REFLECTIONS ON THE CHAPTER OF THE PALM FIBRE [111]

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THE CHAPTER OF THE PALM FIBER [111]


In the Name of God, The Most Beneficent, The Most Merciful. 


تَبَّتْ يَدَا أَبِي لَهَبٍ وَتَبَّ

 

“May the hands of Abu Lahab perish, may he (himself) perish “. [111:1]


مَا أَغْنَىٰ عَنْهُ مَالُهُ وَمَا كَسَبَ

 

“His wealth avails him not, neither what he had earned”. [111:2]


سَيَصْلَىٰ نَارًا ذَاتَ لَهَبٍ

 

“Soon will he roast in a flaming fire”, [111:3]


وَامْرَأَتُهُ حَمَّالَةَ الْحَطَبِ

 

And his wife, the bearer of the firewood,” [111:4]


فِي جِيدِهَا حَبْلٌ مِّن مَّسَدٍ

 

“Upon her neck a rope of twisted palm-fibre.” [111:5]


Reflection #1 


The Content of the Surah and the virtue of reciting it


This is a Meccan Surah with 5 verses, and it was revealed on the 6th chronological order of the Holy Qur’an and it is 111th chapter of the Holy Qur’an. It was revealed at the beginning of the open invitation to the holy Prophet (S), contains the name of one of the enemies of Islam and the holy Prophet (S), at that time, Abu Lahab, for whom a strong warning is given. The content of the Surah shows that he harboured a special enmity toward the Apostle and both he and his wife committed whatever vice they could against him.

The Qur’an clearly says that they both will enter Hell from which they cannot escape. This prophecy actually happened and finally they died without having faith in Islam. This is an explicit prediction of the Holy Qur’an.


It is cited in a tradition, that the holy Prophet (S) said:

“He who recites it (Surah Lahab), I hope that Allah will not gather him and Abu Lahab in the same abode”. (i.e., he will be in Paradise while Abu Lahab will be in Hell). [1]


It is obvious that this virtue is of the person who, with reciting it, goes another way diverse from Abu Lahab’s, not of the one who recites it with the tongue, but, acts like Abu Lahab.


Occasion of the revelation of the Surah


It is narrated from Ibn Abbas that when the verse:

“And admonish the nearest kinsmen,”[2]was revealed, the holy Prophet was commanded by Allah to gather his close relatives and announce, openly, the invitation of Islam for the first time, and that he was the apostle of God. Then, he climbed to the top of Mount Safa and called: “Ya Sabaha”. (This phrase was used to inform all people to prepare to defend themselves when an enemy was about to attack.)


When the people heard the call of Muhammad (S), they went to him. He pointed out the different Arab tribes by name and addressing the assembly, asked:

“If I tell you that there is a huge enemy army camping at the foot of this mountain, on the other side, will you believe me?”

The whole assembly unanimously said:

“Certainly, we will believe, for you have never told a lie”.

“Then”, said the holy Prophet (S):

“I have come from God as a warner to preach the Unity of the Lord”.

Hearing this, Abu Lahab exclaimed:

“Perdition to thee! Was it for this that thou assembled us?”

It was at that moment that this Surah was revealed, saying:

“May the hands of Abu Lahab perish, may he (himself) perish”. The danger and enmity of Abu Lahab and his wife was not limited only to that action. They were the worst people of that time and the most habitual enemies of early Islam. That is why the Qur’an clearly and scornfully reproaches them. Some other details will be pointed out later, God willing.


1.“May the hands of Abu Lahab perish, may he (himself) perish “. 
2. “His wealth avails him not, neither what he had earned”. 
3. “Soon will he roast in a flaming fire”,
4. “And his wife, the bearer of the firewood,”
5. “Upon her neck a rope of twisted palm-fibre.”


May the Hands of Abu Lahab perish! As it was said in the ‘Occasion of Revelation of the Surah’, this Surah is, indeed, an answer to the disgraceful words of Abu Lahab; the Prophet’s uncle and the son of Abdul Muttalib. Among those people he was one of the strongest enemies of Islam.

When he heard the clear, general invitation of the holy Messenger of Allah (S) and his warning of the punishment of God, he said:

“Perdition to thee! Was it for this, that thou assembled us?”

then, the Holy Qur’an answers him:

“May the hands of Abu Lahab perish, may he (himself) perish.”


 Abū Lahab was the wealthiest of the Prophet’s uncles and one of the Qurayshī leaders who most opposed the Prophet and persecuted his followers. “May [his] hands perish” is an idiomatic expression meaning, “May his power perish and all that he possesses.” Abū Lahab did not go forth to the Battle of Badr,but is reported to have died soon thereafter from a festering wound inflicted by his sister-in-law Umm al-Faḍl in retaliation for his abuse of one of her slaves who had become Muslim.


 The terms “tab” (تب) and “tabab” (تباب), as Raqib cites in Mufradat, mean ‘the constant loss’, but Tabarsi cites in Majma’-al-Bayan’ that ‘the meaning is a loss which leads to perdition’.

Some of the philologists have rendered it to mean ‘to cut’ which, perhaps, is for the reason that a constant loss naturally leads to a stop. However, from all these meanings it is concluded that it is the same meaning that was said in the verse.

Of course, this perdition may refer to this world or to the spiritual world or both of them.

Why does the Holy Qur’an, despite its common style, mention Abu Lahab, so strongly scorned, by name?

To make the answer of this question clear, Abu Lahab should be introduced :


Abu Lahab, i.e. the Father of the Flames, whose name was ‘Abdul-‘Uzza and means the servant of the idol ‘Uzza, was a man of fiery temperament with a reddish face. This nickname, perhaps, was chosen for him, because, ‘Lahab’ (لهب), in Arabic, means ‘a flame of fire’.

He and his wife, Umm Jamil; a sister of Abu Sufyan, being specifically mentioned as the cursed ones among the enemies of Islam, hurt the Holy Prophet (S) very much.

A person by the name of ‘Tariq Muharibi’ says that once Abu Lahab was found going behind the holy Prophet (S) passing through the market place called ‘Zul-Mujaz’; (it is close to’ Arafat, a short distance from Mecca). He was following behind him (S) shouting to the people not to listen to the Holy Prophet (S) saying that he was a mad man and pelting his feet with stones, causing the holy Prophet (S) to walk with bleeding wounds.

There are many stories of this kind narrated about the ceaseless, hideous treatment and futile statements of Abu Lahab against Prophet Muhammad (S) which can be counted as reasons for why the verses, under discussion, criticize and curse him and his wife so clearly and severely.

He was the only person who did not sign the supporting agreement of Bani Hashim from the Holy Prophet (S) although, he took part in the agreements of the enemies of Islam, and persisted to remain his (S) enemy. Regarding these facts, the reason for the exceptional case of this Surah can be made clear.


“His wealth avails him not, neither what he has earned”. It is understood from this statement that Abu Lahab was a rich, proud man who boasted about his wealth and used it against Islam. “Soon will he roast in a flaming fire”. His punishment, as well as his name, Abu Lahab, flourished with great, blazing flames.

 

 

Not only the wealth of Abu Lahab, but, also, no wealth or social position of infidels and wrong doers avails them in rescuing them from the fire of Hell, as Surah Shu’ara, No. 29, verses 88-89 say:

 

 

يَوۡمَ لَا يَنۡفَعُ مَالٌ وَّلَا بَنُوۡنَۙ

اِلَّا مَنۡ اَتَى اللّٰهَ بِقَلۡبٍ سَلِيۡمٍ

 

 

“The Day whereon neither wealth nor sons will avail, but only he (will prosper) that brings to God a sound heart”. [29:88-89]


It is certain that the fire mentioned in the verse; “Soon will he roast in a flaming fire”

 

is the fire of Hell, but some believe that it can involve the fire of this world, too. It is narrated that after the defeat of the Meccans at Badr, Abu lahab, who had not participated in the battle, asked Abu Sufyan, when he returned from the battlefield, about its details.

Abu Sufyan described to him the event of how the Quraish were defeated and then, he added: “By God, we saw, in the course of battle, some riders between the earth and heaven who had come to help Muhammad”.

Here, Abu Rafi’, one of the servants of Abbas tells the story thus: “I was sitting there, and I raised my hand and said that they were the angels of Heaven. Then, Abu Lahab became so angry that he sharply struck my face and lifted me up and I fell hard upon the ground.

He continued beating me because of his grief from his disappointment.

At that moment, Ummul-FadI, Abbas’ wife, who was attending there, took a stake and struck it hard on Abu Lahab’s head, and said: ‘Have you found this weak man alone?’.

The head of Abu Lahab became wounded and bloody. One week later he died from a contagious disease and since his body gave off an unbearable, foul smell no one approached it. It was left for three days and at last, some slaves were hired to carry it out of Mecca. They watered it from a distance and then piled stones on top of it until it was buried.” [3]


Abū Lahab’s wife, Umm Jamīl bint Ḥarb, was said to support fully his position and to have mocked the Prophet when he was ill and unable to offer supererogatory prayers, saying, “O Muhammad! I think that your satan has forsaken you” (see the introduction to Sūrah 93). Therefore, just as she aided him in defying God’s Messenger, part of her punishment is to aid him in Hell, carrying the firewood that will feed the flames of his punishment. As she was among the leading women of the Umayyad clan, to carry firewood would also imply that she was now doing the work of those in a lower station. In a variant reading, v. 4 can be read, “And his wife is a carrier of firewood,” or “is carrying firewood.”


“And his wife, the bearer of the firewood, Upon her neck a rope of twisted palm-fibre”. It is no wonder that Umm Jamil, the sister of Abu Sufyan and Mu’awiyah’s aunt, was Abu Lahab’s wife. She was a squint-eyed woman equally bad tempered, like her husband; mischievous and grossly wicked. She cooperated with him in hostilities and hindrances against Islam. But, as to why the Qur’an describes her as ‘the bearer of the firewood’ several commentaries have been given.

Some have said that it is because she used to tie bundles of thorny branches with ropes of twisted palm leaf fibre, carrying them and scattering them about on dark nights along the paths, which the Prophet (S) was expected to take, with the expressed intention of wounding his feet and causing him bodily injury.

Some others believe that ‘the bearer of the firewood’ may also be symbolic for carrying tales between people to embroil them (in the web of backbiting). This was also one of her vices.

Some commentators have said that she will carry the heavy load of the sins of others on the Day of Judgement.

The palm fibre indicates a rope of palm fibre that has been put upon her neck in Hell and set aflame. This is said to be in retribution for her vow to sell a precious necklace in order to spend the proceeds on a campaign against the Prophet. Umm Jamil had a very precious necklace. She had sworn that she would spend it against the holy Prophet (S). For this behaviour, perhaps, God has appointed for her such a punishment. Others say that it refers to an iron chain or heavy iron necklace that will be placed upon her neck in Hell.

The first meaning, among these commentaries, seems the most appropriate, though the combination of them all is not impossible.

The term “jid” (جيد) means ‘neck and the upper part of the chest’, whose plural form is “Ajyad” (اجياد). But,”‘unuq” (عنق) means ‘the back part of the neck’, while “raqabah” (رقبة) means ‘the neck’ on the whole.

The term “masad” (مسد) is a rope made of palm leaf fibre. Some have also said that it is a rope with the harshness of palm fibre and the heat and heaviness of iron which will be put on her neck in Hell.


Explanations


Prophecy: A Sign of the Miracle of the Qur’an


We know that these verses were revealed in Mecca, and it was announced that Abu Lahab and his wife will roast in the fire of Hell, i.e. they will not believe in the Truth. Finally, many pagans of Mecca believed, indeed, and some only apparently believed, but of those who believed neither truly nor apparently were these two people.

 

This is one of the predictions of the Holy Qur’an that was concealed. There are some concealed facts which are discussed in a separate book under the title of ‘Miracles of the Qur’an’ and in the commentary, they are referred to accordingly.


Relationship is Not a Reason for Faith


Abu Lahab and his wife being specifically mentioned as the cursed ones, among the enemies of Islam, is just to emphasize that no relationship whatsoever, even with the Holy Prophet (S), can be of any benefit when the person lacks in Faith. The men of Faith show no inclination toward those who go astray and never follow them in their wrong way, even when they are their close relatives.

Abu Lahab was the uncle of the Prophet (S) but, when he did not follow the command of Allah he was blamed and warned of the divine punishment as other disbelievers are, even more than others, because, his behaviour was worse than others.

On the contrary, those who not only were not among the Apostle’s relatives but, also were from other countries even with different races and languages, but, believed and practiced with their true Faith, were so close to the Prophet of Islam (S) that, for example, according to a tradition, the apostle said about Salman-Farsi: “Salman is of us Ahlul-Bait”.

It was as if he were one of the family members of the Prophet (S). It is true that this Surah is about Abu Lahab and his wife, but it is clear that they are cursed because of their behaviour and thoughts, and hence, every individual or group of people who possesses their qualities will have the same destiny as theirs.


Supplication


O Lord! Clear our hearts from any grudge.

 

O Lord! We are all afraid of the final result. Give us security and ease and arrange our destiny in a good condition.

 

O Lord! We know that in that Great Court neither wealth nor relationship will avail us but by Your Grace.


Reflections #2


This is a condemnation of Abu Lahab and his wife’s actions. These two created chaos in Arabia. This story teaches us a great deal about how we as humans should be able to create a relationship between us and our partners in such a way that we create a constructive pattern in the society we live in, and not a destructive pattern that will lead to several declines.

Imagine that Abu Lahab was the Prophet’s uncle, from a Hashemite lineage, and Abu Lahab’s wife, Umm Jamil being the wife of Abu Lahab, and the sister of Abu Sufyan. Here we got a combination of Lahabi and a Sufyani. It can’t get any worse than that. The Real name of Umm Jamil is ‘Urwa, she was the granddaughter of Ummaya (Read more about Bani Umayya and the Ummayad tradition of cursing Imam Ali ‘Aleyhi As-Salam), and Abu Lahab is the grandson of Hashim. Here we learn, that wicked person can exist in a Hashemite and a Ummayad lineage, but the impurity and the wickedness will never touch the pure Ibrahimi light that reached the father of Prophet (S) Muhammed and the father of Imam Ali (A). Just observe the lineage of Prophet Muhammed (S) and Imam Ali (A), and how God chose the Ibrahimi and the Muhammadi lineage to continue through Imam Ali (A) and the daughter of the Prophet (S): Fatima (A).


وَمَا كَيْدُ فِرْعَوْنَ إِلَّا فِي تَبَابٍ

 

and the plot of  Pharaoh led to nothing but loss and destruction (for him). [Surah Ghafir : 37]


Just reflect on how Abu Lahab used to throw garbage and dead animals on the Prophet (s) and how he behaved toward him (S). Not only Abu Lahab, his wife was also very harsh against the Prophet (S). Especially when Umm Jamil had a strong political and financial position in Arabia. Umm Jamil was one of the leaders of Arabia. If she made a decision, then the decision was forced to be completed.

This Abu Lahab also used to spit on the Prophet while he knew the truth. The truth was translucent as water for these Arab leaders at that time.

 

 

Abu Lahab used to say (تبا لهذا الدين) : May this religion be destroyed.

 

 

The Arabs also used to say (اشابه أم تابه) : “Is she young or in a state of destruction (Tabeh)”. The Arabs used to see everything from material aspects, whether it was constructive or destructive.


As I said before, a marriage should exist in a society to harmonize society to a better society. The marriage today is shaped for destruction and not for construction. This is very tragic. Today, couples are getting marry to destroy society and not to build it up. Everyone thinks of themselves. When you marry, you do not want to help others to get married, instead you choose to think of yourself and your ego. Not only that, you also choose to be destructive together with your husband against other couples and against the structure of society. You choose not to think about society. You prefer to ignore society. When someone is murdered from another family, you choose to ignore the reality and you pretend to mourn, but when someone is murdered from your own family, you begin to feel the ignorance (their ignoring of the reality) you were living in.


Don’t forget to recite this surah with understanding and practise, so that you can disassociate yourself from the lifestyle of Abu Lahab and Umm Jamil, the worst enemies of the Prophet (S) and Islam. Their destiny has become a famous destiny for many Muslims and Non-Muslims. We have many Lahabs and Jamils in the world today, who are trying their hardest to become like these figures, believe you me.

 

The one who tries to resemble and follow Abu Lahab, will end up in a slow destruction, piece by piece to a destiny of perdition and loss. The blessings will be cut, piece by piece, and his hands and actions will be destroyed. Many of our actions are performed with our hands, and our hands are the starting point of many actions in our life. The unjust human being will end up in a destruction of flames of fire :

 

 

 

وَأَمَّا الْقَاسِطُونَ فَكَانُوا لِجَهَنَّمَ حَطَبًا

 

 

  

And as for those who are unjust, they are firewood for hell. [Surah Al-Jinn:15]


 Abu Lahab also used to pelt stones at the Prophet (S) until he was bleeding. God comes strictly against these individuals and their hands of destruction.


We also see that God said (“ Sayasla’ “) : سَيَصْلَى : which comes from the word “ صِلَة “ which means : bearing ; bond ; connection ; contact ; link ; nexus ; pertinence ; relation(ship) ; relevance ; tie ; tie-in.

 

 سَيَصْلَىٰ نَارًا ذَاتَ لَهَبٍ = Abu Lahab will be bonded, connected and linked to the Lahab: The flames of God’s Justice. In Islam, Paradise is a manifestation of God’s Mercy, and Hell is a manifestation of God’s Justice.

  

Today we unfortunately have people like David Wood and Sam Shamoun who are very unacademic, who believe they know the Arabic language, and interpret the Qur’an in a very literary way by translating صْلَى” as “pray”, when the word itself has a lot of meanings. They themselves are evangelists, and it is very understandable that they interpret the Qur’an literally, when they themselves interpret the Bible literally and interpret the text straight out, without an understanding of its context and meaning. The two poor guys, David Wood and Sam Shamoun, don’t know that you have something called “Tafsir” (interpretation) and “Ta’wil (a deeper meaning of a verse) in Islam.

By the way, صْلَى “ can mean : get rid of by fire  burnt,inflamed,,set fire to, set fire to, burnt, heat ; warm, pray, cock, broil, grill, roast, gift ; grant ; present, association ; attachment ; conjunction ; connectedness ; correlation ; interpenetration ; junction ; bearing ; bond ; connection ; contact ; link ; nexus ; pertinence ; relation(ship) ; relevance ; tie ; tie-in.


The Justice continues with God saying that Umm Jamil will also be linked to God’s Justice, if she continues to carry all those thorny woods and place them outside the Prophet’s (S) house or in the middle of the road where he (S) used to walk, etc.

 

Umm Jamil will also be connected to God’s justice if she continues to sell her possessions, and especially her most expensive necklace, so that she can use what she has received when she sold her necklace, against the Prophet (S). She used to swear that she would sell her necklace, in order to fight economically against the Prophet (S) and use her finances against the Prophet (S), so God sent down his verses of justice against her and said that her neck will be attached to a rope of twisted palm leaf fibres, if she continues to do what she did.


 Abu Lahab and Umm Jamil’s wealth, health, children, lineage will never give them any benefit if they believe that their material possessions and worldly pleasures will give them what they want from the power and the status before God. They will not gain anything from the criminal activities they were doing.

Umm Jamil also used to go around to other families in Mecca and talk about “how bad the Prophet (S) was” and “how he wanted to mislead everyone through his new religion” etc. As we all know, we have this structure today also in our community, where families and mothers go to different households and talk badly about other people.  It was also in this way, she was planning all those atrocities against the Prophet (S), she wanted to commit.


When are studying this surah from the surface, one will think that God is a harsh god (God forbid), and that God wanted to punish anyone who was against the Prophet (S) straight away etc.

This was certainly not the case. You see for yourself, that your view as a Muslim or a Non-Muslim who have read this is, that this is not the case.

This Surah in itself is a Surah of a miracle of a Divine Justice, that God only punishes those who only have intentions of injustice and who have only filled their entire heart and actions with injustice.

God knows that there are those who have 80 percent evil and 20 percent goodness, and that God always keeps the doors of mercy open to them.

But Then, there are those who only have 100 percent evil in themselves, and who will never change, even if you had placed them on the earth for hundreds of years.

So, God knew with his knowledge that these two will not change, but they still had a free will (which we believe in Shia Islam) to change. God presents justice to them as if they were punished already before the Day of Judgment, to scare them from these horrible crimes that they loved to commit.

So God would punish those two if they continued with what they used to commit (which they continued to commit constantly), and if they had stopped their actions of evil, then of course the doors of mercy would have been open to them, but these two were so horrible that nothing would work for them , except God’s Justice.


كُلُّ نَفْسٍ بِمَا كَسَبَتْ رَهِينَةٌ

 

 

Every soul, for what it has earned, will be retained (Every soul is held by what it earned.) [74:38]


والسلام عليكم ورحمة الله وبركاته


| Amir Zabidi and Imam Ali foundation


Further readings


  1. Majma’ Al-Bayan By Shaykh At-Tabrasi 
  2. Tafsir Namuneh By Ayatollah Makarem As-Shirazi 
  3. Tafsir Al-Mizan By Sayyed Tabatabaei
  4. Tafsir Nur Ath-Thaqlayn 
  5. Tafsir As-Safi By Al-Kashaani 
  6. Tafsir Tibyan Fi Tafsir Al-Qur’an By At-Tusi
  7. Tafsir Jami’ Al-Jawami’ by Shaykh Ali Fadhl bin Hassan At-Tabrasi
  8. Tafsir Al-Qummi 
  9. Tafsir Al-Mubin by Shaykh Muhammed Jawad Al-Mughniyeh
  10. Tafsir Shibr by Sayyed Abd-Allah Shibr
  11. Tafsir Furat Al-Kufi 
  12. Tafsir Min Wahy Al-Qur’an By Sayyed Muhammed Hussain Fadlallah
  13. The Study Qur’an By Hossein Nasr

References 


[1] Majma’-al-Bayan, vol. 10, p. 558

[2] Surah Shu’ara, No. 16, verse 114

[3]  Bihar-al-Anwar, vol. 19, p. 227.

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