Tafsir of Surah al-Falaq by Shaykh Haider Hobbollah – Lecture 1

Shaykh Haider Hobbollah is a Lebanese scholar residing in Qom. He has been doing Tafsir sessions in Qom and many of his videos are online. This post are notes taken from lecture #1 of his Tafsir on Surah al-Falaq.

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Name of the Chapter

This chapter of the Qur’an has been referred to in four different ways. The most famous way of referring to it is Surah al-Falaq. This is the what is written in most printed copies of the Qur’an today and what most people use to refer to it.

Another way that it has been referred to is by Sharif Radhi (d. 1016 CE), who says, the chapter in which Falaq has been mentioned. Yet another way it has been referred to is by quoting the first few words of it, Surah Qul A’udhu Bi Rabbil Falaq. This is a common occurrence in narrations, not just for this chapter, but also other chapters of the Qur’an.

Another way this chapter has been referred to is when both Surah al-Falaq and Surah al-Naas are intended together. They are collectively called al-Mu’awwidhataan (two chapters of refuge). They are known as this because of their usage of the verb A’udhu (I seek refuge).

In some narrations, the word has been used in its plural form – al-Mu’awwidhaat al-Thalath (three chapters of refuge) – rather than dual. Scholars have disagreed over what the third chapter is. Some have said it is Surah al-Ikhlas, hence making it the last three chapters of the Qur’an. Others, including ‘Allamah Majlisi, have said it is Surah al-Kafirun.

Merits of the Chapter

We have numerous traditions on the merits of this chapter, either on its own or when it is accompanied with Surah al-Naas. As for its own merits, we have reports that tell us to recite it before sleeping for protection, before traveling for safety, to cure illness, before entering a grave when one wishes to bury someone in it, in order to cure any eye ailment, and essentially before beginning any task.

There are numerous merits mentioned for reciting both the chapters together as well.

Makki or Medani & Number of Verses

There is a difference of opinion on whether this chapter was revealed in Makkah or Medina. The difference of opinion is perhaps rooted in the circumstances of how this chapter was revealed. The famous opinion amongst scholars is that it is Makki surah, which is supported by the style of the verses as well. Others have argued that it was revealed in Medina, mostly using narrations to support this view.

While we can claim that its style is Makki, that is not a real or strong enough reason to say it couldn’t have been revealed in Medina. As for number of verses, there are 5 (excluding the Basmalah).

Circumstances of Revelation

Historical reports which discuss the circumstances of Surah al-Falaq’s revelation have differences in them. There are three narratives:

  • The Quraysh were envious of the Prophet (s) and were intending to cast an evil-eye on him. Jibra’eel brought these two chapters for the Prophet so that he may be protected. If this story is correct, then we can argue that the chapter was revealed in Makkah since that is where the Prophet (s) was dealing with the conspiracies of the Quraysh.
  • Abdullah bin Mas’ud (who was of the opinion that these two chapters are not even part of the Qur’an because they are not Surahs – but we will discuss this later) was of the opinion that these two chapters were revealed to the Prophet as supplications of protection for Imam Hasan & Husayn. This view supports the opinion that the chapter was revealed in Medina, since Imam Hasan & Husayn were born in Medina after the Hijrah.
  • The famous story is that a Jewish man (Labid bin A’sam) afflicted the Prophet with magic, and that took its toll on his (s) body, to the extent where he couldn’t even stand up. He began seeing things, thinking he was doing them even though he was not. In another report it says that he thought he had slept with his wife, even though he hadn’t. Thus these two chapters were revealed in order to repel the influence of magic. These reports however, themselves have a slight difference:
    1. One version says that Imam Ali (s) alone was sent to a specific location where certain objects were located – which were used in order for the magic to work – in order to diffuse them
    2. Another report says, ‘Ammar, Zubayr and Ali (s) went together
    3. Another reports says, before they were even able to cure the Prophet, he was cured because of these two chapters

Most of these reports are reported from Ibn ‘Abbas and ‘Ayesha. These reports also help us in saying the chapter was revealed in Medina, because conflicts with the Jews only really began after migration to Medina.

The main discussion that has taken place on this third narrative is: Can the Prophet be affected by magic? 

There are of course two different views. Those who say yes, and those who say no – although with various different explanations, justifications and rebuttals. As for those who say the Prophet (s) can be affected by magic, they are the vast majority of the Ahl ul-Sunnah scholars of hadith, including Ibn Qayyim and Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani. The narration exists in Sahih al-Bukhari & Sahih al-Muslim. From the Twelver Imami Shi’as, ‘Allamah Tabataba’ee was of the opinion that the Prophet can be affected by magic (this is different from saying that he was affected).

However, those who say that the Prophet cannot be affected by magic, are the majority of Twelver Imami Shi’as and as well as the Mu’tazalis. For example, Qadhi Abdul Jabbar (d. 415 Hijri) has an argument against it, Abu Bakr Asamm (d. 200 or 201 Hijri) says this narration goes against the Qur’an, and Jassas (d. 370 Hijri) says that the atheists fabricated this narration.

Those who say that the Prophet was affected by magic and that this event is true argue that there is nothing – intellectually or textually – that tells us the Prophets can’t be affected by magic. It is like any other disease, illness or ailment that the Prophets were prone to in their lives. Furthermore, we have evidence (in reliable books of narration as per Ahl ul-Sunnah standards) which says that Prophet Muhammad (s) was affected. Therefore, we have no real reason to reject these narrations.

Reference to this incident also exists in some Shi’i books, such as Tafseer Furat al-Kufi, Kitab Tibb al-Aimmah by Husayn bin Bistam al-Nishabouri, and Kitab Da’aim al-Islam of Qadhi Nu’man. Yes, however, in Shi’i books their chains of narrations are extremely weak and these three books are not very authoritative books either. Some of these books even have questions and doubts about their attribution to their authors.

However, in Sunni books – according to their standards – the narrations are strong and reliable.

This dispute exists due to the narrations we have, and naturally the Ahl ul-Sunnah hadith scholars have taken hold of the narration and the Mu’tazalis have used the Qur’an and intellect to discard them.

However, what evidence is there that the Prophet can’t be effected by magic? There are around 5 to 6 arguments:

Argument 1: If the Prophet could be affected with magic, it goes against Surah al-Furqan, Verse 8: And the wrongdoers say, “You follow not but a man affected by magic (Rajulan Mashura).”

The disbelievers would say that you follow a man who has been affected by magic, and taking a narration which says that the Prophet was affected by magic is in fact arguing in favour of the disbelievers.

Response: Those who accept the story or only its rational possibility (while not accepting its historical occurrence) – including Allamah Tabatabee – have responded to this. They have said Rajulan Mashura refers to a person whose intellect has been affected and they do not know what he or she is saying, and that their words have no meanings. This is what the Quraysh intended when they called him Rajulan Mashura. But the Quraysh weren’t calling him Rajulan Mashura because his hand, arm, or body had been affected by magic, and there is no issue with that. Just like how the Prophet (s) could get a flu due to a cold, he could also be affected by magic and in this historical instance, his body was affected.

Rebuttal: The response above does not address an important point. The narrations say the Prophet (s) was imagining things, and was thinking he had done things which he hadn’t. This is not a mere bodily ailment. Rather it has a direct link with the intellect being brought into question. So at that point, what prevents him (s) from imagining revelation or an angel coming to him, when in reality there was nothing?

Muhammad Abduh says that creating an analogy of a bodily ailment with the corruption of the intellect are in fact two matters which cannot be compared at all. Someone getting a flu, or his leg breaking etc. is a different type of illness than someone beginning to imagine things. If it was the case that his intellect could also be affected by magic, then there is really no way to rely on the words of the Prophet.

Response: Our (the Ahl ul-Sunnah Muhadditheen) evidence for ‘Ismah (infallibility) is that the Prophet (s) is protected as far as receiving revelation is concerned, its protection while it is with him (s) and when he transmits it to the people. We have intellectual evidence for this. In these matters magic cannot affect him, however this tradition has nothing to do with revelation. He was imagining things like having slept with his wife while he hadn’t; what does this have to do with revelation?

Rebuttal: Some theologians – especially Sunni theologians – have even gone as far as to say that not only can magic or Satan’s whispers affect the Prophet, but it can even affect him in his transmission of revelation. The only thing that matters then is that Allah (swt) has to make it clear for the people afterwards.

Response: Some (like Ayatullah Makarem Shirazi) have said, if you allow him to be affected by magic in the body, then you also allow him to be affected by magic in his soul and mind.

Rebuttal: There is no proof for this necessitation. Why does deeming magic to be affective on the body result in it being affective on the mind?

Response: Elsewhere, Ayatullah Nasir Makarem Shirazi has used an Usuli methodology and has argued by taking the Itlaq (absoluteness) of the word Mashura in the verse. The verse doesn’t say he was Mashur specifically in his intellect, and due to its Itlaq it means in his body, soul, mind, religious or worldly affairs etc.

Rebuttal: We (Hobollah) do not believe taking the Itlaq of the word in this verse is an appropriate methodology. We are not dealing with a command tense for example, where it says: Ishar Zaydan (Cast a magic-spell on Zayd) where we can take the Itlaq of the command tense and then affect Zayd with magic in whatever way we want.

Rather we are speaking about how the disbelievers described the Prophet (s). What was their reason to call him Mashur? Their intention was to say that the person is not a Prophet of God, and what he is saying is all made up and imaginary, he doesn’t know what he is talking about. Therefore, their attack was on the Prophet’s intellect. We can’t take the Itlaq of the words of Quraysh and say that their statement was inclusive of them implying – for example – that his foot was also affected by magic.

As another example, when they would attack the Prophet and say he is a poet, does that mean we take the Itlaq of the word poet and say that what the disbelievers meant was everything the Prophet said was poetry? Or does it mean the Qur’an which he was being revealed to and recited by the Prophet, was being attacked as mere poetry? Of course the latter. Likewise, when they say he was Mashur, it doesn’t mean they were saying he was affected by magic in all matters of his life from birth to death, whether worldly or religious, bodily or otherwise.

Argument 2: If it was possible for the Prophet to be affected, then why didn’t the enemies continuously affect him with magic at all times?

Response: This event is evidence that an attempt was made, and the result of the story is that it was repelled. So if they attempted to do it again and multiple times, it would have been repelled over and over again. If the narration said the Prophet (s) was affected by magic and God left him to his (s) own, then this proof would be strong. But the narration shows how Allah (swt) came to the Prophet’s assistance.

Argument 3: If this narration was correct, then it would become a Madani Surah, when it is famous that this Surah was revealed in Makkah.

Response: Who made it famous? Later scholars. Imagine for a moment that this narration existed in al-Kafi with a Sahih Mu’tabar chain which signified that it was revealed in Medina. At the same time, you have quotes from so-and-so people from the early Muslims born after the Prophet’s demise and the exegetes who say it is revealed in Makkah. What has priority? Of course the narration. The fame of it being revealed in Makkah is not evidence for truly having being revealed in Makkah. As a matter of fact, we have evidence that it was revealed in Medina – with a strong chain (in our supposed scenario).

Furthermore, where did this fame come from and how did it develop? Was it the view of the companions of the Prophet, or is it from that first narrative which says it was to protect the Prophet (s) from the evil-eye of the Quraysh? If so, then that reliability of that narrative itself needs to be investigated.

Argument 4: If this event was true, it would go against Surah al-Maidah, Verse 67: And Allah will protect you from the people.

Response: What does protection mean here? That they can’t kill him, or prevent him, or stop his invitation to the religion. Does protection mean that people won’t be able to harass, or annoy or harm the Prophet (s) in any way whatsoever? The Qur’an it self (9:61) says and (as for) those who molest the Messenger of Allah, they shall have a painful punishment. Furthermore, the Prophet (s) himself has said that no one was harassed the way I was.

The concept of protection here means that if the Prophet takes up his responsibilities and while on the mission to fulfill them, he will be protected or his efforts will not be in vain or destroyed by others. Furthermore, this narration it self shows that the Prophet was protected. People tried to affect him by magic, and Allah (swt) exposed their magic and also gave Prophet protection.

Furthermore, Surah al-Ma’idah was revealed near the end of Prophet’s life, whereas Surah al-Falaq was revealed much earlier. One can even argue that the announcement of Prophet’s protection took place once this verse was revealed and there was no such guarantee before that.

As an additional point, the Imami explanation of this verse indicates that the protection of the Prophet (s) was in fact the Imamah and Wilayah of Imam Ali (s). If we take this view, then it really has no connection to our topic.

Argument 5: Many scholars have said, if this was correct, then it goes against Surah Taha, Verse 69: and the magician will not succeed wherever he is

Response: The magician came, and he did succeed. How does this reconcile with the event? We will discuss this verse later, especially because the Itlaq of this verse implies that there is no such thing as magic or that magic can never work because it is nothing but imagination.

But just in passing, how would one respond to verse 66 of Surah Taha: And suddenly their ropes and staffs seemed to him from their magic that they were moving [like snakes].

Magic did have an affect on Musa (s) where he was seeing the ropes move like snakes. Not only did magic work on Musa, but he sensed fear in himself as the next verse suggests. In any case, we will discuss this later on in more detail.

Argument 6: Some argue that while intellectually we cannot say that there is anything that prevents the Prophet (s) from being affected by magic, however whether this event took place or not, is open to discussion. The evidence for it is not strong. The Shi’i narrations are weak, and Sunni narrations all go back to Ibn ‘Abbas and ‘Ayesha and there are two main chains for it. There can be some critique done on those chains as well, since one of the narrators was deemed weak.

Furthermore, as a solitary report, since we do not have certainty in it, we cannot abide by it, especially in such sensitive and border-line dangerous matters.

In the next lecture we will discuss whether these two Surahs (Falaq & Naas) are part of the Qur’an or not.

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