Islamic Voice A Monthly English Magazine
Dhu'l-Qa'dah / Zil-Hijjah 1423 H
February 2003
Volume 16-02 No : 194
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Qu'ran Speaks to You


Prophet Ishmael Was Always True to His Promise

Prophet Ishmael Was Always True to His Promise

In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful

And mention in the Book Ishmael who was always true to his promise, and was a messenger of God, a prophet. He used to enjoin on his people prayer and charity, and his Lord was well pleased with him.

And mention in the Book Idris, who was a man of truth, a prophet. We raised him to a lofty station.

These were some of the prophets upon whom God bestowed His blessings - of the seed of Adam and of those whom We carried in the ark with Noah, and of the seed of Abraham and Israel, and of those whom We had guided and chosen. When the revelations of (God) the Most Gracious were recited to them they fell down prostrating themselves (before Him) and weeping. They were succeeded by generations who neglected their prayers and followed only their lusts; and these will, in time, meet with utter disillusion. (verse 58 - Surah Maryam)

(Maryam: 19: 54-59)
Commentary by Sayyid Qutb, Translated by A.A.Salahi and A.S.Shamis

Quran : "Speaks to You"

Following one’s own lusts and indulging in every loose activity will meet with utter disillusion.
“Disillusion will lead you into error, and error will take you to utter destruction.

Surah Maryam gives accounts of a number of prophets, starting with Zachariah, John, Jesus, Abraham and his seed through Isaac and Jacob. Now the surah goes back to the other branch of Abraham’s seed, bringing Ishmael, the father of the Arabs, for special mention: “And mention in the Book Ishmael who was always true to his promise, and was a messenger of God, a prophet. He used to enjoin on his people prayer and charity, and his Lord was well pleased with him.”

The surah highlights a special quality of Ishmael, which is his being true to his promise. This is a characteristic common to all prophets and all God-fearing men and women. The fact that it is highlighted here suggests that in the case of Ishmael it must have had a very special significance. Moreover, Ishmael is given the status of a messenger of God, which means that he preached God’s message to the Arabs of old, particularly with the fact that he was their highest grandfather. We know that even shortly before the advent of the message of Prophet Muhammad, (Pbuh) there were some individual Arabs who believed in one God. Most probably they were the last remnants of the followers of Ishmael.

The surah also mentions that the fundamentals of his faith included prayer and zakah, which he ordered his family and his people to observe. Moreover, the surah leaves us in no doubt that Ishmael earned God’s pleasure, which imparts a sense of contenment and satisfaction to anyone. This contentment is another aspect that permeates the whole surah, in the same way as mercy. In fact, the two aspects of mercy and contentment are mutually related.

The last prophet to be mentioned in this surah is Idris: “And mention in the Book Idris, who was a man of truth, a prophet. We raised him to a lofty station.” We have no way of determining in which period of history Idris lived. Most probably he was ahead of Abraham. He was not one of the Jewish prophets. There is no mention of him in the Jewish books. The Qur’an describes him as a man of truth and a prophet. It records the fact that God granted him honour and made him worthy of praise, elevating him to a lofty station.

There is a view we would like to mention here without suggesting whether it is true or false. Some Egyptologists suggest that Idris is an Arabicized form of Oseris in the same way as Yohanna is Arabicized as Yahya, and Eliesha as El-Yassa’. We know that around Oseris many a legend has been woven. It is said that old Egyptians believed that he was elevated to heaven where he was established on a throne. Whoever, after death, is found to have to his credit more good deeds in this life than bad ones will join Oseris who has become a deity of the Egyptians. He is also said to have taught the Egyptians all that they knew before being elevated to heaven.

Be that as it may, we confine ourselves to what the Qur’an mentions about Idris, without indulging into any such interpretation. We only say that it is more probable that he lived before the time of Abraham.

The surah mentions all those prophets in order to compare this group of God-fearing believers and those who succeeded them of pagan Arabs and unbelieving Israelites. The gulf separating the two is so great.

There is nothing to bring the newcomers close to their ancestors. “These were some of the prophets upon whom God bestowed His blessings - of the seed of Adam and of those whom We carried in the ark with Noah, and of the seed of Abraham and Israel, and of those whom We had guided and chosen. When the revelations of (God) the Most Gracious were recited to them they fell down prostrating themselves (before Him) and weeping. They were succeeded by generations who neglected their prayers and followed only their lusts; and these will, in time, meet with utter disillusion.”

In this scene of the role of prophethood in human history, we see only the main features clearly pointed out: “of the seed of Adam,” and “of those whom We carried in the ark with Noah,” and also “of the seed of Abraham and Israel.” Adam’s seed includes all, and Noah refers to all who came after him, while Abraham combines the two major branches of prophethood: Jacob as the head of the Israelite tree and Ishmael to whom the Arabs belong and from among whom came the last of all prophets.

Those prophets together with those from among their offspring whom God had guided and chosen of pious people share a quality in common, which is highlighted in this verse: “When the revelations of (God) the Most Gracious were recited to them they fell down prostrating themselves (before Him) and weeping.” They are truly God-fearing, very sensitive to what pleases or displeases God. They feel a shudder when His revelations are recited, which is so strong that they cannot express their inner feelings in words. It is their eyes that are tearful and they fall down prostrating themselves before God and weep.

Yet those highly God-fearing people are succeeded by generations that are distant from God, neglect their prayer and deny it as a duty incumbent on them. Instead they follow only their lusts and indulge in every loose activity. The difference is so clear and the contrast complete.

The Surah warns those who turned away from the path followed by their God-fearing forefathers, and shows them that they are bound to lose their way and end up in ruin. Their end looms large: “These will, in time, meet with utter disillusion.” Disillusion will lead them into error, and error will take them to utter destruction.

But the door to go back and follow God’s guidance remains always open.

(Verse 58 of Surah Maryam
has instruction for prostration
mentioned above (Sajdah)

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