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Surah Tahrim (2)
Qur'anic Exegesis
Imam Hamiduddin Farahi
(Tr. by:Tariq Haashmi)


Linguistic Analysis of the Phrase Saghat Qulubu kuma

In most languages, and especially in Arabic, specific terms are employed in specific meanings beyond their general implications. A failure to understand these nuances of a term cannot drive one away from the correct appreciation of the language. For instance, the word, mayl (to lean to and to turn away from) is a general implication. Many terms including zaygh, jur, ir’awa, hayadah, inhiraf, are used to connote particularly turning away from something. Then come the words fay’, tawbah, iltifat and sighw which specifically connote turning to something. Those who confuse these two sets of words and their meanings err and cause others to err.

A person who knows the Arabic Language is clear on that the phrase saghat qulubukuma means anabat qulubu kuma wa malat ila al-Allah wa rasulihi (the hearts of you both have inclined to Allah and His Messenger) because the word saghw connotes leaning or being attracted towards something; it does not mean turning away from something. The following two cognate terms are used in this sense. saghiyah of a man are his followers. When we say: Sighwu hu ma‘aka we mean: (He is) attracted to you. Asghaytu ila fulanin means: I turned my ears to him. A hadith reads:


ثُمَّ يُنْفَخُ فِي الصُّورِ، فَلَا يَسْمَعُهُ أَحَدٌ إِلَّا أَصْغَی لِيتًا

 Then the trumpet would be blown and no one would hear that but he who would bend his neck to one side. (Yunfakhu fi al-suri fa la yasma‘u hu ahadun illa asgha litan (Muslim Number: 3940)

A common saying goes thus: al-sabiyyu a‘lamu bimusgha khaddihi: a child knows where to turn for benefit and with whom he should seek shelter. The sentence: saghat al-shams wa al-nujum means: the sun and the stars leaned towards the earth. The hadith of hirrah reads: kana yasgha biha al-ana’: He would tilt the pot so that it could drink easily.1 The bottom of a pot is called sighw because liquid settles in it. Ibn Barri has cited the following verse in support of his interpretation of the words al-isgha’ bi al-sam‘ (turning one’s ear to someone to listen):


 ترى السفيه به عن كل مكرمة زيغ      وفيه إلی التسفيه إصغاء

You see that a stupid person is characterized by a tendency to turn away (zaygh) from every noble deed and to incline (isgha’) to every foolishness.2

Dhu al-Rummah praises a she-camel in the following verse:


تُصْغِي إِذَا شَدَّهَا بِالْكورِ جَانِحَةً                             حتی إذا ما استوى في غرزها تثبُ

When he fits her out with a saddle, she inclines (tusghi), turning her face towards her side (janihatan), until when he inserts his foot into the stirrup, she jumps.3

A‘sha describes the slant in a camel’s eye in these words:


ترى عينها صغواء في جنب موقه                 تراقب كفي والقطيع المحرما

You would see that her eye is inclined towards (saghwa’) the inner corner, the while she watches my palm and the untempered leather whip.4

Al-Nimr ibn Tawlab used the words isgha’ al-ina’ (inclining the pot) to connote emptying it out in the following verse:


وإن ابن أخت القوم مصغي إناؤه                       إذا لم يزاحم خاله بأب جلد

The bowl of a tribe’s nephew is emptied out (i.e. he is deprived of his right) unless he resists his uncles through a strong father.5


I have quoted all this supportive evidence from the lexicon Lisan al-‘Arab with minor explanations which I offered with the intention to remove any possible doubts or confusion. This evidence suffices for truth seekers. A seeker of the truth will not, after pondering over this evidence, turn his ears to what the fabricators have added to the traditions. They have tried to distort the meanings of the Qur’anic words and expressions once their efforts to distort the words of the Book of God were foiled by Him. They have indeed not relented from trying to distort the word of God. Abu Sa‘ud has reported in his exegesis that the words “saghat qulubu kuma” have been recited as zaghat.6  He means to say that it has been read as this by those whose readings don’t count. You see to what extent such men went in their efforts to change the meaning of the word sagha (turning to) to zagha (deviated). God however protects the truth and foils falsehood.


Stylistics of the Verse in tatuba ila Allahi faqad saghat qulubu kuma

After a discussion on the meaning of the expression saghat qulubukuma, I invite your attention to the style of expression adopted in this verse so that you can clearly grasp the interconnection of its components.

Arabs are known for their habit of omitting the part of the speech which can be dispensed with. They prefer brevity in speech. They are always inclined to remove the unnecessary additions and redundant parts of their speech. This is a great rhetorical device.  This issue forms part of a great discussion on Arabic rhetoric. Here I will discuss only what is related to the prepositions in (if) and qad (indeed) in this verse.

I will start with examples from the Qur’an in order to make it easy to understand what has been left unstated here.  

God Almighty says:

إِن تَسْتَفْتِحُوْا فَقَدْ جَآءَكُمُ الْفَتْحُ

If you are seeking a judgment, then the judgment has come to you. (8:19)

At another place, the Almighty says:


وَإِنْ يُّكَذِّبُوْكَ فَقَدْ كُذِّبَتْ رُسُلٌ مِّنْ قَبْلِكَ

And if they have given you the lie, then the apostles before you were given the lie. (35:04)


God says:


اِلَّا تَنْصُرُوْهُ فَقَدْ نَصَرَهُ اللهُ

If you do not help him, then God has helped him. (9:40)

God says:


وَاِنْ يَّعُوْدُوْا فَقَدْ مَضَتْ سُنَّتُ الْأَوَّلِيْنِ

If they persist, the sunnah (example) of those before them is already set. (8:38)

God says: 

فَإِنْ يَّكْفُرْ بِـهَا هَـؤُلَآءِ فَقَدْ وَكَّلْنَا بِـهَا قَوْمًا لَّيْسُوْا بـِهَا بِكَافِرِيْنَ

If these people reject it, then we have entrusted it to a people who will not reject it. (6:89)

Many such examples can also be found in Arabic literature. A pagan poet Mirdas b. Hasayn says:

فإن نزرأهم فلقد تركنا                كفاءهم لدى الدبر المضاع

If we have killed them (no matter) for we have been leaving their equals dead and lost behind their (fleeing armies).7


A careful study of these examples shows that the clause following the preposition “in” mentions something which facilitates what is mentioned in the clause following the preposition (qad). The sentences can thus be paraphrased as follows: If A happens that is good, or there is nothing wrong, or the matter is as expected, for B has already materialized.

In the light of the above, we can confidently state that the true and clear interpretation of the verse is this: If you turn to God by following what pleases the Holy Prophet (sws), as he seeks to please you, then this is what is expected from you; for your hearts have certainly inclined towards God. I do not understand what forced people to ignore the true meaning and implication of the expression except for their reliance on some narratives fabricated and ascribed to Ibn ‘Abbas (rta) who is certainly not responsible for these lies ascribed to him later on.


Wisdom Buried in the Divine Words: in-tatuba Ila Allahi and Tubu Tawbatan Nasuha

Here, tawbah implies the most perfect form of repentance, as it does not leave any aspect of disagreement between the penitent and the authority. Such sincere repentance is only possible after one is truly inclined to the authority (saghw). It develops out of total submission of heart and complete faith. In worldly life, for example, a husband and wife become united like a single entity through this inclination. In religious matters, this type of repentance makes a servant of God lost in the Lord, and the Lord becomes his ear, eye, and heart. The earlier scriptures frequently use the example of an obedient son or wife to exemplify an obedient nation. Many such parables have been explained in my book al-Amthal al-Ilahiyyah (Divine Parables).

A failure to understand such parables in the Scriptures has misled the Christians and the Jews. They declared that they were the sons of Allah and His beloved ones. The Qur’an however does not use such expressions explicitly. Rather, it sometimes uses fine and subtle expressions which imply this meaning, (so that the experts can infer this meaning), but the laymen are not left a chance to be misled. For a detailed discussion refer to my commentary on Surah al-Talaq.

(Now I come back to the discussion on the Surah.) We see that after commanding the wives of the Prophet (sws) to repent sincerely and make it a perfect repentance, the Almighty has directed the Muslims in general to repent a pure and sincere repentance (tawbah nasuha). In response, they are promised a light (al-nur) and nearness to the Prophet (qurbah) in the hereafter. They will enjoy his company in the hereafter just as they have been blessed with this blessing in the life of this world. Same will be case with regard to their families. It has explicitly been mentioned in the following verses that they will join their families in the Afterlife:


وَالَّذِيْنَ آمَنُوْا وَاتَّبَعَتْهُمْ ذُرِّيَّتُهُمْ بِاِيـْمَانٍ اَلْـحَقْنَابِـهِمْ ذُرِّيَّتَهُمْ

And those who believe and whose families follow them in faith, to them shall We join their families. (52:21)

At another place the Qur’an says:


فَاَمَّا مَنْ أُوْتـِيَ كِتَابَهُ بِيَمِيْنِهِ. فَسَوْفَ يُحَاسَبُ حِسَابًا يَّسِيْرًا. وَّيَنقَلِبُ اِلَى اَهْلِهِ مَسْرُوْرًا.

Then, he who is given his record in his right hand, soon will his account be taken by an easy reckoning, and he will turn to his family, rejoicing. (84:7-9)

Similarly, in another verse, the Almighty has also stated that pious men will also accompany each other in the Afterlife. It has been said:


يَاَيَّتُهَا النَّفْسُ الْمُطْمَئِنَّةُ. ارْجِعِيْ إِلَى رَبِّكِ رَاضِيَةً مَّرْضِيَّةً. فَادْخُلِيْ فِىْ عِبَادِىْ. وَادْخُلِىْ جَنَّتِيْ

(To the righteous soul will be said): O you the satisfied soul, return to your Lord, content and pleased. Enter the ranks of My servants and enter My Paradise. (89:27-30)

Allah also mentions His nearness ordained for the pious in the Hereafter in these words:


وَالسَّابِقُوْنَ السَّابِقُوْنَ. أُوْلَئِكَ الْمُقَرَّبُوْنَ

And those foremost (al-sabiqun) will be foremost. These will be those nearest to Allah (al-muqarrabin).  (56:10-1)

The words “return to your Lord” and the expression “My Jannah” subtly refer to this nearness to God. The holy Qur’an and the Scriptures describe this fact frequently either clearly or implicitly. Truth be told, paradise without nearness to God would be like hell. Don’t you see that the Qur’an has stated that the real depravity of the dwellers of the Hell is that they will not be able to face God? The Almighty says:


كَلَّآ اِنَّهُمْ عَنْ رَّبِّـهِمْ يَوْمَئِذٍ لَّمَحْجُوْبُوْنَ

Verily, from their Lord, that Day, will they be kept. (83:15)

The real meaning and essence of returning/repentance in this world as well as in the one to come might have become clear to you. You might have grasped that when a man takes refuge in his protector and denounces others, then his life becomes worthwhile; his heart finds satisfaction and he finds perfect happiness. You also understand that when a woman betrays her husband/master it enrages him, injures his honor, and flares up his passion. It is hopefully easy for you to understand the true meaning of the parable of a sincere wife and an obedient son, a frequent occurrence in the Scriptures. It also sets you on the right track regarding the coherence in the remaining portion of the surah.


Explanation of Verse no. 9 and its Relation with the Rest of the Surah


The Almighty has said:


يَاَيُّهَا النَّبِىُّ جَاهِدِ الْكُفَّارَ وَالْمُنَافِقِيْنَ وَاغْلُظْ عَلَيْهِمْ

O Prophet, strive hard against the unbelievers and the hypocrites, and be firm against them. (66:9)

The verse contains this final and strict injunction so that people having the ability to repent enter the circle of the followers of the Prophet (sws). This directive is present in Surah al-Tawbah in similar words:


يَـحْلِفُوْنَ بِاللّهِ مَا قَالُوْا وَلَقَدْ قَالُوْا كَلِمَةَ الْكُفْرِ وَكَفَرُوْا بَعْدَ اِسْلاَمِهِمْ وَهَـمُّوْا بِـمَا لَـمْ يَنَالُوْا وَمَا نَقَمُوْا إِلَّآ اَنْ اَغْنَاهُمُ اللّهُ وَرَسُولُهُ مِنْ فَضْلِهِ فَاِن يَّتُوْبُوْا يَكُ خَيْرًا لَّـهُمْ وَاِنْ يَّتَوَلَّوْا يُعَذِّبْهُمُ اللّهُ عَذَابًا أَلِيْمًا فِى الدُّنْيَا وَالْآخِرَةِ وَمَا لَـهُمْ فِى الْأَرْضِ مِنْ وَّلـِيٍّ وَّلَا نَصِيْرٍ

They swear by Allah that they said nothing, but indeed they uttered blasphemy, and they did it after accepting Islam; and they meditated a plot which they were unable to carry out: this revenge of theirs was only return for the bounty with which Allah and His Messenger had enriched them! If they repent, it will be best for them; but if they turn back [to their evil ways], Allah will punish them with a grievous penalty in this life and in the Hereafter. They shall have none on earth to protect or help them. (9:74)


This verse clearly shows that this strictness was only shown to wake the people from the slumber of ignorance. Those failing to do so, even after this, would be punished. I have discussed this matter in detail in my commentary on Surah al-Tawbah.

This strictness was to set the virtuous hearts apart from the evil ones. The objectives of nature are fulfilled through tenderness as well as strictness. The Qur’an has examples for both ways. It has, in its exhortations, presented both demonstrations of this nature to support its theses:


اَنْزَلَ مِنَ السَّمَآءِ مَآءً فَسَالَتْ اَوْدِيَةٌ بِقَدَرِهَا فَاحْتَمَلَ السَّيْلُ زَبَدًا رَّابِيًا وَمِـمَّا يُوْقِدُوْنَ عَلَيْهِ فِى النَّارِ ابْتِغَآءَ حِلْيَةٍ اَوْ مَتَاعٍ زَبَدٌ مِّثْلُهُ كَذَلِكَ يَضْرِبُ اللّهُ الْـحَقَّ وَالْبَاطِلَ فَاَمَّا الزَّبَدُ فَيَذْهَبُ جُفَآءً وَاَمَّا مَا يَنفَعُ النَّاسَ فَيَمْكُثُ فِى الْأَرْضِ كَذَلِكَ يَضْرِبُ اللّهُ الْأَمْثَالَ

 He sends down water from the skies, and the channels flow, each according to its measure: But the torrent bears away to foam that mounts up to the surface. [This function of the natural phenomenon employs tenderness.] Even so, from that ore which they heat in the fire, to make ornaments or utensils therewith, there is a scum likewise. Thus does Allah strike truth and evil [i.e. He makes one strike the other and evil is eventually defeated as has been said in Surah al-Anbiya’: Nay, We hurl the Truth against falsehood, and it knocks out its brain. 21:18. This is then the use of the phenomenon which employs harsh measures]. For the scum disappears like froth cast out; while that which is for the good of mankind remains on the earth. Thus does Allah set forth parables. (13:17)

This strict supervision, if accomplished properly, breaks all chains of personal relationships that hinder progress on the path to the truth. Only when a person leaves aside all his worldly relations for achieving nearness to Allah--is the station of purity and contentment granted to him, as mentioned in the Qur’an in the following words:  وَمُطَهِّرُكَ مِنَ الَّذِيْنَ كَفَرُوْا (And I will clear you of the rejecters. (3:55)


The Four Parables

God has made clear this purity and termination of worldly relations with the help of four parables. In the following discussion, I will try to infer two points these parables lead us to.

First, relation to the pious will not do any good to sinners on the Day of Judgment.

Second, the pious themselves abandon such relations and take refuge in Allah and His Prophet. The Qur’an recounts that the wife of Pharaoh prayed:


رَبِّ ابْنِ لِىْ عِنْدَكَ بَيْتًا فِى الْـجَنَّةِ وَنَجِّنِىْ مِنْ فِرْعَوْنَ وَعَمَلِهِ وَنَجِّنِىْ مِنَ الْقَوْمِ الظَّالِمِيْنَ

O my Lord, build for me, in nearness to You, a mansion in the garden, and save me from Pharaoh and his doings, and save me from the wrongdoers. (66:11)

She renounced her relationship with her nation and her husband and prayed to Allah to build a house for her under His blessings. All the pious should, therefore, renounce their relationship with the evil doers and seek Allah’s protection. This is the real purity one obtains and is the actual difference between the pious and the wicked, as has been clearly told in the Qur’an repeatedly. Abraham (sws), for example, followed the same path and severed his relations with his nation. Allah presented his exemplary attitude as a believer for the Muslims to emulate. It has been discussed in detail in the commentary on Surah al-Mumtahinah.

Third, Allah listens to the prayers of the pious in this world and rids them of the company of the wicked. Thus did He listen to the wife of Pharaoh and saved her from the tyrant. The same is obviously reflected in the stories of Noah (sws), Abraham (sws), Lot (sws), Moses (sws), Jesus Christ (sws) and other Prophets [pbut]. Allah has clearly stated that it is His unchanging rule. The Qur’an has explained this fact more than once. The Almighty says:


الـم. اَحَسِبَ النَّاسُ اَنْ يُّتْرَكُوْا اَنْ يَّقُولُوْا آمَنَّا وَهُمْ لَا يُفْتَنُوْنَ. وَلَقَدْ فَتَنَّا الَّذِينَ مِنْ قَبْلِهِمْ فَلَيَعْلَمَنَّ اللَّهُ الَّذِينَ صَدَقُوْا وَلَيَعْلَمَنَّ الْكَاذِبِيْنَ.

 A.L.M. Do men think that they will be left alone saying, “We believe”, and that they will not be tested? We did test those before them, and Allah will certainly know those who are true from those who are false. (29:1-3)

This verse uses the words: “Allah will know them.” But we know that Allah already knows all hidden and manifest things. Thus, we have to reflect a little deeper upon these words. It means that He will reveal their doings to the Muslims so that the latter may part from such people that are hiding their hypocrisy.

The same fact has been stated even more clearly in the following verse:


مَا كَانَ اللّهُ لِيَذَرَ الْمُؤْمِنِيْنَ عَلَى مَآ اَنْتُمْ عَلَيْهِ حَتَّىَ يَـمِيْزَ الْـخَبِيْثَ مِنَ الطَّيِّبِ وَمَا كَانَ اللّهُ لِيُطْلِعَكُمْ عَلَى الْغَيْبِ وَلَكِنَّ اللّهَ يَـجْتَبِىْ مِنْ رُّسُلِهِ مَنْ يَشَآءُ فَآمِنُواْ بِاللّهِ وَرُسُلِهِ وَاِنْ تُؤْمِنُوْا وَتَتَّقُوْا فَلَكُمْ اَجْرٌ عَظِيْمٌ.

Allah will not leave the believers in the state in which you are in now, until He separates what is evil from what is good, nor will He disclose to you the secrets of the unseen. But He chooses of His Messengers whom He pleases. So believe in Allah and His Apostles. [that is, God does not reveal to you the secrets of the hearts. However, he makes the actions of the hypocrites clear to you as they disobey the Messenger. Therefore, you should do your best to obey the Messenger and corroborate your faith through obedience. Thus you would be distinct and earn the reward of those who follow the Messenger. This has been clearly put in the following words:] And if you believe and do right, you have a reward without measure. (3:179)

The complete discussion on this topic has been afforded in my commentary on Surah al-Hadid, Surah al-Kafirun and other related surahs.

In short, a Prophet (sws) never leaves his nation before making the light of the truth clear and distinguishable from falsehood. He makes the difference between the two palpable. He distinguishes the Muslims from the unbelievers and the hypocrites. In order to make this distinction clear and observable, the Almighty commanded the Prophet (sws) to be strict in this regard so that the light of Allah and His religion was perfected and completed: a distinct group of people was created as could carry the responsibility of practicing, preaching and disseminating the religion. This newly formed group was named “the army of Allah” and the “witness (shuhada’) over the people.” The stringency that is observed in this process of reform, leading into the birth of a new group of believers upholding the religion, is visible in the prophetic mission of Moses (sws), Jesus Christ (sws), and the other Prophets. In the final moments of their preaching among wicked nations and before migration from their people, these Prophets declared stern rejection of evil.

Fourth, when an ummah is chosen to work for the cause of Allah, it has to leave behind everything that can harm its foundations. Allah’s angels also bring succor, sustenance and good tidings from Allah, as is clear in the life of Mary, the daughter of ‘Imran. It has been discussed in detail in the commentary on Surah al-Mujadalah. The Qur’an says:


لَا تَجِدُ قَوْمًا يُّؤْمِنُوْنَ بِاللَّهِ وَالْيَوْمِ الْآخِرِ يُوَادُّوْنَ مَنْ حَآدَّ اللَّهَ وَرَسُوْلَهُ وَلَوْ كَانُوْا آبَاءَهُمْ اَوْ اَبْنَآءَهُمْ اَوْ اِخْوَانَهُمْ اَوْ عَشِيْرَتَهُمْ اُوْلَئِكَ كَتَبَ فِي قُلُوبـِهِمُ الْإِيـْمَانَ وَاَيَّدَهُمْ بِرُوْحٍ مِّنْهُ وَيُدْخِلُهُمْ جَنَّاتٍ تَـجْرِىْ مِنْ تَـحْتِهَا الْأَنْهَارُ خَالِدِيْنَ فِيْهَا رَضِىَ اللَّهُ عَنْهُمْ وَرَضُوْا عَنْهُ اُوْلَئِكَ حِزْبُ اللَّهِ اَلَا اِنَّ حِزْبَ اللَّهِ هُمُ الْمُفْلِحُوْنَ

You will not find any people who believe in Allah and the Last Day, loving those who resist Allah and His Messenger, even though they were their fathers or their sons, or their brothers, or their kindred. For such He has written faith in their hearts, and strengthened them with a spirit from Himself. And He will admit them to gardens beneath which rivers flow, to dwell therein forever. Allah will be well pleased with them, and they with Him. They are the party of Allah. Truly it is the party of Allah that will achieve felicity. (58:22)

In my commentary on this surah I described how the ummah, termed here the party of Allah, enjoys victory. It has also been detailed in several surahs including Surah Al ‘Imran (Q 3), al-Anbiya’ (Q 21), al-Nur (Q 24), al-Saff (Q 61), al-Kafirun (Q 109) and al-Nasr (Q 110). Therefore, all four examples indicate the dominance of the virtuous over the unbelievers.

The examples conclude with an emphasis on submission to Allah and returning to Him. At this very point Qur’anic Surahs treating the divine injunctions conclude, both in terms of order of revelation, the present arrangement of the text in the book, and chronological order of the events of the prophetic mission. Similarly, the Divine scheme regarding the universe too is that all creatures have to return to God. The culmination of all these affairs is marked by a final return to Him who is the Lord and Helper. The details can be found in the commentary on Surah al-Ikhlas. This is a short exposure to the essence of these examples. Now we will explain these examples separately.


The Interrelationship and Mutual Harmony of the Four Examples

The first and the second example deal with the unbelievers. They have been put first because their mention corresponded more to the hypocrites referred to in the verses immediately preceding these examples. Both the examples have a strong interconnection. The next two examples highlight obedience to God and submission to Him. As required by the established Sunnah of God mentioned earlier, the Surah concludes with an emphasis on this relationship. Owing to this reason, these two examples have been discussed at the end.

Apparently these two examples discuss two pious women. But the teachings they contain relate to men as well as women. It necessitated mention of some matters connected with men too. Therefore, the moral teachings visible in these examples are important for both the sexes. For instance, they contain teachings regarding honesty, fulfillment of promises, secrecy, the severing of relationships with strangers, good moral character, affirmation of divine injunctions, the holy books, and finally obedience to Him. All these teachings are meant for both the sexes.

What is the nature of the dishonesty Noah’s wife committed? We do not find the answer to this question in any of the Scriptures or the Qur’an. We learn that Sa‘id b. Jubayr (rta) said: “As for Noah’s wife I do not know anything about her matter.”8 As for the wife of Lot, it is clear from the previous divine books and the holy Qur’an that she turned back to the doomed town disregarding that her action entailed disobedience to God as well as  to her husband. It has been reported that Ibn ‘Abbas said:

The dishonesty both the women showed was that they did not follow the religion of their husbands. The wife of Noah revealed all the secrets of her husband to his enemies. When someone embraced his religion, she would reveal that and it became known to the miscreants in the nation. The evil of Lot’s wife was that when the guests [that is, the angels] came to them, she broke the news to all the wicked people in the town.9

Another narrative ascribed to Ibn ‘Abbas (rta) tells us that the wife of Noah spread the news that he had gone mad.10 In my opinion, all these narratives depict the personal view of Ibn ‘Abbas (rta) based on good inference. He has not ascribed anything to the holy Prophet (sws). However, I too believe that both the women disobeyed their husbands and even disgraced them.

The most important virtue of a woman and that of a slave is that they remain loyal to their masters and continue obeying them. This has been clearly put in Surah al-Ahzab (Q 33). That is why the good qualities of men and women have been described in the same manner.

These examples show that we have to show true obedience, servitude, love, and care to God. We have to offer our wealth as well as our lives for His sake. Love between a wife and a husband is a good example, albeit a weak one. Nevertheless, in it we can see the love that must exist between a man and God. After a description of these good and necessary qualities, we find a mention of the examples depicting qualities that are totally against the ones marking the characters in the earlier two examples. An analysis of the view of Ibn ‘Abbas (rta), about these two women, will be offered in the next section.

The third and fourth examples relate to the believers. The third example describes the importance of reestablishing contact with God. Study the following verse:


إِذْ قَالَتْ رَبِّ ابْنِ لِىْ عِنْدَكَ بَيْتًا فِى الْـجَنَّةِ وَنَـجِّنِىْ مِنْ فِرْعَوْنَ وَعَمَلِهِ وَنَـجِّنِىْ مِنَ الْقَوْمِ الظَّالِمِيْنَ

Behold she said: O my Lord, build for me, in nearness to You (‘inda ka), a mansion in the garden, and save me from Pharaoh and his doings, and save me from those that do wrong. (66:11)

If you look at the words ‘inda ka, you can see a reflection of solace of heart sought implicitly in this phrase that cannot be described in words.

The fourth example, as described above, is a picture of the completion and perfection of blessings. Mary is the example for the believers regarding the completion of God’s blessing, help, and victory, especially for the Helpers. The Prophet (sws) in fact represents the word of Allah. Indeed all pure souls are the word of God. This will be detailed in my commentary on the verse 35:10 which says:


اِلَيْهِ یَصْعَدُ الْکَلِمُ الطَّیِّبُ.

To Him mount up all words of purity.

We know that the Prophet Jesus (sws) is known for his title “word (kalimah) of God.” But we know that Prophet (sws) contains all the attributes of the earlier Prophets (sws). We find that in the scriptures the apostle John (sws) referred to the Prophet Muhammad (sws) by the appellation amin (trustworthy) and also “the word (kalimah) of Allah.” I will discuss this issue in detail in the seventh section of the commentary on Surah al-Fil.


The Relationship of these Examples with the Earlier Story and the Occasion of Revelation of the Surah

So far we have discussed how the above mentioned historical events relate to the life and attitude of general believers.  Now I wish to explain its relationship to the story related in the beginning of the surah. This surah obviously stresses practicing strict self accountability. We must also watch over those under our care. Therefore, the surah starts with an apparently ordinary incident. What the Prophet (sws) did might seem to be a praiseworthy act at first sight. However, the surah teaches us not to take line of action. It reveals that Divine wisdom does not condone even apparently ordinary misdemeanors and common mistakes. Such small errors can lead to big trials. We know that sin leaves a small mark on the pure sheets of the believing heart. If the believer does not remove it and continues committing small errors, the small spot will continue to grow and will be nourished to dominate all the purity in the heart. It will blacken everything.

This surah teaches spiritual and moral purity and cleanliness. Allah has told us that to prepare ourselves for the Divine cause we should sever our relationships with those of the relatives who are evil. We should carefully guard our purity. Our relations with the world and people in the world present a great trial. This trial distinguishes the pure from the impure. We have discussed this issue in Surah al-Mumtahinah.

We further come to know that it is not proper to reveal a secret to a person who is not expected to hold it for that too amounts to dishonesty. Keeping secrets is foundational to reformation of a society. If we are not able to guard secrets, it means the foundations of reform and betterment have lapsed.

At this place, I wish to stress that mutual trust and faithfulness are necessary for a bond between the ruler and the ruled, just as it is necessary for a sound relationship between husband and wife. A leader is obliged to let his subordinates take part in the decision making process and seek their counsel. Allah commanded the Prophet (sws) to consult his Companions and let them take part in affairs of the government. Therefore, the holy Prophet (sws) had with him a party of Companions who were privy to his strategies and plans. People of the stature of Abu Bakr (rta) and ‘Umar (rta) formed part of this circle. Not only some major Companions, but also some common Muslims had information which could not be revealed to the unbelievers. Nobody can deny the fact that participation in meetings and consultation create and nourish real trust and true love for the members of an association.

We can have a fair idea of the importance of this mutual trust and guarding of secrets from an example. Many religious sects have developed out of this mutual trust and sharing of secrets. Free Masons, for example, live and work only for the preservation of the secrets they received from their predecessors. Those who are not able to keep these secrets are not admitted into the group. The Prophet (sws) of Islam too stressed the importance of keeping secrets and guarding trusts. He is reported to have said: “He whose opinion is sought [on regarding an issue] is handed over a trust [which he must faithfully guard].”11 The holy Qur’an commands the believers to bring important matters to the notice of the authorities alone. The Almighty says: 


وَاِذَا جَآءَهُمْ اَمْرٌ مِّنَ الْأَمْنِ اَوِ الْـخَوْفِ اَذَاعُوْا بِهِ وَلَوْ رَدُّوْهُ اِلَى الرَّسُوْلِ وَإِلَى اُوْلِي الْأَمْرِ مِنْهُمْ لَعَلِمَهُ الَّذِيْنَ يَسْتَنْبِطُونَهُ مِنْهُمْ

When there comes to them some matter touching safety or fear, they divulge it. If they had only referred it to the Messenger, or to those charged with authority among them, the proper investigators would have tested it from them. (4:83)


Keeping the above in perspective, we can say that keeping secrets is an important virtue in a nation. Whenever this ideal was breached on a small scale in the first Muslim community, the Almighty employed this opportunity to discuss the affair, and clarified the importance of the ideal for all the human beings.

The surah starts with two different stories. In the first one, the Almighty commands the Prophet (sws) to break an oath that he had sworn mistaking it for a virtuous deed. The second story contains a warning on the leaking of a secret that was revealed due to excessive trust. The surah then teaches that the consequence of leaking secrets in even such small matters ends in eternal failure, as is proved from the examples of the wives of Noah (sws) and Lot (sws). Both these women did not guard the secrets of their husbands and as a result they suffered Divine wrath.

In short, the above two examples carry a rebuke and a warning, in which the whole ummah in general and the wives of the Prophet (sws) in particular, are commanded to show obedience to him. It is stated that if they follow this ideal they will be granted the company of the Prophet (sws) in this world and also in the one to come. They are to strive hard to merit his company and avoid breaching trusts so that they are not deprived of Divine blessing.

The remaining two stories present examples of perfect obedience and the truest repentance. They reveal how dear perfect obedience is  to God. These examples help us understand that the believers need to develop a deep relationship with the Prophet (sws). This attaches great reward. Being in his company, they will be able to enjoy the blessings granted to the Prophet (sws) on the Last Day. The details of these blessings have been provided earlier in the commentary on Surah al-Hadid. This indeed reveals the essence of the purification that they were promised. It was promised that through the advent of the holy Prophet (sws) they would be purified. God says:

To purify them, and to instruct them in the Book and Wisdom. (Q 62:02)

This is the fact that makes the religion and shari‘ah perfect and complete.


(Translated by Tariq Mahmood Hashmi)






1.This wording of the hadith has been reported in al-Jazri, Ibn al-Athir, al-Nihayah fi gharib al-athar wa al-hadith, vol. 3, (Beirut: al-Maktabah al-‘Ilmiyyah, 1979), 33. The versions recorded by Imam Malik, Abu Dawud, al-Tirmidhi, al-Nisa’i and Ibn Majah is: fa asgha la ha al-ina’a.

2. Lisan al-‘Arab, S-GH-W.

3. Dhu al-Rummah, Diwan, vol. 1 (Damascus: Majma‘ al-Lughah al-‘Arabiyyah, 1972-4), 136.

4. Lisan al-‘Arab, S-GH-W.

5. Ibid.

6. Muhammad b. Muhammad b. Mustafa al-‘Imadi, Abu Sa‘ud, Irshad al-Aql al-Salim ila mazaya al-Kitab al-Karim, vol. 8 (Beirut: Dar Ihya al-Turath al-Arabi: nd), 267.

7. The source of this verse could not be traced.

8. Ibn Jarir al-Tabari, Jami‘ al-Bayan, 1st ed., vol. 23 (Damascus: Mu’assasah al-Risalah, 2000), 498.

9. Ibid.

10. Ibid. 497.

11. Abu Da’ud, Sunan, No: 5128.


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