In the Shade of the Quran (part 30)


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  • In the Shade of the Quran (part 30)


  • Surah 98 The Clear Proof al Bayyinah

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

     

    Those who disbelieve among the people of the earlier revelations and the polytheists could have never departed (from their erring ways) until there had come to them the Clear Proof: A Messenger from Allah reciting purified pages, containing books of high value and importance. Nor were the people of the earlier revelations divided until the Clear Proof had been given to them. Yet they are ordered to do nothing more than to serve Allah, to worship Him alone with sincerity, and with purity of faith, to attend to their prayers and to pay the purifying alms (zakat). That is surely the faith of the upright nation. Those who disbelieve among the people of the earlier revelations and the polytheists shall burn forever in the fire of Hell. They are the worst of all creatures. But those who believe and do righteous deeds are the best of all creatures. Their Lord will reward them with the gardens of Eden underneath which rivers How, where they shall dwell forever. Allah is well pleased with them and they with Him. This is the reward of the god fearing.

     

    Commentary:

    As stated in our copies of the Qur'an and according to the greater number of reports, this surah is a Medinan revelation. There are, however, some reports which classify it as Makkan. Although its classification as Medinan carries more weight in view of these reports and its mode of expression and style, yet the possibility of its being Makkan cannot be ruled out. The fact that it mentions "the purifying alms" (zakat) and "the people of earlier revelations" is not clear cut argument against the Makkan possibility. Some surahs which are indisputably Makkan mention the people of earlier revelations. Also, there were some of these people in Makka; some of them adopted Islam and some did not. Moreover the Christians from Najran came to the Prophet when he was still in Makka, and they accepted the Islamic faith, as it is known. Moreover, "zakat" or "the purifying alms" is mentioned in some Makka surahs.

    This surah deals in a positive manner with a number of facts relating to history and faith. The first fact is that the sending of the Messenger, Muhammad (peace be on him), was essential to the transformation of those of the people of the earlier revelations and the polytheists who had ended up in disbelief. They could not have departed from their erring ways without thc help of this prophetic mission: " Those who disbelieve among the people of the earlier revelations and the polytheists could have never departed (from their erring ways) until there had come to them the Clear Proof: a Messenger from Allah reciting purified pages containing books of high value and importance.

    The second fact is that religious discord and conflict among the people of the earlier revelations did not arise out of their ignorance of, or from any obscurity or ambiguity in, their religion. On the contrary, they ran into discord after they had received true knowledge and the clear proof: "Nor were the people of the earlier revelations divided until the Clear Proof had been given to them. "

    The third fact is that, in regard to its origin, religion is one. Its fundamentals are simple and clear and do not, by themselves and by their plain and easy nature, make for divisions or conflicts: " Yes they are ordered to do nothing more than to serve Allah, to worship Him alone with sincerity and with purity of faith, to attend to their prayers and to pay the stated alms. That is surely the faith of the upright nation. "

    The fourth fact is that those who disbelieved after receiving the clear proof are the worst creatures of all, while those who believe and do good deeds are the best creatures. Hence the rewards of the two types are totally different: " Those who disbelieve among the people of the earlier revelations and the polytheists shall burn forever in the fire of Hell. They are the worst of all creatures. But those who believe and do righteous deeds are the best of all creatures. Their Lord will reward them with the gardens of Eden underneath which rivers flow, where they shall dwell for ever. Allah is well pleased with them and they with Him. This is the reward of the godfearing."

    All these four facts are greatly valuable for the full understanding of the role of the Islamic ideology which is the final Divine message, as well as for the formulation of one's concepts of faith.

    Those who disbelieve among the people of the earlier revelations and the polytheists could have never departed (from their erring ways) until there had come to them the Clear Proof: a Messenger from Allah reciting purified pages, containing books of high value and importance.

    The world was terribly in need of a new message. Corruption had spread around the whole world to the extent that there was no hope of reform except by means of a new message, a new method of orientation and a new movement. Disbelief crept into and became the characteristic of all creeds and doctrines whether those of the people of earlier revelations (i.e. the Jews and the Christians) who previously knew the Divine religions and distorted them or those of the polytheists in the Arabian Peninsula and beyond, all alike. They were not to turn away from this disbelief into which they had sunk except by means of this new message and at the hands of a messenger who would himself be a clear proof, distinctive and specific. "A Messenger from Allah reciting purified pages", that is, purified of all idolatory and disbelief, "containing books of high value and importance. " The term "book" is used for reference to the subject discussed, for example, book of purity, book of prayers, book of destiny and book of resurrection. These pure pages are indeed the Qur'an which contains valuable and important books.

    Hence this message and the messenger came at a perfectly suitable time. These scriptures also came with all that they contain of books and facts to bring about a far reaching reform of this world. As to how badly the world needed this message and messenger we shall be content to indicate by quoting some inspiring remarks from the valuable book written by the Muslim author Sayyid Abul Hassan Ali Nadwi and entitled "Islam and the World ". This book is the clearest as well as the briefest that we have read on this subject. The author writes in chapter one:

    The sixth Century of the Christian era, it is generally agreed. represented the darkest phase in the history of our race. Humanity had reached the edge of the precipice, towards which it had been tragically proceeding for centuries, and there appeared to be no agency or power in the whole world which could come to its rescue and save it from crashing into the abyss of destruction .

    In his melancholy progress from God forgetfulness to self for getting, man had lost his moorings. He had grown indifferent to his destiny. The teachings of the prophets had been forgotten: the lamps that they had kindled either had been put out by the storms of moral anarchy or the light they shed had become so feeble that it could illumine the hearts of but a few men, most of whom had sought refuge in passivity and resignation. Having been vanquished in the battle between spiritualism and materialism, they had shut themselves up in monasteries or gone into wilderness Such of them as were still left in the whirlpool of life had aligned themselves with the ruling classes of their lands. They helped them in the satisfaction of their sensual desires and in the maintenance of unjust political and economic systems and cooperated with them in reaping unlawful benefits out of the wealth of the people ...

    Great religions became playthings in the hands of debased ecclesiastics who corrupted and twisted them beyond recognition, so much so that if it were possible for their founders to return to the physical life, they could not have recognised them. In consequence of the moral debasement of the great centres of civilisation and general disorder and unrest, people everywhere got entangled in their internal problems. They had no message to offer to the world The world had become hollow from within; its life-springs had dried up. It possessed neither the light of religious guidance for their personal conduct nor any abiding and rational principles for running a state.

    This outlines briefly the condition of mankind and religions just before the advent of Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him). The Qur'an refers in various parts to the aspects of this disbelief which spread amongst the people of the earlier revelations as well as the polytheists. Among these references to the Jews and Christians are: "The Jews say. 'Ezra is the son of Allah" [Al-Qur'an 9:30], and the Christians say. "the Messiah is the son of Allah" and "The Jews say, 'the Christians follow nothing true", and the Christians say. "the Jews follow nothing true'." [Al-Qur'an 2:113] The Qur'an also refers to the Jews: "The Jews have said, 'Allah 's hand is fettered '. Fettered are their hands, and cursed they are for what they say. His hands are outspread: He bestows as He wills." [Al-Qur'an 5:64] It says about the Christians: "They are surely disbelievers who say, 'Allah is the Messiah, son of Mary" [Al-Qur'an 5:72] and, "They are surely disbelievers who say, "Allah is one of a trinity" [Al-Qur'an 5:73] The Qur'an also speaks about the polytheists: "Say: "Disbelievers! I do not worship what you worship. Nor do you worship what I worship. I shall never worship what you worship, neither will you worship what I worship. You have your own religion and I have mine'. " [Al-Qur'an 109:1-6] There are many other statements in the Qur'an which support this view.

    In addition to this disbelief, there were backwardness, divisiors, ruin as well as other evils spread all over the world.

    In short there was no nation on earth with an upright thinking. There was neither a society built on a foundation of morality and virtue, nor a government based on justice and mercy, nor a leadership founded on knowledge and wisdom, nor a true religion that came through the prophets. [Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi, Islam and the World.]

    Hence, the Divine grace extended to mankind required that a Messenger be sent from Him reciting purified scriptures containing valuable and important books. There was no way of putting an end to the widespread corruption except by the sending of this Messenger, the deliverer, the guide and himself the Clear Proof.

    Having made this fact clear at the outset, the surah goes on to state that the people of the earlier revelations in particular did not experience religious conflicts and divisions as a result of ignorance on their part or confusion or complication on the part of their religion. Their divisions occurred after the true knowledge and the clear signs of their religion were delivered to them through the Messengers sent to them: "Nor were the people of the earlier revelations divided until the Clear Proof had been given to them."

    The first division was among the Jews who split into sects and groups before the prophethood of Jesus. Although their prophet was Moses and the Torah was their book, they split up into five main sects, namely, the Sadducees, the Pharisees, the Asians, the Extremists and the Samaritans. Each had their own characteristics and their own ways. Later on the division between the Jews and the Christians took place in spite of the fact that Jesus is the last prophet sent to the Children of Israel. He came to endorse the Torah and confirm it. Nevertheless, the quarrel between the Jews and the Christians reached the level of violent enmity and wicked hatred. History tells us about the horrifying massacres that took place between the two parties.

    The mutual jealousy and hatred between the Christians and the Jews, which did not permit them to forego any opportunity of settling an old score was brought to its climax towards the close of the sixth century. In 610 A.D. the Jews of Antioch rebelled against the Christians, and the Emperor Phocas sent his famous general Bonosus to put down the uprising, who set about his business with such enthusiasm that the whole of the Jewish population was wiped out. Thousands of Jews perished by the sword, while hundreds of them were drowned or burnt alive or thrown to the wild beasts. [Ibid. pp. 17-18]

    This was repeated again and again between the Jews and the Christians. Al-Maqrizi says in his Book of Plans (Al Khitat), "During the reign of the Byzantine Emperor Phocas, Chosroes, the Shah of Persia, dispatched his armies to Syria and Egypt. They destroyed the churches of Jerusalem, Palestine and the rest of the Syrian land. They wiped out all the Christians and pursued them to Egypt, where they slaughtered them in large numbers and enslaved an unimaginable number. The Jews helped them in fighting the Christians and destroying their churches. They poured from all directions to help the Persians and came from Tiberia, the Mount of Galilee, Nazareth village and the City of Tyre and all around Jerusalem. They committed all sorts of atrocities against the Christians, organised ghastly massacres, destroyed two Christian churches in Jerusalem, burnt their places, stole a piece of the pillar of the Cross and captured the Patriarch of Jerusalem and a great many of his friends and companions ..." Al-Maqrizi goes on to relate the Persian conquest of Egypt; then he writes: "At that time, the Jews in the City of Tyre rebelled and sent messengers from among themselves to other cities and towns and all agreed to lay a trap for the Christians and kill them. A war broke out between the Jews and Christians in which the number of the Jews was around 20,000. They destroyed the Christian churches around Tyre. But the Christians surrounded them and raised much greater numbers, so the Jews suffered a ghastly defeat and a great number of them were killed. At the time Heraclius ascended to power in Constantinople. He defeated the Persians by setting a trap for the Shah, who left him eventually and went away. Then he marched from Constantinople to re-establish his authority over Syria and Egypt and to renew what the Persians had destroyed. The Jews from Tiberia and other places went out to meet him. They presented him with precious gifts and begged him to guarantee their security and to take an oath to this effect. He granted their request. He went on to Jerusalem where he was received by the Christian population holding up their Bibles, crosses, and incense, and burning candles. He was very much displeased at seeing the city and its churches destroyed. He expressed his sorrow to the local Christians who told him about the uprising by the Jews and their siding with the Persians, the massacre of the Christians and the destruction of their churches. They told Heraclius to level a blow to the Jews but he protested that he had already guaranteed their security and had taken an oath to that effect. Their monks, cardinals and priests gave their judgement that the killing of the Jews was justifiable on the grounds that they had played a trick in order to win that assurance from him before he knew what they had done. The clergy also pledged to atone for Heraclius' oath by committing themselves and all Christians to fast a certain Friday every year for the rest of time. Thus he leaned to their argument and wreaked such a savage vengeance upon the Jews that in the Byzantine provinces of Syria and Egypt those alone could save themselves who could take to flight or go into hiding.

    These reports give us an idea about the degree of savagery the two parties, the Christians and the Jews, had reached, their watching for a chance to strike against the enemy and their heeding no rules in all that. [Ibid. pp. 9-11]

    Then divisions and differences broke out amongst the Christians themselves in spite of the fact that their book is one and their messenger is one. They were divided first in matters of faith; then they split up into hostile and warring sects. The differences were concerned with the nature of Jesus and whether he had a Divine or a human nature, and with the nature of Mary, his mother, and also with the nature of the Trinity which constitutes God, as they claim. The Qur'an relates two or three of their sayings on these issues: "They are surely disbelievers who say. 'Allah is the Messiah, son of Mary'" [Al-Qur'an 5:72], "They are surely disbelievers who say: 'Allah is one of a trinity'" [Al-Qur'an 5:73] and, "Allah said: 'Jesus, son of Mary! Did you ever say to people. Worship me and my mother as gods beside Allah ?" [Al-Qur'an 5:116]

    The most violent of doctrinal divisions was that which erupted between the Byzantine State and the Christians of Syria and the Christians of Egypt, or, in a more accurate definition, the Melkites and the Monophysites. The main dispute was over the alleged combination of the Divine and the human natures in Jesus. The Melkite Christians of Syria held that he was both Divine and human, while the Monophysites of Egypt insisted upon his being truiy Divine, the human part of his nature having lost itself in the Divine as a drop of vinegar loses its identity in the ocean. The dispute between the two parties became much stronger in the sixth and seventh centuries so that it looked as if it was a ceaseless war between two rival religions, or a dispute between Jews and Christians. Every group kept saying to the other that its stand was without foundation.

    Emperor Heraclius (610 641) tried after his victory over the Persians in 638 to reconcile the contending creeds in his state and to unite them by compromise. This compromise took the shape of a general ban on indulging in any argument on the nature of Jesus Christ, the Messiah, and whether he had a single or dual nature. But everyone had to accept the doctrine of a single energy in Christ. [Nadwi, Ibid, pp. 3-5] Agreement on this was established at the beginning of 631, and thus the Menothelian creed was declared the official creed of the state and all those of its populations who belonged to the Christian church. Heraclius was determined to give the new creed overall supremacy, and he utilised all means for this end. But the Copts disputed his authority and declared their totai rejection of this innovation and deviation. They took the opposing stand and sacrificed their all for their old faith. The Emperor tried once again to unite all the creeds and settle the differences. He was content that people should accept that there is a single will for Christ.' As for the other issue, namely, the realisation of that will by action, he deferred taking a stand on it altogether. He also banned all people from indulging in arguments and debates on these issues. He included all that in an official message which he delivered to all parts of the Eastern world. But the message failed to end the storm. Instead, brutal persecution was administered by the Emperor in Egypt for ten years which witnessed what would send a shiver of terror into any mortal being. Men were tortured savagely before being put to death by drowning. Big torches were lit and directed to the miserable prisoners until the fat ran from both sides of their bodies to the floor. Prisoners were put in sacks which were then filled with sand and thrown into the sea. These and other ghastly brutalities were committed. [Nadwi, Ibid, pp. 3-5]

    All these disputes among the people of earlier revelations took place after "the Clear Proof had been given to them". They were not lacking in knowledge and proof, but they were blindly driven by their desires into deviation.

    Yet religion is clear in its original form and the faith is simple in its essence: " Yet they are ordered nothing more than to serve Allah, to worship Allah alone with sincerity, and with purity of faith, to attend to their prayers and to pay the purifying alms (zakat). That is surely the faith of the upright nation. " This is the basis of the Divine religion throughout the ages and in all its forms. It is simply the worship of Allah alone, sincere and pure submission to Him, detachment from polytheism and the polytheists, the establishment of regular worship and payment of the prescribed alms: " That is surely the faith of the upright nation." It is a pure and sincere faith in the heart, worship of the Divine Being which is a translation of this faith, and spending money for the cause of Allah as He has stated. He who fulfils these injunctions has met the requirements of faith, as the people of the earlier revelations were commanded to do, and as these requirements are outlined in all the forms of the Divine religion. It is one religion, the same faith in all the successive messages and as preached by the successive messengers of Allah. It is a religion free from all ambiguity and complication; a faith which gives no reason for division and dispute. It is very clear and very simple. How completely different this religion is from those complicated and confusing concepts and from those lengthy polemics.

    Since clear proof has been given to them formerly in their own religions through their own prophets, and since clear proof had been given to them again, full of life, in the form of a Messenger from Allah reciting purified pages, and offering them a clear and simple faith, then the true path becomes very clear. So does the destiny of the disbelievers, and that of the believers: "Those who disbelieve among the people of the earlier revelations and the polytheists shall burn forever in the fire of Hell; they are the worst of all creatures. But those who believe and do righteous deeds are the best of all creatures. Their Lord will reward them with the gardens of Eden underneath which rivers flow where they shall dwell forever. Allah is well pleased with them and they with Him. This is the reward of the godfearing."

    Muhammad (peace be on him) was the last messenger, and Islam, which he preached, the final message. Messengers from Allah came successively every time corruption spread in the world. Their objective was to make mankind return to righteousness. Those who deviated from the right path had one chance after another to correct their behaviour. But now that Allah has willed to close His messages to earth by this final, comprehensive, perfect and accomplished message, then the last chance has been given. It is either the adoption of faith and salvation, or the denial of faith and destruction. For disbelief now is an established evidence of unlimited evil, while accepting the faith is proof of goodness which goes to its absolute end.

    "Those who disbelieve among the people of the earlier revelations and the polytheists shall burn forever in the fire of Hell. They are the worst of all creatures." It is a clear and absolute verdict which gives no room for argument of dispute. It is applicable even if some of their actions, values or systems were good, since these are not based on believing in this final message and final messenger. No appearance of goodness will make us entertain even the slightest doubt in this judgement, since this apparent goodness is detached from the upright method of living laid down by Allah.

    "Those who believe and do righteous deeds are the best of all creatures. " This is also an absolute verdict that makes for no dispute or argument. Its condition is also clear, free from any ambiguity or deception. The condition is faith, not merely being born in a land which claims to be Islamic, or in a family which claims to belong to Islam. Neither is it a few words which one repeats again and again. It is the acceptance of faith which establishes its effects on the actual life, "and do righteous deeds." It is entirely different from the words that go no further than the lips. As for the "righteous deeds", these are everything Allah has commanded to be done in matters of worship, behaviour, action and day-to-day dealings. The first and most important of these "righteous deeds" is the establishment of Allah's law on this planet, and the government of people according to what Allah has legislated. Those who act accordingly are the best creatures of all .

    "Their Lord will reward them with the gardens of Eden underneath which rivers flow, where they shall dwell forever. " These gardens are a specially prepared, permanent and happy dwelling. The happiness is symbolised here by security against death and by the prevalent feeling of contentment as against the feelings of anxiety which mar and disrupt all earthly comforts. It is also symbolised by the rivers flowing underneath these gardens; a picture which adds a sense of ease, life and beauty.

    The surah then adds some refined touches to the picture it portrays of their perpetual happiness: "Allah is well pleased with them and they with him." This pleasure of Allah with them is much more exalted and far more enjoyable than any happiness. Moreover, in their inmost souls they feel their pleasure with their Lord. They are well pleased with the destiny He has set for them, delighted with the grace He has granted them, enchanted with this relationship with their Lord. It is a pleasure which fills the heart and soul with security and contentment as well as delight and happiness, deep and pure. It is an expression which suggests unique connotations: "Allah is well pleased with them and they with him."

    "This is the reward of the godfearing." This is the final assertion. It stresses that all that has been said is dependent on the nature of the relationship between man's heart and Allah. It also depends on man's having a feeling Of Allah which urges him to all sorts of good deeds and militates against all sorts of deviation. It is a feeling which removes the barriers, lifts the curtains and makes man's heart stand bare before Allah, the One, the All Powerful. It is a feeling which helps make worship and submission to Allah pure and purges human actions from all elements of hypocrisy and polytheism. in all norms. So he who truly fears his Lord cannot allow his heart to entertain the slightest shred of influence by any being other than Allah. the Creator of all beings. Such a man knows that Allah rejects any deed by which the doer seeks any being beside Allah. For Allah is in no need of partners. Every action must be pure for Him or else He rejects it.

     

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