Translation & Commentary of Verses from Surah 27, Al-Naml [7-9]

[7] When Musa said to his family, ‘I perceive a fire; I shall forthwith bring you tiding from it7 or bring you a flaming brand that you may warm yourselves.8

Commentary

7. Or, bring back information about the way they had lost. (Ibn Kathir)

8. Musa (asws) was on his way to Egypt from Madyan and it was a cold night. (Ibn Jarir)

Significantly, as he had wished, writes Ibn Kathir, Musa brought back both: great news (that he was appointed a Messenger) and a great flaming fire, i.e., the Nur of guidance.

[8] But when he came to it,9 he was called thus,10 ‘Blessed is he who is in the fire11 and he who is around it;12 and glory to Allah, Lord of the worlds.

Commentary

9. When he came to the tree, Musa faced a most amazing sight. The fire was engulfing a green tree. It seemed to be increasing in its intensity while the tree grew greener. And, as he raised his eyes to look above, he perceived that the Nur was rising up from the tree all the way to the clouds. (Qurtubi, Ibn Kathir)

10. “According to Surah al-Qasas, this voice came from a tree in the hallowed ground. It seems that there was something burning somewhere towards one end of the valley, but nothing was on fire, nor was there any smoke. It was a strange kind of fire within which there stood a green tree from where, suddenly, this voice emanated.” (Mawdudi)

11. A variety of interpretations have come from the earliest scholars. Ibn `Abbas thought that the allusion by the words, “Blessed is he who is in the fire,” is to Allah (swt) Himself. It was He who was there and the fire was His Nur (Light). That was also the opinion of Sa`id b. Jubayr. (Ibn Jarir, Qurtubi)

He did not mean of course, that Allah (swt) was there, in Person, in the sense in which pagans assume, who believe in hulul. On the contrary, as we know, nothing can contain Allah (swt), nor the fire before Musa could contain Him. Perhaps Ibn `Abbas alluded to tajalli. Yet, we must caution, even tajalli could not have been in the sense in which the word is commonly understood, that is, in the sense of manifestation – the sense in which Allah (swt) denied Musa when He denied him the Beatific Vision (7: 143). Had, in that instance, Allah’s own tajalli been there in the fire, Musa would not have later asked that he be allowed the Vision. The tajalli then, if it was there in the fire, was tajallial-mithali (Representative Manifestation) and not tajjali al-dhati (Personal Manifestation) – Mufti Shafi`.

Hasan and Qatadah, however, thought that the allusion was to Nur. It was Allah’s Nur which was blessed. But Mujahid thought that it was the fire itself which was blessed. Ibn `Abbas also figures in this opinion. A fourth opinion was that of Muhammad b. Ka`b who said that the allusion by the Nur of this instance is to Allah (swt) Himself (Ibn Jarir). Ibn `Abbas also seems to have shared this view (Qurtubi).

Qurtubi also writes: The interpretation (of the opinions of Ibn `Abbas and others) is that He is manifested in every deed which leads to the Doer of the deed. That is to say, blessed was the power and dominion that was there in the fire. It is also said that blessed was the command of Allah (swt) that was there in the fire which Allah (swt) placed as a sign for Musa. To this context belongs the hadith, recorded by Muslim as well as Ibn Majah, whose version runs as follows:

Abu Musa said, “The Prophet (saws) stood up among us and spoke of five things. He said, ‘Allah (swt) does not sleep, nor does it behoove Him to sleep. He raises the Scale and lowers it. The night’s deeds are raised to Him before the deeds of the day and the day’s deeds before the deeds of the night. Nur is His veil (according to Abu Bakr’s narration, Fire). If He unveiled it, the Blaze of His Face would burn down everything that it reached of His creation.” Abu `Ubaydah – the narrator – then recited this Ayah, “Blessed is he who is in the fire and he who is around it, and glory to Allah, Lord of the worlds.”

In the above hadith, the textual words ‘law kashafahu’ mean to say, “If He removed the veils from the eyes of the creations.” As for the hijab, they are, as Ibn Jurayj said, seven: Hijab al-`Izzah (the veil of Might), Hijab al-Mulk (the veil of Dominion), Hijab al-Sultan (the veil of Power), Hijab al-Nar (the veil of Fire), Hijab al-Nur (the veil of Light), Hijab al-Ghamam (the veil of Clouds) and Hijab al-Ma’ (the veil of Water). In other words, concludes Qurtubi, Allah (swt) is not veiled, but, on the contrary, the creations are veiled.

Qurtubi also quotes Sa`id b. Jubayr’s opinion that, “It was Fire there. Allah (swt) made him hear His Speech from its side and showed him His powers from that side.” It is in the same vein, adds Qurtubi, as it is written in the Torah (Deut. 33: 2):

“The Lord came from Sinai, and rose up from Se`ir unto them; He shined forth from mount Paran, and he came with ten thousands saints; from His right hand went a fiery law for them.”

In this verse of the Tawrah, the allusion by the “Lord’s coming from Sinai” is to Musa, by “rising up from Se’ir,” it is to `Isa (asws), and by “shining forth from mount Paran,” it is to our Prophet (saws).

The translation of the above verse is from The King James Red Letter Bible, Florida Publication, dateless. It took this writer quite some effort to locate this familiar verse because, for no apparent reason, the index shows several entries for the word Paran. They are all in proper order: except this verse. The reference to it is placed out of order, second last, almost tucked out of sight! Is it considered crucial by the Jews and Christians? (Au.)

Ibn Kathir does not report Ibn `Abbas’ opinion that it was the Lord of the Worlds who was alluded to when it was said, “Blessed is he who is in the fire,” but quotes his other opinion also that it was the Nur of the Lord of the worlds.

Zamakhshari points out that the allusion is not to the spot where the fire was, but rather to a buq`ah al-mubarakah, as alluded to in verse 30 of Surah al-Qasas. It says, “He was called from the fringe of the valley on the right in the buq`ah mubarakah.”

Alusi uses the occasion to demonstrate that the attribution of the concepts of hulul, ittihad, or tajsim to the Sufis is incorrect. But rather, the ayah leads us to believe that Allah (swt) manifested His tajalli in the fire which is very different from what we understand as hulul. A person’s image in a mirror for example, is not the person himself and cannot be said to have attained hulul with the mirror. (Does anyone believe that the sun’s image in the mirror is the whole sun in its true size? – Shabbir). Hence, it was immediately added, “Glory to Allah, Lord of the worlds,” to deny all that can be falsely and foolishly attributed to Him. Allah (swt) cannot be reduced to any human level of understanding. He manifests Himself as He wills. A trustworthy report says, “Glory to You, wherever (or whatever) You be.” (Slightly reworded)

And the hadith that Alusi quotes is in Tabarani which says, “Allah has an angel who, if he was told to swallow all that is there in the seven heavens and earth in one gulp, he could do it. His chanting of praise is, “Glory to You, wherever (or whatever) You be.”

The report has been preserved by Tabarani in his Kabir as well as in his Awsat. Haythami, however, remarked that he could not trace the biography of one of the narrators. In short, to him it is not a very strong narrative, although meaning-wise, it cannot be contended (Au.). 

12. According to Ibn `Abbas and Hasan, the allusion by “he who is around it” is to angels (Ibn Jarir). Ibn Kathir reports `Ikrimah, Sa`id b. Jubayr and Qatadah also of this opinion.

Muhammad b. Ka`b thought that Musa was also included. (Ibn Jarir)

Zamakshari thinks that by “around it,” the allusion could be to the whole of the Syrian lands about which Allah has said that it is a blessed patch of land.

Sayyid writes: “Who was in the fire? And who was around it? The preferred opinion is that it was not a fire of the kind that we use. It was a fire whose origin was the higher world… A fire lit by the pure souls of the angels, constituting the great guidance… It was (perhaps) the presence of those pure souls that made it look like fire. It was said, “Blessed is he who is in the fire” to announce of the blessings of the upper world on the angels within the fire and those around it, and Musa was of those who were around it.”

[9] O Musa! Verily, it is I, Allah, the Mighty, the Wise.13

Commentary

13. To the question, who called? One suggestion is it was, “Verily, it is I, Allah, the Mighty, the Wise.” (Qurtubi)

(To be continued)