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Parable of the Hypocrites

Parables are a fascinating facet of the Qurʾān, and they contain great lessons for us to benefit from. In one such parable, Allāh tells us about the hypocrites,

أَوْ كَصَيِّبٍ مِّنَ السَّمَاءِ فِيهِ ظُلُمَاتٌ وَرَعْدٌ وَبَرْقٌ يَجْعَلُونَ أَصَابِعَهُمْ فِي آذَانِهِم مِّنَ الصَّوَاعِقِ حَذَرَ الْمَوْتِ ۚ وَاللَّـهُ مُحِيطٌ بِالْكَافِرِينَ

“Or like a rainstorm from the sky, wherein is darkness, thunder and lightning. They thrust their fingers in their ears to keep out the stunning thunder-clap for fear of death. But Allāh ever encompasses the disbelievers.”[1]

“Or like a rainstorm”

In this āyah, Allāh gives a parable for the guidance and knowledge that the Messenger of Allāh (ﷺ) came with, comparing it to rain. Knowledge and guidance gives life to the souls just as water gives life to the bodies. This aspect of the parable was further explained in His saying,

“It is Allāh who sends the winds, bearing good news of His coming grace, and when they have gathered up the heavy clouds, We drive them to a dead land where We cause rain to fall, bringing out all kinds of crops, just as We shall bring out the dead. Will you not reflect? Vegetation comes out of good land in abundance, by the will of its Lord, but out of bad land only scantily.”[2]

The Messenger (ﷺ) explained this in the ḥadīth,

“The similitude of the guidance and knowledge that Allāh has sent me with is like abundant rain falling on the earth, some of which has fertile soil that absorbed the rainwater and brought forth vegetation and grass in abundance. And another portion of it was hard and held the rainwater and Allāh benefited the people with it and they utilised it for drinking, making their animals drink from it and for irrigation of the land for cultivation. And a portion of it was barren which could neither hold water nor bring forth vegetation…”[3]

“Wherein is darkness”

The doubts and suspicions plaguing the hypocrites about the Qurʾān have been likened to the darkness in rain which in turn has been given as a parable for the Qurʾān. Allāh has given us a number of examples where āyāhs are like darkness for them because they only increase them in blindness.

Allāh says,

“We only made the direction the one you used to face in order to distinguish those who follow the Messenger from those who turn on their heels: that test was hard, except for those Allāh has guided.”[4]

The change of the Qiblah (from Jerusalem to the Kaʿbah) made people of weak conviction think that the Messenger (ﷺ) was himself wavering in doubt, one day facing one direction in prayer and another day another! This is why Allāh says,

“The foolish people will say, ‘What has turned them away from the prayer direction they used to face?’”[5]

Allāh makes clear that the abrogation of the Qiblah was hard upon those whom Allāh did not guide and strengthen, “that test was hard, except for those Allāh has guided.”

Allāh says,

“The vision We showed you was only a test for people, as was the cursed tree [mentioned] in the Qurʾān. We warn them, but this only increases their insolence.”[6]

What he (ﷺ) was shown on the night of Isrāʾ and Miʿrāj was one of the great miracles and wonders bestowed him, defying the laws of nature, and strengthened the belief of the disbelievers that he (ﷺ) was a liar because they thought that what he informed them of could not possibly have happened. So this event was a means by which the misguided increased in misguidance.

The accursed tree of Zaqqūm which is mentioned in the Qurʾān was also a means of increasing the misguided in misguidance. When they heard the Prophet (ﷺ) reciting, “it is a tree that springs out of the bottom of Hellfire,”[7] they said, “Now he is clearly lying! A tree will not grow in a desert so how can one grow from the bottom of Hell?!”

Allāh says,

“And We have fixed their number as a trial for the disbelievers.”[8]

When he (ﷺ) recited the āyah, “over it (Hell) are nineteen (angels as guardians)”[9] some people said, “This is a paltry number! We can kill them and take Paradise by force such is the number guarding this Fire that Muḥammad (ﷺ) thinks that we will enter.”

Allāh did this as a trial and test for them. He has an all-encompassing wisdom in doing so and is far above what the unbelievers say.

“And thunder”

Allāh has compared the rebukes and threats contained in the Qurʾān that ring in the ears and stir the heart to thunder, some of which are mentioned in other verses such as His sayings: “And if they turn away then say, ‘I have warned you of a destructive awful cry’”;[10] “You who were given the Scripture, believe in what We have sent down [to Muhammad], confirming that which is with you, before We obliterate faces and turn them toward their backs or curse them”;[11] and “I am a warner to you at the onset of a grievous punishment.”

In the chapter dealing the commentary of Sūrah al-Ṭūr, Bukhārī records the ḥadīth of Jubair b. Muṭʿim (RA) who said, ‘I heard the Messenger of Allāh (ﷺ) reciting al-Ṭūr in Maghrib prayer, and when he reached this verse, “Were they created by nothing, or were they themselves the creators? Or did they create the heavens and the earth? Nay, but they have no firm belief. Or are with them the treasures of your Lord? Or are they tyrants with the authority to do as they like?” my heart almost jumped a beat.’

There are numerous other rebukes and cataclysmic announcements which the hypocrites were in continuous fear of, to the point that Allāh says, 

“They think that every cry is against them, they are the enemies, so beware of them.”[12]

The verse that we are in the process of explaining, even if it was revealed with regards to the hypocrites, consideration is given to the generality of the wording and not to the specific reason of its revelation.

“And lightning”

Allāh compares the light of decisive evidences and radiant proofs in the Qurʾān to lightning. The Qurʾān is a light by which Allāh uncovers the darkness of ignorance, doubt and shirk much the same way that natural light uncovers dark recesses. Allāh says, “O mankind! Indeed, there has come to you a convincing proof from your Lord, and We have sent down to you a clear light”;[13] “We made it a light, guiding with it whoever We will of Our servants”;[14] “And follow the light that has been sent down with him.” [15]

“But Allāh ever encompasses the disbelievers”

Some scholars said that ‘encompasses the disbelievers’ means that He will destroy them and this opinion is testified to by the saying of Allāh, ‘Jacob insisted, “I will not send him with you until you give me a solemn oath by Allāh that you will certainly bring him back to me, unless you are totally surrounded,”’[16] i.e. unless an enemy destroys you to your last man. It is also said that it means to overpower and both opinions are close in meaning because someone who is destroyed is hemmed in on all sides with no means of escape. The same applies to someone who is overpowered. In this respect is the saying of the poet:

We surrounded them until they became certain (of defeat)

Due to what they saw and inclined towards peace

Also in this respect – understanding ‘surrounded’ to mean ‘destroyed’ are His sayings, “So his fruits were encircled (with ruin),”[17] “there comes a storm wind and the waves come upon them from everywhere and they assume that they are surrounded, supplicating Allah, sincere to Him in religion.”[18]

يَكَادُ الْبَرْقُ يَخْطَفُ أَبْصَارَهُمْ ۖ كُلَّمَا أَضَاءَ لَهُم مَّشَوْا فِيهِ وَإِذَا أَظْلَمَ عَلَيْهِمْ قَامُوا ۚ وَلَوْ شَاءَ اللَّـهُ لَذَهَبَ بِسَمْعِهِمْ وَأَبْصَارِهِمْ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّـهَ عَلَىٰ كُلِّ شَيْءٍ قَدِيرٌ

“The lightning almost snatches away their sight. Every time it lights [the way] for them, they walk therein; but when darkness comes over them, they stand [still]. And if Allāh had willed, He could have taken away their hearing and their sight. Indeed, Allāh is Most Capable of everything.”[19]

“The lightning almost snatches away their sight”

Meaning that the dazzling light of the Qurʾān blinds their eyes just as the brilliance of a flash of lightning almost snatches away the sight of the onlooker. This is more so the case when the sight is weak: the weaker the sight the more it is affected by light. The poet said:

The light of day increases the sight of mortals

Yet blinds the eyes of bats

And the saying of another:

Bats are blinded by the light of day

While the covering of night agrees with them

The eyes of the disbelievers and the hypocrites are completely weak, and the sheer intensity of the Qurʾān’s light increases them in blindness. Allāh clarifies this blindness in His sayings, “So is the one who knows that what has been sent to you from your Lord is the truth like the one who is blind?”[20] “The blind and the seeing are not the same.”[21]

Some scholars said that ‘the lightning almost snatches away their sight’ means that the clear and unequivocal verses of the Qurʾān reveal the weaknesses and defects of the hypocrites.

“Whenever it flashes for them, they walk therein, and when darkness covers them, they stand still”

Allāh gives a similitude for the hypocrites in this verse stating that when the Qurʾān agrees with their desires and expectations they act according to it, like when it comes to marrying the believers and inheriting from them, receiving a share of the war booty, and safety from being killed despite the disbelief that is in their hearts. Whenever it does not agree with their desires such as when commanded to expend their selves and wealth in Jihād in Allāh’s way they hold back and delay. Allāh points this out with His words,

“And when they are summoned to Allāh and His Messenger in order for him to judge between them, some of them turn away. But if they were claiming their right, they would come willingly.”[22]

Some scholars said that “whenever it flashes for them they walk therein” means that whenever Allāh favours them with wealth and well-being they say, ‘this religion is the truth, ever since we followed it we have only received good.’ “When the darkness covers them, they stand still,” means that when they are tried with poverty or illness, or they have daughters born to them rather than sons they say, ‘this happened because of the evil of this religion’ and they apostate. This explanation is proven by the saying of Allāh,

“There are some who worship Allāh on the verge: if they are blessed with something good, they are content with it; but if they are afflicted with a trial, they relapse, losing this world and the Hereafter. That is the clearest loss.”[23]

Some of the scholars said: the lightning flashing for them means their cognition of some of the truth, and its darkness means the doubt that presents itself to them concerning the Qurʾān.

These are some reflections and commentaries on just one parable. The Qurʾān is filled with opportunities for reflection and taking lessons for one’s own life. We must not be deluded into thinking that just because an āyah was revealed with respect to hypocrites or disbelievers that we are not to take heed from it. As the principle goes, consideration is to the generality of the wording, and not to the specific reason of its revelation.

Source: www.islam21c.com


[1] Al-Qur’ān, 2:19

[2] Al-Qur’ān, 7:57-58

[3] Bukhārī and Muslim, on the authority of Abū Mūsā

[4] Al-Qur’ān, 2:143

[5] Al-Qur’ān, 2:142

[6] Al-Qur’ān, 17:60

[7] Al-Qur’ān, 37:64

[8] Al-Qur’ān, 74:31

[9] Al-Qur’ān, 74:30

[10] Al-Qur’ān, 41:13

[11] Al-Qur’ān, 4:47

[12] Al-Qur’ān, 63:4

[13] Al-Qur’ān, 4:174

[14] Al-Qur’ān, 42:52

[15] Al-Qur’ān, 7:157

[16] Al-Qur’ān, 12:66

[17] Al-Qur’ān, 18:42

[18] Al-Qur’ān, 10:22

[19] Al-Qur’ān, 2:20

[20] Al-Qur’ān, 13:19

[21] Al-Qur’ān, 35:19

[22] Al-Qur’ān, 24:48-49

[23] Al-Qur’ān, 22:11

About Shaykh Abu Rumaysah Refi Shafi

Abu Rumaysah Refi Shafi was born and brought up in High Wycombe. He currently studies with Shaykh Haitham Al-Haddad and, previously, Shaykh Abu AbdiRahman Al-Libee. He graduated from Imperial College from the faculty of Electronic Engineering. He currently works as a Software Engineer and is the chairman of WISE (Wycombe Islamic Society). He is very active in his local community, especially with his Masjid and working with youth. He has translated a number of books such as 'The Criterion between the Friends of Allah and the Friends of Shaytan,' and 'Relief from Distress (the Dua of Yunus 'alayhī al-Salām),' both by Ibn Taymiyyah as well as many others. He has also written an explanation of Surah al-Fatihah called ‘The Spiritual Cure.’ He currently gives weekly circles in High Wycombe on a variety of topics covering aqidah, fiqh, hadith, tafsir and Arabic Language. He is also a Lecturer for MRDF.

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