Sūrah al-Māʿūn: Small Deeds

Sūrah al-Māʿūn: Small Deeds

Scholars differ over whether this is a Makkan or Madinan Sūrah. The majority classify it as Makkan and a few as Madinan. Some scholars argue that the first half was revealed in Makkah, while the second half was revealed in Madinah. I am inclined towards the third opinion, even though it is a minority opinion.

The reason for this is because the first half of the Sūrah clearly seems to address the Quraysh. But the second half talks about people who are lazy in the prayers and pray for show. These are the hypocrites, and they did not exist during the Makkan Era. Hypocrites only propped up during the Madinan Phase. The fact that half of Sūrah al-Māʿūn addresses the pagans of Makkah, while the other half addresses the hypocrites supports the view that it is half-Makkan and half-Madinan. Allah knows best.

The theme of Sūrah al-Māʿūn is that small acts of kindness and caring for others form fundamental parts of our religion. The religion is not restricted to theology or ritual acts of prayer. Both of these are crucial and essential. But it is also important for the believer to develop a sense of mercy for the creation, and to dedicate a part of his life to taking care of those who are less fortunate.

The Rejecters of the Religion

Allah begins the Sūrah by asking whether we had seen those who rejected the religion. This is referring to the pagans of Makkah, or the hypocrites of Madinah, according to different interpretations. Either way, Allah is drawing our attention to some of the qualities of the rejecters of the truth.

But then the qualities He uses to describe them are not the ones people generally expect. He does not describe them as those who lie against God or don’t pray. These descriptions can be found elsewhere in the Quran. These verses draw our attention to another quality of the disbelievers; apathy towards the poor.

Allah describes these rejecters as people who mistreat orphans and discourage feeding the poor. These points drive home the fact that Islam is a social religion. Our religion focuses not only on our relationship with the Creator but also on our relationship with each other. The believers are one brotherhood and they feel for each other.

Caring for the creation of Allah, and the children of Adam drives a believer to make feeding the poor and caring for orphans a fundamental part of his life. The rejecter, on the other hand, doesn’t care about anyone besides himself. This isn’t true for every disbeliever, as there are exceptions to every rule, but it is a general quality described in these verses. Those who actively deny Allah His Rights will easily deny the Creation their rights as well.

Praying For Show

The next set of verses draws our attention to the importance of intention and quality in our ritual acts of worship. Allah condemns those who pray for show and those who pray lazily. When we pray, we are not doing Allah a favor. We are fulfilling our purpose in life and enriching our own souls.

Salah is the single most important act of worship in Islam. It solidifies our faith, strengthens our relationship with Allah, protects us from immorality, and serves as a means of forgiveness for our daily minor sins. Without Salah, we can easily go astray. This is why abandoning the Salah is directly linked to disbelief in various narrations.

Due to its central importance in Islam, Salah cannot be treated lightly or done in a haphazard manner. It is an act of conversation with the Creator. Therefore, it deserves our purest intention, full attention, and best effort. Praying for show and praying lazily are qualities of the hypocrites. So the believer should strive to avoid these qualities always.

The Small Deeds

The Sūrah ends with a reminder that the hypocrites overlook small deeds. This means that they regard small acts of kindness as insignificant and do not bother doing them. They may even mock a believer who takes out time to do the smaller good deeds.

We see this in our society when believers are mocked for taking time to remember God at work, eating with their rights hands, or even washing properly after using the bathroom. Despite these being obvious acts of piety, modern society scoffs at these concepts as insignificant and a waste of time. The obsession with wealth and fame makes them question the purpose and benefit of these acts of worship.

For the believer, however, there is no such thing as a small deed. Every act of kindness and every little ritual we do assists us in fulfilling our purpose in life. Allah blesses the smaller deeds and grants them lasting effects, high rewards, and often uses them as a reason to forgive His servants for their sins. Knowing this, the believer never neglects the smaller deeds. They are a crucial part of our religion. Together with the bigger deeds, they form part of the perfect comprehensive way of life; Islam.

To learn more Tafsir of the Quran, check out my ebook Themes of the Quran, currently on sale at half price here.

Posted by Ismail Kamdar in Islam, 1 comment
Sūrah al-Fīl and Sūrah Quraysh

Sūrah al-Fīl and Sūrah Quraysh

These two Sūrahs share a common theme; Allah’s blessings and favors on the Quraysh. Due to this common theme, it is clear that these are Makkan Sūrahs revealed early in Islam to remind the pagans of Makkah about Allah’s favors upon them. Allah had blessed the people of Makkah with both worldly and spiritual favors, yet they rejected his messenger.

Allah revealed these two short powerful Sūrahs to remind the Quraysh of his blessing. Sūrah al-Fīl focuses on spiritual blessings, while Sūrah Quraysh focuses on worldly blessings. The themes of these Sūrahs slow together so well, that Ubay bin Kab considered them as one Sūrah. However, later scholars arrived at a consensus that they are two separate Sūrahs.

Sūrah al-Fīl is a Makkan Sūrah by consensus and has five verses. It was revealed very early in Islamic History with some historians placing it as the nineteenth Sūrah to be revealed. Sūrah Quraysh is Makkan according to the majority view, although a minority of scholars claimed it was Madinan. The content is clearly Makkan and it clearly addresses the Quraysh. Therefore, we will view it as Makkan Sūrah. Its verses are divided into four or five verses according to the different schools of recitation.

The Story of the Elephant

Sūrah al-Fīl is a very brief reminder about the incident of the elephant that took place in Makkah during the year in which the Prophet (peace be upon him) was born. The events that took place that year were still fresh in the minds of the Quraysh and therefore did not need to be explained in detail in the Quran. As a general rule, stories that were well known to the Quraysh are briefly mentioned in the Quran, while stories they were unfamiliar with are discussed in more detail.

That year, an army from Yemen marched upon Makkah intent on destroying the Kabah. This army included war elephants, and the Arabs were incapable of fighting such an army. Instead, they fled to the mountains and asked Allah for help. Allah assisted them in a miraculous manner by destroying the army with birds that pelted them with stones.

The Quraysh had witnessed this clear miracle just a few decades before the advent of Islam. Many of the people who witnessed this event were still alive. This was a clear evidence that Allah is the only true God, Makkah is sacred, and Allah had protected them and their homes and wealth from destruction. Despite witnessing such a clear miracle, the elders of Makkah disbelieved in Islam and rebelled against it. This brief Sūrah was revealed to remind them about this event, so that they may reflect and reconsider their stance towards Islam.

Wealth and Safety

The event of the elephant was not the only blessing Allah had given the Quraysh. He had blessed them with wealth, safety, and honor. Makkah was the hub of religious and economic activity in Arabia. This brought great prestige and wealth to the Quraysh. People from all over Arabic flocked to Makkah for the pilgrimage, and the bi-annual trade routes during summer and winter were always profitable.

Allah reminds the Quraysh of these favors in these short verses, then calls on them to worship Him alone. He reminds them that He granted them safety from hunger and fear. Hunger and fear are the two main causes of chaos and anarchy in society. When people are starving or afraid for their lives, they take to desperate means to protect themselves.

Allah had protected the Quraysh from all of this. All He asked for in return was that they worship him alone and obey His Messenger. Those who did so became the best generation of Muslims. Those who rejected became among the worst of ungrateful disbelievers.

Reflecting on Blessings

Although these verses primarily address the Quraysh, the message of the Quran is eternal. Hence, there are lessons in these verses for all of us. If we take the time to reflect on our own lives, we will find that Allah has blessed us with similar bounties.

In worldly affairs, many of us are blessed with safety from hunger and fear. Many Muslims are also blessed with profitable businesses and abundance of wealth. The blessings that Allah has given us go beyond these. More important than any of these worldly blessings are the spiritual favors Allah has given us.

Allah has blessed us and made us followers of the final prophet (peace be upon him). He has made us a balanced nation, with the potential of being the best of nations if we follow the religion. He has protected His Revelation for us, given us the best role model in the Prophet (peace be upon him), and granted us a perfect way of life.

In return, out of gratitude to Allah, we must dedicate our lives to His Worship. The best way to express gratitude to Allah is to obey Him and worship Him. When we do so, we are fulfilling our purpose in life, and securing our Hereafter. So worship the Lord of This House, the One Who protected you from hunger and Who protected you from fear.

Posted by Ismail Kamdar in Islam, 1 comment
Sūrah al-Humaza: The Slanderer

Sūrah al-Humaza: The Slanderer

There is consensus among the scholars that Sūrah al-Humaza is a Makkan Sūrah, and contains nine verses. The content is clearly Makkan, as it deals with a specific event from early Islamic history. Some historians state that this was the thirty-second Sūrah to be revealed.

As an early Makkan Sūrah, Sūrah al-Humaza is short and powerful. It focuses on some of the arrogant leaders of the Quraysh and their evil qualities. The core focus is on their qualities of slandering and backbiting. These two sins were used as tools of propaganda against Islam during those early days. In fact, they are still used as tools of propaganda against Islam today.

The Arrogant Leaders

The elite of the Quraysh included several arrogant and wealthy individuals. These men regarded themselves as better than everybody else, and scoffed at the believers for not being as wealthy or as powerful as them. The elite would gather in their meeting place and backbite about the believers. They would invent all kinds of propaganda and slander to spread about the Prophet (peace be upon him) and his followers.

The leading conspirators, regarding whom this Sūrah was revealed were Walīd b. al-Mughīrah and Umayyah b. Khalaf. Walīd and Umayyah were wealthy businessmen who didn’t need to work every day. They had amassed a lot of wealth, because of which they had a lot of time on their hands. So while the average Makkan was out earning their wages, these men sat around conspiring against Islam.

They invented various slanders that spread throughout Makkah. They called the Prophet (peace be upon him) a magician and mad man. They accused him of seeking power and leadership. They accused the believers of breaking family ties. They warned against the messenger and his message.

The irony of destiny is that not only did they fail to stop the spread of Islam, but their own offspring eventually converted to Islam. Umayyah’s son Ṣafwān was one of the late converts to Islam after the conquest of Makkah. Walīd’s son Walīd was one of the early converts to Islam in the Madinan Era. But the greatest of these conversions was Walīd’s other son Khālid. Although Khālid converted to Islam a lot later than his brother, he become one of the most important companions and a key figure in Islamic military history.

The petty efforts of the Quraysh to stop the spread of Islam through slander and backbiting eventually backfired. These individuals were lost to history, while their own offspring became leading figures in the spread of Islam across the globe. Today there are many figures trying to stop the spread of Islam through slander and propaganda. Perhaps their own offspring will also become leading callers to Islam.

The Sins of the Tongue

Slander and backbiting are not small sins. These are among the most dangerous deeds of the tongue. Slander means to invent lies about people and spread it. Backbiting means to spread unsavory information about others, even if it is true. Islam has prohibited both of these acts as they are the cause of great evil and harm in society.

Whenever someone wishes to undermine another, they often choose one of two routes; either they dig up dirt on the individual and spread it, or they invent a rumor about the individual and spread it. The reason why these are often the first strategies adopted is because they are very effective in ruining people’s lives.

How many innocent people have had their careers and reputations ruined by the spread of slander? And how many struggling sinners have been embarrassed and humiliated by having their sins exposed? There is no benefit in speaking about the faults of others, except when it is necessary to warn others against their harm or oppression. In most cases, slander and backbiting are simply the tools of malicious people, who intend nothing but harm to the other.

The Quran and Hadīth are full of warnings against slander and backbiting. These are listed as among the most dangerous of sins because of the impact they have on society. A single rumor could ruin a person’s life and no amount of seeking forgiveness would be able to undo the harm caused to the other. This is why it is crucial to hold our tongues and avoid spreading any information that is harmful.

The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “The Muslim is one from whose tongue and hand Muslims are safe.”

Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī 10

The Prophet (peace be upon him) also said, “Blessed is one who controls his tongue, whose house is spacious, and who weeps for his sins.”

al-Muʿjam al-Awsaṭ 2398

The believer is very careful about anything they say about others. The believer refrains from idle speech, talking bad about others, and spreading gossip. His tongue is constantly remembering Allah, preaching truth, and spreading beneficial knowledge. There is no room in the heart or on the tongue of the believer for the filth of slander.

A Severe Warning

The bulk of this Sūrah is a warning to these pagans, and anyone who follows in their footsteps, about the Hellfire. Allah warns of a severe crushing punishment in the Afterlife for those who dedicated their lives to slandering the messenger and his message. Columns of fire will engulf such an individual and surround him from every side, crushing him over and over again for all eternity.

Rejecting the message of Islam is already an unforgiveable sin, if someone dies upon it. To go further and to slander the religion and spread lies about it is an even greater evil. The people who dedicate their lives to spreading lies against Allah can expect no mercy in the Afterlife. They gave up that right when they took up the work of the devil and dedicated their lives to propaganda and slander.

These verse may have been revealed about the leaders of the Quraysh, but they apply to every individual who slanders Islam until the end of time. Slandering an innocent person is a major sin. To slander Islam and its messenger is among the greatest acts of disbelief. So Woe to every slanderer and backbiter!

Posted by Ismail Kamdar in Islam, 2 comments
Sūrah al-ʿAṣr: The Path of Salvation

Sūrah al-ʿAṣr: The Path of Salvation

Every verse of the Quran is a miracle and a proof of Islam. Sūrah al-ʿAṣr is one of those clearest proofs of the inimitable nature of the Quran. In just three short powerful verses, Allah summarizes the message of Islam and the path of salvation. The challenge to produce one Sūrah like it went unmet by the pagans of Makkah. This is a clear evidence that the Quran is inimitable.

Sūrah al-ʿAṣr is a Makkan Sūrah and has only three short verses. Its theme is the path of salvation. Sūrah al-ʿAṣr begins with an oath, followed by a warning, followed by an explanation of how to save oneself from destruction. Its core message is summarized in the five points listed in verse three.

By Time

There are various opinions regarding the meaning of al-ʿAṣr in this oath. Scholars agree that Allah is taking an oath on al-ʿAṣr to draw attention to what He says next. But they differ over the meaning of al-ʿAṣr in this verse. The word al-ʿAṣr could refer to Ṣalah al-ʿAṣr and its importance in Islam. It could also refer to time as a whole, or time as a concept. A fourth opinion is that it refers to Islam because Islam is the final religion sent before the end of time. Allah knows best.

Perhaps the concept of time is most suitable here. Allah states in the next verse that the disbelievers are at a loss. Linking this to the oath on time, we could conclude that they are running out of time to repent and convert to Islam. If they do not do so soon, then they will find themselves in complete loss in the Afterlife.

The concept of time is a unique gift from Allah that we take for granted. Allah created the sun and the moon. These huge spheres move in systems set by Allah to give us a means to calculate time. Imagine if neither the sun nor the moon existed. How then would we keep track of day and night, or the passage of months and years? Simply look at how time passing differently outside of earth and on other planets, this will drive home the importance of time as a gift from Allah.

Time is part of the Rizq (sustenance) that Allah has given us on this earth. However, unlike other types of Rizq, we do not know how much we have and have no way to recover lost time. It is crucial that we spend our time wisely, as each day wasted can never be recovered. The believer is aware of this fact. Based on this knowledge, the true believers never waste their time and are always conscious about how they spend their lives.

The Path of Truth

After taking an oath on time and warning that the disbelievers are headed for destruction, Allah summarizes the path of salvation. If people end up in a loss in the Afterlife, that is their own choice. Allah has warned us and clearly shown us the straight path. The path of belief, good deeds, community, truth and patience is listed clearly in this Sūrah as the way to Paradise. This is why some early scholars regarded this Sūrah as sufficient for the guidance of mankind.

The first two points mentioned are repeated multiple times throughout the Quran; believe and do righteous deeds. These two forms the core components of salvation. Salvation in the Afterlife is exclusive for those who believed in the message of truth when it came to them. There are exceptions to this rule for those who did not receive the message and a few other categories. But for the bulk of humanity, believing in the message of Islam is the single most important step to earn one’s salvation and enter into Paradise.

Belief on its own is not enough though, it must be followed by righteous actions. Righteous actions are the proof of belief. They show that a person truly believes in Islam and takes it seriously. However, righteous deeds is secondary to belief. This is because a person who believes but does not do righteous deeds can still enter Paradise. But a person who rejects the truth and does good deeds will find his deeds without value on the Last Day.

After these two qualities, Allah mentioned three more; working together, truth and patience. The term ‘working together’ is mentioned in this verse, indicating that both preaching the truth and being patient with the tests of life are communal efforts. A believer is not expected to go through life on his own. We must surround ourselves with other believers and work together in propagating the truth and being patient when the enemies of Islam try to harm us.

Truth in this verse refers to every act that helps to spread Islam. This includes seeking knowledge to know the truth, calling to the truth by inviting people to Islam, and even defending the truth through Jihād and debate. All of these are communal efforts. Every Muslim community needs people of knowledge, preachers and defenders to keep the truth alive and flourishing.

The final point mentioned in this verse is Ṣabr. Ṣabr is a deep concept in Islam and one of the most important acts of worship. It separates the true believers from the weak, and is the key to success in both worlds. Ṣabr means to be patient with the trials of life, persistent in preaching the truth, constant in doing good deeds, and to restrain oneself from committing sins. The word Ṣabr encompasses all of these actions. It is the fundamental characteristic of the true believer. The true believer is committed to Islam and does everything possible to reach Paradise. This includes living life in a way that includes every meaning of Ṣabr.

It is narrated that many of the early Muslims would recite this Sūrah whenever they parted ways. This, over time, developed into the practice of ending gatherings with a recitation of this Sūrah. There is no harm in this practice, as it has its evidence, even if people differ over it.

Abū Madīnah al-Dārimī said, “When two men among the companions of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) met, they did not part until one of them recited to the other: 1. “By al-ʿAṣr (the time). 2. Verily, man is in loss” [i.e. Sūrah al-ʿAṣr], then one would say Salām to (greet) the other.”

Abū Dawūd 417
Posted by Ismail Kamdar in Islam, 1 comment
Sūrah at-Takāthur: The Test of Wealth

Sūrah at-Takāthur: The Test of Wealth

This is the fourth Sūrah in a row dealing with the theme of the Last Day. Sūrah at-Takāthur is a Makkan Sūrah according to the majority of scholars. Although some scholars view it Madinan, its theme and style indicate that it is Makkan. The Sūrah has eight verses, and revolves around the theme of wealth and its distracting nature.

Sūrah at-Takāthur teaches us that humans are often distracted from their purpose by their pursuit of wealth and pleasure. This distraction lasts until they pass away. It is only then, when it is too late, that they realize that they had wasted their lives. It ends with a severe warning that on the Last Day, we will be asked about every blessing Allah had given us in this world.

The Rat Race

The Sūrah begins with a warning that people are distracted by at-Takāthur. This word can be translated in many ways. There isn’t a single English word that equals it in meaning. If summarized as a sentence, at-Takāthur means a constant competition to pile up the wealth of this world.

Humans, throughout history, have been obsessed with wealth. This is why warnings about this obsession pop up multiple times in the final part of the Quran. Sūrah al-ʿĀdiyāt also warned that mankind is too extreme in their love of wealth. The main problem with this obsession is that it is a distraction from the things that really matter. When a person’s sole focus is piling up wealth, such a person rarely has a thought to spare for things like the purpose of life or the Afterlife. Life becomes one big race to pile up more and more.

This was the case of the pagans of Makkah at the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him). But it is also the case of the majority of Capitalists today. Capitalistic society pushes the idea of the ‘pursuit of happiness’ and by happiness it means wealth and power. People spend all their time trying to pile up as much wealth as possible, and their greed is never satisfied.

The average person chases millionaire status. The millionaires work all day and night to become multi-millionaires. The Multi-millionaires are obsessed with billionaires. And the billionaires compete for the status of wealthiest person on earth. This deep obsession with more has distracted people from their purpose in life. When money is the only thing on one’s mind, there is no room left in it for God or anything else.

The way back is simple. Take a step back and reevaluate your priorities. There is nothing wrong with wealth in Islam. Allah even refers to it as Khair (good) in Sūrah al-ʿĀdiyāt. It is man’s obsession and love of wealth that is criticized. Pure hard earned wealth that is used to worship Allah and uplift society is a blessing from Allah. Allah does not ask us to give up wealth in this Sūrah. He is warning us instead to prioritize the Afterlife.

The Destroyer of All Pleasures

The Sūrah continues and states that people remain in this state of obsession and neglect until they ‘visit the graves’. The common interpretation of this is ‘until they die’. This interpretation fits in perfectly with the rest of the Sūrah so it is the one we will stick with here. The Prophet (peace be upon him) called death the destroyer of pleasures.

Death is an inescapable reality. Every human has to face the reality of their own mortality at some point in their life or another. Remembering death is considered a good deed in Islam because it humbles the heart and causes people to repent. Death is the one reality that nobody can escape from. Every millionaire and billionaire will find their wealth worth nothing in the grave, except those who spent it in righteous causes.  

Too many people waste their lives in pursuit of wealth and pleasure, thinking it will bring them happiness. But that happiness never arrives. It is only on their death beds that they reflect, look back, and regret at how they wasted their lives. We can avoid these regrets by thinking about death often, reflecting on its reality, and using that to help us prioritize the Afterlife over this life.

The Test of Wealth

The Sūrah continues by describing the Afterlife of the one who died in this state. It states that they will see the Hellfire with their own eyes, then stand in account for what they did with the blessings that they were given. Hellfire is a reality and a day will come when people will see it with their own eyes. This will be on the Last Day when it is dragged forth and displayed before all of humanity. On that day, there will be no skeptic or atheist. Every human will see the reality of the Afterlife.

The Sūrah ends with a warning that people will be asked on that day about the blessings they enjoyed in this world. This ending should hit hard. Too many people view their blessings in this world as a reward or sign of acceptance. They see it as something they earned and something they can do whatever they will with. All of these are mere delusions.

When a person is given any blessing in this world, whether it is wealth, power, intelligence or beauty, it is all a test from Allah. Allah tests some people by depriving them of these blessings and witnesses their reactions. He tests others by blessing them with worldly success after worldly success. But each of these successes are actually a test in disguise. This is the test that more people fail.

It is easy to be pious and humble when a person lacks worldly possessions and wealth. Life keeps a person down, and they have to turn to Allah for help. The majority of humans become more spiritual and religious during times of difficulty and hardship. But the test of wealth is harder.

Wealth blinds the heart and distracts the soul. It consumes time and attention. It creates pride, and opens the doors of unlimited entertainment. Sins that were previously impossible become easy to access for the wealthy. Wealth is one of the biggest tests a person can ever face in this world, and it is the one test the Prophet (peace be upon him) feared most for his nation.

This test can be passed by doing three things; earning our wealth in a permissible way, being grateful for our wealth, and spending it in a way that is pleasing to Allah. If a person does these three things, then wealth becomes a blessing in both worlds. Such a person will not be afraid to answer on the Last Day about what he did with his blessings.

To learn more Tafsir of the Quran, check out my ebook Themes of the Quran, currently on sale at half price here.

Posted by Ismail Kamdar in Islam, 1 comment