Never say, “Verily I will do that tomorrow”: Tafsir al-Sa’di

Allah commands His messenger and by extension all Muslims until the end of time with the following command in surah al-Kahf:

وَلَا تَقُولَنَّ لِشَيْءٍ إِنِّي فَاعِلٌ ذَٰلِكَ غَدًا  إِلَّا أَن يَشَاءَ اللَّـهُ ۚ وَاذْكُر‌ رَّ‌بَّكَ إِذَا نَسِيتَ وَقُلْ عَسَىٰ أَن يَهْدِيَنِ رَ‌بِّي لِأَقْرَ‌بَ مِنْ هَـٰذَا رَ‌شَدًا

“And never say of anything, ‘Indeed, I will do that tomorrow,’ Except [when adding], ‘If Allah wills.’ And remember your Lord when you forget, and say, ‘Perhaps my Lord will guide me to what is nearer than this to right conduct.'” [18:23-24]

Imam al-Sa’di, in his book of tafsir, wrote the following commentary on these ayaat:

هذا النهي كغيره، وإن كان لسبب خاص وموجها للرسول صل الله عليه وسلم، فإن الخطاب عام للمكلفين، فنهى الله أن يقول العبد في الأمور المستقبلة، ‏{‏إني فاعل ذلك‏}‏ من دون أن يقرنه بمشيئة الله، وذلك لما فيه من المحذور، وهو‏:‏ الكلام على الغيب المستقبل، الذي لا يدري، هل يفعله أم لا‏؟‏ وهل تكون أم لا‏؟‏

This is a prohibition like other prohibitions, albeit for a specific reason and directed to the Messenger (ﷺ), however the address is general to all those who are legally capable. For Allah prohibits that the slave should say about future affairs, “Indeed I will do that tomorrow” without pairing that with the (mention of) will of Allah. And that is because one should beware of what that entails, and that is: speaking about the unknown future events, which one does not know – will he do them or not? Will they occur or not?

وفيه رد الفعل إلى مشيئة العبد استقلالا، وذلك محذور محظور، لأن المشيئة كلها لله ‏{‏وما تشاءون إلا أن يشاء الله رب العالمين‏}‏ ولما في ذكر مشيئة الله، من تيسير الأمر وتسهيله، وحصول البركة فيه، والاستعانة من العبد لربه، ولما كان العبد بشرا، لا بد أن يسهو فيترك ذكر المشيئة، أمره الله أن يستثني بعد ذلك، إذا ذكر، ليحصل المطلوب، وينفع المحذور،

And in this is a refutation of action being subject to the will of the slave – independent (of Allah’s will), and that is is a strong warning and prohibition. For the will belongs entirely to Allah – “And you do not will except that Allah wills – Lord of the worlds” [81:29]. And as for the mentioning of the will of Allah, then from it is the ease and facilitation of an affair, and receiving blessing in it, and the slave seeking aid from his Lord. And as for the slave, then he is just a human being, and he must not inattentively forget this and thereby leave the remembrance of (Allah’s) will, so Allah commanded him to make that clause of exception [i.e. saying in shaa’ Allaah] after stating one’s intent in order to achieve what is sought, and to benefit from the warning.

ويؤخذ من عموم قوله‏:‏ ‏{‏وَاذْكُرْ رَبَّكَ إِذَا نَسِيتَ‏}‏ الأمر بذكر الله عند النسيان، فإنه يزيله، ويذكر العبد ما سها عنه، وكذلك يؤمر الساهي الناسي لذكر الله، أن يذكر ربه، ولا يكونن من الغافلين، ولما كان العبد مفتقرا إلى الله في توفيقه للإصابة، وعدم الخطأ في أقواله وأفعاله، أمره الله أن يقول‏:‏ ‏{‏عَسَى أَنْ يَهْدِيَنِ رَبِّي لِأَقْرَبَ مِنْ هَذَا رَشَدًا‏}‏ فأمره أن يدعو الله ويرجوه، ويثق به أن يهديه لأقرب الطرق الموصلة إلى الرشد‏.‏ وحري بعبد، تكون هذه حاله، ثم يبذل جهده، ويستفرغ وسعه في طلب الهدى والرشد، أن يوفق لذلك، وأن تأتيه المعونة من ربه، وأن في جميع أموره‏.‏

And His statement “And remember your Lord when you forget” is taken on its general meaning as a command for the remembrance of Allah when one forgets, for verily remembrance removes forgetfulness, and the slave mentions what he had overlooked, and similarly the negligent and forgetful one is commanded with the remembrance of Allah, that he would remember his Lord, and not be one of the heedless ones. And when the slave is in desperate need of Allah for success in trials, and the absence of sins in his speech and his actions, Allah commanded Him to say, “Perhaps my Lord will guide me to what is nearer than this to right conduct“. So He ordered him to supplicate to Allah and put his hope in Him, and trust in Him to guide him to the closest path leading to right conduct. And it behooves a slave to be in this state (of right conduct), then to exert oneself in it, and to seek forgiveness and hasten in seeking guidance and uprightness, and what supports that, and what comes of the assistance from his Lord, and what makes one firm and steadfast in all of his affairs.

[Taysir al-Kareem al-Rahman p. 551]

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