Qul: lā as’alukum ‘alayhi ajran illal-mawaddata fil-qurbā
Say: I do not ask of you any reward for it but love for my near relatives
(Sūratush Shūrā, No.42, Āyat 23)
When the Holy Prophet (s) began preaching his mission people were skeptical. What did he want from them? What reward was he expecting for his hard work and efforts for them? According to the materialistic thinking of most people, no-one does anything for others except with some expectations in return. In this verse Allah asks the Prophet to reassure people that he is not looking for any reward, except that they should love his relatives.
Loving the holy family means to recognize their special status and position. It is to accept that they continued the mission of the Prophet in guiding the people towards the right path. Loving them is to follow them and learn from their teachings.
The word Qurbā has been interpreted by commentators in different ways. Apart from understanding it as referring to the family of the Prophet, the following meanings have been put forward:
1. Some commentators have taken the word qurbā to mean closeness to Allah. Hence they translate the verse to mean that the only reward the Prophet was asking for was love of closeness to Allah (swt).
2. Others have taken it to mean love of relatives in general, referring to the relatives of the people themselves.
3. Yet others have taken it as the Prophet asking for love of himself as he was a relative of many of the Quraysh through blood, and was also related to many others by marriage.
All these meanings conflict with the apparent meaning of the verse and are not accepted by many Sunni commentators and all Shī‘ah commentators.
When we look at other verses which talk about the reward of Prophethood, we see that the Prophet says:
• Whatever reward I have asked of you, that is only for yourselves; my reward is only with Allah . . . (Q 34:47)
• Say: I do not ask you anything in return except that he who will, may take the way to his Lord. (Q 25:57)
When these verses are put together it shows that the Prophet did not ask for a reward for himself. The reward he wanted would be for the benefit of the people themselves and would help them on the path towards their Lord. Love of his relatives would help them stay on that path.
This verse has been quoted by the holy family themselves to make people aware of their position. Imam al-Hasan (a) quoted it in his sermon after the martyrdom of his father Imam Ali (a). It was also quoted by Imam al-Sajjād (a) in Damascus where he asked a Syrian if he had read this verse in the Quran. He told him that he (i.e. the Imam) was from among the Qurbā mentioned in this verse.
Many narrations have been quoted from the Holy Prophet himself regarding this verse and its interpretation. These narrations can be found in some of the major Tafāsīr of the Ahl Sunnah, including Durrul Manthūr by Suyutī, Tafsīr al-Tabarī by Ibn Jarīr Tabarī, Tafsīr Kashshaf by Zamaksharī, Tafsir Qurtubi, and Tafsir al-Kabīr by Fakhr al-Razi.
This verse has a lot written about it and it is not possible to explore it in complete detail in this reflection. More details can be found on various sites.
Let this verse remind you of the necessity of loving the family of the Holy Prophet. It is the only thing he asked from us.
Āyatullāh Nāsir Makārim Shirāzī (ed.), Tafsīr-e Namūneh;
Āghā Muhsin Qarā’atī, Tafsīr-e Nūr;
Ali Nazari Munfarid, The Story of Karbala.