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Surah al-Ma’un (No. 107: 'Aid')

Verses 1-7

بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَٰنِ الرَّحِيمِ

In the Name of Allah, the All-beneficent, the All-merciful.

أَرَأَيْتَ الَّذِي يُكَذِّبُ بِالدِّينِ

Did you see him who denies the Din? (107:1).

فَذَٰلِكَ الَّذِي يَدُعُّ الْيَتِيمَ

So, that is the one who drives away the orphan, (107:2).

وَلَا يَحُضُّ عَلَىٰ طَعَامِ الْمِسْكِينِ

and does not urge the feeding of the needy. (107:3).

فَوَيْلٌ لِلْمُصَلِّينَ

Woe to them who pray (107:4).

الَّذِينَ هُمْ عَنْ صَلَاتِهِمْ سَاهُونَ

- those who are heedless of their prayers, (107:5).

الَّذِينَ هُمْ يُرَاءُونَ

those who show off (107:6).

وَيَمْنَعُونَ الْمَاعُونَ

but withhold from (giving) aid. (107:7).

1. Practices That Bring About Losses

The question:

“Did you see...?’ (al-Ma’un, 107:1).

implies amazement at one who manages to deny matters of faith while simultaneously going astray in matters of practice, as if this is some kind of anomaly amongst all the creatures in existence, such that it is worthy of being highlighted with surprise like a rare specimen! In fact, the truth is that the majority of people - because they have become accustomed to various forms of deviation - are used to it and do not see anything wrong with it, which is why such a strong emphasis is placed on keeping apart from disbelievers and not living in their lands if one fears losing or diluting his or her religion it as a result thereof.

2. The Word ‘Din’

The word din in

“Did you sec him who denies the din?” (al-Ma’un, 107:1).

could mean the religion (din) of Islam, as Allah restricts the correct religion to Islam when He says:

“Indeed, with Allah religion is Islam” (Ale 'Imran, 3:19).

but it could also, mean the Divine Retribution (din), as in Allah's saying:

“and we used to deny the Day of Retribution ...” (al-Muddaththir, 74:46).

which means the Resurrection as that is when this retribution is meted out, and the Qur'an uses words derived from the root of dal-ya-nun to signify recompense. For example, Allah says:

“when we are dead and have become dust and bones, shall we Indeed, be brought to retribution?” (as-Saffat, 37:53).

And the reason why Allah focuses on this fundamental doctrine of the religion and condemns those who reject it is that denying the Resurrection frees man from all self-restraints, as he sees no ultimate recompense for his actions. This leaves him free to do whatever he wants, especially when his innate nature (fitrah) flickers out and his conscience vanishes.

3. Abandoning Prayer And Not Feeding The Needy

The one who fails to give Allah His full due, while He is the ultimate source of blessings - in fact, there is no source besides Him - will also, fail to give other creatures their full due. When someone is blind to the ultimate duty they have towards their Creator, then how can they attend to that of those lower than Him?

This is why the Qur'an draws a connection between abandoning prayer and failing to feed the needy in the verse

“We were not among those who prayed.” (al-Muddaththir, 74:43).

“Nor did we feed the poor, (al-Muddaththir, 74:44).

and why it also, connects a lack of belief in Allah to failing to encourage others to feed the needy;

“Indeed, he had no faith in Allah, the All-supreme,” (al-Haqqah, 69:33).

“and he did not urge the feeding of the needy.” (al-Haqqah, 69:34).

It is in this same vein that this surah draws a similar connection between lack of faith in the Resurrection and failing to encourage others to feed the poor.

4. Humble Acts Of Obedience

A servant should never treat any act of obedience lightly, just as he should never underestimate the gravity of any sin, however trivial he view it, for Allah's pleasure and anger and that of His wali could lie in something the servant does not expect - as some traditions intimate - and this is why when the inmates of Hellfire are asked how they ended up in the pits of Hell, they will answer that they abandoned humble acts of obedience such as

“Nor did we feed the poor,” (al-Muddaththir, 74:44).

and performed subtle sins such as

“We used to gossip along with the gossipers.” (al-Muddaththir, 74:45).

And this surah mentions similar issues, like failing to urge others to feed the poor –

“does not urge the feeding of the needy” (al-Ma’un, 107:3).

- which is even subtler than merely failing to feed them personally, when describing the attributes of those who deny the Retribution;

“Nor did we feed the poor.” (al-Muddaththir, 74:44).

5. All Wealth Belongs To Allah

In numerous instances, the Qur'an says that all wealth ultimately belongs to Allah, and that He has merely deputized His servants to spend it. Allah says:

“and spend out of that wherein He has made you deputies” (al-Hadid, 57:7).

and elsewhere:

“and give them out of the wealth of Allah which He has given you.” (an-Nur, 24:33).

The consequence of this is that anyone who neglects Allah's dependents - on whom He has commanded that wealth be spent upon - has betrayed Allah's trust. And it is narrated in a hadith qudsi: 'All wealth is my wealth, the poor are my dependents, the wealthy are my trustees; and should my trustees be miserly, I will take my wealth back from them without compunction.' 1

The present surah also, highlights this reality from another dimension, because, in the Arabic, it actually uses the word for food (ta'am) - rather than the word for feeding (it’am) - to describe the act of giving food to the poor. This is as if to suggest that feeding the poor is merely conveying the food to its rightful owner, as one partner in a business returns the share of another to him. This is supported by something we read in another verse, that is:

“and there was a share in their wealth for the beggar and the deprived.” (adh-Dhariyat, 51:19).

So, what pride is there in that?

6. Discouraging Others From Feeding People

It is interesting to note that this surah at one point uses the phrase

“Have you seen the one who denies the din?” (al-Ma’un, 107:1).

and at another uses the word 'Woe...' (wayl) to rebuke something that is explicitly forbidden (haram) in the jurisprudential sense, that is to refrain from encouraging others to feed the needy and withholding help from others. We can resolve this peculiarity as follows:

a. The core of what is being censured here is denying the Day of Retribution which naturally engenders such behaviour, and which are prefixed with the causal conjunction ‘fa ('So, that is the one...')

b. That this act actually reveals the vileness that is present in the soul being rebuked for it, for a person might be excused for not feeding others, but he will not be excused from discouraging others from doing so.

7. Neglecting Prayers

'Woe' which is a word expressing the severity of punishment a person will experience on the Day of Resurrection is directed against the one who denies the Day of Retribution on more than ten occasions, and in this surah we can interpret this denier to be the one who is neglectful of his prayers, which is different from one who abandons them. In which case, we should ask ourselves that if this is the punishment for one who neglects his prayers, how could we conceive of the punishment awaiting one who abandons them completely?

8. Neglecting Prayers

When Allah says

“Woe to those who pray” (al-Ma’un, 107:4).

in this surah, it is directed at those who neglect (sahw) their prayers - but not to those who suffer lapse of attention (sahw) in their prayers, as this happens even with the believer. And this means those who attach little importance to their prayers and squander them, either by performing them intermittently, delaying them for no reason, or performing them to show off, and a natural corollary of this attitude is a lack of concern for the needs of others;

“but withhold from giving aid.” (al-Ma’un, 107:7).

As how can someone who has no concern for his own wellbeing be concerned for the needs of others? And this shows us the connection between the two verses.

9. Seeking Recompense From Other Creatures

It is only natural that someone who denies the Resurrection will seek his recompense from other creatures, as it the nature of the carnal soul to yearn for rewards and praise, which is why these people take recourse to showing off in their acts of worship - to curry favour with the inhabitants of this world. And this a continuous mode of behaviour for them, as Allah says 'who show off using the present tense of verb (mudari’). By contrast, fear of the hardships a person will face during the Resurrection directs his concern towards seeking the pleasure of his Master, who will grant him the best form of reward, which the Qur'an describes in the following verse, referring to the Prophet’s (S) Household (‘a):

“We feed you only for the sake of Allah. We do not want any reward from you or any thanks.” (al-Insan, 76:9).

“Indeed, we fear from our Lord a day, frowning and fateful.” (al-Insan, 76:10).

Therefore, anyone who is mindful of the fact that his ultimate return shall be to Allah and lives this reality with all of his being, he will not have to struggle to devote himself to his Lord in every instance. In fact, merely being aware of this reality at all times will make it easy for him to be devoted.

10. One Should Not Avoid Serving Others

Islam is a religion which combines many varieties of moral duty (taklif), including:

a. Those connected to the Creator, represented first and foremost by the obligatory prayers and the injunction to avoid showing-off to other people in them;

“those who show off.” (al-Ma’un, 107:6).

b. Those connected to other creatures, which this surah elaborates in a number of verses; such as not driving away the orphan –

“.... drives away the orphan” (al-Ma’un, 107:2).

encouraging others to feed the needy –

“does not urge the feeding of the needy” (al-Ma’un, 107:3).

and giving assistance to others –

“and withhold from giving aid.” (al-Ma’un, 107:7).

Therefore, anyone who uses worship to avoid serving other people has Indeed, strayed far from the spirit of the authentic and complete Islam.

11. Aid

Some people are very tolerant of deviant beliefs of others and see this as a matter of personal choice and freedom, and perhaps they do not see anything wrong with a person who holds these beliefs if they engage in good conduct and perform good deeds for mankind! In fact, these deviant beliefs and are contributing factors for immoral conduct. Some of which are enumerated in the verses of this surah after it mentions the denial of the Resurrection, such as driving away the orphan harshly, and even to the extent that a person leaves the bounds of common decency. And that is if we understand ‘aid’ (ma'un) in this surah to refer to something other than zakat, meaning that it includes all the things necessary for a home, such as pans, tools, plates and anything else that a person usually borrows. Imam al-Sadiq (‘a) explains this in the following words: 'It is a loan he gives, a provision he lends or a good deed that he does.'2

12. A Permissive Shari’ah

This surah, when explaining solidarity, does not mention something affirmative that goes back to the person himself, rather it calls on him not to drive away the orphan or not to withhold help, and both of these are negative actions. It also, calls on him to encourage others to feed the poor, which does not require that he do so, from his own property. From all these we understand that the Shari'ah is very permissive and wants us to not be evil in some areas and encourage others to do good in others.

13. Hard-Heartedness

There might be times when a person is afflicted by a dulling of feelings towards those orphans and needy persons around him; the cure for this state is concealed in this this surah, it is to visit the orphans and stroke their heads to rouse such feelings, to feed the needy and encourage others to do so, but if this state persists then it is the result of hard-heartedness.

And it is to this persistent state that the voice of rebuke is directed at in this surah, as such a state indicates that a person has become devoid of feeling, not merely dulled in them. And this is why expressions such as 'drives away...', 'does not urge...' and 'denies...' appear in this surah, as all of these indicate a continuous state because they are in the present tense!

14. Withholding Aid

When one person asks another for something to help him - e.g. the aid which is understood to mean things like salt, water and fire; basic provisions - this causes him to lose face, and even asking the simplest questions such as asking directions, involves humbling oneself. And this is why refusing to help - especially in small matters - is such a reprehensible behaviour! This is why Allah uses the expression ‘woe’ upon such people, when the Qur’an does not do this anywhere else except in matters of gravity. It has been narrated that the Prophet (S) said: 'Whoever denies aid to his neighbour, Allah will deny him His goodness on the Day of Resurrection and leave him to his own devices, and whomsoever Allah leaves to his own devices, what a terrible state he is in!3

15. Prayer And Zakat

The Qur’an frequently draws a connection between prayer and zakat, and what both of these have in common is that they involve stopping a person from being absorbed by other things. In the prayer, the human being forsakes other things in his heart, represented by different thoughts, to turn all his being towards his Creator, while in zakat he forsakes other things in the outside world, as represented by wealth, to turn his attention and concern towards other creatures.

This surah also, alludes to this relation between prayer and zakat because Allah mentions 'their prayers’ and ‘aid’ but also, brings out their clearest instances and those which most inspire empathy, for it talks about food which is one of the essential substances of life and about the needy person who is one of the lowest levels of the poor, before mentioning encouraging others to feed them, which is the easiest duty imaginable!

16. Hypocrites

One of the marks of the hypocrites is that they are disinterested in all personal human dimensions:

a. So, in matters of belief they have no solid reasoning against those with arguments, in which case they resort to denial, which is something easy that does not require any forethought:

“……who denies the din.” (al-Ma’un, 107:1).

b. And in matters of worship they are neglectful and inattentive towards them, often - if not always - missing the prayers;

“those who are heedless of their prayers” (al-Ma’un, 107:5).

and when they do perform the prayers, they do so, ostentatiously seeking praise and worldly rewards:

“those who show-off.” (al-Ma’un, 107:6).

c. And in matters of interaction with other people, they have no empathy for the suffering of others, nor do they encourage others to feed them;

“does not urge the feeding of the needy” (al-Ma’un, 107:3).

and refuse to give others aid, no matter how meagre it is;

“but withhold from giving aid.” (al-Ma’un, 107:7).

They even drive the orphan away from them.

So, what trait of humanity remains in them? Anyone who finds such traits in him is attached to them in the Hereafter, even if he is nominally counted amongst the ranks of the Muslims!

17. The Society’s Success

The ultimate lesson of this surah is that the way to a society's success rests on two principles, which those in authority must heed in every age:

a. Concern for matters of education and upbringing; most importantly, prayer, as this prevents indecencies and wrongdoing, which is why another verse says that one of the main priorities of those whom Allah has established upon the earth is maintaining the prayer4

b. Concern for matters of livelihood; most importantly, looking after the needs of the orphans and the weakest members of society, the needy, especially for their nourishment, which is something all people need in this life.

  • 1. Jami' al-Akhbar, 80.
  • 2. Al-Kafi 3/498.
  • 3. Man la Yahduruhu al-Faqih, 4/14.
  • 4. Surah al-Hajj:
    “Those who, should We establish them in the land, will keep up prayer and pay the poor-rate and enjoin good and forbid evil; and Allah's is the end of affairs.” (22:41).