“Beautified for people is the love of what they desire”: Tafsir al-Sa’di

In the early part of surah Aaali ‘Imran, Allah says:

زُيِّنَ لِلنَّاسِ حُبُّ الشَّهَوَاتِ مِنَ النِّسَاءِ وَالْبَنِينَ وَالْقَنَاطِيرِ‌ الْمُقَنطَرَ‌ةِ مِنَ الذَّهَبِ وَالْفِضَّةِ وَالْخَيْلِ الْمُسَوَّمَةِ وَالْأَنْعَامِ وَالْحَرْ‌ثِ ۗ ذَٰلِكَ مَتَاعُ الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا ۖ وَاللَّـهُ عِندَهُ حُسْنُ الْمَآبِ * قُلْ أَؤُنَبِّئُكُم بِخَيْرٍ‌ مِّن ذَٰلِكُمْ ۚ لِلَّذِينَ اتَّقَوْا عِندَ رَ‌بِّهِمْ جَنَّاتٌ تَجْرِ‌ي مِن تَحْتِهَا الْأَنْهَارُ‌ خَالِدِينَ فِيهَا وَأَزْوَاجٌ مُّطَهَّرَ‌ةٌ وَرِ‌ضْوَانٌ مِّنَ اللَّـهِ ۗ وَاللَّـهُ بَصِيرٌ‌ بِالْعِبَادِ * الَّذِينَ يَقُولُونَ رَ‌بَّنَا إِنَّنَا آمَنَّا فَاغْفِرْ‌ لَنَا ذُنُوبَنَا وَقِنَا عَذَابَ النَّارِ‌ * الصَّابِرِ‌ينَ وَالصَّادِقِينَ وَالْقَانِتِينَ وَالْمُنفِقِينَ وَالْمُسْتَغْفِرِ‌ينَ بِالْأَسْحَارِ

Beautified for people is the love of that which they desire – of women and sons, heaped-up sums of gold and silver, fine branded horses, and cattle and tilled land. That is the enjoyment of worldly life, but Allah has with Him the best return. * Say, “Shall I inform you of [something] better than that? For those who fear Allah will be gardens in the presence of their Lord beneath which rivers flow, wherein they abide eternally, and purified spouses and approval from Allah. And Allah is Seeing of [His] servants – * Those who say, “Our Lord, indeed we have believed, so forgive us our sins and protect us from the punishment of the Fire,”  *  The patient, the true, the obedient, those who spend [in the way of Allah], and those who seek forgiveness before dawn.  [3:‌14-17]

Commenting on this group of ayaat, Imam ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn Naasir al-Sa’di wrote:

يخبر تعالى أنه زين للناس حب الشهوات الدنيوية، وخص هذه الأمور المذكورة لأنها أعظم شهوات الدنيا وغيرها تبع لها، قال تعالى { إنا جعلنا ما على الأرض زينة لها } فلما زينت لهم هذه المذكورات بما فيها من الدواعي المثيرات، تعلقت بها نفوسهم ومالت إليها قلوبهم، ـ

Allah informs us that He has beautified the love of worldly desires for mankind, and He specified these aforementioned items because they are the greatest of worldly desires and because other things follow from them. Allah said:

إِنَّا جَعَلْنَا مَا عَلَى الْأَرْ‌ضِ زِينَةً لَّهَا

Indeed, We have made that which is on the earth adornment for it [18:7]

So when theses aforementioned things were beautified for them due to what they contain of arousing appeal to which their souls are attached and to which their very hearts incline.

وانقسموا بحسب الواقع إلى قسمين: قسم: جعلوها هي المقصود، فصارت أفكارهم وخواطرهم وأعمالهم الظاهرة والباطنة لها، فشغلتهم عما خلقوا لأجله، وصحبوها صحبة البهائم السائمة، يتمتعون بلذاتها ويتناولون شهواتها، ولا يبالون على أي وجه حصلوها، ولا فيما أنفقوها وصرفوها، فهؤلاء كانت زادا لهم إلى دار الشقاء والعناء والعذاب ، ـ

So the people are divided according to their natures in two categories. The first category: they make these things their entire goal, so then their thoughts, their minds and their actions – both outwardly and inwardly – become for the sake of these things, so they are therefore distracted from that for which they were created and become like grazing livestock – deriving fleeting enjoyment from life’s pleasures and fulfilling their lowly desires but not really attaining or achieving anything or gaining anything through what they spend and exert. So for them, these things will be a increase of ultimate sorrow, weariness and punishment in the life to come.

والقسم الثاني: عرفوا المقصود منها وأن الله جعلها ابتلاء وامتحانا لعباده، ليعلم من يقدم طاعته ومرضاته على لذاته وشهواته، فجعلوها وسيلة لهم وطريقا يتزودن منها لآخرتهم ويتمتعون بما يتمتعون به على وجه الاستعانة به على مرضاته، قد صحبوها بأبدانهم وفارقوها بقلوبهم، وعلموا أنها كما قال الله فيها { ذلك متاع الحياة الدنيا } فجعلوها معبرا إلى الدار الآخرة ومتجرا يرجون بها الفوائد الفاخرة، فهؤلاء صارت لهم زادا إلى ربهم. ـ

And the second category: these ones recognize the true purpose of these things and that Allah has made these things as a test and a trial for His slaves in order to know who will prioritize His obedience and His pleasure over their own appetites and lowly desires. So these people take these things as a means and a way and they take them as provisions for their hereafter and they make use of what they make use of from it from the angle of seeking its aid for His pleasure. So their bodies have accompanied these things, but their hearts have separated from them, and they know that it is just as Allah said in this regard:

ذَٰلِكَ مَتَاعُ الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا

That is the enjoyment of worldly life [3:14]

So they took these things are a means of passage to the abode of the Hereafter and as a transaction through which they hope for wonderful benefits. So for them, these things become provisions unto their Lord.

وفي هذه الآية تسلية للفقراء الذين لا قدرة لهم على هذه الشهوات التي يقدر عليها الأغنياء، وتحذير للمغترين بها وتزهيد لأهل العقول النيرة بها، وتمام ذلك أن الله تعالى أخبر بعدها عن دار القرار ومصير المتقين الأبرار، ـ

And in this ayah there is a consolation for the poor ones who are not able to act on lowly desires which the wealthy are able to act on, and also a warning to those who have been deceived by these things, and an incitement for those people of illuminated intellects towards abstaining from these things. And the completion of all this is that following this, Allah informed us about the Lasting Abode and the place of return for the righteous muttaqoon.

وأخبر أنها خير من ذلكم المذكور، ألا وهي الجنات العاليات ذات المنازل الأنيقة والغرف العالية، والأشجار المتنوعة المثمرة بأنواع الثمار، والأنهار الجارية على حسب مرادهم والأزواج المطهرة من كل قذر ودنس وعيب ظاهر وباطن، مع الخلود الدائم الذي به تمام النعيم، مع الرضوان من الله الذي هو أكبر نعيم، فقس هذه الدار الجليلة بتلك الدار الحقيرة، ثم اختر لنفسك أحسنهما واعرض على قلبك المفاضلة بينهما ـ

And He informs us of what is better than these aforementioned things: indeed, it is the elevated gardens which contain elegant dwellings and lofty quarters, various flowering and fruitful trees with all sorts of produce, rivers continuously flowing according to their needs, and mates purified from every impurity, defilement or shortcoming – both outwardly and inwardly. All of this along with it being eternal and everlasting – thereby completing the bliss. And all of this along with the pleasure of Allah, which is the greatest bliss. So the incubation of that wonderful abode is in this lowly abode, therefore select for yourself the better of the two and resist what your heart prefers of these two!

ـ  { والله بصير بالعباد } أي: عالم بما فيهم من الأوصاف الحسنة والأوصاف القبيحة، وما هو اللائق بأحوالهم، يوفق من شاء منهم ويخذل من شاء. فالجنة التي ذكر الله وصفها ونعتها بأكمل نعت وصف أيضا المستحقين لها وهم الذين اتقوه بفعل ما أمر به وترك ما نهى عنه، وكان من دعائهم أن قالوا: ـ

وَاللَّـهُ بَصِيرٌ‌ بِالْعِبَادِ

And Allah is Seeing of the slaves [3:15]

– meaning: He is All-Knowing of what is in them of beautiful characteristics and of despicable characteristics, and of what is befitting of their conditions. He grants success to those of them whom He wills and He forsakes those of them whom He wills. For those who are most deserving of the Jannah which Allah mentioned and described and characterized with the most perfect of descriptions and characteristics are those who have taqwa of Him and doing what He has commanded them to do and abandoning what He has forbidden for them. And from among their supplications is that they say:

ـ { ربنا إننا آمنا فاغفر لنا ذنوبنا وقنا عذاب النار } توسلوا بمنة الله عليهم بتوفيقهم للإيمان أن يغفر لهم ذنوبهم ويقيهم شر آثارها وهو عذاب النار، ثم فصل أوصاف التقوى. ـ

رَ‌بَّنَا إِنَّنَا آمَنَّا فَاغْفِرْ‌ لَنَا ذُنُوبَنَا وَقِنَا عَذَابَ النَّارِ‌

“Our Lord, indeed we have believed, so forgive us our sins and protect us from the punishment of the Fire” [3:16]

They make intermediation to Allah by means of the blessings of Allah of giving them the accord to have al-eemaan that He would forgive them for their sins and protect them from the evil effects of their sins – which is the punishment of the Hell-fire -, and then He details the attributes of al-taqwa.

ـ { الصابرين } أنفسهم على ما يحبه الله من طاعته، وعن معصيته، وعلى أقداره المؤلمة، { والصادقين } في إيمانهم وأقوالهم وأحوالهم { والمنفقين } مما رزقهم الله بأنواع النفقات على المحاويج من الأقارب وغيرهم { والمستغفرين بالأسحار } لما بين صفاتهم الحميدة ذكر احتقارهم لأنفسهم وأنهم لا يرون لأنفسهم، حالا ولا مقاما، بل يرون أنفسهم مذنبين مقصرين فيستغفرون ربهم، ويتوقعون أوقات الإجابة وهي السحر، قال الحسن: مدوا الصلاة إلى السحر، ثم جلسوا يستغفرون ربهم . ـ


The patient ones [3:17]

those who make themselves steadfast upon what Allah loves of obedience to Him, and refraining from disobedience to Him, and in the face of His painful divine decrees,


the truthful ones [3:17]

in terms of their eemaan, their statements and their very conditions,


those who spend [3:17]

out of what Allah has provided for them of the various types of spending upon those in need of their near relatives and other than them,

وَالْمُسْتَغْفِرِ‌ينَ بِالْأَسْحَارِ

and those who seek forgiveness before dawn [3:17]

Once He has clarified their praiseworthy attributes, He mentioned their self-abasement and that they did not view themselves as having noble status or station; rather they viewed themselves as sinners and as falling short. So they seek the forgiveness of their Lord, and they eagerly await a time of responsiveness – which is before dawn. Al-Hasan (al-Basri) said, “They elongate their prayer until the time before dawn, then they sit and seek the forgiveness of their Lord.”

فتضمنت هذه الآيات حالة الناس في الدنيا وأنها متاع ينقضي، ثم وصف الجنة وما فيها من النعيم وفاضل بينهما، وفضل الآخرة على الدنيا تنبيها على أنه يجب إيثارها والعمل لها، ووصف أهل الجنة وهم المتقون، ثم فصل خصال التقوى، فبهذه الخصال يزن العبد نفسه، هل هو من أهل الجنة أم لا؟ ـ

So these ayaat contain the condition of mankind in their worldly life and that the worldly life is a temporary enjoyment which will expire, then He describes al-Jannah and what is in it of joys and surplus for them. And He gave preference to the Hereafter over the worldly life as an announcement that it is obligatory to prioritize it and to work for it. And He described the people of al-Jannah – and they are the muttaqoon -, then He detailed the qualities of al-taqwa, so the slave can evaluate himself by these qualities: is he from the people of al-Jannah or not?

[Taysir al-Kareem al-Rahman pg. 128-129]

See also: The Levels of the Believers: Tafsir al-Sa’di

See also: The rewards of obedience, and the different categories of people in respects to that: Tafsir al-Shinqitee

See also: Tafsir of Surah al-‘Asr: Imam al-Sa’di

See also: “And whoever becomes dim-sighted to the remembrance of al-Rahman…”: Tafsir al-Sa’di

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