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Surah Al-Lahab

Ayat/pg: 5 | 10 | 15 | 20 | All

Maududi's Commentry (Tafseer) on Surah Al-Lahab

Mecca Mecca (6)
5Total Ayat: 5
1Total Ruku: 1

Name

The Surah takes its name from the word Lahab in the first verse.

Period of Revelation

Although the commentators have not disputed its being a Makki Surah,yet it is difficult to determine in which phase of the life at Makkahprecisely it was revealed. However, in view of Abu Lahab's role andconduct against the Holy Prophet's message of Truth, it can be assumedthat it must have been revealed in the period when he had transgressedall limits in his mad hostility to him, and his attitude was becominga serious obstruction in the progress of Islam. It may well have beenrevealed in the period when the Quraish had boycotted the Holy Prophet(upon whom be peace) together with the people of his clan and besiegedthem in Shi'b Abi Talib, and Abu Lahab was the only person to joinwith the enemies against his own relatives. The basis of thisassumption is that Abu Lahab was the Holy Prophet's uncle, and publiccondemnation of the uncle by the tongue of the nephew could not beproper until the extreme excesses committed by the uncle had becomevisible to everyone. If the Surah had been revealed before this, in thevery beginning, the people would have regarded it as morallydiscourteous that the nephew should so condemn the uncle.

Background

This is the only place in the Quran where a person from among theenemies of Islam has been condemned by name, whereas in Makkah as wellas in Madinah, after the migration, there were many people who were inno way less inimical to Islam and the Prophet Muhammad (upon whom beAllah's peace and blessings) than Abu Lahab. The question is, what wasthe special trait of the character of this person, which became thebasis of this condemnation by name?To understand that it is necessarythat one should understand the Arabian society of that time and therole that Abu Lahab played in it.

In ancient days since thereprevailed chaos and confusion, bloodshed and plunder throughout Arabia,and the condition since centuries was that a person could have noguarantee of the protection of life, honor and property except withthe help and support of his clansmen and blood relations, thereforesilah rehmi (good treatment of the kindred) was esteemed most highlyamong the moral values of the Arabian society and breaking off ofconnections with the kindred was regarded as a great sin. Under, theinfluence of the same Arabian tradition when the Holy Prophet (uponwhom be peace) began to preach the message of Islam, the other clansof Quraish and their chiefs resisted and opposed him tooth and nail,but the Bani Hashim and the Bani al-Muttalib (children of al-Muttalib,brother of Hashim) not only did not oppose him but continued tosupport him openly, although most, of them had not yet believed in hisProphethood. The other clans of Quraish themselves regarded thissupport by the blood relations of the Holy Prophet as perfectly inaccordance with the moral traditions of Arabia. That is why they nevertaunted the Bani Hashim and the Bani al-Muttalib in that they hadabandoned their ancestral faith by supporting a person who waspreaching a new faith. They knew and believed that they could in nocase hand over an individual of their clan to his enemies, and theirsupport and aid of a clansman was perfectly natural in the sight ofthe Quraish and the people of Arabia.

This moral principle, which theArabs even in the pre-Islamic days of ignorance, regarded as worthy ofrespect and inviolable was broken only by one man in his enmity ofIslam, and that was Abu Lahab, son of Abdul Muttalib. He was an uncleof the Holy Prophet, whose father and he were sons of the same father.In Arabia, an uncle represented the father especially when the nephewwas fatherless. The uncle was expected to look after the nephew as oneof his own children. But this man in his hostility to Islam and loveof kufr trampled all the Arab traditions under foot.

The traditionistshave related from Ibn Abbas with several chains of transmitters thetradition that when the Holy Prophet was commanded to present themessage of Islam openly, and he was instructed in the Quran to warnfirst of all his nearest kinsfolk of the punishment of God, heascended the Mount, Safa one morning and called out aloud: Ya sabahah(O, the calamity of the morning!). This alarm in Arabia was raised bythe person who noticed early at dawn an enemy tribe advancing againsthis tribe. When the Holy Messenger made this call, the people enquiredas to who had made the call. They were told that it was Muhammad (uponwhom be Allah's peace). Thereat the people of all the clans ofQuraish rushed out. Everyone who could, came; he who could not, sentanother one for himself. When the People had assembled, the HolyMessenger calling out each clan by name, viz. O Bani Hashim, O BaniAbdul Muttalib, O Bani Fihr, O Bani so and so, said: "If I were totell you that behind the hill there was an enemy host ready to fallupon you, would you believe me?"The people responded with one voice,saying that they never had so far experienced a lie from him. The HolyProphet said: "Then I warn you that you are heading for a torment."Thereupon, before anyone else could speak, Abu Lahab, the HolyProphet's uncle, said: "May you perish!Did you summon us forthis?"Another tradition adds that he picked up a stone to throw at theHoly Prophet. (Musnad Ahmad, Bukhari, Muslim, Tirmidhi, Ibn Jarir, andothers).

According to Ibn Zaid, one day Abu Lahab asked the HolyProphet: "If I were to accept your religion, what would I get?" TheHoly Prophet replied: "You would get what the other believers wouldget." He said: "Is there no preference or distinction for me?" TheHoly Prophet replied: "What else do you want?" Thereupon he said: "Maythis religion perish in which I and all other people should be equaland alike!" (Ibn Jarir).

In Makkah Abu Lahab was the next doorneighbour of the Holy Prophet. Their houses were separated by a wall.Besides him, Hakam bin As (Father of Marwan), Uqbah bin Abi Muait, Adibin Hamra and Ibn al-Asda il-Hudhali also were his neighbours. Thesepeople did not allow him to have peace even in his own house.Sometimes when he was performing the Prayer, they would place thegoat's stomach on him; sometimes when food was being cooked in thecourtyard, they would throw filth at the cooking pot. The Holy Prophetwould come out and say: "O Bani Abdi Manaf, what kind ofneighborliness is it?"Abu Lahab's wife, Umm Jamil (Abu Sufyan'ssister), had made it a practice to cast thorns at his door in thenight so that when he or his children came out of the house at dawn,they should run thorns in the foot. (Baihaqi, Ibn Abi Hatim, Ibn Jarir,Ibn Asakir, Ibn Hisham).

Before the proclamation of Prophethood, twoof the Holy Prophet's daughters were married to two of Abu Lahab'ssons, Utbah and Utaibah. After his call when the Holy Prophet began toinvite the people to Islam, Abu Lahab said to both his sons:"I wouldforbid myself seeing and meeting you until you divorced the daughtersof Muhammad (upon whom be Allah's peace and blessings)."So, both ofthem divorced their, wives. Utaibah in particular became so nasty inhis spitefulness that one day he came before the Holy Prophet andsaid: "I repudiate An-najmi idha hawa and Alladhi dana fatadalla" andthen he spat at him, but his spital did not fall on him. The HolyProphet prayed: "O God, subject him to the power of a dog from amongYour dogs."Afterwards, Utaibah accompanied his father in his journeyto Syria. During the journey the caravan halted at a place which,according to local people, was visited by wild beasts at night. AbuLahab told his companions, the Quraish: "Make full arrangements forthe protection of my son, for I fear the curse invoked by Muhammad(upon whom be Allah's peace) on him." Accordingly, the people madetheir camels sit all around Utaibah and went to sleep. At night atiger came which crossed the circle of the camels and devoured Utaibahtearing him to pieces. (Ibn Abdul Barr: Al-Istiab; Ibn Hajar: Al-Isabah; Abu Nuaim al-Isfahani: Dalail an-Nubuwwat; As-Suhaili: Raudal-Unuf. Here there is a difference of opinion. Some reporters saythat the divorce took place after the Holy Prophet's proclamation ofProphethood and some say that it took place after the revelation ofTabbat yada Abi Lahab. There is also a difference of opinion aboutwhether Abu Lahab's this son was Utbah or Utaibah. But this much isconfirmed that after the conquest of Makkah, Utbah embraced Islam andtook the oath of allegiance at the Holy Prophet's hand. Therefore, thecorrect view is that it was Utaibah).

Abu Lahab's wickedness can bejudged from the fact that when after the death of the Holy Prophet'sson Hadrat Qasim, his second son, Hadrat Abdullah, also died, this maninstead of condoning with his nephew in his bereavement, hastened tothe Quraish chiefs joyfully to give them the news that Muhammad (uponwhom be Allah's peace and blessings) had become childless that night.This we have already related in the commentary of Surah Al-Kauthar.

Wherever the Holy Prophet went to preach his message of Islam, thisman followed him and forbade the people to listen to him. Rabiah binAbbad ad- Dill has related:"I was a young boy when I accompanied myfather to the face of Dhul-Majaz. There I saw the Holy Messenger (maypeace be upon him) who was exhorting the people, saying: 'O people,say: there is no deity but Allah, you will attain success.'Followingbehind him I saw a man, who was telling the people; `This fellow is aliar: he has gone astray from his ancestral faith.' I asked; who ishe?The people replied: He is his uncle, Abu Lahab." (Musnad Ahmad,Baihaqi). Another tradition from Hadrat Rabiah is to the effect; "Isaw that the Holy Prophet went to the halting place of each tribe andsaid: `O children of so and so, I have been appointed Allah'sMessenger to you. I exhort you to worship only Allah and to associatenone with Him. So, affirm faith in me and join me so that I may fulfillthe mission for which I have been sent.'Following close behind himthere was a man who was saying: `O children of so and so, he isleading you astray from Lat and Uzza and inviting you to the religionof error and innovation which he has brought. Do not at all listen towhat he says and do not follow him.' I asked my father: who is he?Hereplied: he is his uncle, Abu Lahab." (Musnad Ahmad, Tabarani). Tariqbin Abdullah al-Muharibi's tradition is similar. He says: "I saw inthe fare of Dhul-Majaz that the Holy Messenger (upon whom be peace)was exhorting the people, saying: `O people, say La ilaha ill-Allah,you will attain success', and behind him there was a man who wascasting stones at him, until his heels bled, and he was telling thepeople: 'Do not listen to him, he is a liar.' I asked the people whohe was. They said he was his uncle, Abu Lahab." (Tirmidhi).

In the 7thyear of Prophethood, when all the clans of Quraish boycotted the BaniHashim and the Bani al- Muttalib socially and economically, and boththese clans remaining steadfast to the Holy Prophet's support, werebesieged in Shib Abi Talib, Abu Lahab was the only person, who sidedwith the disbelieving Quraish against his own clan. This boycottcontinued for three years, so much so that the Bani Hashim and theBani al- Muttalib began to starve. This, however, did not move AbuLahab. When a trade caravan came to Makkah and a besieged person fromShib Abi Talib approached it to buy some article of food, Abu Lahabwould shout out to the merchants to demand a forbidding price, tellingthem that he would make up for any loss that they incurred. Thus, theywould demand exorbitant rates and the poor customer had to returnempty handed to his starving children. Then Abu Lahab would purchasethe same articles from them at the market rates. (Ibn Sa'd, IbnHisham).

On account of these very misdeeds this man was condemned inthis Surah by name, and there was a special need for it. When the HolyProphet's own uncle followed and opposed him before the Arabs who camefor hajj from outside Makkah, or gathered together in the fares held atdifferent places, they regarded it as against the establishedtraditions of Arabia that an uncle should run down his nephew withouta reason, should pelt stones at him and bring false accusationsagainst him publicly. They were, therefore, influenced by what AbuLahab said and were involved in doubt about the Holy Prophet (uponwhom be peace). But when this, Surah was revealed, and Abu Lahab,filled with rage, started uttering nonsense, the people realized thatwhat he said in opposition to the Holy Prophet was not at all reliable,for he said all that in his mad hostility to his nephew.

Besides, whenhis uncle was condemned by name, the people's expectation that theHoly Messenger (upon whom be peace) could treat some relativeleniently in the matter of religion was frustrated for ever. When theHoly Messenger's own uncle was taken to task publicly the peopleunderstood that there was no room for preference or partiality intheir faith. A non-relative could become a near and dear one if hebelieved, and a near relation a non-relative if he disbelieved. Thus,there is no place for the ties of blood in religion.

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