A Parable of the Disbelievers and the Believers: Tafsir al-Tabari

Allah strikes the following parable in surah Hud:

مَثَلُ الْفَرِيقَيْنِ كَالْأَعْمَىٰ وَالْأَصَمِّ وَالْبَصِيرِ وَالسَّمِيعِ ۚ هَلْ يَسْتَوِيَانِ مَثَلًا ۚ أَفَلَا تَذَكَّرُونَ

The example of the two parties is like the blind and the deaf, and the seeing and the hearing. Are these two equal in comparison? Will you not then remember? [11:24]

Imam Abu Ja’far Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari wrote the following in his tafsir of this ayah:

قَالَ أَبُو جَعْفَرٍ : يَقُولُ ، تَعَالَى ذِكْرُهُ : مَثَلُ فَرِيقَيِ الْكُفْرِ وَالْإِيمَانِ كَمَثَلِ الْأَعْمَى الَّذِي لَا يَرَى بِعَيْنِهِ شَيْئًا ، وَالْأَصَمِّ الَّذِي لَا يَسْمَعُ شَيْئًا ، فَكَذَلِكَ فَرِيقُ الْكُفْرِ لَا يُبَصِّرُ الْحَقَّ فَيَتَّبِعُهُ وَيَعْمَلُ بِهِ ، لِشَغْلِهِ بِكُفْرِهِ بِاللَّهِ ، وَغَلَبَةِ خِذْلَانِ اللَّهِ عَلَيْهِ ، لَا يَسْمَعُ دَاعِيَ اللَّهِ إِلَى الرَّشَادِ ، فَيُجِيبُهُ إِلَى الْهُدَى فَيَهْتَدِي بِهِ ، فَهُوَ مُقِيمٌ فِي ضَلَالَتِهِ ، يَتَرَدَّدُ فِي حَيْرَتِهِ . وَالسَّمِيعُ وَالْبَصِيرُ فَذَلِكَ فَرِيقُ الْإِيمَانِ ، أَبْصَرَ حُجَجَ اللَّهِ ، وَأَقَرَّ بِمَا دَلَّتْ عَلَيْهِ مِنْ تَوْحِيدِ اللَّهِ ، وَالْبَرَاءَةِ مِنَ الْآلِهَةِ وَالْأَنْدَادِ ، وَنُبُوَّةَ الْأَنْبِيَاءِ عَلَيْهِمُ السَّلَامُ ، وَسَمِعَ دَاعِيَ اللَّهِ فَأَجَابَهُ وَعَمِلَ بِطَاعَةِ اللَّهِ ، كَمَا : ـ

I, Abu Ja’far, say: Allah is saying: The comparison of these two parties – that of disbelief and that of belief – is like the comparison of a blind person whose eyes cannot see anything at all and a deaf person who cannot hear anything, for similarly, those in the party of disbelief cannot see the truth that they might follow and act according to it due to how distracted they are with their disbelief in Allah and because their act of forsaking Allah has come back against them. They do not hear Allah’s callers calling them to upright guidance so that they might accept that guidance and become rightly guided by it. Instead they remain in their misguided state, stuck in a perpetual state of confusion.

But the seeing and hearing one is the party of belief. They see Allah’s signs and proofs and therefore affirm that these signs demonstrate Allah’s sole right to be worshiped, His freedom from having any partners or associates, and His having sent prophets. They hear Allah’s callers and respond to the call and obey Allah.

This explanation is similar to the explanations of the salaf, such as:

ـ 18102 – حَدَّثَنَا الْقَاسِمُ قَالَ : حَدَّثَنَا الْحُسَيْنُ قَالَ : حَدَّثَنَا حَجَّاجٌ عَنِ ابْنِ جُرَيْجٍ قَالَ : قَالَ ابْنُ عَبَّاسٍ : ( مَثَلُ الْفَرِيقَيْنِ كَالْأَعْمَى وَالْأَصَمِّ وَالْبَصِيرِ وَالسَّمِيعِ ) [ ص: 292 ] ، قَالَ : ” الْأَعْمَى وَالْأَصَمُّ ” الْكَافِرُ ، وَ ” الْبَصِيرُ وَالسَّمِيعُ ” الْمُؤْمِنُ

… ibn ‘Abbaas said about this ayah: The blind and deaf are the disbelievers, while the seeing and hearing are the believers.

ـ 18103 – حَدَّثَنِي الْمُثَنَّى قَالَ : حَدَّثَنَا أَبُو حُذَيْفَةَ قَالَ : حَدَّثَنَا شِبْلٌ عَنِ ابْنِ أَبِي نَجِيحٍ عَنْ مُجَاهِدٍ : ( مَثَلُ الْفَرِيقَيْنِ كَالْأَعْمَى وَالْأَصَمِّ وَالْبَصِيرِ وَالسَّمِيعِ ) ، الْفَرِيقَانِ الْكَافِرَانِ ، وَالْمُؤْمِنَانِ ، فَأَمَّا الْأَعْمَى وَالْأَصَمُّ فَالْكَافِرَانِ ، وَأَمَّا الْبَصِيرُ وَالسَّمِيعُ فَهُمَا الْمُؤْمِنَانِ

… Mujahid said about this ayah: The two parties are the disbelievers and the believers. The blind and deaf are the disbelievers, while the seeing and hearing are the believers.

ـ 18104 – حَدَّثَنَا بِشْرٌ قَالَ : حَدَّثَنَا يَزِيدُ قَالَ : حَدَّثَنَا سَعِيدٌ عَنْ قَتَادَةَ : ( مَثَلُ الْفَرِيقَيْنِ كَالْأَعْمَى وَالْأَصَمِّ وَالْبَصِيرِ وَالسَّمِيعِ ) ، الْآيَةَ ، هَذَا مَثَلٌ ضَرَبَهُ اللَّهُ لِلْكَافِرِ وَالْمُؤْمِنِ ، فَأَمَّا الْكَافِرُ فَصَمَّ عَنِ الْحَقِّ ، فَلَا يَسْمَعُهُ ، وَعَمِيَ عَنْهُ فَلَا يُبْصِرُهُ . وَأَمَّا الْمُؤْمِنُ فَسَمِعَ الْحَقَّ فَانْتَفَعَ بِهِ ، وَأَبْصَرَهُ فَوَعَاهُ وَحَفِظَهُ وَعَمِلَ بِهِ

… Qatadah said about this ayah: This is a parable that Allah struck about the disbelievers and the believers. The disbeliever is deaf to the truth such that he does not hear it, blind to the truth such that he does not see it. On the other hand, the believer hears the truth and therefore benefits from it, and he sees the truth and therefore takes it in, commits it to memory and acts accordingly.

يَقُولُ تَعَالَى : ( هَلْ يَسْتَوِيَانِ مَثَلًا ) ، يَقُولُ : هَلْ يَسْتَوِي هَذَانَ الْفَرِيقَانِ عَلَى اخْتِلَافِ حَالَتَيْهِمَا فِي أَنْفُسِهِمَا عِنْدَكُمْ أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ ؟ فَإِنَّهُمَا لَا يَسْتَوِيَانِ عِنْدَكُمْ ، فَكَذَلِكَ حَالُ الْكَافِرِ وَالْمُؤْمِنِ لَا يَسْتَوِيَانِ عِنْدَ اللَّهِ ( أَفَلَا تَذَكَّرُونَ ) ، يَقُولُ جَلَّ ثَنَاؤُهُ : أَفَلَا تَعْتَبِرُونَ أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ وَتَتَفَكَّرُونَ ، فَتَعْلَمُوا حَقِيقَةَ اخْتِلَافِ أَمْرَيْهِمَا ، فَتَنْزَجِرُوا عَمَّا أَنْتُمْ عَلَيْهِ مِنَ الضَّلَالِ إِلَى الْهُدَى ، وَمِنَ الْكُفْرِ إِلَى الْإِيمَانِ . ـ

Allah says:

هَلْ يَسْتَوِيَانِ مَثَلًا

Are these two equal in comparison?

He is saying: O people, do you consider these two parties equal despite the different conditions that they have? You most certainly would not consider them equal. Likewise, the disbeliever and believer are not equal in the sight of Allah.

أَفَلَا تَذَكَّرُونَ

Will you not then remember?

Allah is saying: O people, won’t you take a lesson from this and reflect? Through this you should recognize the marked disparity between these two conditions and find yourselves rebuked and moved to leave the misguidance that you follow now to instead follow the true guidance, to leave disbelief and become believers.

فَالْأَعْمَى وَالْأَصَمُّ ، وَالْبَصِيرُ وَالسَّمِيعُ ، فِي اللَّفْظِ أَرْبَعَةٌ ، وَفِي الْمَعْنَى اثْنَانِ . وَلِذَلِكَ قِيلَ : ( هَلْ يَسْتَوِيَانِ مَثَلًا ) . ـ

Note that there are four words – blind, deaf, seeing, and hearing – but they can be grouped into two categories. That is why the wording is:

هَلْ يَسْتَوِيَانِ مَثَلًا

Are these two equal in comparison?

وَقِيلَ : ( كَالْأَعْمَى وَالْأَصَمِّ ) ، وَالْمَعْنَى : كَالْأَعْمَى الْأَصَمِّ ، وَكَذَلِكَ قِيلَ ( وَالْبَصِيرِ وَالسَّمِيعِ ) ، وَالْمَعْنَى : الْبَصِيرُ السَّمِيعُ ، كَقَوْلِ الْقَائِلِ : ” قَامَ الظَّرِيفُ وَالْعَاقِلُ ” وَهُوَ يَنْعَتُ بِذَلِكَ شَخْصًا وَاحِدًا . ـ

Some explained this by saying that

كَالْأَعْمَى وَالْأَصَمِّ

… like the blind and the deaf …

is referring to someone who is both blind and deaf. Likewise

وَالْبَصِيرِ وَالسَّمِيعِ

… and the seeing and the hearing …

is referring to someone who has both his sight and hearing. This is like if someone were to say, “A charmer and an intellect stood up,” while both descriptions are referring to one single person.

[Tafsir al-Tabari 15/292]

Explore more Parables of the Qur’an here: Parables of the Qur’an Article Index

Read more from surah Hud here: Surah Hud articles

3 thoughts on “A Parable of the Disbelievers and the Believers: Tafsir al-Tabari

    • Ameen!

      Yes, what an amazing tafsir he wrote! Later this month we will publish a post entitled “Praise for Tafsir al-Tabari from Great Scholars of the Past”, including words from al-Suyooti, al-Nawawi, ibn Hajr and al-Dhahabi that you may enjoy

  1. Pingback: A Living Heart and a Light to Walk by: Tafsir ibn Kathir | Tulayhah

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