Verses from Surah 26: Al-Shu`ara’ (The Poets) [ 210 – 220 ]

IN THE NAME OF ALLAH, THE KIND, THE COMPASSIONATE

[210] The Devils have not brought it down.146

Commentary

146. Unable to explain the phenomenon of revelation, the Makkans said that probably a Jinn whispered these magical words into the Prophet’s ear. Early in his mission when revelation was delayed, a woman said to the Prophet, “Perhaps, your Devil has abandoned you.” (Thanwi, Shabbir and others)

In Asad’s words, “During the early years of his prophetic mission, some of Muhammad’s Meccan opponents tried to explain the rhetorical beauty and persuasiveness of the Qur’an by insinuating that he was a soothsayer (Kahin) in communion with all manner of dark forces and evil spirits (Shayateen).”

Some scholars have assumed Hasan as erring when he said that the text must be read as Shayatoon, rather than Shayateen, since there is no causative agent to change Shayatoon to Shayateen. Shayateen, the critics have pointed out, is the plural of Shaytan just as Basateen is the plural of Bustan.

Zamakhshari, Qurtubi and Alusi present one or two other reasons to demonstrate why reading the text Shayateen as Shayatoon could be justified.

[211] It does not behoove them, neither are they able.147

Commentary

147. “How is it possible that devils should have anything to do with a Book so lofty in its conception, so perfect in its execution, and so excellent in its teaching?” (Majid)

Mawdudi expounds: “Did they (the Quraysh) ever hear that a Satan summoned people to God through a soothsayer? Or asked people not to worship idols? Or warned them about retribution in the Hereafter? Or asked them to stop being unjust and to mend their immoral behavior? Did any Satan ever call people to righteous deeds, to truthful and honest ways of living, to a fair and appropriate behavior with God’s creations? Clearly, all this goes against the very grain of every Satan’s nature. A Satan’s nature is to divide people against one another and to call them to evil deeds. Furthermore, people tend to go to those soothsayers whom they believe to have connections with Satans and not to learn about God and piety.”

[212] Indeed, far from hearing are they removed.148

[213] So, invoke not along with Allah any (other) deity, lest you should be one of those chastised.

Commentary

148. Thus, Allah (swt) gave three reasons why the Devils could not have brought down the Qur’an: They are unfit and inappropriate for the task for, they are of corrupt nature, misguided, and misguiding. In contrast, the Qur’an is noble, and guides to the noble prohibiting the wrong and enjoining the right. They are dark matter while the Qur’an is Light. The two then stand in contrast. Secondly, they are not capacitated to bear such a burden. It had to be a powerful personality, like that of Jibril, to carry it down. Finally, they were prohibited from listening to any part of it, in fact, from picking one of its words. Such measures were taken to safeguard the Qur’an to such perfect degree as to allow for no doubt about its purity to surface up. Allah (swt) reported to us the situation of the Shayatin just before the Qur’anic revelations were to begin in words (72: 8-10), “And we touched on the heaven but found it filled with powerful guards and burning flames. And, we used to sit there in positions to (steal) a hearing but whoever listens now will find a burning flame lying in wait for him. And we do not know whether evil is intended for those on the earth or whether their Lord intends for them a right course.” (Ibn Kathir, reworded)

Alusi however has his own arguments to demonstrate that when the Qur’an said, “Indeed, they are banished from (its) hearing,” it meant that the Devils are barred from evesdropping on what the angels talk between themselves. Following this interpretation, a reworded translation would be, “Indeed, they are banished from hearing.”

[214] And warn your clan, the nearest kinsmen.149

Commentary

149. Al-`Asheerah (clan) falls last in the genealogical group-listing of the past Arab times, as understood by some scholars. The listing has six groups, each headed by a renowned figure, a male descendant of the group above, and a progenitor of the group below: Al-Sha`b (e.g., `Adnan, Qahtan, etc.), al-Qabeelah (e.g., Rabi`ah, Mudar, etc.), al-`Imarah (e.g., Quraysh, Kinanah, etc.), al-Batn (`Abd Munaf, `AbdMakhzun, etc.), al-Fakhz (Banu Hashim, BanuUmayyah, etc.), and al-Faseelah or al-`Asheerah (Banu `Abbas, Banu `Abd al-Muttalib, etc.). Below this is no grouping and no one is left except a man and his progeny (Alusi).

The fact is not lost upon the non-Muslims that the Prophet was able to convert some of his nearest men and women to the faith he had brought while we know that the closest are the last to be impressed by any extraordinary person of theirs. Majid quotes:

“What is very striking in the religious career of Muhammad (saws), at the beginning of his activity, is that the first converts were among the members of his own family and relatives. I believe that he is the only founder of religion who had the privilege of gaining to his cause those nearest to him either through blood or through close connection.” (Eduard Montet, quoted in Zaki Ali’s Islam in the World, p.5).

‘The missionary spirit of Islam is no after-thought in its history; it inter-penetrates the religion from its beginning,’ says another Christian scholar. ‘As soon as the Prophet was convinced of his divine mission, his earliest efforts were directed towards persuading his own family of the truth of the new doctrine… The first convert was his faithful wife, Khadijah (ra)… Among the earliest believers were his adopted children Zayd and `Ali, and his bosom friend Abu Bakr.’ (Arnold, Preaching of Islam, pp. 11-12)

Hadith literature has several reports that tell us about how the Prophet reacted when he received these verses. One transmitted to us by Ibn `Abbas says that he climbed Mount Safa and called out, “O the sons of Fihr, the sons of `Adiyy,” calling out to the Quraysh. So the people gathered. Either a man came by himself or sent someone across to find out what the matter was. Some of the Quraysh, among them Abu Lahab came. The Prophet addressed them in words, “What will you say if I said that there is a cavalry at the foot of this mountain ready to launch an attack on you? Will you believe me?” They said, “Yes. We have not experienced a lie from you.” He said, “(Let me tell you that) I am a warner unto you in the face of a severe chastisement.” At that Abu Lahab said, “Perish be you the day long. Did you gather us just for this?” So Allah (swt) revealed, “Perished be the hands of Abu Lahab, and perish be he.” (Ibn Jarir)

The report is in Bukhari, Muslim and Ahmad. (Ibn Kathir)

Another narrative comes down through Abu Hurayrah. It says that when this verse “And warn your nearest kinsmen” was revealed, the Prophet invited the Quraysh, all of them, generally and specifically (to his house). He said, “O the sons of Ka`b b. Lu’ayy, save yourselves from the Fire. O the sons of Murra b. Ka`b, save yourselves from the Fire. O sons of `Abd Munaf, save yourselves from the Fire. O the sons of Hashim, save yourselves from the Fire. O sons of `Abd al-Muttalib, save yourselves from the Fire. O Fatimah, the daughter of Muhammad, save yourself from the Fire. By Allah, I cannot avail you at all against Allah except that you have kindred rights which I shall try to deliver you in full.” (Ibn Jarir, Razi)

Muslim has preserved this hadith (Qurtubi). It is also in Tirmidhi and Ahmad (Ibn Kathir, Shawkani).

Ibn Jarir has another long report narrated by `Ali that speaks of how the Prophet got prepared dinner for his kindred, (some thirty to forty of them) when a small amount of food sufficed them all, although, each of them a devourer of great amounts. But Abu Lahab cut short the Prophet’s effort to address them at the end of the dinner, saying, “The man has worked magic on you” – referring to a small amount of food proving sufficient for so many. So, he invited them a second time and then a third time when he succeeded in addressing them. He told them, “O sons of `Abd al-Muttalib, I do not know of any young man among the Arabs who brought them better than what he brought them. I have brought you the best of things of this and the next world. And I have been commanded to invite you to it. So, who will support me in this on promise that he will be my brother…” No one responded except `Ali.

Ibn Kathir however points out that the chain of narration has one name `Abd al-Ghaffar, about whom most scholars have distrusted while `Ali b. al-Madini accused him of lies. However, the report seems to echo in others of similar nature, although not as long. One is in Ahmad, transmitted by `Ali himself that “when the above verse was revealed, the Prophet got his clansmen gathered together in his own house over dinner. After they were well fed and drunk – but the food and drink were as if they had not even been touched – he addressed them in words, ‘O Children of `Abd al-Muttalib! I have been sent to you in particular and the people in general. You have heard of this verse. So, who will pledge his hand that he will be my companion in Paradise?’ No one stood up in response. So I stood up, although the youngest among them. He told me, ‘Sit down.’ He appealed three times and every time it was I alone who responded. He would say, ‘Sit down.’ Until, at the third time he struck his hand on mine.” (That is, took the pledge) – Ibn Kathir.

It is a fair guess to say that the Prophet invited several of them at several times to warn them over the dinner.

Way into the practical world, Ibn Kathir warns how sometimes a man’s kindred can be the last one’s to accept his message. `Abd al-Wahid Dimashqi reported, “Once I saw Abu Darda’ delivering lessons to the people and offering the questioners his judicial opinions. While that was going on, some members of his household (perhaps his others) were busy chatting among themselves in another corner of the mosque. I said, ‘What’s the matter that the people are eager to receive knowledge from you, but your own kith and kin are right here, engaged in pleasantries?’ He replied, “That is because I have heard the Prophet say, ‘The most ascetic with reference to this world are the Prophets, and the most difficult on them are their kindred.’”

[215] And lower your wings to those of the believers who follow you.150

Commentary

150. That is, treat them mildly (Ibn Jarir). To connect it with the previous verses: ‘Warn thy kin; which would require some amount of plain speaking, or, as they would term, some harsh words, but once they have submitted to Allah, then, act kindly towards them.’

 

Also see note 74 under Surah al-Hijrof this work (Au.).

 

[216] But if they disobey you,151 say, ‘I am free of responsibility for what you do.’

Commentary

151. That is, those of your kindred who refuse to obey you (Ibn Jarir).

[217] And place your trust152 in the All-Mighty, the All-Merciful.153

Commentary

152. What is Tawakkul? Zamakhshari tries one-liners: It is said that Tawakkul is “a man’s entrusting of an affair unto someone who has power over that affair and is able to harm or benefit.” [That is, he knows that the man he is trusting has the ability to harm or benefit him, yet, he trusts Allah (swt) more, and entrusts an affair to him, fearless of his ability to do harm: Au.]. Another definition is, “Mutawakkil is someone who when surprised by an affair, does not try to defend himself by means of that which is forbidden by Allah.” In other words, if a man is visited by a misfortune, and he asks someone to help him out, then he did not cross the boundaries of Tawakkul, for he did not employ sinful ways to overcome it.

153. That is, place your trust in One who is Mighty in dealing with His enemies, and Merciful towards those who turn to Him and do not disobey Him. (Ibn Jarir)

[218] Who sees you when you stand (in Prayer).154

Commentary

154. While Ibn `Abbas and Dahhak said the meaning is, “He sees you when you arise,” `Ikrimah and Qatadah said, “He sees you when you stand in Prayers.” Hasan (al-Busri) however thought it means, “He sees you when you are alone in Prayers, as He sees you when you are in a group.” This was also the opinion of `Ikrimah, `Ata al-Khurasani and Hasan al-Busri. (Ibn Kathir, Shawkani)

[219] And your movements amongst the prostrate.155

[220] He indeed, He is the All-hearing, the All-knowing.

Commentary

155. The meaning forwarded by Ibn `Abbas and `Ikrimah is that He sees your movements of standing, bowing down and prostrations in Prayers performed in the congregation, but Mujahid said that the implication is that the Prophet saw those who Prayed behind him, as he saw anyone in front of him. (This does not sound like a strong opinion: Qurtubi). A third meaning offered by Ibn `Abbas is that Allah sees the Prophet when he moves about among those devoted to His worship (Ibn Jarir, Zamakhshari, Razi).

Mujahid’s interpretation is in the Sahihayn (though not in explanation of this verse: Au.). They report severally that the Prophet said, “Straighten up your rows for I can see you from behind my back” (Ibn Kathir).

A kind of esoteric interpretation comes from an unexpected quarter. Qurtubi and Ibn Kathir (the latter from Bazzar and Ibn Abi Hatim) report that Ibn `Abbas said in explanation of the words, “And your movements amongst those who prostrate themselves” that the allusion is to his (the Prophet’s) movements from the back of one Prophet to the back of another Prophet until He (Allah) brought him out as a Prophet. This report is also in Tabarani and Abu Nu`aym’sDala’il (Shawkani). In other words, the term “Sajideen” has been understood to be alluding to “Prophets.”

Alusi adds that although some have used this verse to prove that the Prophet’s parents were believers, as is the position of most of the Ahl al-Sunnah, and although he fears Kufr on the part of him who spoke of them disparagingly, yet, he does not think this verse can be used in evidence.

Shabbir quotes Abu Hayyan from his Tafsir, that the interpretation of Ibn `Abbas about the belief of the Prophet’s parents is a fabrication of the Shi`ah. Yet he also reports the opinion of Ibn Hajr as in his Zawaajir that, “Allah honored our Prophet by raising his parents who declared their faith in him.” He quotes Ibn `Abideen explaining how this can be reconciled with the reports that speak of his father being in the Fire, or Allah’s refusal to supplicate for his mother. (See Fath al-Mulhim, v.2, p. 535-6).

Haythami says in Majma` that the attribution to Ibn `Abbas is trustworthy since all the narrators are those of the Sihah works, except for one who was trustworthy too (Au.).

Although Zamakhshari does not state directly, but seems to imply that the allusion is to the Prophet’s eagerness to know how his followers were conducting themselves at the best time of devotion viz., the hours before dawn. It is reported that when Prayer in the depth of the night (Tahajjud) was declared non-obligatory, he went around the houses in the following nights to check how they were conducting themselves. To his gladness, he found the houses buzzing like bee-hives, with supplications, prayers and recitation of the Qur’an.

(To continue)