Those who neglect the prayers and pursue desires: Tafsir al-Shawkaani

In surah Maryam, Allah mentions a series of Prophets, and then describes some of their descendants by saying:

فَخَلَفَ مِن بَعْدِهِمْ خَلْفٌ أَضَاعُوا الصَّلَاةَ وَاتَّبَعُوا الشَّهَوَاتِ ۖ فَسَوْفَ يَلْقَوْنَ غَيًّا * إِلَّا مَن تَابَ وَآمَنَ وَعَمِلَ صَالِحًا فَأُولَـٰئِكَ يَدْخُلُونَ الْجَنَّةَ وَلَا يُظْلَمُونَ شَيْئًا

But there came after them successors who neglected prayer and pursued desires; so they are going to meet evil * Except those who repent, believe and do righteousness; for those will enter Paradise and will not be wronged at all. [19:59-60]

Sheikh Muhammad al-Shawkaani commented on this in his book of tafsir by writing:

ولما مدح هؤلاء الأنبياء بهذه الأوصاف ترغيبا لغيرهم في الاقتداء بهم وسلوك طريقتهم ذكر أضدادهم تنفيرا للناس عن طريقتهم فقال : فخلف من بعدهم خلف أي : عقب سوء . قال أهل اللغة : يقال لعقب الخير خلف بفتح اللام ، ولعقب الشر خلف بسكون اللام ، وقد قدمنا الكلام على هذا في آخر الأعراف أضاعوا الصلاة قال الأكثر : معنى ذلك أنهم أخروها عن وقتها ، وقيل : أضاعوا الوقت وقيل : كفروا بها وجحدوا وجوبها ، وقيل : لم يأتوا بها على الوجه المشروع . ـ

So after Allah had praised these prophets by mentioning these qualities as a means to encourage others to emulate them and follow in their footsteps, He then mentioned their opposites as a means to discourage people from their ways. So He said:

فَخَلَفَ مِن بَعْدِهِمْ خَلْفٌ

But there came after them successors

meaning: evil ones came after them. And experts in the language say: If you want to say that good followed something, then you say khalafun with a fathah on the letter laam, while if you want to say evil followed something, then you say khalfun with a sukoon on the letter laam. And we have already spoken about this in the end of surah al-Aa’raaf. 

أَضَاعُوا الصَّلَاةَ

who neglected the prayer

The majority say that the meaning of this is that they delayed the prayers from their proper times. And this is like the phrase, “they neglected the time/let the time slip away”

And some say it means: they disputed and disbelieved in the obligatory nature of the prayer.

And some say it means: they did not perform it in the proper legislated manner.

والظاهر أن من أخر الصلاة عن وقتها أو ترك فرضا من فروضها أو شرطا من شروطها أو ركنا من أركانها فقد أضاعها ، ويدخل تحت الإضاعة من تركها بالمرة أو جحدها دخولا أوليا . ـ

And what is apparent is that whoever delays the prayer from its proper time, or abandons one of its obligatory matters, conditions, or pillars has indeed neglected it. And leaving off the prayer sometimes or disputing its obligation are also most fitting to be included under ‘neglecting the prayer’.

واختلفوا فيمن نزلت هذه الآية ؟ فقيل : في اليهود ، وقيل : في النصارى ، وقيل : في قوم من أمة محمد – صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم – يأتون في آخر الزمان ، ومعنى واتبعوا الشهوات أي : فعلوا ما تشتهيه أنفسهم وترغب إليه من المحرمات كشرب الخمر والزنا فسوف يلقون غيا الغي هو الشر عند أهل اللغة كما أن الخير هو الرشاد . ـ

And there have been different opinions as to who this ayah was revealed regarding. Some say it is referring to the Jews, and some say it is referring to the Christians, and some say it refers to a people from the ummah of Muhammad (ﷺ) who will come at the end of times.

And the meaning of:

وَاتَّبَعُوا الشَّهَوَاتِ

and pursued desires

is that they acted according to the desires of their lower selves which longed for the forbidden things, such as drinking alcohol and adultery/fornication.

فَسَوْفَ يَلْقَوْنَ غَيًّا

so they are going to meet ghayy

al-Ghayy [lit. “error”] means al-sharr [evil] according to the language experts, just as al-khair [good] is referred to by al-rashaad [right guidance].

والمعنى : أنهم سيلقون شرا لا خيرا ، وقيل : الغي الضلال ، وقيل : الخيبة ، وقيل : هو اسم واد في جهنم ، وقيل : في الكلام حذف ، والتقدير : سسيلقون جزاء الغي . كذا قال الزجاج ، ومثله قوله سبحانه : يلق أثاما [ الفرقان : 68 ] أي : جزاء أثام . ـ

And the meaning of this is, “They are going to meet evil, not good”. And some say al-Ghayy is “misguidance”, while others say “failure”, while still others say it is the name of a valley in al-Jahannam. And some say that there is ellipsis in this statement, and its full meaning is, “They will meet the recompense of al-Ghayy“, as al-Zujaaj said. And something similar to this comes in Allah’s statement:

يَلْقَ أَثَامًا

he shall meet sin

i.e. the recompense for sin.

إلا من تاب وآمن وعمل صالحا أي : تاب مما فرط منه من تضييع الصلوات واتباع الشهوات فرجع إلى طاعة الله وآمن به وعمل عملا صالحا ، وفي هذا الاستثناء دليل على أن الآية في الكفرة لا في المسلمين فأولئك يدخلون الجنة قرأ أبو جعفر وشيبة وابن كثير وابن محيصن وأبو عمرو ويعقوب وأبو بكر ( يدخلون ) بضم الياء وفتح الخاء ، وقرأ الباقون بفتح الياء وضم الخاء ولا يظلمون شيئا أي : لا ينقص من أجورهم شيء وإن كان قليلا ، فإن الله سبحانه يوفي إليهم أجورهم . ـ

إِلَّا مَن تَابَ وَآمَنَ وَعَمِلَ صَالِحًا 

Except those who repent, believe and do righteousness

meaning: they repent from neglecting the prayers and pursuing desires which they used to do and then return to obedience to Allah, believing in Him and performing acts of righteousness. And this exception contains a proof that this ayah is referring to the disbelievers, not to the Muslims.

فَأُولَـٰئِكَ يَدْخُلُونَ الْجَنَّةَ 

for those will enter Paradise

[a short discussion of the different recitations of this ayah has been omitted from this translation].

وَلَا يُظْلَمُونَ شَيْئًا

and will not be wronged at all

meaning: there will be no decrease in their rewards at all, even if their rewards are few, for Allah will pay them their rewards in full.

[Fath al-Qadeer pg. 894]

See also: Performing the Prayers in their Proper Times: Tafsir al-Sa’di

See also: The great blessing of being a guiding leader: Tafsir al-Sa’di

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