Verses from Surah Al-A’raf (199 -206)

[199] Therefore, take to forgiving,306 bid to what is (just and) right, and ignore the ignorant.307 

Commentary

306. It is reported that the Prophet (saws) reacted to the word “`afw” and asked Jibril as to what it stood for. Jibril replied: “That you should join (the relationship with) one who severs it off you, give him who denies you, and forgive him who oppresses you” (Ibn Jarir, Razi, Ibn Kathir and others).

Zamakhshari, Alusi and others write: The textual word ‘afw has various implications. The foremost would imply that the Prophet (saws) should accept the people on their face value as also their deeds – whatever they can manage to put up – in good grace, rather than being inquisitive of their lives and manners, or too demanding on them, or reacting harshly to their errors.

The Prophet (saws) compressed the Islamic morals in a nutshell for Jabir b. Sulaym. Jabir said, “I mounted my camel and went up to the Prophet’s city. I enquired about him. They led me to the mosque. He was sitting there clad in a woollen striped cloak. I said, `Peace be upon you, O Messenger of Allah.’ He replied, `On you be peace.’ I said, `We are of the deserts and are a harsh people. So teach me a few profitable words.’ He said, `Get closer.’ He said that three times. Then he said, `Repeat the question.’ So I repeated. He said, `Be conscious of Allah and do not belittle any good deed. Meet your brother with a cheerful countenance. Empty your bucket in that of one seeking water. If a man finds fault in you for what is not in you, do not find fault in him for what is in him. For Allah will reward you for it while he will earn the punishment. And do not curse anything that Allah (swt) has bestowed on you’.” Jabir said, `By him in whose hands is my life, after that I did not find fault even with a camel’ (Qurtubi).

307. It is reported in Bukhari that once Salim b. ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Umar passed by a camping Syrian caravan. He heard the sounds of a bell. He remarked that it was prohibited. They responded, “We know better than you. It is the large bells that are prohibited, not these little ones.” Salim only said in reply: “Ignore the ignorant,” and moved on (Ibn Kathir).

[200] And, if a provocation from Satan should provoke you,308 seek refuge in Allah.309 Verily, He is All‑hearing, All‑knowing.310 

Commentary

308. It is widely reported that when the Prophet (saws) was asked to forbear, he asked Jibril about the situation in which he gets angry (out of frustration). How should he act then? In response, this verse was revealed.

309. Since Shaytan is invisible, there is no way to fight off its influence and presence save by seeking Allah’s help (Au.). Bukhari has a report which says that once two persons argued over something in the Prophet’s presence. One of them got so angry that his face swelled up. The Prophet (saws) remarked that he knew words which, if the man could say, could cure him of his anger: i.e., “I seek Allah’s refuge from Shaytan the accursed.”  But the man was too angry for that. When someone went across and told him that, he retorted: “Am I mad?” (Ibn Kathir)

Qurtubi adds: None can be in refuge from a dog but with the help of its master. It is reported of one of the pious predecessors that he asked his disciple, ‘What will you do when confronted by a Satanic impulse?’ He answered, ‘I will fight it off.’ He asked, ‘If he returned (with another)?’ He answered, ‘I will fight it off too.’ He said, ‘That will prolong the affair. What do you do when you have to cross a valley grazed by goats but a dog prevents you?’ He answered, ‘Well, I suppose I’ll have to chase it away.’ He said, ‘That will take long. Rather, seek the help of its master. That would do.’

That is, the best way of chasing Satan is to seek its Master’s help, i.e., Allah’s.

310. Razi warns: A resort to refuge without the belief well seated in the heart that Allah is the All‑hearing, the All‑knowing, may not fetch the desired result.

[201] Surely, when a thought originating from Satan assaults those who have gained piety, they remember (Allah),311 and lo! They begin to perceive (the right course).312 

Commentary

311. The Prophet (saws) has explained in a hadith of Muslim: “Satan comes to one of you and asks, `Who created this? … and that?’ That goes on until he asks, `Who created your Lord?’ When that happens, let the person seek Allah’s refuge and stop at that” (Qurtubi).

312. A good example of this was provided by Hasan b. ‘Ali b. Talib. ‘Isam b. Mustaliq says: “I entered Madinah and came across Hasan b. ‘Ali. I was impressed by his personality and carriage. That evoked envy in me because of the hatred I bore for his father. I asked, ‘Are you Hasan b. ‘Ali?’ He replied, ‘Very much so.’ I began to call him names and curse his father. He looked up at me, as if in pity. Then he said, ‘I seek Allah’s refuge from Satan, the accursed, and I begin in the name of Allah, the Kind, the Merciful. “Take to forgiving, bid to what is (just and) right, and ignore the ignorant” … reading out until … “those who have gained piety, when a thought originating from Satan assaults them, they remember (Allah), and lo! They begin to perceive.” Then he said, ‘Cool down, man. Seek Allah’s forgiveness for yourself and for me. If you need our help, we shall offer you the help. If you seek a companion, we shall provide you with one. If you seek to know the way, we shall guide you to it.’ Those words went down into my body spreading remorse. Hasan added, ‘There is no blame on you, man. May Allah forgive you. Verily, He is the Most Merciful of those who show mercy.’ Then he asked, ‘Are you from Syria?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ He recited a piece of poetry and then added, ‘Welcome to you and may Allah lead you to a good resort and protect you. If you need anything, just touch upon us, you will find us responding in a manner better than what you thought – if Allah will.’” ‘Isam says, ‘The earth became narrow for me despite its vastness. I wished it would swallow me. I escaped fast from him in a state that there was none in my heart dearer to me than he and his father’ (Qurtubi).

[202] (As for the unbelievers) Their brothers ‑ (the evil ones) ‑ lead them (deeper and deeper) into error. And they never let them relax.313 

Commentary

313. Some commentators have explained this piece as: There is no let up from either side. Neither the devils let them go, nor their followers abandon their company (Shawkani).

[203] When you do not bring them a Sign they ask, ‘Why did you not choose one?’314 Say, ‘I only follow that which is revealed to Me by my Lord.315 This (Qur’an) is nothing but evidences316 (greater than any miracle) from your Lord, a guidance and a mercy unto a people who believe. 

Commentary

314. Ibn ‘Abbas, Qatadah, Suddi and others have said that what the unbelievers meant to say is, why don’t you choose one for yourself, and produce it all by yourself, if your God failed you (Ibn Jarir).

315. That is, I have not been sent to work up miracles. I have been commissioned to demonstrate to you that the message I am propounding is liveable, practicable (Au.).

Majid writes: “That is the gist of prophethood in Islam. Prophets are only the faithful Messengers of God. No prophet is empowered to perform miracles on his own accord in order to please the infidels. It is only God who, in His infinite wisdom and power, can, and does sometimes, alter the working of His usual, ordinary, normal laws, and bring about what to the limited, finite, intelligence of men appears miraculous. He alone is the Author, equally of the ordinary, everyday events, of natural, extra‑ordinary, and `super’ natural events, known in human language as miracles.”

316. ‘Evidences,’ or “evident arguments” is perhaps the closest to how one can understand the textual word basa’ir (Au.).

[204] Therefore, when the Qur’an is recited, listen to it with attention,317 and stay silent haply so you might be shown mercy. 

Commentary

317. ‘Abdullah ibn Mas‘ud, Abu Hurayrah and others have reported that the Muslims used to speak out a few necessary words to each other during Prayers until this verse came down. According to Zuhri, it proscribed the recitation of the Qur’an while the Imam is engaged in that in a congregational Prayer. Another report comes from Ibn Kurayz who says (referring to this verse) that once he objected to the conversation between ‘Ubayy b. ‘Umayr and ‘Ata ibn Abi Rubah – pointing out that someone was addressing another group of people on a religious topic. The two looked at him, but continued with their conversation without a word to him. The third time he objected to them, they said the verse was primarily revealed for maintaining silence when the Imam recited the Qur’an in the congregatory Prayers. This is also the opinion of Ibn ‘Abbas, Mujahid, Qatadah, Sa‘id b. Jubayr, Ibn Musayyib and others. Ibn ‘Abbas has added that one is free to listen or not to the Qur’anic recitation, outside of the Prayers. Mujahid, Sa‘id b. Jubayr and Hasan have extended the prohibition to the time Friday sermon is delivered (Ibn Jarir, Ibn Kathir).

However, if a person asked another to recite the Qur’an to him then it is obligatory on him to listen and remain silent (Au.).

Muslim has a report of Abu Musa al‑Ash‘ari that says, the Prophet (saws) said: “The Imam has been appointed so that he be obeyed. Therefore, when he goes from action to action, follow him, and when he recites (the Qur’an) listen to him with attention.” Others (Nasa’i, Ibn Majah and Ahmed: Hussain b. Ibrahim) have also recorded this hadith as coming from Abu Hurayrah with Muslim declaring it Sahih although he himself did not report it. Once, Ibn Mas‘ud led in Prayers. Some people began to recite behind him. After the Prayers, Ibn Mas‘ud said (in an irritated tone: Au.) that there ought to be no recitation behind the Imam, “rather, you should ponder over what is being recited.” In fact, according to a report in Ahmed, the Prophet (saws) himself disapproved that his followers should recite behind him. Zuhri has added that one might not recite even if he does not hear the Imam’s recitation, being at a distance. This happens to be the rule prescribed by Imam Abu Hanifah, Ahmed b. Hanbal, Malik, and the older opinion of Imam Shafe‘i too who don’t think that even al‑Fatiha need to be recited in jahri (Fajr, Maghrib and ‘Isha) Prayers (Ibn Kathir).

Alusi points out – in defence of the above opinion – that, in fact, there is a hadith in Hakim that tells us that the Prophet even disapproved of recitation of the Qur’an behind the Imam in Zuhr and ‘Asr Prayers saying, “Imam’s recitation is the follower’s recitation.” Non‑recitation behind the Imam was the practice of ‘Umar, Ibn Mas‘ud, Ibn ‘Abbas, Ibn ‘Umar, Zayd b. Thabit and others. Sha‘bi has said that he met 70 of those who participated in Badr campaign, who objected to the recitation behind the Imam.

[205] And remember your Lord within yourself in humility and awe: without saying the word aloud ‑ morning and evening.318 And be not of the heedless. 

Commentary

318. “Morning and evening”: – i.e., all the time (Razi).

The Sahihayn have a report of Abu Musa al‑Ash‘ari that in one of the campaigns the Companions would not go up a hill or climb down into a valley but chant out glories of Allah loudly. The Prophet (saws) told them: “People! Show mercy unto yourselves. You are not calling upon a deaf, or someone absent. The One you are calling upon is the Hearer, close to you. He is closer to one of you than the neck of the beast he is riding.” (Ibn Kathir)

Commenting on the dhikr al‑lisani recommended by the verse, Razi writes: It should be understood that the body and the soul have a two‑way relationship with each other. Whatever happens to the soul is reflected back on the body and whatever happens to the body is reflected back on the soul. When a man spells out Allah’s name by his tongue in a way that he hears his own words, the effects reach up to the mind and heart from where they are reflected back on to the soul. In turn, the irradiated soul reflects back its light on the body. Thus, each strengthens the other, steering the man to the course of elevation to greater and greater spiritual heights.

[206] Verily, those who are with your Lord,319 are not too proud to worship Him. They extol His glory and to Him they prostrate themselves.320

Commentary

319. The allusion is not to physical nearness, rather to spiritual status (Razi).

320. This is the first Prostration‑verse of the Qur’an. The Prophet (saws) used to prostrate himself at the end of this verse (Au.). “It is also on record that while delivering a sermon from the pulpit the Prophet (peace be on him) came down from the pulpit to offer prostration and resumed the sermon thereafter” (Mawdudi).

When in prostration one might say, as in a report of Ibn ‘Abbas in Ibn Majah: i.e., “O Allah, lessen thereof my load, write down a good deed for me and keep it in safe‑keeping with You.”

Another report in Ahmed, Abu Da’ud and Tirmidhi, who graded it Sahih, narrates ‘A’isha as saying that in his night‑Prayers the Prophet (saws) always said the following words at the Prostration‑verses: i.e., “My face prostrates itself unto Him Who created it, and split open its hearing and sight by His force and power. Exalted is Allah, the Best of creators” (Alusi).

According to the Hanafiyyah, one who didn’t intend to listen to the Qur’an, but hears the Prostration-verse, has also to prostrate himself (Au.).  Hence, Mufti Shafi’ adds, it is not desirable to recite the Qur’an aloud in an assembly where the people are not listening, and obligatory for the individual to listen when he puts on, say a tape-recorder.