In the name of Allah, the Merciful, the Compassionate
بِسۡمِ اللهِ الرَّحۡمٰنِ الرَّحِيۡمِ
(111:1) Destroyed were the hands of Abu Lahab, and he lay utterly doomed.1 تَبَّتۡ يَدَاۤ اَبِىۡ لَهَبٍ وَّتَبَّؕ
(111:2) His wealth did not avail him, nor his acquisitions.2 مَاۤ اَغۡنٰى عَنۡهُ مَالُهٗ وَمَا كَسَبَؕ
(111:3) Surely, he will be cast into a Flaming Fire
سَيَصۡلٰى نَارًا ذَاتَ لَهَبٍ ۖۚ
(111:4) along with his wife,3 that carrier of slanderous tales;4 وَّامۡرَاَ تُهٗ ؕ حَمَّالَةَ الۡحَطَبِۚ
(111:5) upon her neck shall be a rope of palm-fibre.5 فِىۡ جِيۡدِهَا حَبۡلٌ مِّنۡ مَّسَدٍ
1. His real name was Abd al-Uzza, and he was called Abu Lahab on account
of his glowing, ruddy complexion. Lahab means the flame of fire, and Abu Lahab
the one with a flaming, fiery face. His being mentioned here by his nickname
(Kunyat), instead of his real name, has several reasons. First, that he was
better known by his nickname than by his real name; second, that the Quran did
not approve that he should be mentioned by his polytheistic name Abd al Uzza
(slave of Uzza); third, that his kunyat goes well with the fate that has been
described of him in this Surah.
Some commentators have translated tabbat yada
Abi Lahab to mean: May the hands of Abu Lahab be broken, and tabba to mean:
may he perish or he perished. But this, in fact, was not a curse which was invoked
on him, but a prophecy in which an event taking place in the future, has been
described in the past tense, to suggest that its occurrence in the future is
certain and inevitable.
In fact, at last the same thing happened as had been
foretold in this Surah a few years earlier. Breaking of the hands obviously
does not imply breaking of the physical hands, but a person’s utterly failing
in his aim and object for which he has exerted his utmost. And Abu Lahab indeed
had exerted his utmost to defeat and frustrate the message of Islam presented
by the Prophet (peace be upon him). But hardly seven or eight years after the
revelation of this Surah most of the big chiefs of Quraish, who were a party
with Abu Lahab in his hostility to Islam, were killed in the Battle of Badr.
When the news of the defeat reached Makkah, he was so shocked that he could
not survive for more than seven days. His death occurred in a pitiable state.
He became afflicted with malignant pustule and the people of his house left
him to himself, fearing contagion. No one came near his body for three days
after his death, until the body decomposed and began to stink. At last, when
the people began to taunt his sons, according to one tradition, they hired some
black people, who lifted his body and buried it.
According to another tradition,
they got a pit dug out and threw his body into it by pushing it with wood, and
covered it up with earth and stones. His utter failure became manifest when
the religion which he had tried his utmost to impede and thwart, was accepted
by his own children. First of all, his daughter, Darrah, migrated from Makkah
to Madinah and embraced lslam; then on the conquest of Makkah, both his sons,
Utbah and Muattab, came before the Prophet (peace be upon him) through the mediation
of Abbas, believed and took oath of allegiance to him.
2. Abu Lahab was a stingy, materialistic man. Ibn Jarir has stated that once
in the pre-Islamic days he was accused of having stolen two golden deer from
the treasury of the Kabah. Though later the deer were recovered from another
person, the fact that he was accused of stealing indicates the opinion the people
of Makkah held of him. About his riches Qadi Rashid bin Zubair writes in his
Adh-Dhakhair wat- Tuhaf: He was one of the four richest men of the Quraish,
who owned one qintar (about 260 oz) of gold each. His love of wealth can be
judged from the fact that when on the occasion of the battle of Badr the fate
of his religion was going to be decided forever, and all the Quraish chiefs
had personally gone to fight, he sent Aas bin Hisham to fight on his own behalf,
telling him: This is in lieu of the debt of four thousand dirhams that you owe
to me. Thus, he contrived a plan to realize his debt, for Aas had become bankrupt
and there was no hope of the recovery of the debt from him.
have taken maa kasaba in the meaning of the earning, i.e. the benefits that
accrued to him from his wealth were his kasab (earning), and some other commentators
have taken it to imply children, for the Prophet (peace be upon him) has said
that a man’s son also is his kasab (earning). (Abu Daud, Ibn Abi Hatim). Both
these meanings fully correspond to the fate met by Abu Lahab. For when he was
afflicted with the malignant pustule, his wealth availed him nothing, and his
children also left him alone to die a miserable, wretched death. They did not
even bury him honorably. Thus, within a few years the people witnessed how the
prophecy which had been made in this Surah about Abu Lahab was literally fulfilled.
3. Her name was Arwa and her nickname (kunyat) Umm Jamil. She was sister
of Abu Sufyan and was no less bitter than her husband, Abu Lahab, in her enmity
to the Messenger (peace be upon him). Abu Bakr’s daughter Asma has related that
when this Surah was revealed, and Umm Jamil heard it, she was filled with rage
and went out in search of the Prophet (peace be upon him). She carried a handful
of stones and she was crying some verses of her own, satirizing the Prophet
(peace be upon him). She came to the Kabah, where the Prophet (peace be upon
him) was sitting with Abu Bakr. The latter said: O Messenger of Allah, there
she comes and I fear lest she should utter something derogatory to you. The
Prophet (peace be upon him) replied: She will not see me. The same thing happened.
She could not see the Prophet (peace be upon him) although he was there. She
said to Abu Bakr: I hear that your companion has satirized me. Abu Bakr replied:
No, by the Lord of this house, he has not satirized you. Hearing this she went
off. (lbn Abi Hatim, Ibn Hisham; Bazzar has related an incident on the authority
of Abdullah bin Abbas also, which closely resembles this). What Abu Bakr meant
was that she had not been satirized by the Prophet (peace be upon him), but
by Allah Himself.
4. The words in the original are hammalat al-hatab, which literally mean:
carrier of the wood. The commentators have given several meanings of it. Abdullah
bin Abbas, Ibn Zaid, Dahhak and Rabi bin Anas say: She used to strew thorns
at the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) door in the night; therefore, she has been
described as carrier of the wood. Qatadah, Ikrimah, Hasan Basri, Mujahid and
Sufyan Thauri say: She used to carry evil tales and slander from one person
to another in order to create hatred between them; therefore, she has been called
the bearer of wood idiomatically. Saaid bin Jubair says: The one who is loading
himself with the burden of sin is described idiomatically in Arabic as: Fulan-un
Yahtatibu ala zahri bi (so and so is loading wood on his back); therefore, hummalat
al-hatab means: The one who carries the burden of sin. Another meaning which
the commentators have also given is: she will do this in the Hereafter, i.e.
she will bring and supply wood to the fire in which Abu Lahab would be burning.
5 The word used for her neck is jeed, which in Arabic means a neck decorated
with an ornament. Saeed bin al- Musayyab, Hasan Basri and Qatadah say that she
wore a valuable necklace and used to say: By Lat and Uzza, I will sell away
this necklace and spend the price to satisfy my enmity against Muhammad (peace
be upon him). That is why the word jeed has been used here ironically, thereby
implying that in Hell she would have a rope of palm-fiber round her neck instead
of that necklace upon which she prides herself so arrogantly. Another example
of this ironical style is found at several places in the Quran in the sentence:
Bashshir-hum bi-adhab-in alima “Give them the good news of a painful torment.
The words habl-um min-masad have been used for the rope which will be put round
her neck, i.e. it will be a rope of the masad kind. Different meanings of this
have been given by the lexicographers and commentators. According to some, masad
means a tightly twisted rope; others say that masad is the rope made from palm-fiber;
still others say that it means the rope made from rush, or camel-skin, or camelhair.
Still another view is that it implies a cable made by twisted iron strands together.