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Some Difficulties in Surah Rahman
Qur'anic Exegesis
Amin Ahsan Islahi
(Tr. by:Dr. Shehzad Saleem)

The difficulties in the surah relating to style, language and interpretation shall inshallah be dealt with under the relevant verses of the surah. However, there are two things which I would like to clarify here. The first of these relates to research on the word آلَاء and the second of these relates to the nature of address in the verse: فَبِأَيِّ آلَاء رَبِّكُمَا تُكَذِّبَانِ.

The word آلَاء is the plural of إِلْىٌ and ألىً and إلىً. All the leading lexicographers and exegetes regard it to mean “favours.” However, my mentor, Hamīd al-Dīn al-Farahī in his Mufradat al-Qur’an differs with this opinion. In his opinion, this word does not merely denote the meaning referred to above; it has a wider connotation. He begins his discussion on this issue with the following words:1

Even though there is a consensus that the word آلَاء means “favours” the Qur’an and classical Arabic literature do not support this claim. It is evident through a comprehensive analysis of classical Arabic poetry that its real meaning is feats, miracles, marvels of nature and wisdom. However, a greater part of God’s miracles and marvels is based on His signs of mercy. For this reason, people concluded that the real meaning of آلَاء is “favours”.

In this regard, al-Farahī has also presented his interpretation of a narrative attributed to Ibn ‘Abbas (rta) in which he mentions that this word means “favours.” He says that our illustrious scholars of the past would answer a question posed to them keeping in view the occasion and background. They would specify that at a particular instance the word had been used in a particular meaning

After these introductory sentences, he has presented corroboratory evidence in support of his view from the works of poets belonging to the age of jahiliyyah as well as from certain Hamasī poets. The poets from the age of jahiliyyah include: Tarfah, Mayyah bint Darar, Muhalhal, Rabi‘ah ibn Maqrum, Ajda‘ al-Hamadanī, Fudalah ibn Zayd and Khansa’. It is evident from this material that in the works of famous poets of the age of jahiliyyah – poets whose poetry is regarded to be a source of language and morphology, this word is not merely used to mean “favours”; it has a much wider connotation that includes favours, power, majesty, signs, miracles, marvels, feats and other similar connotations.

It is a source of great pleasure for me that the translators and exegetes of these times are referring to the research of Imam Farahī (even though without properly citing him). However, since the works of Imam Farahī are in Arabic, people who do not have a strong grasp of it are misled. It is evident from this discussion that he does not contest that the meaning of this word is “favours”; however, he does contest that this is its only meaning.

All the exegetes are unanimous that the verse فَبِأَيِّ آلَاء رَبِّكُمَا تُكَذِّبَانِ addresses both man and jinn. The Qur’an itself has explained this in various styles in this surah. However, two questions arise here. First, just as the message of the Qur’an is meant for man, is it also for the jinn? If the answer to this question is in the affirmative, then a further question arises: Did the Prophet Muhammad (sws) conclusively convey the truth from the Almighty to the jinn also just as he did to his people?

The answer to this question, in my opinion, is that keeping in view the principles set forth by the Almighty in the Qur’an regarding sending His prophets and the nature of their responsibility in disseminating their message, it is difficult to say that the Prophet (sws) was also sent towards the jinn and that just as he had conclusively communicated the truth to his people, he had also done so to the jinn. It is mentioned in the Qur’an in various styles that the prophet sent to a nation is from among them; he speaks in their tongue and is the best representative of their nature; by setting an example, he encourages good in people and discourages evil in them and for this reason his life becomes an example for every person. It is obvious that none of these things was possible for the Prophet (sws) viz a viz the jinn.

Moreover, it is also known that he did not inform us of any efforts he made in calling the jinn to faith and in reforming and instructing them just as he did in the case of his people. What, at most, can be claimed is that he did meet a group of jinn once or twice or that a group of jinn heard the Prophet (sws) reciting the Qur’an and expressed their liking for it. It is mentioned earlier in Surah Ahqaf and a mention is coming up in Surah Jinn that a group of jinn heard a few verses of the Qur’an from the blessed tongue of the Prophet (sws) and liked them. At these places, it is specified that the Prophet (sws) did not directly come to know of this liking; he was informed of it by the Almighty. Such chance meetings are obviously not enough for the dissemination of a message and its conclusive communication which every prophet and messenger did for his people and for which purpose a messenger is in fact sent to his people. If the jinn are addressed in this way in some places in the Qur’an, it is not because they are its direct addressees; the actual reason, in my opinion, is that just as when the clouds of mercy send down rain which waters both dry and damp areas, in a similar manner, the mercy of the Qur’an at times extends to the jinn – specially in those matters of principle which are common between them and man. The concepts of monotheism, the day of judgement, the reward and punishment which will take place on it, truth, justice and other similar things are absolutely the same in both these creatures. If there is a difference, it relates to the areas which pertain to peculiarities of genre of the two. The real objective of this surah, as has been discussed earlier, is to remind unmindful people of the signs of power, wisdom, mercy and providence of God and to jolt and awaken them. For this reason, besides addressing the unmindful among mankind, it also addresses the unmindful jinn. This awe and dread of the discourse, as a result, has spread to the whole world.

It is possible that in the light of this discussion a question arise in someone’s mind: Just as prophets and messengers have been sent to mankind from among them, similarly prophets and messengers from among the jinn must have been sent to them and would have taken up the responsibility of reforming and instructing them in their language and keeping in view the characteristics of their genre. I accept the responsibility of this inference. It is in complete accordance with sense and reason and also in absolute harmony with the practice of God regarding His prophets and messengers as enshrined in the Qur’an at many instances. If the jinn, like mankind, are creatures who have been given the freedom to exercise their will and who will be held accountable by God for their deeds and will be accordingly rewarded and punished, then it is essential, as per the practice of God, that for their guidance, prophets and messengers must have been sent to them and it is also essential that they must have called them to the truth in their own language. In my opinion, there is not a single verse in the Qur’an which goes against this inference. On the contrary, there are various verses which clearly go in its favour.

In Surah Baqarah, where the incident of Adam and Satan is mentioned, both of them are addressed at the end in the following words:


قُلْنَا اهْبِطُوا مِنْهَا جَمِيعًا فَإِمَّا يَأْتِيَنَّكُمْ مِنِّي هُدًى فَمَنْ تَبِعَ هُدَايَ فَلَا خَوْفٌ عَلَيْهِمْ وَلَا هُمْ يَحْزَنُونَ  (٢: ٣٧)

We ordered: “Go [out] from here; then if ever comes to you any guidance from Me, whosoever follows My guidance will have no fear, nor shall they grieve.” (2:37)

In the above mentioned verse, just as the Almighty has promised Adam (sws) and his progeny that He will send guidance to them, He has also made this very promise with Iblīs and His progeny.

Similarly, it is clearly stated in Surah An‘am that messengers were also sent to the jinn:


يَامَعْشَرَ الْجِنِّ وَالإِنسِ أَلَمْ يَأْتِكُمْ رُسُلٌ مِنْكُمْ يَقُصُّونَ عَلَيْكُمْ آيَاتِي وَيُنذِرُونَكُمْ لِقَاءَ يَوْمِكُمْ هَذَا قَالُوا شَهِدْنَا عَلَى أَنفُسِنَا وَغَرَّتْهُمْ الْحَيَاةُ الدُّنْيَا وَشَهِدُوا عَلَى أَنفُسِهِمْ أَنَّهُمْ كَانُوا كَافِرِينَ (٢: ١٣٠)

“O Jinn and Men! Did there not come to you messengers of your own who proclaimed to you My revelations and warned you of this day of resurrection?” They will reply: “We bear witness against our own souls.” And indeed, the life of this world deceived them and they themselves testified against their own selves that they had been disbelievers.  (2:130)


The coherence in this surah is very evident. The surah begins with the declaration that the Qur’an is a manifestation of the graciousness of the Almighty. The Almighty created man and specially blessed him with the power of speech and comprehension. These grand favours and abilities entail that man should be taught and educated by the most grand heavenly work –the Qur’an – and not through torment and punishment. It is an extreme misfortune that there are those who, instead of seeking guidance from it, demand to see the promised doom.

After this, the various signs in the world around man and those within him are pointed to and two of the Almighty’s creations – men and jinn– are repeatedly warned and shaken to reflect on them and asked how many such signs would they deny.

First and foremost are mentioned the signs and manifestations which point to the fact that the Almighty greatly cherishes justice and does not approve anything remotely contrary to justice and equity in the world He has created.

These are followed by the signs which indicate that the tremendous and extremely vast system of sustenance which the Almighty has established on the earth entails that man shall one day be held accountable for the countless blessings he has been given. Those who deserve to be rewarded shall be rewarded, and those who deserve to be punished shall be punished.

A reference is then made to the fact that it is the Almighty who has created men and jinn from fire and clay and He can easily create them a second time. There is no difficulty for Him in this regard.

This whole Universe is under His control; He is the Lord of the East and the West. Whatever rises, rises with His permission and whatever sets, sets with His permission.

After this, it is asserted that the conflicting elements in the universe are in harmony with one another to fulfil a greater purpose which is over and above their creation. This bears witness to the fact that a sovereign will is dominant over these elements which creates harmony between them and uses them for the collective welfare of the universe. If this were not so, the universe would have been destroyed by a clash between its conflicting elements. That it is surviving is ample testimony to the fact that a single supreme and omnipotent power controls it.

An indication is then made that Allah alone is immortal and all the rest are mortal.

Next it is expressed that all except the Almighty are needy and He is the only one who fulfils their needs. The foolish who ask from others actually receive from Him alone.

An affirmation is then made of the fact that the day wherein accountability of deeds shall take place is certain to come and on that day no one –neither man nor jinn– will be able to run away from the Almighty’s grasp. On that day, no evidence will be needed to convict a criminal as his forehead will bear witness to his sins. He will then be grabbed by his forehead and feet and flung into Hell.

Next, the features and characteristics of the Paradise which the muqarrabīn shall receive are delineated, followed by the features and characteristics of the Paradise which the ashab al-yamīn will be blessed with.



(Translated from Tadabbur-i Qur’an by Dr Shehzad Saleem)






1. Hamīd al-Dīn al-Farahī, Mufradat al-Qur’an, 1st ed. (Azamgarh: Matba‘ Islah, 1358 AH), 11.

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