Verses from Surah Ibrahim (28-36)

[28] Have you considered those who exchanged Allah’s blessings with disbelief and led their people to the Abode of ruin?55


55. The immediate reference at the time of revelation was, according to the widely reported opinions of ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib, Ibn ‘Abbas, Sa‘id b. Jubayr and others, to the leaders of the Quraysh who led their people to destruction at Badr and to the everlasting punishment in Hell-fire (Ibn Jarir). The report is also in Bukhari (Shawkani).

However, it is also reported of ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab, ‘Ali, Ibn ‘Umar and Ibn ‘Abbas that the allusion is to the two corrupt Quraysh clans: Banu al-Mughira and Banu Umayyah (Ibn Jarir). ‘Umar said, “As for Banu al-Mughira, you took care of them at Badr. As regards Banu Umayyah, they have been given respite.” The reports are in Bukhari’s Tarikh (not the Sahih collection), Ibn al-Mundhir, Ibn Marduwayh, Ibn Abi Hatim, Tabrani in his Awsat and Hakim, who declared it trustworthy (Alusi, Shawk ani).

[29] Jahannum, where they will burn, an evil resting place.

[30] And they set up Allah’s equal so as to lead away from His path. Say, ‘Enjoy yourselves briefly, your destination is the Fire.’

[31] Say to those of My slaves who have believed that they (should) perform the Prayers (regularly and properly), expend out of what We have provided them secretly and openly, before a day comes when there will be neither trading nor mutual befriending.

[32] Allah it is who created the heavens and the earth and sent down out of heaven water. He brought forth thereby fruits for your sustenance. And He subjected the ships to you that sail in the seas by His command. And He subjected to you the rivers.

[33] And He subjected to you the sun and the moon constantly pursuing (their courses); and He subjected to you the night and the day.56


56. Ibn Kathir writes: Allah (swt) mentioned some of the favors He showed to mankind, such as, He made the sky a protective ceiling, earth a bed, brings forth vegetation in the aftermath of rains comprising of fruits of different tastes and colors, as well as grains and grass, ships made to sail on the surface by His command, rivers that help in irrigation and transport from one region to another. This is the meaning of making these things subservient.

Asad comments: “Almost all classical commentators agree that God’s having made the natural phenomena ‘subservient’ to man is a metaphor (majaz) for His having enabled man to derive lasting benefit from them.

Mawdudi elaborates: “Some (people) think that it means that the forces of nature have been placed under the control of man. Such an assumption leads people to develop a variety of odd ideas. Some even go so far as to say that to achieve mastery over the heavens and the earth is the true end of man’s existence. However, what the Qur’anic statement means by the subjection of the natural phenomena is simply that God has bound them to laws which are beneficial for mankind. Had sailing in the sea not been subject to any law, it would not have been possible for man to undertake sea voyages. Had the rivers not been subject to any laws, man could not have used them for irrigation. Likewise, had the sun, the moon, the day and the night not been regulated, there could have been no life on earth, let alone any flourishing human civilization.”

[34] And He gave you all that you asked Him.57 If you count Allah’s bounties, you will never number them.58 Verily, Man is given to much wrong-doing, much ingratitude.59


57. Qadi Baydawi has said that the meaning is, Allah (swt) provided everything for you that you will ever need, whether you asked for it or not (Ma‘arif).

Some commentators have, however, understood the “min” of the text as meaning, “out of”. That is, He gave you something out of all that you asked Him, following His wisdom, withholding that which was harmful (Razi and others).

58. Bayhaqi has reported Abu Darda’ as saying, “He who doesn’t see Allah’s bounties except in his food and drinks, will be poor in the obedience of his Lord, and his punishment is close” (Shawkani). And a tradition in Bukhari reports that the Prophet (saws) used to say:

“O Allah! Praise be to You, of the kind that can never be sufficient, nor that which can be the last one, nor something we can feel self-sufficient about – O our Lord!” (Ibn Kathir).

Either Abu Ali Shibli or Ibn Ali Sina reportedly belittled the blessing of this life in a poem, a part of which is reproduced here:

“Time scatters our years over here and there

Like the leaves of a branch scattered around

Whenever the world lays a new born

Vicissitudes of the wet-nurse devour it

We are watched from the time earlier than we were born

While any disagreement is in the mother’s womb cut down

We only wait for misfortunes and calamities

And thereafter? Ah, threats (of punishments) await us

We leave, unwilling, as does the lizard leaves when forced out of its hole

Why should we be taunted over our existence?

When we had no choice to be or not to be?

It would have been a better blessing if we were

Consulted earlier, or given a choice

This is a malady that has no cure

This is a breaking down, that has no mending.


Obviously, it is a cynic who sees the world as a clock-work, in which men are denied any role, awaiting only calamities as life’s events unfold themselves: a view which is somewhat different from a real world, in which every living being wishes to live as long as possible, obviously not out of grief. That apart, we are sure the poet was well pleased with his lines, as will all those be, who are, for some reason or the other, of similar skeptic temperament. They will pass these lines around in delight, for the pleasure of men of similar dispositions. But, ignoring other things, can they fail to deny that the life’s pains are worth the pleasure which these lines alone offer: to the writer and those of similar disposition? After all, rocks do not say poetry. Would a man choose to be a rock, rather than someone who enjoys reading and writing poetry? As regards, not having been consulted before they were created, let us suppose a piece of rock was consulted: “Do you wish to come alive?” We all know what the answer (Au.).

59. Man is given to “much wrong-doing,” (zalum), making noise and complaining to everyone he comes across when he faces hard times, and is given to “much ingratitude” (kaffar), amassing and refusing to share with others when bestowed with bounties (Zamakhshari). (Hence) a report in Ibn Abi Hatim. `Umar said, “O Allah, forgive me my zulm and my kufr.” He was asked, “Zulm, yes. But kufr?” He replied, “Allah said, ‘Surely, man is zalum, kaffar” (Shawkani).

[35] (Recall)60 when Ibrahim said,61 ‘My Lord! Make this land a land of peace,62 and preserve me and my offspring that we should worship idols.63


60. Asad seeks a connection with the preceding passages: “The whole of this passage (verse 35-41) – from which the title of this Surah is derived – represents a parenthetic reminder, in the form of Abraham’s prayer, of the only way to righteousness, in the deepest sense of the word, open to man: namely, recognition of God’s existence, oneness and uniqueness and, hence, a rejection of all belief in ‘other powers’ supposedly co-existent with Him (cf. verse 30 above). Inasmuch as this prayer implies a realization of, and gratitude for, God’s infinite bounty, it connects directly with the preceding verse 34 and the subsequent verse 42.

Shabbir ‘Uthmani and Mawdudi look at the passage from another angle. In Mawdudi’s words, “After mentioning God’s favours to mankind, reference is made here to the favours which were specially bestowed on the Quraysh. The Quraysh are told that when their ancestor, Abraham (peace be on him), settled in Makkah with the robust hope that his descendants would live in obedience to their Lord, God lavished a great variety of favours upon them in response to Abraham’s prayer. But in return for all those favours, the Quraysh acted in brazen disregard of Abraham’s expectations of them, embraced erroneous doctrine, and engaged in every kind of misdeed.”

61. Although himself a Sufi, Thanwi warns that the lesson that some extremist Sufis have derived from this verse, that, following Ibrahim’s example, wife and children can be abandoned to Allah’s care, is wrong. Ibrahim did it on Allah’s command, which Hajar too ascertained by asking, “Is this by Allah’s command?”

62. By ordering its territory sacred and inviolate, Allah (swt) made Makkah and its surrounding areas, sitting as an island in a sea of violence, a place of peace and security, that has no second to its unique position on the planet (Au.).

63. The question that arises is, did Ibrahim fear that he or his children would worship idols? Majid says that the reference here is to his immediate progeny, and not to his entire race. Imam Razi considers various answers and then concludes that one of the plausible answers is that he supplicated against what the Sufis call as the “shirk alkhafiyy”, minor and unobvious form of Association which consists in the heart’s attachment, in any degree, to other than Allah.

Alusi is not satisfied with the answer. He has a different explanation: “I believe the state and status of the unsinfulness of the Prophets is not a natural physical quality that they are endowed with and by virtue of which they remain sinless. It is by Divine Will, and a blessing on them from Allah.” In that sense, it is continuation of the grace which was sought by Ibrahim.

Asad adds: “The term `Idols’ (asnam, sing., sanam) does not apply exclusively to actual, concrete representation of false ‘deities’: for shirk – that is, an attribution of divine powers or qualities to anyone or anything beside God – may consist also, as Razi points out, in a worshipful devotion to all manner of ‘causative agencies and outward means to an end’ – an obvious allusion to wealth, power, luck, people’s favor or disfavor, and so forth – ‘whereas genuine faith in the oneness and uniqueness of God (at-tawhid al-mahd) consists in divesting oneself of all inner attachment to [such] causative agencies and in being convinced that there exists no real directing power apart from God.’”

Thanwi does not miss out on another implication. He writes: “The verse shows that even Prophets did not feel themselves safe from Satan’s contriving. Should lower men, however perfect, ever feel secure?”

[36] My Lord! They64 have indeed led astray many of the mankind.65 Then whoso followed me is of me and whoso disobeyed me – but, surely, You are the Most Forgiving, the Most Kind.66


64. “They:” “That is, idols and images which are to the idolatrous visible representation of God or gods and fraught with Divine glory and majesty” (Majid).

65. Majid comments and quotes: “The name of the idolatrous peoples both ancient and modern, is legion; and nations after nations, not all of them of the lowest savagery, are known to have succumbed to the influence of idolatry. `Its tendency to revive ethnographically is embarrassing… The modern Brahmans, professed followers of Vedic doctrine, are among the greatest idolaters of the world. Early Christianity by no means abrogated the Jewish law against image-worship, yet image-worship became and still remains widely spread and deeply rooted in Christendom.’ (PC. II. p. 168).”

66. Qatadah used to say, “Listen people, to what Ibrahim had to say (about his pagan people). He didn’t curse them nor called them names.” And, it is reported of the Prophet (saws) that once the Prophet recited this verse, “My Lord! They have, indeed, led astray many of the mankind. Then whoso followed me is of me and whoso disobeyed me – but, surely, You are the Most Forgiving, the Most Kind.”

Thereafter, he recited the words of `Isa ibn Maryam (5: 118): “If You punish them, then, surely they are Your slaves. But if You forgive them, then, surely, You are the All-mighty, the All-wise.” Then he raised his hands and supplicated, “O Allah, my Ummah! O Allah, my Ummah!” and cried. Allah said to Jibril, “Jibril! Go to Muhammad – and though Allah knows – ask him, ‘What makes you cry?’ Jibril came down to him and asked him. The Prophet (saws) told him what made him cry. Allah (swt) said, “Jibril! Go to Muhammad and say to him, ‘We shall satisfy you in the matter of your Ummah, and shall not give you pain’” (Ibn Jarir).

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