Sūrah al-Ghāshiya: The Design Argument

Sūrah al-Ghāshiya: The Design Argument

Sūrah al-Ghāshiya is a Makkan Surah comprised of 26 verses. This Sūrah has two main themes. It begins with a description of the Last Day, and the fate of both disbelievers and believers on that day. Allah then draws our attention to the proofs of His Existence i.e. the perfection of His Creation. It concludes by circling back to the original topic, preparing for the Last Day.

The word al-Ghāshiya is mentioned in the first verse of this Sūrah. It is one of the names of the Last Day. It means the Overwhelming Event. The Last Day has many names in the Quran. Each of these names gives us a different description of that day. The name al-Ghāshiya teaches us that on that day people will be overwhelmed by stress and anxiety. Worrying about whether they will enter Paradise or Hell will drive people crazy. It is an overwhelming event the likes of which nothing we experience on earth can be compared to.

The Balance between Hope and Fear

This Sūrah balances between hope and fear in a profound way. Allah describes the state of mind and the punishment of the disbelievers for six verses. Then He describes the state of mind and reward of the believers for nine verses. In this way, the warning is done clearly while leaving the reader on a high note reflecting on Paradise and hoping in Allah’s Mercy.

It is common throughout the Quran to find descriptions of Hellfire followed by descriptions of Paradise. The descriptions of Paradise are usually longer and more detailed. In this way, the focus is primarily on hope while providing enough fear to motivate people towards righteousness. This balance is essential for establishing a pious mindset.

When the focus is only on warnings and punishment, it can cause both hopelessness and extremism. Some people may be so overwhelmed by the warnings that they lose hope in Allah’s Mercy. While others grow so accustomed to fear that it is the only paradigm from which they can preach Islam. Both of these attitudes are not healthy and can be avoided by balancing fear with hope.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is focusing only on hope. This too can lead to either laxity or liberalism. Some people become so comfortable in their hope in Allah’s Mercy that they stop taking sin seriously. This opens the door to mass sins. Others may build a liberal paradigm out of hope in which everything is fine and everything is permissible because God is All-Loving and Merciful. This false understanding of Allah’s Love and Mercy has led many modernists astray.

Balance lies in grounding one’s faith in love of Allah, and balancing that love with both fear of His Punishment and hope in His Forgiveness. When this balance is established, a believer can grow in his love of Allah, and worship Allah with a healthy balanced mindset. To facilitate this, the Quran often follows up its warnings with good news.

Reflecting on the signs of Allah

The middle section of this Sūrah calls on us to study the Creation and reflect on the signs of Allah in His Creation. These verses have inspired many Muslim scientists to study various creations and make breakthrough discoveries.

“Do they not look at the camels, how they were created? And at the sky, how it is raised? And at the mountains, how they are established? And at the earth, how it is spread out?” (88:17-20)

This is one of many sets of verses throughout the Quran that call on us to reflect on the creation as assigns of the existence of the Creator. This is the main Islamic argument for the existence of the Creator; the perfect design of every creation in existence is proof itself that the Creator exists. From the unique design of the camel to the vastness of space, to the majesty of the mountains, and the homeliness of earth. All of these are signs that the Creator is real and All-Powerful.

One of the reasons why humans are straying from belief in Allah is because we spend too much time surrounded by the inventions of man. And we do not spend enough time with the Creation of Allah. People who spend more time in nature are more likely to be firm in their belief in a Creator, and have a deeper sense of spirituality.

If a believer begins to experience doubts in Allah’s existence, there are two common remedies; recite and reflect on the Quran, or spend time in nature and reflect on the creation. Both the verses of the Quran and the creation of Allah are called āyāt (signs) because reflecting on either of these causes an increase in faith. Just as we take time to reflect on the book of Allah, we should also make time to reflect on the creations of Allah.

A reminder of our ending

The Sūrah begins with a description of the Last Day, then calls on us to reflect on the signs of Allah around us. It ends where it begins with a reminder that we all will return to Allah. And that every human will be held accountable to Allah for their lives.

Accountability is one of the core themes of early Makkan revelation. The pagans of Makkah were not accustomed to the idea of an Afterlife or the idea of being held accountable for their lives after death. This concept was foreign to many of them, and so this theme is repeated many times over throughout these Sūrahs. The goal is to drive home the importance of this concept and establish a consciousness of the Afterlife in the believers.

Many of the Sūrahs towards the end of the Quran focus on the theme of the Afterlife. Whenever we recite these Sūrahs, we should reflect on these descriptions. This reflection should create a consciousness in us that leads to deeper piety, practice, and purpose. The belief in the Afterlife should make us people who live Islam and live with purpose, knowing that; “To Us is their return. Then upon Us is their reckoning.” (88:25-26)

Posted by Ismail Kamdar in Islam, 2 comments
Sūrah al-Aʿlā: The Easy Way

Sūrah al-Aʿlā: The Easy Way

Sūrah al-Aʿlā is a Makkan Surah comprised of nineteen verses. It is a short powerful poetic Sūrah that highlights some of the core themes of Makkan revelation; the Greatness of Allah, The Straight Path, and the Afterlife.

The Makkan Surahs focused on topics that were relevant to the pagans of Makkah. These tend to be short powerful verses aimed at getting the disbelievers to reflect and reconsider their position towards Islam. Makkan Surahs tend to be light on laws but heavy on theology. The goal of these verses is to convince the disbeliever of the superiority of Islam and the soundness of its beliefs.

But these verses also carry great value for Muslims. They are reminder of the core tenants of our religion. These verses remind us of the greatness of Allah and why He alone is worthy of worship. They remind us to focus on what really matters; preparing for the Afterlife. And they highlight for us the fundamental principles of our religion. Sūrah al-Aʿlā does all of this in nineteen short powerful verses.

Glorify the name of your Lord, the Most High (87:1)

The Sūrah begins with a command to praise Allah. Tasbīh is one of the most important and powerful forms of Zikr. The purpose of Tasbīh is to contemplate on the creations of Allah, or on the greatness of Allah, and then to praise Him for it. This creates in our heart awe and love for Allah, pushing us to worship Him better. It is highly recommended to make Tasbīh as many times a day as possible. Tasbīh means to say subḥānallāh (Glory be to Allah).

In this verse, Allah mentions one of His Beautiful Names, al-Aʿlā. The Sūrah is named after this powerful name of Allah. The name al-Aʿlā is usually translated as the Most High. It refers to the greatness of Allah and means that Allah is Perfect in every possible way. It denotes Perfection in His Attributes, Essence, and Actions. In this verse, Allah is calling upon us to contemplate His greatness and then to make Tasbīh after doing so.

This verse shows us the importance of the two major components of Zikr; remembering Allah with our tongues and contemplating on His Greatness with our hearts. Too often, we reduce Zikr to simply words that we say over and over again without understanding or reflection. While there is still reward in saying these words, there is far more benefit in verbal Zikr that is accompanied by deep reflection on what we are saying.

The four verses that follow continue this same theme, giving us more reasons to praise Allah and worship Him as Allah lists His favors upon us. He created us. He provides for us. And He guides us. All of these are reasons to glorify and worship Allah.

We will make easy for you the Easy Way. (87:8)

In the eight verse of this Sūrah, Allah refers to Islam as al-Yusrā (The Easy Way). This is a profound description of Islam that contradicts the idea many people have about Islam. Cultural baggage in many parts of the world have unnecessarily made Islam more difficult and complicated than it really is. A lot of laws and practices have been added to the religion that have no textual basis, making it seem like an overcomplicated, strict and uncompromising religion.

But Islam is not like this at all. When we study Fiqh, Quran or Hadith, one of the things that truly stands out is how simple and practical Islam really is. In many verses of the Quran and many Hadiths, Islam is referred to as the religion of ease.  There are many principles in our religion that make it the most practical religion on earth.

In Islam, everything is permissible unless proven otherwise. The doors of forgiveness are always open. The law relaxes when life gets difficult. There are concessions for the travelers and the sick. Children are not held accountable for their deeds. People are considered innocent until proven guilty. The prohibited becomes permissible in unbearable circumstances. And so on. There are many other principles like this that make Islam a practical and simply way of life.

This verse is a reminder of this reality. Allah calls Islam the Easy Way. So if someone finds Islam difficult, either they are understanding it wrong or failing to understand the wisdom behind its laws. Either way, seeking Islamic knowledge can help reveal why Islam really is the Easy Way.

But you prefer the present life. Even though the Hereafter is better, and more lasting. (87:16-17)

The Sūrah concludes with a reminder to worship Allah and prepare for the Afterlife. This is followed by mentioning the primary reason why people don’t worship Allah; they are preoccupied by this world. We tend to focus on what is immediate and urgent, that which we can see the immediate consequences of. As a result, humans are often distracted from reflecting on the greatness of Allah, the purpose of life, and finding the true religion.

We are so caught up in seeking out the next promotion, the next sale, the next purchase, or the next meal, that we fail to prioritize our spirituality. In these verses, Allah is reminding us of that priority. The Afterlife must be prioritized over this world. We must make time daily for worshipping Allah and studying His religion. It makes no sense to prioritize this world over the next. This world is temporary and we will eventually leave it. After that, we will be in the next world forever. Shouldn’t the life that lasts forever be prioritized over that which is temporary?

When we get our priorities right, we will experience Barakah in our time. This will cause us to have enough time to fulfill our worldly goals as well. The principle we learn from this is that if we prioritize the next life, Allah will make this life easier for us. When you meet righteous Muslims, you will find that they tend to be more relaxed, have more free time, and are more content and happy than the average person. This is because they prioritized their Afterlife, so Allah made their worldly life easy for them.

To learn more Tafsīr, check out my Tafsīr ebook Themes of the Quran, currently on sale for the month of Ramadan.

Posted by Ismail Kamdar in Islam, 1 comment
Sūrah at-Tāriq: A Reminder of Our Origin

Sūrah at-Tāriq: A Reminder of Our Origin

This is a Makkan Surah comprised of seventeen short verses. The Surah is a brief reminder about the beginning and end of man. It begins with an oath. This is followed by a reminder of the origin of man. Then a warning about resurrection and the fact that every human will be held accountable for their lives.

It is a reminder that people were created from a single drop of fluid, and a reminder that people will have to answer to Allah on the Last Day for how they lived their lives. The topics of Sūrah at-Tāriq can be divided into two main themes; the origin of man and the final destination of man.

By the Sky and the Night Star (86:1)

The Sūrah begins an oath on the sky and at-Tāriq. There are many different interpretations of what the word at-Tāriq means. However, the most common meaning is that it refers to a star that is visible early at night.

In the Quran, Allah often uses oaths as a literary device. The purpose of these oaths is to draw the reader’s attention to two things. The first is the thing Allah is swearing and oath on. These are usually amazing creations of Allah that we should reflect on. The second is the point Allah makes after the oath. Oaths play a very important role in the Quran. Whenever you come across one, pay attention to both what Allah is taking an oath on as well as what is mentioned next.

As a side note, taking an oath on anything besides Allah is prohibited in our Shariah. Only Allah has the right to do this. Even when taking an oath on Allah’s name, we should never do so in jest and should only do so when there is a genuine need to do so.

So let mankind reflect on what he was created from. He was created from an ejected fluid. (86:5-6)

The oath is followed by a very clear set of verses calling on us to reflect on our origins. Humans, as we grow in wealth and success, tend to forget where we come from. Humans grow haughty and arrogant, thinking that we are the greatest thing in existence. In our arrogance, we can grow disobedient to Allah and vile in character.

The Quran prescribes a simple solution to this disease of the heart; reflecting on one’s roots. This has been the habit of righteous Muslims throughout history. Whenever a pious Muslim felt a tinge of arrogance, he/she would remember a humbly time in their lives and that would humble them.

When ʿUmar bin al-Khaṭṭāb (RA) was the Caliph, he once stood on a pulpit and began talking about his days as a camel herder. The companions could understand why he did this so they asked him. He responded that he felt something in his heart about being the Caliph and wanted to kill it by reminding himself of his roots. There are many other examples of this throughout our history.

The Quran, however, calls us to look even further back. Looking back at simpler times in our lives may work for people who reached success through struggle. But it doesn’t work for people who are born into luxury and wealth. The Quranic prescription to look at what our origin works for every human beings.

Every single human, no matter their status, started out as a drop of fluid. This drop of fluid was dead, having no soul or conscious. It would remain dead unless Allah willed life for it. Allah allowed the drop to reach an egg and fertilize it. He allowed this egg to grow through stages into a fetus. And He had the angels blow a soul into that fetus giving it life.

These verses give us a lot of reflect on. Remembering our roots not only humbles us, it should also make us grateful to Allah for giving us the gift of life. This humility and gratitude should propel us to live lives that are pleasing to Allah.

Indeed, He is Able to return him to life (86:8)

Allah then reminds us that just as He gave us life the first time, He is able to bring us back to life after we die. This is followed by a series of verses warning about the Day of Judgment. These verses conclude this short Surah.

The message of the Surah is very simple. We were once non-existence, then Allah gave us life. One day, He will take that life. Then He will bring us back on the Last Day and hold us accountable for how we spent this life.

These verses should cause us to reflect on the shortness of life. Life is a gift from Allah. But with this gift comes responsibility and a purpose. We exist in this world for only a short while. After that, we will return to our Creator and answer various questions about how we spent our lives.

Ibn Masʿūd reported that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “The son of Adam will not be dismissed from his Lord on the Day of Resurrection until he is questioned about five issues: his life and how he lived it, his youth and how he used it, his wealth and how he earned it and he spent it, and how he acted on his knowledge.”

Sunan al-Tirmidhī 2416

Ibn ʿAbbās reported that the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said, “Take advantage of five before five: your youth before your old age, your health before your illness, your riches before your poverty, your free time before your work, and your life before your death.”

Sunan al-Tirmidhī 2417

Life is a gift from Allah with humble beginnings. A couple may enjoy an intimate moment. Allah wills that a child is created through that act of love. That child may grow up and live a full life. But eventually, every human leaves this world, and every person answers to their Lord. The intelligent believer is the one who lives their life in such a way that they can answer all of these questions with answers that are pleasing to Allah.

Posted by Ismail Kamdar in Islam, 3 comments
Sūrah al-Burūj: Hope for the Oppressed

Sūrah al-Burūj: Hope for the Oppressed

This is Part One of my new Ramadan Tafsīr Series covering the Tafsīr of the last 30 Surahs of the Quran. A New Tafsīr will be added every day this Ramadan in shaa Allah.

Sūrah al-Burūj is a short Makkan Surah comprised of 22 verses. The theme of this Surah is the reward for the oppressed and martyred in the Afterlife, as well as the punishment for the unrepented tyrant in the Afterlife.

The Sūrah was revealed during the Makkan Era in which Muslims were oppressed and faced daily discrimination and violence. As a message of hope to the oppressed and those who had lost loved ones, this Surah was revealed.

We learn from this Sūrah that many believers in the past were oppressed in much harsher manners. Some of them were even killed for believing in Islam. Despite this, Allah declares that these believers are victorious because they made it to Paradise. While the oppressors were the real losers because they ended up in the Hellfire

The People of the Ditch

Central to this Sūrah is the story of the people of the ditch. There are various opinions regarding whom this story is referring to. Some scholars say it is referring to a Christian community that was oppressed in Yemen by a tyrannical king. Other scholars say it is a generic story that can refer to any time in history when believers were killed were believing in Islam. This is why it is left ambiguous.

The strongest opinion seems to be that it is both referring to a specific story, while remaining general enough, to refer to repeated history as well. The specific story related to this Sūrah is narrated in detail in both Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim and Tafsīr Ibn Kathīr. Here is the full narration.

Ṣuhaib (RA) reported that Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) said;

There lived a king before you and he had a (court) magician. As he (the magician) grew old, he said to the king: I have grown old, send some young boy to me so that I should teach him magic. He (the king) sent to him a young man so that he should train him (in magic).

And on his way (to the magician) he (the young man) found a monk sitting there. He (the young man) listened to his (the monk’s) talk and was impressed by it. It became his habit that on his way to the magician he met the monk and set there and he came to the magician (late). He (the magician) beat him because of delay.

He made a complaint about that to the monk and he said to him: When you feel afraid of the magician, say: Members of my family had detained me. And when you feel afraid of your family you should say: The magician had detained me.

It so happened that there came a huge beast (of prey) and it blocked the way of the people, and he (the young boy) said: I will come to know today whether the magician is superior or the monk is superior. He picked up a stone and said: O Allah if the affair of the monk is dearer to Thee than the affair of the magician, cause death to this animal so that the people should be able to move about freely. He threw that stone towards it and killed it and the people began to move about (on the path freely).

He (the young man) then came to that monk and Informed him and the monk said: Sonny, today you are superior to me. Your affair has come to a stage where I find that you would be soon put to a trial, and in case you are put to a trial don’t give my clue. That young man began to treat the blind and those suffering from leprosy and he in fact began to cure people of (all kinds) of illness.

When a companion of the king who had gone blind heard about him, he came to him with numerous gifts and said: If you cure me all these things collected together here would be yours. Be said: I myself do not cure anyone. It is Allah Who cures and if you affirm faith in Allah, I shall also supplicate Allah to cure you. He affirmed his faith in Allah and Allah cured him and he came to the king and sat by his side as he used to sit before.

The king said to him: Who restored your eyesight? He said: My Lord. Thereupon he said: It means that your Lord is One besides me. He said: My Lord and your Lord is Allah, so he (the king) took hold of him and tormented him till he gave a clue of that boy.

The young man was thus summoned and the king said to him: O boy, it has been conveyed to me that you have become so much proficient in your magic that you cure the blind and those suffering from leprosy and you do such and such things. Thereupon he said: I do not cure anyone; it is Allah Who cures, and he (the king) took hold of him and began to torment him. So he gave a clue of the monk. The monk was thus summoned and it was said to him: You should turn back from your religion. He, however, refused to do so. He (ordered) for a saw to be brought (and when it was done) he (the king) placed it in the middle of his head and tore it into parts till a part fell down.

Then the courtier of the king was brought and it was said to him: Turn back from your religion. Arid he refused to do so, and the saw was placed in the midst of his head and it was torn till a part fell down. Then that young boy was brought and it was said to him: Turn back from your religion. He refused to do so and he was handed over to a group of his courtiers.

And he said to them: Take him to such and such mountain; make him climb up that mountain and when you reach its top (ask him to renounce his faith) but if he refuses to do so, then throw him (down the mountain). So they took him and made him climb up the mountain and he said: O Allah, save me from them (in any way) Thou likest and the mountain began to quake and they all fell down and that person came walking to the king.

The king said to him: What has happened to your companions? He said: Allah has saved me from them. He again handed him to some of his courtiers and said: Take him and carry him in a small boat and when you reach the middle of the ocean (ask him to renounce) his religion, but if he does not renounce his religion throw him (into the water). So they took him and he said: O Allah, save me from them and what they want to do. It was quite soon that the boat turned over and they were drowned and he came walking to the king, and the king said to him: What has happened to your companions?

He said: Allah has saved me from them, and he said to the king: You cannot kill me until you do what I ask you to do. And he said: What is that? He said: You should gather people in a plain and hang me by the trunk (of a tree). Then take hold of an arrow from the quiver and say: In the name of Allah, the Lord of the young boy; then shoot an arrow and if you do that then you would be able to kill me.

So he (the king) called the people in an open plain and tied him (the boy) to the trunk of a tree, then he took hold of an arrow from his quiver and then placed the arrow in the bow and then said: In the name of Allah, the Lord of the young boy; he then shot an arrow and it bit his temple.

He (the boy) placed his hands upon the temple where the arrow had hit him and he died and the people said: We affirm our faith in the Lord of this young man, we affirm our faith in the Lord of this young man, we affirm our faith in the Lord of this young man. The courtiers came to the king and it was said to him: Do you see that Allah has actually done what you aimed at averting.

They (the people) have affirmed their faith in the Lord. He (the king) commanded ditches to be dug at important points in the path. When these ditches were dug, and the fire was lit in them it was said (to the people): He who would not turn back from his religion would be thrown in the fire or it would be said to them to jump in that.

(The people courted death but did not renounce religion) till a woman came with her child and she felt hesitant in jumping into the fire and the child said to her: O Mother, endure (this ordeal) for it is the Truth.

Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim 55:93

The above story fits in perfectly with the narrative of the Sūrah, as well as its theme. This story teaches us that just because a tyrant wins in this world, it doesn’t mean that he is successful. The real success is earning Paradise, and no tyrant can take that away from any believer.

Life is a Test

There is another important narration related to this theme. It is about an event that took place in the same time period and helps put the theme of this Surah into context.

Narrated Khabbāb bin Al-Arat (RA) :

We complained to Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) (of the persecution inflicted on us by the infidels) while he was sitting in the shade of the Ka`ba, leaning over his Burd (i.e. covering sheet). We said to him, “Would you seek help for us? Would you pray to Allah for us?” He said, “Among the nations before you a (believing) man would be put in a ditch that was dug for him, and a saw would be put over his head and he would be cut into two pieces; yet that (torture) would not make him give up his religion. His body would be combed with iron combs that would remove his flesh from the bones and nerves, yet that would not make him abandon his religion. By Allah, this religion (i.e. Islam) will prevail till a traveler from Sana (in Yemen) to Hadrarmaut will fear none but Allah, or a wolf as regards his sheep, but you (people) are hasty.

Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī 61:119

In this narration, the Prophet (peace be upon him) refers to similar incidents to teach an important lesson. We tend to get hasty and upset whenever Allah tests us. We want the test to end quickly and we want to be able to enjoy this world again. But there were people before us who were tested in far more severe ways, yet they were patient and victorious. Even if they never experienced that victory in this world.

Allah has spared us from the devastating tests of the early nations, or even the difficult tests that the companions like Khabbāb (RA) faced. We should always keep this in mind when facing the tests and challenges of our time. Life is a test, and each individual will be tested according to what they can handle. Therefore, we should always be ready to face the tests of life and be patient with our eye on the goal; Paradise.

Check out our Ramadan Resources Page for more beneficial Ramadan content.

Posted by Ismail Kamdar in Islam, 5 comments
Ramadan Resources – 2020/1441

Ramadan Resources – 2020/1441

Ramadan Mubarak!

I pray that you all have a spiritually uplifting Ramadan.

To help you along your spiritual journey, I have put together a list of Ramadan Resources that we have to offer at Islamic Self Help.

NEW RAMADAN BLOG SERIES

I am excited to announce a new series of daily blog posts from Islamic Self Help for Ramadan 1441 AH. Starting tonight, every day I will be posting one new blog post explaining the Tafsir of one of the last thirty Surahs of the Quran.

As many people will be praying Taraweh at home for the first time, a lot of us will be relying on these short Surahs to recite in our Tawareh. To make this recitation for spiritual and beneficial, I will be sharing the Tafsir of one of these Surahs each night for the month of Ramadan in shaa Allah. You can read part one of this new series here.

I hope you find this beneficial.
May Allah accept our deeds and forgive our sins.
Ameen.

NEW TAFSIR ARTICLES – RAMADAN 1441

Posted by Ismail Kamdar in Islam, 1 comment