"You have heard that it was said, `Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:44-48)


Sura 111


Al-Masadd (Palm Fibre, The Flame)

Perish the hands of the Father of Flame! Perish he!
No profit to him from all his wealth, and all his gains!
Burnt soon will he be in a Fire of Blazing Flame!
His wife shall carry the (crackling) wood - As fuel!-
A twisted rope of palm-leaf fibre round her (own) neck!


The Sura takes its name from the word "flame" in the first verse. Among all of the people cursed by Muhammad, this is the only instance where a person (Muhammad's own uncle) was cursed specifically in the Qur'an. This Sura is considered by all commentators as Meccan. The events which provoked this outburst of Muhammad's anger probably occurred when the people of Quraish had economically and socially boycotted Muhammad and the members of his clan, and Abu Lahab was the only relative of Muhammad to join his enemies.


Kinship and family were very important in pre-Islamic Arabia. Abu Lahab, was the son of Abdul Muttalib. Muhammad's father and Abu Lahab were sons of the same father. In Arabia, an uncle represented the interests of a child's father when the child (his nephew) was fatherless - as in the case of Muhammad. Before Muhammad's proclamation of "Prophethood", two of his daughters were married to two of Abu Lahab's sons - Utbah and Utaibah.

According to Syed Maududi's commentary (Ibn Zaid):

One day Abu Lahab asked the Muhammad: "If I were to accept your religion, what would I get?" Muhammad replied: "You would get what the other believers would get." Abu Lahab asked: "Is there no preference or distinction for me?" Muhammad replied: "What else do you want?" Thereupon he said: "May this religion perish in which I and all other people should be equal and alike!" (Ibn Jarir).

In Mecca, Abu Lahab and Muhammad were next door neighbors and their houses were separated by a wall. Muhammad's other neighbors included: Hakam bin As (Father of Marwan), Uqbah bin Abi Muait, Adi bin Hamra and Ibn al-Asda il-Hudhali. These neighbors, according to tradition, gave Muhammad no peace. On one occasion, when he was praying, these neighbors threw a goat's stomach on him. When food was being cooked in Muhammad's courtyard, they would throw garbage into the cooking pot. Muhammad would come outside and ask:

"O Bani Abdi Manaf, what kind of neighborliness is it?" To makes matters worse, Abu Lahab's wife, Umm Jamil (Abu Sufyan's sister), had made it a practice to cast thorns at his door in the night so that when he or his children came out of the house at dawn, they should run thorns in the foot. (Baihaqi, Ibn Abi Hatim, Ibn Jarir, Ibn Asakir, Ibn Hisham).

Abu Lahab's hatred for Muhammad showed when Muhammad's sons Qasim and Abdullah died. Instead of mourning with his nephew, as any decent human being should have, Abu Lahab joked with the Quraish chiefs that Muhammad had become childless that night. (See Sura 108).

Abu Lahab also enjoyed heckling Muhammad. According to Rabiah bin Abbad ad-Dill:

"I was a young boy when I accompanied my father to the face of Dhul-Majaz. There I saw the Holy Messenger (may peace be upon him) who was exhorting the people, saying: 'O people, say: there is no deity but Allah, you will attain success.' Following behind him I saw a man, who was telling the people; `This fellow is a liar: he has gone astray from his ancestral faith.' I asked; who is he? The people replied: He is his uncle, Abu Lahab." (Musnad Ahmad, Baihaqi). After Muhammad began preaching his message, and gained a significant following, Abu Lahab told his sons: "I would forbid myself seeing and meeting you until you divorced the daughters of Muhammad."

According to the traditions, Muhammad cursed his former son-in-law Utaibah after he came to Muhammad and said:

"I repudiate An-najmi idha hawa and Alladhi dana fatadalla" and then he spat at him, but his spital did not fall on him. The Holy Prophet prayed: "O God, subject him to the power of a dog from among Your dogs."Afterwards, Utaibah accompanied his father in his journey to Syria. During the journey the caravan halted at a place which, according to local people, was visited by wild beasts at night. Abu Lahab told his companions, the Quraish: "Make full arrangements for the protection of my son, for I fear the curse invoked by Muhammad (upon whom be Allah's peace) on him." Accordingly, the people made their camels sit all around Utaibah and went to sleep. At night a tiger came which crossed the circle of the camels and devoured Utaibah tearing him to pieces. (Ibn Abdul Barr: Al-Istiab; Ibn Hajar: Al-Isabah; Abu Nuaim al-Isfahani: Dalail an-Nubuwwat; As-Suhaili: Raud al-Unuf).

This incident became very serious when all of the clans of the Quraish boycotted Muhammad's Bani Hashim and Bani al-Muttalib clans socially as well as economically. These clans remaining loyal to Muhammad, some people did so for religious reasons, others out of clan loyalty. Abu Lahab was the only member of Muhammad's clan who sided with the Quraisah. Anyone who attempted to sell food to these two clans were offered higher prices by Abu Lahab. The boycott lasted for three years, and the Bani Hashim and the Bani al-Muttalib actually began to starve. According to tradition, when this Sura was revealed, Abu Lahab was filled with rage, and began to yell and behave irrationally. The Meccans apparently stopped supporting him because they believed that he was mad.


The Issue of Forgiveness

If the traditions are accurate on the facts, and I have no reason to doubt them, Abu Lahab was clearly a very mean and vindictive man. Perhaps the Meccans were correct when they believed that Abu Lahab was mad.

Muhammad had every right to be angry with Abu Lahab, especially after he made a cruel public joke of Muhammad's private tragedy - the loss of his two sons. Abu Lahab's behavior was clearly offensive, not to mention completely insensitive. Muhammad preached about a God who was merciful and oft-forgiving. Unfortunately, Muhammad did not practice either virtue with Abu Lahab - he simply returned insult for insult with a man who was, probably, mentally ill. I would be far more impressed with Muhammad if he had returned love for hatred, kind words for insults, and forgave his uncle for the injustices that he committed.

The Issue of Cursing Others

Related to the issue of forgiveness is the fact that Muhammad cursed Abu Lahab's son, who was also Muhammad's former son-in-law, Utaibah after a relatively minor incident. The first problem is that we are asked to accept the fact that God would kill a man, at Muhammad's request. Why would God enforce a curse made by a human being - especially a curse made because of something so petty as a family argument? The second problem with the curse is that Muhammad caused the death of a member of his own family. I admit that it was extremely cruel for Abu Lahab to joke about the deaths of Muhammad's sons, however, it was also cruel for Muhammad to curse the life of Abu Lahab's son (who was Muhammad's former son-in-law) and, according to the traditions, bring about his death. Once again, Muhammad returned insult for insult and hatred for hatred.

What Moral Lesson is to be Learned from this Sura?

The Sunni Muslims tell us that the Qur'an is the eternal and uncreated speech of God. If this is true, why did God record this eternal curse against one man? What moral lesson are we supposed to learn from this? Perhaps the message is to warn, with the threat of curses, anyone who would oppose Muhammad. In this case, Muhammad is the more likely source of this Sura than God.

Incidentally, some Muslims see this Sura as a prophecy.

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