These notes are extracted from Sheikh Omar Suleiman’s 2016 Ramadhan Series entitled “Quran 30 for 30”, where he shares summaries of the surahs. Full notes (in PDF) can be downloaded at: https://goo.gl/mdQAL8
★ The Importance of Surah Al-Baqarah and Surah Ali Imran
Previously we discussed the overview of Surah Al-Baqarah, so in this lesson, we will be focusing primarily on the early section of Surah Ali Imran. If we look at Surah Al-Baqarah and Surah Ali Imran together, we can see that they are very much connected. Did you know that Rasulallah s.a.w. taught us to connect ourselves with these 2 surahs? Abu Abdullah ibn Burayda reported that he heard Rasulallah s.a.w. said:
“Learn Surah Al-Baqarah because there is blessing in learning it, there is sorrow in ignoring it, and the magicians cannot confront it. Learn Surah Al-Baqarah and Surah Ali Imran because they are the two bright ones and they shade their people on the Day of Resurrection just as two clouds, two spaces of shade, or two lines of birds. On the Day of Resurrection, the Qur’an will meet its companion in the shape of a pale-faced man when his grave is opened. The Qur’an will ask him: Do you know me? The man will say: I do not know you. The Qur’an will say: I am your companion, the Qur’an, which has brought you thirst during the heat and made you stay up during the night. Every merchant has his certain trade, but this Day, you are behind all types of trade. Then, kingship will be given to him in his right hand, eternal life in his left hand, and the crown of grace will be placed on his head. His parents will also be granted two garments that the people of this world could never afford. They will say: Why were we granted these garments? It will be said: Because your son was carrying the Qur’an. It will be said (to the Qur’an reciter): Read and ascend through the levels of Paradise. He will go on ascending as long as he recites, whether reciting slowly or quickly.”
[Musnad Ahmad | Grade: Hasan (fair) according to Ibn Kathir]
The Qur’an will intercede us on the Day of Judgment, and Surah Al-Baqarah and Surah Ali Imran specifically will become our shade on that Day like how 2 big clouds would shade a person, or in the form of 2 lines of birds that will precede the believer who committed him/herself to these 2 surahs. Subhanallah.
So again, these 2 surahs are inherently connected, and they emphasize the importance of guidance, as well as the answer to the du’a that we make in Surah Al-Fatihah which is to remain steadfast on the path of guidance.
★ The First Section
The Greatest Names of Allah: Al-Hayy Al-Qayyum
Like many surahs, parts of Surah Ali Imran were revealed in different times, but it flows so harmoniously that we would think it was all revealed in one time. The first section of the surah was revealed in Madinah, right after the battle of Badr. So at that point of time, the believers had a sense of great confidence because they just fought their oppressors overwhelmingly, and establishing themselves in Madinah. So Allah s.w.t. reminds them to never forget their priorities despite the success – that their focus should continuously remain on the Hereafter. Allah s.w.t. begins with:
Alif-Lam-Mim. Allah! La ilaha illa Huwa (none has the right to be worshiped but He) Al-Hayy (the Ever Living) Al-Qayyum (the One Who sustains & protects all that exists).
[Ali Imran 3:1-2]
These 2 beautiful Names of Allah, Al-Hayy and Al-Qayyum, are also in Ayatul-Kursi which is the greatest Ayah in the Qur’an. Ayatul-Kursi is placed in the beginning of the third juz, which is the same juz as the above ayah. And according to some evidences, Al-Hayy Al-Qayyum are the 2 greatest Names of Allah. Rasulallah s.a.w. said:
“The greatest name of Allah appears in 3 surahs of the Qur’an: Al-Baqarah, Al ‘Imran and Taha.” [Ibn Majah & Hakim; classed as hasan by Albani in al-Silsilah al-Saheehah]
Al Hayy Al-Qayyum are found in all of these 3 surahs. So not only does the third juz of the Qur’an has the greatest ayah, but it also has the greatest Names of Allah, repeated twice!
The 3 Types of People: The Hypocrites, The Believers, The Disbelievers
Remember that Surah Al-Baqarah starts with:
Alif-Lam-Mim. This is the Book (the Qur’an) whereof there is no doubt, a guidance to those who are Al-Muttaqun.
Whereas in Surah Ali Imran, Allah s.w.t. says:
It is He Who has sent down the Book (the Qur’an) to you with truth, confirming what came before it. And he sent down the Taurat and the Injil. Aforetime, as a guidance to mankind, And He sent down the criterion (this Qur’an)…
[Ali Imran 3:3-4]
So in surah Al-Baqarah, Allah s.w.t. says that the Qur’an is guidance, and in surah Ali Imran, Allah s.w.t. says that the Taurat and the Injil were also guidance for the people aforetime, but now He s.w.t. has sent down THE criterion – The Qur’an. The Qur’an is now the Book of Guidance calling people back to Allah s.w.t. In Surah Ali Imran, Allah speaks to the people of the book (Taurat and Injil) quite heavily – particularly the Christians.
Just like in Surah Al-Baqarah, Allah s.w.t. also establishes the audience i.e. the way people reacted to the Revelation.
1. The hypocrites
…So as for those in whose hearts there is a deviation, they follow that which is not entirely clear thereof, seeking Al-Fitnah (polytheism and trials), and seeking for its hidden meanings, but none knows its hidden meanings save Allah…
[Ali Imran 3:7]
How did the hypocrites react to the Revelation? These people, who have crookedness in their hearts, ignore the authority of the Qur’an but they focus on the ambiguous ayat and interpreted them wildly in numerous ways. They tried to manipulate the ayat with wrong interpretations to fit and conform with their lowly desires and to cause corruptions. If a person has this hypocrisy disease in his heart, he will continue to spin things out of control leading himself and others astray.
2. The believers
…And those who are firmly grounded in knowledge say: “We believe in it; the whole of it (clear and unclear ayat) are from our Rabb.” And none receive admonition except men of understanding.
[Ali Imran 3:7]
The believers who are people of knowledge, on the other hand, say that they believe in the whole Qur’an – that all of the ayat are from their Rabb, so they do not reject a single ayah, nor try to look for loopholes to escape from any ruling or commandment of Allah. And this is the exact same spirit on how Al-Baqarah ended:
The Messenger believes in what has been sent down to him from his Rabb, and (so do) the believers. Each one believes in Allah, His Angels, His Books, and His Messengers. (They say), “We make no distinction between one another of His Messengers” and they say, “We hear, and we obey. (We seek) Your Forgiveness, our Rabb, and to You is the return (of all).”
Now let’s recap: Surah Al-Fatihah is a du’a for guidance. In Surah Al-Baqarah, there is a du’a to keep us firm on that guidance we asked in surah Al-Fatihah, and that we don’t feel that the guidance and its commandments too burdensome for us.
And in Surah Ali Imran, there is also a du’a about guidance, but this du’a is specifically for our internal state of the heart. It’s a du’a asking for our heart’s ability to maintain sincerity so that it does not deviate after guidance has reached us. If the heart is strong and sincere, if it’s ready to receive guidance, then it can bear anything that Allah s.w.t. has commanded and nothing will be felt burdensome. That du’a is:
“Our Rabb! Let not our hearts deviate after You have guided us, and grant us mercy from You. Truly, You are the Bestower, Our Rabb! Verily, it is You Who will gather mankind together on the Day about which there is no doubt. Verily, Allah never breaks His Promise.”
[Ali Imran 3:8-9]
In a hadith by Tirmidhi, we learn Rasulallah s.a.w. most frequent du’a! Shahr bin Hawshab said to Umm Salamah: ‘O Mother of the Believers! What was the supplication that the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.) said most frequently when he was with you?’ She said: ‘The supplication he said most frequently was:
“Ya Muqallibal-qulub, thabbit qalbi ‘ala dinik.”
(O Changer of the hearts, make my heart firm upon Your religion) [Tirmidhi]
So one of the most important elements that we learn from these two du’as is that the believers are very much focused on the Hereafter, so much so that the desire of this dunya are not appealing enough to take them away from Allah. Believers always know their priority, that the Day of Judgment is imminent, and therefore they will not betray the guidance for worldly desire, the way the hypocrites did.
3. The disbelievers
Verily, those who disbelieve, neither their properties nor their offspring will avail them whatsoever against Allah and it is they who will be fuel of the Fire.
[Ali Imran 3:10]
Desire Makes People Forget About the Hereafter
Beautified for men is the love of things they covet; women, children, much of gold and silver, branded beautiful horses, cattle and well-tilled land. This is the pleasure of the present world’s life, but Allah has the excellent return with Him. Say: Shall I inform you of things far better than those? For Al-Muttaqun there are Gardens with their Rabb, underneath which rivers flow. Therein (is their) eternal (home) and purified spouses and Allah will be pleased with them. And Allah is All-Seer of the slaves.
[Ali Imran 3:14-15]
Allah gave the reasons why people are deluded: Because of their desire for spouse, children, wealth, etc. But Allah s.w.t. also says: Shall I not inform you what is even better than all of these things that can lead you away from Allah if you give priorities to them? For those who have taqwa, which is necessary to absorb guidance, are gardens in the presence of their Rabb, subhanallah. Just like the theme in surah Al-Baqarah, Allah s.w.t. teaches us again that unrestrained desires are what cause a person to fall into hypocrisy or even into rejection of faith.
Pride Makes One Go Astray
Truly, the religion with Allah is Islam. Those who were given the Scripture (Jews and Christians) did not differ except out of mutual jealousy, after knowledge had come to them. And whoever disbelieves in the Ayat of Allah, then surely, Allah is Swift in calling to account.
[Ali Imran 3:19]
Allah s.w.t. clarifies that the way to Him has always been Islam, submitting to the One God in the way that He has ordered us to submit. The people of the book did not differ in the guidance sent to them, except out of their ego, pride and animosity amongst themselves. They even had the audacity to say that if they went to Hellfire, it will be for a few days only [Ali Imran 3:24] The believers, in comparison to that, said: “Our Rabb! We have indeed believed, so forgive us our sins and save us from the punishment of the Fire.” [Ali Imran 3:16] They believe in the Hereafter, they know the severity of the Hellfire – they don’t want to be in the Hellfire even for a millisecond!
The difference between these two groups is clear as night and day. One group of people remain committed with their focus on the Hereafter, out of awe and fear of Allah; while the other group belittled the punishment of Allah, and belittled the value of guidance.
We have previously learnt in surah Al-Baqarah that the 2 ways that a person can go astray are because of desire and pride – and surah Ali Imran again reiterates those points here. This is a stern reminder for us who recite and ponder over the Qur’an to not let our desire gets the best of us, nor fall into the wickedness of pride.
★ The Second Section
The second portion of the surah is between ayat 33 – 63. At ayah 33, Allah s.w.t. starts to speak particularly to the believers of Isa a.s. The reason why this is significant is because this portion was revealed in the 9th year after hijrah (at the very end of the prophetic seerah) in which at that time, there was a delegation of Christians who were received courteously and hosted well, and Rasulallah s.a.w. had a debate with them over some of the elements of Christianity. So this portion contains the most extensive and beautiful discourse on the blessed family of Imran, Zakariyya, Maryam, Isa, Yahya (peace be upon them all), as well as clarifies their position with Allah – how mighty they are in the sight of Allah, and how a believer should also hold them in such high regard. After these stories, Allah mentions the theological differences. So this actually gives us a methodology on how to speak about Isa a.s. or Maryam a.s. etc, that we speak about them in praise, we clarify their position with Allah, and then the theological differences are mentioned – that as great as Isa a.s. is, the way he was created was just like Adam a.s.:
Verily, the likeness of Isa before Allah is the likeness of Adam. He created him from dust, then (He) said to him: “Be!” – and he was.
[Ali Imran 3:59]
★ The Third Section
The third section of the surah, i.e. between ayat 64 – 120, was revealed at the same time as the first section of the surah after the battle of Badr. It is a warning to the people of the book to accept the truth as it is. This is where we see the most “Ya Ahlal-Kitab / O people of the book” mentioned repeatedly, over and over again. Allah s.w.t. also makes a distinction between how some people of the book accepted and some rejected; between the trustworthiness and truthfulness of one group and the wickedness of another group:
Among the people of the Scripture (Jews and Christians) is he who, if entrusted with a Qintar (a great amount of wealth) will readily pay it back; and among them there is he who, if entrusted with a single silver coin, will not repay it unless you constantly stand demanding, because they say: “There is no blame on us to betray and take the properties of the illiterates.” But they tell a lie against Allah while they know it.
[Ali Imran 3:75]
This is a recognition that they’re not all the same – there are people who will readily accept guidance and maintain their covenant with Allah s.w.t. Then Allah turns the discourse to the Muslims themselves and says to us just like how we hate any element of the divine guidance or Rasulallah s.a.w. to be rejected by people, then we should believe the entire body of divine guidance and the previous prophets sent by Allah:
Say: “We believe in Allah and in what has been sent down to us, and what was sent down to Ibrahim, Isma’il, Ishaq, Ya’qub and Al-Asbat (the offspring 12 sons of Ya’qub) and what was given to Musa, Isa, and the Prophets from their Rabb. We make no distinction between one another among them and to Him (Allah) we have submitted.”
[Ali Imran 3:84]
Then Allah says:
How shall Allah guide a people who disbelieved after their belief and after they bore witness that the Messenger (s.a.w.) is true and after clear proofs had come unto them? And Allah guides not the people who are Zalimun.
[Ali Imran 3:86]
What this means is that there were people of the book who knew that Rasulallah s.a.w. fit the descriptions of the awaited messenger. They saw him as that foretold messenger and believed in him privately, but publicly, they insisted upon fighting and rejecting him. How shall Allah guide these people who knew he s.a.w. is the Messenger, they knew that he s.a.w. is upon the truth, yet they obstinately refused to accept divine revelation? How can guidance come to these people if they purposely turn away from it? It is clear that Allah will not guide those who insist on misguidance. This is a stern warning to those who reject the current revelation and current prophet (Rasulallah s.a.w.), and it is beautifully placed right after Allah s.w.t. tells us Muslims to not disbelieve any of the previous revelation and prophet.
Finally, Allah ends this juz with:
By no means shall you attain Al-Birr (piety, righteousness – here it means Allah’s Reward, i.e. Paradise), unless you spend (in Allah’s Cause) of that which you love; and whatever of good you spend, Allah knows it well.
[Ali Imran 3:92]
Basically what Allah s.w.t. is telling us is that He doesn’t just expect us to not be distracted by the dunya, but Allah also expects us to shed the dunya for His sake – that we should be willing to part ways with some of the material things for the sake of seeking the pleasure of Allah and salvation in the Hereafter. This is a mark of guidance on a person.
We ask Allah to make us humble believers that recognize and receive guidance, and commit ourselves sincerely to it.