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Exegesis of Surah al-LahabWritten by محبوب حسين الأزهرى
The name of this Sura is al-Lahab. It has one rukoo, five verses, twenty words and seventy seven letters.
This was revealed in Makkah Mukarramah. For the full information on the reason of revelation refer to point one. All that is being mentioned here is why Abu Lahab’s name was taken when he was highlighted by the Quran, despite the fact that that in Makkah, Madinah and amongst other tribes of Arabia there were ample enemies of the blessed Prophet peace be upon him and Islam. Their attempts to cause pain, heartbreak and failure to Islam were no less than those of Abu Lahab. Therefore what is his significance that he is named and rebuked?
Where love is expected from, if hatred and enmity springs forth or where support and help is anticipated from, if the storm of opposition starts brewing, undoubtedly this becomes very painful. Abu Lahab was the blessed Prophet’s real uncle; Hazrat Abdullah and Abu Lahab were real brothers. It was rightly expected from him that he would stand shoulder to shoulder with the orphan of his real brother and would not fail in helping him in the slightest manner. In addition to this, he was one of the leaders of the Banu Hashim. The culture in which the blessed Prophet peace be upon him was born gave the tribe a central role and it was the social and political duty of the tribal leader to offer every kind of support to every member of that tribe. If the member was an oppressor, rather than help the oppressed the tribe would deem it their responsibility to help their oppressive member. Abu Lahab was a leader of the Banu Hashim and the blessed Prophet peace be upon him was a Hashami, therefore it was his duty from the outset to accept the invitation of such an upstanding individual and to ensure at all costs that his invitation was made successful.
Despite the blood and family relationship between them, Abu Lahab was also the blessed Prophet’s peace be upon him neighbour and only a wall separated their homes. The rights of a neighbour are acknowledged all over the world, thus he was aware of the holy Prophet’s peace be upon him personal and family matters which other people would be ignorant of. He would be a witness to a pure lifestyle, a sublime life and an unblemished character, but despite this he still did not refrain from slinging mud on this image of grace and exquisiteness. Also the manner in which he showed enmity towards the blessed Prophet peace be upon him, with such ferocity and meanness, it would be difficult to find an equal.
When the blessed Prophet peace be upon him would be engrossed in his worship at home, he would throw fowl smelling tripe and the burnt entrails upon him. In addition his daily routine was to gather the rubbish and filth from his courtyard and throw it where the food would be cooked in the blessed Prophet’s house. The matter did not end with him, his wife, despite her riches and position would go into the jungle and gather barbed thorny branches, carry a bundle of them back home and at night would lay them out in the path of the blessed Prophet peace be upon him in the hope that when he would rise in the latter part of the night and go towards the Haram (Sanctuary), he would step on a thorn and damage his soft gentle blessed feet.
Prior to the proclamation of Prophethood the blessed Prophet peace be upon him had given his two daughters in marriage to his uncles’ sons Utbah and Utaibah. When the blessed Prophet peace be upon him began preaching, she called her sons and told them in an undignified manner that if they didn’t divorce their wives she would stop talking to them and completely sever her ties with them. Both brothers divorced their wives, but Utaibah showed his true awful self and said “I disbelieve in Muhammad’s God” and had the audacity to attempt to spit on the blessed Prophet peace be upon him. He was unable to and it fell back on his face. The blessed Prophet peace be upon him appealed to Allah and said “‘O’ Allah appoint one of your dogs for this wicked person.” Subsequently on one journey a lion attacked Utaibah and ripped him to bits, but amazingly neither did it drink his filthy blood nor did it consume his impure meat. The detail to this incidence can be found in the commentary to Surah al-Najm.
I would like to present another incident that reflects Abu Lahab’s disgusting character. In the seventh year of Prophethood the Kuffaar (disbelievers) of Makkah socially boycotted the blessed Prophet peace be upon him, his family, the Banu Hashim and Muttalib. Merely based upon tribal prejudice, they were imprisoned in the Valley of Abu Talib and Abu Lahab, despite being a Hashmi, opposed the blessed Prophet peace be upon him and supported the Kuffaar of Makkah. His enmity towards Islam and its Prophet peace be upon him was so extreme that he was always after him trying to falsify him. The blessed Prophet’s peace be upon him routine was that wherever there were commercial bazaars or gatherings he would attend and invite the people towards Tawheed. This imbecile would reach that place and would shout out loudly ‘O’ people this is my nephew and he has gone mad, don’t go near him, don’t listen to him otherwise he will lead you astray.
In conclusion whatever support could have been imagined from one so close, the opposite was shown in extreme enmity and opposition. He had a great role in enmity and opposition towards Islam and stood out amongst the others for this. For this reason his name has been mentioned in the Quran and he has been severely cursed. His title was Abu Lahab, which he was popularly known by, but his real name was Abd al-Uzza, and this impure name was not worthy of being mentioned in the Quran. For this reason his title was used so that the message of his being an occupant of Hell would reach everyone.
From the study of this Surah it becomes evident that the slightest disrespect towards the blessed Prophet peace be upon him will cause the almighty to become very angry. That misfortunate man only raised one finger and uttered such filth, to which the reaction of the blessed Prophet peace be upon him was one of forgiveness, as was worthy of his status, but Allah could not tolerate this against his beloved messenger peace be upon him and responded with “May Abu Lahab’s both hands perish. By saying this he sent out a clear warning to every disrespectful person that if any action or word came from their behalf through which any aspect of the holy Prophet’s peace be upon him respect was compromised the lightening of Allah’s anger will strike you and turn you to dust.
As a poet once said
“It is a place of reverence under the sky which is more fragile than the ‘Arsh’ (The Supreme Throne above Heaven): This is the place where (pious) persons like Junaid and Ba-Yazid used to come with holding their breath out of deep respect of the Holy Prophet (Allah’s grace and peace be upon him“
Exegesis of Surah al-Lahab
Allah’s name I begin with, the most compassionate, the most kind.
(1) Perdition overtake both hands of Abu Lahab, and he will perish.
(2) His wealth and what he earns will not avail him.
(3) He shall soon burn in fire that flames,
(4) And his wife, the bearer of fuel,
(5) Upon her neck a halter of strongly twisted rope.
1) The word ‘Tabb’ is used in the context of loss, failure and destruction (al-Qurtubi). When the verse “Warn your close relatives” (Q26:214) was revealed to the holy Prophet peace be upon him he climbed Mount Safa and called out loudly “Ya Sabahan”. It was the practise of the Arabs that whenever they were faced with an unexpected calamity and assistance was sought, they would appeal through the words of “Ya Sabahan”. When the people heard the call they came running to the base of the mountain and those who were unable to respond in person, they sent representatives to enquire about the reality of the situation. When all the tribes of the Quraysh were gathered the blessed Prophet peace be upon him addressed the people and said, “If I was to inform you that behind this mountain there was a large army coming to attack you, would you believe me? Everyone responded with one voice “Indeed we would believe you because until today we have heard nothing but the truth from your lips”. The blessed Prophet peace be upon him said, “I am forewarning you that if you don’t abandon Shirk Allah’s punishment will destroy you.” Abu Lahab, who was the blessed Prophet’s peace be upon him uncle, he raised his finger and indicated whilst saying “May you be ruined! Did you gather us for this?”
Allah found the insolence of this contemptuous person in relation to his beloved messenger peace be upon him intolerable, and in a show of extreme anger and intolerance, he said, “May Abu Lahab’s both hands perish.” The hands from which one finger was raised in disrespect, both those hands perish and may he never be successful in his purpose. This was a curse for him. By the pronunciation of “Wa Tabb” he was destroyed, he was broken into pieces; his body was ripped into shreds because what Allah had said about him did not take very long to transpire. Due to cowardice he avoided participating in the Battle of Badr, but only one week had passed since the terrible defeat of Badr that an infectious boil appeared on his body, which in a matter of few days spread all over his body. Malodorous pus began seeping from all over his body and his flesh started withering away. When his sons saw that he had been infected with a contagious disease, they kicked him out of his home and he died suffering horribly.
Even then no member of his family was prepared to come anywhere near him to fulfil the last rites. For three days his corpse lay there and when the people became sick of its decay and smell and started to curse and blame his sons, they reluctantly hired some Ethiopian slaves to get rid of his body. They dug a ditch and using long pieces of wood they pushed him into that and filled it with earth. The fate of the leader of such a large nation and one of the four main rulers of the Makkah can only have been the consequence of the wrath of Allah. Children would not leave their father in such a state and after death they would not allow the body to rot and decay in such a manner, but when Allah’s wrath is unleashed then the love in their hearts and that apparent affection disappears and that person shares the same fate as this person who disrespected the blessed Prophet peace be upon him. All of Makkah witnessed that prophecy of the blessed Prophet peace be upon him from his Lord was fulfilled word by word. May Allah protect us from his wrath and the wrath of his blessed Prophet peace be upon him.
Some scholars are of the view that “Tabbat” is an informative sentence and “Tabb” is also an informative sentence with the purpose of emphasising the first sentence, but Imam Qurtubi has narrated an opinion of Farra (grammarian) that the first is a curse (prayer) and the second is an informative sentence, whereby the meaning of the verse is that in the first sentence is that his destruction is desired, but in the second sentence it is confirmed (al-Qurtubi). Imam Pani Patti also says the same “informative sentence after an informative sentence, the first as a curse and the second for emphasis” (Mazhari). Abu Lahab’s name was Abd al-‘Uzza and because of his beauty and luminous face he called himself Abu Lahab. Allah only mentioned him by his filial appellation (kuniyyat) and not his real name for numerous reason from which two are; that he was more well known by his filial appellation (kuniyyat) and secondly the name Abd al-‘Uzza was a name not worthy of being mentioned in the Holy Quran.
2) He was from amongst the four wealthiest individuals in Makkah. He had a considerable amount of gold, land and property, other wealth and cattle and had many children. His sons were mature in his lifetime, but when Allah punished him and an infectious/poisonous boil appeared on his body all is slaves, servants, brothers, relatives, even his own sons left him to suffer alone. In this world he witnessed that the excessive wealth which he was proud of, the sons who he was conceited about, at the time of need/difficulty they abandoned him and were of no use to him at all. Some scholars have interpreted ‘Ma Kasaba’ as children.
3) Today he is insulting towards my blessed Prophet peace be upon him, disrespectfully pointing his finger at him and being loutish, very soon there will come a time when we will give him a taste of his disrespect and throw him in such a fire where the flames will be severe.
4) His wife was called ‘Ardah’ and her filial appellation was ‘Umm Jameel’. She was Abu Sufyan’s sister and was also squint-eyed. Her heart was consumed with loathing for the blessed Prophet peace be upon him and she was equal to her husband in her enmity towards Islam. He job was that during the day she would go out to the jungle and gather barbed thorny branches, carry a bundle of them back home and at night would lay them out on that path which the blessed Prophet peace be upon him would travel upon to prostrate to his lord in the Haram. When this surah was revealed she heard about it and became enraged and gather small stones in her hands so that wherever she met the blessed Prophet peace be upon him she would stone him. The blessed Prophet peace be upon him was sitting near the Kaba and Hazrat Abu Bakr al-Siddeeq was at his service. When Hazrat Abu Bakr al-Siddeeq saw her approaching he said “’O’ messenger of Allah Umm Jameel is coming and she will most certainly do something disrespectful.” The blessed Prophet replied “She cannot see me.” This was exactly what happened. She came close and was unable to see the blessed Prophet peace be upon him forcing her to go away muttering to herself. It was proclaimed that the fire in which her insolent husband would be burnt, she would also be thrown into that.
5) ‘Hatab’ refers to fuel, wood used for burning. ‘Hammaltun’ refers to bearer/carrier (female). With this word her practise (of gathering thorny branches) is highlighted. ‘Hammalaat al-Hatab’ also has another meaning. It is said regarding that person who tells tales about people “So and so was tells tales about someone when he stirred up trouble for him. This is used for someone who tells tales and sows seeds of discord amongst people. Such a person has been condemned in the Hadith “No tale bearer will enter paradise”. It has been narrated from Ka’b al-Ahbar that the Jews suffered a drought and Musa peace be upon him along with the people prayed for rain for three days, but not a drop of rain fell. Eventually Musa peace be upon him implored “O” Lord these are your people, if you don’t have mercy upon them who will?”Allah responded by sending a revelation “I will not accept you prayer nor the prayers of your people because amongst them is a person who tells tales.” Musa peace be upon him asked “’O’ Lord who is that person so that we can remove him from amongst ourselves?” Allah replied “‘O’ Musa I am prohibiting you from backbiting so how can I do that to someone?” Thus everyone repented and then prayed for rain and their prayer was answered.
There is no doubt that backbiting is a major sin. Hazrat Fudhail ibn Ayyadh stated “Three things destroy the actions, break the fast and ablution, backbiting, tale bearing and lying. Regarding the textual analysis there are varying opinions, but the correct opinion is that its accusative state is due to contempt. She was known due to this attribute (hammalaat al-Hatab), therefore this attribute did not become her specification, but rather her contempt.
6) ‘Jeed’ refers to neck, ‘Habl’ refers rope and ‘Masad’ refers to twisted rope. The reason for mentioning Umm Jameel with these specific words is that she was the wife of the leader of Makkah. She constantly adorned her neck with valuable jewellery and would say “By Laat and Uzza I would sell this necklace to fund my enmity of Muhammad (peace be upon him). Allah replied by saying that the neck which was proudly wearing expensive jewellery today, we would put a rope of twisted fibre measuring 70 yards around her neck and drag her in Hell. According to some narrations she had been to the jungle to gather the barbed wood and had tied that with twisted palm fibre rope to help her carry the bundle. She sat down on a rock to rest and the bundle fell backwards resulting in the rope becoming entangled in her neck choking and killing her.
There is no power and might except that of Allah the most high, the most Majestic. ‘O’ Allah we seek protection with you from disrespect towards the blessed Prophet peace be upon him
27th Ramadhan 1399AH.
Allama Hafiz Mahboob Hussain al-Azhari BA (Hons), BSc (Hons), MA (RES) Secretary of WAAG (World Association of Al-Azhar Graduates) UK, a mureed of Hazrat Zia-Ul-Ummat Shaykh Pir Justice Pir Karam Shah Al-Azhari and a student of Shaykh Muhammad Imdad Hussain Pirzada. As such, Mahboob Hussain is the founder and resident scholar of PirKaramShah.com. He was born in Pakistan in 1976 Mahboob Hussain arrived in the UK in 1978 where he settled in Dewsbury. In 1980 he began his primary Islamic studies under Abul In’am Muhammad Abdul Bari Chishti and followed that by memorisation of the Qur'ân. After completing his GCSE’s in 1993 he rejoined his teacher in Jamia al-Karam, which at that time was at the former site in Milton Keynes, where under his tutelage and the auspicious guidance of Shaykh Muhammad Imdad Hussain Pirzada, he began his studies in Arabic and Islamic studies and A Levels. Here he was fortunate to meet with his Shaykh, the Ummah’s Luminary, Justice Shaykh Muhammad Karam Shah al-Azhari (ra) and pledged his allegiance to him.
After completing his A Levels and studies in Jamia al-Karam in 1997, he was fortunate to pursue his studies in Jamia al-Azhar, Cairo where he gained a BA honours from the Department of Theology, specialising in the science of Prophetic Traditions. After completing his studies in 2000, he returned to the UK and spent a year teaching Arabic and Islamic studies in his local town Dewsbury. In 2001 he began BSc in Computing and Information Studies in the University of Bradford, which he completed in 2005 and immediately rejoined Shaykh M I H Pirzada at Jamia al-Karam as a teacher. Mahboob Hussain has achieved his MA thesis by research at the University of Leeds titled ‘Jewish Anecdotes in Qur'ânic Exegesis’ and is currently looking forward to his upcoming PhD InshAllah. He is also involved in alot of other literary work, such as English translation of selected surahs of Tafsir Zia-Ul-Quran, soon to be exclusively released on pirkaramshah.com.