Featured, Tafseer

Tafseer of Surah Quraish

The following is based on a translation of Dr Fadhel al Samarrai’s Tafseer of Surah Quraysh. Translation courtesy of Abu Yusuf.

لِإِيلَافِ قُرَيْشٍ ﴿١﴾ إِيلَافِهِمْ رِحْلَةَ الشِّتَاءِ وَالصَّيْفِ ﴿٢﴾ فَلْيَعْبُدُوا رَبَّ هَٰذَا الْبَيْتِ ﴿٣﴾ الَّذِي أَطْعَمَهُم مِّن جُوعٍ وَآمَنَهُم مِّنْ خَوْفٍ

(1) For the accustomed security of the Quraysh – (2) Their accustomed security [in] the caravan of winter and summer – (3) Let them worship the Lord of this House, (4) Who has fed them, [saving them] from hunger and made them safe, [saving them] from fear.


The connection between this chapter and the chapter before, Sura Al-Fil, is obvious. The owners of the elephants (أَصْحَـٰبِ ٱلْفِيلِ) came to Makkah because of the house of Allah, the Ka’bah. Allah ﷻ preserved and honoured His house, and protected Quraysh by destroying the army of the elephants. He protected the house and provided security and well-being to the people of Quraysh.

In Bahr Al-Muheet, Abu Hayan says:

إذْ لَوْ سُلِّطَ عَلَيْهِمْ أصْحابُ الفِيلِ لَتَشَتَّتُوا في البِلادِ والأقالِيمِ، ولَمْ تَجْتَمِعْ لَهم كَلِمَةٌ

البحر المحيط لأبي حيان — أبو حيان

“If the companions of the elephants had dominated them, they would have been dispersed throughout the lands and regions, and no word would have united them…”

It was mentioned in Tafseer Al-Kabeer of Al-Razi:

اعْلَمْ أنَّ الإنْعامَ عَلى قِسْمَيْنِ:

أحَدُهُما: دَفْعُ الضَّرَرِ.

والثّانِي: جَلْبُ النَّفْعِ، والأوَّلُ أهَمُّ وأقْدَمُ، ولِذَلِكَ قالُوا: دَفْعُ الضَّرَرِ عَنِ النَّفْسِ واجِبٌ أمّا جَلْبُ النَّفْعِ (فَإنَّهُ) غَيْرُ واجِبٍ، فَلِهَذا السَّبَبِ بَيَّنَ تَعالى نِعْمَةَ دَفْعِ الضَّرَرِ في سُورَةِ الفِيلِ ونِعْمَةَ جَلْبِ النَّفْعِ في هَذِهِ السُّورَةِ، ولَمّا تَقَرَّرَ أنَّ الإنْعامَ لا بُدَّ وأنْ يُقابَلَ بِالشُّكْرِ والعُبُودِيَّةِ، لا جَرَمَ أتْبَعَ ذِكْرَ النِّعْمَةِ بِطَلَبِ العُبُودِيَّةِ فَقالَ: (فَلْيَعْبُدُوا)

“Know that blessings are divided into two: Firstly, removal of harm and secondly, attainment of benefit. The first is more important and a higher priority. Because of this they say removing the harm itself is obligatory. As for the attainment of benefit it is not obligatory. Because of this reason He ﷻ explained the blessing of removing harm in Sura Al-Fil, and the blessing of attainment of benefit in this chapter. Whenever the blessings are realised, they must be met with gratitude and servitude. Without doubt, the mention of blessings was followed with the request of worship, so He ﷻ said: فَلْيَعْبُدُوا ‘Let them worship’.”

1- For the accustomed security of the Quraysh

لِإِيلَافِ قُرَيْشٍ

The word الإيلاف (accustomed security) is from the word الألف and الألفة, and it is the verbal noun of آلف.

Originally the word has two hamzas أألف, and the origin of الإيلف is الإئلاف with two hamzas.

The second hamza changed to a madd (elongation) in the verb and in the verbal noun because of its sukoon, and because of the previous hamza’s vowel.

 الإيلف – according to Al-Ragib means ‘gathering with a common purpose’.

Quraysh used to gather for two journeys, a journey in the winter to Yemen and a journey in the summer to the Levant (Al-Sham).

In Al-Kashaaf,

فيمتارون ويتجرون، وكانوا في رحلتيهم آمنين لأنهم أهل حرم الله وولاة بيته، فلا يتعرّض لهم، والناس غيرهم يتخطفون ويغار عليهم

“They gathered and traded, and they were in their travels safe because they are the people of Allah’s sanctuary and governors of His house. He ﷻ did not expose them while other people were afraid of being kidnapped and raided upon.” (Al-Kashaaf, 538)

The prepositional phrase لِإِيلَاف ‘For the accustomed security of the Quraysh’ is connected to His saying:فَلْيَعْبُدُوا رَبَّ هَٰذَا الْبَيْتِ ‘Let them worship the Lord of this House’ because of the accustomed security of the Quraysh during the winter and summer journeys. This blessing alone justifies worshipping the Lord of the house who fed them and made them secure, so how about the rest of the favours Allah bestowed upon them? If they aren’t going to worship Allah because of all other favours, then at least they should worship him for this manifest blessing!

It was said, the prepositional phrase لِإِيلَاف, is connected to an assumed verb اعَجَبُوا ‘be astonished’ i.e. be astonished at the accustomed security of the Quraysh during the two journeys, who then abandon worshiping the Lord of this House who has made them pleased in this matter, while people are being kidnapped all around them.

It was mentioned in Al-Kashaaf:

لِإِيلافِ قُرَيْشٍ متعلق بقوله لْيَعْبُدُوا

أمرهم أن يعبدوه لأجل إيلافهم الرحلتين فإن قلت: فلم دخلت الفاء؟ قلت: لما في الكلام من معنى الشرط لأن المعنى: إما لا فليعبدوه لإيلافهم، على معنى: أنّ نعم الله عليهم لا تحصى، فإن لم يعبدوه لسائر نعمه، فليعبدوه لهذه الواحدة التي هي نعمة ظاهرة

“لِإِيلَافِ قُرَيْشٍ ‘for the accustomed security of the Quraysh’ is connected to His saying:  فَلْيَعْبُدُوا رَبَّ هَٰذَا الْبَيْتِ ‘Let them worship the Lord of this House’. He commanded them to worship Him because of their accustomed security in the two journeys. So if you say: ‘Why was the particle [فَ] mentioned?’ I will reply: because the speech includes the meaning of a condition (shart). This is because the meaning is either let them worship due to their accustomed security. Based on this meaning, Allah’s blessing is countless upon them. If they did not worship him because of the rest of His blessings, then at least worship Him because of this one blessing which is an apparent blessing.

It was said: عجبوا لإيلاف قريش ‘they were amazed for the ‘accustomed security of the Quraysh’.”

It was mentioned in Al Bahrul Al Muhit,

تَتَعَلَّقُ بِاعْجَبُوا مُضْمِرَةً، أيْ اعَجَبُوا لِإيلافِ قُرَيْشٍ رِحْلَةَ الشِّتاءِ والصَّيْفِ، وتَرْكِهِمْ عِبادَةَ رَبِّ هَذا البَيْتِ

“that the prepositional phrase is connected to (اعَجَبُوا assumed verb) ‘they were amazed’ i.e. they were amazed at the accustomed security of the Quraysh during the winter and summer journeys, and their abandoning worship of the Lord of this house.”

Khalil bin Ahmed said:

وقالَ الخَلِيلُ بْنُ أحْمَدَ: تَتَعَلَّقُ بِقَوْلِهِ: ﴿فَلْيَعْبُدُوا﴾ والمَعْنى لِأنْ فَعَلَ اللَّهُ بِقُرَيْشٍ هَذا ومَكَّنَهم مِن إلْفِهِمْ هَذِهِ النِّعْمَةَ ﴿فَلْيَعْبُدُوا﴾ أمَرَهم أنْ يَعْبُدُوهُ لِأجْلِ إيلافِهِمْ الرِّحْلَةَ

“it is connected to His saying: ‘Let them worship’ فَلْيَعْبُدُوا, and the meaning is Allah has done this for Quraish, and established this blessing in their accustomed security. He commanded them to worship Him because of their accustomed security during the journey.”

The choice of the word الإيلف (accustomed security) indicates a matter they were accustomed to and it was not something rare for them, which is why they should be thankful to their Lord.

The foregrounding[1] [Taqdeem] of the prepositional phrase لِإِيلَاف over its connected verb فَلْيَعْبُدُوا is for many reasons, and coveys many benefits:

  1. If it was said: لْيَعْبُدُوا رَبَّ هَٰذَا الْبَيْتِ لِإِيلَافِ قُرَيْشٍ ‘Let them worship the Lord of this House because of the accustomed security of Quraysh’, then this necessitates the omission of the particle [فَ], and removes the meaning which it indicates upon, which we will mention shortly. Therefore, it is not correct to add the [فَ] first.
  2. This foregrounding widens the meaning. It enables the possibility of connecting the preposition to the verb [لْيَعْبُدُوا] and to the possibility to an assumed verb [اعَجَبُوا]. If it was delayed then the connection would only be to the mentioned verb [لْيَعْبُدُوا].
  3. Foregrounding creates a stronger connection to the previous chapter [Surah Fil], which makes this chapter and the previous chapter as if it was one chapter. It is as if He ﷻ said: فَجَعَلَهُمْ كَعَصْفٍ مَّأْكُولٍ ‘And He made them like eaten straw’ لِإِيلَافِ قُرَيْشٍ  ‘For the accustomed security of the Quraysh’. Some of the scholars have connected it like this.
  4. This foregrounding لِإِيلَافِ قُرَيْشٍ ‘For the accustomed security of the Quraysh’ shows the importance of this accustomed security for their lives and its great position among them. Mentioning this blessing is a reason why they recognise His guardianship over them and His worship alone, not the worship of the idols. The delaying of the prepositional phrase doesn’t show this care and concern.
  5. If it was not brought forward then it would read ‘Let Quraysh worship the Lord of this House who has fed them, saving them from hunger, and giving them security from fear because of their accustomed security during the winter and summer journey’. This speech would have been convoluted, and the eloquence and beauty would have been lost. Also it would not fulfill the intended meaning, because of the possibility of connecting the prepositional phrase to His feeding and providing safety for them. Therefore, the meaning would have been that He fed them and secured them because of their accustomed security, and the accustomed security is not a reason to worship Him.
  6. Indeed this foregrounding is a type of foregrounding for the reason of an action. So mentioning the reason necessitates worship firstly and then it follows with the request. So this type of foregrounding for precedence [Taqdeem bi-al-sabq], is because the reason motivated the action, and it deserves to be prior to it, so it was foregrounding for that.

It is similar to what we find in Surah al-Fatiha where He ﷻ says:

الْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ رَبِّ الْعَالَمِينَ ﴿٢﴾ الرَّحْمَٰنِ الرَّحِيمِ ﴿٣﴾ مَالِكِ يَوْمِ الدِّينِ ﴿٤﴾ إِيَّاكَ نَعْبُدُ وَإِيَّاكَ نَسْتَعِينُ

“[All] praise is [due] to Allah, Lord of the worlds -The Entirely Merciful, the Especially Merciful, Sovereign of the Day of Recompense. It is You we worship and You we ask for help.”

The reason for fulfilling the exclusive worship of Allah “It is You we worship and You we ask for help” was brought first “[All] praise is [due] to Allah, Lord of the worlds…”.

This is what we also find in Surah Quyash.

2- Their accustomed security [in] the caravan of winter and summer

إِيلَافِهِمْ رِحْلَةَ الشِّتَاءِ وَالصَّيْفِ

Accustomed security was mentioned first, and then it was substituted (Mubdaal Minhu) to explain and to specify it. So Allah ﷻ said:  إِيلَافِهِمْ رِحْلَةَ الشِّتَاءِ وَالصَّيْفِ  “Their accustomed security [in] the caravan of winter and summer.” That is to emphasize [tafkheem] that matter of accustomed security, and to show the greatness of the favour upon them and its position among them.

It was mentioned in Al-Khashaaf:

أَطْلَقَ الْإِيلَافَ ثُمَّ أَبْدَلَ عَنْهُ الْمُقَيَّدَ بِالرِّحْلَتَيْنِ، تَفْخِيمًا لِأَمْرِ الْإِيلَافِ، وَتَذْكِيرًا بِعِظَمِ النِّعْمَةِ فِيهِ

“It mentioned accustomed security [الْإِيلَاف] and then substituted it by restriction with two journeys, to emphasize the matter of the accustomed security and the remainder of the great blessing in it.”

It was mentioned in Tafsir Al Kabir:

ثُمَّ خَصَّ إيلافِ الرِّحْلَتَيْنِ بِالذِّكْرِ لِسَبَبِ أنَّهُ قِوامُ مَعاشِهِمْ

“It specified that the accustomed security for the two journeys be mentioned because it is the basis of their livelihood.”

The journey was made singular [رِحْلَةَ] and what is meant by [رِحْلَتَيِ الشِّتاءِ والصَّيْفِ “two journeys of winter and summer”], is that there are two journeys for winter and two for summer and not one for each season. Therefore, what was mentioned using the singular is superior.

3- Let them worship the Lord of this House

فَلْيَعْبُدُوا رَبَّ هَٰذَا الْبَيْتِ

This House هَٰذَا الْبَيْتِ is the Ka’ba. The word [رَبَّ] Lord, was added to the House for veneration for it, and because the two journeys continued to be successful because of this House which the Arabs venerated, Had this not been the case, then the existence and continuation of these two journeys would not have happened. Therefore, Allah requested them to worship the Lord of this House, and by means of it He bestowed upon them two great blessings:

  1. that they shouldn’t worship anyone other than Him
  2. and they should acknowledge His bounty upon them and be grateful to Allah.

The genitive construct [Al-Idafah] to the House is the most suitable thing in this position, because the one who facilitated for them these two journeys and fed them, saved them from hunger and gave them security from fear is the Lord of this House and not the idols which they worship.

The genitive construct to the house has another meaning. It is that the Lord of the House is the one who guarantees its protection and preservation. So the genitive construct to the House means its protection is dependent upon Him, just as Abdul Muttalib said to Abraha: ‘Indeed the house has a lord that will protect it’. Its Lord protected it and dealt with the companions of the elephants when they tried to destroy it.

The choice of the word [رَبَّ] is most suitable here, because Rabb is the one who takes care and protects, feeds when hungry and provides security when there is fear. So the choice of the word Al-Rabb is the most appropriate word because He ﷻ said:

  الَّذِي أَطْعَمَهُم مِّن جُوعٍ وَآمَنَهُم مِّنْ خَوْفٍ

“Who has fed them, [saving them] from hunger and made them safe, [saving them] from fear.”

The demonstrative pronoun [هَٰذَا] was brought to specify the house so there is no confusion. Allah did not say:  فَلْيَعْبُدُوا رَبَّ الْبَيْتِ ‘Let them worship the Lord of the House’ because then it would not specify exactly which house. So bringing the demonstrative pronoun [هَٰذَا] specifies the intended house.

The particle [فَ] in فَلْيَعْبُدُوا, has been mentioned and it has several meanings. It was said: It was mentioned because of the presence of the meaning of condition [Al-Shart], i.e. if they don’t worship because of all the blessings, then let them worship for this blessing. It was also said that it is extraneous [Za’ida] for the purpose of emphasis.

It may show the cause [Al-Sabab] from two angles:

  1. Being an estimated response to a condition [Jawab Al-Shart], and the particle فَ in the response to a condition predominantly shows cause.
  2. The فَ can in its different meanings give the meaning of cause generally.

In this surah the particle [فَ] shows all these meanings. So it shows the meaning of cause [sabab] and its strengthening, and also emphasizes the speech. It induces by the means of strengthening the reason so that the strength of the cause is indicated by the prepositional particle [لِ َ] لِإِيلَافِ قُرَيْش

Therefore, the particles فَ and لِ, both assist each other in indicating the cause.

The foregrounding of the prepositional phrase allows the bringing of the فَ here. If it was not foregrounded then bringing it here would not be correct. It is not permitted to say by initiating with a فَ as in:  فأعنه لأنه أعانك ‘Help him because he helped you’ and nor is it permitted to say:

فليعبدوا رب هذا البيت لإيلاف قريش

Similar expressions are His saying: لِمِثْلِ هَٰذَا فَلْيَعْمَلِ الْعَامِلُونَ “For the like of this let the workers [on earth] work.” [37:61] and His saying:  وَرَبَّكَ فَكَبِّرْ  “And your Lord glorify” [74:3].

You may say, why did Allah not say: ‘Let them pray to their Lord’ as in Surah Al Kawthar after mentioning the favour which was bestowed on His Messenger ﷺ:

فَصَلِّ لِرَبِّكَ وَانْحَرْ “So pray to your Lord and sacrifice [to Him alone]” [108:2].

Why did He ﷻ not mention prayer in Sura Al-Quraysh but only mentioned worship in a general form?

The reason is clear. The disbelievers of Quraysh did not worship Allah alone, rather they used to worship idols. As for prayer, it is a part of worship. Therefore He ﷻ did not request from them the prayer only for Allah. Rather He requested the general worship which includes the prayer for Him alone, and this is suitable here.

Allah did not say: ‘Let them worship their lord, who feeds them, saving them from hunger, and provides security against fear’ for more than one reason. If He ﷻ had said this, then the matter would not indicate Quraysh specifically, because Allah feeds many creations and saves them from hunger, and He provides them security, saving them from fear. Many creations do not receive these two benefits. Indeed, Allah did not feed a group of servants of Allah, saving them from hunger, and He did not provide safety and save them from fear. So if He said this, the meaning would be that whoever is not included in these two benefits, then he doesn’t worship Allah.

In this chapter, He intended to specify Quraysh with the speech and invite them to His worship, so He connected to the House that they were around, and He provided food and security because of it. He indicated that had He not protected the House, then they would have dispersed in the land and be kidnapped by people.

Allah mentioned the House, to remind them of their father Ibrahim (as) who founded of it, and due to his blessed supplication for wellbeing and security they were living in comfort. Ibrahim (as), only built the House because of the command of His Lord, and he was a servant to Allah and not to the idols which the Prophet ﷺ destroyed.

4- Who has fed them, [saving them] from hunger and made them safe, [saving them] from fear.

الَّذِي أَطْعَمَهُم مِّن جُوعٍ وَآمَنَهُم مِّنْ خَوْفٍ

Allah ﷻ combined for Quraysh these two blessings, and reminded them of how great these blessings are. Makkah is a barren valley without any vegetation, and its people are exposed to hunger and fear, so He provided them with food and safety from being kidnapped while people were being kidnapped around them.

This is because of the blessed supplication of Ibrahim (as), who had made supplication for the provision of Makkah, when he said:وَارْزُقْ أَهْلَهُ مِنَ الثَّمَرَاتِ  “and provide its people with fruits” [2:126] Ibrahim (as) also supplicated for security for them when he said:

 رَبِّ اجْعَلْ هَٰذَا بَلَدًا آمِنًا  “My Lord, make this a secure city” [2:126]

It was mentioned in Bahrul Al Muhit:

كانُوا قُطّانًا بِبَلَدٍ غَيْرِ ذِي زَرْعٍ عُرْضَةً لِلْجُوعِ والخَوْفِ لَوْلا لُطْفُ اللَّهِ تَعالى بِهِمْ، وذَلِكَ بِدَعْوَةِ إبْراهِيمَ عَلَيْهِ السَّلامُ، قالَ تَعالى: ﴿يُجْبى إلَيْهِ ثَمَراتُ كُلِّ شَيْءٍ﴾ [القصص: ٥٧]﴿الَّذِي أطْعَمَهم مِن﴾ فَضَّلَهم عَلى العَرَبِ بِكَوْنِهِمْ يَأْمَنُونَ حَيْثُ ما حَلُّوا، فَيُقالُ: هَؤُلاءِ قُطّانُ بَيْتِ اللَّهِ، فَلا يَتَعَرَّضُ إلَيْهِمْ أحَدٌ، وغَيْرُهم خائِفُونَ

“They were residents in a non-agricultural land, susceptible to hunger and fear, had it not been for the kindness of Allah ﷻ for them. This is the du’a of Ibrahim (as) which He ﷻ answered: يُجْبَىٰ إِلَيْهِ ثَمَرَاتُ كُلِّ شَيْءٍ “for them a safe sanctuary to which are brought the fruits of all things” [28:57].

الَّذِي أطْعَمَهم مِن Allah preferred them to the Arabs, in that they were safe wherever they settled, so it is said: These are the residents of the House of Allah, and no one confronted them while others were fearful.”

It was mentioned in Ruhu Al Maani from Ibn Abbas:

أنَّهُ قالَ: أطْعَمَهم مِن جُوعٍ بِدَعْوَةِ إبْراهِيمَ عَلَيْهِ السَّلامُ حَيْثُ قالَ: ﴿وارْزُقْهم مِنَ الثَّمَراتِ﴾ ﴿وآمَنَهم مِن خَوْفٍ﴾ حَيْثُ قالَ إبْراهِيمُ عَلَيْهِ السَّلامُ: ﴿رَبِّ اجْعَلْ هَذا البَلَدَ آمِنًا﴾

“that Allah said: He has fed them, [saving them] from hunger because of the prayer of Ibrahim (as) when He said:  وارْزُقْهم مِنَ الثَّمَراتِ  وآمَنَهم مِن خَوْف when Ibrahim (as) said:  رَبِّ اجْعَلْ هَذا البَلَدَ آمِنًا

Allah said أطْعَمَهم and did not say: أشْبَعَهم because [الإشْباعُ] satiation, sometimes may cause that which is not praiseworthy because of gluttony and indigestion etc. As for [الطَّعام] it removes hunger, and the best food is that which blocks hunger.

It was mentioned in Tafseer Al Kabir of Al-Razi:

ما الفائِدَةُ في قَوْلِهِ: (مِن جُوعٍ) ؟ الجَوابُ: فِيهِ فَوائِدُ:

أحَدُها: التَّنْبِيهُ عَلى أنَّ أمْرَ الجُوعِ شَدِيدٌ، ومِنهُ قَوْلُهُ تَعالى: ﴿وهُوَ الَّذِي يُنَزِّلُ الغَيْثَ مِن بَعْدِ ما قَنَطُوا﴾ [الشورى: ٢٨] وقَوْلُهُ ﷺ: «مَن أصْبَحَ آمِنًا في سِرْبِهِ»  الحَدِيثَ.

وثانِيها: تَذْكِيرُهُمُ الحالَةَ الأُولى الرَّدِيئَةَ المُؤْلِمَةَ وهي الجُوعُ حَتّى يَعْرِفُوا قَدْرَ النِّعْمَةِ الحاضِرَةِ.

وثالِثُها: التَّنْبِيهُ عَلى أنَّ خَيْرَ الطَّعامِ ما سَدَّ الجَوْعَةَ: لِأنَّهُ لَمْ يَقُلْ: وأشْبَعَهم لِأنَّ الطَّعامَ يُزِيلُ الجُوعَ، أمّا الإشْباعُ فَإنَّهُ يُورِثُ البِطْنَة

What is the benefit of His saying: (مِن جُوعٍ)?

What follows are the benefits:

  1. Making people aware that hunger is severe, like in His saying:

وهُوَ الَّذِي يُنَزِّلُ الغَيْثَ مِن بَعْدِ ما قَنَطُوا [الشورى: ٢٨]

“He is the One Who sends down rain after people have given up hope” (Ash-Shuraa, 28)

and in the hadith where Mihsan al-Ansari reported that the Prophet ﷺ said,

مَنْ أَصْبَحَ آمِنًا فِي سِرْبِهِ، مُعَافًى فِي جَسَدِهِ، عِنْدَهُ طَعَامُ يَوْمِهِ، فَكَأَنَّمَا حِيزَتْ لَهُ الدُّنْيَا‏

“When someone is secure in his property, healthy in his body and has his food for the day, it is as if he owned the entire world.” (Al-Adab Al-Mufrad)

  1. Reminding them of the first bad and painful case, which is hunger, so that they know the extent of the present blessing
  2. Noticing that the best food is that which satisfies the hunger because it was not said: [وأشْبَعَهم] and satisfy them, because food eliminates hunger, whereas satiety, can cause gluttony.

It may be asked, why did Allah not just say أَطۡعَمَهُم when الإطعام is superior to الشبع satiety?

The response is that no all forms of الإطعام will prevent hunger or prevent the need, so it doesn’t complete the blessing. Due to this, Allah said:  أَطْعَمَهُم مِّن جُوعٍ “Who has fed them, [saving them] from hunger” i.e. Allah removed from them hunger by feeding them [الإطعام]. Therefore the blessing with [مِّن جُوعٍ] attached was complete and perfect.

Hunger [جُوعٍ] and fear [خَوْفٍ] was made indefinite (naqira] in their usage, so as to include all types of hunger and fear. If they had been made definite then there is a possibility that they were identified and known. Therefore, it would have specified the feeding against a specific hunger and security against a specific fear, such as the fear from the companions of elephants for example. Therefore, making the words indefinite denotes general hunger and fear. It was also said, the indefiniteness indicates intensity and enormity, i.e. He fed them, saved them from hunger whatever hunger it may be, and gave security from whatever fear it may be.

It was mentioned in Al Khashaaf:

والتنكير في جُوعٍ وخَوْفٍ لشدتهما، يعنى: أطعمهم بالرحلتين من جوع شديد كانوا فيه قبلهما، وآمنهم من خوف عظيم وهو خوف أصحاب الفيل، أو خوف التخطف في بلدهم ومسايرهم

“The indefiniteness of hunger and fear is due to their severity, meaning: He feeds them in the two trips of extreme hunger they were in before them, and secures them from great fear, which is the fear of the owners of the elephant, or the fear of being kidnapped in their own country and in their journeys.”

It was mentioned in Al Tafseer Al Kabir:

لِمَ قالَ: مِن جُوعٍ، مِن خَوْفٍ عَلى سَبِيلِ التَّنْكِيرِ ؟ الجَوابُ: المُرادُ مِنَ التَّنْكِيرِ التَّعْظِيمُ

“Why did He say: “From hunger”, by way of indefiniteness?  The answer is, what is intended from the indefiniteness is magnification [التَّعْظِيمُ].

It may be asked why hunger is mentioned before fear?

It was done for the following reasons:

  1. Hunger is more severe than fear. If hunger is continuous then people will eventually die, whereas fear may be continuous but may not lead to their death. Indeed, people can remain fearful for years. Therefore, what is more important and of priority was brought first i.e. hunger.
  2. Indeed, the two journeys were for the purpose of provision and trade. Security was a cause for provision and trade, and their continuity. To be fed (saved from hunger) was the purpose of the two journeys. As for security it is one of the reasons for their success. So the original objective of the two journeys is provision and trade. Therefore, the primary reason for the two journeys in winter and summer was brought first.
  3. The Quraysh’s need for food was severe, since they were in a land without cultivation. So that which they were in need of most was brought first necessarily. As for the issue of security then it was a general concern in the Arabian Peninsula, and it varied from people to people.
  4. Foregrounding hunger over fear is suitable because of the foregrounding of winter over summer in His saying: إِيلَافِهِمْ رِحْلَةَ الشِّتَاءِ وَالصَّيْفِ  “Their accustomed security [in] the caravan of winter and summer.” People in general are more in need of food in the winter than in the summer. Due to this many people store food in the summer for the winter. Therefore, to be fed and be free from hunger was suitable to be foregrounded first because of the foregrounding of winter.

He made security from fear correspond with summer, because it is easier during the summer to raid in any place, whereas in the winter it is harder to plot and scheme outdoors. This in addition to wild animals and vermin hiding during the winter. Therefore, the reasons for fear in summer are more than in winter. Due to this, security from fear was connected to summer, and every expression is in its suitable place.

  1. It may be said, that in other places in the Qur’an fear is mentioned before hunger as in His saying: وَلَنَبْلُوَنَّكُم بِشَيْءٍ مِّنَ الْخَوْفِ وَالْجُوعِ “And We will surely test you with something of fear and hunger” [2:155]. Why did Allah do this if hunger is more intense and important?

The answer is that foregrounding is only according to what the position and context demand. To explain further, a combination of hunger and fear has come in three places in the Qur’an and what is mentioned in the chapter of Quraysh is one of them.

In addition to Surah Quraysh, the other places are:

وَلَنَبْلُوَنَّكُم بِشَيْءٍ مِّنَ الْخَوْفِ وَالْجُوعِ وَنَقْصٍ مِّنَ الْأَمْوَالِ وَالْأَنفُسِ وَالثَّمَرَاتِ ۗ وَبَشِّرِ الصَّابِرِينَ

“And We will surely test you with something of fear and hunger and a loss of wealth and lives and fruits, but give good tidings to the patient” [Al-Baqara, 2:155]

وَضَرَبَ اللَّهُ مَثَلًا قَرْيَةً كَانَتْ آمِنَةً مُّطْمَئِنَّةً يَأْتِيهَا رِزْقُهَا رَغَدًا مِّن كُلِّ مَكَانٍ فَكَفَرَتْ بِأَنْعُمِ اللَّهِ فَأَذَاقَهَا اللَّهُ لِبَاسَ الْجُوعِ وَالْخَوْفِ بِمَا كَانُوا يَصْنَعُونَ

“And Allah presents an example: a city which was safe and secure, its provision coming to it in abundance from every location, but it denied the favors of Allah. So Allah made it taste the envelopment of hunger and fear for what they had been doing.” [An-Nahl, 16:112]

Fear was foregrounded over hunger in the verse of Al-Baqarah, and hunger was foregrounded over fear in the verse of Al-Nahl according to the what the context and position of the respective verses demands. 

As for the verse of Al-Baqarah, then fear was foregrounded over hunger, because the context is fighting and misfortunes.

He ﷻ said:

وَلَا تَقُولُوا لِمَن يُقْتَلُ فِي سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ أَمْوَاتٌ ۚ بَلْ أَحْيَاءٌ وَلَٰكِن لَّا تَشْعُرُونَ ﴿١٥٤﴾ وَلَنَبْلُوَنَّكُم بِشَيْءٍ مِّنَ الْخَوْفِ وَالْجُوعِ وَنَقْصٍ مِّنَ الْأَمْوَالِ وَالْأَنفُسِ وَالثَّمَرَاتِ ۗ وَبَشِّرِ الصَّابِرِينَ ﴿١٥٥﴾ الَّذِينَ إِذَا أَصَابَتْهُم مُّصِيبَةٌ قَالُوا إِنَّا لِلَّهِ وَإِنَّا إِلَيْهِ رَاجِعُونَ ١٥٦

“And do not say about those who are killed in the way of Allah, ‘They are dead.’ Rather, they are alive, but you perceive it not. And We will surely test you with something of fear and hunger and a loss of wealth and lives and fruits, but give good tidings to the patient. Who, when disaster strikes them, say, ‘Indeed we belong to Allah, and indeed to Him we will return.’ [Al-Baqara, 2:154-156]

Therefore, it was appropriate to bring fear before hunger.

As for the verse in Sura Al-Nahl, its context is one of feeding, so it came after:

 فَكُلُوا مِمَّا رَزَقَكُمُ اللَّهُ حَلَالًا طَيِّبًا وَاشْكُرُوا نِعْمَتَ اللَّهِ إِن كُنتُمْ إِيَّاهُ تَعْبُدُونَ ﴿١١٤﴾ إِنَّمَا حَرَّمَ عَلَيْكُمُ الْمَيْتَةَ وَالدَّمَ وَلَحْمَ الْخِنزِيرِ

“Then eat of what Allah has provided for you [which is] lawful and good. And be grateful for the favor of Allah, if it is [indeed] Him that you worship. He has only forbidden to you dead animals, blood, the flesh of swine.” [An-Nahl, 16:114-115]

Therefore, it was suitable to bring forward hunger before fear.

In addition, there is another appropriate reason for foregrounding fear in Surah An-Nahl, which is in consideration of His ﷻ saying: فَأَذَاقَهَا اللَّهُ لِبَاسَ الْجُوعِ وَالْخَوْفِ “So Allah made it taste the envelopment of hunger and fear.” [An-Nahl,112] Indeed hunger results from scarcity or loss of food, and it is food which is tasted in reality. So the beauty of foregrounding hunger is also from this angle.

It was mentioned in Ruhu Al-Maani:

وتَقْدِيمُ الجُوعِ النّاشِئِ مِن فُقْدانِ الرِّزْقِ عَلى ( الخَوْفِ ) المُتَرَتِّبِ عَلى زَوالِ الأمْنِ المُقَدَّمِ فِيما تَقَدَّمَ عَلى إتْيانِ الرِّزْقِ لِكَوْنِهِ أنْسَبَ بِالإذاقَةِ أوْ لِمُراعاةِ المُقارَنَةِ بَيْنَ ذَلِكَ وبَيْنَ إتْيانِ الرِّزْقِ.

“The foregrounding of the hunger that arises from loss of livelihood over the (fear) resulting from the demise of established security, while it precedes the maintenance of livelihood, will bring forward the coming of provision because it is more suitable with tasting or in consideration of comparing that with bringing of provision.”

It may be asked however, that security [Al-Amn] was preceded by the provision [Al-Rizk] in the beginning of the verse, when He said: كَانَتْ آمِنَةً مُّطْمَئِنَّةً يَأْتِيهَا رِزْقُهَا رَغَدًا مِّن كُلِّ مَكَانٍ “was safe and secure, its provision coming to it in abundance from every location.”

The response is that foregrounding security here is suitable, because Allah said:

 يَأْتِيهَا رِزْقُهَا رَغَدًا مِّن كُلِّ مَكَانٍ “its provision coming to it in abundance from every location.” The security of the ways and paths are required to reach the city. Therefore, if there was no security present then the provision will not come to any place. Therefore, it is necessary for the security of the ways and paths for provisions to reach the city, so safety and security fulfills the coming of the provision to it. Foregrounding of security here is therefore more appropriate because it is the reason for the coming of the provisions.

This is from one angle, and from another angle, in the verse of Al-Baqarah, it is only in the situation of trying and testing the believers, and it was not from any type of punishment. Whereas the verse of Al-Nahl, it is in the context of punishing the disbelievers, and it is known that hunger is stronger than fear regarding punishment. Therefore, what was more severe was brought forward and Allah Knows best. Every expression is in its most suitable place.


[1] Foregrounding and backgrounding (al-taqdlm wal-ta’khlr) are semantically oriented syntactic processes. These processes are employed in Arabic to designate rhetorical effects in a given proposition. These two notions are concerned with the deliberate placement of a sentence constituent either sentence-initially or sentence-finally so that the linguistic construction becomes compatible with the context of situation and the state of the addressee. Foregrounding and back- grounding are central to the notion of order system (al-nazm) in Arabic rhetoric and are of fundamental value to argumentative and legal discourses.