Verses from Surah al-Isra’ (18-25)

[18] Whosoever coveted the immediate (reward), We hasten whatsoever of it We will, unto whomsoever We will, and then We appoint for him Jahannum wherein he  will rest, blamed and rejected.38


38. In view of the words, “We hasten whatsoever of it We will, unto whomsoever We will,” (which do not promise a sure reward unto him who desires this world), it is more reasonable not to “desire” this world at all. For, if denied, then, one lives hankering for something not in his fate. The man’s life turns Hellish, before the Hell of the Hereafter (Zamakhshari). Thus, one might strive without allowing the desired things to become dear to the heart. If one achieves what he strove for, good. But if he did not, then, he might remove them from the mind to allow the inner self to rest in peace (Au.).

[19] (Whereas) Those who coveted the Hereafter, and strove for it in the manner of its striving – and he is a believer – those, their striving is appreciated (by Allah).39


39. Thus we have three conditions for acceptance of a deed: firm faith, correct intention, and right manner of doing it (Kashshaf). The Ahl al-Bid`ah, remarks Shafi`, may take note. As regards the exact measure of rewards, there is no limit to it. Abu Hurayrah was asked, “Have you heard the Prophet say that Allah could reward a man a million times for a good deed?” He replied, “Rather, Allah rewards a man two million times for a good deed.” (Qurtubi).

[20] (Unto) everyone – these as well as those40 – We extend (freely) the bounties of your Lord – and the bounties of your Lord are not such as to be denied  (to anyone).


40. That is, the obedient and the disobedient, the good and the evil, the believer and the unbeliever.

[21] See then how We give preference to some over others.41 But surely, the Hereafter is greater in rank and greater in excellence.42


41. That is, in this world.

42. It is said that once a group of former Quraysh chiefs such as Abu Sufyan, Suhayl and others sought permission to enter into ‘Umar’s presence during his caliphate. Suhayb, Bilal and a few others of the earliest Muslims were also there. ‘Umar allowed Suhayb, Bilal and others to enter but left the former Quraysh chiefs waiting. Abu Sufyan remarked, “I have never seen a day like this in my life. The chiefs are left hanging around while the slaves have been allowed in.” Suhayl, who was the most intelligent of them said, “I see frown on your faces. But, if you are angry, then be angry on yourself. When everyone was invited, they responded immediately while you delayed…” (Alusi). The version offered by Zamakhshari ends with the following words, “…they were invited, and so were we. But they responded immediately while we delayed. Now, this is what is happening at ‘Umar’s door. What about when we are in the Hereafter? If you envy them today, then, you should know that what Allah has prepared for them in the Hereafter is greater.”

[22] Do not set up along with Allah, another god; or you will sit back (in the end), condemned and forsaken.43


43. According to a Hasan Sahih Gharib report in Tirmidhi, which is also in Abu Da’ud, the Prophet (saws) said, “Whoever is reduced to hunger and complains to the people, will never have his hunger removed from him. But whoever complains to Allah, will have it removed either immediately, or in time” (Ibn Kathir).

[23] Your Lord has decreed44 that you shall worship none but Him,45 and (that you shall treat) the parents with kindness.46 Whether one or both of them attain old age  with you,47 then, say not to them (even) an ‘Oof,’48 nor repel them, rather, speak to them noble words.


44. Quite often in Arabic, Qada is used in the sense of “he commanded” (Ibn ‘Abbas and Hasan). Ibn Mas`ud however, along with Ubay bin Ka`b and Dahhak have understood the word in the sense of admonition (Ibn Jarir, Ibn Kathir).

Qurtubi writes: Qada has been used in the Qur’an in several senses:

(1) command, as here,

(2) creation, as in (41: 12)

“He created them into seven heavens,”

(3) to pass judgment, as in (20: 73)

“So, judge as you wish to judge,”

(4) to decide, or, something accomplished as in (12: 41)

“The affair about which you inquire, has already been decided”, and (2: 200),

“When you are done with the hajj-rituals,”

(5) intention, as in (2: 117)

“When He intends an affair, He says, ‘be’, and it is,” and,

(6) covenant, as in (28: 44)

And you were not by the western side when We took the covenant from Musa.”

45. Mawdudi comments on the context and placement of these verses: “From here on, the basic principles which according to Islam ought to serve as the foundation of man’s life are expounded. Put differently, these principles constitute the manifesto of the Prophet’s mission. It is noteworthy that this manifesto was proclaimed at a highly appropriate moment – at a time when the Makkan period of the Prophet’s life was coming to an end, and when the Madinan period was about to begin. This meant making the intellectual, moral, cultural, economic and legal bases of the Islamic society and state of the future known to the world.”

He also explains the verse: “The verse does not merely have a negative message – that we may not worship aught other than the One True God. It also has a positive message – that we should serve, worship and obey Him, and Him alone, and do so unreservedly. We should consider only His command as the command and only His law as the law that ought to be obeyed. We should recognize and submit to His sovereignty to the exclusion of any other sovereignty. This is, at once, a religious belief, a guidance for individual’s conduct, as well as the cornerstone of man’s entire life-system encompassing moral conduct, political behavior and social relationship, a system that was to be established by the Prophet (peace be on him) in Madina. The foundational concept of the new body-politic was nothing other than the principle that God alone is the Sovereign and Lord of the world, and that His law is the true law that ought to prevail.”

46. Being kind to parents would include, Mujahid has said, cleaning their diapers just as they used to do when he or she was little (Mujahid: Ibn Jarir).

47. The words “with you” have the hint concealed that if they be with you, under your care.

48. Hussain b. ‘Ali is reported to have said that had there been a word smaller than “Oof”, Allah would have used it (Shawkani).

[24] Lower to them the wing of humbleness out of mercy49 and say, ‘My Lord, have mercy upon them even as they raised me up (with care) when I was little.’


49. That is, do everything possible to please them, except for seeking forgiveness for them if they be pagans (Ibn Jarir from the Salaf).

Qurtubi quotes the following hadith in connection with kindness to parents. It is in Bukhari. ‘Abdullah said, “I asked the Prophet. Which is the best of deeds in the sight of Allah?” He replied, “Prayers at their time.” I asked, “Which one after that?” He replied, “Treating the parents well.” I asked, “Which one after that?” He replied, “Fighting in the way of Allah.” Hence, adds Qurtubi, cursing one’s parents is one of the major sins. When the Prophet prohibited cursing one’s own parents, a man asked, “Messenger of Allah! Can anyone curse his own parents?” He replied, “Yes. He curses other people’s parents, and in retaliation they curse his parents.” (The word in the original is “sabb” which is literary to call names: Au.). Tirmidhi has reported ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Umar as saying, “I had a woman that I was very fond of. But ‘Umar disliked her. So he asked me to divorce her, but I refused. I spoke to the Prophet (saws) about it. He said, ‘Divorce your woman.’” (It is obvious that ‘Umar, who had an eye that penetrated the appearances, must have seen something in her that ‘Abdullah hadn’t, apart from the fact that it didn’t suit a man like ‘Abdullah, a noted pietist and a model-in-making for the second generation Muslims, to be in love with a woman: Au.). [The report is in all the Sahih works except the Sahihayn. It is also in Ibn Hibban. Tirmidhi rated it Hasan Sahih: Alusi]. A fourth report says that a man asked the Prophet: “Who deserves my attention most?” He replied, “Your mother.” He asked, “Then who?” He replied, “Your mother.” He asked, “Then who?” He replied, “Your mother.” He asked, (a fourth time), “Then who?” He replied, “Then your father.” And the scholars have noted, adds Qurtubi, that the mother has been preferred three times over the father because of three especial cares that she takes of a child in which the father has no share: during pregnancy, delivery and infancy. (Yet, one might try and balance the demand and care of the parents).

Imam Malik was asked, “My father is in Sudan and he writes to me that I join him there but my mother refuses.” He replied, “Obey your father but do not disobey your mother.” In fact, being good to them surpasses the religious subscriptions. They must be treated well even if unbelievers, unless they were to be of a nation fighting Islam. This is following Allah’s commandments (60: 8): “Allah does not prevent you that you should do good to a people who did not fight you, nor threw you out of your lands.”

Further, their needs override those of the son or others. A report in Muslim says that a man sought to go out and join in the struggle (against the enemies). The Prophet asked him, “Are your parents alive?” He said, “Yes.” At that the Prophet said, “Then struggle in them.” (Perhaps the Prophet actually knew how badly his parents needed his care, or the man seeking permission himself looked pretty old and hence the Prophet guessed that his parents must be older: Au.). Another hadith in Bukhari says that a man expressed his wish to migrate. (Perhaps from country side to Madinah: Au.). He added that he had left his parents weeping. The Prophet told him, “Go back and make them laugh just as you made them weep.”

Another report says that an Ansari went up to the Prophet to ask if there was anything he could do for his parents after their death. He replied, “Yes, four things: pray for them seeking their forgiveness, fulfill their promises, honor their friends and join those kin who are related to you through them. This is what is left of the good things that you can do after their death.” (The report is in Ahmed, Abu Da’ud and Ibn Majah). Finally, a well-known hadith says that once the Prophet said “Amin” thrice on the mimber. He was asked the reason. He said, “Jibril came to me and said, ‘Woe unto a man before whom your name was taken but he did not send peace to you. Say, ‘Amin.’” So I said, ‘Amin.’ Then he said, “Woe unto a man upon whom the month of Ramadan entered and left, but he was not forgiven. Say, `Amin.’” So I said, ‘Amin.’ Then he said, “Woe unto a man who found one or two of his parents in old age, but they did not usher him into Paradise. Say, ‘Amin.’” So I said, ‘Amin.’” The hadith is in Muslim also. According to another report in Ahmed, Nasa’i and Ibn Majah, Jahima went to the Prophet seeking his advice over joining in Jihad. He asked him, “Do you have a mother?” He said yes. The Prophet told him, “Be with her, for Paradise is under her feet.” (Other reports give us the details that it was an old mother, and he was the only son: Au.).

Indeed, Ibn Kathir adds, many reports have come down to us from the Prophet concerning kindly treatment of parents. A weak report in Bazzar says that a man was going around the Ka`bah with his mother on his shoulders. He asked the Prophet, “Have I done my duty to her?” He replied, “Not a bit.”

With reference to the report about someone carrying his mother on his back, Zamakhshari says it was ‘Umar who had said those words to the man. Zamakhshari also narrates that someone went up to the Prophet (saws) and told him that he was doing to his parents what they had done for him when he was little, that is, even cleansing them. He asked, “Have I repaid them?” The Prophet said, “No. Because, when they did it (cleaning your diapers), they did in hope that you will live. In contrast, you are doing it while you hope that they will die soon.” (But this hadith could not be located in any major work. Probably it is the statement of one of the Salaf: ed.). Hence, Zamakhshari adds, the scholars have said that a son might not enter with his unbelieving father into a temple or church. But if he asks him to take him there, he should do it. He should not offer him wine. But, after the father has drunk out of a cup, he might take it from his hand (to put it off). Abu Yusuf said, “If he (the non-Muslim father) asks him to light the fire under a pot which has pork, he should do it.” And Hudhayfah says he sought the Prophet’s permission to kill his father who was fighting alongside the pagans during a battle. He said, “Let someone else do it.”

Islam stands alone in its insistence on kind treatment of parents. The Gospel notes Jesus’ rebuke to his mother (John 2: 1-4): “On the third day there was a marriage at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there; Jesus also was invited to the marriage, with his disciples. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’ And Jesus said to her, ‘O woman, what have you to do with me? My hour has not yet come.’” The Torah has a single line on parents (Deut., 5: 16): “Honor your father and your mother.” But little else. In fact, a modern day commentary of the entire Old and New Testament has two entries under the term “parents”, which deal with matters other than good treatment. Jews and Christians of today, therefore, promptly send the parents after their retirement to old-age homes. Imam Razi tells us about some people in his time who didn’t think their parents deserved kindness simply because they had fathered them. Wasn’t a son a product and consequence of his parents’ search for sexual gratification? He mentions a man’s case who was beating his father and saying, “You are the one who brought me into this world of troubles.” Similar ideas are now current in the West and right at the level of lawmakers who do not see any              difference between a son and a father, and allow no special status for a father in mutual rights against his son. The error is in imagining that the son is a by-product of carnal desire. Why is it supposed that a child is simply there because two people were looking for pleasure? Weren’t the parents free to have the pleasure but not the child? Weren’t the possibilities of abortion available to women throughout history? Weren’t the parents happy, distributing cakes and sweets at the arrival of the child? Were the kinsfolk around happy at the new arrival and congratulating the parents? Or were they offering them condolence? How can it be said then that a child is the product of pleasure? (Au.)

[25] Your Lord knows what is in your hearts:50 if you be righteous,51 then He indeed is oft-forgiving to those who return (to Him in repentance).52


50. (One implication of these words is), let not your respect for them be only an outward show, rather, it should be from your heart, for, your Lord knows what is in your hearts (Thanwi).

51. That is, if you are good of intentions (Sa`id b. Jubayr – Ibn Jarir, Shawkani).

52. In other words, if you are good of intentions, and do things well, yet commit a wrong to them inadvertently, then Allah is forgiving of those who seek repentance (Alusi).

(To be continued)

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