Surat al-Hujurat

Tafsir Surat al-Hujurat Part 1

A Tafsir of Surat al-Hujurat_Part 1

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Quick facts:

  • It has 18 verses.
  • The sura is Medinan.
  • Some scholars state that the mufassal part of the Qur’an begins with this sura.
  • “Hujurat” means: quarter, chambers, apartment, dwelling and the sura name is taken from verse 4.
  • vv.1-5 contain key Shariah rules of conduct, etiquette and character towards with Allah and His Messenger.

Translation vv.1-5:

{In the name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful / O you who have believed, do not go in advance of Allah and His Messenger and fear Allah: Allah is All-Hearing, All-Knowing / O you who have believed, do not raise your voices above the Prophet’s voice, nor speak to him loud as you speak loud to one another lest all your works be rendered void, without you even knowing / Those who lower their voices in the presence of the Messenger of Allah, are in fact, those whose hearts Allah has disposed to piety. For them is forgiveness and a great reward! O Prophet, those who call out to you from outside the apartments, most of them have no sense / If only they had had patience until you came out to them, it would be better for them. All-Forgiving, All-Merciful}.

Meaning

v.1: {ya ayyuha ’lladhina amanu!} meaning ‘people of iman’, ‘Muslims’, ‘believers’ and ‘those who have accepted the religion of Islam’; this vocative phrase serves as a reminder of something important as well as to alert the reader to listen to something of importance.

Sabab al-nuzul: scholars give 6 occasions for why this verse came down – all of them correct and relevant. The commonly cited occasion as narrated by Bukhari is that Abu Bakr and `Umar (RA) were discussing who should be appointed as leader of the tribe (Banu Tamim) coming to visit the Prophet. Abu Bakr chose Qa`qa` Ibn Ma`bad whereas `Umar felt al-Aqra` al-Habis al-Tamimi was preferable and both began to raise their voice in the presence of the Messenger of Allah. Then the verse was revealed after which both never spoke in a loud voice:[1]

أبو بكر وعمر، رضي الله عنهما، رفعا أصواتهما عند النبي – صلى الله عليه وسلم – حين قدم عليه ركب بني تميم، فأشار أحدهما بالأقرع بن حابس أخي بني مجاشع، وأشار الآخر برجل آخر – قال نافع لا أحفظ اسمه – فقال أبو بكر لعمر ما أردت إلا خلافي . قال: ما أردت خلافك . فارتفعت أصواتهما في ذلك، فأنزل اللهيا أيها الذين آمنوا لا ترفعوا أصواتكم فوق صوت النبي ولا تجهروا له بالقول كجهر بعضكم لبعض الآية، قال ابن الزبير فما كان عمر يسمع رسول الله – صلى الله عليه وسلم – بعد هذه الآية حتى يستفهمه، ولم يذكر ذلك عن أبيه : يعني أبا بكر رضي الله عنه .

{la tuqaddimu}: ‘do not walk in front of’, ‘do not go ahead of’, ‘do not hasten’, ‘do not give precedence to’; no opinion, view or understanding should be given precedence over the that of Allah and His beloved Messenger. This is a fundamental principle of the religion. The scholars of Islamic legal theory (usul) discuss how the narration of Mu`adh Ibn Jabal (RA) being dispatched to Yemen as a judge falls under the scope of the warning in this verse: he was asked with what references he would judge the people and he replied first with the Book of Allah (the Qur’an), then with the Prophetic example and then if he could not find an explicit reference in either, he would exercise his best legal understanding (ijtihad) based on these two sources thus relegating his own understanding to that of Allah and His Messenger:[2]

” بم تحكم؟ ” قال: بكتاب الله. قال: ” فإن لم تجد؟ ” قال: بسنة رسول الله. قال: ” فإن لم تجد؟ ” قال: أجتهد رأيي، فضرب في صدره وقال: ” الحمد لله الذي وفق رسول رسول الله، لما يرضي رسول الله

{ittaqu Allah}: ‘be mindful, fully conscious, and remembering of Allah’ in what He has ordered you regarding this because Allah is {sami`un `alim}, i.e. He hears everything you say and fully knows everything you do and is aware how you behave and conduct yourself.

Lessons:

  • To respect, honour and hold the Prophet in the highest esteem because he is no ordinary human being but the Prophet and Messenger of Allah.
  • The verse immediately highlights the etiquette for the believers regarding this: Ibn Kathir writes: “this is the etiquette Allah has taught the believers in how to behave towards the Messenger of Allah (SAW) that includes respect, honour and esteem…”[3]

هذه آداب أدب الله بها عباده المؤمنين فيما يعاملون به الرسول – صلى الله عليه وسلم – من التوقير والاحترام والتبجيل والإعظام 

  • To follow the Book of Allah and the Sunna of His Messenger above any personal whim, fancy, caprice or desire; thus, it is an obligation to adhere to the Shariah rulings alone abandoning all other systems of law that emanate from a different viewpoint in life or creed such Capitalism, Communism, democracy, secularism, etc.
  • Ibn `Abbas (RA) said: “…{do not make a decision in advance before Allah and His Messenger} means: do not say anything that contradicts the Book or the Sunna…”[4]

قال علي بن أبي طلحة، عن ابن عباس لا تقدموا بين يدي الله ورسوله  :لا تقولوا خلاف الكتاب والسنة .

  • And al-Dahhak said: “this means: do not judge a matter in the legal affairs of your religion based on other than Allah and His Messenger…”[5]

وقال الضحاك لا تقضوا أمرا دون الله ورسوله من شرائع دينكم

v.2: {la tarfa`u aswatakum}: meaning ‘do not raise your voices’ and ‘do not speak over’ the voice of the Prophet.

{la tajharu lahu}: meaning ‘do not call the Prophet by his name but address him as the Prophet of Allah’. Even Allah (SWT) never addressed the Prophet directly by using his name out the great honour and love He had for His Messenger.

{an tahbata}: meaning ‘perhaps your actions will be or made nought or even nullified’ because of this flagrant disrespect you are committing before the Prophet. Thus, bad etiquette is a means of ruining one’s actions even if you are not aware of it.

Lesson:

  • Allah teaches the believers another lesson in etiquette and correct conduct with the Prophet, which is not to speak louder or raise one’s voice over the Prophet’s blessed voice as this is uncouth and considered lowest of manners.[6]
  • Disrespect of the Prophet means a fall from rank, fall from grace and humiliation: “And Abu Sulayman al-Dimashqi said: it is said that the meaning of the word ‘ihbat’ (الإحباط) here in the verse means lowered rank or deficient status and not that the action is invalidated from its origin in the way disbelief invalidates an action.”[7]

قال أبو سليمان الدمشقي: وقد قيل معنى الإحباط هاهنا: نقص المَنْزِلة، لا إِسقاط العمل من أصله كما يسقط بالكفر.

  • The Qur’an teaches to lower the voice and not speak in a boisterous or loud manner. This was one of the etiquettes Luqman (AS) taught his son (cf. 31:19) and is a characteristic of all anbiya’ as part of their perfect morals and character. In emulation of them, it should also be part of the da`wa carrier’s moral qualities.
  • Scholars also mention how it is disrespectful to raise one’s voice in the presence of the Prophet’s blessed grave (rawda) or to speak over any of his statements (hadiths) when they are being spoken.[8]
  • The scholars also extend the prohibition in the verse to disrespecting one’s teacher or scholars because they are ‘the heirs of the Prophets’ (warathat al-anbiya’).[9]

v.3: {imtahana}: ‘to test’, ‘to put to trial’; immediately lowering one’s voice before the Prophet is only possible by someone whose heart has been purified and purged of all unmannerly conduct, attitude and character through trials and tests. This purging of the heart allows for taqwa to settle and receive divine pardon and forgiveness, which suggests lack of civilised character towards the Prophet means an absence of taqwa in the heart and absence of divine forgiveness.

Lesson:

  • This verse highlights the immense reward for those who immediately follow the command of Allah upon hearing it. Just like those who without hesitation or delay lowered their voices in front of the Prophet to the point of whispering. Thus, it is a lesson on full submission to Allah’s command.

v.4: {yunadunaka}: ‘those who call out to you, shout out your name or yell out towards you’ from behind the {hujurat} i.e. the apartments or defined quarters of your residence where your wives are {most of them lack any understanding} because they are untrained in manners or etiquettes and do not know how to behave with you in a proper and courteous manner.[10]

Sabab al-nuzul: This verse was revealed around the 9th year of the Hijra (known as the ‘year of delegations’ because many tribes came to Medina to pledge their loyalty to Islam) regarding a delegation of approximately 70 members of Banu Tamim who arrived in Medina to see the Prophet without informing him and when they came near his home one of their members, al-Aqra` ibn Habis al-Tamimi, began shouting out the Prophet’s name from outside the quarters (hujurat) for him to come out not knowing that this was one of the highest forms of disrespect and show of impolite manners. The Prophet did not say anything out of his natural clemency and soft disposition even though it disturbed him and pained him (SAW).[11]

Lessons:

  • Allah teaches yet another rule of courteous conduct, which is not to call out to the Prophet from outside his home for him to then come outside as this is both inconvenient and extremely impolite. Rather, one should wait until the Prophet comes out and then meet him for any need or matter – only if it is suitable for him.[12]
  • Commentators also extend this verse to scholars and righteous individuals; thus, it would be impolite to shout out to a scholar or pious person to come out. It would be better instead to wait until he does come out and them see him. This is what Ibn `Abbas (RA) would do when he sought hadith from the Companions; he would wait outside of the Companion’s residence until the Companion came out and would never call him or yell out his name.[13]

v.5: {If only they had had patience until you came out to them, it would be better for them}: meaning ‘those who if only they had patience and waited for the Messenger of Allah came out instead of yelling out his name then this would have been better for them in both this world and the hereafter.’ It can also means “it would have been better for their correct comportment in their obedience to Allah and His Messenger…”[14]

End of part 1.

s.z.c.

Peace and blessings on our Master Muhammad,

On his companions and family

And all who follow them.

Amin.


[1] Cited by Ibn Kathir, al-Tafsir al-Qur’an al-`Azim, 7:364.

[2] See al-Nabhani, Nizam al-Hukm fi’l-Islam, pp.23-24 and 202-227.

[3] Ibn Kathir, al-Tafsir al-Qur’an al-`Azim, 7:364.

[4] Ibid., 7:364.

[5] Ibid., 7:364.

[6] Ibid., 7:365.

[7] Ibid., 7:365.

[8] Mufti M. Shafi, Ma`arif al-Qur’an, 8:115.

[9] Ibid., 8:116-117.

[10] Ibid., 8:117.

[11] Ibid., 8:118.

[12] Ibid., 8:117-118.

[13] Ibid., 8:118.

[14] According to al-Mawardi in al-Nukat wa ’l-`Uyun as cited by Ibn al-Jawzi in Zad al-Masir, 7:179.

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