Deeds Like a Mirage: Tafsir al-Qurtubi & al-Sa’di

Allah strikes a parable in surah al-Noor when He says:

وَالَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا أَعْمَالُهُمْ كَسَرَابٍ بِقِيعَةٍ يَحْسَبُهُ الظَّمْآنُ مَاءً حَتَّىٰ إِذَا جَاءَهُ لَمْ يَجِدْهُ شَيْئًا وَوَجَدَ اللَّهَ عِندَهُ فَوَفَّاهُ حِسَابَهُ ۗ وَاللَّهُ سَرِيعُ الْحِسَابِ

And those who disbelieve, their deeds are like a mirage on a flat expanse of land. A thirsty person thinks it is water until, when he reaches it, he finds that it is nothing. But he finds Allah in front of Him, and He will then pay him his due. And Allah is quick in reckoning. [24:39]

Commenting on this, al-Qurtubi wrote:

وهذا مثل ضربه الله تعالى للكفار ، يعولون على ثواب أعمالهم فإذا قدموا على الله تعالى وجدوا ثواب أعمالهم محبطة بالكفر ؛ أي لم يجدوا شيئا كما لم يجد صاحب السراب إلا أرضا لا ماء فيها ؛ فهو يهلك أو يموت

Allah struck this parable regarding the disbelievers; they are confident that they will be rewarded for their actions, but then when they come before Allah, they find that the rewards of their actions were nullified by disbelief. In other words, they do not find anything there, just as the person chasing a mirage only finds land with no water and will therefore perish or die.

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A Parable of Spending to Be Seen: Tafsir al-Sa’di

Allah says in surah al-Baqarah:

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا لَا تُبْطِلُوا صَدَقَاتِكُم بِالْمَنِّ وَالْأَذَىٰ كَالَّذِي يُنفِقُ مَالَهُ رِئَاءَ النَّاسِ وَلَا يُؤْمِنُ بِاللَّهِ وَالْيَوْمِ الْآخِرِ ۖ فَمَثَلُهُ كَمَثَلِ صَفْوَانٍ عَلَيْهِ تُرَابٌ فَأَصَابَهُ وَابِلٌ فَتَرَكَهُ صَلْدًا ۖ لَّا يَقْدِرُونَ عَلَىٰ شَيْءٍ مِّمَّا كَسَبُوا ۗ وَاللَّهُ لَا يَهْدِي الْقَوْمَ الْكَافِرِينَ

O you who have believed, do not ruin your charity with reminders or injury as does one who spends his wealth to be seen by the people and does not believe in Allah and the Last Day. His example is like that of a smooth stone upon which is dirt. It is then hit by a downpour that leaves it bare. They are unable to keep anything of what they have earned. And Allah does not guide the disbelieving people. [2:264]

Commenting on this parable in his famous book of tafsir, sheikh ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Sa’di wrote:

ـ { فتركه صلدا } أي: ليس عليه شيء من التراب، فكذلك حال هذا المرائي، قلبه غليظ قاس بمنزلة الصفوان، وصدقته ونحوها من أعماله بمنزلة التراب الذي على الصفوان، إذا رآه الجاهل بحاله ظن أنه أرض زكية قابلة للنبات، فإذا انكشفت حقيقة حاله زال ذلك التراب وتبين أن عمله بمنزلة السراب، وأن قلبه غير صالح لنبات الزرع وزكائه عليه، بل الرياء الذي فيه والإرادات الخبيثة تمنع من انتفاعه بشيء من عمله، فلهذا { لا يقدرون على شيء } من أعمالهم التي اكتسبوها، لأنهم وضعوها في غير موضعها وجعلوها لمخلوق مثلهم، لا يملك لهم ضررا ولا نفعا وانصرفوا عن عبادة من تنفعهم عبادته، فصرف الله قلوبهم عن الهداية، فلهذا قال: { والله لا يهدي القوم الكافرين }ـ

فَتَرَكَهُ صَلْدًا

… that leaves it bare …

meaning: it does not retain any dirt at all. This is the same situation as one who only does deeds to be seen and praised by others: his heart is coarse and hard like a large stone, and his charity and other deeds are like the dirt resting on this stone. When someone who doesn’t know its reality sees it, he would think that it is solid earth ripe for planting and growing. But when its reality is made clear, that dirt will be washed away. This parable clearly shows that his deeds are like a mirage and that his heart is not suitable for growing anything. In fact, the desire to be seen by others in this heart and these corrupt intentions prevent him from deriving any benefit from his deeds. That is why

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Responding to Claims about the Origin of the Qur’an: Tafsir al-Sa’di

Sheikh ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Sa’di wrote the following in part of his tafsir of surah al-Nahl:

فَإِذَا قَرَأْتَ الْقُرْآنَ فَاسْتَعِذْ بِاللَّهِ مِنَ الشَّيْطَانِ الرَّجِيمِ * إِنَّهُ لَيْسَ لَهُ سُلْطَانٌ عَلَى الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَعَلَى رَبِّهِمْ يَتَوَكَّلُونَ * إِنَّمَا سُلْطَانُهُ عَلَى الَّذِينَ يَتَوَلَّوْنَهُ وَالَّذِينَ هُمْ بِهِ مُشْرِكُونَ

So when you recite the Qur’an, seek refuge in Allah from the rejected shaytaan * he has no authority over those who believe and who place their trust in their Lord * his authority is only over those who turn to him and those who associate partners with Him [16:98-100]

أي: فإذا أردت القراءة لكتاب الله الذي هو أشرف الكتب وأجلها، وفيه صلاح القلوب والعلوم الكثيرة؛ فإن الشيطان أحرص ما يكون على العبد عند شروعه في الأمور الفاضلة، فيسعى في صرفه عن مقاصدها ومعانيها، فالطريق إلى السلامة من شره الالتجاء إلى الله، والاستعاذة به من شره، فيقول القارئ:” أعوذ بالله من الشيطان الرجيم” متدبرا لمعناها، معتمدا بقلبه على الله في صرفه عنه، مجتهدا في دفع وسواسه وأفكاره الرديئة، مجتهدا على السبب الأقوى في دفعه، وهو التحلي بحلية الإيمان والتوكل، فإن الشيطان ليس له سلطان أي: تسلط على الذين آمنوا وعلى ربهم وحده لا شريك له يتوكلون فيدفع الله عن المؤمنين المتوكلين عليه شر الشيطان ولا يبقى له عليهم سبيل. ـ

In other words, when you want to recite the Book of Allah – which is the most noble and honored book, and which contains the rectification of hearts and abundant knowledge -, then the Shaytaan is most eager to attack the worshiper as he embarks upon virtuous actions, and so he works hard to twist the person away from the objectives and messages of the Qur’an. The way to be saved from his harm is to take refuge with Allah and to seek protection in Him from the shaytaan‘s evil. So the reciter will say:

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How to Receive Allah’s Mercy: Tafsir al-Sa’di

Near the end of surah al-An’aam, Allah describes His Book by saying:

وَهَٰذَا كِتَابٌ أَنزَلْنَاهُ مُبَارَكٌ فَاتَّبِعُوهُ وَاتَّقُوا لَعَلَّكُمْ تُرْحَمُونَ

And this is a blessed Book which We have sent down, so follow it and have taqwa so that you may receive mercy. [6:155]

Commenting on this ayah, sheikh ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Sa’di wrote:

فيه الخير الكثير والعلم الغزير، وهو الذي تستمد منه سائر العلوم، وتستخرج منه البركات، فما من خير إلا وقد دعا إليه ورغب فيه، وذكر الحكم والمصالح التي تحث عليه، وما من شر إلا وقد نهى عنه وحذر منه، وذكر الأسباب المنفرة عن فعله وعواقبها الوخيمة { فَاتَّبِعُوهُ } فيما يأمر به وينهى، وابنوا أصول دينكم وفروعه عليه { وَاتَّقُوا } الله تعالى أن تخالفوا له أمرا { لَعَلَّكُمْ } إن اتبعتموه { تُرْحَمُونَ } فأكبر سبب لنيل رحمة الله اتباع هذا الكتاب، علما وعملا.

The Qur’an contains abundant good and is rich in knowledge, for all other knowledge is derived from it and blessings come from it. There is no good that it does not call to and promote, and it mentions the underlying wisdoms and benefits that it encourages. There is no evil that is does not prohibit and warn against, and it mentions the factors which would discourage committing those deeds and their terrible outcomes.

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The Parable of the Fly: Tafsir al-Sa’di

Allah strikes the following parable in surah al-Hajj:

يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ ضُرِبَ مَثَلٌ فَاسْتَمِعُوا لَهُ ۚ إِنَّ الَّذِينَ تَدْعُونَ مِن دُونِ اللَّهِ لَن يَخْلُقُوا ذُبَابًا وَلَوِ اجْتَمَعُوا لَهُ ۖ وَإِن يَسْلُبْهُمُ الذُّبَابُ شَيْئًا لَّا يَسْتَنقِذُوهُ مِنْهُ ۚ ضَعُفَ الطَّالِبُ وَالْمَطْلُوبُ

O mankind, a parable has been struck for you, so listen carefully to it! Those who you call on besides Allah could never make a fly, even if they joined forces to do so! And if a fly took something from them, they could not recover it from him. Both the seeker and the sought are weak! [22:73]

Commenting on this in his well-known book of tafsir, sheikh ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Sa’di wrote:

هذا مثل ضربه الله لقبح عبادة الأوثان، وبيان نقصان عقول من عبدها، وضعف الجميع، فقال: { يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ } هذا خطاب للمؤمنين والكفار، المؤمنون يزدادون علما وبصيرة، والكافرون تقوم عليهم الحجة، { ضُرِبَ مَثَلٌ فَاسْتَمِعُوا لَهُ } أي: ألقوا إليه أسماعكم، وتفهموا ما احتوى عليه، ولا يصادف منكم قلوبا لاهية، وأسماعا معرضة، بل ألقوا إليه القلوب والأسماع، وهو هذا: { إِنَّ الَّذِينَ تَدْعُونَ مِنْ دُونِ اللَّهِ } شمل كل ما يدعى من دون الله، { لَنْ يَخْلُقُوا ذُبَابًا } الذي هو من أحقر المخلوقات وأخسها، فليس في قدرتهم خلق هذا المخلوق الضعيف، فما فوقه من باب أولى، { وَلَوِ اجْتَمَعُوا لَهُ } بل أبلغ من ذلك لو { يَسْلُبْهُمُ الذُّبَابُ شَيْئًا لَا يَسْتَنْقِذُوهُ مِنْهُ } وهذا غاية ما يصير من العجز.{ ضَعُفَ الطَّالِبُ } الذي هو المعبود من دون الله { وَالْمَطْلُوبُ } الذي هو الذباب، فكل منهما ضعيف، وأضعف منهما، من يتعلق بهذا الضعيف، وينزله منزلة رب العالمين. ـ

Allah struck this parable regarding the repugnance of worshiping idols and to clearly show how deficient the thinking of those who worship them is, and to show how both parties are weak.

He said:

يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ

O mankind …

this is directed at both the believers and disbelievers. The believers will find their knowledge and clear thinking increased by it, while the disbelievers will have a proof established against them.

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Etiquette of Supplication in Surah al-A’raaf: Tafsir al-Sa’di

Allah commands the believers at the end  of surah al-A’raaf by saying:

وَاذْكُر رَّبَّكَ فِي نَفْسِكَ تَضَرُّعًا وَخِيفَةً وَدُونَ الْجَهْرِ مِنَ الْقَوْلِ بِالْغُدُوِّ وَالْآصَالِ وَلَا تَكُن مِّنَ الْغَافِلِينَ

And remember your Lord within yourself humbly and fearfully, without loudness in your speech, in the mornings and the evenings, and do not be one of the heedless ones. [7:205]

Commenting on this in his book of tafsir, sheikh ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Sa’di wrote:

الذكر لله تعالى يكون بالقلب، ويكون باللسان، ويكون بهما، وهو أكمل أنواع الذكر وأحواله، فأمر الله عبده ورسوله محمدا أصلا وغيره تبعا، بذكر ربه في نفسه، أي: مخلصا خاليا. ـ

Remembering Allah can be done in one’s heart, on one’s tongue, or both – and doing both together is the best form and method of remembering Allah. Allah instructed His servant and messenger Muhammad – him as the standard and others following in his model – to remember his Lord within himself, that is: purely and devotedly.

تضرعا أي: متضرعا بلسانك، مكررا لأنواع الذكر، وخيفة في قلبك بأن تكون خائفا من الله، وجل القلب منه، خوفا أن يكون عملك غير مقبول، وعلامة الخوف أن يسعى ويجتهد في تكميل العمل وإصلاحه، والنصح به. ـ


… humbly …

i.e. fervently with one’s tongue, repeating all forms of remembrance


… and fearfully …

in one’s heart, such that you would be fearful of Allah, one’s heart apprehensive of Him, afraid that your deeds would not be accepted. And one sign of this fear is that one would rush and strive to make his deeds complete, upright and sincerely for Allah.

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“As If He Had Fallen From the Sky”: Tafsir al-Baghawi, Ibn Kathir & al-Sa’di

Allah strikes the follow parable in surah al-Hajj:

وَمَن يُشْرِكْ بِاللَّهِ فَكَأَنَّمَا خَرَّ مِنَ السَّمَاءِ فَتَخْطَفُهُ الطَّيْرُ أَوْ تَهْوِي بِهِ الرِّيحُ فِي مَكَانٍ سَحِيقٍ

And whoever associates partners with Allah, it is as if he had fallen from the sky and was snatched by the birds or the wind carried him to a remote place. [22:31]

In his explanation of this parable, al-haafidh ibn Kathir began by writing:

ضرب للمشرك مثلا في ضلاله وهلاكه وبعده عن الهدى

Allah has struck a parable of the mushrik‘s misguidance, peril, and distance from guidance.

[Tafsir ibn Kathir 5/320]

After explaining some of the terms used in this parable, Imam Abu Muhammad al-Baghawi then explained the overall meaning by writing:

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The Parable of the Man with Two Gardens: Tafsir al-Sa’di

Allah includes a long parable in surah al-Kahf that begins with:

وَاضْرِبْ لَهُم مَّثَلًا رَّجُلَيْنِ جَعَلْنَا لِأَحَدِهِمَا جَنَّتَيْنِ مِنْ أَعْنَابٍ وَحَفَفْنَاهُمَا بِنَخْلٍ وَجَعَلْنَا بَيْنَهُمَا زَرْعًا

And present to them an example of two men: We granted to one of them two gardens of grapes, and We bordered them with palm trees and placed crops between them. [18:32]

and continues until the end of ayah 44.

In his well-known book of tafsir, sheikh ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Sa’di wrote a commentary on the entire parable, but summarized its main theme and message at the beginning and end of his explanation by writing:

يقول تعالى لنبيه صلى الله عليه وسلم: اضرب للناس مثل هذين الرجلين: الشاكر لنعمة الله، والكافر لها، وما صدر من كل منهما من الأقوال والأفعال، وما حصل بسبب ذلك من العقاب العاجل والآجل والثواب؛ ليعتبروا بحالهما، ويتعظوا بما حصل عليهما ـ

Allah is telling His prophet to strike this parable for the people: a parable of

  • these two men; one of them is grateful for Allah’s blessings and the other is ungrateful for them
  • the statements and actions of each one
  • and the outcomes of those things – punishment both in the short-term and long-term on the one hand and reward on the others

so that the people could take a lesson from their circumstances and be admonished by what happened to them.

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“Are They Equal?”: Tafsir al-Sa’di

In the midst of surah al-Nahl, Allah strikes two parables in succession when He says:

ضَرَبَ اللَّهُ مَثَلًا عَبْدًا مَّمْلُوكًا لَّا يَقْدِرُ عَلَىٰ شَيْءٍ وَمَن رَّزَقْنَاهُ مِنَّا رِزْقًا حَسَنًا فَهُوَ يُنفِقُ مِنْهُ سِرًّا وَجَهْرًا ۖ هَلْ يَسْتَوُونَ ۚ الْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ ۚ بَلْ أَكْثَرُهُمْ لَا يَعْلَمُونَ * وَضَرَبَ اللَّهُ مَثَلًا رَّجُلَيْنِ أَحَدُهُمَا أَبْكَمُ لَا يَقْدِرُ عَلَىٰ شَيْءٍ وَهُوَ كَلٌّ عَلَىٰ مَوْلَاهُ أَيْنَمَا يُوَجِّههُّ لَا يَأْتِ بِخَيْرٍ ۖ هَلْ يَسْتَوِي هُوَ وَمَن يَأْمُرُ بِالْعَدْلِ ۙ وَهُوَ عَلَىٰ صِرَاطٍ مُّسْتَقِيمٍ

Allah strikes a parable of a slave who is owned and unable to do anything and one to whom We have given good provision and so he spends from it both secretly and openly. Are they equal? All praise is due to Allah. But most of them do not know. * And Allah strikes a parable of two men: one of them dumb and unable to do anything and he is a burden to his guardian. Wherever he directs him, he brings no good. Is he equal to one who enjoins justice while he is on the straight path? [16:75-76]

Commenting on this in his well-known book of tafsir, sheikh ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Sa’di wrote the following:

ضرب تعالى مثلين له ولمن يعبد من دونه: أحدهما: عبد مملوك أي: رقيق لا يملك نفسه ولا يملك من المال والدنيا شيئا، والثاني: حر غني قد رزقه الله منه رزقا حسنا من جميع أصناف المال وهو كريم محب للإحسان، فهو ينفق منه سرا وجهرا، هل يستوي هذا وذاك؟! لا يستويان مع أنهما مخلوقان، غير محال استواؤهما . ـ

Allah struck two parables of Him and those who are worshiped besides Him.

The first parable is one slave who is owned – someone who is the property of another person. He does not own himself nor does he own any wealth or any worldly goods. The other person in this parable is a free, wealthy person whom Allah has provided with good shares of all forms of wealth and he is generous and loves to do good to others. As a result, he spends out of his wealth both secretly and openly. Is this one equal to that one? Are the two equal? Even though they are both created beings, they are certainly not equal.

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“Whoever Allah Wants to Guide, He Opens his Chest to Islam”: Tafsir al-Sa’di

Allah strikes the following parable in surah al-An’aam:

فَمَن يُرِدِ اللَّهُ أَن يَهْدِيَهُ يَشْرَحْ صَدْرَهُ لِلْإِسْلَامِ ۖ وَمَن يُرِدْ أَن يُضِلَّهُ يَجْعَلْ صَدْرَهُ ضَيِّقًا حَرَجًا كَأَنَّمَا يَصَّعَّدُ فِي السَّمَاءِ ۚ كَذَٰلِكَ يَجْعَلُ اللَّهُ الرِّجْسَ عَلَى الَّذِينَ لَا يُؤْمِنُونَ

So whoever Allah wants to guide, He opens his chest to Islam. And whoever He wants to misguide, He makes his chest tight and constricted as though he were climbing up the sky. Thus does Allah place wrath upon those who do not believe. [6:125]

In his commentary on this parable, sheikh ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Sa’di wrote the following beautiful words:

يقول تعالى -مبينا لعباده علامة سعادة العبد وهدايته، وعلامة شقاوته وضلاله-: إن من انشرح صدره للإسلام، أي: اتسع وانفسح، فاستنار بنور الإيمان، وحيي بضوء اليقين، فاطمأنت بذلك نفسه، وأحب الخير، وطوعت له نفسه فعله، متلذذا به غير مستثقل، فإن هذا علامة على أن الله قد هداه، ومن عليه بالتوفيق، وسلوك أقوم الطريق. ـ

Here, Allah is making it clear to His servants what are the signs of a slave’s ultimate joy and guidance and what are the signs of a slave’s ultimate misery and misguidance. So He says that whoever’s chest has been opened up to Islam – that is, it has been made wide and spacious – then it becomes enlightened with the light of faith and enlivened with the light of certainty. So his heart becomes at peace with that, loves good, and becomes compliant in doing it – taking enjoyment from it, nor at all feeling burdened. So this is a sign that Allah has guided such a person and blessed him to be rightly guided and traversing the most upright path.

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