Re-Evaluating Our Iman: A Reflection on the Last Page of Surat Al-Kahf


Part I

A Painful Experience

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When reading the 11-page surah most Fridays, the verses of the last page never fail to call my attention to a disturbing event. Allah says in Surat al-Kahf:

Say, [O Muhammad], “Shall we [believers] inform you of the greatest losers as to [their] deeds? [They are] those whose effort is lost in worldly life, while they think that they are doing well in work.” Those are the ones who disbelieve in the verses of their Lord and in [their] meeting Him, so their deeds have become worthless; and We will not assign to them on the Day of Resurrection any importance. (Qur’an, 18:103-105)

It is difficult to read these verses without feeling a little pained at the loss of the “deeds [that] have become worthless.” Ya Allah! Can you imagine leading a full life, being satisfied that you achieved your goals, believing you were a constructive member in society and gained “good karma” through your philanthropy, only to find that on the Day of Resurrection, it all counts for nothing in your account of good deeds?! May Allah protect us from standing in such a situation.

Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due

Subhan’Allah (glory be to Allah), looking at these verses out of context may bring doubt into some hearts about the ultimate justice of Allah; however, in the next verses, Allah immediately explains why, in this situation, He does not reward “good deeds” with goodness:

That is their recompense – Hell – for what they denied and [because] they took My signs and My messengers in ridicule. Indeed, those who have believed and done righteous deeds – they will have the Gardens of Paradise as a lodging, wherein they abide eternally. They will not desire from it any transfer. (18: 106-108)

Here, Allah contrasts the believers and disbelievers in three ways:

  1. Their faith: “denied” the Truth from Allah vs. “believed” in it;
  2. Their actions: “ridicule[d]” Allah’s signs and messengers vs. “believed” in them;
  3. Their final abode: “Hell” vs. “Gardens of Paradise.”

The believers referred to in this ayah (verse) maintained an essential level of justice, that is to “give credit where credit is due,” as many professors emphasize when assigning a research paper to their students. It is astonishing how some take “academic integrity and honesty” to heart, strongly opposing plagiarism, and yet they do not care to give credit where it is due for things greater than a mere research project: our living bodies, our free-to-choose minds, and the infinite blessings Allah bestows on us. In college, we accept the justice of the academic system that punishes plagiarizers or cheaters with failing grades, permanently marking their academic records and possibly even suspending or expelling them from school or academia, all for taking credit that is not due to them or for attributing it to another who does not deserve the credit. Yet when Allah says that the act of kufr is the one sin He never forgives, some people find that hard to accept.

The act of kufr, or covering the truth of Allah’s right to be worshiped alone, is similar to the act of cheating or plagiarism. Allah states, “Then do those who disbelieve think that they can take My servants instead of Me as allies? Indeed, We have prepared Hell for the disbelievers as a lodging.” (Qur’an, 18:102)

Takin’ it Easy Early in the Game

In the verses discussed so far, Allah (swt) describes the disbelievers. Some believers, however, read these verses without much reflection, as they do not pertain to them. But how true is that?

The Prophet ﷺ said:

Whoever has the following four (characteristics) will be a pure hypocrite and whoever has one of the following four characteristics will have one characteristic of hypocrisy unless and until he gives it up.

  1. Whenever he is entrusted, he betrays.
  2. Whenever he speaks, he tells a lie.
  3. Whenever he makes a covenant, he proves treacherous.
  4. Whenever he quarrels, he behaves in a very imprudent, evil and insulting manner. (Sahih Bukhari, Hadith 33, Book 2, Vol. 1)

In this hadith, the Prophet ﷺ said that a believer can have some characteristics of a hypocrite without actually being a hypocrite. So, by extension, can we also say that believers may have some characteristics of disbelievers? According to Ali (radi Allahu `anhu – may Allah be pleased with him), the description of the “greatest losers” is applicable to anyone who worships Allah (subhanahu wa ta`ala – exalted is He) in a manner that displeases Him while thinking they are pleasing Him (Tafsir Ibn Kathir). Pondering on the verses discussed above with this thought in mind may bring into question some of our priorities and actions.

“… Do those who disbelieve think that they can take My servants instead of Me as awliya’?” (Qur’an, 18:102)

Could we, as believers, also take other servants of Allah as awliya’ (allies, supporters) instead of Allah? The Prophet ﷺwas asked about a similar verse in Surat at-Tawbah, where Allah describes the deviation of Jews and Christians from the monotheistic faith:

They have taken their scholars and monks as lords besides Allah, and [also] the Messiah, the son of Mary. And they were not commanded except to worship one God; there is no deity except Him. Exalted is He above whatever they associate with Him. (Qur’an, 9:31)

The Prophet ﷺ recited this verse in front of `Adiyy ibn Hatim At-Taa’iyy, who was a Christian at the time. `Adiyy asked, “But they [the Jews] did not worship them [their scholars],” since Jews claimed to worship the One true God. The Prophet ﷺ responded,

Indeed [they did], didn’t they make prohibited what was made permissible for them [by Allah] and they [scholars] made permissible what is prohibited, and [the people] followed them [the scholars]? That is how they worship them [their scholars]. (Tirmidhi)

We see examples of this today, where many actions in the Torah and Gospel that are explicitly forbidden by Allah have become sanctioned by many Jewish and Christian religious leaders. We also know of historical events, like the First Council of Nicea (325 AD), where bishops convened in the presence of Constantine I and established the Creed of Nicea, which stated that the Mesiah was the son of God who was “begotten, not made” – this became the uniform position of the church, subhan’Allahi `amma yushrikun (Allah is more glorified and far from what they associate with Him).

By the explanation of this verse in Surat at-Tawba, the Prophet ﷺ extended the definition of monothiesim from mere ritualistic prayers (done as Allah prescribed) to a comprehensive way of life, in which Allah’s legislation (Qur’an and Sunnah) is above all standards of right and wrong set by humans without divine guidance. In other words, Allah does not accept that we blindly follow anyone, even if it’s a “sheikh” or “da`iyah,” without checking their statements’ validity according to Qur’an and Sunnah.

Taking a step back and reflecting on verse 102 of Surat al-Kahf, as illucidated by the Prophet’s definition of monothiesm, I wonder if we do not sometimes share this characteristic of disbelievers, who idolize humans, for instance, by taking their opinions into greater consideration than Allah’s guidance. Do we get pressured by our parents, friends, or social norms into doing things that displease Allah? What about following our own desires? If our materialistic interests or egos conflict with something Allah legislated, which do we choose? Is Islam really our deen (way of life), or is our deen a mix of social norms, some of which are Islamically acceptable and others that are not?

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4 Comments

  1. Mohsin says:

    I like the plagiarism analogy. JazakAllah khair.

  2. Imran Khan says:

    Assalamu’ Alaykum,

    Please clarify the following “In other words, Allah does not accept that we blindly follow anyone, even if it’s a “sheikh” or “da`iyah,” without checking their statements’ validity according to Qur’an and Sunnah.”

    Since the audience of this article are general masses (I am assuming this since its available for anyone to read and there’s no caveat), are you saying that we, as laymen, are burdened to look for shar’ee proofs before we implement an opinion of a respectable scholar? Please elaborate upon this statement as it appears problematic. Jazak Allah.

  3. Asmaa says:

    Wa alaikum assalam wa rahmatullah,

    Baraka Allahu feek Br. Imran for bringing up this question. I pray that the quotation you mention is not used to justify disrespect to the scholars or belittling their statements and ijtihad by people who do not have a solid foundation in Islamic sciences or want to follow their own hawaa (desire) in implementing and interpreting the deen.

    What I meant by that statement was that we should not “blindly” accept everything we hear from scholars. Sometimes, our community members’ blind faith in certain leaders is to the degree that if they make a statement contradictory to a *clear* verse of the Qur’an (with ma`naa thaahir) or Sunnah, they only respond by saying, “Who are we to question the scholar so and so?” If a Muslim *knows* (based on the Qur’an and Sunnah) that a given scholar’s statement is incorrect, it is his responsibility to speak up and advise the scholar, as the Prophet (s.a.w.s.) mentioned that we should support our believing brother when he is wrong by correcting him [paraphrased and abbreviated].

    An example of this is the story of Umar ibn Al-Khattab. During his khilafah (caliphate), many men complained that women were asking for very high dowries, making it difficult for them to marry. As a result, Umar (r.a.) decided to place a limit on how high women can ask for dowries (400 dirham). He stood on the podium to announce this new law. When he came down from the podium, a woman in the audience stood up to him and objected, saying, “Didn’t you hear what Allah has revealed in the Qur’an?” Umar (ra) responded, “And what [has He revealed]?” She said, “Didn’t you hear Allah saying ‘And you gave one of them a Qintara (a hundredweight, a lot) [in dowry]?” [4:20] He responded, “Forgiveness oh Allah! All the people have more fiqh (understanding) than Umar.” He returned to the podium and removed the limit in dowries. (To see other narrations, check the tafsir of the ayah 4:20 in Tafsir Ibn Katheer.)

    This is an example of how sometimes our scholars may focus on an aspect of a problem and forget another key piece of information. As true and respectable scholars, they would be welcoming to any correction or insight, as Umar (ra) did. We are all human and make mistakes sometimes. As Imam Malik said, “Everyone’s statements can be taken and refuted except the one with this grave [the Prophet peace be upon him].”

    Again, as laymen, if we learned about a specific verse or hadith from a scholar and doing research, and another “sheikh,” “da`iayh” or other Muslim leader is teaching something contradictory to it, it is our responsibility as Muslims to preserve the truth and speak up with a just and wise naseeha.

    Examples of “clear” issues are the prohibition of killing/starving, harming or oppressing your Muslim brother, drinking alcohol, committing adultery or sanctioning homosexual marriages. If a “sheikh” teaches otherwise, every Muslims who knows the truth should speak up. You don’t need a PhD in Shari`ah to know these things are not acceptable in Islam.

    If I said anything good, it was from Allah (swt), and if I said anything wrong, it was from myself, and I ask you to please advise and correct.

    Jazakum Allahu khairan and may Allah guide us all to the truth.

  4. Imran Khan says:

    Assalamu’ Alaykum,

    Jazak Allah for the clarification as it was really helpful. A lot of times, we need the proper context to understand a statement, which, if taken upon its literal import, can mislead others. It is my personal observation that many of our so-called differences lie in the way we express ourselves, not necessarily what we intended to convey. It was my sincere intention to get this clarified as I saw this statement as a blank check for ignorant laymen to question learned scholars. As you stated, it is only in matters that are common knowledge and do not require advance learning of religious sciences that one may practice this principle. Jazak Allah for your valuable response and time.

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