Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Four Quls: The Value of Surah al Ikhlas (1/3)

Surah al Kafirun, the first of the Four Quls, denounces the objects of worship by the disbelievers, while at the same time affirms the “One” worshipped by the believers.

What might this “object” be, the One worshipped by the believers?

The answer comes in the second of the Four Quls, Surah al Ikhlas.

“Say, He is Allah, the One and Only,” the Surah opens.  The Surah then elaborates this One and Only God with three other short verses.  And that completes it, making it one of the shortest chapters in the Quran.

Yet, its standing in the Quran is “valued” as if it is a third of the whole Quran, as authentic Hadith (Tradition) by al Bukhari indicates. 

Now, consider this point.  The standardized Uthmani copy of the Quran contains 604 pages, with 15 lines every page, and, excluding the normal Bismillah which is not part of the Surah, this Surah barely occupies two lines.  Two lines out of 604 pages of 15 lines per page, and yet its value is a third of the whole Quran!  That alone indicates the importance of this Surah.

Surah al Ikhlas is considered a Makki surah, but, as Maudoodi has observed, there seem to be some dispute about this fact, because some scholars seem to think that it was revealed in Madinah.

The reason for the dispute is because some Traditions indicate that it was revealed during the Makkah period, while others point to its revelation during the Madinah period. 

In one tradition, for instance, Abdullah bin Mas'ud has reported that the Quraysh said to the Holy Prophet (upon whom be peace): "Tell us of the ancestry of your Lord." Thereupon this Surah was sent down.

Jabir bin Abdullah has also stated that a Bedouin said to the Holy Prophet: "Tell us of your Lord's ancestry." Thereupon Allah sent down this Surah.

Both of the above Traditions clearly point to the Makkah period.

One the other hand, there is also a tradition from Ibn Abbas, saying that a group of the Jews came to the Holy Prophet and said: "O Muhammad, tell us of the attributes of your Lord, who has sent you as a Prophet." Thereupon Allah sent down this Surah.

Ibn Abbas has also related that a deputation of the Christians of Najran along with seven priests visited the Holy Prophet, and they said: "O Muhammad, tell us what is your Lord like and of what substance He is made."  The Holy Prophet replied, "My Lord is not made from any substance. He is unique and exalted above everything." Thereupon Allah sent down this Surah.

Yet in other Tradition, Dahhak, Qatadah and Muqatil have stated that some Jewish rabbis came before the Holy Prophet, and they said: "O Muhammad, tell us what is your Lord like, so that we may believe in you. Allah in the Torah has sent down His description. Kindly tell us of what He is made, what is His sex, whether He is made of gold, copper, brass, iron, or silver, and whether He eats and drinks. Also tell us from whom He has inherited the world, and who will inherit it after Him." Thereupon Allah sent down this Surah.

Those three Traditions clearly point to Madinah period.

Why are there so many contradictions, not only regarding the periods, but also the “reasons” for its revelation? 

In actual fact, there are no contradictions.  All those apparently contradictory reports do not actually point to the reasons for its revelation, but rather the responses made by the Prophet regarding the questions put to him.   

As we know, Quranic verses were revealed little by little in stages, addressing specific event, question, challenge, problem, dilemma, accusation, etc..  Some were revealed to console the Prophet, such as Surah ad Dhuha, others were revealed to console the whole Islamic community under distress, such as Surah Yusuf, many others to respond to the challenge made by the enemies, such as Surah al Kahfi

Verses were also revealed to address specific dilemma faced by the Prophet, such as his marriage with Zaynab bint Jash, who was then the wife of his adopted son, Zayd bin Haritha.  A few verses were also revealed to clear the good name of his young wife, Ayesha, who was being accused of infidelity.

Now, it is known that repeated revelations of the same verses are unnecessary, because once revealed, the Prophet would remember these by heart.  His companions would in turn put these into writing, and many would also memorize by hearts. 

Likewise with Surah al Ikhlas.  It was revealed but once, although the above Traditions appear to suggest that it was revealed many times.  All these apparent contradictions, however, can be resolved with a very simple solution.  Take the phrase “therefore Allah sent down this Surah” in those Traditions, and replaces it with “therefore the Prophet recited this Surah.”  Do that and the whole contradictions are vanished into the thin air. 

Just because the narrators of the Traditions say “therefore this Surah was revealed” does not mean that it was “actually” revealed at that moment, or because of that particular event.  It was merely their way of recording the events that they had witnessed.  And they had witnessed that, after those questions were put to the Prophet, the latter responded by reciting Surah al Ikhlas.  

In short, therefore, all those contradictions do not exist in the first place.  On the contrary, those various ahadith only point to the weight of this Surah, which was used many times to address many different questions asked in different occasions, unlike other verses or Surah which are used only once or twice.

Looking from that light, it is not surprising that the Prophet put a greater value on this short Surah as compared to others. 

Of far greater value, of course, must have come from its meaning.  Taking the above quoted Traditions as the backgrounds, we shall try to look into some of its meanings in the next instalments, insyaAllah, but to conclude this first part, let’s see whether it is a Makki or a Madani Surah.

That this is a Makki Surah is well established.  In all likelihood, it is also among the earliest surahs being revealed to the Prophet.  As Maudoodi puts it, “another proof of this Surah's being one of the earliest surahs to be revealed is that when in Makkah Umayyah bin Khalaf, the master of Hadrat Bilal, made him lie down on burning sand and placed a heavy stone on his chest, Bilal used to cry "Ahad, Ahad!" This word was derived from this very Surah.” 

Maudoodi’s keen observation is of some validity here.  Although the word “Ahad” was already in the Arabic vocabulary, it is highly unlikely that Bilal would utter that word to mean “Allah” when being tortured had the Surah not been revealed.  He would have uttered “Allah, Allah” instead.

Since Bilal was tortured during the fourth year of Muhammad’s prophethood (or thereabout), this Surah must have been revealed earlier. 

End of Part 1

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