Shattering the Mirage: A Response to ‘Abdul Hussain Sharaf al Din’s al Muraja’at: Letter 41 and 42

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Letter 41

 

Muharram 3, 1330

 

I. “Mumins” is Plural; Why Apply it to the Singular?

 

It may be said in rebutting your objection that the phrase “the Mu’mins who say their prayers and offer zakat (even) while prostrating (in prayers)” is applied to the plural; so, why should it be applied to the Imam, may Allah glorify his countenance, who is singular? What is your answer if you are asked thus?

 

Sincerely,

S

Letter 42

 

Muharram 4, 1330

 

I. Arabs Address the Singular Using the Plural Form

II. Testimonials

III. Quoting Imam al Tibrisi

IV. Quoting al Zamakhshari

V. What I have Stated

 

1) The answer to your question is that Arabs apply the plural expression while addressing an individual due to the nice effect it produces [i.e. respect].

 

2) A testimony to this fact is what the Almighty says in Surat Al i-’Imran:

Those to whom some people said: “A large army has been raised against you; so, fear them,” yet it only increased their faith, and they said: “Allah suffices us, and He is the One upon Whom we depend most.” (Qur’an, 3:173)

The person implied in these verses of Al i-’Imran is none other than Na’im ibn Mas’ud al Ashja’i, according to the consensus of scholars of exegesis, traditionists, and chroniclers. Yet Allah Almighty has applied to him, the singular person that he is, the plural form just to express respect for those who did not listen to his statements nor heeded his dissuading calls.

Abu Sufyan had given him ten camels in order to demoralize and frighten the Muslims regarding the strength of the polytheists, and he did just that. Among his statements then was: “People have gathered a mighty force to attack you; so, fear for your own lives.”

Many Muslims disliked the idea of fighting that force just because of his statement, but the Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him and his progeny, came out accompanied by seventy cavaliers to meet them, and they all returned from the battle-field safely, whereupon this verse was revealed praising the seventy believers who came out with the Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him and his progeny, heedless to the dissuasion of those who wished to demoralize them.

In applying the word “people” for just one individual, a nice and divine point is made which is complimenting the seventy men who came out with the Prophet. This surely sounds more eloquent when used as such; it is better than saying: “Those to whom a man said that a large army had been raised…, etc.,” as is obvious. There are numarous verses in the Holy Qur’an similar to this one, as well as in the Arabic language as a whole. The Almighty Allah says: “O you who believe! Remember Allah’s blessing unto you when some folks intended to lay their (evil) hands upon you, and He protected you against their harm.”

In fact, the person who intended to lay his evil hands upon them and hurt them was a man from the tribe of Muharib named Ghawrath – others say it was ‘Amr ibn Jahsh of Banu al Nadir – who unsheathed his sword and shook it intending to strike the Holy Prophet salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, but Allah, the Almighty and the Glorified, foiled his attempt, according to the narration of the incident as recorded by traditionists, authors of chronicles, and scholars of exegesis, and as transmitted by Ibn Hisham in the campaign of That al Riqa’ in Vol. 3 of his book titled Sirah. Allah has applied the collective plural “people” for this lone man just to express His blessings, the Dear One, the Omnipotent, upon the Muslim masses manifested in the safety of the Prophet, peace be upon him and his progeny.

In the Mubahala verse, He has applied both the singular and the plural forms to the “sons,” “women,” and “selves” to both the Hasanain, Fatima, and ‘Ali in particular, just to honour to their lofty status, may Allah be pleased with them. Examples for the application of the plural form for the individual wherever necessary are innumarable and beyond recounting, and they all prove the license to use the plural form while talking about one individual whenever there is a nice eloquent effect thereto.

 

3) In his interpretation of this verse, in Mujma’ul Bayan fi Tafsir al Qur’an, Imam al Tibrisi comments on the usage of the plural form to refer to the Commander of the Faithful as a token of respect and veneration, stating that lexicographers describe the singular using the plural form to show respect and veneration. He says: “Such an application is too well known in their language to require proofs.”

 

4) In his Kashshaf, al Zamakhshari mentions another nice point when he says: “If you wonder how it can be accurate to use the plural with ‘Ali, may Allah be pleased with him, I will tell you that he is addressed in the plural form, although he is only one man, so that people may follow his example and earn rewards like his, and so that Allah may point out the fact that a believer’s attitude should be like ‘Ali’s, that is, being eager to do deeds of righteousness and goodwill by looking after the poor, so much so that even the performance of something which does not permit any delay, such as saying the prayers, should not make them postpone it till they are through.”

 

5) I personally have a nice and more precise point. When the Almighty applied the plural rather than the singular form, as many do, then those who hated ‘Ali as well as all those who were envious of and in competition with Banu Hashim would not be able to tolerate hearing it in the singular form, for they would then be unable to hide the truth or water it down. Because of their desperation, they might even do something quite harmful to Islam. It is quite possible that it was for this reason that the verse was revealed in the plural form though applied to the singular: in order to avoid the harm resulting from disgracing those folks.

The verses after that particular one vary in form and status, gradually preparing them for wilayat, till Allah perfected His religion and completed His blessing, as was his usual habit, peace be upon him and his progeny, and that of the wise in attaining what otherwise is quite difficult to attain. Had the verse come in the singular form, those folks would have then put their fingers in their ears, covered themselves with their own clothes and become stubborn, arrogant, and haughty.

 

This is a sublime wisdom manifested in all the verses of the Holy Qur’an which were revealed to highlight the attributes of the Commander of the Faithful and those among his purified household, as is quite obvious. We have explained these statements and brought irrefutable proofs and obvious testimonies in our books Sabil al Muminin and Tanzil al Ayat, and praise be to Allah for His Guidance and Support, Wassalam.

 

Sincerely,

Sh

 
 

Discussions

 

‘Abdul Hussain has identified one of the less significant issues with arguing the Imamah of ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu from Ayat al Wilayah and responds to it in unnecessary detail. With the letter ascribed to the Sheikh al Azhar he creates the impression that the entire objection with using Ayat al Wilayah for proving the Imamah of ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu is based on pronouns, a strawman argument.

The gist of the reply is that in the Arabic language it is not uncommon to use the plural pronoun when refering to a single person; he qoutes verses from the Quran to support this. He goes on to cite passages from the tafsirs of the Shia al Tabarsi, and the Mu’tazili al Zamakhshari; both confirming that it not beyond convention that a plural pronouns is used in reference to a single person. Finally, he offers his own insight on why the plural was used instead of being specific; the detractors would have retaliated had ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu been mentioned specifically.

 

Plural refering to specific

While we do not contest the fact that it is not beyond the convention of the Arabic language for the plural pronoun to be used in reference to an individual; there is, however, always an indication to it by way of context. The context is absent in this case as the narration used to create it is an outright forgery. That being said, let us briefly examine the examples cited by ‘Abdul Hussain.

 

الَّذِيْنَ قَالَ لَهُمُ النَّاسُ إِنَّ النَّاسَ قَدْ جَمَعُوْا لَكُمْ فَاخْشَوْهُمْ فَزَادَهُمْ إِيمَانًا وَّقَالُوْا حَسْبُنَا اللّٰهُ وَنِعْمَ الْوَكِيْلُ

Those to whom the people said, “Indeed, the people have gathered against you, so fear them.” But it [merely] increased them in faith, and they said, “Sufficient for us is Allah, and [He is] the best Disposer of affairs.”[1]

 

The scholars of tafsir are not unanimous that this verse in Surah Al ‘Imran applies Nuaim ibn Mas’ud al–Ashja’i. On the contrary, the reference to “people” in the verse refers to the delegation of Banu ‘Abdul Qais.[2]

After the Battle of Uhud, the Prophet salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam set off with those who were present at the battle to pursue the army of Quraysh. He camped at a placed called Hamra al Asad. Abu Sufyan encountered a trading party from Banu ‘Abdul Qais on their way towards Madinah to collect supplies. He offered to supply them with as much raisins as they could load on their mounts at the ‘Ukaz fair if they carried a message to the Prophet salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam informing him that the Quraysh had considered returning to wipe out the Muslims once and for all. It was in this regard the verse was revealed. The term ‘people’ clearly applies to the entire trading party; not Nuaim ibn Mas’ud.

Nuaim ibn Mas’ud played a postive role for the Muslims by causing confusion among the disbelievers on the occasion of Ahzab two years later. However, that is unrelated to this verse in Al ‘Imran.

‘Abdul Hussain gives the impression that only members of the Prophet’s salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam family were present at Hamra al Asad.

‘Aisha radiya Llahu ‘anha related to her nephew, ‘Urwah ibn al Zubair, about whom the verse, “Those [believers] who responded to Allah and the Messenger after injury had struck them…[3] was revealed:

 

Nephew, your fathers were among these, Zubair and Abu Bakr radiya Llahu ‘anhuma. When the Messenger of Allah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam suffered his losses at Uhud and the poIytheists withdrew, he was concerned that they might return. And so he asked, “Who will pursue them?” Seventy of his men volunteered, including Abu Bakr and Zubair.[4]

 

As for the incident with Ghawrath referenced to the verse:

 

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِيْنَ آمَنُوْا اذْكُرُوْا نِعْمَتَ اللّٰهِ عَلَيْكُمْ إِذْ هَمَّ قَوْمٌ أَنْ يَّبْسُطُوْا إِلَيْكُمْ أَيْدِيَهُمْ فَكَفَّ أَيْدِيَهُمْ عَنكُمْ وَاتَّقُوا اللّٰهَ وَعَلَى اللّٰهِ فَلْيَتَوَكَّلِ الْمُؤْمِنُوْنَ

O you who have believed, remember the favour of Allah upon you when a people determined to extend their hands [in aggression] against you, but He withheld their hands from you; and fear Allah . And upon Allah let the believers rely.[5]

 

The usage of plural here is consistent since he had been sent by his people to harm the Prophet salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam. So his actions reflected the intention of his people. This is confirmed by the version related by Qatadah.[6]

The episode involving the bedouin drawing the Prophet’s salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam sword is well-known, and accepted by the scholars of Ahlus Sunnah. However, they differ whether this verse was revealed in that context, or whether the early scholars have applied the meaning of this verse to the incident under discussion. Ibn Jarir al Tabari considers this verse to be revealed in the context of the Jewish plot to assisinate the Prophet salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, and has cited a number of narrations that support this view. The reason for his preference is that the Qur’an makes repeated references to the Jewish people before and after this verse. Following this reasoning, the term, “… a people,” refers to the Jewish tribe of Banu al Nadhir in the context of its revelation; while it could be understood to be correct in a general sense in reference to the incident with the bedouin. Either way, the example relied upon by ‘Abdul Hussain does not support his argument.

The citations from both al Tabarsi and al Zamakhshari, even though they are from non-Sunni sources, would only be taken seriously if they did not rely on the narration of ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu giving his ring away. Stripped of that backstory, the verse is not remotely connected to ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu. The discussion on the forged nature of the said narration has already been dealt with.[7]

 

Problem with plural pronoun in this verse

We have already established that while it is acceptable to use the plural pronoun for a single subject in the Arabic language. This usually seeks to fulfill a purpose and is evident from the subtext. Since the narration has been ruled out, there is nothing else to suggest its application to ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu.

We then have to consider the consequences of applying the plural to ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu. The suggestion, that the use of the plural pronoun seeks to aggrandize ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu, is distasteful in the Arabic language. Why would ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu be aggrandized in this way and not the Messenger salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam. It simply does not fit the subtext.

‘Abdul Hussain’s rationalization that departure from convention is that this was to disguise ‘Ali’s identity from his detractors appears to be rather absurd instead of appealing to reason. Why would the Companions endure difficulties and hardships for the sake of the Prophethood of the Messenger salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam; yet be unwilling to pledge allegiance to ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu? Why did they pledge allegiance to him later on? Is it conveivable that the Companions would object to the mention of ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu as the immediate and only legitimate successor to the Prophet salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam; whereas they were prepared to end the lives of their own family members because of what the Qur’an emphatically states?

 

لَّا تَجِدُ قَوْمًا يُؤْمِنُوْنَ بِاللّٰهِ وَالْيَوْمِ الْآخِرِ يُوَادُّوْنَ مَنْ حَادَّ اللّٰهُ وَرَسُوْلَهُ وَلَوْ كَانُوْا آبَاءَهُمْ أَوْ أَبْنَاءَهُمْ أَوْ إِخْوَانَهُمْ أَوْ عَشِيْرَتَهُمْ أُولٰئِكَ كَتَبَ فِيْ قُلُوْبِهِمُ الْإِيْمَانَ وَأَيَّدَهُمْ بِرُوْحٍ مِّنْهُ وَيُدْخِلُهُمْ جَنَّاتٍ تَجْرِيْ مِنْ تَحْتِهَا الْأَنْهَارُ خَالِدِيْنَ فِيْهَا رَضِيَ اللّٰهُ عَنْهُمْ وَرَضُوْا عَنْهُ أُولٰئِكَ حِزْبُ اللّٰهِ أَلَا إِنَّ حِزْبَ اللّٰهِ هُمُ الْمُفْلِحُوْنَ

You will not find a people who believe in Allah and the Last Day having affection for those who oppose Allah and His Messenger, even if they were their fathers or their sons or their brothers or their kindred. Those – He has decreed within their hearts faith and supported them with spirit from Him. And We will admit them to gardens beneath which rivers flow, wherein they abide eternally. Allah is pleased with them, and they are pleased with Him – those are the party of Allah . Unquestionably, the party of Allah – they are the successful.[8]

 

Could any sensible, thinking mind possibly agree with his line of reasoning?

 

NEXT⇒ Letter 43 and 44


[1] Surah Al ‘Imran: 173

[2] Tafsir al Tabari vol. 6 pg. 248-253, Ibn Hisham vol. 3 pg. 616-617.

[3] Surah Al ‘Imran: 172

[4] Sahih al Bukhari Kitab al Maghazi, Hadith no. 4077

[5] Surah al Ma’idah: 11

[6] Tafsir al Tabari vol. 8 pg. 232

[7] Refer to a previous discussion Ayat al Wilayah in Letter 12

[8] Surah al Mujadilah: 22