Every sincere believer wishes to enter Paradise and avoid the torments of Hell after death. Thus, Allah the Almighty did not render Paradise unachievable to mankind. To the contrary, by His infinite mercy, He (ﷻ) has shown countless examples in the Qur’an, and through His final Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ)’s Sunnah, the attributes required to be worthy of admission into Paradise.
Allah (ﷻ) informs us regarding the purpose of the numerous stories revealed in the Qur’an:
لَقَدْ كَانَ فِى قَصَصِهِمْ عِبْرَةٌ لِّأُو۟لِى ٱلْأَلْبَـٰبِ ۗ مَا كَانَ حَدِيثًا يُفْتَرَىٰ وَلَـٰكِن تَصْدِيقَ ٱلَّذِى بَيْنَ يَدَيْهِ وَتَفْصِيلَ كُلِّ شَىْءٍ وَهُدًى وَرَحْمَةً لِّقَوْمٍ يُؤْمِنُونَ
“There was certainly in their stories a lesson for those of understanding. Never was the Qur’an a narration invented, but a confirmation of what was before it and a detailed explanation of all things and guidance and mercy for a people who believe.” [Surah Yusuf – 12:111]
Therefore, the stories in the Qur’an must serve as “a lesson for those of understanding” from amongst mankind. One such historical example is revealed in Surah Ya-Seen (verses 13-29), which we will examine and will aim to derive lessons from it, by Allah’s will.
The early part of Surah Ya-Seen
Although this paper aims to primarily explore verses 13-29, in the interest of completeness, it is prudent to at least briefly examine verses 1-12 first.
At the start of Surah Ya-Seen, Allah (ﷻ) confirms that His final Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) is a messenger from amongst many messengers and that he (ﷺ) is on a straight path, sent to warn mankind. Given the tremendous struggle and opposition faced by Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) in Makkah, Allah (ﷻ) describes those amongst mankind who are doomed to failure in the hereafter. There is a barrier placed between such people and the truth such that they will not believe in the final message, irrespective of the great efforts expended towards them, e.g. the likes of Abu Jahl and Abu Lahab. Such people are destined to remain ignorant of the truth.
Allah (ﷻ) then affirms the fact that only those who sincerely follow the message and fear Him, the Unseen, will heed the warning. Such believers are given the glad tidings of a good reward in the hereafter. This part of Surah Ya-Seen ends with a confirmation from the Creator of mankind that all our deeds are recorded in minute details “in a clear register” and that He (ﷻ) will indeed resurrect us for the final reckoning.
The three messengers and the people of the town
After firmly laying down the premise and tone of the subject, Allah (ﷻ) then narrates the story of the town and its people and reveals quite graphically the reward and punishment He (ﷻ) had in store for the obedient and disobedient people respectively.
Now, pausing there for a moment, we must remember that we had absolutely no way of knowing about such stories unless the same were conveyed to us by Allah, the All Knowing and the All Wise. Thus, He (ﷻ) says,
نَحْنُ نَقُصُّ عَلَيْكَ أَحْسَنَ ٱلْقَصَصِ بِمَآ أَوْحَيْنَآ إِلَيْكَ هَـٰذَا ٱلْقُرْءَانَ وَإِن كُنتَ مِن قَبْلِهِۦ لَمِنَ ٱلْغَـٰفِلِينَ
“We relate to you, [O Muhammad], the best of stories in what We have revealed to you of this Qur’an although you were, before it, among the unaware.” [Surah Yusuf – 12:3]
Allah (ﷻ) thus narrates,
وَٱضْرِبْ لَهُم مَّثَلًا أَصْحَـٰبَ ٱلْقَرْيَةِ إِذْ جَآءَهَا ٱلْمُرْسَلُونَ
إِذْ أَرْسَلْنَآ إِلَيْهِمُ ٱثْنَيْنِ فَكَذَّبُوهُمَا فَعَزَّزْنَا بِثَالِثٍ فَقَالُوٓا۟ إِنَّآ إِلَيْكُم مُّرْسَلُونَ
قَالُوا۟ مَآ أَنتُمْ إِلَّا بَشَرٌ مِّثْلُنَا وَمَآ أَنزَلَ ٱلرَّحْمَـٰنُ مِن شَىْءٍ إِنْ أَنتُمْ إِلَّا تَكْذِبُونَ
قَالُوا۟ رَبُّنَا يَعْلَمُ إِنَّآ إِلَيْكُمْ لَمُرْسَلُونَ
وَمَا عَلَيْنَآ إِلَّا ٱلْبَلَـٰغُ ٱلْمُبِينُ
قَالُوٓا۟ إِنَّا تَطَيَّرْنَا بِكُمْ ۖ لَئِن لَّمْ تَنتَهُوا۟ لَنَرْجُمَنَّكُمْ وَلَيَمَسَّنَّكُم مِّنَّا عَذَابٌ أَلِيمٌ
قَالُوا۟ طَـٰٓئِرُكُم مَّعَكُمْ ۚ أَئِن ذُكِّرْتُم ۚ بَلْ أَنتُمْ قَوْمٌ مُّسْرِفُونَ
“And present to them an example: the people of the city, when the messengers came to it – When We sent to them two [messengers] but they denied them, so We strengthened them with a third, and they said, “Indeed, we are messengers to you.” They [the people] said, “You are not but human beings like us, and the Most Merciful has not revealed a thing. You are only telling lies.” They [the messengers] said, “Our Lord knows that we are messengers to you, And we are not responsible except for clear notification [i.e. to convey plainly].” They [the people] said, “Indeed, we consider you a bad omen. If you do not desist, we will surely stone you, and there will surely touch you, from us, a painful punishment.” They [the messengers] said, “Your omen is with yourselves. Is it because you were reminded? Rather, you are a transgressing people.” [Surah Ya-Seen -36:13-19]
Let us now attempt to contemplate and comprehend the above verses from the scholars of tafsir and draw parallels to the modern times.
Allah (ﷻ) does not name the town specifically, nor its king in this story. Nevertheless, some of the scholars of tafsir reported from Ibn Abbas (ra) that the town in this story was Antioch, which is an ancient Greek city, located in south central Turkey, now called Antakya. The king was called Antiochus and his people were idol worshippers.
Just as Allah (ﷻ) had sent Musa (as) and Haroon (as) to invite the Pharaoh to worship one God alone, in this instance Allah (ﷻ) had sent two messengers simultaneously to the king in order to invite him and his people to the truth; to worship one God alone and not associate any partners with God.
As is usually the case with rulers, the king and his people rejected both messengers and accused them of lying. Thus, Allah (ﷻ) reinforced the two messengers with a third, who also confirmed that they were truly sent by Allah (ﷻ). Yet, the people rejected these messengers and counter-argued that they were mere mortals just like them and that Allah (ﷻ) could not have appointed fellow human beings as messengers!
This is an age-old argument that mankind has deployed throughout history. The Quraish in Makkah had argued in a similar manner and rejected Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ); one of their arguments was that Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) should not have been appointed as a messenger and instead it should have been someone even nobler.
This age-old attitude, however, demonstrates that mankind has always found futile reasons to oppose Allah’s messengers, and many a times, rulers have argued that prophets and messengers ought to have been supernatural beings such as angels; thus disregarding the fact that it was always Allah’s prerogative to appoint whomsoever He (ﷻ) wished to act as His messengers to mankind.
Such attitudes also disregards the notion that divine guidance is plainly revealed for all mankind and is not meant to be a mysterious, unattainable methodology that can only be practised by those with supernatural attributes. The reality had always been that Allah (ﷻ) appointed humans as messengers to guide mankind to the truth.
Meanwhile, the messengers patiently replied to the rejection by reasserting the fact that they were indeed messengers sent by Allah (ﷻ) and that their duty was simply to convey the plain message. It was ultimately for the people to decide whether or not they believed in Allah (ﷻ), with befitting consequences that their reactions would entail.
Sayyid Qutb stated in this regard, “However, those who persist in denying the truth do not take matters in such a simple and easy way. They cannot tolerate the advocates of faith’s presence. They resort to rough tactics in rejecting sound arguments. The point is that falsehood is impatient, aggressive.”
Alas, the people of the town did not take lightly the messengers’ invitation to worship Allah (ﷻ) alone, and retorted, “Indeed, we consider you a bad omen. If you do not desist, we will surely stone you, and there will surely touch you, from us, a painful punishment.” The people’s negative response to these messengers was similar to the response of the Quraish many centuries later to Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) when the Prophet’s archenemy Abu Lahab announced to the Prophet’s uncle, Abu Talib, “I swear by Allah that this is a bad thing. You must stop him before others do.”
Again, pausing there for a moment, let us see how modern leaders passionately argue against Islam and suggest that Islam is an ‘extremist ideology’, that it destabilises society and that their ways are far superior.
Boris Johnson, for example, is reported to have fervently argued that “Islam inherently inhibits the path to progress and freedom” and that “Islam has caused the Muslim world to be “literally centuries behind” the West…”
Similarly, David Cameron contended regarding Islam as follows:
“What we are fighting, in Islamist extremism, is an ideology. It is an extreme doctrine. And like any extreme doctrine, it is subversive. At its furthest end it seeks to destroy nation-states to invent its own barbaric realm. And it often backs violence to achieve this aim – mostly violence against fellow Muslims – who don’t subscribe to its sick worldview… No – we must be clear. The root cause of the threat we face is the extremist ideology itself.”
The rulers of today, like Cameron and Johnson, propagate views against Islam similar to what was propagated by nations in the past, like the people of the town who told the messengers, “Indeed, we consider you a bad omen. If you do not desist, we will surely stone you, and there will surely touch you, from us, a painful punishment.” Therefore, today the callers to Allah (ﷻ) around the globe face “a painful punishment” for calling to the truth and for demanding that the worship of man-made systems be replaced by the divinely ordained systems.
Allah (ﷻ) tells us that most of mankind is generally heedless, “Indeed, mankind is [generally] most unjust and ungrateful”. [TMQ Ibrahim (14):34] Yet by Allah’s mercy, throughout history many have also responded positively to the call to the truth, as demonstrated by this example.
A righteous man’s exemplary attitude towards his people
Despite the people’s rejection, not all is so gloomy in this story, as Allah (ﷻ) at that point introduces optimism through a profound man, who believed in the message of the messengers. Allah (ﷻ) thus narrates,
“And there came from the farthest end of the city a man, running. He said, “O my people, follow the messengers. Follow those who do not ask of you [any] payment, and they are [rightly] guided. And why should I not worship He who created me and to whom you will be returned? Should I take other than Him [false] deities [while], if the Most Merciful intends for me some adversity, their intercession will not avail me at all, nor can they save me? Indeed, I would then be in manifest error. Indeed, I have believed in your Lord, so listen to me.” It was said [to the man], “Enter Paradise.” He [the man] said, “I wish my people could know of how my Lord has forgiven me and placed me among the honoured.” And We did not send down upon his people after him any soldiers from heaven, nor would We have done so. It was not but one shout, and immediately they were extinguished.” [TMW Ya-Seen (36):20-29]
Although Allah (ﷻ) does not name the man in this story, according to Ibn Abbas (ra), the man was called Habib An-Najjar and he was a carpenter. He was a simple and charitable person and used to live in the farthest part of the town.
It was reported from Ibn Abbas (ra) that the people of the town, having failed to persuade the messengers to cease their preaching, resolved to kill them. It was at that vital juncture that Habib appeared before his people, running to aid the messengers in the face of his people’s plot to kill them.
The ensuing discourse between Habib and his people demonstrates something very profound; it shows how an ordinary man, who accepted the message to worship one God alone, came to invite his people to do likewise. He was immensely sincere and brave and did not fear the might of the king, nor his people. Instead, he sincerely urged them to “follow the messengers” because they were rightly-guided and on a straight path; to the worship of one God alone.
The approach and tone adopted by Habib is very profound. He called to them as “o my people”; an expression that shows a deep sense of care, responsibility, love and compassion. Habib did not look down on his people despite their rejection, aggression and ignorance of the truth. Instead, he warmly invited them to heed the messengers’ call to worship the one Lord. Moreover, he explained to his people that he worshipped Allah (ﷻ) alone because He (ﷻ) had created him and to Whom he will return upon his death.
Habib attempted to appeal to his people’s sense of reason by showing them that their false idol and gods would be of no assistance if Allah (ﷻ) wished to inflict a punishment upon him, nor can they save him, and thus, if he continued to worship idols despite knowing the truth, he would be in “plain error”. Habib thus declared to his people that he has believed in the one Lord Whom his people have rejected.
Although the Qur’an does not mention it, Ibn Abbas (ra) narrates that it was at this point that Habib received a fatal blow and was killed by his people in an extremely violent manner. Imam Qatada, a classical scholar of tafsir, states, “They started to stone him while he was saying, ‘O Allah, guide my people for they do not know, and they kept stoning him until he dies a violent death, and he was still praying for them.”
The story in the Qur’an at this juncture abruptly turns to Paradise, as Allah (ﷻ) said to Habib: “Enter Paradise”! Habib’s response to Allah (ﷻ) is worthy of deep contemplation, as he said, “I wish my people could know of how my Lord has forgiven me and placed me among the honoured.”
Let us pause again for a moment and ponder upon Habib’s attitude in these few verses. Although Habib was an ordinary man, his attitude towards his people was utterly extraordinary, full of love and compassion. He only wanted his people to be guided to the true God and worship Him (ﷻ) alone. Habib did not seek any worldly gains, and even after his death, he wanted the best outcome for his people. The callers to the dawah today have much to learn from Habib’s attitude towards his people.
Allah (ﷻ) is eternally merciful and rewards and punishes according to what we have earned. The above verses reveal that Allah (ﷻ) rewarded Habib by granting him entry into Paradise. This is indeed a great encouragement to the believers who struggle against the modern day idols and false deities, such as liberalism, secularism and capitalism and the world order constructed by such man-made ideology.
Punishment for the rejecters
Allah (ﷻ) does not even consider the king and his people worthy of much mention and He (ﷻ) merely tells us that He did not need to send “any soldiers from heaven” in order to deal with these wrongdoers. It was simply “one shout” and that is all it took to destroy them. Allah (ﷻ) did not waste much effort in taking action against the transgressors who killed Habib and rejected the messengers.
It is narrated that Ibn Masud (ra) said, “So Allah destroyed that tyrant king, and destroyed the people of Antioch, and they disappeared from the face of the earth, leaving no trace behind.”
Imam Ibn Kathir stated in this regard, “Allah sent Jibril, peace be upon him, to them, and he seized the pillars at the gate of their city, then he hurled one shout (sayhah) upon them and lo! They (all) were still, to the last man among them, and no soul was left in any body.”
Like many other divinely revealed stories, Surah Ya-Seen presents a profound lesson for the believers, and particularly, for those who engage in the call to the way of Allah (ﷻ). This story shows the reward in store for the sincere dawah carriers and the severe punishment that awaits the transgressors. The punishment inflicted upon the transgressors in this story demonstrates that it is indeed too easy for Allah (ﷻ) to punish and annihilate the rejecters and nothing can stand in His (ﷻ) path.
The coronavirus pandemic since 2020 is an example of the might of Allah (ﷻ). With an extremely minuscule virus, Allah (ﷻ) has crippled the global superpowers and many nations face economic ruin and hardship due to the pandemic. If proof was ever necessary, the present pandemic must serve mankind as an insightful warning. We must heed the warning and turn to the holistic worship of the One God alone, Allah (ﷻ).
Wakil Abu Dawud
 It is beyond the scope of this paper to discuss verses 1-12 in depth, and thus, we will avoid any further explanation of these verses in this instance.
 There is disagreement amongst scholars of tafsir about whether this city was indeed Antakya. That said, it does not change the central point being discussed. See: Tafsir of Imam Ibn Kathir.
 Sayyid Qutb, In the Shade of the Qur’an, vol.-14, p-203
 Safi-ur-Rahman al-Mubarkpuri, Ar-Raheeq Al-Makhtum, First ed. 1995, p-82
 https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/jul/15/boris-johnson-islam-muslim-world-centuries-behind-2007-essay [accessed on 29/12/2021]
 At Ninestiles School in Birmingham, Prime Minister David Cameron set out his plans to address extremism, 20/07/2015, https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/extremism-pm-speech [accessed on 29/12/2021]
 Imam Ibn Kathir, Tafsir Ibn Kathir, vol. – 8, p-183
 Imam Ibn Kathir, Tafsir Ibn Kathir, vol. – 8, p-185
 Imam Ibn Kathir, Tafsir Ibn Kathir, vol. – 8, p-188
 Imam Ibn Kathir, Tafsir Ibn Kathir, vol. – 8, p-189