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Saturday, July 11, 2020

Sürah Al Masad (The Twisted Strands): Exegesis 111th Chapter of Quran


Sürah Al Masad " المسد " is the 111th surah of the Quran composed of five verses / ayahs, part of the 30th Juzʼ  of the Holy Qur'an. The Sürah is known as Al Masad, as taken from the last verse of the surah. The Sürah is also known as Al Lahab from the word Lahab in the first verse. 

As already explained in the summary of the Sürah, Abu Lahab was one of the four paternal uncles of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and was right from day one of his nephew's open call for Islam has been treacherously against Islam and his nephew. When Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) gave a call to all tribes of the Makkah while standing on the top of Safa, a hill just on the outskirts of Makkah. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is said to have called all tribes by name so that no one is missed out for he was about to proclaim Islam openly. Upon hearing the proclamation of Islam, Abu Lahab lamented: "Perish you for the rest of this day! Have you gathered us for this.'' And from that day on, Abu Lahab became a staunch enemy of his own nephew and did all he could to harm him. For his treacherous actions, this Sürah was revealed in which Allah promises that Lahab and his wife will be doomed for ever.

Let us now read the verse by verse translation and exegesis / tafseer in English. You may also listen to its recitation in Arabic with English subtitles at the end of the post:

بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمٰنِ الرَّحِيْمِ 
"In the name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful"

تَبَّتۡ يَدَاۤ اَبِىۡ لَهَبٍ وَّتَبَّؕ‏ 
    1. Destroyed were the hands of Abu Lahab, and he lay utterly doomed.

His real name was Abd al-Uzza, and he was called Abu Lahab on account of his glowing, ruddy complexion. Lahab means the flame of fire, and Abu Lahab the one with a flaming, fiery face. His being mentioned here by his nickname (Kunyat), instead of his real name, has several reasons. First, that he was better known by his nickname than by his real name; second, that the Quran did not approve that he should be mentioned by his polytheistic name Abd al Uzza (slave of Uzza); third, that his kunyat goes well with the fate that has been described of him in this Surah.

Some commentators have translated tabbat yada Abi Lahab to mean: May the hands of Abu Lahab be broken, and tabba to mean: may he perish or he perished. But this, in fact, was not a curse which was invoked on him, but a prophecy in which an event taking place in the future, has been described in the past tense, to suggest that its occurrence in the future is certain and inevitable.

In fact, at last the same thing happened as had been foretold in this Surah a few years earlier. Breaking of the hands obviously does not imply breaking of the physical hands, but a person’s utterly failing in his aim and object for which he has exerted his utmost. And Abu Lahab indeed had exerted his utmost to defeat and frustrate the message of Islam presented by the Prophet (peace be upon him). But hardly seven or eight years after the revelation of this Surah most of the big chiefs of Quraish, who were a party with Abu Lahab in his hostility to Islam, were killed in the Battle of Badr. When the news of the defeat reached Makkah, he was so shocked that he could not survive for more than seven days. His death occurred in a pitiable state. He became afflicted with malignant pustule and the people of his house left him to himself, fearing contagion. No one came near his body for three days after his death, until the body decomposed and began to stink. At last, when the people began to taunt his sons, according to one tradition, they hired some black people, who lifted his body and buried it.

According to another tradition, they got a pit dug out and threw his body into it by pushing it with wood, and covered it up with earth and stones. His utter failure became manifest when the religion which he had tried his utmost to impede and thwart, was accepted by his own children. First of all, his daughter, Darrah, migrated from Makkah to Madinah and embraced Islam; then on the conquest of Makkah, both his sons, Utbah and Muattab, came before the Prophet (peace be upon him) through the mediation of Abbas, believed and took oath of allegiance to him.


Muhammad Asad Explanation:
The real name of this uncle of the Prophet was 'Abd al-'Uzza. He was popularly nicknamed Abu Lahab (lit., "He of the Flame") on account of his beauty, which was most notably expressed in his glowing countenance (Baghawi, on the authority of Muqatil; Zamakhshari and Razi passim in their comments on the above verse; Fath al-Bari VIII, 599). Since this nickname, or kunyah, appears to have been applied to him even before the advent of Islam, there is no reason to suppose that it had a pejorative significance. - The expression "hands" in the above clause is, in accordance with classical Arabic usage, a metonym for "power", nludst the great influence which Abu Lahab wielded.

Javed Ahmad Ghamidi Explanation:
His real name was ‘Abd al-‘Uzza. Since he had a reddish-white complexion like that of a flame, he became famous with the honorific title, Abu Lahab. Further ahead, while delineating his fate, the words used are ذَاتَ لَہَبٍ. The implication is that a person of the complexion of fire will enter the fire. He was the most callous of the leaders of the Quraysh. His enmity was entirely based on his personal interest. To attain this interest, he never cared for any relationship nor any tribal tradition or ethical conduct. In opposing the Prophet (sws), he was the leader of everyone and was generally followed by people. In the theocratic system of governance of the Quraysh, he in those times was able to acquire such a position which in the words of Imam Amin Ahsan Islahi virtually made him the sole ruler of Madinah. It is mostly his character which has remained in discussion in the previous surahs. Thus it was he who deserved to be mentioned by name when the destruction of the leadership of the Quraysh was to be depicted.

In this verse it is being said his friends and helpers were destroyed and his rule came to an end. Linguistically, the word “hand” also signifies power. The past tense used in the verse points to the certainty of fulfillment of this prediction in the future. It is as if it is so certain to happen that it has already happened. Thus, two years later, this prediction came true word for word in the battle of Badr when all the prominent leaders of the Quraysh except Abu Sufyan were killed.

Abu Lahab himself did not take part in the battle of Badr. In his place, he sent a person who had borrowed something from him with the promise that he would not take back his loan. However, this could not save him from God’s wrath and only seven days after the battle of Badr the prediction of the Qur’an materialized. He died in a very exemplary way when he was afflicted with a malignant pustule. Such was the humiliating manner he died that his family, friends and even his sons did not bury him because the disease was contagious. For many days after his death, his corpse continued to decay at his house. Finally, paying heed to some rebukes of people, his sons hired some Negroes to take away his corpse and place it beside a wall and had it covered with stones (Ibn Kathir, Al-Sirah al-nabawiyyah, vol. 2, 479). The word تَبَّ in the verse points to this very fate of Abu Lahab.

Yusuf Ali Explanation:
Abu Lahab, "Father of Flame", was the nick-name of an uncle of the holy Prophet, from his fiery hot temper and his ruddy complexion. He was one of the most inveterate enemies of early Islam. When the holy Prophet called together the Quraish and his own kith and kin to come and listen to his preaching and his warning against the sins of his people, the "Father of Flame" flared up and cursed the holy Prophet, saying "Perdition to thee!" According to the English saying, "the causeless curse will not come". His words were futile, but his power and strength were equally futile. The star of Islam rose higher and higher every day, and its persecuters dwindled in strength and power. Many of the leaders of persecution perished at Badr, and Abu Lahab himself perished a week after Badr, consumed with grief and his own fiery passions. Verse 3 was prophetic of his end in this very life, though it also refers to the Hereafter.

مَاۤ اَغۡنٰى عَنۡهُ مَالُهٗ وَمَا كَسَبَؕ‏ 
    2. His wealth did not avail him, nor his acquisitions.

Abu Lahab was a stingy, materialistic man. Ibn Jarir has stated that once in the pre-Islamic days he was accused of having stolen two golden deer from the treasury of the Kabah. Though later the deer were recovered from another person, the fact that he was accused of stealing indicates the opinion the people of Makkah held of him. About his riches Qadi Rashid bin Zubair writes in his Adh-Dhakhair wat- Tuhaf: He was one of the four richest men of the Quraish, who owned one qintar (about 260 oz) of gold each. His love of wealth can be judged from the fact that when on the occasion of the battle of Badr the fate of his religion was going to be decided forever, and all the Quraish chiefs had personally gone to fight, he sent Aas bin Hisham to fight on his own behalf, telling him: This is in lieu of the debt of four thousand dirhams that you owe to me. Thus, he contrived a plan to realize his debt, for Aas had become bankrupt and there was no hope of the recovery of the debt from him.

Some commentators have taken maa kasaba in the meaning of the earning, i.e. the benefits that accrued to him from his wealth were his kasab (earning), and some other commentators have taken it to imply children, for the Prophet (peace be upon him) has said that a man’s son also is his kasab (earning). (Abu Daud, Ibn Abi Hatim). Both these meanings fully correspond to the fate met by Abu Lahab. For when he was afflicted with the malignant pustule, his wealth availed him nothing, and his children also left him alone to die a miserable, wretched death. They did not even bury him honorably. Thus, within a few years the people witnessed how the prophecy which had been made in this Surah about Abu Lahab was literally fulfilled.

سَيَصۡلٰى نَارًا ذَاتَ لَهَبٍ ۖۚ‏ 
    3. Surely, he will be cast into a Flaming Fire


Javed Ahmad Ghamidi Explanation:
This refers to deeds which are apparently noble in nature and as the chief treasurer of the Baytullah, Abu Lahab had to undertake to put up a pretentious display of religiosity and to hide his dishonesty.

The verse has the words: ذَاتَ لَہَبٍ. I have explained that they occur in consideration to his honorific title. Imam Amin Ahsan Islahi writes:
… By this description, the Qur’an has pointed to the reality that the very reddish white complexion which was a source of pride for him in this world would lead him to doom. He would be cast into a fire whose flames would be blazing. The message which is meant to be put across is that pride on outer beauty has no value; it can lead a person to ruin if there is no inner beauty to go along with it. (Amin Ahsan Islahi, Tadabbur-i Qur’an, vol. 9, 636)
وَّامۡرَاَ تُهٗ ؕ حَمَّالَةَ الۡحَطَبِ​ۚ‏ 
    4. along with his wife,3 that carrier of slanderous tales;

Her name was Arwa and her nickname (kunyat) Umm Jamil. She was sister of Abu Sufyan and was no less bitter than her husband, Abu Lahab, in her enmity to the Messenger (peace be upon him). Abu Bakr’s daughter Asma has related that when this Surah was revealed, and Umm Jamil heard it, she was filled with rage and went out in search of the Prophet (peace be upon him). She carried a handful of stones and she was crying some verses of her own, satirizing the Prophet (peace be upon him). She came to the Kabah, where the Prophet (peace be upon him) was sitting with Abu Bakr. The latter said: O Messenger of Allah, there she comes and I fear lest she should utter something derogatory to you. The Prophet (peace be upon him) replied: She will not see me. The same thing happened. She could not see the Prophet (peace be upon him) although he was there. She said to Abu Bakr: I hear that your companion has satirized me. Abu Bakr replied: No, by the Lord of this house, he has not satirized you. Hearing this she went off. (lbn Abi Hatim, Ibn Hisham; Bazzar has related an incident on the authority of Abdullah bin Abbas also, which closely resembles this). What Abu Bakr meant was that she had not been satirized by the Prophet (peace be upon him), but by Allah Himself.

The words in the original are hammalat al-hatab, which literally mean: carrier of the wood. The commentators have given several meanings of it. Abdullah bin Abbas, Ibn Zaid, Dahhak and Rabi bin Anas say: She used to strew thorns at the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) door in the night; therefore, she has been described as carrier of the wood. Qatadah, Ikrimah, Hasan Basri, Mujahid and Sufyan Thauri say: She used to carry evil tales and slander from one person to another in order to create hatred between them; therefore, she has been called the bearer of wood idiomatically. Saaid bin Jubair says: The one who is loading himself with the burden of sin is described idiomatically in Arabic as: Fulan-un Yahtatibu ala zahri bi (so and so is loading wood on his back); therefore, hummalat al-hatab means: The one who carries the burden of sin. Another meaning which the commentators have also given is: she will do this in the Hereafter, i.e. she will bring and supply wood to the fire in which Abu Lahab would be burning.


Muhammad Asad Explanation:
Lit., "carrier of firewood", a well-known idiomatic expression denoting one who surreptitiously carries evil tales and slander from one person to another "so as to kindle the flames of hatred between them" (Zamakhshari; see also 'Ikrimah, Mujahid and Qatadah, as quoted by Tabari). The woman's name was Arwa umm Jamil bint Harb ibn Umayyah; she was a sister of Abu Sufyan and, hence, a paternal aunt of Mu'awiyah, the founder of the Umayyad dynasty. Her hatred of Muhammad and his followers was so intense that she would often, under the cover of darkness, scatter thorns before the Prophet's house with a view to causing him hurt; and she employed her great eloquence in persistently slandering him and his message.

Javed Ahmad Ghamidi Explanation:
This has been said because like her husband, this first lady of Arabia was also afflicted with greed and pretense, and had an equal share in her husband’s crimes and was actually the real motive behind his crimes.

The actual words are: حَمَّالَۃَ الۡحَطَبِ. Grammatically, they are an accusative of state. They depict the state of Abu Lahab’s wife when she will be cast into Hell with her husband. It is as if she at that time will be like a criminal who brings forth herself the firewood that will burn her.

Yusuf Ali Explanation:
Abu Lahab's wife was a woman of equally passionate spite and cruelty against the sacred person of the holy Prophet. She used to tie bundles of thorns with ropes of twisted palm-leaf fibre and carry them and strew them about on dark nights in the paths which the Prophet was expected to take, in order to cause him bodily injury. "To carry firewood" may also be symbolical for carrying tales between people to embroil them. This was also one of her vices. But she was laying up for herself another kind of Fire and another kind of Rope, the Fire of Punishment, and the Rope of Slavery to Evil. Thus does Evil prepare its own fate. This is the general lesson of sustained craft and cruel wrong-doing recoiling on the wrong-doer's head. See also Introduction to this Surah.

فِىۡ جِيۡدِهَا حَبۡلٌ مِّنۡ مَّسَدٍ
    5. upon her neck shall be a rope of palm-fibre.

The word used for her neck is jeed, which in Arabic means a neck decorated with an ornament. Saeed bin al- Musayyab, Hasan Basri and Qatadah say that she wore a valuable necklace and used to say: By Lat and Uzza, I will sell away this necklace and spend the price to satisfy my enmity against Muhammad (peace be upon him). That is why the word jeed has been used here ironically, thereby implying that in Hell she would have a rope of palm-fiber round her neck instead of that necklace upon which she prides herself so arrogantly. Another example of this ironical style is found at several places in the Quran in the sentence: Bashshir-hum bi-adhab-in alima “Give them the good news of a painful torment.

The words habl-um min-masad have been used for the rope which will be put round her neck, i.e. it will be a rope of the masad kind. Different meanings of this have been given by the lexicographers and commentators. According to some, masad means a tightly twisted rope; others say that masad is the rope made from palm-fiber; still others say that it means the rope made from rush, or camel-skin, or camelhair. Still another view is that it implies a cable made by twisted iron strands together.


Muhammad Asad Explanation:
The term masad signifies anything that consists of twisted strands, irrespective of the material (Qamus, Mughni, Lisan al-'Arab). In the abstract sense in which it is evidently used here, the above phrase seems to have a double connotation: it alludes to the woman's twisted, warped nature, as well as to the spiritual truth that "every human being's destiny is tied to his neck" (see 17:13 and, in particular, the corresponding note [17]) - which, together with verse {2}, reveals the general, timeless purport of this surah.

Javed Ahmad Ghamidi Explanation:
This is a portrayal of slave-maidens who carry firewood. It is evident from the Qur’an that there will exist a similarity between deeds and their consequences. The implication is that the heavy necklaces she wore in this world will assume the shape of a heavy rope round her neck in the next world like slave women who collect wood.

You may now like to listen to Arabic recitation of Sürah Al Lahab with English subtitles:


You may refer to our Reference Page "114 Chapters (Sūrahs) of the Holy Qur'an" for translation, explanation and exegesis of other chapters of the Qur'an.

You may also refer to our Reference Pages for knowing more about Islam and Quran.
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Reading the Holy Quran should be a daily obligation of a Muslim - Reading it with translation will make it meaningful. But reading its Exegesis / Tafsir will make you understand it fully.

An effort has been made to gather explanation / exegesis of the surahs of the Holy Qur'an from authentic sources and then present a least possible condensed explanation of the surah. In that:
  • The plain translation has been taken from the Holy Quran officially published by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. [1]
  • The exegesis of the chapters of the Holy Quran is mainly based on the "Tafhim al-Qur'an - The Meaning of the Qur'an" by one of the most enlightened scholars of the Muslim World Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi.  [2]
In order to augment and add more explanation as already provided by [2], additional input has been interjected from following sources: 
In addition the references of  other sources which have been explored have also been given above. Those desirous of detailed explanations and tafsir (exegesis), may refer to these sites.

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