Magnificent Meanings in Ibrahim’s Narration
All praises be to Allah who said:
“Has the story reached you of the honoured guests of Ibrahim? That was when they entered his presence and said, “Peace [be unto you]!” He answered, “[And upon you be] peace, unfamiliar folks!” Then he turned quietly to his household, brought forth a fat [roasted] calf, and placed it before them. He said, “Will you not eat?” [When they did not reach for the meat] he conceived a fear of them; but they said, “Fear not,” and gave him a glad tiding of [the birth of] a son who would be endowed with deep knowledge. Thereupon his wife came forward [laughing] aloud, and smote her face [in astonishment] and exclaimed: “A barren old woman [like me]!” They answered, “Thus has your Lord decreed; He is indeed the All-Wise and the All-Knower.” [Ibrahim then] said: “And what else, [heavenly] messengers, is your errand?” They answered: “We have been sent to a people deep in sin, to launch clay stones on them, marked out in your Lord’s sight for [the punishment of] those who have wasted their own selves.” And [in the course of time] We evacuated those of the believers who were there: For apart from a single house, We did not find there any Muslims [who had surrendered themselves to Us]. And so We left therein a message for those who fear the grievous suffering [which awaits the evildoers].” (Surah Adh-Dhariyat 51:24-37)
As one reads these ayat, peering into their meanings and contemplating them, one gathers that the angels came to Ibrahim, peace be upon him, in the form of guests who would normally eat and rink, that they announced to him the glad tiding of begetting a knowledgeable son, that his wife was astounded by the news, and that the angels told her that this was Allah’s comman. One would possibly not perceive more than these meanings.
These are just a few of the numerous marvels hidden in these ayat :
- high praise for Ibrahim
- manners of hospitality
- Reference to Allah’s attributes of Knowledge and Wisdom
- brief and clear reference to the Resurrection, and to the certitude of its occurrence
- description of the Lord’s justice and His revenge against disbelieving nations
- reference to Islam and Imaan and the difference between them
- reference to the consistency of Allah’s signs which point to His tawhid, to the truthfulness of His Messengers and to the Last Day
- that no one profits from all this except those whose hearts fear the punishment of the hereafter – those who believe in it; where as no profit will reach those who do not fear it and who disbelieve in it.
Emphasis Through Interrogation
All praises be to Allah who starts the narration with a question “Has the story reached you?” that is not really intended as a query. Some scholars of the Arabic language assert that the question here means ‘indeed’. Starting the discussion in situation like this with an interrogation carries a subtle message and an intricate meaning.
When a speaker wants to relate to the listeners an important matter requiring special emphasis, he would start with an interrogatory article to attract their attention. He would say for instance, “Did you know about such and such…?” Allah says:
“Has the story reached you of Musa?” (Surah Taha 20:9)
“Has the story reached you of the [two] disputants?” (Surah Sad 38:21)
“Has there come unto you the tiding of the Overwhelming Event?” (Surah Al-Ghashiyah 88:1)
The purpose of the interrogation in all these ayat is to emphasise the importance of the ensuing narrations, and to encourage pondering over them and comprehending the wisdom they carry.
It also serves another purpose: to remind that this knowledge is one of the clear signs of Muhammad’s prophethood.: It belongs to the ghayb which neither he nor his people would have otherwise known about it. Did it reach him without Allah’s teaching and revelation? Did it come through any way other than Allah’s?
Glance then at this address appearing in the interrogatory form, and reflect over its great influence from all aspects. This would convince you that it is at the peak of elegance.
High Praise for Ibrahim
The next words, “the honoured guests of Ibrahim” carry a commendation by Allah for His Khalil, beloved friend, Ibrahim. The word ‘honoured’ carries two meanings:
- The first is that Ibrahim honoured them, which is a compliment for his personality
- The second is that they are honoured by Allah. This is similar to describing them elsewhere as “[The angels] are but His honoured servants…” (Surah Al-Anbiya 21:26) This is another compliment for Ibrahim, because the honoured angels were sent to visit him.
Thus both interpretations carry a praise for Ibrahim, peace be upon him.
The next words “Peace [be upon you]!” He answered, “[And upon you be] peace.” contain further praise for Ibrahim. He responded to the angels’ greeting with a better one. Their greeting was “Salaman“. This Arabic expression constitutes a verbal sentence which more precisely means: “We greet you with peace.” His response was “Salamun”. This nominal sentence which, more precisely means: ‘Lasting and constant peace on you.’ No doubt, the latter sentence implies constancy whereas the formal sentence implies change. This Ibrahim’s greeting was better and more complete.
Manners in Criticism
The next words, “unfamiliar folks!” display two forms of good manners in addressing the guests, even when there is need to express concern because of their behaviour:
- He dropped the subject of the sentence, otherwise he would have said “You unfamiliar people”. Thus he expressed concern without confronting them directly, which would have been rude. This is also the manner used by the Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, instead of confronting someone, he would say, ‘Why do some people do so and so…?’
- He dropped mentioning the party affected by their unfamiliarity, namely, himself, as stated elsewhere, “He deemed their conduct strange and became apprehensive of them…” (Surah Hud 11:70) This is much more appropriate than saying “You are unfamiliar to me.”
Manners of Hospitality
In the next words “He turned quietly to his household” the verb used to describe Ibrahim’s action is ragha, which means ‘went quietly and secretly’. This indicates his hastening to honour and serve his guests in a secret manner so that they would not feel shy.
This is to be contrasted with one who would purchase and prepare food slowly and lazily, all in the presence of his guests. Such action would surely cause them to be bashful and disturbed.
Then the fact that he turned to no place other than his own household carries another compliment for Ibrahim. It indicates that all was needed to honour and serve the guests is present and available within his his household, without having to seek anything from the neighbours or elsewhere.
The next words “He brought forth a fat [roasted] calf]” contain three compliments for Ibrahim:
- He served his guests personally rather than sending someone to serve them.
- He brought before them a complete animal and not just a portion of it. This allows them to select any part of it they would favour.
- He did not bring before them a thin or lean animal, but rather a fat one. Being the young calf of a cow, this is further an expensive animal which would please the guests. His generosity and hospitality made him slaughter it despite its value.
The next words “and placed it before them” carry another compliment, because Ibrahim brought the food in front of the guests rather than pitting it in another room and having them move to reach it.
The next words “He said: ‘Will you not eat?'” carry still another compliment for Ibrahim’s fine manners of hospitality. rather than saying, “Go ahead – eat!”, he invited them to eat with these kind words, giving them the choice to eat or not.
Tiding of Ishaq’s Birth
It is commonly known that when guests eat of their host’s food, they please and pacify him. Thus when Ibrahim noticed that his guests did not reach for the meat, he conceived a fear in himself that they might have evil intentions.
When they perceived this they comforted him by revealing their identity, and they announced to him the news of the birth of a knowledgeable child, “He conceived a fear of them; but they said, ‘Fear not’, and gave him the glad tiding of [the birth of] a son who would be endowed with deep knowledge.”
This child was Ishaq, not Ismail, because his wife was surprised and mentioned that a barren old woman like herself cannot bear children. As for Ismail, he was his first-born child, and was born from his concubine Hajar. All praises be to Allah who clarified this in the Qur’an:
“We gave her the glad tiding of [the birth of] Ishaq and, after Ishaq, of [his son] Yaqub.” (Surah Hud 11:71)
The next words, “Thereupon his wife came forward [laughing] aloud, and smote her face [in astonishment]”, display women’s weakness and their emotional nature: as soon as she heard the news, she wailed and smote her face!
And then she, “exclaimed: ‘A barren old woman [like me]!]” this presents some of the good manners for a woman when talking to strangers. She would be brief and only use words necessary to make herself clear. Thus Ibrahim’s wife dropped the subject of the sentence which would otherwise be ‘I am a barren woman’, and she briefly mentioned what would prevent her from bearing children (old age). Surah Hud tells that she mentioned the reason preventing Ibrahim as well (old age too) for begetting children.
Wisdom, Knowledge and Other Attributes
The angels reply “They answered, ‘Thus your Lord spoken; He is indeed the All-Wise and the All-Knower.” affirms the attributes of Speech for Allah.
It also affirms Allah’s attributes of Wisdom (al-Hakim) and Knowledge (al-‘Alim), which are the source of creation and decree. All Allah’s creation, as well as His decree and law, result from His Knowledge and Wisdom. Furthermore, Knowledge and Wisdom include Allah’s other Perfect Attributes.
His Perfect Wisdom implies perfect Will, Justice, Mercy, Benevolence, Generosity, and Kindness. It implies perfect judgement in doing things in the best possible way. It also implies justly decreeing and delivering rewards or punishment. All these meanings then derive from Allah’s name: the All-Wise, al-Hakim. The Qur’an relates all these matters to this attribute of Wisdom. It strongly rebukes those who claim that Allah created all the creation futilely and uselessly (without wisdom).
Because of this, it is most plausible to conclude that reason leads to the basic belief in the Resurrection, and that the Revelation comes with further confirmation and details of this belief.
The Qur’anic approach concerning Resurrection supports this conclusion. All praises be to Allah who gives two types of rational proof concerning it:
- The first type deals with the likelihood of its occurance. Proofs for this derive from Allah’s Power.
- The Second type deals with the certitude of its occurance. Proofs for this derive from Allah’s Wisdom.
One who examines these proofs will realise that they are quite sufficient and, praise be to Allah, they leave no need for any other proofs. They are sound and satisfactory, they address the issue in a most direct way, and they include refutation and clarification of doubts and misconceptions that occur to many people.
Both Allah’s creation and His commands result from His Knowledge and Wisdom. This story specifically mentions these two attributes because people tend to be astonished when they hear of a baby being born for a couple who would not normally give birth.
Destroying the People of Lut
Next, Allah describes sending these angels to destroy Lut’s people by stoning them with marked stones, “[Ibrahim then] said: ‘And what else, [heavenly] messengers, is your errand?’ They answered: ‘We have been sent to a people deep in sin, to launch clay stones on them, marked out in your Lord’s sight for [the punishment of] those who have wasted their own selves.” This shows that Allah supports His messengers and destroys their enemies. It points to the Resurrection, and it shows that rewards and punishment clearly take place in the world as well. This is one of the greatest proofs of the truthfulness of the messengers in delivering their Lord’s Message.
Islam and Imaan
In the next words, “We evacuated those of the believers who were there: But We did not find there any except one Muslim household”, Allah makes a distinction between Islam (or Muslims) and Imaan (or believers). There is a subtle reason for this which is called for because of the context.
the evacuation and deliverance from severe punishment was meant only for those believers who followed the messengers openly as well as secretly. This applied to only one household (that of Lut), which could be described as a Muslim household.
Lut’s wife was a member of this household, and was apparently Muslim. But she was not to be among the rescued beleivers. Allah told about her betrayal of her husband, which was not in his honour, but in that she accepted her people’s ways to such an extent that she went secretly to inform them about his guests. Thus she was apparently one of the Muslim household, but not one of the true believers who deserved to be rescued.
This answers a famous question: ‘Why is the more general term Islam, excluded from the more specific term, Imaan? Does not the rule of exclusion require an opposite practice?” Based on the above discussion, it becomes clear that the ‘Muslims‘ are not excluded from the ‘beleivers’ but from those who ‘were not found’.
A Message for Those Who Fear
The last part, “and so We left therein a message for those who fear the grievous suffering [which awaits evildoers]”, points to Allah’s signs and marvels which he decreed in this world, and which He preserves as reminders of Himself and of the truthfulness of His messengers. These are beneficial only for those who believe in the Hereafter and fear Allah’s punishment. This is similar to what Allah said elsewhere:
“Herein lies a message indeed for all who fear the punishment in the life to come.” (Surah Hud 11:103)
“He will heed who fears [Allah].” (Surah Al-‘Ala 87:10)
As for those who do not believe in the Hereafter, when they see such signs they just say, “These are people who, like many others, were hit my misfortune. This is the norm of time: it gives happiness to some people and misfortune to others!” But those who believe in the hereafter and are afraid of it are the ones who benefit from these signs and reminders.
When a person understands the meanings and implications of the Qur’an in the correct way, they will perceive the marvels and wisdom that amaze the mind: and they will realise that it is indeed revealed by the All-Wise, the All Merciful. This study was meant to point out and to give examples as to how people vary in understanding the Qur’an and in extracting its treasures and marvels. Indeed, bounties are in Allah’s hand and he gives of them to whom He wills.