And whatsoever He has created for you on this earth of varying colors [and qualities from vegetation and fruits, etc. (botanical life) and from animal (zoological life)]. Verily! In this is a sign for people who remember. The Holy Quran 16:13

Surat Fussilat (Verses 30-36) 

This transcript is based on the audio recordings of Late Dr. Israr Ahmad (Rahimahullah) and paraphrased for clarity 

As mentioned earlier, Surat al-‘Asr lays down the four conditions for success and salvation in the hereafter. These four conditions were later discussed in a different context and terminology in verse 177 of Surat al-Baqarah.  The same four concepts then appeared in a different perspective and framework in verses 12 to 19 of Surat Luqman. These four prerequisites of success are now discussed in verses 30 to 36 of Surat Fussilat to have a comprehensive view of the duties of a Muslim and the comprehensive concept of the conditions of success and salvation according to the Qur’an.

إِنَّ الَّذِينَ قَالُوا رَبُّنَا اللَّهُ ثُمَّ اسْتَقَامُوا تَتَنَزَّلُ عَلَيْهِمُ الْمَلَائِكَةُ أَلَّا تَخَافُوا وَلَا تَحْزَنُوا وَأَبْشِرُوا بِالْجَنَّةِ الَّتِي كُنْتُمْ تُوعَدُونَ () نَحْنُ أَوْلِيَاؤُكُمْ فِي الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا وَفِي الْآَخِرَةِ وَلَكُمْ فِيهَا مَا تَشْتَهِي أَنْفُسُكُمْ وَلَكُمْ فِيهَا مَا تَدَّعُونَ () نُزُلًا مِنْ غَفُورٍ رَحِيمٍ () وَمَنْ أَحْسَنُ قَوْلًا مِمَّنْ دَعَا إِلَى اللَّهِ وَعَمِلَ صَالِحًا وَقَالَ إِنَّنِي مِنَ الْمُسْلِمِينَ () وَلا تَسْتَوِي الْحَسَنَةُ وَلا السَّيِّئَةُ ادْفَعْ بِالَّتِي هِيَ أَحْسَنُ فَإِذَا الَّذِي بَيْنَكَ وَبَيْنَهُ عَدَاوَةٌ كَأَنَّهُ وَلِيٌّ حَمِيمٌ () وَمَا يُلَقَّاهَا إِلاَّ الَّذِينَ صَبَرُوا وَمَا يُلَقَّاهَا إِلاَّ ذُو حَظٍّ عَظِيمٍ () وَإِمَّا يَنْزَغَنَّكَ مِنَ الشَّيْطَانِ نَزْغٌ فَاسْتَعِذْ بِاللَّهِ إِنَّهُ هُوَ السَّمِيعُ الْعَلِيمُ ()

 “As for those who affirm, Our Lord is Allah, and then remain steadfast, the angels will descend on them, saying, Have no fear and do not grieve. Rejoice in the good news of the Garden that you have been promised. We are your companions in this life and in the Hereafter. Therein you shall have all that your souls desire, and therein you shall have all that you ask for, as a rich provision from One who is ever forgiving and most merciful. Who speaks better than one who calls to Allah and does good works and says, I am surely of those who submit? Good and evil deeds are not equal. Repel evil with what is better; then you will see that one who was once your enemy has become your dearest friend, but no one will be granted such goodness except those who exercise patience and self-restraint, and no one is granted it save those who are truly fortunate. If a prompting from Satan should stir you, seek refuge with Allah: He is the All Hearing and the All Knowing.” (Fussilat, 41:30-36)

The verse 30 of Surat Fussilat says,

إِنَّ الَّذِينَ قَالُوا رَبُّنَا اللَّهُ ثُمَّ اسْتَقَامُوا تَتَنَزَّلُ عَلَيْهِمُ الْمَلَائِكَةُ أَلَّا تَخَافُوا وَلَا تَحْزَنُوا وَأَبْشِرُوا بِالْجَنَّةِ الَّتِي كُنْتُمْ تُوعَدُونَ

 “As for those who affirm, Our Lord is Allah, and then remain steadfast, the angels will descend on them, saying, Have no fear and do not grieve. Rejoice in the good news of the Garden that you have been promised.” (Fussilat, 41:30) 

The word Rabb (Lord) in this verse is very profound and means provider, sustainer, protector, benefactor, owner, and master. The word istaqamu implies that the true believers remain steadfast on the affirmation that Allah is indeed their Rabb. They stick to what they claim and they stand up to it. They demonstrate it in their thinking, feelings, actions, and behavior. The following hadith sums this up.

عَنْ أَبِي عَمْرٍو وَقِيلَ: أَبِي عَمْرَةَ سُفْيَانَ بْنِ عَبْدِ اللَّهِ رَضِيَ اللهُ عَنْهُ قَالَ: "قُلْت: يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ! قُلْ لِي فِي الْإِسْلَامِ قَوْلًا لَا أَسْأَلُ عَنْهُ أَحَدًا غَيْرَك؛ قَالَ: قُلْ: آمَنْت بِاَللَّهِ ثُمَّ اسْتَقِمْ"  

On the authority of Abi `Amr—and he is also called Abi `Amrah, Sufyan bin Abdullah (RA) said: I said, "O Messenger of Allah, tell me something of Islam which I can ask of no one but you." He (SAW) said, "Say I believe in Allah, and then be steadfast."

This means that the real iman is to have iman in Allah (iman billah). In the statement of al-Iman al-Mujmal or the generalized form of iman, there is no mention of other articles of iman other than iman in Allah (iman billah). It states,  

امَنْتُ بِاللهِ كَمَا هُوَ بِاَسْمَائِه وَصِفَاتِه وَقَبِلْتُ جَمِيْعَ اَحْكَامِه

"I believe in Allah as He is with all His Names and Attributes and I accept all of His Commands." 

To declare, “I believe in Allah” is easy, but to hold on to it and to earnestly live by it is very difficult. Allama Iqbal wrote in one of his Persian poems that saying “I am a Muslim” made him tremble because he knew how difficult it was to be one. It takes no effort or energy to utter the few simple words—la ilaha illallah (there is no god but Allah) but to live by it, to be firm on it, to stick to it, and to stand up to it is not easy at all. Claiming Allah to be one’s Rabb means that one should not have any complain against His decisions and should accept them with complete calmness. They could even be unpleasant but whatever comes from Allah has to be beneficial in the long run, if not immediately. Allah and His messenger have to be obeyed under all circumstances.  

وَأَطِيعُوا اللَّهَ وَأَطِيعُوا الرَّسُولَ

 “And obey Allah and obey the Messenger.” (al-Ma’idah, 5:92)

Nothing befalls one without Allah’s permission.

مَا أَصَابَ مِن مُّصِيبَةٍ إِلَّا بِإِذْنِ اللَّهِ وَمَن يُؤْمِن بِاللَّهِ يَهْدِ قَلْبَهُ وَاللَّهُ بِكُلِّ شَيْءٍ عَلِيمٌ

“No misfortune occurs except by Allah´s permission. Whoever has iman in Allah, He will guide his heart. Allah has knowledge of all things.” (al-Taghabun, 64:11) 

If Allah is accepted as one’s Rabb, then He is to be obeyed totally. There is no question of abiding by some commandments of Allah and not abiding by others or considering some injunctions to be practicable and others to be impracticable. To think so is to cast a vote of no confidence against the wisdom of Allah. To consider some injunctions of the Qur’an and some commandments of Allah as impracticable is not to trust the knowledge and wisdom of Allah. Since whatever comes from Him is out of His absolute knowledge and wisdom, every divine command has to be accepted and obeyed.

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا ادْخُلُوا فِي السِّلْمِ كَافَّةً

“O you who believe! Enter Islam totally.”(al-Baqarah, 2:208)

At the same time, there has to be complete reliance (tawakkul) on Allah. Tawakkul means putting in one’s best efforts—leaving no stone unturned, and then putting one’s trust in Allah and not in one’s own efforts or availability of the means one has, because whatever the outcome, it comes about only with the approval and decree of Allah and not otherwise. It is reported that one day Prophet Muhammad (SAW) noticed a Bedouin leaving his camel without tying it and he asked the Bedouin, “Why don’t you tie down your camel?” The Bedouin answered, “I put my trust in Allah.” The Prophet then said, “Tie your camel first, then put your trust in Allah.” 

A true righteous believer (Mu’min) who says “Our Lord is Allah” and remains firm on it has attained a level which Allah calls wilayah, or the state of having a close relationship with Allah. This is the level of ihsan or the highest state of faith (iman). It is often associated with tasawwuf (Sufism)—a foreign word that finds no mention in the Qur’an or the entire collection of ahadith. The word tasawwuf has crept into the Islamic religious discourse and has resulted in diluting the meaning and implication of ihsan, which people generally understand to mean doing something good to someone. Ihsan actually is the level of beautiful mutual relationship between someone and his Lord (Rabb). It is derived from the word husn, which means beauty.    

The other term is wilayah. Wali means friend, guardian, patron, ally, and so on. Wilayah is the mutual friendship between the Rabb and His slave; between Allah and the Mu’min

اللَّهُ وَلِيُّ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا

“Allah is the guardian of those who believe” (al-Baqarah, 2:257).

أَلَا إِنَّ أَوْلِيَاءَ اللَّهِ لَا خَوْفٌ عَلَيْهِمْ وَلَا هُمْ يَحْزَنُونَ

“Those who are close to Allah shall certainly have no fear, nor shall they grieve.” (Yunus, 10:62). 

If somebody becomes the beloved of Allah, then Allah raises his status and makes him His friend. The relationship of Allah and His slave is elevated to the level of relationship between Allah and His friend. 

It is possible that the slave endears himself to the Master to a degree that he is freed by the Master. We have the example of Zayd ibn Haritha (RA). He was a slave of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) who freed him and took him as his adopted son. The freed slave was referred to as maula by the Arabs.  Thauban (RA) was another maula of the Prophet (SAW). Thus, wilayah or ihsan is the highest status a true righteous believer (Mu’min) can attain in this world. It is the people of ihsan whom Allah loves dearly. The love that Allah has for those believers who have reached a level of ihsan is described in Surat al-Ma’idah and elsewhere.

لَيْسَ عَلَى الَّذِينَ آَمَنُوا وَعَمِلُوا الصَّالِحَاتِ جُنَاحٌ فِيمَا طَعِمُوا إِذَا مَا اتَّقَوْا وَآَمَنُوا وَعَمِلُوا الصَّالِحَاتِ ثُمَّ اتَّقَوْا وَآَمَنُوا ثُمَّ اتَّقَوْا وَأَحْسَنُوا وَاللَّهُ يُحِبُّ الْمُحْسِنِينَ

“Those who have iman and do right actions are not to blame for anything they have consumed provided they have taqwa and iman and do right actions, and then again have taqwa and iman, and then have taqwa and do good. Allah loves good-doers.” (al-Ma’idah, 5:93) 

The first three verses (30, 31, and 32) of the section of Surat Fussilat under discussion correspond to three verses (62, 63, and 64) of Surat Yunus. Incidentally, it may be pointed out that there are several groups of three or seven verses found in the Qur’an which are very profound, meaningful, and integrated logically. These figures of three and seven seem to have some relevance even though we might not be able to understand their implication fully, but the data is there. The three verses of Surat Yunus are,  

أَلَا إِنَّ أَوْلِيَاءَ اللَّهِ لَا خَوْفٌ عَلَيْهِمْ وَلَا هُمْ يَحْزَنُونَ () الَّذِينَ آَمَنُوا وَكَانُوا يَتَّقُونَ () لَهُمُ الْبُشْرَى فِي الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا وَفِي الْآَخِرَةِ لَا تَبْدِيلَ لِكَلِمَاتِ اللَّهِ ذَلِكَ هُوَ الْفَوْزُ الْعَظِيمُ ()

“Yes, the friends of Allah will feel no fear and will know no sorrow; those who have iman and show taqwa; there is good news for them in the life of this world and in the Next World. There is no changing the words of Allah. That is the great victory!” (Yunus, 10:62-64).

In the above verse, there is mention of the ‘friends of Allah’ (أَوْلِيَاءَ اللَّهِ) who will feel no fear and will know no grief. These friends of Allah are not a different species. They are the same human beings who had real iman and real taqwa. The verse 16 of Surat al-Taghabun says,

فَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ مَا اسْتَطَعْتُمْ وَاسْمَعُوا وَأَطِيعُوا وَأَنْفِقُوا خَيْرًا لِأَنْفُسِكُمْ

“So have taqwa of Allah, as much as you are able to and listen and obey and spend for your own benefit” (al-Fussilat, 64:16) 

And the verse 102 of Surat Aal ‘Imran says,

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا اتَّقُوا اللَّهَ حَقَّ تُقَاتِهِ وَلَا تَمُوتُنَّ إِلَّا وَأَنتُم مُّسْلِمُونَ

“O you who believe, have taqwa of Allah with the taqwa due to Him and do not die except as Muslims” (Aal ‘Imran, 3:102). 

A person who has real taqwa and real iman is the one who has iman in his heart, and not just on the tip of his tongue. Real iman in the heart permeates one’s whole personality. It is from the heart that blood circulates through the whole body nourishing each and every cell of the body. Otherwise it would die. In the same way, having no iman in the heart is like having a spiritual heart or soul that is dead. We have in Surat Hujurat,

قَالَتِ الْأَعْرَابُ آَمَنَّا قُلْ لَمْ تُؤْمِنُوا وَلَكِنْ قُولُوا أَسْلَمْنَا وَلَمَّا يَدْخُلِ الْإِيمَانُ فِي قُلُوبِكُمْ وَإِنْ تُطِيعُوا اللَّهَ وَرَسُولَهُ لَا يَلِتْكُمْ مِنْ أَعْمَالِكُمْ شَيْئًا إِنَّ اللَّهَ غَفُورٌ رَحِيمٌ

“The desert Arabs say, ´We have iman.´ Say: ´You do not have iman. Say rather, "We have become Muslim," for iman has not yet entered into your hearts. If you obey Allah and His Messenger, He will not undervalue your actions in any way. Allah is Ever-Forgiving, Most Merciful.” (al-Hujurat, 49:14)

Here the Prophet (SAW) is told to inform the desert Arabs that they have no iman, because it is not found in their hearts. This means that they do not have the required recognition of the truth and commitment to it. They had come to the Prophet (SAW) and submitted to Islam, and became Muslims. However, they were not true righteous believers (Mu’mins) because real iman had not entered their hearts. 

A person having taqwa is conscious and mindful of Allah not only in the public but also in the private when nobody is watching him. He knows that Allah is watching him wherever he may be. If somebody has real iman and real taqwa, then he qualifies to become the friend of Allah (wali Allah). The friends of Allah (awlia Allah) have the same blood and flesh as other human beings. But, they have real faith, real iman, and real taqwa. 

The Qur’anic verse “Those who are close to Allah shall certainly have no fear, nor shall they grieve” (Yunus, 10:62) can be analyzed logically. When there is real iman, there is no fear. This is because true believer knows that nothing happens without Allah’s permission. Nothing can harm them unless He wills it. And if any harm comes, it is only with Allah’s permission, and is therefore acceptable to them, as He is their Lord (Rabb). His decision, however unpleasant it may seem, has to be for some ultimate good.  The prick of an injection is painful but beneficial. Surgical amputation of a limb is a loss but saves one’s life. Hence the friends of Allah have no fear and are not grieved even if a calamity befalls them. This situation is described in verse 51 of Surat al-Taubah, where the believers are told to say to the hypocrites,

قُل لَّن يُصِيبَنَا إِلَّا مَا كَتَبَ اللَّهُ لَنَا هُوَ مَوْلَانَا وَعَلَى اللَّهِ فَلْيَتَوَكَّلِ الْمُؤْمِنُونَ  

“Say, nothing can happen to us except what Allah has ordained for us. He is Our Master. It is in Allah that the believers should put their trust.” (al-Taubah, 9:51)

The analysis made above is not poetry or rhetoric. It is simple logic. 

Verse 64 of Surat Yunus says,

لَهُمُ الْبُشْرَى فِي الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا وَفِي الْآَخِرَةِ لَا تَبْدِيلَ لِكَلِمَاتِ اللَّهِ ذَلِكَ هُوَ الْفَوْزُ الْعَظِيمُ

“There is good news for them in the life of this world and in the Next World. There is no changing the words of Allah. That is the great victory!”(Yunus, 10:64).

Here, the people of real iman and real taqwa are being told that there is good news (bushra) for them in the life of this world and in the hereafter. Iman is derived from the root amn which means peace, tranquility, inner satisfaction and safety. People with real iman are the ones who have amn in their lives, and amn is the result or the fruit of iman. This is the truth for there is no changing the words of Allah. This is also the biggest success a human can have and attain.

Verse 82 of Surat al-An’am tells us that those who believe in Allah without any involvement in any form of shirk, will have amn, and they are the ones who are guided.

الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَلَمْ يَلْبِسُوا إِيمَانَهُم بِظُلْمٍ أُولَٰئِكَ لَهُمُ الْأَمْنُ وَهُم مُّهْتَدُونَ

“Those who have iman and do not mix up their iman with any wrongdoing, they are the ones who are safe; it is they who are guided” (al-An’am, 6:82). 

One of the principles or methodologies of the exegesis (tafsir) of the Qur’an is to understand the commentary or explanation of the Qur’an by the Qur’an itself. When a student of the Qur’an finds some difficulty in understanding an verse of the Qur’an, he should look for its explanation in the Qur’an itself as that subject matter or something similar to it would have been discussed and explained elsewhere in the Qur’an in greater detail. This is called tafsir based on transmission or tafsir bil-ma’thur and refers to either the commentary of the Qur’an by the Qur’an itself, or the explanation of the Qur’an by the Sunnah of the Prophet or the explanation of the Qur’an based on what has been transmitted by the companions. 

It is on the basis of this principle that the three verses (30, 31, and 32) have been discussed with reference to the three verses (62, 63, and 64) of Surat Yunus. This way, there is a deeper understanding of the subject matter under discussion.

Descending of the Angels upon the Believers

إِنَّ الَّذِينَ قَالُوا رَبُّنَا اللَّهُ ثُمَّ اسْتَقَامُوا تَتَنَزَّلُ عَلَيْهِمُ الْمَلَائِكَةُ أَلَّا تَخَافُوا وَلَا تَحْزَنُوا وَأَبْشِرُوا بِالْجَنَّةِ الَّتِي كُنْتُمْ تُوعَدُونَ

“As for those who affirm, Our Lord is Allah, and then remain steadfast, the angels will descend on them, saying, Have no fear and do not grieve” (Fussilat, 41:30). 

There is a general consensus that angels descend upon believers (Mu’minun) when they are about to die, and move from the realm of this world to the realm of the other world—the hereafter. The angels come from the invisible world to welcome the souls of these believers in order to escort them honorably to that world. Many a times, virtuous people when close to death have been reported of telling their relatives standing by them to get away and make room for the angels who had come to receive them. 

Does the phenomenon of descending of the angels upon virtuous believers occur only when these believers are about to die or do the angels descend upon them in this life also? The Qur’an speaks about angels descending to help and support believers in their fight against the forces of evil. For example, the angels did descend to help the Muslims in the battle of Badr.

وَلَقَدْ نَصَرَكُمُ اللَّهُ بِبَدْرٍ وَأَنْتُمْ أَذِلَّةٌ فَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَشْكُرُونَ () إِذْ تَقُولُ لِلْمُؤْمِنِينَ أَلَنْ يَكْفِيَكُمْ أَنْ يُمِدَّكُمْ رَبُّكُمْ بِثَلَاثَةِ آَلَافٍ مِنَ الْمَلَائِكَةِ مُنْزَلِينَ

“Allah helped you at Badr when you were weak; so have taqwa of Allah, so that hopefully you will be thankful. And when you said to the believers, does it not suffice that your Lord helps you by sending down three thousand angels?” (Aal ‘Imran, 3:124).

We also learn through a hadith that tranquility descends upon people and angels surround them who assemble in a group to study the Qur’an.

وَمَا اجْتَمَعَ قَوْمٌ فِي بَيْتٍ مِنْ بُيُوتِ اللَّهِ يَتْلُونَ كِتَابَ اللَّهِ وَيَتَدَارَسُونَهُ بَيْنَهُمْ إِلَّا نَزَلَتْ عَلَيْهِمْ السَّكِينَةُ وَغَشِيَتْهُمْ الرَّحْمَةُ وَحَفَّتْهُمْ الْمَلَائِكَةُ وَذَكَرَهُمْ اللَّهُ فِيمَنْ عِنْدَهُ

"Any group of people that assemble in one of the Houses of Allah to study the Qur'an, tranquility will descend upon them, mercy will engulf them, angels will surround them and Allah will make mention of them to those (the angels) in His proximity." 

Angels are friends of true believers in this world and the next. They descend upon them throughout their lives. However, this phenomenon becomes more relevant during the dying moments of the believers, when they need to be comforted and given glad tidings of the good things awaiting them. 

 وَأَبْشِرُوا بِالْجَنَّةِ الَّتِي كُنْتُمْ تُوعَدُونَ () نَحْنُ أَوْلِيَاؤُكُمْ فِي الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا وَفِي الْآَخِرَةِ وَلَكُمْ فِيهَا مَا تَشْتَهِي أَنْفُسُكُمْ وَلَكُمْ فِيهَا مَا تَدَّعُونَ ()

“As for those who affirm, Our Lord is Allah, and then remain steadfast, the angels will descend on them, saying, Have no fear and do not grieve. Rejoice in the good news of the Garden that you have been promised. We are your companions in this life and in the Hereafter. Therein you shall have all that your souls desire, and therein you shall have all that you ask for” (Fussilat, 41:30-31).

Allah has created man, and has produced in him the inclination for satisfaction of worldly desires. This is something, which is ingrained in human nature.

زُيِّنَ لِلنَّاسِ حُبُّ الشَّهَوَاتِ مِنَ النِّسَاءِ وَالْبَنِينَ وَالْقَنَاطِيرِ الْمُقَنْطَرَةِ مِنَ الذَّهَبِ وَالْفِضَّةِ وَالْخَيْلِ الْمُسَوَّمَةِ وَالْأَنْعَامِ وَالْحَرْثِ ذَلِكَ مَتَاعُ الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا وَاللَّهُ عِنْدَهُ حُسْنُ الْمَآَبِ

“The satisfaction of worldly desires through women, and children, and heaped-up treasures of gold and silver, and pedigreed horses, and cattle and lands is attractive to people. All this is the provision of the worldly life; but the most excellent abode is with God” (Aal ‘Imran, 3:14).

At the same time, the wrong and the right path have also been clearly shown to man. 

وَهَدَيْنَاهُ النَّجْدَيْنِ

“And We showed him the two paths [of good and evil]” (al-Balad, 9010).

Having been endowed with free will, man is solely responsible for the moral choices he makes. A true believer despite his natural inclination to satisfy his worldly desires does so only through permissible (halal) means and checks himself from indulging in anything that is unlawful or impermissible (haram), however tempting or attractive it may be. For leading a pious and righteous life in this world, he is promised paradise wherein he would be able to satisfy all his desires to the maximum, and he will have whatever he asks for corresponding to the level of his taste and the level of his consciousness and understanding. 

وَلَكُمْ فِيهَا مَا تَشْتَهِي أَنْفُسُكُمْ وَلَكُمْ فِيهَا مَا تَدَّعُونَ

 “Therein you shall have all that your soul’s desire. And therein you shall have all that you ask for.” (Fussilat, 41:31) 

Having all their desires fulfilled, the last and final desire of the people of paradise will be to have a direct sight of their Lord, with no covering between Him and them. As for the Arabic word nuzul in verse 32: نُزُلًا مِنْ غَفُورٍ رَحِيمٍ (a rich provision from One who is ever forgiving and most merciful), it refers to the initial hospitality shown to a guest soon after his arrival at the host’s place. It is extended by welcoming him, honoring him, and entertaining him with something to eat and drink. Thereafter, if he is to reside with the host, then he becomes his guest (dhaif), and is provided with the maximum comfort and luxury that the host can afford to provide. The people of paradise are the guests of Allah. Hence, no one knows what Allah will actually provide them with. We learn through a hadith that says,

 قَالَ اللَّهُ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ أَعْدَدْتُ لِعِبَادِيَ الصَّالِحِينَ مَا لاَ عَيْنٌ رَأَتْ وَلاَ أُذُنٌ سَمِعَتْ وَلاَ خَطَرَ عَلَى قَلْبِ بَشَرٍ

The Messenger of Allah (SAW) said, "Allah, the Exalted, has said: 'I have prepared for my righteous slaves what no eye has seen, no ear has heard, and the mind of no man has conceived.” And then the Prophet (SAW) said,

وَاقْرَؤوا إن شِئتُم

“And recite if you wish,”

فَلَا تَعْلَمُ نَفْسٌ مَّا أُخْفِيَ لَهُم مِّن قُرَّةِ أَعْيُنٍ جَزَاءً بِمَا كَانُوا يَعْمَلُونَ

“No soul knows what joy is kept hidden in store for them as a reward for their labors.” (al-Sajdah, 32:17) 

The blessings and bounties showered upon the people of paradise as elaborated in numerous surahs of the Quran including Surat Al-Rahman, Surat al-Waqi’ah, and Surat al-Insan are only descriptive of the nuzul and not the actual feast (dhiyafah) prepared by Allah for His worthy servants.

Discussion on Angels

Earlier, there was a mention of angels while discussing the tafsir of Ayat al-Birr.    

وَلَكِنَّ الْبِرَّ مَنْ آَمَنَ بِاللَّهِ وَالْيَوْمِ الْآَخِرِ وَالْمَلَائِكَةِ وَالْكِتَابِ وَالنَّبِيِّينَ

Virtue means believing in Allah and the Last Day, the Angels, the Book and the Prophets…” (al-Baqarah, 2:177). 

What came under discussion was mainly the aspect of Angel Jibril bringing down the Books (Scriptures) by way of revelations to the prophets for the purpose of providing guidance to mankind. In Surat Fussilat, however, there is a discussion of angels interacting with human beings—with the true righteous believers. The word for angel in Arabic is malak (pl. malaikah). Angels are the purest form of creation of Allah (SWT). They are created out of light as learnt from a hadith that says,

وعن عائشة رضي الله عنها قالت‏:‏ قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم ‏:‏‏"‏ خُلِقَتِ الْمَلاَئِكَةُ مِنْ نُورٍ وَخُلِقَ الْجَانُّ مِنْ مَارِجٍ مِنْ نَارٍ وَخُلِقَ آدَمُ مِمَّا وُصِفَ لَكُمْ ‏"‏ ‏

Aisha (RA) reported: The Messenger of Allah (SAW) said, "Angels were created from light, jinns were created from a smokeless flame of fire, and Adam was created from that which you have been told (i.e., sounding clay like the clay of pottery)." 

Sir Syed Ahmad Khan (1817 - 1898), an eminent Muslim scholar, reformer, educator, and writer from the Indian subcontinent theorized that angels had no personified existence, and were nothing but forces of nature. This hypothesis effects a change in the basic articles of the Islamic faith, and is fundamentally wrong.  According to the correct Islamic belief, angels are personified beings assigned to special duties by Allah (SWT). They constitute and represent the bureaucracy of the unseen world, and perform the duties assigned to them, and implement and enforce the decisions made by Allah (SWT). Even though they descend upon human beings, they remain hidden from their eyes.

What is History?

Different philosophers have given different interpretations of history. What is the Qur’anic philosophy of history? It is well known that there has been throughout history, a continuous struggle between good and evil. History, in fact, is a record of struggle between good and evil. The origin of this conflict is the human personality itself.

There is a constant struggle between good and evil within the realm of our own personalities. This manifests itself in the outside world. What are the contending forces? Within our own selves, there is a force dragging and pulling us towards evil. We have in Surat Yusuf, 

وَمَا أُبَرِّئُ نَفْسِي إِنَّ النَّفْسَ لَأَمَّارَةٌ بِالسُّوءِ إِلَّا مَا رَحِمَ رَبِّي إِنَّ رَبِّي غَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌ

 “I do not pretend to be blameless, for man’s very soul incites him to evil unless my Lord shows mercy: He is most forgiving, most merciful.” (Yusuf, 12:53)

What incites man to evil is al-nafs al-ammarah bil su’. It is the nafs that is always pulling us towards something that is evil. It may be understood to mean the baser self or the animal instincts—the id or libido in the Freudian terminology.

This battle between good and evil within the personality of every human being is taking place continuously. The urge coming from the depths of one’s baser self needs satisfaction—the sexual urge, for instance; it is blind; it needs satisfaction, through whatever means—halal or haram. When one gets inclined to take recourse to haram means to satisfy one’s needs, the qalb or ruh comes into play and engages in a war with the nafs that incites one to do evil. 

Then, there are the external forces that support the virtuous and evil elements of human personalities. These external forces can be categorized into the invisible and the visible. The invisible forces which call to virtue are the angels. They raise the morale of the believers. They also encourage them, support them, and give them good news of paradise. And the invisible forces that call one towards evil are the Jinns—the progeny or followers of Satan (Iblis). Alluding to this, the Qur’an says,

 إِنَّهُ يَرَاكُمْ هُوَ وَقَبِيلُهُ مِنْ حَيْثُ لَا تَرَوْنَهُمْ

“He and his forces watch you from where you do not see them.” (al-A’raf, 7:27)

We learn through a Prophetic tradition that Satan (Shaytan) permeates the human body and runs through it just like blood.

 إِنَّ الشَّيْطَانَ يَجْرِي مِنْ الْإِنْسَانِ مَجْرَى الدَّمِ

“Verily, Satan runs through the human being like blood.”

The struggle between good and evil is basically between our two selves—the baser self, the id or libido on the one side, and the ego or super ego or the qalb and the ruh on the other side. Supporting our baser desires and animal instincts are the invisible Shaytan Jinns, and supporting our qalb and ruh are the angels (malaikah).

Even among humans, there are those who call people towards good and forbid them from evil. The messengers of Allah and the messengers of the Messengers of Allah have always been calling people to good. The expression ‘messenger of the Messenger of Allah’ can be understood clearly from events in the early history of Islam. When Umar ibn Khattab (RA) went to take the oath of allegiance (Baiy’ah) from the women on the order of Muhammad (SAW), he told the members of the congregation to whom he was sent that he was the messenger of the Messenger of Allah. The Prophet (SAW) when deputing Mu’adh ibn Jabal (RA) as governor to Yemen said to him that he (Mu’adh) was the messenger of the Messenger of Allah (Rasul-u-Rasulillah). Mus‘ab Ibn Umair (RA) is another example. Before the hijrah, the Prophet (SAW) sent him to Yathrib (Medina) to teach Qur’an to the people. As a result of his one year of hard work, 72 men and 3 women took Baiy’ah at the hands of Muhammad (SAW). In fact, every member of the ummah of Muhammad (SAW) is a messenger of the Messenger of Allah.

Hence, on the one side we have the messengers of Allah and the messengers of the messengers of Allah, and on the other side there are the human agents of Satan who are more dangerous than Satan himself. In the visible world, we also see many companions of the Prophet (SAW) followed by their successors (tabi’un), and then by the Sufis, the traders, and all other people of da’wah going far and wide to promote and propagate the message of Islam. That is how the message of Islam was brought peacefully to China, Indonesia, and other parts of South Asia and South East Asia. We also see the human agents of Satan supporting blatant evil, such as the ‘gay movement’ and many other nefarious movements promoting evil. The struggle between good and evil is an ongoing process. 

Calling People unto Allah (Da’wah)

The concept of da’wah or calling people unto Allah has been variously expressed and explained in the surahs that have so far been discussed in our selected course of study of the Qur’an. In Surat al-‘Asr, it is reflected through وَ تَوَاصَوْا بِالْحَقِّ (they urge one another to the truth). In Surat Luqman, it is explained as وَأْمُرْ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ وَانْهَ عَنِ الْمُنْكَر (enjoin whatever is good or right, and forbid whatever is evil or wrong). In Surat Fussilat, we have the profound verse that says, 

وَمَنْ أَحْسَنُ قَوْلًا مِمَّنْ دَعَا إِلَى اللَّهِ وَعَمِلَ صَالِحًا وَقَالَ إِنَّنِي مِنَ الْمُسْلِمِينَ

“Who speaks better than one who calls to Allah and does good works and says, I am surely of those who submit?” (al-Fussilat, 41:33)

Using the Tongue as a tool of Da’wah

Everyone has been blessed with the amazing gift of the tongue. The tongue is used for articulating speech besides its many other functions. Generally, people use their tongues to achieve their own different objectives. However, the best use of the faculty of speech is to call people towards Allah (SWT); to call those who don’t know the truth or those who have gone astray. We learn from the sirah that the Prophet (SAW) used to supplicate to Allah (SWT) to guide to the straight path even those people, who harassed him, mistreated him, persecuted him, and called him names, because they did not know the truth. He used to pray Allah to forgive them.

Do we show similar concern for our kith and kin—our own parents, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, and other close relatives who may well be on the wrong path, and heading toward the fire of hell? Our answer would generally be in the negative. This is because of our preoccupation with our businesses and professional lives, and possibly because we really don’t believe in the hereafter. Had we done so, we would be devoting much of our time in trying to save people from their eternal doom.

The Prophet (SAW) said: “I am like a person who lit a fire and when the surrounding area became bright with light, the moths and insects began to drop in the fire. The person is now trying with all the force at his command to stop these moths and insects from dropping in the fire, but the moths and insects are rushing towards the fire rendering all his efforts ineffective. Likewise, I am trying my best to draw you back and keep you away from the fire, yet you are bent on falling into it.”

 

The time and energy of a person who has reached the level of wilayah are focused on one thing, and that is to save people from the doom of the Hereafter. Such a person does not have time to amass wealth or to be concerned about raising the standard of his living by getting preoccupied with worldly pursuits. Such people are the aulia (friends) of Allah. Da’wah for them becomes a full time occupation. Coming from foreign lands, Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti settled in the city of Ajmer in India, not for any professional or commercial considerations, but only for calling people towards Allah; and a multitude of people came into the fold of Islam through his da’wah efforts. Same is the case with Ali Hajveri who settled in the city of Lahore. And there are many others like them. Such people did not leave anything worthwhile in inheritance for their children. It is reported from Aisha (RA), the wife of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) that he said,

 لاَ نُورَثُ مَا تَرَكْنَا فَهُوَ صَدَقَةٌ‏‏

“We are not inherited. Whatever we leave is charity (sadaqah)”.

Da’wah is done by calling people to the way or path (sabeel) of Allah or calling them towards Allah. (ilallah). The former is expressed in the verse,  

ادْعُ إِلَىٰ سَبِيلِ رَبِّكَ بِالْحِكْمَةِ وَالْمَوْعِظَةِ الْحَسَنَةِ وَجَادِلْهُم بِالَّتِي هِيَ أَحْسَنُ

“Call to the way of your Lord with wisdom and fair exhortation and reason with them in a way that is best.” (al-Nahl, 16:125) 

The latter is expressed in verse 33 of Surat Fussilat.,

وَمَنْ أَحْسَنُ قَوْلًا مِمَّنْ دَعَا إِلَى اللَّهِ وَعَمِلَ صَالِحًا وَقَالَ إِنَّنِي مِنَ الْمُسْلِمِينَ

“Who speaks better than one who calls to Allah and does good works and says, I am surely of those who submit?” (al-Fussilat, 41:33)

The same expression also appears is Surat Yusuf,

قُلْ هَٰذِهِ سَبِيلِي أَدْعُو إِلَى اللَّهِ عَلَىٰ بَصِيرَةٍ أَنَا وَمَنِ اتَّبَعَنِي

“Say: ´This is my way. I call to Allah with inner sight, I and all who follow me.” (Yusuf, 12:108)

Calling people towards Allah means that such calling is not based on blind faith, but with deep insight. It also means loving and adoring Allah more than anyone or anything else. Love of anyone or anything should be subordinated to the love of Allah. We have in Surat al-Taubah,

قُلْ إِنْ كَانَ آَبَاؤُكُمْ وَأَبْنَاؤُكُمْ وَإِخْوَانُكُمْ وَأَزْوَاجُكُمْ وَعَشِيرَتُكُمْ وَأَمْوَالٌ اقْتَرَفْتُمُوهَا وَتِجَارَةٌ تَخْشَوْنَ كَسَادَهَا وَمَسَاكِنُ تَرْضَوْنَهَا أَحَبَّ إِلَيْكُمْ مِنَ اللَّهِ وَرَسُولِهِ وَجِهَادٍ فِي سَبِيلِهِ فَتَرَبَّصُوا حَتَّى يَأْتِيَ اللَّهُ بِأَمْرِهِ وَاللَّهُ لَا يَهْدِي الْقَوْمَ الْفَاسِقِينَ

"Say, If your fathers or your sons or your brothers or your spouses or your tribe, or any wealth you have acquired, or any business you fear may slump, or any house which pleases you, are dearer to you than Allah and His Messenger and doing jihad in His Way, then wait until Allah brings about His command. Allah does not guide people who are disobedient” (al-Taubah, 9:24).

Calling people towards Allah is the biggest gain or fortune that one can have. It is reported that the Prophet (SAW) while sending Ali Ibn Talib (RA) to one of the expeditions against the enemy said to him, "Proceed to them  steadily till you approach near to them and then invite them to Islam and inform them of their duties towards Allah which Islam prescribes for them, for by Allah, if one man is guided on the right path (i.e. converted to Islam) through you, it would be better for you than (a great number of) red camels." Red camels used to be regarded as very valuable and precious possession by the Arabs. 

Our value structure should not be based on the wealth we possess but on the effort we make to call people towards Allah; towards the straight path of Islam. This is the biggest asset and ideal for those who have real faith (iman).  

The terms عَمِلَ صَالِحًا (does good works) appearing in verse 33 of Surat Fussilat are mentioned as a necessary support for da‘wah work. Basically all the practical aspects of deen including good deeds are included in the word اسْتَقَامُوا (they remain steadfast) appearing in verse 30 of the same surah. By mentioning ‘good deeds’ separately, the Muslims are reminded not to be like the Jews who ordered others to do good but did not apply the same command on themselves.  

أَتَأْمُرُونَ النَّاسَ بِالْبِرِّ وَتَنسَوْنَ أَنفُسَكُمْ وَأَنتُمْ تَتْلُونَ الْكِتَابَ أَفَلَا تَعْقِلُونَ

“Do you order people to do good and forget to do it yourselves even though you recite the Scripture? Have you no sense? (al-Baqarah, 2:44).

It was the practice of the Prophet (SAW) that in every sermon, he said,

  أوْصِيكُمْ وَنَفْسِي بِتَقْوَى اللَّه

“O servants of Allah, I admonish you and myself to be conscious of Allah.”

Da’wah should begin with one’s own self, and then extended to one’ family, one’s kith and kin, and then the larger society. This is natural way how da’wah work should grow and evolve.

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آَمَنُوا قُوا أَنْفُسَكُمْ وَأَهْلِيكُمْ نَارًا

“O you who believe, save yourselves and your families from the Fire.” (At-Tahrim, 66:6)

The Prophet (SAW) was told to warn his near relatives first and foremost.

وَأَنذِرْ عَشِيرَتَكَ الْأَقْرَبِينَ

“Warn your near relatives” (al-Shu’ara, 26:214).

And the one who calls others towards Allah says,

إِنَّنِي مِنَ الْمُسْلِمِينَ

I am surely of those who submit” (al-Fussilat, 41:33).

This means that the caller is one who has submitted himself to Allah. He is not haughty and proud. He does not look down on people with contempt, hatred and scorn. He is humble. He does not claim to be better than anyone else. He tries to practice himself what he invites others to do. He himself is a complete and practical reflection of that invitation. He calls them with maximum sincerity and with the depths of his hearts. He wishes for the good of those whom he calls. The Prophet (SAW) himself was instructed by Allah (SWT) to lower his wing of mercy for the believers, so that when they came to him, they would feel that he had love, affection and mercy in his heart for them.

وَاخْفِضْ جَنَاحَكَ لِلْمُؤْمِنِينَ

“And lower your wing of mercy for the believers” (al-Hijr, 15:88).

Also, a Muslim is necessarily a Muslim. He should not practice sectarianism. Muslims may belong to different schools of fiqh or madhhab (legal school of thought), but basically they are all members of one ummah—the Muslim community. Our name and identity is ‘Muslim’.

 هُوَ سَمَّاكُمُ الْمُسْلِمِينَ

“He named you Muslims” (al-Hajj, 22:78).

Good and Evil Deeds are Not Equal

The universal law which has been enunciated for us is,

وَلَا تَسْتَوِي الْحَسَنَةُ وَلَا السَّيِّئَةُ

 “Good and evil deeds are not equal” (Fussilat, 41:34).

It is the rule of thumb that there is invariably an opposition to those who call people towards Allah or to His path. This has also been expressed in verse 17 of Surat Luqman.

يَا بُنَيَّ أَقِمِ الصَّلَاةَ وَأْمُرْ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ وَانْهَ عَنِ الْمُنْكَرِ وَاصْبِرْ عَلَى مَا أَصَابَكَ إِنَّ ذَلِكَ مِنْ عَزْمِ الْأُمُورِ() يَا بُنَيَّ أَقِمِ الصَّلَاةَ وَأْمُرْ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ وَانْهَ عَنِ الْمُنْكَرِ وَاصْبِرْ عَلَى مَا أَصَابَكَ إِنَّ ذَلِكَ مِنْ عَزْمِ الْأُمُورِ

“O my son, keep the prayers established, enjoin whatever is good or right, and forbid whatever is evil or wrong, and then bear with fortitude whatever may befall you. Indeed, these are amongst things which require lot of patience and steadfastness” (Luqman, 31:17).

An Arabic idiom tells us, ‘Truth is bitter’ (al-Haqqu murrun). Telling the truth hits the vested interest of people or group, or a section or a class of the society. They are bound to retaliate. There was no dispute between Muhammad (SAW) and the people of Mecca over questions of wealth, power, status or any other worldly consideration. He just conveyed the truth of tawhid to them. This was not to the liking of the elites of Mecca, as it hit their vested interest, and so they retaliated. It is under the circumstances of retaliation and opposition that Muslims are advised to repel evil with good.   

ادْفَعْ بِالَّتِي هِيَ أَحْسَنُ

Repel evil with what is better” (Fussilat, 41:34).

Good and evil have their own effects. One must defend oneself against evil in a way that is best. If someone inflicts evil upon me and I respond by doing good to that person, then doing such good will not be without any result.

We learn from the sirah that there was a woman who would regularly throw trash on the Prophet (SAW) as he walked down a particular path. The Prophet (SAW) would pass silently without showing any anger or annoyance. This was a regular, daily event. One day when the Prophet (SAW) was passing by, the woman was not there to throw the rubbish. He stopped, and asked the neighbor about her well-being. The neighbor informed the Prophet (SAW) that the woman was sick on bed. The Prophet (SAW) politely asked permission to visit the woman. When allowed he entered the house. The woman thought that he had come there to take his revenge when she was unable to defend herself because of sickness. But the Prophet (SAW) assured her that he had come to her, not to take any revenge, but to see her and to look after her needs, as it was the command of Allah that if anyone is sick, a Muslim should visit him and should help him if his help is needed. The woman was greatly moved by this kindness and love of the Prophet (SAW). She understood that he was truly the Prophet of God and that Islam was the true religion. She accepted Islam.

The Truly Fortunate Ones

The section comprising of seven verses 30 -36 of Surat Fussilat, which is under discussion can be divided into two parts. The first three verses give us what we may call the stage or level of wilayah or ihsan—the highest level of iman a true believer can attain. The three verses (30 to 32) have already been discussed and a comparative study made with the three verses 62 to 64 of Surat Yunus. 

People who attain the level of ihsan are those whose first priority and preoccupation in this world is to invest themselves—their time, their energies, their capabilities, their intelligence, their faculty of speech, and their faculty of understanding to call people towards Allah, and this is what has been discussed in the remaining four verses 33 to 36.

    وَمَنْ أَحْسَنُ قَوْلًا مِمَّنْ دَعَا إِلَى اللَّهِ وَعَمِلَ صَالِحًا وَقَالَ إِنَّنِي مِنَ الْمُسْلِمِينَ () وَلا تَسْتَوِي الْحَسَنَةُ وَلا السَّيِّئَةُ ادْفَعْ بِالَّتِي هِيَ أَحْسَنُ فَإِذَا الَّذِي بَيْنَكَ وَبَيْنَهُ عَدَاوَةٌ كَأَنَّهُ وَلِيٌّ حَمِيمٌ () وَمَا يُلَقَّاهَا إِلاَّ الَّذِينَ صَبَرُوا وَمَا يُلَقَّاهَا إِلاَّ ذُو حَظٍّ عَظِيمٍ () وَإِمَّا يَنْزَغَنَّكَ مِنَ الشَّيْطَانِ نَزْغٌ فَاسْتَعِذْ بِاللَّهِ إِنَّهُ هُوَ السَّمِيعُ الْعَلِيمُ ()

Who speaks better than one who calls to Allah and does good works and says, I am surely of those who submit? Good and evil deeds are not equal. Repel evil with what is better; then you will see that one who was once your enemy has become your dearest friend, but no one will be granted such goodness except those who exercise patience and self-restraint, and no one is granted it save those who are truly fortunate. If a prompting from Satan should stir you, seek refuge with Allah: He is the All Hearing and the All Knowing.” (Fussilat, 41:33-36)

Every human being has been endowed with the faculty of speech, but the use to which everyone is putting it is different.  Lawyers, leaders, and public speakers are among those who will generally use their faculty of speech toward earning wealth, status, or power. The best use of the faculty of speech is to call towards Allah or towards His path. And when calling towards Allah, the caller’s (dai’s) attitude, behavior and conduct should be according to the da’wah that he is presenting to the people; otherwise this da’wah will go in waste, and will most likely bring a bad name. People might get disillusioned about the message itself. Thus righteous deeds or good works are necessary prerequisites for a successful da’wah. The last part of the verse expresses the humility of the caller. He is not arrogant. He does not look down upon others. Rather, he is humble, and calls others towards Allah. Further, he does not associate himself with any sect, but declares that he is a Muslim—one of those who have surrendered himself to God. When opposed for saying the truth, the requirement is to be steadfast. In this passage, the highest level of patience (sabr) is being advocated, which involves doing good to that person who does bad to you. The result of doing so is that one’s enemy becomes one’s intimate friend. However, this level cannot be attained except by those who have patience and forbearance, and these are the people who are fortunate par-excellence or those who have the greatest good fortune.

The most complete model of this level is the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) himself. What was he doing at Mecca? He was calling people towards Allah. For doing this, he was persecuted. He was called a poet and a crazy person. He was charged of taking dictation from a learned person and presenting it as revelation received from Allah. In return, he only prayed to Allah to guide his people. He asked Allah to strengthen Islam by blessing one of the two Amr ibn Hisham or Umar ibn Khattab with iman. His prayer was granted and Umar ibn Khattab embraced Islam.

We learn from the Sirah that the Muhammad (SAW) went to Taif, a city south of Makkah to invite people to Islam only to be treated with utter contempt by its people. As if this was not enough, urchins threw stones at our beloved Prophet (SAW) until he bled. Jibril (AS) visited the Prophet (SAW) and suggested that the angel of mountain was ready to destroy the town if he so desired. The Prophet (SAW) refused and prayed for the future generations of Taif to accept Islam. Such was the sublime character of Muhammad (SAW). 

Iqamatuddin

There is a level that is even higher than the level of da’wah, and that is the level of Iqamatuddin, which involves expending ones time, resources, energies, and if need be even laying down one’s life, to establish the deen of Allah—a socio-economic-political way of life ordained by Allah. This requires a revolutionary struggle, in which one may have direct encounter with the enemies of Allah.

إِنَّ اللَّهَ اشْتَرَىٰ مِنَ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ أَنفُسَهُمْ وَأَمْوَالَهُم بِأَنَّ لَهُمُ الْجَنَّةَ يُقَاتِلُونَ فِي سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ فَيَقْتُلُونَ وَيُقْتَلُونَ   

“Allah has bought from the believers their selves and their wealth in return for the Garden. They fight in the Way of Allah and they kill and are killed”(al-Taubah, 9:111).

The Meccan phase of the Prophet (SAW) witnessed the phase of da’wah—calling people to Allah and inviting them to Islam, while passively resisting all torture and persecution that came in the way. He and his followers were perfect embodiments of the verse:

وَلا تَسْتَوِي الْحَسَنَةُ وَلا السَّيِّئَةُ ادْفَعْ بِالَّتِي هِيَ أَحْسَنُ فَإِذَا الَّذِي بَيْنَكَ وَبَيْنَهُ عَدَاوَةٌ كَأَنَّهُ وَلِيٌّ حَمِيمٌ

Good and evil deeds are not equal. Repel evil with what is better; then you will see that one who was once your enemy has become your dearest friend.” (Fussilat, 41:34)

To understand the full significance of these words, one should keep in view the conditions in which the Prophet (SAW) and, through him, his followers were given this instruction. The conditions were that the invitation to the truth was being resisted and opposed with extreme stubbornness and severe antagonism, in which all bounds of morality, humanity and decency were being transgressed. Every sort of lie was being uttered against the Prophet (SAW) and his companions; every kind of evil device was being employed to defame him and to create suspicions against him in the minds of the people; every kind of accusation was being leveled against him and a host of the propagandists were busy creating doubts against him in the hearts; in short, he and his companions were being persecuted in every possible way because of which a substantial number of the Muslims had been compelled to emigrate from the country. Then the program that had been prepared to stop him from preaching was that a band of the mischievous people was set behind him, who would raise such a hue and cry that no one should be able to hear anything as soon as he opened his mouth to preach his message. In such discouraging conditions when apparently every way of extending invitation to Islam seemed to be blocked, the Prophet (SAW) was taught this recipe for breaking the opposition. First, it was said that goodness and evil are not equal, as if to say: "Although apparently your opponents might have raised a dreadful storm of mischief and evil, as against which goodness might seem absolutely helpless and powerless, yet evil in itself has a weakness which ultimately causes its own destruction. For as long as man is man, his nature cannot help hating evil. Not only the companions of evil, even its own upholders know in their hearts that they are liars and wicked people and are being stubborn for selfish motives. It lowers them in their own esteem, and causes their morale to be weakened and destroyed in the event of every conflict. As against this evil, the good which appears to be utterly helpless and powerless, goes on operating and working and it becomes dominant in the long run. For, in the first place, the good has a power of its own which wins the hearts and no man however perverted and corrupted, can help esteeming it in his own heart. Then, when the good and evil are engaged in a face to face conflict and their nature and merits become apparent and known, after a long drawn out struggle, not many people would be left, who would not start hating the evil and admiring the good. Second, it was said that evil should be resisted not by the mere good but' by a superior good, as if to say: "If a person treats you unjustly and you forgive him, it is the mere good. The superior good is that you treat the one who ill treats you with kindness and love. “The result would be that "your worst enemy would become your closest friend," for that is human nature itself. If you remain quiet in response to an abuse, it will be mere goodness but it will not silence the abuser. But if you express good wishes for him in response to his abuses, even the most shameless opponent will feel ashamed, and then would hardly ever be able to employ invectives against you. If a person doesn't miss any opportunity to harm you, and you go on tolerating his excesses, it may well make him even bolder in his mischief. But if on an occasion he gets into trouble and you come to his rescue, he will fall down at your feet, for no mischief can hold out against goodness.” (extracted from Abul A’la Mawdudi’s Tafheem al-Qur’an).

After the hijrah, the Medinan phase witnessed active resistance that challenged falsehood (batil) openly. Muslims engaged with their enemies in battles—they killed and got killed for the sake of Allah. It is in the process of Iqamatuddin that the believers have to fight with the non-believers, retaliate, and pay them in the same coin. Describing the situation in which the believers have to defend themselves, and their deen, the Qur’an says,

وَالَّذِينَ إِذَا أَصَابَهُمُ الْبَغْيُ هُمْ يَنتَصِرُونَ

“And those who, when they are wronged, defend themselves” (al-Shura, 42:39).

It may not be out of place to quote here a very venomous statement made by none other than the celebrated British historian Arnold J. Toynbee. He said, “Muhammad failed as a prophet but succeeded as a statesman.” He made this statement probably because he compared Muhammad (SAW)’s role at Makkah with the role of ‘Isa (AS), or Yahya (AS), calling their people to Allah, without engaging in any sort of confrontation. According to Toynbee, there was at least a semblance of his Prophetic mission at Makkah, in which, he failed and had to flee. At Medina,   he was a statesman in the full meaning of the term, successfully leading and managing his followers in war and peace.  Dr. Montgomery Watt, one of the foremost non-Muslim interpreters of Islam in the West, and an influential scholar of Arabic and Islamic studies has authored two books entitled, ‘Muhammad at Makkah’ and ‘Muhammad at Madinah’ referring to the phases of the Prophet’s life.

وَإِمَّا يَنْزَغَنَّكَ مِنَ الشَّيْطَانِ نَزْغٌ فَاسْتَعِذْ بِاللَّهِ إِنَّهُ هُوَ السَّمِيعُ الْعَلِيمُ

If a prompting from Satan should stir you, seek refuge with Allah: He is the All Hearing and the All Knowing” (Fussilat, 41:36). 

Satan feels grieved when he sees that in the conflict between the truth and falsehood meanness is being resisted with nobility and evil with goodness. He wants that he should somehow incite the fighters for the sake of the truth and their prominent men in particular, and especially their leaders, to commit such a mistake, even if once, on the basis of which he may tell the common people that evil is not being committed by one side only: if mean acts are being committed by one side, the people of the other side also are not morally any better: they too have committed such and such a shameless act. The common people do not have the capability that they may assess and counterbalance fairly the excesses being committed by one party by the reactions of the other. As long as they see that while the opponents are adopting every mean act yet these people do not swerve at all from the path of decency and nobility, goodness and righteousness, they continue to regard and esteem them highly. But if at some time they happen to commit an unworthy act, even if it is in retaliation against a grave injustice, the opponents get an excuse to counter one blameworthy act with a thousand abuses. That is why it has been said: 'Be on your guard against the deceptions of Satan. He will incite you as a well-wisher to take note of every abuse and every insult and attack and urge you to pay the opponent in the same coin, otherwise you would be regarded as a coward and weaken your image of strength. "On every such occasion whenever you feel any undue provocation, you should take care that this is an incitement of Satan who is arousing you to anger and wants you to commit a mistake. And after having been warned do not be involved in the misunderstanding that you have full control over yourself, and Satan cannot make you commit any mistake. This high opinion of one’s own power of judgment and will is another and more dangerous deception of Satan. Instead of it you should seek Allah's refuge, for man can save himself from mistakes only if Allah helps and grants him protection (extracted from Abul A’la Mawdudi’s Tafheem al-Qur’an)..

A principle in the exegesis of the Qur’an is that important subjects in the Qur’an are dealt at least twice. Following this principle, the message conveyed in verse 36 of Surat Fussilat is repeated again in verse 200 of Surat al-A’raf,

وَإِمَّا يَنزَغَنَّكَ مِنَ الشَّيْطَانِ نَزْغٌ فَاسْتَعِذْ بِاللَّهِ إِنَّهُ سَمِيعٌ عَلِيمٌ

“If an evil impulse from Satan provokes you, seek refuge with God; He is all hearing, and all knowing” (al-A’raf, 7:200).  

After seeking Allah's refuge against the storm of opposition, the thing that brings patience and peace and tranquility to the heart of the believer is the conviction that Allah is not unaware: He knows whatever we are doing as well as that which is being done against us. He is hearing whatever we and our opponents utter and watches the conduct of both of us. On the basis of this very conviction the believer entrusts his own and the affairs of the opponents of the truth to Allah and remains satisfied.  This is one of those places in the Qur’an where the Prophet (SAW), and through him, the believers have been taught this wisdom of preaching and reforming the people. 

As mentioned before, Surat al-‘Asr is like a bud. This bud sprouts forth and blooms into flowers representing other surahs of the Qur’an. The four prerequisites of success mentioned in Surat al-‘Asr have been elaborated with varying dimensions in other portions of the Qur’an. These portions include Surat al-‘Asr, verse 177 of Surat al-Baqarah, verses 12 to 19 of Surat Luqman, and verses 30 to 36 of Surat Fussilat. 

 

 

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