Archive for the ‘Sura 80: al-Abasa / The Frown’ Category

Al-Abasa: Wherein someone is scolded

September 10, 2010 1 comment

Short version: Muhammad preached to some influential peeps, but was interrupted by a blind man who wanted to understand the message. Muhammad ignored him. This was wrong. All Muslims (or potential Muslims) are equal before God, no matter their wealth, power, disability, etc. To put it in American terms, “we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, and that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.”

Long version:

Someone is scolded by God, but the issue is the subject. Who is the subject? First two lines, three translations:

  1. Muhammad Marmaduke Pickthall:
    He frowned and turned away
    Because the blind man came unto him.
  2. Ali Unal:
    “He (a hypocritical disbelieving, haughty man) frowned and turned away,
    Because (while a group of leading unbelievers, including him, was talking with the Messenger) the blind man approached him.
  3. ‘Abdullah Yusuf ‘Ali
    (The Prophet) frowned and turned away,
    Because there came to him the blind man interrupting

The parentheticals mean it isn’t in the text, it’s something the translator inserted to help elucidate the passage.

Looking at the Arabic, the first line is a mere two words, “frowned,” and “turned away” separated by “and.” The subject—third person singular—is implied by the conjugation of both verbs, but never appears.

The dealio here is that Muhammad was preaching (Ali Unal say he was preaching to prominent Qurayshis who might bring over the entire tribe if converted) and a blind man walked up. What happened next: someone turned away from the blind man, even though the blind man “might grow (in spiritual understand)… and the teaching might profit him… but as for him who comes to you striving earnestly, and with fear (in his heart), of him you were unmindful.”

At the same time, the Qurayshis that Muhammad wanted to convert—men “who regard [themselves] as self-sufficient” and free from the need of submitting to Allah, “To him do you address yourself (as if you wished his conversion), [but] does it really matter you if he does not (accept faith and) grow in purity?

I’m mixing all three translations in there, but… I think Ali Unal’s translation is wrong. God is scolding Muhammad here for turning his back on the blind man who wanted to submit to God in favor of skeptical Qurayshis who would never convert, but would give Muhammad a political victory.

Egalitarianism, equality of all before God regardless of birth or education or disability, is a core concept of Islam, and in this sura, God is reminding Muhammad that he has a duty to accept all comers, no matter what short-term political gain the Messenger might have. Preach to whomever is willing to listen, not to those whose conversion would give you gain.

The rest of the sura is a concise summary of man, his/her creation, life, death, rebirth on Judgment day, and assignment to heaven or hell.

Woe to man! What hath made him reject Allah?
From what stuff hath He created him?
From a sperm-drop: He hath created him, and then mouldeth him in due proportions
Then doth He make His path smooth for him
Then He causeth him to die, and putteth him in his grave;
Then, when it is His Will, He will raise him up (again)
[then a bunch of lines about God providing water and grain and such to enable life]

Every man that day will have concern enough to make him heedless (of others).
Some faces that Day will be beaming
Laughing, rejoicing
And other faces that Day, with dust upon them,
Veiled in darkness
Those are the disbelievers, the wicked