Surahs Ma‘un-Kawthar

Surahs Ma‘un-Kawthar

Qur'anic Exegesis

Both these surahs form a pair with regard to their subject-matter. The first surahmentions the crimes of the leadership of the Quraysh, particularly of Abu Lahab, while the second one declares their removal from the custodianship of the Baytullah because of these crimes. It is evident from their contents that the first one was revealed as the final warning to the Quraysh and the second as a great glad tiding of the future in Makkah in the phase of migration and acquittal of the Prophet's mission.

Surah al-Ma'un is directed at the Quraysh, and its theme is to inform their leadership, in particular Abu Lahab, of the doom that has been destined for them because of their crimes.

Surah al-Kawthar is addressed to Muhammad (sws), and its theme is to give glad tidings that the custodianship of the Baytullah shall now be transferred to him, and his enemies shall be totally routed from the face of the earth.


Surah al-Ma'un

بِسۡمِ اللّٰہِ الرَّحۡمٰنِ الرَّحِیۡمِ

اَرَءَیۡتَ الَّذِیۡ یُکَذِّبُ بِالدِّیۡنِ ؕ﴿۱﴾فَذٰلِکَ الَّذِیۡ یَدُعُّ الۡیَتِیۡمَ ۙ﴿۲﴾وَ لَا یَحُضُّ عَلٰی طَعَامِ الۡمِسۡکِیۡنِ ؕ﴿۳﴾

فَوَیۡلٌ لِّلۡمُصَلِّیۡنَ ۙ﴿۴﴾الَّذِیۡنَ ہُمۡ عَنۡ صَلَاتِہِمۡ سَاہُوۡنَ ۙ﴿۵﴾الَّذِیۡنَ ہُمۡ یُرَآءُوۡنَ ۙ﴿۶﴾ وَ یَمۡنَعُوۡنَ الۡمَاعُوۡنَ ﴿۷﴾

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

Have you seen the person[1] who denies the Day of Judgement? He it is who shoves the orphan and urges not the feeding of the poor.[2] (1-3)

So devastation be to these [priests of the Baytullah] who pray[3] being unmindful [to the essence] of their prayers, who put up a pretentious display [of worship], and are not even prepared to lend ordinary items of common use to others.[4] (4-7)

Surah al-Kawthar

بِسۡمِ اللّٰہِ الرَّحۡمٰنِ الرَّحِیۡمِ

اِنَّاۤ اَعۡطَیۡنٰکَ الۡکَوۡثَرَ ؕ﴿۱﴾فَصَلِّ لِرَبِّکَ وَ انۡحَرۡ ؕ﴿۲﴾اِنَّ شَانِئَکَ ہُوَ الۡاَبۡتَرُ٪﴿۳﴾

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

Upon you [O Prophet!] have We bestowed this abundance of good.[5] So, pray only for your Almighty [in this ancient House now,] and offer sacrifice only for Him.[6] Indeed, it is this enemy of yours who is rootless: none of its followers will remain.[7] (1-3)

Kuala Lumpur

15th March 2010

(Translated from Al-Bayan by Dr Shehzad Saleem)

[1]. Ie., Abu Lahab whose personality will become very evident by the end of this seventh group of the Qur'an.

[2]. This is a portrayal of the character of Abu Lahab as a result of his rejection of the Day of Judgement. It may be noted that he was in charge of the treasury of the Baytullah that was responsible for the welfare of the poor and needy of the society. Imam Amin Ahsan Islahi writes:

… A person who denies the Day of Judgement cannot have any motivation to expend his wealth in the path of God to please Him as well as to secure the welfare and well-being of his fellow brethren. Such a person can only "drain his wealth" for his own self or to put up a false show of concern for the poor. Only a true belief in the Final Day can induce a person to spend on the deprived without having a vested self-interest.(Amin Ahsan Islahi, Tadabbur-i Qur'an, vol. 9, 582)

[3]. This word has been used here because the Quraysh were the custodians of the Baytullah and in this capacity at least outwardly appeared religious. Thus they would offer the prayer as a religious ritual. It was offered in accordance with whatever remained of the traditions established by Abraham (sws) and Ishmael (sws).

[4]. The reason that made them unmindful of the prayer is explained here. Imam Amin Ahsan Islahi writes:

Sincerity of intention is the essence of the prayer: it should be offered just to please the Almighty and to win His favour and affection. If it is offered for any other motive, it loses its purpose, and in fact becomes detrimental to its very cause. Because of their ill-beliefs, the prayer of the custodians of the Baytullah had become devoid of sincerity of intention. Secondly, they would offer them … only to show off so that people would consider them to be religious. Quite evidently, such a prayer is nothing more than a theatrical enactment. Just as impersonating a character in a drama does not actually make a person one of them, likewise people who feign the articles of the prayer do not become true worshippers.

Moreover, their miserliness too was ample proof of the perfunctory and lifeless nature of their prayer. The real spirit behind the prayer is a feeling of gratitude to the Almighty. A person who is grateful to his Creator can never be a miser or a skinflint. Instead, he is bound to be unselfish and magnanimous. He spends on the deprived and needy, not as a favour on them but because they have a rightful claim in his own wealth. He shares his blessings with others and thinks that others have a rightful share in his wealth. In fact, he is so overwhelmed with this sense of gratitude that fulfilling others' needs even at his own expense is a source of tremendous satisfaction to him. (Amin Ahsan Islahi, Tadabbur-i Qur'an, vol. 9, 584)

[5].The actual word is الۡکَوۡثَرَ. The obligation owed to it is mentioned ahead by the words: فَصَلِّ لِرَبِّکَ وَ انۡحَرۡ (so pray you only for your Almighty and offer sacrifice from him alone). It is evident from this that it refers to the Baytullah because it is the only place where both these rituals of worship are combined with full majesty. If a person reflects on this verse, he will gather that it is only this place of worship which is a treasure of abundant good for every Muslim and it also the metaphorical manifestation of the stream of Kawthar that dwellers of Paradise will drink from. This stream too will be given to the Prophet (sws) as is evident from many narratives. Imam hamid al-Din Farahi writes:

If anyone reflects on the features and characteristics of the stream of كَوْثَرٌ which was shown to the Prophet (sws) during the holy ascension, he will become aware of the fact that the stream of كَوْثَرٌ is the spiritual manifestation of the Baytullah and its surrounding atmosphere. The common element in the various Ahadith which describe كَوْثَرٌ is that it is a water stream on the sides of which are built palaces of hollow pearls. Its floor is of topaz, coral and rubies. The utensils in it are like stars of the heavens, its water is whiter than milk, sweeter than honey and cooler than ice. Its mud is more fragrant than musk. Birds whose necks are like those of the animals of sacrifice descend on it. (See: al-Bukhari, nos. 4583, 6095; al-Tirmidhi, no. 2465; Ibn Majah, no. 4325; Musnad Ahmad, no. 5643; Al-Mu'jam al-kabir, no. 2960)

… Stop for a moment and think of the fact that from all over the world caravans of devotees and zealots gather around this blessed House to quench their fondness for the Almighty. Elated spiritually, do not the pebbles of this holy valley seem more magnificent than rubies and emeralds, its mud more fragrant than musk and the tents of the pilgrims around it more beautiful than domes of pearls? Then just take a look at the pilgrims and at the lines of the camels which are to be sacrificed. Are these not the swarms of the long necked birds near the fountain? (hamid al-Din Farahi, Majmu'ah-i tafasir, 421-422)

One of the objectives of Prophet Muhammad (sws) was to once again cleanse the House of God of the filth of polytheism and make it for the whole world a centre of monotheism for which it was built by Abraham (sws) by his own hands. When the Qur'an declared that the Almighty had granted him the treasure of abundant good, it meant that the Quraysh would be deposed; the political leadership of Arabia which they had as a result of their relationship with the House of God would be confiscated from them, and its custodianship would be taken from them and handed to Muhammad (sws) and his followers. Viewed thus, these constituted a great glad tiding given to him at the time of his migration to Madinah and acquittal from the disbelievers of his nation.

[6]. Mentioned here is the obligation towards God's gift called Kawthar. The implication is that the Quraysh also worship their deities in both these rituals ie. the prayer and animal sacrifice; Muhammad (sws) should however, pray and offer sacrifice only for the One God once he is bestowed with its custodianship; he should also cleanse it from all types of polytheistic practices and religious innovations.

[7]. This is a great prophecy which materialized word for word. What is meant is that the Prophet's enemies spread the propaganda about him that he had invented a new religion; as a result he had been detached from his nation and the centre of his old religion (the Baytullah) and would now go and live among strangers; he would be like the severed branch of a tree which is bound to wither away. However, it was the verdict of God that He would grant him success and honour both in this world and the next and would uproot all his enemies from that land. He would ensure that no one would remain who would even remember them.


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