Verses from Surah al-Anfal (19 – 24)

[19] If you were looking for a decision (O unbelievers), then surely, a decision has came to you.37 But, if you desist, that will be better for you. Nevertheless, if you return (with your crimes), We shall return (with Our punishments).38 And your hosts will avail you nothing, though it be numerous. And (you should know that) Allah is with the believers.39 


37. Although the textual word “istaftahu” requires to be rendered literally as “(if) you seek victory”, the present translation follows the explanation offered in Tabari by Ibn `Abbas, Mujahid, `Ikrimah and others who have said that Abu Jahl had prayed prior to the battle: “O God. Decide between us.” So Allah (swt) showed them what His decision was. Suddi, `Atiyyah and Ibn Zayd have said that before starting off from Makkah, some of the Quraysh had prayed to God with the drape of the Ka`bah in their hands, saying, “O God. Of the two of us, help the more mighty, the more honorable and the better” (thus giving Allah (swt) the choice to decide between the two). And Ibn Is-haq has said that one connotation of the term “istiftah” is to be fair in one’s supplication. Nasa’i, Hakim, who declared the report trustworthy, Ibn Abi Shaybah and several others have preserved reports of this nature (Shawkani).

38. That is, if you return to crying lies, We shall return to retribution (Ibn Jarir).

39. Muhammad Asad sums up Badr’s influence on history: “It was the first open battle between the pagan Quraysh and the young Muslim community of Medina; and its outcome made the Quraysh realize that the movement inaugurated by Muhammad was not an ephemeral dream but the beginning of a new political power and a new era different from anything that the Arabian past had known. The Meccan apprehensions, which had already been aroused by the exodus of the Prophet and his Companions to Medina, found a shattering confirmation on the day of Badr. Although the power of Arabian paganism was not finally broken until some years later, its decay became apparent from that historic moment. For the Muslims, too, Badr proved to be a turning-point. It may safely be assumed that until then only a very few of the Prophet’s Companions had fully understood the political implications of the new order of Islam. To most of them their exodus to Medina had meant, in those early days, no more than a refuge from the persecutions which they had to endure in Mecca. After the battle of Badr, however, even the most simple-minded among them became aware that they were on their way towards a new social order. The spirit of passive sacrifice, so characteristic of their earlier days, received its complement in the idea of sacrifice through action. The doctrine of action as the most fundamental, creative element of life was, perhaps for the first time in the history of man, consciously realized not only by a few select individuals but by a whole community; and the intense activism which was to distinguish Muslim history in the coming decades and centuries was a direct, immediate consequence of the battle of Badr.”

[20] Believers! Obey Allah and His Messenger. Do not turn away from him40 even as you hear.41 


40. The personal pronoun as used here in singular form alludes to the Prophet (saws), since Allah’s obedience is included by default. Other explanations have also been suggested (Alusi).

41. What kind of listening it is if it is not followed by acts of obedience? Is it the kind of listening that the Jews were used to who said, “We have heard, but shall not obey.” Or, was it the kind of listening that the unbelievers did who said, as in the following verse (no. 31), “We have heard. If we wished we could say something similar to it” (Shabbir).

Manar adds: Rather, you ought to be like those who said (2: 285): “We heard and obeyed, therefore, (we seek) Your forgiveness and to You is the return;” and be among them about whom Allah (swt) said (39: 17,18): “Therefore, give glad tidings to My slaves who listen to the word and then follow it in a goodly manner. They are the ones whom Allah has guided and they are the men of understanding.”

Alusi comments that speaking out (the truth) has been preceded by hearing since, one can only speak out the truth if he listens to it.

To the above we might add that this pattern is noticeable elsewhere in the Qur’an. Whenever it mentioned man’s inability to speak, it preceded it by expressing his inability to hear. This is in agreement with the biological phenomenon that a man only learns to speak if he is capable of hearing. If he cannot hear, he cannot recognize voices and, consequently, cannot imitate them. No deaf can ever be made to speak. It must be concluded therefore, that had this been the Prophet’s own writing, he couldn’t have been careful enough to maintain a scientific point that a deaf is necessarily dumb, repeating it four times, in statements made over a period of 23 years. A sole exception is in surah al-Isra’, where the Qur’an reversed the order of the three faculties: speech, hearing and sight, perhaps for reasons of eloquence (Au.).

[21] And do not be like those who said, `We heard;’ but they hear not.42


42. Ibn Is-haq has said: O Muslims, don’t be like the hypocrites who put up a show of obedience but they conceal disobedience (Ibn Jarir). Allah (swt) said about them (47: 16): “And, among them are some who listen to you, until, when they go away from you they ask those of knowledge, `What did he say just now?’” (Manar).

[22] Surely, the worst of beasts in the sight of Allah are the deaf and the dumb – those who do not use reason.43 


43. `Ikrimah has said that the allusion in this context was to the chiefs of the Quraysh who were deaf to the Prophetic message and, even if they heard, were dumb to acknowledge it as true. They were the standard bearers of the unbelievers on the day of Badr (Ibn Jarir). A report in Bukhari has ibn `Abbas saying that the allusion was to some of the men of `Abd al-Dar tribe (Qurtubi).

Rashid Rida comments: These people lack the faculty which helps distinguish between right and wrong, between vice and virtue. Had they possessed the faculty of reason, they would have conducted an enquiry. Had they enquired, they would have heard and known the difference. Had they heard, they would have spoken it out and proclaimed it. Had they proclaimed it, they would have received admonition and would have admonished others. But now the situation with them is, as if they lack all these faculties. Not because they did not receive them. Rather, because they corrupted them.

[23] Had Allah known any good in them, He would have made them hear.44 But (in their present state) if He made them hear, they would turn away in declination. 


44. “The meaning is: these infidels are totally wanting in the will to believe; had there been any such will in them, God was sure to have led them to the right path” (Majid).

Rashid Rida further clarifies: This, and along with some other texts, such as (10: 44), ‘Allah does no injustice to the people, rather, the people themselves do injustice to themselves,’ throws dust into the mouth of those who claim that the verse confirms that some people are forced into disbelief by the Divine Decree and that man has no say in the choice of belief or disbelief. How many people haven’t been there who listened, and the listening profited them? We have the example of the French physician who, upon reading what the Qur’an has to say on hygiene, moderation and avoiding wastage, acknowledged that it confirmed with the latest scientific ideas and so embraced Islam. Or another man called Brown who read Sale’s translation of the Qur’an and concluded that Muhammad must have been a great sea-explorer. But, when he learned that Muhammad hadn’t even seen an ocean in his life and that he was an unlettered person who had read no book, concluded that this book couldn’t have been written by him. He embraced Islam.

But the situation with the Muslims of today is that many of them hear the reciter recite the Qur’an, wherewith they intend to draw no more than blessings and pleasure. Some of the recitals are of the musical kind: accompanied by swaying, repetition of the verses, occasional loss of the self-control or falling into trance and so forth. But they do not listen to the Qur’an in the true manner of hearing.

[24] Believers! Respond to the call of Allah and His Messenger when He calls you to that which will give you life;45 and know that Allah comes in between a man and his heart,46 and that to Him you shall be mustered.


45. While several of the Salaf have said that by the words “what will give you life,” the allusion is either to the Qur’an or Islam (Ibn Jarir), `Urwah ibn Zubayr has said that the allusion is to jihad (Qurtubi, Ibn Kathir). Whatever the choice, this Ummah’s existence depends on its following the call of Allah (swt) and His Messenger. Hence, when the Prophet (saws) called Abu Sa`id but he didn’t answer immediately on grounds that he was in the Prayers, the Prophet (saws) asked him, “Hasn’t Allah said, `Believers! Respond to the call of Allah and His Messenger when He calls you to what will give you life?’” (Ibn Kathir, Shawkani). A similar incident took place in which Ubayy b. Ka`b was involved as in Tirmidhi and Hakim (Rashid Rida). Going by this verse Imam Shafe`i has ruled that a believer should not delay attending to a call of Islam. A rule applicable to its injunctions too (Qurtubi).

Ibn Qayyim writes: “This verse carries a few implications. One of them is that a fruitful life results from a positive response to Allah (swt) and His Messenger. He who does not respond positively, does not posses life: although he is alive biologically. The true, good life is of those alone who respond to the call both outwardly (with actions) and inwardly (with proper attention and intention). They are truly alive, even after death. Others are dead, even if alive of body. And, all that Allah (swt) and His Messenger call to, generate life in a man. Whoever missed a part of it missed that part of life. He is alive in the same ratio in which he responds…

“As there is no life in a man in whom the angel of life did not blow in the spirit sent by Allah (swt), in a similar fashion there is no life in the soul of a man in whom the Messenger of Allah did not blow the Message that Allah (swt) bestowed on him. Allah (swt) said (16: 2): `He sends down angles with the Spirit by His order upon whomsoever of His slaves He will.’ He also said (40: 15): `He casts the Spirit by His order on whomsoever of His slaves He will.’ He also said (42: 52): `And that is how We have revealed unto you a Spirit by Our command. You did not know what is a Book nor what is faith, but We made it a Light by which We guide whom We will of Our slaves.’ Thus, Allah (swt) informed us that His revelation is the Spirit and the Light. True life is the outcome of two blows: one of the angelic-messenger and the other of the human-messenger. Whoever received the two blows received the two lives. Whoever received one, missed the other. Allah (swt) said (6: 122), `What? Can one who was dead, then We gave him life and appointed a Light whereby he strides among the people, be like him who is in darknesses out of which he cannot emerge?’

Sayyid is close to these sentiments but is also closer to the earthly realities. He writes: “The Messenger calls the Muslims to a faith that will quicken their hearts and minds, release them off the lassoes of ignorance and superstition, of the pressures of delusions and myths of the past, of weakness before the means and rigid rules, from obedience unto other than Allah (swt), and from bending down before the humans or to one’s own base desires.

“The Messenger calls them to the way of life coming from Allah (swt), that frees Man and appoints him to a high status that he enjoys before his Lord, and places the entire mankind in one row, on equal footing, in which no man rules over the people, nor a class over the nation, nor a people over other people. All of them march into the future, as equals, under the banner of the Shari`ah sent down by their Lord.

“He calls them to a way of life, to a way of thought, and to a set of concepts, seeking to free them of all bonds of slavery, except the natural bonds and ties that help restore and preserve the constructive and creative power of man. It does not suppress these powers in any way, or comes in the way of any constructive activity.

“He calls them to strength and honor and an ascent by means of faiths and ways, trust in their religion and in their Lord, and by directing their efforts to the world, together as one people, for the purposes of freeing men from the yoke of other men, and win back for the humans the humanity that they have been robbed off.

“He also calls them to jihad in the way of Allah (swt), in order to establish the Oneness of Allah (swt) on the earth and in the life of the people and for the destruction of those that are worshiped besides Allah (swt) and pursuit of the oppressors until they bend down to the rule of Allah (swt).

“It is with the accomplishment of these objectives that the Religion will finally become Allah’s.”

46. After reporting several interpretations of the Salaf, Ibn Jarir reconciles them by saying that the meaning is that Allah (swt) is the one who holds sway over a man’s inner self – be he a believer or unbeliever – and not the man himself, so that he cannot make any decision about himself without His leave. It was perhaps keeping in with this meaning, Ibn Kathir adds, that the Prophet (saws) used to pray in words: i.e., “O My Lord! Make my heart firm in my religion.” When he was asked why he prayed in those words he replied, “Because people’s hearts are between two fingers of the Merciful. He turns them how He will.” Reports of this nature are also in the Sihah books. Zamakhshari is also close to adopting this meaning.

Rashid Rida reproduces the personal experience of someone he knew, who was soaked in vice. One day he went boating in the river Dijlah, along with his friends, singing on the tambour and drinking wine. It should so happen that another boat passed by. Someone was reciting the Qur’an as it sailed by. When he recited, (81: 1), “When the Sun will be darkened,” the man was struck by the awesome note and began to listen attentively. When the reciter reached (v. 10), “When the scrolls (of deeds) will be spread,” the man’s heart was filled with remorse and fear over what his Scroll was filled with. He poured his wine into the river, broke the musical instruments and returned home a repentant.

(To be continued)

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