By Muhammad Yunus & Ashfaque Ullah Syed
12 June, 2015-06-12
(Published exclusively on New Age Islam with Permission of the authors and publishers)
14. Only God Knows the Rightly Guided
Since the Qur’an calls for orienting oneself to God (Ch. 7), true faith and intent are very important for earning God’s approval for all our acts and deeds. Accordingly, the Qur’an repeatedly asserts that only God knows who all are rightly guided (16:125/Ch. 13.3; 6:117, 17:84).1
“Indeed your Lord knows best who is straying from His path, and He knows best the rightly guided” (6:117). [The underlined statement is repeated in the verses 28:56, 28:85 and 68:7.]
“Say, ‘Everyone acts according to what suits him, but God knows best who is guided on the (right) path’” (17:84).
14.1. None Can Claim Spiritual Superiority
Many so-called ‘spiritual guides’ claim spiritual supremacy over fellow Muslims by citing the verse 42:23 (Note 131/Ch. 3.10). This verse dating from the Meccan period has a very clear message: the Prophet is asking his close friends and relatives (Qurba) from among his hostile audience, to extend him the love and respect that he expected from them:
“…I do not ask you any payment for this except love from (fi) the relatives (al-Qurba)…”
However, if the particle fi is rendered as ‘to’, instead of ‘from’ the verse can be read as a call to all Muslims to show love and respect ‘to’ the Prophet’s relatives and descendents. While technically, such a rendering may not be wrong, the Qur’an does not offer any illustration to support any claim to exclusivity or spiritual supremacy by the Prophet’s descendents. In fact, the Qur’an’s clear illustrations rule out any such notion:
i. Over a score of Qur’anic verses tell us that neither the Prophet Muhammad, nor any other prophet expected any payment or special favour from their people for themselves or their descendents.
ii. Some verses state this in the affirmative:2 “…I do not ask of you any payment…”; “...You do not ask them for any payment (Ajara)…”.
iii. Others put this in the interrogative: “Do you (O Prophet) ask them for a payment (Ajara)...?” 3 “Do you (O Prophet) ask them for a recompense (Kharaja) …?”4
iv. Not a single verse in the Qur’an is suggestive of a prophet asking for a payment or a special favour from his people for himself or his descendents.
v. There are verses5 affirming that the Prophets Noah, Hud, Salih, Lot, Shu‘ayb did not expect any payment or special favour from their people for themselves or their descendents.
vi. Through scores of verses (Ch. 16), the Qur’an makes it absolutely clear that every soul, whether male or female will be judged by God on the basis of faith, and deeds.
vii. The Qur’an further declares that no one can intercede with God, except as He Wills.6 This spirit is also reflected in God’s disapproval of Prophet Noah’s prayer for the forgiveness of his pagan son.7
From all these illustrations, it is absolutely clear that there is no Qur’anic basis to extending any special favor or according any spiritual superiority to an individual just because he or she is, or claims to be, a descendent of the Prophet, and that there is absolutely no Qur’anic basis for anyone, no matter his line of descent from the Prophet, to claim intercession with God on anyone’s behalf as a spiritual guide.
1. 28:56, 28:85, 53:30, 68:7.
2. 6:90, 12:104, 25:57, 34:47, 38:86.
3. 52:40, 68:46.
5. 10:72, 11:29/51, 26:109/127/145/164/180.
6. 2:255, 10:3.
15. The Prophet as a Role Model
“Certainly, you have in God’s Messenger, an excellent model (Uswatun Hasanah) for anyone who looks forward (with hope and fear) to God and the Last Day, and remembers God a lot” (33:21).
Most commentators agree that the verse relates to the noble principles and exemplary moral conduct and behaviour of the Prophet that distinguished him from the rest of his community (Ch. 3.16). The question that keeps the Muslim community divided is, how best they can follow the Prophet’s example.
Traditionally orthodoxy has insisted on imitating the Prophet’s physical habits and pursuits including his daily rituals, such as: washing and bathing, brushing of teeth, clipping of nails, grooming of beard and hair, manners of eating, drinking, sitting, wearing of clothes and turban etc. as recorded in the traditions (Hadith literature).
The Qur’an however makes it absolutely clear that the Prophet’s mission was to convey God’s message1 with clarity;2 and to deliver humanity out of darkness into Light.3 The Qur’an has also been unequivocal about its own singular role as guidance for the believers in God,4 the compassionate,5 the heedful (Muttaqi),6 and for humanity at large.7 Furthermore, the Qur’an has projected the Prophet as a mortal human being like others, though inspired with the revelation.8 Therefore, as the majority of Muslim scholars advocate, Muslims ought to take guidance from the Qur'an, while emulating the Prophet’s noble principles and exemplary moral conduct and behaviour. His companions must have attempted to emulate him in this spirit, and therefore they earned God’s accolade as ‘the best community (Khairah Ummatin)’. (3:110/Ch. 29.1). Thus they succeeded in founding a vibrant and tolerant civilization that preserved the intellectual heritage of Hellenic, Greek and Roman civilizations (thanks to massive translation undertakings), made remarkable contribution to the advancement of knowledge and progress of civilization, and most importantly, allowed the native religions and civilizations to survive and flourish in the lands they conquered. Thus Aramic is still spoken in Syria, near Damascus, the capital of the first Islamic dynasty (the Umayyads) and the native faith-communities have flourished in India and Spain – to give just a few examples.
The orthodox quote the Qur’anic oft-repeated exhortations to love, obey and follow the Prophet9 as an indication to follow his normative behaviour (Sunna). The Qur’an, however, does not connect the generic term Sunnah to the Prophet but uses it to refer to universal laws and patterns in both physical and moral realms. As there is a subtle but sharp distinction between the concepts of Sunnah of the Prophet and the Hadith literature, the matter needs clarification to avoid any confusion in the interpretation of Islamic message. We have taken this up in the enclosure (Encl. 4) to avoid distraction from our main theme.
1. 5:99, 7:158 13:40, 42:48. [Note 200/Ch. 3]
2. 5:92, 16:82, 24:54 [Note 201/Ch. 3]
3. 14:1, 57:9. [Note 202/Ch. 3]
4. 7:52, 16:64, 27:77. [Note 12/Preface]
5. 31:3. [Note 13/Preface]
6. 2:2, 3:138, 24:34. [Note 14/Preface]
7. 2:185, 10:108, 14:52. [Note 15/Preface]
8. 3:144, 18:110, 41:6. [Note 196/Ch. 3]
9. 3:31, 3:32, 3:132, 4:69, 4:80, 5:56, 5:92, 24:52, 24:54, 24:56, 64:12.
16. Good Deeds
In the early years of the Medinite period, ‘not disobeying any bidding to do the good (Ma‘ruf)’, was regarded as one of the pillars of faith.1 But as the revelation was underway, it was excluded from the list of pillars as conceivably the pagan Arabs identified the new faith with this core requirement, and hardly needed any reminding during conversion, as we have reviewed later (Ch. 44.1). Thus in a way, this pillar has remained latent since the early years of Islam.
The doing of good deeds is by far the most repeated of Qur'anic exhortations - which appears either singularly, or in combination with prayer and, or other commandments. The significance of good deeds can be best appreciated by the fact the Qur’an describes it as a common criterion for divine approval for all people regardless of faith (Ch. 9.4) and accordingly, the Qur'an asks Muslims to “vie (with each other) in goodness” (2:148).
“Everyone has a goal to which he turns: so vie (with each other) in goodness, (and remember,) wherever you may be, God will bring you all together. Indeed God is Capable of everything” (2:148).
The Qur’an’s repeated reference to good deeds as distinct from purely religious obligations, such as Salat, Zakat, hajj and fasting; and its exhortations to people of other faiths to do good deeds clearly indicate that the Qur’an treats all those deeds as good, which bring about material good to human beings.
16.1. Verses on Good Deeds from early Meccan Suras 2
“Indeed, the heedful (muttaqin) shall be in shades and springs (77:41), and (will have) fruits as they desire (42). (It will be said to them): ‘Eat and drink to (your) satisfaction for what you did (43). Thus do We reward the compassionate’” (77:44).
“By this City of Security (95:3), Indeed We have created human being in the finest model (ahsani taqwim) (4), but then We debased him to the lowest of the low (5) - except those who believe and do good deeds: theirs is a reward unending” (95:6).
“Man is indeed at a loss (103:2), except those who believe and do good deeds, and exhort to truth, and exhort to patience” (103:3).
16.2. Verses from mid and late Meccan Suras 3
“Those who believe and do good deeds and feel humble before their Lord – it is they (who are) the inmates of the garden, and they will remain there” (11:23).
“This Qur'an guides to that (which is) upright, and gives good news to the believers who do good deeds that theirs is a great reward” (17:9).
“He will reward those who believe and do good deeds: it is these that shall have forgiveness and a noble provision” (34:4).
“You will see (O Muhammad,) wrongdoers fearing on account of what they have earned, and it must befall them; and those who believe and do good deeds shall be in the meadows of gardens: they shall have anything they please from their Lord - that will be a great grace (42:22). That is the good news God gives to those servants who believe and do good deeds. Say: ‘I do not ask you any payment for this except love from (fi) the relatives (al-qurba). (Remember,) anyone who earns any good, We add goodness to it. Indeed God is Most Forgiving and Appreciative’” (42:23).
This particle fi in the verse has been often conveniently but misleadingly rendered as ‘to’ instead of ‘from’ thereby implying that Muslims should extend love and affection to the Prophet’s relatives at all times. However, for Muslims there is nothing wrong in doing so, though there is no Qur’anic injunction to do so (Ch. 14.1).
16.3. Verses from Medinite Suras 4
The substance and tone of the revelation had changed with the Prophet’s change in role from a mere preacher, talking to a hostile audience in Mecca, to the head of a community and the lawgiver in Medina, but it maintained its emphasis on good deeds. Thus one of the verses (24:55) from a mid-Medinite Sura (al-Nur), addressed to the Prophet’s struggling followers promises an eventual success and security in lieu of the fear in which they had been living for so long, but makes its promise contingent to their doing of good deeds. It was also during this period that the Qur’an declares the doing of good deeds as a common criterion for divine approval for all believers, including the Christians and Jews (Ch. 9.4).
“As for those who believe and do good deeds, He will grant them their reward in full. (Remember,) God does not love the wrongdoers” (3:57).
“God has promised those who believe and do good deeds that they shall have forgiveness and a great reward” (5:9)
“God will admit those who believe and do good deeds into gardens with streams running past. Surely God does anything He wishes” (22:14).
“God has promised those of you who believe and do good deeds that He will make them successors on earth, as He made successors before them, and that He will establish for them their religion which He has chosen for them, and that He will change their (state of) fear into (one of) security: they shall serve Me (alone) and not associate (others) with Me - and whoever is ungrateful after this, it is they who are perverse” (24:55).
16.4. Cardinal Significance of Good deeds in Islam
The foregoing verses on good deeds, and scores of others listed in the Notes, drawn from across the revelation calendar, clearly indicate the cardinal significance of good deeds in Islam. The primacy of good deeds in the Qur’an can be best demonstrated by its following key illustrations:
i) In its sole verse on the virtues of the Prophet’s companions, the Qur’an promises divine forgiveness and reward to only “those of them who believe and do good deeds.”
“Muhammad is the Messenger of God, and those who are with him are firm against the disbelievers, and compassionate among themselves. You will see them kneeling down and prostrating themselves, seeking God’s blessing and approval. Their marks are on their faces due to the effect of prostration. Their parable in the Torah, and their parable in the Gospel is that of a crop-seed that sends forth its sprout, and then strengthens it, and grows strong, and stands firmly on its stem to the farmers’ admiration, enraging the disbelievers at them. God has promised those of them who believe and do good deeds, forgiveness and a great reward” (48:29)
ii) God’s promise to the wounded followers of the Prophet who responded to his call to chasing the victorious Quraysh army on their way home (to Mecca) from Uhad was specifically for “those among them who did good and remained heedful (Wattaqu)” (Note 84/Ch.3).
iii) Its sole verse on the spiritual merit of those who were first to emigrate from Mecca to Medina, distinguishes them as the doers of good deeds:
“As for the vanguard (of Islam): the first of those who emigrated (Muhajirin) and those who supported them (Ansar), and (also) those who follow them in good deeds – God is pleased with them, and they are pleased with Him: He has prepared for them gardens with streams flowing past, to remain there for ever: that is the supreme triumph” (9:100).
Finally, it is noteworthy that in a foreign rendition such as the foregoing, the Qur’anic exhortations on good deeds appear repetitive, but in the Arabic Qur’an, each verse occupies its distinctive place in the text and displays its own linguistic subtlety, internal assonance, and rhythmic flow and movement, which simply cannot be captured in translation, and therefore the Qur’an cannot be blamed for any repetitiveness.
1. Sahih al-Bukhari, English translation by Mohsin Khan, New Delhi 1984, Vol.1, Acc. 17.
2. 84:25, 85:11, 99:7/8.
3. 7:42, 10:4, 10:9, 10:26, 13:29, 14:23, 18:2, 18:30, 18:107/110, 19:59/60, 19:76, 19:96, 20:75, 20:112, 21:94, 28:67, 28:80, 29:7, 29:9, 29:58, 30:14/15, 30:44/45, 31:8, 32:19, 34:37, 35:7, 38:28, 39:10, 39:33/34, 40:58, 41:8, 41:33, 41:46, 42:26, 45:15, 45:21, 45:30, 67:2.
4. 2:25, 4:57, 4:122, 4:173, 22:23, 22:50, 22:56, 22:77, 47:2, 47:12, 98:7.
Muhammad Yunus, a Chemical Engineering graduate from Indian Institute of Technology, and a retired corporate executive has been engaged in an in-depth study of the Qur’an since early 90’s, focusing on its core message. He has co-authored the referred exegetic work, which received the approval of al-Azhar al-Sharif, Cairo in 2002, and following restructuring and refinement was endorsed and authenticated by Dr. KhaledAbou El Fadl of UCLA, and published by Amana Publications, Maryland, USA, 2009.