Quranic Reflection No 560. Āyat 8:23 – Reality of Listening

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وَلَوْ عَلِمَ اللَّهُ فِيهِمْ خَيْرًا لَّأَسْمَعَهُمْ ۖ وَلَوْ أَسْمَعَهُمْ لَتَوَلَّوا وَّهُم مُّعْرِضُونَ

Walaw ‘alimal-lāhu fīhim khayran la-asma‘ahum. walaw asma‘ahum la-tawallaw wahum mu‘ridhūn

Had Allah known any good in them, He would have surely made them hear, and were He to make them hear, surely, they would turn away, being disregardful.

(Sūrat al-Anfal, No 8, Āyat 23)

This verse is a strong assertion of the fact that Allah ‘azza wajall guides those who themselves are inclined towards guidance. The verse says that if there was good in people, Allah would make them listen to the truth. It shows that Allah strengthens the inner self that is already taking steps towards Him. Those who hear the word of Allah often and are aware of its truth but refuse to listen to it will be deprived of that grace of Allah.

According to some narrations the cause of revelation behind this verse is the time when a group of polytheists came to the Prophet Muhammad sallal-lāhu ‘alayhi wa-ālihi wasallam and asked him to bring back to life one of their deceased leaders. They said that if he was brought back and bore witness to the Prophethood of the Prophet(s), they too would believe in him. This verse was revealed to say that if they were sincere Allah (swt) would have fulfilled their request. But their objective was to ridicule Islam and reject it by such demands.

Listening to the truth has many stages:

  1. Some people refuse to even just listen to the truth, and they try to prevent others from doing so too. The Quran says: And those who disbelieve say: Do not listen to this Quran and make noise therein, perhaps you may overcome (Q 41:26).
  2. Sometimes people only hear the words without thinking about them. 
  3. There are people who listen to the truth but pay very little attention to it. They don’t take it seriously. The Quran talks about such people: There are some among them [O Muhammad] who listen you. But when they go out from your presence, they say to those who have been given knowledge, ‘What did he say just now?’ (Q 47:16). 
  4. Some people listen to it and think about it, but they have lost the ability to discern the truth. The words of truth don’t affect them and there is no motivation to absorb them and act upon them. The Quran talks about the people of Prophet Mūsā ‘alayhis-salām who heard the truth but refused to act on it: They said: We hear and disobey (Q 2:93).

The Quran calls all these people as deaf and unable to hear because the reality of listening to the truth is the ability to hear the words, pay attention to them, think about them, and make the intention to act upon them. Allah says: Do not be like those who say, ‘We hear,’ though they do not hear (Q 8:21). There are many who listen to good recitation of the Quran and get emotionally affected by it. They react and make appreciative sounds. But there is little obedience to the message of the words. This is only partial listening as it has not fulfilled all the steps of true listening.

The second part of the verse explains that had Allah (swt) made them hear and given them the extra strength, it would not help them as they did not have the initial goodness that could be worked upon. It is not that the extra grace of Allah would have produced goodness in them. They had to have that goodness within and then the grace would produce fruit. ‘Making them hear’ in the first part of the verse is conditional on there being good in them, and in the second part of the verse is a predicted result of doing it despite there being no good in them.

Let this verse remind us about the reality of listening and be from those who truly listen, lest we regret on the Day of Judgement: And they will say, ‘Had we listened or applied reason, we would not have been among the inmates of the Blaze.’ (Q 67:10)

Sources: ‘Allāmah Muhammad Husayn Tabātabā’ī, Tafsīr al-Mīzān; Āyatullāh Nāsir Makārim Shirāzī (Ed.), Tafsīr-e Namūneh.

ALI-624: God’s Servitude, Man’s True Success, Part 1

In this course we will go through the comprehensive narration on rights known as Risālat al-Huqūq, using the lengthier version narrated in the fourth century book Tuhafal-Uqūl. This semester will focus on servitude through various parts of the body.

Instructor: Sh. Muhammad Mahdi Kassamali

Fees: $25.00 Schedule: 2 Tuesdays, Jan 25-Feb 1, 8-9 pm, Toronto time