Introduction to Surah al-Ikhlas
This Surah has many names that signify its great status. The following are some examples.
· Surah Tawheed; this is because the belief of Tawheed (monotheism) has been covered in this Surah in a very concise and comprehensive manner.
· Surah Nijaat (salvation); this is because a person achieves salvation from the impurity of polytheism and disbelief. Thus it is a means of freedom from the fire of hell.
· Surah Muqashqasha; Qashqasha refers to recovering from an illness. Due to the fact that a person becomes healthy and free from polytheism and disbelief, this Surah is known as Qashqasha.
· Surah al-Asaas (foundation); this is because the fortress of faith and deeds stands high on the foundations of tawheed. Without this foundation even the greatest of actions are rendered invaluable.
· Surah al-Mani’ah; this is because it protects the one who recites it from the punishment of Hell.
· Surah al-Nur; this is because the rays of light emitted from it enlighten both worlds of the believer. Both his heart and mind become clear.
· Surah al-Amaan; this is because the believer of this Surah is protected from the anger and wrath of Allah.
· Surah al-Ikhlas; from the abundant names that it has been given, the most popular name is al-Ikhlas because the issue of tawheed is mentioned very comprehensively in it, as if the name is not merely used as a title for the Surah, but as a comprehensive title for the issues and topics contained in it.
It contains 4 verses, but according to some 5. It comprises of 15 words and 47 letters.
Era of revelation
There is a difference of opinion in relation to the place of its revelation. According to some scholars it was revealed in Makkah, whereas others claim that it was revealed in Madinah. The books of hadith contain evidence to support both claims.
First I will present those hadith that support the Makkan claim.
1) Abu al-Aliya narrates from Ubay ibn Kab that the polytheists came to the blessed Prophet peace be upon him and said to him, “O Muhammad! Inform us of the lineage of your lord, so that we can identify him. At that moment Allah revealed Surah Ikhlas in response to their demand.
2) Al-Sh’abi narrates from Jabir that a Bedouin came to the blessed Prophet peace be upon him and asked him to state the lineage of his lord. At that moment Allah revealed Surah Ikhlas.
3) Abu Wa’il narrates from Ibn Masood who said that the Quraish once asked the blessed Prophet peace be upon him to inform them of Allah’s lineage to which Allah revealed Surah al-Ikhlas.
From these three narrations it is becomes evident that it was revealed in Makkah, and it was the residents of Makkah who questioned the blessed Prophet peace be upon him.
On the other hand the following narrations show that the revelation took place in Madinah.
1) Ibn Abbas narrates that a group of Jews, lead by Kab ibn Ashraf, came to the blessed Prophet peace be upon him and asked him that if Allah had created everything who had created Allah? The blessed Prophet peace be upon him became very angry and Jibreel appeared to him to console him at which time this Surah was revealed.
2) ‘Ata narrates from Ibn Abbas that when the deputation of Christians from Najran presented itself to the blessed Prophet peace be upon him they asked him “What is your lord made of? aquamarine, ruby, or is he made of gold and silver?” The blessed Prophet peace be upon him replied “My lord is not made from any of these things, he is their creator.” This Surah was revealed at that time.
In this instance the Jews had presented themselves at Madinah as did the Christians, thus the two hadith confirm that the Surah was revealed in Madinah. Scholars have reconciled this issue with a simple answer by stating that this Surah was revealed twice, once in Makkah and once in Madinah. Another explanation presented is that the Surah was initially revealed in Makkah, but when similar questions were presented in Madinah by the Jews of Madinah and the Christians of Najran, then attention was directed towards this Surah to answer their questions. This was interpreted by some as revelation.
This Surah deals with and answers all sorats of misconceptions and misunderstandings displayed by many groups regarding Allah’s being and his perfect attributes. Some believe that the universe is eternal and it has no creator or originator, it simply came into existence on its own accord. Regardless of whether the proponents of this belief are the ancient Greek philosophers or modern atheist intellects, or the founders of civilisations such as the Egyptian or Babylonian or the heads of simple tribes, they are all wrong. Everyone has been informed that there is a creator of this universe and he is alone in his majesty. “Say he is Allah the one.”
On the other hand some nations acknowledged the existence of Allah, but unfortunately did not possess the necessary understanding and knowledge of his attributes, resulting in them following their assumptions and desires for eons. The other verses remove any remaining doubts and misconceptions and help them to move from the darkness of disbelief and polytheism to the light of Allah’s recognition. This issue is the basis for the concept of tawheed, which all of the Prophets and messengers peace be upon them came to make the people understand. This is also the main reason for the sending of the seal of Prophets’ peace be upon him and the mercy for all creation. In these few verses, ancient and modern misconceptions are dealt with.
Excellence and importance
The importance and excellence of this Surah is evident from its subject matter, but for the sake of blessing the words uttered from the tongue of the blessed Prophet peace be upon him will me also be mentioned regarding it.
1) The Mother of the Believers, Aisha may Allah be pleased with her, states that the blessed Prophet peace be upon him selected a man as the leader of a military expedition and sent him on a mission. This man made it a practise in his prayer to finish the recitation of each unit of prayer with Surah al-Ikhlas. On the groups return his companions asked the blessed Prophet peace be upon him about this and he in turn asked them to question him about it. When they asked him about his practise he replied that this Surah contained the attributes of Allah, therefore it was very beloved to him. Upon hearing the answer the blessed Prophet peace be upon him told the companions to inform him that Allah held him as his beloved. (Bukhari and Muslim)
2) Hazrat Anas reports that a man from the Ansar (Helpers) used to lead the Ansar in prayer in the mosque of Quba. His practise was that he would recite Surah al-Ikhlas before he recited any other Surah. His congregation told him to either recite Surah al-Ikhlas or an alternative Surah. He refused to do this and informed them that if they were dissatisfied with him they should appoint another imam as he was not going to abandon his practise. The people were reluctant to appoint another imam due to his piety and brought the issue to the blessed Prophet peace be upon him. He asked him why he wasn’t acceding to the request of his congregation to which he replied that he loved Surah al-Ikhlas very much. The blessed Prophet peace be upon him informed him that his love for the Surah had gained him a place in paradise. (Muslim)
Despite the fact that this Surah only comprises of four verses, its excellence dictates that anyone who recites it once receives the reward of the recitation of 10 parts.
1) Abu Hurairah narrates that one day the blessed Prophet peace be upon him asked the companions to gather together because he was going to recite a third of the Quran to them and the people gathered. The blessed Prophet peace be upon him came to them and recited Surah al-Ikhlas and returned to his rooms. The people started to say that he told them he would recite a third of the Quran, but he had only recited one Surah. The blessed Prophet peace be upon him returned to them and informed them that Surah al-Ikhlas was equivalent to a third of the Quran.
2) Abu Saeed narrates that the blessed Prophet peace be upon him once asked the companions whether they were able to recite a third of the Quran during the night. When they expressed their inability to do so he replied that Surah al-Ikhlas was equivalent to a third of the Quran.
The scholars have presented many reasons for the Surah being equivalent to a third of the Quran. The best answer amongst them is that the Quran mainly focuses on three issues; belief in the oneness of Allah, belief in Prophethood and belief in the day of judgement. This Surah focuses on the oneness of Allah, thus it covers a third of the Quran’s issues. Due to the blessings of this Surah whenever a person asks his lord for anything he is never sent away empty handed.
Abu Hurairah narrates that “I entered the mosque in the company of the blessed Prophet peace be upon him and saw a man who had finished performing prayer and was making the following dua.
اللهم إنّى أسئلك بأنّى أشهد أن لا إله إلاّ أنت الأحد ألصمدالذى لم يلد و لم يولد ولم يكن له
The blessed Prophet peace be upon him claimed “by his honour in whose hands my life is that person has beseeched his lord through his great name. Whenever a person asks him through his great name he always grants him and whenever he offers a prayer through his great name he accepts it.”
In another narration he entered the mosque and heard a man offering the prayer
أسئلك يا ألله يا أحد يا صمد يا من لم يلد و لم يولد و لم يكن له كفوا أحد
The blessed Prophet peace be upon him said three times that he had been forgiven.
It has also been narrated that once Jibreel was in the presence of the blessed Prophet peace be upon him when Abu Dhar al-Ghaffari came. Jibreel remarked that “This is Abu Dhar who has come. The blessed Prophet peace be upon him asked if the angels knew of Abu Dhar and Jibreel replied that he was more famous amongst them than amongst the companions. The blessed Prophet peace be upon him asked what had earned him such status and Jibreel replied that firstly he though very little of himself in his heart (he was very humble) and secondly he used to recite Surah al-Ikhlas abundantly. (Tafseer Kabeer)
Imam Abu Abdullah al-Ansari al-Qurtubi, in his tafseer, presents a narration at this point which we should ponder over and then act upon. Sahl ibn Sa’d al-Sa’idi narrates that a man complained to the blessed Prophet peace be upon him about his poverty and misfortune. The blessed Prophet peace be upon him told him “Whenever you enter your home, if there is someone present offer them salaam and if no one is present then send salaam upon me and recite Surah al-Ikhlas once.” The man followed the advice and Allah blessed him with so much wealth that he was able to benefit his neighbours.
Qadhi Ayyadh, whilst discussing these narrations in ‘al-Shifa’, when he mentions sending salutations upon the blessed Prophet peace be upon him he states “Amr ibn Dinar (an imam of the Muhaddithoon and someone from whom the authors of the Six Authentic books narrated) in relation to the verse said “But when you enter homes, salute one another with a greeting from Allah” (Q24:61), if you don’t find anyone at home then say
السلام على النبى و رحمة الله و بركاته.
Mulla Ali Qari, in his commentary on al-Shifa, states the reason behind this by saying
اى لأنّ روحه عليه السلام حاضر فى بيوت اهل الأسلام
i.e. the soul of the blessed Prophet peace be upon him is present in the homes of believers. (Commentary on al-Shifa, Qadhi Ayyadh, Volume 2, page 117).
Exegesis of Surah al-Ikhlas
Allah’s name I begin with, the most compassionate, the most kind.
(1) (Oh beloved) Say that he Allah is one.
(2) Allah the eternal, the absolute
(3) He did not beget anyone, nor is he begotten
(4) And no one is comparable to him.
(1) If you were to study the religious beliefs of the different nations in the world you would be astounded. Your mind would reel in confusion at the numerous opinions expressed about Allah and your heart would sink in despair. Some nations have even gone to the extent of disbelieving in any deity. According to them this universe of colour and smell came into existence merely as a result of an accident. No part of any beings wisdom, knowledge or power had any stake in its creation. The great celestial heavens, the terrestrial globe, the sky bound mountains, the bubbling springs, the flowing rivers with colourful blooming flowers in their bosoms and their prickly thorns, the droplets of dew and the boundless depths of the oceans, all these things came into existence on their own accord. The countless lights of the stars in the dark blue sky willed themselves into existence to shine and the splendour of the sun and the moon were not the miracle of a creator’s ability to build.
Other nations were believers in one deity, but one who was free from knowledge, wisdom and the power to facilitate. Some accepted two deities and others numerous deities, and their folklore relating to them are very entertaining ranging from the deities committing slavery to kidnapping one another’s wives and being indecent to them. They had blood lust between them resulting in wars and they also sired offspring. Overall, the level of indecency was so great that we implore to Allah protect us from this.
But, the beauty of the matter is that the proponents of such illogical beliefs who propagate them with great zeal are not average people, but they include philosophers, logicians, influential scientists, mathematicians, literary giants, great poets, intellects, religious and political leaders, great conquerors and a whole host of other people. They hail from various places such as India, China, Rome, Greece, Egypt, and wherever the light of civilisation and development burned.
Allah’s beloved, the standard bearer of tawheed, the greatest preacher of the true message, our master Muhammad peace be upon him also arrived in a land where deities of gold, copper, steel, stone, wood and numerous other materials were revered and exalted. When this messenger of truth stood on the peak Mount Safa and said to the people of Makkah “Worship only one god”, people’s minds became enflamed with questions and requests upon requests were delivered. Someone would ask “Tell us the lineage of your lord?”, whereas another would ask “What is your lord made from? Metal? Clay? Stone? Copper? Gold? Everything has an origin (made of a substance) so what is the origin of your lord (what is he made from)?”
Someone else would eagerly ask “What is the sustenance of your lord? He who has individually shouldered the responsibility for the creation and welfare of the universe, what does he survive on?” Their pettiness and narrow mindedness was evident in their unusual and awkward questions. Allah revealed this Surah upon his beloved Prophet peace be upon him and in a few verses he completely destroyed their numerous manifestations of deviance. The command is “Say” oh my perfect servant, announce the greatest truth with your own tongue so that no one has the audacity to deny.
Sometimes perfection can become a veil. When perfections are numerous, the veils also multiply. Beauty, strength, knowledge, wealth, leadership and government and military victories manage to veil the graceful/beautiful face of truth. The only one who can uncover these veils is that person who possesses all perfections and does not have an equal. ‘O’ beloved we have made you the bearer of all perfect qualities, so arise and with your call destroy the idols of pride and arrogance. Pharaoh lost his rationality when he became ruler of Egypt and claimed divinity, but I have given you such sovereignty that when you raise your finger, the moon splits into two. Despite such sovereignty if you were to proclaim that there is no deity other than Allah, no ruler would be able to claim divinity. We have given you such an elevated status that all prophets and messengers have witnessed this and acknowledged it. When you proclaim that there is no deity other than Allah, and that despite my perfect attributes I am not a deity, rather his servant, then no one will have the audacity to believe that any prophet or messenger is a god. Your knowledge is like the an endless ocean that encompasses what was and what will be, your vision reaches into the depths of the hidden secrets, but despite this vast knowledge if you were to say that I am not god, rather his servant, when the declaration of there is no deity other than Allah leaves your lips, no great scholar nor academic will have the courage to claim divinity.
Your ancestor, my friend broke the decorated statues in the temple with a mace, ‘O’ descendent of my friend arise and break the idols of views and ideologies with the strike of “Say Allah is one”, so that no reasonable rational person could say to you that there is any other deity apart from your deity, there is not any other creator other than your creator, there is no other god other than your lord, a being of such respect, magnitude and power. When the call of truth escapes from your lips the spacious earth and skies, the great heights of the heavens and divine throne will reverberate with it.
Whatever Allah desired it happened. This sweet voice arose out of the silent valley of Makkah and overcame the misconceptions. The sun of Islam arose in such a manner that the lights of false religions were put out. Allah’s creation, Adam’s progeny was given the true recognition of it lord and creator.
The order was given “Say Allah is one” i.e. inform these inquisitive people that the deity which I am inviting you towards, whose sanctuary I am taking you to, he is not like your deaf and blind gods made from copper and wood etc. He is Allah who is one and alone. The term ‘Ahad’ refers to the one who has no other in any way, neither in being, attributes or perfection.
With this proclamation deities made of gold, silver, iron, copper, stone and wood, who for eons had occupied the place of gods, fell flat on their faces.
(2) The scholars have interpreted ‘al-Samad’ according to their own personal understanding and assessment, thus in the books of exegeses there are numerous opinions. Despite the interpretation beings different, the meanings are identical. Allama Pani Patti, after listing the numerous opinions says, “In my opinion its real meaning is ‘intended’. In the Qamoos it states ‘al-Samad’ means ‘intent’, because something that is ‘unreservedly intended’, every other thing is dependent upon it and it is never dependent upon anything at any time for any reason. For this reason according to the sufi’s ‘there is no deity other than Allah’ means ‘no one is intended other than Allah’. (Tafseer Mazhari) Sa’eed ibn Jubayr states “Al-Samad i.e. everyone’s leader, one who is targeted when reward is desired, and whose help is required when faced with problems.
(3) Not only were uncivilized and ignorant nations guilty of believing in the children of god, but those nations who had professed faith in prophets and messengers and had heavenly books were also severely guilty of this heinous crime. If the ignorant Arab polytheists believe the angels to be the daughters of Allah, then the followers of Moses who were the bearers of the Torah were also guilty of accepting Uzair as the son of god and the Christians make great show of Jesus Christ son of Mary being the son of god. This verse invalidates their false beliefs by stating clearly that he does not have any sons nor is he the son of anyone. These are the qualities of finite and temporary things, whereas my lord is eternal and ever living, he is beyond being temporary and finite. Unlike humans he is he does not require sons, all the creation, big or small, great or insignificant wears the shackles of slavery for him and stands respectfully before him, why would he want to make anyone his sons?
(4) ‘Kufuwan’ refers to equal, someone who is an equal in power, knowledge, wisdom and every other aspect. There is nothing in this universe that can in any manner or capacity claim to compare to Allah, all are his people, his creation and in prostration in front of him. In front of his commands they stand in acceptance, willingly or unwillingly. Hazrat Shah Abdul Aziz, the Muhaddith of Delhi, states “The scholars write that polytheism sometimes occurs due to numbers, so they refute this by calling him ‘the one’, sometimes it occurs due to rank and position, by saying ‘al-Samad’ this is refuted, sometimes it is due to lineage, the statement ‘lam yalid wa lam yulad’ refutes this and sometimes it is performing some action or influencing something, ‘wa lam yakun lahu kufuwan ahad’ refutes this. Due to this concise topic of tawheed this Surah has appropriately been named ‘al-Ikhlas. (Tafseer Azeezi).