Verses from Surah al-Kahf (50-64)

[50] Behold, when We said to the angels, ‘Prostrate yourselves to Adam.’ They prostrated themselves save Iblis. He was of the Jinn75 and transgressed his Lord’s command. Do you then take him and his progeny as allies other than Me, while they are enemy to you?76 Evil is the exchange for the wrongdoers.


75. There have been many theories about Iblis, his nature and origin, and they are at variance with each other since none of them is supported by a hadith (Au.). The most we have is a hadith of Muslim which puts it most clearly. ‘A’isha reports that the Prophet (saws) said, “Angels were created from Nur, Iblis from smokeless fire, and Adam from that which has been described to you (i.e., dust).” Iblis used to live with the angels, resembling them greatly in devotion, until he began to be counted as one of them and hence included in the command addressed to them to prostrate themselves to Adam. A few of the scholars have thought that actually he belonged to one of the families of the angels known as the Jinn. Yet others have thought he was of the angels and a treasurer for the Jinn and so came to be known as one of them. Hasan al-Busri on the other hand vehemently maintained that Iblis was never an angel, not even for a moment. According to him he was the originator of the Jinn as Adam was of mankind (Ibn Jarir, Qurtubi, Ibn Kathir and others).

There is also difference in opinion over the question whether Satan’s offspring have been sired by him. Sha`bi said, “A man asked me if Iblis has a wife? I replied, ‘That is a marriage that I did not attend.’ But then I remembered this verse, ‘Do you take him and his offspring ..?’ and realized that without a wife he couldn’t have had offspring, and so I said, ‘Yes, he does have a wife.” Some others have said that Satans are his offspring and assistants. And a third opinion is that he is self-reproducing  (i.e., without a spouse), and lays eggs. This last opinion draws its strength from a hadith in the Musnad of Al-Barqani, which recorded the Prophet as having said,

عَنْ سَلْمَانَ، قَالَ: قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ:”لا تَكُنْ أَوَّلَ مَنْ يَدْخُلُ السُّوقَ، وَلا آخِرَ مَنْ يَخْرُجُ مِنْهَا، فَفِيهَا بَاضَ الشَّيْطَانُ وفَرَّخَ”

Salman reported the Prophet: “Do not be the first to enter into the market, nor be the last to leave it, for, Satan laid his eggs there, and it is there that the eggs were hatched” (Qurtubi).

The above hadith could better be translated perhaps as: “..For, Satan lays his eggs there, and it is there that his eggs are hatched” (Au.).

The strength of the above hadith could not be established (Au.).

However, there is a hadith in Muslim and others close to the above:

عَنْ سَلْمَانَ قَالَ لاَ تَكُونَنَّ إِنِ اسْتَطَعْتَ أَوَّلَ مَنْ يَدْخُلُ السُّوقَ وَلاَ آخِرَ مَنْ يَخْرُجُ مِنْهَا فَإِنَّهَا مَعْرَكَةُ الشَّيْطَانِ وَبِهَا يَنْصِبُ رَايَتَهُ

Salman said: “Do not be, if you can do it, the first to enter the market nor the last to leave it, for it is Satan’s battle and it is there that he pitches his flag.”

Here it is quoted as Salman’s own words, but in other collections, such as that of Bazzar, he quotes the Prophet (Au.).

See also Al-Baqarah, note 5 of this work for further details.

76. If it is asked, why have Satans remained enemies to mankind after that original incident that took place so long back in time? One answer would be: take the example of Jews whose hatred of Muslims is proverbial. They may point out the defeats they suffered at Muslim hands early in the history of Islam as the cause. But, why has the enmity lasted so long? Further, for centuries when the Christian world persecuted them, they found good hosts in Muslims in Syria, Spain, Turkey, Yemen, Iraq, and North Africa. In fact, the golden period of their entire history, since the time of Moses is counted as those under Muslim rule in Spain and then later in Turkey. Thus if we can account for their unremitting one thousand five hundred year old hatred, we can account for Satan’s hatred of mankind (Au.).

 [51] I did not call them to witness the creation of the heavens and the earth nor their own creation. It was not for Me to take the misguiding ones as assistants.

[52] The day He will say, ‘Call on those you alleged as My partners.’ They will call on them, but they will not respond to them, for We would have placed a (valley of) destruction between them.77


77. “Mawbiqa” has been variously interpreted as gulf, perdition, a valley, etc., but of course pointing to the same reality. Asad adds: “.. an allusion to the wide gulf of unreality that separates those sinners from the blasphemous figments of their imagination or, more probably, the gulf that separates them from the saintly persons whom they were wont to worship despite the fact that the latter had never made any claim to divine status.”

[53] The criminals will see the Fire and will be fearful that they are about to fall into it.78 They will find no escape from it.


78. A hadith in Ahmed says the unbelievers will see Hell-fire on the Day of Judgment from a distance of forty years (Ibn Kathir and others). Hakim has declared the report Sahih (Alusi).

[54] In this Qur’an We have propounded for the people every kind of similitude, but man is ever contentious in most things.79


79. “Man is ever contentious in most things,” Qurtubi and Ibn Kathir illustrate this rhetorical remark with an incident involving `Ali b. abi Talib and recorded in Muslim. He himself reports that once the Prophet came to visit him and Fatimah at night. When let in he asked, “Will you two not Pray in this night (i.e., tahajjud)?” `Ali replied, “Messenger of Allah. Our souls are in Allah’s power. If He wills, He will wake us up.” Obviously, the Prophet was taken aback by the answer. He retreated without a word. `Ali says, “I heard him slap his thigh as he walked back, saying, ‘Man is ever contentious in most things.’”

[55] And nothing prevented the people from believing when guidance reached them, and seek their Lord’s forgiveness, except that the way of the predecessors overtook them80 or that the punishment should be brought to them face to face.


80. That is, they followed the arrogant and intransigent ways of the past nations in rejecting Allah’s Message.

[56] We send not the Messengers except as giving glad tidings and delivering warnings. But those who disbelieve contend with the help of falsehood so as to defeat the truth thereby. They took My signs and what they were warned about as jest.

[57] And who can do greater wrong than he who is reminded of the revelations of his Lord but he turns away from them, and forgets what his hands have forwarded? Indeed, We have placed coverings over their hearts lest they should understand it, and in their ears, deafness. So that if you call them to guidance they will never attain to guidance.

[58] Yet your Lord is the All-Forgiving, Lord of Mercy. If He were to call them to account for their doings, surely, He would hasten the punishment on them. But rather, they have an appointed time, and they will not find beyond that a refuge.

[59] Those towns, We destroyed them when they transgressed, and We had appointed an hour for their destruction.81


81. The second half of the verse could alternatively mean, “And, for the destruction of these, [i.e., the newest rejecters], is an appointed hour” (Au.). Asad comments: “The “time-limit” [maw`id] signifies, in this context, the end of the sinners’ life on earth or – as in the next verse – the “point of no return” beyond which God does not allow them to sin with impunity.”

[60] And when Musa said to his (attendant) lad,82 ‘I will not cease until I reach the junction of the two seas,83or I shall keep going for ages.’84


82. Musa was asked to seek a Servant of Allah who would instruct him in such knowledge as he did not possess. “This episode .. is meant to illustrate four points. (1) Moses was learned in (wisdom) .. Even so that wisdom did not comprehend everything, even as the whole stock of the knowledge of the present day, in the sciences and the arts, and in literature, (if it could be supposed to be gathered in one individual), does not include all knowledge. Divine knowledge .. is unlimited. Even after Moses received his divine mission, his knowledge was not so perfect that it could not receive further additions. (2) Constant effort is necessary to keep our knowledge square with the march of time, and such effort Moses is shown to be making. (3) The mysterious man he meets .. to whom Tradition assigns the name of Khidr .. has the type of that knowledge which is ever in contact with life as it is actually lived. (4) There are paradoxes in life; apparent loss may be real gain; apparent cruelty may be real mercy; returning good for evil may really be justice and not charity.. Allah’s wisdom transcends all human calculation (Yusuf Ali).

83. There is no consensus in opinion over the place. Majid writes, “The most probable geographical location .. is where the two arms of the Red Sea join together, viz., the Gulf of Aqabah and the Gulf of Suez. They enclose the Sinai Peninsula, in which Moses and the Israelites spent many years in their wanderings (AYA).”

84. Although there are varied opinions about the period that “huqbah” (pl. huqub, ahqab) covers, from one to eighty years, Ibn ‘Abbas, Qatadah and Ibn Zayd have said that it is used for a very long period, or maybe something running into eternity (Tabari, Ibn Kathir).

[61] But when they reached the junction between them, they forgot their fish85 which took its way into the river, burrowing.86


85. The construction of the earlier part of the verse is a beautiful way of putting together two sentences in one. It implies that Musa forgot to ask his companion about the fish and his companion forgot to mention its mysterious disappearance (Au.).

86. Ibn ‘Abbas explained the term “saraba” as meaning the fish left a trace of itself as it went into the water (Ibn Jarir, Ibn Kathir).

[62] When the two had passed over, he said to his lad, ‘Bring out our morning-meal. We have indeed encountered hardship from this our journey.’

[63] He replied, ‘Did you see?! When we took shelter at the rock, I forgot about the fish, and none but Shaytan made me forget that I should mention it. It took its way into the sea in an amazing manner.87


87. Someone may ask, how could Yusha` forget such an important incident, that of fish coming alive and jumping into the river? Zamakhshari answers: We should not forget he was in the company of a great Prophet. How many strange occurrences he might not have been noticing in his company, all the while?

[64] He said, ‘That was what we were seeking after.’ So they returned, tracing back their footsteps.88


88. In all that preceded, it seems the hidden message is that knowledge requires some struggle to acquire. Allah could as well have arranged for Khadir to see Musa at the place he was. But rather, he was asked to travel to the junction of the two waters, at a precise point where his fish would disappear. But, after he reached the place, both he and his companion forgot about it. So, they moved on in their quest, until Musa felt truly fatigued. Yet, when they discovered the fish missing, they had to travel back, another cause of fatigue and the lesson that knowledge has its price (Mufti Shafi`, slightly modified).

(To be continued).

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