Verses from Surah Al-A’raf (175 – 183)

[175] And recite to them the news of him whom We gave Our signs.264 But he went right through them (without drawing a lesson). Wherefore Shaytan followed after him. Eventually, he went (completely) astray. 

Commentary

264. (Although obviously general in application: Au.) speculations abound over whom the verse could allude to. Ibn Mas`ud, Ibn `Abbas, `Ikrimah and others have said that the reference is to an Israeli called Bal`am although `Abdullah ibn `Amr and Kalbi have said that it is Umayyah ibn. Abi Salt who has been referred to (Ibn Jarir). “Balam (was) of the Canaanite race… (His) story occurs in the Bible (Nu. 22-24)” – Majid.

Ibn Kathir adds: Perhaps what was meant when Umayyah ibn. Abi Salt was named is that the example fitted him well. It is said that the man had obtained a good amount of knowledge of the previous religions which he expressed in his poetry to the extent that when the Prophet heard some of his poetical pieces he said: “His poetry believed but his heart denied” for, when offered Islam he deferred the decision until his death (Ibn Kathir, Alusi).

A third person, No`man has also been named who had adopted asceticism before the Prophet’s advent. When the Prophet told him about his mission, he asked him what his religion was. The Prophet (saws) told him: “It is that of unadulterated Oneness, that of Ibrahim (asws).” The man replied that he too was on that religion. The Prophet (saws) told him: “You are not. For you have introduced new elements and left out some.” But the man wouldn’t believe. Instead, he travelled to Syria to seek military aid from the Roman emperor for a campaign against the Prophet (saws). He failed in securing the aid and so, chose to remain there for 8 long years before giving up his ghost (Ibn Kathir, Alusi and others).

Imam Razi points out that this is one of the toughest verses for those who possess the knowledge of Islam.

[176] Had We willed, We could have elevated him thereby.265 But he inclined toward the earth266 and followed his lust.267 Therefore, his example is like that of a dog: You load him up, he lolls his tongue out. You let him off, he lolls his tongue out. That is the example of those who cried lies to Our signs.268 Narrate then the narration’s (O Prophet), haply they will reflect.269 

Commentary

265. The meaning is, had he lived up to his knowledge, We would surely have raised him, in conformity with Our will and Law, to spiritual eminence.

266. “Love of this world is the source of all errors” (Alusi).

267. Majid writes: “`Hawa’ is not simple desire, but ‘blameable or evil inclination.’”

268. Asad writes: “Because his attitudes are influenced by what his earth-bound desires represent to him as his immediate “advantages” or “disadvantages,” the type of man alluded to in this passage is always – whatever the outward circumstances – a prey to a conflict between his reason and his base urges and, thus, to inner disquiet and imaginary fears, and cannot attain that peace of mind which a believer achieves through his faith.”

269. At this point Sufi commentators Alusi and Thanwi come down heavily upon the pseudo-Sufis who have made a profession of the discipline, following their lust.

Sayyid expands upon the subject. He writes: “This is the example of him whose knowledge (of Islam) does not free him from overburdening material inclinations and carnal desires. The man clings to the earth and is unable to free himself of its pull. He follows his desires, so Satan follows him, accompanying him wherever he goes…in fact, leading him up by the halter of his carnal desires…

“The Qur’anic method does not consist in the description of ‘faiths and beliefs’ in the fashion of a few concepts for easy-chair study. This kind of knowledge, will never succeed in the growth and development (of an individual). This cold knowledge will not be able to hold its ground against carnal desires…

“The Qur’anic method of the presentation of this religion is also not as an ‘Islamic System’ that can be studied – as a discipline is studied – nor as a “System of Law,” nor as an “Economic System,” nor any “ism” of that sort. It presents this religion as a faith that defends itself, dynamically progressing, living and life-giving, raising and elevating. It prompts to action for the fulfilment of its demands immediately as it settles in the hearts. It awakens the dead hearts, prompting them to action. It re-awakens the faculties of response to the nature on which it has been created so that the soul becomes conscious of the covenant made in its pre-natal existence. It raises high his aims and objectives, not letting him incline towards the earth in the least.”

[177] Evil is the example of the people who cried lies to Our signs – yet, it was themselves they were wronging. 

[178] Whomsoever Allah guides, he is rightly guided. And whomsoever He leads astray, they – indeed they – are the losers.

[179] Indeed We have created for Hell many of the Jinn and Men.270 They have hearts271 but wherewith they understand not, they have eyes but wherewith they see not, and they have ears but wherewith they hear not.272 They are like cattle. In fact, worse misguided.273 They indeed – they are completely unheeding.274 

Commentary

270. Alusi’s comments running over several pages can be shortened as follows: The allusion is to those who will (throughout human life on this planet) insist on disbelief, which happens to be in the knowledge of Allah (swt). Some leading scholars have said that (in the light of another verse, very clear of meaning [51: 56], “And We haven’t created the Jinn and the mankind but that they should worship Me“), the allusion here could only be to those who in Allah’s knowledge choose to disbelieve not because they are forced to do that, rather because they make a decision that way.

Shabbir adds: The lam of this verse [in li-ya`budun] could be understood as the lam al-ghayah [lam of purpose], whereas the lam of the verse under discussion [in li-jahannum] as lam al-`aqibah [the lam of consequence]. Although the great majority has said that both the lams are for ghayah [purpose] but that of li-ya`budun is tashri`i [legal], whereas that of li-jahannum is takwini [creative-universal].

[The above was a parenthetical remark introduced by us (Au.)].

Nevertheless, Alusi continues, most commentators have believed in the apparent words, adding ahadith, (as in the notes that follow), that speak of pre-destination of things. However, this is a very difficult topic that requires a lengthy discussion, shortened to one sentence by some of the Masha’ikh who said: “A man is free to choose by his free will, that which has been pre-ordained.” Alusi concludes with Imam Ghazali’s words: “If you say, `With reference to myself I find that if I willed to perform a deed, I could, or, if I willed to drop it off, I could drop it off; that would make the deed my own earning without an outside intervention’ – if you say that, then the answer would be, `Admitted you find that kind of feeling in your heart. But, do you also find in your heart that if you willed you could will, but if you did not wish to will, you would not will?’ In other words you have no choice in the case of your will itself. It acts entirely independent of you. And, since your acts follow your will, which itself is free to act on you, it amounts to you being forced to act by a choice which apparently enjoys freedom” (Slightly reworded). This of course, Alusi hastens to add, does not simplify the issue, and hence states that to the subject he has devoted a whole book.

271. Rashid Rida writes: When the word “heart” is used with reference to the physical body, it stands for the piece of flesh in the breast of a man. Otherwise it refers to a man’s understanding, knowledge, perceptive faculty, or the seat of emotions.

272. Rashid Rida lends his support to Alusi’s commentary above (no.270) and adds up his own explanation that could be abridged as follows: They have hearts that are incapable of understanding that which should be understood, including, by default, that which should get priority, viz., the demonstrative proofs leading up to the Truth. They have eyes with which they do not see things that need to be recorded, including, by default, what should get priority, viz., the outspread evidences that lead up to the Truth. They have ears with which they hear nothing of the revealed knowledge in the manner they deserve to be heard. Eventually, they will admit that they were on the wrong in not employing their faculties of the mind to good purposes. They will say on Judgement Day (67: 10): “Had we heard and contemplated, we wouldn’t have been among the companions of the Fire.” Although, to be fair, the verse is equally applicable to the Muslims who do not use their faculties properly and so are quick to consign the non-Muslims to Hell, and themselves to Paradise, even if they are steeped in evil deeds, and, consequently, forced to bank on the dead for salvation through intercession.

273. Asad comments: “… animals follow only their instincts and natural needs and are not conscious of the possibility or necessity of a moral choice.”

Majid adds: “Cf. the OT (Old Testament): – ‘The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib: but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider’ (Is.’:3).”

274. The Prophet (saws) said in a hadith recorded by Muslim: “Allah decreed the decrees of the creations fifty thousand years before their creation. His `Arsh was then on water.” Another hadith of Muslim reports `A’isha (ra) as saying: “The Prophet (saws) was invited to attend the funeral of a child. I said, `Messenger of Allah. How good of a bird in Paradise that did not commit a single sin.’ He replied, `Maybe things are a bit different `A’isha. Allah created Paradise and created a people for it while they were yet in the loins of their fathers. He also created the Fire and a people for it while they were yet in the loins of their fathers.’” The Sahihayn have another report which says (about the embryo): “…Then Allah (swt) sends an angel to it who decrees four things: His sustenance, age, deeds and whether he will be a lucky one or wretched” (Ibn Kathir).

Rashid Rida however strongly disagrees with the standard opinion stated by Imam Razi, Qurtubi, Ibn Kathir and others. He says that their destiny to Hell would be entirely dependent on their choice in this world. Allah (swt) gave them intellectual powers, but they refused to employ them to good purposes. The Qur’an has said in another place about them (25: 46): “We established them in (those lands) just as We have established you in (this land). And We made for them the power of hearing, sight and heart. But of no use for them was their hearing, sight and hearts of any worth when they disputed the signs of Allah.” Eventually they’d admit that the fault was theirs. Once in the Fire they will cry out (67: 10,11): “Had we given the ear, or used our heads, we wouldn’t have been the companions of the Fire. Thus they would admit their error.”

We have dealt with the question of Qada’ and Qadr largely as the commentators have done at various points in this work. The view-point of the Ahl as-Sunnah lies between the two extremes of the Mu`tazilah and the Jabariyyah. Admitting freedom to choose would imply denial of Allah’s fore-knowledge. Consequently, it would mean Allah (swt) does not know what’s going to happen at any given time in the future. That obviously is unthinkable. In that event the universe cannot run on an ordered pattern: if it would run at all. On the other extreme, admitting pre-destination (in the absolute sense) would mean reducing the humans to automats and the universe to a clockwork. The truth lies in between which happens to be the position adopted by the Ahl as-Sunnah. Yet, difficulties remain. We shall therefore, Allah willing, attempt a fuller explanation some time later in this work (Au.).

[180] Allah’s are the Most Excellent Names;275 so call Him by them,276 and let alone those who work distortion in His Names.277 Soon they will be recompensed for what they are doing.

Commentary

275. Asad comments: “This passage connects with the mention, at the end of the preceding verse, of “the heedless ones” who do not use their faculty of discernment in the way intended for it by God, and remain heedless of Him who comprises within Himself all the attributes of perfection and represents, therefore, the Ultimate Reality. As regards the expression al-asma al-husna (lit. “The most perfect [or “most goodly names”), which occurs in the Qur’an four times – ie. In the above verse as well as in 17: 110, 20: 8, and 59: 24 – it is to be borne in mind that the term ism is, primarily, a word applied to denote the substance or the intrinsic attributes of an object under consideration.”

But Shabbir sees a deeper connection: After the mention of the “heedless” unbelievers, the Qur’an warns the believers that they should beware of heedlessness. And the best cure for heedlessness is Allah’s remembrance. Therefore He should be called, and called by the Best of Names, avoiding the company of those who dispute His Names.

The Prophet (saws) has said: “Allah has ninety-nine Names – a hundred, less one. Whoever preserved them entered Paradise” (Ibn Jarir). However, Ibn Kathir adds, His Names are not limited to ninety-nine. [What is meant is that of the many, Allah has ninety-nine names that, if one preserves, will be rewarded with Paradise: Au.]. This is supported by a hadith in Ahmed narrated by Ibn Mas`ud and declared Sahih by Ibn Hibban, which says that the Prophet (saws) said: “No one was ever struck with an affliction or grievous affair, and he said, i.e., “O Allah, I am Your slave, the son of a slave-father and slave-mother, my forehead lock of hair is in Your hand, You are the Doer of Your command, just in Your judgement, I beseech You by every Name that is Yours, by which You named Yourself, or revealed it in a Scripture, or taught anyone of Your creations, or retained it in Your knowledge of the Unknown…that You should make the Exalted Qur’an the spring of my heart, the Light of my breast, the dispeller of my sorrow, the remover of my affliction,’ – (no one said these words) but Allah will remove his affliction and grief replacing it with tranquillity.” It was asked, “O Messenger of Allah. Why should we not learn this (supplication)?” He replied, “Indeed, everyone who heard of it ought to learn it.” The hadith is also recorded by Ibn Hibban. (Ahmed Shakir has graded it Sahih: S. Ibrahim). In fact Abu Bakr ibn `Arabiyy has written in his commentary on Tirmidhi that some scholars have worked out a thousand Names for Allah from the Qur’an. Some have said that no limits can be imposed (Ibn Kathir, Shawkani, Manar).

Allah’s Names, as pointed out by Manar and others are tawqifi: that is, they can be known only through revelation. Hence, unless proven by the Qur’an or the hadith, they cannot be relied upon as authentically His Names. Tirmidhi and others have listed the ninety-nine Names, but as pointed out by several scholars, not all of them are from the Qur’an and the hadith, the reason why we did not reproduce them here (Au.).

276. Such as to say, i.e., “O the Living One, the Self-existing by Whom all exist,” or, i.e., “O the Gracious, the Bestower without end” (Au.). 

277. Asad comments: “I.e., by applying them to other beings or objects or, alternatively, by to trying to “define” God in anthropomorphic terms and relationships, like “father” or “son” (Razi).”

[181] And, of those We have created there are people who guide by the truth and act justly therewith.278 

Commentary

278. It is generally believed that the verse is alluding to the Prophet’s followers, especially the first generation Muslims, which makes the passage that follows equally applicable to the latter day believers (Au.).

[182] As for those who cry lies to Our signs, We shall gradually lead them (to their destruction), in a manner they do not know.279

Commentary

279. As Allah (swt) said elsewhere (6: 44-45): “When they had clean forgotten what they were reminded of, We opened unto them the gates of everything (of the nature of material prosperity) – until, when they were mighty pleased with what they were given, We seized them suddenly and they slipped into a quiet despair. Uprooted thus were the last remnants of those who transgressed. And (it was said) ‘All praise to Allah, the Lord of the worlds’” (Ibn Kathir).

Also see note 70 of al-An`am.

[183] And I grant them respite. Surely, My scheme is strong.280

Commentary

280. The textual word for “scheme” is kayd. It is a contrivance aimed at something not perceptible to the eye. Here it means to say that Allah (swt) gives the unbelievers respite, providing, in the meanwhile, material means, which misleads them to believe that they are on the right course, until, they are trapped on a sudden – as (a prey) in a net (based on Manar).