Lecture by Suhaib Webb | Transcribed by Fuseina Mohamad
Surat Al-Fatiha Series: Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V | Part VI | Part VII | Part VIII | Part IX| Part X | Part XI | Part XII | Part XIII | Part XIV | Part XV | Part XVI | Part XVII | Part XVIII | Part XIX | Part XX | Part XXI | Part XXII
In Surat al-Baqarah (Chapter of the Cow), Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) gives us the story of when Ibrahim and his son, Ismail, were building the Ka’bah. While doing so, they made this du`a’: “Our Lord, and send among them a messenger from themselves who will recite to them Your verses and teach them the Book and wisdom and purify them. Indeed, You are the Exalted in Might, the Wise.” (Qur’an, 2:129)
What’s one lesson we can take from this verse? How many years before Christ did Ibrahim live? Who knows?
It was between 3,000 to 5,000 years. Can you believe that we make du`a’ and we say, “How come Allah didn’t answer my du`a’ in one week?” It took this 3,000 years for Ibrahim’s du`a’ to be answered. You should never give up on your du`a’.
In the du`a’, Ibrahim (as) gave some of the objectives of this Prophet’s role:
- To read Your Allah’s verses to the people.
- To teach them the book and hikmah (wisdom). Imam As-Shafi mentioned in his monumental book Al Risalah (The Message) that al-hikmah is synonymous to as-sunnah (example of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ). Subhan Allah (glory be to God), our Sunnah is hikmah.
- To purify them. Here we find a clear verse proving that tazkiyat al-nafs (purification of the self) is founded in our shari`ah (Islamic tradition).
In this same chapter of the Qur’an, three pages later, Allah (swt) answers this du`a’. The fact that the answer comes three pages later can show that your du`a’ will be answered quickly – although in this case it took 3,000 years! Allah (swt) says, “Just as We have sent among you a messenger from yourselves reciting to you Our verses and purifying you and teaching you the Book and wisdom and teaching you that which you did not know.” (Qur’an, 2:151)
See if you catch something in the answer of the du`a’. Read the du`a’ of Ibrahim and then read the answer from Allah (swt). Did you catch something? Did you see something change?
The order of the objectives changed in the answer. In His response to Ibrahim, Allah (swt) changed tazkiya from number three to number two. In Surat al-Jumu`ah, Allah (swt) says, “It is He who has sent among the unlettered a Messenger from themselves reciting to them His verses and purifying them and teaching them the Book and wisdom—although they were before in clear error—” (Qur’an, 62:2).
Allah (swt) answers the du`a’ again and He mentions tazkiya in the second place, not the third.
In Surat ali-Imran, Allah (swt) says, “Certainly did Allah confer [great] favor upon the believers when He sent among them a Messenger from themselves, reciting to them His verses and purifying them and teaching them the Book and wisdom, although they had been before in manifest error.” (Qur’an 3:164)
Why did Allah (swt) change the order? To show us the importance of tazkiyat al-nafs.
If we go to the Qur’an, what is the greatest name that anyone can ever be given? The Prophet ﷺ said in a famous hadith that the greatest name is `Abdullah (slave of Allah). This is related by Imam Muslim and it’s sahih (authentic). The greatest name that anyone can be given is Abdullah or Abdul-Rahman (slave of the Most Merciful).
In Surat al-Isra, the first verse talks about Isra wal Miraj, the Prophet’s ﷺ night journey above the seven heavens. The ulema (scholars), such as Imam Al Qurtubi, said this was the closest anyone has ever been to Allah (swt) physically. What did Allah (swt) say? “Exalted is He who took His Servant by night from al-Masjid al-Haram to al-Masjid al-Aqsa, whose surroundings We have blessed, to show him of Our signs. Indeed, He is the Hearing, the Seeing.” (Qur’an, 17:1)
In that moment when the Prophet ﷺ was so close to Allah (swt) what was the term that Allah used? `abd (slave). To show you that the greatest position anyone can ever be in this life is the slave of Allah (swt). That’s why above the seven heavens Allah (swt) said, “Glorified be the One who took His slave […]” Allah (swt) didn’t say His Prophet, His Messenger or His habib (Beloved). Allah (swt) said His slave.
As Muslims, what is a lesson that we can take from this? Maybe you think, “I shouldn’t wear hijab because I’ll be debased.” Or “I shouldn’t pray because I’ll be debased.” Or “I shouldn’t stop cussing with my fellow classmates. When we’re hanging out doing projects and they’re speaking like Dolomite, DMX, Snoop Dogg and all these wonderful intellectual leaders and philosophers of the current world, maybe I should cuss too.” When these thoughts cross your mind remember that there’s no greater honor than being the slave of Allah (swt). That’s why the Prophet ﷺ said that the closest anyone can ever be to Allah is in sujood (Muslim).
The term `abd is used many times in the Qur’an, but three times in particular to discuss the actual make-up of the Muslim personality. Now on campus you’re wondering, “Should I be active or should I be spiritual? Should I be intelligent? What should I be??”
Well, hopefully you’re intelligent – this is what you need to be first – because Allah (swt) began with knowledge before anything else: “Know that there is no God but Allah,” (Qur’an, 47:19). First you have to know it. This is an order.
We go to the Qur’an and we find that the greatest title that was given to any human being was not the MVP of the NBA or the NFL or the Bollywood Award Winner of the Year or whatever. The greatest title was `abd of Allah (swt). The Servant of Allah (swt). This is honor. We find this term `abd is used in the Qur’an in three different aspects of our tarbiyah (growth):
- Knowledge: Allah (swt) said in Surat al-Fatir, “Only those fear Allah, from among His servants, who have knowledge” (Qur’an, 35:28).
- Being Active: About being active Allah (swt) says, “And the servants of the Most Merciful are those who walk upon the earth easily, and when the ignorant address them [harshly], they say [words of] peace” (Qur’an, 25:63).
- Tazkiyat al-Nafs: Allah (swt) said in Surat as-Saffat about Ibrahim (as), “When he came to his Lord with a sound heart,” (Qur’an, 37:84). Then later on Allah says, “Indeed, he was of Our believing servants,” (Qur’an, 37:111).
Not everyone is going to be balanced on all three. Maybe some people are biased towards tazkiya. Maybe some people are biased towards activism. Maybe some people are biased towards knowledge. However they should recognize the importance of all three.
We go to Surah Ibrahim where Allah (swt) combined all three in one verse. He said, “Have you not considered how Allah presents an example, [making] a good word like a good tree, whose root is firmly fixed and its branches [high] in the sky?” (Qur’an 14:24). Ibn Abbas said this verse is a simile for the believer. The good word is ‘la ilaha illa Allah‘ (there is no God but Allah) and the tree which this good word is affecting is the believer, the Muslim.
And what is the foundation of a Muslim, as compared to the roots of a tree? The Prophet (saw) said, “Indeed in the body there’s a piece of flesh. If it’s corrupted the whole body is corrupted. If it’s sound the whole body is sound. Indeed this is the heart,” (Muslim). As the foundation of the tree is the roots, the foundation of the Muslim’s personality is their heart.
And what are the branches that are shooting out of the tree of the believer? What do you think? Their actions. Subhan’Allah look at the beauty of the Qur’an. Maybe we read this verse a million times and the only thing we thought about was talking, in that when I talk my speech will plant a seed and so forth. That’s true, that’s one tafsir (interpretation) of this verse. But how many of us read this verse and understood that in this one small verse Allah (swt) is giving the complete personality of the Muslim? Knowledge because you have to have knowledge to say “La ilaha illa Allah, there is no deity worthy of worship besides Allah”; spirituality if your foundation is firm, and reaching branches if you are active. So the Muslim personality has all three.
We move to some other verses in the Qur’an. Sometimes Allah (swt) swears in the Qur’an to emphasize things. This is called al-qasim (the oath). For example, we do that too. How many of you play basketball? I play basketball, or I used to until I got older. You know how in sports there is a foul and it’s in question, what someone will say to emphasize their position?
“I put that on my mama, man! I swear by my mother!”
Alhamdullilah (praise be to God) Muslims don’t say that, we’re talking about other folks. We’re not talking about ourselves hopefully. Because the Muslims should only swear on Allah – to swear on something else is considered shirk.
In the Qur’an sometimes Allah (swt) swears to emphasize things. For example, He says “By the morning brightness. And [by] the night when it covers with darkness. Your Lord has not taken leave of you, [O Muhammad], nor has He detested [you],” (Qur’an 93:1-3).
Allah (swt) swears by the mountain (Qur’an, 52:1). Allah (swt) also swears by the setting of the stars: “By the star when it descends, your companion [Muhammad] has not strayed, nor has he erred,” (Qur’an, 53:1-2).
In many places in the Qur’an Allah (swt) swears to emphasize points, and after the oaths has an answer. This is called jawab al-qasam (answer to the oaths). Subhan’Allah there’s one very beautiful chapter where Allah (swt) swears in a way that He doesn’t swear anywhere else in the Qur’an. Usually Allah (swt) will swear two or three times and then He answers it, like in Surah Al Waqiah: “Then I swear by the setting of the stars, And indeed, it is an oath—if you could know—[most] great. Indeed, it is a noble Qur’an,” (Qur’an, 56:75-77) But in this Surah, Allah swears seven or nine times:
“By the sun and its brightness
And [by] the moon when it follows it
And [by] the day when it displays it
And [by] the night when it covers it
And [by] the sky and He who constructed it
And [by] the earth and He who spread it
And [by] the soul and He who proportioned it
And inspired it [with discernment of] its wickedness and its righteousness
He has succeeded who purifies it,
And he has failed who instills it [with corruption].”
Allah (swt) swears by the sun, the moon, the night and day, the heavens, the earth and the One who spread the earth and the One who shaped the soul of the human being and inspired it about good and evil. Then the answer after all of this is what? Indeed successful is the one who purifies it. “It” has to go back to a noun, and that noun is the soul.