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Chapter 90: Al-Balad (The City)
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Chapter 90:

The City

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

  1. Nay, I call to witness this City!
  2. And thou wilt be made free from obligation in this City —
  3. And the begetter and he whom he begot!
  4. We have certainly created man to face difficulties.
  5. Does he think that no one has power over him? 
  6. He will say: I have wasted much wealth.
  7. Does he think no one sees him?
  8. Have We not given him two eyes,
  9. And a  tongue and two lips,
  10. And pointed out to him the two conspicuous ways?
  11. But he attempts not the uphill road;
  12. And what will make thee comprehend what the uphill road is?
  13. (It is) to free a slave.
  14. Or to feed in a day of hunger
  15. An orphan closely related,
  16. Or the poor man lying in the dust.
  17. Then he is of those who believe and exhort one another to patience and exhort one another to mercy.
  18. These are people of the right hand.
  19. And those who disbelieve in Our messages, they are the people of the left hand.
  20. On them is Fire closed over.

This chapter is a Makkan revelation. In the last chapter, Al-Fajr (The Daybreak), the good news was given that struggle in the way of Allah would ultimately bring success. In this chapter, The City, we are reminded that without strenuous exertion, not even a great man can achieve the fulfilment of his objectives. That is why the command was given to the Holy Prophet Muhammad (sas) that he should strive hard and never give up, as victory was sure to come, for he had undertaken to propagate a message which contained the essential principles of freedom and equality for mankind.

1-4. Nay, I call to witness this City!
And thou wilt be made free from obligation in this City -
And the begetter and he whom he begot!
We have certainly created man to face difficulties

It has already been mentioned several times before that Allah uses oaths as a form of evidence and also to emphasise strongly a particular matter. The particle la (not) negates the idea that may arise in the heart of anyone that Allah's apostle wished to achieve success in his mission without hard, uphill work. The Holy Qur'an states that that notion is a false one and cites as evidence the city of Makkah. The definite article al (the) in Al-Balad (The City) points to a special characteristic and that peculiarity is the sacredness of Makkah. The Holy Qur'an states that this city is sacred and is known as the abode of peace where every living thing is safe and protected from harm so much so that even to cut down a tree is forbidden. But as regards the Holy Prophet, it says, You are free from obligation in this city, that is, the inhabitants do not extend the same rules of sanctity to you.

In this, there is a reference to two different conditions: one, regarding the experiences the Holy Prophet was undergoing at that time in Makkah, and the other, to the changed condition that the Holy Prophet was going to enjoy in the future.

Whilst Makkah was a city in which every living thing was safe and even a tree could not be cut down, yet for him there was no peace there. He was being made to suffer every kind of distress and persecution and there were plans afoot to take his life. In other words, although that city was a sanctuary and a house of peace for the whole world, for him there was no peace and no protection. The unbelievers had violated the sanctity of that city and were bent on persecuting him. However, the result of all that would be that one day he would enter that very city in the garb of a conqueror. Hillum comes from halla which means "to be exempt from treating something as sacred" as well as "to enter a certain place as a conqueror". So the time would come when he would be free from obligation to that city and if he wished he could punish his bloodthirsty enemies. And how beautifully that prophecy was fulfilled when Makkah was conquered! Like a victorious general, the Holy Prophet marched into that very city where previously he could enjoy no peace and his life was always in danger. At that time, if he wanted, he could have wreaked full vengeance on his enemies. But his nature was so merciful that he forgave them all.

The second piece of evidence in support of the sanctity of this city is given in the verse, And the begetter and he whom he begot, that is, father and son. But who are meant by father and son here? They can only be those two who had a strong historical relationship with this city and they are Prophet Abraham and his son, Prophet Ishmael, who founded this city and because of whom it became a sanctuary.

The Holy Qur'an then says, We have created man to face difficulties, that is, as long as man is alive he cannot escape strenuous efforts and hard work, but it is important that his pain and toil be such that he advances from stage to stage in his upward climb. As a result, the Holy Prophet is told to take as evidence the example of this city, Makkah, which lay before his eyes and which holds so eminent and sacred a position in the world today. The Holy Prophet should cast his attention to the example of its famous founder and his son — how, after so many sacrifices in the way of Allah they became so worthy of His regard that He blessed them with honour in this world and the next that today, the whole world bows down to them in acknowledgement of their glory. Further, in addition to their high renown, look at how the dignity of this city is universally accepted and consider also how the sacrifices of this father and son entailed so much labour and hardship.

There is no need to go into details concerning the persecution Prophet Abraham had to undergo at the hands of Nimrod and the extreme difficulties he had to endure. However, the sacrifices he had to make for the city of Makkah alone are beyond compare. In his old age his first born son, Ishmael, was the delight of his eyes. Then out of the blue came the command from Allah to leave him and his mother, Lady Hagar, all by themselves in the sandy desert of the Hejaz which was about fifteen hundred miles from their home. That was the place where the Ka'bah, the first house erected for the worship of Allah, was built. Only the foundations remained, so the first sacrifice for Prophet Abraham was to rebuild Allah's house and to populate the city of Makkah.

We must remember that he was commanded to leave his wife and son in a place where there was no town, no habitation, no food and no people and further, he was to leave them there forever. O Abraham! Peace be on you. How marvellous was his faith in Allah that he displayed not the slightest hesitation in complying with this order. When they reached this frightful and desolate place, Lady Hagar was aghast. There she stood with the baby in her arms with no sight of house or shelter. Leaving them with a little food and water, Prophet Abraham, in keeping with Allah's decree, was about to depart when Lady Hagar inquired, "In whose care are you entrusting us?"

To which he replied, "In Allah's hands."

She then said, "You may go now. I am pleased with Allah. He will never suffer harm to come to us."

Their supply of food and water was soon exhausted. She herself bore it stoically but the child was in severe distress for want of water. She looked frantically all around but there was no water to be seen. Close to her were two hills, Safa and Marwah. She quickly climbed up one of them and scanned the distance but still no sign of people or water was visible. She descended this hill and decided to climb the other but the child was lost from her sight on the slope so that made her run. With great speed she ascended the other hill, but still there was not even a hint of water anywhere.

The idea came to her that she should climb the first hill again and take another look. Perhaps she might see something this time. She had to run down the slope again because from there the child was out of her sight. But still from the top of the first hill she could see no water. Hope and terror in her heart drove her to run and climb those hills several times to look for signs of water but she had no luck. At last, totally exhausted, she returned and sat down beside the child who was lying flat on the ground, and in the throes of burning thirst, was rubbing his heels on the ground. She could not bear to see him in this state of suffering, so throwing herself down at the threshold of Allah's mercy, her soul flowed like water in supplication to Him.

Now, it is the way of Allah that when a servant casts himself down at His feet in total helplessness, He then grants him blessings from His unbounded reservoir of mercy. Lady Hagar's lamentations caused the spring of Allah's mercy to gush forth and in a vision it appeared to her that an angel came and struck the ground in front of her at which a spring of water started to flow. When she opened her eyes she saw that from the place where the baby was rubbing his heels the sand had shifted and water was beginning to seep through to the surface. She quickly dug out more of the sand, whereupon water started to burst out and spout out strongly. She immediately gathered stones from all around her and made a bank around the mouth of the spring, thus preventing it from overflowing.

The Holy Prophet (sas) is reported to have said that man is created weak. Lady Hagar's blocking around the mouth of the spring resulted in the water subsiding and becoming a well. Otherwise, in response to her and Ishmael's predicament, so forcefully did the mercy of Allah gush forth that if Lady Hagar had not stopped the flow of water, then, like Allah's mercy, it would have flowed there like a river forever.

One who is drawn close to Allah is subject to account for the slightest infraction. Even Lady Hagar, a lady who was so uniquely reliant on Allah, laid herself open to account for stopping the flow of the water. In the eyes of worldly-minded people, her action would be considered a wise one, but according to the high and demanding standard of complete reliance on Allah, she made a mistake.

So now, she got water. The Almighty now had to make provision for her food. Caravans were the norm in Arabia in those days and as water was extremely scarce in that country, they used to halt wherever they found it. In this area (around Makkah) there was no water so caravans would not stay there. But this time, as Providence would have it, a caravan was passing through there and seeing water bubbling up from a spring they pitched tent. When they found out that a lady and her child were staying there, they considered it a very great blessing and requested her to continue to remain there and look after the water. They built a shelter for her and made arrangements for her daily sustenance. So now she got a home and the owners of the caravan provided her with more than sufficient food. They then spread the news throughout Arabia that a most wonderful spring had been discovered in a certain place with the result that all passing caravans would encamp there and provide for Lady Hagar who now started to enjoy a life of great ease and comfort.

But this was not the end of her sacrifices. The city of Makkah started to expand from the foundation of that house which was built for Lady Hagar and Ishmael. But for raising the foundation of the Ka'bah another sacrifice, greater than the first, was needed. The laying of the foundation of the Ka'bah called for the sacrifice of the child himself. In addition, it was the will of Allah that the father, too, should be part of this severe trial.

When Ishmael had grown into a young man, Prophet Abraham was directed by Allah to make a short visit to his wife and son in order to see for himself how beautifully He had protected them and provided sustenance for them. Prophet Abraham complied and was astonished at what he saw. When he looked at the young man who was his son, his heart overflowed with joy, and rightly so, for how noble and righteous he was! Little did he suspect that another trial was just around the corner.

He saw in a dream that he was slaughtering his son. Now, a prophet's dream is considered a command of the Almighty, so he apprised his son of the dream and asked him his opinion. This was the reply of the young man - one that is unparalleled in the history of the world: O my father, do as thou art commanded; if Allah please, thou wilt find me patient (37:102).

Can we find in world history a greater example of filial obedience and willing acceptance of the command of Allah to perform such a singular and unprecedented act of sacrifice?

Men have been known to sacrifice for country, nation, family and self because all these form part and parcel of their social ties and obligations and some benefit accrue to them for their sacrifice. But nowadays, who sacrifices for the sake of Allah, especially when it seems that, far from receiving any worldly benefit, total loss seems to be in store?

Father and son both got ready for the sacrifice: the son lay down on the ground and offered his neck to the knife, while the father, acting under the command of Allah, stood ready to cut the neck of his son. He held the knife in his hand but every true father knows that the knife that has to cut the neck of a son must first cut the heartstrings of the father himself. O Allah! O Allah! What faith he possessed! He was about to lay the knife to the most powerful of all natural bonds of love and affection, but in the nick of time the mercy of Allah withheld Prophet Abraham's hand saying: The trial is over. Your sacrifice has been accepted.

The deeper significance of putting the knife to the neck of the son is that in order to develop true love for Allah and unswerving obedience to Him we must first cut off relations with all that is beside Him. He who was prepared to slaughter his own son had, in fact, severed allegiance from everything else except Allah, for nothing is more beloved than a son, especially one who is the first born of a man very advanced in years. We must remember that at that time Ishaq (Isaac) was not yet born.

After the trial of the sacrifice, the command came to raise the foundation of the Ka'bah and it was due to the great honour paid to this father and his son that the city of Makkah also became a highly revered place.

However close to Allah and beloved of Him a person may be, without difficulty and hard effort he can make no headway in life. So here, the Holy Prophet (sas) is told that he is the spiritual father of his community and they are his spiritual sons. It is true that they enjoy no peace in this city, yet it is necessary for them to undergo all kinds of hardship and even to make sacrifices in order to progress. As a matter of fact, until he and his community are prepared to make every kind of sacrifice as Prophets Abraham and Ishmael did, they cannot expect success in their mission. However, the day will come, Allah reassures him, when he will enter this very city as a conqueror and once again, this sanctuary will be purified of idols and be freed from the clutches of the idolaters. It will then become a house for the worship of one God and will be an abode of peace till the Day of Resurrection. But before he can reap success, sacrifices like those of that father and son, Prophets Abraham and Ishmael, will have to be made.

5. Does he think that no one has power over him? 

This verse addresses those who are persecuting the Holy Prophet in the sanctuary of the Ka'bah and asks them whether they think no one has power over them. If they are of that opinion, then they are in great error for the time will come when regretfully:

6. He will say: I have wasted much wealth.

That is, those people who are spending countless money on their opposition to the Holy Prophet (sas) and who think that no one has any authority over them will one day rue their actions. They will experience bitter regret at their failure and will lament the huge amount of money they wasted in a vain effort to destroy the Holy Prophet (sas). How clear a prophecy is this and how true it proved! Today, those people who are spreading enormous wealth in their fight against Islam should heed this warning of the Almighty.

7. Does he think no one sees him?

In other words, this verse is telling us that actions determine the consequences of an affair. In great error is the person who strays from the path and oppresses others and tries hard to be victorious through deceit, wickedness, aggression and violence. Allah reminds him that He is Seer of everything and no evil or aggression is hidden from Him and He will requite the wrongdoers for their mischief. However, it is the mind-set of the transgressor that he believes that Allah is not witnessing his evil action.

8-10. Have We not given him two eyes,
And a  tongue and two lips,
And pointed out to him the two conspicuous ways?

When a person is travelling, there are three prerequisites to enable him to reach his destination and this is so whether it pertains to this life or the next. In this world, if we have to journey to a particular place and we do not know the way, there are three means of getting information. Firstly, we can seek the way for ourselves either by means of our physical eyes or our intellectual or conjectural eyes. Secondly, we can seek information from one who knows the way so as to become more certain. Thirdly, the Government ought to build a highway to the desired goal and if there are side roads that lead away from the destination, then, for the sake of guidance to travellers, there should be some public announcement or written signs as we find today at road crossings, where sign posts are put up with the names of roads and their destinations written on them.

Thus, it is the duty of the traveller to use his eyes and his intellect to find the way himself, or to seek information from one who knows the way. So, when he sees a government highway and reads the sign informing him of the different roads and their destinations, then it is incumbent on him to make use of this guidance to help him choose the correct way to his goal, whether the way is difficult or arduous or not.

So here, Allah, Most High, has pointed out the same three methods for the spiritual journey of man or his travel along the road of religion. Firstly, man should employ his powers of observation and innate intelligence to discover the paths that will lead him to his Lord; secondly, for greater conviction, he should seek knowledge from God-fearing and wise and experienced people; and thirdly, when Allah sends His guidance through a messenger who, under direction from his Lord, clearly differentiates between the right way and the wrong way, and an unequivocal announcement comes from Allah pointing out the path of rectitude, then man should choose this way however difficult it may be.

Najd means high ground or a road built on a higher level. Here a highway is meant and it is called "high" because the difference between the road to goodness and the one to evil is easily discerned just as a road on a higher level can be seen by all. What a beautiful analogy has Allah used to establish the need for Divine revelation and the equally wonderful way He has explained the deep affinity between intellect, information-gathering and revelation from the Almighty!

So when the Holy Qur'an was revealed to the world, the proclamation of guidance was given in the words: I, Allah, am the Best Knower. This Book, there is no doubt in it, is a guide for those who keep their duty (2:1-2).

Concerning this straight and true path, Allah, by means of this announcement, compensated for man's deficiency of intellect and knowledge and pointed out to him the surest way to reach his destination as is borne out by the verse: These are on a right course from their Lord, and these it is who are successful (2:5).

So that road which carries man to his goal is one that is filled with abundant blessings. This is why those who tread this path are called in a later verse of this chapter, people of the right hand, or people who are walking on the way to blessings. On the other hand, those who oppose the truth are referred to as people of the left hand or those who are heading for misfortune.

It is common knowledge that an unambitious person likes the downhill road for the uphill one appears to him to be too demanding. As the path of error is the downhill one or the one that leads to degradation, therefore, the weak-minded lover of ease who shrinks from difficulties, quickly chooses this path which ultimately leads him away from the true goal of life and so he destroys himself. And as the way of guidance or the way to the true destination is the uphill road or the road of progress and advancement, this weak-spirited lover of comfort is afraid to attempt it, even though for him this is the best and most successful way which can lead him to self-actualisation, if only he decides to take it.

11-12. But he attempts not the uphill road;
And what will make thee comprehend what the uphill road is?

This form of expression is employed to emphasise the importance of a point. The way to climb that uphill road for which the Holy Qur'an came to teach man is explained by the Holy Qur'an itself in the next few verses as it enumerates one by one what the uphill road entails.

13. (It is) to free a slave.

In other words, the first step in the uphill road towards human progress and perfection is called "emancipation" in Islamic terminology. How great a calumny have these people committed when they say that Islam has not made provisions for the complete liberation of slaves. The Holy Qur'an has pointed out the two paths open to man: the path of guidance and the path of transgression. It has also emphasised the point that the first step on the road of guidance is to free slaves not only from one kind of slavery but to free mankind in general from every conceivable kind of slavery which can be divided into ten classes.

  1. Physical slavery which has been very prevalent throughout the history of the world. In other words, it is the physical enslavement of man by man.
  2. Slavery to false deities, or polytheism.
  3. Racial slavery — discrimination between black and white, tribe and nation or superior and inferior.
  4. Mental bondage or the blind following of religious scholars and so-called spiritual leaders.
  5. Slavery to customs.
  6. Slavery to ignorance and superstition.
  7. Political slavery or the tyranny of dictatorship.
  8. Economic slavery — the exploitation of workers by the capitalists as well as the curse of usury.
  9. Social slavery — the oppression of women by men.
  10. Slavery to self — slavery to one's base emotions and passions.

These ten types of slavery readily come to mind but the list is not exhaustive for further research may uncover other kinds. The Holy Qur'an has commanded us to free all these kinds of slaves and our Holy Prophet (sas), through his noble example, demonstrated to us how to free every class of slaves. If, after him, people should resort to any one of these types of slavery, then neither the Holy Qur'an nor the Holy Prophet (sas) could be held accountable, for as the Holy Prophet (sas) is told in another part of the Holy Qur'an: So remind. Thou art only to remind. Thou art not a warder over them (88:21-22).

In other words, the Holy Prophet (sas) was not responsible for the deeds of others for he was not a keeper over them. His duty was only a clear deliverance of the message.

It is astonishing, therefore, to hear so many Muslim religious scholars and jurists sing the praises of freedom in Islam whilst at the same time they connive at slavery and even justify it in everyday life. If the truth be told, they have subjugated the minds of the public to their way of thinking and they themselves have become slaves of their low desires.

The Holy Qur'an gives us some other steps on the uphill road:

14-16. Or to feed in a day of hunger
An orphan closely related,
Or the poor man lying in the dust.

After freedom, the next step is Islamic equality and the methods mentioned in these verses are eminently practical ones. We all know that in salah (formal prayer), big and small, rich and poor, all stand shoulder to shoulder on equal terms. In addition, during the Pilgrimage, pilgrims, all dressed in the same garb and facing the same conditions, remain on the plain of 'Arafat in a demonstration of equality that Islam came to establish on earth.

However, from a practical, everyday point of view, the methods advocated in the above verses are not to be met with anywhere else for they teach us how to uplift the downtrodden classes of society and establish them on a footing of equality in society. Therefore, the Holy Qur'an tells us that arrangements must be made to ensure the livelihood of these two groups, the orphans and the needy. The sustenance of the orphans must be taken care of, and the condition of the needy must be improved so that they may become useful and equal members of the society. This is what constitutes equality in Islam.

Unfortunately, many of our religious scholars have fallen into error concerning the meaning of these verses. One misconception is to interpret it'am (food) to mean the feeding of a few young students in a mosque or giving food to a few poor people and then feel we have fulfilled our duty to them. But that opinion is not correct. Here it'am means making provisions for their daily livelihood, for feeding someone for one day is not a permanent solution to his needs. So, here, the meaning of feeding on a day of hunger is to make lasting arrangements for removing the hunger of the orphans and this can only be done by making provisions in such a way that their condition of hunger is totally eradicated.

Similarly, some religious scholars have taken the words an orphan closely related to mean a close relative of the orphan as if human sympathy in Islam is confined to family and tribe. This is a big slur on the teaching of universality in Islam.

To illustrate the condition of the needy, the expression lying in the dust is used, that is, a person who has fallen from a position of honour and is now in a fallen state as if he were lying in the dust and so needs a helping hand. His condition is purposely used as an example in order to create a feeling of sympathy in the hearts of Muslims.

Similarly, the expression closely related is chosen to explain the condition of the orphan. In other words, there is a close relationship between him and every individual in the nation. That is, the orphan is the close relative of every Muslim. A particular child is the child of his father and a relative of his close family. However, an orphan is the child of a whole nation and so every Muslim male is his father, religiously speaking. This is how the Holy Prophet (sas) interpreted it in practice as the following incident exemplifies.

It was the day of 'Id and hundreds of Muslims were going to Madinah to perform the 'Id prayer. They carried along their children who were all dressed in beautiful clothes and some of them were even enjoying a ride on the backs of their fathers. At the corner of a street stood a child. He was an orphan. He was standing there looking wistfully at the faces of all the passers-by when there came along that person who was sent as a mercy to the whole world, that is, the Holy Prophet Muhammad (sas). His eyes fell on the sad face of the child and drawing close to him he asked: "Why are you standing here so disconsolately?"

The boy replied: "I have no one to carry me to the place of the 'Id prayer for my father is dead."

The Prophet's heart was filled with sorrow. He immediately took him up in his arms telling him: "I'm your father and I shall take you there." And this he did with the child in his arms. This is an instance of pure and noble behaviour which our eyes long to see today. That, too, is part of the uphill road which the Holy Qur'an wants us to climb and that, also, is equality which is the second stage in the ascent of the uphill road and it comes after the first stage, the extirpation of all kinds of slavery.

17. Then he is of those who believe and exhort one another to patience and exhort one another to mercy.

Here, a question comes to mind: As the Holy Qur'an brought faith to the world, faith, therefore, should have been mentioned first. What then is the reason for speaking of faith after freedom and equality? The reply is: It is true that the foundation upon which a way of life or a religion is established is faith. If there are no guiding principles, on what shall people act? However, the reason faith is mentioned after freedom and equality is that, until man's actions are based on the precepts of freedom and equality, his claim to faith is useless. Thus, his entire struggle should be selfless and must be performed only for the pleasure of Allah and through deep faith in Him.

But the Holy Qur'an is not satisfied with a person making the uphill climb all by himself. It says that he should help others, too, to do the same. Although the ascent calls for extraordinary strength, the distinctive mark of faith, which instils courage and bravery in man, is that a strong person should try to take weaker people with him in his climb to the top of the mountain. This is why the Holy Qur'an says: …and exhort one another to patience and exhort one another to mercy.

Here, we must remember that the believer must himself follow the advice he gives to others and must not behave like one of those mentioned in the verse, O you who believe! Why do you say that which you do not do (yourself)? (61:2), for then he will make himself deserving of Allah's displeasure.

So, the two virtues which he must himself practise and which he strongly has to encourage others to inculcate, are patience and mercy or sympathy. It is a fact that all the duties we owe to Allah and to our fellow-men are performed through these two virtues. For example, through patience we fulfil our obligations to Allah in that all the commands of Allah must be observed with patience and steadfastness. That is, whatever commands and prohibitions we find in the Shari'ah (Law), we must uphold with great fortitude and there must be no regression in our obedience.

As regards the decrees of Allah, that is, in happiness and sorrow, tranquillity and distress, in short, in whatever befalls us from Allah, we must always be pleased with Him and there must be no defect in our faith and trust in Him.

Through patience we also fulfil our duties to others by giving them their just dues without the slightest diminution. In fact, however badly an opposing party may treat us we must never swerve from our high principles and retaliate, neither should we fall from our high moral standards. We should also bear the persecution of people with patience and never fall short in our duties and obligations to others.

By means of marhamah (mercy) we perform our duties to Allah by showing sympathy and compassion to the weak and downtrodden as the following hadith beautifully explains:

The Holy Prophet (sas) once said: “On the day of Judgement, Allah will address a particular individual: O Son of Adam! I was sick but you did not attend to Me. Bewildered, this individual will say: ‘How is that possible? You are after all the Supreme Lord of all the worlds (and cannot fall sick).’ Allah will reply: Do you not remember that so and so among My servants was ill and lying close to you and you did not turn to him in sympathy? If you had but gone near him, you would have found Me beside him.

In a like manner, Allah will address another individual: O Son of Adam! I had asked you for a piece of bread; but you would not give it to Me. The individual will submit: ‘How is that possible? Can Allah feel hunger and need bread?’ Allah will reply: So and so among My servants in a moment of hunger had asked you for bread, and did you not refuse to give it to him? If you had given him food, you would have found Me beside him.

Similarly, Allah will turn to yet another and address him: O Son of Adam! I was thirsty and I asked you for a cup of water, but you did not give it to me. The individual will cry out: ‘How is that possible? How can Allah feel thirsty?’ Allah will reply: So and so of My servants was thirsty and asked you for water, but you did not give it to him. If you had given it to him, you would have found Me beside him” (Muslim).

Therefore, exhibiting mercy and compassion to the weak and the helpless forms a part of our obligation to Allah, Himself. Through mercy, we also fulfil our duties to our fellow human beings by treating everyone in society, whether friend or foe, rich or poor, with equal regard and affection and also by giving kindly assistance to anyone in distress. In short, through patience and compassion we fulfil our duties both to Allah and to our fellow-men in every way.

However, Allah's command goes further as it directs us not only to act righteously ourselves but also to exhort others to do the same. It is quite evident that if a person resolutely obeys the commands and prohibitions of Allah, and calmly accepts whatever circumstances may come to him from Allah, and displays the greatest of restraint and forbearance under persecution from others, and if he strongly advises others to do likewise, there is no doubt that that person has liberated himself forever from the bondage of animal passions because he has reached that stage where he has subjugated all his base emotions.

Therefore, freeing a slave is the highest point in his journey and this he has attained by displaying patience. And if through the motivation of mercy he shows kindness and sympathy not only to the poor, the needy, the orphans and the dispossessed, but also to every individual in the society, then where can we find a better standard-bearer of Islamic equality than him? Similarly, if everyone in a community exhorts and encourages others to patience and compassion, then there can be no other community as united, strong, honourable and dynamic as this one.

We can plainly see, then, that the Holy Qur'an wants us to climb the uphill road of freedom, equality, faith, patience and compassion for these are principles of righteous conduct which are impossible to surpass. Further, we must not only practise them ourselves but we must advise and encourage others along the same path. That is, we must not climb the hill alone but must exhort others to make the ascent and also help them on the way. Can anyone imagine better principles for individual and national advancement than these?

18. These are people of the right hand

These people chose the road to the right, that is, the road of blessings, which resulted in good fortune for them.

19. And those who disbelieve in Our messages, they are the people of the left hand.

As for these, they did not make use of Allah's guidance and preferred the road to the left, that is, the bad and unlucky road which led to disappointment and evil.

20. On them is Fire closed over.

That is, they are thrown into a pit of fire and the opening has been closed over them. This is the fire of desires which blazed in them during their stay on earth. If a person disregards the straight path given to us in the Holy Qur'an — a path which leads to all-round progress and advancement — and chooses the way of degeneracy, then day by day, and step by step, he is inexorably drawn into the heat of passions. It is a proven fact that once a person is caught in the fire of greed, lust and base emotions, it is difficult for him to extricate himself. It is as if a never-ending chain of desires and passions has closed the door of his escape. For example, if a person becomes enamoured of money and day and night his mind is engrossed in devising means of acquiring it, then it becomes impossible for him to get out of this net. The same goes for intoxication, gambling, adultery, litigation and so one. In short, it becomes increasingly difficult for man to free himself from the net of worldly desires and ambitions in which he is ensnared. This description of a fire which engulfs man on all sides and from which there is no escape is really the consequences of his own evil deeds for which he is being punished. So the inner condition he created for himself by his own actions in this life will become visible to him in the life after death.

Next: Chapter 91: Ash-Shams (The Sun)
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