Suratul Insan (al-Dahr), Mankind or The Time
This chapter was revealed in Medina and contains 31 verses
Although this chapter is short, its contents are deep, multi-faceted and comprehensive, and can be divided into five sections:
• The creation of the human being and his origin as a drop of sperm (with the egg), followed by the guidance which one has been given and the freedom of choice to do as one pleases.
• The reward given to the righteous doers - the history of revelation of this section is directly related to the Ahlul Bayt - which we will discuss in depth.
• The reasons why these righteous doers (the Ahlul Bayt ) deserve the reward which they were given, which is explained through the use of very short, yet powerful verses.
• The importance of the Qur’an and how to implement its legislations, along with the various difficulties on the path of self-reformation.
• The overall rule of the will of Allah (while at the same time attesting to the freedom of choice that mankind has).
Various names have been mentioned for this chapter, the most famous being: ‘al-Insan’ - ‘Humanity’; ‘ad-Dahr’ - ‘The Time’; and ‘Hal Ata’ - ‘Has there come’ and each of these have been extracted from the words contained in the first few verses of this chapter. However as we will soon see in regards to the merits of recitation of this chapter, in the traditions, it has only been referred to as ‘Hal Ata’.
The place of revelation for this chapter – whether it was in Medina or Mecca - is a discussion among the exegetes of the Qur’an.
The consensus of the scholars and exegetes from the Shia tradition is that the entire chapter or at least the beginning section in which the status of these righteous individuals (the Ahlul Bayt) and the actions of these noble personalities has been mentioned was revealed in Medina.
These verses form the basis of a historical event in regards to an oath made by Imam Ali , his wife Fatima Zahra , their children - Imam Hasan and Imam Husayn , and [their house-keeper] Fidhdhah, which we will mention.
In addition, it is well-known among the scholars of the Ahlus Sunnah that the revelation of these verses was in Medina, just as al-Qurtubi has mentioned:
وَ قَالَ الْجَمْهُورُ مَدِينَةَ.
The well-known opinion of the scholars (is that it was revealed in) Medina.1
The following scholars consider some or even a part of this chapter as being revealed in Medina:
1. Hakim Abul Qasim al-Haskani has narrated from Ibne Abbas in regards to the number of verses which were revealed in Mecca and Medina and has stated that this chapter was revealed in Medina after Suratul Rahman (55) and before Suratul Talaq (65).2
The author of al-Aydhhah, Ahmad al-Zahid, also narrates this opinion from Ibne Abbas.3
2. In History of the Qur’an, written by Abu Abdillah al-Zanjani, who has taken his information from Nazmul Durr wa Tanasurul Ayat was Suwar, it is mentioned that a group of prominent scholars of the Ahlus Sunnah have narrated that Suratul Insan is among those chapters which were revealed in Medina.4
3. In al-Fihrist of Ibne Nadim, it has been narrated from Ibne Abbas that chapter Hal Ata is the eleventh chapter revealed in Medina.5
4. In al-Itqan of al-Suyuti, it has been mentioned from al-Bayhaqi as seen in Dalaiilul Nubuwwat from Akramah that the chapter Hal Ata was revealed in Medina.6
5. In Durrul Manthur the same tradition (as mentioned above) has been narrated from Ibne Abbas from a different chain of narrators.7
6. al-Zamakshari, in his work, Tafsirul Kashshaf, has narrated the well-known historical event for which the initial verses of this chapter were revealed as being in regards to the vow taken by (Imam) Ali , his wife and their children.8
7. In addition to the references stated above, many other prominent scholars of the Ahlus Sunnah have also stated that the initial verses of this chapter were revealed in regards to (Imam) Ali , Fatima Zahra , Hasan and Husayn and this proves that this chapter was revealed in Medina, because both Imams Hasan and Husayn were born in Medina.
Other scholars who have stated this belief include: al-Wahidi in his work Asbabul Nuzul; al-Baghwiin Maʿlimul Tanzl; Sibt b. al-Jawzi in his work al-Tadhkirah; Ganji al-Shafi in his work Kifyatul Talib, and others.9
This opinion is so well known and acknowledged by the scholars that Muhammad b. Idris al-Shafi, one of the four Imams of the Ahlus Sunnah, composed the following (well-known) poem:
الى م الى م و حتى متى أعاتب فى حب هذا الفتى!
و هل زوجت فاطم غيره ؟ و فى غيره هل اتى هل اتى ؟!
Till when, till when, and until what time?
Shall you rebuke me for loving this chivalrous man?
Did Fatima marry any other than him?
And was Hal Ata revealed for other than him (Ali)?10
There are numerous other references in these regards which we will mention under the discussion of the verses in this chapter.
However, with all of these proofs, there are still individuals who insist that this chapter was revealed in Mecca and deny all of the traditions which speak about this chapter being revealed in Medina and that this chapter was sent down in regards to Ali, Fatima and their two children, Hasan and Husayn.
It is astounding to see that anytime a verse and Prophetic tradition ends up proclaiming the virtues of Imam Ali and the Ahlul Bayt, a group of people stand up and raise a clamor and become very sensitive – as if Islam has fallen into danger if they were to accept these traditions.
Seeing as how they claim that Imam Ali is among the ‘Rightly Guided Caliphs’ and is one of the great leaders of Islam and that they have love for the Ahlul Bayt , then in our opinion, the animosity which they have stems from the days of ruler-ship of the Umayyad empire and the negative propaganda of that era which has taken them over.
May Allah protect us all from such errors in our life.
It has been narrated from the Noble Prophet that:
مَنْ قَرَأَ سُوْرَةُ هَلْ أَتَى كَانَ جَزَاؤُهُ عَلى اللهِ جَنَّةً وَ حَرِيراً.
A person who recites chapter “Hal Ata”, his reward with Allah will be paradise and garments of silk.11
In a tradition from Imam Muhammad al-Baqir it has been stated that: “One of the rewards which will be granted to a person who recites the chapter ‘Hal Ata’ every Thursday morning is that on the Day of Resurrection, they will be alongside the Noble Prophet.”12
“ هَلْ أَتَى عَلىٰ الإِنْسَانِ حِينٌ مِنَ الدَّهْرِ لَمْ يَكُنْ شَيْئاً مَذْكُوراً ۞ إِنَّا خَلَقْنَا الإِنْسَانَ مِنْ نُطْفَةٍ أَمْشَاجٍ نَبْتَلِيهِ فَجَعَلْنَاهُ سَمِيعاً بَصِيراً ۞ إِنَّــا هَدَيْـنَاهُ السَّبِيلَ إِمَّا شَاكِراً وَإِمَّا كَفُوراً ۞ إِنَّا أَعْــتَدْنَا لِلْكَافِرِينَ سَلاَسِلاً وَأَغْلاَلاً وَسَعِيـراً “
“Has there not come over the human being a period of time when he was a thing not worth mentioning? Surely We have created the human being from a small life-germ uniting (itself): We mean to try him, so We have made him hearing, seeing. Surely We have shown him the way: he may be thankful or unthankful. Surely We have prepared for the unbelievers chains and shackles and a burning fire.”
We transformed a worthless drop of sperm into a human being and then gave them the tools of guidance.
Although most of the discussions in this chapter of the Qurʾan revolve around the Day of Resurrection and the blessings contained in paradise, the beginning of the chapter focuses on the creation of a human being because if we pay close attention to the creation (of the human being), then we will be able to focus closely on the Resurrection (just as discussed in the exegesis of Suratul Qiyamat).
In the first verse we read:
Has there not come over man a period of time when he was a thing not worth mentioning?13
The atoms which make up a person’s physical body were spread over various parts of the earth within the drops of water in the rivers and the air that blew over the earth. The primary matters used in the creation (of the first human being) were spread over these vast regions and in reality; mankind was lost among them and was not even worth mentioning.
Is the meaning of ‘human being’ in this verse, a specific person, or is it reference to humanity in general? Is it a specific reference to Adam ? The verse which follows tells us that the ‘human being’ has been created from a drop of sperm and thus this is a clear indication that the correct answer is that the ‘human being’ in this verse refers to humanity in general.
However, some scholars believe that the reference to the ‘human being’ in the first verse is that of Adam while in the second verse, it refers to the offspring of Adam , however it is highly improbable for this meaning to exist given that these two verses come one after another.
In regards to the exegesis of the sentence
‘لـَمْ يَكُنْ شَيْئاً مَذْكُوراً’ –
‘he was not even a thing worth mentioning’, numerous opinions are cited.
One belief states that when a person was just a mere drop of sperm and after that, a fetus, he was a thing not spoken about. However after traversing through various stages in the womb resulting in his physical completion, he then became something which was spoken about and mentioned.
Imam Muhammad al-Baqir has said: “A person is, in the knowledge of Allah, something aforementioned, however in the world of the creation, he was not spoken about.”14
In some commentaries of the Qurʾan it is mentioned that the meaning of the ‘human being’ in this verse is the scholars who, before gaining their knowledge, are not worthy of being mentioned, however after attaining knowledge, they are remembered – either during their lifetime or after their death.
Other scholars have stated that when ʿUmar b. al-Khattab heard this verse being recited by someone, he said: “O’ how I wish Adam had remained aforementioned and had never been brought into creation and his sons would never have been tested.”15
It is astonishing to hear such a comment as in reality, such a complaint is actually an attack on the creation of humanity (and an attack on the Creator).
After the stage of creation of mankind and him becoming something worthy of mentioning, we read:
Surely We have created man from a small life-germ uniting (itself): We mean to try him, so We have made him hearing, seeing.
The word ‘أَمْشَاجٍ’ - ‘small life-germ’ is the plural of ‘مشج’ or it may be the plural of ‘مشيج’ and it means ‘something mixed’.16
The creation of the human being is from a mixed sperm (this may refer to the uniting of the man’s sperm with the woman’s egg) - just as has been mentioned in the traditions of the Ahlul Bayt in which this process has been discussed in general terms.
This verse may also refer to the various traits and characteristics which are present in the sperm such as its genetic inheritance from the genes which it carries and other such things. It may also relate to the mixture of various things which makes up the sperm as there are numerous substances in each drop of sperm.
It may also refer to a combination of all of these things - and this last meaning is more comprehensive and appropriate to accept as the interpretation of this word. A final possibility exists which states that the word ‘أمشاج’ refers to the course of movement of the sperm inside of the womb.
The phrase, ‘نَبْتَلِيهِ’ - ‘We wish to test him’ refers to this new creation reaching the stage of a human being with a responsibility upon himself, many duties to fulfill, and a test to undergo (from Allah ). This is one of the greatest bounties of Allah in that a person has been given this great status and has been found worthy of having a responsibility and duty to perform (towards Him).
Since it is not possible to fulfill a responsibility and be thoroughly tested without having an awareness (about what the test is in regards to), in the last verse of the section under review, some of the ways which can be used to recognize this test, such as the power of sight and hearing which the human being has at his disposal, have been mentioned.
Exegetes of the Qur’an have stated that the meaning of ‘testing’, as seen in this verse, are the changes which a fetus goes through from its beginning as a drop of sperm until it becomes a fully developed human being. However by keeping in mind the use of the phrase ‘نَبْتَلِيهِ’ - ‘We wish to test him’ and also the term ‘إنسان’ - ‘human being’ which has been used, the first exegesis given is the most appropriate one.
Thus, from the wordings of this verse we come to understand that the source of all realizations which a person benefits from are his senses.
In other words, the awareness which comes about through the (five) senses is the root through which everything is understood, and this is the opinion of a majority of the Muslim philosophers and also the opinion of the Greek philosophers, one being Aristotle.
Seeing as how the responsibility which a person has on his shoulders and the test which one is put through requires one to possess knowledge and awareness (to be able to take the examination) and that one also requires the tools to develop this knowledge, a person requires two other things – guidance and the freedom of choice. Therefore, in the next verse under review it has been mentioned that:
Surely We have guided him to the way: he may be thankful or unthankful.17
The phrase ‘هَدَيْنَاهُ’ or ‘We have guided him’ which is used in this verse has a very broad meaning and includes the ontological guidance, the primordial guidance, and also the legislational guidance, even though in the context of this verse, it may only refer to the legislational form of guidance.
An explanation of this form of guidance (noted above) is: Seeing as how Allah has created mankind to test him and for him to reach perfection, the introductory steps to reach this ultimate goal have also been created within him and the necessary power (to complete this test) have also been granted to him - this is referred to as ontological guidance.
Following this stage, we see that deep within a person’s primordial nature, Allah has placed the love for traversing the path (towards Him) and through the natural inspirations given to him, this path has also been shown.
It is through this primordial guidance given to each and every human being that one makes his way to yet another path which is the divinely sent leaders and great prophets – those who have been granted the Divine teachings and clear rules and regulations to show everyone the path towards the legislational guidance. Indeed, these three forms of guidance are universal and are for the benefit of all of humanity.
In summary, this verse points to three very important and determining issues in every person’s life:
• Freedom of choice.
In addition, each of these has a correlative and also complements one another. In addition, the verse which reads:
Surely We have shown him the way: he may be thankful or unthankful
invalidates the beliefs of compulsion or coercion in one’s actions.
The use of the words ‘شَاكِراً’ - ‘thankful’ and ‘كَفُوراً’ - ‘unthankful’ are the most appropriate words which can be used in this instance because in the face of the Divine blessing which is guidance (to the path), a person who has been receptive and submissive and has chosen the path of guidance will naturally be thankful for this great blessing. However those who go against guidance are truly unthankful for what they have been granted!
Since not a single person’s hands or tongue can truly thank Allah as He deserves (to be thanked), the thanking (شَاكِراً) Allah has been mentioned as the active participle; whereas for the ungratefulness the word meaning extremely ungrateful (كَافُورً) has been used in the exaggerative form.
This is because those who ignore this great bounty of Allah (guidance) have committed the highest degree of ungratefulness since Allah has provided them with all of the various tools of guidance, and thus it would be very ungrateful to ignore the bounty of guidance and take the wrong path (in life).
In addition, it must be noted that ‘كَفُورٌ’ - ‘unthankful’ is a word used both in the meaning of the ‘denial of bounties’, and also in relation to ‘disbelief’ in regards to the theological issues, just as Raghib has mentioned in his work, al-Mufradat.
In the last verse under review in this section, there is a brief, yet meaningful allusion to the eventual outcome of those who choose to take the path of disbelief and ingratitude:
Surely We have prepared for the unbelievers chains and shackles and a burning fire.
The use of the word ‘أَعْتَدْنَا’ - ‘We have prepared’ is yet another emphasis on the fact that the punishment is something which will definitely overcome a specific group of people (the disbelievers and unthankful people).
It is true that one reason a person may prepare something beforehand (which he may not use for some time) is that he fears that later on, he may be faced with a situation of limited ability (to perform that task) and that when he is in need of that thing, he will not be able to do it.
However this definition has no meaning in regards to Allah since whatever He wishes to do, He merely needs to give the order of ‘كُنْ’ - ‘be’ and it is immediately enacted. At the same time, in order to categorically state that this punishment will engulf the disbelievers, it is stated that the tools needed to punish them are already in existence.
The word ‘سَلاَسِلَ’ - ‘chains’ is the plural of ‘سلسلة’, while the word ‘أَغْلاَلٌ’ - ‘shackles’ is the plural of ‘غلّ’ and means a loop or something spiral in shape which is placed around the neck or hands of a person (like handcuffs) and then this thing is tied with chains.18
The purpose of mentioning the words ‘shackles’ and ‘chains’ and the burning flames of fire is to explain the great punishment which will be given to these people. This has also been mentioned in other verses of the Qurʾan in which the words ‘عَذَابٌ’ - ‘punishment’ and ‘أسارت’ - ‘captivity’ are mentioned in the plural.
These people’s freedom in regards to their desires of the transient world will lead to their captivity in the next world. It is the fire of this world which they paid no attention to which will manifest itself in the next world and engulf them.
We know that a human fetus comes into existence by the union of the man’s sperm with the woman’s egg. The creation of the fetus, its composition and then the various stages which the embryo goes through is one of the most amazing realities and wonders of the great world of creation which we are in.
With all of the advancements in the science of embryology, many curtains of the mysteries of this world have been lifted, however many mysteries still remain hidden. Some of the amazing facts which we allude to make up only a small part of this entire process of life.
1. The sperm which a man ejaculates is a living, moving, microscopic organism which has a head, neck and moving tail. It is interesting to note that with every ejaculation, anywhere from 200 to 500,000,000 sperms are released – a number which equals the population of many countries combined! However from this uncountable number, only one or a few actually enter the woman and are able to fertilize an egg.
The reason why such a sheer number of sperm come out is due to the fact that as the sperms travel to reach towards the egg and seek to join it, many of them end up dying, and if this large number of sperm did not come out at the time of ejaculation, then it would have been difficult for an egg to ever be fertilized.
2. The womb, before the period of pregnancy, is the size of a walnut, however after the egg is fertilized and the fetus begins to grow, it becomes so large that it ends up taking up a large portion inside of the women. It is amazing to see that the walls of the womb are so flexible that even with such a heavy weight inside of it, it still is able to have such resilience.
3. The blood which lines the woman’s womb is not in her blood veins, rather, it is moving in-between the various organs, as if this blood was in the veins, then undoubtedly, with the strong force (of the growing fetus) pushing up against the walls of the women, it could easily break.
4. Some scholars believe that the egg of the woman contains positive electricity while the sperm has negative electricity within it and it is for this reason they are attracted to one another. When the sperm reaches the egg, it releases an electrical charge and thus the countless sperms which are around the one (which entered into the egg) are expelled from that area.
Other scholars have stated that when the sperm enters the egg, a chemical substance is excreted which forces the other sperms to flee.
5. The fetus lies within a large sack submerged in a thick, dark liquid called the amniotic fluid. This sack is insulating the fetus against the rapid movements of the mother or any hits on the abdomen of the mother. Moreover, it keeps the fetus consistently warm such that the change of the outside temperature does not impact the temperature of the fetus.
Most interestingly is that this large sack and the amniotic fluid puts the fetus into a weight-less environment and prevents the different parts of the fetus from exerting pressure on itself which may cause damage to the fetus.
6. The food of the fetus comes from the placenta through the umbilical cord – meaning that the blood which flows through the mother contains the food and oxygen (needed by the fetus) and this enters into the placenta and then after going through another purification, enter into the heart of the fetus through the umbilical cord and from there, that which the fetus needs is distributed throughout its entire body.
It is interesting to note that the left and right side of the heart of the fetus are connected to one another since the filtration which is normally carried out by the lungs is not an issue (for the fetus) because the fetus does not breathe. However upon birth, the chest cavity of the child separates and the lungs begin to work and help the child to breathe.19
“ إِنَّ الأَبْرَارَ يَشْرَبُونَ مِنْ كَأْسٍ كَانَ مِزَاجُهَا كَافُوراً ۞ عَيْناً يَشْرَبُ بِهَا عِبَادُ اللهِ يُفَـجِّرُونَهَا تَفْجِيراً ۞ يُوفُـونَ بِالنَّذْرِ وَيَخَافُونَ يَوْماً كَانَ شَرُّهُ مُسْـتَطِيـراً ۞ وَيُطْعِمُونَ الطَّعَامَ عَلىٰ حُبِّهِ مِسْكِيناً وَيَتِيماً وَأَسِيراً ۞ إِنَّمَا نُطْعِمُكُمْ لِوَجْهِ اللهِ لاَ نُرِيدُ مِنْكُمْ جَزَاءً وَلاَ شُكُوراً ۞ إِنَّا نَخَافُ مِنْ رَبِّنَا يَوْماً عَبُوساً قَمْطَرِيراً ۞ فَوَقَاهُمُ اللهُ شَرَّ ذٰلِكَ الْيَوْمِ وَلَقَّاهُمْ نَضْرَةً وَسُرُوراً “
“Surely the righteous shall drink from a cup the admixture of which is camphor. A fountain from which the servants of Allah shall drink; they make it to flow a (goodly) flowing forth. They fulfill vows and fear a day the evil of which shall be spreading far and wide. And they give food out of love for Him to the poor and the orphan and the captive. We only feed you for Allah‘s sake; we desire from you neither reward nor thanks. Surely we fear from our Lord a stern, distressful day. Therefore Allah will guard them from the evil of that day and cause them to meet with ease and happiness.”
Ibne Abbas has narrated:
“Both Hasan and Husayn were sick when the Prophet, along with a group of his companions came to see how they were doing.
The Prophet said to Imam ʿ’Ali: ‘O’ Abul Hasan! It would be good if you took an oath (to Allah) for your children to be cured from their sickness.’
Thus, Imam Ali and Fatima, and their female-servant, Fidhdhah, made an oath to Allah that if the children recovered, then they would fast for three days (according to some traditions, Hasan and Husayn also took part in the oath that they too would fast for three days).
A short time elapsed and both of them were cured from their sickness.
Even though they had very little food in the house, Imam Ali still divided the barely he had at home into three portions and his wife, Fatima took one-third of this and ground it into flour and baked bread with it.
At the time of breaking the fast, a beggar came to the door of their house and said: ‘Peace be upon you, O’ family of Muhammad! I am a poor person from among the poor Muslims. Please give me some food - may Allah bless you with food from paradise!’
All of the members of the house placed this poor person’s needs ahead of their own and each of them gave their portion of bread to the poor man and that evening, they all broke their fast with only water.
On the second day, they also kept a fast and at the time of breaking the fast with the food which had been prepared (barley bread), an orphan came to the door and just like the previous day, they gave the orphan whatever they had. Again, they broke their fast with only water and prepared to begin the third day of fasting.
On the third day, a war-captive came to their house at sunset, asking for food and once again, this family gave away all of the food which they had!
When the morning of the fourth day rose, Imam Ali took Hasan and Husayn by the hand and went to see the Prophet. When the Prophet set eyes upon them, he saw them trembling due to their intense hunger! He immediately said to them: ‘It is very troubling for me to see you in such a state!’
The Prophet got up and accompanied them to the house of Fatima and saw her standing in the prayer niche. She too was suffering the pangs of hunger which were evident from her frail body and the heavy inset of her eyes. Witnessing this heart-breaking sight, the Prophet became extremely grieved.
Immediately at this point, the Angel Gabriel came down and said: ‘O Muhammad! Take this chapter (of the Qur’an) Allah sends his salutations upon such a family.’
The Prophet then recited the chapter which was revealed to him, “chapter Hal Ata” (according to some scholars the Prophet recited from
“…surely the righteous…” until “…surely your endeavors shall be thanked…”
which makes up eighteen verses which were revealed to him.
The incident narrated above is a summarized version of the tradition as mentioned in al-Ghadir.
This narration is very similar to numerous other traditions found in other books which have been stated in regards to this event. In al-Ghadir, there are traditions from 34 well-known scholars of the Ahlus Sunnah who have narrated this tradition in their books (the author of al-Ghadir has also mentioned the names of these books and the pages on which this information can be found).
Thus, the tradition quoted above is very well known among the scholars of the Ahlus Sunnah. Rather, it is a considered as a consecutively narrated tradition (mutawatir).20
The Shia scholars are unanimous that these eighteen verses, or rather the entire chapter, was revealed in regards to the noted event and all of them, without exception have stated in the books of exegesis and traditions that the narrations in regards to this event constitute one of the important distinctions and virtues of Imam Ali , Fatima Zahra, and their two sons.
In addition, just as we mentioned in the beginning of this chapter, this event is so well known and acknowledged that even in the poems which have been written (by both the Shia and the Ahlus Sunnah), such as the well-known poem of Imam al-Shafi, this event has been mentioned!
At this point, let us review some of the excuses which are brought up every time the merits and greatness of Imam Ali are brought forth by those who show an extreme sense of resentment to him.
Argument 1: They say that this chapter was revealed in Mecca, whereas the particular historical event clearly shows us that this chapter was revealed in regards to something which took place after the birth of Imam Hasan and Imam Husayn which no doubt took place in Medina.
Reply: As we touched on in brief at the beginning of this chapter, we have clear proofs in hand which show that the entire content of chapter Hal Ata or at least the eighteen verses mentioned previously were revealed in Medina.
Argument 2: The wordings of the verses are of a general nature, thus how can we apply them to specific individuals?
Reply: It goes without saying that simply having verses which are of a general nature does not go against the principle that they may be revealed for specific individuals.
There are many verses of the Qur’an which have a very general and comprehensive meaning; however the history of revelation shows us that they have a specific interpretation. It is amazing to see that some people can take a general understanding of a verse to negate the history of revelation of that specific verse!
Argument 3: Some individuals have stated that there are other reasons for revelation of this chapter and its verses and these reasons are not in line with what has been stated.
Some of these people include the likes of al-Suyuti in his work, Durr al-Manthur, who has narrated that an African man came to the Prophet and asked him about the glorification and praise of Allah . Umar stood up and told the man: “You have asked the Messenger of Allah enough questions!” To this, the Prophet replied: “Be quiet ʿUmar!” It was at this time that the chapter of Hal Ata was sent down to the Prophet! 21
In another tradition mentioned in Durr al-Manthur, it has been stated that a man from Ethiopia came to the Messenger of Allah and wanted to ask him a question.
The Prophet told him to go ahead and ask him and to wait for his reply.
The man asked: “O Messenger of Allah! A group of you (Muslims), from the point of view of your skin color, facial characteristics and status, have a greater rank than we do.
If I too bring about true faith in what you all believe and I too act in the same that you act (in regards to my righteous deeds), will I be in paradise with you?” The Prophet replied: “Yes. I swear by that One who holds my life in His hands that the trail of (spiritual) light of the black skinned people will be seen in paradise for the span of 1,000 years.”
At this point, the Prophet went on to explain the great reward given to a person who says: “There is no entity worthy of worship except for Allah and Glory and Praise be to Allah” and it was at this time that chapter Hal Ata was revealed.22
Reply: Keeping in mind that these traditions have close to no relationship to the contents of chapter Hal Ata, in our opinion it seems that such traditions were fabricated by the Umayyad Dynasty or others in order to crush the true history of revelation of this chapter!
Argument 4: Another excuse may be given in regards to the history of revelation of this chapter and one may ask how is it possible for a person to go three days without food and to break his fast with merely a glass of water!?
Reply: This is one of the most ridiculous criticisms that can be brought up in regards to this chapter as we ourselves have seen many people in our lifetime who, in order to be cured of a specific sickness, have been instructed by their doctor to fast for not only three days which is very easy, rather, they have fasted for a period of forty days in which they only drink water and completely abstain from food! It is through such a medically sanctioned program that they have been able to ward off many illnesses!
In addition, a well-known non-Muslim doctor named Alexi Soforin has written a book in regards to the medicinal benefits of such a fast and has even mentioned a very precise program to follow in this regard.23
As a point of interest, some of the scholars who have worked on Tafsir Namuna (the exegesis you are currently reading) have tried this form of fasting and have survived with drinking only water for 22 days straight!
Argument 5: There are others who, in order to pass off the greatness (of the family of the Prophet) that is seen in this chapter, have taken another route and have stated other things such as the following:
One example is what a scholar of the Ahlus Sunnah, al-Alusi, has written: “If we say that this chapter was not revealed in regards to Imam Ali and Fatima, then this does not remove anything from their worth and status since them being referred to as “أبرار” or ‘righteous individuals’ (in other narrations) is well-known to everyone.”
He then goes on to list some of their virtues and states: “What can anyone say in regards to these two individuals except that Imam Ali is the master of all the true believers and the wasi (executor) of the will of the Prophet and Fatima is a part of the body of the Messenger of Allah and is considered as a share-holder of the essence in Muhammadi Hasanayn are the spirit and essence and the leaders of the youths of paradise!?
However what we have just stated does not mean that we renounce others (around the Prophet) rather we state that anyone who does not follow their path is indeed misguided.”24
However we state that if such a great worth and honor which is so well-known (throughout the Islamic texts) is neglected and passed over, then slowly other virtues would also meet the same fate and a day will come when some of the main virtues of Imam Ali, the leader of the women of the world - Fatima Zahra, and Hasanayn will also be denied!
It must be noted that in some traditions which have been narrated from Imam Ali himself, he used these verses in various debates with his opponents to show the status of his two sons and himself.25
It is important to mention that an ‘أسير’ or ‘war captive’ was a term normally used in Medina since in Mecca, due to the fact that no Islamically permitted wars had taken place, this term was not used much (if even at all) and this is another proof of this chapter being revealed in Medina.
The final point which we must mention is that according to the opinion of a group of scholars, such as al-Alusi, the well-known commentator of the Ahlus Sunnah, a majority of the pleasures and bounties of paradise have been mentioned in this chapter, with the exception of the Hurul Ayn which in the Noble Qur’an are most often considered as one of the pleasures of paradise.
However in this chapter, there is absolutely no mention of them! It is possible that this may be due to the fact that this chapter was revealed in regards to Fatima Zahra, her husband and their two sons and due to the respect being shown to this great lady of Islam, there is no mention about them (meaning the Hurul Ayn)!26
Our discussion in regards to the history of revelation of this section was long, however we had no choice but to explain this issue in detail given the unfair accusations which have been leveled in regards to its revelation.
In the previous verses, after mankind was divided into two categories - ‘the thankful’ - ‘شَكُورٌ’ and ‘the ungrateful’ - ‘كَفُورٌ’; also known as ‘those who express gratitude for what they are given’ and ‘those who are not in the least appreciative of the bounties they have been given’, we were given a short glimpse of the painful punishment which has been prepared for the ungrateful.
However the verses under review also explain the rewards of the thankful and righteous (good doers and spiritually purified) and indeed, some very interesting points are mentioned.
We first read: Surely the righteous shall drink from a cup the admixture of which is camphor.
The word ‘أَبْرَارَ’ - ‘righteous’ is the plural of ‘بَرِّ’ and its original meaning is ‘something very wide,’ and it is for this reason that a wide and open expanse of desert is known as ‘بَر’ (with a ‘fatha’ on the first letter). Due to the fact that a person’s righteous actions have a wide reaching outcome within society, it is for this reason that this word has come to be used for such an individual.
However the word ‘بِرِّ’ (with a ‘kasrah’ on the first letter) refers to a person who does good. Some scholars have stated that the difference between ‘بر’ - ‘righteous’ and ‘خير’ - ‘goodness’ is that ‘بر’ refers to an act of goodness which is done with complete understanding, while ‘خير’ is a general word of any act of goodness (done without any understanding of its merits).
The word ‘كَفُورٌ’ or ‘ungrateful’ has many meanings from the lexical point of view and the most well-known one is a ‘good smelling thing’ such as sweet smelling plants. Another meaning of this word is camphor which has a very strong and powerful smell and is used by medical professionals as a disinfectant.
The above mentioned verse shows us that this pure drink of paradise will be something which has a strong aroma and is not something that only the taste-buds will experience, but even the smell will reach the (smelling) glands!
Some exegetes of the Qur’an have stated that ‘كَفُورٌ’ ‘ or ‘camphor’ in this verse is the name of a spring of paradise, however this interpretation does not fit with the reading of the verse:
…the admixture of which is camphor.
Since the word ‘كَفُورٌ’ ‘ comes from the root ‘كَفَرَ’ which means ‘to cover something’, some scholars of the ʿArabic language, such as al-Raghib in al-Mufradat, believe that this word was chosen for ‘camphor’ because the part of the tree from which this substance is extracted is hidden from one’s sight –under the bark of the tree.
Other scholars have stated that the word ‘كَافُورٌ’ or ‘camphor’ refers to an extremely white and cool substance because usually camphor brings coolness to the one who uses it and its extreme whiteness is something which is often times used in similitudes.
Keeping in mind what we have stated, the first exegesis given is the correct one, especially since sometimes in the Islamic texts; the word camphor has been used alongside musk and amber which are some of the best forms of perfume.
Yes indeed, the source of the pure drink which will be placed at the disposal of the righteous individuals and servants of Allah will be done in such a way that wherever they are and (whenever they) wish to drink from it, it will be ready for them! In regards to the starting place and spring of this drink, Imam Muhammad al-Baqir has stated:
هِيَ عَيْنٌ فِي دَارِ النَّبِــيِّ تُفَجِّرُ إِلـٰى دَوْرِ الأَنْبِيَاءِ وَ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ.
This is a spring which runs from the house of the Prophet and goes through the houses of all of the other prophets and the true believers.29
Just like in the life of this world in which the sources of knowledge and mercy flow from the house of the Noble Prophet towards the servants of Allah and the righteous doers, in the next life, which will be a greater manifestation of this similitude, the well of this pure drink of the Divine will also flow from the house of revelation, and the streams from this well will flow into the houses of the true believers!
The word ‘يُفَجِرُّونَ’ - ‘flowing forth’ comes from ‘تفجير’ and the original root letters of this word are ‘فَجَرَ’ which means to ‘split something large whether this be the splitting of the ground or something else. Since the morning light breaks open the curtains of the night, the morning time is referred to as ‘فجر’ ‘fajr’.
In addition, a person who is an open sinner and transgressor is referred to as a ‘فَاجِرٌ’ – ‘fajir’ since he rips open the veils of modesty and spiritual purity and has chosen to leave the path of the truth. However, in the verse under review, the meaning of this word is the ‘splitting of the ground’.
It should be noted that among all of the bounties of paradise which have been mentioned in this chapter, the first one is that of a pure and aromatic drink.
This may be due to the fact that after completing the accounting for one’s deeds on the Plain of Mahshar (the area in which all of humanity will gather for their deeds to be accounted for), the person will step into paradise and drink from this elixir which will remove all grief and sorrow! From here, with a presence that is completely (spiritually) intoxicated with the love of Allah , one will then be able to partake in the other Divine gifts that are waiting for one in paradise.
After discussing the actions and characteristics of the righteous people and the servants of Allah , we are then given five reasons why these people deserve all of these incomparable bounties.
We first read: They fulfill the vows and fear a day the evil of which will be spreading far and wide.
The words, ‘يُوفُونَ’ ‘they fulfill’ and ‘يَخَافُونَ’ ‘they fear’ and all of the sentences which come after this are all in the present/future verbal form tense and this shows that this is a life-time program which is perpetual.
However, like it was stated in the history of revelation of these verses, the true and perfect manifestation of these events is Imam Ali , Fatima Zahra and their two sons, Hasan and Husayn who fulfilled the oath that they had made and fasted for three consecutive days, breaking their fast with a mere glass of water! It was through this act that their hearts more so became filled with the awe of Allah and the anxiety over the Day of Judgment.
The word ‘مُسْتَطِيرَ’ means ‘expansive’ and ‘far-flung’ and points to the various forms of punishment that will take place on that grand day.
When these individuals fulfill the vows which they have made obligatory upon themselves, they have lived up to and given the rights to the obligatory acts of the Divine in the most perfect way, as they struggle to ensure the performance of such vows.
The fear of these people for the evil of that great day is a reference to their faith in the Day of Resurrection and their feelings of an intense responsibility which lies on their shoulders in regards to the fulfillment of the commandments of Allah(s)
These individuals have a strong belief in the Resurrection and have complete faith in all forms of punishment for the evil doers and this is reflected in their actions.
At this point, the third righteous deed is mentioned: And they give food out of love for Him to the poor and the orphan and the captive.
It is not an easy task to feed these sorts of people, rather it takes self-sacrifice to perform this act when one himself is in a state of desperate need. From another point of view, the food is being fed to people of various backgrounds (thus, one needs to be able to tolerate such people) - the poor, an orphan and a war captive. Thus, the mercy which they (the members of the Ahlul Bayt ) have for others is universal and their assistance and support includes everyone.
The pronoun in the phrase ‘عَلـى حُبِّهِ’ returns back to ‘food’ meaning that even though they had a love and longing for the food (due to their fasting), they still gave it up for the love of Allah .
This is the same thing which can be seen in verse 92 of Chapter Ale Imran (3) that states:
لَنْ تَنَالُوا الْبِرَّ حَتَّى تُنْفِقُوا مِمَّا تُحِبُّونَ}
You shall never attain righteousness until you spend out of that which you love.
Other scholars have stated that the pronoun in the phrase ‘عَلـى حُبِّهِ’ returns back to Allah which was mentioned in the previous verse, and so in this scenario, the verse would mean: “They give their food to the poor, orphan and war captive only for the love and sake of Allah.” However keeping in mind that this comes up in the next verse, the first opinion given is the correct one in our estimation.
The meaning of ‘مِسْكِينَ’ ‘poor person’, ‘يَتِــيمَ’ ‘orphan’ and ‘أَسِيرَ’ ‘war captive’ are clear terms, however what is the detailed meaning of the term ‘war captive’ who does this allude to and what sort of a war captive was this? This is a point of discussion among the exegetes of the Qur’an.
Many exegetes have stated that the ‘war captive’ could have been from the polytheists or disbelievers who came to seek assistance under the protection of the Islamic government in Medina. Other scholars have stated that the meaning of ‘war captive’ in this verse is a slave who was owned by a person and was in need of help.
Yet other scholars have stated that the meaning of ‘war captive’ was a prisoner. However the first interpretation is the most appropriate and accepted one.
At this point, another question arises: According to the history of revelation of this verse, a war captive came to the house of Imam Ali at the time of breaking the fast; but shouldn’t war captives have been held in a prison cell?
The answer to this question will become clear by keeping in mind the following point:
According to the historical narrations, during the time of the Prophet, there were absolutely no prisoners of war. It was the Prophet himself who would distribute the prisoners to other Muslims for them to maintain and look after.
The Prophet told the Muslims that they must watch over these people and treat them with kindness. Sometimes it so happened that the Muslims did not have the ability to feed themselves, let alone their prisoners, and thus they would seek assistance from other Muslims to help feed them.
Often times, these prisoners would go along with the Muslims who were guarding them and at other times, they would be instructed to go out on their own to other Muslims to seek food and assistance. As we know, at that time in history, the Muslims were under numerous pressures and difficulties and thus, food and other necessities were very scarce.
Of course, after some time when the Islamic government spread and established itself, the number of prisoners also increased and the number of criminals was also on the increase throughout the Islamic lands. It was at this time that ‘formal prisons’ took shape and the feeding and taking care of these prisoners was then carried out through the public treasury of the government.30
Therefore, from the above mentioned verse we clearly deduce that one of the best actions is to feed the needy and destitute – not only the needy Muslims who are held captive in jails in non-Islamic countries; but in addition, even the non-Muslims fall under this Islamic ruling. We see that feeding one such individual is considered as one of the greatest acts of the righteous individuals!
In a tradition from the Messenger of Allah we read that:
إِسْتَوْصُوا بِالأَسْرىٰ خَيْراً وَ كَانَ أَحَدُهُمْ يُؤْثِرُ أَسِيرَهُ بِطَعَامِهِ.
Deal with the prisoners in the best of ways and prefer them (the prisoners) over your own selves by even giving them your food.31
The fourth noble action of these righteous individuals was their true sincerity; because they said:
We feed you only for Allah‘s sake; we desire from you neither reward nor thanks.
This program of life is not limited to merely feeding others, rather it is one in which all of the deeds of a person are done with purity of heart and solely for the sake of Allah, in which there is not even the slightest hope of receiving a reward from the people rather, they do not even ask for praise or thanks!
Principally, we see that in Islam, the worth of an act is based on the sincerity of the intention (behind the act), and if any action is performed with an intention of being for other than Allah , whether it is for showing off, for one’s own lower self or ego, for the praise and thanks from people, or for a material reward (in this life), then such an action will have absolutely no spiritual or Divine reward.
In a famous tradition from the Noble Prophet of Islam we read:
لاَ عَمَلٌ إِلاَّ بِالنِّيَّةِ وَ إِنَّمَا الأَعْمَالُ بِالنِّيَّاتِ.
There is no action (accepted) except with an intention (attached to it) and surely all actions are based on their intentions.
The meaning of the phrase ‘وجه الله’ or the ‘face of Allah‘ is the sacred essence of Allah , since Allah does not have a physical face and this has also been emphasized in other verses of the Qur’an, such as Suratul Baqarah (2), verse 272:
وَ مَا تُنْفِقُونَ إِلاَّ ابْتِغَاءَ وَجْهُ اللهِ
…and you do not spend but to seek Allah‘s pleasure…
In addition, in Suratul Kahf (18), verse 28, when describing the righteous companions of the Prophet we read that:
وَ اصْبِرْ نَفْسَكَ مَعَ الَّذِينَ يَدْعُونَ رَبَّهُمْ بِالْغَدَاةِ وَ الْعَشِيِّ يُرِيدُونَ وَجْهَهُ
And withhold yourself with those who call on their Lord Morning and evening desiring His goodwill…
In the final verse which describes the actions of these righteous individuals we read:
Surely we fear from our Lord a stern, distressful day.
It is possible that these words were not verbally spoken but rather, through their demeanor and actions, were understood, and it is also possible that it may be that these individuals actually verbally uttered such statements.
It should be noted that the word ‘عَبُوسَ’ “stern and distressful” has been used for the Day of Resurrection, however this word is usually used only as a characteristic for a human being and refers to a person who is rude and crass.
However in this verse, we see it used for a non-living being and this is because it is an emphasis on the fearful state of that Day. By this we mean that the Day of Resurrection will be so difficult and frightful that not only will mankind be in a state of distress, but rather, even that day itself will be one of distress! Furthermore, it can be stated that the day itself will feel distress, just like a human is scared!
What is the meaning of the word ‘قَمْطَرِيرَ’ and from what root word does this originate? The exegetes of the Qur’an and the scholars of the Arabic language have discussed this issue at length. Some scholar’s state that this word comes from ‘قمطر’, while others have stated that it is derived from ‘قطر’ and the ‘م’ has been added to it. However the most prominent opinion is the first one given, and thus this word mean ‘a great sense of distress and fright’.32
At this point, a question may come up that: If the righteous people are working solely for the sake of Allah , then why should they say that they are fearful of the punishment of that Day? Is the motivation of working for Allah conducive to working due to the fear of the punishment of the Resurrection!?
If we keep in mind the following point, then the answer to this question will become clear to us:
Even though these people are working solely for Allah, but if they fear the punishment of the next life then this is due to the fact that this is a punishment from Allah; if they have an affinity to the pleasures of paradise then they do so because these blessings and pleasures stem from Him as well.
This is the same thing which is mentioned in the books of jurisprudence in the section on intention of the acts of worship where we read: “Having the intention of closeness to Allah in our actions of worship does not go against the motivation of the attraction for the reward, or the fear for the punishment, or even the granting of Divine material gifts while in this transient world from Allah (such as a person performing the special salat for rain salatul istisqa) since all of these things return back to Allah.
In addition, this is something which is referred to as a “motivation for a motivation” even though the highest stage of worship is one in which there is no motivation of an action due to desire for the pleasures of paradise or the fear of the punishment of the hell-fire rather, everything is done under the guise of love of Allah.”
In addition, the phrase: We fear from our Lord a stern, distressful day also alludes to the fact that this fear is also a fear of Allah.
A point which is interesting to note is that the second and fifth characteristics are both in regards to fear with the difference that in the first scenario, there is only talk about the fear of the Day of Resurrection, while in the second instance; there is mention about the fear of Allah on the Day of Resurrection.
In one verse, the Day of Resurrection has been presented such that the fear of that day will be widespread, while in another instance (in the fifth characteristic), there is talk about the fright and extreme terror, which in reality, shows the vastness of that day and the vastness of the punishments and fears as well.
In the last verse under review, we reach the general conclusion of the righteous actions and pure intentions which these noble individuals had and are told:
Therefore Allah will guard them from the evil of that day and cause them to meet with ease and happiness.
The word ‘نَظْرَةٌ’ ‘ease’ actually means vivacity, opulence and a particular form of succulence which will come about due to the superabundance of blessings and pleasures given to a person. The look of tranquility and inner peace and happiness on the faces of these individuals will be apparent for everyone to see! Thus, if while in the transient world, these individuals felt a sense of responsibility in regards to that fearful day, then in exchange, Allah will drown them in delight and pleasures on that day.
The use of the word ‘لَقَاهُمْ’ ‘shall cause them to meet’ is one of the most interesting terms used which shows that Allah will welcome His guests with a special form of kindness and will drown them in pleasures and happiness in the shadow of His mercy.
Not only in the verses under discussion is the topic of feeding people considered as one of the noble deeds for the righteous and true servants of Allah, rather this has also been emphasized in many other verses of the Qur’an and it shows that Allah has a special affinity with this action.
When we look at the world today and examine the published news reports, we read that every year millions of people die from hunger - whereas in other parts of the world, there is such an excess of food, that they end up throwing away so much that one cannot even begin to calculate how much is wasted! When we weigh the importance of this Islamic commandment and look at the state of the world in which we are living, we see the worth of the noble ethical teachings of Islam.
There is also great emphasis in the Islamic narrations on this act which we can better understand in the light of the following traditions:
1. The Noble Prophet has stated that:
مَنْ أَطْعَمَ ثَلاَثَةَ نَفَرً مِنَ الْمُسْلِمِينَ أَطْعَمَهُ اللهُ مِنْ ثَلاَث ِجَنَانِ فِي مَلَكُوتِ السَّمٰوَاتِ.
A person who feeds three Muslims will be fed by Allah from the food of three gardens of paradise in the celestial heavens.33
2. Imam Jaʿfar as-Sadiq has said:
مَنْ أَطْعَمَ مُؤْمِناً حَتَّى يَشْبَعَهُ لَمْ يَدْرِ أَحَدٌ مِنْ خَلْقِ اللهِ مَا لَهُ مِنَ الأَجْرِ فِي الآخِرَةِ، لاَ مَلَكٌ مُقَرَّبٌ، وَ لاَ نَبِيٌّ مُرْسَلٌ إِلاَّ اللهَ رَبَّ الْعَالَمِينَ.
Not a single person from the creations of Allah can comprehend the reward given in the next life to a person who feeds a believer until he is satiated not the close angels to Allah and not even the deputed prophets only Allah, the Lord of the Universe.34
3. In another tradition also from Imam Jaʿfar as-Sadiq we read:
لَإِنْ أَطْعَمَ مُؤْمِناً مُحْتَاجاً أَحَبَّ إِلَـيَّ مِنْ أَنْ أَزُورُهُ، وَ لَإِنْ أَزُورُهُ أَحَبُّ إِلَـيَّ مِنْ أَنْ أَعْتَقَ عَشْرَ رِقَابٍ.
If I was to feed a needy believer, then this would be more beloved to me than going to visit him (which also has a great reward), and if I was to go and visit him, this is even more loved to me than freeing ten slaves!35
Note that in the traditions, we are not only encouraged to feed the poor and hungry, rather, in some narrations, it is clearly stated that feeding the believers, even if they are not needy is equivalent to freeing a slave! This shows us that the act of feeding others is not only in place to alleviate the needs of the people, but it is also there to foster love, unity, friendship and closeness with one another!
The opposite can be seen in the materialistic world of today in which sometimes two close friends or relatives will go to a restaurant and each of them will pay their own portion of the bill. It is as if the act of being kind to one another is something strange to them!
In other traditions it has been stated that feeding hungry people in general (even if they are not believers and Muslims) has been considered as one of the best actions, as can be seen in a tradition from the Noble Prophet of Islam :
مِنْ أَفْضَلِ الأَعْمَالِ عِنْدَ اللهِ إِبْرَادُ الْكِبَادِ الْحَارَةٌ وَ إِشْبَاعُ الْكِبَادِ الْجَائِعَةٌ وَ الَّذِي نَفْسِ مُحَمَّدٍ بِيَدِهِ لاَ يُؤْمِنُ بِي عَبْدٌ يُبِيتُ شَبَعَانِ وَ أَخُوهُ - أَوْ قَالَ جَارُهُ - الْمُسْلِمُ جَائِعٌ.
One of the best actions in the sight of Allah is to cool the burning livers [help alleviate a person’s difficulties] and feed the hungry stomachs. I swear by the one who holds the soul of Muhammad in His hand that a servant who goes to sleep while his brother in faith - or his neighbor - goes to bed hungry has not truly believed in me!36
Although the above mentioned tradition is in regards to feeding a Muslim, however we see in the beginning that it speaks about feeding any hungry person and thus, it is not improbable to assume that it has a wide interpretation and it may even include the animals and in this regards too, there are numerous traditions.37
“ وَجَزَاهُمْ بِـمَا صَبَرُوا جَنَّةً وَحَرِيراً ۞ مُتَّكِئِينَ فِــيهَا عَلىٰ الأَرَائِكِ لاَ يَرَوْنَ فِيهَا شَمْساً وَلاَ زَمْهَرِيراً ۞ وَدَانِيَةً عَلَيْهِمْ ظِــلاَلُـهَا وَذُلِّلَتْ قُطُوفُهَا تَــذْلِيلاً ۞ وَيُطَافُ عَلَيْهِمْ بِـآنِيَةٍ مِنْ فِـضَّةٍ وَأَكْـوَابٍ كَانَتْ قَوَارِيرَ ۞ قَـوَارِيرَ مِنْ فِضَّةٍ قَدَّرُوهَا تَقْدِيراً ۞ وَيُسْقَوْنَ فِيهَا كَأْساً كَانَ مِزَاجُهَا زَنْجَبِيلاً ۞ عَيْناً فِيهَا تُسَمَّى سَلْسَبِيلاً ۞ وَيَطُوفُ عَلَيْهِمْ وِلْدَانٌ مُخَلَّــدُونَ إِذَا رَأَيْتَهُمْ حَسِبْـتَهُمْ لُؤْلُؤاً مَـنْـثُوراً ۞ وَإِذَا رَأَيْتَ ثَــمَّ رَأَيْتَ نَـعِيماً وَمُــلْكاً كَبِـيراً ۞ عَالِيَهُمْ ثِـيَابُ سُنْدُسٍ خُضْرٌ وَإِسْـتَبْرَقٌ وَحُلُّوا أَسَاوِرَ مِنْ فِضَّةٍ وَسَقَاهُمْ رَبُّهُمْ شَرَاباً طَهُوراً ۞ إِنَّ هٰذَا كَانَ لَـكُمْ جَزَآءً وَكَانَ سَعْـيُكُمْ مَشْكُوراً “
“And reward them, because they were patient, with garden and silk, Reclining therein on raised couches, they shall find therein neither (the light of) the sun nor intense cold. And close down upon them (shall be) its shadows, and its fruits shall be made near (to them), being easy to reach. And there shall be made to go around them, vessels of silver and goblets which are of glass, (Transparent as) glass, made of silver; they have measured them according to a measure.
And they shall be made to drink therein a cup the admixture of which will be ginger, (Of) a fountain therein which is named Salsabil. And around them will go youths never altering in age; when you see them you will think them to be scattered pearls. And when you see them, you will see blessings and a great kingdom. Upon them will be garments of fine green silk and thick silk interwoven with gold, and they shall be adorned with bracelets of silver, and their Lord will make them drink a pure drink. Surely this is a reward for you, and your striving will be recompensed.”
After a general overview in the previous verses about the salvation granted to the righteous doers from a painful punishment on the Day of Resurrection, their reaching to the station of meeting their Beloved and being drowned in pleasure and happiness, the verses currently under review offer an exegesis of the blessings of paradise. In these verses, a minimum of fifteen bounties have been mentioned.
The first thing spoken about is a place of residence and clothing for the people of paradise:
And reward them, because they were patient, with garden and silk.
Therefore, in return for the fortitude and self-sacrifice shown in this world, which in one way was displayed by being truthful to their promise made (to Allah ), by keeping their fast and donating their food to the poor, orphan and war captive when the time for breaking the fast came, Allah will grant them a special place in the gardens of paradise and dress them with the best clothing.
It is not only in this verse, but rather other verses of the Qur’an also clearly show this truth that the rewards on the Day of Resurrection will be given to that person who showed patience and fortitude (patience in the way of obedience; refraining from committing sins and forbearance in bearing trials and tribulations). In verse 24 of Suratul Rad (13) we read that the angels will say the following words to the people of paradise:
سَلاَمٌ عَلَيْكُمْ بِمَا صَبَرْتُمْ
Peace be upon all of you due to the patience which you showed.
In verse 111 of Suratul Muminun (23), it is mentioned that:
إِنِّي جَزَيْـتُهُمُ الْيَوْمَ بِـمَا صَبَرُوا أَنَّـهُمْ هُمُ الْفَائِزُونَ
Surely I will reward those people on that Day (the Day of Judgment) due to the patience which they had and indeed those people will be the victorious ones.
We then read:
Reclining therein on raised couches, they shall find therein neither (the severe heat of) the sun, nor intense cold.
By mentioning their physical state (of reclining on raised couches), this points to the comfort and ease which they will experience, for this is how people can usually be seen (in this world) when they are relaxing.
This verse also points to the perfect weather conditions in paradise. This verse does not tell us that there will be no sun or moon in paradise, rather, it tells us that if there is a sun, then its rays will not be such so as to trouble people, however at the same time, the trees will still cast a shadow which will be used as a shade!
The word ‘زَمْهَرِيرَ’ comes from the word ‘زمهر’ which means ‘intense heat’, ‘intense anger’ or ‘eyes turning red due to the anger a person is feeling’, however in this verse, the first meaning is the correct one and it is interesting to note that it has been mentioned in the traditions that there is a spot in the hell-fire that is so cold that the body parts will shatter due to it!38
The original meaning of the word ‘أَرَائِكَ’ whose plural is ‘أريكة’ are ‘tables’ or ‘platforms’ which are found in a bridal room and in this verse, its meaning is the beautifully decorated, raised platforms which the inhabitants of paradise will rest upon. The famous commentator of the Ahlus Sunnah, al-Alusi, in his tafsir, Ruhul Maani has narrated a tradition from Ibne Abbas that:
بَيْنَا أَهْلَ الْجَنَّةِ فِي الْجَنَّةِ إِذَا رَأَوْا ضَوْءَا كَضَوْءِ الشَّمْسِ، وَ قَدْ أَشْرَقَتِ الْجَنَانُ بِهِ فَيَقُولُ أَهْلُ الْجَنَّةِ يَا رِضْوَانَ مَا هٰذَا؟ وَ قَدْ قَالَ رَبَّنَا لاَ يَرَوْنَ فِيهَا شَمْساً وَ لاَ زَمْهَرِيراً، فَيَقُولُ لَهُمْ رِضْوَانٌ لَيْسَ هٰذَا بِشَمْسٍ، وَ لاَ قَمَرٍ، وَ لٰكِنْ عَلِيٌّ وَ فَاطِمَةَ ضَحِكاً، وَ أَشْرَقَتِ الْجَنَانِ مِنْ نُورِ ثَغرَيهِمَا.
When the people of paradise will be in paradise, suddenly they will see a light which will resemble the light of the sun through which paradise will be illuminated. The people of paradise will say: ‘O’ Ridhwan (the guardian angel of paradise), what is this illumination that we are seeing? Our Lord had clearly stated (in the Qur’an) that:
…they shall find therein neither the light of the sun nor intense cold?”
Ridhwan will reply to them,
“This is not the illumination of the sun nor the moon, rather, it is Ali and Fatima laughing and thus, all of paradise is being illuminated through the light of their teeth!39
The next verse continues with the blessings:
And close down upon them (shall be) its shadows and its fruits shall be made near (to them), being easy to reach.40
There will be no difficulties in reaching the food, nor will their hands become dirty; they will not even need to expend any energy or move from their seats to get the fruits that they want!
Once again, it is important that we remind ourselves that the rules which govern human life in this world are drastically different from the next world and that which we read about the bounties of paradise in these and other verses of the Qur’an is only a cursory glance at the expressive bounties which will be present there.
According to some clear traditions which have been mentioned in these regards, there are bounties stored in paradise that not even a single eye has yet seen; not a single ear has heard about; and there are things which no one has ever even thought about!
Ibne Abbas has stated the following in regards to some of the verses of this chapter: “That which Allah has mentioned in the Qur’an in regards to the pleasures of paradise have no comparison or example in this material world.
However Allah has referred to these bounties by using names of things which we know and recognize in this world. For example in regards to the pure drink, he has called it ‘zanjabil’ or a drink of ginger since this is an aromatic substance which the Arabs had a strong affinity towards.”41
We are then given a glimpse of how the guests of Allah will be welcomed into paradise, what will be at their disposal and who will serve them:
And there shall be made to go around them vessels of silver and goblets which are made of glass.
The chapter continues:
(Transparent as) glass, made of silver; they have measured them according to a measure.
The containers will hold various types of foods of paradise and there will also be a variety of refreshing and revitalizing drinks in the silver goblets. The people will have as much as they want to eat and drink and the servants of paradise will constantly be nearby, ready to serve them.
The word ‘آنِيَةٌ’ whose plural is ‘إناء’ refers to any type of dish [which food is put into], while the word ‘أَكْوَابٌ’, whose plural is ‘كوب’ refers to a glass which does not have a handle - sometimes referred to as a tumbler or goblet.
The word ‘قَوَارِيرَ’ whose plural is ‘قارورة’ refers to a crystalline glass - however the mind-boggling point in this verse is that we are told that the glasses are “crystalline glasses (see-thru) however they are made of “silver”! In the world which we live in, no such tumbler exists, since crystalline glass cups are made from a special substance which is smelted.
However Allah, the One who has created the particles (such as sand and other types of rocks) which can then be transformed into transparent, see-thru glass (by His creations) is definitely able to create see-thru tumblers made of silver!
From these words, we can deduce that the dishes and tumblers of paradise are clear and lucid like glass, however they have the brightness, luminance, and beauty of silver and the drinks which will fill these vessels are something completely different than what is present in this world!
In a narration from Imam Jafar as-Sadiq it is mentioned:
يَنْفُذُ الْبَصَرُ فِي فِضَّةِ الْجَنَّةِ كَمَا يَنْفُذُ فِي الْزُجَاجِ.
In paradise, a person’s eyes will penetrate through silver just like a person’s eyes can see through tumblers made of crystal in this transient world.42
Also, in our day and age, scientists have been able to discover various types of rays (such as x-rays) which can penetrate through a body and see through it just like a person sees through glass.
Ibne Abbas has stated that: “All of the blessings of paradise have a comparison and similitude in this world except for the see-thru glasses which are made of silver, as there is no comparison to that in this world!”43
After this we read: And they will be made to drink therein a cup, the fusion of which will be of ginger.
Many exegetes have stated that the pre-Islamic Arabs had a passion for a specific type of drink made with ginger and it had a very strong taste to it and it is for this reason that such a drink has been mentioned in the Qur’an and will be given to the people of paradise.
However it is clear that the difference between these two drinks (the one in this world and that given to the people in paradise) is as the difference of the earth to the sky! rather, we can state that the dissimilarity is like the difference between this world and the next world!
From what we understand of the history, it seems that the Arabs used to enjoy two types of drinks -one brought about joy and happiness, while the other calmed them down and put them into a mellow mood.
The first drink was mixed with ginger, while the second one was mixed with camphor. Seeing as how the realities of the other world cannot be described and contained in the words we use in this world, we have no choice but to present these concepts with a broad description and to state that they are greater than the understanding of that which we have in this world.
Various commentaries have been given in regards to the ginger spoken about in this section; however most of the interpretations of this word revolve around an aromatic item used in food and drink.
We then read: (Of) a fountain therein which is named Salsabil.44
Salsabil is the word used for this very tasty drink which is easy to consume and is nourishing. A majority of exegetes of the Qur’an believe that this word comes from the root ‘سلاسة’ which means ‘something that flows’ - just as a person’s smooth and flowing words are referred to as being ‘سليس’. Other scholars believe that it comes from the root ‘تسلسل’ which means a ‘continuous movement’.
Thus, in this verse, the meaning could be something (like a spring) which is always flowing. Both of the meanings are similar to one another and in both cases, the letter ‘باء’ has been appended to the word.
Other scholars believe that this word has been constructed from two separate words ‘سأل’ and ‘سبيل’; others consider it as coming from the words ‘سال’ and ‘سبيل’. If we accept this first opinion, then the meaning is ‘a path to request something’; while if we take the second opinion, then the meaning is ‘he chose a path’, however the meaning of both of these is again something which is nourishing.
Other scholars have clearly stated that in the Arabic language, the word ‘سَلْسَبِيلٌ’ did not exist and that the first time it was used in Arabic was in the Noble Qur’an.45 However, the first opinion stated is the most accepted and appropriate understanding.
We are then given a description of those who have been invited to this joyous gathering in the presence of the Merciful in paradise:
And youths, ever altering in age, shall go around them; when you see them you will think them to be scattered pearls.
Not only will the people be in the everlasting paradise, but even their age, beauty and youthful state of enjoyment will also remain with them for eternity! In addition, those who will lead them into paradise will have these same traits, and this can be seen from the words ‘مُخَلَّدُونَ’ or ‘for eternity’, and also the phrase ‘يَطُوفُ عَلَيْـهِمْ’ or ‘they will encircle them’.
The use of the phrase ‘لُؤْلُؤاً مَنْثُوراً’ or ‘as scattered pearls’ is a reference to the beauty, clarity, illumination and attraction of these individuals (the servants of those in paradise) and also their broad presence in this divine and spiritual banquet.
Seeing as how the blessings of the next life cannot be described - even by using the most expressive and meaningful words in the English language, in the next verse we read:
And when you see them, you shall see blessings and a great kingdom!46
Various commentaries have been offered for the words ‘نَعِيمٌ’ - ‘blessings’ and ‘مُلْكٌ كَبِيرٌ’ - ‘a great kingdom’.
There is a tradition from Imam Jafar as-Sadiq in which he said that the meaning of this verse is the kingdom which will never go away or be destroyed.47 It may also refer to the blessings of paradise being so numerous that it is not possible to enumerate them.
The phrase ‘a great kingdom’ may refer to the angels who will ask the people of paradise for permission when they want to enter the sacred grounds and upon entering, they will greet them with the words of peace; it may also refer to the belief that the people in paradise will have any wish or desire granted to them; another meaning of this phrase is that the people in the lowest spiritual rank of paradise whose jurisdiction of governance will be equivalent to the time it takes to travel 1,000 years in any direction (in paradise); the final meaning of this phrase is the perpetual and ever-lasting kingdom which contains all of a person’s needs and desires.
According to the books of ʿArabic lexicography, the word ‘نَعِيمٌ’ refers to the ‘countless blessings’ while ‘مُلْكُ كَبِيرٌ’ refers to the ‘greatness and vastness of the gardens in paradise’ and this word covers a broad definition and can include everything mentioned above.
Up to now, some of the blessings of paradise that have been mentioned include: houses; couches; shadow of coolness; fruits; drinks; vessels and groups of servants. At this point, we turn our attention to the objects of beautification which the people of paradise will be granted:
Upon them will be garments of fine green silk and thick silk interwoven with gold...48
The meaning of ‘سُنْدُسٌ’ is a ‘very thin silk cloth’ while ‘إِسْتَبْرَقٌ’ refers to a ‘thick silk cloth’. Some scholars have stated that the second word has come from the Farsi word ‘استبر’ or ‘ستبر’, while others state that perhaps it comes from the Arabic word ‘برق’ which means ‘light’ or ‘lightning’.
The verse continues and we read: …and they shall be adorned with bracelets of silver…
These bracelets of silver are transparent – just like glass - however they will be more beautiful than rubies and pearls!
The word ‘أَسَاوِرَ’ whose plural is ‘أسورة’ and can also be ‘سَوَارٌ’ or ‘سِوَارٌ’ was originally a Farsi word ‘دستوار’ and means a bracelet, however when it was imported into the ʿArabic language, its spelling went through a minor change and became ‘سوار’.
The choice of the color green for the clothing of paradise is because this color brings delight and pleasure, just like we see the beautiful leaves on trees. Of course green also has various tints and hues to it and each of them carries its own special sophistication.
In some verses of the Qurʼan, such as verse 30 of Suratul Kahf (18), we are told that the people of paradise will be beautified with bracelets of gold:
.يُحَلَّونَ فِيهَا مِنْ أَسَاوِرَ مِنْ ذَهَبٍ.
…They will be adorned therein with bracelets of gold…
However this does not conflict with what has been mentioned in the verse under review since it is possible that sometimes, one will be beautified with bracelets of gold, while at other times another type of bracelet will be worn (as mentioned in the verse under review).
At this point a question may arise: Are gold and silver bracelets not only ornaments of beautification for women alone? How is it possible that the men in paradise will use these forms of adornment?
The answer to this question is clear: In many parts of the world, gold and silver are used as items of beautification for men and women (even though Islam prohibits men from wearing gold). Of course, there is a difference in the style of the bracelets which men and women wear, however from verse 53 of Suratul Zukhruf (43) quoting the words of the Pharaoh:
“ فَلَوْ لاَ أَلْقى عَلَيْهِ أَسْوِرَةٌ مِنْ ذَهَبٍ “
Why has he (Moses) not been given bracelets of gold?
we see that the wearing of gold bracelets was something that indicated a person’s greatness in Egypt at that time. In addition, as we have alluded to many times that when describing the gifts of paradise, the words used in this world are never sufficient;
However there is no other option except to refer to the great pleasures and indescribable blessings of that world with these limited words.
At the end of this verse, in describing the final and most important of blessings in this chain of bounties, we read:
…and their Lord will make them drink a pure drink.
In the beginning of this discussion, there was mention about the refreshing drinks which will flow into the peoples’ cups from the spring of Salsabl that will quench the thirst of the inhabitants of paradise. However there is a vast difference between what was previously mentioned and what is stated in this verse!
From one angle, the ones who will quench the thirst are the ‘وِلْدَانٌ مُخَلَّدُونَ’ the ever-young servants; however in this verse, the one who will quench the thirst of those in paradise is Allah and what amazing wording has been used here.
Keep in mind that the word used in this verse is ‘ربّ’ a word which tells us that He is the same Creator which has continuously nurtured humanity and is our Ruler and Teacher and that He has been with us during our entire course of struggling to reach perfection, when we finally reach the ultimate stage, then we will see His Lordship as it manifests to the highest pinnacles and with the hand of His Power, He will satiate the thirst of His righteous and well-acting servants with a pure drink!
In addition, the word ‘طَهُورٌ’ which is used in this verse refers to something which is ‘pure’ and also has the ‘ability to purify’ other things. Therefore, this drink cleans the body and spirit of a person from all forms of filth which may be remaining, and also brings about such a sense of spirituality, light and pleasure with it that it cannot be described with words!
Imam Jafar as-Sadiq has stated:
(This drink) will purify the heart of a person from everything (within him) except for Allah.49
The curtains of negligence will be removed; the spiritual veils will all be shattered and the believer will be made worthy of remaining eternally in the proximity of Allah , an exhilaration which this pure drink gives and which is greater than any other blessing, and loftier than any other possible gift!
The impure, forbidden drinks of this world corrupt the intellect and spiritually distance a person from Allah; however the pure drink which is given by the hand of the Lord (in paradise) will make a person negligent of everything other than Allah, such a person will become drowned in His beauty and majesty!
In summary, the subtle points in this verse and all that which is contained in this blessing is greater than any other gifts!
In a tradition from the Messenger of Allah, We can deduce that the source of this pure drink is located in paradise:
فَـيُـسْقَونَ مِنْهَا شَرْبَةً فَيُطَهِّرُ اللهُ بِهَا قُلُوبُهُمْ مِنَ الْحَسَدِ!... وَ ذٰلِكَ قَوْلِ اللهِ عَزَّوَجَلَّ وَ سَقَاهُمْ رَبُهُّمْ شَرَاباً طَهُوراً
So then Allah will give them a drink through which their hearts will be purified from jealousy! … And this is the meaning of the words of Allah, the Noble and Grand,
[And their Lord will give them a pure drink.50
It is interesting to note that the word ‘طَهُورٌ’ ‘pure’ has been mentioned in the Noble Qur’an on only two occasions, once in chapter al-Furqan (25), verse 48 in regards to rain which purifies all things and also brings the dead back to life, and then again in this verse referring to the pure drink of paradise which will purify and give a new life!
In the final verse under review in this section, we read:
Surely this is a reward for you, and your striving will be recompensed.
This has been stated in case some people think that these gifts and grand rewards are given for no reason! Rather, these are the rewards for a person’s struggles and (righteous) actions, self-building and keeping away from sins.51
The mere act of mentioning (this final statement) brings forth unusual spiritual pleasures and a special sense of beauty to it that Allah the Great, or His angels are speaking directly to the righteous and good doers and are acknowledging and appreciating them by saying that: “Everything which you are being given is due to your actions, and the struggles which you went through in life are definitely appreciated.”
According to some exegetes of the Qur’an, in regards to all of these blessings and gifts, the greatest one is when Allah thanks a person for his righteous deeds!
The use of the past-tense verb ‘كَانَ’ tells us about an action which occurred in the past, and it is possible that this verb has been used as an allusion to the fact that the blessings (in paradise) are already prepared for the believers (before they arrive there). As an example, when a person wants to invite some important guests to his house, he will make all of the necessary arrangements before they come to his house.
إِنَّا نَحْنُ نَزَّلْنَا عَلَيْكَ الْقُرْآنَ تَنْـزِيلاً ۞ فَاصْبِرْ لِحُكْمِ رَبِّكَ وَلاَ تُطِعْ مِنْهُمْ آثـِماً أَوْ كَـفُوراً ۞ وَاذْكُـرِ اسْمَ رَبِّكَ بُكْرَةً وَأَصِيلاً ۞ وَمِنَ اللَّيْلِ فَاسْجُدْ لَهُ وَسَبِّحْهُ لَيْلاً طَوِيلاً
“Surely We ourselves have revealed the Qur’an to you revealing (it) in portions. Therefore wait patiently for the command of your Lord, and obey not from among them a sinner or an ungrateful one. And glorify the name of your Lord in the morning and evening. And during a part of the night prostrate to Him, and give glory to Him (a) long (part of the) night.”
From the beginning of this chapter until this point, the verses focused on the creation of humanity followed by one’s resurrection and then the rising up on the Day of Judgment.
The verses in this section present us with words spoken directly to the Prophet and contain definite commandments in regards to the guidance of humanity and the patience and fortitude which they must display while on the path of life. In reality, these verses direct the course which guide us to the astounding bounties and blessings - holding firm to the Qur’an, following the leadership of the Prophet of Islam and taking inspiration from the commandments which he (the Prophet ) has been given.
We first read: Surely We Ourselves have revealed the Qur’an to you revealing (it) in portions.
Some exegetes of the Qur’an have stated that the word ‘تَنْـزِيلٌ’ – ‘in portions’ used in this verse has been mentioned as an unconditional object and refers to the gradual revelation of the Qurʾan and its effect on the spiritual training of a person.
Others have stated that it refers to the greatness and status of the heavenly Book and highlights the fact that the Qurʾan has been revealed by Allah – keeping in mind that other forms of emphasis also exist in this verse such as ‘إِنَّ’ - ‘surely’; and ‘نحَنُ’ - ‘We’ and the ‘verbal sentence’ which also acts as a form of emphasis.
Indeed, this verse actually provides an answer to those who claimed that the Prophet was a sooth-sayer, magician or was fabricating lies against Allah!
Five important commandments are then given to the Prophet of Islam, the first one being an invitation to patience and fortitude:
Therefore wait patiently for the command of your Lord…
The Prophet (p) is commanded to disregard any difficulties, obstacles and the many enemies and opponents on the path (of conveying the faith of Islam) and to continue to press forward just as he did in the past. It is interesting to note that the commandment to have fortitude has been mentioned with a ‘فاء’ which means ‘the result’ as seen in the word ‘فَاصْبِرْ’.
This means that the revelation of the Qur’an is from Allah - and since Allah is the Prophet’s assistant and support, then without doubt he must have fortitude, and the use of the word ‘رَبّ’ or ‘Lord’ is also a subtle allusion to this issue.
The second commandment given to the Prophet is that he must not compromise with the misguided people:
…and obey not from among them a sinner or an ungrateful one.
In reality, this second order actually highlights the first commandment of being patient which was given to the Prophet.
As we know, some of the Prophet’s enemies tried to divert him to the wrong path through the use of various tactics.
It has been mentioned in the narrations that Utbah b. Rabiah and Walid b. Mughayrah asked the Prophet to give up his mission of inviting people (towards Islam) and if he complied, they would give him such a large amount of wealth that he would be taken care of (forever). They also promised him the most beautiful Arab women as his wives and many other material bounties!
In the verse under review, Allah ordered the Prophet, who was a great and truthful leader, to exhibit patience in the face of such satanic whisperings from the people, which they will put forth later on and that he must have fortitude in the face of their temptations which would make him a great leader within the society! In summary, he was not to submit to them, and not even pay any attention to their threats!
It is true that the Prophet of Islam never submitted to such demands, however this verse simply emphasizes the importance of this subject and is also an everlasting lesson for all leaders who are treading the path of Allah.
Although some exegetes of the Qur’an have stated that the word ‘آثم’ - ‘sinner’ refers to ʿUtbah b. Rabiah, and that ‘كَفُورٌ’ - ‘ingrate disbeliever’ refers to Walid b. Mughayrah or Abu Jahl – all three were from the polytheistic Arabs, however it is clear that both ‘آثِم’ - ‘sinner’ and ‘كَفُورٌ’ - ‘ungrateful disbeliever’ and ‘one who makes others disbelieve’ are words with broad applications and refer to all sinners and polytheists - even if the three individuals noted were the most obvious examples of these traits.
It should also be noted that the word ‘آثِـم’ - ‘sinner’ has a general understanding to it which also includes those who are referred to as a ‘كَفُورٌ’ - ‘an ingrate disbeliever’. Therefore, mentioning the word ‘كَفُورٌ’ - ‘ingrate disbeliever’ is referred to (in the ʿArabic language) as ‘mentioning a specific term after a general term’ and is done to accentuate the discussion.
However, seeing as how patience and perseverance in the face of the tirade of enormous challenges is not something easy and traversing this path requires two particular abilities, we then read:
And glorify the name of your Lord in the morning and evening.
We are then told:
And during a part of the night, prostrate to Him, and give glory to Him (a) long (part of the) night.
This act of (the night) prayer should be done so that under the shade of the remembrance (dhikr), prostration (sajdah) and glorification (tasbih), the required power and spiritual strength and assistance needed to struggle against the difficulties of this path can be harnessed.
In this verse, the word ‘بُكْرَةٌ’ refers to the beginning of the day, while the word ‘أَصِيلٌ’ refers to the end of the day or the evening time.
Some scholars have stated that the word ‘أَصِيلٌ’ which refers to the end of the day comes from the root word ‘أصل’ and this is because the end of the day makes up the initial or earliest part of the night. From other phrases used, we can deduce that the word ‘أَصِيلٌ’ is sometimes used in reference to the time gap between mid-day and sunset, as can be seen in al-Mufradat of Raghib.
From the opinions of other scholars, we understand that the word ‘أَصِيلٌ’ refers to the beginning of the night and they have explained this word as meaning the same as ‘عشـى’ because this word refers to the commencement of the night - just as the salat of maghrib and ʿisha can be referred to as ishaayn (lit. the two isha’ prayers). In addition, we deduce from the opinion of other scholars that ‘عشى’ includes the time from the decline of the sun at noon until the morning of the next day.
However, keeping in mind that ‘أَصِيلٌ’ which has been mentioned in this verse is the opposite of ‘بُكْرَةٌ’ - ‘morning’, and we then read a discussion in regards to worship in the night, it is clear that the meaning of the word in this verse is the last part of the day just before the night period.
In any case, these two verses illustrate the necessity of paying constant attention to the Pure Essence of Allah both night and day.
Some scholars have stated that this verse is a specific reference to the five daily prayers (salawat), or in relation to salaatul layl, or specifically in regards to the salat of fajr, dhhuhr, asr, maghrib, and isha.
However the apparent reading is that these prayers (salawat) are the clearest proofs of this continuous remembrance of Allah and the glorification and prostration to Him.
The usage of the phrase ‘لَيْلاً طَوِيلاً’ - ‘a long portion of the night’ is in reference to a significant portion of the night which must be kept aside for the glorification of Allah; and when Imam Ali al-Ridha was asked in regards to this verse and what the meaning of the glorification (tasbih) was, he replied: “This refers to salatul layl (the night prayer).”52
However it is not unlikely to assume that the exegesis he offered is only the clearest understanding of this verse (however there may be other commentaries possible) since salatul layl plays a very important role in strengthening the spirit of true faith, purification of the soul and keeping alive a person’s intention of obeying the commandments of Allah.
At this point, we must take notice that although the commandments given in the above verses made up a part of the regiment of the Prophet of Islam, however in reality, these verses contain lessons for all people who are traversing the path of spiritual and societal leadership and are working for the guidance of humanity.
Therefore, we must know that after gaining complete certainty and perfect faith and receiving the message which one must convey, it is necessary to observe patience and perseverance and not have any fear while facing difficulties on the path, since guiding people – especially when a person is put face to face with those who are unaware of the truth and in which the strong-headed enemies are present - is something which is always fret with great difficulties.
Thus, if a person is not led by patience and fortitude, then no message will ever be triumphant!
At the next stage, a person must struggle and forge ahead with full energy and fortitude in the face of the whisperings of the Satanic forces – the open sinners and disbelievers, and whatever evil plans and plots that they may use to misguide the leaders of the society and try to erase the life-giving message from humanity.
Such leaders must not be fooled by the wicked plans or whisperings, nor can they permit the warnings that such people give to the spiritual leaders to find a way into their psyche.
Thus, in order to achieve spiritual power in all stages, gain a firm determination, acquire deeply rooted resolve and an iron-clad decision making process, a leader must be in the remembrance of Allah at every moment - morning and evening!
He must prostrate and humble himself in His presence – especially in the night prayers and vigils, and through his prayers and supplications, ask Him for help. If this is carried out, then success is guaranteed.
If a person is faced with tribulation or defeat in any of these stages, then through the benefit of the principles mentioned in the verses quoted (and the five acts mentioned), a person will be able to make up his (spiritual) losses. Thus, those who are travelling this path should take the course of spiritual building from the Prophet of Islam, and his invitation and message, and follow these things in one’s own life to attain success!
“ إِنَّ هٰؤُلاَءِ يُحِبُّونَ الْعَاجِلَةَ وَيَذَرُونَ وَرَآءَهُمْ يَوْماً ثَقِيلاً ۞ نَحْنُ خَلَقْنَاهُمْ وَشَدَدْنَا أَسْرَهُمْ وَإِذَا شِــئْنَا بَدَّلْنَا أَمْثَالَهُمْ تَبْدِيلاً ۞ إِنَّ هٰذِهِ تَذْكِرَةٌ فَمَنْ شَآءَ اتَّخَذَ إِلـىٰ رَبِّهِ سَبِيلاً ۞ وَمَا تَشَآءُونَ إِلاَّ أَنْ يَشَآءَ اللهُ إِنَّ اللهَ كَانَ عَــلِيمًا حَكِيماً ۞ يُدْخِلُ مَنْ يَشَاءُ فِي رَحْمَتِهِ وَالظَّالِمِينَ أَعَدَّ لَهُمْ عَذَابًا أَلِيمًا “
“Surely these people love the transitory world and neglect a grievous day before them. We created them and made firm their make, and when We please, We will bring in their place the likes of them by a change. Surely this is a reminder, so whoever wishes takes to his Lord a way. And you do not will except that Allah wills, surely Allah is Knowing, Wise. He makes whom He pleases to enter into His mercy; and (as for) the unjust, He has prepared for them a painful chastisement.”
In the previous verses, the Prophet was warned that he must never fall under the influence of two groups of people - the ‘آثـْمٌ’ - ‘sinners’ and the ‘كَفُورٌ’ - ‘disbelievers’. According to history, these two designations were manifest by people who thought they could influence the determination and objective of the Prophet and that they could bribe him with wealth, status and beautiful women, and the verses under review offer us a greater description of these people.
We first read: Surely these people love the transitory world and neglect a grievous day which is before them.
The views of such people do not go past spiritual negligence and the fulfillment of the lower desires and their only sphere of reason is in regards to attaining uninhibited, material pleasures. It is astonishing to see that such people wanted the Noble Prophet to be just like they were!
However these naive, spiritually blinded individuals decided to ignore the momentous days which await them – tragic days from the point of view of the punishment therein; the accountability for the deeds which they had performed, and because of the length of time these days will last and the disgrace and dishonor that these people will face.
The use of the phrase ‘وَرَائِهِمْ’ - ‘behind them’ should technically speaking, be another word which conveys the meaning of ‘the day which is in front of them (to come)’, however the phrase ‘behind them’ has been used because this is a day which they have entirely forgotten about and it can be said that they threw this day behind their backs! However, according to some exegetes of the Qur’an, the word ‘وراء’ is sometimes used in the meaning of behind and sometimes for something which is in front of a person.53
These people are warned that they should not feel proud about their power because this is something which Allah has granted to them, and anytime He wants, He can instantly take these things away from them. In this verse we read:
We created them and made firm their make, and when We please We will bring in their place the likes of them by a change.54
The primary meaning of the word ‘أَسَرٌ’ was ‘to tie something up with a chain’ and it is for this reason that captives are referred to as ‘أسير’ since they were normally tied with chains.
However in this verse, the word ‘أسر’ refers to the strong relationships within a person’s essence (which bind things together within him) which give him the ability to carry out important tasks. In this verse, the Qurʾan has pointed to an extremely focused aspect of the physical life which is the various relationships that exist in the numerous body parts of a human being, such as the nerves of various sizes that connect all of the body parts with one another, just like iron joins various parts of a large machine.
This connection between body parts includes things such as the ligaments and tendons which join with the bones of various sizes and also the flesh of the body. All of this is put together and forms one complete unit which is ready and able to carry out any activity.
This verse also points to the power and strength of a person. In addition to this verse elucidating upon the self-sufficiency and needlessness of anything which are traits of Allah alone, it also refers to the fact that He does not even need the obedience and faith of His creations! Through this verse, people are made aware that if there is even a whisper of true faith within them, then in reality, this is a grace and mercy from their Lord! This can be seen in verse 133 of Suratul Anʿam (6) where we read:
وَ رَبُّكَ الْغَنِيُّ ذُو الْرَحْمَةِ إِنْ يَشَأْ يُذْهِبْكُمْ وَ يَسْتَخْلِفُ مِنْ بَعْدِكُمْ مَا يَشَآءُ
And your Lord is the Self-Sufficient, Possessor of Mercy. If He wishes, He would remove all of you and bring others in your place.
The next verse combines all of the discussions which have taken place in this chapter up until this point which make up a complete program for happiness in life:
Surely this is a reminder, so whoever pleases may take a way to his Lord.
This verse tells us that: “It is Allah‘s responsibility to show the true path - however, there is no compulsion to choose this path.
It is us ourselves who, with our intellect and reasoning, must distinguish between truth and falsehood and through our own decision making process, make the choice.” In reality, this point merely emphasizes what was mentioned in the beginning of this chapter in the third verse:
إِنَّا هَدَيْنَاهُ السَّبِيلَ أَمَّا شَاكِراً وَ أَمَّا كَفُوراً
Surely We have shown him the way: he may be thankful or unthankful.
At this point, it is possible that simple-minded people may take the previous verse as implying that human beings have been given complete free-will (to do as they please), however in the verse which follows, this incorrect notion is rejected:
And you do not will except that Allah wills, surely Allah is Knowing, Wise.55
This is definitely the case since: Surely Allah is Knowing, Wise.
In reality, this proves the well-known belief of ‘أَلْأَمْرُ بَيْنَ الأَمْرَينِ’ or ‘a command between the two commands’. From one aspect we are told that: “Now that Allah has shown you the path, the choice is up to you.”
At the same time we are told: “Your choice is dependent upon the will of Allah.” This means that we do not have complete free-will. Rather, the power, ability and freedom to choose is granted to us through the permission of Allah and anytime He wishes, He can take away our power of free choice! Thus, there is no ‘complete freedom’ nor is there ‘complete compulsion’ – rather there is a fine and subtle truth between these two states.
In other words, there is a form of freedom which is related directly to the will of Allah which can, at any time, be taken away so that the servants can fulfill the responsibility and accountability on their shoulders, and in which lies the secret of how they can reach perfection, and through which they realize that they are not completely needless of Allah .
In brief, this verse shows us that the servants must realize that they are not completely free of need of guidance, help, success and His assistance; while at the same time, when they decide to do something, they submit themselves to Him and work with His assistance.
From this discussion, it is clear that when some exegetes of the Qur’an, such as Fakhr ad-Din al-Razi subscribe to the belief of compulsion in all affairs, they do so by holding onto this verse due to some pre-conceived notions they have in regards to this issue. Actually, he himself (Fakhr ad-Din al-Razi) has been quoted as saying:
وَ اعْلَمْ أَنَّ هٰذِهِ الأَيَةِ مِنْ جُمْلَةِ الأَيَاتِ الَّتِي تَلاَطَمَتْ فِيهَا أَمْوَاجٌ الْجَبْرِ وَ الْقَدْرِ.
Know that this verse is one of those verses in which the rough waves of compulsion and predestination ride!56
Indeed, if this verse is separated from that which came before it, then this baseless belief could be accepted, however by keeping in mind that there is a discussion of free-will, while in another verse there is a discussion of the will of Allah, thus this issue of ‘ألأمر بين الأمرين’ or – ‘A command between the two affairs’ becomes understandable.
It is remarkable to see the supporters of the belief of free-will also hold on to this verse of the Qurʼan and speak about complete free-will, while those who believe in compulsion in all actions are only able to perceive this belief of theirs - each party wanting to justify their pre-conceived notions and beliefs through the use of these verses!
In reality, we see that the correct understanding of the Word of Allah (and any other speech) always necessitates passing of judgment by looking at whatever is spoken as one unit without any prejudice or pre-judgments.
The end of this verse tells us that: Surely Allah is Knowing, Wise.
This may refer to the same thing stated above because the knowledge and wisdom of Allah demand that the servants freely travel the path towards perfection. If this was not the case, then perfection which comes through compulsion and force is in actuality, not really perfection!
In addition, the knowledge and wisdom of Allah does not permit a person to be forced to do good or bad deeds and then reward the good doers (who were forced to do good deeds) and punish the bad doers (who were forced to perform bad deeds).
Finally, in the last verse of this chapter, we see the outcome of the good and bad doers as has been mentioned in one short, yet meaningful sentence:
He makes whom He pleases to enter into His mercy; and (as for) the unjust, He has prepared for them a painful chastisement.
The beginning of the verse tells us that He makes those He wishes to enter into His mercy, however at the end we read that the punishment will surround the oppressors and this clearly shows us that His prerogative to punish follows mankind’s desire to commit oppression and sins!
By taking the opposite of this analogy, it becomes clear that His intention to shower mercy on humanity follows the intention of humanity to bring about true faith, perform righteous actions and enact justice (in their daily life) – and this cannot be expected from anyone except one who performs his actions with wisdom!
It is interesting to note that even with this clear analogy that has been given, people still exist, such as Fakhr ad-Din al-Razi, who have stated that the beginning of this verse was proof for the existence of compulsion, without realizing that the end of this verse proves the freedom of intention and action of the oppressors!57
O’ Allah! Enter us into Your Mercy and distance us from the painful punishment which awaits the oppressors!
O’ Allah! You have shown us the path and we too have made the intention to follow this path, therefore, please help us in this!
O’ Allah! If we are not among the righteous people, then at least we are of among those who love these individuals, thus join us with them in the eventual abode!
…So be it, O Lord of all the Worlds
- 1. Tafsir al-Qurtubi, vol. 10, pg. 6909
- 2. Majmaʽ al-Bayan, vol. 10, pg. 405
- 3. Ibid.
- 4. Tarikhul Qurʼan, pg. 55
- 5. Ibid.
- 6. al-Mizan fi Tafsir al-Qurʼan, vol. 20, pg. 221
- 7. Ibid.
- 8. Tafsir al-Kashshaf, vol. 4, pg. 670
- 9. Ahqaqul Ḥaqq, vol. 3, pg. 157 to 170 (which has narrated the names of the scholars and the works in which they have written this information).
- 10. Ibid., pg. 158
- 11. Majmaʽ al-Bayan, vol. 10, pg. 402
- 12. Ibid.
- 13. Is the word ‘هلʼ which has been mentioned in this verse in the meaning of ‘قدʼ or is in it the meaning of a rhetorical question, a negating question? In this regards, there are many different opinions given, however the apparent reading of this verse gives us the understanding that it is indeed a rhetorical question and thus the meaning of this verse would be:
أَلَيْسَ قَدْ أَتـى عَلَـى الإِنْسَانِ حِينَ مِنَ الدَّهْرِ لَمْ يَكُنْ شَيْئاً مَذْكُوراً؟
Has there not come a time upon the human being when he was a thing not worth mentioning!?
- 14. Majmaʽ al-Bayan, vol. 10, pg. 406
- 15. Ibid.
- 16. Please note that whereas the word ‘نطفةʼ - ‘spermʼ has been mentioned in the singular, however its characteristic of ‘أمشاجʼ - ‘mixedʼ has been mentioned in the plural and this is due to the fact that the sperm itself is made up of various things and actually falls under the ruling of the plural. Scholars, such as al-Zamkhshari in his work, al-Kashshaf have stated that the word ‘أمشاجʼ is the singular form of the word, even though it is based on the pattern of the plural.
- 17. According to a majority of exegetists of the Qurʼan, the words ‘شاكراًʼ - ‘thankful’ and ‘كفوراًʼ - ‘ungrateful’, are expressional words for the objective pronoun contained in ‘هَدَيْنَاهُʼ - ‘We have guided himʼ. Another possibility exists which states that the predicate ‘يَكُونُʼ may be assumed to be contained in the verse, however is not expressly mentioned. This would render the verse to be interpreted as stating:
إِمَّا يَكُونُ شَاكِراً وَ إِمَّا يَكُونُ كَفُوراً
He is either thankful or he is unthankful.
- 18. For a deeper explanation in regards to the meaning of ‘أغلالʼ, please refer to verse 8 of Surat Yasin (vol. 18, pg. 321 of Tafsir Namuna).
- 19. Information for the data mentioned in this section has been taken from volume 1 of the work, The First University and the Last Prophet, and other books.
- 20. Refer to al-Ghadir, vol. 3, pg. 107 to 111; Ahqaqul Ḥaqq, vol. 3, pg. 157 to 171 in which the above quoted tradition has been narrated from 36 scholars and leaders of the Ahlus Sunnah including their sources of reference.
- 21. Durr al-Manthur, vol. 6, pg. 297
- 22. Ibid.
- 23. Some of the information from this Russian author can be found at:
- 24. Ruhul Maani, vol. 29, pg. 158
- 25. Refer to al-Ihtijaj of al-Tabrisi and al-Khisal of as-Saduq (as has been quoted in al-Mizan fi Tafsir al-Qur’an, vol. 20, pg. 224)
- 26. Ruhul Maani, vol. 29, pg. 158
- 27. One may wonder why the word ‘عَيْناًʼ in this verse is the accusative form? There some very strong possibilities mentioned by the scholars. Perhaps the most appropriate of these is to state that the word “عَيْناً” is in a state of being the accusative due to the rule in ʿArabic grammar of removal and it can be presumed that the phrase “مِنْ عَينٍ” is the actual meaning. Some other scholars have stated that the rule of something which stands in the place of something else is at play here, which in this case is the word ‘كاَفُورٌʼ or camphor; or that it is in the accusative state due to it being regarded as a word denoting specification or extending praise. It is also possible that it refers to the passive participle which is not expressly mentioned, however is taken as being understood and thus, can be understood as being ‘يَشْرَبُـونُ عَيْناًʼ, however just as we previously stated, the first opinion given is more appropriate.
- 28. The word ‘يَشْـرَبُʼ or ‘he will drinkʼ can become transitive through the ‘بَاءʼ or even without it and it is possible that as it has been mentioned in the word (بِــهَا), it would be in the meaning of ‘مِنْʼ or ‘fromʼ.
- 29. Nur al-Thaqalayn, vol. 5, pg. 477; Ruhul Maani, vol. 29, pg. 155
- 30. For a detailed explanation on this issue, please refer to the book, Rulings for Prisons in Islam.
- 31. al-Kamil of Ibne Athir, vol. 2, pg. 131
- 32. al-Mufradat of al-Raghib; Lisan al-ʿArab; al-Munjid; Tafsir al-Qurtubi and Majmaʽ al-Bayan.
- 33. al-Kafi,, vol. 2, Section on Feeding a Believer, no. 3
- 34. Ibid., no. 6
- 35. Ibid., no. 18
- 36. Biharul Anwar, vol. 74, pg. 369. It is important to note that the late ʿAllamah Majlisi has actually presented an entire section which comprises 113 traditions in regards to feeding and clothing a true believer. In addition, he has compiled traditions which speak about paying another person’s debts and some of the traditions mentioned in the chapter of his magnum opus are very general (not specifically related to feeding or clothing a believer – rather any human being).
- 37. Ibid.
- 38. Durr al-Manthur, vol. 6, pg. 300
- 39. Ruh al-Maani, vol. 29, pg. 159
- 40. The word ‘قطوفʼ is the plural of ‘قِطفʼ with a ‘fathaʼ on the first letter or a ‘kasrahʼ on the first letter. The meaning of the first form is the actual trait, while the second word has the infinitive meaning of the word – thus either a fruit which has been picked from a tree or to pick a fruit from a tree.
- 41. Majmaʽ al-Bayan, vol. 10, pg. 411
- 42. Majmaʽ al-Bayan, vol. 10, pg. 410
- 43. Ruh al-Maani, vol. 29, pg. 159
- 44. In regards to the state of the word ‘عيناًʼ, it follows the same pattern and the same word a few verses previous in which ‘عيناًʼ was also mentioned. It is accepted that it is in the accusative state with a type of removal present.
- 45. Some exegetists of the Qur’an have stated that the word ‘سلسبيلʼ is indeclinable according to the rules of Arabic language since there is both a specific noun and also it is a non-Arabic word and thus, it has taken its own double-diacritics for it to fit in the same pattern as the end of the other verses of this Surah.
- 46. Some exegetes of the Qur’an have clearly stated that the particle ‘ثـمʼ found in this verse is the adverb of the place, while the word ‘رأيتʼ is in the meaning of the intransitive verb and thus the meaning of this verse would be, ‘إذا رميت ببصرك ثـم رأيت نعيما و ملكاً كبيراًʼ or that ‘When you see with your eyes, you will see the blessings and a great kingdom.ʼ Another possibility has also been mentioned which states that the ‘ثـمʼ in this verse is the demonstrative pronoun for something far away and is the object for the transitive verb ‘رأيتʼ.
- 47. Majmaʽ al-Bayan, vol. 10, pg. 411
- 48. In regards to the grammatical states of the word ‘عَالِيَهُمْʼ, there are two possibilities: the first is that it is the pronoun denoting spatial situations in the meaning of ‘aboveʼ. If we take this meaning then the verse would be understood as saying, ‘فَوْقَهُمْ ثِيَابُ سُنْدُسٍʼ or ‘above them are clothes of silkʼ. The second possibility is that it is the accusative for the pronoun ‘هُمْʼ which came in the previous verse and refers back to ‘أبرارʼ and if we accept this possibility, then the meaning of this verse would be ‘حالكونهم يعلوهم ثياب سندس خضرʼ.
- 49. Majmaʽ al-Bayan, vol. 10, pg. 411
- 50. Nur al-Thaqalayn, vol. 5, pg. 485, no. 60
- 51. In reality, there is a sentence which should be taken as being intended but not expressly mentioned which reads, ‘يقال لهمʼ or ‘It was said to themʼ or ‘يقول الله لهمʼ or ‘Allah will say to them.ʼ
- 52. Majmaʽ al-Bayan, vol. 10, pg. 413
- 53. In the commentary, Ruh al-Bayan, vol. 8, pg. 439, it has been mentioned that if ‘وراءʼ is annexed to a verb then it carries the meaning of ‘behindʼ, however if it is annexed with an object, then it is in the meaning of ‘in frontʼ.
- 54. This verse has a sentence which must be taken as being intended (by Allah) but not expressly mentioned and can be presumed as being: ‘بَدَّلْنَاهُمْ أَمْثَالَهُمْʼ. It must be noted that the verb ‘to changeʼ (تَبْدِيلٌ) usually takes two objects and thus in this case, the pronoun in ‘هُمْʼ is the first object, while ‘أَمْثَالَهُمْʼ is the second object.
- 55. As for what is the inflection of ‘إن يشاء اللهʼ? A group of exegetes of the Qurʼan have stated that it is in a state of the ‘accusative or ‘subjunctive caseʼ due to it being the pronoun denoting time and thus, this phrase would mean, ‘مَا تَشَاوُن َإِلاَّ وَقْتُ مَشِيَّةِ اللِهʼ - ‘You will not desire except when the time comes for when Allah decides’ - however another supposition also exists which states that ‘شيئاʼ is in an elliptical and thus, this phrase would mean, ‘وَ مَا تَشَاؤُنَ إِلاَّ شَيْئاً يَشَآءَ اللهُʼ - ‘You will not desire anything except that Allah (first) decides that thing (before-hand).”
- 56. Tafsir of Fakhr ad-Din Razi, vol. 30, pg. 262
- 57. A detailed discussion on the issue of this verse which deals with the intention can be seen in vol. 19 of Tafsir Namuna, pp. 461-468 (under the commentary of verse 37 of Suratul Zumur) of Tafsir Namuna.