In the Shade of the Quran (part 30)

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  • In the Shade of the Quran (part 30)

  • Surah 111 Fire Flames - al Masad

    In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful!


    May the hands of Abu Lahab perish; doomed he is. His wealth and his gains shall not avail him. He shall be plunged in a flaming fire, and his wife the carrier of firewood, shall have a rope of palm fibre rounder her neck.



    Abu Lahab, whose real name was Abduluzza ibn Abdulmuttalib, was an uncle of the Prophet. He was so nicknamed because of the radiant look he had on his face. With his wife Abu Lahab was one of the most unbending foes of the Messenger and the ideas he was propagating.

    Ibn Ishaq related the report made by Rabiah ibn 'Abbad Ad-Daili who said,

    When I was a youngster I once watched with my father Allah's Messenger preaching Islam to the Arab tribes saying 'O sons of ... (calling their respective names), I am Allah's Messenger sent to order you to submit to and worship Him and nothing else beside Him, and to believe in me and protect me until I carry out what Allah has entrusted me with.' A cross eyed, bright-faced man was behind him, who used to say, after he had finished, 'O sons of ... this man wants you to forsake Al-Lat and Al Uzza (two prominent idols worshipped by the pagan Arabs) and your allies of the jinn, the children of Malik ibn Aqmas and to substitute for them these innovations and nonsense he has brought. Do not harken to him, nor follow what he preaches.' I asked my father who that man was and he told me that it was Abu Lahab, the Prophet's uncle.' (Imam Ahmad and Tabarani also had the same version.)

    This is but one incident of Abu Lahab's intimidation and ill-will towards the Messenger and his call. His wife Arwa, the daughter of Harb Ibn Ummya, a sister of Abu Sufyan, gave him unfailing support in his virulent, relentless campaign.

    Such was the attitude of Abu Lahab towards the Prophet from the very start of his Divine mission. Al-Bukhari related, on the authority of 'Ibn Abbas, that the Prophet went out to Batha' (a large square in Makka) one day, mounted a hill and summoned the people of Quraish. When they came to him he addressed them and said,

    Were I to tell you that an enemy is drawing near and will attack you tomorrow morning or evening, would you believe me? 'Yes,' they replied. 'So listen to me,' he went on, 'I am warning you of gruesome torment (from Allah).' Abu Lahab was there and snapped at him, 'Damn you!' For this you have called us?' (Another version goes: 'Abu Lahab stood up shaking the dust off his hands and saying, 'Damn you all day long ...') Then this surah was revealed.

    Another instance was when the Hashimi clan (the Prophet's own clan) decided on grounds of tribal loyalties, under the leadership of Abu Talib to protect the Prophet despite their rejection of the religion he was preaching. Abu Lahab was the only one to take a different stand. He joined with the Quraish instead, and was with them in signing the document to boycott the Hashimi clan completely and starve them till they gave up the Prophet to them.

    Abu Lahab also ordered his two sons to renounce the daughters of Muhammad, to whom they had been engaged before Muhammad's prophetic assignment, so as to burden him with the expenses of their maintenance and welfare.

    Thus, Abu Lahab and his wife, Arwa, who was also called Umm Jamil, continued to launch their persistent onslaught against the Prophet and his message. The fact that they were close neighbours of the Prophet made the situation worse still. We are told that Umm Jamil used to carry thorns and sharp wood and place them in the Prophet's path (though it is thought that the phrase 'the carrier of firewood' in the surah is used only metaphorically to indicate her lies and malice about him).

    This surah was revealed as a counter-attack against their hostile compaigns, Allah had taken over the command of the battle. May the hands of Abu Lahab perish, doomed he is.

    The Arabic term rendered here as 'perish' also signifies failure and cutting off. The term is used twice in two different senses. It is used first as an appeal, while in the second occurence it implies the granting of the appeal and its fulfillment. So, in one short verse, an action is realised which draws the curtains upon a scene of a completed battle. What later follows is merely a description of what took place with the remark that 'his wealth and his gains shall not avail him.' He can have no escape. He is defeated, vanquished and damned. That was his fate in this world, but in the Hereafter 'he shall be plunged in a flaming fire.' And his wife, the wood-carrier, will reside there with him having around her neck a rope of palm-fibre with which, as it were, she is being dragged into Hell; or which she used for fastening wood bundles together, according to whether a literal or metaphorical interpretation of the text is adopted.

    The language of this surah achieves a remarkable degree of beautiful harmony between the subject matter and the atmosphere built around it. Abu Lahab will be plunged into a fire with 'Lahab', which is the Arabic word for flames of fire; and his wife who carries the wood, a fuel, will be met with the same fire with a palm-fibre rope around her neck. 'Jahannam' or Jehanna with fiercely burning 'Lahab' will be inhabited by Abu Lahab. And his wife, who wraps up thorns and sharp woods, materials which, significantly, can increase the blaze of a fire, and puts them in the Prophet's way, will be subsequently dragged to Hell with a rope tied to her neck, bundled like firewood. How perfect is the matching between the words and the pictures; the punishment is presented as of the same nature as the deed - wood, ropes, fire and Lahab!

    Phonetically, the words are arranged in a way which provides a wonderful harmony between the sounds made by the pulling of the wood and the neck by ropes. Read in Arabic, the verse, 'Tabbat yada abi Lahabin watab,' makes one feel a kind of hard sharp pull, analogous to that of bundles of wood or of dragging an unwilling person by the neck into a wild fire; all is in phase with the fury and the violent, bellicose tone that goes with the theme of the surah. Thus, in five short verses of one of the shortest surahs of the Qur'an, the vocal melodies click neatly with the actual movements of the scene portrayed.

    This extremely rich and brilliant style led Umm Jamil to claim that the Prophet was in fact 'satirizing' her and her husband. The arrogant and vain Arab woman could not get over being referred to with such a humiliating phrase as 'the carrier of firewood,' who 'shall have a rope of palm-fibre round her neck. ' Her rage grew wilder when the surah became popular among the Arab tribes who esteemed such a literary style!

    Ibn Ishaq related:

    'Umm Jamil, I was told, having heard what the Qur'an said about her and her husband, came to the Prophet who was with Abu Bakr at the Ka'aba. She was carrying a handful of stones. Allah took her sight away from the Prophet and she saw only Abu Bakr to whom she said, 'Where is your comrade? I have heard that he has been satirizing me. Were I to find him, I would throw these stones right into his face. 1, too, am gifted in poetry.' Then she said before leaving: 'The contemptible we obey not! Nor what he says shall we accept!'

    'Abu Bakr turned around to the Prophet and said, 'Do you think that she saw you?' 'No,' replied the Prophet, 'Allah made her unable to see me.'

    Al-Hafiz Abu Bakr Al-Bazar also related, on the authority of Ibn Abbas, that when this surah was revealed Abu Lahab's wife sought the Prophet. While he was with Abu Bakr she appeared and Abu Bakr suggested, 'She will not harm you if you hide yourself away!' 'Don't worry,' said the Prophet in a soothing manner. 'She will not see me.' She came to Abu Bakr and said, 'Your friend has lampooned us!' 'By the Lord of this Ka'aba, he has not,' Abu Bakr assured her. 'He is no poet and what he says is not poetry,' he added. She said, 'I believe you,' and then left. Abu Bakr then enquired from the Prophet whether she had seen him and he said, 'No, an angel was shielding me all the time she was here.' So much was her fury and her indignation at what she thought was poetry and which Abu Bakr rightly refuted.

    Thus, the humiliating picture of Abu Lahab and his wife has been recorded to last forever in this eternal book, the Qur'an, to show Allah's anger with them for their animosity to His Messenger and the ideas he was advocating. All those who choose to take a similar attitude towards Islam, therefore, shall meet with the same disgrace calamity and frustration, both in this life and in the Hereafter, as fitting punishment and reward!

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