Verses from Surah al-Nahl (114-128)

[114] So eat of what Allah has provided you, lawful and good,177 and give thanks for Allah’s favors, if it is Him that you serve.


177. A possible connection is that Allah (swt) is addressing the Makkan unbelievers, then passing through a phase of hunger and fear, that they could instead believe in Him and His Messenger and “eat of what Allah has provided you, lawful and good” (Razi).

[115] He has only forbidden carrion, blood, swine’s flesh, and what has been hallowed to other than Allah.178 But whoever is driven to it, neither desiring (it) nor transgressing, then, surely, (unto such) Allah is Most Forgiving, Most Kind.179


178. That is, anything dedicated to, or hallowed for other than Allah, whether it is an animal, a food article, or something else. For example, in some parts of the Muslim world, a goat or ram is named after a Sheikh (peer), and sacrificed at his arrival in town or village. Now, they might spell Allah’s name while slaughtering the animal, but since it was dedicated to other than Allah, the jurists declare its meat unlawful to the Muslims, as well as such act of dedication (Au.).

179. For commentary see Al-Baqarah, note 340, and Al-Ma’idah, note 24 of this work.

[116] And say not to what your tongues falsely describe, ‘This is lawful and that is unlawful,’ to fasten lies on Allah.180 Surely, those who fasten lies on Allah will never prosper.


180. It is a serious thing to say “this is lawful” or, “that is unlawful.” Ibn Mas`ud has said, “Sometimes a man says, ‘Allah has commanded this,’ or, ‘He has prohibited this,’ but Allah (swt) says in reply, ‘You have lied.’ Or, a man says, ‘Allah has declared this lawful,’ or ‘declared that unlawful,’ but Allah says, ‘You have lied’” (Shawkani).

The Salaf were, therefore, add Qurtubi and Alusi, very careful about the use of the words “lawful” and “unlawful.” It is only with reference to the prohibitions unambiguously stated in the Qur’an, that they would say with complete confidence that, “this is unlawful.” But, what was a derivative prohibition, or which relied on sources other than the Qur’an and hadith, they would rather use the word “undesirable” than the word “unlawful.”

[117] A little enjoyment, but for them (awaits) a painful chastisement.

[118] Unto those who Judized themselves, We had prohibited such things as We have narrated to you earlier.181 And We wronged them not but they were wronging themselves.182


181. That was done in Surah al-An`am, in verse 146 which said, “As for those who Judaized themselves, We forbade (the flesh of) every cloven-hoofed (animal). And of the cows and sheep, We forbade them their fat, except for what clings to the backs or the entrails or that which adheres to the bones. That is how We recompensed them for their rebellion. Surely, We are True.”

182. It means that no wrong was done to the Jews, but rather, they deserved that those things as referred to in the verse of Al-An`am should have been declared unlawful to them. (Sayyid)

[119] Nevertheless, surely your Lord, unto those who committed evil deeds out of ignorance,183 but repented thereafter, and made amends .. surely your Lord is, after that, Most Forgiving, Most Kind.184


183. It does not seem to be that by the term “ignorance,” (jahalah) the allusion is to the opposite of knowledge. Rather, it is to something that does not become of a man that he should do it (yet he goes ahead and does it). Alternatively, the allusion could be to crossing the bounds, act savagely, dominate or tyrannize the people. The word has been used in these senses in the following hadith: “O Allah I seek Your refuge that I should act ignorantly, or that I should be tyrannized.” And a Jahiliyy poet said, “Lo! Let no one act savagely towards us, or we shall act more savagely than the savage tyrannizing us.” (Alusi)

184. That is, no matter how serious a man’s crime, that of disbelief, or that of declaring Allah’s lawful as unlawful, or vice versa. All the same, if a man repents and makes amends, then Allah (swt) is always most ready to forgive him (Razi).

[120] Ibrahim185 was indeed a nation,186 devoted to Allah, (a man) of pure faith,187 and not (at all) of the idolaters.188


185. Imam Razi writes about the connection: At various points, this surah recounted false beliefs of the Makkan pagans, their allegations against the Prophet, unreasonable demands such as that the Messenger should have been one of the angels, declaration of what is lawful as unlawful and the unlawful as lawful, etc. Yet, they claimed allegiance to Ibrahim! So, in response, the surah ends with the reminder that Ibrahim (asws) was an uncompromising monotheist, strongly devoted to Allah, pure of faith, no idolater and a leader worth following (which is what the Final Prophet was doing). – Au

186. The translation as “nation” is literal. Several meanings have been suggested. In Majid’s words, “an exemplar, a model to be followed in true religion and piety. Ummah is also used, (as in Lane-Poole’s dictionary) in the sense of Imam.”

It is reported that Abu `Abidayn went up to Ibn Mas`ud and said, “If we do not ask you, then whom should we?” That humbled Ibn Mas`ud. Then the man asked, “Tell me about Ummah.” Ibn Mas`ud replied, “Someone who teaches people good things.” On another occasion, Ibn Nawfal heard Ibn Mas`ud say, “Mu`adh b. Jabal was an Ummah, devoted to Allah, pure in faith.” Ibn Nawfal told himself, “Wrong. It was Ibrahim who was an Ummah…” Ibn Mas`ud asked him, “Do you know what is an Ummah, and what is a Qanit?” I said, “Allah knows best.” He said, “Ummah is someone who teaches good and Qanit someone who is obedient to Allah and His Messenger.” This report has reached us through a variety of chains (Ibn Jarir, Zamakhshari, Ibn Kathir). Abu `Abidayn’s narration is in several books as well as in Hakim who declared it trustworthy (Shawkani).

Literally also, as Ibn al-A`rabi has said, Ummah is used in the sense of a scholar. Ibn `Abbas, however, has stated that since there was none but Ibrahim, on the face of the earth, following the religion of Islam, he was referred to as a nation by himself (Shawkani). Zamakhshari suggests that it could be that he had combined in himself the qualities of a whole nation, and, therefore, a nation by himself. Hence, Imam Razi adds, the Prophet’s words about the well-known monotheists among the Makkans before his own advent, Zayd b. ‘Amr, “Allah will raise him as an Ummah.”

Yusuf Ali adds other connotations: “Ummat: a model, pattern, example for imitation; but the idea that he was an Ummat in himself, standing alone against his world, should not be lost sight of.”

187. A “hanif” is someone who turns away from all else to devote himself to Allah alone. Upright is another word that could be used (Au.).

188. That is, he was not a pagan for the pagans of Makkah to claim allegiance to (Au.).

[121] (He was) Very thankful for His favors. He chose him and guided him to a straight path.

[122] And We gave him Good in this world.189 And, in the Hereafter he shall be among the righteous.190


189. That is, someone whose alliance is eagerly sought. – Qatadah (Ibn Jarir, Zamakhshari)

190. “Among the righteous” is a literal translation (Au.); the true meaning is, he is someone whose affairs would be made smooth in the Hereafter, who holds a high position with Allah (swt), and who will treat him with great honor (Ibn Jarir). These words could be, Imam Razi adds, in response to Ibrahim’s own supplication (26: 83), “O Allah, grant me wisdom and join me with the righteous.”

[123] Then191 We revealed unto you (O Muhammad) that ‘You follow the religion of Ibrahim, (a man) of pure faith, and not (at all) of the idolaters.’


191. Asad voices the opinion of some commentators on the article “thumma”: “…this particle evidently alludes here to the climax of all revelation as manifested in the Qur’an..”

[124] The Sabbath was only appointed for those who differed over it.192 Surely, your Lord shall judge between them on the Day of Judgment concerning that over which they were differing.


192. The Jews claimed to be on the religion of Ibrahim. They were refuted by this verse (Alusi).

Yusuf Ali writes: “If Abraham’s way was the right way, the Jews were ready with the taunt, ‘Why don’t you then observe the Sabbath?’ The answer is twofold. (1) The Sabbath has nothing to do with Abraham. It was instituted with the law of Moses because of Israel’s hardness of heart (ii. 74); for they constantly disputed with their Prophet Moses (ii. 108). (2) Which was the true Sabbath day? The Jews observe Saturday. The Christians, who include the Old Testament in their inspired Scripture, observe Sunday, and a sect among them (the Seventh Day Adventists) disagree, and observe Saturday. So there is disagreement among the people of the Book. Let them dispute among themselves. Their disputes will not be settled till the Day of Judgement. Meanwhile, Muslims are emancipated from such stringent restrictions. For them there is certainly the Day of United Prayer on Friday, but it is in no sense like the Jewish or the Scotch Sabbath!”

What is implied by the words, “differed over it?” According to Qatadah, Suddi and Ibn Jubayr the allusion is to the fact that while some of the Jews accepted the Sabbath and its rules, others disagreed, and broke its rules (Ibn Jarir). Rather, Zamakhshari and Razi write, when instructed by Musa, a few of them accepted Friday as the day they would reserve for devotions, but the great majority differed and chose Saturday for themselves, on grounds that God Himself rested on Saturday. Qadi `Iyad was also of this opinion (Alusi).

The present day Bible confirms that God rested on the seventh day after his creative work. It says (Gen., 2: 2-3): “And on the seventh day God finished his work which he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his works which he had done.” (Au.)

Ibn Kathir writes: Allah (swt) had originally instructed Musa to treat Friday as the day when they should cease worldly activities and free themselves for devotional acts. But the Jews changed it to Saturday. Indeed, there is a hadith in Muslim to this effect. It says, “Allah did not guide others before us in the matter of Friday. So that, Jews have Saturday and for Christians Sunday. Then Allah (swt) brought us into being and guided us to Friday. So He made Friday, Saturday and Sunday. That is how they will follow us on the Day of Judgement. We are the last to appear in this world, but will be the first in the Next, and the first to be judged before anyone else of the creations.” A report close to this is in Bukhari also. Qurtubi, however, thinks that in view of the above hadith, (ref.: “Allah did not guide…”) the Jews were not suggested any day. They themselves chose and chose the wrong day: Saturday.

[125] Call to the path of your Lord with wisdom and goodly exhortation; and reason with them with that which is better.193 Indeed, your Lord knows very well those who have strayed away from the path as He knows well the rightly guided.194


193. The textual “ahsan” can be rendered both as “best” as well as “better.” Ibn Jarir understands it as “better.”

What is the implication of the word anyway? Zamakhshari answers that it is that manner of ‘calling’ in which the well-meaning attitude and sincerity of the caller is plainly manifest. In Mawdudi’s words, “…(it consists in) counseling people in such a manner that one’s deep sympathy, compassion and concern for the people in question does not go unnoticed by them. One should be quite conscious of the fact that ‘counseling’ people should not be allowed to be misunderstood as an act emanating from the presumption of one’s own status, or of the inferior status of the audience.”

Mawdudi also wrote, “Moreover, the arguments should appeal to good sense. Likewise, the statements made in the course of the discussion should be so couched as not to arouse obstinacy. In such discussions, one should try to express one’s viewpoint in a straightforward and elegant manner, taking good care not to arouse adamancy and egotistical feelings in the audience. However, as soon as one realizes that the other party has been so provoked as to cling, out of sheer obstinacy, to his viewpoint, one should put an end to the discussions. For continuing it any further might cause the other person to veer even further away from the truth.”

We have a good example from the Imam of the callers of the last century: Mawlana Ilyas, founder of the Tablighi movement. While admonishing someone, he touched his hand. But the man, a coarse villager, reacted violently. He said, “How dare you touch my hand?” Mawlana Ilyas immediately caught his feet and said, “I am sure you won’t be angry if I touched your feet.” The man, of course, crumbled and felt obliged to listen to his admonition. How many thousands did he not win on the strength of his sincerity alone?! (Au.)

Imam Razi thinks, on good grounds, of course, that broadly speaking there can be three kinds of people, each kind requiring a different approach from the caller: between wisdom (hikmah), goodly exhortation (maw`izatul hasanah) to polemics (mujadalah). There is a kind of people that is of good knowledge, good nature. All that this class needs is a call blended with wisdom. A second kind is the corrupt, argumentative and incorrigible one: these people should be argued out, with arguments better than theirs. Then there is a third kind, in between. They are neither scholarly, nor argumentative. They are the simple ones, on the nature on which they were created. They need to be addressed with goodly exhortation.

But Alusi and others have emphasized that the message of the verse is to call to Allah’s path with words that penetrate the heart (hikmah), in the spirit of an admonition (maw`izah) said with extreme sincerity in an objective style, (al-hasanah). And, if the discussion leads to debate, then, it should be conducted in a civilized manner, without hurting the opponent’s feelings (billati hiya ahsan).

Mufti Shafi` has a long discourse on da`wah. It needs a hearing at a time when there is sufficient proliferation of da`wah works, but few seem to be doing it in the right manner. He remarks that although the field is filled with the callers, the results are not commensurable. There are several reasons for the ineffectiveness of the efforts. Firstly, the world is far too advanced in corruption, obscenity and hedonism to be ready to listen to voice of reason and piety. Secondly, those who are truly qualified to do the work do not seem to give as much time to this activity as the need is. (So, the cause is taken over by those who, although not so qualified, have the great urge to spread the word of Islam: Au.). Thirdly, some of those who take up the task, do it quite badly. More often than not, it is forgotten that this is a noble work, for Allah (swt) raised Messengers and Prophet for this noble task, whose guidelines alone should the caller keep before his eyes. For example, Musa and Harun (Allah’s peace on them) were instructed by Allah that as they go to Fir`awn, (20: 44), “Then say – the two of you – a soft word, haply he will accept admonition or will fear.” Today, the people a caller addresses are neither as bad as Fir`awn was, nor are they of the same status as the two Prophets. What right do ordinary mortals have then, to be harsh, criticize or taunt those that we are supposed to reform?

We might look at the conversations in the Qur’an between Prophets and their disbelieving nations. It is easy to see that in reply to the coarse talk, hurtful criticism, and vulgar taunts, the Prophets always responded with kind, considerate, and humble words. When the rejecters said, e.g. (7: 60), “We see you clearly misguided,” they replied, in all earnest (7: 61), “My people! There is no error in me. Rather, I am a Messenger from the Lord of the worlds” Or, if they said (7: 66), “We detect in you some foolishness. In fact, we suspect you to be one of the liars,” the undisturbed answer was (7: 67), “O my people! There is no foolishness in me. Rather I am a Messenger from the Lord of the worlds.” When Fir`awn asked in arrogant terms (26: 23), “And what is the Lord of the worlds?” Musa (asws) answered (26: 26), “Your Lord, and the Lord of your forefathers.” Fir`awn retorted angrily (26: 27), “Indeed, the Messenger that has been sent to you is out of mind.” But Musa’s cool and collected answer was (26: 28), “The Lord of the east and the west, and what is in between them, if you knew.” We see in these verses, whose citation can be multiplied, that a Prophet never responded to a taunt with a taunt. Our own Prophet observed decency in calling to Allah, and, in fact, never put anyone to shame, nor criticized in direct terms. When he observed any of his Companions doing wrong, he did not address him directly nor did he name him during admonition. He would only say, “What’s wrong with the people that they do such and such a thing.” (Although, he might have noticed only one person doing it).

As for debates and polemics, Mufti Shafi` points out, they should not be, to begin, the first choice for a caller. He should resort to it only when forced by an opponent. And, when conducted, an important condition is that the objective should be to win the other man’s heart, and not create acrimony. As soon as it is discovered that the opponent is bent on obstinacy, he must be left to himself. For, if pressed further, it would only lead to hardened attitudes.

On the other hand, the caller should examine himself. He should take care that as a consequence of a win over his opponent, (which is the only possible outcome, given the falsity of other religions: Au.), he should not be led to pride or arrogance, or self-conceit. These are major sins of the heart. Hence, Imam Ghazali has said that just as wine is the mother of all external evils, to gain an upper hand in debates, and prove one’s mettle for its own sake, is the mother of all internal evils. For, this leads to self-conceit, presumptuousness, arrogance, and happiness at other’s shortcomings. Imam Shafe`i has said, “Knowledge is a means of love and understanding between the scholars. But, those who have made a tool of hatred out of it, who call others simply to follow their own schools of thought, who only aim at defeating others in debates and talks, how can such people ever create love between themselves and those they call?” Imam Malik used to say, “Argumentation and debates chase away the light of knowledge from the heart.” He was asked, “A man has the knowledge of the Sunnah. Should he not argue with it?” He replied, “No. Let him merely let them know. If it is accepted, good. If not, then let him be silent.” Finally, the Prophet (saws) has said in a hadith of Ibn Majah: “Do not learn in order to boast before scholars or to argue out the common people so as to turn people’s attention towards you. Whoever did that is of the Fire.”

Quotation from Shafi` ends here.

194. Yusuf Ali’s comment is quite pertinent. He writes, “It may be that the Preacher sometimes says to himself, ‘What is the use of teaching these people? They have made up their minds, or they are obstinate; or they are only trying to catch me out.’ Let him not yield to such a thought. Who knows how the seed of the Word of Allah may germinate in people’s minds? It is not for man to look for results. Man’s inner thoughts are better known to Allah.”

[126] And, if you retaliate, then retaliate with the like of which you were wronged. But, if you show patience, then, surely, that is better for the patient.195


195. After reporting a variety of opinions, Ibn Jarir is inclined to believe that the meaning and purport of the verse is of a general nature: Muslims are being instructed that whenever they retaliate, they should do in the same measure as they were wronged, although, to forgive would be better.

The above general meaning seems to be more plausible if we consider the fact that soon the Muslims were to migrate to Madinah and face a situation in which they could retaliate for wrongs done to them at Makkah or forgive (Au.).

Nevertheless, Imam Ahmed has a hadith of Ubay b. Ka`b which says that sixty of the Ansar and six of the Immigrants were killed on the day of Uhud. The Companions vowed that if they got a similar opportunity, they would disfigure the pagans as their dead had been disfigured. So, on the day of the fall of Makkah, someone remarked, “After this day the world will not know the Quraysh.” But, a crier cried out, “The Prophet has given promise of peace to every black and white, except so and so, so and so” – naming them. Then Allah (swt) revealed, “And, if you retaliate, then retaliate with the like of which you were wronged. But, if you show patience, then, surely, that is better for the Patient.” And the Prophet (saws) said, “We shall endure with patience, and shall not retaliate.” (Ibn Kathir)

The above report is in Tirmidhi (to whom it was Hasan of status), `Abdullah b. Ahmed in Zawa’id, Nasa’i, Ibn al- Mundhir, Ibn Abi Hatim, Ibn Khuzaymah in his Fawa’id, Ibn Hibban, Tabarani, Hakim (who declared it Sahih), Ibn Marduwayh, Bayhaqiyy in Dala’il, and Diya’ in Al-Mukhtar (Shawkani). Albani also declared it Sahih as did Dhahabi earlier (S. Ibrahim). Ibn Is-haq has, in fact, as noted by several commentators, said that the last three verses of this chapter are Madinan, while the rest are Makkan (Au.). And the connection, between this and the last verse seems to be that the caller, who calls to Islam, will sometimes face situations as severely trying as the Prophet faced when he lost seventy of his men in one battle alone and his uncle Hamza’s body was disfigured. In such a situation, however, the most that is allowed is retaliation in equal measure, but, if one forgave it would be better for him (expanded on Alusi).

[127] Endure then in patience;196 yet your patience is not but with (the help of) Allah.197 And do not grieve over them, nor be in any distress198 over what they plot.


196. The earlier verse was for everyone. This verse specifically addresses the Prophet and all those who choose the higher order of moral instructions, since observing patience in situations of severe trial, subdues the inner evil self (Thanwi and Ruh).

197. Thanwi selected the following from Alusi’s Bab al- Isharah for his “Masa’il al-Suluk”: Of patience there are various kinds. Those who know Arabic might better look up the original:

(i) Patience for the sake of Allah (Sabr li Allah)

This Sabr is a necessary part of faith. This is to demonstrate stoic acceptance of calamities, and at the loss of a dear thing. This is the lowest form of “Sabr”;

(ii) Patience in Allah (Sabr fi Allah):

This is to stay firm on the true path of Allah – by forcing the inner self to submit, accept hardships and give up the pleasurable things;

(iii) Patience with Allah (Sabr ma`Allah):

This is for the Ahl al-Kashf (those to whom some of the unknown is uncovered), who should take care not to be moved to an exceeding degree with the vision involving Allah’s Acts and Attributes. This kind of Sabr is achieved by keeping the heart under control. It is tough on the soul but pleasing;

(iv) Patience from Allah (Sabr ‘ani Allah):

This is for those lovers, who, when they observe the Reality, are burnt in the fire of love, but, despite extreme desire for repetition of the vision, do not lose their hold on patience and perseverance, and

(v) Patience with the help of Allah (Sabr bi Allah):

This is the highest form of “Sabr.” It is for those whose Persons have been completely dissolved by Allah, leaving no trace of low-order traits, bestowing on them a new Personality altogether from Himself. It is the share of the Perfect, the Prophets and Messengers, and is not possible of achievement without Allah’s own aid.

198. The textual word is “dayq” which is a worrisome condition of heart, of order lower than “diq” (Zamakhshari), hence our translation as “distress” rather than “constriction” (Au.).

[128] Verily, Allah is with those who are god-fearing, and those who do (things) well.199


199. It is reported that when Hayyan al-`Abdi was about to die, people around him said, “Should you not leave a word of admonition and settle your will?” He replied, “I do not know what I should say or do. However, let me attempt. Sell my coat of mail and pay back my debts. If that is not enough, sell my horse. If that is also not enough, sell my slave. Finally, I admonish you with the ending verses of Al-Nahl, “Call to the path of your Lord with wisdom and goodly exhortation; and reason with them with that which is better. Indeed, your Lord knows very well those who have strayed away from the path as He knows well the guided. And, if you retaliate, then retaliate to the extent to which you were wronged. But, if you show patience, then, surely, that is better for the patient. Endure then in patience; yet your patience is not but with (the help of) Allah. And do not grieve over them, nor be in any distress over what they plot. Verily, Allah is with those who are God-fearing, and those who do (things) well” (Ibn Jarir).

Yusuf Ali has an appropriate note: “…the Surah ends with the highest consolation which the religious can receive; the assurance that Allah (swt) is with them. A double qualification is indicated for so high an honor, – (1) that they should not yield to human passion or anger or impatience, and (2) that they should go on with constancy, doing good all around them. To attain to the Presence of Allah in the sense of ‘I am with you’ is the culmination of the righteous man’s aspiration.”

                                                                                                                                                                                      [The Surah ends here]

About YMD

Past Issues