Tafseer of Surah Lahab

بِسْمِ اللّٰهِ الرَّحْمٰنِ الرَّحِيْمِ

تَبَّتْ يَدا أَبِىْ لَهَبٍ وَّتَبَّ ‎﴿١﴾‏ مَا أَغْنىٰ عَنْهُ مَالُهُ وَمَا كَسَبَ ‎﴿٢﴾‏ سَيَصْلىٰ نَارًا ذَاتَ لَهَبٍ ‎﴿٣﴾‏ وَامْرَاَتُهُ حَمَّالَةَ الحَطَبِ ‎﴿٤﴾‏ فِىْ جِيْدِهَا حَبْلٌ مِنْ مَسَدٍ ‎﴿٥﴾‏

May the two hands of Abu Lahab perish, and may he perish! Neither his wealth benefitted him, nor what he earned. He will soon enter a fire full of blazing flames, as well as his wife, the wicked carrier of firewood. Around her neck is a (collar of iron like a) twisted rope of palm-leaf fibre.

When the verse – وأنذر عشيرتك الأقربين – (and warn your close relatives – of the punishment of the Hereafter if they do not believe) was revealed to Rasulullah (sallallahu ‘alaihi wasallam), Rasulullah (sallallahu ‘alaihi wasallam) ascended mount Safaa and called out to the various tribes of the Quraish, “O Bani Abd Manaaf! O Bani Abdul Muttalib!” etc.

When the various tribes of the Quraish heard his call, they all gathered around him to hear what he had to say.

He then addressed them saying, “If I were to tell you that there is an army encamped at the foot of this mountain and they are planning to attack you by the morning, will you believe me?”

They all replied in a single voice, “We will definitely believe you as we have never found you to be a liar or dishonest.”

Nabi (sallallahu ‘alaihi wasallam) then warned them, “If you fail to accept my message, then I warn you of a blazing fire that awaits you in the Hereafter.”

When Abu Lahab (one of the uncles of Rasulullah (sallallahu ‘alaihi wasallam)) heard this message from Rasulullah (sallallahu ‘alaihi wasallam), he was enraged, and in anger, he addressed Rasulullah (sallallahu ‘alaihi wasallam) saying, تبا لك ألهذا جمعتنا” – May you perish! Is this the only purpose for which you have gathered us here?”

It was on this occasion that this surah was revealed.

In this surah, Allah Ta‘ala responds to the curse of Abu Lahab against Rasulullah (sallallahu ‘alaihi wasallam) with the very same words which Abu Lahab had used to curse Rasulullah (sallallahu ‘alaihi wasallam).

Allah Ta‘ala says,

تَبَّتْ يَدا أَبِىْ لَهَبٍ وَّتَبَّ ‎﴿١﴾‏

May the two hands of Abu Lahab perish, and may he perish!

In this verse, the word “yad” was mentioned. The word “yad” literally means “a hand”.

The reason for the hand being mentioned is that the hand plays a very important role in the accomplishment of human works and actions.

Hence, in this verse, Allah Ta‘ala attributes destruction to the hands of Abu Lahab.

At times, in the Arabic language, the word hand is mentioned, but the person himself is intended.

In this verse, Abu Lahab’s hands are mentioned, but his entire self is intended, as his entire body will suffer punishment and will burn in the fire of Jahannum.

In some narrations, it is reported that this surah was revealed at the time when Rasulullah (sallallahu ‘alaihi wasallam) and the Sahaabah (radhiyallahu ‘anhum) were being boycotted in the valley of Abu Taalib. It was at that time that Abu Lahab met certain people and said to them, “Muhammad (sallallahu ‘alaihi wasallam) is warning us of many things that will occur after death (e.g. punishment in the grave, etc.) but I do not see any of these things occurring to those who have died among us (who have not embraced his religion). What punishment will my hands undergo?” He then blew on his hands and said, “May you perish, but really, I do not see what Muhammad (sallallahu ‘alaihi wasallam) is saying to be true.” Thereafter, this surah was revealed.

Abu Lahab continued to hurl abuse at Rasulullah (sallallahu ‘alaihi wasallam), ridicule and condemn him for propagating deen to the people, but Allah Ta‘ala defended the honour and integrity of Rasulullah (sallallahu ‘alaihi wasallam) and cursed Abu Lahab in the Qur’aan Majeed.

Hence, we find that even after the revelation of this surah, he did not desist from his evil and continued to cause harm to Rasulullah (sallallahu ‘alaihi wasallam) and the Muslims, trying his utmost to put an end to the mission of Islam.

We see that although he had opposed Rasulullah (sallallahu ‘alaihi wasallam) throughout his mission, his own misery just began to progress, until just a week after the Battle of Badr, he contracted a type of viral illness which resulted in sores breaking out throughout his body.

His family and children all abandoned and forsook him until no one wanted to even come close to him. Thus, he died in isolation in abject misery and humiliation.

After dying, his body was left to decay and rot as no one wished to even touch the body due to the fear of them contracting that illness.

Eventually, the town’s people insisted that the body should be dumped somewhere and disposed of. Thus, some slaves were employed to dig a pit and cast the body inside it. Even the slaves did not dare to touch the body with their bare hands, so they used logs to push his body into the pit after which they covered it with stones.

This was the misery and disgrace that he suffered in this world, and the humiliation and damnation which he faced after death.

Furthermore, the torment and punishment that awaits him in the Hereafter will be far worse, as described in this Surah.

 مَا أَغْنىٰ عَنْهُ مَالُهُ وَمَا كَسَبَ

Neither his wealth benefitted him, nor what he earned.

Abu Lahab would always boast about the abundant wealth which he possessed and about his children who stood at his side supporting him. He would say, If what Muhammad (sallallahu ‘alaihi wasallam) is saying is true in regard to me being punished in the next life, then there is no need for me to worry as my wealth and children will come to my aid in the next life.”

Allah Ta’ala responds to this saying that his children and wealth will be of no avail to him in the Hereafter and neither will he be able to use these things to save himself from the eternal punishment of the Hereafter.

Even before leaving this world, Allah Ta‘ala showed him a glimpse of what he will face in the Hereafter, as all his wealth and children were not there for him at the time when he needed them the most.

There was no one present at his side at the time when he lay on his deathbed in illness. They all had abandoned him, leaving him to die alone in isolation.

سَيَصْلىٰ نَارًا ذَاتَ لَهَبٍ ‎﴿٣﴾‏ وَامْرَاَتُهُ حَمَّالَةَ الحَطَبِ ‎﴿٤﴾

He will soon enter a fire full of blazing flames, as well as his wife, the wicked carrier of firewood.

Abu Lahab’s wife, Ummu Jameel, like her husband, was a staunch enemy of Rasulullah (sallallahu ‘alaihi wasallam). She passionately supported her husband against Rasulullah (sallallahu ‘alaihi wasallam) and Islam.

Hence, in this verse, Allah Ta‘ala also warns her about the severe punishment of the Hereafter that awaits her.

Allah Ta’ala refers to her as ‘a carrier of firewood’.

According to some reports, she used to collect thorny branches from the jungle and place them in the pathway of Rasulullah (sallallahu ‘alaihi wasallam) in order to cause him harm. This is one explanation of the phrase ‘carrier of firewood’.

According to other mufassireen, ‘carrier of firewood’ is an expression used by Arabs for a person who sows dissension and ignites the fire of enmity between people by backbiting.

The reason for Ummu Jameel receiving this title is that she used to narrate unfounded stories about Rasulullah (sallallahu ‘alaihi wasallam) in order to ignite the fire of hatred against him.

فِىْ جِيْدِهَا حَبْلٌ مِنْ مَسَدٍ ‎﴿٥﴾‏

Around her neck there is a (collar of iron like a) twisted rope of palm-leaf fibre.

This is the position in which she will be resurrected on the Day of Qiyaamah, that around her neck will be a collar of iron like a twisted rope of palm-leaf fibre.

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