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Holy Quran Section > Commentary of the Holy Quran by Dr. Basharat Ahmad > Chapter 53 (An-Najm - The Star)


Commentary of Chapter 53 (An-Najm -- The Star) of the Holy Quran:
by Dr. Basharat Ahmad
Translated by Imam Kalamazad Mohammed


 


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Section 1: Eminence to be attained by the Prophet:

In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful.

01. By the star when it sets!
02. Your companion errs not, nor does he deviate.
03. Nor does he speak out of desire.
04. It is naught but revelation that is revealed --
05. One Mighty in Power has taught him,
06. The Lord of Strength. So he attained to perfection,
07. And he is in the highest part of the horizon.
08. Then he drew near, drew nearer yet,
09. So he was the measure of two bows or closer still.
10. So He revealed to His servant what He revealed.
11. The heart was not untrue in seeing what he saw.
12. Do you then dispute with him as to what he saw?
13. And certainly he saw Him in another descent,
14. At the farthest lote-tree.
15. Near it is the Garden of Abode.
16. When that which covers covered the lote-tree;
17. The eye turned not aside, nor did it exceed the limit.
18. Certainly he saw of the greatest signs of his Lord.
19. Have you then considered Lat and ‘Uzza,
20. And another, the third, Manat?
21. Are the males for you and for Him the females?
22. This indeed is an unjust division!
23. They are naught but names which you have named, you and your fathers -- Allah has sent no authority for them. They follow but conjecture and what (their) souls desire. And certainly the guidance has come to them from their Lord.
24. Or shall man have what he wishes?
25. But for Allah is the Hereafter and the former (life). 

Section 2: Nothing avails against Truth:

26. And how many angels are in the heavens, whose intercession avails naught except after Allah gives permission to whom He pleases and chooses.
27. Surely those who believe not in the Hereafter name the angels with female names.
28. And they have no knowledge of it. They follow but conjecture, and surely conjecture avails naught against Truth.
29. So shun him who turns his back upon Our Reminder, and desires nothing but this world’s life.
30. That is their goal of knowledge. Surely thy Lord knows best him who strays from His path and He knows best him who goes aright.
31. And Allah’s is whatever is in the heavens and whatever is in the earth, that He may reward those who do evil for that which they do, and reward those who do good with goodness.
32. Those who avoid the great sins and the indecencies, but the passing idea -- surely thy Lord is Liberal in Forgiving. He knows best when He brings you forth from the earth and when you are embryos in the wombs of your mothers; so ascribe not purity to yourselves. He knows him best who guards against evil. 

Section 3: Allah’s Power manifested in destruction of Falsehood:

33. Seest thou him who turns back,
34. And gives a little, then withholds?
35. Has he the knowledge of the unseen so that he can see?
36. Or has he not been informed of what is in the scriptures of Moses,
37. And (of) Abraham who fulfilled (commandments)?
38. That no bearer of a burden bears another’s burden:
39. And that man can have nothing but what he strives for:
40. And that his striving will soon be seen.
41. Then he will be rewarded for it with the fullest reward:
42. And that to thy Lord is the goal:
43. And that He it is Who makes (men) laugh and makes (them) weep:
44. And that He it is Who causes death and gives life:
45. And that He creates pairs, the male and the female:
46. From the small life-germ when it is adapted:
47. And that He his ordained the second bringing forth:
48. And that He it is Who gives wealth and contentment:
49. And that He is the Lord of Sirius:
50. And that He destroyed the First ‘Ad:
51. And Thamud, so He spared not:
52. And the people of Noah before. Surely they were most iniquitous and inordinate.
53. And the overthrown cities, He hurled down:
54. So there covered them that which covered.
55. Which, then, of thy Lord’s benefits wilt thou dispute?
56. This is a warner of the warners of old.
57. The near Event draw nigh.
58. There is none besides Allah to remove it.
59. Wonder you then at this announcement?
60. And do you laugh and not weep,
61. While you sport?
62. So bow down in prostration before Allah and serve (Him).
(Prostration)

 

Section 1:

This chapter was revealed at Makkah. Whilst in the last chapter, At-Tur (The Mountain) historical and intellectual arguments were presented in order to authenticate the truth of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), in this chapter attention is drawn to the sublime and exalted station he enjoyed. In other words, not only was he a true prophet of Allah, but through the perfection and progress of his personality human dignity had arrived at its zenith. He was elevated towards his Creator and he came close to Him as far as it was humanly possible and acquired every perfection that closeness to Allah, Most High, confers. In short, he reached the furthest limit in love for his Creator and in compassion for all mankind and because of this affinity that he shared equally with Allah and His creation he became like a single chord between two bows. Thus he possessed the essential condition for intercession on the Day of Resurrection. As a result, of all human beings, he was the only one to achieve that rank that can qualify a person to be the true saviour of all mankind for all times. As a result, Allah, Most High, Who is the Knower of all subtilities, chose him to bring guidance and learning to the whole world until the end of time and raised him to be a universal prophet and messenger and conferred on him the honour of being the khatamun-nabiyyin [The Last of the Prophets], that is, the last and most pre-eminent of all the prophets. That was the ultimate point of human perfection which no other prophet or saint could attain.

1. By the star when it sets!

Najmun means a star, in particular, the constellation of the Pleiades by means of which Arab travellers seek their destination whilst traversing the desert in which no semblance of a roadway can be found, especially during the night, when not even the slightest inkling of a road can be detected. This is alluded to in another verse of the Holy Quran: "And by the stars they find the right way" (16:16).

Idha hawa means when it sets or declines. This is so because if the Pleiades are exactly overhead one can have no indication from them of the right way. Of course, when they incline to the West or to the East, the right direction can be easily ascertained and the traveller can be guided by them to the desired course in his journey.

In this verse, Allah, Most High, swears by the star when it declines from its zenith, and in doing so, it strenuously emphasises the evidential nature of the oath. A question arises here: To what matter does the testimony point? Here we must understand that on many occasions the answer to the oath is contained in the oath itself and so there is no need for a further clarifying sentence. This is especially common in the Holy Quran which employs evidence from the physical world and the laws of nature in order to provide proof of the hidden spiritual world and matters relating to it. Thus, many a time, the Holy Quran leaves it up to the intellect and understanding of man to fathom the answer to the evidence that it presents. In other words, man should use his intellect to examine the manifest in order to draw the right conclusions concerning the hidden.

Thus the Holy Quran intends, through the use of oaths, to focus attention on the sublimity and importance of a particular matter and it devolves on man to use his native powers of the mind to ferret out the underlying meaning and so there is no need for an explicit answer to the oath.

It is also a well-accepted principle among the intelligentsia that a direct parallel exists between the physical and the spiritual worlds in that a similarity of relationship runs through both spheres. So, if testimony is drawn from the physical world in regard to a particular matter, then a wise person, by using his initiative, can draw the conclusion that a similar law must reside in the spiritual world.

Such is the case here, also. We are told that if in the physical world, when a traveller in the desert or the sea or the wilderness can find no trace of a road in the darkness of the night and has to resort to the stars to reach his destination, why should the same not apply to a wayfarer in spiritual matters? In other words, Allah, Most High, is reminding us that when there are no earthly means of guidance on land and sea and darkness envelops the world on all sides, and in accordance with this verse of the Holy Quran: "Corruption hath appeared on land and sea..." (30:41), and all kinds of misguidance fall like the darkness of the night, and all existing religions and creeds have been tainted by innovation and error, and there is no sight of the straight path, is it not necessary for the Almighty to create a heavenly star of guidance for spiritual wayfarers as He did for travellers in the physical world? And why a star? one may ask. As a heavenly guide, a star never deviates from the right course and so its guidance can never be wrong.

Similarly, that person who cuts himself off completely from all earthly attractions and attaches himself so closely to the Almighty as if he were resting in His arms, and who, as it were, has progressed from an earthly to a heavenly station is the only one who can become such a guide of whom there can be no fear nor likelihood of his straying from the right path. For his is a star that is lit from the light of Allah, Most High, and therefore twinkles in the sky like a heavenly star. Having divorced himself from low, earthly associations, he ascends close to his Creator and sparkles with the light of celestial guidance, knowledge and deep spiritual perception. Thus, this is the real heavenly guide who, like a star, becomes the true leader for mankind in the dark night of error and misguidance.

The expression idha hawa, when it sets, is used to point out that unless that perfect man who is cut off from everything besides Allah, Most High, and who has ascended to Him, and whose heart is brimming over with love and compassion for all the creatures of Allah, Most High, does not descend towards them from on high, mankind can never benefit from him. Thus, those who are drawn close to Allah, Most High, become the bearers of guidance and leadership for the world. They are sent from Allah, Most High, as commissioned ones, as if they are descending from heaven to earth, and are inclining towards mankind from their lofty, heavenly station. They thus become the source of guidance for those who have lost their way or are caught up in the snares of their own lusts.

As a result, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is that heavenly guide who is made resplendent by Divine light and shines forth like a star and who, having risen so far above base and earthly desires, appears as if he has no connection with this mundane existence to such an extent that he is not of earth but of heaven. In spite of his sublime status however, and his total absorption in Allah, Most High, his leaning towards mankind with guidance is only a manifestation of his deep human compassion and sympathy which filled his pure heart to the brim. This propensity was also an expression of his solicitude for mankind and his compelling desire to furnish guidance to them and not a result of any personal desire of his. Further, it was by Allah’s command that he leaned towards humanity and not through his personal wish. Just as the guidance of a star is unerringly accurate, so, too, our Holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was the consummate guide. In other words, his leadership is sound and authentic because he, too, like the stars, never ever deviates and proof of this is proffered in the following verse:

2. Your companion errs not, nor does he deviate.

We are told that there can be three reasons for not accepting a perfect guide:

1. One may not be truly aware of the circumstances of such a person, or

2. The person who claims to be a guide may not have true knowledge, or

3. The said person may indeed possess true knowledge but his behaviour may not be in accord with such knowledge.

The doubters are asked to reflect on the character of this person who claims to be the perfect guide, that is, the Holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), and see for themselves that he is completely free of these three defects.

Firstly, the verse says: "He is your companion." That is, he is living in your company day and night. For forty-five years now he is among you and you must know every detail of his life – his childhood, his youthful years were all spent under your eyes, so is there any falsehood, or defect, or weakness in him that you can point out? Is it not true that he led a straight life from the very beginning so much so that in your own estimation he is well-known as a truthful and reliable person?

Secondly, the verse states: "He does not err." That is, he never forgets, meaning that his knowledge has always been authentic. He always stands on the firm footing of truth and impeccable principles and has never fallen prey to errors that will lead him towards the path of deviation or transgression. Whatever plans and policies he devised for himself or for his people were always based on sound judgement and so they always bore righteous fruits.

The third point mentioned is that the Holy Prophet (pbuh) never deviates. In other words, they are told that he has spent a whole lifetime in their midst and they are asked whether he has ever acted without genuine knowledge or whether they had seen him do anything wrong. This verse provides a most powerful testimony to the impeccable character of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). This evidence is placed before his enemies, and they are challenged to contradict it if they dared. And it is a fact that no one was able to do so for they, themselves, had been acknowledging the excellent morals of the Holy Prophet (pbuh) from the very beginning, so how could they deny it now. Not only is the Holy Prophet (pbuh) declared free of any sin in this verse but his teachings, too, are guaranteed immunity from error. In short, this verse provides definitive proof of the Holy Prophet’s purity and sinlessness.

The claim that he was a heavenly guide who was kindled from the light of the Almighty was well-known to them for day and night he lived in their presence. Indeed, the truth is that although he lived with them, yet, like a star, he was very far from them.

3. Nor does he speak out of desire.

4. It is naught but revelation that is revealed,

The Holy Prophet’s guidance is true and free from imperfection because whatever he teaches mankind is devoid of any personal desire of his. In fact, he is far above such personal concerns and has long ago renounced earthly motivations that he has become like a heavenly inhabitant. Thus, whatever guidance he gives to the world is in fact Divine revelation which was entrusted to him to impart to man.

In the verse, "It is naught but revelation that is revealed," the pronoun huwa (it) pertains to the Holy Quran. To attribute it to speech is not correct for no one is of the firm opinion that every utterance of the Holy Prophet (pbuh), or at least all his words after he received prophethood, emanated from Divine revelation. Of course, while it is true that in matters of intellectual judgement he was infused with the light of inner revelation, yet we will have to agree that it was limited to religious matters. Nevertheless, here the word yantiqu (he speaks) is of general import and his words and actions were free from the taint of egoistic desires like greed and base appetites even before prophethood not to mention after he received the mantle of prophethood. It is not essential at all to believe that if any word does not proceed from Divine revelation then it is automatically inspired by greed or lust. Look at how many good words and deeds are spoken and done by righteous people without the benefit of Divine revelation. Yet, can we deny that they are free from cupidity and base desires and that they act only for the pleasure of Allah, Most High? Thus, by stating that the Holy Prophet (pbuh) does not speak out of his own desire Allah, Most High, wishes us to understand that so far was he removed from low egoistic desires that at no time was his actions ever motivated by these base passions. So how can it be possible for such a purified heart to begin to fabricate anything against his Creator? Instead, it is the custom for Allah’s revelation to descend on such a person who has already purged his inner self of all base emotions and whose actions are inspired by nothing else than seeking the pleasure of his Master. It is then that such a heart becomes qualified to receive Divine revelation. Thus, this Holy Quran is nothing but Divine revelation which descended on the Holy Prophet’s pure heart which was already purged of all base passions.

5. One Mighty in Power (shadid-ul quwa) has taught him.

6. The Lord of Strength (mirratin). So he attained to perfection.

The meaning of mirratun is strength, whilst dhu mirratin signifies a powerful or a brave person or a person who is gifted with intellectual strength and wisdom. In the verse, "The Lord of Strength. So he attained to perfection," Dhu mirratin (the Lord of Strength) is an attribute of Allah, Most High.

Shadid-ul quwa refers to someone who is extremely powerful and this, too, is a reference to the Almighty.

Quwa is the plural of quwwatun and the plural is employed here to denote honour and reverence.

In the expression, dhu mirratin (Lord of Strength), reference is made to physical and intellectual powers and so connotes a person whose intellectual acumen and sagacity are so immense that no one can overpower him in these matters whilst the phrase, shadid-ul quwa (Mighty in Power), connotes strength in action. That is, he is the possessor of such power that in the grandeur of his actions no one can compare with him.

We are told in the above verses that the One Who taught the Holy Quran is very powerful and extremely wise. As the guidance comes from One Who possesses exceeding powers, therefore, His laws are inexorable and if man should break them, he cannot expect to lead a prosperous life and the dominance of this guidance in every situation is certain.

Furthermore, as the teaching proceeds from the Lord of Strength (Dhu mirratin), it is therefore based on wisdom and truth and is perfectly appropriate and can never be controverted by science or by any other form of human knowledge. Thus, so perfect was the knowledge that the Holy Prophet (pbuh) acquired, and so relevant and so overwhelmingly was it in terms of truth and wisdom, that he was prepared to confront the whole world with the greatest confidence. Further, his practical faculties were in such a well-balanced state that as regards all his powers, they were all so measured and moderate that not one of them had ever crossed the bounds of moderation, neither was any faculty of his suppressed by the others so as to render it stunted, and manifest proof of all this was his impeccable conduct in practical affairs.

Therefore, in these verses, side by side with his perfect knowledge we are told that every single practical ability of his was on the level of moderation so that he had on both counts attained perfection. In other words, not only was he spotless in character but also perfect in every other conceivable way.

7. And he (huwa) is in the highest part of the horizon (ufuq).

The personal pronoun huwa (he) refers to the Holy Prophet (pbuh). Ufuq means the point at which the furthest limit of the sky seems to meet the ends of the earth, that is, the horizon. It also signifies the furthest limit, side, region or tract.

This means that in regard to his perfection in knowledge and character, he had achieved the most noble and most lofty station possible. In other words, his Divine knowledge and spiritual capabilities and the fact that all his practical faculties were on the path of temperance had propelled him to the furthest limit of perfection beyond which it was impossible for any human to proceed. And although every faculty of his had reached perfection, yet he observed the golden mean; and so sublime were his morals that no human being in the world could be compared with him.

Furthermore, the manifestation of every virtue of his reached the pinnacle of perfection just when circumstances were in total contrast to his station in life. For example, he became a king, yet he lived the life of a poor man. If he had eschewed kingship and chosen the life of poverty, then there would have been no proof that all his faculties were fully developed. Similarly, the perfection of his faculty of forgiveness could be seen when his bloodthirsty enemies were defeated and could have expected all kinds of retaliatory punishments from him. Yet he forgave them all. In like manner, his forgiveness of his friends when, through error and disobedience, they had become deserving of punishment for causing the community to suffer untold damage to life and property is standing proof of the perfection of his faculty of forgiveness.

In short, we are told in this verse that not only was he perfect but more than that, his perfection had reached the furthest limit possible for human nature and human capabilities and that he had surpassed in excellence all those in the past as well as in the future.

As ufuq also means side, it is a further indication that the Holy Prophet’s transgression had reached the furthest limit of human capability. In other words, he had arrived at the side of Allah’s throne so that he was midway between Him and mankind. That is, he did not become God, but he had traversed every requirement and every stage of human perfection.

That is the miraj (ascension) which is the culmination of human progress, several stages of which were shown to the Holy Prophet (pbuh) by means of an extraordinary vision in which he traversed all the heavens and finally stood at the side of Allah’s throne where neither angel nor man could dare.

The vision of the Miraj (Ascension of the Holy Prophet) was only a testimony of the Holy Prophet’s perfection which, in fact, he had always achieved.

8. Then he drew near, nearer yet (Thumma dana fa-tadalla),

9. So he was the measure of two bows or closer still (Fa kana qaba qausaini au adna).

Tadalla is derived from dalwun meaning a bucket, whilst dalla means to let down something like a bucket from a high place to a low place.

Tadalla also means to come close to, or to desire familiarity and mutual love.

Many people are of the opinion that these verses refer to the Angel Gabriel who came close and closer yet even though his nearness is not such a momentous affair that it should be remarked upon with such fanfare. To the contrary, the reference here is to the Holy Prophet (pbuh) as it was in verse 6: "So he attained perfection," and verse 7: "And he is the highest part of the horizon." In addition, the doer of the action in this verse under discussion, "Then he drew near, drew nearer yet," is the Holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).

The phrase, qaba qausaini (the measure of two bows), can be interpreted in three ways.

Firstly, qaba (bow) is taken to mean measure and the expression qaba qausaini is construed as the distance of two bows from which the inference is drawn that the Holy Prophet (pbuh) was at a distance of two bow-lengths from Allah, Most High. This is a meaningless interpretation for such a distance can be limited to physical bodies and not to a servant and his Creator Who is limitless.

The second interpretation is a much more rational one. According to this, qaba (bow) is taken to mean the chord of a bow and qaba qausaini is interpreted as one chord between two bows as Khaffaji in his commentary explains. He says that in the days of Ignorance, when two Arabs desired to manifest a strong covenant of mutual friendship, they used to place one bow directly over another so that the two chords and the bows became one. Then the two covenant takers would take up the bows together so as to make them one and would shoot an arrow from it, thus signalling that thenceforth the both parties would shoot an arrow from the same bow. The meaning of the symbolism was that so inseparably united were they in friendship that from then onwards, the friend of one would become the friend of the other and vice versa, the enemy of one would be the enemy of the other and nothing could overturn that decision.

The underlying significance of verses 8 and 9 is that the Holy Prophet had developed a relationship of such intimate closeness with Allah, Most High, that it resembled the joining of the two bows by covenant takers, and so it necessarily followed that the pleasure of one was the pleasure of the Other, and opposition to one was tantamount to opposition to the Other. Therefore, the opponents should take heed, for now if the Holy Prophet (pbuh) shoots an arrow against an enemy, Allah, Most High, will shoot the same arrow at that target, and whoever contracts an alliance with the Holy Prophet (pbuh) will find that Allah becomes his friend. This, too, carries the same purport of several other verses of the Holy Quran like the following, for example:

1. "Whoever obeys the Messenger, indeed, he indeed obeys Allah ..." (4:80).

2. "Those who swear allegiance to thee do but swear allegiance to Allah. The hand of Allah is above their hands ..." (48:10).

3. "When thou threwest (a handful of dust) it was not thy act, but Allah threw..." (8:17).

After mentioning "the measure of two bows," the verse goes on to say: "or closer still," meaning that although the covenant of friendship and amity between two people who had joined their respective bows into one was indeed a powerful sign, yet the Holy Prophet’s proximity to Allah, Most High, was even more intimate than that. In other words, the relationship of the Holy Prophet (pbuh) to Allah, Most High, surpassed by far, reciprocal bonds of friendship between human beings.

Thus, when the Holy Quran states: "He attained perfection (fastawa)," that is, in knowledge and character or, in other words, perfection of morals, it also mentions: "He drew nearer yet (Dana fa tadalla)," thus indicating that the Holy Prophet (pbuh) had achieved the closest union possible with Allah, Most High.

The third meaning suggested by Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, Mujaddid of the fourteenth century, is also one which is highly intellectual and profoundly spiritual in nature. He explains that since qaba means a chord, the phrase qaba qausaini signifies that the Holy Prophet (pbuh) had reached that rank where he was one chord belonging to two bows, namely, the bow of Divinity and the bow of servitude. In other words, the Holy Prophet (pbuh) approached, on the one hand, so close to Allah, Most High, that there remained not the least vestige of duality in him, whilst on the other hand, he drew close towards mankind with such deep solicitude and compassion that he attained the stage of selflessness, so that in regard to human beings also, his union with them had reached the ultimate limit.

Hazrat Mirza Sahib interpreted tadalla (he drew near) as coming down towards mankind like a bucket, for dalla (to come close) is derived from dalwun which means a bucket. The significance of his inclining towards mankind like a bucket is that just as a bucket can serve two purposes – firstly, to take out and throw away foul and dirty water and secondly, to bring pure, life-giving water for others to drink – so, too, the Holy Prophet’s totally selfless love and compassion for mankind served two purposes: firstly, he got rid of their impure and filthy water and secondly, he gave them to drink the water of pure, unadulterated heavenly life. In other words, he cleansed them of all that was corrupt and abominable in their life and gave them to drink to their fill of the elixir of righteousness, purity and cleanliness.

In short, on the one side, the Holy Prophet (pbuh) had ascended to Allah, Most High, to the furthest possible limit so that there was no veil between him and his Creator. On the other side, he descended so close towards mankind that there was no barrier between him and Allah’s creation. As in this ascent to Allah, Most High, and descent to mankind his excellences had reached the culminating point, he was firmly and completely established midway between the bows of Divinity and servitude just like the diameter of a circle.

The phrase, au adna (and closer yet), reveals to us that in his elevation towards Divinity and his descent towards service to mankind the degree of closeness to both parties was so great that it was beyond the power of human intellect, imagination and thought to encompass it.

The following diagram gives us a picture of this relationship:

In the above circle, the line that runs through the middle of the circle, that is, the diameter, is the chord between two bows. Thus, the one who occupies the mid-point between these two bows contains within himself the boundary between Allah, Most High, and mankind and that is the station of intercession on the Day of Resurrection – an honour that was conferred on only one person in the world, past and future, and that illustrious personality was none other than our Holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). In other words, that is the spiritual link between man and his Maker and this is the zenith of human perfection, the recipient of which is only the pure, unsullied soul of the Holy Prophet (pbuh), on account of his total and unsurpassable excellence and nobility. Although other righteous and holy personages like prophets, messengers and saints were blessed with this connecting link, yet they could not attain that centre point in the circle’s diameter – a point that symbolises the heart of all excellences of the perfect man.

Again, the phrase, au adna (closer yet), points to the furthest limit that was destined since the beginning of creation for a particular person, and that person was the Holy Prophet (pbuh) who was the boundary between the Creator and His creation, or to put it another way, between the Benefactor and the recipients of Divine grace. As a result, the world received through him the gift of the Holy Quran, a Book which is unique in its knowledge and its teachings. Whoever is perfect in his union with Allah, Most High, and whose capabilities are the loftiest in rank and whose relationship with the Almighty is the strongest of all is accordingly graced with the equivalent degree of Divine revelation of a glorious and elevated rank. So, as the Holy Prophet’s bond with Allah, Most High, was more sublime, more excellent, and more elevated than that of other persons, the revelation granted to him was of a corresponding degree of majesty.

10. So He revealed to His servant (‘abdihi) what He revealed (ma auha)

Ma auha (what He revealed) is a reference to the revelation of the Holy Quran. Here ma (what) is a particle denoting majesty, thus signifying that Allah, Most High, sent down to His servant a most extraordinary revelation in the form of the Holy Quran. This turn of phrase exists in the Urdu language also. For example, when a person wishes to express his approval of the startling beauty of a particular place or scene, the following mode of expression is employed: "We went to that place and suffice it to say, we saw what we saw." Although this sentence does not reveal what was seen, yet the listeners will definitely understand that the scene was unusually beautiful and impressive. In this verse also, by saying: "He revealed to His servant what He revealed," the intention is to create the same impression. What was revealed? Allah, Most High, seems to be saying: "Indeed, how can We explain to you what We revealed?" the meaning is that it was a revelation of such grandeur and majesty that even if Allah, Most High, explained it to us in words we would not be able to discern its sublime nature.

By using the phrase, "His servant," the motive is to point out that the Holy Prophet (pbuh) is indeed deserving of such an exceptional revelation, for he had traversed all the stages of perfect servitude and had arrived at the utmost point of obedience beyond which it was humanly impossible to proceed. This is why Allah, Most High, chose the delightful title of "His servant." Thus, whatever communication was passed to that beloved servant and whatever bounties vouchsafed to him were beyond the ability of man to comprehend. Sufficient it is to say that something was spoken, and we should leave it at that. It is evident, therefore, that indescribable and grand words were spoken and ineffable favours were granted of such magnitude that mere words are insufficient to convey understanding to man.

11. The heart (fu’adu) was not untrue in seeing what he saw (ra’a).

Fu’adu means the heart, as well as the centre of power or capabilities, while ra’a signifies something seen or knowledge acquired.

This verse pertains to the revelation of the Holy Quran. However, the vision that was shown to the Holy Prophet (pbuh) on the night of the Miraj (Ascension) is also included within its ambit because of the Holy Prophet’s close union with Allah, Most High. We are told that whatever was revealed to the Holy Prophet’s heart, which Satan could not enter and in which no vain or egoistical desire existed, and whatever knowledge was vouchsafed to him was far removed from the possibility of falsehood, for the heart on which the Throne of the Almighty was seated and which was so closely connected to Him to the extent of being one chord between two bows, could never be influenced by either Satan, or base promptings of the animal self. In fact, no falsehood could approach such a heart.

Many commentators of the Holy Quran think that this verse related to the Miraj and opine that whatever vision the unsullied heart of the Holy Prophet (pbuh) saw was true and authentic and there was no falsehood in what his heart saw. This meaning is very accurate, but it has confirmed the fact that the Holy Prophet’s Ascension was not with his physical body. It was, instead, an unprecedented spiritual vision in which was divulged to him a view of the stages of closeness he had indeed traversed in his journey towards Allah, Most High. For if he had gone up to the heavens with his material body and had seen everything with his physical eyes, then the Holy Quran would have mentioned that fact. However, the verse states that whatever he saw was seen by his heart and the seeing of the heart is not accomplished with physical eyes.

That sublime station is referred to as "the measure of two bows" where not only was the mighty revelation of the Holy Quran given to him but it was also there that he was blessed with all kinds of wondrous and miraculous sights which can lead man to the final point of certainty and deep spiritual insight. Further, in receiving that revelation and in witnessing those delightful spiritual scenes, the heart of the Holy Prophet (pbuh) made no mistake. And how could there be error? If the mirror of the heart is clean and smooth, then the reflection that falls on it will be a true representation.

12. Do you then dispute with him as to what he saw?

Whatever revelation of the Holy Quran was given to the Holy Prophet (pbuh), or whatever spiritual phenomena were disclosed to him were all communicated to everyone. So why should the objectors have any quarrel with these matters? Every revelation he received, he passed on to the public at large for he was the one who was sent by Allah, Most High, for that very purpose. So their objection to him is pointless, for if they desired to dispute with anyone it should have been with Allah, Most High, for it is He Who revealed His messages to him or unveiled to him spiritual mysteries. Everything that the Holy Prophet (pbuh) heard from Allah, Most High, he imparted to his people. He was only the bearer of a message from his Creator.

13. And certainly he saw (ra’a) Him in another descent (nazlatan ukhra),

14. At the farthest lote-tree (sidratil muntaha).

15. Near it is the Garden of Abode.

Ra’a means to see. Whom did he see? It was his Lord that he saw. Ibn Jarir in his commentary of the Holy Quran quotes Ibn Abbas as saying: "He (the Holy Prophet) saw his Lord with his heart," and this does not contradict 6:104 of the Holy Quran: "Vision comprehends Him not and He comprehends all vision."

Hasan also related that the Holy Prophet (pbuh) saw his Lord. The following verse, 53:17, also supports this interpretation: "The eye turned not aside, nor did it exceed the limit."

Nazlatan ukhra (another descent). One form of Allah’s descent came about through Quranic revelation by means of which the spiritual light of the Almighty used to descend from time to time on the immaculate heart of the Holy Prophet (pbuh). However, we are told that besides this, the phenomenon of Allah’s descent was experienced by the Holy Prophet (pbuh) in another way and that took place at the "farthest lote tree" (sidratil muntaha) where the imperial crown of heaven and earth was placed on the head of the Holy Prophet (pbuh).

Sidratun is a berry or lote tree and sidratun muntaha signifies a lote tree the like of which does not exist.

Qazi Baidawi has written that it was the custom among the Arabs that when the people had to congregate on momentous occasions especially for the coronation of a king – an event that brought together a very massive gathering which could not be accommodated in their tiny tents and large public halls were non-existent at that time – they used to sit under a lote tree which was one of the largest shade-giving trees in Arabia. On many occasions the tree used to be stripped of its thorns so that the audience would not be hurt by them and there the chief or king would be crowned according to custom.

With this in mind, Allah, Most High, has employed an Arabian turn of phrase to establish the fact that He, Himself, had crowned the Holy Prophet (pbuh) as Emperor of heaven and earth and so there was none who could stand against him. In other words, this was a heavenly lote tree and not an earthly one so that the decision that was made there by Allah, Most High, and the subsequent coronation of the Holy Prophet (pbuh) could not be derailed by anyone in the world under any other earthly lote tree.

The phrase, sidratil muntaha (at the farthest lote tree) indicates that although prophets and messengers were crowned under various lote trees in heaven, yet the tree under which the Holy Prophet (pbuh) was invested with his earthly and heavenly kingship was the one which stood at the ultimate limit of progress and perfection, thus signifying that his pre-eminence in knowledge and conduct had reached the furthest possible point of perfection.

Thus, in these verses, we find mention of the Holy Prophet’s vision which he saw on the night of the Miraj when he was blessed with the most glorious manifestation of his Lord’s glory and circumstances dictated that this should take place under "the farthest lote tree" in accordance with the custom of his country. But even more so, it was disclosed to him that this tree was near to Heaven which is the genuine resting-place of man’s life of true happiness and total bliss. In other words, it is that lofty, elevated station from the roots of which spring all heavenly and earthly bounties and on which depends all celestial life, whether of this world or the next.

According to Ibn Asir in the Nihayah, the use of the phrase, "the farthest lote tree," points to another deep and subtle point and that is, it signifies the point where knowledge of all the worlds has come to an end and beyond that lies the world of the unseen which no one except Allah, Most High, knows. It is also another way of saying that the deeds of man cannot proceed beyond that point for that was the furthermost boundary of humanity. And of all mankind, this was the honour and status reserved for the Holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) alone.

16. When that which covers covered (ma yaghsha) the lote-tree;

17. The eye (basar) turned not aside (ma zagha), nor did it exceed the limit (ma tagha).

18. Certainly he saw of the greatest signs of his Lord.

Ma yaghsha (what covered) is another expression indicating honour just as that expressed in verse 10: "So He revealed to His servant what He revealed (ma auha)".

In other words, that lote tree under which the coronation took place in the presence of a heavenly assembly was the place where the Holy Prophet (pbuh) witnessed the most wonderful and most remarkable Divine splendour concerning which the commentary, Ruh-ul Ma‘ni, says that the covering was really the light of the Lord of Glory and Honour. That is, that particular station was transformed at that moment into a manifestation of Divine refulgence and the Holy Prophet (pbuh) was covered with the radiance of the Lord of Honour and all kinds of extraordinarily magnificent Divine bounties and heavenly signs which are beyond the ability of man to comprehend. Of course, our Holy Prophet (pbuh) saw all these singular sights in their fulsome grandeur.

Basar as well as basirat means the eye.

It is clearly evident from the above verses that what is mentioned in this verse related to the eye of the heart (spiritual eye). Therefore, the meaning of "eye" here is insight (basirat) or the inner eye.

Ma zagha (did not turn aside) means that the eye held firm. In other words, the eye of the heart endured the sight and never wavered.

Ma tagha (did not exceed the limit) tells us that he did not overstep the boundary. That is, he made no mistake as regards what he saw and heard.

In this verse, attention is focussed on highlighting the natural capabilities and the perfection of the Holy Prophet’s spiritual powers. When human senses and powers are not strong enough to bear the burden of a particular task, they then suffer failure and man can derive no benefit from them. For example, if a load is too heavy, then man’s strength and arms are rendered useless. Again, if man were to look directly at the sun, his eyes would not be able to tolerate its brilliance and so he would not see anything and might very well end up blind.

Similarly, if the eye of man’s heart (spiritual eye) cannot endure the dazzling splendour of the sight of Divine resplendence, then he may suffer from a bout of fainting or giddiness as happened to Prophet Moses (pbuh) when he beheld the luminous radiance of the Creator on the mountain and could not bear it (7:143).

However, Allah, Most High, has testified in this verse to the consummate inherent capacities of the Holy Prophet (pbuh) by saying that when the Holy Prophet (pbuh) saw the Divine manifestation, his eye was not averted from it. In other words, he was able to bear it and was not thrown into such confusion as to cause his spiritual eye to err. As mentioned above, this verse stands as a glowing testimony to the Holy Prophet’s perfectly developed spiritual powers and natural capabilities. However, it brings into light something further: as the Holy Prophet’s spiritual eye never ever deviated in his daily life from Allah, Most High, but instead the eye of his heart was always fixed on the Almighty, therefore, this eye which had become habituated to seeing Allah, Most High, was able to withstand the splendid radiance of Allah, Most High, at the time of the glorious manifestation of this vision, that is, the Miraj (Ascension).

Thus, in the light of these clear verses, we cannot accept any opinion which says that on the Day of Resurrection when the Divine splendour is manifested everyone will swoon except Prophet Moses (pbuh), for he had already fainted once before when he first experienced the glory of the Almighty (7:143). This is not a matter of taking turns in fainting so that if a person swooned before, he has already endured it at his turn, and so it is the turn of others to suffer giddiness. Instead, this matter pertains to the perfection of inherent capabilities, and of all mankind, if there was in the whole history of the world one eye that withstood the glory of Allah’s manifestation, it was the eye of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). So there is no reason to suggest that he would not be able to do so again on the Day of Resurrection.

The next verse (18) says: Certainly he saw of the greatest signs of his Lord. In other words, the Miraj was not restricted to the manifestation of the Holy Prophet’s excellence and singular rank. More than that, he was also shown magnificent signs that included good news relating to himself and also to the success that would crown his religion in the future.

The use of the phrase Rabbihi (of his Lord) can mean those signs which relate to the Holy Prophet’s own providential spiritual nurturing or to the spiritual fostering that a whole world would receive through his mission. As such, these signs served the purpose of giving him advance knowledge of the success of his mission in future ages.

19. Have you then considered Lat and Uzza,

20. And another (ukhra), the third, Manat?

Lat was the idol of the tribe of Thaqif in Ta’if and was in the shape of a human being whilst Uzza was the idol of the tribe of Ghatfan in Nakhlah and this one was in the image of a tree. Manat was the goddess of Khuza‘ah and was made of stone and so it has been mentioned separately and the designation, ukhra (another) is used here as a form of reproach. All three had feminine names as if they were goddesses who were regarded as daughters of the Almighty.

In these verses, conclusive proof is furnished against the worshippers of these false gods in that it is pointed out to them that if the Holy Prophet (pbuh) was inviting them to serve a particular Deity, he was doing so on the basis of perfect knowledge (‘ala wajhil basirah). Whatever claims to faith and deep spiritual knowledge he has made have been done only after thorough scrutiny and mystical insight. On the other hand, they are asked whether they had seen, with their own eyes, the goddesses they were worshipping and whether they had witnessed any miraculous signs from Lat, Uzza and Manat. If not, then what was the purpose of worshipping them? Further, they should reflect on how foolish it was for them to fall into the pit of idol-worship.

These verses provide a decisive sign of the truth of the religion of Islam and its superiority over all other creeds. We are told here that Islam did not content itself with giving to the world a few principles for people to believe and practise, but it went far beyond that in that the Founder of the religion had himself acted upon his teachings and had personally experienced the efficacious effect of these principles that the religion was exhorting mankind to accept. In addition, when he had reached the desired destination and had traversed every stage of perfect certainty and profound spiritual insight and had been united with Allah, Most High, he, as a confirmed mystic, presented these teachings to the whole world so that people might believe and act according to them.

Every adherent of a religion believes his religion to be true and invites the whole world to accept it. He may even boast that his is the best in the world. In fact, every person in his own right holds the belief that he has a monopoly on heaven. The Holy Quran itself describes this kind of thinking when it says in unambiguous words: "But they became divided into sects, each party rejoicing in that which was with them" (12:53).

So, if Islam, too, should merely claim to lead people to salvation and closeness to the Creator without furnishing any proof, then it would fall under the same category as "each party rejoicing in that which was with them," for every creed makes the same claim (without evidence). Mere assertion without proof is of no value. This is why Islam most emphatically proclaims the fact that if the Holy Prophet (pbuh) has invited people to a certain way of life, he has done so on the grounds of certain knowledge in that he, himself, had experienced the truth of it. But even more so, he has given the guarantee that anyone who follows him and conducts himself according to the principles he has taught will also acquire deep insight and will become a mystic who, after traversing every stage of conviction and spiritual insight, will himself find his Creator as the Holy Quran promises in the verse: "Say: This is my way: I call to Allah, with certain knowledge — I and those who follow me. And glory be to Allah! and I am not of the polytheists" (12:108).

This is a claim which is supported by evidence which no one or nothing can controvert. This is repeated in another verse of the Holy Quran: "And they say: None shall enter the Garden except he who is a Jew, or the Christians. These are their vain desires. Say: Bring your proof if you are truthful" (2:111).

In other words, they are told: "Produce a man from among you who has arrived at the sought-after destination after following your principles and who reached the Almighty by acting according to your religious teachings, and who became in this very life the recipient of that heavenly life of which you boast. If you cannot, then know that your claim is baseless and has no foundation of truth in it."

Two experiences from the life of Maulana Nur-ud-Din are presented to solidify this point. The first related to a Muslim who was present in an assembly in which a famous, high-ranking Brahmo Samaj leader was expounding the claims of his religion to a mixed gathering of Hindus, Muslims and Christians in the Punjab. The audience was deeply impressed by his presentation, but this Muslim, who was pious and soft-hearted, felt a profound pain in his heart for the religion of Islam. This led him to go outside and fall into prostration seeking from Allah, Most High, a way to prove the superiority of Islam. When he returned to the assembly, he asked permission to speak for five minutes and this having being granted, he addressed the Brahmo Samaj leader thus: "You have been telling us the ways of finding God. Have you, yourself, tried those ways and found Him?"

To this, the leader replied: "No, but it is my opinion."

The Muslim then put forward the Holy Prophet’s claim given above (12:108) and also the same promise given to all followers of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), and thus Islam emerged triumphant.

Maulana Nur-ud-Din also narrates his personal experiences with several Arya Samaj preachers. He asked them, as lovers of the Vedas, whether they had read these scriptures themselves. They replied in the negative stating that their topmost pandits read them, and to another question they admitted that some of these pandits acted according to the Vedas whilst others did not. To the key question: "Do you find God by following the Vedas?" they replied in the negative, saying that only their four Rishis had done so and no other from among them, even if they were to spend twelve years under the banyan tree of Buddha studying the Vedas and engaging in spiritual exercises at the same time. Maulana Sahib then pointed out to them that they were making claims without the required evidence and told them that in Islam, on the contrary, there had always been, throughout the centuries, countless righteous and saintly persons who had followed the Holy Quran and found Allah, Most High. He then put forward the living example in that country of Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, Mujaddid of the fourteenth century, who made the same claim as given in the said verse above, 12:108, and his open statement that, today, it is only through Islam that people can find their Creator for all other religions had strayed from the straight path (siratul mustaqim). Mirza Sahib also challenged doubters to come and stay with him in order to experience for themselves the truth of his claims.

The following poetic verses of his serve as an example of how boldly Mirza Sahib proclaimed his challenge to the whole world:

I let my imagination travel to all directions
But I could not find any other religion like the religion of Islam.
There is no religion on the face of the earth that can produce signs.
This fruit I ate from the garden of Muhammad (pbuh).
I have tried Islam myself and found it full of light.
Arise and listen to the truth I am telling you.
All the religions I have seen are bereft of light.
Can anyone point out to me if I have not spoken the truth?
No one has come to put my assertions to the test,
Although I have challenged every opponent to a contest.
O people! Come and you will find the Divine light in this religion.
I am just disclosing to you a means for your own consolation.
Thy boundless blessings and peace be upon Mustapha, O Allah,
Verily through him we received light from Thy court.
It was because of you, O Prophet of Allah, the best of all prophets, that we became the best of all nations.
As you marched ahead of all others, so, too we advanced in your footsteps.

The outstanding achievement of the Mujaddid of the Age, Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, is that at the time when atheism and materialism were flourishing, he furnished living and palpable proof of the truth of Islam that gave it supremacy over all false religions and creeds, for it was so potent a proof that it provided definite and incontrovertible evidence for any religion that claimed to be a true and living one. What kind of road is it, he asked, that will not lead a traveller to the destination he seeks, or what teaching is it that if someone should act on it, he will still find the door of salvation closed?

The true path is indeed the one that can lead us to the desired destination in any age and so he proclaimed to the world, in the most forceful and vociferous manner, that by following the Holy Quran and the Holy Prophet (pbuh) he had found the living God Who is the only One deserving of worship and devotion. Furthermore, that was now the only road that will make a person meet his Creator for all other avenues were blocked. Look at how trenchantly he declared his conviction in poetic style:

Do not run away from Islam for this is the path of true guidance,
O you sleeping ones, awake, for this is the mid-day sun.

I swear by God Who made me,
This is now the religion that provides true guidance under the heaven.

This is the question that the Holy Quran posed to all those idol-worshippers: "Have you ever seen those idols you worship or have you visited them?"

This is a rhetorical question implying that they had not seen them, nor witnessed any miracle from them. Thus, without any sight or proof of them and without any other tangible evidence, they were content to follow their ancestors blindly in this kind of false worship. Further, how strange it is that these people do not realise how laughable is their position to ascribe daughters to Allah, Most High, whilst having daughters themselves is considered a hateful thing! We can see from this how erroneous was their concept of the Almighty. If this were not so, then, of necessity, if they had possessed even an inkling of spiritual insight or true knowledge of their Creator, they would always have ascribed beautiful names to Him and would never have entertained anything of Him that would bring shame and disgrace even upon their own selves.

Thus, these verses point to the wrong ideas that idol-worshippers have in their minds of their Creator and remind them that true servants of the Almighty must have a noble concept of the beauty of His sublime and exalted qualities. This matter is addressed in the following verses:

21. Are the males for you and for Him the females?

22. This is indeed an unjust (diza) division!

Diza comes from daza meaning to defraud and so diza signifies injustice or oppression or cruelty.

It cannot be denied that the concept of the Almighty in the minds of idol-worshippers is a debased one belonging to the lowest category of thinking. Otherwise they would not have worshipped a piece of stone or any artificial image. Compare the majesty of the Creator and Nourisher of the heavens and the earth and the whole universe with the position of a lifeless idol! To harbour the thought that this image is the Creator and Master of the two worlds can be nothing else but the mark of a disordered mind. A person with a sound mind cannot even begin to think of such an idea.

Some simple-minded friends of mine insist that these idols are used to help them focus their concentration (on God). I reply by asking them how that could be so. Can the mental picture of the true Creator of all the worlds, the Possessor of power and knowledge, the Ever-living, Self-subsisting One ever resemble an idol which is just a piece of stone that cannot even drive away a fly and which, furthermore, cannot feel or move? If this is their concept, then it is a very low one. They should ponder deeply and ask themselves these questions: What image or reality will this picture represent? Will it be the beautiful qualities of the Almighty, or His knowledge or power, or what else? When they cannot concentrate on anything in particular through these idols, then to claim that they concentrate their attention on the image of God through them is false and totally opposed to truth.

A story is related of one of the companions of the Holy Prophet (pbuh) that in the pre-Islamic days of ignorance, he was given a rich piece of crumbled bread soaked in sugar and butter-oil and told by his parents to offer it to an idol that used to occupy a customary position at the entrance of their home. Accordingly, he did so by placing it in front of the idol and then left. A short while later, a dog came along and after eating the choice piece of bread, it lifted its hind leg and urinated on the idol. This holy companion witnessed this scene from a distance and a deep hatred and repugnance for idol-worship sprang up in his heart. As a result, as soon as he heard the Holy Prophet’s invitation to worship one God, Allah, Most High, he straightaway accepted it and became a Muslim.

Thus, it is plainly evident that the concept of Allah, Most High, that idol-worshippers hold is a very contemptible and inferior one. Allah, Most High, possesses the loftiest and most sublime attributes. That is why the thoughts of the Almighty that the Holy Quran puts in the minds of worshippers at the time of formal prayer (salah) are those that are infused by meditating on the attributes of Allah, Most High, especially these four: Rabb (Sustainer), Rahman (Beneficent), Rahim (Merciful) and Malik (Master) which are like the mother of all the other attributes, and no wise person can object to them, nor can any superior picture of the Creator be devised by man.

23. They are naught but names which you have named, you and your fathers — Allah has sent no authority for them. They follow but conjecture and what (their) souls desire. And certainly the guidance has come to them from their Lord.

The unbelievers are told that those gods and goddesses and other images of theirs to which they had ascribed all kinds of names were really nothing but conjecture that had no basis in reality. They had no concrete proof of their existence and neither did their fathers.

Evidence can come from three sources: the intellect, divine inspiration, or signs of external assistance. There was no intellectual evidence to support the existence of these gods and idols; neither was there any existing revealed book to prove that Allah, Most High, had sent down such a teaching; neither could those idol-worshippers produce any sign to show that Allah, Most High, gave support to an idolater in his fight against the doctrine of Unity, nor had the idols come together to help their devotees. They are told that Allah, Most High, has never revealed any illuminating evidence to endorse the practice of idolatry. In fact, all they had to offer was adherence to whims and fancies.

The clause, ma tahwal anfusu (what their souls desire) also means that when man renounces the worship of one God, he either falls in prostration before the creation of the Almighty, or becomes a slave of the base desires of his ego. In reference to this, Hazrat Abdul Qadir Jilani, in his book, Futuh-al Ghaib, wrote that true submission to one God can never be totally achieved until man gives up the worship of the creation of Allah, Most High, and restrains himself from obedience to, and worship of his base, egoistic emotion. As regards the former – worship of the creation of God – only foolish people and not intelligent ones do so. However, when it comes to the latter – worship of the lower self – we find many very high-ranking nobles and many supposedly educated people falling prey to it.

Veneration of low desires means that man follows the dictates of his own ego in preference to the commands and teachings of the Almighty. It can also mean that idol-worshippers give themselves to the worship of these fictitious creatures which they believe to be gods, or they are captives of their own low desires which are not founded on the principles of truth or proper guidance. Whatever feeling arises in their mind, they follow, and like beasts, they yield to their animal desires. Since they had fallen to that level of degradation, was it not incumbent on their loving, cherishing Sustainer (Rabb) to come to their assistance and send, from Himself, guidance to them? This is exactly why the Holy Prophet (pbuh) was commissioned by his Lord and Sustainer to fulfil their spiritual need and the bringing of this guidance was in accordance with the demand of Allah’s Providence (Rububiyyat), the cherished goal of which was to elevate them, by means of that teaching, from the lowest to the highest level of guidance. So how unfortunate it was for them to turn away from the guidance of their Lord and submit to the promptings of their own lower self!

24. Or shall man have what he wishes?

25. But for Allah is the Hereafter and the former (life).

These verses furnish an answer to the inner temptation that makes unbelievers reluctant to forsake their egoistic desires in favour of Allah’s guidance. They are warned to give up obedience to their low passions for if they do not, it will surely lead them to destruction in the Hereafter. As a matter of fact, even in this very life, all the desires and ambitions of man are not fulfilled. Many grandiose plans and designs regularly fall by the wayside. Once, Hazrat Ali (rta) was hurrying to the mosque for evening prayer (Maghrib) for the call to prayer (adhan) had already been given. He was in a hurry because he was the Khalifa (Caliph) and his duty was to lead the congregation in prayer. Now, it was his custom never to refuse to give an answer to a question. Thus, a few atheists thought that this was a good opportunity to put him in a quandary. This was their thinking: "He is hastening for prayer so he cannot stop, so let us ask him for proof of the existence of God. He will either rush off and so we will score a victory, or he may stay to answer. But as it is a subject that demands a lengthy response, he will miss his prayer if he stays back to reply. So again, we will have achieved our purpose."

Accordingly, they posed their question to him. He gave them a pithy, but eloquent sentence, pregnant with wisdom and then entered the mosque. This was his reply: "I recognise my Lord by my broken plans."

So many extremely powerful men of authority are there who have met with such abject failure in their grand plans and ambitions that we are forced to accept that there is another Being, Mighty and Powerful, Doer of what He intends, before Whose will the designs of man become so insignificant as if they had never even been conceived.

What a beautiful supplication our Holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) taught us when he gave us the following: "O Allah! There is none who can withhold what Thou grantest, and there is none who can give what Thou witholdest, and greatness does not benefit any possessor of greatness as against Thee."

In short, since by following his low desires man loses both the Hereafter and this life, too, why should he not adopt the wise course and comply with the commands of that Being Who is Master not only of the next world, but of this world, too? If he should acquiesce, he would be elevated by his Lord (Rabb) from the lowest stage to the highest and would enjoy success in both worlds. Why should he be foolish as to be a slave of his desires, which as everyone can see cannot be fully attained here, not to mention the Hereafter.

In the above verse (25), mention is made first of the Hereafter and then this life is spoken of after. The reason is that in the world of the Hereafter, Allah’s attribute of Malikiyyat (Ownership and Mastership), under which the consequences of deeds come into being, will be perfectly manifested. Although this attribute is operative in this world, too, yet it is somewhat hidden from the veiled eyes of people. So as a result of this glorious manifestation in the next life, attention is drawn to the Hereafter first and this life second.

Note: In this section, two points are emphasised: the Holy Prophet’s servitude and closeness to Allah, Most High, and his perfect love for and compassionate service to the creation of Allah, Most High, as a result of which he has been given in the Holy Quran the most exalted station (maqam mahmud).

Shaf‘atun (intercession) comes from shaf‘a, meaning to make a thing one of a pair and shaf‘atun refers to an inner or spiritual union.

We should bear in mind that Islam teaches us that no one can be responsible for the deeds of another neither can one bear the burden of another person and so the question of intercession cannot contradict this principle. Intercession can never mean that the person on whose behalf a recommendation is made is automatically saved. What it means is that if a person forms a strong spiritual bond or connection with a pure and holy person he can derive benefit and blessings in two ways: firstly, purification from the commission of wrong deeds in this life and secondly, forgiveness in the next life when he has to face the consequences of his deeds. We shall look at each form of intercession separately.

1. An example of the first kind of intercession – aligning oneself with a holy person – is like that of a big tap. If a person should affix a hose to that tap, water begins to flow into it. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is like the big tap into which the water of spiritual life flows from the fountain of Allah’s Oneness and His deep spiritual knowledge. If a person should join his spiritual hose to this large tap, he begins to enjoy and drink to his fill of spiritual delights. Or, we may look at it in another way: the Holy Prophet’s body is like a large electric line filled with Divine bounties. Whoever connects to this line shares in these blessings and himself becomes spiritually illuminated. This is the connection to which the Holy Quran alludes in the verses: "Say: If you love Allah, follow me: Allah will love you, and grant you protection from your sins. And Allah is Forgiving, Merciful. Say: Obey Allah and the Messenger; but if you turn back, Allah surely loves not the disbelievers" (3:31-32).

From these verses we can clearly see that there is one means available for winning the love of Allah, Most High, and procuring forgiveness of sins and that method, according to the teachings of the Holy Quran, is obedience to the Holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). Whoever follows him, not only begins to walk on the path that wins the love of Allah, Most High, and closeness to Him, but also forgiveness for past sins, for he embarks on a course of self-reformation which prevents him from falling into the clutches of future sins. In other words, he begins to purify himself and so benefits from that spiritual bonding which he made with the Holy Prophet (pbuh). That is what is called intercession, which man acquires in this very life, and from which he gains great favours, and after receiving Divine bounties, he becomes the recipient of purity and righteousness.

2. Intercession in the Hereafter means to benefit from the blessings of forgiveness at the time of accountability for deeds because of the spiritual connection a person had made in this life with a holy personage. Spiritual union with a pure and virtuous soul comes about in only one way: obedience to him and this will be fully manifested in the Hereafter as the Holy Quran says in reference to spiritual bonding with the Prophet Abraham (pbuh): "So whoever follows me, he is surely of me; and whoever disobeys me, Thou surely art Forgiving, Merciful" (14:36).

In other words, the only relationship that will avail us is the one we made with the person we followed or to put it in a different way, a spiritual bond can be formed only by truly obeying a true and holy personality. Thus on the day of Resurrection when physical connections will be cut off and physical or family relationship will not be of any use to us, only a spiritual alliance or union will become manifest and that will be the basis, in many cases, for the forgiveness of sins.

In order to understand the principle of forgiveness of sins, a few words of explanation are necessary. Take, for example, man’s limbs which are attached to his body. If he suffers pain in any one of them, his whole body shares in it, but if that same limb is amputated and is even thrown into a fire, his body does not suffer any feelings of hurt. In the same way, if a person formed a spiritual bond with a prophet or saintly person whom he follows obediently and for some reason he has committed a mistake which is liable to punishment, then that holy person with whom the bond is made is bound to feel pain in his heart for his erring follower. Every day in this life we notice that if a child is slapped by another how much agony the hearts of the parents suffer. That is because there is an inherent connection between parents and child even though that bond is just a physical one. Thus, if a person had already formed a close spiritual alliance with a messenger of Allah by following him in this life, and on the day of Resurrection if he has to suffer punishment for his sins, then because of that prior spiritual union, the messenger who was obeyed will definitely feel pain for his disciple. Thus, in that eventuality, at the very first opportunity, if the messenger is given permission to intercede for his follower, he will surely make a request to Allah, Most High, for forgiveness of this disciple’s sins.

It is a grievous error to believe that disobedient people will become worthy of the messenger’s intercession. The reason is that since these transgressors had formed no relationship with the messenger, therefore, no anguish will arise in his heart for their forgiveness. It is true that Allah, Most High, can forgive whomsoever He wishes. However, intercession demands a prior spiritual bonding which can come only through obedience to the preceptor. If a person has not followed the messenger, there is no connection between them, so how can intercession arise?

Besides the above, there are a few other considerations which are important for us to understand in relation to intercession, the first of which is that there is a difference between supplication (du‘a) and intercession (shafa‘ah). Supplication is general and applies to everyone. Both sinner and saint are given permission to make their petition before their Lord and there is no restriction in that, neither is there any special limitation. However, intercession, which is in itself a petition, possesses an intrinsic peculiarity: the intercessor presents himself before the Almighty and makes a plea to Him on behalf of the sinner saying, as it were: "O Allah! Kindly forgive this servant for my sake." This is the point that makes intercession without permission unlawful in Islam as the Holy Quran asks: "... who is he who can intercede with Him except by His permission?" (2:256).

Intercession without permission is not permissible, for however close a servant may be to Allah, Most High, he has no authority to stand before his Creator and make petition in this style: "O Allah! Forgive this servant on my behalf." This is contrary to the attribute of Allah: Ghaniyyul ‘anil ‘alamin (Self-sufficient above the worlds) which tells us that He has no fear for anyone nor does He need anybody. So, for a person to present himself and make a petition for a saviour like the above is tantamount to flaunting his own self-importance. For example, if Zaid should ask Abu Bakr to forgive a particular person for his (Zaid’s) sake, it will mean that Zaid is saying in effect: "If you value my friendship in any way and you ascribe some respect to my request, then please comply, otherwise I fear that there will be an estrangement in our relationship."

Allah, Most High, is supremely exempt from this kind of attitude for He has fear for no one. No servant of His has the privilege to address Him as that mentioned above, for He is As-Samad, meaning that everyone is in need of Him but He stands in need of no one. His glory is such that it is the servants who have to seek His pleasure all the time and not the reverse. Thus, no servant can intercede without leave from Him and this is mentioned in several places of the Holy Quran. For example, we read in 2:48: "... and neither will intercession be accepted on its behalf nor will compensation be taken from it."

Again, look at how emphatically the Holy Quran denies intercession without permission when it asks this question as a form of rebuke: "... Who is he who can intercede without His permission?" (2:255).

Of course, intercession with prior approval from Allah, Most High, is allowed as we are told in the following verse: "On that day no intercession avails except of him whom the Beneficent allows, and whose word He is pleased with" (20:109).

We must remember here that intercession serves two purposes: It is to afford forgiveness to a servant who had made a bond with a prophet, or a messenger, or a pure-hearted soul, and the other is to elevate the honour and dignity of the righteous intercessor to whom Allah has given permission to intercede and whose recommendation he has accepted.

Like the righteous ones and those drawn close to Allah, Most High, the angels, too, will make intercession and it is clear that they will do so only for those who had formed a spiritual bond with them, and those people can only be the ones who were sensitive to the pure angelic inspirations and had accepted and acted according to them. The Hadith tells us that their spiritual connection with these angels who inspire goodness in the hearts of men become stronger and stronger day by day, and as they gradually advance to higher stages of goodness so, too, they make a relationship with angels of higher and higher rank, for just as there are different stages of goodness, in like manner, there are diverse ranks of angels inspiring man to perform righteous actions. So, the higher the level of virtuous deeds man performs, the more elevated is the rank of angels with whom he progressively makes a connection until, ultimately, a union with the Holy Spirit comes into being.

Thus, the angels, too, will intercede only for those who had fashioned a spiritual relationship with them and all this will come about only after permission or leave from Allah, Most High, Who will do so only for those who had made a spiritual connection with those people drawn close to Him or with the angels, and who had become followers of the righteous ones, and also who had acted on angelic inspirations. In the next life, family connections will be of no avail, for in that world only spiritual relationship counts for anything.

In this section we are told that as regards to those who make intercession among men and angels, the station of the Holy Prophet (pbuh) has been placed at the topmost and most perfect point possible. We are further informed that in the whole world, if there was one perfect person worthy of being an intercessor, it was the Holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) for he had acquired that exalted status of intercessor on the Day of Resurrection, a rank that had not fallen to anyone in the past or the present, and which will not be attained by anyone in the future either.

A true and perfect intercessor must possess these two qualities: 

1. A strong, unbreakable bond with Allah, Most High.

2. A relationship with mankind originating from deep love and compassion.

These attributes our Holy Prophet (pbuh) possessed to the most perfect degree: firstly, he was so close to Allah, Most High, as if Allah’s throne was situated in his heart, and his humanity had been effaced to such an extent that mystic splendour radiated from every pore of his body, and his heart melted and flowed like water towards his Creator; secondly, so full of tenderness and sympathy he was for mankind that he was more solicitous for people than their parents. Thus, whoever forges a spiritual bond with him will be blessed willingly with his intercession.

 

Section II:

In this section, Allah, Most High, desires to impress in our minds the fact that true intercession emanates only from the Court of the Almighty because it comes only through His permission. In addition, only that person who had formed a spiritual union with a righteous soul can benefit from this grace for the real purpose of man’s life on earth is the purification of his soul which generates noble morals and pure and virtuous deeds. This avenue of forgiveness from Allah, Most High, is open to such servants who, through human weakness have committed unintentional errors of omission or commission. In order to make up for this shortfall in good deeds, Allah, Most High, qualifies them for forgiveness by giving permission for intercession to the holy servant with whom they had formed a bond. Thus, intercession is really for deficiency in good deeds and is an expression of Allah’s attributes of Ghafur (Forgiver) and Rahim (Multiplier of rewards).

However, an unbeliever has a different concept of intercession – he thinks that he can be a slave of his desires and have every new desire of his fulfilled because, as he sees it, he has a god on his side through whose intervention he will not be questioned for his actions and who, moreover, will help him to fulfil his every whim and fancy. And if a divine decree should not be consistent with his desires, then this god of his will make petition and so set everything right for him. In the world today, there are several groups that subscribe to some form or other of this wrong concept of intercession. For example, we have the Christians who believe that Prophet Jesus (pbuh) suffered the punishment of death on the cross in order to wash away their sins and save mankind. So now, they can commit whatever sin they wish for the Saviour has come and has redeemed them. One can see the fatal repercussion of this belief which has led its upholders to become bolder and bolder and more and more daring in the commission of sins.

The Shia sects also think that their mourning for Imam Husain, the revered martyr of Islam, makes them worthy of being forgiven for their faults, and they even hold the belief that the Imam has the power to arrange for their redemption on the Day of Resurrection. So, too, others have come to believe that their pirs (religious leaders) and the saints on whose graves they pray can come to their rescue on the Day of Resurrection. But even more than this, they are of the firm opinion that their religious leaders and saints are powerful enough to avert from them, if they so wish, the trials and tribulations that the Almighty has decreed for them in this life. To them, it would seem that those saints on whose graves they pray are seated at the side of the Almighty and can do whatever they choose to. It is indeed ironic that today, Muslims listen with amazement and contempt at the condition of the polytheists in time of the Holy Prophet (pbuh), yet they pay no heed to the idolatrous practices that have seeped into their own lives!

In the days of the Holy Prophet (pbuh), the polytheists held the belief that the angels were daughters of Allah, Most High, and elevated them to the rank of goddesses and so worshipped them. They believed that these would be their intercessors in the presence of the Almighty and if they were to be questioned on the Day of Resurrection, these angels would plead for them and thus they would be let off. On the other hand, if any calamities were ordained for them in this life, these "daughters" would intercede for them with their "Father," that is, Allah, Most High, whereupon He would change His decrees. This is why the Holy Quran so vehemently denounces this false belief.

26. And how many angels are in the heavens, whose intercession avails naught except after Allah gives permission to whom He pleases (yarda) and chooses.

We are told that the heavens are filled with angels but their intercession can work only for him with whom the Almighty is pleased. The word yarda (He is pleased) is an indication that unless a person attempts to walk on the paths that will win him Allah’s pleasure, Allah will not be happy to grant him intercession for he has made no effort to seek it. It is also clear that the angels can intercede only for those who had formed an association with them by following their pure inspirations and doing good deeds. We must remember that intercession can be made only after permission is given by the Almighty and this is only for those who had embarked on the road of Allah’s pleasure but had fallen somewhat short of the mark. In addition, the intercessor will serve as an intermediary only for those who had formed a bond with him. If these conditions are not fulfilled, then to entertain the hope of intercession is a false expectation without a trace of reality in it for Islam does not advocate such a tenet.

There is a subtle point that we need to understand here and this is, in Islam, being forgiven through intercession is really an inferior position for this is, in fact, only one form of forgiveness available to sinners. What we must really comprehend is that the true goal of the believer is to seek the pleasure of his Creator in his every thought, word, feeling or action. A description of the distinguishing marks of a true believer is given in the verse of the Holy Quran: "Thou seest them bowing down, prostrating themselves, seeking Allah’s grace and pleasure..." (48:28), and this is the real import of the affirmation: La ilaha illal-lah (There is no god besides Allah). Thus, intercession in Islam is to compensate for a shortfall in good deeds and is not the goal of man’s existence.

27. Surely those who believe not in the Hereafter name the angels with female names.

28. And they have no knowledge of it. They follow but conjecture, and surely conjecture (zann) avails naught against Truth.

Zann means conjecture or supposition or a self-fabricated description of every question which is contrary to the command of Allah, Most High, and His apostle.

Mala’ikatu is the plural of malakun and means angels which are heavenly beings that act as intermediaries in carrying out Allah’s will. Generally speaking, we witness the work of the Creator in the laws and vicissitudes of nature and in the peculiar characteristics of all things. Regardless of how many intermediary causes or means there may be, the real Cause and Creator of every force in the world, every atom which displays its peculiarities and every Divine decree that comes into operation is the Supreme Being, Allah, Most High. As He is transcendent and is free and purified of any physical connections, at the time He wishes to initiate an action, there are certain intermediary forces that come between Himself and the chain of physical causes. These forces are called angels.

For example, if an artist, not wishing to soil his hands with ink and paint should make use of a paintbrush to portray a scene, it is not the paintbrush that paints the picture but the artist. In the same way, when the pure and holy Person of Allah, Most High, creates physical causes and works His wonders in them, the hidden forces He employs are called angels which are beings made of light who bring into view Allah’s works in accordance with whatever His attributes He may choose to utilise. Thus every force as well as every atom in the physical world is under the complete control of Allah, Most High, Who operates in a similar manner as the painter with his paintbrush. Angels are the spiritual connection between Allah, Most High, and the physical world and they run the machinery of the universe entirely in obedience to the Divine Will.

Those angels that have a spiritual status in relation to every force and atom of the physical world are known as lower angels whilst those who carry out the Divine Will in the spiritual world are regarded as higher or celestial angels. Although there is no dark, physical matter in the spiritual, yet the glory, power, majesty and vastness of the Divine Being demands that there be spiritual servants to carry out His bidding and these are called higher or celestial angels who also inspire pure thoughts in the hearts of righteous servant towards the doing of good, and also bring revelation to the prophets and saints for these matters pertain to the highest spiritual and are not of earthly origin. We must remember here that Allah, Most High, does not stand in need of these intermediaries who are pressed into service for two reasons.

Firstly, the pure and holy Being of Allah, Most High, requires agents between Himself and the physical world and secondly, because His power and majesty, in themselves, demand the utilisation of servants to execute His commands. Thus, angels are spiritual agents created by Allah, Most High, and those foolish ones who consider them as goddesses and worship them are warned against this futile habit.

An astonishing truth is revealed in these verses and that is that idol worship is just another name for worship of worldly things. Those who give female names to the angels and worship them as goddesses do not in fact believe in the Hereafter, otherwise they would have been concerned over having to account for their deeds and this thought would certainly have instilled in their hearts a feeling of apprehension which, in turn, would have impelled them to seek with a sincere heart the Divine guidance sent by Allah, Most High, and to follow it assiduously. No guidance has come to them from these goddesses, neither do they worship them or believe in them with the intention of being guided by them on the paths of righteousness and purity. As a result, in their worship of and devotion to these goddesses, they never seek of them the straight path, neither do they beseech them to reform their conduct even though these are the basic purposes of worship and service.

One may well ask why they do not do so. The reason is that these people are mere worshippers of the world who worship these goddesses with the purpose of fulfilling only their mundane interests. For example, some may desire wealth or women, whilst others may long for sons, or name and fame or hundreds of other similar worldly desires and ambitions and so they worship these goddesses in the hope of getting what they crave. Thus, as their worship is nothing but a desire for worldly goods so, too, their deeds are directed along the same line to such an extent that day and night they follow the promptings of their animal appetites and their entire life is spent in this manner. Thus, it is quite evident that these people have no faith in a life after death. Their only goal is the life of this world and so idol-worship is only another form of worldly love.

What is quite astonishing is that they themselves know that they have no certain knowledge to support their false beliefs, for whatever they follow is nothing but conjecture and it is plainly evident that conjecture cannot stand up to truth. Here the word haqq (truth) signifies Divine revelation meaning the Quran which brings authentic and incontestable knowledge for it comes to mankind from the Supreme Being, Allah, Most High. In this book, man is clearly told that he was created to become the vicegerent of the Almighty so much so that the angels are commanded to obey him as the Holy Quran instructs: "And We told the angels to bow down to Adam" (7:11), that is, to obey him. However, the precondition that Allah, Most High, has laid down for the obedience of the angels is knowledge, for prior to the command given above (7:11) to the angels the Holy Quran tells us that Allah, Most High, taught Adam the names of all things (2:31) either through revelation, or through his own effort, and only then did he become worthy of holding power over the angels. Thus, if man increases in knowledge and acts in accordance with it, then all the angels, whether lower or celestial, stand ready to be subservient to him.

For example, we can see today the extent to which those nations that are progressing in lower knowledge, that is, the material sciences, hold sway over the elements and how obedient to them are those lower angels that are in charge of these elements. Consider these angels that are put in charge of fire, water, steam, lightning and so on, that is, those angels that are like the spirit of those elements and forces – see how they are obedient to man and so much at his beck and call that he can use them in whatever way he chooses. All this can be attributed to the miracles wrought by knowledge in accordance with the above-quoted verse: "He taught Adam the names of all things" (2:31), that is, the knowledge of the peculiar qualities of all things physical or spiritual, whether by means of divine revelation or personal striving. As a result, not only was he given superiority over all creation including the angels, but he also became qualified to hold dominion over them all. That is the elevated and sublime status of vicegerent of the Almighty for which purpose man was created and for which even the angels are commanded to obey him. Just as the lower angels are submissive to those who advance in the physical sciences, so, too, the celestial angels make obeisance to those who forge ahead in hidden spiritual matters, and those to whom Allah gives knowledge of both realms are obeyed by both categories of angels. This is the genuine, incontestable knowledge that the Holy Quran has brought and to which the name haqq (truth) is given. Thus, when angels have to bow to man, for man to worship them seeking any kind of help from this is nothing less than to degrade and devalue the nobility of mankind. To deviate from the Unity of the Almighty is to fall into the abyss of polytheism.

Foolish man, through ignorance and cowardice, bows down to whatever he considers powerful in nature - the dazzling brilliance of the sun, the ferocity of fire, the mighty current of the river, the powerful roar of the wind, the fierce flash of lightning – all cow him into prostration. Those who exercise their imagination a little more than the others attribute to the angels in charge of these forces the rank of gods and goddesses and fall prostrate before them. The Holy Quran has raised man from the lowest level of these kinds of short-sightedness and propelled him to the loftiest position reserved for the noblest of creation, and has further indicated to him that all things are created as his servants and that he is indeed their master as we read in the verse of the Holy Quran: "See you not that Allah has made subservient to you whatever is in the heavens and whatever is in the earth, and granted to you His favours complete outwardly and inwardly?" (31:20).

Thus, as everything is created subservient to man and he is master of creation, it is indeed fitting that in order to exercise authority over all things he should acquire knowledge, for it is through this quality that the dignity of man is displayed, and it is on acting on this knowledge that the truth of the claim that he is the vicegerent of the Almighty is proven. So, if man should make use of the knowledge which it is his duty to obtain, then he would realise the truth that he is master of the universe and that only Allah, Most High, is the One he has to obey and serve. This is the meaning of the affirmation, La ilaha illal Lah (There is no god worthy of worship except Allah), that is, no one except Allah is deserving of being worshipped, loved, desired, sought after or obeyed. This is the relation that man has with the Almighty and with the whole of creation.

However, it was necessary that the Holy Quran should also give man guidance in order to clarify his relationship with his fellow human beings, and so the Holy Book disclosed that man possessed within himself the potential to rise to the most exalted status as well as the propensity to descent to the lowest of the low. The highest rank of all - and this signifies success – is that of the prophets of Allah, Most High and Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is chief of that group, and if there was anyone in the whole of mankind deserving of being worshipped it would have been him. However, when Allah, Most High, Himself says of him: basharun mithlukum (He is a man just like you), then know that the principle of Divine Unity had reached its zenith. In other words, in spite of his peerless and exalted status and the degree of Allah’s love for him, he still remained a man and did not go further than this as to proclaim godhead for himself.

Thus, if a person of such a sublime and unattainable rank like him was not given the status of god but instead was honoured with the title of ‘abd (slave), which other human is there who can be turned into a god? The Holy Quran itself has divulged to us what kind of connection we should have with such a high-ranking group of people when it says: "Certainly you have in the Messenger of Allah an excellent exemplar for him who hopes in Allah and the Latter day, and remembers Allah much" (33:21).

The same point is repeated elsewhere in the Holy Quran: "Say: If you love Allah, follow me: Allah will love you, and grant you protection from your sins. And Allah is Forgiving, Merciful" (3:31).

Thus we are told that man was created to attain the status of vicegerent of the Almighty. That is, he can rule over all the elements and forces in the universe – whether physical or spiritual – provided he obtains the required knowledge and makes the best use of it.

This is the truth that the Holy Quran brought to the world and gave to man the loftiest concept of the Unity of Allah as well as the knowledge to render him the noblest of all creation. Those who accepted this teaching of the Oneness and Supremacy of the Creator shone like the sun or the moon in the sky. If we read the history of Islam we will get a glimpse of the lights of those resplendent gems strewn everywhere. To recount every instance will require a separate volume. However, a couple instances will suffice here:

The late Maulana Nur-ud-Din (ra) once related how the well-known and well-respected maulvi (religious leader), Abdullah, came to visit him. This maulvi was a disciple of Hazrat Sayyed Ahmad Barelvi, the Mujaddid of the thirteenth century of Islam, and in the course of the conversation, he recalled the time when the Mujaddid embarked on his journey to perform the Hajj (Pilgrimage). The maulvi was still a child but was old enough to understand and give this account of an experience that the Mujaddid encountered. In those days, there were no steamboats so the Hazrat Sahib and his company had to accomplish the trip by sailing ship. On the way, there arose a furious storm that threatened to engulf and sink the ship and there seemed no avenue of escape. The maulvi was in the arms of Hazrat Sahib who was deeply engrossed in supplications to the Almighty, but he remembered hearing these words from the lips of Hazrat Sahib: "I never seek help from anyone except Allah," then a short while later, he opened his eyes and uttered the expression: "All praise is due to Allah." On hearing this, a pious and devoted gentleman politely asked the Hazrat Sahib to explain what had happened whereupon Hazrat Sahib related how he was profoundly lost in supplication and a spirit of the sea, that is, the angel that was put in charge of the ocean, approached him and spoke to him thus: "If you give the word, I shall save your boat from the storm." It was this that prompted his retort, "I never seek help from anyone except Allah." On hearing this, the angel departed but returned soon after saying that a command had come from Allah warning him not to make the sea a grave for the Mujaddid and his group. This is what inspired him to exclaim: "All praise is due to Allah!" And glory to Allah, the storm soon subsided leaving the sea calm and the boat safe and sound.

The second example comes from Maulana Rumi’s (ra) Mathnawi in which he related an experience from the life of the Prophet Abraham (pbuh). He wrote that when the prophet was thrown into the fire, Angel Gabriel appeared before him promising to extricate him from the ordeal if he should so desire. Prophet Abraham demurred saying: "It is not my custom ever to seek assistance from anything in creation except Allah." On hearing this, Angel Gabriel withdrew, but outside, there was high exuberant joy in the sea of Allah’s Oneness and from the Court of Divine Unity there issued the command to angels that implement divine decrees: "We said: O fire, be coolness and peace for Abraham" (21:69).

In short, this is the Oneness of Allah in which lies latent the nobility of man, but we should always remember that the Creator does not benefit from man’s acceptance of this principle. In fact, it is man himself who gains from it for the Holy Personage of the Almighty is above need of anything.

The idea behind the belief in Allah’s Unity is to engender in man’s mind the fact that he was created to rule over the whole universe and it is through this concept of Divine Oneness that the spirit of progress is born in man’s heart. This is the spirit that will motivate man to exploit the resources of nature for the benefit of himself and others, rather than worshipping them, and which will also prevent him from bowing to any human being, however righteous and saintly he may be. Instead, he will look upon this holy person as an example to be imitated and will follow him as to make spiritual progress. The realisation of Divine Unity is the foundation of all advancement and the further man marches ahead, the more will blessings from heaven descend on him with the result that his heart will be filled with gratitude to, and love for his Sustainer and Cherisher. This is the furthest limit of man’s spiritual journey. On the other hand, the most unfortunate is the one who spurns this path and so the next verse instructs the Holy Prophet (pbuh):

29. So shun him who turns his back upon Our Reminder, and desires nothing but this world’s life.

This verse tells us that remembrance of Allah, Most High, is the vehicle that transports man to the pinnacle of human nobility and dignity and besides this life, it will also embellish the next life which is the true goal of man’s creation. However, those people who prefer the life of this world, that is, its luxuries, comforts and sensual pleasures, and never lift their gaze beyond these, choose the path of heedlessness and so reject the Holy Prophet (pbuh). In spite of this, he is told to fulfil his duty and proclaim the message of Allah to all in due measure. If, after this, they turn away from him, then he should react in like manner.

30. That is their goal of knowledge. Surely thy Lord knows best him who strays from His path and He knows best him who goes aright.

In other words, those who exult exceedingly over the knowledge they possess and thereby become arrogant pay no attention to the Holy Prophet’s message. Their knowledge is centred on this world which is one step on the ladder of progress and they make it their sole concern whilst they ignore the Hereafter which is the true and everlasting life. It is the demand of Allah’s attribute of Providence (Rububiyyat) to make up for the shortfall in human knowledge from His Own store of perfect knowledge in the same way that the limitation of human eyesight is enhanced by the use of the microscope. Therefore, as the reach of man’s knowledge and intellect cannot properly extend to the Hereafter, Allah, Most High, has provided through divine revelation the necessary assistance to him. However, the proud and most wretched people are those who reject the revelation of their Lord (Rabb).

31. And Allah’s is whatever is in the heavens and whatever is in the earth, that He may reward those who do evil for that which they do, and reward those who do good with goodness.

These verses tell us that those who do evil will eventually receive a reward commensurate with their evil deeds, whilst those who do good, that is, those who walk along the road prescribed by the Almighty, will receive an enjoyable recompense. Although the whole country was filled with unbelievers and polytheists who wielded great power, yet the heavens and the earth belonged to Allah, Most High, and He is Master of all the laws and means operating in both worlds. So, it is impossible for anyone to break His laws and be rewarded with success.

I will give a demonstration of the consequences of deeds in this very life and show how those who stray from Allah’s path end up frustrated and disappointed and how those who stick to His ordained path –siratul mustaqim (the straight path) – receive success and fulfilment. Further, this demonstration will serve as a testimony to the fact that deeds bear their own consequences and that a day is sure to come in the next life when deeds will be duly rewarded – good for good and evil for evil.

This is the miracle of prophethood which is manifested in the life of a law-bearing prophet when one can plainly see how those who follow the Law he brings are blessed with prosperity whilst those who reject it face failure and loss. This event is referred to in the Holy Quran as the Hour, for this phenomenon is really a sign and sure proof of the Great Hour as the Day of Resurrection and the Hereafter are described. This hour is experienced here so that man’s heart may be infused with deep conviction that a day is bound to come when he will reap the fruits of his actions.

There is a subtle point worthy of attention here and that is when the Holy Quran speaks of the rewards for bad deeds it says: "That He may reward those who do evil according to the measure of what they did," and when it mentions the reward for doers of good it says: "and reward those who do good with goodness (husna)." Here, it does not say that the reward will be exactly proportionate to the righteous deeds but the word husna is used signifying that the recompense will be a magnificent one which will greatly exceed what their good conduct merited. In 6:161, the Holy Quran is more explicit: "Whoever brings a good deed will have tenfold like it, and whoever brings an evil deed, will be recompensed only with the like of it, and they shall not be wronged."

32. Those who avoid the great sins (kaba’iral ithmi) and the indecencies (fawahish), but the passing idea (lamama) — surely thy Lord is Liberal in Forgiving. .... (continued below)

This verse provides a further explanation of those doers of good who were mentioned in the last verse. But first we have to understand the meaning of lamamun (passing thought). The first meaning is a sin that pushes a person or sticks on to him; secondly, it means something for which a person is ashamed and so makes petition for forgiveness, or thirdly, it signifies khatrah (dangers) or azimat (resolve, intention). By khatrah is meant an evil suggestion that a person has in his heart but lacks the strength to do it, or which he does not resolve to commit. For example, it refers to some evil thought or suggestion that passes through the mind, or it may also mean being close to sin but not committing it.

Kaba’iral ithmi means great sins. The scholars of Islam have written large volumes explaining and classifying big sins and small sins. However, Maulana Nur-ud-Din Sahib once explained this point so succinctly that it has cleared up the difficulty very easily. He used to say that every sin is small in the early stages but when it reaches its final point of completion it becomes a big one. One example will suffice to illuminate the difference between the two. Let us say for instance that a man’s eye falls accidentally on a strange woman. This is still lamamun (a passing thought) which can still be redeemed by istighfar (prayer for forgiveness). However, to look at her a second time and then stare at her amount to a sin, but this is still in the category of a small sin for this is still restricted to the preliminary stages of fornication just as if he goes further and seeks means of forming a relationship with her. However, if he transgresses beyond this and actually commits fornication, it becomes a great sin for it has progressed to the culminating point of the evil.

Fawahish is open and blatant shamelessness which includes both small and big sins. There is no doubt about the shamelessness that exists in big sins but the commission of any sin, whether big or small, is something that brings a feeling of shame to every decent human being. Who can deny that the perpetration of any evil like, for example, lying, fraud, deceit, embezzlement, dishonesty, bribery, treachery, misappropriation, fornication, drunkenness, gambling, highway robbery, murder, etc, are all shameless acts or open indecencies, every one of them, in the eyes of all noble-minded people?

Here, we make no mention of people whose nature have become transfigured and hardened by their over-indulgence in sin and who have become emboldened and immune to shame by their prolonged immersion in all kinds of vulgarity. They have reached the point where not even a vestige of modesty remains in them to the extent that they have become, as it were, the embodiment of shamelessness. For example, what can we say of the numerous nudist clubs that have sprung up in different places? Does this not prove the point?

In this verse, when Allah, Most High, exhorts man to save himself from sins he draws attention to big sins first, that is, preserving oneself from committing sins and going so far as the ultimate limit. Then comes the mention of fawahish (indecencies) which, in fact, incorporate both small and big sins. The reason for this is that the reformation of a human being is accomplished by stages. When a man begins to withdraw from heinous sins and feels ashamed of falling into such evils and further considers them to be foul and immodest deeds, then his emotions and his conscience begin to grow in purity so much so that he begins to consider even the preliminaries to sin – not to mention the actual commission of it – as abhorrent and so he will take every precaution to protect himself.

Thus, when a person begins to avoid grave wrongdoings and his conscience gathers strength and purity, then he regards even small faults as gross indecencies and he begins to realise that all sins – big or small - are in every way revoltingly shameful and disgraceful to the dignity of man. This is the glory of Allah’s attributes of Cherisher, Forgiver and Rewarder that He has relegated this evil prompting to the category of lamamun (passing idea). That is, if an evil thought slips into the heart of man and he immediately becomes perturbed and ashamed and so asks forgiveness of his Lord, it is not detrimental to him for it takes long, hard and rigorous striving and sincere and devoted worship before man can become immune to such evil whisperings of Satan.

32. (continued from above) .... He knows you best when He brings you forth from the earth and when you are embryos in the wombs of your mothers; so ascribe not purity to yourselves. He knows him best who guards against evil.

Allah, Most High, informs us that He is fully aware of our capabilities and our limitations and that is not surprising, for He is the Creator not only of our bodies but also of our souls. He reminds us that we were dust at one time, then after several evolutionary stages, He brought us into our mothers’ wombs in which He nourished us not only physically but after the stage of completion He gave us spiritual life as the following verse tells us: "Then He made him complete and breathed into him of His spirit" (32:9).

When we ponder over the various stages of our development from dust to birth as the Holy Quran describes in 23:12-14: "And certainly We create man from an extract of clay. Then We made him a small life-germ in a firm resting-place, then We make the life-germ a clot, then We make the clot a lump of flesh, then We make (in) the lump of flesh bones, then We clothe the bones with flesh, then We cause it to grow into another creation," we are forced to exclaim: "So blessed be Allah, the Best of creators" (23:14).

Thus, whose knowledge can fully encompass that Being Who is the Creator of man’s physical constitution replete with so many wise and deeply hidden wonders and Who, moreover, has endowed his nature with so many powers and potentialities and even limitations? The fact is that man, himself, is unaware of his own talents, capabilities and weaknesses. No sooner does he acquire a little knowledge of them than he proudly proclaims himself a doctor or a psychologist, and every day he gains further knowledge or makes amendments in what he already knows as if to prove what the Holy Quran says: "and of knowledge you are given but a little" (17:85).

So, besides Allah, Most High, who is there who is fully cognisant of man’s abilities? Thus it follows that if there is anyone to provide guidance for the nurturing of man’s potential, it can only be the One Who created him. This guidance He did furnish in the form of Divine revelation which is also called the Holy Quran. And this can be the only means of guidance through which man can purify his soul, that is, achieve the fostering and growth of his spiritual capabilities.

For anyone to claim then that he can manage his self-purification all by himself and therefore has no need of Divine instruction is nothing but an idle boast, for the truth is that man is entirely dependent on his Creator’s teachings for the cultivation and perfection of all his latent spiritual powers, as well as for the fulfilment of the purpose of his creation. Without this assistance, he will never be able to walk along the path on which his advancement depends, neither will he be able to achieve the goal of his existence, nor avoid the pitfalls which are bound to befall him. So, anyone who feels that he is above need of Allah’s guidance and can purify his own self all alone is only a lying, boastful, arrogant one who is ignorant of his own inner capabilities.

Similarly, those people who follow the guidance of Allah, Most High, to some degree or the other and then flaunt their self-righteousness have plunged into a dangerous error for when people ascribe piety to themselves, they actually cease making any efforts to save themselves from sin, and to relinquish this battle is to make oneself weak against the onslaught of evil. On the other hand, it is in the acknowledgement of his weakness that man’s strength really originates, for it is this realisation that motivates him to preserve himself from sin and to slowly grow in piety and virtue. Those who boast of their righteousness eventually become filled with pride which stunts their spiritual advancement.

Man should be humble, therefore, and present his deeds before his Lord and Creator Who knows his most secret and minutest thoughts, actions and feelings. In addition, he should confess his weakness in the presence of his Maker and constantly seek forgiveness and protection from sins in order to advance along the path that leads to his Master.

Just as the commission of sins, big or small, impedes the development of a person and turns him in the direction of degradation, so, too, overweening pride in one’s own piety and boasting about it block one’s progress and immediately topple the unfortunate one from the lofty pedestal of taqwa (righteousness). This is why the Sufis have written that the last evil impulse to be expelled from the heart of a spiritual pilgrim is pride, for if not expunged, it encourages a smug, self-righteous attitude and engenders arrogance because of the commission of a few good deeds. The following two incidents will serve to further elucidate the point under discussion.

Hazrat Sheik Sa‘di (ra) related this experience of his. He said that one night he was praying his tahajjud (after midnight) prayer whilst his student companion was asleep. In the morning, he remarked to his spiritual mentor thus: "Last night, everyone was dead asleep and I alone was performing my tahajjud prayer."

On hearing this, his mentor replied: "Last night you were better than they for you were praying and they were sleeping. However, this morning, they are superior to you because your worship has induced pride in your heart whilst these people are devoid of it."

It is also related of Shaikh Abdul Qadir Jilani (ra) that he once saw in a vision a bright light from which came a voice saying: "O Abdul Qadir, you have worshipped me faithfully, so from today, I have released you from the obligation of salah (formal) prayer."

Hazrat Abdul Qadir replied that this seemed to be the voice of Satan and not Allah, Most High, for since the Holy Prophet (pbuh) was never freed from the duty of prayer, who else is there who can be exempted from this obligatory duty?

After he spoke thus, the light turned into darkness and Satan sighed a very heavy sigh and said: "O, Abdul Qadir, I have flung many high-ranking people from that excellent station straight into Hell. However, your great knowledge has saved you." To this, the venerable Shaikh retorted: "It is not my knowledge but Allah’s grace that has saved me."

If we examine this vision carefully, we will see that Satan launched two powerful attacks aimed at exciting personal egoistic pride: firstly, to arouse the kind of pride associated with worship and secondly, when he failed, he tried to incite the pride connected with knowledge. However, the grace of Allah, Most High, came to the rescue on both occasions.

Those who guard against evil have an additional danger to face: pride of the inner self. If a person is not righteous but still boasts of his piety, he is guilty of ostentation. On the other hand, if a person does perform some good deeds and boasts of his achievements, he is culpable of personal pride which is a fatal and destructive illness. Whatever a prophet or a commissioned one made public of his conduct, was done only at the command of Allah, Most High. Otherwise, there was no one who was more conscious of his human weakness than they were of theirs. They never wished to be prominent among people but Allah, Most High, forced them to face the world. They wished to save their lives but Allah, Most High, compelled them and sent them into the world. Take, for example, the case of Prophet Moses (pbuh). When he was charged with the burden of prophethood he made several excuses – that he was not eloquent of speech, but his brother was, so he wanted him as an assistant. Again, he said that the Egyptians had a charge of (involuntary) murder hanging over his head and he feared they would seize him immediately and kill him. But Allah, Most High, did not accept these excuses and forcefully sent him on his mission. Again, when our Holy Prophet (pbuh) received the mantle of prophethood, he returned home and told his wife: "Cover me. I am afraid that I am too weak and helpless. How can I shoulder this responsibility?" But Allah, Most High, insisted and forced him out into the world commanding him: "O thou who wrappests thyself up, Arise and warn" (74:1-2).

With these examples of the prophets before us, for anyone to brag about his piety and purity, and to inspire fear and awe of his supposed spiritual rank in the hearts of his followers are contrary to the teachings of the Holy Quran.

 

Section III:

In this section, we are told that no act of goodness can bear full fruit unless it is performed properly and carried to its ultimate limit. Further, every person is responsible for his own actions and this obligation cannot be placed on the shoulders of anyone else. This is the doctrine of all the prophets and anything that goes contrary to this cannot be from the Almighty. Sorrow and happiness, punishment and reward, all come from Allah, Most High, and so a wise person can never be a polytheist or a materialist. He will be a worshipper of the Creator Who is ever aware of all the vicissitudes of life – the peaks of bliss as well as the valleys of despair.

33. Seest thou him who turns back,

34. And gives (a‘ta) a little, then withholds (akda)?

35. Has he knowledge of the unseen so that he can see?

Akda refers to the hardness of the earth’s surface and means to become hard like stone. Figuratively speaking, it signifies a person who gives and then holds back his hand.

A‘ta comes from i‘ta, meaning to give something and it carries the significance of obedience.

In many places in the Holy Quran, if a word having two meanings is used, very often, both meanings are in operation with one meaning reinforcing the other so as to give it a fuller explanation, and in so doing, it elucidates the philosophy and wisdom underlying the choice of that word. For example, in the verse above, "He gives a little (a‘ta qalilan)", can be understood in two ways: firstly, he gives a little, and secondly, his obedience is minimal (or little).

The wisdom behind these two meanings, (obedience and giving little), combined in one word, a‘ta, is that the man who obeys Allah, Most High, is, in fact, returning to Him those divine physical and spiritual gifts which were given to him as a trust which he fulfilled by using them in the manner prescribed by the Giver. This is the meaning of the verse, "They spend out of what We have given them" (2:3). Spending here is not limited to money but incorporates everything that man has been given by his Lord: wealth, knowledge, honour, power, in fact all talents and emotions bestowed on him by the Almighty which he has employed in the path of Allah, Most High.

In another verse of the Holy Quran, it is made clear that everything given to man, physical or spiritual, is indeed a trust (amanat): "Surely We offered the trust to the heavens and the earth and the mountains, but they refused to be unfaithful to it and feared from it, and man has turned unfaithful to it. Surely he is ever unjust (zaluman), ignorant (jahulan)" (33:72).

Here, the word amanat (trust) encompasses every single physical or spiritual gift, tangible and intangible, bestowed on man by his Creator. And referring to a perfect man it says: "Surely Allah commands you to make trusts to those worthy of them" (4:58). In other words, a perfect man becomes lost in Allah and returns to Him in totality, all the trusts bequeathed to him by using them in His way. This quality was found in its most consummate and exalted fashion in the beneficent person of our Holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).

Zaluman means being harsh to one’s own self. In other words, a perfect man, in his love for Allah, his obedience to Him and his seeking to please Him can cheerfully bring on himself severe hardship if needs be.

By jahulan is meant the person who expunges everything besides Allah, Most High, from his life. That is, a perfect man can be so strong in his love for Allah, Most High, and in his conviction of the Almighty’s Oneness that even the mental conception of anything besides Allah, Most High, cannot enter his mind.

Thus, man, by virtue of possessing these two attributes, has the capacity to bear the responsibility whilst the heavens, the earth and the sky cannot, for these capabilities do not reside in them. The fact that they feared and refused the trust is self-evident, meaning that they do not have the ability to do so, whilst these qualities are inherent in man. In regard to kindness to the creation of Allah, Most High, as well as humility, meekness and beneficence, he can generate such extensive magnanimity and liberality that the earth with all its expanse and usefulness will look like nothing in resemblance. Finally, because of his strong bond with the Almighty and his deep compassion for His creation, a perfect man can evince such unbending fortitude and perseverance in all circumstances, whether of ease or adversity, pain or pleasure, that the fabled strength and majesty of the mountain will pale in comparison.

Such was his (the Holy Prophet’s) superiority over all those and so meticulously did he fulfil his trust to the Almighty that he was beautifully adorned with the apparel of Divine vicegerency. These physical and spiritual virtues are regarded as a trust because, in reality, they are a reflection of Divine attributes. Thus, to fulfil this obligation resulted in his being coloured by the Divine colours (2:13). Thus, scrupulous obedience to the commands of Allah and man’s returning to Allah, Most High, the trust, that is, by using the physical and spiritual gifts granted to him by Allah, Most High, in the manner prescribed by Him, amounts to the same thing and that is why the word a‘ta (to give and to obey) was employed in this verse.

These verses inform us that perseverance is the root of all success. Just as if pride and boasting should enter the heart of a doer of good with the result that he cannot reap the full benefit of his striving and is even deprived of future advancement, so, too, if a person is satisfied with minimal obedience to Allah, Most High, and barely uses all his divinely-bestowed gifts, or even turns away from the right path and becomes stone-hearted, he also will be denied the full harvest for good deeds. Everyone knows that a morsel of food cannot satisfy one’s hunger nor can a drop of water assuage one’s thirst. If a person should start digging a well and after having dug for thirty feet he loses hope and gives up, all the labour he expended before will be lost. It is possible that if he had persevered for a few feet more he would have struck water.

The same principle applies to man’s religious affairs. To pray a little, or make supplications for a few days, or to utilise very little energy in one’s work and expect miraculous results is the height of folly. Success comes to a person who perseveres in his good work to the ultimate limit and never flags on the way. For example, if he speaks the truth, he does so all the time and in all circumstances, whether favourable or unfavourable, and never deviates from this until the end of his days on earth. And the same can be said of all his actions – his honesty, his worship, his supplications, etc. He never gets tired, nor becomes despondent so as to give up.

Man does not have any knowledge of the unseen so that he should have an inkling that after such and such a time he ought to have received a reward for his good deed and, failing that, he should abort his effort, or, after making supplications for a particular period without a definite answer pleasing to him, he should stop supplicating. How can he know for how long he should make petition to his Lord before it is accepted or to what extent he should go on doing good before his effort bears fruit?

The duty of a true servant of Allah, Most High, is to continue striving assiduously and never to slacken, nor despair of the mercy of his Lord. This is the meaning of the Arabic proverb, "Steadfastness is the greatest of all miracles." Prophet Jacob (pbuh) prayed continuously for forty years before he found his son, Prophet Joseph (pbuh), and see in what a noble position he met him! His heart-rending supplications had coloured Prophet Joseph (pbuh) so as to confer on him honour and dignity. This is the example that mankind should imitate in every good action. A kind of sickness pervades the world today. There are many people who witness good deeds and are impressed and even concur verbally, but there are very few who would give their best effort to a particular task and carry it to completion. The most beautiful rewards are reserved for the works of those whose actions, religious services, selflessness and sacrifice are pursued to the point of perfection – those who struggle with might and main and who never lack in fortitude.

36. Or has he not been informed of what is in the scriptures of Moses,

37. And (of) Abraham who fulfilled (commandments)?

38. That no bearer of burden bears another’s burden:

39. And that man can have nothing but what he strives for:

40. And that his striving will soon be seen.

We are told in these verses that those who practise a little goodness, then get tired and cease their effort, are unaware of the scriptures of Prophet Abraham (pbuh) and Prophet Moses (pbuh) so they know nothing of the different kinds and the severity of the calamities that those prophets had to endure in the way of Allah, Most High: they were forced to flee from evil, to leave their homeland, to abandon their dear, loving ones and even to stare death in the face before they could catch a glimpse of success. Prophet Abraham (pbuh) was the kind of person who displayed loyalty under every trial given to him by his Master and manifested servitude and obedience to Him to the fullest degree, even from the point of being thrown into fire for advocating the Oneness of the Almighty to accepting with willingness the command of his Lord to sacrifice his beloved firstborn son, Ishmael. As a result, the blessings he received from Allah, Most High, for passing every test with flying colours cannot be numbered – blessings in terms of health and strength, long life, virtuous children in old age, in particular two sons, Ishmael and Isaac, both of whom became prophets, as well as wealth, honour and closeness to his Creator (he had the distinction of being named friend [khalil] of Allah), and many other rewards too numerous to mention. Thus, today, in spite of internal hostilities, pagan Arabs, Christians, Jews and Muslims all claim and honour him as their patriarch.

In short, very few people receive the blessings given to Prophet Abraham (pbuh) in this world and the next. If he had flagged at anytime during those trials, or had discontinued his obedience, all his prior efforts would have been wasted. What a wonderful word the Holy Quran uses to describe him – waffa: he fulfilled covenants.

Prophet Moses’ name is specially mentioned here because like Prophet Ishmael (pbuh) to the Arabs, he was sent as a great law-bearer to a powerful people, the Children of Israel, whilst Prophet Abraham is spoken of because he was the most glorious ancestor of two illustrious nations: the Arabs and the Israelites, who looked upon him with great reverence and honour. Therefore, in the life and teachings of these two venerable prophets there lay a significant lesson for seekers after truth.

The Holy Quran tells us above that those given to slight obedience or little sacrifice followed by inaction should peruse the scriptures of Prophets Abraham (pbuh) and Moses (pbuh). That is, their life and work, their fortitude and sacrifice, provide for the spiritual pilgrim an exemplary model from which he can gain betterment for himself and lasting prosperity also. In addition, in their teachings there was guidance which they, themselves, followed and propagated to the people. A summary of their teachings will contain three salient points:

1. Every person is responsible for his own deeds and further, no one can bear the burden of another.

2. Man can get nothing except that for which he strives.

3. The result of every person’s striving will eventually come into the open.

The three verses mentioned above contain in a nutshell the essence of the teachings not only of Prophets Abraham (pbuh) and Moses (pbuh), but also of all prophets who came at different times throughout the ages. We shall examine them one by one.

Firstly, the verse, "No bearer of a burden bears another’s burden," deserves to be written in letters of gold. In the world of religion, the most detrimental doctrine to man is the belief that on the Day of Resurrection, a particular prophet, or saint or spiritual leader will assume responsibility for our evil deeds, or for the deficiency in our good deeds and so we will escape unscathed. As discussed earlier, the Christians have fallen into this trap with their belief in the Atonement and the Shi‘ites have followed suit with their saint-worship and worship of the Holy Prophet’s family, whilst other Muslims have their own variety of this destructive tenet. The Holy Quran laid the axe to the root of all these false creeds when it stated in plain words that no one can bear the burden of another and that every person has to answer for his own actions.

Secondly, the verse, "Man can have nothing but what he strives for," is the golden principle around which revolves every business in the world, whether religious or mundane. Whoever wishes to have a good recompense in the next life should work hard in this life, whilst those also who desire good results in this world should make strenuous effort here. There is no doubt that through Allah’s attribute of Rahmaniyyat (Giver of free gifts), He has bestowed on man innumerable bounties for which he required no effort on man’s part as for example, wind, water, sunshine, etc. Thus, purely through Allah’s grace, there are in the world millions of things from which man can derive benefit. However, if he does not strive laboriously he will derive no gain from them, nor will any good results accrue to his deeds so as to help him to advance.

Similarly, through the same attribute of Rahmaniyyat, Allah, Most High, has blessed us with the Holy Quran which is the vehicle for our progress. However, it can be of no value to us if we do not labour a mighty labouring along the lines laid down by the Holy Book and the greater our striving, the greater the recompense will be. It is sad that Muslims, today, have neglected this unambiguous proclamation of the Holy Quran and make no use of this golden principle either in worldly or religious matters. On the other hand, European nations, notwithstanding their Messiah’s strictures against absorption in worldly matters, have made use of this precept to the fullest limit and are consequently reaping rich rewards.

There is a doubt here about whether the reward for alms and charity can benefit the soul of a dead person or not. The Hadith says that it can. So does this position contradict the words of the Holy Quran? The answer is in the negative, for sometimes man strives for himself and sometimes his striving benefits other people. For example, a person happens to be running towards the railway station because he is late when a friend comes up with his car and transports him to his destination on time. This situation does not controvert the verse of the Holy Quran under discussion, for the car driver obtained the desired result for his effort because he achieved the purpose for which he intended his car to be of service. That is, another person profited from it. However, as regards evil deeds, the principle operates fully in that no one can bear the (evil) burden of another, whilst in regard to virtue, it also operates in that man can get nothing except what he strives for. However, as explained above, the good result of his effort can extend to others also. In fact, very often a person may make much sacrifice for the sake of others as happens with parents and children and teachers and students, and both parties may profit from the arrangement. For instance, if the teacher and the student both work hard, both of them will attain their desired goal: the student will pass his examination and the teacher’s effort will not have been in vain.

The question of whether alms and propitiatory charity can benefit a dead person can be answered in this way: a certain person gives charity. This is an effort of his which will bear fruit. However, if the intention is that the reward for the charity should extend to the soul of his friend, his offering can be regarded as successful only if his dead friend’s soul gains from it. If the reward does not reach the desired recipient, it would mean that the person’s effort was fruitless. Whatever the Holy Prophet (pbuh) has informed us concerning this question, focuses on the different ways efforts have to be made before the soul of the dead can benefit and these are the prayer for forgiveness and charity. As our Holy Prophet (pbuh) usually spoke under the influence of hidden divine revelation, who can doubt the authenticity of his words? However, to adopt other methods than the ways indicated by the Holy Prophet (pbuh) for rewards to reach the dead is not lawful. The reason is that we have no knowledge to prove that, according to our conjecture, our own self-devised plans for trying to make blessings beneficial to the dead can succeed or not. If we were to depart from the methods given to us by the Holy Prophet (pbuh), and make innovations of our own, I cannot say whether any benefit will accrue to the dead or not. For example, the authority to read the Holy Quran on graves for the benefit of the dead is not found either in the Holy Quran or the Hadith.

Thirdly, the verse, "And surely his striving will soon be seen," makes a very significant point – goodness is never lost. Its consequence may be swift or slow in coming. However, it is bound to come and it will appear both in this world and the Hereafter. The fact that those who follow a prophet’s teachings are rewarded with good and those who reject suffer an evil retribution in the very lifetime of the prophet serves as an incentive to build certainty in the minds of people about two matters: the truth of the prophet’s teachings and the manifestation of the consequences of deeds in the next life. That is why the demonstration of the repercussions of actions in this life is referred to in the Holy Quran as the Hour (Sa‘ah) which is another name for the Day of Resurrection.

Researchers, though, have made a differentiation between the different occasions when man will have to answer for his works: the one on the Day of Resurrection is called the Great Resurrection (sa‘at kubra) and the other in this life is referred to as the middle resurrection (sa‘at wusta) whilst the third occurrence which each person has to face individually at the time of death is called the small resurrection (sa‘at sughra), a name given to it in the Hadith which says: "When a person dies, his resurrection is set up for him."

We must always bear in mind the three applications of the word, hour, because the Holy Quran uses it in several places and in each it carries a different significance according to the context.

After summarising the consummate wisdom of the teachings of the past prophets, in particular, Prophets Abraham (pbuh) and Moses (pbuh) in the above three verses, the Holy Quran adds some more words of wisdom in the following verses:

41. Then he will be rewarded for it with the fullest reward:

We are reminded that our striving will definitely bring results and so the striver should rest assured that if he persists in his efforts until its completion he will receive the full benefit for his work. In fact, it often happens that man is rewarded with a much greater recompense than he could have imagined as we can see from the prodigious and immeasurable bounties that the companion of the Holy Prophet (pbuh) acquired.

42. And that to thy Lord is the goal:

While it is undoubtedly true that man gets what he strives for and that his striving will bring lasting results, yet we must remember that to Allah, Most High, is the end of all things. That is, He is the Causer of all causes, the most beneficent Being at Whose threshold all affairs come to an end. Thus, He is the One Who has arranged the consequences of all kinds of efforts and whatever results come about, indeed also originate from that Source. In this there is a crushing refutation of worshippers of means in that whenever a believer strives, he looks to the Almighty for the consequence and not to means, for Allah, Most High, is the Only Creator of means and no one else. A decision has to be made in heaven before anything can happen on earth and to make man’s work fruitful and successful is the province of the All-powerful Lord of the heavens and the earth. Whether we get happiness or sadness, or death or life as a consequence of our actions or whether they come in the form of a Divine decree, the Sender and Sustainer is really the One and Only Creator of the heavens and the earth as we read in the following verses:

43. And that He it is Who makes (men) laugh and makes (them) weep:

44. And that He it is Who causes death and gives life:

In this verse, the words death and life are used in their widest connotations whilst retaining their literal meanings and so additionally death refers to the onset of calamity, anguish, pain, frustration, shame, disgrace and destruction. On the other hand, life connotes meeting with success, happiness, comfort, honour and so on. We are told here that all these things – both good and bad – come to us sometimes in consequence of our actions and sometimes they are conditions that befall us through Divine decrees. However, in both cases, the real Source is the Almighty Who is the only Causer of everything. Thus, that is the Being Whom man should fear and to seek Whose pleasure his efforts must be directed. He should always keep that Being in mind when looking for the results of his striving and he should know that happiness and sorrow, life and death, all come from Him and no one else. Indeed, whenever he performs a task, it is important for him to be ever conscious of the fact that eventually happiness, peace, success and life will redound on those who strive to seek this Lord’s pleasure whilst pain and sorrow, failure and death will befall those who waste their energies in trying to oppose the truth.

45. And that He creates pairs, the male and the female:

46. From the small life-germ when it is adapted:

47. And that He has ordained the second bringing forth:

Manayyin refers to the life-germ (nutfah) from which man is born. It also has the significance of measurement and so, here, tumna (adapted) means to cause to enter into the womb or to measure. Measurement relates to the fact that when the male sperm and female egg combine to form the life-germ from which human life comes, there is as yet no differentiation between male and female at this early pre-nourishment stage and, like a seed, both kinds of limbs and organs lie concealed and underdeveloped in the life-germ. However, when it grows and reaches a particular stage of development, male and female characteristics come to the fore at that time and so a boy or girl child is born. Thus it is that the deeds of man resemble a life-germ. Just as in the life-germ remains concealed while receiving its nourishment gradually, so, too, the actions of man are fed stage by stage so as to produce consequences until a time reaches when everything comes into the open. Just as the life-germ, the predominant elements dictate whether a boy or girl child will be born, so, too, it happens with the deeds of man. Thus, if the influence of good predominates, the result will be good and man will be blessed with a life of peace, happiness and prosperity. On the contrary, if the influence of evil prevails, then the consequence will be evil and man will experience pain and misery in his life and die a death of failure. In support of this, the Holy Quran states elsewhere: "So he who does an atom’s weight of good will see it, and he who does an atom’s weight of evil will see it" (99:7-8).

Thus, the stage of our life after death depends on our deeds in this life. However, even in this world, if our deeds begin to bear good fruit, we start to taste a heavenly bliss, whilst if they bear evil fruit we begin to taste of a hellish life. At this point, it is important to remember that this life is made up of both happiness and sadness. However, except in special circumstances, our happiness and sadness may not necessarily be a consequence of our deeds, for we are tested by both ease and adversity by our Creator in order to develop our latent moral and spiritual faculties. It is different though in the next life, which is the real one and for which this sojourn on earth is only a prelude. There, ecstasy and agony depend on our deeds in this life.

48. And that He it is Who gives wealth and contentment (aqna):

49. And that He is the Lord of Sirius:

Aqna (to give contentment) means that Allah, Most High, has given man so much that it has become a means of peace and comfort for him, or He has given that much, that after expenditure, man can still save something, or He has blessed him with the wealth of obedience to Him and winning His goodly pleasure.

Sirius is a very large star which the Arab people worshipped and which they believed could control whether man received abundant wealth and riches or not. Similarly, star-worshippers believe that life and death, happiness and sadness, pain and pleasure, riches and poverty, are all under the influence of stars with Sirius wielding the most control. Thus, the Holy Quran eradicates the belief in star-worship and astrology when it says: "O strivers, work for your Lord (Rabb) and put your hopes in Him and expect from Him a reward for your struggle for it is He Who confers happiness and sadness and life and death. In your folly, you have been afflicted by the malady of astrology and star-worship and ascribe to the stars the cause of your good or bad fortune. This is an unfortunate error on your part for your biggest star of good or evil omen, Sirius, is but a created object, and far from being a provider, it stands itself in need of sustenance. Do not hold to the belief that your abundance of wealth and riches by means of which you lead a life of happiness, peace, comfort and ease, depends on that star. On the contrary, the reality is that the Giver of all things is Allah, Most High, Who is the Lord (Rabb) of Sirius and your Lord (Rabb), too.

The Holy Quran continues the admonition: "Remember that the hour has come for the mighty revolution which is inseparably bound to the Holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). When this transformation comes, you will receive for your purity and good deeds a reward not only of wealth and riches and happiness and peace, but over and above that, you will be recompensed with the honour of submission to Allah, Most High, and the acquisition of His pleasure which form the basis of true peace and contentment both in this life and the Hereafter. You people who are devotees of Sirius and such like stars are warned that you will be deprived of your wealth and contentment and more than that, you will suffer destruction in the same way as former nations were ruined for their opposition to the prophets of Allah, Most High."

50. And that He destroyed the first ‘Ad:

51. And Thamud, so He spared not:

52. And the people of Noah before. Surely they were most iniquitous and inordinate.

The tribes of ‘Ad and Thamud were indigenous Arabs, whilst the Quraish were descendants of Prophet Ishmael (pbuh), who had migrated there. ‘Ad lived to the south of Arabia in Yaman and Hadramaut. The first ‘Ad were the people to whom Prophet Hud (pbuh) was sent. They were destroyed by a violent sandstorm. The second ‘Ad were those who had survived this punishment and had taken up residence in that area. The people of Thamud originated in the north-western corner of Arabia to the north of the Hejaz and spread to the borders of Palestine. Prophet Noah’s people inhabited that part of Arabia that bordered Iraq and also populated Armenia and ‘Amman. The tribes of ‘Ad and Thamud are specially mentioned here for they were native Arabs who lived there before the coming of Prophet Ishmael (pbuh) whilst the people of Prophet Noah are particularly highlighted because he was the glorious ancestor of all these nations.

These verses prophetically warned the unbelievers of the imminence of a mighty upheaval (called the middle resurrection) in which the consequences of actions would be manifested. Therefore, they should take heed for they, too, would taste the penalty of destruction for their evil deeds, that is, their transgression and obstinate rejection of the truth just as the first ‘Ad, and the people of Thamud and Prophet Noah suffered a bitter and devastating retribution for the same kind of rebelliousness. So if they chose to follow in the footsteps of those former nations, they, too, would receive the same treatment.

53. And the overthrown cities, He hurled down (ahwa):

54. So there covered them that which (ma) covered.

(Ma is a particle denoting reverence. So the meaning of the verse, "So there covered them that which (ma) covered," is that they were overtaken by a very frightful chastisement.)

The whole world is aware of the identity of the overthrown cities which were the cities of Prophet Lot (pbuh) in Palestine (Sodom and Gomorrah). They are spoken of because their sin was an unnatural act. Man’s nature itself bears testimony to the Unity of the Almighty and to ascribe partners to Him is in effect to ruin one’s nature (fitrah). Thus, the rejecters are told to read the history of former nations that destroyed their own inner being and to meditate particularly on their ultimate fate: such a terrible punishment overwhelmed them that it is beyond the power of man to describe. They were uprooted and thrown to the ground and how phenomenal was Allah’s overthrowing that just where these cities were hit by an earthquake and drowned in a sea of molten lava and fiery stones from a volcanic eruption, right there water gushed out of the earth and formed a lake of very salty water called the Dead Sea because so salty and poisonous it is that no living organism can exist in it.

However, the most extraordinary aspect of this upheaval is that when these cities were overturned they sank even lower than sea-level. On the face of the earth, oceans occupy the lowest level but this Dead Sea is below the level of the seas. How remarkable a sign is this example of Allah’s overthrowing! Thus, those who persecuted the Holy Prophet (pbuh) and rejected his message of truth were warned that they would suffer the same fate if they did not desist from their transgression.

55. Which, then, of thy Lord’s benefits wilt thou dispute?

In this verse, by Allah’s favours are meant His book and His prophet as well as His help in the publication of His holy teachings and the establishment and consolidation of the message. This may come in the form of heavenly signs in support of the believers, or in the manner of punishment and destruction of the opposition. There is no doubt that a book from Allah, Most High, and a divine messenger are favours to man and there can be no objection to the fact that help in publishing the holy message and protecting its honour constitute favours of Allah also. However, some doubt can arise whether punishment meted out to the rejecters can be considered a blessing. Nevertheless, a little reflection will quickly dispel this misgiving.

Is it not a fact that when a thief is apprehended, or a highway robber hanged, peace-loving, decent and honourable people enjoy a great relief? Similarly, is it not a great blessing and benefit to the world when devastation falls on such people who upset the peace and tranquillity of the country by their oppression and rebellion: those who not only desire to erase the peace of the Almighty on earth and to extinguish every spark of noble morals and every tenet pertaining to the Unity of the Creator and deep knowledge of Him, but who are also adamant in victimising the followers of such teachings? Does it not enhance the beauty of a garden to have all its thorny bushes cut and thrown away? We are reminded that it is the way of the Almighty from the every beginning to spread His guidance by means of a prophet with a divine book and to show signs in support of His message and to destroy the rejecters. These are all favours of Allah, Most High. Therefore, ungrateful man should not be unthankful for these books and dispute about them unjustly.

56. This is a warner of the warners of old.

That is, the Holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was a prophet like those of old who were already spoken of before. The unbelievers should, therefore, peruse the annals of history and read about the condition of those people before them who were warned by their prophets. They should remember that if they persisted in their ingratitude and their unseemly disputation concerning the wonderful divine blessings in the form of the Holy Quran and the Holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and should continue in their opposition, that their end would be as evil as that of the previous nations.

This is the Holy Quran which was the first book to invite man to reflect on the philosophy of history and to make it a habit to meditate on past events. Man is also encouraged to do research on the causes and consequences of the rise and fall of nations. Just as we observe that the moving about and staying in one place of every individual and indeed of every single organism are subject to a firmly established law, so, too, the rise and decline of nations are bound by laws: there are reasons for their elevation and downfall. A wise person can, therefore, observe these laws and save himself from the causes of decadence and make use of the means of exaltation.

So, with this philosophy of history in mind, a prophecy is made in regard to the Holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) that those who show ingratitude to the Almighty’s gift of a prophet like him, and who not only contend with him, but also wish to eliminate him, will themselves be definitely eliminated as those before were. The reason is that he is a warner like past warners of old so that his opponents will meet the same bitter end of disappointment, failure, disgrace and perdition as that of former peoples. They are, therefore, urged to use their intelligence and pay heed for:

57. The near Event draws nigh.

58. There is none besides Allah to remove it.

Azifa means to draw close. So azifatun signifies something that has come near and refers here to the imminent destruction and devastation of the rejecters of truth, that is, the tremendous revolution that was destined to take place with the coming of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). Here, the reference cannot be to the Great Resurrection (after death) for the next verse says: "There is none besides Allah to remove it." Thus, it applies to the punishment of the opposers and not to the final resurrection which Allah, Most High, will not postpone.

There is a subtle point worth remembering here and that is, if Allah, Most High, so wishes, He can avert a chastisement ordained for a particular people as He did for the people of Prophet Jonah (pbuh) and this can be done through repentance and returning to the path prescribed by the Almighty. The fact is that Allah, Most High, is very merciful and kind and never desires to destroy a servant. It is the servant, himself, who sows the seed of his own ruin. It is not Allah’s habit to take advantage of anyone. On the contrary, it is doubtlessly true that He leaves no stone unturned in trying to reform a servant: He sends a prophet or a messenger with a book and is oft-forgiving, merciful, pardoning and forbearing in regard to His servants. If they still do not desist from wrongdoing, it is only then that He punishes them just as a parent would try to rectify the errors of a child by love and kindness and by trying to reason with him and will adopt whatever methods he deems necessary. However, if the child does not heed any approach, the parent is forced to administer some form of punishment. This is the way the Almighty operates, too. His love and compassion far exceed those of a mother and father. When the servant does not obey in the least, then for his own rectification and for the maintenance of peace and tranquillity in the world as well as the provision of guidance and righteous principles, Allah, Most High, metes out punishment to him. In spite of all that, such is the way of Allah’s love and sympathy that if at any time before the onset of chastisement, the servant reforms himself and abstains from sin and rebellion, Allah will even then withhold His punishment. This is the point that the Holy Quran is making to unbelievers telling them that the hour (for punishment) has drawn close but there is still time for reformation. Therefore, they should please their Lord and He will withhold punishment from them. However, if they become obdurate in their disobedience and rebelliousness, then who else is there besides Allah, Most High, to turn away evil retribution from them?

59. Wonder you then at this announcement?

60. And do you laugh and not weep,

61. While you sport (samiduna)?

Samiduna means negligent ones who stand with head upraised.

In Makkah, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was in a weak and helpless state whilst the unbelievers were in full strength, and whoever believed in him, they persecuted with such ferocity that they had to flee the city and seek asylum in Abyssinia with only a very few friends who could be counted on the fingers of one hand remaining with him in Makkah. In spite of this forlorn and feeble circumstance, look how forcefully and fearlessly he announced repeatedly to the rejecters that their death and the hour of their disgrace were fast approaching but there was still time for them to make repentance, for Allah, the Forgiving, the Merciful, was always ready to pardon and He had the power to avert the threatened hour from them. On hearing that, that powerful people who, relying on the strength of their numbers and their power, had become sunk in their negligence, began to laugh contemptuously at the Holy Prophet (pbuh). The people of that nation considered the prophecy of their demise so far-fetched that they were struck with amazement and laughed in ridicule at the Holy Prophet’s warnings.

He, in turn, addressed them thus: "O people, you seem very astonished when you hear my words and begin to laugh derisively. It would have been better for you to cry at your misfortune. To ask forgiveness in tears of Allah, Most High, would be more profitable for you."

However, so steeped in heedlessness were they that they scoffed at him, instead. He admonished them that their contempt would end up badly for them, for the truth of the verse, "He it is Who makes (men) laugh and makes (them) weep," would be manifested in them and they would end up crying instead of laughing. On the other hand, those who were now weeping at the threshold of their Creator would be made to laugh by Him. And this is exactly how it happened. Those who laughed with scorn were completely exterminated, whilst those who survived this end had to stand with heads bent in disgrace, seeking forgiveness of the Holy Prophet (pbuh) on the day when Makkah was conquered. On the other hand, those who used to weep in prostration (sajdah) at the feet of their Master in total submission emerged triumphant and became the inheritors of peace and bliss in this world and the Hereafter also.

The scoffers are cautioned thus: Do not laugh, and do not be amazed. Allah’s punishment is inevitable and the only way to escape it is:

62. So bow down in prostration (sajdah) before Allah and serve (Him). (Prostration)

In other words, there is still time for them to renounce the worship of any other god besides Allah, Most High, to bow down before Him in submission, to obey Him completely and to serve Him alone. Allah, Most High, will then save them from chastisement. His mercy and compassion are limitless and He will forgive them all your sins. However, there is one pre-condition: they must obey Him and bow down to Him in prostration and serve Him so as to draw to themselves His mercy and love.

In Bukhari, we read that it was in this chapter, The Star, that the command to make prostration (when a particular verse of the Holy Quran is revealed) was first given. The Holy Prophet (pbuh) was reciting this chapter to a large gathering of the Makkan unbelievers and after completing it, he made prostration (sajdah). The fluency and eloquence, the truth of the subject-matter and the power and challenge of this chapter made such an impact on the unbelievers that they, too, joined the Holy Prophet (pbuh) and fell in prostration (sajdah); all, except one – ‘Umar ibn Khalaf – who took up a handful of earth and bowed his head on it. Eventually, he was killed while an unbeliever.

According to some reports, this event (of the unbelievers making prostration to Allah, Most High) caused such a stir that news of it spread as far as the emigrants in Abyssinia with the result that many thought that the Makkans had ceased their opposition. As a result, under this assumption, many emigrants returned to Makkah. However, it transpired later that the pagans had not given up their hostility. Such is the power and grandeur of this chapter that, for a moment, it forced mighty opponents and deniers to bend their necks in submission to Allah, Most High.

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Holy Quran Section > Commentary of the Holy Quran by Dr. Basharat Ahmad > Chapter 53 (An-Najm - The Star)


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