Verses from Surah Al-A’raf (184 – 199)

[184] Have they not reflected? Their companion (Muhammad) is not seized with madness.281 

Commentary

281. It is said that the Prophet (saws) once climbed Mount Safa and called out every Quraysh tribe by name to warn them. They muttered: “This man seems to have gone mad.” Allah (swt) revealed this verse.

Majid writes: “The Prophet’s almost incredible achievements are still the wonder and admiration of an unbelieving world. ‘The success of Mahomet as a law‑giver, and the stability of his institutions during a long series of generations, and in every condition of social polity, proved that this extraordinary man was formed by the rare combination of the qualities both of a Lycurgus and Alexander.’ (Finlay, p. 352) Savary, who as ‘an enlightened Westerner’ of course, refused to ‘call Mohammed a prophet,’ is ‘nevertheless forced to recognise him as one of the greatest men who ever lived,’ and finds himself bound to concede that ‘his political and military ability and his capacity to governing men were extraordinary,’ and to regard him ‘as one of those unusual personalities occasionally appearing in history, who remake their environment and enlist men in their triumphant train’ (Andrae, pp. 245, 249).

Although we don’t intend to present at this point, all that has been said by the more objective observers, concerning the Prophet (saws) and his achievements, one or two might be necessary. Back in the nineteenth century Lamartine had said: “If the greatness of purpose, smallness of means and astounding results are the three criteria of human genius, who could dare to compare any great man in modern history with Muhammad? Philosopher, orator, apostle, legislator, warrior, conqueror of ideas, restorer of rational dogmas, of a cult without images, the founder of twenty terrestrial empires and of one spiritual empire, that is Muhammad… As regards all the standards by which human greatness may be measured, we may well ask, is there any man greater than he?” (Historire de la Turquie, Paris 1954, pp. 276‑77).

During the same century he was followed by Thomas Carlyle (d. 1881), who, in his famous lectures titled “On Heroes, Hero‑worship and the Heroic in History,” once again rated Muhammad as the most influential of men in history. Finally, the twentieth century was not to pass without paying its own tribute. An American, Michael H. Hart, published a book on the lives of 100 great men. It is titled: “The 100: A Ranking of Most Influential Persons in History,” (Carol Publishing Company, New York). Muhammad (saws) once again tops the list as the greatest ever (Au.).

[185] He is not indeed but a plain warner.282 

Commentary

282. As Allah (swt) said elsewhere (34: 46): “Say, ‘I exhort you to one thing, that you should get together for the sake of God in twos and singly, and reflect, there is no madness in your Companion. He is no more than a plain warner before (your are overtaken by) an impeding severe chastisement’ (Ibn Kathir).”

[186] Have they not seen in the kingdom of the heavens and the earth, and in whatever Allah has created, that their end is perhaps close.283 After what manner of discourse then, will they believe? 284 

Commentary

283. This verse is connected with the passage that follows (verses 187‑188) which reports the pagans enquiring about the end of the world. They are told here that there is hardly any point in seeking that news, since they do not know when their own term will end, which, in fact, might be closer than that final event (Au. with a point from Shabbir).

284. Asad writes: “Apart from a reminder of man’s utter dependence on God, the implication of the above passage is this: Since everything in the observable or intellectually conceivable universe is obviously caused, it must have had a beginning and, therefore, must also have an end. Furthermore, since the universe is not eternal in the sense of having had no beginning, and since it cannot possibly have evolved “by itself” out of nothing, and since “nothingness” is a concept devoid of all reality, we are forced to predicate the existence of a Primary Cause which is beyond to the limits of our experience and, hence, beyond the categories of our thought ‑ that is, the existence of God.”

[187] Whomsoever Allah leads astray, there is no guide unto him. He abandons them wandering blindly in their insolence.285 

Commentary

285. Asad also comments: “As in verse 178 above ‑ and in many other places in the Qur’an ‑ the expression “he whom God lets [or “causes to”] go astray,” indicates the natural law instituted by God (sunnat Allah), whereby a wilful neglect of one’s inborn, cognitive faculties results in the loss of all ethical orientation: that is, not an act of “predestination” but a result of one’s own choice.”

[188] They question you concerning the Hour (as to) when it shall berth.286 Say, ‘Verily. Its knowledge is only with my Lord.287 None shall reveal it at its appointed time but He. It weighs heavy on the heavens and the earth. It will not come on you but suddenly.’288 They ask you as if you are well‑informed of it.289 Tell them, ‘Its knowledge is only with Allah but most people know not.290 

Commentary

286. The use of the word “berth” (first employed in the translation by Arberry, although Pickthall is very close to it), for a moment which will bring all things now on a mad run, to a halt (as a ship berths on the dock) ‑ a usage never before employed in the Arabic language ‑ embodies a high standard of rhetoric (Au. with a point from Manar).

287. In answering why the information concerning the date of the end of the world has been held back, Rashid Rida brings out a point: There was no point in giving the people the knowledge of when the world would end. The unbelievers would have only made a jest of it, while the believers would have unnecessarily suffered anxiety (Manar).

288. The Prophet (saws) has said: “The Hour will surprise the people. A man might be repairing his cistern, another husbanding his cattle, another selling his products in the market and another with the scale in his hand” (Ibn Jarir). A hadith in Bukhari of Abu Hurayra’s narration says: “The Hour would be called even as two people would have stretched a piece of cloth between themselves, but they wouldn’t be able to complete the deal or fold up the cloth; the Hour would be struck when a man would have milked an animal but he wouldn’t be able to drink of it; the Hour would be struck when a man would have just repaired his cistern but before he would have watered thereof; and the Hour would be struck when a man would have raised food to his mouth but wouldn’t be able to put it in” (Ibn Kathir).

289. The use of the textual word “hafiyy” would imply that the inquirers had sought the knowledge of the Hour as a kind of a right arising out of kinship with the Prophet (saws) or, as friends divulging secrets to each other, implying, in turn, that the Prophet (saws) knew all about it, and, being closely related to many of the Quraysh, should, out of love, share the secret with them (Ibn Jarir, Ibn Kathir).

Asad throws light on another aspect of the meaning: “The verb ahfa means “he did [a thing] in an excessive measure” or “he exceeded the usual bounds in doing [something].” .In connection with an inquiry, and especially when followed by `anhu or `anha (“about it”), it signifies “he tried hard to gain insight [into something] by persistently enquiring about it”. Thus, used as a participle, it means “one who has gained insight [into something] through persistent inquiry”. In the above context, the implication is that no amount of inquiry or speculation can reveal to man ‑ the prophets included ‑ the coming of the Last Hour before its actual manifestation.”

290. Hence, whenever the Prophet (saws) was enquired about the Hour he always said he didn’t know when it would be. In the famous Hadith‑Jibril when he was asked when the Hour would be, he replied, “The one asked doesn’t know any more than the one asking.” Once a Bedouin addressed him in a harsh tone asking when the Hour would be. The Prophet (saws) also replied to him in the same tone: “Woe unto you man! The Hour has to strike. But what preparations have you made for it?” The man replied: “Well, not much by way of Prayers and fasts. But I love Allah (swt) and His Messenger.” The Prophet told him: “A man will be with those he loved.” It is said that the Companions were never pleased with anything before as with this statement. Recorded by the Sahihayn, the report is of mutawatir status. At other times, whenever a visiting tribesman enquired about the Hour, the Prophet (saws) would point to the youngest of them and say: “Well, if this boy lives up to his old‑age, your Hour would have struck,” meaning, by then you’d be dead and that would be your Hour. According to another report in Ahmed, reported by Abu Hudhayfah, when the Prophet (saws) was asked about the Hour, he replied: “No one has the knowledge except Allah. However, let me tell you some of the signs and some of the conditions. Of its conditions is that you will experience a lot of tribulations and quite good amount of `haraj’ (an Abyssinian word).” They asked, “What is `haraj?’” He replied: “Lots of killings. And,” (he continued), “a kind of estrangement, so that no one would seem to know another.” The Prophet (saws) also said: “I have been sent with the Hour as close to me as this,” and demonstrated with his two fingers together in a V‑shape (Ibn Kathir).

Rashid Rida adds: It is not the closeness of the Hour that the Prophet (saws) meant by showing his two fingers. Rather, as Ibn Hajr has explained, he meant that there isn’t going to be a Prophet between him and the Day of Judgement, just as there was a gap between the two fingers. As for the statements in some of the reports that the total life of this earth is 7000 years, not one of them is trustworthy. Most of the reports are of Jewish origin.

[189] Say, ‘I have no power over any good or evil for myself, save for what Allah will. Had I knowledge of the Unseen, surely, I would have acquired much good (for myself) and no evil would have touched me.291 I am naught but a warner and a bearer of good news for a people who believe.’292

Commentary

291. Shabbir comments: Despite the fact that the Prophet (saws) was endowed with great blessings, he did not know what was in the Unseen. How many days did he not wait for revelation to tell him the truth of the matter in the case of slander involving ‘A’isha? Similarly, during his Hajj he remarked: “Had I known what was going to happen, I wouldn’t have brought the sacrificial animal with me.” The most glaring is the statement he made after the famous Hadith‑Jibril. He said it was the first time that he failed to recognize Jibril until the very end. It was only after Jibril had left that he knew whom he was speaking to, although, as the biographers have pointed out, this incident happened almost at the end of his mission. This, of course, does not apply to the Shari‘ah, which he knew down to every detail.

292. Asad writes: “The repeated insistence in the Qur’an on the humanness of the Prophet is in tune with the doctrine that no created being has or could have any share, however small, in any of the Creator’s qualities or powers. In logical continuation of this argument, the next passage (verses 189‑198) stresses the uniqueness and exclusiveness of God’s creative powers.”

[190] He it is who created you from a single living being293 and then out of him brought out his mate294 so that he might find repose in her. Then, when he (of the later progeny) 295 covered her, she conceived (what was) a light burden ‑ going about with it (in ease). 296 (But) When she grew heavy, the two supplicated to Allah their Lord, ‘If You gave us a sound297 (child) we shall be of the grateful.’298 

Commentary

293. Majid comments: “i.e., Adam. The implication of which fact is, that all men belonging to one species, and that racial variations notwithstanding, there is no essential difference between man and man. If the modern world had only kept this elementary truth in mind, there would have been no occasion for it to lament that

`the progress of civilisation is threatened by the serious danger of racial conflict and the still more serious evil, the demoralisation caused by inter‑racial and colour prejudice’ (EBr. VI, p. 571). The time must come when it will seem absurd that French and Germans, Americans and Japanese, French and English, can even have been divided by imaginary barriers ‑ no less absurd than the recollection that the people of Burgaandy and Artoris, of Mecklangbourg and Hanover, of Wessex and Northumberland were once taught to believe themselves natural enemies.’ (Fyfe, The Illusion of National Character).”

294. Qatadah has said: Allah (swt) brought out Hawwa’ out of one Adam’s ribs (Ibn Jarir). It does not imply however, that Adam had one rib less. In fact, there is a hadith in Muslim in words: “Verily! Woman has been created from the rib. She will never straighten up to your ways. Therefore, if you will make use of her, you will do so while she remains in her bent state. But, if you undertake to straighten her up, you will break her up. And breaking her up is to divorce her” (Au.).

Thus the Qur’an rejects the theory of evolution as pertaining to the human beings. We shall have a few things to say on this theory somewhere later in this work, in sha Allah (Au.).

295. The words in the parenthesis follow Hasan’s interpretation as in Ibn Jarir and traced as trustworthy by Ibn Kathir. Qaffal also explains this passage in this way (Razi).

296. Another reading is “maarrat” with its root in “miryah”, i.e., initially she was in doubt if she was carrying or not, until she grew heavy (Zamakhshari, Qurtubi).

297. The textual “salehan” can only be interpreted as embodying all that is good and wholesome (Ibn Jarir).

298. Yusuf Ali writes: “The mystery of the physical birth of man, as it affects the father and the mother, only touches the imagination of the parents in the later stages when the child is yet unborn and yet the life stirs within the body of the expectant mother. The coming of the new life is a solemn thing, and is fraught with much hope as well as much unknown risk to the mother herself. The parents in their anxiety turn to Allah. If this feeling of solemnity, hope, and looking towards Allah were maintained after birth, all would be well for the parents as well as for the rising generation. But the attitude changes, as the verses following show.”

[191] But when He gave them a sound child the two assigned Him associates in what He (alone) had given them.299 Exalted high is Allah, above what they associate (with Him). 300 

Commentary

299. The interpretation, as reported in older works, concerning Hawwa’ being misled by Satan at the time of the first birth is completely unacceptable, since, no one with any common sense could be misled that way, far from Hawwa’ (Razi). Further, the ahadith quoted in this regard are untrustworthy (Qurtubi, Ibn Kathir).

Alusi vigorously defends the above opinion and states that Abu Muslim and al‑Amidi held the same view, viz., Allah (swt) started with the species and then (by the alley of ijaz: Au.) came down to its members. In simpler words, Hawwa’ is not the subject of this verse. Rashid Rida re‑narrates all the ahadith on the subject and demonstrates the weaknesses in their chain of narration.

Indeed, the use of plural form in “Exalted high is Allah, above what they associate,” after attributing the previous acts to the two, is another indication that it is a switch from the specific in the early part of the passage, to the general, in its later part (Au.).

300. Asad comments: “Many of them (i.e., the parents) look up to the contributing factors of sound childbirth (like personal care during pregnancy, medical assistance, eugenics, etc.) as something independent of God, forgetting that all these contributing factors are ‑ like the birth of the child itself ‑ but an outcome of God’s will and grace: a manifestation of what the Qur’an calls “the way of God” (sunnat Allah). Since this kind of mental association of “other” factors with God is not really intentional, it does not amount to the unforgivable sin of shirk (“the ascribing of divine qualities to powers other than God”); but it is close enough to it to warrant the subsequent discourse on shirk in the real meaning of the term.”

[192] (Why?!) Do they associate that which creates nothing, rather, are themselves301 created? 

Commentary

301. Note the switch from the particle “ma” (which is) used for the non‑living to the “hum” (they) which is used for the living. This is following the logic of the devotees of the idols who consider the non‑living as the living (Razi).

[193] Moreover, they have no power to help them nor can they help themselves.302 

Commentary

302. The Qur’an thus invites the people to invoke their simple logic, but human folly knows no limits. There are hundreds of millions even in our times who are devoted to the worship of hand‑made idols. People of high governmental profiles beat up their chests before the T.V. cameras to proudly claim the worship of idols. It is perhaps only crude iconoclastic measures ‑ something disapproved by Islam ‑ that would demonstrate to the ardent devotees the powerlessness of their idols, although, expectedly, not all. Ibn Kathir reports that two young lads Mu‘adh ibn ‘Amr b. al‑Jamuh and Mu‘adh ibn Jabal, had to resort to this course strategy to convince ‘Amr b. Jamuh of their worthlessness and his senselessness. In the darkness of the nights, the two would defile a deity very dear to ‘Amr b. al‑Jamuh. Initially shocked to find his beloved god in that state, he would wash it, clean it and perfume it. But, come evening, the two would repeat their performance in its darkness. Finally, he hung a sword by the deity cajoling it to defend itself. But, when they hung the carcass of a dog by its neck, and threw it down a pit, sword, carcass and all, then, finally, ‘Amr b. al‑Jamuh woke up to the realities and embraced Islam (Au.).

Rashid Rida comments: How strange that people refused to believe in the Prophet on the grounds that, as the Qur’an has put it, (23: 33,34): “This (man) is nothing but a human being like you who eats of what you eat and drinks of what you drink. If you will follow a human like yourselves, surely, you’ll be in a loss.” Yet, they had no problem in believing in the lifeless idols.

[194] And, if you call them to guidance, they will not follow you. It is all the same to you whether you call them or hold your peace.

[195] Surely, those you call upon other than Allah, (they are no more than) slaves like yourselves.303 Therefore, call them. They should respond to you, if you be true. 

Commentary

303. Asad comments: “i.e., (they are) created beings subservient to God’s will. This refers to saints, living or dead, as well as to inanimate objects of every description, including idols, fetishes and representational images ‑ physical or mental ‑ of saints or deified persons.”

[196] Do they have feet wherewith they walk? Or, do they have hands wherewith they grasp? Or, do they have eyes wherewith they see? Or, do they have ears wherewith they hear? Say, call upon your associate (‑gods) and then lay down a scheme against me, and give me no respite.304 

Commentary

304. Hasan has said that the pagans used to threaten the Prophet (saws) that if he didn’t give up reviling their deities, the deities would take out revenge on him. This verse was sent in answer to that (Razi).

[197] Surely, my Protector is Allah who sent down the Book, and He protects the righteous.

[198] As for those whom you call upon besides Him, they have no power to help you, nor can they help themselves.

[199] If you call them to guidance, they do not hear. You see them looking at you. But they do not perceive.305 

Commentary

305. There have been several explanations to this passage, but the nearest to being right is that it is the Prophet (saws) who has been addressed. He is being told that ‘you will see them looking at you but in truth they don’t see you, since they perceive not the several signs in your person’ (Alusi). Rashid Rida adds: (How could they be considered as seeing what they were seeing when) one of them had looked at the Prophet (saws) and remarked, “This is not the face of a liar,” yet they rejected him?