Ashaab al-Aykah and the People of Shu’aib: Tafsir ibn Kathir

Allah begins recounts the story of His prophet Shu’aib in surah al-Shu’araa’ by saying:

كَذَّبَ أَصْحَابُ الْأَيْكَةِ الْمُرْسَلِينَ * إِذْ قَالَ لَهُمْ شُعَيْبٌ أَلَا تَتَّقُونَ

The Ashaab al-Aykah denied the messengers * when Shu’aib said to them, “Won’t you have taqwaa?” [26:176-177]

al-Haafidh Ismaa’eel ibn Kathir mentioned the following point in his discussion of these verses:

 هؤلاء – أعني أصحاب الأيكة – هم أهل مدين على الصحيح . وكان نبي الله شعيب من أنفسهم ، وإنما لم يقل هنا أخوهم شعيب ; لأنهم نسبوا إلى عبادة الأيكة ، وهي شجرة . وقيل : شجر ملتف كالغيضة ، كانوا يعبدونها ; فلهذا لما قال : كذب أصحاب الأيكة المرسلين ، لم يقل : ” إذ قال لهم أخوهم شعيب ” ، وإنما قال : ( إذ قال لهم شعيب ) ، فقطع نسبة الأخوة بينهم ; للمعنى الذي نسبوا إليه ، وإن كان أخاهم نسبا . ومن الناس من لم يتفطن لهذه النكتة ، فظن أن أصحاب الأيكة غير أهل مدين ، فزعم أن شعيبا عليه السلام ، بعثه الله إلى أمتين ، ومنهم من قال : ثلاث أمم . … والصحيح أنهم أمة واحدة ، وصفوا في كل مقام بشيء ; ولهذا وعظ هؤلاء وأمرهم بوفاء المكيال والميزان ، كما في قصة مدين سواء بسواء ، فدل ذلك على أنهم أمة واحدة . ـ

These people – meaning the Ashaab al-Aykah [the People of the Thicket] – are the people of the city of Madyan according to the correct opinion. The prophet of Allah Shu’aib was one of them, and the only reason why he is not referred to here as “their brother Shu’aib” is because here they are being described in relation to their worship of the aykah, which is a sort of tree – and some say it is a twisted sort of tree like a thicket -, which they used to worship.

So it is because of this that when Allah said, “The Ashaab al-Aykah denied the messengers“, He did not then say, “when their brother Shu’aib said to them…”, but instead said, “when Shu’aib said to them…“. So He cut off the relationship of brotherhood between Shu’aib and his people in the sense of them being referred to as “his people” even though he was in fact related to them as their brother.

However there are some people who did not perceive this subtle point, and as a result they thought that the Ashaab al-Aykah were not the same people as the People of Madyan. So, these people alleged that Allah sent  Shu’aib (may Allah’s peace be upon him) to two different nations, and some people even said that He sent him to three different nations.

[Ibn Kathir next provided several examples of these claims, along with their chains of narration, which we have omitted from the translation]

But the correct position is that the Ashaab al-Aykah and the People of Madyan are one and the same nation, as they are characterized in the same way every time they are mentioned. This is why Allah exhorts and commands the Ashaab al-Aykah to be truthful in their weighing and measuring out the proper amounts in their business transactions [see 26:181], exactly as in the story of Madyan. So this indicates that they are all one and the same people.

[Tafsir ibn Kathir 6/159-160]

And sheikh ‘Abd al-‘Aziz al-Raajihi also spoke about this issue, paraphrasing from ibn Kathir:

قال الله تعالى :   كَذَّبَ أَصْحَابُ الْأَيْكَةِ الْمُرْسَلِينَ إِذْ قَالَ لَهُمْ شُعَيْبٌ أَلَا تَتَّقُونَ  لم يقل الله هنا : إذا يقل لهم أخوهم شعيب ؛ لأنه نسبهم وأضافهم إلى عبادة الأيكة وهي الشجر ، فلما أضافهم إلى عبادة الأوثان ، لم ينسب شعيب إلى أخوتهم ، بخلاف قوله تعالى :   وَإِلَى مَدْيَنَ أَخَاهُمْ شُعَيْبًا فإن مدين اسم للقبيلة واسم أيضًا للبلدة ، فأخبر أن شعيبًا أخاهم ، والمراد الأخوة في النسب ، كما قال في المرسلين نوح وهود وصالح ولوط   إِذْ قَالَ لَهُمْ أَخُوهُمْ نُوحٌ   إِذْ قَالَ لَهُمْ أَخُوهُمْ هُودٌ – إِذْ قَالَ لَهُمْ أَخُوهُمْ صَالِحٌ – إِذْ قَالَ لَهُمْ أَخُوهُمْ لُوطٌ – والمراد : الأخوة في النسب . قاله شيخنا نقلا عن ابن كثير . ـ

Allah said:

كَذَّبَ أَصْحَابُ الْأَيْكَةِ الْمُرْسَلِينَ * إِذْ قَالَ لَهُمْ شُعَيْبٌ أَلَا تَتَّقُونَ

The Ashaab al-Aykah denied the messengers * when Shu’aib said to them, “Won’t you have taqwaa?” [26:176-177]

In this instance, Allah did not say, “when their brother Shu’aib said to them…” because they are being characterized by their worship of the Aykah – which is a sort of tree – and are being associated with that. So when they are being associated with the worship of an idol, then Shu’aib is not described by his relationship to his relatives. This is in contrast to Allah’s statement:

وَإِلَىٰ مَدْيَنَ أَخَاهُمْ شُعَيْبًا

And to Madyan We sent their brother Shu’aib. [7:85]

because Madyan is the name of a tribe, and it is also the name of a city. So in that case, Allah tells us that Shu’aib is their brother, and the intended meaning of brotherhood here is familial relative. This is like what Allah said regarding the messengers Nuh, Hud, Saalih, and Lut:

إِذْ قَالَ لَهُمْ أَخُوهُمْ نُوحٌ

When their brother Nuh said to them … [26:106]

إِذْ قَالَ لَهُمْ أَخُوهُمْ هُودٌ

When their brother Hud said to them … [26:124]

إِذْ قَالَ لَهُمْ أَخُوهُمْ صَالِحٌ

When their brother Saalih said to them … [26:142]

إِذْ قَالَ لَهُمْ أَخُوهُمْ لُوطٌ

When their brother Lut said to them … [26:161]

and the intended meaning in these is: brotherhood in terms of lineage.

[Fawaa’id min Tafsir min Kalaam al-Sheikh ‘Abd al-‘Aziz al-Raajihi #4. And the transcriber mentioned at the end that the sheikh took this point from ibn Kathir.]

See also: The Orator of the Anbiya: Tafsir al-Sa’di

See also: The two blindnesses and deafnesses of Banu Israa’eel: Imam al-Shinqitee

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2 thoughts on “Ashaab al-Aykah and the People of Shu’aib: Tafsir ibn Kathir

  1. Pingback: The Orator of the Anbiya: Tafsir al-Sa’di | Tulayhah

  2. Pingback: Whoever Denies One Messenger has Denied Them All: Tafsir al-Shinqitee | Tulayhah

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