By Muhammad Yunus & Ashfaque Ullah
12 June, 2015-06-12
(Published exclusively on New Age
Islam with Permission of the authors and publishers)
Only God Knows the Rightly Guided
Since the Qur’an calls for orienting
oneself to God (Ch. 7), true faith and intent are very important for earning
God’s approval for all our acts and deeds. Accordingly, the Qur’an repeatedly
asserts that only God knows who all are rightly guided (16:125/Ch. 13.3; 6:117,
“Indeed your Lord knows best who is
straying from His path, and He knows best the rightly guided” (6:117). [The
underlined statement is repeated in the verses 28:56, 28:85 and 68:7.]
“Say, ‘Everyone acts according to what
suits him, but God knows best who is guided on the (right) path’” (17:84).
14.1. None Can Claim Spiritual Superiority
Many so-called ‘spiritual guides’ claim
spiritual supremacy over fellow Muslims by citing the verse 42:23 (Note 131/Ch.
3.10). This verse dating from the Meccan period has a very clear message: the
Prophet is asking his close friends and relatives (Qurba) from among his
hostile audience, to extend him the love and respect that he expected from
“…I do not ask you any payment for this
except love from (fi) the relatives (al-Qurba)…”
However, if the particle fi is rendered as
‘to’, instead of ‘from’ the verse can be read as a call to all Muslims to show
love and respect ‘to’ the Prophet’s relatives and descendents. While
technically, such a rendering may not be wrong, the Qur’an does not offer any
illustration to support any claim to exclusivity or spiritual supremacy by the
Prophet’s descendents. In fact, the Qur’an’s clear illustrations rule out any
i. Over a score of Qur’anic
verses tell us that neither the Prophet Muhammad, nor any other prophet
expected any payment or special favour from their people for themselves or
ii. Some verses state this in the
affirmative:2 “…I do not ask of you any payment…”; “...You do not ask them for
any payment (Ajara)…”.
iii. Others put this in the
interrogative: “Do you (O Prophet) ask them for a payment (Ajara)...?” 3 “Do
you (O Prophet) ask them for a recompense (Kharaja) …?”4
iv. Not a single verse in the Qur’an
is suggestive of a prophet asking for a payment or a special favour from his
people for himself or his descendents.
v. There are verses5 affirming that
the Prophets Noah, Hud, Salih, Lot, Shu‘ayb did not expect any payment or
special favour from their people for themselves or their descendents.
vi. Through scores of verses (Ch.
16), the Qur’an makes it absolutely clear that every soul, whether male or
female will be judged by God on the basis of faith, and deeds.
vii. The Qur’an further declares that no
one can intercede with God, except as He Wills.6 This spirit is also reflected
in God’s disapproval of Prophet Noah’s prayer for the forgiveness of his pagan
From all these illustrations, it is
absolutely clear that there is no Qur’anic basis to extending any special favor
or according any spiritual superiority to an individual just because he or she
is, or claims to be, a descendent of the Prophet, and that there is absolutely
no Qur’anic basis for anyone, no matter his line of descent from the Prophet,
to claim intercession with God on anyone’s behalf as a spiritual guide.
28:85, 53:30, 68:7.
12:104, 25:57, 34:47, 38:86.
The Prophet as a Role Model
“Certainly, you have in God’s Messenger, an
excellent model (Uswatun Hasanah) for anyone who looks forward (with
hope and fear) to God and the Last Day, and remembers God a lot” (33:21).
Most commentators agree that the verse
relates to the noble principles and exemplary moral conduct and behaviour of
the Prophet that distinguished him from the rest of his community (Ch. 3.16).
The question that keeps the Muslim community divided is, how best they can
follow the Prophet’s example.
Traditionally orthodoxy has insisted on
imitating the Prophet’s physical habits and pursuits including his daily
rituals, such as: washing and bathing, brushing of teeth, clipping of nails,
grooming of beard and hair, manners of eating, drinking, sitting, wearing of
clothes and turban etc. as recorded in the traditions (Hadith literature).
The Qur’an however makes it absolutely
clear that the Prophet’s mission was to convey God’s message1 with clarity;2
and to deliver humanity out of darkness into Light.3 The Qur’an has also been
unequivocal about its own singular role as guidance for the believers in God,4
the compassionate,5 the heedful (Muttaqi),6 and for humanity at large.7
Furthermore, the Qur’an has projected the Prophet as a mortal human being like
others, though inspired with the revelation.8 Therefore, as the majority of
Muslim scholars advocate, Muslims ought to take guidance from the Qur'an, while
emulating the Prophet’s noble principles and exemplary moral conduct and behaviour.
His companions must have attempted to emulate him in this spirit, and therefore
they earned God’s accolade as ‘the best community (Khairah Ummatin)’.
(3:110/Ch. 29.1). Thus they succeeded in founding a vibrant and tolerant
civilization that preserved the intellectual heritage of Hellenic, Greek and Roman
civilizations (thanks to massive translation undertakings), made remarkable
contribution to the advancement of knowledge and progress of civilization, and
most importantly, allowed the native religions and civilizations to survive and
flourish in the lands they conquered. Thus Aramic is still spoken in Syria,
near Damascus, the capital of the first Islamic dynasty (the Umayyads) and the
native faith-communities have flourished in India and Spain – to give just a
The orthodox quote the Qur’anic
oft-repeated exhortations to love, obey and follow the Prophet9 as an
indication to follow his normative behaviour (Sunna). The Qur’an, however, does
not connect the generic term Sunnah to the Prophet but uses it to refer to
universal laws and patterns in both physical and moral realms. As there is a
subtle but sharp distinction between the concepts of Sunnah of the Prophet and
the Hadith literature, the matter needs clarification to avoid any confusion in
the interpretation of Islamic message. We have taken this up in the enclosure
(Encl. 4) to avoid distraction from our main theme.
5:99, 7:158 13:40, 42:48. [Note 200/Ch. 3]
5:92, 16:82, 24:54 [Note
[Note 202/Ch. 3]
7:52, 16:64, 27:77.
2:2, 3:138, 24:34.
2:185, 10:108, 14:52.
3:144, 18:110, 41:6. [Note
3:31, 3:32, 3:132, 4:69, 4:80, 5:56, 5:92, 24:52, 24:54, 24:56, 64:12.
In the early years of the Medinite period,
‘not disobeying any bidding to do the good (Ma‘ruf)’, was regarded as one of
the pillars of faith.1 But as the revelation was underway, it was excluded from
the list of pillars as conceivably the pagan Arabs identified the new faith
with this core requirement, and hardly needed any reminding during conversion,
as we have reviewed later (Ch. 44.1). Thus in a way, this pillar has remained
latent since the early years of Islam.
The doing of good deeds is by far the most
repeated of Qur'anic exhortations - which appears either singularly, or in
combination with prayer and, or other commandments. The significance of good
deeds can be best appreciated by the fact the Qur’an describes it as a common
criterion for divine approval for all people regardless of faith (Ch. 9.4) and
accordingly, the Qur'an asks Muslims to “vie (with each other) in goodness”
“Everyone has a goal to which he turns: so
vie (with each other) in goodness, (and remember,) wherever you may be, God
will bring you all together. Indeed God is Capable of everything” (2:148).
The Qur’an’s repeated reference to good
deeds as distinct from purely religious obligations, such as Salat, Zakat, hajj
and fasting; and its exhortations to people of other faiths to do good deeds
clearly indicate that the Qur’an treats all those deeds as good, which bring
about material good to human beings.
16.1. Verses on Good Deeds from early Meccan
“Indeed, the heedful (muttaqin) shall be in
shades and springs (77:41), and (will have) fruits as they desire (42). (It
will be said to them): ‘Eat and drink to (your) satisfaction for what you did
(43). Thus do We reward the compassionate’” (77:44).
“By this City of Security (95:3), Indeed We
have created human being in the finest model (ahsani taqwim) (4), but then We
debased him to the lowest of the low (5) - except those who believe and do good
deeds: theirs is a reward unending” (95:6).
“Man is indeed at a loss (103:2), except
those who believe and do good deeds, and exhort to truth, and exhort to
Verses from mid and late Meccan Suras 3
“Those who believe and do good deeds and
feel humble before their Lord – it is they (who are) the inmates of the garden,
and they will remain there” (11:23).
“This Qur'an guides to that (which is)
upright, and gives good news to the believers who do good deeds that theirs is
a great reward” (17:9).
“He will reward those who believe and do
good deeds: it is these that shall have forgiveness and a noble provision”
“You will see (O Muhammad,) wrongdoers
fearing on account of what they have earned, and it must befall them; and those
who believe and do good deeds shall be in the meadows of gardens: they shall
have anything they please from their Lord - that will be a great grace (42:22).
That is the good news God gives to those servants who believe and do good
deeds. Say: ‘I do not ask you any payment for this except love from (fi) the
relatives (al-qurba). (Remember,) anyone who earns any good, We add goodness to
it. Indeed God is Most Forgiving and Appreciative’” (42:23).
This particle fi in the verse has been
often conveniently but misleadingly rendered as ‘to’ instead of ‘from’ thereby
implying that Muslims should extend love and affection to the Prophet’s relatives
at all times. However, for Muslims there is nothing wrong in doing so, though
there is no Qur’anic injunction to do so (Ch. 14.1).
16.3. Verses from Medinite Suras 4
The substance and tone of the revelation
had changed with the Prophet’s change in role from a mere preacher, talking to
a hostile audience in Mecca, to the head of a community and the lawgiver in
Medina, but it maintained its emphasis on good deeds. Thus one of the verses
(24:55) from a mid-Medinite Sura (al-Nur), addressed to the Prophet’s
struggling followers promises an eventual success and security in lieu of the
fear in which they had been living for so long, but makes its promise
contingent to their doing of good deeds. It was also during this period that
the Qur’an declares the doing of good deeds as a common criterion for divine
approval for all believers, including the Christians and Jews (Ch. 9.4).
“As for those who believe and do good
deeds, He will grant them their reward in full. (Remember,) God does not love
the wrongdoers” (3:57).
“God has promised those who believe and do
good deeds that they shall have forgiveness and a great reward” (5:9)
“God will admit those who believe and do
good deeds into gardens with streams running past. Surely God does anything He
“God has promised those of you who believe
and do good deeds that He will make them successors on earth, as He made
successors before them, and that He will establish for them their religion
which He has chosen for them, and that He will change their (state of) fear
into (one of) security: they shall serve Me (alone) and not associate (others)
with Me - and whoever is ungrateful after this, it is they who are perverse”
16.4. Cardinal Significance of Good deeds in
The foregoing verses on good deeds, and
scores of others listed in the Notes, drawn from across the revelation
calendar, clearly indicate the cardinal significance of good deeds in Islam.
The primacy of good deeds in the Qur’an can be best demonstrated by its following
i) In its sole verse on the virtues of the
Prophet’s companions, the Qur’an promises divine forgiveness and reward to only
“those of them who believe and do good deeds.”
“Muhammad is the Messenger of God, and
those who are with him are firm against the disbelievers, and compassionate
among themselves. You will see them kneeling down and prostrating themselves,
seeking God’s blessing and approval. Their marks are on their faces due to the
effect of prostration. Their parable in the Torah, and their parable in the
Gospel is that of a crop-seed that sends forth its sprout, and then strengthens
it, and grows strong, and stands firmly on its stem to the farmers’ admiration,
enraging the disbelievers at them. God has promised those of them who believe
and do good deeds, forgiveness and a great reward” (48:29)
ii) God’s promise to the wounded followers
of the Prophet who responded to his call to chasing the victorious Quraysh army
on their way home (to Mecca) from Uhad was specifically for “those among them
who did good and remained heedful (Wattaqu)” (Note 84/Ch.3).
iii) Its sole verse on the spiritual merit
of those who were first to emigrate from Mecca to Medina, distinguishes them as
the doers of good deeds:
“As for the vanguard (of Islam): the first
of those who emigrated (Muhajirin) and those who supported them (Ansar), and
(also) those who follow them in good deeds – God is pleased with them, and they
are pleased with Him: He has prepared for them gardens with streams flowing
past, to remain there for ever: that is the supreme triumph” (9:100).
Finally, it is noteworthy that in a foreign
rendition such as the foregoing, the Qur’anic exhortations on good deeds appear
repetitive, but in the Arabic Qur’an, each verse occupies its distinctive place
in the text and displays its own linguistic subtlety, internal assonance, and
rhythmic flow and movement, which simply cannot be captured in translation, and
therefore the Qur’an cannot be blamed for any repetitiveness.
Sahih al-Bukhari, English translation by Mohsin Khan, New Delhi 1984,
Vol.1, Acc. 17.
84:25, 85:11, 99:7/8.
7:42, 10:4, 10:9, 10:26, 13:29, 14:23, 18:2, 18:30, 18:107/110,
19:59/60, 19:76, 19:96, 20:75, 20:112, 21:94, 28:67, 28:80, 29:7, 29:9, 29:58,
30:14/15, 30:44/45, 31:8, 32:19, 34:37, 35:7, 38:28, 39:10, 39:33/34, 40:58,
41:8, 41:33, 41:46, 42:26, 45:15, 45:21, 45:30, 67:2.
2:25, 4:57, 4:122, 4:173, 22:23, 22:50, 22:56, 22:77, 47:2, 47:12, 98:7.
Muhammad Yunus, a Chemical
Engineering graduate from Indian Institute of Technology, and a retired
corporate executive has been engaged in an in-depth study of the Qur’an since
early 90’s, focusing on its core message. He has co-authored the referred
exegetic work, which received the approval of al-Azhar al-Sharif, Cairo in
2002, and following restructuring and refinement was endorsed and authenticated
by Dr. KhaledAbou El Fadl of UCLA, and published by Amana Publications,
Maryland, USA, 2009.