An-Nisa · Juz 5 · Qur'an Tafseer

Striving to Excel Others in Good Deeds is Different

The ayaat of the Qur’an and the sayings of the Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam exhort people to excel each other in good deeds.

In other words, this is an open field in which it is all right to look at the trail of merits and excellence left by others. Indeed, people have been persuaded to make all possible efforts to acquire them. Now, this relates to deeds within man’s control, and which can be acquired by learning, training and working.

For example, if a person is impressed with someone’s intellectual merits, practical life and excellent morals, he can, by all means, strive to acquire these qualities. This is desirable and praiseworthy. As such, the present ayah does not contradict it.

In fact, the later part of the same ayah 32, that is,

لِّلرِّجَالِ نَصِيبٌ مِّمَّا اكْتَسَبُواْ وَلِلنِّسَآءِ نَصِيبٌ مِّمَّا اكْتَسَبْنَ 

is actually supporting this view. It means that men will get a share of what they acquired with their effort and conduct, and the same will be true for women who will get a share of what they acquired with their effort and conduct. One is not likely to miss the hint here – that effort and struggle in the acquisition of merits and perfections do not go waste.

[Asma bint Yazid and the Thirst for Knowledge]

On the contrary, every man and woman will definitely get a return, a share of his or her effort. From here, we also know that desiring to have someone’s intellectual-moral excellence as combined with his model practical conduct, and then going ahead to see the fruition of these desires through effort and struggle, is certainly desirable and praiseworthy.

An error has been removed here which is committed by a lot of people who tend to do things not knowing what they are doing. Some of them become so devoted to their desire to acquire merits which cannot be acquired that they ruin their otherwise peaceful life. And if, bad come to worse, they are fired with envy, that is, they start wishing – ‘if I do not having this blessing, may this be taken away from the other’ then, the very chances of salvation in the life to come also stand destroyed because of the grave sin of envy committed by him.

There are another kind of people who lack courage, avoid action, or have no sense of honor and shame. They do not even try to acquire merits which can be acquired. Such people, when approached with good counsel, would come back immediately, blaming their destiny and fate which is no more than an effort to camouflage their own timidity and inertia.

[The Meaning of Spiritual Excellence in Faith]

The present ayah has resolved this problem by stating a wise and just rule which is: Man’s effort is ineffective in acquiring merits which he does not control, such as, being high-born or handsome. Merits like these should be resigned to fate and one must be content with the divinely determined state he is in, and be grateful to Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala. Coveting anymore than that is absurd, ineffectual, meddlesome – an act which leaves behind nothing but sorrow.

As for merits which can be acquired by effort, wishing to have them is useful, only if such a wish is supported by the necessary struggle to achieve. Let us keep in mind that the ayah carries the promise that the effort so made will not be wasted and everyone will get a share of what he or she worked for.

Referring back to commands prohibiting the unjust use of someone’s property and the unjust taking of someone’s life (ayah 29), Tafseer al-Bahr al-muhit points out that this ayah aims to seal the source of these crimes, and it is for this purpose that instructions have been given to stop people from coveting others who are ahead of them in wealth, comfort or influence.

[What is Zuhd (asceticism)?]

A little thought will reveal that theft, robbery and other illegitimate ways of usurping someone’s property, or killing and destruction, are crimes which sprout from one particular emotional attitude. A person, when he finds the other ahead of him in wealth and other material acquisitions, first feels the pinch in his heart wishing to come at par with him, or even wishes to become superior to him. Then, it is the intensity of this desire which pushes him all the way to go ahead and commit these crimes. The Qur’an,has blocked the source of these crime by blocking the desire of the unacquirables and the unobtainable of life.

Asking Allah for His Bounty is the Ideal Way

After that, the ayah moves on to instruct by saying:

 وَاسْأَلُواْ اللَّهَ مِن فَضْلِهِ 

And ask Allah of His Bounty.

It means, when you see someone excelling in one or the other graces of life, the ideal conduct is not to wish to come at par with the other person in respect of that particular excellence, but that you should pray to Allah asking for graces and blessings from Him.

The reason is that Allah’s grace appears in different forms for everyone. For some, wealth is a blessing from Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala for, if they were to become paupers, they might have fallen victims to sin and disbelief. For others, grace lies in the pecuniary circumstances they are in, for if they were to turn rich, they might have succumbed to thousands of sins.

[Makkah comes to Life]

Similarly, for some, grace appears in the form of power and influence, while for some others, the unremembered and the unattended, the grace of Allah manifests itself in that state. A look at the reality of things around would have told him that power and influence, if these were to be his lot, might have caused his falling into many a sin.

Lesson: When you ask Allah, do not ask for some fixed quality of life, instead, ask for His grace so that He, in his His infinite wisdom, opens the doors of His blessings on you.

Trust His Wisdom and Knowledge

The ayah concludes by saying:

“Surely, Allah is All-Knowing in respect of everything.”

Here, the hint is that the arrangement of things made by Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala is the very quintessence of wisdom and justice. Whoever has been created and sustained in whatever condition it may be is an arrangement perfectly matched with the ideal demand of wisdom and justice. But, man is not aware of the consequences of what he does. This is something only Allah knows best and thus He also knows how suitable it is to keep anyone in a given condition.

Ayah 33: The Law of Inheritance: Reiteration of the Wisdom in it

While describing the background in which the present ayah was revealed, it was stated that some women, when they found out that men have been given a share equal to that of two women, wished they were men so that they too would be getting a doubled share.

In a relevant manner, the law of inheritance was reiterated in the second ayah (33) and it was tersely said that all shares determined therein are based on perfect wisdom and justice. Since human reason cannot encompass the totality of factors that contribute to the order or disorder of the created universe, it is obvious that it cannot arrive precisely at these elements of wisdom which have been taken into consideration in determining the laws of Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala. Therefore, whosoever has been allotted whatsoever share should be pleased with it, and be grateful for it.

[The Qur’anic View of Making Will]

Inheriting Through Pledge

The giving of a share on the basis of a pledge mentioned at the end of ayah 33 refers to a practice during the initial period of Islam. This was later abrogated by the ayah أُوْلُو الاٌّرْحَامِ بَعْضُهُمْ أَوْلَى بِبَعْضٍ As for the womb – relatives, some of them are closer to some…. [33:6] Now, if other heirs exist, a pledge or mutual contract between two parties does not affect the inheritance in any manner whatsoever.

[Taken from Maarif-ul-Qur’an by Mufti Muhammad Shafi Usmani]

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