Translation & Commentary of Verses from Surah 28: Al-Qasas (The Stories) [49-56]
IN THE NAME OF ALLAH, THE KIND, THE MERCIFUL
 But if they do not respond to you, then know that they only follow their caprices. And who can be more misguided than he who followed his caprice, devoid of guidance from Allah? Verily, Allah does not guide a transgressing people.
 We have indeed (exhaustively) conveyed92 the Word to them,93 haply that they will receive admonition.
92. The parenthetical remark is prompted by the additional connotations that the textual “wassala” yields over the sense of merely conveying (something). Zamakhshari explains the associate meanings as, “the Qur’anic revelations came in close succession, with promises and threats, narratives and examples, admonitions and advices, so that they might draw lessons. Additionally, it could mean they came down uninterrupted, one linked to the other.”
Mujahid on the other hand explained “wassala” as meaning, “explained in detail,” Suddi said it means, “made it clear” (Ibn Jarir, Ibn Kathir).
93. Rifa`ah al-Qurazi (a former Jew) said that this and the next two verses were revealed in reference to ten men of whom he was one (Ibn Jarir, Zamakhshari, Razi, Qurtubi). The report is also in Ibn Abi Hatim (Ibn Kathir). Shawkani traces the report as found in Ibn Abi Shaybah, Ibn al-Mundhir, Abu ‘l Qasim Baghawi, Tabarani and Ibn Marduwayh, and thinks that the chain of narrators is strong enough.
However, reports do not mention names of the other nine (Au.).
 Those to whom We gave the Book before this, they are believers in it.94
94. Mujahid, Qatadah and Dahhak held the opinion that this and the following few verses were revealed in reference to a group of followers of a previous Book. They believed in their Prophet, were persecuted, but observed patience and so were rewarded twice (Ibn Jarir).
Qurtubi thinks these verses are of general nature that describe any of the people of the Book who embraced Islam, although, in particular they could be applicable to some forty Christians who came from Najran along with Ja`far (at Madinah). Also see the notes that follow herewith.
Majid presents the testimony of a Jew. He writes: “Look at the grudging and very amusing admission of a modern Jew, a rank reviler of the Prophet(saws): ‘Mohammed … had received considerable encouragement from certain Jews in Mekka. Some accepted Islam; others, doubtless, had flattered him, or even hailed him as a prophet (saws), in the hope of bringing him over to Judaism.’ (Torrey, Jewish Foundations of Islam, p. 128)”
 When it is recited to them, they say, ‘We have believed in it. It is indeed the truth from our Lord. We had indeed submitted (ourselves)95 before this.’96
95. Muslimin: That is, ‘We were believers in One God, sincerely devoted to Him, and responsive to His call’ (Qurtubi, Ibn Kathir). Sayyid Qutb echoes Thanwi and others when he offers a simple explanation: “They were those who had submitted themselves to Allah earlier.”
In the following statement of Mawdudi, if the word “Muslim” is taken in the sense of “those who had submitted,” then, it reflects the opinion of the majority: “This statement explains that Islam is not merely the name of the Religion brought by Muhammad (peace be on him), nor does the term ‘Muslim’ denote only those who follow him. Rather, all the Prophets brought one and the same Religion and their followers have, at all times, been Muslims. However, if people refused to accept the Prophet (saws) who was raised after the one they initially followed, then, they ceased to be Muslims. As for those who believed in the previous Prophets and who also accepted the new Prophet when he was raised, there was no interruption in their Faith; they were Muslims before and continued to be so after their believing in the new Prophet.”
Alusi however, pointing out that while Kashshaf and Bahr tell us that Islam is not a specific attribute of this Ummah, but rather, that of anyone who adopted pure monotheism, and believed in Divine revelation, also informs us that Suyuti was reluctant to use the terms Islam and Muslims for the followers of the Prophets of the past. He, in fact, wrote a short treatise to demonstrate that only this Ummah has been named “Muslimeen.” However, when he had finished writing the treatise, and lay down to rest, this verse occurred to him as contradicting his thesis, and he felt, in his words, “as if a mountain had fallen over me.” He thought over it for sometime but could not work out reconciliation. He supplicated to Allah (swt) to open his heart and went to sleep. By morning, three explanations occurred to him that helped him reconcile his thesis with this verse. Alusi mentions the three, but expresses his own dissatisfaction with two of them, agreeing more or less with the third. He, Alusi, is inclined to believe, along with Baydawi, that the use of the word “muslimin” is in the sense of submission. Thus, we are brought back to the explanations offered by Qurtubi, Ibn Kathir and others, as stated above.
A contemporary commentator seizes on Alusi’s report to criticize Suyuti. To him Suyuti offers “meaningless interpretations,” and that, “None of these answers, however, show any trace of the ‘opening of the heart’ for which he prayed.” The critic then proceeds to present evidences from the Qur’an to demonstrate Suyuti’s error. We cannot of course comment on Suyuti’s thesis without having seen it ourselves, and wonder whether the critic had seen it either. He does not quote anything more than what Alusi did. But we might point out that the verses that he quotes as evidences are in the knowledge of every student of the Qur’an, not to speak of a mufassir of Suyuti’s stature. Suyuti could have had the famous verse in mind which says (22: 78):
“And strive in Allah, with a striving due to Him. He chose you. And He has not placed upon you in the religion any constriction: the faith of your father Ibrahim. He named you Muslims earlier,” where, according to Ibn `Abbas, Qatadah, Mujahid and Dahhak, the pronoun “huwa” is for Allah. That is, “Allah named you Muslims.” So, one might ask, if the previous nations were Muslims, what was the point in naming the Ummah of Muhammad as Muslims. (Interestingly, the critic does not include this ayah among his relevant and irrelevant evidences. Perhaps, because it would not have served him his purpose without his curious footnote [placed at 22: 78] in which he says that the pronoun in “sammakum,” [i.e., the “you” of “He named you”], alludes to all the monotheists of the world, previous and subsequent. So, the address in “strive” is to this Ummah, the “you” of “He chose you” is for this Ummah, the address in “He has not placed upon you” is to this Ummah, but the allusion in “He named you” is to all the monotheist of the world, past and present!) In any case, in view of this ayah we understand that, after all, Suyuti had a point, apart from whatever else he would have mentioned in his treatise. Additionally, we might point out that the people of the Book take strong exception to earlier Jews and Christians referred to as Muslims, perhaps not only because as a mass they never “surrendered” themselves to One God but also because the word does not appear anywhere in their scriptures (Au.).
96. Before this, i.e., before the revelation of the Qur’an (Kashshaf and others).
Sa`id b. Jubayr said that these verses were revealed in response to a delegation from Abyssinia. Some seventy churchmen had been sent to Madinah by Najashi. (They were referred to, according to Muqatil, as the Companions of the Ark, and had come down along with Ja`far: Razi). The Prophet recited Surah Ya Sin before them. They wept and declared their faith in Islam. They were rewarded twice for believing in two books, the Gospels and the Qur’an. Zuhri was also of the opinion that these verses were revealed in connection with this Abyssinian delegation.
According to another report in Ibn Is-haq, the reference is to another delegation. This one comprised of twenty or so men. They met the Prophet in the Haram (at Makkah: Au.) and sat down before him while the Quraysh sat in their own circles. When they had explained to the Prophet the purpose of their visit, he recited some verses of the Qur’an and invited them to Islam. When they heard the Qur’an, their eyes were filled with tears. They embraced Islam, for they had found in him the signs that they had read in their Scriptures. When they rose up to go, Abu Jahl and a few of the Qurayshis confronted them and said, “May Allah fail the caravan (of yours). Your compatriots in your religion sent you to bring information about this man. But you had not even settled down before him that you abandoned your religion.” Of the things he said was, “We do not know of a delegation more stupid than yours,” or words of that sort. They replied, “Peace on you. We do not wish to enter into a bickering contest with you. Unto us, what we stand on, and unto you what you stand on. We have not been lax in seeking good for ourselves.” (Qurtubi, Ibn Kathir)
And Abu Musa al-Ash`ari reports that the Prophet said, “There are three persons who will be rewarded twice: A man of the People of the Book who believed in his own Messenger and then happen to be in the time of the Prophet, peace on him, believed in him, testified him and followed him: he shall have two fold reward. A slave who did his duty to his master and to Allah – he shall have two fold reward; and a man who had a slave-girl. He trained and educated her well, freed her, and then married her – he shall have two fold reward.”
The hadith is in the Sahihayn (Qurtubi, Ibn Kathir, Shawkani).
The above is from Muslim. (Au.)
And, after narrating this hadith to a Khurasani student, Sha`bi remarked, “Take this hadith from me for no cost. Earlier, a man traveled to Madinah to hear a hadith of this kind.” (Qurtubi)
 They will be given their reward twice for that they patiently endured. They avert evil with good,97 and, of what We have provided them, they expend.98
97. Accordingly, the Prophet has said, “Follow up an evil deed with a good one, it will erase it, and deal with the people in a goodly manner” (Qurtubi).
There is a shorter hadith of this meaning, in Ahmad, which Suyuti declared trustworthy in his Jami` (Au.).
98. One can see how Allah (swt) first mentioned belief as their merit, then deeds involving the limbs of the body, and finally, deeds involving wealth, i.e., charitable expending (Razi).
Thanwi adds: In warding off evil with the good, is the cure for love of the self, while in expending is the cure for love of wealth.
 When they hear vain talk, they turn away therefrom and say, ‘To us our deeds, and to you your deeds. Peace on you.99 We seek not the ignorant.’
99. Hasan has said about the “salamun alaykum” of such occasion as “kalimatu ‘l hilm” meaning, a word of gentle indulgence (Zamakhshari). What the words mean is, ‘You may rest in peace from us. We do not wish to wrangle with you.’ (Qurtubi)
Shah Abdul Qadir wrote at this point that if one feels talking to an ignorant man will not make him understand, then it is better to avoid talking to him altogether. (Shabbir)
 Verily, you cannot guide whom you like; but rather, Allah guides whom He will;100 and He knows best the rightly guided.101
100. “The Qur’anic statement, ‘thou canst not guide aright everyone whom thou lovest,’ has undoubtedly a timeless import as well: it stresses the inadequacy of all human endeavours to ‘convert’ any other person, however loving and loved, to one’s own beliefs, or to prevent him from falling into what one regards as error, unless that person wills to be so guided.” (Asad)
Abu Hurayrah is severally reported to have said that this verse was revealed in reference to the Prophet’s uncle Abu Talib. When his death approached him, the Prophet suggested to him, “Say: there is no deity save Allah, that I might bear witness on the Day of Standing.” He replied, “If not for the Quraysh taunting me that I said it overtaken by death-pangs, I would have said it;” and Allah revealed this verse. According to other reports, when the Prophet offered him the testimony of la ilaha, Abu Jahl and `Abdullah b. Umayyah, who had arrived before him, began to say, “Abu Talib! Will you renounce the religion of `Abd al-Muttalib (his father)?” The Prophet kept pressing on him with the testimony until Abu Talib said, “Upon the religion of `Abd al-Muttalib.” He refused to say the testimony. The Prophet remarked, “By Allah, I shall remain seeking forgiveness for you until I am forbidden. So Allah (swt) revealed, “It was not (proper) for the Prophet and the faithful to seek pardon for the polytheists, even if they were near of kin, after it became clear to them that they are companions of the Fire.”
Sa`id ibn Musayyib, Mujahid and others have the same report to offer (Ibn Jarir). The report is in the Sahihayn which adds that every time the Prophet offered the testimony to Abu Talib, the two repeated their taunt (According to some reports Abu Talib said, “If it was not for a remark that would be left on you and on the progeny of your father, I would have said the words to the cool of your eyes.” – Zamakhshari).
In this context, Ibn Abi Hatim has another report. It reports Sa`id b. Abi Rashid as saying, “I was sent as a messenger by the Roman emperor. I traveled to the Prophet and presented the letter. He placed it in his house and then asked, ‘Where are you from?’ I answered ‘I am of the Tannukh.’ He asked, ‘Are you interested in the pure religion of your forefather Ibrahim?’ I said, ‘I am the messenger of a people, and on their religion until I return.’ The Prophet smiled broadly, looked at his Companions and said, ‘Verily, you cannot guide whom you like, but rather, Allah guides whom He wills.’ (Ibn Kathir)
The above report is in Ahmad and other works also, some of which versions are quite interesting, but too long for reproduction in this short work. (Au.)
We also know of the affair of Abu Talib. The Prophet was keen that he should embrace Islam before death, but he would not. At death bed, with Abu Jahl on guard against Abu Talib’s tongue, the Prophet pleaded: “Say la ilahalillallah, so that I can bear testimony to your testimony on the day of Judgment.” He replied, “If not for Quraysh taunting me I would have said it to cool your eyes,” and Allah revealed, “You cannot guide whom you love ..” (Ibn Jarir).
It is also reported by `Amir that when Abu Talib died, some people commented that his kinship with the Prophet would not benefit him in anyway. The Prophet remarked, “No, by Allah. There will be no one on the Day of Judgment receiving a lighter punishment than Abu Talib. He will (merely) wear two sandals of Fire, (yet) that will boil his brain.” (Ibn Jarir)
This verse does not contradict another of the Qur’an (23: 73) which says, “And surely, you guide them (O Prophet) to the straight path.” For, the latter is speaking of the way that the Prophet could show, while the former is speaking of the tawfiq (Divine impulse) – Razi.
In all circumstance, the reports lead us to believe that the Prophet’s eagerness had its basis in his love for his uncle. One should therefore tread on the topic carefully, to avoid causing any pain to him. Caution should be the watchword. (Alusi)
101. The words could also be understood as meaning, He knows well who will receive guidance and who will not (Razi).
(To be continued)
(To be continued)