“Only those who hear will respond”: Tafsir al-Tabari and Tafsir al-Sa’di

Allah says in surah al-An’aam:

إِنَّمَا يَسْتَجِيبُ الَّذِينَ يَسْمَعُونَ ۘ وَالْمَوْتَىٰ يَبْعَثُهُمُ اللَّـهُ ثُمَّ إِلَيْهِ يُرْجَعُونَ

Only those who hear will respond. But the dead – Allah will resurrect them; then to Him they will be returned. [6:36]

In his famous book of tafsir, Imam Abu Ja’far Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari commented on this ayah by writing:

 قال أبو جعفر : يقول – تعالى ذكره – لنبيه محمد – صلى الله عليه وسلم – : لا يكبرن عليك إعراض هؤلاء المعرضين عنك ، وعن الاستجابة لدعائك إذا دعوتهم إلى توحيد ربهم والإقرار بنبوتك ، فإنه لا يستجيب لدعائك – إلى ما تدعوه إليه من ذلك – إلا الذين فتح الله أسماعهم للإصغاء إلى الحق ، وسهل لهم اتباع الرشد ، دون من ختم الله على سمعه ، فلا يفقه من دعائك إياه إلى الله وإلى اتباع الحق إلا ما تفقه الأنعام من أصوات رعاتها ، فهم كما وصفهم به الله – تعالى ذكره – : صم بكم عمي فهم لا يعقلون [ سورة البقرة : 171 ] ـ

I, Abu Ja’far, say: Allah is addressing His Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) by saying: Do not be distressed by the rejection of these ones who turn away from you and from responding to your call when you call them to singling out their Lord in worship and affirming your prophet-hood. For none will respond to your call – that is, those things which you are calling to – except for those whom Allah has opened their hearing to listen to the truth and then made it easy for them to follow the correct guidance. This is to the exclusion of those whom Allah has placed a seal over their hearing, so they do not understand this call to worship Allah and to follow the truth, this call of yours which is directed to them. They do not understand it any more than cattle understand the voice of their herder. So they are like those whom Allah described in this way:

وَمَثَلُ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا كَمَثَلِ الَّذِي يَنْعِقُ بِمَا لَا يَسْمَعُ إِلَّا دُعَاءً وَنِدَاءً ۚ صُمٌّ بُكْمٌ عُمْيٌ فَهُمْ لَا يَعْقِلُونَ

And the example of those who disbelieve, is as that of him who shouts to those that that hear nothing but calls and cries. (They are) deaf, dumb and blind. So they do not understand. [2:171]

ـ” والموتى يبعثهم الله ” يقول : والكفار يبعثهم الله مع الموتى ، فجعلهم – تعالى ذكره – في عداد الموتى الذين لا يسمعون صوتا ، ولا يعقلون دعاء ، ولا يفقهون قولا إذ كانوا لا يتدبرون حجج الله ، ولا يعتبرون آياته ، ولا يتذكرون فينزجرون عما هم عليه من تكذيب رسل الله وخلافهم . ـ

وَالْمَوْتَىٰ يَبْعَثُهُمُ اللَّـهُ

But the dead – Allah will resurrect them

I say: Allah will resurrect the disbelievers along with the dead. So Allah counted the disbelievers among the dead – those who are not able to hear any voice, understand any call, or comprehend any discourse – since they do not ponder the proofs that Allah has given, nor do they take any lessons from His ayaat, nor are they admonished so as to restrain themselves from the denial and opposition that they engage in towards Allah’s messengers.

وَبِنَحْوِ الَّذِي قُلْنَا فِي ذَلِكَ قَالَ أَهْلُ التَّأْوِيلِ . ذِكْرُ مَنْ قَالَ ذَلِكَ :  ـ

And the experts in understanding the Qur’an have also said the likes of what I have said on this subject. What follows is a mention of those who have said these things:

ـ 13206 – حَدَّثَنِي مُحَمَّدُ بْنُ عَمْرٍو قَالَ : حَدَّثَنَا أَبُو عَاصِمٍ قَالَ : حَدَّثَنَا عِيسَى ، عَنِ ابْنِ أَبِي نَجِيحٍ ، عَنْ مُجَاهِدٍ : ” إِنَّمَا يَسْتَجِيبُ الَّذِينَ يَسْمَعُونَ ” الْمُؤْمِنُونَ لِلذِّكْرِ ” وَالْمَوْتَى ” الْكُفَّارُ ، حِينَ يَبْعَثُهُمُ اللَّهُ مَعَ الْمَوْتَى . ـ

ـ 13207 – حَدَّثَنِي الْمُثَنَّى قَالَ : حَدَّثَنَا أَبُو حُذَيْفَةَ قَالَ : حَدَّثَنَا شِبْلٌ ، عَنِ ابْنِ أَبِي نَجِيحٍ ، عَنْ مُجَاهِدٍ مِثْلَهُ . ـ

… Mujaahid said: “Only those who hear will respond” – meaning those who are believers in what is being said – “but the dead” – i.e. the disbelievers, when Allah will raise them upon along with the dead.

ـ 13208 – حَدَّثَنِي بِشْرُ بْنُ مُعَاذٍ قَالَ : حَدَّثَنَا يَزِيدُ قَالَ : حَدَّثَنَا سَعِيدٌ ، عَنْ قَتَادَةَ قَوْلَهُ : ” إِنَّمَا يَسْتَجِيبُ الَّذِينَ يَسْمَعُونَ ” قَالَ : هَذَا مَثَلُ الْمُؤْمِنِ ، سَمِعَ كِتَابَ اللَّهِ فَانْتَفَعَ بِهِ وَأَخَذَ بِهِ وَعَقَلَهُ . وَالَّذِينَ كَذَّبُوا بِآيَاتِنَا صُمٌّ وَبُكْمٌ ، وَهَذَا مَثَلُ الْكَافِرِ أَصَمُّ أَبْكَمُ ، لَا يُبْصِرُ هُدًى وَلَا يَنْتَفِعُ بِهِ . ـ

 … About the statement, “Only those who hear will respond“, Qataadah said: This is the example of the believer. He hears the Book of Allah and he benefits from it, takes hold of it, and comprehends it. But those who deny its ayaat are deaf and dumb. That is the example of the disbeliever, that he is the most deaf and dumb. He neither sees the guidance, nor does he benefit from it.

ـ 13209 – حَدَّثَنَا ابْنُ وَكِيعٍ قَالَ : حَدَّثَنَا أَبُو أُسَامَةَ ، عَنْ سُفْيَانَ الثَّوْرِيِّ ، عَنْ مُحَمَّدِ بْنِ جُحَادَةَ ، عَنِ الْحَسَنِ : ” إِنَّمَا يَسْتَجِيبُ الَّذِينَ يَسْمَعُونَ ” الْمُؤْمِنُونَ ” وَالْمَوْتَى ” قَالَ : الْكُفَّارُ . ـ

… al-Hasan al-Basri said: “Only those who hear will respond” are the believers, and “the dead” are the disbelievers.

ـ 13210 – حَدَّثَنِي ابْنُ بَشَّارٍ قَالَ : حَدَّثَنَا عَبْدُ الرَّحْمَنِ قَالَ : حَدَّثَنَا سُفْيَانُ ، عَنْ مُحَمَّدِ بْنِ جُحَادَةَ قَالَ : سَمِعْتُ الْحَسَنَ يَقُولُ فِي قَوْلِهِ : ” إِنَّمَا يَسْتَجِيبُ الَّذِينَ يَسْمَعُونَ وَالْمَوْتَى يَبْعَثُهُمُ اللَّهُ ” قَالَ : الْكُفَّارُ . ـ

… Muhamad ibn Juhaadah said: I heard al-Hasan say about the ayah:

إِنَّمَا يَسْتَجِيبُ الَّذِينَ يَسْمَعُونَ وَالْمَوْتَى يَبْعَثُهُمُ اللَّهُ

Only those who hear will respond. But the dead – Allah will resurrect them

“they are the disbelievers”.

 وأما قوله : ” ثم إليه يرجعون ” فإنه يقول – تعالى ذكره – : ثم إلى الله يرجع المؤمنون الذين استجابوا لله والرسول ، والكفار الذين يحول الله بينهم وبين أن يفقهوا عنك شيئا ، فيثيب هذا المؤمن على ما سلف من صالح عمله في الدنيا بما وعد أهل الإيمان به من الثواب ، ويعاقب هذا الكافر بما أوعد أهل الكفر به من العقاب ، لا يظلم أحدا منهم مثقال ذرة . ـ

As for Allah’s statement:

ثُمَّ إِلَيْهِ يُرْجَعُونَ

then to Him they will be returned.

Then Allah is saying: then the believers who responded to Allah and His Messenger will return to Allah, as will the disbelievers upon whom Allah placed a barrier between them and understanding anything that you brought. So the believer will be rewarded for the righteous good deeds that he had done during his worldly life with the rewards that Allah has promised for the people of eemaan, and the disbeliever will be punished with the punishment which Allah had threatened the people of disbelief. And He will not wrong any of them in the least bit.

[Tafsir al-Tabari 11/342-343]

Sheikh ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn Naasir al-Sa’di also included some further benefits in his commentary of this ayah, as follows:

يقول تعالى لنبيه صلى الله عليه وسلم: { إِنَّمَا يَسْتَجِيبُ } لدعوتك، ويلبي رسالتك، وينقاد لأمرك ونهيك { الَّذِينَ يَسْمَعُونَ } بقلوبهم ما ينفعهم، وهم أولو الألباب والأسماع. والمراد بالسماع هنا: سماع القلب والاستجابة، وإلا فمجرد سماع الأذن، يشترك فيه البر والفاجر. فكل المكلفين قد قامت عليهم حجة الله تعالى، باستماع آياته، فلم يبق لهم عذر، في عدم القبول. ـ

Allah is saying to His Prophet (ﷺ):

إِنَّمَا يَسْتَجِيبُ

The only ones who will respond…

i.e. respond to your call and accept your message and submit to your commands and prohibitions.

الَّذِينَ يَسْمَعُونَ

…are those who hear

with their hearts and thereby benefit. These are the people of intellect and hearing. And the intended meaning of “hearing” here is: the hearing of the heart and responding. For otherwise, the mere hearing of the ears is something which is common to the righteous ones and evil ones alike. So every legally responsible individual has had the proof of Allah established upon him through hearing His ayaat, so no excuse for not accepting these proofs remains for them.

ـ { وَالْمَوْتَى يَبْعَثُهُمُ اللَّهُ ثُمَّ إِلَيْهِ يُرْجَعُونَ } يحتمل أن المعنى، مقابل للمعنى المذكور. أي: إنما يستجيب لك أحياء القلوب، وأما أموات القلوب، الذين لا يشعرون بسعادتهم، ولا يحسون بما ينجيهم، فإنهم لا يستجيبون لك، ولا ينقادون، وموعدهم القيامة، يبعثهم الله ثم إليه يرجعون، ويحتمل أن المراد بالآية، على ظاهرها، وأن الله تعالى يقرر المعاد، وأنه سيبعث الأموات يوم القيامة ثم ينبئهم بما كانوا يعملون. ويكون هذا، متضمنا للترغيب في الاستجابة لله ورسوله، والترهيب من عدم ذلك. ـ

وَالْمَوْتَى يَبْعَثُهُمُ اللَّهُ ثُمَّ إِلَيْهِ يُرْجَعُونَ

But the dead – Allah will resurrect them; then to Him they will be returned.

The meaning of this can be interpreted in two different ways. It could be interpreted in contrast to what was previously mentioned. Meaning: The only ones who respond to you are those whose hearts are alive, but as for those whose hearts are dead – those who do not feel any happiness nor do they sense any way out -, then they do not respond to you, nor do they submit. Their ultimate destination is the Standing before their Lord; Allah will raise them and then they will return to Him.

 ويحتمل أن المراد بالآية، على ظاهرها، وأن الله تعالى يقرر المعاد، وأنه سيبعث الأموات يوم القيامة ثم ينبئهم بما كانوا يعملون. ويكون هذا، متضمنا للترغيب في الاستجابة لله ورسوله، والترهيب من عدم ذلك. ـ

And the intended meaning of this ayah could be interpreted at its face value: that Allah has fixed a time of return, and that He will resurrect the dead on the Day of Judgement and then He will inform them of what they used to do. And this entails encouraging the people to respond to Allah and His Messenger, and discouraging them from not doing that.

[Taysir al-Kareem al-Rahman pg. 283]

See also: The Two Types of those who Believe in the Qur’an: Imam al-Sa’di

See also: Those who do not witness al-Zoor: Tafsir al-Tabari

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