O Muslims! Believers! The Prophet (s) sometimes used to ask the Sahaabah some questions to see their response, not for him to know about their response, as he knows it already, that is why he is asking the question, in order to give them some information through their answer and in order to teach them what they should know and what they should not know. And he (s) asked them some things and they used their common sense and gave an answer, and he gave them a different meaning for what they took for granted.
Today many people take things for granted from their teachers, from their shuyookh, but in reality it’s not the same, as the shaykh wants to show them, “You are mistaken, it is not the way you were thinking.” This is also a knowledge or a way of understanding, or knowledge for people that take everything literally. Many people today take things literally or out of context or even in context, without giving it enough interpretation. They take it ‘as it is’ and it differs from the meaning that Allah wants. For that reason, taking everything literally is not common sense, as in this hadith of the Prophet (s), where they took the meaning for granted and they answered in a way that Prophet (s) said, “No, it is different than what you are thinking.”
And he kept asking them in order to show them to be sure that not everything is (to be taken) literally. There are things behind what has been mentioned and you have to think about that and you have to make your mind bigger to understand Allah’s verses of Holy Qur’an, Allah’s Words, and also the words of the Prophet (s), not (only using) your understanding and your thinking.
That’s why Sayyidina `Umar (r) said, “We were sitting with Prophet (s) one day,” and this is very important, although we mentioned that hadith before many times in different ways, but now it is coming in a different understanding. So Prophet (s) was asking Sahaabah, and he was asking many times in many different ahadeeth in order to (focus) on one thing that did not occur to the Sahaabah. Therefore, it is not necessary every time to stick to our literal understanding of Holy Qur’an because there are different meanings in it that make it easy for people as when the Prophet (s) said:
يسرو و لا تعسرو
yassiroo wa laa tua`assiroo
Make everything easy and don’t make them difficult.
عَنْ عُمَرَ بْنِ الْخَطَّابِ ، قَالَ : كُنْتُ مَعَ رَسُولِ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ جَالِسًا ، فَقَالَ : " أَنْبِئُونِي بِأَفْضَلِ أَهْلِ الإِيمَانِ إِيمَانًا " ، قَالُوا : يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ ، الْمَلائِكَةُ ، قَالَ : " هُمْ كَذَلِكَ ، وَيَحِقُّ لَهُمْ ذَلِكَ ، وَمَا يَمْنَعُهُمْ وَقَدْ أَنْزَلَهُمُ اللَّهُ الْمَنْزِلَةَ الَّتِي أَنْزَلَهُمْ بِهَا ؟ بَلْ غَيْرُهُمْ ؟ " ، قَالُوا : يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ ، الأَنْبِيَاءُ الَّذِينَ أَكْرَمَهُمُ اللَّهُ بِرِسَالَتِهِ وَالنُّبُوَّةِ ، قَالَ : " هُمْ كَذَلِكَ ، وَيَحِقُّ لَهُمْ ، وَمَا يَمْنَعُهُمْ ، وَقَدْ أَنْزَلَهُمُ اللَّهُ الْمَنْزِلَةَ الَّتِي أَنْزَلَهُمْ بِهَا ؟ بَلْ غَيْرُهُمْ " ، قَالُوا : يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ ، الشُّهَدَاءُ الَّذِينَ اسْتُشْهِدُوا مَعَ الأَعْدَاءِ ، قَالَ : " هُمْ كَذَلِكَ وَيَحِقُّ لَهُمْ ، وَمَا يَمْنَعُهُمْ ، وَقَدْ أَكْرَمَهُمُ اللَّهُ بِالشَّهَادَةِ مَعَ الأَنْبِيَاءِ ؟ بَلْ غَيْرُهُمْ " ، قَالُوا : فَمَنْ يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ ؟ ، قَالَ : " أَقْوَامٌ فِي أَصْلابِ الرِّجَالِ يَأْتُونَ مِنْ بَعْدِي ، يُؤْمِنُونَ بِي ، وَلَمْ يَرَوْنِي ، وَيُصَدِّقُونَ بِي ، وَلَمْ يَرَوْنِي ، يَجِدُونَ الْوَرَقَ الْمُعَلَّقَ فَيَعْمَلُونَ بِمَا فِيهِ ، فَهَؤُلاءِ أَفْضَلُ أَهْلِ الإِيمَانِ إِيمَانًا " .
One time, as Sayyidina `Umar (r) related, “We were sitting with the Prophet (s) and he said, anbiyoonee bi afdali ahli ‘l-imaani imaanan? ‘Tell me of the people of faith, who are the best that have faith?’”
The Prophet (s) asked a question and expected an answer. What, the Prophet (s) doesn’t know the answer? He knows the answer, he could have given it immediately, but he wants to tell the Sahaabah (r) to use their minds, use your intellect, use your intelligence, use your heart and try to analyze the question and try to get meanings. Don’t take everything literally and then create problems!
So Prophet (s) asked, “Who are the best of those who have faith?"
They said, qaaloo yaa Rasoolullah, not one, “qaaloo” means plural, many of them. They said, “Yaa Rasoolullah, al-malaa’ikat, the angels.”
They said, “Angels,” after they used their their mind, their intellect, which is a true answer, the best of imaan is angels, but the Prophet (s) wanted to tell them something else, he wants to mean something else. And the Prophet (s) said, hum kadhaalik yahiqqu lahum dhaalik wa maa yamn`auhum min dhaalik, “That is true and they deserve that (ascription); they are the best of imaan, but what prevents them to be like that as they are infallible, so of course they have a strong imaan. But that is not the answer.” wa yamn`ahuhum min dhaalik laqad anzal-Allahu manzilati ’Llatee nazaloo bihaa, “Allah raised their levels and gave them a high level that in that situation, of course they will have strong imaan. But that is not the answer. No, there is other than them.”
Who is higher in imaan than angels? The Prophet (s) is saying there is higher. And they said, yaa Rasoolullah, al-anbiya al-ladheenaa akramahum Allah bi risaalatin nubuwwa, “The prophets, whom Allah honored with a message to deliver to people. They are prophets, Jibreel (a) comes to them and they must have the highest level of imaan and they are infallible.”
So Prophet (s) said, “What you said is okay, it is true.” It means the literal meaning, when you go into reading Qur’an and hadith and take it literally it’s okay, but be careful as it might have on the side an interpretation, and look at the interpretation of the Holy Qur’an which might be how it is meant to be read.
And the Prophet (s) said, “They are like that and they deserve that,” wa man yamna`ahum min dhaalika wq laqad anzalahum Allahu bil manzil latee an-dharaum biha? “What prevents them from being like that, having strong imaan, when Allah has raised their levels? But there are others. Give me an answer, there are others.”
So not angels and not prophets, but who else?
Then they (r) said, qaaloo yaa rasoolullah ash-shuhada al-ladheenaa astashhadoo ma` al-anbiya, “The martyrs who died following and supporting their prophets.”
He (s) said, “That is true, they deserve that, that is haqq, but Allah raised them to be shaheed and to support their prophets.”
How many prophets had been killed and how many people were killed for their prophets? They have a high level, but that is not the highest for us: the Prophet (s) is moving from one idea to another and one interpretation to another until he gets to the best interpretation.
Then he (s) said, “But there are others.”
They said, qaaloo faman yaa rasoolullah? “Who are these others?”
He said, qaala aqwaamun fee aslaabi ’r-rijaal “There are men still in the backs of their parents, they did not yet come to dunya.” yaatoona min ba`dee, “They will come after I left dunya and they will believe in me.”
See where the Prophet (s) is drawing a line: when the Prophet (s) asked, “Who is highest in imaan,” every one of us will say the angels, or we say prophets or shuhadaa, martyrs, or Sahaabah (r), or we say whatever we say, but the Prophet (s) is saying no, don’t take it literally, look what is behind it. “People who are still in the backs of their parents and they did not yet come to dunya,” yuminoo bee wa lam yarawnee, “They believe in me and they didn’t see me.” Like people of today who believe in the Prophet (s) and they never saw him; they believe in Holy Qur'an and they never heard it from the voice of the Prophet (s).
Yajidoona al-waraqa al-mu`alaq fa y`amaloona bihi bimaa feehi, the Prophet (s) said, “They will find papers,” in that time paper was made of animal hides, leather; “they will see it hanging and verses of Qur’an have been written in it, and they accept and they do what has been ordered them to do on these hanging leather.” Fa ya`maloonaa bimaa feehi, “They do according to what is written there.”
This is, as we said before, an interpretation and a prediction that is hidden. So if they asked us, “Who has the highest level of imaan, we would say angels or prophets,” but the Prophet (s) said, “Keep digging deeper and then you will find the truth.” Today too many people accept literal meanings of Holy Qur'an, and Holy Qur'an carries infinite numbers meanings on every ayah! You cannot constrict or limit Allah’s Words; Allah’s Words are open for many interpretations and Allah knows best, taaweel il-qur’an, wa maa ya`alamoo taaweelahu ill-Allah, no one knows its interpretation except Allah (swt)! That means there are too many interpretations that Allah gives to the hearts of people, so don’t take everything literally.
He said, “They see what is written on leather and they act on it,” haaoolaai afdhalu ahli ’l-imaani imaanan, “From between the people of imaan they are the best,” not the angels. He didn’t say ‘angels’, he didn’t say ‘prophets’, he didn’t say ‘Sahaabah’ (r), he didn’t say ‘martyrs,’ he said, “Those who come after me, they didn’t see me, they believed in me.”
O Muslims! Keep your faith in the Prophet (s) strong and keep your faith strong in Allah’s Book, the Holy Qur'an, that will take us to Paradise.
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