“Then let man look at his food”
“Then let man look at his food”
(Surat Abasa (He frowned): 24)
By: Dr. / Zaghloul El-Naggar
This venerable ayah comes at the beginning of the second half of Surat Abasa [He Frowned]. It is a Makkan Surah comprised of 42 ayahs. Its major focal point is a great Islamic principle denoting that superiority between people can exist only on the basis of their devoutness--not taking into consideration their ancestry, financial abilities, social levels, rank, power, age, color, or race. Allah wanted to enhance this value in the hearts and the minds of Muslims, thus He illustrated it through an event involving His Messenger (peace be upon him) in the revered city of Makkah.
The Messenger was occupied with inviting a group of Qurayshi leaders to Allah’s final religion (Islam), so he turned away from a blind companion - one of the first to embrace Islam - who came to ask him about an Islamic issue. Therefore, Allah (SWT) sent down a reprimand at the beginning of this honorable Surah emphasizing the truth He revealed in another part of His book saying “Verily, the most honorable of you with Allah is that (believer) who has At-Taqwa (i.e. he is one of the Muttaqun (the pious). Verily, Allah is All-Knowing, All-Aware."*
(Surat Al-Hujurat (The Apartments): 13).
In order to establish this Islamic principle without which human societies cannot be reformed, Allah (glory be to Him) sent down from the seventh sky this reproach to His most beloved human creature and the one nearest to Him. This high principle must govern human societies if people want to live according to Allah’s doctrine and, thus, achieve the goal for which they have been created. That is why Allah has preserved this reproach in His honorable book which will be read till the Day of Judgment. It is a reminder of this human value which Muslims must take into consideration within their societies in general and in their Da’wa to the religion of Allah, in particular.
This Surah touches upon man’s ungratefulness towards his Creator (SWT). It reminds him of his origin, his growth, and how Allah prepared him for this life and smoothed the paths for him. It also reminds him that his earthly life will end in a tomb after death; and his resurrection will be to account for his deeds.
The ayahs respond to this human ungratefulness by giving a number of indications of Allah’s capability; how He has excelled in creating man and providing him, as well as his cattle, with food. It reminds him of the hereafter and its terrors and trials; illustrating some of its scenes and portraying the impact on Allah’s creatures. These are divided into two groups: happy, optimistic believers and miserable, afflicted unbelievers.
This venerable Surah starts with the reference to the incident that concerns the companion, Abdullah Amr Ibn Qays, known as Ibn Umm Maktoom. This happened in the honorable city of Makkah before immigration to Madinah. Though Ibn Umm Maktoom was blind yet he was quite insightful as he was one of the first to embrace Islam. One day, he came to ask the Prophet about an Islamic issue and found him occupied in arguing with some Qurayshi leaders and calling them to Allah’s final religion, hoping they would support it rather than have enmity and repulsion for it. In this confusion, Ibn Umm Maktoom insisted on questioning the Prophet while the latter wished he had waited a little bit till he might convince these Qurayshi leaders. But Ibn Umm Maktoom went on asking him, so the Prophet (PBUH) frowned and turned away from him. Allah (glory be to Him) sent down this Surah in which He vigorously reproached His Messenger over this incident.
At first the message of this Surah was impersonal; then, Allah directly addressed the Prophet (PBUH). He says “(The Prophet) frowned and turned away. Because there came to him the blind man (i.e. 'Abdullah bin Umm-Maktum, who came to the Prophet (PBUH) while he was preaching to one or some of the Quraish chiefs). And how can you know that he might become pure (from sins)? Or he might receive admonition, and the admonition might profit him? As for him who thinks himself self-sufficient, to him you attend; what does it matter to you if he will not become pure (from disbelief: you are only a Messenger, your duty is to convey the message of Allah). But as to him who came to you running, And is afraid (of Allah and His punishment), Of him you are neglectful and divert your attention to another. Nay, (do not do like this); indeed it (this Qur'an) is an admonition; So whoever wills, let him pay attention to it. (It is) in Records held (greatly) in honor (Al-Lauh Al-Mahfuz), Exalted (in dignity), purified, In the hands of scribes (angels); Honorable and obedient.” *
(Surat Abasa (He frowned): 1-16)
After the revelation of this Surah, the Prophet (PBUH) honored bin Umm Maktoom whenever he saw him. He even appointed him twice as his vicegerent in Madinah as he was one of the first immigrants to the city. He then was martyred in Al-Qadiseya (RA). More than that, it is reported that the Prophet (PBUH) never frowned at a poor person after this incident nor concentrated on rich people anymore. Sufyan Athawri (RA) reported that the poor were treated like princes in his assembly.
The lesson we learn from this incident is that one should not restrict his call to the path of Allah for one particular people in favor of others because only Allah, the Almighty, knows who is worth calling. So one must address all the people impartially, not taking into account their race, ancestry, gender or age; nor should he consider their educational ability, technological and material wealth or social rank. Islam does not approve of social discrimination and Allah does not accept racial or social prejudice as a basis of legitimate rivalry.
The fact that the Prophet announced Allah’s reproach to him is one of the clearest proofs of the authenticity of his Prophethood, the nobleness of his message and his total servitude to his Creator. For exhibiting such a reproof can only be done by a noble Prophet who is aware of Allah’s rights upon him and of the sacredness of the revelation that was sent to him with Allah’s eloquent words to which there is no omission, addition or any of human interference.
Also, the announcement of this divine decision to Qurayshi leaders while Muslims were a weak minority in Makkah--where they lived inside a pagan environment filled with blind, social inequity and was governed by savage habits. This was a great proof that this last Prophet and Messenger (PBUH) who was bound to Allah’s inviolable revelation--taught by the Creator of the earth and the skies—and had His support.
The ayahs continue to confirm the divine pronouncement as a reminder from Allah (SWT) to whoever wants to be reminded. Especially that this instruction is kept in the pages of the Qur’an that are, *“held (greatly) in honor (Al-Lauh Al-Mahfuz), exalted (in dignity), purified,”* and saved by Allah who made it out of the reach of any imposed interferences or human distortion or falsification! *"In the hands of scribes (angels); honorable and obedient…”* these are venerable Angels who brought the sacred Qur’an to the last of the Messenger and Prophet (PBUH).
If Muslim societies could live according to these spiritual criteria which give greater weight to virtuous, righteous and devout people rather than to mischievous, fraudulent, greedy, scandalous ones who adore the worldly life and forget the hereafter. The latter often crave for higher powerful ranks in order to extort money from people, to rob their societies, thus humiliating and tyrannizing their people. If heavenly criteria dominate the earthly human societies, they will certainly achieve contentment. Unfortunately, priorities been inverted and balances neglected and earthly criteria superseded spiritual ones. Values have been confounded and perception flustered. The unscholarly have power; the truthful is considered a liar and the liar is considered truthful; the unfaithful is trusted and the faithful is mistrusted! So, human societies have become miserable.
The ayahs continue with a tone of amazement at the rebellious attitude of man who disbelieves in Allah and ignores the necessity of believing in Him. He turns away from His guidance and displays a haughty arrogance opposing Allah’s message and considers himself above submissiveness to His sovereignty through obedience and worship. The ayahs remind him of his origin, his upbringing, his weakness at the beginning of his existence, his need for Allah’s care at different stages of his life and in every moment of his life. Allah has given him many gifts and abilities and made it easier for him to live his life and to find guidance. Unfortunately, man is unmindful of all that! So he does not fulfill his duty towards Allah (SWT), nor does he perform his role on earth as it was designed by his Creator. How ungrateful he is!
To describe this oppositional attitude on the part of man towards the blessings and favors of Allah, He says *“Woe to man! What hath made him reject Allah?”* (Surat Abasa (He Frowned): 17). The term “woe to…” is a curse and damnation on the disbeliever. He deserves Allah’s wrath in the worldly life and will certainly find suffering and humiliation in the Hereafter! For even if he lives long, the end of his life is death and then the grave which may either be a garden of Paradise or a pit of Hell. And his resurrection will be just the same as his first creation. The Prophet (PBUH) describes this resurrection by saying, “Between the two blows (of the trumpet) there are forty… then Allah sends water down and people grow up as plants. All of the bodies become dust except one bone--the coccyx--from which creatures are resurrected on the Day of Judgment”.
So it is taken for granted that man’s destiny is held in Allah’s hand from the moment he was a tiny sperm-drop until he is born, and while going through life stages to his death. It is Allah who created him in his father’s sperm when He wanted and brought him to life when and where He desired. It is also He who ends his life when and where He wants and causes him to stay in his grave as long as He wants. Then, when the afterlife starts, He will resurrect him from dust for the Day of Accounting. On that day, people will be divided into two teams: one team will go to hell and the other one to heaven; and each of them will stay there forever, just as the truthful Prophet (PBUH) told us.
Taking this into consideration, the wise man must be ready for that day and try hard to save him from its dreads. The goal behind life is not distraction and amusement; it should not be spent in vain. Man has a double message to carry on in this life: worship Allah (SWT) as He ordered him to and perform well the duties of vicegerent on earth by peopling it and establishing Allah’s justice on it.
Unfortunately, the great majority of people forgets this reality and wastes their lives not thinking of the truth until the moment of death comes and they find themselves faced with judgment. What a difficult moment!
That is why Allah (SWT) says *“Woe to man! What hath made him reject Allah?”* Allah made this ayah in an interrogative reproachful, scolding form. That is: “What made man a disbeliever?” or in other words, “How intense is his disbelief in spite of Allah’s kindness to him!” In both cases there is an exclamation about his intractable disbelief and an affirmation that he deserves the most severe punishment.
Then comes ayah 23 where Allah says, *“Nay, but (man) has not done what He commanded him.”* This ayah is a confirmation that man did not fulfill what Allah ordered him and, thus, deserves suffering about which he was warned by previous Prophets and Messengers.
After that, the text illustrates one of Allah’s greatest signs in creation which is providing ample and necessary food, appropriate to all living creatures on earth; among them man and his cattle. So the ayahs direct the ungrateful man’s attention to this truth saying, “Then let man look at his food. We pour forth water in abundance, And We split the earth in clefts, And we cause therein the grain to grow, And grapes and clover plants (i.e. green fodder for the cattle), And olives and date-palms, And gardens dense with many trees, And fruits and herbage,(To be) a provision and benefit for you and your cattle.”
(Surat Abasa (He Frowned): 24-32).
The meaning of the term “look” here is not limited only to sight but goes beyond it. It is a kind of proverb. For food is one of the major necessities of life and no one can pretend that he has anything to do with the water cycle which is created and monitored by Allah, thanks to His knowledge, wisdom and capability. Concerning this, the Prophet reported from Allah in the following divine Hadith (Hadith Qudsi), “Some of My bondsmen (servants) start the day as My believers and some as unbelievers. He who said: We have had a rainfall due to the Blessing and Mercy of Allah, is My believer and a disbeliever of stars, and whoever said: We have had a rainfall due to the rising of such and such (star) disbelieved in Me and affirmed his faith in the stars.” (Al-Bukhari). He also said, “No one knows when it will rain but Allah” (Al- Bukhari).
Also, no wise man can pretend that he is able to make seeds grow or to split the earth in order to bring up the plants! Nor can he claim that he is able to create a single species from all of earth’s plants that exceed 300,000 different species! And every variety is subdivided into billions; each one has its own external, internal, anatomical and functional characteristics that distinguish it from the others!
In this Surah, Allah the Almighty referred to corn (grains), grapes, olives, and dates, gardens dense with lofty trees, fruits and herbage, grazing fodder for animals. And these particular varieties cover almost all of what man and his cattle need in order to survive!
Then, the Surah in its last ayahs goes back to discussing the end of man’s life. For after enjoying all this life’s pleasures and ornaments, there comes death and the grave; then, resurrection and the great presentation in front of Allah (SWT) for judgment. And finally, he will live out eternity in the hereafter either in Heaven or in Hell. Allah, the Almighty says *“Then when there comes As-Sakhkhah(the second blowing of the Trumpet on the Day of Resurrection), That Day shall a man flee from his brother, And from his mother and his father, And from his wife and his children. Everyman that Day will have enough to make him careless of others. Some faces that Day will be bright (true believers of Islamic Monotheism), Laughing, rejoicing at good news (of Paradise). And other faces, that Day, will be dust-stained. Darkness will cover them. Such will be the Kafarah (disbeliever in Allah, in His Oneness, and in His Messenger Muhammed (PBUH)) the Fajarah (wicked evil doers)."*
(Surat Abasa (He Frowned): 33-42)
The “Deafening Noise” is one of the names of the Last Day. It refers to the second blow of the trumpet and it is called this because it deafens the ears since it is loud and shrill. That day will be so full of terror that man will be fleeing from the closest people to him. And after judgment people will be divided into believers with beaming, rejoicing faces because Allah the Almighty has honored them in Paradise; and into disbelieving wrong-doers who denied Allah and His last message. They transgressed His limits and violated His commands. Their faces will show regret, remorse, grief and desperation. They will feel humiliated and shamed knowing that their destiny is Hell! On each face will be the indications of one’s destiny.
At the beginning of the Surah Allah the Almighty gave us the criterion for judging Truth and told us that whoever preserved it would succeed in this life and in the hereafter; and he who wasted it, would be miserable now and in the next life. Then, in the end of the Surah, Allah portrayed images of reward and punishment in the afterlife. There is an astonishing duality between the beginning and the end of this Surah. This is but a proof of Allah’s unlimited creative capability that bought forth in a unique achievement this everlasting book which he had preserved in the same language (Arabic) in which it had been sent to His last Messenger and Prophet fourteen centuries ago! It will endure until Allah (SWT) inherits back the earth and all of its inhabitants.