Gleanings from Tadabbur-i Qur’an

Gleanings from Tadabbur-i Qur’an

Qur'anic Exegesis

(Last Verse of Surah Fath)


مُّحَمَّدٌ رَّسُولُ اللهِ وَالَّذِينَ مَعَهُ أَشِدَّاء عَلَى الْكُفَّارِ رُحَمَاء بَيْنَهُمْ تَرَاهُمْ رُكَّعًا سُجَّدًا يَبْتَغُونَ فَضْلًا مِّنَ اللهِ وَرِضْوَانًا سِيمَاهُمْ فِي وُجُوهِهِم مِّنْ أَثَرِ السُّجُودِ ذَلِكَ مَثَلُهُمْ فِي التَّوْرَاةِ وَمَثَلُهُمْ فِي الْإِنجِيلِ كَزَرْعٍ أَخْرَجَ شَطْأَهُ فَآزَرَهُ فَاسْتَغْلَظَ فَاسْتَوَى عَلَى سُوقِهِ يُعْجِبُ الزُّرَّاعَ لِيَغِيظَ بِهِمُ الْكُفَّارَ وَعَدَ اللهُ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَعَمِلُوا الصَّالِحَاتِ مِنْهُم مَّغْفِرَةً وَأَجْرًا عَظِيمًا (29)


Muhammad is God's Messenger and those who are with him are stern to the disbelievers but merciful to one another. You will find them ardently kneeling and prostrating to seek God's grace and pleasure. They can be distinguished by marks of prostration on their faces. Thus is their example in the Torah and in the Gospel their example is like a sown land which puts forth its shoot and supports it; then it became strong and firm upon its stalk, delighting the farmers so that it enrages the disbelievers through it. God has promised those from these people who embraced faith and did good deeds forgiveness and a rich reward


Here, at the end, there is a reference to the attributes of the Prophet (sws) and of His Companions (rta) as well as to the gradual dominance of Islam as mentioned in the Torah and the Gospel.

The purpose of citing this reference is to show to the Muslims how they are portrayed in the previous scriptures. In this manner, they are conveyed glad tidings and also become aware of the qualities God wants to see in them and which are the ones which will introduce them among others.

The second purpose for this citation is to warn the People of the Book that they must not deliberately sound as if they know nothing and also not intentionally conceal the truth. The Almighty had informed them earlier about these details so that when the time came they would bear witness to them; however, it was their misfortune that instead of bearing witness to them, they showed animosity and opposition.

The third purpose of this citation is to make evident to the Muslims that the Almighty will grant them dominance in Arabia but this would take place gradually; neither should they become impatient nor lose hope. They should patiently and diligently nurture the seed they have sown. The time will come when the Almighty will make it into such a strong and expansive tree that the whole world will seek refuge in its shade.

The expression مُّحَمَّدٌ رَّسُولُ اللهِ has generally been translated such that مُّحَمَّدٌ is regarded to be mubtada' (inchoative) and رَّسُولُ اللهِ to be the khabr (enunciative); however, in my opinion, رَّسُولُ اللهِ is an attribute and 'atf al-bayan. The predicate is stated ahead as: أَشِدَّاء عَلَى الْكُفَّارِ رُحَمَاء بَيْنَهُمْ.This is an allusion to a parable mentioned in the Torah in which the whole community of the Muslims is portrayed such that Muhammad (sws) is their chief and leader. If رَّسُولُ اللهَ is regarded to be the predicate thereby regarding مُّحَمَّدٌ رَّسُولُ اللهِ بَيْنَهُمْ as a complete sentence so that a new sentence begins with وَالَّذِينَ مَعَه, this eloquence of the discourse will be lost. The real majesty of this whole group will become evident only when Muhammad is presented as its ultimate exemplar, as indeed he was.

The words وَالَّذِينَ مَعَهُ أَشِدَّاء عَلَى الْكُفَّارِ رُحَمَاء بَيْنَهُمْ express a distinctive feature of the Prophet (sws) and his Companions (rta): they are stern and rock-hard to the disbelievers but as soft as silk to one another. In other words, all their honour and support is faith-specific. If people who do not share their religion try to use them for their interest, they will not even be able to insert a finger between the edifice which constitutes the believers. On the other hand, they are very merciful and affectionate to the faithful. This subject is discussed in the same context in verse 54 of Surah Ma'idah thus:أَذِلَّةٍ عَلَى الْمُؤْمِنِينَ أَعِزَّةٍ عَلَى الْكَافِرِينَ (54:5) (who are soft towards the believers and stern towards the unbelievers, (5:54)). Since both discuss the same topic, I am reproducing below what I had written so that the real meaning of this part of the verse becomes evident in the light of the parallel verse:

The word أَذِلَّةٌ is the plural of ذَلِيْلٌ. In Arabic, this world connotes both a positive and a negative meaning, as I have explained while writing the tafsir of verse 123 of Surah Al 'Imran. When it connotes its positive meaning, as is the case here, it means soft-spoken, gentle, obedient, humble and docile. The word ذَلُوْلٌ also occurs in this meaning. An obedient camel is called ناقة ذلول.

The word أَعِزَّةٌ is the plural of عَزِيْزٌ. It is used in contrast with أَذِلَّةٌ. It means something hard, difficult, burdensome, difficult to surmount and non-docile. If it is said: هُوَ عَزِيْزٌ علَيَّ it would mean: "that thing is very burdensome for me; to control it is very difficult for me."[1]

In this regard, I had explained the meaning of شَدِيدٌ عَلَيَّ in the following words:

Same is the meaning of شَدِيدٌ عَلَيَّ. A beautiful couplet of a Hamasi poet reads:[2]

إذا المرء أعيته المروءة ناشئا

فمطلبها كهلا عليه شديد

Idha al-mar'u a'yathu al-maru'ah nashi'an

Fa matlabuha kahlan 'alayhi shadid

(If a person is unable to create resolve in himself in his blooming youthful age, then acquiring it in old age is very difficult.)

In other words, the believers are very gentle, soft, harmless, flexible and adjustable for the Muslims but they are rock hard for the disbelievers. If they try to use them for their interests, they will not be able to mould them in any way … Jesus (sws) had directed his disciples to be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves (Matthew, 10:16), and in this verse too both these aspects are kept in consideration.[3]

It also needs to be kept in mind that this verse of Surah Ma'idah occurs in precisely the same context as the under discussion verse of Surah Fath. I have explained there that the hypocrites are warned that their character is totally opposite to what an Islamic character should be. They should have been very submissive to the believers and very tough on the disbelievers; however, they have made themselves toys in the hands of the disbelievers but are very clever in deceiving the Muslims. In this surah too, it may be remembered, the character of the hypocrites has been mentioned in detail in verses 6-18. Here, at the end, this collective conduct of the Muslims is highlighted so that the hypocrites may see what their real character should be like and what they, on the contrary, are displaying: they want misfortunes to descend on the Prophet (sws) and his Companions (rta) and keep going to the disbelievers to assure them that if they fear any danger from the Muslims, they will always support them.

By not understanding the meaning of أَشِدَّاء عَلَى الْكُفَّارِ, some people were led to wrongly believe that Islam wants Muslims to be harsh and disgustful with non-Muslims in everyday life; however, neither can this attitude be derived from the Qur'an nor can one find corroboration for it from the practice of the Prophet (sws) and his Companions (rta). I hope that my explanation of the verse in the light of parallels will suffice to dispel this misconception.

The words تَرَاهُمْ رُكَّعًا سُجَّدًا يَبْتَغُونَ فَضْلًا مِّنَ اللهِ وَرِضْوَانًا portray their attachment with God and their fondness for waking up at night and praying to Him at the time of tahajjud. In other words, whoever sees them will gather on first sight that these people are totally different from the common people they come across in this world. They are a group of noble and pure souls whose real objective in life is to please God. Thus they will either be seen kneeling or prostrating. In the previous part of the verse, the aspect of their character related to their fellow brethren was highlighted; in this part of the verse, the aspect of their character highlighted is the one which relates to their Creator. In other words, their relationship with their fellow human beings exists on the right footing for they are very gentle with the righteous and very non-compromising for the wrongdoers, and their relationship with their Creator is also very strong and set on the right footing for they are never unaware of Him. And in the sight of God, the most likeable life is the one which relates to both God and His creation on the right bases; if there is any flaw in this regard, the whole life of a person turns haywire.

The words سِيمَاهُمْ فِي وُجُوهِهِم مِّنْ أَثَرِ السُّجُودِ point to their special distinctive feature: evident on their faces are the marks of prostration. It is apparent from these words that the marks referred to here are the ones which appear on the forehead because of frequent prostration. It is also evident from these words that these marks are very dear to God – so much so that He wants that in this world this ummah be distinguished from others by these marks. All these deductions are evident from the words of the Qur'an; therefore, I do not regard the view of those people who have tried to metaphorically interpret the word of this part to be correct. I do not deny the fact that some people try to create these marks on their foreheads to show off; however, just because there are some people who are show-offs, one cannot belittle the status of this great distinctive feature of the believers. Just as there is a possibility to be ostentatious in this regard, this possibility exists in every big and small practice of religion.

It is evident from some narratives that 'Umar (rta) cautioned some people because they had tried to make these marks apparent on their foreheads. He was a person who was well aware of the circumstances of people. If he warned or rebuked someone on this, then this was his right as a teacher and a mentor of people and this has a specific context. This does not belittle the mark of distinction of this ummah mentioned in this verse.

The words ذَلِكَ مَثَلُهُمْ فِي التَّوْرَاةِ say that this parable of the Prophet (sws) and his Companions (rta) has been mentioned in the Torah. This is a reference to the predictions about the Prophet (sws) and his Companions (rta) found in the Torah, the Psalms and in the scriptures of the Prophet Isaiah (sws) even though the Jews had altered and completely distorted them, and the process of distortion is still continuing. They try to interpolate all parts of their scriptures which they think can be used by the Muslims in their favour. However, even today, there are passages found in the Torah and the Gospel which can only refer to the Prophet Muhammad (sws). For example:

The LORD came from Mount Sinai and dawned upon them from Mount Seir; he shone forth from Mount Paran and came with ten thousand holy ones and there was a fiery shari'ah for them in his right hand. (Deuteronomy, 33:2)

Obviously, no one except Muhammad (sws) can be alluded to by this prediction. It mentions the mount Paran and also ten thousand holy ones in explicit words. Here it should be kept in consideration that this prediction cited by the Qur'an is with reference to the dominance of the Muslims, and it is an established fact that at the time of the conquest of Makkah, the Prophet (sws) had ten thousand Companions (rta) by his side.

It is only in the knowledge of God, the knower of the unknown, how many distortions have taken place in this prediction; however, a recent example of this distortion is that in some versions the words ten thousand have been replaced by ten lacs, the only objective of this being that Muslims may not be able to apply it to the conquest of Makkah. However, if this prediction is deeply deliberated upon, one will find in it a reference of all those things to which the Qur'an has alluded .

The holy ones mentioned can only refer to people who are of noble character, pious, compassionate and diligent in worship. For this, the words used in the Qur'an are: تَرَاهُمْ رُكَّعًا سُجَّدًا يَبْتَغُونَ فَضْلًا مِّنَ اللهِ وَرِضْوَانًا سِيمَاهُمْ فِي وُجُوهِهِم مِّنْ أَثَرِ السُّجُودِ. Now, two things can be possibly construed by mentioning the holy ones of the Torah by their traits. The first possibility is that the Qur'an has made them fully distinct so that the People of the Book may recognize that the holy ones mentioned in their scriptures are the Companions of the Prophet (sws) and who by soon appearing in the number ten thousand will prove correct this prediction. The second possibility is that all these traits were also mentioned in the Torah but just as the Jews tried to conceal other predictions made in favour of the Prophet (sws), here too they obliterated the traits and left the words "holy ones" so that they are able to interpret it as per their own wishes. Both these possibilities exist; however, no judge can deny the fact that if this prediction of the Torah refers to anyone, it can only be Muhammad (sws).

The second thing mentioned in this prediction of the Torah is "his right hand will have a fiery shari'ah for them." In my opinion, this is actually a mention of what the Qur'anic words say: أَشِدَّاء عَلَى الْكُفَّارِ. This has been explained in the following words by Jesus (sws): "His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire." (Matthew, 3:12).

At another place, Jesus (sws) is reported to have said:

The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone … Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. Anyone who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed. (Matthew, 21:42-44)

In the prediction of the Torah cited earlier from Deuteronomy, these words also occur:

Surely it is you who love the people; all the holy ones are in your hand. At your feet they all bow down, and from you receive instruction. (Deuteronomy, 33:3)

If the underlined words are reflected upon, one can see that the translation has rendered them ambiguous; however, what is said is no different to what is mentioned by the Qur'an in the words: تَرَاهُمْ رُكَّعًا سُجَّدًا يَبْتَغُونَ فَضْلًا مِّنَ اللهِ وَرِضْوَانًا.

After the parable of the Torah, the words: وَمَثَلُهُمْ فِي الْإِنجِيلِ كَزَرْعٍ أَخْرَجَ شَطْأَهُ فَآزَرَهُ فَاسْتَغْلَظَ فَاسْتَوَى عَلَى سُوقِهِ يُعْجِبُ الزُّرَّاعَ لِيَغِيظَ بِهِمُ الْكُفَّارَ refer to the parable mentioned in the Gospel. In the parable of the Torah, the devoutness in worship of the believers, their supremacy and their compassion and justice with other nations are portrayed. In the parable of the Gospel, their gradual rise is depicted: though they will have a very frail beginning, yet one day they will become such a strong and expansive tree that many great nations will seek refuge in its shade.

In the Gospel of Matthew, this parable is mentioned thus:

He told them another parable: The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches. (Matthew, 13:31-32)

With slight variation, this parable also occurs in chapter 4 of the Gospel of Mark and chapter 8 of the Gospel of Luke. The Qur'an has explained this parable by saying that Islam will pass through the same stages regarding its gradual rise to dominance as the stages of a sown crop. The seeds which are cultivated in a land initially put forth thin shoots; then these shoots receive support as a result of which these shoots become strong and sturdy and the plants stand on their stems. Similarly, a day will come when the seed of truth sown in Arabia will bear fruit and reach full bloom. The planter of this seed will be overjoyed to see it; however, this will cause heartburn and anger in those who tried to stop its development.

The particle لِin لِيَغِيظَ بِهِمُ الْكُفَّارَ is to express the consequence and the word الْكُفَّارَ is highlighting the real meaning of the parable. Since believers are implied in the parable, here at the end by saying that their rise and ascent will be a cause of yearning and envy for the disbelievers, it is as if the entity for which the parable was stated has been referred to. It is very common in the Arabic language that at the end of a parable or a metaphor a word is used which points to the entity for which a parable or a metaphor is mentioned so that the real purport becomes evident. In the parable of the light mentioned in Surah Nur, a clear example of this is present.

The words وَعَدَ اللهُ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَعَمِلُوا الصَّالِحَاتِ مِنْهُم مَّغْفِرَةً وَأَجْرًا عَظِيمًا at the end bring glad tidings of the promise of divine help and support for whose substantiation the predictions of the Torah and the Gospel were mentioned: people who became exponents of the qualities stated and also remained firm in faith and deeds will be granted forgiveness and great reward by the Almighty. As for those, who lay claim to faith but their sympathies are more with the enemies of Islam than God and His Prophet (sws) and who, at Hudaybiyyah, showed the weakness mentioned earlier in the surah, if they do not mend their ways will meet the fate destined for the opponents of Islam.

(Translated by Dr Shehzad Saleem)

[1]. Amin Ahsan Islahi, Tadabbur-i Qur'an, vol. 2, 318.

[2]. Al-Tabrayzi, Diwan al-hamasah, vol. 2, 18.

[3]. Ibid., vol. 2, 318-319.


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