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The deeper meanings of Subhān Allāh: Al-Hadīd pt2

Tafsīr Sūrat Al-Hadīd

Part 1 | Part 2

This article is the second article in a series that will explore the abundance of wealth contained in Sūrat Al-Hadīd—“Iron.” In each article, we will carefully inspect the verses of this magnificent sūrah. Much as the mighty substance of Iron is mined from veins of ore in the earth, we will seek to extract lessons and benefits relevant to our daily lives, from the eternally noble words of Allāh.

Introduction

“Whatever is in the heavens and the earth declares the glory of Allāh, and He is the Mighty, the Wise.”[1]

Sūrat Al-Hadīd strikes a mighty resounding blow with its very first words. In the English translation above, the sentence is bound to follow the subject-verb-object format. Make no mistake, the English translation, as ever, falls tremendously short. When recited in the intended Arabic, the first words of this sūrah are “Sabbaha lillāhi…” or “Allāh’s glory is declared!” As the verb-subject-object format is utilised in Arabic, the praise of Allāh breaks the silence when this sūrah is recited, then it is followed by all of creation. This cannot help but leave the listener humbled by the majesty of Allāh.

The impact of these opening words strike deeper still when recited following the final verse of the preceding sūrah:

“Therefore, glorify the name of your Lord, the Great.”[2]

Sūrat Al-Wāqiʿa concludes with a command to make tasbīḥ of Allāh, and immediately thereafter we are taught that in fact all of creation, in the universe and beyond is bound to do tasbīḥ. According to Al-Suyūṭi this gives us insight into the limitless command of Allāh. Al-Tabari states that this opening verse affirms that everything in creation is in a state of awe of Allāh’s majesty and so glorifies Him and venerates Him. Everything in the heavens and the earth affirms the Lordship of Allāh, and submits obediently to him. If all of creation glorifies Allāh and his magnificence, how can we allow ourselves to be the exception?

Throughout the Qur’ān there are seven such chapters which begin in this splendid manner. These Suwar all begin with the glorifying and exalting of Allāh, either in the form of a command “Sabih” or in the form of a past tense verb “Sahba, Yusabih” or in the form of a verbal-noun “Subhān allathi.” As mentioned in the previous article, these chapters are collectively known as Al-Musabbihāt. In order, they are Al-‘Isrā (17), Al-Hadīd (57), Al-Hashr (59), As-Saff (61), Al-Jumuʿah (62), At Taghābun (64) and Al-Aʿlā (87). It is well worth our time to return to these chapters and to reflect on the manner in which they begin.

Glory belongs to Allāh

Subhān Allāh wa bi hamdihi … before we delve into the ayah let us examine the meaning of tasbīḥ itself. What is the nature of this worship, this single word which the prophet Muhammad sAllāh Allāhu ʿalayhī wa sallam has described as being light on the tongue and yet so heavy in the scales?

Linguistically ‘Subhān’ entails a breadth of distance. The linguistic scholar and lexicographer Ibn Fāris says that the Arabs would say “Subhān from such and such a place” in order to express how vastly remote a location was. The term can also be used in order to express a conceptual distance, for example how far from the truth something is. The term Subhān also contains an embedded sense of amazement and a tone of emphasis.

Generally speaking tasbīḥ of Allāh is to make the hearts and minds distance themselves from associating anything unbefitting with His Majesty. To say subhān Allāh is to disavow any ill thought of Allāh, be it an imagined shortcoming or a deficiency or any trait of evil. We can say that to utter tasbīḥ is to make a declaration about Allāh which embodies the following:

  1. It is a declaration of veneration and worship. [3]
  2. A declaration that Allāh transcends any form of shortcoming, defect or evil. [4]
  3. That which is attributed to Allāh by evil and misguided people is false.
  4. That Allāh is perfect.[5]

Ibn ‘Ashur said that the very first evil attribute to be removed from Allāh, is the idea He has any rival in worship. Shirk, the act of associating partners with Allāh, is the greatest evil and the point of misguidance for the polytheistic pre-Islamic Arabs. The oneness of God is the central core of Islam and the concept is at the root of Allāh’s very name; Al-Ilāh, the only One worthy of worship.  Ultimately to make tasbīḥ of Allāh is to declare His lordship and perfection. SubḥānAllāh.

All things?

Subhān Allāh al-ʿAdheem. Indeed, Allāh is worthy of all praise and appropriately everything in existence does tasbīḥ glorifying Allāh. The first verse of Sūrat Al-Hadīd informs us about this fact of nature; however the question which may naturally follow is how can this be the case? Do inanimate objects glorify Allāh? How about openly rebellious disbelievers? Do they too glorify Allāh? Verse 44 in Sūrat Al-Isra deepens our understanding on this matter:

The seven heavens and the earth and whatever is within them glorify Him. And there is not a thing except that it exalts [Allāh] by his praise, but you do not comprehend their [manner of] glorifying. Indeed He is ever forbearing and forgiving.”[6]

Allāh here teaches us that indeed there is absolutely nothing except that it glorifies Him. Yet the reason this may not be immediately apparent to our human perception is the simple fact that we are unable to comprehend the nature of this glorification. With mankind, tasbīḥ is most commonly performed by uttering the words ‘Subhān Allāh.’ However the manner in which other creations of Allāh worship Him is something that we are unable to perceive. It is happening, all around us, but as is always the case with matters of the unseen, we can only come to know this fact through divine revelation and the candescence of the Qur’ān.

This is a crucial point, so I will stress it. In the modern age the remnants of Greek philosophy and western metaphysics have duped many into the belief that through isolated contemplation they can come to conclusions about the nature of Allāh and the soul. This is not the case, and as Muslims even our intellect is a slave submitted to Allāh alone. It is not through vain ‘reason’ or logic or Platonic philosophy that we came to know that all things worship Allāh. With our reason we can understand this reality; we can process it and perhaps explain it to others. But without the sources of revelation, our reason is limited by our sensory input and experience. With all matters of the unseen we must begin and end with the verified texts of revelation.

Regarding the above verse Al-Tabari has attempted to digest the nature of this tasbīḥ which Allāh tells us we cannot comprehend. In his analysis, glorification of Allāh can be in two forms: “Qawli” meaning verbal, or “Hāli” meaning situational. A possible argument can be as follows: everything in creation, merely by existing, points to the glorification of Allāh, His Majestic existence and his Sublime nature as The Creator of all things. Thus, the stone, the solar system, the rose petal and indeed even the disbeliever in Allāh are testifying to the Glory of Allāh in the Hāli or situational manner. Those of creation who then also utter words of tasbīḥ are then partaking in the Qawli manner.

Al-Tabari’s division of tasbīḥ into two forms creates a possible framework for understanding the nature of tasbīḥ however it is vital to note that some scholars have avoided any rationalisation of this sort conceding in advance to Allāh’s statement “however you do not comprehend their [manner of] glorifying.” The scholars who take this stance understand these words to mean that we will never comprehend even the very nature of the tasbīḥ of creation. If Allāh says we cannot comprehend it, then why attempt to do so? This position may be a difficult pill for the pretentious philosopher to swallow, but the intelligent believer takes no issue in accepting that there are things Allāh understands in his infinite Majesty and Wisdom, which we simply cannot.  Once again, reason comes second to the sources of revelation.

Yet, I will invite you for a moment to consider the possibility that we could hear and understand the worship of all things. Imagine that Allāh had granted us abilities to understand and to hear the entire universe making tasbīḥ of Allāh in their own ways, perhaps as Sulaymān ʿalayhī al-Salām was granted the understanding of animals. What impact would that have on you? What influence would that have on your worship, your sincerity or your behavior in private? In reality, we cannot hear these things, but Allāh has told us that it is so, and His word is the truth. We should carry this awareness with us at all times and we should allow it to humble us.

The Mighty, the Wise

Many of the verses of the Qur’ān close mentioning some of the beautiful names of Allāh. When a verse ends in this way, the highlighted names of Allāh always bare significance to the content of that āyah. The first verse of sūrat Al-Hadīd concludes by mentioning two of Allāh’s names and attributes;

“…and He is the Mighty, the Wise.”[7]

One of the most common names of Allāh in the Qur’ān is Al-ʿAzīz meaning the Mighty. This name is mentioned 82 times in the Qur’ān and it is most commonly paired with Al-Hakīm, The Wise. [8] This particular paring of Allāh’s noble names occurs no fewer than 42 times throughout the Qur’ān. [9] Let us take a look at these names of Allāh separately before we examine the combination of the two, how this helps us better understand the verse.

The first of Allāh’s names mentioned is Al-ʿAzīz. This commonly translates to ‘The Mighty,’ however there are a number of subtleties contained in Arabic word, which are lost in this translation.  Al-ʿAzīz is the one who possesses ʿizza, meaning glory and power. This word comes with the connotation of Kibriyā’ meaning pride or even arrogance. ʿIzza also carries sense of ghulbah, meaning conquest and the power to overcome. The word ʿAzīz has been used in history to refer to sultans and men in positions of authority and control. The name of Allāh Al-ʿAzīz shows that Allāh embodies all of these attributes, yet in a perfect sense and a divine manner befitting Him. Allāh is ʿAzīz as none can resist His will or decree. He is Mighty and his might subdues and overcomes all things be they willing or not. His pride alone is justified and His position is unmatched and unchallenged. He is the Almighty.

The second name mentioned is Al-Hakīm. According to Ibn Uthaymīn, the Arabic word Hakīm is a description derived from two root words; Hikmah, meaning wisdom and Hukum, meaning judgment. Therefore Al-Hakīm is one who possesses wisdom as well as having the ability and authority to pass judgment. According to Al-Sāmura’ī, the essence of Hikmah or wisdom is to place everything in its correct place, speech or action, as well as the conformance of knowledge with action.

A key point we can take from Allāh’s name Al-Hakīm lies in the opposite nature of the trait. Who do we tend to describe as being unwise? Often we reserve this term for people who make a habit of saying unnecessary things at inappropriate times, people whose speech lacks purpose or benefit, and so on. Allāh is not only wise, he is The Wise, the possessor of infinite, immeasurable wisdom. What should this tell us of Allāh’s speech and decree? More pertinently today, what does this tell us about the laws Allāh has legislated for people to live by?  Perhaps when we shun the sharīʿah in this modern age as being outdated or unsuitable for our times, we should recall that it is Allāh who is Al-Hakīm, not ourselves, His slaves and servants.

Now, if we begin to consider these two names of Allāh in the context of each other and the verse at large, we can gain further understanding of this āyah. When it comes to mankind, glory and conquest are often associated with harshness and destruction. And indeed, Allāh is Al-ʿAzīz in avenging those who disobey Him and rebel against his decree. Yet Allāh’s boundless might is matched by his wisdom for He is also Al-Hakīm in governing and regulating the affairs of his creation in a manner which He wills and loves.  Again, when it comes to mankind there are those who have good judgment and wisdom, yet they lack the power or force to impose the consequences of their judgment. This is not the case for Allāh subhānahū wa taʿālā as his Might and ʿizzah ensure the implantation of His judgment. The two traits of might and wisdom exist in Allāh without flaw. Allāh is mighty without defect, and flawlessly wise.

Conclusion

Amīn Al-Islāhi says that whenever the Qur’ān tells us about the tasbīḥ of all things in the universe, it does so for three key purposes.

Firstly, mankind is reminded that everything, from the smallest entity to the biggest mass of this universe, everything in existence acknowledges the right of the Lord and Creator Allāh. All things worship and do Tasbīḥ regardless of their complexity or status. How then should mankind behave? When Allāh has created mankind as the best of creation, given him reason and understanding and entrusted him as khalīfa of this world?

Secondly, the believers are reminded to maintain their tasbīḥ and worship regardless of the apparent nature of their surroundings. At times when a believer feels alone, or that kufr and disbelief in Allāh are widespread, they may despair or lose hope. Here we are reminded that in fact those who utter disbelief are the ones in the minority. When a believer worships Allāh he or she may feel alone and isolated, a stranger in a distant land. But the reality is that when one worships Allāh they are joining the majority and the natural order of all existence, as all things in reality worship Allāh with devotion. This empowers the believer and gives them hope and confidence when the world seems dim.

Finally, to express Allāh’s utter indifference to those who desist from worshiping Allāh. Ultimately our worship of Allāh gives nothing to Allāh and if we were to abstain, Allāh would lose nothing, may Allāh guide us and protect us. Those who worship Allāh do so for their own sake and for their own salvation and profit, not for Allāh’s benefit for He is Majestic and Self-Sufficient.  Those who disbelieve do not harm Allāh in any way; rather they are only harming their own selves.

And this is the note I would like to end on. Allāh is perfect with or without our praise. Allāh is worshiped and glorified by everything in existence, even if we do not participate. If we rebel against Allāh our own existence betrays us and serves as a testimony to His Majesty. Willing or unwilling, we are all slaves of Allāh subhānhū wa taʿālā. Allāh is Al-ʿAzīz over us and we have no say in the matter. However if we consider this fate, we can only find it to be a blessing. Who better than Allāh to control all affairs including our own? SubhānAllāh, none other than Allāh sits in judgment of all of creation, and indeed none besides Allāh possesses the requisite wisdom power for such a task. Truly Allāh is worthy of the praise of all things.

“Is not Allāh the most just of judges?”[10]

Source: www.islam21c.com

Notes:

[1] Qur’ān 57:1

[2] Qur’ān 56:96

[3] وعن عبد الله بن بريدة يحدث أن رجلا سأل عليا رضي الله عنه عن ” سبحان الله ” ، فقال : تعظيم جلال الله

[4] عن ابن عباس رضي الله عنهما :

” سبحان الله ” : تنزيه الله عز وجل عن كل سوء

[5] يقول شيخ الإسلام ابن تيمية رحمه الله :

” والأمر بتسبيحه يقتضي أيضا تنزيهه عن كل عيب وسوء ، وإثبات صفات الكمال له ، فإن التسبيح يقتضي التنزيه ، والتعظيم ، والتعظيم يستلزم إثبات المحامد التي يحمد عليها ، فيقتضي ذلك تنزيهه ، وتحميده ، وتكبيره ، وتوحيده ” انتهى.

“مجموع الفتاوى” (16/125)

[6] Qur’ān 17:44

[7] Qur’ān 57:1

[8] http://www.prof-alhadad.com/index.php/2013/06/23/%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B9%D8%B2%D9%8A%D8%B2-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AD%D9%83%D9%8A%D9%85/

[9] [2:129], [2:209], [2:220], [2:228], [2:240], [2:260], [3:6], [3:18], [3:62], [3:126], [5:38], [5:118], [8:10], [8:49], [8:63], [8:67], [9:40], [9:71], [14:4], [16:60], [27:9], [29:26], [29:42], [30:27], [31:9], [31:27], [34:27], [35:2], [39:1], [40:8], [42:3], [45:2], [45:37], [46:2], [57:1], [59:1], [59:24], [60:5], [61:1], [62:1], [62:3], [64:18]

[10] Qur’ān 95:8

About Imam Asim Khan

Ustadh Asim Khan is currently the Imam of Redbridge Islamic Centre, Instructor for the Sabeel institute, & author for Islam21c.com. He has, from an early age, excelled in academic studies and has gained a Masters in Pharmacy from the University College London, UK, as well as studying Arabic and Quranic Sciences in Cairo, Egypt. He appears regularly on Islam Channel's religious programming & is currently presenting the Dreamer show for Eman Channel. Ustadh Asim has a special interest in Tafsir studies and teaches the subject in London where he lives.

One comment

  1. Coat of mail wearer

    Ma sha Allah….w al hamdullah…really enjoyed reading part 1 n 2

    Just to point out a little mistake to imam Asim or the editors…subhan Allah….in the conclusion..under secondly…shouldnt minority be majority in the following……” But the reality is that when one worships Allāh they are joining the minority and the natural order of all existence, as all things in reality worship Allāh with devotion.”…..apologies…minor mistake…but obviously more impacting in joining majority…..barak Allah feekom

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