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Correction or Consolation? Qur’an 4:95 and Exemption for the Blind Man

Waqar Akbar Cheema

Abstract

The piecemeal revelation of Qur’an against various contexts in over two decades served the purpose of strengthening the hearts of the first Muslims. Those unable to appreciate this scheme of revelation harbor and pronounce undue skepticism towards the Prophet’s mission and accuse him of making up ‘convenient revelations.’ One such example is when a dispensation in terms of reward of fighting in the way of Allah was revealed upon the plea of a blind companion of the Prophet – Ibn Umm Maktum. The skeptics refer to as a case of correction in the Qur’an or that of All-Knowing God being reminded of the obvious. This article seeks to remove this doubt by highlighting the details of the episode and by appreciating the same in light of the plain Qur’anic description of its revelation scheme.

1. Introduction

With the long held and oldest objections against the Qur’an and the life of the Prophet (ﷺ) exhausted and rebuffed missionary Islamophobes now raise questions that appear both ridiculous and silly to any Muslim initiated in Islamic sciences. The exposition of modern lay Muslims, however, requires dealing with even the most absurd arguments as they are not readily able to dissect them and appreciate the lameness of such criticism.

Of this category is the question on the reports saying that the words “except those who are disabled” in the verse “‘Not equal are those believers who sit (at home) except those who are disabled and those who strive and fight in the cause of Allah.” (Qur’an 4:95) were revealed when a blind companion of the Prophet ‘Amr bin Umm Maktum complained to the Prophet about his disability. In Sahih al-Bukhari a report on the issue goes as;

عن البراء، قال: لما نزلت: {لا يستوي} [النساء: 95] القاعدون من المؤمنين {والمجاهدون في سبيل الله} [النساء: 95]، قال النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم: «ادع لي زيدا وليجئ باللوح والدواة والكتف – أو الكتف والدواة -» ثم قال: ” اكتب {لا يستوي القاعدون} [النساء: 95] ” وخلف ظهر النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم عمرو بن أم مكتوم الأعمى، قال: يا رسول الله فما تأمرني، فإني رجل ضرير البصر؟ فنزلت مكانها: {لا يستوي القاعدون من المؤمنين} [النساء: 95] {والمجاهدون في سبيل الله} [النساء: 95] {غير أولي الضرر} [النساء: 95]

Narrated Al-Bara: There was revealed: ‘Not equal are those believers who sit (at home) and those who strive and fight in the Cause of Allah.’ (4.95)  The Prophet (ﷺ) said, “Call Zaid for me and let him bring the board, the inkpot and the scapula bone (or the scapula bone and the ink pot).”‘ Then he said, “Write: ‘Not equal are those Believers who sit …”, and at that time ‘Amr bin Um Maktum, the blind man was sitting behind the Prophet (ﷺ). He said, “O Allah’s Apostle! What is your order for me (as regards the above Verse) as I am a blind man?” So, instead of the above Verse, the following Verse was revealed: ‘Not equal are those believers who sit (at home) except those who are disabled and those who strive and fight in the cause of Allah.’ (4.95)[1]

Quoting similar narrations from various sources one missionary critic writes;

Isn’t the above story an example of Muhammad quickly changing his ‘revelations’ in order to suit the personal needs of specific individuals? It seems rather implausible that this blind individual needed to remind Allah that there were disabled people in the world that are not able to participate in jihad. Very implausible when you consider that Allah is called the ‘Al Knowing’ (Al-Aleem) in the Qur’an over and over again.[2]

2. Scheme of Qur’an Revelation: Piecemeal and in response to specific events

The Qur’an was revealed in its entirety in over two decades in chunks of varying lengths. On some occasions whole surahs were revealed together and on other only a few words. The Qur’an itself refers to this scheme of revelation. Allah says:

وَقُرْآنًا فَرَقْنَاهُ لِتَقْرَأَهُ عَلَى النَّاسِ عَلَى مُكْثٍ وَنَزَّلْنَاهُ تَنْزِيلًا

(It is) a Qur’an which We have divided (into parts from time to time), in order that you might recite it to men at intervals: We have revealed it by stages.[3]

2.1 Wisdom in gradual revelation

In response to an objection raised by the disbelievers the wisdom of piecemeal revelation is mentioned in the Qur’an itself;

وَقَالَ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا لَوْلَا نُزِّلَ عَلَيْهِ الْقُرْآنُ جُمْلَةً وَاحِدَةً كَذَلِكَ لِنُثَبِّتَ بِهِ فُؤَادَكَ وَرَتَّلْنَاهُ تَرْتِيلًا

Those who reject Faith say: “Why is not the Qur’an revealed to him all at once? Thus (is it revealed), that We may strengthen your  heart thereby, and We have rehearsed it to you in slow, well-arranged stages, gradually.[4]

Accordingly, the earliest exegetes of the Qur’an say:

عن ابن عباس قال أنزل القرآن جملة واحدة حتى وضع في بيت العزة في السماء الدنيا ونزله جبريل على محمد بجواب كلام العباد وأعمالهم.

Ibn ‘Abbas said: The Qur’an was revealed in its entirety and placed in the Abode of Glory in the lower heaven. Subsequently, Gabriel revealed it to Muhammad in response to speech and actions of the people.[5]

Whenever the Qur’an was revealed it brought with it an assurance of divine help and support not only for the Prophet (ﷺ) himself but for the members of the first Muslim community. It brought successive revelations with new and refined laws, promise of help against the trigger-happy and latent enemies, glad tidings of eventual victory over different ideologies, guidance on specific issues of communal concern, and consolation for individuals and groups. Though usually general in implication these revelations came down against specific backgrounds leaving lasting impressions in the memory of the community and helping them make better sense of it for application to future contexts.

3. The Case of Blind Man and Qur’an 4:95

3.1 Context to the episode

When the Prophet (ﷺ) was about to set out for Tabuk[6] and the hypocrites were being coward and making all kinds of excuses not to join the campaign, Allah vide Qur’an 4:95 declared that those sit behind are not equal to those who fight in the way of Allah. In fact even more scathing condemnation of the hypocrites was revealed in the same context in verses of Surah 9. And whereas the Prophet (ﷺ) did exempt certain true believers for their inability of affording a mount the verse in question declared that those among the believers who stayed behind were not equal to those who participated in the campaign.

3.2 Feelings of the blind man

It was this backdrop that perturbed Ibn Umm Maktum who had earlier remained behind the Prophet (ﷺ) on a number of campaigns due to his blindness. While he must have known the general rule that “Allah does burden one more than his capacity” he sought explicit exemption and concession on this occasion to remain free from any suggestion of hypocrisy and loss in terms of reward compared to others.

Whereas, narrations of the incident in most well-known works relate the events in summary way, there are reports that give us further information enabling us to have better insight of the issue. Collating the scattered information about Ibn Umm Maktum’s reaction we get the following picture.

Ibn Umm Maktum – who was a blind man – stood up when he heard the superiority of those who fight in the way of Allah, and said: ‘O Messenger of Allah! What about those believers who are not able to fight such as the blind and others like them?[7] O Messenger of Allah, what do you command me? I am a blind man.[8] If I could fight I would have fought.[9] I love fighting in the way of Allah. You have known for years that I have lost my eyesight and I cannot fight.[10] Where is my fault?[11] Is there a dispensation for me from Allah  if I sit back?[12] The Prophet (ﷺ) said: “I have not been ordered anything (specific) with regard to you. I do not know whether there is a dispensation for you and the like of you.” Ibn Umm Maktum said, “O Allah! I beseech you for (restoring) my eyesight.” [13]

He was told that the Prophet (ﷺ) was receiving the revelation. Fearing something may be revealed about him (by the way of condemnation), he cried standing there and said, I see refuge from the anger of Allah’s Messenger; [14] I turn to the Allah and His Messenger.[15] Zaid said, “By Allah, Ibn Umm Maktum had hardly completed his words that (something like) trance overtook the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ). His thigh fell down on my thigh, and I felt the heavy weight for the second time as I had felt it the first time. Then the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) regained his composure, and said: ‘Read O Zaid.’ So I read: Not equal are those of the believers who sit (at home). The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said: Except those who are disabled’ (reciting) the complete Verse (4:95).”[16]

3.3 Seeking correction or consolation?

One needs to reflect whether this is story of a man telling or reminding the Prophet (ﷺ) to make an exception, or is it about him pleading for a favor in view of his circumstance?  The man was perturbed that he would lose the highest reward without any negligence on his part and asked if he and his likes could get a dispensation. He was told there was no specific instruction about him by then. He cried out to Allah requesting that alternatively his eyesight may be restored enabling him to fight in the way of Allah and earn the greatest reward. Just then, the Prophet (ﷺ) again began to experience the physical concomitants of revelation he had undergone a while earlier. The poor blind man was told by the others present around that revelation had begun to come. Perhaps realizing that he had reacted too much he feared having offended the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) and began to pronounce his repentance. The revelation did come but it was no reprimand or anything to that effect rather a context specific confirmation of a known principle that he and others among the true believers having genuine excuse were in no loss compared to those who went to fight in the way of Allah. Accordingly, it was reported;

عن أنس بن مالك رضي الله عنه، أن رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم رجع من غزوة تبوك فدنا من المدينة، فقال: «إن بالمدينة أقواما، ما سرتم مسيرا، ولا قطعتم واديا إلا كانوا معكم»، قالوا: يا رسول الله، وهم بالمدينة؟ قال: «وهم بالمدينة، حبسهم العذر»

Anas ibn Malik related that the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, returned from the Tabuk expedition and approached Madina and said, “In Madina there are people who have been with you whatever distance you have travelled and whatever valley you crossed.” They said, “Messenger of Allah, even though they are in Madina?” He replied, “They are in Madina and a valid excuse prevented them from coming.”[17]

The above elaboration makes it abundantly clear that the revelation came not as a correction but for consoling of a poor blind man and lighten his heart by reiterating an already known principle of not burdening one beyond his capacity. This dispensation giving revelation was thus a simple manifestation of the scheme whereby Qur’an was revealed piecemeal; for strengthening the hearts of the believers.

4. Related Observations

4.1 Another case of Prophet’s instant revelation based response

An instant revelation in a particular context is a demonstration of gradual revelation in specific contexts in response to particular acts of the people as a means of comfort for the believers. It also served as a tool for effective advice. The case of the blind man discussed above was not the only time Gabriel brought the message just while a plea was made or a question asked. Following report gives another account of similar nature.

عن أبي هريرة، قال: جاء رجل إلى النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم وهو يخطب على المنبر، فقال: أرأيت إن قاتلت في سبيل الله صابرا محتسبا مقبلا غير مدبر، أيكفر الله عني سيئاتي؟ قال: «نعم» ثم سكت ساعة، قال: أين السائل آنفا؟ فقال الرجل: ها أنا ذا، قال: «ما قلت؟» قال: أرأيت إن قتلت في سبيل الله صابرا محتسبا مقبلا غير مدبر، أيكفر الله عني سيئاتي؟ قال: «نعم، إلا الدين، سارني به جبريل آنفا» 

It was narrated that Abu Hurairah said: A man came to the Prophet (ﷺ) while he was delivering a Khutbah from the Minbar, and he said: ‘If I fight in the cause of Allah with patience and seeking reward, facing the enemy and not running away, do you think that Allah will forgive my sins?’ He said: ‘Yes.’ Then he fell silent for a while. Then he said: ‘Where is the one who was asking just now?’ The man said: ‘Here I am.’ He said: ‘What did you say?’ He said: ‘What did you say?’ He said: ‘I said: I said: If I fight in the cause of Allah with patience and seeking reward, facing the enemy and not running away, do you think that Allah will forgive my sins?’ He said: ‘Yes, except for debt. Jibril told me that just now.’[18]

Here the Prophet (ﷺ) tells how Gabriel told him to make an exception to the general statement he had just made. There are other examples of the kind,[19] all of which prove that the story of the blind man was no exception.

4.2 Prophet had no control over when and where the revelation would happen

As in the examples mentioned above at the times the revelation came just when the question was asked but on other occasions revelation clarifying certain issues did not come for many days. When the Quraish based on the feedback of the Jews asked him certain questions the Prophet (ﷺ) said, “I will give you your answer tomorrow” but forgot to say “If Allah will,” and, therefore, had to wait for fifteen days before Gabriel brought to him the answers to those questions.[20]Another case in point is the incident of false accusation against Prophet’s (ﷺ) beloved wife when the Prophet (ﷺ) had to suffer for over a month before verses exonerating her came.[21]

4.3 Another instance involving blind man’s request

At another occasion the same blind person Ibn Umm Maktum requested for another dispensation but was declined by the Prophet.

عن ابن أم مكتوم، أنه سأل النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم، فقال: يا رسول الله، إني رجل ضرير البصر شاسع الدار، ولي قائد لا يلائمني فهل لي رخصة أن أصلي في بيتي؟، قال: «هل تسمع النداء»، قال: نعم، قال: «لا أجد لك رخصة»

Ibn Umm Maktum asked the Prophet (ﷺ), “O Messenger of Allah! I am a blind man whose home is far away (from your Masjid), and I have a guide who does not cooperate with me, so do I have an exemption to pray in my house?” He asked: “Can you hear the call (to prayer)?” He said: “Yes.” So he replied: “I do not find any exemption for you.”[22]

If it was about being reminded and corrected regardless of every other detail here was another occasion for it yet the Prophet (ﷺ) did not grant him dispensation even though he gave it to another blind companion ‘Utban b. Malik.[23] As explained by jurists this was for the fact that Ibn Umm Maktum was seeking a dispensation while earning the reward of prayers in congregation as he did with regard to fighting in the way of Allah. The Prophet (ﷺ), therefore, exempted the blind from the obligation of joining the congregational prayers but it did not mean they would get the same reward as in the congregation.[24] The contrast with being a part of the campaign to fight in the way of Allah is evident. Even a blind person with the some effort and help can come to the mosque but he cannot fight.

5. Conclusion

It is, therefore, evident that the revelation of phrase “except those who are disabled” in Qur’an 4:95 was neither a matter of correction in the Qur’an not has it any implications on the All Encompassing Knowledge of Allah, rather it precisely follows the scheme of revelation mentioned in the Qur’an. It was in fact a manifestation of the great divine wisdom that revelation came to comfort the distressed.

References and Notes:

[1] Al-Bukhari, al-Sahih, Translated by Muhsin Khan (Riyadh: Darussalam Publishers, 2007) Hadith 4990// Vol.6, Book 61, Number 512

[2] Princ, Rafael, A blind man reminds Muhammad and corrects the Qur’an

, <<Answering-Islam.org>> Last Accessed on December 18, 2017

[3] Qur’an 17:106

[4] Qur’an 25:32

[5] Al-Suyuti, al-Itiqan fi ‘Ulum al-Qur’an, (Beirut: Resalah Publishers, 2008) 95; see also Ibn al-Durais, Fada’il al-Qur’an, (Damascus: Dar al-Fekr, 1987) Hadith 120; al-Asbahani, Qawwam al-Sunnah, al-Targhib wa al-Tarhib, (Cairo: Dar al-Hadith, 1993) Vol.2, 379 Hadith 1819; Mawsu’a Tafsir al-Ma’thur, (Beirut: Dar Ibn Hazm, 2017) No. 69868, 84156

[6] Qur’an 4:95 was revealed against the backdrop of Tabuk:

There are a number of reasons to believe that it referred to the Campaign of Tabuk and not that of Badr as suggested by a report of Ibn ‘Abbas (al-Bukhari, al-Sahih, Hadith 3954, 4595);

(i) At the time of Badr there was no serious effort on the part of hypocrites to evade the campaign as there was no general call to it. The campaign was not planned for a battle but for intercepting the trade caravan of the Quraish that had returned with merchandise traded for the usurped property of the Muslims who had been forced to migrate to Madina, therefore, those who stayed behind were not condemned. Ka’b b. Malik who was reprimanded through a short-lived social boycott for his failure to join the Tabuk campaign without any genuine excuse said, “I never remained behind the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, on any expedition he went on other than the Tabuk. Although I did stay behind the Badr expedition, no one who stayed behind it was blamed. The Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, went out making for the caravan of Quraysh but Allah caused them to meet their enemy without it being planned.” (Al-Bukhari, al-Sahih, Hadith 3951, 4418)

(ii) A hadith reported by Anas mentions the people of genuine excuse who stayed behind at the eve of Tabuk; “the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, returned from the Tabuk expedition and approached Madina and said, “In Madina there are people who have been with you whatever distance you have travelled and whatever valley you crossed.” They said, “Messenger of Allah, even though they are in Madina?” He replied, “They are in Madina and a valid excuse prevented them from coming.” (Al-Bukhari, al-Sahih, Hadith 4423, 2839)

(iii) An early authority Maqatil b. Suleman (d. 150/767) also held that the episode related to the campaign of Tabuk. See Mawsu’a Tafsir al-Ma’thur, Vol.6, 696 No. 19773

(iv) Moreover, the reports on the issue mention how Zaid b. Thabit was the doing the scribal job when the verse was revealed and it is known that Zaid learned writing with the prisoners of Quraish taken at Badr who were afforded the opportunity to teach Muslims reading and writing to win their freedom if they could not pay ransom. (Ibn Sa’d, Tabaqat al-Kubra, Vo.2, 16) Zaid, therefore, could not have done the scribal work before the Battle of Badr.

[7] Al-Sajistani, Abu Dawud, al-Sunan, Translated by Nasiruddin al-Khattab (Riyadh: Darussalam Publishers, 2007) Hadith 2507; Ahmad bin Hanbal, al-Musnad, (Beirut: Resalah Publishers, 2001) Hadith 21664; isnad classified as hasan

[8] Al-Bukhari, al-Sahih, Hadith 4990, 4594

[9] Al-Bukhari, al-Sahih, Hadith 2832, 4592

[10] Abu al-‘Awana, al-Mushtakhraj, (Beirut: Dar al-Ma’rifa, 1998) Hadith 7425; Al-Busti, Ibn Hibban, al-Sahih, (Beirut: Resalah Publishers, 1988) Hadith 4713

[11] Al-Busti, Ibn Hibban, al-Sahih, Hadith 4712

[12] Al-Nasa’i, al-Sunan, Translated by Nasiruddin Khattab (Riyadh: Darussalam Publishers, 2007) Hadith 3103

[13] Al-Tabari, Ibn Jarir, Jami’ al-Bayan fi Ta’wil al-Qur’an, (Beirut: Resalah Publishers, 2000) Narration 10243; Mawsu’a Tafsir al-Ma’thur, Vol.6, 692 No. 19755; it is reported through isnad involving ‘Atiyah al-‘Awfi and his descendants. Though criticized otherwise, the tafsir reports through this isnad are accepted since they are known to have been transmitted in writing. See, al-Turifi, ‘Abdul ‘Aziz, al-Taqrir fi Asanid al-Tafsir, (Riyadh: Dar al-Minhaj, 2011 ) 67-68

[14] Ibn Abi ‘Asim, Al-Ahad wa al-Mathani, (Riyadh: Dar al-Rayah, 1991) Hadith 1039, 2593; Abu Ya’la, al-Musnad (Damascus: Dar al-Ma’mun, 1984) Hadith 1583; Al-Busti, Ibn Hibban, al-Sahih, Hadith 4712

[15] Al-Tahawi, Abu Ja’far, Sharh Mushkil al-Athar, (Beirut: Resalah Publishers, 1994) Hadith 1503; reported from Falatan b. ‘Asim; the isnad is qawi; al-Tabarani, Mu’jam al-Kabir, Hadith 856

[16] Ahmad bin Hanbal, al-Musnad, Hadith 21664; Al-Sajistani, Abu Dawud, al-Sunan, Hadith 250;  isnad classified as hasan; The word “al-sakina” used in the hadith ordinarily means tranquility and has been so translated by the two translators of Sunan Abu Dawud, Ahmad Hasan and Nasiruddin al-Khattab. It, however, makes little sense to be relieved from tranquility as the hadith says in continuation. Edward William Lane elaborating the usage here says; “absence of mind from self and others by its being exclusively occupied by the contemplation of divine things.” See, Lane, Arabic-English Lexicon, (Beirut: Librairie du Liban, 1968) Book I, 1394, 2312. In a bid to capture this meaning I translated it as “(something like) trance.” See also, Sindi, Abu Al-Hasan, Hashia Musnad al-Imam Ahmad, (Qatar: Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs, 2008) Vol.12, 487

[17] Al-Bukhari, al-Sahih, Hadith 4423, 2839

[18] Al-Nasa’i, al-Sunan, Hadith 3157; al-Albani classified it as hasan sahih. It is also reported by ‘Abdullah b. Jahsh. See Ahmad b. Hanbal, al-Musnad, Hadith 17253; classified as hasan by Shu’aib al-Arna’ut

[19] See for instance al-Bukhari, al-Sahih, Hadith 3938 , 4480 wherein the Prophet (ﷺ) mentioned how Gabriel had just told him answer to the questions Jews asked him which lead a Jewish scholar ‘Abdullah b. Salam to embrace Islam.

[20]

Ibn Hisham, ‘Abd al-Malik, Sirah al-Nawabiyya, Edited Mustafa Saqa, (Cairo: Mustafa Babi, 1955) Vol.1, 301

[21] al-Bukhari, al-Sahih, Hadith 4141, 4750

[22] Al-Sajistani, Abu Dawud, al-Sunan, Hadith 552; classified as hasan sahih by al-Albani

[23] al-Bukhari, al-Sahih, Hadith 425

[24] Ibn al-Humam, Fath al-Qadir, (Dar al-Fekr, n.d.) Vol.1, 345

Published : December 24, 2017

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