Tafsiir Continued

Jihad

A topic that is widely discussed in the Quran and that has many political implications in today’s society, is Jihad (“holy war” or “holy struggle”). The word “الجهاد” comes from the root word “جهد” which means to strive or exert oneself, and also means effort, routine, and so on. Jihad has been grossly misunderstood by many non-Muslims, as Jihad holds, perhaps first and foremost, a spiritual meaning – that of spiritual Jihad – which each person is constantly engaging in within themselves. We carry out Jihad at every stage of our lives in order to reach a societal equilibrium that Islam strives for and which is a reflection of inner jihad and stability. The 5 pillars of Islam are related to this spiritual jihad – as the daily prayers of “salat” are a form of spiritual jihad, as is faith, as is Ramadan – the detachment of temptations of the material world which requires strength and inner discipline, as does the Hajj – which requires hard work and preparation and is a tedious journey, and finally, as does Zakat (religious tax/charity), in order to fight against one’s greediness.

As for Jihad in the sense of the Jihad external to one’s own body, it is often depicted as a defense mechanism in the Quran. An aya in Surat al-Baqarah goes as such:

وَاقْتُلُوهُمْ حَيْثُ ثَقِفْتُمُوهُمْ وَأَخْرِجُوهُم مِّنْ حَيْثُ أَخْرَجُوكُمْ وَالْفِتْنَةُ أَشَدُّ مِنَ الْقَتْلِ وَلاَ تُقَاتِلُوهُمْ عِندَ الْمَسْجِدِ الْحَرَامِ حَتَّى يُقَاتِلُوكُمْ فِيهِ فَإِن قَاتَلُوكُمْ فَاقْتُلُوهُمْ كَذَلِكَ جَزَاء الْكَافِرِينَ

 

“And slay them wherever you find them, and drive them away from where they drove you away. And persecution is more grievous than slaughter. And fight not with them at the Sacred Mosque unless they fight with you therein; then, if they fight with you, slay them; such is the retribution of the infidels.” (aya 191)

 

Which is followed by the next aya:

فَإِنِ انتَهَوْاْ فَإِنَّ اللّهَ غَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌ

 

“But if they desist, then surely Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.” (aya 192).

 

Here it becomes clear that many aya’s urge one to put peace first. This can also be seen in in Surat Anfal (the Bounties):

وَإِنْ جَنَحُوا لِلسَّلْمِ فَاجْنَحْ لَهَا وَتَوَكَّلْ عَلَى اللَّهِ ۚ إِنَّهُ هُوَ السَّمِيعُ الْعَلِيمُ

 

“And if they incline to peace, then you (too) incline to it and put your trust in Allah; verily He is the All-Hearing, the All-Knowing.” (aya 61)

 

The Early Prophets:

The early Prophets consisted of the following: the Prophet Salih of the Thamud people in the North of Arabia, Prophet Shuaib of the Midian people in the Sinai, Prophet Hud of the Ad people in the South of Arabia, Prophet Lot of the people of Sodom, and the Prophet Noah. These were the early Prophets – and each of their stories have many parallels and a similar morality – do not forget Allah and stray of the path of goodness and commit sins of theft, murder, homosexuality, worshipping idols, attachment to materialism, disbelief in Allah- for he will punish you for that. Each of these Prophets attempted to tell their people’s and persuade them to stop their sins and to believe in Allah again, and were patient in their doing so, and each of their people’s did not listen to them – fating themselves to apocalyptic natural disasters caused by Allah.

Finally, Surat al-Khaf (The Cave), number 18, which is 110 aya’s long and consists of four stories. The first is the story of the people of the cave, where Allah told some men to dwell in a cave for 309 years, and when they woke up they found the people around them believed in Allah and they were in a society of faith. The second story was of a man who was given two gardens of grapes, with green crops, and he became very arrogant and forgot Allah, and so it was taken away from him. The third is the story of the Prophet Musa (Moses) who was asked by his people who held the most knowledge on the earth, and he replied he did. Then he heard of a learned man who had even more knowledge than he (Al-Khidr) and went out in search of him. Al-Khidr did three things which seemed immoral and wrong to Mosa at the time – he made a hole in a ship, killed a child, and built a wall himself for no seeming reason. It turned out that he made a hole in the ship because there was an unjust king who was taking away all the ships by force, he killed the child because he was not dutiful to his parents, who were very righteous, and he built the wall over a treasure belonging to two orphan boys which otherwise would have been found and taken from them. The fourth story is the story of the King Dhul Qarnain, who was a just king who had the means to spread justice and goodness. He traveled to the East and West and did so.

The trials put forth within this Surah is the trial of religion from the first story, the trial of wealth from the second story, the trial of knowledge from the third story, and the trial of power from the fourth story. The morals to be learned from these trials is as such: the trial of religion shows our need of righteous companions. The trial of wealth teaches us not to become attached to this life of materialism. The trial of knowledge teaches us humility and to trust in Allah and his plan. Finally, the trial of power teaches us sincerity.

Although the Prophet Suleiman is not considered to be a part of the early Prophets, he is an important Prophet in the Qur’an. He was mentioned in several of the Surah’s – including Surah of the Ants, where he asks for three things: to be a King, to be wise, and that if anyone goes to the Holy Temple that they be forgiven. Suleiman became one of the most powerful Kings, who could speak to the winds, birds, and to jinni. Because of this he had a really strong army. Surat An-Naml (Surah of the Ants) shows that he understood the Ants. Surat as-Saba shows what power he had, and that the jinni were afraid of him:

وَلِسُلَيْمَـانَ الرّ‌ِيحَ غُدُوُّهَا شَهْرٌ وَرَوَاحُهَا شَهْرٌ وَأَسَلْنَا لَهُ عَيْنَ الْقِطْرِ وَمِنَ الْجِنّ‌ِ مَن يَعْمَلُ بَيْنَ يَدَيْهِ بِإِذْنِ رَبّـِهِ وَمَن يَزِغْ مِنْهُمْ عَنْ أَمْرِنَا نُذِقْهُ مِنْ عَذَابِ السَّعِيرِ

 

“And for Solomon (We made subservient) the wind which travelled in the morning a month’s journey and a month’s journey in the evening. And We made a fountain of molten copper to flow out for him, and of the jinn, some worked before him by the leave of his Lord; and whoever of them turned away from Our command, We made him taste of the chastisement of the blazing Fire.” (aya 12)

In Surat Sad, 30 after he had spent a day with horses whom he loved very much, he had forgotten to pray, and as a result he killed all the horses and gave the meat to the poor. Many of the Surah’s shows Suleiman’s power.

The Qur’an affects and guides millions of people around the world. Attempting to understand it therefore crucial and a necessity. As mentioned in the previous post “Tafsiir (Quran Interpretation 101” – this is just meant as a rudimentary dip into the world of Tafsiir and is by no means the only interpretation possible for any of these aya’s or Surah’s. The Arabic and English translations in this article were derived from https://www.alislam.org/, a reputable, widely used and well-known site for understanding the Quran.

Tafsiir (Quran Interpretation 101)

“Bismallaah Al-Rahman Al-Rahiim” (In the name of God, the most Gracious and the Merciful”): The “Basmala”, this is the opening phrase in the Quran, and opens every Surah except for Surah 9, “Al-Tawba” (The Repudiation).* This article will go through some reflections and points on each of the Surah’s. Due to the complexity surrounding the issues, this is just offering some تفسير (tafsiir or Quranic interpretations) of various آية‎ (“aya”, verse ) and سورة (“surah”, chapter) and is by no means the only interpretation possible.

Surah Kafirun, the “Unbelievers” (الكافرين) in other words, the one who doesn’t know the Truth. This Surah, number 109, is only 6 آيات (“ayat”, verses) long. It ends with: “to you be your religion, and to me my religion”. This holds openminded connotations, similar to the old saying “to each his own.” This Surah can be seen as an order to the Prophet Muhammad to not force the unbelievers. Similarly, in Surah number 10, Surah يونس (“Yunus”, Jonah), aya 41:

“وَإِن كَذَّبُوكَ فَقُل لِي عَمَلِي وَلَكُمْ عَمَلُكُمْ أَنتُم بَرِيئُونَ مِمَّآ أَعْمَلُ وَأَنَاْ بَريءٌ مِمَّا تَعْمَلُونَ”

“And if they belie you, say: ‘For me is my work and for you is your work. You are quit of what I do, and I am quit of what you do’.”

It emphasised that one cannot force others to believe. In other words, force is not commendable here, but rather, the opposite, is: سلام (“salam”, peace). The word “Islam” is derived from this root word “sine (س) lam (ل) mim (م)”, here pronounced “sa la ma”, as does the word “Muslim”. Surah Yunus may be examined closely alongside Surah Kafirun, as it addresses monotheism and how to deal with those who deny the revelation.

Surah Miryam (مريم), or in Christianity and Judaism, “Mary”, the mother of Jesus, tells a beautiful story of the birth of Jesus. In Islam, unlike in Christianity, Jesus is not the son of God, but another prophet, alongside other prophets like Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Ishmael, Idris, Adam, Noah, and so on. A rationalisation of this is derived from the following logic: Allah wouldn’t need, want, or have a son because this would then imply divisibility and furthermore a need for intimacy, etc. Miryam is the only woman’s name mentioned in the Quran, and is mentioned 34 times in the Quran. The Surah tells of the prophet Abraham who left his father, who worshipped idols, and was rewarded with two sons – Isaac and Jacob. The Guardian of Mary, Zechariah, also a prophet, and the husband of Elizabeth (Mary’s cousin) wanted a son, but his wife was barren and he was very old, and so he asked God who forbade him to speak for three days, and then gave him a son named يوحنا (“Yahya”, John. Generations after these prophets, people became negligent of God, and gave in to their basic desires, as the Arabs believed in life after death more as a formality and custom. The argument for life after death follows the following line: the first birth, the birth that is why we are all here, is the argument that supports re-birth.

Mary, sister of Aaron, is a miracle, and perhaps is a way to show people that although things may seem bad in the moment, they are good. Mary’s birth was very painful, so painful she said that she wished she had never been born:

فَاَجَآءَهَا الْمَـخَاضُ إِلَي جِذْعِ النَّخْلَةِ قَالَتْ يَا لَيْتَنِي مِتُّ قَبْلَ هَذَا وَكُنتُ نَسْياً مَنْسِيّاً

“And the pains of childbirth drove her to the trunk of a palm-tree. She said: ‘Would I had died ere this, and had been a thing forgotten’.” (aya 23)

and Allah told her to eat the sweet dates off the tree and drink water:

فَنَادَاهَا مِن تَحْتِهَآ اَلاَّ تَحْزَنِي قَدْ جَعَلَ رَبُّكِ تَحْتَكِ سَرِيّاً

وَهُزّ‌ِي إِلَيْكِ بِجِذْعِ النَّخْلَةِ تُسَاقِطْ عَلَيْكِ رُطَباً جَنِيّاً

“Then (a voice) called out unto her from beneath her: ‘Grieve not! Verily your Lord has made a stream to flow beneath you’.” (aya 24)
“And shake the trunk of the palm-tree towards yourself. It will drop on you fresh ripe dates.” (aya 25)

Surah Al Zumar (الزر) “the Groups”, describes the Day of Judgement. There are many names for the Day of Judgement, such as the Day of the Rising, the Day of Regret, the Day of Recompense, and the Day of Meeting. Here those that were going to Heaven or Hell were referred to repeatedly as the “troops” or the “throngs”, who would enter the gates of Heaven or Hell as such. Paradise and Hell were, in this Surah, both described as having gates, and keepers. One would be judged by a record of their deeds, and then witnesses would provide testimonies. This Surah also states that if you recite this Surah, you won’t go to Hell. Heaven is described as having lofty rooms and rivers flowing with milk, wine, and honey, while Hell is described as “Coverings of fire”. Those that lied, “their faces will be black”:

وَيَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ تَرَی الَّذِينَ كَذَبُوا عَلَی اللَّهِ وُجُوهُهُمْ مُسْوَدَّةٌ أَلَيْسَ فِي جَهَنَّمَ مَثْویً لِلْمُتَكَبِّرِينَ

“And on the Day of Resurrection you will see those who lied against Allah – their faces will be black. Is there not in Hell an abode for the vain?” (aya 60) 

The book of deeds will be put forth, and the Prophets and witnesses will be brought forward (aya 69).

Surah al-Nisa (النساء, “the women”) is one of the most controversial Surah’s. It is the longest Surah in the Quran after second Surah, البقرة (“Baqarah”, The Cow) with 177 verses. Surah al-Nisa’s topics span from faith, justice, to supporting the orphans at the end, marriage, inheritance, immigration, Holy War/Jihad, and opponents of the Islamic community. The first 35 aya’s are about women and family affairs. Aya 34 holds extreme importance and is greatly debated about the meaning:

الرِّجَالُ قَوَّامُونَ عَلَى النِّسَاء بِمَا فَضَّلَ اللّهُ بَعْضَهُمْ عَلَى بَعْضٍ وَبِمَا أَنفَقُواْ مِنْ أَمْوَالِهِمْ فَالصَّالِحَاتُ قَانِتَاتٌ حَافِظَاتٌ لِّلْغَيْبِ بِمَا حَفِظَ اللّهُ وَاللاَّتِي تَخَافُونَ نُشُوزَهُنَّ فَعِظُوهُنَّ وَاهْجُرُوهُنَّ فِي الْمَضَاجِعِ وَاضْرِبُوهُنَّ فَإِنْ أَطَعْنَكُمْ فَلاَ تَبْغُواْ عَلَيْهِنَّ سَبِيلاً إِنَّ اللّهَ كَانَ عَلِيًّا كَبِيرًا

“Men have authority over women because Allah has made some of them to excel others and because they spend out of their property (for the support of women). Therefore, the good women are obedient, guarding the unseen as Allah has guarded. And (as to) those (women) on whose part you fear desertion, admonish them, and avoid them in beds and beat them; then if they obey you, do not seek a way against them; verily Allah is Ever-High, Ever-Great.”.

Aya 75 encourages Muslims to fight for the vulnerable in war – referring to oppressed men, women, and children:

وَمَا لَكُمْ لاَ تُقَاتِلُونَ فِي سَبِيلِ اللّهِ وَالْمُسْتَضْعَفِينَ مِنَ الرِّجَالِ وَالنِّسَاء وَالْوِلْدَانِ الَّذِينَ يَقُولُونَ رَبَّنَا أَخْرِجْنَا مِنْ هَـذِهِ الْقَرْيَةِ الظَّالِمِ أَهْلُهَا وَاجْعَل لَّنَا مِن لَّدُنكَ وَلِيًّا وَاجْعَل لَّنَا مِن لَّدُنكَ نَصِيرً }

“And what has happened to you that you should not fight in the way of Allah and for the weak among men, women and children who say: ‘Our Lord! Take us out of this town whose people are oppressors, and appoint for us from You guardian, and appoint for us from you helper!”

For the early Muslim community, this aya outlined acceptable behavior. It is commonly utilised by fundamentalists for control, and was believed to be revealed to the Prophet Muhammad during جَاهِلِيَّة (“Jahiliyyah”,Time of Ignorance, referring to the time before the advent of Islam, in other words, the time before the Prophet Muhammad). During that time, polygamy was the norm (for men) and so women had no laws protecting her, and as it was all tribes, the Surah here helped lay down foundations for marriage, inheritance, and such. Surah Al-Nisa may be seen as an early attempt at social reform, as:

يُرِيدُ اللّهُ أَن يُخَفِّفَ عَنكُمْ وَخُلِقَ الإِنسَانُ ضَعِيفًا

“Allah desires that He should make light your burden, and man has been created weak.” (Aya 28)

As seen merely from examining a few select aya’s from Surah al-Nisa, it is clear the topics in this Surah span many topics.

With knowledge of the Arabic language, one would understand the concept of the root word in Arabic, of which many other words stem from that – each of their meanings having some connection with the meaning of the root word. This is extremely important to understand and recognise, because it means that every aya in the Quran may be interpreted in many different ways, hence the need and growth of Tafsiir. Furthermore, reading a text has many layers:

  1. The meaning the reader derives from the text, inevitably influenced by their schemata. This is influenced by the time and place and era one is in, as nothing is produced in a vacuum: the reader is, inevitably, to some extent, a product of your environments, and therefore as are your thoughts.
  2. Similarly, the author is also a product of his/her time and place, and therefore, there is the meaning the author wanted the reader to know.
  3. Finally, there is also the meaning the author didn’t intend the reader to know or didn’t know himself or herself at the time.

These latent and manifest layers require one to acknowledge that these interpretations are not whole and are not representations of the aya’s in their meaning entirely. This article merely acts as a very rudimentary first dip into the abyss of Tafsiir. The Arabic and English translations in this article were derived from https://www.alislam.org/, a repudiable, widely used and well-known site for understanding the Quran.

* It is debated why this is the only Surah of the 114 Surah that together comprise the Quran that does not begin with the Basmala. This link provides a clear explanation of the main theories as to why this is: https://islam.stackexchange.com/questions/36463/why-does-surah-taubah-start-without-bismillah.