“And the supplication of the disbelievers is not but in error”: Tafsir al-Sa’di

Allah says in His Book, in surah al-Ra’d:

لَهُ دَعْوَةُ الْحَقِّ ۖ وَالَّذِينَ يَدْعُونَ مِن دُونِهِ لَا يَسْتَجِيبُونَ لَهُم بِشَيْءٍ إِلَّا كَبَاسِطِ كَفَّيْهِ إِلَى الْمَاءِ لِيَبْلُغَ فَاهُ وَمَا هُوَ بِبَالِغِهِ ۚ وَمَا دُعَاءُ الْكَافِرِ‌ينَ إِلَّا فِي ضَلَالٍ

To Him is the supplication of truth. And those they call upon besides Him do not respond to them with anything, except as one who stretches his hands toward water in order to reach his mouth, but it will not reach it. And the supplication of the disbelievers is not but in error. [13:14]

Imam ‘Abdur-Rahman bin Naasir al-Sa’di, in his book of tafsir, writes the following about this ayah:

‏‏ أي‏:‏ لله وحده ‏{‏دَعْوَةُ الْحَقِّ‏}‏ وهي‏:‏ عبادته وحده لا شريك له، وإخلاص دعاء العبادة ودعاء المسألة له تعالى، أي‏:‏ هو الذي ينبغي أن يصرف له الدعاء، والخوف، والرجاء، والحب، والرغبة، والرهبة، والإنابة؛ لأن ألوهيته هي الحق، وألوهية غيره باطلة ‏{‏وَالَّذِينَ يَدْعُونَ مِنْ دُونِهِ‏}‏ من الأوثان والأنداد التي جعلوها شركاء لله‏.‏

Meaning: to Allah alone “is the supplication of truth“. And that is: Worship of Him alone without ascribing any partners to Him, and sincere supplication of worship and supplications of asking Him, the Most High. Meaning: He is the One to Whom supplication should be made, and fear and hope, and love and desire, and awe and entrusting your affairs to Him, because His divinity is true, and the divinity of other than Him is falsehood. “And those they call upon besides Him” from their idols and partners which they have made as partners with Allah.

‏{‏لَا يَسْتَجِيبُونَ لَهُمْ‏}‏ أي‏:‏ لمن يدعوها ويعبدها بشيء قليل ولا كثير لا من أمور الدنيا ولا من أمور الآخرة ‏{‏إِلَّا كَبَاسِطِ كَفَّيْهِ إِلَى الْمَاءِ‏}‏ الذي لا تناله كفاه لبعده، ‏{‏لِيَبْلُغَ‏}‏ ببسط كفيه إلى الماء ‏{‏فَاهُ‏}‏ فإنه عطشان ومن شدة عطشه يتناول بيده، ويبسطها إلى الماء الممتنع وصولها إليه، فلا يصل إليه‏.‏

Do not respond to them” – meaning: those to whom they supplicate and worship, [do not respond] with anything, neither small nor abundant, neither concerning the matters of this life nor concerning the matters of the hereafter. “Except as one who stretches his hands toward water” which his hand cannot reach due to its distance, “in order to reach” – extending his hands towards the water – “his mouth” because he is thirsty, and the severity of his thirst affects his hand, and he reaches it out towards water which he is prevented from reaching, so he does not reach it.

كذلك الكفار الذين يدعون معه آلهة لا يستجيبون لهم بشيء ولا ينفعونهم في أشد الأوقات إليهم حاجة لأنهم فقراء كما أن من دعوهم فقراء، لا يملكون مثقال ذرة في الأرض ولا في السماء، وما لهم فيهما من شرك وما له منهم من ظهير‏.‏

Like this are the kuffaar who supplicate, alongside Allah, to gods do not respond to them with anything and do not benefit them in the times when their needs are most severe, for they [i.e. the false gods] are impoverished, just as those who supplicate to them are impoverished. They do not own the likeness of an atom on the earth or in the sky, and there is no partnership [in ownership or control] in these things, nor is there anything for them.

‏{‏وَمَا دُعَاءُ الْكَافِرِينَ إِلَّا فِي ضَلَالٍ‏}‏ لبطلان ما يدعون من دون الله، فبطلت عباداتهم ودعاؤهم؛ لأن الوسيلة تبطل ببطلان غايتها، ولما كان الله تعالى هو الملك الحق المبين، كانت عبادته حقًّا متصلة النفع لصاحبها في الدنيا والآخرة‏.‏

And the supplication of the disbelievers is not but in error” – of futility is their supplicating to other than Allah, so their worship and their supplication was rendered void, because the method was invalidated so (also) the objective was futile, for Allah the Exalted is the True and Clear Master. Worship of Him is true (i.e. valid), conducive to benefiting the one who does it (both) in this life and in the hereafter.

وتشبيه دعاء الكافرين لغير الله بالذي يبسط كفيه إلى الماء ليبلغ فاه من أحسن الأمثلة؛ فإن ذلك تشبيه بأمر محال، فكما أن هذا محال، فالمشبه به محال، والتعليق على المحال من أبلغ ما يكون في نفي الشيء كما قال تعالى‏:‏ ‏{‏إن الذين كذبوا بآياتنا واستكبروا عنها لا تفتح لهم أبواب السماء ولا يدخلون الجنة حتى يلج الجمل في سم الخياط‏}‏

And the analogy of the supplication of the disbelievers to other than Allah with the one who stretched out his hands towards water in order to reach (it) to his mouth is one of the excellent comparisons, for certainly that is the analogy of an impossible matter, and so since that is impossible, then its counterpart in the analogy is (also) impossible, and the relation of impossibility is part of the rhetoric of denying a thing, just as Allah said, “Indeed, those who deny Our verses and are arrogant toward them – the gates of Heaven will not be opened for them, nor will they enter Paradise until a camel enters into the eye of a needle. And thus do We recompense the criminals.” [7:40]

[Taysir al-Kareem al-Rahman pg. 479-480]

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