“Then let man look at his food”
(Surat Abasa (He frowned): 24)
By: Dr. / Zaghloul El-Naggar
The Messenger was occupied with inviting a group of Qurayshi leaders to Allah’s final religion (Islam), so he turned away from a blind companion - one of the first to embrace Islam - who came to ask him about an Islamic issue. Therefore, Allah (SWT) sent down a reprimand at the beginning of this honorable Surah emphasizing the truth He revealed in another part of His book saying “Verily, the most honorable of you with Allah is that (believer) who has At-Taqwa (i.e. he is one of the Muttaqun (the pious). Verily, Allah is All-Knowing, All-Aware."*
Al-Hujurat (The Apartments): 13). Surat
In order to establish this Islamic principle without which human societies cannot be reformed, Allah (glory be to Him) sent down from the seventh sky this reproach to His most beloved human creature and the one nearest to Him. This high principle must govern human societies if people want to live according to Allah’s doctrine and, thus, achieve the goal for which they have been created. That is why Allah has preserved this reproach in His honorable book which will be read till the Day of Judgment. It is a reminder of this human value which Muslims must take into consideration within their societies in general and in their Da’wa to the religion of Allah, in particular.
This Surah touches upon man’s ungratefulness towards his Creator (SWT). It reminds him of his origin, his growth, and how Allah prepared him for this life and smoothed the paths for him. It also reminds him that his earthly life will end in a tomb after death; and his resurrection will be to account for his deeds.
The ayahs respond to this human ungratefulness by giving a number of indications of Allah’s capability; how He has excelled in creating man and providing him, as well as his cattle, with food. It reminds him of the hereafter and its terrors and trials; illustrating some of its scenes and portraying the impact on Allah’s creatures. These are divided into two groups: happy, optimistic believers and miserable, afflicted unbelievers.
This venerable Surah starts with the reference to the incident that concerns the companion, Abdullah Amr Ibn Qays, known as Ibn Umm Maktoom. This happened in the honorable city of
before immigration to Madinah. Though Ibn Umm Maktoom was blind yet he was quite insightful as he was one of the first to embrace Islam. One day, he came to ask the Prophet about an Islamic issue and found him occupied in arguing with some Qurayshi leaders and calling them to Allah’s final religion, hoping they would support it rather than have enmity and repulsion for it. In this confusion, Ibn Umm Maktoom insisted on questioning the Prophet while the latter wished he had waited a little bit till he might convince these Qurayshi leaders. But Ibn Umm Maktoom went on asking him, so the Prophet (PBUH) frowned and turned away from him. Allah (glory be to Him) sent down this Surah in which He vigorously reproached His Messenger over this incident. Makkah
At first the message of this Surah was impersonal; then, Allah directly addressed the Prophet (PBUH). He says “(The Prophet) frowned and turned away. Because there came to him the blind man (i.e. 'Abdullah bin Umm-Maktum, who came to the Prophet (PBUH) while he was preaching to one or some of the Quraish chiefs). And how can you know that he might become pure (from sins)? Or he might receive admonition, and the admonition might profit him? As for him who thinks himself self-sufficient, to him you attend; what does it matter to you if he will not become pure (from disbelief: you are only a Messenger, your duty is to convey the message of Allah). But as to him who came to you running, And is afraid (of Allah and His punishment), Of him you are neglectful and divert your attention to another. Nay, (do not do like this); indeed it (this Qur'an) is an admonition; So whoever wills, let him pay attention to it. (It is) in Records held (greatly) in honor (Al-Lauh Al-Mahfuz), Exalted (in dignity), purified, In the hands of scribes (angels); Honorable and obedient.” *
Abasa (He frowned): 1-16) Surat
After the revelation of this Surah, the Prophet (PBUH) honored bin Umm Maktoom whenever he saw him. He even appointed him twice as his vicegerent in Madinah as he was one of the first immigrants to the city. He then was martyred in Al-Qadiseya (RA). More than that, it is reported that the Prophet (PBUH) never frowned at a poor person after this incident nor concentrated on rich people anymore. Sufyan Athawri (RA) reported that the poor were treated like princes in his assembly.
The lesson we learn from this incident is that one should not restrict his call to the path of Allah for one particular people in favor of others because only Allah, the Almighty, knows who is worth calling. So one must address all the people impartially, not taking into account their race, ancestry, gender or age; nor should he consider their educational ability, technological and material wealth or social rank. Islam does not approve of social discrimination and Allah does not accept racial or social prejudice as a basis of legitimate rivalry.
The fact that the Prophet announced Allah’s reproach to him is one of the clearest proofs of the authenticity of his Prophethood, the nobleness of his message and his total servitude to his Creator. For exhibiting such a reproof can only be done by a noble Prophet who is aware of Allah’s rights upon him and of the sacredness of the revelation that was sent to him with Allah’s eloquent words to which there is no omission, addition or any of human interference.
Also, the announcement of this divine decision to Qurayshi leaders while Muslims were a weak minority in Makkah--where they lived inside a pagan environment filled with blind, social inequity and was governed by savage habits. This was a great proof that this last Prophet and Messenger (PBUH) who was bound to Allah’s inviolable revelation--taught by the Creator of the earth and the skies—and had His support.
The ayahs continue to confirm the divine pronouncement as a reminder from Allah (SWT) to whoever wants to be reminded. Especially that this instruction is kept in the pages of the Qur’an that are, *“held (greatly) in honor (Al-Lauh Al-Mahfuz), exalted (in dignity), purified,”* and saved by Allah who made it out of the reach of any imposed interferences or human distortion or falsification! *"In the hands of scribes (angels); honorable and obedient…”* these are venerable Angels who brought the sacred Qur’an to the last of the Messenger and Prophet (PBUH).
If Muslim societies could live according to these spiritual criteria which give greater weight to virtuous, righteous and devout people rather than to mischievous, fraudulent, greedy, scandalous ones who adore the worldly life and forget the hereafter. The latter often crave for higher powerful ranks in order to extort money from people, to rob their societies, thus humiliating and tyrannizing their people. If heavenly criteria dominate the earthly human societies, they will certainly achieve contentment. Unfortunately, priorities been inverted and balances neglected and earthly criteria superseded spiritual ones. Values have been confounded and perception flustered. The unscholarly have power; the truthful is considered a liar and the liar is considered truthful; the unfaithful is trusted and the faithful is mistrusted! So, human societies have become miserable.
The ayahs continue with a tone of amazement at the rebellious attitude of man who disbelieves in Allah and ignores the necessity of believing in Him. He turns away from His guidance and displays a haughty arrogance opposing Allah’s message and considers himself above submissiveness to His sovereignty through obedience and worship. The ayahs remind him of his origin, his upbringing, his weakness at the beginning of his existence, his need for Allah’s care at different stages of his life and in every moment of his life. Allah has given him many gifts and abilities and made it easier for him to live his life and to find guidance. Unfortunately, man is unmindful of all that! So he does not fulfill his duty towards Allah (SWT), nor does he perform his role on earth as it was designed by his Creator. How ungrateful he is!
To describe this oppositional attitude on the part of man towards the blessings and favors of Allah, He says *“Woe to man! What hath made him reject Allah?”* (
Abasa (He Frowned): 17). The term “woe to…” is a curse and damnation on the disbeliever. He deserves Allah’s wrath in the worldly life and will certainly find suffering and humiliation in the Hereafter! For even if he lives long, the end of his life is death and then the grave which may either be a Surat or a pit of Hell. And his resurrection will be just the same as his first creation. The Prophet (PBUH) describes this resurrection by saying, “Between the two blows (of the trumpet) there are forty… then Allah sends water down and people grow up as plants. All of the bodies become dust except one bone--the coccyx--from which creatures are resurrected on the Day of Judgment”. garden of Paradise
So it is taken for granted that man’s destiny is held in Allah’s hand from the moment he was a tiny sperm-drop until he is born, and while going through life stages to his death. It is Allah who created him in his father’s sperm when He wanted and brought him to life when and where He desired. It is also He who ends his life when and where He wants and causes him to stay in his grave as long as He wants. Then, when the afterlife starts, He will resurrect him from dust for the Day of Accounting. On that day, people will be divided into two teams: one team will go to hell and the other one to heaven; and each of them will stay there forever, just as the truthful Prophet (PBUH) told us.
Taking this into consideration, the wise man must be ready for that day and try hard to save him from its dreads. The goal behind life is not distraction and amusement; it should not be spent in vain. Man has a double message to carry on in this life: worship Allah (SWT) as He ordered him to and perform well the duties of vicegerent on earth by peopling it and establishing Allah’s justice on it.
Unfortunately, the great majority of people forgets this reality and wastes their lives not thinking of the truth until the moment of death comes and they find themselves faced with judgment. What a difficult moment!
That is why Allah (SWT) says *“Woe to man! What hath made him reject Allah?”*Allah made this ayah in an interrogative reproachful, scolding form. That is: “What made man a disbeliever?” or in other words, “How intense is his disbelief in spite of Allah’s kindness to him!” In both cases there is an exclamation about his intractable disbelief and an affirmation that he deserves the most severe punishment.
Then comes ayah 23 where Allah says, *“Nay, but (man) has not done what He commanded him.”* This ayah is a confirmation that man did not fulfill what Allah ordered him and, thus, deserves suffering about which he was warned by previous Prophets and Messengers.
After that, the text illustrates one of Allah’s greatest signs in creation which is providing ample and necessary food, appropriate to all living creatures on earth; among them man and his cattle. So the ayahs direct the ungrateful man’s attention to this truth saying, “Then let man look at his food. We pour forth waterin abundance, And We split the earth in clefts, And we cause therein the grain to grow, And grapes and clover plants (i.e. green fodder for the cattle), And olives and date-palms, And gardens dense with many trees, And fruits and herbage,(To be) a provision and benefit for you and your cattle.”
Abasa (He Frowned): 24-32). Surat
The meaning of the term “look” here is not limited only to sight but goes beyond it. It is a kind of proverb. For food is one of the major necessities of life and no one can pretend that he has anything to do with the water cycle which is created and monitored by Allah, thanks to His knowledge, wisdom and capability. Concerning this, the Prophet reported from Allah in the following divine Hadith (Hadith Qudsi), “Some of My bondsmen (servants) start the day as My believers and some as unbelievers. He who said: We have had a rainfall due to the Blessing and Mercy of Allah, is My believer and a disbeliever of stars, and whoever said: We have had a rainfall due to the rising of such and such (star) disbelieved in Me and affirmed his faith in the stars.” (Al-Bukhari). He also said, “No one knows when it will rain but Allah” (Al- Bukhari).
Also, no wise man can pretend that he is able to make seeds grow or to split the earth in order to bring up the plants! Nor can he claim that he is able to create a single species from all of earth’s plants that exceed 300,000 different species! And every variety is subdivided into billions; each one has its own external, internal, anatomical and functional characteristics that distinguish it from the others!
In this Surah, Allah the Almighty referred to corn (grains), grapes, olives, and dates, gardens dense with lofty trees, fruits and herbage, grazing fodder for animals. And these particular varieties cover almost all of what man and his cattle need in order to survive!
Then, the Surah in its last ayahs goes back to discussing the end of man’s life. For after enjoying all this life’s pleasures and ornaments, there comes death and the grave; then, resurrection and the great presentation in front of Allah (SWT) for judgment. And finally, he will live out eternity in the hereafter either in Heaven or in Hell. Allah, the Almighty says *“Then when there comes As-Sakhkhah(the second blowing of the Trumpet on the Day of Resurrection), That Day shall a man flee from his brother, And from his mother and his father, And from his wife and his children. Everyman that Day will have enough to make him careless of others. Some faces that Day will be bright (true believers of Islamic Monotheism), Laughing, rejoicing at good news (of
Paradise). And other faces, that Day, will be dust-stained. Darkness will cover them. Such will be the Kafarah (disbeliever in Allah, in His Oneness, and in His Messenger Muhammed (PBUH)) the Fajarah (wicked evil doers)."*
Abasa (He Frowned): 33-42) Surat
The “Deafening Noise” is one of the names of the Last Day. It refers to the second blow of the trumpet and it is called this because it deafens the ears since it is loud and shrill. That day will be so full of terror that man will be fleeing from the closest people to him. And after judgment people will be divided into believers with beaming, rejoicing faces because Allah the Almighty has honored them in
Paradise; and into disbelieving wrong-doers who denied Allah and His last message. They transgressed His limits and violated His commands. Their faces will show regret, remorse, grief and desperation. They will feel humiliated and shamed knowing that their destiny is Hell! On each face will be the indications of one’s destiny.
At the beginning of the Surah Allah the Almighty gave us the criterion for judging Truth and told us that whoever preserved it would succeed in this life and in the hereafter; and he who wasted it, would be miserable now and in the next life. Then, in the end of the Surah, Allah portrayed images of reward and punishment in the afterlife. There is an astonishing duality between the beginning and the end of this Surah. This is but a proof of Allah’s unlimited creative capability that bought forth in a unique achievement this everlasting book which he had preserved in the same language (Arabic) in which it had been sent to His last Messenger and Prophet fourteen centuries ago! It will endure until Allah (SWT) inherits back the earth and all of its inhabitants.
References to “nature” in
1) The reference to the creation of man from a sperm-drop that contains all his characteristics and destiny.
2) Directing people’s attention to aspects of the scientific miracle in providing all the needed factors for the creation of food for man and his cattle, and for every living creature on earth.
3) Reference to the water cycle around the earth that results in rain.
4) Reference to the fact that rain helps split the earth and irrigates it as a preparation for planting; or the earth splitting through the initial sprouting of plants. And both references are correct.
5) Creating different plant varieties and giving the basic models that represent fully all the plant’ groups which comprise the main food for man and his cattle (such as grains, grapes, nutritious plants, olives, dates, gardens dense with lofty trees, fruits and fodder).
6) Stating that the extraction of plants from the dead earth is a simile for the resurrection of bodies that became dust.
7) Reference to the reality of life, death and then resurrection and judgment.
Each of these issues needs a special analysis. Because of this I will limit myself to the second issue only which was mentioned in the ayahs 24 to 32. But before that I would like to quote Ibn-Kathir's notes about these ayahs.
Interpretations of this ayah by some scholars:
Mentioning Ibn-Kathir as an example here is the summary of his explanation of the ayahs 24-32 written above: (Then let man look at his food,) here Allah is raising the feeling of indebtedness within man, He is also giving evidence for the resurrection of the body after it became old bones and dust through the creation of plants in a lifeless earth. *(We pour forth water in abundance,)* means, we sent it down from sky to earth. *(And We split the earth in clefts,)* means, thanks to water which penetrated the earth, plants grew up and emerged from its surface. *(And We cause therein the grain to grow, and grapes and clover plants (i.e. green fodder for the cattle),* corn means all the cereals, grapes are known to all, and nutritious plants refers to the fresh alfalfa given to animals. (And olives) they are a condiment and their extracted oil is also a condiment used as a grease. (And dates,) it is eaten unripe (balah), freshly ripened (rutab) and very ripe (tamr); it is used either cooked or uncooked, and we can make thickened syrup or vinegar from it. *(And gardens dense with many trees,)* means, gardens full of tall palm-trees … or dense trees gathered in one place under which one can seek the shade. *(And fruits and herbage,)* the first are all the soft and sweet fruits and the latter are all the plants eaten by animals but not eaten by man (herbage and grazing). *((To be) a provision and benefit for you and your cattle.)* This means, as a living for you and your cattle in this worldly life, and until the last day.
Other commentators said almost the same thing, and I see no need for repeating all this here, though they are all prominent scholars.
Abasa (He Frowned):24) Surat
Man has primarily relied on plants for his food. That is why the ayahs that follow talk about pouring water from the sky and splitting the earth, then about many plant varieties and their fruits that cover all man’s and his cattle’s needs for vegetable food. The latter refers to animal food, for animals that man eats are nourished with plants and their fruits. Also, such food is a source of energy that enables him to do physical activities. It preserves, as well, his body temperature and builds up cells and tissues that are necessary in different growing stages, or replaces the lost ones.
Man’s body has a vital need for air, water and food. If he is prevented from air for some minutes only, he’ll die of asphyxia; and if he lacks water, he will survive for only a few days. He can live without food for weeks but will lose a lot of weight and will experience serious health problems if he does not compensate for it.
Man needs the following basic elements in his food:
They are important organic compounds whose components are made through the union of carbon atoms with both hydrogen and oxygen (with the same proportion found in water). The existence of carbohydrates in both plants and animals is found in different forms, the simplest being the monosaccharide like glucose and fructose. This monosaccharide combine with each other through special links to form disaccharides, such as sucrose found in sugar cane and beet, lactose (milk sugar), and maltose (barley sugar). These also combine into trisaccharides like raffinose, starch, and cellulose. Starch is found in many plants. It is enclosed in their seeds, nodules and fruits. The cell walls of plants, on the other hand, are mainly made of cellulose; and it is found in straw, wood, cotton and in other groups of vegetables.
They are organic compounds. They are formed by the union of carbon atoms with hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen atoms. Some of their components may contain sulfur and phosphorus atoms. These elements exist in long amino acid chains. Proteins are made of as many as twenty amino acids that are linked through a special linkage called peptide bond. The protein component enfolds on itself into a spiral. Proteins can be found in very simple varieties made of only amino acids, and in very complex varieties combined with other chemical compounds. They exist in living creatures’ tissues and protoplasm, and play very important roles in many of their biological activities such as the support and movement of bones and muscles, transport and communication in blood and between the nerves, writing the genetic code and stimulating different interactions like secretion of enzymes and some hormones.
They are basically formed by the union of carbon atoms with hydrogen and oxygen atoms in higher proportions than that found in water and carbohydrates. Some fats also contain sulfur and nitrogen. Oils and fats have an identical chemical composition; if this composition remains liquid at twenty degrees centigrade, it is called oil; but if it solidifies, it is called a fat. Fats are known as glycosides because they are composed of fatty acids and glycerin linked together. Glycerin, oil, and fat are called lipids. Some plants such as olives, sesame, black-eyed peas, soy beans, linseeds, cotton seeds, sunflower seeds, palm seed oil, walnut; and some crops such as wheat, corn, and rice are all considered as important sources of vegetable oil.
All these compounds--carbohydrates, proteins, and fats--are characterized by symmetry, precision and complexity in their form. This definitely means that they could not have created themselves nor could they have been created by accident. They are rather a proof of Allah’s absolute ability, creative genius, complex creation and precise control. That is why man’s attention was drawn to the creation of his food.
Abasa (He Frowned):25) Surat
“We pour” means water is poured in abundance from the sky, as what happens when it rains. And if there was no water cycle around the earth, all the water which is the main source of life where billions of living creatures live and die every moment, would have been completely polluted. The amount of water on earth is 1.4 billion cubic kilometers; 380,000 cubic kilometers evaporates every year and then comes back to earth through rain which is spread on earth according to Allah’s knowledge, wisdom and ability! No one can govern the water cycle but Allah (SWT), and nobody can cause one drop of water to pour down from the sky whenever and wherever he wants but Allah. That is why there is this reference in the ayah that pouring water from the sky is a clear evidence of Allah’s capability.
Abasa (He Frowned):26) Surat
Fissures are long cavities formed on any surface. “We split” here means the vertical effusion of rain water when it is poured on earth; and it has been proved that rain water spilled on earth can cause fissures in which the depth varies between a few meters to two hundred meters. This permits water to pierce through permeable rock layers so that water is stored under the surface and its freshness and content is renewed due to the presence of oxygen. These fissures connect with similar varied rock fissures, stratification levels in sedimentary rocks, and dissolved caves in calciferous and saliferous rocks that can reach dozens of kilometers resulting in holes, routes, galleries, and agoras. This connection promotes weathering of rocks and storage of underground water, and enhances its role in making the fissures wider. This is done through different aspects; by mechanical erosion (the effect of frost), erosion caused by living creatures, and chemical erosion (through dissolution, carbonization, conversion, liquidizing and oxidation) which weaken the rocks’ cohesion and helps them to split and fragmentize to make topsoil. It also helps plants get all they need from water and nutritious components.
This seems to me--Allah only knows--the closest meaning for “We split the earth” since it comes immediately after reference to pouring water. However, there is another possibility. The ayah may be referring to the fact that the splitting of the earth is a result of the mixture between the soil and rain water. Agricultural soil is composed mainly of calcic minerals which are basically made of hydrated aluminum silicates that are piled up on one another forming thin layers. This chemical compound has a great affinity for water, so when it becomes wet, it inflates and becomes fluffy, which allows it to float to the top. As a result, the soil becomes very supple; it splits to let the stalk emerge from inside the seed buried in the soil and takes it to the surface. This occurs due to the water being displaced in an amount equal to the amount of air found between calcic layers and due to the colloidal movement of the collagenous substance through the soil’s calcic minerals. This also occurs as a result of the repulsion of the similar electric charges on the surface of those layers on one hand, and of both poles of the bipolar water component on the other hand.
Also, there is a microcosm of life in the soil, where billions of dormant living creatures are found. When water reaches them, they arouse and become active. These are seeds, tiny eggs and larva as well as bacteria and fungi. The earth’s store of these living creatures varies from microscopic organisms to vertebrates. So, it seems clear that the force that leads to the growing of seeds is something not to be taken lightly!
4. *"And we cause therein the grain to grow, and grapes and clover plants (i.e. green fodder for the cattle), and olives and date-palms, and gardens dense with many trees, and fruits and herbage, (To be) a provision and benefit for you and your cattle.”*
Abasa (He Frowned): 27-32). Surat
These ayahs refer to all plant varieties that man and his cattle need for their nourishment. The term “corn” covers the family of cereals like wheat, barley, corn and rice. This is the most important family of plants as far as the economy is concerned for both man and his cattle because it also includes animal feed and pasturage; and its fields cover most of the agricultural land on earth. Grapes belong to a family that contains eleven genera and more than six hundred plant varieties.
“Clover plants” refer to the wild forage for cattle and animals such as grasses and berseem, but it is not always available. Olives represent the entire olive family that contains twenty-two genera and more than five-hundred plant varieties. Date palms represent the palm family; it contains two-hundred genera and more than four thousand varieties of trees, bushes and climbers across tropical and temperate regions.
Gardens are described as enclosed and full of high, abundant trees. Fruits are all soft, delicious and sweet produce. It is said that “fruits” here refers to all the produce except for grapes and pomegranates. Fodder is all the herbage and pasturage eaten by cattle and animals such as grass and different fresh and dried plant parts (straw and hay). This term is far more general than the term “nutritious plants”; that is why this section of ayahs ends with the explanation, *"(To be) a provision and benefit for you and your cattle.”*
Abasa (He Frowned): 32). Surat
These scientific truths were not known until the twentieth century. Their existence in the Qur’an which was revealed to the Prophet (PBUH) fourteen centuries ago is evidence that it is Allah’s words and also a proof of the Prophethood of the last Messenger, May peace and blessings be upon him, his family, his companions and all those who follow his guidance until the last day.
Praise be to Allah, Master of the universe.