SA, Surah 31 Luqman is about Luqman. If you go by what he preached, you
would think that he was a prophet. But was he a prophet? The Quran does not say
so nor is his name mentioned with the names of the rest of the prophets.
(31:12) we bestowed (in the past) Wisdom on Luqman: "Show (thy)
gratitude to Allah." Any who is (so) grateful does so to the profit of his
own soul: but if any is ungrateful, verily Allah is free of all wants, Worthy
of all praise.
(13) Behold, Luqman said to his son by way of instruction: "O my
son! join not in worship (others) with Allah: for false worship is indeed the
(14) And We have enjoined on man (to be good) to his parents: in travail
upon travail did his mother bear him, and in years twain was his weaning: (hear
the command), "Show gratitude to Me and to thy parents: to Me is (thy final)
(15) "But if they strive to make thee join in worship with Me
things of which thou hast no knowledge, obey them not; yet bear them company in
this life with justice (and consideration), and follow the way of those who
turn to me (in love): in the end the return of you all is to Me, and I will
tell you the truth (and meaning) of all that ye did."
(16) "O my son!" (said Luqman), "If there be (but) the
weight of a mustard-seed and it were (hidden) in a rock, or (anywhere) in the
heavens or on earth, Allah will bring it forth: for Allah understands the
finest mysteries, (and) is well-acquainted (with them).
(17) "O my son! establish regular prayer, enjoin what is just, and
forbid what is wrong: and bear with patient constancy whatever betide thee; for
this is firmness (of purpose) in (the conduct of) affairs.
(18) "And swell not thy cheek (for pride) at men, nor walk in
insolence through the earth; for Allah loveth not any arrogant boaster.
(19) "And be moderate in thy pace, and lower thy voice; for the
harshest of sounds without doubt is the braying of the ass."
We do not even know who Luqman was, where he lived and when, and what
became of his son. What purpose does the story of Luqman in the Quran serve? It
is to say that there are many men of Allah, bestowed with wisdom from Allah, and
who preach what the prophets preached, but they are not necessarily prophets.
We are not given the freedom to identify prophets based on what they say and
their apparent wisdom and righteousness.
Then there is the story of Zul Qarnain in the Quran. Is this story even
a real one or the kind of story found in the Arabian Nights? The style adopted
by the Quran while narrating this story is that of narrating a fable and not a
true story. This is the only part in the Quran where the style changes
dramatically and becomes metaphorical which has misled many who take it
literally. Why is this story even there in the Quran? It was as an answer to
the questions Jews asked the Prophet to test whether he was really receiving
revelations from Allah. There are FOUR stories in Surah Kahf which are not
found in the Jewish scriptures but only in their oral traditions. The story of
the people of the Cave is a true one based on the style of narration and the second
one too could be true,while the third is certainly true as it involves Moses, but the fourth about Zul Qarnain may only be a fable
popular among the Jews.
Yusuf Ali writes a long note trying to figure out who Zul Qarnain was
and conjectures that he may have been Alexander the great when there is little
resemblance in their stories. While one
was a mighty conqueror, the other was a mighty traveller. And while Zul Qarnain
may have been a prophet, Alexander cannot even be considered a man of God. What
purpose does this story in the Quran then serve? It says very subtly that
religion is for the city people and not for the simple tribal folks who live in
the forests. These people may be left alone to lead their lives of innocence
even if they go about naked. This point is of course missed by every
commentator of the Quran who go on a wild goose change trying to figure out who
Zul Qarnain may have been when he is probably only a mythical figure in a fable
The substantive proposition is in verse 4-8, and it is
clinched by an appeal to four sacred symbols. viz., the Fig, the Olive, Mount
Sinai, and the sacred City of Makkah . About the precise interpretation of the
first two symbols, and especially of the symbol of the Fig, there is much
difference of opinion. If we take the Fig literally to refer to the fruit or
the tree, it can stand as a symbol of man's destiny in many ways. Under
cultivation it can be one of the finest, most delicious, and most wholesome
fruits in existence: in its wild state, it is nothing but tiny seeds, and is insipid,
and often full of worms and maggots. So man at his best has a noble destiny: at
his worst, he is "the lowest of the low". Christ is said to have
cursed a fig tree for having only leaves, and not producing fruit (Matt.
21:18-29), enforcing the same lesson. There is also a parable of the fig tree
in Matt. 24:32-35. See also the parable of the good and evil figs in Jeremiah,
24:1-10. But see n. 6198 below.
It is possible that
the Olive here refers to the Mount of Olives, just outside the walls of the
City of Jerusalem, for this is the scene in the Gospel story (Matt. 24:3-4) of
Christ's description of the Judgement to come.
2. And the Mount of Sinai,
This was the Mountain
on which the Law was given to Moses. The Law was given, and the glory of Allah
was made visible. But did Israel faithfully obey the Law thereafter?
3. And this City of security,-
"This City of
security" is undoubtedly Makkah. Even in Pagan times its sacred character
was respected, and no fighting was allowed in its territory. But the same City,
with all its sacred associations, persecuted the greatest of the Prophets and
gave itself up for a time to idolatry and sin, thus presenting the contrast of
the best and the worst.
Having discussed the
four symbols in detail, let us consider them together. It is clear that they
refer to Allah's Light or Revelation, which offers man the highest destiny if
he will follow the Way. Makkah stands for Islam, Sinai for Israel , and the
Mount of Olives for Christ's original and pure Message. It has been suggested that
the Fig stands for the Ficus Indica, the Bo-tree, under which Gautama Buddha
obtained Nirvana. I hesitate to adopt the suggestion, but if accepted it would
cover pristine Buddhism and the ancient Vedic religions from which it was an
offshoot. In this way all the great religions of the world would be indicated.
But even if we refer the Fig and the Olive to the symbolism in their fruit, and
not to any particular religion, the contrast of Best and Worst in man's destiny
remains, and that is the main thing.
This raises a doctrinal question of considerable importance:
how does Islam view the ancient vedic religions and Buddhism, or for that
matter, any other religion?
As Muslims we are not in a position to affirm whether Budha
was a prophet or not. Although the Qur'an states that Allah sent Prophets to
every people (35:24), it does not mention the names of all of them. In fact it
mentions by name relatively few of the Prophets of the Semitic tradition, or
only such as with whom its first audience, the Arabs were generally familiar.
As to its present form, we find the doctrines of Buddhism clearly at variance
with monotheism and cardinal Principles of the True Religion as explained in
the Qur'an. This may have been the result of distortion or loss by the
followers of its original teachings.
As a general rule, we cannot describe anyone as a Prophet or
Messenger of Allah unless explicitly mentioned in the Qur'an, or Hadith. The
Message as brought by Prophet Muhammad preserves in itself all that was
essential in the earlier revelations or scriptures: it abrogates all the
previous messages sent through earlier Prophets.
GM sb specializes in contradicting me which is most welcome provided it
is constructive. Can he or anyone else give a better explanation of the
(95:1) By the Fig and the Olive,
(2) And the Mount of Sinai,
(3) And this City of security,-
metaphors of the City Of Security and the Mount of Sinai are clear and beyond
could the metaphor "The Fig and the Olive mean"?
the sheer balance in the metaphors. Two of the Metaphors "The Fig
Tree" and "The Mount of Olives" have a fruit in them and are
and Judaism are discussed in detail in the Quran and therefore mentioning these
religions explicitly cannot be mistaken as a full endorsement of these
religions in their present form. Buddhism is not discussed in the Quran
at all and therefore a direct reference to it could be inferred as full
endorsement of Buddhism in its present state which has been avoided in
These verses use metaphors and are therefore among the Mutashabihat verses.
These are not "Muhkamat" verses to be taken literally. The
Muhkamat verses are for all to understand. The Mutashabihat are for those
endued with understanding and if some people fail to understand, it does not
When using metaphors, how well Allah combines two explicit metaphors
with two implicit ones to communicate a certain reservation about one of them,
because the subject matter of what it refers to has not been discussed in the
Quran. Combining with it the metaphor of Olive, makes it easy to understand the
metaphor of The Fig. While partially hiding the meaning of the metaphor of
"The Fig and the Olive", Allah also provides a very clear clue to
their meaning in the way He uses them with two other explicit metaphors the
meaning of which is very clear. The brevity and the precision with which the
Quran communicates what it wants to communicate, is another clear proof of the
Quran being a Book full of Wisdom.
While understanding the meaning of the metaphor of the “The Fig and the
Olive” has eluded the scholars, but once the correct meaning has been explained,
its meaning no longer remains in doubt. The correctness of a truth statement is
always self-evident, verifiable and easily proved wrong if it is wrong. Try
proving it wrong or try coming up with a better explanation.
However, most Muslims will continue to disbelieve in the correct meaning
because they are conditioned to reject even Christianity and Judaism which are
explicitly endorsed in the Quran and therefore they taking the Fig to refer to
Buddha or Buddhism is very difficult indeed. The Muslims and their scholars
will never be able to come up with a better explanation nor prove what I have
said wrong and therefore the meaning of “The Fig and the Olive” will remain a
mystery to them and the scholars will continue to engage themselves in trying
to discover more magical powers in the two fruits while wondering all the time why on earth Allah had to swear by such ordinary fruits and not by something more exquisite
such as saffron or pistachio or almond or hazel nut! It is in such an environment
of confusion and lack of clarity that the mumbo jumbo of mysticism thrives.
I have explained the meaning without any disclaimers because logically
speaking, there can be no other meaning, and as I have repeatedly said, logically
derived meanings are as good as if the same was stated explicitly in the Book.