose credibility he lacks the qualification, unless it was a scientific issue, historical, geographical or the like.
Thereunto, the author added the opinions of various other commentators, taking care of course, that such opinions did not clash with the opinions of the Salaf, for in matters of Law, morals (Akhlaq), and spiritual matters, the Salaf were the true authority. The way the first three generations understood the Qur’an, was never understood by any after them. It is they who changed the world, the way no generation could. If a headstrong person thinks that someone’s understanding of the Qur’an and Sunnah, was, or is, as good as that of the Salaf, and as accurate, he might need a course on how `ilm is defined in Islam. Ibn Sirin, a prominent Tabe`i said, “Knowledge is gone. What’s left of it is bits and pieces, scattered among the scholars.” Hasan al-Basri, his contemporary, was told by someone that the “Fuqaha’ say so and so.” He corrected him, “Have you ever seen a Faqih?”

An additional note about the commentaries made by the Companions and their followers might be in order. The Prophet has said: "The best of epochs is my epoch, then that of the Followers, and then that of the Followers." He was referring to the epoch followed by his own, and that of the Companions and the Tabe`iyyun. There were many Companions of the Prophet who received his special attention and specialized in the Qur'an during his life‑time itself. In turn they tutored many among the Tabe`iyyun. The term Salaf applies mainly to these: i.e., the Companions and the two succeeding generations, plus the third (because of some reports). Their opinion is the approved opinion. If they agree over the meaning of a particular word, or a verse, and the issue is purely of a religious nature as indicated above, then any other opinion that contradicts it and cannot be reconciled with it, stands rejected. Of course, there is no such restriction when the subject concerned is of historical, geographical or scientific nature, for, these disciplines were developed after them. Some contemporary commentaries tend to give new meanings to some Qur’anic terms. If they clash with those of the Salaf, they must be ignored; for, the Salaf knew the ‘Arabic of the Qur’an,’ and not the Arabic of those who refer to dictionaries and literary works developed after them to argue their case. `Umar used to say, “If you are in doubt, refer to the Jahiliyy poetry. The Qur’an was revealed in that language.”

The opinions of the Salaf might sometimes surprise the reader. He might consider them as entirely out of context. But, it is the failure to understand the context that creates the confusion. "Jump the line" is a sentence in English that conveys different meanings to different people in different situations. To a sportsman it has one meaning. When spoken by a motorist complaining of the erratic behavior of another motorist it has another meaning. In contrast, to an electrician working on the power grid, the sentence carries a different sense altogether. What we have to realize about the Companions is that they did not merely understand the context; they were themselves the context, and often spoke from the transcendental level; not from the stand point of the misleading cliché of modern times: ‘reason and logic.’

If the reader wishes to make the most of this work, he or she should allocate an area in his mind wherein he stores information obtained from the Salaf, in this work. This is the principal, the most reliable meaning, and the basis on which he can build on further. He might highlight such passages for ease of later reference.

Nonetheless, in order to keep alive interest and help increase knowledge, I have also included material that has so far been the prerogative of the Arabic‑speaking readers: material without which the Qur'anic spectrum of legitimate meaning loses some of its color.
To the above I have added some useful material from commentaries in Urdu and English. But of course, while selecting material from contemporary works, a critical eye has been kept open for errors of the conceptual type and, to the extent possible, those that contradict with a meaning accepted by the Jumhur al‑Ummah (the great majority). Jumhur al‑Ummah is of course not the same thing as the Ijma` al‑Ummah (the consensus of opinion ‑ the research of which is a difficult task, well beyond the scope of this work). The opinions of the Jumhur give us some idea of how the Qur'an has been understood through the ages. When Ibn Jarir, Zamakhshari, Razi, Qurtubi, Ibn Kathir, Thanwi or others consider a point from the previous exegetes as worth quoting, then surely that adds up to the weight of the comment.
I have not reproduced from, or cited reference to, the contemporary commentators if they have discussed those matters that the ancients have already done. In most cases the contemporary scholars have changed the form, picking out from the ancients what would suit them most. I have quoted them only if they have a new idea or a fresh point, with the condition, once again, that such ideas do not, in my limited knowledge, contradict a proven opinion held by the Salaf or Jumhu al-Ummah. Anecdotes, poetry, fiqh points, and comparative study material have been added to break the monotony.

A word about quotations from the Sufiya' would be in order. We all know that an unclean person in dirty clothes would hardly improve himself by applying perfume. He first needs to cleanse himself. How can it be any different in matters pertaining to the soul? A heart filled with pride or preferential love of this world will hardly improve through wisdom-words or supererogatory exercises. Something needs to be done first to remove the impurities. Sufism is all about this removal of impurities. This centrist position however, lies between two extremes. It should not be imagined that by quoting the Sufiya' we are approving the extreme positions, practices, or the so‑called "ways of the Gnostic" that have no basis in the Shari`ah.

Hadith Authenticity
The most difficult task has been to present only those ahadith or reports from the Companions or others that are authentic, since no noteworthy work has been done by the hadith experts on Qur'anic commentaries. Mahmud Shakir's attempt at Tabari has remained incomplete. Hussain b. Ibrahim and Sayyid Ibrahim have done some useful, although not exhaustive work on Ibn Kathir and Shawkani. Occasionally, I have either traced the ahadith to their sources, and when not in the Sahih works, have depended on works on the topic by Hadith experts. I have tried not to quote anything less than Hasan in status. If I have quoted some weak reports, it is only those that are not very weak or are strengthened by other, although weak, ahadith, or the personal opinions of the Companion or others.

Ideological Interpretations
Some readers might be surprised to note the lack of a single string of thought in this work, as it is also lacking in classical commentaries: one strand, so to say, that weaves into itself the "philosophy of the whole of the Qur'an." This is a naive idea. To speak of the Qur'an in such terms is to presume a certain meaning, a certain philosophy, a certain ideology, and reduce the Word of Allah to human definitions.
It is common knowledge that this terrestrial existence is too complex to be interpreted in terms of a single philosophy. Life cannot be reduced to equations. Even the inorganic does not render itself to such simplification. At this very moment, scientists at a billion dollar apiece Accelerators (commonly known as atom smashers) are at their wit’s end trying to determine if the building blocks of an atom (which were once thought to be electrons, protons, neutrons and a few other elementary particles) are quarks, those 300 subatomic particles visible for a fraction of a second when the nucleus is smashed with highly accelerated protons, or there is more to it. No one can say for sure if there will be an end to it!! The wave and particle function of the sub-atomic particles is another intriguing issue. If solid matter is proving so complex, what should one think of the uncreated ‘Word’ of Allah?
Moreover, such a demand betrays the failure to understand the very basics of life in terms of human fears, hopes, aspirations, creativity and interactions. At every moment of his existence a man has several options before him, only one of which is the optimum best for him. What can guide him to the right choice but a criterion backed by a vast set of concepts, data and ideas that have their own quality to fuse themselves, in a flash of a second, into one homogenized whole and present a single, synchronized, workable idea or a suggestion ‑ that the man may accept or reject!?
Again, the Qur'an is, from one angle, a long essay in the education of concepts: the divisions are for human convenience. No detail can be missed in any area but at the loss of a concept; sometimes it might be the most valuable concept acting as the central link to a maze of ideas, and, a powerful magnet to iron flakes flying by in every direction. Hence the presentation in the style I have adopted. The reader will have to pick up bits and pieces, and put them together into a homogenous meaningful whole that is pertinent to his situation, and would be useful perhaps to him alone.

Rarely has a work of such dimensions and a task so demanding been attempted by a man as poorly qualified as this author. Yet, no efforts were spared to locate material necessary to produce the "aid for understanding the Qur'an" that he has aimed at producing. Although, it must be admitted, that efforts are no substitute for abilities.
The author’s dependence, therefore, on those who are pioneers in similar efforts should be quite evident. In the rendering of the Qur'anic text into English for instance, A.J. Arberry's influence can be easily detected. Yusuf `Ali, Asad and Pickthall have been in constant reference. N.J. Dawood and several others have also been consulted. To make it easier for the beginners and non‑Muslims (and following the recommendation of the fuqaha'), words and phrases have been added in parenthesis while rendering the text into English. Such interpolations are, nonetheless, based on an accepted interpretation.
Without trying to be humble, it can be said with a fair amount of accuracy that for all that is good and useful in this work, the credit is due to someone else, while the shortcomings are the contributions of this author who seeks Allah's forgiveness, and the reader's help in overcoming them.

Syed Iqbal Zaheer
March 2015


References, abbreviations, and technical terms

Clue to References
Ahmad: Musnad by Imam Ahmed ibn Hanbal (d. 241 A.H.).
Albani: Silsilah al-Ahadith al-Sahiha, Muhammad Nasiruddin Albani, (d. 1420 A.H.).
Albani: Silsilah al-Ahadith al-Da`eefah wa al-Mawdu`ah, Muhammad Nasirudding Albani, , Al-Maktab al-Islami.
Alusi/Ruh: Ruh al Ma`ani Fi Tafsir Qur’an al `Azim Wa al Sab` al Mathani by Shihab al Din Sayyid Mahmood Alusi (d.1291 A.H.)
`Aqidah: `Aqidah Tahawiyyah, commentary Ibn Abi al-`Izz, (tr. By Syed Iqbal Zaheer, as Funamentals of Islamic Creed), World Assembly of Muslim Youth, Dammam, Saudi Arabia
Arba`ahal, Kitab al-Fiqh `ala Madhahib al-Arba`ah by Abdul Rahman al-Jaziri
Asad: The Message of the Qur’an by Muhammad Asad (d. 1412 A.H.)
`Awn al-Ma`bud: Sharh Sunan Abi Da’ud, Muhammad Shams al-Haq al-`Azimabadi.
`Ayni, `Umdatu al-Qari Sharh Sahih al-Bukhari, Badruddin `Ayni, Ihya al-Turath al-Islami, Beirut.
Bada’i`: Bada’i` al-Tafsir, Al-Jami` al-Tafsir al-Imam Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyyah, collected by Yusri Sayyid Muhammad, Dar Ibn Jawzi, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, 1993
E.I.: Encyclopedia of Islam, E.J. Brill, Leiden 1991
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Haythami, , Majma`u al-Zawa’id wa Manba` al-Fawa’id, Nuruddin `Ali b. abi Bakr, Mu’assasatu al-Ma`arif, Beyrut.
Hussain: Tafsir ibn Kathir, Hussain b. Ibrahim Zahran, ed.
Ibn Is-haq: Sirah Rasulullah, by Muhammad ibn Ishaq (d. 151 A.H.).
Ibn Jarir/Tabari: Jami` al Bayan Fi Tafsir al Qur’an by Ibn Jarir al-Tabari (d.310 A.H.)
Ibn Kathir: Tafsir al Qur’an al `Azim by `Imad al Din Abul Fida Isma`il ibn `Amr ibn Kathir (d.774 A.H.)
Ibn Majah, Sunan, Muhammad b. Yazid al-Qazwini, Maktabah al-`Ilmiyyah, Beirut.
Ibn Qayyim: Al-Tafsir Al-Qayyim, by Shamsuddin Muhammad b. Abi Bakr Ibn al-Qayyim al-Jawziyyah (d.751 A.H.) collected by Muhammad Uways Al-Nadwi.
Jami` Saghir: Fayd al-Qadir Sharh Jami` Saghir (of Jalaluddin Suyuti) by Muhammad `Abdul Ra’uf al-Munawi.
Kabir al: Al-Tafsir Al-Kabir, tafsir notes of Imam Ibn Taymiyyah (d.728 A.H) collected by Dr. `Abdul Rahman `Umayrah.
Kanz: Kanz al-`Ummal,by Al-Muttaqi al-Hindi.
Lane: An Arabic-English Lexicon, by Edward Willian Lane, Librarie Du Luban, 1968
Lisan: Lisan al-`Arab, Ibn Manzur, (d. 711 A.H.).
Lughat: Lughat al-Qur’an (Urdu) by Mawlana Abdul Rashid No`mani & Mawlana Sayyid Abdud-Da’im Al-Jalali.
Ma`arif /Shafi`: Ma`arif al Qur’an by Mufti Muhammad Shafi` Deobandi (d. 1396 A.H.).
Majid: Holy Qur’an Translation and Commentary (English) by `Abdul Majid Daryabadi (1397).
Majidi: Holy Qur’an Translation and Commentary by `Abdul Majid Daryabadi (Urdu).
Manar, Tafsir al-Manar, Rashid Rada Misri, Dar al-Ma`rifa, Beirut.
Mawdudi/Tafhim: Tafhim al-Qur’an by Sayyid Abul A`la Mawdudi (d.1979 C.E.)
Mughni al, Ibn Qudamah, al-Maqdisi, Ri’asat al-Idaratu al-Buuth al-`Ilmiyyah, Saudi Arabia.
Mulhim: Fath al-Mulhim, Shabbir Ahmad `Uthmani, and, Takmilatu Fath al-Mulhim, Taqiuddin `Uthmani, Dar al-Ulum, Karachi.
Muwatta’: Muwatta’ by Imam Malik ibn Anas (d. 179 A.H.).
Nasa’i, Ahmad b. Shu`ayb, Sunan al-Nasa’i, Dar al-Rayyan li al-Turath, Cairo.
Nawawi: Sharh Sahih Muslim by Imam Sharfuddin al-Nawawi (d. 261 A.H.)
Penrice: A Dictionary and Glossary of the Qur’an, John Penrice, Gaurav Publishing House, 187
Qurtubi: Al-Jam`i Li ‘l Ahkam al Qur’an by Abu `Abdullah Muhammad ibn Ahmad al Ansari al Qurtubi (d.671 A.H.)
Raghib: Mu`jam Mufradat al-Qur’an by al-Raghib al-Asfahani (d. 503 A.H.)
Rawa‘e`: Rawa‘e` al-Bayan Tafsir Ayat al-Ahkam by Muhammad `Ali Sabuni.
Razi: Tafsir al Fakhr al Razi by Muhammad al-Razi Fakhr al Din ibn Dia al Din `Umar (d.604 A.H.)
Sabuni: Safwatu al Tafasir by Muhammad `Ali Sabuni.
Sahih ibn Hibban bi-Tarteeb Ibn Balban, `Ala’uddin `Ali b. Balban, , Mu’assasah al-Risalah, Beirut.
Shabbir/`Uthmani: Al-Qur’an al-Karim, Commentary by Shabbir Ahmed `Uthmani (d. 1370 A.H.).
Shanqiti: Adwa‘ al-Bayan, Fi Idahi Al-Qur’an bi ‘l-Qur’an by Muhammad Al-Amin b.Muhammad Al-Mukhtar Al-Jakani Al-Shanqiti.
Se`di: Taysir al-Karim al-Rahman, fir Tafsir al-Mannan, `Abdul Rahman b. Nasir Se`id.
Shawkani: Al-Fut-h al-Qadir by Muhammad ibn `Ali Shawkani (d.1255 A.H.)
S. Ibrahim: Ed. Al-Fath al-Qadir, by Shawkani
Sihah: Taj al-Lugha wa Sihah al-`Arabiyyah, Isma`il b. Nasr Hammad al-Jawhari, 393 A.H.
Sirah: Al-Sirah al-Nabawiyyah fi Daw Masadir al-Athliyyah, Dr. Mahdi Rizqallah, Saudi Arabia 1992.
Sayyid Qutb/Qutb/Zilal: Fi Zilal al Qur’an by Sayyid Qutb (d.1386 A.H.).
Thanwi/Bayan: Bayan al Qur’an by Ashraf `Ali Thanwi (d.1361 A.H.)
Tuhfah: Tuhfah al-Ahwazi bi Sharh Jami` al-Tirmidhi by Muhammad ibn `Abdul Rahman Mubarakpuri.
Yusuf Ali: The Glorious Qur’an, Meaning and Translation by Abdullah Yusuf Ali (d. 1953 A.H.).
Zafar Ahmad `Uthmani, I`la al-Sunan, Idaratu al-Islam wa `Ulum al-Islamiyyah, Karachi, Pakistan.
Zamakhshari/Kashshaf: Haqa’iq al- Tanzil Wa `Uyun al-Aqawil Fi Wujuh at-Ta‘wil by Abu al-Qasim Jarallah Mahmood b.`Umar al-Zamakhshari (d.538 A.H.).
Zarkashi: Al-Burhan Fi `Ulum al-Qur’an by Badruddin Muhammad bin `Abdullah al-Zarkashi (d. 794 A.H.), Dar al-Ma`rifa, Beirut.
Note: The list above is not a complete bibliography, but rather books sort of more often referred.


Abbreviations as in
Abdul Majid Daryabadi’s English Commentary

Ac. = Acts of the Apostles.
Am. = Amos.
1. Ch. = The First Book of the Chronicles.
2. Ch. = The Second Book of the Chronicles.
1. Cor. = Paul’s First Epistle of the Apostles.
1. Ch. = The First Book of the Chronicles.
2. Ch. = The Second Book of the Chronicles.
1. Cor. = Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians.
2. Cor. = Paul’s Second Epistle to the Corinthians.
Dn. = The Book of Daniel.
Dt. = Deuteronomy: The Fifth Book of Moses.
Ex. = Exodus: The Second Book of Moses.
Ez. = Ezra.
Ezek. = The Book of the Prophet Ezekiel.
Ga. = Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians.
Ge. = Genesis: The First Book of Moses.
He. = Paul’s Epistle to the Hebrews.
Ho. = Hosea.
Is. = Isiah.
Ja. = The General Epistle of James.
Jn. = Gospel according to St. John.
Jo. = Joel.
Job. = The Book of Job.
Jon. = The Book of Jonah.
Josh. = The Book of Joshua.
Judg. = The Book of Judges.
Je. = The Book of Jeremiah.
1. Ki. = The First Book of the Kings.
2. Ki. = The Second Book of the Kings.
La. The Lamentations of Jeremiah.
Lk. = The Gospel according to St. Luke.
Le. = Leviticus: The Third Book of Moses.
Mi. = Micah.
Mk. = Gospel according to St. Mark.
Mt. = Gospel according to St. Matthew.
Na. = Nahum.
Ne. = The Book of Nehemiah.
Nu. = Numbers: The Fourth Book of Moses.
1. Pe. = The First Epistle General of Peter.
2. Pe. = The Second Epistle General of Peter.
Ph. = Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians.
Pr. = The Proverbs.
Ps. = The Book of Psalms.
Re. = The Revelation of St. John.
Ro. = Paul’s Epistle to the Romans
1. Sa. = The First Book of Samuel.
2. Sa. = The Second Book of Samuel.
So. = The Song of Solomon.
1. Thes. = Paul’s First Epistle to the Thessalonians.
2. Thes. = Paul’s Second Epistle to the Thessalonians.
1. Ti. = Paul’s First Epistle to Timothy.
2. Ti. = Paul’s Second Epistle to Timothy.
Tt. = Paul’s Epistle to Titus.
Ze. = Zechariah.

“Ant.” = Josephus’ ‘Antiquities of the Jews.’ (Routledge London).
Aq. = Shah Abdul Qadir Dehlavi (D. 1241 A.H./1826 C.E.). Urdu translator and commentator of the Holy Qur’an.
ASB. = Asad’s English Translation of Sahih al-Bukhari.
AV. = Authorized Version of the Bible.
AYA. = `Abdullah Yusuf `Ali. English translator and commentator of the Holy Qur’an.
Bdh. = Nasir-ud-Din `Abdullah Baidhavi (D. 685 A.H./1282 C.E.). Commentator of the Holy Qur’an.
BK. = ‘Book of Knowledge,’ 4 Vols. (Educational Book Co., London)
CD. = Pallen and Wynne’s ‘New Catholic Dictionary.’ (New York).
CE. = McDannell’s ‘Concise Encyclopedia,’ 8 Vols. (New York).
C.E. = Christian Era.
DB. = Hastings’ ‘Dictionary of the Bible,’ 5 Vols. (Clarke, London).
DCA. = Smith and Cheetham’s ‘Dictionary of Christian Antiquities,’ 2 Vols. (Murray, London).
DV. = Douay Version of the Bible.
EBi. = Cheyne and Black’s ‘Encyclopedia Biblica,’ 4 Vols. (Black, London).
EBr. = ‘Encyclopedia Britannica,’ 29 Vols. 11th Edition. (London).
Encyclopedia Britannica,’ 24 Vols. 14th Edition. (London and New York). Where no edition is specified, the reference is to 14th edition.
EI. = Houtsma and Wensink’s ‘Encyclopedia of Islam,’ 5 Vols. (Luzac, London).
EMK. = Hammerton’s ‘Encyclopedia of Modern Knowledge,’ 5 Vols. (Waverly, New York).
ERE. = Hastings’ ‘Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics,’ 13 Vols. (Clarke, London).
ESS. = Seligman’s ‘Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences,’ 15 Vols. (Macmillan, London).
FWN = Frazer’s ‘Worship of Nature,’ 2 Vols. (Macmillan, London).
GB. = Ragg’s ‘The Gospel of Barnabas.’ (Oxford).
GRE. = Gibbon’s ‘Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,’ 7 Vols. (Methuen, London).
HHW. = ‘Historians’ History of the World,’ 25 Vols. (The Times, London).
HJ. = The Hibbert Journal. (Constable, London).
IA. = Hadhrat `Abdullah Ibn-i-`Abbas. (D. 68 A.H./688 C.E.) (A companion and cousin of the Holy Prophet).
IQ. = Ibn-i-Qutaiba. (D. 276 A.H./890 C.E.) Author of ‘Arabic Glossary of the Holy Qur’an.
JE. = ‘The Jewish Encyclopedia,’ 12 Vols. (Funk and Wagnalls, New York).
LL. = Lane’s ‘Arabic-English Lexicon,’ 8 Vols. (Williams and Norgate, London).
LSK. = Lane and Lane-Poole’s ‘Selections from the Kuran.” (Trubner, London).
M.A. = Maulana Mohammad `Ali: (D. 1349 A.H./1931 C.E.) Indian Muslim leader. (Not to be confused with his namesake of Lahore and a translator of the Qur’an). The references are to his unpublished work, ‘Islam: The Kingdom of God’ (since published as ‘My Life – A Fragment’ by Sh. M. Ashraf, Lahore).
NSD. = ‘New Standard Dictionary of the English Language,’ 4 Vols. (Funk and Wagnalls, New York).
NT. = The New Testament.
OT. = The Old Testament.
PC. = Tyler’s ‘Primitive Culture,’ 2 Vols. (Murray, London).
RV. = Revised Version of the Bible.
RZ. = Imam Fakhruddin Razi. (D. 659 A.H./1209 C.E.). Well-know commentator of the Holy Qur’an.
SOED. = ‘Shorter Oxford English Dictionary,’ 2 Vols. (Oxfor).
SPD. = Sale’s ‘Preliminary Discourse to the Translation of the Kuran,’ prefixed as Introduction to Wherry’s ‘Commentary on the Kuran,’ 4 Vols. (Trubner, London)
Th. = Maulana Ashraf `Ali Thanvi. (B. 1280 A.H./1864 C.E.). Translator and commentator of the Holy Qur’an
UHW. = Hammerton’s ‘Universal History of the World,’ 8 Vols. (New York).
VJE. = Vallentine’s ‘One Volume Jewish Encyclopedia.’ (London).
WGAL. = Wright’s ‘Grammar of the Arabic Language,’ 2 Vols. (Cambridge).
Zm. = Jar-ul-lah Zamakhsari (D. 538 A.H./1144 C.E.). Commentator of the Holy Qur’an.


Abbreviations - General
asws: `Alayhi al‑Salat wa al‑Salam (on him be peace and blessing).
ra: Radi Allahu `anhu/`anha (may Allah be pleased with him/her).
Au.: Author.
Sahihayn: Bukhari and Muslim.
saws: Sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam (May Allah send peace and blessing upon him).
swt: Subhanahu wa Ta`ala (glorified be He, the Exalted).


Technical Terms
Da`if: A weak report but not a fabricated one nor entirely untrustworthy. It has some weakness in its text or in its isnad. A kind of hadith, therefore, before which one can place a question mark.
Gharib: That report in which the isnad has a single narrator after the Companion.
Hasan: A da`if report but above in strength over the one classified as da`if. Several da`if versions (unless too weak) render a hadith hasan.
Isnad: Chain of narrators.
Mawquf: A report whose chain of narration stops at a Companion.
Munkar: A kind of da`if hadith that has no other report through any other chain of narrators for a double check.
Mursal: A hadith which has been transmitted directly from the Prophet (saws) by a tabe`i, without a Companion in between Mutawatir: A report by such a large number of narrators whose agreement upon a lie is inconceivable.
Sahih: A trustworthy report.


The transliteration method used in this work neither conforms to the international standards, nor it has been applied extensively. It is only where it was thought that some confusion might occur that a few marks have been added. However, the method is as follows:
( ث ) is transliterated as "tha" ; ( ح ) as "ha" ; ( ذ ) as "dhal" ; ( ز ) and ( ظ ) both as "za" ; ( ص ) as "sad" ; ( ض ) as "dad" ; ( ع ) as "`ayn" ; and hamza ( ه ) as “ ' “ e.g. Jibra’il.


Vowels have been expressed in the following manner
( ا ) is expressed as "a", so that ( باب ) is written as "bab" ; (و ) is expressed with "u" , as for example ( نون ) is written as "nun"; ( ي ) is expressed with "i", as in the word (سين ) which is written as "sin".


  • Surah No. 53

    Merits of the Surah

    1. Sayyid Qutb offers a short note on the style adopted in this Surah: “Panoramically, this Surah sounds like a metrical composition set to lofty music. Its music dominates its verbal construction as it runs through the rhythm of its metric rhymes. Although this musical quality is quite apparent in the Surah, in some places this objective is more clearly visible where a word has been supplanted or a rhyming word has been adopted in order to maintain its musical quality and its rhythmic tone, in addition, of course, to the intended meaning pressed forward, as is the Qur’anic style and method. For instance consider Allah’s words,
    أَفَرَأَيْتُمُ اللاتَ وَالْعُزَّى، وَمَنَاةَ الثَّالِثَةَ الأُخْرَى
    Had “manaata al-ukhra” been the only words in the verse, the meter would have been lost, while, had “thaalithata” been brought after “ukhraa,” the rhyme would go missing. Yet, at the same time, every word in the line carries a definite and essential meaning.
    Similarly, consider the next two lines,
    أَلَكُمُ الذَّكَرُ وَلَهُ الأُنْثَى تِلْكَ إِذًا قِسْمَةٌ ضِيزَى
    Here, the word “idhan” essential serves rhythmic purposes. It is another thing that its presence is necessary for the completion of the meaning.
    Thus, its rhythm gives a special musical color to the Surah within which the ebb and flow of the wavebands is clearly detectible especially in the first and the last passages. Consequently, the illustration and fluttering effect of the first passage goes well with the lofty meanings .. and feelings .. of the last passage; while the passages in between are close to the two thematically and climatically.
    The imagery of the first passage harmonizes well with the theme and domain of the higher domain where dazzling events take place and the tranquilizing effects of the movements of Jibril’s wings are obtained from the rhythm of the passage set to a breathtaking melody.”
    Other commentators note that this is the first Surah revealed to have a prostration-ayah in it. `Abdullah ibn Mas`ud reported the following:
    عَنْ عَبْدِ اللَّهِ رَضِيَ اللَّهُ عَنْهُ قال قَرَأَ النَّبِيُّ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ النَّجْمَ بِمَكَّةَ فَسَجَدَ فِيهَا وَسَجَدَ مَنْ مَعَهُ غَيْرَ شَيْخٍ أَخَذَ كَفًّا مِنْ حَصًى أَوْ تُرَابٍ فَرَفَعَهُ إِلَى جَبْهَتِهِ وَقَالَ يَكْفِينِي هَذَا فَرَأَيْتُهُ بَعْدَ ذَلِكَ قُتِلَ كَافِرًا (صحيح البخاري)
    "The Prophet recited Surah al-Najm in Makkah and fell into prostration as did others around him including a few pagans except for a solitary old man who took some pebbles or sand in his hand to rub it against his forehead saying, 'This will do for me.' Later, I found him among those killed an unbeliever.'" (Qurtubi, Ibn Kathir, Shawkani).
    Some reports name Umayyah b. Khalaf. However, and although reports to this effect are in Bukhari, Muslim and others, there seems to be some sort of mix-up in names, `Utbah b. Rabi`ah being a likelier candidate (Ibn Kathir).

    بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَٰنِ الرَّحِيمِ وَالنَّجْمِ إِذَا هَوَىٰ (1)

    53|1| By the star when it plunges.2

    2. According to Mujahid the allusion is to Surayyah (Pleiades) which disappears just before appearance of the dawn. This was also the opinion of Ibn `Abbas, Sufyan Thawri and others. Suddi said that the allusion could be to Zahra since the Arabs worshipped it. But Dahhak thought it could be to any star. (Sayyid suggests that it might be to Shi`ra [the Dog-star, Sirius], which has been mentioned in ayah 49 of this Surah itself).
    At all events, the preferred opinion has been that the reference is to a star. Linguistically however, "najm" is also used for stem-less plants (Qurtubi, Ibn Kathir, Alusi, Shawkani).
    Although primarily a singular term, “najm” is also employed as a plural, as evidenced by some poetical pieces. It has also been said that the term Surayyah referred to a group of seven stars of which six were clearly visible, while the seventh was somewhat dim. It is reported that the Prophet could see eleven stars in this group (Qurtubi).
    Yusuf Ali comments: “An-Najm is interpreted in various ways. As most commonly accepted, it means either a Star generically, or the close cluster of seven stars known as the Pleiades in the Constellation Taurus, which the sun enters about the 21st of April every year. In mid-April, or a little later, the beautiful cluster would set just after the sun, after having gradually ascended the sky in the winter months. In late May, or a little later, it would rise just before the sun. In its western aspects, it might be considered a spring constellation. To open-air nations (including the Arabs) whose climate usually presents starry skies, this is an object of great interest, and many folklore tales gather round it. When so glorious a cluster is content to bow down in the horizon and merge its light in the greater light created by Allah, it becomes a symbol of humility in beauty and power before the Most High, whose revelation discloses the summit of beauty, power, and wisdom. “Hawa” in the text may mean either ‘goes down (or sets)’ or ‘rises’. Whichever meaning we take, it makes no difference to the interpretation given above.”
    Imam Razi adds a subtle point: Allah swore by the star. Now, some of the pagans worshipped bright stars. Therefore, Allah added words that removed the hallowed element out of it by adding, "when it plunges."

    مَا ضَلَّ صَاحِبُكُمْ وَمَا غَوَىٰ (2)

    53|2| Your companion3 neither erred nor strayed away.4

    3. “The words ‘your companion’ … (imply that) the person being mentioned is no stranger to you … he is a man of your own clan and tribe; he lives and moves among you; even your children know who and what he is, what is his character, what are his dealings, what are his ways and habits and characteristics, and how he has passed his life among you so far. If someone of you were to say an improbable thing about him, who could see for themselves whether what was said actually applied to him or not” (Mawdudi).
    4. That is, Muhammad (Ibn Jarir).
    The difference (between “daallan” and “ghaawiyyan”) is that the former is used for someone who never found the right path whereas the latter is for him who found it but strayed away from it. The first epithet suits the Christians while the second, Jews (Razi, Ibn Kathir, slightly modified).

    وَمَا يَنْطِقُ عَنِ الْهَوَىٰ (3)

    53|3| Nor does he speak out of caprice.

    إِنْ هُوَ إِلَّا وَحْيٌ يُوحَىٰ (4)

    53|4| This is not but a revelation revealed.5

    5. That is, revealed by Allah to Jibra’il and by Jibra’il to Muhammad (Ibn Jarir, Qurtubi).
    When Allah said that the Prophet "did not speak out of caprice," the question arose, then, what is the nature of his speech: is it a product of logic or is it an outcome of intellectual reasoning? The answer came, "No, this is not but a revelation revealed" (Razi).
    So, none of what the Prophet said was out of caprice, but based in revelation. Accordingly, we have a hadith of Ahmad (trusted by Haythami: Au.) which runs as follows:
    عَنْ عَبْدِ الرَّحْمَنِ بْنِ مَيْسَرَةَ قَالَ سَمِعْتُ أَبَا أُمَامَةَ يَقُولُ لَيَدْخُلَنَّ الْجَنَّةَ بِشَفَاعَةِ الرَّجُلِ الْوَاحِدِ لَيْسَ بِنَبِيٍّ مِثْلُ الْحَيَّيْنِ أَوْ أَحَدِ الْحَيَّيْنِ رَبِيعَةَ وَمُضَرَ قَالَ قَائِلٌ يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ أَوَمَا رَبِيعَةُ مِنْ مُضَرَ قَالَ إِنَّمَا أَقُولُ مَا أُقَوَّلُ
    The Prophet said, “Surely, by virtue of intercession of a single man – who will not be a Prophet – (as many people as comprising) two clans or one of the clans – like Rabi`ah and Mudar - will enter Paradise.” Someone asked, “Messenger of Allah. Is not Rabi`ah a branch of Mudar?” He replied, “I just say what I am told.” It is also reported that some people used to write down all that the Prophet said. Some others objected saying that sometimes the Prophet could be angry. So the writer asked him. He replied, “Write down (if you will). By Him in whose hands is my life, nothing but truth will issue from me” (Ibn Kathir).

    عَلَّمَهُ شَدِيدُ الْقُوَىٰ (5)

    53|5| Taught him6 by one intense in power.

    6. “Taught him,” i.e., Jibra’il taught the Prophet (Ibn Jarir, Qurtubi, Ibn Kathir).

    ذُو مِرَّةٍ فَاسْتَوَىٰ (6)

    53|6| Very strong,7 he stood poised

    7. Ibn `Abbas however, as well as Qatadah believed that “dhu mirratin” is for “good-looking and magnificent.” It is also used for “the powerful.” But literally the term is employed for being free of all defects. Another connotation is “sound and healthy”; and the allusion is to Jibra’il (Ibn Jarir, Qurtbi, Ibn Kathir and others). The Arabs used the phrase for any intelligent person who held judicious opinions (Alusi).
    “Mirrah” is used for the power of intellect also, although at this point it seems to mean physical power. Kalbi has said that it was Jibril’s power that he lifted the cities of Lut’s people with his wings, raised them to the heavens to the heights that the dwellers of the earthly heaven could hear barking of the dogs and crowing of the roosters, and then brought them down to bang them against the earth. Once he witnessed Iblis trying to do some harm to `Isa ibn Maryam, and slapped him with the edge of his wing. That flung him against a mountain in India. It is his power that he brought the punishment on the Thamud who in no time lay in ruins despite their numbers. It was by his power that he can descend down and then ascend back to the heavens in micro-seconds (Zamakhshari, Qurtubi). He can travel faster than light, keeping in mind the speed of it that scientists are talking about now (Alusi).

    وَهُوَ بِالْأُفُقِ الْأَعْلَىٰ (7)

    53|7| While on the higher horizon.8

    8. Once again the allusion is to Jibra’il and by the term “highest horizon” the allusion is to the edge of the horizon (Ibn Jarir, Qurtubi); from where the sun rises (Ibn Kathir).

    ثُمَّ دَنَا فَتَدَلَّىٰ (8)

    53|8| Then he drew nigh, and then hung suspended.9

    9. It was Jibra’il who drew near and then hung, poised in the air. This was the opinion of `Abdullah (ibn Mas`ud), `A’isha, Hasan (al-Basri) and others. Normally, Jibra’il came in the form of a man. But this time he had appeared in his own image, covering the entire horizon with his six hundred wings (Ibn Jarir, Qurtubi, Ibn Kathir).
    “After appearing on the uppermost edge of the sky, Jibra'il started advancing towards the Prophet till he reached and hung suspended above him in midair. Then he bent down to him and came within two bow-lengths” (Mawdudi).

    فَكَانَ قَابَ قَوْسَيْنِ أَوْ أَدْنَىٰ (9)

    53|9| Then he was at a distance of two bow-lengths, or closer.10

    10. In the context of these verses, reports have come about the destruction of Abu Lahab’s son. Once, as he was preparing to leave for Syria, he told a companion of his that (before leaving), “let’s go and make fun of Muhammad’s God.” He went up to him and said, “Muhammad. I have disbelieved in the one who stood poised and then was at a distance nearer than two bow-lengths, or closer.” (He also divorced his wife, the Prophet’s daughter, and spat in the direction of the Prophet: Qurtubi). The Prophet said, “May Allah set upon you one of his dogs.” Both father and son proceeded along with others heading towards Syria. At one point during the journey they rested at night and Abu Lahab placed his son in the middle of the people and riding animals, out of fear of the Prophet’s words. But a lion came by midnight, went straight to `Utbah b. Abi Lahab, and sank his teeth in his neck (Zamakhshari, Ibn Kathir). (Although the Prophet's daughter was married to Abu Lahab’s son, the marriage had not been consummated: Au.).

    فَأَوْحَىٰ إِلَىٰ عَبْدِهِ مَا أَوْحَىٰ (10)

    53|10| Then he revealed to His servant what he revealed.11

    11. The allusion is to Jibra’il revealing to the Prophet by the Command of Allah. From the beginning, throughout these lines, the passage is speaking of our Prophet and Jibra'il (Ibn Jarir, Ibn Kathir); although some have thought that it was Allah who revealed what He revealed. Such scholars have treated verses 5 to 9 as a parenthetical statement.
    A report in Ahmed (trusted by Haythami: Au.) adds some details:

    عَنِ ابْنِ عَبَّاسٍ قَالَ سَأَلَ النَّبِيُّ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ جِبْرِيلَ أَنْ يَرَاهُ فِي صُورَتِهِ فَقَالَ ادْعُ رَبَّكَ قَالَ فَدَعَا رَبَّهُ قَالَ فَطَلَعَ عَلَيْهِ سَوَادٌ مِنْ قِبَلِ الْمَشْرِقِ قَالَ فَجَعَلَ يَرْتَفِعُ وَيَنْتَشِرُ قَالَ فَلَمَّا رَآهُ النَّبِيُّ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ صَعِقَ فَأَتَاهُ فَنَعَشَهُ وَمَسَحَ الْبُزَاقَ عَنْ شِدْقَيْهِ

    On the authority of Ibn `Abbas, the Prophet asked Jibril to appear in his own image. He told him to ask his Lord. So he sought it from his Lord and a huge dark mass began to appear from the east spreading itself across. When the Prophet witnessed this sight, he fell unconscious. Jibril came to him, lifted his head, and wiped saliva from the corners of his mouth (Qurtubi, Ibn Kathir).
    It is reported that the Prophet said in amazement, “Jibril, I had never imagined that Allah would create any creation in this size.” Jibril replied, “It were not but two of my six hundred wings that I had then opened. Each of the two wings can cover the east and the west” (Qurtubi).
    Through and through these passages, Asad emphasizes on the spiritual nature of the events involved. He writes at this point, “’Whatever he revealed’: an allusion to the exceptional manifestation of the angel ‘in his true shape and nature’ as well as to the contents of divine revelation as such. In its deeper sense the above phrase implies that even to His chosen prophets, God does not entirely unveil the ultimate mysteries of existence, of life and death, of the purpose which has created the universe, or of the nature of the universe itself.”

    مَا كَذَبَ الْفُؤَادُ مَا رَأَىٰ (11)

    53|11| The heart denied not what he saw.12

    12. The perception of the heart, in that situation, in that world, was more reliable than the perception of the eye. For, the eye can fail to notice some phenomena, or perceive them wrongly. But a pure heart does not.
    There have been two opinions about who it was that was seen: Jibra’il, or Allah. The stronger opinion, and that held by greater number of scholars and commentators is that it was Jibra’il that the Prophet saw at this point of mention. A few have thought that it was his Lord that the Prophet saw. Then, among those who believe that the allusion is to the Prophet’s sighting of his Lord, there are two schools. The majority opinion is that the Prophet never saw his Lord with his physical eyes, neither at this time of mention nor when he went up to the heavens during his Night-journey. He only saw Him with the sight of his heart. A minority opinion is that the Prophet saw his Lord, but without specifying whether this seeing was the heart or with the inner sight (Ibn Jarir, Qurtubi, Ibn Kathir, summarized).
    Ibn `Abbas maintained that the Prophet saw his Lord with his heart twice. `Ikrimah held the same opinion (Ibn Jarir). The report is in Muslim and the original text is as follows:

    عَنْ ابْنِ عَبَّاسٍ قَالَ "مَا كَذَبَ الْفُؤَادُ مَا رَأَى - وَلَقَدْ رَآهُ نَزْلَةً أُخْرَى" : قَالَ رَآهُ بِفُؤَادِهِ مَرَّتَيْنِ (صحيح مسلم)
    (The above hadith is not found in any other major collection: Au).

    On the other hand, `A’isha maintained that the Prophet never saw his Lord with his physical eyes, but rather the allusion at this point is to he seeing Jibra’il (Qurtubi, Ibn Kathir).
    Among those who held a similar position was Ibn Mas`ud and Zir b. Hubaysh who said that the Prophet saw Jibril with six hundred wings (Ibn Jarir). Zir’s opinion is in Bukhari, and Abu Dharr as well as Abu Hurayrah were also with `A’isha (Qurtubi, Ibn Kathir).
    `A’isha reported that the Prophet saw Jibril in his dream. Thereafter, as he went out Jibril called him, “O Muhammad, O Muhammad.” But when he looked around he could not be sighted. He looked up and there he was, filling the sky. He called him again, “O Muhammad, O Muhammad,” trying to calm him. The Prophet fled into the crowd and looked up again but could not see him. When he came out of the crowd, he could see him again, in the horizon. He went into the crowds once again and looked up, but he could not see him. It was only when he came out alone that he could see him. This is what Allah’s words are referring to when He said, “By the star when it plunges … until … then he was at a distance of two bow-lengths, or closer.” (Ibn Jarir, Ibn Kathir).
    But this report is not found in major Hadith works (Au.).
    Nonetheless, Ibn Jarir adds a little later the explanation of Ibn `Abbas that the Prophet could not have sighted Allah to comprehend Him wholly. When he said that the Prophet saw his Lord with the heart’s eye, someone objected quoting Allah’s words, “Sights cannot comprehend Him but He can comprehend the sights.” To this objection `Ikrimah, who was present in the assembly, replied, “Do you not see the heaven?” The man said yes. `Ikrimah asked, “Do you see the whole of it?” (Ibn Jarir).
    However, no trustworthy report has come down from Ibn `Abbas which says that the Prophet saw his Lord with his physical eyes (Ibn Kathir).
    The Sahih of Muslim has a report from Abu Dharr:

    سَأَلْتُ رَسُولَ اللّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم: هَلْ رَأَيْتَ رَبّكَ؟ قَالَ: "نُورٌ أَنّىَ أَرَاهُ"؟.

    “I asked the Prophet, ‘Did you see your Lord?’ He replied, ‘Light. How could I see Him?’” Ibn Abi Hatim’s report has it that,

    عن محمد بن كعب قال: قالوا: يا رسول الله، رأيت ربك؟ قال: "رأيته بفؤادي مرتين" ثم قرأ: { مَا كَذَبَ الْفُؤَادُ مَا رَأَى }

    Muhammad b. Ka`b said that they asked the Prophet, “Did you see your Lord?” He replied, “I saw Him with my heart twice.” Then he recited this verse, “The heart denied not what it saw..” When `Abbad b. Mansur asked `Ikrimah about this ayah he retorted, “Do you wish to hear that he saw Him?” When he said yes, he said, “He surely saw Him, surely saw Him.” Later he asked Hasan the same question. He answered, “He saw His Exaltedness, Greatness and His Shroud.” (Qurtubi, Ibn Kathir).
    Asad adds: “Inasmuch as the Prophet was fully aware of the spiritual character of his experience, there was no conflict between his conscious mind and his intuitive perception (the ‘vision of the heart’) of what is normally not perceptible.”
    This context has another hadith known as “Hadith al-Manam” (Hadith concerning the Night Vision), quoted by Ibn Jarir and Ibn Kathir. It is found in various Hadith collections, and we reproduced from Tirmidhi which varies in words from those they quote, but the gist remains same:

    حدَّثنَا مُحمَّدُ بنُ بَشَّارٍ حدَّثنَا مُعَاذُ بن هَانِئٍ أَبُو هَانِئ السُّكَّريُّ حدَّثنَا جَهْضَمُ بن عبدِ اللَّه عَنْ يَحْيَى بن أبي كثيرٍ عَنْ زَيْد بن سَلامٍ عَنْ أبي سلامٍ عَنْ عَبْدِ الرحْمَنِ بن عائشٍ الحضْرَميِّ أنَّهُ حدَّثَهُ عَنْ مَالِكِ بن يُخَامَر السَّكْسَكِيّ عَنْ مُعَاذ بن جبلٍ قَالَ: احتَبسَ عَنَّا رَسُولُ اللَّه صَلَّى اللَّه عليهِ وسَلَّم ذاتَ غداةٍ مِنْ صلاةِ الصُّبْحِ حتَّى كدْنَا نتراءى عينَ الشَّمْسِ فخرجَ سريعاً فثُوِّبَ بالصلاةِ فصلَّى رَسُولُ اللَّه صَلَّى اللَّه عليهِ وسَلَّم وتجوَّزَ في صلاتِهِ، فلمَّا سلَّمَ دعَا بصوتِه فَقَالَ لنا عَلَى مَصَافِّكُمْ كمَا أنتم ثُمَّ انفتلَ إلينا فَقَالَ أما إنِّي سأُحَدثُكُمْ ما حَبَسَنِي عَنْكُم الغداةَ أنِّي قُمْتُ منَ الليلِ فتوضأتُ فصلَّيتُ ما قُدِّرَ لي فنعَسْتُ في صلاتي فاستثقُلْتُ فإذا أنَا بربِّي تباركَ وتعالى في أحسنِ صورةٍ فَقَالَ يا مُحمَّدُ، قُلْتُ ربِّ لبَّيْكَ، قَالَ: فيمَ يختصمُ الملأُ الأعْلَى؟ قُلْتُ لا أدري ربِّ قَالَها ثلاثاً، قَالَ فرأيتُهُ وضعَ كفَّهُ بينَ كَتِفَيَّ. قَدْ وجدتُ بردَ أناملِهِ بين ثديَيَّ فتجلى لي كلُ شيءٍ وعَرَفْتُ فَقَالَ يا مُحمَّدُ. قُلْتُ لبَّيْكَ ربِّ، قَالَ فيمَ يختصمُ الملأُ الأعْلَى؟ قُلْتُ في الكفَّاراتِ، (و في رواية عند أحمد و الترمذي: الكفارات و الدرجات) قَالَ ما هنَّ؟ قُلْتُ مشيُ الأقدامِ إِلى الجماعاتِ، والجلوسُ في المساجدِ بعدَ الصلاةِ، وإسباغُ الوضوءِ في المكروهاتِ، قَالَ ثُمَّ فيمَ؟ (و في رواية عند أحمد الدرجات) قُلْتُ إطعامُ الطعامِ، ولينَ الكلامِ، والصلاةُ بالليلِ والناسُ نيامٌ. قَالَ سَلْ، قُلْتُ اللَّهمَّ إنّي أسْألُكَ فِعْلَ الخيراتِ، وتركَ المنكراتِ، وحبَّ المساكينِ، وأنْ تغفرَ لي وترحمَني، وإذا أردتَ فتنةً في قومٍ فتوفَّنِي غيرَ مفتونٍ، وأسألُكَ حبَّكَ وحبَّ منْ يُحبُّكَ وحبَّ عملٍ يقرِّبُ إِليَّ حُبِّكَ. قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّه صَلَّى اللَّه عليهِ وسَلَّم إنَّها حقٌّ فادرسُوهَا ثُمَّ تعلَّمُوها.

    (قَالَ أَبُو عيسى هَذَا حَدِيثٌ حَسَنٌ صَحِيحٌ. سألتُ مُحمَّد َبنَ إِسْمَاعِيلَ { البخاري } عَنْ هَذَا الْحَدِيثِ فَقَالَ هَذَا صحيحٌ)

    Mu`adh ibn Jabal reports: “One morning at Fajr time, the Prophet delayed on us for the dawn Prayer until we could almost see the sun’s eye when he emerged in haste. The call for starting the Prayer was made. He led in the Prayer, shortening it. After he had said the termination formula, he addressed us and said in a raised voice, ‘Hold on to your rows as you are.’ Then he turned to us and said, ‘Let me tell you what held me back this morning; I rose up at night, performed ablution, and Prayed as much as I was destined to. Then I dozed off in my Prayer, until I felt heavy. And lo! I was in the presence of my Lord, the Exalted, the Supreme - in the best form. He said, ‘O Muhammad!’ I said, ‘Here I am O my Lord.’ He said, ‘What are the angels of the upper-most constellation disputing over?’ I replied, ‘I do not know, my Lord!’ He asked three times. (And I replied in the same manner). Then I saw Him placing His palm between my shoulders until I felt the coldness of His fingers over my breast. Everything became clear to me, and I knew.
    Then He asked, ‘O Muhammad! What are the angels of the upper-most constellation disputing over?’ I replied, ‘Over expiations and ranks.’ He asked, ‘What are the expiations?’ I replied, ‘Moving the feet towards the congregations (for Prayers), staying back in the mosques after the Prayers, and doing the ablution well despite discomforts.’ He asked, ‘And what are the ranks?’ I replied, ‘(They are in) Feeding (the poor), soft manner of speech, and Prayers while people are asleep.’ He said, ‘Ask.’ I asked, ‘O Allah! I ask You: performance of good deeds, eschewing of evil ones, love of the meekly-poor, and that You forgive me and show me mercy. And, when You wish to try a people, send death upon me untried. And, I seek Your love, the love of those who love You and love of the deeds that take one nearer to Your love.’ Then the Prophet added, “This is the truth, therefore, learn it and study it.”
    (This report is also in Ahmad, Tirmidhi, Ibn Khuzaymah in Kitab al-Tawhid, and in a dozen other books of traditions, through scores of narrators, with variations in the words, with some experts declaring the report weak, but others as trustworthy, such as Haythami, Hafiz, Hakim, Ahmed Shakir and Tirmidhi, the last of whom reports that when he spoke to Imam Bukhari about it, he said it was trustworthy: Au.).

    أَفَتُمَارُونَهُ عَلَىٰ مَا يَرَىٰ (12)

    53|12| Will you then dispute with him over what he saw?

    وَلَقَدْ رَآهُ نَزْلَةً أُخْرَىٰ (13)

    53|13| Indeed, he saw him at another descent.13

    13. This second sighting of Jibril in his original form took place during the Nocturnal Journey (Sayyid and others).
    But from the earliest times some people have been led to believe that it was perhaps Allah that the Prophet saw during his Nocturnal Journey. But most scholars have explained that the allusion rather, by the second sighting, is to the vision of Jibril. Ibn Jarir has the following hadith, (which is also in Muslim: Au.):

    عَنْ مَسْرُوقٍ قَالَ: كُنْتُ مُتّكِئاً عِنْدَ عَائِشَةَ. فَقَالَتْ: يَا أَبَا عَائِشَةَ! ثَلاَثٌ مَنْ تَكَلّمَ بِوَاحِدَةٍ مِنْهُنّ فَقَدْ أَعْظَمَ علَى الله الْفِرْيَةَ. قُلْتُ مَا هُنّ؟ قَالَتْ: مَنْ زَعَمَ أَنّ مُحَمّداً صلى الله عليه وسلم رَأَى رَبّهُ فَقَدْ أَعْظَمَ عَلَى الله الْفِرْيَةَ. قَالَ وَكُنْتُ مُتّكِئاً فَجَلَسْتُ. فَقُلْتُ: يَا أُمّ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ أَنْظِرِينِي وَلاَ تَعْجَلِينِي. أَلَمْ يَقُلِ الله عَزّ وَجَلّ: {وَلَقَدْ رَآهُ بِالأُفُقِ الْمُبِينِ} (التكوير الاَية: ) {وَلَقَدْ رَآهُ نَزْلَةً أُخْرَىَ}(النجم الاَية: ) فَقَالَتْ: أَنَا أَوّلُ هَذِهِ الأُمّةِ سَأَلَ عَنْ ذَلِكَ رَسُولَ اللّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم. فَقَالَ: "إِنّمَا هُوَ جِبْرِيلُ. لَمْ أَرَهُ عَلَى صُورَتِهِ الّتِي خُلِقَ عَلَيْهَا غَيْرَ هَاتَيْنِ الْمَرّتَيْنِ. رَأَيْتُهُ مُنْهَبطاً مِنَ السّماءِ. سَادّاً عِظَمُ خلقه مَا بَيْنَ السّمَاءِ إِلَى الأَرْضِ". فَقَالَتْ: أَوَ لَمْ تَسْمَع أن الله يَقُولُ: {لاَ تُدْرِكُهُ الأَبْصَارُ وَهُوَ يُدْرِكُ الأَبْصَارَ وَهُوَ اللّطِيفُ الْخَبِيرُ} (الأنعام آية: 3) أَوَ لَمْ تَسْمَعْ أَنّ الله يَقُولُ: {وَمَا كَانَ لِبَشَرٍ أَنْ يُكَلّمَهُ الله إِلاّ وَحْياً أَوْ مِنْ وَرَاءِ حِجَابٍ أَوْ يُرْسِلَ رَسُولاً فَيُوحِيَ بِإِذْنِهِ مَا يَشَاءُ إِنّهُ عَلِيّ حَكِيمٌ} (الشورى الاَية: 51) قَالَتْ: وَمَنْ زَعَمَ أَنّ رَسُولَ اللّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم كَتَمَ شَيْئاً مِنْ كِتَابِ الله فَقَدْ أَعْظَمَ عَلَى الله الْفِرْيَةَ. وَالله يَقُولُ: {يَا أَيّهَا الرّسُولُ بَلّغْ مَا أُنْزِلَ إِلَيْكَ مِنْ رَبّكَ وَإِنْ لَمْ تَفْعَلْ فَمَا بَلّغْتَ رِسَالَتَهُ} (المائدة الاَية: ) قَالَتْ: وَمَنْ زَعَمَ أَنّهُ يُخْبِرُ بِمَا يَكُونُ فِي غَدٍ فَقَدْ أَعْظَمَ عَلَى الله الْفِرْيَةَ. وَالله يَقُولُ: {قُلْ لاَ يَعْلَمُ مَنْ فِي السّمَاوَاتِ وَالأَرْضِ الْغَيْبَ إِلاّ الله} (النمل الاَية: 65) - مسلم

    Masruq (Abu `A’isha) says I was with `A’isha reclining when she said, “O Abu `A’isha! There are three things about which whoever spoke fastened a lie on Allah.” I asked, “What could they be?” She replied, “Whoever alleged that Muhammad saw his Lord, fastened a lie upon Allah.” He said, I straightened up and said, “Mother of believers, let me speak. Do not be hasty. Has not Allah said, ‘Indeed he saw him at the clear horizon’ (Al-Takweer), and ‘Indeed he saw him at the second descent’ (Al-Najm)?’” She said, “I was the first of this Ummah to ask the Prophet about it. He said, ‘That was Jibril. I did not see him in the image in which he has been created except on those two occasions. I saw him descend down from the heaven, covering the whole of the horizon between the heaven and the earth.’”
    Then she added, “Have you not heard Allah’s words, ‘Sights cannot circumscribe Him but He circumscribes the sights. He is the All-subtle, the All-aware.’ (Al-An`aam: 3), and, have you not heard Allah say, ‘It is not for any man that Allah should speak to him except through revelation, or from behind a veil, or He should send a messenger to reveal by His leave what He will. He indeed is the Sublime, the Wise.’ (Al-Shura: 51). She added, “Whoever alleged that the Prophet concealed something of the Book of Allah, fastened a lie on Allah. Allah said, ‘O Messenger. Convey what has been sent down to you. If you did not then you would not have conveyed the message’” (Al-Ma’idah). And, she added, “Whoever alleged that he (the Prophet) could say what is to happen the next day, fastened a lie upon Allah. Allah has said, ‘Say, “No one of those in the heavens and the earth knows the Unseen except Allah”’ (Al-Naml)” – Ibn Jarir.
    There is yet another report of this context. It is in Ibn Marduwayh, but we take it from Ibn Hajr’s Fath:

    فَقَالَتْ (عائشة) : أَنَا أَوَّلُ مَنْ سَأَلَ رَسُول اللَّه صَلَّى اللَّه عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ عَنْ هَذَا فَقُلْت : يَا رَسُول اللَّه هَلْ رَأَيْت رَبَّك ؟ فَقَالَ : لا إِنَّمَا رَأَيْت جِبْرِيل مُنْهَبِطًا " فتح الباري لابن حجر

    `A’isha said (on that occasion of Masruq asking her), “I am the first to have asked the Prophet about it saying, ‘Messenger of Allah, did you see your Lord?’ He replied, ‘I only saw Jibril coming down’” (Shafi` Deobandi).
    Whenever Imam Ahmed was asked about the Beatific Vision, he would say, “He saw Him, saw Him, saw Him ..” repeating for a long while but without further explanation to indicate that he could not have seen him with his physical eyes (Alusi).
    At all events, those who maintained it was Allah who came nearer (rather than Jibril) have clarified, as Qadi `Iyad said, that the "getting closer" was not in the physical sense in which some space is covered, but it was to impress the Prophet's rank with Allah, to honor him, bestow tranquility to him, allow for great (spiritual) clarity, respond to his desire to get close, and to bestow the Light of Knowledge on him (Qurtubi).

    عِنْدَ سِدْرَةِ الْمُنْتَهَىٰ (14)

    53|14| By the lote-tree of the Ultimate Boundary.14

    14. There are a variety of opinions regarding the nature of “Sidratu al-Muntahaa.” Ka`b explained to Ibn `Abbas that it is a Lote-tree below the `Arsh. The highest knowledge of every knowledgeable person ends there whether it is an angel brought nigh, or a Prophet raised. Whatever is beyond it is the Unseen that no one knows except Allah. Ibn Mas`ud explained that it is the Lote-tree in the sixth heaven at which ends everything that rises from the earth or from below it, or whatever comes down from above. Anything that comes down from that point, or goes up to it, is held up there (Ibn Jarir, Qurtubi, Ibn Kathir). It was here that the Prophet was given the five daily prayers, the concluding verses of Surah al-Baqarah and the principle was enunciated that whoever of his Ummah did not associate aught with Allah, will have his major sins forgiven (Qurtubi, Ibn Kathir). Sayyid suggests that it was at that point that Jibril fell back from the companionship of the Prophet during the Night Ascent, leaving him alone to ascend further.
    There are reports that explain “Sidratu al-Muntahaa.” Recounting what happened to him during his Nocturnal Journey, the Prophet said,

    ".. فَإِذَا أَنَا بِإِبْرَاهِيمَ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ مُسْنِدًا ظَهْرَهُ إِلَى الْبَيْتِ الْمَعْمُورِ وَإِذَا هُوَ يَدْخُلُهُ كُلَّ يَوْمٍ سَبْعُونَ أَلْفَ مَلَكٍ لا يَعُودُونَ إِلَيْهِ ثُمَّ ذَهَبَ بِي إِلَى السِّدْرَةِ الْمُنْتَهَى وَإِذَا وَرَقُهَا كَآذَانِ الْفِيَلَةِ وَإِذَا ثَمَرُهَا كَالْقِلالِ قَالَ فَلَمَّا غَشِيَهَا مِنْ أَمْرِ اللَّهِ مَا غَشِيَ تَغَيَّرَتْ فَمَا أَحَدٌ مِنْ خَلْقِ اللَّهِ يَسْتَطِيعُ أَنْ يَنْعَتَهَا مِنْ حُسْنِهَا .."

    “.. and lo, I was in front of Ibrahim, on whom be peace, reclining against the ‘Bayt al-Ma`mur’ into which seventy-thousand angels enter every day who never return to it. Then he (Jibril) took me to the Sidratu al-Muntahaa. Its leaves were like the ears of an elephant, and its fruit like pots. Then, when covered it that which covered it, it got altered so that there is none among the creations of Allah who could describe it..”
    (The above is from Bukhari, being close to the words quoted by Ibn Jarir and Qurtubi: Au.).
    Qurtubi quotes another version pertaining to the Night Ascension. It reports,

    قَالَ هَذِهِ سِدْرَةُ الْمُنْتَهَى وَإِذَا أَرْبَعَةُ أَنْهَارٍ نَهْرَانِ بَاطِنَانِ وَنَهْرَانِ ظَاهِرَانِ فَقُلْتُ مَا هَذَانِ يَا جِبْرِيلُ قَالَ أَمَّا الْبَاطِنَانِ فَنَهْرَانِ فِي الْجَنَّةِ وَأَمَّا الظَّاهِرَانِ فَالنِّيلُ وَالْفُرَاتُ (صحيح البخاري)

    (Jibril) said, “This is Sidratu al-Muntaha.” I observed four rivers: two inner rivers and two outer ones. I asked, “What are these two, O Jibril?” He answered, “The inner rivers are springs of Paradise while the outer ones are Nile and Euphrates" (Qurtubi).
    Asad elucidates: “Explaining the vision conveyed in the expression Sidrat al-Muntaha, Raghib suggests that owing to the abundance of its leafy shades, the sidr or sidrah (the Arabian lote-tree) appears in the Qur’an as well as in the traditions relating to the Ascension as a symbol of the “shade” – i.e., the spiritual peace and fulfillment – of Paradise. One may assume that the qualifying term al-muntaha .. is indicative of the fact that God has set a definite limit to all knowledge accessible to created beings, as pointed out in the Nihayah: implying, in particular, that human knowledge, though potentially vast and penetrating, can never – not even in Paradise (the ‘garden of promise’ mentioned in the next verse) – attain to an understanding of the ultimate reality, which the Creator has reserved for Himself.”

    عِنْدَهَا جَنَّةُ الْمَأْوَىٰ (15)

    53|15| Near which is the Garden of Abode.15

    15. Ibn `Abbas explained that the “Jannatu al-Ma’waa” is by the right hand side of the `Arsh and is the abode of the martyrs (Ibn Jarir).
    It is here that the Prophet saw Jibril a second time in his own form and shape, at the time of his Night Ascension. Imam Ahmed has a report of good chain of narrators. It says,
    رأيت جبريل وله ستمائة جناح، ينتثر من ريشه التهاويل: الدرّ والياقوت
    (The Prophet said), “I saw Jibril with six hundred wings from whose feathers were falling off decorative elements: pearls, and rich stones.” Ibn Mas`ud’s report, also in Ahmed, adds that each of his wings was covering the horizon (Qurtubi, Ibn Kathir).

    إِذْ يَغْشَى السِّدْرَةَ مَا يَغْشَىٰ (16)

    53|16| When that was covering the lote-tree which was covering.16

    16. What was it that covered the Lote-tree? In the absence of any trustworthy hadith, we have to rely on the statements of the salaf who said that it was golden butterflies that had covered it. A second report says it were angels that had covered it while others said it was Allah’s Nur that had covered it (Ibn Jarir, Qurtubi).
    In ahadith pertaining to the Night Ascension, the Prophet said,

    غشيتها الملائكة مثل الغِربان، وغشيها نور الرب، وغشيها ألوان ما أدري ما هي.

    “Angles had covered it like crows, our Lord’s Nur had covered it, and those of the colors had covered about which I have no idea what they were” (Qurtubi, Ibn Kathir).
    Ibn Kathir seems to have taken the above hadith from Tafsir ibn abi Hatim, but whose authenticity could not be established (Au.).
    Asad adds: “... a phrase deliberately vague (mubham), indicative of the inconceivable majesty and splendor attaching to this symbol of paradise ‘which no description can picture and no definition can embrace’ (Zamakhshari).”

    مَا زَاغَ الْبَصَرُ وَمَا طَغَىٰ (17)

    53|17| The sight deviated not, nor erred.17

    17. Ibn `Abbas said that the Prophet’s eye did not deviate toward left or right nor crossed the limits (Ibn Jarir, Qurtubi).
    (In other words, the Prophet) “was in such complete control of himself and so exclusively attentive that he kept his mind and sight focused upon the object for which he had been summoned, and he did not let his sight wander” (Mawdudi).

    لَقَدْ رَأَىٰ مِنْ آيَاتِ رَبِّهِ الْكُبْرَىٰ (18)

    53|18| Indeed, he saw great signs of his Lord.18

    18. One of the great signs was that he saw Jibril in his own image with six hundred wings (Ibn Jarir, Qurtubi).
    Sayyid comments on this passage, though placing it at an earlier point: “Thus, we too experience those moments with Muhammad; at a time when veils had been removed for him: while he received from on High, while he listened and witnessed, while he grasped and retained. Those were moments meant specifically for the purified heart of Muhammad. True, Allah favors whomsoever of His bondmen He will. He describes those moments in a powerful, highly effective manner. It is a manner which helps convey its echoes, its shades of meaning, and its nuances, directly to the hearts. He describes the voyage of the purified soul through the vast expanses of the lofty sphere. He describes it step by step, scenery after scenery, state by state, as if the believers perceive them themselves.”
    The above description then, is one of the several functions of the Qur’anic passage, that some readers fail to perceive and ask, in puzzlement, “what could be meant by a passage of this sort?” (Au.).

    أَفَرَأَيْتُمُ اللَّاتَ وَالْعُزَّىٰ (19)

    53|19| Have you considered Laat19 and `Uzza?20

    19. Sayyid comments: “That then, which the Prophet perceived, with his eyes and soul, is what he invited the pagans to. It was not something implied, imagined, or construed; but something real. In contrast, what is it that the pagans depend on for worshipping their idols? What was their reliance on when they worshipped Laat and `Uzza? What was the basis of their claim that angels were females and that they were daughters of Allah? On what basis did they claim that they would be delivered through intercession? This is what the next passage looks into, starting with the verse, “Have you considered Laat and `Uzza?"
    Ibn Jarir and Qurtubi comment: Most pagan deities were named after Allah’s attributes. For example, they derived “Al-Laat” from Allah, “Al-`Uzza” from Al-`Azeez. Laat had a history. It was initially a man in Nakhlah who kneaded balls of floor-paste for the pilgrims. After his death, they began to worship at his grave and ultimately he become a deity in his own right.
    The report about the paste-ball seller is in Bukhari. (He was represented by) a white, ornamented rock over which they had built a huge house at Ta’if. Complete with curtains and other paraphernalia, it had a pretty large vacant area surrounding it. Second only to Ka`bah, the Thaqeef were proud of this deity of theirs (Qurtubi, Ibn Kathir). The Prophet had sent Al-Mughira b. Sho`bah and Sufyan Sakhr b. al-Harb to destroy Al-Laat. After destruction, they built a mosque in its place.
    Majid quotes from a variety of works: “An oath by al-Lat is frequently found in the poets … She is frequently mentioned along with the al-`Uzza … and among the Kuraish, she, along with this goddess and Manat, was held in such high esteem … (EI. III. P. 18).” Reference to Allaat are found in several Nabatean inscriptions; in one of them she is called “the mother of gods” … Among the later Arabs this goddess was no less venerated.’ (ERE. I.p.661). ‘The Arabian Lat was worshipped by the Nabateans as mother of the gods, and must be identified with the virgin-mother, whose worship at Petra is described by Epiphanus.’ (Robertson Smith, Religion of the Semites, p. 56). Among the great ‘mothers’ is Lat or rather Allat. Apparently a sun-goddess, in Palmyra she is coupled with Shamash.’ (p. 52) ‘Al-Lat had her sacred tracts (hima and haram) near al-Taif, whither the Makkans and others flocked for pilgrimage and sacrifice. Within such an enclosure no trees could be felled, no game hunted and no human blood shed. Herodotus mentions this goddess under the name of Allaht among the Nabatean deities.’ (Hitti, op.cit., p.99)
    20. It is said that originally this was a bunch of shrubs (that somehow came to be regarded as a [single] deity: Au.). Some others said it was a white rock that came to be worshipped (Ibn Jarir). It was in Nakhlah, a place between Makkah and Ta’if. After the fall of Makkah, the Prophet had sent Khalid b. al-Waleed to destroy it. H e demolished the temple and reported back to him. He told him, “Return, for you have achieved nothing.” When he returned its keepers tried to prevent Khalid from any further action and began to wail in a loud voice, “O `Uzza, O `Uzza.” Upon closer inspection Khalid discovered a naked woman with outspread hair and dust on the head. He killed her and returned to the Prophet to report of the killing. He remarked, “That was `Uzza” (Razi, Qurtubi, Ibn Kathir).
    According to reports, that was a she-devil (Alusi).
    Thus, adds Razi, there were three main deities and had three origins: human, plant and stone.
    Majid quotes: “Far more important, at least in historical times, was the cult of the planet Venus, revered as a great goddess under the name of al-Uzza, which may be rendered ‘the Most Mighty.’ The Syriac poet Issac of Antioch, who lived in the first half of the 5th century, bears witness to the worship of `Uzza by the Arabs of that period; in another passage he identifies `Uzza with planet Venus.’ (ERE, I.p.660). ‘The goddess Al-`Ozza was believed to reside ‘in the sacred acacia at Nakhla’ (Robertson Smith, Religion of the Semites, p. 185). ‘Al-Ozza with Allat and Manat, the three daughters of Allah, in the Coran, is the “lady `Ozza” to whom a man in South Arabian inscription offers a golden image on behalf of his sick daughter Amath-Ozzai. Human sacrifice and licentious practices distinguish her cult. Isaac of Antioch identified her with Beltis, and calls her the “Star.” (p. 521). Al-`Uzza (the most mighty, Venus, the morning star) had her cult in Nakhla east of Makkah … Her sanctuary consisted of three trees. Human sacrificed characterized her cult … Abd-al-`Uzza was a favorite name at the rise of Islam’ (Hitti, op.cit., p. 33).”

    وَمَنَاةَ الثَّالِثَةَ الْأُخْرَىٰ (20)

    53|20| And Manaat the third, the other?21

    21. This deity was housed in Qudayd, especially revered by Banu Ka`b (Ibn Jarir). It was actually in Mushallal near Qudayd, a place between Makkah and Madinah, and was the deity of Khuza`ah, Aws and Khazraj. Abu Sufyan Sakhr b. Harb was sent to destroy this temple (Ibn Kathir).
    These deities had their counterparts in various parts of the Arabian Peninsula, including the House of Ka`bah (Alusi).
    Majid quotes from other works: “An old Arabian goddess … a goddess of fate, especially of death. Her main sanctuary was a black stone among the Hudhailis in Kudaid … She was however worshipped by many Arab tribes … In Mecca she was very popular along with the goddesses al-Lat and al-`Uzzah. (EI, III, p.231). ‘A number of proper names confounded with Manat prove that her cult extended over a great part of Arabia.’ (ERE, I.p. 662). Manat (from Maniyah, allotted fate) was the goddess of destiny and as such represented on earlier phase of religious life. Her main sanctuary consisted of a black stone in Qudayd on the road between Makkah and Yathrib (later al-Madinah) and she was specially popular with the Aws and the Khazraj’ (Hitti, op.cit. p.99).”
    Asad comments: “These three goddesses – regarded by the pagan Arabs as ‘God’s daughters’ side by side with the angels (who, too, were conceived of as females) – were worshipped in most of pre-Islamic Arabia, and had several shrines in the Hijaz and in Najd. The worship of Al-Lat was particularly ancient and almost certainly of South-Arabian origin; she may have been the prototype of the Greek semi-goddess Leto, one of the wives of Zeus and mother of Apollo and Artemis.”
    Qurtubi and Ibn Kathir (perhaps based on Ibn Is-haq’s report), list a few other deities that were worshipped in pre-Islamic Arabia:
    One was Dhu al-Khalasah belonging to Daws, Khath`am, Bajeelah and the Tabaala Arabs. (It was also known as Ka`bah al-Yamaniyyah while the Makkan Ka`bah was known as Ka`bah al-Shaamiyyah). It was Jarir b. `Abdullah al-Bajali who was sent to destroy it. The Tayy’ tribe and those around the two Tayy’ mountains worshipped Fals. `Ali b. abi Talib was sent to destroy it. The people of Himyar and San`aa had their own deity called Riyaam. It is said that it housed a black dog. Rabi`ah tribe had a temple called Rudaa. As for Bakr and Taghlab (the two sons of Waa’il), they worshipped a deity called Dhu al-Ka`baat.

    أَلَكُمُ الذَّكَرُ وَلَهُ الْأُنْثَىٰ (21)

    53|21| What! For you the male, and for Him the female?22

    22. Yusuf Ali writes: “To show Allah in human shape, or imagine sons or daughters of Allah, as if Allah were flesh, was in any case a derogation from the supreme glory of Allah, high above all creatures, even if the human shapes were invested with great beauty and majesty as in the Greek Pantheon. But when we consider in what low opinion Pagan Arabia held the female sex, it was particularly degrading to show Allah, or so-called daughters of Allah, in female forms.
    Asad adds: “In view of the contempt which the pagan Arabs felt for their female offspring … their attribution of ‘daughters” to God was particularly absurd and self-contradictory: for, quite apart from the blasphemous belief in God’s having ‘offspring’ of any kind, their ascribing to him what they themselves despised gave the lie to their alleged ‘reverence’ for Him whom they, too, regarded as the Supreme Being – a point which is stressed in the next sentence.”

    تِلْكَ إِذًا قِسْمَةٌ ضِيزَىٰ (22)

    53|22| That indeed is an unfair division.

    إِنْ هِيَ إِلَّا أَسْمَاءٌ سَمَّيْتُمُوهَا أَنْتُمْ وَآبَاؤُكُمْ مَا أَنْزَلَ اللَّهُ بِهَا مِنْ سُلْطَانٍ ۚ إِنْ يَتَّبِعُونَ إِلَّا الظَّنَّ وَمَا تَهْوَى الْأَنْفُسُ ۖ وَلَقَدْ جَاءَهُمْ مِنْ رَبِّهِمُ الْهُدَىٰ (23)

    53|23| These are not but names that you have named23 – you and your forefathers. Allah has not sent down any authority touching them. They follow not but conjecture and what the souls desire,24 while there has already come to them their Lord’s guidance.

    23. That is, these are merely idols that you have carved and named them as deities. They have no real existence (Qurtubi, Alusi).
    24. “An allusion to the pagan idea that those goddesses, as well as the angels, would act as ‘mediators’ between their worshippers and God: a wishful idea which lingers on even among adherents of higher religions in the guise of a veneration of saints and deified persons” (Asad).
    Mawdudi adds: “In other words, the basic causes of their deviation are two: first that they do not feel any need for the knowledge of reality for the purpose of adopting a creed and religion, but make a supposition on the basis of a mere conjecture and then place belief in it as though it is the reality. Secondly, that they have, in fact, adopted this attitude in order to follow the lusts of their inner self. They desire that they should have such a deity as should help them attain their aims and objectives of this world; and if at all there is to be a hereafter, it should take the responsibility to have them granted forgiveness there too. But it should not impose any restriction of the lawful and the unlawful on them nor should bind them to any moral discipline. That is why they do not feel inclined to worship One God as taught by the Prophets, and only like to worship invented gods and goddesses.”

    أَمْ لِلْإِنْسَانِ مَا تَمَنَّىٰ (24)

    53|24| Or, is there for man whatever he desires?25

    25. This is an implied reference to the fact that the mission that the Prophet had been entrusted with was not by his own choice, but rather, Allah’s own decision (Tabari).
    Ibn Kathir adds: We have a hadith warning about what we yearn for. It is in Ahmed (declared trustworthy by Haythami: Sami). It says,
    إِذَا تَمَنَّى أَحَدُكُمْ فَلْيَنْظُرْ مَا يَتَمَنَّى فَإِنَّهُ لا يَدْرِي مَا يُكْتَبُ لَهُ مِنْ أُمْنِيَّتِهِ
    The Prophet said, “When one of you desires (something), let him look into what he is desiring because he does not know what of his desires are being written down.”
    (Munawi explained: That is, one might be careful about what one desires and supplicates for, lest he desires in his ignorance something that might not be good for him, but it is yet granted because the hour happened to be auspicious: Au.).

    فَلِلَّهِ الْآخِرَةُ وَالْأُولَىٰ (25)

    53|25| To Allah belongs the last and the first.26

    26. That is, if the punishment for taking gods other than the true Deity does not descend, then, it may not be assumed that this is the end of it all, but rather, there is another world which they cannot escape (Razi, in sum).

    وَكَمْ مِنْ مَلَكٍ فِي السَّمَاوَاتِ لَا تُغْنِي شَفَاعَتُهُمْ شَيْئًا إِلَّا مِنْ بَعْدِ أَنْ يَأْذَنَ اللَّهُ لِمَنْ يَشَاءُ وَيَرْضَىٰ (26)

    53|26| And how many angels27 are there in the heavens whose intercession avails not aught,28 except that Allah should allow whom He will, and is well-pleased (with)?29

    27. Although the word “malak” is single, here it is used, as Akhfash said, in plural (Qurtubi).
    28. How can the idol-worshippers depend on the intercession of their idols – which are no more than lifeless things, when the living angels, and among them those closest in ranks, will have no independent power of intercession? (Razi).
    Yusuf Ali adds: “We are apt to imagine the angelic host of heaven as beings of immense power. But their power is all derived from Allah. Men, when they attain to the highest spiritual dignities, may have even more power and position than angels in the sight of Allah, as in typified by angels being bidden to bow down to Adam: ii. 34. The Quraish superstition about angels being intermediaries and intercessors for man with Allah is condemned.”
    29. That is, not every angel will be able to intercede, but only he who is allowed, and for him whom Allah considers worthy of intercession (Alusi).

    إِنَّ الَّذِينَ لَا يُؤْمِنُونَ بِالْآخِرَةِ لَيُسَمُّونَ الْمَلَائِكَةَ تَسْمِيَةَ الْأُنْثَىٰ (27)

    53|27| Surely, those who do not believe in the Hereafter, give the angels female names.30

    30. The allusion is to the belief in angels as the daughters of Allah (Qurtubi, Alusi).
    Asad explains further: “As the Qur’an points out in many places, the people spoken of in this context do believe in life after death, inasmuch as they express the hope that the angels and the imaginary deities which they worship will ‘mediate’ between them and God, and will ‘intercede’ for them. However, their belief is far too vague to make them realize that the quality of man’s life in the hereafter does not depend on such outside factors but is causal, and directly connected with the manner of his life in this world: and so the Qur’an declares that their attitude is, for all practical purposes, not so much different from the attitude of people who reject the idea of a hereafter altogether.”

    وَمَا لَهُمْ بِهِ مِنْ عِلْمٍ ۖ إِنْ يَتَّبِعُونَ إِلَّا الظَّنَّ ۖ وَإِنَّ الظَّنَّ لَا يُغْنِي مِنَ الْحَقِّ شَيْئًا (28)

    53|28| They have no knowledge thereof but for conjectures; and surely, conjecture avails nothing against the truth.31

    31. Hence a hadith of the Sahihayn. It says,

    إِيَّاكُمْ وَالظَّنَّ فَإِنَّ الظَّنَّ أَكْذَبُ الْحَدِيثِ

    “Beware of conjecture for conjecture is the most deceitful of talk” (Ibn Kathir).
    Alusi adds: The conjecture that is disallowed here is concerned with such affairs as have received clear instructions. But when instructions are absent, one has no choice but to resort to analogy.

    فَأَعْرِضْ عَنْ مَنْ تَوَلَّىٰ عَنْ ذِكْرِنَا وَلَمْ يُرِدْ إِلَّا الْحَيَاةَ الدُّنْيَا (29)

    53|29| Therefore, shun him who turns away from Our remembrance and desires no more than the life of the world.32

    32. “After demonstrating the weakness of the deities of those who do not believe in the Hereafter, after referring to the foolishness involved in their worship .. and after reference to those who attribute daughters to Allah, giving them female names, the Qur’an now turns to the Prophet to tell him that he ought not to give his mind any serious thought about them, but rather, shun them, and leave their affair to Allah who knows the good-doers of them as well as the evil-doers; who will reward the former and punish the latter. His are the affairs of the heavens and the earth as well as the affairs of this world and the Hereafter. He will hold them to account in keeping with the demands of justice, without doing any wrong to anyone; who will forgive the sins over which its perpetrators did not insist; who has the knowledge of the seeds and the folded things, for, He is the Creator of the human beings, knower of their natures, and aware of every aspect of their lives” (Sayyid).

    ذَٰلِكَ مَبْلَغُهُمْ مِنَ الْعِلْمِ ۚ إِنَّ رَبَّكَ هُوَ أَعْلَمُ بِمَنْ ضَلَّ عَنْ سَبِيلِهِ وَهُوَ أَعْلَمُ بِمَنِ اهْتَدَىٰ (30)

    53|30| That is their ultimate reach of knowledge.33 Surely, your Lord knows well him who strays away from His path, as He knows well him who is guided.

    33. That is, to attain the material things of this world is the ultimate reach of their knowledge. A hadith (of Tirmidhi rated Hasan Ghareeb) says,

    لا تَجْعَلْ الدُّنْيَا أَكْبَرَ هَمِّنَا وَلا مَبْلَغَ عِلْمِنَا

    The Prophet used to supplicate in words, “(O Allah), Do not make this world our main concern, nor the ultimate reach of our knowledge.” Indeed, it is only the ignorant who go after this world. A hadith (treated trustworthy by Mundhiri, `Iraqi and Haythami: Au.) says,

    الدُّنْيَا دَارُ مَنْ لا دَارَ لَهُ وَمَالُ مَنْ لا مَالَ لَهُ وَلَهَا يَجْمَعُ مَنْ لا عَقْلَ لَهُ
    قال المنذري والحافظ العراقي : إسناده جيد وقال الهيثمي : رجال أحمد رجال الصحيح غير دويل وهو ثقة.) فيض القدير(

    i.e., “This world is the home of him who has no home (in the Hereafter), wealth for him who has no wealth and none hoards it but he who has no sense” (Ibn Kathir).
    Yusuf Ali adds: “Men with a materialist turn of mind, whose desires are bounded by sex and material things, will not go beyond those things. Their knowledge will be limited to the narrow circle in which their thoughts move. The spiritual world is beyond their ken. While persons with a spiritual outlook, even though they may fail again and again in attaining their full ideals, are on the right Path. They are willing to receive guidance and Allah's Grace will find them out and help them.”
    Sayyid comments: “The utmost of knowledge that these misguided ones possess appears to the common people - those who are short of heart, scant of understanding and feelings – as something great that greatly influences and shapes the life of this world. That might be true. But, being influential does not deny them the quality of misguidance in the ultimate truth, nor the qualities of ignorance and insignificance.
    True knowledge has to have two necessary elements: true relationship between the Creator of this world and the creations, and true relationship between man’s deeds and its retribution. Without the understanding of these two, knowledge is reduced to the equivalent of the outer skin of the fruit, incapable of influencing man’s life, its progress, and its rise .. Without these, it amounts to no more than the development of tools and equipment while man retards. Of what worth is a knowledge which allows for the progress of tools and equipment at the cost of the human (soul)?”

    وَلِلَّهِ مَا فِي السَّمَاوَاتِ وَمَا فِي الْأَرْضِ لِيَجْزِيَ الَّذِينَ أَسَاءُوا بِمَا عَمِلُوا وَيَجْزِيَ الَّذِينَ أَحْسَنُوا بِالْحُسْنَى (31)

    53|31| And to Allah belongs whatsoever is in the heavens and whatsoever is in the earth. So that He may requite those who did evil according to what they worked,34 as well as reward those who did well with a reward most fair

    34. Yusuf Ali comments: “All deeds have their consequences, good or ill. But this is not an iron law, as the Determinists in philosophy, or the preachers of bare Karma, would have us believe. Allah does not sit apart. He governs the world. And Mercy as well as Justice are His attributes. In His Justice every deed or word or thought of evil has its consequence for the doer or speaker or thinker. But there is always in this life room for repentance and amendment. As soon as this is forthcoming, Allah's Mercy comes into action. It can blot out our evil, and the ‘reward’ which it gives is nearly always greater than our merits.”

    الَّذِينَ يَجْتَنِبُونَ كَبَائِرَ الْإِثْمِ وَالْفَوَاحِشَ إِلَّا اللَّمَمَ ۚ إِنَّ رَبَّكَ وَاسِعُ الْمَغْفِرَةِ ۚ هُوَ أَعْلَمُ بِكُمْ إِذْ أَنْشَأَكُمْ مِنَ الْأَرْضِ وَإِذْ أَنْتُمْ أَجِنَّةٌ فِي بُطُونِ أُمَّهَاتِكُمْ ۖ فَلَا تُزَكُّوا أَنْفُسَكُمْ ۖ هُوَ أَعْلَمُ بِمَنِ اتَّقَىٰ (32)

    53|32| Those who avoid the major sins and the obscene35 save lesser offenses.36 Surely, your Lord is wide of forgiveness. He was better knowing of you when He produced you from the earth and when you were yet fetuses in the wombs of your mothers.37 Therefore, ascribe not purity to yourselves;38 He knows best him who is godfearing.

    35. The allusion is to fornication and acts leading to it (Tabari).
    The difference between major sins and the obscene is that of quantity and quality. The term “kabaa’ir” expresses the sense of monstrosity while “faahisha” expresses its nature of being disgusting (Razi).
    36. Lit., “lamam” is for that which is near (Penrice), but there are other meanings such as, that which is small and little; that which is infrequent (Shawkani); or that which you touch and go (Au.); the great majority have, however, taken it to mean minor sins. But some have believed, Sayyid included, that it is major sins that a man commits in heedlessness, but soon repents.
    Nonetheless, one might warn that division of sins into major and minor are human conventions. In view of Allah’s greatness, every intentionally committed sin is a major sin, no matter how insignificant. If any sin is minor, it is in reference to the humans. This is the reason why there is no agreement over the total number of major sins. When Ibn `Abbas was asked whether major sins were not seven, he answered that they were closer to being seven hundred (Alusi).
    In explanation of “lamam” the following is reported of Ibn Mas`ud. He said, “Fornication of the eyes is to see, of the lips is in kissing, of the hands in holding and of the feet in stepping (towards it). Then, the sexual organ accepts or rejects. If he goes ahead with his private parts, he is a fornicator. If he does not, then the other acts become ‘lamam.’” There is a hadith too, (of the Sahihayn: Ibn Kathir) which confirms a part of the above report and tells us that Ibn `Abbas held the same opinion about “lamam”. It goes as follows,

    عَنْ ابْنِ عَبَّاسٍ قَالَ مَا رَأَيْتُ شَيْئًا أَشْبَهَ بِاللَّمَمِ مِمَّا قَالَ أَبُو هُرَيْرَةَ عَنْ النَّبِيِّ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ إِنَّ اللَّهَ كَتَبَ عَلَى ابْنِ آدَمَ حَظَّهُ مِنْ الزِّنَا أَدْرَكَ ذَلِكَ لا مَحَالَةَ فَزِنَا الْعَيْنِ النَّظَرُ وَزِنَا اللِّسَانِ الْمَنْطِقُ وَالنَّفْسُ تَمَنَّى وَتَشْتَهِي وَالْفَرْجُ يُصَدِّقُ ذَلِكَ كُلَّهُ وَيُكَذِّبُهُ.

    Said Ibn `Abbas: “I did not hear anything closer to explaining ‘lamam’ than what Abu Hurayrah narrated from the Prophet (who said), ‘Allah has written for the son of Adam his share of fornication that he will earn, without escape. The eye’s fornication is to see, the tongue’s fornication is to talk (about it). The soul desires and hankers after, but the sexual organ either confirms all of it or denies.’” Another opinion coming from the Salaf is that “lamam” is every sin for which neither a capital punishment has been prescribed nor which has received a threat of punishment in the Hereafter. Ibn `Abbas, `Ikrimah, Qatadah and Dahhak were of those who held this opinion. A third opinion is that “lamam” refers to committing a major sin once but then followed by repentance and refraining from any further commitment (Tabari, Qurtubi, Ibn Kathir).
    37. That is, Allah knows, you do not (Zamakhshari).
    38. It is in keeping with this Qur’anic dictum that the Prophet would rename someone called e.g. “barrah” (meaning “good, pious or virtuous”) suggesting in place another name, such as Zaynab. He would cite this verse, “ascribe not purity to yourselves.” He also disapproved that people be praised without a good cause and without conditional clauses. The following may be quoted from the Sahihayn and other collections:

    عَنْ عَبْدِ الرَّحْمَنِ بْنِ أَبِي بَكْرَةَ عَنْ أَبِيهِ قَالَ أَثْنَى رَجُلٌ عَلَى رَجُلٍ عِنْدَ النَّبِيِّ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ فَقَالَ وَيْلَكَ قَطَعْتَ عُنُقَ صَاحِبِكَ قَطَعْتَ عُنُقَ صَاحِبِكَ مِرَارًا ثُمَّ قَالَ مَنْ كَانَ مِنْكُمْ مَادِحًا أَخَاهُ لا مَحَالَةَ فَلْيَقُلْ أَحْسِبُ فُلانًا وَاللَّهُ حَسِيبُهُ وَلا أُزَكِّي عَلَى اللَّهِ أَحَدًا أَحْسِبُهُ كَذَا وَكَذَا إِنْ كَانَ يَعْلَمُ ذَلِكَ مِنْهُ

    A man praised another in the presence of the Prophet. He said, “Woe unto you. You severed the neck of your companion, you severed the neck of your companion ..” repeating it several times. Then he added, “If one of you has to praise his brother at all, let him say, ‘I reckon he is like this, but Allah is the Reckoner. And I do not vouch for anyone’s purity before Allah. I just assume of him in these terms,’ – if he knows for sure that (quality) is there in him” (Ibn Kathir).
    In general terms, the ayah refers to a man boasting, in however small a degree, of his good deeds. Excluding is that situation in which good deeds are mentioned to others by way of thanks and praise to Allah for having guided to them (Zamakhshari).

    أَفَرَأَيْتَ الَّذِي تَوَلَّىٰ (33)

    53|33| Have you then considered him who turned away?

    وَأَعْطَىٰ قَلِيلًا وَأَكْدَىٰ (34)

    53|34| He gave a little and then withheld?39

    39. That was Waleed b. al-Mughirah. He entered into Islam. But someone taunted him, and suggested that he (Waleed) pay him some amount, so that he could, as a favor returned, bear the burden of his sin. Waleed agreed and returned to paganism. But, subsequently he went back on his word, and did not pay the amount he had promised. “Kadaa” is from a man’s action of starting to dig a well but, encountering a rock, abandoning the digging. It would be said in such a situation: “kada (al-`amal)” i.e., he gave up the effort (Ibn Jarir, Qurtubi). Although others have also been named, Waleed’s name has received greater mention (Alusi). As for the story that `Uthman b. `Affan was the one who behaved in this fashion, it is baseless (Ibn Kathir, Alusi, Sayyid).

    أَعِنْدَهُ عِلْمُ الْغَيْبِ فَهُوَ يَرَىٰ (35)

    53|35| Has he knowledge of the Unseen so that he sees.40

    40. “I.e., ‘How can he be so sure that there is no life in the hereafter, and no judgment?’” (Asad).

    أَمْ لَمْ يُنَبَّأْ بِمَا فِي صُحُفِ مُوسَىٰ (36)

    53|36| Has he not been informed about what is in the Scriptures of Musa?41

    41. “Books of Moses: apparently not the Pentateuch, in the Taurat, but some other book or books now lost. For example, the Book of the Wars of Jehovah is referred to in the Old Testament (Num. xxi. 14) but is now lost. The present Pentateuch has no clear message at all of a Life to come” (Yusuf Ali).

    وَإِبْرَاهِيمَ الَّذِي وَفَّىٰ (37)

    53|37| And of Ibrahim who fulfilled?42

    42. That is, he fulfilled the covenant to deliver the message given him in full, as well as that of complete obedience, and fulfillment of the requirement of the dream to the effect that he was slaughtering his son (Tabari, Qurtubi, Ibn Kathir).

    أَلَّا تَزِرُ وَازِرَةٌ وِزْرَ أُخْرَىٰ (38)

    53|38| That no bearer of burden will bear the burden of another.43

    43. Asad comments: “This basic ethical law appears in the Qur’an five times – in 6: 164, 17: 15, 35: 18, 39: 7, as well as in the above instance, which is the oldest in the chronology of revelation. Its implication is threefold: firstly, it expresses a categorical rejection of the Christian doctrine of the ‘original sin’ with which every human being is allegedly burdened from birth; secondly, it refuses the idea that a person’s sins could be ‘atoned for’ by a saint’s or prophet’s redemptive sacrifice (as evidenced, for instance, in the Christian doctrine of Jesus’ vicarious atonement for mankind’s sinfulness, or in the earlier, Persian doctrine of man’s vicarious redemption by Mithras); and, thirdly, it denies, by implication, the possibility of any (unauthorized: Au.) ‘mediation’ between the sinner and God.”
    Being a follower of Shafe`i’s school of fiqh, Ibn Kathir points out, once again, that, basing his reasoning on this ayah, Imam Shafe`i held the opinion that rewards of Qura’nic recitation cannot be gifted to another. He presents a few evidences but they sound weak. Surely, Imam Shafe`i must have had other reasons, otherwise, that no one will profit from any other’s good efforts is disproved by the following ayah (52: 21):

    وَالَّذِينَ آَمَنُوا وَاتَّبَعَتْهُمْ ذُرِّيَّتُهُمْ بِإِيمَانٍ أَلْحَقْنَا بِهِمْ ذُرِّيَّتَهُمْ وَمَا أَلَتْنَاهُمْ مِنْ عَمَلِهِمْ مِنْ شَيْءٍ

    i.e., “As for those who believed and their progeny followed them in faith, We shall join to them their offspring (in Paradise), without decreasing aught of their deeds.” The explanation is that those of the offspring that could not come up with deeds of the quality of their progenitors will be allowed to dwell with their parents of higher ranks. Yes, it is not true the other way round. That is, transfer of reward is possible but not the transfer of sins. (Qurtubi also states this). Nonetheless, if applied to the unbelievers, this present ayah holds good both ways, that is, they will not benefit from any other’s faith or deeds nor will others be punished because of their faith or deeds. With reference to the particular issue of recitation of the Qur’an on behalf of a dead person, most Hanafiyy scholars have willy nilly approved it, while some of their major scholars would actually recite a few verses off and on, and gift the reward to their dead parents, teachers and others. Ashraf `Ali Thanwi, the last of the great Sufis of the Indian sub-continent however said that since there was difference in opinions, he would personally not recommend that the Qur’an be recited for the dead (Au.).
    At all events, Imam Shafe`i has allowed non-obligatory Hajj on behalf of the dead. `A’isha is reported to have sat in “i`tikaf” on behalf of her brother `Abd al-Rahman, as well as freed slaves on his behalf (Qurtubi).
    Alusi adds: It is reported that the governor of Khurasan asked `Abdullah b. Tahir al-Hussain b. al-Fadl about this ayah and how it could be reconciled with a verse that says,

    وَاللَّهُ يُضَاعِفُ لِمَنْ يَشَاءُ [البقرة/261]

    “Allah will double up (the reward) unto whom He will?” He answered that if one goes by justice (`adl), a man gets no more than what he strives for. But if one goes by Allah’s bounty (fadl), then he gets whatever Allah decides. It is said that the governor kissed `Abdullah’s forehead.

    وَأَنْ لَيْسَ لِلْإِنْسَانِ إِلَّا مَا سَعَىٰ (39)

    53|39| And that there is no more for man that what he strives for.

    وَأَنَّ سَعْيَهُ سَوْفَ يُرَىٰ (40)

    53|40| That his striving will soon be seen.44

    44. “In this connection it is to be noted that in the ethics of the Qur’an, the term ‘action’ (`amal) compromises also a deliberate omission of actions, whether good or bad, as well as a deliberate voicing of beliefs, both righteous and sinful: in short, everything that man consciously aims at and expresses by word or deed” (Asad).

    ثُمَّ يُجْزَاهُ الْجَزَاءَ الْأَوْفَىٰ (41)

    53|41| Then He will reward him with complete reward.

    وَأَنَّ إِلَىٰ رَبِّكَ الْمُنْتَهَىٰ (42)

    53|42| And that to your Lord is the end.45

    45. Quite a few commentators such as Razi, Qurtubi, Ibn Kathir and Alusi seem to treat this ayah as a difficult one to explain and, consequently, quote a hadith (of which several versions are found in Abu al-Sheikh’s collection but none trustworthy as a hadith. Ibn Hajr treats it as a statement of Ibn `Abbas with a good chain of narrators. However, Sakhawi noted, as in Fayd al-Qadeer, that there are so many versions that add strength to the substance: Au.). It runs as follows:

    تفكروا في خلق الله ، ولا تفكروا في الله فتهلكوا (أبو الشيخ عن أبي ذر).

    i.e., “Ponder over Allah’s creation but do not ponder over Allah’s Person lest you are destroyed.”
    Ubayy b. Ka`b cited “not pondering over God” as the context of revelation (Shawkani).

    [43] And that it is He who makes to laugh and makes to weep.46 [44] And that it is He who deals death and brings to life. [45] And that He created the two kinds: male and female. [46] Of a sperm-drop, when it is emitted.47 [47] And that upon Him is the second raising. [48] That it is He who gives wealth and contentment.48 [49] And that He is the Lord of Sirius.49 [50] And that it is He who destroyed the earlier `Aad.50 [51] And Thamood, and spared (them) not. [52] And the folks of Nooh, earlier. Surely they, they indeed, were the most unjust and most rebellious.51 [53] And the overturned (towns): he hurled (them).52 [54] So that, that covered them which covered.53 [55] Then which of the bounties of your Lord will you dispute?
    [56] This is a warner, of the warners of old.54 [57] The ever-approaching has drawn nigh. [58] It has none, apart from Allah, as a Discloser. [59] Do you then wonder at this discourse? [60] And laugh, but weep not? [61] While you indulge in vanities!55 [62] So, prostrate yourselves before Allah and worship (Him alone).56

    وَأَنَّهُ هُوَ أَضْحَكَ وَأَبْكَىٰ (43)

    53|43| And that it is He who makes to laugh and makes to weep.46

    46. Allah’s making the people to laugh in the world, or weep, is going to be carried on in the Hereafter where the pious will laugh in Paradise while the wicked will weep in Hellfire (Ibn Jarir, Qurtubi, reworded).
    We have something close to this in a hadith:

    عن ابن أم مكتوم قال خرج النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم ذات غداة فقال سعرت النار لأهل النار وجاءت الفتن كقطع الليل المظلم لو تعلمون ما أعلم لضحكتم قليلاً ولبكيتم كثيراً. (رواه الطبراني في الكبير والأوسط ورجالهما رجال الصحيح: مجمع الزوائد ومنبع الفوائد)

    Ibn Umm Maktum reports that one day the Prophet emerged and said, “The Fire has been lit for the companions of the Fire and tribulations have arrived like patches of a dark night. If you knew what I know, surely, you would have laughed little and wept much.”
    Dhannun said, “Allah makes the heart of the believers laugh by means of the light of knowledge and understanding while He makes the heart of the unbelievers weep because of the darkness of disbelief and disobedience” (Qurtubi).
    Qurtubi also mentions that there is none among biological organism which both laughs as well as weeps except humans.
    We might add that counting out other ways of expressing joy, there is no animal that laughs, although some weep (Au.).

    وَأَنَّهُ هُوَ أَمَاتَ وَأَحْيَا (44)

    53|44| And that it is He who deals death and brings to life.

    وَأَنَّهُ خَلَقَ الزَّوْجَيْنِ الذَّكَرَ وَالْأُنْثَىٰ (45)

    53|45| And that He created the two kinds: male and female.

    مِنْ نُطْفَةٍ إِذَا تُمْنَىٰ (46)

    53|46| Of a sperm-drop, when it is emitted.47

    47. Biologists realize, although they try to explain away the problem by invoking the gene goddess, that the appearance of two sexes is a mystery. They know very well that there is no reason why a single individual cannot reproduce without any external help. After all, cells replicate without any external command or help. Many hermaphrodite animals are able to reproduce without the need of a sexual partner. However, in addition to this mystery, determination of sex of the unborn is another inscrutable puzzle. The variety of ways adopted in a variety of animals is truly baffling. Finally, the ratio of male and female in every population has been another challenging mystery.
    Sex determination varies from species to species. In many animals there are sex chromosome in the DNA, called X-Y chromosomes. Females typically have two X chromosomes (XX), whereas males have one X and one Y chromosomes. The presence of a Y chromosome in the fertilized egg normally means it is going to be male; and its absence means it is going to be female. So, XY pair means it is male, and XX means it is female. This can be said to apply to 99.9% cases. However, some butterflies and moths are exception to this rule: females are XY and males XX.
    In some insects, such as ants and bees, sex seems to be determined by the insects themselves. E.g., in case of bees, the queen-bee mates with a male only once in her life-time of 15 years. The sperm of that mating is preserved for the rest of life, in its body. The queen determines the sex of the offspring at the time she lays the eggs. If she releases a tiny amount of the stored sperm to fertilize an egg passing through the duct, the offspring will be female; unfertilized eggs develop into males. Thus, she controls the sex ration in her hive – a feat humans cannot perform.
    In turtles, temperature during incubation determines the sex of the embryo in the egg. In most cases of tortoise, low incubation temperature results in male offspring. Higher temperatures result in female offspring. But crocodiles and lizards exhibit the opposite pattern, females being produced at low incubation temperatures and males at higher ones. In yet another twist, in few crocodiles, turtles and lizards, females are produced at “high” and “low” incubation temperatures while males at “intermediate” temperatures.
    In ants, sex is determined by those that groom the larvae. If they decide to feed a few copiously, they will grow into queens. Whether the larvae will develop into worker bees or soldier bees is also determined by how they are fed. Ultimately, however, and somehow, a proper ratio of males and females are maintained in the hive or nest (Au.).

    وَأَنَّ عَلَيْهِ النَّشْأَةَ الْأُخْرَىٰ (47)

    53|47| And that upon Him is the second raising.

    وَأَنَّهُ هُوَ أَغْنَىٰ وَأَقْنَىٰ (48)

    53|48| That it is He who gives wealth and contentment.48

    48. There are at least five possible different meanings of the word “aqna,” one another being “reduced to poverty,” as mentioned by Ibn Jarir. The meaning expressed in the translation above reflects the understanding of Ibn `Abbas and Mujahid.

    وَأَنَّهُ هُوَ رَبُّ الشِّعْرَىٰ (49)

    53|49| And that He is the Lord of Sirius.49

    49. This bright star was worshipped by a few Arab tribes (Ibn Jarir, Ibn Kathir).
    Actually, writes Zamakhshari, there were two stars called Shi`ra. They were named Ghumaysa and `Aboor. Introduced as a deity by one of the ancient chiefs Abu Kabsha, it was `Aboor that was worshipped by Khuza`ah (as well as some Yemenis: Qurtubi). Initially, the Quraysh referred to the Prophet also as Abu Kabsha, for, he too had changed his religion (Zamakhshari, Qurtubi, Alusi, each in his own words).
    Yusuf Ali adds: “(This) .. refers to a mighty phenomenon of nature, the magnificent star Sirius, which is such a prominent object in the skies, in the early part of the solar year, say, from January to April. It is the brightest star in the firmament, and its bluish light causes wonder and terror in Pagan minds. The Pagan Arabs worshipped it as a divinity. But Allah is the Lord, Creator and Cherisher, of the most magnificent part of Creation, and worship is due to Him alone.”
    For details of beliefs of the Arabs regarding Sirius, one may look into Alusi’s discourse. A quality shared by every pagan religion and pagan thought is that stars play a role in human destiny (Au.).

    وَأَنَّهُ أَهْلَكَ عَادًا الْأُولَىٰ (50)

    53|50| And that it is He who destroyed the earlier `Aad.50

    50. There were two major nations of `Aad: the earlier and the later. Here, the reference is to those who were destroyed by the stormy winds: (the tribe of: `Aad b. Iram b. `Iwas b. Saam b. Nooh). Allah said about them (89: 6,7),

    أَلَمْ تَرَ كَيْفَ فَعَلَ رَبُّكَ بِعَادٍ إِرَمَ ذَاتِ الْعِمَادِ

    “Have you not considered how your Lord treated `Aad, Iram of the columns?” (Tabari). But Zamakhshari thinks Iram were the later `Aad.

    وَثَمُودَ فَمَا أَبْقَىٰ (51)

    53|51| And Thamood, and spared (them) not.

    وَقَوْمَ نُوحٍ مِنْ قَبْلُ ۖ إِنَّهُمْ كَانُوا هُمْ أَظْلَمَ وَأَطْغَىٰ (52)

    53|52| And the folks of Nooh, earlier. Surely they, they indeed, were the most unjust and most rebellious.51

    51. They were the most unjust and rebellious of nations because Nooh (asws) stayed with them for a thousand but fifty years, but generation after generation of them rejected him. It is said that a man would walk by holding his little son’s hand and tell him, “Son, this is how my father would walk me up (telling us not to believe in Nooh).” Some scholars have said that they were so described here because they were the most unjust and most insolent of the nations after Nooh (Ibn Jarir and others).

    وَالْمُؤْتَفِكَةَ أَهْوَىٰ (53)

    53|53| And the overturned (towns): he hurled (them).52

    52. The allusion is to Loot’s towns, which Jibril scooped up high into the air and then hurled them down (Ibn Jarir, Zamakhshari, Ibn Kathir and others).

    فَغَشَّاهَا مَا غَشَّىٰ (54)

    53|54| So that, that covered them which covered.53

    53. The answer to what it was that covered is that it was stones – one over another in several layers - that covered the town after it had been smashed down (Ibn Jarir).

    فَبِأَيِّ آلَاءِ رَبِّكَ تَتَمَارَىٰ (55)

    53|55| Then which of the bounties of your Lord will you dispute?

    هَٰذَا نَذِيرٌ مِنَ النُّذُرِ الْأُولَىٰ (56)

    53|56| This is a warner, of the warners of old.54

    54. That is, the warning contained in these words is one of the warnings that were issued through the Scriptures of old: of Musa and Ibrahim (Tabari). The allusion could also be to our Prophet (Zamakhshari, Ibn Kathir).

    أَزِفَتِ الْآزِفَةُ (57)

    53|57| The ever-approaching has drawn nigh.

    لَيْسَ لَهَا مِنْ دُونِ اللَّهِ كَاشِفَةٌ (58)

    53|58| It has none, apart from Allah, as a Discloser.

    أَفَمِنْ هَٰذَا الْحَدِيثِ تَعْجَبُونَ (59)

    53|59| Do you then wonder at this discourse?

    وَتَضْحَكُونَ وَلَا تَبْكُونَ (60)

    53|60| And laugh, but weep not?

    وَأَنْتُمْ سَامِدُونَ (61)

    53|61| While you indulge in vanities!55

    55. In the Hymyatite Arabic “samad” stood for music, which could as well be the allusion to, as thought by `Ikrimah, although one or two other meanings are also possible (Ibn Jarir, Zamakhshari, Ibn Kathir).

    فَاسْجُدُوا لِلَّهِ وَاعْبُدُوا ۩ (62)

    53|62| So, prostrate yourselves before Allah and worship (Him alone).56

    56. Referring to the reports that the Makkans were present when the Prophet recited this Surah, and that when he ended with prostration, they also prostrated themselves except for a single man who lifted a bunch of pebbles and touching them to his forehead said, “This should do,” Sayyid Qutb writes that he used to wonder how the pagans present there , during that incident, could ever have prostrated themselves. But it should so happen that he and a few others were strolling at night when they heard this Surah being recited. The recitation was musical and ear-catching. He and his friends felt themselves fixed to the ground, unable to take off their ears from the beautiful words and beautiful recitation. By the end of the Surah, Sayyid felt his whole body quivering, while his mind was completely transported to the scenes that were portrayed. It was then that he realized that if this recitation, by an ordinary Muslim, had thus affected him, how could the pagan Arabs who understood the nuances and implications better, escape the effect when the reciter was no other than the Prophet himself!