Verses from Surah Ibrahim (24-27)

[24] Have you considered how Allah sets forth the parable of a good Word?44 (It is) like a good tree.45 Its roots are firmly rooted, while its branches (high up) in the sky. 

Commentary

44. Good Word: What is the allusion to? Ibn `Abbas has said that the allusion is to the believer’s faith – kalimah shahadah. He lives on earth while his words and deeds are carried up to the heavens (Ibn Jarir).

45. By “the good tree” the allusion is to the believer (Ibn Kathir).

Which is the good tree referred to in this similitude? Mujahid says in explanation, “Once I accompanied Ibn `Umar to Madinah (from Makkah). He did not narrate any hadith on the way except one. And the one he narrated was the following. The Prophet (saws) once asked, `Allah struck a similitude of a good tree… what tree is it?’ Now, I was the youngest of those present and so kept quiet.’” According to other reports, he knew it was the date-palm tree but men like Abu Bakr and `Umar were present and so he did not speak out (Ibn Jarir). Zamakhshari points out however that it can be any tree which gives its fruits in every season such as grapes, fig, pomegranate, etc. Razi goes one step further and says that it makes little difference if it is date palm tree or some other. The similitude encourages a Muslim to live a life endowed with qualities as described of the good tree, irrespective of the question whether such a tree exists in the real world or not.

[25] It yields its fruits in every season46 by the leave of its Lord. And Allah strikes parables for the people, haply that they will be admonished.47

Commentary

46. The “heen” of the original has been interpreted by Ibn `Abbas, when applied to the tree, as a period of “six months” or may be “a year”. But `Ikrimah and Sa`id b. Jubayr have said that it means “six months alone.” However, when applied to the believer (as bringing forth fruit every “heen”), this “heen” is interpreted as “morning and evening,” or, in simpler words, “at all times.” In the Qur’an “heen” has been used both in the sense of a term known, as well as in the sense of an indefinite term, e.g., in 38: 88:

 “You will surely get its news after a while (i.e., the news of the Hour of Doom).”

Or, (76: 1):

“Did a time (‘heen’) pass over man when he was not a thing to be mentioned?”

In both these instances, the term “heen” is an indefinite term (Ibn Jarir).

Alusi adds: The term “heen” is used in the language in the sense of a moment, six months, forty years or even eternity. What is meant is that the tree yields its fruit faithfully, on time, whenever its season arrives.

47. Yusuf Ali writes: “The goodly tree is known for: (1) its beauty: it gives pleasure to all who see it; (2) its stability: it remains firm and unshaken in storms, because its roots are firmly fixed in the earth; (3) its wide compass: its branches reach high, and it catches all the sunshine from heaven, and gives shade to countless birds in its branches and men and animals beneath it; and (4) its abundant fruit: which it yields at all times. So is the Good Word. It is as beautiful as it is true. It abides in all the changes and chances of this life, and even beyond (see verse 27 below); it is never shaken by sorrow or what seems to us calamity; its roots are deep down in the bed-rock facts of life. Its reach is universal, above, around, below; it is illuminated by the divine light from heaven, and its consolation reaches countless beings of all grades of life. Its fruits – the enjoyment of its blessings – is not confined to one season or one set of circumstances; furthermore the fortunate man who is the vehicle of that word has no self-pride; he attributes all its goodness, and his act in spreading it to the Will and Leave of Allah.”

Ibn al-Qayyim comments: There has to be a good amount of likeness between a tree on the one hand and belief on the other, for it to have been chosen for the simile. Firstly, a tree should have to have a root, a stem, branches, leaves and fruits. So is the tree of faith: a strong belief in Allah (swt) is its root; sincerity is its stem, virtuous deeds are its branches and good conduct its fruits. Secondly, a tree cannot live and thrive without some sustaining material poured onto it. If that sustaining material is denied, it goes dry. So is the tree of faith in the heart. If useful knowledge and righteous deeds, remembrance of Allah (swt), and pondering over His signs are not poured onto it, it goes dry. Again, it is of the ways of the nature that a tree should have weeds and parasites growing around it. If they are not checked and rooted out, from to time, it is likely that they’ll take over and kill the mother tree. (Similarly, the tree of faith must be cleared of the weeds of hypocrisy and innovation).

[26] And the parable of an evil Word48 is like an evil tree,49 which is uprooted from the surface of the earth: it has no stability.50

Commentary

48. The “evil Word” of the original stands for Association with Allah (shirk) – Ibn Jarir. It can be any word that Allah disapproves of (Alusi).

49. Hasan is widely reported as having said that the allusion by the “evil tree” is to “hanzal tree” (Ibn Jarir). Zamakhshari adds once again that it can be any tree which is not firmly rooted in the ground and does not yield any fruit.

50. Ibn `Abbas said: This is the example of the unbeliever’s life and works. He is not firmly established in the earth and his deeds do not rise up to the heavens in acceptance.

Rabi` b. Anas said that the unbeliever’s deeds neither rise to the heaven, nor do they find a root in the earth. “So,” he was asked, “where will their deeds be (on Judgment-day)?” He answered, “They will carry their deeds on their backs” (Ibn Jarir).

Though not as beautifully stated, the similitude has its precedence in the OT. Majid writes, “And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he doth shall prosper (Ps. 1: 3).”

[27] Allah grants firmness to those who believe, by the firm Word,51 in the life of this world52 as well as in the next.53 And Allah leads the evildoers to error.54 Allah does what He will.

Commentary

51. The “firm Word” has been interpreted as the kalimah shahadah (Ibn Jarir).

52. That is, Allah (swt) keeps them firm on their faiths and good deeds in this world (Ibn Jarir). Zamakhshari gives the example of the As-hab al-Ukhdud (people of the trenches, Qur’an, Surah no. 85, Al-Buruj), and those others who were split with saws: they stayed firm in their religion until their last breath.

Ibn al-Qayyim points out that if Messengers also needed to be granted firmness, how much more not the ordinary believers? Allah (swt) said about the Prophet, (17: 47): “Had we not firmed you up, you had begun to incline towards them.” And, (11: 120): “And We recite unto you every news of the (previous) Messengers wherewith We firm up your heart.” This “firming up” originates from the good word and virtuous deeds. Allah (swt) said, (4: 66), “Had they done what We were admonishing them, it would have been better for them and more firmly rooted.”

53. Several traditions have come down from the Prophet in explanation of the words, “Allah grants firmness to those who believe by the firm Word, during the life of this world as well as in the Hereafter.” They are in major Sihah works. We shall combine a few. Bara’ b. `Azib reported: “We were attending the funeral service of an Ansari. The grave was still being prepared. So the Prophet (saws) sat down and so did we along with him. He had a twig in his hand with which he began to scratch the ground. Then he raised his head and said, ‘Seek Allah’s refuge from the punishment in the grave. When a believer is about to leave this world and about to enter into the next, bright faced angels come down from the heavens; their faces as radiant as the sun. They carry a shroud with them from Paradise covered with a perfume from Paradise. They sit down in front of him. They are followed by the Angel of Death, who sits down at his head. He says, ‘O good soul, come out to Allah’s forgiveness and His Approval.’ It flows out, like water from the mouth of a water bag. He collects it and no sooner has he collected it when the others take it away from him enwrapping him in the shroud and the perfume (they had brought). It emits the best of fragrance ever possible on the face of the earth. Then they ascend to the heavens along with it and do not pass by them, that is, any group of angels, but they exclaim, ‘What Good soul is this?’ They reply, ‘So and so, son of so and so,’ naming him by the best of names that he was known by in the world, until they arrive at the heaven nearest to the earth. They seek the opening of its door. In every heaven those of its inhabitants that are the closest (to Allah) greet him and see him to the next heaven until he reaches the seventh heaven. There, Allah (swt) says, ‘Place My slave’s book (of deeds) in the `Illiyyun (a place somewhere in the cosmos) and return him to the earth, for, therewith I have created them, thereunto I shall return them and therefrom I shall resurrect them a second time.’ So his soul is returned to his body.

“Then two angels arrive and sit him up. They ask him, ‘Who is your Lord?’ He replies, `Allah is my Lord.’ They ask, ‘What’s your religion?’ He replies, `Islam is my religion.’ They ask him, ‘What have you to say about this man who was sent to you?’ He replies, ‘He is Allah’s Messenger.’ Then they ask, ‘What’s your knowledge?’ He replies, ‘I read Allah’s book and believed in it.’ At that a caller calls out from the heaven, ‘My slave has spoken the truth. So spread out a bed for him from Paradise, give him a dress from Paradise, and open up for him a door to Paradise.’ So, (when the door is opened) tranquility and perfumes come to him from Paradise and his grave is expanded to the reach of the sight. And then comes to him a man: of beautiful face, beautiful dress, and carrying good fragrance. He says, ‘Receive the glad tidings. This is the day you were being promised.’ He asks, ‘Who are you? Your face is the kind that cannot but bring good.’ He replies, ‘I’m your good deeds.’ He begins to say, ‘My Lord, call the Hour, call the Hour, so that I can return to my kinsfolk and to my property.’

“In contrast, when an evil person is about to leave the world, and enter into the Hereafter, Allah sends towards him angels from the heaven, of dark faces, with coarse leather (pieces) in their hands. They sit down in front of him. They are followed by the Angel of Death who sits down at his head. He says, ‘Come out, O filthy soul. Come out to Allah’s anger and displeasure.’ The soul spreads itself out in the body (resisting to come out). So he pulls it out like a thorny branch (entangled) in a (ball) of wet wool. He takes it but not a minute is wasted before they place it in that thick leather piece. It leaves the body covered in such a filthy smell as never experienced on the face of the earth. Then they ascend to the heavens with it. They do not pass by a group of angels but they remark, ‘Whose stinking soul is this?’ They reply, `It is that of so and so, son of so and so,’ naming it by the worst of names that he was known by in the life of this world. Until, when they reach the heaven nearest to the earth, they seek the door to be opened, but they are refused entry.”

“At this point the Prophet (saws) recited the verse (7: 40), ‘The doors to the heaven will not be opened for them and they will not enter into Paradise until a camel passes through a needle’s eye.’ Allah says at that point, ‘Place his book (of deeds) in the Sijjin in the lowest earth.’ So his soul is flung away (into Sijjin). The Prophet then recited (22: 31), `And whosoever associated with Allah is as if cast away from the heaven whom the birds have snatched away, or the wind blows it away to a distant place.’

“Then his soul is returned to the body. After that two angels go to it. They sit him up and ask, ‘Who is your Lord?’ He replies, ‘Ha, ha, I have no idea.’ They ask, ‘What’s your religion?’ He answers, ‘Ha, ha, I have no idea.’ They ask, ‘Who is the man who was sent to you?’ He replies, ‘Ha, ha. I have no idea.’ Then someone cries out from the heaven, ‘My slave has lied. So spread out a bed for him from the Fire, and open up a door on him from the Fire.’ Its heat and poison reach him and his grave is squeezed on him until his ribs cross each other. Then a man with a dreadful face, in dreadful attire, and smelling horribly, arrives. He says, ‘Be of good cheer about something that will prove evil to you. This is the day you were warned of.’ He asks, `And who are you. The face you have can only bring evil.’ He replies, ‘I am your evil deeds.’ The man cries out, ‘My Lord, do not call for the Hour.’” (The hadith is in Ahmed, Abu Da’ud, Nasa`i and Ibn Majah).

According to other versions, “When a dead man is placed in the grave, and his companions turn away, while he hears the retreating noise of their footsteps, two angels come down and ask…” Tirmidhi’s version names the angels as Munkar and Nakir, and that if he succeeds in answering the questions correctly, his grave is filled with Light and he is told, ‘Sleep.’ He says, ‘Let me go back to my family and tell them (what happened).’ They say, ‘Sleep, the sleep of a bridegroom who is not awakened but by the dearest of the family.’ But, if it is a hypocrite, and he is asked the questions, he says, ‘I used to hear the people say (some things about faith and beliefs) and I used to utter the same things. (Otherwise) I know nothing.’ The earth is told, ‘Squeeze him from all sides.’ It closes in on him from all around until his rib bones cross each other. He remains enduring torture until the Day of Judgment.”

There is yet another report which records the Prophet (saws) as having said, “By Him in whose hand is my life, the dead man hears the sounds of your footsteps as you recede. Now, if he was a believer, Prayers take position at his head, Zakah on his right, fasts on his left and good deeds, charity, kin’s rights well observed, acts of charity to the people, (all of them) near his feet. He is sought access to from the side of his head. Prayers say, ‘There is no entrance from my side.’ He is approached from the right. Zakah says, ‘There is no entrance from my side.’ He is approached from his left. Fasts say, ‘There is no entrance from my side.’ He is approached from the side of his feet. Charity and good acts speak out, ‘There is no entrance from our side.’ He is told, ‘Sit down.’ He sits up and it appears to him as if the sun is about to set. He is told, ‘Tell us about what we inquire.’ He says, ‘First, allow me to do my Prayers.’ He is told, ‘You’ll do that. But for the moment tell us about what we inquire.’ He asks, ‘What do you wish to ask?’ He is told, ‘What do you have to say about this man, who was among you? And what is your testimony about him?’ He asks, ‘Do you mean Muhammad?’ He is told, ‘Yes.’ He replies, `I testify that he was a Messenger of Allah and that he came from Allah with clear signs, and so we believed in him.’ He is told, ‘Upon this you lived, upon this you died, and upon this you will be raised, Allah willing.’ Then his grave is widened by seventy hand-measures and it is lightened. A door is opened to Paradise and he is told, ‘Look at what Allah has prepared for you therein.’ That increases his joy and delight. Then his soul is placed among the good souls, residing in green birds hanging by the trees of Paradise. As for the body, it is returned to its origins” (Ibn Jarir) This hadith is also in Ibn Hibban, with some additions (Ibn Kathir).

In connection with the questioning in the grave, Qurtubi reports two stories of confidence. Sahar b. `Ammar said: “I saw Yazid b. Harun after his death. I asked him, ‘How did Allah treat you?’ He replied, ‘Two tough looking, tough acting angels came to me. They asked, “What’s your religion, who is your Lord and who is your prophet?” I held my white beard in my hand and said, “Is that what you ask of a man of my kind? And I had been teaching people answers to your questions for eighty years.” So they went away.’” And `Umar ibn al-Khattab enquired the Prophet about the situation in the grave, “Will I be able to use my mind?” He replied, “Yes.” `Umar remarked, “I think I know how I’ll deal with them.”

And Bazzar has a report coming from `A`isha. When she heard about the questioning in the grave, she asked the Prophet, “How can I deal with them, Messenger of Allah, seeing that I am after all a woman (with all my weaknesses)?” He replied with this verse, “Allah makes firm those who believe by the firm Word, during the life of this world as well as in the Hereafter” (Shawkani).

54. That is, Allah (swt) creates error in the heart of the unbeliever following his will and choice (Alusi).

The words, “And Allah leads the evildoers to error,” refer to the situation of the hypocrite in the grave, who, when asked about the Prophet as to who he was, replies, “I heard people say some things and I repeated. Otherwise, I know nothing.” It is Allah who makes him forget the right answers and hence His words, “Allah leads the evildoers to error” (Ibn Jarir).