Continuing with our Ramadan project of the tafsir of Surah Maryam, here are my notes of Shaykh Abdul Nasir’s tafsir of Ayah 1-4. Today’s session was an amazing, amazing class with wonderful reminders about dua, and I’m so excited about learning more about the Surah insha’Allah this month. To watch the lecture in its totality, please see here.
Surah Maryam – Day 2.
- The last note I’ll make about the layout of the Surah, is that as Imam Qurtubi mentions in his tafsir, the first 3/4ths of the Surah talks about the need of people for children.
- In a very subtle way, the Surah tells us it is a human need and desire to want to have a child. Starting with Zakariyya and Maryam and Isa, it goes on with Ibrahim alayhis salaam and his contentious relationship with his father. It talks about Ismael making strong recommendations to his family members. Idris. It talks about that. It mentions Ishaq and Yaqub. This entire chain of father son, father son.
- So it emphasizes, it’s a very subtle reminder of the human need, the human desire for a child.
- And the last 4th of the surah, very harshly denies, refutes, the claim that Allah has a child.
- The first part talks about the fact that it’s human need to have a child, and this is almost an emotional weakness of the human being, and Allah being above and beyond any kind of weakness, it completely refutes this idea that Allah would have a child.
- This surah begins as do 29 other Surahs do in the Qur’an, and that is with the disjointed letters.
Kaf, Ha, Ya, ‘Ayn, Sad.
- The disjointed letters. And what that means is that you read each letter independently. The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him told us how to pronounce this letters and he told us to elongate these letters.
- Lets talk about these letters and the role that they play. First of all, what does it mean? The meaning of these phrases, Allah Knows best. That is the majority opinion. And that is the most confirmed opinion among Islamic scholarship. But even in reliable books of tafsir, they mention that there were some sahaba who took certain inspirations from this. Quite a few narrations mentioning Sayyiduna Umar has mentioned each letter stands for one attribute of Allah.
- None of these riwayat (narrations) are reliable enough for them to base any strong type of interpretation, tafsir, opinion on.
- The ultimate interpretation of these letters is that Allah Knows these meanings best.
- So what is the purpose of this? If Allah knows their meaning best, and we do not know their meaning, we have not been informed authentically from the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him as to what they mean, then what is the purpose of them? What purpose do they serve?
- One reflection is that it’s a very powerful reminder. Very powerful reminder that no matter how much you know there is always something you don’t know. It shakes you right off. Shakes you awake. Reminds you that before you start reading to remember you don’t know anything. And Allah knows everything. It’s that kind of wake up call before we start the rest of the Surah.
- The other role and purpose that this serves from a linguistic standpoint, is that these are the letters of the language. These are the same letters that the language is constructed from. And you have to remember that the Qur’an was revealed at a time that was the peak of eloquence for an entire race, ethnicity of people. This entire race prided themselves on, their identity was based on their eloquence with language. And the Qur’an was revealed at a time to shock them, to awe them, to inspire them, to amaze them, to motivate them, and it challenged them intellectually and even spiritually. And so these were the same letters that their entire language consisted of, but they had never heard them used in this fashion, in this way ever before. They had never seen this before. And the fact is that it wasn’t something alien, wasn’t weird sounds, it was their own letters of their own language read, recited in such a beautiful manner, that they had never thought about. The greatest poets of their time had never thought something like this was possible, that a construction of this nature could be made, could be read, could be recited, could be constructed, they had just never fathomed this possibility.
- And so the example that I give, (and this is just an example, by no means is it like this, because there is nothing like Allah’s Qalam, this is just a parallel), if I’m talking right now, and in the middle of talking all of a sudden I say “H” and elongate the letter, suddenly everyone is looking to see what I say next. And then if I said “C” and elongate the letter, suddenly I have pindrop silence. Everyone’s listening. And that’s what the disjointed letters did.
- When the Qur’an is read, it amazes all of us no doubt, but when the Imam gets up and recites the disjointed letters, we get goosebumps. It amazes you. It touches our heart. And that’s the power of these disjointed letters. And that’s one of the primary functions and purposes of its revelation, to catch the attention of the listener.
- The other thing is that 29 Surahs of the Qur’an open with these type of openings. And in 24 of these 29, immediately afterwards the Qur’an is mentioned. So one of the most miraculous parts of the Qur’an, one of the most mindblowing, touching parts of the Qur’an is recited and then immediately the Qur’an is mentioned. And if not the Qur’an, its al-Kitab.
- What about the other 5? Surah Maryam is one of the other 5. What’s the read here? Because we’re looking for consistency. We’re trying to find a pattern. In that case, there are 3 things.
- 1) Even if al-Kitab or the Qur’an is not outright mentioned, it’s implicitly mentioned. Here it says “the mention of the mercy of your Lord” and the mention is referring implicitly to the Qur’an. But there’s more.
- 2) In the 5, the end talks about the Qur’an. And that’s a very beautiful connection, in that all 29, you have the mention of the Qur’an.
- 3) To give a commonplace example to facilitate understanding. If I call on students in the class to get assignments, Umar get your assignment, Ali, get you assignment, after saying it to 5 of them, do I need to say to the others get your assignment? I can just say their name. It’s like everyone has been programmed. That’s association has already been made. It’s’s actually part of tutelage, tarbiyyah that you get the person to just work off ishrah, off signals. You don’t need to give full instructions. So it’s like 24 of the Surahs, you have been given the connection, and so with the other 5, the 25th one, the only thing on your mind is al-Quran, al-KItab. Literally teaching, its conducting tarbiyyah, it’s literally training the mind of the listener and the reader that when you hear something as amazing as these disjointed letters, can’t help but think of the Qur’an and its miraculous nature.
19:2 [This is] a mention of the mercy of your Lord to His servant Zakariyya
- Dhikr in the Qur’an means remembrance. A lot of translations say mention, which is fine because dhikr, remembrance is a type of mention.
- Rahma: mercy
- Rabbika: construction that means your Lord, your Master
- The mercy of your Lord. Who is the kahf, second person, addressed to? The mufassirun say it is addressed to the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him.
- Mubtada (subject) is omitted, it’s assumed. Dhikru is the predicate.
- This is the mention of the mercy of your Lord. This is the reminder, this is the remembrance of the mercy of your Lord upon his slave Zakariyya. Why is it omitted, why is it not explicitly mentioned? The scholars explain to us about not mentioning it, is it doesn’t focus the energy so much on what this is, but rather what the point of this. Not so much that “this is” whenever you remove the subject you are automatically emphasizing the predicate. You are giving more attention, more importance to the predicate. So this is the remembrance of the mercy of your Lord, it removes the “this”, and just says the remembrance, the reminder, the mention of the mercy of your Lord, upon His slave Zakariyya. It gets to the point immediately and emphasizes what is being mentioned, and that is the mercy of your Lord. So it emphasizes it by omitting.
- Aside from that, again we look for consistency, throughout this Surah there is that tone of omitting little endings of words. And all of that, it emphasizes a sense of urgency, desperation, that when a person is calling out to Allah and says, Rabbi, my Master, when he omits the ending, and he shortens and abbreviates it and says Rabbi! , and drops the ya, that shows a type of urgency on the part of the person making dua. That he is so desperate, he is saying, I don’t even have the luxury of time to complete the ya. It’s immediate. I don’t have time, ya Allah, I’m running out of time, I need you to come to my aid immediately. This is the overall tone in the Surah. It has that need in it. It has that desperation. It has powerful emotional undertones. The whole Surah does.
- It doesn’t mention Allah by name. Why the word Rabb is used, is again, the whole aspect of family is being emphasized here. So the attribute of Allah Rabb is mentioned
- The Rabb is the One who not only Creates, He Sustains, He Maintains, He Feeds, He Nourishes, He Protects.
- So that emotional tone is there right from the beginning.
Upon His slave Zakariyya
- It did not mention Zakariyya by himself but gives an introduction to Zakariyya as the slave of Allah.
- Again the beautiful significance of this. Everyone is the slave of Allah, but Zakariyya lived up ot the task of being the slave of Allah.
- That when he was 70, 80, some narrations say in his 100s, when he was at such an advanced age, he still didn’t lose hope, he still prayed to Allah with the conviction that a 30 year old would make dua to Allah for, for a son and a child.
- He truly lived being a slave of Allah
- And the other thing was that Surah Kahf and Surah Isra open with mention of the slave of Allah.
- Also: why is the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him being addressed in this ayah? Because if you continue on, the Prophet is not a direct address of the conversation.
- Have to remember the timing of this Surah. In the 4th year of the Prophethood when the dawah had gone public and the oppression had started (why the migration to Abysinnia had happened), and the Muslims were facing great odds. The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, all the odds were stacked against him.
- And then Allah quickly points out to the Prophet that listen now, this Surah is going to remind you of the mercy of your Lord upon His slave Zakariyya.
- When all the odds were stocked against him, there was no chance in the world logically, reasonably for him to have a child. It makes no sense. Logic tells you he cannot have a child, he is a 100+ yrs old, his wife could not have children even when they were young. And Allah still gave them a child. And that was the mercy of Allah upon Zakariyya. All the odds are against you ya Muhammad, all the odds are against you, but like Allah showered Zakariyya with his mercy, Allah will shower His mercy upon you. You just have to hang in there like Zakariyya did, you just have to be patient like Zakariyya was, you just have to make dua like Zakariyya did. It’s a little reminder to the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him that I haven’t forgotten about you. I know exactly what you’re going through
- Another thing we see in this Surah, Allah constantly reassures, He consoles the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him. Not that the Prophet peace and blessings be upon him was a person of weak faith, no. This reminds us of the human side of the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, that he did have emotions, that he did feel pain. He had the strongest convictions of any human being that ever lived, but he did feel pain. He did feel the pain that people afflicted on him.
- And more than anything else, it shows, it displays to you, the love that Allah had for the Prophet peace and blessings be upon him
- When someone is close to you, you can’t help but hug them every time you see them. You can’t help but pat them on the back.
- Allah is saying “Habib, I haven’t forgotten about you.
19:3 When he called to his Lord a private supplication.
- Remember: points to something in the past tense, part of history
- We know the word dua. It means when you call out, and they can hear you, and you know that they can hear you. Dua is when you’re sure that the person can hear you.
- Zakariyya called out from the depths of his heart.
- Nada part of a particular pattern. Arabic is a language of patterns and the pattern has certain implications. Here this pattern means mutual action.
- Here it’s used for emphasis. Since it can’t mean mutual action in this context, not mutual crying out, he cried out. Very emphatically. Very heartfully.
- An unbelievable crying out.
- Khafi: something very light.
- Seems like a contradiction, but mufassirun say not a contradiction because he is crying out to Allah. Don’t need to be loud when crying out to Allah, just need to be from the heart.
- It wasn’t about he was screaming and crying, but that just means that’s how much heart he had.
- The scholars discuss that is this an evidence for making dua silently. Best to make dua quietly and privately. Allah Hears us whether silent or loud. But the scholars mention that making dua quietly is better, more safe for the sincerity of a person. Can save a person from vanity, from showing off.
- Best to supplicate quietly and privately and find quiet, intimate moments to connect with Allah. Because if you have something that is a very heartfelt issue for you, and you want to cry, and beg in front of Allah, it’s easier to express yourself privately.
- Also an interpretation that he was expressing himself passionately and crying, but he is a very old man, and he lost his voice. Look at the picture that that makes. The old man cried so much that he lost his voice.
- One of the primary lessons we’re learning in these first passages is how strong our convictions should be in Allah’s ability to answer our prayers. How we should feel connected to Allah and how we should pray and supplicate to Allah. There should not be the slightest bit of doubt. We should pray with the utmost convictions, laying everything on the line. That yes, from Zakariyya’s perspective, I am an extremely, extremely old man, and my wife could not bear children even when she was young, but that doesn’t affect my convictions. I will sit here and cry, and beg oh Allah for you to give me a child as if I’m the 28 year old or the 35 year old. Because whether I’m 35 or 135, oh Allah, for you it’s the same, and you can still give if You like, if You Will, oh Allah. So give me please oh Allah! And almost that insistence. But that insistence is not in terms of entitlement. That insistence is like how a child cries and begs the parent for something. Because the child knows the parent has a soft spot in their heart for the child. Knowing my Rabb will take care of me. I’m going to sit here and cry my eyes out before Allah until He takes care of me. Knowing that Allah will do for me what is best for me.
- So you already have a powerful picture of the level of conviction of the type of dua Zakariyya is making, but Allah to complete the lesson to us, tells us what Zakariyya says.
19:4 He said, “My Lord, indeed my bones have weakened, and my head has filled with white, and never have I been in my supplication to You, my Lord, unhappy.
- Rabbi – Ya is dropped in moments of desperation.
- Inni: most definitely I
- Next word: For something very strong and solid to get worn out over time. Used as metaphor for the body
- My bones are falling apart. My bones are becoming weak. Something very strong like my bones. Even my bones are crumbling and becoming weak.
- The head has flamed up (in terms of seniority) In terms of becoming old. In other words, my hair is going white.
- This is a powerful metaphor in the Qur’an. Like fire has a glow, white hair glows. It shines. So he is saying his head is starting to glow.
- When fire is burning, it consumes it. So he is saying the white in my hair is eating up the black in my hair.
- And I have never been up to this point in exchange to supplicating to you deprived. Every single time, I’ve benefited. Gotten something out of it. Whether it is exactly what I wanted, is another story. But never been deprived. Always beenfited. Never been left deprived.
- Ba: in exchange of
- Sa’ada: good fortune
- These are two contrasting statements. First saying, look at my state, bones falling apart, head going white. In first part, stating his case, this is humbling oneself. This is stating one’s weak condition. This is Allah you are begging your case before.
- It is actually recommended, praiseworthy to state our own faults, our own weaknesses, the desperate situations we are in before Allah. Because that attracts the mercy of Allah. We humble ourselves.
- When the journey of Taif happened, and the Prophet peace and blessings be upon him was finally able to escape, the Prophet said “I complain to You of my weakness.”
- So the first part of Zakariyya alayhis salaam dua is stating his case. But the 2nd part is equally as powerful and beautiful. He’s also establishing the fact that I have never, ever, ever, walked away, empty-handed whenever I have supplicated to You. You’ve been good to me. You’ve taken care of me.
- Main conclusion: whenever you make dua, know Allah will answer your prayers. Pour your heart out to Allah, state your weakness before Allah, and mention all the favours Allah has done upon you.