Lessons from Surah Al-Hajj Part 2 (Verse 11)

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This article is a summary of takeaways from Ustaz Dr Mohamed Fatris Bakaram’s Tafsir Online Lecture on 19th July 2020. Summaries of previous lectures on Surah Maryam and Surah Taha and Surah Al-Ambiya’ can be found here. This lecture is a continuation of the previous lecture on Surah Al-Hajj verses 1 and 2.

He Who Worships on An Edge

وَمِنَ النَّاسِ مَن يَعْبُدُ اللَّهَ عَلَىٰ حَرْفٍ ۖ فَإِنْ أَصَابَهُ خَيْرٌ اطْمَأَنَّ بِهِ ۖ وَإِنْ أَصَابَتْهُ فِتْنَةٌ انقَلَبَ عَلَىٰ وَجْهِهِ خَسِرَ الدُّنْيَا وَالْآخِرَةَ ۚ ذَٰلِكَ هُوَ الْخُسْرَانُ الْمُبِينُ

And of the people is he who worships Allah on an edge. If he receives good, he is contented with it; but if he is struck by trial, he turns his face back. He loses both this world and the Hereafter. That is the manifest loss. [22:11]

dToday we will look at the stories behind verse 11 of Surah Al-Hajj. The word “harf” used here is often used in the Arabic language to refer to the edge of a mountain. The word “fitnah” in the Malay language is often used to mean ‘slander’ (i.e. when someone spreads untruths about someone else).

In the Arabic language however, the word “fitnah” is used to mean harm. Rasulullah SAW has taught us to seek protection from fitnah of life and fitnah of death; this means being protected from harm in the world and harm upon death. Rasulullah SAW taught us this du’a to recite in our final tahiyyat during salah right before we give our salaam:

اللّهُـمَّ إِنِّـي أَعـوذُ بِكَ مِــنْ فِتْـنَةِ المَحْـيا وَالمَمـات

O Allah, I ask for your protection from harm in life and in death

وَمِـنْ شَـرِّ فِتْـنَ المَسيحِ الدَّجّال

And from the evil of the trial of facing Ad-Dajjal

Allah SWT tells us that there are some people who are happy and pleased to be Muslim only when good arrives to them. Whenever are trialled with harm or difficulty, perhaps through a loss of wealth or loved ones, they turn away from Allah SWT; they no longer want to remain as Muslims, they become angry at Allah SWT, refuse to accept their fate, and lose faith and trust in Him SWT.

This is what is meant by worshipping Allah SWT “on the edge”. They only worship Allah SWT for the benefits they may reap from the religion and choose to walk away the moment they are inflicted with trials. Allah SWT tells us that these people are in clear loss, both in this world and in the next.

The Stories Behind This Revelation

The stories behind this verse have been widely discussed by scholars of tafsir in their books. Amongst them are Imam Ibn Kathir in his book ‘Tafsir al-Qur’an al-‘Azim’, and Imam al-Qurtubi in his book ‘Al-Jami li-Ahkam Al-Qur’an’.

Shaibah Ibn Rabi’ah

Imam Al-Qurtubi states that this verse was mentioned in a hadith narrated by Ibn Abbas RA as being directed to a man named Shaibah ibn Rabi’ah. He, along with his brother, ‘Utbah ibn Rabi’ah, were amongst the greatest enemies of Prophet Muhammad SAW. They had both, along with ‘Utbah’s son, Walid, been killed in the Battle of Badr.

During the Battle of Badr, when the troops of Prophet Muhammad SAW had come face to face with the Quraishi army, these three men had stepped forward for a duel. They had challenged Rasulullah SAW, declaring that they were going to crush the Muslim army. The Quraish were arrogant and proud, thinking that the battle had already been won even before it began; the night before the battle, they had celebrated all night due to their confidence.

The three men demanded that Rasulullah SAW present to them three of their strongest soldiers. Three Muslims were chosen for these duels: Sayidina Hamzah ibn Abdul Muttalib, Sayidina Ali ibn Abi Talib, and ‘Ubaidah ibn Al-Harith may Allah be pleased with them. All three of the Quraishi warriors were defeated in the duels. This was how the name of Shaibah became well-known in Islamic history.

Now, this verse was revealed under the following context. Shaibah was amongst the staunchest opponents of the prophet SAW. At one point of time, he came to Rasulullah SAW saying, “O Muhammad, I do not believe you. However, I am willing to accept your religion under the condition that you pray to your God and ask Him to grant me what I want in life. I will reconsider if He grants me wealth, if He grants my horses offspring and if He grants me only sons from amongst my progeny.”.

It was mentioned in Imam Al-Qurtubi’s tafsir that shortly afterwards, Shaibah found his wealth increasing, his horses were breeding successfully, and he had new sons. He was overjoyed to find his prayers answered. These blessings proved to be a trial for him, to test his sincerity in accepting the word of Allah SWT. Bit by bit, Allah SWT removed the blessings He had granted Shaibah. Shaibah was enraged with Allah SWT. He had not yet accepted Islam and yet he left Islam, refusing to accept what had happened.

Bedouins Who “Test Out” the Religion

There were other scholars who mentioned other narrations which also became contexts for this verse. At times, a verse could be revealed as a response to not just a single incident, but a few. The majority of tafsir scholars narrate this story in their books. They say that it is common for people outside of Madinah to come to the prophet SAW to learn about Islam. These people were mostly Bedouins, coming from small and remote villages far from the city. They have heard about the prophet’s message and about the goodness that the Muslims have received from accepting Islam, so they came to the prophet SAW hoping to start a new life.

They felt that life in the villages was difficult and they wanted relief from it. Some of them explicitly laid out their agenda to the prophet SAW, others kept it hidden although it was obvious what their intentions were. They were going to “test out” the religion; they would accept Islam for a while and see what benefit it brings them.

If they saw an increase in livelihood, wealth, and progeny, then Islam is sure to be a religion from God. If, however, after accepting Islam, they did not receive any evident results, then they would leave the religion. They would say that there is no point in accepting a religion that does not bring them clear benefit. Scholars say that this verse was directed at them.

Hypocrites, Disbelievers and Muslims

Another opinion is that this verse was revealed regarding the hypocrites (Munafiq) in Madinah. They were people who drifted in and out of Islam. They would accept the religion in Rasulullah SAW’s presence and reject, criticise, and mock him in his absence. At times, they would even ally with the enemy to bring the Muslims down. They were like boats drifting at the edge of the river.

They would look at the circumstances and decide whether they would follow the Muslims. If there were certain benefits to reap, for example if it were clear that the Muslims were going to win in the war and there were spoils of war to gain, they would follow the Muslims. They would declare with their tongues that they were Muslims and know in their hearts that they did not truly believe. At the first moment when it became clear that benefit would not be gained, they were the first to leave.

Allah SWT tells us that it is such a pity for them, they make losses in this world and in the hereafter. In this world, they would lose because their time and youth are spent without getting any good out of it. They do not reap benefit out of their own efforts. A disbeliever rejects Islam completely and puts in his efforts into earning what he wants in this world. He will at least reap benefit in this world out of his own efforts, even if he does not succeed in the hereafter.

A hypocrite, however, neither earns in this world or the next. His life is uncertain because he does not know what he wants. He is always waiting for the best circumstance to appear before he makes his decision. His heart is constantly swaying, he always has one foot out the door. In this world, he loses out and in the hereafter, he loses again when finally he is punished by Allah SWT for rejecting Islam.

A believer is the opposite of this. We have discussed this previously, that for a believer, he may want certain things in this world, and he may make du’a asking for them. Even if he does not get what he asks for, he does not lose out. He remains hopeful and trusting of Allah SWT, remaining in faith. He reaps benefit out of his trust and patience in Allah, and out of his putting in effort, even if the results may not appear to have arrived. This is what a believer gets, success in the world and in the hereafter.

Making Nazar to Get What You Desire

In Verse 11 of Surah Al-Hajj, Allah SWT criticises people who perform acts of worship only on the condition that they get certain worldly outcomes. The question is then raised on the topic of Nuzriah or making a Nazar. A Nazar is a vow made to perform certain actions if certain conditions are met. Is this a good thing to do? The scholars have discussed this and left some reminders for us as the Ummah of Prophet Muhammad SAW.

In Islam, Nazar are allowed. That is why there are rulings that tell us how to make Nazar. Making Nazar shows us that we are indeed whole-hearted in obtaining certain things from Allah SWT. We can make Nazar in hopes that what we ask for will eventually result in goodness. The condition is that what we ask for must not be forbidden by Allah SWT.

For example, a person can make Nazar hoping to go for Hajj this year regardless of what the circumstances may be, out of his intense desire to perform Hajj. He can make this Nazar saying that the moment he returns successfully from Hajj, he will feed 60 needy persons. This is permissible. It fulfils the condition that what is being promised does not go against the laws of Islam.

Feeding the needy is permissible in Islam, it is a sunnah that is encouraged. However, if it becomes true that indeed he does successfully return from Hajj, then it becomes Wajib or compulsory for him to feed 60 needy people. He will need to carry it out based on the deadline he has set upon himself.

Scholars say that making Nazar is allowed, for as long as there is good intended in it. However, they give us a reminder and warning. Do not make it a habit to perform Nazar. Do not always link what worship you perform to getting certain outcomes. Do not make it a habit to say, “I will do such-and-such only if I get such-and-such.”. For example, charity is an act that is very encouraged in Islam. Anyone can give charity at any moment in time. One should not then say something like, “I do want to give charity but… I will only do so if I pass my driving test.”. The worship then becomes limited to conditions.

Allah SWT tells us “fastabiqul khairaat”, to race and not hold back in doing good. Do not keep linking your actions to the outcomes. Think about it, how would it feel like if you had a friend who would set a condition each time you asked for help? Imagine hearing, “It’s not that I don’t want to help you, I do. But I can help you only on one condition. I will lend you that money only if you wash my car for me every month. Only then will I be able to help you out.”. Even as a friend we would be annoyed and disgusted by such a behaviour. Do not treat Allah SWT in such a way.

Of course, it is permissible for us to make Nazar. However, do not use it to find excuses for not doing certain deeds. Do not tie your worship to worldly gain or conditions. The acts of worship promised by a Nazar should signify your gratitude out of receiving what you most desire. That is allowed. What is disallowed is to perform acts of worship only if certain conditions that you set are met. That is not encouraged. The intention behind the acts of worship is important.

Is There No Human Interest in Islam?

The second issue I would like to address is this misconception that in religion, we should not consider our human needs, interests, and priorities. Is it true that our own human needs and desires are not important in Islam?

The Importance of Considering Maslahah

We are Insan, human beings. In life, we have desires, needs, and priorities. We have our own interests in life. It may seem like this verse is saying that someone who obeys Allah does not think about his own personal interests. This is false. If someone has desires, and the desires are appropriate to Allah’s commands then there is nothing wrong with it. What more for necessities? As a human being it is essential for us to look at our necessities.

The keyword is “Maslahah” or interests. This is the main factor that needs to be accounted for. This has an impact in how we obey Allah SWT. There is a difference between this and what is narrated to us in this verse. In the verse, we spoke about people who only obey Allah if their personal interests are met.

As Muslims, there is no alternative option, we will never choose not to obey Allah SWT under any circumstance. In obeying Allah SWT however, we ensure that our interests are met. Because this religion was sent for our own good and for Allah SWT to fulfil our interests and necessities. There is no obeying Allah SWT to the extent that we do not fulfil our own needs, much less to the extent that we destroy our life interests.

Worship Should Not Encroach Upon Human Necessities

Therefore, we are reminded that the Syariah of Islam acts in a way that allows us to preserve our religion, our life, our mind, our lineage, and our wealth. These are our five essential necessities in life. Our obeisance of Allah should never encroach upon these five fundamental aspects. This is why we are given relief from fasting in Ramadhan when you are sick. It is essential to ensure your life is not threatened.

This verse should not be used as evidence to not fulfil your own necessities. There is a famous hadith narrated by Bukhari and Muslim which tells us about three men who came to the houses of the wives of the Prophet SAW to inquire about the worship of the Prophet.

When they were informed, they considered their worship insignificant and said: “Where are we in comparison with the Prophet SAW while Allah has forgiven his past sins and future sins”. One of them said: “As for me, I shall offer Salah all night long.” Another said: “I shall observe fasting continuously and shall not break it”. Another said: “I shall abstain from women and shall never marry”.

The Prophet SAW came to them and said, “Are you the people who said such and such things? By Allah, I fear Allah more than you do, and I am most obedient and dutiful among you to Him, but still I observe fast and break it; perform Salat and sleep at night and take wives. So, whoever turns away from my Sunnah does not belong to me”.

Rasulullah SAW did not accept their seeming sacrifices. He rejected their attitude. In worshipping Allah SWT, we should never let our worship get in the way of fulfilling our own basic needs and desires. Getting married may seem like just a means for fulfilling our human desires, but that is not it.

Allah SWT gives us human desires and they need to be channelled through the appropriate means. Our basic needs for survival, eating and drinking, are essential. Fasting all day without breaking it weakens the body. How then will we be able to work, to contribute to others, or to protect and fulfil our family’s needs? Islam is not a religion that teaches us to disregard our human interests just so we can obey Allah SWT.

Not All Human Interests are Essential

It is important for us to realise that there are some human interests that are essential in order for us to worship Allah. There are, however, certain interests that are not important for us to worship Allah SWT.

Someone who fasts will get hungry. If someone is sick and starving to the point where he is unable to perform his daily worship, then the obligatory nature of his fast is revoked and it becomes necessary to break his fast and repay it outside of Ramadhan. It is that simple.

However, if someone healthy is fasting, and he decides to exercise and saying, “Well, exercise is important and if I go jogging then I can’t endure fasting until the end of the day. So, it’s best for me not to fast.”. This reasoning will never be accepted by Allah SWT. These are desires that are not essential, your life will not be at risk if you do not carry it out. Jogging can be put off until after the fast is broken at iftar.

The Process Behind Making Fiqh Rulings

Scholars of Fiqh have discussed over centuries on the topic of Maslahah or human interests. There are huge bodies of knowledge that discuss which interests are accepted by Allah SWT and which are rejected. In setting rulings, scholars study these topics in depth. Over the years, they have built a structure and system that has been arranged, developed, and expanded to facilitate making important decisions. This is done to ensure that as human beings, we do not act on our own interests in determining which rulings can be done without.

A person who wants to make rulings and be involved in making Fatwa needs to be truly qualified and have a strong foundation in the field of Maslahah in Fiqh. Amongst the references that are used is a book written by Sheikh Mohammed Saeed Ramadan al-Bouti.

This book, entitled Dawabitul Maslahah fi as-Syari’ah al-Islamiah was based upon his PhD thesis written in 1965. It is even today used as the primary reference for anyone who wants to enter the field of Fiqh rulings. We know that in Islam, there are certain Maslahah that are accepted by Allah SWT and there are some that are not accepted.

As laymen, we cannot be quick to make blanket statements saying all human needs are not important because as Muslims we need to obey Allah and make sacrifices. There are certain circumstances where exceptions are made.

Contemporary Examples of Considering Maslahah in Fiqh Issues

For example, organ donation from a deceased person to a living patient, is this allowed? Can we say that we need to obey Allah’s words and as such, the deceased’s organs should not be removed, and the living patient should bear his illness patiently and accept his suffering and death because it is Allah’s Will? There are people who accuse the scholars of tweaking the Islamic law just for the sake of fulfilling their human desires. They quote this verse saying that we are not allowed to disobey Allah for the sake of our own wants.

We cannot accept such an argument. This verse is completely irrelevant to the topic. The verse discusses disbelievers who choose whether to accept Islam based on how much worldly desires they gain. The scholars call their interests Maslahah Mulghah, interests that are not accepted and are disregarded in Islam. However, when there are difficulties that affect people’s lives and sufferings, potentially causing deaths, then there is relief and there are exceptions. In Islam, whenever there is a conflict between the rights of the living and the dead, then the rights of the living should be given priority.

For example, a person dies, and it becomes known that he has a valuable stolen ring in his stomach; he has been seen to have swallowed it. The default ruling is that a person’s corpse should not be mutilated. However, in this situation, because the rights of the living person, the owner of the ring, needs to be met, then the scholars say that it is permissible to cut the body in order to extract the ring, even if in the process the body might become flawed.

Likewise, on the topic of shifting graves, the default ruling is that a buried body should not be shifted out of respect for the deceased. However, the scholars of the past have discussed extensively and declared that if a situation occurs where someone’s grave happens to be found in a plot of land that is needed by someone alive, then it can be moved.

For example, a person’s body had been buried at the edge of the family’s graveyard, and it was discovered years later that by accident, his grave was made in the neighbour’s property instead of on his own family’s land. In this case, the neighbour has the right to reclaim his property. That grave needs to be moved. Of course, shifting a grave is forbidden if there is no need to do so. However, if the circumstances necessitate it, then it becomes permissible.

Islam does not teach us to set aside all human interests, needs and wants in obeying Allah’s commands. We are not taught to encroach upon human rights for the sake of fulfilling Allah’s commands. There are exceptions in many cases.

On Using Hadith to Support Your Arguments

Some people quote the hadith of Rasulullah SAW which says:

كَسْرُ عَظْمِ الْمَيِّتِ كَكَسْرِهِ حَيًّا

Breaking a dead man’s bone is like breaking it when he is alive.

They say that because this is an authentic hadith of the prophet, we have to clearly reject the fatwa that are being made allowing the donation of a deceased’s organs. We appreciate that there are people in the community who strive whole-heartedly to learn the religion and find evidence based on Islamic teachings to support their arguments. Alhamdulillah, this is good.

Note however, that our scholars, in making fatwa, are not oblivious to this hadith. In Singapore, since the first fatwa emerged in 1973, and afterwards in the 1980s when there were adjustments in the fatwa, all the way to the final khutbah in 2008… as the former Mufti of Singapore, I want you to know that in every discussion we had regarding this fatwa, we presented this hadith. We, as scholars, did not blatantly choose to disregard the hadith.

There is no scholar who outrightly makes decisions just to go against the sayings of the prophet SAW. The hadith should not be regarded just on the basis of what it says. Scholars, when looking at hadith of the prophet, follow the long process and structured principles that are used in Usul Fiqh. There is a difference in understanding the hadith and in applying it to the present circumstances. In fact, not every scholar of Fiqh is able to reach the level of Ijtihad and making Fatwa.

When it comes to the hadith of breaking a dead man’s bones, it was presented in the book Al-Bayan Wat-Ta’rif Fi Asbab Wurud by Ibnu Hamzah Al-Husaini Al-Hanafi Ad-Damsyiqi. This book presents the stories behind many famous hadith. The story for this hadith was that a group of Sahabah were following the prophet SAW in accompanying a dead body to the graveyard. When they arrived, they saw that the grave had not been completely dug out, it was not ready for a burial. The prophet SAW and his companions sat by the side to watch as the gravedigger resumed his duties.

There came a point of time when the shovel hit a large bone, belonging to either the calf or the thigh. Graves of the past were not as organised as the ones we have here in Singapore. There was a chance of graves overlapping in the graveyard. The gravedigger had attempted to smash the bone in order to make space for the new grave. Rasulullah SAW stopped him, mentioning the hadith above. The bone was then pulled out and then placed by the side in the new grave. The breaking of a bone in this case was one that was baseless. There was no real need to do so. The context was different from the situation today with organ donation.

When making use of a hadith, it is important to know the context behind the story. We need to see whether it is applicable in the current context and situation. Furthermore, in the times of the prophet SAW, it was unheard of for the organs of a dead person to be able to benefit a living person in any way. There was no way for organ donation to have been possible. Today, technology has advanced very much such that it is not only possible, it is also highly effective for such an operation to be done. There is therefore no reason not to do so.

The Choice Is Yours

At the end of the day, we all have a choice. You can choose not to do so if you disagree. State that you do not want to do it; there is no obligation. However, you need to understand, that if you wish not to donate your organs because you want to be buried whole and perfect, under the circumstance that you yourself fall sick, there are consequences that you will have to bear. As someone who does not support organ donation, there is no way for you to benefit from the subsidies that are available for people who do not opt out of organ donation.

It is completely your choice. Someone who chooses to become a donor in his state of health says, “Since the scholars say that it is ok, I want my organs, which no longer benefit me after my death, to be able to help in alleviating the suffering of people who are alive.”. If the moment comes when they fall sick, their desire to help others will be rewarded by being given subsidies. That is the law. It is your choice which option you would like to choose.

Do not wrongly interpret the verse presented and use it to support your arguments. Verse 11 of Surah Al-Hajj applies only to people who are choosing between Islam and disbelief. In our situation, all of us want to worship and obey Allah. Regardless of whether or not we agree with and support organ donation, we are all believers who want to please Allah SWT. We just need to remember that when it comes to making religious rulings, it is important to consider the Maslahah, the human necessities, priorities, and desires. We cannot disregard and encroach upon human rights in our attempts to follow the teachings of the prophet SAW and of Allah SWT.

When it comes to matters that are not obligatory upon us, then it is up to us to choose whichever option is available to us. We respect one another’s decisions. There is some good to certain options, but there is no compulsion to choose one option over another. May Allah SWT protect and preserve us. May He unite our hearts. Ameen.



Summary by: Arina Adom

Arina Adom is a lover of learning who takes on the world with an open mind. Resourceful and adaptable, always ready to take on new challenges. Comfortable working with diverse groups of people, yet able to work independently. Thrives under pressure. Currently seeking a meaningful career that enables her to impact lives directly and bring about positive changes in the lives of others in the community.

Arina graduated with a degree in Science ( Hons ), Life Science from NUS. She is currently taking a diploma in Quran and Sunnah Studies from Al Zuhri.

Arina Adom – Linkedin Profile

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