Verses from Surah al-Isra’ (9-17)

[9] Verily this Qur’an guides to that which is most straight25 and gives good tiding to the believers who do deeds of righteousness, that for them is a great reward.


25. Yusuf Ali connects the theme: “The instability and crookedness of the Jewish soul having been mentioned, the healing balm which should have cured it is now pointed out. The Message of the Qur’an is for all. Those who have Faith and show the Faith in their conduct, must reap their spiritual reward. But those who reject Faith cannot escape punishment. Apart from what is past, apart from the question of national or racial history, there is Hope – and a Danger – for every soul.”

[10] And that those who do not believe in the Hereafter, We have prepared for them a painful chastisement.

[11] Man prays for evil (in the manner of) his prayer for good.26 Surely, man is given to haste.27


26. That is, man curses others, seeking Allah’s punishment on them, saying, (sometimes against his own children), “O Allah, destroy him,” or “send your wrath on him,” etc. But, if Allah were to grant him his prayers of evil, just as He grants prayers of good, man would be destroyed. This is how Dahhak, Qatadah and Mujahid understood this verse (Ibn Jarir).

But the allusion could be to the call of self-destruction that the pagans made when the Prophet warned them of chastisement descending on them upon rejection (Zamakhshari).

Hence in a hadith of Muslim, the Prophet said, “Do not supplicate against yourself, nor against your wealth that you be in agreement with an hour in which Allah (swt) accepts supplications” (Ibn Kathir).

27. It is narrated that when the spirit was gradually entering into Adam (asws), it did not pass down but his body became bones, flesh and muscles. As the spirit entered into his head, he sneezed. Allah said in response, “May your Lord show you mercy.” It was afternoon before the spirit reached his navel. Adam (asws) bent down and his body pleased him. He tried to raise himself up but could not because the spirit had not yet reached his legs. He said, “O Allah hasten it to completion before sunset.” That was the first manifestation of the meaning of the words, “Surely, man is given to haste” (Ibn Jarir, Ibn Kathir, with some variations). The report is in Ibn al-Mundhir, Ibn ‘Asakir and Ibn Abi Hatim (Shawkani).

[12] We appointed the night and the day as two signs. Then We blotted out the sign of the night28 and made the sign of the day shining,29 that you may seek the bounty of your Lord, and that you may know the number of the years and the reckoning. And We have explained everything in detail.30


28. Apparently, the moon is the sign of night. According to ‘Ali ibn abi Talib, and quite a few others of the Salaf, it is the dark spots on the moon that are alluded to by the words “We blotted out…” (Ibn Jarir, Qurtubi, Ibn Kathir).

And, in one of the most incredible reports, as in Tabari and Ibn Kathir, Ibn ‘Abbas is reported to have said that earlier the moon also used to shine just as the sun shines until Allah (swt) blotted out its shine. In fact, adds Qurtubi, there is a hadith which says that once there were two suns. The report to this effect is in Bayhaqi and Ibn ‘Asakir (Shawkani). But it is weak of narrators (S.Ibrahim).

Ibn Abbas’ notion is incredible because scientists have no explanation for the origin of the moon. Despite moon rock samples, they cannot determine how it came into orbit around the earth, or since when. One theory however, of our interest, is that the moon could have once been a burning body, like the sun, which cooled down (as the sun is also cooling down) and somehow wandered across the space for millions of years to get caught by the earth’s gravitational pull and remain in its orbit.

29. “Shining” for mubsiratan is the understanding of Qatadah as in Ibn Abi Hatim (Shawkani).

30. That is, everything pertaining to Allah’s oneness, evidences of the Prophet’s mission, of the need of the accountability, etc., have all been explained in detail (Razi).

[13] We have fastened every man’s fate to his own neck;31 and We shall bring forth for him, on the Day of Resurrection, a record that he will find wide open.


31. The textual word “ta’ir” has been explained by Ibn ‘Abbas, Mujahid, Ibn Jurayj and others as man’s deeds and destiny. And some have believed that this is the Book that will be brought forth on the Day of Resurrection (Ibn Jarir).

Razi adds: Scholars have said that the neck is the most suitable place for anything to be hung around, whether it is something that honors a man or humiliates him. It is to the neck that a thing of shame is hung by as punishment, and it is around the neck that necklaces (as also medals, garlands: Au.) are hung by way of decoration.

Yusuf Ali offers further explanation: “Ta’ir, literally a bird, hence an omen, and evil omen… The Arabs, like the ancient Romans, sought to read the mysteries of human fate from the flight of birds… Our real fate does not depend upon birds or omens or stars. It depends on our deeds; good or evil, and they hang round our necks.”

[14] Read your record. Sufficient is your own soul this day for reckoning against you.

[15] Whosoever receives guidance, receives it for his own benefit; and whosoever goes astray, does it to his own loss. No bearer of burden shall bear the burden of another. And We were not such as to punish until We had sent a Messenger.32


32. The question that arises in view of this verse is, if Allah does not punish a people before a Messenger has been sent to them, which, of course, is a reasonable thing, then, what about those who did not receive the Message, for one reason on another? Abu Hurayrah’s opinion in this regard was that Allah will assemble together the souls of those who died between the advent of two Prophets, (the insane, the dumb, the deaf, the senile, and people of this class), and raise a messenger among them. He will command them to enter the Fire. They will protest, “How can we possibly do that when a Messenger never came to us?” By Allah, Abu Hurayrah added, if they entered they would find it pleasant and peaceful. Thus, those who would have obeyed him in the world, would obey him there (Ibn Jarir).

Ibn Kathir discusses the issue more in detail. First he deals with the hadith in Bukhari which ends with the following words, “… Allah will create for the Fire a creation of the kind He will, who will be thrown into it. She will say, ‘Is there any more?’ three times until He will place His foot into it and it will get filled, some parts crushed against others and it will cry out, ‘Enough, enough, enough.’” This hadith contradicts another, also in Bukhari, as well as in Muslim which says, “Heaven and Hell argued before Allah. The Fire said, ‘I have been preferred with the proud ones and the tyrants.’ Paradise said, ‘What’s with me that only the weak and the downtrodden enter into me?’ Allah said to Paradise, ‘You are My mercy that I will deliver to whomsoever of My slave I will.’ And He said to the Fire, ‘You are My chastisement. I chastise through you whomsoever I will of My slaves.’ And each will have its own full. As for the Fire, it will not be filled until Allah places His foot into it. It will say, ‘Enough, enough, enough.’ It is then that it will be filled to the extent that some of it would be pressing on the other. And Allah will not be unjust to anyone of His creation, ever. As for Paradise, Allah will create a creation for it (i.e., in order to fill it).” Some scholars have thought, therefore, says Ibn Kathir, that the narrator of the earlier of the two above ahadith mistakenly replaced the word “jannah” with “naar,” as in the second hadith. (That is, Allah will not create a creation specifically to fill the Fire, rather, He will do that to fill Paradise: Au.).

Apart from the above, there are a few ahadith that shed light on the issue of those who did not receive the message. One is in Ahmed. It reports the Prophet (saws) as having said, “Four classes of people will dispute on the Day of Judgment: a deaf who could not hear anything, an insane, a senile person and a man who died during the time, off the tenure of a Prophet (Fatrah). The deaf will plead, “My Lord, Islam came while I couldn’t hear anything.” The insane will plead, “My Lord, Islam came while children were stoning me with dung.” The senile person will plead, “My Lord, Islam came at a time of my life when I couldn’t use my mind.” And the man during whose life no Prophet appeared will plead, “No Messenger of Yours ever came to me.” So He will take their pledge that they will obey Him. Then he will send word to them that they should enter the Fire.” Then the Prophet added, “By Him in whose hands is Muhammad’s life, if they obey, it would turn pleasant and peaceful.” According to another version, Abu Hurayrah said, “If they enter they would find it pleasant and peaceful. In contrast, he who refused will be dragged into it.” The report is in Ahmed, Ibn Is-haq, Rahwayh, and Bayhaqi, and has been evaluated as trustworthy. As for children, the Prophet said various things about them at different times. Once, he said about pagan children who died before manhood that Allah knows what they were going to do when they grew up. The hadith to this effect is in the Sahihayn. (The report that they will be in the Fire is weak: Alusi). On another occasion, he said that pagan children will be servants of the people of Paradise. At another time he said they will be in the company of their parents. On yet another occasion he said, “The children of the pagans as well as of the Muslims are in Ibrahim’s care” (Ibn Kathir).

The last statement happens to be the opinion of the experts about those who died in childhood (Alusi).

[16] When We wish to destroy a town, We command the affluent thereof to work corruption in it.33 Thus the word34 comes true against it and then We destroy it in utter destruction.35


33. Two opinions have come down from Ibn ‘Abbas in this regard. One, the affluent ones were commanded to obey Allah, but they refused. So they became deserving of punishment. A second opinion is that the wicked affluent ones were allowed to prevail over others. They continued in their wickedness until Allah’s word was realized. Hasan al-Busri was of this opinion. Both the opinions (along with a few others) are in Ibn Jarir who himself prefers the first as correct. A third opinion, also attributed to the Salaf, is that “amara” is in the sense of “ak-thara”, as in pre-Islamic usage, meaning, “We multiplied the affluent (i.e., increased their numbers), but they (only) did corruption…” (Ibn Jarir and ohers). Zamakhshari narrates an incident to corroborate this meaning.

A pagan told the Prophet (saws), “I see this affair of yours as insignificant.” The Prophet replied, “It will grow.”

In the above example, the Prophet used the word “amara” in the sense of “ak-thara”.

Thanwi notes from Alusi that just as nations, when Allah (swt) decides to destroy a man (for his past sins), he lets him run after his carnal desires. Ultimately he is destroyed by them.

34.Qawl (of the original) has the sense of word, order, law, charge framed against one under a definite law.” (Yusuf Ali)

35. There have been several explanations of the whole verse. One of them, that is offered by Qaffal, as in Razi, is as follows: When Allah decides to destroy a town because of its sins, He does not hasten the punishment immediate to the appearance of corruptions. But rather, He commands the affluent class to give up their evil ways. When they fail, (and following them the others also persist), they are punished. They have been specifically mentioned because it is these people, more than any other class, that need to be grateful to their Lord for His blessings. In any case, after the initial warning, He allows them several reprieves. But, when they persist in sins, the word of punishment comes true and they are destroyed.

Yusuf Ali’s plain words help understand better: “Allah’s Mercy gives every chance to the wicked to repent. When wickedness gets so rampant that punishment becomes inevitable, even then Allah’s Mercy and Justice act together. Those who are highly gifted from Allah – it may be with wealth or position, or it may be with talents and opportunities – are expected to understand and obey. They are given a definite order and warning. If they still transgress, there is no further room for argument. They cannot plead that they are ignorant. The command of the Lord is proved against them, and its application is called for beyond doubt. Then it is that their punishment is completed.”

[17] How many generations36 have We (not) destroyed after Nuh!? Sufficient is your Lord as One Aware and Observant of the sins of His slaves.37


36. (The translation of “Qarn” here as generations is for ease of understanding. Otherwise, in terms of a period, it is synonymous with a century) as in a hadith according to which the Prophet (saws) placed his hand over Bishr al- Mazini and said, “This boy will live up to a Qarn.” And he lived for a hundred years (Ibn Jarir).

37. That is, the criterion is sins, and Allah (swt) knows best when the sins reach the limits after which chastisement becomes necessary (based on Kashshaf).

(To be continued)

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