“Are they equal, those who know and those who know not?”: Tafsir al-Sa’di

Allah say in His Book in surah al-Zumar:

 ‏‏أَمْ مَنْ هُوَ قَانِتٌ آنَاءَ اللَّيْلِ سَاجِدًا وَقَائِمًا يَحْذَرُ الْآخِرَةَ وَيَرْجُو رَحْمَةَ رَبِّهِ قُلْ هَلْ يَسْتَوِي الَّذِينَ يَعْلَمُونَ وَالَّذِينَ لَا يَعْلَمُونَ إِنَّمَا يَتَذَكَّرُ أُولُو الْأَلْبَابِ‏

Is one who is devoutly obedient during periods of the night, prostrating and standing [in prayer], fearing the Hereafter and hoping for the mercy of his Lord, [like one who does not]? Say, “Are they equal, those who know and those who do not know?” Only people of understanding will pay heed. [39:9]

The ‘allaamah ‘Abdur-Rahman ibn Naasir al-Sa’di, in his famous book of tafsir, wrote the following:

هذه مقابلة بين العامل بطاعة اللّه وغيره، وبين العالم والجاهل، وأن هذا من الأمور التي تقرر في العقول تباينها، وعلم علما يقينا تفاوتها، فليس المعرض عن طاعة ربه، المتبع لهواه، كمن هو قانت أي‏:‏ مطيع للّه بأفضل العبادات وهي الصلاة، وأفضل الأوقات وهو أوقات الليل، فوصفه بكثرة العمل وأفضله، ثم وصفه بالخوف والرجاء، وذكر أن متعلق الخوف عذاب الآخرة، على ما سلف من الذنوب، وأن متعلق الرجاء، رحمة اللّه، فوصفه بالعمل الظاهر والباطن‏.‏

This is a comparison between the one who performs acts of obedience to Allah and other than him, and between the who with knowledge and the ignorant one. And this is one of the things which is intended to highlight the differences for the [possessor of] intellect, and cause one to know the distinction with certain knowledge. So the one who displays obedience to his Lord is not like the one who follows his own capricious desires. (Rather) he is Qaanit (devoutly obedient), meaning – obedient to Allah with the most virtuous of ibaadah, which is al-salaah, in the most virtuous of times, which is the night time. So Allah describes him with an abundance of deeds and their virtue, then He describes him with fear and hope, and He mentioned that which is related to fear of the punishment of the hereafter for what has already occurred of sins, and what is related to hope of the Mercy of Allah. So He characterized him with both apparent and concealed deeds.

‏{‏قُلْ هَلْ يَسْتَوِي الَّذِينَ يَعْلَمُونَ‏}‏ ربهم ويعلمون دينه الشرعي ودينه الجزائي، وما له في ذلك من الأسرار والحكم ‏{‏وَالَّذِينَ لَا يَعْلَمُونَ‏}‏ شيئا من ذلك‏؟‏ لا يستوي هؤلاء ولا هؤلاء، كما لا يستوي الليل والنهار، والضياء والظلام، والماء والنار‏.‏

Say, ‘Are they equal, those who know’” their Lord and know His legislative deen and His deen in terms of recompense, and what that entails of sacraments and rulings “and those who do not know” anything of that? The one is not equal to the other, just as the night and day are not equal, nor the light and darkness, nor water and fire.

‏{‏إِنَّمَا يَتَذَكَّرُ‏}‏ إذا ذكروا ‏{‏أُولُو الْأَلْبَابِ‏}‏ أي‏:‏ أهل العقول الزكية الذكية، فهم الذين يؤثرون الأعلى على الأدنى، فيؤثرون العلم على الجهل، وطاعة اللّه على مخالفته، لأن لهم عقولا ترشدهم للنظر في العواقب، بخلاف من لا لب له ولا عقل، فإنه يتخذ إلهه هواه‏.‏

Only people of understanding will pay heed” when they are reminded. And this is referring to the possessors of sound and intelligent intellects, those who prioritize the higher things over lower things, and prioritize ‘ilm over ignorance, and obedience to Allah over what is contrary to that, because they possess intellects which guide them to see the consequences, in contrast to those with neither sense nor intellect, for verily those [other ones] have taken their own desires as their god.

[Taysir al-Kareem al-Rahman pg. 847]

See also: Imam al-Nawawi on Hope and Fear

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