Versus from Surah al-Tawbah (18-24)

[18] Surely, those tend Allah’s Sanctuaries32 who believe in Allah and the Hereafter, offer the Prayers (properly and regularly), pay the Zakah, and fear none other than Allah.33 These…haply34 these will be of those that are guided. 

Commentary

32.  Allah (swt) thus bore witness to the faith of him who frequents Allah’s mosques. We have a hadith too on this topic. Preserved by Tirmidhi who declared it hasan gharib (a kind of weak report: au.), [as well as in Ibn Marduwayh and Hakim: Ibn Kathir], it says, “When you see a man frequenting the mosques, bear witness to his faith.” Then the Prophet recited this verse: “Surely, those tend to Allah’s Sanctuaries who believe in Allah and the Hereafter.” Ibn al-`Arabiyy has cautioned that this frequenting the mosque, however, will not be considered enough for a man to be accepted as a witness (in the courts). For, to be a witness, one has to meet with other qualifications (Qurtubi). Another hadith preserved by Ahmad says: “Satan is man’s wolf, just like the wolf for sheep which seizes the stray one. Lo! Be with the people, be with the community and the common people and (frequent) the mosques” (Ibn Kathir). The hadith is also in Tirmidhi, Ibn Majah and Hakim, who rated it sahih (Alusi).

On the topic of mosques, Majid has the following to quote: “After remarking the Islam `has preserved the character of pure monotheism much more faithfully than the Mosaic and Christian religions,’ he (Haeckel) proceeds:- `When I visited the East for the first time in 1873, and admired the noble mosques in Cairo, Smyrna, Brussa, and Constantinople, I was inspired with a feeling of real devotion by the simple and tasteful decoration of the interior, and the lofty and beautiful work of the exterior. How noble and inspiring these mosques appear in comparison with the majority of Catholic churches, which are covered normally with gaudy pictures and gilt, and are outwardly disfigured by an immoderate crowd of human and animal figures’ (Haeckel, Riddle of the Universe, p. 233).”

33.  The “fear of none but Allah” has been coupled with “belief in Him” because fear of other than Allah betrays secret association (shirk al-khafiyy) – Sayyid.

34.  Muhammad b. Is-haq b. Yasar has said that every `asa (haply) coming from Allah (swt) is a firm promise (Ibn Kathir).

[19] Have you made the providing of the pilgrims with drinks and tending the Grand Mosque equal to one who believed in Allah and the Hereafter, and fought in the way of Allah?35 They are not equal in the sight of Allah. And Allah does not guide a transgressing people. 

Commentary

35.  Several incidents are quoted as those occasioning this verse. Nu`man b. Bashir al-Ansari says, “I was sitting by the mimber of the Prophet’s mosque along with a few others. One of them said that he wasn’t bothered about anything after Islam except that he wished he could supply water to the pilgrims. Another said, “Rather, maintaining the Grand Mosque.” A third said that Jihad in the cause of Allah was the best of deeds. `Umar interfered and told us not to make noise near the Prophet’s mimber, rather wait for the Friday Prayer to be over to ask him about the best of deeds – and this verse was revealed. (Qurtubi says that probably the verse was revealed earlier, so, when the Prophet was asked, he recited it). Another incident quoted is that of `Abbas who said, when taken prisoner at Badr, “Well, you might have overtaken us in Islam, hijrah and Jihad, but we on our part maintained the Grand Mosque, supplied water to the pilgrims and relieved the distressed.” A third incident reportedly says that Talha b. Shaybah, `Abbas and `Ali – disputed between themselves over the best of deeds. Ibn Shaybah said: “I own the keys of the House of Ka`bah and can, if I wish, sleep inside it.” `Abbas said: “I am the one who is in charge of supplying water to the pilgrims.” `Ali remarked: “I don’t know what you two are talking about. All I know is that I Prayed facing the Qiblah six months before the rest of the people did, and I fought in the way of Allah.” In response, Allah (swt) revealed this verse. Ibn `Abbas added that in fact the pagans were proud of their maintenance of the Grand Mosque and supply of water to the pilgrims, but turned away from Allah in arrogance. Allah said about them (23: 66-67): “Surely, My signs were recited to you but you turned away on your backs in arrogance, spending evenings in evil-talk” (Ibn Jarir).

Supplying water to the pilgrims was, in those days of scarcity, was of no small benefit. Scores of pilgrims died of thirst. Yet, it was counted out as a deed of no value in the absence of faith (Au.).

Yusuf Ali offers his penchant comments applicable to peoples of all times: “Giving drinks of cold water to thirsty pilgrims, and doing material services to a mosque are meritorious acts, but they are only external. If they do not touch the soul, their value is slight. Far greater, in the sight of Allah, are Faith, Endeavour, and self-surrender to Allah. Men who practice these will obtain honor in the sight of Allah. Allah’s light and guidance comes to them, and not to those self-sufficient beings who think that a little show of what the world considers piety is enough.”

[20] Those who believed, migrated, and fought in the way of Allah with their wealth and their persons, (they indeed) are higher of status with Allah, and they indeed are the successful.

[21] Their Lord gives them glad tiding of a mercy from Him and approval,36 and of gardens for them wherein is enduring pleasure.37 

Commentary

36.  Jabir b. `Abdullah reports the Prophet (saws): “When the people would have entered Paradise, Allah (swt) will say, `I shall give you something better than all these things.’ They’ll ask, `What could be better than these blessings?’ He will say, `My Approval (ridwan)’” – Ibn Jarir.

37.  Note that in verse 20 Allah (swt) spoke of three kinds of deeds: belief in Allah, hijrah and jihad in His cause. In verse 21 He followed it up with three kinds of rewards: Mercy, being pleased, and, gardens. Also note that the three deeds are in the order of their importance, higher to lower. The rewards too are in the order of their importance: higher to lower (Au.).

[22] Abiding therein forever. Verily with Allah are great rewards.

[23] Believers! Do not take your fathers and brothers as (intimate friends and) allies if they prefer disbelief over belief.38 Then, whosoever of you took them as (intimate friends and) allies – they indeed – they are the transgressors.39

Commentary

38.  Asad comments with the general meaning in view: “The term walayah (“alliance” or “friendship”) is used in this context in the sense of an alliance against other believers, as in 3: 28. That it does not refer to “friendship” in the sense of normal human affection is obvious from the many exhortations in the Qur’an to be good to one’s parents and kinsfolk; and, more explicitly, from 60: 8-9, where the believers are reminded that friendly relations with unbelievers who are not hostile to the Muslim community are permissible.”

But Qurtubi is more specific. He writes: Obviously, the verse is of general nature, applicable to believers of all times, but when it was revealed, special reference was to those who had embraced Islam but had remained in the unbelievers’ lands, be it Makkah, or other places, while the Prophet (saws) had already emigrated to Madinah. The Muslims were told, by this and the next verse, that they ought to prefer their religion over everything else. Although of course, the main point remains, viz. the Muslims should not take the unbelievers to their heart, where it is only love of Allah that should reside. One of the Sufiya has said:

They tell me the house of the beloved is nearby
Yet strange that you appear downcast.
I said, it matters not how close the houses,
If the hearts be not close.
How many distantly placed have not achieved their desires?
While another next door died gloomy.

Ibn Kathir writes: The theme of this verse is expressed in a slightly different manner elsewhere in the Qur’an. It says (58: 22): “You will not find a people who believe in Allah and the Hereafter, having affection for those who opposed Allah and His Messenger, even if they were their fathers, sons, brothers, or kinsfolk. Such (as those who do not have affection for them), Allah has written Faith in their hearts and has helped them with a Spirit from Him and shall admit them into Gardens beneath which rivers flow.” It is reported by Hafiz al-Bayhaqi that during the Badr battle Abu `Ubaydah’s father, al-Jarrah began chanting praises of his deities. Initially Abu `Ubaydah avoided encounter with him. But when he wouldn’t stop, he confronted him, the two fought, and Abu `Ubaydah killed his father. Allah (swt) revealed the verse, “You will not find….”

On the topic of love of Allah and His Messenger, Ibn Kathir also writes that a hadith of Bukhari tells us that once the Prophet (saws) was strolling with his hand in `Umar’s when `Umar said, “By Allah. You are dearer to me than anything else in this world, save for my own soul.” The Prophet remarked, “A man is not a true believer until he loves me more than his own self.” At that `Umar said, (according to some reports, being quiet for a while, consulting his inner self: Au.), “By Allah, now you are dearer to me than my own soul.” The Prophet said, “Now, O `Umar.” (That is, now you have become a true believer: Au.). It is also reported (by Bukhari: Hussain b. Ibrahim) that the Prophet (saws) said: “One of you doesn’t believe in me until I am dearer to him than his father, sons and the rest of the people.” (In contrast, there is a hadith that strongly disapproves of the love of this world against the love of the Hereafter: Au.). The Prophet (saws) said in a hadith preserved by Abu Da’ud: “When you begin to deal in `Ina (a dealing with a tinge of usury), hold on to the tails of the oxen (i.e., cattle-breeding) and are quite satisfied with farming, and give up Jihad, then Allah (swt) will impose on you a humiliation that He will not remove from you until you return to your religion.”

39.  The verse forbids approval of the unbelievers as long as they remain unbelievers. For, as the scholars say, to show approval to disbelief is itself disbelief and to approve of wickedness is itself wickedness. The verse however, does not forbid being dutiful to unbelieving parents, or, employing an unbeliever. Forbidden is love or approval (Au.). Bukhari has a report coming down from Asma’. She asked the Prophet (saws), “My mother has come down to me. How do I treat her?” He replied, “Treat her well” (Qurtubi).

[24] Say, `If your fathers, your sons, your brothers, your spouses, your clan, the wealth you have acquired, the commerce that you fear may slacken,40 and the dwellings in which you take pleasure – are dearer to you than Allah, His Messenger and fighting in His cause,41 then, wait until Allah executes His command. And Allah does not guide a transgressing people.42

Commentary

40.  An alternative interpretation put forward by Ibn al-Mubarak is that the allusion is to the daughters and sisters who, one fears, might not get married if the guardian emigrated. This kind of usage has precedence in poetical works (Qurtubi). 

41.  A hadith of Bukhari and Nasa’i says the Prophet (saws) said: “Shaytan sat in the path of Adam’s son at various points. He sat by the path of Islam and said, `Will you embrace Islam and abandon your ancestral religion?’ The man disobeyed him and embraced Islam. Then he sat by the path of hijrah saying, `Will you emigrate abandoning your land and your sky?’ The man opposed him and emigrated. Then he sat by the path of jihad – in person and with his wealth – and said, `Will you fight to be killed, your wife be married to another man and your wealth distributed?’ The man didn’t give him an ear and participated in jihad” (Qurtubi).

42.  This is one of the toughest verses of the Qur’an for the Faithful. It offers a criterion by which everyone can check if he meets the requirement of faith or not (Zamakhshari).

(To be continued)