Verses from Surah Al-Isra’ (80-85)

[80] And say, ‘My Lord! Allow me to enter a true entry, and allow me to exit a true exit. And grant me from Yourself an authority to help.’135


135. The authority was (material) help from Allah, for without His help, it would have been impossible for the Prophet to overcome the opposition to His call. He himself has said, “Allah’s eradicates by means of authority, what he does not eradicate by means of the Qur’an” (Ibn Kathir).

Mawdudi adds: “This shows that the reform which Islam seeks to bring about cannot be accomplished merely by preaching and by sermons. Accomplishment of that reform also requires the use of political power and authority. Now, since God Himself taught the Prophet (peace be on him) to pray for such authority, it is quite evident that to seek governmental power and to strive for its acquisition so as to make the true faith prevail in human life, and so as to implement the Shari`ah and to enforce the punishments laid down in God’s Law is not only lawful but is also both required and desirable.”

[81] And say, ‘The Truth has come, and falsehood has vanished. Surely, falsehood was bound to vanish.’136


136. When these words were revealed, they sounded like a tall order: given the weakness of the Muslims in that Makkan phase. But it wasn’t a few years but the Prophet (saws) had entered Makkah victorious and reciting this verse, breaking the idols placed around the Ka`bah. The reference by “the truth” is to Islam while, by “falsehood,” it is to all that stands against Islam (Ibn Jarir and Mawdudi combined). The report is in the Sahihyan which adds that the Prophet had a stick in his hand with which he poked into the eyes of the idols cemented to the ground. They fell back, one after another. Then he ordered them broken (Qurtubi, Ibn Kathir).

Qurtubi adds: This verse is the basis of the rule that pagan idols and deities must be destroyed when Muslims overpower them, including such articles as are not used for any other purpose in Allah’s disobedience, e.g., musical instruments. ‘Isa (asws) will do the same thing when he arrives a second time. He will break the cross, slaughter the swine and will not accept tribute. (That is, he will allow no choice between Islam and another religion, as presently Islam does. It will be either Islam or death: au.).

[82] And We send down gradually of the Qur’an that which is a healing137 and a mercy to the faithful. But to the unjust it causes not but increase in loss.


137. The reference could be both to moral, social or spiritual, as well as to the physical healing. Some of its verses are well-known for their healing qualities and have been successfully used for treating physical illnesses (Razi, Shawkani, Alusi).

In a recent experiment conducted in Europe on hospital patients involving several scriptures, revealed that the recitation of the Qur’an, although on unbelievers who were ignorant of its language, had a strange soothing effect on them (Au.).

Qurtubi discusses this aspect quite at length, as does Alusi. The incident involving a Companion’s treatment of a pagan chief bit by a scorpion is well-known. the Prophet (saws) had asked the Companion when the party returned to Madinah, “How did you know that (Surah al-Fatiha) is a charm (ruqyah)?” The Companion replied, “It just occurred to me.” Bukhari has narrated that the Prophet used to recite the last two chapters of the Qur’an, blow on his two hands, and wipe his body therewith. As for what is known as “Nashrah”, which is to write down either a few of Allah’s Names, or some of the Qur’an, wash it with water and then either drunk by the ill or his body wiped with it, Sa`id b. al-Musayyib allowed it. ‘A’isha used to recite the last two chapters of the Qur’an, blow them on a bowl of water and ask the ill to be washed with it. However, Hasan and Ibrahim Nakha`i were opposed to it. They reported a hadith disapproving of it. But the hadith is weak. If proven true, it could be that it is prohibiting a “Nashrah” in which other than the Qur’an is used. Indeed, a (trustworthy) hadith says, “There is no sin in charms so long as words of Association (shirk) are not spelled. If anyone of you knows one (i.e., a charm), and can help his brother, let him.”

In fact, Qurtubi continues, “Imam Malik has allowed that something be hung around the neck which has a few of Allah’s Names inscribed, if the intention is to obtain benediction (barakah). It is prohibited if it is meant to combat evil eye. In other words, the “ta`widh” (amulet) should not be hung before the evil eye has struck, but rather, after it has struck, as a means of removal, which, Qurtubi adds, is not different from medication. ‘A’isha herself is reported to have said that what is hung in the necks after an evil has struck is not of the (prohibited) “ta`widh.” Nonethless, a group of scholars have allowed that a “ta`widh” be hung if it does not contain other than the Qur’an. The “ta`widh” that Ibn Mas`ud tore off his wife’s neck was other than the Qur’an. Nor is that hadith applicable to it which says, “Whoever hung a thing is left to hang by it,” (that is, is entrusted to it); since, when one hangs verses of the Qur’an, then he is hanging by Allah and His Speech. What’s wrong with that? How does that become equivalent of Association (shirk)? Dahhak and Ibn Sirin also did not see anything wrong in a “ta`widh” containing Qur’anic verses, so long as it is removed before intercourse and when one goes to the toilet.

Notes from Qurtubi end here, to which Alusi adds, “this has been the practice of the Muslims since ancient times.” Those who declare ta`widh as prohibited have a point that it opens the door for “deeds and beliefs of association.”

Experience tells us that. But on the other hand, who can prevent the parents of a child ill with an unknown disease that the best of doctors have, over the years, failed to diagnose, for trying a ta`widh of the approved type?! (Au.).

[83] And when We bestow Our favors upon man, He turns away and draws aside. But when he is touched by evil, he is ever (so) despairing.

[84] Say, ‘Everyone works according to his manner. Your Lord knows well who it is that is best guided to the way.’

[85] They ask you about the soul. Say, ‘The soul is of a command of my Lord.138 And you have not been given of knowledge but a little.’139


138. To what is the allusion is by the term “Ruh” here, at this point? The answer has varied. According to a report from Ibn ‘Abbas, the allusion is to an angel. Another tradition, (though weak: Ibn Kathir) reports him as transmitting from the Prophet (saws) that the angel is so large that he could swallow the heavens and the earth in one gulp. A similar report has come down from ‘Ali who said the angel has “seventy thousand heads ..” (Ibn Jarir). [But Albani has declared reports of similar nature as untrustworthy: au.].

Nevertheless, in a second opinion of Ibn ‘Abbas, and one that most commentators have adopted is that it is the human soul that is meant. Several reports have come down from ‘Abdullah ibn Mas`ud to the effect that once he was with the Prophet when they were passing through a field. “He was resting by a date palm branch when a group of Jews passed by. One of them said to the others, ‘Ask him about the soul.’ Someone said, ‘Are you in doubt that you should be asking him?’ Others said, ‘Don’t let him answer you with something that will displease you.’ Finally they said, ‘Ask him.’ So they asked him about the soul. The Prophet (saws) made no reply. (At that moment) it became obvious that the revelation was about to come down. So I stood by. In a while it was revealed, ‘They ask you about the soul..’” (Ibn Jarir). The hadith is in Bukhari and Muslim (Ibn Kathir and others). Another version from Ibn ‘Abbas tells us that the Prophet was asked about the nature of the soul, as to what it is and how it could be punished while residing in a physical body (Ibn Jarir).

The report would imply that this verse is Madinan. But that is not correct. A report in Ahmed says that the Quraysh had asked the Jews to give them something by which they could defeat the Prophet’s purposes. They told them to ask about the soul (Ibn Jarir, Qurtubi, Ibn Kathir). The report is in Tirmidhi (who declared it Sahih), Nasa’i, Ahmed, Hakim (who declared it trustworthy) and Ibn Hibban (Alusi, Shawkani). It is likely that the Prophet was asked a second time at Madinah, by a different set of people (Ibn Kathir).

A contemporary commentary claims that the Polytheists had asked: “What is the source of the Qur’an?” But commentaries of old do not have any such narration to this effect. He also claims that Ibn ‘Abbas understood “Ruh” as “revelation” and that he used to conceal this opinion. He traces the report to Ibn Jarir. But Ibn Jarir has no such statement. Rather, Ibn Jarir reports that Qatadah understood “Ruh” to mean “Jibr’il” (and not revelation).

Qatadah then adds that Ibn ‘Abbas used to conceal this opinion. (But we do not know what exactly Qatadah means by “concealment.” For, other narrators freely report that Ibn ‘Abbas felt it was an angel who was alluded to. In other words, it is one thing to say Ibn ‘Abbas used to conceal [while he didn’t] and another to say [as Ibn Jarir has stated] that Qatadah thought Ibn ‘Abbas used to conceal). Nevertheless, in another opinion, also in Ibn Jarir, Ibn ‘Abbas thought they were a special kind of creation not known to anyone. The great majority in any case believed, as Alusi has stated and which is apparent from discussions in “tafsir” works, that the reference is to “the soul” (Au.). As regards the nature of the soul, Ibn Kathir writes that the term “nafs” is the basic subtle ingredient, like water in the plants, that, when it occupies a body is referred to as the soul.

Sayyid Qutb sees no point in discussing things that are of no practical benefit: “Discussion over the soul is a journey into the abyss and a waste of energies bestowed by Allah for better purposes. The soul is beyond human perception, one of the secrets of Allah, and man’s knowledge is limited, not comprehensive. Just enough of it has been given, nor more, no less, that will suffice the needs of khilafah on the earth.”

Majid comments and quotes: “This repudiates the position of those polytheistic religions which hold the spirit or soul of man to be an independent self-subsisting entity, coeternal with God. In several Indian creeds the fundamental principle is ‘the dualism of prakrati and purusa, “matter” and soul” .. The result is a kind of trinity consisting of God, soul (or souls) and matter, each category of being having independent self-existence. God is eternal; so also is each soul; so also is matter (ERE, II, P. 60). The Greeks, and as their disciples, the early Christian Fathers, also shared the belief in the uncreated nature of the soul. ‘Belief in the preexistence of the soul prevailed widely among the Greeks from an early date, and at the later time became a theory of their philosophers. The influence of Greek thought in this respect was strongly felt in the early Christian Church, and is still apparent to some extent throughout the whole of Western Civilization (x. p. 236).”

139. Far from being able to explain the spiritual existence of man, modern science has failed to explain even the physical existence. A.J. Thomson was forced to admit, “The more we learn about nature, the more do we become aware of our own ignorance. Every problem that is solved, opens a fresh series of problems not hitherto thought of.The sphere of the Unknown is infinite. The sphere of the Known maybe be expanding, but is always finite. We are no nearer to ultimate solutions than Thales or Pythagoras; the quest for ultimate solution is merely the symptom of a disordered mind (UHW, VIII, p. 5012)” – Majid.

In the field of biology men went from limbs, to parts, to cells, to the DNA in the nucleus, to the nucleotide base pairs, to end up staring at atoms with disbelief. Here is the central command, contained in lifeless atoms, getting such complicated things done, to such precision, as to defy illustration. The process of cell operations is so amazing and singular that nothing else in the universe can be cited as an example. The scientists always had the benefit of denying an effect by pointing to its cause. But here they are, looking at the atoms in the cell, not knowing which is the cause and which the effect in the highly complicated system. As for physics, all there was to be discovered has been discovered, except for the answers to the perennial questions, where did the laws of nature come from? Why do they behave the way they do? Why, for example, a proton is 18000 times heavier than electron, and so on. The worst scenario, and the best illustration to the words, “And you have not been given of knowledge but a little,” is that as the Universe expands at the edges at speeds near equal to that of light, humans will never know what lies there, or how big is the world they live in. This is because, physical laws do not allow for the humans on the earth to receive the news of any body traveling away at near the speed of light. Light emanating from it will eternally travel in the direction of the earth, without reaching it, denying us the knowledge of what lies out there. This is the final nail in the coffin of human limits to knowledge (Au.).

Another point of discussion among the commentators is: That humans do not know the nature of the soul, is evident; but is it unknowable? Ibn Abi Hatim has reported ‘Abdullah b. Buraydah’s opinion that, “the Prophet died without knowing the nature of the soul.” Alusi disagrees with this statement in view of the famous “Hadith al-Manam” (a trustworthy report) which says, “This morning I rose up after the night and Prayed as much as I was destined to. Then I dozed off in my Prayers, until I felt heavy. And lo! I was in the presence of my Lord, the Exalted, the Supreme – in the best form. He asked, `Muhammad! What are the angels of the upper-most constellation disputing over?’ I said, `I do not know, my Lord!’ He asked, `Muhammad! What are the angels of the upper-most constellation disputing over?’ I replied, `I do not know, my Lord!’ He repeated, `Muhammad! What are the angels of the uppermost constellation disputing over?’ I answered, `I do not know, my Lord!’ Then I saw Him placing His palm between my shoulders until I felt the coldness of His fingers over my breast, and everything became clear to me. And I knew..” (The words “I knew..” have been interpreted to mean that he knew everything pertaining to the spiritual world: au.). In other words, the Prophet (saws) had learnt the nature of the soul, apart from other things, following the dream. Further, Alusi and others write, since the verse does not suggest that no one can ever know the nature of the soul there is every possibility that a few others – apart from him – could know.

It is another thing, that perhaps being a thing of the other world, subtle and incorporeal, even if some people knew what it is, they wouldn’t be able to describe what exactly they know it as, except in abstract terms rendering the description vague and unintelligible. Hence the inadequate explanations presented by Razi and Alusi in their tafasir and Ibn Qayyim in his “Kitab al-Ruh” (Au.).

Notwithstanding that, the above three scholars have, apart from its nature, discussed various aspects of the Spirit, but, as one would fear, despite lengthy discourses they remain, for want of substance, little more than theoretical exercises. A few aspects discussed are: what exactly constitutes life? Does the soul die? Is it eternal or created? Does it undergo changes? Whether one is distinguishable from another or not? etc. Another thing discussed is the difference between “Nafs” and “Ruh.” The Sufi opinion, as in Alusi, is that “Nafs” is the primary element in a body (that gives it life). When it brightens up with Allah’s remembrance, contemplation, and ascetic living, it is transformed into “Ruh.” (This too, however, goes without any substantiation: au.).

But, as to the question, where do the souls go after death, evidences are not lacking. Qurtubi, Ibn Qayyim, and Alusi agree on the following: The souls of the Prophets and Messengers are in the upper most zone of “`Illiyun.” When the Prophet said, before his death, “O Allah, to those on High”, that is the Place he meant. Souls of the martyr are in Paradise, in birds that feed on fruits, seeking repose by the lamps hanging by the ‘Arsh. Something similar has been stated about the souls of the Muslim children. A report of Ka`b leads us to believe that the souls of martyrs other than those who fell in battles, such as those who died of plague, of stomach problems, or were drowned, etc., are in the form of green birds that are fed from Paradise morning and evening. Imam Shafe`i believed that the souls of the believers are in Paradise. Ka`b b. Malik, as reported by Imam Malik reported that the believers’ souls are in the body of birds that live in Paradise trees. This report is in Ahmed, Nasa’i and Ibn Majah. On the other hand, souls of the unbelievers are in Sijjin. Umm Bishr’s report tells us that the souls of the unbelievers are in the form of black birds in cages that eat of the Fire and repose in a nest in the Fire. They say, “Our Lord. Let not our brothers join us, and do not grant us what You have promised us.” Ibn Hazm has spoken about the general body of the Ahl al-Hadith that the souls of the dead are in the graves. They draw strength from the Prophet’s hadith which says, “When one of you dies, his place is shown to him morning and evening. If he is to be of the people of Paradise, then Paradise, but if he is to be of the people of the Fire, then the Fire. It is said to him, ‘This is your place until Allah raises you.’” And when the Prophet visited the graveyard, he said, “Peace upon you: the place of the believers.” But Ibn ‘Abdul Barr has pointed out that the above applies to ordinary believers. The souls of the martyrs are in Paradise. Perhaps all the above can be reconciled as in the book “Al-Ifsah” by saying that there are kinds and varieties of souls, treated variously. Some of them are in the form of birds in Paradise, others in cages of green birds, some take repose by the lamps under the ‘Arsh, others are in cages of white birds, some in the form of starlings in cages, others is other forms given in Paradise, some in shapes given to them in accordance with their deeds, others move around and visit their (earthly) bodies, some are in the care of Mika’il, others in that of Adam, while yet others in the care of Ibrahim.

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