Translation & Commentary of Verses from Surah 27, Al-Naml [67 – 81]

[67] Said those who have disbelieved, ‘When we and our forefathers have become dust, shall we indeed be brought out?

[68] We have been promised this in the past (also) – we and our forefathers; this is nothing but tales of the ancients.’

[69] Say, ‘Go about in the land and see how was the end of the criminals.’98

Commentary

98. Asad explains, “i.e., those who denied the reality of a life after death and, hence, of man’s ultimate responsibility for his conscious doings… the unavoidable consequence of this denial is the loss of all sense of right and wrong: and this, in its turn, leads to spiritual and social chaos, and so to the downfall of communities and civilizations.”

[70] And, grieve not over them, nor be in any distress at what they contrive.

[71] And they say, ‘When shall this promise be, if you should be truthful?’

[72] Say, ‘Maybe some of what you seek to hasten on could be right behind you (in close pursuit).’99

Commentary

99. To the Arabs of that time, the use of the term “radifa” should have had strong suggestions of the likelihood of the promised chastisement riding right behind them on their beasts.(Au.)

[73] Surely, your Lord is full of grace for the people, but most of them do not give thanks.

[74] And surely, your Lord knows what they conceal in their bosoms and what they reveal.

[75] And, there is not a thing away (and hidden) in heaven and earth, but it is in a clear record.

[76] Indeed, this Qur’an narrates to the Children of Israel most of that over which they disagree.100

Commentary

100. There is not a thing over which they do not disagree between themselves, including who is Yahweh and what is His exact relationship with the Jews (Au.). Zamakhshari wrote: They differed over Masih (asws) dividing themselves into sects and groups to the extent that some of them cursed others.

Yusuf Ali comments on the divisions among the Jews:

“The Jews had numerous sects. Some were altogether out of the pale, e.g., the Samaritans, who had a separate Taurat of their own: they hated the other Jews and were hated by them. But even in the orthodox body, there were several sects, of which the following may be mentioned: (1) the Pharisees, who were literalists, formalists, and fatalists, and had a large body of traditional literature, with which they overlaid the Law of Moses; (2) the Sadducees, who were rationalists, and seemed to have doubted the doctrines of Resurrection and of the Hereafter; (3) the Essenes, who practiced a sort of Communism and Asceticism and prohibited marriage. About many of their doctrines they had bitter disputes, which were settled by the Qur’an, which supplemented and perfected the Law of Moses. It also explained clearly the attributes of Allah and the nature of Revelation, and the doctrine of the Hereafter.”

One can see some resemblance between Jewish sects of the past – Samaritans, Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes and others– and many active groups among the Muslims of our day (Au).

Asad adds: “The term children of Israel comprises here both the Jews and the Christians (Zamakhshari) inasmuch as both follow the Old Testament, albeit in a corrupted form. It is precisely because of this corruption, and because of the great influence which Jewish and Christian ideas exert over a large segment of mankind, that the Qur’an sets out to explain certain ethical truths to both these communities. The above reference to ‘most’ (and not all) of the problems alluded to in this world, and not on ultimate, metaphysical questions which – as the Qur’an so often repeats – will be answered only in the Hereafter.”

[77] It is indeed a guidance and mercy unto the believers.

[78] Verily, your Lord will decide between them by His judgment; He is the All-mighty, the All-knowing.

[79] So place your trust in Allah. You are assuredly on a self-evident truth.

[80] Surely, you cannot make the dead hear,101 nor make the deaf to hear the call if they turn away in retreat.102

[81] Nor are you going to guide the blind out of their error. You cannot make any to hear but he who believes in Our signs and so they surrender.

Commentary

101. That is, the unbelievers are spiritually dead and so cannot hear anything pertaining to the truth. They are alive only to what is base and fleeting.(Au.)

102. An exception was the Badr incident when the Prophet went up to the bodies of the pagans that were dumped into a deep pit to ask them, “O so and so, so and so…, we have found that what our Lord promised us came true. Have you also found what your Lord promised you as true?” `Umar asked anxiously, “Messenger of Allah, are you speaking to bodies that have no soul?” The Prophet replied, “By Him in whose hands is Muhammad’s life, you do not hear them any better than they hear me now.” According to a version in Bukhari, “At this moment, they know that what I used to tell them was true.”

From the concluding words we can deduce that it was not an address meant for the unrepentant living pagans, in order to drive fear into them, or teach them a lesson, but that, as Qatadah has said, Allah (swt) had sent back the souls to the dead pagans so that they could hear him. (Qurtubi)

Shanqiti, places a long discussion here over the issue. By and large, he echoes the view that Ibn al-Qayyim offered in his Kitab al-Ruh. The latter maintained that the dead are able to hear the voices of the living. At the start he mentions `A’isha’s opinion who, basing her opinion on the Qur’an, believed that the dead cannot hear. But following that, he presents evidences that confirm that they do. A hadith apparently supporting this is in Bukhari.

The Prophet (saws) said, “When a slave is placed in the grave and his companions retreat, until he hears the noise of their retreating footsteps; then come the two angels …” to the end of the hadith. Another narrative in Muslim reports `A’isha as saying: “(Whenever it was her turn for Allah’s Messenger to spend the night with her), he would go out towards the end of the night to Baqi` graveyard and say, ‘Peace be upon you, O inhabitants of the believers! That will come to you tomorrow that had been promised, without delay, and, Allah willing, we shall join you soon. O Allah, forgive the inhabitants of Baqi` al-Gharqad.”

Another report, thought to be trustworthy by Ibn `Abd al-Barr, has the following words of the Prophet (saws), “There is no man who passes by another man’s grave whom he used to know in this world, and greets him, but Allah (swt) returns the man’s soul to him so that he can return the greeting.”

Ibn al-Qayyim also argues with a report in Muslim which says that when death approached `Amr b. al-`Aas, he instructed the people around him in words, “When I am dead, let no lamenting woman accompany my coffin, nor carry any light. When you have buried me, throw some dust on me but tarry around my grave for as long as it takes to slaughter a goat and distribute its mutton, so that I might draw strength from you and decide how I should respond to the messengers of my Lord (who will arrive to question him).”

In fact, Shanqiti continues, Nawawi wrote in his Rawd al-Talibin, in effect: It is desirable that the dead should be encouraged immediately after the burial. One might say, “O son of a slave of Allah, O son of Allah’s maidservant, recall the words you said at the time you left the world: the testimony la ilaha illaAllahu, wa Muhammadur Rasul Allah. Recall that Paradise is true, the Fire is true, the Resurrection is true, that the Hour has to come and that Allah (swt) will resurrect those in the graves; and that you were happy with Allah as your Lord, with Islam as your religion, with Muhammad (saws) as the Prophet, with the Qur’an as your guide, with Ka`bah as your Qiblah and with the believers as your brothers.” This, says Nawawi, has been reported of the Prophet (saws).

These ahadith, concludes Shanqiti, do not contradict the Qur’an. These reports are merely saying that the dead cannot hear the kind of hearing that can be of any profit to them. Thus, the Qur’an does not deny this when it says they cannot hear. The term ‘sima,`’ then, has to be understood in a specific sense.

Ibn al-Qayyim also argues, says Shanqiti, with the story of `Awf b. Malik who saw Al-Sa`bJuthama in his dream. The latter instructed him to pay off ten Dinars out of the money he had left to a certain Jew from whom he had borrowed, but could not pay back. `Awf executed the will taking off ten Dinar from what Al-Sa`ab had left, before distribution among the heirs could take place. We have another incident of the same class. It involves a man like Abu Bakr who saw Thabit b. Shammas in his dream. Thabit requested him to pay back loans on him and free such and such a slave. Abu Bakr acted accordingly. Now, argues Ibn al-Qayyim, if the dead can appear in someone’s dream, then why not the other way around, viz., the dead hearing the living? [Strangely, Ibn al-Qayyim quotes some weak reports and then says that they acquire strength from the fact that Muslims of many regions have adopted them for practice: Au.].

Shanqiti then adds his remark that he is aware that this opinion of Ibn al-Qayyim has not been accepted by other scholars who have said that the evidences are not strong enough and that Imam Ahmad practiced no such thing. Furthermore, they say, it is only Muslims of the Syrian regions who seem to practice it.

Shanqiti’s discussion ends here.

There is another hadith which says, “Whenever you pass by the grave of a pagan, give him glad tidings of the Fire.” Nevertheless, a careful study suggests that in all such cases as above, Allah (swt) returns the souls of those dead that He wills, at the time they are addressed. This seems to apply even to our Prophet. He said, according to a hadith in Abu Da’ud and others, which Ibn Hajr declared trustworthy, the Prophet (saws) said, “The best of your days is Friday. Therefore, send peace unto me as much as you can during its day and night, for, your peace formula is presented to me.” They (those around) asked, “How can our peace formulae be presented to you when you would have been reduced to dust?” He replied, “Allah (swt) has forbidden that the earth should eat the bodies of the Prophets.”

It might be noticed here that the dead are reduced to dust in their graves, and therefore, if peace is sent to them, they cannot receive them unless Allah (swt) so wills. The majority of scholars are therefore of the opinion that ordinarily the dead cannot hear from their graves, especially after the first initial hours (Au.).

Mufti Shafi` calls our attention to the fact that in all, there are three places in the Qur’an where hearing by the dead has been referred to (at this point, at 35: 22 and at 30: 52), and at all places it said that they cannot be made to hear, implying it is not in our power to make them hear. But it should not be concluded that Allah (swt) cannot make them hear, when He wishes them to.

(To be Continued)