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Essence of Polytheism (2)
Amin Ahsan Islahi
(Tr. by:Nikhat Sattar)


Worship of the Jinn


Similar to the angels, the Arabs also considered the jinn to be above the status of worshippers and a group belonging to the realm of the divine. The Qur’ān refers to this assumption of theirs in the following words:


And they have invented a blood-relationship between Him and the jinn: but the jinn know [quite well] that they have indeed to appear [before his Judgment-Seat]! Glory to Allah. [He is free] from the things they ascribe [to Him]!” (37:158-159)

As a consequence of their inclusion in this superior status, the jinn were believed to be part of the divine creator. “Yet they make the jinn equals with Allah, though Allah did create the jinn” (6:100)

These jinn began to be considered to be providers of benefit or harm, in the same sense as God should be. It was believed that if the jinn wanted to harm anyone, no one could stop them and if they wished to benefit someone, they could do so without any restrictions. As a result, human sacrifice, which is the last stage of subservience and degradation and of which only God is worthy, began to be offered to them to calm their rage and anger. Even God has not demanded human sacrifice in the form in which it was offered to the jinn. The Qur’ān says: “Even so, in the eyes of most of the pagans, their ‘partners’ made alluring the slaughter of their children.” (6:137)

In case of tribulations, the Idolaters called out to the jinn and sought their protection. “True, there were persons among mankind who took shelter with persons among the jinn, but they increased them in folly.” (72:6) 

Because of the belief in their divinity, it began to be thought that they had access to a group of angels from whom they could bring information related to the supernatural for soothsayers. Hence the business of sorcery thrived on the basis of these beliefs. The Qur’ān refutes this:


We have indeed decked the lower heaven with beauty [in] the stars, - [For beauty] and for guard against all obstinate rebellious evil spirits. [So] they should not strain their ears in the direction of the Exalted Assembly but be cast away from every side, Repulsed, for they are under a perpetual penalty, Except such as snatch away something by stealth, and they are pursued by a flaming fire, of piercing brightness. (37:6-10)


Sorcerers interacted with the jinn in their keenness to predict the future and thus involved a large population in the evils of black magic, thus giving rise to worship of the jinn. The Qur’ān refers to this:  

O’ you assembly of The jinn! Much (toll) did you take of men. (6:128) 

The sorcerers fulfilled all requirements of worship and servitude to the jinn, focus on meditation to them in order to learn of future happenings and when ignorant people came to them to listen to predictions, they would con them through true and false tales. The Qur’ān refers to their craftiness”


[Into whose ears] they pour hearsay vanities, and most of them are liars. (26:223)


The Qur’ān is in the form of poetry with rhyming words at the beginning and end, as was the discourse of the sorcerers and both included predictions. Due to this apparent similarity, the Quraysh, at the beginning of prophethood, taunted the Prophet (sws) that he was a sorcerer and that his revelations were not brought by angels but that it was merely revelations brought by the jinn who did the same for other sorcerers. The Qur’ān refuted this:   

No evil ones have brought down this [Revelation]: It would neither suit them nor would they be able [to produce it]. Indeed they have been removed far from even [a chance of] hearing it. (26:210-212) 

The first answer that the Qur’ān has given to the Quraysh is the same as given by Jesus (sws) to his detractors, the Pharisees. When the Pharisees first heard the impactful speeches from Jesus (sws), observed his miracles and achievements, and saw that people were becoming his followers in large numbers, to reduce his influence and to make people suspect him, they started to spread the idea that Jesus (sws) had brought the biggest devil Beelzebub under his control through some magic and was demonstrating these miracles with his help, claiming that he did so with the help of God in order to impress people. The Bible says:


But when the Pharisees heard this, they said: “It is only by Beelzebub, the prince of demons that this fellow drives out demons.” (Matthew, 12:24)


Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them: “Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand. If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand?” (Matthew, 12:25-26)

By using the words “It would neither suit them”, the Qur’ān refers to the same reality: how can these revelations, of which every word is against the objectives and desires of Satan come with help from Satan? How can he destroy his own dastardly business by bringing this blessed Book of guidance? If he were to do so, this means that he would destroy his own world and become his own enemy.

The second part “nor would they be able [to produce it]. Indeed they have been removed far from even [a chance of) hearing it” is the same as given above in the verses from Sūrah Sāffāt (37) and which the jinn admit to themselves in Sūrah Jinn (72): “We used, indeed, to sit there in [hidden] stations, to [steal] a hearing; but any who listen now will find a flaming fire watching him in ambush.” (72:9)

The Qur’ān has also refuted any connection between the jinn and angels and has repeatedly said that there is no satanic influence in it. To this effect, it has sworn by the falling of stars, their breaking and throwing as a means of evidence. This meant the falling of meteors and the driving away of devils. Examples of this are given in Sūrah Wāqi‘ah, Sūrah hāqqah, Sūrah Takwīr and Sūrah Najm. Sūrah Shūrā refutes this from another perspective. It is said that devils cannot come upon prophets: just as the fly sits on filthy and impure things, devils and the jinn descend upon dirty and evil souls only. They do not dare descend upon God’s messengers or make any adulteration to their discourse through their own sayings: “Shall I inform you, [O people!], on whom it is that the evil ones descend? They descend on every lying, wicked person, [into whose ears] they pour hearsay vanities, and most of them are liars. (26:221-223)



Star Worship


All idol worshipping nations have worshipped the sun and moon as an established ritual. Arabs also considered these to be divine beings. The Qur’ān has refuted this:  

Among His Signs are the Night and the Day, and the Sun and the Moon. Adore not the sun and the moon, but adore Allah, Who created them, if it is Him ye wish to serve. (41:37) 

The people of Arabia were also believers in the influence of star zones. They believed that star zones  had a great deal to do with prosperity of the earth. They considered rain to be their blessing. When it rained, they would say: “such and such  star zone poured a lot.” This connection, for them was not figurative but they really had faith that it was the job of  star zone to bring down rain. The famous star “Sirius” was also an idol of the Arabs. Ta’bbata Sharran says:

شامس في القر حتى اذا ما

ذكت الشعرى فبرد و ظل

(The Praised One brings warmth during winter until Sirius emerges in summer, it causes shadow and coolness.)


Winter in Arabia was a season of poverty and famine. Cold winds from the North brought all trading activities across Arabia to an end. This is why Arabs called winter days ominous days. Travel and trade activities were considered specific to summer and because Sirius emerged during these days, all of this blessing was assumed to be related to this star. The Qur’ān has refuted this claim in Sūrah Najm:  

That it is He Who gives wealth and satisfaction; that He is the Lord of Sirius. (53:48-49) 

The religious concepts of Arabs combined these various elements to put together a collection of gods, in which God occupied the status of one who is placed high upon the skies, or one who is the mighty god, and the other gods were His courtiers or members of His kingdom. Similitude, that has always been a significant aspect and causes of shirk, added another element to this concept. They started to believe that just as the rulers and kings on earth deputed management of their remote areas to their officials, so had God given responsibility of ruling and managing the arrangements of the world to these gods. He devoted His time only to matters related with management of the heavens, which held the status of a capital. For the world, His status was no more than a reclusive first cause who was not in touch with normal happenings of the world. While this concept relates to purity and dissociation from any pollution, and was found among many idol worshipping nations, it negates, on the one hand, the omnipotence of God and His knowledge, and, on the other, it results in division of His power and control. This is why the Qur’ān has refuted it:  

Allah: There is no god but He, the Living, the Self-Subsisting, Eternal. No slumber can seize Him nor sleep. His are all things in the heavens and on earth. Who is there can intercede in His presence except as He permits? He knows what [appears to His creatures as] before or after or behind them. Nor shall they compass aught of His knowledge except as He wills. His Throne doth extend over the heavens and the earth, and He feels no fatigue in guarding and preserving them for He is the Most High, the Supreme [in glory]. (2:255) 

Verily your Lord is Allah, who created the heavens and the earth in six days, and is firmly established on the throne [of authority], regulating and governing all things. No intercessor (can plead with Him) except after His leave [has been obtained]. (10:3)


The Qur’ān refutes the partitioning of God’s kingdom as a consequence of such division of responsibilities:


Allah has said: “Take not [for worship] two gods: for He is just One Allah. Then fear Me [and Me alone].” (16:51)

It is He Who is Allah in heaven and Allah on earth; and He is full of Wisdom and Knowledge. (43:84)

The same idea is given in the following verses.

Say: “If there had been [other] gods with Him, as they say, behold, they would certainly have sought out a way to the Lord of the Throne!”(17:42)

If there were, in the heavens and the earth, other gods besides Allah, there would have been confusion in both! but glory to Allah, the Lord of the Throne: [High is He] above what they attribute to Him! (21:22) 

By believing these gods to be directly involved in management of the earth, the Arabs considered them to be eligible for all the requirements of worship and veneration that were reserved for God. The Ka‘bah was for God; so they made special altars and idols for them. Hajj and sacrifice were rituals for God, so for them too, Hajj and sacrifice rituals were established. God stated specific animals as sacrifice for specific rituals, the idolaters established bahīra, sā’ibah, wasīlah and hām1 for their gods. There was a reserved quota for God in agricultural produce and livestock: the gods were also considered to be worthy of specified shares of the same. Since these gods were responsible for the control and management of worldly affairs, their share was higher.    

Even so, in the eyes of most of the pagans, their partners made alluring the slaughter of their children, in order to lead them to their own destruction, and cause confusion in their religion. If Allah had willed, they would not have done so: But leave alone them and their inventions. (6:137)

God’s share could be transferred to them; their share could not be given to God. Only animals could be sacrificed for God, but, as stated above, even children could be offered in sacrifice for the gods. God had declared harām only a few things for them. But many other things were made taboo in relation to these gods. God sent revelation and inspiration: these gods began to make decisions through the spears of chance.

The elite would implement all of these acts of worship for the jinn, angels and planets, but these were not available to common people. The latter would consider idols made of mud, stone and wood to be the drivers of the world. The Qur’ān has kept the mentality of both the elite and common men when refuting idol worship:    

Verily those whom ye call upon besides Allah are servants like unto you: Call upon them, and let them listen to your prayer, if ye are truthful! (7:194)

 If ye call them to guidance, they will not obey: For you it is the same whether ye call them or ye hold your peace! 7:193)


Ancestor Worship

In this gathering of gods, they gave space to those ancestors, narratives of whose religious sanctity were wide spread among them. Their graves and signs first became centres of blessings and acceptance of prayers and evolved into deities. Gradually, they developed beliefs and concepts similar to the ones they had about The jinn and angels. The Qur’ān refuted this:

Those whom they invoke besides Allah create nothing and are themselves created. [They are things] dead, lifeless: nor do they know when they will be raised up. (16:20-21)

The worst thing about this was that they gave the behaviour and attitudes of their ancestors the status of religion and shariah. Hence, in resistance to the call from the Prophet (sws), the greatest driving factor was this obsession with ancestor worship. When they were invited to follow the path of God and His rules and instructions were explained to them they would say: “What! Shall we give up the ways of our forefathers merely on the wishes of a crazy poet? This cannot be.”


When it is said to them: “Come to what Allah hath revealed; come to the Messenger.” They say: “Enough for us are the ways we found our fathers following.” what! Even though their fathers were void of knowledge and guidance?” (5:104)


The last part of this verse suggests that while the behaviour and living style of ancestors is good because one is emotionally attached to them, yet it cannot be deemed correct merely on the basis of its practice by ancestors. The basic questions that must be asked are whether these practices are rational; aligned with human nature; consistent with morality: briefly, whether it is according to the path decreed by God. If it meets these criteria, it is correct and the fact that one’s ancestors also followed it is in its favour. But if it is proven fake on the basis of these criteria, it is false, and the fact of it having being practiced by ancestors cannot provide it any legitimacy.

The world has always tended to hold extreme views in this matter. Ancient ignorance maintained that the way of ancestors was always the right one, simply because it had been going on for ages. The view that the modern age takes can best be defined by the words of the poet Tennyson: “If the best behaviour exists always, it will damage the world.” Both these paths are the paths of extremes. One is based on following the ignorant, as a result of not using one’s rationality; the other is based on rebellion and arrogance, which is the consequence of taking one’s rationality beyond its limits. One guides towards a type of shirk, ancestor worship; the other takes one towards atheism and disbelief in the Day of Judgement, that is, in itself, the door to self worship. In both the paths, a human is deprived of the realities of God consciousness and oblivious of his responsibilities towards life after death. If it cannot be valid for a human to put a seal on his ability to think and differentiate and thus become part of a herd of cattle, it is equally not legitimate for him to leave one path and enter another without assessing the veracity of one and errors of the other.

In both these paths, a human is guilty of following the footsteps of Satan. The path of rationality and nature is the one that is found in the lives of good people and prophets and messengers before their prophethood. Their approach was that as soon as they reached adulthood, they evaluated the traditions they had inherited and, if they found anything contradictory to rationality and their natural inclination, they bid farewell to it. In this path, they had to tolerate innumerous tribulations from their people. But they did not pay any heed to this. These people were the pinnacle of humanity and they have been the front liners in obtaining the benefits of truth always. Just as when the sun rises, its rays shine upon the highest peaks, similarly, whenever truth has shone in the world, their hearts and minds lit up first. An excellent example of this is from the life of Joseph (sws). It is said: 

I have abandoned the ways of a people that believe not in Allah and that [even] deny the Hereafter. And I follow the ways of my fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and never could we attribute any partners whatever to Allah. That [comes] of the grace of Allah to us and to mankind. (12:37-38)

It is known about Joseph (sws) that, apparently, he neither accepted any religion, nor abandoned any. He remained on the same religion in which he was born until the end of his life and revelation came to him while he was following this religion. He came across the Coptic faith in Egypt, but his pure heart remained unaffected by its impurities. However, he says that he left the religion of his nation that did not believe in God and the Day of Judgement and entered that of his ancestors, Abraham (sws), Isaac (sws) and Jacob (sws). It is obvious that this renouncement and acceptance was rational and internal. He had not accepted his ancestor’s faith merely because it was his inheritance, but he had assessed its truth and validity with all the purity of heart and piety of his soul. This path was the result of his own evaluation, had become his own and had penetrated every fibre of his being. His rationality gave evidence to its truth and his heart was completely satisfied over the fact that it was natural and God given. He had not become attached to it because of his prejudice towards his ancestors. He would have followed this path, had there been not a single being in the world doing the same. It was by the grace of God that his ancestors followed the same path. This is proven by the life of trials and tribulations he led in Egypt. Challenges came one after the other but he did not falter. Even as darkness increased, so did his composure. The more he was made to move from his stand, the more he became firm. People in the world, who accept a path as guided by the light of understanding, do so in its reality, not as a means to imitate others, even if the latter were their ancestors. And if they leave any path, they leave it on its own value, even if they did not tread it at all. This is the discernment and analysis of the core of a religion. If this does not exist, all faiths become lifeless and soulless. This is so to the extent that if anyone accepts truth not because it is the truth, but because it was the religion of his ancestors, he would be committing ancestor worship, which is shirk.

In this gathering of gods, the idolaters of Arabia were also included. But before the warnings of the revelation, just as they had been ignorant of other idolatrous practices and beliefs, they were also unaware of this. They called themselves servants of God, but were ignorant of the requirements and essentials of servitude. Hence they had crossed the boundaries of servitude and entered the sphere of divinity. We shall briefly discuss these various forms of transgressions as mentioned in the Qur’ān as these are extremely significant.

a. It is known that the Arabs did not deny their status as servants and the greatness of God. However, they had deviated from serving God and its requirements. ie. worshipping only Him and of following the true path. They included others in this obedience. For them worship was nothing more than a few rituals. They were not concerned if worship was of God and they obeyed themselves or others. Instead of God’s guidance, they would follow their own desires, ancestors, leaders and rulers against the instructions of God and think that this made no difference to their worship. But the Qur’ān warned that worshipping God is meaningless without obeying Him. It is an essential requirement of serving God that He also be obeyed.


Verily it is We Who have revealed the Book to thee in Truth: so serve Allah, offering Him sincere devotion. Is it not to Allah that sincere devotion is due? But those who take for protectors other than Allah [say]: “We only serve them in order that they may bring us nearer to Allah.” Truly Allah will judge between them in that wherein they differ. But Allah guides not such as are false and ungrateful.  (39:2-3)


Verses of similar content are found in many places in the Qur’ān and if quoted here, would result in lengthening the text. The meaning of all is that the faith which God had revealed had been altered and changed to the extent that it created many differences among people and many innovations. This resulted in a barrier to pure worship of God. In the presence of innovations, people who were worshipping God were deprived of His worship, because although they believed in Him, they obeyed entities other than Him. This Book erased these differences and removed involvement of things unrelated to God in the sharī‘ah. It emerged as a decisive statement between truth and falsehood. Now, the worship of and obedience of God is a straight path. Thus, worship Him, and obey Him only. That is, only the worship accompanied by total obedience is trustworthy. If God’s name is evoked at specific times, and others, including one’s own desires are made a part of obedience, then this is merely the kingdom of Nimrod, from which no good can be expected.


Seest thou such a one as takes for his god his own passion (or impulse)? Could thou be a disposer of affairs for him? (25:43)


The path to obey God is to follow the footsteps of His messengers.


He who obeys the Messenger, obeys Allah. But if any turn away, We have not sent thee to watch over their (evil deeds). (4:80)


This is why all prophets have invited people to worship God and obey them.

That ye should worship Allah, fear Him and obey me: (71:3)


This means that God must be worshipped and served by obeying His prophet and at the same time, those people who are against the path of God must be ignored. Messengers, too have clarified this: “And follow not the bidding of those who are extravagant.” (26:151). Obey us and do not follow those who have exceeded God’s boundaries and are rebellious.

This is the exact stage where the dispute between believers of tawhīd and polytheism becomes active. When the worship of God does not rely only on worship rituals but demands that servants of God obey only Him, and declare that every obedience that goes against God’s obedience is shirk, this is unacceptable to those people who claim that they themselves are also worth being worshipped. From among the scholars of Islam, Ibn Taymiyah has written an essay titled “al-‘Ubūdiyyah” that is extremely useful. It brings to light the fact that worship is not a collection of rituals, but that the entire religion is encapsulated within its meaning and that worship of God without obeying Him is meaningless.

b. Based on this, God has stated that law making was in His purview and did not allow anyone to share in it. Thus, in many places where tawhīd has been mentioned, it is said that it is God’s prerogative to declare something halāl or harām. He is the King: it is His right to make laws for His subjects and His Kingdom. Making laws that go against His laws is going against tawhīd, following in the footsteps of the devils and refuting worship of God. The person who makes a law against the law of God is suggesting that he is an associate of God, and if he gives this right to someone else, he is associating him with God. If he further claims that this law is from God, he is guilty of fabrication as well as shirk upon God. If we read verses number 163-173 of Surah Baqarah. The first five verses mention tawhid and then the following verse is given:


O ye people! Eat of what is on earth, Lawful and good; and do not follow the footsteps of the evil one, for he is to you an avowed enemy. (2:168)


“Do not follow the footsteps of the evil one” indicates the invitation to shirk which Satan had pointed to on the very first day:


I will mislead them, and I will create in them false desires; I will order them to slit the ears of cattle, and to deface the nature created by Allah. Whoever, forsaking Allah, takes Satan for a friend, has of a surety suffered a loss that is manifest. (4:119)


After this, the real purpose of Satan has been clarified, that he invites man towards obscenity and evil, wants him to establish for himself what is halāl and harām, become his own path and then connect it to God without any evidence. 

Then, the Qur’ān says that when man is invited to guidance from the Lord, he brings evidence of traditions of his ancestors, whereas such traditions carry no evidence unless the basis of their beliefs and practices is built upon the path of God. Sticking to the traditions of ancestors without proof of sharī‘ah is to evict oneself from the group of humans and enter the herd of cattle and be included in those who are deaf and dumb:


When it is said to them: “Follow what Allah has revealed.” They say: “Nay! we shall follow the ways of our fathers.” What! Even though their fathers were void of wisdom and guidance? The parable of those who reject faith is as if one were to shout like a goat-herd, to things that listen to nothing but calls and cries: deaf, dumb, and blind, they are void of wisdom. (2:170-171)


It is then said that for them who claim to worship God, it cannot be that they worship God, but declare things halāl and harām based on their own desires. The essential requirement of His worship is that one accepts His right to establish the law and clarify it.


O ye who believe! Eat of the good things that We have provided for you, and be grateful to Allah, if it is Him ye worship. (2:172)


This point has been made essential for worship and servitude of God in all God revealed religions that matters of life be run according to the revealed sharī‘ah and nothing else be made a guiding principle.

Giving examples of previous nations, God informs us that the same instruction had been given to Jews:


It was We who revealed the law [to Moses]: therein was guidance and light. By its standard have been judged the Jews, by the prophets who bowed [as in Islam] to Allah’s will, by the rabbis and the doctors of law: for to them was entrusted the protection of Allah’s book, and they were witnesses thereto: therefore fear not men, but fear me, and sell not my signs for a miserable price. If any do fail to judge by [the light of] what Allah hath revealed, they are [no better than] unbelievers. (5:44)


Then the Qur’ān tells us that the same instruction had been given to Christians that they should manage the affairs of their lives according to God’s revelation, otherwise they would be considered anarchic.


Let the people of the Gospel judge by what Allah hath revealed therein. If any do fail to judge by [the light of] what Allah hath revealed, they are [no better than] those who rebel. (5:47)


And then, the Qur’ān says that the same instruction is now given to Muslims, to run their lives according to the guidance provided in the Book that has been revealed to them:


To thee We sent the Scripture in truth, confirming the scripture that came before it, and guarding it in safety: so judge between them by what Allah hath revealed, and follow not their vain desires, diverging from the Truth that has come to thee. (5:48)


The very same message in greater detail is given in verses 136 to 153. The last verse says that groups are bonded together and discipline is established on the basis of law and sharī‘ah, and, hence it is necessary that the right of God only to make laws and sharī‘ah is accepted. He is the Creator and the Lord. If others are included in this right, and every nation and group is given the right to make its own laws, a natural consequence would be indiscipline, chaos and anarchy:


Verily, this is My way, leading straight: follow it: follow not [other] paths: they will scatter you about from His [great] path: thus doth He command you. That ye may be righteous. (6:153)


The same requirement of tawhīd and framing of laws in given in verses 54 and 55 of Sūrah Nahl, but there is no space for much detail.

c. One form of self worship is when some people who have prosperous and free of care and have had control over wealth and resources of knowledge and art, begin to believe that this state of peace and satisfaction is their personal right and the fruit of their own capabilities and knowledge. This mental condition, whether of an individual or group, is one of mischief. It gives rise to many problems. If one delves within its depths, one finds that it is clearly shirk. Because everything that is in the world belongs to God; all resources have been created by Him and the manner in which we use our bodies and our mental capacities and abilities are also His endowments to us:


Say: It is He Who has created you [and made you grow], and made for you the faculties of hearing, seeing, feeling and understanding: little thanks it is ye give. (67:23)


No grade of our rise and ability, no status of our knowledge and benevolence and no position of our dignity and grandeur is one which could make us independent of devotion and servitude to Him. As Sulaymān (sws) and Dhū al-Qarnayn, we are as poor and needy as Salmān (rta) and Abū Dharr (rta). Indigence and humility is our personal characteristic that we cannot be rid of, regardless of the heights we might reach of power and strength.

This form of shirk was also present among the Arabs of jāhilliyah, and they believed their prosperity and care free lives to be the result of their wisdom and knowledge and the fruit of their personal right. They did not believe in life after death, and even if they did as an assumption, they did not believe that it was necessary to have firm beliefs or to carry out necessary actions towards it. They thought that they would live happily then, as they were doing in this life. This good life was their personal privilege and no one could deprive them of this. The Qur’ān has portrayed this mental condition:


Now, when trouble touches man, he cries to Us: But when We bestow a favour upon him as from Ourselves, he says: “This has been given to me because of a certain knowledge [I have]!” Nay, but this is but a trial, but most of them understand not! (39:49)


In other words, humans do not gain anything from their own abilities; whatever they gain is through God’s endowment and His purpose is to challenge them to see if they are grateful or not. But many are ignorant of this challenge and are often ungrateful. They consider what they obtain from God is a result of their abilities and the fruit of their personal right and hence assume a share in God’s power. This is the root of arrogance and anarchy. In another place, this arrogant mentality is explained as follows:


When we give him a taste of some Mercy from Ourselves, after some adversity has touched him, he is sure to say: “This is due to my [merit]: I think not that the Hour [of Judgment] will [ever] be established; but if I am brought back to my Lord, I have [much] good [stored] in His sight!” But We will show the unbelievers the truth of all that they did, and We shall give them the taste of a severe penalty. (41:50)


The same mentality is mentioned in Sūrah Muddaththir.


To whom I granted resources in abundance, And sons to be by his side! To whom I made [life] smooth and comfortable! Yet is he greedy-that I should add [yet more]. (74:12-15)


The last sentence: “that I should add yet more” means that he thinks that even if he has to return to God, he will get much more there than what he has in this world. This is because he considers all this wealth and status to be his right, not a challenge and endowment from God.

This is depicted in Sūrah Ma‘ārij:


Now what is the matter with the unbelievers that they rush madly before thee- From the right and from the left, in crowds?  Does every man of them long to enter the Garden of Bliss?  By no means! For We have created them out of the [base matter] they know! (70:36-39)


This is a depiction of the situation faced by the Prophet (sws) when he was inviting people towards the Qur’ān. When he would relate the verses about humiliation of rulers and of reward and punishment, leaders of the Quraysh were stricken. The idea of a day coming when the scale of height and lowliness would be in the hands of faith and good deeds, and the poorest of farmers and humblest of labourers would be envied by the greatest of leaders was unacceptable to them. When they heard these verses of the Qur’ān, they would refute them and would pounce upon the Prophet (sws), eager to ridicule them. In the arrogance of the personal right which is the natural consequence of an inherited hegemony, they said that even if they did return to God, they would be better off there than these lowly people. Whatever they possessed was their rightful privilege and it could not be taken from them anywhere, either in this world or in the next. They were born to rule, to live a luxurious life and to remain above other people. The Qur’ān answered them:


For We have created them out of the (base matter) they know! (70:39)


It was not necessary to define the words “they know”: its insignificance was well known to them. The drop of liquid that is not worth the sense of superiority and purity, pride over inherited and personal claims and lineage and the human whose entire capabilities, strengths and energies are confined between the two weaknesses of childhood and old age:


It is Allah Who created you in a state of [helpless] weakness, then gave [you] strength after weakness, then, after strength, gave you weakness and a hoary head: He creates as He wills, and it is He Who has all knowledge and power.(30:54)


It is not legitimate for this human to consider himself beyond servitude, oblivious of action and obedience and an associate of God in His power. This reality has been explained in Surah Najm explicitly.


Yes, to Allah belongs all that is in the heavens and on earth: so that He rewards those who do evil, according to their deeds, and He rewards those who do good, with what is best. Those who avoid great sins and shameful deeds, only (falling into) small faults, verily thy Lord is ample in forgiveness. He knows you well when He brings you out of the earth, And when ye are hidden in your mothers’ wombs. Therefore justify not yourselves: He knows best who it is that guards against evil.  (53:31-32)


The intercession of angels has been refuted in the verse above it, and then the truth of reward and punishment has been explained. It is said that success before God is only for those people who refrain from lewdness and bad deeds, and if ever they do get drops of mud on their clothes, they wash them away with tears of remorse and penitence. As for those who are engrossed in thoughts of arrogance of personal rights, and believe in their own greatness and worthy of Paradise by birth, they should know that God was aware of them when He created them out of dust, and then when they were placed as a drop in the wombs of their mothers and took the form of embryos. It does not become such lowly and insignificant beings whose beginnings were so humble, to be overwhelmed with their superiority. Whatever they have is what God has given them. Not a particle is the result of their abilities and power.

This idolatrous mindset is portrayed in Sūrah Kahf:


Set forth to them the parable of two men: for one of them We provided two gardens of grape-vines and surrounded them with date palms; in between the two We placed corn-fields. Each of those gardens brought forth its produce, and failed not in the least therein: in the midst of them We caused a river to flow. [Abundant] was the produce this man had: he said to his companion, in the course of a mutual argument: “More wealth have I than you, and more honour and power in [my following of] men.” He went into his garden in a state [of mind] unjust to his soul: He said: “I deem not that this will ever perish, nor do I deem that the Hour [of Judgment] will [ever] come: Even if I am brought back to my Lord, I shall surely find [there] something better in exchange.” His companion said to him, in the course of the argument with him: “Do you deny Him Who created thee out of dust, then out of a sperm-drop, then fashioned thee into a man? But [I think] for my part that He is Allah, My Lord, and none shall I associate with my Lord.” (18:32-36)         


This is a portrayal of the pride that held great importance in the life of Arabs. The word “contempt” is often used for it in Arabic literature. If one thinks about it, all the problems of a mind possessed with pride and arrogance of perceived personal rights become clear. In answer to this, the other person who believes in tawhid says the same thing which has been stated in the verses of Sūrah Najm and Sūrah Ma‘ārij above. That is, his attention has been brought to creation and its reality; the human whose reality is dust, who was a drop of impure liquid in its beginning, personal claim is completely meaningless. And then the fact that this pride and arrogance is actually shirk. The person who develops this pride in himself associates himself with God. He then disassociates himself from this shirk. “But (I think) for my part that He is Allah, My Lord, and none shall I associate with my Lord.” In the verse that follows, there is mention of destruction of the self righteous man and his laments are described in these words: “Woe is me! Would I had never ascribed partners to my Lord and Cherisher!” (18:42)


It appears from this that as long as wealth and prosperity existed, his eyes remained closed; he was proud of his wisdom and strength, his gatherings and his equipage; but when his garden was destroyed and neither his strategy nor his servants could be of any help, “Nor had he numbers to help him against Allah, nor was he able to deliver himself. (18:43), the irrelevance of these idols was clear to him and he lamented upon his bad luck for having associated them with God.

The minds that are full of pride become depressed and disheartened, but as soon as circumstances change and wealth and property comes together; the trappings of shows of glory and strength are visible; the lordliness buried within their desires is awakened and they become haughty and conceited, in the words of the Qur’ān, and begin to spend their entire strength in creating anarchy on earth and forcing others to accept their superiority, over and above the kingship of God:


He it is Who enables you to traverse through land and sea; so that ye even board ships; they sail with them with a favourable wind, and they rejoice thereat; then comes a stormy wind and the waves come to them from all sides, and they think they are being overwhelmed: they cry unto Allah, sincerely offering (their) duty unto Him saying, "If thou dost deliver us from this, we shall truly show our gratitude! But when he delivers them, behold! they transgress insolently through the earth in defiance of right! O mankind! your insolence is against your own souls,- an enjoyment of the life of the present: in the end, to Us is your return, and We shall show you the truth of all that ye did.” (10:22-23)


This is the mentality of idolaters, as mentioned in Sūrah Qasas:


But seek, with the [wealth] which Allah has bestowed on thee, the Home of the Hereafter, nor forget thy portion in this world: but do thou good, as Allah has been good to thee, and seek not [occasions for] mischief in the land: for Allah loves not those who do mischief. He said: “This has been given to me because of a certain knowledge which I have.” Did he not know that Allah had destroyed, before him, [whole] generations, which were superior to him in strength and greater in the amount [of riches] they had collected? but the wicked are not called [immediately] to account for their sins. (28:77-78)


It is mentioned in Sūrah Fajr:


Now, as for man, when his Lord tries him, giving him honour and gifts, then saith he, (puffed up): “My Lord has honoured me.” But when He trieth him, restricting his subsistence for him, then sys he [in despair]: “My Lord has humiliated me!” (89:15-16)


In other words, he either becomes proud and conceited and begins to spread anarchy, thinking that he is worthy of honour and whatever he has is due to his own privilege, or becomes despicable and abject, believing that God has abased and forsaken him. He thus loses the self respect that could provide him the status of a dignified and honourable person in society. This imbalance is the result of the mistake a person makes when he begins to believe that the blessings of God are due to his own privilege and the fruits of his own ability and efforts. This idea is an idolatrous idea. The monotheistic concept is that hardship and good times, times of prosperity and poverty, all come from God; that all are challenges for him. He should believe that prosperous times are for him to give thanks and times of poverty are a challenge for his perseverance. A servant is assessed on the scale of faith in both these situations because faith is the totality of both gratitude and perseverance. If a person has this idea, his inner self will be balanced. He will neither lose heart when faced with problems, nor will he become proud and arrogant during times of wealth and prosperity. When he is surrounded by enemies and there are huge rewards for his head, then when the last danger is upon him, he will console his only companion in these words: “If ye help not [your leader], [it is no matter]: for Allah did indeed help him, when the Unbelievers drove him out: he had no more than one companion; they two were in the cave, and he said to his companion: ‘Have no fear, for Allah is with us.’ Then Allah sent down His peace upon him, and strengthened him with forces which ye saw not, and humbled to the depths the word of the Unbelievers. But the word of Allah is exalted to the heights: for Allah is Exalted in might, Wise.” (9:40); and when he might be mistaken for a great king within his vast clouds of armies, his forehead is prostrating to his God on the saddle of his horse. The Qur’ān has used the term nafs e muṭma’innah for such a soul:


[To the righteous soul will be said:] “O (thou) soul, in [complete] rest and satisfaction! Come back thou to thy Lord, well pleased [thyself], and well-pleasing unto Him!” (89:27-30) 


(Translated by Nikhat Sattar)  




1. Bahīra, sā’ibah, wasīlah and hām are specific types of animals that were left in the name of their gods and were considered to be as sacred as the sacrificial animals.  


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