Juz 9 of the Qur'an contains the last 118 verses of Surat al-A’raaf and the first 40 verses of Surat al-Anfal. One of the main themes of Surat al-A’raaf is discussions around resurrection and the descriptions of heaven and hell and somewhere in-between (the A’raaf). Beginning in verse 175, the story of a man from the Bani Isra’il named Balam bin Ba’ura is discussed. He had been bestowed with spiritual signs and stations in which the truth had been unveiled to him. He could have soared higher if it wasn’t for his materialistic desires for the worldly which he pursued and thus led himself away from God. It is important for us to take a lesson from this story: We may see God’s signs and recognise the Truth but choose to disregard them and follow our whims. Those who have the means to ascend to perfection yet do not utilise their intellect to find their purpose, resemble animals, particularly a cattle, as mentioned in this verse, as their goal is to only feed themselves. They thus lose focus and are those who are afflicted with heedlessness.
Innaa Hadha Al Qur'ana Yahdee li-latee hiya aqwamu wa yubashshir Al mu'mineen Allathi ya'malun al-salihat Anna lahum Ajran Kabira (17:9) [Indeed, this Qur'an guides to that which is most suitable and gives good tidings to the believers who do righteous deeds that they will have a great reward (17:9)].
Juz 9. 'A'udhu billahi min al-shaytan al-rajim (I seek refuge in Allah from the outcast Shaitan). Bismillah Al-Rahman Al-Rahim, I begin in the name of Allah, compassionate to all, merciful to each. As-salamu alaykum, and welcome to the eighth episode in this podcast series titled, "Journeying Our Eyes Through the Qur'an: Exploring 30 Juz in 30 days".
InshaAllah, we will continue our journey through the pages of the Qur'an as we take a brief look into the ninth juz of the Qur'an, which contains the last one hundred and eighteen verses of Surat al-A'raaf meaning Elevations and the first 40 verses of Surat al-Anfal, which means spoils of war.
Surat al A'raaf, like the chapter before it, as we mentioned yesterday, is Meccan. The main themes of this chapter include discussions of Ma'ad or Resurrection, and there are descriptions of Heaven and Hell and somewhere in between. The somewhere in between called the A'raaf or Elevations, a place where select individuals can look into both Heaven and Hell from an elevated place, as mentioned in verses 7:46-48 of this chapter. Although this will not be the topic of today's episode, listeners are encouraged to read about the topic of the A'raaf in Tafsir al Mizaan by Allamah Tabatabai. This particular section, which is really available in English at Almizan.org. Surat al A'raaf also includes the stories of several prophets.
Beginning in verse ten, there is a brief description of the creation of Adam, alayhi as-salam, father to us all, and Shaytan's rebellion against Allah Subhana wa Ta'ala, and his current status is our open enemy. He swears to do whatever he can to misguide mankind, to misguide Adam, alayhi as-salam, and Hawa, alayha as-salam, and to come to us from all angles, all four directions, as he does with Adam and Hawa. The chapter then transitions to reminders of Taqwa, our purpose in life, and warns us with a description of our eventual accountability and Heaven and Hell.
There is a brief discussion of the regret of the Hell dwellers who did not follow the true message and how, as humans, we can avoid going to hell. Following verse fifty nine, the chapter transitions back to the stories of previous prophets and how their rebellious communities were ultimately punished by Allah Subhana wa Ta'ala. This includes a few stories mentioned in chronological order: of prophets Nuh, Hud, Saleh, Lut, Shu'aib and lastly, Prophet Musa, alayhi as-salam. Prophet Musa, alayhi as-salam, is the most commonly mentioned prophet in the Qur'an, with his name being mentioned 136 times in the Qur'an, over 42 surahs and 131 verses.
His community, the Bani Israel is one of the most commonly mentioned nations in the Qur'an, with them being mentioned 40 times by name. At this point in the Surah, Allah Subhana wa Ta'ala, discusses some of Prophet Musa, alayhi as-salam's story and starting in verse 175, the story of a man from Bani Israel is narrated to us.
Bismillah, al-Rahman, al-Rahim. "Wa atlu alayhim naba' alladhee ataynahu ayatina fa ansalakha minha fa atba'ahu ash-shaytanu fa kana min al-ghawin (7:175). Relate to them an account of him to whom We gave Our signs, but he cast them off, Thereupon Satan pursued him and he became of the perverse (7:175).
"Wa law shi’na la raafa’nahu biha wa lakinnahu akhlada ila al-ardhı wa attabaaa hawah, famathluhu kamathal il-kalbi, in tahmil alayhi yalhath aw tatruku yalhath, thalika mathal ul-qaumi alladheena kadhdhabu bi ayatina, faqsusi il-qasasa la'allahum yatafakkarun (7:176). Had we wished, We would have surely raised him by their means, but he clung to the earth and followed his (base) desires. So his parable is that of a dog: if you make for it, it lolls out its tongue, and if you let it alone, it lolls out its tongue. Such is the parable of the people who deny Our signs. So recount these narratives, so that they may reflect (7:176).
"Sa mathalan il-qawmu alladheena kadhdhabu bi ayatina wa anfusahum kanu yadhlimun" (7:177). Evil is the parable of the people who deny Our signs and wrong themselves (7:177).
"Man yahdi Allahu fa huwa al-muhtadi, wa man yudlil fa ulaaika humu al-khasirun" (7:178). Whomever Allah guides is rightly guided, and whomever He leads astray- it is they who are the losers (7:178).
"Wa lakaad zara’na li jahannama katheeraan min al-jinni wa al-insi, lahum qulubun la yafkhahuna biha, wa lahum a’yunun la yubsıroona biha, wa lahum adhanun la yasma'una biha, ulaaika kal an’ami bal hum adhaallu, ulaaika humu al-ghafiloon"(7:179). Certainly we have widowed out for hell many of the jinn and humans who have hearts with which they do not understand. They have eyes with which they do not see. They have ears with which they do not hear. They are like cattle. Indeed, they are more astray. It is they who are the heedless (7:179).
This section of verses narrates the story of a man who is from the Bani Israel. In Ahadith literature, the man mentioned here is identified as Bal' am bin Ba'ura or in English Bal'am son of Beor. It is a story of how his obsession with the world removed him from God's mercy and guidance, even though he was a believer at a certain point in time, prior to what we see described in the verses. As stated in verse 175, Allah Subhana wa Ta'ala, says 'Ataynahu ayatina'(7:175).
Allama Tabataba'i in Tafsir al Mizan notes a few possibilities for this. But the main thing that we can take from this verse is that he had been endowed with a type of knowledge or spiritual signs and stations in which the truth had somehow been unveiled to him. Different ahadith mentioned what this might have been. Some opine that Bal'am was a scholar of religion and that he preached for Prophet Musa, alayhi as-salam. Other ahadith, note that he had knowledge of the greatest name of Allah Subhana wa Ta'ala. And that he would have his prayers responded to constantly.
Regardless of what precisely this access to the truth was that Bal'am had the point is that he decided to reject it, 'Fansalakha minha'(7:175) he pulled or stripped away the signs from himself, he rejected them. Because of this rejection. He was pursued by Shaytan and eventually led himself to a point where there was no turning back to the truth. In the next verse, Allah Subhana wa Ta'ala says that he could have been raised by virtue of what he understood, but that he clung to the Earth. 'Akhlada ila al-ardh'(7:176), the Arabic word Akhlada comes from Ikhlad, which means to be committed to something or stuck to it. And here the phrase is a metaphor for being absolutely obsessed with the material world and all that is in it.
He went against what he knew of the truth, 'akhlada ila al-ardh'. And the next part of the verse says 'wattaba'a hawahu'(7:176) - and he followed his desires, he followed his whims. This phrase is used in many places in the Qur'an, and it is the pursuit of one's lower Nafs, or lower whims. Unfortunately, although Bal'am had great potential and had reached a level of understanding, he chose to turn away from it. He chose to pursue the world instead, clinging to what was material and to what was lower.
It is interesting and tragic to know the story of Bal'am here, that perhaps we can see some of this in our own souls, where sometimes, despite knowing, despite seeing the Ayat and the signs of Allah, Subhana wa Ta'ala, we push these signs away and we prefer the world and its temporary pleasures instead of Allah Subhana wa Ta'ala's.
The next part of the verse is something even more shocking. And it says that the method or the example of Bal'am is like a dog and the lolling of its tongue. Whether you tell a dog to stop sticking out its tongue or to not do it or to do it, the dog will continue to do so. And this is the example of people who reject the signs of Allah, Subhana wa Ta'ala. It doesn't matter what you tell them because they've decided to reject the message, they will continue to do what they please. When somebody is in an active state of rejection, where despite the guidance that they see around them, despite understanding a level of the truth, they still actively rejected choosing what is lower and nothing will help them when they refuse to help themselves.
As Allah Subhana wa Ta'ala then says in verse 179, where he says that hell has been created for many of the jinns and humans, he says that the ones that make it to the Hellfire are the ones who have certain qualities: "lahum qulubun la yafkhahuna biha"(7:179) - they have hearts with which they do not understand the truth, "wa lahum a’yunun la yubsıroona biha"(7:179) - they have eyes which with they do not truly see, "wa lahum adhanun la yasma'una biha"(7:179) - they have ears with which they do not hear.
What these verses are saying is that despite being given an intellect, despite being given a heart, despite being given eyes and senses to perceive and see the wonderful world around them and to understand the purpose for which they were created for, this group of people, despite having the ability to see the truth, choose to reject the truth. And as such Allah Subhana wa Ta'ala says, "ulaaika kal an’am"(7:179) - they are like cattle, "bal hum adhaall"(7:179)'balhum azal'- but they are more lost, "ulaaika humu al-ghafiloon"(7:179)'- and they are the ones who are heedless.
This last phrase is interesting. Human beings are not like other animals and that they have this rational and intellectual and moral capability. There is a moral distinction in humanity that is unlike any other animal. As such, when animals act as animals or they go after food or they do whatever it is they need to do, there are only fulfilling their duties according to what they have been equipped with, and the purpose for which they were created. It's interesting that cattle is used in this verse, where for cattle, their only goal is to often feed themselves. Cattle as Allama Tabataba'i says, are not lost with respect to the goal that is set out for them. So you can't blame them.
But a person, a human being who becomes lost and acts animalistic is not like this. We have the means to reach perfection. We have an 'Aql, we can use our 'Aql. And yet if we use this, if we use our senses for animalistic purposes instead of the higher purposes for which we were created, then we are more lost. We have the capability for perfection and proximity to Allah Subhana wa Ta'ala, but if we reject it, we're worse.
The verse here ends by saying: "ulaaika humu al-ghafiloon"(7:179)', which means that these ones, the ones who reject what they see, who reject what they can see and choose not to see it, choose not to hear it, choose not to understand it, they are the ones who are afflicted with Ghaflah: heedlessness, distractedness, unmindfulness and sleepfulness from the higher goal of their purpose in life. They have completely distanced themselves from Allah Subhana wa Ta'ala.
This concept is again repeated in Surat al-Anfal, in the same juz in verse 20-24. There is a slightly different rendition of an identical concept, for Allah Subhana wa Ta'ala addresses those who believe and He warns them from falling into this type of perdition that we saw with the example mentioned in Surat al-A'raaf of Bal'am. Allah Subhana wa Ta'ala says:
Bismillah, al-Rahman, al-Rahim. "Ya ayyuha alladhina amanu atiu Allaha wa Rasulahu, wa la tawallau anhu, wa antum tasma'un" (8:20). O you who have faith! Obey Allah and His Apostle and do not turn away from him, while you hear him (8:20).
"Wa la takunu kalladhina qalu sami’na, wa hum la yasma'un" (8:21). Do not be like those who say we hear, though they do not hear (8:21).
"Inna sharra addawabbi inda Allahi as-summu al-bukmu alladhina la ya’khilun" (8:22). indeed, the worst of beasts in Allah's sight are the deaf and dumb who do not exercise their reason (8:22).
"Wa law 'alima Allahu fihim khayran la asma'ahum, va law asma'ahum la tawallaw, wa hum mu'ridhoon" (8:23). Had Allah known any good in them, he would have surely made them to hear, and were he to make them hear, surely they would turn away being disregardful (8:23).
"Ya ayyuha alladhina amanu, stajeeboo lil-Lahi wa li Rasuli, idha da'akum lima yuhyyikum, wa a'lamu anna Allaha yahulu bayn al-mar'i wa qaalbihi, wa annahu ilayhi tuhsharun" (8:24). o you who have faith answer Allah and the apostle when he summons you to that which will give you life, know that a law intervenes between a man and his heart, and that toward him he will be mustered (8:24).
InshaAllah we pray, that unlike Bal'am, we are able to answer Allah Subhana wa Ta'ala's call, that we are able to observe His signs and hold onto them. To follow His guidance and to bring our souls to that which will give us life, if we are open to it, if we are truth seeking. And if we follow the guidance that we know, turning away from the lower parts of this world, He will indeed aid us and nurture our hearts. Indeed, our destination is to Allah Subhana wa Ta'ala and Him alone.
Wa Al-Hamdulil-Lahi Rabbi Al-Alameen, wa salla Allahu alaa nabiyyina Muhammadin, wa alihi, al-tayibeen, al-tahireen. Wa assalamu alaykum, wa rahmatullahi, wa baraktu.
Rabbana La tuzigh Qulubana (3:8) [Our Lord, let not our hearts deviate (3:8)]