This is a digression from Shaykh Ismail Menk's discourse on The Quran. I find this Sayyid Qutb classic on Surah Al Ma'oun irresistible and would like to share with you guys. I think his almost sublime treatment of the surah is the best so far I have read, and I have read quite a few Tafseer works. While the salafi Tafseer Ibnu Katsir and Shaykh Rashid Rida were so dry, and very straight forward, and Hamka's treatment much better, Sayyid Qutb's play with words and emotion, I find very inspiring. Reading him provide me with the occasional 'honey' and 'nectar' that we often look for in our every day life within the Faith.
With the Tsunamis hitting the shore of Japan and elsewhere yesterday,and the socio-political Tsunami hitting the Middle East which inevitably will lead to further splintering of the Muslim ummah and of course our collective strenght, 'honey'and 'nectar' are hard to come by nowadays. [I certainly have my own personal perception of what the Tsunamis represent but in this age of political correctness and scientific advancement, will keep that perception of mine wholly private.]
In the name of Allah, the Beneficient, the Merciful!
Have you seen him who denies Our religion?
It is he who harshly repels the orphan
and does not urge others to feed the needy.
Woe to those who pray
but are heedless of their prayers;
who put on a show of piety
but refuse to give even the smallest help to others.
In the Shade of the Qur'an
This surah is a Makkan revelation according to some authorities and a
Makkan-Medinan one according to others (the first three verses are said
to have been revealed in Makka and the rest in Medina). The latter
opinion is perhaps more accurate. Yet the surah is one interwoven
entity, aiming at the establishment of one of the most fundamental
aspects of Faith. For this reason we are more inclined to take it as
being an entirely Medinan revelation. Its subject matter is more in
line with the topics of the part of the Qur'an revealed in Medina.
It is related to the phenomena of hypocrisy and false appearances which
were unheard of among the Muslim community in Makka. But there is no
need to reject the assertion that the surah is a Makkan, Medinan
revelation, because it is possible that the last four verses were
sent down in Medina and integrated with the first three on grounds of
similarity of subject. Having said that, let us now consider the surah
and its theme.
This surah of seven short verses tackles an important and vital issue
which could very well change the common meanings normally assigned the
terms "faith" or "Iman" and "disbelief" or "Kufr" Moreover, it brings
forth the fundamental truth intrinsic in the nature of the Islamic
faith, the enormous benefit it offers to all humanity and the abundant
blessings with which Allah favoured mankind when He sent them His last
Islam is not a way of life built on ostentation and superficiality. The
apparent aspects of the different acts of worship are, according to
Islam, meaningless unless they are motivated by sincerity and devotion
to Allah. Worship sincerely motivated produces effects within the
individual's heart which then cause him to act righteously and which
are reflected in a social behaviour which elevates man's life on this
No less true is the fact that Islam is not a loose, fragmentary, dis
jointed system from which one can pick and choose at leisure. On the
contrary, it is a complete way of life with acts of worship and rites
as well as individual and collective obligations that are mutually
complementary. Together they lead to a goal of which mankind is the
sole beneficiary, a goal which ensures that hearts are purified, life
is ennobled, and men co-operate for the common good and progress a
goal wherein abounds the blessings of Allah.
A man can profess to be a Muslim, that is, he accepts this religion
and all its principles, offers prayers regularly and observes other
of worship, and yet be lacking in the essence of faith and sincerity of
belief. In fact, he may be very far from these. For there are signs
which indicate the firm establishment of these qualities in men's
As explained in the commentary on surah 103, "The Declining Day", the
essence of faith once firmly rooted in the hearts and minds, will begin
immediately to operate and manifest itself in men's behaviour. The surah
stresses unequivocally that, if this is not the case, there is no faith.
"Have you seen him who denies Our religion? It is he who harshly repels
the orphan and does not urge others to feed the needy." The surah starts
with a question addressed to all who can "see", generating suspense and
holding their attention in order to make them discover the target and
subject of the surah. Ah! Who is this creature identified by the Qur'an
as the one who denies the religion of Islam? Hence, the answer: "It is
he who harshly repels the orphan and does not urge others to feed the
needy." This definition of the disbelievers may sound surprising when
compared with the traditional definition of faith. but this is the core
of the whole matter. Indeed the one who denies the faith is he who
wickedly repels the orphan, humiliating him and hurting his feelings!
and who does not care for the needy or their welfare. For if the truth
of Islam has in any degree touched his heart. he would commit no such
acts. True belief in Islam is not a spoken word but an overall change
of the individual's heart, motivating him to benevolence and goodwill
for all his fellow beings that are in need of his care and protection.
Allah does not want mere words from His servants but demands deeds to
support the spoken words which, otherwise, are as weightless and
valueless as blown ash. Nothing can be more forceful than these three
verses in affirming this fact which represents most aptly the nature
We do not intend here to indulge in a juristic discussion on the
boundaries of faith and Islam. These are required in legal affairs,
whereas this surah states the facts from Allah's point of view and
judgement, which is quite different from the legal aspect. Next,
Allah offers a practical illustration of what is meant above: "Woe
to those who pray, but are heedless of their prayers." These verses
contain Allah's invocation against, or a threat of destruction to
those who offer prayers but are careless about them. Who exactly are
such? They are those "who put on a show of piety but refuse to give
even the smallest help to others," those who perform prayers but do
not aptly meet their requirements. They execute the mechanical aspects
and pronounce the verbal formulae of prayers but their hearts are never
alive to them, nor are they nourished by praying.
The essence and purpose of prayer and its component parts (recitation,
supplication and exaltation of Allah) are never present in their souls.
They offer prayers only to deceive others and not out of devotion to
Allah. Hence, they are inattentive when they pray. They only outwardly
perform their prayers. Muslims are required to offer their prayers
regularly, having in mind that their prayers are a manifestation of
their servitude to Allah alone. Thus, prayer leaves no result in those
who are neglectful and inattentive to it. Consequently they refuse to
be kind or helpful to their fellow beings and deny the slightest charity
to any of the servants of Allah.
Once again, we find ourselves presented with the fundamental truth and
the nature of this religion, a Qur'anic verse threatens with destruction
certain people who offer prayers precisely because they carry out
meaningless movements devoid of any spirit or sense of purpose,
intended for deceit and pretence, and not devoted to Allah. Since
their prayers have not affected their hearts and behaviour, they are
not merely useless but rather a sin for which they are liable to severe
From all these, we gather the purpose behind what Allah demands of
His servants when He instructs them to believe in, and worship Him.
He seeks no benefit thereof for Himself, as He is All-Affluent, but
all He cares for is their own welfare and prosperity, purification
of their hearts and happiness in their lives. Allah wishes human life
to be elevated, happy, based on pure motives and characterised by
mutual compassion, brotherhood and purity of hearts and behaviour.
To where then is humanity driving itself? Away from this abundance of
mercy? Away from this wonderful and sublime path? How can mankind debase
itself to living in the wilderness of a wretched and gloomy Ignorance
when it beholds the sparkling light of faith before its very eyes at
the cross-roads where it now stands?