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 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
Sūrah al-ʿĀdiyāt and Sūrah al-Qāriʿah

Sūrah al-ʿĀdiyāt and Sūrah al-Qāriʿah

These two Sūrahs continue the theme of warnings about the Last Day. The topic remains the same; mankind is warned that this life will end and we will have to answer to Allah for how we spent it. These Sūrahs should build in our hearts a fear of the Last Day and a sense of accountability for our lives. Anyone who reflects on these descriptions of the Last Day should emerge transformed and reformed.

Scholars differ regarding whether Sūrah al-ʿĀdiyāt is a late Makkan or early Madinan Sūrah. The majority of categorize it as Makkan. Its content leans both ways, the oath on war horses seems more in line with the Madinan theme of Jihād, while its focus on the Last Day is a Makkan theme. It is possible that it was revealed towards the end of the Makkan phase, as one of the last few warnings to the Quraysh about the Last Day, as well as a hint at the war that would soon occur between the two nations. Allah knows best.

Sūrah al-Qāriʿah is a Makkan Sūrah by consensus. Scholars differ over its number of verses, but agree that it was revealed during the Makkan Era. Its content is clearly Makkan in nature, focusing on short powerful imagery and warning about the Last Day. A unique focus of this Sūrah is on the concept of the weighing of the scales on the Last Day.

The Image of the War Horses

Sūrah al-ʿĀdiyāt begins with a detailed description of war horses and their galloping into the battlefield. Allah takes an oath on these horses, before mentioning the two main points of this Sūrah, the ingratitude and materialistic nature of mankind. There are many possible reasons why war horses are the focus of this oath.

It could be because the Arabs were familiar with war horses, their usage, their loyalty and their courage. So Allah draws a parable that they can understand. Horses are courageous and loyal to their masters. While the Quraysh were being cowardly, and ungrateful to their Creator. The detailed image of the war horse could be to draw this parable in the mind of the disbeliever, so that they may reflect.

An alternative interpretation is that this was a warning of things to come. The passive resistance era of early Islam was ending. Soon the migration would take place, Allah would reveal the permission to fight back, and the Jihād against Makkah would begin. This oath could have been a warning of things to come; if you do not prioritize the Afterlife then prepare for war in this life. This may have been the message to the Quraysh in these verses, and Allah knows best.

The Weaknesses of Man

This oath is followed by the core message of this Sūrah, mankind is ungrateful and materialistic. These two qualities cause humanity to reject the truth, ignore the Afterlife and indulge in this world. The Quraysh were ungrateful to Allah for all His Blessings upon them. This theme is raised again in later Sūrahs. They were also worried that they would lose their financial privileges if they embraced Islam.

These two qualities are found even among Muslims today. Complaining has become a hobby for many people, even when they live lives of privilege and luxury. People are always looking for the smallest thing to complain about, inventing all kinds of new grievances in the process. Ingratitude is linked to disbelief in Islam to such an extent that the Arabic word for both is actually the same; Kufr.

But ingratitude is not the only thing causing Muslims to stray. Materialism and Capitalism have made Muslims extremely greedy. In our greed, we have thrown out the Fiqh of Business, and embraced every prohibited transaction. Money has become the new god, and our craving for wealth never seems to end. In order to return to righteousness, we need to break away from these two negative emotions. Ingratitude needs to be replaced with gratitude, and materialism needs to be replaced with Zuhd (asceticism).

The Sūrah ends with a strong warning to those who are distracted by ingratitude and greed. This world will end, we will answer for how we lived our lives, and our Lord knows everything that we have done. There is no escaping the reality of the Afterlife. The wise believer spends their life in gratitude and worship, knowing well that this world will end and preparing for the Afterlife is the priority.

The Scales of Justice

Sūrah al-Qāriʿah begins with a powerful image of the end of the world. Loud noises, crumbling mountains and people scattered like moths. This image is meant to create awe and fear of the Last Day in the hearts of the believers. The image builds a picture of mass panic among humanity on that day.

After building up this image and drawing the attention of the listener through it, Allah then informs us of the central theme of this Sūrah. On that day, our deeds will be weighed on a scale. Whoever’s good deeds outweigh their bad deeds will have a happy life in eternal bliss. But whoever finds their scale of good deeds light may find himself in the abyss of Hell.

Although the Sūrah ends on a point of fear and dread, there is much hope we can gain from this concept. The weighing of the scales is not done equally. While every sin will equal to one sin on the scale, a good deed is multiplied between ten and seven hundred times on the scale. Some good deeds like pure monotheism, fasting and patience will be even heavier on that day.

Knowing this, how does a person end up with a light scale on that day? The answer lies in the previous and following Sūrahs, both of which highlight the materialistic nature on man. People are so caught up in chasing this world that they fail to build up even a small record of good deeds. When Allah has made the weighing of the scales tilted in our favor, who can we blame besides ourselves if we end up with a light scale on that day?  

Posted by Ismail Kamdar in Islam, 2 comments