Lecture 24 in the Ramadaan series:
20 May 2021

Ahlul Bait (a.s) Masjid, Ottery, Cape Town
Mowlana Syed Aftab Haider

In the blessed month of Ramadaan we had discussed Surah al Israa.

Unfortunately, due to time restrictions, we were unable to finish our tafsir. Inshallah every Thursday night onwards we will try to continue with this discussion.

To briefly recap, we had examined verse 80:

وَقُل رَّبّ‌ِ أَدْخِلْنِي مُدْخَلَ صِدْقٍ وَأَخْرِجْنِي مُخْرَجَ صِدْقٍ وَاجْعَل لِي مِن لَدُنكَ سُلْطَاناً نَصِيراً

“And say: ‘My Lord! cause me to enter a goodly entrance and cause me to go out (of) a goodly exit, and grant me from Your part a (powerful) authority to assist (me)’.”

This verse gives the recipe for success when one begins any important work in the path of Almighty Allah (swt). These ingredients can be summarized into 3:

  1. Honesty in intention.
  2. Sustainability of this sincerity until the end.
  3. Dependent on Allah’s support until the end.

We then moved onto an important divine trend, or sunnatun ilaahiyah. This has been predetermined since the beginning of time and applies to all human beings under all circumstances.

وَقُلْ جَآءَ الْحَقُّ وَزَهَقَ الْبَاطِلُ إِنَّ الْبَاطِلَ كَانَ زَهُوقاً

“And say: ‘The truth has come and the ‘falsehood’ has vanished away; verily, the ‘falsehood’ is (something) vanishing’.”

Once again in this instance the past tense is used. As mentioned previously, the Quran uses past tense when it wants to establish something that is completely unavoidable. In language, when one uses the present or future tense, there is a possibility that it may not materialize – however small that probability may be. Consequently, the past tense is used.

There are many examples of this in the Quran:

Surah Waqiah Verse 1:

إِذَا وَقَعَتِ الْوَاقِعَةُ

When the Great Event [Resurrection] befalls.

Surah Zilzaal verse 1:

إِذَا زُلْزِلَتِ الْأَرْضُ زِلْزَالَهَا

“When the Earth shall quake with a mighty quaking.”

Surah Israa then moves onto verse 82, which describes the nature of the Quran. As we have covered this in our discussion in the Nights of Qadr, we will not repeat it here.

وَنُنَزّ‌ِلُ مِنَ الْقُرْءَانِ مَا هُوَ شِفَآءٌ وَرَحْمَةٌ لِلْمُؤْمِنِينَ وَلاَ يَزِيدُ الظَّالِمِينَ إِلاَّ خَسَاراً

“And We send down (stage by stage), of the Qur’an, that which is healing and mercy to the believers, and it adds not to the unjust except in loss.”


Our discussion for tonight is focused on verses 83 and 84:

وإِذَآ أَنْعَمْنَا عَلَي الإِنسَانِ أَعْرَضَ وَنَأي بِجَانِبِهِ وَإِذَا مَسَّهُ الشَّرُّ كَانَ يَئُوساً
قُلْ كُلٌّ يَعْمَلُ عَلَي شَاكِلَتِهِ فَرَبُّكُمْ أَعْلَمُ بِمَنْ هُوَ أَهْدَي سَبِيلاً

“And when We bestow favour on man, he turns away and (proudly) withdraws aside; and when any evil afflicts him, he is in despair.”

“Say: ‘Every one acts according to his own mould, but your Lord knows best as who is best guided to the way.”

A general behaviour of some human beings are described in verse 83, while a principle has been established in the verse 84.

What is the Quran really trying to teach us in these verses?

There are some who have such a limited capacity and have become so lowly, that when life becomes easy, they do not recognise who God is. The comforts of being has made them oblivious towards Allah (swt). It leads to an embedded arrogance within their souls, causing them to feel self-sufficient and needless.

However, when a small trouble enters into their life, they become completely hopeless and despondent. This is the case for many people.

This is a very important point to understand.

A trouble-free life breeds fertile ground for forgetting the remembrance of Allah (swt).

Those who have very limited vision are easily fooled by the little they receive. If they were to reflect a little bit over the nature of this worldly life, they would realise that their position/authority can easily dissipate in an instant.

Their money they have acquired after pain-staking hours possesses no loyalty.

Despite this, they still believe these self-constructed titles and popularity makes them feel needless from anything else besides themselves.

In our society, when we see a wealthy person that has been wealthy for generations, money does not seem to faze them. But when we look at individuals that became wealthy overnight, their behaviour changes automatically as well!

Suddenly, they refuse to recognise their own friends and disowns everything that was once familiar. Why this is the case is something we should all reflect on.

The Quran combats this type of mindset by saying:

وإِذَآ أَنْعَمْنَا عَلَي الإِنسَانِ
“And when We bestow favour on man..”

Allah (swt) is the source of everything that descends upon us.


The true believers are always cognizant of Almighty Allah (swt), whether it be in ease or difficulty. In the famous verse from Surah Yunus, the Quran says:

أَلآ إِنَّ أَوْلِيَآءَ اللَّهِ لاَ خَوْفٌ عَلَيْهِمْ وَلاَ هُمْ يَحْزَنُونَ

“Behold! Verily no fear shall be upon the friends of Allah, nor shall they grieve;”

This unstable nature of the human being has also been quoted in different passages of the Quran, with a slight difference:

Surah Luqmaan, verse 32:

وَإِذَا غَشِيَهُم مَوْجٌ كَالظُّلَلِ دَعَوُاْ اللَّهَ مُخْلِصِينَ لَهُ الدّ‌ِينَ فَلَمَّا نَجَّاهُمْ إِلَي الْبَرّ‌ِ فَمِنْهُم مُّقْتَصِدٌ وَمَا يَجْحَدُ بِاَيَاتِنَآ إِلاَّ كُلُّ خَتَّارٍ كَفُورٍ

“And when a wave covers them like the canopy (of clouds), they call upon Allah in sincere devotion unto Him, but when He has delivered them to the land, some of them follow the middle course, and none denies Our signs, except every perfidious, ungrateful one.”

Surah Fussilat, verse 51:

وَإِذَا أَنْعَمْنَا عَلَی الْأِنْسَانِ أَعْرَضَ وَنَأَی بِجَانِبِهِ وَإِذَا مَسَّهُ الشَّرُّ فَذُو دُعَاءٍ عَرِيضٍ

And when We show favor unto man, he withdraws and turns away, but when evil touches him he has recourse to long supplications.

Surah Fajr, verses 15 & 16:

فَأَمَّا الْإِنسَانُ إِذَا مَا ابْتَلَاهُ رَبُّهُ فَأَكْرَمَهُ وَنَعَّمَهُ فَيَقُولُ رَبِّي أَكْرَمَنِ
وَأَمَّا إِذَا مَا ابْتَلَاهُ فَقَدَرَ عَلَيْهِ رِزْقَهُ فَيَقُولُ رَبِّي أَهَانَنِ

‘And as for man, whenever his Lord tries him and honours him, and blesses him, he says, ‘My Lord has honoured me’.”

“But when He tries him and straitens for him his subsistence, he says, ‘My Lord has disgraced me’.”

The difference here is that in these verses that when the trouble comes, this group of individuals become extremely sincere servants of Allah.

But in the verse of Surah Israa, it says they become despondent. Is this not a contradiction?

The selected verses are conveying the same message. When they lose hope and become defeated, they give up in the face of challenges. With no other alternative available, they approach the door of Allah (swt) and pray with utmost sincerity.

This request is not valuable in the eyes of Allah, as it has been made from no need. Out of their utter helplessness and despondence, they become sincere servants of Allah (swt), calling for His aid to arrive.

After explaining this phenomenon, the Quran establishes a principle in verse 84 of Surah Israa.


قُلْ كُلٌّ يَعْمَلُ عَلَي شَاكِلَتِهِ فَرَبُّكُمْ أَعْلَمُ بِمَنْ هُوَ أَهْدَي سَبِيلاً

“Say: ‘Every one acts according to his own mould, but your Lord knows best as who is best guided to the way.”

‘Shaakila’ literally translates to controlling an animal.

‘Shikaal’ is the rope that is used to control the animal. The animal is bound to follow whichever way the rope is pulled. The Quran is thus saying that our actions are also bound by our nature (mould). One’s attitude and behavior are dictated by the inner self.

Naturally, the serious question that arises from this verse surrounds free will. How can we be responsible for anything if it has been determined by our nature? If one is born with a good nature, their actions would be good. On the contrary, being born with a bad nature would lead to bad actions.

This understanding is completely wrong. Many empires throughout the ages have exploited this verse and others to use determinism as a means of justifying their oppression on others.

Coming back to the discussion, the word ‘Shaakila’ has multiple understandings.

Some exegetes have indicated that it is meant as a source of one’s faith and belief (Aqedah).

If one’s worldview is only concerned about maximum material enjoyment irrespective of the consequences that it has on others, this reflects in one’s actions. The capacity to choose this worldview shows that free-will remains intact throughout the process.

Someone had asked Imam Sadiq (as) about the meaning of Shaakila. The Imam (as) responded by saying that it is the niyyah (intention) of the individual.

The Imam (as) continued by saying that the intention is better than the action itself – and as a matter of fact – the intention is basically the action itself!

Allamah Tabarsi (ra) in his famous tafsir Majma-ul Bayaan says it is the condition (haal) of the person.

Sometimes Shaytaan influences you and you disobey Allah (swt). But if this condition becomes repeated over and over, it eventually becomes a habit. Over time, it eventually becomes what is referred to as ‘malikaa’ – second nature.

This is the stage where one repeatedly commits sins until it becomes part of your personality. Then, whatever actions one performs, it is sourced from this malikaa nafsaaniah. This is a self-created nature. None can be blamed for this except oneself. There is no aspect of being forced to act in an evil manner in this instance.

An interesting story sheds further light on this Quranic principle. A companion had asked Imam Sadiq (as) if he was allowed to offer his salaah in a church or synagogue. The Imam (as) replied that it is permissible – there is no issue in this regard. The companion then asked that these People of the Book are engaged in their wrongful worship of Almighty Allah (swt), hence it should be problematic to pray salaah in the same place. Imam Sadiq (as) then recited verse 84 of Surah Israa, and informed the companion that they are acting to the best of their character (shaakila).

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