Lecture 20 and 22 in the Ramadaan series:
REFLECTIONS ON SURAH ISRAA’
4 & 6 May 2021 (22ND & 24TH night of Ramadaan 1442)
Ahlul Bait (a.s) Masjid, Ottery, Cape Town
Mowlana Syed Aftab Haider
From the traditions recorded from the Ahlul Bait (a.s) we understand their extraordinary emphasis on the full duration of the last 10 days.
There is a Hadith which explains that our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) use to fold his bed and pillow and spend the last 10 days in I’tikaaf. This was a similar trend with the Imams of Ahlul Bait (a.s). The duas which are recommended for these 10 nights are all indicative of this reality ie. that all of the last 10 nights are very important, and we should try our level best to achieve the great blessings in these nights, Insha Allah.
In the previous discussion, we focussed on verses from Surah Israa’ (chapter 17 of the Holy Quran) which specifically discuss the Holy Quran. We focussed mainly on verse 82, which describes the Holy Quran as a remedy and mercy:
وَنُنَزِّلُ مِنَ الْقُرْآنِ مَا هُوَ شِفَاءٌ وَرَحْمَةٌ لِلْمُؤْمِنِينَ ۙ وَلَا يَزِيدُ الظَّالِمِينَ إِلَّا خَسَارًا
“We send down (stage by stage) in the Qur’an that which is a healing and a mercy to those who believe: to the unjust it causes nothing but loss after loss.”
I now wish to elaborate on verses 73 – 75 of Surah Israa’, where Almighty Allah (SWT) says:
وَإِنْ كَادُوا لَيَفْتِنُونَكَ عَنِ الَّذِي أَوْحَيْنَا إِلَيْكَ لِتَفْتَرِيَ عَلَيْنَا غَيْرَهُ ۖ وَإِذًا لَاتَّخَذُوكَ خَلِيلًا
“And surely they had purposed to turn you away from that which We have revealed to you, that you should forge against Us other than that, and then they would certainly have taken you for a friend.”
وَلَوْلَا أَنْ ثَبَّتْنَاكَ لَقَدْ كِدْتَ تَرْكَنُ إِلَيْهِمْ شَيْئًا قَلِيلًا
“And had it not been that We had already established you, you would certainly have been near to incline to them a little.”
إِذًا لَأَذَقْنَاكَ ضِعْفَ الْحَيَاةِ وَضِعْفَ الْمَمَاتِ ثُمَّ لَا تَجِدُ لَكَ عَلَيْنَا نَصِيرًا
“In that case We would certainly have made you to taste a double (punishment) in this life and a double (punishment) after death, then you would not have found any helper against Us.”
DO THESE VERSES CONTRADICT INFALLIBILITY OF RASULULLAH (SAWA)?
These three verses are a bit difficult, because it appears to contradict our belief in the infallibility of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA). This verse says that the enemies were about to trap and deceive Rasulullah (SAWA) so that he attributes something to Almighty God (SWT) which is not true.
So, this verse gives the impression that the enemies tried to infiltrate, and Rasulullah (SAWA) was under their influence and would have nearly committed to something on behalf of God (SWT) which would be untruthful. By doing this, they would have befriended him.
This is hard to accept because we believe it is impossible, based on our belief in the infallibility of Rasulullah (SAWA). To summarize the context of these three verses, the enemies of Islam wanted Rasulullah (SAWA) to grant them some allowance or leniency on idol worshiping. Example, they proposed to continue worshiping idols for just a little longer, and then they would become Muslim after that.
The story continues that our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) thought that it may be in his favour and that of Islam, if he were to compromise a little with the enemies and grant them their wish, in the hope that after the accommodation period, there will be a huge number of them accepting Islam.
And then it was at this time when these verses were revealed, challenging Rasulullah (SAWA) as to how he can even think of compromising on Tauheed. How can he be lenient by giving them an allowance for something which Almighty Allah (SWT) has not allowed.
HUMAN ASPECT VERSUS DIVINE ASPECT TO THE PERSONALITY OF RASULULLAH (SAWA)
This is the story which is often presented as the context to these verses, but we, as followers of the Ahlul Bait (a.s) do not agree with this version of events.
We believe that this verse 73 talks about the two aspects to the personality of Rasulullah (SAWA). The one aspect is the human aspect, and the other is his infallibility.
The human aspect of his personality is that this is how one would think as a leader, looking at the long-term view. In the context of the above story, the thought process would be that there is nothing wrong in allowing people to continue their wrong belief for a while, as they have committed to become Muslim thereafter.
Contrary to this, if he is going to be uncompromising, then none of them are going to become Muslim. In fact, they would run away from Rasulullah (SAWA)! So, this is the thought process of the human aspect which any leader would think, which would lead one to the conclusion that it is better to compromise in the interest of Islam. At the very least, they will not fight with us or conspire against us.
Now, let us understand this better from verse 74. Verse 73 says that indeed Rasulullah (SAWA) has the human aspect in his personality, but verse 74 establishes that he has the divine aspect as well, and this divine aspect means that he is fortified by Almighty Allah (SWT). This is infallibility! So, these verses do not contradict our ideology of Rasulullah (SAWA) being infallible. In fact, it strengthens our belief in his infallibility!
INFALLIBILITY IS A NECESSARY CONDITION FOR PROPHETHOOD
If that infallibility or divine aspect was not there, then naturally, there would have been the risk of infiltration and deviation if he was purely human. Hence, the risk of error is not there with Rasulullah (SAWA) because of the divine aspect of being infallible!
This further emphasizes that infallibility is the necessary condition for a divine Prophet (a.s), because if he was purely a human being, then infiltration is possible, according to these verses. And this would have the risk of ghastly errors in that they could attribute something to Almighty Allah (SWT) which is not true.
Hence, if a divine Prophet (a.s) is not infallible, then he can convey an inaccurate message of Almighty Allah (SWT) to the people.
Therefore, all these verses point towards the importance of infallibility, saying that without infallibility, even an extraordinary personality as great as our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) could be subject to errors based purely on the human aspect of his personality. But since he is infallible, it is impossible for him to make compromises that would contradict Tauheed.
RESPONSIBILITY OF LEADERSHIP CARRIES DOUBLE REWARD AND DOUBLE PUNISHMENT!
Now that we have established this clear understanding, verse 75 issues a warning that if (meaning it is a warning rather than it actually having occurred) Rasulullah (SAWA) would have committed such a horrendous mistake, then he would have been punished twice is this world and twice in the Hereafter, and nobody would have been able to rescue him.
This is hypothetical in the case of Rasulullah (SAWA) due to his infallibility we established earlier. This verse is also a reminder about another very important fact, that leadership has double the responsibility. If normal people commit a mistake, they will be punished once, whereas if leadership commits a mistake, then double the punishment awaits.
Good deeds of normal people are sins for those who are close to Almighty Allah (SWT), because their levels are different. You cannot measure a pre-school kid and a PhD student the same way, as the criteria for them are vastly different. If a PhD student makes a mistake, then it is very hard to pardon, but if a little kid makes a mistake, then it is understandable, acceptable and forgivable.
This is what verse 73 is saying, that when your responsibilities increase, your punishment is also higher. Truth be told, that the reward is double as well!
DEVIANT STRATEGIES OF OUR ENEMIES TO INFILTRATE AND USE AGGRESSION
I now wish to elaborate on verses 76 and 77 of Surah Israa’, where Almighty Allah (SWT) says:
وَإِنْ كَادُوا لَيَسْتَفِزُّونَكَ مِنَ الْأَرْضِ لِيُخْرِجُوكَ مِنْهَا ۖ وَإِذًا لَا يَلْبَثُونَ خِلَافَكَ إِلَّا قَلِيلًا
“Their purpose was to scare thee off the land, in order to expel thee; but in that case they would not have stayed (therein) after thee, except for a little while.”
سُنَّةَ مَنْ قَدْ أَرْسَلْنَا قَبْلَكَ مِنْ رُسُلِنَا ۖ وَلَا تَجِدُ لِسُنَّتِنَا تَحْوِيلًا
“(This is Our) course with regard to those of Our messengers whom We sent before you, and you shall not find a change in Our course.”
These verses are a continuation of different efforts by the enemies against our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA). If you recall, the verses before these speak about the fact that the enemies would like to infiltrate and somehow influence you, so that you say something which is not from Almighty Allah (SWT). Naturally, this will be a disaster, but Allah (SWT) will protect with that fortification which He has provided.
Now, in verse 76, we see another effort mentioned about the agenda of the enemies of Islam. If they could not succeed in influencing you (as described in the earlier verses) they will try to expel you from the land, making you exiled.
This verse then goes on to give the comfort that these brazen attempts by the enemies will not get them very far.
In verse 30 of Surah Anfaal (chapter 8 of the Holy Quran), we find a similar promise from Almighty Allah (SWT):
وَإِذْ يَمْكُرُ بِكَ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا لِيُثْبِتُوكَ أَوْ يَقْتُلُوكَ أَوْ يُخْرِجُوكَ ۚ وَيَمْكُرُونَ وَيَمْكُرُ اللَّهُ ۖ وَاللَّهُ خَيْرُ الْمَاكِرِينَ
“And when those who disbelieved devised plans against you that they might confine you or slay you or drive you away; and they devised plans and Allah too had arranged a plan; and Allah is the best of planners.”
There is a very important point here. If you recall from verse 73 discussed earlier, the enemies tried to infiltrate in the speech or approach of Prophet Muhammad (SAWA). They were hoping that, through this, he would say something against the truth or attribute something to Allah (SWT) which is untrue.
Now, we read in verse 76 that the enemies are stepping up their aggression by pushing one out of the city, forcing to be exiled. This is a very important lesson about the modus operandi of the enemies of Islam. They will start off by trying to first infiltrate our thinking and neutralize us.
PASSIVE ISLAM VERSUS HOSTILE ISLAM AND THE DIVINE HOPE FOR VICTORY OF THE TRUTH
We see this practically before our eyes today, where our enemies have categorized us into two camps, good Islam and bad Islam, or a friendly Islam and a hostile Islam! Friendly Islam is passive Islam, where our Islamic ideology is diluted and friendly with them. They will not have a problem with this, as referenced at the end of verse 73 discussed further above.
Now, if the enemies are not successful in infiltrating your ideological thinking, then they would become aggressive and force you out of the land, as described in verse 76. Their strategies in using force also has different levels, where they will start by attacking the leadership first after failing to persuade the leader towards their thinking. This way, people would then not have access to the leader and will paralyse the movement.
The last part of verse 76 very nicely presents the hopeful reality, that the enemies cannot hide the truth for long, even after they employ all the force and expel one from the city. Truth shall always prevail.
In verse 77, Almighty Allah (SWT) is reassuring our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) that this hostility is not only happening to him, but indeed, it was experienced by the divine Prophets (a.s) before him as well. Almighty Allah (SWT) further confirms in this verse that He will support Rasulullah (SAWA) through this turbulence in the same way that He supported the Prophets (a.s) before.
This is the divine precedent, that He has always supported His apostles.
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