Verses from Surah al-Isra’ (39-46)

[39] This is of what Allah has revealed unto you of the wisdom. And set not up with Allah another deity or you will be hurled into Jahannum, blamed and rejected.

[40] Has your Lord chosen you for males and of the angels took (for Himself) females?71 Truly, you utter a dreadful thing.

Commentary

71. Asad comments: “…an allusion to the pre-Islamic Arabian belief that the angels – conceived of as a kind of female sub-deities – were God’s ‘daughters’, and this despite the pagan Arab’s contempt of female offspring.”

[41] We have, indeed, propounded variously72 in this Qur’an so that they might receive admonition; but it increases them not except in aversion. 73

Commentary

72. The textual word “sarrafa” has the double sense of revealing little by little, as well as varying the revelation, i.e., presenting the reminder in a variety of ways (to gain hearing and acceptance). – Qurtubi

Yusuf Ali adds: “Things are explained in the Qur’an from all points of view, individual and national, by means of stories, parables, and figures of speech, and by way of categorical commands. But those who are evil, instead of profiting by such instruction, often go farther and farther away from the Truth.

73. The textual “nufur” has “nafara” in its root which means to bolt away in aversion.

[42] Say, ‘If there had been other gods along with Him, as they say, then, in that case, they would have sought a way to the Lord of the ‘Arsh.74

Commentary

74. The meaning, as given by Qatadah is, if it is supposed, although a far-fetched supposition, that there were deities besides Allah, then, surely, Allah, the True Deity’s powers are such that they would have unconditionally surrendered to Him (Ibn Jarir). A second meaning is, says Razi, the pagans justified their worship of deities other than Allah on grounds that (39: 3), “in order that they will take us nearer to Allah.” They are told that, if they could possibly take you nearer, then surely, they would seek nearness to Him for themselves.

A third possible meaning, as in Shawkani and worded by Majid is: “i.e., these minor gods, if endowed with power and will at all, would surely have endeavored to contend with God, and would have asserted their independence or executed their own will.”

[43] Glory be to Him! High, indeed, is He, exalted above that they say.

[44] The seven heavens, the earth, and whatever is within them, celebrate His glory.  And, there is not a thing but celebrates His glory in praises. But you do not understand their glorification. 75 Verily, He is ever Clement, 76 ever Forgiving. 77

Commentary

75. Qatadah has stated that every biological organism including the trees enjoys some sort of life, and glorifies Allah (Ibn Jarir).

This is how the verse was generally understood by the Companions. (In fact, they believed that inanimate objects also glorified Allah). Ibn Mas`ud said, “We used to hear the food glorifying Allah as we ate it.” The report is in Bukhari. Another well-known report is narrated by Abu Dharr that he, Abu Bakr, ‘Umar and ‘Uthman, all heard

a handful of pebbles that the Prophet had picked up, sing Allah’s glory. According to a hadith in Ahmed, the Prophet once saw people chatting with each other while on their camels. He said, “Ride them safely and come down safely. Do not make chairs of them to chat in the streets or markets. For, sometimes the one rode on is better than its rider and remembers Allah more than he does.” Nasa’i has a hadith which reports the Prophet as having said, “Do not kill the frogs. Their croaking is their glorification of Allah.” (The hadith is Sahih of status: S. Ibrahim). Some of the Salaf used to say that when water boils, and when the door creaks, they glorify Allah.” However, when Hasan (al-Busri) was asked, “Does this dinner table glorify Allah?” He replied, “Once it used to.” What he meant, perhaps, is that when it was a green tree it used to glorify Allah. This is how many scholars have understood the famous hadith according to which once the Prophet (saws) planted two branches on two graves and said, “Maybe they will be relieved of punishment so long as the branches do not dry up.” That is, the branches, so long as green, will glorify Allah and will prevent punishment of those in the grave (Qurtubi, Ibn Kathir). Nonetheless, the important point is, it was the Prophet who planted them. He has not recommended that his followers plant anything near the graves, or place flowers thereon (Au.).

Qurtubi writes further: Some people have thought that the glorification here is in the allegorical sense. (In the words of Yusuf Ali: “[The praises of the inanimate is manifested] in the evidence which it furnishes of the unity and glory of Allah).” But several reports give us to believe, writes Qurtubi, that the glorification is in the real sense. That is, the inanimate objects sing glory in voice. The Qur’an tells us about a few inanimate objects that glorify Allah. It said (38: 17-18), “And remember Our slave Da’ud, a man of strength. Surely, he was oft-turning (to his Lord). We subjected the mountains that sang Allah’s glory along with him in the evening and morning.” The Prophet has said, “Neither the Jinn, mankind, trees nor stones nor anything else hear the voice of the caller to Prayer but will bear witness for him on the Day of Judgment.” He also said, according to a hadith in Muslim, “I know the stone in Makkah that used to greet me before I was commissioned.” Further, had the glorification been in the allegorical sense, Allah would not have added the words, “But you do not understand their glorification.”

Again, there is, adds Shawkani, the hadith of Bukhari which speaks of the date palm stem breaking down into sobs (when the Prophet abandoned it for the newly made mimber). There is another hadith in the Sahihayn involving ants and a Prophet of the past. It reports that the Prophet said, “An ant stung one of the Prophets of the past. He ordered the ant-hill burnt down. Allah revealed to him, ‘Did you, for the reasons of a single ant, burn down a whole colony of ants, which, after all, is one of the Umam that sing glory?’”

Finally, Alusi points out, with Thanwi seconding him, such glorification on the part of the inanimate objects does not imply that they have souls, or intellect, or are capable of senses as other animate and living objects are. But rather, they might possess some sort of low order sense.

76. Majid comments: “…so that He does not seize you with His vengeance immediately (despite your rejection).”

77. Majid again: “…so that He shall forgive you, if even now you repent and mend your ways.”

[45] And when you recite the Qur’an, We place between you and those who do not believe in the Hereafter, a veil obstructing. 78

Commentary

78. In Qatadah’s opinion, Allah (swt) creates a barrier between unbelievers and the meaning of the Qur’an so that they are unable to understand it. They may hear, but will understand nothing. It is the direct result of their obedience to Satan (Ibn Jarir).

In fact, the Makkan pagans were a people who were proud of the barriers between them and the call to truth. They used to proudly say, in the words of the Qur’an (41: 5), “They said, ‘Our hearts are within coverings from that to which you invite us, and in our ears is deafness, and between you and us is a screen; so work, indeed we are also working’” (Zamakhshari, Shabbir).

Sa`id b. Jubayr has reported that after the revelation of the chapter on Abu Lahab, the Prophet was sitting with Abu Bakr when Abu Lahab’s wife started walking down towards them. (According to other reports, she had a handful of pebbles in her hand, or maybe a stone). Abu Bakr said, “Messenger of Allah, if you could move off, not to hear what she might have to say. You know she is a vile woman.” The Prophet said that he would be protected from her. When she got close, she demanded to know, “Abu Bakr! Is it true that your companion has lampooned me?” Abu Bakr assured her that the Prophet had done no such thing. (Since it was Allah who had revealed the verses in question). After she was gone, Abu Bakr said to the Prophet, “It seems she did not see you.” The Prophet replied, “Yes, an angel came in between me and her” (Qurtubi, Ibn Kathir). The report is in Abu Ya`la, Ibn Abi Hatim, and Hakim who declared it Sahih (Shawkani).

Qurtubi has a few other instances to report of the inability of the unbelievers to sight a Muslim they were looking for because of his recitation of the Qur’an. He reports Ka`b as saying, “I taught a man in Syria the verses the Prophet (saws) used to recite for concealing himself from the unbelievers. He happened to travel to the Roman territories

where he tarried for a while. But then he had to flee. They were after him in hot pursuit. When they got close, he began to recite the verses (I had taught). He reports that although they even walked by him, they did not seem to see him.”

And, Tha`labi reported that having learnt the verses from Ka`b, he too taught them to someone in Rayy. It should so happen that the man was taken prisoner in Daylam, and remained in custody for a long time. Finally, he escaped. They went after him. He began to recite these verses. At one point, they came so close that his clothes touched theirs.

But they did not see him at all.”

As regards the verses in question, Ka`b reports: “The Prophet used to conceal himself from the pagans through the recitation of three verses. First, the second part of the 57th verse of Surah al-Kahf which says:

“Indeed, We have placed a covering on their hearts that they should understand it, and in their ears a plug.”

The second, verse 108 of Surah al-Nahl which says:

“They are the ones that Allah has a set a seal on their hearts, ears and eyes.”

And the third is verse 23 of Surah al-Jathiyyah which says,

“Have you considered him who took as his god, his own desires? Allah led him astray on knowledge, and set a seal upon his hearing and his heart and placed a veil over his vision?”

“To the above,” Qurtubi continues, “we might add the first nine verses of Surah Ya Sin.” They say,

“Ya Sin. By the wise Qur’an. Indeed, you are (O Muhammad) from among the messengers – on a straight path; sending down of the Mighty, the Merciful, that you may warn a people whose forefathers were not warned, so they are unaware. Surely, the Word has become true on most of them, so they do not believe. Indeed, We have put shackles on their necks, which are to their chins, so that they are with their heads held aloft. And We have placed before them a barrier and covered them, so they do not see.”

“These are the verses that the Prophet had recited while leaving his house in Makkah on the day the pagans stood by the door to assassinate him. He asked ‘Ali to take his place on the bed and came out reciting these nine verses. He went by them, throwing dust onto everyone’s head, but none of them was able to see him.

“I might, Qurtubi continues, narrate my own story. It happened during the siege of the Manthur Fort in Qurtuba (Cordova, Spain). I escaped from the enemy, and ran away (into the open field). But in a short while two of their horsemen came after me. Now, I was in the open and there was nothing to conceal me. So I began to recite these verses of Surah Ya Sin along with a few from other parts of the Qur’an. They passed by me. Then, as they returned, one of them remarked, ‘This is a Daybalah,’ which meant a Devil in their language. Allah blinded their eyes and they did not see me at all.”

Hussain Ahmed Madani has reported a similar incident involving Imdadullah Muhajir Makki of the Deobandi school. The British were after him for his part in the insurrection against them during their rule in India. He had gone underground and they got wind that he was in a certain town. One of Makki’s followers – a Nawab – concealed him in his stable. When the British soldiers came, he of course denied that Makki was around. They insisted on searching the place. After they had done the main house, they noticed the stable. “That’s only a stable,” he said in apprehension. The leader of the search party began to stroll toward the stable with a jerky Nawab in his company. They found a prayer mat spread there and a pitcher of water, but no human.” The Englishman asked in some apprehension, “What about this prayer-mat?” The Nawab answered, “You see, in our religion, we are required to conceal our non-obligatory prayers from others. So, I do them here.” The man was not too satisfied, but there was nothing he could say since there was no soul around. After the soldiers had left, the Nawab went back to the stable, and, for sure Muhajir Makki was there. He asked him where was he a while ago? “Right here; never left the place,” he replied (Aseer-e-Malta: Au.).

[46] And We have placed a covering over their hearts – lest they understand it – and in their ears deafness; 79 so that when you speak of your Lord alone – as in the Qur’an – they turn back in aversion. 80

Commentary

79. The covering and deafness were from their own asking. A verse of a previously revealed chapter says (41: 5), “And they said, ‘Our hearts are in a covering against what you invite us to, and in our ears a deafness” (Au.).

Yusuf Ali comments: “The invisible veil being put against the ungodly on account of their deliberate rejection of Truth, the result is that their minds are fogged so that they cannot understand and their ears are clogged so that they cannot hear. In other words, the effects of Evil become cumulative in shutting out Allah’s grace.”

The Bible is not without similar rebuke and punishment. Majid quotes: “Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see indeed, but perceive not. Make the hearts of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and convert, and be healed (Is. 6: 9,10).”

80. That is, they hate to hear of Allah (swt) if He alone is mentioned. But, if their deities are mentioned, they are happy to hear them mentioned. The Qur’an said in another place (39: 45), “When Allah alone is mentioned, the hearts of those who do not believe in the Hereafter shrink with aversion, but when those other than Him are mentioned, immediately they rejoice” (Shabbir).

 

(To be continued)