"You alone we worship, and from You alone we seek help,"[Surah Fatiha]
According to the great commentator and Companion `Abdullah ibn `Abbas Radhi-Allahu Anh: May Allah be pleased with him, this means that one worships Allah alone and no one else, and that one turns for help to Allah alone and to no one else. (Ibn Abi Hatim, Ibn Jarir)
It has been reported from certain great scholars and saints of the earliest centuries of Islam that the Surah al-Fatihah is the secret (i.e., the gist) of the entire Holy Qur'an, and this verse is the secret of the whole Surah, for the first sentence of the verse is a declaration of one's being free from Shirk, or from all desire to associate anyone with Allah, and the second sentence is an expression of one's being exempt from all wish to trust in one's own power and will. Such an affirmation would naturally lead to putting oneself in the hands of Allah in all concerns.
The Holy Qur'an again and again commands us to do so:'Worship Him, and put your trust in Him.' (11:123);'Say He is the All-Merciful. We believe in Him, and we put all our trust in Him.'(67:29);'He is the Lord of the East and the West; there is no god but He; so take Him for a guardian.' (73:9). All these verses come to mean simply this -- a true Muslim should, in anything that he undertakes, rely neither on his own faculties nor on the help of a fellow creature, but should entrust himself completely to Allah, for He alone is All-Powerful, and He alone is the absolute helper.
Two doctrinal points emerge from this discussion. Firstly, it is totally forbidden to worship anyone except Allah, and associating anyone else with Him in worship is a deadly and unforgiveable sin. As we have already explained, `Ibadah (worship) signifies an utmost humility and willing self-abasement before someone out of the deepest love and veneration. If one behaves in this manner in relation to any created being, it is called shirk (association) in Islamic terminology. It basically follows from this definition of "worship" that "association" does not merely consist in attributing divine power to figures made out of stone or metal as idolators usually do; but obeying or loving or venerating someone to the degree which is reserved for Allah is also an "obvious association" (al-shirk al-Jalii). In recounting how the Jews and the Christians indulge in shirk (association), the Holy Qur'an says:'They have taken their religious scholars and their monks as lords apart from Allah.'(9:31)
The Companion `Adi Ibn Hatim, who was a Christian before accepting Islam, asked the Holy Prophet Sallallahu 'Alayhi Wasallam: Peace be upon him with reference to this verse as to why the Holy Qur'an should blame the Christians for having taken their religious scholars as lords when they were never guilty of worshipping them. The Holy Prophet Sallallahu 'Alayhi Wasallam: Peace be upon him in his turn asked him if it was not a fact that their scholars had declared many things as forbidden although Allah had permitted men to eat them, and that conversely they had declared as permissible what had been forbidden, and that the Christians obeyed their scholars in both the respects. `Adi admitted that it was so. Therefore, the Holy Prophet Sallallahu 'Alayhi Wasallam: Peace be upon him remarked that this was exactly how they 'worshipped' their scholars.
This goes to prove that Allah alone has the right to establish what is permissible and what is forbidden. If one associates somebody else with Allah in this respect and, in spite of being familiar with the divine injunctions regarding what is permissible (halal) and what is forbidden (haram), goes against them, believing that someone other than Allah too can demand obedience in these matters, one is virtually worshipping him and being guilty of the sin of association (shirk).
But, in order to guard against a possible misunderstanding, we may remark that this verse of the Holy Qur'an, which condemns the worship of religious scholars, does in no way apply to the generality of Muslims who, not being qualified to understand the Holy Qur'an and the Sunnah by themselves or to deduce the injunctions of the Shari'ah from them, naturally depend on an Imam, a Mujtahid, a Mufti or a religious scholar and follow his instructions in these matters.
In fact, such Muslims are only acting in accordance with the Holy Qur'an and the Sunnah, and obeying divine commandments. For the Holy Qur'an itself says:"Ask the men of knowledge, if you yourselves do not know."(16:43)
Another thing which comes under the category of association (shirk) is to make votive offerings to someone other than Allah; so does praying to someone else in time of need or distress, for, according to a Tradition (Hadith), praying is also an act of worship. Similarly, adopting such practices as are in general considered to be the signs or symbols of association also constitute the same sin. For example, the Companion 'Adi ibn Hatim Radhi-Allahu Anh: Allah be pleased with him, relates that when he embraced Islam and presented himself before the Holy Prophet Sallallahu 'Alayhi Wasallam: Peace be upon him with a cross hanging round his neck, the Holy Prophet Sallallahu 'Alayhi Wasallam: Peace be upon him asked him to remove this idol. Although at this time the cross did not have the kind of signification for 'Adi which it has for Christians, yet he was asked to shun a symbol of association' externally as well.
Among the symbols of `association' are included practices like bowing (ruku') or prostrating (sajdah) oneself before anyone except Allah, or going round a person or thing in the prescribed manner of the tawaf (circumambulation) of the Ka`bah. Avoiding all such symbols of 'association' is a necessary part of the pledge of fidelity to Allah made in the phrase: 'You alone we worship'.
Seeking Allah's Help Directly and Indirectly
The other doctrinal point we mentioned is that one must turn to Allah alone for help and to no one else. This requires some clarification.
There is a kind of help which every man does seek from other men. The physical aspect of the universal order being what it is, it has to be so, and not otherwise. A tailor or tinker, a carpenter or a blacksmith, each is serving others, and everyone is obliged to seek his help. Seeking help of this kind neither is nor can be forbidden by any religion, for it is part and parcel of the network of physical means provided to men by Allah. In the sphere of non-physical means too, it is quite permissible for one to seek the help of a prophet or a saint by asking him to pray to Allah in one's behalf, or to mention, while praying directly to Allah, the name of a prophet or a saint by way of a medium (wasilah) for drawing divine mercy upon oneself. Explicit Traditions (ahadith) and implicit indications of the Holy Qur'an fully justify this practice, and it would be wrong to condemn it as being forbidden or to include it among the various forms of association (shirk).
Now, what sort of supplication for help is it which can be addressed exclusively to Allah and to no one else? And, when does one fall into the sin of shirk (association) in asking someone other than Allah for help? In reply to the second question, we may say that in this context the sin of shirk or association arises in two forms. Firstly, one becomes guilty of association, if one seeks the help of an angel or prophet or saint or any creature believing him to be omnipotent like Allah. It is such an obvious heresy that even idolaters and associators in general consider it as such, for even they do not look upon their idols and gods as being omnipotent like Allah. The second is the form adopted by idolaters and associators. They admit that God alone is Omnipotent, but also believe that He has delegated a part of His power to an angel or a prophet or a saint or to a smaller god who exercises a full and independent authority in that area, and to whom one may pray for help in matters within his jurisdiction. This is the supplication which the Holy Qur'an forbids, and against which it warns us in the phrase (to You alone we pray for help).
There is a simple reason for misunderstanding in this regard. Allah appoints many angels to perform quite a large number of functions even in the physical order of the universe; or, He makes many things happen through the prophets which are beyond the powers of man and which are called miracles (mujizat), as also other incredible wonders through the saints which are called karamat. The appearance may easily lead a careless observer to ignore the reality, and to conclude from what he has seen that the angels or the prophets or the saints could not have worked such wonders if Allah had not given them the necessary power and authority. This faulty argument which is no more than an illusion gives birth to the belief that the prophets or the saints enjoy absolute power and authority in their own degree. It is not so. Miracles and wonders are the direct acts of Allah, but they are manifested through prophets and saints so that people may recognize their spiritual station -- prophets and saints themselves have no powers to make such things happen.
This fact is borne out by so many verses of the Holy Qur'an. For example, the verse:'When you threw, it was not you that threw, but Allah threw.'(8:17) refers to a miracle of the Holy Prophet Sallallahu 'Alayhi Wasallam: Peace be upon him in which he threw a handful of pebbles at an army of his enemies, and Allah willed it so that they smote the eyes of the whole army. The Holy Qur'an attributes the act of throwing pebbles, not to the Holy Prophet Sallallahu 'Alayhi Wasallam: Peace be upon him but to Allah Himself, which clearly shows that a miracle is manifested through a prophet, but is in reality an act of Allah Himself.
Similarly, when the people of Nooh, or Noah, (alayhis-sallam, peace be upon him) demanded that, in order to establish his authenticity as a prophet, he should bring down on them the punishment and wrath of Allah, he replied:'Allah will certainly bring it down to you, if He so wills.'(11:33), in other words, he declared that he himself could not bring down divine punishment on them by way of a miracle. Another verse of the Holy Qur'an reports what a group of prophets said to their people in reply to a similar demand:'We cannot give you proof, except by Allah's will.'(14:11). This again was an admission that it was not in their power to produce a miracle, for all power rests in the hands of Allah. In short, it is not at all possible for a prophet or a saint to show a miracle whenever he likes and whatsoever he likes. The disbelievers used to ' demand specific miracles from the Holy Prophet Sallallahu 'Alayhi Wasallam: Peace be upon him and from the earlier Prophets (A.S) but Allah manifested only those which He Himself pleased, and not others. The Holy Qur'an presents many such instances.
An ordinary example will make the discussion clear. In your room, you receive light from a lamp and air from a fan, but the lamp and the fan do not possess in themselves an absolute power to give you light and air, but need the electric current which they receive from the power house, and without which they cannot function. Giving you light and air is, in actual fact, not the work of the lamp and the fan, but of the electric current which comes from the power house. Similarly, saints, prophets and angels, all depend on Allah in everything they do; it is Allah's power and will which makes things happen, though it manifests itself through prophets and saints as the electric current manifests itself through fans and lamps.
This example would also show that although prophets and saints have no power to make these things happen or come to be, yet their presence is not altogether irrevelant to what happens, you cannot have light and air in your room without there being a lamp and a fan. Likewise, you cannot have miracles or wonders without there being a prophet or a saint. There is, of course, a certain difference between the two situations. In spite of all the wirings and fittings being intact, you cannot have light without a lamp, nor air without a fan. But, in the case of miracles, Allah has the power, if He so wills, to manifest them even without the medium of prophets and saints. The usual way of Allah has, however, been that miracles are not manifested without the medium of prophets and saints; otherwise miracles would not serve the purpose for which they are intended.
To conclude, one must have firm faith in the doctrine that everything that happens is made to happen by the power and will of Allah, but it is also necessary to recognize the need for prophets and saints, and to admit their importance. Without such an admission, one would succeed neither in obeying divine commandments in the real sense nor in attaining Allah's pleasure exactly like the man who, being ignorant of the worth of lamps and fans, disregards them, and remains deprived of light and air.
The problems we have discussed above perplex many a mind. But the answer is essentially simple. Taking prophets and saints as a medium (wasilah) for drawing divine mercy upon oneself is neither absolutely permissible nor absolutely forbidden. There is a condition attached to it. If one does so, believing a prophet or a saint to be all-powerful, it becomes an act of shirk (association) and is hence forbidden. But if one takes a prophet or a saint to be no more than a medium or a means, it is permissible. But one finds that in this matter people generally adopt either of the two extreme positions, outright rejection of wasilah or exaggerated veneration. The truth, however, lies between the two.
Success in this world and in the Hereafter As we have said before, the prayer which the Holy Qur'an has chosen to recommend to everyone, in every situation and for everything one does, is the prayer for being guided in the straight path. Just as success in the Hereafter depends on taking the straight path which leads one to Paradise, in the same way, if you come to think about it, success in all worldly concerns too depends on keeping to the straight path -- that is, on using the means and methods which habitually lead to the attainment of one's goal. Conversely, a little reflection will reveal that failure is always due to having strayed from the straight path. In view of the need for the straight path in worldly and other worldly concerns both, this is the prayer which should constantly be on the lips and in the heart of a true Muslim -- never as an empty verbal exercise, but with a sincere intention and with the meaning of the words fully present in the mind.
According to the ahadeeth of the Holy Prophet (salallahu 'alayhi wasallam) and the reports relating to his blessed Companions (radiallahu anhum), 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 (salallahu 'alayhi 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 (salallahu '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 (salallahu '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 (salallahu 'alayhi wasallam) 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 (rahmatullahi alaih) cites the blessed Companion Mu'awiyah (radiallahu anh) 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, as narrated by Abu Umamah Bahili).
The Holy Prophet (salallahu 'alayhi wasallam), has also said that Shaytan (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 Huraira (radiallahu anh) reports from the Holy Prophet (salallahu 'alayhi wasalllam), 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'ood (radiallahu anh) says that ten verses of this Surah have such an efficacy that if one recites them at night, neither Shaytan (Satan) nor the 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 (rahmatullahi alaih) 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 (radiallahu anh), spent twelve years in learning and meditating over this Surah, and the blessed Companion Abdullah ibn `Umar (radiallahu anhuma) 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 (Tawhid, 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.
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." (2:1-5)
The Surah begins with the Arabic letters Alif, Lam and Mim (equivalents of A, L and M). Several Surahs begin with a similar combination of letters, for example, Ha, Mim, or Alif, Lam, Mim, 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 to the Holy Prophet Sallallahu 'Alayhi Wasallam: Peace be upon him 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 and many masters of the science of Hadith, 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 mutashabihat (Mutashabihat: 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, `Uthman and `Ali, and most of the Companions like `Abdullah ibn Mas'ud (radiallahu 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 "ذَٰلِكَ الْكِتَابُ" (Dhalikal kitab). 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 Muttaqin, 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).
"This is the Book (the Quran), whereof there is no doubt, a guidance to those who are Al-Muttaqun [the pious and righteous persons who fear Allah much]."[2:2]
The Holy Qur'an has provided a comprehensive defination of 'Iman in only two words: يُؤْمِنُونَ بِالْغَيْبِ (yu'minuna bil ghayb) "Believe in the unseen." If one has fully understood the meaning of the words 'Iman (faith) and Ghayb (the unseen), 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.
[It would be helpful to note that in the everyday 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.]
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 Sallallahu 'Alayhi Wasallam: Peace be upon him. 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 Sallallahu 'Alayhi Wasallam: Peace be upon him 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 Sallallahu 'Alayhi Wasallam: Peace be upon him, 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.
"Who believe in the unseen, establish prayer, and spend out of what We have provided for them,"[2:3]
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 Yuqim una (generally rendered in English translations as "they establish", 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 (prayer) as also an inward concentration, humility and awe. At this point, it may be noted that the term does not mean a particular salah, instead it includes all fard (obligatory), wajib (necessary) and nafl (optional) prayers.
The God-fearing are those who offer their prayers regularly and steadfastly in accordance with the regulations of the Shari'ah, and also observe the spiritual etiquette outwardly and inwardly.
"Who believe in the unseen, establish prayer, and spend out of what We have provided for them,"[2:3]
The third quality of the God-fearing is that they spend in the way of Allah. 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) Zakah 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 Zakah for the obligatory alms-giving.
The simple phrase: "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 Salah 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 'Ibzdat (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 mentionirsg 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 the 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 'Iman and Islam are distinct from each other....
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, 'lman 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 (salallahu 'alayhi wa sallam) 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 sharpah 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 salallahu 'alayhi wa sallam) as they know their own sons."(2:146)
or in another place:
"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 sed 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, 'lman 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 Ghazzaali Imam Subki both have arrived at the same conclusion, and in 'Musamarah', Imam Ibn al-Humaam reports the agreement of all the authentic scholars in this respect.
[Note: 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 on 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 Musliims 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 particular 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 Muslirn 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. End note]
"And who believe in what has been revealed to you, [O Muhammad], and what was revealed before you, and of the Hereafter they are certain [in faith]." [2:4]
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 the Hereafter. Commenting on this verse, the blessed Companions 'Abdullah ibn Mas'ood and 'Abdullah ibn 'Abbas (radiallahu anhum), have said that in the days of the Holy Prophet (salallahu '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, the 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 hadeeth, 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'in 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.
[Note: 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 Muhammad (salallahu '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 the contents of the book concerned agrees 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. End note]
"And who believe in (the Quran and the Sunnah) which has been sent down (revealed) to you (Muhammad Peace be upon him ) and in [the Taurat (Torah) and the Injeel (Gospel), etc.] which were sent down before you and they believe with certainty in the Hereafter. (Resurrection, recompense of their good and bad deeds, Paradise and Hell, etc.)."[2:4]
The mode of expression helps us to infer from this verse the fundamental principle that the Holy Prophet Muhammad (salallahu 'alayhi wa sallam) is the last of all the prophets (alayhimus-sallam), 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 revalation were to continue even after the Holy Prophet (salallahu 'alayhi wa sallam), 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 (faith), the Holy Qur'an mentions the earlier prophets (alayhimus-sallam) and the earlier Books, but does not make the slightest reference to a prophet or Book to come "after the last Prophet (salallahu '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 (alayhimus-sallam), the Books and the revelation preceding the Holy Prophet (salallahu 'alayhi wa sallam), but 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 (salallahu 'alayhi wa sallam) 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.
"And who believe in (the Quran and the Sunnah) which has been sent down (revealed) to you (Muhammad Peace be upon him ) and in [the Taurat (Torah) and the Injeel (Gospel), etc.] which were sent down before you and they believe with certainty in the Hereafter. (Resurrection, recompense of their good and bad deeds, Paradise and Hell, etc.)."[2:4]
The other essential quality of the God-fearing mentioned in this verse is that they have faith in al-Akhirah (the Hereafter). Lexically the Akhirah 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 constitutive 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 (alayhimus-sallam) and upon which all the Shari'ahs are agreed.
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 the 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 yu'qinuna (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 (faith) 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:
"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."[2:6-7]
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 Muttaqoon (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 (salallahu 'alayhi wa sallam) 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 kafiroon (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 Munafiqoon (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 acceptawe 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'mineen (true Muslims) or Muttaqeen (the God-fearing); on the other side are those who reject the guidance or deviate from it, and are hence called Kafiroon (disbelievers) or Munafiqoon (hypocrites).
People of the first kind are those whose path is the object of the prayer at the end of the Surah Al-Fatihah, صِرَاطَ الَّذِينَ أَنْعَمْتَ عَلَيْهِمْ"the path of those on whom You have bestowed Your grace",[1:7] and people of the second kind are those against whose path refuge has been sought غَيْرِ الْمَغْضُوبِ عَلَيْهِمْ وَلَا الضَّالِّينَ "Not of those who have incurred Your wrath, nor of those who have gone astray."[1:7]
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, these 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 clear 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 observed that the prediction, لَا يُؤْمِنُونَ"they shall not believe"[2:6] is specifically related to those disbelievers who refused to listen to the Holy Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) 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 (faith) 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 (صلى الله عليه وسلم) has brought down to us from Allah (سبحانه وتعالى) 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 kaafir (disbeliever or infidel).
In Nawadir al-Usul, at-Tirmidhi al-Hakim said, "Part of respect for the Qur'an is to only touch it when pure. Part of respect for it is to recite it in a state of purity. Part of respect for it is to use the tooth-stick (siwak), clean between the teeth and make the mouth clean as the mouth is its pathway. Yazid ibn Abi Malik said, 'Your mouths are the pathways of the Qur'an, so purify and clean them as much as you can.'
"Part of respect for it is to dress as you would dress to visit the amir because you are speaking privately. Part of respect for it is to face qibla to recite it. When Abu'l-'Aliyya recited he would put on a turban, dress, wear a mantle and face qibla. Part of respect for it is to rinse your mouth when you spit. Shu'ba reported from Abu Hamza from Ibn 'Abbas that he had a spittoon in front of him and when he spat, he would rinse his mouth and then begin recitation. Whenever he spat, he rinsed. Part of respect for it is that when you yawn, you should stop reciting, because when one recites, one is addressing and conversing with the Lord. Yawning is from Shaytan. Mujahid said, 'When you yawn while reciting the Qur'an, stop reciting out of respect until you stop yawning.' 'Ikrima said, 'By that he meant to respect the Qur'an.'
"Part of respect for it is to seek refuge with Allah from the accursed Shaytan when starting to recite it. You should say 'In the Name of Allah, the All- Merciful, the Most Merciful' when beginning to recite it from the first sura or from wherever you start. Part of respect for it is that, when you begin to recite it, you should not stop for a time to speak to people without need. Part of respect for it is that you should not stop reciting it when someone interrupts you by speaking to you and mix recitation with your reply. That is because when you do that, you remove the effectiveness of the formula of seeking refuge which you uttered at the beginning. Part of respect for it is to recite it deliberately, slowly and carefully.
"Part of respect for it is to deploy your mind and intelligence in understanding what is addressed to you. Part of respect for it is to stop at an ayat of promise and have hope in Allah and ask Him for His bounty, and to stop at an ayat of warning and seek refuge with Allah from the threat. Part of respect for it is to stop at its metaphors and visualise them.
Part of respect for it is to investigate its unusual words. Part of respect for it is to give every letter its due so that the words are fully articulated and then you will receive ten good deeds for every letter.
"Part of respect for it is to end its recitation by proclaiming the truthfulness of its Lord and testifying to its delivery by His Messenger and testifying that that is true. You say, 'Our Lord has spoken the Truth and His Messengers conveyed it and we testify to that. O Allah, make us among the witnesses to the Truth, establishing justice.' Then you make supplication.
"Part of respect for it is that when you recite, you do not take ayats piecemeal from each sura and recite them. It is related to us that the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, passed by Bilal who was reciting a little from each sura and he commanded him to recite the entire sura.
"Part of respect for it is that when you put down a copy of the Qur'an, you do not leave it open and do you not put any other book on top of it. It should always be on top of any other books, be they books of knowledge or other books. Part of respect for it is that when you recite, you put it in your lap or on top of something in front of you and do not put it on the ground. Part of respect for it is not to erase the board it is written on with spit, but rather use water. Part of respect for it is that when it is washed with water you avoid impurities from various places and in the places where it is put. That washing is respect. Some of the Salaf before us used to use that water to heal themselves. Part of of respect for it is to not take a page when it is worn out and brittle out of fear for the writing. That is great coarseness. It should be erased with water.
"Part of respect for it is to not let a day pass without looking at least once at the Qur'an. Abu Musa used to say, 'I am ashamed not to look once a day at the contract of my Lord.' Part of respect for it to give the eyes their share of it. The eye leads to the self. Between the self and the breast is a veil and the Qur'an is in the breast. When you recite it by heart the ear listens and conveys it to the self. When you look at its writing, the eye and the ear both convey it. That is more likely to achieve the conveyance. Then the eye has its share just as the ear does. Zayd ibn Aslam reported from 'Ata' ibn Yasar from Abu Sa'id al-Khudri that the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, ''Give the eyes their portion of worship.' They asked. 'Messenger of Allah, what is their portion of worship?' He replied, 'To look at the Qur'an and reflect on it and study its wonders.' Makhul reported from 'Ubada ibn as-Samit that the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, 'The best worship of my community is to read the Qur'an with the eyes.'
"Part of respect for it is not to resort to it when offered worldly goods. It is reported that Ibrahim [an-Nakha'i] used to dislike to resort to any of the Qur'an when he was offered worldly goods. That is like saying to a man who comes to you, 'You have arrived at the pre-ordained time, Musa,' (20:40) and like saying, 'Eat and drink with relish for what you did before in days gone by' (69:24) when food is served, and other such things. Part of respect for it is not to say Surat an-Nahl, Surat al-Baqara and Surat an-Nisa', but to say, 'The sura in which such-and-such is mentioned.' (This, however, is contrary to the words of the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, "If anyone recites the two ayats from the end of Surat al-Baqara at night, they will be enough for him.") (al-Bukhari and Muslim from 'Abdullah ibn Mas'ud)
"Part of respect for it is to not invert it as some teachers of children do in order to show off cleverness and fluency. That is opposition to Allah. Part of respect for it is to not deepen its recitation as if done by those obstinate innovaters who intensify the pronunciation of the hamza and pronounce words with affectation. That is an innovation which Shaytan suggested to them which they accepted. Part of respect for it is not to recite it using musical tunes like the tunes of the people of depravity nor with the quavering of the Christians nor chanting of the monks. All of that is deviation.
"Part of respect for it is to make its letters bold. Abu Hukayma reported that he used to copy out Qur'an in Kufa. 'Ali passed by him, inspected his writing and ordered, 'Make your pen thicker.' 'So I took the pen and cut off part of it and then wrote while 'Ali was standing and looking at my writing. He said, 'Like that. Give light to it as Allah gave it light."'
"Part of respect for it is not to compete in loudness in recitation so that it becomes spoiled for him and he hates what he hears and it becomes like a contest. Part of respect for it is not to argue or quarrel about its recitations or say to a person, 'It is not like that.' Perhaps that recitation is a sound and permitted one and then you would be denying the Book of Allah.
"Part of respect for it is not to recite it in the market or in places of clamour, worthless talk, and the places where fools congegrate. Do you not see that Allah Almighty mentioned the slaves of the All-Merciful and praised them because, when they pass by worthless talk, they pass by it with dignity? (cf. 25:72) This is about simply passing by those engaged in worthless talk. So how could they recite the Qur'an in the midst of worthless talk and a gathering of fools?
"Part of respect for it is not to use it as pillow or lean on it or throw it to someone when he wants it to be passed to him.
"Part of respect for it is not to make it small. ษ It is reported that 'Ali said, 'Do not make the Qur'an small.' It is related that 'Umar ibn al-Khattab saw a small Qur'an in the hand of a man and asked, 'Who wrote it?' 'I did,' he replied, and then 'Umar struck him with his whip and said, 'Esteem the Qur'an.' It is related that the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, forbade people to say, 'a little mosque or a little Qur'an' (using the diminutive).
"Part of respect for it is not to adorn it with gold or write it in gold so that it is mixed with the adornment of this world. Mughira related that Ibrahim disliked adorning the Qur'an or writing it with gold or putting marks at the beginning of ayats or making it small. It is related from Abu'd-Darda' that the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, 'When you adorn your mosque and decorate your Qur'an, then ruin is upon you.' When Ibn 'Abbas saw a Qur'an adorned with silver he said, 'You tempt the thief with it. Its adornment is inside it.'
"Part of respect for it is that it should not be written on the ground or on a wall as is done in modern mosques. It is reported that 'Umar ibn 'Abdu'l-'Aziz said, 'The Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, passed by some writing on the ground and said to a lad of the tribe of Hudhayl, 'What is this?' He replied, 'It is from the Book of Allah. A Jew wrote it.' He said, 'May Allah curse the one who did this. Only put the Book of Allah in its proper place.' Muhammad ibn az-Zubayr said that 'Umar ibn 'Abdu'l-'Aziz saw a son of his writing the Qur'an on a wall and beat him.
"Part of respect for it is that when its writing is washed for treating an illness, it should not be poured on a rubbish heap or in a place of impurity or in a place where people walk, but in a place where people do not walk, or a hole should be dug in a pure place so that it can be poured into it, or it can be poured into a large river.
"Part of respect for it is that, whenever someone completes the recitation of the entire Qur'an, he recites some of the beginning so that it does not have the form of something abandoned. That is why when the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, finished reciting, he would recite about five ayats from the beginning so that it would not be in an abandoned form. Ibn 'Abbas said that a man came and asked, 'Messenger of Allah, which action is best?' He replied, 'You must have the embarking state.' 'What is the embarking state?' he asked. He replied, ''The one with the Qur'an who starts from its beginning until he reaches its end and then starts at the beginning. Whenever he alights, he immediately travels on.'
It is recommended to gather your family when you finish the Qur'an. Al-Anbari reported from Qatada that when Anas ibn Malik finished reciting the Qur'an, he would gather his family and make supplication. It is reported that when Mujahid, 'Abda ibn Abi Lubaba and various people were about to complete the recitation, they would summon people since mercy descends at the conclusion of the Qur'an. It is reported that Ibrahim at-Taymi said, "When someone finishes the Qur'an at the beginning of the day, the angels bless him until evening. When someone finishes the Qur'an at the beginning of the night, the angels bless him until morning." He said, "They recommended that it should be finished at the beginning of the night or at the beginning of the day."
"Part of respect for it is that you should not write the refuge suras from it and then enter the lavatory unless they are inside a covering of leather or silver or something else. Then it is as if it were inside his breast.
"Part of respect for it is that when you write it out [for medicinal purposes] and then drink it, you should say the Name of Allah for every breath and have a very strong intention. Allah will give to you according to your intention. Mujahid said, 'There is no harm in writing out the Qur'an and then having a sick person drink it.' Abu Ja'far said, 'If someone has hardness in his heart, he should write 'Yasin' on a goblet with saffron and drink it.'
"Part of respect for it is not to say, 'What a short sura!' Abu'l-'Aliyya disliked saying 'what a short or large sura'. When he heard someone say that, he would retort, 'You are smaller than it. All of the Qur'an is immense.'" Abu Dawud related the contrary of this from the hadith of 'Amr ibn Shu'ayb from his grandfather which states that one can use those terms. 'Amr said, "No small or large sura is part of the Mufassal."
Every Muslim knows that Allah Almighty has sent man into this world as a matter of test, and in return for his
being obligated with certain duties, the whole universe has been placed at his service. For this reason man, once
he is in the world, must do two things:
1. He should make the best use of this world, and of things created in it.
2. While using this world to his advantage, he should keep the injunctions of Allah Almighty in sight and do
nothing that goes against His will and pleasure.
For these two functions man needs knowledge. Therefore, unless he knows the reality of this world, the
properties of different things and the manner in which they can be put to use, he cannot use anything in this
world to his advantage. Likewise, unless and until he knows the will of Allah Almighty as to what pleases Him and
what displeases Him, it will be impossible for him to lead a life in line with the will of Allah Almighty.
So Allah Almighty, along with the creation of man, has created three things through which he could continue
receiving knowledge of the above-mentioned matters of concern. These are:
1. Man's senses, that is, the eyes, the ears, the nose, the mouth, the hands and the feet.
2. The reason.
3. The Wahy.
Consequently, man finds out many things through his senses, many others through reason, and the knowledge of
things he cannot get through these two sources are bestowed upon him through Wahy.
The arrangement between these three sources of knowledge is such that each one has its limits, and a particular
sphere of activity beyond which it does not work. In natural sequence, the knowledge of things man collects
through his senses cannot be deduced through bland reason. For instance, you know by seeing a wall with your
eyes that its colour is white. But, should you close your eyes and try to find out the colour of that wall on the sole
strength of your reason, this will then be impossible. Similarly, the knowledge of things that comes through
reason cannot be discovered by senses alone. For instance, you cannot find out as to who made that wall by
simply seeing it with your eyes or touching it with your hands. Not at all, you rather need reason to arrive at that
In short, reason gives no guidance as far as the five senses work efficiently, and when the five senses become
helpless, reason starts functioning. But, even the guidance given by this reason is not unlimited. This too stops at
a certain limit. Then there are things the knowledge of which can neither be acquired through senses nor through
reason. For instance, to find out about this very wall, as to what manner of its use will please Allah Almighty and
what manner of its use will displease Him, is possible neither through senses nor through reason. In order to give
man the answer to such questions, the source that Allah Almighty has prescribed is what is known as Wahy. And
the method it follows is that Allah Almighty selects one of His servants, ordains him as His messenger and to him
He reveals His Word. This Word is Wahy.
This makes it clear that Wahy is the highest source of knowledge for man, which offers to him the answer to
questions about his life which cannot be solved by means of reason and senses, but, he still has to have that
knowledge. This further explains that reason and perception alone are not enough to show man the way. It is
rather all the more necessary, almost inevitable, that the Divine Wahy be there for his guidance. Since Wahy isbasically needed where reason does not work, it is, therefore, not necessary that everything communicated
through Wahy be compulsively comprehended through reason. On the contrary, as reason is no help in finding
out the colour of some object since that is the job of the senses, so is the knowledge of many religious beliefs, the
gracious giving of which is the sole prerogative of Wahy and not of reason.
Furthermore, trusting reason alone for their comprehension is not sound and correct.
To begin with, it is totally senseless to discuss the issue of Wahy with a person who, God forbid, does not accept
the very existence of God. But, for a person who believes in the existence of Allah Almighty and has faith in His
perfect power, it is not at all difficult to understand that Wahy is a rational need, that it is possible and that it is
there for real. If you have faith in the fact that this universe has been created by an absolutely powerful entity, He
is the One who has sent man down here to accomplish some particular mission, how then is it possible to imagine
that He, after once having created man, would leave him off in total darkness, without ever telling him why did he
come into this world, what his duties were, where was he destined to go and how could he realize the purpose of
How could a person, whose sanity is still there, send one of his servants on a certain trip under a
designated mission without ever telling him the purpose of the trip while he is leaving, nor explaining it to him
later on through some message as to why he has been sent out there and what duties he is supposed to carry out
during the trip? When a man of ordinary reason cannot do something like this, how can something like this be
imagined with respect to the most Holy Lord of the Universe under Whose ultimate wisdom this whole system of
the universe is functioning? After all, how is it possible that the Being, that did create such a mind-boggling
system composed of the moon, the sun, the sky, the earth, the stars and the planets, would remain unable to
institute some arrangement of communication with His servants, through 'Which human beings could be given
guidance about the purpose of their lives? If there is Imaan or faith in the ultimate wisdom of Allah Almighty, then
admitting that He did not forsake His servants in the dark, will become all the more necessary; rather on the
contrary, He has surely instituted some regular system for their guidance. And so, this very regular system of
guidance is known as Wahy (Revelation) and Risalah (Prophethood).
This makes it crystal clear that Wahy is not only a religious belief but also a rational need the rejection of which
amounts to a rejection of the ultimate wisdom of Allah Almighty.
This sacred sequence of Wahy (revelation) and Risalah (Prophethood) came to an end with the last of the prophets, Muhammad al-Mustafa (Sallaho Alaihe Wassallam). Nevermore shall Wahy descend upon any man, nor there is any need for it. Wahy used to come to the Holy Prophet (Sallaho Alaihe Wassallam) in several forms and modes. In a hadith from Sahih al-Bukhari, Sayyidah 'A'ishah (RA) says that Sayyidna Harith ibn Hisham (RA) once asked the Holy Prophet (Sallaho Alaihe Wassallam) as to how did Wahy come to him. The Holy Prophet (Sallaho Alaihe Wassallam) said that 'there are times when I hear something like the chiming of bells and this mode of Wahy is the hardest on me. After that, when this chime-sequence ends, that which has been said by the sound seems to have been committed to my memory. And there are times when the angel appears before me in the shape of a man.' (Sahih al-Bukhari, 2/1)
As regards the likening of the sound of Wahy to the sound of bells in the hadith cited above, Shaykh Muhyy aI-Din ibn al-'Arabi (RA) has explained it by saying that, in the first place, the sound of Wahy is continuous like the sound of a bell which does not break off in between; and in the second place, when the bell rings continuously, it
generally becomes difficult for the listener to determine the direction of its sound because its sound seems to be coming from all directions. And the Divine Word too carries with it the distinction that it has no one single direction, in fact, the sound gives the impression of being heard from all directions. A correct realization of this
phenomenon is just not possible without auditory experience; however, in order to bring this happening closer to common comprehension, the Holy Prophet (salallahu 'alayhi wa sallam) has simply likened it to the sound of bells. (Fayd al-Bari, 19,20/1).
With the descent of Wahy in this mode, the Holy Prophet (Sallaho Alaihe Wassallam) came under very heavy strain. Sayyidah 'A'ishah (RA) says towards the end of this very hadith that she had seen the coming of Wahy to him during days of extreme winter. When the progression of Wahy ceased, his blessed forehead would have
already become dripping-wet inspite of the chilly weather. In yet another narration, Sayyidah 'A'ishah (RA) relates: When Wahy came to him, his breath would seem to stop, the radiant face would change -- turning pale like the branch of a date palm, the front teeth would shiver from cold and he would perspire so much that its drops would roll like pearls. (AI-Itqan, 1/46)
On occasions, so much intensity would be generated in this state of Wahy that the animal he would be riding at that time would sit down, wilting under his weight. Once, when he was resting his blessed head on the lap of Sayyidna Zayd ibn Thabit (RA) there started the descent of Wahy in that very posture. This released so much weight on Sayyidna Zayd's thigh that it seemed to break. (Zad al-Ma'ad, 1/18,19)
There were times when a low-volumed sound of this Wahy was sensed by others as well. Sayyidna 'Umar (RA) says: When Wahy came to him, a sound somewhat similar to the buzzing of honey-bees could be heard close to his most bright face. (Tabwib Musnad Ahmad, Kitab al-Sirah al-N abaviyah, 20/212)
Under the second mode of Wahy, an angel would come to him in some human form and deliver Allah's message. Generally, on such occasions, Sayyidna Jibra'il (AS) used to come to him in the form of Sayyidna Dihyah al-Kalbi (RA) . Certainly, at other times, he has come in other forms as well. In any case, this mode of the coming of Wahy when it was brought by Sayyidna Jibra'il (AS) appearing in human form, was the easiest on the Holy Prophet (Sallaho Alaihe Wassallam) (AI-Itqan, 1/46).
The third mode of the coming of Wahy used to be that Sayyidna Jibra'il (AS) would appear as he was, without having taken on the shape of a man. But this has happened only thrice in his entire life-time. First of all, it was when the Holy Prophet (Sallaho Alaihe Wassallam) had himself wished to see him in his real form and shape. The second time, it was in the Mi'raj (the Ascent to Heaven), and the third time it was at Ajyad in Makkah al- Mukarramah during the very early days of Prophethood. The first two happenings stand proved authentically, however, the last one suffers from weak chains of authority and is, therefore doubtful. (Fath al-Bari. 1/18.19)
The fourth mode is distinguished by a direct, non-intermediary two-way conversation with Allah Almighty. This honour was bestowed upon the Holy Prophet (Sallaho Alaihe Wassallam) only once, that is, in Mi'raj, while awake. In addition to that, once it was in a dream as well that he was in a conversing situation with Allah
Almighty. Under the fifth mode of Wahy, it so happened that Sayyidna Jibra'il (AS) would, without appearing physically in any form whatsoever, let some words of the message fall into his heart. This is technically known as "nafth fi alrau": blowing into the heart) (Ibid).
The noble Qur'an is, in fact, the Divine Word. It is, therefore, secure in the Preserved Tablet. The noble Qur'an says: Rather, it is the glorious Qur'an in the Preserved Tablet (85:21-22)
Then, from the Preserved Tablet, its descention took place twice. Once, the whole of it had been sent to al-Bayt al- 'Izzah, the most exalted House on the firmament of the world. The most exalted House (also known as al-Bayt al-Ma'mur) is a House facing Ka'bah that exists in the firmament as the place of worship for angels. This descention took place on the Night of Qadr (rendered as the Night of Power in English). The second time it used to be revealed to the Holy Prophet (Sallaho Alaihe Wassallam)gradually as needed, having reached its completion in twenty three years. These two modalities of the Qur'anic revelations become clear through the style of the noble Qur'an itself. In addition to that, al-Nasa'i, al-Baihaqi and al-Hakim and others have reported from Sayyidna 'Abdullah ibn 'Abbas (RA) what can be summed up by saying that the first descention of the noble Qur'an to the firmament of the world took place all at one time and the Holy Prophet (Sallaho Alaihe Wassallam) was blessed with the second descention gradually.
(al-Itqan, v. 1, p. 41)
Explaining the wisdom behind the first descention of the noble Qur'an on the firmament facing the world, Imam Abu Shamah (RA) has said that it aimed at demonstrating the exalted majesty of the noble Qur'an, and at the same time, it was to tell the angels that this was the last book of Allah which is ready for descention for the guidance of the people of the earth.
Shaykh al-Zurqani (RA) makes yet another point when he says that this two-timed descention also aimed at stressing that this book is beyond all doubts, and it stands preserved at two more places other than the blessed heart of the Holy Prophet (Sallaho Alaihe Wassallam), that is, in the Preserved Tablet, and in the Exalted House.
(Manahil al-'Irfan, v.l, p. 39).
It is almost agreed by all the scholars that the second gradual descention which was on the heart of the Holy Prophet (Sallaho Alaihe Wassallam) began when his age was forty years. The beginning of this descention, as authentically reported, was in the Night of Qadr, and this was the date on which, some years later, the event of
the Battle of Badr came to pass. However, nothing definite can be said about the exact date of Ramadan when this Night fell. There are some reports which identify that of the seventeenth Ramadan, while others place it on the nineteenth, and still others which indicate the Night of the twenty seventh.
(Tafsir Ibn Jarir v. 10, p. 7)
This cannot be undone and I am sure it will be greatly appreciated.
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