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Chapter 111: Al-Lahab (The Flame)
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Chapter 111:

The Flame

This chapter was revealed at Makkah and it is one of the earliest revelations. It depicts the end of the worshippers of falsehood who were inflicting on the worshippers of the True God unbearable persecution. They were inflamed with hatred of the truth, and like flames, they blazed in hostility against the Holy Prophet (sas). In this chapter, those who were blazing like flames of fire are warned that they would themselves become offerings to this very fire: either they would suffer destruction in the fire of war in this life or burn in the flames of Hell in the next life.

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

  1. Abu Lahab’s hands will perish and he will perish.
  2. His wealth and that which he earns will not avail him.
  3. He will burn in fire giving rise to flames —
  4. And his wife — the bearer of slander;
  5. Upon her neck a halter of twisted rope!

Jid means a neck that wears a necklace, while masad signifies date-peel. Abu Lahab means father of flames. This is an Arabic idiom in which abu (father) means doer or possessor. If a particular attribute is preponderant in a person, then in order to highlight it, the word abu (father) is prefixed to it. For example, the meaning of abul khair (literally father of goodness) really means a man who is a great doer of good.  Similarly, abush-sharr (father of evil) means a very wicked man. Abu Jahl (father of ignorance) means a very ignorant man.

Thus Abu Lahab (father of flames) means the possessor of flames or a man of fiery temperament, that is, one in whom the flames of anger and envy rage furiously. So, by extension, anyone who entertains enmity and hostility to the truth in his heart and who consequently burns with the flames of anger and rage can be called Abu Lahab. Historically speaking, there is no doubt that this was the family name of the Holy Prophet’s paternal uncle, Abdul ‘Uzza, and this came about because he had a ruddy countenance as if his face were throwing off sparks of flames. But in fact, so inveterate was his opposition to the truth and his hatred of the Holy Prophet’s mission, that the flames of rage and fury burnt perpetually in his heart. So for this reason, too, the nickname Abu Lahab given to him was most appropriate. So implacable was his enmity of the Holy Prophet (sas) that whenever the latter used to come forward to address the pilgrims and preach to them the message of the Unity of Allah, he (Abu Lahab) would follow him, telling the people  that the Holy Prophet was a liar. Even more, he would pick up stones and throw them at the Prophet’s legs with the intention of damaging them so that the Holy Prophet would not be able to walk.

Another example of his blind, uncompromising hatred can be gleaned from the following incident. When the Holy Prophet (sas) received the verse of revelation: And warn thy nearest relatives (26:214), he climbed to the top of Mt. Safa and invited all the tribes one by one and when they had all assembled he posed this question to them: “Tell me, if I should inform you that there is an army behind this mountain ready to launch an assault on you, will you believe me?” All of them replied in the affirmative saying that they had never heard him tell a lie even since his childhood days and that he was always truthful and faithful, too.

The Holy Prophet then told them: “I am inviting you to believe in one God and I warn you of a severe punishment if you disobey Him.”

On hearing this, Abu Lahab could not contain his rage and, flinging a stone at the Holy Prophet, he shouted: “Woe to thee. Is it for this you have summoned us here?”

But his evil intention to destroy the Holy Prophet was not limited to words. Day and night he was engaged in devising plans to harm and injure the Holy Prophet to such an extent that many a time he attempted to assassinate him!

His wife’s enmity, too, had exceeded all bounds and her job was to broadcast lies against the Holy Prophet and to backbite him. It was the Prophet’s habit to visit the Ka‘bah every night for devotion. She knew that, so she used to spread thorns on the road so that in the darkness the Prophet’s feet might be pierced by the thorns and so become injured. In short, there was no limit to the evil, the persecution, the rage and fury of both husband and wife. The hearts of both of them were ablaze with a fire that could not be cooled.

When, in response to the Prophet’s invitation to the truth on Mt. Safa, Abu Lahab threw stones at him with both hands and openly hurled imprecations on him by wishing his two hands to be broken and he himself to suffer destruction, then this chapter was revealed in reply. And so Abu Lahab’s two hands were broken and he himself was destroyed. Here, the past tense was employed for a future event so that this prophecy would be circulated as an established fact. The reason was that people might bear in mind that although it was a prophecy of a coming event, yet so certain was the eventuality that they could consider it as a fait accompli for Allah had already passed His decree and so there was no way of eroding it. It was bound to happen (or, metaphorically speaking, the pen had been withdrawn and the ink was dry).

In must be borne in mind that the Holy Quran in this chapter mentions Abdul ‘Uzza (whose family name was Abu Lahab) as the original example of this kind of virulent hatred to the Holy Prophet (sas) and his mission. However, this chapter is not confined to him alone but extends to every person whose heart is engulfed in the flames of opposition to the truth and enmity to the Holy Prophet (sas). He, too, can be called Abu Lahab on account of this raging fire of hate. For example, just as a judgement handed down in the High Court in a particular case becomes a precedent for all similar cases later on, so, too, a particular person in the time of the Holy Prophet received the title of Abu Lahab (Father of Flames) because of the “perfection” of his hostility to the truth and the decision given by Allah, Most High, concerning that person and the punishment meted out to him, hold good for all future Abu Lahabs.

The two hands of the first Abu Lahab were cut off. The cutting off of the hands is a metaphorical expression meaning that he would have no power to do any harm to the Holy Prophet or to his religion. Now, a man has two hands. If one is amputated he can use the other, but if both are severed then there would be no means left for him to do mischief. So the cutting off of Abu Lahab’s meant that he was powerless to do any damage whatever to the Holy Prophet.

There is another subtle significance in the reference to “two hands” and that is that any person who wishes to obliterate the messengership of any Prophet has two means at his disposal. Firstly, he can attempt, as the pagan Arabs did, to nip in the bud the messengership of the Prophet, his jamaat and his mission. Secondly, he can choose to pour scorn and contempt on the teaching which the Prophet has brought and inspire all kinds of evil suggestions and calumnies in the hearts of people and try to instill distrust in their minds by false propaganda.

When Allah, Most High, said that Abu Lahab’s hands were cut off, the meaning is that neither in the earliest days of Islam when every pagan Arab was an Abu Lahab because of his opposition to the truth and his hostility to the Holy Prophet (sas) could any harm come to the Holy Prophet and his religion from the sword of warfare nor could they be exterminated; and neither would any future enemies of the truth, whether Christian priest or Arya Samajist, who are true successors of Abu Lahab, be able to bring disgrace to the Holy Prophet’s messengership and his religion on account of their false propaganda and their absurd and irrational objections. Instead, by using the word tabbat (cut off) the Holy Quran has loudly proclaimed the destruction of these enemies themselves, whether by physical destruction or by spiritual death as they see all their machinations end in failure and they themselves incur the curse of Allah and become worthless like rubbish.

So as an example for all times, the Holy Quran has chosen Abdul ‘Uzza as the first application of this prophecy and has used the appellation Abu Lahab for him. In the Battle of Badr, he contracted a heinous disease which, ironically, made parts of his body turn red. And burning in the agony of frustration and failure brought about by the defeat at Badr, he died seven days after the encounter. Because he died of this highly contagious disease, even his own family members remained distant from the corpse. As a result, by their request, some Abyssinians had to remove his body which was flung into a pit and covered over.

In the next verse the Holy Quran says: His wealth and that which he earns will not avail him. This person, Abu Lahab, and his wife were extremely mean and miserly people to such an extent that despite their enormous riches, the wife used to cut fire-wood in the jungle and transport it home on her head. They had amassed a large fortune but that wealth availed him not neither did a whole lifetime spent in opposition to the truth and hatred of the Holy Prophet  (sas) bear any fruit.

Thus every Abu Lahab who would gloat over the wealth and possessions he has accumulated in this life should take note that these things will turn out useless to him, and furthermore, all his pains to eradicate the religion of Islam and to discredit the Holy Prophet Muhammad (sas) will never succeed, just as in the early days of Islam Abu Lahab’s wealth and exertions against the religion ended in failure.

Similarly, every present-day Christian Father or Arya Samajist or any other Abu Lahab should consider well the end of his own efforts (against Islam and the Prophet of Islam) and beware this accursed fate of failure and disappointment that befalls those who become inflamed with the fire of rage and prejudice against the Holy Prophet Muhammad and begin to wage war against him. Instead they will encounter that fire which the Holy Quran has announced thus: He will burn in a fire giving rise to flames.

That was the fire of envy and fury in which the first Abu Lahab was engulfed. But so, too, every Abu Lahab of that age was burning in that fire till finally the fiery torment of failure and frustration flared up furiously with the result that they were all consumed in that self-same furnace.

After this, the Holy Quran draws our attention to the condition and final end of Abu Lahab’s wife in the words: And his wife — the bearer of slander. Upon her neck a halter of twisted rope!

In other words, this refers to the wife of Abu Lahab who was mentioned first. Her name was Umm Jamil and like her husband, her animosity towards the Holy Prophet (sas) had exceeded all limits. However, she never demonstrated this enmity openly but she secretly and habitually engaged in all kinds of hostile activities against him. For example, the Holy Prophet used to go the Ka‘bah to pray every night and knowing this, she used to spread thorns on the road in order to injure him. Moreover, she used to circulate all kinds of false rumours against him. It was in reference to this ugly vice of hers that the Holy Quran gave her the title of hammalatal hatab (literally the bearer of firewood). The beauty of eloquence and diction of this expression was explained earlier. That is, because of her miserliness, meanness and greed, she used to cut firewood in the jungle with her own hands and carry it on her head in spite of the fact that she was very rich. She also used to wear a necklace of jewels. For this reason, the phrase hammalatal hatab has been taken first in its literal sense, that is, bearer of firewood. However, its second application is figurative and means a bearer of slander or false rumours. This metaphor is used because from both angles a person who stokes the fire of rage, hatred, strife and warfare with false tales is really putting fuel in the fire so that it will burn more fiercely.

In every instance where two parties fight against each other, whether they are mutual enemies of the same strain or whether one group is on the path of truth like the Holy Prophet and his jamaat, and the other one driven by evil and prejudice burns with envy and engages in unjust hostilities, one will always find the aggressors divided into two kinds of people: one kind is openly antagonistic and publicly demonstrates its hatred whilst the other kind operates differently. Instead they subversively apply themselves to hatching plots to extirpate the truth and through slander and calumny they continue adding fuel to the fire of enmity in order to keep it steadily blazing. So, metaphorically speaking, these people are, in truth, carriers of fuel for this fire. Thus the Holy Quran refers to this class of people as hammalatal hatab (bearers of slander).

One will observe here that because the initial reference is to Abu Lahab’s wife, the feminine gender is used, but the truth is that wherever one sees the fire of hostility and enmity blazing furiously, as an indispensable accompaniment to the fiery Abu Lahabs, one is bound to find another category of people who on account of their cowardly, timid and effeminate disposition, lack the courage to face the hazards of war. Nevertheless, it is their job to stoke this fire through the medium of calumny and slander and so keep it alive. Because of their hidden, undercover and cowardly subterfuges, they are not fit to be called men according to the Holy Quran. Instead, they are more deserving to be called women who embody the habit and attributes of Abu Lahab’s wife.

Umm Jamil had inflamed her husband’s passions against the Holy Prophet to a high pitch and so the Holy Quran states that she, or in other words, that band of hypocrites, too, will taste of that fire of ignominious failure and frustration as will her husband, Abu Lahab, or by extension, all the unbelievers who openly fight against the truth.

In this life, and in the Hereafter, too, this fire is prepared for the hypocrites and those people who, through their intricate cunning, conspiracies, slander and rumour-mongering, are twisting a rope in order to destroy a sinless, noble soul, that is, the Holy Prophet Muhammad (sas), and his religion, also, will find that same rope twisted around their necks and will be strangled to death by it. And this is what literally happened for this prophecy was palpably fulfilled in the earliest days of Islam and if Allah wills, the same will continue today, too, and it will be fulfilled literally and spiritually, also.

The literal consummation took place in this way: Abu Lahab’s wife had cut some wood in the jungle and was returning home with the bundle on her back. She had tied the rope from the bundle around her forehead to prevent it from falling. On the way back, she leant against a boulder to catch her breath. Now, the rock was high enough for the bundle to rest on it. All of a sudden, the bundle slipped from its place and moved towards the back of the rock. Unfortunately for her, this caused the rope around her forehead to slip down to her neck and as the bundle was heavy, it choked her and there and then she died of strangulation. And so that same neck around which she used to hang a necklace of jewelry was entrapped in a halter of rope which she had twisted with her own hands and thus was she destroyed.

As regards the spiritual meaning, it is only necessary to remind every wife of Abu Lahab, that is every hypocritical-minded enemy of truth, that whatever secret plots and schemes he devises as he twists the rope of intrigue in order to destroy the Holy Prophet and his religion, that that very rope will form a noose around his own neck and will cause his death as  happened in the early days of Islam.

So, today, too, those people who wish to annihilate the religion of Islam and to discredit the way of life of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (sas) and who are hatching secret plots to strangle the religion to death (in spite of their ostensible friendliness), should remember that their secret machinations will be detrimental to them alone; and that same rope will encircle their necks and make them die a death of humiliating failure and disappointment whilst the truth shall triumph and Islam shall emerge victorious.

Next: Chapter 112: Al-Ikhlas (The Unity)
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