Lecture 3 in the Ramadaan series:
REFLECTIONS ON SURAH ISRAA’
16 April 2021 (3 Ramadaan 1442)
Ahlul Bait (a.s) Masjid, Ottery, Cape Town
Mowlana Syed Aftab Haider
Inshallah, we wish to continue with our discussion of the story of Bani Isra’eel.
In a nutshell, the Quran describes this nation and the attributes that characterized who they were.
This story began where we said that Allah (swt) had given Prophet Musa (as) guidance in the form of the Torah.
The summary of this message was tauheed-amali, or practical monotheism.
This is seen in verses 2 and 3 of Surah Israa:
وَءَاتَيْنَا مُوسَي الْكِتَابَ وَجَعَلْنَاهُ هُدًي لّـِبَني إِسْرَآئِيلَ أَلاَّ تَتَّخِذُوا مِن دُونِي وَكِيلاً
“And We gave Moses the Book, and made him a Guide for the Children of Israel, (saying:) ‘Do not take other than Me a guardian’.”
ذُرِّيَّةَ مَنْ حَمَلْنَا مَعَ نُوحٍ إِنَّهُ كَانَ عَبْداً شَكُوراً
“(O’ you!) the offspring of those whom We embarked along with Noah (on the Ark). Verily, he was a grateful servant.”
The Quran then goes on to narrate the incidents that follows, more importantly providing an analysis of the two seismic historical occurrences in this community.
These disasters were because of their corruption, having purposefully deviated from the guidance of the Torah.
وَقَضَيْنَآ إِلَي بَنِي إِسْرَآئِيلَ فِي الْكِتَابِ لَتُفْسِدُنَّ فِي الاَرْضِ مَرَّتَيْنِ وَلَتَعْلُنَّ عُلُوّاً كَبِيراً
“And We declared unto the Children of Israel in the Book (the Torah, saying): “Certainly you will make mischief on the earth twice, and certainly you will seek self-superiority with great arrogance’.” (17:4)
فإِذَا جَآءَ وَعْدُ اُولاَهُمَا بَعَثْنَا عَلَيْكُمْ عِبَاداً لَنَآ اُوْلِي بَأْسٍ شَدِيدٍ فَجَاسُوا خِلاَلَ الدِّيَارِ وَكَانَ وَعْداً مَّفْعُولاً
“So when the promise for the first of the two came to pass, We raised against you some of powerful servants of Ours, given to terrible warfare, so it was they searched inside the houses thoroughly; and a promise to be fulfilled.” (17:5)
ثُمَّ رَدَدْنَا لَكُمُ الْكَرَّةَ عَلَيْهِمْ وَأَمْدَدْنَاكُم بِاَمْوالٍ وَبَنِينَ وَجَعَلْنَاكُمْ أَكْثَرَ نَفِيراً
“Then We gave you back the turn to prevail against them, and We assisted you with wealth and children and We made you a numerous host.” (17:6)
This was the end of the first promise. They had reached the upper hand against their enemies and were once again the dominant force in the land.
The Quran then gives an important advice after they had re-established themselves in verse 7.
إِنْ أَحْسَنتُمْ أَحْسَنتُمْ لاَنفُسِكُمْ وَإِنْ أَسَأْتُمْ فَلَهَا
“If you do good, you do it for your own selves; and if you commit evil, it is (in like manner) for your own selves…”
The Bani Isra’eel had a fundamental problem with their worldview.
Goodness and evil was not the scale by which they measured their actions, rather only that which gave them greater power.
This also fits in with superiority complex this nation had developed, as mentioned in verse 4. What this verse was intending was to show that goodness is for one’s own betterment!
Similarly, performing evil actions works against an individual’s own favour.
The Quran then discusses the second promise:
إِنْ أَحْسَنتُمْ أَحْسَنتُمْ لاَنفُسِكُمْ وَإِنْ أَسَأْتُمْ فَلَهَا فَإِذَا جَآءَ وَعْدُ الاَخِرَةِ لِيَسوءُوا وُجُوهَكُمْ وَلِيَدْخُلُوا الْمَسْجِدَ كَمَا دَخَلُوهُ أَوَّلَ مَرَّةٍ وَلِيُتَبّـِرُوا مَا عَلَوْا تَتْبِيرا
“Hence, when the promise of the second came to pass, (We permitted the mighty fighters) to disfigure your (military) faces, and that they may enter the Mosque as they entered it the first time, and to destroy extensively whatever they conquered.”
عَسَي رَبُّكُمْ أَن يَرْحَمَكُمْ وَاِنْ عُدتُّمْ عُدْنَا وَجَعَلْنَا جَهَنَّمَ لِلْكَافِرِينَ حَصِيراً
“It may be that your Lord will have mercy on you, but if you revert (to your sins), We shall (also) revert (to Our punishment), and We have made Hell a prison for the unbelievers.”
Despite their haughty behavior and continuous excesses, Allah (swt) was still willing to give this community an opportunity to revert towards goodness. However, this was upon the condition that they return back to Allah (swt).
This is the finality of the story of Bani Isra’eel.
While being incredibly oppressed and downtrodden, once they are given power – they revert what had been inflicted them onto others.
In this manner, their life as nation was stuck in this corrupt cycle.
What is important for us is to observe the nature of this community.
The fate they had suffered was not exclusive to them. Their exploitive behavior and conceited mindset led them to colonize and oppress others, while claiming to be people of God.
QURAN AS AN UPRIGHT STANDARD OF GUIDANCE
After concluding this episode and detailing how Bani Isra’eel had deviated from the guidance of the Torah, the surah then introduces the Quran as a source of guidance in verse 9.
إِنَّ هَذَا الْقُرْءَانَ يَهْدِي لِلَّتِي هِيَ أَقْوَمُ وَيُبَشّـِرُ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ الَّذِينَ يَعْمَلُونَ الصَّالِحَاتِ اَنَّ لَهُمْ أَجْراً كَبِيراً
“Verily, this Qur’an guides to that which is the most upright, and gives good tidings to the believers who do righteous deeds that they shall have a great reward.”
This verse teaches us that the guidance of the Quran is the most upright and straight-forward.
LEXICAL MEANING OF AQWAM
“Aqwam” comes from the word “qiyaam” which means standing.
Why did Allah (swt) use this adjective to describe Quran?
This is because it is in the most stable position an individual can be positioned in.
They are in complete control and adopt a stance that reflects readiness to engage with the world.
The Quran provides an entire system of guidance, free from any superstitions, assumptions, or presuppositions.
This is a uniquely defining factor about the Quran when compared to other ideologies. It suffers from no bias – whether it be conscious or unconscious.
In addition to this, the practical teachings the Quran provides is balanced, straight, and upright. Aqwam literally translates to “more upright.”
The word “more” indicates a type of comparison with something else. This is in relation to the previous scriptures, including the Injil and Torah.
While the scriptures of the past were books of guidance, the most comprehensive system for mankind to reach the furthest depths of perfection is the Quran.
AQWAM AS PROOF OF FINALITY OF PROPHETHOOD
Some great Ulama have mentioned that this verse subtly is teaching us about the finality of prophethood, or khatmu nubuwwah.
Islam is the final religion, and therefore is the most perfect path.
Other sacred scriptures are capable of providing guidance. However, as the Quran is more upright in guiding when compared to everything else, this shows that the message has been completed.
In this manner it is proved that Prophet Muhammad (SAW) is the final messenger as the objective of providing a seamless system of guidance is complete.
In relation to this verse, Ayatullah Jawadi Amuli (ha) says that the guidance of the Quran is closest to the nature of the human being.
This is what makes it the most straight-forward and easy message to follow.
In addition to the Quran being upright, Allah (swt) also gives glad tidings.
وَيُبَشّـِرُ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ الَّذِينَ يَعْمَلُونَ الصَّالِحَاتِ اَنَّ لَهُمْ أَجْراً كَبِيراً
“…gives good tidings to the believers who do righteous deeds that they shall have a great reward.”
The important take-away from this verse is that being a believer is not sufficient to receive divine grace from Almighty Allah (swt). One needs to perform virtuous actions so that they qualify for the great reward that is on offer in the next life.
Bad news is also mentioned as part of the “good” news as seen in verse 10.
وَاَنَّ الَّذِينَ لاَ يُؤْمِنُونَ بِالاَخِرَةِ أَعْتَدْنَا لَهُمْ عَذَاباً أَلِيماً
“And that (as for) those who do not believe in the Hereafter, We have prepared for them a painful chastisement.”
How do we understand this as a glad tiding?
Scholars have mentioned this as a type of teasing to the disbelievers. This is an attempt to show them how far they have been distanced from the truth.
This ayah also mentions those who disbelieve in the hereafter specifically – not any other aspect of belief.
There could be a group of people who are convinced by the logic of the Quran and its message. But their drowning in the material world has made them obsessed with their desires, and thus flee from any form of responsibility or accountability.
Inshallah our next discussion will be focused on human psychology as described in verse 11 of Surah Israa.
وَيَدْعُ الإِنسَانُ بِالشَّرِّ دُعَآءَهُ بِالْخَيْرِ وَكَانَ الإِنْسَانُ عَجُولاً
“And man prays for evil as he prays for the good; and man is ever hasty.”