In the Shade of the Quran (part 30)


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  • In the Shade of the Quran (part 30)


  • Surah 80 The Frowning Abas

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

     
     

    He frowned and turned his back when the blind man came to him. How could you tell? He might have sought to purify himself. He might have been forewarned and the reminder might have profited him. But to the one who considered himself self-sufficient you were all attention. Yet the fault would not be yours if he remained uncleansed. As to him who comes to you with zeal and with a feeling of fear in his heart him you ignore and busy yourself with tribes. No indeed ! This is an admonition; let him who will, bear it in mind. It is written on honoured pages, exalted, purified, by the hands of noble and devout scribes. Perish man! How ungrateful he is! Of what did Allah create him? Of a little germ. He created him and proportioned him. He makes his path smooth for him. He then causes him to die and puts him in his grave. He will surely bring him back to life when He pleases. But by no means has man fulfilled His bidding. Let man reflect on the food he eats: how We pour down the rain in torrents, and cleave the earth in fissures; how We bring forth the corn, the grapes, and the fresh vegetation, the olive and the palm, the dense tree'd gardens. the fruit-trees and the green pastures, for you and your cattle to delight in. But when the stunning blast is sounded, on that day each man will forsake his brother, his mother and his father, his wife and his children: for each one of them will on that day have enough preoccupation's of his own. Some faces on that day shall be beaming, smiling and joyful. Some other faces on that day shall be covered with dust, veiled with darkness. These shall be the faces of the disbelievers, the hardened in sin.

     

    Commentary:

    This surah discusses certain principles of grave importance. It is unique in its images and the impressions it leaves, combining its marked spiritual effect with superb musical rhythm.

    Its first part treats a certain incident which took place in the early days of Islam. The Prophet (peace be on him) was busy with a few dignatories of the tribe of Quraish, explaining to them the message of Islam, when Ibn Umm Maktoom, a poor blind man, interrupted him. Unaware that the Prophet was busy with those people, the blind man asked him repeatedly to teach him some verses of the Qur'an.

    The Prophet (peace be on him) was not very pleased at this interruption. He frowned and turned away from Ibn Umm Maktoom.

    This surah opens by criticizing the Prophet's behaviour in this incident. It lays down clearly the values and principles upon which Islamic society is founded and states the true nature of the message of Islam.

    He frowned and turned his back when the blind man came to him. How could you tell? He might have sought to purify himself: He might have been forewarned and the reminder might have profited him. But to the one who considered himself self-sufficient you were all attention. Yet the fault would not be yours if he remained uncleansed. As to him who comes to you with zeal and with a feeling of fear in his heart, him you ignore and busy yourself with trifles. No indeed! This is an admonition, let him who will, bear it in mind. It is written on honoured pages, exalted, purified, by the hands of noble and devout scribes.

    Man's ungrateful attitude to Allah and his denial of Him come up for discussion in the second part. Here man is reminded of his origin of how his life is made easy; of how Allah determines his death and resurrection; and of how, after all, he fails to carry out His orders: Perish man! how ungrateful he is! Of what did Allah create him? Of a little germ. He created him and proportioned him. He makes his path smooth for him. He then causes him to die and puts him in his grave. He will surely bring him to life when He pleases. But by no means has man fulfilled His bidding.

    The third part directs man to reflect upon things of immediate concern to him, namely, his food. Absolute perfection of creation is obvious in the provision of food for man as it is obvious in the creation, proportioning and development of man himself. Let man reflect on the food he eats: how We pour down the rain in torrents, and cleave the earth in fissures; how We bring forth the corn, the grapes, and the fresh vegetation, the olive and the palm, the dense-tree'd gardens, the fruit-trees and the green pastures, for you and your cattle to delight in.

    The final part touches upon "the stunning blast" and its fearful effects. The very sound of the words gives an impression of horror. It makes people unaware of anything around them. Their faces, however, give a lucid account of what is happening to them.

    But when the stunningblast is sounded, on that day each will for sake his brother, his mother and his father, his wife and his children: for each one of them will on that day have enough preoccupation's of his own. Some faces on that day shall be beaming, smiling and joyful. Some other faces on that day shall be covered with dust, veiled with darkness. These shall be the faces of the disbelievers, the wicked.

    This quick preview of the surah leaves a profound effect on the reader. Its message and its implications are so powerful that no human heart can avoid being deeply touched, even by a quick perusal of it.

    In the following pages we will attempt to illustrate some of the very far reaching effects of certain parts of the surah which may not be immediately apparent. He frowned and turned his back when the blind man came to him. How could you tell? He might have sought to purify himself: He might have been forewarned and the reminder might have profited him. But to the one who considered himself self-sufficient you were all attention. Yet the fault would not be yours if he remained uncleansed. As to him who comes to you with zeal and with a feeling of fear in his heart, him you ignore and busy yourself with trifles. No indeed! This is an admonition; let him who will, bear it in mind. It is written on honoured pages exalted, purified, by the hands of noble and devout scribes.

    The Divine instructions which followed this incident are much more far reaching than appears at first sight. They are indeed a miracle. These instructions, the principles they seek to establish and the change they aim to accomplish in human society are, perhaps, the first and greatest miracle of Islam . But the instructions are made here as a direct comment on a single incident. It is part of the Qur'anic method to make use of isolated incidents in order to lay down fundamental and permanent principles. The principles established here and their practical effects, as seen in the early Islamic society, are indeed Islam itself. They constitute the truth which Islam and the earlier Divine religions seek to plant in human life.

    The point at issue here is not merely how an individual or a class of people should be treated. This is indeed the significance of the Qur'anic comment on the incident itself, taken in isolation. The heart of the matter is, however, something far more important. It is: how should people evaluate everything in their lives? From where should they derive their values and their standards for such an evaluation.

    What the Divine instructions contained in the opening part of the surah seek to establish is that men must base their values and standards on Divine considerations, laid down by Allah.

    No social circumstances, traditions or practices, nor any concept of life derived from them should be allowed either to encumber or determine these values and standards. There is no denying the difficulties involved in conducting human life on the basis of values and standards laid down by the Divine Being, free from the pressure of all worldly considerations.

    If we consider the heavy pressure of society on the individual's feelings and attitudes - traditional values, family and social ties, and environmental values, for example - we can appreciate the difficulty of carrying out these Divine instructions. We can appreciate such difficulty even better when we remember that in order to convey it to people, Muhammad himself (peace be on him) needed this special directive, or rather this censure. Reference to this is sufficient to convey the gravity of the matter. For Muhammad (peace be on him) has reached greater heights of sublimity and greatness than any man can aspire to. Yet the fact that special instructions were required for him to convey a certain principle makes that principle greater than greatness, unique in sublimity.

    This is indeed, a true description of the principle established here, namely that mankind should derive their values and standards from the Divine Being, after they have freed themselves from the pressure of their social set-up with all its values and standards.

    The basic standard Allah has, through His prophets, commanded mankind to adopt is: "The noblest of you in Allah's sight is he who fears Him most.(Al-Qur'an 49:13)" This is the standard by which all values, traditions and practices should be evaluated. It establishes a purely Divine criterion which has nothing to do with any worldly considerations. But people live on earth and establish a multitude of ties, each having its own weight and gravity. They have considerations of family relations, power and wealth. The distribution or concentration of these creates certain practical and economic results which determine the position of every man or every class of people in relation to others.

    Thus some acquire a position superior to that of others, in worldly standards.

    When Islam declares: "The noblest of you in Allah 's sight is he who fears Him most", it simply indicates that all these values and considerations are void, however important they seem to men. It substitutes for them a single value derived directly from Allah, the only value accepted by Him. The incident itself serves to establish this value in an actual situation. Thus the essential principle is established: the scales recognised are those of Allah; the supreme value which should govern man's life is the Divine one. Hence, all human values, standards, traditions and concepts must be abandoned by the Islamic nation.

    Let us now consider the incident itself. Ibn Umm Maktoom, a poor blind man, comes to the Prophet (peace be on him) at a time when he is busy with a group of the most powerful and influential personalities in Makka, including Utbah and Shaibah, the two sons of Rabi'ah, Abu Jahl Amr ibn Hisham, Umayyah ibn Khalaf, Al-Waleed Ibn Al-Mogheerah. Also present is Al-Abbas ibn Abdel-Muttalib, the Prophet's uncle. It is a crucial meeting. The Prophet explains the message of Islam to them and hopes for a favourable response. He feels that the cause of Islam will gain a lot by such a response. The time is very hard for Islam in Makka. Those very people have been using all their wealth, power and influence to check its advancement, and to stop people from accepting it. They have managed to freeze Islam in Makka and hinder its progress elsewhere.

    Outside Makka, the other tribes have adopted an attitude of wait and see. For they feel that that is their best stand in a tribal society such as theirs which gives to the tribe's attitude paramount importance.

    They are aware that against Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam, stand his own kinsmen, who, theoretically speaking, should be his most ardent supporters.

    It must be emphasised that when we say that the Prophet is busy with those people, he has no personal interest with them. He is simply working for the interest of Islam. Acceptance of Islam by these influential and powerful people means the removal of all impediments from the path of Islam in Makka. It also ensures for Islam the freedom to progress outside Makka.

    While this crucial meeting is in progress, a poor man comes and interrupts the Prophet (peace be on him) saying: Messenger of Allah! teach me some verses of what Allah has taught you.

    Despite his awareness that the Prophet (peace be on him) is busy, he repeats his request several times. The Prophet dislikes this interruption. His face, which remains unseen by the blind man, expresses his aversion. He frowns and looks away from the poor man, who has interrupted the crucial meeting of which the Prophet has great hopes for his message. Indeed, the Prophet's motive has been his great enthusiasm to win badly-needed support for Islam.

    Here, heaven intervenes to say the final word in this matter and to put the landmarks along the whole length of the road. Thus we are given the scales by which to weigh our values regardless of all considerations, including the consideration of what serves the interests of Islam, as seen by men, and even by the greatest man, Muhammad (peace be on him). This is why the Prophet who has been described elsewhere in the Qur'an as having "great and sublime nature", (Al-Qur'an 68:4) is strongly censured by Allah, the Most High. It is the only point in the Qur'an that the Prophet, who is very dear to Allah, is told "kalla" (inadequately translated as "no indeed"). Kalla is a term of censure and an order to desist. That is because the contravened principle is central to this religion.

    The reproof is made in unique style, which defies translation into ordinary language. Written language has to apply certain rules and observe some well defined norms. These would dampen the effects of the very vivid style of the Qur'an, which is characterised in this instance by its rapid touches and short phrases which are more like feeling reactions and instant pictures. He frowned and turned his back when the blind man came to him.

    The use of the third person form here is significant. It suggests that the subject-matter is so distasteful to Allah that He does not like to confront His beloved messenger with it. This in itself is a gesture of mercy and kindness to the Prophet. Thus, the action which necessitated the reproof has been disguised with great subtlety. The reproof then takes the form of direct address, starting somewhat mildly:

    How could you tell? He might have sought to purify himself He might have been forewarned and the reminder might have profited him.

    How could you tell but that a great gain might have been made? That is to say that the poor, blind man who came to you seeking light might have profited by Allah's reminder and set about purifying himself. His heart might have brightened by Allah's light and he might become like a light house, guiding people to safety. This is exactly what happens every time a human being genuinely accepts the faith. It is, indeed, what carries real weight in Allah's scales.

    The reproof then takes a stronger tone. It wonders at the action in question:

    But to the one who considered himself self-sufficient you were all attention. Yet the fault would not be yours if he remained uncleansed. As to him who comes to you with zeal and with a feeling of fear in hisheart - him you ignore and busy yourself with trifles!

    The one who pretends that he can do without you and your religion, light goodness and purity is the one who receives your attention! You go to him yourself when he turns away, and you are at pains to try to persuade him to accept the faith.

    Yet the fault would not be yours if he remained uncleansed. What is it to you if he chooses to remain in filth? You are not answerable for his sinful actions. He will not secure your victory. As to him who comes to you with zeal", out of his own free will, "and with a feeling of fear in his heart, " groping his way with outstretched hands, fearful of pitfalls, "him you ignore and busy yourself with trifles!" What a strong description of the act of not paying due attention to the man who came to seek the right guidance.

    The tone gets even stronger and the reproof becomes outright censure: "kalla" or "No indeed", this must never be the case.

    There follows a statement affirming that Islam is an honourable and noble call. It has no need for anybody's support. It cares only for the one who accepts it on its merits, regardless of his position in human society!

    This is an admonition; let him who will, bear it in mind. It is written on honoured pages, exalted, purified, by the hands of noble and devout scribes.

    It is a noble and honoured message in every respect. Its pages are purified and exalted, entrusted to "noble and devout" angel ambassadors who convey it to those human beings selected for the task of conveying it to their people. It is also dignified. No one who pretends that he is self sufficient need be approached about accepting this message of Islam. It is only for those who know its value and seek to be purified by it.

    So this is the Divine standard by which all values and considerations should be evaluated, and all men should be judged. This is also Allah's word, which is the final judgement in all situations.

    But where and when was this laid down? The answer is in Makka when the Muslims were few in number, and Islam was the weaker side in an unequal battle. The attempt to win a group of powerful and influential men was not motivated by any personal interest. Ignoring the poor blind man was not occasioned by any personal consideration. All was for the sake of the new message. But the message itself calls for the adoption and application of this very standard and these very values. For Islam can never acquire any real power or achieve any true victory except through the establishment of these values and standards.

    As stated earlier, the essential principle involved is far greater and wider in scope than this single incident. It is that man should derive his values and standards from Allah, not from any worldly source The noblest of you in Allah's sight is he who fears Him most.

    Indeed; the one whom Allah considers noble is the one who deserves to he attended to and looked after, even if he is completely lacking in family relations, power and wealth, the assets highly valued according to worldly standards. These and all other worldly values become worthless when they part ways with faith and the fear of Allah. This is the great issue which the Divine instructions in this surah seek to settle.

    The Prophet was deeply and powerfully touched by these Divine instructions and by Allah's reproof. Throughout his life, he worked tirelessly for the establishment of this great principle in Islamic society.

    The first action taken by him was to announce these instructions and the reproof in public. This in itself is something very great Taken from any point of view, no person other than a Messenger of Allah could have announced in public that he had been censured so strongly, in such a singular manner, for a slip he had made. It would have been enough for any other great man to recognise his mistake and to avoid a repetition in future. With the Messenger of Allah however, things acquire different proportions. No person other than Allah's messenger could have had the courage, in such circumstances as Islam was facing, to make this declaration, challenging with it the masters of Qur'aish, who were very proud of their lineage, power and wealth.

    These were at the time the only considerations of any importance in Makkan society, where people wondered: Why was this Quran not revealed to some great man from the two towns? (Al-Qur'an 43:31)

    They were, of course, aware of Muhammad's lineage, and that he was the descendant of the noblest family in Arabia. His ancestors were masters of Makka. Nevertheless they asked such a question simply because Muhammad himself did not occupy a position of power in Makka before prophethood.

    In such a society, at that particular time, such a great principle could have never been the product of any earthly factor, or host of factors. It could have had only one source: Allah. No power could have pushed it through other than the Divine will. The Islamic society received it directly from the Prophet. It was soon well established and it acquired depth and momentum, which helped it to continue its operation in the Islamic nation over the centuries.

    The establishment of this principle was, indeed, a rebirth of humanity. It was greater in importance than the first birth of man.

    Man was able to free himself from all worldly bonds and standards, and substitute for them a set of heavenly values which are independent of all earthly considerations. The new values were soon understood and accepted by everybody. Soon the grave matter which necessitated that Muhammad him self be issued with a special directive in order to convey it became the operative principle of the Islamic conscience and the basic code of the Islamic society. It remained so for a very long period.

    Perhaps we cannot appreciate fully the true nature of the rebirth of humanity. The reason for our inability is that we cannot conceive the practical significance of our release from the pressures of society, its values, standards, traditions and practices. In order to appreciate the magnitude of these pressures we have only to remember that the advocates of the materialistic view of history consider that the economic condition of a certain society determines the beliefs, arts, literature, laws, customs of that society, as well as its view of life and its destiny. What a narrow and mistaken view of the true nature of man! With this basic principle, Islam accomplished the miracle of the rebirth of man.

    Since then the values attached to this great principle have become supreme. Their ascendancy, however, was by no means easy, neither in the Arabian society, nor in the minds of the Muslims themselves.

    Through his actions and directives, coloured by the profound effect the Divine instructions in this surah left on him, the Prophet was able to implant this basic principle of Islam in the consciences of his companions and in the life of the Islamic society he had established. He looked after his new plant with unfailing care until it had established deep roots and spread its branches wide. This was why this principle remained for centuries the guiding principle of the Muslim community, in spite of a multitude of opposing factors.

    After this incident the Prophet always gave Ibn Umm Maktoom a warm welcome. Whenever he met him, he said: "Welcome to the man for whose sake my Lord reproved me." He appointed him twice as his deputy governor of Medina when he had to be away.

    The Prophet married his own cousin Zainab bint Jahsh of the Assad clan to his former slave Zaid ibn Harithah. Marriage has always been a very delicate issue, and it was particularly so in the Arabian Peninsula at that time. The Prophet's motive was to deal a deadly blow to all the social values and standards based on worldly considerations .

    Soon after the Makkan Muslims settled in Medina the Prophet established a bond of brotherhood between every two Muslims. He made his own uncle, Hamza, a brother to his former slave, Zaid; and Khalid ibn Rowaiha of the Khath'am tribe and Bilal, the former slave, were made brothers.

    He appointed Zaid as Commander-in-Chief of the Muslim army which fought the battle of Mu'tah. Zaid's first deputy was the Prophet's own cousin Ja'afar ibn Abu Talib. The second deputy was Abdullah ibn Rawaha of Al Ansar. A number of well-known personalities from Makka and Medina were in that army of three thousand men, including the most famous Muslim commander of all time, Khalid ibn Al-Waleed. The Prophet himself went out to bid them farewell. It is also worth mentioning that Zaid and his two deputies were killed in that battle.

    The last action of the Prophet was to appoint Usamah ibn Zaid, a young man in his teens, as commander of an army he raised to fight the Romans. In the army was a large number of the early Muslims, of both Al-Muhajireen (the Makkans) and Al-Ansar (the Medinans), including his two most distinguished companions and immediate successors, Abu Bakr and Umar, as well as his own relative Sa'ad ibn Abi Waqqas, one of the very earliest people to embrace Islam. Some people grumbled about the fact that Usamah was made commander, because he was so young. Abdullah ibn Umar takes up the story: "When some people complained about giving the army command to Usamah, the Prophet said: 'You are deprecating his appointment as commander in the same way as you previously deprecated his father's appointment. By Allah, his father was a worthy commander, and one of the dearest people to me. Usamah is also one of the dearest people to me."

    Some people spoke in derogatory terms about the Prophet's companion, Salman, the Persian. They took a narrow nationalistic view and spoke of the inferiority of Persians in relation to Arabs. The Prophet took a decisive step to put down all such narrow tendencies. He declared: "Salman belongs to the Prophet's family." The Prophet's statement transcends all lineage, tribal and national considerations, which were of immense weight in Arabia. Some disagreement occurred between two of the highly esteemed companions of the Prophet, Abu Tharr and Bilal. Out of temper, Abu Tharr called Bilal "you, son of a black woman". The Prophet was extremely upset by what Abu Tharr said. He rebuked him saying: "That is too much, Abu Tharr. He who has a white mother has no advantage which makes him better than the son of a black mother." Thus the Prophet put the dispute in its proper perspective.

    What distinguishes people is their faith, not their colour. This is the Islamic criterion, which is so unlike the worldly criteria of Ignorant' societies. The Prophet's rebuke had a profound effect on Abu Tharr, who was a very sensitive person. He wanted to atone for his mistake, so he put his head on the ground swearing that he would not raise it until Bilal had put his foot over it.

    Bilal achieved a position of great distinction in the Islamic society. What made his achievement possible was the application of Heaven's values. Abu Huraira related that the Prophet once said to Bilal: "Tell me what action of yours you hope to be most rewarding to you, for last night I heard your footsteps as you drew near to me in heaven." Bilal answered: "I don't think that since becoming a Muslim I have ever done anything which I hope to be more rewarding than that every time I have ablution at any time of day or night I pray whatever I can."

    Once Ammar ibn Yassir asked permission to see the Prophet. The Prophet said: "Let him come in, welcome to the cleansed good man." He also said of Ammar: "Ammar is full of faith to the top of his head." Huthaifa related that the Prophet said: "I do not know how long I shall be with you, so accept the leadership of the two who will follow me (and he pointed to Abu Bakr and Umar), and follow the guidance of Ammar. Believe whatever Ibn Massoud tells you."

    Ibn Massoud was so close to the Prophet that any stranger in Medina would have thought him a member of the Prophet's household. Abu Mussa said: "I came to Medina from the Yemen with my brother. We were for quite sometime under the impression that Ibn Massoud and his mother belonged to the Prophet's household, an impression we had formed because of the frequency of their coming in and out of the Prophet's homes, and their long companionship with him."

    The Prophet himself sought the hand of an Ansari woman in marriage for Julaibeeb, a former slave. Her parents were reluctant to sanction such a marriage. She, however, said to them: "Do you mean to reject the Prophet's suit? If the Prophet thinks that this man is suitable for us, then Id this marriage go through." So they gave their consent. Soon after his marriage, Julaibeen took part in an armed expedition. After the battle, which resulted in a victory for the Muslims, the Prophet asked his companions: "Is anybody missing?" They named a few people. He repeated the question and they named a few others. He asked the same question for the third time and they answered in the negative. He said: "I think Julaibeeb is missing." They looked for him and found his body next to seven enemy soldiers whom he had killed. The Prophet came over, stood near him, and said: "He killed seven people before he was killed. This man belongs to me and I belong to him." He lifted him on his arms until a grave was dug for him. He then put him in his grave. The tradition does not say whether Julaibeeb was given a death wash.

    With this Divine instruction and the guidance of the Prophet, the rebirth of humanity was accomplished in a unique manner. Thus a new society came into existence, which imported its values and standards from heaven, and lives on earth, unhampered by earthly restrictions. This is the greatest miracle of Islam, a miracle which could not have happened except by the will of Allah, and through the actions of the Prophet. This miracle is in itself a proof that Islam is a religion revealed by Allah, and that the man who conveyed it to us is His messenger.

    It was the Divine will that the leadership of the Islamic society, after the death of the Prophet, should be assigned successively to Abu Bakr and Umar, the two persons who were most keenly aware of the true nature of Islam and most vividly impressed by the guidance of the Prophet. Indeed, Abu Bakr and Umar surpassed everybody else with their love of the Prophet and determination to follow very closely in his footsteps.

    Abu Bakr was well aware of the Prophet's object in assigning the army command to Usamah. His first action after he became Caliph was to send the army raised by the Prophet and commanded by Usamah on its original mission. Abu Bakr, the Caliph, went along with the army to the outskirts of Medina to bid it farewell. It was a strange scene: Abu Bakr the old Caliph walking, and Usamah the young commander on his horse. Usamah felt ashamed and begged Abu Bakr to ride or else he would walk alongside him. Abu Bakr refused saying: "You shall not walk and I shall not ride. It will do me no harm to walk for an hour if my walking is for the cause of Allah."

    Abu Bakr felt that he needed Umar to help him shoulder the responsibilities of government. Umar, however, was a soldier in Usamah's army, so he had to ask Usamah's permission to discharge him. Hence, the Caliph, the Head of the State, said to his army commander: "If you think you could spare me Umar to help me, then please do so"! What a request! It is the height of magnanimity, attainable only with Allah's will, by individuals well taught by Allah's Messenger.

    A few years go by and we see Umar assuming the leadership of the Islamic society, as its second Caliph. One of his actions was to appoint Ammar ibn Yassir, who formerly belonged to the lower classes of Makka, as governor of the Kufa region in Iraq.

    One day a number of dignatories from Qur'aish, including Suhail ibn Amr and Abu Sufian, sought to see Umar. He let them wait and admitted first Suhaib and Bilal, two former slaves, on grounds of their early acceptance of Islam and their taking part in the battle of Badr. Abu Sufian felt very angry and said: "I have never seen a day like this. These slaves are admitted and we are kept waiting!" Suhail, who was more keenly aware of the true nature of Islam, said: "Gentlemen! I see in your faces an expression of what you feel, but I say to you that if you are angry you should be angry with yourselves. Both they and you were called upon to accept Islam at the same time. They were quick to respond but you were slow. What will you do if on the Day of Judgement you find that they are included among the chosen people and you are left behind?"

    Umar allotted Usamah ibn Zaid a larger share of the spoils of war than he allotted his own son Abdullah. When Abdullah queried his father's decision Umar said: "Son, the Prophet used to love Zaid more than he loved your father, and he loved Usamah more than he loved you. What I did was simply to attach to the Prophet's love higher value than I attached to my own love." As he said this Umar was, of course, fully aware that the Prophet measured his love by the Divine standards.

    Umar sent Ammar to question Khalid ibn Al-Waleed, the victorious commander of the Muslim army and the descendant of a noble family, about certain charges. Ammar tied Khalid's robes round his neck Some reports add that he tied Khalid's hands throughout the interrogation with the cloth of his own turban. When the investigation proved Khalid's innocence Ammar untied him and put Khalids turban back on his head with his own hand. Khalid did not object to this treatment. He knew that Ammar was one of the early companions of the Prophet. Khalid also knew what the Prophet used to say about Ammar.

    It was Umar himself who used to say about Abu Bakr and Bilal: "Abu Bakr is our master and he freed our master." This refers to the days when Bilal was a slave of Umayyah ibn Khalaf, who used to torture him mercilessly, in order to turn him away from Islam. Abu Bakr bought Bilal from Umayyah and set him free. This former slave, Bilal, is described by Umar, the Caliph, as "our master".

    Umar was the one who said, "Had Saalim, the former slave of Abu Huthaifa, been alive I would have nominated him to succeed me."

    This statement must be taken against the background that Umar did not nominate anyone to succeed him, not even Othman, Ali, Talha or Zubair. He only appointed a consultative committee of six, so that the next Caliph should be chosen from among them.

    Ali ibn Abu Talib sent Ammar and Al-Hassan, his own son, to Kufa to seek their support against Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her). His message said, "I know that she is your Prophet's wife in this life and in the here after. You are, however, faced with a test which will prove whether you follow your Prophet or his wife."' The people of Kufa accepted his case against Aisha, mother of the believers and Abu Bakr's daughter, (may Allah be pleased with them all).

    Bilal was asked by his brother in Islam, Abu Ruwaiha of Khath'am, to speak for him to the family of a Yemeni woman he wished to marry. Bilal went to them and said: "I am Bilal ibn Rabah and this is my brother. Abu Ruwaiha. He lacks good manners and firm belief. You may please yourselves whether you give him your daughter in marriage or not." He did not deceive them by hiding the truth, nor did he behave as a mediator, unmindful of his answer ability to Allah.

    The family concerned were pleased with such honesty. They married their daughter to Abu Kuwaiha, the noble Arab whose advocate was Bilal, the former slave from Abyssinia.

    This fundamental principle remained for centuries firmly established in the Islamic society, despite the various factors working for the bringing about of a setback to that society. "Abdullah ibn Abbas was always remembered with his slave Ikrimah, while Abdullah ibn Umar was remembered with his slave Nafi'. Anas ibn Malik was always associated with his slave Ibn Sirin, as was Abu Huraira with his slave Abdurrahman ibn Hormuz. The most distinguished men of learning were Al-Hassan in Basra, Mujahid ibn Jabr, Attaa ibn Rabah and Tawoos ibn Kaissan'. In Egypt, Yazeed ibn Abi Habeeb a black slave from Dengla, was the grand Mufti (holder of the highest position of religious authority) during the reign of Umar ibn Abdulaziz."

    This Divine standard continued to win high respect for the pious and god fearing, even when they were deprived of all things to which worldly considerations attached great value. It was only recently that this Divine standard ceased to operate after the whole world had been over whelmed by the tide of Ignorance. In the United States, the leading country of the West, a man is valued according to the size of his bank balance. In the Soviet Union, the leading country of the East, where materialism reigns supreme, a man is worth less than a machine. The land of Islam, on the other hand, has sunk back into Ignorance, from which Islam had saved it a long time ago. Ignorant creeds which Islam had rooted out have been revived. The Divine standard has been abandoned in favour of Ignorant values which are completely alien to Islam.

    The only hope that remains is that the new Islamic movement will be able to rescue mankind once again from the clutches of Ignorance and bring about a second rebirth of humanity, similar to the one announced by the decisive verses at the opening of this surah.

    The second part of the surah wonders at man's conceited attitude as he turns his back to the true faith, despite his being called upon to adopt it. It wonders how man forgets his humble origin and is totally oblivious of the care Allah has taken of him and of His complete power over every stage of his existence, both in this life and in the hereafter. In his attitude of utter ungratefulness man fulfils nothing of his duties towards his Lord, Who has created and sustained him and Who will hold him to account for his actions: Perish man! How ungrateful he is! Of what did Allah create him? Of a little germ. He created him and proportioned him. He makes his path smooth for him. He then causes him to die and puts him in his grave. He will surely bring him back to life when He pleases. But by no means has man fulfilled His bidding!

    "Perish man!" He deserves to be killed for his abominable attitude. The mode of expression adds to the sense of horror excited by this attitude. "How ungrateful he is!" He strongly denies the claims of his creation. Had he been mindful of these claims he would have shown humble gratitude to His Lord who created him; he would have shown no conceit and would have remembered the end he will have to meet. Indeed, how can man be so arrogant and conceited? What are his origins: "Of what did Allah create him?" It is a very humble origin, worthless indeed except for the grace of Allah. "Of a little germ. He created him and proportioned him." A little germ of no significance; that is man's beginning. Allah, the Creator, has then proportioned him. The Arabic verb used here denotes precise and meticulous proportioning. It also denotes bestowing weight and value This is how man has been created, honoured and raised from his humble origin to a high position in which the whole world has been put at his disposal.

    "He makes his path smooth for him": The path of life has been smoothed for him. He has also been given the ability to recognise and follow the right path.

    When the journey of life is over, when every living being meets the inevitable end, "He then causes him to die and puts him in his grave" So in the end the case is just the same as in the beginning: man submits to his Lord Who brings him to life when He wills and ends his life when He wills. He honours him by making the earth his last abode, rather than leaving him as food to wild animals. He has made it part of human nature to bury the dead. When the time He has appointed arrives, He brings him back to life for the reckoning: "He will surely bring him back to life when He pleases." So man will not be left without reward or retribution. But has man prepared himself for this reckoning? "But by no means has man fulfilled His bidding." Mankind as a whole, and all human generations, from the very first man created up to the last breath of the last human being, will not have fulfilled Allah's bidding. This is the inference of the Arabic expression used here. Man will always remain negligent of his duties. He will never remember his origin and creation as he should, nor will he thank and praise his Creator Who has guided him and looked after him as He should be thanked and praised. He does not prepare himself in this life for the day of reward and retribution. This applies to humanity as a whole. In addition, the great majority of men turn their backs arrogantly on the Divine guidance.

    Next the surah invites man to reflect upon his food and the food of his cattle, which is one of the great many things Allah has provided for him: Let man reflect on the food he eats: how We pour down the rain in torrents, and cleave the earth in fissures; how We bring forth the corn, the grapes, and the fresh vegetation, the olive and the palm, the dense-tree'd gardens, the fruit-trees and the green pastures, for you and your cattle to delight in.

    This is the full story of man's food, related here stage by stage. Let man reflect: does he play any significant role in it? Can he determine or change its course? Indeed, the same hand which has brought him to life has brought forth the food to sustain him. "Let man reflect on the food he eats." Food, the first necessity of human life, deserves a few thoughts. It is made readily available day after day. But it has a simple and wonderful story. Yet its simplicity makes man forget its wonder. Nevertheless, it is as miraculous as man's own creation. Every step is determined by the Supreme Will which has created man.

    "How we pour down the rain in torrents." Pouring down the rain is a fact known to every human being, wherever he lives, regardless of his level of experience or knowledge. It is, therefore, taken up in this address to all human beings. As man's knowledge has increased, he is now able to appreciate the meaning of this verse more fully. He knows that something happened a long time before the daily phenomenon of rain came to be established. Perhaps the theory closest to the truth concerning the formation of the oceans, whose water evaporates and then falls down as rain, claims that they were formed somewhere above the earth and then were poured down in torrents. A contemporary scientist says on this subject:

    If it is true that the temperature of the earth at the time of its separation from the sun was about 12,000 degrees, or that of the surface of the sun, then all the elements were free and, therefore, no chemical combination of importance could exist. Gradually, as the earth, or the earth-forming fragments, cooled, combinations would take place and a nucleus of the world as we know it is formed. Oxygen and hydrogen could not combine until the temperature was reduced to 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit. At this point these elements would rush together and form water. What we know as the atmosphere must have been enormous at that time. All the oceans were in the sky and all those elements not combined were in the air as gases. Water, having formed in the outer atmosphere, fell towards the earth but could not reach it, as the temperature near the earth was higher than it was thousands of miles out. Of course, the time came when the deluge would reach the earth only to fly up again as steam. With whole oceans in the air, floods that would result as cooling progressed are beyond calculation. [A Cressy Morrison, Man Does not Stand Alone, London, 1962, pp 35-6]

    Although we do not claim any definite link between this theory and this particular Qur'anic statement, we acknowledge that the theory gives us a better understanding of what it means and the period of history it refers to, i.e., the period of pouring water down in torrents. The theory may be proved right. On the other hand, other theories may be put forward to explain the origins of water. The Qur'anic statement, however, remains valid for all ages and societies.

    This is how the production of food starts: "We pour down the rain in torrents". No one can claim either to have produced water, at any stage of its formation, or to have poured it down, so that the process of food production may be set in motion.

    "And cleave the earth in fissures". All human societies may be asked to reflect on this second stage, which follows the pouring down of rain. The primitive man sees the rain falling and realizes that he has no power over it. He sees the water splitting the earth and penetrating the soil. He also sees the plant cleaving the earth with the Creator's will and growing over its surface. He notices that the plant is thin and the earth heavy yet the Creator's hand enables the plant to split the earth and move through it. Anyone who contemplates how plants grow can recognise the miracle involved here. He can feel the operation of the latent power inside the gentle, little plant.

    As human knowledge expands, a new understanding of this statement may be developed. The cleaving of the earth so that it becomes suitable for the growth of vegetation may have taken place long time ago. The Qur'anic statement may refer to the multiple break up of the rocks of the surface of the earth caused by the great floods and by the various climatic factors which, according to modern scientists contributed to the formation of a soil layer where vegetation can grow. This interpretation fits more closely with the sequence of events as it is reported here.

    In either case, the third stage is that of the growth of all kinds of vegetation. The kind mentioned here is the best known to the people immediately addressed by the Qur'an, and the kind most common in the food of man and animal. "How we bring forth the corn", "The corn" refers to all cereals and grains used for human or animal food. "The grapes, and the fresh vegetation". The reference here is to the well-known vine fruits and to all vegetables which can be eaten raw and can be picked time after time. "The olive and the palm, the dense-tree'd gardens, the fruit trees and the green pastures." The olive and the palm fruits are well-known to all Arabs. "The gardens" refer to the fenced fields of fruit trees. They are described here as being dense with trees. The Arabic term "abb" translated here as "green pastures" refers in all probability to the herbage used for cattle. As mentioned in the commentary on the preceeding surah, Umar asked what the "abb" meant and then blamed himself for asking. So we follow Umar's suit and add nothing to what has been already mentioned.

    This is the story of food, the provision of which is carefully planned by the hand which created man. Man plays no role in any of its stages. Even the seeds and grains he may throw in the earth are not of his making. The miraculous aspect here lies in the original production of these seeds and grains, which is beyond man's comprehension. Various seeds may be planted in the same piece of land, irrigated by one kind of water; yet each one produces its own fruit. It is the hand of the Creator which makes this infinite collection of plants and their fruits, and preserves in the little seed the characteristics of its mother plant so that they may reappear in the plant which issues from it. Man remains ignorant of the secrets of this process. He has no power over it. It is Allah's own production: "For you and your cattle to delight in". This delight is, however, for a limited period. There follows something totally different which needs to be carefully considered by man before it actually arrives.

    But when the stunning blast is sounded, on that day each man will forsake his brother, his mother and his father, his wife and his children: for each one of them will on that day have enough pre occupations of his own. Some faces on that day shall be beaming, smiling and joyful. Some other faces on that day shall be covered with dust, veiled with darkness. These shall be the faces of the disbelievers, the wicked.

    This is the end of all delight and enjoyment. It fits perfectly with the long planning and comprehensive designing which include every stage in the development of man. The end portrayed in this scene comes into perfect harmony with the scene portrayed at the beginning of the surah which shows someone coming forward with zeal and with a feeling of fear in his heart, and another considering himself self-sufficient and turning away from the Divine guidance. Here we have an exposition of their standing in Allah's view.

    "The stunning blast" is the nearest translation of an Arabic term which carries a very sharp tone; it almost pierces through the ears. This effect simply prepares us for the following scene in which we see "each man will for sake his brother, his mother and his father, his wife and his children." These ties between the man and his nearest relations cannot be severed in the normal course of events. Yet the stunning blast destroys these very links and ties and throws them into the air.

    The fearfulness depicted in this scene is purely psychological. It strikes the soul, isolates it and holds it in its grip. The result is that each one will think only of himself. He shall have no time or power to think of others: "for each one of them will on that day have enough preoccupation's of his own ". The description is vivid; yet there could not be a shorter and more comprehensive statement to describe the general condition of worried minds and souls: "for each one of them will on that day have enough preoccupation's of his own. This condition is universal when the stunning blast takes place. Then follows a description of the condition of the believers and that of the disbelievers after the two groups have been assigned their values by the Divine standards: "some faces on that day shall be beaming, smiling and joyful." These faces are beaming with happiness overflowing with delight, lit up with a broad smile. They are hopeful and reassured because they feel that the Lord is pleased with them.

    The people of this class are spared the terror of the stunning blast, so they can afford to smile and show their happiness. Or probably the smiles and manifestations of happiness are seen after these people have realized the good end awaiting them.

    Some other faces on that day shall be covered with dust, veiled with darkness. These shall be the faces of the disbelievers, the hardened in sin.

    These faces are covered with the dust of sadness and misery, darkened with humiliation and depression. They know what they have done in this life and they await their inevitable punishment. These shall be the faces of the disbelievers, the hardened in sin.

    The people of this class are devoid of faith. They do not believe in Allah or in the Divine message. Moreover, they are hardened in their erring and sinful ways. They persistently violate the Divine commandments.

    The destiny of each group is portrayed in their faces. It is a vivid portrait drawn with words and expressions - a fact which testifies to the immense power characteristic of the Qur'anic style.

    The opening and the close of the surah are in perfect harmony. The opening lays down a fundamental principle and a general standard, and the close shows us the results of applying this standard. The surah is a short one; yet it states a number of major facts and principles, portraying a large number of scenes, utilising different rhythms. The style brings out all the images in full relief.

     

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