SURAH AL BAQARAH
( The Cow )
MADINITE 286 VERSES
The name and the number of verses , According to the ahadith of the Holy Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) and the reports relating to his blessed Companions, the name of this Surah is Al-Baqarah. The riwayah or narration which prohibits this name is not authentic (Ibn Kathir). It comprises of 286 verses, 6201 words and 25500 letters (Ibn Kathir).
The period of revelation
The Surah is Madinite – that is to say, it was revealed at Madinah after the Hijrah; some of the verses included here were revealed at Makkah at the time of the last Hajj of the Holy Prophet (sallallaahu alaihi wasallam), but, in accordance with the terminology of the commentators, they too are regarded as Madinite. This is the longest Surah in the Holy Qur’an. It was the first Surah to be revealed at Madinah, but different verses were revealed at different times, covering quite a long period so much so that the verses with regard to riba (interest or usury) were revealed in the last days of the Holy Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam), after the conquest of Makkah. Actually, the verse:
Fear the day when you will return to Allah (2:281), is the very last verse of the Holy Qur’an to be revealed – this happened on the 10th of Dhu al-Hijjah 10 A.H., when the Holy Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) was in the course of performing his last Hajj, and only eighty or ninety days later he departed from this world, and the process of Divine Revelation came to an end for ever. (Qurtubi)
The Merits of Surah Al-Baqarah
It is not only the longest Surah in the Holy Qur’an, but also contains quite a large number of injunctions. The Holy Prophet has said: “Make a habit of reading the Surah Al-Baqarah, for reading it brings down on you the barakah or blessings of Allah, and neglecting it is a matter of regret, and a misfortune. And men of falsehood cannot overcome it”. Al-Qurtubi cites the blessed Companion Mu’awiyah (radhiyallahu anhu) to the effect that the men of falsehood referred to here are sorcerers, and the implication is that one who keeps reading this Surah becomes immune to the effect of black magic (Qurtubi, from Muslim, a. narrated by Al Umamah Bahili). The Holy Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) has also said that Satan flees from the house in which this Surah is read or recited. (Ibn Kathir from Hakim) Another hadith says that this Surah is the apex of the Holy Qur’an, and that a retinue of eighty angels had accompanied each of its verses when it was revealed (Ibn Kathir from Musnad Ahmad) The blessed Companion Abu Hurairah (radhiyallahu anhu) reports from the Holy Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) that there is a verse in this Surah which enjoys a superiority over all the other verses of the Holy Qur’an, and that verse is the Verse of the Kursi (Ayat al-Kursi 2:255) (Ibn kathir from Tirmidhi) The blessed Companion Abdullah ibn Mas’ud says that ten verses of this Surah have such an efficacy that if one recites them at night, neither Satan nor jinn would enter one’s house, nor would one and one’s family be afficted with illness or calamity or sorrow that night, and that if they are recited over a man suffering from a fit of madness, his condition will improve. The ten verses are these: the first four verses of the Surah, three verses in the middle (that is, the Ayat al-kursi, and the two following verses), and the last three verses of the Surah.
This Surah enjoys, with regard to its contents as well, a special distinction. Ibn al-‘Arabi reports from his elders that in this Surah there are one thousand injunctions, one thousand prohibitions, one thousand subtle points of wisdom, and one thousand parables and references to historical events (Qurtubi and Ibn Kathir). That is why the great Caliph ‘Umar (radhiyallahu anhu) spent twelve years in learning and meditating over this Surah, and the blessed Companion Abdullah ibn ‘Umar spent eight years to learn it. (Qurtubi)
As we have said, the Surah Al-Fatihah is the gist and the essence of the Holy Qur’an. It deals with three basic themes – firstly, the affirmation of Allah as the Lord (Rabb) of the universe; secondly, the affirmation that Allah alone, and none else, is worthy of being worshipped; thirdly, the prayer for guidance. Thus, the Surah Al-Fatihah ends with the request for the straight path, and the whole of the Qur’an is, in fact, an answer to this request – that is to say, the man who seeks the straight path will find it only in the Holy Qur’an.
Hence it is that the Surah Al-Fatihah is immediately followed by the Surah Al-Baqarah which begins with the words, “That is the Book”, indicating that this book is the straight path one has been seeking and praying for. Having defined the nature and function of the Holy Qur’an, the Surah proceeds to state in a very brief manner the basic principles of the Islamic faith – namely, oneness of God, prophethood and hereafter (Risalah, Akhirah). These principles have been presented in detail at the end of the Surah. In between, the Surah lays down the basic principles, and sometime even secondary rules in detail, for providing guidance to man in all spheres of life, modes of ‘ibadah (worship), ethics, individual and social behaviour, economic relationships, ways and means of improving oneself externally and internally.
Verses 1 – 7
With the name of Allah, The All-Merciful, the Very-Merciful.
Alif. Lam. Mim. That Book has no doubt in it – a guidance for the God-fearing, who believe in the unseen, and are steadfast in salah, and spend out of what We have provided them; and who believe in what has been revealed to you and what has been revealed before you, and do have faith in the Hereafter. It is these who are on guidance given by their Lord; and it is just these who are successful. (Verses 1-5)
The Surah begins with the Arabic letters Alif, Lam and Meem (equivalents of A, L and M). Several Surahs begin with a similar combination of letters, for example, Ha Meem, or Alif, Lam, Meem, Sad. Each of these letters is pronounced separately without the addition of a vowel sound after it. So, the technical term for them is (Muqatta’at: isolated letters).
According to certain commentators, the isolated letters are the names of the Surahs at the beginning of which they occur. According to others, they are the symbols of the Divine Names. But the majority of the blessed Companions and the generation next to them, the Tabi’in, and also the later authoritative scholars have preferred the view that the isolated letters are symbols or mysteries, the meaning of which is known to Allah alone or may have been entrusted as a special secret io the Holy Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) not to be communicated to anyone else. That is why no commentary or explanation of these letters has at all been reported from him. The great commentator Al-Qurtubi has adopted this view of the matter, which is summarized below:
“According to ‘Amir al-Sha’bi, Sufyan al-Thawri ,masters of the science of hadith, and many every revealed book contains certain secret signs and symbols and mysteries of Allah; the isolated letters too are the secrets of Allah in the Holy Qur’an, and hence they are among the (Mutashabihaat: of hidden meaning), the meaning of which is known to Allah alone, and it is not permissible for us even to enter into any discussion with regard to them. The isolated letters are not, however, without some benefit to us. Firstly, to believe in them and to recite them is in itself a great merit. Secondly, in reciting them we receive spiritual blessings from the unseen world, even if we are not aware of the fact. Al-Qurtubi adds: “The Blessed Caliphs Abu Bakr, ‘Umar, ‘Uthmaan and ‘Ali, and most of the Companions like ‘Abdullah ibn Mas’ud (radhiyallahu anhum), firmly held the view that these letters are the secrets of Allah, that we should believe in them as having descended from Allah and recite them exactly in the form in which they have descended, but should not be inquisitive about their meanings, which would be improper”. Citing al-Qurtubi and others, Ibn Kathir too prefers this view. On the other hand, interpretations of the isolated letters have been reported from great and authentic scholars. Their purpose, however, was only to provide symbolical interpretation, or to awaken the minds of the readers to the indefinite possibilities of meanings that lie hidden in the Holy Qur’an, or just to simplify things; they never wished to claim that these were the meanings intended by Allah Himself. Therefore, it would not be justifiable to challenge such efforts at interpretation since it would go against the considered judgment of veritable scholars.
The sentence “That Book has no doubt in it” raises a grammatical and exegetical problem, for the first phrase in the Arabic text reads as : Dhalikal kitaab. Now, the word dhalika (that) is used to point out a distant thing, while the word kitab (book) obviously refers to the Holy Qur’an itself, which is present before us. So, this particular demonstrative pronoun does not seem to be appropriate to the situation. There is, however, .a subtle indication. The pronoun refers back to the prayer for the straight path made in the Surah al-Fatihah, implying that the prayer has been granted and the Holy Qur’an is the answer to the request, which gives a detailed account of the straight path to those who seek guidance and are willing to follow it.
Having indicated this, the Holy Qur’an makes a claim about itself: “There is no doubt in it”. There are two ways in which doubt or suspicion may arise with regard to the validity or authenticity of statement. Either the statement itself is erroneous, and thus becomes subject to doubt; or, the listener makes a mistake in understanding it. In the latter case, the statement does not really become subject to doubt, even if someone comes to suspect it out of a defective or distorted understanding – as the Holy Qur’an itself reminds us later in the same Surah :’If you are in doubt …” (2:23). So, in spite of the doubts and objections of a thousand men of small or perverse understanding, it would still be true to say that there is no doubt in this book – either with regard to it having been revealed by Allah, or with regard to its contents.
“A guidance for the God-fearing”: The Arabic word for the God-fearing is Muttaqeen, derived from Taqwa which literally means “to fear, to refrain from”, and in Islamic terminology it signifies fearing Allah and refraining from the transgression of His commandments. As for the Holy Qur’an being a guidance to the God-fearing, it actually means that although the Holy Qur’an provides guidance not only to mankind but to all existents in the universe, yet the special guidance which is the means of salvation in the other world is reserved for the God-fearing alone. We have already explained in the commentary on the Surah “Al-Fatihah” that there are three degrees of divine guidance – the first degree being common to the whole of mankind and even to animals etc., the second being particular to men and jinns, and the third being special to those who are close to Allah and have found His favour, the different levels of this last degree being limitless. It is the last two degrees of guidance which are intended in the verse under discussion. With regard to the second degree, the implication is that those who accept the guidance will have the hope of being elevated to the rank of the God-fearing. With reference to the third degree, the suggestion is that those who are already God-fearing may receive further and limitless guidance through the Holy Qur’an. This explanation should be sufficient to remove the objection that guidance is needed much more by those who are not God-fearing, for now we know that the specification of the God-fearing does not entail a denial of guidance to those who not possess this qualification.
The next two verses delineate the characteristic qualities of the God-fearing, suggesting that these are the people who have received guidance, whose path is the straight path, and that he who seeks the straight path should join their company, adopt their beliefs and their way of life. It is perhaps in order to enforce this suggestion that the Holy Qur’an, immediately after pointing out the attributes peculiar to the God-fearing, proceeds to say:
It is these who are on guidance given by their Lord, and it is just these who are successful.
The delineation of the qualities of the God-fearing in these two verses also contains, in essence, a definition of Faith (‘Iman) and an account of its basic tenets and of the fundamental principles of righteous conduct: ,
Who believe in the unseen, and are steadfast in Salah and spend out of what We have provided them.
Thus, the first of the two verses, mentions three qualities of the God-fearing – belief in the unseen, being steadfast in Salah, and spending in the way of Allah. Many important considerations arise out of this verse, the most significant being the meaning and definition of ‘Iman (Faith).
Who are the God-fearing
The Definition of Iman
The Holy Qur’an has provided a comprehensive definition of ‘Iman in only two words ”Believe in the unseen”. If one has fully understood the meanin; of the words ‘Iman and Ghayb, one will have also understood the essential reality of ‘Iman.
Lexically, the Arabic word ‘Iman signifies accepting with complete certitude the statement made by someone out of one’s total confidence and trust in him. Endorsing someone’s statement with regard to sensible or observable facts is, therefore, not ‘Iman. For example, if one man describes a piece of cloth as black, and another man endorses the statement, it may be called Tasdiq (confirmation) but not ‘Iman, for such an endorsement is based on personal observation, and does, in no way, involve any confidence or trust in the man who has made the statement. In the terminology of the Shari’ah, ‘Iman signifies accepting with complete certitude the statement made by a prophet only out of one’s total confidence and trust in him and without the need of personal observation.’
As for the word Ghaib, lexically it denotes things which are not known to man in an evident manner, or which are not apprehensible through the five senses. The Holy Qur’an uses this word to indicate all the things which we cannot know through the five senses or through reason, but which have been reported to us by the Holy Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam). These include the essence and the attributes of Allah, matters pertaining to destiny, heaven and hell and what they contain, the Day of Judgment and the things which happen on that Day, divine books, all the prophets who have preceded the Holy Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) in short, all the things mentioned in the last two verses of the Surah Al-Baqarah.
Thus, the third verse of the Surah states the basic creed of the Islamic faith in its essence, while the last two verses provide the details. So, belief in the unseen ultimately comes to mean having firm faith in everything that the Holy Prophet has taught us – subject to the necessary condition that the teaching in question must have come down to us through authentic and undeniable sources. This is how the overwhelming majority of Muslim scholars generally define ‘Iman (see al-‘Aqidah al-Tahawiyyah, ‘Aqa’id al-Nasafi etc.).
According to this definition, ‘Iman signifies faith and certitude, and not mere knowledge. For, a mental knowledge of the truth is possessed by Satan himself, and even by many disbelievers – for example, they knew very well that the Holy Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) was truthful and that his teachings were true, but they did not have faith in him nor did they accept his teachings with their heart, and hence they are not Muslims.
The Meaning of ‘Establishing’ Salah .
The second quality of the God-fearing is that they are “steadfast in the prayer.” The verb employed by the Holy Qur’an here is
yuqimoona (generally rendered in English translations as “they which comes from the word Iqamah signifying “to straighten out”). So, the verb implies not merely saying one’s prayers, but performing the prayers correctly in all- possible ways and observing all the prescribed conditions, whether obligatory (Fard) or necessary (Wajib) or commendable (Mustahabb). The concept includes regularity and perpetuity in the performance of Salah as also an inward concentration, humility and awe. At this point, it may be noted that the term does not mean a particular salat, instead, it includes all fard, wajib and nafl prayers.
Now to sum up – the God-fearing are those who offer their prayers regularly and steadfastly in accordance with the regulations of the shariah, and also observe the spiritual etiquette outwardly and inwardly.
Spending in the way of Allah: Categories
The third quality of the God-fearing is that they spend in the way of alms-giving. The correct position in this respect, which has been adopted by the majority of commentators, is that it includes all the forms of spending in the way of Allah, whether it be the fard (obligatory) Zakat or the Wajib (necessary) alms-giving or just voluntary and nafl (supererogatory) acts of charity. For, the Holy Qur’an usually employs the word Infaq with reference to nafl (suspererogatory) alms-giving or in a general sense, but reserves the word Zakat for the obligatory : “Spend out of what We have provided them” inspires us to spend in the way of Allah by drawing our attention to the fact that anything and everything we possess is a gift from Allah and His trust in our hands, and that even if we spend all our possessions in the way of Allah, it would be proper and just and no favour to Him. But Allah in His mercy asks us to spend in His way “out of’ what he has provided – that is, only a part and not the whole.
Among the three qualities of the God-fearing, faith is, of course, the most important, for it is the basic principle of all other principles, and no good deed can find acceptance or validity without faith. The other two qualities pertain to good deeds. Now, good deeds are many; one could make a long list of even those which are either obligatory or necessary. So, the question arises as to why the Holy Qur’an should be content to choose for mention only two – namely, performing Salat and spending in the way of Allah. In answering this question, one could say that all the good deeds which are obligatory or necessary for man pertain either to his person and his body or to his possessions. Among the personal and bodily forms of ‘Ibadat (acts of worship), the most important is the Salah. Hence the Holy Qur’an mentions only this form in the present passage. As for the different forms of ‘Ibadat pertaining to possessions, the word Infaq (spending) covers all of them. Thus, in mentioning only two good deeds,’the Holy Qur’an has by implication included all the forms of worship and all good deeds. The whole verse, then, comes to mean that the God-fearing are those who are perfect in their faith and in their deeds both, and that Islam is t,he sum of faith and practice. In other words, while providing a complete definition of ‘Iman (Faith), the verse indicates the meaning of Islam as well. So, let us find out how ‘Im& and Islam are distinct from each other.
The distinction between ‘Iman and Islam
Lexically, ‘Iman signifies the acceptance and confirmation of something with one’s heart, while Islam signifies obedience and submission. ‘Iman pertains to the heart; so does Islam, but it is related to all the other parts of the human body as well. From the point of view of the Shari’ah, however, ‘Iman is not valid without Islam, nor Islam without ‘Iman. In other words, it is not enough to have faith in Allah and the Holy Prophet (sallallaahu alaihi wasallam) in one’s heart unless the tongue expresses the faith and also affirms one’s allegiance and submission. Similarly, an oral declaration of faith and allegiance is not valid unless one has faith in one’s heart.
In short, ‘Iman, and Islam have different connotations from the lexical point of view. It is on the basis of this lexical distinction that the Holy Qur’an and Hadith refer to a difference between the two. From the point of view of the Shari’ah, however, the two are inextricably linked together, and one cannot be valid without the other – as is borne out by the Holy Qur’an itself.
When Islam, or an external declaration of allegiance, is not accompanied by ‘Iman or internal faith, the Holy Qur’an terms it as Nifaq (hypocrisy), and condemns it as a greater crime than an open rejection of Islam:
Surely the hypocrites will be in the lowest depths of Hell. (14:145)
In explanation of this verse let us add that so far as the physical world goes, we can only be sure of the external state of a man, and cannot know his internal state with any degree of certainty. So in the case of men who orally declare themselves to be Muslims without having faith in their heart, the shariah requires us to deal with them as we would deal with a Muslim in worldly affairs; but in the other world their fate would be worse than that of the ordinary disbelievers. Similarly, if iman or acknowledgment in the heart is not accompanied by external affirmation and allegiance, the Holy Qur’an regards this too as kufr or rejection and denial of the Truth – speaking of the infidels, it says:
They know him (that is, the Holy Prophet sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) as they know their own sons (2:146);
or in another place:
as Their souls knew them (the signs sent by Allah) to be true, yet they denied them in their wickedness and their pride. (27:14)
My respected teacher, ‘Allamah Sayyid Muhammad Anwar Shah used to explain it thus – the expanse which ‘Iman and Islam have to cover in the spiritual journey is the same, and the difference lies only in the beginning and the end; that is to say, ‘Iman starts from the heart and attains perfection in external deeds, while Islam starts from external deeds and can be regarded as perfect when it reaches the heart. To sum up, Iman is not valid, if acknowledgment in the heart does not attain to external affirmation and allegiance; similarly, Islam is not valid, if external affirmation and allegiance does not attain to confirmation by the heart. Imam Ghazzali and Imam Subki (rahimahumullah) both have arrived at the same conclusion, and in Musamarah, Imam Ibn al-Humam reports the agreement of all the authentic scholars in this respect2
… who believe in what has been revealed to you and in what has been revealed before you, and do have faith in the Hereafter.
This verse speaks of some other attributes of the God-fearing, giving certain details about faith in the unseen with a special mention of faith in hereafter. Commenting on this verse. the blessed Comnanions ‘Abdullah ibn Mas’ud and ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Abbas (radhiyallahu anhum), have said that in the days of the Holy Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) God-fearing Muslims were of two kinds, – those who used to be associators and disbelievers but accepted Islam, and those who used to be among the people of the book (that is, Jews and Christians) but embraced Islam later on; the preceding verse refers to the first group, and this verse to the second. Hence this verse specifically mentions belief in the earlier Divine Books along with belief in the Holy Qur’an, for, according to the hadith, people in the second group deserve a double recompense, firstly, for believing in and following the earlier Books before the Holy Qur’an came to replace them, and secondly, for believing in and following the Holy Qur’an when it came as the final Book of Allah. Even today it is obligatory for every Muslim to believe in the earlier Divine Books except that now the belief has to take this form: everything that Allah has revealed in the earlier Books is true (excepting the changes and distortions introduced by selfish people), and that it was incumbent upon the people for whom those Books had been sent to act according to them, but now that all the earlier Books and Shari’ahs have been abrogated, one must act according to the Holy Qur’an alone.3
An argument to the Finality of Prophethood
The mode of expression helps us to infer from this verse the fundamental principle that the Holy Prophet Muhammad (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) is the last of all the prophets, and the Book revealed to him is the final revelation and the last Book of Allah. For, had Allah intended to reveal another Book or to continue. The mode of revelation even after the Holy Qur’an, this verse, while prescribing belief in the earlier Books as necessary for Muslims, must also have referred to belief in the Book or Books to be revealed in the future. In fact, such a statement was all the more needed, for people were already familiar with the necessity of believing in the Torah, the Evangile and the earlier Books, and such a belief was in regular practice too, but if prophethood and revelation were to continue even after the Holy Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) , it was essential that the coming of another prophet and another book should be clearly indicated so that people were not left in doubt about this possibility. So, in defining ‘Iman, the Holy Qur’an mentions the earlier prophets and the earlier Books, but does not make the slightest reference to a prophet or Book to come “after the last Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) . The matter does not end with this verse. The Holy Qur’an touches upon the subject again and again in no less than forty or fifty verses, and in all such places it mentions the prophets, the Books and the revelation preceding the Holy Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) nowhere is there even so much as a hint with regard to the coming of a prophet or of a revelation in the future, belief in whom or which should be necessary. We cite some verses to demonstrate the point:
And what We have sent down before you. (16:43)
And We have certainly sent messengers before you”. (4038)
And certainly before you We have sent messengers. (20:47)
And what was revealed before you. (4:60)
And it has certainly been revealed to you and to those who have gone before you … (39:65)
Thus He reveals to you and He revealed to those who have gone before you. (42:3)
Fasting is decreed (literally, written) for you as it was decreed for those before you. (2:183)
Such was Our way with the messengers whom We sent before you. (17:77)
In these and similar verses, whenever the Holy Qur’an speaks of the sending down of a Book or a revelation or a prophet or a messenger, it always attaches the conditional phrase, Min qabl (before) or Min Qablik (before you), and nowhere does it employ or suggest an expression like min ba’d (after you). Even if other verses of the Holy Qur’an had not been explicit about the finality of the prophethood of Muhammad (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) and about the cessation of revelation, the mode of expression adopted by the Holy Qur’an in the present verse would in itself have been sufficient to prove these points.
The God-fearing have Faith in the Hereafter
The other essential quality of the God-fearing mentioned in this verse is thht they have faith in Aakhirah (the Hereafter). Lexically the Aakhirah signifies ‘that which comes after something’; in the present context, it indicates a relationship of contrast with the physical world, and thus signifies the other world whlch is beyond physical reality as we know it and also beyond the sensuous or rational perception of man. The Holy Qur’an gives to the Hereafter other names too – for example, Dar al-Qarar (the Ever-lasting Abode), Dar al-Hayawan (the Abode of Eternal Life) and Al-‘Uqba (the Consequent). The Holy Qur’an is full of vivid descriptions of the Hereafter, of the joys of heaven and of the horrors of hell. Although faith in the Hereafter is included in faith in the unseen which has already been mentioned, yet the Holy Qur’an refers to it specifically because it may, in a sense, be regarded as the most important among the donstitutive elements of faith in so far as it inspires man to translate faith into practice, and motivates him to act in accordance with the requirements of his faith. Along with the two doctrines of the Oneness of God and of prophethood, this is the third doctrine which is common to all the prophets and upon which all the Shari’ah are agreed.4
Faith in the Hereafter: A revolutionary belief
The belief in the Hereafter, among Islamic doctrines, is the one whose role in history has been what is nowadays described as revolutionary, for it began with transmuting the morals and manners of the followers of the Holy Qur’an, and gradually gave them a place of distinction and eminence even in the political history of mankind. The reason is obvious. Consider the case of those who believe that life in ‘ the physical world is the only life, its joys the only joys and its pains the only pains, whose only goal is to seek the pleasures of the senses and the fulfilment of physical or emotional needs, and who stubbornly refuse to believe in the life of the Hereafter, in the Day of Judgment and the assessment of everyone’s deeds, and in the requital of the deeds in the other world. When such people find the distinction between truth and falsehood, between the permissible and the forbidden, interfering with tne hunt for the gratification of their desires, such differentiations naturally become intolerable to them.
Now, who or what can effectively prevent them from committing crimes? The penal laws made by the state or by any other human authority can never serve either as real deterrents to crime or as agents of moral reform. Habitual criminals soon grow used to the penalties. A man, milder or gentler of temperament or just timid, may agree to forego the satisfaction of his desires for fear of punishment, but he would do so only to the extent that he is in danger of being caught. But in his privacy where the laws of the state cannot encroach upon his freedom of action, who can force him to renounce his pleasures and accept the yoke of restraints? It is the belief in the Hereafter — and the fear of Allah, and that alone, which can bring man’s private behaviour in line with his public behaviour, and establish a harmony between the inner state and the outer. For the God-fearing man knows for certain that even in the secrecy of a well-guarded and sealed room and in the darkness of night somebody is watching him, and somebody is writing down the smallest thing he does. Herein lies the secret of the clean and pure society which arose in the early days of Islam when the mere sight of a Muslim, of his manners and morals, was enough to make non-believers literally fall in love with Islam. For true Faith in the Hereafter, certitude must follow Oral Affirmation.
Before we proceed, we may point out that in speaking of faith in the hereafter as one of the qualities of the God-fearing, the Holy Qur’an does not use the word yu’minuna (believe) but the word yuqimuna (have complete certitude), for the opposite of belief is denial, and that of certitude is doubt and hesitation. Thus, we find a subtle suggestion here that in order to attain the perfection of Iman it is not enough to affirm the hereafter orally, but one must have a complete certitude which leaves no room for doubt – the kind of certitude which comes when one has seen a thing with one’s own eyes. It is an essential quality of the God-fearing that they always have present before their eyes the whole picture of how people will have to present themselves for judgment before Allah in the hereafter, how their deeds will be assessed and how they will receive reward or punishment according to what they have been doing in this world. A man who amasses wealth by usurping what righfully belongs to others, or who gains petty material ends by adopting unlawful means forbidden by Allah, may declare his faith in the hereafter a thousand times and the Shari’ah may accept him as a Muslim in the context of worldly concerns, but he does not possess the certitude which the Holy Qur’an demands of him. And it is this certitude alone which transforms human life, and which brings in its wake as a reward the guidance and triumph promised in verse 5 of this Surah:
It is these who are on guidance given by their Lord; and it is just these who are successful.
Surely for those who have disbelieved, it is all the same whether you warn them or you warn them not: they would not believe. Allah has set a seal on their hearts and on their hearing, and on their eyes there is a covering; and for them there lies a mighty punishment. (Verses 6-7)
After affirming the Holy Qur’an as the Book of Guidance and as being beyond all doubt, the first five verses of the present Surah refer to those who derive full benefit from this Book and whom the Holy Qur’an has named as Mu’mineen (true Muslims) or Muttaqun (the God-fearing), and also delineate their characteristic qualities which distinguish them from others. The next fifteen verses speak of those who refuse to accept this guidance, and even oppose it out of sheer spite and blind malice. In the time of the Holy Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) there were two distinct groups of such people. On the one hand were those who came out in open hostility and rejection, and whom the Holy Qur’an has termed as kafirun (disbelievers); on the other hand were those who did not, on account of their moral depravity and greed, had even the courage to speak out their minds and to express their disbelief clearly, but adopted the way of deceit and duplicity. They tried to convince the Muslims that they had faith in the Holy Qur’an and its teachings, that they were as good a Muslim as any and would support the Muslims against the disbelievers. But they nursed denial and rejection in their hearts, and would, in the company of disbelievers, assure them that they had nothing to do with Islam, but mixed with Muslims in order to deceive them and to spy on them. The Holy Qur’an has given them the title of Munafiqun (hypocrites). Thus, these fifteen verses deal with those who refuse to believe in the Holy Qur’an – the first two are concerned with open disbelievers, and the other thirteen with hypocrites, their signs and characteristics and their ultimate end.
Taking the first twenty verses of this Surah together in all their detail, one can see that the Holy Qur’an has, on the one hand, pointed out to us the source of guidance which is the Book itself, and, on the other, divided mankind into two distinct groups on the basis of their acceptance or rejection of this guidance – on the one side are those who have chosen to follow and to receive guidance, and are hence called Mu’minun (true Muslims) or Muttaqun (the God-fearing); on the other side are those who reject the guidance or deviate from it, and are hence called Kafirun (disbelievers) or Munafiqun (hypocrites). People of the first kind are those whose path is the object of the prayer at the end of the Surah Al-Fatihah, the path of those on whom You have bestowed Your grace”, and people of the second kind are those against whose path refuge has been sought “Not of those who have incurred Your wrath, nor of those who have gone astray. This teaching of the Holy Qur’an provides us with a fundamental principle. A division of mankind into different groups must, in order to be meaningful, be based on differences in principle, not on considerations of birth, race, colour, geography or language. The Holy Qur’an has given a clear verdict in this respect:
“It was He that created you: yet some of you are disbelievers and some of you are believers” (64:2).
As we have said, the first two verses of this Surah speak of those disbelievers who had become so stubborn and obstinate in their denial and disbelief that they were not prepared to hear the truth or to consider a ciear argument. In the case of such depraved people, the usual way of Allah has always been, and is, that they are given a certain kind of punishment even in this world – that is to say, their hearts are sealed and their eyes and ears stopped against the truth, and in so far as truth is concerned they become as if they have no mind to think, no eyes to see and no ears to listen. The last phrase of the second verse speaks of the grievous punishment that is reserved for them in the other world. It may be observ;d that the prediction that: “they shall not believe” is specifically related to those disbelievers who refused to listen to the Holy Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) and who, as Allah knew, were going to die as disbelievers. This does not apply to disbelievers in general, for there were many who later accepted Islam.
What is Kufr ? (Infidelity)
As for the definition of kufr (disbelief), we may point out that lexically the word means to hide, to conceal. Ingratitude is also called kufr, because it involves the concealing or the covering up of the beneficence shown by someone. In the terminology of the Shari’ah, kufr signifies the denial of any of those things in which it is obligatory to believe’. For example, the quintessence of ‘Iman as well as the very basis of the Islamic creed is the requirement that one should confirm with one’s heart and believe with certitude everything that the Holy Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) has brought down to us from Allah and which has been established by definite and conclusive proof; therefore, a man who has the temerity to question or disregard even a single teaching of this kind will be described as a kafir (disbeliever or infidel).
The meaning of ‘Indhar’ (warning) by a Prophet
In translating the first of these two verses, we have used the English verb ‘to warn’ for the Arabic word Indhar. This word actually signifies bringing news which should cause alarm or concern, while Ibshar signifies bringing good news which should make people rejoice. Moreover, Indhar is not the ordinary kind of warning meant to frighten people, but one which is motivated by compassion and love, just as one warns one’s children against fire or snakes or beasts. Hence a thief or a bandit or an aggressor who warns or threatens others cannot be called a indhar (warner). The latter is a title specially reserved for the prophets (alayhissalaam) for they warn people against the pains and punishments of the other world out of their compassion and love for their fellow men. In choosing this title for the prophets, the Holy Qur’an has made the subtle suggestion that for those who go out to reform others it is not enough merely to convey a message, but that they must speak to their listeners with sympathy, understanding and a genuine regard for their good. In order to comfort the Holy Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) the first of these verses tells him that some of the disbelievers are so vain, arrogant and opinionated that they, in spite of recognizing the truth, stubbornly persist in their refusal and are not prepared to hear the truth or to see obvious proofs, so that all the efforts he makes for reforming and converting them will bear no fruit, and for them it is all one whether he tries or not. The next verse explains the reason, that is, Allah has set a seal on their hearts and ears, there is a covering on their eyes, all the avenues of knowing and understanding are thus closed, and now it would be futile to expect any change in them. A thing is sealed so that nothing may enter it from outside; the setting of a seal on their hearts and ears also means that they have altogether lost the capacity for accepting the truth. The Holy Qur’an describes the condition of these disbelievers in terms of their hearts and ears having been sealed, but in the case of the eyes it refers to a covering. The subtle distinction arises from the fact that an idea can enter the heart from all possible directions and not from one particular direction alone, and so can a sound enter the ears; an idea or a sound can be blocked only by sealing the heart and the ears. On the contrary, the eyes work only in one direction, and can see only the things which lie in front of them; if there is a covering on them, they cease to function. (See Mazhari)
Favour withdrawn by Allah is a punishment
These two verses tell us that the other world is the place where one would receive the real punishment for one’s disbelief or for some of one’s sins. One may, however, receive some punishment for certain sins even in this world. Such a punishment sometimes takes a very grievous form – that is, the divine favour which helps one to reform oneself is withdrawn, so that, ignoring how one’s deeds are to be assessed on the Day of Judgment, one keeps growing in disobedience and sin, and finally comes to lose even the awareness of evil. In delineating such a situation certain elders have remarked that one punishment for an evil deed is another evil deed which comes after, and one reward for a good deed is another good deed which comes after. According to a Hadith, when a man commits a sin, a black dot appears on his heart; this first dot disturbs him just as a smudge on a white cloth is always displeasing to us; but if, instead of asking Allah’s pardon for the first sin, he proceeds to commit a second, another dot shows up, thus, with every new sin the black dots go on multiplying till the whole heart turns dark, and now he can no longer see good as good nor evil as evil, and grows quite incapable of making such distinctions. The Holy Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) added that The Holy Qur’an uses the term Ra’n or Rain (rust) for this darkness: as in Mishkat from the Musnad of Ahmad and Tirmidhi.
No But what they did has rusted their hearts (83:14)
According to another authentic Hadith reported by Tirmidhi from the blessed Companion Abu Hurairah (radhiyallahu anhu) the Holy Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallan) has said, “When a person commits a sin, his heart grows dark, but if he seeks Allah’s pardon, it becomes clear again”. (See Qurtubi)
It should be carefully noted that in announcing that it is all one whether the Holy Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) warns the disbelievers or not, the Holy Qur’an adds the condition ‘Alaihim (for them), which clearly indicates that it is all one for the disbelievers alone, and not for the Holy Prophet (sallallaahu for he would in any case get a reward for bringing the message of Allah to his fellow-men and for his efforts to teach and reform them. That is why there is not a single verse in the Holy Qur’an which should dissuade the Holy prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) from calling even such people to Islam. From this we may infer that the man who strives to spread the Word of Allah and to reform his fellow-men does always get a reward for his good deed, even if he has not been effective.
A doubt is removed
We may also answer a question which sometimes arises in connection with the second of these two verses that speaks of the hearts and the ears of the disbelievers having been sealed and of their eyes being covered. We find a similar statement in another verse of the Holy Qur’an:
But what they did has rusted their hearts. (83:14)
which makes it plain that it is their arrogance and their evil deeds themselves that have settled dn their hearts as a rust. In the verse under discussion, it is this very rust which has been described as ‘a seal,’ or ‘covering’ . So, there is no occasion here to raise the objection that if Allah Himself has sealed their hearts and blocked their senses, they are helpless and cannot be held responsible for being disbelievers, and hence they should not be punished for what they have not themselves chosen to do. If we consider the two verses (2:7 and 83:14) together, we can easily see why they should be punished – in adopting the way of arrogance and pride they have, wilfully and out of their own choice, destroyed their capacity for accepting the truth, and thus they themselves are the authors of their own ruin. But Allah, being Creator of all the actions of His creatures, has in verse 2:7 attributed to Himself the setting of a seal on the hearts and the ears of the disbelievers, and has thus pointed out that when these people insisted, as a matter of their own choice, on destroying their aptitude for receiving the truth, Allah produced, as is His way in such cases, the state of insensitivity in their hearts and senses.
1. It would be helpful to note that in the everday idiom of the West, and even in modern social sciences, “faith” has come to mean no more than an intense emotional state or “a fixed emotion”. As against this, the Islamic conception of ‘Iman is essentially intellectual, in the original signification of “Intellect” which the modern West has altogether forgotten.
2. Today one finds a very wide-spread confusion, sometimes amounting to a total incomprehension, with regard to the distinction between Islam and ‘Iman, essentially under the influence of Western modes of thought and behaviour and, to be more specific, that of the ever-proliferating Protestant sects and schools of theology. Since the middle of the 19th century there have sprouted in almost every Muslim country a host of self-styled Reformists, Revivalists, Modernists et al, each pretending to have understood the “real” Islam for the first time, and each adepting an extremist, though untenable, posture with regard to Islam and ‘Iman. On the one hand, we have people claiming that Islam is only a matter of the “heart” (a word which has during the last four hundred years been used in the West as an equivalent of “emotion” or, worse still, of “emotional agitation”) or of “religious experience” (a very modish term brought into currency by William James). As a corollary, they stubbornly refuse to see the need for a fixed ritual or an ethical code, all of which they gladly leave to social exigency or individual preference. They base their claims on the unquestioned axiom that religion is “personal” relationship between the individual and “his” God. It is all too obvious that this genre of Modernist “Islam” is the progeny of Martin Luther with cross-pollination from Rousseau. On the other hand, we have fervent and sometimes violent champions of Islam insisting a merely external performance of rituals – more often on a mere conformity to moral regulations, and even these, of their liking. They would readily exclude, and are anyhow indifferent to, the internal dimension of Islam. A recent modification of this stance (in the wake of a certain Protestant pioneering, it goes without saying) has been to replace divinely ordained rituals by acts of social service or welfare, giving them the status and value, of acts of worship. Counselling on divorce, abortion, premarital sex and the rest of the baggage having already become a regular part of the functions of a Protestant cl’ergyrnan, it would not be too fond to expect, even on the part of our Modernists, the speedy inclusion of acts of entertainment as well. There is still another variety of deviationists, more visible and vociferous than the rest, and perhaps more pervasive and pernicious in their influence, finding easy credence among a certain section of Muslim with a sloppy western-style education. While dispensing with the subtle distinctions between Islam and ‘Iman, they reduce Islam itself to a mere system of social organization, or even to state-craft. According to their way of looking at things, if Muslims fail to set up a social and political organization of a specified shape, they would cease to be Muslims. Applied to the history of Islam, this fanciful notion would lead to the grotesque conclusion that no Muslim had ever existed. These are only a few examples of the intellectual distortions produced by refusing to define Islam and ‘Iman clearly and ignoring the distinction between the two. Contrary to all such modernizing deviations, Islam in fact means establishing ‘a part~cular relationship of obedience and servitude with Allah This relationship arises neither out of vague “religious experiences” nor out of social regimentation; in order to attain it, one has to accept all the doctrines and to act upon all the commandments specified In the Holy Qur’an, the Hadith and the Shari’ah. These doctrines and commandments cover all the spheres of human life, individual or collective, right up from acts of worship down to social, political and economic relations among men, and codes of ethics and behavlour, morals and manners, and their essential purpose is to produce in man a genuine attitude of obedience to Allah. If one acts according to the Shari’ah one, no doubt, gains many worldly benefits, individual as well as collective. These benefits may be described as the raison d’etre of the commandments, but are in no way their essential object, nor should a servant of Allah seek them for themselves in obeying Him, nor does the success or failure of a Muslim as a Muslim depend on attaining them. When a man has fully submitted himself to the commandments of Allah in everything he does, he has already succeeded as a Muslim, whether he receives the related worldly benefits or not
3. Exactly as predicted by a Hadith, today we see all around us a proliferation of “knowledge” and of “writing”. One of the dangerous forms the process has taken is the indiscriminate translation at least into European languages and the popularization of the sacred books of all possible religious and metaphysical traditions – not only the Hindu, the Chinese or the Japanese, but also the Shamanic or the Red Indian. The lust for reading sacred books has virtually grown into a mania, specially among the modern young people with their deep sense of being uprooted and disinherited, and all considerations of aptitude have been contemptuously set aside. In these circumstances, Muslims with a Western orientation are naturally impelled to ask themselves as to what they can or should make of such books which sometimes seem to offer similarities and parallels to the Holy Qur’an itself, and more often to the Sufi doctrines. The problem has already attained noticeable proportions, for in 1974 the government of Turkey found it necessary to ban the entry of certain Hindu sacred books like the Bhagavadgita and Upanishads. The correct doctrinal position in this respect is that it is obligatory for every Muslim, as an essential part of the Islamic creed, to believe in all the prophets and messengers of Allah and in the Divine Books (not in their distorted forms, but as they were originally revealed) that have specifically been mentioned by their names in the Holy Qur’an, and also to believe that Allah has sent His messengers and His books for the guidance of all the peoples and all the ages, and that Prophet Muhammad (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) is the last prophet and the Holy Qur’an the final Book of Allah which has come down to replace the earlier Books and Shari’ahs. As to the question of the authenticity and divine origin of a particular book held in reverence by an earlier religion or metaphysical tradition, a Muslim is not allowed to affirm such a claim unequivocally, nor should he unnecessarily reject such a possibility. In so far as contents of the book concerned agree with what the Holy Qur’an has to say on the subject, we may accept the statement as true, otherwise spiritual etiquette requires an average muslim to keep quiet and not meddle with things which he is not likely to understand. As for reading the sacred books of other traditions, it should be clearly borne in mind that a comparative study of this nature requires a very special aptitude which is extremely rare, and hence demands great caution. A cursory reading of sacred books, motivated by an idle curiosity or by a craze for mere information, may very well lead to an intellectual disintegration or to something still worse, instead of helping in the “discovery of the truth” and the acquisition of “peace” which a comparative study is widely supposed to promise. Even when the aptitude and the knowledge necessary for the task is present, such a study can be carried out only under the supervision of an authentic spiritual master. In any case, we cannot insist too much on the perils of the enterprise
4. There is a deplorable misconception with regard to the Hereafter, quite wide-spread among those who are not, or do not want to be, familiar with the Holy Qur’an and who have at the same time been touched by the rationalism, materialism and libertarianism of the Western society, which makes them cherish certain mental and emotional reservations at least about the horrors of hell, if not about the joys of heaven. Some of them have gone to the preposterous length of supposing that these are the inventions of the ‘Ulama’ whom they describe as ‘abscurantists’ – of course, in the jargon of the Western Reformation and of the so-called Enlightenment. They ignore the obvious fact that faith in the Holy Qur’an necessitates faith in every word of the Holy Qur’an, and that it is not possible to affirm one part of the Book while denying another and yet remain a Muslim : “What, do you believe in one part of the Book and deny another?”(2:85) Moreover, these enlightened Muslims have never made a serious attempt to take into account the complex historical factors that led to-the rise of the Enlightenment in Europe, nor the meaning of the subsequent development in ethical ideas. We may, therefore, ave a few and very brief indications. There has been no dearth, even in the hey-day of the Enlightenment, of thinkers who have had no scruples in dispensing with ethics altogether which they look upon as superstition or tyranny and hence a blight for the human personality. But even those thinkers who have recognised the indispensable need for regulations and rules, if not principles, for human conduct in order to preserve social order or to make social life possible, have in general had no qualms about discarding the very idea of divine sanction – despite the intimation of Voltaire, the arch-priest of relationalism, that man would have to invent God, even if He did not exist. As to the nature and origin of the ethical regulations and the sanction behind them, Western thinkers have from time to time tried to promote various agencies – the sovereign state, social will or convention or custom, the supposedly pure and innocent nature of man himself with its capacity for self-regulation, and finally biological laws. The second half of the twentieth century has witnessed the withering away of all these ethical authorities which has left the modern man without even a dim prospect of constructing a new illusion. It is only in this perspective that one can properly consider the significance of the belief in the hereafter for human society.