Verses from Surah al-Anfal (30-35)

[30] And, (recall O Prophet), when the unbelievers were plotting against you to either imprison you or murder you or exile you.56  But, (as) they were plotting, Allah was (also) plotting;57 and Allah is the best of plotters.58  


56. It is reported that Abu Talib asked the Prophet (saws) what his people were thinking about him. He replied that they were thinking of either imprisoning him, exiling him, or killing him. Abu Talib asked him who had told him that. “My Lord,” the Prophet replied. Abu Talib said, “That’s a good Lord of yours. You should wish Him well.” The Prophet (saws) enquired, “Should I wish Him well, or should He wish me well!?” (Ibn Jarir). Ibn Kathir however thinks this is not a reliable report.

As for the context of revelation, Ibn Jarir adds: Ibn `Abbas,`Ikrimah, Suddi and others have reported that during the last days of the Prophet’s stay at Makkah, one night the Quraysh assembled in their Council Hall. Shaytan also entered with them in the form of an impressive old man. They asked him who he was. He replied, “Well, I am a chieftain of the Najad (tribes). I heard that you are to discuss the issue of this man and thought you shouldn’t miss my advice. Maybe I’ll have something useful to say.” They said, “O.K. You may join us.” As the discussions started, one of the participants suggested that they imprison Muhammad. The Najadi chieftain cried out,”No, by Lord. His followers will release him some way or the other.” Another person suggested that they exile him. The Najadi Sheikh again interjected, “That won’t do. In fact, that will work in his favor. He will join his followers and then come back on you to destroy you.” Finally, Abu Jahl suggested that they recruit a young man from every family of the Quraysh who should jointly bring down their swords upon Muhammad so that it could never be determined with certainty as to who had killed him. In that event Banu Hashim wouldn’t want to fight all of the Quraysh tribes and will have no recourse but to accept blood-wit.” At this suggestion the Sheikh jumped and said he seconded the opinion of “this young man.” They dispersed having agreed on the strategy. Accordingly, one night they surrounded the Prophet’s house, waiting, with unsheathed swords in their hands to strike when he emerged. The Prophet came out and walked past right through their cluster, but they were blinded from seeing him. (According to some reports, the Prophet threw a handful of dust on them saying, “Afouled be the faces,” and, reciting the first few verses of Surah Ya-Sin, went away without they seeing him: Ibn Kathir). He went up to Abu Bakr’s house and the two started off on their journey. In the morning the Quraysh found `Ali in his place who told them that he knew nothing about him. They launched a search for him while he hid in a cave for three days. A spider spread its net over the mouth of the cave.When they saw the net they concluded that he couldn’t have entered into it. And Allah (swt) revealed this verse.

The report about the spider spreading its net is at least Hasan status if not above it. See Al-Sirah al-Nabawiyyah by Dr. Mahdi Rizqallah (Au.).

Zamakhshari, Ibn Kathir, Qurtubi and several others have also reported the above, with Shawkani tracing out similar reports in `Abd `l-Razzaq, Ahmed, `Abd b. Humayd, Ibn al-Mundhir, Tabrani,Abu Al-Sheikh, Marduwayh and Abu Nu`aim.

57. The word  makr is commonly employed by the people in a bad sense, such as to scheme a conspiracy against someone. That maybe, but linguistically,  makr can include both connotations, good as well as bad. Allah said (35: 43): “Waxing proud in the land,and evil scheming (makr al-sayy’). And evil scheming does not backfire but on their authors.” Hence also the words of a hadith in Abu Da’ud: i.e., “O Allah, scheme in my favor, not against me (Manar).

58. “So He defeated their purpose and frustrated their plots”(Majid).

[31] When Our verses are recited to them they say, `(Enough) We have heard. If we wished we could say (things) similar to this. This is nothing but fables of old.’59  


59. The textual word is  asatir, sing.  astar, ustur, etc., which is employed for anything that comes in rows, such as a row of trees (Manar). Hence a row of words (Au.).

Ibn Jarir comments: According to Sa`id b. Jubayr, Suddi and Ibn Jurayj, one of those who used to say that was Nadr b. Harith. He was a widely travelled man and had collected quite some poetical masterpieces, epic works, stories and the sort from various sources. Whenever he heard the Qur’an he would say he could produce something similar. (What prevented him? asks Alusi).

To the above Shabbir adds: “It’s like saying, if my horse trotted well enough, I could reach London. (But it doesn’t!).” It was he again who had said, `O Lord! If this (message) be truly from You, rain down upon us stones from the heaven, or send upon us a painful chastisement.’ The reports are in Bukhari and Muslim.

Ibn Kathir adds: He also conducted his assemblies in which he recited what he had learnt during his travels and asked his audience: “Who do you think is a better story-teller? I or Muhammad?”

In fact, the man talked so much non-sense in refutation of the Qur’an, that more than ten verses were revealed censuring him. (It is said that the verse 31 of  surah Luqman was also revealed to censure him: “And of the people there is one who purchases vain talk to deviate the people from the path of Allah – without knowledge – treating it as jest“: Manar). He was one of those three who were taken prisoners at Badr and ordered killed because of his persistent blasphemies against the Qur’an. The other two being To`aymah b. `Adiyy and `Uqbah b. Abi Mu`it (Ibn Jarir). But this (part of the report, about he being killed at Badr after being taken a prisoner) is weak (Shawkani).

Sayyid comments: “Nadr b. al-Harth’s attempt at detraction was not the last one of its sort. It has been attempted again and again, in various forms and manners. The enemies of this religion have always tried to turn the Muslims away from the Qur’an unto other things, relegating the Qur’an to the functions of musical recitation, a charm against evil, and so forth. They are led to believe that by indulging in such things they have treated the Qur’an in a manner deserving of it. As for organization of this life, the community and the state, as for their laws and concepts and values, the people are handed down alternatives and told,`Look. This religion is a great religion. And this Qur’an is a thing well-guarded. It is recited unto you morning and evening, every now and then, and on every occasion. So what more do you want of the Qur’an? As for your ideologies, your concepts, your ways and conduct, your laws and ordinances, your values and criterion, for all these things, there is another qur’an to which you should turn.’”

[32] And when they said, `O Lord! If this (message) be the truth from You, then rain down upon us stones from the heaven, or send upon us a painful chastisement.’60  


60. Bukhari’s report is that this was said by Abu Jahl. It is possible that he was the first to say that, and others followed him. Tabarani has it that it was Nadr b. al-Harith who had uttered these words. Qastalani has said in his (Hadith) commentary that when Nadr b. al-Harith said, “these are fables of old,” the Prophet (saws) warned him, “Woe unto you man. These are Allah’s words.” At that he and Abu Jahl said the words, “O Lord, if this be…” The self-conceit is apparent. It is reported (Zamakhshari) that Mu`awiyyah once said to a man from Saba’ (Yemen), “What kind of ignorant blokes your people were that they appointed a woman as their head.” The man replied,”Your people were greater blokes in ignorance to say, `O Lord! If this (message) be truly from You, then rain down upon us stones from the heaven, or send upon us a painful chastisement.’ Why couldn’t they say, `O Lord, if it be truly from You, guide us to it?’” (Manar).

[33] But Allah would not punish them while you were among them (O Muhammad); and Allah would not punish them while they were seeking forgiveness.61  


61. Opinions have varied over the exact implication of the two verses. Some of the Salaf have said that by the words:”Allah was not to punish them while you were among them,” alluded to the situation when the Prophet (saws) hadn’t yet migrated from Makkah. The words, “And Allah was not to punish them while they were seeking forgiveness,” alluded to those days when he had left Makkah, but the weak ones remained behind, who (as believers in secret) sought Allah’s forgiveness. (Tayyibi has said that sometimes the seeking of forgiveness by a few can turn away punishment from many: Alusi). [Hafiz {ibn Hajr} has written in his {Hadith} commentary that after having said, `O Lord, if it be truly from You…‘ they felt remorseful by the evening and cried out, `Your forgiveness, O our Lord’: Rashid Rida]. Finally, the words, “And what is (special) with them that Allah should not punish them when they prevent people from the Sacred Mosque,” alluded to the situation when the weak ones too had left Makkah. Another opinion is that this ummah has two barriers to Allah’s chastisement. One is gone, viz., the Prophet (saws), but the other remains, viz., seeking of forgiveness. There are other possible meanings too (Ibn Jarir).

This last interpretation has a hadith in support preserved by Ahmed and Hakim, who declared it reliable, in words: “Shaytan said, `My Lord. By Your honor, I shall keep trying misguiding the people until they have their spirits in their body.’ Allah (swt) replied, `By My Greatness and Majesty, I shall keep forgiving them so long as they keep seeking forgiveness’” (Ibn Kathir).

Alusi adds: The Prophet also understood the verse this way. Accordingly, Abu Da’ud and Tirmidhi (in his  Shama’il) and Nasa’i note that once when a Sun-eclipse occurred, the Prophet got up and offered two cycles of very lengthy Prayers after which he supplicated in words: “My Lord! Have You not promised me that You will not punish them while I am with them? My Lord! Did You not promise me that You will not punish them so long as they seek forgiveness? And we seek Your forgiveness.” He finished the Prayers and the eclipse was over.

[34] And what is (special) with them that Allah should not punish them when they prevent people from the Sacred Mosque, while they are not its guardians? Indeed, its guardians62 are the god-fearing, but most of them know not.63 


62. Abu Ja`fer and Hasan seem to have believed that the personal pronoun in “Awliya-`u-hu” alludes to Masjid al-Haram (and hence the translation (Au.), although some others have said that it alludes to Allah (swt) in which case the rendering would be, “His Friends are…” (Alusi).

63. Alusi, although himself a Sufi, comes down heavily on the pseudo-sufis. He writes: If we accept the pronoun in Awliya’ to be representing Allah (swt), the meaning would be “the most pious ones are Allah’s Friends (Awliya’).” But the ignorant masses of our times believe that the more outwardly mad, dressed in tattered clothes, uttering incomprehensible words, and putting up a weird appearance that can chase the decent ones away from him…the truer Waliyy the man is, and with greater authority in the kingdom of Allah (swt). Some of them believe that the sign of a true Waliyy is that he should have given up living according to the Shari`ah. Some others think that he is one who engages himself in nothing but acts of devotion, although the man’s inner condition happens to be in total contradiction to his outer appearance. They believe it is such as these who have known the truth. They call such a man a “Murshid” (guide). No doubt, Murshid he is; but to the Fire. Hujjatul Islam Imam Ghazali has said that to kill one of these pervert ones is better in the sight of Allah (swt) than killing a hundred of the unbelievers (in the battle-field). Sheikh al-Akbar, (Mohiyuddin ibn al-`Arabiyy) has also censured them strongly in his Futuhat. Alusi then quotes a poetical piece:i.e.,

“One choked in his throat rushes to water for relief

To what should one rush if choked on water?”

[35] In fact, their Prayer at the House (of Allah) was nothing more than whistling and hand-clapping.64 Therefore, taste the punishment for what you were denying.


64. This is to criticize the Quraysh who used to clap their hands and whistle while circumambulating the Ka`ba. Sometimes they did these things to distract the Prophet from his Prayers in the Sacred Mosque (Zamakhshari, Manar, Shawkani and others).

Another meaning could be that by whistling and clapping in a holyplace, they had as if replaced their devotional acts with these acts (Razi, Alusi).

Majid comments: “Witness also the present-day practices of many a creed which not only allow but prescribe the use of musical instruments during public worship. Worse still, dancing has formed part…of the chief acts of devotion and worship in many religions.”

(To be continued)

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