Lessons from Surah Taha Part 1 (Verse 1-5)

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This article is a summary of takeaways from Ustaz Dr Mohamed Fatris Bakaram’s Tafsir Lecture at Darul Makmur Mosque on 26th January 2020. It is a continuation of the verses of Surah Maryam. Summaries of the previous lectures on Surah Maryam containing lessons from the lives of Prophet Yahya, Sayidatina Maryam and Prophet Isa AS can be found here.

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

Bismi-llāhi r-raḥmāni r-raḥīm

In the name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful

اللهم صلي على سيدنا محمد وعلى اله وصحبه وسلم

Allahumma salli ala Sayyidina Muhammad wa ala alihi wa sahbihi wasallim

O Allah, send your peace and blessings upon our Master Muhammad and upon his family and companions

 

طه ﴿١﴾ مَا أَنزَلْنَا عَلَيْكَ الْقُرْآنَ لِتَشْقَىٰ ﴿٢﴾ إِلَّا تَذْكِرَةً لِّمَن يَخْشَىٰ ﴿٣﴾ تَنزِيلًا مِّمَّنْ خَلَقَ الْأَرْضَ وَالسَّمَاوَاتِ الْعُلَى ﴿٤﴾ الرَّحْمَـٰنُ عَلَى الْعَرْشِ اسْتَوَىٰ ﴿٥﴾ لَهُ مَا فِي السَّمَاوَاتِ وَمَا فِي الْأَرْضِ وَمَا بَيْنَهُمَا وَمَا تَحْتَ الثَّرَىٰ ﴿٦﴾ وَإِن تَجْهَرْ بِالْقَوْلِ فَإِنَّهُ يَعْلَمُ السِّرَّ وَأَخْفَى ﴿٧

The First Verses of Surah Taha

These verses are short and few. However, they were so powerful that they turned a hardened heart, filled with hatred and rage for Prophet Muhammad SAW, towards Islam. These were the verses that transformed Sayyidina Umar Al-Khattab RA from an enemy of the Prophet to one of his SAW’s strongest and most beloved supporters.

How Umar al-Khattab Accepted Islam

Let us recap the story of Sayyidina Umar RA. Umar had once been a staunch opponent of the Prophet SAW. On one occasion, he had carried his unsheathed sword in anger, headed directly towards the Prophet. His sole intention was to kill Prophet Muhammad SAW. Along the way, he met a companion of the Prophet SAW who asked him where he was headed.

This companion asked him to rethink his plans, considering that the Prophet’s tribe was sure to kill him if he were to proceed. The companion told him to instead focus on fixing the problems in his own home. It was then that Umar RA heard of his own sister and brother-in-law’s acceptance of Islam.

Enraged by this news, Umar raced to Fatimah Al-Khattab’s home, where Khabbab bin Al-Aratt had been teaching Fatimah and her husband the verses of Surah Taha. Umar RA heard the verses being recited as he passed by the house. Upon Umar’s entrance, Khabbab hid in fear and Fatimah concealed the piece of writing, carrying the verses, under her seat. When questioned about the verses, Fatimah and her husband denied having any knowledge of it. Umar raised his hand to hit her husband and Fatimah rose from her seat to stop him, causing Umar to hit her by accident.

Seeing his sister in a bloodied state, Umar’s heart softened. He asked gently about the scripture. Fatimah replied that she would not show it to him in fear that he might destroy them. He vowed not to do so, saying that he only wanted to have a look. Fatimah told him that he was unclean and was not allowed to touch the blessed revelation until he had purified himself.

After he performed a Ghusl, Umar RA was given the scripture. He read it silently, then praised the verses. It was then that Khabbab RA came out of hiding. He mentioned to them the du’a that the Prophet had made the previous day:

اللَّهُمَّ أَعِزَّ الإِسْلاَمَ بِأَحَبِّ هَذَيْنِ الرَّجُلَيْنِ إِلَيْكَ بِأَبِي جَهْلٍ أَوْ

بِعُمَرَ بْنِ الْخَطَّابِ

“O Allah! Honor Islam through the most dear of these two men to you: Through Abu Jahl or through ‘Umar bin Al-Khattab.”

Khabbab mentioned that when he heard that du’a, he had hoped that it would be Umar who would accept Islam. Umar requested to be brought to the Prophet SAW, where he accepted Islam.

Since then, Umar RA became one of the strongest supporters of Islam. Abu Jahl, on the other hand, distanced himself further from Islam because he refused to denounce the religion of his forefathers. His honour, intelligence and good character disappeared in the face of the Prophet’s message, earning him the name of Abu Jahl, meaning the “father of ignorance”.

Circumstances Behind the Revelation of Surah Taha

You will see that these verses serve as a reminder to the people who think that their life is pained, constrained, inconvenienced and burdened by Islam. These verses are an antidote to such a disease of the heart. They were revealed with the following context.

Since the first revelation, Prophet Muhammad SAW had been going all out in his worship to Allah SWT. He strived to maintain his night prayers, even missing out on sleep. Rasulullah SAW wanted to do his very best in service to Allah, and because he was trying so hard, life became difficult for him. The rejection of his message by the people of Mekkah pressured him even further to try even harder. He was pained in his heart and felt heavily the burden upon him.

These verses were revealed to let Rasulullah SAW know that the Qur’an was not sent to torment him. Whatever worship you do should only be to the extent that you are able. The Qur’an was revealed with a purpose; It is for you to rely on Allah completely and not for you to make your own life difficult and painful.

Some of the companions of the Prophet SAW had been mocked for choosing to lead a ‘life of suffering’ by accepting the message of Islam. Some of the first believers had even sacrificed their own lives for this message. The Quraysh made a mockery out of this, asking the companions why they would bring upon themselves such a ‘wrath’. They could choose to leave the religion and continue to live a comfortable life. These verses were sent to comfort them.

Today, we know of some scholars who use these verses as a form of Zikr to push them forward during difficult times.

The word “Taha

طه

Ta Ha [20:1]

There are a variety of interpretations for this verse. What has been agreed upon by the scholars is that only Allah knows the true meaning of this word.

If you look into an Arabic dictionary, you will find that no such word exists in the Arabic language. This is in fact a challenge of the Qur’an. Regardless of how advanced your mastery of the Arabic language may be, no one can give the true meaning of this phrase.

Imam Fakhrur-Razi in the book Mafatihul Ghaib says that there are at least 8 interpretations of these words. The strongest of opinions is that only Allah knows what these words mean.

The second interpretation is that the word “Taha” refers to the name of Prophet Muhammad SAW. This opinion is backed up by the subsequent verse in which Allah SWT refers directly to Rasulullah SAW as “you”. Scholars holding this opinion say that “Taha” means “O Muhammad!”. Do note that there is no authentic hadith to support this claim, this is only a mere hypothesis.

Some of you might have heard of a common selawat recited in the local mosques:

“Sollatullah salaamullah ‘alaa Taha Rasulillah, Sollatullah Sala mullah ‘alaa Yaseen habibillah.”

This selawat was written by people who hold onto this opinion, that “Taha” and “Yaseen” are names of the Prophet SAW.

Why the Qur’an was Revealed

مَا أَنزَلْنَا عَلَيْكَ الْقُرْآنَ لِتَشْقَىٰ

We have not revealed the Quran to you (O Prophet) to cause you distress, [20:2]

Allah tells us in this verse that the revelation had not been sent to make Rasulullah SAW and his people miserable. In reality, the syari’at (code of law) had been sent to ease and facilitate, so that we may not be left in confusion. We know that ibadah (worship) have been commanded upon us only to the extent where it is manageable. We are told not to force ourselves to do more than we can afford to. Do the supplementary ibadah, but not to the extent that you make life difficult for yourself.

Even in obligatory worship, we are told not to force ourselves beyond what is feasible. If you are sick and it is Ramadhan, you are allowed to postpone your obligatory fasts to outside of Ramadhan, when you are well again. If you are injured and cannot stand, you are allowed to perform your prayers seated. Even for Hajj, our fifth pillar of Islam, we are not allowed to sell all that we own just to be able to afford to go for Hajj. Hajj is not compulsory on those who do not have the means to perform it.

Before the revelation of these verses, Rasulullah SAW had been performing ibadahs in extreme amounts such that he started to make his own life difficult. He was wearing himself out because he wanted to do his very best in performing his role as the Messenger of Allah, out of obedience and gratitude to Him SWT. Allah SWT did not want this, He does not expect us to torture ourselves for His sake.

So if the Quran had not been sent to make our lives miserable, why had it been sent?

إِلَّا تَذْكِرَةً لِّمَن يَخْشَىٰ

But only as a Reminder to those who fear (Allah). [20:3]

It was sent as a reminder to the people who fear Allah SWT. We need to fear Allah in life, and if we truly fear Allah, we need reminders so that we will not forget and that we remain on the right path.

Doing Dakwah

Rasulullah SAW felt hurt because the people of Quraysh persistently rejected his message of Islam. He had deep compassion and concern for all humans and wanted everyone to be saved from the hellfire. It pained him to see people disbelieve. Allah reminds him that the Qur’an was sent just as a reminder. His job was only to deliver the reminders. It was not his responsibility to ensure that they accepted his dakwah. Anyone who is open to seeking truth will receive hidayah (guidance) from Allah and accept Islam. On the contrary, those who are arrogant and stubborn, who refuse to listen and believe, they will never get the light of Islam.

In giving advice, reminders and censures, we need to be careful in ensuring that we do not get too attached to the outcome. Do not get too affected by the response given by the receiver. I mentioned this in the most recent Friday sermon regarding the blessings of the tongue. In the sermon, I gave some guiding tips for anyone who wishes to give advice:

  • Have the right intentions. Give advice in hopes that the receiver becomes a better person. Ensure that you are not advising to put him down or disgrace him. Come with the sole intention that he comes out of the conversation being someone who is closer to Allah than before.
  • Know whom you are speaking to and what their present situation is.

Understand where the receiver is coming from and what his actual circumstances are like. Do not jump to conclusions about his situation.

We talked about how Rasulullah SAW, when asked the same question, gave different responses depending upon who was asking. For example, when asked “What is the best deed to do?”, for one companion he said, “Service to the parents.”, for another he said, “Jihad in the path of Allah.” and for someone else it was, “Solat at its appropriate time.”. Prophet Muhammad SAW gave people advice that suited each individual the most. He understood that every person has a different circumstance and advice that works on one person may not be as applicable to another.

  • Give advice in stages, according to whichever level is appropriate for them.

Do not be overzealous in giving advice. If the receiver is still a beginner to Solat for example, do not enforce on him the supplementary prayers, lest you should turn him away from prayers completely.

  • Have full confidence and faith that the hearts of humans are in the Hands of Allah SWT.

Your job as a da’ie (person who does Dakwah) is to relay the message of Allah. It is not your job to ensure that they accept what is being said. Give advice with wisdom, make du’a for Allah to grant them hidayah, but do not ever think that the outcome of the dakwah is yours to determine. Do not get carried away by obsessing over the receiver’s response to your message. How they respond is completely up to them.

Even Prophet Muhammad SAW was told that he could not decide who accepts Islam or who rejects it, what more for us?

Is Allah SWT Found in a Place?

تَنزِيلًا مِّمَّنْ خَلَقَ الْأَرْضَ وَالسَّمَاوَاتِ الْعُلَى

A revelation from Him Who created the earth and the high heavens, [20:4]

Allah is Almighty, He is Most Vast, so do not constrict the religion. If Allah created the wide limitless skies and the expansive earth, then Allah is even greater that whatever He had created.

Allah is not in need of our worship. We do not need to go overboard with our worship for Allah’s sake. We do not need to force people to worship Him for His sake. Allah is not in need of us. The Qur’an was sent as a reminder for us, for our own benefit.

الرَّحْمَٰنُ عَلَى الْعَرْشِ اسْتَوَىٰ

the Most Compassionate, (Who is) seated on the Throne. [20:5]

There had been a question raised by an audience member before today’s session, requesting me to explain in detail what this verse means. The requestor had asked me to distinctly clarify and elaborate the issue of whether Allah is found in a certain place.

This question opens a can of worms and leads to other questions; When it is mentioned that Allah is established/positioned on a Throne, does this imply that Allah is at a specific place? When it is mentioned that Allah SWT is seated, how is He sitting? When it is mentioned that He is on a Throne, does it mean that He requires a seat?

These are questions relating to Tauhid and Aqidah, questions which have been debated about by scholars for centuries. There are many varied opinions and Mazhabs on these issues.

I have decided that I will not be dealing with these questions at such an open and public platform. I do not consider this an appropriate platform for the discussion of such a complex issue.

Anyone who studies Tauhid in-depth would know, that there are volumes of books on this issue in the Arabic language. One needs to study from the appropriate teachers in a controlled platform and be equipped with the tools of Arabic language to go into proper detail.

I follow the stand of Imam Malik in dealing with this issue with the general public. Imam Malik, when questioned about this verse, addressed it as such:

  • The word ‘Istawa’, meaning “sitting”, is known. The meaning of the word is clear and certain.
  • The meaning behind this word (i.e. how it is being done or how Allah sits), is unknown and uncertain.
  • Questioning about it is Bid’ah. Avoid questioning into it too much as it is unnecessary and causes discord. The Quran was sent as guidance to mankind, relaying reminders and uniting the people. Do not question about things that may cause disagreement. Stick to the fundamental truths which we agree upon; Allah has an Arsyh, Allah owns the heavens and the earth and Allah is Most Powerful.
  • Iman (faith) in this issue is wajib (compulsory).

I choose not to answer this question, not because it is difficult. As a teacher, I have done up a lesson plan for today’s session. In fact, like all school teachers, I have written out the main broad objectives of the whole curriculum. This planning is not just applicable in secular education, but also in religious education- education that impacts our faith, character and obedience to Allah.

In the six to seven years of doing this program, I have been clear from the very first lesson that my main objective for this program is to heighten our awareness in understanding the stories of the Qur’an so that we may become good servants of Allah. Whenever there is an issue that comes up where there is a khilaf (difference of opinion) between the scholars, I tend to touch lightly upon the issue and then I emphasise that we maintain harmony and unity (i.e. respect differences of opinion and focus on what is agreed upon).

I understand where the question raised is coming from. I know that there are discussions and debates going on between people learning about Tauhid. This is why I don’t want to come into such a discussion. If you would like to learn more, then go into that knowledge from other sources. In this program, we focus on issues that are clear and undisputed truths, such as how unity is imperative.

The Names of Allah

Before we end for today, I would like to highlight that verse five mentions that the Qur’an was sent as a reminder to those who fear Allah. The question is raised: Shouldn’t Allah have used one of His Names that are more appropriate to evoke the sense of fear? “Ar-Rahmaan” is a name that implies Love, Mercy, Gentleness and Compassion. How does this name evoke fear of a slave to his Lord? Allah SWT is known to have powerful names such as: Al-Qawwiy (the Strong One), Al-Mateen (the Firm One), Ash-Shadeed (the Intensely Strong), Al-Muntaqim (the Avenger), Al-Jabbaar (the Reformer), Al-Mutakabbir (The Supremely Great). Why did He not use these powerful names instead? Isn’t it a bit inappropriate to be pairing the name of Ar-Rahmaan with fear? How do we resolve this seeming conflict? We will answer these questions in the upcoming session insyaaAllah.

May Allah grant us His Protection. May He grant us Barakah in our time and lives so that we may meet again in the next session. May Allah fill our hearts with Taqwa and make whatever knowledge that we have gained beneficial for us and to those around us.

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 me 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 and is currently a Research Assistant at Evolutionary Biology Lab ( NUS ). She is currently taking a diploma in Quran and Sunnah Studies from Al Zuhri.

Arina Adom – Linkedin Profile


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