Verses from Surah Al-Hajj (52)

[52] And We did not send before you any Messenger or Prophet,95 but when he recited, Shaytan cast (his own suggestion) into his recitation.96 But Allah cancels out what Shaytan casts. Thus Allah establishes His revelations;97 and Allah is All-knowing, All-wise.98


95. The definition of a rasool is clear, but there doesn’t seem to be a clear way to distinguish between a rasul and a nabiyy. There are several definitions, but one which draws the approval of most is that a rasool is a raised one, sent specifically to a people, who, therefore, is given a new Shari`ah and hence a Book. In contrast, although a nabiyy is also a raised one but he follows the Shari`ah of a previous rasool, although he may on his own receive a Book or might not. Hence every rasool is a nabiyy also, but every nabiyy need not be a rasool.

The two functions can also be guessed from the root of the two words. Rasool is from rasala, which in the transitive form means to send. It is implied that he has a message. In contrast Nabiyy has its root in naba’ which in the transitive means to inform, to let know, to prophesize. A Nabiyy then prophesizes the next Nabiyy or Rasool, and, in addition, gives news of the events to follow, here in this world, or in the Next. Hence we have the Prophet’s words, “There hasn’t been a Nabiyy before me but who warned (prophesized) Dajjal.” Also see Surah Al-Kahaf, note 120 for more details (Au.).

96. As Allah said elsewhere (6: 112), “That is how We have made for every Prophet enemies out of the Satans of Men and Jinn, some of whom inspire the others with decorative false words.” (Thanwi).

This verse and others of its kind are the key to understanding the creativity of those who are at false propaganda against Islam. They always come up with a new idea, or give an old one an entirely new dressing. They are inspired by the Devils. Allah said (2: 257), “Allah is the Protector of the believers. He brings them out of darknesses into Light. As for those who have disbelieved, Devils are their friends..” (Au.).

The translation of this verse, however, follows the understanding and interpretation of Ibn `Abbas (as in Bukahri: Qurtubi), Mujahid and Dahhak. The literal meaning, of the word “umniyyatihi” as well as “tamanna” would be, “his desire.” Thus the first half could be paraphrased as, “And We did not send before you any Messenger or Prophet, but when he framed a desire, Shaytan cast (his own suggestion) into his desire.”

97. Two meanings are affordable and could even be combined. One, as Thanwi has pointed out, although the revelations are well established by themselves, Allah re-confirms them by canceling out whatever Satan tries to interject. Second, that is how Allah establishes His revelations in the heart of the believers. And, once again, with reference to Devilish inspirations into the heart of the unbelievers, whenever that happens, Allah re-establishes the Truth by inspiring the right answers in the heart of the believers, or by canceling the effect of the propaganda through its own self-contradictions (Au.).

98. The second generation commentators have provided the following as the background story and context of revelation: Ibn Ka`b al-Qurazi, Ibn Qays, Abu al-`Aliyyah, Sa`id b. Jubayr, Dahhak and even Ibn `Abbas (although through an unreliable chain of narrators: Au.), say that once the Prophet was reciting chapter Al-Najm in the Holy Mosque. When he reached, “Have you considered the Laat and `Uzza and the third the Manaat?” – Shaytan interjected the following words, “These lofty swans, surely their intercession is a thing coveted.”

It is alleged that the Prophet recited the interjected lines and continued thereon with the rest of the chapter. At the end of it he prostrated himself. The Qurayshis present there felt pleased that at last the Prophet had softened towards their deities. Therefore, they also prostrated themselves, except for Walid b. al-Mughira, who was too old to bend down and so took some dust and rubbed it on his forehead.

In his usual fashion, Ibn Jarir faithfully reports all the versions with all their variations. However, he does not, following his usual habit, pass his judgment about any of them except to note that perhaps while the Prophet was reciting the chapter, Shaytan interjected the swan verse, which the pagans thought were uttered by the Prophet. (I.e., recitation by the Prophet of the interjected lines might not be true, but Satan’s interjection could be so: Au.). Ibn Kathir notes that Baghawi has also expressed the same opinion, which happens to be the opinion of Ibn `Abbas as in Bukhari.

Also, although the main story (concerning recitation, prostration, etc.) is in Bukhari and other books, it is without the part about interjection of the words “These lofty swans, surely their intercession is a thing coveted” (Ibn Kathir, Qurtubi and others).

Qurtubi declares all the reports on this subject as untrustworthy. Ibn Kathir is with him. He writes, “Although many commentators of the Qur’an have mentioned this story, all of them have the name of the Companion-narrator at the top missing. I have not come across a single narration complete of chain.”

Imam Razi adds: Qur’anic injunctions do not allow us to accept that the Prophet could add anything to revelation. It said (69: 44-46),  “If he were to fasten upon Us any of the sayings, We shall seize him by the right hand, then We shall severe off his jugular vein.”

Again (10: 15), “It is not for me to change it by myself. I only follow that which is revealed unto me.”

Thirdly (53: 3-4), “He does not speak by his desire. It is nothing but revelation that is revealed to him.”

Fourthly (17: 73), “They were close to tempting you away from that which We have revealed to you so that you might fasten upon Us something else. And, in that case, they would have taken you a friend.”

Fifthly, (15: 42), “Verily, you (Satan) shall have no power over My slaves except such of the rebellious ones who follow you.” In view of these verses, it is impossible that the Prophet should have recited the interjected lines.

Further, continues Imam Razi, although it is true that Sahih books (Bukhari, Muslim, Abu Da’ud, Nasa’i: Alusi), carry reports of the Prophet reciting Surah Al-Najm, and men and Jinn prostrating themselves at the end of its recitation, but there is not a word in them about the swan-story. Accordingly, Ibn Khuzaymah conducted some research and demonstrated that that part of the story, which speaks of the Prophet uttering the Satanic suggestions, is a fabrication. So was Bayhaqi’s conclusion. Common sense also rejects it. Firstly, how could a Prophet who spent years criticizing and condemning idols speak in favor of them? Secondly, how could a single verse please the pagans so much that they did not even wait to find out whether he had truly made a compromising remark, before prostrating themselves?

In addition to the above, what Alusi has to say is as follows: It is said that Ibn Is-haq, the famous biographer of the Prophet was asked about the swan story. He said that it was a fabrication, and proceeded to write a short treatise on it. Maaturudi has in fact said that the whole swan story is exactly what Allah described as Satan’s cast into the ears of the unbelievers. How could the Prophet ever accept the interjection when Allah said, “Falsehood cannot come to it from in front of it nor from its rear?” And, continues Alusi, how can such a thing happen when the consensus of opinion is that on the one hand the Prophet was protected against Satan, and on the other, the Qur’an is protected (by Allah)? Ibn Abi Hatim reports through a trustworthy chain of narrators Sa`id b. Jubayr as saying, “Never did Jibril come down to the Prophet with a Qur’anic revelation but he had four guardian angels with him.” Ibn Hajr has quite thoroughly dealt with the narrations and shown that all are weak except perhaps two that come to us through strong chains of narration (though not reaching up to the Prophet himself: Au.). Ibn Hajr has nevertheless concluded that something must have happened for so many people to report through several chains of narration.

What that something is, we do not know for sure, but the swan-episode is pretty hard to believe (Au.).

Dr. Mahdi Rizq-Allah has offered a detailed discussion in his “Seerah al-Nabawiyyah.” He writes: “Qadi `Ayad seems to have several sources before him. But his remarks are as follows, “None of the six canonical collections have mentioned this story and no trustworthy narrator has narrated it through an unbroken chain. There are many broken chains of narration that carry different versions of the story, some of which contradict each other.”

“Thus, what weakens the story are the contradictions between its various versions. One version says the incident took place after a Prayer. Another that it happened during a Prayer. A third says that the Prophet spoke to himself by error. A fourth that Satan spoke out by his tongue. A fifth says the Prophet said those words from an extreme state of fatigue. A sixth says Satan made the most of a short spell of silence during which he recited it in the Prophet’s accent.

“Sheikh Abu Shahba has brought to our notice Sheikh Muhammad `Abduh’s opinion who discredits the story for language reasons. Firstly, pagan deities have never been alluded to as swans elsewhere in the Arabic literature: neither prose nor poetry. Further, no one has stated that the word was commonly used in that sense, except that “Mu`jam al-Buldaan” has referred to it, but through unknown narrators. The term ghurnooq, ghirnooq, ghurneeq, and ghirneeq are used for black and white water birds. One of its variant meanings is “a handsome young man.” It has other uses.  But, in a good quality speech that the rhetoricians would approve, it is never used in the sense of deities or goddesses.

“Another reason for rejection of the story is the completely variant language style of the two: the Qur’anic verses and the words of the pagans that were supposed to fall in between. The first set of verses say (Al-Najm, 19-20), “Have you considered the Laat and `Uzza? And Manaat the third of the three?” This passage was supposed to have been followed by the “swan line”, viz., “These lofty swans, surely their intercession is a thing coveted.”

And the Qur’anic verses that come after it say, “Should there be males for you and for Him females? This then is a perverse division.”

“It can be easily seen that the “swan verses’ do not fit into the lines either contextually or linguistically. In fact, the statements are contradictory. Far from rhetoricians and literary masters, even an ordinary Arabic-knowing person will declare the passage with the interpolation as grotesque.

“What Dr. Shami had to point out about the period of revelation further destroys the credibility of the story. He shows that if the verses of the chapter Al-Hajj that talk of “tamanni” are not of the Madani period altogether, then, at least they were revealed between Makkah and Madinah journey; whereas the reported incident of the “swan story” is of the Makkan period. Can such a long stretch of time be imagined between the incident (of the “swan story”) and the verses (of ch. Hajj) that commented on the incident?

“Further, a few verses of the Qur’an reject this story as false. (Apart from those quoted above), there is a verse according to which Iblis himself acknowledged that he will have no power over Allah’s true slaves. It says (38: 82, 83), “He said, `By Your might, I shall misguide everyone of them except Your true slaves.’”

Indeed, Satan has no power at all over those who believe in Allah and have trust in Him. The Qur’an said (16: 99), “Surely, he has no power over those who believe in Him and in Him they place their trust.”

“As regards the reasons of pagan prostration, what is definitely proven, as in Bukhari, is that the Prophet recited chapter Al-Najm among a mixed gathering of Muslims and pagans. The ending passage of this chapter being what it is – a hammer blow to the heart – when the Prophet recited them, his voice began to tremble for the threat they hold. When he reached the words (53: 53-61), “And the overthrown (townships) that were hurtled; and He covered them with what He covered; which of the favors then will you doubt? This is one of the warnings of the (same kind as the) early warnings. The approaching day has come close. There is none besides Allah who can make it appear. Are you surprised then with this discourse? You laugh and do not cry? And you are proudly sporting?”

At that point the awesomeness of the text melted the heart of the proud listeners. They lost control of themselves and involuntarily fell into prostration along with the believers.

“However, when they turned back from the assembly and felt that the awe-inspiring threats had momentarily got the better of them, they regretted and wished to find an excuse for what had issued of them involuntarily. So they invented the fib that the Prophet had spoken well of their deities and quoted the swan-verse that they themselves fabricated.”

Quote from Mahdi Rizq-Allah ends here.

The conjecture that the Prophet’s recitation got better of the pagans is not a far-fetched one, writes Alusi. The Qur’an is, in general, and verses of Surah Al-Najm in particular, so powerful that they would similarly move anyone who hears them for the first time. We have other examples. When the Prophet recited (41: 13), “But if they turn away then say, ‘I have warned you of the thunderous cry like the thunder-cry of `Aad and Thamud ..’”, before Walid b. `Uqbah who had gone to the Prophet to restrain him in his mission, he placed his hand on the Prophet’s mouth to prevent him from reciting any further. He was being so overtaken by the threat of punishment. When asked to explain he said later, “Well, you know, when Muhammad promises something, it happens.”

In short, adds Thanwi, far from offering a proper explanation to the verse in question, the narrations quoted in this regard themselves need explanations and interpretations.

To sum up, Uthmani presents the following as a simple but reasonable explanation to the verse in question: Whenever a Messenger presented a recitation, Satan made his own interjections to corrupt the meaning and plant doubts in the hearts of the weak believers. For example, when a verse prohibiting the carrion was revealed Satan injected the doubt, “How come those we kill are allowable while those that God kills are disallowed?” Or, when the Messenger recited (21: 98), “Indeed, you and what you worship other than Allah are fuel of Fire”, Satan asked, “How about Jesus, the son of Mary? Wasn’t he worshipped too?”

Or, when it was recited (4: 171), “(Jesus) was a Messenger of Allah, and His Word from Him that He cast into Maryam, and a Spirit from Him,” Satan planted the doubt that the words lend credence to the unbelievers that he could have had a share in divinity. In all such situations, Allah removes the doubts and reestablishes His revelations. In other words, doubts that the “mutashaabihat” lend, are removed by the “muhkamaat.” As to the question why all this happens at all, or allowed to happen, the answer is: It is to test the people. So that, those are led away from the path of guidance in whose heart is sickness while it strengthens the faith of the faithful who are endowed with knowledge. They thus benefit and are rewarded with Paradise, while the doubters remain in doubt, until the time they will end up in Hell-fire.

(To be continued)

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