Surahs Lahab-Ikhlas

Surahs Lahab-Ikhlas


Qur'anic Exegesis

Both these surahs form a pair with regard to their subject-matter. The first surah portrays the destruction of the leadership of the Quraysh, while the second is the decisive declaration of the belief in which the rejecters are predicted to be destroyed.

The necessary consequence of the battle between polytheism and monotheism which took place in Arabia as a result of the preaching of the Prophet Muhammad (sws), was that polytheism be obliterated and monotheism reign supreme in the whole of the Arabian Peninsula. Both these surahs state this consequence with full certainty. Viewed thus, the subject of migration and renunciation and of victory and glad tidings of the future, which began in Surahs al-Ma'un and al-Kawthar, has reached its culmination in these two surahs. At the same time, a little deliberation shows that the whole message of the Qur'an has also reached its culmination here, and in Surah al-Ikhlas, which is actually the last surah of the Qur'an regarding its subject-matter, a declaration is made of placing the cornerstone of monotheism, which is the foundation of its message, at its actual place. This declaration is also found at other places of the Qur'an; however, this brief and comprehensive surah was revealed so that its opponents hear it day and night and its followers memorize it to always keep its message fresh in their minds.

Both surahs are directed at the Quraysh, and it is evident from their subject-matter that they were revealed in Makkah at the end of the phase of migration and acquittal of the Prophet Muhammad's (sws) preaching mission.

The theme of Surah al-Lahab is the proclamation of the destruction of the leadership of the Quraysh, in particular that of Abu Lahab.

The theme of Surah al-Ikhlas is the decisive declaration of the belief of monotheism which is the cornerstone of the message of the Qur'an.

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Explanation

Surah al-Lahab

بِسۡمِ اللّٰہِ الرَّحۡمٰنِ الرَّحِیۡمِ

تَبَّتۡ یَدَاۤ اَبِیۡ لَہَبٍ وَّ تَبَّ ؕ﴿۱﴾مَاۤ اَغۡنٰی عَنۡہُ مَالُہٗ وَ مَا کَسَبَ ؕ﴿۲﴾سَیَصۡلٰی نَارًا ذَاتَ لَہَبٍ ۚ﴿ۖ۳﴾وَّ امۡرَاَتُہٗ ؕ حَمَّالَۃَ الۡحَطَبِ ۚ﴿۴﴾فِیۡ جِیۡدِہَا حَبۡلٌ مِّنۡ مَّسَدٍ ﴿۵﴾

In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Ever Merciful.

The hands of Abu Lahab[1] have been broken[2] and he himself has perished.[3] Neither did his wealth benefit him nor the [good][4]he earned. Soon shall this man [of glowing countenance] be put in a glowing Fire[5] and [with him] his wife[6] also. She will be carrying firewood[7] [for her own burning in Hell]. There will be a twisted rope round her neck.[8] (1-5)

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Surah al-Ikhlas

بِسۡمِ اللّٰہِ الرَّحۡمٰنِ الرَّحِیۡمِ

قُلۡ ہُوَ اللّٰہُ اَحَدٌ ۚ﴿۱﴾اَللّٰہُ الصَّمَدُ ۚ﴿۲﴾لَمۡ یَلِدۡ ۬ۙ وَ لَمۡ یُوۡلَدۡ ۙ﴿۳﴾ وَ لَمۡ یَکُنۡ لَّہٗ کُفُوًا اَحَدٌ ﴿۴﴾

In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Ever Merciful

Declare[9] [O Prophet!]: "In reality, God is One and Alone.[10] God is everyone's support.[11] He is neither father nor son[12] and there is none like Him.[13] (1-4)

(Translated from Al-Bayan by Dr Shehzad Saleem)

[1]. His real name was 'Abd al-'Uzza. Since he had a reddish-white complexion like that of a flame, he became famous with the honorific title, Abu Lahab. Further ahead, while delineating his fate, the words used are ذَاتَ لَہَبٍ. The implication is that a person of the complexion of fire will enter the fire. He was the most callous of the leaders of the Quraysh. His enmity was entirely based on his personal interest. To attain this interest, he never cared for any relationship nor any tribal tradition or ethical conduct. In opposing the Prophet (sws), he was the leader of everyone and was generally followed by people. In the theocratic system of governance of the Quraysh, he in those times was able to acquire such a position which in the words of Imam Amin Ahsan Islahi virtually made him the sole ruler of Madinah. It is mostly his character which has remained in discussion in the previous surahs. Thus it was he who deserved to be mentioned by name when the destruction of the leadership of the Quryash was to be depicted.

[2]. Ie., his friends and helpers were destroyed and his rule came to an end. Linguistically, the word "hand" also signifies power. The past tense used in the verse points to the certainty of fulfillment of this prediction in the future. It is as if it is so certain to happen that it has already happened. Thus, two years later, this prediction came true word for word in the battle of Badr when all the prominent leaders of the Quraysh except Abu Sufyan were killed.

[3]. Abu Lahab himself did not take part in the battle of Badr. In his place, he sent a person who had borrowed something from him with the promise that he would not take back his loan. However, this could not save him from God's wrath and only seven days after the battle of Badr the prediction of the Qur'an materialized. He died in a very exemplary way when he was afflicted with a malignant pustule. Such was the humiliating manner he died that his family, friends and even his sons did not bury him because the disease was contagious. For many days after his death, his corpse continued to decay at his house. Finally, paying heed to some rebukes of people, his sons hired some negroes to take away his corpse and place it beside a wall and had it covered with stones (Ibn Kathir, Al-Sirah al-nabawiyyah, vol. 2, 479). The word تَبَّin the verse points to this very fate of Abu Lahab.

[4]. This refers to deeds which are apparently noble in nature and as the chief treasurer of the Baytullah, Abu Lahab had to undertake to put up a pretentious display of religiosity and to hide his dishonesty.

[5]. The verse has the words: ذَاتَ لَہَبٍ. I have explained that they occur in consideration to his honorific title. Imam Amin Ahsan Islahi writes:

… By this description, the Qur'an has pointed to the reality that the very reddish white complexion which was a source of pride for him in this world would lead him to doom. He would be cast into a fire whose flames would be blazing. The message which is meant to be put across is that pride on outer beauty has no value; it can lead a person to ruin if there is no inner beauty to go along with it. (Amin Ahsan Islahi, Tadabbur-i Qur'an, vol. 9, 636)

[6]. This has been said because like her husband, this first lady of Arabia was also afflicted with greed and pretense, and had an equal share in her husband's crimes and was actually the real motive behind his crimes.

[7]. The actual words are: حَمَّالَۃَ الۡحَطَبِ. Grammatically, they are an accusative of state. They depict the state of Abu Lahab's wife when she will be cast into Hell with her husband. It is as if she at that time will be like a criminal who brings forth herself the firewood that will burn her.

[8]. This is a portrayal of slave-maidens who carry firewood. It is evident from the Qur'an that there will exist a similarity between deeds and their consequences. The implication is that the heavy necklaces she wore in this world will assume the shape of a heavy rope round her neck in the next world like slave women who collect wood.

[9]. The actual word is: قُلۡ. It is used in the same meaning as in verse 1 of Surah al-Kafirun, ie. declare openly in such a clear manner that no doubt remains about it and everyone clearly understands it. Imam Amin Ahsan Islahi writes:

The need for such a declaration only arises when after a long period of dialogue and debate, it becomes clear that the truth has been fully disclosed, and people are now indulging in debate only to prolong and complicate matters. In such cases, it is better to say whatever one has to in a stern and decisive manner so that the addressees become aware that everything about the subject has been said; no more time will now be wasted upon the issue and it is equally unlikely that any change in stance shall occur. (Amin Ahsan Islahi, Tadabbur-i Qur'an, vol. 9, 648)

[10]. The actual words are: ہُوَ اللّٰہُ اَحَدٌ. The word ہُوَ is the pronoun of the fact (dhami al-sha'n) and in the opinion of the grammarians is ambiguous in nature. It can be translated as "the fact is," "the reality is", "the matter is" and other similar expressions. The purpose is to provide an opening to the next sentence that prepares the addressees for what is going to be said subsequently.

The word اللّٰہُis a personal noun for God and is made after affixing alif lam to the word الٰہ. Before the revelation of the Qur'an, in the era of jahiliyyah also, this name was reserved for the Lord Who is the Creator of all that is between the heavens and the earth. In spite of being polytheists, Arabs would not regard any of their deities to be His equal. The Qur'an adopted this very name and made it the fountainhead of all worthy attributes. The word اَحَدٌ refers to someone who is one and alone and unique in all respects. Imam Amin Ahsan Islahi writes:

Linguists clearly differentiate between اَحَدٌ (Ahad) and وَاحِدٌ (Wahid). اَحَدٌ (Ahad) means someone in whose being none can be associated, and وَاحِدٌ (Wahid) means someone in whose attributes none can be associated. Probably this is the reason why the word اَحَدٌ (Ahad) has never been used as an attribute other than that of God. This attribute also necessitates that He have no kin or relations, and at the same time it warrants that He be beyond and peerless in every sense. It also follows from this that God is uncreated and has always existed, and that everything else has been created and brought into existence. Naturally, someone who is the foremost out of His own accord should always exist because if at one time He never was, then it cannot be said of Him that He always existed. Summing up the discussion, two things must necessarily be accepted: Firstly, God has always existed, and secondly, everything except Him is His creation. These are the two necessary outcomes of His uniqueness and to deny both of these would be against sense and reason. In other words, if it is said that God is اَحَدٌ, then this means that He has always existed and He is the Creator of everything. (Amin Ahsan Islahi, Tadabbur-i Qur'an, vol. 9, 650)

[11]. The word صَمَد actually means a large rock behind which refuge is sought from an enemy attack. In many holy scriptures particularly in the Psalms of David, God has been called the "Rock" and the "Rock of Help." The word occurs right after اَحَدٌ as a guardian just as the attribute غَنِّيٌ is mentioned with حَمِيْدٌ. In other words, God is indeed beyond and remote, yet at the same time, He is the rock of refuge and helper and protector of all. When His people turn to Him, He listens to their invocations and responds to them. The fact that He is sole and peerless should not lead people to believe that He is merely a silent first cause who is not concerned with His creatures.

[12]. What is negated here was already found in the word اَحَدٌ but since the addressees of the Qur'an had ascribed sons and daughters to God, the negation is expressly stated so that the peerlessness and remoteness of God become so evident that neither any doubt nor anything else remains that can lead people astray.

[13]. The actual word is: کُفُوًا. It means "parallel," "similar" and "equal". The implication is that there is no one in the Universe who by any connotation of the word is similar to God. He is totally matchless and peerless with regard to His status, attributes, deeds and authority. The most important issue pertaining to faith and beliefs is that of the being and attributes of God. This surah explains this issue in a conclusive manner. Hence, it occupies extra-ordinary importance. For this very reason, Imam Amin Ahsan Islahi has summarized its contents at the end of its exegesis. He writes:

The concept of God that comes to mind in view of His positive and negative attributes mentioned in this surah is that God has always existed and shall always exist; He was when there was nothing and shall remain when everything ceases to be; He is complete and perfect in His being and is above all needs; everyone needs Him while He needs none; He is a support and refuge to everyone; He brings everything into existence, and by His orders everything is destroyed; He is father to none nor has He a father; in fact, He is the Creator and the Cherisher of all and fashions and sustains everything; nothing is from His substance and being; everything is His creation and He has no peer or equal and indeed all are His servants and slaves. (Amin Ahsan Islahi, Tadabbur-i Qur'an, vol. 9, 652)

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