Verses from Surah al-Nahl (70-77)

[70] And Allah creates, then He deals you death; and, among you are some who are returned to the feeble age, so that he might not know anything after having known (much).108 Surely, Allah is All-knowing, All-powerful.


108. Hence the Prophetic supplication as recorded in Bukhari: “O Allah, I seek Your refuge from miserliness, dormancy, extreme old age, senility, punishment in the grave, tribulation at the hands of Dajjal and trials of life and death” (Ibn Kathir).

In any case, Zamakhshari, Razi, Qurtubi and others point out, extreme senility does not seem to strike Muslim scholars.

From another angle, loss of memory in old age is something inscrutable. Scientifically, there is no reason for it. The data is there in the mind, but man is unable to recall it at will, and remembers when reminded. There is no explanation for this except that Allah (swt) has willed it this way (Au.). As usual with some universal phenomenon, science has no satisfactory explanation for old age. Writes a scientist:

“Old-age is a disease of universal incidence. Nothing can stop the creeping enfeeblement, the increasing brittleness of the bones, the weakening of the muscles, the stiffening of the joints, the slowing of reflexes, the dimming of sight, the declining agility of the mind. The rate at which this happens is somewhat slower in some people than in others – but, fast or slow, the process is inexorable.”

Further down:

“What is old-age anyway? So far there are only speculations. Some have suggested that the body’s resistance to infections slowly decreases with age .. Others speculate that clinkers of one kind or another accumulate in the cells .. These supposed side products of normal cellular reactions, which the cell can neither destroy nor get rid of, slowly build up in the cell as the years pass, until they eventually interfere with the cells metabolism so seriously that it ceases to function. When enough cells are put out of action, so the theory goes, the body dies” (Issac Asimov, New Guide to Science, Penguin pub., 1987, p. 693).

Although hectic research is going on in several biological fields, they all concentrate on delaying the aging process and not at stopping it altogether. The most optimist is quite pessimistic about avoiding old-age altogether. However, there has been no noticeable progress in postponing old age. Although, people seem to be living longer in modern times, nobody knows for sure why. Another scientist writes, “Inspite of the tremendous progress by researchers studying cultured cells, free radicals, longevity determining genes and other promising avenues, the aging process in humans is still largely a black box” (Rick L. Rusting, Why Do We Age?, Scientific American, December 1992, p. 95).

[71] And Allah has favored some of you over others in provision.109 So, those who have been favored are not going to return their provision110 to those their right hands own, so that they are equal therein.111 So, will they dispute with Allah’s favors?112


109. Since common observation, Imam Razi comments, reveals that many intelligent, efficient and hard-working people remain poor, despite their efforts, in contrast to the not-so-clever men, who possess wealth in abundance, it can be deduced that distribution of wealth is in the hands of Allah and has not much to do with intelligence and abilities.

110. In the usage of the term “return,” instead of the plain “give,” is perhaps the hidden implication that the labor class makes a major contribution towards creation of wealth, and hence, anything given to them, is, properly, being “given back,” or being returned (Au.).

111. The message is: You do not like to associate your slaves with yourselves in your wealth, yet approve of association of other creations with Allah! So, you approve for Allah what you do not approve for yourselves? (Ibn Jarir, Ibn Kathir). As Allah (swt) said in another place (30: 28):

“Allah strikes for you an example from your own selves. Do you have partners from among your slaves that share in what We have bestowed on you, so that you are equal, and you fear them as you fear yourselves?” (Ibn Kathir).

112. Mawdudi removes a misunderstanding. He writes, “According to … (some) people (of the recent times), the true purpose of the verse is to tell those who have been granted ample worldly provisions to return them to their servants and slaves so as to make them equal sharers of those provisions. It is contended that if they fail to do so, they will be guilty of denying God’s favor.

“The point that is being emphasized here is that people know the basic difference between master and slave. They also maintain such a distinction between the two in their practical lives, and make an effort to keep the two apart.

However, they seem to brush all this aside in God’s case. Instead, they insist on associating His creatures – those who are His born servants – with Him. They also insist on giving thanks to God’s creatures for the favours that He alone bestowed on them.”

The people of Mawdudi’s reference above, were the ruling Muslim classes of the last century who, fired by initial successes of the socialist system in the Soviet block, were looking for its justification in the Qur’an, to counter the Islamists who disapproved of them and their political systems. Indeed, this class of men were not even communists. They were a bunch of bankrupt anti-Islamic materialists with no brains of their own. Having rejected Islam, and being unable to organize a modern state on healthy lines, more of show boys wearing show neck-ties – that they are even to this day – than efficient administrators, they adopted a system that allowed them tyranny as a tool for suppression, rather than a tool for equitable distribution of wealth. Hence, it is no surprise that they cling to the tyrannical system even after the fall of communism in the Soviet block. Some of them, in fact, chided the Russians for abandoning socialism and are sorrier at its demise than the true socialists themselves.

Nevertheless, while we accept Mawdudi’s criticism as valid, and reject the communistic theory as wrong, we may still point out that of the earliest commentators, Zamakhshari states: Allah favored you by bestowing provision on you in greater measure than on the slaves you possess, although they are humans like you and are your brothers. It would have been becoming of you if you had returned your wealth to them and become equal with them in matters of food and clothing. It is reported of Abu Dharr that since he had heard the Prophetic words, ‘They (the slaves) are your brothers. Clothe them with what you clothe yourself and feed them with what you feed yourself,’ his slaves were never seen in shirts and trousers any different from his own.” And the implication is, Alusi adds, that by way of thanks to Allah for having favored you over others, you ought to return excessive wealth unto the less fortunate so as to become equal to them in outward, material terms, (although some of you may remain superior to others in moral terms).

[72] And Allah has made for you of your own kind mates113 and from your mates made for you children and grandchildren,114 and has provided for you sustenance from the good things. Then, in falsehood they will believe, and Allah’s favors will they deny?115


113. According to some scholars the allusion is to the creation of first woman Hawwa, who was created out of Adam. But a better explanation is that the allusion is to the fact that the humankind’s spouses have been created from within their species, which is the prime cause of mutual love and understanding (Ibn Jarir, Kashshaf, Razi and others).

In view of this verse the jurists have ruled that marriage between men and Jinns is not lawful. Several cases of men marrying Jinns in pre-Islamic times have been reported, including about Bilqis (Queen of Sheba) one of whose parents was widely reported to be a Jinn. Shanqiti however, traces all such narrations and concludes that none of the reports of humans marrying Jinns is wholly trustworthy.

114. Ibn Jarir says that the term “hafadah” has been variously interpreted. ‘Abdullah ibn Mas`ud, Qatadah, Sa`id b. Jubayr and others have said that the allusion is to son-in-laws. Some others, such as ‘Ikrimah, Hasan, Mujahid and others have thought that the allusion is to servants. On the other hand, Ibn ‘Abbas is reported as holding both the opinions: grandchildren as well as son-inlaws. It is apparent that a general meaning fits the context. And a general meaning of “hafadah”, from “hafd” is, those who serve a man, be they his sons, servants, wives, or others. Hence the words of supplication prescribed for the Qunut Prayer: “… we serve (You)” (Ibn Jarir, Zamakhshari).

115. Mawdudi comments: “To charge the unbelievers that they ‘believe in falsehood’ means that they subscribe to beliefs which are totally baseless and devoid of all truth. They subscribe, for instance, to the belief that it is gods, goddesses, jinn, and saints of the past who have full powers to make or mar people’s destiny, to respond to their invocation, to bless them with offspring and the means for their livelihood, to effectively help them in any litigation and preventing them from falling prey to disease.”

“The Makkan polytheists did not deny that they owe to God all the bounties which they had received. They also had no hesitation in gratefully acknowledging God’s favours. However, their mistake lay in the fact that, in addition to giving thanks to God for those favours, they also gave thanks to others whom they considered to be His partners. The Qur’an considers this to be tantamount to denying God’s favors… (Thus) the Qur’an enunciates another principle … that any gratuitous assumption that the benefactor did not bestow favour out of his benevolence, but did so at the behest or intervention of someone else, also amounts to denying the favour of the true benefactor.”

[73] And, (do) they worship besides Allah those that have no command over any sustenance for them in the heavens or in the earth, nor do they have any power?

[74] Therefore, strike not similitudes for Allah.116 Verily, Allah knows while you know not.


116. “Therefore, strike not similitudes for Allah”: To say for instance that, ‘Just as the earthly rulers, who need aides to rule over their kingdom, God also needs aides to rule over heaven and earth. Therefore, we worship these aides so that they might plead our case with Him’ (Shafi`).

Asad puts it more elaborately. He writes, “I.e., ‘Do not blaspheme against God by regarding anyone or anything as comparable with Him, or by trying to define Him in any terms whatsoever’ – since ‘definition’ is, in the last resort equivalent to delimitation of the qualities of the object thus to be defined in relation to, or in comparison with, another object or objects: God, however, is ‘sublimely exalted above anything that men may devise by way of definition.”

[75] Allah strikes the example of a slave, owned (by another), with no power over anything, and of one whom We gave a goodly provision from Ourselves, so he expends (freely) thereof in open and secret – are the two equal? All praise for Allah, but most of them know not.117


117. Yusuf Ali explains, “The first parable of two men, one of whom is a slave completely under the dominion of another, with no powers of any sort, and another a free man, who is gifted in every way, and is most generous in bestowing out of his opulent wealth (material as well as intangible), privately and publicly, without let or hindrance; for he is his own master and owes no account to any one. The first is like the imaginary gods which men set up, – whether powers of nature, which have no independent existence but are manifestations of Allah, or deified heroes or men, who can do nothing of their own authority but are subject to the Will and Power of Allah; the second describes in a faint way the position of Allah, the Self-Subsistent, to Whom belongs the dominion of all that is in the heaven and the earth, and Who bestows freely of His gifts on all His creatures.”

Mawdudi adds: “The unbelievers are fully aware of the difference between the powerful and the powerless among their fellow beings. Nor do they fail to distinguish between these two categories of people in their practical lives. So it is astonishing that when it comes to applying this reasonable distinction to Creator and created, they show utter foolishness and stupidity insofar as they fail to recognize the essential difference between the two.”

[76] Allah strikes (another) example of two men: one of them dumb with no power over anything, and moreover, a (wearisome) burden on his master: wherever he may go, he does not bring back any good.118 Is he then equal with one who bids to justice, and is (himself) on a straight path?


118. That is, he is neither good for himself, nor for others (Shawkani); rather, a slave of his carnal, miserly self (Au.).

[77] And to Allah belong the Unseen of the heavens and the earth. And, the matter of the Hour is no more than a twinkling of the eye, or it might be closer.119 Verily, Allah has power over all things.


119. The apparent abrupt change in the subject draws the following from Mawdudi, “The question of the Afterlife has been introduced with seeming abruptness in this discussion for good reason. The purpose is to drive home to people that the choice between monotheism and polytheism is not just a theoretical issue. They should rather be conscious, quite conscious, that the Day of Judgement will suddenly overtake them and decide man’s success or failure in the Next Life. With this note of warning, the discourse on God’s unity is resumed.”

Yusuf Ali comments: “Lures of this world and its fleeting pleasures often make man forget that the life hereafter is an imminent reality. Many of those who claim to believe in the life to come act and behave as if it belonged to a distant future, and had no relevance to their present activities and mode of living. The Qur’an repeatedly reminds man that the Hour of Reckoning is not a distant possibility, but very close to man, and could come to pass any moment. The wisest course for man, therefore, is to be always alert and watchful and steer clear of all forms of sin and impiety, for when the Promised Hour comes it will come all of a sudden and without any prior notice.”

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