By Naseer Ahmed, New Age Islam
11 June 2019
Scholars of Islam have strangely struggled with
explaining the adjurations in the Quran when these offer them the opportunity
to show their skills of interpretation and understanding of metaphors and of
poetic allusions. Some have even wondered “what does Allah mean by swearing by
something that is inferior to Him?”!
Others are clearly embarrassed by Allah swearing so often because a man
who swears often is looked down upon. The scholars have struggled with the following
Qur’ān says: “Do not yield to any mean oath-monger.” (Q 68:10) This verse
implies that swearing an oath is condemnable. An oath therefore does not behove
the Majesty of Allah.
never take an oath except by something exalted and glorious. The Prophet (sws)
has said: “Whoever swears an oath should swear it by God or keep silence.”
(Bukhārī No: 3624) This clearly forbids taking an oath by anything other than
God. How is it then becoming of Allah, the Lord of the worlds, to swear by His
creatures and also by ordinary things like the fig and the olive?
Imām Rāzī tried to explain the oaths by saying that
since the Qur’ān was revealed in the language of the Arabs, it follows the
convention of swearing excessively in that society! The scholars have been
baffled because they have failed to come to grips with Divine Speech and the
distinct difference between the objective and quite often the irrelevance of
the oaths of human beings and the adjurations of Allah in the Book which are
very precise and apt and serve the purpose of explaining something less
understood by what is openly recognized or easily understood. Quranic adjurations are in a very distinct
and unique class incomparable with any work of human beings. Although the scholars have struggled and tied
themselves in knots trying to explain these, we shall soon see that these are
very simple to understand and serve a very useful purpose in driving home a
point and making it clear.
(1) Ya Sin.
(2) By the Qur´an, full of Wisdom,-
(3) Thou art indeed one of the messengers,
(4) On a Straight Way.
(5) It is a Revelation sent down by (Him), the Exalted
in Might, Most Merciful.
(6) In order that thou mayest admonish a people, whose
fathers had received no admonition, and who therefore remain heedless (of the
Signs of Allah).
To the readers of the Quran who find the Book full of
wisdom, invoking the property of the Quran as a Book full of wisdom,
constitutes proof of Muhammad being indeed one of the messengers of Allah on a
straight path. Would such a Book which is full of wisdom say anything false or
foolish? Can Muhammad to whom such a
Book is revealed be a false messenger?
The two Arabic letters Ya and Sin are explained by
most scholars as addressing the Prophet since the next few verses are addressed
to him. However, although the verses following “Ya Sin” address the Prophet,
these are also meant for every reader who reads the Book. Ya Sin could
therefore be a shorter form of “Yāayyuhā L-Nāsu” which means “O you
people”. Since this combination of letters appears only once in the Quran,
anything we say about it is only conjecture. However, when the letters are
recited, the effect on the listener is to alert him or draw his attention to
what follows and far more effective than “Yāayyuhā L-Nāsu”. Without
doubt this Surah is addressed to all mankind and not only the believers.
79 An-Nazi'at / Those who drag forth
(1) By the (angels) who tear out (the souls of the
wicked) with violence;
(2) By those who gently draw out (the souls of the
(3) And by those who glide along (on errands of
(4) Then press forward as in a race,
(5) Then arrange to do (the Commands of their Lord),
We are aware of the different ways in which people die
- some with ease and others after great suffering when everyone is praying for
their death so that they are relieved of their suffering. This is then followed
by a brief description of the role of angels. The rest of the Surah is about
the Hereafter about which we know very little. In the death and the manner in
which different people die is a lesson as well as proof of Allah’s control over
our lives in this world. This proof is offered as evidence of the truth of what
Allah says will happen in the Hereafter. The purpose of the adjuration here is
to draw our attention to what is known or can be known as proof of what we do
not know but are being informed of.
(1) By the Sun and his (glorious) splendour;
(2) By the Moon as it shows up after the Sun;
(3) By the Day as it shows up (the Sun´s) glory;
(4) By the Night as it conceals it;
(5) By the Firmament and its (wonderful) structure;
(6) By the Earth and its (wide) expanse:
(7) By the conscious living human being, and the
proportion and order given to it;
(8) And its enlightenment as to its wrong and its
(9) Truly he succeeds that purifies it,
(10) And he fails that corrupts it!
(11) The Thamud (people) rejected (their prophet)
through their inordinate wrong-doing...
The great order, beauty, purpose and unfailing
precision and regularity of a few wondrous natural phenomena are cited as proof
of what follows. The purpose is to say “As surely as the wondrous phenomena
sworn by, the human consciousness
enlightened by the Quran as to what is right and wrong, succeeds if it purifies
self and fails if it corrupts it. This law of consequences of human behaviour
is as certain, fixed, and unchanging, as the laws the heavenly bodies follow”.
93 and 94 Ad-Dhuha / The Morning Hours and Ash-Sharh / The Consolation
These Surahs are usually read together since the subject
matter is common.
(93:1) By the Glorious Morning Light,
(2) And by the Night when it is still,-
(3) Thy Guardian-Lord hath not forsaken thee, nor is
(4) And verily the Hereafter will be better for thee
than the present.
(5) And soon will thy Guardian-Lord give thee (that
wherewith) thou shalt be well-pleased.....
.... (94:5) So, verily, with every difficulty, there
(6) Verily, with every difficulty there is relief.
The metaphor of the Glorious morning light following
the Night when it is still is clear and made amply clear with the 94:5 and 94:6
100 Al-Adiyat / The Chargers
(1) By the (Steeds) that run, with panting (breath),
(2) And strike sparks of fire,
(3) And push home the charge in the morning,
(4) And raise the dust in clouds the while,
(5) And penetrate forthwith into the midst (of the
foe) en masse;-
(6) Truly man is, to his Lord, ungrateful;
(7) And to that (fact) he bears witness (by his
(8) And violent is he in his love of wealth.
(9) Does he not know,- when that which is in the
graves is scattered abroad
(10) And that which is (locked up) in (human) breasts
is made manifest-
(11) That their Lord had been Well-acquainted with
them, (even to) that Day?
The adjurations in this Surah provide evidence of man’s
vanity, passions and vaingloriousness. This is contrasted with the unglorious
end of such a vain man and the fact that he has very little to be proud about.
95 The Fig and Surah 103 Al-Asr
(95:1) By the Fig and the Olive,
(2) And the Mount of Sinai,
(3) And this City of security,-
(4) We have indeed created man in the best of moulds,
(5) Then do We abase him (to be) the lowest of the
(6) Except such as believe and do righteous deeds: For
they shall have a reward unfailing.
(7) Then what can, after this, contradict thee, as to
the judgment (to come)?
(8) Is not Allah the wisest of judges?
(103; 1) By (the Token of) Time (through the ages),
(2) Verily Man is in loss,
(3) Except such as have Faith, and do righteous deeds,
and (join together) in the mutual teaching of Truth, and of Patience and
The subject matter in the two Surahs above covers the
characteristics of those who are successful and is almost the same as shown
(95:6) (All our unsuccessful) Except such as believe
and do righteous deeds: For they shall have a reward unfailing and (103:3) (All
our unsuccessful)Except such as believe, and do righteous deeds, and (join
together) in the mutual teaching of Truth, and of Patience and Constancy.
Surah 103 swears by Time to say that all through the
ages, or as Time is a witness, the people who have been successful are as
described in the Surah.
Surah 95 swears by City of security or Sanctuary which
we know is Mecca and associated with Muhammad (pbuh), the last Prophet.
By the Mount of Sinai associated with
Prophet Moses (pbuh)
By the Fig and the Olive. What does the
Fig and the Olive refer to? To be consistent it must refer to two other
messengers of Allah and not to the fruit. Olive refers to the Mount of Olives
associated with Jesus (pbuh) and The Fig refers to the Fig tree under which
Buddha (pbuh) received enlightenment.
Please notice that not only time is a witness to the
essential requirement for success, but the message carried by all the
messengers of Allah through time from Adam to the last Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)
is the same is what Surah 95 is saying.
Muslims have a
problem with naming Buddha as a prophet. The Quran is also very subtle in doing
so and not sworn by the “The Mount of Olives” and “The Fig Tree” as it could
have very well done if it wished to be more explicit. The subtlety could be because Buddhism has
changed over the years into worship of Buddha and the Quran therefore refrains
from explicitly endorsing it in its present state. There are certain things that
the Quran merely hints at and is meant only for those who can understand and
digest and not for everyone. Most Muslim scholars have waxed eloquent on the
virtues of the Fig and Olive as a fruit and it does not bother them to mix the
metaphors. Imam Razi is among them.
What is common between Buddhism and the three
Abrahamic faiths is:
clear and explicit deontological moral code which is followed as a religious
duty out of reverence for the code or reverence for the Law Giver or Allah.
This fulfils the criteria of doing righteous deeds
belief in the consequences of our deeds on this earth. This fulfils the
criteria of belief
While the Abrahamic faiths believe in a personal God,
the Buddhists are believed to be agnostic, but their agnosticism is not denial
of God but on the other hand they recognize a Being or Intelligence higher than
self which governs the Universe, ensures order and corrects things. They see their moral code given by Buddha to
be in accordance with this higher Intelligence and submit to it out of
reverence. This is a very refined
concept of God and perhaps more accurate, whereas, ours is closer to building a
mental image of God while the Quran says Allah is unlike anything we know. At
the other extreme is building an idol of God which we avoid as this is
explicitly prohibited. The Buddhist concept is extremely refined but difficult
to follow, which is why in the later revelations perhaps, the concept is made a
little more concrete, but less concrete than building and worshiping an idol.
In essence, the Buddhist religion is very much Allah’s religion like the other
explicitly named religions.
Surah 37 As-Saaffaat / Those drawn up in Ranks
(1) By those who range themselves in ranks,
(2) And so are strong in repelling (evil),
(3) And thus proclaim the Message (of Allah)!
(4) Verily, verily, your Allah is one!-
(5) Lord of the heavens and of the earth and all
between them, and Lord of every point at the rising of the sun!
(6) We have indeed decked the lower heaven with beauty
(in) the stars,-
(7) (For beauty) and for guard against all obstinate
rebellious evil spirits,
(8) (So) they should not strain their ears in the
direction of the Exalted Assembly but be cast away from every side,
(9) Repulsed, for they are under a perpetual penalty,
(10) Except such as snatch away something by stealth,
and they are pursued by a flaming fire, of piercing brightness.
(11) Just ask their opinion: are they the more
difficult to create, or the (other) beings We have created? Them have We created
out of a sticky clay!
(12) Truly dost thou marvel, while they ridicule,
(13) And, when they are admonished, pay no heed,-
(14) And, when they see a Sign, turn it to mockery,
(15) And say, "This is nothing but evident
(16) "What! when we die, and become dust and
bones, shall we (then) be raised up (again)
(17) "And also our fathers of old?"
The adjuration “By those who range themselves in ranks”,is
an endorsement of the strategy of standing united against evil and for
proclaiming the Deen of Allah and compared with Allah ranging the lowers stars
to beautify the Heavens and to guard “against all obstinate rebellious evil
51 Adh-Dhaariyat / The Winnowing Winds
(1) By the (Winds) that scatter broadcast;
(2) And those that lift and bear away heavy weights;
(3) And those that flow with ease and gentleness;
(4) And those that distribute and apportion by
(5) Verily that which ye are promised is true;
(6) And verily Judgment and Justice must indeed come
(7) By the Sky with (its) numerous Paths,
(8) Truly ye are in a doctrine discordant,
(9) Through which are deluded (away from the Truth)
such as would be deluded.
(10) Woe to the falsehood-mongers,-
(11) Those who (flounder) heedless in a flood of
The winds play an important role in dispersing seeds,
pollen and spores. These carry the clouds that bring rain which revive
vegetation and help grow crops and fruit in abundance. The ships sail with their help and wind power
finds many other uses. The winds play a beneficial role without which life on
this earth is not possible. This is a Sign of Allah and of his Mercy and
distributive justice and power to do all things. Man however chooses the wrong
path from the many paths available to him forgetting Allah and His Power to
bring him to justice.
We have seen that the adjurations in the Quran are not
like the oaths of us human beings, but among the most powerful and most easily
understood Signs of Allah, through which Allah makes the most telling points.
These draw our attention to what is both striking and obvious, to serve as
evidence for the Message that needs to be understood. We have also seen that
there is no mystery in the adjurations and neither does it require deep
mystical knowledge to understand their meaning and purpose. It requires
simplicity, humility and integrity to understand but not complex or esoteric
scholarship. The scholars with their esoteric scholarship have made heavy
weather of these simple to understand adjurations and confused themselves and
Ahmed is an Engineering graduate from IIT Kanpur and is an independent IT
consultant after having served in both the Public and Private sector in
responsible positions for over three decades. He is a frequent contributor to
New Age Islam, Islam Online, Islamic Website, African Muslim News, Arab World News, South Asia News, Indian Muslim News, World Muslim News, Women in Islam, Islamic Feminism, Arab Women, Women In Arab, Islamophobia in America, Muslim Women in West, Islam Women and Feminism
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,
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.