1. The Coherence and Order of Verses
This sūrah forms part of the block of the ten sūrahsrevealed to reform and purify the believing Muslims according to the Divine promise. Further, it is the last of the sūrahs which contain the Sharī‘ahinjunctions. We have detailed this discussion in the beginning of Sūrah al-Ḥadīd (57). Besides, this sūrah is the complement of the previous sūrahin that it explains the same themes. Therefore, a review of the commentary of the previous sūrah is recommended.
In the block of the ten sūrahs, termed sūrahs of purification, starting from Sūrah al-Ḥadīd to Sūrah al-Taḥrīm, every human being has been strictly commanded to reform the religious and moral status of himself as well as of his family. The Almighty has concluded this sūrah with a clear warning that, in the divine religion, no living being will bear the burden of another and that no soul will be able to absolve others of their responsibilities. This concluding discussion corresponds to what has been reckoned in the seventh verse which says:
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا لَا تَعْتَذِرُوا الْيَوْمَ إِنَّمَا تُجْزَوْنَمَا كُنتُمْ تَعْمَلُونَ
O you unbelievers! Make no excuses this day! You are being but requited for all that you did! (Q 66:7)
The implication is that no excuses presented by these people will be helpful. For the judgment will be based on the deeds and actions of men in the light of the perfect knowledge and absolute justice of the Almighty. This fact has frequently been mentioned in the Book of God. Consider the following verses:
أَلَّا تَزِرُ وَازِرَةٌ وِزْرَ أُخْرَى
No bearer of burdens can bear the burden of another. (Q 53:38)
هَلْ تُجْزَوْنَ إِلَّا مَا كُنتُمْ تَعْمَلُونَ
Do you receive a reward other than that which you have earned by your deeds? (Q. 27:90)
This issue will be discussed in detail in the seventh chapter. The stress however is that it is incumbent upon the believers to strictly review their conduct.
The discussion in the sūrah is inaugurated by an address to the holy Prophet [sws]. We see that he has been held accountable for something which is usually taken as a trivial issue. Sometimes people prohibit a pure and allowable thing to themselves, believing that they are doing a commendable act through which they can please their Lord. But the sūrah has clearly identified and defined the essence of the guidance of the straight path and the natural religion. This is identified as the perfect “light” which was foretold in the statements of Jesus Christ according to John. Here in this sūrah this religion has also been referred to as the “light” and also in other similar contexts in the Book. Details on this topic can be found in my commentary on Sūrah al-Nūr and Sūrah al-Ḥadīd. The censure sounded to the Prophet [sws] is joined to a specific issue that came to pass between the Prophet [sws] and his family. This serves to teach us that if it were allowable for us to adopt a take-it-easy attitude in religious affairs, the Prophet [sws] would be the first man to be allowed this (verse 1-5).
After this short preface, the believers have been addressed in their totality. They are told to follow the Prophet [sws] and remain careful about their personal conduct as well as to that of their families (verse 6-7). Later on, they are consoled and told that they are required to do this only in order that they are purified from sins so that they are able to join the Prophet [sws]. This in turn guides them to emulate the Prophet’s conduct. Allah has given them the glad tiding that He will bless the Prophet [sws] on the Day of Judgment by bestowing honour to the members of his purified family and his righteous Companions. The Arabs took any insult to their clients as an insult to themselves. Honor of one’s clients and relatives earned was considered the honour of a man himself. A very famous verse attributed to Ṭarafah makes this point abundantly clear:
واعلم علما ليس بالظن
إذا ذل مولى المرء فهو ذليل
I know very well, without any doubt, that when a man’s mawlā (near relations and cousins) client is disgraced, he grows lowly.
In these verses, the Almighty Allah intends to bestow honor upon His Messenger [sws] by stressing that he should work for the purification of his Companions. This corresponds to the responsibilities of the promised Prophet [sws] in the following verse:
وَيُزَكِّيهِمْ وَيُعَلِّمُهُمُ الْكِتَابَ وَالْحِكْمَةَ
To purify them and to instruct them in the Book and Wisdom. (Q 62:2)
Since this applied to the family of the Prophet [sws] especially, they have been given stern commands. If he were to show lenience to them, they would have departed from him, failing to accompany him in this world and the one to come. It is indeed the great blessing of God that He gave the Prophet [sws] the glad tiding that he and his entourage would be spared disgrace. By this glad tiding, God made it clear to them that stern supervision and strict disciplining was not intended to make life hard for them. On the contrary, it was only to ensure their purification so that they could receive God’s blessing. At another place, God says to the Companions:
مَا يُرِيدُ اللّهُ لِيَجْعلَ عَلَيْكُم مِّنْ حَرَجٍ وَلَـكِن يُرِيدُ لِيُطَهَّرَكُمْ وَلِيُتِمَّ نِعْمَتَهُ عَلَيْكُمْ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَشْكُرُونَ
Allah does not wish to place you in a difficulty, but to purify you, and to complete His favour to you, that you may be grateful. (Q 5:6)
Similarly, it has been said concerning the family of the Prophet [sws]:
إِنَّمَا يُرِيدُ اللَّهُ لِيُذْهِبَ عَنكُمُ الرِّجْسَ أَهْلَ الْبَيْتِ وَيُطَهِّرَكُمْ تَطْهِيرًا
And Allah only wishes to remove all abomination from you, o members of the family, and to make you pure and spotless. (Q 33:33)
This serves to console their hearts. Similarly, in this sūrahtoo, the Prophet [sws] has been given the following glad tiding:
يَوْمَ لَا يُخْزِي اللَّهُ النَّبِيَّ وَالَّذِينَ آمَنُوا مَعَهُ نُورُهُمْ يَسْعَى بَيْنَ أَيْدِيهِمْ وَبِأَيْمَانِهِمْ
The Day that Allah will not humiliate the Prophet and those who believe with him. Their light will run forward before them and by their right hands. (Q 66:8)
This followed a mention of strict disciplining and accountability and corresponding promise of success in the Afterlife (verse 6).
Afterwards, this responsibility of the Prophet [sws] to watch over his ummahhas been extended. The Prophet [sws] has been commanded to fight the unbelievers and the hypocrites. He has been commanded to be hard on them before they meet the punishment destined for them by the hands of the powerful and strict army of God, His angels. (verse 9)
This is followed by a mention of four examples descriptive of the real issue: perseverance in discharging one’s responsibility towards his concerned people. By this he prepares himself for fulfilling his duties to the religion and cuts off the root of the wrong perception and baseless hopes. This way He removed the possible excuses of the ignorant and conceited disbelievers among the Arabs and the Jews who boasted of their noble descent and who believed that their forefathers would win salvation for them on the Last Day. Details will be given under the seventh section.
2. Accountability and Retribution is the Sunnah of Allah
Strict accountability is not promised to the ummah of the holy Prophet [sws] alone. It is a general Divine Sunnah related to all the Divine Messengers. However, the last episode of the divine institution of prophethood has revealed and manifested this exercise in its ultimate form. The Qur’ān has clearly explained that this process of accountability and retribution is the Sunnah of God based on His perfect justice and wisdom. The Book tells us that He reprimanded Adam, Noah, David, Jesus Christ and Muḥammad. Each was held accountable by Allah. Similarly, we learn from the Qur’ān that Abraham, Job, Jonah, Moses, and Muhammad [sws] complained to God and argued with Him. It is not possible for a human to hold Allah accountable for something. What I intend to make plain to you the true perspective and the occasion of the Divine anger. It is Allah’s blessing on His servants that He holds them accountable in order to discipline them. This is the real essence and the main purpose of Allah’s censures. The Qur’ān says:
فَأَخَذْنَاهُمْ بِالْبَْاسَاء وَالضَّرَّاء لَعَلَّهُمْ يَتَضَرَّعُونَ
So We afflicted them (the nations) with suffering and adversity, that they might learn humility. (Q 6:42)
It has been expressed in detail in the commentary on Sūrah al-‘Abas (80) and al-A‘rāf (7). When a believer complains to God and argues with Him, he expresses his reliance on Him and his expectations from Him.
3. Central Theme of the Sūrah: Accountability and Preparation for Retribution
The above discussion clearly shows that the main theme of this sūrahis that a man is responsible for those under his authority. In addition, a man needs to turn to God in repentance and to fulfill his religious duties. The ailments of waywardness have been provided remedies so that whoever intends to and is able to purify himself can do so, as has been said elsewhere in the Book:
لِّيَهْلِكَ مَنْ هَلَكَ عَن بَيِّنَةٍ وَيَحْيَى مَنْ حَيَّ عَن بَيِّنَةٍ
So that those who died might die after a clear sign had been given, and those who lived might live after a clear sign had been given. (Q 8:42)
Every human being is responsible for himself and his family. God has, therefore, warned people of the unpleasant consequences of showing lenience in these religious obligations. He frightened them of the grasp of the heavenly angels “who are stern and severe, who flinch not from executing the commands they receive from Allah, but do precisely what they are commanded.” (Q 66.06) Therefore, the humans have to opt for sincere repentance accompanied by faithful disclosure of the contents of the hearts before God, while paying no attention to any criticism, censure, or abuse from the people. This way they can avoid the humiliation of the Day of Judgment, receive Allah’s forgiveness, and win the perfect light.
God advised the believers to stand firm on the right path and prepare themselves for the accountability and continue advising their family and the related people to do the same. Similarly the holy Prophet [sws] too is commanded to strive hard against the hypocrites and the unbelievers and to deal sternly with them so that they are convinced of the religious truths and are made ready to repent for their sins in this world or otherwise face the doom of Hell on the Day of Judgment. On that day, neither blood relation with the Divine Prophets shall work nor will their faith that is stained with hypocrisy. This reality has also been explained in Sūrah Ḥadīd, which is the first of this group of sūrahs dealing with the issue of purification of the body of the believers. Thus the Almighty has commanded the Prophet [sws] to deal harshly with people concerning the religious matters. This corresponds to what the Prophet Yaḥyā b. Zakariyyā foretold of the qualities of the Last Prophet [sws]:
Whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire. (Matthew 3:12)
Similarly, we find in the vision of the Prophet Yaḥyā that “the Prophet [sws] will shepherd them with an iron spur.” The detail of this issue will be offered in the commentary on Sūrah al-Fīl (Q 105).
That severity in observing the religious injunctions and spiritual disciplines is one of the religious obligations that can be learnt from the life history of Jesus Christ, Moses, Abū Bakr and ‘Umar as detailed in my book, Fī Malakūt Allah. The reader may also refer to my commentary on the verse: Their desire is that you should be pliant: so would they be pliant. (Q 68:09)
Accountability is the most primary religious tenet. God is extremely merciful. He, however, does not depend on and is not in need of any of His creatures. He runs His whole system on justice. Every reasonable person appreciates the fact that harsh accountability is a sign of mercy rather than spitefulness and hardheartedness. Do you not see that God Almighty negated the attribute of hardheartedness in the person of the Prophet [sws]? God says:
فَبِمَا رَحْمَةٍ مِّنَ اللّهِ لِنتَ لَهُمْ وَلَوْ كُنتَ فَظًّا غَلِيظَ الْقَلْبِ لاَنفَضُّوْا مِنْ حَوْلِكَ
It is part of the Mercy of Allah that you do deal gently with them; were you severe or harsh-hearted, they would have broken away from about you. (Q 03:159).
Further details in this regard will be given under the explanation of the verse: Strive hard against the unbelievers and the hypocrites. (Q 66:09).
4. The Religion based on Human Nature requires Following the Mean Point
Between Sinfulness and Asceticism
The second necessary element in the process of accountability is that one needs to exert his full efforts to remain steadfast in following the middle path. Many nations of the world persistently ignored following the middle road. The Qur’ān has pointed out at many occasions. God says:
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوْا لاَ تُحَرِّمُوْا طَيِّبَاتِ مَا أَحَلَّ اللّهُ لَكُمْ وَلاَ تَعْتَدُوْا إِنَّ اللّهَ لاَ يُحِبُّ الْمُعْتَدِينَ وَكُلُوْا مِمَّا رَزَقَكُمُ اللّهُ حَلاَلاً طَيِّبًا وَاتَّقُوْا اللّهَ الَّذِيَ أَنتُم بِهِ مُؤْمِنُونَ
O you who believe, make not unlawful the pure things which Allah has made lawful for you, and commit no excess: for Allah loves not those given to excess. Eat of the things which Allah has provided for you, lawful and pure; and fear Allah, in whom you believe. (Q 05:87-8)
This verse states that prohibiting the allowed is an act of transgression.
The holy Prophet [sws] too has explained that the religion based on nature and the straight path is nothing but the mean path. The presentation of the theme in the sūrah follows a style that shows that this issue demands serious and constant care by the believer. The sūrah starts with an issue which negates asceticism, so that we learn that rendering an allowable thing as disallowed is as criminal as is making an illicit thing lawful; both are acts of transgression and crookedness. The only difference is that legitimization of the illicit is a transgression caused by human covetousness and trespassing, while forbidding the licit things is asceticism which develops from ignorance and foolishness.
Religion is something that is stationed farthest from ignorance. Ignorance opens into polytheism. Appropriate and commendable forms of asceticism are a product of knowledge rather than ignorance. God says:
إِنَّمَا يَخْشَى اللَّهَ مِنْ عِبَادِهِ الْعُلَمَاء
Those truly fear Allah, among His Servants, are those who have knowledge. (Q 35:28)
This commendable form of asceticism is the fear of God. This fear is based on knowledge. It is something required in the religion. We have already discussed this issue in detail in our commentary on the opening verses of Sūrah al-Baqarah (Q 2).
The Qur’ān has described the habitants of Hell in these words:
لَهُمْ قُلُوبٌ لاَّ يَفْقَهُونَ بِهَا وَلَهُمْ أَعْيُنٌ لاَّ يُبْصِرُونَ بِهَا وَلَهُمْ آذَانٌ لاَّ يَسْمَعُونَ بِهَا أُوْلَـئِكَ كَالأَنْعَامِ بَلْ هُمْ أَضَلُّ أُوْلَـئِكَ هُمُ الْغَافِلُونَ
They have hearts wherewith they understand not, eyes wherewith they see not, and ears wherewith they hear not. They are like cattle, - nay more misguided: for they are heedless of warning. (Q 07:179)
This verse occurs in a context where the polytheists are under discussion. We learn that carelessness and ignorance lead to polytheism. On the contrary, the holy Qur’ān and the Prophet [sws] approve of and praise rationality, knowledge, and wisdom, which are the characteristics of the believers. Knowledge and wisdom lead one to the right path and guard him from trespassing and falling into asceticism. Both are the paths of the transgressors.
In the Qur’ān there are other verses which warn us of the evil of asceticism. God says:
قُلْ مَنْ حَرَّمَ زِينَةَ اللّهِ الَّتِيَ أَخْرَجَ لِعِبَادِهِ وَالْطَّيِّبَاتِ مِنَ الرِّزْقِ
Say: Who has forbidden the beautiful gifts of Allah, which He has produced for His servants, and the things, clean and pure, for sustenance? (Q 07:32)
At another place, the Almighty says:
وَرَهْبَانِيَّةً ابْتَدَعُوهَا مَا كَتَبْنَاهَا عَلَيْهِمْ إِلَّا ابْتِغَاء رِضْوَانِ اللَّهِ
But regarding monasticism, which they themselves invented, We did not prescribe for them: only the seeking the good pleasure of Allah. (Q 57:27)
5. Difference between Transgression and Asceticism
You have learnt that perfection in religious conduct is obtained by following the mean path between two extremes: transgression and asceticism. You have also seen that asceticism is similar to transgression in that it is also sin. It is necessary to appreciate the difference between the two.
Transgressing limits is a sin graver than asceticism. It is an attitude perfectly opposite to servitude and obedience. It reflects arrogance and devilishness which are abominable by their very nature. Asceticism, however, is a different form of transgression. It can at times work as a trainer of one’s self. Just as a doctor cures a disease by putting the patient through diet, a pious person is permitted to cure his spiritual ailments through renunciation of the world in particular circumstances. In this case, asceticism produces positive results and can be condoned. The problem, however, occurs when a person takes asceticism as a desirable thing which is liked by God. It is ignorance and is dangerous for one’s faith. This ideal negates and aspires to change the human nature created by God. It causes many spiritual diseases. In such a condition, asceticism needs to be strictly forbidden.
You may infer from an observation of the way of life of the pious servants of God and the Prophets [sws] that they liked asceticism and considered it the best manifestation of pure fitrah. But this is not the truth. Their behavior resembling a kind of asceticism owes itself to the fact that they intend to cure a specific spiritual ailment in them or to set an example for the reformation of an ailed community. The Prophet of an ailed nation might have intended to cure them of certain spiritual diseases and make them come nearer to the pure natural state. This is partly seen in the life of Jesus and John. They came with a mission to establish the pure natural course and to pave the way for the last and final prophecy. We know that the holy Qur’ān has negated the view that Jesus set and prescribed asceticism. This has already been explained at the end of the previous discussion.
Therefore, if there seems to be any glimpse of asceticism in the life of a Prophet [sws], we should not take it to be from of nor derived from asceticism. Whatever actions of the Prophet [sws] resemble a form of asceticism should not be interpreted to mean that he adopted this path. He did such acts with the clear view that the pure things are allowable. He did not mean to declare the pure things illicit for him, such as in the instance discussed in this sūrah. Rather he was sure of the allowance of the thing he stopped to use. However, some aspects of the thing he stopped to use were unclear to him and he feared them harmful. Then God clarified this reality to him about which he was not clear and ordered him to break his vow. The issue will be discussed in detail later.
6. The Pieces of Revelation came in the Most Suitable Occasions.
I have clarified in my book, Shān al-Nuzūl (Occasion of Revelation) that the Qur’ān spoke of an issue at the most appropriate time. This served to make the pious hearts accept its directions readily and benefit from it. Rain is most needed during a draught. Food is most cherished when one is hungry. Similarly, entertainment is needed when one has had a hectic and tiring work. This process follows the Divine sunnahgoverning all the natural phenomenon. God bestows blessings to creatures according to their requirements and abilities. We see that ease follows difficulty. In the same fashion, this sūrah containing guidance regarding accountability was revealed only when God created an atmosphere which suited its revelation.
I have also pointed out in my book on occasion of revelation that the historical narratives about the causes of revelation differ greatly. This is because the later scholars have erroneously considered the understandings of the earlier authorities as historical facts concerning the circumstances in which the directives were revealed. This bulk of paradoxical narratives was, later on, enriched by additions of the heretics. Thus the corpus spawned and multiplied. I cannot go into the details regarding this aspect at the moment. For I have already clarified the issue in the aforementioned book.
I only need here to help you understand that some sayings about the occasion of revelation of this sūrah enshroud the real meaning of the discourse and mix darkness into its pure light. This calls for a discussion on the issue to make the truth of the matter clear.
7. The Occasion of Revelation of the Sūrah in the Perspective of the Principle of Guidance
Just as the people wandered into polytheism because of ignorance, they similarly thought out of ignorance, of course, that merely a relationship to the Prophets [sws] and the pious servants of God was appreciated by God. This is the worst form of ignorance. Many nations were ruined by this misconception. The Jews serve as a major example. They were proud of their forefathers including Abraham [sws] and Jacob [sws]. They also boasted of being a nation which God blessed by sending among them the Prophets and of enjoying the help He extended towards them. This attitude not only reflects stupidity, but is also considered foolishness and thanklessness. Strong determination requires that a man tries to become a worthy successor. Gratefulness requires that a man does not brag of the bounties Allah has blessed him with without considering whether or not he really deserved them. Boasting of one’s kinship is a devilish element. It has destroyed Satan. It also poses a threat of ruin to his followers.
The mercy of God therefore required that the Jews be put through different humiliating trials so that the Divine rule of Justice is exposed to them so that they are offered an opportunity to reflect and purify themselves of the evil thought. Accordingly, they were enslaved and killed. Many hardships and destructions were unleashed upon them. Their Prophets frequently and abundantly warned them regarding their stupidities and gracelessness, but yet to no avail.
We refer to one such warning sounded to them through the Prophet Yaḥyā [sws]. He said to them:
Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not think to say to yourselves: We have Abraham as our father. For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. (Matthew 3:7-11)
At many occasions, the Qur’ān stresses that man is responsible for himself and stresses upon the trust of freedom of choice granted to him. He should not expect that his relations to any of the creatures can be of help. In Sūrah Luqmān it has been said:
يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ اتَّقُوا رَبَّكُمْ وَاخْشَوْا يَوْمًا لَّا يَجْزِي وَالِدٌ عَن وَلَدِهِ وَلَا مَوْلُودٌ هُوَ جَازٍ عَن وَالِدِهِ شَيْئًا إِنَّ وَعْدَ اللَّهِ حَقٌّ فَلَا تَغُرَّنَّكُمُ الْحَيَاةُ الدُّنْيَا
O mankind, fear your Lord, and fear a day when no father can avail aught for his son, nor a son avail aught for his father. Verily, the promise of Allah is true: let not then this present life deceive you. (Q 31:33)
The same theme runs through the stories of the son of Noah, the wife of Lot, the Son of Ādhar and the wife of Pharaoh, all of which are related in the Qur’ān. All these stories imply that on the Day of Judgment, no relations or ties will be of any use.
In the verses under discussion, this very reality has been clearly explained and fairly highlighted. This sūrah makes it clear to the hypocrites and the unbelievers that they do not have anything to depend on except for their personal conduct and belief. It should be noted that the hypocrites and the unbelievers among the Prophet’s addressees were either from amongst the Arabs or the Jews. Both of these groups traced their origin to Abraham.
Similarly, the sūrah also addresses the believers and stresses the need of strict supervision of their families regarding religious conduct. They should not be lenient. At the same time, the believers have been warned about showing excess in the process of accountability and regarding unnaturally prohibiting things which Allah has made allowable.
These are three distinct teachings sprouting from the same root. The verses containing them were not revealed until an atmosphere was created which was conducive for the reception of the principle as well as its applications. Something happened that was apparently an ordinary incident. Allah Almighty, however, used it as a source of effective guidance to His servants. A very sublime teaching and a great wisdom could be communicated to the hearts of the believers. There is a saying among the Arabs that expresses this fact. They say: small affairs give rise to great ones.
The divine scriptures use this technique. A clear example is that of the incident of the blind person related in Sūrah ‘Abas (Q. 80) where the Prophet [sws] was taught a lesson of extraordinary importance. Likewise, Moses [sws] and Aaron [sws] forgot to invoke Allah’s name while commanding water out of a rock for the Israelites (Numbers 20:11-12). God rebuked them on this (Numbers 20: 23-24). Sulaymān [sws] too was censured for a minor failure. God holds the chosen individuals accountable for small errors and mistakes while He ignores sins of the first order from the common men. People of understanding have in these directives great wisdom and point of ponder. A detailed discussion on this issue can found in my commentary on the following verses: If Allah were to punish men according to what they deserve (Q 35:45), as well as verses in sūrah 80.
Here I intend to state that parts of the divine revelation come in the appropriate conducive atmosphere. This fulfills the purpose of the revelation. This way the message is not lost upon the receivers. They are naturally inclined to lend full attention to it. When an incident occurs which calls for a divine revelation, the Almighty does not only address that particular issue, but He also sends down revelations covering the basics of the problem and other necessary relevant details. However, the coherence is not damaged. Apparently, unrelated and segmented issues are woven by a single thread of the root of all these issues. This calls for a deep and careful deliberation upon the text of the Book.
8. The Occasion of Revelation of Verse 1 and 2
Women are naturally weak and sensitive. This reflected in their dislike of certain foods. One of the wives of the Prophet [sws] felt such a dislike for any of the pure and allowable things. It could have been honey as some reports tell us. For we know that some kinds of honey are bad smelling and taste sour. The holy Prophet [sws], however, liked honey very much. But when he came to know that one of his wives did not like it, he stopped eating it, for he was an extremely accommodating man. He did so because he was naturally a generous person. He was very kind towards the weak, especially to women and the orphans, and liked the pure and nice things. He disliked the smelly and dirty things, which is a basis of the distinction between the prohibited and allowed. Therefore, he stopped eating honey yielding to the desires of any such of his wives besides the aforementioned reasons. When the Companions of the Prophet [sws] came to know this, they too decided to stop eating honey following the Prophetic example. The Almighty, therefore, commanded all the people to break their vow which obliged them to stop eating honey. He clarified that it would not entail violating the vow. This is implied by the divine saying: “Allah is your Protector”. (Q 66:02) No other entity has the right to oblige you to do anything. All vows and responsibilities are due to Him alone. He is commanding you to break this vow. He does not command you to do something harmful and evil, for He is the Wise, the Knowing.
This divine guidance teaches us a number of things.
First, it is desirable to keep one’s wife happy. It is a very commendable conduct. However, one must not cross the limit in pursuing the wishes of one’s wives. One must not violate a religious commandment. In SūrahLuqmān, God Almighty has taught us the same. He guided the human beings to be polite and obedient towards parents. But at the same time, He forbade them to obey the parents when obeying them amounted to defiance of divine injunctions. Similarly, here too, God has forbidden us only that which amounts to disobeying God.
Second, if a person vows something that violates a Divine command, it becomes obligatory for him to break such an oath. No commitment can be considered a real commitment until it is agreed upon by both the parties involved. One cannot vow something presumably in the favor of God while in reality it is not. In these cases he is not bound to fulfill his vow for the other party, God Almighty, has expressly forbidden it. The sayings of the holy Prophet [sws] also confirm this view.
Third, it denies asceticism in clear words as we have discussed under the first and the fourth headings.
Fourth, we learn that God intends to bless this ummah. He has completed the religion He willed for them. He does not leave even apparently ordinary issues. He has taught us that we must not ignore the fact that there are issues which seem very trivial to us, but in reality have great consequences.
Fifth, we learn that the teachings of the Sharī‘ah are based on Divine wisdom and knowledge.
Sixth, it is only God who has the power to declare the lawful and the unlawful. It is a serious wrong to take up this responsibility ourselves. He has clarified this matter in the following verse:
وَلاَ تَقُولُوْا لِمَا تَصِفُ أَلْسِنَتُكُمُ الْكَذِبَ هَـذَا حَلاَلٌ وَهَـذَا حَرَامٌ لِّتَفْتَرُوْا عَلَى اللّهِ الْكَذِبَ إِنَّ الَّذِينَ يَفْتَرُونَ عَلَى اللّهِ الْكَذِبَ لاَ يُفْلِحُونَ
But say not – regarding any false thing that your tongues may put forth –that thisis lawful, and this is forbidden, so as to ascribe false things to Allah; those who ascribe false things to Allah will never prosper. (Q 16:116)
We know that the Prophet [sws] did not prohibit to himself the thing he vowed to avoid. However, his actions and that of his Companions are examples for the oncoming generation. This is why the Prophet [sws] had stopped offering his night prayer in the mosque in congregation. This issue has been discussed in detail in the commentary on the verse:
اتَّخَذُوْا أَحْبَارَهُمْ وَرُهْبَانَهُمْ أَرْبَابًا مِّن دُونِ اللّهِ
They take their priests and their anchorites to be their lords other than Allah. (Q 09:31)
This issue has also been discussed through partly in Sūrahal-An‘ām (Q. 6). The referred to discussions aim to prove that innovation is basically a form of polytheism and unbelief.
These are the basic teachings that can be inferred from pondering over this part of the sūrah. As for the endeavors to precisely determine what the Prophet [sws] stopped eating, they are merely a waste of time. I do not see any use of digging into something that God decided not to mention.
This is the occasion of revelation of the first two verses. The next verses relate to a different story and now I will discuss what occasioned them.
9. The Occasion of Revelation of Verses 3-5
The verses 3 to 5 relate to a similar story. This follows the common style of mentioning similar things together. We see that, in the Qur’ān, the stories starting from the word idh (recall when this and this sharpened) are generally similar to the preceding one. This holds true in this instance too. The naturally good disposition of the holy Prophet [sws] has been implied in the first incident. It describes how he cared for his wives. This is followed by another incident which reveals another aspect of his worthy attitude. It has been explicated that he used to share secrets with his wives.
1. There is no doubt that this is the most prominent feature of an ideal relationship between a man and his wife. If a husband conceals something from his wife, he virtually disgraces her. It means that he considers this relationship merely as a source of sexual satisfaction.
2. Following this fact, the Almighty referred to the women’s duty to keep the secrets of their husbands. This has been more clearly put in a parallel discussion in the Qur’ān. The Almighty reminded women of their responsibility regarding the secrets shared with them by their husbands. The holy Qur’ān says in this regard:
فَالصَّالِحَاتُ قَانِتَاتٌ حَافِظَاتٌ لِّلْغَيْبِ بِمَا حَفِظَ اللّهُ
Therefore the righteous women are devoutly obedient, and guard (the secrets of their husbands) for Allah too guards (the secrets). (Q 4:34)
A close study of the verse shows that keeping secrets is very important, as it is the quality of God to also keep secrets. God is termed as the One guarding the secrets (sattār).
3. The verse under discussion here also shows that we should not be harsh while advising somebody, especially our wives. The Prophet has set an example for us. He merely mentioned the matter to his wife. He did not relate the whole story. This he did in order to avoid embarrassing her by detailing the incident.
4. The verses clarify that love between co-wives is a great quality, although for the most part it remains unsuccessful. This rare quality was found in the wives of the holy Prophet [sws], especially ‘Ā’ishah (rta) and Ḥafṣah (rta), who were exceptionally wise and pure. It was because of this mutual love between the two that one of them shared the secret confided in her by the Prophet [sws] to her co-wife. The Almighty has chided her on revealing the secret even though in doing so she was perusing other ideals, i.e. mutual love, trust and affection.
Nobody can deny that this attitude based on love and care for others has advantages over many other virtuous deeds. A similar example is the pleading of Noah [sws] for the deliverance of his son. Another example is offered by Abraham [sws] who said that he would pray for his father. All these steps by the religious personalities were based on love and care for others, which are obviously good virtues. Yet another analogous behavior is asceticism that is a result of determination to do good and avoid evil. Allah has stopped us from prohibiting a good thing to ourselves owing to harshness in our attitudes. On this very same ground, He has stopped us from doing every seemingly naturally good act and taking them as an allowance solely based on our good and accommodating attitude. If we show a good and loving attitude, it does not mean that we may allow others what is unlawful and inadvisable. Islam is a central point between excessive harshness and excessive kindness. It looks at everything from a mean point of view.
5. The discourse then turns to ‘Ā’ishah (rta) and Ḥafṣah (rta), in that they returned to Allah and repented. I will discuss this in detail under my commentary on the words ṣaghat qulūbukumā. Reconciliation between two groups after a war, and reunion after a misunderstanding, brings one a wonderful feeling. This sense can be found in the most beautiful form in pure and real repentance. For details, consider the verse 132 and 135 of Sūrah‘Āl-‘Imrān (Q 3) where Allah praises the repentant. These verses clearly establish the gracefulness of repentance.
Love and care between a husband and wife is very important and obligatory. This has been slightly hinted at in the verse:
وَإِن تَظَاهَرَا عَلَيْهِ فَإِنَّ اللَّهَ هُوَ مَوْلَاهُ وَجِبْرِيلُ
But if you back up each other against him, truly Allah is his Protector, and Gabriel… (Q 66:04).
This inference is further corroborated by many Aḥādīth. It is well known that the Prophet [sws] helped his Companions in all kinds of tasks. Similarly, he was always keen to help his wives in his domestic chores. This treatment of the holy Prophet [sws] created an atmosphere of love and respect that could be called the best display of mutual trust and love.
When he showed anger after the secrets he had confided in one of his wives was revealed by her, and when the mutual love and frankness between the Prophet [sws] and two of his wives was weakened, both the wives felt great hurt. The feeling of self-respect and dignity was agitated. This feeling, at times, is found in most respectable and honorable individuals. Still, however, in some cases it may find unnecessary and inappropriate display. The two wives of the Prophet [sws] showed a lack of care towards the Prophet [sws], as is sometimes observed between couples. These two wives, however, thought it to be a private affair that had nothing to do with the religion.
Here it will be necessary to mention that self-respect was a part of the natural traits of the Arabs. This quality was mainly responsible for their resistance to surrender before any authority. It was not only a great passion, but also the main stream of their nature and the source of great good.
Keeping this aspect in view, Allah Almighty reminded the wives of the Prophet [sws] that his love, respect, and care that he showed them was not but a display of his generosity towards them. This is his kindness for them. Is not his relation with Allah enough for the Prophet [sws] so that he should look for the comfort and consolation in other relations? In the presence of al-rūḥ al-qudus (the Holy Spirit), the believers, the pious, and the angels suffice for him. If the wives get angry with him, it will be destructive for their own hearts. His comfort will not be disturbed at all.
6. The Almighty has also clearly stated that disobeying the Prophet [sws] basically means disobedience to God. Therefore, they both must repent for what they did.
7. Then in the fifth verse, the respect and God-consciousness in their nature is mentioned. It has been clarified that Allah Himself has chosen the relations for the Prophet [sws] and has blessed them with a good nature. In this regard Allah says:
وَالطَّيِّبَاتُ لِلطَّيِّبِينَ وَالطَّيِّبُونَ لِلطَّيِّبَاتِ
Women of purity are for men of purity, and men of purity are for women of purity. (Q 24:26)
This establishes them as pure for they are the consorts of the pure Prophet [sws]. At another place He says:
إِنَّمَا يُرِيدُ اللَّهُ لِيُذْهِبَ عَنكُمُ الرِّجْسَ أَهْلَ الْبَيْتِ وَيُطَهِّرَكُمْ تَطْهِيرًا
And Allah only wishes to remove all abomination from you, you members of the family, and to make you pure and spotless. (Q 33:33)
Therefore, the family of the Prophet [sws] should not be proud of their position. The light they enjoy is due to the company of the holy Prophet [sws]. If the Prophet [sws] leaves them and chooses some other wives, the newly chosen consorts will prove better than these two. Therefore, it is necessary for the wives of the Prophet [sws] to take their position only in respect to him as a source of the advantage. They must remain obedient to him. They have in their good naturalness a capacity to show this ideal attitude. It has been affirmed that they have already shown their tendency to repent. Their hearts have already melted. For the self-respect they showed was basically a product of modesty and chasteness as is reflected in relations between a husband and wife. The apparent show of anger and carelessness was in reality a reflection of love and care. We have discussed this issue in detail in twelfth section.
Although this story primarily concerns only two wives, the Almighty used second person plural in the last verse to indicate that the injunction mentioned here is a general one, and also so that the strictness in the rebuke is mitigated.
In this story, we find many lessons that can cause a correction in our family life. It shows that good treatment of the wives is a good thing. But we should not be careless about their religious and moral conduct. We should always try to observe and correct their mistakes. Family is the primary unit of society. The strife in family life and the spoiling of relations between husband and wife can extend to strife and spoil in the state authority and in society. This fact explains the importance of the basic injunctions introduced by Islam aiming at correction of family life. Now we will discuss the occasion of the revelation from this angle.
10. Occasion of Revelation of Verses 1-5: A Principle Guidance
Every Muslim knows that Islamic Sharī‘ah was revealed in the background of the strict laws of Judaism and lenient accommodations of the prevalent form of Christianity. This guides us to understand why the mean approach characterizes most of the Sharī‘ah rulings and Islamic injunctions. At this point I will discuss this matter, partly confining the discussion to the issues directly relevant to this story.
The Jewish laws and rulings related to woman were strict. It lessened their place in the community. Contrarily, as discussed above, the Christian laws were at the extreme point on the scale of leniency towards woman. Despite the apparent difference between the two approaches, they produced the same result, for they shared extremism. God has ordained that the path of betterment is the mean path.
In such matters, the Arabic tradition was totally different from these two. There was a battle for the rights between a man and woman. Each tried to win more and more rights. As modesty was a part of their blood, they never liked to suppress the weak people. That is why their women had a chance to battle against their men. It resulted in a complete disorder in which sometimes men won and sometimes women. The people acquainted with the history of Arabs cannot deny this fact. Imr al-Qays comments on women in these words:
وَإنّكَ لمْ يَفْخَرْ عَليكَ كَفَاخِرٍ ... ضَعيفٍ وَلمْ يَغْلِبْكَ مثْلُ مُغَلَّبِ
He has never claimed superiority over you like a weak person. Nor has he overpowered you like a defeated person.
In this verse Imr al-Qays used the word ‘Mughallab’ (defeated permanently) for women. It is expressive of an ongoing dispute between men and women.
This was the situation of the Makkan Quraysh. They were the best representation of Arab society and culture. In the tribe of Quraysh women had a reasonable status. But as mentioned above, sometimes the situation changed. But when these people came to Madina, this situation was totally changed. A number of Christians and the Jews lived there. Many of those Christians embraced Islam and their women started meeting Muslim women. These casual meetings affected the Muslim women considerably. What Ibn ‘Abbās reports from ‘Umar b. Khaṭṭāb clearly puts forth this change. He is reported to have said:
We, the Quraysh, were dominant over our women but when we came to Madina, we saw that their women were dominant over men. When our women met them, they built a confidence against men.
This situation demanded that Allah clarify the rights and obligations of women. Sūrah al-Nisā’ (Q 4) was revealed during those times. The sūrahgives a detailed account of the rules concerned with marriage and inheritance. The sūrah issues a final decision in describing the rights of women. Some rules concerned with women have also been revealed in Sūrah al-Baqarah. That sūrah too gives women a number of rights so that, in case of a dispute, their rights and obligations are distinguished and no chance of injustice remains. This is the wisdom of the detailed rules and injunctions of the Islamic Sharī‘ah.
The Christians have met great destruction because of the complexity and briefness of the Sharī‘ah given to them. A brief command is sufficient only when a nation is generally doing well. When their nature is distorted and their moral standard has deteriorated, it does not work. They need detailed injunctions. The Sharī‘ah must also accord to the changing atmosphere.
Furthermore, rights and obligations for women have also been described in Sūrah al-Nūr, which has been placed in the middle of the Qur’ān, and due to the importance of the rights of women, Sūrah al-Nisā’(4) and al-Aḥzāb (33) have been placed at either side of the Qur’ān. Then in Sūrah al-Taḥrīm, which was occasioned by a specific incident, Allah has made us aware of our responsibilities towards our families. As discussed above, it teaches us about the accountability as well as kindness and tenderness we need to show them. All these details have made everything apparent in every aspect of women’s rights and nothing remains hidden or complex. On the contrary everything in the Christian Sharī‘ah is inconspicuous. Even they cannot decide if the husbands are dominant over the wives or the latter are dominant over the former. We have discussed this matter in detail in the commentary on the verse: “Men are the protectors and maintainers of women.” (Q 04:34).
Another important point is that this Sūrah along with the previous Sūrah (al-Ṭalāq) is the last sūrah containing the Sharī‘ah rules, and Sūrah al-Baqarah is the first one. Both these explicate the rules concerned with women. Sūrah al-Nūrhas been, as mentioned above, placed in the middle and Sūrah al-Nisā’and al-Aḥzāb have been placed at either end in the present arrangement of the text. It reflects the carefulness observed in the management adopted for the divulgence of the rights of women. It also depicts the special quality and excellence of the perfect religion i.e. Islam.
A basic reality described in Sūrah al-Nisā’, as well as in this Sūrah, and at other places in the Qur’ān is that all these rules are based on the reality that man and woman are an issue of the same entity (nafs). Therefore, if we set everything right among us, we will become like one body. In this aspect the dominance of men over women will not be based on cruelty, but be seen as a helping content to each other as one part of a body helps the others. This point has been discussed in detail in the commentary on the verse: “Who created you from a single person (nafs-i wāḥidah), and created, of like nature, His mate. (Q 04:01)
11. Linguistic Analysis of the Phrase ṢaghatQulūbu kumā
In most languages, and especially in Arabic, specific terms are employed in specific meanings beyond their general implications. A failure to understand these nuisances of a term cannot drives one away from the correct appreciation of the language. For instance, the word, mayl (to lean to and to turn away from) is a general implication. Many terms including zaygh, jūr, ir’awa, ḥayādah, inḥirāf, are used to connote particularly turning away from something. Then come the words fay’, tawbah, iltifātand ṣighw which specifically connote turning to something. Those who confuse these two sets of words and their meanings err and cause others to err.
A person who knows Arabic Language is clear on that the phrase ‘ṣaghat qulūbukumā’ means ‘anābat qulūbu kumā wa mālat ilā al-Allāh wa rasūlihī’ (the hearts of you both have inclined to Allah and His Messenger) because the word ṣaghw connotes leaning or being attracted toward something; it does not mean turning away from something. The following two cognate terms are used in this sense. ṣāghiyah of a man are his followers. When we say: Ṣighwu hū ma‘aka we mean: (He is) attracted to you. Asghaytu ilā fulāniṇ means: I turned my ears to him. A ḥadīth reads:
ثُمَّ يُنْفَخُ فِي الصُّورِ، فَلَا يَسْمَعُهُ أَحَدٌ إِلَّا أَصْغَى لِيتًا
Then the trumpet would be blown and no one would hear that but he who would bend his neck to one side. (Yunfakhu fī al-ṣūri fa lā yasma‘u hū aḥaduṇ illā aṣghā lītan(:Muslim Number: 3940)
A common saying goes thus: al-ṣabiyyu a‘lamu bimuṣghā khaddihī: a child knows where to turn for benefit and from whom he should seek shelter. The sentence: ṣaghat al-shams wa al-nujūmmeans: the sun and the stars leaned towards the earth. The ḥadīth of hirrahreads: kāna yaṣghā bihā al-anā’: He would tilt the pot so that it could drink easily. The bottom of a pot is called sighw because liquid settles in it. Ibn Barrī has cited the following verse in support of his interpretation of the words al-iṣghā’ bi al-sam‘ (turning one’s ear to someone to listen):
ترى السفيه به عن كل مكرمة زيغ وفيه إلى التسفيه إصغاء
You see that a stupid person is characterized by a tendency to turn away (zaygh) from every noble deed and to incline (iṣghā’) to every foolishness.
Dhū al-Rummah praises a she-camel in the following verse:
تُصْغِي إِذَا شَدَّهَا بِالْكورِ جَانِحَة ً حتى إذا ما استوى في غرزها تثبُ
When he fits her out with a saddle, she inclines (tusghī), turning her face towards her side (jāniḥatan), until when he inserts his foot into the stirrup, she jumps.
A‘shā describes the slant in a camel’s eye in these words:
ترى عينها صغواء في جنب موقها تراقب كفي والقطيع المحرما
You would see that her eye is inclined towards (ṣaghwā’) the inner corner, the while she watches my palm and the untempered leather whip.
Al-Nimr b. Tawlab used the words iṣghā’ al-inā’ (inclining the pot) to connote emptying it out in the following verse:
وإن ابن أخت القوم مصغى إناؤه إذا لم يزاحم خاله بأب جلد
The bowl of a tribe’s nephew is emptied out (i.e. he is deprived of his right) unless he resists his uncles through a strong father.
I have quoted all these supportive evidences from the lexicon Lisān al-‘Arab with minor explanations which I offered with the intention to remove any possible doubts or confusions. These evidences suffice for the truth seekers. A seeker of truth will not, after pondering over these evidences, turn his ears to what the fabricators have added to the traditions. They have tried to distort the meanings of the Qur’ānic words and expressions once their efforts to distort the words of the Book of God were foiled by Him. They have indeed not relented from trying to distort the word of God. Abū Sa’ūd has reported in his exegesis that the words “ṣaghat qulūbu kumā” have been recited as zāghat. He means to say that it has been read this by those whose readings don’t count. You see to what extent did such men go in their efforts to change the meaning of the word ṣaghā(turning to) to zāgha (deviated). God however protects truth and foils the falsehood.
12. Stylistics of the Verse in tatūbā ilā Allahi faqad ṣaghat qulūbu kumā
After a discussion on the meaning of the expression ṣaghat qulūbukumā, I invite your attention to the style of expression adopted in this verse so that you can clearly grasp the interconnection of its components.
Arabs are known for their habit of omitting the part of the speech which can be dispensed with. They prefer brevity in speech. They are always inclined to remove the unnecessary additions and redundant parts of their speech. This is a great rhetorical device. This issue forms part of a great discussion on Arabic rhetoric. Here I will discuss only what is related to the prepositions ‘in (if)’and ‘qad’ (indeed) in this verse.
I will start with examples from the Qur’ān in order to make it easy to understand what has been left unstated here.
God Almighty says:
إِن تَسْتَفْتِحُوْا فَقَدْ جَاءكُمُ الْفَتْحُ
If you are seeking a judgment, then the judgment has come to you. (Q 08:19)
At another place the Almighty says:
وَإِن يُكَذِّبُوكَ فَقَدْ كُذِّبَتْ رُسُلٌ مِّن قَبْلِكَ:
And if they have given you the lie, then the apostles before you were given the lie. (Q 35:04)
إِلاَّ تَنصُرُوهُ فَقَدْ نَصَرَهُ اللّهُ
If you do not help him, then God has helped him. (Q 9:40)
وَإِنْ يَعُودُوْا فَقَدْ مَضَتْ سُنَّةُ الأَوَّلِينِ
If they persist, the sunnah (example) of those before them is already set. (Q 8:38)
فَإِن يَكْفُرْ بِهَا هَـؤُلاء فَقَدْ وَكَّلْنَا بِهَا قَوْمًا لَّيْسُوْا بِهَا بِكَافِرِينَ
If these people reject it, then we have entrusted it to a people who will not reject it. (Q 6:89)
Many such examples can also be found in the Arabic literature. A pagan poet Mirdās b. Ḥaṣayn says:
فــــــإن نـــزرأهـــم فــلــقــد تــركــنـــا كفاءهم لدى الدبر المضاع
If we have killed them (no matter) for we have been leaving their equals dead and lost behind their (fleeing armies).
A careful study of these examples shows that the clause following the preposition “in” mentions something which facilitates what is mentioned in the clause following the preposition (qad). The sentences can thus be paraphrased as follows: If A happens that is good, or there is nothing wrong, or the matter is as expected, for B has already materialized.
In the light of the above, we can confidently state that the true and clear interpretation of the verse is this: If you turn to God by following what pleases the Holy Prophet (pbuh), as he seeks to please you, then this is what is expected from you; for your hearts have certainly inclined towards God. I do not understand what forced people to ignore the true meaning and implication of the expression except for their reliance on some narratives fabricated and ascribed to Ibn ‘Abbās [rta] who is certainly not responsible for these lies ascribed to him later on.
13. Wisdom Buried in the Divine Words: in-tatūbā Ilā Alllāhi and Tūbū Tawbatan Naṣūḥā
Here, tawbah is implies the most perfect form of repentance, as does not leave any aspect of disagreement between the penitent and the authority. Such a sincere repentance is only possible after one is truly inclined to the authority (ṣaghw). It develops out of total submission of heart and complete faith. In worldly life, for example, a husband and wife become united like a single entity through this inclination. In religious matters, this type of repentance makes a servant of God lost in the Lord, and the Lord becomes his ear, eye, and heart. The earlier scriptures frequently use the example of an obedient son or wife to exemplify an obedient nation. Many of such parables have been explained in my book al-Amthāl al-Ilāhiyyah (Divine Parables).
A failure to understand such parables in the Scriptures has misled the Christians and the Jews. They declared that they were the sons of Allah and His beloved ones. The Qur’ān however does not use such expressions explicitly. Rather, it sometimes uses fine and subtle expressions which imply this meaning, (so that the experts can infer this meaning), but the laymen are not left a chance to be misled. For a detailed discussion refer to my commentary on Sūrah al-Ṭalāq.
(Now I come back to the discussion on the Sūrah.) We see that after commanding the wives of the Prophet (sws) to repent sincerely and make it a perfect repentance, the Almighty has directed the Muslims in general to repent a pure and sincere repentance (tawbah naṣūḥa). In response, they are promised a light (al-nūr) and nearness to the Prophet (qurbah) in the hereafter. They will enjoy his company in the hereafter just as they have been blessed with this blessing in the life of this world. Same will be case with regards to their families. It has explicitly been mentioned in the following verses that they will join their families in the Afterlife:
وَالَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَاتَّبَعَتْهُمْ ذُرِّيَّتُهُم بِإِيمَانٍ أَلْحَقْنَا بِهِمْ ذُرِّيَّتَهُمْ
And those who believe and whose families follow them in faith, to them shall We join their families. (Q 52:21)
At another place the Qur’ān says:
فَأَمَّا مَنْ أُوتِيَ كِتَابَهُ بِيَمِينِهِ فَسَوْفَ يُحَاسَبُ حِسَابًا يَسِيرًا وَيَنقَلِبُ إِلَى أَهْلِهِ مَسْرُورًا
Then, he who is given his record in his right hand, soon will his account be taken by an easy reckoning, and he will turn to his family, rejoicing. (Q 84:07-9)
Similarly, in another verse, the Almighty has also stated that the pious men will also accompany each other in the Afterlife. It has been said:
يَا أَيَّتُهَا النَّفْسُ الْمُطْمَئِنَّةُ ارْجِعِي إِلَى رَبِّكِ رَاضِيَةً مَّرْضِيَّةً فَادْخُلِي فِي عِبَادِي وَادْخُلِي جَنَّتِي
(To the righteous soul will be said): O you the satisfied soul, return to your Lord, content and pleased. Enter the ranks of My servants and enter My Paradise. (Q 89:27-30)
Allah also mentions His nearness ordained for the pious in the Hereafter in these words:
وَالسَّابِقُونَ السَّابِقُونَ أُوْلَئِكَ الْمُقَرَّبُونَ
And those foremost (al-sābiqūn) will be foremost. These will be those nearest to Allah (al-muqarrabīn). (Q 56:10-1)
The words “return to your Lord” and the expression “My Jannah” subtly refer to this nearness to God. The holy Qur’ān and the Scriptures describe this fact frequently either clearly or implicitly. Truth be told, a paradise without nearness to God is like a hell. Don’t you see that the Qur’ān has stated that the real depravity of the dwellers of the Hell is that they will not be able to face God? The Almighty says:
كَلَّا إِنَّهُمْ عَن رَّبِّهِمْ يَوْمَئِذٍ لَّمَحْجُوبُونَ
Verily, from their Lord, that Day, will they be kept. (Q 83:15)
The real meaning and essence of returning/repentance in this world as well as in the one to come might have become clear to you. You might have grasped that when a man takes refuge in his protector and denounces others, then his life becomes worthwhile; his heart finds satisfaction and he finds perfect happiness. You also understand that when a woman betrays her husband/master it enrages him, injures his honor, and flares up his passion. It is hopefully easy for you to understand the true meaning of the parable of a sincere wife and an obedient son, a frequent occurrence in the Scriptures. It also sets you on the right track regarding the coherence in the remaining portion of the Sūrah.
14. Explanation of Verse no. 9 and its Relation with the Rest of the Sūrah
The Almighty has said:
يَا أَيُّهَا النَّبِيُّ جَاهِدِ الْكُفَّارَ وَالْمُنَافِقِينَ وَاغْلُظْ عَلَيْهِمْ
O Prophet, strive hard against the unbelievers and the hypocrites, and be firm against them. (Q 66:9)
The verse contains this final and strict injunction so that people having the ability to repent enter the circle of the followers of the Prophet (sws). This directive is present in Sūrah al-Tawbah in similar words:
يَحْلِفُونَ بِاللّهِ مَا قَالُوْا وَلَقَدْ قَالُوْا كَلِمَةَ الْكُفْرِ وَكَفَرُوْا بَعْدَ إِسْلاَمِهِمْ وَهَمُّوْا بِمَا لَمْ يَنَالُوْا وَمَا نَقَمُوْا إِلاَّ أَنْ أَغْنَاهُمُ اللّهُ وَرَسُولُهُ مِن فَضْلِهِ فَإِن يَتُوبُوْا يَكُ خَيْرًا لَّهُمْ وَإِن يَتَوَلَّوْا يُعَذِّبْهُمُ اللّهُ عَذَابًا أَلِيمًا فِي الدُّنْيَا وَالآخِرَةِ وَمَا لَهُمْ فِي الأَرْضِ مِن وَلِيٍّ وَلاَ نَصِيرٍ
They swear by Allah that they said nothing, but indeed they uttered blasphemy, and they did it after accepting Islam; and they meditated a plot which they were unable to carry out: this revenge of theirs was only return for the bounty with which Allah and His Messenger had enriched them! If they repent, it will be best for them; but if they turn back (to their evil ways), Allah will punish them with a grievous penalty in this life and in the Hereafter. They shall have none on earth to protect or help them. (Q 09:74)
This verse clearly shows that this strictness was only shown to wake the people from the slumber of ignorance. Those failing to do so, even after this, would be punished. I have discussed this matter in detail in my commentary on Sūrah al-Tawbah.
This strictness was to put the virtuous hearts apart from the evil ones. The objectives of nature are fulfilled through tenderness as well as strictness. The Qur’ān has examples for both ways. It has, in its exhortations, presented both demonstrations of this nature to support its theses:
أَنزَلَ مِنَ السَّمَاء مَاء فَسَالَتْ أَوْدِيَةٌ بِقَدَرِهَا فَاحْتَمَلَ السَّيْلُ زَبَدًا رَّابِيًا وَمِمَّا يُوقِدُونَ عَلَيْهِ فِي النَّارِ ابْتِغَاء حِلْيَةٍ أَوْ مَتَاعٍ زَبَدٌ مِّثْلُهُ كَذَلِكَ يَضْرِبُ اللّهُ الْحَقَّ وَالْبَاطِلَ فَأَمَّا الزَّبَدُ فَيَذْهَبُ جُفَاء وَأَمَّا مَا يَنفَعُ النَّاسَ فَيَمْكُثُ فِي الأَرْضِ كَذَلِكَ يَضْرِبُ اللّهُ الأَمْثَالَ
He sends down water from the skies, and the channels flow, each according to its measure: But the torrent bears away to foam that mounts up to the surface. [This function of the natural phenomenon employs tenderness.] Even so, from that ore which they heat in the fire, to make ornaments or utensils therewith, there is a scum likewise. Thus does Allah strike truth and evil [i.e. He makes one strike the other and evil is eventually defeated as has been said in Sūrah al-Anbiyā’: Nay, We hurl the Truth against falsehood, and it knocks out its brain. 21:18. This is then the use of the phenomenon which employs harsh measures]. For the scum disappears like froth cast out; while that which is for the good of mankind remains on the earth. Thus does Allah set forth parables. (Q 13:17)
This strict supervision, if accomplished properly, breaks all chains of personal relationships that hinder the progress on the path to the truth. Until and unless a person leaves aside all his worldly relations for achieving nearness to Allah--is the station of purity and contentment granted to the believers, as mentioned in the Qur’ān in the following words: And I will clear you of the rejecters. (Q 03:55)
15. The Four Parables
God has made clear this purity and termination of worldly relations with the help of four parables. In the following discussion, I will try to infer two points these parables lead us to.
First, relation to the pious will not do any good to the sinners on the Day of Judgment.
Second, the pious themselves abandon such relations and take refuge in Allah and His Prophet. The Qur’ān recounts that the wife of Pharaoh prayed:
رَبِّ ابْنِ لِي عِندَكَ بَيْتًا فِي الْجَنَّةِ وَنَجِّنِي مِن فِرْعَوْنَ وَعَمَلِهِ وَنَجِّنِي مِنَ الْقَوْمِ الظَّالِمِينَ
O my Lord, build for me, in nearness to You, a mansion in the garden, and save me from Pharaoh and his doings, and save me from the wrongdoers. (Q 66:11)
She renounced her relation with her nation and her husband and prayed to Allah to build a house for her under His blessings. All the pious should, therefore, renounce their relationship with the evil doers and seek Allah’s protection. This is the real purity one obtains and is the actual difference between the pious and the wicked, as has been clearly told in the Qur’ān repeatedly. Abraham (sws), for example, followed the same path and severed his relation with his nation. Allah presented his exemplary attitude as a believer for the Muslims to emulate. It has been discussed in detail in the commentary on Sūrah al-Mumtaḥinah.
Third, Allah listens to the prayers of the pious in this world and rids them of the company of the wicked. Thus did He listen to the wife of Pharaoh and saved her from the tyrant. The same is obviously reflected in the stories of Noah (sws), Abraham (sws), Lot (sws), Moses (sws), Jesus Christ (sws) and other Prophets [pbut]. Allah has clearly stated that it is His unchanging rule. The Qur’ān has explained this fact more than once. The Almighty says:
الم أَحَسِبَ النَّاسُ أَن يُتْرَكُوا أَن يَقُولُوا آمَنَّا وَهُمْ لَا يُفْتَنُونَ وَلَقَدْ فَتَنَّا الَّذِينَ مِن قَبْلِهِمْ فَلَيَعْلَمَنَّ اللَّهُ الَّذِينَ صَدَقُوا وَلَيَعْلَمَنَّ الْكَاذِبِينَ
A.L.M. Do men think that they will be left alone saying, “We believe”, and that they will not be tested? We did test those before them, and Allah will certainly know those who are true from those who are false. (Q 29:01-3)
This verse uses the words: “Allah will know them”. But we know that Allah already knows all hidden and manifest things. Thus, we have to reflect a little deeper upon these words. It means that He will reveal their doings to the Muslims so that the latter may part from such people that are hiding their hypocrisy.
The same fact has been stated even more clearly in the following verse:
مَّا كَانَ اللّهُ لِيَذَرَ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ عَلَى مَآ أَنتُمْ عَلَيْهِ حَتَّىَ يَمِيزَ الْخَبِيثَ مِنَ الطَّيِّبِ وَمَا كَانَ اللّهُ لِيُطْلِعَكُمْ عَلَى الْغَيْبِ وَلَكِنَّ اللّهَ يَجْتَبِي مِن رُّسُلِهِ مَن يَشَاء فَآمِنُوْا بِاللّهِ وَرُسُلِهِ وَإِن تُؤْمِنُوْا وَتَتَّقُوْا فَلَكُمْ أَجْرٌ عَظِيمٌ
Allah will not leave the believers in the state in which you are in now, until He separates what is evil from what is good, nor will He disclose to you the secrets of the unseen. But He chooses of His Messengers whom He pleases. So believe in Allah and His Apostles. [that is, God does not reveal to you the secrets of the hearts. However, he makes the actions of the hypocrites clear to you as they disobey the Messenger. Therefore, you should do your best in obeying the Messenger and corroborate you faith through this obedience. Thus you would be distinct and earn the reward of those who follow the Messenger. This has been clearly put in the following words:] And if you believe and do right, you have a reward without measure. (Q 03:179)
The complete discussion on this topic has been afforded in my commentary on Sūrah al-Ḥadīd, Sūrah al-Kāfirūn and other related Surahs.
In short, a Prophet (sws) never leaves his nation before making light of the truth clear and distinguishable from falsehood. He makes the difference between the two palpable. He distinguishes the Muslims from the unbelievers and the hypocrites. In order to make this distinction clear and observable, the Almighty commanded the Prophet (sws) to be strict in this regard so that the light of Allah and His religion is perfected and completed: a distinct group of people is created as can carry the responsibility of practicing, preaching and disseminating the religion. This newly formed group is named ‘the army of Allah’ and the ‘witness (shuhadā’) over the people’. The stringency that is observed in this process of reform, leading into the birth of a new group of believers upholding the religion, is visible in the prophetic mission of Moses (sws), Jesus Christ (sws), and the other Prophets. At final moments of their preaching among wicked nations and before migration from their people, these Prophets declared stern rejection of evil.
Fourth, when an ummah is chosen to work for the cause of Allah, it has to leave behind everything that can harm its foundations. Allah’s angels also bring succor, sustenance and good tidings from Allah, as is clear in the life of Mary, the daughter of ‘Imrān. It has been discussed in detail in the commentary on Sūrah al-Mujādalah. The Qur’ān says:
لَا تَجِدُ قَوْمًا يُؤْمِنُونَ بِاللَّهِ وَالْيَوْمِ الْآخِرِ يُوَادُّونَ مَنْ حَادَّ اللَّهَ وَرَسُولَهُ وَلَوْ كَانُوا آبَاءهُمْ أَوْ أَبْنَاءهُمْ أَوْ إِخْوَانَهُمْ أَوْ عَشِيرَتَهُمْ أُوْلَئِكَ كَتَبَ فِي قُلُوبِهِمُ الْإِيمَانَ وَأَيَّدَهُم بِرُوحٍ مِّنْهُ وَيُدْخِلُهُمْ جَنَّاتٍ تَجْرِي مِن تَحْتِهَا الْأَنْهَارُ خَالِدِينَ فِيهَا رَضِيَ اللَّهُ عَنْهُمْ وَرَضُوا عَنْهُ أُوْلَئِكَ حِزْبُ اللَّهِ أَلَا إِنَّ حِزْبَ اللَّهِ هُمُ الْمُفْلِحُونَ
You will not find any people who believe in Allah and the Last Day, loving those who resist Allah and His Messenger, even though they were their fathers or their sons, or their brothers, or their kindred. For such He has written faith in their hearts, and strengthened them with a spirit from Himself. And He will admit them to gardens beneath which rivers flow, to dwell therein forever. Allah will be well pleased with them, and they with Him. They are the party of Allah. Truly it is the party of Allah that will achieve felicity. (Q 58:22)
In my commentary on this sūrah I described how the ummah, termed here the party of Allah, enjoys victory. It has also been detailed in several sūrahs including Sūrah Āl ‘Imrān (Q 3), al-Anbiyā’ (Q 21), al-Nūr (Q 24), al-Ṣaff (Q 61), al-Kāfirūn (Q 109) and al-Naṣr (Q 110). Therefore, all four examples indicate the dominance of the virtuous over the unbelievers.
The examples conclude with an emphasis on submission to Allah and returning to Him. At this very point Qur’anic Sūrahs treating the divine injunctions conclude, both in terms of order of revelation, the present arrangement of the text in the book, and chronological order of the events of the prophetic mission. Similarly, the Divine scheme regarding the universe too is that all the creatures have to return to God. The culmination of all these affairs is marked by a final return to Him who is the Lord and the Helper. The details can be found in the commentary on Sūrah al-Ikhlāṣ. This is a short exposure to the essence of these examples. Now we will explain these examples separately.
16. The Interrelationship and Mutual Harmony of the Four Examples
The first and the second example deal with the unbelievers. They have been put first because their mention corresponded more to the hypocrites referred to in the verses immediately preceding these examples. Both the examples have a strong interconnection. The next two examples highlight obedience to God and submission to Him. As required by the established Sunnah of God mentioned earlier, the Sūrah concludes with an emphasis on this relationship. Owing to this reason, these two examples have been discussed at the end.
Apparently these two examples discuss two pious women. But the teachings they contain relate to men as well as women. It necessitated mention of some matters connected with men too. Therefore, the moral teachings visible in these examples are important for both the sexes. For instance, they contain teachings regarding honesty, fulfillment of promises, secrecy, the severing of relationships with strangers, good moral character, affirmation of the divine injunctions, the holy books, and finally obedience to Him. All these teachings are meant for both the sexes.
What is the nature of the dishonesty Noah’s wife committed? We do not find the answer to this question in any of the Scriptures or the Qur’ān. We learn that Sa‘īd b. Jubayr [rta] said: “As for Noah’s wife I do not know anything about her matter.” As for the wife of Lot, it is clear from the previous divine books and the holy Qur’ān that she turned back to the doomed town disregarding that her action entailed disobedience to God as well as her husband. It has been reported that Ibn ‘Abbās said:
The dishonesty both the women showed was that they did not follow the religion of their husbands. The wife of Noah revealed all the secrets of her husband to his enemies. When someone embraced his religion, she would reveal that and it became known to the miscreants in the nation. The evil of Lot’s wife was that when the guests (that is, the angels) came to them, she broke the news to all the wicked people in the town.
Another narrative ascribed to Ibn ‘Abbās [rta] tells us that the wife of Noah spread the news that he had gone mad. In my opinion, all these narratives depict personal view of Ibn ‘Abbās [rta] based on good inference. He has not ascribed anything to the holy Prophet (sws). However, I too believe that both the women disobeyed their husbands and even disgraced them.
The most important virtue of a woman and that of a slave is that they remain loyal to their masters and continue obeying them. This has been clearly put in Sūrah al-Aḥzāb (Q 33). That is why the good qualities of men and women have been described in the same manner.
These examples show that we have to show true obedience, servitude, love, and care to God. We have to offer our wealth as well as our lives for His sake. Love between a wife and a husband is a good example, albeit a weak one. Nevertheless, in it we can see the love that must exist between a man and God. After a description of these good and necessary qualities, we find a mention of the examples depicting qualities that are totally against the ones marking the characters in the earlier two examples. An analysis of the view of Ibn ‘Abbās [rta], about these two women, will be offered in the next section.
The third and fourth examples relate to the believers. The third example describes the importance of reestablishing contact with God. Study the following verse:
اِذْ قَالَتْ رَبِّ ابْنِ لِیْ عِنْدَكَ بَیْتًا فِی الْجَنَّة وَ نَجِّنِیْ مِنَ فِرْعَوْنَ وَ عَمَلِهٖوَ نَجِّنِیْ مِنَ الْقَوْمِ الظّٰلِمِیْنَ
Behold she said: O my Lord, build for me, in nearness to You (‘ida ka), a mansion in the garden, and save me from Pharaoh and his doings, and save me from those that do wrong. (Q 66:11)
If you look at the words ‘‘ida ka’, you can see a reflection of solace of heart sought implicitly in this phrase that cannot be described in words.
The fourth example, as described above, is a picture of the completion and perfection of blessings. Mary is the example for the believers regarding the completion of God’s blessing, help, and victory, especially for the Helpers. The Prophet (sws) in fact represents the word of Allah. Indeed all pure souls are the word of God. This will be detailed in my commentary on the verse 35:10 which says:
اِلَیْه یَصْعَدُ الْكَلِمُ الطَّیِّبُ
To Him mount up all words of purity.
We know that the Prophet Jesus [pbuh] is known for his title “word (kalimah) of God”. But we know that Prophet (sws) contains all the attributes of the earlier Prophets (sws). We find that in the scriptures the apostle John (sws) referred to the Prophet Muhammad (sws) by the appellation ‘amīn’ (trustworthy) and also ‘the word (kalimah) of Allah’. I will discuss this issue in detail in the seventh section of the commentary on Sūrah al-Fīl.
17. The Relationship of these Examples with the Earlier Story and the Occasion of Revelation of the Sūrah
So far we have discussed how the above mentioned historical events relate to the life and attitude of general believers. Now I wish to explain its relationship to the story related in the beginning of the sūrah. This sūrah obviously stresses practicing strict self accountability. We must also watch over those under our care. Therefore, the sūrah starts with an apparently ordinary incident. What the Prophet (sws) did might seem to be a praiseworthy act at the first sight. However, the sūrah teaches us not to take line of action. It reveals that the Divine wisdom does not condone even apparently ordinary misdemeanors and common mistakes. Such small errors can lead into big trials. We know that sin leaves a small mark on the pure sheets of the believing heart. If the believer does not remove it and continues earning small errors, the small spot will continue to grow and will be nourished to dominate all the purity in the heart. It will blacken everything.
This sūrah teaches spiritual and moral purity and cleanliness. Allah has told us that to suit ourselves for the Divine cause we should sever our relationships with those of the relatives who are evil. We should carefully guard our purity. Our relations with the world and people in the world present a great trial. This trial distinguishes the pure from the impure. We have discussed this issue in Sūrah al-Mumtaḥinah.
We further come to know that it is not proper to reveal a secret to a person who is not expected to hold it for that too amounts to dishonesty. Keeping secrets is foundational to reformation of a society. If we are not able to guard secrets, it means the foundations of reform and betterment have lapsed.
At this place, I wish to stress that mutual trust and faithfulness is necessary for a bond between the ruler and the ruled, just as it is necessary for a sound relationship between husband and wife. A leader is obliged to let his subordinates take part in the decision making process and seek their counsel. Allah commanded the Prophet (sws) to consult his Companions and let them take part in affairs of the government. Therefore, the holy Prophet (sws) had with him a party of the Companions who were privy to his strategies and plans. People of the stature of Abū Bakr [rta] and ‘Umar [rta] formed part of this circle. Not only some major Companions, but also some common Muslims had information which could not be revealed to the unbelievers. Nobody can deny the fact that participation in meetings and consultations creates and nourishes real trust and true love for the members of an association.
We can have a fair idea of the importance of this mutual trust and guarding of secrets from an example. Many religious sects have developed out of this mutual trust and sharing of secrets. Free Masons, for example, live and work only for the preservation of the secrets they received from their predecessors. Those who are not able to keep these secrets are not admitted into the group. The Prophet (sws) of Islam too stressed the importance of keeping secrets and guarding trusts. He is reported to have said: “He whose opinion is sought [on regarding an issue] is handed over a trust [which he must faithfully guard].” The holy Qur’ān commands the believers to bring important matters to the notice of the authorities alone. The Almighty says:
وَ اِذَا جَآءَهمْ اَمْرٌ مِّنَ الْاَمْنِ اَوِ الْخَوْفِ اَذَاعُوْا بِه وَلَوْ رَدُّوْه اِلَی الرَّسُوْلِ وَ اِلٰۤی اُولِی الْاَمْرِ مِنْهمْ لَعَلِمَه الَّذِیْنَ یَسْتَنْبِطُوْنَه مِنْهمْ
When there comes to them some matter touching safety or fear, they divulge it. If they had only referred it to the Messenger, or to those charged with authority among them, the proper investigators would have tested it from them. (Q 04:83)
Keeping the above in perspective, we can say that keeping secrets is an important virtue in a nation. Whenever this ideal was breached on a small scale in the first Muslim community, the Almighty employed this opportunity to discuss the affair, and clarified the importance of the ideal for all the human beings.
The sūrah starts with two different stories. In the first one, the Almighty commands the Prophet (sws) to break an oath that he had sworn mistaking it for a virtuous deed. The second story contains a warning on the leakage of a secret that was revealed due to excessive trust. The sūrah then teaches that the consequence of leaking secrets in even such small matters ends in eternal failure, as is proved from the examples of the wives of Noah (sws) and Lot (sws). Both these women did not guard the secrets of their husbands and as a result they suffered the Divine wrath.
In short, the above two examples carry a rebuke and a warning, in which the whole ummah in general and the wives of the Prophet (sws) in particular, are commanded to show obedience to him. It has been stated that if they follow this ideal they will be granted the company of the Prophet (sws) in this world and also in the one to come. They should strive hard to merit his company and avoid breaching trusts so that they are not deprived of the Divine blessing.
The remaining two stories present examples of perfect obedience and truest repentance. They reveal how dear the perfect obedience in the eyes of God is. These examples help us understand that the believers need to develop a deep relationship with the Prophet (sws). This attaches great reward. Being in his company, they will be able to enjoy the blessings granted to the Prophet (sws) on the Last Day. The details of these blessings have been provided earlier in the commentary on Sūrah al-Ḥadīd. This indeed reveals the essence of the purification that they were promised. It was promised that through the advent of the holy Prophet (sws) they would be purified. God says:
To purify them, and to instruct them in the Book and Wisdom. (Q 62:02)
This is the fact that makes the religion and Sharī‘ah perfect and complete.
 Abū Tammām, Ḥabīb b. Aws al-Ṭā’ī, Dīwān Al-Ḥammāsah, 1sted., (Beirut: Dār al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 1998), 288.
 The author could not complete the book on the subject. However, he has presented his understanding of the mater in his introduction to the present tafsīr. See: Farāhī, Exordium to the Coherence in the Qur’ān, (Lahore: Al-Mawrid, 2008), 30.
 Imru’ ul-Qays, Dīwān, 2nd ed., (Beirut: Dār al-Ma‘rifah: 2004), 75.
 Rāzi, Fakhr al-Dīn, Tafsīr al-Kabīr, 1st ed., vol. 10, (Beirut: Dār al-Nashr, Dār al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 2000), 73.
 This wording of the ḥadīth has been reported in al-Jazrī, Ibn al-Athīr, al-Nihāyah fī gharīb al-athar wa al-ḥadīth, vol. 3, (Beirut: al-Maktabah al-‘Ilmiyyah, 1979), 33. The versions recorded by Imam Mālik, Abu Dāwūd, al-Tirmidhī, al-Nisā’ī and Ibn Mājjah is: fa asghā la hā al-inā’a.
 Lisān al-‘Arab, Ṣ-GH-W.
 Dhū al-Rummah, Dīwān, vol. 1, (Damascus: Majma ‘ al-Lughah al-‘Rabiyyah, 1972-4), 136.
 Lisān al-‘Arab, Ṣ-GH-W.
 Muhammad b. Muhammad b. Mustafa al-‘Imādī, Abū Sa‘ūd, Irshād al-Aql al-Salīm ilā mazāyā al-Kitāb al-Karīm, vol. 8, (Beirut: Dār Iḥyā al-Turāth al-Arabī: nd), 267.
 The source of this verse could not be traced.
 al-Ṭabarī, Ibn Jarīr, Jāmi‘ al-Bayān, 1st ed., vol. 23, (Damascus: Mu’assasah al-Risālah, 2000), 498.
 Abu Dāwūd, Sunan, No: 5128.