Verses from Surah al-Nahl (96-103)

[96] What you have will come to exhaust, but what is with Allah will abide. And, surely We shall recompense those who patiently persevered151 with better rewards than what they were doing.

Commentary

151. Mawdudi comments on ‘the patient and persevering’: “Those … who adhere to truth and honesty in utter disregard of all temptations, desires, and lusts. They are the ones who endure all losses which accrue to them as a result of strictly confining themselves to fair and honest means and spurning all advantages which ensue from adopting unfair methods. Such persons are prepared to wait till the very end of their worldly life after which they will be able to observe the good consequences of their deeds.”

[97] Whoever did a good thing – of the male or female152 – and is a believer, on such We shall surely bestow a goodly life,153 and shall recompense them with better rewards than what they were doing.154

Commentary

152. Although the article “mun” (whoever) is inclusive of male and female, e.g., “if you say whoever is in the house” then, women will be included in the term “whoever,” yet, the addition of the words “male and female” here in this verse, is for emphasis, and to remove any doubt about it that Qur’anic injunctions, although expressed in masculine, are for both men as well as women (Alusi).

153. Opinions have varied over what constitutes “hayatun tayyibah” (a goodly life), although, the various opinions can be reconciled. Ibn ‘Abbas said it means lawful provision. (Whoever enjoys it, enjoys a goodly life). Hasan al-Busri thought it is contentment (qana`ah) that is meant. In a second opinion he said that “a goodly life” is something that will be obtained in Paradise alone. Yet others said that the allusion is to the life in Paradise. Ibn Jarir thinks contentment is the best answer, since, whoever is given this quality, is given all. “Indeed,” adds Ibn Jarir, “our experience is that those who devote themselves to living a righteous life, are rarely well-off in this world. Without contentment such a life could not be characterized as a goodly life.” In fact, we have a hadith in Muslim, Tirmidhi, Ibn Majah and Ahmed, which reports that the Prophet (saws) said, “Succeeded he who became a Muslim, was given just enough (of the means of sustenance), and then Allah granted him contentment over what He gave him” (Shawkani). Zamakhshari writes: “A ‘goodly life’ is what a believer always enjoys, whether he is materially well-off or not. If he is well-off, then, of course, the case is clear. But if he is badly-off, then he perseveres with patience and is content with what Allah (swt) has provided him. Thus, he is blissful and tranquil in every situation. In contrast, the life of a “fasiq” is miserable in every situation. When he is badly off, then the case is clear. But if he is well-off, then too greed does not allow him to sit in peace. The desire for more and more keeps him restive so that he never truly enjoys the fruits of his labor.

Ibn Kathir adds: Imam Ahmed and Muslim have a narration which says, “Allah does not wrong the believer by giving him a good thing in this world and then holding him to account for it in the Hereafter. In contrast, in retribution of his good deeds of this life, an unbeliever is rewarded in this world itself, but when he lands in the Hereafter, he will have no good deed left in his account to be rewarded for.”

Alusi, however, after discussing various opinions at length expresses his readiness to accept Hasan al-Busr’s opinion that “a goodly life” will obtain, in the truest sense, in the Hereafter alone.

154. That will happen in the Hereafter. The translations adopted for this and verse 96 above follow the understanding of Ibn ‘Abbas, as in Ibn Jarir. Nevertheless, some scholars have thought that the meaning of this part of the verse is, “according to the best of what they were doing.”

[98] When you recite the Qur’an, seek Allah’s refuge from Satan the outcast.155

Commentary

155. ‘Ata’, as in Shawkani, and Thawri as in Alusi, were in the minority to maintain that recitation of the  ta`awwudh or isti`adhah is obligatory. That is, to say,

Otherwise, to the great majority, the seeking of Allah’s refuge with the help of this formula, before any recitation, is not obligatory. It is only recommended (Ibn Jarir). This is in view of the Prophet’s own practice, who sometimes recited the formula and sometimes not. Even within the Prayers (Salah) it is, at best, mustahab (desirable) to recite it (Shafi`). In any case, write Razi and Ibn Kathir, such seeking of refuge is meant to drive away Satanic suggestions of the wrong meaning into the mind during the Qur’anic recitation (and after the recitation is over). Hence, some of the scholars, including Abu Hurayrah, Muhammad b. Sirin and Ibrahim Nakha`i, as noted by Nawawi, have said that the “isti`adha” should be done ‘after’ the recitation of the Qur’an (rather than before). The great majority however, believe that it must be said before the recitation.

In any case, Shafi` introduces the rejoinder, it must be remembered that the refuge formula is spelled out only before Qur’anic recitation and not before any other act. For all other acts, it is enough to recite the “basmalah” (i.e., “Bismillahir Rahman al-Rahim”).

Alusi comments: The standard words of “isti`adha” are as in this verse. The Prophet (saws), however, used other words also. Bayhaqi has a hadith which says that when the Prophet brought ‘A’isha the good news of her acquittal in the famous case of slander, he preceded the recitation of the revelation with the “isti`adha” of words as follows:

i.e., “I seek the refuge of Allah, the Hearer, the Knower, from Satan the accursed.”

Another hadith in the Sahihayn reports that “when the Prophet stood up for Prayers in the pre-dawn session, he began it by saying the `isti`adha’ in the above words. These reports prove that it is allowed to use this second version of “isti`adha.

[99] He has no power over those who have believed, and in their Lord they trust. [100] He has power over those alone who befriend him,156 and those who associate others with Him.157

Commentary

156. Satan’s friendship is gained by following his advice and prompting (Qurtubi).

A doubt arises: We often notice that such people as those who do not befriend Satan fall into his trap. How is this to be explained? Alusi deals with this question to some detail. But we prefer to reproduce here Shabbir’s shorter note who writes that Satan’s power over the virtuous works only for a short while. He is never able to overpower them completely, which is the purpose of the verse here. If a righteous man slips, it is not too late that he pulls himself up. A Qur’anic verse can be presented to substantiate this. It says (Al-A`raf: 201), “Indeed, those who fear Allah – when an impulse touches them from Satan, they remember (Him) and at once they have insight.”

157. The translation follows the preferred understanding of Mujahid (and Dahhak: Qurtubi). That is, the pronoun in “bihi” is for Allah although there have been other explanations also (Ibn Jarir).

[101] And when We substitute a verse in place of another verse158 – and Allah knows best what He should reveal159 – they say, ‘You are but a forger.’ Rather, most of them know not.160

Commentary

158. The reference is to abrogation, either of the text, or the meaning. That is, either a verse is taken away from memory so that people cannot recall it anymore, after having known it, or, its meaning is declared abrogated and replaced by another verse.

159. That is, Allah (swt) knew the wisdom behind abrogation.

There were several points of wisdom behind abrogation in early Islam. One, e.g., was to try out the earliest followers, and see if they remained true to their faith or, were they betaken by doubts when abrogation came. In this manner, a band of tested and purified men and women was created who submitted to everything that Allah and His Messenger commanded. By virtue of that they became a body that could be followed as ideals by the later generation Muslims. They can be emulated, but never overtaken in piety and obedience. Another reason was that for centuries human societies lived a certain kind of life: the most beastly kind. Their situation could only be changed gradually. That required allowing certain things in the early stages of change and development, to be disallowed later. Later generations would not need the same measures because, the individuals of later generations would open their eyes, or enter as new Muslims, into an already transformed society, in which they would not need to struggle against the rest of the world to follow Islam (Au.).

160. It is stated in “Kashf” that Allah (swt) brought this verse immediately after instruction to seek refuge from Satan for the reason that to many readers of the Qur’an abrogation in early Islam is a source of grave doubts (Alusi).

[102] Say, the Holy Spirit161 brought it down from your Lord in truth,162 in order to make firm those who have believed,163 a guidance and good tidings to those who submit.

Commentary

161. `Amir Sha`bi’s following statement is transmitted on trustworthy note, viz., for the first three years it was Mika’il who was entrusted with bringing down (non-Qur’anic: Au.) ‘words after words’ to our Prophet. Thereafter, it was Jibril who brought down the Qur’anic revelations to him. Further, we have a report in Muslim which says that Surah al-Fatihah was carried down by an angel who had never come down to earth earlier. Nevertheless, most commentators agree that it is Jibril who is meant by “Ruh al-Quds” at this point (Qurtubi). As to why Jibril was referred to by this title, rather than by his name, Mawdudi explains, “By preferring to use this appellation rather than his proper name, the Qur’an emphasizes that the message of the Qur’an has been conveyed through the spirit which is free from all human weaknesses and imperfections.”

162. That is, ‘tell them O Muhammad, it is not I who makes these abrogations. The whole thing is a revelation brought down by heavenly beings, by the commandment of Allah. I have no power to reveal or abrogate’ (Au.).

163. Such as those who ponder over the reasons and the wisdom behind abrogation in early Islam. They are led to a better understanding of it and to a greater firmness in it (Alusi).

[103] We know indeed that they say, ‘A man teaches him.’ (But) the tongue of the one they refer to164 is non-Arabic,165 whereas this is a clear Arabic speech.

Commentary

164. The textual word is “yulhiduna” with its root in “lahada,” means, to incline, take sides, etc. Hence a “lahad grave”: one which has a side box in which the dead body is tucked (Razi), giving the grave the shape of an “L” (Au.). And hence also “mulhid” for an atheist who turns away from every religion of the world (Razi).

165. There is no consensus among the early commentators over the identity of the person that the Quraysh alleged composed the Qur’an for our Prophet (Ibn Jarir and others). Perhaps because the Prophet (saws) was on good, even if casual, terms with several of the Makkan, non-Arab slaves and laymen. Further, the textual word “`ajami” is not necessarily for a non-Arabic, non-Arab, or foreigner. The allusion, therefore, could have been to any of the several, or all of the Arab or non-Arabs that the Makkans at one time or another alluded to. For example, one of those named was a hawker at Safa with whom the Prophet occasionally spent some time chatting. He was originally a Yemeni, and hence an “‘ajami” for two reasons: one, because he was not eloquent in the Arabic language and, two, he was a foreigner.

They were obviously not of the kind that could teach the Prophet anything, far from the eloquent Qur’an. Indeed, when one of those casual acquaintances of the Prophet was asked if he taught the Prophet, he replied, in all the simplicity of his class, “Rather, he teaches me” (Qurtubi).

Imam Razi and Qurtubi also explain: The textual word “`ajami” has its root in “`ajama” which is to be unable to express oneself properly. Animals are, e.g., “`ajmaa’”, because they cannot express themselves. The word is thus applicable to anyone who is not eloquent in Arabic. In this sense, many Arabs are also “`ajami” since, although they can speak Arabic, they cannot express themselves adequately. This was the opinion of Farra’ and Ahmed b. Yahya. Further, it might be noted, Imam Razi writes, how short the Makkans must have been of a good reason to reject the Prophet, that they had to rely on such silly allegations. Such doubts as they raised against the Prophet (saws) actually confirm his Prophethood rather than cast doubt on it.

Alusi writes that in his times (the 19th century), some (Syrian) Christians believed that the Prophet (saws) repaired to the Hira cave every now and then, only to learn the Qur’an from a pair of unknown Jew and Christian! How could it happen, Shabbir asks, that if another person wrote the Qur’an, a great author of his kind was completely neglected, while he who supposedly re-told it, was accepted by millions as a Messenger of Allah?

Sayyid writes: “A conference held by the Orientalists in Soviet Russia in 1945, concluded that it was unthinkable that Prophet Muhammad would have composed this Qur’an singly. There must have been a whole group helping him in this feat. In fact, it didn’t seem possible to the participants that the whole of the Qur’an was written in the Arabian Peninsula; surely, some of its parts must have been composed outside of it!” (Because such wide and varied seem to be its sources, if it is assumed that the Qur’an is a human production: Au.)

It is strange it did not occur to the Makkans, nor to their blind followers of the modern Western world, who raise similar doubts even today, that what could have prevented the man in reference from claiming authorship of this wonderful, inimitable, masterly Qur’an? Haven’t these clever Orientalists ever considered that, as authors, did they ever contribute a sentence to a book without expecting its acknowledgment in the preface? The truth is, there is nothing that they can think of as a good reason to reject the Qur’an, but the Qur’an’s inner content rejects it. This is one ramification of the words, “Falsehood will not enter into it: neither from the front nor from the rear.” That is, neither the earlier generations, nor the later generations can ever explain the Qur’an, but in one way: that it is a Revelation. Gary Miller (a new Canadian Muslim) quotes from a recent publication of Catholic Encyclopedia, to the effect: “All that has been said so far about the Qur’an, does not explain its origin to anyone’s satisfaction” (Au.).