Verses from Surah Al-Kahf (23-29)

[23] And never say about a thing, ‘I am going to do it tomorrow.’

[24] Except (to add) ‘if Allah so wills.’ And remember your Lord whenever you forget,36 and say, ‘It may be that my Lord will guide me ever closer than this to the right course.’37


36. Forgetfulness is from Satan. So when a man remembers Allah, Satan departs. The person is then, in that situation, less likely to forget (Razi).

Commentators have said that if one forgets to say, “Allah willing,” he might do it whenever he remembers; while others have said, which seems to be more correct, that the persuasion is to remember Allah. Ibn ‘Abbas in fact said that if someone swore (to do something) but remembered that he did not say in-sha-Allah, he might do it later, even if it is after a year (Ibn Jarir, Qurtubi, Ibn Kathir). That is, he might break his oath without atonement due. Ibn Jarir and Ibn Kathir however believe that what Ibn ‘Abbas meant was that the Sunnah of saying in-sha-Allah be done by saying it whenever one remembered, but that does not mean one can break his oath.

In any case, the opinion of Imam Abu Hanifah in matters concerning human interactions was that an “in-sha-Allah” that is added afterwards (al-istithna’ al-munfasal), is invalid. According to him in-sha-Allah, must be uttered at the moment of the deal on the spot. Uttering the word later renders it null and void. (That is, by saying in sha-Allah later, one cannot make the deal vague). Mansur (the Abbasid Caliph) came to know of his opinion (and thought that for once he had caught him on the wrong foot). So he ordered him to appear in the court for explanation. But when he came, Abu Hanifah turned the table on him. He asked him, “Do you agree that when the people enter into allegiance with you here in the court (promising to obey you), then go back home, and uttering in-sha-Allah, break their oaths?” Mansur had no answer (Kashshaf).

Ibn Kathir reminds of an incident involving another Prophet who forgot to say in-sha-Allah and so things went awry for him. The report – in the Sahihayn – says, “Sulayman b. Da’ud said, ‘I shall go into all my wives tonight, about a hundred, each of whom will bear a son who will fight in Allah’s cause.’ He was told, ‘Say In-sha-Allah.’ But he did not. So, although he went into all his wives none of them gave birth to anything except one of them, and she too brought a mangled child. The Prophet added, ‘Had he said in-sha-Allah, he would not have had to brake his oath, but would have achieved his objective.”

Sayyid Qutb is aware of the prevalent misuse of the words, and the misconceptions that accompany it. He writes: “This does not mean that (after saying ‘Allah willing’) a man should sit back doing nothing, neither planning his future, nor preparing for it. Or that he should live, moments after moments, day after day, in idleness. Or that he should not survey his past and compare it with his present (to draw the obvious lessons). Of course not. But rather it means that he should take account of the Unknown and the Uunseen while he plans his course of action. He might resolve to do whatever he wishes, but he should seek the help of Allah’s Will over what he resolves. He should be conscious of Allah’s Hand over his own. It can never be ruled out that Allah’s resolve might be different from his own. If Allah guides him to accomplish what he wishes to accomplish, well and good. But if Allah’s Will does not correspond to his will, then, there need be no grief and no despair. The affair is, after all, Allah’s – at the beginning, and at the end.

“So, let man think and plan whatever he wishes to accomplish. But, he should realize that what he thinks can only come true if Allah smoothens the way for him and that, what he plans is also by Allah’s own Will. Further, he should also realize that he is incapable of accomplishing anything except that which is Allah’s own resolve and Will. This, of course, should not lead him to laziness or procrastination, weakness, or inefficiency. In fact, contrarily, he should go forward with his endeavor in full strength, confidence, trust, self-assurance and strong resolve. However, if the veils from that which is in the Unseen are removed, and things do not appear the way he had planned, imagined and thought, then, he should accept Allah’s decree cheerfully and submit himself completely..

“This is the spirit and approach that Islam approvingly places in the heart of a believer. A believer is never beset by doubts and uncertainties while he plans his affairs. Neither is he arrogant and self-assuring when he succeeds, nor is he in despair when he fails. Instead, in all cases he remains on good terms with Allah, drawing strength from Him, trusting Him, remaining grateful to Him, submitted to His decree: neither proudly optimistic, nor despairingly pessimistic.”

37. Yusuf Ali has an interesting illustration to offer: “In geometry the perfect circle is an ideal. Any given circle that we draw is not so perfect that we cannot draw one closer to the ideal. So in our life, there is always the hope of drawing closer and closer to Allah.”

 [25] And they remained in their cave for three hundred years and added nine.38


38. Some people have suggested that since the number of years the young men tarried were 300 by the sun-calendar, it works out to 300 and 9 by the lunar calendar (Qurtubi).

 [26] Say, ‘Allah knows best how long they remained.39 To Him belongs the Unknown of the heavens and the earth. How well observing, how well hearing!’ They have no protector apart from Him, nor does anyone share (with Him) in His command. 


39. Ibn Mas`ud, Ibn ‘Abbas (who put it quite strongly: Au.), Qatadah and others have said that the meaning is, “it was being said by the people that they remained in their cave for three centuries and nine years, but Allah knows best how long they remained.” That is, the statement about the length of the period came from the people. Nevertheless, Mujahid, Dahhak and others have thought that it is Allah who is informing us that they remained three centuries and nine years in the cave, ending all speculations about how long they remained there (Ibn Jarir, Shawkani). The latter statement acquires strength from another statement of Ibn ‘Abbas (in Ibn Marduwayh: Shawkani) that first it was only revealed, “and they stayed in their cave three hundred;” so the people asked, “Days, months or years, O Messenger of Allah?” So Allah revealed, “.. years and added on nine” (Au.).

[27] Recite what has been revealed to you of the Book of your Lord. There is no one to change His words,40 and never will you find a refuge in other than Him.41


40. The meaning is: Recite, O Muhammad, the Qur’an and follow its commandments, for there is no changing its words (of command and instruction) – Razi.

41. “Refuge”: This is how Mujahid and Qatadah understood the word “multahada”. The word has its root in “lahad” which means to incline; hence also a “lahad” grave: one that inclines to the side, (in an L-shape: Au.) – Ibn Jarir, Razi and others.

[28] And patiently bear your person42 with those who call upon their Lord morning and evening, seeking His countenance. 43 And let not your eyes stray beyond them in search of the glitter of the life of this world.44 Further, obey not him whose heart We have made heedless to Our remembrance,45 so that he follows his base desires and whose affair is ever in excess.46


42. The translation of “Isbir nafsaka” above is literal. It could also be rendered as “retain yourself” or “restrain yourself” which is one of the meanings of “sabara” (Alusi and others), as e.g., “qutila sabran” meaning, “he was killed while in captivity” (Au.).

43. Sayyid comments: “(Allah is saying): Restrain yourself with these people (O Prophet), seek their company, spend time with them, and teach them. For, goodness is with them. It is the like of them who are the power base of the Call. The Call is not served by those who accept it because it is likely to prevail; nor by those who accept it in order to play a leading role; or those who have their own interests to serve; or those who will use it as a merchandise that they can buy and sell in the markets. But rather, the power base of the Call are such men as whose hearts are turned to Allah in sincerity, seeking neither position, nor wealth, nor any other advantage. All they seek is Allah’s countenance and His approval.”

44. (The Prophet was never in search of glitter of the life of this world). The allusion here then is to his hope that Islam would be strengthened if the rich and powerful Quraysh embraced it (Thanwi).

Sahl b. Hunayf reports that the Prophet was in one of his houses when this verse was revealed. He came out looking for those whose company he should seek. He found some of his Companions huddled together, busy in remembrance of their Lord. Of them some had disheveled hair, others dried skins and yet others clad in a single piece of cloth. He sat down among them and remarked, “Allah be praised who placed among my followers such as those He commanded me to seek their company” (Ibn Jarir, Ibn Kathir).

Tabarani has this report and according to Haythami, it is trustworthy (S. Ibrahim).

The above would imply that although the Surah is Makkan, this particular verse is Madinan, of which we have many examples (Alusi).

45. Razi and Qurtubi point out that the construction “aghfalna qalbahu” can also lend the meaning of “We found him heedless”. Examples of this kind can be found in classical literature.

Nonetheless, the direction is rather not to seek the company of the rich, powerful, and leading men of the Quraysh. One of them, ‘Uyayna b. Hisn had told the Prophet, “Salman Farsi’s smell is repulsive to us. So, appoint a day for us free of them, when we can sit down and talk to you” (Ibn Jarir).

46. Mawdudi explains the dangers in following those who commit excesses: “The lives of all those who become slaves to their base desires as a result of relegating God to oblivion become devoid of balance and proportion. To obey such a person means that one should abandon one’s own sense of proportion and indulge in immoderation and stumble in all directions in one’s effort to follow leaders who are not bound by any limits.”

[29] And say, ‘The truth is from your Lord. Therefore, let him who will believe, and let him who will disbelieve.’47 Surely, We have prepared for the unbelievers a Fire whose tent (of flames) has hemmed them in.48 If they implore relief, they will be helped with water like murky hot liquid:49 it will scald their faces – an evil drink and an evil place of rest.50


47. This is a threat in the guise of freedom to choose (Ibn Jarir).

48. “Suradiq” is a canopied tent or an awning (Au.). Darraj Abu Samh has reported the Prophet as having said, “The “suradiq” of the Fire of Hell has four walls. Each wall’s thickness is equal to forty years distance” (Ibn Jarir). The hadith is also in Tirmidhi who rated it Hasan, Sahih, Gharib: Qurtubi (meaning, trustworthy: Au.). That is, Hell-fire is surrounded by four layers of wall, one after another (Au.). Hakim also declared it trustworthy (Shawkani).

And Ya`la bin Umayyah reported that the Prophet said, “The sea is Jahannum.” He was asked, “How’s that?” In response he recited this verse, “a Fire whose tent (of flames) has hemmed them in” (Ibn Jarir, Ibn Kathir). Haythami has treated this report as trustworthy. `Ajluni however, has written the opinion of some of the Salaf (Kashful Khifa’, no. 883) that Jahannum is under the seventh earth. There are other opinions too, but all of them have something to do with the sea. We will have more to write under chapter 52, verse 6, Allah willing (Au.).

49. The translation reflects one of the several possible meanings of the term “muhl” which refers to what rises to the surface of any molten liquid – brass, copper, gold – heated to its boiling point (Ibn Jarir).

50. The term “irtifaq” originally meant to rest. Hence we have “mirfaq” for elbow and it is said “bata mirtafaqan” meaning, “He spent the night reclining on his elbow” (Alusi).

(To be continued)

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