Teensie-Weensie Tafsir Gems: The Correct Way to talk about the Creator

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

Assalamu Alaikum.

In the last three posts, I mentioned tafsir gems from Surah Ash-Shuara. In this post, I will be mentioning even more tafsir gems from Surah Ash-Shuara.

Today’s focus is on the story of Ibrahim (alaihissalaam). It starts with him asking his father and his people what they worshipped. They then inform him about their idols. He asks them why they worship these idols which cannot hear or bring any benefit or harm.

Their reply was as follows:

قَالُوا بَلْ وَجَدْنَا آبَاءَنَا كَذَٰلِكَ يَفْعَلُونَ

They said: “Nay, but we found our fathers doing so.” [Surah Ash-Shuara (26) : 74]

The sad part about this reply is that many Muslims talk like this today. When asked why they do certain things, instead of pointing to evidence from the Quran and Sunnah or at least mentioning the fatwas (rulings) of actual scholars, they would say “Our family does it this way.”

Anyhow, the story continues with Ibrahim (alaihissalaam) admonishing his people. The interesting part is what he does NOT say.

As I mentioned in the previous Tafsir Gems installments, the story of Ibrahim (alaihisalaam) is preceded by the story of Musa (alaihisalaam). It is followed by the stories of five more Prophets: Nuh, Hud, Salih, Lut and Shuaib (alaihimissalaam).

In this surah, the latter five Prophets say the following to their people:

وَمَا أَسْأَلُكُمْ عَلَيْهِ مِنْ أَجْرٍ ۖ إِنْ أَجْرِيَ إِلَّا عَلَىٰ رَبِّ الْعَالَمِينَ

“No reward do I ask of you for it (my Message of Islamic Monotheism), my reward is only from the Lord of the Alameen (mankind, jinns and all that exists). [Surah Ash-Shuara (26) : 109]

Musa and Ibrahim (alaihimassalaam) don’t say this. Why not? Well, as Shaikh Yasir Al-Bayoomee points out, in his book Al-Mushaf Al-Mufassar, it’s because of who they were addressing.

Ibrahim (alaihissalaam) was addressing his father as well as the rest of the people:

وَاتْلُ عَلَيْهِمْ نَبَأَ إِبْرَاهِيمَ

إِذْ قَالَ لِأَبِيهِ وَقَوْمِهِ مَا تَعْبُدُونَ

And recite to them the story of Ibrahim. When he said to his father and his people: “What do you worship?” [Surah As-Shuara (26) : 69-70]

Musa (alaihissalaam) was addressing Pharoah, who was the one who raised him (he was his adoptive father) as he made sure to point out:

قَالَ أَلَمْ نُرَبِّكَ فِينَا وَلِيدًا وَلَبِثْتَ فِينَا مِنْ عُمُرِكَ سِنِينَ

He [Firaun (Pharaoh)] said [to Musa]: “Did we not bring you up among us as a child? And you did dwell many years of your life with us? [Surah Ash-Shuara (26) : 18]

So, they were both shy to say what the other Prophets said – because they were addressing the men who had raised them (and spent on them, obviously).

Interestingly enough, the other five Prophets also said the following to their people, which neither Musa or Ibrahim (alaihimissalaam) said:

 فَاتَّقُوا اللَّـهَ وَأَطِيعُونِ

“So fear Allah, keep your duty to Him, and obey me. [Ash-Shuara (26) : 108]

Is it also because they were addressing the men who raised them? I haven’t yet found the answer to that but it seems quite plausible, as it would seem a bit rude to ask those who raised you to “obey” you. And Allah knows Better.

After admonishing his people, Ibrahim (alaihissalaam) said the following:

قَالَ أَفَرَأَيْتُم مَّا كُنتُمْ تَعْبُدُونَ

أَنتُمْ وَآبَاؤُكُمُ الْأَقْدَمُونَ

فَإِنَّهُمْ عَدُوٌّ لِّي إِلَّا رَبَّ الْعَالَمِينَ

الَّذِي خَلَقَنِي فَهُوَ يَهْدِينِ

وَالَّذِي هُوَ يُطْعِمُنِي وَيَسْقِينِ

وَإِذَا مَرِضْتُ فَهُوَ يَشْفِينِ

وَالَّذِي يُمِيتُنِي ثُمَّ يُحْيِينِ

He said: “Do you observe that which you have been worshipping, You and your ancient fathers? Verily! They are enemies to me, save the Lord of the Alameen (mankind, jinns and all that exists); Who has created me, and it is He Who guides me; And it is He Who feeds me and gives me to drink. And when I am ill, it is He who cures me; And Who will cause me to die, and then will bring me to life (again). [Surah As-Shuara (26) : 75-81]

There is something mentioned in the Arabic text that is not reflected in the English translation – the use of the pronoun “huwa” (he) before certain acts but not others. I’ve highlighted the words above in red.

The “he” pronoun comes before the following acts: guiding, giving food and drink (because the pronoun extends to the latter as well) and curing.

The pronoun is not mentioned before the following acts: creating, causing death and giving life.

Did you notice something? The acts which do not have the “he” pronoun are those acts which are exclusive to Allah i.e. nobody else can do them.

However, the acts which are preceded by the “he” pronoun can be done by others to some degree. For example, a preacher can guide a person (in terms of teaching them the right way), a person can give food and drink to others and a doctor can cure his patients.

The reason for the “he” pronoun is to show emphasis and to single out Allah for these acts because ultimately He is the One who guides, feeds and cures, so Ibrahim (alaihissalaam) used the “huwa” (he) pronoun to ascribe these acts to Allah. [And just to point out: he mentions guidance before food and drink. Something to ponder over.]

I first came across the above point in this post by Sister Farhia (of Fajr Literary), may Allah reward her. I rechecked this in Shaikh Al-Bayoomee’s book and found out that he wrote the same thing.

There’s another point of benefit in the above words of Ibrahim (alaihissalaam). When he talked about falling ill, he didn’t say that Allah made him ill, rather he used the passive voice i.e. “When I fall ill”.

Now, a person cannot fall ill except with the permission of Allah but it is not from the correct etiquette to ascribe an negative act to the Creator.

Imam Ibn Kathir (rahimahullah) states in his explanation of Ayah Nos. 78-81:

“Ibrahim said, “I will not worship any but the One Who does these things:

﴿الَّذِى خَلَقَنِى فَهُوَ يَهْدِينِ ﴾

(Who has created me, and it is He Who guides me.) He is the Creator Who has decreed certain things to which He guides His creation, so each person follows the path which is decreed for him. Allah is the One Who guides whomsoever He wills and leaves astray whomsoever He wills.

﴿وَالَّذِى هُوَ يُطْعِمُنِى وَيَسْقِينِ ﴾

(And it is He Who feeds me and gives me to drink.) He is my Creator Who provides for me from that which He has made available in the heavens and on earth. He drives the clouds and causes water to fall with which He revives the earth and brings forth its fruits as provision for mankind. He sends down the water fresh and sweet so that many of those whom He has created, animals and men alike, may drink from it.

﴿وَإِذَا مَرِضْتُ فَهُوَ يَشْفِينِ ﴾

(And when I am ill, it is He Who cures me.) Here he attributed sickness to himself, even though it is Allah Who decrees it, out of respect towards Allah. By the same token, Allah commands us to say in the prayer,

﴿اهْدِنَا الصِّرَاطَ الْمُسْتَقِيمَ ﴾

(Guide us to the straight way) (1:6) to the end of the Surah. Grace and guidance are attributed to Allah, may He be exalted, but the subject of the verb with reference to anger is omitted, and going astray is attributed to the people. This is like when the Jinn said:

﴿وَأَنَّا لاَ نَدْرِى أَشَرٌّ أُرِيدَ بِمَن فِى الاٌّرْضِ أَمْ أَرَادَ بِهِمْ رَبُّهُمْ رَشَداً ﴾

(And we know not whether evil is intended for those on earth, or whether their Lord intends for them a right path) (72:10) Similarly, Ibrahim said:

﴿وَإِذَا مَرِضْتُ فَهُوَ يَشْفِينِ ﴾

(And when I am ill, it is He Who cures me.) meaning, `when I fall sick, no one is able to heal me but Him, Who heals me with the means that may lead to recovery’.

﴿وَالَّذِى يُمِيتُنِى ثُمَّ يُحْيِينِ ﴾

(And Who will cause me to die, and then will bring me to life.) He is the One Who gives life and causes death, and no one besides Him is able to do that, for He is the One Who originates and repeats.”

So, this is the correct way of talking about the Creator. All good is ascribed to Him, and any evil is not.

Apart from the examples mentioned above by Ibn Kathir, the following two ayahs (verses) are also good examples:

يُرِيدُ اللَّـهُ أَن يُخَفِّفَ عَنكُمْ ۚ وَخُلِقَ الْإِنسَانُ ضَعِيفًا

Allah wishes to lighten (the burden) for you; and man was created weak. [Surah An-Nisaa (4) : 28]

خُلِقَ الْإِنسَانُ مِنْ عَجَلٍ ۚ سَأُرِيكُمْ آيَاتِي فَلَا تَسْتَعْجِلُونِ

Man is created of haste, I will show you My Ayaat (torments, proofs, evidences, verses, lessons, signs, revelations, etc.). So ask Me not to hasten (them). [Surah Al-Anbiya (21) : 37]

In the first verse, Allah is mentioned as the doer of the action of lightening the burden (i.e. the active voice is used) but then after that, the creation of man is mentioned in the passive voice, because something negative has been mentioned (i.e. the weakness of man).

In the second verse, the creation of man has again been mentioned in a passive voice, due to something negative being mentioned (i.e. the hastiness of man). Right after that, Allah states that He will show them His signs i.e. the active voice is used.

The following dua (supplication) of the Prophet (sallallahu alaihi wasallam) explicitly states that all good is in Allah’s Hands and that evil is not ascribed to Him:

عَنْ عَلِيٍّ، رضى الله عنه أَنَّ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم كَانَ إِذَا اسْتَفْتَحَ الصَّلاَةَ كَبَّرَ ثُمَّ قَالَ ‏ “‏ وَجَّهْتُ وَجْهِيَ لِلَّذِي فَطَرَ السَّمَوَاتِ وَالأَرْضَ حَنِيفًا وَمَا أَنَا مِنَ الْمُشْرِكِينَ إِنَّ صَلاَتِي وَنُسُكِي وَمَحْيَاىَ وَمَمَاتِي لِلَّهِ رَبِّ الْعَالَمِينَ لاَ شَرِيكَ لَهُ وَبِذَلِكَ أُمِرْتُ وَأَنَا مِنَ الْمُسْلِمِينَ اللَّهُمَّ أَنْتَ الْمَلِكُ لاَ إِلَهَ إِلاَّ أَنْتَ أَنَا عَبْدُكَ ظَلَمْتُ نَفْسِي وَاعْتَرَفْتُ بِذَنْبِي فَاغْفِرْ لِي ذُنُوبِي جَمِيعًا لاَ يَغْفِرُ الذُّنُوبَ إِلاَّ أَنْتَ وَاهْدِنِي لأَحْسَنِ الأَخْلاَقِ لاَ يَهْدِي لأَحْسَنِهَا إِلاَّ أَنْتَ وَاصْرِفْ عَنِّي سَيِّئَهَا لاَ يَصْرِفُ عَنِّي سَيِّئَهَا إِلاَّ أَنْتَ لَبَّيْكَ وَسَعْدَيْكَ وَالْخَيْرُ كُلُّهُ فِي يَدَيْكَ وَالشَّرُّ لَيْسَ إِلَيْكَ أَنَا بِكَ وَإِلَيْكَ تَبَارَكْتَ وَتَعَالَيْتَ أَسْتَغْفِرُكَ وَأَتُوبُ إِلَيْكَ ‏”

It was narrated from Ali (radiallahu anhu) that when the Messenger of Allah (sallallahu alaihi wasallam) started to pray, he would say Takbir (i.e. Allahu Akbar), then say: “Wajahtu wajhi lilladhi fataras-samawatiwal-arda hanifan wa ma ana minal-mushrikin. Inna salati wa nusuki wa mahyaya wa mamati lillahi rabbil-alamin, la sharika lahu, wa bidhalika umirtu wa ana min al-muslimin. Allahumma! Antal-maliku la ilaha illa ant, ana abduka zalamtu nafsi wa’taraftu bidhanbi faghfirli dhunubi jami’an, la yaghfirudhunuba illa anta, wahdini lihasanil-ahklaqi, la yahdi li ahsaniha illa anta wasrif anni sayy’aha la yasrifu anni sayy’aha illa anta, labaika wa sa’daika, wal-khairu kulluhu fi yadaika wash-sharru laisa ilaika ana bika wa ilaika ana bika wa ilaika tabarkta wa ta’alaita astaghfiruka wa atubu ilaik. (Verily, I have turned my face toward Him who created the Heavens and the Earth hanifa (worhsipping none but Allah Alone), and I am not of the idolaters. Verily, my salah, my sacrifice, my living, and my dying are for Allah, the Lord of the all that exists. He has no partner. And of this I have been commanded, and I am one of the Muslims. O Allah, You are the Sovereign and there is none worthy of worship but You. I am Your slave, I have wronged myself and I acknowledge my sin. Forgive me all my sins for no one forgives sins but You. Guide me to the best of manners for none can guide to the best of them but You. Protect me from bad manners for none can protect against them but You. I am at Your service, all goodness is in Your hands, and evil is not attributed to You. I rely on You and turn to You, blessed and exalted are You, I seek Your forgiveness and repent to You.” [Sunan An-Nasai, Hadeeth No. 898. Graded “sahih” (authentic) by Shaikh Al-Albani (rahimahullah).]

Unfortunately, many people do the opposite of what they are supposed to do. When they are ill, for example, they blame Allah for it and when they are cured, they praise their doctor or their medicines, subhan Allah!

We should never blame Allah for anything nor talk about Him in a negative light because then we will be imitating Iblees (the devil) who blamed Allah for his own misguidance.

قَالَ فَبِمَا أَغْوَيْتَنِي لَأَقْعُدَنَّ لَهُمْ صِرَاطَكَ الْمُسْتَقِيمَ

He [Iblees] said: “Because You have sent me astray, surely I will sit in wait against them (human beings) on Your Straight Path. [Surah Al-Araaf (7) : 16]

Contrast this with the behaviour of Adam (alaihissalaam) and Hawwa (radiallahu anha) after they had disobeyed Allah by eating from the forbidden tree. They did not blame Allah, rather they blamed themselves.

قَالَا رَبَّنَا ظَلَمْنَا أَنفُسَنَا وَإِن لَّمْ تَغْفِرْ لَنَا وَتَرْحَمْنَا لَنَكُونَنَّ مِنَ الْخَاسِرِينَ

They said: “Our Lord! We have wronged ourselves. If You forgive us not, and bestow not upon us Your Mercy, we shall certainly be of the losers.” [Surah Al-Araaf (7) : 23]

So, this is one of the main lessons that we can learn from the story of Ibrahim (alaihissalaam) in this surah – the etiquette of how to talk about Allah. And it’s very important for every Muslim to make sure their tongue does not utter any negative thing about the Lord of the Worlds.

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