Verses from Surah Ibrahim (18-23)

[18] The likeness of those who disbelieved in their Lord (is that): their deeds are like ashes, over which the wind blew strong on a stormy day;30 they have no power at all over what they earned.31 That, indeed, is the distant error.32


30. By the words “stormy day” the allusion is to the Day of Judgment (Ibn Jarir, from Ibn `Abbas).

Are the material achievements, tall buildings, large parks and wide roads, industries, universities, research centers and seats of learning, banks and commercial centers, high rise towers and historical monuments, arts, science and literary heritage, the glittering civilization and gorgeous culture, in short, results of centuries of human endeavor, any more than ashes for the storms of the next morn? (Au.)

31. Since it is only deeds performed for the sake of Allah (swt) alone, and done strictly following the requirements of the Shari`ah, that are any worth, the deeds of the unbelievers will not pay off on the Day of Judgment or earn them any rewards (Ibn al-Qayyim).

32. Yusuf Ali comments: “Note the fullness of the parable. The works of the ungodly are in themselves light and unsubstantial like ashes; they are the useless rubbish that remains out of the faculties and opportunities which they have misused by burning them up. Further, the ashes are blown about hither and thither by the wind: the ungodly have no compass, direction, or purpose that can stand. The wind, too, which blows on them is no ordinary wind, nor the day on which they seek to enjoy the fruits of their labours an ordinary tranquil day; a furious gale is blowing, for such is the Wrath of Allah. They have neither internal peace nor external gain. In the scattering of the ashes they lose control even of such things as they might have earned but for their misdeeds. Their whole nature is contaminated. All their wishes go astray. They are carried so far, far away than what was in their minds. What did they aim at, and what did they achieve?”

[19] Have you not observed that Allah has created the heavens and the earth in truth?33 If He wished, He could put you away and bring a new creation (in your place). 


33. That is, on principles following a set of laws that are equally applicable anywhere in the universe and which allow for an ordered world to come into existence, the forces themselves balanced so precisely and precariously, that one-millionth variation in any of them would render the existence of the world impossible. The impeccable design and the efficient system speak of a purpose behind them (Au.).

Yusuf Ali writes: “Haqq: Truth, Right, Righteousness, True proportions, Reality. Allah’s creation is not to be trifled with. It is built on righteousness, and those who do not obey its laws must give place to others who do.”

[20] That, indeed, is not at all difficult for Him.

[21] And they will appear before Allah, all together. Then the weak ones34 will say to those who waxed proud,35 ‘We were your followers, therefore, can you prevail against any of Allah’s chastisement (now)?’ They will reply, ‘Had Allah guided us, surely we would have guided you.36 It is the same for us (now) whether we refuse to endure or observe patience.37 There is no place of escape for us.’


34. The textual term “du`afaa’” does not refer to those who were economically, socially or politically weak, rather, to those who were morally and intellectually so, and hence preferred to follow not their own, but others’ opinions (Au.).

Asad might be quoted: “i.e., those who had sinned out of moral weakness and self-indulgence, relying on the supposedly superior wisdom of the so-called “leaders of thought”, who are described in the sequence as having “gloried in their arrogance” (istakbaru) inasmuch as they refused to pay heed to God’s messages.”

Sayyid writes: “Who are the ‘weak ones?’ Well, the truly ‘weak ones’ are those who relinquished one of the most important qualities bestowed upon them by their Lord, to others. Our reference is to their personal freedom … the freedom to think, to believe and to choose a direction. But the ‘weak ones’ preferred to follow the arrogant, the rebellious. They sought closeness to Allah’s creations, in preference of Allah’s, opting to take religion from them rather than from Him.

“Demonstration of weakness is no excuse. It is a crime. Allah did not wish anyone to be weak. He invites the people to seek strength through Him – and all might is His. He does not wish that someone forego his share of strength and, instead, spend his life in servility of others. Strength in fact, is something of a special, honor-giving quality that comes directly from the Lord, and cannot be taken away with ease from anyone. Material strength on the other hand, whatever its magnitude, is not enough by itself to enslave a people wishing to be free. It cannot imprison man’s nobility. The most that brutal, material strength can do is to own bodies, which it can imprison, torture and punish. As for conscience … as for the soul … as for the intellect … these, no one can rob these things of another, unless the owner himself wishes to relinquish, in humiliation.

“Whoever has the power to force these ‘weak ones’ to follow the arrogant ones in matters of faith, ideas and attitudes? What made these people seek a religion other than Allah’s? – when it is in common knowledge that Allah is their Creator, their Sustainer, and Custodian, with none sharing these qualities with Him? Surely, no one forced them, except that their own souls chose that course. They are the ‘weak ones’ not because they possess lesser material strength than the arrogant ones, or are materially poorer, or in lower positions.

These are all external traits and qualities that have nothing to do with the internal weaknesses of the ‘weak ones.’ They are weak because there is weakness in their spirit, souls, and minds.”

35. Those are meant who, because they were followed, became proud of themselves for their capacity to prevail upon others and give the lead. They over-estimated their capacities, crossed their boundaries, and prevailed upon the people to treat them as providing, withholding, and, therefore, law-giving authorities: quite similar to minor deities of the past (Au.).

36. So, the arrogant ones felt themselves free in the world to oppress the people, take away their rights, including their right of choice, and spread corruption in the land by setting precedence of a life of debauchery, but did not feel themselves free enough to treat the Message of Allah, as something deserving consideration? Did they have the freedom for evil but not for good? Is that what they will mean when they will say, “Had Allah guided us, surely we would have guided you?” Or, is it that their dishonest habits will continue down into the pit of Fire, where they’d try to lay blame on Allah? (Au.)

Zamakhshari’s explanation, however, is that since they themselves missed the guidance, they could not have guided those who followed them.

37. It is said that the people of the Fire will say to each other, “Those in Paradise seem to have obtained their position by their weeping, and by their much supplications during the life of the world, so let us also cry and supplicate until we are forgiven.” So they will cry for a long period which will be of no avail. They will say, “We have cried but got nothing out of it. Those in Paradise seem to have gained their present position from being patient. So, let us also endure in patience. Maybe we will be forgiven.” But, after a long period of patient endurance, they’ll find that it does not alter their situation. So they will say, “We have tried crying, and we have tried enduring in patience. But neither seems to prevail anything against the punishment. It seems We have no place we could escape to” (Ibn Jarir). Some narrators have attributed the above report to the Prophet. But, those reports are not trustworthy (Shawkani, S. Ibrahim).

[22] And Satan will say when the matter is concluded,38 `Allah promised you a true promise, and I too promised. But I failed in my promise.39 And I had no power over you except that I invited you and you responded to me.40 Therefore, do not blame me, blame your own selves.41 I cannot come to your aid nor can you come to my aid. I disown your former (act of) associating me (with Allah).’42 Surely, a painful chastisement (awaits) the wrongdoers.


38. `Uqbah b. `Aamir reports in a long hadith, the Prophet (saws) said, “… then Allah will allow me to seek to intercede. I will rise up. A massive amount of fragrance will rise along with me: the best kind of fragrance one has ever smelled. I will go to my Lord and He will accept my intercession and give me Light that will cover me from the top of my head to the nails of my toes. At that the unbelievers will say, ‘The believers have found someone to intercede for them. Rise now, (O Shaytan) and intercede for us. Was it not you who led us to error?’ He will rise, and along with him will rise a massive amount of worst possible smell one has ever smelled. He will only increase their crying by saying, `Allah promised you a true promise, and I too promised. But I failed in my promise …’ to the end of the verse.” Hasan and Muhammad b. Ka`b have the same to say but as their own statements (Ibn Jarir, Ibn Kathir).

39. What Satan means to say, perhaps, is that he promised them so many things: a beautiful life, unending material progress, unimaginable comforts, peace, plenty and prosperity, if his advice was followed. But nations after nations tried out his suggestions and found that he never delivered his promise. At best, there was material progress, but, due to unjust distribution of the fruits of progress, conflicts arose robbing the peace of the people. This happened so many times over and over again, with so many of his followers, that it should have opened their eyes. But mankind refused to learn the lesson. So, why should they blame him on the Day of Judgment? (Au.)

40. That is, “I only suggested. Acceptance or rejection was your discretion and your choice” (Au.). In reference to Satan’s words, that he had no power over the people save to suggest and induce them to evil, some scholars have pointed out that this negates the opinion that Satans can physically harm the people. But Alusi points out that, this is not the purport of the verse. What Satan means here is that he only suggested and could not have forced them to evil. Otherwise, physical harm at the hands of Satans are possible and have been experienced. It is another thing, adds Thanwi, that the good and the pious are prevented from his harms by the attendant angels.

41. “(Satan’s) answer is frank, cynical and brutal” (Yusuf Ali).

In contrast to the fatalists who hold that Allah (swt) misguides the people, the rationalists have pointed out that Satan’s speech works against their position with clarity.  Satan did not say, “Well, neither me nor you are responsible for the present situation. It is by Allah’s will.” The Ahl al-Sunnah say that the truth lies in between. Man chooses, and Allah makes easy the path he chooses (Au.).

42. That is, “I now declare myself clear of you having obeyed me in preference to God, and your worshiping me as His copartner” (Majid).

Asad adds his note: “The implication is that Satan, while endeavoring to lead men astray, never claims to be God’s ‘equal’ (cf. 7: 20, where he speaks of God, to Adam and Eve, as ‘your Sustainer’, or 15: 36 and 39, where he addresses Him as ‘my Sustainer’, or 8: 48 and 59: 16, where he says, ‘behold I fear God’) but, rather, tries to make men’s sinful doings ‘seem goodly to them (cf. 6: 43, 8: 48, 16: 63, 27: 24, 29: 38), i.e., persuades them that it is morally justifiable to follow one’s fancies and selfish desires without any restraint. But while Satan himself does not make any claim to equality with God, the sinner who submits to Satan’s blandishments attributes to him thereby, as it were, `A share in God’s divinity.’”

In Mawdudi’s simpler words, “This verse provides another instance of polytheism at the level of human actions as distinct from polytheism at the level of doctrine and belief. For, obviously no one professes, at the doctrinal level, that Satan is a partner of God in His divinity. Nor does anyone worship Satan. In fact, so far as verbal expressions go, people generally curse Satan. Ironically, the same people who curse him, also follow his ways, at times consciously, and at other times unconsciously. It is precisely this which has been termed as associating Satan with God in His divinity. [This is strengthened by other verses, e.g., “Did I not enjoin you, O children of Adam, that you should not worship Satan” (Ya Sin, 60)].

“… polytheism does not merely assume one form viz., associating others with God in matters of belief. There is also another form which consists of exalting someone to a position where it becomes imperative to follow him without any sanction for it from God, or even in opposition to God’s command. Such an act, according to the Qur’an, is tantamount to setting up a partner to God in His godhead. A person who follows someone in this unreserved fashion is guilty of setting up a partner to God even if he keeps on abusing and cursing him.”

[23] As for those who believed and did righteous deeds, they shall be admitted to gardens underneath which rivers flow, abiding therein forever, by their Lord’s leave. Their greeting43 therein: Salam.


43. (The textual word for greeting) “tahiyyah” literally means wishing someone to have a long life (Mawdudi).

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